I woke to pain.
It felt like a burst of white-burning phosphor was tracing along the insides of my skull. It dominated my immediate world. I lay on the ground, inert, waiting for the worst to pass, praying for the fire to burn itself out quickly. It does after a while, to a degree.
It took a few fluttering false starts but I managed to pry open my eyes. My vision was blurry. What happened? Where am I? The pain in my head kept pulsing like a flashing lightbulb. The cement was cold underneath me. I couldn't move. My hands were tied behind my back, as were my feet. They felt like water balloons being squeezed.
In front of me a wall of red brick spanned the field of my vision. Faded patches of white paint mottled the rough surface. Here and there the mortar had started to crumble in between leaving dark slits. I looked up and saw a row of ornate, flush mounted lighting fixed to a low-hanging ceiling. They cast a weak yellow light that barely divided the shadows. The fixtures seemed oddly familiar.
I tried to shift my body to clear the cobwebs, to get myself thinking straight, but the attempt only exacerbated my agony and I sank back waiting for the throbbing to calm down. I noticed my legs were tied with nylon zip ties. I assumed my wrists must be too.
I counted to three and tried again. Gulping back a groan, I turned my head and rolled onto my right side. Exposed pipes and cables encased in steel-wire trays ran the length of the ceiling and disappeared into the shadows at the other end of the room. The pipes looked old, but well maintained and, again, familiar.
I smiled to myself. I’m in the basement under my bookshop. I’m surprised how slow my mind is filtering the data. Still groggy, yes, but it’s definitely my basement. Only, a tornado had ripped through the place. Everything that I had done, all the renovations to make this space a proper haven for my collection of antiquated books, had been made undone in a very brief period of time and in a very decisive way.
I heard voices and then a loud crash as something heavy fell to the floor. The tremor of it thrummed through me. I craned my neck trying to search for the source of the noise. A whiff of iron and dust and something moldy teased my nostrils. Something else too—something bilious and vulgar. It made me gag.
This must have attracted someone’s attention, because I could hear footsteps, not loud, more like the dull squishy noise you get from rubber soles. There was an urgency to them and I turned to brace myself, not knowing what to expect, but I was slow—too slow. A heavy boot smashed into my face and for a split second the pain level increased tenfold before I mercifully slid back into the blissful indifference of unconsciousness.
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