Horror dawned in her eyes as she saw that he was not, in fact, her Tinder date's roommate. In fact, there was no real date, just a fake profile he'd made after hacking her account and tailoring his catfish version to her type. Horror turned to unadulterated panic, complete with hyperventilating, when no Daniel showed, and she realized that he had locked the door behind her from the inside. He advanced on her with a slow and unhurried gait.
She threw her weight against the door once, then again, but it had been triple locked, the only keys currently rubbing elbows with the pocket fluff in his Levi's. It would take an elephant to break down that door, and she looked like she couldn't tip the scales sopping wet at a buck forty.
"You should be happy. I did this all for you," the man said, his tone the exact hue of subdued disapproval a parent gets when the kids throw a temper tantrum: slate grey with flickers of gold like hidden lightning strikes.
"Oh well," he sighed, shaking his head. "It's the thought that counts." With that, he lunged at his quarry. He caught her by the upper arm, yanking her into a faux embrace and pinioning her arms behind her back. With a triumphant smirk, he dragged her kicking and screaming into the recesses of the house.
"Look on the bright side, I'm curing you of online dating. You'll thank me for this later. I promise."
Bouncing a tennis ball against the translucent wall of the cage, he focused on the catch and release motion, pretended to ignore her. She sounded like a broken toy, oscillating between high-pitched screams to low, conspiratorial promises that if he let her go she'd never breathe a word to anyone. That's what they all said.
Checking his watch, he grunted. It would probably take another couple hours before this phase waned and transitioned into a catatonic stupor when she realized the truth: he wasn't going to let her out, and no one was going to rescue her.
Give or take twelve-hundred more throws and catches to go, and she'd probably dissolve into silent tears.
Aiming for her face, he smiled. Make that eleven-hundred and ninety nine.
Screams bottlenecked into pleas, which evaporated into silence. Finally. Now the real work could begin.
"Alright, April. Ready to answer some questions?" He clicked his pen a couple of times, scrawling on the page margin to make sure there was a smooth, clean line. Nothing he hated more than a half dead pen.
"My name isn't April." True, but her tone lacked conviction. He could work with that.
"So, April. What made you join Tinder in the first place?" he pressed, feeling like a therapist. All he needed was the ridiculous couch.
"My friend, Sarah. She set it up for me," she said.
"Bet you're pretty ticked off at her now, aren't you," he murmured, twisting his tone into something passably sympathetic.
She didn't reply to that, so he continued with his interview.
"What made you swipe left on a profile for Chad Delaney?" he asked, feeling the anger at being rejected rekindle.
"Wha-what?" she sobbed, the waterworks starting all over again. It was as if the confusion set her off. He felt no pity.
Pulling a picture of his real profile out of the file folder, he slapped it against the glass partition. "You can tell me. There's not much worse I could do to you than this, right?" As if. "What made you swipe left on this profile, April?"
"How would you possibly know that," she muttered, still squinting at the picture.
"I'm a patient man, April, but I swear to God. If I have to repeat myself a third time, you aren't going to like it."
"Your picture, okay. I'm not into guys with glasses," she offered up weakly. The excuse was thin, and he knew it.
"Glasses. Hmm. If that's so, why did you swipe right on this profile, and this one, and this one?" he intoned, tossing pictures at the floor in front of her. All had been profiles she'd matched with, all with men wearing glasses.
Seeing that she was cornered, she lashed out. Feisty. He liked that in a woman. "What the actual fu---" she started, eyes flashing from picture to picture. "How did you get these?"
"Honestly April, I'm hurt. I'm definitely better looking than that schmuck," he said, pointing out the over-muscled redhead in the shirtless photo. "Wouldn't you agree?"
"Sure, whatever. Is that what you wanted? You're good looking, I don't know why I didn't match with you. Now please, please just let me go."
Watching the hope in her eyes, he savoured the moment that would come next.
"I will, of course. Just as soon as I believe you." There it was, that beautiful dimming of hope and freedom. There honestly wasn't anything like it.
"How about we try this one more time? Sound good?"
Gathering up the papers, he shuffled them and popped them back in the folder.
"Now, what's your name?" He smiled, waiting for it.
"It's Anna, you psychopath!" she screamed, catching a second wind of fury and beating her fist against the glass.
"Oh, so close. Looks like we're going to have to start over. Again."
Eventually, he broke her. One's sense of self can only remain intact for so long before unravelling like an old sweater under such rigorous gaslighting combined with isolation, terror, and an unstimulating environment. He got what he wanted. She accepted her new name, allowed herself to agree with him on his questions. She even made it to the last one on his clipboard, a feat the last woman hadn't been able to. He was pleasantly surprised.
"What's your name, sweetheart?" he asked, almost kindly.
"April," she said, with no trace of indecision or resentment.
"Oh, oh, no. I'm sorry. Your name is Cherry," he snickered. He left her weeping in her cell and tried to predict how many new identities she would adopt and shed like a snake before her mind collapsed in on itself. His record was six.
"You should have just swiped right, Cherry. Or, not tried an online dating app. Those are really only for people who are desperate or unhinged."