I still don't know her name!
No, not Taylor - the heroine of her Avan stories!
Will she ever reveal it?
Or will it be a mystery?
WARNING: Today's post contains descriptions of torture. Proceed with caution.
As soon as my eyes adjusted to the light the hood had blocked, I examined the basement. There was the bed, the small bathroom, the stairs behind us. Nothing was different until I shifted my gaze to the middle of the room. There was a coil of rope, neatly rolled. Next to it sat a cane made from thick, yet flexible bamboo. It seemed familiar, and I puzzled over it for a moment until my mind dredged up the memory. It looked identical to those I'd seen in one of my History books in high-school: the ones built for beating prisoners and slaves. Last was a tire, large and heavy, snow nestled between the tracks.
I felt our captor's calloused hands touch my shoulders and I flinched.
He grabbed me by my hair, pulling and dragging me along the rough floor.
"No!" Avan yelled.
There was the sound of a scuffle and I knew the men were holding him back. Our captor stopped, still holding my hair. He turned his body slightly.
"What did you say?"
Avan struggled in the arms of the men.
"I said," Avan replied, quieter now. "Whip me."
Our captor chuckled, letting me go. I fell to the ground, wincing.
"Avan no!" I cried.
I stumbled towards him and he caught me in his arms.
"Listen to me," he said, voice steady and calm. "I'll be fine, okay? It'll be over before you know it, I promise. I can take it."
I didn't get to finish. He pressed his lips hard against mine before we were dragged apart.
"On your back."
Avan didn't even pause. He lay down on the dirty basement floor, shivering the second his back touched the concrete. Our captor picked up the truck tire and forced it over Avan's knees. All three of the men lifted Avan, flipped him over and bound his wrists behind his back with the rope.
"Tie 'em tight." one of them said to the others. "We don't want him squirming too much."
A calming sensation washed over me as I watched them tighten Avan's binds. It was the same thing I'd felt the moment Avan surged forward to take my place: relief. I was relieved that it wasn't me. Our captor's voice was low and deep, and my blood ran cold at his words.
"Tie her down."
Avan growled, more animal than human.
"If you hurt her, I swear to God-"
There was a loud "crack!" as our captor struck the wall beside him with the cane. In the space it took for my ears to stop ringing, he'd gone into the bathroom and ran the sink. When he came out, the end of the cane was shiny with water. The men brought me to the chair in the corner, a chair I’d missed. They forced me to sit down, to submit, and tied me down. The rope cut into my arms and legs. Our captor turned the tire so Avan and I were face to face, then tapped the arches of Avan's feet with the cane. Avan flinched and sucked in his breath at the same moment.
"Last chance to change your mind, Gutierrez."
Avan lifted his head. Our eyes locked for two powerful seconds before he bowed his head. His long black hair fell over his ears, shielding his face from me.
"Just get it over with."
Something buckled inside me. Our captor looked my way.
"Let his agony be a lesson to you."
I'll never forget the force of the impact, the sharp "smack!" of the cane striking flesh, the agonized cry torn from Avan's mouth.
"Man up, Gutierrez!" the men taunted, as if Avan wasn't humiliated enough. "He didn't even hit you that hard!"
Avan's toes clenched and immediately my own feet began to burn, to sting, to beg for mercy.
"Oh, he doesn't know what real pain is." our captor said, preparing the next strike. "But I'll be glad to show him."
A sharper "smack!", a louder cry, a labored breath. Avan stretched his neck, his face turning slowly towards me. His hands were balled into quaking fists behind his back. He opened his eyes and took in my expression. In the short, merciful moment our captor gave us, I watched Avan's lips curl up into a smile so faint I could hardly see it. It was forced, but it was there. Though it was meant to be reassuring, the gesture still stabbed. He had the strength to comfort me, even in his own suffering, to be willingly tortured in my place, to endure the agony so I wouldn't have to. And I'd begged him not to do it under a veil of fabricated selflessness. If I thought I could handle what came next, I was wrong in a thousand ways.
"Beat 'im raw!" one of the men urged.
And that's exactly what he did. Mercilessly, relentlessly, our captor showered Avan's feet with lashes. Everything inside me ripped open, wounds that bled profusely when Avan screamed and didn't stop. I couldn't do this anymore.
"You're gonna kill him!" I shouted.
Smack! Smack! Smack!
Avan's face had gone white. His skin had gone white. Sweat dripped from every pore. His entire body quivered. Every lash sent a wave of crippling anguish through me. Our captor may as well have forced me into the tire and whipped me. Avan didn't deserve this.
He is the calm within my storms.
His breathing brings me back to me.
He takes me in his arms, safe and warm.
"It's okay," he whispers. "You're ok."
Time plays tricks on you. The beating lasted only moments that seemed to be an eternity. That's how long it took for the end of the cane to snap under the weight of our captor's brutality.
"Do you want me to stop?" he asked, turning his gaze to meet mine.
I could only nod, my body trembling with sobs.
"Then, learn to behave."
The bits of broken bamboo were thrown aside, the men untied Avan's wrists, turned him over, and removed the tire from his knees. They gripped his arms and forced him to stand, adding torment to his humiliation. His knees buckled, he collapsed, and the men laughed when he grabbed his lower leg. Our captor picked up the tire and motioned to the stairs with a jerk of his head. He stepped over Avan, catching him with the toe of his boot as he did. The other men followed, leaving me tied to the chair and Avan curled up, broken and beaten on the floor.