Is Freedom Only an Illusion?
"Come on, come on!" Samantha begged in her mind, "Just come off a little bit more, please! We're really running out of time now...!"
She jerked her cheek against the round metal outcropping to her left. After having squirmed blindly and aimlessly across the floor inside hers and Jessie's prison for what had seemed like hours on end, she had bumped hard into what was apparently the ladder out of wherever the two of them were being held. Once the initial pain of smacking her head off the iron ladder had worn off, Samantha had realized that it in fact presented an opportunity for her to escape. Since then, she'd been rubbing her cheek against the side of the ladder for what also had seemed like hours, trying to use it to get her gag and blindfold off. And by now she had made some notable progress: the tape gagging her had crinkled up to the left edge of her lips, and the tape blindfolding her had unpeeled almost all the way to her left eye. Samantha was feeling dirt tired by now, and her muscles ached from her exhaustive struggling, but she willed herself hard to keep going; Nicki's life was almost certainly still in mortal peril, not mention Jessie's and her own.
She stopped briefly to compose herself. The boat was swaying even more violently underneath her-so much so that she had to fight to keep herself from rolling away from the ladder. The hurricane seemed to be getting stronger, Samantha surmised, and while it didn't seem they were out in the open ocean, she was concerned for Jessie's and her own safety in case they were capsized, as she feared there was a serious enough risk of happening. The quicker she managed to successfully enact the first part of her escape plan, the better for both of them. And escape was entirely in her own hands, she acknowledged in resignation to herself, for behind her, Jessie was in the middle of complete hysterics. For at least the last several hours, without any break at all, the redhead been thrashing wildly out of control with her bonds and screeching nonstop at the top of her lungs into her gag in pure terror-so intensely that Samantha feared Jessie was having a full-on panic attack. Either way, she knew that meant her friend was going to be of no help to her at the moment. "Stay brave, Jessie, I think I've just about got this," she tried to mentally will the other lifeguard to stay calm, "Just a few minutes more should do it here for me...I hope. OK, here we go again..."
Trying to blot out her seasickness from the sudden increase in the sea's roughness under her, Samantha leaned her head against the side of the ladder again and scraped her cheek back and forth against the cold metal as hard as she could. When she stopped again about three minutes later, the gag had peeled off a few more inches, leaving the very edge of her lips free and the end of the tape dangling loose off her mouth. The blindfold, however, hadn't budged any further despite her best efforts...
"Forget about the blindfold for now, Koppel," she told herself firmly, "As long as you get your gag off, your eyes can wait; it's your mouth that's important right now. All right, let's do this, quickly...!"
Bracing herself against the wall as firmly as she could, Samantha pressed her cheek hard against the side of the ladder until the part of the tape that was now dangling off her lips had stuck as firmly as possible to it. "All set," she thought hopefully, flush with excitement now, "One hard tug should get it off your mouth for good, Sam. OK, on the count of three...!"
She took a deep breath through her nose, counted down from three in her mind, and jerked her head backwards as hard as she could. Sure enough, to her immense delight, the rest of the tape ripped completely off her lips in a single stroke. Samantha took deep, gasping breaths of relief, ecstatic to have her mouth free again. Still, even with this success, there wasn't much more she could do on her own now. She needed Jessie's help to finish the escape...
"Jessie," she whispered softly across their prison, not wanting to tip off anyone who might be listening in from above that she was no longer gagged. Jessie finally stopped thrashing and went silent at the sound of her friend's voice. "Jessie, I just got my gag off," Samantha called softly, "Come on over here; I'll get you free. Hurry, Nicki's life's in danger, I know it."
"Mmmmmffffff." came Jessie's cryptic reply. Samantha could hear her fellow lifeguard start shuffling blindly across the floor towards her in the dark. "Keep moaning, Jessie," she whispered, "I need to know where your hands are to make this work right."
"Mmmmmmffff, mmmmmmmmffff," Jessie took her advice and continued moaning hard into her gag as she inched ever closer to Samantha's position. Samantha in turn squirmed forwards towards her friend. She hoped their kidnappers had tied Jessie the same way as her, or this was going to be trickier than she'd hoped, especially since she would have to do what she was planning blind with her eyes still taped shut...
She grunted sharply as Jessie crawled right into her, giving her a mouthful of hair. "Far enough, Jessie, far enough," she hissed at the redhead. She maneuvered her mouth down through Jessie's hair until she felt her friend's shoulder, then continued along the other lifeguard's arm until she got the unpleasant taste of ropes on her tongue. "OK, got it," she whispered, "Now hold really still and I'll get you loose as quick as I can."
She started chewing on the ropes binding Jessie's hands. They left a foul taste in her mouth, but she continued with the unpleasant task; it was the only way to get free given how well she and apparently Jessie had been tied. Time ticked mercilessly on, sometimes with no sign of progress. Slowly, though, Samantha could feel the ropes start to fray between her teeth with each successive bite. Finally, after what had seemed like an eternity-and fittingly punctuated by a crash of lightning from outside-the ropes snapped clean through with one final, strong bite. Samantha grimaced loudly as Jessie inadvertently smacked her in the face with her now free hand while swinging it back forward. "Careful, Jessie, careful!" she complained, squirming backwards to give her friend more room.
A sharp peeling sound rang out, followed by a loud, shrieking gasp of relief from a now ungagged Jessie. "Oh thank you so much, Sam," she lauded her friend, her voice very hoarse and punctuated by fearful breaths. Another peeling sound signaled the removal of the redhead's blindfold as well. ""Hold still and I'll get you loose now too, Sam."
The tape was pulled off Samantha's eyes. She could only just make out Jessie's silhouette in the dark next to her as her friend rapidly untied her. "Thanks," she commended Jessie, who had turned away to untie her feet. Samantha squirmed up off her stomach into a sitting position and rubbed her very sore wrists, grateful to be able to get out of the helpless position she'd been stuck in for hours. "Finally, free," she exhaled softly to herself in relief.
"I can't believe it, it's all real after all!" Jessie moaned, fear still very much evident in her voice, "Nicki really was onto something here; maybe not sea monsters, but something really dangerous! I was so scared, Sam; who knows what these people were going to do to us...!"
"I know, Jessie, so let's find Nicki quick and get her out of here before something bad does happen to her," Samantha looked up and noticed the thin square of light surrounding the hatch out of their prison. She cautiously climbed up the ladder, opened the hatch a crack, and stared around once her eyes had readjusted to the light. They were on a boat moored to the side of a large cave, and several other boats were tied alongside them. "These must belong to the other people who were attacked in the last couple of months at sea, like Nicki said," the brunette realized, "At least those that didn't get their boats wrecked."
"So do you think they've got Nicki prisoner on one of these boats?" Jessie pushed up behind her and stared at the fleet around them, "If we don't..."
She trailed off abruptly. Samantha heard it too; footsteps approaching, and the words, "...better check on them before we do it." "Down, down, quick," she pushed Jessie back down the ladder and clambered back down to the hold herself. "Now what!?" Jessie whispered, terrified, "They said they were going to kill, us, Sam, and there's no other way out of here...!"
"Think, think...got it. Here," Samantha picked up the rope that had bound Jessie up till a few minutes ago and tossed it to her, "Tie your feet and put the tape back on your mouth and eyes," she explained to the redhead, "Wrap the other end of the rope around your wrists and struggle as hard as you can; they'll think we're still completely helpless."
"You sure!?" Jessie was hesitant, "I just said they said they were going to kill us, Sam...!"
"Then we jump them and fight our way out of here; hurry, Jessie, this is the only way!" Samantha quickly pulled the piece of tape that she'd been gagged with off the ladder and pressed it back over her lips. In a flash, she had tied her feet, just as the footsteps stomped on the deck of the boat above the hold. Samantha turned to Jessie, now with her own mouth taped shut once more and the ropes back on her wrist and ankles, and gave a firm nod. She grabbed the tape she'd been blindfolded with off the floor and pressed it back over her eyes seconds after Jessie had done the same, and then wound the rope loosely around her wrists. She then dropped to her stomach on the floor and started struggling hard and screaming into her gag seconds before the hatch opened above her. "Please don't come down here to kill us, please don't come down here to kill us!" she begged in her mind; much as she had tried to reassure Jessie, there was no way of knowing if they'd have enough time to defend themselves if they were set upon. "Please work, please work!" she also begged for their charade's success, hoping the men wouldn't notice the ropes on hers and Jessie's wrists were now looser. And if the men did suspect their charade, and tied them right back up, then made to kill them then and there...
Instead, however, to her immense relief, she heard the first man declare, "Yep, looks like they're still tied pretty good down there, Edgar. Very nice work. Surprised they still have this much stamina, though."
"Well, you never know with each individual hostage," Edgar scoffed, "Oh well, anyway, enjoy the final five minutes or so of your lives, girls," he called down coldly to the two lifeguards, "We just have a few small pieces of business left to take care of, then we'll be back to slit your throats nice and good, we've decided. So sit tight till then."
The hatch slammed shut again. Her heart pounding, Samantha listened intently to the men's footsteps recede away until all was completely quiet above the hold again. With a deep breath of relief, she pulled her hands out from the ropes and ripped the tape off her mouth. "OK, Jessie, coast is clear," she called softly to the redhead. She threw off her remaining bonds, then rushed over to help get her friend loose. "Good thinking again, Sam," Jessie commended her once she was completely free again.
"Hurry, Jessie, quick, before they come back," Samantha rushed for the ladder out of the hold and scrambled up it two rungs at a time. "That was close, that was real close," she breathed in relief once she was outside again, blinking until her eyes had adjusted to the dim light around them in the cave that was nonetheless at least an improvement over the utter pitch darkness of the hold. "Are you sure you're OK, Jessie?" she asked her friend with concern, helping her out of the hold, "You're shaking like a leaf."
"Yeah, well, Sam, being kidnapped, that sort of...it stays with you even after it's over," Jessie still had fear in her eyes from their experience, "And it felt horrible to just be that helpless, unable to move a muscle or make a sound, and I'm sure you'll agree."
Samantha nodded in grim agreement. Jessie rubbed her sore, red wrists and glanced at her watch. "Four thirty in the morning," she announced softly, "We were tied up down there just under twelve hours, Sam; it was about quarter after five when we pulled out of the harbor. My parents are going to kill me if we get back home in one piece-unless these guys kill us and Nicki first," she shivered fearfully, "So let's find Nicki and see if we can get out of here as quick as we can-wherever here is, anyway."
"Hmm," Samantha looked around the cave, "I think I have an idea where we are; looks like there's some kind of staircase at the far end," she pointed to the other end of the cave, "So let's check that out, but be prepared to run if we run into those guys."
"Run where to!? The only way out I can see is out there!" Jessie pointed towards the cave entrance to their left, where flashes of lightning illuminated a violent ocean every few seconds. Still, she joined her friend as they climbed off the boat onto the dry land alongside where it was moored and bustled towards the stairway, stopping only to examine the submarine tied up at the foot of the stairs. "That must be how they brought us here," Jessie mused, still shaking a little.
"Yeah," Samantha nodded softly. She led them up the stairs to an iron door. "Aha, just as I thought," she proclaimed, drawing open a peephole on the door, "They took us to the old prison fortress, Jessie."
"I see," the redhead pushed her aside to see the long cellblock before them, "I see their logic; we're at least mile and a half out to sea here, and people probably wouldn't notice that cave if they weren't looking for it. So, I guess Nicki's in one of these cells?"
"One way to find out," Samantha slowly pushed the door open. The two of them crept down the hall softly and silently. Samantha pushed open the peephole to the first cell. "Not in there," she whispered.
"Not in here," Jessie glanced in the one across from her.
"Not..." Samantha stopped short as she heard a cell door opening not twenty feet ahead of them. She dove desperately into the cell she was checking and frantically waved Jessie to join her. Jessie just managed to join her in time before a man came out into the hall. Sliding the peephole open, the two lifeguards watched him intently. They couldn't hear a word he was saying over the roar of the storm outside, but watched as he slipped what was apparently a set of keys on a hook outside the cell he'd left and walked back towards the exit door, whistling. The girls waited until he was gone and clearly not coming back before rushing to the door. Samantha slid the peephole open. "It is Nicki!" she gasped, "And they've...oh my God; keys, Jessie, keys now!"
"What the...!?" Jessie glanced through the peephole herself and gasped in horror. Nicki lay on her side on the floor, weakly convulsing and visibly blue in the face from lack of oxygen due to all the tape wrapped over her nose. Jessie grabbed for the keys and fumbled them in the cell's lock. "Nicki, Nicki it's us, don't die on us!" she cried out, diving for her friend. She and Samantha desperately tore at the tape sealing Nicki's nose shut, ripping it right down the middle at her nostrils. "Careful, careful, watch that gun!" Samantha called out a warning both to Jessie and Nicki as the latter jolted from a fresh burst of oxygen. She cautiously tore through the tape holding the gun in place to Nicki's temple, keeping one hand on the gun to steady it when the tape fell loose. She deposited the gun on floor gently, then reached over to pull off Nicki's tear-saturated blindfold while Jessie yanked off the blonde's gag. Nicki gasped horribly, blinking against the light. "Oh God, Sam, Jessie, thank you!" she sobbed, her voice a low croak, "How did you find me...!?"
"Long story, Nicki, but don't worry, we're here for you now," Samantha hugged her friend, then ripped off the rest of the tape that had been wrapped over her nose with one strong tug, "Just sit tight; we'll get you out of this."
"Hurry; they'll probably be back to make sure I'm dead; they tried to kill me!" Nicki jumped as a loud crack rang out from the wall behind her from another dead-on wave strike. She glanced around confusedly. "Where am I?"
"The old fortress on the island near where we found the wreckage of that boat yesterday," Samantha explained, taking the keys off Jessie and inserting the first one into the padlock to the chains holding Nicki's arms to the wall, which ominously was starting to crack from the force of the waves' onslaught. "We only found out ourselves a couple moments ago," she continued, reaching up to pull off the rest of the tape that had held the shotgun to Nicki's head, "Jessie and I came out looking for you, Nicki, but they kidnapped us too. They had us tied up and blindfolded and gagged like you on a boat down in the cave under the island. We just managed to free ourselves a few minutes ago, and luckily we found you in time, it looks like."
"You put your own life in danger for me!?" Nicki looked touched.
"Hey, for you, you're worth it," Samantha told her, unlocking the chains from Nicki's arms and shoving them aside. "Besides, we're lifeguards, after all; it's our job to help those in need. Turn around, Nicki, and I'll get that big iron thing off your waist."
But it was at that moment that there was a thunderous crashing against the stone wall behind Nicki, which abruptly disintegrated. Nicki felt herself being pulled backwards by a powerful tide. "Oh no, help!" she cried, straining to stay put, but finding the heavy stone fragments the chains were still attached to pulling her mercilessly out into the churning, foaming, deadly ocean behind her.
"Hold on!" Jessie grabbed her by the legs. "Come on, Sam, hurry!" she cried to the brunette, who was fumbling to unlock Nicki's waist restraint. "No, wait, look out!" the redhead screamed. Nicki saw it coming as well; another monstrous wave heading right for the open hole where the wall used to be. And she was unable to do anything to get out of the way. It crashed down on top of her with the force of a monster truck, drowning her under countless gallons of water. For a moment she was sure it was the end, and felt herself slipping back out to sea with the tide again, but thankfully Jessie's hands seized her ankles at the last second. She coughed in agony once the wave had receded. "Come on, Sam, hurry before the next one comes!" she begged to Samantha, on her knees rooting around next to her.
"Can't find the key!" Samantha was desperate, "Please, please don't have washed away!" she crawled around, frantic.
"There, there it is!" Jessie pointed, "Hurry, Sam; the next wave's coming now!"
Samantha dove desperately in the direction her friend had pointed just as a loud thundering sound loomed behind Nicki. She sucked in the deepest breath she could manage before another wall of water slammed down on top of her with horrific force. The slabs of the wall pulled her backwards relentlessly, and she could feel herself slipping out of Jessie's grip. "I can't hold her much longer, Sam!" the redhead begged Samantha, "Hurry; I don't think Nicki can take much more either!"
"Coming!" Samantha, now with key in hand, dove at Nicki. In a flash, she rapidly unlocked the waist restraint and the chains around Nicki's ankles, just as another huge wave could be heard building behind them. She and Jessie quickly pulled the net off Nicki, picked her up and carried her hastily to the side of the room just as the wave broke, flooding the cell up to their knees. The two lifeguards strained to remain upright as the undertow pulled them backwards. "Let's get moving," Samantha made a beeline for the door, "We can finish untying Nicki out there."
"Agreed," Jessie was eager to get out of the room as well. "Oh my God!" she gasped in horror once they were safely in the hall, staring with revulsion at the stab wound on Nicki's chest, "Oh my God, Nicki, what did they do to you!?"
"It was horrible, Jessie," Nicki tried to maintain her composure; she didn't really want to be reminded of the terrible memories, "But I'll tell it later; just finish getting me out of these ropes, and figure out a way to get these off," she held up her handcuffed wrists as best as the ropes holding her arms to her back would allow, "The men who kidnapped me have the key, and these are pretty solidly on."
"I think I've got an idea," Samantha was looking at another cell on the leeward side of the prison, "Bring her in there, Jessie."
The two of them carried Nicki into the cell, laid her on the floor, and untied the rest of her ropes as fast as they could. "Come on over here, Nicki," Samantha pointed to a huge iron ball on a chain on the far wall once they were done.
"My legs are still really numb," Nicki admitted, "But I'll do my best."
She scooted across the floor, eventually coming to a rest against the wall. "Now hold real still," Samantha pulled on the chain to raise the iron ball up, "We don't want to hurt you."
She released the chain, and the iron ball came down hard on the handcuffs. Nicki froze up and remained perfectly still as Samantha repeated the procedure. On the third drop, Nicki felt the handcuffs shatter off her wrists with a loud clack. "Free," she moaned softly, pulling her hands forward and rubbing her bleeding wrists, "I never thought I'd be able to say that about myself again. Oh thank you, you guys!" she hugged her friends close again, "Oh I was so scared...!"
"Don't feel bad; Sam and I were scared too when we were tied up down in the cave, Nicki," Jessie reassured her, pulling Nicki's gag and blindfold over her head and tossing them to the floor. She bent down to Nicki's level. "And I'd like to say I'm sorry I didn't believe you about this, too, Nicki," she apologized, "Maybe if I had..."
"It's OK, Jessie, this more than makes up for it," Nicki nodded with a smile.
"Good, so the question is, how do we get you off this island and to a hospital, since it's clear you need medical aid?" the redhead remarked, putting a worried hand to Nicki's stab wound on her chest, "That's pretty bad. And they must have ditched our boat after they grabbed Sam and me, because I didn't see it tied up in the cave downstairs with all the others. Plus, I don't know how we'd ever have a clue which way was back to the beach," she stared hesitantly through the cell's barred window at the intense storm still raging outside.
"Well don't you worry about it, girls, because you won't have to worry about it," came Chester's cold voice from behind them, making them turn around with loud shrieks of shock. "I don't know how the three of you got loose," he advanced towards them, gun in hand, "But it doesn't matter in the end, because it will end now. Goodbye, ladies." He pointed the gun right at Nicki and started to pull the trigger...