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Found in the Dark
CHAPTER 1: AN IDEA TO ABDUCTORS
Riley sat against the blood-smeared wall, feeling very much dead. She could hear the faint voices of the kidnappers in the other room. Though it was faded, she could still make out their talking about not killing her so that if the authorities caught them, they couldn’t be charged with murder. From earlier conversations she overheard, she knew that the tall man was named Rob and the muscular one was named Mike. Riley wanted to give a defeated sigh, but she was too weak toâ€”and she would never be conquered. She was Riley the Almighty, the mortal no one could bring down.
As she turned around with a great deal of effort, sharp stabs of pain vibrated through her body. She groaned softly and stared at the surface where she had been drawing with a small black marker to pass the time when her captors weren’t beating her and cutting her with their large, sharp knives. She took out her marker and drew a detailed eye with a small tear welling out from the corner. She wasn’t totally sure what it represented, possibly the way she felt, but it was well-detailed and beautiful, so she didn’t mind not being sure of what it truly meant. Just then, she was drawn out of her artistic daze by the entrance of the kidnappers. She was in such a rage that she didn’t care what she said to them anymore. Her life in that moment was just as bad as death was, maybe even worse. There was nothing to regret if she died.
“So, kid,” Mike said, “what should we do with you now?”
“Oh, please!” Riley retorted fearlessly. “You’ve done about everything in the book already. Why don’t you just drop me off on the side of a street and hope I crawl to civilization or some random guy’s house? It would make no difference, because I’ll die if I’m here and I’ll die if I’m out there!”
The captors looked at each other as if they just got a great idea. Lightning streaked down in the window behind them. Then they crossed the room to where Riley was chained to the wall, a knife in Mike’s hand. But instead of stabbing her for the millionth time in their favorite place, her ribs, they cut the chains from the wall. Riley collapsed onto the floor. She looked up at them with pain and fury in her eyes.
“Get up,” the other man, Rob, commanded.
“I can’t,” Riley replied. “I can’t move. You broke too many of my bones.”
Instead of leaving her where she lied in a crumpled heap, both men took one end of her damaged body and carried her through the room to the door. Then only Mike held her while Rob held the door open for him. Thunder rolled in the blackened sky above them. Mike brought her dilapidated remains to their gray utility van and dumped her into the back seat. She cried out in pain as one of her sore ribs hit the stiff leather seat. The men climbed into the front and zoomed off into black, stormy night.
Rain pounded on the windshield as Riley struggled to stay put in the bumpy, violently swaying van. She saw a green street sign bypass them as they turned onto a road near her own town. The street seemed familiar, though the sign was a blur as they passed it, so Riley couldn’t make out what street it actually was or if anybody she knew lived on it. Before she knew it, they had halted and the men were hauling her out of the truck into the cool, pouring night. Hoping they would bring her somewhere safe, Riley sighed and knew there was absolutely no hope. Rain pounded on her as they threw her down in a deep puddle, hopped back into the van, and drove off, leaving her in the frigid pool of water in the rainy, wet darkness. Riley sobbed uncontrollably as she lay in the puddle, soaked and hurting and uncomfortable and very close to death.
Knowing that she had to let someone know she was out there in the freezing rain, she attempted to crawl to the nearest house, which was a painful, slow creeping as her broken body reminded her of its damage. There was a large, expensive brick sign in the first front yard: THIRTEEN HARLEM DRIVE. At first, she was going to go to that house. But suddenly, chill swept down Riley’s spine. A surge of hope ran through her. Harlem Drive was where Marley Aerin, the young man she was particularly fond of, resided. And his house was number fifteenâ€”the next house up. Though it sounded like an undemanding task as to reach the next house, it was a long, painful crawl up the rocky street. When she finally reached the driveway to Marley’s huge, luxurious house, which looked more like a mansion, she was on the verge of tears. Her knees and hands were scraped raw, and her face was bruised and one eye was almost swollen shut, and it was obvious that one or more of her ribs and other bones were broken. But she knew she had to go on if she expected to have the slightest opportunity to live.
And so she pressed on, dragging her crippled body up to his front porch and to his door. She reached up a weak hand and pressed the doorbell. She could hear someone coming down the stairs to open the door, muttering to himself about who it could possibly be at one thirty in the morning. Another rush of hope coursed through her. She was almost safe… if only they would come to the door and help her, even if it were only for an hour or so.
Riley heard the man open the lock on the door and pull open the door. She wasn’t sure what she would say to him, depending if it were some mystery man or Marley himself, but she judged that it would all come spilling out once the door was opened.
CHAPTER 2: A MAN TO SEE INTO EYES
John Aerin, a man possibly in his early to mid forties wearing a flannel shirt and a pair of sweatpants, looked tired at first as he swung open his front door. But when he spotted the lonely, frail, beaten girl on his front porch, his eyes widened and he seemed to be instantly awake. He was at a loss for words.
“Mr. Aerin,” the girl pleaded, crying hysterically as she spoke, “please let me inside, even just for a little bitâ€”I’m begging you! I was abducted and beaten and cut and starved and I really need help! You have to help me, Mr. Aerin!”
John Aerin was stunned. He couldn’t properly make out what was exactly happening. This girl had appeared on his porch begging for a place to stay at half past one in the morning, and she even knew who he was! This was surely the oddest thing that had ever happened to him. He looked down at the young, scrawny girl before him. It was then that he noticed the many cuts and gashes that adorned her body and the tattered, worn garments that clothed her exceedingly thin figure. What also stood out was her black eye. She looked almost dead. He knew he had to let her inside, but he still was bothered by something.
“How did you know who I am?” he asked. The girl peered up at him with frightened, large, dark eyes.
“I know your son, Marley,” she said. He nodded, thinking about his son, then bent down to pick up the girl in his strong arms. She was surprisingly lightâ€”way too light for her age. If Marley was thirteen, and this girl looked as if she were the same age, (and even if she wasn’t thirteen, she would have to be close to it to know who Marley was) she was extremely underweight for her age. He closed the door behind him, shutting out the pounding rain. Just then, his wife, Yvette, came down the stairs.
“Honey who wasâ€”oh my god, John,” she said as she noticed the young girl in his arms. She rushed down the stairs, followed by John and Yvette’s three curious toddlers, who were three or four years old.
“Mommy, what’s the matter?” one of them asked, not seeing the true situation. John was careful not to hurt the girl any more than she already was. Striding into his living room, he laid her down on a large, plush couch. She was bleeding from multiple cuts on her body and she had a black eye. Her hair was knotted and wild and she had several large bruises on her arms and legs and some on her torso. He had no idea what to do.
In no time his wife returned to him with damp, warm washcloths. She pressed one to bleeding cut on her arm and a bleeding wound on her left leg, and then applied one to her forehead. Her small children crowded around to watch the girl who appeared on their couch.
Mr. Aerin crossed to the other side of the couch so he could see the girl’s face.
“What’s your name?” he asked. If she died here, which would be the worst experience of his entire life, at least he knew her name and who she was. And moreover so he could ask Marley about her.
“Riley… Livstock…” the girl answered faintly. Her lip bled and her eyes were lifeless. She gazed at Mr. Aerin as he watched her.
“Riley Livstock…” he tested the name on his tongue. It was a pretty name.
“Do you have a family, Riley?” he asked. Riley seemed momentarily heartbroken, and then looked at him with tears in her dead dark blue eyes.
“I was living in foster homes. They can’t find my parents. They left me,” she explained. “One day I was taken… when I got off the bus from school… And I never saw my foster home again.”
This time, it was Mr. Aerin’s turn to feel heartbroken. This poor girl, he thought sadly, almost tearing himself, she has no real home. The life shrank out of her by the second, and he was deathly afraid that she would close her beautiful eyes and he would never see them open again.
CHAPTER 3: MAKING RILEY ALIVE
Marley awoke to the commotion downstairs. Climbing nimbly out of bed, he pulled down the bunched up sleeves of his tee shirt and adjusted the drawstrings on his basketball shorts before taking the stairs swiftly, two at a time, down to the first floor and entering the living room with his family. Since he was inhumanly silent, they didn’t notice him staring at their crowded heap with his icy blue eyes. Approaching the couch, his parents finally noticed him.
“Oh, Marley, I didn’t even know you woke up,” his mother said. He just nodded, coming closer to the couch. Peering over the side, he saw the abused and neglected girl lying on the sofa.
After a while of considering, he recognized her as Riley Livstock, a girl from his school that had disappeared without a trace. He could hardly identify her since her body was so broken and her eye was black from a beating. Her clothes were also torn and ragged when they were normally clean and vibrant. He walked around the side of the couch to take a better look at her face and see if she was still alive and could recognize him.
She immediately seemed more alive when she spotted him. His frosty-blue eyes locked with her shady indigo ones. Though she had more life to her from his presence, she still looked dead.
“Marley…” she whispered gently, extending a hand to Marley’s thin shoulder. She kept her hand there, as if remembering him by touch. He simply stood there, a serious, concerned look on his face, though chills ran through him at the small sign of affection. He knew that Riley liked him. He was just afraid of the truth… and he was also afraid that if she died, he would be left with the guilt of ignoring someone who truly loved him. Her eyes appeared to be drooping every second, like it was a huge effort to keep them open.
“Riley, you have to live, okay? Do it for me,” Marley replied sternly. He knew she would do anything for him. Riley nodded, brightening slightly again. He returned her gesture by putting a strong hand on her cheek, trying to make her feel a little better. His gentle affection made her look even more alive. He watched as her small face formed a smile just for him. Tears almost came to Marley’s eyes, but he just blinked them back. He was basically emotionless.
He removed his hand from her cheek and placed it on her shoulder. He could hear his mother speaking to 911 operators to get an ambulance there for Riley.
She was normally a bright, smiling girl who loved to read and write. A girl who strived to be the brilliant. A girl who enjoyed rebellion but respected the adults above her. But now she didn’t seem like any of that. She just seemed like a piece of trash that was thrown out of a car window that landed on the cold, sinister ground, useless and unwanted anymore.
Marley didn’t see her particularly as that, but he knew he didn’t like her. He thought he probably should right now, considering that this was the time she needed him the most, and he felt a bit guilty about not liking her when she was beaten and slashed and discarded like this and lying on his own couch. And, if she died, what blame would that leave for him as he dwelled on the fact that he didn’t love her?
Marley entered the bathroom. He examined himself in the mirror. His face was cold and tight, making him look all the more serious when matched with the perfect expression and his frosty eyes. His eyebrows arced above his blue eyes. The color reminded him of cracked ice. His nose sloped gently downward to meet his ever-grim mouth, pursed tightly so that no words could escape unless they needed to. His hair was neat and short, and he didn’t exactly know what color it wasâ€”brown? Blonde? What would you call that?
He looked at his face once again, wondering: how could Riley think this is handsome, or brilliant, or strong, or intelligent?
Then he knew the answer, and it was simple and plain and clear to him: it was because Riley loved him, loved him with the deep depths of her heart and mind and soul. It was simple as that.
Suddenly, the loud blaring of sirens could be heard outside. Someone knocked on her front door. Marley’s mother jumped up and ran to open it so that Riley could get to the hospital. When the door was opened, medics rushed in with a stretcher. They rushed to Riley and lifted her onto the stretcher, wheeling her out the door once again and into the ambulance.
Marley detected his mother yelling throughout the house to anyone who wanted to come to the hospital with her to stay with Riley. He strode into the kitchen.
She found that she only had two takers. The first was Marley’s father, John, who had discovered the girl outside their front door. And the second, who surprised her, was her oldest son, Marley, the one who Riley loved.
Marley climbed into the car along with her and her husband, and they took off after the ambulance, headed for the hospital.
CHAPTER 5: THINKING ABOUT MARLEY
As Riley awoke, she found herself in a hospital room, lying on a gurney covered in a soft cotton blanket. When she looked around the room, she spotted a window, and guessed it was early morning by the dim light rolling into the room in watery rectangles. It reminded her of when she would get up early in the morning at her foster homes and wander around the unfamiliar corridors, stopping at empty rooms to see what forgotten treasures were inside. Those were the days before she had been abducted… not that it had made much of a difference. Not all of the bruises were from Rob and Mike.
Looking around the room some more, she found three people sitting in chairs across from her bed. They were asleep, tired from the night before. She recognized them as Mr. and Mrs. Aerin. They were sleeping soundly… and so was the boy leaning on Mrs. Aerin’s shoulderâ€”it was Marley. She smiled. He had come for her? And nobody else had except for his parents? She was touched that he had come when he could’ve just figured she would die from her injuries anyways, and stayed home to get a good night’s rest. But he hadn’tâ€”he had tagged along to see her through.
Marley was leaning comfortably on his mother’s left arm, and she had a hand on his shoulder lovingly. Riley watched his chest heave with gentle breath. She studied his delicate, bold featuresâ€”his brownish, short hair; his arced eyebrows; his muscular arms; and his perfect sloping nose. He was flawless to her, a masterpiece set upon the face of the earth.
She sighed. Would Marley ever like her, or would she be stuck liking him until the end of time when both of them met their creator once again? Maybe one day he would see her true potential and love her back, and they would have a happily ever after, just like in the fairy tales. But only time and fate could tell.
Gazing at him, she found she desperately wanted to get up and stand next to him and wake him from his mild slumber, so to fulfill her need, she attempted to move from the gurney. However, her body ached at the slightest movement. But she still gave an effort to haul herself from the bed and onto her small feet. Her feet were feeble and insufficient under her weight, but she felt as if Marley could pull her back up if she collapsed under them, though she knew he didn’t love her. She simply went back into her bed, feeling stabs of pain in her ribs. But she never took her eyes off of Marley.
At least he will never want to hurt me just like the other people in my life, she thought, smiling. This day was the best day of her life. She had what she had always wanted: Marley Aerin.