You wake to an itch on the back of your left thigh. You try to move your hand, desperate to scratch the irritation. Your arm feels heavy. It’s stuck to the dirt.
Dirt. Why are you lying on dirt? You open your eyes. You are met with absolute darkness and it provides no clues. At least your eyelids follow your orders, you suppose. Your arm still refuses to budge.
You clench your muscles, trying to convince your leg to stop itching. Eventually it complies.
With the discomfort having passed, you can finally give your surroundings your full attention. Your eyes begin to adjust to the light. They see little.
The dirt stretches uninterrupted to a wall. At least, you assume the slightly darker shadow ahead of you is a wall. You can’t move towards it to check. You can’t turn your head to see if there are clues behind or above where you lie, either.
You should probably be panicking by now. You are lying somewhere you don’t recognise, you aren’t sure how you came to be here and you can’t move anything but your eyes. There could be any number of threats just out of sight. Why aren’t you panicking?
Your mind tries to panic, but it can’t quite remember how. You have as little control over your mind as you do over your body.
You close your eyes, the one movement you can choose to make. You sleep.
When you open your eyes again, your eyelids move more easily. Pain splits your head into an uncountable number of pieces, like the jagged shards of a fractured mirror. You instinctively reach a hand up to cradle your forehead. Your hand follows your orders and moves. You celebrate the accidental victory with the glimmer of a smile.
Your arm aches. From shoulder to fingertips, but mostly around your bicep. You look down and see a splotchy bruise spreading across your skin. You can’t remember hurting yourself.
Forcing your eyes to stay open is painful. You glance around yourself occasionally. A few moments at a time. All you can see is black.
Eventually, you brave looking around yourself for a longer period. You blink carefully, encouraging your eyes to adjust. They still don’t reveal much.
There is still a wall in front of you. There is also one on either side of you and one behind. Above, all you can see is a square. Maybe a metre by a metre. It’s outlined by a faint light. Everything else is in shadow.
You frown against the confusion. Against the pain that continues to assault your head and your upper arm. Where are you? Every time you land on the question, you can’t quite focus on its importance. As soon as the words enter your mind, they leave again.
You look around the room. You establish that movement has returned to your head and arms, and also your torso. You test your luck. You try to move one of your legs. It slides across the ground. The action takes significantly more effort than you remember it should. But it moves.
You convince your other leg to follow the first. Soon you are on your hands and knees. You try to stand, but your heavy legs buckle and refuse to support you. You settle for crawling.
You crawl across the dirt floor, sliding slowly and carefully. You try to avoid accidentally placing your hands upon something unsavoury. Your head hurts enough already – you don’t want to add to your painful burdens by acquiring a spider bite or by putting your hand down on an exposed nail.
You crawl until the top of your aching head makes contact with something solid. White stars burst behind your eyes. The gentle contact is like a sharp blade that enters your skull and pierces your brain. Your body convulses at the torture.
Slowly, the pain subsides to a slightly more manageable agony. With timid hands, you navigate the wall in front of you. The surface is wooden. It’s littered with splinters that threaten to tear the skin away from your fingers. You shuffle sideways, continuing your blind man’s examination.
You reach a corner, shift your direction and continue. At the second corner you do the same. You haven’t found a single break in the dirt floor and wooden panelling. You wonder when you will encounter the jamb of a door.
You reach a third corner. A fourth. You follow the wall again until you are sure you are past where you started. Still you find nothing but dirt floor and wooden panelling. Uncertain what to do next, you lean back against the wall.
Your palms and knees sting. You’re sure that, if they worked in this darkness, your eyes would land upon a number of cuts and grazes acquired from your slow circumnavigation of the room. You wish you had more to show for it.
You suppose maybe there is something of interest in the centre of the room somewhere. Something that was out of your reach as you carefully followed the walls. You are too sore and too exhausted to check.
You wake again. Time is escaping you. You aren’t sure how long your spans of unconsciousness are lasting. Are you slipping away for mere minutes? Are you losing days? All you know is that every time you wake, you are still insufferably tired and your body is still hurting. At least your headache seems to have subsided some.
There’s a burning sensation in your hands and knees. The true pain of your cuts and grazes is now evident. You remember promising yourself that you would explore the centre of the room when you woke, but leaning on your fresh wounds does not sound appealing. You convince yourself that there’s nothing to find. You let your head fall back.
The wall is cold. So is the dirt. In fact, the whole room is freezing. You shiver. You hadn’t noticed the temperature before, but now it is unbearable. Perhaps if you were wearing clothes it would be more tolerable.
Clothes. Why aren’t you wearing clothes? The confusion of being in a place that you don’t recognise might explain why you only just noticed the temperature, but your nudity? Surely you should have noticed that sooner.
You are in a strange, cold room with a dirt floor and no door. You are stark naked. You have no idea how you got here. The sensation of being near-paralysed is still fresh in your mind.
Suddenly, the memory of paralysis frightens you like it should have immediately. Panic. Where are you? How did you get here? How will you get out? What will you eat?
Because you are hungry. Very hungry. You close your eyes against the pangs that harass your stomach. Against the burning of your palms and knees. The aching of the bruise on your bicep. The throbbing behind your eyes. You close your eyes against it all. You seek the void that comes with sleep again.
You sleep a little. You’re surprised you manage to sleep at all. You’re still exhausted. You’re still terrified. You keep your eyes pressed closed.
A strange sound catches your attention. It sounds familiar. You can’t quite place it. A strange, in-and-out sound. A light whisper. Breathing.
Your eyes snap open. The room is just as dark as the backs of your eyelids. Gradually a shadowy figure is revealed in front of you. A slightly different density of darkness than its background.
The shape’s head is bent, fidgeting with something. You watch it awhile, keeping still. Who are they? What do they want?
Part of you wants to call out. Tell them you’re here. Ask them for help. But part of you doesn’t want to take the risk. There’s every chance this figure is the reason you’re trapped here. Wherever here is.
You remember when you were crawling along the dirt, thankful you didn’t stumble across an exposed nail. Now you wish you had one. A makeshift weapon. It might not be worth much, but it would be more effective than just standing here. Exposed. Unarmed. Too weak to fight with your fists.
You aren’t even sure how fist-fighting works. Not really.
You contemplate approaching the figure. Before you can decide, the figure is approaching you. You squint, not wanting the dull, white glow of your eyes revealing that you are awake. You are impressed with yourself for even considering that possibility. Only for a moment. You quickly return to being scared.
The figure approaches slowly, one arm outstretched. You are certain the shape believes you are asleep. Through your squinted eyes you notice a slight glimmer. A hint of light bouncing off something shiny. Metallic. In the figure’s outstretched hand.
You recall your bruised arm. A needle.
The figure is nearly on you and you have the advantage.
They kneel beside you. Slowly. They don’t want to wake you. You don’t even know if you have the energy or the reflexes to react, but you have to try.
Their hand moves towards your bicep. You reach out. Your aim is surprisingly accurate and your fingers land around their wrist. The wrist is small, thin. Female?
You know you only have a moment. You push the figure away from you. Twisting. The needle points towards her. You feel it pierce flesh. You’re not sure where. You hope it’s somewhere that will absorb whatever this needle contains. You plunge the plunger.
You hope you did the right thing.
She was coming at you, you assure yourself.
But you’ve never been violent in your life.
She crumples and falls. You hope she isn’t dead. But you also hope she’ll be stuck here for a while. Long enough to get away. That is, if there’s a way out. There isn’t even a door.
Pumped with adrenaline, you stand. You walk. You walk into the centre of the room, exploring the areas you never managed to shuffle into. You stretch out your arms, seeking something, anything, in the blackness.
You find it. Metal. Ladder.
You climb. One rung. Two. Three. Four. There are seven rungs before your head hits the ceiling.
No, not ceiling. Trapdoor.
You push upwards. It’s unlatched. Presumably so that this visitor could leave again. Light floods the room. Fills the corners and hurts your eyes. Reveals the crumpled body beneath you.
You know you should just leave, escape, but something about the body unnerves you. It’s enough that you want to investigate. Foolish.
You climb back down the ladder. Just a moment, you think. It’ll only be a moment.
The body is motionless, but still you’re hesitant. What if they are feigning sleep, like you did?
You cling to the bottom rungs of the ladder, hovering off the ground, refusing to get too close. Out of reach. Even as disorientated as you are, you’re not a fool.
There’s something wrong. You stare, but the light is still dim and you can’t figure it out. And then you see it. Then you can’t not see it.
Suddenly you feel certain that you did the right thing by hurting this woman. This crumpled body is not that of an innocent victim. It’s in the eyes. Her eyes.
They’re pitch black.
You climb the ladder. If you didn’t want to escape before, you sure as hell do now. You reach the top. Through the hole in the ceiling. You close the trapdoor behind you. Latch it.
There’s a rug, all bunched up and pushed aside. A trapdoor hidden beneath a rug? How obvious. You step over it, telling yourself to be careful. You don’t want to trip. You stumble regardless. Your legs are aching.
Door. You need a door.
The space is small. The walls are all made of wood. You’ve seen more kitchen bench space in an inner city apartment. It’s more of a cabin than a house.
It doesn’t take you long to find a door. There’s only one. It’s locked. Needs a key. You haven’t got one.
You’re at a loss. All you knew was that you needed a door. The door you found doesn’t open. What now? Panic.
You want to curl up on the timber floor. Freak out a little. Maybe sleep. But you can’t. You need to think of a new solution.
Windows. Yes, perfect. You should try the windows.
There aren’t many. You shuffle to the first. Check it. Locked. A second. Locked. A third. They’re all locked. Fancy little key locks, and beyond the glass you can see fancy security screens. Beyond the screens are endless plains of nothing. The heavy duty security seems pointless. There’s nothing to get in.
Then you realise. It’s all to keep something from getting out. You.
New plan. You need to find a phone. Maybe the line will work. Maybe these assailants are sloppy. You know, with their fancy locks and fancy security screens. Real sloppy.
Worth a shot.
Where do people keep their phones these days? Do people even have landline phones anymore? God, you’re so tired.
Maybe there’s a phone in the kitchen. You have a vague recollection that people keep phones in kitchens sometimes. Actually, maybe that’s where you keep yours. Do you have a phone? Everything’s still so fuzzy.
You’re in luck. There’s a phone on the kitchen counter. Corded and old. It doesn’t matter. It’s still a phone.
You pick it up. You hold your breath. You listen. Silence. No dial tone.
You aren’t surprised.
There’s a creak. You turn around. Nothing there. Maybe you imagined it? It isn’t unlikely. You are basically losing your mind right now. Is any of this real?
Still, you can’t be too careful. Knife block. Pull out a blade. The largest one. Feels too heavy. Your bicep is incredibly sore. You hold the knife aloft regardless.
Another creak. Surely you aren’t imagining this. Surely.
The floorboards shift under the weight of something moving. You spread your legs, shoulder-width apart. Bend a little. That’s how you’re supposed to do it, right?
He comes around the corner. Doesn’t expect that you’re expecting him. Sees the knife. Momentary hesitation. Lunges anyway.
Into your knife.
There’s no question this time. He’s dead.
But so are the eyes. His eyes.
Are you okay? Brush yourself off. It’s okay. It couldn’t be helped. He came at you. He wanted to hurt you. He couldn’t have possibly been trying to help you. You’re innocent.
Well, you’re not innocent. You killed a man. Also, you might have killed the slumped figure downstairs. Maybe. But you didn’t mean to. They deserved it. Right?
Anyway, look at their eyes. With eyes like that, they can’t be innocent either.
Don’t worry too much about it now. Let go of the knife. That’s it.
You let the knife fall with the body.
You can’t stand any longer. You need to sit. You lower yourself to the ground, but the muscles in your legs give out. You fall with the knife beside the body.
You crumple, lying curled up on your side. You don’t know what other risks there might be in this house. You don’t know if the body downstairs is stirring. You can’t sleep. You can’t.
But you do.
When you wake, you forget where you are. Wooden floor. Better than dirt, you suppose. In front of you is a pool of blood. A body. You remember.
How could you have slept?
You’re feeling more agile now. Less groggy. You get to your feet much more quickly than you could before. You aren’t quite one hundred percent, but you’re getting better. You’re getting it out of your system. Whatever was in your system.
You look down at the body. Did you have a choice? Where is the line between right and wrong? Innocent and guilty? How do you know if you are better than these people with their paralysing needles and black eyes?
Never mind that now. You still need to get out of here. Be careful. There might be more of them.
You make a list in your mind. You tried the door. The windows. The phone. No luck. You passed a staircase on your way to the kitchen. What about upstairs? Maybe there’s a window there that hasn’t been fitted with fancy security measures.
Worth a shot.
You contemplate the knife in the chest cavity of the nearest body. You contemplate it and decide against it. Knife block still on the kitchen counter. Different knife. Not as big. Just as sharp.
The floor creaks beneath your feet. You walk slower. The floor still creaks. You hope the sound doesn’t alert anyone to your presence. You hope there is no one to alert.
You move up the stairs, one at a time. The journey is slow. Laborious. Every inch of you hurts. You pray you don’t encounter anybody else because you know you don’t have the energy to fight them. If you are going to incapacitate anyone they would have to literally throw themselves onto your knife.
The first windows you find are in a bedroom to your left. Locked. There’s another bedroom along the hall. Those windows are locked too. One more room to check. En-suite bathroom.
The window here is small, but if it were unlocked you’re sure you could still shimmy through. You don’t really need to worry about that though. Of course it’s locked.
You’re not really sure what you would’ve done if it was open. Two storeys up and barely strong enough to hold up a knife, let alone make it to solid ground without killing yourself.
Perhaps the key to one or all of these windows is downstairs? Maybe on a key hook or in the pocket of one of the fallen?
Yes. New plan. Return downstairs and check those pockets. You’re going to get out of this place, whatever it takes.
You turn. Something catches your eye. Someone. You freeze. You look back to where you glanced. A face.
Don’t worry. It’s only your face. A reflection. In the mirror.
But there is something wrong. Something about the eyes. Your eyes.