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I pressed my forehead to the tinted window and watched as the woodland prison took shape. Jutting peaks rose in the distance, shrouded in a quilt of autumn hues. An army of pine trees flanked the road, their trunks skirted with browning ferns and wild brush. A blue sign loomed ahead, dead vines creeping across a foreboding message: Welcome to Borden Grove. The words tied my stomach into knots and a cold sweat ignited across my skin. I calmed my nerves with a deep breath.

“Are you still mad at me?” My brother caught me off-guard. His voice was revolting under the circumstances. I fought every impulse not to leap across the cab and smash his face through the window. He watched me for a response. Stephen could play the role of tough guy. He could wear his tailored suit, speak with a biting edge, and even fashion a dangerous expression. He could pretend to be as filthy and rotten as my father, but he had a few more years to perfect the charade. “Aria?”

I shrugged into the sticky leather seat, ignoring his probing gaze. I knew without peering into his head that he wanted to know my thoughts. He wanted to pluck them out, one by one. His conscious brushed the outskirts of my mind, searching for a weak point. Exhaustion hammered at my mental barricades, almost as relentless as my brother. The vulnerable spots were beginning to show through my makeshift defenses.

“Knock it off.” I yelled, gripping my head against his mental siege. He smirked a little and leaned back in his seat, retreating into himself with a silent victory. I almost strangled the stupid look from his face, but he turned his attention out the window. He gave up, making me suddenly suspicious. No son of Colton Preston would ever just surrender. He may have snuck a glance through my waves of exhaustion, but this time left no trail to follow. I took a deep breath, drawing on the aroma of cedar. The smell tickled my nose.

I ignored the unpleasant scent and mimicked my brother by peering out the window. The narrow road snaked through the small town. I noticed the heavy coats, the colorful scarves, and winter boots. My imagination prompted a cool chill across my skin. I shivered in my sweatshirt. The sixty three dollars in my pocket were already spent on warmer clothes. I watched the boutiques drift by. With such a meager budget, I would probably have better luck at a thrift store. I pictured the response my father would give to a second-hand coat. I bit back laughter.

As we drove deeper into town, I noticed that not much had changed in seven years. The locals still relished in the Halloween spirit. There were cackling witches impaled on lampposts, coffins that shook in terror, and half-excavated skeletons in the earth. Ugly jack-o-lanterns grinned from front porches, ghouls and ghosts posed in windows, and even a life-sized werewolf barred his teeth in front of the old Eastlen Academy. I almost forgot the impending holiday. I hated Halloween.

The town car rolled to a stop beneath a traffic light, the only one for miles. I watched a group of students file into a corner coffee house. The girls giggled and squealed. The boys wore big grins. Their school uniforms made me cringe. I remembered wearing the itchy plaid skirt and hideous wool sweater. My arms prickled at the reminder. I considered burning that ensemble on more than one occasion. In third grade, I wore a singed blouse for an entire week before anyone noticed.

My phone vibrated in my back pocket, interrupting the bitter recollection. I fished it from the tight denim shorts and glanced at the illuminated screen. Rex Harper, the name sent a delightful shiver through my heart. I blushed a little, trying to conceal my reaction without any luck. “Who is that?” Stephen demanded, but I ignored him.

Your mom said you went on vacation. I read the text to myself. My mother referred to my exile as a vacation. I liked that. She seemed to have gained some perspective in my absence. I jabbed at the keyboard with quick fingers, fashioning a response in my head. My brother seemed unnecessarily curious in my endeavor. I refused to acknowledge him, assuming the silence was better for both of us.

Stephen had no business in my personal life. He lost that privilege when he became henchman to the devil. Visiting the old man, my fingers danced over the keys and stabbed the send button. My brother glared from across the car. I refused to meet his hazel gaze. I already pictured the look on his face, confirmation was an unnecessary luxury. Rex was the same age as my brother. Stephen would never understand. My father would never understand. “Let it go, Stephen.”I rolled my eyes, landing them outside the car.

He must have taken offense, or perhaps struggled to understand the meaning of the simple phrase. He hit me with a powerful surge of energy, knocking every thought and notion from my silly, little head. I cringed. An involuntary cry escaped my lips. My head swelled with a deafening buzz to accompany the blow, building in pitch and volume. I tried plugging my ears, but the noise resonated from inside my skull. “Stop it.” I demanded, pain blooming behind my temples. I gritted my teeth. “Stop it!” I shouted, throwing open the car door as the light turned green.

I spilled onto the pavement, scraping my hands and knees. Heavy breaths burned past my lungs as plumes of white, curling upwards into the cold air. I stared at the ground. A single speck of crimson landed on the sidewalk, followed by another. I touched my fingers to my nose. Blood leaked from my nostrils. Stephen pushed me too far. I am trying to protect you, Aria! He snarled inside my head, sounding more like a vicious animal than my brother. He ransacked my most recent memories, searching for an image of Rex Harper.

My head threatened to explode under the pressure of two tangled minds. “You’re hurting me!” I shouted, earning some unwanted attention from customers at the coffee house. A spell of weakness teased the corners of my conscious. I wanted to black out and escape the curious stares. I never excelled at first impressions. Screaming at imaginary voices was not about to break my losing streak. My eyelids drooped, heavier than normal. I scrambled to my feet, ignoring the tax in my skull. I heard the driver door shut as the goon rounded the car. With the sleeve of my favorite sweatshirt, I wiped the drying blood away.

Stephen perceived the thought as it crossed my mental queue. Don’t. The warning echoed like a gunshot. I took off, converse sneakers striking the cement with each stride. My brother managed to hold me hostage, expanding his mind to the limits. I struggled against his psychic restraints, almost tripping over my own feet. I focused all my strength on remaining upright. My legs carried me past the coffeehouse, the smooth aroma of espresso hanging in the air.

The connection with my brother slipped slowly away, unraveling like a worn tapestry. My heart raced. I heard the goon lumbering after me, but his footfalls faded into the distance. Gooseflesh prickled my legs. Painful breaths wheezed past my lungs. The buzzing sound died, resurrecting sweet silence in its stead. I sprinted another block past the handsome theater I visited as a child. The giant red doors gave me a sense of security.

I rounded a sharp corner, colliding with an unsuspecting stranger. The force of the impact sent us both reeling. He struck the cement with a painful yelp, his solid frame cushioning my fall. Something crunched beneath my knee, shards stabbing my flesh. I glanced up, finding myself eye to eye with the young man. He propped himself on his elbows, body tensing under mine. A wave of discomfort rippled through his handsome features.

“Watch where you’re going!” His towering companion snarled down at me. I tuned out the warning and swallowed hard. My victim stared at me with chilling eyes. They looked inhuman, violet and speckled with gold. An emerald ring circled his constricted pupils. They pulled me in with hypnotizing drawl. I was falling into them. “Paden.” His friend barked once more, breaking the spell.

“My sunglasses,” he whispered. His breath fanned my face, smelling of sweet wintergreen. He searched the filthy sidewalk and tried to sit up. I shifted my weight, crouching on all fours. We both recognized his sunglasses at the same moment. They lay crushed beneath my knee, shards of the lens still stuck in my flesh. He ran a set of fingers through his tousled black hair, looking a bit upset. I blushed with guilt.

“I am really sorry—” I apologized, reaching into my hoodie pocket and offering him the mirrored aviators from my father. “Take these.”He studied the gesture, probably recognizing the expensive brand. “Please.” I dropped them into his hand. The hint of a smile tugged at his lips, never fully dawning. His eerie eyes brightened a bit.

“Thanks.” He murmured, slipping the shades over his gaze. “Who are you?” The question hung in the air between us. My cheeks reddened another shade. My father had a reputation, one that was not always positive.

I opened my mouth to speak, but all that escaped was a gasp. Fingers closed around my arm, jerking me upwards. I struggled for footing, pain tearing through my shoulder socket. I whimpered, spinning around to face the ugly goon. He breathed like an angry bull, trying to overcome the winded sensation in his lungs. I gave him a nice cardio work-out. Judging by his figure, he needed it.

I became aware of the town car parked on the curb, four-ways blinking. My brother leaned against the polished exterior, watching my company with a threatening look. “These your suits, Preston?” Paden climbed to his feet, stepping towards the bull. He stood a foot shorter, his slender build looking scrawny compared to the goon. He refused to back down. The vice-like grip tightened on my arm as the tension mounted. I winced, prying at the beefy fingers.

“This is none of your business.” Stephen stepped away from the car. I perceived a flash of the evasive, twenty-three year old. The little boy vanished in front of me, taking with him the worms and mud pies. I caught a glimpse of what everyone else saw. The realization frightened me. Something resonated from Stephen, something dangerous. Breaking free of the bull, I dodged away. He grabbed at empty air, trying to reel me back in.

“Two against one, Preston.” The other boy stepped forward. His hair was styled into a faux hawk, gauges stretched his earlobes, and an intricate tattoo extended across his right arm. I wondered what he meant by ‘two against one’. There were clearly two goons to back up my brother. The odds seemed mounted against my new friends. Paden smirked, muscles rippling beneath his black jacket. The bull could probably see his own reflection in the sunglasses. I wondered if he recognized the look of fear in his own expression.

“Forget it.” I interjected, stepping into the middle of their argument. I hated being the center of attention, but all eyes were on me. “I appreciate the chivalry, but nobody needs to get hurt.” I addressed the two young men, blushing a little. “Take me home, Stephen.”I turned to my brother, brushing past him and climbing into the car. I pulled the door shut with a thud.

My cell phone rested on the floor mat. I reached down to grab it, feeling at ease with the lifeline in my hand. I needed contact with the outside world. Without it, I would be another prisoner to Borden Grove.

A loud crash shook the car, causing me to squeal. I glanced out the tinted windows. Paden shoved Stephen into the car, holding him by the jacket collar. Their raised voices were muffled. I strained to hear what they were saying. The frame trembled again, but the goon in the driver seat remained stoic. The tattooed boy ripped them apart, causing Paden to stumble and catch his balance. His friend seized him by the shoulders, leading him along to prevent round two.

Stephen straightened his dress shirt and flattened the wrinkles in his suit jacket. He shouted something after them, rounding the car with an injured gait. I figured his pride to be more injured than anything else. He sunk into the leather seat and I turned towards him. He looked noticeably disheveled. Blood leaked from his nostrils. Paden must have been the first to swing. I tried to hide my smile. Stephen deserved it, but the bloody nose hardly made us even.

"You saw his eyes?" He questioned, wiping his nostrils on the back of his hand. I nodded. "Never mention them to anyone." His words resembled a threat. I turned my attention to the window as the town car pulled away from the curb.

Submitted: August 12, 2009

© Copyright 2023 Jocelyn Elizabeth. All rights reserved.


Add Your Comments:



Jocelyn Elizabeth:

Suspensefully well written. Most enjoyable to read.

Gave it an "I Like It" vote. As with Chapter 1. Both well deserved.

Happy trails,

Ed Bradley.

Sun, August 23rd, 2009 9:04pm


AMAZING!!! Cant wait for more!!! Update me soon!!!!

Sun, June 6th, 2010 5:05pm


this is really good!!! update me please :D

Sat, June 19th, 2010 12:03pm

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