I close my eyes. I open them. There is no difference between each darkness. Aunt had turned off the light when she left.
My wrists are sore. I had attempted escaping from the ropes that tied me to the chair for a while, but to no avail. I truly was stuck down here.
Alone with my fear; forced to think about what I had done only a day or two ago. This seclusion makes it feel like longer.
Stuck to see only darkness.
And hear only the silence.
And horrible, piercing screams.
And the occasional loud noise that I do not recognize.
It is cold here, but I sweat nonetheless. Each drip tickles uncomfortably as it rolls down my neck. I shiver.
If I stay in this place any longer, I will go insane. But, what else can I do? There must be something I haven't tried; but a feeling in my gut tells me that there is no escaping this place.
I am very hungry, and very thirsty, and I need to relieve myself pretty badly, but I plan to wait it out as long as I can.
I must be dead. Never have I seen a light so bright in my life. So sudden and glorious is the brightness, but it sears my brain and makes me want to cry out despite the fact that my throat is still burning from dryness. Apparently, death does nothing for hydration. I squeeze my eyes shut. Orange light replaces white. It is no less painful.
"Is this you?"
I feel hot air brush my face. I blink. Purple tadpoles swim across the face of Aunt. She waves something at me. I cannot see what it is. I groan.
She backs away, holding it still. I blink several times, silently wishing I could rub my eyes.
It is a hastily folded newspaper. Dingy colors fill the image on the first page. Tragedy at St. Opal's, it says.
I glance back at Aunt. Her eyebrows are scrunched together. Her finger taps at the article.
I scan it. The words don't make sense to me, but I know what they are about.
A collapsed building. Three orphans dead. Five injured. One missing. A tragic accident, it says. It is wrong. It was murder.
Aunt drops the arm holding the newspaper to her side. "I'll take that as a 'yes'. You'd be the missing one." She pauses. "Unless you and your employers staged this."
I grunt. "You can believe whichever you wish."
"Look, kiddo. If you can prove that this is you," she jabs the paper with her finger, "then you're name is cleared. I wouldn't much like to keep a sneaky little runaway orphan in my house forever."
"Does me being an orphan change anything?"
"Of course not," she snaps.
I look down at myself. "How am I supposed to prove it?"
"That's up to you."
The silence that follows is heavy. What am I going to say?
My stomach answers for me. I'd be embarrassed at its growling if it didn't hurt so much.
"I will feed you when you give me an answer."
It's cruel. I am desperate for food. There must be something I can show her. I try to think, thoughts running through my mind just fast enough for me to dismiss them, but anxiety disrupts my focus.
"My shirt!" I say quickly. "The tag in the back!"
Aunt tosses the paper aside and steps around me. Her fingers are warm. She jerks my head down and sweeps my long hair out of the way, peels the wet fabric from my neck. I pray silently that it would still be there.
"Mm. It says something here, but it's awfully faded." She pauses. Please, let her have amazing vision. I realize that I didn't know who I am praying to. "'Property of St. Opal's Home for Misguided Girls'." She chuckles, letting go of my shirt. "Misguided, huh? You'd fit right in with this family." She stands in front of me again. "How do I know you and your accomplices didn't plant that?"
I groan inwardly. There is no way she'll let me go.
"I don't have any accomplices! I'm not working for anybody! I was just running from the collapsed building!"
She looks me in the eye. "Then answer me this: what caused the building to collapse?"
I look at her, frantically trying to come up with a reasonable answer. Her eyes twinkle, and I realize she is trying to mask her expression.
"There was a weak support beam," I say, "all full of rats and cockroaches and stuff. And one of the girls pushed another into it, and it just. . . came down. The ceiling caved in, and the whole building collapsed." Lies, all of it. But there was no way I'd tell her the truth. She wouldn't believe me if I did.
"She nods, frowning. "You pushed that girl, didn't you? And you fled because you knew it was your fault."
I blinked. Did she believe that story? But she was right, I probably gave it away somehow. What happened was entirely my fault. I answer her slowly. "Yes."
"Fear can give the body access to an extreme amount of power and energy. Twenty miles. . ." She turns away from me. "Wait here."
Trust me, I've already tried leaving and it's gotten me nowhere.
She turns off the light, and I am again sitting in darkness.
Tragedy at St. Opal's. It was wrong. It was murder.