Ember was standing in line at the Field Museum in Chicago. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, and cars were stuck in traffic. It was just another Saturday afternoon. A day like any other day, except for Ember. It was the day the new exhibit opened at the Field Museum in Chicago, and she could not be more excited. Ember was a bit of a science nerd. She was obsessed with learning in general, actually. She was a straight-A student, being recruited from countless schools for her talent in academics. She was gorgeous too: pale with long golden hair, and big blue eyes that drew you in complementing her inviting smile. She was noticed by everyone but never disrespected. No one questioned anything she did. Something about the way she walked or talked or did anything captivated everyone. She would deny any of this of course, saying that she was dumb and weird. This exhibit was all Ember had thought about for weeks. There was going to be a new tornado simulator and other awesome additions to the museum. This was probably going to be her last visit here for awhile, too, because she was going to Costa Rica to volunteer at an orphanage in a few weeks. While she waited in line for the exhibit, she passed the time by making a mental list of the things she still had to do before she left.
Ember was getting to the front of the line now. She could barely contain her excitement as she entered. She would be one of the first to see this amazing exhibit. There was so much to take in at once. What to see first would be a difficult decision. Before she could start exploring, two men in dark clothing approached her. As they got closer, she could see the men were wearing security uniforms. They told her that she had a faulty ticket, which didn’t make much sense. Regardless, she went with them when they said she had to leave the exhibit. Ember tried to explain to them that she had bought her pass a month ago and that she was sure nothing was wrong with it.
The men led her down a long hallway which seemed to be for personnel only. They were the only ones in the hall, and Ember kept trying to explain her situation. They didn’t seem too eager to listen to what she was saying and remained silent as they walked through. When they reached the doors at the end, the taller one told her, “Miss, you’re going to have to put these on.” He showed Ember a pair of handcuffs.
“Handcuffs? I don’t understand, sir. Why do I need to be handcuffed? I am sure I haven’t done anything wrong.”
The shorter one, who was a little smaller than Ember herself, said, “Nevertheless, we’re gonna have to take you down to the station. It’s protocol for these kinds of things.”
“But you’re security. You don’t have to take me to any station. You’re not cops.”
“No, I guess not,” said the taller one. As Ember glanced back at him, she got a good view of his face. It was pockmarked and scarred; it was the kind of face you wouldn’t admit you were afraid of.
The smaller man grabbed her wrists and put them in the handcuffs. Ember was still confused. What were these men doing? Who were they? What had she done wrong?
Before she could ask them any more questions, the tall man put a rag over her face. Her vision started to become blurry.
“Let’s move her outta here. We’ve gotta be there soon.” This was the last thing she heard before she lost consciousness.
Ember woke up in the trunk of a car. She remembered walking down that hall with those security guards… or whatever they were. Now she was… she didn’t know where. She tried to feel around and realized she was still handcuffed and her feet were bound.. Oh God. I’m in the trunk. She started breathing heavily and felt like she was going to pass out. The walls felt like they were pressing in on her, making it harder to breathe. They must have drugged me, she thought, her mind racing. The car is moving fast, but I don’t hear any other cars. We must be far from Chicago.
Ember tried to stay calm and think. What was going on? Would those men try to make her parents pay ransom? She hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Was she being roped into some human trafficking scheme? Would she be raped? Tortured? Murdered? She began to feel queasy. I have to get away from these men, Ember thought. What was there that she could really do? She was handcuffed, defenseless against these men.
What am I going to do? She remembered watching a few movies about kidnappings. How did they manage to escape? She could kick out the taillight. Great, I’m going to die. What is going on? Ember felt bile rise in her throat. She swallowed and tried to calm down. She was not going to make this terrible situation worse for herself. She slowed herself down. Is there anything I can do? She tried to wiggle around a little, but there was no way she was getting out of those handcuffs. She thought she felt a little give in the rope binding her feet, but if she got out of that and couldn’t get out of the trunk, they would know she tried to escape and would probably beat her or worse.
Ember felt something in her pocket and almost squealed out of joy. They forgot to take my phone! I have to get it out, but if I make any noise they’ll definitely stop the car. She took several deep breaths and tried to concentrate. Okay, you can do this. Just move a little… She had it! Now to actually call someone. She wiggled, bit by bit, until she was on her stomach and the phone was in front of her. She clicked the home button with her nose. The phone had 2% battery. That’s just great, she thought. I’d better make this count. Using her nose, she typed in her password and got onto the phone app. As she typed the numbers 9-1-1, the phone’s battery turned to 1%. She typed call, and got heard it ring once. On the second ring, the phone picked up. The operator said, “9-1-1, what is your em—.” Her phone was dead. She would have screamed if she wasn’ It was at this moment that Ember felt completely helpless. There was nothing she could do; she was trapped. There was no way to get out of here.
Suddenly Ember felt the car slow down. She was careful to remember when they turned. They took a right turn, and kept driving for a few minutes. They slowed down again and took a left turn. After about 15 minutes on a dirt road, the car took a sharp right turn and stopped. What should I do? I guess I’ll pretend to still be knocked out. That seems like my best option at this point, anyway. Ember closed her eyes and tried to even out her breathing. Just relax, and you’ll be fine, she told herself. You can do this. She relaxed her body. She could hear voices now.
“What are we supposed to do now? We got the girl for him, and he said he’d meet us here at 4:30.. Should we call him?”
“Just be patient.” This sounded like the short man — it had to be. “He’ll be here any minute. Besides, for 20 grand we can bear to wait a few more minutes.”
Twenty grand? Who was this sicko they were talking about and why was he giving those men that much money?
“We should check on the girl,” said what she thought sounded like the tall one. “We don’t want her awake when he comes.”
Ember squeezed her eyes shut. She could hear them coming closer. She relaxed her body and breathed in deeply.
It had been two months since he came for her. Two of the worst months of her life. She dreaded every coming moment, like an inmate waiting for his turn in the electric chair. This was worse, much worse, than she could have ever imagined. Ember was being experimented on, like a lab rat. Every day, she was injected with a new toxin. Every day, her pain became worse. Some of these would make her twist and writhe on the ground because she felt like her limbs were being ripped from her body. Others made her mind lose control of her body, twisting and contorting herself without thinking. The worst would be when she blacked out. She would have horrible lucid dreams that she could not wake up from and when she woke up she had no memory of anything that happened that day, except the dreams. The dreams were what made her afraid to sleep at night, what made her slowly unravel and lose her sanity. Her thoughts were no longer real; the only things she felt were fear and hopelessness. Any good memories she might have had were gone, wiped away like so many tears.
If she had been able to look in a mirror, she would have seen the skeleton of a girl, her hair falling out and glassy, hollow eyes staring back at herself. Any muscle she might have once had was gone, her limbs dangling without any purpose. Her body reflected her spirit: what was once beautiful and pure had been turned into something unrecognizable, her soul in tatters much like her clothes.
She heard footsteps coming down the hall. She gazed at the door, dreading her next injection. What would happen today? Waiting for the effects of the drugs to start was one of the worst parts about this. Ember could hear them coming closer. For some reason, these footsteps sounded different. They were heavier, and more careful. She could hear doors being opened and closed, and wondered what was going on. Were there more test subjects like her being kept here? She could only imagine how many there could be, and how gruesome the effects of the drugs were on them.
Suddenly, Ember heard someone turn the handle. Of course, it was locked. Before she knew what was going on, she heard a loud thud. Was someone trying break the door down? She started screaming, not knowing what terrible thing lay outside. The door thudded again. The third time, the large door came crashing down. A man walked into Ember’s room: he was young, not many years older than she was. He was tall and handsome with kind eyes that made everything seem okay. Ember guessed he was some sort of police officer. “Miss, everything is going to be all right. You’re safe now.” Ember’s mind was racing. How had this man found her? Where was she? What was this place? Who was this man?
Ember managed to stutter, “ What—what is going on?”
“Everything is going to be okay. The man running this operation is going away for a long time.”
“What operation? Are there more people here? ” Ember could barely stomach the idea of other people being tortured just like she was, changed the way she was.
“We’re still not entirely sure of what this place is yet. What we do know is that this man has been taking people to this facility and conducting illegal experiments on people, trying to make biological weapons. We have found about 300 others so far. Hopefully, you can help us figure out a little bit more about what’s been going on.”
The officer walked up to Ember. He took her hand and tried to lead her out of the room. Ember couldn’t move. This was too much. She collapsed in his arms, sobbing, not able to think, not able to fear, not able to do anything. Somehow, she knew that everything was going to be all right.