Food for Thought

Josephine Allen


She looked at the four deep gashes. All it needed was a diagonal slice across and it would make a four-bar gate of a tally. It made her wonder who first began to count that way. Normally Google would answer that question instantly, but without her phone all she had was conjecture. It seemed like something the Romans might have brought to England along with their mosaics, straight roads and apple trees. Could have been the Ancient Greeks though – they were mathematically advanced – think of Pythagoras…or possibly even the Arabs, isn’t our number system now based on the Arabic one…or was she getting that confused with letters? Still, she favoured the Romans; all those straight lines and simple solutions seemed to fit their modus operandi.

The floor was so cold her bum was like ice from sitting on it. She struggled awkwardly to her knees to give herself room. The thought that you can get piles from sitting for too long on cold surfaces popped into her head from nowhere. It’s funny how the brain works; even in circumstances like this it would throw up some related topic to suit the situation. A bizarre survival instinct perhaps. Although, kneeling was so uncomfortable she knew she could not keep it up for long. It struck her that if anyone could see her it would look as though she was praying. She scoffed, in the first couple of days she had done all the begging and bargaining she was going to do to some uncaring and remote supreme being; there was no help coming from God.

A tear ran down her cheek. She bit her lip and tried to calm herself down. She couldn’t lose her control now. She just couldn’t. Instead she made herself focus on the four marks. It almost looked like 11:11; like eleven minutes past eleven: that time’s supposed to be lucky. On Twitter, if people see the precise moment the clock hits that symmetrical time they tweet their followers a wish. Oh the irony, she thought, smiling bitterly. What did they say…even a broken clock is right twice a day? Not down here it wasn’t, whatever the time, down here both hands were always pointing to wrong. Lifting her chained hands she clumsily wiped her face dry. She wouldn’t allow this to break her…yet.

To distract herself and pass some time she sang the songs she’d learnt in Guides, like ‘Worms, Spaghetti and Meatballs’ and ‘Little Rabbit Foo Foo’. When they ran out she turned to the folk songs and rhymes her mother had sang to her as a child. After a while she felt calmer again, but cramp in her thighs meant she had to return to sitting on the freezing floor. She looked up at the light, there were no windows in the room, no natural light, just a bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. She’d thought maybe, if she could somehow break the lightbulb, she could use the broken glass as a weapon or even, in her darker moments, to kill herself. However, her chains were so short she couldn’t even stand let alone reach the light, so it was useless even thinking about it. Besides, she was not sure she could keep it together if it was pitch dark in here.

The only way she had to mark the passage of time was his visits. She believed he came only once a day. He always brought her breakfast foods, so she was convinced it must be morning. What he brought was always in a polystyrene carton as though it came from a greasy spoon. In all the hours alone, she had convinced herself that he worked a night shift and that was why he only came in the morning. Although, as he never spoke, it was only supposition.  She’d been terrified and angry when she had first regained consciousness and found herself chained in the empty room, so she had fired a barrage of questions at him: Who are you? Why have you brought me here? What do you want? He did not answer. She had shouted and screamed at him; called him: Psycho! Pervert! Freak! Yet, still, he would not be drawn. He’d just sat in the door way and watched silently until she wore herself out. She’d refused the food, because what if it was poisoned? Eventually he’d gotten up and taken it away with him, bolting the door behind himself. She was alone.

By the time he came again she was starving and, not caring if they were tampered with or not, tore into the sausage sandwiches. She noticed, even over the sound of her own eating, his breathing got heavier, as though the sight of her devouring the food gave him pleasure. It was sickening, but she was too hungry to stop. When she was finished she stared back at him. He was thin and about 5″8 or 9. His eyes were pale blue and his face was…normal. Not handsome, not ugly, just regular; bland: someone who would never stand out in a crowd. He hasn’t covered his face, that’s a bad sign isn’t it? she’d thought. He followed the same pattern, staying a short time and taking the food containers with him when he left. The only difference being this time they were empty.

On the third day she had tried to be nice to him; told him her name and asked him his. He had not responded except to push the food towards her. Picking up the carton she’d thanked him, as though this were a dinner party and she his mannered guest. Then she had told him about her parents: their first names; that her dad would only eat bacon and not sausage and that her mother never had tomato sauce because of the extra calories, but she personally loved it. She remembered seeing something in a film that it was good to remind your captor you were a real person with a life; a family. Although, that probably worked better if the hostage taker had money oriented or political motivations rather than whatever this sicko’s deal was. He did not reply and instead continued his silent vigil. Frustrated and starving, she gave up and began to eat. This time, however, she had made sure to look directly at him with every bite. His breathing deepened and she noticed a small smile curve the edge of his lips. She shuddered internally and thought ‘Feeder!’

On the fourth day, when he came she’d began by talking about how much she loved brunch out; that she liked to get poached eggs instead of fried or scrambled, because she could never quite get them right at home. Honestly, she was no longer sure if she was really trying to create a bond or just needed to talk so she did not go crazy. Opening her container, she had added, the other reason she liked poached eggs was that they were dippy like fried ones, but without all the fat. Curious she looked to see if her talking about food had any effect on him; it didn’t seem to. Perhaps it was not a visceral enough experience to get his juices going. Part of her wished she was strong enough to resist eating for him, but the other part told her to eat and keep her strength up. She needed to be ready if he ever gave her any chance of escape. He must be listening though, she realised, because there was tomato sauce on the bacon rolls.

After he’d left she had noticed the four scratches gouged into the plaster. She’d gone over and ran her fingers over them. What had caused that? Perhaps it was connected to whatever the room had been used for before. It was pretty small, with just space for her to sit and a hole instead of a toilet. Was it possible he had built it specifically to hold her? Then it had struck her: what if she was not the first woman he had brought here? What if those marks were made by another girl counting off the days?

The idea was so terrifying that her mind had scurried off down the Roman tally tangent and all that 11:11 nonsense. Get some sleep, she told herself, stay strong! She leant back against the wall and closed her eyes, ignoring the chafing at her wrists and the ache in her lower back. Eating just one meal a day and sleeping on the floor had taken its toll and she fell into an exhausted sleep.

Crack! The sound of the bolt being shot open woke her. Was it morning already? She opened her eyes and blinked to adjust to the light. The door was banged open and, before she could scream, a rag was forced over her mouth… She struggled and pain exploded in her head as it struck the wall. Then, oblivion…

JOSEPHINE ALLEN is a writer from the Midlands, UK. Her first novel ‘Year of Fire and Ash’ is available on Amazon (as J.E. Allen) and her poems and short stories have been published in Paper and Ink zine, Pour Vida and Glove. She also sings in a choral society and loves a good road trip. You can find her on twitter: @el1jea or @yearoffirenash