Escape

I can’t remember a time when they haven’t been after me.

It’s dark‌—‌the best time for moving around unobserved. Of course, that doesn’t apply to them. It’s like they can see in the dark‌—‌no, through the dark. It’s like they can latch onto me wherever I am.

But no longer. Tonight, it will end. Tonight, I have a plan.

I make my way down the ladder. It stinks here, sewerage or something. I don’t want to dwell on it too much. There are probably decomposing bodies somewhere. It’s the kind of place they’d use to dispose of their rubbish.

The metal rungs are cold on my skin, and I move slowly, not wanting to slip. It’s hard to grip with hands like mine. I can see them in the soft glow from the head-torch. My skin is pale, and vivid white lines cross the stumps where I used to have fingers.

Of course, they didn’t take my fingers at first. They started with the little toe on my right foot.

I never thought much of that toe until it was gone. Only when I started staggering, and my gait became lopsided, did I see how such a little thing could be so important.

They laughed at my twisted walk‌—‌but I was used to that by this time. They couldn’t hurt me with their insults.

But they could hurt me with their tools..

The first finger went a month later. I would’ve blacked out from the pain if they hadn’t forced me to stay with them. I think they injected me with something. They snipped, then poured a liquid on the wound that stung like hell. Then they held up this little floppy bit of flesh, dripping crimson, and they laughed harder than ever.

The next finger wasn’t any easier. I thought it would be, that I would get used to the feeling of having part of me torn away. But I didn’t.

I screamed. I know I did, even though they told me not to. And, because I’d disobeyed, I knew there was more to come.

I look at my mutilated hands. On each, only two digits‌—‌a thumb and one finger.

They said something about opposable digits, as if they were being kind. But I knew that couldn’t be the case. They left me with the ability to still do things for myself. They didn’t want me to have to rely on anyone else.

They wanted me to be alone. Because then it would be easier for them.

I reach the bottom of the ladder and step down with a splash. Best not to think what might be there.

The tunnel is low, and I have to hunch over. It’s cold. I feel a pull to return.

They told me not to do this. They told me not to disobey.

Every time I disobeyed, I lost another part of myself.

The worst was when I succumbed and told someone else. I called out for help, and my neighbour answered. And they made me watch as they disembowelled my would-be rescuer, their taunts no match for his screams of agony. They brought his sodden flesh up to their lips and sprayed me with his blood. Then they sat me down, holding my eyes open and forcing me to watch as he passed away.

Then they defiled his still-warm corpse. I thought they were going to force me to join in, but they lost interest when the contents of my stomach erupted down my front.

And they told me never to run. They told me I could never escape.

But, although they kept taking tiny parts of me‌—‌digits, a chunk of flesh from each thigh, one of my ears, most of my teeth‌—‌they didn’t take my mind. I could still think. Even though it was excruciating, I still planned my escape.

The tunnel twists and turns, and I follow the route I’ve committed to memory. None of this is recorded. None of this is known to anyone but myself.

Eventually I reach the metal plate, hidden in one wall, beneath a pile of wood and cloth. I open it, using the code I agonised over and perfected. Then I enter the box.

This is it. This is how I can be safe.

The inside of the box is larger than one would expect. I have made it as comfortable as possible. There is a mattress, and in one corner I have a bucket connected to an old pipe system. Water is cleaned through the filter I designed. I have power, pulled from one of the old cables down here. And, most importantly, I have my atmospheric controller, pulling fresh air from somewhere far above and pushing out my toxic breath.

Then there are the tins and packets of food, and all my other supplies.

I have calculated that I can survive down here for a few years. That should be long enough for them to forget about me and pick a new toy.

Of course, if they find me, they will kill me.

But they never will. Even if they find the box, they’ll never break in.

I close the portal, sealing it tight. There is an electrical lock, magnetic bolts, and a heavy steel girder that I snap into place.

I am all alone.

I turn off the head-torch and stand in my new home. I feel the soft air blowing from my left, the hint of moisture a luxury. I am free. Nothing can hurt me.

I feel a weight lift, and imagine I am floating. So much has happened, but now it is over. I want to collapse, to forget it all. I want to drift wherever my mind takes me.

I don’t even scream when the cold, hard fingers dig into my shoulder and the rancid breath strokes my face.


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