Beaten, battered and broken, Ryan Larkin struggles to focus through one weepy, half-shut eye. Tied to a seat in the middle of a strange room, he can’t remember anything about how he got there.
When he begins to yell for help, a stranger steps out of the darkness, out of the shadows, and asks Ryan what he was doing earlier on in the day. Unfortunately, when Ryan can’t remember, the stranger points a gun at him and gives him one minute to get thinking.
The clock is ticking.
Little does Ryan know, however, that a bullet in the head would not be such a bad thing … compared to what the stranger has in store for him.
The Chamber awaits …
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A CAPTIVE AUDIENCE OF ONE
One weepy eye slowly opened, dark brown iris contracting to its smallest possible diameter. The sudden influx of light caused Ryan Larkin to blink and wince. He’d have opened his other eye, but he couldn’t; it was swollen shut. The puffy flesh felt like a pillow of meat, pressing his eyeball back into his head.
His one useful eye slowly began to adjust to the resplendent light in front of him. A single light bulb hung lazily from a long white flex in the centre of the room, had flies buzzing around it, pinging against it.
Looking about, he thought that the shadowed corners of the huge room could provide great cover for someone, or something, to watch him unseen. That someone, or something, could have stepped out of the shadows at any moment and …
That got him moving, twisting his arms and wriggling his legs. He soon realised he wasn’t going anywhere soon, though. Strong, thick rope bound his wrists and ankles to the seat he was sat in.
If I can just work one hand free, he thought. Twisting his right hand back and forth, however, got him nothing more than the mother all Chinese burns, the pain causing him to grimace. Blood began trickling from a deep cut. After a few minutes of struggling, despondency soon gave way to despair and he gave up. Whoever had tied him up certainly knew how to tie a damn good knot.
‘Shit!’ he said in low voice, then started rocking from side to side to see if he could somehow pull himself free. After nearly tipping himself over, he thought better of that approach. Lying sideways on the floor with his arm trapped underneath him wasn’t going to improve the situation. Cracking his head open – and probably knocking himself out, too – was not going to help his cause, either.
He took deep breaths, trying to compose himself, the expansion of his chest making him groan in pain. It felt like his ribs were broken. Whoever had given him a beating hadn’t just restricted themselves to a touch of facial reconstruction, it seemed.
A plethora of questions raced through his troubled mind: Why am I here? … Who’s done this to me? … Where the hell am I? … But the answers seemed to be hiding away in away in the dark recesses of his mind; that place where denial makes its home and cosies up with regret.
What else could he do but the obvious? He tried to shout for help but a barely audible gasp of air escaped him, the taste of fresh blood still coating his gums. His swollen bottom lip hung down. A Grand Canyon cut, scabbed over, ran half its length.
With one almighty effort, he got his vocal cords working. Fighting through the pain, he got soprano-strength output, voice straining.
The single word echoed of the four damp walls, the quadraphonic clarity hurting his ears, once again making him wince.
‘HELP! … somebody help me … pleee-EEASE … somebody he –’
Ahead of him, a figure moved out of the shadows and into the light. Not completely into the light, but just enough for Ryan to see the dark, silhouetted figure.
Ryan examined the guy’s build and posture, trying to figure out who it could be. He looked to be about six foot, at least. Hands in his pockets. Medium build. And was he wearing a suit? Yes. Judging by the squared off shape of the shoulders, his captor was at least well dressed for the occasion.
He tried to think of anyone who might have a grudge against him and could only think of few people who were an eight ball short of a full rack. But none of them, as far as he was aware, bore him any malice, and none of them were well-dressed fruitcakes, either.
‘There’s no point in yelling for help, I’m afraid,’ the stranger said, low gravelly voice ominous with malicious intent. ‘Nobody’ll hear you down here, my friend.’
‘Who are you? What do you want from me?’
Seconds passed. Water dripping into a nearby stagnant puddle marked the passage of time.
The stranger started to pace back and forth, the heels of his shoes tapping rhythmically on the wet stone surface.
‘Why don’t you try and think a little, huh, Ryan? I mean, I know you’ve taken a heck of a beating, but …’ he stopped, shrugged, ‘… I’m sure if you delve down deep, think hard, you’ll be able to figure out who I am, right?’
Ryan tried to think. He closed his one useful eye and concentrated hard, but a mental fog, thick and dense, clouded his memory.
‘Look, mate, I don’t know who you are, or what you think it is th –’
‘What did you do today?’
‘I …’ he trailed off, puzzled.
The stranger resumed his pacing. ‘C’mon, Ryan, think. You must know what you did today,’ he laughed. ‘Okay, right, I’m gonna leave you here for a while, give you some time to think. Some quality time alone should get the old motor neurones firing. Of course, I might just leave you down here, let you rot.’ The stranger turned swiftly on one heel and headed for an unseen door.
‘Wait!’ Ryan exclaimed. ‘Don’t leave me here. Please! Just give me a bit of time, all right. I just … need a bit of time.’
The stranger’s voice echoed out of the darkness. ‘You’ve got one minute, my friend. Not a second more or a second less. Get thinking.’
Out of the darkness, Ryan saw a low green glow. The stranger set the timer on his watch.
‘I need more time than that. God, this is insane.’
‘The clock is ticking, so you better get thinking.’
Ryan’s head filled with nothing but panic: Oh God … think … think … think…
He closed his one useful eye and tried to trace back in time, think what he was doing earlier that day. At first, though, his mind was blank, a sheet-white void of nothing. Yes, he could remember who he was. He could remember that he was married, had a daughter. That his lucky number was three, that his mother’s birthday was on the 2nd of April, that his father’s was on the 4th of December. Hell, he could even remember the previous Christmas when he’d got paralytic and ended up falling asleep in a bush, only to awoken by the old bill. But there was so much more that he couldn’t remember and he just couldn’t recall what he’d done earlier on that day …
… concentrate … concentrate … concentrate …
‘You have forty seconds left,’ the stranger informed him, no glee or urgency in his voice, just merely stating a fact.
‘You’ve drugged me, haven’t you?’ Ryan accused.
‘Why do you hate me so much? What the hell have I ever done to you?’
Clearing his mind, concentrating so hard, he searched the deepest depths of his memory banks.
… think … think … think …
To Ryan, it felt like the previous twenty-four hours had been erased from existence.
Consciousness once again waned back and forth, the surreal reality slipping towards darkness. But he had to stay conscious … otherwise …
‘Twenty seconds left.’
The voice snapped him back to the task at hand.
Time was running out.
‘Actually, do you know what,’ the stranger said, ‘I’ve changed my mind. If you can’t think of who I am in the next … ooh, say …’ the green glow again ‘… seventeen seconds, then I’m going to blow your fucking head off.’
Out of the darkness, a red laser beam cut through the dark and centred on Ryan’s forehead; he tried to move out of the way, nearly toppling over in the process.
Heart hammering. Sweat pouring. Muscles tight. ‘This is nuts,’ Ryan yelled. ‘… NUTS!’
Ryan’s thoughts turned to his wife and daughter; especially his beautiful daughter, Carla. He had to stay calm for her otherwise she’d end up fatherless. She was the apple of his eye, his reason for living, his inspiration.
‘Ten seconds left, my friend.’
‘I need more time,’ Ryan said. ‘You have to give me more time.’
The red scope was still centred on his forehead. ‘Eight seconds,’ the stranger said. ‘Get thinking.’
‘Let me goo-OOOO!’
… I’m going to blow your fucking head off …
The stranger’s words made Ryan dig down deep for one last chance to remember what he’d done earlier that day. He closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and after a few seconds …
‘You have four seconds left.’
… it came to him. One minute he was blank, then it all came flooding back and he remembered what he’d done.
‘Two seconds left.’
‘I know who you are,’ Ryan said, incredulous. ‘I know who you are.’
Ryan cast his mind back to earlier on in the day …