After the Rumbling
When faced with the choice of captivity or almost certain death, which would you choose?
The first thing I felt was the rumbling. It seemed like it was coming from the inside of me, forcing its way out, getting more intense with each passing moment. I had to still be half asleep. I couldn’t remember making it home last night, but I must have. I could tell I was in a bed; I felt my legs tangled in the sheets and when I reached my hand up to brush my hair out of my face I felt the silk of a pillowcase. But there was still the rumbling. I closed my eyes tighter and convinced myself I was somewhere halfway between a dream and the delirium that lingers when you’ve first woken up.
I was just settling back to sleep when I heard a door slide open. Then came quick footsteps and the click of a latch. All at once I felt cool air rushing in at me, enveloping my body and making it hard to breathe. I jolted upright and opened my eyes, now certain this could not be a dream. My first thought was that I was in some kind of small dormitory, but I remembered the rumbling and looked out the now open window to see countryside rushing past in a dull, brown blur. I was on a train.
“Good morning, darling,” a deep, slow voice was addressing me. “Though you’ve nearly slept it away!”
I didn’t recognize the voice and when I turned to face its owner he was no more familiar. I blinked slowly, gazing around the room and trying not to stare outright at the man standing next to the bed. He had a kind face, with round cheeks, a soft chin, and an easy smile. His light hair was cut close and he didn’t have a particularly striking figure. He was rather short and didn’t look as though he were very athletic. There was really nothing intimidating about him at all, until I met his eyes. He grinned at me as we looked at each other, but his eyes remained glazed and cold.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t look away. I don’t know how long I stared at him, but eventually I realized he was speaking again.
“Gloria,” he sounded concerned now. “You’re not yourself this morning. Did you sleep well?”
I knew he was speaking to me, there was nobody else in the room. But I couldn’t figure out why he was calling me Gloria, or ‘darling’, for that matter. I shook my head, trying to get my thoughts straight. Gloria wasn’t my name, but I didn’t know what my name was. My head felt heavy and when I tried to remember anything before this morning there was nothing there. It was like trying to swim against the current at the mouth of a waterfall . No matter how hard I fought against it, I couldn’t get back to where I had been. I jumped when I felt a hand on my arm.
“Gloria, have you had a bad dream? You’re awake now, you’re safe, darling.” He spoke softly, but I noticed he hadn’t removed his hand.
His words should have helped to calm me down, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that no matter how much he promised me I was safe, I had never been in more danger.
“Why don’t we get something to eat? I’m sure that will make you feel better.”
It wasn’t until he mentioned it that I noticed how hungry I was. The last time I had eaten had been…and there was the wall again. No matter how hard I thought about it, I couldn’t remember when my last meal had been. I couldn’t remember ever having had a meal in my life, although I was sure I must have.
“Is it too late for breakfast?” I asked. I figured it couldn’t hurt to eat; it might even help think a little more clearly. And all of a sudden I couldn’t wait to get out of the room. I needed to get out, take a look around, and try to make some sense of it all. Besides, there were bound to be other passengers and if this man did intend to do me harm he surely wouldn’t try anything funny on a crowded train.
“I’m sure the kitchens can whip something up. Why don’t you tell me what you’re hungry for and I’ll call in the order.”
“Oh, I thought we would eat in the dining car.”
I tried not to let my fear sound in my voice. As silly as it was, I had the feeling that if I didn’t leave the room now I never would. I held my breath as I watched him walk to the window and close it with a snap. He kept his back to me as he spoke.
“I’m afraid you’re much too weak for that, darling,” he spoke in a measured voice, but I could hear something more bubbling beneath the surface. “Besides, what's the good of first class if you don’t get some perks?”
“I don’t feel weak at all,” I protested. “I feel wonderful. Honestly.”
He turned to face me again. He was smiling, still, but I could almost feel his eyes boring into me; cutting through my skin and exposing my lie. His body was tense and his voice shook slightly.
“We shouldn’t take any unnecessary risks,” he said. “Doctor’s orders, I’m afraid.”
I wondered who this doctor was and why they had been to see me. I opened my mouth to ask, but thought better of it when I caught his eye.
“Alright, dear,” I heard myself saying. “Whatever you think is best. I don’t think I’m so hungry, after all. Maybe just some coffee.”
He seemed relieved and his face broke into a grin, again. He crossed to the door, promised he’d be right back, and walked out into the corridor. When he shut it behind him, I heard what I thought was a lock clicking into place.
I waited a few seconds, then got out of bed and walked first to the door. It was locked. Trying not to panic, I went to the window. I tried to slide it open, hoping to feel the wind in my face again, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Come on, Alice, think,” I said out loud to myself. Alice. Not Gloria. Alice was my name and I had remembered it. That was all that came back to me. When I tried to think of how I got here, there was still nothing but a faint uneasy feeling. But I had remembered my name.
I heard footsteps coming down the hall and quickly dove back into the bed, trying to quiet my breathing as the door opened again. He had returned, carrying two mugs and a big pitcher on a tray.
“I had them brew a fresh pot, just for us,” he said with a smile. He set the tray down on a small table and sat in one of the chairs next to it. I forced myself to smile back and went to sit across from him. He poured two full glasses of coffee, and as I was stirring in my sugar, I snuck a glance at him.
He was already staring at me and I did my best not to make a face. I simply smiled at him and took a sip of my coffee. I had already decided that when I finished my coffee I would excuse myself to the restroom. It seemed like my only chance at getting out of this room and away from him. I’d find someone out there who could help me. We sat in silence as we drank and I was glad to see the bottom of my mug.
I pushed my chair back and stood up. He did the same and I felt a shiver run through my body. I swallowed my fear and tried to speak clearly and evenly.
“I need to use the restroom,” I said, watching him closely to gauge his reaction. “Could you tell me where it is?”
“I’ll take you there.”
His response was immediate. My heart sank as I realized there was no point in arguing. There was no getting around it. I’d have to find another way. He walked across to the door and opened it, gesturing me through.
He offered me his arm and when I didn’t immediately take it, he grabbed mine instead. His touch was gentle, but firm, and I steeled myself for the fight I was sure was coming. We walked down the corridor, through two empty cars, and found ourselves in front of two doors. To the left of these doors was a solid wall, but to the right there was a door. There were no windows on the door, but I didn’t need to see out to know it opened to the tracks.
I half expected him to follow me in, but here he did grant me some privacy. There was no hope of escape from this room, but it did buy me time to try and figure out my next steps. We seemed to have reached the end of the train. If I could get that door open, I would have a chance to escape. It might mean certain death, but I knew that staying with this man would end the same way. Maybe not today, maybe not even for years to come, but I knew if I didn’t escape him now, I wouldn’t leave him alive.
I walked back out into the car to see him standing with his back to the doors. He didn’t turn around right away and I tried to keep quiet as I made my way to the side door. I grabbed the handle and turned it, half expecting it to be locked. Mercifully it flew open and I was flung backward by the rush of air that slammed against me.
I stumbled for a few seconds, trying to regain my footing, then pushed ahead toward the opening. I heard a scream behind me and turned around as I reached the threshold. He was making his way toward me and I didn’t have to look in his eyes to know if he reached me I wouldn’t get this chance again.
I didn’t know what he would do to me and I didn’t know what would happen if I went through the open door. But I knew I wanted to have a say in what happened after. So I took a deep breath and I jumped.