Black Dawn (Chapter 5)
I must be sick, she thought. It was the only explanation for the way she felt. Her bodywas heavy and achy, her head was throbbing, and her sinuseswere completely stuffed up. She was breathing through her mouth, which was so dry and glueythat her tongue stuck to the roof of it.
I was having a dream, she thought. But even asshe grasped at bits of it,, it dissolved. Somethingabout … fog? And a boy.
It seemed vaguely important for her to remember, but even the importance was hard to keep holdof. Besides, another, more practical considerationwas overriding it. Thirst. She was dying of thirst.
I need a glass of water….
It took a tremendous effort to lift her head and open her eyes. But when she did, her brain cleared fast. She wasn't in her bedroom. She was in asmall, dark, smelly room; a room that was moving jerkily, bouncing her painfully up and down andfrom side to side. There was a rhythmic noise com ing from just outside that she felt she should be able to recognize.
Below her cheek and under her fingers was theroughness of unpainted wood. The ceiling andwalls were made of the same silvery, weatheredboards.
What kind of room is small and made of woodand…
Not a room, she thought suddenly. A vehicle. Some kind of wooden cart.
As soon as she realized it, she knew what therhythmic sound was.
No, it can't be, she thought. It's too bizarre. I am sick; I'm probably hallucinating.
But it felt incredibly real for a hallucination. Itfelt exactlyasif she were in a wooden cart beingdrawn by horses. Over rough ground. Which ex plained all the jostling.
So what was going on?What was she doinghere?
Where did I go to sleep?
All at once adrenaline surged through her-andwith it a flash of memory. Sylvia. The incense… Miles.
Miles is dead… no. He's not. Sylvia said thatbut she was lying. And then she said I'd never findout what happened to him. And then she druggedme with that smoke.
It gave Maggie a faint feeling of satisfaction tohave put this much together. Even if everythingelse was completely confusing, she had a solidmemory to hang on to.
"You woke up," a voice said. "Finally. This kidsays you've been asleep for a day and a half."
Maggie pushed herself up by stages until shecould see the speaker. It was a girl with untidy red hair, an angular, intense face, and flat, hard eyes.She seemed to be about Maggie's age. Beside her was a younger girl, maybe nine or ten. She was very pretty, slight, with short blond hair under ared plaid baseball cap. She looked frightened.
"Who are you?" Maggie said indistinctly. Hertongue was thick-she was so thirsty."Where amI? What's going on?"
"Huh. You'll find out," the redhaired girl said.
Maggie looked around. There was a fourth girl inthe cart, curled up in the corner with her eyes shut.
Maggie felt stupid and slow, but she tried togather herself.
"What do you mean I've been asleep for a day and a half?"
The redhaired girl shrugged. "That's what shesaid. I wouldn't know. They just picked me up afew hours ago. I almost made it out of this place, but they caughtme."'
Maggie stared at her. There was a fresh bruiseon one of the girl's angular cheekbones and her lipwas swollen.
"Whatplace?" she said slowly. When nobodyanswered, she went on, `Look. I'm Maggie Neely. I don't know where this is or what I'm doing here,but the last thing I remember is a girl named Sylviaknocking me out. Sylvia Weald. Do you guysknow her?"
The redhead just stared back with narrowedgreen eyes. The girl lying down didn't stir, and theblond kid in the plaid cap cringed.
"Come on, somebody talk to me!"
"You really doe t know what's going on?" the redhaired girl said.
"If I knew, I wouldn't be asking over and over!"
The girl eyed her a moment, then spoke with akind of malicious pleasure. "You've been sold into slavery. You re a slave now."
It was a short involuntary sound, and it hurt heraching head. The blond kid flinched again. Something in her expression made Maggie's grin fadeaway. .
She felt a cold ripple up her spine.
"Come on," she said. "Give me a break. Therearen't slaves anymore!"
"There are here." The redhead smiledagain,nastily. "But I bet you don't know whereyouare, either."
"In Washington State-" Even as she said it,Maggie felt her stomach tighten.
"Wrong. Or right, but it doesn't matter. Technically we may be in Washington, but where we really are is hell."
Maggie was losing her self control. "What are you talkingabout?"
"Take a look through that crack."
There were lots of cracks in the cart; the palelight that filtered through them was the only illumi nation. Maggie knelt up and put her eye to a big one, blinking and squinting.
At first she couldn't see much. The cart wasbouncing and it was hard to determine what shewas looking at. All she knew was that there seemedto be no color. Everything was either phosphorescent white or dead black.
Gradually she realized that the white was an overcast sky, and the black was a mountain. A big mountain, close enough to smack her face against. It reared up haughtily against the sky, its lowerreaches covered with trees that seemed ebony instead of green and swimming with mist. Its top wascompletely wreathed in clouds; there was no way to judge how high it was.
And beside it was another mountain just like it.Maggie shifted, trying to get a wider view. Therewere mountains everywhere, in an impenetrablering surrounding her.
They were… scary.
Maggie knew mountains, and loved them, butthese were different from any she'd ever seen. So cold, and with that haunted mist creeping everywhere. The place seemed to be full of ghosts, materializing and then disappearing with an almostaudible wail.
It was like another world.
Maggie sat down hard, then slowly turned backto look at the redheaded girl.
"Where is this?" she said, and her voice was almost a whisper.
To her surprise, the girl didn't laugh maliciouslyagain. Instead she looked away, with eyes thatseemed to focus on some distant and terrible memory, and she spoke in almost a whisper herself. "It's the most secret place in the Night World."
Maggie felt as if the mist outside had reached down the back of her pajama top.
"The Night World. It's like an organization. For all of them, youknow." When Maggie just looked at her, she went on, "Them. The ones that aren't human."
This time what Maggie felt was a plunging in her stomach, and she honestly didn't know if it was because she was locked up in here with a loony, or if some part of her already accepted what the loony was saying. Either way, she was scared sick, and she couldn't say anything.
The girl with red hair flicked a glance at her, and the malicious pleasure came back. "The vampires," she said distinctly, "and the shapeshifters and the witches – "
Oh, God, Maggie thought. Sylvia.Sylvia is a witch.
She didn't know how she knew and probably part of her didn't believe it anyway, but the word was thundering around inside her like an avalanche, gathering evidence as it fell. The incense, those strange purple eyes, the way Miles fell for her so fast and hardly ever called the family after he met her, and changed his whole personality, just as if he'd been under a spell, bewitched and helpless, and, oh, Miles, why didn't I guess….
I'm not smart, but I've always been a good judge of character. How could I screw up when it counted?
"They don't normally have places of their own,"
the redheaded girl was going on; and the wordswere somehow finding their way to Maggie's earsdespite the chaos going on inside her. "Mostly theyjust live in ourcities, pretending to be like us. Butthis valley is special; it's been here in the Cascades for centuries and humans have never found it. It's all surrounded by spells and fogand those moun tains. There's a pass through them, big enough forcarts, but only the Night People can see it. It'scalled the Dark Kingdom."
Oh, terrific,Maggie thought numbly. The namewas strangely suited to what she'd seen outside. Yellow sunlight was almost impossible to imagine in this place. Those filmy wraiths of mist held it ina shimmering silvery-white spell.
"And you're trying to say that we're all …slaves now? But how did you guys get here?"
When the redhead didn't answer, she looked atthe little blond girl.
The girl shifted her slight body, gulped. Finallyshe spoke in a husky little voice.
"I'm P.J. Penobscot. I was-it happened to meon Halloween. I was trick-or-treating." She looked down at herself and Maggie realized she was wearing a tan cable-knit sweater and a vest. "I was agolfer. And I was only supposed to go on my ownblock because the weather was getting bad. But myfriend Aaron and I went across the street and thiscar stopped in front ofme…."She trailed off andswallowed hard.
Maggie reached over and squeezed her hand. "I bet you were a great golfer."
P.J. smiled wanly. "Thanks." Then her small face hardened and her eyes became distant. "Aaron got away, but this man grabbed me. I tried to hit him with my golf club, but he took it away. He lookedat me and then he put me in the car. He wasstrong."
"He was a professional slave trader," the redhaired girl said. "Both the guys I've seen are pros.That's why they looked at her face-they takepretty slaves when they can get them."
Maggie stared at her, then turned to P.J. "Andthen what?"
"They put something over my face-I was stillfighting and yelling and everything-and then Iwent to sleep for a while. I woke up in this warehouse place." She breathed once and looked at herthin wrists. "I was chained to a bed and I was allalone. I was alone for a while. And then, maybe itwas the next day, they brought in her."She noddedat the girl sleeping in the corner.
Maggie looked at the still form. It didn't moveexcept when the cart shook it. "Is she all right?"
"She's sick. They left her there for a long time, maybe four days, but she never really woke up. Ithink she's getting worse." P.J.'s voice was quiet and detached. "They came in to give us food, but that was all. And then yesterday they brought you in.
Maggie blinked. "To the warehouse."
P.J. nodded solemnly. "You were asleep, too. But I don't know what happened after that. They putthe cloth over my face again. When I woke up Iwas in a van."
"They use those for transport on the other side,"the redhaired girl said. "To get up to the pass.
Then they switch to a cart. The people in this valleyhave never seen a car."
"So you mean I slept through all that?" Maggieasked P.J.
P.J. nodded again, and the redhead said, "Theyprobably gave you more of the drug. They try to keep everybody too doped up to fight."
Maggie was chewing her lip. Something had occurred to her. Maybe Sylvia hadn't gone climbingwith Miles at all. "So, PJ., you never saw any other slaves besides that girl? You didn't see a boy?" She fished in her jacket pocket and pulled out the photoof Miles. "A boy who looked like this?"
P.J. looked at the photograph gravely, then shookher head. "I never saw him before. He looks likeyou.
"He's my brother, Miles. He disappeared on Halloween, too. I thought maybe… ."Maggie shookher head, then held the photograph toward the redhaired girl.
"Never seen him before," the girl said shortly.
Maggie looked at her. For somebody who likedto talk about scary things, she didn't say much thatwas helpful. "And what about you? How'd you gethere?"
The girl snorted. "I told you. I was getting outofthe valley." Her face tightened. "And I almost madeit through the pass, but they caught me and stuckme in here. I should have made them kill me instead."
"Whoa," Maggie said. She glanced at Pi., meaning that they shouldn't frighten her unnecessarily."It can't be that bad."
To her surprise, the girl didn't sneer or get mad.
"It's worse," she said, almost whispering again."Just leave it alone. You' l find out."
Maggie felt the hair at the back of her neck stir. "What are you saying?"
The girl turned, her green eyes burning darkly."The Night People have to eat," she said. "They caneat normal things, food and water. But the vampires have to drink blood and the shapeshiftershave to eat flesh. Is that clear enough for you?"
Maggie sat frozen. She wasn't worried aboutscaring P.J. anymore. She was too scared herself.
"We're slave labor for them, but we're also a foodsupply. A food supply that lasts a long time,through lots of feedings," the girl said brusquely.
Maggie ducked her head and clenched her fists."Well, then, obviously we've got to escape," she said through her teeth.
The redhead gave a laugh so bitter that Maggiefelt a chill down her spine.
She looked at P.J. "Do you want to escape?"
"Leave her alone!" the redhead snapped. "You,don't understand what you're talking about. We'reonly humans; they're Night People. There's nothingwe can do against them, nothing!"
"BUt – 2)
"Do you know what the Night People do to slaveswho try to escape?"
And then the redhaired girl turned her back onMaggie. She did it with a lithe twist that left Maggie startled.
Did I hurt her feelings? Maggie thought stupidly.
The redhead glanced back over her shoulder, atthe same time reaching around to grasp the bottomof her shirt in back.
Her expression was unreadable, but suddenlyMaggie was nervous.
"What are you doing?"
The redhaired girl gave a strange little smile andpulled the shirt up, exposing her back.
Somebody had been playing tic-tac-toe there.
The lines were cut into the flesh of her back, thescars shiny pink and only half healed. In thesquares were Xs and Os, raggedy-looking andbrighter red because for the most part they'd beenburned in. A few looked cut, like the strategic posi tion in the middle which would have been takenfirst. Somebody had won, three diagonal Xs, and had run a burn-line through the winning marks.
Maggie gasped. She kept on gasping. She started to hyperventilate, and then she started to faint.
The world seemed to recede from her, narrowingdown to a one-dimensional point of light. But there wasn't room to actually fall over. As she slumpedbackward, she hit the wall of the cart. The world wobbled and came back, shiny at the edges.
"Oh, God," Maggie said. "Oh, God.They did thisto you? How could they dothat?"
"This is nothing," the girl said. "They did it whenI escaped the first time. And now I escaped againand I got caught again. This time they'll do something worse." She let go of her top and it slid downto cover her back again.
Maggie tried to swallow, but her mouth was toodry. Before she knew she was moving, she foundherself grabbing the girl's arms from behind.
"What's your name?"
"What's your name?"
The redhaired girl gave her a peculiar look over her shoulder. Then her arms lifted slightly under Maggie's handsas she shrugged.
"Jeanne. It's got to stop," Maggie said. "We can't let them dothings like that to people. And we'vegot to get away. If they're already going to punishyou for escaping, what difference does it make ifyou try it again now? Don't you think?"
Maggie liked the way that sounded, calm andcompetent and logical. The swift decision for ac tion didn't blot out the memory of what she'd just seen, but it made the whole situation more bearable. She'd witnessed an injustice and she wasgoing to do something about it. That simple. Something so wicked had to be fixed, now.
She started to cry.
Jeanne turned around, gave her a long, assessinglook. P.J. was crying, too, very quietly.
Maggie found her tears running out. Theyweren't doing any good. When she stopped, Jeanne was still watching her with narrowed eyes.
"So you're going to take on the whole NightWorld alone," she said.
Maggie wiped her cheeks with her hands. "No,just the ones here."
Jeanne stared at her another moment, thenstraightened abruptly. "Okay," she said, so suddenly that Maggie was startled. "Let's do it. If wecan figure out a way."
Maggie looked toward the back of the cart."What about those doors?"
"Locked and chained on the outside. It's no goodkicking them."
From nowhere, an image came into Maggie'smind. Herself and Miles in a rowboat on Lake Chelan with their grandfather. Deliberately rocking it while their grandfather yelled and fumed.
"What if we all throw our weight from one sideto the other? If we could turn the cart over, maybethe doors would pop open. You know how armored cars always seem to do that. Or maybe it wouldsmash one of the walls enough that we could getout."
"And maybe we'd go falling straight down a ravine," Jeanne said acidly. "It's a long way down to the valley, and this road is narrow." But there wasa certain unwilling respect in her eyes. "I guess wecould try it when we get to a meadow," she said slowly. "I know a place. I'm not saying it would work; it probably won't. But …"
"We have totry," Maggie said. She was lookingstraight at Jeanne. For a moment there was something between them-a flash of understanding andagreement. A bond.
"Once we got out, we'd have to run," Jeanne said,still slowly. "They're sitting up there." She pointedto the ceiling at the front of the cart, above Maggie's head. "This thing is like a stagecoach, okay?There's a seat up there, and the two guys are onit. Professional slave traders are tough. They're not going to want us to get away."
"They might get smashed up when we roll over,"Maggie said.
Jeanne shook her head sharply. "Night People arestrong. It takes a lot more than that tokill them.We'd have to just take off and head for the forest
as fast as we could. Our only chance is to get lostin the trees-and hope they can't track us."
"Okay," Maggie said. She looked at P.J. "Do youthink you could do that? Just run and keeprunning?"
P.J. gulped twice, sank her teeth into her top lip, and nodded. She twisted her baseball cap around so the visor faced the back.
"I can run," she said.
Maggie gave heranapproving nod. Then shelooked at the fourth girl, the one still curled upasleep. She leaned over to touch the girl's shoulder.
"Forget it," Jeanne said shortly. "We can't takeher."
Maggie looked up at her, shocked. "What are youtalking about? Why not?"