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Home > The Cage (The Cage #1)(9)

The Cage (The Cage #1)(9)
Author: Megan Shepherd

Everyone was silent.

She reached for her necklace, and felt only emptiness.

Leon tugged off his tie and let it fall to the grass. “They’re twisted shits, that’s why.” He climbed the diner stairs with a look like he’d kill whoever was in there. After a minute, he stuck his head back out.

“There’s no one here.” He sounded disappointed.

Cora started up the steps. Inside, old-fashioned lamps cast a smoky glow over the red-and-white checkered tablecloths. There was a long counter, and three tables with two chairs each. A black window hummed from the wall, murky shadows floating behind it like ghosts.

“There’s the source of your music.” Lucky pointed to a jukebox against the back wall. “It must be programmed to play automatically at certain times.”

A stranger in my own life . . .

A ghost behind my smile . . .

Cora closed her eyes. This song was supposed to be private, meant to live only in the pages of a notebook. It was about the night of the accident, when her mother had first threatened to file for divorce. No one wanted a scandal, so Cora had attended her father’s political fund-raiser at the last minute in her mother’s place. A Mason smiles, even if her heart is breaking. She’d worn a green silk dress with lace down the back. On the car ride home, while her father drove, she’d rested her head against the cool glass and listened to the smooth voices on NPR, watched the stars overhead, and made a wish that a smile really could solve everything.

When she opened her eyes, Lucky was looking at her strangely, like he had when they’d first met on the beach. She touched her cheek self-consciously, wondering if her face looked as sunken and heavy as she felt.

“Hey.” Leon slammed his fist on the jukebox. “Are they just going to play this song on repeat? What gives?” His head dipped as he searched for buttons. The controls slid around, but nothing happened, almost as if they weren’t controls at all.

“Perhaps it is another puzzle,” Rolf said quietly.

Cora leaned against the counter, still feeling dazed. The army. The helicopters. The police. They should have been there by now.

Leon stabbed a finger in Rolf’s direction. “If it’s a puzzle, solve it, genius.”

Rolf trudged over to the jukebox. His fingers flew over the blocks, but nothing he tried worked. Lucky took a try too, but he didn’t make any more progress.

The song continued.

Outside, the sunlight faded to the golden color of late afternoon, not suddenly but all at once, like someone had flipped a switch. Cora whirled toward the doorway.

“Did you guys see the light change?” Nok pointed outside. “That’s impossible, yeah?”

A clicking noise came from the countertop, and a trapdoor opened, revealing six trays of food. Curry over rice, looking so normal and innocent that it was terrifying. No one made a move.

Rolf’s eyes were wide. “I think it’s safe to assume we’re in a heavily controlled environment. It appears our food arrives not according to solving a puzzle but in correspondence to the light changing. Perhaps because food is a resource we require, whether we can solve puzzles or not. I would imagine this is supposed to be dinner.”

Leon grabbed one of the trays. “Dinner. Breakfast. Whatever, as long as it goes down and stays down.”

“Don’t eat it.” Lucky pointed to the sixth tray, which was empty. “One of us is already gone, remember? The girl Cora and I found. It could be poisoned.”

Leon ignored him and dug into the curry. Cora and the others watched in horrified fascination. He only paused midbite, cheeks full. “In case you were wondering, it’s bloody delicious.”

Halfway through Leon’s meal, the light outside changed again, dropping from dusk to night abruptly. The trays sank back into the counter, as if the food had never existed.

Cora went to the doorway, where Lucky stood with his arms folded across his chest. Across the square, the lights of the Victorian house had come on, blazing in the darkness. The front door was wide open.

“The army isn’t coming, is it?” she asked quietly.

Lucky popped the knuckles of his left hand. “I don’t think so.”

She shivered, though the night was mild. “Whoever put us here turned on the lights in the house. They want us to go there, I think. Pretend this place is real, like dolls in a play world. It feels wrong—like they’re setting us up for something.”

“Something like what happened to the girl on the beach?”

Cora hugged her arms. “Maybe.”

“It’s useless to resist.” Rolf’s shock of red hair popped up between them. “We’re like the lab rats. The scientists control the experiment; the rats have no choice but to obey.”

“And if they don’t?”

“The scientists will throw them out and get new rats.”

“Throw them out . . . like kill them?” Nok asked from inside the diner. At Rolf’s nod, she turned even paler.

“What’s the worst that can happen?” Leon grunted, pointing at the house. “There are flowers. And a porch swing. It’s hardly a torture den.”

He started for it, and the others had no choice but to follow.

THE HOUSE WAS JUST as Rolf had described it: a living room downstairs and a bathroom and three bedrooms upstairs, perfectly normal except for a few odd details, like carpeting inside the fireplace, that made Cora question the sanity of their captors.

Leon poked at a framed portrait of a toaster. “This from IKEA?” he said to Rolf.

“I wouldn’t know. IKEA furniture comes from Sweden, not Norway.”

“Eh, it’s all the same up there. Cold days. Long nights. Pretty girls.”

Cora rolled her eyes and grabbed his shoulder, pushing him toward the stairs. “Keep going.”

“It’ll be safer if we all sleep in the same bedroom,” Lucky said as they climbed the stairs. “Girls on the bed, guys on the floor. I’ll take the first watch.”

“Let me,” Cora said, rubbing her dry eyes. “I’m an insomniac. I’ll be up half the night anyway.”

He shook his head. “You look like you’re about to fall over from exhaustion at any moment. All the more reason you should try to sleep. We need all the rest we can get.”

Leon gave him a wry salute and went to another room to get more pillows. He came back and threw one to Rolf. “Nighty-night, darling.” He flipped off the light.

The boys lay down on the floor while Lucky settled into the doorframe and Cora and Nok curled up beneath a blanket. Cora’s weary muscles unwound slowly, but the familiar cloudiness of insomnia settled behind her eyes—it didn’t matter how tired she was, she knew sleep wouldn’t find her. But she must have slept at some point over the last few days, because she’d had the dream about that beautiful man with the bronze-colored skin. She wished he’d opened his eyes, in the dream. She wanted to look into the face of an angel.

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