The color of her blood is the least of his worries as another bullet ricochets off the floor near where she collapsed and embeds into the wall. He hooks his arm through hers and hauls her to her feet, smearing some of her shimmering white blood across his ebony skin.
“We have to keep moving!”
“I’ve been shot!”
“It grazed you. Now come on!” Eli uses all his strength to drag her along and after a fraction of a second, she stops fighting and begins to run alongside him.
The unintelligible shouts of the guards echo along the hallway as they run following the path he had laid out earlier. Despite all the security measures of the building, he had managed to memorize the possible paths they would need to get outside to where he parked his car earlier that morning.
Eli had no idea what he was in for when he accepted the position as private chef earlier this year. He assumed most private chefs were for rich people who didn’t want to cook for themselves but that notion was thrown out the window on his first day when he arrived at the fortress-like building. The drive through the gated checkpoint at the fences reminded him of a prison and the gray stone building itself did little to dissuade that image.
After signing various non-disclosure papers, he was led through the maze of hallways being instructed where he could and could not roam. He passed numerous armed guards and wondered if it was his job to feed them all. Minutes later, he discovered that his only concern was the building’s sole resident and that his initial assessment was correct. It was a prison but for only one prisoner.
He was instructed by the warden to never speak directly to her, never ask anyone about who she was, and to never ever touch her. Which of course only stoked his curiosity. He was told she had no dietary restrictions and to cook whatever he felt like cooking.
After the kitchen, the warden walked him down the route he would take several times a day to deliver the meals, stopping in front of a set of doors guarded by two heavily armed men wearing riot gear.
“What do I call her?” he asked the warden before the doors opened.
“Nothing. No communication, remember? But when speaking to the guards, ‘the prisoner’ will suffice.” With that he nods at the men who lift the bar across the handles and pull the doors open.
The room resembled a large gymnasium that had been cut in half with a row of three inch thick steel bars from floor to ceiling. The side of the room they enter is empty, save for a few folding chairs standing against the wall. The opposite side of the room is sparse but has a cot, a toilet and a sink along one wall, and a table and chair – all of which are bolted to the floor.
Sitting cross legged in the middle of the space was her. He was struck by how small she was and how much she resembled his wife Maya. Her light brown skin has the same rosy pink undertone and her short chestnut hair is the same as Maya’s was when they first met, but now Maya has grown hers out. The prisoner watched the two of them with clear emerald eyes as they got closer to the bars and a horizontal six inch window cut out from the bars. Resting on the ledge was an empty tray.
“You’re to collect the used tray before you give the prisoner it’s next meal.” Eli didn’t fail to notice the warden’s use of the word “it’s.”
“If you don’t collect a tray, you don’t leave a meal,” the warden said before he turned towards the woman, now leaning back on her arms watching them with amusement. “And you better behave.” With that he turned and stalked back towards the open doors.
Eli didn’t hesitate to follow in the warden’s footsteps but was stopped when a high pitched voice called out.
“Can’t wait to see what you bring me.”
He glanced back for a second to find her standing now gripping the bars with her face pressed between them. The expression on her face kept him from sleeping that night. Hope.
She glances at him now with the same expression only now it’s mixed with fear. The two of them have gained enough distance that the guards are no longer shooting. But the slamming of boots on the floor is just behind them, just around the last corner, letting them know they can’t slow down yet.
He continues to tug on her arm and drag her along beside him. They make turn after turn, hoping to lose their pursuers in the maze of the building and with each sudden turn they gain a little distance.
Eli hadn’t decided right away to help her. Weeks went by of their routine, he cooked up meals fit for royalty and wordlessly delivered them to her. She always tried to strike up a conversation but he never gave in. Take the empty tray, drop off the full tray, walk out without answering her barrage of questions.
But as he lay in bed at night, her questions filled his head. She was probably just bored and wanted to know more about him. “What’s your name? Where did you learn to cook like this? What do you do for fun when you’re not here?”
It was only when she stopped asking questions that he knew he had to do something. She would sit in her chair and watch him, her green eyes full of exhaustion. She looked broken more and more every day.
One day he entered and her empty tray sat on her table instead of in the window.
“Ahem,” Eli cleared his throat and pointed to the tray.
With a weary sigh, she grabbed the tray and made her way to where he stood at the window. She tossed the tray on the ledge and waited for her next meal. Eli grabbed the edge of the empty tray but didn’t move to pull it back. She met his eyes and he uttered his first words to her. “It’ll be ok.”
A small smile lit her face up and she reached up and touched his hand. He didn’t pull away, he had read once that inmates in prison crave human touch.
He broke the contact and left her with a meal and a smile. Even though a throbbing headache plagued the rest of his day, he knew he would find a way to help her. Whatever they had her incarcerated for had to be wrong.
He told Maya all about it over a late dinner that night. She agreed it was inhumane and he had to find a way to help her.
Every day since then he had been memorizing routes within the building, figuring out the guard schedules and the best time to attempt an escape, and sharing moments of reassuring hand holding with the prisoner. His headache persisted, no matter what he took, but Maya told him it’s probably the stress of trying to plan a prison break for an innocent prisoner.
Even though they couldn’t discuss it, she seemed to sense his willingness to help. She began to cheer up, jumping up excitedly when he would enter with a meal, and resuming her barrage of questions, which he had begun to whisper replies back.
He whispers to her now, “this way, quick!” He pulls her along and through a stairwell door. He had smuggled in a broom handle that morning down his pant leg and stashed it in the stairwell when he got here. Now he slides it through the handle, rendering the door useless.
They barrel down the stairs as the guards wrestle with the door, attempting to shoot the glass out. Their shouts get quieter as she and Eli make it down the two flights of stairs, leaping the last couple of steps each flight to move quicker.
Eli rips open the stairwell door and twenty feet ahead of them sits their destination. A door leading outside and his truck on the other side.
Faint shouting sounds in the distance so Eli shoves her forward and within seconds they burst through the door into the sunny day beyond. A sob escapes from her throat.
“We gotta move, they’re gonna be right behind us!”
He opens the door to the truck’s cab and pushes for her to climb across to the passenger seat. Instead, she spins and her fist lands square on his chin with more force he thought someone of her size should be capable of.
He drops to the ground instantly and she kneels down over him.
“I’m so sorry for this. I hope you understand- I needed a way out.” She places her hand, slick with her shimmery white blood, over his as she has every day since that first contact. His head begins to throb with the same headache that’s plagued him the last few weeks.
Memories of Maya flash across his eyes and as each one ebbs away, it’s replaced by another memory, the true memory. Romantic dinners with his wife are replaced by meals sitting alone on the couch, their meet-cute at the coffee shop is replaced with the memory of him scrolling his instagram feed quietly sipping his coffee alone, their outdoor fall wedding becomes a random Saturday raking leaves in the backyard.
The reality of it hits him harder than her punch. Maya never existed. Maya was her creation that she somehow implanted in his mind. The reason they look so much alike is because she wanted him to be sympathetic.
The last memories of Maya revert to their true memory as the prisoner stands up. It at least has the decency to look sorry as it climbs into the cab of the truck. The engine roars to life and it glances at him one last time.
He manages to roll over to his side and watches as the truck speeds away. The truck busts through the wooden arm of the gate at the same time the guards exit the building. A few take shots at the receding truck while others shout into radios or frantically dial cell phones.
“It’s loose!” One shouts into the phone pressed against his ear.
Eli sits up and watches as the rear of the truck disappears around a turn.
“I fucked up.”
All short stories in the “100 prompts” tag will be written using the flash fiction prompts list on Eva Deverell’s Creative Writing Blog. They will all be stand-alone short stories unless otherwise noted. Check out the Story Index for more.
This story was written using Prompt # 61: “The color of her blood was the least of my worries.”