I sense the shift of air beneath my nose a millisecond before something—thick, sticky tape—is clamped over my mouth, silencing the scream that would have ripped from me. My eyes snap open. A dark silhouette is bending over my bed.
Adrenaline surges. Move! Grab the knife! I twist my arm toward my pillow, but a hand slams onto my wrist, holding it still. Pulled from the bed, I kick out. But my feet flail uselessly, find only air. I try to focus but my mind is spinning. Why did I fall asleep? I should have been expecting this.
My arms are pulled behind my back, my wrists bound together. I try to twist away but something is pulled over my head, material, rough and tight, a hood of some kind. Panic spreads through me like wildfire. Don’t. Keep calm, Amelie. You know what this is.
He pushes me from the room, my feet tangle, I stumble, he jerks me upright. Under the hood, my head is filled with the frantic pulse of my heartbeat. I fight back the fear. I can outwit him; I’ve done it before.
The soft carpet beneath my feet gives way to the cold polished floor of the landing. My toes bump the edge of the carpeted runner, in my mind I see its intricate green and red pattern of leaves and animals. I inhale the chemical smell of glue from the tape and a mix of a cough and a choke burns my throat. I draw a breath, and the material from the hood sucks into my nostrils. Where is he taking me?
The grip on my shoulders tightens a little, there’s a slight pulling back. Instinct tells me we are at the top of the stairs and I hesitate, afraid to fall. Pushed forward, I find the first step, then move downward until the soles of my feet touch the cold checkered tiles of the hall. We move down the hallway to the left, my ragged breathing amplified in the eerie silence. I know where we’re going. He’s taking me to the basement, where the garage is.
I turn, wrenching my body away from him, and for a precious moment, his grasp on me weakens. But it’s not enough; I’m hauled back into place, and pain flashes up my arms. Angled to the right, more steps down, the space narrows, the air shifts, becomes cooler.
And then, an influx of sounds, stifled by the hood but recognizable still—scuffling feet, a muffled whine, a sense of others there waiting. I push back, then stop. The scuffling, the whine—they didn’t come from me. My mind reels. It can’t be, it’s not possible.
But I know the voice behind the smothered protests—Ned.
This is not what I thought it was.
Under my hood, my eyes dart, looking for a way out of this nightmare. Think, Amelie, think! But my mind is paralyzed. What is this? Who are they?
I hear the clunk of a car trunk opening. There’s more scuffling, Ned’s muted protests become louder. A grunt and a thud, have they put him in the trunk? My body tenses; I can’t be put in there with him. Then, without warning, I’m pushed into the interior of the car, facedown in the space between the seats, my knees forced up against the thin material of my pajamas. Heavy shoes push against my back, holding me down when I try and get up.
At first, I attempt to keep track of where we’re going. But I quickly become disoriented. I concentrate instead on drawing small sucks of air into my lungs. My stomach heaves, I’m breathing too fast. I close my eyes, imagine I’m outside in the cool night air, looking up at the sky, the stars, the infinite space. Gradually, my breathing calms.
Later, hours it seems, the car slows, the road becomes rougher. My mind has wandered, I force myself to focus, I know that for survival, every second counts. The car rocks, I picture a dirt track under the wheels, a forest around us. I should be more afraid. But I’m not scared of dying, not anymore. Not after everything.
There are sudden thuds from the trunk and cries of pain from Ned. He must be terrified—but shouldn’t he have been expecting this? Hunter, his security guard, brutally murdered three days ago, replaced by Carl, an unknown quantity. Where was Carl while we were being abducted? For this to have happened, there has to have been a massive breach of security. All eyes on Carl.
The car comes to a halt. Doors click open, the shoes are removed from my back. I’m pulled from the footwell, made to stand. The cool August night air wraps itself around my legs, goose bumps rise on my arms. There’s the smell of dirt, foliage, tree sap.
I hear Ned being dragged from the trunk. We’re pushed forward, Ned in front, I can hear him mumbling. The ground is sharp under my bare feet, stones digging into soft flesh, like shingle on a beach. I wait for the softer undergrowth of bracken, the crisp snapping of twigs. But the stones become smooth slabs, a path of some kind. Not an execution then. At least, not in a forest.
We stop. I hear the creak of a door pulled open, the scrape of wood along the ground, not a door to a house, an outbuilding perhaps. Propelled forward into a blast of cold air, I tremble. It’s not a shed, it’s a dungeon or basement, its thick walls untouched by the warmth of the sun.
I’m shivering now despite the crush of bodies around me. A door opens somewhere in front, another scuffle, Ned frantic, my foot trampled as they move to contain him. I hold my breath, wait it out. A door slams, followed by thuds as Ned throws his body against it, raging from behind his gag. Be quiet. It’s not going to help.
We move on, climb stone steps, I count them, twelve in all. Then, at the top, the worn stone under my feet becomes warm wood, softer against my skin. A door is opened, I’m moved forward.
There’s a movement behind me and I steel myself for a blow. Instead, the hood is pulled up and off my head. My hair crackling with static, I draw a deep breath in through my nose, then blink and blink again, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. But there’s nothing. No flicker of light, no paler shade of black.
Without warning, there’s a tug on my hand, strong fingers on my wrists. A cry of alarm builds, pushing against my throat. Not this. I kick back and my feet connect with flesh and muscle, but whoever is behind me holds me tighter. Then, a sawing sound and the rough scratch of a knife echo around the room until suddenly, there’s an audible snap. The pressure on my wrists releases and the momentum trips me forward. Before I can turn, there’s the slam of a door, the click of a lock.
That’s when I realize: from the moment the man came into my bedroom, our abductors haven’t said a word.
Copyright © 2022 by Bernadette MacDougall