The first message came through at 00:42. I wasn’t one of those people who put their phone on silent or vibrate only at night. I was so accustomed to the various chimes and notifications that I could sleep through the majority of them. Most of the time folks used stuff like Signal or Telegram to reach me, or that fucking awful Facebook messenger with the annoying games and complete lack of privacy. Nobody really used SMS aside from my mother, and so when the default SMS notification shrieked off around an hour after I fell asleep, it cut straight through and startled me. I’d assumed the worst through bleary eyed panic, rubbing the sleep out of my eyes with one hand whilst unlocking the phone with the other.
It wasn’t my mother.
There was no number attached to the message, and it simply read “I NEED HELP PLEASE RESPOND.”
I was confused, but fired off a “WHO IS THIS?” in return. Before I’d even had chance to blink, another message pinged through. Rather than explain each message, you can see the conversation for yourself:
HER: IT’S DARK AND I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM. I NEED HELP PLEASE. I’M PREGNANT.
ME: WHO ARE YOU?
HER: I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM AND YOUR NUMBER IS THE ONLY ONE IN THIS PHONE.
ME: WHO ARE YOU? WHO’S PHONE?
HER: HELP ME!
Given the way that people scam and extort people via the internet and smart-phones now, my mind SCREAMED at me to ignore the situation as someone fucking about, turn my phone off and go back to sleep, but I didn’t, because that would make for a shit story, and you’re not here for a shit story.
ME: CAN YOU MOVE?
HER: YES I CAN MOVE BUT I CAN’T SEE ANYTHING.
ME: I CAN’T HELP YOU UNLESS I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. HOW DO I KNOW THIS ISN’T A STUNT BY SOME TWISTED PRICK WITH AN OFFENSIVE WEAPON?
No I wasn’t fucking stupid, of course I called the police, for all the good that did. When I mentioned weird text messages asking for help from a hidden number after midnight? Block and ignore was all they gave me. How the fuck do you block a hidden number? They told me if they really needed help they’d have called the cops themselves. Fuck the police. I guess they were having a worse than usual night, but still, fuck the police.
HER: HELLO ARE YOU STILL THERE?
ME: YES I’M STILL HERE. I CALLED THE POLICE.
HER: IT’S TOO LATE FOR THAT. THEY WON’T HELP YOU.
ME: YOU’RE THE ONE WHO NEEDS HELP HERE NOT ME. FEEL AROUND, FIND A LIGHT SWITCH, ANYTHING?
HER: IT’S SO COLD. I CAN’T FEEL MY FEET.
ME: STICK WITH ME, FIND A WALL AND START FEELING AROUND FOR A LIGHT SOURCE.
I stumbled around in the dark to pull clothes on like some madwoman, as if I was actually prepared to go out looking for this person. It wasn’t my finest moment, fuck I wish I hadn’t.
HER: I FOUND A SWITCH BUT IT’S ONLY A TINY LIGHT IN THE CORNER OF THE ROOM AND THERE IS A BROKEN WINDOW, AND EVERYTHING IS BRICK WALLS AND COLD CONCRETE.
ME: IS THERE A DOOR?
HER: YES BUT IT’S LOCKED. I TRIED IT.
ME: LOOK OUT THE BROKEN WINDOW AND TELL ME WHAT YOU CAN SEE.
HER: IT’S TOO DARK TO SEE MUCH AND THE LIGHT IN THE ROOM IS MAKING IT HARD TO FOCUS BEYOND THE GLASS. I’M TURNING IT OFF FOR A SECOND. IT’S SO COLD AND EVERYTHING IS DEAD SILENT.
Curiosity killed the cat, right?
ME: I NEED YOU TO LOOK FOR LIGHTS. CAN YOU CALL ME?
ME: WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER I COULD CALL YOU?
HER: YOU CAN’T CALL ME.
HER: HE MIGHT HEAR US.
HER: YES. HE’S NOT FAR.
ME: HAS HE HURT YOU?
HER: NOT YET.
ME: OKAY. LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW. TELL ME IF YOU CAN SEE ANY LIGHTS, STREET LIGHTS, ANYTHING. WHAT SHOULD I CALL YOU?
She responded all too quickly for someone who should have spent a few minutes looking for any lights that might tell me where she was.
HER: I THINK I CAN SEE A CLOCK TOWER LIGHT. TWO STREET LIGHTS NEXT TO IT.
ME: IS THE WINDOW BIG ENOUGH TO CLIMB OUT OF IF YOU BROKE IT SOME MORE?
HER: NO. REMEMBER I’M PREGNANT I DON’T WANT TO RISK MY BABY.
ME: TURN THE LIGHT BACK ON AND TELL ME WHAT’S IN THE ROOM. I WANT TO KNOW IF THERE’S ANY WAY YOU CAN BREAK THE DOOR OPEN. I’M GETTING IN MY CAR NOW.
HER: PLEASE HURRY.
I was fairly certain she could see the clock tower light in the town square, surrounded by four shorter lights, seeing only two from her position. I could drive out to the clock tower without any problem, I mean the area was well lit and if I could find out where she was from there, maybe I could get the police to listen to me this time. As it turned out, she WAS local and yeah, I’m the idiot who went out in the small hours of the morning on her own with a half charged phone and a couple of maglites, but that’s because the police weren’t going to do a damned thing, and I wasn’t about to leave someone to freeze to death overnight when they needed help. It took me ten minutes to drive to the town square. I used voice to text to respond to her so she knew I was still there.
ME: I’M IN THE CAR. I KNOW YOU CAN SEE THE CLOCK TOWER, SO I’M GOING TO DRIVE THERE AND THEN SEE IF I CAN FIND YOU ON FOOT.
HER: PLEASE HURRY I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS. IT’S SO COLD. THE LIGHT IS DIMMING, AND I’M SO TIRED.
ME: I’M COMING. HOLD ON.
You’re not supposed to park in the square, hell you’re not supposed to drive anywhere close to it, but this was a scenario I wasn’t fucking about with. I launched the car onto the cobbles and screeched to a halt by the lamp-posts. Everything was silent save for the occasional screech of an owl from the town’s edge. I stupidly lost my footing on the wet cobbles from the untied laces on my boots, managing to land flat on the palms of my hands saving myself from broken teeth, but felt that horrible jarring sensation ricochet through my whole body with the impact. The heels of my hands were grazed with tiny pricks of oozing blood, but they weren’t that bad.
HER: HURRY. I CAN’T FEEL MY LEGS. I’M SO COLD.
ME: I NEED YOU TO LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOW AGAIN.
HER: I’M STRUGGLING
ME: I’M GOING TO PUT MY LOADING LIGHTS ON AND I WANT YOU TO TELL ME IF YOU CAN SEE THEM FLASHING FROM THE WINDOW. I NEED TO KNOW WHICH DIRECTION YOU’RE IN.
I knew there were a couple of fields in either direction on the edges of town. If she was in a building in one of those, I could easily find her and get help. Sure my car lights might piss off some of the townsfolk, but if anyone came out to complain it would be extra sets of hands right? If only.
No fucker came out.
I let my lights flash in pulse, and I texted her again.
ME: CAN YOU SEE THE FLASHING?
HER: I THINK SO.
ME: WHICH DIRECTION ARE YOU SEEING THIS FROM?
HER: I’M LOOKING OUT OF MY WINDOW AND THE CLOCK TOWER IS TO MY LEFT. PLEASE HURRY.
Her left. My right.
ME: I THINK YOU’RE IN ONE OF THE FIELDS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN.
HER: PLEASE GET HERE SOON, I CAN’T STAND UP FOR MUCH LONGER, IT’S SO COLD. I CAN’T FEEL MY FACE NOW. PLEASE..
ME: I’M COMING.
I kept some emergency gear in my car, so I yanked open the boot and pulled out my tool box and the axe I kept underneath it. Yes I kept a fucking axe in the boot of my car, sometimes a knife isn’t going to cut it, not that the axe really cut it this time. I didn’t drag the entire toolbox with me, it was heavy as fuck but it had stuff inside it that I could use to get past a locked door if needs be, so I took some of that stuff with me. I might have been an idiot who went out on her own like that, but I was a moderately prepared idiot.
ME: TRY TO KEEP YOUR EYES OPEN, I’M CARRYING MAGLITES AND THEY’RE BRIGHT. YOU SHOULD SEE ME COMING THE CLOSER TO YOU I GET OVER THE FIELD.
HER: DON’T HAVE MUCH TIME
My ankle screamed at me with every step, pain shooting up my leg to my knee as I limped as fast I could go over the road, and towards the stile at the field gates. As my memory served me correctly, one of the fields had a small brick shed at the far end, and the other had a metal box enclosure. She mentioned seeing bricks earlier on, but I couldn’t recall which building was in which field, I was tired and in pain, and it was COLD, wind biting, hair whipping in your face kind of cold. I stopped for a moment to text her again, expecting to hear her call out or something, but there was nothing.
ME: ARE YOU STILL WITH ME
ME: CAN YOU SHOUT SOMETHING TO ME SO I CAN HEAR YOU.
My immediate worry was that she’d passed out and that she was in danger of not waking up again, so I crammed the phone in my pocket and moved as fast my burning ankle would let me, the pain ripping further and further up my leg to my hips to make me think I’d done something worse than twist it. I remember my hands being so cold that it made it hard to keep hold of the axe and my other gear, but I had to keep going, and I did until I saw a flash of red brick through the beam of my biggest maglite, and an open metal door.
The door was open. She said it was locked, she said she couldn’t open it. Where was she? Other questions flew around in my head, ones she’d never answered even when prompted. That was when a thick rancid stench pricked at my nostrils, making me fall back and retch violently. I grabbed the door-frame to steady myself, clamping my sleeve over my mouth and nose with my other hand, my larger maglite clattering to the floor in the process. The beam shone into the corner, where a maggot riddled decomposing bloated corpse was sprawled on its side. I lost my stomach then, heaving gobs of bile all over my boots until all that came was dry rasping and sobbing. I stooped to grab the maglite, edging closer to look at the corpse’s face, mangled and puffed up beyond recognition. Its head was almost completely severed from the neck, the spine visibly cut in a clean fashion. There were no hands or feet on the corpse, only burned stumps where they used to sit. One of its eyes was missing, the other one puffed up and swollen like the rest of its body. I couldn’t look away, it was putrid and foul, but I couldn’t look away. Getting in closer despite being overwhelmed by the stink, I could see its lips were gone, and its mouth was a mass of toothless rotting pulp.
When you’re clawing around for your phone in your pocket and can’t quite grasp it, you start to panic and THEN you start breathing heavily, but that rotting pile in the corner made me feel so physically ill that I couldn’t concentrate. All I could do watch retch and claw, needing to breathe but not being able to because of the stench. I changed tack and looked for the light switch but the bulb was long since blown. I was shaking horribly, turning around on myself, pointing with my maglite wildly until something else caught my eye. I’d finally been able to get a hold on my OWN phone, but there was another one right there on the floor.
I tried to slide MY phone back in my pocket, but it didn’t connect and it tumbled to the floor, the screen cracking despite the supposedly protective case. Shining the light on the second phone, showed me it was identical to mine down to the same high gloss black case. The screen was cracked in the same way, and I turned it over to find the N7 logo in the centre. God, my head was REELING, everything was swimming with confusion, fear and revulsion. Of course I bloody tried to switch it on, why wouldn’t I? It was dead, OBVIOUSLY it was dead, why would it still work now? I wasn’t thinking straight remember? NOTHING about me was calm OR composed.
I groped around for my newly cracked phone, pressing the home button to try and bring it to life, but the screen only lit up and wouldn’t respond. I wished I still had my old fucking Blackberry with an ACTUAL keyboard so I might have stood a chance, but I didn’t because fuck my love of tech and a need for a touch-screen smart-phone. Even after turning back outside into the cold air, the rot still hung around me. I’d dropped all my gear outside the door before going in, which really wasn’t very clever in hindsight. I remember the way the damp ground felt when it seeped through the fabric of my cargo pants as I sank to my knees. I was doubled over, sobbing and not caring about the searing pain in my ankle.
It was cold, So fucking COLD.
I was so consumed with grief and fear that I didn’t hear him coming. The field was soft and damp you see, even despite the chilled air. He was slow and careful with the way he moved, and naturally I didn’t hear him over the sound of my own wailing. If you’ve ever wondered what it might take to separate someone’s head from their spine, it would be as simple as a modified bolt cutter to the back of the neck. I think that’s how he did it anyway. He cut the life out of me, and left me to rot in the corner of that building in the field, with the cracked window and the locked metal door.
I’ve been watching myself decompose slowly over the last week or so. It’s weird seeing your own body bloat and change over time. Sometimes my touch-screen lights up and even lets me send texts, but only to one person. I’ve been reaching out for help, but all that happens is I watch myself come to find what’s left of me and the baby inside me. I have to watch as he brutalises me all over again. The way he cut my hands and feet from my body and took them away, and seared the stumps. The way he bit the lips from my face and spat them into a bag. The way he used pliers on my teeth to wrench them out one at a time, bagging them along with my lips, and the way he took one of my eyes, and swallowed it whole.
Maybe eventually someone else will find me here, and do something with my bones. I didn’t realise I was pregnant until I died. I wonder if he knew. I wonder how long it took for that life to fade away inside me after I died.
It’s so cold. I can’t feel my face. I can’t feel anything, I can only text with my missing fingers and broken phone, and watch.