Victoria awoke to the sound of someone screaming. Sitting upright in a panic, her head immediately began to throb as disorientation kicked in full-throttle. Putting her hand reflexively to where it hurt, she pulled back quickly when the pain seared through her skull and down her spine, the skin swollen and bruised, sticky with blood. It was only when she blinked that she realized her eyes were open, yet she could see nothing but darkness.
She felt about her face for a blindfold, fingers tentative as they searched, coming back down empty. The darkness was so complete that it occurred to her she might have been blinded by the blow to her head, and as her heartbeat escalated the screams that had woken her resumed.
Disoriented and afraid, she forced herself to regulate her breathing and gather her wits. She pushed the screaming into the background, a difficult task made even harder by the proximity of its origin.
“H-Hello?” she managed, with considerably more effort than should have been required. The huskiness of her own voice startled her, and for a split, terrifying second, she thought someone else had spoken. Clearing her throat and finding even that hurt, she tried again, louder. “Hello? Is anyone there?”
“Quiet!” The voice was so close that Victoria jumped back, almost crying out. “Do you want to get his attention?” It was a male, sounding as though he was talking through gritted teeth. She took a moment to collect herself again.
“What the hell is going on here? Where am I?”
“The real question is where are we?” This was a different voice, a female’s, coming from somewhere to Victoria’s right. “You’ve been kidnapped,” the woman said gently. “Just like the rest of us.”
“Kidnapped? By who? Cleansers?” There was a pause, and Victoria pictured the woman shaking her head, forgetting that she couldn’t see her.
“No,” she said finally. “Or at least we don’t think so; as far as we’ve been able to tell it’s only one person. A man. Not to mention our accommodations aren’t exactly up to Cleanser standards. Do you remember what happened before you conked out?” Caught off guard by the sudden change in topic, Victoria quickly racked her brain for a response, glad for the unspoken excuse of possible head trauma inhibiting her memory.
“I- I was looking for food, I think, and I was digging through a cupboard, and I guess that’s when I got hit… from behind. I don’t really remember much else.”
“Mm hm. That sounds about right; most of us were taken in more or less the same fashion.”
“What’s going on here? Where are we?”
“Are you really asking us? How the hell are we supposed to know? In case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the same jam as you.”
“You shut up. She just woke up; go easy on her. You remember what it was like when you woke up, don’t you? She’s scared, just like you were. And I’ll say this much, she’s taking it a helluva lot better than you did.”
“Quiet!” she hissed, a sudden urgency in her voice. “Listen.” They stopped, the sound of their breathing the only audible thing.
“I don’t hear anything,” the man said eventually.
“Exactly, you idiot. The screams have stopped again.” The man’s response to this was silence, and it was evident he now realized its implications as well. They waited, the tension seeping in from the air and sending a shudder through Victoria’s body. Up to that point her eyes had still failed to adapt to the darkness, and she was beginning to think they wouldn’t.
There was a faint click somewhere to her right, followed soon after by the sound of a door opening. Someone scurried past coming from the direction the sounds had originated, knocking against her as they did so. She fell back just as a faint light spilled into the room through the doorway, just enough to silhouette the figure who had stepped in. At first the grotesque size and shape threw her off, details hidden in the darkness, but then the figure shifted, separating into two bodies. She saw that it was a man, carrying a smaller body limp in his arms. The man stooped, unceremoniously dropping the body onto the ground at his feet with a muffled thud. Victoria gasped, instinctively shuffling back, kicking out against the ground. The man straightened, head turning about the room. His gaze settled on Victoria for a moment, and though his face was veiled in the darkness she recognized the unmistakeable chill of being watched. Then he was gone, the sound of the door closing confirming his departure.
There was a moment of prolonged silence as footsteps faded into the distance before someone moaned, breaking the silence. She heard the others rushing over to tend to the person the man had brought.
“Is that the only thing you know how to say?”
“Her wrists have been cut. He- our captor, he’s been taking us one at a time and… and bleeding us. Cutting our wrists. This is the sixth. Here,” she said in a lower voice, addressing someone else, “put pressure on this rag here. Do not let go.”
“How many of… of us are there?”
“Thirteen. You were the tenth to wake up. We were afraid you and the last two had been hit too hard and were in comas. Hell, we’re still worried about the other two. You were lucky.” Victoria took a moment to let this sink in. She didn’t feel lucky.
“How does he see anything in this?” she asked suddenly, the thought now occurring to her. “How could he possibly find us, far less the ones who haven’t been cut yet?”
“Night vision goggles,” the man sneered, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “He’s got a mask on and everything, the cowardly little fucker.” Victoria flinched at the pure malice in his voice, and for a moment wondered if their captor was the only monster they had to worry about. Shaking this thought out of her head, she tried to change the subject. One problem at a time, she thought grimly.
“Can I help with anything?”
“Yeah. Here, try to follow my voice. Just be careful, try not to bump into anyone.” Victoria obeyed, crawling on her hands and knees while trying to navigate through the darkness. Occasionally her hand would brush against someone’s clothes, but she would pull back before making contact with them. She was close enough to where the girl had been dropped that the trip did not take more than a few seconds, but in the dark carefully treading around the lying bodies of the other prisoners, it felt longer.
“Okay, hold your hands out,” the woman said as Victoria shuffled up to where she knelt before the wounded girl. Complying, she felt a scrap of clothing pressed into them. “Take this,” she said, gently cupping Victoria’s hands in her own and guiding them over, “and press it… here.” She felt a warm, sticky dampness spread through the cloth and to her hand, fully soaking the cloth in no time at all. The speed at which the blood was flowing alarmed her, but she forced herself to press harder on the wound, glad at least that she couldn’t feel where the skin had been torn. The girl whimpered, and she hesitated.
“No, you can’t loosen your grip,” the woman said, as though reading her mind. “It’ll hurt, but if you don’t press hard enough she’ll lose too much blood and die.”
“Why is he doing this? Why doesn’t he just kill us right away?” At first no one responded, and her words seemed to echo around the room, a plea that would go unanswered.
“I don’t know,” the woman said finally, and Victoria knew without having to see her that she was shaking her head. “I just don’t know.”
Over the hours, which passed by unchecked and impossible to gage in the dark, Victoria learnt the first woman’s name was Regan, the man’s Clement (given begrudgingly and only after a direct order from Regan), and in turn introduced herself. Some of the others introduced themselves as well, names she did her best to remember but which were increasingly difficult to pair with voices rather than faces as the numbers increased.
The girl’s bleeding eventually stemmed off enough for them to remove the sopping old rags and tie over fresh ones. The blood on Victoria’s hands had begun to dry, feeling sticky and unpleasant on her skin. She longed for some water to wash it off, and found herself chuckling with more than a little cynicism at the realization that clean hands were the least of her worries. She figured the others were probably reassessing her sanity; to be laughing in such a situation was a sure symptom of the descent into madness, and she tried to transition the laughter, passing it off as a coughing fit. Regan asked if she was okay, and Victoria managed a nod before remembering she could not see her, offering up a vague confirmation in its place. Crisis seemingly averted, at least for the time being, Victoria closed her eyes (which made no visible difference; the darkness with her eyes open was just as unbroken as the darkness with her eyes closed) and tried to think.
An indiscernible amount of time later she found herself waking from a sleep she couldn’t recall falling into, and before she had a moment to readjust to her surroundings she felt a hand grasp her leg and begin to pull. Someone cried out in alarm, and the effect was that of a stone being dropped in water, the ripple of panic and fear spreading through the room like wildfire. She began to kick out in an attempt to free her leg, but the grip was firm and unyielding.
“Let her go, you bastard! Haven’t you had enough?” She heard a scuffle from directly in front of her, punctuated by the occasional grunt of effort. The arm that held her leg began to shake as he was attacked by at least one of her fellow captives. She began to kick harder than before, taking full opportunity of the distraction her peers had provided. With a sharp cry from her assailant her foot somewhat unintentionally made contact with his body, and the hand wrapped around her ankle loosened its grip. Giving one final kick, she shook the hand loose completely, wasting no time in scurrying back away from her assailant once she was free.
The green lenses flashed in the dark and Victoria imagined she could see the rage behind them. The struggle between the captor and the captives continued, and she could hear the muffled grunts and curses as they fought. She considered re-entering the struggle and was about to go back when her world was suddenly filled with pain. The second thing she registered after the pain was white: searing white light that filled her vision and made it impossible to see anything else. Her ears were ringing with a high pitched sound that seemed perfectly in synch with the light; constant, unbroken and painfully intense. Underneath the pain she only faintly registered the cries of agony from her companions. A flash grenade, she thought, before a hand grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her forward.
The person pulled her around and out of the room, practically dragging Victoria as she stumbled in vain attempts to catch her footing. The white had gone, or perhaps she had simply moved away from its source, regardless her senses were no longer assaulted by whatever had caused it, although she still suffered the repercussions: her vision was still thoroughly impaired by flashes and blotches of light and there was still a faint ringing in her ears. The source of the light, which she suspected had been a flash grenade of some kind, had caused detrimental harm to her sensory system, all the more damaging considering the sensitive state it had been in after being kept in the dark for so long. Only on a subliminal level of awareness did she hear the door being closed behind them.
She fought against her captor’s grip knowing it was hopeless but unable to stop herself; she had gone into survival instinct mode, acting without thinking. She was blind and, to a lesser degree, deaf, and her body was reacting accordingly in the hope of being able to retreat to somewhere she could recover. Once more she was only dimly aware of what was going on around her, and of what was being done to her. Her captor led her forward, and she felt them turn and change direction several times, but when she tried to memorize their route she found her thoughts were still too scrambled and dazed to organize into coherent memories. Her legs gave way several times but her captor did not stop, instead heaving her by the wrist, her knees dragging painfully against the floor until she managed to regain her footing. Gradually her vision came back as splotches of the white faded and soon she was able to blink the remaining blurriness away. By this time her captor had slowed and she soon saw why.
They had entered a room, empty save a large table in the center flanked by a hospital tray. It was dimly lit by two torches standing in opposite corners of the room, but after being kept in the first room for so long she hardly noticed what it lacked in light. She blinked, her disorientation not yet completely faded away, and took a tentative step forward at which point she slipped and fell to the ground, the man releasing her wrist as she fell. Her face hit the floor with a sharp smack and her palms followed, but even then she did not register what was wrong. It was only as she pushed up from the floor, turning her head as she did so, that she saw the blood drip from her face and return to the pool that coated the surface of the ground. She scrambled back, finding with horror that her palms and chest were also covered in the dark red liquid. The man looked down at her through his goggles and she looked back at him for the first time. His face was covered by a black mask that wrapped around the night vision goggles, the result being that she could see nothing of his features. He was large and powerfully built, his body shape revealing his gender without uncertainty. After a moment of regarding one another the captor reached down, once again grabbing her by the wrist. This time she did not struggle as he hauled her up to her feet and pulled her towards the table. As she passed the tray her eyes flicked over to the surgical tools that lay there. She was most concerned with the bloodied knife.
The man grabbed Victoria by the tail of her shirt and hoisted her unto the table, face up. As he strapped her arms and legs down she considered struggling, but in the end decided against it. Her captor gave one final tug, and the last strap dug into her wrist with painful thoroughness. She looked up into his face, and even through his goggles Victoria could tell they were making eye contact. In the corner of her vision she saw the knife in his hand, saw him hesitate as he moved it over her arm. He seemed to question her silently.
“Do it,” she said through gritted teeth. “Do it, you sick bastard.” And he did.