Excerpt: The Takedown

When I woke up—I mean, really woke up—I had no idea what day it was. I just knew that if the little window overhead wasn’t a filthy liar, it was getting to be evening. My mouth tasted like a sewer, my arms and legs were heavy, and I still had on the pajamas I’d been wearing when the witch hunters took us. The place stank like rust and chicken shit—or, fuck, maybe that was just me. Either way, I had a Sherlock Holmes moment, figuring that must mean we were still near Harrisonburg.

I spotted the brown stain on the cement across the dingy cell. My empty stomach clenched. A nightmare vision of a slick, dark red puddle filled my head, and I shoved it away, packed it up, tried to focus. The rest of the room could’ve been black-and-white. The walls were gray cinderblock, the floors about the same, and they’d thrown in a couple of charcoal-colored blankets.

Their concern for our comfort was fucking touching.

But there was no our anything, anymore. No us, no we, just me. That’s what that brown stain meant.

I thought I should be crying. I wondered if I already had. I couldn’t remember much of what had happened after they brought us here. Just some shouting, a flash of cold, and a gunshot. I remembered a woman, a redhead with breath like a dragon, in my face. Telling me I was a witchy little orphan now.

Aching everywhere, I pushed myself to sitting. Track marks dotted the insides of my elbows and halfway down my forearms. More like some witchy little junkie. My head swam, but I gritted my teeth. After a second or three, the swimming became a dull throbbing in my brain to match the one in my arms. My middle hurt here and there. I pulled up my shirt and revealed a bruise or two. They hadn’t been gentle, but if they’d wanted me dead, I’d be dead.

Avoiding the other side of the room—the bloodstain they’d left, probably just to fuck with me—I concentrated hard. Dug into myself, looking for the source of my power. A huge emptiness in my middle froze, hardened, and then came to life.

My eyes burned with relief, but I still couldn’t cry.

I flexed my hands and pushed the cold inside me outward, slowed the air. Little clouds of frozen moisture collected at my fingertips. Sluggish, and my head hurt like hell, but it got easier as my brain came back online.

Okay, no point wondering why I was alive or for how long. The scarier question: why wasn’t I drugged anymore? Whoever these people were, apart from crazy fucking sleepers—as in, people sans awakened superpowers—they hadn’t struck me as stupid. Smart enough to take out three awakened who knew their way around ice and electricity.

The lone window in the room was tiny, but if I could get up there and get it open, I could probably make it through. Nothing else to do but wait around for them to figure out someone hadn’t given me my stupid-making meds yet.

Or worse.

They’d left me a stainless steel bowl full of water. A fucking dog bowl. I remembered pulling myself to it once or twice and grabbing handfuls. Explained the scrapes on my elbows, anyhow. My tongue was swollen like I’d been at a salt lick.

I stood, shaky, and stumbled to the bowl, more out of stiffness than weakness. I let a precious handful sink into my parched tongue, slip down my throat, and then I carried the rest to the window.

I felt around inside me again, double checking on my power, since I’d only get one chance. The window was seven or eight feet up, against the ceiling. I held the bowl in the air, took a slow breath, and reached out with all the freezing power I had. The world slowed, not timewise, but motionwise, around me. Air molecules transferred their kinetic energy, and the room grew ever-so-slightly brighter as I dug deep, as deep as I could.

I turned the now-frosted bowl over and gave one last flash-burst of cold.

The water froze, forming a thin, short column of ice. Frosty-white, not much, hopefully enough to hold me for a minute or two.

I knelt, touched the cement beneath it, and froze the ground, strengthening the bonds between the residual Virginia humidity and my icy stepstool. I planted one bare foot on it and froze myself to the top for the sake of security. Thank fuck for natural cold resistance, right?

One, two, three.

I stepped up, grabbed for the windowsill, nearly fell over, but finally got my fingers into something to take my weight off the crackling ice. Trying to hold myself up with one hand, I scrabbled with the other for an opening or lock or handle.

Nothing.

The ice column beneath me cracked.

I closed my eyes, clutched the sill with both hands, and dug for the cold again. Deep inside, until my arms and legs went weak. Pushing, pushing, supercooling the whole room, but focusing on the window. Bumps broke out on my arms, down my back, cold soaking through my ratty track pants in both directions. My hair froze against my forehead. My whole body shook. Stars popped behind my eyes. My fingers started to slip.

Crack.

Oh God, please, I know we haven’t been on the best of terms. But please, I am having one fucker of a day—week—whatever. Please let that be the sound of shrinking metal. Please don’t let me die like an animal, locked in a fucking cement room by crazy sleepers with guns. You created us too, you bastard.

I mean, you magnificent deity. Praise be hallelujah glory to God Ave Maria gratia plena O Little Town of Bethlehem.

I let it go, heaving for air, and slammed a fist into the window.

It gave.

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