Sleep was impossible. That was all Owen had done since arriving at this hellhole—snooze a few minutes, wake in agonizing pain, look around to see nothing had changed, and try to snooze some more. Not only wasn’t he tired, but every time he closed his eyes, one of those blasted flies would scurry across his eyelids, jerking him back awake.
As Owen looked down at his limp body, he was reminded of those late-night TV commercials for starving African children. There were always flies buzzing around their emaciated bodies, landing atop their sunken eyes and distended bellies. Everyone had that same look of despair. But until this moment, Owen hadn’t understood it wasn’t despair at all. It was capitulation. Whatever fight they’d once possessed had given way to an acceptance of the horrific situation. Somehow despair seemed better.
Owen knew this firsthand. He’d given up on any hope of a rescue. There would be no SWAT team, no police, nobody. And forget about that realtor. Even if she did return, there’d be no way she’d risk exposing any clients to this vile stench, at least not anyone who wasn’t absolutely ready to sign. Owen didn’t know much, but he did know sales. And nobody sold the icky fine print.
God, he’d been such a fool. He’d actually believed people would understand his mother’s plight. Half of him had dreamed he’d be praised for making the tough decision. He wondered if things might’ve turned out better if he’d agreed to his mother’s original request to just shove a pillow over her face. At the time, he’d told his mother she sounded insane. But now, he felt like the crazy one.
Owen considered the possibility Skullet could be right. It did seem as though every time he had to make a choice, the outcome was the exact opposite of what he’d anticipated. When he’d quit his job to care for his father who was dying from cancer, he’d expected to be welcomed back to work as a hero. Instead, his colleagues were promoted, while he was railroaded and eventually fired.
It was no different with Rachel. The more he’d tried to save the relationship, asking her about her feelings and what he could do to make it better, the more she’d withdrawn. His attempts to kowtow to her every insane demand only pushed her further away. Until one day, she just walked out the door forever. His every decision, made out of love and what he considered good, only seemed to do the opposite. Owen wondered if he’d spent his entire life as a delusional fool.
Even his request for warmth had backfired. At first, the whirring space heaters had come as a tremendous relief. But soon, these sensations quickly transformed into pain. Not only that, he was drenched with sweat. And from his cracked lips and plank-like tongue, he doubted a single drop of moisture remained inside him. Owen wouldn’t have been surprised if Skullet’s true purpose was to roast him like a pig on a spit.
The worst part was how the heat amplified the already putrid stench. Being gagged, he was forced to breathe through his nose, so the reek penetrated his every gasp. The smell of his own filth was bad enough, but what disturbed him even more was the ungodly rot. His toes had transformed from a pale blue into a spotty black and anytime he wiggled his foot, the rot wafted through the air. Owen had smelled death before, but nothing like this. It could only be described as moldy limburger cheese on a dog’s stale breath. Even that didn’t do it justice.
The only way he’d discovered to keep the stench at bay was by remaining absolutely still. Even the slightest twitch would shower the air with the fetid decay. So when his leg began to seize, Owen immediately turned his head, hoping to dodge the wafting stench. Of course, this did nothing but aggravate his sore neck.
As the smell entered his nose, he told himself to settle, but the spasm continued unabated. They were occurring more often, almost every half-hour, if he had to guess. Though, their frequency was the least of his concerns. Only yesterday, he could relax enough to alleviate most of the pain. Now, his only option was to bite down on the gag and just wait for the spasms to end.
Even this proved too difficult as a lightning bolt of misery arched up his side. His entire body quaked as he spat a muffled scream. Though, it wasn’t the pain that scared him the most. He worried these spasms would soon cease, leaving him paralyzed. Feeling anything was far better than the alternative.
So when Owen heard the ripping sound, his first fear was that his muscles had finally torn up from the bone. Indeed, it certainly felt that way. His leg bounced in the air as though no longer attached to his body. He forced himself to peek, if only to add this to the checklist of daily horrors.
To his shock, he spotted a loose piece of duct tape. That couldn’t be. Owen blinked. There hadn’t been a single inch of give ever since Skullet had wrapped it around his legs. Yet there it was, dangling free.
The heat. The thought struck him like a bullet. The heat was deteriorating the tape. Or maybe it was the gobs of sweat that covered his body like a second skin. Really, the cause didn’t matter. Owen stared at the loose tape as his leg continued to spasm like a bucking bull. And with every kick, the tape appeared to peel up a bit more.
Concentrate, concentrategoddamn it, Owen thought, attempting to steady himself. It worked and his leg dropped onto the ottoman. Owen exhaled, letting it rest for a moment. When he managed to steady his breathing, he kicked. The ottoman bucked, raising only a hair. The loose tape bounced against its side. Owen groaned as a slashing pain raced through him. The tape fluttered back into place.
Owen bit down on the gag, almost embedding his teeth into its surface. He kicked again. The tape ripped, spiraling free. A drove of flies shot into the air, swarming off like a miniature black tornado. Owen’s leg collapsed back onto the ottoman. The vinyl cushion was still glued to his calves, but the padding allowed for a bit of room. He raised his legs as far as the cushion would stretch, knocking away the remainder of the tape.
For the first time, he was thankful for the gag. Without it, he probably would’ve bitten right through his tongue. Owen had always been the type to yank off a Band-Aid as quickly as possible, but peeling his leg away from the ottoman could only be achieved by an inch by inch basis. He began with his right, yanking as the vinyl clung to him like a weight. The pain was unbearable, but what was most bothersome was the high-pitch whish of his skin stripping away.
This seemed to last forever, but then, there was a squishy plunk and his leg bounced freely into the air. Owen hollered in both triumph and pain. He steadied his foot against the hardwood floor and stared at the ottoman. A layer of cracked yellow skin clung to the spot where his leg had rested moments before. Blood dribbled down the back of his calf and pooled next to his blackened toes.
Owen forced himself to ignore it, while jamming his foot to the floor. He jerked up, using his free leg as leverage. His left leg shivered, but peeled away from the ottoman with little resistance. For a moment, he was frozen as a shattering wave of pins and needles washed over him.
As the prickling sensation faded, he swung up his knees, attempting to restore some semblance of a blood flow. He hoped it wasn’t too late to prevent any permanent damage. Though, from the look of it, he figured a couple of toes for goners.
One thing was certain—he wasn’t going to get any better down in this hellhole. Owen wiggled his arms, trying to slide free, but these duct tape shackles refused to budge. He anchored his feet and thrust up. Still, they held. He shoved a couple more times before collapsing back into the chair.
Owen took a long breather, deciding to switch up his strategy. Once again, he braced against the floor, but this time he shoved backwards, attempting to topple the chair. There was a groan as the boards underneath shuddered, but nothing more. He jerked again and again. The chair remained stubbornly in place. He began to kick at the boards until he realized there wasn’t just one two-by-four holding it in place, but two of them hammered together.
He kicked his feet onto the edge of the ottoman, hoping the new angle would provide better leverage for dislodging the boards. He shoved with his entire body and there was a loud crack. But it hadn’t come from the floor. Instead, something inside the chair had snapped. Owen braced to kick again when he realized he could swivel in either direction. He spun around.
The basement was smaller than he’d pictured. Somehow he’d imagined a vast dungeon filled with wicked implements and iron crates. Instead, this side was just as empty as the other. There were the same brick walls and exposed overhead beams. The only difference was a narrow hallway jutting off to the left. If Owen craned his neck, he could make out a stairwell in the middle.
He swept his feet across the floor, discovering this side was also bolted down by two pieces of wood. He kicked a few times, but they held just as firmly as the others. Owen grew frustrated and spun the chair around like a merry-go-round. He wondered if this would pop it free, but it only ended up making him dizzy.
Owen jammed his feet down, cranking the chair to a halt. Facing the side wall, he stretched towards it. Still, it was too far to reach. He paused, swinging his legs. He just couldn’t think of any other solution. He could wait and hope the heat would loosen the tape wrapped around his arms and chest. There was no guarantee that would work, but even if it did, it might take hours, and Owen had no clue when that bastard might return.
The only thing for certain was that if Skullet did find Owen like this, he’d ensure the mistake wouldn’t happen a second time. Damn, damn, damn! Owen cursed, kicking the floor. Wait. He paused, sliding his feet underneath the chair. There wasn’t a beam here. Hot damn, only the front and back were held down by the wood.
Owen dug in his heels and shoved. Crack. He didn’t know what had broken, but his heart raced at the sound. He pushed a second time. Nothing. Then again. This time there wasn’t any noise, but the chair jerked up. As it bounced back down, Owen heaved again. He barely had time to register the snap. Next he knew, he was spinning upside-down.
Thump. His head rocketed against the top of the chair. It bounced a couple of times before settling in place. After all the futile attempts, it surprised him how quickly the chair had toppled over. He groaned, although it felt incredible to shift his weight from the aching pressure points on his back and tailbone. He was unable to control himself and a thin dribble of urine ran down his belly. Before it could reach his neck, he rolled the chair onto its side. It slid without any resistance.
His first instinct was to climb the stairs, even with this blasted chair still clinging to his back. But when he attempted to stand, he barely made it to his knees before collapsing. And his second attempt was twice as difficult. In this weakened state, the chair was just too heavy. It was so burdensome, he couldn’t even crawl across the floor.
Owen spotted a loose two-by-four and had an idea. He inched his way towards it, spinning his legs around. He gave a couple firm kicks and dislodged it from the floor. Using his feet, he flipped the piece of wood over, exposing two long nails. The sharp ends poked up. He dragged himself closer. When he reached the board, he jerked the chair up, hovering right above the nails.
The goal was to align the nails with the tape binding his wrist. Inch by inch, he slid into position. He had almost reached the ideal spot when his muscles began to seize. Hold, hold, hold still dammit. The chair pressed down on his quaking body like a cement block. He spun back, hoping to avoid the inevitable collapse. It was too late; he crashed face-down. He wrenched as the nails impaled his shoulder.
Owen pivoted onto his side, reeling in pain. Blood gushed from the wound. He shook and the nails tore from his shoulder. His vision darkened. Concentrate, concentrate. Owen forced himself to return. If he passed out, Skullet wouldn’t hesitate to put him right back into place.
Owen maneuvered once again towards the board. The nails were blotted with blood, although from the amount spilling down his arm, he’d expected a larger stain. He jerked onto his side, dangling the armrest just above the pointed end of the closest nail. This time he held steady. The nail poked a tiny circle into the silver tape. He tipped some more, feeling the nail graze him. There was a rip as it tore through both the tape and his skin. A trickle of blood emerged from underneath the tear, but Owen didn’t dare stop sawing.
Moments later, his arm burst free. He shook it a few times and a sprinkling of blood splattered across the floor. He grabbed the board and began to saw through the tape on the other side. As soon as his other arm snapped loose, he removed the gag. He gasped and a fly shot into his mouth. Owen snapped his teeth, grinding it to oblivion. He considered eating it, but spat out the remains.
The final piece of tape dropped from his chest and he rolled across the floor. Being so thrilled to be free, he didn’t hesitate before scampering towards the stairwell. He managed to take exactly two steps before his legs gave out. As he crashed down, another dizzy spell washed over him. He took a deep breath and figured rushing would only make things worse. He stretched, rubbing his limbs to restore any feeling. There was only pain, but he adored every jolt.
Once he was able to move again, he tore off his shirt and wrapped it around his injured shoulder. He flung his soiled pants, smearing them across the floor. Skullet had Owen’s wallet and keys, so it seemed only fair to leave this mess for him. Owen turned towards the exit. There was a lurking fear Skullet might show up at any moment, so he grabbed the two-by-four. He swung it a few times before stumbling up the stairs.
Owen reached the top and yanked at the bronze doorknob. There was no lock and the door swung open with a single push. He limped into a small hallway. There was a dining room to his right and a kitchen in the other direction. Owen staggered into the kitchen, smearing a trail of blood behind him.
He slid across the linoleum floor, clutching a granite countertop to stabilize himself. Every step felt as though he was walking on hot coals, but he didn’t stop for a single second as he raced towards the sink. He flung the faucet to life and dipped his head underneath. The water was lukewarm, but he’d never tasted anything so delicious in his entire life.
He wanted to leave, but found it impossible to stop drinking. It was only when his belly seized and he spat a mouthful of water, that he finally managed to move away from the sink. He spotted a telephone at the far end of the kitchen. The handset chirped as he removed it from the base, but there was no dial tone. He yanked at it and discovered the phone cord wasn’t attached to anything. Just dressing for the damn open house. Owen cursed, dropping the receiver to the floor.
He tottered through an open door and collapsed onto the carpet on the other side. He pulled himself ahead, realizing he’d entered a living room. A long couch ran from one side to the other. Owen used it to prop himself up. He fell twice onto the couch while crossing the room, but walking was becoming easier. And when he spotted a foyer and the large oak door at its end, Owen broke into a dash.
He managed to remain upright, reaching the front door. His fingers curled around the silver knob, clutching it like a newborn baby. He hurled the door open and was greeted with a splash of fresh nighttime air. Owen took a deep breath, staring out into the dark. It must’ve been late, since not a single light illuminated the darkness. Still, he could tell he was in a residential subdivision and from the sprinkling of basketball hoops and children’s toys in the neighboring lawns.
Owen paused. His every instinct shrieked for him to rush out and scream for help. Nude or not, it hardly mattered. In a quiet neighborhood like this, somebody would emerge within minutes. If not, no doubt the police would be called. Owen had his freedom; he only needed to cry out. Still, he just stood there.
He peered back inside. From all the cheap furniture and lack of personal items, he knew this was an open house. And seeing that Skullet wasn’t spending the night here, Owen doubted he was the owner. In fact, the house was probably a buffer for this exact situation. At the sight of a single police cruiser, Skullet would disappear forever. Owen didn’t know anything about him. Not his name, not his occupation, not even the bald bastard’s favorite color.
If Owen left, the news would break as soon as the police arrived. He was already well known in the media and this was the exact type of story those twisted monsters craved. A just revenge or just plain sick—tonight at eleven. Plus, Detective Galanis was many things, but subtle wasn’t one. Hell, Owen suspected he might even be inclined to let Skullet escape.
Owen played out the scenario in his head. He would be zipped away to some dingy hospital room and pestered with a barrage of silly questions. More likely than not, he’d be accused of being the bad guy or making the whole story up. All the while, Skullet would still be roaming free. Maybe they’d catch him, maybe not. And if not, Owen would have to spend the rest of his life peering over his shoulder, always wondering if that creep was lurking right behind.
For they sow wind, and shall reap the whirlwind.
Maybe that evil bastard had been right about something.