Waking from a dream there’s always that slight blur between dream and reality. During this collision of perceptions your senses are heightened and time seems to slow. Though you may not know the reason for your awakening there is, always, a reason.
I wake suddenly, to my dark, still bedroom. The clock on the bedside table reads four. It’s early. Lying back down I reach my arm around my wife snaking our fingers together feeling the warmth of her against me. Closing my eyes I let the rhythmic tick-tock wash over my senses, massaging my thoughts back to slumber.
This peaceful slumber ends abruptly when the door explodes into the room. A man silhouetted against the door frame is in the room in a flash followed by two more. I push my wife off the bed and scramble for the gun I keep on the bedside table. It’s not so much that I expected this to happen, but one can never be too careful. Rolling onto my back gun in hand I aim it at the first man. He is shining a bright light into my face
“Don’t make me shoot!” I shout.
“You might want to think that through.” He says in a calm voice that he must have rehearsed.
The second man has grabbed a handful of my wife’s hair and is pulling her towards him. Spinning her round. Using her as a human shield, pressing a pistol against her throat.
There is a tense silence. Her muffled screams are barely escaping through the hand clasped over her mouth.
“It would appear.” The first man says “That we now have your wife. The way I see it you have two choices. One. You make a move to shoot me. Maybe you hit me maybe you don’t. That’s irrelevant. In the time it takes you to aim at the others the man with your wife will have shot her through the throat. Notice how I said throat? Not head? That’s because when shot through the throat, rather then a quick instantaneous death not unlike flicking a light switch. The bullet will graze the jugular resulting in substantial bloodloss and an excruciatingly painful death. Of course the man outside your son’s bedroom will no doubt hear the gunshots and your son will be shot as well. Tying up loose ends as it were.”
Her eyes are screaming at me. Begging me to kill them.
“Option two.” He continues. ” You put down your gun, get dressed and come with my associates and I. If you do this I give you my word that nothing will happen to your son or your beautiful wife.”
I mouth “I love you” to her. Close my eyes took a deep breath. Opening my eyes again the situation is exactly the same.
“Ok, ok. Take me just don’t hurt them.” I have signed my death warrant. I slowly lower the gun and rest it on the bed next to me.
“You made the right choice and if you continue to co-operate I can see of no reason for us not to be civil. If you would be so kind as to get dressed we can proceed.”
I stand up slowly trying to calm myself against the surge of adrenaline. My hand is shaking. I ball it into a fist, digging my fingernails into my palm. Whatever I do I must not show these men I fear them. Then I will lose everything.
I pull on my clothes from the day before. When I am dressed the first man advances on me. He is holding a length of course manila rope and a hood. He first binds my wrists behind my back. I tense and strain against it, just like they taught us. I’m looking at my wife her eyes are wide with fear. The hood is secured over my head. And, just like that, I am taken.
I don’t know how long we’ve been driving for. This wicked darkness that has become my world warps and stretches time. When we stop a hand wraps around my bicep pulling me from the car and throwing me to the ground.
I lie still for a second; my elbow begins to bleed from where I landed on it. The blood sticks my shirt to me.
“Get up” the voice repeats. Through the hood I hear the unmistakable “click-click” sound of a gun cocking. A gun that is forced into the back of my knee.
“Get up, or you won’t be able to.”
I hear the gunshot with my whole body. It thunders through my senses before evaporating to silence. I brace for the pain. A searing white hot pain that sweeps over me. It’s too much. I feel myself retching and dry heaving. My mouth fills with the acid taste of vomit. I swallow it back trying to maintain some semblance of dignity.
“Let me give you a hand.” The voice says pulling me to my feet. “There that wasn’t so difficult was it?”
He grabs my wrist and rotates them back away from me. “Walk” he barks. I hobble forward feeling my knee jar against itself before totally collapsing I fall for a second time. My mind retreats inside itself, cushioning itself from the horrific pain of reality.
I have no way to gauge how long I was out for. When I wake though I am sitting in a chair. They have taken the hood away and replaced it with a blindfold. My arms are still bound behind me. I can feel they have tied my feet to the chair legs as well. My knee still burns from the bullet feeling as if someone is pushing pins between my bones. There is small respite in knowing that the agony of this will be nothing soon. I have been brought here to die.
I hear the long drawn out creak of a heavy wooden door. Then heavy footsteps. From the echoes of the room I can tell that there is not much furniture in this room. Perhaps only this chair.
The footsteps stop behind me and someone pulls the blindfold from my eyes and my night turns to day. Flooding me with light. As my eyes adjust I see that I am in a windowless room. Bare, apart from the table set for a lavish dinner and a solitary light bulb dangling from the ceiling.
“Now” He whispers directly into my ear. “I am going to release your hands. Before I do know that my only stipulation was to bring you here alive. Try anything, and we have had people try things before, and I will take great delight in liberating your fingers from you. Do you understand?”
I nod. There is no point resisting, not yet anyway. Just got to stay calm, let them think they’ve won. I take a look at the table. Looking for anything that could be used as a weapon or tool. The cutlery is an obvious choice but on inspection it is secured to the table by a fine chain.
The Man takes a hunting knife from his belt. Blade grinning at me he runs it over my cheek. I can feel the slightest resistance as it brushes over the morning’s stubble. I shaved before bed last night. From the growth I can assume I have been taken for almost a full day.
The knife slips from view. I feel against my wrist as it begins to bite into my binds liberating them. I feel the blood rush back into my hands causing a dull numb sensation. I bring my wrists into view and see they are bloodied and bruised. Given enough time I am sure they would scar. The Man plants himself on a stool in the corner of the room.
This Man and I we sit in a tense silence. There is nothing to be said. Some minutes pass before the door is slammed open. A man in evening dress enters.
“Good evening.” He says smiling. “I am glad to see you were brought here alive. I would have hoped they would have treated you better but then again maybe my instructions of bring him here alive were to vague. Mr Chirard?”
“Yes Sir” The man on the stool replies.
“When I said bring him here alive what did you take that to mean?”
“Well I’m allowed to hurt him, rough him up a bit, scare him.”
“I agree, yet it appears you have shot him in the knee would you not agree that that is perhaps a little forceful.”
“You said get him here alive. With respect getting shot in the knee is not a fatal wound.”
He’s looking at me again.
“See this is the problem with Mr Chirard. He has got absolutely no independant thought. Terrifically loyal but sees the world in black and white. I ordered you brought here alive. You sit before me alive but in unbelievable pain. Am I right?”
“I suppose I am the one to blame eh?” His voice takes on a sinister tone “He was after all only following orders.”
He takes his jacket off and drapes it over the back of his chair before sitting down and ringing a small bell. Moments later a waiter is at his side.
“What would you two gentlemen be drinking tonight?” He asks in that over friendly manner of waiters around the world.
“I think a nice red tonight.”My captor says. “Do you perhaps have anything from the Lyon region in France.” He looks over at me and gives me a conspiratorial wink. “He and I have some history there.”
“Most certainly sir. We have a lovely Pinot Noir from the region and the vintage sir. The vintage. Nineteen thirty seven. The last really good crop before the war.”
“That sounds perfect. Do you agree?”Again the most I can muster is a nod.“Splendid. The Pinot Noir it is.”The waiter leaves the room.
“It took us a long time to find you. You know. Your support network was almost impenetrable. But I am far more tenacious then your average man. Tell me. What was the war like for you?”
“The war?” I question. “It was quiet for me. I was stationed in France. I didn’t see much action.”
“Well now that depends on your definition of action. If I were you I would talk of my illustrious career during the war. So, I will ask you again? What was the war like for you?”
“The war was quiet for me. I followed my orders to the best of my ability and tried to be a good soldier.”
“I want you to know I despise liars. That’s twice I asked you about the war. Twice you have lied. Now if we were alone I would of course give you another chance, but unfortunately for you my assosiate is here” He gestures to the man in the corner. “And I really cannot let him see that I do not follow through. So I am afraid I am going to have to hurt you. I want you to know that I don’t want to do this. No one really wants to hurt another human do they?”
There is a tense silence broken by the waiter. He is holding a bottle of Pinot noir.
“Would you like to sample it first Sir.” He asks my captor.
“Please I know nothing about wines. I believe my friend here may have a more refined palate for such luxuries though.”
“Of course” The waiter says. He opens the wine and pours a mouthful into my glass.
My hands still feel weak from being tied for so long. I make the effort to swill the deep red liquid. Letting it aromate. Letting the flavour breathe out of it. Holding it up to my nose I inhale deeply.
“Well?” The man says.
I look him in the eye. I want to maintain some form of strength through this, I need something from my past to hold onto.
“The wine has delicate floral flavours that at first glance would have you believe it is from the Burgundy region.” I pause taking a sip. “However, this matures into a deep fruity flavour so characteristic of the Lyon region and the waiter was right it is a supurb vintage.”
“Excellent, I believe this wine will do.” He says. Letting the waiter pour him a drink. He fills my glass and leaves.
The man is talking. “Now before we were interrupted I was going to hurt you. I don’t think I will anymore. This fine wine has calmed me.”He gestures to his own glass.
“Now let us talk as men. Firstly do you know who I am.”
“I know of you yes.”
“Good. That saves us some time. And time is precious no? Now do you remember me?”
“This is not the first time we have met Herr Commandant. I forgive you for not remembering me. I am sure with our shorn heads and striped shirts we all sort of looked alike. The way you looked at it I am sure it would be the same as me trying to recognize an individual sheep.”
I look at the man and it all floods back. The same brilliant blue eyes. The scar across the back of his hand.I watch him as he undoes the cufflink on his left arm and rolls up his sleeve.
“My name is long gone. I do have this though.” And he rotates his arm showing his tattoo. “Do you know what this is?” He asks.
“Of course I do its an identification tattoo.”
“Oh Herr Comandant it is so much more then that. My number 9876103. It is the largest prime number that could be given as a tattoo. Do you know what that means?”
I stay quiet.
His voice raises an octave “It means I am divisible only by myself and God. Is the wine to your taste?”
“It is very good.” I reply “You’re going to kill me aren’t you?”
“Come now Herr Commandant let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let us enjoy one another’s company and this meal. Speaking of which are you ready for the Entrée? I took the liberty of ordering for you.”
The waiter enters carrying two small plates.
“Beef Tartar” He says as he places them on the table before retreating back out.
“Well” The man says. “Bon Appitet” He gestures to me to eat. I pick up the cutlery it feels heavier then it should.
“Its interesting” He says after a long pause. “ How one can be so easily tricked with chemistry these days. What you perceived as vintage 1938 Lyon Pinot Noir is in fact common Chilean table wine.”
“Impossible. This tastes the same as when I was stationed in Lyon during the war.”
My voice trails off the words cut to ribbons by his razor smile and I notice that he has not yet touched his own glass
“I assure you. That it is. See what we wanted was a delivery system that would ensure some familiarity and what better way then to pry into our subjects memory. For you it was wine. The last man we spoke with had a passion for Scotch. All of these flavors can be replicated in the lab nowadays.Would you care for a cigerette?” The question hangs between us as I process what he has just told me.
“Delivery system for what?”
“Ahha. If I were you I would be wondering exactly the same thing exactly.” He takes a cigarette from a small silver case taps it against the tabletop settling the tobacco before bringing to his lips lighting it and taking a long draw.
“Delivery system for what?” I press again.
“You know it scares me how alike we are. We are both German citizens yet when one of us is bound before the other we turn into animals fueled by hate. You held me captive, you tortured me. Now I hold you captive. I am going to torture you. As I understand it though you were following orders and this is where the similarity ends. I am doing this to you.”
He taps the cigarette on the now empty plate in front of him.
“What have you done to me?”
“Not only what I have done, it is what I am going to do next. The cutlery was heavier then expected, am I right.”
“It’s working a little faster then I expected but I have learned that it is hard to judge the correct dose and I am far from being a chemist. In layman’s terms what I have done is created a synthetic toxin. This is absorbed through your cheeks into your blood stream. It starts by making your limbs feel heavy. It gets so that you cannot move them at all. There is nothing physically wrong with you its sort of like blocking the signals from your mind to your body. I want you to know that. There is nothing physiclly wrong with you. And this paralysis that you will experience will exist only in your mind.”
The waiter enters clears the plates and sets the main course in front of us.
“Aha” My captor squeals with delight. “Coq au vin with all the trimmings
“You, you poisoned me?”
“Come now control yourself. You took away my whole family and left me for dead. Have you any idea how it feels to hold your brother as his life ebbs away? I could kill you a thousand times and it would not be nearly enough.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Its not going to help you. You were a dead man the second I left the camp. Now. EAT. I know for you it is a trying time but try to place yourself in my shoes Herr Commandant. I have been searching for you for seven years. To have you bound and helpless in front of me is…” He pauses pointing his knife at me “Ecstasy.”
My hands look like claws wrapped around the cutlery. It is so heavy now. I try to cut into the chicken but the knife slips and hangs off the table by its chain. I can’t pick it up. Each movement is agony.
The man across from me continues to eat. He clears his plate and reaches over to mine taking the rest of the chicken.
“You don’t mind do you? Its just that I can’t bare to see such good food gone to waste. I guess its a throwback to the hunger I felt in the camp. It became so that nothing else mattered, it was all consuming an uphill struggle to which there seemed no end. You witnessed this. You caused this. There is no way for me to replicate the months of suffering we experianced I simply do not have the time. Thats what the poisen is for.”
The waiter again enters carrying two bowls. “Tiramasu” He annonces. Placing the bowls before us. My whole body is locked in place. I can still just move my head but other then that there is nothing.
My captor takes a mouthful. “You know this is good. “ He says chewing. “This is very, very good.” He gets up out of his chair and walks round to my side of the table. Picking up my spoon he begins to spoonfeed me. The tiramasu is sweet and rich and it melts in my mouth just the way it ought. I close my eyes and just taste it.
“Do you know when they found me in the camp I had given up. Not just on life on everything. I was simply a body. You had broken me completly. Now it would appear, I have broken you.”
He grabs my chin and pulls me to face him. His hand strokes the side of my cheek
“I want you to pay close attention. You are mine now. I own you. But I am not the same monster you were so I am going to offer you a way out. Know that if you do not accept my offer my assosiate and I will leave. No one knows you are here, no one will find you, no one will come. This is the end of the line. Dehydration will begin to set in around the end of the second day and by the end of the third your body will begin to shut itself down in want of water and by the fourth you will die. Do you understand? Blink for yes.”
“Good.” He walks back to his seat sits down lighting another cigarette. “You can die in four days or.” He gestures for the man in the corner who steps up to the table placing a gun on it. It oddly fits between the mess of the meal. “Or I can end this for you in an instant. I want you to blink if you would like me to kill you. You have until I finish this cigarette”
He leans back lights his cigarette and stares me down. I know what dehydration does to a man. If I deny the offer I will be regretting it in three days. But to ask to be killed, to choose death. The cigarette is burning quickly, soon it will be out and the choice will not be mine to make. At least this way I can have some semblence of control over it. He takes a final drag and stubs the cigarette out.
“Well?” the word comes out cloaked with smoke.
“I thought you would. I want you to know I do not like killing. I would rather just leave you here to die a natural, if inhumane, death. However that would bring me down to your level and I am so much more then that” He picks up the pistol, pulling the slide back and letting it rush forward.
He holds the gun at arms length and time has slowed to a crawl. My senses have heightened I see his index finger flex against the trigger and I swear that I hear the gentle tap of the pin as it presses itself into the bullet.
The retort of the gun is every noise I have ever heard compressed into perfect violence. In this explosion I can hear my mothers laugh, the tap tap tap of rain on tents and my father’s deep voice. I hear all these sounds slowly evaporate to silence as the force of the explosion propels the bullet towards me.
I can see the bullet inching its way towards my forehead. Passing over the remnants of our meal.
There are three of us in this room. Three of us and a bullet and the bullet is getting closer and closer.
Soon, very soon, there will be two men and a body in this room.
Our whole lives, every decision we have ever made it all leads to this moment.
As the bullet gets closer it seems to slow more. I watch it as it rotates admiring its simplicity as it glides through the air.
I close my eyes and inhale and wait….
The bullet kisses my forehead, shattering through my skull with a white hot pain. It bores through my brain erasing my very being before erupting out, cloaked in a mist of red. The force of it knocks me backwards. I am falling off the chair. I am floating through the air. I am dead before I hit the floor.
When you die there is always that slight moment when life and death blur together. The universe trying to find the reason for your death.
I know the reason for my death.
I accept it.