This is a rewritten version of the prologue of my first novel, “We Put the ‘Dual’ in ‘Individual.'”
“Bet you wish you’d been quiet earlier, don’t ya?” the man said from the front of the van. I couldn’t tell if I sensed sadistic glee or annoyance in his voice, but either way, I didn’t like it. It scared me how unreadable the guy was; scared me that I was at his mercy and that I still didn’t know what he wanted from me.
The van hit a bump as it took a turn, and I rolled into the wall and knocked over something that had been hanging up. I was disoriented and slightly sore in multiple places from having taken a few similar turns, and there was enough stuff lying around back there where I simply couldn’t tell what I’d knocked down or what half of it even was.
At first, I’d wanted to cry, but the longer the ride, the more angry I became, and the more adrenaline that surged through my body. I hated this man for kidnapping me. I hated him for taking me away from my happy life and getting me involved in whatever misunderstanding this was. I was only 18, I had no enemies, and as far as I knew, my family didn’t either. What had I done to deserve this?
The van slowed down and the light faded down into shadows.
“Home sweet home,” the man said as he killed the engine. At the very least, I was glad I wasn’t getting thrown around anymore, but at the same time, I still had no idea what was in store for me.
He got out of the van and slammed the door. It was getting hot already, but maybe it had been hot all along and I just hadn’t noticed.
How would I get out of here? How would I escape from this psychopath? Was he going to torture me? Kill me? I had no clue.
The back doors of the van swung open with a metallic creak.
“Alright Debbie,” he grinned, “let’s get you down to the basement.”
Debbie? Who the heck was Debbie?
With my mouth gagged, I couldn’t protest. He grabbed me, drug me out of the van, and slung me over his shoulder in one fluid motion. I already felt a little sick from rolling around in the back of the van, and tossing me around didn’t much help.
We were in a dark garage. It smelled like dust and paint, and all of the windows were covered over with thin sheets of plywood. I didn’t get to enjoy the lovely scenery for long though, as the man carried me through a doorway and into a kitchen.
“If you start making a lot of noise, the gag is going back on.”
He set me down on a chair and removed the gag from my mouth, but left my hands and feet bound.
“Thanks,” I muttered.
“You better not be too thankful yet,” he said. “Wait for your parents to give me what I’m asking for, and then you can thank me.”
Was he suggesting that if he got some sort of ransom, he’d let me go? Even after I’d seen his face?
But what could my parents give him anyway? We were just a normal middle class family with a mortgage and bills to complain about.
“What do you want from my parents?” I asked, even though speaking should’ve been against my better judgment.
“What do you think I want?” he scoffed.
“What makes you think my family has any money to give you?”
“You expect me to believe that the family of Marvin Kirkman isn’t loaded?”
“Who is Marvin Kirkman?” I asked.
The man laughed. “Playing that card will get you nowhere.”
“Look, I don’t know who you think I am, but I am obviously not that person. I don’t know any Marvin Kirkman, and my name isn’t Debbie. It’s-”
“If you know what’s good for you, you’ll shut your mouth. I won’t be hearing your lame excuses.”
“My driver’s license, you can check it. What did you do with my purse?”
“Hell if I know where your purse is, kid,” he said. My heart sank. How could I prove who I was? Or, at the very least, that I wasn’t who he thought I was.
“If you’d just-”
“Kid, just shut up. The gag is about to go back on if you don’t quit your yapping.” He knelt down and untied the rope around my feet. “Now, get up and get through that door.” He gestured with a head nod over to a slightly ajar door that clearly lead down a flight of stairs.
I kept my mouth shut and did as he told me. My stomach did flip flops as I descended the stairs. How could this be happening to me?
The stairs ended in a sea of green shag carpet and bad interior decorating. There was a bright red couch over by the back wall that almost took your attention away from the magazine cutouts of Madonna taped over the peeling floral wallpaper.
“Make yourself at home,” the guy said, and pushed me toward the couch. I was so scared that I could barely detect the sarcasm in his voice.
“Isn’t there something we can work out?” I asked.
“Yes. Your parents give me my $2 million bucks, and then I get the hell out of here, and you never see me again.”
“My parents don’t have that much money,” I pleaded with him. “They don’t even have enough to send me to college without me taking out loans.”
He scoffed and turned around. “For your sake, I hope your parents are smarter than you are.” He started up the stairs. “If not, they’ll be minus one daughter come noon tomorrow.”
I don’t know when I started crying. It could’ve been when he closed the door at the top of the stairs behind him, it could’ve been a few minutes after that, or I could’ve been crying since I’d first gotten dragged out of the van. I realized that I had never known true fear until then as I sat there trying to figure out how my face and shirt had gotten so wet.
My hands were still bound, and I guess the man had a reason for that, but he’d locked me in a room with no windows or weapons, so I wasn’t sure what he was expecting me to do other than pace in circles or cry.
I didn’t have a watch on, and there was no clock to be found. Seconds, minutes, hours – I had no idea how much time was passing. Was it still daylight outside? Was I gone long enough yet for my parents to realize it and start looking for me?
I walked over to the couch and sat down to try to clear my head. There had to be a way out of this. I pulled my legs up in front of me and wrapped my arms around them, not caring that my feet were on the sofa or that my legs were dirty with what looked like grease and dirt from having rolled around in the van.
My thoughts were a mess. I had to clear my mind and focus. I closed my eyes and pushed everything away – the musty smell of the room, the footprints I could hear above me, the salty taste of the tears I’d swallowed.
What could I do?
My mind drifted off in thought, and suddenly, I was staring at a boy my age.
“Hi,” he said.
Had I fallen asleep? What was going on?
“Who are you?” I asked.
He smiled in a most charming way and said, “I’m sure you have many questions, but I only have a few answers. Are you certain that’s the question you’d like to ask?”
I churned this over in my head. “What is going on? Why is this happening to me?” I don’t know why I thought this boy had the answers to those questions, but for some reason, it made sense to me that he would.
“It is unfortunate that fate has chosen you, but it is fate that has brought you here.”
“What do you mean? I was destined to be kidnapped?”
“You should already know that your situation is much worse than that,” he said.
“So, what, I’m going to die in some lunatic’s basement because he thinks I’m someone else?”
“It’s not that simple. The girl that you are being mistaken for is very important. Without her, I wouldn’t exist, and neither would my sisters.”
“And what makes you so important?” I asked.
“Don’t misunderstand,” he said. “My life is no more valuable than yours is. However, as you can see, I am standing here before you. That means that I exist, and because I exist, my mother must not die before she conceives me. Therefore, she’s important to the future.”
“It sounds like you’re saying that I have to die so that you can be born,” I said.
“I am only saying that it is fate that my mother is going to live, and the proof of that is that I exist.”
“If you aren’t born yet, then how can I see you now?”
He smiled. “As I’m sure you’ve guessed, this isn’t exactly reality, but I can assure you that everything I’m saying is real and true.”
“How do I know this isn’t just a dream?”
“You will know soon enough.”
“I don’t like the way that sounds,” I said.
“I could sugar coat it, but that would only make it harder to accept the truth. The fact is, you will see me again soon under a completely different set of circumstances, and when you do see me, you will know that all of what I’ve said is true. However, I didn’t come here to tell you that. I came to offer you…a job proposal.”
“A job proposal? What does it even matter if I’m about to die?”
“Trust me,” he said, ignoring my question, “it is something you will enjoy, and I hope it will at least make up for these unfortunate circumstances in some small way.”
I sat there, silent, unable to comprehend anything that was going on. What was all of this about fate? And a job proposal? I was going to die, so why should I even care?
“You do have a choice,” the boy said. “My job proposal isn’t compulsory. Once you understand the details, you can choose to accept or pass on it, but I think it will give you some feeling of purpose and closure.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I nodded. The boy looked at me, smirked, and nodded back, as if he completely understood what I was feeling.
Then, suddenly, he was gone.
I opened my eyes and found my kidnapper staring down at me, his black leather boot in my face. How had I ended up on the floor? I didn’t have too much time to waste thinking about it, though.
“Your parents didn’t come through,” he said.
“Huh?” It was all I could muster. Was he saying that it was noon of the next day already?
“I gave them an extra hour. Not even a word from them. They must not care too much about you.”
“Mister, I don’t know how to get this through to you. I’m not Debbie, my name is-“
I was interrupted by the man putting a handgun in my face. He raised it up so fast I barely even realized what was happening.
“Enough,” he said. “This is the end for you.”
I felt like crying, but I couldn’t. I’d only been alive for 18 years, and now I was going to die? The past year of my life was spent planning for college, taking the right classes, applying for scholarships – all for a future I wouldn’t have?
When I was 15, my dad got a job that forced us to move around a lot. I rarely stayed in one place for more than a year, and because of that, I never really had a whole lot of time to meet people or make friends. In fact, I’d only been in my current city for four months. I had always felt like such a loser; 18 without ever having a boyfriend, but most people only barely got a chance to know me and find that out. They told me I was sweet and beautiful and that I’d find someone one day, but I guess they hadn’t foreseen my imminent demise when they made those predictions.
“Goodbye, Debbie Kirkman. May God have mercy on your soul,” the man said.
He pulled the trigger, and I heard the sound of the firing mechanism, but by then, I couldn’t register what had made the sound. I slumped to the floor in a pool of my own blood, dead at only 18 years old.
Whoever Debbie Kirkman was, she’d live to see another day.
But I wouldn’t.