The walls closed in on her, blocking out all memory of the sun. Mary couldn't remember what it was like to walk down a sunlit path, or sit beneath a tree with her love. The images were like a painting splashed with turpentine, all runny through her mind, leaving her hands covered in slime whenever she even attempted to touch their surface. She was just another number, a chew toy for the creatures that lurked in the dark hallways of her prison of space and steel.
The sound of scratching shuffles and the smell of rotted flesh signified the beginning of her day. The wall in front of her melted away like sticky tar and two creatures in the outside hall, tall black shadows wearing clothing made of flesh, still fresh and slick with blood that ran down their wavering black bodies. She stared at the clothing as a point of hope, knowing that someday she would adorn their bodies and finally be free.
"Get up," one of them said and Mary complied. The other creature remained silent, just like all the rest. Only one of them ever spoke and in her mind he was the Creature, something real and more dangerous, while all the others were just things. He ran his finger down her cheek and over her mouth, leaving a smear of blood that mimicked a the wry smile she used to have. The creatures grabbed her arms and started forward, down the cold black hallway, illuminated in red by a panel over their heads.
Mary walked between them, her bare feet barely touching the ground, which was a blessing, since they had long ago been scraped free of skin, leaving only dried blood and bone. They never healed her feet after their games, and Mary could only guess at the reasons. Not that she did much guessing anymore.
The creatures led her down the hall, past identical doors of solid steel. The further the walked, the louder it became, like a zoo of barely human monkeys screeching out in pain. She swallowed and continued to stumble along, and the two shadow beings smiled down at her with hungry grins.
"We have something special planned for you," the Creature on her right said. "You like surprises..." Cold water splashed Mary's mind and an image of a rose appeared in her head, crisp and white and scented with Spring. It's clearness made her body ache, unaccustomed to anything but dull scraps of a long forgotten life.
"You like surprises." John pulled a rose from behind his back and pressed it in Mary's hands. She looked down at the flower and ran her hand over the top, feeling the smooth silk of the petals tickle her fingers. She looked up and saw him smiling like a child, his dull blue eyes and thinning black hair as clear as the last day she saw him.
She blinked a few times, as memories flushed her head, clear and brisk like air around her. Mary backed away, dropping the rose to the ground as she starred at her husband.
"No." She shook her head. "This isn't real. You aren't real."
"What are you talking about?" John stepped over to her and placed his hand on her cheek, but she shied away from his touch and looked away.
"Mary, what's wrong?" John's voice sounded just like it used to, like the time he comforted her after her mother's death. Oh god, she remembered her mother. Her favorite confidant, who taught her to be strong and always had time to just chat like school girls over glasses of iced tea. And her father, who gave her the courage to go after her dreams, no matter how far they seemed at the time.
And her brother, the hot headed goof who would always be her best friend, even after John came into her life. And John. The only man who ever made her feel like a woman, who loved her freely and who she loved in return, until she thought she would burst.
"I..." She wrapped her arms around John, taking in his scent of whiteout and aftershave, leaning into his chest like a child. "I missed you." She started to sob and he held her close, bringing his head on top of hers.
"It's okay," he said softly, his voice growing smooth spreading over her like silk. Whatever had happened was over, if it had ever even happened at all. The memories of her captivity were fading away like smoke, leaving only a few wisps of muted pain, like waking up from a long delusion. Mary didn't care if she was crazy. Crazy was better than the alternative.
"Please," she said to her husband. "Tell me it was all a dream... Tell me that this is real."
"It is," John said and laid a hand on the back of her head. "Can't you feel me? I'm here and I'm never going to leave you."
Mary sighed and let herself melt into John's embrace. She closed her eyes and all the world drifted away. As long as John was with her, nothing else mattered. She took deep breath and inhaled his scent...
And smelled death. The sticky smell clung to her nose and drove away her memories, of her parents, of her life, of John. She squirmed against the form holding her, feeling rotted flesh on her check and the slick slime of clotted blood.
"No," she whispered, keeping her eyes closed and trying to think of John and his warm embrace. This was a dream, a delusion, and she wanted to wake up.
"You are awake," the Creature said, grabbing a clump of hair and lifting her head to its empty black eyes. The eyes drained the last of her memories away and she was left with nothing but feeble reminders of what she had lost, plus the strong, clear memories of endless pain.
"Why?" Mary's voice grew shrill, like a child who had been hit by a stranger. "Why me? What did I ever do?"
"Nothing," the Creature said, still staring into her eyes. "Innocent meat is always the most sweet." He smiled and ran a clawed finger down her cheek, drawing blood.
"As for why, it's because you are nothing. No one cared enough about you to protest when your own kind shipped you up here for our amusement, to keep us happy and less likely to go after them." He shoved her to the floor, where other shadow creatures rose up to grab her arms and lift her up.
"Even your beloved John," he said, as he waved his hand at a door at the of the hall, which opened with a bang. "Do you think he really loved you? If he did..." The Creature bent towards her and added in a harsh whisper. "Then where is he?"
Mary let out a whine, a broken animal sound that welled up in her throat like a lump. The creatures laughed, every shadow in hall tittering like evil children about to drown a cat.
"But enough talking," the Creature said. "It's time for your surprise."
The creatures dragged her into the room at the end of a hall, the one room she had never set foot in, the one room from which no one ever returned. Animal hope burned through her, as they crossed the threshold. Was this really the end? Would they finally let her die?
The room looked like the others, just another medium sized steel box filled with bright red light. Another human sat in a corner, head hunched over what looked like a laptop, typing away with blood stained fingers.
One of the shadows walked over to the man and tapped him on the shoulder, while the Creature in front of Mary stepped over to her side.
"That's our special slave," he told her. "He'll be the one to finish you off. Right now, he's busy writing reports to send your kind, so that they know their little plan is working fine and the big bad bogeymen are happy in their little cage." He laid a hand on her shoulder like they were old friends and continued.
"You're lucky, Mary. You get an extra surprise. Something especially just for you." The Creature laughed and stepped back, as the man in the corner rose and stepped towards them. Two gaping holes stood where his eyes should have been, tiny remnants of optic nerve still dangling over the rims. His thinning black hair made Mary's heart rise into her throat and she took a long look at his eyeless face.
"John?" The word came out strangled and Mary nearly choked on it.
John continued forward, as if he didn't hear her and she saw the trails of dried blood plastered over his ears. One of the shadows handed him a lead switchblade and an image of Mary handing it to him on his birthday flashed into her mind.
"John!" Mary struggled against the shadows holding her in place, as her husband came ever closer, flicking the blade open as he walked. "It's me! It's Mary! Please!"
John came up to her, his scent no longer whiteout and aftershave, but blood and bile. He brought the blade onto her ankle, just above her mutilated feet and cut, ever so slowly, in circles up her leg, carefully feeling along with the tips of his fingers as he did.
Mary screamed as he grabbed swatches of flesh and pulled, tearing it away with a tear and a wet creaking squish. She tried to think of her impending freedom, and how death would take her away from all this, but John's face blocked out any thought. Her image of comfort was now a nightmare, cutting and scraping and tearing at her skin in a slow and unending cycle of pain.
Hours went by and he finally made it to the top of her neck, leaving most of her body a bloody mass of skinless muscle, but the hope of death cleared her head and helped with the pain. John's finger's brushed her lips and she reflectively kissed them, like she used to do when they were sprawled out on the grass in the sun she could barely remember.
Something changed in his face and he stepped back, dropping the knife to the floor with shaking hands. John shook his head and made a strangled moan, vomit falling from his lips and onto his shirt.
"Mary..." He said it as if he was waking up from a long sleep. Then he started to shake, raising his hands up to his head and cradling it as he sob. "Mary." This time it came out as a plea, as he fell to his knees. "I'm so sorry," he said, rocking back and forth like a child.
Mary didn't respond, her voice locked away in pain. She stared at him, trying to will him to get up and finish the job, to free her, but he just sat there sobbing and rocking, the blood stained lead switchblade on the ground next to him.
After a few minutes, the Creature stepped over to John and hauled him to his feet. "You need to finish what you started," he said, tilting John's head back by placing two fingers in his empty eye sockets.
"No," John said, swallowing down a sob. "Please, don't make me do this..."
"Fine," the Creature said, as he pulled his fingers out of John's eye sockets and pushed him to the floor.
The Creature stepped over John and walked over to Mary. "Then she'll stay like this..." He ran a finger down her skinless arm. "Forever."
"No!" Mary managed to speak, terror spilling over the word as she looked over at her husband. Her words once again failed her and nothing came out but whine, as long and pained as what had become her life.
John felt around for the switchblade and plucked it off the ground, before pulling himself back up. He walked over to Mary and reached out, feeling her chin with the tips of his fingers. "It'll be over soon," he said , as he brought the blade onto her skin and started to cut.
"Thank you," Mary managed to say, closing her eyes and dreaming through the pain, of freedom.