Chapter Eighteen

HAVE I BEEN ASLEEP? I can't see the window when I tilt my head back and look behind me. Is it dark outside? Was it even an outside window? Am I in the same room, or did they move me while I was asleep, if I was asleep? Maybe I've been awake all the time. I could have been lying here for hours. Might be longer. Might have been here for days.

Everything's quiet. Just a slow drip in the corner of the room. Sounds like a leaking pipe. Steady. Constant. I count to eight between drips.

Throat's dry. Need water. Want to call out, but I can't. Don't know who's listening. Won't lower myself to speak to Unchanged even if...

"How are you feeling?"

The voice from the darkness scares the shit out of me. I can only move my eyes, and all I see is nothing whichever way I look. Did I imagine it? My heart's thumping in my chest like I've run ten miles. I try to move, but I'm still held tight. Someone's next to me. I can hear their footsteps and their breathing. Can't see them, but I know they're close. I feel them brush against my hand, and my whole body stiffens. The door opens inward a fraction, just enough to let a narrow wedge of dull yellow light trickle into the room.

"Didn't mean to startle you," the deep male voice continues in an African-sounding accent. "I've been watching you for a while. Just wanted to make sure you were all right."

The man stops speaking and stands over me. I can see his short but broad frame outlined by the light from outside. Is he waiting for a response? He'll be waiting a long time 'cause I'm not speaking to anyone until I know who and what they are and why I'm here.

What's he doing now? He crouches down, and I can hear him messing with something on the floor beside the bed.

"You might want to close your eyes. I've got a lamp here."

I try to keep my eyes wide open, but they shut involuntarily when he strikes a match and lights a bright gas lamp. I force myself to open them again, ignoring the pain, desperate to see as much of my surroundings as possible after what feels like hours and hours of darkness. The brilliant bright light burns my eyes, and all I can see is the mantle of the lamp, glowing white-hot. The roar of the burning gas jet fills the room, incredibly loud after so much silence.

The intense glare of the light begins to fade as my eyes get used to the brightness. The man puts the lamp on a chair opposite the bed. He turns back around, and I get my first proper look at his face. The bastard is Unchanged. Can't help but react. I try to lunge forward, the chains still holding me down. I arch my back and try to break free, but I can hardly move. He shuffles back into the corner of the room, too scared to get too close. Need to kill him. Need to get rid of him, but I can't. Losing control. All I can do is spit. The spittle hits the wall and starts to drip down. Mouth's too dry to make any more...

"Finished?" he asks. Bastard. I relax my aching muscles, feeling searing, agonizing pain in my shoulders, wrists, legs, and neck. Can't stand being this close to one of the Unchanged and not trying to kill him. My guts are in knots. Can't think straight. Can't move. Can't do anything. Need to kill him, but it's physically impossible. Bastard. Haven't even got enough strength to spit again.

The dark-skinned Unchanged man picks the lamp up off the chair again, then puts it on the floor and sits down. I manage to turn my head to the side slightly, and I stare at him. Won't take my eyes off the fucker. I'd kill him in a heartbeat if it wasn't for these chains. Five-five, five-six at the most, he's overweight-as round as he is tall. The whites of his eyes are bright and clear. I imagine them bulging as I wrap these chains around his neck and pull them tight...

"Take it easy," he says. "Calm yourself down."

He's unarmed. He's sitting casually in the chair, and he's grinning at me with a look in his dark, staring eyes that's cold and evil. His legs are apart, arms uncrossed, palms open and facing upward. Textbook body language. Does he think I'm stupid? Fucker's doing all he can to try to seem open and nonconfrontational, but I don't buy it. Inside he's terrified, scared shitless because he knows what I'll do to him when I get free. Can't stand being this close to him, breathing the same air...

"Bet you've got more than a few questions to ask," he says. He's right, I have a hundred questions ready. He knows I won't ask any, but he still waits for me to speak. Wish he was close enough to kill. If I just had one hand free I'd have wrapped these chains around his throat and garrotted him before he'd known what was happening. If I could I'd smash his head into the wall, or burn him with the lamp or break the glass and grind it into his face or...

"My name's Joseph Mallon," he says, his heavily accented voice sounding composed, calm, and unhurried. "I'll be working with you while you're here."

Working with me? What the hell's he talking about?

"You were lucky to get away from the hospital by all accounts," he continues. "Now that says to me you were either incredibly lucky or very smart. I'm hoping it's the latter. You look like you've lasted well out there. You're in good shape."

Does he want to kill me or fuck me?

"I'll tell you what I know about you, just to get us started."

He pauses, and in the gap between his words I almost forget myself and speak. But at the last second I remember what he is and I stay silent, feeling my body tensing up again.

"I've been through your stuff," he says. "It's all safe, by the way. I know your name's Danny McCoyne. It's funny how we still carry things like wallets around. I guess it's just habit, isn't it? Even someone like you, someone who's so desperate not to be anything like the person he was before, you still had your wallet kicking around at the bottom of your bag. Couldn't bring yourself to get rid of it, eh? You've got no use for it, but there it was, full of useless banknotes, credit cards you'll never use again, pictures of your family. Lovely-looking kids, by the way."

At the mention of my family I automatically try to move and pull against my chains again. He grins. That was exactly what he wanted. I curse myself for being so transparent.

"That touched a nerve, didn't it?!" he laughs, looking pleased with himself. "Might explain why a big, hard man like you is carrying a doll and a kid's clothing around in his bag. Were you looking for someone?"

I look away, deliberately breaking eye contact and staring up at the ceiling. Undeterred, Mallon gets up and leans over me. I arch my back again, trying to get closer and freak the fucker out, but this time he stands his ground. The light shining up from the lamp on the floor casts strange shadows over his foul face. He grins and leans closer, staying just out of reach. I can almost feel his breath on me.

"Just relax. You're going nowhere, Danny McCoyne."

There's a noise outside that distracts him, the dull, muffled thump and rumble of a distant explosion. Mallon walks to the window and pulls the board away slightly to look outside. He doesn't say anything about what he sees, but the fact that he's able to look outside and I can't reminds me again that I don't even know where I am. I don't know where this place is. Add to that the fact that I don't know how long I was unconscious for... Jesus, I could be anywhere.

"Questions," Mallon suddenly announces, carefully replacing the board, then sitting down again. "If you're not going to talk to me, let me see if I can hazard a guess at some of the questions you're too proud to ask. We'll start with the basics, shall we? Who am I? Where are you? What are you doing here? How come you're still alive? How long will you stay alive? What are we going to do to you? Tell me, Danny, am I on the right lines?"

He's right, and I need to know all of that and more, but I still won't answer. I can't answer. Won't even look at him. I clench my fists, tense my muscles and grind my teeth, and stare up at the ceiling, doing all I can not to give him the satisfaction of a response. He shakes his head and sucks his teeth. If I stay quiet for long enough, maybe he'll tell me anyway? Bastard seems to like the sound of his own voice.

"Not going to talk to me at all this evening?"

Don't react. He wants you to react. He's trying to antagonize you.

"You know I can keep you here as long as I like, don't you?"

Ignore him.

"I'm thinking you're uncomfortable lying there like that. If I leave you all night it's going to get pretty bloody painful."

He won't undo these chains whatever I do. More bullshit.

"And you're gonna get mighty hungry. How long's it been since you've eaten? A day? Longer? And water, too... your throat must be burning."

Fucker's playing mind games. Don't bite.

He waits. Watching me. Trying to outpsych me.

"Danny McCoyne," he sighs, voice full of mock disappointment, picking up the lamp and leaning closer, "you need to spend some time thinking about your predicament. You've lost all control, sunshine. What happens to you now is totally up to me."

He stares down at me for a moment longer. I meet his gaze, determined not to be the one who'll crack. After a few seconds that feel like minutes, he stands up straight and moves back toward the door.

"Well, I'm not wasting any more time on you tonight. I'm hungry. We've got good supplies here, better than most. Going to fetch myself something to drink and some food, then get some sleep. It's been good talking to you."

With that he leaves, taking the lamp with him. He pulls the door shut with a loud thud, then locks it. I hear his footsteps walking away, then silence. The quiet is deafening and is interrupted only by the fading sound of a far-off helicopter or plane and the steady drip of the water in the corner.

The room is pitch black, no light at all. The kind of dark your eyes won't ever get used to.

Who the hell is Joseph Mallon? Is he on his own here? Just a lone crackpot trying to make a stand, or is he part of something bigger?

My gut begins to rumble with hunger again, and the itch by my right knee returns. Wish I could scratch it. That's all it'd take, just a few seconds scratching, then it would go. Feels like someone's digging a nail into my flesh.

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