A Life in Chains by G.M.Owen, Illustration by Eric Stanton A Circus Story

My fascination with the circus began the moment I was born, or so my parents said. My mother was a trapeze artist, though she gave up the act when she found herself pregnant with my older sister Alice. My father, William Spence, was a famous escapologist. I say 'was' because, sadly, my father is no longer with us. He died, as he lived, among his ropes and padlocks.

I was sixteen when he died, even his death couldn't dampen my desire to follow in his footsteps, but it did succeed in teaching me that safety was of the utmost importance.

At the age of eighteen I made my first television appearance, alongside a trapeze act from a rival circus, the famous Brodelli brothers. The brothers were well known for their charm, and their many female conquests, but it was their act that I fell in love with that day. That was five years ago, five very long years ago, during which time my life changed immeasurably...

It all began when I met Sam, who later became my fiancé. I met Sam behind the scenes, at the show I appeared on, and it was love at first sight. He was a cameraman, very good at his job, and very fond of hitting women. Of course, I didn't know that for quite a while, if I had known, I would never have agreed to living with him.

We had only been dating for eight months when we decided to set up home together, it seemed like such a good idea at the time, but almost instantly I began to regret it. I suddenly found myself living with a dictator, nothing I ever did was good enough, and everything I had worked for was gone.

I instantly missed circus life, and to add insult to injury, Sam demanded that I give up my escapology act. He wanted a 'normal' woman, someone he could rely on to be 'there' for him, someone to keep the home clean and tidy, and to entertain at his many parties. The parties drove me crazy; they were always on behalf of some pompous windbag, Sam's way of getting better job opportunities.

I was trapped, if I disagreed, or refused to do as he asked, I got a beating for my trouble. Life was unbearable, I was his prisoner, afraid to leave him incase he carried out his threat to kill me.

It was Alice, my sister, who put an end to the relationship. I thought I had managed to keep my predicament from my family, not wanting to worry them, but Alice had known all along that something was wrong.

Alice arrived on our doorstep one evening; much to Sam's disgust, he didn't like circus people. He especially disliked Alice; she was too 'opinionated' for his liking, too 'full of herself.' What he actually meant was that Alice wasn't the kind of girl to take orders from a jerk like him, she was much more likely to punch his lights out, and that was what happened.

We were sitting down to eat, having hurriedly made room for Alice, when Sam made some derogatory remark about circus people. It had sparked a row between them, as Sam had known it would, it was meant to be his way of getting Alice to leave. Unfortunately, for him, he didn't know my sister as well as he thought. Within an hour he was sitting outside on the pavement, dazed, and bruised.

Three years I had put up with him, three years of hell, and it was finally over. I told Alice everything, crying in her arms like a baby, while she listened to me in stunned silence. When I finally finished she helped me to pack, I took very little, and then I followed her out of Sam's life forever.

Alice was working at 'The Rambling Rose Circus,' as a trapeze artist, having followed my mother's path. It was here that I met the brothers Brodelli again, albeit briefly, before heading off to stay with my mother for a time.

The meeting must have inspired Mario Brodelli, because six months later I got a call from him, asking me for my help. He was planning to add a new twist to the act he and Marc performed, an escapology routine, and wanted some advice and input.

I think I would have refused if it hadn't been for Alice, on the rare occasion that I had found myself around the brothers, I had always felt a strong dislike for Mario. Their act was superb, an act I could watch over and over, without fear of ever getting fed up of it. But the brothers themselves, I had never liked, especially Mario. Marc I found a little annoying, but Mario, I had never met anyone who loved himself so much.

Both men were always surrounded by women, which didn't surprise me, since they were both very attractive. They worked their way through women as though they were underpants, as soon as they were finished with; they were discarded for a new pair.

Now, to my utter disbelief, Alice had become Marc's latest woman. The very idea seemed ridiculous, my strong willed sister, taking up with a known womaniser. It just didn't seem possible, yet she had confirmed it herself, when she telephoned me to ask me whether I was going to help Mario.

I knew I had to help her, as she had helped me, and the only way I could do that discreetly was to help Mario.

The brothers were in the main tent when I arrived, practising their act, along with Alice. It was wonderful to watch, one of the most breath-taking experiences I had ever had, and as always it was over too quickly for me.

As soon as Alice saw me she called to Marc, who was preparing to descend from the trapeze, using a pole behind the swings. Marc waved to his brother, who was still swinging by his legs, from one of the metal bar swings. Catching his attention, Marc pointed to me, and I watched as Mario turned his head.

I couldn't see his face from where I was, I only knew that he was looking at me, and that was enough to make me feel uncomfortable. Mario swung himself upward, gaining a little height, before letting go of the swing altogether. I watched, in awe, as he twisted and turned in mid air. As he plummeted to the ground, I held my breath, forgetting that the safety net was in place.

Mario landed gracefully, bouncing several times, before swinging himself over the edge of the net. As he made his way toward me he retrieved a towel, from the corner of the net, drying off the sweat that had formed on his muscular body. I couldn't help but stare, as I said, he was an attractive man. Every muscle was perfectly formed, and they all seemed to ripple as he moved, the suit he was wearing left little to my imagination.

When Mario looked up, no more than ten feet from me, I found myself gazing into his eyes. I had never noticed how dark his eyes were, how startling, it was almost impossible to look away.

"Elaynor," he called to me, "I can't thank you enough for coming."

I smiled a little, taking his hand as he offered it, expecting a handshake. To my surprise he raised my hand to his lips, kissing it lightly, before dropping it slowly. I blushed a little, I could feel the heat in my cheeks, and I dropped my gaze to the floor.

His eyes were on me; I could feel them, giving me the once over. Instantly I regretted accepting his invitation to come, no matter how much trouble Alice was getting herself into, I hated being looked at like a piece of meat. There was no way I was ever going to be one of Mario's women, and I knew I was going to have to make that clear, before I even started to help him with his idea.

"It's nice to be here." I said, stupidly. "I hope that I am able to help you out with the ropes, Mario, there's nothing I like better than getting tied up." The words were out before I could stop them, as they left my lips I knew how they would sound, and inwardly I squirmed.

Mario smiled, actually he grinned, making me feel even worse. "That's what I like to hear." He answered.

"No," I blurted, "I didn't mean it like that. It came out all wrong, what I meant was…"

"It's okay," he interrupted, "I know what you meant."

Alice giggled, coming up behind Mario, her eyes sparkling. "Laynie!" She squealed, flinging herself at me. "I don't think we need to know about your personal life."

I smiled, I had missed Alice, it was so good to see her again.

The following morning, after breakfast, Mario and I began his training. I started off by showing him the equipment my father had used in his act. Then I began showing him how to use it, as my father had done, all those years before. He was a fast learner; there was nothing that I had to explain twice, and I soon had him trussed up so tight he could barely move.

"Okay." I said, checking his bonds. "I've shown you how the knots work, lets see how you get out of them?"

"What about the other stuff?" He asked. "The shackles, the blindfold?"

"One step at a time." I replied. "Lets see how you do with the ropes first, you can't learn everything in one day."

"Okay." He said, testing the ropes, as I had shown him. I watched as he stretched his arms and shoulders, giving himself a little slack, as he began to make a show of struggling. "I can still remember watching you do this." Mario said, stretching his fingers for the rope securing his arms at the small of his back.

"Really?" I asked, hiding my surprise. "I didn't realise you watched me."

"Sure," he answered, "I never understood why you gave it all up. You could have been bigger than your father?"

"I fell in love." I replied, keeping my eyes on his hands, careful to avoid eye contact.

"I heard that." He said, taking the end of the rope between his fingers, beginning to inch it loose, his fingers bending almost impossibly.

"You need to keep the struggling going, it takes the audiences attention away from your hands, when you're upside down you'll be turning a lot and they might see what you are doing."

Mario nodded, renewing his former struggle with more vigour.. "So what happened?" He asked. "Between you and Mr Right?" His fingers worked steadily, just as I had instructed, never letting go of the end of the rope.

"We split up," I replied, "It's not something I like talking about."

"Sorry," he said, "I didn't mean to pry." I knew his eyes were on me, though I didn't dare look up at him, I could feel them studying me.

It took him under ten minutes to set himself free, his time was good; I was impressed. He had done everything exactly as I had specified, though some of the ropes had been difficult to reach, he had managed well. "You did well," I told him, "tomorrow we'll work on the shackles."

"We could do that now?" He asked, rubbing his wrists. "Why wait?"

I smiled. "We'll wait because your fingers are probably aching, and because I'm hungry." I replied, tossing him a towel. "Take a shower," I added, "you're sweating."

Mario grinned, heading for his caravan, leaving me to clear away my equipment. That evening we went into town, for a meal, Alice and Marc, Mario and myself. The meal was wonderful, as was the nightclub afterwards, and all the alcohol I consumed. As the evening wore on, I found myself liking the brothers more and more, setting my former opinions aside. I found myself enjoying their company, and happier than I had been in a long time, blissfully unaware that I was being watched.

Opening my caravan door, I even turned and kissed Mario's cheek, thanking him for the wonderful evening. I heard Alice gasp, then giggle, as she saw me. Mario kissed me back, bidding me a good night, before setting off for his own caravan.

I snuggled down in my bed, falling asleep almost instantly, never suspecting for a moment that someone was watching my caravan very closely. Had I known, I probably wouldn't have slept at all, and I definitely wouldn't have left the caravan door unlocked.

When I awoke the following morning I felt lousy, I had the most awful hangover, and to make things worse I was already over an hour late for the days training with Mario. Showering, then dressing quickly, I grabbed my bag of shackles and headed for the caravan door.

My hand was on the door handle, when I saw the flower, a single red rose. It was hanging from the door lock, just above the handle, its stem touching the side of my hand. Picking it up, careful to avoid the sharp thorns, I smiled a little. It had to be from Mario, a thank you, for my company the previous evening. Though why he just left it, hanging from the door lock, was beyond me. He could just as easily have left it on the table, where it would have been easier to find, or have woken me to give it to me in person.

The fact that I had left my van door unlocked didn't bother me, it wasn't unheard of, circus people usually knew each other well enough to trust each other. Had I known that it wasn't Mario, who had left the rose, I might have been more worried. Had I realised that the rose bearer had been inside my bedroom, had watched me sleep for over an hour, I would have been scared out of my wits. But I knew none of this, I was happy with my assumption that the flower was from Mario.

Mario spent the first hour and a half of our training session trying to escape the shackles I had brought with me. He had insisted on trying to escape them on his own, without my help. To my surprise, he had actually managed to master bringing his hands around to the front of his body, and realised that he needed to move his hands into a certain position to escape the shackles. What he hadn't mastered, was listening to the lock, positioning his hands in time with the opening of the locks mechanisms. It took him a further hour to learn how the mechanisms worked, after that; there was no holding him back.

By four 'o' clock I was confident that Mario knew exactly what he was doing, and bored stiff of letting him have all the fun. Dragging out Mario's bag of ropes, I asked him to tie me up and shackle me. My aim was to show him how quickly an escape could be performed, but I got more than I had bargained for.

Mario proceeded to tie and shackle me; then he stood in front of me smiling. I knew instinctively that he was up to something, just by the look on his face, but I was fairly confident that I could get myself out of anything he had planned.

Forcing out my shoulders, I reached for the end piece of the rope that Mario had tied last, only to find that I couldn't reach it. I knew, no matter how I struggled, that I wasn't going to reach it. Shooting Mario a smile, I forced my shoulders out even further, so that a little slack was created, enough so that I could work my way free. As soon as Mario saw that I had created enough room for manoeuvre, he moved closer to me, reaching behind me.

To my utter disbelief he pulled on one of the ropes, taking away the small amount of room I had gained. "My god you look gorgeous." He told me, with a grin on his lips.

"Yeah, right, now back off." I told him, taking two or three tiny steps backward, giggling a little.

"No way," he replied, "I've got you right where I want you. I've been trying to get you on your own for years, now I have, and you can't even run away."

"I don't understand." I told him, already trying to gain a little slack again. "Why would you have wanted to get me on my own?"

Mario grinned. "So I could do this." He replied, moving even closer, his lips coming down on mine.

I struggled at first, and would have toppled backwards, if it hadn't been for Mario catching me. Then I stopped struggling, realising that I was quite enjoying the kiss, and settled against Mario's chest. I lifted my head slightly, allowing Mario to kiss me ever more deeply, while I raised myself on tiptoe to reach him.

He had released his grip on my rope, and I found myself free to slacken it. His hands were now caressing my face and neck, stroking my face gently, as he kissed me. It felt wonderful, especially after I managed to work my hands free, and was able to wrap my arms around him.

That evening I watched Mario as he joined Marc and Alice for their trapeze act, it was like looking at him for the first time, suddenly realising that I had feelings for him. We had talked, openly, for the first time. I discovered that Mario had long had feelings for me, ever since he had first laid eyes on me. If I was honest with myself, I would have had to admit that I felt the same way, though I had been put off by his entourage of female fans.

After the act, we spent the evening in Mario's caravan. He cooked a meal, while we watched a video, and drank wine. It was a perfect evening, and afterwards, Mario walked me to my caravan and kissed me goodnight.

Closing the door, sorry to be leaving Mario, I hugged myself happily. I had no idea what was about to happen next, if I had, I would have at least had time to scream.

Something heavy came down on the back of my head, as I sank to the floor, all I could think of was the pain. As the darkness set in, I tried to fight it, but to no avail.

The first thing I was aware of was the pounding in my head; it felt as though my head was about to split, the pain was so intense. The second thing that hit me was the realisation that I was somehow upright, and my wrists hurt like hell. I opened my eyes, expecting there to be light, but I was in total darkness. As my eyes became accustomed to the darkness I found that I had been chained to a wall, in a space barely bigger than a telephone box. Hanging above my right hand was a single red rose, looped around a metal hook. I froze as soon as I saw it, realising the first rose couldn't have been left by Mario. That whoever had chained me here, had also been inside my caravan, more than once. Tapping my knuckles on the wall behind me, I discovered that the walls were brick.

I wasted no time, despite the pain in my head; I began the struggle to release myself. My captor had tied and chained me, and obviously knew what they were doing. The shackles holding my wrists were sharpened metal, and of a type I had never come across. Each time I tried to position my wrists in tune with the locking mechanism, the metal sliced at my wrists, adding to my pain.

Forcing the shackle on my right wrist against the wall behind me, I pressed my wrist tightly against it. The last thing I wanted was to slice an artery, and bleed to death. That done, I turned my attention to the locking mechanism once more, studying it as closely as I could. As I twisted the shackle this way and that, listening to the little clicks of the lock, I knew this wasn't going to be easy.

Twisting my wrist to the side, forcing a fist, I listened to the first click. Drawing the shackle downwards, wincing as the metal cut into the soft skin of my hand, I heard the second click. Without relieving the pressure on the lock, I forced it back against the wall, feeling the first of the locks mechanisms give under the pressure.

My hand was bleeding freely; I could feel the blood burning a trail down my arm, settling to form a sticky coating on the shackle. There were two more locking mechanisms barring my escape, both of which would be equally as painful, and difficult as the first. Finally though, I twisted my way free, and broke loose from the first shackle.

Releasing my left wrist was a faster process, now I knew what I had to do. It left my hand in much the same state as the right hand, but at least I was free of the sharp shackles. Now, I was left with only the ropes holding me against the wall, but I was too weak to attempt to loosen them. My wrists were raw and bleeding, I could still feel the blood running down my arms, so I decided to take a break.

Standing there, with my wrists bleeding, and my head banging, I began to wonder who was responsible for my discomfort. Who had done this to me, and why? I had no enemies; that I knew of, and this was beyond a practical joke. Whoever had tied and chained me, had meant for me to suffer, the sharpened shackles were proof of that.

I had to get out of my bonds, and out of my tiny cell, before my captor returned. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced that whoever had kidnapped me, meant to really hurt me.

Despite the pain in my wrists, and the blood that had set hard on my bonds, I began the struggle to release myself. I was almost free, tears pouring down my face, when I heard a key being inserted into a lock. I stopped my struggle, listening instinctively, to the lock being sprung.

As the door opened, I turned my attention to the person opening it. At first I couldn't make out who it was, but as the person entered and switched on a torch, I relaxed. It was Alice, and my relief was plain to see.

"Thank god its you!" I said. "Quick, untie me?"

To my surprise Alice just looked at me, shaking her head, rolling her eyes. "Poor little Elaynor, you just don't get it, do you?" She asked, crossing to me.

Foolishly, I assumed that Alice was going to untie me; instead she tightened my bonds. To my horror, she slipped the wrist shackles back in place.

"What are you doing?" I asked, struggling, still unable to comprehend. "Untie me?" It seemed impossible to me; that Alice was responsible for my predicament, we had always been so close, or so I had believed.

"All my life I've helped you," Alice began, "and I'm sick of it. You always had to be the best, had to outdo me, at everything."

"What are you talking about?" I asked, getting scared.

"When we were children, you always had to be prettier, and cleverer." She said, bitterly. "You always had to make daddy prouder, do the things I could never do. I had to take him away, if he couldn't love me, he wasn't going to love you either."

"Take him away?" I repeated dumbly, confused, and frightened. Alice had a strange look on her face, a look I didn't like one bit.

"It was easy," she continued, "all I had to do was cut the rope and glue it so it looked okay. Daddy didn't even notice that it had been tampered with, and no one else would have noticed, except maybe you. But you were too busy crying, and the police know nothing about the ropes. With daddy gone, I was the favourite for a while, until you moved in with that damned photographer."

"Sam?" I asked, confused. "What's he got to do with all of this?" My head was spinning; I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Alice had just told me that she had killed our father, it didn't seem possible; none of this seemed real.

"That is so typical of you," Alice replied, "playing the innocent. You know exactly what you are doing don't you, you always have to be the centre of attention; you'll never change. When you moved in with your little cameraman, mother sensed that you weren't happy; it was she who was beside herself with worry. I would have left you there, I knew what was going on, but mother was obsessed with you. She couldn't bear the thought of you being unhappy, so I had to do something, even though I didn't want to. I brought you home because mother wanted me to, because she asked me to, not because I gave a damn. When you got home, I had to leave, I couldn't bear to watch mother fawning over you."

"It wasn't like that!" I began to protest. "Mother never loved me any more than she did you..."

"Save your breath!" Alice shouted. "I'm not stupid, I know the truth, little Miss perfect. Our parents always loved you more, the audiences always loved you more, and now the Brodelli's love you more."

"What are you talking about, Marc loves you; he doesn't love me?" I said, confused, trying to calm her down. She was getting angrier by the minute, and I was scared, scared of what she might do.

"I'm not talking about Marc, I don't love him, I never have!" She shouted. "I only got involved with Marc to get in on their act, so I could finally be somebody, somebody other than Elaynor's sister. But you, you even have to spoil that for me."

"You asked me to come here, I only came because you asked me." I told her.

"I only asked you because I knew you wouldn't come, I knew how you felt about the Brodelli brothers, I never expected you to turn up!" She shouted. "Then, last night, Marc springs a little surprise on me. It seems he and Mario have been talking about you; Mario is smitten with you, and thinks you'll make a great asset to the act. I can't face that Elaynor, I can't allow it, I won't allow it."

Alice tugged on my bonds once more, I felt them cutting into my flesh. "What are you going to do?" I asked, frightened.

"Nothing," Alice answered, "I wont have to do a thing. The circus hits the road in the morning; I've already cleared out your van, so everyone will think you just took off. No one will ever find you here, you're in an old coal cellar, it hasn't been used in years. Even if you manage to free yourself of the shackles and ropes, you won't escape, not this time, I promise you." She smiled, switching the torch off, heading for the door.

"You can't leave me here?" I shouted after her, watching the door close. Silence answered me, then the sound of the key turning in the lock once more, followed by nothing.

I stood there, numb with shock, for what seemed like an eternity. For a while I prayed, willing someone to find me, hoping Alice would change her mind. Finally, I realised that it was hopeless, if I was going to escape this; I was going to have to do it alone. Again I set to work on the wrist shackles, forcing them to yield, despite the pain it caused me. When I was done, and they finally released me, I was in agony. Though I couldn't see my hands, I knew the damage was serious; I could barely stand the pain. Again and again the pain threatened to overwhelm me, sending me into unconsciousness, it was only the feel of the ropes on my wounds that kept me awake.

Trying my hardest to ignore the pain, and the lure of unconsciousness, I set about loosening my bonds. Alice had done a good job, and the blood that had seeped from my wrists had added to my difficulties, making my task even harder. At one point I must have blacked out, when I awoke it was because of the pressure on my wrists, as they struggled to support my weight.

Finally, with one last, painful, tug, I freed one wrist. My whole arm felt as though it had been put in a blender, but sensing victory, I reached across to free my other wrist. With both wrists free, I sank to the floor, allowing my legs a much-needed rest. I could feel unconsciousness tugging at me, begging me to give in, but I fought it. I could still feel the blood seeping from my wrists, I knew I had to bind them, or I was never going to make it out of here alive. Tearing off strips of my blouse, I wrapped the strips around my aching wrists, before letting unconsciousness take me.

I have no idea how long I was out, only that my head and hands still hurt when I awoke. I was weak, probably from blood-loss, but aware that I needed to escape as soon as possible. My wrists had stopped bleeding, though the effort of untying my remaining bonds threatened to start them off again, and caused me as much pain as the initial struggle to break free had. My hands and fingers were swollen, from the damage done by the shackles and ropes, and it took me much longer to escape the remaining ropes because of it.

Eventually though, I was free, and heading for the door. I pushed against the door; then I kicked it, hoping to draw someone's attention. Then my hope of rescue faded, and I began to think, drawing on the tricks of escapology my father had taught me. The simplest method of opening a locked door was to first check if the key was still in the other side, I needed a piece of paper, but knew I wasn't going to find one. I took off my blouse, feeding it under the door, becoming angry when it refused to remain flat. I needed something firmer, something I could draw back and forth easily. Taking off my bra, I slipped it under the door, careful to remove one of the under-wires first. Positioning the bra carefully, I turned my attention to the lock, and my bra wire.

Pushing the wire into the lock, I prayed it would hit a key, and make life easier for me. When it didn't, I wasn't really too surprised, Alice wasn't really stupid enough to believe I wouldn't escape her efforts to tie me up. She wasn't about to make life easy for me, by leaving a key in a lock, but I still found it hard to believe she wanted me dead.

Twisting the bra wire in the lock, I set about escaping my cell, by picking the lock. It wasn't easy, my damaged hands felt as though they were on fire, I had to stop every so often to rest them. Finally though, I succeeded in tripping the locks mechanism, and pushing open the door. To my horror I was now trapped in another room, this one even smaller than the first.

Sinking to my knees, I looked around myself, knowing my hands were too painful to work on yet another lock. To make things even more difficult, the lock was now above me, in a metal trap door. There was a ladder, to add to my difficulty, and the lock appeared to be too strong to tackle with only a bra wire.

Settling back, against the wall, I began to cry. If I ever got my hands on Alice, I was going to give her more than just a piece of my mind; that was for sure. I leaned my head against the wall, trying to ease the pounding going on there, so that I could at least think straight.

That was when a thought hit me, giving me fresh hope, bringing me to my feet. Taking the second under-wire out of my bra, I put my blouse back on, and stuffed the bra in my trouser pocket. I climbed the ladder, using my arms to support myself, climbing as carefully as I could. When I got to the top, I turned myself around, so that my back was to the ladder. Ducking my head and arms between the top rungs, I used my arms to hold onto the ladder, while I pushed at the metal trap door with my feet. I had hoped that this door would be unlocked, but as I kicked at it, it refused to budge.

"Help!" I shouted, hoping someone would hear me. "Someone please, help!"

I wondered where this cellar was, whether it was close to the circus ground. If it was, maybe I would be able to attract attention, and summon help. If it was not near the grounds, as I feared, then I would have to get myself out. Continuing to call for help, I hauled myself up through the top rung, forming an 's' shape. Using my waist to support myself, I leaned out towards the centre of the metal door, and studied the lock that barred my way. Taking the two pieces of bra wire, I twisted them together, forcing them into the lock. Still shouting for help, I started to work on the lock, listening to it carefully. Between calls for help and clicks of the locking mechanism, I paused, resting my damaged fingers.

My wrists were on fire, and by the time I gave up, I was growing hoarse. My fingers were starting to bleed, thanks to the sharp metal of the under-wires, which kept biting into my already swollen hands. No matter what I did, the door didn't want to budge, even though I was sure I had tripped the lock on more than one occasion. I wanted to scream, but I wasn't sure that I could any longer.

After everything I had done to get this far, I wasn't happy about giving up, and I knew I had to give the door one last try. Slipping back through the ladder rungs, I braced myself for one last swing at the door. Holding onto the ladder with my arms, I launched my feet at the door, and watched as it lifted just a little. I saw sunlight, and the sight spurred me on, urging me to the point of madness.

I launched myself at the door again and again, shrieking for help, screaming as loud as I could. It seemed as though an eternity passed, but finally someone lifted the metal door, and I found myself looking directly at the sun above me. I blinked, momentarily blinded, using one tattered hand to cover my eyes.

"Jesus!" Someone above me muttered.

"Lets get her out of there, someone call an ambulance!" Someone else shouted, and I felt strong hands lifting me.

"What the hell happened?" A familiar voice asked, close to me, and I knew I was safe. I was with Mario, being placed in his arms, being lifted gently. "I knew you wouldn't just leave, not without saying something." He added. "But what happened, how did you end up in the coal cellar, and what happened to your hands?"

I lifted my hand away from my face; so that I could look at him, make sure that it really was him. "Alice," I told him, "ask Alice what I was doing down there."

Glancing at my tattered hands and wrists, I started to cry, I couldn't hold back the tears any longer. Relief washed over me, as the wail of an ambulance siren filled the air.

Mario hugged me to him, his lips settling near my ear, as he cradled me. "You'll be alright now, I promise, I'm not going to let you out of my sight." He told me, and I closed my eyes, feeling safe at last.

The End

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