My head was throbbing, not quite a migraine but more than a hangover, my arms were tied behind my back and I was wearing a blindfold. When I eventually got to my feet I found that I could only take two steps in any direction because my left leg had been shackled. My mouth and throat were dry and, to my horror, as I became more aware I discovered that I was naked. I screamed and shouted for as long as my throat would allow before collapsing into a weeping heap onto the ground. I’m not sure how long I lay there, when you are robbed of your sense of sight, time becomes an obsession. My senses of smell and hearing quickly heightened but unfortunately, when you cannot see, each of those brings a new fear. I could smell wood, leather, horses, straw, the kind of smells a farmer’s kid like me is familiar with. Could I be in a barn or stable? One thing I knew for sure, my daddy’s barn was an ocean and half a continent away! Voices! First I heard the barn door open and then the voices. I waited, the voices got nearer, I shouted out for help. Someone grasped my hair and hauled me to my feet and then I received a stinging slap across my face. The person who had hauled me to my feet dragged me backwards and I fetch up against rough wooden timbers. A heavily accented female voice told me to be quiet, I continued to sob. Another stinging slap quickly followed by another rebuke. Whoever was behind me, a man judging by the body odour and the roughness of his hands, started to paw my body with his free hand. I squirmed and whimpered in embarrassment and fear which earned me another slap. They both laughed and then I was thrown to the ground, luckily I managed to fall to my knees first thereby saving myself from injury. I heard them walk away, still laughing and then I heard the barn door close, then silence. I curled up on the straw and sobbed myself to sleep.
How long I slept, I do not know. I do know that I was rudely awakened. Once again I was hauled to my feet by my hair and dragged back to fetch up against the rough timber. This time my head was held back and upturned. I felt something cold being poured over my face, I screamed. A slap, my head was forced back by whomever was behind me and the liquid was poured over my face again. I tried to keep my mouth closed but this earned me another slap. The liquid entered my mouth and I started to choke. Whomever was pouring it stopped until my choking fit had passed. It tasted like water, I opened my mouth wider and allowed the liquid to lubricate my mouth and throat. The taste was so good. All too soon they stopped pouring and walked away both of them laughing as they retreated. I reverted to my position on the straw and resumed my sobbing. I was so cold, the straw that you played in as a child is no comfort to the naked body. Yes it is warm to lie on but try burrowing into it and it is like burrowing into a thorn-bush. I sat up and tried to think how and why I was in this position. The last thing I remembered was going to bed in my hotel room with a glass of wine and my laptop. I had scheduled an interview for nine o’ clock the following morning and needed to type up some notes and finalise my research before morning. I would be the first reporter to get this particular story and I was determined to be as prepared as I possibly could be. The cold jolted me back to reality and to the hopeless position that I was in. The inevitable question raced around my head, why me? Why would anyone want to kidnap a lowly reporter for a local rag? I started to wrack my brains, who did I look like, had I pissed someone off recently, had the paper pissed someone off, had the paper reported on any militant organisations? The answer to all of those was, no! So, back to the original question, why me? I tried to sleep.
I was woken again by someone yanking me to my feet by my hair, the same procedure was carried out again with the water, this time I gulped down as much as I could. I told them that I was hungry, it resulted in another stinging slap, then laughter coupled with footsteps which gradually faded away, then the sound of the door closing and then silence. My arms were causing me pain, fluctuating between excruciating to almost bearable; the ropes used to tie my wrists was chafing my skin and the ankle shackle, I was sure, had drawn blood. All in all, I was in a very bad way. To add to my misery my toilet was also my bed. The next time they came I was awake and I instinctively backed up against the wooden timbers. I was still roughly grabbed by the hair and pulled tight against the timbers. Someone passed a rope around my waist and pulled it tight, the procedure was then repeated, this time around my thighs and finally around my neck. The timbers were course against my back and the rope cut into my skin. The footsteps retreated and all was quiet until, I heard a squeal, the sort of squeal a wheel sometimes makes when it needs lubricating. This was followed by a noise which I cannot fully describe, perhaps like rope being pulled along the ground. Within thirty seconds I knew exactly what it was. The pain hit me first and then the cold and then the humiliation. The bastards were hosing me down! It was impossible for me to avoid the icy jet of water, for one I couldn’t see and for another I was tethered to the timbers. When I screamed or shouted they directed the jet at my face so it was an easy lesson for me to learn. Put up and shut up! Through it all, I could hear the man laughing at my plight, he also shouted out instruction to the wielder of the hose, I guessed that it was the woman, telling her upon which parts of my body to direct the icy discharge. The torture stopped as abruptly as it had started. I strained to hear what was happening, it sounded like the hose was being rewound and then there was silence. Footsteps, I heard them slopping through the water and then I felt the presence of someone close to me. It was the woman, she told me to keep quiet and to keep still, an order she emphasised with one of her customary stinging slaps. Next I heard a lot of noise in front of me and I realised that they must be cleaning away the dirty, wet straw upon which I had been lying. The ropes securing me to the timbers were released and I was pushed forward, beneath my feet I could feel what my sense of smell had already told me, the straw had been changed. I heard the door close and realised that once again I was alone.
Sleep was impossible, my arms, wrists and ankle were on fire. I backed myself against the timbers and sat down, I thought that if I could remain motionless the pain might subside. A forlorn hope, I was now so cold I was shivering uncontrollably! For some reason I didn’t hear them come back in, the first I knew of them was when I was grabbed by the hair and hauled to my feet. My head was forced back and I realised that it was watering time. This time however, a bottle was forced between my lips and I was ordered to drink from it. Resistance was impossible and, to my relief, I discovered that the liquid they were forcing me to drink was water. They made me drink the whole bottle before they left me alone. The last thing that I remember was their laughter as they walked away. I must have slept despite the pain in my arms and ankle.
When I awoke, my head was throbbing and my mouth and throat were as dry as a desert. The real pain came when I opened my eyes because instead of blackness my eyes were assailed with blinding light. I screamed in pain and turned way from the offending brightness. It was then I realised that I was not lying naked on straw but was in a bed. I shot up and tried to take in my surroundings, I was back in my hotel room and I was dressed in my neglige. I held up my arms and instantly regretted it as pain shot across my shoulders and down my biceps to my wrists which, I discovered were lightly bandaged. I threw back the quilt and saw that my left ankle was similarly lightly bandaged. I looked for the telephone, I had to let the police know about my abduction. It should have been on the bedside cabinet but it wasn’t. Neither was it on the cabinet on the other side of the bed. I remembered that I had been booked into a suite, surely there would be a phone in the lounge. I got out of bed and fell to the floor, my legs just wouldn’t work properly. It was then I heard the laughter! That same familiar mocking cackle which usually followed a stinging slap or rebuke. I remember thinking that I must be dreaming, the shock of hearing that dreadful noise made me curl up into a ball on the floor and sob. I didn’t hear them approach but I did feel the kick to my backside. Then I was told to get up and to stop acting like a victim. I didn’t recognise the voice, it was female but nothing about it was familiar. Another kick, this time harder. Then she told me that if I wanted her story I had better stop my snivelling and get up off the floor.
My eyes were shut tight, I remember thinking that as long as I didn’t look at her I would be alright. That’s when I felt the hand at the back of my neck, the rough calloused hand which had cruelly explored my body. My hair was grasped and I was pulled to my feet and thrown onto the bed, my mouth was open and I was about to scream when pain exploded across my cheek. My eyes shot open, whether through fear or pain I don’t know. The woman grabbed my hair and pulled my face to hers, she told me to be quiet and to listen to what she had to say. I told her I needed to call the police to tell them of my ordeal. She coolly asked me what ordeal was I talking about. I gave her details of my incarceration and of the treatment I had received. She laughed. My hair was still in her cruel hand and she pulled me closer, it was then that she dropped the bombshell. She told me I had been with her and her partner for the last forty-eight hours discussing the ordeal that she had endured at the hands of Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. For some reason, that explanation went completely over my head. Instead, I countered by asking her to explain the bandages on my wrists and ankle. She said that I had obviously had too much to drink the night before if I couldn’t remember asking her partner to tie my wrist so that I could get a sense of how she must have felt when she was a prisoner of the militia. She said the injury to my ankle was caused when I took a fall. I vehemently refuted her story and told her and her companion that I knew what had happened. Her partner asked me, in a very cool but deliberate way, to explain what I thought had happened. I repeated my tale, trying hard not to leave out any detail. However, it was always at the back of my mind that the two of them had been the ones who had imprisoned me. I wasn’t sure, could they be that good at delivering a convincing eastern European accent? Her voice cut short my reasoning.
She said that she had told me not to have anymore to drink and had even forbade Paul to give me another drink. She gestured to her companion, whom I assumed to be Paul, as she said that. I couldn’t hold back any longer, I looked her straight in the eye and accused her of kidnapping me. She let go of my hair and started to laugh. It was the ‘give away’, as far as I was concerned. I told them not to deny it and to let me go or I would scream the place down. They both laughed at that, she told me to go ahead and scream. Then she asked me, in a mocking tone, who I thought people would believe, her, her partner and the hotel staff or me, a lowly cub reporter who liked her, ‘expense account’, gin and tonics too much? I asked her what she meant by that and she produced my hotel bill to date, on it was a surcharge for room service which showed orders for several large gin and tonics plus two bottles of wine. I accused her of forging it but she just laughed at me. When she stopped laughing she told me to call the police, I remember just sitting there, looking at her. She started to goad me, her partner produced a mobile phone and handed it to her. She proffered it to me and told me, again, to call the police. I sat back on the bed and stared at them both, the sunlight coming through the window was bouncing off the screen of the mobile phone, which she still had in her outstretched hand, and dancing on the wall opposite.
I turned to her and asked why she was playing games with my mind. She took me completely by surprise by smiling. She said that every reporter in the country wanted her story. I looked hard at her and then the penny dropped, she was my interviewee! She had been held captive by Hezbollah for four long years, most of that time had been spent on her own. She was right, she and her story were the news item. Sky had covered her return, ITV and the BBC had tried to get exclusive interviews once she was home but she had turned them all down. Same with the major tabloids, all had been refused. I had left a message at her hotel the day after her homecoming, asking for an interview. I didn’t expect a reply and I was completely taken aback when she replied.
She leaned over and gently put her hand to my cheek, turning me to face her; it was then that she told me I had a choice, I could either go to the police and stand to be publicly ridiculed or I could listen to her and then write her story and, probably, make my fortune through doing so. I realised that her ordeal had left her emotionally scarred, if not slightly mad! Putting that thought to one side, I decided on the latter course of action mainly because, as she put it, only someone with first hand knowledge of being kidnapped could tell her story with the emotion it deserved.
That was two years ago, I didn’t write her story for the tabloids, I wrote a book, which became a best seller, instead detailing all of her years in imprisonment. What happened to me was, more or less, daily routine for her. The darker episodes of her incarceration were difficult for her to recall and they made me realise that no innocent person should be put through that sort of misery and shame in order to further someone else’s cause. Telling her story in detail was therapeutic for her, over the ensuing months I was not only her scribe but her unwitting counsellor. The haunted look gradually faded from her eyes and, while she would never venture forth anywhere on her own, she was happiest in her own company. If the tears I shed when I wrote of her misery and despair came through in the final draft then I achieved my goal.
Although we are now the best of friends I always decline when she asks me to visit her at her stables.
The Fright Game. by Phil Bottomley. 2015. All Rights Reserved.