Chapter 1 Kidnapped
Taylor watched the final moments of twilight. It was her favorite time of night. The last of the golden light slipped behind southern Utah's crimson mountains. The reason favored this time of night, was the deception it created on the horizon. Just like magic, the red rock peaks appeared engulfed in flames.
She strolled down the hill to the park, a meeting spot of for the end of the school-year party. She bubbled with excitement. She would be curfew free tonight, as she would be spending the night at her best friend Maddy’s house.
Someone crashed into Taylor's back, as she approached the 6-foot hedge surrounding the park. She frantically flapped her arms to ward off the fall. Merciless gravity, along with brute force, hurled her forward. Her palms scraped against the rough walkway, receiving the brunt of the impact.
No, it wasn't a person pinning her to the sun-baked ground. A reeking creature sat atop her, its claws digging into her flesh, sending stinging sparks through her. Her mind raced, what kind of creature had attacked her. Would she die a must horrible death? Held so tightly to the ground she could hardly turn her head to look around. The menace placed increasing pressure into her backside, as she attempted to break free.
“Help,” she screamed.
Her arms trembled as she tried to push her upper body up, against the weight... Her petite form hardly moved against the weight. The creature responded with razor-sharp claws pressed stiffly into her backside. Not wanting to bleed to death, she slumped back to the pavement. A snarl rippled through the air. Black ink-like droplets sprayed Taylor's arms and face. The stench of decay grew unbearable.
Another pathetic “help,” escaped Taylor's lips. Her best friend Maddy was waiting for her on the other side of the block. They were going to ride together for the biggest party of the year. Maddy would call for help, or rescue her, from the beast if she heard her.
Crushed on the sidewalk, and managing a flood of nausea, her ribs ground into the cement.
Before the animal could consume her, two black-clad people, pulled-up next to the sidewalk. She could hear the hum of the car. Was it the police, here to rescue her? Only able to see their feet swiftly dart around her. The creature did not waver upon seeing others enter the scene. Its considerable weight held steadfast, as it growled at them.
A muffled gunshot discharged near her. Taylor screamed, and then flinched at the sudden noise. There should have been an echo against the surrounding mountainside, but it never rang out. No one spoke to her, or checked to see if she okay.
Another sound of flesh impacting flesh and the weight was lifted off her. Before she could raise herself, an officer wrenched her arm, pulling her to a standing position.
“Hurry we are trying to save you” She turned to see a guy dressed all in black. Her eyes darted behind her. His partner, engaged in a predatory circular dance, distracting the beast. A female officer waved a gun at the animal engaging it away from them.
Taylor was guided to a small car, waiting with an open door. Unaware if the threat remained, she slid inside willingly. She pressed her forehead against the cool glass, to see the giant, hairless, gray beast chased away by the gun-toting policewoman. The creature bound right past her window.
Fangs so long they fell far below the short muzzle, dripping with black saliva. The horrible part, the monster's glowing blood-red eyes, disturbing to see on any living animal. Rows of long sharp quills protruded from its spine. The quills bounced as it scurried away. A familiar trench-coated man followed the animal now.
She had seen him before. He had lurked by her home earlier that day. She thought back to when she had seen him earlier that day. On her walk home from school. It troubled her, his presence entirely out of place. With temperatures near 100 degrees, at that time. She thought he must have been insane to wear that clothing. She even had called her Mom and almost the police. He must be following her, how did he fit into this puzzle.
The car roared to life, her attention to those in front. She grasped the smooth leather bench under her fingertips. The sidewalk-street lights offered little illumination of the interior. She could see two teenagers. No not the police but these guys did help her. The one obscured by the driver's seat, appeared to be female, black curls peeked around her chair. The passenger, a teenage guy, close to Taylor's own age.
"Hey, thanks for...what-ever you did back there. I need to go home, could take me to the corner on Stonebridge Drive?”
She tightened her grip on her backpack; the car lurched forward with another surge of acceleration. At this pace, they would be out of the city in a minute. She looked at the passenger, raising her brows at him. Why didn't he respond to her request?
He looked her over, before turning back around in his seat.
"Fox, ask her what she did with the key.” The female voice drifted back at her, the tone sophisticated yet filled with agitation.
The request puzzled Taylor. What key are they talking about, like a set of keys? Everything was happening so fast she was confused.
"Give us back our key; we know you have it.”
Tall, dark, and handsome just became the understatement of the century. Evidently, he was a slave to the gym; or involved with school sports. Large brown eyes, more than just hot-he was gorgeous.
They must be new to the area, how did someone like him escape her best friend's radar. Maddy kept tabs on the newbie's in school.
"My keys are with my car, and that's none of your business. Jokes up, you don't need to play along anymore. Please take me to the police station now. I think that guy back there, was following me. I want to call my parents, before they go back to the house." She grabbed the edge of his front seat, to steady herself.
"No, you don't get it. We have to talk about the key, we saw you take it this afternoon, hand it over,” he said sternly, holding his hand out.
She could see his intense brown eyes glaring at her, far from a friendly stare. BFF Maddy, the most beautiful girl in the school, so charming she always got what she wanted. This had her mark all over it. She must have found this hot guy to prank her like this. They had pranked each other before, but this just upped them all to a new level.
"Okay…Maddy wins. Did she do this, set this trick up? Talk about one hell of a joke, having the creepy man in the trench coat stalk me. Just so you guys know; I almost called the police this afternoon. That sinister guy completely freaked me out. He stalked my neighborhood, hiding behind bushes. Oh, and that creature, don’t even tell me. I don't care; just take me home.”
"Fox,” it came from the girl driving, her tone revealed her displeasure of the situation.
"Do you have a sphere with you, a perfect sphere, and golden with inscribed characters?” He used his hands to approximate the size.
So, now it all made sense. Somehow, that stupid ball would play into this drama. Not the first time today, the ball became a nuisance. Taylor stumbled on it. She found it obscured in the dirt she hadn't even seen it. Rather she had tripped on it, falling in the least graceful way. Her pride took the brunt of the injury, as several witnessed her fall. She had examined the offender, a mud-crusted gold ball, lying in the dirt. The intricate symbol markings were fascinating, perhaps something valuable- so she kept it.
"Oh, you're talking about the gold golf ball thingy. You shouldn't have left your 'so-called key' in a pile of excavation dirt. What a horrible place to keep it. It must be your lucky day. I happen to have the ball in my backpack.”
Taylor pushed back her light-brown hair, tucking it behind her ear. She unzipped her backpack. The gold ball sat in the front pocket. Her main compartment of the backpack was filled with clothes for a sleepover. Despite there being no light, the ball shimmered giving off an ice blue glare. The light surprised her, a gold ball reflecting ice blue. This she didn't expect. Not that it mattered; the ball apparently belonged to them.
"Take your ball; I didn't steal it. If that's what you're implying, I'm sorry if you thought that.” She tossed the ball to Fox, who caught it with a single hand. She held her bag closer, waiting for them to pull over, better yet turn-around. He lobbed the ball right back into her lap.
"Hey! You said you wanted your stupid key. What's wrong with you, are you deaf, I asked to be let out?” Taylor didn't care if she sounded angry, and no amount of good looks justified their bad manners. She scowled at him, wishing he could see her displeasure.
Taylor dropped the ball back into the unzipped compartment of her backpack. She leaned back into the bench, shaking her head trying to understand why they were being so weird about this. They had long passed the city, driving pass the edge of the residential neighborhoods, away from civilization. First, a creepy guy stalks her, and then a monster leapt on her back and now this.
"She activated the key, Kat.” Fox said.
The driver name is Kat, probably short for Katherine. She would have chosen something like Kat too. Katherine was so old-fashion, and dull.
They moved quickly, the car subtly weaved between the others on the road, moving out of the condensed traffic. The powerful engine revved with the acceleration. They rushed. It was an ominous sign. These two must be involved in a devious plan; Taylor wanted no part of it, clearly, now she was still in danger.
Fox scrutinized Taylor, the unexpected gesture making her uncomfortable. She slid away from him across the bench, closer to the door. Who did they think they were, racing along the edge of town? Let them speed, and then the police would notice their recklessness. Hopefully she could get out of this situation.
"Are you sure Fox, it was glowing? Get it back; I want to see for myself.” Kat asked.
“Yes, they key is active like the other one we've observed. She'll have to keep it now.”
Kat slammed her hands against the steering wheel. The thud heard throughout the car.
“Damn it Fox, we're too late...”
Taylor noticed they had left the city, and traveled the black, deserted freeway of the southwest Utah desert. This wasn't a joke, in that moment she realized the events of her day were all related, and being stuck in this car was the greatest threat to her safety. She breathed a sharp breath in, holding it as she tried to make sense of her situation.
“Fox, Kat you guys need to let me out, this isn't funny. I don't understand where you’re taking me?" her voice quivered at the end, unable to conceal her distress.
She waited; bit her lip trying to figure out why they didn't respond. Being polite wasn't getting anywhere she needed a different approach.
"My Dad is an attorney, he'll inform the district attorney to go easy on you. I'll tell them this was all a mistake; you didn't mean to take me. I didn't know the ball belonged to anyone. I found it abandoned, on the edge of that construction site. I'll make this easy; you can just pull-over here. ”
"Your life just went down a different road; there isn't anything we can change.” His cryptic message made no sense. She shook her head 'no' at the outstretched hand, pressing herself further into the seat. He looked normal, not like a demon who stole teenage girls from the roadside. Unwilling to engage with him, she forced her eyes back to the window.
"Please you don't want to do this, just let me out of this car.” She said curtly, refusing to look him in the eyes. Taylor didn't recognize the direction the car traveled. The moonless night made it so dark outside; she was unable to determine the familiar rocky landmarks.
Full blast, air-conditioner filled the silence. She hugged her arms around her, the trendy-gauzy tank top no match for the chilled air. She dressed up to attend a weekend high-school party with her friends, not kidnapped. She had spent hours doing her hair, and even her make-up, now it would be ruined. Her blue eyes gave into the welling tears.
"I'm sorry, this all our fault. My mistake in timing has resulted in your tremendous situation. You're not going home.” the words faded, like he changed his mind about uttering them.
Kat snapped around to Fox. Taylor could see her fine slender facial features. Perfectly even bronze skin; this wasn't a case of a sun-worshiper.
"You shouldn't have enlightened her, once she hears the truth she will freak. You better get the medicated spray-can from the glove compartment.” Surely, they didn't mean she would never go home. Her heart raced, every horrible headline her Dad ever forced her to read, playing in her mind like a looped videotape. The imagined headlines of her disappearance would be all over the news.
"Noooo,” she screamed the panic pulsed through her body.
She lunged for the doors, jamming fingers into any crevice to find the handles. The handles snapped back, childproofed or victim-proof. She did the next best thing she could think of, by wildly kicking their seats, pushing her toes hard against the leather. Her foot smashing into their seats, until one landed on her target. Nothing respectable happened to kidnapped victims; she would face the highway before she went with them.
Her Dad said, “Fight and scream like crazy.” Her Dad would know, day in- and- out he prosecuted criminals like this.
"You can't do this to me." Taylor screamed her voice breaking as she fought against their seats.
She reached around the seats, determined to scratch their eyeballs. Her actions seemed futile; she believed her life depended on the fight. Kat braked sharply, smashing Taylor shoulders into the front seats. Then momentum tossed her to the bench, landing on her back forcefully.
Kat exploded out of the car, throwing open Taylor's door. She scrambled to the other side of the bench, afraid of Kat's angry intentions.
"Kat, don't...she'll settle down.” He sounded concerned as he rushed to Kat's side. Armed with an aerosol can, Kat's trigger finger on the nozzle, she held it up above Taylor menacingly. She slowly leaned into the rear of the car.
What a funny item for Kat to use as a weapon. Would she attack her with hairspray, that can't be all that dreadful? She could escape; somehow slip past them running into the desert. Kat's fiendish grin was illuminated by a single dome-light overhead, it casting intimidating shadows down her features.
Kat seemed a mirror opposite of Taylor. Light-brown layered hair, icy blue eyes with a dark rim, and shorter than a ninth grader she would never measure up to someone like Kat. Kat's beauty entranced Taylor. Distracted by her exotic looks, and long and lean she looked like she just stepped off the runway.
Kat sprayed Taylor before she could block the stream with her hands. Her time was running short she lunged for the gap between Kat and the door. Taylor could have moved, but her feet seemed to be stuck in knee-high mud. She slumped to her side splayed on the bench sideways.
"What did you do to me?” Her speech slurred.
Waving the cool mist away from her face, it had no scent. She held her breath, avoiding the fog. Her vision the last to go, everything growing blurry and fading into darkness.
Streaming sunlight glared into her face, the warmth spreading across her sun flushed cheeks. The light isn't what tugged her from slumber. The most-detestable odor, capable of waking the dead summoned her from sleep. She gulped; the smell wrenched her stomach. She held off the burst of crippling nausea. The stench was a gross mixture of rotten-eggs, decayed flesh, and burnt hair. Worse yet the smell seemed to be materializing from her.
“Our cargo is waking up, pull-over up there. She needs another dose of the spray.”
“Let her be Kat, she'll be certain to conduct herself like an adult. The smell is awful; the Chupacabra must have slobbered on her.”
“We'll never get rid of, the putrid odor back there. I would rather tackle a skunk any day.”
She recognized those voices. Taylor struggled with the confusion in her head. The fog distorted the whispers drifting through her mind. Her brain labored to categorize their expressions. She opened her eyes; lying on the bench of a car.
In addition to her sickness, desperation was uncovered as she recalled her experiences from the night. She succumbed to sleep; her last memory of an aerosol can aimed at her face. Why her, she had tried to give back their ball. Her head throbbed, and in a single movement, she swung her feet around to sit up.
She searched the sky, seeing how far the sun traveled. His dark eyes watched her from the mirror. Fox observed her behind the wheel, time-to-time checking the road. What request could she use? She already begged, pleaded, and threatened for her freedom. Fierce kicks and screams had resulted in forced naptime. Taylor let her headrest on the cold window, the countryside flashed quickly past. Sitting upright had reminded her she needed to use the restroom. She shifted her weight, crossing her legs. Taylor hoped to reduce the expanding pressure in her bladder.
“Do you need something?” Fox said. The compassion in his voice, obviously fake, that much she could tell. His considerate nature just another ploy, he obviously was playing a game.
“I really need to pee, can you please stop somewhere?” Taylor said, crossing her legs tighter. A deliberate action, so he would recognize her seriousness.
Fox chose a small store far from the highway. Their stop, a run-down, peeled paint exterior, hardly in business, one-pump gas shop. Very few patrons used this station. The cost of fuel scared them back to the franchises near the highway. Perhaps an opportunity would come; her eyes investigated the surroundings.
Taylor needed someone's attention long enough, for them to remember her face. She was confident her disappearance would be all-over the news. Her optimism diminished as they pulled to the rear of the property. Two exterior bathrooms, the probability of this being a random choice faded.
Kat twisted in her seat; her long fingers gripped the edge of Fox's chair. Sizeable brown eyes devoid of sympathy looked down on Taylor.
"You get to make a decision Taylor, come inside without any resistance. Alternatively, you may choose to ride in the trunk my way. It is up to you, and how you conduct yourself here.” Kat ended her orders with a wicked smile.
Taylor agreed right away to obey those terms. She had no doubt Kat would spray her like an irritating bug, knocking her out into a dreamless sleep. Then they would stuff her sleeping body, into their airless trunk of the car. Just thinking about it made her shudder. Kat meant those words; something terrible had made Kat a cruel, callused person.
Taylor pressed several times on the soap dispenser. She released a tiny dribble of pink goo. A ruthless prison guard, Kat had hauled her in the bathroom, watching over her the whole time. Kat's height was intimidating 5'9 or 5'10, enough to tower over Taylor. Kat folded her arms across her chest, prepared to frighten off any visitor, with an evil stare alone.
Taylor fought the smell clinging to her. She scrubbed up and down the length of her arms. Water running all over her clothes as she tried to rinse off the suds. The abrasive paper towels hardly lessened the smell embedded on her skin.
Kat's impatient toe tapped, sounding against the sticky cement floor. Taylor felt no need to examine herself in the neglected foggy mirror. Not that she would even be able to see her reflection, it is smeared state.
She knew her hair, makeup, and clothes would be in shambles. The unpleasant smell remained; along with bits of paper-lint trailed up her arms. She smelled like cheap soap and decay, how fitting.
"We're leaving!” Kat demanded, ending Taylors cleaning session.
The car sat idling, the trunk left wide open. Kats message still in-force she meant business. Kat resumed driving; Fox sat in the passenger seat.
He sifted through a brown-paper bag. "Do you want a snack?” Fox held up a bag of puffy cheese chips.
“Water, if you've got any on hand? Really, any drink will do?” Taylor said, hoping they would bring the most basic of necessities.
This wasn't her most unlucky day ever. Fox tossed her a bottle of cold water. She guzzled the water all at once. When she went to set the bottle on the floor, she noticed her backpack disappeared.
"Hey where is my bag?” Taylor made no attempt to hide the irritation in her voice. She saw Fox lean forward, handling something at his feet.
"Watch out, here it comes!” He tossed the bag over his shoulder. It dropped directly into her outstretched hands. He returned to throwing cheese-puffs back into his mouth, never missing a single throw. They went through her bag; disheveled clothing carelessly stuffed back inside. Her wallet might have escaped their detection.
Like most teens, she carried a phone with her. That quite possibly would become the biggest regret of her life. A terrible decision to leave it home, lying on her bed. All so her parent's calls could innocently avoided. She had felt so clever at the time. That feeling evaporated into painful regret. The slim pocket was empty.
"Are you searching for something, Taylor Miller?” Kat's taunt hung in the air. Taylor chose a muted response, not wanting to provide the mean girl any additional fodder. There was an excellent chance Kat would tell her exactly where the wallet hid. It's was easy to imagine the heinous smile, from her mocking tone.
Kat wiggled Taylor's wallet, just above her shoulder. Then quickly withdrew it out of sight. “I needed to get your name and address. I am going to keep this safe; I thought you would appreciate my kindness.”
She had run-ins with cruel girls, but nothing like this. Kat so beautiful, she could have had anything in the world, choosing instead to participate in heinous crimes. Taylor's money and identification out of reach, in the hands of a nefarious witch.
Taylor wiped the tears with the back of her hand, forcing herself to draw a long breath. Refusing to break into the sob stalked her; she tried to hide the sniffles of runaway tears. Cold, heartless teenagers, more-so than the usual variety she encountered. Not an ounce of fight left all she could do was watch the, dark-green conifer forest fLong past southern Utah, they must have crossed into another state maybe two.
She tried to calculate the hours that had passed. Guessing they been driving for ten hours or more. Unsure how long the medicated sleep time lasted, the number of hours she slept, a fiddly-guess at best. They turned onto a country road, with no traffic.
Tall, rigid-grey, steep mountains appeared; the tops looked like they had been drizzled in white paint. Dark forest crept up the mountainsides. She reflected on the last twenty-four hours, questioning every decision leading to this moment. Leaving her phone home, forever she would regret that choice. Remorse from her actions to walk home from school cascaded through her.
“If you think you’re the only one, disappointed, get over it Fox. I sacrificed everything to get the key, so many years...gone. She ruined my destiny.” Fox looked back at Taylor; perhaps he too faulted her for this. Compassion or pity clouded his eyes.
If she guessed right, she saw pity.
"We need to talk to Grandmother; she will tell us what to do.” Fox said his voice seemed calm.
"I'll drive faster, no need to call her yet." Kat said turning her head to smile at Fox.
"Kat, like you need a reason to drive faster. I imagine Grandmother senses the assignment is unsuccessful.” He teased Kat, nudging her arm. The closeness between them, an indication of something, she just couldn't figure out what it was.
Taylor couldn't figure out, far too fatigued. She worked to commit their features to her memory. When rescued, she would describe them in precise detail. Taylor worried, how would she tell them her abductors resembled runway models? They didn't match any notorious stereotype that she knew. What if the authorities didn't believe her story, how would she explain the monster that attacked her? With perfect tans, their swarthy skin may just be an indication of heritage. Fox sported the fashionable-disheveled hairstyle. A manner most adults would think he hadn't bothered to fix his hair that day. Their eyes, a dark-chocolate color almost black, and a trait she could easily remember. Kidnapped by gorgeous captors, attacked by a hairless beast, who in their right mind would fall for that?
“Well Grandmother is going to be thrilled, someone new to fuss over. She hasn't had a new pet for a while. Kat, she would still braid your hair if you'd let her.”
Fox teased her; it seemed like a risky undertaking. The two of them responded to the playful jabs as if it were common. Kat seemed engrossed in driving fast. How she managed to speed without plunging them off the mountain; that was a miracle.
Several hours later, the car stopped gradually in front of a black-iron gate. Kat pushed an overhead remote control. The signal opened the heavy gate. Taylor welcomed the paved road with bright eyes. She grew tired of the choking dust, and bone-jarring bumps of the dirt road.
The first building they passed on the private road, a small building, impossible to accommodate human occupants. A short distance further, rolling hillsides, carpeted in long green grassy meadows. The natural green composed of long green grass, mingled with bright colored wildflowers. If that was picturesque, enough butterflies danced above the flowers. A large barn came into view, logs and planks of rusty-brown wood paneled the building. The roof made of long-green sheets of metal. White and gray horses stood in corrals, lifting their heads as they passed.
The countryside different from her own home, red rocks, and desert plants seemed dry and drab here. Taylor still missed them, longing to be home more than ever. The building in front of them, so large it looked like a hotel. Camouflaged, adorned in brown flat stones, coffee colored round logs, and a metal roof much like the barn. The building blended into the background.
They pulled up to one of several garage doors. Kat reached and pushed another button bringing the garage door to life. Rows of expensive cars lined in precise rows. Very expensive vehicles, it spoke volumes of their wealth.
Maybe they took people hostage; it would explain the lavish vehicles. Her parents would buy her freedom. With no doubt, her Dad would pay a substantial amount of money. He would do anything to bring her home. Even her Mom, so distant with societal involvement, would do anything for her return. What a corrupt way to earn a living, using a child as a bargaining chip.
Taylor bit her bottom lip, waiting for them as they exited the ride. The car doors shut almost simultaneous. They hardly spoke to each other, as if they read each other's minds.
"Get your bag Taylor" Kat shouted. Almost forgotten she slung over her shoulder. She stood between them, hardly reaching their shoulders. Fox grabbed her by her elbow, guiding her to door on the other side of the stuffy room. The finger print restricted zone meant one thing. This would be for more complicated than Taylor ever imagined.