Miranda Philina waited at the door to her small apartment for her mother to catch up with the key. They had just come from the doctor’s office, where she had found out she was getting a new baby sister. Her mom still had about six months to go, but her wedding with her boyfriend and the baby’s father was only two months away. Miranda’s real father had left them before she was even old enough to remember what he looked like. He never called or wrote or sent her a happy birthday card, but she didn’t care. She and her mom had gotten along just fine and now she was getting a stepfather. The hard times they had shared were finally paying off.
Her mom reached the door. “You have to slow down for the pregnant woman,” she said. “Those stairs are getting harder and harder.”
She laughed. “Mom, we took the elevator. And I’m on crutches,” Miranda said, indicating her bandaged ankle. She had fallen during a cheerleading practice and badly fractured her ankle.
“True, true.” She unlocked the door and went in, picking up a large manila envelope that had been wedged under the door as she went.
Miranda followed and sat down on the couch. She was handed the envelope.
“This is for you. And do not forget to ice your ankle. It will heal faster.”
“’Kay.” She opened the envelope flap and dumped out the contents. It contained cards from her classmates and the cheerleading team. The marching band even contributed by including pieces of music that went with their cheers. All the get-well cards consisted of notes about what she had missed in school and practices. She smiled. Her best friend wrote her the longest note.
As she sat there, her mom handed her an ice pack. “Here, cripple. Put this on your ankle,” she said jokingly.
“Ha-ha,” Miranda said sarcastically. “At least this is only a fracture. It’ll heal. You’re pregnant. That’s just going to get worse and worse.”
“What do you know about being pregnant?”
“I’ve taken health class. I brought that robot baby home freshman year.”
“Good. Then you can help me raise your little sister.”
“I will only help during the day. Any time she cries at night, she is your and Brian’s problem.” Brian was the man her mom was going to marry.
“Thanks, my loving daughter. You are so helpful,” her mom said, being the sarcastic one now.
“Hey, I’ve helped you with your wedding planning,” Miranda defended. “Most women getting married don’t get the opportunity to get their child’s input on these things.”
“That is because most women that get married get it right the first time and don’t have kids before their wedding.” Her mom walked away.
She sat there reading all the notes for an hour. Miranda was one of those girls that got along with just about everyone. She didn’t really care about the fact that people said her blond hair and green eyes made her pretty or that being on the cheer squad made her popular. She worried more about helping others and putting smiles on their faces. That was what made everybody love her. People in all grades waved at her in the hallway, not just the ones from her own junior class.
There was a knock on the door. Her mom walked by and answered it. Miranda stood and hobbled on her crutches to the door when she heard her best friends.
“So, boy or girl?” her best friend, Abby, was asking her mom.
“Girl,” she replied happily.
“That’s so great! Congratulations! Hey Mandy! We were wondering if you wanted to escape being inside for a while and walk around with us.”
“That sounds awesome. Can I go, mom?” Miranda turned to her mom.
“I think that sounds alright. Fresh air will do you good. Just be back by dinner.”
“Got it,” she said, already halfway out the door.
Her other close friends, Brook, Valery, and Natalie, greeted her. They left the apartment building and started walking down the street.
They walked and laughed for a while, each taking a turn leading where they were going. They had no set plan as to where they were headed. They had to walk at a slightly slower pace than they normally would because Miranda was on crutches. They teased her at the beginning for her slowness.
“Come on, slow poke,” Brook said. “We don’t have all day.”
“You try walking on crutches,” Miranda snapped. “Then you’ll see how hard it is to do this stuff.”
“Actually, I don’t want to be on crutches any time soon because that would mean I would be injured and that is not in my plans for my life.”
“Well, I didn’t exactly plan for this. Unexpected things just happen. You can’t plan out every single aspect of your life. That would be impossible. Every thing you have planned can change in an instant. I planned to still be in cheer right now. How is everything in that going, by the way?”
“It’s going good. You missed the funniest thing at practice today, though,” Valery said. “Brent from the marching band showed up late to their practice, which was going on during ours, and as he was running to the field, somehow he ended up in the middle of our group and ran into Brook, who was holding Arianna up in the tower. She fell and Brent dropped his saxophone just to catch her. Then his entire face turned bright red and he forgot to put her down. I think he totally likes her.”
“They would be such a cute couple,” Natalie chimed in.
“I’m not sure if she likes him, though. I mean, he’s a nice guy, he’s just not very attractive.”
“He’s not that bad,” Brook said. “He just needs to figure out what he is doing with his hair. It sort of goes all over the place. I don’t think he combs it in the morning.”
“It’s quite possible he doesn’t, but I hope he is not doing that intentionally. If he is, someone needs to tell him it does not look good.”
“We should set him up with Arianna,” Miranda said.
“Yes!” Valery said. “We could give him an ambush makeover and then get him to ask her out! That would be so cute!”
“But what if she says no?” Natalie asked.
“Always the downer, aren’t you.”
“We could find out what she thinks of him first. See if it’ll actually go somewhere,” Miranda said.
“Hey,” Brook said, “Isn’t tolo coming up? We could get him to ask her to that!
“That would be cute.”
They moved over on the sidewalk to let other people pass. Miranda moved to the back of the group and stayed there while they kept talking about how they would set the two up. She slowed her pace a little, her arms tiring. She kept her head down and listened to their conversation as they slowly got farther and farther away. She began to get lost in her own thoughts about her mom’s wedding and whether or not she would be able to walk by then, let alone possibly wear heals.
She was one of the bridesmaids and a lot of thought had gone in to the coordination of the bridesmaid dresses and shoes with the bride’s. A lot of time and money had already been put into this wedding and she didn’t want to ruin anything, even if it was just a simple issue of shoes.
When she finally looked up again, her friends were nowhere in sight. She stopped for a moment and looked around. She couldn’t see them at all. In fact, there was no one around. She pulled out her phone and looked at the time. It was only 4:26 in the afternoon. Usually the streets were really busy at this time. Then she really looked around herself. She realized she didn’t even know what street she was on. She didn’t know how to get home. She figured if she just kept walking she would get to a place she knew eventually.
Behind her, though, she did see a car. There was a man in it. Miranda didn’t think anything of it and just kept walking. When she did, she heard the car moved too. That was weird. It had just been parked. But she didn’t think anything of that either. She just kept walking.
A few minutes later, she heard the car turn off and the door slam. She turned her head. The mad had gotten out of the car and was walking. She just kept going along her way. The footsteps behind her got closer and closer. She stopped. They stopped. She continued. They started again.
Miranda stopped and turned around. The man stopped and looked at her. She moved to the street and started walking next to the sidewalk. He did the same. She stopped and turned to face him.
The man held up a piece of paper. On it were the words, ‘Been following you for days’. Then he moved his coat and revealed a gun strapped to his belt.
She froze, every muscle in her body tense. She was alone on a street she was unfamiliar with along with an armed man that had been stalking her. There was no place she could run to. All the shops were closed. She knew basic self-defense, they had taught her that at cheer camp, but it was nothing she could do on crutches. Her scream might be heard, but it would take people too long to get to her. It was worth a try; it was her only hope.
Miranda opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out. Her throat had closed up on her. All her years of yelling at cheer practices meant nothing now that she could not scream the one time she desperately needed to.
The man smiled, obviously seeing her terror. He advanced on her. She tried to turn and get away, but she forgot about her crutches and fell into a puddle. She tried to get up, but she couldn’t do anything with her bad ankle. She fell back down again. The man was right over her now, still smiling darkly.
“You are mine now. No one can save you.”
“911, what is your emergency?”
“Yes, something has happened to my daughter.”
“Can you tell me what?”
“No. She didn’t come home. She was supposed to be home three hours ago. This isn’t like her. She’s a good kid. And now it’s dark outside. She has never stayed out after dark without permission before. She hasn’t called or anything.”
“Do you know her general whereabouts, ma’am?”
“No. She was going for a walk with friends. I called all of their parents and they are all home safely. But they said they do not know where Miranda is.”
“Is Miranda your daughter?”
“Yes. Miranda Philina. She is seventeen and about five foot six with light blond hair and green eyes. Please, I think something has happened to her.”
“Have you tried calling her?”
“Yes. Her cell phone is off. It’s never off, even when she’s sleeping. Please, something has happened to her. I can just tell.”
“Okay, I will notify the police. If you give me your address I will send them over to get a formal report and do what they think is necessary.”
“Thank you.” Ms. Philina gave them her apartment number and street address and hung up the phone. She sat down on the couch and put her face in her hands. Something inside her told her something was wrong with Miranda. Something was not right. Miranda was in trouble. She just could not tell in what way.
A while later the police arrived. They interviewed her. They asked about Miranda's general behavior and if she was going through anything traumatic right now. When she mentioned that Miranda had a fractured ankle, the policemen exchanged a look.
“What is it?” she asked.
“We are going to issue an amber alert, Ms. Philina. We believe something has happened to her. We are going to need a recent picture of her for the media to get her face out there. A general description is not good enough anymore in New York.”
She nodded. “When will you be able to get this out there?”
“It will be on the ten o’clock news tonight,” one man told her. “Do not worry yourself too much, Ms. Philina. We will find her.” He started walking towards the door.
“Wait. There’s something you are not telling me. I’m a mother. You can’t hide things from me. Tell me. I can take it.”
The men exchanged another look. One sighed. “How long has Miranda had a fractured ankle?”
“A little over a week. Why?”
“You might want to sit down, ma’am.”
“What? What is it?”
“. . . There is a man that we believe is stalking and targeting young women that are injured.”
“Do you know who he is? Will you be able to catch him?”
“We don’t know anything about this man, but this is the fourth case like this in the past three years. The other three are still unsolved. We have reason to believe that the cases are linked.”
“What- what makes you say that?” Ms. Philina stammered.
There was a pause and one man spoke. “Well, in every case it was a teenage girl about Miranda’s age and they had some sort of injury. Two of the girls had some sort of a cast and the other had dislocated her shoulder. They were all with friends when all of a sudden they lost track of where they were and got separated from their group. We think that that is what happened to your daughter.”
“How did those cases end?” she asked, not really wanting to hear the answer. With each word the police said, the greater the sinking feeling in her heart grew. Miranda had been her lifeline through all the years – the thing that kept her going when things got rough. Now Miranda was in danger and she feared the worst.
“One girl died before we could find her. Another was almost dead, but not quite. We thought we would be able to save her, but we were a few minutes too late. The remaining one, the first victim, was only badly beaten. If the cases are related, they have gotten more brutal over time.”
“How did those two girls die?” she asked reluctantly.
“One of them was stabbed repeatedly. She had also been starved so she was already weak. The other was beaten to death.” The cop was careful about what he told her. He didn’t want to upset her any more than she already was.
“How- how long were they missing?”
“Anywhere from two weeks to three months. He has been keeping them longer and longer each time.”
“If the cases are related, then you will be able to predict what he will do and find my daughter before anything can happen to her, can’t you?”
“That’s just the thing. Only the girls and the beatings are in common. Nothing else. One was kept in an old abandoned house, another in a dumpster, and the last in the middle of an overgrown field.”
“And the two girls that survived? Did they tell you anything about who did it to them?”
He shook his head. “Neither one saw him very well. The one from the field said he only came at night when it was really dark and the one in the old house said all the windows were boarded up and there was no light at all, even during the day time.”
“So the one in the dumpster died,” Ms. Philina said quietly.
“Yes. First was the field, then the house, and then the dumpster. We think his locations are getting more obscure and dirty.”
“Well that’s good then. It rules out lots of places like closed down shops and – and garden sheds, along with every place else he’s already used. You’ll know to look in weird places like sewage drains and land fills.”
“Unfortunately, that’s not how an investigation goes. Since we do not know for sure that that is where he will put her, we have to look everywhere. And besides, we are not even sure it is this man that did it. Right now, everyone is a suspect.”
The other police man stepped in. “We will be going now, Ms. Philina. We’ll let you know if we find anything. Please, call us if you hear anything.”
She nodded. “I will. Thank you.”
They left and she was alone. She shuddered. The small apartment seemed so big and empty with only her in it. She put her hand on her stomach. The poor baby girl she was carrying. She might never get to know her big sister. No, she would not think of that. She couldn’t. Miranda would survive; she had to.
What was supposed to be a happy day was turning into a nightmare. She was having a baby; she was getting married. She had a second chance at love. But now Miranda was missing and none of that mattered. She couldn’t get married without her daughter there to share in the joyful day. She couldn’t be happy about the baby if Miranda wasn’t there to be happy with her.
There was a knock at the door. She jumped. Slowly, she stood and went to answer it, hopeful about whom it was. She opened the door.
“I got here as fast as I could,” her fiancé said. “Are you alright? I just saw the police leaving. Do they have any ideas who did this?”
She walked back over to the couch and sat down. Brian entered and closed the door. He sat next to her.
“They have one man in mind; only, they don’t exactly know who he is. He has been linked to similar cases, but they haven’t had good endings. They said he targets girls that have an injury, kidnaps them, and hides them somewhere. His attacks have been getting more brutal and lasting longer. My poor baby.” She started crying. “She’s so young. She’s too good of a person. She doesn’t deserve this to happen to her.”
He put his arm around her. “It’s alright. She will be okay. They will find her. Besides, it might not even be that guy. Maybe it is just a random man and she will be back in a day or two, completely unharmed.”
“I hope you’re right. . . . Brian, I’m scared.”
He pulled her close. “It’ll be okay, Kate. Miranda is strong. She’ll be fine. She’s a tough girl. Do you want me to stay the night with you?”
“If you could, that would be nice.”
“Okay. I will be here for you.”
He kissed her forehead and turned on the TV. They stayed that way for a long time. When the ten o’clock news came on, the first thing they reported was the amber alert for Miranda. Kate broke into tears again at Miranda’s picture. Brian soothed her and whispered meaningless comforts in her ear. Eventually, she fell asleep in his arms. He turned off the TV and carried her into the bedroom.
Miranda woke up in darkness. She couldn’t even tell if she had her eyes open it was so dark. Her head hurt. The last thing she remembered was being shoved into the trunk of a car and then hit on the head. She didn’t know how long she had been gone. She felt like she had been asleep for days, weeks even. Everything felt so off. But she knew she was not in that car trunk anymore. She was now sitting up and was leaned against something hard. She went to move her right hand and found that her wrists were bound together. Her ankles were free though. Her fractured ankle was throbbing in pain. She reached down to adjust it to a more comfortable position.
As her eyes slowly adjusted to the light, she could make out a faint spot of light in front of her. She realized it was coming from up above. She looked up. A ways above her was a small square with bars over it. A prison maybe? That didn’t seem right. There was not enough light elsewhere for it to be a prison, and she didn’t know of any prison that only had a barred window in the ceiling, at least not one in New York.
She shivered. She realized that her clothes were all wet. There was a slight breeze coming from somewhere up ahead of her, but she couldn’t see where. Her head really hurt and the rest of her body was sore, probably from being shoved in the back of a car.
She heard footsteps echoing all around her. “Who’s there?” she called, her voice sounding hoarse and out of place.
“No one you need to know,” a man’s voice replied.
Something about that voice struck up a fear in her. Then she remembered it – it was the voice of the man that put her here. The footsteps were getting closer.
“You will be thrown in jail for this. The longer you keep me the more trouble you will be in, so I suggest letting me go now. I won’t turn you in if you let me go.” Her voice was surprisingly calmer than how she was feeling.
She heard laughing. “Do you really think I am going to listen to you? You are just a foolish little girl. I can not trust your word. You saw me; you know what I look like. It would be all too easy for you to turn me in. I let you go and in a day or two I have already got the cops after me. No, you are staying here where I know you can not do anything.”
“You sound like you know what you are doing. Have you done this before? Is that why you are so nervous about the police getting you? Because you know you’ve got more that one kidnapping on your head?”
There was more laughing. “That is for me to know, and you to find out from learning.”
Miranda couldn’t tell where the voice was coming from anymore. There were no longer any footsteps, but there was an echo. She heard everything he said three times over.
“You are a bright young girl,” the man continued, “Let us see if you can figure out where you are.”
“Am I still in New York?”
“This isn’t twenty questions.”
“So you won’t tell me if I guess correctly?”
“Like I said, this is not twenty questions. And besides, the less you know the better. What’s your name?”
“The less you know the better,” she retorted.
Something hit her across the face. She tasted the blood from her split lip. “Don’t you dare sass me, girl.” He was angry now. “I make the rules around here and you will do exactly as I say. If ever you feel like rebelling, just remind yourself that your life is on the line.”
Her throat closed up. Tears swelled in her eyes.
“Now as I was saying, what is your name? And do not lie to me.”
“. . . Miranda.”
“Philina. Miranda Philina.”
“Perfect. That’s a good girl. Just stay like this and we won’t have anymore problems.”
“What is it that you are after? Money? Rape? Murder?”
“Once again, that is for me to know and you to learn. You have so many questions. I don’t like it.” She was hit in the lip again. “That should keep you silent for a while, at least until the pain stops.”
She felt her bruised lip begin to swell. A hot tear rolled down her cheek.
“Now, now, do not cry. If you are crying over that, this is going to be a terrible time for you. Cheerleaders need to learn how to handle pain. You handled your ankle injury just fine.” A hand grabbed her ankle. “Learn to deal with the pain.” He twisted her ankle.
She gasped in pain. She was pretty sure her ankle just went from fractured to broken.
He let go. “See, that wasn’t so bad. You barely even made a sound. Already you’re improving. But we’re going to have to keep working at it. An immunity to pain takes a long time to acquire.”
She was in too much pain to say anything. The throbbing in her ankle made her forget all about her swelling lip. She knew that this was going to be a long however long it would be that she would spend down there.
The man crouched down in front of her. She could barely make out the shape of his face in the dim moonlight. Very quietly, he said, “The more fuss you make over things the worse this will be for you. If you just keep being the good quiet girl that you are right now, we will not have any issues. But if you cause any problems, things will not end well for you. Do you understand me?”
Miranda did the only thing she could think of; she spat in his face. He slowly wiped it off. When he finally spoke, his words were slow and said through gritted teeth.
“That was not a smart move to make, Miranda Philina. I will let it by this time with only a warning, but if you try anything like that again, the consequences will not be pretty. If I remember right, your mother is with child? Is it a boy or girl?”
“. . . It’s a girl.”
“How sweet is that? I trust you want to get to know your little sister. She would probably really like to know you. Wouldn’t it be a shame if she never got to? What if she never even got to see this world?”
“Do not hurt them. You can do whatever you want to me, but leave them alone. This is torture enough for them as it is.”
“You don’t think they should suffer more? Maybe share your pain? This world is all about equal chances. Shouldn’t they get the chance to experience true pain like this?”
“No one should have to go through pain like this. It’s not right. There is a reason things like this are illegal.”
“Things like what?” the man asked coolly.
“Kidnapping and torturing and whatever else it is that you plan to do to me.”
“How do you know that I plan to do more to you? Maybe I just want to keep you here and let you think that something else is coming because then you will fear me. What if all I want is your fear?”
“Then you are a sick, sick man and I feel sorry for you.”
“Why pity the sick man?”
She didn’t know why she was talking so much. Every word she said hurt her lip. She hated this man anyway. Never before had she truly hated someone, but she despised this unknown man. Her voice was calm and normal as she said, “Because you will never have the chance to see how beautiful the world can be. If you would just look around the outside world you would notice how the buzz of people fits perfectly with the bustle of the cars and bicycles. There is a growing world out there but you don’t get to see it all because you are too busy trying to make me fear it.”
“How lovely,” he said sarcastically. “You really think the universe flows perfectly? That everything goes flawlessly together? Ha! The world is dying. People are dying. Things are out of order. Things collide. Cars and people? They have never gotten along well. Cars always win. Just remember how you were crammed into the trunk of my car. That is not a beautiful thing. The world is an ugly place. Only idiots think they can change that.”
“Then I guess I am a fool.”
“And you shall die a fool unless you learn to change your ways. But don’t worry. I will help you see how horrible of a place this world is, especially New York City. This has to be the ugliest place on the planet. So many horrible people inhabit it.”
“People like you.”
She saw a flash of teeth in the moonlight as he smiled. Chills ran down her spine at the sight, even though she could barely see it.
“Yes, people like me,” the man said, amused. “The world is full of people like me, always wanting to bring out the fear in people and making them see the world for the horrible place that it is.”
“If you hate the world so much, then why don’t you leave it?”
“Because, I am a bad man. As soon as I leave here, I am going straight to hell. I might as well spend as much time here as I can because compared to the afterlife I’m going to have, this is heaven. I might as well enjoy it while I can and do what makes me happy.”
“Kidnapping me makes you happy? You have a twisted sense of happiness.”
“Oh, it’s not just the kidnapping that pleases me. It’s also everything else that I am going to do.”
“And what is that?”
“If I told you, then it wouldn’t be a surprise, and part of what I enjoy so much is the shock of the person.”
“Have you ever thought of taking up a hobby, like playing a sport or something? Something that will give you something good to do and still make you happy. Didn’t you have one when you were younger?”
“My past life is none of your business.”
Miranda wondered what he was hiding. She thought there might have been something in his past that made him want to target girls like her, if he had even done so before. What kind of traumatic incident could make a person so angry and hateful? She didn’t understand how anyone could hate the world so much as this man.
He continued talking. “But, now that we have learned a little bit about each other, it’s time for you to learn how things will work down here. First, you will do exactly as I tell you without question, comment, delay, or anger. That means every command. If I tell you to cut off your own arm, you will do it at once. And you will do exactly as I say – not something similar, or what is close enough. You cannot cut off your foot if I tell you to cut off your arm. Second, you will not make a peep. Even when you think I am nowhere around you, just remember that I will always be near. I will know everything that you do. If you try to escape, I will know, and you will be punished. Which brings me to number three; you do something I don’t like, I will make you wish you never had. I do not tolerate sass and inability to follow directions. Remember that I can do so much worse to you than what I just did to your ankle. I have ways of bringing out a person’s deepest, darkest fear, and I will use it against you.
“If you remember these things then we will have no problems and this will be relatively painless for you, but I can’t make any promises on that last part.”
Miranda didn’t know what to say to that. She knew that anything she were to do would put her life in danger, but if she sat there and did nothing, her life would be put on the line just the same. She figured that it would be best just to do as he wanted, because she would then possibly have the chance to live longer. But then, he was going to put her through hell, she could tell, so would it be better to disobey him and let him kill her?
No, she told herself. She had her mom and soon-to-be stepfather and new little sister to think of. If she died, she ruined all chances of possibly getting out alive. She had no choice but to do exactly what he wanted, even if it did mean doing horrible things like cutting off her own arm.
The man stood. “So I take it I am understood. Good. I trust we will not have any problems and this will all go smoothly. Now get some sleep. I am going to want you to be at your best for tomorrow. That is when the fun begins.” He spun on his heels and walked away.
She sat there and listened to the echo of his footsteps get quieter and quieter until she couldn’t hear them at all. She exhaled and let the tears she had been holding back fall from her eyes.