Freedom : A short story

    08-Dec-2022
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Susmita Chowdhury
Contd from prev issue
Some of these encounters were innocent, like virtual reality games or just old-fashioned video games; others, not so much. I have exploited the terror of such raw horrifying moments, much like the next person, to ‘have fun’. However, one thing that I did learn from these manufactured experiences is that there is no point in asking the Nutjob what he wants from me, since he would either tell me eventually, or worse, show me. It’s not like he would spill all his mysteries as soon as I ask him, in my shaky trembling scared mutters, “Oh please God! What do you want from me?” And even highly unlikely that he would untie me and let me go with a pat on my back, if I were to mimic the scream-queens we cringe at yet pay money to watch, “Oh please let me go...I won’t tell anyone, just please let me go please please...” It’s all about the lessons you learn from every experience. So, I just focused on slowing my breathing, my eyes unwavering from him and staying quiet and calm. I would need each and every ounce of my strength if I am to escape. And I would need every bit of my wit to play his mind games, if there are any. In most cases where people commit crimes like kidnapping, torture or rape, the assailants almost always feed off the helpless cries for mercy or vain struggles for escape from their victims. It not only feeds their self-entitled and delusional ‘God’ complex, but also serves to remind them that they are the ones in charge. A victim may tip the scales into a slightly riskier zone by playing along or simply keeping quiet, where either they may end up irritating their captor by the lack of vigor and struggle or, as I am hoping, will confuse him enough to screw up, especially if this is (and I am really hoping it to be) his first time. Of course, this guy may just be above average and would not react because of whatever is going through his head, but my odds were pretty bleak either way.
His movements seemed painful, as if he had a limp. My eyes didn’t go past his knees thanks to the ropes across my chest. He must have strong upper-body strength to have carried me through, at least to and from his vehicle. So that rules out a fist fight. I am not the weakest physically, but can stand to eat healthier and exercise a little bit more to build up some core strength. He stopped near my feet and placed a palm on my right ankle. His hands were surprisingly warm and soft. His face had a sadness about it. Like he was almost regretting all this. I thought this was my chance to make the first move. Start the mind game, get the other upper hand. Then he opened his mouth and started speaking. The first thing he said sent shivers down my spine. “God created Adam and then ripped his body to make Eve. He could’ve turned Adam into Eve, but he didn’t. He chose to create Eve, a beautiful female form.”  The man said in a low but clear voice. Almost as if he was performing a solemn monologue, or just talking to his Goldfish. “You think this gives me pleasure, my child?” Another chill ran down my spine, this time colder and slower. He asked the question as his gaze moved up my body, slowly, with purpose. I couldn’t feel lust from his gaze or words. I felt tremendous sadness from his voice and something else. I didn’t know what that something else was, but my sense of dread was starting to spiral downward.!
“I know you think I am insane. A psychopath who likes to torture people and find satisfaction in their gore.” He looked up and met my eyes, for the first time. He had the greenest eyes I have ever seen. If it weren’t for the dire situation, I, most certainly, would have taken this man to be kind and gentle. The type you would go to, perhaps, to ask the time in a crowded bus stand. Or the type who would go out of their way to give you a hand with your luggage, groceries. “I also know you are not the quiet type, you are just keeping quiet” he said with a smile, still matching my stare. “You are trying to assess the situation, trying to work out what you can use to your advantage. Trying to work out how you can outwit me...” the last bit he trailed off in a whisper. This was getting surreal! Here I am, butt naked and cold, lying strapped to what felt like a morgue slab. And here is this guy, chatting, literally chatting with me, as if we’ve known each other forever! “Take control of the situation. Keep calm!” my inner voice was dictating. I decided to stay quiet. Till now he hasn’t given me enough ammo to work with. I need to wait until he speaks more, until he tells me what he wants. We stared at each other for what felt like an eternity, and then he shuffled away nearer to my head. I could hear a faint humming of something, could be a machine, could be a generator. I tried to bend my head towards my back, straining to see behind, but couldn’t. Something was holding my head in position, though I couldn’t quite tell or feel what it was. “I want you to know that your participation in this conversation will not have any effect”, I heard him say behind me. From the depth of his voice I could tell he had his back to me. “Should you think you could have done more, or better...” he came back and met my eyes. “What’s he got there behind me? Knives, scalpel, saw? Is he going to gut me?” my mind was screaming all these and many more combinations of horrid possibilities. I was trying hard not to show my worries as he kept staring down at me. “You want to tell me” my first sentence to the man who was, most probably, going to end my life.
His eyebrow went up and the smile returned, though this time it was more of a smirk. “It’s not always about what we want, my child. Sometimes, it is about what we should”, his gaze was fixed on my face. “Then tell me what you should”, I returned his smirk. As if a veil was lifted, his face lit up and he leaned in and kissed my forehead. “Our bodies are like a vessel. Vessels carrying souls from one plane to the other.” His tone was even, “Tell me, Joe, do you agree?” He sounded like a religious crack. Judging from his well-spoken demeanor, probably a priest or someone who likes to think he is doing God’s work. Smart, perhaps even a scholar. He knew my name, at least my street name. I was not sure if this was a good or a bad thing yet. Smart people, when delusional, are the most dangerous. Reasoning with them can be a tight gamble. However, he may have just given me my first move, I just need to bait my time. Struggling to keep the fear out of my voice, I replied “Aesthetically, Yes.” “Aesthetically huh?” he chuckled, and then moved away to the corner of the room. I could make out a door, slightly ajar, with more darkness on the other side of it. He shut it gently behind him, and I let out a sigh that I’d been holding in for a very long time.
Clearly, this isn’t something I’d be able to dance around with my words. The man is smart, and more importantly, understands what is going through his victim’s mind. People like him often have steady resolutions that are impossible to change, because they think what they are doing is the right way, and the only way. Mind games with this guy will be a waste of time. “Find out what his motive is!”, I commanded myself in the firmest yet softest voice I could master. No sooner than I found my own resolve, he walked in. He seemed agitated and a little bit of his cool façade seemed to be peeling away. I saw my chance and took it. “You know my name, so it’s only fair I know yours.” I was quite surprised at my tone’s steadiness. He looked at me and I could almost see him fighting something inside, even if it was for the briefest of moments. “You’re right, Joe. It’s a fair courtesy. You can call me Martin.”  Not, ‘my name is Martin’, but ‘you can call me Martin’. Likely an alias. “Not that you will need to converse with me much, but you’re right. This is the least I can do for you”, he continued. Captors seldom let their victims know their name, even if it’s an alias. Remaining unnamed gives them more power. Not my captor. Oddly enough, I found my curiosity slightly peaking than my sense of impending doom. “Martin, you’ve done your research on me from the looks of it. You know my name, know how I think. Don’t you think this, tying me up like a lamb of sacrifice, is a little beneath you?” I put my first chip in the slot and spun the roulette. Martin didn’t respond, rather walked over to the humming noise, out of my sight. My lizard brain screamed, “He’s not going to bite!” I was going to open my mouth to prod again, when he returned and pulled a chair and something else, perhaps a trolley I thought from the noise it made. He sat down with the slightest of flinch, as if from pain. My eyes darted around to his lap to locate his hands. He definitely wasn’t sitting down to chat about the weather. His eyes locked into mine for a moment, and then he raised his hand slowly to my temple. My limbic brain expected a blow or a shove or a pinch, my frontal cortex said it’s fine. His fingers brushed a few loose strands of hair away from my forehead. “I want you to know Joe, whatever is going to happen to you, is not out of spite”, he paused while looking at me. As if I was a child he was putting to bed, his voice was soft and his eyes were full of anything but hate. “This world has fallen severely out of balance. But that’s nothing new I’m sure you know. We all have and had a part to play in this. We call ourselves the supreme species, yet we behave worse than those we call savage. I don’t just mean war, famine, but greed. Oh! The over consuming greed! Greed for power, greed for money, greed for recognition, greed for success, greed for fame.” He paused for a breath, and I thought that although he was disturbed, perhaps not quite as delusional as I first made him out to be. “We cheat ourselves out of happiness by gambling on imaginary values, destroying lives in the name of money. We are busier portraying how happy we are instead of actually being happy. We blindly and unashamedly follow those who we label ‘successful and influential’, even if they are the worst beings to have ever walked this Earth. We try to fit in while craving for individuality. It’s always about being one up, it’s all about success!”
His infliction on the word ‘success’ chilled me to the core. “I’m sorry Joe, I’m sure you’re getting tired of listening to an old man’s useless rant”, he apologized embarrassedly. “Not at all Martin! I am just waiting for the butler to bring our wines”, I even surprised myself with my ability to be so casually sarcastic, given the premise. Martin met my eyes, and for a moment I thought he was going to explode in rage. But he merely smiled and said “This is why I chose you, Joe. You know the sad sacks of shit that people are and you despise the world equally as I do”, his eyes didn’t leave mine, “but everyone has flaws, and I am afraid yours has bought you this hand of luck.” “Perhaps if you let me know what my flaw is, I...We can work together to fix it! You can help me become better...”, a time as good as any for me to play my second hand, except that he cut me off mid-sentence. “Why do people say that? ‘Help me, fix me’! Do they really want to change?” he locked eyes with me, “Or is it just a bargaining trick to get out of facing the truth? People who really want to change do so inevitably. Because they understand that changing means leaving a part of themselves behind, discarding a part of their own self, may it be good or bad. People who say they want to change rarely change, because they cannot come to terms with throwing parts of themselves away.” “Would have thought you were better than this Joe”, the smirk returned. To be contd