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The pressure increased enough to allow warm streams of blood to roll down Davey’s inner thighs, but cut off abruptly.
‘What am I thinking?’ Cross said, shaking his head furiously. ‘You haven’t even hit puberty yet. To remove those now would inhibit your testosterone and you wouldn’t be much use to me as a soldier.’
Davey breathed a sigh of relief as the shears moved away from his balls.
‘I apologise,’ Cross said, a look of shame on his face.
He rushed out of the cell, leaving the door open.
Davey wondered why, then realised that he was paralysed from whatever drugs he had been given. He had no chance of getting out of the cage.
Cross returned with a gleaming scalpel.
Bowed his head, hands clasped tightly in prayer. ‘Dear Lord, please give young David the strength to walk the long road to your side.’
Then he took the blade to Davey’s thigh and carved loose a chunk of flesh.
‘The first step on your journey to meet Him,’ Cross beamed.
Davey screamed with agony as hot blood ran down his legs.
His screams grew worse when Cross came in with the blowtorch and seared his wound shut.
Davey endured this for only two days before he begged to be freed from the cage.
Cross shook his head, insisting that he was on the path to God’s door.
‘I won’t give up on you, David. Your soul is worth cleansing, mark my words.’
‘I won’t ever see things from your point of view,’ Davey spat. ‘You can cut bits of me away until there’s nothing left, but I won’t ever walk your path. There is no God. If there was why would he let all of this happen to us?’
Cross’ face went a beetroot colour and looked as though it was about to burst.
‘He is cleansing the earth of sinners. Once they are gone He will allow the pure to live in peace.’
‘You’re absolutely insane if you think God will be happy with what you’re doing here.’
Cross’ eyes seemed to grow a shade darker and he ran into the cell, his hands curling tight around Davey’s throat.
Davey couldn’t defend himself, due to the paralysing effects of the drugs in his system.
But even if he had been able to he didn’t think he would have.
He wanted out of this cell, no matter how that was achieved.
Davey was surprised when Cross’ hands came away from his neck after a few seconds of squeezing.
‘I apologise,’ he said, his face suddenly ashen, his fury scattered like dust in the wind. ‘He has told me not to do this. Please forgive me.’
‘I will never forgive you for this. And I will never see your God. So you better keep me locked up in here forever because the second I get out I’m going to gut you like a fish.’
Cross held his hands to his ears, shaking his head frantically.
He slammed the cage door shut and raced out, leaving Davey in darkness.
‘He’s doing you a favour, you know,’ Deborah’s voice said from his right.
Davey looked up, woken from his sleep.
For a moment he’d been back at home in his bed, before any of this had even happened and he’d felt totally happy.
The anger he felt at this fantasy being torn down made him slam his foot into the bars.
‘One day you will thank him for this. Just like I did.’
‘Did you really go forty days and nights in here?’
Deborah nodded, a look of pride and happiness on her face. ‘It was the best gift anyone has ever given me.’
She moved closer so he could see the scars on her legs.
They were perfectly square, precise as could be.
Lined up neatly like the red side of a Rubik’s cube.
They were deep wounds, but they looked old.
‘How long ago was it?’ he asked.
‘Ten years. And not a day goes by I don’t think of my time in here and smile. And not an hour passes in which I don’t thank God for bringing Wayne into my life.’
‘Don’t you ever get angry that he did that to you?’ Davey said, trying to dig a little deeper through the thick layers of religious propaganda Cross had filled her head with.
‘Angry? No, this was done because of God’s love for me. How could I be angry about that?’
‘Maybe because there isn’t a God.’
Deborah looked on the verge of slapping him, but her composure returned after she took a few deep breaths and repeated, ‘Forgive him Lord for he knows not what he does,’ under her breath half a dozen times.
‘And why would you say that?’ she asked, calm personified.
Davey sniffed hard.
His eyes became hot and wet and heavy as they began to fill with tears.
‘Because no God would let this happen to us.’
‘Let what happen?’
‘Well it and everything that happened afterwards. But mainly the fact that these days it’s ok to kill innocent people without anyone even batting an eyelid.’
‘I’m sure God has judged who deserves to die and has guided the Cull Crews in their deliberations.’
‘That’s bullshit,’ Davey said, approaching the bars and slamming his hands into them. ‘Because babies don’t fucking deserve to die.’
Deborah’s resolve cracked for a second.
‘They came one night,’ Davey began, tears rolling down his cheeks. ‘And killed my mam. My dad. My older sister. They could have just let my baby sister be – she wasn’t hurting anyone – but they murdered her too. She was two weeks old. So if you have all the fucking answers, you tell me what she did to deserve that.’
Deborah’s jaw flapped soundlessly, no words forthcoming.
He couldn’t be certain, but he thought he saw her eyes glinting as though she was crying.
Without saying another word, she turned and walked briskly out of the room.
Davey shook his head and resolved to keep up his digging.
Davey wished for freedom, wished for death, but never did he once see Cross’ point of view.
His mind had been hard at work in the long, dark days and nights alone in the cage.
Cross had left a bible for him to study – a joke in itself as the light in the room was negligible when the door was shut (the light is within yourself, Cross had said, or some such bollocks) – but Davey did notice that the book had sharp metal corners that he was sure he could use as a weapon given the chance.
When Deborah came in with the hose, he let her wash him down as usual, then held his arm out through the bars for the injection.
This time, he pulled his arm back slightly.
The needle grazed his skin but didn’t puncture it.
Cold liquid trickled down his arm.
While Deborah stood outside the cage, waiting for the paralysing effects to kick in, he laid flat on his back like on the previous nights.
Elation flooded over him as he realised he could move.
As she put the key in the lock he darted to his feet, thrust his arm through the bars and grabbed her wrist.
He pulled hard, slamming her head into the bars.
He did this a few times, until her nose was splattered across her face and blood was seeping from beneath her left eye.
She stumbled back, dropping the keys.
He reached for them, pressing himself into the bars hard enough to leave an imprint of them on his face and neck and shoulders.
His hand was close to the keys, but he just couldn’t quite reach.
Until he gained the sense to grab the bible and flick the keys forward.
As they had said, the book was indeed his salvation as it managed to bring the keys close enough for him to reach.
He scooped them up quickly, terrified he was going to drop them.
Deborah was still stunned but had gained enough of her faculties to realise what was going on and had begun to shout for help.
He cursed, even more so when the keys jammed against the bars.
He panicked as he realised he couldn’t get them through, but they came through when he turned them slightly.
He began trying them in the lock.
The first one didn’t fit.
He shucked it back.
Second one; fit but didn’t turn.
The sheer number of keys on the ring made him doubt his chances of getting out of here before Cross came in.
He tried to think.
His subconscious gifted him a brief glimpse of red on the keyring from one of Cross’ previous visits.
He looked and saw a tiny stub of red duct tape on one of the keys.
Deborah was back on her feet now, trying to regain control of her limbs.
His heart thudded in his ears and threatened to shove his eyes from their sockets, but he took deep breaths and tried to remain calm.
The key sunk into the lock with almost orgasmic glee.
But the fucking thing wouldn’t turn.
He wiggled it a bit more, as Deborah began to near the cage door.
The lock snacked open.
He charged the door, just as Deborah flung herself at it.
It slammed shut on him.
The keys fell.
She bent to pick them up, grunting with the strain as he hit the door at hip level, trying to barge it open.
It came open a little, but she braced it well.
She managed to get the key in the lock.
Davey shoved the door hard, disrupting her as she tried to turn the key.
He bent down and picked up the bible.
He launched it at her head, holding it vertically so it fit through the bars.
It hit her hard in the nose, making her stagger back, uttering blood-flecked obscenities.
He hurled himself on the door, knocking it back into her.
Her feet slipped in the run off of cold water from his hosedown and she landed on her arse.
Something deep inside him told him to grab the keys from the lock, so he obliged, although he had no idea why.
Footsteps raced down the stairs.
He ducked behind the door and waited.
When Cross came in, Davey swung the bible at his face with all of his might.
Cross staggered back, his lips burst against his teeth.
Davey knew that second chances were rare in this world so he snatched the blowtorch from Cross’s hand and began tearing pages from the bible.
He scrunched them up and ignited them, shoving them into the bare wooden floorboards that made up the corridor’s ceiling.
Smoke began to billow around him as he charged down the corridor, searching for a hiding place.
As he ran, he saw more open doors.
Each one hid a cage, containing a catatonic subject ready to receive their penance.
He shook his head at the scale of the operation.
There must have been three dozen rooms with cages in.
He ran and ran, following the snaking corridors.
Cross’ footsteps echoed close behind him at every turn, but they eventually faded away.
He found himself in another section of corridor which looked identical to the others.
Cross’ heavy breathing was quite a way back now, hidden in the billowing smoke clouds.
He pushed the door open a little and edged back into the shadows, trying his best to hide while he regained some of his focus and strength.
There was a cage in the centre, a girl stepping into the middle of it as he came in.
A mixture of blood and hose water and stale piss glinted on the floor around her.
He unlocked her cage then backed into the corner, intending to hide behind the door.
He didn’t see the pale arm that came out of the darkness until it was already wrapped around his throat.
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