In the third installment of KSW, time is running out for Sumarra and the other captured Wives. Their best hope is Dilara, but her own secrets may destroy them all.
In this harrowing third episode of King Solomon’s Wives, Hunters have imprisoned Sumarra. Trapped, tortured and missing her final window to become pregnant, she must find a way out or her ancestral line will perish forever. Time and hope might just be running out.
Her rival, Dilara, is the only Wife with the knowledge and resources to rescue her. But Dilara has other pressing problems: Infighting among the clans, the reappearance of a rogue Wife long thought dead, the Hunters’ continuing attacks, and her own haunting mistake. Will Dilara be able to unite the clans and be the leader the Wives so desperately need?
Dilara has always followed and enforced the rules, but in order to save Sonya, Sumarra, and the sisterhood, she must choose to go against everything she believes, even if it means sacrificing her rank, her integrity, and her own life.
At least I was not alone.
The room smelled like old dust. The lamp on the end table was broken, but the one mounted on the wall gave off dim light. My eyes had long since adjusted to the darkness.
There was a bed, a dresser, and a table and chairs. The bathroom had a working shower and a toilet. A beige quilt covered the bed. The walls were velvet, dark brown with a raised scarlet pattern.
There was me, and there was Nevra, a fellow Wife, whom I met just two weeks ago when I arrived.
Two thick dead bolts locked the door from the outside. A hidden camera watched our movements, or so our captors had said. They spoke to us through an intercom.
“Hands against the back wall,” a voice said now. It was male and scratchy, the same voice that spoke those same words every day at about this time. I didn’t know what time it was because our only window, a twelve-foot area set back from the wall, had been boarded up. No natural light came in to show the passage of time. My first day here, Nevra said she thought the voice came in the evening. She had started scratching marks into the table to number the days. There were twenty-four.
Nevra and I rose and faced the back wall. We pressed our palms against the velvet wallpaper. I winced, preparing for pain to come at any second, even though we were obeying.
The door opened and closed. Plastic plates were set on the tile in the entry, and the door opened and closed again. I wondered if it was safe to relax. If we turned around before we were supposed to, there would be consequences. Even now, my wrist burned, reminding me of the metal band our captor put around it, the torture device we couldn’t remove. It was an electric shock conductor, potential punishment for defiance.
Nevra shook her head slightly, indicating she wanted me to wait. Her wavy brown hair hung flat and lifeless over her shoulders, and sweat glistened at her temples. Her raised arms were small but muscular. She’d told me that her clan, from Chicago, adhered to a military-like focus on fitness, rank, and obedience, in preparation for encounters with those who hunted us.
On my first day, I woke up and vomited the chloroform my captor had used to knock me out for transport. Nevra held back my hair. She gave me water and most of her ration of food for the next two days. She told me everything she’d learned and reassured me. “Stay strong,” she’d said. “We’re going to get out of here.” And the way she’d said it convinced me it was true.
A minute passed before Nevra whispered, “I think it’s okay.” She turned toward me, risking punishment, but didn’t start screaming with pain. “See? No shock.”
I was still afraid to turn.
“I’ll gamble it,” Nevra said. She “gambled it” often, and only some of the time did it turn out all right. Another thing I’d noticed about Nevra in the past two weeks: She wasn’t afraid of risk.
She put her hands down by her sides and shook them out. Her body was all muscle, taut and wiry. She turned all the way. No shock. I turned, too. We were alone and safe.
Nevra ran over, grabbed the plates of food, and moved them to the little table by the boarded-up window. It seemed to be soundproofed, because we’d screamed at it and knocked on it with no result. Shocks had followed our actions, shooting through our bodies, sometimes going on until we passed out. Afterward, our wrists had burned for days.
Windows mean aboveground, Nevra and I had agreed my first day while trying to puzzle out our location. Our prison room was approximately ten by twenty. The bathroom was tiled in white and baby blue.
Nevra said, “The air feels really thin here, doesn’t it? Ever think this room isn’t soundproofed after all? Maybe no one can hear us because we’re not near anyone. Maybe we’re too high up.”
“Maybe,” I said while picking through my food. Our plates held one piece of wheat bread each, canned applesauce, and cooked spinach. That was all we’d get that day. Our captor was keeping us alive on so few calories, he might as well be starving us. We got all the water we wanted, at least, through the sink in the bathroom.
“Let’s go through it all again.” Nevra nodded at my plate, where most of my food remained. “And hurry with the bread.”
I wasn’t hungry, but we never got more than a few minutes to eat. I swallowed some applesauce and closed my eyes, trying to focus on what we’d learned. To forget was to give up on escape, and I wasn’t ready for that. “The air is dry,” I said.
“And warm. And sometimes I think I smell sand. It’s almost like . . . like the way it felt when I visited Arizona when I was young.” Nevra glanced around the room. “It’s definitely a hotel room, but how could we be the only guests?”
“Ben Torrent must own the whole building. He’s boarded up the windows and put new locks on the doors.”
Ben Torrent was our captor. He was a Hunter, one of those whose family had pursued women like us for millennia, because he craved our destruction. All Hunters did.
As Nevra nodded thoughtfully, I pushed bread around my plate. “Tell me again about your trip here. How long were you under?”
“They caught me outside a bar. Knocked me out,” I said. “I was on an airplane. I’m sure of it. I believe four or five hours passed on the plane. Then they blindfolded me and dragged me downstairs and into a car. It was hot, dry, and windy.”
“You said you were kept at two other places before here. Both motels?”
“Yes. A day or so at each.”
“That first day when they took you, the chloroform probably knocked you out for only an hour, just enough time to get you to the airplane. So, your trip was probably around six hours total. And . . . you were brought from Georgia, right?”
Nevra glanced around the room again. “If you’d gone north, south, or east, the air would feel humid. Florida, Canada, the Gulf—all four or five hours away, and all humid. You must have gone west. Colorado. Utah. New Mexico. Arizona.”
I stared at my food. My stomach had shrunken in the time I’d been here, and sometimes it hurt to eat.
Nevra caught me pushing spinach around the plate. “Eat.”
I picked up the bread. Took a bite. Chewed. It tasted rotten. Maybe exhaustion had changed the chemistry of my saliva. Or maybe my stomach hurt because I knew the alarm was coming.
One bite. Another. And then Nevra and I shoved our fingers into our ears and curled into little balls on the bed.
Every twenty minutes, the alarm sounded. Loud, spiky frequencies bored into my brain and body. Sometimes even my stomach reacted, lurching to vomit up any food I’d managed to get down. My vision blurred.
The torture was to keep us from sleeping.
Holly McDowell lived in Colorado, Georgia and South Carolina before discovering the magical and inspiring city of Chicago. She can be spotted drinking glögg, searching for the world’s best tapas bar and writing in coffee shops all over the windy city. King Solomon’s Wives is her first novel.