‘Ironic how the only certainty in life is death, don’t you think?’ The man’s voice was calm. His posture relaxed.

‘Please… you don’t have to do this.’ In contrast, the man on the floor was petrified and exhausted. His voice strangled by tears and blood. He was naked and shivering. His arms were stretched above his head, chained by his wrists to the raw brick wall.

The dark basement room had been transformed into a medieval-looking dungeon, all four walls fitted with heavy metal shackles. A sickening smell of urine lingered in the air and an incessant buzzing sound came from a large wooden box in the corner, placed there by the attacker. The room was sound and escape proof. Once locked inside, there was no way of getting out unless someone let you out.

‘It doesn’t matter how you’ve lived your life,’ the other man continued, disregarding the bleeding man. ‘It doesn’t matter how rich you are, what you’ve accomplished, who you know or what hopes you have. In the end the same thing will happen to all of us – we’ll all die.’

‘Please, God, no.’

‘What matters is how we die.’

The man on the floor coughed, spitting out a thin red mist of blood.

‘Some people die naturally, painlessly, as they reach the end of a natural cycle.’ The man laughed a bizarre, gurgling laugh. ‘Some people suffer for years with incurable diseases, fighting every minute to add just a few more seconds to their lives.’

‘I… I’m not rich. I don’t have much, but whatever I have you can take.’

‘Shhhh.’ The man brought a finger to his lips before whispering, ‘I don’t need your money.’

Another cough. Another mist of blood.

An evil smile parted the assailant’s lips. ‘Some people die very slowly,’ he continued. His voice was cold. ‘The pain of death can drag on for hours… days… weeks… If you know what you’re doing, there’s no limit, did you know that?’ He paused.

Until then, the chained man hadn’t noticed the nail gun in his attacker’s hand.

‘And I really do know what I’m doing. Allow me to demonstrate.’ He stepped on the bone protruding from the victim’s fractured ankle, bent over and quickly fired three nails into the man’s right knee. Intense pain shot up the victim’s leg and sucked the air out of his lungs, blurring his vision for several seconds. The nails were only three inches long. Not long enough to puncture through to the other side, but sharp enough to shatter bone, cartilage and ligaments.

The chained man took quick, shallow breaths. He tried to speak through the pain. ‘Plea… please. I have a daughter. She’s ill. She suffers from a rare condition and I’m everything she’s got.’

The strange gurgling laugh filled the room again. ‘You think I care? Let me show you how much I care.’ He grabbed the head of one of the nails lodged into the man’s knee and, as if using a screwdriver to pop open a can of paint, slowly forced it to one side as far as it would go. The crunching noise was like stepping on broken glass.

The victim roared as he felt the grinding of metal against bone. His attacker applied just enough force to overcome the resistance and splinter the knee cap. Shards of bone perforated nerve and muscle. Nausea flooded through the chained man’s body. His assailant slapped his face several times to keep him from passing out.

‘Stay with me,’ he whispered. ‘I want you to enjoy every moment of this. There’s more to come.’

‘Why… Why are you doing this?’

‘Why?’ The man licked his cracked lips and smiled. ‘I’ll show you why.’ From his pocket he produced a photograph and held it inches away from the chained man’s face.

The man’s eyes rested in confusion on the picture for several seconds. ‘I don’t understand. What…?’ He froze as he finally realized what he was looking at. ‘Oh my God!’

His tormentor moved closer, his lips almost touching the bleeding man’s right ear.

‘Guess what,’ he whispered as he glanced at the wooden box in the corner, ‘I know what scares you to death.’

© Chris Carter 2010