There’s no such thing as purple, I tell myself. It’s a construct. It doesn’t exist except in the eye of the observer.
I strain at the bindings, but it’s no good. I twist my wrists, ignoring the abrasion. Because my skin is layered in sweat I can slide the ropes against my skin, but it shouldn’t be possible, not when I’m bound so tightly. Breathe, I tell myself. If I steady my breath, perhaps my heart rate will stabilise? I’m not sure how long I’ve been cooped inside. Time has no meaning in the dark when the mind is racing and adrenalized panic shuts off every system except the parts that want to fight, or run.
But I can’t do either, so I concentrate on other senses. I scratch at material that feels like Fuzzy-Felt, but rougher – material that lines car boots. I roll into the side as the vehicle swerves the next corner. The scent is musky; enough to make me feel sick, and it evokes times spent in the flat, mostly in bed. I didn’t think the radio had been turned on. But I might have missed it. The engine drowns out so many sounds. I give up straining to hear and tug at the ropes again.
“It’s no good,” Sam had told me. “You won’t get away from me that easily.”
And I laughed. Because back then I didn’t want to get away, because back then I was bound with silk scarves to the bed frame and had expectations of pleasure, not pain. I had suggested the game.
Later, Sam proposed ‘safe’ words, which implied our play would be dangerous.
“Just a break,” I had repeated.
Sam stopped sharpening the kitchen knife and stared at me. “Why?”
“I don’t know, it um, keeps things more exciting – I mean when we get back together.” Exciting. That was the last thing this relationship needed. I shuffled round the kitchen and studied the rim of my Doc Martens. I’d always been a big boots, stripy tights kind of girl – it was part of the attraction – the gothic edge.
“Don’t mess about.” Sam walked around the worktop, but didn’t let go of the knife.
I tried to relax into that embrace, but it was hard with the blade so close to my heart. “You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’m not letting you go without a fight.”
The grip became painful. I smiled and tried not to panic. “I’m sorry, Sam. I didn’t mean it. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”
The grip slackened. “We’re still good then? You’re gonna forget this nonsense?”
“Sure, we’re good.” Good? It was a poor choice of word for us.
When Sam left that night, I changed the locks to my front door and my hours at work. And I knew they’d be no going back. That was two months ago.
The car slows. I were wrong, the radio is on – one of those late night shows to which listeners phone in about relationship problems, and an unqualified DJ dishes out advice in the name of entertainment. The crazed tone of the speaker, and the underlying smirk of the host, rattles around my head. Sam and I were amused by the show in the past, but now I catch cruel intentions behind the comments.
Everything is switched off, and I can hear the hum of the distant motorway. I tense. I’m not gagged or blindfolded, but in this dark, isolated space it isn’t necessary. As the seconds stretch to minutes and the stillness screams, I imagine the worst. Sam’s figure clasps the knife, stroking it, and contemplates slashing my neck. Or perhaps I’ll have to watch the uncoiling of a fresh length of rope to twist around my throat, and I won’t be able to speak, or plead, or breathe. And that gaze will look purple in moonlight, and the last thing I’ll see in this world is the eyes of a maniac, tainted in a colour that doesn’t really exist.
“Sam.” My voice is unnaturally high. “Sam, open the boot. Let me out.”
“Sam, answer me. It’s not funny, Sam.” I can’t stop saying the name. The desperate cling to the familiar.
Continued silence, and then something, not a reply but a shuffle and a twang, followed by a metallic pop. Smoke, as a cigarette is lit.
“Just say something.” I kick at the side and try to keep my voice steady. I’ve been crying, but I don’t want Sam to know that.
“Open the fucking door, Sam. Open it!”
I writhe in the space and the car rocks.
A click followed by a thud, but no footsteps.
I blink and wait, but nothing – just silence.
My heart hammers as if it will burst out of my chest, as hard as if I’m being chased by a demon. I visualise the flicking of a butt end into the petrol tank; or perhaps I’ll be left and no matter how loud I scream, I’ll never be found and I’ll starve. But not before I’ll die of dehydration, or perhaps I’ll suffocate? Already the air feels clammy. How long does oxygen last inside a locked boot? It’s not the sort of question I’ve ever had to ask before. Hot and sticky, I barely feel the tears staining my cheeks. I no longer care about my sob-infected voice.
“Sam … pleeease.”
“Are you still there? Sam?” I listen.
And then I realise. “Purple,” I say.
There’s a click and the door springs open as if by magic. It’s our ‘safe’ word.
I twist and see the silhouette. The biker’s jacket makes the shoulders look broader. The cigarette dangles from the corner of the mouth and the hands are dug into front jean pockets. It’s a stance that Sam thinks looks cool. I used to think so too.
“For Christ’s sake, Sam, just untie me.”
A grin. “You used to like it.” The eyes are distant as if Sam’s not fully present. “I know it’s not nice – shutting you in, but how d’you think I felt, shut out?”
“I was frightened. I am frightened.” Is there a glimmer of compassion? I squeeze my eyes shut. I wish hard that he would go away. He’s silent until I open my eyes.
“You shouldn’t have done it, Jess. You can’t just dump someone by changing the locks and not answering the phone.”
“I tried to tell you, but you didn’t want to hear it.”
“And I still don’t.” The gaze touches mine and flickers away. There’s no escaping this with mere words.
Sam takes a drag. He smothers a cough, and tosses the smoke aside. He places both hands along the edge of the raised boot door and lurches over me. The half-moon is bright and the surrounding sky is rimmed violet. I screw my eyes shut because I don’t want to see him, or talk, or feel anymore.
He reaches in and grabs the bindings.
My eyes snap open and I catch the moonlight reflecting off the blade. With a jerk, my hands are free.
“What the fuck,” I say, scrambling to sit upright.
“I can’t do this.” He throws the knife into the undergrowth and leans against the edge of the boot. “I can’t do it.” His fingers twitch at the zip of the jacket and he studies the fastener as if revising for an exam.
I try to orientate myself.
“It’s not right,” he says. He wrenches his arms out of the jacket, and flings it to one side.
“Hey!” I clamber out of the boot. He’s not as tall as I’d ideally like.
“This isn’t normal, Jess.” He looks earnest, all of the menace melted from his gaze. “The jacket’s too bulky and the scent stinks. I’m not happy locking you in the boot. I don’t want to smoke – even pretend, and I’m really uncomfortable about the knife.”
I give him a sidelong look. “Come on, Sam …”
“And for God’s sake, stop calling me Sam. Nig might not be on the cool scale of names, but at least it’s mine. Who is this ‘Sam’ anyway? Sounds like a real prick.”
It’s the first time I’ve seen Nig angry, jealous even, and it’s kind of exciting.
“Look,” he says his temper dulling far quicker than it rose. He studies the last button on his shirt. “Can’t we go back to mine, watch a film, and order pizza? Have sex in the warm, without having to string each other up for once?”
And the moment is lost. He’s just good old Nig, shivering in his short-sleeved shirt, and I feel ridiculous in six-inch heels and a rubber dress. “Some blokes would kill for a scenario like this,” I say.
“But it’s not right, Jess. And each time it gets a bit weirder. You can’t live a life in a world where things aren’t real.”
“And pizza and films are, I suppose.”
He shrugs, slams the boot and walks around to the driver’s door. “I’m going home. You can come with me if you like – it’s up to you.”
I watch the car coast away; the headlights flood the gravel lane for a moment and sweep into the distance. When I’m left with just the moonlight to guide me, I gather the jacket and sling it across my shoulders. I search for the knife but can’t find it.
I start to imagine things. I straighten and my skin crawls with the sensation that I’m being watched. I take a step, but falter, certain someone is creeping up behind me. Before I can turn, before I can think, my arms are wrenched back. I try to cry out, but a hand covers my mouth, stealing my breath. A warm, hard body presses against my spine and a funnel of hot air slinks across my skin and down my neck.
“You knew I’d catch you, eventually.” It’s Sam. She always was the tough one. She’s far stronger than me, stronger than most of the boys I’d ever dated.
It’s too late to plead. I know that.
She forces me deeper into the woodland, far from the road and the everyday hum. The half-moon sinks behind a canopy of leaves that are veined with dark scars and carved with branches of broken purple.
Shirley Golden’s stories have found homes in various places. She won the Exeter Writers Short Story Competition in 2013. She is one of the editors for the FlashFlood Journal, created by Calum Kerr to celebrate National Flash-Fiction Day, and can sometimes be found on Twitter @shirl1001 when she should be writing. Her space fantasy novel, Skyjacked, is published by Urbane Publications. You can find her through www.shirleygolden.net