by J. S. Bailey
A sound awakened him from a restless slumber.
He stared at the ceiling for a moment. Of course, the sound had been the figment of some fading dream. It was foolish to worry. Even if he hadn’t imagined the sound, it was probably nothing more than a vehicle driving by outside or the house settling on its foundation. Children became frightened by these things, not him. The years of lying awake at night and calling for his mother to come save him from the monsters in the dark had long since passed away.
He closed his eyes with the hopes of drifting back to that world where the troubles of the daytime melted into oblivion, but suddenly a floorboard in the room creaked underfoot.
He lifted his head and peered out into the room. At first he could see nothing, but when his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw them.
Five—no, six—silhouettes stood in a semicircle around the foot of his bed. The moonlight filtering through the drapes made them blacker than the surrounding shadows.
Before he could respond to the intrusion, he felt a sharp twinge on the upper part of his left arm. He yelped in surprise and rolled onto his side, only to see that a seventh silhouette stood inches from the edge of his bed. Two pinpricks of reflected light floated in the air. Eyes.
His pulse quickened. “What do you want from me?” he croaked, even though he already knew the answer.
It was so quiet that he swore he heard blood rushing through his veins as anxiety pushed his heart to the limit. Sweat began to run down his forehead. Why wouldn’t they just answer him? Perhaps this was some new kind of psychological warfare: standing in the dark and waiting in silence until their victim went mad. It might prove effective.
He tried to sit up and reason with them, but his body felt as though it had turned to rubber. Was he drugged?
The thing next to him jerked its head to the side. Three of the other silhouettes broke away from their group. One joined the first silhouette on the left. The remaining two came up to the right. He was surrounded. No way to escape, unless a guardian angel tucked him under its wings and carried him away to safety.
Everything was still.
But he could hear them breathing.
He didn’t dare close his eyes. God, grant me the serenity…
Four sets of arms grabbed him suddenly and flipped him over onto his stomach. His own arms were wrenched behind him and his wrists were crossed and held in place by unseen fingers. He could hear duct tape being torn off a roll. He writhed around to break free from their grasp. It was no use. His hands were bound behind him.
One of the silhouettes at the foot of the bed let out a choked sob.
Cloth was placed over his head (a sack?), and the phantoms wrapped more tape around his ankles and lifted him from the bed. He was limp as a rag doll. Whatever they had drugged him with was working quite well.
The phantoms made no effort to ease his discomfort. They jostled him around as if he were a bag of refuse they were hauling away to a bin. His head banged against the wall as they carried him down the stairs. He cried out to deaf ears.
He heard a squeak. Felt a gust of air. They were taking him outside. Now, crickets. Chirping in the yard. An engine idled close by. A car door opened and he was shoved onto a sticky leather seat. A radio was playing some Led Zeppelin song: “Dazed and Confused.” The irony.
The phantoms climbed in with him. The one on his right smelled like Old Spice.
Doors slammed closed. Seatbelts clicked. Someone killed the radio.
The car lurched as it moved away from the curb.
Tears stung his eyes. This couldn’t be happening. It had to be a dream. A nightmare. His own imagination torturing him while he slept.
But one could not imagine the terror that crippled him, or the coarse fabric that scratched against his face with each of his movements, or the throbbing in his head where he’d hit it on the wall.
He knew these feelings were real.
He also knew that he would not end this night alive.