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Home > The Cage (The Cage #1)(5)

The Cage (The Cage #1)(5)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“It’s like Epcot Center,” she muttered. “All different cultures and time periods crammed together.”

Lucky cocked an eyebrow. “Dead girls don’t float up on the beach in Disney World.”

“Not as a rule, no.”

He jerked his chin toward the house. “If the lights are on, maybe there’s a phone. Maybe even a—”

His words were cut short by a shout coming from the shops. The yell came again, high-pitched and scared, followed by a deep bellow.

The saloon-style doors of the toy stop crashed open, and two boys spilled out.

5

Cora

CORA REACHED FOR HER necklace, forgetting its absence, and felt her heart thudding beneath a too-thin layer of skin. Two boys. Both strangers. One—the biggest guy Cora had ever seen—was about to pummel the other one to death.

She spun toward Lucky. “What do we do?”

He pointed to the cherry tree. “Stay here. If anything happens, run.” He wrapped her fingers around a branch, rooting her, and took off. A gust of wind lifted one of the tree’s weeping branches to brush her cheek, as though laying claim to her.

She jerked away. “Yeah. I don’t think so.”

She ran after Lucky. The larger of the two boys—a Polynesian built like a small country and dressed in a three-piece charcoal suit—had his hands around the neck of the other boy, a twitchy redhead with pale skin, who inexplicably wore a French revolutionary war jacket.

Lucky jumped onto the porch, and Cora flinched. A fight between teenagers was like a fight between dogs: the worst thing you could do was get in the middle.

“Break it up!” he yelled, laying a hand on the hulk’s shoulder.

He was braver than Cora, or else he hadn’t been around as many fights as she had. Girls had fought all the time at Bay Pines, and after getting sucker punched that first day, Cora had learned that the best tactic was to hide in the bathroom and wait for the guards to break them up. Only there weren’t any guards here—just a kid in a leather jacket.

The hulk whirled on Lucky, smacking away his hand. Tattooed black lines swirled around the right side of his forehead and eye, a look both ancient and menacing—completely mismatched with his tailored suit. For all his bulk, though, there was a softness around his eyes that said he couldn’t be much older than she was.

“Mind your hands, eh?” He spit at Lucky in a rough accent. The redhead kid took advantage of the distraction to dart into the toy shop, probably looking for a back exit.

“Get back here!” The hulk shoved open the saloon-style doors, with Lucky right behind.

Cora climbed onto the porch. Inside, the shop was set up like an old-fashioned general store straight out of a Western movie. It even smelled old, like grain in burlap sacks and coffee and cotton, though there weren’t any of those things on the shelves, only brightly colored toys of all shapes and sizes. The hulk had the other boy against a glass countertop, hands around his throat. In the corner, a dark-haired girl in a black dress rocked back and forth, emitting a high-pitched wail.

Cora pushed through the swinging doors and knelt by the girl. “Hey, you okay?”

A strangled sound came from the girl’s throat. She looked Asian; her full lips were pressed together; dark brown hair with a pink streak fell in her left eye. Beautiful—the kind that didn’t happen in real life. Cora positioned herself to shelter the girl from the fight and glanced over her shoulder.

Lucky had managed to separate the boys. “What’s this all about?”

The hulk spit on the ground. “I’ll ask the questions around here, brother. And I’d rather talk to that pretty blond friend of yours.”

Cora jerked her head up. He was talking about her. Her muscles reacted faster than her brain, pushing her to her feet, as he headed toward her.

A whir of movement flashed, followed by a crack. Cora flinched as a spray of blood fanned across the floor.

Lucky had smashed his fist into the hulk’s nose.

The tattooed boy stumbled backward until he collided with one of the creepy black windows. It didn’t shatter. It didn’t even creak. He dragged the back of his forearm across his bleeding nose as if that was all the tending it needed.

“How about I ask the questions?” Lucky flexed his hand. “Let’s start with your names and finish with what the hell’s going on.”

The redheaded boy in the military jacket rubbed his neck. His eyes were blue-green, with heavy lashes that made him look like a kid playing dress-up. A small spattering of black dots, not unlike Lucky’s, clustered below his ear. The hulk had them too. Cora glanced at the girl in the corner—her straight hair hid her neck.

“It’s no good asking the two of them anything.” The hulk jerked his chin toward the others. “I’ve been trying to get answers out of them for the better part of an hour. She hasn’t stopped sobbing, and he’s close-lipped.” His accent was Australian or New Zealander; with his darker skin, he might be Maori.

“I’m Leon, by the way.” He spit a line of blood on the floor that landed an inch from the Asian girl’s foot. She rocked harder, hands pressed tightly over her head, fingers gripping her hair so hard Cora was afraid she’d pull it out.

“Easy.” Cora rubbed the girl’s skeletal shoulder, ignoring the tension and weariness in her own muscles.

“Her name is Nok,” the red-haired boy said, still rubbing the splotchy red marks on his neck. His voice was deeper than she’d expected. “I’m Rolf. From Oslo, in Norway. She and I met a few hours ago when we woke up in different shops. She’s Thai, but she speaks English well. Said she lives in London. Except for a bad headache, she was okay before we ran into this Neanderthal and he started demanding to know what was going on.”

“Do you know what’s going on?”

Rolf shook his head. “Your guess is as good as mine. She doesn’t know either. Before she had the panic attack, she told me she was a model; the high-fashion type with big magazine spreads. Someone famous, I think. There must be people looking for her.” He crouched next to Nok and said softly, “He’s not going to hurt you. He’s just a stupid bølle who picks on anyone he can.”

Nok peeked out from the pink stripe of hair and scooted closer to Rolf.

Cora stood. “I’m Cora; this is Lucky.” She glanced around the toys in the shop. “I think we should try to set off a flare, or make a sign that an airplane could read with some of this stuff.”

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