In the last few minutes before consciousness returned to Susan Murrow, she dreamed.
She was shopping; she watched herself move from store to store in the mall making purchases, stopping at several kiosks, buying an Orange Julius. She saw herself visit the mall restroom and hover over the commode rather than allow her skin to make contact with the billions of germs she imagined were there, remnants of every customer more daring and therefore less sanitary than she.
Now she is in the parking lot, looking for her car. She carries her packages in one hand by the straps of all five bags, her keys in the other hand as she thumbs the unlock button of her keyless remote . She had parked in the lot next to Sears, she was sure of it and then she spots her silver Volvo only one row over. Pretty close, she thinks and finally makes it to her space. She presses the button on the remote and-nothing!
“Damn it!”, she says aloud, and shakes the keys on her Snoopy keychain to try and fish up the one for the door, abstractedly trying to assist herself with her over burdened right hand. She barely registers another vehicle, a white panel van, as it slides into the space beside her. Susan has to move closer to her car to avoid it.
A violet colored lace bra falls from her Victoria’s Secret parcel onto the dusty pavement and kneeling down to retrieve it she dumps the remaining personal items from the bag onto the parking lot. In her momentary rage, she does not heed the metallic sliding sound of the van door opening behind her and as she squats in the narrow space between the van and the Volvo to gather her belongings, she curses the driver.
“Cuttin’ it pretty goddamned close aren’t you?”
She hears a man’s voice admonish, “Such language!” the sound of a blunt instrument cutting the air and then the world turns black.
The first of the five senses to return to Susan was that of smell; pungent, acrid and cloying, the smell of urine and rotted vegetation. This was accompanied by a dull, throbbing buzz in her skull that vibrated from the marrow outward, an incessant, pounding roar that washed over her and made her shudder.
She started violently and found her limbs stopped short. Her fevered brain flashed the image of a dog reaching the end of its chain. She tried to open her eyes and was blinded by an intense white light. She blinked furiously, tears flowing, her vision a field of red.
She tried each of her limbs experimentally and confirmed that she was indeed bound, naked and lying on her back and as the truth of her predicament dawned she panicked. She tried to scream but through the greasy rag that gagged her was able to manage only a distressed croaking, a hoarse grunting that succeeded only in frightening her all the more. She began to thrash, to assail the binds that held her with the blind frenzy of sheer hysteria. She felt the table she was on move half a foot to the left, heard the screech of the metal sliders on the legs as they scraped over the floor. She continued convulsing and croaking until her convulsions caused her to bruise her coccyx and then she lay sobbing in pain and an agony of fear. Then a new sound made her catch her breath and listen, like a feral kitten in a rainstorm.
A door opened and closed; the sound of someone descending a flight of stairs, coming nearer; another door opening and closing. There is a new odor too, a body odor like nothing she had ever experienced, like a hundred unwashed bodies wallowing in sewage. Her revulsion triggered her gag reflex, but some survival instinct warned not to offend whoever this was, that doing so might be fatal and she desperately wanted this not to be fatal.
The smell traveled from one end of the table to another , following footsteps around and up the other side to where Susan’s head was turned. The gag was removed from her mouth. She tried again to open her eyes.
Silhouetted against the backdrop of her tear blurred and red spotted vision she was able to determine that her captor was tall, impossibly thin and quite naked, his ribs showing under a mat of greasy black hair and his manhood standing unimpressively erect in mock salute. As her vision cleared, she found his face and in his eyes Susan Murrow recognized her doom leering out from under bushy brows, grinning stupidly.
She screamed at him to let her go and he screamed back, mocking her and dancing back and forth, “LET ME GOOOO! LET ME GOOOOO”, laughing cruelly, taunting her. Abruptly he stopped and pointing one skeletal, black nailed talon, he growled at her like a rabid dog. “You ain’t goin nowhere, bitch. Scream all the fuck you want.”
Incensed and ashamed, all thoughts of appeasing this half ape went out the window. Her bruised and swollen features twisting in fury, she spat, “You go and fuck yourself you smelly little TURD!”
The smile vanished from his face. He drew back one bony arm and slapped her resoundingly, the impact slamming her head back painfully against the unyielding table. Stars swam before her eyes, and tears of shame and rage choked her as she sobbed. He leaned close to her, close enough that she could smell his breath on her cheek, sour and reeking of rotted food. He snaked out his tongue and licked her cheek, causing her to retch.
He whispered in her ear, “Shhhhhhh…you just hush now… you just keep reaaaallll still and quiet. We wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to you because of your filthy mouth, would we? Noooo.. you were meant for something better and soon… very soon, you’re gonna do your part... very soon”
He stood and walked back down and around the table, checking Susan’s bindings as he went.
“Yes, little girl, you are special. I’ve been looking for you for weeks and then bang! You just show up at the mall, just like you were meant to be there right then. Right at that precise fuckin time. Just like you had been sent!”
Satisfied that Susan was securely tied, the smelly little man replaced her gag and sat down at a card table that held a computer monitor and keyboard and hit the space bar. A flying Windows screen saver flashed briefly then gave way to the desktop.
Susan , useless without her glasses, squinted and strained her already swollen eyes to try and focus on the background image on the desktop and after a few tense minutes made out the outlines of a calendar, large squares with numbers and days and at the top in large red letters she read the word February.
She scanned the rest of the squares, the numbers and days coming in and out of focus, the strain on her eyes making her head ache. She saw one day, the last day, highlighted red with something notated in black writing she couldn’t make out. Her captor superimposed a clock over the calendar and pushed himself away from the table. For a second, he blocked the screen, and then as he moved again, Susan could see the seconds ticking by on the clock and next to it the day on the calendar in red, with black writing. Desperately she focused her bloodshot eyes and read the date: the 29th. February 29th. Leap Day.
The clock was counting down to zero. Thirty seconds to go. The man was standing over her now, and Susan could see him clearly, looming over her like some insane scarecrow werewolf. Clutched between both hands he held a butcher’s knife directly over her heart, and straining, Susan could read the countdown from the glow of the computer monitor mirrored in the stainless steel.
Fifteen seconds to zero.
Susan began to struggle again, straining every muscle against her bonds, her eyes pleading with him, but the smelly man was somewhere else, his eyes focused outside of this plane. A drop of drool dripped from his grinning mouth and he giggled dementedly just as the countdown ended. The alarm sounded.
As the blade fell, the last thing Susan Murrow ever saw were the words on the computer’s calendar written in black on a blood red background: