The shackles they had fastened to Gale’s wrists were cutting into her skin. She tried to stand up a little higher on her toes to relieve the pressure, her calves trembling with the effort. She stood hanging from a chain attached to a pulley mounted in the ceiling, her arms stretched above her head by shackles hooked to the chain, only the balls of her feet touching the floor. The iron bull and the remnants of the fire had been removed from the chamber, though the smell of charred meat lingered and the strange machinery overhead still hummed. In place of the horrific effigy, they had left what Gale recognized as a gasoline-powered electric generator. Two black cables lay coiled atop it like sleeping serpents.
At length the door opened and, as Gale had expected, Charlie Drenth entered, smiling. Gale forced herself to take a needed breath, swallow, meet his gaze.
“Well,” Charlie said, pursing his lips. “Looks like someone’s been naughty. You should have been nicer. I tried to tell you, but you didn’t listen. You are a bad little girl, aren’t you?”
“Touch me and I’ll kill you!” Gale said, forcing down her terror. In reality, she felt like being sick.
“How would you kill me?” Charlie asked. He drew a long hunting knife from a sheath at his belt, rattling the keyring clipped to his belt loop. “Would you cut me? Let me bleed out slow?”
“Oh, God, please!” Gale twitched in her chains.
“Shhh.” Charlie held the knife up in front of her, then used it to pluck off the top button of her shirt. “Be very still,” he said. “Or you might get pricked.” He popped off each button, leaving her blouse hanging open, then circled around to her side. Grabbing the sleeve in one hand, he began to slash at the fabric.
“Don’t do this!” Gale pleaded.
“Shhh.” Charlie turned his attention to the other sleeve, splitting the blouse down the side. It fell off at her feet.
“Please!” Gale said.
“Don’t breathe so hard,” Charlie said. “You’ll hyperventilate.” The knife’s thin edge sliced through the strap of her bra. “You know, I had figured on playing this game with your friend. But I’m glad you came along.” He cut the other strap, then reached around to unfasten her bra. He tossed it aside.
“My family!” Gale said. “They have money! They can pay!”
Charlie stared at her. Now it was he who was breathing heavy. “Haven’t you heard?” he asked, running the dull edge of the blade between her breasts, “The world’s ending. Who needs money?” He traced a ring around her nipple with the knife’s point, barely touching her skin.
“Don’t!” Gale sobbed, tears streaming down her face to drop onto her naked shoulder.
Charlie knelt beside her, slipping the knife beneath her belt, cutting it with a jerk. “We won’t finish today,” he said. “I’ll keep you for a little while.”