It’s my first good look at the gun. I know next to nothing about firearms, only that it’s a handgun, has a hammer, a cylinder, and a giant hole at the end of the barrel that looks fully capable of delivering my death. The illumination of my flashlight lends a touch of copper to the point of the bullet aimed at my face. For some reason, I picture this man in a single-room apartment, loading rounds into the cylinder, preparing to do what he’s done.
I’m going to die here, maybe right now.
Every moment feels like it could be the end.
“Move,” he growls.
I start walking.
We arrive at a junction and turn down a different corridor, this one wider, taller, arched. The air is oppressive with moisture. I hear the distant drip…drip…drip of falling water. The walls are made of concrete, and instead of linoleum, the floor is blanketed with damp moss that grows thicker and wetter with each step.
The taste of the gun lingers in my mouth, laced with the acidic tang of bile.
Patches of my face are growing numb from the cold.
A small voice in my head is screaming at me to do something, try something, anything. Don’t just be led like a lamb to slaughter, one foot obediently following the other. Why make it so simple for him?
Because I’m afraid.
So afraid I can barely walk upright.
And my thoughts are fractured and teeming.
I understand now why victims don’t fight back. I cannot imagine trying to overcome this man. Trying to run.
And here’s the most shameful truth: there’s a part of me that would rather just have it all be over, because the dead don’t feel fear or pain. Does this mean I’m a coward? Is that the final truth I have to face before I die?
I have to do something.
We step out of the tunnel onto a metal surface that’s freezing against the soles of my feet. I grasp a rusted iron railing that encircles a platform. It’s colder here, and the sense of open space is unmistakable.
As if on a timer, a yellow moon creeps up on Lake Michigan, slowly rising.
Its light streams through the upper windows of an expansive room, and it’s bright enough in here for me to take in everything independently of the flashlight.
My stomach churns.
We’re standing on the high point of an open staircase that drops fifty feet.
It looks like an oil painting in here, the way the antique light falls on a row of dormant generators below and the latticework of I-beams overhead.
It’s as quiet as a cathedral.
“We’re going down,” he says. “Watch your step.”
Two steps up from the second-to-highest landing, I spin with the flashlight death-gripped in my right hand, aiming for his head…
…and hitting nothing, the momentum carrying me right back to where I started and then some.
I’m off balance, falling.
I hit the landing hard, and the flashlight jars out of my hand and disappears over the edge.
A second later, I hear it explode on the floor forty feet below.
My captor stares down at me behind that expressionless mask, head cocked, gun pointed at my face.
Thumbing back the hammer, he steps toward me.
I groan as his knee drives into my sternum, pinning me to the landing.
The gun touches my head.
He says, “I have to admit, I’m proud you tried. It was pathetic. I saw it coming a mile away, but at least you went down swinging.”
I recoil against a sharp sting in the side of my neck.
“Don’t fight it,” he says.
“What did you give me?”
Before he can answer, something plows through my blood-brain barrier like an eighteen-wheeler. I feel impossibly heavy and weightless all at once, the world spinning and turning itself inside out.
And then, as fast as it hit me, it passes.
Another needle stabs into my leg.
As I cry out, he tosses both syringes over the edge. “Let’s go.”
“What did you give me?”
I use the railing to pull myself up. My knee is bleeding from the fall. My head is still bleeding. I’m cold, dirty, and wet, my teeth chattering so hard it feels like they might break.
We go down, the flimsy steelwork trembling with our weight. At the bottom, we move off the last step and walk down a row of old generators.
From the floor, this room seems even more immense.
At the midpoint, he stops and shines his flashlight on a duffel bag nestled against one of the generators.
“New clothes. Hurry up.”
“New clothes? I don’t—”
“You don’t have to understand. You just have to get dressed.”
Through all the fear, I register a tremor of hope. Is he going to spare me? Why else would he be making me get dressed? Do I have a shot at surviving this?
“Who are you?” I ask.
“Hurry up. You don’t have much time left.”
I squat by the duffel bag.
“Clean yourself up first.”
There’s a towel on top, which I use to wipe the mud off my feet, the blood off my knee and face. I pull on a pair of boxer shorts and jeans that fit perfectly. Whatever he injected me with, I think I can feel it in my fingers now—a loss of dexterity as I fumble with the buttons on a plaid shirt. My feet slide effortlessly into a pair of expensive leather slip-ons. They fit as comfortably as the jeans.
I’m not cold anymore. It’s like there’s a core of heat in the center of my chest, radiating out through my arms and legs.
“The jacket too.”
I lift a black leather jacket from the bottom of the bag, push my arms through the sleeves.
“Perfect,” he says. “Now, have a seat.”
I ease down against the iron base of the generator. It’s a massive piece of machinery the size of a locomotive engine.
He sits across from me, the gun trained casually in my direction.
Moonlight is filling this place, refracting off the broken windows high above and sending a scatter of light that strikes—
Tangles of cable.
Levers and pulleys.
Instrumentation panels covered with cracked gauges and controls.
Technology from another age.
I ask, “What happens now?”
He waves my question away.
A weird calm settles over me. A misplaced sense of peace.