The following excerpt is the Prologue from Conduit.
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(All content is copyrighted 2014 Angie Martin)
Death whispered to Robin Stewart. For what seemed like hours she listened to its seductive call teasing and tormenting her. Huddled in a corner of the dark room, a blanket of fear curled around her shaking torso, yet death never quite touched her. Failing to catch its prey, its vicious laugh rolled over the dark shadows and tried to consume the last of her resolve.
Light extinguished the darkness of the catacomb where death licked at her. Having been deprived of light since she woke up, Robin squeezed her eyes shut. She tried to speak to whoever turned on the light. Bile washed into her mouth and acid tickled the back of her throat, causing her to cough into the binding strapped across her mouth. The painful gag stretched her cheeks to their breaking point and stopped her from making any distinguishable sounds.
Robin opened her eyes and her vision adjusted to the spray of light from the ceiling. Stains of various shades decorated the dark concrete walls. Her eyes fell to the cold, smooth tiles on the floor, the grout between the white squares stained with black and tones of red. The faint smell of bleach explained the whiteness of the tiles, although every so often, a strange discoloration appeared on them.
With her hands bound behind her back, she pulled her knees up against her chest. She rocked back and forth several times, and used the momentum to get into a crouching position. Her fingers spread out behind her and she pressed her fingertips into the tiles to help her stay balanced on her feet.
She continued familiarizing herself with the room, looking for a means of escape or something to use as a weapon. The floor sloped down on all sides, meeting in the middle at a reddish-brown drain, rusty from years of neglect. She glanced up at three bare light bulbs dangling from the middle of the ceiling. Two glowed bright white, while the third flickered yellow-orange. On the far side of the room, plumbing descended from the ceiling and attached to a hose with a cheap spray nozzle at the end. A stale, musty stench clung to the air, as if the room had never been exposed to the outside world.
The room had no windows, and a lone door acted as the only exit. The possibility of escape made her want to race toward the door, but Robin remained cautious, not knowing where the door might lead. The idea of running into whoever turned on the lights in the room made her hesitate.
A memory flashed in the back of her mind and she walked through the last events she remembered. She had worked her usual Wednesday night shift at the pharmacy. Only Tim and Sherry remained in the store when she left. There had been half a dozen customers all night, and she used that excuse to leave her shift an hour early.
Robin wanted to visit her mom at the hospital and still make it home before the spring thunderstorm outside worsened. The night nurse who worked at the hospital on Wednesdays always let her visit her mom after her night shift, even though visiting hours ended a few hours before she arrived. With cancer ruling her mom’s body, the nurse understood the value of every moment they spent together.
At that night’s visit, Robin planned on telling her mom about her date last Saturday night. Her mom lived vicariously through the details of Robin’s dates, even if they ended in doom. The bad ones gave them something to laugh about, and Saturday night’s date was mighty humorous.
Before she left the pharmacy, Tim urged her to borrow his umbrella. She had complained earlier that she swore she brought one with her, but couldn’t find it among her personal belongings in the break room.
Robin thanked Tim for offering his umbrella, yet left without taking it. It wasn’t so far from the back door of the pharmacy to her car. She sloshed through puddles and dodged the bullets of rain, wishing she had taken advantage of Tim’s offer. Fiddling with her wet keys, she noticed the burned out parking lot light above her silver Kia, but she sensed nothing out of the ordinary.
Her fingers fumbled with her keys until she grasped the remote and pressed the unlock button. Though her clothes were already soaked through, she cursed at the rain flying into the car and onto the seats. When she set her purse down on the passenger’s seat, her umbrella looked back at her. She scowled at it. “A lot of good you do me in here,” she said. She pushed the key into the ignition and the engine turned over.
Then the man spoke to her.
Robin jumped to her feet at the memory of the voice. Calm and strong, he had told her not to be alarmed. A sting in her neck and blackness followed his words. Once she woke up, the smell of the partially finished basement overwhelmed her and the taste of saliva and salty tears dampened the gag in her mouth.
She wanted to rip out the gag so she could scream and yell, but she didn’t know if that would help. The sound of the rain outside did not penetrate her personal catacomb, and the thick, concrete walls kept out the whistling wind. Even if she could remove the gag from her mouth, she doubted anyone would hear her cries for help.
Still, she wanted to be free of the terrible tasting material. The gag made her claustrophobic more than anything else in her present situation. Having her hands restrained behind her back made getting her gag out impossible. She tugged and pulled against the coarse binds, her wrists burning with every movement, but they were too tight.
With the last of the rain still damp on her clothes, the last of her tears streaked down her cheeks with remnants of hysterical whimpering. Frustration with her inability to free her hands tempted her to lose control of her fears again. She smothered the next round of tears before they fell from her eyes. She would not be alone in the formidable basement for long and did not want the man with the melodic voice to see her in a broken state. Robin needed every ounce of strength and every bit of composure if she hoped to exploit any opportunity to get away.
The creak of an opening door screamed through the quiet room. A brighter outside light cut into the dim basement and illuminated the silhouette of a man. He turned around and closed the door, shutting out the brightness behind him. An ordinary-looking man, he towered above Robin, which wasn’t hard since she barely reached five feet tall.
He stepped toward her, and Robin dedicated the next moments to memorizing the man’s features, searching for things she might use later to identify her kidnapper in a police photo or lineup. Short, dark hair framed his round, boyish face. Excited steel blue eyes radiated beneath two chickenpox scars on his forehead. His ears were small in respect to the rest of his head, and one of them had a tiny hole where an earring used to reside. Most of all, she would remember the charming, chilling smile that crossed his face. When she escaped, all of these details would help the police find this man.
But she would not escape, Robin realized. Details of this man would do her no good because she would be dead. If he intended to let her go, he would not have brought her to a cold basement to sit for hours. He would not have bound her wrists and gagged her mouth, leaving her sense of sight untouched. If he thought she might escape, she would be blindfolded, unable to view the features of the man who stood in front of her, studying her like she did him.
The man’s hands reached around her head and loosened the gag. His smile grew when it fell from her mouth. Her first instinct was to scream, but his eyes captivated and hypnotized her. Screaming would do her no good, not with the silence beyond the walls. This meticulous man would not have brought her to a place where anyone could hear her. The underlying confidence of his piercing blue eyes confirmed her thoughts. Beneath the man’s handsome features, a monster emerged through those normal eyes. With no gag covering her mouth, her chin quivered and the tears she suppressed a few moments ago burst forth.
“Shhh,” the man said. “You’re okay.” His warm, tenor tones soothed her ears and for a moment, she believed him.
“Please,” Robin said in a weak, unfamiliar voice. Her words gurgled out with more tears. “I’ll do whatever it is you want. Just get it over with and let me go. My mom, she’s very sick.”
The man laid his hand on her shoulder and massaged her skin through her cotton shirt. His other hand went to her face and stroked her damp cheek. The loving and tender motions did not calm her, but raised goose bumps on her neck and arms.
“I understand your need and desire to care for your mother, but for our encounter to be successful there is something you must understand.”
His eyes dug into her thoughts, probed her soul, and controlled her emotions. They implored her to listen and believe his words. “This isn’t about you, Robin. It’s about something much larger than you can imagine. You are doing a great thing by being here today.”
The man removed his hand from her cheek and clasped his hands in front of his waist. “I’m afraid your time with your mother is over. She will, however, succumb to the cancer. The doctors only gave her two more months.”
The coldness that originated with his hand on her cheek spread to her core. He knew her name and he knew about her mom’s illness, but Robin had never seen the man before tonight. Her name would be easy enough to find out, but how could he know about her mom’s prognosis?
“When the doctors say two months,” the man continued, “sometimes they’re being generous. Take comfort in knowing she will soon join you in the great beyond. Two months of your mother dying alone in a hospital bed will be but the blink of an eye for you while you wait for her out there.” He waved his hand in the air, gesturing toward an unseen dimension.
Robin’s body shook, her hands convulsing within the confines of her restraints. “Let me go! My mom can’t survive without me. She has no one else to care for her.” The words poured out of her mouth uncontrolled, and Robin barely heard her voice beneath the fear pounding in her ears. “Please!”
The man turned around without responding and walked toward the door. After he left the room, Robin dared to exhale. Something she said must have gotten through to him.
She stared at the door. The man left it ajar and the light that seeped through the slight opening beckoned her. He must have left it open on purpose, giving her a chance to leave. She only had to walk through the door.
Salvation waited for her on the other side of that door and the light would lead her there, sparing her from death’s relentless pursuit. Hope guided Robin’s feet in the direction of the light, and gratefulness rejuvenated her heart when she reached the door. Tears leapt from her eyes, propelled by relief this time instead of fear. Her hands still bound behind her back, she used the tip of her left shoe to nudge the door open.
The man rushed through the door and grabbed Robin’s shirt, lifting her just above the floor. He pushed her toward the wall and the rubber heels of her work shoes squealed against the tiles. Her head slammed into the cold concrete wall and her hands twisted between the wall and her back.
His fingers wrapped around the sides of her neck and tightened around her throat. Robin choked and gasped against his hand. Wisps of air found a way into her lungs, but not enough to stop her vision from blurring. Her eyes bulged and death swirled around her mind, threatening to steal her away from the world.
The man loosened his grip on her throat, just enough for her to breathe. Robin gulped air into her burning lungs, but death did not leave her side. The man raised his right hand and showed her the knife. She had never known a knife to look so sharp.
Robin remembered his earlier words. The man believed she served a purpose. She did not know what he intended for her, except it would result in her death. Yet if he was only going to kill her, he would have already squeezed the life out of her. The serrated edge of the knife warned her death would not come that easily.
“I want you to scream her name,” the man said, his voice as calm as when she heard it coming from the backseat of her Kia.
He released her throat and his fingers found the bottom of her shirt. He exposed her abdomen like a patient lover, and the knife moved out of her sight. The cold steel kissed her bare skin and she sucked her stomach away from the sharp edge.
The man’s lips moved against her cheek as he spoke, death whispering in tandem with his hushed tone. “Scream Emily’s name. Scream it as loud as you can. When she hears you, I’ll make the pain stop.”