I wake up groggy trying to blink my eyes open, and then scream from the flashing pain in my head. There’s a migraine raging through my skull and I don’t know where I am but I dare not open my eyes again just yet. I shuttle in and out of consciousness, finally summoning the will to crack my eyelids open a fraction. They shut almost immediately of their own volition. My heart, suddenly accelerated, thumps in my chest. It isn’t the pain; it’s what is lying on the table in front of me that stresses me out.
My mind seems irrationally calmly logical. Must be a neat freak who laid this out, I think, wondering if I should just go ahead and panic. The implements on the table are shiny, most of them pointed; many with rows of wicked looking teeth or flat clamping surfaces that make my sensitive parts cringe. There’s a perverse order to the madness, with the smallest ones to my left, increasing alarmingly in size and cruelty as they progress across the surface. I’m standing upright, manacled at wrists and ankles. When I try to turn my head to get a look around the room, a metal band securing my head in place scrapes against my forehead, giving new meaning to the phrase “stars in my eyes.”
I must have passed out again, for when I open my eyes a second time it’s a lot easier. Time is dulling my headache, but time is not my friend here. As far as I can see, I’m alone in the room and I can only conclude that these cold shiny instruments are there for my benefit.
I’m cold. I have not even a scrap of clothing to preserve my dignity and a cold draught plays across the room, shriveling my genitals. Using my eyes without moving my head, I can see a doorway across from me, with a high narrow window a few paces to the right of it, open to the elements. It seems dark in the window slit, darker than the fitful illumination in the room. It must be night outside. At least four hours have passed since the late afternoon when I sneaked away from our group, tiptoeing up the stairs of abandoned “Macbeth” tower in the roped off section of the castle we were exploring. I remember stepping on a crumbling stone step and plunging into blackness, screaming. Now this.
Goodrich castle in Herefordshire is supposedly uninhabited; a decaying ruin that somehow draws visitors because of its association with Wordsworth’s poem “We are Seven.” At the moment, I am one, alone and Wordsworth’s little maid might soon add me to her list of two dead that so bothered the poem’s narrator. The silence is uncanny. I always assumed castles were noisy places, but an almost unbearable stillness fills the room, a musty expectance, as if awaiting a familiar presence. Unbidden some lines from the poem come to mind;
Then did the little Maid reply,
“Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.”
The hair on the back of my neck and arms rises as I contemplate this, and at the risk of wringing my own neck I scrunch my head into my shoulders, trying to wriggle out of the restricting band about my head. It hurts like crazy, and I can’t free myself from the constraint, but the grip on my head loosens as my head slips an inch down in the ring. I can turn my head a little now, and see almost all of the room.
It isn’t large, and the walls curve around, making me think that I am still in the tower. But this tower is not ruined. The walls are made of solid stone blocks, undecorated and gray to match the gloom that fills the space. What little light there is comes from a sputtering torch mounted to one side and now burnt almost to an ember. My eyes adjust to the dimness and now I can see that a faint stream of smoke trails from the wall and creeps under the door. The door. I haven’t paid any attention to it until now, but there it stands, massive beams of wood banded with rusted metal, worn almost the color of the walls. I stare at it intently, trying to discern a lock or key when, to my horror it begins to swing slowly open, making the torch sputter wildly and go out. In the extreme darkness that follows, I can’t see what comes through the door, but somehow, I know that I am no longer alone in the room.