- Text Size +
What I want to know is whose bright idea was it to make all the hallways look exactly the same in this place? How was anyone ever supposed to find the conference room they were looking for? It was like a little maze or something in the back hallways. If it weren't for the fact that I was being escorted to the right place by three bodyguards (Lon, and two guys from the hotel staff), a PR rep (Wendy), two federal agents (would you believe Harris and Walters?), and one highly tattooed pop-singer (take a wild guess), I would probably have ended up addressing the Sewing Circle that was meeting in Conference Room B3. On the other hand, that would probably have been an easier crowd to deal with. Not nearly as nerve-wracking. And I could probably answer about as many questions on sewing as I could on what happened to me.

Wendy went over my "statement" with me as we headed down to the conference, but I still felt like I had no idea what to say. I mean I had the first 30 seconds covered with "I was attacked in my hotel bathroom, I was drugged into unconsciousness, I woke up in the hospital six days later with a mild concussion and other minor injuries." Okay so I only had about the first 15 seconds covered. I could possibly repeat it a couple times to fill some time. Or maybe I'd just talk reeeeally slow. But then everybody'd probably make fun of me like they do to Kev sometimes.

Noticing that I didn't have a lot to offer as far as a press release went, Wendy suggested that maybe I talk about what I was feeling and what I was doing to recover. No way was I going to tell everyone about what I was feeling. Could you imagine? "At the moment I feel kinda like Jell-O. You know how it doesn't ever really stop shaking and like even when it looks like it's all still, all it takes is a tiny little nudge and its back to full fledged quivering-mode? That's me." There's a reason I don't like to speak up much at interviews. Somehow it all sounds better in my head than it does on paper when I read it later. And to be honest that one doesn't even sound all that good in my head.

And what could really be said about recovering? I mean basically my plan was to do this stupid conference then hide in a locked room with guards watching over me until the whole thing went away. Doesn't exactly sound like a solid plan, does it? Especially after my brief discussion with Walters and Harris before we headed down for the conference.

They still didn't have any leads, and didn't know anything more than I did about what happened. They talked to that nurse at the hospital, I guess. They believed her when she said she didn't have any idea who'd left that...gift for me. So there was still basically nothing to go on other than my really pathetic description. Hiding in a locked room for the next several years didn't really sound all that feasible. Especially since concerts rarely take place in locked rooms and the revised schedule of our tour seemed to have a performance in just a couple days. AJ assured me that management wasn't going to push me into performing until I was ready (like Kevin'd let them) but the other four would be going ahead with the show with or without me. I haven't decided about that yet.

I didn't have much time to dwell on the lack of things I was going to say because, after making several turns heading into the labyrinth of conference rooms, we were getting pretty close to the "Executive Conference Theater". Cool name for a conference room huh? Can you imagine having an entire theater inside a hotel? Maybe we should just hold our next concert there. I mean wouldn't that be pretty handy to have the concert venue right in the hotel? Of course it's probably more like a movie theater thing than like an actual stage or anything, but it was a cool thought anyway.

Is it me or wouldn't it make sense to have the largest room nearest to the lobby? That way you wouldn't have to have everyone traipsing around getting all lost and stuff. On the other hand, maybe that's why it's tucked way back in there so that people would get lost and they wouldn't have to worry about finding seating for everyone.

Unfortunately from the sound of it, more than enough people had managed to find the place and cram into the room without getting lost. I could hear them before we even reached the final hallway. Enough people, in fact, that they didn't all fit in the theater and were crowding the hall. We found that out as we turned into the final stretch. Somewhere among those people could be the guy that had attacked me. He'd said he'd see me at the conference. My heart started pounding as I scanned the small crowd that overflowed from the room. To my relief there were no really large men, but then there were a lot more people waiting inside, so that didn't mean he wasn't present. He might've just simply meant that he would be watching the press conference on TV, which was what I was really hoping. But I had my doubts and it didn't make me any less nervous. I swore I could feel him watching me. Waiting.

Of course, all the people out in the hall were waiting and watching me, so that's probably where that feeling came from. I willingly moved closer to Lon even though I'd already been within his two-foot range rule. I didn't feel too bad about that, however, since AJ moved with me. He was probably doing that more for my benefit than him being scared, though, I suppose. AJ doesn't ever seem to get freaked out by the crowds. Neither do I, most of the time, but every once in a while it gets kind of scary. Like now. These people weren't screaming or anything like crowds of fans, but as soon as we turned into the hallway, their attentions were all focused on me. I could hear them whispering things about me as we passed, which was way worse to me than screaming. The whispering sent more shivers through my body. I was practically stepping on Lon's feet I moved so close to him. He didn't say anything about it though, and just placed a hand lightly on my back and guided me past the reporters.

I looked around, trying to spot the nearest exit should one be needed in a hurry. It never hurt to be prepared. Just past the crowd I could see a door marked "Stairs: Basement Access". Duly noted. It didn't say it was an exit, but usually where there's a stairwell there's a door.

We made it safely to the conference room door and I slowed so I could peer in cautiously and get an idea of what I was facing. Lon stopped with me and scanned the crowd like I was doing. It was absolutely packed in the room. I'd guestimate (is that a word?) at least a hundred and fifty reporters were crammed into the room that was intended for only about a hundred. And the guy could be anywhere among them, seated in the crowd where I wouldn't be able to spot him.

I suddenly realized how much I really didn't want to be there. I wanted to turn and run, get back to my room and lock myself in. Then again I'd been in a locked room to begin with and that hadn't saved me.

Nowhere was safe.

But, if I didn't go do this, I would be putting the other guys in danger. Damn. So much for running away. Then again that seemed to be out of the question anyway since I couldn't seem to make myself start moving again.

"Kaos," AJ called my nickname quietly, trying to get my attention. I glanced at him and he gave me a reassuring smile. Sure, AJ, it was all going to be okay. I wanted to believe that, but I just couldn't. But I had to go on like nothing was wrong. Sure. I took a deep breath and made myself start walking into the room. I heard AJ let out a relieved sigh as he followed me in. Everyone from the hall started filing in behind us, too, making the room that much more overcrowded. Giving my stalker even more people to hide among.

"Nick!" I heard an unfamiliar man's--his?--voice call from somewhere to my right. My attention was instantly drawn toward the voice and a camera flash snapped--

"That'll look good on the internet don't you think?" a voice whispered gruffly in my ear. I felt myself being lifted and dragged out of what I could only guess might be a car trunk. I was slung over my captor's shoulder as if my size and weight were inconsequential. Since I couldn't see anything, was completely disoriented and not entirely conscious, I couldn't be sure of anything, but I was fairly sure I was outdoors...but then a few moments later the breeze that I'd thought was present wasn't there anymore, so I guess I was indoors. Or maybe I'd just been carried inside. I couldn't tell. I could have been having some sort of drug induced dream, but then if that were the case I thought I would have been able to see something. It was scaring me that I couldn't see, so I kept my eyes closed so I could pretend that I wasn't blind. Even then I was pretty damn scared considering that I was being taken somewhere that I was fairly sure I didn't want to go. At any rate, reality seemed to be fading in and out.

A brief time later I was jarred fully awake, however, as my body struck the ground hard. I tried to scream in pain but instantly realized that there was something stuffed into my mouth to keep me from doing so. My eyes opened again, but it was still pitch black. I finally realized that there was a strange pressure across my eyes, and determined that I was blindfolded. That would explain the whole not being able to see thing. Moments after that realization was made, I felt a large hand moving through my hair and tugging at the cloth that was obstructing my vision until it was jerked away. I was sprawled face down on a concrete floor and I couldn't move even if my life depended on it. Which I was fairly certain it did. But I still couldn't move. I could only lie where I'd been dropped.

My captor had pulled the blindfold off, but my eyes were having trouble adjusting to the darkness. After a few moments, my vision started to clear and thanks to a small bit of light that was streaming in from somewhere near the excessively high ceiling, I determined that I was in some sort of storage room. There were large cabinets and lockers lining the wall to my right side and there were several boxes and a few pieces of abandoned furniture strewn throughout the seemingly enormous room. Everything seemed to be covered with a fairly heavy layer of dust. Which meant that nobody ever checked up on this place, nobody would somehow accidentally stumble on the scene and rescue me.

I discovered that at some point I'd been wrapped in a thin blanket, which was clinging to my still damp skin. While I was thankful at least for the scant protection it offered, the material wasn't enough to keep my body warmth from being sucked into the cold concrete below me. I was freezing and still being wet--I assumed from the shower I'd been so horrifyingly interrupted from--didn't help fight off the chills. On the up side, if I was still wet that meant I'd probably only been unconscious for a few minutes. That meant that I probably wasn't far from help. Someone must have seen me being taken. I mean how exactly would someone go about smuggling a 6'2" man out of a hotel without being noticed? Especially a...uh...less than fully clothed 6'2" man. I'd think that would be pretty hard to miss.

But if anyone had seen what was going on why wasn't someone helping me? They'd have made themselves known by then. Wouldn't they? Maybe they'd followed and were now going to get the police or something. But I couldn't count on it. Since no one seemed to be trying to rescue me, I had to assume that I was going to have to get out of this by myself. My arms and legs weren't cooperating with the orders my brain was trying to give it, though. I knew I needed to get up and get away, but my body wasn't obliging, which just added to the terror that filled me. I'd been paralyzed! My heart was pounding wildly as I kept trying unsuccessfully to make my arms or legs move. My limbs just kept ignoring the commands.

If I were paralyzed, I wouldn't feel pain, though, right? So...the pains in my arms, legs, and chest were good things. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at that realization, but I was so terrified that my system opted for the latter. I tried to blink the tears back, but my body was completely out of my control. Why couldn't I move?

Concentrating all my effort, I finally managed to raise my arm off the floor for a few moments. Now I was getting somewhere. I concentrated on getting my arm beneath me so that I could push myself up, but then strong hands were suddenly gripping my wrists and I was jerked violently to my feet.

I screamed, but the sound was almost completely stifled by the gag in my mouth. Something was being looped around my wrists and a moment later both my arms were yanked upward. They were stretched almost to the point where I thought they were going to be pulled right out of my sockets, but then the pressure lessened and my arms were allowed to relax slightly. My head lolled back and I saw that my wrists were bound with a thick wire that was then secured to a pipe that ran overhead.

My captor abruptly let go of me and my legs collapsed beneath me. I expected to go crashing to the ground, but there was no give in the restraints and all my weight was suddenly being taken on by my wrists. Which hurt. Lots. I struggled to get my legs stabilized enough to take the pressure off my wrists before the wire cut through my skin. It took a few tries, but then I was standing and the pain lessened considerably. In my wrists anyway.

I shivered uncontrollably, whether from fear or from cold was debatable. I wished that the blanket were thicker until I realized that if it had been heavier, gravity probably would have taken it from me already. As it was, the only thing that was holding it up was the fragile bond created by the dampness of my skin. It was probably only a short matter of time before I would lose what cover I had.

Unfortunately, I was right about that, but it was my captor that ripped it away from me, not gravity. I closed my eyes and tried not to think about the fact that I was completely exposed to him and there was nothing I could do about it. My body's shaking intensified, but this time I was fairly certain it was the fear, along with an overwhelming feeling of shame, that was causing it.

I heard my captor moving slightly away from me, and turned my head instinctively to see if I could get a look at him. As frightened as I was, I still had questions. Like who was this guy and why was he doing this to me? Unfortunately he wasn't ready to supply the answers.

Before I had even turned enough to really get a look at him, I felt a horrible pain explode in my face. It took a moment to realize that he'd punched me. And I realized that only as I saw the fist coming at me another time. I tried to turn away from it, but it still caught me in the jaw, snapping my head back and making me lose my balance. My body cried out the agony I couldn't voice.

As I struggled to get my legs stabilized again, my attacker moved away from me. I didn't repeat the mistake of trying to look. I was too afraid that he'd hit me again if I did. Being very careful not to look in his direction, I listened to what sounded like him rummaging through a bag. If I didn't know what was coming, I wouldn't be able to prepare myself for it. Not that I could do anything anyway. I squeezed my eyes shut as if that could protect me from what was coming. If I couldn't see it, it didn't exist. Not the most brilliant defense tactic, but it was all I could manage at the moment.

"Smile for the camera," I heard my captor hiss out in a harsh whisper.

My eyes flew open and I turned my head toward the sound reflexively. A camera flash snapped--

I was completely disoriented for a moment before I realized that I was on my hands and knees on the ground. The wire had snapped? Nothing was around my wrists, but I could see the bruising that the wire had caused. I became aware that there were several people towering over me, and I wanted to scream but couldn't quite find my voice. I crouched back and raised my arms, trying to protect my head even though nobody seemed to be hitting me or anything.

I became aware of a lot of gasping and whispering going on but couldn't comprehend what was being said. It sounded like it was coming from all directions at once. Just how many people were there surrounding me? Ohgodohgodohgod. I looked around fearfully and realized that I was at the press conference, not in a dank storage room. And the people towering over me were friends (or at least acquaintances), not attackers. Damn it, I'd gone completely off the deep end. In front of cameras and countless reporters no less. They were going to have a field day with this. I noticed at least two video cameras directed at me and wondered if the footage of my little collapse had gone out on live television. Damn it, damn it, damn it!

AJ was kneeling down next to me, and I could see that his lips were moving but I couldn't seem to understand what he was saying. Nothing made any sense anymore. He was staring at me with wide eyes. Countless other people were staring at me, too. I couldn't do this. I covered my face with my hands so that I wouldn't have to see everyone looking at me.

"I've got you, kid. It's okay," I heard Lon directly whisper into my ear as he crouched down next to me. I shivered at the sound. It wasn't even remotely the same whisper as the one from my nightmare--memory?--but it had the same effect on my totally fried nerves. "I'm going to take you back upstairs. We can do this later. You're not ready."

I wanted very badly to take Lon up on that. I wanted to hide, wanted to curl up in a little ball and stay where nobody could touch me, where nobody could even look at me. I wanted to go home. Hell, I wanted to be anywhere that wasn't there. As long as it was somewhere safe and nobody would be looking at me. I was about to take Lon up on his offer to get me the heck out of there when I glanced up, and caught sight of Brian and Howie pushing their way through the crowd to get to me. Seeing them, I remembered that I couldn't leave. I had to do this stupid conference or the guy might decide to hurt one of them. That's the only reason I'd ended up coming down after the phone call. And it was still a valid reason. I couldn't leave now, no matter how much I wanted to. Damn it all to hell.

AJ moved aside a little to let Brian through, and what seemed like a split second later, my best friend was on the floor next to me. He reached toward me, but stopped short, hesitating with his shaking hand only a fraction of an inch away from my skin. Why was he shaking? I was the one that was scared nearly to death, here. I looked at him in confusion and saw that he was nearly as frightened as I was. That actually made me feel better in a weird sort of way. I wasn't alone. Is it horrible that him being scared made me feel better?

I nearly knocked Brian over as I impulsively launched myself toward him, desperately needing him to hold me and tell me that it was all okay again. I wondered if it was actually three o'clock, and if he'd actually penciled this in on his calendar or not. He recovered quickly and seemed to know exactly what I wanted because his arms were around me almost immediately. A moment later, I felt someone else join us and realized that it was Howie. And then AJ decided to get in on the action, too, and they surrounded me in a little impromptu huddle. Oh yeah, the press was going to have a field day all right. But at that moment, I didn't even really care. As the others hung onto me, I felt like they were literally passing their strength to me, and I really needed to borrow some of that to get me past the practically crippling fear. The press could just all go to hell. That's probably not an appropriate attitude is it? Oh well.

I couldn't help but grin as I started thinking about what we probably looked like at that moment. A little backstreet pile-up in the middle of the floor. I'd definitely needed the group hug thing, though; I was feeling a ton better already. The fear was subsiding. I could breathe again, and my heart was returning to normal rate.

When I finally felt reasonably calm again, I let out a deep breath and started moving a little to let the others know that I was ready to get up. They backed off enough so we could all get up, but stayed crowded around me.

"I have to do this," I informed Lon, refusing his earlier offer to take me back to the room. He gave me an appraising look. "I'm okay now. The camera just...spooked me, you know?" To prove that assessment, another camera flash went off and I flinched. Brian moved in closer again as if he were trying to shield me from the cameras. If I weren't concentrating on keeping my now somewhat controlled fear in check I probably would have found that really funny. Brian's my best friend and all and I really appreciated his attempt but him trying to shield me from the cameras was just not happening since I tower about a half foot over him. It's the thought that counted though.

"No more photographs!" I heard AJ instructing the crowd. "He doesn't want any more photographs! They freak him out!" I groaned. Did he really have to tell them that part? Now they were probably going to ask why during the question and answer thing. Thought that counted, thought that counted.

Regaining my composure the best I could, I headed toward the front of the room where they'd set up a table and five chairs. I should have had Wendy wake Kevin so he'd occupy the fifth chair. It would be weird to leave one empty; besides, I wanted him there. I wanted him to help watch out for me like the others were doing. Except that wasn't his responsibility, damn it. Why did I keep forgetting that? It wasn't any of their responsibilities, for that matter, I reminded myself, feeling a little guilty again. I glanced at the other guys, who were still hovering around me. I really needed to get a grip so they wouldn't have to keep dealing with me causing scenes like that. They hadn't seemed to mind, but I couldn't keep expecting them to do that.

Once I got up to the platform at the front of the room, I sank into the chair at the close end of the table--the one that happened to conveniently be nearest to the emergency exit. I suspected that the chair in the center was where they'd intended for me to sit since most of the microphones were centered there. But I didn't care. I felt a little better knowing that there was a door I could bolt for if I had to. Paranoid much? Probably. But I still felt better anyway. Besides, it was kind of fun watching all the stationary video-camera operators quickly readjusting their angles. AJ tapped me on the shoulder and nodded toward the chair with all the microphones in front of it, but I shook my head and stayed put. Fortunately, he didn't push the matter. Brian took the chair next to mine. AJ took the dreaded hot seat in front of the mics, and Howie sat on the other side of him.

Maybe I should have sat in the second seat rather than on the end. It was a little unnerving having one side unprotected. I glanced at Brian and considered asking him to change seats but then remembered that then I would be that much farther from the emergency exit. I'd stay where I was. Lon wouldn't let anyone get that close to us anyway.

I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing and keeping myself calm while everyone in the room got settled. I still hadn't really figured out what exactly I was going to say, and it was unnerving to know that no matter what came out of my mouth it was going to be broadcast on live television. No editing to make me look better. If Kevin had come to the conference he'd probably be sweating bullets worrying that I was going to say something really stupid like I usually end up doing. There's another reason I should have had Wendy wake him when I'd had the chance. I imagined him sitting in the chair down at the other end of the table all tense and fretting over what disastrous comments would come out of my mouth. Is it wrong that I almost started laughing at that image?

Finally the room quieted and I knew that everyone was waiting for me to say something.


I opened my eyes and found that all eyes were, indeed, on me. I could do this. It was just like any other performance, I tried to convince myself. I'd gone onstage several times when I'd been sick as a dog and ready to pass out from exhaustion; I'd gone onstage several times when I'd been extremely pissed off after an argument with one of the guys, one of my parents, or my ex-girlfriend-who-shall-remain-nameless. Once in the spotlight, none of that can matter. The trick is to keep smiling and leave all other concerns completely behind. Can't let anyone see what's really going on behind-the-scenes, so to speak. The cool and completely (or at least mostly) in control stage persona takes over and Nickolas Carter the individual with worries and insecurities ceases to exist until the show is over.

With that in mind, I flashed the best smile I could and gave a little wave to the room. "After that little scene I bet y'all are wondering what I'm gonna do for an encore," I started out. There were a few genuine chuckles and a lot of polite laughs. Tough crowd. Gotta loosen 'em up a bit. That's usually AJ's job, though. Then again it usually doesn't take a whole lot because everyone's usually really riled up anyway.

Note to self: make sure next press conference starts with a few strategically staged explosions.

Okay, maybe not.

Let's see, skipping the explosive intro...next thing we usually do is a song, but that'd be kind of inappropriate at the moment. Although it would certainly throw everyone for a loop if I suddenly broke into song.

Next stop: the padded room.

Okay, not going to sing, so fast forwarding a little. After the first set we always stop and thank people for being fans and showing up and everything. Okay, yeah, that would work if I altered it just a bit. "We..." Oops. "I want to start by thanking you all for all your concern and your prayers during the past few days." I took a deep breath as my mind searched for something more intelligible to say other than the "statement" I'd come up with earlier. Brian reached over and squeezed my hand reassuringly, likely assuming that my pause was due to nerves.

"I know there were a lot conflicting reports going on out there as to what happened to me, so I guess you want me to clear that up for you." Better luck next hostage crisis, people, because: "The truth is I can't really tell you much more than what you've probably already been told." Which reminded me that I probably should have asked exactly what the public had been told. But that would have been the bright thing to do, huh? "I'm sure by now you all know that I was abducted from my hotel room the other afternoon." There had to be something more interesting to tell them than that I couldn't remember anything--or at least nothing that I wanted to share. "Contrary to all those internet rumors, it was not by aliens or overzealous 'N Sync fans." I had no idea what sort of rumors were on the 'net, but those were a couple that I imagined were out there somewhere. If not, they would be in a matter of hours, knowing the rumor mill. Besides, that line got a few more laughs than the previous attempt at lightening up the mood and making the conference at least a little less painful.

I kept talking, dishing out the few details I was willing to disclose. I continued to joke a little bit here and there to cover up the fact that I didn't really know much and that I was still scared half out of my mind that I was going to lose control again. I purposely left out everything about my nightmare, about the flashback that I'd just had, and especially about the fact that the guy was still contacting me. The public really didn't need to know that stuff, and I didn't want it to turn into "Poor Little Me Hour" or anything.

All in all I think it went over pretty well. I didn't say anything too dumb sounding, and managed to keep my cool the entire time. Thank god for stage personas.

"And now I'm going to turn this over to AJ and he's going to tell y'all about our newly revised concert schedule," I concluded my statement, cutting off any chance at a Q & A session at that point in time. They'd probably still ask questions after AJ was done, but I figured it would maybe divert the attention off me at least a little bit.

As AJ started his spiel, I sank back in my chair again and leaned back a little, tuning him and the rest of the world out a little so I could relax. The worst was over as far as the conference was concerned. And nothing had happened. It was all good. The guy was probably sitting home in front of his TV watching the coverage. He probably got a huge thrill out of my pre-interview breakdown if they aired it, but I had the satisfaction of making it through the rest of it in good form. I actually hoped he was watching and that it ticked him off a little that I wasn't cowering. Well, not visibly anyway. Sure it was all an act, but he probably wouldn't know that.

Then again if I pissed him off it might make things worse if he ever got his hands on me again. But Lon and the other guards were around to make sure that didn't happen. So yeah, I hoped it pissed him off while he was out there watching. Okay, maybe I was getting a little cocky hiding behind my stage attitude, but it was working for me.

At least it was until the lights went out.

Welcome back to reality, Nickolas Carter.

I've always hated the dark. Always. Scary things lurk where you can't see them. You can't see them until suddenly they're right there ready for the kill. You don't even know what form the evil will take until it's on you. And having an overactive imagination makes it all that much worse because when you hear a noise instead of thinking things like "oh, hey, there's my hamster running in it's squeaky little wheel thing again" you think of stuff like "oh, hey, there's a squeaky evil beastie thing attacking my hamster." I'm not saying the thoughts are rational, I'm just saying how it is, you know?

I was relatively calm in the moments before all hell broke loose. But isn't that always how it works? Maybe I should be as scared of calm as I am of the dark. Have to start thinking of it as the eye of the storm rather than the end of it. That's healthy, no? No. But at least if I were scared of the quiet I'd be more prepared for moments like when the entire auditorium was thrust into total darkness. As it was, I think my heart stopped beating entirely for a few moments. And then the terror hit me full force.

The lights wouldn't have gone out for no reason. It hadn't been storming. No reason for a sudden power outage. Which meant that this was because someone had purposely cut the power. There was no valid reason for anyone to have done that. The building wasn't on fire. Or maybe I shouldn't make that assumption, but I doubted the building was on fire anyway. Someone intentionally cut the power. Someone. Him. He was in the building.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and nearly killed myself scrambling out of my chair to get away from whoever was trying to grab me. My knee slammed into the table and my foot got tangled in my chair enough to send me sprawling to the ground. I could hear people calling my name, but I didn't care. I had to get out of there. He was here. I had to get out. The emergency doors were just a few yards away. I could make it.

I felt a hand on my leg and screamed, kicking at my attacker. He wasn't going to get me again. I had to get out. I kicked my assailant again and was released. The moment I was freed, I launched myself to my feet and bolted for the door. Amidst all the panicked sounds behind me I heard Lon yelling at us to all sit still that security was already headed to find out what was going on. No way, Lon. Not staying here. He was here, damn it.

The emergency door had just shut behind me when it hit me that I'd just left the other guys behind. Oh God, what if that guy took one of the others because I ran off? What had I done? I turned to go back into the room but discovered that the exits were one-way doors. There was no handle to let me back in. Damn it! What had I done?

"Brian!" I screamed out for my best friend, hoping he could hear me over the pandemonium that was going on inside. "Howie! AJ!" I pounded on the door hoping that someone would let me back in. What was I thinking when I ran without them? What was I thinking?

Nobody was letting me in. I'd have to go back around to the regular entrance. I turned to run back that way when I saw a door opening at that end of the hallway. The door to the stairwell. To the basement. Where the circuit breakers probably were. Where the power supply for the whole building probably would be. Where whoever cut the power would be coming from.

I am quite possibly the stupidest man on the face of the Earth. My attacker couldn't have been in the auditorium if he were off somewhere else cutting the power. It had probably been one of the guys or maybe Lon that had grabbed my leg. And I'd totally kicked whoever it was. Not just that, but I'd separated myself from Lon, from my friends, from all potential witnesses and protectors. I can't believe I did something so dumb. I slowly backed the other direction down the hall, trying to be as silent as possible so that I wouldn't attract the stairwell guy's attention. Just in case.

A large figure--him, I knew it would be him--appeared in the hall. I couldn't see him any clearer than just a shadowy outline, but it had to be him. He was big enough to be, anyway.

The figure seemed to be headed for the auditorium door, and I wasn't sure what I should do. If I ran for it, I would be leaving the others behind, but if I went in there, he could grab me. Not knowing what else to do, I froze, waiting for him to get out of my sight so that I could think rationally. If I didn't move, maybe he wouldn't notice me, and I'd get a few moments to make my decision without the pressure of his presence diverting my attention.

But my luck is never that good.

Just before he disappeared around the corner he hesitated. Then he turned and looked right at me. I was so dead. Then again I could see him no clearer than an outline, maybe he couldn't see who I was, either.

A moment later, though, I found myself in the spotlight. Or rather a flashlight beam. Oh, SHIT! I turned and fled. I could hear him starting after me. I was too panicked to scream, but since no one had heard me trying to get back into the auditorium anyway it was unlikely that screaming would help.

I ducked around the first corner and raced down the dark hallway. Every door I passed I half expected someone to jump out and grab me, but no one did. I could still hear someone chasing after me, though, and that was scary enough. I turned another corner and wished I could remember exactly how to get back out of the back hallways to the lobby. If I kept making right turns though I should get there...no, wait, that would just take me in a giant square, that wouldn't work. Next turn should be a left. Oh shit, I'd already made two right turns, so I was headed in completely the wrong direction, wasn't I?

But I couldn't turn around. If I turned around, I'd run right into the guy.

Maybe I could find somewhere to hide? I spared a look over my shoulder and couldn't see my follower. For the moment I was unobserved. I yanked open the door to the nearest conference room, let myself practically fall inside and shut the door quickly behind me, careful not to let it slam or make any noise. With any luck the guy would think that I'd made it to the next corner and--

I really am the stupidest person on the face of the planet. If I'd gone to the next corner and taken a right I would have been headed right back to the protection of Lon and the others in the theater. Instead I'd just cornered myself in a dark room. A very dark room. Evil always lurks in dark rooms.

I swung around and tried to let my eyes adjust to the darkness enough to see any obstacles. Last thing I wanted to do was make any noise and alert the guy of my whereabouts. Unfortunately it was pitch black in the room since there were no windows and no lights. I doubted that there were any emergency exits in this smaller room, either. I was very trapped if he decided to check the room out. I needed to find somewhere to hide in case he did. Somewhere that he wouldn't be able to see without searching thoroughly. I dropped to the floor and as quickly but carefully as possible moved farther into the room, feeling for any obstacles, and better yet anything to hide behind. I felt a couple chair legs and figured that I was well on my way to crawling under a table. If he hadn't had a flashlight that would probably be enough cover, but I needed something more foolproof than that, so I kept crawling. Finally my hand hit something solid that was wider than a chair or table leg. It seemed like some sort of box. I carefully maneuvered around it. It was a fairly large box. The third wall of it (the side farthest from the door) was made of cloth.

It was a podium. And I was delighted to discover that the cloth concealed a nice little cubbyhole where presenters could hide stuff like overhead projectors and stuff. Perhaps even a terrified man in desperate need of a hiding place? It was a tight fit, but I managed to get myself inside with knees drawn tightly up to my chest.

I forgot to breathe a few moments later when I heard the sound of the door opening and a beam of light hit the wall in front of me. I'd found shelter just in time.

My heart was pounding so loud I was afraid that it would give my location away. If that didn't do it, then the cold sweat that had broken out and was dripping off my body would probably do it. Then again those sounds were probably just amplified to me because I was so incredibly scared. The beam of light began sweeping the room. Most of the time it was out of my line of vision, but it kept coming back again and again.

Finally I heard the door close and I let out the breath I'd been holding. I closed my eyes and let my head drop down against my knees, letting out another big sigh of relief. He was gone. He hadn't found me. I could breathe again. All the tension flowed out of my body and I was left feeling absolutely exhausted. Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, Adrenaline has left the building.

I let my legs slide down so that I wasn't crammed entirely inside the podium cubby and let my head loll back against the solid wall with a soft thump. I was safe for the moment, but I'd wait right where I was until the lights came back on and I could get back to the others safely. I wasn't about to risk going out there while the guy was still searching the hallway, or while he could be lurking somewhere between this room and the theater. I just prayed that Lon and the other guards would keep the other guys safe in case the guy took this opportunity to try and get to one of them since he'd lost me. Please keep them safe.

I heard a soft chuckle a few feet away and my heart skipped a few beats.

No way.

Remember what I said about being the stupidest man on the face of the Earth? I should just repeat that a few more times and bang my head against the podium a few times for emphasis. Of course that would really just further illustrate how dumb I was because I'd be wasting precious seconds that I should be using to try to make a break for it. Right. Much better idea.

Before I could, though, I felt strong hands grip my ankles and cried out as I was yanked out of my hiding spot. This wasn't happening. Not again. Please, God, not again. For a moment my legs were released and I rolled onto my stomach and used my arms to propel myself up onto my feet. Unfortunately a moment later I was back down on the ground again with a very heavy man pinning me down.

I really hate déjà vu, don't you?

I felt a hand grab a fistful of my hair and wrench my head back for just a moment before slamming it hard against the floor. The surface was carpeted, but it still hurt, damn it. "Don't move a muscle or you're a dead man," the now familiar whisper hissed in my ear. I believed him wholeheartedly. I suspected that I'd been living on borrowed time as it was. I don't think I was supposed to have gotten away from the psycho the first time.

The man shifted his weight off me and I wanted more than anything to make a break for it. The way I had it figured, if I followed his order and stayed still, he'd take me with him and I'd probably end up dying a slow painful death. On the other hand if I tried to run he'd probably shoot me or stab me or whatever and I'd die anyway. But a quick death would be better wouldn't it? Regardless, I couldn't seem to make myself move, so it seemed like a slow death was in my future.

I heard him rustling around a little bit and then a few moments later felt something sharp jab me in the side. A needle. Tears sprung to my eyes as reality struck home. I swore I could actually feel something being pumped into my bloodstream. It was really happening again. Why was this happening to me? Why? What had I done that was so wrong that I deserved this?

Nothing, damn it! Adrenaline was back with a vengeance.

I pulled away from the needle quickly and kicked at the man trying to inject me with that horrible drug. I heard him grunt and fall backward as I made contact. Yes! I launched myself to my feet and scrambled for the door, reaching down to pull the syringe out of my body as I went. I wasn't sure how much, if any, of the drug had actually been injected, but I was going to have to assume that the damage was done and I'd soon be out of commission. So I had to get to help fast.

My instinct on that matter proved to be well founded as the dizziness hit me before I even made it to the hall. I forced myself to keep going, though. I had to get back to the auditorium. Back to safety. I clawed frantically at the door handle and flung the door open, stumbling out into the hallway.

Which way did I have to go? Damn it, I couldn't think. Which way back to the auditorium? My head was spinning. Or else the hallway was. Either way it was making it harder to figure out which way to go.

Okay. I'd gone out the side door of the auditorium, went right down that hall and then made two consecutive right turns and then ducked into a conference room on the left side. So that meant...I needed to go left? No. Damn it! Which way?

I heard someone coming up fast behind me and realized I didn't have time to think it out carefully, so I just turned and fled as fast as I could down the hall. Unfortunately that was not very fast at all because I was getting weaker and weaker and it was taking more and more concentration that I just didn't have to keep myself upright and moving.

I was grabbed around the waist and pulled back against my assailant. One of his arms locked itself around my waist while his other hand shot up and clamped hard onto my jawbone, forcing my head back until my neck felt like it was going to break. "Don't make a sound or I'll snap your neck."

My legs kept trying to give out, but I was forced to walk along with my captor guiding me through the dark hall. I couldn't figure out where we were headed until I was pushed through a doorway into a stairwell. Where there are stairwells, there are usually exits. This was really happening. I was being taken again.

I was suddenly blinded as the stairs were flooded with light. The power was back on. Not that it was going to help me now.

"FUCK!" my captor swore in a high-pitched semi-panicked sounding whisper. He was panicking? Try being in my shoes, guy. Except I was too lightheaded to panic any more.

I was suddenly slammed hard against the wall, my head striking full force. My legs stopped supporting me entirely and I started to fall, but my captor caught me before I hit the ground. His arms were wrapped around my chest, holding me up by my armpits. I sure hoped he didn't expect me to be able to walk anymore because my vision was clouding over with hundreds of little black dots.

I was aware of being dragged a small distance and found myself looking down a flight of stairs. I felt myself being hoisted up a little and knew what was coming. This was it. This was how it all would end. Sorry, guys, looks like the band is gonna be short one member permanently.

My borrowed time was up.

I felt myself being thrust forward and released. The world went black before I even hit the ground.