M. J. Arlidge
The first book in the Helen Grace series, 2014
Sam is asleep. I could kill him now. His face is turned from me – it wouldn’t be hard. Would he stir if I moved? Try and stop me? Or would he just be
I can’t think like that. I must try to remember what is real, what is good. But when you’re a prisoner, the days seem endless and hope is the first thing to die.
I rack my brains for happy memories to hold off the dark thoughts, but they are harder and harder to summon.
We’ve only been here ten days (or is it eleven?), yet normal life already seems like a distant memory. We were hitching back from a gig in London when it happened. It was pouring with rain and a succession of cars had sailed past without a second look. We were soaked to the skin and about to turn back, when finally a van pulled over. Inside, it was warm and dry. We were offered coffee from a flask. Just the smell of it was enough to cheer us up. The taste was even better. We didn’t realize that it would be our last taste of freedom.
When I came to, my head was pounding. Blood coated my mouth. I wasn’t in the warm van any more. I was in a cold, dark space. Was I dreaming? A noise behind me made me start. But it was only Sam stumbling to his feet.
We’d been robbed. Robbed and dumped. I scrambled forward, clawing at the walls that enclosed us. Cold, hard tiles. I crashed into Sam and for a brief moment held him, breathing in that smell I love so much. Then the moment passed and we realized the horror of our situation.
We were in a disused diving pool. Derelict, unloved, it had been stripped of the boards, signs and even the steps. Everything that could be salvaged had been. Leaving a deep smooth tank that was impossible to climb out of.
Was that evil shit listening to our screams? Probably. Because when we finally stopped, it happened. We heard a mobile phone ringing and for a brief, glorious moment thought it was someone coming to rescue us. But then we saw the phone’s face glowing on the pool floor beside us. Sam didn’t move, so I ran. Why did it have to be me? Why does it
The voice on the other end was distorted, inhuman. I wanted to beg for mercy, explain that they’d made a terrible mistake, but the fact that they knew my name seemed to rob me of all conviction. I said nothing, so the voice continued, relentless and dispassionate:
‘Do you want to live?’
‘Who are you? What have you done to u-’
‘Do you want to live?’
For a minute, I can’t reply. My tongue won’t move. But then:
‘On the floor by the phone you’ll find a gun. It has one bullet in it. For Sam or for yourself. That is the price of your freedom. You must kill to live. Do you want to live, Amy?’
I can’t speak. I want to vomit.
‘Well, do you?’
And then the phone goes dead. Which is when Sam asks:
‘What did they say?’
Sam is asleep beside me. I could do it now.
The woman cried out in pain. And then was silent. Across her back, livid lines were forming. Jake raised the crop again and brought it down with a snap. The woman bucked, cried out, then said:
She seldom said anything else. She wasn’t the talkative type. Not like some of his clients. The administrators, accountants and clerks stuck in sexless relationships were
They always started by securing her wrists. Two studded leather straps pulled taut, so that her arms were tethered to the wall. Iron ankle fetters secured her feet to the floor. Her clothes would be neatly stowed on the chair provided, so there she’d stand, chained, in her underwear, awaiting punishment.
There was no roleplay. No ‘Please don’t hurt me, Daddy’ or ‘I’m a bad, bad girl.’ She just wanted him to hurt her. In some ways it was a relief. Every job becomes routine after a while and sometimes it was nice not to have to pander to the fantasies of sad, wannabe victims. At the same time it was frustrating, her refusal to strike up a proper relationship with him. The most important element of any S &M encounter is trust. The submissive needs to know that they are in safe hands, that their dominator knows their personality and their needs and can give them a fulfilling experience on terms that are comfortable for both parties. If you don’t have that, then it swiftly becomes assault or even abuse – and that was most definitely
So he chipped away – the odd question here, the odd comment there. And over time he’d divined the basics: that she wasn’t from Southampton originally, that she had no family, that she was closing in on forty and didn’t mind. He also knew from their sessions together that pain was her thing. Sex didn’t come into it. She didn’t want to be teased or titillated. She wanted to be punished. The beatings never went too far, but they were hard and unremitting. She had the body to take it – she was tall, muscular and seriously toned – and the traces of ancient scars suggested she was not new to the S &M scene.
And yet for all his probing, all his carefully worded questions, there was only one thing that Jake knew about her for sure. Once, when she was getting dressed, her photo ID slipped from her jacket pocket on to the floor. She snatched it up in a heartbeat – thought he hadn’t seen, but he had. He thought he knew a bit about people, but this one had taken him by surprise. If he hadn’t seen her ID, he’d never have guessed that she was a policewoman.
Amy is squatting a few feet away from me. There’s no awkwardness now and she urinates on the floor without embarrassment. I watch as the thin sliver of piss hits the tiles, tiny droplets of it bouncing back up to settle on her dirty knickers. A few weeks ago I would have turned away at the sight, but not now.
Her urine snakes its way slowly down the slope to join the stagnant puddle of waste that has built up at the deeper end. I’m glued to its progress but finally the last drops disappear and the entertainment is over. She retreats to her corner. No words of apology, no acknowledgement. We have become animals – careless of ourselves and of each other.
It wasn’t always like this. At the beginning, we were furious, defiant. We were determined that we would not die here, that together we would survive. Amy stood on my shoulders, her nails cracking as she clawed the tiles, straining to reach the lip of the pool. When that didn’t work, she tried jumping up from my shoulders. But the pool is fifteen feet deep, maybe more, and salvation seems forever just out of reach.
We tried the phone but it was pin-locked and after we’d tried a few combinations it ran out of power. We shouted and screamed until our throats raged. All we heard in response was our echo, mocking us. Sometimes it feels like we are on another planet, with not another human being for miles around. Christmas is approaching, there must be people out looking for us, but it’s hard to believe that here, surrounded by this terrible, enduring silence.
Escape is not an option, so now we simply survive. We chewed our nails until our fingers bled, then sucked up the blood greedily. We licked the condensation from the tiles at dawn, but still our stomachs ached. We talked about eating our clothes… but thought better of it. It’s freezing at night and all that keeps us from dying of hypothermia is our scant clothing and the heat we glean from each other.
Is it my imagination or have our embraces become less warm? Less secure? Since it happened, we have clung to each other day and night, willing each other to survive, desperate not to be left alone in this awful place. We play games to pass the time, imagining what we will do after the cavalry arrive – what we will eat, what we will say to our families, what we will get for Christmas. But slowly these games have tailed off as we realize that we were brought here for a purpose and that there will be no happy ending for us.
‘Amy, please say something.’
She doesn’t look at me. She doesn’t talk to me. Have I lost her for good? I try to imagine what she’s thinking, but I can’t.
Perhaps there is nothing left to say. We have tried everything, explored every inch of our prison, looking for a means of escape. The only thing we haven’t touched is the gun. It sits there still, calling to us.
I raise my head and catch Amy looking at it. She meets my eye and drops hers. Could she pick it up? A fortnight ago, I’d have said no way. But now? Trust is a fragile thing – hard to earn, easy to lose. I’m not sure of anything any more.
All I do know is that one of us is going to die.
Stepping out into the crisp, evening air, Helen Grace felt relaxed and happy. Slowing her pace, she savoured this moment of peace, casting an amused eye over the throng of sh ...