I woke up sitting on a wooden chair, unable to move any of my limbs. My temples were throbbing. The room was dark, but the flickering light right above lit up a small area around me. I found myself atop red tiles.
“Hello?’’ I said as I tried moving my arms. As I did, metal and chain clashed into one another. My legs seemed to be in a similar situation. The cold surface of the shackles surrounding my ankles made my efforts pointless. Why am I here? Did I get kidnapped? I can’t remember anything. The pain in my temples started to die down.
Behind me, the sound of a light bulb turning on caught my attention, followed by a loud bang of a door closing shut.
“Look who’s awake,’’ a deep voice echoed across the room.
As footsteps closed in, light-bulbs behind me lit up one after the other, and soon after in front of me too. The bulbs lit up the entire room. White walls, white ceiling, white floor tiles. Wait. White? Weren’t they red? Why are they white?
“I’m sorry for the mess,’’ the voice said nonchalantly.
A thin man came into view, in one hand he had a small, metallic table, and the other was grasping at a briefcase.
“These are all for you!’’ He shouted as he dropped the table and grasped my jaw, pushing his face into mine. His breath smelled like decayed flesh. “Doesn’t it make you jump with anticipation not knowing what awaits you?’’ He lifted the table on its feet and placed the briefcase on top of it. He played with the lock until it opened.
“I’m sure you’re going to enjoy your time here,’’ he said as he took a pocket knife out of the briefcase. He grasped my jaw once again, but this time he brought the knife to my lips. “Now tell me.’’ He began brushing the rusted metal-piece against my lips. “What is your name?’’
As I tried to speak, the smell of rust pierced all the way to the back of my throat.
“Who are you? Tell me your name! Why am I here? What did you do to me? Let me out!’’ I asked and demanded, but he just stared at me, shaking his head
“Come on now, I asked you a question.’’ He moved his face away from mine and threw the pocket knife back into the briefcase. What he took out next was a small saw. “I’m gonna let you in on a little secret,’’ he said as he inspected the saw’s blades, “my temper is not that great. You better answer my questions before I cut your neck right here and now. You get me?’’
I tried nodding my head, but I wasn’t quick enough.
“I said, do you get me?!’’ he grabbed my neck, pressing his fingers where the mandible attached to the cranium. “If you don’t answer me, I’ll hold this and you’ll pass out. We’ll have to do this over again.’’
My vision blurred first at the bottom, then the top. In no time, I could only see the tip of his nose.
“Do us both a favour, and tell me what your name is.’’
“Tortuo. My name’s Tortuo.’’
“An unusual name, I like it.’’ As he let go of the pressure points, I slowly started regaining my vision. “Wasn’t that easy Tortuo? Why did you have to make it hard for yourself? Please, from now on, do what I say without hesitating, ok?’’
“No nods Tortuo, I need you to speak! Now say, ‘Yes, I will do as you say.’’’
“Yes, I will do as you say.’’
He then took a syringe out of the briefcase.
“You know what this is for Tortuo?’’ He waited for me to answer.
“No,’’ I said gulping.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to drug you just yet. So if not for drugging, then for what? Do you know?’’
He started grinning as he looked at me and took in my confusion.
“Haven’t you heard of nociceptors?’’
I shook my head, the next thing I know, pain spread across my stomach.
“I said you need to fucking speak! So speak! Say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Is it that hard Tortuo? Two words! Use them! Make it easier for the both of us.’’
“Much better. Now, a nociceptor is a type of receptor. You find them at the end of a sensory neuron’s axon. They respond to damaging stimuli, sending danger signals all over your body. To your spinal cord, to your brain. When you mess around with nociceptors, your pain sensors destabilise, causing physical pain. Messing with them long enough makes the faintest of scratches feel like deep wounds.’’
He pressed his fingertip against the top of the syringe to test its sharpness. ‘’You know where you can find these nociceptors, Tortuo?’’
“Muscle, skin, joints, the bladder. All full of nociceptors. Even so, the best of all is the cornea!’’ He said as he lunged at me, stabbing the syringe deep into my eye. Pain pulsated throughout my body. Heat waves marched from my eye to the top of my head. Current rushed through my hands and made my fingers twitch in pain. My body cringed as I felt the syringe move in the back of my head. All I could hear was this man’s fulfilled laugh. His pleased grunts as he called my name, making sure I was suffering enough for his enjoyment.
Screams of pain left my throat instinctively, in hopes that they would ameliorate the pain. But the only thing my shouts did was increase his pleasure.
“Damn, you make me want to kill you! I want to kill you, I want to kill you! I should kill you right now! No, I can’t. I can’t! It’s too much fun. Oh, I’ll kill you! No, no, no. I need to control myself. If you die, I can’t have fun anymore. I want to kill you so bad, but I can’t!’’
It was as if he was breaking apart from the pain I felt. As he took the syringe out of my eye, I felt my eyeball come out with it. With my other eye, I noticed blood dripping on my jeans. The left side of my head felt as if lava found its course through it, burning everything in its path. At times the pain would pulsate, making my body cringe for longer. At times, it would die down, making my skull feel empty.
“You can stop screaming now Tortuo. The fun is done for today,’’ he said as he lifted my head to take a look at my wound.
He then left the room, shutting every light off except for the one that shone half-heartedly right above me. Soon after, I passed out.
I sat there, wooden chair on bloodied tiles, my mind drifting away from the real world, only to be pulled back by waves of pain that throbbed through my body.
I starved for days, I waited for him to come back and feed me, yet at the same time the thought of him returning killed my appetite. I despaired at the thought of him coming back, at the thought of him using the saw to cut parts of my body. Somehow, hope still prevailed. I would wait for him to come back. I would wait for him to torture me to the point that he got bored of my screams. I hoped he would get bored of the way my body jumped at each cut. I hoped he would get so bored and feel such pity that he would let me out.
But hope did not last for long. This was torture only for the sake of torture. I had nothing to hide. No important information to divulge. So why? Why am I shackled to a wooden chair? Why is my eye-socket still throbbing with pain? Why me and not somebody else? There can’t be any hope left. When torture is the only purpose, what else is there to feel beside despair?
My heart pounds at the faintest of noises. It anticipates his return. It awaits for the light-bulbs to turn on, for the sound of the metallic door to pierce through my eardrums as it slams shut. I wait and think. I think how all this time I took life for granted. While free, I waited all week for Friday to come so I could take a break from work. I waited all year for summer so I could go on a vacation with my wife and daughter. Making portions of my time alive meaningless. Yet now, I want the time I wasted and looked over back. I want to go through the agonising Monday, filing papers. I want to wake up early Wednesday to bring my daughter to her piano lessons.
I crave the need to watch as leaves fall on the ground mid-autumn, covering sidewalks entirely. I desire the crumpling sound they make when you step over them. I want my winters back, when I would sit in the living room with both my wife and daughter, watching how the falling snow covered our backyard. I want to see, at least one more time, the Azaleas bloom as spring takes over.
The light-bulbs started turning on, one after the other. The same slamming of the door.
I could hear his laugh in the distance.
“Did you miss me, Tortuo?’’
‘’You haven’t forgotten our little rule. I’m so proud of you!’’
He came into view, checking to see if the briefcase which he previously left in the room contained everything.
“I brought this,’’ he said as he tapped onto the bucket he held in his right hand. “You know what this is for?’’
“No,’’ I said.
“It’s for your body parts! Isn’t that brilliant, how I thought of this? You see, if I use this bucket, I won’t make such a mess next time.’’
He spun around together with his bucket, performing some sort of dance.
“By the way,’’ he said as he put the bucket down. “I’m here calling you by your name, but you don’t even know mine! Isn’t that weird, how I forgot to tell you my name?’’
He thought for a while, looking as if he was trying to remember his own name. He then rushed out of the room, only to return soon after. The smell of stew filled my nostrils and my stomach was already grinding in anticipation.
“I forgot about the food. It must have been tough this past week. It’s fine, you’ll get used to it.’’
He then took a spoon out of the briefcase and dug into the thick broth. With each spoonful of stew, portions of energy came back to me.
“Name’s Lanius by the way. Do you like my name, Tortuo?’’
“You’ll change your mind in no time!’’ he shouted, throwing the bowl of soup across the room.
Lanius shifted through his briefcase and took out the small saw.
“See this?’’ He asked. ‘’You fucked up, and now he’s gonna be your new best friend! Are you excited to meet him?’’
I didn’t know how to answer.
“Fucking tell me! Speak for fuck’s sake! Speak!’’
“No!’’ I shouted, the words echoing throughout the room.
Lanius then straightened my fingers on the armrest and started sawing away. At first, he chipped the very tip of my fingertip, throwing the bloodied flesh into his mouth when it detached from the rest of my finger.
“Oh, what a wonderful aroma!’’
He did the same with the rest of my fingers.
Cut, scream, bleed, chew, swallow.
Cut, scream, bleed, chew, swallow.
Cut, scream, bleed, chew, swallow.
Over and over and over.
“Now,’’ he said. “We are getting to bone, so this will hurt. But hang in there, we have loads to go through’’. He began with my index finger. He sawed at my flesh. As soon as it hit bone, the same currents of pain I felt a week prior started rushing through my body. He heaved his arm horizontal to my finger till he finally cut through a quarter of the bone, then a half, then got to the other side.
“Oh, how wonderful!’’ he said, throwing my index finger into the bucket.
He then continued with the other fingers. Ring, middle, pinkie, thumb. All cut. Sawed right through the bone. Each thrown into the bucket as if they were christmas-tree decorations put away until next winter.
My mind slowly slipped away as he continued onto the other hand.
“No Tortuo! Don’t do that! You must stay awake! Endure the pain Tortuo, be a man!’’
His words came out as a blur, I was on the verge of losing my mind. I could no longer feel the saw cut my flesh away. Has he stopped, or have I finally lost my senses? I looked around and saw him search through the briefcase.
“I’ll give you a little something, so you can stay awake. This is methamphetamine,’’ he said while pointing at a syringe he took out of his briefcase. “It prevents the body’s natural protective mechanism from fainting. I could drill right through your skull and you would remain conscious. It’s a sick little thing, but it’s just as magnificent.’’
He twisted my arm and injected the drug into my vein. The unusual liquid filled my veins and coursed through my body with a burning sensation.
“How do you think I discovered the pleasure of giving pain?’’ he asked, as he took out bandages from the briefcase.
I didn’t answer fast enough.
“Speak!’’ He punched me in the stomach once again.
“I don’t know!’’ I shouted.
He nodded in satisfaction and then began to tell his tale.
“I messed up and got caught by a gang of really fucked-up people. They wanted to kill me, but one of them had a screw loose and decided to keep me for his enjoyment. They threw me in the back of a van and brought me to their hideout. Every day, that one guy, came into the room and hammered nails into me. On my back, my chest, my arms! For the neck and head, he used extremely thin ones to make sure he didn’t kill me.’’
He wrapped bandages around my fingers to stop the bleeding.
“One thing he taught me was that every disadvantage in this world is from a lack of competence. You are poor and no one wants you to work for them? It’s not discrimination, it’s your lack of skill that keeps you away from achieving anything in life. The weak have always been trampled on. Impinged, violated, abused. Just like you right now, and me back then.
“When you go through a long, painful life of torture, you try desperately to find a path out. An escape of some sort. Stoicism says that someone at their peak wouldn’t be traumatised by torture, for they were not the ones getting tortured, but their bodies. For me, it was different. I no longer thought of myself as the one getting tortured, but as the fucked-up man that was torturing me. With time, I no longer knew if I was the one inflicting pain or the one feeling it.’’
With the last finger taken care of, he threw the bandages back in the briefcase.
“After a few months of being kept on the brink of life, the shackles rusted and he let his guard down. Our roles switched. I tied his mouth so his friends couldn’t hear him, and I went to work. Nails in his back, on his arms, in his chest. I didn’t want to play with him, I wanted him dead. I nailed all the way through his neck and skull. It lasted only a few minutes, but it really made me feel human. I can’t forget the excitement I felt then.’’
He stood up, and checked my pulse. Lifted my head, and checked my vision.
“We should be good. The drug is taking effect,’’ he said.
He began looking through his briefcase. He took out a box of nails and a hammer.
“Reminds you of anything?’’ he asked, grinning.
“Your story,’’ I said, not wanting another of his fits to happen again.
“Good memory. Now, let’s begin.’’
He pressed the nail on top of one of my toe’s fingernails and slammed the hammer into it. The pain bolted through my body and it made my legs react. The nail remained hammered to the ground and I instinctively lifted my foot from the pain, ripping my whole toe apart. He proceeded with the remaining toes, and soon after nailed through my whole body.
One after the other. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over.
I tried looking for my escape, for my path away from pain.
I tried imagining conversations with my wife, yet they got flooded by rusted blood.
I tried imagining myself as Lanius, but I couldn’t. I wasn’t capable of becoming somebody else.
I tried and I tried, for a long time, but nothing came to me. I couldn’t think of any ties that could keep me sane. At one point, I started counting and I couldn’t stop. Each number helped me alleviate some of the pain. My mind would drift from the metal-pieces hammered through my body to the numbers floating inside my head. I don’t know why and how it worked, but I clung onto these numbers as hard as I could, as they were the only things keeping me sane.
“You’d make a nice porcupine,’’ said Lanius, grinning at me. “We’re done for today Tortuo. I’ve got a nice surprise for you the next time we meet. Until then!’’ He said, throwing the hammer back in the briefcase as he escaped my view.
Lights turned off, door slammed shut. This time, I didn’t pass out. The effect of the drug was still in my body. I continued to count, and I counted until me and Lanius met again.
7841, 7842, 7843, 7844… The lights turned on.
7845, 7846, 7847, 7848… The door slammed shut.
7849, 7850, 7851, 7852… His laugh filled the room.
7853, 7854, 7855, 7856… There was something else. Moans?
7857, 7858, 7859, 7860… Moans. Cries for help.
“I’ve got you a little present,’’ I heard him shout from across the room. As he got into view, I noticed he was dragging two cloaked bodies by his side. One significantly smaller than the other. He threw them both at my feet and took their hoods off. With their heads hanging low, I couldn’t see their faces, but the hair of both was familiar. He lifted their heads up, forcing them to stare at me, and then I knew. My wife and my daughter. Bands strapped around their mouths so they couldn’t speak, eyes full of tears and terror. Faces covered in bruises.
“I’m gonna fucking kill you!’’ I shouted. “Let them go!’’
“I will, but you have a choice. I either kill your wife, or your daughter. You choose!’’ he said, grinning.
“Kill me! If you want to kill anybody, kill me! I can’t choose. I won’t! Just kill me! Let them go!’’ I shouted in desperation.
Lanius shook his head. “This is the most you have spoken so far. I’ve got to admit, it’s rather entertaining. You have exactly one minute to choose! If you don’t, I’ll kill them both!’’ He said as he freed their mouths.
“Dad!’’ My daughter shouted.
“Honey!’’ Followed my wife.
“Help me! Please, I’m scared!’’ Continued my daughter.
“Tortuo! Pick our daughter!’’ My wife shouted at the top of her lungs.
7860, wife, 7861, daughter, 7862, pick
7863, daughter, 7864, pick, 7865, wife
7866, pick, 7867, wife, 7868, daughter
7869, daughter, 7870, wife…
“Time’s up Tortuo! You have one last chance!’’
“Pick me Lanius! Kill me! Please! Kill me, let them go! Let them go! Don’t hurt them! Please, kill me! Just kill me!’’
“You’re weak Tortuo,’’ said Lanius as he picked my wife up by the neck.
“Stop it! Don’t touch her! Let her go!’’ shouted my daughter.
“This is too fucking loud,’’ he said, dropping my wife back on the ground.
“Why can’t you shut up?’’ he picked my daughter up by the neck and lifted her in the air. “Here now, be quiet!’’ He said, twisting her neck. The cracking of her bones and the sudden deformation of her neck made my skin crawl.
7871, 7872, 7873, 7874…
“Now, that’s better!’’ he said, as he dropped her frail body to the ground.
7875, 7876, 7877, 7878…
With my daughter’s death, my wife began shouting in agony.
7879, 7880, 7881, 7882…
“Oh, how annoying can you be? Just be quiet already!’’
7883, 7884, 7885, 7886…
Lanius reached inside his briefcase and picked up his hammer. He pulled one nail out of my body and then flipped my wife over on her back, resting his knee on her chest. With his left arm, he carefully placed the nail in the middle of her forehead and began hammering away.
7887, 7888, 7889, 7890…
Sounds of bone cracking, blood splashing out of minuscule cracks, brain matter being hammered through, and her agonising screams made me realise how weak I was.
7891, 7892, 7893, 7894…
Soon enough, her body stopped flailing, her shouts stopped completely, and Lanius stood up.
“That’s more like it,’’ he said.
Turning over to where I sat, he flashed me a disappointing look.
“You’re weak Tortuo! That was a test, and you failed it. You lack competence, you couldn’t make a decision and you ended up suffering more than you should have. Both of them are dead Tortuo! And it’s all your fault! How utterly disappointing.’’
He threw the hammer back into the briefcase, and without a word, he walked away.
The lights shut off, and the door slammed shut. With the bodies of my wife and daughter at my feet, I continued to count.
The lights turned on one after the other, just like any other time. This time, the door didn’t slam shut. The sound of metal scraping across the floor echoed throughout my eardrums.
“How you holding up?’’ Asked Lanius.
“Please… stop this.’’
“Did their bodies start to smell yet? Don’t worry, you won’t have to put up with their smell for long,’’ he said as he came into view, a stepladder dragging along behind him.
“This right here, is your coffin!’’ he exclaimed, as he placed it in front of me.
He then unchained my arms from the chair. I tried to move them, but the rusted nails tore through my muscles and hindered my attempts. He then unchained my legs and took me in his arms, moving me over to the stepladder. He tied my arms across from each other, quickly followed by my legs.
Looking up, I could finally see what for all this time found itself behind me. An empty room with a wide open metal door at the end. Lanius, without saying a word, headed towards the exit where he reached his hand behind the door and picked up a canister. Once he got back, he unscrewed the lid and the smell of gasoline filled my lungs.
“Smells nice, doesn’t it?’’ He asked.
He began pouring gasoline over my body. Each drop that seeped its way through my wounds made my flesh cave in.
“I’m so disappointed Tortuo. I thought you would learn. I thought you were different. But it’s fine. It’s not all bad. All this time I wanted to kill you so bad! Every fucking time you screamed in agony I just wanted to saw right through your neck and be done with it! But I had to control myself, you were too fun! But now, now that you bore me, I can finally kill you!’’
He took a lighter out of his pocket, and brought it up to my chest.