This story is by Kathleen Osborne and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Why is it so dark? As she reaches for her covers Pamela’s hands encounter only air and her PJs. Struggling to open her eyes, she rubs them with her knuckles until she cracks them open. It was never this dark in her room.
Last night was dinner with Jody. There’s no way I drank that much wine. She rubs her hand across her face. Hope she’s okay.
Rolling to her side, she reaches for the lamp at her bedside. Her fingers smash into cold metal. She presses her palms against it, feeling her way on each side and over her head.
What the hell? Frantically, she pulls her legs up to her chest and pushes with her feet. It won’t m-o-v-e. Where the hell am I?
She keeps pushing. Can’t stand small spaces!
Sweat forms on her forehead, remembering when she first went into foster care. The boys chased her and locked her in a toy box.
Her heart beating a rapid rhythm, she says, “Let me out. Please let me out. I…”
The dead silence wakes her, with the words of a conversation still in her mind. Jason Rosary, art critic my ass! Any time I paint something unconventional, his reviews are snarky and personal.
She murmurs, “You can’t box me in… Art is revolutionary, not superfluous. You jerk…”
Rolling over, she reaches out and smacks into a wall… Shit! Oh God! I am in a box. No—NO! She slams her fists against the lid, curls her feet to her chest, and pushes against it. It doesn’t move.
Who would do this? What do they want? Oh God, help me.
She slams her hands against the top.
Wailing she says, “Please, let me out…. Someone, please help me. Or I will die in here!”
Her sobs change into whimpers as she pulls herself into the fetal position. The whimpers become sighs as she slips into a troubled sleep.
Pamela wakes up, taking grounding breaths. She centers her palms on the box above her chest, and says, “You can do this. Nothing has ever beaten you. You will get out.”
Pulling her feet to her chest, putting them between her hands, she pushes. It feels like forever and she struggles until her legs shake like rubber noodles. She takes a break to listen for any kind of movement… silence.
Can anyone hear me?
“Help me. Somebody help me. I’m locked in here. Please help me!”
Bracing her back against the bottom, she pushes until her arms give out.
All right self, we will give it one more go, we got this. So, push!
Pamela pushes with everything she’s got, and the lid moves. It scrapes like nails on a chalkboard. It stops. Someone lifts it, allowing a small bit of light to filter around her. She bolts upright, gasping for air.
Breathing fast, Pamela scrambles to the farthest corner. Her breath catches as two protruding eyes with horizontal pupils stare back at her.
“Who are you? Where am I? Why am I here?”
He points at her with a finger tipped with a suction cup, then to the floor in front of him.
“No. No, I am not moving,” She said.
He jabs his instructions again.
“You can’t speak, can you?”
He shakes his round head, once more repeating his mimed command.
“No. I’m staying here,” said Pamela, tucking her legs under further, her heartbeat racing.
He moves like a whip, reaching out with both webbed hands, grasping her by her arms. She screams at the searing pain of his touch and tries to pull away. He hoists her up, her thrashing and kicking making no difference, and places her on the concrete floor in front of him. The pain subsides, and she looks down to see suctions cup marks burned into her skin.
Feeling his eyes on her, she touches the marks. She raises her eyes to his and takes a long look at him. He’s tall, close to average height for a man, around 6′ or so. His face is as round as a basketball, his eyes are bulbous. He has a wide mouth that takes up over half the width of his face, and his Kelly green skin glistens in the dim light. He is wearing what resembles military jungle camouflage fatigues, with his pants tucked into dark brown boots. His shirt doesn’t show any insignia or name tag, but he has a belt on with buttons. He appears unarmed, too.
Breaking off her stare, she gingerly touches the burns. “Don’t touch me again.” She snarls at him.
“Can you answer any of my questions?”
Shaking his head, he mimes for her to follow him. He points to a partially open door, providing dim light to the room.
“No, I don’t think so.” She takes a step away from him and plants her feet in place.
He looks at her stance and screws his mouth up in a grimace. Stamping his feet and putting a hand on his hips, he motions again to the door.
She stares at him and says, “No!”
He grabs her, dragging her out the door.
Standing close. He motions for her to walk down the hallway. It goes in both directions with doors spaced about 15’ apart.
The pain in her arm is still burning. He had grabbed her in the same spot as before. She can feel her strength waning, and her legs are trembling. Can’t take anymore.
She follows him down a hallway. He stops in front of the first one, pushes a button on his jacket and the door opens. The lights come on when they step in. The room smells sterile. As if someone has just disinfected it.
Three walls have counters with beakers in stands on them, the one next to her also has a sink. A cage, 10’x10′, sits near the center of the room. A hose runs from the sink in through one side and lies just outside of it on the other side. There is a bed, table, and chairs, a large basin, packets, and a pile of other things in a corner.
Pamela turns her eyes on him. He mimes for her to enter the cage.
She backs away, toward the open door. Shaking her head, terror strips away any feeling of pain from his touch. No, not another box!
“No, I can’t.” She turns, adrenaline floods her bloodstream, as she sprints for the door. A few more strides… she can slam the door on him, find a place to hide. Her arms outstretched, fingers touch the door frame when his hands grab her. The burning pain more intense than before. She flails her arms and tries to trip him with her feet.
He uses his grip to keep her from hitting the floor. He makes her stand, marches her back to the cage, and forces her in a chair.
Tears course down her cheeks. She sobs, afraid to move as he walks over to the pile of things in the corner and pulls out a towel, handing it to her.
He mimes for her to watch him as he picks up the hose and shows her how to use it by turning a knob. When he does that water flows, and he takes a sip, then shuts it off. He did the same with one packet, showing her it’s food.
He moves out of the cage, locks it, and walks to the doorway, shutting the door behind him without a single glance back.
She charges the cage door, rattles it, shaking it, yelling, “Don’t leave me here. Help me! Get me out. I’ll be good. I’ll do what you say!” Sobbing, she slips down to the floor, and prays, “God, please hear my cry. Help me. Get me out of here. Please don’t leave me alone.”
Her sobs and wails become shuddering breaths, calming her soul. It will be okay. I’ll be okay.
Using the towel, she wipes her face, pulls herself up using the bars. Tears quietly slip down her face as she walks to the bed and lies down. Saying to herself, “Breathe. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Someone will have to come back; I have time to plan a way out. I can, I will do this.”
The lights go out.
“No! No! This can’t be happening,” she yells at the darkness. Holding her hand up in front of her face, she can’t see it. The darkness is complete.
The tears that she had held back burst forth, with a sob she buried her face in her pillow crying uncontrollably.