You can now order my short collection Prepare Your Defenses!
A SHORT STORY BY LINDSAY ODEN
The frigid water sucked the breath out of Henry, punching bubbles against his cheeks as the precious air rippled past his numb ears. His arms worked ceaselessly against steel handcuffs that rubbed off the skin around his wrists. His feet kicked helplessly into what felt like an endless darkness. The only tangible connection Henry had to the external world, the world beyond the screaming madness inside his mind and the painful gouges of the ice water against his eyes, was a hand that gripped his hair, forcing his head into a bucket filled with melting ice.
When Henry could no longer scream into the desperate darkness, he waited, listening to his own heartbeat soften against the inside of his ears. Finally, and with a violent quickness, the hand pulled Henry out of the water and into a small room lit by a luminescent white light. Henry’s eyes blinked away water furiously, and he shook his head before defiantly meeting the gaze of his captor.
“You know I hate doing this to you, Hank,” said Rosewood, mockingly sympathetic. He brushed at a couple droplets of water that had landed on his bright white shirt. His skin was so pale it made the shirt look grey and gave his overall countenance a kind of extraterrestrial look. A slate grey jacket hung over the chair he was seated in. A black tie dangled perfectly down the center of his shirt, immaculately tied across the button holding together the starched collar. Someone in the prison’s laundry facility had worked very hard.
“Allow him to regain his seat, Charles,” said Rosewood quietly. Charles “The Brute” Ewell, a squat man in his early forties with a military buzzcut and oblivious eyes, released Henry’s hair with a push. With his hands still behind his back and his knees feeling like they were pasted to the floor, Henry attempted to stand, lolled over to his right, and pitched onto the floor. He feigned exhaustion until Rosewood motioned for Ewell to pick him up, which he did, setting Henry roughly onto a steel chair.
“Now, Hank, I wouldn’t normally do this to you, you know that, right? But every time you escape—and every time we catch you—we have to try to teach you a lesson. Last month it was the car battery, and that obviously didn’t work.” He patted his stomach contentedly. “You look a little famished, Hank. I hope you took a big drink because I think that’s the last water you’re going to see for a couple days.”
His voice reverberated off the concrete walls, striking Henry’s eardrums from numerous angles with every syllable. Henry remained impassive, too tired and hungry to muster any visible defiance. But inside, a powerful voice was screaming, ordering Rosewood to free him or face the consequences, offering his captor the option to liberate him without further tribulations or he would have to endure the mightiest of retributions.
In the uncountable months since his confinement, Henry’s inner voice had only grown louder, more violent, more unhinged, more desperate. And though his loyalty to the Rebellion had never wavered, his attachment to reality had become strained. He had physically endured the torturous interrogations, his brain refusing to divulge any information, but his mind, though prosperous in intelligence and guile, had grown frantic to escape the prison, and as such had become increasingly tormented.
He was only left alive because of his importance to the movement. He was never martyred, and Rosewood was convinced that hiding deep inside his psyche was the cypher needed to infiltrate the Rebellion’s encoded communications. Rosewood was so confident that, acting as the interim warden of the St. Thomas Industrial Confinement Unit, he had boasted to his commanding officers that he would singlehandedly win the war by breaking this one prisoner. This had led to desperation on his own part, as Major General Roderick would be arriving at the end of the week to inspect the facility and check on Lieutenant Rosewood’s progress.
Rosewood sighed, breathing a long streak of stale air into Henry’s nostrils. The interrogator knew he was close, and he had supreme confidence in his powers. Despite ten escape attempts, each more elaborate than the last, Henry Hooper, the so-called Fox of Fairfield, had always been recaptured. That’s why Rosewood thought he was so close to winning: Henry had grown more and more desperate with each coming day.
TO BE CONTINUED
More by Lindsay Oden