Bitter Winds

Theme 36: Nightmare

A/N: Theme from the Infinite Arthur Theme List Challenge. If you're interested in participating, PM me and I'll Doc-X the list.

~This piece is rated K+ but contains scary themes. Reader discretion is advised.

The wind blew strong on the dark day as a bleak winter fell over Elwood City. Arthur and Fern stepped into the Sugar Bowl, bundled from head to toe. Inside, Marina and Buster sat at a back table. Though it was the furthest from the door, a bitter wind swept to the back of the restaurant.

"I'm glad you guys came," Buster said, chomping on some room temperature fries. Arthur thought of taking one before noticing the mounds of salt on the fried potatoes. He looked to Marina with a perplexed look. "Oh, Marina wanted to go to the book signing too. She's always wanted to meet the author, but he's never come to this side of the country before."

"He's moving here permanently. He bought a house in my neighborhood, and rumor has it, he's the one who bought that lot where Pottery 4 You burned down," Fern said. She leaned forward with a dark expression, "I heard from Binky that they're building tall fences around the lot. They claim its for an upcoming tourist attraction. Have any of you heard anything?"

"I have," Carl said. The kids looked up to the Sugar Bowl owner as he leaned towards them, "I heard none of us will be allowed there. Whoever that guy is, he's learning who everyone is so he can keep them out. I wouldn't trust him if I were you, but I hear his books are pretty good."

"They are," Marina beamed. "I think we're just misunderstanding him. All new people seem strange at first," she smiled. The kids agreed, but all of them were skeptical as they looked outside. Sleet was beginning to fall and thunder rumbled in the distance. They decided to leave then for the book signing.

When they arrived at the store, the lights were off on the entire block. The worried book store own roamed the aisles placing tea candles wherever she could, but even flashlights had a hard time penetrating the dark, cold air. People began trickling out of the store, and then he arrived.

Corbin Douglas was the author of several young adult and children's novels. He focused on life itself, but the darker side of it. His most popular novel was about a young girl who outlived her entire family, went mad, and threw herself off a bridge. Numerous parent groups banned the book from their local libraries and schools, so Corbin changed his tune. He stuck to less dark issues like divorce, sickness, and accidents, and he became immensely popular overnight. His most recent hit, Skidmarks, centered around a deadly curve in a town not unlike Elwood City. It was this book that everyone gathered to have signed.

As he entered the building, his black trench coat dripped as sleet pellets slid down the leather. He nodded to the line of people before spying the frazzles book store owner. He smirked to himself, and Buster shuddered as he removed his black gloves and his other winter clothes. As he rested them against the wall, the lights popped on as if by magic, and the line of people gathered inside the freshly lit store.

"Welcome, welcome," he said with a smooth tone, settling at a table and removing the lid from a black permanent marker. The line gathered, and soon the event was beginning. After each copy was signed, eager readers waited next to a seating area, hoping the beloved author would stay after signing their books.

But an hour later, the author's cell phone rang. He hopped up from his seat as residents watched with blank expressions. They were unsure what exactly was going on, but when the black weather gear was back on, they knew their author was leaving. They asked him to stay, but he had already slipped on his gloves. He nodded to them and pulled up his collar before trekking into the semi-heavy sleet falling on the city.

As soon as he left the store, the power blinked off again, sending the store into darkness. Everyone slowly trickled out, their hearts broken and their souls heavy due to the day's events.

Prunella and Marina were curled up in the library reading Corbin Douglas's latest novel. Fern approached and sat next to them. Arthur and Buster soon joined them with textbooks in-hand, and the group sat together in complete silence.

It had been three days since the book signing, but winter still gripped the city. Seven inches of snow had fallen the night before, and because of ice the day before, many roads were closed because of dangerous conditions. Schools were closed because of this, and many students roamed the library carrying piles of winter gear along with their books.

Arthur looked up fearfully as DW's shrill voice carried from the children's section. Despite the weather, the weekly puppet show was still on schedule, and several kids laughed as Mr. Ratburn did one of his usual routines.

"My mother tried to get an interview with Corbin Douglas. He refused," Buster whispered. Prunella scoffed, "He always refuses. He writes his own articles, not the other way around. He can afford to be that picky, remember?"

Buster shrugged as Arthur noticed Marina's book, "Wow, they already have the braille edition of his latest book?" Arthur asked. Marina nodded, "He's very good to his blind readers. They say he even named his leading character after a blind friend of his."

Fern nodded, "That's true. Her name is Maryanne Higgens and she was his neighbor. I hear she died tragically a few years ago, so he rarely lets the story out. But the fan sites have plenty of evidence to connect the story."

"His friend died?" Buster asked. Fern nodded. "Like, how did she die? Fall in the home? Car accident?" Buster questioned.

"Well, you might want to read the book, Buster. If this is based off her, then she died...well, you'll have to read for yourself," Marina smiled, closing her book as her watch beeped. "I have to get to an appointment across town. Prunella, would you mind helping me to the bus stop?"

Prunella gathered her things and left with Marina. Arthur and Buster exchanged glances when they were gone, and Buster was stirred up enough to continue talking, "Why would he use her in a novel if he liked her and she died tragically? It's only been a little while."

"Yes, but writers use their works to grieve. It happens all the time," Fern said. Buster didn't seem convinced, but Arthur was on her side. He was about to say so when DW approached with an activity sheet that she needed help with. DW dragged Arthur away to the children's section, leaving Buster and Fern alone.

"I've always been suspicious of him, that Corbin guy. Mom said his books are banned all over the country and for good reasons," Buster whispered. Fern laughed, "There are classics on the banned books list, Buster. Corbin just writes about the facts of life, even in the darker pieces. Entire families could die tragically, and roads like the one in Skidmarks exist all over the country. So you don't like his books. Go read some sci-fi; it's better suited for you."

Buster agreed, and after noticing Arthur leaving with DW, he moved into the stacks. The Elwood City Public Library had an entire science fiction section at the back of the building, and Buster quickly moved there to look at titles.

Not long after he arrived in the section, a dark-clad figure took to the next aisle. Buster peeked through the books suspiciously, feeling the air grow tense around him. He immediately tried to shake off the feeling. Talking about Corbin Douglas made him nervous. Whoever was on the aisle was just being affected by that earlier conversation.

Either way, Buster grabbed an alien-cloaked book and rushed it to the front desk without looking at the title. He then bundled up again and rushed into the cold, eager to get away from the library and whatever strange people wandered inside.

Marina exited the doctor's office, happy to be finished with her check up. She was just a block away from where her mother was waiting. Despite slippery streets, she quickly moved in that direction.

Behind her, she heard fast footsteps. Before she could register who or what was making the sound, she suddenly spun around and landed hard on her bottom. An elderly man's voice rang out, apologizing for the mix-up and asking if she was alright.

"I'm fine, just a little sore," Marina smiled, carefully standing on the slippery sidewalk.

"I'm in quite the hurry, Miss. Can you make it on your own?" he asked. Marina nodded and gained her bearings. She thought she was still going in the right direction, and she smiled to the man before walking away.

But Marina wasn't going in the right direction. She turned when she thought she should have, but instead of walking to the front of a business, she walked across a street and into a fenced-off lot.

When she heard the construction noises, Marina knew she wasn't where she should be, but she had no way of knowing exactly where she was in order to get where she was initially going. So, she followed the construction noises towards a loud machine. She called out for someone, but no one answered, so she walked towards another machine.

But before she got there, strong hands gripped her shoulders. A cool voice called to her, "You shouldn't be here."

"I know, I was just trying to get to a sewing shop near here, but I slipped on the ice, and-"

"You shouldn't be here," the man said again. Marina began to apologize, but suddenly, something soft and cloth-like was in her mouth. Marina tried to struggle, but the strong hands lifted her high into the air. She wiggled, but it was no use. Marina was trapped.

A few days later, the roads were safe enough for students to return to school. Buster and Arthur were working with George and Jenna on a class project as the world sat dim and cold outside their window. They were focused on their school work, trying to build what Mr. Ratburn wanted with the provided supplies.

But a few minutes into their work, an announcement came in over the intercom. The students were called to the auditorium for an emergency assembly. Mr. Ratburn obeyed, frantically lining up the students and rushing them up the crowded hallway and into the auditorium. Students murmured, trying to figure out why they were there, when two police officers entered through a side door.

"This is not a good assembly," Brain murmured. The room went silent as the officers joined Principal Haney onstage.

"Students and staff, I introduce to you Officer Justine Phillips and Detective Michael Reed. They have an important announcement regarding a student from another school," Principal Haney introduced. The officers took to the microphone and exchanged glances. The detective spoke first.

"This morning, we received a missing persons report from a local mother. A student of Mighty Mountain Elementary, Marina Datillo, is missing," the detective announced. A cry came from the back row, and two teachers led a sobbing Prunella out of the room. Detective Reed cleared his throat, "We've come here today to ask for any information regarding her whereabouts. Anyone who saw her within the last week should raise their hands now so we can talk to them."

Arthur and Buster exchanged glances before raising their hands. Fern raised hers next, then Jenna raised hers. Mr. Ratburn led the four of them out of the auditorium while Officer Phillips spoke to the rest of the school. Detective Reed joined them outside, along with another detective, Cynthia Rayner. The four students were sat together at first.

"Hi, I'm Detective Rayner. Where did you all see Marina recently?" the second detective questioned. Despite her usual shyness, Fern quickly responded, "She was at the library with us reading the latest Corbin Douglas novel. She left to go to an appointment."

"Did she say what kind of appointment?" Detective Reed questioned. The four shook their heads. Arthur eyed Jenna carefully, and Detective Reed noticed his stare. "What's on your mind, son?"

"I don't remember seeing you at the library," Arthur said to Jenna. She nodded, "I was in the stacks. You might not've seen me."

"What were you wearing?" Buster asked with a suspicious tone.

"This sweater, plus a pink jacket," Jenna replied. The detectives eyed Arthur and Buster carefully. Then, Detective Reed led them away from Fern and Jenna. Immediately, Buster was questioned about his reaction. Buster was honest with Detective Reed and told him about the strange figure.

"I don't remember seeing this guy," Arthur whispered. Buster nodded, "It was after you left. I went to the science fiction section to find a book, but there was this tall guy on the next aisle wearing all black. He made me feel so nervous that I picked up a horrible book by mistake."

"Buster, you're always paranoid about things. He was probably still bundled from the cold or something," Arthur sighed.

"I want to look into it. Maybe it's important," the detective said, looking behind him. "Look, we're not telling the rest of the school much because we don't want to scare anyone, but you kids look smart. We found one of her gloves on a sidewalk, and we have video of her falling before walking in the wrong direction. We don't know if she got lost, if something bad happened, or what, but any little detail helps."

Arthur and Buster understood, but neither had much to offer. Fern and Jenna were the same, and after a few minutes, a fifth grade hall monitor led them back to Mr. Ratburn's class. As they sat down, the entire school felt tense. Mr. Ratburn called off their group project in favor of a movie. As he set up the projector screen, the dim sky turned dark grey again and snow began to fall.

Bitzi was shaking as she sat at the dinner table. Buster eyed her carefully as he stepped into the kitchen. It was six o'clock and time for dinner, but Bitzi was frozen in her chair, a copy of the day's paper in front of her.

"That poor girl, Buster! No one knows if she's been lost or kidnapped," Bitzi cried, putting her head on the table. "So many strange things are happening, and I just...I want you to be safe, baby," Bitzi cried, raising up and trying to hug Buster.

Buster pulled away, "Wait, what kind of strange things? Detectives told up about Marina-"

"And that's just it! The girl vanished without a trace, then the police sent detectives to every school in Elwood City, plus some outside of the city. Then, there was another power outage downtown today. Only three businesses were affected, but when a man came into their store—they didn't know who—all three had power again. When he left, it was off again."

"That's probably a coincidence. You know the power acts funny this time of year because of the ice," Buster grinned. He was trying to be positive, but he was just as paranoid as his mother. What had happened to Marina, and why were the detectives so concerned?

**Three Months Later**

Spring was attempting to arrive in Elwood City, but a bitter cold still kept the city frozen part of the day. Students were tired of trekking through snow and ice to get to school, but they were more tired of the posters. "See the Douglas Estate Gardens! 1 Mile Left!" they proclaimed. But when the locals arrived, they were turned away. It was a tourist attraction, just for tourists, and the locals were uncomfortable.

Parents were upset as well. Billboards that once asked about the missing Marina Datillo now advertised the gardens instead, and Marina's mother hadn't been seen in town for weeks. Many were growing worried, but none more so than the children.

Francine, Buster, and Fern were in the Sugar Bowl when Binky and Arthur came in. They put their winter clothes on the first table, the building's designated coat rack, before joining their friends. Francine looked fired up, and the newcomers soon heard why.

"So my mom was going to organize a search of the city with some other moms, but when they asked to search the new gardens, the man threatened to sue them to keep them away," Francine spat. "I can't believe them. It's bad enough we can't even see inside because of those stupid walls, and now they won't let us search for a girl that might not even be alive anymore."

"Don't be so dark, Francine," Fern sighed. "We all miss Marina and want her to be okay."

"It's been three months, Fern. I thought you read that bozo's books, Douglas whoever. All of his books are like that because life is like that. One minute, everything is fine. Then a girl goes missing, her mom skips town, and no one even cares. And that tourist attraction is a gimmick. Catherine tried to sneak in with friends wearing a wig, makeup, and completely different clothes, and they weren't allowed in," Francine scoffed.

"Maybe we should sneak in...after hours," Buster whispered. Fern gave him a horrified look, "What are you thinking, Buster? Why would you even want to go there after dark?"

Arthur sighed, "Buster's right. We need to get inside at least to see what all the fuss is about. We might even find something for the police."

"Like what, a body?" Francine huffed. "Marina probably got taken away from here. What would he want with her?"

"A lot of things," Fern whispered. "I-I'm not the expert, but Marina knew the stories. He had a blind neighbor once that died tragically. She said it was in the book, but the girl in the book was sighted...and she was held a slave until she finally starved herself to death."

"Do you think he kidnapped Marina?" Arthur asked. Fern shook her head, "No, I think she wandered in on her own. You've seen the tape. She went the wrong direction, and the lot for the gardens was just steps away."

"So let's check it out. I'm in, Buster," Francine said firmly, leaving the table. Binky nodded in agreement and followed her. Before they could leave, Carl stood in front of the door. The kids looked around; they were the only people in the restaurant.

"You're all crazy, every one of you. There's nothing to be found in that tourist trap but madness. Don't go. Just stay in your nice warm beds with your loving families," Carl said sternly. Overhead, the lights flickered. Buster's ears fell out of fear.

But Francine and Binky were defiant. Binky stepped up to him, "We'll do what we want, Carl. No one else cares about her, but we do. I barely got to know her, so I feel I should make it up to her. What are you doing to help?"

"Minding my own business," Carl nodded. Francine scoffed, "Pah-lease! The only good that ever did was nothing. Can we go now? I've got practice."

Carl had no choice but to step to the side. The rest of the kids left as the lights continued to flicker. When they were gone, the lights went out, and darkness overtook the Sugar Bowl as Carl sat inside, a grim expression on his stubble-covered face.

It was pitch black as the kids left the Crosswire mansion. After practice, Francine convinced Muffy to run the operation, as most parents were letting their kids stay there overnight regardless of gender because of Bailey and the other staff. Others were invited, including Sue Ellen, who led the way as they turned the corner alongside the lot.

"The gate's unlocked. We won't need those bolt cutters, Binky," Sue Ellen whispered, pushing the gate open. Binky kept a tight grip on the tools as the group tiptoed into the compound.

The grounds were beautiful, and the kids were in awe as they followed the cobblestone path past fountains and sculpted plants. As they followed the paths, they realized there was a building in the center of the lot. Quietly, the moved towards the entrance.

"What's our plan?" Sue Ellen asked. Francine shrugged, as did Binky. Buster shivered, "I...I think we should split up. Half stays out here, the rest go inside. There's too many of us."

"Buster's right," Arthur agreed. But they couldn't agree on who should stay and who should go. Arthur and Muffy wanted to hang back, but Francine wanted Muffy inside with her, just as Buster wanted Arthur by his side. Finally, they plucked grass and those with the longest strands moved inside. This was Francine, Binky, Sue Ellen, and Fern. Arthur, Buster, and Muffy remained outside. They moved to a quiet corner to watch the building from a distance, the three of them kneeling on the cold grass.

"I bet it's warmer inside. I'm freezing!" Muffy hissed. Buster shushed her, "It could be dangerous in there. None of us know what's in there. I didn't even know there was a building here. The lot is listed as a community garden in its paperwork."

Arthur gave him a look, "How would you know that? Is your mother investigating them?"

"Her and a whole army of parents," Buster nodded. "Francine's mom and her friends are mad about them not letting anyone from Elwood City in here. They know there's something inside that needs attention, and I bet our friends are about to find it."

Binky tensed as Sue Ellen stopped at the end of the hallway. They were in the shadows, but as footsteps approached ahead of them, they couldn't help but feel nervous as they pressed themselves against the wall.

As the figure moved closer, their shadow fell into view. The person was short and child-sized with long hair. They were wearing a dress, gown, or some other flowing outfit. Their feet were bare, making odd noises because of condensation forming on the stone floors.

The kids watched as the figure walked past them. It was Marina, her eyes wide as she walked up the path carrying a small tray. She moved to a set of stairs, and the group peered around the corner to watch her ascend them.

"This is insane," Francine whispered. "She's been drugged or something. She looks nothing like herself."

"She's been brainwashed," Sue Ellen agreed. Fern sighed, "His novels are coming true inside this building. One of us should go outside and tell the others. We need to get an adult in here."

"I won't leave you girls alone in here," Binky said firmly. Francine sighed, "I'll go. I can run the fastest, and I'll go to the police...after I get my mom and dad. I'll be back as soon as I can, and I'll tell the others."

"What should we do in the meantime?" Sue Ellen asked. Francine shrugged, "Keep going? Find a place to hide? I don't know, but this place is creepier than I thought it would be," she said, moving back up the entryway. She gently closed the door behind her, but a cold breeze flew through the corridor. The remaining kids shivered before exchanging glances.

"Let's find somewhere to lay low. You two lead the way and I'll cover us," Binky whispered. Fern and Sue Ellen agreed, and they looked around before stepping up the hallway. They came to a door, and all three agreed to open it and step inside. A moment later, they found themselves in a dark room, locked inside with a strange figure and no way out.

The group outside was shocked to see Francine emerge alone. Buster got to her first, "What's going on in there? Is everyone okay?" he pleaded.

Francine pushed him away, "Look, I don't know. But you guys need to stay out here. We saw Marina but she looks...we don't know how she looked, but I'm going to get real help. I'll go to my parents' house first, then to the police, but we need more than just bolt cutters and energy."

"I'll have Bailey pick you up a block over. He's been watching us from afar," Muffy smiled, curling up around her smart phone. She gasped, "I have no service!"

"Just give her the phone," Arthur suggested. Muffy gave him a horrid look, but logic soon set in. She handed the phone to Francine, who looked around before darting out of the compound. A block over, reception was back, and Francine called Bailey. He arrived a moment later in a small, black sports car, and he sped towards her parents' apartment. After waking them up and explaining the situation, all three climbed in with Bailey and went straight to the police.

"Something doesn't feel right," Buster whispered. Arthur sighed, "We're all just paranoid. We'll be fine." Muffy nodded in agreement before asking for the time. Arthur's watch read ten, an hour since they'd left her mansion.

"I'm getting worried too. I mean, shouldn't Francine be back by now with the police? Shouldn't they be out of the building yet? I'm so worried," Muffy whispered.

Arthur was about to respond when a masked man wearing a long, black coat stepped out of the building. He lit up a cigarette and looked over the grounds while the three kids watched nearby. Each second felt like a thousand hours as the man paced just outside the door.

Then, a second man stepped out. Arthur and Buster immediately recognized him as Corbin Douglas, his face dark yet amused as he accepted a cigarette from his comrade.

"I never thought more of them would fall into our laps like that. We'll have lovely material for our next novel, Matt. The public will be pleased," Corbin smiled darkly. Matt rocked on his heels, "Oh, they will, Master. You don't think there were others though, do you?"

Corbin chuckled, "This town is too clueless. It's bad enough there were three children roaming this late at night. Who in their right mind would send out more?"

"Idiots," Muffy muttered.

"What was that?" Matt asked, looking around. Buster and Arthur glared at Muffy, who shrank back as Matt looked around with a concerned glance.

"Your hearing is too good to help you sometimes, Matthew. Let's go inside to give the children their tasks. Herman should be getting himself ready for his new role," Corbin grinned, leading the way inside.

"What are they doing in there?" Muffy asked. Buster shivered, "It sounds to me like they're acting out what's in their novels...and that they have the others."

Muffy whimpered, "What do you think they're going to do to them?"

"I don't know, but I hope Francine gets back soon," Arthur whispered. He looked to Buster and Muffy and saw their worried expressions. "Maybe we should leave before they catch us too. That was a really close call."

"I agree," Muffy nodded, and Buster agreed as well. The three of them snuck out of the compound and hid across the street, waiting and hoping for Francine's hasty return.

Herman was a tall man with a prominent nose. He had a jagged scar on his right cheek and a glare that could melt glaciers. He looked down to Sue Ellen, Fern, and Binky with a wicked smile as Corbin entered the room. Fern was noticeably shocked, and Herman laughed.

"Yet more dreams crushed by a horrid reality, just as the real world should be," Herman chuckled. "Which story are we reenacting, Master?"

"These children are orphans. I own the orphanage, and Herman is the headmaster of the school inside the orphanage, as well as your main caretaker. Matt is the groundskeeper, as well as the paperwork specialists. You'll all need new mommy's and daddy's now that you lack them," Corbin smiled.

"Our parents are fine!" Fern yelled.

Corbin chuckled, "Yes, they are, but you're not well. You've spoken out of turn. Herman, you run the orphanage. What is her punishment?"

"To scrub the latrine," Herman grinned, pulling a ragged toothbrush out of his pocket. Fern grimaced as Binky looked confused. Herman noticed and pulled out a second toothbrush that was more ragged than the last, "And this one needs an education. Show him what the word means, little mouse."

Fern glared, ready to strike. Binky held her back and led her into the hallway. Matt followed them and stood at the entrance of the hallway that led outside. He pointed to a door in the distance, and the two walked in that direction. They entered a room filled with several toilets, all of them dingy and filthy.

At the far side of the room, a small figure squatted in the corner. She was doing laundry in a pit of water, humming as she did. Fern and Binky rushed to her; it was Marina.

"Marina, are you okay?" Fern asked. She shook Marina's shoulder, but the humming continued. She kneaded the cloth in the dirty water, her grey eyes looking straight ahead. She was broken, and Fern exchanged worried glances with Binky. If Francine didn't return soon, this would be them.

Francine and her weary parents stepped out of the police station. Bailey emerged from his car with an abysmal expression. He could sense that the visit had not gone well, and as he Frensky's settled into the car, he quickly realized he was right.

"No one cares. It's like he paid them all to forget that people aren't novel characters," Laverne sighed. Oliver nodded, "It's ridiculous! I pay their salaries, but they won't help follow the law!"

"They said Marina isn't even missing," Francine murmured. "They said her mother moved and took Marina with her without telling anyone. They took down the posters because of it. They sold the ad space because they needed to. It's like she never even existed."

"Well, she does exist, and Miss Muffy is still there along with the others we're responsible for. We should go back, but we shouldn't go alone. Who are the strongest people you know?" Bailey questioned. Oliver listed the names of some of the other garbage men in the city. Bailey nodded, "Call them and get them to the mall parking lot. I'll take you there now to meet with them while I get the others."

"The others?" Laverne questioned. Bailey nodded with a knowing smile, but he said nothing else.

Arthur and Buster were shivering as Muffy's teeth clattered next to them. They were growing worried, but they were also getting dangerously cold. With no one to contact without getting into serious trouble, the three children looked around before heading back to the Crosswire mansion on foot.

Fern and Binky scrubbed with sad expressions. Above them, Matt chomped on an apple while staring at the two. If they slowed down, they were kicked gently in the side. Binky had the most kicks, his weary arms growing tired of the labor. Fern was strangely active, scrubbing furiously for almost every second.

A few minutes into their task, Marina gathered her laundry and left the room, still humming her own song. Her expression was still blank as she disappeared out of the room. As the door shut, a distant bell chimed the hour. Matt cleared his throat, and the two stopped scrubbing.

"Eleven is bed time. Come," he said, leading them out. They ascended a staircase tucked into a closet, which put them in an attic-like space with a very low ceiling. Beds were spread everyone, and all but two had a child inside. Binky and Fern moved to them with suspicious glances.

A few minutes later, Sue Ellen had crawled between their beds. She got their attention, and the two looked down towards her.

"These people are horrible. These are other local kids, some of them fosters. They're brainwashed by these monsters," Sue Ellen whispered. Fern shivered. Binky did as well. "We never should've come here. It's getting late, and I bet the police don't even care."

"Why wouldn't they? They obviously kidnapped these kids. They kidnapped us," Fern whispered.

"We came to them...just like everyone else," Sue Ellen said. Binky sighed, "She's right. But I know the others. Since they're not in here, they're going to get help. I can feel it."

"We have to obey while we're here. We have no choice," Fern whispered. "Just obey and we'll be safe. Stay strong on the inside. We can get through this."

The others nodded, and Sue Ellen crawled back to her cot. A few minutes later, someone looked into the room. Seeing everything how it should be, he left the room. The three shuddered, but Fern's words took hold. They just had to stay strong.

Muffy and the others arrived at the mansion just as Ed's car disappeared into the distance. Muffy was confused as she entered her room. Arthur and Buster went back into where the boys were supposed to be for the night, but they were busted before they could even settle in.

"I knew something was up. You kids should've come to us first with your plans. We could've helped to begin with instead of this being some crazy rescue mission," Millicent cried.

"What do you mean?" Buster asked. Millicent sighed, "The cops won't help, so, we're taking things into our own hands. The men and others are gathering at the mall. We're going to get those kids out of there. Muffy isn't with them, is she?"

"She's in her room," Arthur replied. Millicent nodded and sighed heavily, "I'll be in the living room watching the front door. No one else leaves this house."

The boys were too tired to argue. All three kids were soon asleep, unaware of the tension building outside their door.

Bailey had contacts. Swarms of men piled out of the Crosswire family limo, and they continued to pile out as the others stood in the mall parking lot. They were getting their plan together, namely a plan of force. Leading the way would be a truck owned by one of Oliver Frensky's coworkers. The others would pour in by car and limo, and then they would storm the building.

Only Francine knew what the inside looked like, but she didn't know enough. Laverne took her home, leaving the mob behind. They would be fine, Francine thought, drifting to sleep.

It was after midnight when noises filled the compound. Corbin, Herman, and Matt looked out the window to see a wall of men and headlights, and before they could respond, the group swarmed the compound. Corbin flipped a switch, throwing the lot into darkness.

The noises woke up the children, who moved to their papered-over windows to see what was going on. When Fern, Sue Ellen, and Binky saw, they gathered the kids together, rallying them to rip the papers from the window and to try to break the glass. They listened, and soon they were breaking beds to use the wood as weapons.

Downstairs, Corbin and the men had no idea what to do. Men were still moving fast, using their cell phones as flashlights as they moved through the building. Within minutes, five men were moving towards the men's hideout, and another ten were heading towards the children.

"They're gaining on us," Corbin hissed. "Are there any cops with them?" he begged, but his partners had no idea. The power was off, and though security cameras were on the compound, they wouldn't be available now. The men were trapped, and all of their plans were gone.

Men stormed the rooms. The children were led outside and the police were called. They wouldn't come at first, but as calls flooded the dispatch center, they realized they at least needed to go for crowd control.

Inside, the men were tackled and taped, their arms and legs bound by whatever the strong men had. Then they were dragged outside, just in time for the police to arrive.

When the police saw the situation, the realized their mistake. More officials were called and they swarmed the compound. The children were taken to the hospital, including Marina, but Sue Ellen, Binky, and Fern were allowed to return home that same night.


Elwood City was tense after the horrific discoveries were made, but the town slowly returned to normal. Their bitter winter soon ended, and as temperatures rose, more discoveries were made. Federal officials were brought in to expose the corruption surrounding the situation, and soon the nation knew what happened. Marina Datillo was a household name, her story making thousands sick across the nation. Though the girl was uninjured, her mind was gone, and she would need a long time to recover.

The other children were returned to their parents, and federal officials put a stop to Corbin Douglas's horrible novel-writing methods. Other novels were investigated, and it was confirmed that what he had done to the character in his most recent novel was what he intended to do to Marina, and what he had done to his blind friend from his past.

Skidmarks was determined to be a true yet fictional story with no criminal past, but either way, Corbin Douglas and his novels were ruined. His books were no longer beloved, and people happily destroyed them and the unhappy memories associated with them.

And while Fern was inspired by the situation, she knew to find the sources for her novels in less sinister places that wouldn't ruin the lives of innocent people.