Darkness was the first thing Susan noticed
The darkness was the first thing Susan noticed as her eyes fluttered open. It was as black as tar; no hint of light or shadow. She reclined on a hard surface, that much she could tell. Reaching ahead, her fingers found purchase on something cold and solid almost immediately. Her arms flung out to the sides as the last vestiges of her drug-induced stupor fled from her mind. They too, were barred from movement mere inches from her hips.
A cloying smell, moist and rotten, accosted her senses making her stomach retch in revulsion. It reminded her of dead leaves once the snow of winter had melted away; leaving rot and death behind.
It was then that she noticed it. The tenderness between her legs. The pain deep inside her that only comes from violation. Oh God, no. This can’t be happening, she thought. I must be dreaming. Wake up. Wake up now, Susan.
There was no waking up from her nightmare though. She screamed and cried until her throat begged her to stop. Her heartbeat pounded against her chest. Get a grip, Susan, she admonished. Focus on getting out of here. She carefully traced the contours of her prison with her fingers. No seam. No ridge of any kind that offered even a hint of a way out. The only anomaly was a small circular opening through which she could feel the faint wisp of air.
A voice cut through the silence. “I see you are awake, Susan. So nice of you to come back to me.”
She recognized the voice, his voice. What once sent chills down her spine in pleasure, now stabbed through her very being. “Sam,” she spat. With utter hatred, Susan pounded her fists in front of her, slamming against the unseen barrier between them.
He laughed. “Don’t waste your energy, Susan. You will need it for later, trust me. Oh don’t cry, everything will be fine for you, for us, once you acclimate to your new life.”
“Let me out of here, you bastard. Why are you doing this to me? I swear to God, I will kill you.”
“There’s the fiery spirit I saw in you the first time we met. It drew me to you. I knew I had to have you, keep you. Don’t worry, you will be let out, in time.”
Susan heard a scraping sound as something was moved above her, followed by muffled footsteps trailing away. Silence once again descended upon her. A quiet so absolute, it was deafening. The tight space seemed to squeeze against Susan as her panic returned. It became difficult to breathe; each breath rasping through her parched throat. Eventually, sweet peace descended on her as exhaustion allowed her to sleep.
“How are you doing today?” His voice ripped Susan from her dreamless slumber, back to her hellish nightmare.
“I need water,” she begged, her dry lips cracking as she spoke. Her request was met by something wet splashing against her face. It was warm and tasted earthy but she lapped at it thirstily. Her body screamed for more, attempting to retch up the small amount it had received in protest.
“People will be looking for me. They know I was with you, know what you look like. You won’t get away with this.”
He laughed mockingly. “Oh but I already have, my sweet. What was her name again? Claire. That was it. Beautiful girl but too trusting. It was entirely too easy getting her to let me in to her apartment. Such a pity she had to die.”
Fury consumed her as Sam’s words reached her. Screaming and clawing at her prison walls, she called out her friend’s name in anguish. Soon, with her body spent and her spirit broken, slumber graciously enveloped her.
It was bright and sunny in the park; the leaves of the trees, the golden yellow and vibrant orange of fall. She was walking with Claire, laughing and enjoying the crisp air. Footsteps echoed, coming stealthy and fast behind them. They turned just in time to see a faceless man charge at them from behind a tree. She and Claire ran, ran as hard as they could, but still the man came. Crunching dry leaves, the sound of his breath as he narrowed the gap between them. A firm hand gripping Claire’s shoulder as she was pulled from Susan’s sight.
Susan woke with a start; pain firing down her legs at the sudden movement. She had lost all feeling in them hours ago as she was forced to keep them extended in the confines of the box. Her back hadn’t been spared either. The lower muscles in her back seized up, then relaxed. Over and over like a wave mercilessly crashing against the coastal rocks.
But the hunger pangs were the worst. She could deal with the pain in the rest of her body, but it was impossible to block out the hunger. Intense spasms shot through her belly for hours on end; her body furious with her for lack of food. Her lips, swollen and cracked with thirst so bad she thought she would go mad. Sam had proffered small amounts of water a couple of times, but it only fueled the agony. Eventually, the pain had ebbed; her body had given up hope. Her mind, on its way as well.
Time passed. Hours, days, Susan had no way of knowing in her deprived state. Sam would often visit her. She had begun to loathe the sound of his footsteps, knowing his voice would soon follow. He talked to her like a lover to his mate, asking how her day went and detailing the events of his. To Susan, he appeared oblivious to the pain and torment she was going through mere inches below his feet. It sickened her to listen to him but she could not escape it. His voice filled ever inch of space in her jail, violating her all over again.
She was in the park again, visiting with Claire, when she heard footsteps approach. At first, she thought the man in her dreams had once again returned to the chase. A click followed by a sharp rattling of a chain brought her back into focus. Susan saw a faint glimmer appear around the edge of her vision; a grey in a sea of black. Suddenly, an intense pain shot through her eyes as a bright light blinded her.
As her sight returned, the visage of Sam’s face came into focus. He was bent over above her, holding open the doors to her cell. “I think you’re ready to join me now,” he said, as he reached for Susan.
Helping her to her feet, Sam cheerfully smiled at her. “I’m proud of you. You lasted longer than the last two. I’m most happy with my choice.”
Susan’s legs wobbled uncontrollably, forcing her to accept his assistance to keep herself from collapsing. She surveyed the small room. The walls were stone glistening with moisture; sections covered in moss. Under her feet was little more than hard-packed dirt. Aside from an old wooden chair, a light bulb dangling from the roof and the opening to her hell hole, the room was devoid of furniture.
Making their way up a flight of cold stone steps, they entered a bright and spacious kitchen; an enormous living room lay beyond.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Sam stated. “I picked her up for a song. The owners were just dying to sell.” He laughed a cold, hard laugh that made Susan’s stomach churn.
“Through here is the washroom,” he said, guiding her through the house. “Over there is the laundry room. I’ll expect my clothes to be cleaned and pressed each day. Ah, and here is our bedroom. I know it isn’t much right now, but I'm sure you will put your feminine touches on it.”
Susan mechanically nodded as she was led room to room through the rest of the house. Inside her head was a different story. He thinks I’m going to sleep with him? After he drugged and raped me, buried me in that hole and nearly starved me to death? He’s insane. A psychopath.
“I have to go out for a bit.” His voice roused her from her thoughts. “I have left some steak in the fridge and potatoes on the counter. After you clean yourself up, please prepare some dinner for me. I should return in an hour or so.” With that, he grabbed a set of keys hanging on a hook beside the door and exited the house.
Her eyes darted around the room as she heard the rumbling motor of a truck growl to life. Holding her breath, she strained to listen to the sound fade in the distance. She waited. Five minutes, then ten just to be safe. She bolted for the front door and heaved it open, only to run smack into the arms of her captor.
“I see we have yet to learn the rules around here,” yelled Sam as he grabbed a handful of her hair, dragging her back into the house. “I made a simple request, a hot meal upon my return and you can’t even do that.”
Susan punched and screamed at him, trying to claw at his eyes, but his grip on her hair only tightened as he forcefully pulled her toward the basement stairs.
“I really hate to do this, Susan, but you need to learn. This is not easy for me either. The sooner you come around and obey me, the better it will be for both of us.”
He flung open her cell, the doors banging loudly on the hard floor. Shoving her into the tight cavity, he slammed the doors shut, casting her into absolute blackness.
As the walls of her prison put a stranglehold on her, she pounded the ceiling in panic. She heard a noise near her feet and lay still to listen. It sounded like trickling water; growing louder as the seconds ticked by.
Soon, she felt a cold liquid splash against her feet. It crawled up the back of her legs and along her back as it spread itself on the floor. Oh no, she silently cried. No, please no. Within minutes, the water was halfway up her side and the cold had begun to leech out her warmth.
Sam sighed. “You don’t know how sad this makes me. I was really hoping it would work out this time. I had only been in Seattle for a few weeks when I first saw you at the cafe. I followed you back to campus, to your lab. It didn’t take me long to procure a position at the University after taking care of the assistant professor. Never knew what hit him.” Sam laughed at the memory.
The icy water had covered Susan’s legs and stomach and was lapping at her jaw. She lifted her face as high as it would go, pressing her lips against the small air supply hole. Her body was violently shivering in a fruitless attempt to regain warmth.
“I studied you for weeks before I got up the nerve to introduce myself to you. It had to be perfect. As it was, I nearly scared you away. That reminds me, I still need to thank your father for the pepper spray,” Sam said, his voice drenched in contempt.
Below his feet, Susan was desperately sucking at the last vestiges of oxygen that separated her life from death. The water lapped at the corners of her mouth, as she struggled in a battle she knew she couldn’t win.
Finally, unable to hold it at bay any longer, the liquid enveloped her closed mouth. She sank to the bottom of her prison, realizing it had become her tomb. Her lungs burned and spasmed as her body begged for oxygen. She was about give in to the water when she felt it begin to recede. Her face broke the surface and she gasped greedily at the air. In what seemed mere seconds, the place was devoid of all water.
“Susan? Do you understand now? I want to let you out but I need to know if I can trust you.”
Susan feebly croaked “Yes,” in response.
He released her and led her upstairs as she collapsed in a soggy pile on the kitchen floor. Her breath was coming in ragged bursts, her lungs still protesting in agony.
“I still have an errand I must attend to. If you try to run again, I will find you and this time, I won’t stop the water,” he threatened. And with that, he was gone.
Alone now, Susan frantically searched the drawers in the kitchen for a knife, a gun, or even a rolling pin; anything she could use as a weapon. Nothing. A quick search of the bathroom came up empty as well. She had nearly finished a sweep of the bedroom when she noticed a scented candle in a thick bottomed glass perched on the nightstand. Picking it up, she nodded approvingly at the heaviness in her hand. Jasmine, her favourite, of course. She replaced it exactly as she found it, changed into some dry clothes and set out to make Sam his dinner.
Despite having gorged herself earlier on every scrap of food she could get her hands on, she hungrily tucked into her dinner. Sam sat across the table, watching her, as he tightly gripped her free hand. He had forced her to wear a fancy dress, full makeup and her hair pulled up to expose the nape of her neck. Throughout dinner, he regaled her with stories of his previous “wives”, all of whom met an untimely death when they had either disobeyed or outstayed their usefulness.
Later, he led her to the bedroom, stripping her out of her clothing and laying his naked flesh onto hers. Bile rose in her throat as he forced himself into her but she went through the motions to keep him at ease. Sweat dripped onto her face as he neared the end. She reached out blindly, finding the glass candle. With every ounce of her strength, Susan swung the candle in an arc, landing the heavy glass end of it at the base of his skull. She swung again and again as his body collapsed onto hers.
Screaming as she pushed his unconscious weight off her, she grabbed her discarded dress and ran for the front door. She paused at the threshold long enough to snatch the keys from the nail on the wall.
In the glimmering light from the moon, Susan jumped into the truck, roared it to life and fled down the dirt road. It seemed like she drove for hours when lights suddenly became visible through the trees. She steered the truck around a couple more bends before coming upon the source of the illumination. A small farmhouse stood a little ways off the road; several of its windows glowing from within. Susan slammed on the brakes and amid the dust churned up from the tires, she ran to the door, pounding on it. “Help me, please,” she yelled.
The door swung open to reveal an elderly man clad in a bathrobe. His wife stood behind him, clutching her nightgown close to her neck. Susan burst into the room without waiting for an invitation.
“Do you have a phone? I have to call the police. Someone tried to kill me,” she gasped. The man showed her to an old rotary phone hanging on the wall near the kitchen.
Ninety minutes later, surrounded by two deputies and the elderly couple, Susan recounted the events leading up to her escape. They listened in shock at the atrocities she had experienced at the hands of the psychopath she knew as Sam.
The night sky was beginning to lighten when other police cars arrived. Led by Susan, the convoy retraced her steps toward Sam’s cabin. As they neared, the deputy in the passenger seat pointed out the window and said something to the driver. Pressing her face against the side window, Susan saw what they were looking at. A dark plume of smoke was billowing above the tops of the trees. One of the deputies had unrolled a window, the strong smell of burning wood filled the car.
Moments later, they arrived at her captor’s house; what was left of it, that is. Before them stood a wall of fire, the house barely visible in the inferno. Susan finally broke, in the back of the police car. She cried in relief that her torment was over. She cried in anger that Sam had gotten away. But most of all, she wept at the loss of her best friend Claire.
It would take weeks before investigators sifted through the ashes to find the remains of her prison tomb. The police had found the apartment empty, where she had been drugged, with the exception of a lone spider plant sitting in the middle of the room. Investigations had turned up no hospital records of anyone named Melissa having given birth recently. There had been no car accident three years ago in Blaine either. Everything he had told her had been a lie.
Six months passed without a single lead and the case made its way to the bottom of the pile. Susan was back to work on her thesis but her thoughts never strayed far from her ordeal. She had moved to a different apartment and bought herself a gun. Each night, before darkness fell upon the city, she would lock herself in her apartment. It was her new prison; the irony of which had not escaped her. But she was alive. There was that.
The excited sounds of children filled the air as Marie watched her young wards on the swing set. A strikingly handsome man approached.
“May I sit down?” he asked, motioning to the bench on which she was sitting.
Marie smiled. “Of course.” She watched as he folded his long legs, relaxing onto the bench. His face was full and round, with a friendly smile; his eyes a deep emerald green.
He watched the children playing. “Which one is yours?” he asked.
“See the two blonde children on the swings, the boy in the cap and the girl in the yellow dress? Those are mine. Well not mine, they’re my sister’s, but I look after them for her sometimes.” She smiled warmly at him.
He extended a hand to her. “Nice to meet you. My name is Sam.”