This was really happening. He was trapped in this goddamn chair. Stashed away in some unknown hellhole. Up to this point, Owen had been able to pretend this was nothing more than a bad dream. One which he’d awaken from at any moment. He had visions of a SWAT team bursting inside, tearing away his bindings with a single snap. He’d be free and Skullet would be the one trapped, living the remainder of his unnatural life inside a cage.
With every creak of this rickety house, Owen bolted to attention, waiting in wicked anticipation for his rescuers to arrive. But there were only so many times he could conduct this drill before realizing these alarms were all in his head. And now, every time he jerked awake, it hurt. His every muscle seized at the same time and a flurry of pins ripped across him as though he was being attacked by a rabid acupuncturist.
The pain made it impossible to sleep for more than two minutes at a time. Between the constant muscle spasms and the urge to go to the bathroom, every agonizing second felt like an hour. After Skullet had disappeared for the night, Owen had finally just released, allowing the dampness to spread over his lap. As much as he loathed admitting it, there was something comforting about the warm trickle. It was freezing down here.
That was hours ago. The dampness now felt as though a block of ice was pressed down upon him. Though, what bothered him more than anything was how little he knew about his captor. Outside of Skullet’s cruel stories, there was nothing, not even a name. Owen had secretly hoped this was a conspiracy, perhaps directed by Detective Galanis. Even that was more satisfying than a lone creepy nut. Still, Owen hadn’t heard anyone else this entire time.
If there was someone else, they would’ve come down to take a peek, especially during the hours-long gaps between Skullet’s visits. From these long absences, Owen suspected Skullet was leaving for a job of some sort. Not that he could imagine someone hiring that psychopath, but if there was anyone ballsy enough to kidnap a person and then go off to work as though nothing had happened, it would be Skullet.
Still, if Skullet did have a job, why in the world would he decide to kidnap Owen in the middle of the workweek? Owen wasn’t totally tethered to his home, and perhaps not as predictable as his grocery runs, but there would’ve been tons of other opportunities, particularly on the weekends. Why choose such a needless risk?
Five days. Jesus, that was the reason. If this was a twisted reenactment of his mother’s death, Skullet’s plan would be to trap him for five days in this rotten chair. And that would put the final day on Sunday. There was a sadistic logic in that, since Skullet would have the entire day open, spending it here and doing only God knows what. Owen shuddered, fearing the axe was just an opening act for some depraved main event.
Owen brushed the crawly thought to the rear of his mind. No, none of this made any sense. Not a lick of it. The last thing his mother would’ve wanted was for this horror to be played out in her name. That cretin didn’t know a single thing about her. Not her hopes, dreams, or desires. Not even what TV shows she liked. The fool had even called her a saint. Everyone who’d been acquainted with Linda Vogel knew her as many things, but a saint certainly hadn’t been one.
Owen just had to reference back to when he was seven and they’d gone shopping at the mall. He’d pestered his mother all morning long, begging her to buy one of the hot new Googriff toys. Sure, Owen had been a real pain in the ass, only growing more tempestuous with his mother’s every refusal, until he’d eventually dropped to the floor and thrown the world’s most shrill temper tantrum. But again, that was the sort of thing children did.
Most parents would’ve shouted a stern warning or punished him with a spanking, but not Owen’s mother. Anytime he acted out, she would storm off, pretending to leave him crying all alone. She’d done this numerous times before, including once while vacationing on the beach. Owen had screamed about getting sand in his water bottle and she’d reacted by faking a trip to the bathroom and failing to return. It was only after Owen contacted a couple of lifeguards when she was discovered having a drink at the refreshment stand.
Those lifeguards sure scolded her, but if there was one thing that defined Owen’s mother, it was her obstinate nature. Whenever criticized, she would double down on her position, no matter how ludicrous it might seem. She just plain wore everyone down until they relented and she got exactly what she wanted. Owen had probably learned his temper tantrums from her, although neither would ever admit to it. And odd as it sounds, the lifeguards left half-convinced they were the ones at fault for not bringing Owen to her sooner.
This changed after that day in the mall. They’d gone off to buy clothes for the new school year, but Owen hated a pair of corduroys his mother insisted he try on. When he’d refused to put on the pants, yelling a sharp refusal, she’d bustled off like normal, escaping through the sliding glass doors into the parking lot. By the time Owen scurried out in pursuit, she had already reached the car and was pulling away.
Thinking back, she probably only planned on circling the mall a few times before returning. Just for long enough to leave him stewing on the curb. But as a child, Owen had been convinced she was leaving him there forever. So, without looking, he’d dashed into the street, galloping after her. That was when the minivan hit him.
Owen broke four bones that morning, landing in a cast for six weeks. The visits from the social workers lasted far longer than that. Owen loathed their repetitive questioning and accusations, especially the silly ones about inappropriate touching. They determined she was no saint, but didn’t press ahead with removing him from the home. Even so, she never stormed off again after that. Instead, she switched to her new role as Castigator-in-Chief.
His every action was criticized. He didn’t stand straight enough. His shirt was too ruffled. He never eat enough or always too much. In some ways, this constant berating was worse than her vanishing act, since instead of fearing being abandoned, he was plagued with the anxiety of never being good enough.
The worst was when he was a teenager and she started to call him a pansy due to his lack of dates. Owen had been awkward and unpopular, unable to garner attention from any girls. He’d spent most weekends locked up in his room, playing video games. She’d inevitably bash at the door, lambasting him for being too afraid to go outside.
“Do you want to spend the rest of your life as a pa-pa-pansy?” she’d yelled, always stuttering the first syllable. “Someone might date a loser, but nobody wants a pa-pa-pansy who doesn’t even try.”
The taunting had been endless; sometimes she’d sit for hours right on the other side of his bedroom door. Waiting there for him to emerge, either for food or to go to the bathroom. At one point, it’d gotten so bad that Owen had started to urinate in old soda bottles to avoid leaving his bedroom altogether. He stored them in his closet like golden idols to his shame. It grew so awful whenever he did leave his bedroom, his mother would grab him and force him out the front door. He’d then climb onto the roof in order to slip back inside his bedroom window.
Not that he held a grudge. Owen understood she couldn’t help herself. It was just her hardheaded manner. A misplaced belief his isolation had been a choice. She never realized he had tried, calling classmate after classmate, desperate to find a single one who would be his friend. His mother always had friends in school and couldn’t understand the isolation encompassing Owen’s high school experience.
Years later, she’d told him exactly that, explaining how she couldn’t believe that such a wonderful and handsome kid wouldn’t have tons of friends wanting to hang out. He’d snapped back it didn’t make up for the years of insults and name-calling, but secretly, deep down, he’d cherished the compliment.
That was the second best thing his mother had ever said to him. The first came after Traci Snelgrove broke off their date to the senior prom. Owen believed she’d agreed to go to dance as a dare, so he wasn’t shocked when she backed out the day before. His mother wasn’t so forgiving.
She called the school and excused him for a week’s worth of absences. So instead of spending that Saturday night all alone, as he’d done so many times in those rocky years, they’d driven off to Chicago for a brief vacation. On the night of the big dance, his mother had taken him out for a delicious deep dish pizza.
While eating, she’d pointed out the window toward the towering skyscrapers and told him it was a big world, and he deserved to flying in cloud rather than being bogged down in any petty small town crap. With tears glossing her eyes and on her third glass of wine, she’d admitted she was unhappy, angry she never had the guts to leave. She explained this was the reason she’d pestered him so, since the last thing she ever wanted was for Owen to be stuck.
But he was stuck now. Owen shifted to his side, pressing as far as the duct-tape restraints would allow. He hoped it might relieve some of the throbbing from the pressure sores now bulging on his back and behind. His arm shook, attempting to hold this position, but eventually, he collapsed with a grunt, and the agony returned. He even wished to go to the bathroom, if only to feel something other than the pain.
Saint? What was a damn saint anyway? Owen knew his mother hadn’t been one, but she had loved him. Even now, within all this agony, he didn’t regret his decision. If she asked him to do it again, this time knowing full well that he’d end up in this hellish pit, he wouldn’t hesitate. Sure, Skullet could bind him to this repugnant chair, but he could never take that love from him.