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“And how do you really feel, Paxton?” the man questioned, leaning forward with a smirk on his face.
Paxton rolled his eyes, gazing up at the ceiling. The popcorn styled roof couldn’t have looked any more inviting at that moment.
“Well, I don’t know about you, but I feel with my fingers. Of course, I could always feel with my feet too, but that wouldn’t be as easy.” Paxton retorted.
The man sighed and rolled his eyes. His arms crossed, trying to suggest that he was getting frustrated with all this. That was fine with Paxton. He hated psychologists, and psychiatrists.
“Paxton, we’ve been doing this for three weeks now and you haven’t opened up one bit. Just tell me something. Your parents are paying a pretty penny for you to be here.” He huffed.
Paxton leaned back in the chair, stretching his legs out. He hadn’t moved for fear of the man taking that as him being fidgety, getting to him.
“Okay, I’m Paxton Brawn.” He said.
The man’s smirk disappeared. Nothing, but a scowl covered his face. Maybe they would end early today. That would be awesome! His black hair gleamed in the light coming from his lamp. His strong build straightened in frustration.
“You know, throwing sarcastic retorts just shows me that you’re afraid of letting out your feelings.” The man said.
Paxton gulped. He had never thought of that before. The man had him there.
“Or maybe I just don’t need to be here or want to.” Paxton countered.
The man shook his head and gazed somewhere behind him, giving a slight nod.
Paxton peered behind him, spotting the camera as the red light flickered off. He turned back to face the man.
“Our meeting today is finished. Please bring your parents in.” he said.
Paxton shrugged. He was fine with that. Maybe he would release Paxton as a patient. How wonderful that would be!
He’d been trying to get his parents to stop making him come here since the day they had gotten him there.
He peered out the door, watching the frail, brown haired woman. Her green eyes filled of tears, a gushing sea flowing from her eyes. She threw her arms around a man slightly more taller than Paxton.
The man had a steely blue tint to his eyes, those of Paxton’s eyes too. His combed over blonde hair fell down his face as he stared down at the woman.
The man tightened his grip around the woman, his chest pumping ever so slightly.
“Mom, Dad, the doctor would like to see you two.” Paxton said, a hint of a grin creeping onto his face.
The two took deep breaths before passing Paxton without a word. They knew the doctor had given up. Paxton was ecstatic.
He crouched down, opening the door only a half an inch. He could just barely hear their conversation.
“I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Brawn. I don’t know what else to do about Paxton. He won’t open up to me at all.” The man said.
“Dr. Prauss, please, you’re the best doctor in California!” Dad exclaimed.
Dr. Prauss placed his hands on his hips, gazing down at the floor.
“There is only one other option, but you won’t like it.” He huffed.
His parents looked between each other, deciding silently.
“What’s the other option, Doctor?” Mom asked.
Dr. Prauss leaned back in his chair and rested his head on the cushy part of the chair.
“You can admit him into something like an asylum.” He suggested.
Paxton’s heart sped up. Put him in an insane asylum? That couldn’t be right! He was just keeping all of his feelings to himself. He wasn’t crazy!
“You’re suggesting that our son is crazy?” Dad exclaimed.
Dr. Prauss shook his head.
“No, no, no! That wasn’t what I meant. This place is a retreat for teenagers whom have the same problems. Paxton would be a patient there, only able to do whatever the doctors there suggest.” He snickered.
Paxton’s eyes widened. He wasn’t going to release him! He was going to push him off to a place far away from here!
“Let’s do it!” Mom exclaimed.
Paxton’s heart snapped in half. How could they even be thinking about this?
“The only thing is, neither of you will be able to visit him.” Dr. Prauss continued.
“Why not?” Dad questioned, eyes furrowing.
“We find that 90% of all the teenagers’ problems are their parents. If we’re trying to fix them then we can’t have the problem right in front of them.” Dr. Prauss answered.
“Where is this place?” Dad asked.
Dr. Prauss smiled, holding out a flyer.
“In Washington, at a small camp in the secluded parts of the woods.” He replied
Dad and Mom nodded simultaneously.
“We’ll do it. When does it start?” Mom asked. Dr. Prauss stood up, searching the red birch desk next to him.
“Tomorrow, at seven. You’ll need to get him on a plane in an hour so he can be there on time and have time to rest.” He replied.
Paxton didn’t care anymore, he burst through the door, shaking in protest.
“You can’t send me off to some secluded place! You can’t leave me!” Paxton cried.
Dr. Prauss’s eyes met his, showing a glimmer of sadness.
“You haven’t made any progress, Paxton. We know that you’re holding in all that depression from your brother’s suicide, and you need help. You haven’t been the same.” Mom said.
Paxton’s blood boiled, steam and blood pouring out through every skin pore.
“No! Kaden didn’t commit suicide! He was killed! He wouldn’t do such a thing!” Paxton screeched.
“Paxton, please just calm down,” Dr. Prauss begged.
“No! I won’t leave!” Paxton shouted, lunging at him.
“Security!” Dr. Prauss shouted, scrambling away.
Paxton’s father pulled him off the doctor, holding him down on the floor, securing him.
Paxton gritted his teeth, kicking his legs out.
“No! Dad, let me go!” he screamed. His father’s sad eyes told him no. He put all his weight on Paxton’s arms as security pushed something into his veins.
A minute later, his father backed off him. Paxton’s vision began to blur, watching from somewhere else as he was picked up.
“It’s alright, Paxton. They’re just going to take you outside.” Dr. Prauss said, his voice becoming somewhat darker.
His eyes shut on him, unable to stay open. They were too heavy to do anything about it.
“Blood pressure 86/160. Stable.”
Paxton let go of a gasp, trying to move his arms. They weren’t moving.
“Seventeen, black hair, steel blue eyes.”
“Paxton Brawn. Patient at Camp Salabot.”
Paxton listened to the two voices going back and forth. He was already at the asylum, that was for sure. But why did they need to log everything about him?
“Hmm, Dr. Prauss suggests 14.”
“That the one with the unusuals?”
A woman and a man. That’s who they were. But how old? And what were they doing there?
“Yes.” The man answered.
Paxton’s finger twitched. Finally! He needed to get out of there! He needed to move around!
“Patient is up, 6:45.” The woman said.
Paxton coughed as something squirted into his throat. Instantly, he could feel everything, and move.
He opened his eyes, still drowsy. Two people in lab coats, the woman and man.
“Welcome, Mr. Brawn, to Camp Salabot. This is where you will stay until we determine otherwise.” The man said.
How did he get here? What did he do to deserve coming here?
“You see that bracelet on your wrist?” the woman asked.
Paxton glanced down. A white, half an inch bracelet cuffed his hand. He pulled at the bracelet ever so slightly, it didn’t move a centimeter.
“Don’t try running away or taking it off. You’ll get a nasty shock and we’ll come right after you. Trust me, you don’t want that.” She continued.
Paxton sat up, rubbing the back of his neck, pushing the kink out.
“We’re not dogs, you can’t do that!” Paxton protested.
The woman snickered, “yes we can, and we will. Your parents signed the contract.”
The man pulled Paxton up by his arm.
“C’mon, it’s time to meet your new acquaintances.” He said, dragging him off out the door.
“Up and at’m, boys! Get ready for class!” the man shouted, slamming on the wall. Paxton heard as moans echoed throughout the cabin.
“New arrival!” the man shouted. The man glanced at Paxton.
“A fun bunch, they are. Sixteen of them in all.” He sneered, peering in. Paxton followed his head in.
It was a small cabin, with at least nineteen bunk beds clustered together on the ends of the walls. In the middle of the room, on the rickety, brown, molding, wooden boards sat a single long table. There were six wooden legs holding the table up, but two of them were missing and it looked like one was busted. So essentially, the cabin was worn down and very crowded.
Paxton just knew it was going to be fun living there for however long they forced him to be.
“Hey, it’s a Norskie! Look at his pasty skin!” a voice yelled from the shadows. Paxton scowled, turning towards the dark voice.
“I’m not Norwegian! I’m just naturally white, okay?” Paxton snapped, stomping his foot.
Chuckles echoed throughout the room.
“Whatever you say, Norskie.” The voice replied.
Paxton furrowed his brows, huffing.
“Alright everyone, you’ve had your fun. Now come out! Meet your new cabin mate!” the man shouted.
Sixteen teenage boys waked out of the cabin in a line, each of different races and sizes. Paxton studied them all. They were a band of misfits. Most of them were handicapped or out of shape. All except for three.
An Asian boy, strong and light on his feet stood in front of the others. His black hair laid unevenly on his head, thick in the front and back and thin on the sides. His dark brown eyes studied Paxton and he smirked.
“Nice to meet you, newcomer. I’m, Chris.” He said, holding out a hand. Paxton gave him a sideways glance and shook his hand.
Chris gazed behind him, “that’s Peyton and Kinley.”
He pointed to a dark skinned kid, brown dreadlocks and then to another kid, sandy blonde hair and looked as though he’d laid in the sun for years.
“And you are?” Peyton questioned. He sighed.
“Paxton. Paxton Brawn.” He said.
“What’re you in here for? You start hearing ‘voices’?” Chris smirked.
The boys snickered.
“No. My parents sent me here because I wouldn’t talk to a shrink. They think I’m depressed because my brother is dead.” He spat.
Chris sneered, “let me guess, the pr…”
“Language, Manson.” The man snarled.
“The guy that sent you here went by the name of Prauss.” He guessed.
Paxton’s jaw dropped. How did he know?
“He sent all of us here. The p…the man told our parents that we need…” he started.
“That’s enough, Manson. All of you, head to your camp activities.” The man interrupted.
The boys groaned, Chris rolling his eyes.
“I’ll see you after he’s done parading you around. Good luck out there.” He said.
Paxton felt a pang of sadness as the band of misfits trudged down the hill, heading towards the other cabins.
The man scowled at Paxton, “let’s get this going then. I’d like to get back to my book.”
He could really tell he was going to like it here! He walked down the hill with the man and watched as boys and girls poured out from at least thirty cabins. People dressed in forest green shirts pointed the teenagers in directions, urging them to hurry on up to the biggest building there.
Nothing different from the other cabins, other than it looked much newer and could probably fit three hundred people on the inside.
He watched as the golden and orange rays rose from the ground, lighting his eyes. He had to cover his eyes before he tripped and rolled down the rest of the hill.
He was surprised to find that half of the campground was occupied by the woods. They must’ve believed that the outdoors was the best to set kids right.
The man opened the door to a larger cabin and waited for Paxton to catch up.
“These will be yours. You are responsible for bringing them being brought to the laundry room. If you don’t you will wear dirty clothes.” He said, tossing a white t-shirt to him and then a pair of black shorts.
Paxton looked at the t-shirt. In the same forest green color, was written Camp Salabot, the place where troubled kids grow.
Paxton raised a brow. How cliché could you get?
The cabin was only one room. Just a place where clothes were stored. And it looked like there were hundreds of clothes still there, unused.
“Now off to the Mess Hall. We’ll find someone to show you what to do from there.” He said.
Paxton watched as the sun bounced off the man’s balding head and snickered. Served him right for acting like such a jerk. He was sure everyone hated this man.
“Larissa, show him to his cabin mates.” The man said, grabbing a thin girl by her arm.
Her grey eyes met his and he ran off, up the hill. He burst out laughing as the man tripped going up the hill and face planted.. It was perfect!
“What’s your name?”
Paxton turned around. She studied him and he studied her, trying to figure out whether the two would fit together.
The girl tied her light brown hair in a ponytail and rested her hands on her hips, waiting for an answer.
“Paxton. And you?” he said.
She smirked, “Brit. And you must be the new member of cabin 14.”
He stood there confused. How had she known?
“News travels fast here. Especially when one is brought here unconscious. What’d you do?” she replied to his expression.
“I tackled Dr. Prauss. Can’t say that he was very happy with that.” He grinned.
Her eyes gleamed, “you did? No way!”
“So you know him too?” he asked.
She nodded, “he acted like a real jerk until I talked to him, And then he told my parents I was crazy and recommended I stay here. I was furious. I knew I wasn’t the most sane person, but I sure as hell knew that I wasn’t crazy! I’d just had a breakdown.”
Anger lit inside his heart like a fire, burning through his chest. And all because of that man. How many kids had he done that to? How had he managed to convince all of their parents to send them here?
“He sends everyone here? Everyone is sent here because that man convinces their parents that they’re insane?” he growled.
“Let’s just say that any one of us would’ve loved to have seen you tackle him or beat him up in any way, shape or form.” She said.
Brit stopped in front of the large cabin, “watch your back around here. The staff might seem nice, but they’re vicious. I’ve seen them nearly kill someone for getting in a fight.”
Paxton swallowed hard. If these people were willing to kill kids to get them to listen then why hadn’t the government been alerted about this? Why were kids being kept here?
“If none of us are crazy or depressed then why do they want us here? Why do they keep us?” he questioned.
She clenched her jaw, “no one exactly knows. Most are too scared to try to. Others just don’t want to know. That is, until they’re the ones taken at night.”
They took kids at night? What the hell?
“They take kids from their beds at night? Why?” he snapped.
She held up her hands, “No one knows. And the kids that are taken don’t remember a thing.”
He pursed his lips. He couldn’t believe how things operated around here. It had to change.
“Ah, Miss Butler. And who is this?”
A man wearing the green shirt peered down at them probably from the height of 6 foot 3. The wind tousled his strawberry blonde hair across his pale skin. He couldn’t have been older than twenty eight.
“This is Paxton. New to cabin 14.” Brit mumbled.
The man forced a smile, “well, let’s hope that you can knock some sense into those boys.”
Paxton felt uneasy around the man. There was just something about the way he looked at him. Something like desire. But he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“I don’t know. I’m not much of a sensible person myself.” He replied.
The man grinned. It reminded him of a coyote. Someone he couldn’t trust.
“I wouldn’t say that. You look very sensible. I’m sure you’ll be a very good boy here.” He said.
The man rested his hand on Paxton’s shoulder, “won’t you?”
The man’s face hardened. He gulped. What was his problem?
“I’ve gotta get going, though; I just wanted to check up on you.” The man told Brit. He gave Paxton a nod before turning away and walking into the Mess Hall.
He released a breath, not knowing that he’d been holding in the first place. Brit grabbed onto his arm.
“What was his problem?” Paxton questioned. Brit gazed around them.
“You need to stay away from that man, Paxton. Kids that get close to that man go missing for days. And he’s already taken a liking to you. Just…don’t let him get near you, okay?” she hissed.
Paxton’s brows furrowed. What was that man doing with all those kids? And how could he have taken a liking to him within a minute of conversation?
“How do you know all this?” he asked her.
She frowned, “because I was one of them. Trust me, you don’t want to be in his line of view.”
Chris grinned as Paxton sat down, “so you’re getting to know, Brit, are ya?”
Paxton rolled his eyes, “I’m not trying to get in her pants. She was just showing me around.”
He raised his brows, “Hmm, she must like you. She never walks the newcomers around. Just passes them off.”
Paxton felt his cheeks getting red. He hadn’t thought of it like that. Just assumed she did anything that the staff told her to.
Peyton snorted next to him, “never had a girlfriend, Paxton?”
He shook his head. He’d always kind of been nervous around the girls. He never knew what to say. They liked girly things like shopping. He wasn’t in anyway interested in shopping. Not for the things a girl would be.
Now that he realized it, he was surprised that he had been able to talk to Brit without a problem. What had changed?
He took a bite of his mashed potatoes and gazed around at the table. Most of cabin 14 sat at the table. All except Kinley and a few of the unknowns.
“Paxton, come with me.”
His stomach churned. The man that had talked to him earlier. Brit told him that he had to do anything to stay away from that man.
Why was he at their table? Why was he seeking out Paxton? They hadn’t even talked but once for less than five minutes!
“Can’t I finish my food first? I haven’t eaten anything yet today.” He pleaded.
“No, I need to talk to you right now.” he responded.
His heart leapt. He couldn’t go with that man!
“Mr. Granger, Paxton has already had the tour. There is no further reason to speak to him right now.” Chris spoke up.
The man shot a glare at Chris, “But I need to talk to him.”
Chris stood up and raised his voice, “you don’t have a reason to talk to him! So let him be!”
Mr. Granger backed away and glanced at Paxton, “we will speak again.”
And then he left. Paxton couldn’t tell Chris how grateful he was. He did not want to go with that man.
“That was a close one. Don’t ever go anywhere with Mr. Granger. That man is a creep.” Chris warned, still gazing at Mr. Granger who watched from the other side of the room.
“Why did he want me to come with him, Chris? Why has he taken in interest in me?” he questioned.
Chris’s eye met his, “I can’t say. I’ve never been taken by him and those of who are, never talk about it. As far as why he’s interested in you, I have no idea. He usually goes after the girls.”
His heart sunk. He’d been hoping for some explanation. Brit wouldn’t tell him because she said it was too painful.
“I can’t say how thankful I am that you stopped him. Thank you for coming to my aid.” He told Chris.
Chris’s face softened, “I would never let anything happen to my cabin mates. You’re a part of our team now. Welcome to Camp Salabot.”
Paxton rolled over onto his side, trying to get some sleep, but his mind was reeling. All these teenagers were trapped here without help. They were forced to participate in stupid activities that were supposed to help their minds. They were cuffed like animals and made to stay within boundaries. They weren’t allowed to do anything, but what they were told. And for what reason? They weren’t actually crazy. And although some people like Chris, had been here for years, they still had no idea why they were there.
No one told them anything. No one even let them talk about their lives before coming to the camp. No one was allowed to learn of why they were brought here. Or who was in charge.
“No! No, leave me alone!”
Paxton jolted up, his heart pounding. What was going on?
He ran for the door, but Chris stepped in front of him, grief inhabiting every inch of his face.
“You can’t go out there, Paxton. They’ll punish you.” He said.
“No, please! Someone, help!”
Paxton’s heart lurched. He couldn’t just leave someone to their own demise!
“No, I can’t leave them to take her!” he snapped, shoving Chris aside.
Chris looked up at him, “Paxton, I’ve tried before. You won’t be able to save her.”
He clenched his jaw, “I can’t leave her to fend for herself. I have to at least try.”
He burst out through the door, anger pulsating through him. A girl laid on the ground, crawling towards the cabin.
A man cloaked in black stood over her about to pick her up. Three other men stood around them. He gasped.
“No! Don’t take her!” he shouted. The cloaked man glared at him.
“This is none of your business, boy. Go back in your cabin and pretend this never happened.” He said.
Paxton’s eye twitched with anger. He rushed at the man, knocking him over before he grabbed the girl. He couldn’t let them take her to wherever. He couldn’t let her disappear.
The man punched him in the jaw, knocking him off him. Paxton laid there for a second, fighting back tears.
“Go back to the cabin.” He ordered.
Paxton clenched his fists, “I will not abandon someone like this!”
A sudden jolt of pain erupted through his right arm. He cried out and searched for the source of his pain.
His bracelet turned red, bursting with electricity and burning into his flesh. He dropped his knees, grimacing.
“Now go back to your cabin and the pain will stop.” The man demanded.
Paxton shook his head in all stubbornness. The man shook his head and picked up the girl, now unconscious. What had they done to her?
The pain intensified, now not just in his arm. He fell onto his back. He couldn’t take it much longer. Black started to close in around his eyes.
He fought the urge to beg for the pain to stop and unbelievably, he stood back up.
The man stared at him in disbelief. Had this ever happened before?
“Go back to your cabin, now.” the man commanded.
He shook his head through clenched teeth. He couldn’t let them take her.
He took a step towards the man, and collapsed as a shock erupted through his body. He’d been electrocuted before, but this was a hundred times worse.
He screamed at the top of his lungs. He could see the electricity shooting down his body and out from his fingers. His face felt like it was burning off. His hands felt as though he’d stuck his hands in the microwave and turned it on for thirty minutes.
The man stood over him, “you foolish, stubborn boy.”
And then his eyes rolled back.
“You could have been killed. You almost did.”
Paxton opened his eyes. His throat burned as though he’d swallowed acid for dessert. And his head felt like a bowl of soup.
His eyes widened and he backed away. Mr. Granger. In front of him. In a room alone.
“What do you want?” he snapped. He gave a toothy grin. Paxton tried to get out of the bed, but his wrist was handcuffed to the bedpost.
Mr. Granger’s hand stroked against his cheek, crawling up to the top of his head. Paxton turned away from him.
What was he doing? Why was he alone in the room? And where was he?
“Such a perfect specimen.” He said, softly. His hand went down his neck, brushing against his skin again.
His heart lurched, “get away from me you, creep!”
Mr. Granger’s eyes lifted in surprise, “and what makes you think that that will work? Yelling just gets on my nerves.”
A chill brushed up against his back. He was terrified. Everyone he’d met told him to stay away from this man. That he was an awful man, but how did he do that if the man came to him?
Mr. Granger tore up his last shirt from home, his favorite red shirt, cut down the middle.
He felt as his shirt was slipped off him and Mr. Granger’s hand stroked against his chest.
This was too weird. He kicked out with his right leg, catching the man in the throat.
He stumbled back, coughing and glared at Paxton, “not wise, Paxton. I’m in charge of you for the next ten minutes.”
Paxton gulped. Mr. Granger sat down on the bed next to him, desire in his eyes.
“What are you doing?” he questioned, trying to pull away.
He smirked, “If I told you, it’d be against the rules.”
His hand rested on his chest, just above his heart. His eyes met Paxton’s.
“This is what I want.” He stated.
Paxton was confused. He wanted his heart?
He watched as Mr. Granger’s hand slowly started slipping down his torso and around his side.
He flipped over the bed, unable to completely move away from the bed because he was still cuffed to it.
“Don’t play hard to catch, Paxton. That only makes this harder.” Mr. Granger said, making his way to him.
“Leave me alone!” he shouted again.
Mr. Granger shook his head, “you’re something new, Paxton. You are perfect.”
Paxton backed into the corner, his arm spread out across his body, still cuffed.
Why had they cuffed him to the bed? What had they brought him here?
Mr. Granger pulled Paxton up by his hair, “when it’s your time, I’ll be ecstatic.”
What was he talking about? Why was he being such a creep?
“Ken, leave the kid alone. He’s free to leave.”
Relief flooded through him, washing away all the uneasiness. A woman stood in front of the bed, crossing her arms.
Mr. Granger dropped him and turned to the woman, “but…”
The woman scowled, “Ken, leave now.”
Mr. Granger took one long lasting look and turned away. But Paxton made sure that he saw his tongue mocking him before he left.
It was childish, yes, but in case you couldn’t tell, Paxton wasn’t the most responsible person.
“I’m sorry about that, Paxton. Ken was the only one we could find to watch over you when we were busy with activities.” She said.
Paxton studied her. She didn’t seem like she was in charge. She was only about 5 foot 4 with curly blonde hair and green eyes. She reminded him of a ditzy cheerleader. Figure and all.
“What’s wrong with that guy? He keeps following me around.” He questioned.
She unlocked the handcuff, “Ken has his quirks. I’ll try to keep him away from you, but I’m not sure how well that will work out. He’s the doctor here.”
His stomach churned. That was the man he would have to go to if he got sick? Or broke a bone?
“How’s your head feeling? You took a pretty hard beating last night.” She asked.
He stood up and rubbed his arms. It was chilly in there.
“It feels like those mashed potatoes I ate yesterday, but I’ll be fine. What happened to the girl? Where did they take her?” he questioned.
His mind was exploding with questions. First of all, what did they do to her?
The woman swallowed. He could see her trying to come up with an excuse already. The wheels were turning, but it didn’t look like she came up with much.
“She was…uh, having a breakdown. They needed to give her time in the box before she started to freak out the other patients.” She stuttered.
Paxton crossed his arms, “I don’t believe you! They shocked me because I was trying to save her! And how do you explain the four men standing there with some sort of guns?”
The woman started to look nervous, gazing around the room. As though she was afraid that someone would jump out and grab her.
“What’s going on here? Why does nobody talk about the kidnappings? Or remember them?” he questioned further.
She clenched her jaw, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. Just…here, put these on.”
She tossed him the camp’s outfit. Apparently she didn’t like him walking around without a shirt.
“And you want me to change when you’re in here?” he cautioned.
She scowled. What did he say wrong?
“I’m not going to watch you dress! I’ll turn that way!” she snapped.
He held up his hands in surrender. He didn’t mean to upset her. Why was everyone here so touchy about things?
He wasn’t sure how they’d done it. There was no way it was done by normal circumstances. He should’ve had blisters covering his body, at least around his wrist and chest, but he didn’t. All that was left there was a jagged scar running down the middle of his chest. A scar that looked like it been traced from one of the Harry Potter movies.
And he didn’t know how they got the perfect sizes for his outfit either. The shirt fit perfectly over his head and hung down loosely, just like he liked it. And the shorts were just tight enough to stay on his slim body.
“Back from the dead. I told you not to go out there. And remind me not to get in a fight with you. ”
Paxton forced a smile at Chris, “but I got some answers. Not good ones, but they’re a start.”
Chris’s eyes widened, “what? How?”
He sat down next to Chris at the table, keeping his head low. He didn’t want to attract Granger again.
“I talked with one of the staff when I was in the infirmary. She didn’t give much, but something kind of slipped out her mouth by accident.” He said, again.
“Well, tell me already!” he exclaimed.
“She said they took the girl to the box. Do you know what it is?” he replied.
Chris leaned back in his chair, “I’m not sure, but that must be where they keep the missing kids. Did she specify where this was?”
Paxton shook his head. If she had, he’d already be searching for it.
“And there’s one more thing, who was the man cloaked in black?”
“He’s the one in charge, the one that takes all the kids. I ran into him the first time I saw one of the kidnappings. His dark eyes tore a hole through me, as though there was nothing there. And then he pushed a button and my whole body felt like it was on fire.” He choked out.
He used a button to turn on the bracelets’ defense system? The button that nearly killed him?
“He told me to get into the cabin and forget all about what happened. And I did. I let the boy he was taking cry in pain. I let them knock him unconscious. Without a single thought.” He finished.
He looked up at Paxton, “I couldn’t believe when you’d resisted him. Your body was sparking with electricity, your limbs twisting from all the energy, but you kept going. It was unbelievable, which is why I’m going to make sure that they never get their hands on you.”
Paxton’s heart warmed. The guy really thought that highly of him? His brother hadn’t even thought that highly of him and they were really close.
“Chris, I promise, I’ll get us out of here. All of us. We will find a way out of here.” He promised.
Chris shook his head, “that’s impossible, Paxton. No one leaves this place. Ever. No one ever gets ‘better’ in Camp Salabot.”
The wind was knocked out of him. Did he just say that no one got out? That they were stuck there?
“That can’t be right. Surely, there’s been at least one person that has left here.” He protested.
Chris rested his hand on Paxton’s shoulder, “No one has ever left here. Not in the ten years that it’s been here. I’m sorry, Paxton. When you’re admitted here, you’re here for good.”
But that couldn’t be true! His parents would get him! They would take him out within a few weeks if they knew it wasn’t helping!
“But what about when they turn eighteen? They can’t keep us here if we have full citizenship!” he countered.
Chris frowned, “they’ve found a way around that too.”
‘But how? How could they do that?” he snipped.
“They tell our parents that we’re dead.”
Paxton’s heart dropped into his stomach, acid eating away at what was left of his hope. Their parents couldn’t get them out of there if they thought that all of them were dead.
But there was a problem with it all. They weren’t actually dead. They could fight their ways out. They sneak out of the place.
“I know where your mind is right now, Paxton, but there is no way out of here. I’ve been here for seven years, and most people ten. We would have found a way out by now if there was. They’ve thoroughly thought this through. That bracelet on your wrist keeps you within the boundaries. They don’t need to watch us to know that.” He assured.
Paxton stood up, his jaw setting. Tears of rage were smothering his vision.
“Calm down before Falk or Granger come over here. Just…lay low for a while.” Chris told him.
He gazed around. People were starting to stare. Granger’s eyes fixated on him. He sat back down. He might’ve been angry, but fear of being alone with Granger again was more powerful.
“Hey, Paxton! Thanks for motioning for me where to go!”
Brit gave him a look of curiosity and sat down at the table next to him.
“Don’t look back. Granger is staring this way. He’ll come over here if he sees that you’re upset.” she whispered in his ear.
“It’s been a long time, Brittany.” Chris said.
Brit rolled her eyes, “It’s Brit now, Chris. And I’m here for Paxton, not you.”
Chris looked hurt. Was there something he was missing?
Brit turned to him, “C’mon, let’s go for a walk.”
Paxton glanced over at Chris.
He forced a smile, “Go on. I’ll just walk back with Kinley and Peyton.”
“For future reference, since Chris hasn’t told you, it’s best to keep your emotions under control outside the cabins. The staff thinks that if you’re upset that you need a session with Dr. Prauss or Granger when Prauss is gone.” She said.
He stopped walking, “Wait, Prauss is here?”
She nodded, “he works here part time. The councilors say it’s because he likes to help, but I just think that he’s helping them with some secret project.”
He watched the trees sway in the harsh wind. With one swipe, it pushed his hair back behind his ears.
Brit grabbed his arm, “C’mon. I need to show you something.”
They walked up the hill where his cabin sat up on the top, secluded from the rest. Brit led him past the woods, past the stone building and out in the open.
He felt as Brit’s hand slipped into his. She watched him for a moment, deciding whether or not she should leave it there. Apparently, she decided to.
She turned right past a tree, dragging him behind her. The grass lessened the closer they got to their destination.
“We’re almost there.” She mumbled.
He swallowed and studied her. Her brown hair curled at the ends, probably from the heat of the sun, but her hair was swept behind her, flowing through the wind like grass in the wind.
“So what’s the story between you and Chris?” he asked, trying to make conversation.
She pursed her lips, “he and I were dating once upon a time. About a year and a half ago. He was the first person I met and we’d been friends so why not date? That was a big mistake. Two months after we started dating I went to his cabin, prepared for another night of fun. I found him smooching my friend, Tiffany.”
He winced, though, he wasn’t sure why. He’d never been in a relationship so he didn’t know what it felt like to be cheated on.
“When I walked in, he didn’t even try to explain, just stood there as though he’d been caught with pot. I threw the cans of soda I’d been carrying with me at him and ran off. From there, we’d drifted apart. I stopped talking to him and Tiffany after a few weeks. And then Granger spotted me. We talked for a few weeks before I found out he was a creeper. That pretty much leaves me right where I am now.” she finished.
She stopped walking, “we’re here.”
His eyes widened in amazement. The view was gorgeous. Brit sat down on a boulder overlooking a giant forest. The hills dove in and out, illuminating different textures and colors as they looked down. The sky was streaked with pinks and light oranges as the sun went down. It was beautiful. A portrait painted by the best artists on Earth.
“I like to come here when all is wrong with the world. That day, when I ran from the cabin, I started towards this place, only coming across it by accident. It reminds me of home, you know?” she said, turning to him.
He sat down beside her, “I wouldn’t know much about home. My parents sent me off to a boarding school as soon as they got the chance, but I guess that’s what rich parents do. They work until their kids hardly know them anymore and then they’re gone. Off to another country.”
His heart cracked as he thought about it. They had already abandoned him. After his brother died. He had known for a long time that it was coming, but for it to happen…
She rested her hand on top of his. He looked into her eyes.
“We’ll get through this hell. That’s what a retreat is for, right?” she said.
He snorted, “yeah, a hell of a resort this is. They do a real good job about protecting their customers.”
She giggled and leaned into him, letting her head rest on his shoulder.
“I knew as soon as I saw you that you were a good person. Someone that knew what it meant to stick up for someone else. That’s where you were last night, wasn’t it? That was you they were dragging away?” she said after a few minutes.
He swallowed hard, “yes, that was me. I couldn’t just let them take her. I couldn’t let her cries for help go unheard.”
“And if you had the choice to go back in time, would you do it again?” she questioned.
“In a heartbeat.” He answered.
Her hand brushed against his neck, “then I know that I’ve chosen the right person to come here. The right person to replace what I lost.”
“And what is that?” he prodded.
“Everyone, get up! It’s time for your checkups!”
Paxton groaned and rolled over onto his stomach. He didn’t feel like opening his eyes. He’d just fallen asleep!
He felt a hand on his back, “Paxton, get up or they’ll give you a nasty shock for disobeying.”
He huffed and rubbed his eyes. Peyton smirked down at him.
“Rough night?” he asked. Paxton nodded. He couldn’t sleep with those haunting thoughts of what they were doing to that girl. He had let them get her. It was his fault she was there.
“Line up! You have a full day of activities to get to!”
Peyton scowled as a man walked past, “That’s Jack also known as Jackal. He’s a real…”
“Quiet, London!” the man snapped, stepping in front of them. The man studied Paxton, his look of disdain.
He stood with a clipboard in his hand like a commandant, his glare never leaving his bushy eyebrows.
“And you must be Mr. Brawn. You gave us real trouble the first night, didn’t you?” he sneered.
“You were one of the men taking her?” he asked, flabbergasted.
“That’s right. Made you scream like a little girl. But you kept going until there was almost nothing left in you. I’m gonna have fun beating you into shape.” He snorted.
Paxton glared at him. He understood why Peyton hated him. And he only knew him for a minute.
The man turned away from them and started yelling at the rest of them.
“C’mon, we’ve got to line up outside before Prauss gets agitated and decides to take it out on the whole cabin.” Peyton hissed.
Dr. Prauss was there? He was going to be checking up on them? And what for?
As soon as the sun hit his eyes, he cringed. Their cabin was so dark that it felt as though he was walking into the light after a year.
“Good morning, boys. Are you all ready for your checkups?”
Paxton stopped, ending up at the back of the line. The boys groaned in response.
“Calm it down, Paxton. I can feel your nervous breaths on the back of my neck.” Chris snapped.
“I know that you boys would rather be outside gallivanting around, but this must be done. Don’t you want to know if you’re healthy?” Dr. Prauss said.
Paxton’s heart stopped. The man that started this all. He walked down the line, opening their mouths and checking their eyes.
He wanted to punch him with all that he was worth. He wanted to slam his fists into the man’s temples repeatedly. He wanted to destroy him. But he didn’t. He stood there silently, clenching his fists.
“Kinley, what have I told you about chewing so much gum? It’s ruining your teeth!”
His heart leapt, as he got closer. What would he do?
“Jason, stop biting your nails. It’s not good for your teeth or your fingers.”
“Ah, Chris, perfect as usual.”
Dr. Prauss stopped in front of him, his blue eyes gleaming in the early morning light.
“Paxton. I heard you got in a scuffle with the staff. Are you all right?” he asked. Paxton gritted his teeth. What was wrong with this man?
“Oh, you’re angry. I see.” He said and flashed a light in his eyes.
“Boys, you’re free to go. Paxton and I need to talk.” He said.
Paxton stood up straight, holding back the eruption inside his heart. It was his fault that he was here. His fault that he would never leave.
Dr. Prauss stood back and watched him. His eyes were calculating, trying to figure out what to say.
“Why did you do it? Why did you tell my parents that I needed to be here?” he growled.
Dr. Prauss opened Paxton’s mouth, checking for any cavities, “because you do need to be here. Just not for the reason they believe you’re here.”
He took a step back again and wrote something down.
“And what reason is that? Why doesn’t anyone give us any answers here?” he questioned.
Dr. Prauss bit down on his lip, “in time you will all know, but that time is not now. Not until it’s your turn.”
He stomped his foot, “We have a right to know now! You can’t just keep us here! You can’t just hold us here like prisoners!”
Dr. Prauss gave an amused look, “you’re not prisoners. You move around here freely. You get anything you ask for.”
“You don’t! Kids want to go home! They want to see their parents again! They want to leave when they want to!” he spat.
Dr. Prauss crossed his arms, “but that will never happen. The kids that are here are here for good.”
“And for what reason? Why do you bring kids here and keep them here? Why do you kidnap kids?” he snapped.
“Take off your shirt, Paxton. I need to check something.” He commanded.
Paxton clenched his jaw as he pulled the shirt over his head. The man was in charge here. If he disobeyed he would surely earn a shock. Or Jackal riding his butt for disobeying a direct order.
Dr. Prauss studied the scar on his chest and gave a small nod.
“So Granger was right. Hmm.” He mumbled under his breath.
What was Granger right about? What was he talking about? And why did that keep coming up?
“Do you remember what happened when your body was hit with that much voltage?” he asked.
He was seething with anger. Why wouldn’t he answer his questions?
“Answer me!” he snapped.
Dr. Prauss’s face hardened, “no you answer me. I am in charge here and you’d better not forget that. What I say goes.”
His heart stopped. Not even after he had tackled him had he seen him like that. The look of authority he was giving was powerful.
“I don’t remember much. Just that I felt the electricity coursing through my veins. But that was before I passed out.” he answered.
Dr. Prauss rubbed his chin, deep in thought. Paxton held his breath. Was this why he was in charge? That everyone did what he said? Because he scared the hell out of all of them?
“The kids are kept here because they’re all unique in their own ways. Some of them stranger than others. But some of them are essential. Like the girl you’ve been sneaking out with.” He said.
His jaw dropped.
“Yes, I know about the nights at the bluff and your midnight walks. You can’t expect me to run the place and not know where my patients are.” He responded to Paxton’s shock.
What else did he know about then? His pacing? His trips to the woods?
“How do you know all this? How do you know all about us?” he muttered.
“Those bracelets on all your wrists are more than just ways of keeping you inside the boundaries. They gather a bunch of information on you too. Like now I know that you pace when you’re tired and frustrated. Or how your favorite food is pasta. Or that you have a strong attraction to that girl you’re hanging around with…” he listed.
“And how do you know all that?” he questioned.
“Your brain. It will release endorphins when you’re hungry, in desire, or you feel a sexual attraction. I know that you pace when you’re frustrated or tired because of the camera in the room.” He explained.
Paxton felt dizzy with all the information he’d given him. These people were putting together files about everything about them. They were trying to get inside their heads, figuring out what made them tick. These people weren’t ordinary people. They had to be very sophisticated to study them all like this.
“You’re not just a doctor, are you? You’re a scientist. So what do you want with a bunch of children?” he said.
Dr. Prauss smirked, “Now I think it’s time for you to go. I have to do some errands.”
Paxton opened his mouth in protest, but the doctor was already gone. He knew one thing for sure. He was getting close to finding out whatever they were doing. That’s why Dr. Prauss left. He didn’t want the secret out yet.
Why were they studying them?
“Give me twenty more, Brawn!”
Paxton sighed and dropped down to his hands and feet. He guessed this was his punishment for interrupting the capturing of the girl.
His arms ached so much. He’d already done forty pushups because Jackal thought that he needed to get in shape. That’s what he said, but that sure wasn’t the reason.
He released breaths as he pushed down and then back up. Chris was next to him, trying to catch his eye, but Paxton was too tired to talk right then.
“What did Prauss say? He never stays to talk with one of us.” He questioned.
Paxton pumped his arms. Only one more.
“Alright, Brawn, now give me forty crunches.” Jackal hissed, next to him.
Paxton collapsed, letting his chest drop to the ground. He needed to rest before he passed out from exhaustion.
He wiped the sweat from his forehead and turned to Chris, “he told me that we couldn’t leave because we were all unique. And that they knew more about us than we thought.”
Chris held up his arms in frustration, “What the hell does that mean?”
Paxton shrugged, “I don’t know, but this is some freaky stuff, Chris. They’re putting together information on each of us. They know my stress habits for goodness sake! And my favorite foods!”
Chris’s eyes lit with alarm, “And how did they know that? And why? Are they writing a novel?”
Paxton flipped over onto his back, “The bracelets are reading more than just our pulses. They’re reading our brain functions and our locations. As for the reason, I think they’re studying us. Like rats in a maze.”
He stopped stretching and sat down next to him, “you’re saying they put us in this hellhole to see what we would do? To study kids in this sort of environment?”
Paxton released a breath, “That’s exactly what I’m saying. Why else would they send scientists in to see us every month? Or leave us alone completely except for the activities?”
Chris shrugged, “I guess it does make sense, but why us? What’s so unique that they’ve got to have all of us?”
“He didn’t answer me when I asked that. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that we need to make a trip soon.” He sighed, falling back.
Jackal kicked him in the ribs, making him cry out in pain. He glared up at him.
“What the hell was that for?” he snapped.
Jackal sneered, “It’s time for you to run.”
The flicker of the fire echoed in her eyes, bouncing back to him and warming his core. Brit laid on his shoulder as they all sat around the campfire, put on by the staff. Unfortunately, Granger stuck to him like bad BO. He watched his every move as though it was something fascinating.
Dr. Prauss was there too, but he seemed to keep Granger in check. He too, was watching his every move.
What had he done to attract this much attention? He had no idea. But they did.
Chris sat on the other side of him, warning him when one of them started towards him. Peyton sat on the other side of Brit. He also kept an eye out for Granger and Prauss.
“This is major freaky. Why do they keep staring at you?” Peyton turned to him.
Paxton shrugged. When he figured it out, he would let everyone know. But they had told him nothing. Not really, anyway. Nothing important.
“You’d think they’d seen a Norskie before.” Chris snickered. Paxton shot him a glare.
“So that was you the first day!” he exclaimed.
Chris did a half bow, “At your service.”
He punched him in the arm.