Beth screamed and cried and banged but she knew it was useless. No sound could escape that room, nothing could. She hoped that this was just another of Jennifer’s childish jokes, but as the minutes ticked by she felt her faith dwindling.
Was this what it had all been about? Was her punishment to die a long and slow death locked in a nine foot square room with the rotting corpse of the man she’d murdered?
Jennifer had told her that air was filtered through vents into the vault but she became convinced that the air supply had packed up, or that Jennifer had helped it to pack up. She felt her throat tighten. Her body trembled and she felt faint. The room was shrinking, the walls closing in like a fist tightening around her lungs. With her back against the wall she let her legs buckle and she slid to the floor, her bones liquid. Her eyelids flickered and a darkness seeped across her vision as the world slipped away from her. Her last conscious thought was wondering if her death, when it finally came, would feel like fainting.
She didn’t feel as though she’d been out long but she came to slowly. Her joints were stiff and ached from the unaccustomed exertion of moving a dead weight around and the cold of the concrete floor had penetrated her body and chilled her. For a few seconds she had no idea where she was, or indeed who she was, but reality bit hard.
Jennifer had told her that there was enough food and water to last two adults for six months. That meant that, realistically, she could live in the vault for a year and then for however long she lasted once the rations ran out. This thought terrified her more so than the concept of dying ever could. Would she go mad?
Maybe Jennifer’s conscience would prick her and she’d relent and let Beth out.
She could cling to this hope. It could be enough to keep her sane in the face of Jennifer’s insanity. Her mind drifted to the medical provisions. There’d be drugs, maybe lots of drugs. How long would it be before suicide was the only solution?
She wanted to go and hammer on the door again, to try and reason with Jennifer, but she knew that it would do no good. Fainting had at least cured her of the initial panic attack and she was able to breathe. Now, the first waft of Marc’s pungency was leaking out from the tarpaulin. It wasn’t free enough to be an overpowering stench yet but it was unpleasant and made her feel sick.
To take her mind off the urge to vomit she took in her surroundings for the first time. The bank of monitors occupied one wall, thirteen of them in all. Out of curiosity she got up and flicked a switch at the side of the bank. The monitors flickered to life and thirteen views of the house showed on the screens. She could see Jennifer standing in a massive kitchen making herself a sandwich. At the bottom of each monitor was a button with a speaker icon. She pushed the button on the monitor for the kitchen. Jennifer had the radio on and Beth could see her dancing and hear her singing along to Korn’s Word Up.
Beth imagined Jennifer sitting in this room watching everything that had happened between Marc and herself, hearing every word spoken. Marc had gone upstairs for his shower. Did he know that Jennifer was watching? Did he get off on that? Had he done it before as Jennifer had suggested? She wondered what would have happened if things had played out differently. What if Beth had agreed to have sex with Marc? Would Jennifer have been sitting in this vault munching on chocolate biscuits and drinking fizzy pop as though she was at the cinema? Beth gave herself a mental shake-up. She’d only been locked in the vault a matter of minutes and already paranoia was running rampant and playing with her mind.
At least there was a comfortable bed. She had the monitors to watch and could see everything that happened in the house. There were a selection of books and magazines. Half of the room was taken up with the compact chests of rations. It might not be so bad, she mused. And she couldn’t really be left to die here, could she? Not really. Beth decided that for the time being, she would play Jennifer at her own game.
Unlike Marc, people would report her missing. She’d been seen on the bus with the distinctive Jennifer. Maggie knew about her, and sooner or later Beth would be linked with her and somehow or other she’d be traced back to here – which of course brought problems of its own. When she was found alive and well in this vault, Marc would also be found.
To the back of the vault was a spare section of wall, it lay in the shadows of the packing chests and was partially covered from view. Beth decided that she would move Marc into that space. He wouldn’t be out of sight or out of mind or smell, but at least she didn’t have to keep stepping over him to get from one side of the room to the other. Another thing that she’d need to sort out was the whole uncomfortable issue of toileting. As soon as this problem arose in her mind she felt the first twinge of needing to pee. She couldn’t see a flushable loo, or indeed a bucket. Something would have to be done. How long would it be before rescue came, a day, two, three? Surely it couldn’t be more than that.
In her nursing, she'd seen death many times, which helped to calm her. Sharing this vault with a putrefying carcass was only horrific because she'd killed him. Already she was becoming accustomed to the smell which, due to the thickness of the tarpaulin, wasn't that bad. All she had to do was remain calm, not give her captor the entertainment she was obviously hoping for and sit it out until rescue arrived. She might be Jennifer’s prisoner but she did have the upper hand in one respect, she could see and hear everything that was going on outside the vault. The situation might be terrifying, but all she had to do was keep calm and wait.
Calm? She felt the scream building but the noise still took her by surprise when it left her mouth.
The green door-release seemed to mock her from its position on the wall. In desperation, she would press it many times over the coming hours, days and weeks. Beth couldn’t remain optimistic. Her positive outlook crumbled as she remembered once again that she was dealing with somebody who was deranged. Two days earlier, her life had been sedentary and boring. She’d longed for something exciting to happen. Now she was a murderer on the run, with nowhere to run and a body to step over even if she wanted to.
She began to cry. Then she began to shout, screaming again to be let out. She punched hard on the release button in temper and the door slid open on its tracks.
Jennifer was sitting against the wall in the corridor with a huge grin on her face. ‘Bloody hell, it took you long enough, you silly cow. I thought you were going to stay in there for ever.’ She bit into her sandwich.
‘It wasn’t locked,’ said Beth.
‘Don’t be stupid. Of course it wasn’t locked. It’d be bloody dangerous if you got locked in a sealed room that you couldn’t get out of.’
Beth’s voice rose in anger. ‘You said it was locked. You said that you had to know the combination to get out. I thought you’d left me in there to die.’ Her fists had balled at the side of her legs. ‘You fucking retard.’
‘I’m a retard? And yet you were the one who couldn’t get out of an open door.’ Jennifer laughed so hard that she couldn’t speak for several seconds. ‘No, you idiot, you can’t get into it from the outside.’
Beth wanted to hit her. She didn’t know how to punch somebody, she’d never hit anybody in her life before scuffling with Marc the previous evening. But now she wanted to take her fist and ram it into the pretty girl’s face. She wanted to do serious damage. She wanted to feel the skin split on her knuckles as her fist came into contact with teeth. But she didn’t do anything at all. She let Jennifer lead her meekly back downstairs. She begged that she be allowed to go home. She reasoned that she’d return the next day to help Jennifer clean up. She wanted her Happy Mug with the smiley face and her pink dressing gown and her duvet.
‘What are we going to do about Marc?’ she asked. ‘I mean, we can’t leave him there forever, can we?’
‘Don’t see why not. It’s certainly the best place for him for now.’
‘But what about the house? Are you going to continue living here? What if you move?’
‘I have no plans for the future at the moment. Let’s just get over today, shall we, and leave it at that.’
Beth had no energy left to argue.
Jennifer insisted that they do everything that needed to be done that night. ‘You need to cover your tracks. Leave nothing to chance. Successful murderers only walk away if they are fastidious and careful. When you slip up, you get caught. I’ve read a lot of books on the subject,’ she boasted.
Beth worked alongside Jennifer in silence. She was sulking and still recovering from the shock of the last couple of days. Jennifer, in contrast, chatted happily as she worked, as though they were an external domestic company doing an ordinary night’s work.
‘I can’t wait to get home. We can get a fish supper on the way,’ she chirruped, as they cleared away the last of the cleaning products and burned their soiled clothes and overalls in the cellar’s incinerator.
‘What are you on about? You are home.’
Beth already knew that she wasn’t going to like Jennifer’s reply. She saw it coming and just knew that it wasn’t going to be good.
‘No, home with you, stupid, I’m coming to live with you. And you know what? You can’t stop me because you’ve just ruined any chance you had of screaming self defence and getting off lightly with a sympathetic jury. Any court in the land would have taken pity on you, but guess what? You blew it. You have just lost your last chance of legal freedom, you silly cow. If you want to stay out of prison now, your only chance is to keep me sweet. But, don’t worry, I’m not going to tell because you’re my friend and everything’s going to be good now. I think I’d like to decorate my own bedroom, if you don’t mind. All that mauve’s a bit much for me. God, I’m tired. C’mon, Beth, let’s go home.’