I spread my fingertips over the split and jagged pieces of stone that loom before me. They seem like skyscrapers in height but are in truth about two feet tall. I remember them from months before, but they seemed straightforward to weave around. Without my vision, censored by a tightly knotted blindfold, it’s nearly impossible. It takes ages to feel around, to judge whether it’s safe to clamber over or not. My hands are scraped and battered from the rough ground, and I feel warm, wet streaks trail down my palms. I opted to crawl over walking; I assumed my bare feet would be injured worse from my entire weight pressing down on them. I’ve started to wonder if that was a logical idea. I struggle along before I reach shards of glass. They told me about this before I was let out. My mind hums with fear. I’m getting further, but god knows what lies ahead. Lifting my hands from the earth, I gently run a finger over an area that aches, and nearly scream when I touch raw, ripped open flesh. I clench my teeth to keep from giving myself away, shakily inhale, then timidly set my better hand on the pieces of glass. Tentatively placing my hand on the shards doesn’t help the explosion of agony that erupts through my skin, and I wince, silent tears leaking down my cheeks. It burns. Each time I raise my hand, my palms sting in the cold air, so I’m given no relief from the cruel edges of the glass. Knife-like bits penetrate my skin, gashing layer after layer into pulp. It renders them useless. My knees by now are also bloodied, and my pants are haggard and torn, which offers no protection for my legs. I take a break to again feel the damage and realize that my hands don’t seem to be normal anymore, just shredded forms with a bone structure underneath. I can smell the tangy iron wafting from them. The only solace I have is the distance I’ve traveled might be enough to evade them, that maybe I’ve outsmarted them and have a chance of getting out of here and starting fresh. Even with mutilated hands that might never fully work like they once did. Even with a wounded head full of gruesome memories. Even though if I got out, it would mean leaving him. Could I live with that guilt? Knowing I survived and made it without him? Knowing he’ll likely be doomed forever? I don’t think I could.
Finally, the slight rumble of water. I hear it froth and churn, and picture black liquid, riddled with whirlpools and currents, made to drag flimsy bodies under. I swallow the bile in my throat. The glass ends, with a short three-foot fall that I start to ease into, before splashing down. The crusted blood layered over my hands and legs is washed away, but the water is freezing. Nails were just driven into my chest, punched in with a heavy hammer. I’ve been decapitated, my legs are filled with knives. The water seeps into and over my cuts, setting them aflame. My limbs immediately start to spaz, and I spend the first few seconds flailing in a wild panic. Managing a stiff, weak representation of the doggy paddle, I’m able to begin to struggle forward. The longer I’m in the water, the more raging the fire rips through my injuries. I start to slip in and out of consciousness. My brain slows, and it takes all effort to keep myself from passing out. Each stride with my arms saps precious energy, and I’m trying to be convinced that I’ll reach another bank soon, but with every minute my faith diminishes. I start to cry; I feel the blood drain from my body, ice in my veins, and a drowsy blanket threatens to smother me. No, a little further. I try to kick my legs, but they barely respond. Fuck. They’re numb. A new legion of tears intertwines with the water. I’m not going to make it. I did not come this far to fucking burn out. I did not. Will surges through me, and I force my useless body to move. Right arm forward. Left. Keep kicking. The fundamentals of swimming drill in my mind. Repeat. Even with my renewed determination, I continue to slow down. No. Please. Please. I have to make it. I can make it. My body thrashes like a wild beast, then sputters to a stop. Water closes over my head.
A shriek startles me awake. I feel a thud against my side, and ribs crack, sending a shot of pain through my body. I straighten up and instantly regret it. After being hunched over, my back feels like it’s cemented into a gnarled shape. A hand grasps my hair, still damp, and wrenches my head back against a wall.
“Are you rested? You looked quite beat up, there. Thank goodness we found you.” That sweet, tender, sinister voice that would always haunt me. “I completely understand your feeling of failure. You thought you escaped? Outsmarted us? ‘Beat the system’?” His soft laugh echoes in my ear, and an army of chills scurry down my spine, lighting up nerves as they do. “You could’ve gotten seriously hurt. We were worried about you.” Ha. What bullshit.
“We missed you, you know. We care about each resident here” Resident? That’s hilarious. I mean, they must laugh at their idiocy behind closed doors, right? I feel his icy fingers brush my neck. It runs cold where they touch. The blindfold comes off, and the light, even though it’s dim, blinds me. I squint into the face that leers into mine. “Oh, there she is.” I ignore him and examine my hands. They look like they went through a processor; slashed so horribly they’re unrecognizable. Even to me, who’s looked at them my whole life. The intense pain I felt before subsided slightly, thank god. It still hurts, though. Then my eyes adjust, and I see him.
Author Notes: This is part of a much longer piece (which I may post in short segments as I go).