There could be train tracks nearby. That explains the staccato thudding. A flicker of hope rises in my chest. If I manage to escape, trains will make it easier to flee. I sometimes hear water sloshing and deep rumbles like those coming from the belly of a monster machine. Could I be near a sewer?
No matter what combination I place trains and sewers in, I cannot decipher where I am. It’s perpetually night here, in this windowless, inky black room. I rub my shoulders with my palms so I don’t forget how warm the sun used to feel on my skin on a summer day. It has been too long since I’ve seen the world in the soft glow of daylight. It’s like I’m hanging at the edge of an invisible precipice, but I don’t fall. They want me alive. But for what?
My ears perk up at the sound of voices outside. Laughter rings and glasses clink.
“Congratulations, Kate!” muffled, bloated voices exclaim.
“Thanks, everyone!” her voice is like a sunbeam.
So that’s her name. Kate. Kate is my captor. I can now put a name to those footsteps that rock my room when she’s up and about. Maybe I’m in a basement. That explains the dark and the damp.
Somewhere in this fluid timeline that I live in, lucid dreams flow. I don’t know where one ends and the other begins. I dream of my past life, my life before captivity. It feels like someone is briskly cleaning that slate, but I try and hang on to whatever memory I can.
In my dreams, the sky is steel gray. It’s about to rain. I’m dressed in black from head to toe. In front of me, is an epitaph carved in granite. I squint to read. “RIP Joan Barnett” is all I can see. The rest of the letters are a blur. The name sounds familiar, but I cannot place it.
Soft sobs fall on my ears. It’s a young woman, maybe in her twenties. In her black lace dress and a black veil framing her face, she looks like the full moon on a stormy night.
“I miss you, Mama!” she speaks between sobs. It’s Kate’s voice! I call out to her, but she turns away. Rain falls in sheets. The earth rumbles and splits. A coffin rises up from the ground. It opens like a magic box, revealing my own face.
I wake up in shock. I kick my legs about in fear, but there isn’t enough space. That thudding sound again! My heart starts beating in tandem with it. Desperation grows like a monster within me. I kick and shove, something has got to give. I try to scream for help, but my voice is stuck somewhere in the pit of my belly.
But a sudden warmth falls over me like someone threw a blanket on my shivering body. I hear Kate singing softly “I love you, a bushel and a peck…” Her voice is like calamine on my skin. It’s as if she can read my emotions. She probably observes me like a scientist would observe a petri dish under a microscope.
But what she doesn’t know is that I observe her too. Like a sightless salamander, the rest of my senses are heightened. I know the thump of her footsteps and the lilt of her voice. I know how her tone swings along with her mood.
My heart and brain are at war over her. Somewhere deep within, I feel like Kate is kindhearted. You don’t just like a stranger. She has to be someone I knew and loved, maybe in another life. Maybe that wasn’t just a dream. But my brain disagrees with a vehemence. They never come to a settlement.
Something is happening. The thudding gets louder than usual. Change is coming, stomping its big hairy feet. Liquid sloshes about, something sounds like a meat grinder. I am thrown upside down. The pit in my stomach is growing into a chasm. Nobody knows I’m here. Except Kate.
“Kate, help me!” I wail, kicking my feet wildly. The cacophony gets unbearable. No matter how much I try, I cannot stand back up.
A few minutes later, the thudding stops. The grinder shuts down. The silence is deafening.
“Kate?” My voice bounces off the empty walls and echoes. Strangely, I’m worried for Kate.
Light seeps in through a pinhole and then gushes in like a burst dam. I see someone in a blue mask coming for me.
“Kate!” I gather all the strength I can muster and yell.
Someone is rescuing me, but I don’t want to get out anymore. I’ve been here too long. I might not survive on the outside. I want to be around Kate’s familiar sounds. My brain chants in unison with my heart “Kate, Kate, Kate…”
Kate is quiet. Too quiet. There’s no thudding. Her heartbeat has stopped. She’s already gone. But I can’t leave her now. I have to go to her, wherever she is. So I go, following my heart, trusting it to find the sound of hers.
The man in blue peels off his mask. In a solemn tone, he talks to an expectant-looking young man. “I’m sorry, Mr. Carter. We couldn’t save Kate or the baby.”