Overhead, a door slammed shut, and Skullet’s footsteps receded into the distance. Owen sprang into action. He pressed his left shoulder deep into the cushioned back of the chair, before bucking to his right. The tape barely budged. He jerked a second time with even less results. Wrenching both arms in succession, he searched for any give, but discovered none. What the hell? When Owen used duct tape at home, it never held and usually just folded over into one of those messy clumps. Yet this was like tar against his skin.
Worse, the chair hardly shook as he walloped against it. Sliding from side to side, he’d hoped to topple it over, but it seemed to be cemented to the floor. He kicked his dangling feet, attempting to swing them at whatever was holding the chair in place.
His toes connected with something cold and round. He believed it to be the metallic pole bracing the center of the chair. He stretched his legs further, wondering if he could discover the lever controlling the seat height. If he could lower himself another couple inches, at least his feet could rest against the floor. Or, at best, he could use the floor as leverage.
A sharp tingling radiated down his shins as he kicked his feet even further. He bit his lip as the sensation grew painful, filling his mouth again with the acrid taste of the duct tape’s glue. A bead of sweat dribbled into his eye, and he blinked, attempting to soothe the stinging sensation. After a short while, his feet began to shake and the pain grew unbearable, so he slid away from the pole.
As his feet dropped, his toes bumped into a piece of wood. A two-by-four from the feel of it. He exhaled, allowing his legs to dangle free until the stinging sensation dulled into a tingle. He kicked again, finding the piece of wood with the edge of his big toe. He brushed against the wood, realizing Skullet had hammered it down to hold the chair in place.
Owen bit on his lip again, this time avoiding the sour-tasting tape, as he slammed his foot against the wooden plank. An agonizing explosion shattered across his foot as the bitter taste of iron filled his mouth. He’d bitten down too hard, and blood flowed from a torn portion of his inner lip. He wanted to spit, but was forced to swallow the loose piece of skin he’d chew off.
The beam held tight as he slammed against it again. With the third kick, he couldn’t help from yelling from the pain, but only a muffled yelp emerged from underneath his duct-taped mouth. Every kick blasted a sharp bolt across his foot, but he kept going, imagining the next blow would knock the wood free. Only after losing sensation in his toes did he finally stop. Even then, the pain continued, forcing him to wheeze through his nose.
He took a moment and stared around the room. From the cement floor, brick walls, and exposed beams overhead, he figured he was in a basement of some sort. There were no windows and the only illumination had come from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. Now that it was switched off, only dark shadows remained. Other than the folding chair where Skullet had sat, there was no furniture or clutter of any kind. Even the walls lacked any decoration.
Owen puzzled through the murky haze of the kidnapping. Even while taped to this rotten chair, it still seemed like a dream. He’d woken early this morning in order to make the supermarket’s opening at six. The fresh produce always arrived on Tuesday night, and Owen enjoyed having the first pick of the lot, especially before the other shoppers mucked it up with their germ-covered hands. Plus, there was a peaceful serenity about shopping at the crack of dawn before the world had a chance to tussle itself awake.
More than anything, the fewer people he saw these days, the better. Changing his telephone number had eliminated most of the threatening calls, but every so often somebody would drive by his house and yell obscenities or toss a garbage bag filled with rotten food. One creep kept deflating the air out of his car tires, but a few nights with a police cruiser parked at the end of his driveway had stopped that.
After everything, he figured it best to limit his exposure to public spaces and, with the internet, most days he didn’t need to go outside at all to do his shopping. Outside of getting groceries, he barely left his home at all.
This morning, he’d still been scraping the dust from his eyes when he’d hit the button for the garage door. It hadn’t even finished rising before the balding man had appeared next to him. He wore a ridiculous army-green jumpsuit and something about his silly mullet styled hair made Owen laugh. That stopped as soon as the man jammed a cold .45 caliber pistol against his side.
At first, Owen thought it was a robbery, since the man insisted he empty his pockets. Owen did as he was told, dropping his wallet and keys into a plastic bag Skullet was holding. Nor did he resist when Skullet placed a hood over his head and zip-tied his hands behind his back. He’d just assumed this thief wanted a head start while dashing away with Owen’s loot.
The truth only dawned on him when Owen was dragged outside and shoved into the truck of a car. Now thinking back, Owen realized Skullet hadn’t walked him far, only a few steps from the garage. That meant he’d been parked at the top of the driveway, but Owen didn’t recall anyone pulling up it. His kitchen window overlooked the driveway, so he would’ve surely seen any intruders, sleepy or not. He loathed going to the supermarket hungry, so he’d eaten less than ten minutes before and would’ve noticed a strange car parked there. The chances of such a random timing were astronomical.
Not unless that bastard had been spying on him. Owen gulped. Skullet must’ve figured out his routine, discovering he always left at a quarter to six on Wednesday mornings. His stomach pitched at the thought. How long had this psychopath been planning this? How many nights had he hidden in the nearby bushes, scheming this devilish plot? What else had he seen?
Owen attempted to reassure himself. There was an upside to this. If Skullet had been there previously, he might’ve left a trail. Maybe one of the neighbors noticed him lurking about. All it would take was one snoop to write down his license plate number, and presto, here comes the cavalry. Only a matter of time…
Who was he kidding? Owen never saw anyone on his early trips to the grocery store. Due to the housing collapse, over half of the homes in his subdivision were unsold or abandoned. And of those who remained, none ever associated with him. Even if he had neighbors, Owen suspected when it came right down to it, most would be overjoyed to finally be rid of him.
He cursed himself for being such a fool. He’d remained calm and docile as Skullet drove with him in the trunk for around twenty minutes or so. When he’d finally parked, Owen could’ve yelled and made a scene, but instead, fearing that gun, he’d kept his mouth shut while being marched inside.
At that point, he’d still hoped this was nothing more than a garden-variety kidnapping. Why he’d believed this was beyond him now, since nobody would pay a ransom for him. Both of his parents were dead, he had no siblings, and it’d been a couple years since he’d dated anyone. He even worked alone as an insurance salesman, so there was no office to note his absence. He’d just wanted to believe that was the truth, so he had. Crazy how the mind worked like that.
He’d figured Skullet was playing some angle, and with enough money, everything would be sorted soon enough. But if the trial had proven one thing, it was that nobody was willing to go to bat for him. Owen had no friends. Not even his distant family came to the trial. The only person who called to offer some sympathetic words was his cousin Elise, but even she went on the news the next day to berate him as the devil. Why he thought anyone would help him now was beyond crazy.
Owen glared at the brick wall hovering in the shadows in front of him. Even though he’d only been trapped for a few hours, the silent bricks taunted as if he’d been stuck down here for years. In sense, he’d been trapped far before his mother died, yet now, this empty space brought this bleak thought to the forefront of his mind.
That couldn’t stand. He refused to die here.
He gulped and swung his feet again. His toes blasted against the wooden beam, reigniting the agony within his feet, but he didn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. A trickle of blood exploded from his toes as a red coating crusting the end of his white tube socks. Still, he continued to kick.