Common Ground

By Tom Foster

 

 

 

            She woke to the feeling of cold cement beneath her cheek, the chill of the stone stiffening the muscles in her face.  A puddle of drool had collected beneath the left side of her head, its wetness unpleasant as she regained consciousness.  Her plain brown locks spilled all around her as she lay there, some of it catching in the wet puddle as she began to slowly move her head about.  A sense of vertigo hit her as she tried to crane her neck backwards, sending her crashing face first back to the floor beneath her. 

“Hey, are you okay?” she felt a rough hand gently touch the back of her neck, its warm touch causing her eyes to snap open.  Trying as hard as she could she attempted to rise, her arms and legs moving in spasms no matter how hard she tried to regain her control. 

“Hey relax, you’re still groggy.  Just take it easy.” Another hand clamped gently on her shoulder, further aggravating her.

            Vanessa did not like to be touched.  Why this was so even she could not say, it was just a character trait that had been with her for most of her life.  The merest brush of another she did not know or care for set her teeth on edge.  Even those she knew didn’t always find that they could just offer a friendly touch. 

“Get off of me.”  She managed to speak the words, but found that her jaw clamped shut immediately after.  Whatever had been done to her had yet to wear off, leaving her body still halfway paralyzed. 

“Fine, have it your way”, the voice said, muttering as the speaker moved away.  She wanted to apologize, to tell whoever it was that she didn’t mean to be so rude, but first she had to rise.  Gathering the sparse strength she still possessed she attempted to work her arms, planting them beneath her shoulders as she struggled to push herself up.  Fire burned in her muscles as she ground her teeth together, keeping her eyes tightly shut as she struggled to raise herself from the ground.  The rough feeling of the cement was quite unpleasant, though it was nothing compared to the pounding in her head as she continued to strain herself, managing to rise halfway before she collapsed, her cheek meeting the ground quite rudely as she grunted in pain. 

“See?  That’s why I tried to help you.  All of us had that problem apparently on waking up.  Do you want help?”  The voice became a little more distinctive as she lay there in pain, its masculine tone carrying a hint of irritation in it.  Vanessa ground her teeth together as she steeled herself against the answer she knew she’d inevitably give.  The fire within her body did not subside as she lay there, her muscles seizing even as she tried to lay as still as possible.  She could feel her cheeks burn with the shame of not being able to stand on her own two feet. 

“Yes please.  If you don’t mind can you help me up?”  A short snicker caused her cheeks to flush even more as she heard the footfalls coming in her direction.  Keeping her eyes closed she could feel as her entire body tensed upon the stranger’s touch.  If he noticed he said nothing, picking her up quite easily before setting her back first against a wall that felt just as solid as the floor.  The chill touch of it even through her shirt caused her to at least try and arch her back, though she found that she couldn’t even do this as the fire in her veins surged yet again.  Her hiss of pain was followed by yet another short burst of chuckling from more than one throat.  Opening her eyes Vanessa prepared herself to glare at those who were laughing at her expense, though what she saw caused her to think twice. 

She quickly counted nine other individuals within the well-lighted room, seven of them women and two of them men. They were in a round room that, as she could now see, was composed of concrete walls, floor, and nothing else.  Blinking several times she attempted to look up, but after just a few seconds her head began to swim as black spots started appearing in her vision.  Lowering her chin she gasped at the pain that had erupted at the nape of her neck, reaching back with one hand to feel for the sore spot. What she found left her wincing anew as her fingers probed the sensitive, raised portion of flesh along the back of her skull.

“You too huh?” spoke the voice that she now recognized, one of the two men she reasoned.  “I woke up with a pain inside my skull that I still can’t get rid of.  I suppose whoever put us here wasn’t too gentle in the doing.”

Vanessa didn’t answer, closing her eyes for a moment as thoughts of drifting off to slumber began to enter her mind.

“Don’t fall asleep,” she heard a woman say, “If you’ve got a concussion it’s likely you won’t wake up.  That’s what my mom always told me anyway.”

She had no intention of falling asleep, not when her head hurt this much, but it was at least good to hear another voice at this moment.  Her memories were so badly jumbled at that second that remembering her name felt like a grand accomplishment as she gently massaged around the tender spot on her skull.

Someone let out a long sigh as the sound echoed faintly in the chamber, “So, anyone have any ideas on how we got here and why?”

No one answered the second man as he spoke, though Vanessa was desperately attempting to remember the last thing she’d done, said, or even ate before waking up in this place.  What had she been doing?

“All I know is that I was folding my family’s laundry when I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head and I dropped. When I woke up I was here.”

“Me too,” said another woman, “I was coming out of my home and felt a jab at the base of my skull, right here,” Vanessa didn’t look, but could imagine the woman pointing at the spot, “and then I was out.”

“Where is ‘here’ though?” one of the men asked.

No one spoke for a moment, though as she opened her eyes Vanessa once again attempted to look up, but this time without craning her head back so far.  What she saw was absolutely nothing, just pitch black without any hint of an end, as though they’d been dumped in a pit that light never reached. Except there was at least some light, though it took her a moment to realize that it was coming from wall-mounted halogen lights that were burning just bright enough for them  to see by.  The cylindrical lights were located far enough up on the wall that jumping for them would be quite impossible.

 Looking around the room with half-closed eyes she took in the state of her fellow captives.  No one was chained or bound in any way, and none of them appeared to have suffered anything worse than whatever had been done to subdue them and bring them here.  The seven women ranged in age from what looked to be two teenagers to one woman who could have been in her thirties.  The men looked old enough and rough

enough to be in their thirties and possibly forties in the case of one of them. 

“I don’t know any of you,” she said plainly.

A bark of laughter came from one of the women, her blue eyes meeting Vanessa’s sudden glance as she shook her head.  The mass of blonde curls that swung about her head looked as though someone had shoved a dirty mop on her head, though Vanessa kept her mouth shut. The problem of foot in mouth disease had always been her biggest fault. It was one of the reasons why her last boyfriend had dumped her apparently. Well, that and the fact that she’d been acting “slutty” in front of his parents apparently.

“Something funny?” she asked before she could bite the words back.

The woman raised an eyebrow at her, sitting forward as she spoke, “No one knows anyone in here.”

“Where is ‘here’?” Vanessa asked, daring to look up again as her head began to pound more.

“Here,” spoke a voice that seemed to reverberate off the walls, “is where I’ve put you.”

 Each one of them looked up and all around, searching for a source that could divine just where the voice had come from, but they could see nothing past the lights and the darkness above.  Vanessa didn’t bother rising to her feet as she watched them, confident at least that they would find nothing. Whoever had put them here, and it had to be a who, had likely seen fit to insure that their cement prison was inescapable and ultimately too confusing to figure out.  Her mind had been racing since waking only a minute before, formulating questions that might provide answers as to what had happened, but so far nothing had come to her.  The only question that remained now was why they were here, and that she couldn’t begin to fathom.

“Who are you?” one of the women asked, her voice sounding close to panic.

The modulated voice came again, offering no clue as to its owner’s gender, age, or identity.

“I’m your tormentor, just as you all were mine at one point and time.”

That elicited looks around the room as Vanessa managed a slight frown that didn’t send a spike of pain racing across her skull. It was a clue at least, but one given so freely that surely the speaker was banking on the fact that no one in here would understand how to solve the rest of the puzzle.

“We don’t understand,” growled one of the men, “You mean we all know you?”

Ah, that made sense Vanessa figured, but it still didn’t provide an answer.  Even if led somewhere though she had a sick feeling in her gut that the speaker wouldn’t care, that he, or she, would believe themselves beyond reproach.  Somehow she couldn’t fault that logic.

“At one point and time, yes,” the unseen speaker said. “You’re here to conduct a little social experiment.”

“You can’t do this!” one of the women screeched, standing to her feet as she pounded a hand against the wall.  Vanessa quickly noted that all she received for her efforts was a sore hand and a dull, empty thud, meaning that the walls were likely a foot thick or more. 

“I already have,” the voice said, “Now to the experiment. This chamber will fill up periodically with water, which will be stored for no less than two minutes at a time.  In order to survive the only method you will have will be to hold your breath for that period

of time.”

“That’s not an experiment, that’s torture!” snarled one of the women, a young lady no more than twenty or so Vanessa figured. Her pretty face was pulled into a hideous grimace that spoke of fear and something else, though she couldn’t guess what just now.     

“Beyond the darkness of your chamber there are eight holes only two inches in diameter, enough to breathe through once the chamber is filled. But as there are more people than there are holes, you must decide to share, or allow two of your number to expire.  The experiment starts now.”

“Wait!”

The sound of the woman’s protest was drowned out by a sudden, blaring noise as the lights grew brighter for a moment, confusing them all even as the sound of something, perhaps a heavy slab begin dragged along, reached their ears.  Only a few seconds after the first drops hit them, and then the chamber was filling with water as from above the deluge began.

Vanessa knew that to remain seated was a death sentence, but as the others sprang to their feet, moving about like frightened crickets in a jar, she could only sit, feeling as the water immediately began to fill the bottom of the chamber, creeping upward until she felt it filling her shoes and saturating her pants and the flimsy underwear she’d selected just before….

Wait.

A memory was surfacing, something she’d been doing just last night. If her head hurt this bad then her assailant couldn’t have attacked her that long ago.  Of course that was assuming that her pain wasn’t the lingering type that waited until the body fully woke.  She was going with her initial thought however as she tried to hold onto the memory of picking out her underwear for….for….

Dammit, where had she been going that she’d needed a lacey thong riding between her cheeks?

“Get up!” one of the men said as he rushed towards her, “Get up or you’ll be sucking water soon!”

He wasn’t lying at least, the water had already risen to her waist and was steadily climbing now, the rush from above becoming a full on roaring waterfall that was filling the chamber without pause. 

“What do you remember before coming here?” she all but yelled at him, standing to her feet with some help as she felt a sudden chill.  She’d just stood under one of the direct streams feeding into the full mass of the waterfall, leading her to believe that one of the holes the voice had spoken about was right above her.

“Not much!” the man said as he shook his head, “I just remember that I was walking around outside my home and I felt a sharp pain in the back of my neck! After everything went black I woke up here!”

“Where do you live?”

It was forward and blunt, but it was something at least. She had to ask.

“We need to get ready to swim!” he said, looking down.  Vanessa could already feel the water rising hungrily to her waist, almost as if it was a living organism that wanted to devour them all.  But she would not be swayed from her question.

“Where?” she all but demanded.

“I’ve got a house with my girlfriend and her kids, one of ‘em’s mine, out in Vancouver, Washington!”

That struck no chords, but it was surprisingly forthcoming. 

“Where’re you from?” he yelled at her, keeping his head down so water wouldn’t gush into his open mouth.

“Portland,” she yelled back, giving nothing else as he merely nodded. This wasn’t the moment to be giving life histories after all as the water reached their waists, lapping at their bodies as if eager to pull them under. 

“We’ve got to find those holes!” yelled one of the women from across the room. Her voice reverberated off the walls as the water continued to pour down, ceaseless as the group began to go in their own directions, looking ever upward as though the water and the darkness would part just a bit to allow them a better view. Vanessa could have told them that this was pointless.  Eventually they would have to start kicking their legs to propel upward, where they could search in the darkness of those holes yet again, hopefully with better luck.  She reasoned that if they paid attention to where the water actually joined to make the singular column they would be able to find the holes that each spout was coming from.

People in a panic however did not think straight, nor did they allow logic to settle their frightened minds in their time of need.  Vanessa knew how to think when her back was to the wall, at least when emotions weren’t involved.

Another memory began to surface, but even as it did she felt the chill water reach her armpits, and any thought she might have had was gone in the next instant as she reflexively lifted her arms from the water.  The man she’d been speaking to had moved away by now, joining the others in seeking a way to see past the darkness.  She might have rolled her eyes had the situation not been so dire.

“Eight holes!” someone called, “We’ve got to survive with eight holes for air!”

“No shit!” yelled someone else, “Just don’t get in my way and we’ll be okay!”

Vanessa shook her head despite the pain it caused, wondering just who would be given the short end of the stick when it came time to ascend. She didn’t intend to be one of those left out.

                                    *                      *                      *

 

10 minutes later…

 

            As it turned out she hadn’t been the one who got the short end.  The man she’d been speaking to lay face down across the chamber, isolated in his own little spot as the others had left him.  The waters had indeed filled the chamber just as the voice had said, and had lasted for what felt like hours, but according to the watch that one of the women wore had been no more than a couple minutes.  At the very least the voice was being consistent.

            “Did anyone know his name?” The weak voice of one of the young women across the way sounded pitiful in the soaked chamber, and even more so as her voice shook. Each one of them were shivering and shuddering where they sat, well enough apart from one another that the sharing of body heat wasn’t even a possibility.  No one here trusted their fellow captives any further than they could throw them apparently, and more than that it was evident that whether he had never found a hole or  been forced from one of the

holes, the dead man had become a casualty of this little “social experiment”.

            “Does it matter?” asked the sole remaining man in the room, “He’s dead, and none of us know each other anyway.”  That remark elicited silence for nearly a minute before another person spoke up, one of the women across the way.

            “My name’s Jennifer Marsh, but everyone calls me Jen.  I’m from Portland, Oregon. I was going to pick up my kid from daycare. I’d just gotten in my car when I felt a sharp pain-“

            “In the back of your neck?” the man asked sarcastically, “Yeah, me too.  Anyone else?”

            The others muttered a “yes” or nodded in turn, which made Vanessa’s mind turn even quicker as she filed the thought away for a later time. So they had all been abducted in the same manner it seemed, and so far the woman, Jen, who had just spoken didn’t live too far from the man whose name she’d never gotten.  That gave her an idea as she rose to her feet, walking over to the corpse. 

            “What’re you doing?” the man said, shying away from her as Vanessa steeled herself for what she was about to do. It wasn’t anything like she’d ever seen on The Walking Dead, but it was still repugnant enough to be standing so close to a dead body, let alone shoving her hands in his pockets.  Thankfully she retrieved what she’d been looking for without needing to go through them all.

            “Have some fucking respect!” shouted one of the younger women.

            “Shut your hole,” Vanessa said, turning around just in case the younger woman wanted to do something foolish like sucker-punch her.

            The wallet was made of nylon, almost like something a young child or adolescent would carry, and featured the New England Patriots logo on its front, the swooping face of the mascot seeming to disapprove of her actions. She blinked as she opened the wallet, poring through the sparse contents until she found a drivers license with a stamp reading REVOKED across its front. She almost laughed, as she’d never thought the DMV would do anything like this. Instead Vanessa read past the permanent red ink, seeking his name and where he’d been living.

            At least he’d been telling the truth about his home.  Clinton Morgan, age 38, living in Vancouver, WA.  His picture spoke of a certain gleeful arrogance that the man she’d met had not seemed to possess. But then they’d been scrambling for their lives, and panic did strange things to people.

            “Clinton,” she said aloud, “That was his name. Happy?”

            There was a sullen silence as the other woman muttered “You don’t have to be a bitch about it.”

            “It’s what I do,” Vanessa shot back as she looked to the woman who’d spoken, seeing her eyes widen as she realized she’d not been as quiet as she’d thought.

            “Now that we know two of our names, anyone else want to volunteer?”

            Vanessa looked around the room as she spoke, not too surprised that no one bounded forth attempting to end the mystery. Finally though the only remaining male spoke up.

            “I’m Phillip Reddenthal,” he said plainly, “I live in Vancouver, Washington, and I was just getting home from work when I felt the pain in my neck. I thought a bee stung me at first, but when the lights went out, well, I suppose the rest of you know.”

            No one else spoke, but Vanessa was thinking hard now. Two from Vancouver, and two from Portland counting herself. That was a very limited area so far to pull from, and begged even more questions that she couldn’t answer right away.

            “Anyone not with us?”

            The voice, the hated voice, the cowardly voice she thought to herself, boomed out of the hidden speakers once again, and this time sounded almost jovial.

            “Clinton is gone,” she dared to say, “He wasn’t able to make it up to the holes.”

            Vanessa just barely saw one of the women twitch, as though the statement had caught her unawares, or had struck a nerve. She ignored it for the moment but would recall the tic later.  At the moment she listened to the silence from the speaker, wondering if she should infer anything from it, or if it meant nothing at all.

            “Does that make you sad?” she asked, daring just a little now as she looked up.  Something blue and crackling suddenly appeared in midair, spitting and creating a blue, arcing spark.  Too late she and the others realized what it was, and that the floor was still very wet.

            Electricity danced along the water-slicked floor, slamming hard into all of them as Vanessa felt her muscles seize and her body drop from the sudden shock.  She heard the others cry out from across the chamber and knew that they’d been tased too.  Though it lasted only a few moments she was still jerking and feeling the pain as she rose to her feet. 

            “That was only a taser,” the voice said, “Next time I might try a live wire when the chamber is filled.” Vanessa looked up, her muscles still seizing slightly as she closed her eyes against another spasm. “Does that make you sad?”

            She’d touched a nerve it would seem. File it away for later use she thought, and continue on.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            The room filled up a short time later, and they all made their way to the top.  Once it had drained again they were all still alive, but Clinton’s corpse had somehow vanished. No one had seen it, none of them had even noticed a change in pressure or the feeling of water rushing from an opening. To be fair they’d been worried more about saving their own lives than keeping an eye on a dead man, but it was still a shocking revelation. 

            As the chamber drained she kept an eye upon the others as much as she could, finding that none of them seemed willing to meet her eyes. Once their feet touched the floor however another of them spoke up, revealing that her name was Jenna Ogden, and that she lived with her family in Vancouver.  So it was three for Vancouver and two for Portland now. Vanessa knew there was something that tied them all together, otherwise what was the point? 

            The connecting piece was still unseen as of yet though, and seemed to dance just out of reach. Somehow she had the idea that it was something very simple, and that she might feel like a fool once it came into focus.  This had happened more than once.

            “So what’s your story?” Phil asked her as they began to shiver anew from the wetness they’d endured so far.  “Who are you and where are you from?”

            Vanessa was inclined to tell him to mind his own business, but instead she revealed her name and where she was from, though the details she recalled before waking up here she kept to herself.  Phil didn’t press the issue, but she could see in his eyes that

he wanted more.  He would have to wait, just as she was doing.

            “I was just getting home,” said one of the women. She had yet to offer her name, but her sopping wet hair and rumple clothing had already revealed a body that was obviously well-cared for and indicated that she took care of herself. “I’d gone for a run around town and was walking up to my front walk when I heard footsteps behind me, and then, here.”

            Vanessa wondered if anything was going to make sense in that moment as the woman kept talking. What she said next though made her pay attention.

            “I was supposed to be going to work the night shift.  I live in Brush Prairie and work in Jantzen Beach at the Doubletree as a waitress.  I didn’t get to clock in. They must be missing me by now.”

            “Likely they’ll think you just skipped out,” Phil said, shaking his head, “Any chance of anyone else being missed?”

            Heads rose at that remark, though no one but Candace spoke as she shook her head, “No, no, no. They know me well enough. They know I never do a no-show without a good reason. I always call, always call. They know me, they know I like my job.”

            Vanessa could hear the panic in the woman’s voice and deduced very easily that this young woman didn’t handle stress well, at least when her situation was as dire as this.  Under the circumstances she couldn’t blame her.

            “Likely as not we haven’t been here that long,” Vanessa said, “But it’s also likely that our tormentor is someone who has all the time in the world.”

            “What makes you say that?” Phil asked, looking at her askance.

            “Something like this had to have taken time,” Vanessa replied, looking up and all around, “I couldn’t even say what this place is, but obviously it’s a well-used system. It had to have required some planning and some effort to get us all in here, particularly without a scratch on us.”

            “Other than the obvious lump on the back of our heads,” Phil remarked.

            Vanessa nodded, “Whoever it is had to know our routines somehow I would think to know enough about where we’d be and when. I can’t believe it’d be dumb luck or done on a whim. That would be too dangerous.”

            “Regular detective aren’t you?” spoke one of the women from across the way, “Well then Sherlock, maybe you can tell us the best way to get out of this goddamned hole?”

             Vanessa and Phil turned their attention to the speaker, a rough-looking woman in her twenties perhaps who looked as if life had used her up and put her away wet.  Her face was a roadmap of scars and abuse, and her body was stocky and quite muscular. As she came to stand only a few feet away she scowled heavily at them, as though expecting them to speak.

            “What’s your name?” Vanessa said calmly.

            The woman scowled even heavier, “My name is Jean Burleson, and I asked you a question.”

            “First, where are you from?”

            Jean looked to Phil, then to Vanessa, then back to Phil, “Is this bitch for real?”

            Vanessa bristled just a bit at the woman’s tone, but did not rise to the bait. Instead Phil just smiled and replied, “I think this is all about as real as it can get. It might be best if you answer her question, ‘cause right now she seems to be the only one with any ideas

on what’s going on.”

            “Is that right?” Jean said, cocking her head in a manner that almost shouted her intent to get physical. That was fine if it happened, Vanessa had knocked a few bitches down in her life, as well as a few men.  She already knew where she would strike if it  came to that.

            “Well I’m from Vancouver.  Is that helpful missy?” she asked, her voice condescending and quite angry as she stood there glaring at the two of them. Vanessa couldn’t quite understand the reason for her vehement attitude, but did not decide to say as much.  Instead she processed the small bit of information and kept going.

            “What were you doing before you woke up here? Do you remember?”

            Jean moved just a little closer, one eyebrow raising suggestively as she eyed Vanessa up and down. “You really want to know sweets?”

            “Are you a dyke or something?” Phil asked, frowning slightly.

            Jean snorted as she looked at the older man, “The only thing a man is good for is what’s between his legs, and any real woman can still do without that limp little thing.  You want to know what I was doing sweetheart? I was tongue deep in-“

            “I get it,” Vanessa said, interrupting as she held a hand up between herself and Jean. “I get it.”

            Pursing her lips Jean pulled back, raising her hands in mock surrender as she crooned, “Oooh, well lookie here. Little Miss thong up my crack is a genuine prude!  Who would’ve guessed?”

            Vanessa frowned, tugging at her skirt to keep it covering her upper legs. She wasn’t afraid of Jean seeing anything, obviously she’d seen enough, but she didn’t need her lady parts to be on display, especially not in sight of this woman.

            “What, or should I say who, were you doing before you came here? Hmm?” Jean let this last word draw out as she went back to her place, sauntering now as she obviously believed that she’d hit a nerve. Vanessa could only shake her head, wondering again what connected all of them.

            “Wait, you were with someone?” she called.

            “Yes and no,” Jean said as she sat down, obviously pleased with herself. “My bitch and I were already done and she’d hit the road like I told her to. I was about to fall asleep when I felt the pain in my neck, and then nothing.”

            Shaking her head Vanessa looked up, half-hoping to hear something, anything, that might have given her a clue as to where they were. But of course it was silent save for the breathing and other noises made by her fellow captives.

            When the rushing sound of water reached her ears she wasn’t surprised, but she’d almost been expecting the voice to come again. This time she had at least a facsimile of a plan, though she had no idea if it would work.

            “Here we go again,” said Phil. As he spoke the water rushed in, and the nine remaining captives waited.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            One of the remaining three women who’d not identified herself as of yet was sobbing once the room had been drained, sitting with her head in her hands as she wailed into her interlaced fingers.  No one bothered to tell her to shut up, but as her sobs finally tapered off she spoke.

            “My, my name is Amy, and I don’t belong here.  I don’t, don’t belong, here.”

            It was almost too pathetic to listen to her hitching sobs, but Vanessa was listening all the same. She needed to know as much as possible, and could only hope that the voice came eventually. 

            “Where are you from Amy?” asked Phil, who was leaning up against the wall not too far from Vanessa.

            “Beaverton,” she said meekly, “I’m from Beaverton, out near Sunset High School. I work at the Costco over by TV Highway.”

            Vanessa knew where the woman was speaking of, and was growing more and more intrigued. She knew what question she wanted to ask now, though it might seem outlandish and a bit of a stretch. If the voice came back though she was primed and ready to deliver the challenge and see what happened.  If they were unlucky they might get another taser thrown down into the chamber just before the water came again.  If they unlucky….she didn’t want to think about that.

            “What were you doing before you got here Amy?”

            The young woman shook her head as she tried to recollect, to discover just what she’d been doing before being abducted. But then the voice returned, and Vanessa forgot about Amy for a moment.

            “Having fun playing detective?”

            The playful tone keyed her into something she’d not thought of before, a familiar note that almost struck a chord she could work with. But then the voice kept talking and her concerns swept that thought away immediately.

            “I feel it prudent to tell you that one of the holes has been covered over and will not be in use for your next swim. Now I understand that this means that you will need to work together once again or allow someone else to perish, but I feel confident that you will do as expected.”

            “And what are we supposed to do?” Phil managed to challenge.

            The voice was silent for a moment before coming back, the tone grave now as the unseen speaker said, “Simple. You will survive.”

            Before the speaker could step away Vanessa voiced her question, making her voice loud and clear as she looked up.  “How do you know all of us?”

            Again there was a moment of silence. Vanessa was well aware of the others turning to look at her, perhaps wondering how she had come to this deduction. She would reveal that later, but for now she wanted the speaker to at least think that she was beginning to figure things out.  If she could keep their unknown captor off balance they might stand a chance of surviving this ordeal.

            Instead the water began to pour in again, and as she noted the lack of a single stream Vanessa realized  that the speaker had been telling the truth.  She wanted to believe that she had struck yet another vital nerve by challenging the speaker in such a way, but as the chill of the water began to lap over her shoes again it was hard to feel any sense of victory.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Amy went next.  Once the water had receded again, once more without a visible drain to flush it away, the young woman was found lying face up on the cold concrete floor, her eyes wide open and a look of horror etched permanently on her face. Worse than this however were the bruises that ringed her throat, speaking volumes to the assault she had suffered at the hands of someone within the room.  So far Vanessa had let her opinion remain buried within her thoughts, but the others had not been so reserved.

            “Lookit the marks and look at your thick porkpie hands bitch!  You could’ve helped her survive and instead you saved your own ass!” Phil was vehemently attempting to reach Jean, being held back by three of the women while the other two held Jean in place.

            “And why would I waste a fine piece of ass like her?! It was probably you!  Where were you when we were all fighting just to breathe?”

            “He and I shared a breathing hole,” Vanessa said, piping up as she finally took note of the conversation.  Instead of furthering it however she looked to the two women who’d not yet identified themselves.  One of them, a woman with thick jowls and a heavy frame, looked to be in her mid to late thirties, while the other, who was rather pretty but in a plain sort of way, had to be in her twenties at least. 

            “You two haven’t said much since we started talking,” she said to them both, “Now would be a good time to start.”

            “I don’t have anything to say,” the older of the two said.  Dark brown eyes regarded Vanessa with a mild amount of suspicion as the woman then looked away. The other simply stayed quiet.

            “Your names and where you’re from would be a good start.” 

            “What does it matter?” the same woman said, “It won’t help us get out of here.  Just leave us alone.”

            “’Us’?” Vanessa asked, cocking a brow, “You two are an ‘us’?”

            “No!” the woman protested, “But since she’s not speaking either I spoke for both of us.”

            The other woman twisted her lips in distaste as she looked to the older woman, finally leaning her head back as she spoke, “My name is Margo and I live in Portland. Good enough?”

            Vanessa just nodded, turning her attention to the other woman.

            “Oh Jesus Christ,” the woman muttered, “Fine. My name is Pepper and I live out in Milwaukie.  I’m a Capricorn and I enjoy binge-watching Netflix on rainy days and I’m a caregiver at a Foster Care home.  Is that good enough?”

            That last bit struck Vanessa in a way she’d not expected, but it was not yet enough to spring any lasting memory.  Instead of showing that it had affected her, she nodded, moving away a few steps as she allowed her thoughts to churn.

            “We were all taken from somewhere,” she began, “And as near as I can tell the limits are Brush Prairie to Milwaukie. That’s not a huge jump.”

            “So?” asked Margo, “What does that mean?”

            “It means our kidnapper, whom I hope is listening, is either limited in their geographical influence, or knows all of us from their dealings in whatever city we were grabbed. The bastard knew us all in some capacity, that’s my theory.”

            “Oh yeah?” Jean challenged, “Then tell me this sugar tits, how come none of us know each other then?  You’d think if this puke pulled only people that they knew then at least one or two of us would recognize each other.”

            “Pepper what did you say you did?” Vanessa asked, ignoring Jean.

            Blowing out a breath Pepper rolled her eyes and said, “I work for a Foster Care

home.  I was taking out the trash when I felt a jab in my neck, and then nothing.”

            “In Milwaukie,” Vanessa said.

            Pepper just nodded.

            “What’s the goddamned point you’re trying to make woman??” Jean asked impatiently.

            “My point is that if someone who knew us did this, they would know where we were, when to hit us, and that we wouldn’t be missed.”

            “But I’ll be missed,” Candace piped up, “I didn’t show up for work and they’ll miss me.  That means they’ll call my mom, and she’ll miss me, then she’ll call the cops, and they’ll be looking, and then-“

            “Oh shut up!” Jean shouted, “We haven’t been here that damned long!”

            “And how would you know?” Phil almost growled.

            Jean looked at him askance, grumbling under her breath.

            “What was that?” Phil said, shaking his head.

            “I said I’m a diabetic!” Jean shouted at him, “I need a shot every six hours or I start to get the shakes. And I haven’t felt so much as a twinge since we woke up here.”

            Vanessa and Phil exchanged a look.  There was far more to that statement than either of them wanted to contemplate at the moment. For now Jean looked and sounded fine, but Vanessa had known a few diabetics in her life, and knew what could happen once Jean’s blood sugar dropped. It wouldn’t be pretty.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            The water came again, and then receded. As it did though the voice spoke again.

            “Everyone still with us?”

            Looking around Vanessa could see that Amy’s body was, predictably, missing.  How it had happened she still didn’t know, but the eerie quality of the abduction was enough to give her chills on top of the cold that had already seeped into her bones.

            “Amy is gone,” Vanessa said, “But I suppose you already knew that, Trent.”

            All eyes were on her now as she spoke, but the voice was silent for the moment, as though in contemplation or shock, she couldn’t be certain. 

            “Trent?” Jean said, “You know a Trent? So do I.”

            “Trent Farlaine?” Phil asked in a shaky, almost unsure voice.

            “Is his dad Abel Farlaine?” Pepper asked as she raised her head.

            Vanessa felt vindicated for the moment, but there was no definitive way to know yet that she was correct. The fact that they all held at least a small amount of common ground at this moment was tenuous at best. But if the voice-

            “I guess I should have known you’d figure it out eventually,” the voice said, still modulated despite the admission, “Of all of you in there I suppose Vanessa is the smartest.”

            “Trent??!” Candace suddenly erupted, “You took me from my home?? What the hell is wrong with you?!”

            “Oh pipe down Candace,” the voice, Trent, said in reply, “None of you have any room to stand on indignation.  Each one of you was selected for this little experiment for a reason, and a very good one I might add.”

            “What possible reason could you have for killing two innocent people?!” shouted

Jean, “You snot-nosed little puke!  Who the hell gave you the right to play with others

like this?!”

            “Oh come on now sis,” Trent said, obvious pleasure in his voice, “It was you who gave me the idea.”

            “’Sis’?” Phil echoed, looking at Jean now with obvious mistrust in his eyes.

            Jean was stunned to silence as she looked up, then at her fellow captives, her mouth working soundlessly as she obviously was trying to sort out just what had happened.

            “Don’t be so modest Jean. I had to wait for the right time to get you after all. Right when you were done with that little guttersnipe you enjoy so much I slipped a needle in your neck and, for good measure, I knocked you over the head.”

            “You little sonofabitch,” Jean whispered, shaking her head, “I never, goddammit, I never-“

            “You never what?!” Phil roared at her, coming dangerously close as Jean tensed up, no doubt waiting for him to strike her.  Vanessa had the feeling that this would be the worst thing Phil could do just now, but wasn’t willing to step in between them.

            “Back off,” Jean said calmly, silently, and in a tone that Vanessa couldn’t think of as anything but dangerous.  “Just back off old man or you’ll be singing the high soprano for the rest of your life, all two seconds of it.”

            Phil looked as if he wanted to try that threat, to see how far she would really go, but he did not advance. Instead he stormed off to the far side of the chamber, fuming and ready to punch something, or someone.  Vanessa on the other hand was putting two and two together. She knew Trent Farlaine, and in fact had met his parents, but never his sister. In fact it was fair to say that she’d never known he had one, as he and his family had never spoken of her. 

            She’d been dating Trent for some time before he had unceremoniously dumped her after she’d been too flirty around his parents.  In truth Vanessa had believed she was being affectionate, but Trent’s parents had been a couple of prudes in her estimation, and hadn’t approved of her from the get go.  But where did the others fit in?

            “Truth time,” she said to the chamber as a whole, “How do each of you know Trent?”

            “I worked for his dad,” Phil said, “Painting company, he was on the same crew as me and to be honest we didn’t get along too well.”

            “You’re an idiot Phil,” said Trent, his voice booming into the chamber, “Each day you came to work either drunk, stoned, or both, and wanted to do things your way, not the company way.”

            “That didn’t mean you had a right to get me fired!” Phil roared to the ceiling, “You ratted me out to your old man and he fired me on the spot!”

            “As he should have,” Trent said calmly.

            “I, I worked with him  years ago, but we kept in touch. Why Trent?” Candace’s voice was so pathetic that she sounded on the verge of tears, though upon looking at her in the weak light Vanessa figured that she was simply cold and tired, like the rest of them.

            “Ah Candace.  You might have been left off the list of people to include if not for one thing.  You screwed me over when it came to advancing within our place of employment those many years ago. You stood in my way when I wanted something, and now you get to pay the price.”

            “After seven years?” Candace whimpered, “You told me we were good, that we were friends. What the hell?”

            “Oh shut up Candace, you’re already boring me.  Just in case the rest of you don’t feel like confessing I’ll save you the trouble and tell you why each of you is here.”

            “Jenna, you’re a stupid little bitch that ran back to your sniveling boyfriend even after I tried to make you happy.  Jenny, you’re easy, and I mean that in every possible way.  I tried my best to show you another way to be happy and you laughed at me. You LAUGHED AT ME!”

            “Oh cry me a river,” Jean muttered, though no one was listening to her.

            “Shut your goddamn muff-eating mouth Jean!” Trent roared, his voice a roar within the chamber as he continued, “Margo, I told you more than once that I didn’t want you around. And what did you do? What did you do you dumb bitch?!  You stalked me and came to my parents’ home time and again!  Pepper, you tried to cheat my parents time and again, bilking them for as much as you could get in supplies and pay advances, only to turn around and do it again!

            “And Jean, ah Jean, the dark horse of the family, the one who never shows up in pictures, or conversations because she cut herself off from the family.”

            “That’s a goddamn lie!” Jean shouted, “You’ve got no idea what happened! You were only in junior high when I was kicked out!”

            “When you left, you mean?” Trent said, finally calm and composed as his voice flowed through the unseen speakers rather than thundering down like an angry god.  “I remember very well sister, dad gave you an ultimatum: shape up or ship out.”

            “You spoiled little privileged shit!” Jean snarled, “They  gave you everything and left me out in the cold!”

            “You put yourself there,” Trent said, still composed.

            “What about the rest of us?” Jenna said, finally speaking up again, “We’d likely forgotten about you, at least some of us. So why attack us like this now?”

            Trent chuckled, the sound filling the chamber as a few of them shivered, “Oh Jenna, you want to know why? Why I would do this?” Vanessa was certain that she didn’t want the answer, but it came all the same in the next second.

            “Because I can.  Just to stir the hornet’s nest a bit, there is one of you in this room who knows what’s going on and why, but it’s up to the lot of you to find them. Oh and by the way, two more holes have been plugged, so enjoy trying to share after this fun revelation.”

            With that, the audible thump of a connection being cut came over the speakers, and the small group was alone again. With nothing and no one but the recent history to ponder over. Vanessa could only watch, and wait.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            There was no more trust.  Each one of the remaining group stood looking across the chamber at the other, wondering if that person, or the one next to them, was the individual that Trent had spoken about.  There was a mole among them, but Vanessa figured that such a revelation might have been Trent’s way of sowing further discord among them, therefore making the experiment a little more interesting. 

            She couldn’t suppress a shudder as the water came again, pouring down from far above as two more streams had gone missing, lending more truth to Trent’s words.  He was going to kill them all she was certain, but it was likely going to be a long, torturous death that he would somehow enjoy. To think that he was keeping them in here for such petty reasons as he’d listed was hard to swallow, and even harder to fathom.  She’d thought him to be a much more deep-minded individual, someone who thought about the things he did rather than acting on impulse. After all it had taken her nearly three dates to figure out if he was just being coy or if he was genuinely nervous about touching her in any way.

            The water reached her ankles as she kept a close watch upon the others, wondering if any one of them might make a move towards her or the others. It was a little disturbing to think that she’d shared a bed with Trent but had learned so little about him.  She could reason away not knowing about past co-workers or those who worked for his father, but his sister was still one that she couldn’t figure out why she’d never learned of.  Vanessa had known many families that had split in such a manner, and had known the resentment that could separate one from those who loved them. But this level of animosity between family members was still quite rash she believed. 

            “Why were you kicked out Jean?” Vanessa asked, raising her voice to be heard over the water. She didn’t expect a response, but Jean surprised her by shouting back an answer.

            “I came out to my parents when I was still in high school!  I told them I was a lesbian and they freaked.  My father said I needed to straighten my life up or find another place to live. My mother tried to help me but she couldn’t understand.  I left, and Trent was there alone with them.  Our father didn’t want him making the same decision so he made an example out of me. He cut me out of their lives.”

            It was as simple an explanation as she’d ever received from another person, but one that made her shudder all the same. Her parents were no prize. Her mother had at one time had a parade of losers coming through the door, some that had even gone so far as to think that Vanessa was one of the perks of the relationship.  None of them had lasted more than a few months at most, but the current one that her mother was seeing, a guy who at least didn’t look at Vanessa with anything other than contempt, was one of the worst.

            “What about the rest of you?” she called out, “It would seem this is the time for explanation if not absolution.  What else have we got to lose?”

            “Stuff it you bitch,” Phil snarled at her, “How do we know you’re not the mole? You showed up after the rest of us after all.”

            “And I had as little memory as the rest of you,” Vanessa challenged.

            “But you figured things out so fast,” Candace countered, standing to her feet, “Too fast.”

            “I used my goddamned brain,” Vanessa countered, “If the rest of you hadn’t been wallowing around you might have come to the same deductions I did.”

            “How did you know it was Trent?” Jean asked, her voice raised and her head cocked curiously as she took a step forward, placing her almost under the cascading water, which had by now filled the chamber to knee level.

            “I guessed,” Vanessa said, tensing herself just a bit in case Jean decided to try and rush her. “I’m not the fucking mole here. How do we know you’re not?”

            “Me?” Jean chuckled, “He’s got no reason to reconnect with me. When he did

find me I told him to piss off and deal with his own problems. My brother and I haven’t

got anything in common other than the same bitch of a mother.  But you, I’d imagine he

got his little carrot wet a few times and found it was worth the return trip, yeah? He’d be more than willing to put you in here just to screw with us I would imagine.”

            “Trent dumped me not long ago,” she almost snarled, “I could have cut his balls off for the way he did it, and if I saw him now I most assuredly would.”

            “That’s a fine speech,” Jean said, “But I don’t think I buy it.”

            “I don’t really care,” Vanessa spat, “Because I’m not selling it.”

            “Enough! Both of you!” Margo said from where she stood, “The water’s rising and we need to make a decision!”

            “And what’s that sunshine?” Phil asked, standing where he was, still drenched and obviously unwilling to trust any of them as far as he could throw them.

            “Who’s the mole?”

            “We’re looking at her,” said Jean, her gaze lowered menacingly as she clenched and unclenched her fists, the intent obvious. 

            “You can kiss my ass with that,” Vanessa said as she too clenched her fists, “I was dumped in here the same as you.  Maybe we should be asking you a few questions.”

            “Like what?” Jean sneered, “I’ve got nothing to hide.”

            “Except that you’re Trent’s sister,” said Phil, eyeing Jean with suspicion, “I never knew he had a sister either.  That seems damn suspicious to me.”

            Jean looked at him incredulously, “Are you shitting me? You’re going to back her on this one?”

            “I’m not backin’ anyone,” Phil said, not moving as Vanessa watched him tense up. “I just want to survive this is all.”

            “Open your eyes already old man,” Margo said, shaking her head, “None of us are getting out of here.”

            “Except maybe the mole,” Jean snarled.

            “Making plans already?” Vanessa smirked.

            The water was at hip level now and climbing, and so far no one had moved. They wouldn’t start kicking their legs until it had rise above their heads, so as to conserve energy.  Vanessa got the feeling they were doing more than just waiting to tread water now though.  It was about to get ugly.

                                                            *                      *                      *

 

            “Did you have to hit me so hard?”

            “You can take it.”

            “That’s not the point,” said the speaker, “I wanted to make it real, not make it really hurt.”

            “Sometimes reality hurts,” said the other speaker.

            “You’re such an ass sometimes.”

            “And yet you keep coming back.”

            “I can’t help it. I like what I’m getting.”

            The other speaker smirked, leaning back in the sole office chair within the room.

            “I know.”

                                                            *                      *                      *

 

            For being such closed quarters the water was incredibly murky, limiting visibility to less than a foot in front of her face. Vanessa could only guess that this was why none of them had been able to see whoever had removed Clinton and Amy’s  bodies. Whether it had been Trent or someone else, the supposed mole perhaps, they wouldn’t have been able to see. Even the lights were all but useless once the chamber was filled.

            No one had made a move yet.  What that meant was that they had made their way to the holes, but so far no one had hassled Vanessa as of yet.  She wouldn’t be able to see anyone coming until they were right in front of her, but by then it might be too late. As a result her heartbeat had increased slightly, thudding in her ears as she pressed her lips to the hole she had managed to find. She could only imagine what might be going on across the way at the other holes. 

            Her breath was coming in and out of the hole at the most even pace she could think of, considering that she was scared shitless now. There was no reason to believe that the others wouldn’t be coming after her. She had after all figured out that it was Trent who was pulling the strings on this macabre little screwjob, though it had been simple deduction as she had pointed out. Whether or not his sister was the mole was hard to figure out, though she couldn’t see it being anyone else.  The others seemed to have a genuine dislike of Trent in some way, or at least a good enough reason to stay away from him.

            She sensed movement in the water behind her, prompting a return to watching out in as many directions as she could swivel, keeping her eyes peeled for any sign of movement. What she saw as she continued turning was only more and more murky water, without another body in sight.  If anyone was thinking of coming for her they would have already done it she figured, which left only another option: they would wait until the water receded. 

            In the dim murk Vanessa waited, and she watched.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            It turned out her worst detractor was no longer a worry she needed to concern herself with. As soon as the waters receded she saw two bodies floating gently in the chamber, each one facedown with their arms out to their sides.  It seemed strange that there were two this time, though could easily deduce that the added bombshell that Trent had dropped had caused this.  He’d thrown a metaphorical live grenade into the room and watched to see what would happen. 

            Despite her hatred of Jean and what the woman had said, in that moment Vanessa couldn’t have hated Trent any more than she ever had. They didn’t even need to roll the bodies over to see who they were, as the forms were known well enough by now. Phil bothered to roll them face up once the waters had completely receded, the hollow trickle of the last few liters echoing in the chamber despite the fact that whatever grate had opened could not be seen. This was an oddity that Vanessa could not understand. But if there was an outlet somewhere it was obvious no one on the outside could hear, or was bothering to listen.  Their voices had been raised loud enough at one point that any passerby should have at least taken passing interest.

            “Miserable bitch anyway,” Phil muttered as he stepped away from Jean’s inert corpse.

            “That’s goddamn cold,” Jenna said, hugging her arms to her as she rocked back

and forth, not bothering to even look up as Phil glared her way.

            “No fucking respect,” Margo almost hissed, and that did it. Phil turned around, glaring hard at her as he took a step forward.

            “You want respect?  You want respect?! Take a good look at that drowned piece of shit! For all we know she was the mole!  For all we know it’s because of her that we’re here!”

            “How do you figure?” Margo challenged, standing to her feet as she didn’t flinch from Phil’s gaze.

            “You heard him!” Phil shouted, “He said that it was her idea from the get go!”

            “He could be lying too!” Jenna managed to shout, making her voice heard as she remained seated. It was not a wise move in Vanessa’s estimation, as Phil went immediately to her, obviously fed up and not wanting to hear anything contrary to what he believed.  As he loomed over her Jenna went quiet, though this didn’t save her. The slap that Phil delivered to her face was loud in the closed off chamber, eclipsing Jenna’s whimper as she rocked to the side, the force of the slap more than enough to knock her to the floor in her weakened condition.

            “Now what?!” Phil said, “Say something else you stupid little-!”

            Both Margo and Jenny were the in the next instant, followed swiftly by Candace, who stood nearby waiting to something. Vanessa found it less than helpful the way she just stood watching, but then she wasn’t doing anything either, and wouldn’t until things went too far.

            “Let me go!” Phil howled, thrashing as the two women attempted to keep him contained.  Margo and Jenny weren’t quite strong enough as they tried to hold him, allowing Phil to weasel out of their grips to back away several steps.

            “That’s not helping anything,” Margo spat, “Just keep your damn hands off of her and everyone else from now on.”

            “Or what?” Phil said, spreading his arms wide as if in challenge, “Huh? Or what? What’re you bitches gonna do?”

            It was just then that Vanessa heard a rumbling sound deep within her body, followed by a gnawing feeling in her gut. She was hungry, which meant she hadn’t eaten in at least six hours or more. Her body often metabolized food very slowly, which meant she tried not to eat so much, which in turn meant she often went long periods of time without food. But it would appear that they’d been here long enough for her body to remind her that it was past time to eat.

            Too bad, she thought to herself, it looks like it might be a lot longer than usual.

                                                *                      *                      *

 

            Trent’s voice did not come again for some time, and thus no more holes were plugged when the water came again, drained, and then came again. The seemingly endless cycle was sapping the strength and the will to go on from each of them, as during one purge she noticed Phil lying on his face in the water as it drained out. She entertained the thought that he might have finally expired, but was surprised when he rolled over, coughing out the murky water before swearing to himself, lamenting the fact that he couldn’t seem to commit to his own demise.

            The second purge they lost Jenny. Vanessa had the misfortune of finding her

floating nearby when the purge reached the level at which they could stand.  She’d just

noticed the floating body when it rolled around, and Jenny’s dead gaze had found her

own. Vanessa had almost screamed aloud at the dead woman, but had clamped a hand over her mouth as she’d looked away.  Even now though, perhaps several hours later, that glassy, vacant gaze haunted her.  In a way it even mocked her, as if to say “I got out, and you didn’t.”

            She didn’t speak to anyone after that, not even when Phil had bothered to call her name.  His teeth had been chattering, and in truth he had barely gotten the syllables out. It was then that she realized they were slowly freezing to death, though the temperature in the chamber was still easily warm enough to avoid such a fate. 

            Wait.  That wasn’t right. If they were this cold then it meant something other than being immersed in chill water every so often. Staying very still Vanessa closed her eyes, relying solely upon her hearing and sense of touch in that moment.  It took only a matter of moments, but as she heard the telltale sound of wind whistling through a seam somewhere in the chamber her eyes opened.

            Virtually no prison was inescapable, as most such constructs were made by men and women who were just as fallible as their creations. It was true that this chamber had yet to offer any reliable way out, but she hadn’t yet given up hope.  The only problem now though would be how to allay suspicion from the others by searching for the source.  Even if she were up front and completely honest about what she was doing there was little chance any longer that the rest of them would believe her motives were pure.  It was a dog eat dog situation now, and they would likely turn upon her if she was caught searching for a way out.

            Casting a glance across the dimly lit chamber she saw the remaining captives, noting that each of them were casting suspicious glares at her and each other. Their watchful manners would make it impossible to go searching for the slight breeze she had felt. 

            She was tired, hungry, wet, and cold.  The others had to be in the same sorry condition, but she found at this moment that she didn’t care.  It was hard enough to care about her own predicament just now.

                                                            *                      *                      *

 

            At one point she fell asleep.  She hadn’t meant to, but her body had demanded it.  In this type of crowd however it could mean the difference between waking up cold and hungry and not waking up at all.  As she slept she dreamt of the last thing she’d been doing before Trent had somehow crept up behind her. She couldn’t remember that part, and it was probably for the best.  Who knows what the sick bastard had done when she’d been unconscious.  Thankfully nothing south of her hips had been sore or otherwise damaged, as that would have been noticeable. 

            Her dream took her back to the master bathroom of the apartment that she and her mother shared, where she had been getting ready for, for what?  Vanessa saw the dream but could not equate what was happening with what she could recall.

            “I’m so glad you came back,” she heard herself say, a smile on her lips and in her voice.

            “You were worth it,” spoke another voice as a figure appeared behind her, draping a fine silver chain around her neck as she gasped in pleasure. The pendant that was attached to the chain was a small cameo of a mother and child, a favorite rendering of hers that Trent had known about for some time.  As she saw him materialize behind her Vanessa gasped, aloud and in her dream.  She didn’t wake until Trent had already stuck the needle in her neck, and by that point in the dream he’d clubbed her hard enough that she stumbled forward, her face slamming hard into the sink as she submerged. 

            Vanessa awoke with a start, shaking her head only to realize that she was already underwater, her eyes opening wide with the realization as she took a deep breath out of reflex.  She almost gagged as she felt the chill water rush in, choking her as she quickly stood up, stumbling about for several steps as she spit the brackish fluid out, coughing in a loud, barking manner as she wiped at her face with shaking hands.

            Trent had come to her.  He’d been so damned smooth, so nice, and so obviously smitten that she’d listened to him. She’d opened the door for him, and she had let him in. The dream wasn’t just a dream, it was a memory.

            Wiping at her eyes with the heels of her hands blurred her vision for several seconds, but as her sight finally cleared she looked around and saw something that made her blood run cold. 

            There was no one left.

            She stood alone in the chamber, with the water already having risen to waist level, the streams coming down from above drowning out her voice as she spoke.

            “Hello?”

            It was foolish she knew to even expect an answer, but as her blood turned to ice in her veins she moved forward, dreading what she might find.  She knew very well that Phil, Candace, Margo, and Jenna had remained, but where were they?  Moving around the cascading water she saw nothing, not even a hint of movement within the water.  Despite the moisture in the room her mouth was suddenly dry, almost barren as she attempted to sort out the puzzle of where the others had gone. She had been so smart up until this point, able to figure out at least bits and pieces of what was going on, but now she was at a loss.

            A faint ripple just ahead of her grabbed her attention, but as she moved in that direction she felt a stirring upon the back of her neck.

            “He was always mine you silly bitch.”

            She didn’t even have time to turn around as a large, heavy object crushed the back of her skull, allowing the darkness to crowd in as she fell face first into the water. All Vanessa was aware of as she fell was that she’d been a fool, and that she should’ve never opened the door.

                                                            *                      *                      *

 

            “So I’m safe, yes?”

            “With me? Always.”

            “It’s not just because I’m hot and you’re horny, yeah?”

            “If it was just that you might be floating down there with the others. No matter what happened between us, we’re square as far as I see it.”

            A smile made Trent just a bit nervous, but he could at least feel safe knowing that if his secret got out, he wouldn’t be the only one ruined for it.  After all, the woman he’d taken as his partner years before stood to lose just as much as he did. 

            “So what now?” she asked, “I don’t suppose there’s anyone else you have such a huge grudge with, is there?”

            There was a twinkle in her eye as she said this, as though she expected him to say yes.

            Instead he pondered for a moment before replying, taking his time to think it over.

            “The day’s still young.”

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