1 | The Men in Black
The oncoming vehicle on the other side of the gravel road suddenly swerves, blocking our path.
My sister, Beth, gasps as she slams on the brakes. Both of us jerk forward before being thrusted back into our seats. Instantly she shuts off the radio and the only source of sound becomes our heavy breathing as we turn to look at one another. My heart is already racing.
From my peripheral I see a flash of movement from the ditch. Slowly, nervously, I crane my head and look out of my window just as a tall person, clearly a man, emerges. He’s dressed in all black, including the balaclava that masks his face. He holds a firearm out in front of him that has something protruding from the barrel—a silencer.
Beth shrieks and I look over at her. Through her window I can see there is another black-clad man who, like the man I had seen on my side of the vehicle, has a gun with a silencer attached to the barrel. My eyes are wide as I look back out of my window, seeing that whoever has emerged from the ditch is no less than a foot away from my sisters car.
“Oh my God!” Beth cries, the sound shrill to my ears. “Get down!”
I do as I am told, trembling as I fold over onto my lap. From outside of her car there are four heavily muffled shots and we bounce in rhythm with each one. The two men with the guns have blown out all four of her tires, leaving us heavily compromised, if not completely unable, to drive away.
Beth starts whimpering like a wounded animal. She stirs and I peek over at her, crouched like I am, seeing that she has started crying. Slowly, as though moving my arm any faster will risk me getting shot, which I’m certain it will, I reach over and lace a hand with hers. She clutches onto it tightly, squeezing it, and my hand begins to numb.
“Put the vehicle into park!” One of the men shout. I do not know which side the demand comes from, although it doesn’t really matter.
It takes a few seconds for Beth to comply, but she does. I watch her hand as it quivers violently before she continues cradling it to her body. I feel indifferent to the situation but it is only because I have not registered it yet.
“Now roll down the driver window three inches!” Is their second demand.
Beth lets out a harsh sob, one that grates my ears when I hear it. I watch as she shakes her head, in denial about what she has been requested to do. She peeks over at me with her rheumy eyes.
“How much is three inches?”
I almost want to laugh at the blank she’s drawn. Beth is a hairdresser.
But I too shake my head, not completely sure. I’ve never been good with approximation. Still, however, I use my free hand and approximate with my index finger and my thumb. Yet when I see how much my approximated three inches is, I shorten it a bit. It still seems too much. I shorten it again. Still too much. I must shorten my finger to a little over an inch. Still too much.
“I can’t roll down the window,” Beth whispers to me. I nod slowly, understanding her fear. We’re boxed in, and it feels safer, but I know it’s just illusional.
“Where’s your phone?” I ask, my voice shaky, registering the terror that occupies my blanking mind.
“Its in my purse in the backseat,” she licks her lips, clenching her eyes shut. “Where’s yours?”
“Carry-on bag in the trunk,” We both know at this point we can’t reach back or we risk being shot at. We’re sitting ducks. They may end up killing us anyway, but we don’t want to speed up the process.
There’s a rough knocking on Beth’s window, knuckles against glass. Beth and I both flinch, our grip on each others hands tightening.
“Yoo-hoo,” the man says impatiently. “I’ll give you to the count of three.”
“What do you want?” Beth screams, her voice shrill from panic.
“Your car keys,” the same man replies. ”One...”
There’s a pause before I hear a voice from my side of the vehicle.
There’s a slam that echoes from in front of us, followed by a third male voice.
Beth roles down the window roughly three inches before the countdown is finished. I watch in horror as she removes the keys from the ignition. The interior lighting of the vehicle dims down to nothing, the engine stops running. The brass jingles like wind-chimes as she tosses the keys out of the window. They hit the ground and the man grumbles something explicit as he bends down to pick them up.
I realize the power she has now given them. They can unlock the doors. They can throw us out of the vehicle and hijack it. But if they want to take the car, why did they blow out the tires?
The man with the keys pops the trunk. I can’t help but sit up as he does this and Beth does the same. My luggage is in there. I’ve brought two suitcases and one carry-on bag.
The man begins to rummage around and I hear him drop my suitcases onto the ground before he slams the trunk shut. They’ve robbed us—or, rather, have robbed me. My grip becomes tighter on Beth’s hand as I watch the man sling my carry-on bag over his shoulder, gun tucked under the same arm, before picking up my suitcases.
We’re captivated by what is going on, watching as the man walks around the driver side of the vehicle without acknowledging us. As he passes we have to follow him through the windshield, and we see the third man who is dressed identically to them. He takes a suitcase and throws it into the bed of his vehicle, a heavy-duty truck, one favoured by jobs involving manual labour.
Our breathing is heavy. Frigid air seeps in through the window. I watch as they throw the rest of my travelling gear into the bed of the truck. There’s not much of value—clothes, toiletries, books...my phone. It can all be easily replaced. I’m grateful I kept my wallet in the jacket I currently wear.
“Hey!” One of the men shout, the only one without the gun; the driver of the vehicle who had swerved in front of us. Beth and I both snap to look at him, thinking he has addressed us.
But it is not us he beckons. The man on my side of the vehicle, who has been steady with his gun the whole time, begins to walk up to them. He doesn’t drop the gun, pointing at us through the windshield as he joins the group. They begin to discuss something under their breaths so we can’t hear. The man with Beth’s keys has placed his gun in the waistband of his pants.
The two men glance at us occasionally, but the one who was glued to my side of the vehicle doesn’t peel his eyes away for a second. Beth and I can’t make a move, we can’t run. He’ll shoot us. We’re stuck, doomed, only able to dubiously await their departure.
“They’re going to kill us,” Beth mumbles under her breath. I look over at her, eyes wide. It’s one thing to fear it in silence, but it’s another to hear it verified aloud by someone else.
She brings the back of my hand to her mouth and kisses it before rubbing it against her cheek. My eyes water as she does this and my lips part from my teeth in fear. It begins to hit me now, the severity of our situation. They have guns, they have Beth’s keys. They are three tall, brawny men. We are two small women.
“I’m going to reach for my phone,” Beth alerts me, giving my hand a tight squeeze before releasing it.
I shake my head.
“They’ll shoot us.” I whisper.
“Its pitch-black. They can’t see what we’re doing in here.”
Beth begins to lean back and I stare straight ahead, prepared to warn her if they seem suspicious. It seems that she’s right and they can’t see us. But sweat still beads by my hairline and I now understand how it feels to be in a situation where life becomes precarious.
She rummages around in her purse, trying to find her phone amidst all the rubble. My breathing is heavy as I look at the man who still points the gun at us. He can’t see anything, but it feels like he sees everything. I feel like he’s playing a game, allowing us to arm ourselves with a false sense of security.
Without looking away he nudges the man with the keys. He shakes his head, dismissing him, but he nudges him again. I tap Beth’s shoulder.
“What? Oh! I—”
Her car chirps as the doors are unlocked. The interior and exterior lights are set ablaze and Beth faces forward in her seat, phone in her hand. Her blue eyes are wide with earth-shattering horror, pupils small as needlepoints. Amidst my panic I manage to press the button on the side of the door, locking them again.
“Throw the phone out of the window!” The man with the elevated gun demands, stealthily approaching us.
“What are you going to do to us?” She hollers.
“I said throw the phone out of the window!” He repeats, jumping onto the hood of the car. He points the gun down not at Beth, but at me. I hold my hands up in surrender, paling, holding my breath.
She looks up at him, at the gun, then at me. Conflict splinters her mind. I can tell that she doesn’t want to throw out what seems like our only lifeline, but she also doesn’t want to see her sister get shot. She bites her lip as she slides her phone out of the window. It hits the ground with a thud, much like the way our throats collapse into our stomachs.
The man with the gun looks at where the phone has dropped and shoots it. Beth and I both shriek, huddling into one another over the armrest. There follows a moment of silence—raw, pure, eerie. No heavy breathing, no blood rushing through veins, no movement. It’s calm. I pray that the men will walk away and leave us with our lives.
But it’s not that easy.
I peek just as the man without the gun points at us. My eyes go wide as he begins to approach my side of the vehicle. I prod Beth. My breathing picks up, my vision tunnels. She doesn’t look up. I prod her again.
The man with the keys unlocks the vehicle.
"Oh my God!” I screech, hitting the button to lock the door again. The man fidgets with the handle and I know I need to get out of my seat. Beth is one step ahead of me, unlocking my seatbelt as she grips my biceps to pull me onto her lap. I latch onto her like a toddler as the vehicle chirps once again.
Beth tries to hit the button to lock the doors but she’s too late. We’re both screaming bloody murder as the man ducks in, grabbing my ankle before I can pull it away. The man that stands on the hood of the vehicle jumps off, joining he who holds Beth’s keys, watching this scene unfold.
Beth holds onto me for dear life as I kick at the man, unable to land anything substantial.
“Help me!” I cry as I really, truly begin to panic. “I don’t want to go!”
“Let her go!” Beth screams.
He yanks my ankle and my grip falters. I’m pulled back, but not yet completely detached as Beth grips onto my wrists. I fear she’ll dislocate my shoulders but that’s the least of my concerns as the man wraps his arms around my abdomen suffocatingly tight. I’m sobbing at this point, screaming, synchronized with Beth.
Just as I’m separated from Beth she hollers something, as though she has just realized it, that I don’t comprehend.
"This is all my fault!"
My legs kick in the air as I blindly flail my arms. My feet hit the side of the car and impulsively I push off, throwing off the mans equilibrium. He grunts, stumbling back into the ditch. I see movement from the idle men just as the one holding me collapses onto his back. The moment he greets the ground he lets me go.
The ditch is steep and tumultuous. We both roll through weeds and grass that has grown through the scree, unable to catch ourselves until we reach level ground. Ignoring my battering I stand and attempt to run back to my sisters car. Beth has crawled into the passenger seat, preparing to come after me.
But just as she’s about to exit the vehicle one of the men strikes her across the jaw with the butt of their gun. She goes slack instantly and although I know it may be suicide running to her, I do it anyway.
I’m grabbed from behind once again and lifted into the air. I’m screaming out for Beth, crying, fearing that she’s been hit too hard.
“My sister!” I plead as I’m dragged towards their truck. “Is she dead?! No, please! My sister! Don’t leave her! Please!”
“Get ready!” The man who holds me yells. I’m trying my best to fend him off—squirming, gyrating, kicking, hitting. He’s tall, easily more than double my weight, and seems unaffected. I know I cannot slip free, but that doesn’t stop me from trying.
My eyes are locked in on Beth as I hear someone start the truck. It roars to life, skyrocketing my fear. Once I’m in their vehicle I’m fully at their disposal. I only have seconds.
I throw elbows, hitting the man in the side of the head numerous times, but again he seems unaffected. I can’t discern what’s going on. Im being abducted. I’ll be a missing persons case, maybe even murdered.
Beth’s arm twitches, her head moves, she touches a hand to her jaw. She looks over at me, disoriented, just as I’m thrown onto the floor in the back of the truck. The seats are pulled up. I scramble to stabilize myself but the man who grabbed me jumps in before I can and slams the door shut. The doors are locked—child locked. I desperately try to unlock and open them, but to no avail.
The vehicle jerks into action and I’m knocked onto my side. I struggle to catch my bearings as I pull myself onto my knees. The driver turns the vehicle, steering it the same way Beth and I had been driving. I look out the back window, and through the tail lights I see Beth chasing after us. I scream, pounding my hands against the glass, just as she is swallowed by dust.
Once I can no longer see her I fall silent, unable to move, stiffened by fear. I’m in a vehicle with three men who have abducted me. Beth is stranded. This is a backroad, a shortcut. There are no houses nearby. She’ll have to wait for a vehicle to drive by, which can take hours, as many hours as walking to the nearest city or town. In this moment I’m more worried for her than myself.
“She’s right, Blythe,” says the man who grabbed me. Chills flutter up and down my spine as he says my name. He’s not supposed to know my name. There’s no way for him to. “This is all her fault.”
My breathing picks up. I’m too afraid to speak. My anxiety spikes. He knows my name. How does he know my name? I can’t stop looking out the window as if I expect to see Beth in the bed of the truck, stronger than ever, a hero in disguise.
“But in the end it is Beth that wins,” I feel a hand brush my hair over my shoulder. Goosebumps litter my flesh. I’m petrified. “And it is you that loses.”
Tears gather in my eyes and my lips wobble. They’re going to take me somewhere and do unspeakable acts to me, then they’re going to kill me and leave me for the animals. Silently this reels in my mind, casting me further into panic. But it is not the fight or flight kind of panic, it’s the freeze.
“And I,” he says. ”I win too.”
My heart races erratically as my breath fogs the glass. My ears start ringing, my eyes are wide. My limbs feel like jelly. I’m too afraid to move. He knows my name—they know my name. They know Beth’s name. They know us, somehow.
I open my mouth, trying to find something to say, to ask, but nothing comes to mind. I draw a blank, thoughts becoming elusive, playing peek-a-boo. Before I can stop myself I begin to scream like a banshee.
A leather-clad hand is instantly placed over my mouth and I’m tackled onto the carpeting. I try to fight him off but he easily overpowers me, straddling me, pinning me beneath him. I shake my head, the tears falling like rain. I grab at his neck, screaming into his hand, rendered almost inept. I should’ve remained calm, but I’m not calm. I’m terrified.
He keeps his hand over my mouth, extending the other one to the passenger.
“I need it now.”
Wordlessly the passenger pulls out a clear glass vial from the sunglasses compartment. He pops open the lid and taps some white powder onto the tip of the mans leather-clad finger. I shake my head more erratically but he applies more pressure onto my mouth, positioning my head in place.
He sticks his finger under my nose and I hold my breath, although I hadn’t been prepared to do so beforehand. My lungs burn almost instantly, my eyes clench shut, and when I no longer can hold my breath I inhale the powder. Instantly I feel sluggish and the man removes his palm from my mouth.
I wipe at my nose with the back of my hand, my vision becoming blurry, limbs lethargic. I let out a whimper as I stare up at the roof of the truck. My mind is numb. My eyes start to shut on their own accord, but I fight it weakly for a few moments.
The man straddling me gets off and removes his balaclava. I can’t make him out as he hovers over me and smoothes my hair away from my face. I furrow my brows, moving my head to the side—the last action I manage.
“Your sisters insufficiency is my profit.”
I float in a sea of ink.