Page 2 of Mud Vein

I can’t get out of there fast enough. I close the door behind me. One more door. This one feels more frightening than the last. Is it just my intuition or is this the last place my kidnapper could be hiding? I stand facing it for the longest time, my breath curling into the air, and the frozen fingers of my good hand clutching my little knife. I reach for the knob with my injured hand and flinch when pain shoots up my arm. I push it open and wait. The room is dark, but so far no one has jumped out at me. I take a step forward, feel for a light switch. Then I hear it; a man’s moan—deep and guttural. I back out of the room, pointing my knife at the sound. I want to run, climb back up the ladder and lock myself in the round room. I don’t. If I do not go looking for what brought me here, it will come looking for me. I will not be a victim. Not again. My heart is beating erratically. The moaning suddenly stops as if he’s realized I’m there. I can hear him breathing. I wonder if he can hear me. The noise starts again, muffled words this time as if he’s speaking through something. Words … words that sound like HELP ME! This could be a trap. What do I do? I walk right into it.

Chapter Three

No one attacks me, but my body is wound up and ready to spring. The deep cries of Eeeel, eeeeel become more persistent. I search for a light switch, which means I have to transfer my knife to my injured hand. It doesn’t matter—if someone comes at me, I’ll take every bit of pain to cut them open. I find it: a broad, flat square that I have to push down with two fingers. In the time it takes for the lights to turn on, I quickly switch the knife back to my good hand. The room is suddenly washed in a urine-yellow glow. It flickers before gripping whatever power it’s using, and starts to hum. I blink at the sudden change. My knife hand extends as I stab at air. There is nothing in front of me—no attacker—but there is a bed. In it is a man, his arms and legs bound to the four posters with bright white rags. He is blindfolded and gagged with the same white cloth. I watch in shock as his head thrashes from side to side. The muscles in his arms are pulled so taut I can see the outlines of where each one starts and ends. I start to rush forward to help him, then stop. I could still be in danger. This could be a trap. He could be the trap.

I walk cautiously, keeping my eyes on the corners of the room as though someone might emerge from the wood walls. Then I spin toward the door from which I entered, to make sure no one is sneaking up behind me. I continue this cycle until I reach the side of the bed, and my heart is racing painfully. I rotate the wrist that is clutching the knife in a circle. There is a door next to the bed. I kick it open and he goes perfectly still, his face angled toward me, his breathing coming hard. He has dark hair … lots of scruff on his face. The bathroom is empty, the shower curtain pulled back as if my captor had thought—at the last minute—to reassure me he wasn’t there. I leave the bathroom. The man is no longer struggling. Angling my back to the wall, I reach over and yank away his blindfold and gag. I am half leaning over him when we see each other for the first time. I can see his shock. He can see mine. He blinks rapidly as if he’s trying to clear his vision. I drop my knife.

“Oh my God.” That’s the second time I’ve said that. I don’t want to make a habit of it. I don’t believe in God.

“Oh my God,” I say again. I bend slowly at the knees, keeping my eyes on him and the door until I’ve retrieved my weapon. I back up. I need distance between us. I’m moving toward the door, but then I realize I could be ambushed from behind. I spin. I extend my knife. There is nothing behind me. I spin again—point my knife at the man in the bed. This can’t be happening. This is crazy. I’m acting crazy. I press my back to the nearest wall. This is the only way I feel relatively safe, when I can survey the room and not feel like someone is sneaking up from behind.

“Senna?” I hear my name. I look back at his face. Any minute I expect to wake from this nightmare. I will be in my own bed, underneath my white comforter, wearing my own pajamas.

“Senna,” he chokes. “Cut me loose … please…”

I hesitate.

“Senna,” he says again. “I’m not going to hurt you. It’s me.”

He leans his head back against the pillow and closes his eyes like he can’t stand the pain.

I hold the knife tightly and chop at the white fabric that is binding his arms. I can barely breathe—never mind see. I slice his skin with the tip of the knife. He flinches, but doesn’t make a sound. I watch his blood pool in fascination before it streams down his arm.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “My hands are shaking. I can’t—”

“It’s all right, Senna. Take your time.”

Funny, I think. He’s the one tied up and he’s reassuring me.

I make it through his other hand binding, and he takes the knife from me, cutting his own legs free. I silently panic. I shouldn’t have handed over my knife. He could be … he could be the one…

It doesn’t make sense.

When he’s through, he springs off the bed, massaging his wrists. I take a step away from him … toward the door. The only thing he has on is a thin pair of pajama pants. Someone put those on him too, I think.

And then I say his name in my mind: Isaac Asterholder.

When he looks at me he narrows his eyes. “Is anyone else here? Have you seen—”

“No,” I cut him off. “I don’t think anyone is here.”

He immediately makes for the door. I flinch as he passes me. I want my knife. I linger in the doorway, not sure what to trust. Then I follow him. He searches the rooms while I cradle my wrist. If someone attacks us, he will be their first target. I need something sharp to hold in my hand. We descend the stairs and Isaac tries the front door, yanks hard when it won’t open, slams his fist against the wood and swears. I see him eye the keypad, but he doesn’t touch it. A keypad on the inside of the house. Whoever put us here gave us the option of getting out.

After he’s made a thorough search of both floors, he looks for something to break a window.

“We could both lift the bench,” I offer, motioning toward the heavy wooden table in the kitchen. Isaac rubs his temples.

“Okay,” he says. But when we try to lift it, we find that there are smooth, bronze bolts locking it to the floor. He checks the rest of the furniture. It’s all the same. Anything heavy enough to break a window is bolted to the floor.

“We need to get out,” I insist. “There may be tools to lift those bolts. We can find help before whoever brought us here comes back. There has to be something near here, somewhere we can go…”

He turns toward me suddenly angry. “Senna, do you really think that someone would go through all the trouble to abduct us, lock us in a house and then make it easy to get away?”

I open and close my mouth. Abducted. We’d been abducted.

“I don’t know,” I say. “But we have to at least try!”

He’s opening and closing drawers, rifling through their contents. He swings open the fridge and his face visibly pales.

“What? What is it?” I rush forward to see what he’s seeing. The refrigerator is large, industrial-sized. Every shelf is stocked without an inch of space to spare. The freezer is the same: meat, vegetables, ice cream, cans of frozen juice. My head spins as I take it all in. There is enough food for months. I grab a large can of tomatoes and throw it at the window as hard as I can. I throw it with my left hand, but fear propels it forward at an impressive speed. It hits the window with a muted thud, and drops to the counter, rolling backward toward the floor. We stare at it, dented on one side, for several minutes before Isaac bends to pick it up. He tries, pulling his arm back like a pitcher and letting it shoot from his fingertips. This time the thud is louder, but the result the same. I run back to the front door, throwing myself at the handle. I scream, slamming my fists against the wood, ignoring the searing pain in my injured hand. I need to feel pain, I want to. I pound and kick for a solid minute before I feel Isaac’s hands on my arms. He pulls me away.

“Senna! Senna!” He shakes me. I stare up at him, my breath coming quickly. He must see something in my eyes, because he wraps me in a hug. I shiver against his warmth until he pulls away from me.

“Let me see your wrist,” he says gently. I hold it out to him, flinching as he pokes at it gently with his cold fingertips. He nods in approval at my makeshift sling. “It’s a sprain,” he says. “Did you have it before you woke up?”

I shake my head. “I fell … upstairs.”

“Where did you wake up?”

I tell him about the room at the top of the ladder, how I found the key.

“I think I was drugged.”

He nods. “Yes, we both were. Let’s go take a look at this room. Also, if there is power, there should be heat. We need to find the thermostat.”

We make our way back up the stairs.

I look at his face. His dark eyes look bleary like he’s coming down from a high—except he doesn’t take drugs. Not even for a headache. I know a lot about this man. That’s what’s shocking me the most. Why am I here? Why am I here with him?

His head swivels to look at me. It’s as if he’s really seeing me for the first time. I can see the up and down movement of his chest as he struggles for breath. This was me, fifteen minutes ago. His eyes search my face, before he says, “What do you remember?”

I shake my head. “I had dinner in Seattle. I left around ten. I stopped for gas on my way home. That’s it. You?”

He stares at the ground, his brows drawn together. “I was at the hospital, just leaving my shift. The sun had just come up. I remember stopping to look at it. Then nothing.”

“This doesn’t make sense. Why would someone bring the two of us here?”

I think about the lighters and the key and the carousel room, and then I push it from my brain. A coincidence. But I want to laugh even as I think it.

“I don’t know,” Isaac says. I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say that. I think about all the times in my life I’ve counted on him for answers—demanded answers—and he always has them.

But that was then…

He runs his hand over the stubble on his jaw, and I notice the deep purple bruises on his wrists where his bindings dug into his skin. How long had he been tied up like that? How long had I been unconscious?

“We need to get warm,” Isaac says.

“I made a fire … in the room up the ladder.”

We search for the thermostat. I notice how white his knuckles are around the handle of the knife. We find it in the carousel room, behind the door. He turns on the heat.

“If there is power, we must be close to something,” I say hopefully. He shakes his head.

“Not necessarily. It could be a generator. This might not last.”

I nod, but I don’t believe him.

We climb up to the round room to sit by the fire and wait for the house to heat. He makes me go first. Once I am up, he glances over his shoulder one last time and then quickly climbs up to join me. We close the trapdoor and lock it. We try to scoot the armoire over it, but that’s bolted too. The fire I built is puttering out. There are three extra logs. I reach for one and place it on the flames while Isaac takes a look around.

“Where do you think we are?” I ask when he comes to sit on the floor next to me. He sets the knife down between us. This makes me feel better. I don’t trust anything yet. If he’s not hiding his weapons from me, that’s a good thing.

“This much snow? Who knows? We could be anywhere.”

We are nowhere, I think.

“How did you get out of your bindings?”

“What?” I don’t understand what he’s saying, then I realize that he thinks I was tied up too.

“I didn’t have any,” I say.

He turns his head to look at me. We are so close the vapors of our breath are mingling mid-air. He has dark stubble on his face. I want to rub my palm across it just so I can feel something sharp and real.

His eyes, always intense, are two dark thinking pools. He hardly ever blinks. It unnerved me in the beginning when I first met him, but after a while I grew to appreciate it. It was like he was afraid to miss something. His patients, who also noticed it, used to say they appreciated his lack of blinking in surgery.

You know Doctor Asterholder is never going to nick a vein, was the running joke in the hospital.

Why wasn’t I gagged and blindfolded, with my arms tied to the posts of my bed?

“So you could free me,” he says, reading my thoughts.

A chill runs up my spine.

“Isaac, I’m afraid.”

He shifts closer, puts an arm around my shoulders. “Me too.”

Chapter Four

When the house is warmer and our limbs feel like they can move again, we unlock the trap door and go downstairs. We sit facing each other at the table in the kitchen. Our eyes have the glazed vacant look of two people in shock. Though I have no doubt we’d spring, quick as cats, if we needed to. I touch the handle of my knife. Both Isaac and I have set our knives on the table in front of us; the knives are pointed in a face off. He doesn’t have to say anything for me to know that there is suspicion on his face. I wear it too. We look silly; abducted and locked in a house, waiting for whoever did this to return.

“Ransom,” I say. My voice is raspy. It catches in my throat before I can say anything else. I swallow and look up at Isaac.

His eyes dart to the corners of the room. His leg is bouncing up and down, I can feel the vibrations of it in the wood. Every few minutes his eyes move to the window, then back to the door.

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