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The pain woke me.

It pulsed with heat, quivering from my skull along my spine, into my trembling shoulders where the muscles bunched and strained. The ache shook off the unconscious confusion and I pulled against the hold on my numb arms when I realized they were pinned above me, my feet grazing a smooth surface, my chin resting on my chest. Lifting it sent new pain firing through my neck. I groaned.

"Sara? Sara, can you hear me?!"

That's Tara. Where are we? What happened?

Prying my eyelids open hurt, the light vague but piercing in intensity, emanating from somewhere below. I scrunched my nose and focused. Are those...? Those are...candles.

Less than a dozen candles sat loosely arranged in a ring, a paltry yellow corona illuminating a shallow, metallic basin positioned on the floor. The basin was large, large enough for me to question what it could possibly be used for, and polished until the sloping surface reflected the outlines of rafters above. What is that?

Movement at my side turned my head as far as it would go. "...Tara?"

"Oh, thank God you're awake. Can you see Rick? He's there, next to you—."

The three of us hung together on a welded rack: a steel bar running atop two thick columns stabilized by mounded sandbags. Handcuffs threaded over the top of the bar bound our wrists and, our feet, balanced on that strange basin, had been weighted down by thick chains that looped about our ankles and spilled over the basin's edge. Our flickering bubble of muted candlelight burned alone in the dark like a single ember left breathing in a wildfire's wake.

"Wh—where are we?" I asked, dry mouth desperate for relief. "What happened?"

"I don't remember." Tara's heavy breathing didn't echo in the empty space; the dark seemed to eat the sound, consuming our words like a hungry beast licking up table scraps, waiting for more. Waiting for what exactly, I couldn't say. "I—there was a van, and I screamed, but there's nothing after that. I woke up here." Her voice grew thin as she spoke and panic threatened to overwhelm her. "Can you please check on Rick?"

Turning my head again proved just as harrowing as it had the first time and I felt a sticky residue crack and pull at the fine hairs on my neck's nape. I strained to peer past my own arm, panting, and tried to make sense of what I saw. Rick, silent as the grave, hung without precipitable movement next to me. Red stained the front of his dress shirt.

"He's—unconscious," I lied, trembling all the harder, the cool air biting at the perspiration beading my brow and the dip between my shoulders. Tara didn't deserve my lies but we couldn't panic, not now, not in this situation. Bile crept up my throat and I swallowed again, tears burning beneath my lashes. He's dead. Oh, Christ—Rick's dead and we're next—! "Do you know who these people are? What they want?"

"No," Tara said. "Do you think they're...kidnappers? Do you think they're trying to get money out of Mother and Dad?"

Eleanor and Luc Gaspard made a tidy living as a cardiovascular surgeon and an accountant, respectively, but they didn't possess the kind of money that would motivate a triple kidnapping and subsequent ransom. Besides, why would these people take Rick if they meant to extort money from our parents? Why would they kill him?

"I don't think that's it," I whispered.

The rack creaked when Tara shifted, the dirty hem of her dress brushing my leg. "...what are we going to do, Sara?"

We're going to die. We're not going to make it—. I crushed that thought before it could spiral into madness. No, I told myself, taking hold of my resolve, clenching my teeth until they clicked. I'm going to get Tara away from here. I'm going to get her home. We won't die. Not like this. I won't allow it.

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