The tree was only a dark shape, outlined by the orange-yellow of the setting sun. Elisabet Lacroix loved to play among the trees, loved to swim in the pond near the forest, and to explore the countryside. She used to frolic with her younger sister in the fields behind their country house, until her sister suddenly disappeared one evening and hadn’t been seen or heard from since.

It had been two years since Angélique had gone missing. Elisabet’s parents had searched everywhere, until the night they died tragically in a car accident. The police kept searching, but to no avail. Angélique seemed to have vanished into thin air. The police soon gave up, but Elisabet never let herself stop hoping that one day her baby sister would turn up, as if the past two years had never happened. Angélique was fourteen when she had gone missing, Elisabet was eighteen at the time.

Elisabet shook her head, yanking herself out of past memories. “What did you say, Matthieu?”

Matthieu Vasseur frowned at her. “Are you okay, Elisabet? You haven’t paid attention to a word I’ve said.”

“I’m sorry, Mat. I’ve been distracted lately.”

“By Angélique’s disappearance?”

“It’s the two year anniversary of her disappearance, Matthieu.”

“She’ll turn up, Elisabet,” Matthieu said in a tone that was both patronizing and pitying. Elisabet knew she was the only one who still believed her sister was alive.

She’s alive. I know it. I can feel it. “What were you saying before?” Elisabet changed the subject. “You said something about Abel?”

“Abel is having a party on Friday.”

“And?”

“Would you like to go?” Matthieu knew it was a long-shot, getting her out of her apartment.

Elisabet hadn’t gone out much or lead a very social life since her sister’s disappearance. But looking into Matthieu’s blue-gray eyes, Elisabet made a bold, snap-decision. It was about time she went outside her apartment and hung out with friends, even if it was to a loud party at university. “Sure.”

“Really?” Matthieu asked, looking surprised and elated.

Elisabet nodded. “Angélique wouldn’t want me to stop having a life just because she’s not around.” It hurt to say that aloud, even if it was the truth.

Matthieu grinned. “It’s going to be lots of fun, Bet.”

Elisabet forced a smile. She genuinely liked Matthieu. Mat was her best friend; her only friend. Elisabet had had a whole friend group until her sister disappeared. Elisabet had become withdrawn and distant, pushing people away. Only Matthieu had stubbornly refused to budge from her side. Matthieu had been there for her, with her, supporting her through the past two years, slowly encouraging her to come out of her shell and back into her old life.

Matthieu reached over and patted Elisabet’s arm. “I should get going. Text me?”

Elisabet nodded.

Matthieu left, leaving Elisabet alone with her thoughts. Elisabet tried to banish Angélique from her mind, but her brain wasn’t listening. Angélique was lodged firmly in her train of thought, unwilling to budge. Elisabet had loved her sister dearly, but she knew the psychiatrists were right— it was time to move on.

Elisabet finished going through her daily routine. She was in the middle of brushing her teeth her bed when something unexplainable happened.

Angélique was suddenly standing in her bathroom, wearing a loose white nightgown. She looked bewildered and barefoot. Angélique looked older than she had when she’d disappeared.

“Angie?” Elisabet stood still in shock, staring at what she was sure was a hallucination. I’m seeing things, she told herself. There’s no way my little sister could be in my house right now. She’s gone.

“Bet?” Angélique stared back. She seemed plenty real and definitely alive for someone who had been presumed dead for two years.

Elisabet opened and closed her mouth many times, unsure what to say. Finally, she shook her head and went back to brushing her teeth.

“Bet?”

“You’re not real,” Elisabet told the vision. “My sister has been missing for two years. Seven hundred and thirty days. You’re only a figment of my grief-stricken imagination.”

“No, Bet,” Angélique insisted. “I’m here. I’m right here.”

“You can’t be here,” Elisabet argued. “That’s impossible.”

“I’m standing right here, Elisabet,” Angélique implored. “Look at me. See me.”

Elisabet shook her head. “If you’re real, then what happened to you? I can’t accept that you are really here, Angie, because then that means you left me.” Elisabet’s lip began trembling as her eyes filled with tears. She leaned over the sink and stared straight ahead into the mirror, unable to look at Angélique. “Why would you leave me?”

“I didn’t leave willingly,” Angélique said. “I was taken.”

“Then how are you here now?” Elisabet asked. She couldn’t bear to look at the girl standing in her bathroom who claimed to be her sister but wasn’t.

“They returned me.”

“After two years?” Elisabet shook as she cried. “You’re not Angélique. You’re not my Angélique.”

“I am, sister.”

“Angélique,” Elisabet sobbed. Slowly, she reached for the cupboard that was hidden behind the mirror and pulled out her razors.

Angélique watched silently as Elisabet held one tightly and drew it across her arm.

Elisabet glanced at the girl who looked like Angélique and closed her eyes. “You’re not Angélique.”

The imposter didn’t respond.

Elisabet dragged the blade over her wrist again. Her pale skin was stained with red. The pain grounded her. When she opened her eyes, the girl who claimed she was Angélique was gone.

Elisabet cleaned up the sink and bandaged her arm. Stripping off her clothes, she pulled on her pajamas and went into her bedroom, crawling into bed.

When she slept, she dreamt.

 

Elisabet, a soft whisper called to her. Open your eyes.

Elisabet couldn’t see who was talking. She was in a dark room.

Elisabet… the voice called again.

Elisabet hated the dark. She hated being alone. But what was worse than being alone in the dark, she discovered, was being in the dark with someone she couldn’t see. This stranger could wish her harm.

“Who’s there?” Elisabet called.

A dim light flickered on in the corner of the room, where a young girl was crouched, her bare back to me. She was completely naked and dirty, rocking back and forth in the corner.

Elisabet’s breath caught. She recognized the long brown hair and the lower back tattoo of a small pink butterfly.

She stepped forward. “Angélique?”

The girl froze, then very slowly turned around. Her eyes were wide and wild.

Elisabet gasped. Angélique was covered in grime and dried blood. She had cuts and bruises everywhere. She rushed to her sister, but Angélique pulled away. She seemed frightened, skittish. She didn’t recognize Elisabet. “Ang? It’s me, Bet.”

I knew it, Elisabet thought, flooded with relief and fear and sympathy and guilt all at once. I knew she was alive… But what if it was only the outside that was alive? Inside, she must be broken and damaged beyond repair… Kept here, captive for two years…

“I’m so sorry, Ang,” Elisabet said, barely able to breathe.

Angélique studied her, looking ready to flee. Finally, she croaked, “E…lis…a…bet?” Her voice was hoarse, sounding as if she hadn’t spoken in weeks. Or months.

“I’m here, baby.” Elisabet felt hot tears prick her eyes. “What did they do to you?” Elisabet shuddered at the thought. Angélique had clearly been beaten, maybe tortured. And probably raped. “We need to get out of here.”

Angélique shook her head. “Bad men,” she said simply.

“Where are we?” Elisabet asked. The last thing she remembered was falling asleep.

“The Room,” Angélique said, her voice still weak and breathy. “The Bad Room.”

“The Bad Room? What’s that?”

“Punishments.”

“You’re punished in this room? How?” Elisabet asked, though she didn’t need an answer. The proof was all over Angélique. Oh, Angie…

Angélique watched me with wide, terrified eyes. “Elisabet?”

“Yes, baby girl?”

Angélique stared hard at the floor. Slowly, she lifted her gaze to my face. “They’re not… human,” she whispered almost inaudibly.

“What?”

“The Bad Guys. They… They’re inhuman.”

“How so?”

“You’ll see soon enough.”

Elisabet didn’t want to see. Angélique looked so freaked, so utterly spooked at the thought of the men who had abused her. Elisabet tasted rage, was almost blinded by it, at the thought of them taking advantage of her baby sister.

Elisabet moved to pull Angélique to her, wrapping her protectively in her arms as guilt ate at her. She wanted to apologize, but she couldn’t find the right words. “Ang?”

“Yeah?”

“I want you to know— I need you to know…” Elisabet took a deep breath. “I never stopped looking for you.”

“I know.”

“When everyone thought you were dead and gave up… I never lost hope.”

“I believe you.”

Elisabet squeezed Angélique comfortingly.

Angélique relaxed into Elisabet’s embrace.

Elisabet tensed at the sound of footsteps and the noise of keys clanging, then the bolt in the door sliding open.

When the door swung open, Elisabet angled her body in front of Angélique.

The men who entered weren’t men at all. Or, they were certainly male, but not human. The were both at least nine feet tall, with scaly gray skin and wide yellow eyes ringed with red.

What are those things? Elisabet thought.

“Ah. Now we have both Lacroix sisters…” The alien who spoke’s voice was deep and gravelly, sounding almost electronic and robotic.

“What do you want from us?” Elisabet screamed. “Let us go!”

“We cannot release you,” the taller alien said. “We need the seed inside your sister.”

“What?” At first Elisabet didn’t understand, and then she stared at her sister’s stomach in comprehension and horror. Oh no. No.

Angélique’s eyes filled with tears. “Two,” she said quietly.

“What?”

“Two so far.” She stared at the floor in shame. “Babies,” she clarified.

Oh my god.

The aliens advanced farther into the room.

“And now we have both girls… Room enough for double offspring.”

Elisabet was surprised by how advanced the aliens’ English was. “You want to spawn more of you? Inside me? Inside my baby sister?” She glared at the aliens. “You’re disturbed! Monsters, you are! She’s sixteen and already has two children?”

“She is an incubator.”

Elisabet frowned. “That’s not what that word means. That’s a machine for premature babies.”

The aliens stared unblinkingly at her.

Fueled by fury and indignation, she bawled her fists at her side. Narrowing her eyes on the aliens, Elisabet screamed and rushed the aliens.

His rough, scaly skin was slimy to the touch. Making a face, Elisabet grabbed her sister’s wrist and ran through the door. The two girls ran down the hallway. It was dank. The hallways were long and winding. Confused and lost, Elisabet ran desperately as she tried to free her baby sister.

Angélique stumbled along behind her, with labored breathing.

Elisabet continued running, even though she knew the aliens weren’t far behind her and probably much faster than she. Especially because was traveling with an injured girl.

Finally, she thought she saw a door at the end of a hallway branching off the one they were running down.

Pulling on Angélique’s arm, Elisabet raced down the adjoining hall. She reached the door just as the aliens appeared on their tail.

Of course, as she threw her full weight against the door, she discovered it was locked.

No, no, no!

“Elisabet?”

“We’re trapped,” Elisabet said as the aliens closed in.

Angélique clutched Elisabet’s arm tightly. Elisabet shoved Angélique behind her, putting herself between the aliens and her precious sister. She wasn’t about to let her sister down again. Not twice in this lifetime, she thought angrily.

“Bet,” Angélique pleaded.

I’m going to save you, Elisabet thought as she faced the monsters who had stolen her dear sister from her.

The shorter alien advanced on them. Leaning back and planting her feet, Elisabet braced herself. When the shorter alien reached them, she hit low and hard, punching him forcefully in the groin.

The alien cried out in a noise that sounded like a cross between a lioness giving birth and a dying elephant.

Pushing past the alien who was cupping himself and making that awful noise, Elisabet dragged her sister back to the main hallway, knocking over the other alien.

The alien got up and chased them down three more hallways.

Finally, at long last, we reached another door. To her immense relief, this door was unlocked. Unfortunately, however, the door caused a blaring alarm to go off when Elisabet slammed it open.

Elisabet and Angélique ran outside, into the bright daylight.

“Run, Angie, run!” Elisabet screeched.

They ran, neither of them daring to look back.

When their legs were sore and their breaths came out in short pants, Elisabet and Angélique stopped running.

“We need to get you clothes,” Elisabet said. She had no idea where they were, but somehow she needed to get them home.

“I’m tired, Bet,” Angélique said. She was shivering uncontrollably.

Elisabet felt her forehead. “You feel warm.” She stripped off her shirt and handed it to Angélique. “Put this on.”

“But now you’re exposed.”

“You need to cover up, Ang. I’m still wearing a bra and my pants. Put this on until we can find you other clothes or we get home.”

Angélique took my t-shirt and pulled it over her head. It didn’t cover much, but it was better than nothing. “Thank you, Elisabet.”

“Of course, sweetie.” Elisabet patted Angélique’s shoulder. Tears sprang to her eyes. “I’m so glad to have you back, Ang. Everybody thought I was crazy, thinking you were still alive.”

“I knew you’d come.”

Elisabet smiled sadly at Angélique. “Even after two years, you still believed I was searching for you?”

“Of course. I’d never lose faith in my sister.”

Elisabet hugged Angélique. “I’m never letting you out of my sight again.”

Angélique’s eyes overflowed and she grabbed me, holding me close. Sobbing into my bare shoulder, she whimpered, “I thought I was dead. I thought they were going to kill me. Or worse… Breed me until I was all old and used up.”

Elisabet kissed Angélique’s forehead. “You’re safe now, sweetheart. I’ve got you. I’ll never let you go again.”

“Promise?”

Elisabet nodded, nestling her sister’s head under her chin. Rubbing her back soothingly, Elisabet said, “I promise.”

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