Wednesday, 19 November 2014
It was the night after Guy Fawkes’.
Verity woke up in an odd position. When she tried to rub the sleep from her eyes, she found she couldn’t reach them with her hands. She couldn’t even turn to check the time; something prevented her legs from moving. And the room sounded strange: not with its usual softness.
“Here, let me.” said a voice, and somebody carefully wiped the sleep from her eyelids with witch-hazel. She recognised the voice: Mills. But when she opened her eyes she found the room unfamiliar to her: mainly black and red. The ceiling, higher than it should be, loomed in shadows. She noticed spotlights. Thankfully they weren’t on. She was in her dressing-gown: a full length, deep green silk wrap-around that Sacha always said made her look slightly mediaeval.
“Where is this?”
“Do you know the city’s torture museum?”
“I’ve, er, never wanted to go there. I don’t even like the idea of it.”
“Well, you’re here now, lass. You’re on the rack.”
“I’m what??” She tugged her left arm; a cold manacle bit at her wrist. The same happened when she tried to move her feet. Bare feet. They ached with cold. There were chains. She suddenly found herself out of breath. She heard Mills explaining something.
“Remember the other day when I offered you a question and you asked about the Apple?”
“I made a mistake. You were not entitled to that question.” He grinned “I bet you were so chuffed about getting that answer that you never even wrote it down did you?”
She shook her head. She hadn’t told a soul about Mills. She got the feeling people already regarded her as a bit eccentric; she didn’t want to be dismissed as totally hatstand.
“You were not entitled to that question, and I can do what I will, to clear the answer out of that head of yours.”
“But...surely that’s not fair! I asked that question in good faith. Nobody else knows the answer, so no damage done. I can go home, and forget about it all. Really...I’ll not tell a soul...ever...”
Mills spoke quietly. “You cannot forget. Not unless something, or someone, causes you so much pain as to make you lose your mind. That is why I brought you here tonight.”
Verity’s thoughts ground to a frenzied standstill. But in her confusion, she could have sworn she heard him whisper the words “Fear: perfect, white fear...”
She tried to grab a corner of her mind that could still work, could still be rational.
“If you destroy me...you’ll miss me!”
More whispering “it even goes with her hair...”
“And...you’ll incur another penalty!”
He spoke clearly, but softly. “If I am to concede another penalty, I intend to make it worth my while, now, while I can. I have waited centuries for a night such as this. I shall start gently...” He repositioned her hands. They were cold. “All right?” He put his fingers on her left wrist.
“Your pulse. I don’t want you going and dying on me, not now.” She heard two heavy clicks as he turned the ratchet and it took up the slack. She took a breath, to scream_
“I have brought the echo silencer.” She tried to look around, but couldn’t see it. “I have put it over there, on top of the iron maiden.” he went on “And now you’re wondering why there, and not here next to you. Aren’t you?”
She could only nod.
“Your screams are important to me. They show that you still have the full faculties of your mind: that you are still fighting. As morning approaches, that will cease. I shall then undo these bonds and take you home. I shall tell your Sacha that I found you in the road: that for once in your life you had been careless in traffic. Your beloved N.H.S. will repair the physical damage. As for the rest, you will be lost.”
Verity could feel her mind beginning to unravel with dread. Threads snapping...
“So we’ll take our time, lass. We’ve got all night. Ready?”
She heard him whispering; about icing on cakes? Something pure? Resonance, and...time? Nothing made sense any more...
Another heavy click, and she felt a pain in her right shoulder. The shackles bruised the little bones in her wrists and ankles. The room filled with a blinding white light_
“Who put that bloody light on?” she screamed as she sat up in bed with a start. Her right arm, caught in the bedstead, twisted at the shoulder.
“Oh it’s you.”
Sacha had accidentally hit the light switch as he got out of bed to get a handkerchief.
“I had a bit of a koshmar...”
She decided she’d said enough. Hatstand and all that. She reached for the glass on her bedside table: for a sip of water. Her notepad lay next to it. A sentence, written in her own handwriting, stretched crazily across the top page:
“Well, some of us here are old enough to know when enough is enough.”
She couldn’t think why on earth she might have written such a sentence.