I hadn’t wanted to go out that night. I was tired and grumpy after a long week of work, but Angie convinced me.
“A few beers, some dancing, you’ll feel all better!”
“I really think I’d rather stay home.” I told her.
“I’m already halfway there, so hang up, get ready, and put a damn smile on, because we’re going to have some fun!”
I sighed, but did as I was told.
The club was crowded and loud, exactly the opposite of what I had wanted, but Angie had a death grip on my arm and dragged me inside with promises of a good time.
A half hour later, I was sitting at the bar, still nursing my first beer while Angie downed her sixth tequila shot on the dance floor. She tried to wave me over a few times, but was soon distracted by an attractive man gyrating in her general direction. I snorted in amusement and shook my head. At least one of us was enjoying themselves.
Any other time, I might have joined in on Angie’s antics, but after all the stress I’d been under at work, I was finding it difficult to relax. I slumped slightly on my stool and took a small sip of beer, urging it to wash away the bad taste the prior week had left in my mouth.
I ignored him at first. Usually a combination of resting bitch face and no acknowledgement was enough to drive the bar flies away, but this one was apparently feeling persistent.
“I said hi!” He said again, this time a bit louder in case I hadn’t heard him over the music.
I gave him a quick sideward glance. He had to be in his forties, clean cut, still in a suit from what I presumed was his work day. Not the usual type I’d see crawling the bar. Still, I didn’t want to encourage him.
“Look,” I said flatly, “I’m just here with a friend. Not interested in whatever you might be looking for.”
To my surprise, he smiled and sat on the stool next to me. Great, I thought, he must believe I’m playing hard to get or something.
“Conversation.” He said.
“That’s what I’m looking for.”
“You picked a weird place for that.”
I turned my back to him and searched the crowd for Angie. Leave it to her to disappear when I needed her most. I could feel him still sitting behind me, watching me, and I fidgeted uncomfortably. What the hell was this guy’s problem? You don’t go to a bar for “conversation”, especially not with someone half your age.
“You don’t drink much.” He said conversationally.
“I don’t talk much either.” I replied snappily.
He chuckled. “Are you always so rude?”
“Only to strangers who can’t take a hint.”
“A little chat never hurt anyo-”
“Not interested.” I spun to face him, slamming my beer bottle on the bar. The bartender paused in the middle of taking an order and looked over. “Chatting, fucking, whatever it is you’re really looking for, I’m not interested. Leave me alone.”
He held up his hands in a jokingly defensive manner and grinned. That made me like him even less. I got up and moved down the bar, closer to the tender, who came over and leaned in with a frown.
“Yeah, I think I got my point across.”
“Good.” He straightened. “Drink?”
“I’m good, thanks.”
He wandered to another customer and I looked over my shoulder towards my previous seat. The man was gone.
“Creep.” I muttered and grabbed my phone to text Angie. It was time to go.
“But I don’t wanna go home!” She slurred as I helped her out to the car.
“I know, but it’s almost two in the morning and I’m tired.”
She grabbed me around my waist and tried to catch me in a clumsy spin. She wobbled dangerously on her too-high heels and I stopped to steady her.
“Come on, Ang, we’re almost to the car.”
“You’re so boring!”
She continued to take little drunk jabs at me the whole time we crossed the parking lot, as if calling me names would somehow convince me that we did, in fact, need to return to the club. She groaned when her Honda came into view and realized her best laid plan wasn’t working as she’d hoped.
“One more song!” She insisted, even as I pushed her into the passenger seat and buckled her in.
“Maybe next week.”
“Yeah, you’ve said.”
The whining didn’t stop until we were halfway back to her place, when the quiet of the car and all the booze in her system caught up to her. Her head gradually lolled down to her chest and I was, mercifully, granted some much needed peace.
Her house was dark when we arrived and I figured her roommates were either already asleep or weren’t home. I was glad that I had opted to live on my own instead of with Angie again. As much as I loved her, I just couldn’t keep up with her like I had when we were in college. Getting older sucked.
I parked, killing the headlights, and stepped out to go around and collect my incapacitated friend. I planned to drop her in her bed and then borrow her car to get back to my own apartment. I’d return it the next day, when she was sober enough to realize it was gone.
I was rounding the back of the car when I was slammed, violently and hard, against the trunk. The air was forced from my lungs but, in my shock, I didn’t even think to scream right away. By the time it occurred to me to do so, a hand was clamped down over my mouth. I flailed wildly, trying to bring my elbow back against my attacker with any kind of force.
The blade of a knife, icy and hard and so sharp, was pressed to my throat. I felt it knick my skin while I struggled and then the warm sensation of blood on my neck. I became still instantly.
“I will kill you and I’ll kill your friend if you make a sound.” The man’s voice hissed lowly in my ear.
With the knife still held firmly against me, he dragged me backwards to the street, away from Angie, away from the house, away from safety. Angie slept on, completely oblivious.
I was forced into the backseat of his car, which was parked on the curb, and he quickly wrapped duct tape around my hands and feet. Another strip was placed over my mouth. He tied an old rag that stank of gasoline and oil tightly over my eyes and shoved me to the floor roughly.
“Stay down.” He warned and the door was slammed shut.
The ride felt torturously long and I did my best to stifle my tears. Classical music drifted softly from the front, calm, soothing melodies that seemed to mock me. I curled up into as small as ball as I could and prayed that someone had seen what had happened. It was late, though, and dark, and I knew that the odds of someone having been able to make anything out were very slim. I squeezed my eyes shut behind the rag and silently wished for my mother.
At some point we left the paved street and turned into a bumpy dirt road, which had me jostling and fro and bounced me against the back of the driver’s seat. I wanted to scream, but the tape kept my lips sealed shut, forcing me to remain silent. When the car came to a stop and the engine died, the tears came more freely, soaking the rag and dropping down my cheeks.
I was wrenched from the backseat and dragged across a yard, up some steps, and through a door. There was carpet beneath my feet and it smelled faintly of pipe tobacco, a scent that reminded me of my grandfather. There was the soft ticking of a clock, the jingle of keys being set down, and then he was pulling me again, leading me further in.
He’d brought me to his home, I was sure of it. More doors were opened, the carpet became tile, and he helped me, surprisingly gently, down a long flight of stairs. The sound of locks being undone and yet another door handle turning. I swallowed a fresh, bitter wave of fear as he guided me into this newest room with all of its bolts and chains barring my exit.
He put his hands on my shoulders and pushed me into a chair and I heard him moving around me. Another door, this one sounding more like a cabinet, was opened and closed and there was the rustling of clothing, as if he were undressing. I bit my tongue, hard, to keep from making crying out.
Please no, no, no! I repeated over and over in my mind, as if denying what I thought was about to happen would actually prevent it.
When he approached again, I stiffened, unable even to breathe with him so close. I felt him reach around me and my makeshift blindfold fell away.
The man from the bar, still still grinning, was looking down at me. Instead of his suit, he was now dressed in an old timey pair of trousers and a white collared shirt, starched and stiff, beneath a brocade waistcoat. He even had a pocket watch chain hanging from one pocket. I whimpered and shrank away from him, sickened, confused, and terrified. Around us, the room was only dimly lit by candles and, from my limited view over his shoulder, I could make out a formal settee and easy chair in front of an unlit fireplace. Old sepia portraits in antique frames and a candelabra sat atop the mantle.
It was like some kind of bizarre set for a Jane Austen inspired film.
My captor knelt in front of me, interrupting my thoughts, and brushed a stray strand of hair almost tenderly from my face. I instinctively jerked away from him.
“Welcome home, darling.” He said.
Time doesn’t exist in basements. That was the first lesson I learned under Richard. It was just one endless stretch of existence, a painful eternity spent wondering if this was really how it was all going to end.
I learned a lot of other lessons, too. A woman does not ask questions, she waits for her husband to explain things in his own time. A woman does not have opinions of her own, she believes as her husband does. A woman does not raise her voice, argue, or otherwise disrespect her husband. A woman does not swear or drink or pursue any vice without the permission and supervision of her husband.
A woman does not do a lot of things that I normally would have done.
Adjusting to Richard’s rules was difficult, especially in the beginning, when everything was so new and terrifying. I had so many questions, but each time I tried to ask one, he would strike me across the top of my thighs with a leather riding crop.
Who are you? Smack
Why are you doing this to me? Smack!
What do you want? Smack, smack, smack!
After so many strikes, blood started to seep through my jeans and I stopped asking questions. He apologized and told me that he didn’t want to hurt me, but it was important that I knew my place if this was going to work. I didn’t ask what “this” was. Lesson learned.
Initially, I was handcuffed to an uncomfortable wooden chair with my ankles bound to its legs. After he’d left me alone for the first time, I had nothing to do but look around the cavernous room, which resembled a museum dedicated to an era long past. The end of a four poster bed peeked out from behind a delicately painted room dividing screen in one corner. A small, wooden dining table and two wooden chairs were opposite me and, behind it, a large hutch filled with old china rested against the wall. My only sources of lights were dim gas lamps that Richard had mercifully left on.
I didn’t want to be alone in the dark in this bizarre, dressed up prison.
I thought about screaming, trying to inch my chair towards the fireplace with its iron poker, of making some kind of attempt to escape, but defeat and resignation had settled so easily upon my shoulders and they were slowly crushing me beneath beneath their smothering weight. That first night (at least, I assumed it was night, there were no windows in the basement), I could only cry until I had no more tears left to give.
I must have remained in that chair for days. My wrists chaffed beneath the weight of the metal cuffs until they were raw and my entire body ached. The slightest movement sent fire shooting through my stiff limbs and my back screamed for even the slightest reprieve. To make things more miserable, Richard would visit for hours at a time, always dressed in some variation of what I thought of as “Jack The Ripper Chic”; trousers, collared shirts, waist coats, ties, all things that would have been the height of fashion during the Industrial Revolution.
I was only freed twice a day to relieve myself into a commode, which was little more than a trunk with a hole cut into the top of it. Richard would help me over to it and, I suppose in a gentlemanly show, turn his eyes away while I did my business. Once complete, he would take me back to the chair. Meals were also provided twice daily. He would bring down a bowl of porridge and a few slices of bread and spoon feed me as the handcuffs prevented me from feeding myself.
It was during these times that I started to learn about my captor. He liked to talk, but I feel that he enjoyed the fact that I had to listen even more. If I tried to speak without him prompting, I’d receive a swift crack from his crop.
“It’s only fair that a wife know her husband.” He said while dabbing the corner of my mouth with a handkerchief.
He gave his name as Richard Champion. He was a 46 years old English professor at the local university, where he specialized in Victorian literature. He rattled off things that he enjoyed doing, reading, sailing, hiking, and talked about how he’d like to have a family one day, but he needed to find the right woman. He hoped that I was her.
I promptly vomited porridge and bread all over his trousers.
Weakness began to set in. Weakness in my body, caused by lack of real food and sleep and pain, and in mind. Thoughts came sluggishly and always shrouded in hopelessness. The longer I spent chained to that chair, the more certain I became that I wasn’t going to be found and that this was going to be where I died. Just keeping my eyes open and my head upright seemed a struggle.
I had thought that Richard would see my state and decide it was time to finish me off. Part of me hoped for it, I think, because at least then I wouldn’t be stuck in this paranoid limbo of not knowing what was going to happen next.
When I heard him descending and the door unlocking, I rolled my head back against the chair and waited with the strangest combination of fear and acceptance swirling in my stomach. This was going to be it, I was no longer a fun plaything to toy with, he would almost certainly do away with me.
Instead, I watched through half closed eyes as he set down a basin just inside the door and approached. He unlocked my handcuffs and untied my ankles before rubbing each limb with a gentle vigor to return some life to them. With one arm beneath my knees and and the other around my back, he lifted me from the chair to carry me over to the bed, where he laid me down and began stripping my clothes.
“No.” I protested weakly, swiping at his hands. “Stop.”
“Modesty. Such a rare trait in a modern woman.” He said softly. “I knew you were the right choice.”
I was lying naked before him, but I had no energy to fight nor the strength to try and flee. I could only turn my head away and close my eyes, praying for it to be over with quickly. He walked away briefly, which only sank the knife sharp terror further into my gut, and I bit down on the inside of my cheek up keep from screaming.
I jumped when the warm washcloth crossed over my bare skin. Cautiously, I opened on eye and saw that he was kneeling beside the bed with the basin he’d brought down on the floor next to him. It was filled with steaming water and had the faint scent of roses. Slowly, meticulously, he cleaned away all of the dirt and grime until I smelled as sweetly as the water had. He combed out my tangled hair with a patient, gentle touch, before tying it into a loose braid.
“There, don’t you feel better?” He asked. When I didn’t answer, he gave my braid a quick, sharp tug.
“Yes.” I answered quietly.
I didn’t know why, his treatment had been gentle, but it hadn’t made me feel better. It had been violating and made every inch of me that he had touched crawl with wrongness that sickened me.
He pulled me suddenly to my feet and I swayed, light headed and dazed, while he turned to rummage in the wardrobe. He was pulling out clothing, long undergarments and petticoats and a gown, and laying them out on the bed. When he was satisfied with his selection, he began to dress me as if I were more doll than human and I just stood there, allowing it to happen.
I had never hated myself more.
“Lift your arms.” He said and, mechanically, I did so.
He wrapped something around my torso. It was stiff and inflexible and as he fastened the hooks in the front, I realized what it was. He was putting me into a corset.
“No.” I tried again to protest, but he ignored me and spun me around to begin lacing up the back.
Little by little, I was being squeezed and made smaller. It tightened uncomfortably around my stomach and my breathing became more difficult with every new cinch and pull.
“Please.” I begged.
I made an attempt to turn, but he grabbed me by the back of my head and threw me face down on to the bed.
“You will learn your place.” He said harshly.
“It hurts. I can’t breathe!”
“Beauty is pain. When you see how lovely you can be, you will appreciate all I’m doing for you.” He gripped the corset’s laces in both hands and pulled viciously.
There was a loud crack and white sparks filled my vision. I screamed into the quilt and clawed at my side, but that only made it worse. It was as if shards of ice had been plunged into my side and were raking against my rib cage. Every breath was agony, every movement was almost enough to make me pass out. He had broken at least one rib, I was sure of it, but I couldn’t form the words to accuse him. I could only continue to scream.
I shrieked even more loudly when he pulled me upright again and continued to dress me as if nothing was wrong. I kept trying to double over and sink back on to the bed, but he refused to allow it. He twisted me this way and that while I gasped and squealed, fighting to remain conscious. When he was done, he dragged me before a full length mirror and grinned at our reflections.
He had put me in a dark blue pinstriped gown with a high neck and poofed shoulders. Its severe, form fitting silhouette made me feel that I was now wearing a new, shiny cage; a too-tight cell within my larger prison.
Sweat beaded along my brow and my breath would only come in short, labored gasps. I leaned against him in desperation, trying to stay on my feet, and he gave me a small squeeze around my waist, obviously misreading my action as some kind of affection. He might as well have slammed his fist into my chest.
I opened my mouth to scream again, but only a small sigh came out, and I felt myself falling as the room spun and then faded into black.
Waking was pain. Sleeping was pain. My existence was pain. My chest ached terribly and there was no position that quite alleviated it. After I had fainted, Richard put me in the bed with a heated compress and went to sit in the easy chair to read while he waited for me to regain consciousness. When I did, I pleaded with him to remove my costume and let me change back into my own clothes. Breathing was difficult enough as it was without the corset squeezing me like a python would its prey.
“No wife of mine will wear things like that.” He waved a hand dismissively to my jeans and tee shirt piled in the corner. “You look so much better now, like a real lady.”
I clutched my side tenderly and shook my head. “It hurts too much. I need a doctor.”
“You need to relax.” He said.
“I can’t breathe!”
“You’re being hysterical, darling.”
I fell back against the pillows with a sob. I could feel the bones grating against each other in my chest, straining and scraping each time I moved. I gazed up at him pleadingly, trying to appeal to whatever shred of decency that might exist within him.
“Fine.” He relented at last, although he looked none too pleased about it. “I’ll make a call, but it will be a few days. The doctor will have to travel in from out of state.”
Any more requests for help or pain relief went unheeded. The basement was no place for modern medicine like Advil.
When Richard was home, he stayed close to my bedside and catered to me in ways he thought appropriate. He brought me simple meals and insisted on feeding them to me. He would bring me flowers after he’d been gone all day to work, he’d read to me, Dickens and Poe and Bronte, and he’d put me in a new dress each day. The corset never came off.
It was clear he got some kind of twisted pleasure out of caring for me; like there was nothing he enjoyed more than a helpless woman having to rely on him. He didn’t leave me chained up while he was away anymore, probably because I couldn’t get very far anyway, but the basement door was always locked.
“You’ve been idle for too long.” He said one evening. I only knew it was evening because he’d just come back from teaching at the university.
I frowned, unsure of what he meant. Of course I’d been “idle”, I was being held prisoner with broken ribs!
“I have some shirts that need mending.”
“Like…sewing?” I almost wanted to laugh. Was he honestly expecting me to patch his torn clothing?
“I don’t know how to sew.”
“You will learn.” He made me sit up and brought over a small wooden box filled with sewing supplies and one of his stuffy, starched shirts. “This button has come off at the cuff; I need you to stitch it back on.”
“I don’t know how.” I repeated.
“You will try.”
“I just told you-”
He raised a hand as if to strike me and I flinched, my hands half raised defensively.
“Thread the needle.” He instructed me and his dark tone left no room for more arguing.
My attempts were slow and amateurish. The needle felt small and clumsy in my fingers and I kept losing track of it in the sleeve. Richard loomed at my bedside, watching my progress through narrowed eyes. That only made things worse as my hands trembled and refused to cooperate and, in my inattentiveness, I caught the tip of my finger with the needle.
A bead of blood appeared and dropped onto the shirt, staining it with a fat red circle.
“You’re useless!” Richard shouted.
He ripped his shirt away from me and the needle, still attached to the thread, went with it.
“I asked you to do a simple thing and you continue to defy me!”
“I told you I didn’t know how!”
This time he didn’t stop himself from backhanding me across my face. I pressed my hands to my burning cheek and huddled against my pillows, but he grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me sharply forward, forcing a wounded yelp from me, and stuck his face in mine.
“You will not talk back to me!” He snarled.
I tried to pull away, but his grip tightened painfully, and I winced, tears in my eyes.
“You will learn.” He said.
He drove the needle deeply into my forearm until only the head was still visible. My screaming filled the basement and he walked away, disgusted, leaving me to pull it out myself.
The next time he visited me, he acted like nothing had happened. That was possibly most frightening of all; his ability to ignore his own monstrous actions and carry on like all was well. It only made me more certain that he would eventually kill me, despite his talk of marriage, and there was nothing I could do about it.
The basement might as well have been my tomb.
I didn’t leave the bed except to use the commode, which was a chore in and of itself given my strange clothing and condition, but I also didn’t sleep much, I couldn’t, and any rest I did get was never fulfilling. My weakness was now compounded by exhaustion and a listlessness born from despair. Hope became a foreign thing and I started to wonder if it truly would be such a bad thing to allow myself to waste away.
When Richard’s doctor friend arrived, it was immediately apparent that he was also a Victorian “enthusiast”. He wore a brown tweed suit and carried with him a large, black satchel. I’m sure he thought he looked every bit like Dr. Watson brought to life. To me, he looked like a ridiculous pudgy man in a costume. I doubted whether he was even a real doctor.
“Oh my.” He said when he saw me. “Haven’t you done well for yourself, Richard.”
Richard beamed proudly. “She’s a bit rough, but we’re smoothing out those edges, aren’t we, darling?”
The doctor chuckled. “Let’s hope she behaves better than that last one. Dreadful woman. I don’t know what I’d do if Lucille acted like that.”
“She’s still with you?”
“Four years now. She’s become quite the cook.”
They continued to chat while the doctor performed his exam, but I had stopped listening. I was hung up on his mention of “the last one”. There had been another woman before me? I could only imagine what Richard had done to someone his circle deemed “dreadful”. Somehow, I doubted he had just let her go when she didn’t fit properly into his little fantasy world.
“A morphine shot should set her right.” I distractedly heard the doctor saying. “One in the morning and again in the evening; it will ease her pain.”
“How long?” Richard asked.
“Just a few weeks. Here, let me demonstrate how to give the injection.”
He pulled an unwieldy, large syringe from his bag, all glass and metal that made modern needles appear a gentle alternative. It had to be a hundred years old. I blanched; just how deeply enmeshed in their sick game were they?
“I don’t want that! I want a real doctor!” I was shaking my head, trying to push myself across the bed and away from them.
“Forgive her, Charles, she doesn’t mean to be so ungrateful.” Richard said warningly.
“I understand. My equipment might seem intimidating to a lady with delicate sensibilities.”
It didn’t matter that I pushed him away or told him no. The doctor was determined to do his job. He instructed Richard to hold me still and, once I was pinned, stabbed the needle into my upper arm.
I had never had any kind of pain killer stronger that a Tylenol before and the morphine took hold quickly. I felt impossibly heavy and floaty all at once and the room seemed to rise and fall, as if I were on a ship riding large, slow waves. When the men were certain I was securely under the drug’s effects, they left the basement and went upstairs.
I was in and and out of a foggy sleep for a long time and the line between my dreams and reality were a thin one. Everything seemed just a little too solid to be fake, but everything also seemed just a hairsbreadth away from normal to be real. The world had stopped making sense the moment I was forced into Richard’s car, but at least then I’d still had control over my mind. Now, even that was gone.
I was woken from a feverish dream by a cool hand on my forehead. Whatever had just been plaguing my sleeping mind was quickly forgotten as I shifted and opened my eyes, expecting to see Richard sitting beside me. Instead, there was a woman standing next to the bed. Her face was obscured by shadows, but she was wearing my original clothing, which was torn and caked in dirt. I made a weak, startled mewling sound and she laid her hand on my forehead again.
As she leaned forward into the candlelight, I croaked and rolled away from her touch. The woman had my face! It had been battered, stained with dried blood, the eyes swollen shut, the lips stitched together with thick, dark thread, but it was definitely mine.
When I turned back, she was gone.
I sat up as much as I could, slowly scanning the room for any signs of the woman, but I was alone. I didn’t even hear Richard moving about on the other side of the dividing screen. It had just been a morphine dream.
But it was me, I thought with an icy, sobering chill. It was me as I was going to be if I stayed with Richard for much longer. What had been an abstract idea, something I assumed would happen but still hadn’t quite grasped, had now come to rest like a concrete block in my stomach.
I laid back down, shivering, and stared up at the dark ceiling. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, and I highly doubted I would be able to do it, but if any part of me wanted to live, I was going to need to escape. I was surprised to learn, then, that despite my earlier desires to give up without a fight, every part of me actually wanted to escape. Every part of me wanted to go home.
Better to die actually trying than wait until his crazy boils over and he loses control, I reasoned to the shadows.
With images of my own murdered face burned in the back of my mind, I started to piece together a plan.
Morphine, and the nightmarish ghosts it conjured, became my constant companions. I would lie awake, or mostly awake, in my bed and watch a parade of women in colorful gowns pass by the foot of my bed. They were featureless, blank, smooth skin where their faces should have been, and they glided to and fro, their hands clawing at their clothing, ripping at their hair. Their agitation increased my own and smothered me. I felt as if I were drowning in fear and sorrow and panic.
They were his previous “wives”, brought to life by a combination of drugs and my overactive imagination. I had no way of knowing how many might have come before me or what they had looked like, but my mind did it’s best to fill in the pieces in a very convincing way. I would have sworn then that they were as real as I was and that they had come to haunt me with their warnings.
Even as these apparitions passed me by, moving through wall and dividing screen, she never moved, the one that wore my bloodied, stitched face. She stood in the corner, staring at me through swollen, bloodshot eyes, and whenever Richard drew near, red tears would slide down her cheeks.
The doctor only visited once more before deeming me to be in good enough care to leave. Richard, for his part, seemed to take great pleasure in my distress. Playing nursemaid continued to suit him and he fawned over me with stiflingly affection. While the pain was all but gone thanks to the steady ministrations of morphine, my paranoia and disgust was heightened.
“Go away!” I would moan, but he would shush me and tell me it was time for my medicine.
It was almost a miracle that he didn’t resort to striking me for my “insolence”.
The only thing that kept me sane was a small voice in the back of my mind. It had somehow escaped the effects of the drugs and remained sober. It was the only thing telling me that the other women weren’t real, that Richard was, and that I needed to get out before he killed me. The voice sounded a lot like my mom’s.
I don’t know how long I was trapped in that terrible haze or how much morphine I’d actually been injected with. It was just another long, ceaseless stretch in what had already been a hellish eternity. I still couldn’t inhale deeply, still felt a dull ache in my side, and my entire world had become a surreal nightmarescape, but the desire to live remained kindled and burned more brightly every time Richard laid his hands upon me.
In a slow, laborious process, I weighed my options. I could bide my time, act the part of dutiful turn of the century wife, and wait until I was healed before making my move. Or, I could find a heavy, blunt object and smash him over the head when he came down the stairs to visit. That sounded like the more satisfying choice.
But it also sounded like the more difficult one. I had never been a strong person and now, I seriously wondered if I would be able to walk in a straight line, much less attack a fully able bodied man. As I ran over the different scenarios in my head, I noticed that one of the faceless ladies had paused at the end of my bed and seemed to be looking at me. She was calm now, her hands were clasped loosely in front of her.
The longer I continued to force a plan together, the more ladies stopped their pacing and came to stand around me, until all but the ghost with my face were crowded around my bed. I should have been terrified of all of these mannequin like figures, I thought distantly, but instead, I found myself oddly peaceful.
I had an idea in place and, for better or worse, I was going to try it.
I didn’t know how long I had, so I set about trying to get into position before Richard came home. With great difficulty, I sat up and grabbed hold of one of the bed posts. The room pitched and heaved as I pulled myself up my feet and I had to lean heavily along the walls and furniture to make the short journey around the dividing screen and across to the fireplace. Richard had not anticipated that I would be able to get up on my own. Richard had not anticipated that I would be able to cross the basement unassisted. Richard had not anticipated that I would get my hands on the fire poker.
The heavy iron grasped in my fingers was the most solid connection to reality I’d felt in a long time.
Using the poker as a makeshift walker, I walked back behind the divider and sat on the very edge of the bed and I waited. My silent, faceless audience were lined up in the corner, each turned towards the stairwell.
The minutes slipped past slowly and, the longer I sat there, the more my resolved crumbled. Would I be able to go through with it? What would Richard do to me if I failed?
Kill you. The little voice that sounded like my mother said. But he’s going to do that anyway. You have to try.
I had to try. I kept saying it to myself over and over until it morphed into a mantra; try or die, try or die. I was scared. I was hurting. I wanted my mother. I wanted to live. I tightened my grip on the poker and took comfort in its weight and I prayed that, when the time came, I’d be able to use it.
Try or die.
When I heard the key turning in the locks, I stood up and shuffled over to press myself against the divider. My heart beat wildly in my chest, pounding desperately against the confines of the corset.
“I’m home, darling.” He said with his usual good cheer. “I’ve brought you your dinner and medication.”
Good, I thought, your hands will be full. Aloud, I groaned, my typical response.
“Not feeling any better today?” His footsteps were getting closer.
His shadow fell across the faceless women in the corner and, as one, their heads turned towards me. The ghost with my face was expressionless save for the bloody tears staining her cheeks.
I raised the poker as far above my head as my broken rib would allow and held my breath.
“Darling?” Richard stepped around the divider.
With all the strength I could I muster, I brought the poker down.
Richard shouted in surprise and pain and the tray he’d been carrying spilled to the floor with a loud crash. My aim, however, had been off and I’d caught him across one shoulder. He fell back, gripping his arm, and when he lifted his face to look at me, his expression was black with fury.
“You cunt.” He growled and launched himself at me.
My side erupted with an icy flame as he drove his good shoulder into my chest and we tumbled into the divider, taking it down with us as we fell to the floor.
“After all I’ve done for you!” His fist connected hard with my chin and my teeth clattered together. “After how well I’ve cared for you!”
My nose cracked beneath his next blow. He was on top of me, straddling me, and no matter how I tried to block him with my upraised arms, he continued to hit me. My right eye filled with a warm, sticky wetness and a couple of teeth dangled loosely against my tongue. An attempt to squirm out from beneath him just made him angrier and he landed a punch directly on to my broken rib.
I gagged and gasped, unable to breathe, and the pain in my side oozed out into the rest of my body until I felt almost numb. I raised my hand weakly in attempt to ward off his fists, but her threw it aside and slapped me so hard that my head snapped to one side.
The one eye I could still see out of rolled violently and I was seeing triple. Three Richards, three beds, three syringes of morphine lying on the floor beside us amongst the rest of the items that had spilled from the dropped tray.
Try or die! Mom’s voice snapped from the back of my head.
Richard was still on top of me, breathing hard and cursing at me. He’d stopped hitting me for the moment while he inspected his fast swelling knuckles. Over his shoulder, the faceless women loomed.
“I had such high hopes for you.” He was muttering.
He was so caught up in the disappointment of his failed fantasy that he didn’t feel me reaching for the syringe.
He was so busy blaming me for his wounded hands that he didn’t notice my arm starting to raise.
He only looked up in time to see the needle driving straight for his face.
I sank that antique syringe all the way into his eyeball even as he screeched in such an inhumane way that goosebumps rose along my skin. He reared back and I managed to slither out from beneath him while he tore at his face. He made a halfhearted grab at my leg, but I kicked his hand away and scrambled on all fours around him, rasping for breath and sobbing hysterically.
While he screamed in rage and in hurt, I found the fire poker again.
It only took four strikes to silence him.
I was able to stay conscious long enough to crawl upstairs and call 911 before collapsing. I was unconscious on the floor when the cops, who’d traced the call, arrived. Richard’s body was discovered in the basement moments later.
I was locked in that basement for two months. In that time, Richard Champion had continued teaching, going on social outings, and otherwise living his life normally. Everyone that he had known claimed to be shocked when the news about my kidnapping got out.
My pain didn’t end with Richard. For months after, I endured surgeries, therapy, and treatment for my various injuries, both physical and mental. I moved back in with my parents and refused to leave the house alone for a long time. Angie visited frequently, going so far as to sleep on the floor beside my bed so that I had someone there to comfort me when the nightmares came.
After some investigation, two bodies were found buried on a piece of vacant farmland Richard owned outside of town. They were still wearing the Victorian gowns, complete with corsets, that he’d dressed them in.
His associate, the doctor he’d called Charles, was not found despite my description.
Every day continues to be a struggle. Logically, I know my captor is dead and that I was the one who killed him, but now I live a haunted life. Every shadow, every stranger, every unknown is a threat. Just like when I was trapped and drugged in the basement, I never feel alone. Instead morphine-induced faceless women, however, it’s Richard.
It’s always Richard.
I may have escaped his home, but I doubt that I will ever truly be free again.