Coming March 30th
The terror of dying had vanished—now I prayed for it.
His dagger-like nails tapped slow and precise up my neck until he reached the underside of my chin. He caressed the sensitive area with the pad of his finger then shoved his thumb upward between the curves of my jaw bone. It forced my mouth shut and I bit down hard on my tongue. Blood began to pool in my mouth and I couldn’t swallow with the pressure.
I breathed in and out frantically through my nose. I was going to choke on my own blood. I was going to die.
“Tilt your head,” he ordered.
The pressure increased and I turned my head, exposing the side of my neck. He moved his thumb away and I quickly spit out the blood. Remnants dribbled from the corners of my mouth and down my chin.
“Beautiful,” he purred, then curled his hand around the back of my neck and lifted slightly. I clenched my hands into fists, waiting for the familiar pain. I refused to scream—it made no difference anyway—no one was rescuing me from this monster.
I squeezed my eyes shut as he leaned over me, the odor of black licorice flooding my nostrils. He hissed and it sounded like the slow drag of a zipper being undone. I tensed and stopped breathing just before his fangs pierced my neck.
I silently cried as I lay unmoving, powerless to refuse him, frozen in the nightmare that had become reality. His lips were cold against my skin as he sucked the warmth of my blood. Each pull draining my strength until my hands unclenched and my nails embedded in my palms, released.
His tongue flicked over my neck and he lifted his head. “My sugary, Danielle.”
His voice was a calm melody, as if a paintbrush across a fresh white canvas, sweeping, rhythmic and subtle. I hated how it was captivating, how I compared it to something I loved, but I had no control over it.
I lay limp as the shackles released and cold, fish-like hands grabbed my arms and dragged me across the damp, dirt floor to the cage. My haven. Away from him. Away from the torture.
The monster threw me inside and I landed hard on my knees then collapsed to my side. The door slammed and locked.
The cage lifted off the ground, rocking back and forth as it was cranked upward until it settled next to two other cages.
I was so cold. Endless shivering that made my muscles ache from constantly trying to provide my body with warmth. My throat was dry and hoarse from screaming, as if a razor blade had scraped the flesh.
“Jesus.” A few feet away I heard the familiar graveled voice—Balen, my only comfort here. The rusted pipes overhead groaned as the continuous spray of water sprinkled inside his cage. “Christ, I’m sorry.”
It took too much energy to move, but I opened my eyes to look at him. My neighboring prisoner gripped the bars, knuckles white. His tense body a spring wound up so tight that it looked ready to fracture. His leg hung at an odd angle, mangled from the sledge hammer they tortured him with.
Despite his ravaged body, he was beautiful. Tattoos contoured to the hills and valleys of his muscular arms and chest. I’d caught a glimpse of a tiger on his lower back that was so intricate it looked alive. But it was his eyes that captivated me. Brilliant green, piercing and hard, filled with a haunting torment. When he was angry, the green darkened and looked almost black.
“Don’t you dare give up.”
I had already. I never thought I would in the beginning, but now…
“Look at me!” I heard what sounded like his fist pounding into the metal bars. “Look. At. Me.”
His tone was furious, and yet, I wasn’t scared of him. How could I be? He was all I had in this place.
Our eyes locked and the tension in his jaw eased. “You need to drink, Danni. Move closer.”
Water. I closed my eyes and imagined holding a cool glass of water and chugging it back; the liquid sliding down my throat, coating the harsh dryness. I’d never thought about the daily bottles of water I’d consumed, but now … now it was all I thought about. “I’m not letting you die, damn it.” His voice was harsh and abrupt and yet to me it was soothing.
Fearless. That’s what he was. He never screamed when they tortured him, never broke. I wanted that. To be brave again. But he had sucked it out of me.
I crawled across the metal floor and put my hands through the bars, cupping them together. I closed my eyes, afraid he wouldn’t be able to reach me this time.
But when the cool saturation hit my skin, tears pooled in my eyes. Water trickled through the crevices between my fingers and I quickly jolted back, afraid to lose a single drop of what he offered.
I licked my palms, the wetness adhering to my throat—velvet.
I reached out again and this time opened my eyes. He collected the water from the shower head attached to the top of his cage. It was a light spray and it took agonizing minutes just to gather a small handful.
We repeated the process five times, until my arms resisted rising any longer. “Thank you,” I whispered.
He sat and leaned up against the bars, leg bent and his arm resting on it; casual and indifferent and yet everything in his expression contradicted it. “Damn it Danni, you need to lock your mind from your body. Shut it down like I told you.” He sounded angry, but I knew it was because he was worried. “Separate the two. Don’t let him win.”
It was too late for that. He’d won the battle already.
I curled up on my side in a ball, my knees to my chin and my arms wrapped around them, trying to provide myself with some sort of warmth.
Then I closed my eyes and prayed for the darkness to take me.
I thought I heard him say something else, but I was already slipping into the void. It didn’t matter anyway. Nothing did.