Suffocating silence had replaced the flood of liquid in the prison following Tatiana’s outburst. The water that threatened to drown the two prisoners had disappeared in a whirlpool beneath the drain on the floor, but it seemed like along with the water, the bronze grate had also greedily stolen all the oxygen in the oversized tank. The revolting stench of stale, sitting water hanging inside the room had been outmatched by the invisible odor of despair. Like carbon monoxide, it may not have been perceivable through the senses, but its effects had rendered Edward sickened to his core.
“Is that really true?” asked Edward, his voice shaking.
Tatiana’s gaze fell to her feet. “Yes, it is. I found out three weeks ago. I don’t have the money for the treatment and its already spread. Like I said, I’m as good as dead.”
“There is no ‘what about’, I don’t even have health insurance,” Tatiana interrupted. “You wear a suit; I wear a uniform. Put two and two together.”
I get it now, Edward thought. He replayed the events of the past few hours in his mind, focusing on the mouthy, reckless sprit beside him. He recalled her every action, expression, and word. As he figured, her initial fearful response to waking up in the tank had been pure human nature. The reality of her situation had dragged forth the real her, a woman who truly understood misfortune and had been staring death in its cold, unfeeling eyes longer than just a few hours. It wasn’t just about her sickness, she lived a different life than he did, one in which a single domino falling took the rest down with it. Death was never far away from her; it was always one job loss or bad diagnosis away. She did not desire it, but she also did not fear it nor the Butcher because they were one in the same—and always disturbingly near to her.
Tatiana sighed heavily, her lips parting wide as she blew out a deep breath. Once again, her eyes shot up, locking firmly with the center of one of the cameras. “So, that’s it. Let him go and kill me. You’d be doing both of us a favor, really.”
The loud screech of a malfunctioning microphone rang out through the speaker. The furious voice of the Butcher followed. “Why the hell didn’t you mention that you were ill?”
“Oh, my bad,” Tatiana started, “I should have warned you about that before you kidnapped my ass. How rude of me.”
“Damn it!” The killer roared into the microphone as the sound of objects crashing to the floor was audible in the background. In his rage, it seemed that he had neglected to mute the device, leaving the prisoners to bear witness to his frightening tantrum.
“What is your problem, huh? You wanted a victim, and here I am. What’s with the meltdown?”
Repetitious profanity and the slamming of fingers on a keyboard were the only responses for about a minute before the Butcher finally spoke again. “You smart mouthed, insignificant, little bitch. Do you have any idea what you’ve just done?”
“No. I don’t, actually.”
“My viewers don’t pay to watch me euthanize sick dogs; they’re threatening to tune out in droves!”
“Then kill me instead,” said Edward, his demeanor disarmingly calm.
Tatiana’s eyes doubled in size at Edward’s sudden suggestion. “What the hell are you doing, Edward?!”
Edward ignored the shocked and irritated woman beside him and continued to address the Butcher. “If they don’t want to watch you kill her because she’s sick, then just kill me instead. It’s like she said, I have everything to lose. If they don’t find that entertaining than I don’t know what to tell you!”
A convincing confidence carried through Edward’s delivery, but despite this, his legs shook wildly in his restraints as he made his proposition. It wasn’t a surprising sight to Tatiana; the spoiled blonde had made his fear of death obvious during their prior conversations. The question in her mind, then, was why he would suggest something that was, to her, so out of character and nonsensical.
“Are you dumb?” Tatiana cried. “I already told you, I’m dead no matter what. Why would you want to die for me anyway? What would that even accomplish for you?”
“Oh, I see,” the Butcher interjected. “You care nothing for your own life because death has already marked you, but you sure seem to care about whether or not I end his life.”
“No, I don’t care. But you made us a deal, so follow through on it you scumbag,” Tatiana challenged.
The Butcher’s disconcerting laugh erupted from the speakers accompanied by more rapid typing. After a moment, his voice, calmer than before, returned. “No, I’ve seen through your ruse now, Ms. Clarke.”
“What are you talking about?”
It’s like this, the Butcher explained. Drowning was out of the question now, that wasn’t what his viewers wanted anymore, and Tatiana wouldn’t care about that given her condition. Killing her and letting Edward go was out of the question too. After all, she had just made it clear that taking that approach would be favorable to her. Lastly, killing Edward and then Tatiana was uninteresting as well because her blasé attitude towards her own demise would render the whole thing pointless. So, then, the Butcher concluded, there is only one way to do this.
“The way to you is through him,” the Butcher said. “You want him to live for some reason, don’t you? And I bet you’d care a lot more about your life right now if you could stop me from killing him. What if I altered our little deal and gave you that chance?”
Tatiana cursed, biting down on her lip so hard she drew blood instantly. The Butcher struck a nerve. She had revealed too much of her character, and now she didn’t need to listen to what he was going to say next to know exactly what he intended to do. She directed her intense gaze at Edward who flinched at the sudden attention. “I think you should get ready.”
“What?” Edward asked, panic rising in his tone again.
Suddenly, the restraints around Edward and Tatiana’s wrists and ankles retracted, revealing themselves to be electronic and remote controllable in nature. The two prisoners plummeted to the bottom of the tank with two consecutive thuds. The large, imposing metal door that served as the only entrance and exit to the room swung open with startling force. It had also apparently been controllable through external means.
“The deal has changed,” the Butcher announced as his captives squirmed on the floor in the aftermath of their abrupt fall. “My loyal, refined viewers. Despite the hiccups, I assure you that tonight’s show will indeed be entertaining and worthy of your hard-earned money.”
“Edward, we need to get up. Now,” Tatiana said, scrambling to her feet on unsteady legs.
Edward rose slowly to his knees, wincing at the panging reverberating inside them. “I need a second...”
“I don’t think we have one,” the brunette asserted.
“The results of the poll are in, and I must say, my beloved viewers, you have impeccable taste,” the Butcher said with a worrying chuckle. “Now then, please enjoy watching as I remind this sick, unfortunate dog what it means to fear death.”
Tatiana pulled Edward to his feet as the lights in the room abruptly shut off. The darkness that enveloped them didn’t last long, remaining for only about five seconds before red lights flashed on, bathing the tank and the hall outside of it in eerie red illumination. “Come on,” she urged as she helped lead him out into the hall.
Before the pair could get their bearings, a sound suddenly echoed throughout the hall that stretched out behind and in front of them. It was an unambiguous sound, one that made their bodies erect perfectly with painful tensity. Their eyes opened wide in unison as their brains and ears confirmed to them that the noise had originated from a mere few feet behind them.
That sound was the unmistakable revving of a chainsaw.