What you don’t know…

My eyes open. Just about. I can barely see light filtering through my tumescent eyelids. I turn to the side, and like a myriad of needles pushing deep into my raw flesh, the pain wakes me, telling me that I am alive. 

I look around this barren room and all I see is blanched, soulless walls. 

‘Where the fuck am I?’ 

A strange, windowless eight-by-eight. The only thing keeping me from the outside world: a steel door with a small, mesh-covered window. 

I try to get to the door, but my body has neither the strength nor the resolve to undertake any investigative work right now. Defeated before the fight, bent-double, I drag myself on a mat placed at the far corner, leaving a streak of crimson onto the immaculate floor. I settle onto it and do the only thing I am able to do right now. Rest.

Hours pass, and though the eerie stillness of the place is helping me focus, I still can’t make out why I am in this predicament, regardless of how many scenarios I play in my head. 

The door clunks open. 

A burly man dressed in off-white scrubs, escorted by two truncheon-brandishing heavies tiptoes through the threshold and places a blue tray in the centre of the room, never losing eye on me. He retreats with a fearful paso-doble and slams the door shut, triple-bolted. 

Dinner time, I guess. 

I can’t remember how long it’s been since my last meal, but I can hear my stomach’s elation at the prospect of grub. I roll over and hastily retrieve my reward. A bowl of pale, insipid slop and a plastic spoon. No expenses spared in this joint. 

Gruel has never tasted so good, even with the added notes of sulphur and metal coming from the blood seeping out from inside of my mouth. I wipe the clumps of food from my swollen upper lip with a smirk, and crawl back to my corner. 

The ceiling, constellated by long fluorescent strip lights encased in a protective armour, radiates a clinical, matte-white hue over the room. Only one tube, right above my resting spot, flickers on and off. On. Off. Continuously. It winks at me, taunts me, tortures me.

Then all lights go out. As my sight adjusts to the encompassing darkness, I notice a faint red dot in the other corner, right up to the ceiling. A camera. Scanning my moves, guessing my thoughts. Day and night. I hope that they, whoever they are, are enjoying the show. 

So, as light follows darkness time and again, I wait. Seven cycles, and no human contact, no explanation, no hints. Nothing.

I seek refuge in the memories I hold dearest. 

The image of Darla, my wife, in the morning. She lies in bed and gazes at me with loving eyes as the morning sun shines through our bedroom window, casting soft shadows on her perfect body. The image of Jason, our little boy, as he climbs into bed for morning cuddles, whispering a sibilant ‘good morning’ through the gaps left by his lost baby teeth. 

My wounds don’t seem to hurt as much now, and food has stopped tasting like my bleeding cheeks. I guess it’s time to try and rattle this cage and see if any answers come falling out of it. I’ve been here long enough. 

I get up and inch closer and closer to the door, smiling through the pain at the All Seeing Eye above me. Whoever is there, they now know I’m about to break my daily routine. I stand facing that minuscule porthole window and direct my gaze to the outside for the first time. All I see is a lifeless, dimly lit corridor, not unlike the ones found in hospital basements or rundown hotels.

I take a deep breath in, and start banging at the door. 

‘Why? Why?’ I keep shouting.

‘Why?’ louder and louder, as my hands and feet keep slamming on the cold steel.

In minutes, from their burrow at the far end of the corridor, my predators emerge, revealing themselves at long last. A fat, balding fifty-something with round specs and an air of authority, escorted by a small army of heavies.

He dashes straight for the door and calmly utters his first, unsurprising command.

‘Please step away from the door, James. Now.’

I step back and lower myself to the floor, hands in clear view. The door unbolts and it opens. The heavies surround me and I’m quickly subjugated, pinned face down into the floor.

The bespectacled man leans in, and with a chilling tone exhorts:

‘Time to talk!’

He gets up, and as he leaves he orders his goons to take me with them.  

***** ***** *****

‘I can’t believe this guy. I tell you, he’s making it all up. I’ve had just about enough of his act. Cuff him to the chair, and let him wait. Get six guys, I don’t want a repeat of last week’s antics. This time he’ll sing, I tell you… Off you go, dismissed’.

‘Yes, Sir.”

As my subordinate flies out of the door to relay my orders to the team, I glance at James Masters’ file, again. I chuck it back into the drawer and slam it shut. Time for another showdown.

I enter the room, and he’s there, perched at the bad guy end of the desk, feeble-looking and still sporting streaks of dried-up blood on his best profile. 

There he is, our little mouse, encircled by half a dozen elephants, all staring, twitching, terrified by the little creature. I lower myself in the chair opposite him, his mirror image. Before I have even sat down he jolts forward and begins spouting his tired old lines. 

‘Who are you? Why are you keeping me in here?’

I raise both hands in a friendly gesture, and politely ask him to calm down. 

“No, I won’t calm down until you tell me what the fuck is going on!’

Ok, I play along, again. I’m not sure why. We should just be done with this one and throw him right where he deserves. Anyway, I feign some textbook empathy and get on with the interview, or as I should call it, the deja vu.

‘So, James. You don’t remember me, do you?’

‘I can’t say I do. Should I?’

‘Yes, you should. But that’s not important right now. Do you know where we are? Why you’re here?’

‘No, all I know is that I’ve been roughed up and kept under lock and key for days. Who are you? Where’s my family?’

‘Yes, about that…’

I log into my laptop and turn it towards him. I’m fed up of talking already. I’m gonna cut this short.

‘James, I’m going to show you something. Something that’ll explain everything. All I need you to do is to sit tight and watch it to the end. Can you do that for me?’

‘I guess so…’ He says. 

***** ***** *****

Night time. A barely visible room, lit only by the yellow tint of a street lamp shining through the window. Enough backlight to make out the silhouette of a man’s frantic to-ing and fro-ing. He looks like he’s packing. The camera angle switches. The man walks down a staircase, carrying something heavy. He opens the front door and steps onto the porch. The camera switches again. Streetlights now fully illuminate the scene. The man walks to a car parked in the drive, opens the boot, and throws in a large sports bag. He slams the boot shut and drives away. The screen goes blank.

***** ***** *****

James Masters, finally silent, looks at me, his eyes praying for an answer. Here is when I always start wondering whether he is leading me on or if he is really unaware of what’s unfolding before him. I quiz him further.

‘Did you recognise the place?’

‘Yes,’ He whispers. 

‘The man?’

‘Yes.”

‘The car?’

‘Yes.’

‘Very good. James, was that you?’

‘It was.’

‘Ok. The footage is from your CCTV. But you know that already. It is from three weeks ago. That night they found your car crashed on the way out of town, with you in it, unconscious. And this is what they found in the boot…”

I carefully open my briefcase and produce a folder containing photos. I hand them to him, and look at my guys. They know. He glances at the folder, then at me. His head shakes, words failing in his throat.

‘No… That’s not possible… How can it be? HOW!!!’

Sweat beads from his forehead, blood in his eyes, pupils blacked-out. 

‘Boys!’ I shout, warning them. Masters shakes, then throws up, right on the desk. Then the moment arrives. As he tries to sedate the dissonance in his mind, he flips.

He rises from the chair to which he is still cuffed and flails it about the room. One of my guys is caught squarely on the jaw and hits the deck. The others step back. Masters’ eyes glisten, crazed, just like last time. 

He screams. 

The boys take a moment, then step in, and within seconds he is once again a broken, squealing mouse after a stampede.

‘Throw this crazy bastard back in the hole.’

I walk out. The door slams behind me.

****** ***** *****

My eyes open. Just about. I can barely see light, filtering through my tumescent eyelids. I turn to the side, and like a myriad of needles pushing deep in my raw flesh, the pain wakes me, telling me that I am alive. Barely. 

I look around this barren room and all I see is blanched, soulless walls. 

‘Where the fuck am I?’