The Island: The Lost Boys by CJ Bishop
The skull-splitting headache dragged Axel to consciousness. “Clint…” When he tried to open his eyes, the headache worsened, so he kept them closed. “Clint… can you get me some Tylenol… my head… fucking hurts…”
He received no response and slid his arm out, feeling for the cowboy, and found only empty bed. Axel moaned in pain and flattened his palm against the mattress.
Bare mattress. No sheet.
His mind fought past the pain in his head and that’s when the odor made itself known. A stale, musty odor… the smell of mold and mildew—surging up his nostrils from the mattress.
His nose wrinkling in disgust, Axel raised his head away from the stench. The migraine spiraled from his skull down the back of his neck and struck him with a nauseating wave of dizziness. He forced his eyes open—and discovered more darkness. Blackness. Pitch black. The dizziness intensified and threw off his equilibrium.
Axel fell off the mattress and rolled onto the floor, revealing there was no “bed,” just the mattress. The floor was ice cold and hard. Concrete.
What the fuck…? Where am I…
Was he dreaming? It felt real.
Axel crawled across the floor, dragging himself over the freezing surface. His body shook with more than the cold as his equilibrium failed to balance out and his head felt too heavy to hold upright. He vaguely recalled a similar past experience when his brother, Wade, spiked his drink with some drug he and his buddy, Byrd, were experimenting with at the time. It had totally fucked Axel up—he couldn’t walk, or think clearly, or speak without slurring his words. He remembered Wade and Byrd laughing their asses off. It scared the fuck out of Axel.
Someone drugged me.
He sank against the cold concrete, shaking, his cheek pressed to the grimy surface. The rank odor of the mattress was in the floor as well, slithering into his nostrils. With a couple of deep breaths, he pushed on. His body barely functioned, his limbs heavy and sluggish. All sense of time spun away, and it could’ve been minutes or hours when his fingertips finally made contact with something other than the floor.
Axel grasped at the object, feeling it out in the darkness. Frigid to the touch—colder than the floor. Metal. His fingers curled around it. A metal bar. Not just one. He groped in the dark, his hands raking along the row of bars. His heart rate spiked.
He was in a cell!
What the fuck?!
It had to be a dream—it had to! Nothing else made sense.
He dug through his muddled mind for his last coherent memory, but nothing came to him—as if his entire recent past had dissolved in the drug-induced sludge.
Clint wouldn’t let someone put you in this place—he’d die before he…
Terror seized Axel’s heart; was Clint…?
“No…” he rasped, grabbing on to the bars more tightly, struggling to pull himself upright. He is not fucking… dead! Axel swallowed hard as sobs clogged his throat. He gritted his teeth and enforced what little strength he possessed to drag his body closer to the bars but couldn’t even make it onto his knees.
What the fuck did they give me?
His fingers slipped free, and he sagged against the cold, rank floor.
Please, God… what’s happening? Where am I?
Axel reached for the bars again, crawling on his belly as he dragged himself along the edge of the cell, using the bars for leverage. His fingertips brushed something soft, like fur, or… hair? He jerked his hand back. “H-hello…?” he croaked. His throat felt thick, raw, gravelly. “Is-is someone there?”
Dead silence. He couldn’t hear a fucking thing. The “quiet” so heavy it pressed at his eardrums, clogged his ears. Hand weak and shaking, he reached out again and touched the hair… dirty, grimy strands… his fingertips pressing against a scalp—freezing cold.
“Fuck!” Axel recoiled and scrambled away, his body heavy and sluggish.
A dead body—it’s a fucking dead body!
Axel bumped into a solid wall and huddled against it, shaking with cold and terror. “Help…” He meant to cry out, but the word tumbled from his lips in a weak, rasping whimper. He hugged himself and for the first time, his head cleared enough to realize he was wearing nothing but his underwear, his skin filthy and grimy from dragging himself across the dirty concrete floor. “Somebody… where am I?”
Struggling to hold it together, he squeezed his eyes shut as visions of his cowboy filled his head. Clint… Fear for himself gave way to fear for the cowboy. Was he here, too—wherever here was?
The dead body in the other cell… what if…
Axel shook violently, sobs piling in his chest.
No, that wasn’t him… the hair was too long…
How long had he been here? What if it had been months… longer? If Clint was here, too…
Hair grows over time.
Axel’s stomach lurched and he curled over, dry heaving. Nothing came up. He was empty.
I have to know… I have to…
Regaining some strength, Axel managed to crawl on hands and knees this time. The pitch blackness fucked up his sense of direction and he crawled forward, his movements slow and staggered, unsure just where the body was now.
It seemed he’d hardly moved a couple of feet when he hit the bars. He groped around the bottom, feeling his way, his fingers numb from the frigid cold, the freezing floor, and icy bars. When he couldn’t find the body, he thought maybe he’d imagined it… the drugs messing with his mind—
His fingers suddenly burrowed into the hair, startling Axel. He pulled back and sat still, heart pounding in terror. You have to know if it’s him. Axel sagged against the bars and buried his face in his hands, so fucking cold and scared… and just wanting to be home… wrapped in Clint’s strong, warm arms. And needing this nightmare to be over.
Lowering his hands, his own warm tears bringing some of the feeling back, Axel tentatively touched the hair again… and reached through the bars, his chilled fingertips playing over the dead man’s cold face, exploring his features. He knew Clint’s face, each intimate detail mapped out with every caress, memorized in his very fingertips.
It isn’t Clint.
Axel wilted into a ball, the sobs breaking free.
It isn’t him… he isn’t dead…
Sagging to the floor, Axel’s cheek pressed against the icy concrete, his face lying in a puddle of his own tears as they spilled out in a flood.
Where am I… how did I get here?
With sudden, stark clarity—it came back to him, striking him like a wrecking ball.
And terror overtook him.
Across the street at Dante’s restaurant, the man walked the young girl to the entrance door. She looked confused when the man spoke to her and pointed at the door of the restaurant—then walked away, leaving her there alone. The girl stared after the man, then entered the establishment.
Axel watched the scene from the other side of the street and felt the burden lift from his shoulders once Marisol was inside the restaurant. Seconds later, the prepaid phone he’d purchased earlier rang. He stared at the cell as a new weight settled down on him. Axel answered the call.
“If you try to back out, or you run,” Julián spoke over the phone, “I’ll send my men into the restaurant to kill everyone—except the girl. Her… my men and I will rape to death. For her sake, I hope you’re a man of your word.”
Axel nodded, though the kid on the phone couldn’t see him—or perhaps he could. He surely had eyes on Axel. “I’m not going to back out,” he said, attempting to keep his voice calm. Now that the girl was safe… the consequence of his decision was suddenly staring him in the face. His entire focus had been on saving Marisol and he hadn’t allowed himself to think about anything else. Now… he was thinking about it. He had no choice. And not only what it meant for him… but for his kids and… Clint.
He’d rather focus on his own fate than consider the fear and horror his decision would bring down on the cowboy. But there hadn’t been time to develop a rescue plan to get Marisol back from the traffickers. Every second she was with them put her at risk of being raped—or sold.
His decision was made—and he’d make it again without hesitation.
“Smart,” Julián replied.
A black Range Rover pulled up to the curb, windows tinted black. The rear passenger door popped loose.
“Get in,” Julián spoke through the phone. The line went dead.
Axel stared at the vehicle—the devil’s chariot… come to usher him to hell.
He had no choice but to accept the ride.
Axel rolled over as panic surged through him. His throat closed and lungs constricted, and he began to hyperventilate. He remembered everything. Wherever he was—Julián brought him here to this… dungeon?
Julián—son of the lead trafficker. Who has a vendetta against Clint.
Julián understood that hurting Axel caused Clint far more pain than torturing the cowboy directly. Would they send videos—like they had sent to Cochise of Clint standing over Axel’s body in the woods—just to torment and terrify the cowboy?
What if they send videos of me being raped?
It would kill Clint—literally, physically kill him.
Or did they mean to simply make him disappear… so that Clint would never know what became of him, whether he was dead or out in the world somewhere being passed through the trafficking rings? Maybe they had dumped him in this cell with the intention of letting him die of the cold or starvation. Was that any worse—or as worse—than what he’d imagined they would do to him when they took possession of his life back in the city?
Axel crawled around the dark cell until he found the mattress. It stank but served as a barrier between his nearly naked body and the freezing concrete. He lay on his back and stared up through the darkness, seeing nothing but blackness, hearing nothing but pervading silence. As surreal as it felt… he wasn’t dreaming… this wasn’t a nightmare he could awake from. It was a living nightmare that had begun the moment he contacted Julián… and offered himself as trade for the little girl.
As soon as Axel crawled into the Range Rover, a black hood was pulled over his head. Just before darkness engulfed him, he caught a glimpse of three men—two in the front, one in the back. He didn’t try to remove the cloth. He’d willingly given himself up, there would be no escape attempt. Not yet. Not until he was certain Marisol was safe at home with Clint and Cochise. The men would be returning from Canada soon… then they would come for Axel.
Clint needed to find him—to save him. Too many times now, the cowboy found himself helpless when others needed him the most. And it was breaking him in a way Axel wasn’t sure he could fix. But this one rescue would pull him back from that brink.
And if he can’t save you?
Axel refused to consider that scenario… or the aftershocks that would reduce Clint’s world—his mind—to ruins.
Clint and Cochise would rally the men and they would come with the fury of hell.
And until they arrive… what will happen to you?
Axel didn’t want to consider that scenario, either. But it wasn’t one he could avoid for much longer, he feared.
Having lost track of time as his mind raced, Axel felt the vehicle reduce speed, then turn off the pavement onto gravel and roll to a stop. His erratic pulse kicked up a few notches and all the “rah-rah” of Clint and his posse storming the gates to save him took a back seat to the crippling fear seeping through his system, paralyzing his mind and body.
The rear passenger door opened, and he was dragged out and dumped on the ground. With his hands unfettered, he caught himself, preventing his face from smashing into the gravel. The hood yanked off his head and he squinted against the abrupt brightness of the chilly morning; his vision hazy as his eyes adjusted.
“Well, well, we meet again.”
Axel squinted harder as a blurred figure appeared above him. He didn’t need clear vision to identify the little prick—his voice was seared into his brain. Julián.
“Stand him up,” Julián ordered, and his men hoisted Axel to his feet. Julián looked him over with great appreciation. “You know, Marisol was sweet, and I must admit, I was looking forward to tapping that. But these days…” He moved up close and ran his hand down Axel’s chest and stomach, fingers catching on his belt. “… I find I have a taste for sweet men. And you’re about as sweet as they get. The cowboy sure thinks so.” Julián leaned in, just inches from Axel’s face. “I’m glad I didn’t kill you,” he whispered, his breath warm on Axel’s mouth. “A bullet to the head lacked creativity. But I had few options then. You understand. Now…” He played with Axel’s buckle. “… the options are endless. And don’t worry about your cowboy spoiling our fun.” Julián brushed his lips across Axel’s ear. “Where we’re going… no one will ever find you.”
Where we’re going…no one will ever find you.
He didn’t remember anything after that meeting with Julián—until he woke up here in the cell. Even if he could contact someone… he didn’t know where he was.
He was in a cell, but there would be no phone call.
Would he die here… never again holding his baby daughter, or his son… or his cowboy?
Axel began to shake and couldn’t stop. He instinctively reached for the buckle—his connection to Clint—and remembered it was gone. Forever?
Was he gone forever?