Monday, 2 September 2019

Gripping Crime Fiction

Locked Away

Chapter One

Ellie’s body jerked and her eyes flicked open.  Darkness.  The sound that came from her mouth was muffled.  Something approximating to mah!  For a split second, she could not think. Then the questions came thick and fast: Where was she? Why was it so cold and dark?  Why was she lying on the ground?
Her breathing quickened.  Blinking, her mind still racing, she suddenly lay still and quiet, playing dead, trying to make sense of what was happening. 
In the muddy darkness she couldn’t see anything.  No matter how widely she opened her eyes, there was no light.  All around, it was deep dark like the dark of a forest at night, or a cave she’d visited as a child in Wales, where the lights had gone out before a dazzling show, leaving her thrilled and trembling.  There would be no show here.  That much was clear.  She moved her shoulders and realised her hands were tied behind her back.  It was an unlikely fact, but she took it in and once more her breaths came short and fast.  Next, she registered pain: her arm hurt because she was lying awkwardly on it. She shifted again. Her nose flared and she smelled the dankness of stale earth beneath her, coarse against her skin, the individual pieces of grit and stone pressing into her. 
 The last thing she took in was that she really was not able to speak because there was something covering her mouth.  This was somehow much worse than the darkness or the cord around her wrists.  She tried again anyway, but a stifled note like a muted trumpet was all that came out.  Squeezing her tongue between her lips, she pushed and the tape pulled her skin but would not budge.
All these sensations became clear to her in seconds, almost but not quite simultaneously. Now she wore them like a new skin.  A skin that made her feel vulnerable.  Exposed.

Stay calm.

Not so easy, when what she felt inside was panic.  A kind of panic that she’d never imagined she could feel.  Thousands of sensors went off like fireworks in every organ of her body.  At the same time, a terrible black silence flooded her head.

Where am I?

Ellie was not the kind of girl to get hysterical. Steadying herself, she breathed in and out through her nose.  Her pulse slowed.  She lay still.  There must be something to see in the darkness. The more she stared, the more she could make out.  To her right, quite close by, there was a wall made of what looked like large stone blocks.  She strained her eyes to see higher.  Yes, there was the ceiling, not level and crossed with shadows.  Beneath her, the floor was hard, uneven and darker than the wall. She felt once more its cold, grainy surface.  Only then, did she register the fact that her bare skin was touching the earth. She was wearing a tee shirt and shorts.  No shoes.

 The strange air was cold against her body and, for a moment, Ellie was truly frightened.  She knew also that she had never been really frightened before.  Not even as a child.  Not in the Welsh cave, or when she’d heard creaking on the stairs after her mother had gone to bed. Not when she’d stayed up late to watch a horror movie on her own. No, not ever.  Here, where nothing made sense, she felt terror rising from her bowels.  Wave after wave.

Come on, Ellie!

She gritted her teeth and banished the fear. Lying on her side, she had limited mobility.  She sat up with difficulty, grazing the skin on her elbow and the side of her knee. When she was still again she listened to the sound of her own breathing, this time strategically, waiting for the quiet gaps to search the darkness for something other than the passage of air into and out of her lungs.  And what if she did hear something?
Wriggling her toes, it was strange to imagine that her trainers and sports socks had been removed.  Perhaps it was a precaution to make sure she couldn’t run away…  The outrage she felt was tempered by this petty preoccupation: Where were her shoes and socks?  Ellie almost laughed.  Then, the muscles in her abdomen tightened.  Who the hell had done this to her?  What right had anyone to do this to her!
It was time to focus, to assess the situation and do what she could.  No point in dwelling on her plight.  Action.  She needed to act!  First, she must free herself.  The thin cord around her wrists hurt, and she made it hurt more when she twisted her hands to try to loosen it. 

Think, Ellie!

It was made of something strong, like plastic. It was tight, but she had the feeling that it would stretch if she pulled at it enough.  This thought gave her hope.  This was good.  Hope was essential in situations like this.  In films, when victims were trapped, there was always a way out, no matter how dire the situation. The victims were actors, of course, and they knew that in the script there was an escape plan.  She must find her own escape plan.  If she were clever enough, there would be a way out.
As she worked on the cord she was able to pick out more detail in the darkness.  To her right and further forward, set into the wall, there was the outline of something regular in shape.  A door.  Ellie held her breath and stared.  Knowing there was a way out was a good thing, but knowing there was a way in... 

Stop!  Don’t let it get to you! 

Okay, so the door was there.  Now that she’d seen it, she couldn’t go back to the time before she’d noticed its fine, firm outline.  So she would study it.  To be ready, if it should open.  It was not like an ordinary door.  She remembered films she’d seen about prisons.  The prison doors had a small window at the top that the guards could slide open so that they could look inside and check the prisoners were all right.  This door had a window at the top with five small bars across it.  Even if the bars had not been there, the window would surely not be big enough to fit her head through.  If her head wouldn’t go through, it would be pointless trying to fit the rest of her body into it.  Pointless. 
She continued her painstaking search. The worst thing was that nothing she saw made sense. Ellie had a hundred questions going round in her head and no one to answer them. But there was one question she didn’t want to think about.  One question that, nevertheless, kept coming back: 

Is there anyone on the other side of the door?
Although this thought was ever present, it was important to continue with a logical and calm assessment of her situation.  If there was a person on the other side of the door, that meant there was someone she could reason with.  Everyone had a weak spot.  Even people who were evil. 
She knew there were evil people in the world.  Men who killed women.  Men who killed children.  Even women who killed.  There had been a man in Austria who had held a girl captive for years, until one day she had been rescued.  Peter Sutcliffe - he had hated prostitutes enough to take them somewhere quiet in his car and strangle them.  With her hands tied together, Ellie would not be able to stop a man strangling her.  Even if she got a chance to bite him, to kick him, and even if by some miracle she then got the keys, how would she put the key into the lock?   No!  She shook her head to get such negative thoughts out of her mind and worked harder on the cord around her wrists.  She grimaced against the pain, angry with herself for thinking about kidnappers and murderers and what they could do to her.  With her hands free, she would feel better. Empowered. In the meantime, she should stick to positive thoughts.
The room was wide. She could not see much to the left or in front.  Looking up again, the ceiling seemed higher and it appeared to be crossed with beams. There was a smell she recognised, too. What was it? It was damp and pungent, a bit like leaves in autumn when the rain falls on them and they turn soft on the street. But this smell was not as nice as wet leaves. Wet leaves made her think of being outside and looking up at the clouds in a big autumn sky. Here, there was no sky, there were no clouds, and the smell was old, like air that had not been changed for days or even weeks. It was not a healthy place to be and she tried not to breathe deeply, to keep the terrible air out of her lungs. 
And suddenly it came to her.  It must be a cellar.  Of course!  That meant there was a house above and someone who lived in it.  A house with carpets and soft furnishings, electric light and central heating, windows and a view onto a street.  Unless the house was in the middle of nowhere.  In a forest or on a cliff top with the wind buffeting against it and the sea crashing below. It might be stormy outside.  It might be sunny.  It might be night.  No matter what it was like, it would be better than where she was.
Just then, there was a tickle under her thigh and she was distracted by another scary thought: perhaps there were insects on the floor or on the walls. Maybe big spiders hanging from the ceiling, perhaps just above her head, waiting to fall on her. The thought made her squeak, like a frightened animal.  A small squeak, like a mouse.  The sound of her voice was strange inside the room and the silence after it stranger.  The memory of it echoed inside her head, until she thought: How can I  be afraid of spiders, when my  hands are tied and I don’t know where I am?  How can I be so stupid?
Working harder at the cord, Ellie planned ahead:  What shall I do when my hands are free?  When I get the tape off my mouth should I shout for help, or should I stay quiet? These were important, practical considerations.  It would be key to her survival that she chose the right option.

Just then, outside the door, she heard a sound. It was the sound of a muffled cough.  And she froze. It proved that someone was there listening and, what a horrible thought, watching.


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