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God of Ruin: Chapter 39

MIA

Monsters take different forms in people’s imaginations.

Some see them as phantom-like figures that could be mistaken for ghosts. Others imagine them as the ghoulish beast hiding under the bed or lurking behind the closet door.

For me, a monster has always taken the form of a stern, square-faced woman with a tight auburn bun and a cruel ruler.

Over the years, she’s started to blur into images of the yellow-eyed monster who’s been creeping into every corner of my room, waiting to pounce on me.

But now that I see her face again, all memories of the wooden ruler drift back into my consciousness.

Mrs. Pratt.

She’s a short woman with a plump figure and now sagging cheeks. She’s wearing her usual black skirt and gray cardigan like a timeless figure. She was my and Maya’s nanny for years, but she quit when we were around seven years old because she wanted to take care of the family farm with her husband.

But that wasn’t the last I saw of her. No.

The person who kidnapped me? It was her. She had a male accomplice, who attacked our car, killed my bodyguard, and took me away. I suppose he was her husband, but I never saw his face in that black, dirty hole.

The only person who terrorized me to within an inch of my life was Mrs. Pratt. During the days I was there, she disciplined me with her ruler to the point I can still feel the painful blows against my flesh. While hitting me, she said she regretted not having the chance to use the ruler to ‘correct’ my behavior before. And that she knew I was asking Mom to replace her, which is why she quit before she was kicked out.

I did tell Mom that I didn’t like Mrs. Pratt, because she was so stern and no fun. I preferred someone who’d let me and Maya play instead of always focusing on our curriculum.

What was an innocent request became the reason for my childhood trauma.

People assumed my kidnapper was a man and I let them believe that, not seeing the need to correct them. All these years, my main priority was to make sure she and her dangerous husband couldn’t hurt my family.

That’s all I cared about.

That’s what I lost my voice for and why I’ve never gotten it back.

I believed that if she could kidnap me, kill our bodyguard, and nearly take Maya as well, she could do anything. Our tight security means jack shit to this woman.

Deep down, I thought maybe one day I’d get over the crippling anxiety and devastating fear I felt in the darkness of that basement.

Maybe one day I’d be able to use my voice again.

But seeing her now brings everything tumbling down.

My legs tremble and every fiber in me tells me to run.

Now.

“Don’t even think about it, child,” she says, her voice low and unpleasant.

I never liked Mrs. Pratt. Even before the kidnapping. Call it a self-preservation instinct or pure disdain for stunted people. I just never felt comfortable around her and preferred my Russian teacher at the time. Something Mrs. Pratt didn’t react to so well.

She takes a few steps toward me, her hold on the gun steady, and I nearly hyperventilate.

Stop coming closer. Stop coming…

“Now, tell me, Mia. Did you open your mouth, or—more accurately—your hands to tell that boyfriend of yours about the past?”

I gulp, sweat trickling down my back and gluing my dress to my skin. I can’t move.

I can barely breathe.

As if paralyzed, all I can do is stare at the monster from my past.

A shudder snakes through me and I can barely breathe, let alone think about escaping.

Is this the end?

Finally?

“You couldn’t have, right? It was supposed to be our secret, wasn’t it?” She stares up at me with her lifeless eyes.

I often saw Mrs. Pratt as an educated, normal woman, but it wasn’t until the kidnapping that I realized monsters aren’t only disfigured beings and can take different forms.

Monsters aren’t the work of cartoons and comic books. They’re not even the big buff men with scarred faces that Mom and Dad deal with on an everyday basis.

They could be something entirely different.

An apparently harmless woman with a strong moral compass could suddenly become a monster herself. Or maybe she was a monster all along, but she excelled at camouflaging that part of her.

“I warned you about what I’d do to anyone who finds out, didn’t I? Does that mean you’re ready to see your boyfriend’s blood splashed all over your pretty little face?”

Panic explodes behind my rib cage and shatters all over the ground around me.

Don’t touch him. Not him.

I open my mouth, but none of the words come out. My hands remain limp at my sides as if they refuse to speak anymore.

“You were so good at keeping secrets for over a decade, so what’s changed, Mia? Why are you being stupidly stubborn now?”

I want to open my lips and beg her not to hurt anyone I love.

Please. Not Landon or my parents or…

“Mia!”

Maya runs down the street, her clothes disheveled and her hair flying all over the place. Her face is so white, it could be mistaken for a ghost’s.

I’ve never seen her like this, except for when I came back home after the kidnapping.

She was bawling her eyes out. I stood there in complete bewilderment.

If anything, I just wanted her to stop crying.

My sister grabs me by the shoulder and faces Mrs. Pratt, her chin trembling.

I push her away, horror bleeding into my bloodstream as I sign with shaky hands, “Go, Maya. Just go.”

“No.” She wraps her arms around me tighter and I can feel her shaking worse than a leaf in the aftermath of a storm.

“Maya, Dear. What are you doing here?” Mrs. Pratt asks in the soft voice she used to speak in when she was our nanny. It sounds creepy at best when she’s pointing a gun at us now.

“Go away,” Maya says—no, she orders. “You said you’d never come back or show yourself in front of Mia, so why are you here?”

“That would’ve only worked if you’d both kept your part of the deal, but you didn’t, now, did you?”

Wait…what?

I stare at Maya, whose lips are trembling and her eyes are filled with unshed tears. This can’t be what I think it is. It just…can’t.

“Oh, right,” Mrs. Pratt says. “Seems you’re not up to date with what Maya did, so here it is…”

“Shut up,” my sister whispers then yells. “You promised!”

“You also promised to keep her quiet, but you didn’t keep your promise, so why should I?” Mrs. Pratt directs her twisted attention toward me. “See, Maya was always jealous of you, Mia. You were the bright, smart twin who attracted everyone’s attention. Even your aunts and uncles preferred you over her. Before she transformed into this beautiful swan, she was the introverted twin who would spend time alone and only had you as company. Your teachers preferred you to her, despite you having the same level of intelligence. You were outgoing and kind. Always got flowers for your teachers and called them pretty. Always complimented their looks and smell and hugged them goodbye. Maya didn’t or more like she didn’t have the capacity to fake her emotions at the time. The more they treated you better than her, the deeper her grudge toward you grew. She didn’t show it, though, because she genuinely loves you.

“One day, she muttered under her breath, ‘I wish Mia would disappear even for a few days,’ so I made it happen, though a year later. See, I was more attuned to Maya’s emotions than your mom, who just focused on giving you equal attention and opportunities. I recognized that hidden jealousy in her and nurtured it well. After all, I was always treated as inferior to my more accomplished sister and could recognize it in others. So a year later, when I accidentally met Maya outside her school and asked her about the route, she willingly gave up the information. I couldn’t ask you, because you were much more suspicious and would’ve told your parents about it. Maya wouldn’t because, deep down, she always wanted you to disappear. For good.”

“That’s not true!” Maya screams, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I only told you because you said you were going to pay us a surprise visit. I didn’t know you were going to kidnap her. I didn’t!”

“Not at first, but you did after the attack, no? My husband told me you saw his face and recognized him, but you didn’t say anything to your parents, because you were scared they’d hate you forever if they found out what you’d done. You didn’t care if Mia was abused within an inch of her life or eventually died. It’s okay to admit it, Maya dear.”

“That’s not true…” Fat, ugly tears stream down Maya’s cheeks as she stares at me. “You can’t possibly believe her, right, Mia? I was about to tell Mom and Dad, I swear. But they’d already paid the money and gotten you back so…so…”

“So you decided to stay silent?” My movements are robotic at best.

“She threatened me.” Her voice shakes. “She showed up at my piano practice and said if I say a word about what I knew, she’d tell you and the whole world that I helped in your kidnapping. I couldn’t… I couldn’t risk losing you, Mia. You know how much I love you.”

“If you loved me, you wouldn’t have hidden something so important from me,” I sign. “Do you know how much I struggled to keep the truth to myself while Mom and Dad begged me to let them in and tell them anything about the perpetrator? I’m mute because of it, Maya!”

She flinches, her face appearing more ashen under the orange streetlights. “I’m so sorry, Mia. I really, really am. I’ve been living with guilt for eleven years.”

“Fuck your guilt.” I push her away.

Maya stumbles, but she glues herself back to me. “I know that you hate me and that’s okay, but I can’t leave you alone with this woman. Her husband was keeping an eye on you in the UK.”

Even though pain and anger mix inside me, I can’t help looking at Maya. Bemusement must be written all over my face.

“I only found out about him that day when I disguised myself as you and went to the chess club to test Landon. He’s the owner of that club, Mia.”

Mr. Whitby…

I stare at Mrs. Pratt, who’s been watching the whole exchange with a satisfied expression. “Of course we have to keep an eye on you, child. If you’d opened your mouth, everything we built would’ve broken to pieces. I can’t risk your parents’ wrath, now, can I?”

“You risked it enough to kidnap Mia!” Maya screams and gets in Mrs. Pratt’s face.

She pushes her back using the gun. “Yes, but I got away with that twenty-five million richer. Money can buy you multiple identities and, most importantly, immunity. You wouldn’t know this because you were born with a silver spoon hanging from your mouths. You don’t know what it’s like to see your life’s work fall to pieces in front of your eyes because you don’t have enough means to keep it afloat. You don’t know what it’s like to lose a child because you didn’t have the money to save his life. You know nothing!”

“But that’s not our fault!” Maya screams. “Mom and Dad treated you so well. Is this how you repay them?”

“I don’t see anything wrong with taking some of the endless dirty money they own. Besides, both of you are in one piece, for now.” She points the gun between the both of us.

Maya stands in front of me, even though she’s shaking uncontrollably.

“Here’s how it’ll go, girls. You’ll both keep your mouths shut or I’ll personally kill the mom and dad you care for so much.”

“Here’s another deal for you. Drop your weapon or I blow your head off.” The click of a shotgun follows next and I nearly cry when I see Landon standing behind Mrs. Pratt.

“Oh my. Seems that I have more of an audience than I bargained for,” she says. “Did you tell him when I called, Maya?”

“No, she didn’t,” Landon says. “But I’ve seen her behaving completely out of sorts and figured something was up. The same happened when she was acting out of character in front of the chess club, so I started gathering information. I suspected both Frank and the college professor Kayden since they were standing there when she nearly lost her marbles. Kayden, though suspicious as hell, had a strong alibi almost eleven years ago. In fact, as I was snooping around him, he asked me how well I knew Frank, because a few things weren’t adding up. Such as how he suddenly developed a British accent. That was enough to make me dig further into Maya. I had a friend install spyware on her phone. I saw the text she sent you when she found out about Frank. How she was agitated and threatened that if you didn’t keep him from Mia, she’d tell her parents everything. She also told you that if you wanted to take care of anyone, it should be me since I apparently know more than I should. It was also because of her that you figured out they were coming back home. So I made sure to be here when you showed up. I knew you couldn’t let such an opportunity pass. But not everything is going according to your plan, Kirsten. I’m happy to tell you that your husband is currently being detained by the local authorities. Now, whether or not he gets transported to prison or dies in a freak accident on the way there, I guess we’ll know soon. But first, I suggest you drop the gun. I don’t have much training with this thing, so I might unintentionally or intentionally end up blowing your head off.”

Mrs. Pratt’s face turns a deep shade of red as she turns around all of a sudden.

A scream bubbles in my throat and everything crashes down in matter of seconds.

“Landon, noooo!” I shriek as a shot rings in the air.

And then another.

And then my vision turns blood red.


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