Speak or Die

~ A short story ~

Tom can’t count the days of darkness. He’s been sitting in the middle of that room for what seems like an eternity. He cannot differentiate day and night. He can only feel the temperature change. He thinks it’s nighttime when his feet, tied to both legs of the chair, ache with the touch of the freezing floor and daytime when sweat drips from every pore of his body. There are no windows for light and air to pass through. He’s surprised he’s still breathing, taking in the stench of mold, sweat, and piss. He’s been in and out of sleep, he can’t even figure our dreams versus reality anymore. Sometimes he’d wake up from light vibrations from above. By that, he thinks he’s underground and the light rumble’s probably from a heavy vehicle. But he can’t be sure. After food-deprived days or weeks maybe, he couldn’t think properly. His mind is in spirals. Drought is taking over his throat. Death is on its way.

He hears footsteps. Three or four persons, maybe more. He tried to guess. Keys rattle and the door opens. A sliver of light seeps in. Somebody enters the room and turns on the blinding lights. The plain white walls randomly stained by molds, shoe prints, and blood, peeling yet bright under the reflection of what seems a hundred bulbs over Tom add to the suffering of his eyes. Heavy footsteps head towards him and stop right in front. A strong hand grips his jaw. Tom opens his eyes and squints. He isn’t sure if it’s the light that blinds him or starvation. A blurred vision of a man slowly becomes clear, well built, huge neck, and wide-body in camo uniform and fatigue boots. Must be at least, three hundred pounds.

‘Just tell us where he is Tom, and you’re free.’ His big body matches his deep husky voice. He lets go of Tom’s jaw and slowly paces back and forth in front of him.

‘Come on boy. Just tell us where this little El Presidente of yours is and you walk outta here a free man. You and your little girlfriend. That’s a promise if you play along.’ He sounds like a gentle teacher trying to get his preschool student to draw an apple.

Tom’s almost blind eyes open as wide as it possibly can.

‘Don’t touch her,’ his faint voice is not louder than the rodents at night.

‘Bring her in!’ This time, the muscle guy isn’t gentle anymore.

Tom hears a thud on the floor.

‘We vowed, Tom. We’d rather die.’ Luisa’s face is almost on the floor. Her wrists bleed from handcuffs. Her left eyelid, puffy. Dark purple circles cover most of her face. Death is also, on her way.

‘Shut up!’ Muscle guy in camo lifts her face and hits it with his right hand, so strong Luisa’s head could almost separate from her body.

Tom utters a very weak, ‘no.’

Muscle guy comes back to Tom.

‘Whatdya say boy?’ He grins.

‘Let her go, please,’ Tom whispers.

‘Then bloody tell me where that El Presidente of yours is.’

Tom suddenly gets a heavy blow on his left cheek. Blood drips on his face. From where he couldn’t exactly tell. He isn’t sure if he just lost a few teeth or got his jaw dislocated. But one isn’t better than the other.

‘Say something, Tom. Don’t let me lose my patience. You tell me where he is and both of you,’ he looks at Tom and then Luisa and then back to Tom again, ‘walk outta here free.’

‘Don’t tell him, Tom. You tell him and he’d still kill us. We cannot betray the organization. We made a pact. ’ Luisa looks like she’d already gone to hell and back.

‘Take her out!’

Two men in camo, smaller than muscle guy, quickly drag Luisa out clutching her arms as if she’s just some kind of luggage. ‘Don’t tell him, Tom. I’d rather die! We’d rather die! That’s our pact!

Tom looks at her as they drag her out. He listens to her screams that later on turn into faint muffled wails.

‘Look here boy. You should have been at school. But you and your stupid little organization brought you here. You think you can fight the government with that?’

Tom glares at him.

‘I’ll give you one more day boy. Think about it. Or you and your cute little girlfriend will die.’

Muscle guy turned off the light and locked the room. Tom laughs at the idea of locking the room. There’s really no need for he couldn’t even move his finger an inch. His wrist bleeds from being handcuffed. His arms are tightly bound to the chair.

His eyes adjust to darkness again and listen as the heavy footsteps disappear. He laughs. He laughs until his empty stomach hurts. Until his eyes squeeze out what little liquid is left in his body.

He thinks about how he ended up in that dark dungeon. He was just a freshman at the university when he met Fred. He gave his speeches in front of their office organization near the university gate. He carried a megaphone and spoke about the struggles of the poor, capitalism, and democracy. His charisma was alluring, Tom wasn’t able to resist. He was blinded by Fred’s idealism. Luisa got blinded too.

Tom brought Luisa into the organization and she became more hardcore than him. They, later on, dropped out of university and joined Fred full time. They themselves started recruiting innocent-eyed freshmen.

Tom thinks about his father who died while working in a factory. The company did a cover-up. The hospital closed its eyes and ears. No suitcases were filed. A meager payment for his father’s life was offered by the company’s lawyer, in which, they had no way to refuse as his younger self and his mother didn’t know what to do. This reminds him of all the principles he fought for and why is he in that dark room.

Tom thinks about his mother who by now must have been dealing with the mountains of debt she accumulated by sending him to university. He laughs. What a grateful son! This is how he repays her. She must have all her hair gray now, trying to get by with her life, old and alone.

Tom thinks about Luisa, her bruised face, and the life they envisioned together before they both joined the organization. They could have finished their degrees now, working for capitalists, earning some money to pay their debts, living a seemingly normal life. They could have been married too. Who knows? By sitting in the dark, handcuffed, and tied to a chair, he will probably never find out.

Tom thinks about Fred in his safe house. Probably sleeping comfortably in his securely guarded abode. Recruiting more and more freshmen into his idealistic organization and sending them to the front line whenever trouble arises.

Tom, Luisa, and every member took an oath to protect Fred, their El Presidente, and the organization to create a better future for the next generation. They made a pact. There’s only loyalty or death. He’s wondering now why life wasn’t given as an option.

And then life is all he could think about. He wants to live. He wants Luisa to live. He wants a life with her and his mom.

He wakes up to the rattling of keys. Muscle guy comes in and turns on the blinding lights. Tom hears a thud and a weak, dying wail from Luisa.

‘Time’s up boy. Speak or die.’

‘No, Tom. No!’ Luisa’s hoarse voice is almost non-existent. “We’d rather die than be branded as traitors.’

Tom gently opens his eyes and tries to adjust to the brightness. He looks at three guns pointed at Luisa and thinks of life.

Traitors aren’t born traitors. They are raised by adversity.

 

***

If you are still here, thank you for reading my short story. This was written for the prompt: Write a story where one character needs to betray the other, but isn’t sure if they can.

This short story is surprisingly the first I’ve written within a very short span of time and my favorite among the few stories I have written so far.

Prior to writing this, I didn’t know it is mostly common and logical to use present tense in first person point of view. Here, I’ve used present tense in third person point of view which is not entirely wrong but also not usual.

* The story and characters are purely fictional.

***

Featured image by Neonbrand

Author: aysabaw

Hi there! My name is Aysa! I am currently based in the Maldives, a free diver, a frustrated artist and writer and a lover of palm trees and ocean breeze.

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