Copyright © 2019 by Kell Frillman
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Eden and Eloise “Ellie” Atkins were twenty-one-year-old dark and twisty souls. Although they were short-statured at only 5’1, their shapes were curvy and voluptuous, their hair dark, thick, long, and wavy, and their piercing, intense blue eyes were difficult for others to look away from. They were considered fascinating subjects to the government not only because they were identical twins, but also because one of them was a Six and the other was not. The girls appeared to be fiercely protective of each other. They spent most of their time together, effortlessly finishing each other’s sentences, seemingly privy to each other’s inner thoughts. They displayed ‘twin telepathy’ and then some.
On a typically hot, dry night in October, they were both heading home from the library when the air seemed to breeze across Eden’s skin with an abnormal eeriness, raising the tiny hairs on her arm into standing, upright positions. She stopped dead in her tracks. A rare moment then followed, Ellie took one step further her sister before also pausing. Eden’s nose twitched and her chin jerked to the right while her lower neck remained stationary.
“Something’s wrong,” Ellie echoed, never wanting to be left out even when her sister was the first one to sense an anomaly. Both pairs of eyes inexplicably shifted to the left toward the old, now-abandoned playground. With no young children left in town, the once-enjoyable and yet simple equipment had been left to rust and rot. Both girls had an exceptional sense of smell and they were used to hints of damp decay around the playground, but a new smell had joined the old. This was a new type of rot, moist and pungent, like a mixture of bad eggs and extremely concentrated human gas.
Despite the darkness that covered the playground like a blanket of near-invisibility, the girls’ precise vision both seemed to catch something strange and out of place to the left of the marry-go-round. Despite the disgusting smell, curiosity mixed with fear provoked them to continue forward forward in unison but the closer they both, the stronger their fear became. The vibe in the air was wrong, disturbing, and new. Eden froze just a moment before her sister, both girls now only about ten feet from the wrong object. Her fingertips tensed and curled inward toward the palm of her hand. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Jeffries was near,” Ellie somewhat mocked, even if her quip was ill-timed. Ellie was not a fan of their assigned Scientist, one of the very few things that her and Eden disagreed on.
“We would smell his Armani if he was,” Eden pointed out, and yet she still couldn’t bring herself to move closer to the lump. Ellie’s throat tightened. Eden may be a Six, but Ellie was the one who possessed more bravery when facing the unknown. “I don’t know this scent,” Eden spoke again with a tremble in her voice. Having never been outside of the steel walls of Beechwood, there was rarely ever a smell that the girls hadn’t previously experienced and deciphered. Ellie took one more step forward. Eden was behind her now, and even though it was only by a foot or so, it still caused anxiety to raise it’s ugly head in the pit of her stomach.
Ellie pressed her full lips together with determination and forced her feet to continue carrying her forward, increasing the distance between herself and her sister while lessening the distance between herself and the mysterious object. The strange and unpleasant smell only grew stronger. Ellie wrinkled her nose as her stomach churned with a wave of nausea. She reached into the pocket of her hoodie and pulled out her phone. She clicked on the flashlight app and shined it in front of her.
Eden’s shrill scream burst out of her lungs about a half of a second before Ellie’s, but once their screams met in unison, they rang out with the exact same unhinged, ear-piercing pitch. Even though Ellie had already dropped her phone, the image of Zulia Montgomery’s crumpled, bloody body would be forever burned into her retinas. Stripped down to her naked, exposed flesh, Zulia’s green eyes were eternally open and staring at nothing, but the remnants of fear and humiliation still zapped beneath her pupils as if her body hadn’t quite caught up with the death that had already destroyed her conscious mind. Her arms had been stretched above her head at 45 degree angles, but they were rigid, as if this position had only been forced upon the body post-mortem. Her upturned palms had been punctured with something sharp and thick, and coagulated blood had only partially pooled onto the ground from each hand, also suggesting that this had been done post-mortem. But, why?
Zulia’s right leg lay perfectly straight with her heel resting on the gravel, but her left leg was bent at the knee and turned back so that her foot rested all of the way under her butt cheek. Her visible ankle was rubbed raw, as if something rough had been dragged across its skin over and over again until her damaged skin had started to crack and bleed.
On either side of the body, smeared in blood, were sets of odd symbols of which neither Eden, nor Eloise had ever seen before. Eden understood everything. She was a Six. But she didn’t understand this.
In an uncharacteristically uncoordinated flail, Ellie’s body slammed sideways into Eden’s, and both girls went tumbling down to the ground. The last thing Ellie remembered before everything went black was Eden’s scream breaking so she could make a desperate plea of impulsive denial, “I saw nothing! I saw nothing!”
Bright. Light. Where – how – why do I feel so tired – BRIGHT. LIGHT! Ellie squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head back and forth. The road to consciousness was discombobulated and confusing, and the more Ellie attempted to reach for her scattered thoughts in an attempt to organize and understand them, the further they seemed from her reach.
Sudden, intrusive flashes of Zulia’s unnatural, dead body began to burst through Ellie’s mind like the netting of a spider web, pulling every other thought and feeling into a place she never wanted to have to go. “Ellie, can you hear me?” Yes, she could hear him, but his voice did not belong to the person that she wanted and needed right now.
“Eden?” Ellie called out desperately through dry lips, ignoring the initial voice until it persisted.
“Ellie? Ellie?” Finally feeling as if her consciousness and body were connected again, Ellie pushed her elbows against the hard, flat surface that she was laying on. She forced her tired upper body into somewhat of a sitting position.
“Jeffries? Am I in The Tower?”
“Yes. You fainted. You and Eden both did.” Ellie blinked. She had never fainted before in her life, and neither had Eden. Flashes of Zulia’s dead but zapping eyes forced her body into a rigid cringe. She had never fainted before, but she had never seen a real dead body before, either.
“Is Eden okay? Where is she?” Ellie forced her eyes to open again. Jeffries stuck his small bright light back into the front pocket of his lab coat and curtly nodded with minimal interest in her pleas for her sister, despite knowing full well how connected Eden and Ellie were.
“What do you remember?” Ellie’s entire body trembled. She pulled herself into a more upright position. She flexed her toes to assure herself that she had full feeling in her body, but she wasn’t in the same room as Eden. She could feel it. Without Eden, she was incomplete in every way.
“Zulia…” she couldn’t take more flashes of the horrific vision that had invaded her former innocence at the park.
Zulia was Ellie’s friend. She wasn’t a Six, but she had always been kind to both of the girls. She used to help Ellie with class work when Ellie struggled. In fact, Zulia’s willingness to be so helpful to Ellie was one of the very few things that Ellie and Eden ever argued about. Eden was a Six, her intelligence was superior to both Ellie’s and Zulia’s, so logically, Eden was more qualified to help Ellie than Zulia was. Ellie never used words to communicate how she felt about this to Eden, but she had preferred Zulia’s help because Zulia was more patient and understanding than Eden was.
“Tell me precisely what happened. Leave nothing out.” Ellie knew that Jeffries would not release her to be with Eden again until she complied. His chiseled chin, muscular arms, and jutting abs did not fool Ellie. He may be an almost flawless example of gorgeous masculinity, but like all scientists of The Tower, inside he was a bastard. She pulled her shoulders back.
“Eden and I left the library. We turned down Orchard and Eden paused, then I paused. There was something wrong with the air. We could both smell it and feel it. Something by the old playground caught our eye. We crossed Orchard and walked toward it, but Eden stopped, she was too scared. I approached a shadow, a lump on the ground. I couldn’t see what it was until I pulled out my phone and turned on my flashlight app.” Ellie’s throat tightened. She closed her eyes again as a wave of nausea sloshed the contents of her stomach. “It was Zulia.” She paused as a tremble tore through her body.
“What did you see? Be specific.” Jeffries did not care, at all, about the trauma that Ellie had just endured, or about the fact that the only person who could comfort her right now was Eden. Ellie shifted her eyes away from Jeffries in an act of defiance, but she knew that she had no choice but to obey. In The Tower, you were never allowed to resist anything that they demanded of you.
“I saw her body. She was naked, and her face-” another shudder rippled its way through Ellie’s body, and her stomach’s contents sloshed again. “her eyes were open and her mouth was twisted. She died afraid. Her arms were above her head, and her hands, her palms, were punctured. Her blood wasn’t blood anymore, it was jello. Dead blood. And the smell, it was -” Ellie covered her mouth as the contents of her stomach threatened to creep up her esophagus. She squeezed her eyes shut when salty moisture blurred her vision. “Can I see Eden now. Please?” She heard Jeffries shift his weight.
“What else?” Ellie shook her head back and forth. No. She couldn’t say anything more. Her stomach was threatening to empty its contents at the very thought of Zulia’s corpse.
“Just the symbols! There were symbols on either side of her body, from her blood. I don’t know what they were, though. I didn’t understand.” Let me be done! Let this be done! “Please, I need to see my sister. I need to see Eden.” Jeffries opened a drawer attached to the counter against the wall and produced a pad of plain white paper and a pen. He handed them to Ellie.
“Draw the symbols as accurately as you can recall them. I’ll be back.” Jeffries’ loafers clacked against the floor as he made his way to the door, but Ellie closed her eyes and refused to open them again until she heard door close behind him. Despite the trauma-induced nausea that was still tearing through her body, she pushed herself off of the metal table with her free hand and balanced her weight onto her feet.
Zulia is gone.
Those words made no sense in her head. It was as if they refused to connect into a coherent, believable sentence. How could this be happening? Zulia wasn’t just dead — she had been murdered. No one had ever been murdered in Beechwood before. Things like this didn’t happen in Beechwood, they only happened in the outside world. Beechwood was meticulously controlled and contained. No one could hide or get away with anything with the Sixes around, and no one was arrogant or ignorant enough to try.
…Unless Zulia’s murderer was a Six.
If that was true, then Eden would know who the murderer was. If Eden knew, she could be in danger.
This was all too much. It had been years since Ellie had done The Bad Thing, but right now, without Eden by her side, she was desperate for any type of relief and release. She set down the pad and pen and reached for the small scalpel on the metal tray next to the door. She flexed her forearm and pushed the sharp tip of the scalpel into the soft, pliable skin on the inside of her left elbow. A moment after a small sting tingled up her arm, warm, living blood spattered outward. The pressure against her lungs made up of fear, anxiety, and isolation finally subsided and she was able to take a deep breath. Watching her blood trickle down her arm melted away the horror and provided her with a fuzzy, calming sense of comfort. Before her blood could drip onto the metal table, she brought her arm to her mouth and allowed the warm, thick liquid of life to coat her tongue. Damn, that tasted good.
Eden had never been a fan of Zulia Montgomery. Even though she had always treated the girl with a limited amount of reluctant tolerance for the sake of her sister, she knew that the scientists would be casting a suspicious eye in her direction. She hadn’t murdered the girl. Killing Zulia had never even occurred to her. It didn’t bother Eden that she would be a suspect, but it did bother her that she had detected no hints at the crime scene that clued her in to who the murderer really was. Eden was a Six. Noticing micro anomalies in her surrounding environment that told a complete story was supposed to come naturally to her.
Eden tensed as the large metal door to her holding room creaked open, but her muscles instantly relaxed under her skin when Jeffries strutted inside. Her body responded to his presence like a magnet. She slithered off of the metal table and pressed her palms behind her against its edges, swaying her hips just slightly as a playful glint danced just beneath her semi-dilated pupils. A sly smile spread across her full, pouty lips.
Jeffries regarded Eden with his usual amount of unabashed curiosity. For a suspenseful four seconds, the two studied each other with hungry eyes as if they were both predators waiting patiently for their prey to make the inevitable first move. Finally, one of Eden’s hands slipped from the edge of the metal table. She raised her pointer finger and curled it in the air, seductively requesting Jeffries to come closer. Light on his feet with a lustful gaze, the fine specimen of male attractiveness obeyed. When he was a few feet away, Eden stepped forward to close the distance between them. His hands wrapped around her waist. With no hesitation, he pressed his palms against her round backside and lifted her into the air. Her arms curled around his neck and their lips crashed together with a desperate thirst. Every cell that comprised Eden’s outer skin hummed with a heightened awakening, causing a soft and needy moan to travel from her mouth to his. She was far from done with her lust for Jeffries, but his hands slipped from her bottom and she reluctantly accepted the shift of her weight to fall back to her feet. His lips parted from hers. Cool air danced across their tingling plumpness as they remained parted. She wanted more, she always wanted more, but the slight, nearly undetectable tenseness in Jeffries’ arms told her that he had more on his mind today than just her body.
Eden stepped back from Jeffries with an intentional sachet in her movements. Just because he was in ‘business mode’ didn’t mean that she had to abandon the playful nature that he brought out in her. “You never liked Zulia, did you,” Jeffries carefully addressed her with a humorously serious tone in his deep, steady voice. Eden swayed her shoulders, that same playful nature overpowering the surprise of Zulia’s body. She had fainted, true, but now she was over it.
“Why, Jeffries, are you asking me if I killed her?” His eyes narrowed. Clearly, he did not appreciate her dismissiveness, but she was not sorry. Jeffries’ right eyebrow twitched and the subtle pace of his heart-rate quickened just a tiny bit. Eden tilted her head. “You think I did, don’t you!” She insensitively teased. Jeffries tried to maintain a stern, in-control expression, but his eyebrow twitched again and his large nostrils flared as he drew in a sharp breath. He should know better by now than to think that he could ever maintain control with Eden. She was smarter. She was more evolved. She was a Six. He was beneath her in every way except in physical height. He was just a hot scientist that she was sleeping with.
“I don’t know.” Jeffries replied with blunt honestly. “You’re not exactly a forthcoming person.” Eden swayed her shoulders, refusing to allow Jeffries’ distrust of her to deter her from enjoying the control that his physical attraction to her provided. “Your sister thinks you two are inseparable, but she doesn’t know anything about us, does she.” A nearly inaudible laugh pooled outward from between her lips.
“She’s never even kissed a boy,” Eden teased as she took another step toward Jeffries. “She doesn’t know what it feels like when a man runs the tip of his tongue, followed by the edge of an ice cube, down her neck…” Jeffries twisted his lips into a pout and turned his head away from Eden.
“Yeah, but you like that she’s naive, so you can’t blame me for wondering what other secrets you enjoy keeping.” Eden felt her face visibly soften, but she maintained the intentionally seductive sway to her hips as she closed even more distance between them.
“Baby,” she began to reply with a new softness to her tone. “you know there’s more between us than just sex. You’re right, I like that Ellie doesn’t know about us. We’ve been attached at the hip our whole lives, but sometimes she suffocates me with her codependency. Having you all to myself, it makes me feel like a real person, not just some weird science experiment that has to be hidden away from the rest of the world.” She took one more step until the distance between then was closed. Her front teeth bit down gently on her lower lip she curled her smaller fingers around his large palm. “You were the first person to really make me feel human, to really make me feel anything at all.” As she knew they would, her words caused the accusing glint in Jeffries’ eyes to soften. “Greer,” she addressed him by his first name, “I didn’t kill Zulia. I swear to you. And I don’t know who did.” Jeffries looked down at Eden with his lips still pressed together, but she was unwavering in her willingness to let his intense, brown eyes stare yearningly into her blues. His face softened and he curled his arms gently around her shoulders. She relented and sank into his chest, tucking her head under his chin. His large palms gently ran up and down the curve of her back in a soothing gesture.
“Okay, I believe you,” he finally admitted. His slightly elevated heart rate told Eden that he wasn’t being completely honest with her, but she didn’t care as much as she claimed to. She hadn’t lied to Greer, but she hadn’t told him the whole truth, either. She truly did enjoy her sexual relationship with the older scientist, and she also enjoyed how clueless Ellie was about it, but it wasn’t as if she truly cared about Greer any more than he truly cared about her. She was just using him. She was keeping him distracted because as long as he was involved with her, he didn’t have the actual capability of being truly objective, of examining her like nothing more than a specimen the way that the other scientists did, and since he was the scientist assigned to oversee Ellie and Eden, if his eyes weren’t focused on her in an objective manner, no one’s were. Plus, the sex was great, too.
Eden was not blind to the fact that the arrow pointed both ways. Jeffries was using her, too, conducting his own, off-book, personal experiments. He wanted to know just how ‘human’ these Sixes actually were. Eden knew that Greer’s professional interest in her went deeper than government research, but his petty little secrets were of no consequence to her. Playing games with Greer alleviated some of her boredom, satisfied her sex drive, and reinforced her perception of her own grandiose superiority. What was good for the goose was good for the gander.