That Joke Isn’t Funny Any More
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Archie’s head was swimming. He was as sure as he could be that his eyes were open, but the room was dark, or he’d been hit so hard that his retinas had detached. He remembered walking into a building, wherever that was and then nothing. Nothing until now, the moment when his head had felt that it had been split open.
He tried to bring his hands up to touch the back of his head, to check the source of the pain. Maybe the back of his head was gushing blood and if he didn’t check soon he’d pass out from blood loss. He tried but the hands wouldn’t move. It took Archie a few moments to realise that it wasn’t that the hands didn’t want to move, but that they had been restrained. The more he concentrated on his hands the more he felt his wrists hurt because of the shackles. They were cold against his skin. And heavy. Metal probably, if Archie had to guess. No one was offering any other explanation.
He relaxed his hands and the pain in his wrists eased slightly. It was only then that he realised that the rest of his body had been tensed. He could feel the pulse in his temples. He tried to let the rest of his body relax. Now, the pain in his head wasn’t a tidal wave every time he breathed. He was sat on a chair, sat on an uncomfortable chair.
“Hey.” Archie tried to scream to attract attention but it came out in a low whimper. “What the hell am I doing?” He said.
He rested there with his eyes closed, trying to get his strength back for several moments until he pushed forwards on the balls of his feet. Archie wanted to reach a door at the first attempt. He would have settled for a wall because he didn’t think there was much chance of a window in here.
With the chains around his wrists tethered to his ankles which were connected to the chair, Archie was never going to get very far. The chain didn’t give him enough space to stand up properly, and since he was also connected to the chair, Archie succeeded in landing chin first of the hard dusty concrete. It made a sickening slap of skin against the concrete. This was one time in life that having only one chin was a severe disadvantage. It could have at least cushioned some of the blow.
Archie lay there in a twisted heap of flesh and shackles breathing concrete dust, with his right cheek flat on the floor. He tried to cough to clear his airway but it didn’t do much good.
“Hey.” Archie said, hoping that someone was paying attention. Maybe there was a security camera around one that could see in the dark. He doubted it, but it was worth a shot.
After several deep lungfuls of the finest, or perhaps the worst, concrete dust that this particular area had to offer, in the far distance Archie began to hear footsteps. May be they were coming to rescue him. Bring him to safety with a change of clean clothes, reunite him with his daughter and give then a good cup of coffee and send them home. Home sweet home.
“Hey,” he yelled. “Hey. Can you hear me? In here.” He tried to rattle his chains like a cut rate Marley.
It was only after the outburst that Archie realised that whoever was on the other side of the wall would know with almost one hundred percent certainty why he was here and what he should have brought. They were coming back to kill him. Archie was sure of it.
“Maybe if I shake my chains again, they’ll think I’m a ghost.” Archie said aloud in the hopes that he would believe it. “Or maybe it’ll be just as dark out there as it is in here, so they can’t find the door knob.” Thoughts rushed through Archie’s head, in the hopes that one would spark an idea allowing a light bulb over his head to illuminate so he could find the door.
With reality setting in, the only thoughts that raced through his head were of his daughter. Teaching her to tie the laces on her shoes. He could see her face now, as if it were yesterday when she had mastered the mechanics of it and not all those years ago. For the rest of that month, she had insisted that she tie Archie’s shoes every morning before he left for the office. Archie chuckled at the memories, forgetting about the dust for a second. Usually he had to re-tie them when he got round the corner, so the shoes wouldn’t fall of his feet as he walked. Except that one morning when he was running late after oversleeping from having to run out in the middle of the night for some children’s cough syrup. She’d insisted on tying his shoe laces even when sick, he had had to sprint down the street for the bus. He’d made the bus stop with milliseconds to spare and jumped on. It was only when he got off the bus a couple of blocks from his office that he, and several of his co-workers, realised he was only wearing one shoe. They had called him Mono Shoe for years after that. His wife had thought it was hysterical too and their anniversary the following year she had bought him one shoe. He never found out what happened to the other shoe. For all he knew there was another guy walking around with just the left shoe.
Archie realised that there was tears running down the powder on his face. He exhaled deeply and tried to fight back the tears. But what did he care now? He let the tears flow.
The sounds of a heavy metal door opening slapped his mind back to the present, Archie looked all around trying to identify where the door was. He guessed that it was directly in front of him. Perhaps ten feet away. There was no way of hiding. He moved slightly and the chains clanked together.
“There’s nobody home.” Archie offered to whoever was on the other side of the door. “If you’d like to leave a message, the owner will get back to you at the earliest convenience.”
The door opened, or from Archie position it sure sounded as though it did, but Archie had been right. There was no light on the other side of the door. Whoever it was, they were in the same position as Archie. Actually, Archie doubted that they were also tied to a chair and wrapped in chains, especially since they had a key.
There was a low hum of electric and suddenly a bank of strip lighting burst into life overhead. It was at that moment that Archie knew his retinas hadn’t been detached, but in that instant they had nearly been seared out of existence since his pupils had been fully dilated in the dark.
“Jesus.” Archie tried to pull his hands over his eyes to shield himself, but the cold metal dug itself into his wrists. With his eyes watering he tried to peer in the rough direction of the door. “Where the hell is my daughter, you bastard?”
The voice said, “She’ll be safe as long as you do exactly what you are told.”
He didn’t recognise the voice, but that didn’t really mean anything. The cab driver had used a fake accent when he pulled up in front of the Archie on Eighth Avenue. “Who are you?” Archie squinted hard to try and see a face on the blurry shape advancing towards him.
“That isn’t important.” The footfalls of heavy boots on the concrete had stopped.
Archie stared at the floor and blinked several times to get the excess water from his eyes. He could see the scuffed boots next to him now, covered in the dust. Archie looked up to see a man in a ski mask towering over him.
“Where is it?” Ski mask asked. He crouched down and, with veritable ease, hauled Archie chair and all upright. “Where is it?”
Archie said nothing. He couldn’t, the sudden movement had made his head swim.
“Where is it? You don’t tell me and we start breaking bones.” Ski Mask said with finality.
“Whose bones are we going to break?” Archie tried to chuckled but just ended up coughing up a lungful of dust. “If I’m going to beat anyone I need to get off this chair, but this chain could be useful so you can leave that if you want.”
Ski mask backhanded Archie with a sharp movement. To Archie it was obvious that Ski Mask was wearing some sort of bulky ring underneath his black leather gloves.
“That hurts.” Archie said. “That really hurts.”
It was an obvious thing to say but it did buy him precious seconds until he was hit again. That hurt just as much as the first, but it was the third blow from Ski Mask that forced Archie to tip backwards in his chair and land with a hard jolt on the concrete, forcing up a cloud of dust. The chair was at an awkward position digging into Archie spine.
“I was wrong,” Archie wheezed and coughed to clear a path for some clear air. “That really, really hurt.”
Ski Mask hauled the chair straight again as though Archie weighed next to nothing. Archie had lost weight, but Ski Mask hadn’t commented on how easy it was to manhandle him. Typical, Archie resolved that if he got out of this, he was never going to skip breakfast again, for all the praise it had got him so far.
Ski Mask cracked his knuckles.
“Before you say anything, I don’t,” Archie licked his lips searching for any sort of moisture, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. For the love of God I would tell you if I knew, but you have to give me a clue.” Archie coughed. “And I didn’t mean for that last bit to rhyme, honest.”
Ski Mask said nothing.
Archie shut his eyes and braced himself for being hit again. A second later nothing had happened. He heard the scuff of boots on the concrete and the heavy clunk of the metal door.
Archie opened one of his eyes to see nothing but darkness.
He was all alone.
Or go to Chapter 9 (now with downloadable PDF!) (last updated 14 November 2009 @ 1pm)