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The first thing Jack heard was the drip-drip of water. The first thing he felt was metal biting into his wrist.
He felt groggy, like maybe he was dreaming, stuck in those magic moments right before his eyelids fluttered open and he woke up. He tried hard to hang on. Sometimes, he could do it fall back into the story in his head.
Jack didn't like to wake up. Waking up meant being cold and hungry.
He felt cold, but not hungry. That was different.
The voice sounded far away. Jack looked around the room, squinting in the dim light. He shivered. Someone there? Standing over him?
He tugged at his hand and heard metal rattling. Hand-cuffsthe real kind. A rush of adrenaline hit.
Not a dream.
He felt sick. He was going to throw up. Shit! What had he gotten himself into?
He hadn't done a lot of drugs. Sure, there was always the occasional john who wanted to get him a little loose, giving him a few drinks. Men didn't like to think they could hurt a kid. Jack always assured them he was seventeen, but could pass for a lot younger. He'd never tell them his real age, fourteen.
He yanked the hand strung up by the handcuff, trying not to freak out.
The voice sounded familiar. Jack blinked up at the blurry image hovering over him and tried to focus. He remembered going to dinner last night, some fancy Italian place where he'd eaten his fill. But he'd only drunk a soda. So why did he feel so weird?
"You know what they used to call it in the old days? You'll get a kick out of this. They called it a Mickey Finn. I slipped you a Mickey, Jack."
Jack reached up to rub his eyes, only to have his hand stop dead, his wrist tethered to something solid and heavy. He realized he was propped up against some piece of furniture, a desk maybe.
The guy, the john from last night, leaned closer. His breath smelled minty fresh with Altoids.
"These days, they call it a roofie. You know what that is, don't you, Jack?"
The guy said roofie like he was having fun with it. His lips wrapped around the word, giving it a slight whistle. Through the haze in his head, Jack remembered that smile. Last night, he'd thought it was nice.
They were in some kind of basement. There was a musty, earthy smell and a naked lightbulb hung in the middle of the room, giving off a bleary glow. The guy was close enough that Jack could see his even, white teeth.
A roofie was a well-known date-rape drug. Basically, it knocked you out. Eventually, when you woke up, you never knew what hit you.
"How do you feel?" the man asked.
"Like an ice pick is having a go at my head," Jack answered.
"An ice pike? Yikes."
The fuzzy image gelled into longish red hair that feathered around the man's face, vivid blue eyes and a strong nose. And dimples; Jack remembered those from last night, too.
The guy was young, maybe in his early twenties. Even though he had red hair, he didn't have a freckle on him. Jack remembered thinking he could be one of those models on the billboards; he was that good-looking. And tall, like maybe six feet five or something. Nothing like his usual john.
The sights and sounds from the night before flooded Jack's brain. The guy standing over himlast night he'd told Jack his name was Adamhad picked Jack up at his usual corner at Hollywood and Vine. He'd taken him to dinner. A real dinner, like Jack was someone who deserved a menu and a waiter with a tie.
They'd both ordered sodas. Adam had asked for a root beer, Jack, a Pepsi.
In the old days, they called it a Mickey Finn.
"You slipped me a roofie?" Jack said, his tongue thick and tired around the words.
"Had to." The guy stroked the side of Jack's face.
Jack pulled again on the handcuffs. He was having trouble catching his breath.
"What are you gonna do to me?"
Immediately, he regretted the question. When he'd first hit the street six months ago, the more experienced kids had let him know what was what. To get out of a mess like this, he had to act all cool, like he was in the know. The worst thing he could do was get all scared. The bad ones liked you scared.
Only, he felt so funky. Woozy and like he'd been sucking on a stick of chalk. With a hammer having a go at his head. He had to concentrateraise your right handbut still there was this time delay.
"It's the drug," Adam explained. "It makes you feel disjointed. Try not to worry, Jack. I promise. It won't hurt too much."
Jack knew he'd landed in some serious shit. Here this guy was smiling at him, looking like nothing was up. Sure, Jack was handcuffed in some dark, damp cellar and this weirdo was talking about pain. So what, that smile seemed to ask? Nothing wrong herenot with such a beautiful face shining down on him.
But then Jack saw that Adam was holding a needle, the kind doctors used to give flu shots, only bigger. He plunged the tip into a glass medicine bottle. The syringe filled with a milky-white liquid. Jack blinked, forcing his eyes to work, focusing on the handsome redhead and his smile.
"What are you doing?" he asked, the words slurring.
"Something very special. I'm going to make you a superhero, Jack. Give you special powers. You'd like that, wouldn't you? No more cold nights on the street, pimping yourself out. I'm going to make you someone."
The man named Adam winked, then leaned in close and whispered in Jack's ear, "Trust me, Jack. It will be worth it."
Jack didn't even see the needle coming when the guy jabbed the syringe into his neck and sunk the plunger.
Gia Moon woke to the sound of screaming.
It took her a moment to understand she was actually awake. Screaming was a normal part of Gia's sleep; her dreams were often filled with the hideous imagery of bloodied body parts and faces contorted in pain. It didn't necessarily mean anything. It didn't have to be real, portents of things to come.
Only, tonight was different. Tonight the screams weren't Gia's.
She glanced at the digital clock on the nightstand:
3:07 a.m.More screams. This time, she registered the source. The sounds clearly emanated from her daughter's room.
"Stella," she said, throwing back the covers.
Gia raced for the door and careened into the hall. She stumbled across the living room, bumping into the coffee table with her knee and sending last night's board game crashing to the floor.
Not so long ago, her daughter slept right alongside Gia in her king-size bed. Only recently had Stella started to flex her newly minted teen muscle, choosing to sleep in her own room. After a lifetime curled up next to her mother, her daughter had proclaimed her independence shortly after her thirteenth birthday.
"Stella?" Gia cried, pushing open the bedroom door.
She found Stella sitting upright in bed. She looked like a puppet, her arms stiff at her sides and her legs sticking out like two planks of wood. In the dim glow of the night-light, Gia could see the sheets and quilt bunched at Stella's feet. She imagined her daughter kicking the covers aside as she swam up to the surface of her dreams.
Even with her eyes wide open, Stella kept screaming.
Gia swept her daughter up in her arms and held her tight. She made soft soothing sounds intended to help Stella transition out of her nightmare. Stella eventually quieted down, but her eyes remained fixed on something across the room.
Gia followed her daughter's gaze. She was staring at the stool in front of the Queen Anne vanity as if someone were sitting there.
"What is it, baby?" Gia whispered. "What do you see?"
But instead of answering, Stella buried her face in her mother's neck.
In a normal family, waking up screaming in the middle of the night might be explained as a simple night terror. No big deal. Any cause for concern would be temporary, nothing a kiss or a cup of hot cocoa couldn't fix. But normal didn't describe the lives of Gia and Stella Moon.
Gia felt her daughter trembling against her. Stella was small for her age, her tiny size a contrast to her great spirit. Stella had been born an old soul, not prone to hysterics. Waking up in the middle of the night, that would be Gia, the woman haunted by her gifts.
"I'm okay," Stella told her, all too soon pushing Gia away. "It was just a nightmarea real nightmare," she assured her mother. "The normal kind."
The normal kind.
Not a vision, Gia thought with some relief.
Her daughter crawled back under the covers, pulling the quilt up to her chin. Tucked in her bed, her inky curls and vibrant blue eyes contrasted dramatically with her flawless white skin. Lying there, Stella presented a virtual Renaissance painting. Gia's artistic sensibilities appended the dewy full lips and cheeks, heightened in color from the nightmare. The antique sleigh bed with its starburst-pattern quilt in shades of blue was a fitting background. It wasn't quite chiaroscuro in the glow of the nightlight, but close.
Gia brushed back a curl from Stella's face. There was this perceived resemblance between mother and daughter. Goodness, Gia, she's a mirror image. A clone.
But Gia knew better. The dramatic coloringblack hair, blue eyes, translucent skindeceived. Those curls, that delicate nose and dimpled chin, these were all Stella Stella and Gia's mother, Estelle.
"Geez, Mom, you're freaking out for no reason, okay?" Stella added.
Gia hesitated, knowing when she was being dismissed. Suspicious of just that.
Sealing it, Stella closed her eyes and turned onto her side, giving her mother her back. "Don't be weird. I'm fine."
Which meant she was hiding something.
It happened more and more often these days: Stella shutting her out. Gia knew it was a normal part of growing up. She'd read all the books; teenagers needed space.
But tonight felt different. Secretive. And not in a good way.
She glanced back at the empty stool in front of the vanity. Only Gia and her daughter atop the sleigh bed reflected back in the mirror.
There wasn't even a glimmer of a prese...