It was difficult to know how long he sat where he was. A deep dark crevice in the bowels of humanity. Weak. Tired. But more than that. Beaten.
Perhaps some battle long ago, whether of mind or body. He could not remember. All he knew was that he must have lost.
It mattered only in the abstract. A distant cloud on the winds of his troubled mind. For as sure as he knew he lived, he could not recall a single detail but the now. His former thoughts were a whisper just beyond hearing.
The damp. The cold. Mildew. Spiders. Rats. Within the deep dark that was his prison he could smell, almost taste it all. To the granite walls and metallic plates on its surface. Down even to the thin sheet of dust caked to the surface of his own body.
It was almost a game, in some simple disinterested way. Plates connected to links of chain, connected to manacles. Thus, as an extension, to him around his wrists. They were long enough so that his arms hung down at his sides, limp and devoid of purpose. This melancholy was shared by neighboring legs. Free, but as disinclined to motion as their northern counterparts. They all lived here on the floor with the rest of him.
He took inventory of this with eyes that refused to look, locked in their protective lids. Not unlike a blanketed man in bed. As if it were too early or cold to come out from under the covers. But there was no shivering or fear, just a shroud of malaise.
As for the rest of him, he could not be sure anything would change at all. A never-ending spec of time, frozen in an amber of now. His state of being. Until at last, he began to slip back out of focus, to completely embrace wherever he had been before now. Drifting. But for a sound!
A single unsure—unwelcome—unfamiliar sound snapped closed his reverie and opened his eyes. As crisp and sure as a captain salutes his general. Nothing else of him moved. As things slowly came into focus, he saw cobwebs and dust eddies, glistened dew on un-kept walls, and the ants marching.
These elements were all part of an orchestra of sound, that was a constant in the background. Always in perfect harmony. Everything had always been in sync. Now this? One wrong note, and the sweet lullaby of it all was destroyed. As though the conductor, he looked around for the offender. Searching.
A little patience and there it was. His focus found the source of the disturbance, and it was unsettling. Fear began to take root. His sanctuary had been violated. But what should he do?
Rhythmic steps joined the orchestra that played itself out before him, but they did not belong, and they were getting closer. It was a baby crying in the theater, whining and carrying on, and throwing fits. Panic set in.
The only thing he allowed to move were his eyes. They alone could be trusted not to make a noise that might betray his existence. His ears listened as hard as they could, to the ever-approaching footfalls of something getting closer.
“Point that damned flashlight in front!”
“Sorry Simon, I was just trying to have a look around.”
“Then look in front,” said Simon. “What’s the point of pointing that thing where we’ve already been, Thomas?”
“Well who’s to know what’s down here?”
“I do,” said Simon. “I know exactly what’s down here. Absolutely nothing! Now do as I say and don’t give me no back talk!”
The silence almost returned, but hidden in the darkness, he knew they were still inside his territory. Loud and clumsy footfalls betrayed their presence, despite failed attempts at stealth.
“What did I tell you about that damn flashlight?”
“Well why don’t you walk in front then,” asked Thomas.
“Me? Why? I’m already in the back. You know what? Come here.” There was a loud slapping sound intermingled with a scuffle of sorts and the rapid shifting of feet.
“Hey, cut it out you jerk. I’m going to tell my sister.”
“Okay, okay. I’m sorry.”
“What are we doing down here again?”
“This woman Chanovalle hired us and she’s paying us more than enough, and that’s all we really need to worry about.”
The world began to spin. Chanovalle. A whispered memory blazed to the forefront of his mind’s eye. Chanovalle. Could it be the same one? A woman. A maniacal look to her face. Her eyes. Murderous. Dark gray piercing eyes. Always hunting. Again and again. She had found him. He was afraid of her without knowing why. All he knew was that he had to run. Now!
“Look Thomas, I don’t know why you’re making everything so difficult again. It’s like you’re addicted to drama or something. You said you needed a job and I got you one. Didn’t I? Let’s leave my wife out of this, okay?”
“Susan said you’re not allowed to hit me.”
“Okay, okay. Didn’t I say I was sorry? You know I didn’t mean it.”
“Didn’t mean that you were sorry?”
“Oh brother! There you go again. You know what I meant.”
“I hope so.”
The duo continued in silence, flashlights beaming all over the place as they searched for something that might interest their employer. Until something caught the younger one’s attention. He shuffled towards it with the eagerness of a golden retriever.
“Hey Simon, look at this over here. What do you suppose this is?”
“Chains? Thomas, you idiot. Are you kidding me? You scared the bejesus outta me just now.”
“So we’re not looking for these then?”
“Thomas, what are you going on about? It’s just some old rusty chains on the floor. Nothing to worry about. They look like they’ve been here forever and a day, even. Let’s keep moving. When Thomas didn’t budge, he added “Quit being peculiar and let’s get back to work.”
“Okay, okay. I was just wondering what coulda done that, is all,” he shook his flashlight for emphasis.
“Done what?” Simon wiped the back of his sleeve over his sweaty forehead, to try to hide eyes that were darting all over the place. His own flashlight, momentarily darting around as well.
“Pulled the chains off the wall like that. You can tell they used to be on the wall here, not on the floor. And how come there’s no dust only right here? The whole rest of the place is full of the stuff?
There was an uncomfortable silence that stretched on for a long time. Both men stood back to back, looking everywhere at once. Eventually Simon remembered that he was in charge.
“Aren’t you just a regular Sherlock Holmes?” Simon gave Thomas a gentle shove from behind to get him moving again. “Let’s keep looking.”