Sylvia awoke, completely disoriented, with no idea where she was, desperately seeking visual cues and finding none. The memory, then, that she was still blind, bound hand and foot, naked in a cage, nobody knowing where she was, came flooding back, but with a slight positive note behind the terror: I have a way to get loose! she told herself triumphantly.
The padlock! Where is it? I need that key!
She felt around on the floor of the cage with her feet, and in moments found the padlock, the key still in it. She drew it to herself with her feet, turned to put her hands on it, extracted the key, and quickly tried the key on the lock holding her wrists chained against her back. For several minutes, her frustration growing, she tried to get it into the keyhole. Fitting the key into the hole had seemed easy enough before, even under all the stress she had faced at the time. At last she picked up the hogtie padlock and held it against the one she was trying to unlock.
They weren't the same! They were different sizes! Almost certainly they took different keys.
To make sure, she painstakingly felt the keyholes of both with the tips of her fingers. Yes, the holes were different sizes too. There was no way this key would work.
She compared the hogtie lock with the one holding her ankle bands together. And the one securing her waist chain.
No good. This key would not open any of those.
She seethed with fury. Judy had never suggested a location for the keys to these locks. Sylvia had no way to get them unlocked.
Gritting her teeth, she realized that since she could save her life without unlocking these padlocks, Judy had seen no reason to make it possible for her to do so. Her bonds, she saw, looking ahead to getting out of the prison and trying to find help, made it impossible that she could cover herself with any clothing, even if she could find some. When she finally ran across people who could help her, she would have to meet them naked and bound, unable to hide her breasts, unable to cover her private parts.
She bounced on the floor in anger.
Well, that's not important, she insisted to herself. I can get out of the cage, and I can get out of the cell block. Judy did leave the keys for those, the first of them right in the lock. That's what matters.
Sylvia rolled onto her back and sat up. She backed up against the bars of the cage, grabbed hold with her fingers, and used her hands to start lifting herself, with help from her feet.
Up on her knees, she had to examine three sides of the cage before she found the one with the lock.
She cursed again. The key, of course, functioned on the outside of the lock. It had been easy to reach when her hands had been free.
She tried several ways to reach it. At last, she found that she could just squeeze both feet out between two bars of the cage, making it possible to back up flush against the bars, reach out with her right hand and turn the key.
One lock done. She pulled the key carefully out of the lock, thinking, don't drop it, don't drop it! After all you've done, if you drop this key and it bounces away out of reach, you're still dead!
The first lock had been easy. For the second one, she couldn't seem to locate the keyhole. Trying to find it with one of the fingers of her right hand left her holding the key so precariously she had to stop. She could just barely get her left and right hand out together, and had to twist her left arm around painfully to get any of her left hand's fingers on the keyhole. She finally did, and used that as a guide to help her insert the key.
The cage door sprang open suddenly after she twisted the key, and she almost sprawled backwards onto the floor. She caught herself and walked out of the cage on her knees, her heart singing. I'm out! I'm out!
She sank back down to the floor. One more key, she reminded herself. It's over on the bench. And I know where the bench is from here.
Pushing down with her hands to lift her butt and move it forward, she inchwormed her way towards the bench. When her feet hit the wall, she lifted them up. Sure enough, they found the underside of the bench.
Minutes later she was sitting on the bench, her hand clutching the gate key, the final ingredient in the recipe of her escape. I've got it, I've got it!! I can get out of here! There's going to be some embarrassment down the road, she told herself, when I find somebody to help me, but tonight, tonight at the latest, I can be at home in my own bed! With water! I'm taking a big glass of water to bed with me! And when it's empty I can refill it!
Sylvia laughed with relief. The fact that Judy didn't try to make either the cage key or the gate key hard to find, she crowed, meant that she must have been so sure I'd never get the first key. She wanted me to know exactly where they were, and to know they were out of reach. She never thought I'd get this far.
The door to the room was in the wall opposite the bench. Sylvia dropped down to the floor, and decided that following the walls around the room would probably be better than going straight across. She would lose her sense of where she was in the room as soon as she left the wall.
When she arrived at the door wall, she realized she would have to be standing to open the door. She pressed her back hard against the wall and began using her fingers to slowly walk herself upright against it.
It occurred to her now, in dismay, that there was no question of trying to walk, once she got out of the room. Her feet were held much too close together to take steps of more than an inch. She remembered how many sets of cells were along the corridor, and her estimate of their size and the spaces between them. She had, she estimated, sixty yards to go to reach the gate once she was out of the room. It would take hours if she took those tiny one-inch steps. She just wouldn't have time, before the battle with thirst, and its accompanying dizziness, disorientation, and exhaustion overwhelmed her. And squirming that distance along the floor would be still more exhausting, as well as being hell on her skin. There was no choice at all other than hopping.
She cursed Judy again, turned left along the wall, put her elbow out so she could brush it against the wall as she moved, so she could maintain contact with it and not start going in circles, and started hopping.
She found, to her annoyance, that her breasts bounced with each hop, and that the bouncing grew steadily worse if she wasn't careful about the rhythm of her hops. She had never before had regrets about developing big breasts, but they weren't helpful now.
Her heart leapt as her fingers brushed the door. Finally! FINALLY!
She turned away from it to get both hands on the handle, holding the gate key tightly against the webbing between her thumb and index finger, turned the handle and leaned back against the door. It resisted being pushed, and her stomach twisted in knots, with the fear that Judy had locked it and trapped Sylvia inside. She realized then that opening a rubber-sealed door out of a closed room represented air pressure problems that explained the difficulty. She pushed harder. With a sucking sound, the door opened. She nearly fell, and had to hold the handle tightly to prevent it.
She turned around the doorframe and looked out of the room she had thought she would never escape.
Her jaw dropped open. She had to lean against the door frame, moaning, appalled at her denseness.
Sylvia had been imagining this moment, her first sight of the world outside the Black Hole after her escape from the cage. Sight. Seeing.
The cell block was as pitch black as the Hole itself.
What in the hell was I thinking? she demanded of herself. She had somehow been so sure there would be light out here. The only other time she had ever seen the cell block, it had been lit by Judy's flashlight. That was how she had been visualizing it now. Sylvia swore at herself again. Of course there was no Judy here, no flashlight. The entire basement, the entire sixty-yard distance to the cell block gate, was invisible to her.
Well, she reminded herself, it's not like it has a complex floor plan. There was just the one corridor to go down, to the front of the cell block, and she remembered how many cells she would have to pass along the way. She would know how far along she was the whole time, and how far she still needed to go. She would just need to proceed more slowly than she wanted, by feel rather than sight.
She could smell that familiar burning stink, from the gun being fired. She had expected that.
It made sense to return to the gate the way she had come, since she knew the exit to the other corridor was blocked. Wrapping the fingers of her right hand tightly around the gate key, Sylvia turned left around the door frame. After touching the wall to her left with her elbow, she took two hops, then once more touched the wall. She knew it would be stupid to leave the wall. The main corridor was so long, it would be easy to veer off and find herself hopping into one of the cross-corridors without realizing it, completely wrecking her sense of where she was as soon as she bumped into something that wasn't supposed to be there.
A few sets of hops-and-touches brought her to the corner where she would turn into the long main corridor. She turned right, resumed hopping, and soon found the bars of the first cell with her elbow. On her next hop, her feet nearly slid out from under her as they contacted something slick on the floor. She had to lean hard against the bars to remain upright.
Sylvia sucked in an excited breath. Could it be water, she wondered? I need a drink so much!
She was so tired of needing water.
The burning smell seemed stronger here. This must be near where Judy shot herself, Sylvia decided.
She turned her back to the bars and wrapped her fingers around them, carefully protecting the gate key, and slid down to the floor. She was sitting in the puddle now, feeling it surround her butt. So cool, so wonderful!
This close to it, she realized it had an odd smell, separate from the burning stink, a smell she wasn't familiar with. I don't care, she thought. I've got something to drink.
She rubbed the wet fingers of her left hand against each other. The liquid felt too thick to be water. Something else. What could it be doing here? It hadn't been here before.
She suddenly gasped and slid to her left, desperate to get out of the puddle. She kept sliding until her butt felt dry.
This was Judy's blood.
No! thought Sylvia. You can't be blood! You have to be water!
Sylvia understood what evidently had happened, and suddenly remembered Judy's last comment: "I'm going somewhere you can't reach me." Judy must have opened up this cell, Sylvia told herself, gone in and locked the door behind her, and shot herself inside. Her body must be right there, just on the other side of the bars, where I can't "reach her." Judy blamed me for destroying her life. She didn't want me defiling her body after death.
Sylvia's next thought horrified her: Judy may not have gone into the cell! Her body might be right here in the corridor with me! I could be just inches away from touching it!
Following behind that thought came another: Judy's satchel! It would have all the keys in it, the ones that would unlock all these padlocks! Is it inside the cell, impossible for me to get, Sylvia wondered, or is it right here? Almost equally useful, the flashlight could be out here too.
Momentarily overwhelmed by the thought of how much work would be involved in searching the entire available area of the cell block for a satchel that might not be anywhere she could reach it, Sylvia realized the job didn't need to be that hard. She knew Judy had shot herself here, either inside this cell or in front of it. Sylvia didn't require any more keys to get out of the prison, other than the gate key she was already holding, but searching the small area in front of this one cell was worth the trouble if meant she could free herself of all of the chains and restraints, before she ran into any people outside who could help her get home. Among the keys in the satchel, there should even be one for that trap door that would let her recover her urine-soaked clothes from underneath the waste hole. The mental image returned to her, reminding her of how embarrassing it would be to be seen the way she was now. Obviously it would be very nice to find that satchel.
I can't just search around at random, she told herself. I could easily miss it. I won't miss it if I do it in a really thorough way.
Her nose wrinkling with disgust, she worked her way sideways through the pool of blood again, pushing down hard with her fingers to lift her butt each time she want to shift it to the side, in alternation with shifting her legs.
Once she reached the end of the cell, she pushed herself out from the bars so she could stretch out flat on the floor. Keeping the top of her head in contact with the bars, bumping it slightly many times but not painfully, she rolled on the floor across the front of the cell, the fastest way of checking every square inch of floor for a distance of about five and a half feet from the cell bars outward. She knew she was getting a thick coating of Judy's blood over nearly all of her body now, but told herself it couldn't be helped. This had to be done.
She sighed with disappointment when she reached the section of blank wall past the end of the cell, without finding the satchel, and decided to try the opposite side of the corridor. She wriggled her way to the wall across from the cell, which she now recalled was where that recreation room was. With her toes in contact with the wall this time, she resumed rolling, until at last she reached the corner where the cross corridor started, the one with the Black Hole (she shuddered at the memory of the terror she'd suffered within) and the library. Still no satchel.
Unless it's so perfectly centered in the corridor that I missed it both times, she thought, which seems really unlikely, then it's just not here. And if it was here, Judy's body would be out here too, and I can't imagine I could have missed that. My first guess was right: Judy went inside the cell to shoot herself there. And she took the satchel and flashlight with her.
Sylvia realized there was one more thing to try: it was possible Judy might not have locked the cell door. She squirmed her way back across the corridor, and found the bars of the cell again -- and the blood pool, as well. With her back against the bars, she took a tight grip on a bar and used it to slowly, with a lot of shifting her weight and grunting, raise herself back up to a standing position. The cell door, she remembered, was at the far end. She hopped to that end, and found the interruption in the pattern of the bars that signaled she had reached the door. She pulled outward on the bars, with no effect. She found, with her fingers, the metal rectangle housing the lock, so she knew she was in the right place.
She sighed again. Okay, she thought, she did lock herself in. Or maybe the lock engages automatically when the door closes. Either way, there is a satchel just a few feet away containing the means of releasing all these chains and locks, and I've got no way to get to it.
It's still okay, she told herself, it's okay. I've got the key I absolutely have to have, right here in my hand. Sylvia gave the gate key a fond squeeze, and turned to resume her hopping trek towards the front of the cell block.
She passed several more cells, with no liquid interruptions this time. She thought back to the blood, suddenly thinking: it's not water, but I still could drink it -- the idea appalled her. It wasn't just blood, it was Judy's. I'm really thirsty, she told herself, and I can't stop thinking about getting a drink, but I'm not that far gone yet.
As she wondered, for the hundredth time, how long it would be before she did find some water, the memory suddenly came back to her: that creek! It was just outside the front gate to the prison! Just before the car reached the big wall, she reminded herself, that's the last thing we did, we drove over that little bridge over a creek! There was water flowing, glowing, sparkling! That's where I'm headed! Up the stairs, down the hallway, out the front door, hopping down that broken driveway, all my exhaustion forgotten because I'm almost to the water! I can sit in it as long as I want to, drinking all I want, letting it flow over my body, feeling so cool and refreshing. Oh, and washing away the blood too.
Sylvia hopped a little faster now, her excitement building. Past one cell, another, another, seven altogether counting the one in which Judy lay dead. Just a few more hops, she thought, and I'll be at the wall with the gate!
Her world seemed to turn upside down when first her breasts, then an instant later her face, smacked up against a barrier that had no business being there. She bounced back from it, and heard a metallic jingling sound. She felt herself going down, and thought desperately, Hold the key!! Hold the key!! as she twisted to the right to avoid landing directly on her tailbone. She landed on the side of her buttock, continuing her fall as her upper arm and shoulder banged painfully on the floor.
Breathing hard, she curled up around the pain, conscious mostly of the stinging in her right palm where the gate key had pressed sharply into the padded flesh.
Her mental confusion slowly abated to the point of allowing her to take a physical inventory. She moved her joints cautiously, and decided at length that nothing was broken. And much more important, she still had the key. She wasn't sure how she could have found it if it had gone skidding off in some unknown direction for some unknown distance.
She tried to think what could have happened. It couldn't possibly be the wall at the end, or rather beginning, of the corridor. Her elbow had been in contact with cell bars when she hit the barrier, and there should have been a dozen feet of concrete wall after the bars before she reached that corner.
She reached out her legs, and her feet almost immediately touched the bars of that cell again. She moved her feet to the right, feeling for the barrier. Her toes found a pattern of tilted squares of wire. Chain link. One of those gates, she realized. She became immediately disoriented again. The closed gate had been at the start of the other corridor. She tried to decide if she could have taken the wrong corridor somehow, but knew that was impossible. She was absolutely sure she had returned to the front of the cell block through the exact same corridor she had come down to begin with. She could not possibly have gotten mixed up about her directions to that extent. And this corridor hadn't been closed...
Judy! Judy closed it!
Sylvia suddenly realized Judy might well have closed off the exit before coming into the Black Hole in her suicidal rage. It would make perfect sense, Sylvia thought, desperation growing within her. Her blood ran increasingly cold when she realized how much trouble she was in. This gate, she reminded herself, and the one I saw yesterday on the other side, are blocking the only exits from the cell block. I have the key to the gate, but I can't reach the gate.
Sylvia began shaking, her breath coming faster, deeper. She felt panic beginning to build once again. She whirled around on her buttocks and backed up against the fence, pulling on it desperately, willing it to come up and clear a space for her underneath. She managed to move it slightly, but each movement towards her stopped abruptly, with a soft jingling sound. She suddenly remembered those cleats in the floor, each meant to secure one of the fences. She wriggled to the side, in front of the fence, feeling with her hand... there. There was a padlock in the hasp. Feeling behind it with the tips of her fingers, she found that the cleat now projected through a hole in the metal pipe that served as the bottom edge of the fence. When she pulled the pipe towards her, the padlock blocked the cleat from coming out of the hole. That was how the fence was locked down. Sylvia couldn't possibly open up this fence. Well, of course, she told herself, her desperation closing in once more. If the prisoners could open the things, then what were they for?
I'm dead, Sylvia thought, I'm dead, I'm dead. I can't get out of here!
No! another part of her mind said forcefully. There still has to be a way out! Judy had to make it that way, remember? For the same reason she left me keys! She can't be the one who kills me. That would make God so mad at her!
Maybe, Sylvia thought, Judy opened the fence on the other side when she closed this one. She must have! She wanted me sitting here thinking I'm trapped, and not realizing I can cross over and get to the gate from the other side. She thought I'd just give up and not check. That would be me killing me, not her.
Sylvia shook her head in amazement. Did Judy plan all this ahead, or was everything since this morning all a spur-of-the-moment plan to go with her suicide?
Sylvia turned her back to the fence and once more laboriously worked her way up to a standing position. She turned left and hopped to the inner wall of the corridor, here formed by the bars of the cell across from the one she'd been in contact with before she'd run into the fence. She turned there, at the corner of the cell and the fence, and hopped to the other end of the cell, where the nearest cross-corridor started.
She tried to steer her mind away from how parched she was. She had been continually sweating all along the way, still more so with the exertions of the last few minutes. As she turned the corner into the cross-corridor, she envisioned a long, lazy swim in the creek, her mouth wide open to let the water flow directly in and straight down to her stomach. Once I get to that creek, she told herself, I'll just drink and drink for hours.
She slowed down, hopping carefully, just inches ahead at a time, when she thought she was nearing the end of the cross-corridor. She knew it was possible Judy had pulled down another fence here, to block her from the main corridor. In fact, Sylvia told herself, it seems likely she'd done so. Make me back out of this cross-corridor, go to another, then another, until I find one that's open. No sense making it too easy for me.
Sylvia twisted her upper body to put her right shoulder in front, so she wouldn't be hurt like before if she did run into the fence. At last, caution taking over completely, she resorted to creeping ahead at a walk, her padlocked ankle bands allowing the one-inch steps. She knew she would either reach the corner in a moment or else nudge a fence with her shoulder.
It never occurred to her to anticipate a barrier at the level of her upper shin. Already leaning forward, she had no way to move her legs ahead to maintain balance. She toppled forward until she was stopped by a slanted surface, her whole weight suddenly smacking hard against it. She heard a loud twanging sound, and the surface she had fallen onto suddenly shifted ahead, then stopped, now upright, with a loud crashing sound. She fell against it for a second time and then, her knees buckling, she fell sideways to the floor.
Sylvia started crying. I was so careful, she wailed inside, but the damn rules keep changing!
Again, she had held onto the gate key. Some survival mechanism inside her knew how important it was, without her conscious mind needing to tell it.
For the second time, she experimented with her body to decide whether anything was broken. She ached everywhere, and was sure she would be completely covered with bruises tomorrow, but again nothing seemed to be fractured.
She turned over to back up against the thing she had run into, to see if she could decide what it was.
Her fingers told her it was simply another one of those chain link fences pulled down from the ceiling, this one intended to block the end of the cross-corridor. It was vertical now, and she couldn't understand why it hadn't been vertical to begin with...
Ohhhh no, she suddenly thought, oh no oh no oh no, please tell me I'm wrong, please tell me it's not what I'm thinking.
I know what that twanging sound was, she told herself. It was a heavy string or wire being broken by stress. It was holding the fence up off the floor. That's why the fence was slanted, like a partly-open garage door, with the bottom out towards me, and why I hit it with my shin. There was about a foot of clearance underneath it. If I had somehow known to approach it crawling on the floor, I could have gone under it and be past it now, out into the main corridor. But Judy knew I probably wouldn't be moving on the floor, that I'd be more likely to be standing, hopping, because it's the fastest way I can move. She knew I'd come up against it standing, like I did, that it would trip me by hitting my shin, that I'd fall against it, and the impact of me hitting it would snap the string...
Oh, no, no, no, no...
Sylvia felt sure, suddenly, positively sure, that this one partly-open fence had been her one way out. She remembered, so clearly, her reasoning when she'd run up against the closed fence before: that there had to be another way out, because if Judy had blocked every exit, she would be killing Sylvia, and she couldn't do that. And now, Sylvia saw she'd been perfectly correct. Judy had indeed left her a way out, under this fence. Judy was in the clear, according to her own addled way of justifying her actions. If I've taken an exit offered to me and managed to wreck it, Sylvia told herself, then that's my fault, not Judy's. I could have come into this corridor wriggling on the floor, and Judy knew that. She could honestly say, see, Sylvia could have got out that way. Right now she's probably up there defending herself to God: Look, your Holiness, I kept my promise. It's not me that killed her.
It occurred to Sylvia, brightening slightly her mood of despair, that there was a difference between a lowered fence and a locked fence. She'd felt the padlock for that last fence, and she knew there was no way to budge that one. But this fence, she pointed out to herself, obviously can't be locked down. It just now fell into place. It's not like Judy could have floated in from Heaven or Hell or wherever she is and slipped a padlock in the hasp, in the last few minutes while I was sitting here.
Sylvia slid herself, by the usual laborious process, across the front of the fence until she felt the cleat that the fence was meant to be anchored to. As with the other fence, this one, now that it was in place, had allowed the cleat through the hole in the pipe along its bottom, but what was missing, as Sylvia had known, was the padlock to hold it there. Sylvia curled her fingers around the lowest wires of chain link and walked forward on her buttocks, pulling the fence behind her. It didn't really take much effort to move the fence, to make it start pivoting around the hinge in the ceiling from which it hung. Sylvia felt her spirits rising with the fence.
She ran into a problem quickly. In a sitting position, she could only get her hands a few inches off the floor. In raising the bottom of the fence a few inches, it should have been possible to get her legs under it, and then raise it farther by lifting it with her knees, then wriggle her upper body under it while her knees kept it aloft. However, in trying to turn her body on the floor so her legs could get under the fence, she couldn't quite get them there without letting go of the fence -- there was nothing she could do about the fact that her hands were joined behind her back, and she could only turn so far while holding the fence.
She decided to try standing, and lifting the fence from an upright position. As she visualized it, she could gradually walk her fingers down the wires of chain link, lifting the fence higher and higher behind her, until she could bend over to rest it on her back, and maneuver the rest of her body under it. In practice, she found that as soon as she pulled the fence towards her, it banged against her ankles, stopping further progress. Moving her legs farther forward, out of the way, left her leaning backward against the fence, with no leverage to lift it.
She tried squatting, which seemed promising at first, but it was impossible to keep her balance in that position while trying to lift the fence. She fell over five times, and decided that wasn't going to work either.
If I could keep one foot way forward for balance, she thought, while kneeling with the other leg turned out of the way, that probably would work. But I can't separate my feet.
She turned around to try to lift the fence with her feet, but her toes weren't nearly strong enough to keep hold on the chain link.
She was sweating profusely again, and angry enough to pound the floor with her fist, if only she could have got her fist out from behind her back. And she was thinking about water. Water. Water. She really had to have some water.
I'm spending too much time here, she thought. I must have wasted half an hour trying to raise this fence, and I haven't checked to see if there might be another way out somewhere else. I've only been assuming there isn't.
With a sigh that tried to be a moan but couldn't with her voice gone, Sylvia stood once more. She felt dizzy and nearly fell, and remained very lightheaded afterward, but started hopping back towards the entrance to the cross-corridor. Reaching the corner, she went left around it, past the cell on her left, and made another left into the next cross-corridor.
As she expected, she came to a closed fence at the end of that cross-corridor. She sat, felt her way along the bottom of the fence, and was not surprised to find the padlock at the center locking the fence in place. She continued to the wall, stood again, and hopped back towards the main corridor.
Five cross-corridors were closed off by five locked-down fences at their far ends.
Sylvia had arrived back in front of the cell where Judy, apparently, lay dead. Sylvia so desperately wanted a drink now that she didn't mind the idea of drinking Judy's blood: she didn't care what she drank, as long as it was liquid. But she found that the blood had been absorbed into the concrete. She could feel the dampness and coolness on her feet, but there was nothing there that she could lick or slurp up inside her.
She went, half-consciously, mostly on automatic pilot, through the last cross-corridor, the one with the library and... that room. There was no fence at its end. Encouraged, Sylvia hopped around the corner and started up the other main corridor, the one she had never yet been in. She counted the cross-corridors, each with a fence across its entrance, the ones she knew were locked because she'd been on the other side of each one. After the fifth one, she decided, with the small part of her mind still working, that she needed to be very careful. There could be another partly-open fence up ahead. She should have thought of that earlier, but thinking was a very slow, difficult process right now.
She was barely moving when she came to the end of the next cell and her shoulder nudged up against a fence across the corridor. She eased down to the floor and sat, simply breathing for a few minutes, trying to scrape some energy together, then moved along the fence to feel along its bottom. She nodded to herself when she felt the padlock, with a false sense of calm that came from the world, and Judy, meeting her expectations.
Sylvia leaned over to curl up on the floor. If I'm going to die here, she told herself, I need to rest up first.