The chains rattled and clinked as she struggled against their tight hold over her body, the cold metal links sent shivers through her body but try as she might she couldn’t get free and even if she did, where was she going to go? The place she was in was pitch black with not even a slither of light coming through, guiding her to freedom. A voice penetrated through the darkness, it was a deep voice, a voice obviously disguised by some sort of electronic contraption.
“Welcome to the final illumination, Rachel. It is here that you and your so called beloved will at last face each other and answer one final question.” A blinding light was then switched on, it was so bright it stung Rachel’s eyes so much that she had to look away and down to her right, making her long brown hair fall over her face giving her some cover. The light came from a couple of high intensity stage lights, one was pointed directly at her while the other lit up someone a couple of feet to her right. She looked up and saw who it was and to her relief, it was her boyfriend, Jack. He looked a little worse for wear with a bust lip and a cut at the eyebrow but, though he looked dazed and weak, at least he was still alive. His white polo shirt was stained with patches of sweat, blood and dirt but despite this she was glad to see him, the last couple of days had been torture for her ever since he was reported missing. With the light illuminating everywhere around Rachel, she looked around to see where she was but the intensity of the light only limited her sight. However she could still make out the thick wooden boards they were each strapped to in a vertical position.
“Rachel…?” Jack asked weakly, his head wobbled from side to side and his eyelids drooped as he started to come out of his drugged stupor.
“Yes I’m here, Jack. Don’t worry we’re gonna get out of this,” she said trying to reassure him with a huge amount of effort but as she looked at him again a glint from an object just beyond his head caught her eye. She craned her neck forward to get a better look and immediately wished she hadn’t. Placed next to her boyfriend’s head and pointed diagonally down towards him was an electric circular saw, the path of which would sever Jack in half, the light glinted threateningly off the saw’s long toothed blade. All the blood drained from her face and a cold sweat seeped from her skin as she stared fearfully at the machine.
“You know by now the punishment for lying to me.” A voice close to her left said, it wasn’t booming through the room like last time, it was still disguised yet at a low whisper now. What looked like the figure of a man came into view, he was dressed in a long black leather jacket and wore his hud up hiding his face. “I suggest you answer the next question truthfully or else lover boy here,” he nodded towards Jack, “well let’s just say there’s going to be two of him to love.” Rachel could just make out the outline of a vicious and sickly grin. The man stepped to the front of the couple, Rachel could also see that he held a pick axe in one hand.
“Please just let us go, we’ve done what you’ve said.” Rachel pleaded with her captor with tears welling up and flowing down her reddened cheeks. The man stepped towards her and with his leather sleave creaking creepily he raised his gloved hand up to gently scoop a tear from her cheek. He then went over to Jack who’s eyes had started to become more alert and breathing became erratic as the panic was setting in.
“See how much she loves you? She sheds tears for you, degrades herself by begging for your life and how do you repay her? By sleeping with someone else, your kind disgusts me.” he went to raise the pick axe and strike it down into Jack’s chest. Rachel screamed but the man stopped himself right before the axe would sink into his sternum.
“No, that would be too quick and not part of the plan.” he turned back to Rachel who had started to shake uncontrollably. “So my last question is this: do you still love this pathetic excuse of a man?” he pointed with the axe at Jack. Rachel vigorously nodded her head.
“Yes, yes, yes”
“Really?” the axeman hissed “Even after he cheated on you? After I exposed his many lies to you? After fully grasping what this leech is like you still love him?” he asked yet again. Rachel looked at Jack who stared back at her sheepishly, like a dog that knows it’s done wrong. Her mind raced through the many lies told by Jack that this psychotic axeman unearthed to her during the last 24 hours.
“Answer truthfully now,” he threatened “I’ll know when your lying.” She stared helplessly at the madman who waited patiently for her and after a moment of torturous reflection she finally told the truth. She shook her head.
“I don’t love him” she whispered.
“I’m happy you came to that conclusion, so now you can move on.” he said right before the whirring noise of a machine powering up was heard. She craned her neck again and saw the blades of the saw turn faster and faster as it inched itself slowly towards Jack. Horrified she turned back to the axeman who stood directly in front of Jack, watching him like an audience member waiting for a sadistic and bloody show to start. Jack and Rachel both started to yell and beg for the hooded man to release them but he just stood still, unperturbed by their wasted pleas. The circular saw got within an inch of Jack when he started to struggle violently against the taut chains but they were too strong and held him in place with the jaws of a padlock locked in place behind him, it was futile but he still wrestled. Rachel had to watch as the saw sunk deeper into her boyfriend’s arm, spraying blood everywhere but mostly over the axeman who practically basked in it. Jack screamed in pain but no amount of screaming would push the saw back, it travelled across his arm just below his shoulder, cutting it off completely and with a sickening thud the arm dropped to floor in full view of Rachel who stared at it in absolute terror.
“Let him go you sick b*****d!” she yelled and seemed to get his attention since the hood was jerked in her direction and the blades sounded like they were slowing down. When they had stopped completely it was then that he spoke.
“I am not the sick one, it’s this society who rewards the sinners and punishes the faithfully loyal, that’s sick. So I must remedy that.” He turned back to Jack and turned the saw back on. Gushes and sprays of blood soaked the surrounding area as Jack’s chest cavity was broken in two and his heart ripped to pieces, the madman let it carry on until it cut him in half completely. Rachel couldn’t watch anymore, she looked the other way and cried until it was over, until the noise from the saw died and silence could only be heard. She heard the axeman’s footsteps come towards her but she didn’t move, she was too horrified and scared to even flinch away. He was right in front of her now, she could hear him breathing. He reached towards her and seizing her by the face he turned her forcefully to face him. He was covered head to toe in Jack’s blood and Rachel could still see that wicked smile of his.
“Let me go” she said weakly.
“Certainly” he replied “I’ll let you go from all the pain.” He then raised the pick axe with both hands and swung the sharp point fast towards Rachel’s chest. The tip of the axe plunged right through her and the slab of wood behind while blood poured from the wound and she tried in vain to breath. Her eyes were an expression of shock and pain but as the life started to drain from her she grasped the axeman’s shoulder as if it was an anchor to the mortal world but it was an anchor that was steadily slipping away just as she was from the land of the living. She slumped over her chains, dead as the axeman slapped her hand away from him and walked off, lighting a cigarette as he shut the lights off with the remote in his pocket.
“Well that was better than s*x” he said to himself.
Daniel Wessley woke from his deep sleep ten minutes before his alarm would sound. Nowadays he would look forward to waking up and seeing a message from her and would usually leave his phone charging next to his pillow so that if she did message in the middle of the night he would hear the chime and answer it right away. He reached for his phone and looked for any notifications since, due to the six hour time difference, she would usually leave him little surprises for him to watch so that he’ll start off the day with a broad smile. Looking through his phone though, he found there was no tagged video and that Veronica hadn’t been online since the last time he talked to her, which he thought was odd but not so alarming. Maybe she had a busy day. He dragged himself out of bed and proceeded to do his usual routine of getting ready for work. He ate, washed and brushed teeth, shined shoes and sent Veronica a quick message with a picture of him all dressed up in his suit, looking quite dapper and professional and handsome. His job was as stressful as the day is long. He managed a small office space that took customer inquiries for a popular retailer, and since he was a good people person he quickly made his way up the management ladder whilst also taking over from certain calls that his frazzled employees needed help with, having the ability to settle down the most erratic of customers.
Even though he was good with people, not just on the phone but with his employees, he always seemed to keep all others at arm’s length, which made a guy like him quite lonesome, all because a previous relationship became sour and his trust in people shattered. This is where Veronica came in, they had met on a random chat website and became instant friends. Though she did live in America, with him in England, their budding friendship became something more meaningful as they both had come through something disheartening but now they each needed and wanted each other to fill that void, it wasn’t long until Dan asked her to be his girlfriend. He had never had an Internet relationship before and felt sometimes it can be a strain but hearing those few words from her every day eased that tension with both their hearts shaking off the scars of their previous failed relationships and beating with a new hopeful rhythm.
At lunch he finally had a chance to look down at his phone, it was almost like an itch he can’t scratch through the day but as he clicked on the button he saw no new message from her, ‘That’s odd’ he thought realizing that the time over there would usually be around the time she would be heading to work and she always texts before she leaves, without fail. He quickly shrugged it off and made the excuse that she was probably running late or something but unfortunately and unknowingly for him, the truth is a lot more sinister. He went to the gym after work with the thought of whether Veronica was alright in the back of his mind, he didn’t know anything for sure but still something didn’t quite sit right with him. He used his anxieties and concern to motivate his muscles into action, pumping more iron, running a few extra minutes and even doubling his crunches, something he hardly ever did. After showering he took his phone and went into his messages once again and once again seeing no messages from her. He quickly sent a message asking if she was OK and walked out the gym, returning back home still with troubled concern locked in place in mind. After he ate he poured himself a glass of wine and settled himself in front of the TV, glancing now and again at the phone as if attempting to urge it to light up with a message. As hour after hour came and went with no contact from her he drank the first bottle and was making his way through the second one when his phone buzzed. He snatched it up and read the message once, twice and three times not quite knowing what to make of it, but it made his mouth go dry and a knot of worry to develop even more in his gut. The message was from Veronica’s roommate, Heather.
“Hey, have you heard from Veronica? I’m worried, she hasn’t been home and she didn’t show up for work. I’ve tried ringing her but there’s no answer.” Clicking fast on the device he replied:
“No, she’s not been in contact since last night, I’ve been worried sick. I think you should contact the police just in case, let me know what they say.” He felt helpless sitting in his flat with his glass of wine within reach, it was pure luck he had an ally in Veronica’s roommate but that didn’t settle his worried mind. It took another hour for her to get back to him.
“Hey, I’ve contacted the police and they’re looking into it now, I just hope nothings happened to her. She’s told me all about you and from what I hear you can be trusted.”
“Yeah, same with you.” he texted back “So what are the police doing about it?”
“They’re looking through the apartment and her digital devices except for her phone which is missing. They’ve taken my statement and interviewed her neighbours. It’s weird, there’s already a detective here calling all the shots, I’ve heard they were proactive but this is going at 1oomph, hopefully something will turn up soon. Oh and I’m sure at some point they’ll want to talk to you too.”
It took perhaps another half hour and the rest of his glass of his wine to finally decide to get up an head to the airport. It was only recently he’d been able to save up enough money for a trip to America and would have liked to surprise Veronica with some romantic gesture but right now he couldn’t stand waiting for news from the other side of the world while she may still be in trouble. The flight took all night with Daniel not even sleeping a wink, he couldn’t even stomach anything while Veronica was still missing. Before the plane lifted off the ground he let Heather know he was coming, she was surprised to say the least but ultimately proved helpful as she offered to pick him up from the airport.
The next morning tyres screeched against the tarmac as the plane touched down on the runway in the mountainous state of Montana at an airport in the city of Bozeman. Famed for the various mountain ranges and national parks, Montana thrived in the tourist industry and subsequently their towns would often be a hotbed for festivals and extravagant events all year round. The way Veronica had described the state in which she lived didn’t do it justice and as Daniel made it out of the airport, having been thoroughly frisked inside, he took in the snow covered mountain ranges and the clear blue sky and wished he was looking up at them under different circumstances. A sudden vibration in his pocket snapped him out of his marvelling trance and urged him to answer.
“Hey,” a soft voice answered, it was Veronica’s roommate “I’m out front, where are you?”
“I’m out front too, holding a bright red suitcase” he told her as he glanced down to his hastily packed luggage and wondered if he had enough to wear. The past twelve hours had been a blur and he barely remembered packing or even the check in desk at the airport.
“Gotcha” the voice said just as a bright blue Toyota Prius pulled up in front of him. Inside was a young woman in her late teens to early twenties with curly red hair, a long pointed chin and freckles. She wore thick rimmed glasses balanced on a small button nose, floral full length skirt and a red cardigan, she was slightly overweight but looked comfortable in her own skin and when she pulled up to Daniel she smiled showing off her porcelain white teeth and dimpled cheeks.
“Good morning, Heather I presume?” Dan asked with a raise of the eyebrow, trying to be as kind as possible and not letting his hours of fatigue and worry overwhelm him. He was British, and the British were renown for their politeness, at least most of them were.
“I gotta get used to that British accent,” she replied “hop in and I’ll update you on what’s happened the past twelve hours while you’ve been up in the air.” Daniel threw his suitcase in the back and climbed in the passenger side, they shook hands before setting off.
“So I think my first question is, have they found anything?” he asked bracing himself for the answer.
“They have. There was something she downloaded onto one of her devices, one of those love compatibility things you see on Facebook sometimes. When she downloaded it she unknowingly infected her device with spyware. I don’t know why it’s significant but it got the detectives buzzing about like bees in the middle of Summer, they’ve got the tech guys going over it now.” She paused and pursed her lips with a frown, looking like she was in the middle of deciding something, “look the police have asked me, though at this point it’s more like a command, to bring you to them for an interview but it’s completely up to you. I’m not going to take you anywhere you don’t want to.” she said turning her head to face his, her pale blue eyes told him that she was telling the truth. He was about to answer her when his phone buzzed again in his pocket. Dan looked at the screen and found that a message had been sent from Veronica’s phone to his. He hurriedly unlocked his screen hoping that her message would say that she was okay but it wasn’t a text message that had been sent, it was a video. Confused and more than a little curious he clicked on the play symbol on the video and entered full screen with the volume turned way up. At first there was just a pitch black screen and from what Dan could make out no noise aside from a few odd sounds that he thought was sniffles. A light came on from behind the camera illuminating whatever was in front but temporarily blurring the video, however as it began to automatically focus he started to see the outline of a young woman. He looked closer until his nose was close to touching the screen when at last the video came into full focus and the woman was in view. The woman was chained to the ground with two thick metal shackles at the wrists, her long blonde hair was a mess and the skin around her small eyes were red with mascara running lines down to her cheeks, she whimpered and flinched back away from whoever was holding the camera. There was a lump and bruise forming just above her forehead and the pyjamas she wore were scuffed in places and dirtied in others. She looked terrified and alone. Dan wished he could reach in and retrieve her but all he could manage right now is to say three words.
“S**t it’s Veronica!” he told Heather who threw a confused look his way before he told her to pull over quickly. She did as she was told since Dan commanded in a tone that demanded no further explanation. Once stopped he unbuckled his seatbelt and held the phone in the middle between them both so she could get a look, she gasped and covered her mouth when she saw her. The camera went closer to her making her cower and shake with fear but not only did it illuminate her but also everything surrounding her. Dan could see that she was being kept on the cold stone floor of somewhere vacant and old as he spotted cobwebs covering the walls and no natural light of any kind shining through, making it all the more harder to pinpoint her exact location. Without warning the camera switched from the vulnerable view of Veronica to the perpetrator themself who wore a large cloak with a hood that covered most of their face, they saw that it impossible for either of them to tell if it was a man or woman. All Dan could see was their mouth and chin, they were smiling viciously at the camera. They had thick lips and a wide smile with what Dan could just make out as dimples, the cleft chin was small and square but as the kidnapper smiled it showed off two rows of white teeth.
“Good morning and welcome to the love trials.” the kidnapper said in an electronically disguised voice. “The rules are simple: do what I say and you and her will walk away scott free, disappoint me in any way and…” the camera shook hard as a hollow thud was heard followed by a wail and a cry from Veronica. “I’m sure you get my point. Now, I understand that certain members of the law enforcement community will be waiting for you and I need to know that you will do everything I say from here on in without any grudge or tampering on your part. Trust between the both of us needs to be established for my game to continue on it’s route towards the very end where I promise you will be united with Veronica here,” the camera turned towards her, she was curled up in a foetal position and still whimpering. “So your first challenge is to allow yourself to be interviewed without giving anything away about our li’l arrangement. With your success we will be able to carry on with the game, failure and well…” the camera panned across to a nearby silver table, it zoomed closer revealing that the silver table was in fact full of surgical instruments, each one shined in the light from the camera and looked sharpened and lethal in the wrong hands. “You get the picture. I will be watching.” the kidnapper smiled and licked his lips before stopping the video. Dan and Heather looked at each other in shock and fear with the colour draining from each of their faces. It took a few minutes for them to settle back down. Dan’s mind was like a whirlwind, should he play along or should he tell the authorities and let them deal with it? The choice was excruciating since no matter what step he could take, Veronica’s life was on the line. His mind took him through memories of times they had together on Skype, the hours they shared enjoying each other’s company and even some date nights where they had a meal and a glass of wine in front of the computer screen. The times he made her laugh were his most treasured memories, she had such a killer smile. Heather drove on in silence while Dan brooded and reminisced but eventually she had to say something.
“What’re you gonna do Dan? We’re getting pretty close to the precinct. You gonna tell ’em or you gonna keep playing this creep’s game?” she asked, not taking her eyes off the road for one second. After a pause to think it through he whispered his reply.
“I can’t knowingly put her in more danger than she already is, I’ll lie to the cops if it means she’ll be safe.” Heather gave him a challenging look.
“It’s not the cops in charge anymore it’s the feds and they’ve got tech guys that can find the son of a b***h and fast. You sure you don’t want to involve them?”
“If it means getting her back safe, I’m sure.”
They soon got to the Bozeman Police Department building, which, though a number of cruisers and police issued 4x4s sat out front giving the feeling of a strong police presence, the main building was only a floor tall and covered a widespread bit of flat land on the outskirts of the city. Dan thought it looked more like a school than a police precinct. They parked up with Dan looking at the building with undisguised reluctance, he was in a world of his own when a hand landed reassuringly on his shoulder.
“I’ll be right here when your done, try not to worry.”
“I’ll try but fail miserably, see you soon.” He exited the vehicle and wandered over to the entrance where a woman stood outside smoking a cigarette. She had long, blonde hair with dark streaks, her face was long and slightly tanned and she wore a pin-striped suit that hugged her athletic body. He was about to pass her and go in but at the last second he turned and asked her kindly for a cigarette thinking it may ease his nerves somewhat. She was generous enough to give him the smoke and a light.
“Thanks,” he said to her as he closed his lips around the b**t and inhaled.
“No problem, I always get a little shaky before interviews,” she breathed out the smoke from her lungs, “Of course it does help meeting the person you’re going to interview outside first.” She threw the cigarette to the floor and stepped on it with her heel extinguishing the ember and turned towards Dan who gave her a confused look. “I’m Agent Deborah Sheridan and I’m in charge of the investigation into the disappearance of Veronica Newton”. Dan’s hands shook, almost dropping the cigarette altogether as his legs started to feel like they were turning to jelly and his heartbeat accelerated to a degree it began pound loudly in his ears. “I suggest you follow me” she said.
Entering the station and handing over his phone together with everything else in his possession (For their safety as well as his own, Agent Sheridan reminded him), he was lead into an interview room where they kept him waiting for almost an hour. By the time they did get around to interviewing him, Dan’s desperation and fear for Veronica had worn him down to a degree he was more than forthcoming with his answers to their questions. They mostly went over their relationship, asking personal details like when and how they met and what he expected of her, and if at any point did she act different or mention anyone following her. He answered them confidently but with a fair amount of restraint giving Agent Sheridan no reason to suspect him more than she already did, and after nearly another hour of grilling, they had no choice but to let him go. Gathering up his belongings he at last made his way to the exit, he felt sick from nervousness and sweat stains had started to appear over his shirt but just as he was about to step one toe out of the station, Agent Sheridan called to him.
“Mr Wessley! You forgot something” she shouted as she ran to him, handing over his mobile phone, “Don’t want to lose something as important as that in a foreign country,” she said with a warming grin “If there is anything else, please do contact me.” Dan could feel something thin and rectangular under the phone as she handed it over, as soon as she walked away he flipped the phone over revealing a card with her name and number on. He turned the phone back on expecting to see a message from the kidnapper but his screen lit up with the words ‘no new notifications’, he frowned and looked down disappointed, if this guy was really keeping a close eye on him then he would have known that he’d finished by now so what the hell it taking him? Dan looked out over the car park and spotted the familiar sight of Heather’s blue Prius, he jogged back over and got back in.
“Thanks for waiting” he said getting his seatbelt on.
“No problemo” she replied as she put her phone back in her bag, “Did you tell them anything?”
“No, I coudn’t take the risk. I’ve heard nothing from him either.” As if thee kidnapper knew they were talking about him, Dan’s phone buzzed ominously in his pocket. He froze with a look of dread on his face and his heart skipping a beat, without thinking he whipped out the phone and saw that the kidnapper had indeed sent another video. He leaned over so that Heather could get a better look too.
“Congratulations, you have passed the trust portion of the game, we can now advance to the next part: Truth and Devotion. Head over the diner on the corner of fifth and Stanley street. Once there you will be meeting with someone that I’m sure you will be thrilled to meet. After all you two do have one thing in common, don’t they Veronica?” The camera shifted to Veronica bound on the floor with her head down resting on her knees and saying nothing. The maniac bounded up to her and with one hand pulled at her hair and yanking the poor girl’s head up, she screamed and cried but it was no use, the kidnapper didn’t care about her pain. “DON’T THEY VERONICA?” he yelled at her.
“Yes, Yes!” she screamed “Please just let me go!” she begged but the kidnapper laughed triumphantly, tears mixed with blood from her nose ran down her mouth and chin.
“No, No. We’re just getting started. Oh and before I forget, I see that you have teamed up with Veronica’s roommate, it’s a little bending of my rules but I’ll allow it, besides from what I see she poses little to no threat at all”
“Just put me in a room alone with him and then he’ll see how threatening I can be” Heather said with a stone cold expression. The kidnapper ended the video with the camera pointed towards that sick, hungry grin of his, it was the last image on the screen Dan and Heather saw.
“Get us there quick, please” he whispered as his heart nearly broke at seeing the woman he loved in such a tortured and terrified state. Anger and hate brewed and bubbled inside him towards the kidnapper, he had never been a violent man but right now he felt that if he was confronted by the maniac then nothing in this world would stop him from tearing him apart, limb from limb.
The diner was situated on the edge of town and close to the freeway. It was a comfortable 50s style diner with a bright blue neon sign standing high on the roof and read ‘Old Als Diner’. They parked up close and peered inside. Everything looked normal and not out of place, the waitresses in their garish pink uniforms whizzed around their seated customers who munched on burgers and gulped down milkshakes. The place was bright and colourful as if it was ripped straight from a comic book. Dan and Heather looked at each other quizzically, it didn’t seem like a place that a sinister kidnapper would want to go since it was too public and not what Dan was expecting. They walked through the door and looked around at all the customers, the kidnapper said that they were supposed to meet someone here but who? A raised hand caught their attention. It belonged to a slender blonde girl who couldn’t have been older than sixteen and had a striking resemblance to Veronica. Dan recognized her from Veronica’s profile pictures as her younger sister. She sat at a vacant booth and waved them over, they walked over and introduced themselves.
“Hi Georgia,” Dan said “I’ve heard a lot about you. I’m Dan and this is Heather”
“Hello Dan, it’s finally good to put a face to the name, please sit.” They both sat facing her, unsure why they were there or who was supposed to instigate the conversation.
“Dan, please get her back” Georgia suddenly said, tears escaped from her eyes and her hands were clamped tightly around each other. Dan looked at her and it dawned on him that whatever he felt about the kidnapper or this situation it was ten times worse for this little girl who just wanted her bigger sister back, her protector. He placed a light, caring hand on hers and looked her right in the eye.
“I’ll do my very best, you have my word on that.” She managed to crack a slight smile as his words filled her with confidence, before feeling the usual buzzing of a new message coming through on her phone. She almost jumped out of her skin from the vibration and whipped out the device quickly, placed it down on the table, screen side up for all three of them to see.
“Welcome, to the second round,” the creep said “This trial is in two parts. The first is on Georgia here, she must speak the truth of Veronica’s feelings towards Dan especially what he thought of him right before 4th of July, and remember I’ll be watching and listening so you better do this right or else Veronica will face the consequences.” The video ended. Georgia’s hands went to her face and she wept.
“I’m sorry Dan, so sorry but before the 4th she talked to me about you. She told me that she wasn’t sure if she was interested in you anymore, the relationship had become stale.” Georgia couldn’t look him in the eyes, she just looked down to the phone as if the mere presence of it was pushing her to tell him these things. “She wanted excitement and thrills, she’s still young and wanted to experience things without being tied down but she still loved and cared for you, you must know that.” It was like a sledgehammer to Dan’s chest. Veronica had never told him anything like this, for all he knew everything was going along well. He felt his heart rack and splinter as he realized all this time spent with her might’ve been wasted. All he could do was look down with slumped weakened shoulders and stare with a foiled expression down at the phone. The kidnapper was starting to break him. After some time of sitting in silence and shock he knew he had to recuperate, if not for his own sake but for Veronica’s. Despite his feelings right now he had to carry on and get her to safety.
“Thank you for your honesty, Georgia,” he said trying to regain his strength “Now I wonder what’s the second part.” As if answering him the phone gave another buzz. Georgia pressed a button, activating the next video. They first heard a sickening laugh.
“Brilliant! See now her true feelings towards you Dan? She would have lead you along playing happy couple and letting your relationship grow deeper for you before ultimately ended it if not for my interruption. How could you love such a cruel creature, such a vile seductress and user, and that’s the second part of this round. You have to convince me that you still love this woman. You will find a loaded gun under the table, use it and progress or don’t and die with her.” The camera panned yet again to Veronica, she was still on the floor but shivering wildly, the kidnapper raised his hand towards her, in it he held a pistol. The video stopped. A cold shiver ran down the length of Dan’s spine and he felt like throwing up from the nausea but he swallowed hard and reached under the table. Feeling the cold metal handle of the gun he gripped it and tugged, ripping it from the tape he held it in both hands and stared regrettably down at it.
“Dan what are you going to do?” Heather asked
“Dan?” Georgia said breaking his concentration. In his sick mind the kidnapper wants Dan to prove his love by shooting the diner up. He wants him to murder for her. Dan’s eyes darted back and forth thinking what his next move could be, if he shoots up the place he would be arrested and taken away, most likely getting Veronica killed in the process but if he did nothing the kidnapper would kill them both somehow. He looked up at Veronica’s sister who’s panicked and exhausted face spoke to him in volumes and sighed deeply as the realization of the next action he must take was sealed in mind. Dan gripped the pistol and raised it up so that the muzzle nestled right under his chin, the two girls gasped and leaned over to swipe away the gun but it was too late, the hammer pulled back as Dan pulled the trigger.
The gun clicked in his hand, the chamber and clip was empty with no bullets firing up through his skull. Instead, a moment of clarity lifted from his senses and all the jovial noises and movements around him seemed to cease as he let the gun fall back to his lap and realized just how far he would go to get her back. The three sat there in solemn silence waiting for the buzz of the phone and after another minute, it came. Georgia unlocked it straight away and played the video for all to see. Another crazed laugh was heard before he spoke.
“Well done, Danny Boy! I honestly didn’t think you had it in you but in this instance I’m glad I was proven wrong. The next trial you will have to do alone, and I mean alone since I don’t want you to be restrained in any way, shape or form. It will test your loyalty and strength, so prepare yourself ’cause this one’s a doozy” he giggled wildly and ended the video. Dan looked up from the phone and to Georgia who also had a confused look on her face.
“He gave no direction, where am I supposed to go?” he asked but no answer crossed Georgia’s lips. Heather slid out of her seat and sat down next to her with an arm around her shoulders.
“I’ll get her home and look after her, here take these.” She handed him her car keys “You were willing to sacrifice your life for her, the least I can do is give you my car to finish this.” Dan scooped up the keys and got to his feet, before he turned to leave he felt a small hand grasping his lightly, it was Georgia.
“Thank you for everything, Dan. You kick their a*s for me when you get to him.” She said with reddened yet determined eyes. He could certainly see a lot of Veronica in her, it just made him miss her more but he steeled himself and nodded seriously, making his way outside to the car where a familiar buzz interrupted his strides. He took out the phone from his breast pocket and unlocked it. There was no text nor any video from the kidnapper but the GPS was activated in his phone leading him where to go next. It was obvious to him that the maniac had seen him exit the diner alone, how else would he know the perfect time to set up the GPS? Dan stared up at the bright Summer sky that had started to make it’s way down to the west, throwing an array of bright colours high above him. He didn’t know where but he knew the kidnapper was watching him and, summoning the bravery that had long since laid dormant, he stared defiantly back. He felt another buzz in his hand, it was a text message: ‘Get Going’ it read.
Meanwhile a few blocks away and out of Dan’s view sat Agent Sheridan inside an inconspicuous white van, monitoring surveillance systems in the area and listening to the conversation at the diner with a pair of large headphones that covered her small ears. She ripped off the headphones and turned to another agent in the van who had a laptop settled on his lap.
“Were you able to trace where the videos were being uploaded?” She asked, to which the small, spectacled agent shook his head from left to right.
“No, sir. This guy is good, he bounces the signal around several satellites and signal towers so that we’re looking for one signal out of over a hundred others. It’s gonna take time to narrow down but I’ll get there.”
“Yeah,” she replied “Let’s just hope Mr Wessley lasts that long” she turned to the hole on the opposite side of her where the driver sat. “Ok, let’s move out” she said to him as she turned back to the monitors and lifted the headphones back over her head. The driver followed the moving green dot on the map that the tablet read on his centre console while Agent Sheridan observed the sounds that the listening device implanted inside Dan’s phone gave her as well as the movements of people around Dan, trying hard to spot one person following him but coming up short. She bit her lip and concentrated hard. ‘Something’s gotta give’ she thought.
Despite him being in Bozeman for only a matter of hours, Dan made good time getting to the destination that the GPS commanded him to go and as he pulled up outside the vacant street in a quiet suburb, he became a little confused and fearful. God knows what sinister trap lurked down the dark street but he wasn’t going to let the dread deter him. He climbed out the drivers seat and made his way down, making sure to keep his head up and eyes open for any surprises but non came. The street was eerily quiet with the warm summer breeze gently massaging his face, slightly setting him at ease but not for long as the sound of footsteps coming up behind him echoed off the brick walls. He turned sharply to meet the person the footsteps belonged to face to face and was astonished to see another man with similar height and dimensions as himself.
“Who the hell are you?” he asked taking a brave and threatening step forward, for all he knew this could be the kidnapper himself, and he wasn’t ready to back down yet. The man, quite meekly, raised his hands up in a surrendering fashion. Dan looked closer at him: he was sweating profusely, his eyes were wide and there was a definite air of nervousness about him. He was tall and thin with short blonde hair and a sharp pointed face, he didn’t look like the kidnapper.
“Relax, I’ve been sent here same as you,” he said panting, “See,” he pulled out his phone and showed him the screen. It showed a series of texts from Veronica’s phone, which Dan knew by now was in the kidnapper’s possession. “I’ve been sent here by the same wacko as you, he told me to meet you here. I’m Andrew.” The screen suddenly lit up with an incoming live video call from Veronica’s phone. Andrew fumbled and almost dropped the phone altogether but he regained a smidgen of his composure before clicking on the green button to answer the call.
“Good evening all!” the familiar disguised voice said “Welcome to the third and penultimate round. Once again my friend, Andrew here will tell you the truth of what really happened on the 4th of July. Then you will be tested on your strength and resolve. I’ve been waiting all day for this so don’t disappoint me, I’ll be watching.” It was short but effective since at the very mention of the 4th of July, Andrew’s hand started to tremble and he started to look at Dan a little differently, almost full of sorrow and shame. Andrew pocketed the phone and breathed in and out deeply with his hands on his hips and chest raised up as if trying to s**k in and draw upon some backbone, Dan noticed he couldn’t even look him in the eyes.
“Dan, I’m sure you’re a good guy and from what I’ve heard from Veronica you are, under different circumstance I would probably buy you a beer” he started with his back still turned to him, he paused and looked to the ground. After a moment he finally turned to face him, his eyes met Dan’s who stood there clueless and more than a little unnerved. “On the night of the 4th, after the fireworks and stuff we got pretty drunk and I walked her home. She invited me in for coffee and I agreed. We slept together, Dan. I’m sorry but it happened.”
It hit him like a sledgehammer to the gut. He was suddenly winded and out of breath, doubling over as his vision blurred and heart split into pieces. He felt weak and dizzy as the words he had just heard echoed through his mind and he wondered if everything he and Veronica had been was a waste of time. He fell to his knees as tears started to well up in his eyes, Andrew went to put a consoling hand on his shoulder but Dan just swiped it away.
“Get the hell away from me!” he said, clearly angered and disgusted.
“I’m sorry” Andrew said before walking away. He didn’t get far since the phone in his pocket rang again. Once answered the sickening laugh echoed down the street, alerting Dan to the kidnapper’s presence. He got to his feet and made his way to Andrew without even looking at him.
“I’m so happy you finally learn the truth, Dan. That this beautiful woman,” he turned the camera to Veronica, she was still shivering and scared out of her wits “Is actually a cold hearted, self obsessed s**t.”
“I’m sorry, Dan. So sorry” she said as he wept.
“Oh please,” the kidnapper said “the only reason you’re crying is because you’ve been caught out. I know it and now dear little Dan knows who you really are”
“It was an accident. I was drunk and lonely, I know that’s no excuse but please, Dan, forgive me.” she pleaded through the camera to him, Dan didn’t know what to say or even think. A million different things went through his mind but as he stared helplessly at the screen he knew right now he had to push his own emotions to the side and concentrate on getting her back.
“Now it’s time for your trial of strength and resolve. Andrew should have a sharp blade in his pocket, please take it out.” On command Andrew reached in and withdrew the knife from his pants pocket. It was a small hand knife but still looked sharp and lethal. “Good, I’m sure now you’ve guessed what the trial entails but I’ll explain anyway. This is a fight to the death, gentleman. Andrew has this advantage to make the outcome that more meaningful if Dan wins. Of course if he loses Veronica dies as well. Andrew if you win then I’ll let you go without a scratch. Do me proud boys. Fight!” the kidnapper shouted before ending the call. Andrew and Dan faced each other with their eyes focused into fury. To only the both of them, the sounds they could hear throughout the city hushed to a whisper and all they could hear were their own drawn out breaths, it was as if they were the only two people in the world right now. Andrew lunged first with his knife hand fully extended and aimed at Dan’s abdomen. Dan stepped back a few paces out of range of the lunge and aimed a punch at Andrew’s head which didn’t connect since Andrew had just as good reactions as Dan had. They squared off against each other, circling one another like lions fighting over a piece of meat, but in this case the meat was survival altogether. Dan aimed a hit once again at Andrew’s head which he swatted away yet again and returned with a lunge with the knife, this time directed at Dan’s throat and coming within only a few inches of slicing it. He retracted the knife and went again to stab him in the abdomen but Dan reacted fast, stepping to the side and grabbing his hand he held on for dear life, grabbing Andrew by the scruff of the neck and wrestling him around he tried to get a foothold in the confrontation. He kicked out towards his gut and finally struck him high enough so that Andrew doubled over, winded. Dan used this opportunity to it’s full and twisted the knife hand hard, wrenching the weapon from Andrew’s grip and taking it from him. Now equipped with the lethal instrument and steadily getting tired and out of breath he had to act fast so he did as he was commanded by the kidnapper and stabbed Andrew in the chest. The second the blade sunk into his flesh Andrew stopped wrestling with Dan and stumbled back away from him with a look of shock and pain that would haunt Dan for the rest of his life. Blood drained from Andrew’s face as the plain white shirt he was wearing was covered in a dark red stain in seconds, he looked down at the knife sticking out of him and started to panic. His trembling hand went up to grip and pull it out but as his fingertips grazed the hilt his eyes rolled back in his head and he fell back motionless. Dan panted and stared incredulously at what he had just done, he sunk to his knees yet again and finally broke down, his tears marked the dry dirt as he wept with his face in his hands. He daren’t look up and see the horror he himself had committed, but look up he must as once again a call came through on Andrew’s phone.
“All agents stand down!” Agent Sheridan shouted in her radio, “As soon as Mr Wessley gets clear have the medics sent in and everyone else sweep the area,” she turned to the agent next to her with the laptop, “Anything?” she asked but the agent yet again shook his head. “Goddammit, I swear to God I’m gonna nail this son of a b***h!” she seethed with brewing fury bubbling beneath the surface. She had just witnessed Dan being made to kill someone for this wacko, it was the first time she had allowed a death on her watch. With binoculars pointed in Dan’s direction, she watched and listened as he answered a call from Andrew’s cell, a moment later he was running back to the car.
“Erm, sir, I think you better see this. Campus security just discovered a body hidden away in some garbage.” the laptop agent said, he swivelled the computer screen around so that she could have a good luck. Agent Sheridan’s eyes squinted and her head tilted slightly.
“Is it me or does that look exactly like-”
“Yes sir, I think she does.”
Rolling through the city and sweating profusely and not just from the heat but from the accumulative stress the day has had on him, Dan weaved through traffic towards the next point of call, ‘The final trial’ as the kidnapper put it. The sun was stroking the horizon when a red light came on ahead of him. A family car pulled up beside him and he couldn’t help but look over. There were two kids in the back, buckled in but still making a racket while mum in the front passenger seat played with them and dad, while stopped, reached into the glove compartment and drew out a couple of lolly-pops for the kids who snatched them up and stuck them straight in their mouths, making delighted sounds as they tasted the sugary sweets. Dan’s heart panged with wanting. He had always pictured a life with Veronica, and had hoped she wanted a future with him as well but through all of what’s happened that image had become blurred and distorted, something was still there but he didn’t quite recognise it. He faced forward and waited for the light to turn green, unknowing that someone covered head to toe in black lay behind his seat with a syringe full of some obscure green liquid at the ready. Before the red light turned, the black clad figure sprang up and sunk the needle deep into Dan’s neck, he flinched slightly and raised his arms to struggle but before he knew it the drug was in his blood stream and his vision blurred, then the whole world turned black and weightless and numb. The figure unclipped Dan’s seatbelt and dragged his unconscious body into the back seats, laying him down carefully, they then climbed forward to the driver’s seat just as the light turned green and the traffic continued on. The figure looked over at the two kids sat in the next car over who stared back quizzically, unsure of what to make of the actions they had just witnessed but the kidnapper just waved at them and slipped off their balaclava revealing the soft facial features and long hair of a young woman. The moment the lights turned green she angled the car down other streets away from any traffic or witnesses, and away from the FBI van that had tailed them, losing them quickly through the labyrinth of shady alleys in the city.
Dan woke groggily and with a sore head, his vision still hadn’t come back into focus but he did know he was somewhere dark and cold. His head tilted up and he realized he wasn’t lying on any ground, his body was held vertical with his arms and legs spread eagle and bound by some sort of ice cold material. He urged his muscles into action and struggled against his binds but it was no use, he heard the familiar clinks of rattling chains and knew that attempting to free himself was futile. A blinding light was switched on in front of him making him avert his eyes, burying his face in his right shoulder.
“Daniel?” A weak, familiar voice spoke to him from his left and with the light still stinging his eyes, forcing his head to throb and become misty, he snapped his head to the other side to see Veronica tied up in the same way against an upright wooden table. This time no phone screen separated them, they were only a few feet apart now but agonizingly still not within reach. For the first time ever they could see each other. Her matted hair, bloodshot eyes and dirtied and weakened body spoke to Dan of all the tortures she had endured. He wished to high heaven he could be induced with an inhuman amount of strength so he could break his chains, reach over and rescue Veronica from the horror that would no doubt take place soon, and kill the subhuman responsible. Try as he might though he didn’t have the strength required, no matter how much he gritted his teeth and pushed, the chains stayed in place.
“They always try and break the chains,” a voice came from behind them both “I often wonder why. I mean, it’s not like they’re going to break anytime soon” it was the kidnapper but their was voice was different, it wasn’t electronically disguised anymore and Dan knew who it belonged to. The cloaked figure lurked into view with her hood down and face illuminated for them to see clearly. It was the face that had helped Dan from the start, the first friendly face he had met in America and the one face that had been by his side through the first and second trials. She had a cruel smirk on her face and hungry, triumphant eyes.
“Heather!? What the hell are you doing?” Dan asked but she ignored him. Her eyes were deadly focused on Veronica who squirmed and shrank away from her as Heather stepped towards her and cracked a vicious grin, inducing fear into the very bones of the two subdued lovers.
“Let the final trial begin” she said as she reached up to her face and tugged at her chin and cheeks, dislodging the plastic disguise and peeling them off, revealing her true face. The known face of the kidnapper. She placed herself in between the two and took out a knife from inside her cloak, it was nothing like the small knife Andrew had, this was a long hunting knife with one clean sharp edge on one side and a serrated edge on the other, perfect for disembowelling.
“Dearly beloved we are gathered here today to prove to the whole world that love in the modern world is a complete sham. An illusion that plays on the emotions of good people and is just as, if not infinitely more, destructive than hate itself. Dan, you have completed my trials with commendable character and it`s plain to see that you are not the same man that first met me all those hours ago, wouldn’t you agree?” She asked, to which Dan just scowled at her in silence. The wicked smile that Heather had lowered and as if a switch was flipped she bolted to Veronica and put the knife to her throat.
“Yes, yes I agree now get away from her, please!” he shouted, hoping that his moment of rebellion hadn’t just cost Veronica her life. He watched the knife closely and after seconds of heart wrenching tension, it finally lowered.
“Good because knowing the truth about someone really alters your perspective of them. Take me for instance. I fell for a guy on the other side of the country and we talked intimately for hours every day, for two and a half years and just when we were about to meet…” She stepped away from Veronica without ever taking her eyes of her and as she says the words her eyes are ablaze with anger and persecution, “…he sleeps with other people” she spat.
“Just because your relationship fell apart does not mean everyone else’s has to as well. There is still love in this world.” Dan argued.
“Love? Ha, love is a fantasy and a simple magic trick on the lesser minded who think that if they fall in love then everything will be perfect. In a world like this, though, love doesn’t exist anymore,” she looked daringly at Dan “and I’ll prove it to you. The final trial is another truth trial, you heard precious Veronica’s truth before and now it’s time to hear yours. If you fail I will cut Veronica’s heart out of her chest and force it down your throat but if you succeed I will let you both go. So, look at her and answer, and Veronica?” she seized Veronica’s attention with the knife “You better look him in the eyes for this.” she said shaking the knife threateningly. The lover’s eyes were transfixed on each other and all the love he had ever felt for her came rushing back to him, all the nights they spent on video cam, all the romantic fantasies they shared together with the moments of untainted warmth and adoration flooded his senses. But it was soon tainted as the truth that had been unearthed seeped into his mind, she had cheated, she had slept with someone else and she had been thinking of breaking up. Heather asked her question: “Do you still love her?”
“Yes” he said without any hesitation and in a tone that was sure and true.
“Really? She cheated on you, manipulated you for months and thought about breaking up without even telling you, and you still love her after all of that?”
“I loved her after the first night I met her, she was shy back then and didn’t know just how special she was but I spent all night talking to her until dawn. I’ve never done that before with anyone and every day after that have been brighter and brighter with her in it. I owe her a lot, not just for the love she has instilled in my heart but for the happiness she gives me, and if she wants to I will still be there to repay her for that. Everything that you have shown me, though admittedly upsetting, doesn’t even come close to changing my mind about her. She may be flawed but she is still my diamond.” Silence fell on the three with the only thing to move was a couple of happy tears rolling down Veronica’s face. The moment was soon marred by footsteps from the front, Heather crept towards Veronica with her head down and face in a twitching scowl, the knife was gripped firmly in her hands. She raised the knife up.
“No!” Dan yelled but instead of screaming for her impending doom, Veronica faced Dan with kind and loving eyes, fully accepting her fate.
“I love you” she whispered as the knife fell.
There was no screaming from Veronica, nor any squelching sound of metal driving deep into flesh, not even any blood splatter that Dan could see. Instead all that was heard was the hollow sound of breaking and splintering wood. Dan pushed himself forward to get a better view and saw that Heather had impaled the knife through the wood a few inches from Veronica’s head. Heather looked over at Dan.
“You’re an old fashioned sap, but I believe you. Though she doesn’t deserve your love, in her final seconds she chose to sincerely love you back. I’m a woman of my word, I’ll let you two lovebirds go.” she said. Heather reached for Veronica’s chains when the echo of a heavy door opening sounded throughout the wide room.
“FBI, Freeze!” Agent Sheridan commanded but Heather didn’t move, she just smiled at both Dan and Veronica.
“Maybe love does exist after all, but not for me.” she told them as she grasped the impaled knife and ran crazily at the armed group of agents. A flurry of loud gunfire was heard before a sickening thud hit the ground hard and all Dan could now see of Heather was a shapely cloaked body with a multitude of bleeding holes. The agents rushed towards the couple who were glad and thankful to see them, especially the agent with the bolt cutters. Once their bonds were cut and they were hoisted down from their chains, no agent and nothing else stood between Dan and Veronica who smiled and practically leapt into each other’s arms, holding on tight and breathing sighs of relief.
An hour later Veronica lay in a hospital bed with Dan’s hand in her’s and his eyes gazing lovingly at her, and her’s at him. Georgia sat opposite Dan and watched them finally be a true couple and from what she saw, they were a perfect match for each other and she’d never seen her sister happier. Veronica was suffering from malnutrition and exhaustion with a few cuts and bruises that had been washed and bandaged but she was otherwise OK, the doctors informed her she would be able to go home tomorrow. The three were emotionally exhausted yet were glad to be safe and seemed to have permanent smiles on their faces, relief bathed them and soothed their spirits. Soon though, Dan noticed a certain someone hovering outside their door. He was wearing a hospital gown and linked up to a IV drip yet he was still as white as a sheet. It was Andrew, he wasn’t dead after all. Dan stared incredulously at him as he told Veronica and her sister that he’ll be back soon and made his way out the room towards him.
“Andrew, thank God you’re alive.”
“Yeah it’s pretty much a miracle,” he said itching at the bandage wrapped around his chest “I just came to see that you were both alright”
“Yes we are. Andrew I can’t tell you how sorry I am for almost killing you”
“Dan, you were a good man put in a bad situation but you got through it with everyone staying alive. That’s not only impressive, it’s admirable. I’ll recover, don’t worry. Just look after her, yeah?”
“Nothing can ever tear me away from her” he said with a smile and a loving look back into the room. They both shook hands and went their separate ways. Dan went back to Veronica’s side and kept the promise he’d made while he was professing the love he had for her. That he will do his very best to repay her for the happiness and warmth she gave him, only this time they would share that life of bliss together, forever.