Chapter One

Screams of distress, death and visions of lost souls caused another night of restless sleep. Nightmares that felt like memories of a past life long forgotten, caused Yalena to wake. Beads of sweat dripped from her forehead. She wiped them away from her grey eyes and pushed her dark hair from her face. She checked that the crescent moon necklace that had been her only possession for her twenty-threes years of life, was still secured to her neck. It was. 

The dim light of day peeped through the black-out curtains of her motel room, offering a warm glow, specifically to the bed, where she noticed the two naked bodies lying on either side of her. One of them, a beautiful brunette with curves for days and bruises to her tanned skin, lay on her right, twenty-one-year old Maria. Yalena’s eyes dropped to her left, to the dark-haired, blue-eyed man that could make any girl swoon, Declan. The only person in the world who knew her secret. She had met Declan through the foster system when they were children, but while her life had gone the way it had, he had been adopted by a wealthy normal family, who had bought her freedom, only a few years ago. 

The morning was calm, beautiful even. Reminiscent of a perfectly passionate night between three friends. The calm before the storm. 

After barely a moment to breathe, Yalena’s heart prepared to jump out of her chest at the sudden pounding at the door, and at the masculine voice of authority behind it. BANG! BANG! BANG! “Maria, I know you’re in there. Get out here, now!” Maria shot up beside her with a gasp. Yalena quickly brought her finger to her lips to silence her friend. “Don’t go out there.”
Maria’s dark eyes stared right back, fearful and confused. Her voice was but a mere whisper. “I have to. You know what happens if I disobey.” Yalena knew damn well what would happen. Just as she knew what would happen if she faced the monster outside too. But the difference between Maria and Yalena was that Yalena could take it. Yalena got up, gesturing to the bathroom and mouthing ‘hide’ to Maria, as Declan awoke. “Yalena, what do you think you’re doing?” 
Maria obeyed and quickly fled the room, as Yalena pulled on a robe securing it tightly around her. BANG! BANG! BANG! “Don’t make me come in there, Maria! I want my money!”
Yalena shuffled to the door quickly, but not quick enough. Declan stood between she and the door stark naked. “You’re not going out there.”
“Get out of my way, Declan!” 
Declan’s eyes went from her to the door, then back to her for a round of eye-contact showdown, but then backed down. “Fine, just don’t say I didn’t warn you.” 
BANG! BANG! BANG! “MARIA!” 
Declan retreated out of her way to find a towel, while Yalena unlocked and opened the door. 

“What do you want, Big?” The word ‘Big’ didn’t do the forty-something blue-eyed man justice. He was huge, and not somebody to fuck with. Yalena had managed to break free of his hold almost four years ago, but there she was, back again. A glutton for punishment. 
“What do you mean, what do I want? Where’s Maria? I know she’s in here.” Big pushed past her, knocking her back as he charged into the room. “Maria? Maria, get the fuck in here right now!” 
Declan, who was now dressed in a towel, stood between the large man and the walkway to the bathroom. “She’s not here. It’s just me and Yalena. We haven’t seen Maria since, yesterday. If she owes you money, I can pay it.” 
Big looked as if he was considering Declan’s proposal as Yalena secured her robe and watched the scene unfold. Her eyes fell to the scared looking woman in the doorway, just outside. Not Maria, but it could’ve been.    

Yalena’s eyes went back to Big and Declan. “And we’ll help you find her. Just give us a minute to put some clothes on,” she said. Wrong move. Within minutes, Big had thrown her against the wall. His fist was hovering. “How dare you tell me what to do! You think just because you got free that you’re better than me? Do you?”

“No, of course not,” Yalena whimpered, looking into his bloodshot eyes. But how did she not notice them sooner? The man was off his face. If Yalena was to use her abilities to protect herself, he wouldn’t even notice. He was too consumed by his rage. And she was sure that there were no bodies buried in the grounds of the motel. Before she could come up with a plan of attack, she found herself flung to the ground and smacked her head against the metal foot of the bed beside Declan. “Yalena, are you…” 
Before Declan could finish his sentence Big lifted her up by the throat and flung her to the bed, she needed to gather her robe to hide her nakedness underneath. “You’ll never be free of me, Yalena,” the monster of a man said, while unraveling his belt. “I own you, bitch. Just like I own Maria and every other god-forsaken slut that works for me.”

Yalena made a start to climb off the bed. Her eyes fell back to the girl in the doorway outside. She was a ghost. A ghost who had experienced Big’s wrath far too many times and was destined to haunt the man for the rest of her eternity. Big was right. He owned them. They were nothing more than beautiful collectibles that would belong to him forever. But Yalena was no longer one of them. She knew it. But if only she could feel it. 
Declan made a feeble attempt to push the man away from her. “You won’t fucking touch her.” But Big merely swiped him away like a bug. Declan pushed at Big, which ended up in a large right hook to his face. Yalena had made it off the bed. She knew that Maria was still in the bathroom, fearing for her life. Yalena looked to Big, who was pummeling Declan on the floor. She looked to the woman in the doorway. “You need to do something! Help him. Please!”

But the ghostly woman just stood there, not moving. She was useless. Yalena needed to take the attention from Declan before the man killed him. “Get off him! Get the fuck off him!” But her voice alone wasn’t working. Big couldn’t hear her. “Fuck!” Yalena spotted a chair at the table. She didn’t think… Just acted. Within seconds, she had smacked the legs of the chair against his back. “I told you to get the fuck off him, but you didn’t listen!”  That had the desired effect. Big was up in an instant and towering over her. Declan could barely move. But before Yalena could determine whether he was dead or not, Big’s fist was thrust in her direction. Then everything went black. She was out.  

#

“Yalena, Yalena… Wake up.” Declan covered Yalena’s bruised and naked body with her robe as he tried to wake her. Her eyes opened to see him looking heavily wounded and looking very remorseful. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I wanted to help you.” Yalena’s head hurt. Her body hurt, but she sat up anyway and looked around. “What are you sorry for?” she asked. Then realization hit. 
“I couldn’t get him off you. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t move…”
 Tears welled up in Yalena’s eyes, but she wiped them away. The proof was all over her body. Big had knocked her out and raped her. Fury flooded her entire body, but then she remembered something far more important. The reason they were in this mess to begin with. “Where’s Maria?”     
Declan swallowed. “He took her.”
“Shit.” Yalena spotted the overturned chair and used all her strength to clamber towards it. 
“What are you doing? I tell you what he did to you and you just brush it off?”
Yalena turned up the chair and climbed onto it. She looked around the room, in a bid to gather her bearings. Declan’s face was covered in dried blood, he was struggling to move. Clearly, she had been out for a while. “Yalena, did you hear me?”
“Yeah, I heard you. But that’s who he is. He’s done it before, and he’ll do it again. That’s why we’re going to stop him once and for all.”
 Declan crawled towards her chair, groaning along the way. “But are you forgetting? You’re free. You don’t need to stay. So, forget the plan, let’s go.”
Yalena stared down at him. “She’s my friend, I promised I would come back for her. I owe her that.”
“What do you expect to do? He almost killed us. Even with your powers, you’re not exactly immortal.”
 “I have an old friend who works for the police department. He’ll help.”
 “You do that, and Maria and the rest of the girls will get locked away too.”
“Trust me, that won’t happen.”
 Declan stared at her, astounded by this news. “I’ve known you all our life. How am I only just now hearing about him now?”
 “I have my reasons.” 
Yalena’s reasons were that she kept her personal life and the people in it, separate from her hobbies. Her affair with Officer Troy Parker which lasted for eighteen months and ended two years ago when Yalena left town, was one of those hobbies. Had she been in a different frame of mind at the time, she might’ve gone to him about Big then. But that part of her life was not something she wished to dredge up, at the time. The difference between now and then, was that this time she was ready. 

Within a few hours, the motel room had been cleaned up as best as possible, their wounds treated to and there was a soft knock at the door. Yalena was hesitant to open it, until she heard the officer’s voice on the other side. “Yalena? It’s Troy.” Declan gave her a look of concern, but she opened the door to the blond cop in uniform, anyway. 
“Troy, it’s been a while.” Yalena’s joke forced her to feel every ounce of pain from her facial wounds, which then forced the attention of the officer as he raced into the room. “What happened to your face? Are you alright?” Yalena closed the door behind him as he examined the wounds to her face, as well as her neck. “Who did this to you?”
“Oh. You know me, I walked into a door.” Yalena tried to force another grin but flinched at the pain. “Ow.”
“This isn’t funny,” Troy turned to Declan, who went on the immediate defense. “Was it him? Is this the guy who beat you?”
 “No, of course it's not. The truth is, we need your help. Would you mind sitting down? What I’m about to tell you is probably going to change your entire impression of me.” Troy gave a lingering look at Declan, but then obeyed and sat down on the bed, unaware of the bombshell that Yalena was about to drop.

#

Silence and confusion filled the room following Yalena’s story, as well as the plan that she and Declan had devised. Declan had given into defeat, believing the officer would be of no assistance to their situation. “I knew it was a waste of time.”  
But Troy stared long and hard at Yalena. For a moment, she thought he would arrest her, but he didn’t. He got to his feet. “I can’t be apart of this, Yalena. You know that.”
 “But you owe me. You can’t back out.”
“I owe you? What for?”
 Yalena sealed her lips together, hoping that he would figure it out. Then he did, and she hated him more. “You’re going to hold that over me? I told her everything before we got married. You have nothing on me. I’m a good cop. In fact, I could arrest you right now.”
“Seriously? I go to you for help and you screw me over? Fuck you!” 
 Troy took a few deep breaths. “Look, I’m sorry. But, it’s prostitution, illegal drug trafficking and god knows what else. I know you said you haven’t been apart of it for years, so your best solution is to flee the city.” 
Declan lowered his guard. “Finally, something we both agree on. He’s right. Let’s go.”
Yalena shook her head. “I wish I could. But I can’t. There’s too much at stake here.”
“If this is about the girls…”
 “No. It’s not about Maria or any of them.”
 Declan raised his eyebrow in confusion. “Revenge then?” 
“More than that, Declan. Please, Troy. This is the only way I’ll ever be free. I need this.”
 Troy and Declan exchanged glances. Yalena had told them everything. This was her only shot and it had to go down right. Maybe then, would she finally find the answers to her past, of why she could do things that others couldn’t and see the ghosts of those long-since perished. 

#

Yalena stood at the front gate of Big’s large white estate and pressed the intercom. No answer. His home was beautiful, expensive and it was very well-kept. It made sense considering the money he made from his businesses. Yalena looked over at her old blue Mazda, then down at her clothes, a tight top and a short skirt. She looked like trash but didn’t care. She pressed the intercom again and then received a reply from one of the staff through the speaker. She sounded like a young Mexican woman. “Hello?”
Yalena spoke back into the intercom. “I’m looking for Big.”
 “Big’s not here.”
 “Please. I’m Yalena and I know he’s there. Can you tell him I have a business proposal?” 
No answer. Yalena pressed the intercom again. Nothing. She grumbled. Then was startled by a click and the opening of the gates. She hesitated, then entered. The perfect freshly cut grass and the delicious smelling flowers tricked her senses as she headed to the door. In the distance she could hear the gate seal shut behind her. 

Yalena looked up at the large white estate, webbed in vines and spotted a woman hanging by the neck from the third-floor balcony. Yalena shook her head, at the apparition and continued to the door, which opened instantly. Big had come to greet her himself with a large stupid grin on his face. Yalena’s urge to act out in anger was high, but priority dictated she maintained her composure. Not to mention her short stature would stand no chance of survival this time round.
“Yalena, Back for round two?” His sentence made her cringe, but she remained silent as he went on. “I must admit I’m surprised to see you standing there, but I hear you have a business proposal you’d like to discuss?”
 “Cut the pleasantries. You and I hate each other so there’s no need to play nice.” He shifted out the way allowing her to enter his perfectly decorated home, before closing the door behind them. Yalena looked around to see three women and two men in the foyer watching her. Only one of them was a known staff member. The young Mexican woman who had allowed her entrance. Judging by the pale solemn looks on the others, Yalena knew that Big had no clue they were there. Just as he had no idea about the woman hanging from the upstairs balcony. They were all dead. More than likely killed by his hands or a drug overdose from a past party.
Big had a way of making people disappear… But never forever. But this time would be different. Because Yalena was ready to do something about it. 

Big’s voice of authority shook Yalena from her thoughts as he sent an order to the young Mexican woman. “Ana, bring our guest and I some refreshments and take them up to my office.”
“Yes, master.” With a quick nod, Ana was gone. Big led Yalena up the stairwell with the brass railing and black carpet, up to the next floor, where they passed many closed doors. 
Yalena remembered this route and what lied beyond those doors far too well.  Finally, they reached his office, filled with mahogany antique furniture, books which were never read and a stylish black chair at the desk. Opposite that was an uncomfortably hard chair made of wood, a symbol that Big represented authority over whoever entered his domain. He closed the door and sat in his throne, while Yalena remained standing with her arms crossed.
“Take a seat, Yalena.” 
 “I’d rather stand.”
 “You’re not one of my staff. Sit.”
 Yalena stared down at the chair, then reluctantly obliged, waiting for him to start speaking. Big leaned back and crossed his leg over the other and began. “Now, I’m guessing you’re here about Maria.”
“Why do you think that?”
“You’re forgetting how well I know you. You’re also forgetting how well I know my employees.”  
“They’re not employees. You don’t pay them.”
 Big tilts his head to agree. “That might be true, but I still give them what they need.”
 “You feed, drug and beat them into submission until someone buys them or they get too old for your clients. That’s not what they need! You treat them like…”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Still so angry, Yalena? I thought selling you to Declan’s father would’ve mellowed you out.” Yalena stopped arguing, knowing that she was simply angering the beast. She bit her tongue. “There, that’s my girl. So now, let’s talk business. I’ll free Maria, only if you promise to work for me again.”
 “Work for you? God no. I’d rather die then do that.”
 Big unlocked the draw on his side of the desk and pulled out a large yellow envelope. There it was. The information that Yalena had come for. The file that would offer all the answers. “I was afraid you’d say that,” he continued. “But I also knew after what happened this morning that you’d be…”
“Master, there’s something you need to see.” Ana’s voice broke in over the speaker attached to Big’s desk, forcing his attention. With his free hand, he pressed the intercom to respond. “Not now, Ana.”
"But Master. Candy’s dead. She’s hanging from the balcony.”
 “Not again,” Big groaned. “Just deal with it, Ana. Get Brent to dispose of her.” Yalena’s memory went back to the woman hanging from the balcony. So, she wasn’t a ghost. “Looks like your one of your products just expired.” 
Big focused his attention back onto Yalena, ignoring her remark. “Now, where were we?” 
Yalena shrugged. “You were saying how you miss me, and I was saying how I’d rather die than work for you again.”
He licked his lower lip and smiled down at the file in his hands. “You always wondered about your parents. This envelope contains exactly what you’re looking for. It holds a document pertaining to the night you were found.”

“How do you have it?” But she knew the answer, it had to do with her foster parents from her last home. She was fifteen when they sold her to him for money. Clearly, Big had been holding onto it for a long time, while she had never known of its existence until now. This was what Maria had been talking about. The reason Maria had called her out of the blue to help her escape.  
Big placed the envelope on the desk in front of her to tempt her, which it did. She reached for it, but he slapped her hand away. “You work for me and it’s yours.”
“But if I work for you and I find out who my parents were, I’ll never be able to search for them.”
“That’s a decision only you can make.”
“What about Maria?”
 “Maria goes free. I promise.”
 Yalena contemplates her options just as Ana’s voice breaks in over the intercom again. “Master, we need you. It’s urgent.”
Big glances at the intercom then back at Yalena. “I’ll leave you to decide.” He stands, secures the envelope under his arm and leaves. Yalena waits a few moments more before getting to her feet. He must’ve left a copy of it somewhere. Keeping an eye on the door, she searched through the desk draws to find nothing of value. She looked around, scanning the bookshelves. Big’s estate was huge and he had probably never read a book in his life. There had to be a secret room beyond the bookshelf. There just had to be.

Yalena darted towards the bookshelf. She could hear voices in the distance but judging by their volume she had time. She pulled out the first hard cover book. No secret passageways were triggered. She pushed it forward again and pulled out the next, then the next. Still nothing. But then, she noticed a small slip of paper sticking out the cover of another. She pulled out the book and opened the cover. There was no trigger to any secret rooms, but there was a compartment where the pages had been cut out in the middle and a large pile of cash sat. Yalena gasped. She pulled out another book and found the same. Visions of the freedom she had always wanted flooded through her mind. But they disappeared quickly as she heard Big barking orders as he made his way back to the office.
She immediately put the book back and sat in her chair. Her breathing stopped the moment Big had returned. Raged with anger, he threw the yellow envelope to the floor. “You, lying little bitch.”
“What?” Yalena got back to her feet quickly, her eyes fell to the envelope on the floor and then back to him.
“You brought a cop with you?”
“No, I… err…”
But Big launched on her, grabbing her by the throat. “The deal is off. You’ll fucking pay with your life!” Yalena struggled to breathe. Clearly her plan had failed, and Troy had been sent away. She had no choice, the amount of people who had long since died at his estate would certainly be enough to help with plan B. She needed to use her powers. It was now or never. Yalena closed her eyes as Big continued to squeeze the life from her. She was dizzy and struggling to focus. In the distance, she heard a woman screaming. But Big barely noticed. “You’re not worth the money they paid for you. You’re not worth a fucking dime. You worthless slut. Look at me!” He shook her.  More screams carried out in the hallway. Yalena gasped and choked but her eyes refused to open. She couldn’t be sure whether her powers were working or if he was killing her. She prayed for both. 

She felt the impact as he threw her to the floor, but as her eyes opened, they were no longer grey. They resembled nothing more than darkness. But she could still see, despite her dizzy view. She gasped for breath, right there on the floor, was the yellow envelope. But then she turned back to Big, to witness the sight that had caused Big to release her. Her powers had worked. The four ghosts from the foyer, thanks to Yalena, had found their decomposing bodies and had become nothing more than ravenous creatures. They were feeding on Big, as if he was nothing more than a meal. One of the men at his shoulders, the other at his neck. The two women at his legs. His lifeless body bled out and Yalena watched on, struggling to maintain her composure. Shock, surprise and an underlining relief that her plan had worked ran through her body like a hurricane. She managed to compose herself and turned her focus back to the zombified creatures. “You can rest now.”

On her command, they faced her, just as two intruders ran into the room. “Yalena,” Troy called out. He was followed in by Declan who announced that they had found the girls. But there was something wrong with Maria. But then, their attention turned to the zombies. Declan turned to Yalena, silently asking if she had to go that far. He had seen this done before. But Troy’s eyes grew wide. Instantly, he pulled his police radio from his belt. “We’re going to need backup.” Though the moment he spoke, the zombies dropped lifeless to the floor, along with Big’s mauled body.   

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