fiction by Lindy Greaves
The room is dimly lit. One bare bulb sways slightly in an invisible draft. Opposite the locked door, snow swoops silently into the glass from a black void. Paint peels wearily from the window frame. A calendar hangs on one wall. Mustiness taints the room, dragging its murky fingers across the splintery floor. And something else—the soured stench of fear.
Astrid dry-swallows. The rolled-up rag that fills her mouth has absorbed her saliva along with her screams. She is empty of everything. Exhausted. Dry briny tear-tracks streak her cheeks as she focuses on her breaths. One in. Hold. One out. Hold. One in.
When your mouth is taped you quickly learn that panic is not your friend.
The cable tie on her right wrist is slightly looser and she scrunches and unfurls her fingers against the hard metal arm of the chair. The fingers on her left hand have started to turn blue. She jerks the chair back for the hundredth time trying to slide her legs free of their bonds, but the tie just slices further into her ankle while the chair leg yelps in protest.
She stares up at the swinging bulb, goose pimples prickling her flesh. Somewhere outside a dog barks. I am not going to die here.
Her head throbs and something like snow dances in her periphery. Try again. She takes three measured breaths and then one more. With a muffled yell she kicks at the floor and pivots back. And there she pauses for a few weightless seconds before her stomach lurches and she tips beyond balance. White pain sears through her shoulder and neck as she and the chair career into the floor. Through knitted lashes she sees the bulb swing. Dark center with a yellow halo. She begins to sob until she can’t get her breath. Why didn’t she listen to Lars? He knew her limitations. She bites down hard on the piece of cloth and lets the tears fall. All this for a shot at a front-page byline. The chance to prove she is so much more than Telephone-answerer; Mail-opener; Coffee-maker.
And it’s not just about her. She genuinely cares about the girls. If she could write this story on the sex trafficking ring—print dates, names, locations—loads of girls (hundreds maybe?) could be freed. Lonely girls. Desperate for a break. Girls like Astrid. She’d been so excited about the anonymous tipoff—there are perks to being Telephone-answerer—she hadn’t thought through the potential consequences. She hadn’t thought past the party, the flirting, the secret recording of all the conversations; Lars blown away by her triumph.
There’s no sign of the trafficked girls here, so they haven’t just thrown her in with them. Not yet anyway. Don’t they think she’s pretty enough? More likely they need to make sure she hasn’t spoken to anyone yet; sent a condemning photo or audio. Well she won’t tell them. But what if they torture her? Might they kill her? Her eyes close.
Perhaps she sleeps. Time is hard to measure. Everything is stiff and cold. From a crack in the corner of the room, a spider emerges. Astrid’s body spasms. Arms thrash in their limited freedom, but there is no way up. No way to get her head off the floor. The spider scuttles, oblivious. Astrid’s legs rattle against the chair’s and then suddenly, inexplicably, they are free. Cable ties hang loosely around each ankle. She circles them cautiously, curls her toes—blood surges and circulates in glorious agony.
With legs free she is much more mobile. She swings to her left, ignoring the protest in her spine. She is on her knees now, chair tilting against her back like an artificial tortoise shell. Her hands grip its arms. She can stand. Hunched forward, she staggers. Steadies herself. Stands.
At the window she peers out. Gusts of snow punctuate the cavernous black of the freezing night. Even if she could smash the window she wouldn’t last long out there. Not in this flimsy dress, no shoes and attached to a chair. And which way to run? She’d lost sense of direction in the back of van with the hood over her face. She climbs her feet backwards until she is kneeling on the chair’s seat. Precariously she leans forward, trying to maneuver her legs and body so the chair is in front of her, but it’s impossible. She had been so confident they wouldn’t see through her chatty-girl-at-a-party act. She’d been careless. She winces remembering how Serge, or whatever his real name is, stomped on her mobile phone while it was still recording. Contacts and story obliterated under a polished black shoe. They’d laughed at her. Bastards. She glares at the locked door. How many of his goons are beyond it? Two? Three? What match is a trussed girl against three men? Come on, Astrid. Think. You can’t fight your way out of here with brawn.
She finds herself staring at the calendar. It hangs from a nail about head height. She staggers over. Lifting the chair high enough takes almost all her effort. Awkwardly she rubs one of the cable ties against the nail head, but all she succeeds in doing is dislodging a flurry of brick dust and gouging out a chunk of skin from the heel of her hand.
She wants to cry. She wants to lie down on the floor and weep. She wants Lars to come and rescue her. And yet, isn’t this the whole point? She isn’t a child anymore. She has spent too many years being rescued, first by Papa and then Lars. The big shadow cast by her Newspaper Editor brother impossible to eclipse. And Lars has always hated nepotism. She had to prove herself—has to prove herself. Come on, Astrid. She raises a hand to the nail and grips it as best she can. She twists and wiggles it, ignoring the leaden weight in her arms, the dribble of blood that runs down. That’s it, Astrid.
And it is free. A six-inch-long nail. She sinks back into the chair. Her left arm is strapped too tightly, but gripping the nail in her right as best she can, she spears the plastic tie against the metal arm of the chair. It takes some working, but the plastic begins to fray. Yes. Blood from the wound on her hand smears her tiny reflection in the metal. Something about that spurs her on. She stabs and spears and strains against the tie, fighting and fighting until, with the most pathetic phut, it snaps. Astrid tears off the tape and gags the handkerchief from her mouth onto the floor where it lays like a dead thing. She sets to work on the other wrist. The shaft of the nail is tacky with blood but she perseveres, until that arm too is free.
Slowly, deliberately, she walks away from the chair. The squall in her muscles—that precious pain of freedom. She leans her forehead against the cool rough brick and then sinks down to the floor cradling the nail in her palm.
Suddenly, footsteps. The swaying bulb throws shadows across the walls. Her eyes fix on the door. Her body assumes a crouch. The footsteps stop and a key rattles. Astrid’s fingers tighten around the nail. She is ready. She is ready.
Lindy Greaves has ghostwritten as a career criminal and a missionary nun! Last year her short fiction appeared in Zetetic Record, Drabbledark Anthology, The Sunday People, and ARTPOST Magazine. She’s a mum and a wife and a casual librarian in Leicestershire, England. Sometimes she posts on Facebook.
This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.