I blinked, I blinked! I’m sure that was all I did… how did I get here? God, my throat is sore, and it’s so dark. What is that rancid smell? Hot iron and rotting meat? I’m going to be sick.
“Ah, you’re awake, welcome,” a man says from somewhere around me.
Welcome? To where? Why can’t I move my… I’m tied up. How did I get tied up? I was in bed!
“It’s perfectly normal to feel a little, out of sorts when you first wake up, my dear. Don’t worry,” why don’t I recognise this assholes voice? He sounds like he swallowed a jar of honey, and who is he, calling me, ‘dear’ like he knows me?
I need to open my eyes, I don’t want to, but if I don’t I’ll never know what the Hell is going on… Oh, Christ, I shouldn’t have opened my eyes! My stomach, no, I need to swallow it down, if I throw up now I’ll choke. I’m gagged. Damn-it, swallow it back down!
Now I know what that smell is. Why am I in a room with a pile of corpses? Fuck, I need to calm down. If I keep going like this than I’ll pass out.
“Oh, don’t worry about them,” he’s behind me. “You won’t end up there if you play along.”
Huh? Why does he sound so, damn cheerful?
“You’re shaking, my dear.”
Of course, I’m shaking you maniac! I’m shaking so hard I might rattle this chair. I’m tied to a swivel chair in a huge room, gagged, in one corner there’s a pile of are the decaying bodies, and behind me is a madman, who keeps calling me fucking ‘dear’!
“I’m going to take your gag off. I find a conversation works best when both parties can participate.”
Arrogant asshole. His fingers are delicate though, every nerve in my body is in overdrive, I can sense his touch before he makes contact. He’s working through the knot like he’s done it hundreds of times, judging by the amount of people in that heap, that isn’t impossible. Oh, oh, God.
It burns, my stomach is tight and… I can’t breathe! It just keeps coming. The gag is gone, but this is worse! Taking a breath is a battle and it’s not filling my lungs. I’m drowning on air!
Why is his hand on my chest?
“Slow down, you’ve stopped throwing up, so, slow your breath and exhale.”
Anyone else, anywhere else and this would be a sweet gesture, but right now I just want to launch myself off this chair, chew my hands and feet off if I need to. His hand against my chest makes me want to scream.
“Fuck you,” I croak, the sound of my broken voice against his silky baritone exhausts me.
“You’re a fiery one,” he’s amused by my outburst, the way an adult tries not to laugh when a child swears.
His delicate hands are on my shoulders now, the shudder that runs through me does make the chair quake, just a little. My nails are dug into the hard wooden arms as he turns me to face something new.
“This is why you’re here.”
I can’t explain why, but the comparably benign scene is far more terrifying. In-front of me lies a table and two low platforms. The setting for his game.
“Have you heard of the Trolly Dilemma?” he sounds like a lecturer, readying to teach his favourite student about something deep and meaningful.
But my mind is full, all I can see is that table and those low wooden platforms. The more I look, the more I notice the dark stains, and imagine what caused them.
He clears his throat and continues, taking my silence as admittance of my ignorance, “It is a psychological theory, based on how we would react if we had no choice, but to take someone’s life. Who would we choose?”
No, no, no, no… this is a prank. Those weren’t real bodies; this isn’t actually happening. The cameras are up in the support beams that run the length of the ceiling. If I try hard enough, I bet I could spot them.
While desperately searching for hope, I hear a quick snap. Did he click his fingers? Light flood my eyes, sending me recoiling back, and the chair tipping back onto only one of its wheels. Shit!
“Not so fast there, my dear,” he already has hold of me and is setting my moveable prison straight. “As I was saying, the Trolly Dilemma is all about the choices we make when there is no good choice left. I want to see how that works in practice.”
“You’re a monster,” I sneer. My body tightens as the rage begins to swell within me.
“Probably,” he replies, not an ounce of guilt in his words, “I could tell you it’s for science, but why lie? Frankly I just enjoy watching people break.”
The sting of tears infuriates me more, the idea that I would show this monster weakness is enough to make cry all over again. Instead, I resign to give him nothing.
“What are the rules?” I ask, trying to keep my voice as level as possible. Even so, I hear the slight tremble.
“Well, aren’t you the interesting one,” he pauses to chuckle, and I can hear the smile in his words. “Simply put, we bring out groups of people and you choose which group lives and which… well, which doesn’t. You will have two minutes to decide, and once you have, you will use one of the weapons that will be on the table to kill them.”
My heart, it’s gripped in agony. My jaw is clenched so tight it could snap, my head is pounding, and I can barely see. How did I get here?
“Tell me, what would stop me from using one of those weapons on you?” I ask mustering the bravest voice I can.
“The gun to your head,” he replies plainly. “You see, you have a third choice if you choose not to take part, I will shoot you.”
At this point, it might be preferable. Do I want to be a killer? Do I want to add to the Godforsaken pile?
“So, you want to take the easy way out?” he asks from behind me, this time his voice slightly muffled.
“Excuse me?” his accusation bubbling up a surge of indignity in me.
He yanks my head back and for the first time I see him, or what he will allow me to see of him. He’s put on a mask, the kind you can find in most shops right now. It covers his neck and half his face, and his eyes are hidden behind large, dark, square sunglasses. His long chocolate brown hair is pulled back into a messy knot, yet strands fall over his face. Even through all that, I can see his displeasure at my outburst.
“So many of you choose the easiest route, it sickens me, when you could leave here alive, if only you would get your hands dirty. Will you leave here, Ms Kerry?” he growls into my ear.
As he lets me go, my head rocks forward so fiercely the chair comes with me, teetering, before he moves in to steady it.
“Bring the first lot out,” he commands.
I haven’t had time to centre myself after being jolted about. However, the true horror now plays out in-front of me.
There are five people in all black, their heads covered in ski-masks as some of them drag out scared people, all fighting against their restraints. And the last of the masked shadows is placing an ensemble of close contact weapons.
If I hadn’t already thrown up everything in my stomach, I would be sick. As it stands only bile gurgles up in my throat, stinging at it like a small swarm of bees.
They’ve separated the three people. One stands alone on the left-hand platform, while the other two stand huddled together on the right. The pair, both women, look to be in their twenties, while the man standing alone looks to be in his forties. I watch as they stare at each other and then to that pile of bodies.
“I don’t know what is going on, but please spare my children,” the man begs. Tears are running down his cheeks, he’s flopped to his knees.
“No! Dad!” one of the girls screams and reaches out to him, which earns her a smack on the wrist with a large stick by one of the masked shadows, who are standing by.
“That is entirely up to her,” my captor says, cutting me free of my bindings.
I stand, wobbly, while rubbing my wrists, I ask, “You would guarantee the others safety? They wouldn’t be killed?”
“Those are two entirely different questions, my dear, but yes, I will guarantee they will not die,” I can see the smile beneath the mask, and I don’t like it. “You have two minutes.”
“Can I talk to them?” I venture.
“Hmm…” that smile twists the fabric around his mouth as he ponders, “One question for each of them. But you can’t ask them if they want to die.”
That question would be redundant, it’s clear to see with at least two of them whom they would prefer to die. The father, still on his knees is sobbing uncontrollably, but his attention is no longer on us. He has gotten as close as the masked shadows will allow to the other platform and is saying something to one of his daughters, the dark haired one who protested his offer to be sacrificed.
And she too has dropped to her knees, her hair shielding her face as she wretches and cries, calling out to him, begging him not to do it. Her whole body shaking with the effort not to collapse completely.
It’s the second daughter, slightly older, fair haired and pale grey eyes, standing unmoved under the spotlight. Her eyes are fixed on me and our captive, with her arms crossing over her chest and her chin tilted up, she looks to us defiantly.
“Well, as this is going nowhere, why don’t I introduce you to our little groups?” our captive asks, squeezing my shoulders, sending little shocks of panic through my body.
“I choose me,” I say quickly.
He laughs, but it sounds broken, the kind of laugh you would hear in a horror movie. Then he pulls me closer to him, and I’m thrust against his chest as he embraces me. His arms wrap around me like a pair of constrictor snakes, forcing my back to press harder into him. “I wouldn’t do that, if I were you,” he taunts in a low rumble, so close to my ear I can feel his breath.
“But… you promised they would live,” I stammer, fighting the urge to thrash, he literally has me in the palm of his hands, and I can sense the strength behind his hold. I have no recourse, no way to fight, not yet.
“I did, but their safety is something I did not swear to,” he sighs delightedly into my ear, “If you can’t entertain me, I will find other ways… and there are far worse things than death, my dear,” another sigh, my body shudders, “And I will do every last one, to every last one of them.”
His words punch the air out my lungs, yet to my surprise it also banishes any panic that’s left, leaving me only one option.
The exchange lasts mere seconds, and he lets me go, assuming I am ready to make my choice. I am. However, it will not be one he is expecting of me. I watch as he happily starts walking away, “So, lets get back to meeting the groups, your choices,” he says with utter glee.
I follow, my nerves on fire. Passing the table with the weapons on, I grab the nearest one to me. It’s a heavy dagger with an ornamental hilt. The kind you would find on display in a collection, my mind drifts for just a second to a shadow box on my boss’s wall, full weapons he claims are blunt, and I hope this one isn’t.
“My word you’re pathetic,” he’s talking to the father.
I couldn’t agree less. He is willing to die for his children, that is true strength.
“Please, just kill me, take whatever you want from me, just let my girls go,” the man has turned back to face our captor, he almost reaches him, but one of the masked shadows strikes him on the back of the head.
Even if I die, even if the masked shadows get me. They will be leaderless. The ensuing chaos may be enough for the family to escape.
I choose me and you, I think, and surge forward, my dagger poised.
“Meet Mr Ha-,” he begins. The blade penetrates, the pressure is like popping a bag. Then the blade eases deep into his back. My right-hand slips from the hilt slicing it from one side of my palm to the other. But I don’t care. I can feel him stiffening and arching with the shock, the warmth of his blood trickling from the wound onto my hand as I push the dagger in just a bit more.
“I made my choice,” I say as he turns his head to look at me out of the side of his eye, he moves his hand up and pulls down the mask, gasping for air as thin lines of crimson run from his lips, which curl into a twisted, grim smile.
“So, I see,” he splutters, “How very, interesting.”
His legs are getting weaker, he’s starting to tremble. I yank the blade back out and watch him collapse into a heap. His glasses lie awkwardly on his face, the one he had hidden so well, now bare for me to see. He’s so plain, so, ordinary. He is a thousand men, not ugly, yet, not what anyone would call classically handsome. And, he’s still breathing.
I kneel down next to him, lean in close and whisper, “Thank you, you made me unbreakable,” and just watch as he chokes and stammers, trying to get words out. When he takes his last breath, I look up. No one has moved.
“Go,” I say to the family and watch as it dawns on them their trial by fire is over. Slowly they move towards one another, crawling like infants, then stumbling on unsure feet, guided by the fair-haired sister somewhere out of sight.
I turn my attention to the masked shadows, now stood unmoving at their posts. The adrenaline is leaving me, my own body shaking and weak now. If they attack I am dead. A few twitch, some tilt their head curiously, none move toward me.
“I am leaving now,” I declare, “Do not follow me, or that family.”
Somewhere, a door is open. I can feel the wind dancing over my body, the chill feels like freedom. Still, I am stuck, my feet unsure, tired, and fearful of what the masked shadows will do.
“Then go, but if you tell the Police, we will show you what he meant by ‘worse than death’,” one of them explains, his voice deep and rumbling, as he points towards the far end of the warehouse.
My deal with the Devil made, I struggle forward, past the pile of players who lost. My fingers clamping down on the dagger in bloodied my hand, my feet shuffle forward, towards the light of day.
Behind me the lights cut out, one by one. In front of me I see the outside and smell glorious fresh air. With every agonising step forward, while the pain from my hand, and fatigue sets in, I realise I will never really be free. From this day on, no matter how far I go, I will always be in this warehouse. Scarred and bruised in a way no-one will ever see, but not broken.
I can never be broken now.
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