Misery may be manifold, and despair is likely relentless, but there is nothing quite so designed to inspire the supremeness of psychological distress as the fear of death. When spawned forth it latches on every zooming thought, it cripples every attempt at rational thinking…it even flashes your whole life before your eyes. In that moment, no conceivable thought resounds as chillingly in your mind as the realisation “I am going to die”.
Needless to say, it is quite impossible to supress this fear when you discover that you have been kidnapped. There is just something rather unnerving about awaking in a room you do not recognise, about having no recollection of how you got there…about the moment you register that your hands are chained to the floor. It takes but mere moments for the initial puzzlement to pass as your mind grapples with the truth your eyes are apparently seeing. Staunch denial follows as it conjures reason after reason why this cannot be happening and it is then when fear takes hold.
At least this is how it was for me. All restraint deserted me when fear took hold. The good Lord knows I tried everything I could. I screamed my throat raw for help. I pulled against my chains until my every vestige of strength was long gone. I twisted my wrists in my shackles until they were covered in blood. I clawed at the ground until all my fingernails were cracked. When my strength was spent I cried and sobbed for mercy and the few times it did return I would resume my struggles until everything became a blur.
I do not know how I came to fall asleep. All I know is that I jerked awake when I heard sounds in the distance…regular sounds…footsteps! Footsteps steadily approaching! Had someone heard me and come to investigate? Surely someone must have heard all the din I had created. A strangled cry for help immediately died on my lips when I quickly realised that it was more likely my captors now arriving outside the door, not my saviours. Whatever spark of hope I had left was quickly smothered when I heard a curious click. At the sound of it, a pang of fear so pure, so unadulterated reverberated through the very core of my being. This was no ordinary fear…this was the fear of death’s cold embrace.
As that unmistakable sound of a gun being cocked registered in my ears, my mind was left reeling as a singular thought echoed through it…”I am going to die”.
WHERE MADNESS RESIDES
Nothing is ever easy,” I muttered to myself. “Nothing really ever had been anyway,” I mused, wondering how it had come to this. It had been a simple job. Ambush the girl as she goes jogging. Knock her out and bring her back here. It had gone as planned, quick and clean, just the way the boss liked it. Yet I still could not put a finger on the nagging feeling that kept gnawing at me, let alone dispel it.
“Welcome to my humble estate,” the boss said to the captive, putting an end to my brooding. “I pray you are pleased with your accommodation,” he continued in his trademark gravelly voice.
“Charming,” I thought to myself smiling under my mask…leave it to the boss to be dramatic. The captive cowered even closer to the ground, if that was even possible. Who could blame her…the boss cut an imposing figure, towering over her quivering form. Her fearful gaze kept darting between him and the gun I kept trained on her, occasionally shifting to the door.
“There is no hope of escape,” he said, clearly having discerned what she was contemplating. “You shall be fed once a day, twice if you behave. You shall need to be hosed down from time to time though, the smell here is revolting,” he added, crinkling his nose.
“Anything else?” he inquired so smoothly and shamelessly it was downright disturbing. The captive for her part seemed in no state to answer. You could swear that she was struggling mighty hard to swallow a mouse, albeit with little success. “What was that again?” he asked after an incoherent word tumbled from her quivering lips. Her lips moved, and though her voice was barely over a whisper, the word they formed was unmistakable…”why?”
In an instant his smooth air was gone. He gave her a glare the ferocity of which would have made Death itself blanch. Though his mask concealed his face, it did nothing to hide the smouldering rage that burned in his eyes. “The sins of the fathers…the sins of the fathers…” he uttered in a deathly quiet whisper, grabbing her by the chin and looking into her red rimmed eyes. He immediately reprised his smooth demeanour thereafter, an amused glint in his eyes as he said,” I have great plans for you, Selena.” And with that he turned and left, I close in tow.
The eyes…they call them windows to the soul. Today I found out why. Today, beyond all the rage in the boss’ eyes I glimpsed something else. Beyond all that pent up anger I beheld a man on the edge. A man on the fringe. A man unhinged. “Great, now I’m working for a mad man,” I thought to myself. That nagging feeling came back clawing at me, growing ever stronger. I sighed, nothing is ever easy.
SHARD OF SHATTERED HOPE
‘Out of the darkness that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole…’
(He knows me. He knows my name. How?)
‘…I thank whatever gods may be,
For my unconquerable soul.’
(Selena. No one calls me that. Only Papa calls me that.)
‘In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud……’
(The sins of the fathers…the sins of the fathers?)
‘…under the bludgeonings of chance,
My head is bloody, but unbowed.’
(Papa is a good man. He is an honourable man).
‘Beyond this place of wrath and tears,
Looms but the Horror of the Shade…’
(What did Papa do? What could he have possibly done?)
‘…and yet the menace of the years,
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.’
(Don’t listen to him. Don’t let him get to your head).
‘It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll…’
(Keep it together girl…don’t lose it now).
‘I am the Master of my fate:
I am the Captain of my soul’.
The poem Invictus echoed through my brooding mind on auto repeat, interspersed with my cluttered and tenuous thoughts. My attempts at to marshal and organise these meandering thoughts were futile, futile ever since my encounter with the fiery eyed man.
The meeting had been a sobering one, and it had left me rattled to the marrow of my bones. The poem, however, one that had oft inspired me in times of crisis, gave me some comfort…paltry though it was.
I had lost track of time, a saddening indicator that I had been captive quite long. The room had no windows and though I tried to count my meals, the rations were served irregularly…skewering my sense of time. The door swung open, admitting the mastermind’s crony in. He was the one who fed and hosed me. Clinical, efficient and always professional, whether I begged and pleaded or shouted and raved. Immoveable. Not even bribes worked. Never a shadow of emotion, not even a hint. I would have had better chance reasoning with solid rock.
It was almost like any other ration. Almost anyway. He wielded the spoon, I moved the jaws. But just at the end something happened. Something that was not supposed to happen. As he lifted the tray to leave, he looked at me for a moment. A moment a heartbeat too long. I returned the look, taking in his raptor gaze. Then something flashed in his eyes, something amiss, something quite out of place. I blinked, was that pity? I blinked again…no, not pity, something stronger…was it, could it be? Was it possible? Had I just seen…empathy…in his eyes?
Fate has a cruel sense of humour, and it often feels like I’m the butt of its blasted jokes. Mine had been a sad life, by any standards. Then again, still I live…and still I breathe. Street rats did not usually live very long. This already brief lifespan was shortened even further if that street rat joined a thief gang. Had I had any choice though? Sometimes life is but one desperate act after another. Most times, in my particular case. Perhaps if I had not messed with the wrong crew, I would not have had to run, to hide. I would not have had to seek protection in the boss’ employ. I would not be pulling the limp, unconscious body of Selena’s father from the car’s backseat.
“Why?” Selena’s voice echoed through my mind. The captive’s voice rather, I corrected myself. Getting personal complicated the job. “You don’t really want to do this, I can see it in your eyes,” echoed her voice again. It was as though she were there watching…as though she could see right through me. I carried the lean man to his holding room and locked the door. Could she really tell? Then again, how could she not? She was a captive after all, as am I…a captive of fate all my life. She was even paying for sins that were not her own, as do I…for the most part atleast. She did not know that of course, but she was perceptive enough to glean the tell-tale signs…to put two and two together. Then a thought occurred to me unbidden. I am subjecting her to the same horrors I have had to endure all my life. I smiled wryly. I am the captive turned captor. Christ…fate indeed has a cruel sense of humour.
“Stick to the plan,” I groaned. Quick and clean. Like the capture of Sel-the captive. Like the capture of her father. It had been easy really. A quick call, pretending to be one of the Police Commissioner’s officers letting him know where his daughter had been ‘found’. Sirens and cliché police slang in the background to make it seem real. He had come running. Stick to the plan. Think of the cash. They used to call me soft back on the streets. They were right. I made a big show of being tough, but deep down I knew I was not cut out for this life.
My conscience was having a field day…a conscience I had not even fathomed could still exist. However, the final straw came two days later. It came as I carried her outside, bound and gagged…as I bore her, sobbing, crying and trembling to her execution…as I saw tears stream down her face and that of her father when I set them to kneel in front of the boss. With a lump in my constricted throat I finally acknowledged it. I acknowledged the nagging feeling gnawing at my conscience. Clawing at me. Unshakable. I acknowledged Guilt.
“Nathan, I trust you know why we are here. It is you after all we have to thank for this…meeting,” said the boss, addressing Selena’s father. Leaves rustled in the distance as the low whine of the wind became hushed and husky. Deepening shadows presaged the advent of night as dusk spread its gold and purple wings over the horizon, lending enchantment to the scene…morbid though it was. “No?” the boss asked, when only confusion registered on Nathan’s tear-strewn face. ”Well then, something to jog your memory? Perhaps this shall suffice,” he said, tearing off his mask.
The sight was…startling, to say the least. A grotesque scar snaked its way from his left temple, above his left eye, across the bridge of his nose and down his right cheek. I had of course seen it before, but could not help wince a little at seeing it again. As if that were not enough, the boss’ face was a mask of seething rage, his fury conferring a dangerously malevolent set to his features. The glare he directed at the two captives, needless to say, could have bored twin holes through a slab of steel. “See,” he spluttered, tearing away Nathan’s gag, ”Now do you remember?”
The captives took the sight in, the gravity of their plight momentarily suspended, if only for a flicker of a moment. It was then that an inkling of understanding seemed to trickle into Nathan’s eyes which grew even wider as comprehension dawned on him.
“Eric…” he gasped in disbelief, then with a mighty sigh his shoulders and his head slumped forward and sobs racked his lean frame. “Look at me,” shrieked the boss, jerking Nathan’s head upward, “look at me…tell me you remember” he snarled. “You know as well as I that it was an accident Eric,” answered Nathan solemnly. “An accident?” retorted Eric in an eerily quiet voice. “My wife…my child…Nathan, my baby boy!!! Dead! Gone! Gone because of you! Because you just happened to have one too many!” Eric burst out, eyes welling with tears. “HEELLL-“ Nathan’s cry for help was cut short by a punch to the face from Eric, eliciting a shriek from Selena, gagged though she was. Eric hastened to replace the gag on Nathan’s bloody mouth and propped him upright again. “You really thought you would get out of this that easy?” Eric asked, stepping back from the pair and raising his hand towards me. It was time. His hand came to rest palm up, near my midriff. Time to do the deed. But could I do it?…could I summon the guts to actually do it? “You are going to pay…..pay your debt in full,” said Eric with a worrying finality in his voice. This was it. There was no turning back once the deed was done. Gulping, I placed the gun in his outstretched hand. The die was cast. “First, you will watch your daughter die, just as I watched my baby boy die…only you won’t have the luxury of holding her in your hands as she takes her last breath in this world…you don’t deserve that much. Then, when she is dead, you will follow,” Eric explained, disengaging the safety and slowly raising the gun to point the nozzle at Selena. She shook her head now frantically, eyes wide, fighting to be free of her bonds. “Consider the debt cleared,” Eric said grimly and he pulled the trigger.
A deafening shot rang out, shattering the ghostly silence and the smell of cordite filled the evening air. Eric began lower the gun and time itself seemed to slow as the look of grim satisfaction on his face started morphing ever so slowly into something different altogether. I lashed out with my hand, ramming the butt of the other gun I had at the base of his skull and even before the first traces of shock began to show on his face he was already crumpling to the ground. I rushed to Selena who was lying trembling on the floor, her eyes closed, yet to comprehend what had just happened.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said reassuringly, “You’re not hurt.”
I cast aside the gun I had used to knock the boss…Eric…out and proceeded to remove the bonds on her hands and her gag thereafter.
As the gag came off her, eyes widened and she blurted, ”Behind you!”
Out of the corner of one eye, I watched as a blurred figure lashed at me, its hand in a stranglehold round the handle of a knife arcing towards me. The world seemed to contract around the thin narrow point; the tip glittered like a shard of crystal, each scratch on the blade a thread of quicksilver in the pale light of dusk. I had scarcely had time to shift my body so that Eric would not insert the blade between my shoulder blades when I felt a sharp pain lance through my chest. I landed heavily on the ground, with Eric atop me. He pulled the knife out and made to stab me again, but I seized the moment to grab his arms and stall the knife’s descent towards my torso. Blood gushed forth as I quivered with the effort of the silent struggle. I was fast losing blood and numbness was creeping up the arm closest to the gushing wound. This battle was already lost…that much I knew. Life and death teetered on a razor edge a moment wide as the blade tip inched ever closer, my ebbing strength failing me. So much for being the nice guy. Just as my arms nearly gave way, I heard a sickening thud. The rolling of Eric’s eyes in his head as he toppled to the side was the last thing I saw before I was conscious no more.
I dimly became aware of the distant, faint sound of the…the…the gentle rush of sea waves? Coherent thought was beyond my capacity to string together as disjointed thoughts came together piecemeal in my mind: “Stabbed…losing blood…put blanks in Eric’s gun…it worked.” A thought sparked a twinge of fear in my mind, “Am I dead…?” I hate this job, one mistake and you are already making your excuses to St. Peter. Street rats never did live that long. A question popped up in my mind, “Am I in Heaven?” Searing agony enveloped my whole body. Nope. Hell. Definitely Hell. Sigh…nothing is ever easy. “Put pressure on the wound!” urged a faraway voice and another bout of agony coursed through me. “Tie Eric up dad, before he wakes up again,” another urged back.
Well, what do you know Fate, this time, joke’s on you…this street rat may yet live.
Then, after a final surge of agony, a wave of darkness enveloped me, lulling my thoughts to a still.