Location Unknown; June 29th, 2012
“Oh, me too. Favorite movie?”
“I have a lot.”
“Umm…anything Jane Austen, and anything with zombies in it.”
“I can see the connection.”
Janie laughed at his sarcasm, feeling her entire being lift with her smile. Of course, rotting away in a prison cell wasn’t something to smile about, but Taran’s company had made this nightmare livable for the first time in six months.
During his three day stay in the cellar, she hadn’t found out anything of great importance, like why he was there, but he’d entertained her with trivial anecdotes about his life for hours. She knew that his favorite color was green, he was allergic to bee stings, and he’d broken his left elbow three times in his life. He loved the Die Hard movies, but West Side Story was his guilty pleasure.
“What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?” he inquired.
“Umm,” she thought it over quickly. “Oh! When I was seventeen, I got a tattoo and didn’t tell my parents.”
“Really?” he chuckled. “A tattoo?”
“Ya, on my hip. Why? Think I couldn’t handle it?”
“No! I just…I wouldn’t peg you for the type. Besides, you’ve proven well enough that you can tolerate pain since you’ve been here for so long.”
Janie’s smile abruptly fell. When she was talking to Taran, it was so easy to forget where they were and what she was waiting for: another visit from Natalia. Sometimes, though, he would say something that forced her to remember that she hadn’t left hell. She’d only postponed it for a while.
“I don’t have a high pain tolerance,” she mumbled. “I cried the whole time.”
Taran snorted. “You’re hopeless.”
“Well, what about you, ya jerk?” she giggled. “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?”
He didn’t get the chance to answer, though, because the sound of metal on metal screeched through the room. Light filtered in as the door opened.
Janie’s arms instinctively wrapped around her companion’s waist, wishing it could make the difference between staying and leaving. Janie’s eyes squeezed shut, dreading the image in her head of Natalia’s face as she dragged her back to the tub.
“The warden’s here for Ms. Campbell,” an unfamiliar voice sneered as he stomped into the room.
A hand grabbed the front of Janie’s shirt, easily separating her from Taran when it hauled her to her feet. Screaming in protest, she collapsed to the hard ground when her legs couldn’t support her. Her knees crashed to the cold floor first, sending pain pulsing through her broken shin. Moisture welled up in her eyes as she screamed, reaching for her leg as the bindings Taran created came undone. While she was curled up on the ground, a warm body gently fell over her, hiding her from the man who’d put her there.
“Leave!” Taran snarled above her, the owner of the body covering her. “She’s not—”
A hard oomph interrupted Taran.
Janie assumed it was him since he instantly fell away from her, hit by a force she could only imagine as the intruder’s foot. At the man’s mercy once again, Janie tried to push herself away with her good leg, succeeding only in moving an inch before she was hauled back up and thrown over his shoulder.
“You’ll die in your own time, pretty boy. But, you know what they say! Ladies first.”
Taran scrambled to his feet, still catching his breath from the steel-toed boot he’d taken to his ribs. He threw himself at the door as it closed with a bang.
“No!” he screamed, slamming his fists against the cold steel, to no avail. He didn’t want to think about what life would feel like, trapped in there alone. He didn’t want to think about what they were doing to his new friend when he couldn’t help her. He didn’t want to think about what he was going to do if she didn’t come back. He sunk, dejectedly, back to the floor.
Janie swung against her captors’ back with each step he took, robbing her of breath. She tried to think of anything, anything, but what lay ahead of her in that room, but her only thought was of the tub. The familiar door opened silently and light flooded the room before it slammed shut behind them. It was the first time in months she’d seen such a bright concentration of light and her eyes screamed for a reprieve. Janie’s head twisted to find her captor’s face, but she only caught a glimpse of short, black hair before she was thrown into a wooden chair. The unstable seat swayed back on its legs before, finally, settling haphazardly on all four.
She met the face of a giant man with shaved hair and beady, golden eyes while he duct taped her wrists to the arms of the chair. He gave her an unsettling smile and she averted her eyes, finding the concrete trough of water that haunted her dreams, now empty, under the harsh light of a naked bulb.
Her mind screamed her fears like a mantra don’t put me back in the tub, don’t put me back in the tub, don’t….
Her reverie was broken by his cruel laugh as he followed her gaze.
“We won’t be using the tub if you behave,” he promised, patting her on the head as he strode toward the trough. He stepped over a hose lying on the floor, wrapped hastily around the concrete steps leading up to the tub. The faucet it attached to was set into the wall behind her chair, preventing her from seeing it. She could hear it, though, when he allowed the water to rush through the rubber tube. “My friend couldn’t be here today for this, but she sends her regrets, Ms. Campbell.”
Janie twitched away when water spurted from the hose’s end and pooled on the floor, inching toward her holey sneakers.
“She also told me that you have so far remained disagreeable to her questions. But I know that we won’t be having the same problems, will we?” he demanded.
Janie remained silent.
He leaned down to her level, close enough that she could feel his breath fan across her face. His expression twisted with distaste, his body jerking away to match it. “Ugh,” he groaned. “You stink.”
Despite where she was and who she was in the presence of, Janie couldn’t help but feel self-conscious. Taran had sat beside her, sometimes keeping his arm slung over her shoulder while they told stories to pass the time, for three days. He’d never once complained about the smell. Now that this guy had said it, she wondered why Taran had kept such a close eye on her since his arrival.
“You’re filthy,” he continued, bending to pick up the hose on the floor. Closing his thumb over most of its end, he pointed the tube at her, letting water spray in every direction.
The arctic water melted the dirt from her face, dripping from her chin in dark droplets. She turned her head away from the spray, feeling the water drown her as she sat there, and coughed when he moved the spew down the rest of her body. He stepped closer her, clutching her chin in his free hand so she was forced to make eye contact while he poured the hose directly into her face. Janie spluttered, jerking her neck every which way to escape him. After a long moment, he released her, tossing the hose in the trough.
“A little better,” Vilmore noted, closing the distance between them once again.
Janie scowled up at him, shivering without constraint as the room’s frigid temperature passed easily through her wet clothes.
“Now, I’m gonna ask you a few questions, and you’re gonna answer them, ‘kay? If you don’t…” he trailed off, pulling a glinting, silver pocket knife from the back pocket of his jeans. “Get it?”
She stared thoughtfully up at the knife and realized I’m going to die….
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he mumbled. “Now, how many pictures did you take at the museum?”
Janie turned her head away from him to gaze at the wall. Behind that thin wall, Taran was waiting for her to come back, he had to be.
She was drawn out of her thoughts when his hand squeezed her cheeks together, puckering her lips and forcing her to meet his eyes, again. “I’m going to pretend you just didn’t hear me. How many pictures did you take?”
Unable to look away, Janie slumped, soundlessly in her chair.
She was subsequently struck across the face with a force that threw the chair on its side.
“I don’t think you understand how this works,” he murmured, putting the chair back to rights. He opened the pocket knife, pointing the business end at her. “You have to answer, Janie,” he sneered, using the knife to pop off the top button of her shirt.
“I’m not telling you anything,” she whispered, ignoring the sting of her cheek.
He pursed his lips. “Well, that’s too bad.” He popped off a second button, then a third. “You’re putting me in a terrible place.”
Janie watched his hand as it easily made her shirt come undone, the buttons scattering across the floor.
“It’s not like I wanna do you when you smell like a goddamn sewer.”
Her head whipped up to face him as the last button fell, revealing her emaciated upper body, covered only by a once-white bra.
He forced his knee onto her upper thigh and grabbed her face with his free hand, pressing the blade of the knife into her neck. His lips pressed firmly to the hollow between her jaw and ear, allowing his teeth to graze the skin.
Janie writhed beneath him. Her unscathed leg wormed its way up to keep him away, but he only budged a short ways back, gathering himself quickly when he stumbled off of her. “Get away from me!” she shrieked, pulling against the tape tied around her wrists.
He smiled as he came back. “You don’t call the shots,” he growled, plunging the knife into her torso between her leg and hip.
Red hot agony exploded before Janie’s eyes.
Her scream could have woken the dead as she pushed herself back in the chair, forcing it to crash against the floor and the knife to drive further into her flesh.
“Maybe you’ll be more cooperative now,” he scorned, reaching over her legs while they were forced up by the seat of the chair. Getting a firm grip on the handle, he ripped the knife from her with a purposeful twist.
Her shrieks reached an otherworldly level but death still stood far away from her. In the back of her mind, she consoled herself with the knowledge that it couldn’t get much worse than this.
“Let’s get right to the point: Where are the pictures?” he snapped, straddling her waist while he held the red blade to her throat.
Breaths shallow as she avoided the blade, she glowered at the man above her and spat in his face.
He reeled back, wiping his face with the back of his hand. When his eyes met hers again, they were murderous.
“You bitch! You bitch, I’m gonna kill you!”
Janie closed her eyes when the knife sailed down to meet her.
When neither pain nor death met her, she opened her eyes the slightest bit and found her shirt in shreds about her. Her wide eyes traveled up, finding him as he stripped himself of his shirt and let himself fall on her.
She couldn’t breathe, his body crushing her chest.
As he fell, the legs of the chair snapped, throwing her completely on her back. Her legs lay frail and straight beneath him.
“Get off,” she shrieked, shoving uselessly at his chest.
Wood splintered in her calves while he forced her legs open with his knee, ignoring her shrill pleas.
“Stop it!” she implored, flailing her fists at him until he pinned them to the floor. “Stop it, please! Please!”
His hand traveled toward the edge of her pants, his intent clear in his face.
“Stop it! I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you!”
The man’s hand froze just below her navel but he didn’t move from his place on top of her, watching her expectantly as she turned on her side, hiding her tear-streaked face from him. Janie bit her lip, reaching into the cup of her bra for the distorted image she’d hidden there that awful night. It felt like an entire lifetime had passed since then. She held the picture, crinkled from sweat and water, out to him.
“Now was that so hard?” he asked, standing. He picked up his shirt and dressed before turning back. He grinned, watching her as he jutted out his hips. “It really is a shame, though. You’re missing out.”
Sobs exploded from Janie’s mouth. She curled up tighter around herself, closed her eyes, and imagined that she was anywhere else. She didn’t want to live if she was going to be subjected to this brand of torture for another six months.
When his arms lifted her off the floor, she screamed again, nailing him in the face with her elbow in her struggle. He didn’t stumble. If he hadn’t pinned her arms down, she would’ve thought she hadn’t hit him at all. He easily carried her through the doorway, back to the room she’d called home for so long now. “Welcome back,” he chuckled, unlocking the door and throwing her into the darkness. The door slammed ominously behind her.
Before her eyes adjusted to the dark, the silence fooled her into thinking that Taran wasn’t there at all.
She felt alone.
Her cries broke the quiet, especially when she prodded her newest wound.
“Janie?” his voice murmured.
She didn’t speak, knowing she could never get the words out.
She flinched when his hands searched for her through the dark, landing harmlessly on her shoulder. He didn’t ask questions when he collected her in his arms, cradling her against his chest while she sobbed into his shirt. He hushed her quietly, brushing his fingers slowly, comfortingly, through her hair. After a few moments, her cries quieted to whimpers, though he continued to rock her back and forth in his arms.
“The stupidest thing I ever did was cliff dive with my older brother. That was the second time I broke my arm. I was six and I got in soooo much trouble with my mom!” he chuckled.
Janie blurted out a pathetic half-laugh as she wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand. She wrapped her arms around him while he rocked them, forgetting how bad she smelled. Taran didn’t move, even when he felt her fall asleep.
He softly looked down into her sleeping face. “We’re gonna get you out of here.”