// Nine //

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Fever crept through my body with a harsh chill. My head pounded as I shivered in the dark, and the room spun beneath me. How long had it been since Clara and Jen had left? A day? Maybe two?

Clara had promised that she would talk to Richard and get me out of here. I'd been doubtful from the beginning, but as the minutes ticked on, the final traces of hope I'd clung to slowly slipped away.

I needed a plan. I needed some way to trick Richard so I could get out of here. He wouldn't let me die. Surely, he wouldn't let me die. I would be useless to him dead. He probably planned to keep me just barely alive—weak, sick and confused—so I wouldn't try to escape or fight back.

I reasoned out the things I had control of. They weren't many. I could control if I didn't eat, but not if I did, which wasn't very helpful. The only use I could possibly see was if I resolved myself to a hunger strike. Unfortunately, I doubted I had the conviction. Since the transformation had started, the desire to feed had become something stronger than just a hunger. I thought about what I had heard Jen and Clara talking about the night I slept in her apartment. Cravings. Could that possibly be what I was experiencing? But the fact that they stated with such certainty that mine hadn't started yet lead me to believe it was something more pronounced than just intense hunger. I shuddered thinking about it.

I drew a blank with ideas. Even if I did attempt a hunger strike, I wasn't sure how that could possibly get me closer to being out of this cell. Just closer to dead, which wasn't ideal.

Maybe once my teeth came in, I would find some other way to leverage over Richard.

A pang of a headache shot through my temples, and I pulled my legs into my chest as a shudder rushed through me. The ground spun. I heard the dirt cracking around me. It sliced open wide like a mouth and swallowed me whole.

My stomach dropped as I fell. The world spun around me dizzyingly. The walls moved. The floor moved. I was flying through a tunnel. A black sun rose on the horizon. Its bright red corona seared the earth and scorched my skin and brain with fever.

My body pounded with nauseating pain, and then with a sudden jolt, the spinning stopped. My head rested against ice-cold glass. A window.

Where am I?

I ran my hands along the fabric I was sitting on. Leather.

A car?

"Aaron," a voice called to me.

I moved slowly, like my blood had turned to slush in my veins. I looked up. The roof of the car was missing, and the black sun burned in the dark sky above. Its enormous gravity pulled at everything around it. My skin tingled, and my right eye pulsed with pain as I stared up through the hole in reality—a slice in the fabric of my memory.

"What happened to the roof?" I asked under my breath, but no sound came out of my mouth. The atmosphere was an empty vacuum. Air drained from my lungs like a balloon to fill the void.

"Aaron, this has to stop," a voice pulled to my consciousness, bringing me back to the scene. I was in a car... And the voice was... my dad. A shudder of déjà vu crawled through my mind like a cat creeping across a fence.

I've been here before.

I had my hood up and was looking out the passenger side window, as though that could hide the fresh bruise around my eye. It's not like my dad hadn't seen it already, though. That was the whole reason we were having this conversation, after all.

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