Sarah Aisling’s Picture Choice: 2
Title: Got a Secret . . . Can You Keep it? (Part Seventeen)
Ciel huddled in a ball against the cold cinder blocks, arms wrapped around her knobby knees. By her best guess, it was early morning. Time had a way of slipping away when you had no clock or source of natural light. Beside her, Janice thrashed around on the cot they'd been sharing, muttering in her sleep. Janice's raven hair was tangled and matted, her translucent skin pasty and dry.
Three days had passed since Melinda Jeffries announced her plan to take Janice far away. Despite Melinda's assertion that Ciel was the only innocent among them, Ciel was afraid if Melinda took Janice, she'd be forgotten and left behind to die in the bunker. Ciel's eyes burned from lack of sleep and the canned air being piped in through the vents. She hadn't slept more than a few hours at a time the past few days; aching bones and an inability to think clearly were beginning to take a toll.
I have to keep my mind sharp. There's got to be a way out of this.
Janice whimpered, thrusting a hand out in front of her. “Get that thing away from me . . .” Her cries grew in intensity, her words mostly unintelligible.
Ciel kicked the leg of the cot. “Hey . . . you're just dreaming.” Shame niggled at her when Janice startled and sat up abruptly, but Ciel's patience had worn thin.
Janice swung her feet to the floor and dropped her head in her hands, pushing the mass of snarled hair back from her face. “Shit.” She rubbed at her eyes and shivered.
“What were you dreaming?”
“I was in Aunt MJ's kitchen, and a skull was sitting on the counter. There was some kind of creepy fungus growing out of the eye-socket.”
Ciel shook her head. “You dream of a skull on your crazy aunt's counter, and the part you find creeptastic is the fungi. Really?”
The two of them looked at each other and laughed. It felt good to laugh—as if something deep inside had lain dormant for too long.
Janice placed a hand on Ciel's knee, her expression turning serious. “I'm sorry about all this, you know. You shouldn't be in this mess.”
“It's not your fault.” Ciel grabbed Janice's hand and squeezed it. “I don't blame you. We have to find a way out of here, though. Maybe if we work together on it?”
Janice stared into space for a few minutes before answering. “Yeah, I think we need to work together.” She nodded her head. “Aunt MJ is . . .”
“Off her nut,”Ciel finished. Tears filled her eyes a moment later. “Janice, I miss my mom and dad . . . and Jason.”
Janice did a double take, her sympathetic expression turning to burning curiosity. “Wait—Jason who?”
“The Jason Greene from the football team?”
“Well, yeah.” Ciel ducked her head, cheeks glowing rosy.
Janice smacked her arm. “You never told me!”
Ciel shook her head. “It wasn't like that—we weren't . . . until after.” Ciel went on to tell Janice about Detective Hoffstra, how Jason walked her home that first time, and how their friendship grew into more.
“You go, Ciel! It's always the quiet ones,” Janice sing-songed.
Things felt almost normal for a few minutes—until the metal door swung open and Melinda Jeffries stood in the entryway like a wraith. She set a tray of food on the small table beside the door. “Time to eat, girls.” She turned to leave but hesitated and looked back. “It's good to hear you laugh.”
The two girls just stared until Melinda closed and locked the door behind her.
Janice laughed shakily. “What a buzz-kill, huh? You hungry?”
Janice brought the tray over by the cot, and they sat on the floor to eat together. There were bowls of barley soup, chicken salad sandwiches, and glasses of milk.
They ate in silence, their mood somber after the reminder of where they were. Ciel polished off her sandwich quickly. Janice went for the barley soup, scraping every last bit from her bowl.
“Mmm . . . this is so good.” Janice glanced at Ciel's untouched soup. “Aren't you going to have yours?”
“No-oo. Trust me, you don't want to see what happens if I eat barley.”
“Eew. Mind if I have some of it, then? Love this shit.”
Janice managed to eat half of the soup before rubbing her belly and declaring herself stuffed.
“Wanna play cards?” Ciel asked.
“Why not?” Janice covered a yawn.
Ciel dug through the desk drawer for the playing cards she'd spotted the other day. She sat cross-legged and shuffled, dealing a pile for each of them. “All set?”
When Janice didn't respond, Ciel glanced up. Janice was slumped against the side of the cot, completely limp. Ciel's heart sped, and she crawled to Janice, sending cards sliding all over the place as she went. Pressing two fingers to Janice's neck, Ciel felt for a pulse and found it. Relieved, she smacked Janice's cheeks lightly but received no response. She lifted Janice's arm and let go. It flopped down lifelessly.
Ciel's troubled gaze landed on the tray of food and her own half-eaten bowl of barley soup. Oh, God. She drugged the soup.
The bolt disengaging was like a gunshot ricocheting around the room. Ciel gasped, knowing Melinda Jeffries expected both of them to be out cold. She slumped over next to Janice and tried to slow her slamming heart. She allowed her lids to flutter shut and prayed she'd be able to fool Janice's aunt until she had an opportunity to do something.
Melinda Jeffries hummed to herself, taking her time as she walked around the bunker. She bent down and removed the tray from the floor, placing it on the desk. “Sorry, girls. It's the only way I could get you both to cooperate. Let's go, Janice. When you wake up, we'll be far from here.”
Ciel's heart beat faster. Like hell, she thought, waiting for the perfect moment to act.
Melinda leaned over and grabbed Janice, trying to pull her up. “You're like a dead weight, Jan, even if you are a hundred pounds.” She knelt down and situated Janice over one shoulder, struggling to her feet.
Ciel chose that moment to peek up at Melinda. All the struggling had swept the hood back from her face.
Melinda was beautiful. It was like a glimpse into Janice's future. But then she turned her head. The other side of her face was a twisted network of scars—as if she'd been made of wax and had melted. Her half-closed eye drooped; the cheek muscle and the corner of her mouth sagged.
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Sarah Aisling hails from the East Coast of the US and loves living by the ocean with her incredibly indulgent husband and precocious daughter. She’s currently editing her upcoming novel, The Weight of Roses. When Sarah isn’t being enslaved by her characters, she can be found with her nose in a book, obsessing over nail polish or anything leopard, biking, hiking, camping, and spending time with friends and family. Twitter: @SarahAisling Facebook