The factory is cold and derelict, falling apart and crumbling underfoot, though the fences that keep the factory restrained are as stable as ever, rusty barbed wire scribbles across the apex and heavy iron chains bind them together.
John is the first to wake up, his suit jacket is torn at the elbow and dirt covers the worn fabric on his knees, his cheek is blue from sleeping on the concrete and specs of dirt and rock make craters in his face. One eye opens while the other twitches, this was the sodium thiopental beginning to wear off. His head moves, only slightly, and his fingers become rigid. He lets out a low tone, wordless and shaky.
The beautiful thing about thiopental isn’t its ultra-short acting anaesthetic qualities, nor is it the tissue necrosis that can occur if improperly injected. No. The best thing about thiopental is the night terrors and the emergence delirium and the psychomotor agitation. This was probably the worst night’s sleep John had ever had and he deserves it too, but he won’t remember why, at least not yet.
Another tone, staccato this time, louder but still wordless, more urgent. His fingers bleed under his nails and his fists clench until his knuckles are white and his palms are bloodied. His eye stops twitching and opens. He can surely see the other bodies dotted around the factory floor. Slowly, regaining composure and control of his arms he pushes himself into an upright position. How humble he is now, how far he has fallen as he sits in this filth, donning his Ill-gotten tailored suit weaved from the broken dreams and induced tears of who knows how many.
His eyes dart around the room. He looks to the camera and sees its blinking red light. And I see him.
“Help!” Who knows who he is talking to; the others are just as helpless as he is.
“Help me!” he screams, loud enough to wake the others from their counterfeit sleep.
A symphony of groans and fitful sighs ensue, ranging from shrill pizzicato stabs to deep, slow moving cello swells. And they dance and convulse like haunted ballerinas, rolling on the floor with rigid arms held aloft. John stands centre-stage voicing his trepidation with the vocal intensity of an opera singer, hitting those high notes with heartfelt perfection. His eyes pinned back and his hands on his cheeks in some caricature scream. Crystalline tears form in his eyes and pearls of sweat drip from his hair. The rabble dies down and one by one eyes begin to open, twitching and sporadic at first; but then, ceaseless and unbroken. John presses his back into the corner and drops to his knees.
A large man wearing a cheap tie and a heavy jacket manages to sit up.
“Who the fuck are you?” a suitable response for a man of such choleric temperament, how could we expect anything less?
“I don’t know,” John replies. “I don’t know who I am.”
The man clambers up to his feet and scratches his hairless head. He frowns.
He looks down at his body and sees a folded sheet of paper protruding from his inside chest pocket, he pulls it out and unfolds it.
Notice of enforcement
Debtor: Howard Scott
Address: 21 Nelson Street, Otley, West Yorkshire LS21 1ST, UK
Enforcement agent reference number: 730463- Wilkins, Frank
About this notice
You owe money to: John Hughes
The amount you owe them: £14,000 (fourteen thousand pound)
The letter trailed on and on though he didn’t attempt to read it.
“I… I must be Howard.”
John glances at the paper. “Or John or Frank,” he says.
His eyes dart around the room before fixing back on John.
“Where are we?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who are they?”
“I don’t know who I am, why would I know who they are?”
The man looks intently at the door before making his way over to it.
The door is metal and heavy, hermetically sealed too with a large hand wheel like the type you would see on a ship. He tries to turn the wheel but it won’t budge
“Rusted shut,” he curses.
He grits his teeth and leans all of his weight into his push, the wheel groans and creaks and then suddenly jolts forward knocking him off balance. To their palpable relief the wheel turns, becoming smoother and lighter to the touch. It clicks and stops. He pulls the door towards him, but it doesn’t move.
“Do you wanna give me a hand?”
John walks over to the door and grabs the wheel with both hands, the two men hang from the wheel with reddened faces, panting and groaning but the door stays still. A faint hum becomes audible and for just a second, the lights begin to flicker. Hooks hang from rusted chains and the air cools by one or two degrees.
“What the fuck was that?” John cries, throwing panicked glances at every corner of the room.
“I don’t know,” replies Frank as he cracks his knuckles, “but something’s going on.”
“You don’t fucking say?”
“I mean we’re not alone here, we’ve woken up here but that’s not it.” He paused. “There’s more to come.”
A final body begins to sit up, a young man, with tight jeans and dark hair.
“Wh-where are w…”
“We don’t know anything either kid.”
The kid pauses for a second and winces at the two men.
“You remember us?” asks John.
“Who are we?” asks Frank.
“We work together,” he says.
“All of us?”
“Yeah, all of us.”
He turns to Frank.
“You’re a debt collector and John you lend people money.”
“I work with computers.”
“What… like admin or something?”
“Not quite. Does it really matter who we are? Shouldn’t we be getting out of here and worrying about this shit later?”
Frank’s fists begin to clench.
“Easy for you to say when you fucking remember everything.”
“Easy for me to say? You have no fucking idea do you? Yeah I remember everything, I remember what we do to people. I remember the name, number and sort code of every single person we’ve fucked. I know why we’re here, you think this is a coincidence? That we’re all in here together? After everything we have done? We’re fucking dead if we can’t get out.”
“You know why we’re here?” asks John as he fumbles with his fingers.
“I can guess, there’re enough people after us, this has to be one of them.”
“What have we done? Why are people after us?” John implores.
“It’s not fucking important right now, let’s just get the door open."
“It’s fucking stuck!” shouts Frank “it won’t budge, calm the fuck down kid, tell us why people would be after us.”
“Jesus, fine!” his eyes grow wide and his bony fists clench, he turns to Frank
“John lends people money with an extortionate interest rate. I hack their account and steal it straight back and then you bailiff the money off them again seeing as though they technically still owe us it.”
He spoke quickly and when he was finished there was silence.
“There, can we worry about getting out now? You know, before we all fucking die?”
He’s pale and young, the acne still fresh on his face and his trousers hang too low. His eyelids begin to close.
“Can we just... go, I don’t… I don’t feel good.”
“Yeah none of us do kid.”
“No I really don…”
His fingers begin to twitch and contort and his eyes roll to the back of his head, his breathing is juddering and he shivers like, well, like he’s trapped in an industrial freezer. He spits and hocks as the vomit trickles out his mouth, white and frothy like fake snow and bubble-bath. His complexion drains away until his white skin and black clothes wouldn’t look out of place in a noir movie and his breathing accelerates until his tiny sharp breaths sound like the shutter on some outdated movie reel. His rigid limbs extend outwards as if asking for help. The two men stare and move aimlessly around his flailing body which flaps and spasms like a squid on dry land. His breathing stops dead.
The best thing about sodium thiopental, it could have happened to any of them, it could have happened to all of them, but it happened to him. His eyes dilate and his body becomes still.
“Gentlemen, I have felt your pain. And the fear; I felt that too.”
Johns glassy eyes sink into his head and the voice echoes from all corners of the room. This is my chance.
“You see, I was in a cage not entirely dissimilar to your own, I was trapped, isolated, I didn’t really know who I was anymore. But then I remembered.”
The two shaking men glance at each other before frank shouts to the camera.
“Who the fuckareyou? Why are you doing this?”
“Oh I think you know that. There were three names on that slip Frank, I trust you can use what little intellect you have to figure that one out for yourself.” I pause, laughing silently for a while. “And as for why;” again I pause, who would want to rush this moment? I can see the pained look of uncertainty decorate their faces. “Because I can.”
Frank erupts. With some newfound sense of survival instinct he charges to the iron door and pummels it like a wild gorilla tainted with steroids and ecstasy. He screams and bludgeons his fists into the metal, tearing his knuckles to pieces. Blood smears over the door like some priceless piece of abstract art.
“That’s not going to work frank, as much as I am enjoying this futile display of will power, all you are going to do is hurt yourself. Now, stop. Look around you. You are going to die. There is no way out. You need to accept this, and only then will your death be bearable.”
John stands in silence, hands by his sides, stoic face staring aimlessly forward.
“You could learn a thing or two from john,” I laugh. “Acceptance begets comfort, you want to die a comfortable death right frank?”
He ignores me, and continues to pummel at the door, his knucklebone exposed through several layers of macerated skin.
“Frank!” I shout. “Do you want to accept your death and die comfortable or do you want to bleed to death frantically and painfully? You will die either way. Can’t you see I’m trying to help you? Isn’t this what you want? To die comfortably and happily? Isn’t this what we all want?”
I turn away from the screen. This has gone on long enough.
The security room is warm and the chair is comfortable. From here I can see the entire factory, externally too. I look down at my hands and see the pale strip across my finger where my ring should be. My empty wallet lays dormant in my pocket and the beard grows out of control on my face.
I look back to the screen, frank still pummelling the door, john still standing aloof. They are of course unaware that the door is welded shut. Like I would go through all this effort and then just leave the door unlocked for them, or tuck the key under the fucking mat.
I took my time, thought about every angle. I was going to lock them in the furnace but that would have been too quick, too frantic. I needed them to care about why, I needed them to die knowing what they did, but I needed more than that. If that was all I wanted I could have just killed them in the night, I don’t care if I get away with it or not, I have no life left to lead. I wanted them to be innocent when it happened, like I was innocent when they killed me, maybe not somatically but in a way my life ended when they did what they did to me. I needed them to die regretting what they had done, that’s where the thiopental comes in.
The amnesia would wipe their heads blank so that when they do find out, they will be ashamed and innocent and they will suffer like I did.
The kid has a different drug. It knocks you out without the amnesia, I needed one of them to remember so they can tell the others, otherwise I’d be here for days, it was important that he die first, the kids a genius, he could find a way out, brute force won’t get the doors open and John can hardly lie his way out of this one. I had him swallow a capsule of arsenic, homemade. There had to be some element of pain so I couldn’t use cyanide; that would be too quick. The capsule was designed to break down after a few hours so the drug didn’t get into his system until shortly before he died.
I pull my chair away from the desk and go for a walk. On the outside of the freezer is a thermostat. It goes down to minus eighty-five, at this temperature the human body will shut down. Slowly.
The fingers and toes will go first, they will become numb and blue and the top layer of skin will freeze. after a few hours the deeper layers of skin will harden and ice up, then the muscles will freeze and eventually, their blood will be frozen solid. This will not kill them, but it will hurt. It will hurt like hell. After a few hours the hypothermia will kick in, their core temperature will drop and their heart will kick and scream, desperately trying to push the frozen blood through their ice cold veins, like drinking ice-cream through a fucking straw. Their brain will become fatigued, and then they will die.
I make my way down the factory’s winding, metallic corridors, through the disused warehouses and machinery, past the rusted forklift trucks and the damp, rotten wooden pallets, past the meat hooks and the circular saws, I could have had great fun with those, but torture is not what this is about. It’s about redemption.
There would be no sense in hacking them to pieces, or gouging at the eyes, as lovely as it feels to consider it, it would be wrong to engage in it. There is nothing quite as sweet as mental anguish. Sure physical pain has more flair, but it should be treated as a garnish and not a main course. Pain is at its finest before it even exists. The anticipation and the waiting can drag on for far longer than real pain ever could, and if I tortured them how would they learn? It’s hard to have an epiphany while your teeth are being pulled out one by one; so as much as I wanted to, this was not an option.
The freezer, I’m finally here. Six inches of galvanised steel on each side with lead lining and a concrete floor, designed for rapid freezing of raw meat, in a funny way I guess I’m not even abusing this magnificent machine. The dial is like a diamond decorating the otherwise vapid looking metal door. I stare at it and it seems to talk to me, it wants me to turn it, to end this all right now. I take a deep breath and my lungs stutter as if to savour the air and my hand lurches forward. I can taste this moment. I can almost feel the warmth of their bodies radiating through the door as I move closer to it. I touch the dial, cold and rigid and lifeless.
It clicks as I turn it, how very satisfying. I slowly turn it counter clockwise and the numbers bounce down. Lower, and lower. Click, click, click, click, click. Each click being one step closer to absolution. The machine coughs and splutters into life and begins to hum. I hum along, melodising its droning pitch. The percussive clicks of the dial like a metronome reverberate in the cold air, bouncing from rusty wall to rusty wall, the meat hooks clanging in the breeze that bleeds through the smashed windows and the ghost notes of my pounding heart can be heard faintly among the anthem. I’ve savoured this enough, with a flick of my wrist I silence the music. The dial is flattened, and the air is still. The drone of the machine drowns out the voices coming from within it.
All that can be heard is muffled hysteria and the strangled cries of people who know that death will soon envelop them. Though; of course, not too soon.