It's funny how your brain will latch on to the most mundane details when it comes to memory. I couldn’t tell you anything in particular I did that last night before it happened. And there was probably nothing of note that happened anyway, but I remember everything about that last dinner with my family. The ketchup on my meatloaf kind of looked like Elvis. I remember showing my dad, who sang a little ditty à la the King. Mom commented it was too bad it didn’t look like Jesus, because then we could sell it on eBay. We all laughed. Then my little brother successfully got me to gag when he opened his mouth like a bowl and let the dog drink gravy out of it. Like I said: drool rubs me wrong.
It had never occurred to me that I should have cherished each second. Who thinks of something like that? I wasn’t a mind reader . . . yet. Just kidding. Still not a mind reader. But maybe my brain, after the fact, catalogued that dinner as something I would want to look back on. And it was right. Way to go, brain. You’re tops.
After the meal I watched some TV, texted Beth that I’d do better tomorrow, brushed my teeth extra hard, and went to bed.
The last vision I have of my room is muddled. It was dark. I don’t remember why I woke up, but for some reason I did. Something just didn’t feel right. I sat up and looked around. I was too old to cry out for my parents, right? The moon cast shadows across my filthy room, but nothing seemed out of place. I squinted at the clock: 3:13 a.m. Whew, still plenty of time to sleep.
I took a sip of water from the glass I kept on my nightstand, took one more look around the room, and shrugged. Must have been nothing,
I remember thinking. Nothing my ass.
The last thing I remember about my room is seeing my old USC hoodie at the foot of my bed and how comfy it looked. I started to reach for it, and that’s when the blackout bag was dropped over my head and zipped tight. A hand clamped over my mouth preventing my Hollywood-horrormovie-worthy scream from reaching anyone.
I struggled, but more hands pinned my arms behind my back. I kicked hard and caught one attacker in the face. If it did any damage, there was no response. My foot hurt like hell, so I hoped it had done something. In an instant, my arms and legs were zip-tied together, a gag had been forced in my mouth, and I was being carried. Screaming did no good. Only a muffled squeal made it through the gag and the hood. There is no feeling like true terror. I was choking on my own freak-out. Hadn’t my parents heard something?! My mother used to check on me at night when I was young. Where is she now?! Help me, please!
I kept trying to fight even though it seemed pointless.
Someone with a fed-up, whiny voice said, “Gas her.” I barely had time to comprehend the words before there was nothing.
In the morning my parents would wake up to find me gone. At first they would think I had just gotten up early to go to school. Eight angry phone calls and ten texts later, they would give up threatening me and become frightened. They would contact the police. They would file a missing persons report. Fear would become panic. After twenty-four hours their
true terror would set in and never quite disappear. God only knows how much time they would spend looking for me. Both of my parents would develop any number of psychological and emotional issues because—regardless of what I believed—they did love me more than I could ever know.
About a month after my “disappearance” a burned body would be found in the woods about seven miles from my home. This dead girl would be unrecognizable but the
teeth would identify her corpse as mine. Whoever she was (I never found out) would be the same height—similar build, similar everything. The identical teeth would be the clincher, though. There would be no point in continuing the investigation.
And thus the case of the missing person that was me would be officially closed. I was dead. Gone. Nonexistent. And thus: perfect for the task at hand.
Of course, I didn't know any of this at the time of my kidnapping. No, I would be told this information later when they took out four of my teeth. I asked them, “Why?” They told me about teeth as positive identification and then proceeded to steal them from me. There was no malice, just stating fact.
But I’m way ahead of myself again, and that fun stuff would happen soon after I woke up. I was only justifying a tangent about what happened to my family once I was gone and, alas, I got on another tangent about teeth. I’m done here.Chapter 4
My New Home
I woke up strapped to a chair by my arms and wrists wearing only a hospital gown. The room looked like the Pap smear office, only whiter and cleaner and without any free samples. I could smell the bleach that was used to keep it so spotless.
I instantly regretted my past love of horror movies because my mind suddenly filled with all of the greatest hits of the gory death scenes I’d once laughed at. They were so obviously fake. That’s what made them safe. Only now, they all served as education. My brain worked overtime to come up with the most painful, disgusting death scene of all time. I tried to convince myself that this was all a really bad dream, a movie. But for some reason that bleachy smell triggered something in my head. This wasn’t
a movie or a dream. No, this was very real and very scary.
I started to hyperventilate as I struggled against my bindings. I wasn’t very strong, so what I was hoping to accomplish I didn’t know. But going down without a fight
seemed sad. Tears poured out of my eyes. For the first, true time in my life, I was absolutely helpless.
The door slid open. It made the futuristic hiss like in sci-fi movies. In any other circumstance, I would have gotten a kick out of it. But at that moment, it paralyzed
me with fear. I watched, frozen, as an elderly man in a white lab coat entered. Behind him was a smaller, younger woman.
The man was holding what looked like a tablet of some sort. But it was too thin to be an iPad; besides, it was transparent—it looked like a sheet of clear glass. I could make out a picture of my face and some backward writing all around it. I saw my birthday, height, and weight before the glass went blank. Or clear, I guess is more like it.
“And how are we doing this evening?” he asked me.
It was such a casual question and asked with such honest interest that it caught me off guard. Did he not know I was just ripped from my bedroom and taken here against my will? Could he not see the bindings? My tears?
Something beeped. He looked back down at the glass, now flashing red.
“Great,” he muttered sarcastically. He looked at the younger woman and asked, “Can you do this one alone?”
She nodded. He returned it with a curt nod of his own. The door hissed shut behind him.
With her short red bangs and porcelain skin, the woman looked like Beth, only older. Maybe mid-twenties. She even shied away from making direct eye contact with
me like Beth did when she was about to say something that would make me mad. Only I think this girl didn’t want to look at someone who was about to be [insert horrible death here]. I cried harder. I wanted to go home. I wanted my mother.
Not-Beth busied herself at a small medical fridge making much more noise than necessary. Her back was to me but I caught her looking at me through the reflection in the fridge window. Her eyes darted back to her work.
“Please help me,” I begged. “Please.” I didn’t care that I was sobbing uncontrollably; maybe that would get a rise out of her. I knew she didn’t want to turn around and face me, but I could tell she was finished with whatever she had been doing at the fridge.
After a deep breath, Not-Beth turned.
She held a metal tray with a massive syringe on it. I’d seen horse shots smaller than this one and got lightheaded. My fear of needles was about to be tested to the limit.
“Please. Don’t do this,” I continued. “Just let me go. I won’t tell anyone.”
Her face was set, determined to do her duty regardless of my pleas. The syringe was filled with a jet-black liquid. She took it from the tray.
“I know you can hear me. Please don’t kill me,” were the words I could squeeze out before the sobbing completely took over.
Not-Beth looked at the syringe. She sighed and placed the needle back down. She shifted her body slightly and then finally looked directly at me. Her eyes were green, like mine.
“I’m not trying to kill you,” she said. Her voice was surprisingly strong, considering her seemingly shy demeanor. “None of us are. You’re safe here.” Safe? I feel anything but safe.
“Why are you doing this?” I asked.
“That’s not my place to say. You’ll find out soon enough.”
“But . . .”
She made the slightest of eye motions toward the corner and whispered, “There’s always someone watching, listening.”
My panicked eyes flashed over her shoulder, focusing on a small camera pointing right at us. She quietly continued, “I can’t tell you what you want to know. Not now.”
She picked up the needle again.
“What is that?” I asked.
“There’s a technical term for it. But we call it fire.”
“Why?” I asked.
“You’re about to find that out,” she said.
I turned my head as she slid the giant needle into my arm. Searing pain surged through me on contact, intensifying the farther into my bloodstream it went. I tried to scream but the torture was too much. I clenched my jaw. Time slowed to a standstill.
“I’m sorry. You’ll understand soon enough.” Not-Beth left, and outside the door I heard her say, “She’s ready. Take her to her room.”
Two beefy guards unstrapped me from the chair. I wanted to fight them off and run. But there was only agony. My body began to vibrate and spasm. Whatever she’d injected continued to spread in waves. Each new jolt of pain was more excruciating than the previous. I felt like I was burning alive from the inside out. Fire. The word
echoed through my head. Not-Beth had lied to me, I was sure of it. This was how it was going to end.
When the two guards plopped me into a wheelchair, I let them, though every touch felt like hot coals on my skin.
I wondered where they were taking me. Was this the plan all along? Inject me with some poison and then take bets on how long I’d live? It couldn’t be long. I kept waiting to black out but never did.
They pushed me through a maze of hallways and into at least two elevators. Even thinking seemed to hurt now. I could hear the unmistakable sound of others, all around me, crying in pain. It filled my ears. I tried to shut it all out. I closed my eyes. I mentally began to say goodbye to my life. My family, my friends. It was over.
And then I was being lifted out of the chair by the guards. Their hands were like hot pokers on my skin. I opened my eyes as I was carried into a dark room. I couldn’t make out anything in particular since the lights were off. All I remember is they laid me down on what felt like a bed and left.
Excerpted from I Become Shadow by Joe Shine. Copyright © 2014 by Joe Shine. Excerpted by permission of Soho Teen, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.