I was just sitting at home, not really doing anything, when all of a sudden, the floor fell out from under me. I felt gravity shift, saw nothing but blackness for a moment when, just a sudden as it started, I hit the ground. My knees buckled as my bare feet hit the floor and I toppled forward. My hands found a stone floor, cold and slightly damp. I looked around and saw I was in a cell, with wrought iron bars on three sides and a cobblestone wall at my back. A man was watching me through the bars. He was tall and lanky, with graying hair and a thin, cruel-looking smile. I tried to stand but my legs shook and I felt nauseous. The thin man’s smile grew a fraction, then he turned and walked away.
“Wait- “I wanted to call after him, but as I took a breath, I felt my lungs seize up. I tried to cough, to breathe out, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t breathe at all suddenly. Panic gripped my body, making me struggle for breath more, harder, but every breathless second that passed had me seeing less. As darkness encroached, I felt like I would die here, wherever ‘here’ was.
I woke up, surprisingly not dead, in the same cell. I took a few experimental gulps of air and nothing seemed amiss now.
“He did that to all of us when we first got here.” A voice to my left startled me. I looked over and saw, through the bars, a young boy.
“W-who? Wh-What? Who are you? Who was that? Where am I?” I tried to stand again but felt dizzy and fell to my knees again.
“I don’t know who he is, but you’re not the first to get here.” The boy explained. “I’ve been here, I think about ten days. The girl over there “- he pointed to a younger-looking girl opposite my cell - “she’s been here three or four days. And him”- and he pointed to a boy of maybe 18 sitting in the cell next to the girl – “He said he’s been here two weeks.”
All the people he pointed at, I could see now, were in similar cells like mine. There were ten cells in total I could see, but only four were occupied.
“That man,” I asked, “Who is he, what does he want?”
The boy shrugged:” I don’t know. He only ever comes in here when someone else arrives. He says some weird shit, waves his hands and bam, new kid…or, well…” he trailed off looking at me. From the way he said it, me being no longer in my teens was an anomaly.
“Right…” I said. I tried to stand again, slowly this time. Though still a little unsteady, if I leaned against the bars, I could hold myself up. I took in my surroundings a bit better. It was a circular room, with the cells along the wall. There was a door in the empty space along the wall where no cells were built. It was big and heavy-looking, made of dark wood. From what I could tell the room seemed to be about eight meters in diameter, with the ten cells taking up about two meters on the wall side. The cells themselves seemed to be about one and a half meters long and tapered in slightly to the middle of the room. They were all adjacent to each other except the ones closest to the door. There were no hinges or breaks in the bars facing the room. It seemed we had no doors in our cells. It occurred to me suddenly that I could see quite clearly. I looked around and found one small window set in the wall in the cell to my left. It was thin and high set in the wall. From where I was, I could not see the sky through it though, just the light of the sun hitting the deep windowsill.
“Well, no going out that way then.” I sighed, half-joking. I sat down again and looked around my cell. The stone floor was cold, but I found a straw mat and a blanket that took away some of the discomforts of sitting on the floor. I looked at the window again. The light coming through was bright, though it did nothing to raise my spirits.
“How long was I out, anyway?” I asked the boy next to me. He shrugged, looking miserable. I couldn’t really blame him. From my own experience and what he just told me we had both been ripped out of our lives into whatever this was, apparently by some guy that could do magic or some such. And now here we all were, for him to do with as he pleases. No obvious way out. I hugged my legs. I heard the girl stifle a sob.
A few, what felt like might have been hours, later the door opened again, and what stepped through had me let out a little yelp. It was tall, about two and a half meters or so, and it had the shape of a person. But the limbs were too long and too thin, and where the face should be was nothing but a blank space. It moved it head in my direction as I let out the yelp, and it moved to stand in front of my cell. Its movements were slow, fluid and ambling, with its too long arms dangling and swaying slightly. It seemed to consider me, though I couldn’t be sure, it might just have been standing there to scare me, and then it walked past the other cells, seemingly inspecting them. When no one else made a noise or a movement it seemed content. It moved to the door again but returned soon after with four deep plates of something warm. As I smelled it, I realized how hungry I was. How long ago had I eaten? The thing set the plates down in front of our respective cells, then turned to walk away again. Before I could catch myself, I let out a soft:” Thanks.” The thing turned its featureless face towards me, stopped for a moment, then nodded and left. We could reach the plates by way of a small outcropping between the bars and the floor that just fit the plate. The food was not bad, but I would have eaten a cooked shoe with the hunger rumbling low in my gut. It was a watery, almost flavorless stew, with what I assumed might have been, at one point, bits of carrot or the like. It was served with a stale tasting piece of bread. I ate it with gusto, as did the others. When I was done, I set the plate by the bars and briefly considered talking to the kids again. But from the sound of even breathing and the fact that I could barely see my hand in front of my face, I surmised that I could wait till morning. I curled up on the little straw mat and covered myself with the blanket. I was asleep within minutes.
About a week after I got there the next kid arrived. I had been keeping track of the time by gouging lines into the floor of my cell with the plate we got when we got fed. The new kid arriving was just as the boy next to me had described. The man came in, stood in front of one of the cells, spoke some foreign language, and waved his hands in a pattern. There was a rush of…something…and I blinked. As I looked again there was a new person in the cell. They looked around questioningly. Then, when they saw the man, they started to look afraid. The man seemed to nod and then turned to leave. I had come to my feet when he had entered and I was still standing.
“Ehm, sir?” I questioned, politely. He didn’t seem to notice. I tried again, louder. “Sir.” No response. He was almost through the door now, and I could hear the new kid struggling to breathe. I looked at the new kid as he fell unconscious and I heard the door close.
The next time was only two days later. The man entered and I got to my feet again. He stopped in front of the cell next to mine, the one with the window. I could see that he had gotten grayer since the last time I really looked at him. Or maybe he had always been this gray and I had never really had the chance to see. Regardless, I tried to get his attention again.
“Sir?” Nothing. “Excuse me, sir?” He started to speak in the same foreign language again and moved his hands. I tried to grab his arm as it came closer to my cell but he was just out of reach. The rush of some strange energy came over me again, stronger this time, and as I looked over into the cell next to me, I saw a flicker of darkness, then light, then a small body on the floor of the cell. A very young boy, ten at most, fell to the floor. He looked up at the man, frightened. The man smiled again. That same thin, cruel smile. Then he started to turn away again. I tried again to get his attention. “Hey!” This made him pause, but only for a brief moment, then he moved away again.
“OI!” I yelled this time. I hadn’t really meant to, but it was done now and it seemed to work too. He had stopped and was turning towards me.
“Who are you? Why are we here? Wh-… “But my breath left me again. He was holding op his hand as I choked on my questions. Before I lost consciousness again, I heard him say:” Chattering wench.” Then I was in blackness again.
When I woke up this time it was to more sound than before. There were more of us now, so it should not have been too uncommon, but usually, the room was quiet. Everyone was thinking about their own problems and homes they had been ripped from. Now there was a lot of chatter. Well, relatively.
“She’s insane.” I heard the girl across from me exclaim. It was the loudest I ever heard her say anything.
“No way! She has the right idea. We need to know what he wants” the boy next to her rebutted. It took me a while, the headache from the lack of oxygen not helping, but I figured out they were talking about what just happened. That meant I hadn’t been out for long.
“Mhuh…” I sat up.
“That was …” The boy next to me started to say as he saw me sit up.
“Awesome” The older boy finished for him, now also looking over at me in a sort of admiration.
“Insanely stupid.” The girl said at the same time, looking shocked.
“I just…I want to know why we’re here.” I mumbled out. I shook my head and immediately regretted it. It still hurt. I heard a noise in the cell next to me and remembered the little boy. He must be scared stiff. I moved over to the bars forming the barrier between his and my cell. He was sitting up and looking around a little frightened, but not as much as I was expecting.
“Hey, kid, you okay?” I asked, looking at him through the bars. He looked at me and nodded, not saying anything.
“Did you just wake up too?” I pressed a little. He looked confused. The boy to my left piped up:” He didn’t go breathless and faint like the rest of us. I think he might have forgotten to do it to him too because you talked to him.” The boy looked equal parts in awe and afraid. I shook my head:” I don’t think it was a good idea to provoke him though. He could have killed me.”
“Then why did you provoke him?” The girl asked forcefully. “If you know he could kill you, why risk it?”
“I…I don’t know.” I relented. I hugged my knees again, staring out at nothing. Why had I done that? I did want answers, sure, but at the cost of my life? I shook the dark thoughts from my head quickly. No. Not here. Not like this.