Fortified Towers

The story below is a compilation effort from a 7 facebook friends and I. Each of us wrote a page, not knowing where the story would go. We only had the text that was completed prior to it reaching our hands.

Enjoy.

Chapter 1

A deep, diaphragmatic gasp for air lifted him from the tub filled with lukewarm water. In a state of panic, he coughs violently, his body purging the water from his lungs, trying to understand where he is.

He looks frantically around the unknown room and realizes he has no bloody idea where he is.

Each wall in the small, claustrophobic bathroom is bare. There is a slight scent of urine mixed with excrement, and it is inducing a primitive wave of nausea. A single, flickering bulb, lights the room and it hangs directly above the tub.

In the distance, he hears murmurs of men, but in a language entirely foreign to him. He quickly gathers himself, uses his hands to push up along the sides of the tub and gets out of it. When his feet touch the ground, he screams, but immediately catches the sound before it rises beyond the confines of the room and reaches the men outside.

He slowly limps towards the mirror in the room, leaving a steady trail of blood in the wake of his dragging foot. He reaches the mirror, and looks at his face. He sees a jagged scar running from his left eye down to his left upper lip. Stubble fills his face; it hasn’t been long since his last shave.

Trying to ignore the searing pain coming from the sole of his left foot, he wipes down the dirty mirror and looks closely at his chest.

A tattoo. He softly touches the freshly engraved ink and reads,

“No matter where you may be, death is going to reach you, even if you are in fortified towers.” (4:78)

 His dilated pupils reflect in the mirror as it immediately dawns upon him that he needs to leave this room. The mysterious voices outside the room are getting steadily louder, and he can hear footsteps outside the door.

He looks outside the bathroom door and notices a window. Somewhat familiar clothes lie on the floor and he quickly changes into them. He moves towards the window, looks out into the sun-lit landscape, and looks down.

It dawned on him what he must do. Time is running out. They’re getting closer. No fear. He closes his eyes; take a deep breath, opens the window.

Eyes open.

Jump.

Chapter 2

He rolls as quickly as he can to protect his body and feet and stays low under the brush. The landscape is dry and yellow, desert-like, and he feels the hot sun on his face immediately. Looking up at the window from which he jumped, he sees 2 men looking out. He hears yelling as they point in his direction and, staying on all fours, he crawls deeper into the messy weeds as fast as he can.

Memories start flooding his head as he crawls. He is in a crowded prison. He is riding in a cart pulled by an old man, a woman sitting adjacent to him. He is holding a child and a gun. As he crawls he tries to clear his head and concentrate on the task at hand; getting as much space between himself and those men as possible.

The weeds turn into bushes and he feels strong enough to stand up and run. He sees a village ahead, and from the looks of it, it is perhaps a slum. Crowded, tin roofs, tiny alleys, miles and miles of huts. From where he is, it looks like there are thousands of them. He could lose the men and hopefully find a family to take him in and tend to his foot.

The images in his head are escalating now. If only he could just sit and think for a minute.

He looks over his shoulder and sees heads bobbing with guns raised. This is no time to contemplate. He rushes forward, ignoring the stabbing pain in his foot, and gets to the entrance of the start of the slum.

Children stare. Animals are in his way as he leaps over small dogs, chickens, rats.

He uses instinct to tell him which alley to head down. He splashes in puddles and mud reeking of human waste.

His presence begins to attract a handful of young boys and girls. They come from their doorways and begin running behind him. They only laugh and run faster as he tries to shoo them away. After countless turns and over an hour of running, however, he feels confident he has lost the men. He begins to slow down and he smiles at the crowd that has now formed all around him.

A woman comes toward him with her arms outstretched. He allows her to lead him into a hut consisting of a few slabs of wood held upright by mud and topped by a piece of tin for a roof. She sweeps aside a beautiful embroidered scarf hanging in the doorway and his eyes try to adjust to the dark musty indoors.

Chapter 3

As his eyes adjust to the light in the room, he tries to take in his surroundings. He recognizes her, but he can’t place her. “I’ve seen her before, but where?” he mutters to himself, “Was she? No it couldn’t be.” She doesn’t seem to understand what he said or at least feigns ignorance. Never mind, he needs to find out where he is. She hands him a cup to drink from. Thirsty and still out of breath, he’s not certain he should trust her. Why did she take him in? Why did she beckon him to enter? Why the scarf on the door?

He’s handed some clothing to cover himself with, all the while his hand over the tattoo he glanced in the mirror. She can’t understand him, but can she read what it says? Regardless, he throws on the shirt and pants, takes a swig from the cup he was handed and breathes a huge sign of relief.

As his heart rate subsides, he starts to doze off. As she walks back in the hut with a platter of food, he snaps awake and sits up. “Hey!” he says as he sits up. She only smiles and nods, leaving him to think that he still is not safe and should probably get moving again.

She places the platter at his feet, and begins to set the small dishes – each with its only colorful contents – on the place mat she had spread before hand. He stares at her face, the crevasses in her cheeks, the dimple in her chin, the glint of earrings from behind her scarf. “Who is she?” he thinks to himself. As his gaze hones in on her eyes, she turns toward the door, if you can call it that. It looks as if someone is trying to come in. Panicked, he starts to grasp at the area around him for something to defend himself with.

“Shhhh, shhhh” she says “Is ok. Is ok,” she tells him. A young boy comes in with a large loaf of Naan, the flat white bread popular everywhere from North Africa to Mongolia. “This certainly doesn’t tell me where I am, but at least I’ve heard her say something.” The boy places the bread in front of him on a ripped piece of cardboard. He grins at him and tears the bread, handing him a piece. He digs into the small dishes in front of him, devouring whatever it is that he can reach. Honey, jam, pickles, olives, all together not the best mix but one that does what it is supposed to do when you haven’t eaten in days.
He feels the blood coursing through his veins again, feels the numbness subside from his body. That feeling of disorientation is gone now that he’s got food in him. There is just one problem: now he can feel his foot again, and when he glances down it does not look good.

Chapter 4

It was a hideous mixture of blood and dirt. He had to see it to feel it, and he almost blacked out from the sudden resurrection of his pain. He began to panic. All he could imagine were glimpses of the terrible possibilities. For all he knew there was no chance of reaching a hospital or receiving proper medical attention. What would happen to his foot?

He suddenly realizes a soft touch on his knee. It is his familiar, yet unfamiliar friend. “Shhhh, shhhh. Is ok. Is ok,” she whispers. She had brought a tub of warm water and slowly began to wash off the debris. The pain is intense, but he slowly becomes accustomed to it. Once again he is able to take in his surroundings. He looks at the young woman. She couldn’t have been more than 20 years old. She has long black hair that quietly peeks out from under her scarf. Her eyes have the look of a woman who has already seen too much for her age.

“Who are you?” he asks. “Have we met before?” She doesn’t respond. He can’t tell if she isn’t listening or if she simply doesn’t understand.

Suddenly, the little bread boy bursts through the entrance. He is frantic and his speech seems incoherent. The young woman begins to calm him down and listens carefully to the boy’s words. Unfortunately he doesn’t understand a word he is saying, but he can read her eyes. A sharp determination begins to develop in her brow. She quickly finishes washing his foot and wraps it in a soft cloth. She and the bread boy help him up on one foot. He suddenly has a hard time bearing weight. They take him into another room where there is only a small bed. Rather than laying him down for a nap, the woman quickly tears the rug away from the floor. Underneath is a small door. She lifts it quickly and gestures for him to get into the hatch below. He spends a brief second wondering why, but realizes it is probably his best option for now.

He lowers himself into the small enclosure. It is barely the size of a small closet but he finds enough room to sit down. They cover up the hatch and he is enveloped in darkness.

He now has a sudden instinct to panic again, but he decides instead to retrace his steps. Maybe he would finally get the chance to remember where he was and how he got into this mess. He saw the flashes of the prison once again. He felt the rusted iron bars as he gripped them tightly with his hands. He was younger then. Again he saw the woman next to him in the cart. He realized her eyes had a strange similarity to those of his new protector friend. He could feel his brain on the verge of making a connection when the silence is abruptly broken by machine guns and screams. He can tell by the noise that it was frighteningly close.

Suddenly he hears an argument. Two men are yelling angrily at his friends in the next room. Could these be the same men who were chasing him? They were desperately pleading with the men. He hears a loud thud followed by more screams. Only now her screams are slowly becoming more and more distant. He no longer hears the boy.

“What now?” he wonders. After a couple minutes he forces his way out of the hatch. He slowly creeps out to the front room. The boy is laying still and seemed unconscious. The young woman is nowhere to be found.

Chapter 5

He quickly stumbles toward the boy and as he does the boy begins to struggle to sit up. The boy starts to whimper as he helps him up. While holding the boy’s head against his chest to calm the pain, he scans the room and notices not much to search but a small chest. He gently helps the boy up to the cot as they both struggle to keep balance. At this point he’s decided there is nothing else he can do to help the boy or the gone girl. He opens the chest and finds nothing but clothes and trinkets. The hatch, he thought, must be used to hide more than just those fleeing from danger. He climbs back into the hatch and finds a wad of currency. Jackpot.

He’s got nothing and nowhere to go. The images in his head aren’t any clearer and here in this room there is definitely no good. Take the money and somehow make it do some good is the only way. Frantic feelings of how and where grasped his shoulders and began to paralyze him down through his body. As he forces himself to push beyond those thoughts with that which is greater in power, he remembered the signs. He’ll have to use signs as he goes along to get to somewhere that matters. He’s not exactly how, but he opens the door to look toward the sky becoming night. The moon is perfectly full. He remembers the last moon he saw was a crescent meaning about a week had passed. Once outside he looks left and keenly notices a dog barking and to the right two little girls playing about. He moves right.   Traveling down the way past the girls for a few minutes there comes an opening to the left where birds are twittering. He moves right. A few minutes later down that path a man in a cart pulled by a mule is traveling. He hails him down, “Hey!”. He waves his stolen wad of currency and uses sign language to catch a ride. A ride to wherever. Wherever had to get him further to better transport and to the more familiar. The old man seemed kind which comforted his choices thus far.

While they’re traveling along, they pass much of the village. Traveling towards the edge he notices a pregnant women. Within moments, the mule slowed pace seems obvious. Not long later, he notices two more women walk outside of their homes, he looks closer, one of them is pregnant. The old man begins harassing the donkey to keep up the pace. “Stop!” He wails at the old man. When the old man stops, he jumps off to come closer the mule. He notices a small jagged cut on his foot. Poor mule. The old man comes around and notices what he found and pats the mule. After parking, the old man releases the mule from the cart.

The old man motions to be followed. With some amount of sign language he got that there would be no more traveling until morning and they were going to a place to rest and eat. Along the way he notices the colored scarf from before hanging on the side of one of the homes they are passing.   The girl is near. He hears a distant baby crying. He needs to be careful he thought, very careful.

The old man stops at door and knocks. After hearing a response from inside the old man opens the door welcomes him in. A young man inside greets the old man with hugs and kisses. The young man turns to him with beautiful piercing eyes and the same kindness of the old man and outstretches his hand, “Hello, my name is Ahmed. What is your name?”

Chapter 6

His name. He can’t remember his name.

“Ryan.” A lone female voice from within the foyer. She steps out from the shadows. “It’s her,” Ryan thinks to himself. His protector-friend from the slum. She wears the familiar scarf draped around her shoulders, and loosely thrown over her head, her silky black hair peering from underneath. “You…. But … they took … how did you…“

Ryan is interrupted by a heated barrage from the old man directed toward his protector-friend. They converse heatedly in a language that is completely foreign, yet strangely familiar. Ahmed’s calm, reasoned attempts at intercession are drowned by the old man and protector-friend’s contestations. Ryan is able to pick up just a few words – daughter, helicopter, pirates, Sikkina – who the hell was Sikkina?

A tight feeling welling up in his chest, Ryan decides to gain some distance while they sort it out. As their voices fade, still audible, he wanders around the nearby corner. A gentle mewing grabs his attention. The silken-colored housecat lying on her side casually licks her left paw and interrogates her human interloper with conversational chirrups and a solid, unflinching gaze. He glances at the wall above her, and suddenly, Ryan is paralyzed, unable to avert his disbelieving gaze from a portrait on the wall. Those eyes. That face. It was the woman from his flashbacks.

“She’s beautiful, no?” Ryan wondered how long Ahmed had been standing there, watching him mesmerized by the visage of someone he had once known all too well. “She was my mother,“ explained the young woman, Ryan’s protector-friend back in the slum. This time, Ryan understands every word they say.

“Your father doesn’t remember a thing.” The old man glances at Ryan pensively.

Another flashback. Ryan is back at the prison. His hands clutching the rusted iron bars, uniformed men at the other end of the room drag in a hooded figure, her pained shrieks barely recognizable as human, her tattered frock stained with the blood running down the inside of her bare thigh. He watches helplessly as one of the uniformed men pins her arms behind her back, and another officer lunges at her. His ASP P12 T50KB truncheon sails into her forehead with an audible crack. They unceremoniously toss her limp, lifeless body into a nearby crate, as if she were a lifeless goat carcass after the slaughter. Unable to hear his own rage-induced bawling, Ryan loses consciousness, not noticing the poison darts sail through the tiny window and burrow straight into the necks of the uniformed men, and the thud from their collective collapse.

A splash of cold water brings Ryan back inside the house, with Ahmed, his father, and his protector-friend. “You’re safe now,” the old man reassures Ryan. “You’re lucky we found you and brought you out when we did.”

Lucky indeed. If only they knew what had really happened. What he had really done.

Chapter 7

Still groggy from the previous nights festivities, He lies there awake but reluctant to fully rise. He hears her melodious voice beckoning to him. “Ryan, Ryyyaaaannn, my love, wake up darling, we have to leave soon.” He purposefully doesn’t respond to her call. He loves hearing her voice, even when its angry with him. She is his everything, and so he waits for her to call him again. “Ryyyaaann” He hears her footsteps coming down the hallway. As her voice sings his name it becomes louder. He is waiting for just the right moment. Just a step away from their bed, she calls him again while reaching for him, he throws the covers off himself and jumps up to grab her. “ AAAAAAAHHHHHHH,” She shrieks, “You scared me! You’re awful!” Both burst into thunderous laughter happy to be in each others arms. Looking deep into her eyes, he cant help but feel overwhelmed with emotion. “I love you, Sikkina. You are my everything. My soul. The moment I saw you I fell completely and hopelessly in love with you. Just the thought of you puts a smile on my face and a happiness in my heart. I promise to always love and protect you with all that I am and all that I have.

Tears filling her eyes. “Oh Ryan! You are my everything too! I still can’t believe that our life together is real. From our first accidental encounter at the café, I knew that I wanted to marry you. And it happened. I am so grateful to my family for blessing our marriage. I cant wait to tell them the good news!” Smiling at him she says, “So hurry up and go get ready!!!” “ We can’t be late to the dinner to see the newlyweds before they leave for their honeymoon!”

“Yes ma’am!” he replied.

As he gets up and walks to the bathroom he says, “I hope it is a girl. Who looks like her beautiful mother, and is tough like her awesome father!

Ryans body jolts upright out of bed. He remembers some details now. The beautiful woman, his wife Sikkina. His protector, his daughter. Everything is starting to rush back. Ryan runs to find everyone. He needs more information to fill in the gaps. They are all in the garden having tea, talking. They jump up startled at his sudden presence.

“Is everything alright Ryan?” asks Ahmed.

“I remember being married. But I need more.”

“How did things go wrong? And how did I lose the love of my life?” He sobs. “Sit down. We have a lot to tell you.” Says the old lady from the cart.

Chapter 8

“Ryan.”

“Ryan.”

“RYAN!!”

Ryan woke up frantically, soaked in dirty bathwater, looking around the unknown room and realizes he has no idea where he is. What was that voice? Could it have been my own?

“Wait a minute, is this….. Again?

 

Each wall in the small, claustrophobic bathroom is bare. There is a slight scent of urine mixed with excrement, and it is inducing a primitive wave of nausea. A single, flickering bulb, lights the room and it hangs directly above the tub.

Feeling an ominous sense of déjà vu, Ryan moves towards the filthy bathroom mirror. He looks at his chest and sees the same tattoo, “No matter where you may be, death is going to reach you, even if you are in fortified towers.” (4:78)

 

Ryan realized that everything he stood for, everything he lived, everything he would die for, was inked into the deep flesh of his chest.

Because what happened to Ryan needed to be told. His legacy is only matched by the mystery that clouded his death all those years ago. Sakkina, Ahmed, the young boy…

It’s all so clear now. I tried to hard to leave it all behind. The tyranny. The resentment. The betrayal.

It wasn’t long after my capture by the elite forces of Uzbekistan’s rebel army that my life went into complete disarray. It wasn’t so long ago. The year was 2067, 50 years after the Trump dynasty began in the so called, “United States of America.”

At that time, I was a young marine, dedicated to the fight against, well, “everything”, that I met Sakkina in Uzbekistan. I immediately fell for her. Her scarf led me to visualizations that kept me up for days. I fell madly in love for her, but knew that this yankee didn’t have the slightest clue about her culture or her faith. There were only a few remaining folk of her faith left. There were called, “Muslims.” Her scarf was given to her; having passed through generations of mothers, originally in the hands of her great-grandmother.

Words were carefully woven on her scarf; the same words that penetrate the skin across my chest.

“No matter where you may be, death is going to reach you, even if you are in fortified towers.” (4:78)”

 It came from an ancient text, a text said to be protected until the end of time. A book that began with an “opening” and ended with a plea for refuge from the “Lord of Men”.

Sakkina and I married shortly after I met her. It wasn’t long after that when my misery began. Troops from a coalition of angry zealots ripped her from my arms and claimed I had no right to be with her.

The last thing I saw as they took her away was her scarf. Having fought with all my might, a man turned and whipped his arm back, slicing my face with a double-edged knife. As the scurried off on their motorcycles, I picked up the scarf, put it to my face to calm the bleeding, standing there alone in the desert, and read the verses.

The verses that would stay with me forever. The verses I would continue to read each and every single time I would wake up in that filthy tub.

And alas, here I am. I am coming to rescue you.

And for your captors, the ones who sliced my face as they fled? I have a message for them too.

“No matter where you may be, death is going to reach you, even if you are in fortified towers.” (4:78)”