Saturday, September 16, 2000
He should have stocked his room’s tiny kitchenette.
One of the Fifth Cohort — Wylie or Wayne or something like that – had warned Abednego. “Look, best thing I can tell you is, stock that fridge and keep it full, keep the cupboards full. Sometimes you’re just not going to want to go out to the dining hall.”
Sometimes, like when the halls were dark, the floor glowing with an eerie red light, and screams echoed in the distance like a haunted house.
The Fifth Cohort didn’t inherently hate Abednego, the way the older classes did, now that they knew who he was — who his brothers were. But they had no reason to be nice to him, either, and so he’d ignored probably-Wayne’s advice.
And now here he was, stepping out into the horror show. He’d skipped dinner the night before after tripping over an invisible foot on his way out of his last class and running into a much-more-visible elbow on his way into the dining hall. His stomach was growling. And — he’d checked twice — the only thing in the kitchenette was a stale bagel from Monday. He wasn’t that worried about the dark halls.
He closed his door with a firm thump, wishing once again for a lock. So far, nobody had messed with his stuff, but he’d gone back to habits he’d been able to relax when Meesh and Shad had left home: everything important was locked in boxes, the boxes were hidden under innocent-looking piles of clothes, and he’d dumped miscellaneous crap on top of the clothes. It had worked most of the time to keep his brothers out of his things.
Nothing had worked 100% of the time, not with Meesh and Shad. Not even them going away to school for four years.
The hallway was just light enough to move down it. It had to be on purpose, another tool in the freak-show toolbox. They couldn’t scare Abednego. He put his hand on the left-hand wall and started walking.
The hall seemed to twist more than it ought to; the floor seemed to dip and bump, when yesterday it had been flat and smooth. Abednego muttered to himself and kept going. As long as he kept his hand on the left-hand wall, as long as—
A pit in the floor caught his foot and he went sprawling. He landed hard, catching his jaw on a surface that felt more like concrete than the fancy, soft carpets. For a moment, his head swam and he lost track of where he was.
He staggered to his feet. The red lights were gone, and he couldn’t see his hand held a foot in front of his face. He reached for the wall. It ought to be to his left, but he couldn’t feel anything. He shuffled carefully sideways. The walls were still out of reach. Another step. His fingers brushed against fabric.
He snatched his hand back quickly. No, the last thing he wanted was to deal with the populace of Addergoole in the dark in unstable terrain.
“Ah-ah-ah,” the shadows chided him. “Not getting away that easily.” The voice was distorted, sounding like metal tearing. The hands that grabbed for Abednego felt like claws, but the grip was like a vice. “You’ve walked into our territory, and it’s Hell Night. You’re ours now.”
He could get out of a grip. He had loads of practice getting out of being grabbed. He twisted and squirmed, just right, and he felt the hands sliding off of him. It hurt like hell and it would leave a line of bruises, but he was free.
A sharp pricking at his throat became a line of warm pain. “What did we tell you, new boy? You’re mine now. Say it, and the pain will stop. Try to get away, and the pain is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.”
“I can deal with pain.” It was a stupid thing to say. It was the sort of thing that Meshach would have beaten him bloody for, just to prove he was wrong. But this wasn’t Meshach. This place might be creepy, but it didn’t have anyone as bad as Abednego’s brothers.
The blade at his throat bit deeper. Abednego could feel the blood trickling down into the collar of his shirt. “Pain, sure. Lots of people can deal with ‘pain’.” The voice was changing. The distortions were fading away, leaving an angry male voice. “The question is, what happens when we go beyond pain? What happens when I start cutting bits off?”
“You—” He thought about saying you can’t and decided he wasn’t that stupid, even now. Tell someone they couldn’t so something to you, and they’d go above and beyond just to prove they could. “Please don’t.” Sometimes that worked. Sometimes.
The pressure against his throat let up but did not go away altogether. “You’re mine. All you have to do is acknowledge it and you’ll be fine.”
Abed shifted, testing. Suddenly, a hand was holding his hair, pinning him in place. “None of that now, boy. Say the words, or I start cutting bits off.”
“The words?” Much to his horror, his voice came out as a squeak. His captor laughed.
“Say you’re mine. Say you belong to me.”
This was seeming like a worse and worse idea. “I don’t even know who you are,” Abed tried. “Isn’t it customary to buy me a drink first?” Or get him medical attention?
“You’re a funny one. Say the words, and I promise I’ll buy you a drink tonight. Don’t say the words, and you’re going to want a whole lot more than one drink.”
There was something in the voice, a sort of panicked desperation, that Abednego recognized – not from Meshach, but from Shad. He wasn’t getting out of here without saying the damn words, because the guy with a knife to his throat had a probably-metaphorical knife to his throat.
“All right. All right. What’s your name? I bet you know mine,” he added bitterly. Since he’d spilled the beans at the stupid party, everyone knew who he was.
“I’m Rafe. And you, Abednego, are mine.”
“Yeah.” He slumped a bit. He’d been screwed worse, a time or two, but agreeing he belonged to a shadowy guy with a knife did not seem like it was going to be a party, even if he could get away. “Whatever. I’m yours.”