I open my eyes and look up at a ceiling. I’m sitting in a chair, can’t move. What feels like a belt is holding my head in place to the backrest. I move my eyes down; I can see most of another man’s face there. His head is also strapped down. His eyes are darting left and right, teeth clenched, struggling to free himself. I make my own attempts, knowing they would be useless, but trying anyway. The chair is bolted to the floor, it won’t move. The man is pretty close to me, if we could move, we could probably touch. I’m scared. I have no idea how this will play out.
“Hey,” I say, “you know what’s going on here?”
“No! I went to sleep and woke up tied to a fucking chair with some asshole in front of me who’s apparently in the same fucking situation!”
Stupid question I suppose, “Can you move anything besides your eyes and mouth?”
He tries again. “Just my fingers and toes, damn much that can do.”
“Ok,” I sigh, “looks like we’re stuck here until whoever did this decides to do what they’re doing. What’s your name?”
“I’m Chuck.” I’m curious about this man. Why is he here with me? “Can you think of any reason you’re here? Did you hurt anyone? Steal from anyone? Anything?”
“Man, I’ve never done anything,” he cries, “couple speeding tickets, that’s it. You think someone would at least tell you why they kidnapped you.”
“I can’t think of anything either,” I say truthfully.
I look at him, try to think if I know him, or if I had even ever seen him before today. I hadn’t. “Any chance you recognize me?”
“Don’t think so.”
“Alright, we’re two innocent strangers. I guess it’s just random. Pick the first person they happen to get, but for what?”
I look around as much as I can. The ceiling is high and I can’t see any walls. There is a spotlight high over head illuminating us. All my fingers can feel are the edges of the armrest. I can’t hear anything beyond my own breathing and the attempted movements of my newfound companion. What could have brought us here? Is this torture? Is there some psychotic force that brought us together? Whatever the answer is, I can feel in my gut that someone’s going to die. Hopefully not me.
“Shit! I just cut myself, I think! Something hard and sharp is around my right arm.”
I look back down at him; it’s a strain to keep my eyes pointed down so far. He’s staring at me, panicking, mouth wide open, and panting. I move my arms as much as I can.
“It feels like straps or something are holding down my left arm and metal bands are around my right.”
“What the hell? What are they going to…”
A loud screech. Deafening sounds. Speakers crackle. A booming voice.
“Good evening gentlemen. As you have no doubt discovered, you have been restrained and are now part of our little game. Between you is a table. On this table is a gun. In some time the restraints on your right arms will be released. The first to get the gun and kill the other will win their own life. An associate will put you to sleep and you will be released, a free man. The other will be disposed of and you will never be bothered again. If neither of you shoot the gun within five minutes of your restraints being released, a lethal electric current will be sent through your chairs killing you both, quite painfully in fact. It’s better for one to live than both to die.”
Silence. We wait for the restraint to be released. It doesn’t come.
“What the fuck, Chuck?”
“I guess we’ll have to wait. Maybe they want us to get to know the man we have to kill.”
“I don’t want to kill anyone! But I sure as hell don’t want to die!”
I yelled, “Well, would you rather kill me or die!? That’s the important question! Is your life worth the death of someone else? Could you live your life knowing that you murdered someone just so you can live?”
“No...” he said “I’d rather die than kill someone, but I’d rather live and not kill even more!”
“I feel the same, Mike, but unless you think we could untie ourselves in five minutes with only one hand…”
He was silent for a moment, then started whispering. “Yeah? What if we could?”
“What?” I yelled, “How can we trust that we actually have five minutes? How can I trust in you? If I reach over to untie myself, how do I know you won’t go for the gun?”
“Like I said! I’d rather die than kill someone. A shot at us both living is better than the alternative.”
“I guess it’s the only way to not be a murderer.” I smile, even though he can’t see me, “I trust you, you can trust in me too.”
So that’s our plan, we’ll attempt to free ourselves and hope we can do it in time. I know I’m not going to be getting anything off that table before I free myself, and I really think that Mike won’t try to kill me. I start going over plans to get myself free. Would it be easier to undo the other arm first? Would I need to see my other arm to free it? If not I would need to remove my head restraint so I could look, but could I do it with only one hand? I decide that when the time came I would just go with my instinct.
“It feels like there are three straps on each limb, one on my head, one under my shoulders and one around my waist.”
“So not counting the ones on the right arm, that’s,” Mike thought for a second, “twelve straps? Or belts? Whatever they are, I’m sure we have enough time.”
“So, you got a family or anything Chuck?
“No, not really,” I say. “My parents are around and I see them every once in a while. I have a few friends, no one really close though. You?”
“I have a girlfriend and a kid, and the rest of the family. I really want to get back to them. I just got a new job, planning on getting a house. Things are going pretty well. Man, why did this have to happen now?”
“Why does this have to happen at all? Why are people so fond of death?”
The life of someone like me against someone like him didn’t seem fair. I still want to live though. I don’t want to kill him, but I’m not going to offer myself as a sacrifice so that he can live. The only thing a reasonable person would do is our plan. We talk for a while. He tells me about where he grew up, what he does for a living, how he met his girlfriend, about how wonderful his daughter is. He starts getting choked up and I take over. I talk about just anything, school, friends, my plans in life. We keep talking about the lives we very well might lose until we can’t bear to talk about it anymore. We wait for what seems like an hour in silence. Still, nothing happens.
Mike started yelling “Hey! Come on! We gonna sit here all day?”
Nothing in reply but silence.
Mike is shaking, as much as he could anyway. “I want to see my kid again. I want to get out of here.”
“Mike, just relax. Think about how you’re going to get out of here, think about getting your other arm free, your head, your chest, your legs.”
“Alright, alright. I’m cool.” He doesn’t seem cool.
We wait some more. Every time I look down, Mike seems worse. I try talking to him, get him out of his own head, but he won’t talk back. I wait a while, hoping that we can both be free of this accursed game. As I look at him, it feels to me that I’ve been here for years, just sitting here, looking across this table. Eventually he starts muttering, but I can hear him.
“We just assume that we can get out of here. They could have us locked in. They could have people kill us the minute we walk out. I don’t even know where we are. Could be the middle of the desert or Antarctica for all I know. Hell, there could be someone six feet to the left and I wouldn’t know. They could be listening in the whole time and know what we plan to do. I don’t even know what’s holding me down. They might have to cut me out of here and there’s no way to get out with just my one hand. Someone has to die, and it sure as hell won’t be me.”
“Mike,” I try to reassure him, “focus. Focus on getting out. No one has to die. I know it. You have to know it too. Twelve straps, that’s it. We walk out, finally free.”
Restraint is released. I lift my right arm to the belt that’s on my head and start to undo it.
I see Mike reach across the table, I know I can’t win.
“Sorry Chuck, I have a family. I’ve got more to live for than you!”
“Don’t do this! There’s plenty of time! Don’t go home to your family a murderer!”
The belt on my head is loose, I look down quickly. His hand’s waving back and forth on the table trying to find the gun. It’s not there.
“Five years,” I say standing up, reaching for the kill switch. “Five years of endless variations, and they always reach for the gun.”