A terrified man fought his way through the darkness. Face scratched and bleeding. Hands tearing at the low hanging branches. Clothes torn and caked in stinking black mud. Behind him a swamp skiff glided through the inky black waters. Calloused hands guided the boat past Cypress trees that rose like gnarled Greek columns from the water.
Inside the skiff sat four women, sisters, parchment skinned, rheumy, coal black eyes flickering like lizards scanning for their prey. One of them, with a twisted face, held a burning torch, while another used a machete to hack at overhanging branches.
The man staggered to a halt, exhausted, the will to live fading. He leaned against the charred carcass of a tree stump, the victim of a lightning strike many years previously. His hand clutched at a gnarled knoll in its wet bark, eyes wide with fear. His face bathed in the flickering light of the approaching torches as the skiff came closer. He pulled out an old pre-smartphone Nokia from his pocket. “No Network” flashed up on the screen.
There’s a soft splash as something moves through the water towards him. He seems to relax, accepting his fate, his skin golden in the light from the approaching torches as a machete slices through the air…
The wooden structure of the boathouse creaked as the water slid beneath the wooden slats that formed its floor. The setting sun flared off the water outside, bleeding through a crack beneath the locked doors that led to the outside world and freedom. A hunched figure chained in the corner, shifted position as the suns glow lit up the room. His eyes darted around the space that contained him. He knew he only had minutes before the light began to fade.
The sickly pallor of his face was given an unnatural glow by the sun’s pink tinged light, and his sunken eyes bore a look of perpetual pain. He strained against the chains that held him. Steel cannulas embedded in his groin, fed blood into thick glass tanks on the far side of the room. Behind the grimy glass, organs floated in a pale, viscous fluid --- like grotesque jellyfish -- twitching spasmodically in the dim light.
He looked towards the bolted door through which his captors would soon come to check on him. He’d seen them dispose of the remains of a body when they first brought him in. A pale shape dropped through a hatch in the floor. The gators had torn at it with powerful teeth, as their tails churned the water into pink foam. He’d heard that their jaws exerted a force of over three thousand pounds per square inch, and wondered if that death would be better than the slow inexorable one he faced. The light in the room began to fade. Then he heard it; the strange clicking sound he knew only too well.
It was the blind sister’s tongue vibrating against the roof of her mouth. A crude form of sonar she used to guide herself through the labyrinthine passageways and vaults that extended beneath the old house. He remembered her milky eyes staring down at him when he’d first regained consciousness, naked and bound on a steel operating table. He knew she couldn’t see the fear in his eyes. And as she’d plunged the syringe into his arm and the blackness had swept over him, he realised she wouldn’t have cared anyway.
The bolt rattled and the door swung open. She stood silhouetted against the flickering gaslight that reflected off the white tiled corridor behind. The sound of approaching footsteps echoed off the walls. Her sisters were coming. He glanced at the tray of food she had brought with her. He realised he hadn’t outlived his usefulness, and part of him was sad.
Her three sisters entered, each of them carried a smoking oil lamp. One had a stump for a hand, some kind of birth deformity, the other a withered eye socket, and the third, a twisted face, probably the result of a minor stroke.
They checked his cannulas, emptied the soil bucket and watched while he ate his food. They inspected the glass vats and seemed satisfied with the progress of the limp pink sacs that glistened inside. He’d come to accept that he was just a human pump for their twisted experiments, and as the days passed he’d come to realise he wasn’t the first, and he probably wouldn’t be the last. He gulped down his food, avoiding eye contact with them. He’d learnt to keep quiet after the beating they’d given him last time.
The sisters left the room locking the door behind them. And once again he was alone in the dark, with just the dull ache in his groin, the sound of water slapping against the pilings, and the strange sucking noise from within the tanks.