Skip to main content



The Prisoner



I sense the shift of air beneath my nose a millisecond before something—thick, sticky tape—is clamped over my mouth, silencing the scream that would have ripped from me. My eyes snap open. A dark silhouette is bending over my bed.

Adrenaline surges. Move! Grab the knife! I twist my arm toward my pillow, but a hand slams onto my wrist, holding it still. Pulled from the bed, I kick out. But my feet flail uselessly, find only air. I try to focus but my mind is spinning. Why did I fall asleep? I should have been expecting this.

My arms are pulled behind my back, my wrists bound together. I try to twist away but something is pulled over my head, material, rough and tight, a hood of some kind. Panic spreads through me like wildfire. Don’t. Keep calm, Amelie. You know what this is.

He pushes me from the room, my feet tangle, I stumble, he jerks me upright. Under the hood, my head is filled with the frantic pulse of my heartbeat. I fight back the fear. I can outwit him; I’ve done it before.

The soft carpet beneath my feet gives way to the cold polished floor of the landing. My toes bump the edge of the carpeted runner, in my mind I see its intricate green and red pattern of leaves and animals. I inhale the chemical smell of glue from the tape and a mix of a cough and a choke burns my throat. I draw a breath, and the material from the hood sucks into my nostrils. Where is he taking me?

The grip on my shoulders tightens a little, there’s a slight pulling back. Instinct tells me we are at the top of the stairs and I hesitate, afraid to fall. Pushed forward, I find the first step, then move downward until the soles of my feet touch the cold checkered tiles of the hall. We move down the hallway to the left, my ragged breathing amplified in the eerie silence. I know where we’re going. He’s taking me to the basement, where the garage is.

I turn, wrenching my body away from him, and for a precious moment, his grasp on me weakens. But it’s not enough; I’m hauled back into place, and pain flashes up my arms. Angled to the right, more steps down, the space narrows, the air shifts, becomes cooler.

And then, an influx of sounds, stifled by the hood but recognizable still—scuffling feet, a muffled whine, a sense of others there waiting. I push back, then stop. The scuffling, the whine—they didn’t come from me. My mind reels. It can’t be, it’s not possible.

But I know the voice behind the smothered protests—Ned.

This is not what I thought it was.




Under my hood, my eyes dart, looking for a way out of this nightmare. Think, Amelie, think! But my mind is paralyzed. What is this? Who are they?

I hear the clunk of a car trunk opening. There’s more scuffling, Ned’s muted protests become louder. A grunt and a thud, have they put him in the trunk? My body tenses; I can’t be put in there with him. Then, without warning, I’m pushed into the interior of the car, facedown in the space between the seats, my knees forced up against the thin material of my pajamas. Heavy shoes push against my back, holding me down when I try and get up.

At first, I attempt to keep track of where we’re going. But I quickly become disoriented. I concentrate instead on drawing small sucks of air into my lungs. My stomach heaves, I’m breathing too fast. I close my eyes, imagine I’m outside in the cool night air, looking up at the sky, the stars, the infinite space. Gradually, my breathing calms.

Later, hours it seems, the car slows, the road becomes rougher. My mind has wandered, I force myself to focus, I know that for survival, every second counts. The car rocks, I picture a dirt track under the wheels, a forest around us. I should be more afraid. But I’m not scared of dying, not anymore. Not after everything.

There are sudden thuds from the trunk and cries of pain from Ned. He must be terrified—but shouldn’t he have been expecting this? Hunter, his security guard, brutally murdered three days ago, replaced by Carl, an unknown quantity. Where was Carl while we were being abducted? For this to have happened, there has to have been a massive breach of security. All eyes on Carl.

The car comes to a halt. Doors click open, the shoes are removed from my back. I’m pulled from the footwell, made to stand. The cool August night air wraps itself around my legs, goose bumps rise on my arms. There’s the smell of dirt, foliage, tree sap.

I hear Ned being dragged from the trunk. We’re pushed forward, Ned in front, I can hear him mumbling. The ground is sharp under my bare feet, stones digging into soft flesh, like shingle on a beach. I wait for the softer undergrowth of bracken, the crisp snapping of twigs. But the stones become smooth slabs, a path of some kind. Not an execution then. At least, not in a forest.

We stop. I hear the creak of a door pulled open, the scrape of wood along the ground, not a door to a house, an outbuilding perhaps. Propelled forward into a blast of cold air, I tremble. It’s not a shed, it’s a dungeon or basement, its thick walls untouched by the warmth of the sun.

I’m shivering now despite the crush of bodies around me. A door opens somewhere in front, another scuffle, Ned frantic, my foot trampled as they move to contain him. I hold my breath, wait it out. A door slams, followed by thuds as Ned throws his body against it, raging from behind his gag. Be quiet. It’s not going to help.

We move on, climb stone steps, I count them, twelve in all. Then, at the top, the worn stone under my feet becomes warm wood, softer against my skin. A door is opened, I’m moved forward.

There’s a movement behind me and I steel myself for a blow. Instead, the hood is pulled up and off my head. My hair crackling with static, I draw a deep breath in through my nose, then blink and blink again, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. But there’s nothing. No flicker of light, no paler shade of black.

Without warning, there’s a tug on my hand, strong fingers on my wrists. A cry of alarm builds, pushing against my throat. Not this. I kick back and my feet connect with flesh and muscle, but whoever is behind me holds me tighter. Then, a sawing sound and the rough scratch of a knife echo around the room until suddenly, there’s an audible snap. The pressure on my wrists releases and the momentum trips me forward. Before I can turn, there’s the slam of a door, the click of a lock.

That’s when I realize: from the moment the man came into my bedroom, our abductors haven’t said a word.




“When is your aunt arriving?” the doctor asked, straightening up from Papa’s bed.

“Later today. She’s on her way over from Paris.”

The doctor looked relieved. “That’s good.”

In his bed, Papa looked so small, his skin papery thin and yellow, his arms skinny as sticks. It was frightening how fast the cancer had spread through him. He had been diagnosed six months ago and until last week, he had been walking around, eating, drinking. Now he was unable to do anything for himself. I had to feed and wash him; he was like my child.

“What will you do?” the doctor asked. “After?”

I knew he meant once Papa had died and a rush of tears built up inside me.

“I’m going to live in Paris, with my aunt,” I said, swallowing them down.

I didn’t like lying but I was scared that if the doctor knew there was only me to look after Papa, he’d insist that Papa go into hospice. And Papa didn’t want to go into hospice, he wanted to stay at home. But I didn’t have an aunt, I didn’t have anyone. I was sixteen years old and soon, I’d be alone in the world.

What I would have liked, once Papa was gone, was to stay on in the house. I was capable of looking after myself, I’d been doing the shopping, cooking, and cleaning for years. I’d had to take over when Papa’s drinking meant he couldn’t do any of those things anymore. But we only rented the house, and with no relations to take me in, I’d be taken into care. And there was no way I wanted that to happen.

At first, I thought about asking my friend Shannon and her mum if I could live with them until Shannon and I finished school next year, and I’m sure they would have said yes. But in the summer, they were moving to Ireland, where Shannon’s mum came from.

Shannon and her mum didn’t know that I was looking after Papa on my own. When they’d asked, I’d invented my French aunt, because I hadn’t wanted them to worry about me.

“I thought you said you didn’t have any relations?” Shannon had said.

“Apparently, she and Papa fell out years ago,” I’d explained. “But when he got sick, he phoned to tell her.” I paused. “I’m going to live with her in Paris.”

And Shannon had hugged me. “Is she nice, your aunt?”

“She’s lovely.”

I hadn’t been to school for two weeks now. It didn’t matter, because it was nearly over anyway. My teachers knew that Papa was sick, and when they’d asked, I told them what I’d told Shannon, that I was going to live in Paris with my aunt, and wouldn’t be back next year.

But I wasn’t going to Paris, I was going to London. And once in London, I would look for a waitressing job, and start saving to go to college.




I raise shaking hands to my face, begin clawing at the tape still covering my mouth, then freeze. There’s someone in the room with me, I can hear the raspy sound of their breathing.

My nostrils flare and I press my hands against my face, my fear so raw that I want to scream out. I hold my breath and when there’s no sound, I realize it was my own breathing I could hear. There’s no one else; I’m alone.

Desperate to breathe properly, I rip off the tape in one painful movement, and with the sting of fire on the skin around my mouth, I begin drawing in great gulps of air. The taste of glue makes me gag. I take a deep breath, calm myself. I need to think clearly.

In the darkness, I turn around and with my hands stretched out in front of me, I walk slowly back to where I think the door is. My fingers hit a wall; I stop. The surface is cold, painted, not wallpapered. I gradually push my palms across, the skin of my hands distinguishing every little bump and scratch, until they reach a doorframe and the rough face of a door. I move my hands downward, find a handle, round and smooth. I wrap my fingers around it, turn it. It doesn’t move.

I pat the wall next to the door, searching for a light switch. But I can’t find one.

I thump on the door.

“Hello?” I shout.

No one comes.

“Hello!” I yell it this time.

There’s no answer.

Dropping to my knees, I trace the outline of the keyhole with my fingers and put my eye to it. Only darkness. My fear escalates.

“Let me out! Please!”

Don’t. Stay in control. You can’t afford to let fear win.

Ned fills my mind. His voice last night, the things he said. Is the room in the basement where he’s being held under this one, can he hear my panic? Tears rise from deep inside me. I rest my forehead against the wood of the door, put the palms of my hands flat against its surface. I can feel the rivets of panels and think of Carolyn. Of her apartment in London, with its wood-paneled doors. Of the home she made for me. I take another breath. I can’t give up, I need to make everything right.

“Move, Amelie,” I whisper. “Find the light switch. There has to be one.”

I turn to face the wall and begin sidestepping along it to the left, moving my palms up as high as I can reach, then down toward the floor. I had expected to find a switch close to the door, but I reach a corner without finding one. I move along the next wall and after a few steps, my fingers find a socket close to the floor. I straighten up, place my hands flat on the wall to continue my search, and my left hand bumps against something jutting out. I run my hands over it; it’s a wooden board with a window behind it, I can feel its frame. I claw along the sides of the panel, trying to get enough purchase to pull it off, and feel the heads of small metal nails buried deep into the wood, too deep to get any traction under them. But the knowledge that there’s a window gives me hope.

I move past the boarded-up window and immediately, my hands find something else, something material, hard. I feel along it; it’s a mattress, propped in a corner. I sniff it tentatively; it smells new. I lay my head against it for a moment, the adrenaline draining away. But I can’t rest, I need to find a light switch.

There’s nothing on the wall behind the mattress so I move around it and sidestep along the next wall. After four small steps, I find a door. For a moment I think I must have lost my bearings in the darkness and have gone back the way I came. But no, this must be another door.

“Hello?” I call.

There’s only silence.

I feel for the handle, turn it. And without any resistance, the door pulls open.

My heart jumps, I take a quick step back. There’s no sound. No movement. I edge inside, both arms outstretched and almost immediately my knee whacks against something. Pitched forward, my hands slam into a wall, and with a cry, I crumple onto the floor. What did I hit? I twist around and my hands find it, cold enamel, a toilet.

I push myself up from the floor, turn, find the door, then feel for a light switch. There doesn’t seem to be one, it must be on the outside wall. I move carefully back to the main room, close the door, search the wall. Nothing. I shiver at the thought of being in such a confined space without light. If I want to use the toilet, I’ll have to leave the door open.

Copyright © 2022 by Bernadette MacDougall

The Prisoner
by by B. A. Paris