I opened my eyes to the morning light. Except…there was none. Wrought with early-morning brain fog, I sat up, trying to make sense of my surroundings, and the constant flow of terrified cries that slithered into my ears. “Gah!” I cradled my head as an unbearable ringing assaulted my ears, but the movement of my wrists only made it worse.
I sat still, hunched over and face buried in my palms, until the aching in my head stopped. I cracked an eye open and glanced at the heavy cuffs sitting tight around my wrists, and the thick chains that connected me to the wall. Their dull shine caught the dim light that poured through the slender windows at the ceiling. I squinted, trying to understand the sight above me. Was I in a basement?
I stood, my hands brushing the walls on either side of me. I looked around and felt my head brush against the ceiling. I was in a tiny, dead-end hallway, barely able to move.
Three steps and I was at my limit—the chains grew taut. That was all I needed, though. The bright shimmer on the floor ahead of me had stolen my attention. It was a key, perfectly fitted to my cuffs.
An unending echo of shrill metal against a concrete floor bounced from wall to wall as I rubbed my wrists. They were suddenly light, nimble.
What was on my hand?
Though the light was dim, it was unmistakable. On the back of my right hand, the number ‘5’ was printed in my skin. I rubbed the edges. No smudges, no smears. A tattoo? I didn’t remember getting one, but then again, I didn’t remember why I was in a basement.
With the key in my pocket, I wandered, taking hallways, dipping into smaller hallways, sometimes crawling on my hands and knees, but always feeling my own hot breath bounce off the walls and into my face. Each sound I made echoed as if a chorus of microphones was following my every move, but never overshadowed the cries, screams, pleading whispers for it to stop.
And then I came to a room, a toddler’s height at most, and littered with doors. Some boasted heavy duty locks, others with nailed wooden boards, and yet others with no handles at all. No matter their differences, all were locked.
I froze. From one of the doors came the ripping scream of a woman, terrified, gurgling, silent.
I couldn’t bring myself to move, overcome with anxiety. The horrible sounds echoed for hours, never fully crawling out of my ears.
Finally, I forced movement into my legs and crawled to the nearest door. I jammed my key into its lock, but before I turned it, I listened. On the other side of the door was breathing, erratic, just like mine. With trembling hands, I pulled the key from the lock and slipped it back into my pocket.
Across the room, a mechanical lock shone green, and a door opened but a crack. I waited, I’m not sure how long, but as the wails of pain grew louder, I cautiously poked my head into the corridor. It was brighter, lined with doors, and I could stand up straight. Each door fell away beneath my grasp, finally opening. But…the floors were littered with sights that turned my stomach. Blood, blood, bones, blood.
“Why?” I whispered, stepping away from a doorway with the mutilated body of a man lying inside. “Five…Why five?”
At the end of the hall.
Was the shadow of a woman.
She stood, hunched, with something long, slender, in her hand. Sharp.
The door shut behind me, and erratic breathing dusted my ear.
“Fifth…” I whispered.