“Just so we’re clear, you both understand the concept behind the rack?”

No one answered.

“Andy?”

“The purpose is to pull the appendages, stretching them until dislocation occurs.” Violet detected the strain in Andy’s voice. “Once the joints are separated, severe muscle damage occurs. Many victims of the rack, who weren’t subsequently executed, never had the use of their arms and legs again.”

The unstoppable weight of terror pushed into Vi.

“I did what you asked,” she said. “I killed that man.”

“Yes, you did, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Now you’re both holding a remote control in your left hand, and I took the liberty of placing your thumbs on the buttons. Only one of the racks can turn at a time. Andy, we’ll start with you. When the pain becomes too much, you can stop the stretching by simply pressing that button. But you must know that when your machine stops, Violet’s starts. Violet, when the pain becomes too much for you to bear, feel free to transfer your agony back to Andy.”

“Luther,” Andy said. “Please—”

“Don’t you dare beg this piece of shit,” Violet said.

Luther laughed. “There’s the girl I love.”

Andy

IN the mirror’s reflection, I could see the gears begin to turn beneath the gurney.

So, so slowly.

The pressure-build almost unnoticeable.

Gentle even.

Then my bare feet began to point toward the wall and I felt my lats elongating.

Still no more painful than an early-morning stretch.

Only a stretch that never eased.

The muscle- and joint-tension continuing to build, and now the first impulse to fight against that steady pulling overcame me, and I tugged against the cables, my elbows and knees bending slightly at the joints.

The tension relieved for three beautiful seconds, and then the relentless pull of the cables straightened them back out.

God.

Now there was pain.

Manageable, but growing, and for the first time in the last few hours, I forgot what Luther had done to my leg.

The sensation was of my calves and the muscles in my back beginning to rip, but that pain was almost instantly eclipsed by the incomprehensible pressure in my knees and elbows.

Joints extending and then hyperextending.

I heard myself grunting.

Saw Violet’s face in the mirror, watching mine.

Beyond terror.

She was speaking to me, but I couldn’t hear her. Couldn’t hear anything over the straining in my voice getting louder with each passing second.

“Luther,” I said through my teeth. “All right, turn it off.”

Sweat trickled down into my eyes and now I felt what could only be the cartilage beginning to stretch, and the pain was like a thousand needles sliding into my joints.

“Please!”

Through the sheet of tears, I could see the blurred image of Luther standing between the gurneys, watching me.

Each micron of time, the pain and the pull intensifying, and I realized I was screaming, and that nothing I had ever experienced had approached this level of complete agony.

Press the button, it’ll stop.

Press the button, Andy.

You’re being ripped apart.

You’ll take the pain back from her, but you just need a moment of relief.

A moment to think.

I felt my finger depress the button on the remote control.

The noise and hum beneath my gurney stopped, and that bright, cutting pain retreated.

I was gasping for breath, and I looked at Violet in the mirror, saw her watching me, tears running down her face as the cables began to stretch her feet.

“Push the button, Vi,” I said.

“No.”

“Vi—”

“I can take it, Andy.”

“No, you can’t. Give it back to me.”

I pressed my button, but nothing happened.

I could hear Vi straining now, fighting against that first uncomfortable tug.

In the mirror—her face the definition of dread.

“Luther, what do you want?” I said.

“This.”

“But this will be over soon.”

“Define soon.”

“You know what I mean. Eventually, we’ll be dead.”

“Please shut up, Andy. I’m trying to enjoy—”

“You want more than this, Luther.”

Violet groaned.

Her head was still immobilized and she stared into the ceiling, eyes bulging with disbelief.

Her groan became a high-pitched squeal—she was screaming through clenched teeth.

“Luther, stop it!” I screamed, and then, “Violet, push the button!”

Her scream became full-voiced, and it entered me like a knife in the gut, and then the thought came as a prayer, I just want to die.

The pain returned, somehow more brilliant than before, the machine vibrating beneath me as the gears resumed their terrible revolutions.

Now Vi was shouting my name, begging me to give back the pain and everything in my being was screaming for my thumb to push the button and oblige her, to stop these cables from tearing me apart.

The words must have been buried deep in my subconscious—I couldn’t recall having ever thought them—but suddenly I was scream-shouting, “I’LL BE HIM, LUTHER! PLEASE GOD STOP THIS! I’LL BE HIM! I’LL BE ORSON! I’LL BE MY BROTHER! I SWEAR TO GOD!”

I must have blacked out.

When I opened my eyes, my arms and legs burned but the tension was gone and the gurney no longer hummed beneath me.

I blinked through the tears.

Luther’s face was inches from mine.

Pale. Unblemished. Ageless.

His black eyes brimming with something I’d never seen in them before—real emotion.

Rage.

Confusion.

A bottomless sorrow.

“You miss him, don’t you?” I asked.

“Are you f**king with me?”

“Luther—”

“You think this is pain? I can break your mind.”

“Listen to me. Do you know what my life has been these last several years? What Orson, what you have tried to make me? And I fought it and I fought it and I fought it…and now I’m done. Fucking done. We were twins, Luther. Do you understand that bond? Since his death, I’ve felt Orson inside of me, and he’s just been getting stronger.”

“You’d say anything to escape this pain.”

“Maybe that’s true. Or maybe what you said about pain is true. How it can make us learn about ourselves. And I’ve experienced nothing from you and my brother in the last eight years but pain. Physical, emotional, psychological.”

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