“No,” she whispered.
The room was dark, and Grace lay shuddering under her sheets. Her eyes moved rapidly under her lids; she was dreaming.
“No.” Her voice was louder now, shaky and panicked.
The boy next to her sat up in the darkness. He glanced at the clock; it was 2:34 AM. Shit, he thought. Not again.
“Grace,” the boy whispered, “you’re having a nightmare. Wake up.”
“NO!” Grace screamed, and she began to thrash. “DON’T!”
“Grace!” the boy shook her, a note of anxiety creeping into his voice.
Grace struggled violently, tangling herself in the sheets. The boy grabbed her shoulder, trying to steady her, and she jerked away instinctively, batting his arm away and lurching backwards. Her eyes flew open as she tumbled out of the bed, and she emitted a panicked shriek as the floor rushed to meet her, filling her entire vision. At the last moment, she threw out her arms and managed to brace her fall with her forearms, colliding painfully with the floor. The thick wood shook under the sudden display of force, and Grace collapsed onto it and rolled over onto her back, convulsing, her eyes rolling up into the back of her head.
The boy leapt out of the bed and grabbed Grace’s shoulders. “Grace?”
Grace’s mouth was frothing. She did not answer.
“GRACE!” the boy shouted.
Grace stopped shaking and looked up at him, dazed.
“Grace,” the boy said breathlessly. “Are you okay?”
“I’m not crazy,” she said desperately, eyes wild. A line of spit dribbled down the side of her mouth, illuminated by the dim shafts of moonlight slanting through the window.
“I know you’re not crazy, Grace,” he said with the canned quality of someone repeating the same line yet again.
“They locked me up.” Her lower lip trembled. “Don’t let them do it again, Lee. Don’t let them take me!”
“I won’t,” he vowed. “I promised to protect you, remember?”
Grace shivered. “So cold…”
“I’ll get you a blanket.”
Lee made as if to leave, but Grace snatched his arm, her grip unnaturally tight as adrenaline flowed through her system.
“Grace,” Lee said warningly.
“Don’t go,” she begged frantically.
“I’m just getting a blanket,” Lee said firmly.
Her grip became tighter. “Stay,” she commanded, her voice thick with emotion.
“Let go of my arm.”
“You can’t leave me,” Grace moaned.
“Grace, you’re hurting my arm!”
“I’m not crazy!” Grace sobbed.
“Let go of me!”
He tore his arm from her grip, and Grace leapt to her feet and tore from the room.
“Grace!” Lee shouted.
Grace, wearing nothing but a tank top and cotton shorts, was sprinting barefoot through the rooms of the tiny house, searching frantically for an exit.
“Grace, stop!” But his voice was more distant now.
Grace threw the door open and stumbled into the brisk night air. She shivered violently, drawing her arms around her, toes curling as she staggered barefoot through wet, dewy grass. She looked up at the moon, bright and full, and shuddered at how cold and distant it seemed.
“What are you doing?” Lee was sprinting after her; Grace looked at him in terror and fled in a blind panic.
“Don’t take me away!” she shrieked, stumbling away from the boy who’d pledged to protect her only minutes earlier.
Feet pounding against earth, Grace fled into the forest, kicking up leaves and dirt as she went. All she could hear was her panting and unsteady footfalls, and Lee’s panicked shouts as they grew fainter behind her.
Eventually, Grace slowed down.
Something was wrong. She could feel the familiar sick feeling in her gut. Call it intuition, she remembered a voice saying, and she closed her eyes for a moment as she trembled.
Eyes still closed, Grace honed in on her other senses — the strange silence, the sudden absence of Lee’s shouts. She reached out, felt something odd in the air. A quiet breath, a shifting of weight. A twig snapped. Someone was close — too close. Hair rose on the nape of her neck.
Grace’s eyes flew open as she grasped the horror of reality, and she sucked in a sharp breath as a man stepped out from behind a tree ten feet in front of her.
“Miss Briggs,” he said, holding out a hand in what he thought would be a calming gesture. She felt his anger, his overwhelming sense of control over the situation. She recognized the man by his emotions before she looked into his eyes, filled with a steely calm that radiated arrogance and detachment.
Grace’s blood turned to ice. She turned to run in the other direction, but stopped short when she saw another man standing twenty feet away, a pistol pointed at her. Her too-sensitive eyes honed in on a finger carelessly threaded through the trigger.
Grace began to shake. “LEE!” she screeched.
The man behind her laughed, and the next second his hand was over her mouth. She yelped through his hand. Lee, she thought as he shoved a cloth in front of her nose.
She breathed in desperately for air, and immediately began to feel dizzy. Pain wracked her body, and she fell to her knees.
Grace struggled to breathe as her body collapsed from underneath her. They were here, they were taking her again, they were going to run their tests and probe her brain and make her feel everything all over again in an attempt to understand exactly what was wrong with her.
“Get rid of the boyfriend,” she heard one of the men say, but she was too far gone to tell which one of them it was.
She was awake long enough to hear the footsteps. A gunshot rang through the air. She heard a distant thud as something heavy hit the ground.
Lee, Grace thought frantically.
Grace sat bolt upright, suddenly aware that she was lying on a thin mattress. Her hands were restrained with abrasive leather straps. She vaguely remembered a cloth laced with a drug being shoved to her nose, voices, a gunshot, and the sound of a body hitting the ground. Nothing afterwards. Horror sliced through her thoughts as she thought of Lee again.
“He’s safe.” Grace looked sideways and found her old therapist sitting next to her. She hadn’t seen Lucy in four years, but she immediately recognized her dark brown eyes, finely arched eyebrows, and amber hair braided in a plait down her back.
“They killed him,” Grace croaked. “I heard the gun.”
“It was a warning shot,” Lucy said placatingly. “Lee’s fine. In fact, he’s— ”
“I heard a body fall,” Grace insisted, her voice wobbling. “They shot him. He’s dead. I can feel it.”
Lucy smiled triumphantly. “I knew it,” she said. “You need to be taken in for studying. This is a huge breakthrough.”
Grace’s heart plunged down to her stomach. “You killed him!” she shrieked, and thrashed violently against her bonds.
Lucy wrote something down in her notebook.
Grace began to scream. Lucy commanded her to stop, but she refused.
“Sedate her,” she said calmly.
Everything disappeared again.