The idea of leaving this place hadn’t really entered her mind. She hadn’t seen Michael’s plan coming. While he was gone, Venus scrambled off the cot, put the tissues in Michael’s jacket pocket and then put the jacket on.

She waited.

And, waited.

After what felt like an eternity, she heard running. Michael slid to a stop in front of her cell. His animated face giving Venus courage. Her boots were in his hands. They didn’t look any worse for wear. In fact, they appeared the same as the last time she’d seen them. She shouldn’t have doubted. Technology hadn’t advanced enough here to harm her Kelvieri’s Boots.

He swiped Sharon’s card, which he now wore around his neck, and smiled. “Told ya I’d be right back.”

“Yeah, quick as a whip,” Venus said with a snort. Her body felt heavy, as though all her blood had drained into her feet. Black spots flashed before her eyes, and her head spun. She figured it was the medicine Sharon had given her, its effects lulling her to sleep.  

He handed her the boots. “Here, put them on and let’s go.”

Venus moved to the cot and sat, willing her head to clear. She blinked a few times. That didn’t help. With a sigh, she slipped her feet into the boots, allowing the upper portion to close around her calves. Hoping for the best, Venus stood. “I’m ready, Michael.”

The words sounded like she’d spoken from inside a tunnel. They seemed far away. Her head grew more light-headed, a helium balloon that would soon float away. The black spots had become one large black hole. With a hand, she reached for the cool, steel bars, but they weren’t as close as she’d thought. With a thud, she fell onto her side, crunching her shoulder. 

“Venus.”

She tried to reach out for him. He stood in front of her and she wanted to stand. He had other plans. She felt herself lifted into his strong arms. A cocoon of warmth and protection. “Michael, maybe . . . “ 

“Stay with me. I know you’re tired, but I need you to resist. I’ll carry you as much as possible, but you’re going to have to help. Okay?” He shook her.

“Okay.” Venus blinked her eyes open. The worry lines on his face made her want to reach out and touch his cheek, smooth them away. She blinked a few more times.

“Put your arms around my neck. I’m going to run.” The command inspired her and she reached out and touched his neck, linking her fingers behind it.

“Done.”

“Hang on.”

He jogged down the hall, took a left, another left, a right and stopped. The walls were all the same, a dingy off-white concrete. Every door they passed had a plaque above it, stamped with a number. On the right side of each door sat a rectangle box. Red lights flashing. She guessed that must’ve been what Sharon and Michael used to lock and unlock the doors. The ceiling also looked to be concrete. A long light would appeared every ten feet or so. Some of them had dead bugs inside the fixture. To keep herself alert, she counted the number of steps Michael took before another light came into view. Fifteen.

“Venus, can you grab the badge?”

It’d been squashed between them, but Venus gave it a yank. When it pulled free, she handed it to him. He bent slightly, letting out a small grunt and swiped the card. There was a beep and the door unlocked with a snap. Michael let the badge fall back to his chest and yanked the door opened. The lights weren’t on in this hallway. An eerie red glow emanated from a red bulb above the door.

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