Vapor, p.15

Vapor, page 15



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  And then the anagrams became weird, comparatively speaking. They became sick. He left me a little dish with fuzz in it. I couldn’t figure out what it was. It just looked like dust. And that’s exactly what it was, because he wanted to tell me that I would always have a stud at my side. Then I again got a dish, but this time with a little thing in it, a little hardish reddish thing, which looked like a scab, and it was. This was to let me know I’d be taking a lot of cabs once I made it.

  One day, I gave him an anagram. I asked him to cup his hand for me, and I poured into it my cut nails from my hands and feet, and I said, “This is what you will be when I’m through with you. And I don’t mean the animal. Five-letter word.”

  He left the room carrying my nails and came back later, having guessed the two answers: the one that applied, slain, and the one that did not, snail. He said it was a good one.

  Most of the scenes he made me do were either embarrassing, stupid, infuriating, or humiliating, but rarely frightening. One, however, was. He played someone who knew Damon intimately, and who was giving me some advice. I had very few lines.

  “You have to be careful,” he began. “There is one thing more important to Damon than your happiness.”

  “What’s that?”

  “His unhappiness. If he ever has to choose between the two, he will probably choose the latter. His need for his own unhappiness makes him dangerous. He will do anything to preserve it. You should always be careful, always protect yourself, never let your guard down completely. I’m afraid for your safety in the future. If you ever feel unsafe, don’t hesitate to kill him. If you don’t, he may end up destroying you. If I knew how to help him, I would, but I fear it’s impossible. His pain is intense. His intention to make you happy is the only slight relief he’s had from it in years.”

  “But what is his pain?” I asked. (This wasn’t in the script.)

  He shot me. “You made me forget my lines.” He paused and continued: “Please remember my words: I don’t think Damon can ever be normal, ever be sane. The important word here is ever. Always remember that. You may not want to, always, but do.”

  “Will he let me go?” (This was in the script.)

  “I think so, but there’s no way to know for sure.”

  “Can you try to persuade him?”

  “That wouldn’t do any good, because I am him.”

  “Is there anything I can do to persuade him to let me go?”

  “Nothing I can think of. But I think you are safe here, because you’re here against your will, and as long as that’s the case you’re safe from him.”

  “Should I try to escape?”

  “You haven’t had any opportunities. If you ever have one, by all means you should grab it.”

  After eight months of captivity I decided to make him believe I had fallen in love with him. It would be hard, but if I succeeded, it could help me escape. So I began.

  I stopped complaining, I laughed at all his jokes, I listened with interest to his speeches, I looked at him with admiration whenever it seemed appropriate, and I initiated physical contact by occasionally offering to unstick some of the forgotten gum from his face. He noticed these changes in an amused way.

  One day, during a wishing session, I made a wish that he would teach me how to move like him, and how to dance like him. He said it was a very good wish, that it could be useful to me as an actor to move well. The lessons began. We were obliged to engage in more physical contact than ever before. We danced in front of each other, and he wanted me to follow his movements; to flow with him. We were supposed to be waves. But sometimes I wasn’t flowing well enough, so he had to help me feel his flow. He would put his hands on my waist and request that I put mine on his shoulders. Then I understood the essence of his movements. And something else happened. Despite my hatred of him, which hadn’t subsided one bit, I felt, for the first time since my abduction, a strange sort of physical attraction to him. I knew this was sick, and I think it was simply because he was big and close.

  I continued pretending I was enamored of him, but without ever saying it right out. During a wishing session, however, I did tell him I wished he were in love with me.

  Out of the blue, one day, Damon said that if my love for him were an act, I was doing a really good job, that he couldn’t tell if it were real or fake. He added that if he knew for sure it were an act he would let me go right on the spot because he’d know I was now an excellent actor.

  This was a dilemma for me. If he was lying, then telling him the truth would ruin my plan of escape. On the other hand, if he was telling the truth, I could be released immediately by being honest.

  I decided to play it safe for a while and assume he was lying. I continued my love pretense.

  Just a day or two after this interaction, five of the six monitors in my cell were turned off. When I asked him about it, he said there was a malfunction. The only one still working was the one showing his bedroom.

  The same day that the monitors went blank, Damon spent less time with me than usual: he left me alone in my cell for many hours during the afternoon. The same thing happened the next day. I didn’t know what it all meant, but it made me jittery, which was partly why I finally decided to reveal to him that my love for him was an act.

  Finding no good time to do it that day, I planned to tell him the next day. That night I got one of the sickest anagrams he had ever given me.

  It was a little cup, and in it was a drop of half-dried, yellowish, sticky slime. I didn’t know what it was. The note read:

  Dear Anna Graham,

  We will do this earlier than usual tomorrow night.

  (3-letter word)

  I had the feeling the stuff in the cup was body fluid, but I didn’t think it was pee. I thought it might be pus, and it did fit, because the answer would then be sup. I verified this the next day with Damon and I was correct.

  After our early dinner, just as I was asking myself when would be the best moment to tell him about the fakeness of my love, he said, “I must confess to you that I know you’re not in love with me. I know it’s an act.”

  I drooped.

  He added quickly, “It’s not because your acting is bad that I know this. It’s because it would be impossible for someone in your position to be in love with someone in my position. But your acting was great.”

  “So you’ll let me go?”


  “Why not? You said that if my love for you was an act, you would let me go because it meant I was a great actor. Were you bluffing?”

  “Kind of.”

  “My acting is still not good enough, is that it?”

  “No. Your acting is great.”

  I huffed. “But still not good enough for me to be released, right?”

  “Yes, it is good enough for you to be released.”

  My heart raced, and I suddenly imagined the dinner I would have tonight with my parents.

  “But I will not release you,” he added.

  “You want me to get better?”

  “I don’t think you could. At least not significantly. I think you’re as good as it’s possible for anyone to become.”

  “So what’s the problem?”

  “There is no problem.”

  “Then when will you let me go?”

  “I will not let you go, ever.”

  “Ever!” I yelled. “Why?”

  “Because this way we can keep acting out scenes. If I let you go, the outcome is so predictable: you’ll be in movies, become a star, win Oscars, blah, blah, blah. Banal. But if you stay, it’s less banal. It hasn’t been done before. At least not as often.”

  “What about my happiness? Do you think I can be as happy here?”


  “Then why are you doing this?”

  “Because I don’t care anymore.”

  “About my happiness? But it was the goal of your life! You claimed that I would be so happy if I became a great actor, after you shaped me up and let me g

  “Yes, you would be very happy. It’s important that you be completely aware of that,” he said, facing me squarely. “We have achieved our goal. I have succeeded in creating in you a rich potential for happiness. If I released you now, you would become extremely successful very quickly. And you would be very, very happy. It’s more interesting to keep you here. It’s a new challenge that will distract me from what I should be distracted from. This way I can see if I can make you happy here. It’s harder.”

  “Damon, I’ll kill myself if you don’t let me go,” I said, looking into his eyes.

  “Nonsense. You haven’t killed yourself yet. I doubt you’ll do it now.”

  “That’s because I had hope. And now you’ve told me there’s no hope.”

  “Well, you can always pretend there’s hope. Just enough not to kill yourself, please. Here’s your scene for tomorrow. Learn it well.”

  “No. It’s over. I will never do a scene with you again.”

  “Yes you will. Otherwise …” he showed the gun.

  “I welcome otherwise. Please give me otherwise, but the big otherwise, the last otherwise. Give me otherwise, fatally.”

  “Read the new scene, learn it, and let’s get on with our days.”

  “I will never read it.”

  But I did read it. And then I read it again, and again. There was no way I couldn’t escape if things unfolded the way they were written in the script. No matter how many times I reread it, I could not find a catch. And it couldn’t be stupidity on his part. It was intentional.

  I didn’t sleep at all, and there was no anagram that night.

  I nervously waited for Damon’s arrival the next day, but he did not come to my cell until five o’clock in the afternoon, which explained why he had left two sandwiches for me the day before.

  He came carrying the dinner tray and two antique swords. I was ecstatic. He closed the cell door, but did not lock it.

  We ate our meal politely. More politely than I could ever remember. I tried to be patient. I didn’t understand why he had apparently decided to release me in this roundabout way, but it didn’t matter as long as it happened.

  As we dug into our fake desserts of yogurt and fruit, Damon said, “Act.”

  “You brought swords,” I recited.

  “Yes, to cheer you up. You must be pretty upset about the news that you won’t be released. If we engage in a little game of fencing after dinner it might help you feel less homesick. Wouldn’t that cheer you up a bit?”


  “Good. I’ve never fenced with anyone who actually knew how to fence. I’ve never fenced with anyone, in fact. It’ll be exciting. And then you can give me some pointers; a mini fencing lesson. This way, we’re creating a nice dynamic: I gave you dancing lessons and you’ll give me fencing lessons.”

  He ate a piece of fruit and resumed his monologue with his mouth full: “And if we do enjoy ourselves tonight, there’s no reason we can’t fence every single night! This is my first big step in making you happy here. Notice I’m determined to succeed and will stop at nothing.”

  I had trouble swallowing my banana. Finally, Damon looked at me and said, “Shall we?”

  We got up. He walked over to the swords resting against the wall and picked them up. He readied himself with one of them, holding it firmly by the handle, and he handed me the other. He looked nervous, and I was too, until I had the sword in my hand.

  We fenced. That’s where the scene he wrote ended. What happened after that was not acting.

  I soon disarmed him.

  “That was great!” he said. “Now you must teach me how you did that.” He gingerly went to pick up his sword, but I kicked it away from him.

  “Oooh. You must teach me that too.”

  I picked up his sword and threw it out of the cell.

  “What are you doing?”

  “I’m leaving.”

  He rolled his eyes. “No you’re not.” And he pounced on me, not seeming to care that I was holding a long cutting object that I handled well.

  “What are you doing?” I said, and slashed his arm. He screamed and looked furious. Things were not unfolding the way I had expected. Blood spread through his white clothing, but the cut didn’t look deep, not that I knew much about cuts or had engaged in much cutting of people.

  “Hand me the key,” I said.


  “So I can lock you up, so you won’t run after me, and so that the police will find you.”

  “Oh, well that’s useless.”

  “Hand it to me.”

  “Forget it. I was nice enough to fence with you, to make you less homesick, and this is how you re—”

  I did something I had often fantasized of doing: I smacked the side of my sword against the side of his head. He fell against the bars and looked slightly knocked out.

  “Now give me the key!”

  He pounced on me again and I gave him a few new cuts. He fell back against the bars.

  “Will you give me the key now?”

  “No, it’s useless,” he said, lurching toward me once more, and I again slammed the side of my sword against the side of his head.

  He now looked mostly knocked out. I carefully slid my fingers into his pocket and took out the key. To my surprise he started laughing and said, “It’s useless. Don’t bother.”

  As I was about to leave the cage, he tried to grab me yet again, but he was weak, and I shoved him back violently. He grabbed a bar and tried to get up, still laughing. I stared at his index finger curled around the bar. I was filled with disgust and resentment for everything he had done. I raised my sword and swung it down on his finger, slicing it off in the middle. It landed a short distance away. Damon screamed. I exited the cell, locking it behind me. Damon looked enraged, screaming and crying. His transparent white clothes were now covered in blood.

  I rushed out of the room, unaccompanied, for the first time in nine months. I flew down the stairs, clutching my sword, frightened because he had said “It’s useless.” I was tempted to use the kitchen phone to call the police, but had an irrational fear that Damon would find a way to come after me. So I unlocked the front door and ran down the driveway and then along the road. My beige sweatpants and yellow T-shirt were covered in blood. His blood. I was crying, but smiling at the same time. A few cars passed. I tried to hail them by waving my arms and my bloody sword. They didn’t stop. I kept running. I passed some houses and considered stopping at one, but was gripped with paranoia that his neighbors were in on the whole thing.

  I finally arrived at a restaurant. It looked safe enough, with all those people inside. I entered and walked by tables, looking for someone who worked there. As I passed the people dining, they stopped talking and stared at me. I was a spectacle.

  Suddenly, I was gripped with horror and stopped in my tracks: I knew the smells in this restaurant. I looked at people’s plates, and in each one was food I knew, food I had eaten for the past nine months. This terrified me. A waiter walked toward me holding a dish that had been one of my favorites.

  He said, “What are you doing?”

  “You are the restaurant that gave Damon food.”

  “Excuse me?”

  “There is a man who orders food from you every day … I need a phone, to call the police. It’s an emergency.”

  I called the police. “Please come and get me,” I told them. “Come and get me.”

  They came five minutes later and drove me to their station. I told them everything. Police cars were dispatched to Damon’s house.

  I called my parents. My mother answered. Her hello had changed. It was more quiet than it used to be. When she heard my voice, she sobbed. I told her I was at a police station.

  “I was kidnapped,” I said.

  “You were kidnapped? For nine months?”

  “Yes, I was held captive. In a cage.”

  “Oh my God! Are you okay? Did they hurt you?”

  “Sometimes. But I’m okay.

  “Did they feed you?”

  “Not much.”

  “Oh, Anna.” She cried again. “Can you … walk?”

  “Yes. I can run too. I ran here.”

  “Did the police catch them?”

  “Him. Just one man. I don’t know yet, but I think they will, cause I locked him in the cage.”

  “We were never asked for a ransom.”

  “I know. It’s not that kind of kidnapping.”

  “What kind is it?”

  “The sick kind. I was altered. Against my will.”

  “What do you mean!” she asked, hysterically.

  “Oh no, it’s nothing big like plastic surgery. I’m okay. I’m still the same. I just was taught some skills, and stuff like that.”

  “You were taught to kill?”

  “What? No! I said I was taught some skills.”

  “Oh. Not skills to kill?”

  “No! Are you disappointed?”

  “Of course not, I just thought you said kill. I saw a movie, Nikita something, that stuck on my mind.”

  “La Femme Nikita. I wasn’t taught killing skills. I was taught acting skills. But I’ll tell you later.”

  “Your father is somewhere in the building fixing air conditioners. He’ll be so happy …” She choked with emotion.

  She then said she would drive up with my father right away and take me home.

  The police took me to the hospital to be examined. I then waited for my parents to arrive, while the police continued asking me questions in the hospital waiting room, which I preferred to the police station.

  Finally my parents, and my brother, arrived. They rushed through the corridor. As they got closer to me, their faces changed. It was subtle, but I noticed.

  And then they all, more or less, gasped.

  “You look great,” said my mother.

  My father gave her an annoyed look and hugged me. “No she doesn’t. She just went through nine months of hell. How could she look great?”

  “I don’t know,” said my mother.

  The police asked us if we wouldn’t mind spending the night in town so that I could be further questioned in the morning. I told them I would rather be questioned all night rather than have to try to sleep in this part of the world again.

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