I don’t follow. I float, like a balloon, my steps as light as air, as this stranger takes me to his car, and my body can’t do anything but comply.
I must have dozed off, and my head bumping against the car window wakes me up. I look outside, and recognize no landmarks of the city, which I grew up in. All I see are vast fields of nothing, that seem to merge with the endless sky somewhere in the distance, and even if there was a chance of me running away, I wonder where I would run.
I swallow heavily, as I lean back into the car seat. I can breathe more clearly now, my nose feels freed from that oppressive smell that lingered back in the alleyway. Instinctively, I try the door, but of course, it’s locked. I hear a chuckle from the driver’s seat.
“You don’t think it would be that easy, do you, princess?”
I don’t need to look up at the rearview mirror to recognize that voice. It is the voice that will never leave my mind, no matter how hard I try, the voice that will continue to ring on through my nightmares probably for as long as I’m alive.
His eyes glisten in the darkness, the grey hue becoming even lighter now. He occasionally looks up to checks on me, but doesn’t say much else. I rest my trembling hand on my thighs, trying to calm my breathing. When we stop somewhere and he opens the car door, I could push him away and just run. Run anywhere, it doesn’t matter. Anywhere is safer than with this lunatic, whoever he is. I don’t want to stick around to find out why he has me in a car or where he’s taking me.
But, I eventually do. Our ride is short, and he stops in front of some old, military-looking, abandoned facility. There is not a single soul alive here. The silence echoes in the trees, and I know that, even if I shouted at the top of my voice, no one will hear me, no one will come to my rescue.
Still sitting in the driver’s seat, he turns to me and throws a pair of metallic handcuffs into my lap, which are as cold as his glare.
“Put them on,” he instructs, as if I’ve done this a million times before and I know exactly how one puts on handcuffs.
Slowly, my fingers barely able to unclasp and open them up, I secure one side to my left wrist first, then with some slight maneuvering, I attach my other wrist, with an equal sound of lost freedom. I lift my hands up in the air for him to see.
“Good girl,” he smirks. “I’ll make sure to tell your father you’ve been most cooperative.”
“My father?” I whisper, but he’s already out of the car and walking over to my side to open the door.
He helps me out surprisingly gently, then gestures at me to walk towards the dilapidated building in front of us.
“Where are we going?” I ask, even though I realize how futile that question is.
“You just keep being a good girl, and no harm will come to you,” he explains, answering my second, unspoken question. “That also depends on how your father reacts
to my deal.”
“What deal?” I cry as he pushes me inside the dark engulfed building, and I expect monster hands from all sides reaching at me, threatening to tear me apart. But, no hands attack me and instead, Sven just turns on the light.
The place is empty, apart from a few cardboard boxes in the corner, and a table with a single chair right in the middle of the big, cement-floored room.
“Take a seat there,” he urges me.
He watches me fulfil his command with a steady gaze. His hand reaches into his pocket, and extracts a box of half empty cigarettes. He takes out one and lights it up. Once he’s seen me sit down, he walks over to the other end of the table. His hand once again dives into his left pocket, and this time, what surfaces isn’t cigarettes. It’s my phone. Eyes wide open, I stare at my phone, then him, then back at my phone again.
“I had to make sure that you didn’t call for help,” he explains, as if we’re discussing the weather and he’s wondering whether he should bring an umbrella tomorrow, because it might rain.
My blood runs cold listening to him. How many times has he done something like this? He probably wants to call my father to ask for ransom money. Despite what my father thinks, I remember what happened when I was 4 years old. They’re just snippets in my mind, and sometimes, it feels like it happened to someone else. I guess, that’s how the brain copes with the fact that I was moments away from being taken away from my parents and everything I knew. I was playing on the swings, while my mother was watching me. As they say, all it takes is a single moment of no one paying attention, and tragedy can happen. The man had a long coat, which smelled like tobacco, like it was growing in his inside pockets. His hands were stained yellow. They were rough, coarse. When he grabbed me by the wrist, he almost scratched me. The car he was pulling me towards was bright red, like those balloons little kids get at fairs. I remember not even realizing what was happening. Then, my mother screamed. Then, commotion. The coarse hand let go of me, and I lost sight of the bright red car, once I was back in my mother’s safe arms.
We never spoke of that, none of us. I guess my parents believed I was too young to remember, and there was no point in stirring old memories that might trigger trauma. It’s better to keep them buried. Even now, after all these years, when these images come flooding back, I can almost fully convince myself that it happened to someone else. But, that tiny voice in the back of my mind knows. And, it doesn't even shut up.
“Now, we are going to call your father,” Sven tells me, finishing his cigarette and stomping it with his foot, a little agitated.
He makes me unlock my phone with my fingerprint, and he finds my dad’s number easily. He puts it on speaker phone, and lays it on the table before me. It rings only twice before my dad picks up.
“Sweetheart, is everything alright?” I hear concern in his voice.
But, before I can reply, Sven does it for me. “I’m afraid sweetheart is a bit tied up at the moment,” he explains, leaning a little towards the table.
“Who is this?” my father’s tone changes from concerned, to frantic, to pissed off.
“I’m surprised, shocked even, to see you don’t recognize the voice of your old time friend, Hugo.”