Light shredded the darkness as Charlie opened her eyes. The room smelled like her cats litter tray had been left out in the sun. Her head throbbed, her wrists and ankles burned under her uniform. Above Charlie, a spider dangled from a solitary thread. She tried to sit but jolted back to the carpet, which barely concealed the concrete underneath. Charlie thrashed her feet, shaving her skin. Blood tickled her ankle before her sock dampened. She hauled both arms against her restraints but the cuffs stripped her flesh like a knife thinning bark.
The spider had slipped further from a sagging ceiling tile. She wrenched her neck to the left as its legs fidgeted furiously. Charlie heard voices behind the metal door. She fought frantically with her restraints. Two men armed with guns entered. She twisted her body, the smaller one remained by the door. She ground her limbs against the restraints as the bearded one approached.
“Please, sit still.” He said.
Charlie fastened her lips as she battled.
“Please. I cannot undo these restraints if you do not sit still.”
She rested her arms and legs but she kept her neck craned. Sweat stung her wrists and stained her white vest, exposed by her unbuttoned uniform.
“Why?” She asked.
“To show you how we treat our guests.”
“I didn’t ask to be your guest.”
“And I didn’t ask for you to occupy my country.”
He placed his pistol in its holster. Charlie let her head rest.
“Boy, go and collect our guest’s food.”
The smaller one left the room, leaving the door ajar.
“What’s on the menu?” Charlie asked.
“It’s a surprise.” He smiled.
He unlocked the restraints around her ankles.
“Why don’t you just kill me?”
“If you stole a hundred dollars would you just rip it up?”
“I wouldn’t steal a hundred dollars.”
“No, you people would conquer the fucking bank.”
He unlocked the remaining cuffs and stretched his arm out. Charlie recoiled, caressing her wrists with her hands. She unwound slowly, then leapt to her feet. She sprang towards him reaching for his pistol. He ducked her assault. She charged towards him again, thrusting a fist at his face, but he snatched her wrist. He kicked the back of her leg and pushed her towards the wall, slamming the side of her face next to a post-box window slot. She noticed two finger nails lodged into tears in the wallpaper.
He held her there, breathing on her neck.
“You had to try. I understand.” He said.
He forced her twisted arm further up her back.
“You’ll stop trying in time. You’ll appreciate how good you have it.”
Charlie let a whimper escape.
“Sir.” The other returned.
“What took you so long Tariq? Set it down over there.”
He loosened his grip and Charlie slumped with her back to the wall. Tears breaking out.
“My name is Finch.” He said.
“The reason you’re here…” He broke off as a jet ripped through the sky above the building. She followed his eyes to the roof. The spider hovered above him. There was a pop, then an explosion wrestled with the room. The spider fell from the ceiling, bouncing on Finch’s face before landing on the floor. He drew his pistol and fired five shots at it, taking chunks out of the floor.
“Fucking spiders!” He said, firing once more at the wall. Charlie retreated into the opposite side of the room near the bowl and Tariq.
“That!” He said, gesturing to the sky “is the reason you’re here.”
“There are two guards outside. It’s up to you whether we do this the easy way or the hard way. Come on, boy.” He said, marching out of the room.
Tariq handed Charlie a wooden dish of cold soup, its contents were cloudy. She placed her finger in and swirled around. He pulled a piece of bread from his pocket and gave her it.
“Thank you.” She said as a tear crept down her face.
“Wait. Wait!” She hissed.
She pointed to her sock which was smothered in blood. He left the room.
Charlie peeled a couple of strips from the bread at first before inhaling the rest of it. She carried her bowl over to the window and emptied the contents between three rusty rods which punctuated the view. A rustic red smeared down the inside wall.
She looked at the burning brown which strangled the road out of the compound, suffocating the land until it was interrupted by huts in the distance. In the courtyard below a truck growled as it prepared to leave. There were a couple of smaller buildings to each side of her window. She noticed Finch and Tariq arguing at an iron gate which blocked the exit. Surrounding the compound was a barbed wire fence; littered with tiny shoes.
Charlie approached a mattress which was decorated by vain-like yellow stains. She flipped the mattress and discovered a ripe red stain which peeled from the carpet. She resisted her body’s retching and wiped the tears which drowned her eyes. She approached the mattress and flipped it back over and then retreated to the opposite side of the room.
The spider crept towards freedom, climbing towards the slot in the wall. She looked at the bullet holes in the floor and noticed the chunks of concrete that had been chipped out of the floor. Charlie collected the pieces and sharpened them against the bars in the slot. She blew the dust away from the slot as the spider reached the summit.
“I’ll be right behind you buddy.” She said.
Charlie slipped into sleep soon after hiding the shards under the mattress.
Charlie awoke to shouting outsider her door. Water snuck through the sagging tile. She got to her feet and went to the slot in the wall. She looked beyond the spider which had remained and constructed a web, patrolling between the bars. The truck had returned. The door opened and Tariq entered the room, without a weapon. He closed the door and pulled a cloth from inside the front of his trousers. He emptied some of his flask onto the cloth.
“Thank you.” She said, sitting down and easing her shoe off.
Tariq knelt and she peeled the sock down from her ankle which left strands of fabric sewn into the scab of her wound. He caressed her ankles with the cloth, allowing her to clean her wrists.
“I’ve got to get out of here before he kills me. Will you help me?”
He shook his head.
“You don’t know what he’ll do to me.”
“Don’t be afraid of him. I have a plan. Just get him to come here. Tell him I’ve got information on an operation.”
“Are you sure you want to do this?” he asked.
“I just need to get his gun.”
He nodded and left the room.
She checked outside to make sure the truck was still there. The spider had snared its first victim and was busy weaving web around a fly. The door swung open, nearly springing back on Tariq as he followed.
“I hear you have some information for me?”
“Yes, but first I want guarantees; that you’re not going to kill me.”
“I’m the only person here who wants you alive. Tariq here would rather see you killed after what your people did to his family and to his village.” He said, gesturing at Tariq.
Tariq shook his head after Finch turned his back.
“What have you got to tell me?”
“I’m not telling you anything.”
“Do not waste my t-“
Charlie tossed the mattress at Finch. He swatted it to the ground but Charlie was on him with the two stones. She crushed one against the side of his head embedded in her hand and drove the other into his eye, forcing him to the ground, driving the stone deeper. There was banging on the door as he screamed. Tariq pushed against the door. Charlie grabbed Finch’s pistol. She checked the safety. He continued to yell. She pulled the trigger. He was silent.
“Open it!” She shouted.
Tariq released the door, falling back as one guard stumbled through with the other behind him. She fired two bullets at each, one in the chest and one in the head.
Charlie hung the pistol at her waist and picked up one of their rifles. She lifted Tariq up and gave him the rifle.
“Thank you.” He said.
“Let’s go.” She said, leaving the room.
“I can’t let you do that.” He replied.
Charlie awoke facedown. She was back in her restraints. She spotted her uniform in a bundle to the side, she was in her underwear and vest. The door groaned as it opened. Footsteps crept towards her. Tariq lifted her head to his by her hair.
“It’s just us now.” He said.
The spider watched on having devoured its prey.