I worked part time at a mall in one of the department stores. I mostly stood at a register that no one ever came to because who actually still shops at the mall anymore? To mix it up, I sometimes folded clothes. Normally, I would be scanning the crowds for someone who might be a good fit to spend a few days screaming in my basement. I’d daydream about how they’d squeal and what color their bruised flesh would become under the bite of my belt. But since the occupancy of my basement was currently uncertain, such ideals were absent today.
I folded new dress shirts in the women’s department, preparing us for the spring clothing line, when a familiar voice spoke to me, his breath so close it tickled my neck.
“This is where you work, huh?”
I jerked and stumbled into the display, undoing several piles of hard work. I held myself upright with both hands sprawled on the table, preparing to toss handfuls of clothing at him in defense.
“I didn’t mean to startle you,” Nic said. “Would you prefer to keep our interaction strictly to the classroom and your basement?”
“What? What is with you?” I hissed the words at him in barely a whisper. I scrambled to collect the fallen garments, noting that the few customers near us were staring.
“I thought you liked me, Jimena? Isn’t that why you kidnapped me?”
“You can’t be at my work,” I said, refusing to look at him. “I’ll get in trouble.”
“Oh, and we wouldn’t want that, would we?” He snaked a hand over mine and squeezed. I couldn’t tell if it was meant to be romantic or a threat. “Are you gay, Jimena?”
“Get the fuck off me!” I flailed wildly, and he let go at just the right moment to mess up my balance, resulting in me falling hard to the ground. I landed on my rear, tears of frustration blurring my vision, and when it cleared, it wasn’t Nic standing above me but my balding boss. I swiped at my heated cheeks and erased the tears.
“What are you doing? Are you okay?” His face looked concerned, but whether for me or the possibly damaged shirts, I couldn’t tell.
“Sorry,” I said. I got to my feet, grabbing shirts as I did. “A jerk from the college I’m attending startled me.”
He surveyed the area, as if preparing to take on the bully himself. “I don’t see anyone.”
“He probably ran when I screamed. I’ll get this cleaned up.”
“I’ll do it. Go work in the back for the rest of your shift.” He had a keener eye than I expected. My arms were trembling and some wayward customers were still peering. He lowered his voice. “Are you sure he didn’t hurt you?”
I sorted boxes we’d received and tidied the returns area until my shift ended. I stood in front of the timecard machine and realized I didn’t want to go home. At work, there was the hope someone would show up and chase the phantom away. At home? I should invite someone over. I was losing my grip on reality and experience told me isolation would only make it worse.
But what if he was there? I couldn’t have my cousin chilling on the couch with me asking, “Who is that screaming in your basement?”
Twenty minutes later, I stood in my driveway and found myself dreading entering my own home. I couldn’t move. I considered checking into a hotel. He wouldn’t be able to find me, would he?
“What the hell am I saying?” I clasped my forehead and shook my head. Was I really afraid to go home because I was concerned the guy I kidnapped would be there?
I pushed my doubts aside and went inside the house. I refused to look at the basement door. In fact, I would ignore my basement completely. Fuck Nic! He could rot down there. I ate supper, showered, and settled in the living room to watch some television.
That’s when the shouting started. The only words I could understand were my name. The basement was pretty sound proof, otherwise it would make for a shitty place to put captives. The fact I could hear him at all, meant he was standing right on the other side of the door, shouting at the top of his lungs.
I had two locks on the basement door: the door handle and a bolt. I turned around on my couch, peering over the back of it, and watched the door and its locks shaking as Nic pounded relentlessly on it.
If he could magically get out of the chains, why could he not enter the rest of my house? He was in class and at the mall, but somehow the first floor of my house was off limits? The lack of sense behind it only supported that this was all in my head.
But which parts were real and which were fake?
I crept toward the door and pressed my ear against it.
“Jimena!” He repeated my name over and over, then I heard him run his fingernails across the grain of the door. I jumped back and stared at it. How could this simple door entrap him when the chains didn’t?
I slammed my palms on the door. “Stop it!”
He fell silent. I heaved, my heart thumping loudly. I would get no sleep if he kept this up.
“I’ll come down if you promise to be chained and you promise to keep the chains on. Okay?” I’d become fully delusional, but at this point, there was little sense pretending he didn’t have the ability to remove the chains at will. Still, knowing he had them on brought me comfort.
I yanked the door open, fully expecting him to be standing there, prepared to murder me. The entryway was empty. I rushed down the steps and flicked on the lights as I reached the bottom.
He was there, sitting on the floor, chains on his wrists, wearing the same designer sweater and torn jeans that he’d had on at the mall. They were not the clothes I’d kidnapped him in.
“Do you normally ignore your victims like this?” he asked. “Do you realize I’ve been down here several days, and you haven’t offered me water?”
“What difference does it make? You keep leaving!” Whether I understood how or not, I’d accepted it as my current altered reality.
“Perhaps if the treatment in this establishment was better, I wouldn’t need to.”
“Treatment? This isn’t a day spa!”
He stood and jerked his hands, rattling the chains. I couldn’t help but flinch when he did it. I couldn’t take this anymore. I’d brought the key with me this time. I unclipped it from my belt loop and shoved it in the lock on the cuffs.
“I’m freeing you, okay? You can leave.”
“I don’t want to leave.”
“What?” I stepped back and watched in horror as he put the cuffs back on. “Stop that.” I grabbed his wrist and tried to jam the key back in but he pushed me away. “You can’t imprison yourself in my basement. Let me free you.”
“Or what? Are you going to call the police? Do you think they’ll believe I chained myself?”
“Why are you doing this?”
He shrugged. “I like your basement. The rent is very affordable.”
“You aren’t paying me any rent!”
“That’s why I said it’s affordable.”
“Let me get this straight. I kidnapped you, and now you’re refusing to leave?”
Well, he did leave when I threatened him with that pipe, but I wasn’t a big fan of how I felt afterwards. My eyes unconsciously went to the pipe that lay where I’d last dropped it.
“Don’t.” His tone was icy. Did the pipe hurt him?
“The only way to get you out of my house seems to be threatening you with that pipe, so if you don’t want me to take another swing, you should leave.”
He sunk to the floor, looking defeated. “Why did you bring me here?”
“Whatever my reasons were, they don’t matter now. I want you out.”
“This must be very odd for you.”
He moved only his eyes to look at me. “Your victims likely begged for their release until they lost their voices, and now, you are begging your victim to leave. How ironic. Tell me, did you ever let one of them go? Did you ever take pity on them?”
There was no real way for him to know if others had been where he was. I refused to admit anything.
“Or did you merely play games with them and give them false hope? You said I could earn my freedom. Are you still willing to play those games, Jimena, in the hope that you might be rid of me if you win?”