I suddenly woke up, feeling disorientated with a light throbbing at the back of my head. I tried to take a breath, but a pungent odour mixed with dusty air filled my nostrils and scratched the back of my throat causing me to choke on a series of coughs. My mouth felt extremely dry and tasted like rot. I needed to find fresh air! I lifted my aching head to look around but all I could see was darkness. A feeling of emptiness surrounding me. Was I suddenly blind? No, I was very sure that was not the case. It was just too dark in here to see anything. Pitch black… and that stench. What was that smell? Panic began to settle in. I racked my brain trying to remember what had happened the night before, to figure out how I had ended up like this. It was all a blank.
I sat up slowly and started patting the ground around me, trying to feel out my surroundings. Nothing but cold dusty cement flooring beneath me. My fingers kept on searching for anything that could help get me out of here. At that moment I wasn’t even sure what I was hoping to find but I needed to do something. I reached in all directions but my hands were greeted by nothing but emptiness and despair.
I pulled my legs back and shifted onto my knees. Hands fumbling in front of me as I crawled forward. A metal clank pierced my ears as my hand hit a large chain. My fingers caressed the cold links as I slowly moved my hand over it. I gripped onto it and crawled a bit faster, following the links laying across the floor. My crawling was desperate as if I had hoped it would somehow lead me to my escape. Instead, it led me straight to something else; something soft and warm. I frantically started groping around to discover this something was someone’s leg. Someone else was stuck in here with me.
My words came out dry, ”Hello? Are you,” I coughed “are you ok?”
I heard a soft groan come from the person I had just found. A sudden sense of relief that I was not alone washed over me.
I tried again, “Do you know where we are?”
“Shhh!” was the person’s terrified response.
“What’s going on?” I continued. And again the person responded abruptly, “Shhh!”
Fear started to spread through my body like ice water being injected into my veins and I felt the sudden sensation to scream. I slapped a hand over my mouth, stopping myself and forcing the cries back down. A second later I heard heavy footsteps. They were urgent hasty steps getting louder and louder. Whoever it was, was moving closer. My heart was beating in my head. As the person neared us the sound of the steps started to slow…until nothing…they had stopped.
I sat there trying to hold my breath and not to make a sound. Hands trembling in the dark.
And then as if we had just managed to escape something terrible, the footsteps started to move away. Softer and softer until the sound of a door was heard being closed in the distance.
The voice in the dark spoke then, a female voice, “You should be careful, or he will get you.”
Panicked I asked, ”Who? Who will get me? What is happening?”
The voice continued, “The man outside should not be disturbed.”
“What are you talking about?” I needed to know more.
The voice whispered, “I’ve been here the longest.”
Chills went down my spine. I choked on my words, “There were others? What happened to them?”
She paused nervously and then answered in a hushed tone, “Yes there were others. Two others to be exact. Neither were able to remember what had happened to them and how they ended up in this hellhole. Same thing for you I am sure.” She took a deep breath and continued, “Well I can tell you this. The minute those girls panicked they made such a scene, crying out for help and the sobbing, oh the sobbing. It… it disturbed him. Each one was dragged out of here.” Again she paused for a second, “And, and they have never come back. I have kept my mouth shut and I’m still alive. You should do the same if you want to live.”
I mumbled in horror, “But I don’t want to be stuck here forever. Is it the only way… silence or death?”
She gritted her teeth, “Don’t make a scene if you want to live.”
Another thought crossed my mind and I blurted out, “Why are you chained up?”
The voice responded coolly, “It was my turn.”
My mind went crazy. Nothing made sense. I needed to get out but my life was on the line. My life. Would staying alive here really be a life? I held back the tears. The knob forming in my throat was hard to swallow back.
I decided to follow her advice to not disturb the man outside. I needed time to think, figure out a plan to escape or even just buy time until someone would come to our rescue. I had no choice and felt so helpless.
The man outside visited our prison a few times to feed us. The mealtime routine was the same each time. The scratching of metal against cement flooring echoed through the cold air as he shoved canned food through a small slot at the base of the door. He would then wait a few minutes before moving away. He never said anything. I assumed he was just standing there listening, waiting for me to crack and scream at him. Oh how I wanted to scream! But that would give him a reason to drag me out and kill me. So instead I kept my mouth shut. Nothing but silence and a stench almost too unbearable to handle some days became my existence.
It was not until that last day. The day it all changed and the routine was broken. No food was shoved under the door. Instead, the sound of a key twisting in the lock replaced the familiar sound of metal cans scraping across the floor. The sound jolted me, my lips started quivering. I could feel the terror creeping through my skin, through my flesh and into my core. The door to our prison was flung open and in the doorframe stood the man from outside. The light from behind him was sharp and the glare hurt my eyes. I was so accustomed to the darkness that it was difficult to see clearly. I could only make out the silhouette of a rather large man through my squinted eyes.
The man then spoke for the first time, “Emily.”
That was my name.
“Emily,” he repeated, “it is your turn.”
What!? I screamed in my head. A desperate whisper escaped my lips, “I don’t understand?”
He spoke in a smooth dark voice, “You are weak. I don’t like weaklings.” He moved closer, “Do you know what I do to weaklings?” He turned on the lamp he was carrying and pointed to a far corner of the room. A blood-soaked body was propped up against the wall. The source of the stench.
I was sick to my stomach.
He continued, “Weaklings don’t fight back. They are silent. Your silence was a sign of weakness. A sign that you were just accepting your fate.” He turned to me and growled, “It is your turn now.”
“What!” I tried to scream, but my voice was raw after not being used for so long. “SHE told me to be quiet or die!” I felt nauseated and betrayed, “I want to live!”
He breathed heavily and said, “Prove it. Show me that you value your life. If you are willing to sacrifice someone else to save yourself, I will spare you.”
I started to cry uncontrollably. This man was sick! How could this be happening? The girl had lied to me. She didn’t care about helping me. I was her replacement, her escape. The realisation had kicked in.
He spoke harshly “I will bring 3 girls. No more. If they show any desire to escape and live, they will be set free,” he glared at me, “and you will share the same fate as did the other weakling.” He pointed to the corpse leaning against the wall.
He continued to unchain the girl who I knew as the voice in the dark. She was getting out! She didn’t deserve to! How could she so easily leave me behind? Sacrificing me to spare herself.
He grabbed my arm and continued to chain me up. My life now had a counter on it. It had to be me or someone else. I screamed and wept as the door swung closed leaving me all alone in the dark.
A girl’s voice cried in the dark, “Hello? Anyone there?”
“Shhh!” I hissed.