Manifest

Before the Circus. Before the life of glitz, glamour and gore. Paige was just a simple girl, relying on thievery get by. Little did she know that there was more to her quick fingers, until a mysterious man takes her away to join the Circus. This is her story from before.

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1. Discovery

 

 

Long, frail fingers clutched her wrist, a silent cry of pain. She stood deathly still beside the elderly, bedridden woman, and gently stroked her hair. The woman’s eyes, which had once been two piercing orbs of blue, were now listlessly gazing back at her. A moment of comforting silence passed between the two.

 

“I’ll be home soon”, the young girl mouthed as she pulled away reluctantly.

 

A gust of wind from the door ajar was left to bid her grandmother farewell.

 

 

Paige ran through the route multiple times in her head as she made her way towards the local pharmacy located a few blocks down the street. Leaves rustled beneath her shoes as she wordlessly braved the cold, and she was thankful for the tattered brown trench coat hung from her thin shoulders. Her plan was simple – walk in, grab the painkillers and leave.

 

Painkillers. She needed them, desperately. Every once in a while her grandmother’s dull blue eyes would enter her mind, urging her to hasten her cautious steps.

 

She sat on a bench outside the pharmacy with newspapers lying open on her lap. Occasionally, she would see couples hurrying towards the diner on the opposite side of the road that was squeezed between an old, dusty bookstore and a hardware store. Other than that, the street was lonely and quiet, with only the howling wind and dried up leaves as her company.

 

As her hands skimmed through the pages, her keen eyes surveyed the empty parking lot, periodically darting to the glass panelled doors of the pharmacy. In fifteen minutes, she memorised the layout of the store, the few individuals who entered and the pharmacist at the counter.

 

The glass doors slid open as she headed into the pharmacy. The contained warmth of the store was a welcome relief from the frigid air outdoors. She turned and walked towards the third aisle from the right, where she’d seen the pharmacist restock the aspirin tablets.

 

Despite it being lunchtime, the pharmacy was relatively empty, save for a man who was deep in conversation with a pharmacist at the far end of the store. The aisle she was headed for was void of people. She thanked her intuition for wanting to pick this timing – she assumed that people wouldn’t be as wary of shop thefts in broad daylight.

 

Three steps - it wasn't that hard to achieve. She’d had experience pick pocketing ever since the age of seven. Paige had begun her thieving for the sake of fun, starting out with a few coins, a bracelet (which, she found out later, was a worthless piece of costume jewellery) and some snacks to keep her hunger at bay. As she got older, thievery grew to become more than a simple activity for thrills – it allowed her to keep her sickly grandmother alive. She grew more daring, getting away with multiple ten-dollar bills. Now, she could make her way out of a crowd with at least two mobile phones in her possession almost effortlessly. She’d sell them to earn a little something to add on to what meagre funds she and grandma relied on to get by.

 

Paige took her time scanning through the shelves for the painkillers she needed – entering and leaving too hurriedly might bring unwanted attention. And, since she had time, she might as well pick the best of the lot. Only the best for grandma.

 

As much as every fibre of her body wanted her to just grab the medicine and run back home, she resisted. Grandma will be fine. She can’t get any more ill in half-an-hour, right?

 

Once she’d located her much-needed aspirin tablets, she straightened up from her stooped position, readjusting her light grey top as she dropped the medicine into the pocket of her trench coat. She scanned the shop, satisfaction filling her as she took her leave. Nobody, she was certain, had seen her steal.

 

Ten steps. Nine, eight, seven, six … Two more and she’d be out of the pharmacy, back into the cold afternoon. She relished the last of the indoor warmth, which was laced with the sharp, sterilised scent of rubbing alcohol.

 

“Ma’am, I believe you have forgotten something,” a voice called. Her heart gave a start, freezing for a split second, but she forced herself to remain calm. Stay cool, Paige. She was sure she could get away with this, for she had encountered and fooled security before. She turned slowly, deliberately, her features morphing into that of slight surprise. She willed her voice to convey a certain amount of hesitation.

 

“Me?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The voice belonged to a man with dark, backcombed hair. She noted that he was the one who was talking to the pharmacist when she walked in. He looked well into his thirties, dressed casually in a plaid shirt and dark wash jeans. “I believe you have, in your possession, a few items which are unpaid for.”

 

“But I didn’t take anything,” Paige defended smoothly, her puzzled expression concealing her true emotions of bewilderment. How could he have seen what I took? I was the only person at the aisle. He wasn’t even close enough to see me take anything!

 

She took off her thick coat and held it out, daring the man to do a check. There was a high risk of her being found out, but she had to do it if she wanted to throw him off her scent. Paige prayed that he wouldn’t do a thorough check, and that the concealed side pockets would shroud the medicine from his prying eyes.

 

Clearly her prayer wasn’t answered as he dug through each pocket and surfaced a green-and-white box of tablets. He cast a sideway glance at her and arched an eyebrow. He didn’t need words to convey his message: explain yourself. As he set the medicine back on the cashier counter, she took a step back. Now was her chance.

 

She burst out of the pharmacy and onto the pavement, the cold biting at her skin. Paige immediately regretted giving the man her trench coat, but she quickly pushed that thought away. She needed to get away to a safe place that provided shelter and warmth before she fell sick. Breaking into a run, she spied a turn not too far away. She could take that route and duck down one of the alleys, which interconnected with others to form a labyrinth of its own.

 

As she gained distance from the pharmacy, she was glad that she need not bear the weight of the trench coat on her shoulders, for that would be sure to slow her down. She, however, did not take comfort in the fact that the familiar weight was gone.

 

Paige had barely reached the corner when a strong hand grabbed her left arm, yanking her back. She cried out in pain and swung her other arm around wildly, hoping to give the idiot a long lasting bruise on his face. As she turned, she caught a brief flash of her assailant's face - it was the man who had confronted her at the pharmacy. He caught her wrist easily, twisting it behind her. She screamed as his large, sweaty hand crushed her fingers.

 

“Stop struggling,” he growled, hauling her towards a white sedan parked conveniently at the roadside, a short distance away from the pharmacy. She dug her heels into the pavement, refusing to cooperate.

 

Of course, his large, muscular built overpowered her petite frame easily as he continued pulling her towards the car. She stomped hard on his right foot, but it only seemed to add on to his growing irritation.

 

She cried out for help, though there wasn’t anybody around to hear her.

 

“Help! Somebody, this-“

 

“Stop making a ruckus! I’m a plainclothes policeman,” he said as he opened the car door and jabbed her in with his elbow, causing her to wince in pain. “You see that? You’re going to the station with me,” he said as he pointed at a decal on the windscreen. State Police, read the mirrored bold print.

 

Paige paused briefly to take in her surroundings – a leathery smell filled the vehicle, which came from the car seats. She studied the dashboard, which was stuffed with papers, maps and opened sweet wrappers. Her eye caught sight of a card in a plastic lanyard holder, and below a picture of the man who had just forced her into the car was his name: Cavin Dunnett.

 

He got into the driver’s seat and started the engine, the screech of wheels filling her ears as he sped off in the direction of what Paige assumed was the police station. She settled back in her seat, fuming with rage – both at herself and at Cavin. She had let herself be caught, and he had exerted physical violence on her. Twice.

 

She observed him as he drove in silence. Maybe she’d be able to hit him hard enough to leave him dazed for a moment – that would buy her time to escape. He hadn’t handcuffed her, and that was already an advantage on her side.

 

Clenching her fist, she remembered that he had taken her old trench coat and probably discarded it back at the pharmacy. That left her empty handed, without anything to use as a weapon. Fresh anger coursed through her veins as she stared daggers at Cavin’s head, hating the fact that she was in such a helpless position.

 

Clench. If only I had pepper spray.

 

Unclench. I’d happily blind him and shove his sorry ass out of the car.

 

Clench. I should’ve kicked his man parts when I had the chance.

 

Unclench. An idiot like him deserves to never celebrate Father’s Day.

 

I wish I had a Taser—

 

Paige’s fingers closed around a handheld Taser.

 

How did I even—?

 

“Young lady, you are not using that on me.”

 

Paige looked up in shock. How did he even know that a Taser had just appeared in her hand? He wasn’t even looking at her.

 

Her mind was crammed with thoughts multiplying by the second - she could barely register that a Taser had just materialised in her hand. Her body seemed to be able to feel it too, a gentle hum coming from the hand that held it.

 

“Hand it over.”

 

“I don’t see why I should!” she snapped, clutching the Taser close to her chest as if it was her newborn child. Her emotions were spiralling out of control, the thrill of pulling an object out of thin air mixing with confusion, as well as anger at the demanding policeman. Cavin’s hand shot out to grab the Taser from her, but she twisted away in time and shoved the Taser against his wrist, pushing a button and zapping him.

 

Her lips pulled into a smug smile as he jolted back in pain – the voltage must have been much higher than she had expected, as he appeared to be too stunned to move his arms. The smile on her face dissolved as the car veered towards the other side of the road, with Cavin unable to control it. Paige slid to the other side of the backseat and hit her head against the window with a loud thud.

 

A string of curses tumbled out of his mouth as he swerved the car back onto the right side of the road, the blaring horn of a car whizzing past them.

 

“That was for jabbing me in the ribs!” She retorted, well aware that she sounded like a child. She held the side of her head, which buzzed with pain. She was sure that the impact had left her with a dented skull – and quite possibly, some damage to her brain.

 

He ignored her. “If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m not bringing you to the police station.”

 

Paige snapped her head to the side, her senses protesting as small black dots clouded her vision. When she squeezed her eyes shut and opened them again, the shop-cluttered street had thinned out - only occasional shops popped up every now and then. Panic pricked the edges of her mind as she realised that he wasn’t that much of a policeman, as he had claimed.

 

“Where are you taking me?” She asked, surprised that her voice was much more steady – and even sounded a little dangerous – than she had expected. She had been so caught up with her emotions and finding ways to escape, that she hadn’t been observant enough to know where they were heading.

 

“A place where you belong,” Cavin replied, his steely, emotionless eyes fixed on the road ahead of him.

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