Seek the Light
There was a terribly volatile odor contaminating the air, and Jill held her cupped hands over her nose and mouth as if to filter out the stench. She thought that it must be the knee-high, chunky liquid-like substance in which she stood. Its oily, room-temperature consistency felt polluted against her bare legs, and she cringed at the thought of what it could contain. How long would he keep her down here? And if it were too long, was he expecting her to quench her dehydration with a mouthful of this—sewage? A survival horror-story from her years in the Girl Scouts leapt from Jill’s memory (in which a trapped girl had resorted to drinking her own urine) and she shuddered uncontrollably, splashing muck up the front of her shorts.
Utter darkness prevented her from absorbing her surroundings any further, and she silently cursed herself for not observing her destination as she had been lowered into it, when the light from above had still been flooding through the ceiling. But instead, she had pled for her freedom, demanded explanations for her abduction, and simply cried, desperately attempting to duplicate her captor’s countenance within her mind, so that when she was finally safe at home again, she would remember it. And now, all she had retained was that the man had had several black tattoos on tan skin—and long jet-black hair to… his shoulders? She couldn’t remember. She tried once more to retrieve her mental picture, but all that would materialize was that sadistic smile he had adorned with perfect white teeth. Perfect white teeth surrounded by a curtain of black hair. No face. No recollection of any particular eye-color. No anything that would be useful in bringing him to justice. The only thing she could be certain of was that she had never seen the man before tonight.
As her initial fear of death calmed, Jill began to fully assess her situation, and it occurred to her that she might not be alone in this wet prison. Instinctively, she called out, “Hello?”
No response, but the acoustics of her shout rang off the walls in a fashion that suggested to her that the room was completely enclosed and slightly larger than her own bedroom at home, which had echoed in its emptiness before she‘d moved her furniture in—but not as profoundly. The sound did not seem to seep out, and no light was identifying any cracks where a door or window might have been. So the only way in or out of the pit (or the only way she had proof of) was the trap door some ten feet above her from which he had lowered her.
“Is there anyone down here with me?” she cried out, her rattled voice breaking off in the upward inflection of me, drying up in the space between her nose and throat. Already the thirst was unbearable, her mouth sticky-white dry, her lips cracking and splitting to receive the streams of sweat trickling from her philtrum. And there was the slight pain of hunger-cramps, despite the nauseating fumes that rose from the fluid at her knees. (Or are these symptoms of I-Got-Kicked-in-the-Ribs!)
The damp, acrid air around her stuck to her cheeks and forehead, mixed sloppily with her day-old makeup and produced a slimy film that she attempted to wipe away with the back of her sweaty hand. Yuck! She decided she wouldn’t touch her face anymore. She cringed, soaking in her sensation of filthiness. She felt more sticky-wet-disgusting than she ever had before. Worse than she had felt skinny-dipping in mud pools; sweaty-hiking through dust winds in Utah. It was almost enough to distract her from the predicament at hand… Almost.
“Anyone?” she begged. She took a step forward and…
Something floating on top of the liquid brushed against her right leg.
Jill screamed, jumped in a start, and the object drifted away in the darkness, making a small splashing sound as it collided against a wall (or something else). The mass had seemed quite large, and was soft and slick, a bit fuzzy, and squishy—like a big peach that had become much too ripe. Quickly, Jill’s shot at bravery was diminished and her fear returned in a sharp blow that forced her heart into a gallop. And then a disturbing “what-if”: Had it been floating? Or had it, in fact, been swimming…
You’ve got to get out of here, her inner voice insisted. Get out now.
Never in her life had she been more frightened than she was in that very moment, and Jill began to move forward, arms outstretched like a movie-mummy… searching for the wall she knew was there somewhere, and supplicating aloud not to meet with any more mysterious heaps. The abductor’s shining white smile invaded her mind again, and she saw it in front of her in the darkness, mocking her like a Cheshire Cat, whispering: “Best to leave the lights out down der, cher. You not gon’ wanna meet yuh roommates, no.” The smile widened and split in a cacophony of sadistic laughter.
Jill shook her head, dissipating the image. Best to leave the lights out. Was it possible that there was a light source down here? And a way to turn it on? You not gon’ wanna meet yuh roommates.
Roommates? Jill’s thoughts once again returned to the mass that had fondled her leg. Jesus! It’s alive! Suddenly every little trickle of moving fluid became audible. And though she already could see nothing, Jill closed her eyes tightly as she progressed her wade through the putrid pool of God-only-knew-what.
One step, and the only splashing sounds were made by her. Another step. Nothing. A third—
And her right leg once again met with a large fleshy mass. This time Jill swallowed her scream. She stood as still as possible, waiting for it to attack or swim away, and after several moments, it did neither.
Floating, she penetrated. Not swimming. Not alive.
Some higher power intuited what she did next, for she did it instantly, without analysis or thought of consequence; it was something that Jill would never have done had she ever realized she had a choice:
She brought her still-outstretched arms down to her sides, and knelt slightly to investigate the blob. In doing so, she noticed for the first time that the bottom of the pool was rather slick, and she was forced to come down on one knee to maintain her balance. There was no way she was going to put her face in this shit. That decision was still very much in her control. The stench immediately aggrandized, filling her nostrils like an alcohol, singeing the little hairs inside. She turned her face from the object in front of her but the fumes wafted up from the liquid all around, and the foulness of it was too intense.
She heaved. Fortunately she had skipped full meals over the past few days, and had let her bladder go during the beating she had taken prior to her encasement, so she wouldn’t be wading around in her own vomit or urine. (Like it matters, anyway.) What was a little puke over whatever this was under her fingertips? She cringed at the possibilities, but she had to know. Pinching her nose closed with one stinky wet hand, Jill began to explore the blob with her other.
It was soft and mushy, yet large and firm, with a slick finish not unlike the bottom of the pool on which she knelt. For a moment it reminded her of petting the stingrays at Sea World when she had been a little girl, and this organic-likeness made her convulse with sudden panic. She reacted by shoving the object away in a quiet slosh. She dared not explore it further. Whatever it was, it hadn’t hurt her yet, and she figured that to be enough information to constitute putting it out of her mind. She justified this by telling herself that it was the same as liking a food before you knew what was in it. But again, Jill shut her eyes to cast away the graphic interpretations that flashed in front of her dilated pupils, and she continued moving forward in the black.
One step. Two. The blob against her leg. She brushed it away and continued. Three, four, five…the blob again. Six, seven…the blob.
Again? Am I pushing it in circles? She was certain, even with stopping for her quick investigation, that she had walked only in a straight line. Was it possible that the space here was smaller than she had estimated? Or that it had become smaller? She thought about the soft, constant swishing sounds she had been hearing all along. Were these the sounds of the walls slowly closing in? Surely the fluid level would have been rising also then, right? She didn’t think the pool had gotten any deeper. (So maybe it is swimming! Slowly swimming…waiting—for the perfect moment to strike.) Whatever the case, it was coming in contact too frequently to be coincidental, right?
She was preparing to shove it on and continue when it came to her: bumping against the backs of her knees…and then against her left thigh…and then her right.
More than one. Four. Maybe more…and they’ve all collected here together on this side of the pool… a congregation of floaters! My… “Roommates”.
Panic erupted from her chest, but her scream was caught in her throat and she choked on it. Her eyes flew open widely to greet the horrors around her but were met only with familiar darkness and visions of what-could-bes. Her legs turned to gelatin between her hips and her knees, causing her to sway awkwardly as she pushed through the masses, and in her haste, she finally jammed her right middle-finger into a hard barrier.
As the pain shot up her arm and then down into her gut, her half-swallowed shriek was Heimliched violently, and she had to cover her ears to cut out the resounding skirl. When the echo finally died and she had come back to herself, she realized with sudden relief that she had found the wall. She only briefly attempted, with wet hands, to pull her finger back into place before giving up and beginning to search along its face with her left palm.
Like the inside of an old well, the wall felt as though it had been crafted with thousands of mortared rocks. Each stone she touched was a different size and shape from the last, and none stuck out far enough—or were dry enough—to climb. At the tips of her reach were what she assumed to be damp cobwebs, but she was reluctant to stretch much higher, lest she slip and fall completely into the rancid mystery-fluid.
Again the Cheshire Cat in the darkness: Best to leave the lights out. You not gon’ wanna meet yuh roommates.
Had he just said this to scare her? Obviously she was the only living thing being contained here. Nothing had attacked her, nothing had answered her cries. Was it possible that this was all just some kind of sick joke? Either way, this had been the blind-date to end all blind-dating. First, her online companion had not shown up. Then she had been knocked out and snatched up by this short-or-long haired, Cajun-sounding creep… Or…
Her date had been the creep all along. Suddenly she was regretting being one of those accept-everybody Facebookers…
Saturday night, middle of summer… She had thought the park would have been filled with people. But for some reason, it had been desolate tonight (if it was still tonight). Had she had a date-or-three in the past two years, she most certainly would’ve given up sooner and walked home, but in her desperation, she had waited until midnight to pry herself off the white-washed bench that had been designated as their meeting-place. She was so lonely, she had even sighed in relief when she heard the man’s voice call out from behind her as she stood.
Hey you. Had he said that, or had he said Hey Jill? She couldn’t recall now, but the voice had been soft then, welcoming.
Assuming it belonged to the extremely late date for whom she had spent the last three hours waiting to arrive, Jill had spun around with just enough time to see a flashlight before it crashed into her face. She had been awakened sometime after by a large brown boot to the ribs.
“You gon’ be mine now, cher,” the creep had boasted. “Fo’eva you be mine. Down der.”
Had he pointed at something? The trap door, maybe? She tried to put herself back into the moment but it was unbearable to recall, and each image that may have given her a clue to where she was, what she had done to deserve this, or how she could escape, was swiftly interrupted by another blow to the ribs or a fist to the mouth. She had tried to get answers from him; attempted to plead for her release, but the beating he was giving her had prevented her from clearly communicating with him—or—he hadn’t wanted to listen.
Who was this monster and what nightmarish events did he have planned for her? She had never really believed in the televised psychopath; never considered there were individuals in real life who tortured strangers for no apparent reason…
He had told her that he was going to keep her. Could she expect him to be coming back? Would it only be to pummel her further? To Death? Too many unanswered questions…too few, the clues…
Best to leave the lights out.
Back at the wall, Jill decided to move left, and began to inch her way along it, running her unbroken digits from the top of the pool to arms reach, feeling for a switch of any kind. I must seek this light, if there is one.
She was only a little surprised when she came to a sharp angle in the wall; a corner at which she turned onto another side of her boxy cell. She moved along this blockade in the same fashion as she had done the first, and after a period of what seemed like hours, she assumed that she had come back to the general area at which she had begun. (Four corners in a room, right?)
She was exhausted, and her thoughts were disturbed by the riddles that lingered in her mind: Where am I? Am I going to die here? How will I get out? Will the creep come back for me? Where in the hell is the friggin’ light switch? What floats against my legs!
As the last limb of patience broke from her tree of sanity, Jill fell back against the slimy wall behind her and slipped unexpectedly onto her rear, splashing the grotty substance up her torso and into her face.
She was immediately frightened at the idea of being so close to the mysterious blobs which plagued her introspection (and her nostrils), and Jill struggled several times to rise off the slick floor and onto her feet.
At last, after spending moments in a panicked struggle to keep herself upright, the tip of her index finger found a small notch in the wall above her.
Using the serration as one would the rung of a ladder, Jill attempted to pull herself up to a standing position once more. She was almost on her feet when the nick in the wall gave out under her weight with an ear-shattering crack and sent her plummeting face-up into the—
With her bewildered green eyes open under the surface of the murky liquid, Jill could see the lights above her flicker on, and she realized that the notch in the wall was, in fact, the switch she had been questing for all along. The glow from the fluorescents cut through the fluid in filters of green and brown, catching her blonde hair and shining white against its strands as they flowed in and out of her face. But this was obviously just water—really dirty water—in which she had been dunked.
Yet she was only granted a moment’s relief, for as she turned her still-submerged eyes to her side, her hair slowly unveiled the pool of blobs surrounding her…
Previous victims, all of them bloated and decaying, bobbed with their eyes wide and gray only inches from Jill’s face. She saw at least ten bodies in that one glance, each one bruised and beaten as she had been, their faces twisted and contorted and haloed by wisps of dead blonde hair—rotting with the rest of their parts; contaminating the water with their abandoning flesh.
You not gon’ wanna meet yuh roommates.
They were dead, as was the fate of everyone who entered the pit—and as Jill gasped in terror at the hideous monsters she swam with, she drew multitudes of the green-brown water into her weakened lungs, and joined them in their search for a new light.
Stacy Turner finished her makeup with the slightest touch of yellow eye shadow. She loved this color: it really brought out the hazel speckles in her emerald eyes. A few fast bursts of hairspray on her new bleach-job and she was ready. Her stomach was growling impatiently, but she was finally down to a size zero, so she could probably eat a small meal on her date tonight. She took one last look in the mirror and caught a glimpse of worry in her flawless face.
“People meet online all the time,” she reassured herself aloud. “Besides, it’s a Friday night in the middle of the summer. Everybody and their dog will be there…”