Jacob had never been so scared in his entire life.
The girl had been unable to say anything – both of them had duct tape over their mouths, and their hands were tied tight behind them – but she had gazed into his eyes so steadily that he had been able to calm down, and to believe that maybe there was a way out of this.
He had never seen the men before, or their van. He didn’t understand why they had grabbed him. He had tried to get away, but they were so much bigger than him, and no one was anywhere around to hear him screaming.
But once they had tossed him into the van, he saw the girl there – she was a grown-up girl. She was tied up too, and her face was white like a ghost, but she kept looking at him and she didn’t seem scared, at least not as scared as he was.
The men were driving the van and weren’t looking into the back where Jacob and the girl were. The girl began looking toward the back doors of the van and then back at Jacob. He realized she was telling him that they could get out those doors. How? he wondered. We can’t move very fast. They’ll see us moving.
But the girl was bigger than him – taller. Her longer legs swung out all of a sudden and kicked at the back doors. On the second kick, her foot hit the paddle that released the doors, and they swung open.
The man driving the van slammed on the brakes, and the van slowed nearly to a stop. The girl pivoted back on one hip, hooked one leg around Jacob, and pulled him toward her. She wrapped both legs around him then, and rolled with him to the back of the van. Jacob panicked for a moment when she rolled over the top of him, because it pushed all of the air out of his lungs, but he clamped his ankles around hers and tried to roll with her.
They tumbled out of the back of the van, and the girl scrambled to her feet. “Nnnggh!” she cried out, her voice muffled by the layers of tape. Her head was bobbing forward, and Jacob understood that she wanted him to run away.
The men had jumped out of the van.
“Ggunnggggh!” the girl screamed through the tape. Jacob burst into tears and began running as fast as his legs would carry him. Behind him, he heard the girl’s muffled voice screaming; he didn’t hear her running behind him.
The van doors slammed, and Jacob heard it drive away. He wanted to look behind him, to see where the van was, or where the men were, or where the girl was. But he just kept running, until he couldn’t drag enough air in and out of his nose to keep him going. He collapsed onto grass, and cried, and tried and wriggle his wrists out of the restraints.
He heard more doors slamming, and for a horrible second he thought the van had found him. But it was other people – good people – coming to help him.
A woman knelt down beside him and began tugging at the cords around his wrists. “It’s okay,” the woman kept saying. She pulled the tape away from his mouth. “What happened?” she asked him but didn’t wait for him to answer. “It’s okay. It’ll be okay.”
“The girl!” he cried when he had caught his breath. “They still have the girl!” He began sobbing. “She saved me! We have to get her!” He repeated this over and over, giving few other details, until police and an ambulance arrived, and bundled him off to the hospital.
“What’s your name, sweetheart?” a policewoman asked him, pushing his hair gently away from his face. “Do you know your family’s phone number?”
“Jacob,” he said, still crying. “We have to get the girl! They still have the girl!”
He wouldn’t let them forget about her. He wouldn’t forget about her.
Jenna had been walking with friends, but now she left them to turn the corner toward her own house. “See you tomorrow!” she called, waving at the other girls as they continued down the street.
“See ya!” they called back. They returned to their conversation, while Jenna shifted her book bag to her other shoulder and headed up the deserted side-street. She was thinking about how much homework she had to do, and lamenting how much harder middle-school was than she had been expecting, and so at first she didn’t notice the face.
“Help,” a voice whispered, and Jenna immediately began looking around for its source.
“Hello?” she said tentatively. Beside her was a car – one that had been parked there for a long time – and she thought maybe the voice came from inside the car. But when she looked in the passenger window, she didn’t see anybody. “Hello?” she said again, louder, looking up and down the street.
She was on the verge of deciding that she had imagined the voice – or that it must have come from too far away for her to do anything about it – when she heard it again. It was still just a whisper, but the tone was more urgent, almost panicked. “Help!”
She frowned, and double-checked the empty car, and when she turned her head just right, she caught sight of the face. She jumped back with a startled cry.
The face had appeared in the passenger-door mirror, but no one to whom this reflection should belong was sitting in the passenger seat – or anywhere, for that matter. Jenna was alone on the block, except for the face in the mirror.
She blinked at it, not able for a few seconds to wrap her head around what she was seeing. “What the heck?” she breathed, squinting at the mirror. “What’s going on?” It must be a hoax, she thought. Somebody was playing a trick, and was no doubt filming this whole thing from some hidden location. Yes, that must be it. The mirror was really some kind of screen, projecting an image from somewhere else.
“Very funny!” she called out. “I’m not falling for it!”
“Please!” the voice begged. It was a woman’s voice, and a woman’s face, but Jenna had never seen her before. She looked truly terrified, but Jenna had watched enough “real” videos to know better than that.
“Where are you?” she called in irritation, looking once more up and down the block.
“Please,” the woman said again, and her voice trembled with tears. “Let me out of here.” Her hand appeared in the mirror then too, reaching out as though she wanted Jenna to reach in and grab it. “Let me out!”
Jenna frowned. Something about the perspective … it just didn’t look like a recorded image. She bent closer to the mirror to get a better look. “How did you do this?” she asked, searching for signs of wires or electronics. Her face was only a few inches from the surface of the mirror.
The woman’s hand darted forward, coming through the surface of the mirror and clutching desperately at Jenna’s hair.
Jenna screamed and jerked her head away, watching in horror as the hand retreated back into the mirror. If this was a trick, she didn’t want to stay to figure it out. She turned and ran the rest of the way to her house, her screams echoing along the street.
Behind her, the woman’s expression had dissolved into one of abject despair. “Please,” she called out to Jenna. “Please come back. I need to get out.” She began to sob, and her tears spilled over her cheeks, down her chin, through the mirror’s surface, and onto the asphalt below.
“Let’s just find the car and go home,” I whispered to Dean, my eyes searching the perimeter of the room even as I struggled to put a fake smile on my face.
We had come to this place because Dana didn’t want to go alone, but she had heard so much about this Neil guy and about how awesome his parties were. He had a huge house with a half-acre of land around it, surrounded by a six-foot stone wall. He acts like he’s in the Playboy Mansion, I had thought when I first arrived. A line had formed in front of the gate, and two men stood on either side of the gate, letting people in two or three at a time. It’s not a nightclub, I thought irritably. It already didn’t look like the kind of party I normally enjoyed, and Dean looked like he agreed with me. But Dana had spied us and come running up to us like a giddy school girl.
“They’re handing out candy!” she said, laughing. “I can see in the gate; his place looks awesome!” Her eyes were dancing, and she was clearly warming up to the idea of this party.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” I had confided to Dean. I could actually feel anxiety forming in the pit of my stomach. “I don’t think that’s ‘candy’ they’re handing out.”
Dean had agreed with a deeply suspicious frown that it was probably not candy. But we decided that we didn’t want Dana to go in there alone – especially since she seemed a little clueless about the candy. She had already eaten most of it before I could even talk to her about it.
I had walked in, meekly taking the handful of hard candy that one of the greeters handed me. As I looked around the impressively landscaped yard, and at the dozens of people who had gathered there with candy and drinks in their hands, I was assailed with the notion that all of them were going to die. I tried to shrug this feeling off – it must just be a quirk of my admittedly fanciful imagination – but it only became stronger as Dean and I walked through the house itself. Instead of being able to admire the place – truly a grand endeavour, and I wondered what Neil did for a living that he could afford all this, especially in the middle of the city – I just kept coming back to the certainty that anyone who ate the candy was going to be killed. Finally, I shared my feeling with Dean, and, even though I had no reason to think such a thing, he didn’t argue with me.
“It is really weird here,” he said, also forcing a smile onto his face and trying to look casual. “You find Dana, and I’ll go get the car. It’s just around the corner.”
I nodded, and nonchalantly walked away from him, an untouched drink in my hand. I had discarded my clump of candy as soon as I could, but something told me not to give away my unease. I started looking around for Dana.
I found Neil instead. “I hope you like it,” he said pleasantly, indicating his house. “I haven’t been here very long; I’m still getting settled.” He was clean-cut, his white button-down shirt tucked neatly into khakis and his blond hair combed to the side as though it were picture-day at school. He certainly didn’t seem like the kind of guy who would hand out trick-candy or hurt anyone. He didn’t even seem like the kind of guy who would throw a party.
“It’s beautiful,” I said. I stepped closer to him. “I’m looking for my friend Dana,” I added. “She said she didn’t want to be here alone, but as soon as we got in here, she disappeared.”
Neil laughed. “Well, I’ll take that as a compliment,” he said. “She must feel like she fits in here, which is all I could want for my guests.” He put a hand on my shoulder. “I’ll help you look for her,” he offered, and gestured for me to precede him into the kitchen. “A lot of people are in here waiting for the barbecue.”
Barbecue? Maybe I really was just imagining things. The guy seemed genuine and non-threatening, and a barbecue sounded like the least suspicious thing I could think of. Plus it smelled really good.
My phone beeped, letting me know I was getting a text. I pulled it out and saw that it was from Dean. “I’m in the car,” it read. “People in the yard are falling down. Get out of there now.”
I made sure to keep my expression and tone light and cheerful. “I’ll be right back,” I told Neil, setting my drink on the nearby counter. “I need to go the little girls’ room.”
He smiled. “It’s down that hall,” he said, pointing. “Third door on the left.”
“Thanks,” I said, trying to smile at him in a flirtatious way and hoping I didn’t just look ridiculous. “Be right back.” I turned and headed down the hall, ending up finally in the most spacious bathroom I had ever seen. Three people were already in it, two of them passed out in the massive tub and one of them lying unconscious on the floor in front of the toilet. I stepped carefully onto the rim of the tub and climbed up to the window; outside in the growing dusk I saw countless bodies scattered across the lawn. As I watched, four more guests, their drinks slipping from their fingers, staggered to their knees and then collapsed on the grass. Beyond them, over the wall, I saw Dean’s car. It was only fifty feet away.
Trying to be silent, I opened the window and climbed through it, dropping to the ground ten feet below and hiding in the bushes for a moment while I searched the yard for Neil’s greeters. Both of them stood at the gate, handing out candy to the unsuspecting people who still waited to get in. I leapt out of the bushes and sprinted for the wall. I can do this, I told myself, jumping up and grabbing the top of the wall. It was a struggle – I wasn’t as strong as I had hoped I would be – but my dread of staying gave me the extra energy I needed to pull myself to the top of the wall.
I dropped down to the sidewalk and raced for Dean’s car. “Go!” I shouted, diving into the passenger seat and pulling the door closed behind me. I locked the door. “Go, go, go!”
Dean complied, driving away from Neil’s party as quickly as he could. “Where’s Dana?” he asked me. I was already calling her, but the phone just rang and rang, and then went to voice-mail.
“She’s not answering,” I said. Tears were running down my face. I called Dana again, and this time someone answered. “Dana?” I cried. “Are you okay? We’ll come get you.”
Neil’s affable voice replied. “I’m afraid Dana’s not available,” he said. “But please come back. It’s going to be a great party.”
I turned to Dean and shook my head; feeling like I had just overheard a murder, I ended the call. “I think Dana’s already dead,” I said, hearing my own voice as though it belonged to someone else. “She ate the candy.”
“If we go back for her,” Dean said tersely. “I’m afraid we’ll just get trapped there.” He turned the car toward down-town. “We’ll go to the police. They’ll find her.”
We went to the police and told them what had happened. They sent some officers to Neil’s house. Dean had kept one of the candies; he gave it to the cop who was taking our statement, and the cop put it in a baggy and set it on his desk. We waited for what seemed like forever, hoping that they’d tell us they had found Dana.
After about twenty minutes, the whole station erupted into frantic energy, people running this way and that, and shouting. “Officers down!” someone yelled. “They’re pinned down!” While some threw out words like “ambush” and “trapped” and “shoot-out”, a few offered the bone-chilling “bloodbath.”
I looked at Dean, who looked bleakly back at me. I grabbed his hand and leaned my head against his shoulder; I couldn’t find any words to say.
My phone beeped, letting me know I had a text. It was from Dana. “You’ve got to come back!” it read. “This party’s AMAZING!”