This story is by Kristine Donahue and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Five minutes to eight. Blinking the sleep from her blurry eyes she stretched, feeling the familiar heavy metal shackles binding her hands over her head and her feet to the bottom of the inclined metal slab. The taste of pennies filled her mouth. A dull pounding resonated in her head.
Weeks earlier she’d deduced that she was being brought here long before she roused from her drug induced slumber. The dull metal of the table, with its scratches and rust, never felt cool beneath her bare skin.
The room never changed. Windowless and stinking of stale sweat and fear, she was prevented from knowing if it was morning or evening, or even if the time was accurate. But the clock on the dingy brick wall read the same time every time she awoke here.
She allowed herself to think of the “before time”, of her life prior to this place, when she was happy and free. Minute five was for her, though she never allowed it to last more than its 60 seconds. Any longer and she risked a despair she would not be able to control. But she thought of her lover and of the sun, of sushi served on banana leaves and the gentle rocking of waves lulling her…
The minute hand ticked, the sound echoing in the wretched silence, jerking her from her memories. Four minutes to go. Pulling her mind into the present she spent several seconds resenting herself for allowing such memories, as she did every day. The torture was almost as bad as what was about to happen, almost. She felt the memories of her earlier life slipping away like smoke on a breeze and she sought to prepare herself for the next hour. Deep breaths and clenched fists for the next few minutes would allow her to keep her composure.
At least they were predictable. She’d awoken in this exact same position at the exact same hour every day for 73 days– or was it 74? Five minutes to the hour, five minutes of waiting. Then the tall, poised man in the coat and his hunched, slavering henchman in the boots would enter and begin. Precisely sixty minutes later she would be injected and would awaken again in her cell.
The second hand made its inexorable journey back to the number 12 on the clock, it’s dirty face slightly askew, and another minute ticked by. Three minutes left. After two and a half months the strict routine of this place had become of some distorted comfort. She had learned to count the hours by when the guards checked on her – approximately every six hours – and whether it was warm or cold outside by the kind of footwear the guards wore. Heavy footsteps meant they were wearing boots, which meant it was cold outside. Lighter footsteps meant some other form of footwear, and that it was warmer. Of course, these were assumptions she made up to make herself feel more in control of her situation. Whatever the weather was made no difference on what was happening within the dimly lit brick room.
In fact, nothing did. She went through the stages of acceptance of being here, subjected to the depraved whims of the two men. She cried and screamed, made threats and fought. When despair overtook and she stopped eating and drinking the guards were ordered to strap her to her bed, force a feeding tube up her nose and start an IV drip.
A few days of this painful humiliation and she eventually agreed to feed herself willingly. The tube and IV were removed and the cycle continued. Even during this the man in the coat and the man in the boots never once missed a day drugging her and hauling her to this terrible room. The twisted system of compromise and reward was something others did not readily learn, according to the man in the coat.
Minute three was bad. The stark contrast between the memories of her previous life and the memories of being here, and the lessons she’d been forced to learn, flooded her mind, reminding her of where she was and that she was no closer to escaping. No matter how she prepared, how she steeled herself against everything else here, minute three always invaded with its harsh truth. She was here and was never getting out.
But it was nothing compared to minute two.
The clock ticked again and, as it always did, the footsteps in the hall started – sharp and clipped followed by muffled and heavy. The man in the coat and the man in the boots. Minute two had begun. Her heart rate quickened and a sheen of sweat formed on her forehead. Adrenaline coursed through her as she fought the urge to struggle against her restraints. She knew that’s what they wanted – for her to be interesting.
She learned to stop screaming, crying, pleading because it only made matters worse. Forcing several deep breaths, she fought the urge to vomit. Her stomach churned and bile threatened the back of her throat. She choked it back down silently, hearing the muffled voices of the two men outside the door.
They always entered at one minute to the hour. She only had thirty seconds of privacy left and her breathing was still too erratic, her restrained body still too panicked. She needed to calm herself, a fight she’d won every day for the last month. She focused on the second hand, watching it creep closer and closer to the top of the minute. It passed the eight, then the nine and she could feel her body loosening, her breath slowing, the sweat drying. Relief washed through her and she allowed herself one quick smile to reward her small victory.
One minute to the hour. The hinges on the heavy metal door yawned dramatically as the man in the coat heaved it open. He took his place at the foot of the table and looked over her, her naked body making no impression on him, then turned to his notes. The man in the boots shuffled to the side of the table, dragging the tray of tools and instruments perpetually at his side. Her heart rate had returned to normal as the anticipation subsided and she repeated her mantra once again: I can do anything for 60 minutes.
The man in the coat looked up from his notes and, as he always did, cocked his head slightly. She stared back at him, blank expression, holding his gaze. He looked at the clock, watched as the last few seconds ticked by and the hour was struck, then looked to his partner and nodded.
The man in the boots picked up an instrument from the tray and held it to the light, admiring the glint. He dragged the flat edge of the blade gently across the skin of her torso, then changed his mind, returning the instrument precisely to its place on the tray. His lips split into a disgusting grin revealing a mouth of mostly missing teeth. The few remaining were yellowed or blackened with rot. A small line of spittle and a cloud of putrid stench escaped his mouth as he looked up at the man in the coat, raised his hands and shook them slightly, silently asking for permission. The man in the coat acquiesced and the man in the boots smiled wider, grunting, and wheeling the tray of tools away from the table. When he returned, he stood over her with nothing but his bare, dirty hands and a salacious, expectant look on his face.
This was new. The man in the boots had never touched her with his filthy hands before. Her eyes dilated and her heartrate quickened again, disgust and terror erupting within her, a reaction she struggled to control. The man in the coat watched with interest, ready to take notes. He opened his mouth to speak and inside she recited the words she’d heard him say 70-something times before, as her body betrayed her and a single tear escaped her eye.
“Sorry to keep you waiting.”