Sarah McAlister ran away from her home one day in the late summer of 2015; to most, it appeared as if she had just vanished into thin air. The local police conducted as much searching as their limited budget would allow for; however, the only lead that they ever found had been a Cincinnati Reds hat that had once belonged to her, laying along the side of I-75. Her father Daniel had put out a reward for twenty-five grand for anyone who had leads on where she had gone to; although many people attempted to claim the money, no one actually knew where she was. Her face was printed on milk cartons (most of which were of the dollar store brand), posters, and the sides of public work vans, but it was of no use. She was simply gone. Eventually everyone gave up all hope of ever finding her, and she was added to an extremely long list of missing teens who were presumed dead.
In reality, Sarah had not died at all; she had simply run away. Her reasoning for doing so was as simple and legitimate an excuse as a person could give; she had been viciously and relentlessly bullied at school. It had all started after she had broken up with her longtime boyfriend, Chris. He posted on her Facebook feed one day, and called her a slut; before long, several other people had joined in on the taunting. One day, someone had decided that it would be funny to start a website named diesarahmcalister.com; the website got several thousand shares on various social media websites in the first three days that it was online. She finally reached her breaking point when someone hacked into her laptop, took a video of her undressing, and decided to paste it all over the internet.
At first, Sarah considered the idea of killing herself; another student at her school, Alex Monath, had done just that a few months before. But then she remembered how hurt she had felt because of it, and knew that she did not want to hurt her family in that way. So, she planned carefully, and waited for her day to come; eventually it did, and she was prepared.
Sarah had been walking home from school on one particular Monday after a particularly harsh round of bullying; she felt a sudden impulse to walk towards I-75, the area’s local mega-highway. She did not understand what drove that feeling, only that its roots were in some unknown primal instinct hidden inside of her, something that she could not control at all. She stood along the bank of the highway for around an hour, watching the cars as they passed by. Unaware of what she was actually doing, she stuck out her thumb in the traditional hitchhiker fashion. Although many people gave her dirty looks, no one stopped to pick her up.
Disappointed, Sarah walked further on down the highway, looking for a decent place to rest. Eventually she found an overturned tree and sat down on it. What was she doing, anyway? Her father must be worried sick about her by now. She guessed that he would have already called the police by the time she had hiked her way back home. But was it even possible to head back now? She thought not. If she did, she knew that she would find herself in jail not too long afterwards. She grabbed her Cincinnati Reds cap from atop of her head and threw it onto the ground, angry at herself for being so stupid.
And that was when a gray Ford pickup stopped directly in front of her. The window rolled down, revealing a young man with fair hair and blue eyes. “Hey,” the man said, “do y’need a ride to anywhere?”
Sarah grinned. “Yeah, that would be great!”
“Well, hop right on in, then,” he said. He opened the passenger door, and Sarah climbed in and sat down. The seats were brown leather, and were chilly from the air conditioning that currently blasted from the air vents. “By the way,” he said, “my name’s Mike. What’s yours?”
“Sarah,” she said.
“Well Sarah, it is nice to make your acquaintance!” Mike said, smiling. “What is a girl like you doing out here, hitchhiking?”
Sarah shrugged. “You know… sometimes things just come up, that’s all.”
“True, I feel you there,” Mike replied. “Anything in particular that’s eating at your mind?”
Sarah, not wishing to dump all of her problems upon a cute guy that she had just met, shook her head. “Not really. Just life in general, you know?”
Mike nodded. “Yep! Typical shit like that gets under my skin all of the time.” A pause. “So, where exactly are you headed towards?”
“Any place but here! As long as I’m out of this hell-hole of a town, I wouldn’t care if you drove me all the way to Timbuktu.”
Mike’s truck sped up slightly, passing by several other vehicles on the interstate with a swift and careful motion. “You don’t say?” he asked, more a statement than a question. “Well, not to worry; I live about forty miles away from here, and will make sure that you are not left anywhere near this dump.”
At the time, this little fact did not strike Sarah as anything remotely odd; it was a conclusion that she would later beat herself up for coming to. “That sounds fine. Hey, would you happen to have anything to drink?”
Mike’s eyes lit up, but the rest of his posture remained sublime. “Uh, yeah, I should have some bottles of water right back here…” He reached behind his seat and felt around for a minute in what sounded like a cooler filled with ice; his hand returned with a bottle of ice-cold water.
Sarah reached out and took it from him with a greedy hand. “Thanks,” she said. Mike responded only with a simple nod of the head. She opened the lid, ignoring the fact that the seal had already been broken on the bottle; she then chugged down a large mouthful immediately, savoring the basic moisture as it passed by her lips. Oddly enough, it had a faint aftertaste of orange to it. “Is this flavored water?” she asked.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Mike replied.
That was when Sarah’s perceptions of the world started to change; Mike’s voice appeared to sound distant; her vision became hazy; an extreme sense of closeness came upon her, almost as if she were being buried alive. Her nerves tingled with a bright feeling of pleasure, and then went numb. Finally, there was a basic sensation of falling; her head seemed to be rushing into a total onslaught of darkness, a place where she knew that the sun never shined. The last speck of reality that her mind picked up upon before her lights went out completely was the fact that Mike was staring at her and laughing, knowing that yet another fish had taken bite to his evil hook.
As Sarah regained consciousness, she took a mental note of her immediate surroundings; she appeared to be in a dark, musty basement, not unlike the ones that she had occasionally seen on the re-runs of Criminal Minds that her father sometimes watched. She had been tied to a narrow wooden post that stood in the middle of the room; her hands had been handcuffed and taped together, while her feet had been tied together with a gigantic rope. A large, rusty furnace sat in the corner next to the concrete steps that presumably led out of the new hell-hole that she found herself trapped in.
Sarah took a loud, exhausted breath and turned to the other side of the room.
What she witnessed there was more terrible than anything that she had ever seen in her all-too-short life; spread all along and on the wall were countless different types of torture devices; all of them looked well-used. Some she immediately recognized from her history class, where her classy-yet-grotesque teacher had given in-depth descriptions of many different medieval torture devices. Others appeared to be of modern origin; their generators and battery packs added light hums to the otherwise quiet atmosphere of the room. The most terrifying devices of all, however, belonged to neither of these groups; they were grotesque handheld instruments, the use of which could not be comprehended by Sarah’s nagging subconscious. United, they all shared a common theme; they were evil, barbaric tools, meant for use by only the most insane and sadistic of mad men.
“Help! Somebody get me out of here!” Sarah shouted. It was of no use. As she knew all too well, there would be no one to come and magically save her; if she were to escape, it would have to be of her own doing.
The next sounds that Sarah heard did not boost her morale any; heavy footsteps, first walking around upstairs, and then lightly descending the staircase. The door opened and Mike appeared, sporting a blue blazer and tan khakis. Surprisingly, his hands appeared to be empty.
“Good morning sleepyhead,” Mike said. “You were out of it for quite a while!”
Sarah could not help chucking in disgust, despite her dire situation. “What else did you expect? Where the hell am I?”
A genuine look of surprise set upon Mike’s face. “So many questions! Just hold on a pretty little minute!” He shook his head, ran a hand through his hair, and paced lightly around the room. Eventually, he stopped and faced her again. “Now, where are you? None of your fucking business. The more urgent and important question that I thought you would as was along the lines of, ‘why am I here?’”
“I know why I’m here!” Sarah said. “They catch sick fucks like you every other week!”
Now Mike looked deeply offended. “Sick fucks? Are you serious? I am a scientist!”
“Yeah, and what is your science, rape and murder?”
“Of course not, how dare you say that!” he said, his face turning red. “My science is of pain!”
This exclamation shot rays of terror throughout Sarah’s mind. Still, she had to keep the brave act up; if not, she knew her chances for survival would be next to none. “What do you mean by that?”
Mike laughed; a shrill, harsh sound that hurt Sarah’s ears. “Did you not hear me? It is simple!” He grabbed a device off of the wall that appeared to be a mix between a whip and a Taser and held it in his hands. “I test the levels, types, and circumstances of pain. This is the future of science, where we will be able to understand how much pain a person can endure, and to control that; it is groundbreaking stuff, actually.”
Sarah laughed again, this time because of the ridiculous idea that the nutcase before her was proposing. “You can’t be serious! The police would be all over you if you were to go within ten miles of any real scientist with the information that you collect!”
Mike shook his head rapidly and grinned. “No, no, Sarah, you see; others are already examining my work and my superiors are very pleased with the progress that I am making.” A pause. “I should have expected this from you, you’re no different from all of the others…”
That was the last thing that Sarah had wanted to hear. “The others? How many people have you done this to, exactly?”
Mike laughed. “Ha; like your kind are actually people!”
“My kind? What in the hell is that supposed to mean?” Sarah asked.
“Sluts. Fuckups. The trash of the world, basically; you’re out to be teases, to screw with the minds of every guy you meet. Then, as soon as people wake up to the little game that you’re playing, you cry foul and run away,” Mike said.
“Fuck you, you don’t know a fucking thing about what I’ve been through!” Sarah replied, now pissed off herself.
Mike laughed again, this time lacking any trace of humor. “Okay, that is enough bullshitting. Time to get down to business.” He glanced down at the Taser Whip hybrid in his hands, smiled, and picked up a portable recording device from a nearby table. He switched it on, and held it up to his lips. “Alright, test subject forty-nine, first name Sarah. This is test one, and we’re starting her out at a five.”
Mike set the recording device down on the table, and turned on the device in his hand. It emitted a shrill squealing noise that seared itself into Sarah’s brain, giving her an instant migraine. He walked towards her with a wide grin spread across his face, dangling the weapon to his side. She screamed out, first in fear. Less than a solid minute later, that scream had changed to one of pain.
Any person who has ever been held hostage can testify to the simple fact that after a certain amount of time, the very concept of time becomes utterly useless. Between the pain, the weariness, and the confusion, minutes can drag on for hours, and hours can last for weeks. Sarah did not make an exception to that rule; beaten, bruised, and battered, her internal clock was about as coherent as a drunk person dining at the Waffle House’s night shift. With nothing but an industrial light dangling overhead, she could no longer even be sure of the state of day. Her “sessions” (as she now thought of them, thanks to Mike’s terminology) were infrequent and varied in intensity, mostly depending on Mike’s mood during a particular day.
Sarah was not helpless, however; as a matter of fact, she had not been further from that state of being in many months. She had been observing Mike, aiming to know as much about the freak as possible. His behaviors varied radically, ranging from happy to thoughtful to outright mad. She could not get him to open up about his personal life; that served only to enrage him even more.
Mike’s rage appeared to be both the greatest danger that he posed to anyone, as well as his greatest weakness. It was when his behavior was at its least predictable; sometimes he would shell up into himself, while at other moments he would lash out at Sarah. No matter what, though, there was one constant with his anger; he always lost nearly all of the focus that he typically devoted to a particular subject. This allowed the potential for major mistakes, ones that Sarah planned on taking advantage of.
Sarah finally saw he opportunity for escape one day, roughly seven weeks after she had “ran away”. Mike had come down the stairs in a rage; when she asked him what had happened, he actually opened up to her for once.
“Some asshole rear-ended my truck!” he said. “He said, ‘Sorry, but I don’t have insurance or anything’. Can you believe that! That bastard!”
Sarah did not wish to get on his bad side, not when he was in this type of mood. “What a jerk!” she said. “What did you do about it?”
Mike shrugged. “I told him to fuck off and go to hell, and he drove away. Didn’t know what else to do.”
Internally, Sarah laughed at his blatant ignorance. Externally, she remained sympathetic. “You did the right thing! I would’ve done the same myself!” And she most likely would have, if not for her “unfortunate” circumstances.
“No you wouldn’t!” Mike said with a snarl. “Don’t give me that do-goody-good bullshit!” With that he turned around and marched up the stairs, leaving Sarah to stare and wonder at the set of keys that he had accidentally dropped before leaving. They were only a few feet away, and although he couldn’t be positive, she believed that the key to her handcuffs might just be on there somewhere.
Sarah extended her legs out straight, but was dismayed to find that the keys were still too far away. She slid down until she was completely on her back, and reached again. This time, her feet touched the set of keys, and she breathed a sigh of relief. After another short struggle, she got the keys into her hands and unlocked the handcuffs. The tape was a bit more complicated, but after all that she had been through, it felt like a piece of cake. She untied the rope from around her feet and ankles and, after some trouble, stood up. She was finally free.
Sarah could not enjoy her newfound freedom for long, however; just as she started to get her bearings back, she heard the familiar sound of footsteps walking towards the staircase. Mike was coming.
Sarah limp-ran over to the nearest table and grabbed what looked to be a Saw-All with an extended saw blade attached to it. She then glided over to the wall next to the stairs, squatted, and waited silently. Her wait was not long, however; the large door swung open, revealing Mike’s despicable form.
“This is for all of the girls you’ve killed, you fucker!” Sarah shouted, activating the Saw-All. Mike whirled around in surprise, but was not quick enough; with a yell of fury, she swung the saw squarely at his legs. Mike screamed out in pain as the saw sliced through his right leg in an uneven manner. Sarah, momentarily shocked by what she had just done, was as immobile as a rock. Mike looked up at her and grinned through the pain.
“You think that’ll stop me, bitch?” he asked. “Think again.”
Mike reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black device, which appeared to be similar to a garage door opener. With a smile, he pressed the button; a metal door slammed down automatically, sealing the only way out. The industrial lights shut off, leaving them both in total darkness.
Sarah ran backwards towards the other side of the basement. Behind her, she could hear the sound of Mike slowly dragging himself along the ground. “I’m going to find you sooner or later, Sarah,” Mike said menacingly. “There is only so much space in this room for you to hide in, and you’re running out of it quickly. But don’t worry! I have something special here in my pocket with your name written on it. It has teeth!” He laughed.
Sarah ran further away from the sound of Mike’s voice until she slammed into a table; objects rattled on top of it, revealing her location. She crouched down and went under the table, trying her best to conceal herself from her monstrous hunter. She crawled carefully underneath the tunnel of tables, making sure she did not make any more sounds. She eventually reached a wall and stopped.
Sarah could no longer hear the sound of Mike dragging himself upon the ground. Had he stopped? Was he waiting for her somewhere out in the darkness? And then she heard the breathing, harsh and ragged, less than a foot away from her. A hand reached out of the darkness brandishing a knife and sliced at her, creating a shallow gash in her side. She screamed, backing away from her attacker.
“There you are!” Mike exclaimed. “Figured that you would make it over here eventually!” Sarah screamed again and ran out from under the table; after a moment’s consideration, she reached and grabbed something off of the wall. It felt like some type of gun, although she could not distinguish any specifics. She found the trigger, aimed it in the direction of Mike’s forthcoming shape, and fired.
Flames spat out of the gun, breathing hot light back into the room. Mike screamed as his entire body caught fire, smoldering the figure that was once a human being. After a minute, his screams had died down. After two, they had stopped; he was dead.
Sarah used the faint light to find a flashlight; from there, finding the remote that controlled the door and overhead lights was easy. She restored everything back to its original state and looked back at what remained of Mike; he had been burned to the point to where his skin had blackened, leaving few distinguishable features available. A sickly-sweet smell, not unlike that of roasted pork, hovered in the air. After a short bout of retching, Sarah walked up the stairs.
Much to her surprise, the first thing that she saw was another large room similar to the basement; however, this room had a window and had better lighting. She turned around to look at the basement door; much to her horror, there were words that had been printed upon the front of it: Central Intelligence Agency- Experimental Room 19. Sarah frantically ran to the window, wanting to know where she was. She looked out.
A large ocean was spread out before Sarah’s eyes. Waves broke and receded on the bleak shoreline. However, this was no vacation destination; a large electrical fence stood less that fifteen feet away from the shore, topped by heaps of barbed wire. Military vehicles drove back and forth on the roads, carrying what appeared to be large batches of prisoners. All of them were Americans.
Sarah lashed out and slammed her fists against the window in a feeling of angry defeat. She now knew what Mike had meant when he had told her about “scientific experiments”; she had not been the first innocent victim kidnapped by the government for their sick and twisted experiments, and she would not be the last. As she heard footsteps behind her, she turned around; five masked soldiers stood there, guns raised, obviously prepared to shoot her. Only then did she realize that there was no escaping this Fate; her death had been planned from the moment that she had made the decision to run away.
Sarah pulled a knife that she had grabbed downstairs out of her pocket and raised it halfway into the air, preparing to throw it; all of the soldiers fired at once, killing her immediately. They approached her lifeless form carefully, and, after checking her for any vital signs, picked up her body. They carried it to another room next door, where a large chute labeled INCINERATOR: HOT; they tossed it in and closed the door quickly.
The lead soldier took off his mask and, after some limber stretching, walked down the hallway. He stopped at a door that was labeled Central Intelligence Agency- Experimental Room 269. The soldier cracked his knuckles and grinned. Then, without any more delay, he opened the door and went downstairs. After all, he had a scientific experiment to get to.
Written by Jeremy Lackey