Ahead of Sylvia lay a paved drive, leading towards one large brick building, two stories, about two hundred feet across its front, and several smaller out-buildings. At least it seemed to be two stories; the lower of them was hidden behind a field of uncontrolled plant growth that probably, at one time, had been a well-manicured lawn. Several of the windows visible from where Sylvia stood were broken, most likely by weather over the years rather than vandalism, which probably would have taken out all of them. Sylvia shivered suddenly, understanding that, in this sight of the main building, she was almost certainly getting her first view of her private hell for the near future. How long? Judy, she realized, had access to her car, and could resupply herself for as long as her cash held out -- hers, and the amount in Sylvia's purse as well. Judy wouldn't be able to use Sylvia's credit cards, or even her own, without giving her location away, but -- with no doubt whatsoever -- Sylvia was sure Judy had planned for that. So how long? A week? Two?
Sylvia forced herself to start shuffling slowly along the drive, and heard Judy push the gate closed behind her. Moments later she looked back, and saw that Judy was following her at a safe distance, about fifteen feet.
I can't believe I'm leading the way there, as if voluntarily, Sylvia thought. Not dragged kicking and screaming. Not carried unconscious. How can I be doing this?
At least the walking was easier. The pavement was broken, with segments tilted at all angles, and grass and small bushes growing between, but Sylvia could avoid the bushes, and the grass between adjacent segments made only a momentary and predictable drag on the chain, so that she came close to tripping only twice on the way to the building. And the pavement itself harbored no loose rocks to torment the soles of her feet.
Sylvia could see the main entrance to the building now, on its front side on the far right. The drive approached the right side of the building and then forked, part of it curving towards the front entrance, the other branch heading straight along the right side of the building to the rear, probably for deliveries. Sylvia took the curved branch, and the absence of any word from Judy verified that she had chosen correctly. As she reached the bottom of the steps heading up to the entrance, Judy called to her to stop, and to move off to the side. Judy, giving her a wide berth, approached the steps herself. "I'll lead from here. Follow behind, but not too close. Remember I'll be able to hear you." Judy bounced up the steps, looking more energized than Sylvia could imagine being herself, and Sylvia followed, awkwardly, the chain an annoying but tolerable hindrance.
After her first steps through the doorway, Sylvia was taken aback by the oppressive heat within the building -- she sensed that it was even hotter inside than it had been outdoors. What did you expect? a caustic voice within her asked. That a fifty-year-abandoned building would be air conditioned? The sheen of sweat she had worked up while fighting with the blanket had diminished, leaving a general clamminess, but now she felt renewed streams dribbling down her skin. She was suddenly conscious of being thirsty, and wondered in alarm when she would be able to get a drink.
After a short entryway that faced a set of offices, there was a corridor to the left. Judy stood at the entrance to that corridor, and said, "Close the door behind you." Covering our tracks again, thought Sylvia. We can't leave an open door, can we?
After Sylvia complied, Judy turned into the corridor. "The first floor is administration, and the second has quarters for the staff. I've cleaned out a lot of the hallway cobwebs, so this won't be as bad as it could have been."
Sylvia struggled with her impulse to flee. With Judy out of sight for the moment, she considered bolting away, back out the front door, but she'd be plainly visible in the wide-open area in front of the building. It was just after nine o'clock, and the light was quickly failing, but there was more than enough for Sylvia to be seen and caught before she could make it into the bushes beyond the drive.
Seeing, as usual, no other choice, Sylvia walked towards the corner and turned into the corridor to follow Judy. She struggled to keep Judy in sight, almost needing to trot in tiny steps. The corridor admitted very little of the light from the entryway behind them. Sylvia could make out doors on either side, but it was too dark to read their markings.
She'd hoped there might be places to hide, but the corridor was nearly devoid of furnishings. The temporary nature of hiding seemed to have little to recommend it, and in any case Judy would be alerted to Sylvia's first unscripted move by the change in the rhythm of the dragging chain. In fact, it occurred to Sylvia that Judy was maintaining her present pace exactly so that Sylvia would be forced to make plenty of noise. Moaning to herself, she didn't know what else she could do other than plod after Judy.
"I've got a flashlight, but I'm not going to use it until we get downstairs. The cells are in the basement."
Sylvia's moan was audible this time. She had felt sure where they were going, but to hear it confirmed added weight to her fears. And there was Judy's careful planning again. Judy had gotten to know this hallway so she could navigate it in the dark -- preventing the one-in-a-million chance that someone might see unexpected lights in a supposedly deserted building in the distance and become curious.
One in a million? Even that possibility of rescue, Sylvia suddenly realized, was pure wishful thinking. There was no chance. Any light in the entryway to the building couldn't even be seen from most of the grounds, let alone from outside the property. It only showed the degree of Judy's obsession with this revenge fantasy, as Sylvia understood clearly this certainly was. Judy had run over this entire scenario endlessly as a game, as an entertaining lift from her depression, considering every one of the most minor details and preemptively guarding against any chance of failure.
Sylvia nearly stopped now, nearly turned and ran at the fastest shuffle her hobble chain would allow, daring Judy to shoot her. She couldn't make herself do it. Why can't I? she asked herself. Am I really that afraid to die? Can I really walk into what will surely be hell on Earth, for fearing the alternative that much?
A bolder, more self-confident voice spoke from deeper within her. It's not about fear of death, the voice told her. You're looking at it from the wrong angle. Everything that lives has a survival instinct. That's why the human race is still here. That's why every species still living is here. We fight to live. We fight to survive. We can't stop. I won't stop. I'm stronger than Judy imagines. I will get through this, and I'll be alive. It's not fear of death. It's a will to live.
She continued walking.
She suddenly realized she had lost track of Judy, while lost in her thoughts of death and survival. Where the hell did she go?
Sylvia did stop now, undecided whether to call after Judy, or to take advantage and run. It may be dark enough outside now, she thought. I might be able to win at hide-and-seek out there.
She couldn't make herself turn around.
With a slight hissing sound, a door just to her left closed. Her urge to run evaporating in the uncertainty of Judy's location, Sylvia reached for the doorknob -- the light was so dim by now she had to hunt for it -- and pulled the door open, to the sound of a creaking spring. Self-closing door, she realized. Still working after all these years. Well, all it needs to function is springs and air compression. And it's not like constant use would have worn it out over the last five decades.
Judy's voice sounded as if it was coming from below. "I'm down here. Come down the stairs."
That explains the door, Sylvia decided. Fire safety for the stairwell.
A slight brightening occurred, and Sylvia now saw the steps leading down. Judy had obviously just turned on her flashlight, as promised, at the bottom of the stairs.
I know where Judy is now, Sylvia told herself, and she's not far enough away. If I run now, Sylvia decided, she'll easily hear me, and she can make it back upstairs long before I can shuffle back to the front door.
Sylvia reached for the handrail with a trembling hand. Deeper and deeper, she thought. Every move I make takes me deeper into trouble, makes getting out of this that much more impossible.
After turning at the landing halfway down, Sylvia saw Judy now, at the bottom of the stairs, propping the door open with her foot, holding the flashlight in her right hand, with the gun held by a finger of her left hand through the trigger guard as the rest of her left hand held the satchel. Quite a load you've got there, Judy, thought Sylvia. Can I hold that gun for you? Her lip curled at the grim attempt at humor as she walked down the second half of the stairway. Judy backed away as she approached, always maintaining that safe distance. Sylvia caught the door as it began closing and pushed through it.
The stairwell was at the far end of the building. To Sylvia's left as she emerged from the stairwell was a blank wall. To the right was another wall, this one interrupted by a barred gate. Sylvia turned to face it, stepping away from the stairwell, letting the door close behind her. To her left now was a closed door, and there was an open door to her right, revealing a very large, empty room. Sylvia suspected it may have been sleeping quarters, or perhaps a lounge, for guards. Ahead of her, Judy stood in front of that gate to the remainder of the basement. It had vertical steel bars, with horizontal braces across the top and bottom, and at eye level, waist level, and shin level. It stood slightly ajar, opening outward, as if beckoning in invitation. Halfway up on its left side, a key protruded from the lock mechanism, a huge key of the sort you would use to wind a grandfather's clock. There were two keyholes, one above the other, the key itself currently in the upper one. The lock must, Sylvia decided, consist of two separate bolts for added security. Clearly, this was the entrance to the cell block, but Sylvia could see no sign of the cells yet. Judy's flashlight illuminated the area in which she and Sylvia now stood fairly well, though unevenly, but the light penetrated only a few paces into the cell area.
The air smelled dusty, dead, but it was somehow less foul than Sylvia would have expected. Maybe that makes sense, Sylvia thought. There is probably, she decided, a ventilation system designed for an era before air conditioning. There would have to be, if the inmates down here weren't to suffocate. If it didn't require electrical power, it should still be working. It even seemed a few degrees cooler than it had upstairs, though still oppressively hot. The hot air would rise in the building, she realized.
All of these thoughts ran through her head, postponing consideration of the next move expected of her: walking through that barred gate.
Sylvia knew how careful she would need to be with her words. "J-Judy? -- Let's talk about this. There could be something else that would satisfy you, as an alternative to this. We could talk and find out what that is." I shouldn't try to suggest what it might be, she decided. Anything I say could insult her, make her mad. Mad enough to pull the trigger. Just let her talk. Maybe an idea will surface that she realizes she likes. Better than this. Anything would be better than this.
Sylvia sucked in a quick breath as Judy shifted the flashlight to the hand holding the satchel and exchanged it for the gun, aiming it straight at Sylvia. Sylvia nearly cringed, started to bring her hands up uselessly to shield her body, but stopped. I'm not seeing the anger in her face, at least for now, she thought. She doesn't look ready to shoot. Not yet. Not just for what I said.
Judy, constantly facing Sylvia, wordlessly sidled away from the gate, circling around Sylvia, always pointing the gun, her face expressionless. It wasn't until Judy neared the entrance to the stairwell that Sylvia understood that Judy's intent was to put herself between Sylvia and the only escape route. Well, okay, thought Sylvia. We can have a standoff right here. I can wait, and keep trying to get her talking.
And she really does want to keep me alive, Sylvia told herself yet again. There is something important to her, down here, something she wants me to do. Or something for her to do to me. She could so easily have killed me long ago, but she doesn't want to. Not that it's all a bluff. I believe that the second she starts to feel that her plan won't work, she will kill me. But she doesn't want to. She wants something else more. I can work with that.
Still with the gun trained on Sylvia, Judy crouched down, set the satchel on the floor, set the flashlight upright next to it to serve as a lamp, and sat down on the concrete floor. Unexpectedly, she smiled. "Can you out-stubborn me, Sylvia? Is that what you're thinking?" She patted the satchel. "I've got some food in here. It could be for you, but it doesn't have to be. It could all be for me. You must be pretty hungry by now. You haven't eaten since lunch. Oh, and thirsty. I'll bet you could use some water. Yes, I can see it in your eyes. All this heat, all that sweat." She sighed theatrically. "You've probably been trying not to think about it, but now that I mention it..."
Shit, though Sylvia. Shit, shit, shit. Okay, let's play it that way. Keep remembering she doesn't want to kill me. In fact, maybe that's an opening.
Sylvia sat slowly on the floor, folding her legs underneath her skirt with a clinking of the hobble chain, leaning back against the wall next to the barred gate, trying to be as casual as Judy. As if settling in for a long siege. "If you don't give me water, eventually I'll die. That's not what you want, is it? Wasn't that the solemn promise you made, before God? That you wouldn't kill me?"
Judy shook her head. "You forgot the most important part. I promised not to kill you if you did everything I want. That's not what you're doing now. No water unless you get moving. Even if you die of thirst."
The battle going on between the two of them had nothing on the battle going on inside Sylvia. She bit her lip, looking at the gate beside her. I don't care what she promises, thought Sylvia. I'm not going in there. I'm going to die in there, I know it.
Survival, her inner voice said. We fight to live. Remember telling yourself that? That means sometimes you have to risk your life to keep it. Judy is, what, fifteen feet away? It'll take me some time to get there, and she'll have plenty of time to shoot. But will she shoot? Has she ever actually shot anyone? I'm sure it's much harder than she imagines.
Sylvia was leaning towards taking that chance. I might die, she told herself, but is that really worse than what will happen if I walk through this gate? Judy promised in God's name not to kill me, and I believe her. But what if I end up wishing she had killed me?
Sylvia tensed her muscles, ready to lunge. Changed her mind. Changed it again. A third time. Fourth.
She gasped in startlement when Judy's voice broke in on her internal fight. "Move that way, Sylvia." Sylvia looked up to see Judy gesturing with the gun. "Over toward the wall. Away from the gate."
"I want to show you something."
The move didn't seem likely to increase her immediate danger. Sylvia shrugged and slid across the floor towards the wall.
In one motion, Judy raised the gun in her right hand, aimed towards the gate, brought up her left hand underneath to cup her right and support it, and pulled the trigger before Sylvia could even begin to flinch.
The explosion, in that confined space, was deafening. Sylvia screamed and, too late, clapped her hands against her ears, every muscle in her body contracting in terror. A tumult of voices inside her shouted: Am I hit? Am I hurt? She wasn't pointing it at me, I don't feel anything, they say sometimes you don't feel the bullet, no, I'd know, nothing hit me, she was pointing it away...
From outside her body, there was no sound, nothing penetrating the ringing in her ears.
She waited, trembling, for the ringing to subside. Her hands still covering her ears. Her eyes squeezed shut. Her only functioning sense was almost overwhelmed by the burning smell.
All of the gunshots, and their consequences, Sylvia had ever seen in movies or on television had not prepared her for this. So much power, she thought. So much power. In that one little bullet. I never imagined that much power. It could rip through me like I was made of butter.
There was no ricochet, no shower of plaster bits. Judy, Sylvia understood, had intentionally shot through the bars of the gate. The damage, presumably, was somewhere inside the cell block.
So much for thinking that it might not be a functioning gun, Sylvia thought. Or that Judy might not know how to use it. It's all loud and clear now. Mostly loud.
Sylvia realized Judy was saying something. She took her hands down. Judy's voice sounded tinny, far away. "What?" Sylvia's own voice was tinny as well, echoing in her head. But the ringing was fading.
"I said, do you believe me now?" Judy now swung the gun back to point directly at Sylvia, still in that two-handed grip they train police officers to use.
In a reflexive, panicked reaction that owed nothing to conscious decision, only an instinct to put some barrier between herself and the gun, Sylvia dove to her left, threw open the gate, and scrambled through it on her hands and knees, barely noticing the stinging in her ankles each time the hobble chain went taut, not stopping until her head banged into an unseen wall about ten feet beyond the gate. She cried out more in surprise than pain, rubbing the top of her head. The awareness that she was now beyond the gate that she dared not pass flooded through her conscious mind, and she spun around to crawl back, but Judy had already come past the gate, pulled it closed, and was reaching outside it to turn the key to lock it. Sylvia knew she needed to stop Judy, but Judy was dealing with the lock mostly by feel, with her eyes fixed on Sylvia, and with the gun still in her hand that Sylvia now knew Judy had been trained, somewhere, to use. As Sylvia watched helplessly, Judy finished with the upper lock and moved the key down to the lower lock, turning it in that one as well. The door now secured, Judy dropped the key into her satchel.