Sylvia had experienced the absence of light many times, but that was not like this. This utter blackness seemed to press against her skin, making it hard to breathe. She could sense it creeping inward, under her skin, a millimeter at a time. Sylvia realized she felt an irrational fear of opening her mouth, as if the blackness would find entry there and penetrate her completely.
Her thirst pushed back against it, competing with the darkness for her attention.
Water, thought Sylvia. I can't believe I can't just get up and run the faucet. Or open the fridge and crack a bottle of Dasani. Stop thinking about it! she ordered herself. You're making it worse!
Sylvia had been fully aware how dangerous it would be for her to enter this cage, but she hadn't really spelled out for herself exactly why it was dangerous. The reason was painfully obvious now.
If Judy, suddenly popping up in Sylvia's back seat in the parking garage, without the gun, had simply said, "Drive us to a deserted north Georgia prison or I won't give you any food and water," Sylvia would have laughed and responded, "Mind if we stop at a restaurant first, then? And afterwards I'll drop you off at the police station."
Sylvia had been so close, SO close to deciding to risk a gunshot, risk losing her life, as a desperate measure to avoid a fate whose nature she had actually pretty accurately predicted before it was too late to resist: ending up here as Judy's prisoner. Judy's gun, in that sense, did not trump every possible resistance Sylvia might have put up, since Sylvia had nearly decided to defy Judy in spite of the gun. The threat of a bullet had ended up working for Judy, but it might not have.
But now, Judy's new weapon, which would have been laughable in the beginning, was now the ultimate enforcer. No one, as far as Sylvia knew, could possibly choose to die of thirst when someone was offering them water. Their body wouldn't let them. Whatever Judy demanded now, Sylvia was incapable of resisting it to the point of death, because Judy's choice of a weapon made that impossible.
There has to be a way out of this, Sylvia told herself. There must be!
If there is some way I can get out of this cell on my own, she decided, I have about two hours to find it. That should be enough time, if the way out exists at all.
The door to the cell was to her right. She reached for it, and banged the knuckles of her right hand painfully, finding that it was a little closer than she'd thought. She rose up onto her knees and turned towards the door, wrapping the fingers of each hand around one of its bars. She pushed and pulled against the door, grunting with effort, annoyed that the activity was making her sweat away still more precious water but knowing it was worth it if she could escape the cage. Getting out of the cage would solve everything. Once out, she would wait by the door for Judy's return. Judy wouldn't be expecting to be attacked on entering. The lack of light would actually help Sylvia -- Judy would have her flashlight, but even with it the light was dim, and Sylvia could strike before Judy saw her.
Shaking the cage door, Sylvia found, barely produced a rattle, and no movement Sylvia could feel. Frustrated, she rolled onto her back, lifted her feet, and pounded the cage door with them several times, using the full power of her leg muscles. The pain across the soles of her feet stopped her before long. She thought about throwing the weight of her upper body against it, using her shoulder as the battering ram, but decided she would actually be less powerful that way than using her feet -- she would have to do it from a sitting position, and would have very little leverage from there.
Maybe, she thought, it might be possible to dislodge the bars from the concrete floor. Especially after all these years, maybe I can work them loose.
She took a firm hold of the nearest bar and pulled upward as hard as she could, alternating that with trying to shake it. There was no give to it whatsoever, no sound of rattling. She moved on to the next one to the left, repeating the process. I can only spend a minute or so on each one, she told herself. I have to try them all before Judy gets back.
Halfway around, it occurred to Sylvia that the cage might be complete with its own metal floor to which the bars were welded, the floor being submerged under the concrete. If that's the case, she realized, I can't possibly pull any of the bars out of the concrete. But I have to keep trying. She tried to bury another thought: that over the years, various prisoners, many of them much stronger than Sylvia, had spent hundreds of days locked in this cage, and probably every one of them had tried to do what Sylvia was trying now. Without success. It doesn't matter, Sylvia insisted to herself. I have to try to get out.
Once she had made a full circuit of the cage, she decided the roof of the cage might possibly offer an escape. She spent several minutes testing every bar of the roof. None of them was the slightest bit loose. Lying down on her back, she pounded on the bars above her with her sore feet, with no effect.
She was out of any options she could think of. There seemed no possible way out of the cage. Sylvia drew up her knees, crossed her arms over them, buried her face against them and wept.
My only hope now, she thought, is that Judy can't really keep me here very long. Judy, she reminded herself, is on the run from the police. The police didn't actually know that yet, but Judy's disappearance simultaneous with Sylvia's would make her a prime suspect the instant Judy was found. She could probably change her appearance enough that the local folks in these parts wouldn't match her up with a police "Wanted" poster, but with no income, able only to use whatever cash she had started with, Judy couldn't keep this up for long. It had to end soon. Sylvia had to tough it out until then. But it might be a couple of weeks. Whatever pain, both physical and psychological, Judy intended to put her through until then, there was absolutely no way to avoid.
Sylvia started crying again in the blackness. And thinking
about all the water her eyes were shedding.
Sylvia squeaked and put her hand over her heart at the sudden sound of the door opening. It really must be pretty soundproof, she thought. I didn't get any hint she was coming. A second thought flashed through her head: Maybe it's not her! She dismissed it as runaway wishful thinking.
She squinted and shaded her eyes. She knew the flashlight was dim, but to her fully dilated eyes it was almost like looking into the sun.
"Well, Sylvia? Did you think about our deal for the food and water?"
Sylvia had been dreading this. "If I... if I take off all my clothes, then I can have some water?" She squeezed her eyes shut against the hot tears seeping out, not from the brightness but from the shame of giving in. But she just wasn't able to keep anything in her mind except water, and the fact that there was something she could do to get it.
"Not just for that. You have to do one more thing after that."
Sylvia clenched her hands in anger. "You said you'd give me a drink if I did that!"
Judy shook her head. "I never said that. I asked if you wanted food and water. And I said I thought we could work something out."
Sylvia tried to still the pounding of her heart. Getting mad won't help, she told herself. "What's the other thing I have to do?"
"I'll tell you after you strip."
"Tell me now!"
Judy shrugged. "I can come back in the morning. I could really use some sleep." She turned to leave.
"No!! Wait! Please!" Sylvia's hands flew to the front of her blouse, her fingers fumbling with the topmost fastened button.
Judy stopped and turned back towards her. "Throw everything outside the bars. Far outside."
She's never going to come close enough for me even to touch her, thought Sylvia. I could have attacked her earlier in the day, fought for the gun, maybe died but maybe won. It's too late for that now.
Sylvia finished with the blouse and peeled it away from her sweat-slick skin, not able to stop her hand from shaking as she extended it out beyond the bars, the blouse dangling from her fingers. Biting her lip, she tossed it away, and reached back to unfasten her bra. "Could you let me have a little drink for doing this much?"
Judy shook her head. "Nothing till you've done everything I want. This, and one more thing."
Sylvia whimpered in frustration and threw the bra out of the cage. If I let it fall too close to the cage, where I can reach it, she'll make me throw it farther, thought Sylvia. I can see how she's thinking.
"Everything you're wearing. That necklace too. The earrings. The ring. Prisoners aren't allowed to keep any personal items in this room."
The ring! Damn her! It cost me four hundred dollars! I'll be giving her that money. So she can afford to keep me here longer? Am I extending my time here by giving her this?
Sylvia hesitated, frozen with indecision. I can't let her have this ring! I can't bear thinking about giving her something that will help her extend my imprisonment! But water, water! I have to have it!
Judy turned towards the door again.
Sylvia frantically shouted, "Wait, wait! Please understand! This is hard for me!" She yanked the ring off her finger and tossed it into the far corner of the room, under the bench, hoping somehow it would be lost, knowing, to her despair, that there was nothing for it to be lost behind. She reached behind her neck to unhook the necklace and threw it out of the cage, followed by her earrings.
Judy smiled, and walked around the room picking up the various pieces of jewelry, adding them to the pile of Sylvia's clothing.
Tears flowing again, Sylvia opened the button at the side of her skirt and pulled the zipper down. Rising to her feet, hunched over, her bare back brushing the bars at the top of the cage, she pulled the skirt down, stepped out of it, and flung it through the bars of the cage. Finally, she pulled down her ruined pantyhose, sat on the concrete floor and rolled them down off her feet, and threw them out as well.
Naked now, moaning to herself, Sylvia scooted back against the bars of the cage, folding her arms across her breasts, drawing her knees up, pressed together, her feet pulled back to hide her most private place. Sulkily, she muttered, "What's the other thing I have to do?"
Judy finished gathering the clothes and stuffed them all, unceremoniously, into the satchel. From the satchel, in which Sylvia had all along heard clinking sounds even after the hobble chain had been removed from it, Judy extracted an elaborate collection of metal hardware items. Their purpose was immediately obvious.
Anger flared in Sylvia again, as she flew up onto her knees, grasping the bars of the cage, no longer concerned with hiding her body. "Judy, I'm already locked in a cage! I can't get out! There's no reason for that!"
Judy sighed, bent over the satchel and lifted out a plastic water bottle, held it towards Sylvia, and shook it lightly. The lighting in the room shimmered as the beam from the flashlight struck the surface of the water at varying angles.
Sylvia couldn't tear her eyes away from it. They tracked it in hypnotized intensity as Judy moved it slowly to the left, slowly right. Sylvia licked her lips, discovering that they were starting to crack, and almost tasted the goodness, the sweetness, the coolness as the imagined water slid down her throat.
"Do you want this, Sylvia?"
Sylvia nodded quickly, her eyes pleading.
Judy bent and picked up a length of chain and a padlock, carefully aimed through the bars and tossed them into the cage, to jingle into a pile near Sylvia's left knee. The chain was made of gleaming stainless steel, and would clearly withstand hundreds of pounds of tension. The padlocks were made for heavy duty. "Start by putting the chain around the narrowest part of your waist, and fasten it with the padlock. You don't need to make it so tight it interferes with breathing, but make it snug. Get up on your knees and do it slowly, facing me."
Sylvia, barely thinking of how exposed her body was, spared no attention on the idea of how strange Judy's demand was. She knelt in Judy's full view, keeping her eyes on the bottle as she looped the chain around her waist, with the free ends in front. She had to look down for a moment to snake the shackle of the padlock through overlapping links in the two ends of the chain, leaving about five links on each end to spare. She was about to close the padlock, but stopped, startled, when Judy said, "Wait. Let me look."
Judy took several steps closer, her eyes examining the padlock intently. She wants to make sure I don't try any tricks, thought Sylvia. Like back in the car, with the ankle cuffs. Eyes glued to the bottle, Sylvia turned the padlock slightly to make it easier for Judy to see that the shackle was indeed through the links. She gave Judy a pleading look, and immediately closed the padlock when Judy nodded.
Judy pointed to the chain. "You'll probably want to shift that around so the padlock is behind you. I'm sure it'll be more comfortable that way."
Sylvia nodded quickly, and slid the chain clockwise around her waist, her eyes still fixed on the bottle. A small whine of yearning for its contents began in her throat, repeated with nearly each breath.
Judy picked up four metal bands, each as shiny as the chain. "The smaller ones go on your wrists, the larger ones on your ankles. Let me watch when you lock them." Judy inched still closer, though still well out of Sylvia's reach, and squatted to bring her eyes down to Sylvia's level.
Sylvia snatched up one of the smaller bands. Two inches across, wide enough to cover two or three wristwatches, and about an eighth-inch thick, it consisted of two half-circles connected by a hinge. Its edges were smooth and rounded, allowing for long-term wear without scraping the skin. Three metal prongs on one side of the opening were obviously intended to fit into the three slots on the other side. Sylvia put the band around her wrist, holding her arm up so Judy could see. When Judy nodded, Sylvia squeezed the band shut. The prongs went into the slots with a secure click, making the band a permanent adornment to her wrist, until unlocked with a key. A half-ring adjacent to the now-closed slit allowed for attachments. Judy pointed and said, "Slide it around so the ring is on the inside of your wrist." Sylvia hastened to comply, anxious to finish and earn her water.
Sylvia quickly seized the other wristband, nearly dropping it twice in her nervous haste, put it around her wrist and again held it up so Judy could watch her close it. That done, she lifted her left knee to plant her foot on the floor of the cage, so she could fit one of the ankle bands around it, again closing it with Judy's permission, then reversed her pose to fasten the other. Breathing hard now, her whining louder, she pushed up against the bars, reaching out for the water that Judy held much too far away.
Judy held the bottle a little closer, still out of reach. "Uh-uh, not yet. Can't you see you're not done? Now fasten the ankle cuffs to each other." She threw another padlock into the cage. Sylvia lunged for it, sat on the floor, quickly threaded its shackle through the half-rings of both ankle bands, waited once more for Judy's okay, and pounded it closed with the heel of her palm. Her only conscious thought was of water, leaving no room for her to consider the fact that she had just hobbled herself far worse than before.
Judy said encouragingly, "Good, good! You're nearly there! Here's the last thing, and you'll be done!" She threw the one remaining chain and last padlock into the cage. "You'll probably need to get up on your knees again to do this." Sylvia quickly complied, awkwardly with her now-inseparable feet. Judy twirled her finger. "And turn around, with your back to me. I want to make sure you're doing it right." Reluctantly, not wanting to let the bottle out of her sight, Sylvia turned away.
Judy stepped even closer -- obviously Sylvia had no way to attack her. "Pick up that padlock, and hang it on your left pinky, because you'll want to keep it handy." Sylvia quickly did so. "Now take the chain. Put your hands behind you, and push one end of the chain through the ring on one of your wrist bands, and the other end through the other one's ring. Pull the ends all the way through, so the chain draws your wrists together. That's it -- no, keep them tight together. Now wrap the two ends of the chain around between your wrists, going opposite ways -- there, like that, make a big wad of chain between your wrists holding them together. Now push one end of the chain down behind the chain around your waist, and pull the other end up behind it. Can you wrap the two ends one more time around between your wrists? There you go. Now here's the last thing, and you can drink! Lock the two ends together with the padlock -- whoops, don't drop it, okay, through the ends of the chain, lock them together -- there!"
Her hands trapped uselessly behind her now, held by the waist chain against the small of her back, Sylvia was conscious only of feeling intense relief -- she could get the water now! She tried to walk on her knees to Judy's side of the cage, and winced as the padlock-joined ankle bracelets pinched her ankles and prevented her moving her knee forward. She eventually managed it, swinging her feet left and right as she walked, pressing her upper body against the bars, her breasts crushed against them, two of the bars pressing the sides of her forehead as she tried to get her mouth as close as she could to the bottle of precious water.
She screamed, "No! Please!" as Judy smiled and dropped the bottle back in the satchel, but Judy gave her a calm-down gesture.
"Shhh, stop, you've earned your water. I'm just getting it to you in a different form." She pulled a large thermos out of the satchel, and opened it as she approached the cage. Reaching two fingers into it, she pulled out an ice cube, bent down and tossed it softly through the bars of the cage, where it bounced once on the concrete floor and skidded to a stop behind Sylvia and to her left.
Sylvia reacted instantly, leaning back from the bars and falling to her left, landing hard along the length of her upper arm. The momentary pain jolted her, but to her conscious mind it was unimportant. Rolling onto her stomach, she squirmed, rocking from side to side, inching ahead along the floor until her mouth was over the ice cube. She opened it and bit down on the cube, lifting it with her teeth, and rolled to the side to let gravity bring it down into her mouth.
To Sylvia it was heaven, the best thing she had ever tasted. She wanted to lick it, savor it, but she couldn't stop herself from crushing it to smaller pieces with her teeth, letting the pieces slide down her throat.
She bent to lick the bit of moisture shed by the cube on the floor, but she heard a clicking sound behind her, and saw Judy had dropped in another cube. She instantly rolled in that direction, squirming towards the cube and consuming that one in the same way as the previous one.
After five cubes, the edge was off her thirst, and the desperation was replaced with a feeling of complete humiliation. She continued squirming to all points of the cage and snatching up ice cubes from the floor, but now with a conscious image of what she was being made to do, and shame for what she knew she looked like. She forced herself to continue, knowing she could get her life needs met in no other way, and not knowing how long she would have to go until her next chance.
"I'll bet you're hungry, too."
Moaning in despair, Sylvia nodded. Her stomach, awakened by the invasion by water, was rumbling continually, and she couldn't bear the thought of waiting until morning to be fed, which surely would happen if she declined now to do what she must to get food.
Judy set down the thermos, and pulled a larger insulated food cooler from the satchel. From it she pulled out a peeled orange, already separated into eight sections, and one at a time, threw the pieces through the bars directly at Sylvia, to bounce off her legs, her back, her buttocks, onto the floor of the cage. Groaning again, Sylvia squirmed again around the cage floor, snapping up pieces of orange to be chewed up and swallowed, seething with outrage and squeaking each time another piece hit her.
As she continued throwing bits of orange at Sylvia, Judy said conversationally, "I didn't come up with this idea. They did this to the worst of the prisoners in isolation, but actually it was worse than this. The prisoners here who'd earned the longest time in the Black Hole -- ones who'd acted as leaders of any form of group resistance to the authority of the guards -- were put in here for a week. The rest of the cell block would be kept in lockdown -- no going outside for recreation, or to the indoor rec room, or to the library, no moving from cell to cell to chat with friends. So they were all pretty mad at the woman who was in the Hole, because she'd been the leader, and they blamed her for getting them in trouble. And of course, some of them hadn't even been involved in the mutiny, and they were being punished anyway, so they were even madder. And at feeding time in here, in the Black Hole, the guards would bring all the other inmates in here, and let them pelt the prisoner with food, and she'd be so hungry by that time that she'd crawl around and eat it just the way you are now. A lot of the inmates would be taunting her and laughing at her. Even the ones who didn't want to participate had to, because they understood if they didn't, they'd be in the cage next. Anyway, the whole idea was, after they'd all seen her, naked in a cage, shackled and chained like you are, squirming around for food they were throwing at her... she was never a leader again, because the inmates never saw her as a leader again. And she never saw herself as one again either. So it really worked."
Once the orange was gone, Judy took an entire apple and hit Sylvia directly on the buttocks with it. As it bounced away, Sylvia rolled and followed it, taking a huge bite from it, and continued turning it with her mouth and biting off chunks until she was down to the core. Judy waved at the core carelessly and said, "Push it down the waste hole, if you're done. And lick up any little bits left. I want this cage kept clean. If you want any more meals here."
Sylvia moaned yet again, convinced that Judy meant every word, and she picked up the core with her teeth, squirming then to the waste hole to drop it in. Then she backtracked to tongue up any small pieces she could see, on the rough concrete.
Judy, at last, dumped the rest of the ice from the thermos down through the barred ceiling of the cage, into a single pile, and Sylvia, grateful it was at least all in one place, snapped the chunks of ice up one by one, chewed up and swallowed them, and finally, though she was no longer thirsty but hoping to postpone needing water again later, sucked up the remaining meltwater from the small puddle on the floor.
She rolled onto her side, exhausted, awash in shame, but physically feeling far, far better than before.
Smiling in satisfaction, Judy picked up both the flashlight and the satchel, then stretched and yawned. "Well, it's really been a long day, and I'm totally exhausted. I'm going to sack out in one of the nearby cells and get at least nine, ten hours of sleep. I could really use it. I'll see you in the morning, Sylvia."
Sylvia's jaw dropped, and she struggled to try to sit up, giving up when she saw she couldn't manage it before Judy got to the door. She had been sure that Judy, though leaving her in the cage, would at least let her out of all her restraints, once she'd finished having her fun with the food. Sylvia shouted from the floor, in a voice progressively louder and higher as Judy got closer to the door, "Judy, wait, you can't leave me like this, wait, I'm locked in anyway, there's no need for the chains, there's no point in it, you can't, wait, NO!!!" This last shout accompanied the slow closing of the door, as Sylvia was once again plunged into absolute blackness.