Authors: Sibel Hodge
Tags: #Mystery, #romantic suspense, #crime, #psychological thriller, #Suspense, #amnesia, #distrubing, #Thriller
Pain everywhere. My back, my wrists, my legs. Even my hair hurts.
The worst of it is in my head. Hot, white shards of pain stabbing my skull. The effort of opening my eyes sends waves of nausea crashing through me.
Engulfing darkness. I can’t tell where the blackness ends and I begin. Why is it so, so dark?
I try again. Close my eyelids. Open. Close. Open. Nothingness still smothers me. I can’t see a thing.
Where am I? Am I dead?
Slowly, my senses return. Cold, rough hardness below me, against my back. The musty smell of damp earth. The sound of…I strain to listen, but all I hear is the pulse roaring in my ears, my heartbeat banging against my ribs, air whistling through my nostrils. And something else now. Drip. Drip. Drip.
I can feel and hear, so I can’t be dead. But what’s happened to me? Have I been in an accident?
That’s it. An accident. I’m in hospital. I’m lying on an operating table, and the anaesthetic is wearing off, leaving me in between sleep and wakefulness. That’s why I can’t move. That’s why I hurt so much. The same thing happened once to someone I knew. She was in the middle of an appendectomy and woke up. Just like that! She couldn’t feel a thing and couldn’t move, but she could see everything the doctors were doing. She could speak, too. They were shocked when she told them all she could see them.
Can I speak?
‘Hello?’ I try, but my mouth feels stuffed with cotton wool, my voice distorted and muffled.
So why can’t I see? Why is it so dark? Was it a car accident? A bomb blast? Terrorist attack?
I inhale a shallow breath. It doesn’t smell like a hospital. There’s none of the usual disinfectant and antiseptic odour. And what am I lying on? A trolley? A bed?
I move my right hand away from my stomach to touch what’s underneath me, and my left hand moves, too.
How can that be? Why are they stuck together?
I lift my head up instinctively, even though I can’t see a thing, and the pain surges forward, piercing through my eyeballs. The fingers on each hand seek out the opposite ones, touching, feeling. Something rough binds my wrists together. A rope, I think. I touch the scratchy material. Yes, definitely a rope. I pull my hands apart. No, they won’t budge.
Why am I restrained? What have I done?
A fragment of memory hovers on the edge of my consciousness. Something about…being held down in a bed. Tied to a bed. Screaming. No…it’s gone.
So, again, think. Why am I restrained? Have I tried to hurt myself? Hurt someone else?
I feel around my right side with both hands. Is that concrete I’m lying on? Brick? I’m not sure. It’s not smooth like a trolley. Not comfortable like a bed. I can’t feel sheets underneath me. I bring my hands up to touch my face and head. Running them over me, I can feel something gritty. Dirt, maybe. I wince as my hand touches a huge, swollen lump on the side of my head just above my right ear. Scalding pain sends black and white stars flashing before my eyes. My stomach lurches, and I roll onto my side and vomit. Hot, acidic bile burns my throat. Tears sting my eyes. I groan, clutching my head in my hands, and roll onto my back again with rasping breaths.
Then the blackness isn’t just in front of my eyes anymore. It’s in my head, too, as I sink into unconsciousness.
How long have I been asleep? An hour? A day? Two days?
I’ve got hunger pangs, but I’m not hungry. Far from it. My stomach contracts in spasms at the thought of food. I’m thirsty, though. My throat is as dry as an African plain. I swallow. Lick my cracked, dry lips.
I try to move, but I’m stiff. So stiff. The parts that don’t hurt are either numb or tingling with pins and needles. I move my legs only to find they’re restrained, too, and won’t budge. More rope? I wiggle my toes; that’s about all I can manage.
If I’m not in hospital, I must be in prison, then. Solitary confinement. But something is wrong with that theory. Prisoners aren’t restrained with rope. They’d use handcuffs.
My ankles and wrists are tied. I’m somewhere damp, mouldy. Lying on the bare ground. Slowly, I bring my knees to my chest. My left ankle screams in pain.
‘Argh!’ I cry out, my voice echoing off walls I can’t even see. I’m fully clothed. Wearing…a dress…flat ankle boots. OK, good. What else?
I don’t know.
‘Hello?’ My voice is hoarse, croaky.
No reply. Just the sound of dripping somewhere.
I must be underground. That’s what the earthy mouldiness smells like. Underground with darkness suffocating me. And I’m tied up. My body hurts. My head is killing me. But I can’t be in hospital, and I can’t be in prison, so what does that leave me with?
I’ve been kidnapped!
As the thought pops into my head, my stomach clenches. My heartbeat thumps wildly. I fight the urge to vomit again. I gulp in deep breaths of stale air. In. Out. Come on; breathe. In. Out.
Don’t panic. Think!
Who would kidnap me? Why?
We’re not rich. Comfortable, I suppose you’d say. Not well off enough for someone to want a ransom. That means there’s some other, sinister reason. Am I being buried alive in this darkness? Or kept for…Oh, my God! Kept here to be raped and murdered. Or tortured and murdered. Is it a good sign I’m not already dead, or does it mean things will get much, much worse?
I shiver uncontrollably. I don’t know if it’s from the cold or fear. Maybe both. I’m damp between my legs. I’ve wet myself, so I must’ve been here a while.
Clenching my hands together, I concentrate on trying not to hyperventilate while I think about what I really know.
I know I’m Chloe Benson. I’m twenty-seven years old. Married to Liam. I live at 16 Poplar Close in the Hertfordshire town of Welwyn Garden City. I teach English at Downham College. Liam works for Devon Pharmaceutical. So, as I said, we’re comfortable, but not
Liam will be wondering where I am. He’ll call the police. They’ll send out a search party for me. They’ll find me. Won’t they? But where the hell am I? How will they know where to look?
I bite down on my lip to stop a scream escaping.
Quiet. I must be quiet. If someone’s keeping me here, I don’t want them to know I’m awake. They might be close by, listening to my every move. I’m alive, at least for the moment. I want to keep it that way.
What’s the last thing I remember?
The pain in my head makes it hard to think. My memories are hazy, fuzzy round the edges, like an out of focus photograph.
I remember…a party. Drinks flowing. An unseasonably warm March evening. Someone’s house. My house. Yes, that’s it. Liam’s fortieth birthday party. A surprise for him. Something I hoped would cheer him up. Make things better between us. It’s been…difficult lately. Whatever I do isn’t right for him. Shouting, swearing at me. Those looks he gives me. He’s stressed with work. Stressed with life, I suppose, the usual. So, the party…yes, the party was to show him how much I still care about him. And afterwards… I was going to tell him something. Something important. I try to grasp for more but I can’t find it. It’s hidden somewhere in my head. My best friend Sara wasn’t there. She was leaving for India the day before. Not that I could’ve invited her anyway; Liam hates her. Just Liam’s friends and work colleagues were there. I can’t picture anyone specific, though.
Is it still March now? The party is the last thing I can really remember. The rest is just dense muchness.
Muchness? Is that a word? No, mushiness.
I curl up my toes. Clench and unclench my fingers. Must bring some warmth back. Stop the cramps. Must move. Must keep calm. Must get out of here. I want to stay alive.
I roll onto my side, brace my palms on the cold ground and push myself up into a sitting position. My head throbs. Dizziness engulfs me.
Breathe slowly. Come on, Chloe. In. Out. You can do this.
I swallow away the bile scorching my throat and wait. Five minutes. Ten.
Just breathe. Adjust. Take your time.
But I don’t know how much time I have before whoever has taken me comes back.
Move. I have to move. Do something. I will the pain in my head to stop, but it doesn’t.
I shuffle forwards along the floor on my backside with slow, shaky movements. I don’t get far before my feet hit something. I reach out and touch the obstruction with bound hands, my fingers connecting with cold roughness. Brick. A brick wall.
I roll onto my knees. Pressing my hands into the floor, I lift up until I’m standing. Everything sways. I rest my palms on the wall for support and take more gulps of air. I’m weak, and the adrenaline coursing through me is the only thing stopping me from collapsing.
The rope around my ankles is tight, and my feet only move about a centimetre independently of each other as I shuffle left along the edge of the wall, touching it with my hands. It doesn’t take long to meet the corner of another wall. I stop and breathe deeply before going back the way I’ve come. When I get to another corner, I calculate the wall is about seven metres long. I carry on about five metres going to my right, along this new wall, then another corner. It’s painstakingly slow. Round I go, until I’m pretty sure I’ve ended up where I started.
That’s when it really hits me, and a guttural cry escapes from my throat. I collapse to the floor, banging my knees on the solid ground.
I’m in some kind of underground tomb.
No, no, no, no! This is a dream. A nightmare. It has to be.
Or maybe I’m going mad. This is a hallucination of some kind. Have I taken drugs that have messed with the chemical reactions in my brain?
Reaction, reaction, reaction. That seems familiar somehow.
No. I can’t be asleep, and I can’t be drugged. I can feel pain. I can hear dripping. I can smell dankness and decay. Therefore, I must be awake, and I must be
Fingers of dread squeeze my insides. Fear slices through me. Someone has put me in this place. Someone has kidnapped and abandoned me in an underground tomb. Have they left me here to die, or are they coming back? Which would be preferable? To die down here alone, or be tortured, raped, and killed?
I cram a fist in my mouth to stop from yelling out. Hot tears slide down my cheeks. I have to get out of here. Somehow. But my head…oh, my head.
I roll onto my side, clutching my head in my tethered hands. It just hurts so much. And…
I open my eyes and stare into the black void that’s dark as a grave. I’ve been asleep again, dreaming of my honeymoon in Minorca. How many years ago? How long have we been married? Two years, I think. Depending on what date it is now.
Shit! Why can’t I remember?
Anyway, the dream. Yes, we rented a villa in the middle of nowhere and stocked up on supplies for BBQs. Salad, locally caught fish, wine, regional cheeses, fresh bread. Just us and our little hideout in the sun. Things were perfect between us then. Every day Liam told me how much he loved me. How the minute he saw me he knew I was the one for him. How proud he was that I was now his wife. We made love every chance we could get. We drove to the beach a couple of days and swam in the clear sea, so warm it was like a bath.
How long can you survive without water? If you’re stranded in a boat in the middle of the ocean, you can’t drink the water. Too salty. I’ve heard of people drinking their own piss to stay alive. The thought makes me gag.
My throat is so dry my tongue feels swollen, as if it’s too big for my mouth. I wiggle my tongue around frantically, working up some saliva, then swallow. Wiggle. Swallow. Can you last on saliva alone?
I stretch my trembling arms above my head. Flex my legs and toes. Sit up. The dizziness is back again, so I rest my head in my hands until it subsides. I shiver, teeth chattering, biting my tongue. I taste blood.