This story is by Jennifer Horgan and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Suzie paused in the brightly-lit entranceway of Nu Yu Fitness, where she worked as a personal trainer, to rifle through her purse for her keys. After working a double shift, she could hardly wait to get home, enjoy a hot bath, and go to bed.
Keys in hand, Suzie hurried to her car, unlocked the door, and climbed in.
She failed to notice the figure huddled on the floor of the back seat.
~ ~ ~
He’d been careful with this one. He’d demonstrated patience, had taken his time. After memorizing her routine for weeks, he knew she was the one.
Marie would be so proud of him.
It was now just a matter of time before they’d have their family back.
Thomas smiled at the window of the bedroom he shared with his wife as he pulled into his driveway. The light was on behind the curtains.
She’s waiting up for me.
He parked the car in the garage and popped the trunk. He gently lifted the young, unconscious woman and placed her over his shoulder.
Thomas carried her into the house and headed straight for the basement.
~ ~ ~
Something cold and wet slithered across Suzie’s cheek. Half asleep, she reached up to swipe at it and was greeted by a loud clang, jolting her fully awake.
Suzie’s eyes flew open, heart hammering in her chest. It took a moment for her fuzzy mind to tell her she wasn’t home.
She was somewhere else. Somewhere unfamiliar.
Searing pain squeezed her skull as she struggled to sit. Red-hot daggers shot down her neck into her spine and her mouth felt as dry as if she had been eating sand. The overpowering scent of pine cleaner didn’t quite conceal the underlying stench of urine mixed with vomit. Her stomach lurched.
Suzie took in her surroundings. A cot with a thin, lumpy mattress, the sheets surprisingly clean. An old wooden table with a matching chair. On the table sat a battery-powered lamp, which offered the only illumination in the small, musty space. A rusty toilet and sink stood on the other side of the room.
Soft leather restraints bound her wrists. They were attached to a long chain bolted to the concrete ceiling, allowing her to walk throughout the room.
As the initial shock started to wear off, Suzie began to panic. But then her survival instinct kicked in.
‘Don’t show your fear and do as you’re told,’ it insisted.
~ ~ ~
“Marie, my darling. I’ve found the perfect surrogate to bring our Tommy back. Then we will be together again, the three of us.”
Thomas looked closely at his wife. Although her eyes remained closed, he felt certain he saw the edges of her lips turn upward.
“She’s not like the others. Subject One wouldn’t listen and was prone to violence. I had no option but to dispose of her.
“Subject Two was docile, but I could tell by the poor condition of her teeth and skin that she didn’t take care of herself. So I got rid of her too.”
Thomas moved closer to his wife and took her hand into his. He could have sworn he felt her lightly caress his fingers.
“I promise you, my darling, I’ve learned from my mistakes. Subject Three is the perfect choice.”
~ ~ ~
Suzie checked her body for trauma, but found only a small, throbbing puncture wound on her upper arm. She decided she must have been drugged.
She jumped at the sudden sound of the lock turning in the door and focused on taking deep breaths as her captor strode into the room.
He appeared to be in his mid-thirties, tall and muscular with a military-style haircut and brown eyes. A mustache and goatee surrounded his smiling lips.
Suzie gritted her teeth and smiled back. As he came closer, she realized she knew him. He was a member of the gym where she worked.
As the man set a cooler half-filled with ice and two grocery bags on the table, Suzie tried to recall his name.
“Thomas,” she said, listening to her gut and taking a chance.
His smile widened.
“You remember me. I thought you might. You’re no doubt wondering why I brought you here.”
Suzie nodded, forcing herself to maintain eye contact.
Forcing herself not to scream.
“It’s simple, really.” Thomas began removing food items from the bags. “You’re going to give me back what I lost. My son.”
~ ~ ~
“You must be hungry, my darling. I’ve brought your supper.” Thomas hung the bag filled with liquid nutrition and watched as the fluid made its way through the rubber feeding tube inserted into Marie’s nose and down to her stomach.
Thomas brushed his wife’s hair back from her face and kissed her forehead. She moaned softly, he was sure of it.
He picked up a photo of his son from the nightstand and, instead of crying, as he usually did when looking at Tommy’s impish, freckled face, Thomas grinned and turned back to Marie.
“Rest, my darling. Once we have Tommy back, you will get better and our lives will return to how they were before.”
~ ~ ~
It had taken over two weeks, but Suzie felt confident that Thomas now trusted her. She discovered everything she needed to know by asking him carefully-worded questions while showing compassion and understanding.
When Thomas had told her she would be bearing a son for him, she thought he intended to rape her. But then he explained how his wife had been unable to conceive a child naturally, so they had visited a fertility clinic. Several of Marie’s eggs had been extracted and fertilized. After a couple of tries, embryonic implantation had been successful and Marie became pregnant with Tommy. The remaining embryos remained stored at the clinic’s lab in a frozen state.
Thomas’s world fell apart when a car accident left Marie in a coma and killed four-year-old Tommy. Thomas walked away from it guilt-ridden and unharmed. Instead of having his wife admitted to a care facility, he moved her to the country and dedicated his life to taking care of her himself.
Despite being abducted by this sad, haunted man, Suzie couldn’t help feeling a pang of genuine empathy for Thomas.
This quickly changed when he told her his intention of implanting an embryo into her uterus in order to reincarnate Tommy.
She nodded and smiled at Thomas, but, in the back of her mind, she began planning her escape.
The fact that he addressed her as ‘Subject Three’ indicated she wasn’t the first to try.
~ ~ ~
Thomas couldn’t stop grinning. He was scheduled to work that night at his job as a custodian at the fertility clinic.
All he had left to do was locate Tommy’s embryo in the freezer and implant it into Subject Three.
“Tommy,” he whispered. “Daddy’s coming.”
~ ~ ~
“It’s time,” announced Thomas, as he closed the door behind him. In his hand he held a small paper bag.
Suzie’s pulse raced as goosebumps prickled her skin. Cold sweat trickled down her spine as she fought to maintain her composure.
It was now or never.
“Thomas, I was wondering… no, nevermind.”
“Oh, nothing. I’m fine.” Suzie sat and covered her face with her hands.
“No, you’re not. If there’s something wrong you need to tell me.”
Suzie looked up at him.
“It’s just that… well… I’ve never met Marie. And if I’m going to carry her child, I think it would be good for us to get to know one another. It’s the right thing to do… for Tommy.”
Thomas stared at her. Suzie’s eyes never left his.
Please God, let this work.
“You’re right. Marie needs to meet you herself.”
Suzie nearly collapsed with relief.
Thomas reached into his pocket for his keys and removed the leather straps from Suzie’s tethered hands.
She stood and smiled.
“Thank you, Thomas.”
He smiled back before turning and unlocking the door.
Suzie reached under the cot for the shopping bag she had filled with ice and canned goods and swung it at his head with all her might.
Thomas dropped to the floor. Suzie jumped over him, pulled the ring of keys from the deadbolt, and ran through the door, locking it behind her. It took her a moment to get her bearings before she ran up the basement stairs.
~ ~ ~
The unmistakable odor of death assaulted Suzie’s nose as she opened the door and stepped over the threshold at the top of the stairs. Gagging, she covered her nose and mouth with her sleeve and started down the hallway.
The door of the first room was open. It was painted blue and featured teddy bear curtains. Suzie walked past it. The stench grew stronger.
The second door was ajar. Suzie pushed it open, searching for a phone so she could call the police.
On a hospital bed lay the badly decomposed body of a woman surrounded by medical equipment.
“Oh, Marie…,” Suzie whispered.