Home > The Cage (The Cage #1)(6)

The Cage (The Cage #1)(6)
Author: Megan Shepherd

“This isn’t bloody Robinson Crusoe,” Leon said. “There’s an arcade and a movie theater, and you’re talking about spelling some S.O.S. shit out of rocks.”

“No . . . she’s right.” Lucky leaned against the countertop. “We need to find a way to make contact with someone, and we should keep searching the town. There could be dozens more of us.”

“Not dozens,” Rolf said. “Just one.”

Cora turned, rubbing her pounding temples. With its high collar and epaulettes, Rolf’s military jacket gave him an air of authority that didn’t fit with his neurotic blinking. His fingers found some sort of metal combination lock built into the edge of the glass countertop; it had a row of gears that he spun now absent-mindedly, spreading a deep, nearly ominous rumble throughout the room. “Another girl, I think. Three girls and three boys. Six altogether.”

“Three and three makes six, eh?” Leon grunted. “You must be some kind of genius.”

Rolf cleared his throat awkwardly. “Hardly. I just have a gift for observational reasoning. It’s what I’m studying at Oxford. Well, that and robotics. And Greek philosophy.”

Cora frowned. “Wow. How old are you?”

His cheeks flamed. “Fifteen.” He shook his head quickly, dismissing it. “But that doesn’t matter. Observational reasoning is really just deduction, at its core. Any of us can deduce. Nok and I explored each of the stores when we woke. There were six chairs in the diner. Six umbrellas on the boardwalk. Six dolls behind the counter.” He nodded toward the glass case beneath the countertop, which held the dolls, and a child’s painting kit, and a bright croquet set. “We explored the house, too. There’s a few bedrooms upstairs, a living room downstairs. There were six dressers with six sets of clothing in the bedrooms. Judging by the clothing, there’s still one girl missing. She’ll be wearing a white sundress.”

Cora’s head shot around to Lucky. His mouth was set grim. “Yeah. About that.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “We found her. She’s dead. Drowned in the ocean, just over that rise.”

Rolf looked up in surprise, pushing at the bridge of his nose, a gesture like a person with glasses might do. Even Nok stopped cringing. Her eyes were still damp, but Cora saw something else, just for a flash. Nok’s mouth tightened. Her eyes narrowed a hair. And then, just as fast, she was wailing again, leaning into Rolf, crying harder.

Cora had seen plenty of girls at Bay Pines put on a show for the guards, to gain sympathy. She knew good acting when she saw it. But why would Nok put on an act?

“Dead?” Nok whispered in a trembling voice. “Like, murdered?”

“She had bruises on her neck,” Lucky said.

Leon gave a sudden shiver like a dog shaking off spray. He stalked to the door, rubbing the back of his neck. Trying to act like he wasn’t scared, but he was sweating hard.

Cora took a deep breath. “We just have to stay calm and wait for help. We’ll be rescued.”

They all turned at the sound of her voice. Rolf started spinning the gear again, filling the room with that ominous metallic jangle.

“Who will rescue us?” Nok said. “We don’t even know where we are, or why they took the six of us.” One bony hand snaked up to twist her hair.

Cora eyed each of them in turn. Nok was a famous model; Rolf had to be a prodigy, to be studying at Oxford at his age. Cora wasn’t exactly famous, but her father was. Was this about ransoming them for money? She eyed Lucky. Beneath that leather jacket, was he someone famous? He was cute, sure, but not movie-star cute; not pearl-white teeth and well-rehearsed smiles. As if to prove her point, he kicked the row of glass jars, forgetting he was barefoot, then doubled over and cursed.

Leon snorted. “You’re wasting time with theories. Me, I don’t give a shit. I’m getting out of here, and any of you are welcome to come with.”

Rolf spun the gear slower, so that it barely made a noise. “We can’t leave.”

“Like hell we can’t. I’ll pick a direction and walk. Those roads have to lead somewhere.”

Rolf shook his head. “They end just behind those buildings. I already tried them.” He looked down at his toes. “Well, they don’t end, exactly. I followed one that led away from the town square. In about three blocks, the road led me back to the town. I didn’t take a single turn, but it looped me back here anyway. I tried another road, and it was the same. It doesn’t matter which direction you head. You’ll just come back to where you started.”

The toy store fell quiet. Only the sound of Rolf’s spinning gear, and the humming black window, filled the silence. A shadow had appeared behind the window, moving slowly. It didn’t seem so much like a person now; it was too tall and too stiff.

“That’s impossible,” Nok blurted out.

Rolf’s fingers stopped. Without the sound of the gear, the room—the town—was even more eerily quiet. “According to the rules of physics, it isn’t.”



ROLF FOCUSED ON THE marigolds beyond the toy store doors. Calendula officinalis. It was easier to think about plants than about the kids staring at him. When he had started classes at Oxford, four years younger than every other university student and the only red-haired kid in his dorm, they’d teased him incessantly. Now he didn’t even have his glasses to hide behind. Their abductors had taken them—and yet, as he blinked, his vision was inexplicably perfect.

“I must have hit you too hard, brother,” Leon said. “That’s insane.”

A glance at Leon’s tattooed face sent Rolf’s fingers spinning the gears on the combination lock faster. His twitchiness was a bad habit, he knew, but not an easy one to break. “It’s called an infinity paradox. It exists, but only theoretically. I’d wager that if you followed any of these paths, eventually you would end up back where you started. There’s no way of telling how far the boundaries are, or if there even are boundaries. It’s highly theoretical.”

“So we’re trapped?” Nok’s beautiful eyes were full of fear. “Even though there are no walls or bars?”

Rolf froze. Staring was all he could manage with Nok. The pink strand of hair perfectly framed the left side of her face, a geometric wonder. He had first seen her standing on the boardwalk, hair tangled in the breeze. Her face had looked defiant—but he’d been wrong. The moment she’d turned and seen him, surprise had flashed over her features, and then tears. Big, rolling ones. She’d thrown her arms around him, never mind that he was a stranger.

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