Short Story: The Will

Jane had been down here a long time…

This is an original piece written by Joanna K Neilson:


The Will

Worry gnawed at her bones. Her stomach was so empty it no longer hurt and she couldn’t remotely remember the softness of a bed. It was hard to sleep down here, in the cold darkness, with rats running over her feet and nibbling at her whenever she passed out from exhaustion and pain. No, there was nothing left inside her to shake off the misery, to fight for a way out. She was broken and beaten and wanted to die. He had destroyed her. What was left was a stringy, starving thing that could barely remember kindness or her life before these curving walls, kept in this dingy cellar space that stank of rodent droppings and her own filth. Her captor had grown bored of her, that’s the impression she had whenever he appeared recently. As if she were inconveniencing him, the fucker. If she had more energy she’d appreciate the irony. Instead it fuelled the one spark of energy she had left.

Jane’s hate surged up from her misery, became a single furious knot of will. Then a fat fucking rat ran across her matted hair. She grabbed it and bit down into its neck, sucking at the hot blood, trying not to gag on the furry, wriggling body. She sucked down all the insides of the rat and spat out its less palatable parts. That was better. The effort of coordination had tired her, so she lay there, just breathing, as the energy from her revolting food sank in. While gathering her strength, her brain began to function again, so she started thinking hard, looking closely at the wall, aware that the thread of sunlight moving across its bumpy surface marked the rapidly passing time. What if he came back now, shot her in the head with that big silver gun he always carried? It would be so easy for him to end her. No. That knot of willpower tightened in her again. The rat, disgusting as it was, had been just enough to revive her. She finally had the strength to sit up, her stomach gurgling. She would not throw up, she refused to – she’d eat more rats if she needed to, there were even a few more around her now. Her stomach had woken up. Jane snatched up another rat and ate that, too, then wiped at her mouth, chewing til she spat out its tail.

When her strength returned to her satisfaction, she rubbed her wrists and ankles to soothe them, although she was sore where the chains had been removed. He’d left her untied since his last visit, which had all but destroyed her. Being able to move freely for the first time in weeks was weird. He clearly expected her to die here, but now untied surely she had a shot? Still, it seemed hopeless. How could she ever get out? He must think she was far too weak to even try anything by now and the bastard was probably right. He had probably been starving her to get rid of her more easily. He was a lazy guy after all, and a stringy corpse was easier to carry out of here of than her original curvy form. She had been down here so very long and she still had a long way to go. The pit was thirty feet high, layered with grey paint, shards of it always littered the floor around her whenever he climbed down. Jane figured it used to be a well which had long since dried up or been sealed off. In this half-light, the ridges in the rock were more clearly defined.

The empty chains dangled close by. Fuelled by rat blood, she decided she would make another effort to reach the top. Even if it did no good at all, she would know if she stood a chance of escape. If she fell, then she would try to break her neck and save him the satisfaction. With a grimace at the rough texture, she dug her toes tenderly into the top of the chain holders, pulled herself up a little, gripped the wall, then lifted herself up a little more. Above the chains were deeper, older grooves, as if some chains had been installed there before and ripped out. The thin stray beams of sunlight made this easier, and she hooked herself into the next stage and pulled herself up there, too. There was a protruding brick high above her. She dug her broken nails into that, too. Up she went again, a few feet at a time, each dogged step pulling her a little higher, numbed by rough cold brick rasping her naked skin, rodent flesh churning in her guts. Now, she reached the almost last brick and stretched up for one more handhold.

She made it. Pushed. It was a crappy door, really, old and rusted, far lighter than she would have believed.

It wasn’t locked. Astonishment at this nearly caused her to fall. The flimsy seal opened with the hideous creak, a sound she was so familiar with that she peed herself just a little out of sheer reflex. Normally, she prayed for it to stay firmly shut.

But it had opened. She shoved it outward. Groaning, Jane slithered out into a cool October evening, already shivering violently as the wintry breeze crept across her raw flesh. The brightness hurt her eyes. But she was out, free from the pit, and her mouth stung with sour rat guts. She sobbed, once, twice, her eyes painfully adjusting to the day. It was unreal to be up here. She clenched her fingers in the leaf litter, clawed herself the rest of the way out. When she was entirely back on solid ground Jane spent a long minute resting, taking in the cool aliveness of the earth. The freshness of it all was pure Heaven. She was free. Everything was beautiful. She breathed. She would move in just a moment, she promised herself. As soon as her body recovered she must pick herself up. Surely she had time to rest? The woods were cold and silent.

Then there was a noise at her side. Maybe him? Jane blinked rapidly, forcing her weary body to react. There were trees all around her. Digging into her deepest reserves of strength she crept behind the trunk of one, thankful her feet were so numb as the leaves and twigs and small stones dug into her soles. She held herself very still once she was under cover, realising now that she’d left the door of her prison wide open. Shit. What wandered into view was, however, quite beautiful. And not him at all.

It was a deer, a sleek doe looking for its dinner. Large worried eyes casting left and right, the creature cautiously stepped out onto the leaves and chewed delicately at a blade of grass.

Jane was able to smile, watching it – only partly sizing it up for venison steaks. In the long stillness, she tuned into a strange, constant roaring noise. There was traffic somewhere, a busy road nearby, and in that case, there were people who could help. It didn’t seem too far away. The deer nibbled on, untroubled. It was, perhaps, safe here for a moment.

Despite the cold, Jane watched the doe eating for another few seconds. But she shouldn’t linger. The afternoon sun wouldn’t last forever. Jane badly wanted to sleep. Then the doe turned its head, and fixed Jane with a single look. The creature’s leaf-like ears flickered rapidly, as if hearing something approach. It didn’t run away, but the deer blinked at her again. A prompt. A warning. Hurry.

Jane nodded. Then she turned and crept away into the woods.

Short Story: The Will

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