0001 – Gareth: Captivity, Part 1

Gareth screamed.

It had been eleven days so far. His fists pounded on the door. They were starting to hurt. His throat had become so hoarse that screaming was physically hurting him. It had hurt him back at the start too, but back then, he’d been shouting and crying out with purpose, hoping for someone in the street outside to hear him. He’d learned by now that nobody could. These were long wails of frustration, anguish, and despair.

Spittle flecked the frosted glass. He could feel the red heat spreading to every corner of his face as his sore hands thudded again and again on the unyielding wood. He was slumping now, his wails tapering off into undignified sobs, tears and sweat and rage staining the sober, stately features of his prematurely wrinkled face.

Gareth’s tall, thin, willowy body, built for standing erect and proud, was now crumped in a convulsing, anguished heap in the hallway. He hadn’t bothered to turn on the light, even though the sun was setting now. The homely features of the cottage – its gentle decorations, as might be picked, he thought, by a settled old woman – lay in unused, unloved shadow. Despite his despair, though, he hadn’t taken to tearing them off the walls, to smashing them, to defacing them. He knew he never would, even if he spent a hundred years in here. Things like that were too dear to him.

They reminded him of her.

Slowly, Gareth regained control. He regulated his breathing. His sobbing drew to a stifled halt. Unfolding himself upward, his lined face already composed once more in a mask of contemplation, his red, swollen eyes and flushed cheeks were the only hint of his former breakdown.

He took mental stock. The door didn’t open. He’d tried that on day one. It wasn’t a matter of a lock. He didn’t even think it had one. The windows were the same – unsecured, but utterly immobile.

They wouldn’t break, either. Gareth’s captor had left him with minimal tools, but the wood, glass, stones and mortar of the cottage could not, it seemed to him, be bored into, smashed, rammed, burned away, chipped, or otherwise broken or moved in any form.

He couldn’t signal for help – that had been tried early on, too. It had taken two days for anyone to even pass by on the road outside, but no amount of frenzied hammering and shouting could raise a response from anyone outside the cottage.

None of this truly surprised him. He had never been trained in it, but he knew the Craft well enough to know that his prison could not be escaped by such mundane means. He’d been left in no danger, with running water and adequate supplies of fuel and food, which meant that this place was designed to hold him, not to hurt him. A singular intention, strong and focused. The nitty gritty of the cottage’s construction wasn’t the important part. The important part was that it was made, single-mindedly, to contain him.

He had paced. He had muttered. He had hated and cursed and plotted. He had sat in the silence. Finally, he had bathed, cooked, even done a little cleaning. There was no music but the sound of faint birdsong in the day and the subtle howling in the wind of an evening. A quiet clock on the upstairs landing, even from so far away as the sitting room, had ticked with such piercing, all-consuming regularity that he had pulled it off the wall, hoisted it above his head, readied himself to smash it in anger, and then felt the old tenderness wash over him. It was in the back of a cupboard now, packed beneath some winter blankets, and even the thought of it sat back there, alone, in the sad darkness was crushing to him.

Gareth stopped in his tracks. He had wandered, on autopilot, to the little upstairs study. The sight of the books had seemed spiteful to him – and indeed, they may have been placed there solely to taunt him – so he had shut the door on it eleven days ago, and not opened it since. Nonetheless, his feet had carried him here, and he stood now in the dusty evening light, the bookshelves to his left, the empty desk and its little old lamp to the right.

A rueful smile crossed Gareth’s face. For the first time in his captivity so far, he felt the inner tug of hope compelling him to action. Swooping down on the desk, his sleeves billowing behind him, he poised his hands to tear open a desk drawer, but stood stock still. Inhaling in anticipation, he pulled, slowly.

The first drawer he opened contained reams and reams of blank, lined writing paper. He expelled a sigh of relief, releasing breath that he hadn’t realised he was holding. He would worry about how to bind them later, he reasoned, filling the little inkwell from a large bottle that lived in the deep, bottom drawer.

The lamp was lit now. A cool adrenaline had taken over, and he had acted with eager precision, lining up pen and paper and blotter in exact, well-spaced positions. He took in a little breath, straightening his clothes, the last pieces of his habitual old composure falling back into place as he took his seat, straight backed and alert.

In position, poised and ready, Gareth took a moment to stare at the last of the evening sun out of the small, high study window. He had not yet taken his evening meal, but his stomach had cramped up into a contented hibernation the moment he had set himself to his task. He pursed and smacked his dry lips.

His captor had been careful to leave him nothing with which he could make a substantial bid for freedom. But in his hubris and addiction to his Craft, he had left Gareth the most potent tools imaginable.

He made a statement aloud:

“I will write myself free.”

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