Bits and Bobs by Mandy Rosko

1

Steve’s body felt heavy. Not heavy like he’d come off a great workout and his muscles didn’t want to move. Heavy like he was encased in a shell of dried concrete.

Even his eyelids were weighed down by a thousand pounds, but he wanted to open them. He wanted to see where the hell he was.

His brother... shit, Sammy… He’d been in an accident… and was in the hospital. A snake had bitten his little brother, and Steve was supposed to be bringing him home.

Fuck, how long ago was that?Was Sam still waiting for him?

Open your goddamn eyes!

Somehow, Steve managed to do that. Just a crack. The light that pierced him viciously made him shut them again, but it was easier to get them open the next time, just a little, the sleep around his lids coming undone.

He... was not in his room. Not his room at home and not a motel room either. Everything was blurry, but he could tell that much.

Shit-faced drunk.That was the only thing that made sense. Steve had heard about his brother getting hurt—again—and instead of being responsible, Steve had gone and gotten himself smashed.

Steve hadn’t realized he could be that irresponsible. The last time he got this hammered... well, it was right after Sam had come back. The first time he was hurt. Steve hadn’t been old enough to buy alcohol then, but every teenager had their ways of getting booze when they had a good enough reason. they had good reason to want to.

He couldn’t fail again. He had to get it right this time... His parents were expecting news. Steve had to be there when Sam woke up. Sam would want to know where his family was. Steve couldn’t leave him alone again.

A figure entered his line of vision, standing over him and blocking out the light—which was nice—but because of the bright white behind their head, it made it look as though a pitch-black shadow stood above him.

Like a black hole sucking up all light and Steve was struck with the need to get away from it.

The figure mumbled something that Steve couldn’t make out, as his ears seemed to be stuffed with cotton. When Steve tried asking where he was, what was happening, he couldn’t even understand the words coming out of his own mouth.

Something pinched him. Everything swirled. Steve turned his head to the side and was sick.

The voice of the person—a woman?—was suddenly a high-pitched squawk, and he didn’t need to understand specific words to know they were pissed off.

“I can’t help it,” he tried to say, but this time his words came out more clear. He could understand himself, and when he opened his eyes, there didn’t appear to be a cloud of jelly in front of them.

He could see.

And he suddenly wished that he couldn’t.

This wasn’t the nice hospital room that his brother was in. It looked like the sort of dark medical room he would find in an old Silent Hill or Resident Evil game.

Where people came to scream and cry and the nurses had fucked-up, twisted smiles as they got ready to administer huge, unnecessary needles to their victims’ eyes or something.

Speaking of needles, he glanced to the side. A dirty metal tray on wheels was right next to the cold metal gurney he was strapped to.

Lots of bloody needles on it. His stomach twisted, the idea hitting him that it was probably his blood he was looking at.

In the distance, he could hear water dripping, like there was a leaking pipe somewhere no one was bothering the fix. The light above him, which had seemed so bright when he first woke up, was now barely illuminating the room.

Steve’s ears started ringing. He was... He could remember now. He’d been getting coffee for himself and his brother’s new girlfriend. Charlie. That’s right. He’d left that facility where Sam was recovering, and when he went back to his truck with his food and caffeine, some woman stopped him.

Strong woman. He’d been more than a head taller than she was, and she’d been dressed up like she’d just left a costume party, that beaky mouth and feathers on her fingers.

Talons for nails.

She’d grabbed him, stuck him with something. Another needle.

He couldn’t remember anything after that. How many times had he woken up here? Just these two times? There were no windows. He couldn’t tell what time of day or night it was.

Calm down. Breathe.Steve fell back onto his training. Knowing what to do when he felt himself getting ready to panic could save his ass here, and he wanted to get out before the bird-woman—and anyone else she might be with—came back.

The person who had been in the room with him left. Now he was alone. That was good. Neglect could be a wonderful thing when he needed time to escape.

He tried to move, but something had his wrists. Wasn’t the same heavy feeling as being weighed down. This was more actually being held back by something.

Steve had a look, and then he stopped breathing.

His hand—his fucking hand—the fingers were shorter... thicker, with... was that grey and black hair?

Like an oversized, twisted paw of some kind.

Steve blinked, again and again, waiting for the image to change. He was still drugged… out of it… had to be! It was the reason why he wasn’t seeing things right.

Steve stared at his hand, willing it to look like it was supposed to, for what felt like forever.

Come on. Come on.

It took an awfully long time before his hand faded back to something that looked closer to normal. Fingers, fingernails… His skin was still kind of pale and grey, but he figured that was to be expected when he’d been locked down in this pit for... God only knew how long.

One problem at a time.He wasn’t going to think about that right now because he had other shit to deal with.

Like the leather straps that were around his wrists, keeping him on the table.

He started wiggling his hands and arms.

He wouldn’t be able to break them, but even fighting and stretching robes and straps for long enough would be enough to help him yank his arms free.

He needed a lot of time before that would work, so he had to hope that whoever was out there wouldn’t be checking in on him any time soon.

He moved his body. There were no locks on the straps, so if he could just get one hand free...

It took a while. Steve wasn’t that tightly bound, which was lucky, but that meant that whoever put him there probably didn’t expect him to wake up so soon. There were needles still in his arms, and eventually, while moving around enough, he gained enough feeling back in his body to notice more needles in his temple.

An IV bag next to him, attached to a tube going into one of the many needles in his body, was empty. Glancing down and over the gurney, he could spot a wet puddle on the concrete floor.

That must’ve been the bag filled with the stuff that would keep him knocked out. Steve assumed the seal had broken somehow—maybe with all these sharp objects around—and it had slowly dripped until empty before his captor could notice.

Good. That was something. A little bit of luck was on his side.

The others were likely just keeping him filled with fluids, but he was hydrated enough and ready to get the hell out of there.

The more he moved, the more he wiggled his arms and wrists, the more awake Steve felt.

Eventually—finally!—after what felt like hours, he was able to pull his hand through one of the straps.

It was chafed to hell, and the amount he was sweating likely had something to do with it, but he was free.

Mostly.

His hand wasn’t grey and lifeless anymore. Now it was red like a stoplight from all the pulling, but his fingers still moved on command, albeit slowly, and he was able to more easily undo the straps on his other wrist.

Then around his middle… and then on his legs.

Aside from wearing his black underwear, he was undressed.

What the fuck had this place done to him?

And how the fuck had he ended up there? Had he been put on some kind of watchlist he didn’t know about?

Whatever. He didn’t care if this was some sort of government fuckup or a crazy person who was getting ready to chop him up and put him in a blender. He was getting the hell out of there.

Pulling out the needles in his arms and temples required some deep breathing then biting down on a scream.

He thanked God there was no catheter, but this place didn’t exactly look top-shelf, so he wasn’t surprised.

More small miracles.

He gazed around the dark room while his ears were filled with only the sounds of the drips in the distance and the buzzing of the light above his head.

There were a slew of items he could pick up and wield as a weapon, including the used needles, but he wanted something better. He decided to open a metal cabinet that squealed way too loud...

Then Steve shivered.

Inside was a saw. The sort of thing he would see in a tool shed or maybe even at a construction site.

He grabbed it, eyeing the rusty blade.

What he hoped was rust.

Probably not.

Where the fuck was he?

He was definitely taking the saw, and he grabbed one of the needles, too. Might need it for evidence.

He doubted the place was up to fire code, so he wasn’t banking on finding a fire alarm or an ax anywhere, so what he had would have to do.

Time to find out how much trouble it would be opening the door to his little nightmare room...

He checked the handle—it actually turned! And with only half the squeaking noises of the cabinet.

He didn’t open it all the way, instead ducking out in the smallest opening possible and then trying to shut it quietly. Of course, the less noise he tried to make, the more determined the sounds got.

Now what? Steve thought. He stood in a long hallway, a darker area than his room—prison? —had been, with fewer lights giving off dim yellow glows that flickered and barely lit up the space at all.

The place looked abandoned, as if no one had been here in such a long time. But there had been someone. Someone had brought him there. He’d seen that shadow above, and he’d certainly not strapped himself down.

No reason to hang around waiting to meet that mystery person face-to-face.

Right or left?

Steve picked a direction and moved, praying it was the correct one while knowing there was no way to tell. He’d either find freedom or enemies at the end of the hall.

He needed to press his hand to the wall as he walked. He walked because he couldn’t run. He wanted to run, and he usually would have been able to do laps around this hell ten times over before he needed to catch his breath. Still, now it took everything he had just to keep putting one foot slowly in front of the other and to keep from breathing too hard.

His other hand gripped the handle of the saw and the single needle he’d taken, and all the while, he listened for any other sound of movement. Any other sign of life.

A rat squeaked somewhere, and he thought he saw the flash of a tail before it skittered into a crack in the wall.

Great.Now he had to worry about getting his toes bit by something with diseases.

The fact that he kept entering spots of darkness in the hall just made it worse, but the more he walked, the closer he felt to... something.

He wasn’t sure how he could tell, but it was as though he could sense the outside. Fresh air, pine, birch and maple trees. Small animals, birds chirping… He wasn’t even sure how he could make all that out, but he could.

A door. There was a door in the distance. If he could just make it there, even if there was nothing on the other side, Steve would be one step closer to getting out.

He reached the door. It was locked with a heavy bolt from the inside, which he only needed to pull. The thing was thick enough to make sure no one from the outside would be able to get in. As Steve moved it, it made another heavy screeching noise, but he didn’t care anymore.

The smell of outside was too much. It called to him. Moisture filled his mouth, and he stepped through the open door into… a long staircase.

Still, he didn’t give up hope that he’d find the outside soon. He climbed the stairs, holding on to the railing, huffing for breath then wanting to cry when he got to the top just to see a metal ladder.

What the fuck was up with this place? Did that woman in the bird costume really carry his ass all the way down here?

Impossible.

She had been strong when she’d grabbed him, but he was over two hundred pounds. Even if she could handle his weight easily, there was no way she could have balanced both of them on the ladder and staircase.

There must be a second entrance.

Whatever. He was done thinking about it. He wanted out. He could feel the chilled night air from outside, and Steve was hungry for more.

He had to leave behind the saw and the needle to climb the ladder. He needed both of his hands, and though he considered trying to carry the needle in his mouth or scrap of underwear, he knew he couldn’t balance it. He felt too clumsy, and as much as he hated leaving behind evidence that could help, getting out took over everything. He couldn’t think of anything else but slowly, step by step, climbing the ladder.

It wasn’t easy. Each rung was uneven, some higher than others—or, at least it felt that way. He couldn’t be sure how much of it was just his equilibrium being off due to being kidnapped and drugged.

He had to stop and rest. He glanced up, unable to tell how far he had left to go, though when he looked down, he saw the ground was a fair distance away.

Right. He was making progress. That was something.

Steve was just getting ready to get going again when a terrible, shrieking noise from down below shot up at him.

He shivered and glanced down again to make sure no one was following him.

He got the impression that wasn’t the sound of an innocent victim he was leaving behind.

It came from the woman who had taken him. He’d recognize that screeching, nails-on-a-chalkboard voice anywhere.

Move. Move.Steve kept going. One rung at a time, his heart hammering, he couldn’t seem to move fast enough, and if she caught him, if he wasn’t able to overpower her from the start, then there was no way he’d get away from her now.

Below him, far below, he heard the door he’d pushed through screech open.

“You! Wait!”

No fucking way.

He heard her scrambling on the ladder, heard her heavy breathing as she raced to catch up to him.

Oh, Christ, she was going to catch him.

Steve finally made it up to the very top… and found something blocking his way. A hatch. He pulled at the handle, twisting it. It moved, barely, but he could just get it open...

Something grabbed his ankle. Talons dug into his skin. “Gotcha!”

He looked down, and maybe it was the lighting, or lack of it, but the way her eyes glowed up at him, the sight of the beaky mouth and the twist in her face, did something to him, and he just reacted.

“Don’t leave m—”

Steve kicked her in the face, hard.

Upon impact, she went down, down, down, screaming her objections as she went. He hadn’t dared to hope that she would actually fall, but she did, and he heard her body banging as it twisted against the rungs of the ladder before she landed on the ground with a heavy thud.

She wasn’t dead, though. The sound of her sobs and cries drifted up to him.

Something in his chest twisted.

He felt compelled to go down to her and make sure she was all right. If she had busted limbs and was all alone down there, she might not be able to get back out again.

If he couldn’t find his way back, she could die.

Fuck.

Steve started moving down until she spoke.

“I’ll kill you,” she said.

“What?” He froze, looking down again. From the distance, it looked like she was standing, that desperate look in her eyes gone, replaced with something hideous and wicked...

She started climbing the ladder again. “I said I’ll kill you!”

“Jesus fucking Christ!”

He pushed himself to the top, pressing against the hatch. He’d managed to get it open after untwisting the latch, but pushing it open was another deal.

He had to get it open. Even if she was still on the ground, his pursuer was still too damned close. He had to use all of his weight, every last ounce of his strength, and finally, he cracked the hatch open.

He didn’t hesitate to hoist himself out into the darkness.

He felt moss and dirt on his hands at the same moment he felt the woman clawing behind him, reaching out, just missing his feet as he fumbled into the night.

“Come back! Come back!”

No fucking way.

If he didn’t run, she would catch him. He knew she would. Somehow she was faster and stronger than he was, and without turning around, he knew she was pulling herself out of the hole in the ground.

Ready to chase after him.

He needed to get away. Needed to see his brother again. Needed to wake up from this fucking nightmare!

He felt himself going down, down, down, but he wasn’t falling. He was still moving. That hazy feeling from before took over as he looked at his hands and saw them changing.

He’d been drugged again. That had to be it. Had she hit him with a dart or something?

He could still hear her screaming as he ran on all fours, faster than he’d ever gone in his life—flying almost—swift and alive and full of life as everything around him suddenly looked bigger.

Run away.

He had to get away.