This story is by Michael Konigsberg and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Like a campfire slowly beginning to kindle and catch, I felt consciousness return and my vision begin to clear. My head hurt, and when I reached up to rub my temples I found that I couldn’t. A chain on my wrist stopped me. Heart racing, I realized I was chained to a chair, in a bare concrete room, with no idea where I was or how I had gotten there.
I yanked on the chain, pulling and tugging, but it didn’t budge. These chains were meant to restrain, not hurt. I noted that. I took a deep breath, started recalling my training, and assessed the situation. The chains on my legs and right arm were secure, but my left arm was loose. I could slip it. I wiggled, pulled, pushed, and slowly the chain was in the middle of my hand, over my knuckles, and then off. I started loosening the bolts holding the rest of the chains and after some time got my other arm free, both of my legs, and then I was up.
That took about fifteen minutes. I was good, but that felt too fast. So either these guys were amateurs, or they wanted me to escape and make an example out of me. Judging by the bunker like walls, I was betting on the latter. Yippee.
I had to think of how I got here. Any background could help. I thought hard, and the last thing I remember was going grocery shopping.
Nicole, of course, did all the shopping now – she said she liked it but I doubted that. She was a great shopper, but this time she had forgotten a couple of things and so made me a shopping list. I went to the new place. The super store with a thousand parking spaces and everything any red-blooded American could ever need. Once inside I read the shopping list. First line: “Pick up pills at the Pharmacy next to Aisle 2. Remember you take the blue ones and not the red ones.” The next line in the shopping list read “Toilet paper. In aisle 17, get 48 rolls of Charmin’s Ultra Soft”. Lastly: “Chips”.
The Pharmacist gave me a funny look when I asked her to refill my red pills. She said she’s happy that I’m keeping my eyes open, but I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t. Then I got the toilet paper. I didn’t think the chips were in Aisle 17 which was labeled “Home Goods” but I checked four times just in case. Then a woman asked if I needed help and told me the chips were in the back right of the store, but when I got there all I saw was beef, and not any chips. Nothing but a sea of dead animals.
A man asked what I was looking for and pointed to a nearby aisle, its sign reading Breads, Nuts, and Chips, but I didn’t see them. I couldn’t find them. Why did Nicole need chips, anyways? We never ate chips before my tour. Who did she start eating chips with?
An older man came up to me saying, “Here I’ll show you. Just follow me” and put his hand on my shoulder. Was I talking out loud? On the way he told me that he was a vet himself. He said, quietly, almost whispering “It gets easier. Keep your chin up”.
Surprised, I asked: “How did you know?”
With a look and a point over his shoulder he replied: “You were staring at those steaks like they were a thousand miles away, even though they were right in front of you.”
Why is everyone being so weird today? I thanked him and turned around. All around me were Lay’s potato chips. On the right side I saw: Barbeque, Honey Barbecue, and Wavy Hickory Barbeque. I looked at the list from Nicole which read “Chips”. On the other side of the aisle were kettle cooked Lay’s. I wondered what the guys still at base were doing right now. I walked down the aisle. How many beds on base were empty, but shouldn’t be? Pringles had: Pizza, Original, and BBQ. I thought about all of the boys that would never grow up. On the other side of the aisle there was Tortilla Nacho Cheese, Tortilla Zesty Salsa, and Tortilla Southwestern Ranch. I tried to figure out how many people I had met during my tour that were dead now. The aisle stretched on. Who had left behind widows and children? I still saw them at night. Who could I have saved, but didn’t? Why was I alive?
I closed my eyes and grabbed the first three bags of chips I felt and left the store. I didn’t need any help finding my way out.
I opened my eyes and was back in the room. So, the last thing I remember before being literally chained to a chair is picking up some Pringles.
I knew too much about torture to keep calm. Ancient Greeks would force prisoners into a hollow bronze bull, and then light a fire under the bull until the prisoner talked or roasted. I tried the door to the cell, it was locked. I checked my pockets and found my wallet, keys, my cell phone (dead) and an empty pill bottle. I thought I had just refilled my prescription? Why was it empty already? Why didn’t I charge my cell phone?
I searched the chair but found nothing. In Medieval times jailers would cage rats. They would open the bottom of the cage, put it on the victim’s stomach, and light a fire on the top of the cage. The rats would flee the heat by digging through the victim. I looked around the floor and saw a portion of the fake ceiling that had broken. It had fallen right above where I had been sitting – it wasn’t very stable. The Chinese had forced feedings where they poured garbage and urine down prisoner’s throats. I swallowed hard. That wouldn’t happen to me. I kicked the door but nothing budged. I have to get out of here.
I kicked, pushed, and pulled on everything around me and either found, or created, a soft spot in the wall. After some light mauling there was a hole in the wall. I climbed through the rabbit hole and emerged in the jailers break room with two doors leading out of it. The door on the right said “front” which meant a checkpoint and guards. The door on the left said “bunks”.
I picked my chin up, took a deep breath, and opened the “bunks” door. Surprisingly the room was empty so I quickly walked to the door on the other end of the room, unsuccessfully ignoring all of the empty bunks. I emerged into a courtyard. In front of the door a man started turning around, whilst saying, “Congratulations! You…” I hit him in the jaw, hard, knocking him out cold before he could finish. I dragged him back into the room, quickly taking a look around the courtyard before the door closed. I counted to ten: no alarms, no approaching footsteps.
I dragged him to the corner of the room and searched him but found no weapon. Still in training, maybe? I swapped clothes with him, needing to blend in. His clothes were snug. I looked down and realized he was so young he likely hadn’t even finished growing yet.
Once I was wearing his clothes I considered my options. When he woke up he would undoubtedly raise the alarm. I would be hunted, thrown back in here, and tortured. I wouldn’t see Nicole again. I would just disappear.
This left me with two options. I could look around for some rope or tape and tie him up to a bunk in the corner. I would leave with just as much but no more blood on my hands, yet eventually he’d break out.
Or I could kill him. I’d ensure my safety, my escape, and not widow my wife.
I looked at the whisper of facial hair he had on his chin. I couldn’t tell if he’d be older or younger then my friends who died. I thought about seeing Nicole again, and then I thought about telling her what I did to this boy.
I choked him until he stopped breathing, then tucked him into bed to hide the body in plain sight. I looked at his face before I left. I shouldn’t have. I opened the door, looked around an empty court yard, puffed up my chest, and started walking.
She tapped her puffy eyes with a tissue, avoided eye contact, and quietly asked: “Dad, what did they say?”
He replied, with a sad smile: “The Police found his car, but not him. Nicole, it’ll be okay. The car was out by the old prison.”
Confusion running across her face, she replied, “Oh, you mean the one they converted to an escape room?”