Present

A bloodcurdling scream interrupted my story, claiming our attention. Immediately, I knew that this was it; today, I would either escape this godforsaken place or be left to rot here for the rest of my life. Knowing what was to come, I sat up, prepared to run for the door, but Dr. Christianson held me down. “Stay here,” he ordered, rushing to the door and poking the top half of his body out into the hallway. “What’s going—” he began, followed by a grunt.

Reluctantly, I jumped to my feet, looked out into the hallway, and had to stifle my own bone-chilling shriek. Jagger, in all his vampiric glory, stood over Dr. Christianson’s limp body, holding a barbaric, blood drenched meat cleaver and bearing his perfect teeth. I noted with relief that Dr. Christianson was still breathing, but unconscious. Paralysis struck my legs from terror, keep me rooted in place. “J…Jagger,” I stammered.

“Come on,” he growled quietly.

“I’m scared,” I whimpered, taking an automatic step backward.

“Paige,” he warned in a voice that left little room for discussion.

Forcing myself to move, I approached him cautiously and stepped gingerly over the doctor. With his bloodied free hand, he took mine and led the way through the hall with the meat cleaver held out in front of us. Two male nurses lay strewn across the floor, one with his face plastered against the ground, about a yard away from the rest of him, and the other on his back, bleeding out from a huge chunk taken from his chest, gasping for air. The growing lake of blood spilling around their bodies seeped toward us, reaching unflaggingly toward my white shoes and between both walls. Ever the gentleman, Jagger picked me up and carried me over the puddle.

For those few seconds, I forgot that we were escaping from our prison. I actually felt…taken care of. My blue eyes stared up at his crazed green ones, and an unknown feeling stirred within my stomach. It was similar to, but also very different from, the feelings I had harbored for Marshall, but I didn’t want to think that way. I was wearing Marshall’s grandmother’s ring as a show of how much I had loved him, and how devastated I was by losing him. He had been so perfect and had wanted to marry me.

But, of course, Marshall was dead, and Jagger was my own night in shining armor. Jagger could have made this escape much less complex by escaping on his own, but he risked life and limb to get me out with him. It wasn’t as if he wasn’t unattractive either, he was one of the most handsome men I had ever seen. So what if he was crazy, we were both institutionalized in the same hospital, and now we could hide out together, just the two of us. Who knew what would happen three weeks from now, or even three years from now, the only thing that mattered was that we would be away from here, and would never be alone again.

A group of the guards that had been posted earlier in the cafeteria came barreling around the corner towards us, index fingers poised across the triggers of their guns, and my heart instantly stopped. Fearing for Jagger more than I should have been, given the circumstances, I tried to throw myself out of his arms so we could run, but I never made it to the floor. Jagger’s left hand, the one without the knife, reassuringly squeezed my hand and his arms pulled me as close against his chest as I could possibly get. Then, he held the blade against the vulnerable skin of my neck. My stomach jumped into my throat.

“Put the guns down!” he snarled. Suddenly more terrified of my new best friend than of the officers pointing guns at us, a wave of regret washed over me. How could I have trusted him to get me out of here safely when I had only met him a few days ago? Now, he was using me as a hostage to get out of the building. I wanted to push him away as hard as I could and run to Dr. Christianson’s office, where I was safe, but Jagger was holding me so tightly against him that I couldn’t have moved to get away from him even if I had the strength to do so.

“I said put down your god damn guns or I’ll kill the girl! Who would wanna see a neck this pretty get cut?” He leaned his head down to the side of my neck that would mask his mouth from the officers and bit down lightly. “Relax, baby. Once we’re outside, I’ll steal a car, and it’ll just be you and me.”

“I should have known you would do something like this!” I spat. “There’s just one problem with your plan, Jagger. I’m a suspected killer; they’re not going to let two criminals walk out of here!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, baby,” he bit my neck again.

I stared at his face, expecting the same crazed expression I had been met with at the door to the office, but it was nowhere to be found. He looked cool and calculating, like someone following through with a plan. For a moment, I entertained the thought that he was just pretending to hold me hostage, but I couldn’t trust him. His nails dug into my knee and the meat cleaver was drawing blood from my exposed neck, bringing the despair into my eyes. I stared desperately at the guards a few feet away, “I don’t want to die.”

The guard at the lead held up his gun in surrender and placed it on the ground, stepping backward. His posse followed suit, even stepping to each side to make room for us while one went to assist the gasping attendant. Jagger scowled warningly at the guards before readjusting his grip on me and sprinting down the hallway. “Thank you, boys,” he smiled in his signature psychotic way as we passed them. I couldn’t believe it, his crazy plan had worked.

“Was this your plan from the beginning? To bring me along as leverage?” I hissed scathingly, imagining how satisfying it would be to claw his eyes out with my fingernails.

“If need be, yes. I did what I had to, to get us out of here without being shot,” he snapped back. “If you really can’t trust me, than take the knife. I wouldn’t want you to worry that I’ll cut your throat between here and the car!” He handed me the meat cleaver, all the while scowling down at me.

I felt guilty as I clung to him with the arm I had around his neck and clutched the knife in my hand. Again, Jagger had proven himself to be better than me. I should have trusted him from the beginning. I was a bitch, a coldhearted, untrusting bitch. But how could you not be after what they did, a voice in the back of my mind told me, and immediately I knew it was correct.

I just hoped that Jagger would understand.

My mind was elsewhere when the elbow came out from seemingly nowhere, connecting with my nose and sending me and Jagger sprawling across the floor. My nose leaked blood that dripped onto Jagger’s sweatshirt beneath me. He seemed dazed while I was getting more infuriated by the second, stepping slowly to my feet and wincing at the bruise I had left on Jagger’s chest when I landed on him. My swollen eye blurred my vision of my assailant, but I could tell it was another of the brawny male nurses, unarmed aside from a scalpel, and looking very angry.

“That hurt,” I growled, stepping backward with the knife held out in front of me.

The nurse came toward me faster than I would have liked, slicing aimlessly at my arm. Staring at the crisscrossing cuts going down the length of my bicep and forearm, I sprung forward, not caring anymore about hurting him as I reached forward with my knife. Jagger groaned on the floor, finally coming to and holding his head in his hands, reminding me once again what was at stake should I fall to this nurse. I would never see Jagger again. I would never leave.

It didn’t matter if I couldn’t trust him; he was all I had left in the world.

I had barely managed to slow down the nurse when I started to feel the sting of my arms. My palms were slick with sweat as I continued to lunge toward the man, slicing a thin cut into his flesh every so often. Tragedy struck when the handle of the meat cleaver slid through my clammy palm, flying forward into the center of the man’s chest, immediately spilling blood through his green scrubs. My horrorstruck eyes followed his body as it sagged to the floor with my jaw dropped. “Christ,” I gasped, falling to my knees beside the corpse.

His eyes were open but dead, staring sightlessly up at the ceiling. He was dead before he hit the floor. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, and I couldn’t think. For the first time, it had actually been me to kill someone, and I was scared. I killed a man, and I’m on the run from the law. “Jagger,” I squeaked through the thickness in my throat.

I didn’t even flinch when a pair of arms caught me under my knees and lower back, easily sweeping me up into a bridal-style grasp. As Jagger ran passed the fallen nurse, he grabbed the knife lodged in his chest, without breaking step, and pulled it free. He forced it into my hands as he ran headlong toward the exit, and I tried not to drop it. My stomach was rolling with every image of the dead man’s eyes behind my eyelids. I squeezed my eyes tightly closed and kept my ears pressed into his chest, counting the wild beats of his heart and breathing slowly to fight the nausea.

I didn’t see the doors open for us, but I felt the sun on my face, and, immediately, I had to see it. It was better than I remembered, warm and bright against my pasty face, and I soaked it in like a sponge. It had been so long since I had been outside, the sun almost pulled my attention from my situation. Almost. “Jagger, where are we going?” I grumbled into his chest, resisting the strong urge to throw up.

“Close your eyes,” he ordered, taking the knife from my hand. I did as he said, but I could still hear the sound of the cutting of flesh and the crash of someone’s body against the ground. Nearby, a car engine started, shocking me into opening my eyes and catching a short glimpse of blood spurting across the driver’s side window. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. Instead, I squeezed my eyes more tightly shut than before and pretended I was somewhere else; anywhere else.

“Get in the back!” he shoved me into the back seat and slammed the door shut. The car swerved out of its parking place almost immediately, throwing me to the floor.

“Ouch!” I yelled, sitting up and allowing myself to look around.

The outside of the driver’s side windows were sprayed with a thick layer of fresh blood and the meat cleaver was leaking red into the creases of the passenger’s seat upholstery. Jagger’s entire front was splattered with the same offending liquid, but he didn’t seem to notice. The exit to the parking lot was quickly approaching, but a flashing security car kept close to us. “Jagger,” I warned, staring at the speeding car behind us. He didn’t look around, but sped up and fishtailed out into the street.

“I’ll lose ‘em,” he vowed, speeding up and taking every turn for the next few miles until the car chasing us disappeared in the side streets. I was unfamiliar with the area around us. I was born and raised in New York and the hospital had been placed in Mercer County, New Jersey. In my freedom days, the only other state I had ever visited was Vermont for skiing. The only time I had ever seen New Jersey was in the heavily guarded bus that brought me to the hospital.

“Pull over,” I snapped.

“No! What are you talking about? We’ll get caught!” he argued.

“Jagger! Pull over or you’ll regret it.”

Shockingly, with a reluctant glance in the rearview mirror, he pulled over beside a curb laden heavily with thick brush. Keeping my arm snared tightly around my waist, I threw myself out the door and allowed myself to heave out my breakfast all over the street. “Oh my God, Paige! For a hardened psychopath, you’ve sure got a weak stomach!” Jagger laughed. He bent down behind me and pulled my sticky red hair away from my face.

I smiled weakly. “Motion sickness.” It was a lie; I’d never had motion sickness before in my life, but I couldn’t risk losing my only ally if he suddenly realized that I was in no way equipped to handle this slaughter. He didn’t say anything in response, just chuckled. As I continued to throw up, he massaged my shoulders, and a feeling like wanting came over me, along with a shiver of regret for the things I had accused him of during our escape. “Jagger?”

“Yes, baby,” he inquired, pressing his cheek against mine so his hot breath fanned across my sweaty face.

“I’m sorry for the things I said back there. I was just surprised, y’know?” I pleaded, straightening up.

He chuckled again and pressed his lips lightly to my forehead. “No hard feelings, I promise. It’s just you and me from now on, so no more doubting me!”

“Fair enough,” I shrugged. “I guess your vent idea didn’t really work out?”

“No, it didn’t. They caught me when I was going up, so I figured it would just be easier to kill them.”

“I figured as much.”

He released me from the hug he had forced me into. “Good.”

“So, where are we going?” I inquired innocently.

“I’ll tell you in the car,” he promised. Reluctant to sit in blood, I got into the backseat and closed my eyes, waiting for the explanation. The car jolted forward as he floored the pedal, and the steady hum of the small car we had commandeered faded into the back of my mind.

“We’re more likely to get caught when you’re speeding,” I argued.

“Love, there’s blood all over the car, if we’re getting caught, it won’t be for speeding,” he laughed.

“Good point. Continue.”

“I grew up an hour from here, in South Plainfield. My family has a warehouse with an apartment over it that no one ever uses. We can hide out there for a while to…collect ourselves.”

“Then what do we do?”

“We’ll get some money together—” he began.

“You mean steal it,” I interrupted.

“Now you’re catching on,” he grinned at the stretch of highway before us. “Anyway, I was saying, before I was so rudely interrupted, then we’ll go somewhere far away where no one will recognize us with a haircut and some hair dye, and we’ll take everything in stride from there.”

“They’ll have our pictures everywhere,” I argued.

“Nah uh uh,” he hissed. “No pessimism on this boat, young lady.”

To be frank, his weirdness was beginning to take its toll on me. “Oh, shut it, Jagger, if that is your real name.”

“It’s not,” he mumbled curtly.

Really? But even the nurses called you Jagger!”

He shifted uncomfortably. “It’s my last name. I like it better than my boring first name.”

“What’s your real name?” I asked, sitting up to get a better look at his face.

He hesitated. “I don’t know if I can trust you.”

“Who am I going to tell, you idiot, just tell me!”

“James! For the love of God it’s just James.”

“Hmmmm,” I sighed and held my chin in my hand. “I like it, Just James. Perhaps I’ll start calling you that from now on.”

“Not if you want to live,” he snapped.

I rolled my eyes. “Oh please, Just James, I think if you were going to kill me, you would have done it by now.”

“Grrr. Fine, but call me Jagger.”

“Say please,” I joked.

PLEASE!” he begged.

“Okay, okay, I’ll call you Jagger. Big baby,” I added under my breath.

“I heard that!”

“Good.”

The day went on with nothing to look forward to but the endless stretch of the highway before us. We stopped once at a drive-thru and continued on late into the afternoon, trying desperately to avoid the police. “Well, Paige, this is our stop,” he mumbled, pulling the car into the shoulder once we came to a fenced off area of wilderness. “Can you climb a fence?”

Rolling my eyes, I got out of the car and scaled the fence before he was even outside.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he laughed, throwing the meat cleaver over the fence. “From here, we walk.”

This walk took up the rest of the afternoon, but we were hidden by the trees until night shielded us. The warehouse was three stories high and covered in air conditioning units. The sign out front read Angelo’s Ice, causing me to stifle a snicker. Jagger came from a family business of ice. He was the furthest thing from cold you could find.

Before we went in, we stole the car in the parking lot, the first of a long list of things we stole that night.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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