A car crash. A mysterious saviour. A disturbing secret unearthed.
When Benjamin leaves his flat to visit his girlfriend, he doesn't expect to become involved in a car crash.
And he least expects to be rescued in the middle of the Lake District.
But when he finally comes to, he realises things are different. Life is different.
And the person that's saved him has got a hold over him deeper that's out of this world.
'Be safe, please. I don't want you going missing like those other kids.'
'They don't know for sure they went missing, Em.'
'Their bodies were never found, Ben! Please...'
'I'd be more worried if you were coming to me. But I'll be safe, Emma. I promise,' Ben said. 'I'll see you soon. I love you.'
He hung up the phone, slung his heavy-duty bag over his shoulder and left the apartment. He was only supposed to be gone a few nights, but the size and weight of his bag on his back looked and felt as though he were camping in the Outback for months.
Not half wrong, he thought chuckling to himself as he launched the sack full of provisions in the boot of his car. The suspension on his ancient yet surprisingly still drive-able motor sunk under the immense pressure of its weight.
Ben jumped in, ignited the engine and pulled off the kerb. Renditions of Whitney Houston and Sting played on his dad's mixtape.
'What is this bullshit?' he asked vehemently, pulling the tape from its socket. He replaced it with his mobile phone music using his aux chord.
He was ready, the car was working, the songs were good. It was going to be a tolerable journey.
For miles and miles, he drove. Twenty, to be precise. With each passing mile of tarmac, the number of illuminated roads diminished. As much as he loved Emma, he always found the drive a ball ache. Especially the sudden drop in road width as he left the city roads of Stoke and drove deeper into the winding gravelled paths of the Lake District.
'Ooohhhhh,' Ben belted as the roads became straighter and the moonlit scenery more visible, 'living on a prayer! Take my hand and we'll make it I swear!'
Just as he finished the crux of the chorus, a shining light in the sky caught his eye. At first, he mistook it for one of the many brilliantly shining stars overhead. Then, as his curiosity grew and his eyes remained focused on it, it began to flash orange and white.
'What the...' he trailed off as the lights passed out of view of the front screen window. Ben quickly located it again amidst the darkness of night on his right and swore at himself for missing the EasyJet logo adorned across the tail of the plane.
It was flying low — too low for the Lake District. But Ben didn't care.
As he followed the plane behind a large tree line, a road sign rushed past him. Double taking the long gone sign, Ben returned his attention back to the road. He was still doing forty and had somehow managed to remain in a relatively straight line, with only the right-hand side of the car narrowly veering across the solid white line.
Then, from the side of the road, hidden behind a bush, erupted a figure. Two pinpoint dots of light reflected in Ben's main beams. A deer froze in the middle of the road, with a look of astonishment and fear sprawled across its face.
'Shit!' Ben yelled as he pulled down hard on the right side of the steering wheel, sending the car over a small lip in the road and into a ditch.
The ground raced at Ben faster than a greyhound out of the starting pit. The nose of his car crashed into the bank of the ditch. The momentum plummeted Ben into the dashboard of his car, with the entire impact on his forehead and nose. Glass and debris from the dashboard and bonnet rained down on him like confetti.
He felt no pain. Everything happened so quickly. Before he knew it, he was out cold, with the airbag inflating moments after it was supposed to.
A river of blood ran down his face and connected with the gushing red that erupted from his nose.
The loud smash of fists against the driver side window slowly stirred him from his time in the darkness.
Bang. Bang. Bang.
More glass showered down on him. His eyes opened marginally, his field of vision nothing more than a baby's when it first opens its eyes. All he saw was blackness. Except for the vague red and orange engine warning lights sending sharp pains through his skull every time they flashed.
The handle next to him worked into action and the door swung open. The whole car shook as his saviour forced the door free, flinging it from its hinges.
Ben craned his neck slowly to face his means of escape and survival. A blinding pain shot through his forehead and up and down his spine.
Then he saw it.
Only, it wasn't.
An arm, bluer than the brightest blue of the ocean, reached in and grabbed hold of Ben's. Fingers of yellow and green moved their way up to his face. His saviour leant further into the car. Inches from the bridge of his nose, a set of blood-red eyes with a jet black slit in the place where the irises should have been stared back at him. His saviour snarled an unsavoury smile, launching an assault of bad breath on Ben's already distorted sinuses.
Ben screamed. Only, it wasn't a scream; all he could manage was a short raspy exhale. With every remaining effort, with every ounce of struggle he had left in him, he tried to break free.
It was impossible. Something was holding him back. His saviour's grip on his arm cemented him in position. With each passing second his heart rate rocketed and the blood flow down his face increased. Soon, he feared, he would bleed out and die. Unless he was saved by some sort of miracle. He couldn't be sure if he was bleeding elsewhere on his body, but death seemed like a welcoming relief compared to what horrors he might have to endure should he survive the ordeal.
Again, he tried to clamber to the other side of the car. His efforts were futile. He felt a pull on his right shoulder: the seatbelt strap was digging into the already sore skin of his trapezius.
With a limp effort of his left hand, he was unable to dislocate the belt from its buckle. He lay back into his seat, panting heavily. Now, his skin began to prickle with a chill. Death? He asked himself.
No, a voice inside his head replied, its tone almost demonic.
The next thing Ben knew before passing out again was a searing pain - a most intense sensation he'd ever felt in his twenty-two years of life - on his forehead.
His saviour's hand touched Ben's skin.
Ben tried to scream but nothing came out.
The world went dark, and he went stiff.
A gentle breeze ruffled through the trees and danced delicately over Ben's hair. A jolting motion bounced him into consciousness.
Panic struck him as he opened his eyes. The world was upside down and constantly swinging. His breathing was normal, and there was no blood gushing down his head. But his skull ached.
What the... He couldn't finish; thinking was too much effort. Instead, he gave up and allowed the world to continue to spin rather than willing it to stay.
He reached for his forehead and touched his skin. The laceration that expelled blood was now congealed shut. A scab had formed and flakes of skin dislodged under his touch. Ben was amazed; in a matter of minutes, his wounds had healed themselves.
'How you doing, trooper?' a voice asked him.
Then all of a sudden his senses came back to him. Across his back, he felt two arms holding him in place. Below him, on the ground, he saw two feet moving in pendulum swings, independent of one another.
Thank god, he thought to himself. He was saved. But whose was the voice?
An image of the beast he had seen before he passed out flashed in his mind like a recurring nightmare and then disappeared instantly.
Ben lifted himself up to catch a glimpse of his saviour. A girl, with brown hair and handsome features, looked back at him. She smiled a brilliant smile, with the moonlight reflecting off her teeth.
He didn't know what to think. He didn't know what to say. He didn't know what do.
'We're almost there. Close your eyes, now. I'll wake you when we're home,' she said. Her voice was delicate and innocent, yet there was an adult tone in her intonation as if she had seen more things in her lifetime than anyone else her age.
As soon as she finished speaking she placed her hand on his cheek and he closed his eyes.
Before he slipped into the cosy, swaying hammock of unconsciousness he whispered, 'Thank you.'
It was warm inside.
He was inside, he knew that much. There was a soft crackle of wood as flames exploded from the fire in the corner of the room. The aroma of meat and vegetables sifted through the air and hovered under his nostrils. It fought for his attention with the smell of scented candles and incense that voraciously bested the meats.
A gentle hand as soft as a mother's touch ran up his leg. All of a sudden, the realisation he no longer wore trousers struck him like a hammer hits a nail.
He jolted from his laying position and rested on his elbows. The physical exertion made him feel light headed and his surroundings swam.
'Easy, tiger!' his saviour said, 'do too much and you'll not recover.'
'Where am I?' Ben asked, his voice was raspy. There was a burning sensation in his throat as if acid or expired medicine had been poured down there. 'What happened?'
'Quiet, Ben. I'm sure you have many questions, but first you need rest,' the girl said, and gave a comforting squeeze on his thigh, inches away from his genitals.
'How - how do you know my name?' Ben asked.
The girl said nothing and stepped to the table beside Ben's head. In her hand, she held his wallet and opened it. Inside was his driving licence and the correct bank cards; he'd made a point to check, even in his nauseous and confused state.
'Okay,' Ben said, relaxing momentarily.
'I'm Emily.' She placed her hand on his chest. She rested herself on the edge of the bed he lay on and smiled.
Ben observed her face in more detail. It portrayed the same sense of innocence and maturity akin to her voice. Her face displayed more brilliance and vibrancy than he'd ever seen. In some ways, she most resembled a model to him, in others, she seemed like the shy school girl who always remained quiet during class.
'I hear it's rude to stare, Ben,' Emily said, smiling her dazzling smile.
'You hear?' Ben asked, unable to help but smile back at her.
'You know, living this far in the wilderness, I don't get to meet many people. In fact, you're the first I've seen in months,' Emily explained.
Ben chuckled uncomfortably. 'What a way to meet,' he said. 'Thank you, again, for saving me.'
'It's not a problem. It was my pleasure. You were bleeding pretty bad. It took everything I had to stop it.'
'How did you stop it? The bleeding, I mean?' Ben asked. Before Emily answered, she grabbed a glass from the side table and fed Ben. He drank thankfully.
'It's a secret ointment my mother told me,' Emily explained, placing the glass on the table. 'Don't worry. It's completely safe. How are you feeling?'
'As okay as can I be, I suppose,' Ben said, feeling slightly confused. 'Was anyone else involved? Did you tell the police?'
'What did I say, Ben?' Emily said raising her voice to the same pitch as a concerned mother. 'Rest first, answers second!'
Emily stroked his cheek delicately and fed him more drink.
Soon after he was out cold.
When he woke next it was cold. He felt a chill circulate around him but it was unable to penetrate its way through. Now, all his clothes had been removed and replaced. He looked at them, horrified. The fuck? he thought as his eyes fell on a Star Wars logo sprawled across his chest, and a pair of jeans ripped at the knees.
'Do you like them? I had to throw the other pair away, they were so dirty,' Emily said. She was busy in the kitchen stirring a hot mug of something.
'They're, er... not my usual attire, no. But I can't complain. Where did you get them?'
'You were out for hours, I checked your vitals to make sure you were okay and went to the shops. I hope you don't mind?' Emily asked, bringing the mugs toward him. One for him, the other for herself.
'No, of course not. How do you know so much about nursing?' Ben asked sipping the drink. Tea, he thought and relaxed.
'That's because I am one!'
'And you say you don't talk to people?'
Emily paused before answering, 'I work with comatose patients, the ones who are living through a machine. They tend not to be as chatty as others!' She laughed loudly, and a warmth spread throughout his body.
'Do you live alone, Emily?' Ben asked, unsure why he was asking such a personal question.
'Yes,' she said shyly, giggling softly and looking to the floor. 'Do you?'
'Yes, I live alone too,' Ben said.
'Do you have a girlfriend?' Emily asked.
'Me? No,' he said, although he pronounced the word like nooooo.
'Interesting,' she said, winking at him. 'I don't have a boyfriend.'
Ben didn't know how to react. He couldn't deny it to himself, he thought Emily was stunning. More than that, other-worldly. But she had rescued him from a car crash. It would be weird if anything happened.
'What do you do, Ben?' Emily asked.
Then the two of them spent the next few hours getting to know one another deeply. Ben knew the ins and outs of her life, and Emily his. They left no stone unturned. And it felt right to Ben, it felt natural, it felt comfortable.
But it also felt oddly familiar. Like he had known her from somewhere.
'Is that the time?' Emily asked. 'Here I am, telling you to rest, and I'm the one stopping you in the first place!'
Ben didn't protest. He was feeling tired, and his muscles ached with the fatigue of recovery.
Emily placed the cold mugs on the table and leant over to tuck him in. Ben grabbed her and kissed her.
He was confused by his own actions. To his surprise, Emily kissed him back just as passionately and ferociously as he did her. Suddenly, he felt rejuvenated.
As they kissed, they locked each other in an embrace. Within seconds, Ben tore Emily's clothes from her body and not before long, he entered inside her.
After their promiscuity, they fell asleep in one another's arms.
'Morning, handsome,' Emily said, placing his favourite mug on the table beside him. An image of a potato dressed in glasses and moustache stared back at him.
He was upright now, and his recovery was underway. Movement neither caused him much pain nor depleted his energy as quickly. Sex followed the same pattern, too.
'Give me a kiss, gorgeous,' Ben said, holding his arms out.
Emily followed her command and after she was finished, sat on the bed.
'Do you think you're strong enough to walk?' she asked him, massaging his legs.
'Yes. The sooner I can, the sooner I can change into some decent clothes for a change,' he said and winked at her.
'Shut up, you.'
In a mad rush of passion jumped on him. They locked themselves in their usual embrace until Ben came only moments later. He was still getting used to full functionality of his body.
After Emily wiped him down, Ben shimmied himself off the bed.
It took every muscle in his body, but he did it. He was relieved. It had only been a few days since the accident and he'd made a full recovery.
Fantastic! he thought to himself. 'Now, I can explore your house. I need to get them working again.'
'Splendid idea,' Emily said, giving him a hug. 'I'll get some alcohol to celebrate!'
Within a minute Emily returned, glasses in hand. They both finished the wine promptly and rested on the sofa in front of the television.
'Anything interesting?' Ben asked, as he struggled down so low in the cushions.
Emily grunted and flicked between the channels.
An image of Ben's face appeared on the screen. The word "missing" raced across the bottom.
'What the fuck?' Ben said, thinking out loud, attempting to lean forward in the chair.
Emily, at once, jumped up and raced to the kitchen. 'You're not supposed to know,' she said, also thinking out loud.
Ben continued watching, ignoring the sounds of the kettle boiling and the clinking of ceramic in the background. Shortly afterwards, a series of three other men's faces appeared next to Ben's on-screen.
'... bodies were never found,' the news reporter finished.
Ben was dumbfounded. Then realisation settled in faster than the speed of light.
Emma, he thought. He rose from the sofa, grabbed his wallet, and raced down a hallway, sending furniture tumbling to the floor as his legs readjusted poorly to the immense effort.
'NO!' Emily screamed from the kitchen. It wasn't her usual soft and sensitive voice. Instead, it sounded almost demonic.
Ben raced down the hall. His legs gave way and he landed through a door.
He looked up and froze. 'What the fuck?'
Hanging on pegs were the three missing men he'd just seen on the television, the contents of their bodies missing. All that remained was their skin. They looked like movie prop costumes.
'Ben,' an other-worldly voice said behind him.
Ben turned. His saviour, in blue, green, yellow and red, stood in the way of his escape.