In her half-conscious state, too exhausted to be truly alert and too threatened to dare let herself fall into a deep sleep, Madeline became aware of the sudden silence in the warehouse.
She laid as close to the back of the 6-foot shipping container as possible, curled up tightly in her pajamas on a flattened cardboard box, but her baby-blue tank top and gray shorts did little to keep her warm. The far end of the shipping container had been welded with bars, much like a prison, and they prickled against her skin any time she touched them. It wasn't enough to seriously injure her, but it did hurt.
Since she’d been ruthlessly abducted over a week ago from her apartment in the middle of the night, there had never been a moment of true silence in the warehouse. There was always the sound of her kidnappers' heavy footsteps, or the smashing of beer bottles against the walls. Her captors talked almost constantly, chatting amongst themselves and reminding each other about needing to keep her alive and in one piece. They would also be on their phones from time to time, taking calls from someone apparently in charge. As far as Madeline could tell from the phone conversations, she was in a holding pattern of sorts. Something had gone wrong and she was to be kept longer than expected.
She didn’t even know why they had taken her in the first place. There were none of the traits of a typical kidnapping like she would hear about in the news, or see in movies or tv shows. She had no rich relatives that would have made her a prime target for a ransom. In fact, she had no relatives left at all. Her dear grandmother passed away about five years ago, leaving her on her own. Working an average 9-to-5 job. Getting by modestly. She certainly didn't have a stellar savings account or some huge inheritance. It just didn’t make sense.
But more frightening than the cruelty of her kidnapping and the lack of knowing where she was being held, was the undeniable fact they were different.
All four of them were pale, tall and gangly, with long, tar-black hair and dark eyes - a common look for college students playing at being dark and dreary. They all wore the same black jeans, t-shirts and hoodies which made them out to be some sort of a gothic street gang. That on it’s own wasn’t enough to stand out, but it was something she caught out of the corner of her tired blue eyes one night that shattered her belief in what she knew of reality.
It had been the second night of her captivity, and she had been fighting to stay awake, but was dozing off and on regardless. Her kidnappers had been playing cards at a cheap, plastic folding table in the warehouse, when one of them nonchalantly made tendrils of dark smoke rise off his fingertips and vaporize into thin air.
None of the other men at the table looked twice.
At first she thought they had drugged her, but as the hours ticked by she realized that wasn't the case. A day later, one of the others had done it as well.
She had never seen anything like it before.
At the time, it was a startling revelation, and her innate courage was the only thing preventing her from going into a panic. She knew she had to keep her wits about her. She had to stay strong and alert. And as the days passed with no change in her captivity, her fear numbed and her anxiety calmed. The realization that they weren’t allowed to seriously hurt her helped, as well as the consistency of the racket they were always making.
Only now it was suddenly quiet.
She listened to the silence for a few seconds, and then looked up through the bars. Were they coming to her cage? No. They were all staring at a man who had just entered the warehouse.
Through the strands of her unkempt, reddish-auburn hair, she could see he was not one of whatever they were. He had a completely different air about him. He moved with silent, determined, and sinuous steps - literally strutting into the warehouse. His jet-black hair brushed slightly past his shoulders, but in contrast to the stringy and oily hair of her captors, his looked clean and soft. He was dressed in a black, sleeveless kevlar vest that zipped all the way up to his neck, and a matching pair of close-fitting tactical pants. Not looking at all like a police officer, at first Madeline thought he might be allied with her kidnappers, but they didn't approach him as a comrade, or someone to be pushed around.
They all reacted as if a tiger had just padded into the warehouse.
With acute interest, Madeline sat up and watched as the man sauntered confidently to the closest of her kidnappers, one who was already summoning inky black wisps in his hands, and launched a quick right hook which snapped the captor's head sharply to the side.
Then all hell broke loose.
Two of the other kidnappers charged the stranger from across the room, hurling ominous ribbons of ashen shadow at him, furious that their buddy had been dropped. Madeline jumped to her bare feet and rushed to the edge of the bars, all the while watching the man in black twist his lithe body with inhuman grace as he dodged everything they threw at him.
The whole fight was just impossible. The blackness that darted through the air. The speed and agility of the combatants. She had to blink a few times to make sure what she was seeing was real. Neither of her captors had landed a blow yet, and she got the impression that although they were getting badly beaten, this stranger was taking it easy on them.
Then she noticed a figure moving closer to her.
The only other captor in the room was backing up to the bars, raising a hand up toward his ear as if about to make a call on his bluetooth headset. This was the best chance, probably the only chance, she had to get out of here, and she needed to stop him from calling for help. Thinking quickly, she lifted her dirty tank top up and over her head, oblivious to the fact she was fully exposed underneath. She thrust both of her hands through the bars and twisted the shirt tightly between them.
With the commotion in front of him, he didn't realize the taut fabric was around his neck until it was too late. She sprang barefooted onto the horizontal bar and leaned back, pulling the shirt viciously with all her weight and remaining strength.
Her desperate and skin-revealing attack drew a raised brow of amusement, along with a quick smirk, from the agile fighter in black.
She continued to pull back, even as the weight of the kidnapper’s body slid slowly down the bars to the floor. With the body now motionless, Madeline slipped back into her now ill-fitting tank top and frantically reached between the bars trying to grab onto his pocket for the key card. Still out of reach, she clawed at the side of the man’s shirt trying to drag his body closer, but he was impossibly heavy.
A flurry of curses exploded from her lips.
Suddenly, another body came sliding across the floor at a rapid pace. It collided with the one she was trying to pull towards her, and slammed it across the bars lengthwise. She could now reach the into pocket with ease. Pulling the key card out she went quickly to the lock, glancing in the direction of the fight. The stranger was still engaged with the last of her kidnappers, but on his lips was yet another wicked smirk. Swiping the card through the magnetic lock, Madeline heard it click open and wasted no time pushing her way out just as her rescuer dropped the last man unconscious to the ground.
“Come on,” he said urgently, motioning for her to follow him out the same door he had entered from.
He didn’t have to tell her twice.
Adrenaline pumping through her body, she raced after him. Through the door was a small lobby, where another man lay slumped in a corner. Without breaking his stride, her rescuer tore the black hoodie off the unconscious figure and handed it back to her. Passing through one more door, they were finally outside.
It was night, and despite the chill she felt standing in her pajamas, the cold autumn air felt wonderful to breathe in. She soon realized it was a mistake to stop for that instance, and found her wrist being grabbed tightly by the stranger with her. He picked up his pace, forcing her to do the same, as they ran down a few narrow streets in the industrial district. After rounding a few sharp corners, he stopped.
“Have you ridden before?” he asked in a smooth, low voice absent of any signs of being out of breath.
“Huh?” Madeline asked panting.
The man finally turned to her, facing her head-on for the first time.
“A motorcycle,” he answered, slightly agitated that he needed to repeat himself. “Have you ridden one before?”
Madeline was caught off-guard by his looks for a few seconds. He was less than a foot away, so looking up at his face, she was able to get a clear look at his features even under the dimness of a distant streetlight. He was Asian, and more beautiful than handsome, with multifaceted emerald eyes that contrasted starkly to his jet black hair and lashes. With such a rare color, Madeline figured they must be contact lenses, they were just too striking to be real. His chin and nose were somewhat sharply angled, along with his pronounced high cheekbones, and his lightly tanned skin was smooth and flawless. And his lips…
She suddenly noticed they were pressed together in a hard line waiting impatiently for her answer.
“Um, no. Not really,” she replied, starting to feel the physical and emotional drain of her ordeal caving in on her. She wasn’t really sure how many days she had been captive, but it was all starting to hit her at once.
He stepped over to a motorcycle she hadn’t noticed up until now, withdrawing a nylon vest from an underseat storage compartment. Taking a step towards her, Madeline instinctively backed away.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he said in a gentle whisper as if trying to console a frightened child, “But you need to put that jacket on, or you’re going to freeze once we get moving.”
Nodding slowly, Madeline slipped both her arms into the large, hooded jacket and zipped it up. She had been through so much, the last thing on her mind was if it was clean or not. It was warm, and for now, that was enough.
With a silent motioning, he prompted her to raise her arms so he could slip them into the padded vest. Zipping the vest up over her chest, even with the cotton of the hoodie between it and her skin, caused Madeline’s heart to race. He sensed this and let slip an arrogant smile followed by a wistful sigh. Grabbing a harness from the same compartment, he began to dress her in that as well. He tugged at the straps to make sure they were secure, then he began to buckle himself into a similar harness, fastening it over his chest, and mindful of her blue eyes nervously studying him. When he was done, he handed her a helmet, kicked the passenger pegs down, and straddled the front seat.
“On the sides of your harness, you should see two straps with clips on the ends. Pass them to me after you get on,” he instructed.
Placing the helmet on her head first, she awkwardly mounted the bike and passed the straps forward as she was told. With an audible snap, her upper body was now fastened to his in such a fashion that it reminded her of tandem skydivers.
“Now wrap your arms around my waist,” he said.
As she reached around his narrow waist, he guided her hands to a passenger handgrip bolted into the bike right in front of his seat. Leaning forward, she felt the rigid muscles of his torso even through the sleeves of the jacket she wore, and noticed he was unusually warm. It was the kind of warmth that made her feel safe and even overcame the bite of the night air against her bare legs. It could have been because she had been sleeping on a cold floor for days, but the cozy sensation was rapidly causing all the tension to drain from her body.
And he had this scent about him. It was woodsy and mystic, unlike any cologne she was familiar with.
The engine suddenly came to life with a roar, startling her momentarily, and the bike rolled out of the alleyway. She pulled herself closer to him and tightened her grip a bit more. As the growl of the engine drowned out the rest of the world, Madeline realized how badly her bare feet hurt as they pressed against the footpegs. In the rush of escaping, she didn’t even think about what could have been littered on the pavement she had been running barefoot on.
She supposed it didn’t really matter.
The damage would heal.
All of it.