I know it's been a while since I've posted an episode, so here's a little recap. If you're new to this, you may want to start at the beginning. Continued from Parts 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9.
From the previous episode ...
There was nothing particularly menacing about Zarelda that night. She seemed charming, delightful, a flirt with the audience, and yet I couldn't push away a certain foreboding sense of premonition as the evening wore on. I looked out sometimes at the audience and wished I could discreetly signal Jack about my sense of unease. I could pull on my ear lobe like Carol Burnett, but what would that possibly accomplish? I could signal like baseball players, only we hadn't established any such system of communication, and my sense of self-dignity was too great to make myself quite that foolish looking, tapping and pulling at random parts of myself. I had read once about a hostage blinking SOS in Morse code on TV. Would Jack pick up that signal or would it simply look like I was having an episode of petit mal epilepsy? Really, the performance and my role in it took up so much of my concentration that I was unable to sufficiently come up with a plan that actually made sense, and I really had no idea what I was expecting anyway.
I successfully maneuvered my way out the escape hatch of the vanishing box for our final act. Zarelda joined me in this private space behind the contraption briefly before she would appear in my place. It wasn't until she reached her hand up to my shoulder and then my face almost tenderly that I caught a whiff of a chemical smell, and everything went black.
To be continued ...
I woke up and, before even opening my eyes, reached my right hand out as if to touch my nightstand and alarm clock. It didn't touch a nightstand but, instead, a sort of wooden wall. I jerked, and my left hand also sprung out, hitting a wall. As I jerked and moved, I was surprised at how sore my back was and for no reason I could recall. What had I done to myself? Had I finally allowed the guys to convince me to go bungee jumping?
I opened my eyes. Overhead, instead of my bedroom light fixture, giant papier-mâché tragedy and comedy masks glared at me. I knew now where I was, in the prop storage room at Zarelda's theater, and in one of her coffin-like boxes. Happily, my head was not enclosed. Looking up – and I really had not much of an alternative but to look up – I tried to decide whether my current dilemma was more comic or tragic and if either of those masks were mocking me.
I felt along the inside of my prison with my fingers and felt intermittent holes in the sides. I knew now that I was in the sword box for the sword trick, a trick we had never performed together or practiced. How did it work? There had to be a false bottom to the box. I felt along the bottom, but I couldn't discern any secret compartment. My hands were free, so that was to my advantage, but when I jerked my feet, they were fastened fast.
Looking to the ceiling again, I saw an opened stage trapdoor. This, perhaps, explained part of my present dilemma, how I had an abrupt exit from the stage to my current creepy situation. I recalled the last moments I could remember before blacking out, Zarelda's hand near my face and a chemical smell. Had I been positioned directly over the trapdoor while I was on the stage for our final trick? Did my subconscious know in order to give me premonitions?
Just below the stage trapdoor, I could make out the beginnings of something blue and red and plastic-looking. I imagined it was part of one of those inflatable rentals, some sort of bouncy playground inflatable. It might have been the start of a slide I was seeing. Had this contraption cushioned my fall? My back was sore, but nothing seemed to be broken. How thoughtful of Zarelda. She had drugged me and locked me in her magical prop box, but she hadn't crippled or maimed me. I wasn't sure this was entirely reassuring. I was still in a coffin-like box, and I hadn't yet explored how secure my trap was or wasn't.
How had she managed to get me from where I had landed into this box? I'd have to be carried. John? Kumar? The two of them put together? Those two thin as fettuccine guys? I supposed so, although they hardly seemed capable of hefting my dead weight. They must be like worker ants. I remembered seeing a troop of ants carrying a dead frog like a procession of islanders with a roast pig.
Remembering the chemical smell just before I lost all memory and, apparently consciousness, I wondered how much chloroform or drugs were in my system. I felt completely normal, not like that time after getting my wisdom teeth removed, when I was singing “I'm Bringing Home a Baby Bumble Bee” on the drive home and talking about living on the planet Rupert and, apparently, quoting the entire parrot routine from Monty Python.
I moved my hands, flexing my fingers in and out. I couldn't move my feet, at least not much. They seemed to be in handcuffs or whatever handcuffs are called when they are around your ankles. What's more, they seemed to be chained to the foot end of the box. As I flexed my insteps up and down, my heart started beating a little faster, and I could feel my shoulder blades rattle against the bottom of my prison.
My hands were free thankfully, although I was not sure what good they would do me in freeing myself. I was an extremely amateur magician's assistant, not an escape artist. I felt along the sides of the box. There had to be a lock here. I hoped it was a combination lock, even though I'm no Houdini or James Bond, either one. There still seemed to be more potential in breaking open a combination lock than some other sort of lock.
I found the lock on the side of the box to my right. It felt solid, with no dials or moving parts with which to play. How would I break myself free? With my bare hands? My fist? I imagined myself breaking my knuckles. Where was my Swiss army knife?
My heart sped up with a surge of hope, but when I felt for my pocket, I remembered what I was wearing or what I had been wearing before passing out. I was still in the stupid glitzy tuxedo, sans the jacket. I'm not sure if the jacket was removed for my comfort or because Zarelda wanted to protect the costume in which she'd invested. I didn't have any useful tool in my pocket – no Swiss army knife, no cell phone, no car keys, no anything. Where was McGyver when you needed him?
“Dangle Schnot!” Dangle Schnot? What in the world? Jack was having such an influence on me that, even alone, I was coming up with bizarre and kooky euphemisms for curse words. I hardly knew what I was saying. I might as well be speaking in tongues.
I wished Jack were here. If he found himself in my position, he'd find a way out. I was sure of it. He'd remove a button from his shirt, attach it to a string or a strip of fabric, poke it out through one of the sword holes and pick the lock open. Would that work? A shirt button couldn't do much with the lock's keyhole. I needed something longer and stronger … like maybe a zipper pull. I thought about that. I didn't think I really wanted Zarelda to discover me sans zipper. I felt humbled and vulnerable enough as it was. I started to feel overheated and headachey, my heart pounding. I had to calm down.
A new thought of a less than comforting nature intruded. What if I felt the call of nature and had to, er, use the facilities, what then? Would Zarelda be reasonable enough to let me out long enough to do my business? I had been semi-kidnapped before and had gotten away from my captor temporarily by this means. Somehow, I doubted Zarelda would extend this mercy in my current predicament. She had the upper hand now, and she knew it. She wouldn't put herself in a position for the situation to potentially reverse. I just wouldn't think about it. That's all.
I wouldn't think about vacationing at Niagara Falls or at Yellowstone National Park watching Old Faithful. I wouldn't think about the dishes at home at the condo that needed washing or giving George the beagle his much-needed bath. I wouldn't think about water at all.
In spite of telling myself to remain calm, I was beginning to feel agitated and stressed. My forehead was beading up with sweat, and I couldn't even wipe it. I would go to my happy place. I imagined myself at the beach somewhere beautiful, on the pink sands of the Bahamas perhaps, underneath a giant old beach umbrella with a 30 SPF sunscreen at my side … and the waves crashing to the shore. Maybe I needed a new happy place.
I thought of our recent business trip to Texas and imagined myself the hero of a Zane Grey or Louis L'Amour western, riding a galloping horse, completely free, the wind whipping through my hair … What was it with my subconscious and York Peppermint Patties?
It was at this point that I engaged in a strange activity for an agnostic. I started to pray. I didn't speak my prayer aloud. Jack would say that was unnecessary. I mentally composed my prayer. “Okay. I don't normally do this. I don't know if You're real, and even assuming that You are, whether or not you care. But if You can get me out of this … I promise … I promise to go back to church with Jack … at least one more time. Maybe I haven't thought about this enough.”
Go back to church one more time? Was this seriously the best I could do? If someone saves your life, shouldn't you be prepared to offer them a lifetime of service? I added a postscript. “I'm sorry if that's a pathetic offer. I'm afraid to promise something I can't … or won't keep. I'd like to stick a toe in the water before I take the plunge.” I didn't even add an “Amen” at the end. I just hung up the line, assuming there was a line.
I tried to let my mind gradually slip back to a happy place. Strangely, sexy women sitting next to me on airplanes had nothing to do with my happy place. I thought of George, that crazy beagle that could be such a bother but knew to give you a cuddle when you were sick or sad or out of sorts. I thought of Jack, my quirky, sometimes annoying friend, who would lay down his life for me, who would come to me rescue now if he knew I needed him. I thought about Jack's niece and nephew, Bronwyn and Declan, who had adopted me as their Uncle Andy, sitting with them in a homemade blanket fort, eating circus peanuts and popcorn and watching animated movies, testing out all our pre-production toys on them. I thought of Janie Duveau at the Salvador Deli. When I got out of here, if I got out of here, I would hug her and call her a ferret-nosed flibbertigibbet. She'd like that one, and I would eagerly anticipate her comeback.
To be continued ...