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by Ross Warren

You wake up shackled and drawn. There is a dull ache in your ankles and wrists where the improvised restraints bind you to a steel bed frame. Your left wrist is fastened to the headboard with a pair of fluffy handcuffs whilst the right, wrapped in a blood stained bandage, is held firmly in place with a leather dog collar and leash. Both feet are lashed to the bed posts with thick belts, fastened to ensure they tighten around your emaciated ankles. You drain what little energy you have testing the restraints for any play that might facilitate escape. Disappointed, you collapse back to the sweat encrusted sheets and black out in exhaustion.

You come to a while later with a mouth like you’ve been chewing sawdust and the sense you are no longer alone. You raise your head as much as your stiff neck will allow to make out the vague form of a woman. She has the window behind her so her face is in shadow. Recollection pierces your subconscious but you seem unable to put a name and your relationship together in your mind. The woman comes forward and places a plastic water bottle to your numb lips. Your throat attempts to close to the tepid water but you manage to exert enough of your will over the function to allow some of the fluid to go down. The woman tips it a little too quickly and you splutter so that water escapes from either side of the bottle and runs down your dry cheeks and spreads across the sheet. The woman takes the bottle away and says something to you. You can’t get your brain to process the words. Your left eye twitches involuntarily and seeming to take this as an answer the woman nods and leaves the room. You close your eyes.

You open your eyes suddenly, realisation hitting you that you can no longer hear your own heartbeat. You arch your back as much as you can before dropping back to the bed. You repeat the action until your energy is once more sapped. You are still unable to hear your heart. You wonder if you have been drugged. Then you try to remember what a drug is. The thought is pushed out by a strong sense of hunger that shoots pain through your stomach like an ice pick has been plunged through the skin. You hear footsteps. Think, maybe the strange creature might have food.

You look up to see a bowl held in one hand and a spoon in the other. The creature leans over you as it had done with the bottle. It spoons a mouthful of gritty, wet mush between your flaking lips. It tastes of nothing and you can barely force it down. Your mouth snaps shut as a second spoonful approaches causing its contents to smear across your face. The feeder attempts to scoop it back in the bowl with their finger and you get a whiff of something far more appetising. Instinct kicks in and you bite down on the meat in front of you. The creature begins to squeal. A sound that makes your beat-less heart sing.

Ross Warren is the editor of the 2011 anthology Dark Minds and the 2013 anthology For the Night is Dark from Crystal Lake Publishing and co-editor, with Anthony Watson, of the 2012 anthology Darker Minds and the 2015 anthology Darkest Minds. Alongside Anthony he runs Dark Minds Press. His fiction has appeared in magazines such as Estronomicon and Sanitarium as well as anthologies from Crystal Lake Publishing and Knightwatch Press. He lives in Cheltenham, in the UK, with his wife Katarzyna and son Joseph.