A garden drenched in moonlight. There were flowers growing up columns, along the walkways, on the trees. The air was heavy with the fragrance of thyme and mint and basil, but Kali could only smell the memory of them. It was distant and half-remembered.
A rustle came from the nearby bushes. She smiled.
“You can come out,” she said without looking at the bush. “I know you are there.”
This time, the rustle was louder. More violent as the boy extracted himself from the foliage.
He knelt before Kali, his golden head bowed. “I didn’t mean to disturb you,” he said, voice little more than a whisper.
She reached for him. Lifted his chin so she could gaze into his bright blue eyes. “You’re the senator’s slave. Gabriel.”
“Why are you here?”
His cheeks flushed an appealing shade of red. Golden eyelashes lowered. “I wanted to see you again. My master had no need of me, and I…” His blush deepened.
She cupped his cheek and leaned closer.
A jolt sent her tumbling from the bench. Her head pounded, a sharp pain shooting through it. The left side of her face burned, dagger digging into her brain. Her stomach did a somersault.
The boy opened his mouth. He let out a loud honk, like a goose. It blared once. Twice. Longer and longer and…
Kali opened her eyes, the dream fading away. She was stretched out on a scratchy carpet, miles of beige filling her vision. Her eyes were heavy and blurry, lashes sticky, like she’d been crying. Her mouth tasted rancid. Her head was a hot mass of pain.
“God,” she whispered, trying to remember where she was. She couldn’t focus through the pain, but she knew something bad had happened. Something…
“A crash on the northbound 5 is slowing up traffic,” a voice said.
She lifted her head, biting her tongue when the world swam around her. After closing her eyes and counting to ten, she pushed herself up to sitting.
“What?” she gasped when she raised her hand to her face. Her wrists were bound together with duct tape. Her ankles were taped together, too.
“There’s also some debris on the road slowing up the interchange to the 101.”
“Wonderful,” a new voice muttered. “Of course there’s traffic. Why wouldn’t there be? I’m only racing the damn sun.”
That wasn’t the radio.
Kali tried to look over her shoulder but couldn’t get a good view. She had to maneuver herself around, rolling to see the driver.
Brown hair. Goatee. Black clothing.
Movie. Man. Kidnapped.
“There was a shooting today at a shopping center in the city of Orange,” the radio said.
He’d threatened her with a gun. Shot the guard. And then… then things got fuzzy.
“Police say the witnesses on the scene were unable to give a clear account to exactly what occurred. Some are speculating drugs may have been involved. Several people have been treated for injuries and released from the hospital. Investigation is still ongoing.”
“Why can’t they remember?” Kali asked.
The driver glanced at her. “You’re awake.”
Kali nodded, her stomach roiling at the movement. She leaned against the passenger seat in front of her, panting. She glanced out the front windshield.
“Look out!” she shouted, seeing the car in front of them had stopped.
He turned and slammed on the brakes. The van jerked to a stop, throwing Kali against the seat. She hadn’t thought she could be in more pain, and yet…
She groaned. Saliva flooded her mouth.
“You all right?” he asked
“I’m going to throw up,” she croaked.
“There’s a bag next to you,” he said. Eyes still on the road, he reached back and fumbled for it.
She was barely able to yank it open before she threw up. Half-digested popcorn and soda mixed with stomach acid landed in the black plastic bag. Some dribbled down her chin.
The van lurched forward. She vomited again, not making it all into the bag this time. It splashed onto her pants, causing her to heave again. She hacked and spat into the bag before finally pulling away.
He reached back and twisted the bag closed. “If you feel sick, there are more bags back there.”
“You planning on putting my body parts in them?” she asked.
“Here.” He handed back a bottle of water, the cap already twisted off.
Water spilled out of the top as she lifted it to her mouth, spilling down her chin and shirt. The water washed the worst of the taste away and helped clear her head.
“Who are you?” she asked before taking another sip.
The name wasn’t familiar. “Why did you kidnap me?”
He didn’t say anything.
If you’re looking for ransom, you have the wrong girl. My mom’s been gone since I was a kid, so that’s a dead end. All her relatives are dead broke. I haven’t any clue who my dad is, so there’s no money there. So, um…” Belatedly, she realized that maybe telling a kidnapper she was worthless might not be the best strategy. The chances he’d keep her alive might be lessened by prematurely devaluing herself.
He shook his head, a smile playing over his mouth. “I’m not after a ransom.”
So, he was either a killer or a rapist. Or both. “So, what? You going to, um. Rape me?” Not that she wanted to give him ideas.
“I’m not going to rape you, Kali.” He met her eyes in the mirror, expression soft, almost like he was trying to reassure her.
Except, he knew her name. This wasn’t a random snatching. And… “Are you going to kill me?” she whispered.
He looked away from her. “Yes.”
“Why?” Escape. She needed to escape. Get out of the tape. Get out of the van. Run.
She tried to twist her wrists, but the tape held them too tightly. She cast her gaze about on the floor, looking to see if there was anything she could use to cut through.
A shiver of realization went through her. Her keys. She could feel them in her pocket, pressing against her hip. She had a keychain. A phoenix, with a long sharp beak and metal wings.
The beak and wings that might be strong enough to cut through the tape.
She shifted so her legs were in front of her. The world outside was bathed in the orangey glow of sunset that reflected off the cars around them, all stuck traffic and hardly moving. If she could cut through the tape, she might be able to run through the cars and get to an exit. Traffic was slow enough. She’d be able to avoid getting hit.
Garrison was still looking at the road. Slowly, so as not to draw attention to herself, she moved her hands to her right pocket.
“You wouldn’t believe me,” he said.
She froze. “I wouldn’t… wouldn’t believe why you’re trying to kill me?”
He shook his head.
“You’d be amazed what a concussed girl will believe.”
“You wouldn’t be concussed had you done as I’d asked in the first place.”
Unbelievable. “Sorry if I messed up your kidnapping plans. I’m not exactly used to being a helpless victim.”
“No,” he murmured. “You never have been.”
She bit her lip and winced as she tasted blood. Sucking on her bottom lip, she started trying to maneuver her body so she could reach into her pocket. A glance out the window showed her that traffic was still creeping along quietly. They were one lane over from the slow lane. One lane from freedom. All she had to do was jump out of the van, avoid one lane of cars, and get to an exit.
And then… And then it didn’t matter. She would be gone, swallowed into the crowd of the city before Garrison could make his way over. She could get to the police, let them hide her.
The image of Garrison calmly shooting the security guard flashed through her mind. Kali shuddered. He had killed so easily. Garrison hadn’t even paused before he’d shot him. Would he do any differently with the police?
But the guard had been only one person. Plus, Garrison had known exactly where to find her. If Kali ran away, he wouldn’t know where she’d gone, not once she was out of his sight. Even if he did find her, there was no way Garrison would take on an entire police station.
He stepped on the gas. The van rolled forward over a bump. Kali, who was on her knees, leaning backward, toppled to the floor. Her keys slid out of her pocket with a loud clunk.
“What was that?” Garrison demanded. He looked back.
She forced herself to stay calm. “Just me. Trying to get comfortable.” She slid her legs around in front of her. Groaned as she did a sit up to get back upright. Time start working out, she guessed.
“What are you doing?” He glanced back at her suspiciously.
“Nothing. Just… it’s hard to find a good way to sit. You never answered me. Why do you want to kill me?”
He looked at her a moment longer, eyes narrowed. Kali did her best to look innocent.
Finally, he turned away.
“I’m not special,” she said, fishing around for the keys. Her hand closed around them. She scooted back, pulling her knees to her chest, shielding her hand. “Is it a race thing? You want to kill me because I’m not white?” She’d faced her share of racism. Her mother was white. Her father was a man that Mom had met at a party, slept with, and left without getting his name, much less country of origin. When pressed, she’d said, “I don’t know. Indian or Mexican or Chinese or something,” which was absolutely no help.
Garrison shook his head. “It has nothing to do with your whore of a mother or bastard of a father. Nothing to do with your race. In fact, is has nothing to do with you in this life at all.”
This life? “What?”
He looked at her in the mirror. “Do you really not remember, or are you just being coy?”
“Remember what?” Her wrists ached from twisting them around so she could slide the beak of her phoenix under the tape.
“Who you were,” he said. “Who you are.”
“I’m Kali Johnson. I’m just… I mean, that’s all.”
“You’re more important than that. At least, to some you are. Or, rather, you were and will be again if I don’t stop you.”
“By killing me?” She got the beak under the tape. Tried to lift it through. “What are you stopping me from doing?”
“Dying and being reborn as the so-called goddess you once were.”
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