Round 11 Challenge – Put your main character in danger in a new and hostile environment. There should be a struggle for survival through which new aspects of his or her personality are revealed (Word limit – 1500 words)
Read UTAH 10 here (see “Similar Posts” at the bottom of this post for any earlier entries)
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Jacob’s dog, Herb, wasn’t chained up when the FBI agents pulled into the driveway. After seeing the Missing Child flyer at the Halfway House three days earlier, Jacob purchased a shock collar so that Herb would be free to roam the yard and ward off uninvited visitors.
The plan was effective for fifteen seconds. When the FBI pulled in to find a Presa Canario barreling towards them with flattened ears, they stayed put. Herb was on his hind legs, saliva dripping from his bared teeth, barking and clawing at one of the passenger windows. The agent loaded a dart gun, cracked the window, and shot Herb in the neck. As he slumped to the ground, they all burst out of the cars.
They found Corey hiding in the closet, the reek of alcohol on her. She was an aged and ravaged version of the shining girl in the photos they carried but there was no doubt she was the same person. The agents knew she was sixteen and had been held captive for three years but there was an unnerving equanimity about her. She neither resisted them when they led her into the car, nor expressed relief or joy at their arrival. Entirely unresponsive to their questions, she simply let herself be escorted out from the cabin – a pale and haunting figure as much dead as alive – climbed into the open car seat, and sat silently through the ride to the Burlington Fletcher Allen Health Care Facility.
That same moment, Jacob was driving towards Albany. He had been returning from the grocery when he saw the unmarked vehicles turn down his road. He knew it was over. At that moment it also dawned on him that Delia, whom he only recognized after seeing the flyer while leaving the Halfway House, must have realized who he was.
Even so, he had no idea how the FBI found him. It couldn’t have been the license plate: his plate checked out at a different address that wouldn’t trace back to him. Nor would his fingerprints lead them anywhere. Jacob had moved out to this remote Vermont cabin to flee the constraints and scandals of his family past. He was as faceless and unknown to his neighbors as he was to the residents on the far shore of Lake Champlain.
He had, however, been prepared for a raid. His browsing history and computer files were encrypted with a program he’d designed. No encryption expert would be able to hack into it. There was nothing in the cabin that would enable the authorities to trace back to him. Fingerprints and DNA samplings would only lead them to his past self, a man who, at least legally speaking had been a black hole for the past two decades. Nor was there any lead in the apartment as to his next whereabouts. There couldn’t be. He didn’t know himself where he was going.
Jacob abandoned his station wagon in an Albany strip mall parking lot, bought a laptop from Best Buy, and then took a taxi to the bus station. He then made his way westward by bus through major cities in a circuitous route to prevent investigators from ever tracking him.
A week later, in Las Vegas, Jacob checked into a Motel 6. He had read all the online articles about Corey and hacked into all the relevant police and FBI memoranda to know they had no leads on him. He was free to start a new life afresh.
However, a moribund bleakness had seized Jacob ever since he left Vermont. An oppressive fog of gloom had settled upon his formerly imperturbable disposition. It wasn’t his dislocation from his cabin and his gaming routine. His online life as the gaming overlord The Unseen hadn’t been uninterrupted by his recent flight. Corey’s story may have made national news, but no one in the online circles he frequented had any reason to suspect The Unseen was now on the FBI’s Wanted List.
It was his separation from Corey that brought on the saturnine mood. Just as Jacob’s virtual subterranean life had seeped into and taken possession of Corey, so too had Corey’s youth and vitality ebbed out of her into him. For two decades Jacob had lived exclusively in the ethereal disembodied sphere of the Internet. Corey was the first person over this period with whom he’d had extended face-to-face contact. Only now that she had been taken from him did he realize how much richer his life had been with her.
It was on the bus to Las Vegas, in the quicksands of melancholy, that Jacob first contemplated killing himself. By the time he disembarked he decided he would let the gods decide it. That evening in the Las Vegas Motel 6 Jacob sat motionless at the small corner desk for an hour. The desk was bare except for his laptop. He reached over and opened the nightstand drawer. Inside was a copy of Gideon’s Bible and a six-chamber revolver with a bullet beside it.
Jacob put the single round in the revolver, spun the cylinder and clicked it shut. With his left hand on the laptop, he placed the muzzle against his head. The hammer clicked as he pressed the trigger. Jacob’s heart was racing; his mouth had dried out; feelings for Corey were welling up inside him. He put the gun down. He wanted to tell Corey how he yearned for her and how he still had to so much to show her about the online sphere into which he’d only begun to initiate her.
Jacob played another single round of Russian roulette the next night. For six consecutive nights he pointed a pistol at his head and fired a single shot. Each time fresh feelings bubbled up inside him. Jacob had always thought this emotional side of him had been buried along with his teenage years. It turned out it had just been hibernating.
Guilt consumed him as he thought of all the times he’d remorselessly punished Corey for her adolescent misbehaviors like locking her in the cellar or threatening to set Herb on her or leaving her passed out on the kitchen floor in her own pool of vomit. The only distraction from his remorse was the pangs of desire that fuelled his insomniac nights as he tossed about in the creaking motel bed, recalling her skinny childish limbs.
After a week, Jacob put the revolver away. He’d had a one in six chance of dying for six nights in a row and he was still alive. Though he never put another pistol to his forehead, he had to struggle against the temptation. It wasn’t so much that he felt alive in the face of looming death. It was that he felt death couldn’t touch him.
A month later Jacob purchased a small cabin on a creek in Northern California. He assumed that with time his thoughts of Corey would lose their sway over him. But with the months, they only grew stronger.
For several weeks now Jacob had considered contacting Corey. He knew that was bound to end in disaster. Not that he needed proof, but Jacob’s hacks into the FBI sites confirmed that all of Corey’s accounts were monitored. There was, however, one opening. Jacob had planned two years ago for a potential raid by setting up an account enabling the two of them to communicate in inviolable privacy. However, if Corey had revealed it to the authorities – and they would have done everything to draw out any information from her – the secret email would merely serve as a trap.
Jacob’s suicidal impulses didn’t diminish. By the end of the summer, he couldn’t take it any longer. He decided to play one last game of Russian roulette: he sent Corey a message.