Level Seven

By Virginia Carraway Stark

I remember thinking a lot of things but what I remember most was thinking of my father and what he would think and a dark quiet part of my mind, the part that wonders all dark thoughts and protects us from betrayal, wondering if he had had some small part in my abduction.

How to explain… here’s your explanation. My life, my abduction and my ‘death’ were fucked. They still are. I’m not going to try to rationalize to you. I don’t need to explain to you what a homunculus is, I don’t need to explain how one girl can have many parents. I don’t need to explain anything to you or anyone. This is the truth and no matter how I justify, explain, educate or mitigate, you aren’t going to believe a word of it and you’re going to get it all wrong.

I have many fathers, but the father I was thinking of in particular in this case had helped to pioneer the program that I was inducted into into what was about to be the highest, or rather, the lowest levels.

I was bound, gagged and drugged but I was aware. I burn through those chemicals quickly, all part of the magic freak show that is me.

They had me on a trolley cart in the elevator. 5…4…3…2….1…B…-1…-2….-3…-4…-5,…-6…-7

The doors opened. My hands were wrapped around myself and bound with heavy leather straps holding the straight jacket in place. They were taking no chances though, they had bound my legs. I was wrapped up like an Egyptian Mummy and my black hair, still smelling of dye fell across my eyes. It would be grown out and back to red by the time I got out of there. The growing of my hair was the only way I had to tell time and it isn’t as accurate as a clock. I let my head loll forward when the elevator came to a stop. I had left it back to try to get an eye full of where I was going but now I had to hide the fact that I was awake.

I was in some basement wing in level 7. I didn’t now at the time what facility I was in but I’d hear soon enough. Where didn’t matter. All that mattered now was escape. Escape and play possum until I could. I had no idea how fucked I really was, if I had known what came next I would have been screaming and not had delusions of escape. I guess it’s all the learning curve of any new torture, it wouldn’t be long before I would hear what it was called: Dulce.

I let my muscles go limp. Starting at my face and working down my neck and shoulders, my arms and hands were hard. They wanted to resist the sturdy cruel straps but I made them loosen. Anyone who touched me had to have the idea that I was still unconscious. I had to count on them letting down their guard or I wouldn’t have a chance in hell. Which was funny because Hell was exactly what they all called the seventh level in the basement in Dulce.

They started to loosen the cargo straps that held me to the hand trolly. My relaxed body slid as they started to unbind me and I wondered if I was about to have a hard landing but let myself stay limp all the same. Hands stopped me before I hit the ground. They grabbed me by the leather straps that went around me above me breasts and drug me so my legs were still straight. I thought no thought, only stealing a peek or two of where I was with the merest glimmer of a slit of my eye open from under my hair shrouded face.

“She’s still out cold,” Said a rough voice.

“Never assume that you ass or you’ll get what you deserve one day and end up in one of the goop bins,” The other voice was cold and dry. Inhuman.

I felt a needle slide through the canvas and into my arm. The plunger pushed I felt a substance sting my veins and dissipate up through me arm and down to my fingers and then a deep sense of slumber came over me. I struggled against it. I had to remember where they took me.

Staying awake was torture in itself. Sleep deprivation, the world spinning and they lifted me up onto a hospital style bed. More straps to tie down the straps that held me.

Rough voice spoke again, “Well, she’s a fighter so I don’t blame you for being careful.”

Cool and dry replied, “I see your face isn’t looking so pretty, Jerry.”

Jerry, Jerry, Jerry, I repeated the name. I tried to remember how I had got here. Rough voice, Jerry and some other goons had jumped me. Plain and simple. I had suspected something was coming. A doom had fallen on me. I prayed to my God but he has few compunctions and Dulce was a hell he was willing to spare me from.

I had killed one of them, it was with something long and silver, a letter opener with a seal at the top of it. The seal was blue and red. Silver flashed as I grabbed the letter opener. The men had walked out from around a hedge. I was walking, it was night time. It was warm, a beautiful night that smelled like magnolia and honeysuckle. They were all big guys with paunches. In their early forties, hair cut so short it was nearly shaved, dressed in black denim pants, black t-shirts and black leather coats.

When I saw them I started fumbling in my purse for the letter opener. I pretended I didn’t feel my skin break out in goosebumps. I pretended the word Doom wasn’t repeating in my mind. I pretended not to notice that they were surrounding me. I didn’t walk faster but breathed deeply, calming my body systems so that my hands wouldn’t shake. Walking faster was the attitude of prey. Prey attempts half measures and predators go in for the kill. If predators attack another predator, often a display of strength is enough to dissuade them from continuing their attack.

No predator wants to risk injury with engaging another predator. That’s nature channel 101. Nature channel 102 is that 101 doesn’t matter if the predators are desperate or want something bad enough from the other predators. I already had my keys in one hand, I found the letter opener but I didn’t want to display it.

I pretended that I didn’t see the men working to surround me, I pretended to be fearless. I was fearless. I was fearless then. The fear would come much later. In the end though, all the fear was burned from me and I was left cold. A Cold Killer. That’s what they made me, but only after they tore all my humanity from me. All my sweetness and smiles were replaced with the icy cold eyes of blue steel and the judgement that I handed down from them. If what had happened then happened now, I wouldn’t hesitate and I would make sure that all of those men had been dead or they would have had to kill me to save themselves. I learned to never ever ever stop.

They increased their gait to catch up with my long but unhurried strides and surrounded me, their leader, I think one of them called him Roger, stood in front of me on the sidewalk. I took a side step to go around him, I was looking up now, making eye contact with him.

I wanted him to know that I had seen his face, that my eyes were unafraid and most of all that I wasn’t prey and that I would fuck him up. See my eyes, I’ll get you at least as you get me, I said with my gaze. I saw something else in his eyes though. He wasn’t a run-of-the-mill predator who wanted cash and a girl he could grab by the hair and drag behind the bush for some of the ‘old in-out, in-out’ to quote A Clockwork Orange. This was not some droog, this was a man on a mission.

I was defensive even as a predator, now I would know better and wouldn’t have given them a chance to make the first move.

I took a step to the other side, the other were closing in, Roger, I think his name was Roger said, “Hey sweetheart, we just want to talk to you, don’t make this hard.”

“You don’t look like someone I want to talk to, but tell you what, call my secretary and maybe I can fit you in tomorrow.”

“You don’t wanna get smart with me,” He said and I saw the bulge of a gun when he put his hands on his hips to splay his leather coat open and show the handgun that rested there.

I ceased all thinking process and let my body fall into fight mode. My heavy studded purse hit Roger full on in the face, knocking him briefly out of my path. I started to run and felt someone grab me by the back of my jacket, tangling with my newly black hair in their rough fingers. I spun and jabbed the letter opener into the guy who had grabbed me by the throat and tore downward. He looked bewildered and let go of me to grab his arterial spraying neck. I knew now that I had waited too long, the black hair, the change in clothes, it had all come too late. I had been in their sites too long.

One of the others ran to help his friend who had fallen to the ground. Roger had been sprayed by the dying man’s blood and one knock from my purse hadn’t done much to slow him down. Rough Voice Jerry, reached to grab me. I threw my purse in his face. It doesn’t sound like much but it weighs over five pounds, is studded with metal and has a clasp made out of thick metal in the shape of brass knuckles. That sucker packed a punch.

The leader made a grab for me and held me by the jacket, I slid out of it, leaving it like a molted snake skin in his hands and jumped on him, attacking his eyes, ears and nose with my keys bristling out of my knuckles. I was a wild animal claws, keys and teeth. He grabbed my arms to stop me and I bit his ear, tearing at it as hard as I could through the cartilage.

The guy with the rough voice pulled me off the leader and I hit him in the nose as hard as I could with my small, yet very pointy elbow he screamed and turned away. His nose sprayed blood that looked black on the sidewalk and he turned around cursing. I kicked him in the ass as soon as he was turned to me and he ended up in the bushes.

Leader came at me again, I had lost the letter opener, I think it was when I shed my jacket, but that part is blurry. I knew that except for my keys I had lost my light coat and only had a tank top and bra underneath. I had no more armor, not much anyway. I had no concern about losing my tank top if it meant wriggling free even for one more minute. Roger looked like he meant business now. His ear was dripping blood, I hadn’t managed to make him lose any of the fleshy bits, but it wasn’t exactly all the way attached anymore.

I ran, turned to Jerry and pushed myself more into his arms as though he were my lover. They never expect that, surprised he let loose of me briefly and I turned in his embrace. For a disphoric moment we may have looked like two embracing lovebirds. I brought up my knee into his groin and he let me go, I gave him another punch in the nose and raked the keys across my face. More hands. Roger.

Then I heard the car pull up. I should have felt relief flood me but the way it pulled up, something about it, these were reinforcements for the baddies, they weren’t the rescue brigade. Roger punched me in the jaw, my head jerked back but I didn’t let the impact stun me, I fell back and limp with the blow. Resistance brings more pain. There is too much adrenaline in your body for it to just fall over why you go limp, I left my body on autopilot and punched him in the solar plexus with my hand that held the keys and then his groin with my other hand. One, two, fuck you, I thought His jeans mostly protected him but he was still screaming, “Fuck you, you fucking bitch!” So I knew I got him a little. Guys have a special little scream when their impractical exteriorized organs get the whammy put on them.

Jerry came from behind and the guy who had gone to help his friend along into the afterlife was back in the game. I looked at the vehicle, It had parked close to the curb and far enough up so I couldn’t see a plate on it. Black with tinted black windows, four more men came out of the car, two of them with guns drawn.
Damn, I should have tried harder to get Leader Guy’s gun but those holsters have a trick to getting the gun out. You’ve got to unlatch the snap on the leather cover and push it forward before lifting up and that isn’t as easy to do as Hollywood makes it look. The other thing is that guns set you off balance. Sure, their a great advantage to have over someone but only if you know the weapon. Fighting for a gun isn’t my style even when it meant that the bad guy got to keep it and use me as target practice.

Guns or no, the place I had been ambushed in was on a hill and I had, at that moment, a clear line of site down the hill. I was packed full of adrenaline and I bolted. Because that’s the way I’m wired. Run, always run if I can’t fight. Regroup and come back for my plate of cold revenge later. For now, flight was all that mattered. I ran diagonally and down across the road, making the most of the steep incline. I heard more cursing behind me and car doors slamming. A car was coming in the second lane, if I were an action hero I would have stopped the car and jumped inside and gotten away.

But I wasn’t an action hero, I was a girl fighting for my freedom, maybe for her life. I was glad to use it as an incredibly temporary shield from bullets and made the most of it.

The car was coming too fast and I pumped my arms to get past it while it honked and kept up it laborious journey up the hill. I heard gun fire then and felt something, like a wasp stink burning my naked shoulder. I knew if I put a hand there that I would be bleeding but shoulder wounds don’t count for much. Not at the time, anyway. I heard car doors slam and tires squealing in a u-turn.

Ahead of me was a partial chain link fence after a small field, if I could get past there, They wouldn’t be able to follow me in their black sedan. The ground was too broken up after that and then there were building, convenience stores, someone, anyone to help a damsel in distress. The car jammed into the bar holding the near side of the chain link fence where I had planned to skirt around it and into the less than hospitable to cars broken up field.

My path blocked. No one around. The men poured out of the car, we were in a semi-industrial area and there wasn’t anyone around at this time of day. I started to scream for help anyway. “Rape!” I screamed, “Someone help me! Rape!”

They were at close range now, “Say that one more time and I’ll give you something to scream rape about after I jam my gun in my mouth to keep you the fuck quiet.”

I closed my mouth and stood there in the headlights of the car. Bunch of mooks in black leather, there were seven of them and one of me, I saw several guns pointed at me.

“Drop your weapon and put up your hands,” Driver said.

I smirked in the headlights and dropped my keys to the grass and gravel at my feet. You would have thought it was a goddam bazooka that I had dropped instead of my keys the way those men swarmed around me after I dropped them. That would be the last time I’d be grinning for awhile but it was a pleasant thing to think of, seven big men afraid of a girl just cresting five feet armed with her house keys.

They weren’t gentle. They weren’t cruel either and Driver didn’t make good on his threats so I guess that’s a case for chalking one up for the good guys. They were all business and I wished that it could have been a quick gang, ‘how’s your father’. These men weren’t after sex, they were after me. This was much worse.

Efficiently they grabbed me, cuffed me and then I felt the bite of a syringe in my neck. I thought, In my fucking neck? Not cool, dude.

I was barely conscious when they had put the straight jacket on and I don’t remember them binding my legs. I woke up briefly just before they slammed the trunk shut on me. I remembered thinking that they must’ve been piled in that vehicle like it was a clown car to fit those seven heavy-sets into a mid-sized sedan.

I had woken up again when they were strapping me to the trolley. The hand trolley was in the back of the car with me. It was orange and had chips of paint taken out of it exposing the reddish metal underneath. I guess they did this a lot then, or maybe they just had a lot of crates to move and tying a girl to it was a special occasion. I never saw any of them again to ask. I did however, know that it wasn’t a very comfortable thing to spend time in a trunk with and my neck and back were stiff as hell.

Once I was strapped to the gurney I tried to keep track of the twists and turns but the drugs were working and they do work on me. I just have an advantage, an advantage that Cool and Dry was clearly aware of. I couldn’t remember right to left and fell asleep. I could hear screams. Screams and screams, the howls of the damned. Cries of torture, the zap of electricity and the stench of death and decay. Burning hair and flesh. Whimpers of things, not quite human things that were in constant pain. Those were the things I remembered as I faded in and out, not how many turns we had made. That and thinking that the word, ‘gurney’ was such an ugly word.

The gurney was pushed into a room. A concrete room with a steel door. Without ceremony they left and I fell asleep. I fell asleep and was glad just for the respite. I didn’t think anything else.

When I woke up I was momentarily disoriented and then when I struggled on the gurney to sit up and found I was still in the straight jacket and firmly anchored in all directions I had a moment of utter panic. I wanted to scream for help. My hands and feet were cold and numb and my legs and arms hurt from the long immobility.

I didn’t scream. I didn’t scream. I wanted to scream but I didn’t scream. That was what they wanted and then what? Then what indeed?

I calmed myself by counting, first just numbers and then as I woke up more I counted cracks in the cement ceiling, the only thing I could see of the room was the ceiling and top corners of the walls.

Level 7. I remembered. That’s where I was. I was here and no one knew it. I was lost to the world and at the mercy of whoever, or whatever, my traitor mind whispered to me, came through the door.

I could see that there was a camera watching me. I could assume there was a microphone on it. I could assume that, if they cared, that they knew I was awake and were waiting for me to break. They would want me to panic, to scream. Maybe one of them would be my hero and come and untie me and soothe me and tell me that if I just did what he said he could protect me from this sort of treatment. What good friends the two of us would be.

My mouth was parched and dry. I didn’t even know if I could scream it felt like my throat would crack open with dryness. Once noticed the thirst consumed all my concentration.

I tried to focus on the events of the previous night. What had happened. I closed my eyes and brought the memory back. I brought their faces back. I brought each movement back. What could I have done differently? How could I have defeated them? Try as I could, I couldn’t see what I could have done differently except to not have gone out. What was I going out for? I couldn’t remember that part. It was squished against my need for a drink.

What happened next? Have you ever been interrogated and not known what you were being interrogated about? It was that, it was so much worse too.

My memory falters in and out here. A tall, gray alien with black bug eyes came and gave me a drink. The water was bitter but I drank it. He touched my hair, my face, the part of my neck that was exposed with his long, fleshy fingers. He asked me in my mind my name and then when I didn’t supply it fast enough he pulled it out of my mind with a lurching jerk in my head that hurt more than the untended bullet wound on my shoulder.

I cried out and squeezed my eyes shut.

Are you still thirsty, meat bag?, He/It asked.

“Yes, please, water.”

Don’t use your filthy mouth to speak with. Its voice was filled with disgust. It left and I heard the sound of water running, there was a sink in the room, then. That was good. If I could get them to untie me I could have water.

IF we untie you, It reminded me with what could only be called a mental smirk. Outwardly It’s face was expressionless. It was like trying to interpret the feelings of a fly or an ant by looking at their faces.

It gave me more water. This water was less bitter but tasted like iron piping.

dulce 2  Drawing

It stood and watched me and then it lifted its head. It had two small holes in its face that it was scenting the air with. It moved towards me and I felt its small, toothless mouth feeling along my skin. I would have pulled away then if I could have, but I couldn’t so I just breathed in and out, in and out. Its mouth found the bullet wound and I felt a rough tongue lapping up the blood and plasma that had covered it.

This seemed to go on forever but such unpleasant physical things can take a short period of time and without a clock can seem like hours. It was a horrible violation but there was no escape, I counted types of colors in my mind, azure, amethyst, saffron, yellow, sunshine, white, cream, ivory…

I hypnotized myself away and let him do what he wanted to do. It was no different than any other unpleasant task. It still left a filthy feel and I hated every second of it. I thought of playing in the hay bales as a child. I thought of playing ‘jump’ from one monolithic bale to another. I thought of my brother laughing and calling me a scaredy cat when I hesitated (not fair, he was taller than me, he had longer legs) and then jumping and making it and the call of grasshoppers and the somehow sweet and not unpleasant smell of sheep dung.

After he was done he stood and watched me. I felt dirty and then, even stronger than before, I felt It digging through my mind. Even though I could tell it was reading my mind, only flashes of thought came to mind for me and I didn’t know what It wanted to know about how I had a played in my brother’s tree house or what I thought of my high school biology teacher. Maybe it learned everything it needed to right there and all the rest was window dressing. I don’t know because hell is the place where nothing is ever explained to you and each now horror comes without understanding. What will happen next? What did I do to deserve this new pain? It would never be explained, only endured and endured.

I replayed the scene on the hay bales, playing tag. The smell of the dry hay the sweetest smell in the world and dandelion and poplar seeds floating through the air.

The thing left and after awhile a human came in. Did the monster get what he wanted from my mind? How to tell when their motives were like them: alien. This new human looked like a regular person, not some thug, he released the straps that held me to the gurney and then looked at me carefully and spoke slowly as though I may not understand English or even speech very well.

“If I untie you, will you be a good girl for me? No hurting? Just a good girl?” He asked. Oh, I thought, this one is the good one that I will shortly build a bond with and come to trust.

“Yes,” I answered. I meant it too. I wanted to be free of the straight jacket and I had no grudge against this man, perhaps he would even prove to be an ally. Doubtful, but this girl does have her wiles.

“If you try anything at all, you will be punished and tied up again, do you understand me?” He reiterated.

“Yes, I understand. Please,” I replied.

He briefly met my gaze and then averted his eyes as though looking at me caused him pain, or as though he’s scared of pain. Maybe you’re not the only one here who gets punished if you do things. Maybe he has to be a good boy or he gets punished.

Looking at the man I found it hard to believe, but there was no other reason for his aversion to meeting my gaze. That and the way he spoke to me, as though I were a dangerous and mentally challenged criminal, there were layers here that I wasn’t even beginning to scratch the surface of. Playing ‘good cop’ didn’t usually mean these subtle signs of fear.

He untied me and it had been pointless of me to promise not to hurt him because I had been bound for so long that I couldn’t even control my limbs. I couldn’t have swatted a fly, let alone hurt a full grown man. When he helped me to sit up I realized I still had more drugs in my system than I thought and they hit me so hard I almost fell back down again.

The man murmured something under his breath, I didn’t know what, unlike the alien (And by the way, did you really see that? Was that just a nightmare from the drugs and the trauma?) I couldn’t read minds. He put one of my arms around his neck and helped me the few steps to the cot. I propped myself up in the corner. There were no blankets or pillows.

You could kill yourself if you had those, they don’t want that, no escape that way. You would have been better off to let them shoot you. I hated that traitor voice in my head. It was stupid anyhow. No one can just let themselves fall off that cliff. No one should any way. Every minute of life is a win. Every breath a victory.

I saw once I was seated with the wall to prop me up that the man must be a doctor or care-taker of some sort. He had brought some things with him.

“Please, take off your clothes and change into these,” He said, putting a neatly folding hospital gown, robe and paper slippers on the foot of the bed.

I tried to comply but my hands simply wouldn’t work and so he helped me to take off my top, bra, shoes, socks, pants and underwear, always averting his eyes from my eyes and my body. Always treating me like a think and not a woman.

He tied the gown for me. There was no cruelty in him about it. He helped me with the robe and the paper socks. He turned to go.

I called out to him, my voice was still cracking with thirst, “Please, I’m cold and thirsty.”

He sighed and rubbed his temples. He had put my clothing on the gurney along with the straight jacket and other straps. He poured me a paper cup of water and carefully helped me to drink when he saw that I couldn’t make my fingers work to hold it.

“Someone else will decide if you get a blanket.”

I was freezing, both from the chill emanating from the cement and the shock, “Please, help me,” I begged.

He glanced once, surreptitiously and quickly at the camera and then crumpled the paper cup in his fist and put it with the rest of my things on the gurney, “I’ve done more than enough for you already.”

He unlocked the door with a pass code and a scan of his thumbprint and then wheeled the gurney from the room. The steel door closed again with a slam. I was worried, this wasn’t how these things were supposed to play out. He had made no attempt to really be my ally, no attempt to by my friend. He was too fearful. There was something here that stunk.

I curled up on the cot and did my best to put my cold feet under my robe with my hands that moved like blocks of wood. The feeling in them was starting to return and the pain of the pins and needles was nearly as unbearable as my thirst had been. I rocked gently to keep the blood moving and to soothe myself. If I went into shock, I would die as surely as if I had been shot. Had the alien really lapped at my bullet wound like a cat laps up milk?

I shuddered even more. The room was lit with a grotesque greenish light. I closed my eyes and thought of the sun on my face and the smell of magnolia and honeysuckle. I thought of lying in a hammock in the backyard with the sun dancing on my skin between the dappling of the leaves of the magnolia trees that grew there and rocked and rocked. I recited soliloquy after soliloquy in my head, I had learned Hamlet’s famous soliloquy first and it was easiest to recall in need:

To be or not to be-that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And, by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep-
No more-and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to-’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep-
To sleep, perchance to dream. Aye, there’s the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. There’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
Th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

I stopped and tried another one, the poem Jabberwocky, Dear Lewis Carrol. So much less painfully true to think of Jabberwokies and The Walrus and The Carpenter than the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Too apt, darling Shakespeare. You are too close to the truth as always, let me fill my mind with kittens and nonesense, Lewis Carrol has the better of it. I had to distract myself because I couldn’t think about reality, the world without me was what I couldn’t think about. Damn you Hamlet.

It might sound funny, but when you are taken captive it isn’t the fear or bewilderment that get to you the most, it isn’t even the torture. At least, that’s the way it was for me, those things were symptoms and I never knew if this was the time that they dragged me through the halls for the last time. The part that was hardest for me was wondering about my loved ones. Had someone remembered to feed my turtle? Had they been told a lie about where I was? Did they just put up a ‘missing’ poster and I was vanished from their lives.

I tried to send them messages with my mind as best I could. It sounds crazy, but when you have nothing in your life but time, you do crazy things. When fear dominates your every move, your every minute, things that seem crazy to someone sitting in a comfy chair or at a table with a cup of coffee, seems totally sane to you then. Fear. Alone. Wondering. The always wondering part. That hurt more than anything else.

I wondered if my family had been captured too. I wondered if they were in this hell hole somewhere. I feared for them and hoped and hoped that they were safe and that somehow I could tell them where I was and what was happening to me.

What was happening to me?

Well, there were a lot of things happening to me as well as a lot of empty blank silences. I didn’t mind it too much when they left me in my room alone. I could retreat deep in my mind and find tranquil pools of water, love, green grass, the blowing wind. When I was left tied up for hours or returned to my cell in pain, my mind schismed and blown by arcs of blue lightning, then I could only whimper, cry or scream and scream to be let out. Nobody minded how much you screamed, there was no one to hear me, no one except the other denizens of level seven.

I’m not going to go into lurid details. You don’t need to know the fear I felt when they strapped the electrodes to me. You don’t need to hear how I pleaded that I would do anything if they just wouldn’t shock me again. The dread and anticipation of the pain was almost worse than the actual feel of the voltage running through my body.

Mad scientists the lot of them. That was what level seven was made up of. If little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice and little boys are made up of snails and puppy dog tales, then level seven was made up of horror and dread and everything waiting to be dead, that’s what level sevens are made of.

They were human and inhuman, hybrids and things that would now be identified as aliens but once would have been called demons. They didn’t care if any of the test subjects died. They were added to the vats, the big vats that stank and were filled with a sort of acid and chopped up parts of everything that was experimented on and failed. Every day as I was dragged past those vats I wondered: is this the day? The day my suffering will end?

I don’t want to tell you more about the sorts of experiments that went on, not in detail. That’s between me, myself and I. There were insulin comas where hypnotic suggestions were repeated again and again while we victims slipped in and out of consciousness. There was electroshock that was sometimes presaged by being hypnotized and/or drugged or sometimes followed by the same or sometimes was just done for the hell of it.

There were injections of strange things, some that burned like fire all through my bloodstream and others that knocked me out, others that made me crazy, paranoid, terrified. I woke up after one and I had ripped my hands bloody on the concrete walls trying to escape. There were other things that happened. Some of them were clear to me. The removal of eggs from my ovaries, blood from my veins, marrow from my bones. Experiments.

I walked by the vile monsters in cages, half human, half ‘other’ and wondered how long it would be until I walked by those cages and some of those hybrids would be my own children. Made from my own eggs with god knows what, crying, sobbing, laughing, screaming. Mad, we were all mad down there and if we weren’t when we came we soon came to be mad.

dulce 1 drawing

The alien doctors came and talked with their minds or didn’t talk at all. Farmers don’t often talk to cattle set to be slaughtered and we were nothing more than that to them, cattle. I knew that when I saw one of the alien doctors one day, scooping goo from the great vats of carnage with a ladle into a big pot before taking a big bite out of it. In the end we were just chum for the sharks and the sharks were the ones in the boat while they ate us. They made their disdain so very clear.

The human scientists kowtowed to the aliens. It wasn’t a riddle to figure out who was in charge.

The humans were often underlings or even in many cases entire rubes who had no idea what was going on. They weren’t stupid though and as time went on they figured out the score. They were told that I was insane. They were told that everyone on level seven was criminally and dangerously insane and that we should never be spoken to or listened to under any circumstances. It was too dangerous to talk to us.

The men didn’t always follow the rules though and it was hard for them, especially when they had to deal with the women and the children, especially the small ones.

I pleaded with them, begged them to find my family, told them that people would be looking for me and gave them my name again and again. All concept of dignity had faded with the passing of the days? How long? Who could say? Most of the men ignored me, ignored the people and things I saw in cages. I thought that all the men did, but there was one man who didn’t. He asked me one question, “Where is your family?”

I told him and then he didn’t reply, just looked at me, I memorized his face in that brief exchange between souls. Then he left and locked me in my cell again.

I didn’t hold my breath on him finding me help. Even if he found my family the best that I could hope for would be that he could tell them my fate. I was a lost soul in the depths of hell and I was losing my sanity and my body was breaking,

But after at time, it seemed that even hell had, at least momentarily run out of its repertoire and I was given some respite.

There was a hesitation in the tortures that were visited on me. I saw the man who had asked me where my family was again, although he and I exchanged no words. I still wondered if the camera had picked up our brief exchange. He never gave me his name and wore no name tag. He was just, The man who ahd asked me where my family was.

One day, The man who had asked me where my family was brought me a stack of books. They were old and had pages missing and some of them had mildew on them but I was eternally grateful to him. To have not even a pen and paper, not a a book, nothing but my own mind to plague me was starting to make all the safe places that I hid in my mind fade. I was starting to lose the idea that there had ever been anything in my life but this insane place and constant pain.

It was impossible to tell the passage of time down there. They brought me food at what seemed to me to be completely random intervals. I finished the stack of books and read them again. I didn’t see the man who had given them to me again for a long time and then it was briefly and he was dying. I never knew his name. I didn’t know if he had told my family where I was, what was happening, or if he had been caught out for being kind to me and fired. They didn’t take my stack of books from me, they seemed to be losing interest in me. I hoped they were, even if that meant they would eliminate me soon, at least it would be over.

One day the door to my cell opened again and alien doctors and their human counterparts came in. The humans spoke loudly and professionally, calling me by my number and ordering me loaded onto a gurney that some soldiers had brought in with them. I didn’t fight, I didn’t even have to be told, I got up from the bed, slowly and painfully and climbed onto the gurney. I put my hands down while they fastened the restraints. I prayed that maybe this was it, maybe this was the end. God help me, I hadn’t done anything to warrant this hell. Not for eternity.

They wheeled me through the halls, I had once tried to memorize them for escape but my mind only paid attention to the twists and turns we took now as a game. A way to distract myself and not wonder about what might be coming at the end of whatever hallway we entered.

I had had pelvic exams and ‘work’ done on me before. It was a trial and when they lifted my legs up and put my feet in stirrups I started to cry silent tears. If only I could go far away, I started my own escape hatch, a device in my mind I had constructed to get away when the pain was too much. I had to leave quickly. Anything with the stirrups was bad. It was some of the hardest pain to endure although I won’t say the hardest because each thing at the time was the hardest in many ways. Even when the doctor would unfasten me and say, ‘There now, that wasn’t so bad’. It was so bad. They lied like that because they were still human somewhere and it helped them to sleep at night to say things like that.

They started an iv and then the pain began. The pain was great, I could see that they were using tools on me and instead of sinking to lower levels of consciousness I fled my body altogether. The machinery that monitored my stats started to beep long and high and I watched from above with little interest in the scene below.

I had grown very thin and I was bruised and battered but not worse than someone who had been in a bar fight, not from the outside. The inside was where they did the damage. I was wearing a hospital gown and my skinny knees hung on loose hinges flopping outward. I saw that they injected things into me and the heart monitor started to make blips again. I felt a tugging to return to my body but I didn’t want to and I resisted.

A cord tied me to the body below me, it looked like it was sleeping and I could hear the doctors discussing it but the words, ‘just get it done, we’ll worry about it later’ produced a large device that looked like a syringe that was inserted into me and a creamy bluish fluid injected into my holy of hollies.

Some more things were done to my body but I was only interested in how to get away. I was tied firmly to the body below me and I didn’t know how to get untied. After awhile I was jerked roughly as they pulled the gurney around and out of the room. I was towed along behind like a helium balloon. Once back in the cell one of the human doctors took my vitals and discussed the matter with the others, I heard words like, ‘coma’, and ‘lack of any response to stimulus.’

The alien doctors gave their orders. I could tell, not because I could hear them, but because of the silence that fell and then everyone started to move in response to the silent commands. Something was injected into the iv bag and I was startled by a jerking on the cord that tied me. It was like be a bass and slowly reeled in. There was no escape, the hooks were too deep. I woke up with a gasp and my eyes flew open. A doctor, I remember only because he had remarkable green eyes took my vitals again while the others left. He released me from the restraints and ordered a soldier to carry me to my bed.

“We need you to lie down for awhile, do you understand?” He asked me.

I nodded, “Please help me.”

“Just rest yourself, you’ll feel better soon,” he lied.

I lied in bed after he left, a soldier was left in the room, I suppose to make sure I didn’t die or to make sure that I obeyed and stayed in bed. Either way he was one of the men who was like a robot and he didn’t react to anything except disobedience. I had dealt with his kind before and knew that he could stand where he was for hours doing nothing, barely breathing, and then react with lighting reflexes if I so much as made a move to put a foot on the floor.

I didn’t feel like defying anyone then, I was tired and I slept.

I suppose time passed. Probably days, I read the stack of books again. I wasn’t called on to do much except to supply urine and blood to a technician who came in regularly and to allow a doctor to take my vitals. Once in awhile an alien doctor would come in and I would feel him leafing through my head like a binder of paper and then he would leave again.

The day of reckoning was coming, but I had no way of knowing that. I had no way of knowing anything. One day I heard noise in the hallway. This was unusual because it was punctuated with the screaming soldiers make, more like hollering, when they give commands and then staccatoed with gunfire.

I sat up in bed. I had blankets now and I had them pulled up to my chin, I was clutching my legs. I was covered in gooseflesh and my heart beat rapidly. But I dared not, I didn’t hope to hope. Hope would break what little was left of me if it was dashed once more. Still, a part of my very essence couldn’t help but think, ‘This is it, this is escape. I am not forgotten.’.

It was the explosions that made me start to hope and when I heard them coming down the hall I got out of bed and peered on tiptoe out of my high prison window. I could seen little or nothing usually but now I saw something unmistakeable: flames. I watched and another explosion went off, I heard the sound and saw the flames shoot into the hallway, reflecting off the cement and lighting up my face.

I ran to my bed and turned it on its side, breathless with hope now I turned the legs towards the door and blocked myself against the far corner of the room. Someone was going down the hallway and blowing the doors off their hinges with what I suspected was C4.

The explosions came closer and then I could hear David’s voice. He had come for me. He had found a way. He was yelling orders over the sound of explosions and I heard a familiar voice that I couldn’t quite place responding to him. They had found me. They hadn’t given up on me.

dulce 3 drawing

My door exploded. The metal door shooting halfway across the room while bits of shrapnel rained down on the bed I had erected as my make-shift bunker. David poked his head into the room, “Anyone in here?”

I stood up, my legs wobbling under me with adrenaline, hope and terror. Had I managed to get him killed as well? Was there any way to escape level seven alive? It didn’t matter for the moment I saw him and he saw me and we ran to each other and he held me tight to him. I wanted to collapse in his arms but it was too soon. We weren’t safe yet.

“Al! I found her!” David called down the hall.

Al ran was down the hallway, I could see his large frame spraying bullets as he guarded the mouth of the hallway.

“That’s great, but there’s a lot of them coming in this direction! Any chance either of you know another way out?” Al called back to us.

“There’s a side elevator, I remember seeing it. I don’t know how it works, I would assume there’s a key card or a code or something needed.”

“Lets deal with that when we get to it. Can you walk?”

“Yes, I can run, I can do anything if it means we have a shot at getting out of here.” He handed me a loaded gun and some extra shells in a leather pouch that I hung around my neck. Barefoot and naked except for the gown, gun and leather satchel I lead the way. I didn’t let myself think about it, I had to believe that I remembered where the elevator was. My head was too fried to think rationally.

We ran down the hall, Al close behind us, spraying bullets as he went. I dreaded running into any of the alien doctors. They could freeze you with a thought. They could make you shoot yourself in the head with their will dominating your control over your own body. I had seen them make soldiers who were caught talking to the ‘criminally insane’ do that exact thing.

It wasn’t an alien doctor that we ran into.

We found the elevator and it did require a special identification code be punched into it. I let David puzzle over it and watched the far hallway. Al was guarding the way we had come and he would let out a spray of machine gun fire anytime anyone so much as poked a finger around the hall corner. I wondered how much ammo they had brought and then blocked the thought.

A lone figure in a white lab coat came tearing around the corner towards us. He had no gun, no way to defend himself and I recognized him by his green eyes and black hair. I held up the gun to be level with his head.

“No, don’t, I’m not armed! I won’t say a word, I swear,” he held up his hands to show he was unarmed.

“Don’t worry, you’ll feel much better soon,” I replied and shot him in the head. His brains sprayed across the hallway along with a great deal of blood. I smiled softly, “There, I bet you’re feeling better already.”

David glanced at me and then back to the panel. Al hollered at us, “They’re massing, I think they’ve got some sort of big weapon with them and it’s only a matter of time before they send some gas at us if we keep them at bay any longer.”

The pad lit up green and I heard the jolt of the elevator mechanism working. I pulled off the doctors pants and tucked my gown into it and pulled his lab jacket off as well. It was stained red at the collar but my hair covered that well enough. I grabbed his shoes and socks as the elevator doors opened.

“Now, Al! We’re going up!” David called.

We got into the elevator. Whatever David had done to the circuit panel it started to bump and grind upward when he hit ‘B’ for basement. He held me, “Almost out, darling, almost out.” He kissed my hair. I didn’t cry. I was limp. I had been so resigned to my death that I didn’t know how to react to life and hope anymore.

He looked me in the eyes, Al was anxiously checking his guns and reloading. The doors would open soon, what would we find? A whole team of soldiers with their guns trained on us?

“Are you okay?” David asked.

“I don’t know,” I replied. It was the only answer I could give. He held me tightly to him.

I wondered if it had been too much then, I wondered if I was broken. A part of me straightened. It was low and deep at the very base of my spine. A desire to not let them have broken me. A desire to live. I knew Al, of course I did. We had worked missions together. We’d had each other’s backs on more than one occasion. He had a sense of joy and humor to him that was like a young boy’s love of life.

“Al, do you have a spare knife or a gun?” I asked.

“I’ve got this knife,” He offered a long bladed knife to me and I took it in its sheath and put it through the belt of the pants I had stolen. It was shorter than a sword but longer than a kitchen knife and much better than hand to hand combat.

I tossed my hair back and raised my head, I would life. Fuck them if they thought they had broken me. I saw David and Al exchange a nod. The doors to the elevator opened: it was a parkade. More importantly, it was an empty parkade.

“Do you remember where we parked, David?” Al asked with a smirk.

“That car there looks like a car I could have parked,” David replied pointing at a jaguar.

“I would have thought we would have come in something with four wheel drive,” Al replied, but we were already moving towards the car David had picked out. He was only a minute to open the driver’s lock and unlock the rest of the doors and get the engine going. He had a gift for those sorts of things.

“I would imagine we would too, but this will do for the road to town, we’ll have to get through chain link fencing if we go cross country on base. After that we’ll find our way.”

Al nodded, “New cars are good.”

The two men climbed in the front seat, I sat in the back, trying to look as much like a doctor as I could. Just a doctor being escorted from the base, nothing to see here. I saw David’s gun was by his left hand. We pulled up to the gate to the parkade and David flashed his identification. The guy was distracted and barely looked twice before opening the rolling metal barricade that kept us in.

Then.

We were in the fresh air. The desert sun beating down on us while we drove with a plume of dust behind us rising up like a tail on a dragon. David glanced in the rear view mirror and met my eyes, “One more security point to pass through then we’re off base. We aren’t out of the woods yet, we won’t be until we can get out of the country ideally.”

I could see the checkpoint ahead of us. A chain link gate had to be opened by the guard in the guard house before we could make it out, if a full out alert had been called the gate wouldn’t be open for anyone. I tried to remember to breath.

We pulled up to the little station. It had tinted windows and was no doubt air conditioned or the soldier manning it would cook in the desert heat. We pulled up to the window. I knew right away that something felt wrong. We had pulled up to the station in a way so that I was at an angle to see and be seen as soon as the soldier opened the window to look at David’s fake Id. I looked at my hands, still covered in blood. They were criminals. He had deserved to die. Someone had been criminally insane: Anyone who worked in level seven, but I remembered him begging, raising his hands, saying, ‘Please, I’m unarmed.’

I wondered if I could have shot a man in cold blood before this had happened. He was a criminal, I reminded myself.

The window opened and I saw the soldier who had asked me where my family had come from. He had been moved to guard duty it seemed, not killed or transferred after all. He looked from the id to David, “Hey, why are you driving General Lemmer’s Jag?” He asked.

David cocked his head, “This baby’s all mine, the general and I must have similar tastes.”

Then my eyes locked with the soldiers and he raised a finger to point at me, “Wait a minute, I know her- I know you-”

David raised his gun and shot the soldier with efficient accuracy. He got out of the car and reached inside the guard station to punch the button to open the gate, “That wasn’t so bad, at least we know they haven’t called out a general alert. We might still make it out of this alive.”

Al laughed but all I could see was the soldier pointing at me, his eyes wide with recognition. Had he been instrumental in David finding me? Had he helped rescue me only to be killed for his pains?

David tore through the gate as soon as it opened and then put the Jaguar through its paces as he drove it full throttle through the desert.

I thought of the stack of books the soldier had brought me.

I thought of the green eyed doctor who had lied and said I’d feel better soon begging for his life.

As I thought these thoughts I felt something move inside of me. I put my hand across the taut line where the stolen pants covered my womb. Yes, something moving.

I leaned my head against the window and closed my eyes. Life wouldn’t ever be what it had been. Level seven gets made into the even the sugar and spice and everything nice that little girls are made of.

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