She bolted upright. Her body was coated in a sheen of sweat, and she shook uncontrollably again. She skated her gaze around her small, white room. She was alone. Something scratched at her window, and she cried out in terror, pulling the blanket over her head as she continued to shiver.
“It’s not real,” she spoke aloud to no one. “It didn’t happen.” She lifted the corner of her blanket and peeked into her room. It had a sink with no mirror, a chair, her bed, a nightstand, and a small bathroom area that held the toilet.
The wind howled angrily, and the scratching noise came from the window again. Feeling a little bolder, she sat up, tossed her blanket to the side and stood up to peer out the window. Sure enough, the wind was only causing a tree branch to scratch against the pane. She released the breath she was holding and crawled back into her bed.
The moonlight filtered in along the far wall, and the clouds passing in front of it caused shadow-fingers to stretch and reach across it.
“No!” Wendy cried out again. She reached for the small lamp next to the bed and turned it on, making the shadows disappear. “The shadows cannot harm me. The shadows cannot harm me.”
Once her room was bathed in light, her unease started to dissipate. She pulled the covers back over her and felt a tear of unease slide down her face. It was natural for a ten-year-old to be afraid of the dark and of the shadows.
She had just fallen back into a restless sleep when a knock on her door made her jump up again. It was one of the night staff doing her rounds.
“It’s past eleven. You know the rules. Lights out.” The nurse spoke softly through the glass panel in the door. Wendy was locked in. She couldn’t leave until morning.
“Please, don’t make me,” Wendy whispered through the blankets, but the nurse didn’t hear.
“Turn off the lights,” the nurse said, a little firmer.
Wendy’s hand snaked out from under the blanket. She clicked the lamp off and yanked her hand back under the covers, as if the darkness would bite it off. She didn’t breathe, didn’t move, just heard the soft steps of the nurse’s feet move on down the hall.
She was getting hot from breathing under the blanket, but she wasn’t about to poke her head out. The scratching noise at the window came again, followed by a soft click of the window’s lock turning.
“The shadows aren’t real. It’s all in my head.”
Then came the sound of the window sliding open.
She closed her eyes and held her breath. If she didn’t see it, it didn’t exist.
It wasn’t here.
It wasn’t in her room.
The temperature dropped, and now she was shaking not only from fear but also from chills that sneaked between the covers and touched her skin.
“Go away,” she whispered.
This wasn’t happening. Not again. How did the shadow keep finding her here? She thought she’d banished them from her mind.
Wendy whispered frantically. “Go away, leave here.”
The heavy bolt slid as her door was unlocked, and the door creaked open.
The shadow was leaving her room. Where was it going? Why did it open her door? She flipped back the comforter just enough to see the shadow slip out of her room and into the empty hallway.
Wendy leapt from her bed and scrambled to the open door to look down the darkened hallway. Her heart thudded loudly, the rushing of its frantic beat in her ears.
Where had the shadow gone? The hall was void of movement. The nurse had already made her rounds and retired back to her station.
Wendy thought she’d seen a slight movement down the hall to her left, so she followed, taking soft steps and peering into each room, looking for darkness. The first two rooms in the girls’ wing showed the inhabitants blissfully sleeping.
She paused when she peered into Lily’s room. Her dark hair fell around her caramel skin, and she was snuggled into bed, the blanket pulled up to her chin.
Wendy checked every room, and there were no shadows. She turned and was about to head back to her room when she saw the shadow pass through the double doors and head toward the boys’ wing.
Wendy felt like she was sleepwalking as she followed the shadow through an unlocked door and down another hall. Where were the guards? How come so many doors were unlocked? She looked into the glass doors as she wandered through the boys’ hall.
Teddy tossed and turned, his mouth open in a silent scream. Night terrors?
Had to be. He was experiencing night terrors like she did. One of the most unholy experiences ever.
The staff told her she had an “episode.”
Now, here she was seeing one in front of her, and she was helpless to do anything. She tapped on the glass, but Teddy didn’t hear her. She tried calling his name. “Teddy. Wake up.”
Wendy looked up in the corner of the hallway directly at the blinking security camera. Any minute, they would notice her in the hallway and force her back to her room.
“It’s okay. Think happy thoughts.” She spoke Dr. Mee’s mantra through the pane.
Suddenly, the distressed movements stopped.
He sat straight up in bed and stared at her.
His pupils were dilated.
And he started to scream. Loudly.
Wendy jumped back in alarm and scrambled into an empty room, just as nurses came in to try to subdue Teddy. He continued to scream, and Wendy tried to put her hands over her ears to block out his cries. She heard scuffling as two nurses wheeled him, strapped to his bed, out of the room and toward the elevator.
Teddy gave up and the screaming quieted. His body went limp, but he still clutched the bear under his arm. When the doors opened and they rolled the bed in, his hand twitched and the bear fell to the floor. He cried out in distress, but no one saw, and the elevator doors closed.
Wendy came out of the empty room and picked up his tattered toy, gently pressing it to her chest. She started to follow Teddy.
A door opened at the other end of the long hallway, drawing her attention back to the other problem. The shadow. Chills ran up her arms as it glided behind Boy, his hair tousled from sleep, almost as if it were herding him. He ambled toward the emergency exit stairwell on the other end of the hall, still in his pajamas.
The shadow paused, flittered a few feet behind Boy, beckoning for her to follow it.
She had let herself get distracted, and now the boy was too far away. She took off running after the shadow, dropping the bear on the floor. Boy was about to push on the emergency door, and Wendy prepared herself for the loud alarm that would go off when the handle was pressed.
But it didn’t.
What was happening?
She was closing the distance, but she didn’t know if she could catch up to the boy or the shadow. The pale yellow light of the stairwell lamps illuminated the darkened hallway when the door opened. The shadow started to lose focus, but it was bright enough that she could still see it.
Something about the shadow slowed her for a moment.
It had a human form. The realization that it wasn’t in the shape of some monster made her pump her legs even harder. The heavy metal door swung closed as the shadow and Boy moved away. She wasn’t going to make it, but she pushed herself even harder.
The door picked up speed. Wendy dove forward and shoved her hand between the frame and door before it closed. She yelled out in pain as it crushed her hand but quickly stifled her cries. Pushing the door open, she entered the stairwell. The door thudded shut behind her.
She leaned over the railing but only saw more darkened stairs downward. She looked up and spotted the striped sleeve of Boy’s pajamas as his hand brushed the railing.
Wendy charged after them. “Hey. Stop!” She had no clue why, but she couldn’t seem to close the distance between them. They were ascending the stairs at inhuman speed, while Wendy pursued them at barefoot-girl speed.
Up and up she followed, looking at each of the floor signs as she ran past.
They were running out of floors. She paused and leaned back over the railing to look down. Had she missed them? Did they exit onto another floor? She hadn’t heard any of the exit doors open, and she had been listening for just that sound.
She kept going up until she saw the sign that said ROOF.
Wendy noticed the rusted metal door swinging slowly outward. She ran out into the night, and her feet burned on the gravel-covered roof. Searching past the large air conditioning units, she spotted them on the other side of the large satellite dish.
The shadow was floating in the air as Boy stood on the edge of the roof, looking pensive. She had never been on the roof, and now that she was there, it terrified her. The rushing ocean water thundered below, the briny smell of the water hung in the air.
“What are you doing?”
“You shouldn’t be here.” He turned to study her, confusion shrouding his face. He had something in his hands, something he kept twisting and turning.
“Can you see it?” Wendy pointed at the dark being floating just behind him. She could have sworn she saw the shadow use its hands to make a face and waggle ghostly fingers at her.
Boy turned to look where she had pointed, but the shadow had dissipated.
“The shadow, can you see it?”
He shook his head no.
“We can’t stay here,” he yelled into the darkness, the wind whipping his voice away.
Wendy took a few tentative steps in his direction. She tried to speak softly, in a motherly tone. “No, we can’t. Come down off the ledge, and we can go back inside. It’s dangerous here.”
He shook his head. “It’s dangerous inside, too. They lied to us. They’ve been lying the whole time. There’s no family waiting with open arms for us if we excel. Just more tests, more experiments, and another prison. We have to escape.”
“But we’re on an island. There’s nowhere to go,” Wendy called out, fear bubbling within her.
He looked over his shoulder at her and smiled wryly, even as his green eyes pleaded with her. “An island won’t stop me. It won’t stop us. We’ll leave here and do all of the things we planned. We’ll buy all the ice cream and build the largest tree house. I can take us away from here.”
The shadow continued to float behind him. It flew closer and pulled on his pajama top. She wasn’t sure if the shadow was trying to steady him or push him over.
“Get away from him!” She shouted and rushed forward as the boy began to topple, but he regained his balance, his arms spread to his sides.
The shadow flew at her. She screamed and ducked.
“Don’t you see it?” Wendy pointed at the being now flying around her, taunting her. She ducked as the shadow flew her way. Boy was oblivious to her hallucinations.
“I lied to them. Failed my tests, so they sent me back. I did everything I could to be sent back here to get you. But I can do it. I’ll show them.” He spoke angrily into the wind.
“Do what?” she asked fearfully.
He fidgeted with the object in his hand, and she saw it was her silver thimble. He tucked it into his pajama pocket and smiled confidently at her.
The roof door slammed open, and she heard the sound of rushing feet behind her. She knew what that meant. They’d be caught and taken to a containment unit.
“Come with me?” he begged. He held his hand out to her, waiting for her to take it. His smile promised safety, security, and adventure. “I won’t let you fall.”
“But…I can’t fly.” Her hand brushed across his palm, and it started to tremble as her fear quickly took over.
“No, you’re wrong.” His voice became distant as he looked at the soldiers rushing toward them. He grabbed her hand and tried to pull her with him. “We can. If you just belie—”
Strong arms wrapped around Wendy’s waist and yanked her from his grip. He tried to grab for her, to yank her from her attacker’s arms, but he lost his balance.
He slipped, his arms pin wheeling as he fell backwards off the ledge of the roof and plummeted toward the rocks below.
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