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Our Darkest Moments

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As April set foot through the door, her whole body froze at the sound of a scream. Her heart lurched in her chest as she felt the colour drain from her face, the sound making her blood run cold. Her head snapped towards the direction it appeared to come from, partially wishing for another scream to help her locate the source while the remainder dared not think about what that sound meant. At what could have elicited such a response from another human. She listened, straining her ears to detect any sound aside from the birds chirping in the trees. Their cheerful tunes so at odds with what was signalled by the cry she had heard. She took a step forwards when she heard it…Her dad’s voice.

“YOU BITCH!” The tone was filled with pure rage, something she had never heard from her dad before. Of course, she had heard him angry. She’d heard him shout at the TV when a politician he didn’t agree with was speaking. She had heard him shout in his office when there was an issue with his business. She had heard her dad shout at her mom on numerous occasions over the years, but this was on a different level. Despite the way the tone twisted his voice, it was unmistakable. She had heard that same voice read her the entire Chronicles of Narnia books when she was too young to read them herself. It was the same voice that had spent hours discussing the minutiae of each Star Wars movie with her. It used to be a voice that was associated with positive memories. Yet now, hearing him brought forward nothing but fear. Fear for what he might do…fear for what he had already done.

April hastened her pace across the patio and descended the steps to the lower pool. She turned her head to scan the area, searching for anything that would hint at where she should venture. She knew the sounds had been close, that they had to be somewhere here…Then she saw it. The door to the pump room stood ajar. She adjusted her grip on the gun in her hand, trying to ignore the way the metal was sliding against the perspiration that had formed on her palm, and approached the door cautiously. She rested her back against the wall beside it, turning her head to angle her ear closer to the opening, listening for any sounds. Any signs that what she heard had been emitted from within…Nothing. Drawing in a steadying breath, she clicked the safety off and stepped into the room.

The first thing she saw was the grate that covered the floor was open. She could feel the frown crease her brow with the image before her. The grate she had always believed to be a drainage feature was a hatch. Her eyes scanned the structure, trying to make sense of what she was seeing. Beneath the metal grate was a black painted steel hatch. Something that would appear from above as if there was nothing but a dark drainage channel beneath the silver grate. Peering towards the opening, she could see a steep flight of stone stairs leading down into a dimly illuminated area. On instinct she reached round for her bag to retrieve her phone, her hand coming into to contact with nothing but the fabric of her clothing. The realisation that she must have left it in her car in her rush to find the blonde sank in. The question of whether she should return to grab her phone flashed into her consciousness for a moment. However, the sound of the scream replaying in her mind spurred her onwards. She had to trust that someone she had called for reinforcement would be able to locate the same entrance to whatever she was about to walk into.

Angling the gun down, she shuffled forwards towards the opening, towards where she believed the blonde to be. Each shuffled step coinciding with a contraction of her heart whose regular rhythm had long since departed. The closer she got, the further down the steps she could see. The lighting was poor, especially compared to the bright sunlight streaming in from the open doorway but she could make out the bottom of the steps. She could feel her leg shake as she took the first step down into the unknown. Her breathing was shallow as she tried to suppress any sound she made, each step taking her lower. It didn’t take long for her to be able to see the steel door at the base of the steps. She took each step, placing her foot securely before moving the other. Not willing to risk a misstep leading to any form of error on her part, not when she felt she was so close.

Finally, her feet reached the base of the steps. She glanced back up from where she had come, feeling like she had descended many steps, yet as she looked back it had to be no more than fifteen steps. The cold feeling that had settled across her skin was perhaps less to do with the depth and more to do with her building fear. Fear for what she may find and the fear of what she may need to do. As she turned her attention back to the door, something on the floor caught her eye. Checking the door was still closed before her, she knelt down for a closer look at the dark patch on the ground. She reached out the hand not holding the gun to gingerly touch the spot. Needing to utilise another sense as her mind was incapable of making sense of what she was looking at.

Wet…

Sticky…

Red…

Blood.

She shot back to her feet, eyes wide with the new found evidence. She wiped her hand on her dress while she tried to rationalise that just because there was fresh blood on the floor, that didn’t mean she was too late. “The average female has four and a half litres of blood in their body. If you lose over forty percent you die. That’s 1.8 litres.” April whispered to herself as she continued to wipe her hand, her eyes scanning across the dark spot on the floor. “There’s not that much there.” She raised her right arm up, pressing her forearm across her eyes as she drew in a few breaths, trying to regain control of her erratic heart rate. She could feel the way her arm was shaking against her face. “There’s not that much there.” She dropped her arm and looked at the door before her and the keypad beside it.

She slipped the gun into her left hand and reached out to the device on the wall. Her fingers hovering just over the digits. Her mind racing through the possible codes her dad would use. This was clearly somewhere he had kept secret, somewhere he didn’t want anyone else to have knowledge about, let alone gain access to. The code wouldn’t be one he would use for anything that would be shared with another being. It would be something personal to him. April had the sinking feeling that should she enter an incorrect code, there would be some kind of system to alert him to an attempted entry. She had one chance to open the door undetected…or at least she hoped it would be undetected and that he wasn’t standing directly on the other side of the door. She shifted her weight on her feet as she reached out to press the first number.

0…The sound of the beep the pad made as the button was depressed sounded almost deafening.

5…April could feel her palms getting sweaty.

0…Her heart was pounding in her chest, making it feel like it was actually ricocheting off her ribcage with the force of the contractions.

Her finger paused over the final number. She sucked in a breath and held it, biting down on her lower lip as she pressed it down…4…

The sound of metal bolts retracting inside the door filled the stairwell. She exhaled with the relief of another obstacle being removed from her path. She quickly shifted the handgun back into her right hand and raised it before her. She placed her left hand against the cold metal of the door and pushed. The door opened slowly, silently. A distant part of her mind questioned where the eerie squeaking of metal hinges was that should accompany such a scene. Something that horrors and thrillers had entrenched into her mind as a sound that accompanies the most spine-chilling moments…Yet the silence was so much more terrifying. Each centimetre that it moved revealed more of what lay beyond. Her eyes scanned everything as it became visible, searching for any sign of her father…for any sign of Sterling.

The first image that registered was that this wasn’t some long forgotten bunker, built by a previous owner and buried like a time capsule. This was a space that had been maintained, upgraded even from the glimpse of the items of furniture that became visible as she pushed the door open further. A place that her father had clearly kept as a secret and for purposes she didn’t want to consider. Then she saw it…a black shoe. Her heart lurched in her chest as the breath was stolen from her lungs. She pushed the door more firmly, caution being thrown to the wind as her own subconscious treated her to a slew of images of what she may find when there was no longer a barrier between her and the rest of the person the shoe belonged to. Despite the increased pace of her actions, it was like the reveal happened in slow motion. As if her own mind couldn’t bear to process the whole scene at once, instead having to peel back a tiny sliver of knowledge at a time.

After the shoe came the beige of the standard issue Willingham trousers. Motionless. Then the white of a shirt. She could only see the back from her position. Finally came the sight of blonde hair. Hair that April had spent many hours running her fingers through, feeling the silky strands slip between each digit. Hair that was now matted with blood. She felt her throat tighten at the sight, the visual confirmation of what she had hoped to deny to that point…That the blood did belong to Sterling. The sense of dread built within her as she took her first step into the bunker, unable to quell the increasing fear that she was too late. With every step she took taking her closer to the prone form on the floor, her apprehension grew as the blonde remained motionless.

April dropped to her knees at the side of the other girl. She raked her eyes over the body before her. The usually full of life blonde who seemed to fill any space with her energy and smile, seemed so small where she lay in a crumpled heap on the cold floor, her hair covering the face that April had memorised every curve and contour of so long ago. She reached a shaking arm forwards, vaguely aware of the feeling of tears slipping down her face. Her fingertip brushed across the soft skin, so reminiscent of many previous occasions where she would sweep stray strands of hair behind the blonde’s ear during stolen moments of intimacy. This time the action wasn’t accompanied by the feeling of the blonde leaning into her touch or the feel of a smile against her lips, there was nothing. No reaction. No response. April heard the choked sob emanate from her own lips as the hair revealed the face that had remained hidden to that point. The once perfect skin was now marred, an array of colours of bruising of different ages littered her features. “Sterl?” She traced a quivering finger across the curve of the blonde’s maxilla.

“When I think about you, which is like all the time, I get dizzy and my maxilla goes numb.” The memory flashed unbidden in her mind of standing in the arcade, her own hand gently tracing the same path as the potential of experiencing something that April had barely let herself contemplate as a possibility was on the precipice of occurring.

Her fingers continued down to run across the skin of her neck. Another memory flashed in her mind with the action. Standing on the dock, mere metres from where they now found themselves, surrounded by fairy lights as they danced together.

April closed her eyes as she pressed her fingers to the side of the blonde’s neck, drawing in a shuddering breath as her own heart pounded in her chest. Then she felt it.

Thump…thump…thump

The steady rhythm of the blonde’s pulse. She brought her other hand up to her face, wiping away the tears with her thumb and forefinger at the relief that she wasn’t too late. Not willing to relinquish the one connection she had to knowing the blonde was still with her, she dropped her hand for her own face and gently brushed her fingers against the cheek of the girl before her. “Sterl? Please wake up. I’m right here.”

April saw the frown crease the brow of the blonde first. “Sterl?”

The eyelids started to flutter, slowly blinking open to reveal the eyes she had so desperately missed. She watched as the eyes before her focused on her face, feeling a small smile grace her lips as they did so. A smile that slipped away as quickly as it appeared as the blonde pushed herself away from the other girl, scrambling across the floor, sliding herself back away from her. April felt her eyes grow wide at the reaction, frozen in shock as she watched the other girl retreat from her, only coming to a stop as her back hit the edge of the couch. She noticed the way she winced with the action, favouring her left side.

“Sterl…it’s me.” April watched as the girl drew her legs up, wrapping her arms around them as she buried her face into her knees. She saw the way the blonde shook her head. “I’m going to come closer, OK?” Getting no response, April edged closer being sure to leave a bit of distance between them. She desperately wanted to reach out and just pull the blonde into her arms but based on the reaction of moments ago, knew she couldn’t. “I’m right here.”

She saw the blonde shake her head but before she could question it, she heard the voice she had missed so much. “What if you’re not? What if you’re still just in my mind? What if just picturing you, your voice wasn’t enough this time?”

April could feel the tears spilling over her cheeks at the blonde’s words. “Sterl…please look at me.” She tentatively reached her hand out to rest it against Sterling’s knee, breathing an internal sigh of relief that the blonde didn’t pull away this time. She watched as the other girl’s head rose slowly. “Open your eyes baby.”

“But if you’re not really here, I can’t…” The blonde’s voice trailed off as she sucked in a shaky breath.

“I’m here. I’m right in front of you.” She ran her thumb gently across the fabric covering the blonde’s knee. “Can you feel that?” She saw the tentative nod Sterling gave. She slid her hand lightly over her arm to rest on the other girl’s hand. “Can you take my hand?” April waited, her eyes flitting between the face before her and the hand resting beside her own. Then she felt it, the brush of skin against her own. Her eyes shot down to see the movement of Sterling’s hand as the blonde slipped her fingers between April’s own. As soon as their fingers were interlinked, the shorter girl gave a gentle squeeze. “Feel that?” She returned her attention to the blonde’s face and saw the nod of confirmation. “I’ve got you.”

“Please…Don’t…Don’t let go. Don’t leave me.” April felt the fingers interwoven with her own tighten their grip which she reciprocated.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay.” She watched as the eyelids that had been tightly closed cautiously opened, revealing the eyes she had spent so many hours lost within. Eyes that while they were still unmistakably the same, had also lost the sparkle that normally resided inside them.

“You’re really here? You came for me?” The soft voice the words were spoken in held an air of disbelief.

“I’m here. I’ll always be here when you need me.” Before April could say anything else, the blonde had launched herself forwards, her arms wrapping tightly around the shorter girl. April carefully wrapped her own arms around Sterling, mindful of the potential injuries she had that were not visible. She could feel the solid warmth of the other girl’s body against her own, feel her breath brushing over the skin of her neck. She could feel a patch of dampness on her shoulder, signalling the tears that the blonde was letting escape. “We need to go Sterl.” She pulled back slightly from the embrace, ensuring she kept physical contact with the other girl at all times. “Can you stand?”

“I think so.”

April took the blonde’s hand in her own as she stood herself, the feeling of unease returning now that she knew the other girl was OK. The lack of information on the whereabouts of her father creating a sense of urgency in her desire to get them both out of there as soon as possible. Even if Blair or the police weren’t there when they got out, they would at least be above ground and could get to her car.

“Just…need a…second.” The blonde drew in some shallow breaths, her brow creased as she grit her teeth and rose to her feet. She didn’t manage to fully straighten her posture. “Where is he?”

April cautiously looked around the space. “I don’t know.” Seeing the blonde take a step, she fell into pace beside her. Ready to provide any additional support that Sterling may need.

"Blair?”

As they passed the spot April had found Sterling in, she bent down to retrieve the Glock from the floor where it has been abandoned in her haste to reassure her girlfriend. “She’s on her way with Bowser.” She looked over to the door that still stood open. She could feel the hope that all this was over blossom in her chest. The relief that they would both be walking out of there and bring this whole ordeal to a close started to ease the gnawing anxiety that had taken root in her stomach the moment she heard the blonde was missing. As they got to the door, April paused. Sterling spun rapidly, hissing at the pain the action caused her.

“Why did you stop?”

“It’s not wide enough for both of us to walk side by side, you go first.” Seeing the apprehension in the blonde’s eyes she leant forward and placed a gentle kiss against her lips. “I’m right behind you.” The words were whispered against her lips.

April watched as Sterling searched her eyes before turning back towards the steps that led back to the pump room. She gave the hand that still resided within her own a reassuring squeeze. Then she watched as the blonde took that first step towards the exit, towards freedom.

"Hey there little Padawan.”