I rest my back against the bars of the cage. The icy cold metal permeates through my thin T-shirt and, not the first time, I wish I’d listened to my mothers advice through the ages: ‘Take a cardigan in any case’. I wrap my arms around my knees, hugged up tight to my chest.
I’m exhausted. My knuckles are bloodied from knocking on the bars; the skin split open to expose the bone on my right hand. I hold my hand up to the dim light, try to straighten each finger. Pain bursts up my arm and I yelp in response. I cradle my hand in the nook of my left arm.
How will I escape from here? I’ve got to think of a plan. But with no window inside the cage, I see no real possibility.
Food is delivered once a day on a tray, through a slit at the bottom of the cage’s door. My only chance. Feign illness, kick the shit out of the guy, make a run for it. That could work. Depending on whether the person in charge sees benefit to keeping me alive. He must, otherwise, why feed me? I’ve seen enough movies to be familiar with this plot line.
I wait. I pass the time by doing pushups and lunges. My body cries out in protest. After being here for more than two weeks—I stopped keeping track, stupid mistake on my part—I’m in no shape for such exercises. Instead, I lie on the ragged cot with the worn army blanket and drift off as my brain scrambles to make sense of why I’m here.
I was on my way home from a nightclub. A van pulled up, the door slid open, a bag was thrown over my head at the same time as I was roughly grabbed around the waist. It all happened so quickly, in the blink of an eye. Chucked in the back of the van which smelled of rotting meat and stale urine. I panicked, kicked out blindly and missed everything.
I wake in a sweat. I don’t know why I was taken.
I hear the key in the lock of the basement door. Now’s my chance. He enters and immediately the air feels more damp, darker. I cannot focus on that now. He slides the tray through the gap and I grab his forearm, pulling it towards me with all the strength I can muster. His head slams into the bars and he groans.
His keys are in his other hand. I can’t reach them. I collapse in despair.
It sounds like my name is being called inside a tunnel. I’m not even certain I heard it.
More urgent. Clearer this time. I open my eyes. It’s the guy who brought my food, still on the floor, the wound on his head bleeding profusely. He’s pushed the keys into the cage.
I look at him, brow creased in confusion.
‘Go! Now!’ His voice is gravelly, but urgent. ‘We’re alone, but not for long. Sarge will be back soon.’
Sarge? As in sergeant? Can’t be. Something slips in my memory, but it’s too unformed. I try to force it into something that makes sense, but I only chase it away.
I take the keys, open the cage and run. At the basement door, I pause. Turning back, I look at him.
‘Thank you,’ I say.
‘Just get outta here!’
Climbing up the basement stairs and into the house, I find the front door. It’s not locked, so I push it open and walk into the fresh air. The scent of pine, damp soil, and freshly cut grass fills my nose. I sniff deeply and take in the surroundings.
A forest. Damn. Closing my eyes, I tune into my other senses. I can hear running water. A river. In front of me. I draw breath, tell myself I can do this and make a run.
As my legs carry me towards the river, and with my mind focussed only on escape, the memory chinks into place. Sergeant Larry Smith. He’s behind this. It has to be him. He warned me all those years ago, he’d burn me in retribution for what I did.
I can’t let him find me. I have to make it out of this forest.