‘Stretch your left leg up to your head, and grab your foot with your right hand.’
I looked at the valley far below me, aware of how uneven the rock was beneath my feet. ‘Why?’
‘You know why.’
Not entirely true, but I nodded anyway. I closed my eyes and took in a few deep breaths, pushing my fears out of my mind. I stretched my leg up and grasped the sole of my trainer with my right hand, pushing my left arm out to the side to keep my balance. I never expected my years of gymnastics training to bring me to this place.
I stood on a rock, maybe five feet across, balanced on the edge of a mountain. Far below me, mist coated a mountain lake, hiding the blue water with billowing white.
‘Good.’ The voice in my ear was male, amused.
‘How long do I have to stay like this?’ I asked him, trying to sound (and feel) calm.
‘As long as I say.’
I sighed and tried to block out everything else, focusing on keeping my core strong. The valley in front of me was very beautiful, with rugged mountains springing up around the edges of the lake, dusted with snow at the tops. I might even have enjoyed visiting there, but not even yoga is fun under duress.
I had an earpiece in, and at the other end was the man who had my sister.
Taking deep, even breaths, I tried to block out thoughts of Lily. She was 15, and all I had.
I jumped. So much for my inner peace. Stiff, I lowered my leg, giving it a little shake. I crouched on the rock, waiting for my next instruction. My fingers brushed the rough stone, cold against my skin.
‘You can go back down now. Stay at the Neptune Inn tonight. I’ll be in touch in the morning. Until then, we’ll be watching you.’
We? I fought the urge to ask out loud. Until that moment, I had thought my tormentor was working alone.
As I stuck my arms into my coat and gathered my climbing gear, my bones felt lined with lead. One person was bad enough, but with others I didn’t think I would ever find my sister alive.
I was dreaming of my parents when the phone rang the next morning. It wasn’t a nice dream; they were zombies, but it was good to see their faces anyway.
I flailed to find the phone, my legs tangled in the duvet, and found the handset at the same time as I fell out of bed. I brought the phone to my my ear, keeping the cacophony of swear words in my head to myself, and grunted ‘Hello?’ into the phone.
‘Good morning, Miss Grant.’ The caller was too cheerful to be legal. ‘This is Jenny at the front desk with your requested alarm call.’
‘I didn’t – ‘ I stopped myself. I didn’t order an alarm call, but maybe my tormentors did. ‘Thank you.’
‘No problem, Madam. Have a great day.’ She hung up.
‘Not gonna happen, kid.’ I got to my feet, assessing the damage as I kicked my legs free of the duvet. Aching muscles from the previous day’s mountaineering efforts, and a handful of forming bruises from my fall out of bed. This was not going to be a good day.
My last good day had been three weeks before. I’d had a decent time at work, and when I got home I found Lily had cooked us dinner. She’d been experimenting in the kitchen lately, becoming quite the little chef. The spaghetti had been delicious, and after dinner we’d watched one of our Buffy the Vampire Slayer DVDs while eating jelly babies.
The next day when I got home from work, Lily was gone.
There was an earpiece on the dining table, and a note saying to do everything I was told or Lily would die.
I never expected that what I would be told to do would be so ridiculous.
That first day, I had to stand in the middle of my home town, Greenford, handing out leaflets informing of the impending apocalypse.
I’d had to do a grocery shop, buying junk food and travelling everywhere by cartwheel without being kicked out of the shop.
I’d emptied my bank account travelling to different countries and performing meaningless tasks, and now I was in a British-style inn in Switzerland, longing to see my baby sister again.
I’d expected our tormentors to take my money for themselves, not force me to fritter it away on junk food and travel. I kept asking why, but the man I spoke to didn’t answer, just ordered me on with a smirk in his voice.
I lifted the hated earpiece from the bedside table and slipped it into my ear. It crackled to life.
‘Good morning, Dayna.’
I said nothing.
‘No need to be grumpy. This morning you’ll be getting the 11.05 train to Paris. Look for somebody you know on the train.’
‘I’m not sure I can afford the train fare. ‘ I whispered, throwing my clothes into my bag.
‘Sure you can. We’ve sorted out a loan for you. It’s in your account already. Gonna be a bitch to pay back though.’
‘Fine.’ I decided to leave my new climbing gear behind, as I couldn’t carry it as well as my necessary things. Maybe the hotel would send it on for me. I checked my watch; I still had plenty of time for breakfast before my train.
I stood in a line of impatient commuters, surrounded by the smell of cigarettes and leather briefcases and coffee, slowly boarding the train.
‘Who exactly am I looking for?’ I whispered, mindful of the eyes and ears around me.
‘What was that, Dayna?’
‘Who am I looking for?’ I replied, out loud this time. Someone behind me started muttering in French about the crazy English.
I walked the whole way to the back of the train, peering into strange face after strange face. When I ran out of train I turned back, knowing that I hadn’t checked the front two carriages as I’d doubted whoever it was I was looking for would spring to paying First Class.
At the very front of the train, I spotted something so familiar that my throat closed.
‘Lily?’ Her blonde hair curtained her face, her forehead pressed to the dirty window. She was alone, and fast asleep.
I dropped to my knees in front of her, ignoring the new bruises I was sure to be collecting and throwing my bag aside.
‘Lily,’ I took her by the elbows and shook her. ‘Monster, wake up.’
She didn’t stir. My shaking dislodged a piece of paper from her lap, which fluttered to the floor. I picked it up, hands shaking, and unfolded it. It read:
‘She’s fine. You’ll never know why we did this, but you deserved it. Tell anyone and it happens again.’
I screwed up the paper, rough edges cutting into my palms, and hauled myself into the seat next to my sister. Crying, I pulled the sleeping teenager into my arms, and watched the Swiss countryside roll by until I drifted into sleep.
This story was written for The Rogue Verbumancer’s May Pictonaut Challenge, and is probably not the positive, happy story he expected. The picture prompt was this image:
(Also, I stole Princess Burlap‘s name, because I’m a thief like that. Her dog says I have to pay royalties, but I won’t be obeying)