Thirty in a Room (Fiction)

Written for the “Thirty in a Room” challenge, Jottify, May/June 2012

I am trapped. Backed into the far corner of the room though I know that won’t keep me safe for long. The others are dead – or dying – but I turn my face to the wall to try to block out their final gasps of terror. Our captors leave me alone while they deal with the rest. They know I cannot escape. Even if I managed to slip from this room into another, where would I go? I would be found and returned to this chamber. No one here is a friend.

I don’t understand. Why have we been brought here? They have been toying with us all afternoon. We’ve been passed around like cigarettes for everyone to take a drag. I thought the worst was over, that we’d be left alone for a while to recover. Now this. I shouldn’t complain. We were given a brief respite while they ate – leaving us with nothing, of course – but now they are back. We heard them hurrying back to us after their meal, impatient for more games.

Their leader laughs as he stamps on someone’s face. I think one of the women called him Thomas. He struts around the room in his big boots, oh so very proud of himself. Carelessly he aims a kick at my sister. She squeals as his foot connects and then she is rolling, crying, across the floor.

Thomas is flushed as he surveys the chaos around him. His followers – how many are there? Thirty? – look to him for direction. They are breathing hard. Some are clutching my fellow prisoners, squeezing them tightly in hot hands. There are only so many ways to assault and I fear they have exhausted the more usual methods. I shudder, already feeling the pressure of their fingers on my frail skin.

“Outside!” yells one of them suddenly. “Thomas, we should take them outside!”

Thomas grins in agreement and bundles anyone in reach before him towards the harsh daylight on the other side of the curtain. Will our humiliation never end? Here, in the isolation of this room, we have been punched and kicked and bruised and twisted into the most unnatural shapes. Some of us even had pins stuck in them. I escaped the worst of that torture, hanging quietly at the back of the group.

Not so any more. A small, weasel-faced bully reaches for me, pulls me from the relative safety of my corner. He drags me out with the others, by the neck, happily scraping his nails across my tender flesh. I know for certain, then, what I have been hoping was panicked pessimism. None of us will survive this ordeal.

They don’t want any of us to survive. These petty thugs will leave us all torn and broken, forgotten, before the sun sets.

As I adjust to the bright glow of the yard, I can already tell we are much fewer in number. Once we outnumbered them two to one. Now we are barely ten. I am the last one out of the room. Some of the smaller captives are shivering in the warm breeze. Others drift, vacant, already lost. I fight the urge to shudder. I daren’t look back at the floor behind me. I know what carpets the bare wood now.

Thomas arranges his pack into two lines. We are corralled between them. The air shimmers in the heat and I know we do not have long. There is not one of those thirty who will show any mercy. Their faces are hard, cold, their eyes shining with savage joy.

“How hard do you think we can kick them?” asks a subordinate who I remember as being particularly vicious with his heavy-tread footwear. He rubs his hands, already eyeing up a potential target.

Thomas laughs, and the others are quick to join in. They press closer, eyes bright, licking their lips in anticipation of the final frenzy to come. Who will be the first to crack? Whose hands will snake out and grab one of us?

It is the weasel-faced one who plunges, shrieking, into our midst. In the flurry of movement that follows we are separated by the force of his arms. He snatches, grabbing the one next to me and I am jolted away. Thomas himself gets his hands on my neck and now I brace for the final, decisive blow.

“Thomas!” calls a tall woman from the doorway. She is smiling, looking fondly on him and his friends. “Come inside! It’s time for your cake!”

The boys whoop as they surge for the door back into the house, jostling for position closest to the birthday boy.

Thomas keeps me in one sticky hand while he fumbles with his badge. A huge number seven hangs forlornly on his shirt.

“Thomas! Leave those balloons and come inside!” his mother insists.

He giggles as he looks down at me, breathing hard with concentration.

With a sigh, he lets me go, and instead of floating down to the grass I swarm up on the breeze.

Free.

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