International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Dreamscapesm Fiction
to consciousness, Dave became aware of a dull, throbbing pain at
the base of his skull. A low rumbling caused the floor to rattle
violently. He was in a car. No, a van. Vaguely, he could hear the
voice of the driver, muffled and indistinct. Dave opened his eyes,
but the blackness before him was so complete that he couldnt
see a thing.
He attempted to
move, but his hands had been tied behind his back, his feet lashed together
at the ankles. Before long the rumbling ceased. Footsteps crunched on
gravel, a grinding roar issued in front of him and sunlight filtered
weakly through the canvas sack over his head. Rough hands grabbed at
his arms and waist as he was hauled upright, pulled from the vehicle
and dragged across a lawn.
Quite suddenly there was an explosion of voices all around him, a multitude
of questions supplied with a multitude of answers. The voices were all
male and English speaking, with mostly British accents, though he caught
snippets of German and even Arabic. Their tones were gruff, almost business-like,
and yet each spoke with an unmistakable air of excitement. But only
segments of conversation reached Dave through the pain fogging his senses:
just two of them
black and white
A man just on his right said, in a soft American accent, I wish
youd get those microphones installed, Bookmaker. Id love
to hear the screams. And in reply, someone shouted good humouredly,
Youre sick, Carlson!
Another, in an almost bored voice, said, Yes yes. Were all
sick here. Now Gentlemen; your bets, if you please.
Dave began to struggle frantically, but his wrists and ankles were bound
tight. Bets? Screams? Wherever he was, he wanted out. He tried to speak,
to shout out against his captors, but a gag tied across his mouth reduced
his words to a choked growl. All around him the voices began to laugh
mockingly, and Dave knew how ridiculous he must look, wriggling on the
spot like a helpless worm. Even so, a burst of anger momentarily dispelled
his fears, and he strained against his binds with all the strength his
powerful frame would permit.
The men around him seemed not to notice. Instead, they went on with
their chatter, and somewhere close by he heard the sound of an automatic
weapon being loaded.
This is it, theyre going to kill me! Hed survived four years
of Afghanistan and fourteen of married life, and now hed die blindfolded,
shot like a wild dog. He rallied his thoughts and tried his best to
prepare himself. But no one fired.
Instead, a pair of arms tied a belt around his waist, considerably heavier
on one side. Have they given me a gun? Jesus Christ, what is this?
The hands holding him up pushed him forward, the voices fading away
behind him. After stumbling on for a minute, they stopped. A key turned
in a lock. Then his escort shoved him from behind so violently that
he hopped once, lost his balance and pitched over, landing hard on dusty
concrete. Something clattered to the floor beside him, the door was
locked again, and then he was alone.
Or was he? Someone groaned, but the sound seemed far off. Quickly, he
sat up and tore the bag from his head. Harsh lights blinded him momentarily,
but then his vision slowly cleared and he stared up at rafters hanging
beneath a corrugated roof. He wrestled the gag from his mouth and glanced
down, snatching up the knife theyd tossed him. First he endeavoured
to cut the nylon ties from his wrists, then his ankles.
With his limbs finally free he stood, taking a moment to register his
surroundings. The building looked like some kind of warehouse, packed
with steel containment crates of varying sizes, like the kind they used
on a freighter. One sat half open, but a quick check inside showed it
to be empty. Where the hell am I?
He jumped like a startled cat when a tinny, monotone voice echoed through
the cold silence. The words, though clear, were distorted electronically.
Black and White, it said.
Names, thought Dave, noticing theyd changed his shirt for a plain
black sweater. He cast around for the voices owner, but it seemed
to resonate from all around. I see you have both cut yourselves
loose. That is good.
Both? The faint whir of an electronic motor drew his gaze up and to
the right, where he noticed a red-eyed security camera blinking down
at him. There were more, one to his left, and another up ahead. He couldnt
see far the containment crates seemed to form a maze of narrow passages
and corridors, down which icy metal walls reared on either side.
The voice went on. In the holster at your waist is a single-action,
semi-automatic handgun with five rounds in the magazine. Dave
looked down, curling his hand around the butt and lifting it clear from
the leather. A Browning L9A1, standard army issue. Itd been almost
three years since hed held one of those. You will use this
handgun, and the knife if necessary, to kill your opponent.
Opponent? Instinctively, he pressed his back to the nearest container.
Only when one of you is dead will the other be allowed to leave.
If no one has been killed upon the sound of the claxon, both of you
and your immediate families will be executed.
Oh God, what did he say about my family? Julie, Stephen
Your ten minutes start now!
Panic threatened to take hold of him. Ten minutes. Hed killed
twice before, in Kabul and Helmand. But not since then. Not since hed
been given a comfortable desk job in Recruitment. Ten minutes to kill
who? Dave looked at the Browning again, loading it this time. The idea
of taking another human life didnt appeal to him, but if the only
alternative threatened his wife and lad, then so be it. Still, who do
these people think they are? If I get out of here alive, Ill hunt
them down myself. One by one.
Come on Dave, he urged himself. Anger never helped anyone. Stay calm.
He breathed slow, deliberate breaths and held the handgun in a high,
two-handed grip, right arm extended, the left cupping the base of the
butt. Okay, lets go
He stood in a wide passage which ran for some twenty meters on either
hand, and no doubt ringed the inside-perimeter of the warehouse. Directly
ahead, a sizable gap between two crates offered an entrance to the labyrinth.
He took several cautious steps forward, gun raised. Listening, he thought
he heard a carefully placed foot scrape the concrete floor. Movement
flickered ahead and left, down a passage which opened up onto his own.
Dave grunted and brought the pistol to bear on the figure. A muzzle
flashed and a shot shrieked past his face to ring out against the metal
behind him. He swore and dived behind a low crate, not before firing
a shot in retaliation.
Whos there? he called out from behind his cover. No
reply was given.
I said whos there? Fresh waves of anger flared inside
him. Answer me! Were you kidnapped too, or are you the only prick
they could find daring enough to fight? Well?!
He heard movement and braced himself, ready to shoot at the figure he
was sure would loom up over his shelter. No one came. In the ensuing
silence, the only sounds to be heard were the hum of the cameras, and
his own panting breath. Occasionally, birdsong murmured from outside.
And then, a voice stammered: We-we dont have a choice.
I heard what they said, Dave called back. The man sounded
more terrified than he was. Jesus. Our families.
Look. Ive got to do this, I have a son.
Well so have I! he countered, picturing Stephens face,
and the stupid grin he adopted whenever Dave scolded him for something.
It would infuriate the average parent to breaking point. But it never
failed in dissolving Daves temper. He would loose the will to
shout and snatch the lad up in his arms, growling into his ear like
an angry tiger. He smiled, in spite of the cold metal crate pressing
against his back, and the unwelcome feel of a weapon in his hand.
The stranger sighed audibly and cleared his throat. We should
just get this over with, mate. Both stand and shoot. Fifty-fifty, either
No chance. How do I know you havent got me covered? The
second I poke my head out
You think I want to kill you? You think I enjoy it?
Youve killed before?
Hesitation laced his reply. Reluctance. Yeah. Unfortunately.
A murderer? No. Carefully shifting himself into a crouch, Dave asked,
So, another soldier then. Coincidence? Dave didnt think so. Whats
James Sterling. Sergeant.
Corporal David Bewley.
He felt a sudden kinship with the stranger, an unquestioned mutuality
familiar only to men and women of the armed forces, sharing the same
hardships, a common enemy. Brothers-in-arms, as they said. Nevertheless,
both men remained behind their cover.
I see how it is, said Sterling, darkly. Theyve
kidnapped two officers, so they can call their bets while we scrap it
out like Staffs in a pen.
At first Dave made no reply. His mind had gone blank. He felt strangely
apathetic, like the man home from a long day at the office, lacking
the energy for conversation and wanting only for sleep. But before that
could he take the life of a complete stranger? Youve done it twice
before, he reminded himself. What difference does it make if the man
is British? None at all. Its kill or be killed.
He tightened his grip on the Browning. That sounds about right,
Dave said after a pause, willing himself to stand and charge his opponent,
to gun him down and be done with the whole affair.
Well, I say sod it! Sterling barked angrily. Defiance. It
could be an act, but Dave settled back down to listen. I say we
wait here and save our bullets for the first ones through the door.
And then, raising his voice, Sterling shouted, You hear me faggots?
Dave remembered what hed heard back in the room full of gamblers,
a plan taking form in his mind as he spoke.
I dont think they can hear us. A bloke before said he wished
someone called the Bookmaker would get the microphones fixed, or something
like that. Said he wanted to hear us scream.
I know, but listen. Weve still got some time left. I think
I think I have an idea.
The Bookmaker sat back in his chair, bony fingers forming a steeple
before his gaunt face. Screen eight showed Black hiding behind the box.
It had been so for the last five minutes.
This is easily the most boring one yet. The speaker was
Carlson, a fat American sadist.
The Bookmaker didnt like him, but his wallet was seemingly unlimited.
That is inconsequential, he replied, hiding his own disappointment
Why wont they fight? asked another, the Arab Al Musad.
Give them a minute, he replied without turning. They
think their families are on the line. Theyll fight. Look at them
talking trading insults, probably. He knew they were not. Their
faces were too calm for that. One of them even nodded and smiled.
I cant believe it. What a waste of time! It was Carlson
again. A waste of time, thought the Bookmaker. Not a waste of three-quarters
of a million dollars? Just time? Well have to kill them
both and start over. His irritability vanished then, and the Bookmaker
knew Carlson would ask to do the deed himself. Presenting the request
lightly would enable him to pass it off as a joke if refused which,
of course, it would have to be. Given the go-ahead, he would kill with
We execute the winner anyway, said the Bookmaker. It
doesnt matter. Whats this?
On screen, Black and White had risen from their cover to face one another,
but neither offered any sign of aggression. The men watching the screens
went berserk. Kill him! Shoot him now! The Bookmakers money was
with Black. He remained calm, watching intently.
They continued to talk. If only hed had the microphones installed.
What were they planning? Did they think they could settle down and wait
for their captors to come and get them? Trapdoors in the roof offered
a clean shot into the maze below. Resistance did not worry the Bookmaker.
He watched Black and White turn to look at the door through which Black
had entered. Quite suddenly, White darted forward, put his pistol between
Blacks shoulders, and the man slumped lifeless to the floor.
As always, the death of a combatant provoked a storm of reactions from
the viewers. Al Musad roared and tugged at his beard, turning away from
the scene. Carlson cheered and clapped, despite having made a substantial
loss. Handshakes were exchanged, curses spat.
Only the Bookmaker remained impassive.
Gentlemen, please, he called over the commotion. If
I may have your silence whilst I address the combatant. Leaning
forward to thumb the button for the speaker, he said: White, drop
the handgun where you stand, and walk to the crate on your left. Press
your forehead to the metal, and clasp your hands behind your back. Remain
still until otherwise instructed.
He issued the commands as he had done so many times before, and White
cooperated as Black had done last time, and White had the time before
If you will all excuse me for a moment. The Bookmaker rose
and picked up a Heckler and Koch from a nearby table, motioning for
the two big men by the door similarly armed with submachine guns to
follow. They strode from the room and down the corridor to the warehouse
entrance. After each made a quick preliminary check of their weapon,
the Bookmaker opened the door.
They entered slowly, and once inside they spread out from one another.
Keeping the barrel of his MP5 trained on the body of Black, he looked
to White, standing as he was bid with his hands together, and his face
pressed against the crate.
For Dave, the tension was unbearable. He found it hard even to keep
his eyes unmoving, resisting the urge to shut them tighter against the
bright glare of the overhead lights.
The door was unlocked and then opened. Men entered the room. He felt
horribly exposed, lying sprawled on his back as he was, one leg caught
at an awkward angle beneath the other. But he was left with one minor
The cool metal of the Browning still rested in his right palm.
He listened attentively, trying to picture the position of each man.
There were three of them, one standing on the left, another on the far
right, and one slightly closer in the centre.
The centre man spoke, and Dave recognised the voice of the Bookmaker.
Very good, White, he said to Sterling, his outward calmness
failing to mask his irritation. Had he put his money on Black? However,
I regret to announce that we cannot allow you to...
And then Sterling gave the signal. He shouted, not any recognisable
word or phrase, but a harsh, guttural noise so sudden that it demanded
the attention of all eyes. Their chances were slim: Daves only
advantages would be added millisecond on the draw, and the surprise
of his captors at seeing an apparent corpse suddenly move.
That surprise was evident in the Bookmaker. His eyes widened, his disbelief
causing a momentary hesitation. It cost him his life. A bullet from
Daves Browning thudded into his chest. He gasped, sucking air
into a ruined lung, but a second punched him from his feet, hurling
him out into the corridor.
As his first shot rang out, the eyes of the others snapped to Dave,
whereupon Sterling whipped the knife from his belt and flung himself
into the left hand man. A submachine gun to the right screamed and shattered
the concrete at Daves feet. His Browning bucked, and the man crumpled
to the floor.
Sterling and the last man had been struggling furiously with the knife.
The Heckler and Koch still hung from the mans shoulders, clattering
between them. Then Sterlings arm gave way, and the blade sank
deep into his chest, blood spurting through his gritted teeth. Dave
shot his attacker dead.
Then all was still. Dave got up on unsteady legs. His hands trembled
violently from the aftershock. Around him, the four bodies had ceased
to pump blood from their wounds. He looked at the Browning and stared
into the grey wisps spewing from its barrel. He let the pistol fall
from his grasp, barely noticing the echoing clatter it kicked up in
the now silent warehouse, which seconds before had been a whirlwind
of muzzle flashes, cries of pain and splashes of red. From somewhere
outside sounded the slam of car doors and of wheels groaning against
gravel, fading away into the distance.
The gun smoke cleared and ceased to sting his nostrils, and Dave looked
around, his expression devoid of life. He was tired. Terribly tired.
He checked each of the bodies all of them were dead.
Dave squatted next to Sterling, and gently he closed the mans
eyes. Then, moving out into the corridor, he searched the pockets of
the Bookmaker and found nothing of use, save for a set of car keys.
These he stowed in his back pocket. On the floor beside the body was
a submachine gun, which David took up, looping the strap over his head.
He thought of his wife, Julie, and Stephen, his lad.
He would return to them soon enough...
Richard Bell June 2009
stories in Dreamscapes
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