I am in the dark. Alone.
In the pitch black, I struggle to listen for any sign of life. I tilt my head to listen, but there are no sounds of life. Chains keep me secure to a metal chair. In the dark. “What in the world is going on here?”
The metal handcuffs rip into my flesh when I struggle against them. Some type of hood blocks my vision. My struggle is in vain. I’m going nowhere fast. The air is damp, and the room smells earthy.
“Am I underground?” I place my hands flat on the metal chair, it’s cool to the touch. The silence echoes soft footfalls, which draw closer and closer. A hand touches my face, and then removes my hood. I blink against the intrusion of light. At my feet, a gas lamp illuminates what appears to be a small cavern .
Water streams down the walls. Cracks and crevices the rocky face of the cavern. In the corner, two men, one Hispanic and the other black, watches me. A tall, fair-skinned, brunette watches me with smoldering emerald eyes.
“You’re the troublemaker, eh?” Her full lips pucker up in a kiss-me come on. She walks over to me and kisses me on the cheek. “I need to know what you know,” she whispers. Her throaty voice sends chills down my spine. She licks my face and purrs, “why don’t you be a good boy and give me what I want?”
I chuckle and lock eyes with her. “If only I could, but I don’t know anything. It’s possible you’ve got the wrong man- as bad as I hate to say it.” She smiles. Her full lips pull back into a devilish grin.
“I am Maria Casanova. Those were my plans you and your friend stole. I want them back.” She crosses the room and sits on my lap. She wraps her arms around my neck. “I don’t have to hurt you, troublemaker. You can be my pet for a few weeks. You and I could have some fun together, no?”
“Well Maria, may I call you Maria?” She nods yes, and I proceed. “I am sure we could have fun together, but I don’t know anything. For the first time in my life I wish I did, but I don’t.”
She smoothes down her black leather skirt and walks into another room. When she comes out, her sensible shoes were gone, now she wears thigh high stiletto boots. I groaned. “Jeez, she had to put on my favorite shoes for a woman.”
“Nice boots, Maria…” Without a word, she kicks me in the crotch with the toe of a boot. Air rushes out of my lungs, and my head aches with pain. She pulls on leather gloves and proceeds to punch me with a left to the body, and follows up with a right to my throat.
I lean forward, and the handcuffs bite into my flesh deep enough to draw blood. Maria kneels in front of me and kisses me on my lips. “I’m sorry but I don’t like liars. Tell me, what is you’re name troublemaker?” I gasp for air and look at her.
“I am Michael Winter, you crazy broad…” A leather glove punches me in the face busting my lips. “Tsk, tsk, tsk, no name calling, Michael. What do you do for a living?” The blood from my lips seep onto my shirt. I lick at my lips and look at the floor.
“I am a fishing and hunting guide. My area of expertise is the woods of Mississippi.” Maria smiles.
“You’re a government agent?”
“No, I am a guide. I take people fishing and hunting. I go with them to make their time productive.” She tugs at her gloves, ensuring they are tight on her hands. “Would you take me hunting, Michael?” I nod. “Sure, but it isn’t hunting season yet. We have to wai-”
Her right hand slams into the side of my head, banging it off the wall. Her followup was a left to the ribs. I heard a crack, it sounds like a gunshot in the small cavern.
She giggles. “Where are my plans, Michael?”
I look her in the eyes and whisper, “What plans? I don’t know what you’re talking about!” She smiles and sat across from me.
“Okay. Since you don’t know where my plans are; I don’t need to torment you anymore. I don’t need you either.” She stands to her feet, her all black outfit seems like an eternal abyss. I felt I was drowning in it, and she pulls a stag horn knife from her garter belt.
“Wait, wait, wait a minute. Fine, I know something about your missing plans.” She chuckles, and puts one hand upon her hip. With her free hand she gestures for me to speak.
“Well, what do you know?” Pain racks my body from the blows. My lips are bloody, but they pull back into a fierce grin. “I know you’re missing those plans!”
Her emerald eyes and full lips show mirth. With one violent motion, she slams the blade into my leg. I bite down hard to keep my cry from escaping my bloody lips. Too late. My scream echoes throughout the cavern.
“Take him and place him with the other prisoners.” The two men walk over and grab me under the arms. They drag me to a small metal cell and toss me into the center. I can feel hungry eyes upon my back.
“Great, now what is going to happen?” The wrought iron door slams shut, and I stand to my feet. The inky blackness of the cavern walls cast deep shadows in the prison. Out of the darkness a voice speaks to me.
“Welcome to hell, brother.” The voice leans out from the shadows, his grayish beard flows below his waist. His eyes are a mixture of blue, sprinkled with gray, and a dash of sorrow. His nose has a crook in it, and is a testimony of many beatings at the hands of our tormentors.
“Who are you?” The voice stands to his feet. His height was no more than 3’8. He extends a massive paw toward me. I grip his hand. “Name is Josie. Yeah, I’m short.” I grunt, my hand feels as if it is in a vise. He squeezes. “I’m Michael.” Josie releases my hand and slaps me on the back. “Nice to meet you, welcome to the suck. I am sure you’ve got questions.”
“Yeah,” I grunt, while I rub my hand.
“How long have you been here, Josie?” He turns his head, his beard drags the floor when he sits down. “Why? You writing a book?” I shake my head, my eyes cast downward. “No. I am looking for hope. We could escape from this place.”
A chuckle escapes from his throat, his voice raspy in the dark. “Escape? Are you daft? Do you think no one has ever made plans to escape? Or made plans to murder Maria? Those thoughts will kill you. Best you put them out of your mind now.”
“What? Are we cast into this prison to only appease their cravings for bloodlust,” I ask. Frustration creeps into my voice. “Do we give Maria and her cohorts a sense of purpose, a husk to enact their rage upon?”
Josie chuckles, “we are alive because we’ve provide Maria entertainment.” He gestures to his right. “Lemme introduce you to those who were poor entertainers.” Skeletons cover the corner of the cell. The bones are bleach white. I notice breaks and compound fractures in the femur bones. The dwarf waddles close and after a time speaks again. “The one on the bottom was Timothy. The other corpse belongs to Michelle. Both of them didn’t entertain Maria. There’s a message hidden in these broken corpses.”
I slump to the ground. Josie dumps his square body to the ground next to me. I look at him. “Oh yeah, Josie? What message is there in those broken bodies?”
He smiles dangerously and tugs at his beard. “Don’t be one of those who fail to entertain.”
“I’d rather we kill Maria and escape. Do you think we can do it?”
A grin passes between us. I lean back against the wet wall and smile a small smile. “Yeah,” Josie says. “It’s time we blew this Popsicle stand. Our escape plan must be legit. We can’t haphazardly string it along, it must include the minute details.”
We conspire well into the night. Lanterns keep the darkness at bay while we work out the details. I go over the plans until I understand every detail. I doze off into a light slumber.
My sleep seems to last seconds. Rough hands snatch me from the floor and toss me into a corner room. The black man from earlier enters the cell. Josie calls him Atlas. He grabs me by the throat and slams me into the wall with enough force to expell the air from my lungs in a loud gush.
“I notice you’re getting chummy with the local,” he snarls. He balls up a fist and drives it into my midsection. I place my hands up to ward off further blows. “If you promise to quit pounding on my body, I’ll tell you what I spoke to him about.” Atlas chuckles, his white teeth seems out of place in the dark cavern.
“Fine, sheep. Talk.” I place my hands by my side and take several deep breaths. “We talk about how we are going to get out of this dump. Right after we kill all you of course. My first visit is going to be your mom. She seems like a nice lad-”
Atlas’s mountainous right hand crashes into my skull and renders me unconscious for the rest of the day. Good times.
I wake to a pounding head and aching body. Josie grins at me. “Atlas beat on you, eh?” I nod and chuckle. “Yeah, all I remember was the hammer of the gods punching me in the head. Then he put broke my ribs into splinters.”
Josie laughs and covers his ribs. “Aye, I got a visit from the other goon, Juno. He didn’t hold nothing back. Did you answer his question?”
“Yeah, I told him after we kill everyone, we were going to visit his mother.” Josie doubles over, his laughter fills the cavern. “That’s great. No wonder he beat on you something fierce.”
We both laugh, our injuries force us to stop and breathe. After a while, I look at Josie. He leans back against the damp wall, his eyes shut. “What did you tell Juno, Josie?” Without cracking an eyelid he retorts, “ I told him he was fifty percent dwarf. He needs to check his history. I’m his daddy!” Both of us break into gales of laughter.
“Good God, we both deserve our beatings!” Josie nods. “Night, Michael. Tomorrow we get beat down again.”
Sure enough, at daybreak Josie and I got drug out of the cell and thrown a vicious beating. We both crack up with laughter as Atlas and Juno attempt to break our spirits.
Our captors tire from beating us. They drag us back to our cells. Josie and I have grown close throughout the various assaults. As evening approaches, the sound of high heel boots draw near our cell. Maria, is wearing all black, steps into the sliver of illumination and smiles.
“Hello, boys.” Maria’s appearance and mannerism is professional, unlike her cohorts. Her black hair lies to the side and her makeup is flawless. “I came by to let you both know, tomorrow one of you will no longer be on Planet Earth. I’ll make my choice in the morning. Sweet dreams.” With a flourish, she steps into the darkness and vanishes into the long shadows.
“Well crap, Mike. I thought this would come to a head. Who do you think she favors for the ole chopping block, eh?” I lean back and sigh. “I am going to die in this dump, she seems to enjoy beating me.
Josie smiles. “I agree. You’ve never ask why the skeletons litter the cell with us.”
“I haven’t given it any thought, and I don’t want to. Tomorrow, our fates await discovery.” Josie sits down, his small legs stretch out before him. He clasps his beard with both hands and runs his fingers through it.
“Aye, tomorrow our fates unfold. Are you bursting with excitement?” I close my eyes and consider the beginning of the movie Gladiator. “I won’t be walking through a field of wheat, that’s for sure. God only knows what I’ll face tomorrow.” All night, water drips to the floor and keeps me awake. At daybreak, Maria enters the room. Her emerald eyes shine with excitement. “Good morning! We are going to do something different today. Instead of me choosing who lives and who dies, you guys will choose.” Maria steps close and whispers to me, “who do you choose, Michael?” I stand to my feet and crack my neck. “I choose me, Maria. Put me out of my misery already.” She grins and winks at me. “Who do you choose, Josie? Do you choose yourself, as well?”
Josie walks over to me and places his arm on my shoulder. “Nay. I choose Mike as the next victim. He hasn’t found a home here, but he will make a great addition to the skeleton crew.”
Maria smiles. She feigns impatience and pushes her arms overhead. “Thank you gentlemen for making this impossible to decide. I choose Josie.” With a snap of her fingers, Atlas and Juno drag Josie from the cell. His screams echo from the torture chamber. “I gave you Timothy and Michelle; I even gave you Michael. Why do you turn your back on me?” I listen to his screams for hours. Silence finally fills the cavern. The metallic smell of blood gathers in my nostrils. I puke.
As I toss up my lunch, Maria comes into the cell and sits in front of me. “I want to let you know how happy I am to have you here. Otherwise, I never would’ve got rid of Josie.”
“You’re a sick woman, Maria.” She laughs, it reminds me of a donkey braying. Her huge white teeth flashs in the cavern. “Oh Michael, I may fall head over heels in love with you.” I walk to the shadows and sit down. I pull my knees up to my chest, and I watch her. She’d be beautiful if she weren’t a psychopath. She watches me back. Time passes by and she finally leaves.
I walk over to the pile of skeletons in the cell. “The nice thing about skeletons is they’re quiet.” In the darkness I find a loose bone. “The scapula would make a great weapon if I can find some way to sharpen it.” As I walk to the corner of my cell, I sit down and lean against the wall. A sliver of light shone into the cell. Something pokes me mid-spinal erector. I turn and run my palm down the wall, searching for the sharp object. “A rock. I have a way to sharpen my weapon.” The night crawls by, as I sharpen the edge on my new toy. While I whittle, I make my plan. “You’ve got only one chance at escape. Once you’ve start the attack-finish it, one way or the other.”
Sleep closes my eyes, and I dream of my escape. In my dream, as I draw near the exit, Maria slams a railroad spike into my chest. “It’s fear. The butterflies.” I shove the bone into my back pocket and wait for one of the Wonder Twins to ruin my morning. Nothing happens. The day passes and no one visits my cell. “They’ll show up tonight.” Still, nothing happens. The days pass, and no one visits. Fear pulses through my veins as I face my fate. At the end of the day, Atlas strides through the door. He walks into my cell and punches me in the teeth. “My mom says hello.” Without another look, Atlas turns and walks out. The door lays open. Freedom lies scant feet away, but I can’t make myself take advantage of the opportunity.