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Sometime the next day – Deborah took it to be morning, but it was impossible to tell in the perma-dark of the basement room she felt certain would one day become her tomb – the door creaked open again.
‘Have you spoken to Him yet?’ were his first words to her, his eyebrows arched, his face like that of a child asking a parent if they could play their favourite game.
She winced at the noise as it stabbed into her ears like knitting needles, looked up and furrowed her brow.
‘Who? What are you talking about?’
His face dropped instantly, his eyes falling to the floor.
It was as though a shadow had fallen over him.
He shook his head, furious.
‘If you have to ask you haven’t spoken to Him yet,’ he snapped.
She clicked what he was talking about. ‘I thought He’d have told you if I’d spoken to Him,’ she teased.
He didn’t answer, he was busy.
Before she could say anything else, he’d slipped the needle into her arm and everything had gone warm and fuzzy again.
‘Remember pain is good for the soul,’ he grinned, brandishing the knife with glee.
When he’d done taking this pound of flesh, he said, ‘You will find Him in this room, believe me. And only He will help you get through this. Look for Him.’
And with that he had cauterised this fresh wound and left her in darkness again.
The next morning, he came in and she could see that he was anxious about something.
‘I apologise with all my soul,’ he said, his head bowed in penance.
For one insanely hopeful second she thought he was going to tell her that this was all some crazy-ass joke and he was setting her free.
Before this possibility could flower properly in her mind, he began to speak again.
‘I have come to realise that you have been in here for three days without having a wash. This is simply unacceptable.’
He didn’t dare to meet her eye, and it was strange, as though she suddenly had all of the power in this fucked up scenario.
He moved his weight from foot to foot, his right hand rolling a patch of hair on his bare right thigh.
Her eyes were drawn to the raised patches of scars on the outside of his leg. They were faded yet still prominent, like a secret message rendered in braille on his skin.
‘I am so sorry, my child.’
‘How dare you,’ she said, going with her gut instinct. While he was like a naughty child, she was going to treat him like one and see where it left her. ‘God is very angry at you for this.’
He flinched at each word as though it was a hurled projectile.
To her amazement, he began to sob. ‘I know He is. And I’m sorry for treating you this way.’
Also to her amazement was how truly out of his mind he was; the fact that he had kidnapped and imprisoned her and was carving a little bit of her away every day in some insane divine mission was normal to him, but God forbid she go a few days without a wash.
She almost giggled at the absurdity of it all, but the idea of how truly unhinged and dangerous he was really hit her at that point.
‘It is unacceptable,’ she spat.
Again he flinched.
He looked the very definition of a naughty school boy, albeit a naked, dog-collared one with the eyes of a psychopath.
He said nothing, but she could make out the tears as they rolled down his cheeks and plopped onto the floor.
‘I’m sorry. There’s just so much going on at the moment. I’m trying so hard, really I am.’ He then trailed off and began muttering to what she assumed was God.
He paused, as if listening to someone replying, and he looked so intent that Deborah believed he was hearing someone.
Her veins were suddenly flooded with iced water.
His eyes rolled back in his head a little, exposing bloodshot whites.
He let out a low moan, nodding his head slowly.
Then he straightened.
His eyes returned to their normal position and he said, ‘Thank you.’ It wasn’t clear whether this was to her or to God.
Before she knew what was happening, he had darted out of the room.
When he returned, he was holding a hosepipe.
‘Let’s get you cleaned up,’ he said. ‘After all, cleanliness is next to Godliness.’ He smiled a psycho’s grin then turned the hose on her.
The force of the ice cold water took her breath away. She felt certain it was hitting hard enough to leave bruises.
‘Turn around,’ he ordered, his tone suggesting that his moment of despair and penance was over.
Once more he was in charge.
She did so, welcome of the break on her front.
Her back was pounded with the water.
When he’d finished, she was red raw, shivering and dripping ice cold water.
He shoved a bath towel through the bars, taking care not to take too close a look at her naked body while he did so.
‘I bet that feels better, doesn’t it?’ he said, nodding his head and smiling.
She was starting to learn his moods already and how to respond to them.
She knew when he was in psycho mode that utter capitulation was the best way.
‘A lot better. Thank you very much. I feel closer to God already.’
He smiled until this last sentence and she cursed herself a little bit, having seemingly ruined the delicate precipice on which his mood teetered.
‘Well so you should,’ he said with a smile that she could easily imagine on his face at church fares and when talking to elderly parishioners.
She felt his eyes on her while she was getting dried, and begged to ask him if he’d seen enough, if his wank for that night was sorted, but she knew that this was akin to suicide so she bit her tongue.
‘I’m sorry if I’m making you uncomfortable,’ he said. ‘But I need the towel back once you’re done with it.’
He didn’t answer, just kept staring at the floor by her soaking feet.
She hurried up, eager to get his eyes off her.
‘My clothes are wet. Do you have others for me?’
He shook his head. ‘Put them back on please. It will be warm today, they will dry.’
She did as she was bid, more to have his leering gaze off her naked body than anything else.
She shoved the towel through the bars, having the crazy idea that she could grab him and attack him while he was there.
But when he came in, she realised that she didn’t dare to do it.
‘Can I have some food, please, Reverend Cross? I’m starving in here.’
He shook his head, solemn.
Suddenly, his mood changed back to the overprotective father figure.
‘My goodness,’ he said. ‘I have forgotten something else too.’
He beckoned her to the bars, and she thought that finally he was going to give in to the thoughts that it was obvious he was having about her.
But instead of grabbing a breast or poking at her genitals, he gingerly touched the first of the wounds where he’d cut the flesh loose from her thigh.
‘That looks infected,’ he mused, pressing slightly harder until Deborah grunted with the pain and a small amount of white-green pus dribbled from the edge of the wound.
‘Again, I’m sorry. My thoughts are very unfocussed at the moment.’
He disappeared again, and she noticed that he was in such a flap that he forgot to close the door to the room.
She noted this for future use; surely it would come in handy if he dropped his guard again.
She counted, trying to figure out how far he had gone.
Ninety-two seconds later he came back, clutching what looked like a cannula.
Her fear of needles hit her with a vengeance, and she was again struck by the little peculiarities of the situation; she was learning to cope with the nutjob carving a chunk of her thigh out on a daily basis, but a needle was what terrified her.
‘No, please, I don’t like needles,’ she sobbed.
‘Whether you like it or not doesn’t come into it,’ he said. ‘In order to give you a fighting chance you need to take it. Or else you will die in the next few days.’
‘I’d rather die than go through this day after day,’ she blurted.
His brow furrowed, his lips pursed.
His head slowly shook from side to side.
‘That is not acceptable,’ he said. ‘You will never meet God if that is the way you feel.’
Before she could respond, he moved in, shoved the syringe through the side of the cage.
Her legs betrayed her, dumping her on the soaking wet floor of the cell.
He unlocked the door, ignoring her terrified cries as he shoved the antibiotic needle into her thigh and pressed the plunger.
‘Day three,’ he said. ‘Another day closer to finding Him.’
And then the cutting began again.
Over the next few days, Deborah’s mood slowly lowered.
The defiant mind-set she’d had in the start had deserted her.
Already, she felt broken and she wasn’t even a week into this Hell.
She felt ashamed of herself; she’d thought she’d have been strong enough to get through this.
Her tears were warm on her cheeks, drawing small clouds of steam as they hit the air.
It was cold in here now and the water lying around on the floor from the twice-daily hosedowns made it hard to find a dry spot to sleep or sit in.
Her clothes were chafing on her skin horribly now.
She’d have preferred sitting in her own filth over the ice cold hosings.
At least I’m getting a dose of antibiotics every day, she thought grimly.
After the pound of flesh had been taken this time and the poker used to cauterise the wound in this sinister little ritual, she felt at a particularly low ebb.
She counted the number of missing chunks of her leg.
Thirty-one more days of this Hell.
She felt this was the most depressing thought she’d ever had.
The lack of food was making her belly crawl beneath her skin.
She constantly felt sick from the incessant blazing hunger.
Her ribs now poked through her flesh.
The curves that Lee had loved so much had dwindled away to nothing.
Oh God, Lee! She thought.
The ordeal hit her anew and she cried for her boyfriend, her sister and all of her friends, but especially for the life which had been beaten out of her womb.
Head in hands, she sobbed uncontrollably, able to see only one way out.
When he came in with the hose this time, she racked her brain for how she could put him into his frantic state of mind where he seemed to forget things.
She had it.
He came in, whistling what she was sure was a hymn, but coming from his thin lips it was sinister as hell.
‘Good morning,’ he beamed.
She didn’t let him get into his spiel.
‘Where were you with the hose yesterday? You missed a whole day. I’m unclean. God is angry at you again.’
He furrowed his brow, and she could see he was trying to think if what she was saying was true.
In his panic, he dropped the hose and the towel and ran out of the room.
She saw what she needed there and she crawled on her belly over the edge of the cage.
If she stuck her arm through the bars she was sure she could reach it.
She did so, and the towel was easily within her grasp.
She smiled at the rare piece of luck in this vile episode.
Towel in hand, she managed to twist it through the bars to fashion a makeshift noose that hung from the top of the cage.
The cage was high enough for her to swing from, so she carefully climbed up the bars, gripped them tight with her knees and shoved her head into the noose.
She looked around the squalid basement room that was currently her entire world, to take a final decision.
Then she let go with her legs, pulling her body down hard.
The towel cinched in tight around her neck, swiftly cutting off the flow of air and blood to her brain.
She began to panic a little at the feeling, but she didn’t fight it.
She welcomed it.
Her peripheral vision began to close in, and with a smile she realised that this was what dying felt like.
Next chapter is here