With the flow of water paused, the threat of imminent death had also been put on hold. A moment that should have been a relief for Tatiana and Edward was instead anything but. The Butcher had made it clear that the temporary respite was just that—temporary. He had a proposition to make, an ominous declaration to present considering his two prisoners had no leverage in their state of complete helplessness.
“As I stated before,” the Butcher started, his intimidating bass buzzing through the speaker. “It’s just the three of us at the moment. Listen carefully to what I have to say, do not be difficult. Is that clear?”
Tatiana and Edward nodded in unison, both looking one of the cameras in its center as though it were the Butcher’s eyes.
“Good. I’ve bled viewers since the last time we spoke, and the two of you are to blame,” the Butcher growled.
“What the hell did we do?” asked Edward.
“Your incessant arguing disrupted the flow of my stream. People pay to view these streams to witness pure human suffering, but your childish bickering is interfering with the mood my customers have come to expect.”
“Well, poor them,” Tatiana remarked.
“Quite the contrary. For some reason, my viewers found your silly fighting more entertaining than the usual begging and crying. They want more of it, and for the past few minutes you two have neglected to give it to them,” the Butcher said, irritably.
“So let me get this straight,” Tatiana started, “the sick freaks who paid to watch us beg, scream, and drown want to watch us yell at each other instead?”
“Yes, at least until the entertainment value has run its course.”
“Screw you!” Edward cried. “We aren’t here to be your audience’s little jesters, now let us go!”
A deep, quiet chuckle emerged from the speakers, sending a chill down Edward’s spine. “I’m glad you said that. As I said, I have a proposition for you two.”
“So, let’s hear it already,” said Tatiana.
“I’ve never had a stream come under these circumstances, and I stand to make more money than usual if I give the people what they want from you two.”
“But we have no reason to give you what you want,” Tatiana interjected.
“Precisely. So, I present you two with a proposition. Play along and give my audience what they want, and I will let one of you go.”
Edward’s eyes briefly lit up but then swiftly fell once his brain fully processed the offer. “Only one of us?”
“Yes. And I will even let the decision belong to the two of you,” the Butcher assured.
“Come on, why can’t you just—”
Edward attempted to bargain but was immediately interrupted by a stern Tatiana. “How do we know you won’t just kill us both anyway?”
“You don’t,” confessed the Butcher. “But I stand to make more money from the two of you arguing about it than killing you both outright at this point. So, trust me or don’t, the choice is yours. But decide who perishes or I will kill you both.”
The Butcher’s words were far from comforting, and he was certainly not trustworthy, but there existed no alternative to his offer. Comply or die. Simple.
“Fine,” Tatiana agreed. Edward tried to protest, but his voice was unimportant. The Butcher had received the answer he desired.
An unsettlingly jovial jingle played over the speaker as the Butcher once again began to speak. “The stream has now been resumed. To both those just joining and those who have remained, I have an announcement. Our prisoners will be given twenty minutes to debate which one of them will die. Additionally, I have created a poll in the chat for you, my valued viewers.”
“A poll? What the hell for?” asked Edward, his panic evident through cracking vocals.
At that moment, the water that had halfway submerged Tatiana and Edward’s chained bodies began to recede into the drain at the bottom of the tank. The prisoners shared a surprised glance before the Butcher’s disconcerting laugh emerged from the speaker once more. “A poll to decide how I kill the victim of your choosing, of course.”
Edward’s heart sank and his complexion paled. The water was draining, but there was no comfort. An unknowable number of individuals were about to gleefully vote on a method of murder for either him or Tatiana to suffer, and worse still, it would be up to the two of them to select whose life was going to end momentarily. For him, that was the worst part. Because no matter who would be chosen, someone would bear responsibility. There would be not one, but two killers: the Butcher and the survivor that would condemn the other to their grisly fate.
Tatiana, who calmly observed the turmoil visible upon Edward’s features, shook the chains around her wrists and ankles to command his attention. “Hey, don’t zone out on me. Remember what we have to do.”
“Like it’s that easy?” said Edward. “This sicko expects us to sit here and sell each other out for the entertainment of his psycho viewers!”
“Yes, that’s what he said.”
“Okay, really? What is your problem?!” said Edward, his patience with his fellow victim now completely gone. “This entire time you have not behaved like a normal person in the slightest!”
“What do you want me to say, rich boy? I already told you, I live in reality. What’s the point in freaking out about any of this?”
“So, let me get this straight, it’s easy for you to decide who will be horrifically murdered between the two of us?”
“Yes,” Tatiana said, flatly. Edward roared with frustration in response.
It was almost amusing for the captive brunette to watch Edward squirm with rage. To her, he looked like a child throwing a temper tantrum. It wasn’t that his anger was a joke to her, but rather, she found it fascinating how much torment the supposed successful businessman was suffering through over a decision that was so simple to her. In her eyes, his anger over her composure would be cute if it wasn’t so annoying. He understood so little about her, but she understood him perfectly.
Edward’s face telegraphed an inability to find the words to an adequate response, but he didn’t need them because Tatiana spoke first. “Let me ask you something, rich boy. What were you doing when you were abducted?”
“I stayed late at the office,” said Edward. “I was trying to finish up some stuff before my promotion. Last thing I remember is getting grabbed from behind when I went to get in my car. What’s your point?”
“My point is, as you said earlier, look at me.” Tatiana looked down at her soaked, grocery store uniform clad body and back up to Edward’s confused face. “When I got nabbed, I was coming off another stressful, asshole-filled shift at the local store. Psycho must’ve been hiding in my backseat, but that’s not important. What I’m saying is, isn’t the choice here obvious?”
Edward growled loudly, his ferocity bouncing off every wall in the large, glass tank. “No, it isn’t. Speak plainly already, you’re pissing me off!”
“I’m saying, it’s all just as you said. People would miss you if you were gone, right? And you’ve got that stupid little promotion of yours to look forward to, right? So—”
“So, because I have status and you don’t, I should live? Is that it?” Edward interrupted.
Tatiana groaned and huffed, wishing with every fiber of her being that she could pinch the bridge of her nose with white knuckle strength. “No, I don’t give a shit about your status. Let’s try it this way, do you have an answer? Do you know which one of us should die?”
“Of course not, I’m not insane!”
“Right,” said Tatiana. “You’re a college educated guy, right? Think of this like a philosophy problem. Both answers are bad, sure. But who deserves to live more, the one with everything to lose, or the one with nothing? It’s not hard.”
“Just because you’re broke and have a shitty job doesn’t mean you have nothing to live for. Jesus, shouldn’t you be the one telling me this?”
For the first time since awakening in bondage, Tatiana was beginning to lose her cool. She had tried to bait Edward a bit into anger a bit to appease the Butcher’s conditions, but now she was really starting fall into a fit of frustration. “I know that, you complete moron! I have tons to live for. Even though I’m in debt, have no family to speak of, and live in a ratty, putrid apartment, I want to live, okay?!”
“Then why are you suggesting that we choose you? Because I called you a bum and insulted your uniform?” asked Edward, who was at wits end with the woman beside him.
Tatiana shook with rage and shouted from deep within. “Because I’m already dead, you dumbass! I have stage 4 cancer, okay?!”
Edward’s face fell as the remainder of the water swirled down into the drain, creating a brief slurping sound that gave way to eerie, dead silence. “What...?”