A girl ran across the dining room as we entered. Ben slipped his arm off from around my shoulders. She threw her arms around his neck before taking a step back. She tucked her red curls behind her ears. She looked to only be a few years older than me. Her skin was tanned, but I could see the thick patch of freckles across her cheeks. The same cluster of freckles was spread out across her chest and arms. This was all made more visible by her white sundress. I glanced down and tried not to gasp when I saw her feet. They looked like the feet of a monkey. Her toes stretched out like fingers and a thumb.
“Diana, this is Jane,” Ben said.
He nudged me with his elbow, and a pang of guilt hit me for staring. This feeling didn’t last long because Jane’s jaw dropped when we made eye contact.
“Wow, that’s so cool,” she said. “I overheard that you were coming early, but I wasn’t sure if it was true.”
“Greg wanted to meet Diana earlier,” Ben said.
Jane’s lips somehow spread into a wider smile.
“Is he going to buy her?” she asked before pulling me into a tight hug. The smell of coconut radiated off of her. She let out a squeal that I thought only existed in novels. “I’d love to have another girl here. I mean I have Candace, but she gets under my skin at times.”
“She’s still alive?” Ben asked.
“Unfortunately,” Jane whispered. “The longer she lives, the cockier she gets.”
The door on the far side of the room slid open, and two blurry figures entered. Their arms were full of metal containers. They sat them down on a table covered in a white cloth. They removed the lids, and a rich smell filled my nose. My stomach grumbled, and I realized that I have not eaten yet today. The two servants hurried out of the room.
Jane grabbed a plate off of the table. Her back was to me, and it let me take another look at her feet.
“I can’t believe the dinner is already coming up,” she said as she poured some of the food onto her plate. “It seems to come quicker every year.”
“How long has she been here?” I whispered to Ben.
He shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t know,” he said. “She’s been here since I got here.”
I followed Ben as he walked to the table. He passed me a plate. He scooped food onto his plate, but instead of handing me the spoon, he filled my plate with food. He grabbed my hand before I could say anything and pulled me over to a table. Jane was already at the large circular table eating. I sat beside her, and Ben next to me. We all ate in quiet until a door opened again.
“Hey, Ben is here,” a man said.
I looked up to see two men coming up to the table. They pulled out a table and sat across from us. At a quick glance, they seemed normal.
One man appeared to be Ben’s age. His hair was cut short, and his skin was tanned. The corner of his lip twitched into a smirk. His dark eyes seemed to borrow into mine. I held eye contact with him and shoved another forkful of food into my mouth. His smirk grew causing a dimple to form in his cheek.
“I see you brought a friend,” he said. His voice was thick with an accent that I could not trace. It sounded like he came from somewhere in Europe.
“This is Diana,” Ben said. “She’s Sweeney’s.”
Those words caused my skin to crawl. I had to bite down on my lip to stop myself from physically shuddering.
“Dr. Alexander may buy her,” Jane said.
“Oh,” the other man said. He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, and his dark hair was slicked back. “I didn’t know he was still bothering with new subjects.”
“Matt, don’t be rude,” Jane said.
“I’m not,” he said. “I was just pointing it out.”
“Well, I think you’re right,” Ben said. “He’s not going to want her.”
I looked over at Ben to see him raising an eyebrow. It was a silent signal to follow along with his story. This must be his plan. He was going to make me seem completely undesirable.
Matt snickered before they got up from the table. When they returned, I kept pushing the last bit of remaining around my plate. They ate in silence until the door slid open again. I was the only one to look up.
A woman waltzed in. Her thick locks of blonde hair were tied up into a bun. A pair of sunglasses was resting on the top of her head. She had a black bikini that was covered in a sheer white robe. Her sandals were loud as she walked over to the table of food. She filled her plate and sat down at the table.
A wide jagged scar ran down her chest. The thick patch of white tissue between her breasts stood out against her tanned skin. She looked up to see me staring. Her eyebrows scrunched together and she scowled.
“Who is this?” she asked.
“You remember Ben, Candace,” Matt said. “He brought Sweeney’s new project with him.”
“What did he do with you?” she asked. “What is that supposed to be? A snake?”
“A cat,” Ben said.
“Are you worried, Candace?” the other man said. “Think she’ll replace you? Gregory may buy her.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she snapped. “That won’t happen.”
“You’re right,” Ben said. He stood and grabbed the crook of my elbow. He yanked me onto my feet. “I’m going to show Diana around.”
He didn’t wait for a response before hurrying us out of the room. His fingers dug deep into the flesh of my arm. We were back in the hallway, and I ripped my arm out of his grip. His hands grabbed my hips and pushed me against the wall. He looked over each of his shoulders. I squinted to try and see what he was looking at.
I pressed my hands against his chest and pushed him back. My movement regained his attention. Ben looked back at me and placed one of his hands on top of mine.
“Ben, let go of me,” I said.
“Lower your voice,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to hear us.”
Ben smiled before looking back to the corner of the hallway again.
“What’s your plan?” I asked, making sure to speak softer. “You’re just going to make me sound bad to anyone who listens? Then why did I have to learn how to act perfect for this dinner?”
Ben grabbed my chin and leaned in toward me. I gasped and heard him chuckle.
“The circumstances have changed,” he said. “You still need to do what I say. I promise you will get back to Canada.”
“And then we’re going to escape?” I asked.
“We’re getting out of this together.”
Ben showed me around to the locked portion of the house. There was another hallway of bedrooms. We went into a room with a large television, and shelves overfilled with books. I was shocked to see a bar in the back with stools in front of it. It was too blurry for me to see if there was any alcohol.
There wasn’t any way to get out of this locked wing of the house. Ben showed me the room at the end of the hall. The ceiling was a tall dome of glass letting the sunlight stream in. A large pool was surrounded by white tiles. A woman was removing the dirty towels off of the lounge chairs.
We walked back down to my room. I tried to retrace my steps to remember how to get back. I peered into the lounge as we walked by to see Jane curled on the couch with a book. Candace was beside her painting her nails.
When we got back to my room, I sat on the bed and crossed my legs underneath me. Ben sat on the edge of the bed.
“What is wrong with the others?” I asked. “What did they do to them?”
“Well,” he said, leaning back. “You can see what they did to Jane, but most of their work is not as noticeable as what they did to us.”
“So what did they do?”
“Matt’s been here the longest. His kidneys have been replaced. A chimpanzee or a gorilla or some kind of monkey.”
“And that worked?”
“He’s still here.”
Ben bit down on his lip to stop from chuckling at me. My face felt hot, and I knew that my cheeks were blushing.
“Elias, that Swedish asshole, has wings,” he said.
“What kind of wings?” I asked.
“A bird of some kind. He was Greg’s last experiment. You can see he had lost his touch because of his illness. Elias can’t really move them or anything.”
I nodded my head as I listened. He must have kept the wings hidden under his shirt.
“Candace had a heart transplant,” he said. “It’s from a pig. She was the first one Greg bought instead of creating.”
‘It’s all so crazy,” I said. “None of this should work.”
“It shouldn’t,” he said, “and it almost never does. Most of their subjects don’t survive the surgery, and the ones that do live barely make it past a few years.”
“Why? They didn’t get their medication?”
“The body is not designed to be like this, despite what they think. Brandy is barely alive right now. Her tongue was replaced with a snake, but now her body is rejecting it.”
I touched the skin around my eyes. There was still a dull ache. Even if I keep taking the pills, I could lose my vision.
There was a knock on the door as it opened. Oliver walked in. He was rolling up the sleeves of his shirt, and I could see the dark crescents of sweat under his arms.
“How is she settling in?” he asked Ben.
“Good,” he said as he got off of the edge of the bed. “We had dinner and she met the others.”
“That’s good.” Oliver turned his attention to me. “I got you a present, Kitten.”
I struggled not to cringe at the nickname. He pulled out a case from the pocket of his shirt. He pulled out a pair of glasses and handed them to me. I slid them onto my face, and my vision quickly went from blurry to clear. I must have been adapting to this poor vision as the lenses provided a sharp view that strained my eyes. My view was wider and my peripheral vision was increased. The lenses were large, and the frame was transparent so they were barely noticeable.
“How does it feel?” Oliver asked.
I looked around the room and was in awe of everything being clear. Without looking in a mirror, I could pretend that I had my old eyes back.
“Good,” I said.
I already had a part of my life back.