Fiction by Julien Signorini
“Drink” is the opening to Julien’s thesis project at Pacific Crest School: a speculative novel in which people are kidnapped and tortured so that their memories can be extracted and turned into a recreational drug. The drug attracts “the voyeurs,” who enjoy experiencing other people’s pain. This “dark stuff” gives readers an introduction to a young woman writing about violence against women.
In the very beginning, before they ruined her, the blindfold was yanked from her eyes so she could see tight plastic ties turning her fingers blue, bare feet on cold linoleum the color of a scab. She was crying and seething with rage, the hands around her reminding her that bones were brittle. They stopped before a heavy door. A camera flashed and keys jingled.
“This is yours from now on,” said the woman with the keys. “Let housekeeping know if you run out of toilet paper.” The strong-arm behind her chuckled and she felt his breath on the back of her neck.
Adrian peered into the dim space, more a closet than a room. There was nothing resembling a toilet, let alone toilet paper.
“How do you spell your name?” The woman with the keys held a Sharpie in her hand.
Adrian ground her teeth in response. “She asked you to spell your name.” His grip tightened around her dwarfed arm. He twisted hard.
“A-,” she yelped. “A-D-R-I-A-N.” The smell of indelible ink filled her nose as the woman labeled her mug shot.
At the end, after weeks of pain and fear almost scientific in method, all extracted from her mind for the voyeurs, the door opened. She flinched. The light of the hallway bled through the crack. The heavy man outside threw her something.
“Put it on.” The thin white dress was the dress of a failed heroine in a haunted house. She stripped. She was half-naked before she thought to turn her back.
“Come here.” She did what she was told, a lesson she had learned so quickly. He stood in the doorway, holding a paper cup of something.
“Drink this.” She reached for it, hoping for water, but he pulled it away. “All of it,” he said. He held the cup to her lips so she couldn’t throw it again. She turned her face away so he would not see her humiliation. He and his cup were waiting when she raised her eyes again. He tilted the cup and she opened her lips to taste cheap rum. She stopped and looked at him, confused.
“All of it,” he repeated. She drank.
He’d dissolved the pills in alcohol to strengthen their effect and they began working instantly.
When she opened her eyes, she saw the sky for the first time since they’d taken her. Sunset. She was dull from the drugged drink, arms and legs twisted on the hard-packed earth. Slowly, groggily, she rolled over, examining her surroundings. Each limb was lead.
Two men watched her dispassionately while their comrades unloaded a large black box. The jarring clang when they dropped it beside her told her there was metal inside. She should have been worried, but everything seemed to be happening so slowly through the congealed lens of the sedative. The men were talking about her. She heard them as though from far away.
“No, it’s fast- acting. Starts working fast, quits working fast. There could be a few side effects, but none that’ll affect the product. Give her a couple minutes.”
“So, what … we screw her, then … kill her?” The youngest man asked nervously. He couldn’t have been older than her. His beard was still coming in.
“No, then she’ll kill herself, or at least do some damage.” Harsh laughter. “We’ll mop up after she blacks out, and if she lives, she lives. Going out with a bang, huh, sweetheart?” A thin man she’d never seen before spoke to her.
She wanted to shudder, but only managed a wary glare. Her limbs felt lighter now as she regained lucidity, but she stayed still, prolonging the inevitable.
They waited until the thin man dubbed her ready, loudly talking about their plans. Warming up her fight-or-flight response. They wanted her to anticipate it.
“Let me get her in the mood.” One of the bigger men strode up. He snapped his fingers in front of her face to make sure her eyes were tracking before slinging her over his shoulder. Dread was a pit in her stomach and adrenaline keened her drugged senses. She knew her body would obey, but she wouldn’t move now. Maybe … maybe …
“Where are you going? Don’t hurt her before we start, you hear me?” The thin man’s voice. She saw him jogging to match the long strides of the man who was carrying her. Maybe they would fight, and then …
The sky, the dirt and the leather of his jacket melted into one as her carrier whipped her forward. She squeezed her eyes shut as her body slammed into a hard wall of dirt, struggling against his binding grip on her forearms until she felt her feet peddling against thin air. She looked down and the ground was blurry through tears of panic. Anchored only by his hands around her wrists, the ground was too far beneath her. She let loose a fear-scrambled scream of profanity and begging, quaking with sobs as she clutched the hands she’d just tried to shake off. Even before today, she had been deathly afraid of heights. He shook her above empty air and terror stopped her breathing.
“Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” a voice from high above demanded. “She’s valuable, damn it, and I told you to stop screwing around!”
He shook her once more but heaved her back up onto solid ground. She curled into a ball and lay there panting. This was it, she could take no more. This was it.
“Come on, Vince! I was just trying to get a rise out of her.” His voice sound muffled above her. There was nothing worse than the edge. But the edge was the only thing that could save her. She steeled herself.
“Andros, you’re a clod,” said Vince. “What do you think would happen to your ass if she had fallen?”
As though to illustrate his point, she lunged. No matter how terrifying, the cliff promised everything would be over in a few seconds.
“Whoa!” Andros stopped her before she reached the edge, kneeling on one knee like a future groom. He was enjoying himself.
She shouted. A battle cry. Both legs shot out in front of her and landed square in his ribs. She heard a castrated curse as he toppled off the edge headfirst. His companions shouted after him.
She didn’t stick around for the sick thud. Hands clawing at the dirt, heart racing, she thrust herself upright. Now her arms and legs were light as feathers. She tore into the forest, desperately putting as much distance between herself and the men at the precipice before they caught her, expecting their hands and blows at every moment, too frightened to look back.
They would not let her escape. She was a valuable product and now she was a murderer. She didn’t fully realize it yet, but the brambles knew, and they tore her skin as she ran.