Robbie Fontenetta opened his eyes.
He was in a small, dark room. How small? It was impossible to tell, because it was bathed in shadows. There was a single window to his right, but it was boarded up with planks of wood, only allowing the faintest rays of light to bleed through.
Robbie didn’t think the light would help that much anyway, even if the boards weren’t there—the light wasn’t coming from the sun, but from a street lamp somewhere off in the distance. Certainly nowhere near enough light to illuminate the closed space in which he found himself. Only enough for his eyes to partially adjust to the darkness and draw a few conclusions.
The first was that he was in an abandoned building—in addition to the boarded up window, the floor was littered with debris. There were shapes of what might be old soda cans, rustling papers that could be candy wrappers, and twinkling gems that were surely bits of broken glass. Not exactly the way you would decorate if you were expecting guests. There was even a pile of what might be boxes and dirty blankets against the wall.
The second thing he could be certain of was that it was night. If the dim light leaking into the room wasn’t hint enough, it was cold. So cold that he began to shiver. A cold that only the night could bring. There was also something about the air. During the day it’s filled with the humming and buzzing of everyday activity, but at night, somehow that disappears and everything becomes eerily still, as if even nature is afraid to make a sound. That stillness seeped into the room, poisoning the air now.
The third and last thing—and probably the most important—was that he was tied up.
He found himself sitting on an old wooden chair with his wrists bound behind his back. They were tied so tightly that when he tried to wiggle free the rope cut into his skin, causing a horrible burning sensation. His ankles were also bound but not to each other. These were individually tied to the legs of the chair. Robbie thought he might be able to rock up onto the tips of his toes if he tried, but if he did and lost his balance, he would topple over and fall onto his face. Not something he wanted to do right now—being a helpless snail with a chair for a shell didn’t appeal to him. For that reason, he remained seated and drew in a deep breath, coming to terms with the fact that he had woken up in a nightmare.
Slowly, he peered about the room again, hoping his eyes had adjusted to the darkness a little more so he could hopefully discover a clue that would tell him where he was. He noticed something immediately, but not with his eyes. If he listened close enough he thought he could hear something that wasn’t there before. A soft wheezing sound. He strained his ears to make it out, but it vanished as quickly as it had come.
Calm down, he told himself. This is just some kind of sick joke, that’s all.
He tried to remember the last thing that had happened before he blacked out and found that he couldn’t. His memory was hazy and his head hurt. Actually it throbbed, as if someone had hit him. No, this wasn’t a joke. Whoever had brought him here didn’t just want a laugh. They wanted something much worse.
The wheezing returned. For a second Robbie thought it was the wind, wending its way through the boarded up window. When it grew closer, however, his heart sank.
Someone was in the room with him. And not just anyone: his captor.
“Hello?” he called out into the darkness.
No answer except the wheezing.
“Is anyone there?”
It grew louder.
“Who are you?”
Robbie had a horrible feeling that his captor planned to do just that, and he started to struggle against his restraints. He felt something hot and warm trickle down his wrists, and he used the blood as lubricant to try to wriggle free.
“Stay where you are! I mean it!”
He could no longer hear the approaching wheeze, only his heart thrumming in his chest. It was so loud that it sounded like a snare drum.
He had to get out of here.
He struggled even harder, the ropes biting into his flesh like teeth, chewing at the sinew and tendons beneath.
He used the tips of his toes and pushed against the concrete, propelling the chair backwards. It only moved a few inches. He tried pushing again. To his horror, the chair encountered something—a soda can? a dirty blanket?—and tipped backwards. For one nightmarish second he found himself tottering on the edge of balance. Then he crashed to the floor, crushing his hands and slamming the back of his head against the concrete.
There was a blare of pain and a bright white flash that engulfed his world, as if someone had just snapped a photo. Then it vanished, and the blackness of the room returned.
. . . along with his captor.
If he craned his neck and looked along the side of his body, past the chair, he could just make out a man’s legs stepping into view. He wore black boots and faded denim jeans. With each step he took, Robbie could make out more detail. The jeans were ripped. There was dried mud on the boots. One of the soles was coming loose.
The man moved forward until he was standing over Robbie.
Robbie looked up, but all he could see were shadows. His head hurt. His wrists burned. His heart slammed in his chest so loudly that he almost didn’t hear the man speak. And that might have been for the best, because what the man said sent a deep-seated chill racing down Robbie’s spine.