The watcher, p.1
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       The Watcher, p.1

           Bella Jewel
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The Watcher


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  Table of Contents

  About the Author

  Copyright Page

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  PROLOGUE

  Breathe in. Breathe out.

  Breathe in. Breathe out.

  “Marlie, I know you’re in here.”

  A deranged singsong voice fills the overly quiet space, making my skin prickle. I think it’s the tone that makes it feel worse—that chipper, no-regrets tone that tells you with one simple word just how crazy he is. It tells you the limits he’ll go to, to achieve exactly what he wants. Death. Slow and painful. Tortured.

  Breathe.

  Just breathe.

  Humorless laughter rings out. “You don’t actually think you can escape me, do you?”

  Cold, clammy sweat runs down my forehead and I’m shaking all over as I scoot further back into the closet. Why did I pick a closet? I don’t understand what possessed me to do something so stupid. My one chance at freedom, and I lock myself in a place I can’t escape from. I wasn’t thinking. I was just running, and all my instincts told me to hide. That’s what I did. It wasn’t until after I got in here that I realized what a stupid mistake that was, and now I’m trapped. It’s too late to try to get out.

  Another shiver travels through my body as I peer into the light coming through the tiny crack in the door. Maybe I can swing it open and slam it in his face. That might buy me a few minutes. But I can’t see well enough to know the exact moment he might be close enough to do that. I’m relying on the lighting, but that’s flickering and dull at best.

  “I know you’re in here, you’re not smart enough to outrun me. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. If you want me to kill you slowly, stay hidden. If you want it to be quick, come on out. Either way, you will die, Marlie. It’s part of the plan. You understand that, right?”

  Sick.

  He’s speaking to me as if I’m no more than an employee, or a naughty child. Like it’s completely normal to stand there and discuss my death. As if having options will make it feel any better.

  I clench my eyes shut, trying to force back the burning bile rising up in my throat. I can’t be sick now; if I’m sick it’ll take away my focus and he’ll get hold of me for sure. And I know what he’ll do. First, he’ll break my knees, because that’s what he does. I read all about him. Everyone did. I know exactly who has me. After he’s broken my knees, he’ll start peeling my skin.… Bile burns my throat and I inwardly scream, praying this is just a horrible, sick dream.

  But I know it’s not.

  “Oh Marlie Marlie Marlie, why do you have to make things so hard on yourself? It’s as if you want to die a slow and painful death. Which is fine by me, but surely you’re a little smarter than that.”

  A tiny, broken cry leaves my throat and I clench my eyes shut, fists balled, wondering why I didn’t get a weapon. Why didn’t I go for the front door? Honestly, what the hell was I thinking running in here? Of course he’d find me, of course he’d know where I’d go. He’s done this thirteen times before. Successfully.

  Not one girl has escaped.

  The closet door swings open and I’m faced with cold, deadly blue eyes and a crooked smile. You would probably pass him on the street and not once suspect that he’s capable of this. Hell, I had no clue. He had dropped his briefcase and I’d leaned down to help him pick it up, then bam, he’d held a rag over my nose and before I knew it I was bound and lying in the back of a white van. All alone and terrified. He made it seem so simple.

  All because I was being a good person.

  Life is a bitch like that.

  Deranged eyes pin mine, and he laughs hysterically as he looks down at my pitiful attempt at me. “There you are. You know, a few of the girls have tried to escape me. One nearly succeeded. I punished her severely—her death was the slowest.”

  I try to scurry backwards, only to hit the wall with a thump. The breath is ripped out of my lungs and all my instincts beg me to scream for help, but I know as well as he does that there’s no help coming.

  There never is in this situation, is there?

  He swings the bat, and it hits my kneecaps.

  I drop to the ground, hands hitting the old, faded carpet. I roll to my back, screaming in pain. He hits me again, this time the bat connecting with my shins.

  He keeps going, driving the bat down over my legs. I can hear my own bones breaking, but I can do nothing to fight him off.

  All I can do is lie there screaming, and wishing for death.

  * * *

  I spit blood on the floor as I drag my broken, pathetic body towards the kitchen counter. I don’t even know how I’m still alive. He’s shattered my knees, or the bones around them, or my whole legs, I don’t know. All I know is I want to die, but I can’t. I won’t. Somehow, I’m here, dragging my body towards the counter at a rapid pace, sweat rolling down my face, my body screaming at me to just stop.

  I can’t.

  I screwed up my escape once. It won’t happen again.

  I reach the counter and haul myself up, my bruised hands somehow managing to grip tight enough for me to get to my feet. I scream in pain, but I’m no longer trying to be quiet. I don’t even know how I got away from him. He drugged me, but as if my prayers had been answered, I apparently woke earlier than planned and pretended I was asleep as he moved around me.

  He unbound me and began to move me, probably to prepare for my gruesome end, but I managed to take him by surprise. I raised my shattered knee and hit him so hard in the groin he stumbled backwards. It was, without a doubt, the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my life. I managed to drag myself off the bed and reached for the lamp beside it. Before he could get up, I slammed it into his head, knocking him out.

  Then I got the hell out of there. It’s amazing what the human body can do when it has to. Somehow I pull my broken and damaged body out of the room, even though the pain is excruciating.

  It’s only been a matter of minutes, but it feels like hours. I don’t feel like I’m moving quickly enough. He’s coming for me. Once he came to from his moment of blackness, I heard him get up. Seconds. It’s all I have. I reach for the kitchen knives and pull the first one out. I’ve never thought about killing another person, but right now I’m more than willing to take another life for the sake of my own.

  “I’ll peel your skin from your body!” he roars as he stumbles out. “Then I’ll stuff it down your throat until you gag on your own flesh.”

  I hold the knife close and let my body lower to the ground, pulling myself closer to the counter so I’m protected. I have one chance only. It’s not much, but it’s all I have. My fingers tremble around the cold steel of the handle, as I press it to my chest and swallow the bile in my throat over and over, praying it stays down.

  Just for one more minute.

  A sharp pain radiates through my skull, taking me off guard, and I realize he’s come from above me. He takes handfuls of my hair, his large body lying over the top of the counter as he reaches down, trying to haul me up. I scream as chunks of it dislodge from my scalp and, because of the pain, the k
nife in my hand skitters to the floor.

  “I’ll rip your fucking skin from your body, inch by fucking inch.”

  He tugs again, and through my blurred vision I desperately reach for the knife. I scream in agony as he tugs again and again, and finally I get hold of it, curling my bloodied fingers around its handle. I look up, and through the blood running down my face and over my eyes I take one last look at the man I know will forever haunt my dreams. But I do what I have to do, no matter what kinds of scars will be left behind.

  I drive the knife upwards.

  ONE

  Seven Years Later

  Chirp chirp.

  Groaning, I throw my hand over my face. Morning already? Another day? Really. It seems I only went to bed five minutes ago, how could it possibly be time to wake up? The dramatic singing of the birds outside indicate that it is, in fact, morning, and that means I’ve made it to see the light of another day. Another lonely, dragging day of misery.

  Okay, that’s slightly dramatic, but what can I say? It’s my life now.

  More loud chirping makes me throw my arm from my face and slap it down on the bed beside me. “All right, I’m up,” I grumble, attempting to sit.

  My body aches and my head is pounding. It seems I wake up this way more often than not these days. The doctor tells me it’s all in my head, that there is nothing physically wrong with me anymore. He didn’t get his entire body beaten with a bat, so what the hell would he know? I feel it every time I move. My legs mostly. An ache that seems like it’ll never leave, a soreness in my muscles that I’m constantly trying to stretch out.

  I shove myself up to a sitting position, and stare out the window. I see nothing but trees. Just a vast expanse of skinny, yet lush, trees. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be, and that’s the honest truth. I bought this tiny, one-bedroom cabin just outside of Colorado Springs for a bargain three years ago. The owner gave me a great deal because he had an emergency with his family and needed to sell it urgently. It was a dream come true for me.

  I left my home in Denver just before that, around the time I went from being a nobody to a famous serial killer survivor. I don’t say this lightly. Fame didn’t come as a relief; it came as my own personal hell. I was suffering serious mental instability, but my mother figured, Hey, why not put my daughter in the spotlight by writing a novel about her horrible ordeal with a deranged psychopath? I’ll never forget the hours she sat, talking to reporters, the police, and me about what happened. She managed to piece together enough information to make a bestseller.

  Seemed like a solid plan.

  The book took off, became massive overnight.

  So did I.

  Then came the time I couldn’t walk down the street without being noticed by someone. If it wasn’t insane requests for autographs—Really, who does that?—it was people staring at me like I was a zoo animal. They were either too afraid to talk to me, scared no doubt that I might have a giant breakdown, or wanted to ask me a million nonsensical questions about my kidnapping. As if they were casually discussing a movie and not a human life.

  I played along for a while, for the sake of my family—mostly for my widowed mother, who was smiling for the first time since my father died only a year before my kidnapping. But later, I struggled with knowing that her happiness came from exploiting my pain. After all, her daughter nearly lost her life, but then, she was making millions from my story, so what the hell, right?

  I was suddenly a survivor. The girl who got away. The brave one. The one who got a second chance at life.

  I didn’t want any of that.

  I don’t know why I didn’t pack up and run earlier, but the truth is I didn’t even know my name most days. Intense therapy and people screaming for my story on the street made my already traumatized mind shut down. I lived most days like a zombie, moving through life purely because I had to, not because I wanted to. Instead of supporting me, my mother made my ordeal about her. Resentment lives deep in my chest daily because of that. Because she wasn’t there for me when she needed to be. Because she didn’t help me when I was suffering. Because she didn’t comfort me when I’d wake up screaming from the nightmares.

  The god-awful nightmares.

  Even now, I see his face every time I close my eyes. My therapist assures me it won’t be this way forever. I think she’s wrong. I think it’ll be this way for the rest of my life. I just don’t see how talking to someone about it is going to take away the fact that he’s in my head, and I’m damned sure he’ll never leave.

  But I’m surviving, now that I’m out here, on my own; I’m making it through. Some days I don’t know how, but I think the solitude helps. No reporters. No family members. No walking down the street with judgment. No fear. It’s just me. I feel safe, which is something I haven’t felt in such a long time.

  I throw myself out of bed and my knees protest angrily, but I push on. I don’t need any more reminders about what he did. My knees like to keep my mind in the past. Part of the reminder is my fault, I guess. After all, I picked the worst job there is for weak knees—waitressing. In my defense, living this far out of Denver, it was really the only option for me.

  My boss is understanding.

  Mostly.

  Except for days like today, when I sleep in.

  I don’t need to work. In fact, I probably won’t need to work for the rest of my life, but I refuse to touch money that has come from a monster and the story he created for me. I gave most of it to my mom, but in my own account there’s a good few million that I don’t touch. It just keeps growing and growing as the book continues to sell. I don’t want it. I don’t think I’ll ever want it.

  I half walk, half flail, to my closet and pull out my work clothes, which consist of a short black miniskirt and a tight tank top. The diner is a little run-down, so my boss insists on making it more attractive by making us look more attractive. I wear leggings under my skirt, because the scarring on my knees is far too hideous. My boss is fine with it. I think he knew he didn’t really get a choice.

  Without time for a shower, I drop my nightie and pull the clothes on, before throwing my hair up into a ponytail and jerking on some shoes. There, I’m ready. I groan my way out into the tiny kitchen and head straight to my coffee machine, praying I remembered to set it for this morning.

  When it roars to life, I sigh happily.

  Thank the heavens.

  I take my coffee and pour it into my travel mug. And then I grab my keys and rush out the door. I really need to set an alarm, but that would mean committing to something, and this year I’ve promised myself I’ll just let life take me where it wishes. Yeah right, who am I kidding? I just find comfort in my bed, and most nights it takes me so long to fall asleep that when I finally do, I hang on to it. That usually lasts well into the morning.

  I get into the small, beat-up truck my boss gave me when he decided he was far too impatient to fix it, and I had a friend of mine sort it out for me. He has a crush on me, or he did, and so he did it for free. Plus, he was one of those guys that would do anything for another person. For a time, I felt like people did things for me only because they felt sorry for me, but it turns out, some people just liked helping. Sometimes people have no idea who I am and I can have normal conversations without judgment, intrusive questions, or those looks people give when they feel sorry for you.

  I don’t go anywhere else. I haven’t been home to Denver to see my mother or sister, Kaitlyn, for the last few years. They visit me, but the idea of going back into that city, and facing people, is just too much to handle. It just reminds me of everything that went wrong in my life. I’m close enough that they can easily access me when they need to, but far enough that I no longer feel the heavy burden of my past.

  I know this affects Kaitlyn.

  She suffered when I was taken. She was terrified and thought she’d never see me again. I can’t imagine what it was like for her. I’m all she has. We were always super close, especially after our dad died and
Mom went off the rails. Kaity and I were all we had and we grew to rely on each other.

  My mother put her whole focus on me and the media surrounding me after I was taken, and suddenly Kaitlyn didn’t matter anymore. It bothered Kaitlyn, and lately that’s showing. The last time mother dearest called, she told me Kaitlyn was seeing a new man, and he was into drugs and all sorts of terrible things.

  When I called Kaity, she assured me Mom was losing her mind and that everything was fine.

  I wasn’t sure I believed her, so I asked our mutual friend Hannah to keep an eye on her for me. Kaity and I met Hannah not long after I returned from my horror. She befriended Kaity at a yoga class, and when Kaity brought her over, she was so kind to me. No judgment. A breath of fresh air. So unlike the other people in my life. We all became great friends. She’s been reporting back to me for a few weeks now, letting me know that things aren’t as good as Kaity is saying. I trust Hannah.

  I just hope Kaitlyn is letting her in, because I’m becoming concerned.

  My sister is the only thing I have left.

  TWO

  “Order up!”

  Paul, my boss, slides some plates onto the stainless steel counter and slaps the bell over and over, glaring at me with those deep-brown eyes. He really is a good man at heart, but he works his staff hard. He expects dedication from them and mostly, he gets it. Except from me. But he’s learned to tolerate my ups and downs. Some days—most days—I’m a fierce worker. But others, like today, I struggle.

  Paul was kind to me when I came to town and asked him for a job. He’d seen my face on the news, and he knew what I’d been through. He gave me the job without hesitation. He never asked questions. He didn’t judge and he didn’t push. Paul has a kind heart, the type that will always give without question. I’ll be forever grateful to him for that.

  “I can hear you dude, cool it.” I grin and he glares at me, but I don’t miss the way his lips twitch.

 
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