DARKNESS SHROUDS MY CLOSED eyelids as I awake. A stuffy warmth is pushing at my face as though a heater on low power, is directly in front of me, making me breathe thick, heavy air. A surge of panic shoots through me as I realize I am being suffocated by my blankets. With muscles that are weak due to the tiredness still in my body, I attempt a movement to free myself from their grip.
There is no immediate response from my limbs. It is as though someone, or something else, is controlling my body and I have to wait for my commands to be relayed and reach their destination. A distant, but prominent, fact rises up through the shadows of sleep: I have to fight through the subconscious grip and break free into the world of consciousness to gain control of my body again. Sleep has a stronger power, though, and will not let me go. I wildly scramble a series of movements, fuelled by the panic still screaming through my cloudy awareness.
The muscles in my arms tense to hardness. The haze has placed tight restrictions on my wrists and I find with a reflexive movement of my legs, my ankles too. Sleep is ascending as I try again, more forcefully, but futilely.
Fear grips me now as a new wave of panic erupts geyser-like, and a tremble ripples across my whole body like a sudden wave on the sea. My insides go hollow with anxiety, which only fuels my struggling.
I snap fully awake, as though by a switch being flipped, just as one would shoot out of the end of a deep bad dream. The little grit in my eyes registers lower than a minor irritation.
With full lucidity, everything rushes into realization at once, without order. There is something over my head; the abduction -- there were two men posing as NHS transport drivers; there was a NHS van; I am in a sitting position, forearms bound to what must be the armrests of a chair; the hard seat is digging into my buttocks, half numbing them. The numbness of my feet and ankles is as though several duvets are wrapped tightly around them padding against every conceivable sense of feeling.
There is also pain, a sharpness twisting tightly below my right shoulder blade, and only getting tighter. The bottom of my spine is radiating a relentless ache.
Whatever is over my head is rough, for I can feel the material rubbing at my neck and forehead as I move. Not an ounce of light is penetrating anywhere, leaving me in complete blackness, accentuating the closeness of my breathing.
I hate it. Hate not being able to breathe properly; hate not being able to see; and hate not having awareness of the space and proximity of people around me, of which I usually have a good sense. I am in the throes of what has risen to sheer fear and there is absolutely nothing. I feel isolated to the point of now feeling as though I am the only person on Earth. I have a vague assumption I am alone. Surely my captors would have stated their intentions by now.
Panic hits me like a wall, making my heart hammer at what must be a dangerous pace. The stale air within the hood is being hoovered up with quick, heavy intakes of breath.
I punctuate my head sharply in an effort to free it. I do not -- cannot -- and the movement now transforms into wild swinging, but the covering will not budge. Only now do I feel as though something is weighing the hood down on my shoulders, tied round my neck, so I cannot shake it off. But freeing my head is my one sole focus right now, and the fact that I cannot is frustrating me more and more which releases in a furious burst.
"What do you want?" I shout, my voice sounding heavy and loud in the confines of the sack. My throat is more than a little dry. "Who are you? Where am I?" I instinctively know not to bother shouting for help; it will be pointless.
I am breathing heavily, open-mouthed, with chest heaving, due to the restricted exertion and the frustration-fuelled shouting. Sweat has broken out across my chest and back, a trickle rolling from under my arms, with beads high on my forehead, slipping down my skin.
I try listening over my noisy breathing, but there is no response. There is not even the sound of movement. They -- whoever they are -- must be within earshot of the place of my captivity.
"What do you want?" I shout again, the dryness of my throat making my voice raspy. "Who are you?" Still there is no response. I release a sharp exhalation in frustration and lower my head.
My breathing is becoming sharper, more pronounced, because of the frustration. There is a knot at the pit of my stomach, reaching its tentacles out through my body.
I am without doubt as to the reason for this situation, just the specifics are evading me. I am just another cog in the machine, no less or no more important than anyone else. The particular part of the machinery my colleagues and I operate is glorified secretarial work. There is no reason for me personally to have been targeted, but the professional execution of my abduction suggests there has been no mistake.
THE ABDUCTION. I WAS walking along my home street. A South East Essex NHS hospital transport vehicle was parked outside a house, the two paramedics in dark green uniforms at the rear, both doors open, locking the ramp away. The scene was a familiar sight. An elderly man who I knew quite well had not been in the best of health for just over a year now.
There were various problems and complications, the earliest sign having been arthritis in his hands and fingers. On both he had had an unhelpful operation. His wife, who I did not know quite so well, also had a problem or two. They both had to have regular hospital visits and now had to make use of the NHS service due to his inability drive; their car remained in the garage. Both husband and wife were not good on their legs, but she slightly better than he, who was now housebound. I asked after them both when seeing her irregularly.
I passed the van and was suddenly taken in a tight hug from behind, forearms clenched to my sides. I seem to remember a white cloth clamped over my nose and mouth. The cloth must have been soaked in a chemical, a fast-acting one at that, as I do not even remember feeling any fright. I do not remember anything until waking up, head covered and bound to this chair.
The lack of response from my abductors makes me think of all the espionage thrillers I have read and spy movies I have seen. Is this an interrogation method? A variant on sensory deprivation? Allow the subject to drive itself nearly insane with something beyond fear, because it is all alone with nothing but unanswered questions and rising theories of what will happen to it.
I have no training in anti-interrogation. No experience of such situations, no way to combat what will, undoubtedly, go on in my conscious and subconscious. Everyone probably has a self-defence mechanism, an inner strength to do whatever is necessary to keep oneself safe from all harm, but is mine strong enough against tried and tested techniques with nothing to back it up?
This will just be stage one. What will they do to me later? What the hell am I going to do if I cannot provide the knowledge they want? They could go into the deepest, darkest territories of interrogation to make me speak, and no amount of protestations will dissuade them if they believe I possess whatever they desire.
My heart is quickening again, building to a hammering, dangerous pace just as before. With no sights or sounds to pacify my growing fear, and feeling as though I am completely cut off from the entire world, I am like a lost child in a big city. The thin layer of sweat which has broken out on my body is making my clothes stick uncomfortably like cling film. The hood is only filtering a limited supply of oxygen, and I cannot seem to get enough into my lungs.
Reflexively, I am trying to move with the freedom my bonds will not allow. I am clenching and unclenching muscles in my buttocks in an attempt to shift my position, but am only causing myself to bob up and down slightly, as if riding a gentle wave. I need to move my legs and arms just to prove to myself that I still can, that they are still there. I am sending the order, but all I feel is the muscles contracting futilely. The discomfort makes my frustration swell into a ferocious creature trapped in a cage and the lost child reacts wildly out of extreme panic and fright.
In a furious effort, I put all the strength I can muster into a strain against the ties that bind, so much so I realize I am holding my breath. There is no slack in the bonds and it feels like a ton of weight is holding me rigidly in position.
With an angry growl, I shake my body in such an aggressive manner the chair bounces. The heavy blows are cushioned by carpet. The outburst is waning and I fall still again.
I release a conceded breath. I am beaten.
The futile effort has not helped my fragile air supply, for I am now breathing the stale mugginess deeply, reluctantly, into my lungs. My sweat has thickened so I am now sitting as if in wet clothes.
I expel another sharp breath to try and release some of the pent up anger and to try to let my breathing return to a steady rhythm. I tip my head back a little and try to straighten my back the best I can, in an attempt to release, or at least relieve, the twisting knot below my right shoulder blade. I hold the position for what seems like a minute, but is probably half that time, before relaxing. A couple more strikes of the pose, each for a longer duration and the twisting is a vague memory. I make a mental note to myself to manoeuvre my back every now and then to prevent it happening again.
The knot of pain is a feeling I have not experienced for years, not since my primary school days in fact. It would always occur when we had to sit on the floor in the TV room, or in the quiet area for a class assembly, and I could not brace my back. It was not possible to do so in the TV room because of the sitting arrangements, but in the classroom's quiet area, I would always try to be the first one there so I could sit with my back against a wall.
Various other memories from throughout my school years are coming to keep me company; the youthful abandon of the lunch hour; messing about in subjects, and with teachers, where we knew we could afford to; and the not so pleasant memories of one or two particularly nasty teachers who would pick on the more vulnerable pupils, exercising their superiority, delighting in doing so. My concentration is not staying with my memories, though, and the darkness of the last memory has quickly brought me back to face my current ordeal once more.
If those memories, happy and sad, have done anything, they have calmed my mind, body and soul by taking me away from this situation, even if only for a brief respite. My options right now are zero, unless just waiting for what is to come is to be counted.
With that thought and realization, a lead weight drops into the pit of my stomach.