Chapter 1 of Hunted

 
Chapter One of Hunted
 
 
I awake on the cold concrete floor. I push myself up, carefully nursing my bruised body. There are no windows, so I cannot tell if it is day or night. I have no way of telling how long I have been here. The room is dimly lit with a single, bare light globe. The only furniture is a table and a chair; both bolted to the floor. Three metallic boxes, engraved with symbols, sit on the table, meticulously placed. They each have a tiny padlock holding their lids shut.
The metal door of my prison remains locked. It has a small slide opening at the base—a feeding door. I am yet to be fed, and it is taking its toll. My head is light, and I occasionally experience vertigo.
The walls of my prison are solid concrete. I know my captors well enough to realise that every piece of this room has been designed precisely. When I was first imprisoned here, I searched every part of the room for an escape; there is none.
I stand gingerly and catch my reflection in the shining metal in the middle section of the door. My long, dark red hair is no longer wavy and hanging gently by my face. Instead, in many parts, it has been ripped out, and what remains is a matted mess. My skin, which was once almost bright white and soft, is now dark with filth and coarse to touch. My fingernails are broken and filled with dirt and dried blood. Some of that blood is mine, most is not. The dark clothes I wear are torn; they hang in shreds from my now skinny body. I hardly recognise the person staring back at me.
The feeding door slides open, and I watch as a metal tray slides through and stops in the centre of the room. It holds a single envelope. It is almost comical; after all I’ve been through and all I have seen, the sight of an envelope could instil such fear in my gut. I bend to pick it up; the smoothness of the paper feels foreign against my rough hands.
I open the envelope to reveal a note within, written on soft, delicate paper:
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You will remain unshackled.
Leave if you wish.
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That’s it—that’s all the note says. I turn the envelope up, and two keys fall out. One is a standard key; one you’d expect to find in any regular hardware store. It has a small piece of paper attached to it with the word ‘door’ written on it. The other is a key of beauty. It too has a piece of paper attached to it, but with the word ‘boxes’. I stand in the centre of the room just staring at the keys. Why would they go to such lengths to allow me to leave so easily?
 The feeding door slides open again, and this time, a tray with a notepad, one pencil, a bowl of soup and a piece of bread, slides across the floor. The smell of food makes my stomach ache. I want to deny them the satisfaction of eating, but the temptation is overwhelming. I fall to my knees and begin to devour the food, almost choking on the dry bread in my haste to swallow it.
I place the bowl back on the tray and pick up the notepad to inspect it. On the first page is a message:
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Fill the notepad with your memories,
Or
Leave.
Should you leave, I will fill more boxes.
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Of course, I wanted to flee this place, but I knew it was a trap; I just wasn’t sure what kind of trap. I look up to the boxes. What could such small trinket boxes hold that would ensure I stay in this cell and tell them everything?
I stand and walk to them. There is nothing to distinguish one from the other, so I randomly select a box—the middle one—and unlock it. The padlock falls to the ground with ‘ting’ sound. I hold one hand around the base of the box, as I slowly lift its lid and peer inside. My heart palpitates, and my breath is stolen from me when I see what is inside. A finger with a twisted scar lies on the red velvet casing within the box. I recognise its previous owner immediately.
Beneath the finger, is a small piece of folded paper. I grasp the very edge of the paper and pull it out carefully, trying not to disturb the dead flesh, as though its previous owner would be harmed by me altering its position. Carefully, I unfold the slightly bloodstained note. The words etched across read:
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“Not all shackles are made of iron.”
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I stumble backwards. “No! No! I won’t do it,” I scream to the empty room. I know what devastation will come about if I fill that notepad. I look at the boxes sitting on the table. I know they are not empty. I clasp my hands to my head and close my eyes. I won’t look inside them.
The slide flies open again, and this time, a small box scratches across the floor and stops at my feet. As I pick it up, I notice it is different to the boxes on the table; this one is warm, and without a lock. I push the lid back. An eye stares back at me. It has been ripped out with such haste that the optic nerve still twitches.
I slam the lid closed and fall back against the wall, panting for breath. How could this have happened? They had captured me, only me. My stomach knots and the room seems to spin around me. How could it be that they captured another? My stomach moves from knotting to convulsing as its contents spill through my mouth into a foul bucket, which has been left in my cell for other purposes. A person I love is being held in another cell, maimed and tortured. My love for that person is the shackle that binds me. How could I have been so stupid and naive to think that by sacrificing myself I would end this, when my captors know my weaknesses and are prepared to exploit them so ruthlessly.
When I decided to let them capture me, I knew they would torture me until they got what they wanted from me. I had prepared myself for that—but not this. They know that I could never leave my loved one much less allow them to be tortured and killed. I just wanted to run from here and end this nightmare, but not if it meant the death of the one I loved.
There is no choice. I pick up the notepad and pencil and sit at the table. I don’t know how they expect me to condense my recollections into this one notepad using just this pencil, but I am certain that once I’ve filled this book, another will slide through the feeding door.
A memory has the power to move us forward, to do great things, or—to destroy us...
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