When she hit the freezing water, Jean screamed at the cold. The first shock was overtaken by a greater terror as she went under, into the dark. There was no time to think, no time to realise what had happened, just instinct closing her mouth, her eyes, and rolling over to kick for the surface.
She came up gasping and coughing, clawing at the bank, her legs thrashing, arms reaching.
Her finger tips clawed at the muddy, crumbling sides and then she felt pressure, on her head, a hand pushing her down. She reached up, opened her mouth to scream and swallowed a great gulp of filthy liquid. She coughed again, water spurting from her mouth and down her nose. Grabbing and floundering she fought against the arm, the hand that was forcing her down, into the canal, into the darkness. She twisted and squirmed but the bank was slippery the attacker too strong and in the end, all that she could do was draw in as much air as possible before she was completely submerged again.
She tried to pull away, to free herself and make for the far bank, but they had her hair and held her. She writhed against the grip but still they held her. Another hand was pushing against her shoulder, holding her under. Her lungs were screaming, she felt the pound of blood in her ears. Fear overwhelmed her. She was going to die, like the poor young girl someone would drag her out and lay her down, and then they would come and take her body away in a black bag. The thoughts spiralled and spun through her oxygen starved brain, bright sparks flashed in front of her eyes, her fingers tingled and she felt peace begin to claim her. She tried a couple more times feebly to kick herself back to the top but in the end her strength failed. She opened her eyes and could see nothing, the dark and the filth filled her vision, and as her body demanded air she opened her mouth and gave herself up to the water.
Jean was shivering, her muscles wracked by waves of shaking. Her teeth chattered and almost as she became aware of it she tensed her jaw, clamping down to stop the quiver. “Aunty Jean. Are you okay. Aunty Jean?”
She knew it was Carl. So, she was dead, he was dead and now they were together. She tried to speak, tried to open her eyes but they were sore and gritty. She reached out and felt the warmth of his grip.
“Thank God. Can you talk to me?”
She couldn’t. The words that left her mouth were a garbled mumble.
As awareness grew she realised that, though her hair felt cold and wet her body was warm, wrapped in something, soft. She stroked a palm across it and murmured with pleasure.
“Come on Aunty Jean. Open your eyes. Just try.” So, she tried and there he was. He looked ravaged and tired but there he was.
“Carl.” She raised a hand and touched his face. “Are you alright? I thought we were dead.”
“No, I’m okay. Fairly okay anyway. Look, if they come back I have to be careful, they don’t know my hands are free. I have to pretend for now at least.”
“What – pretend what?”
“They think my hands are tied. I have to keep up the pretence for the time being, until I work out what to do, how to get us out.”
Jean pushed herself into a sitting position, she pulled the blanket closer and as she did she gasped. “My clothes, where are my clothes?”
“I don’t know. They wrapped you up before they brought you in here. I, erm, I haven’t looked, have you got nothing on?” he pointed, “Under that.”
“My undies, I’ve got my undies on. Thank God. Sorry Carl.” They were both a little embarrassed and he glanced away.
“I don’t know what happened. I was in the water, someone was pushing me down. I tried to get away but…” she couldn’t go on and for a minute she struggled with emotion. She sniffed and snuffled and wiped at her face with the corner of the blanket. “Anyway, in the end I just couldn’t fight anymore. Do you know how I got here?”
“All I know is that they went out. As far as I know there are two of them. They went out and then there was a hell of a commotion when they came back, they were yelling at each other – they do that a lot! I’d managed to tear the plastic things that I was tied with. Not all of them but the ones round my hands at any rate. There’s something in that corner, I think it’s a shelf bracket or something. It broken so there are rough edges. Anyway it worked. Took me ages though, it took so long that they came back before I had a chance to work on my ankles.”
“Carl you poor thing.” She clasped his hands and felt the stickiness of blood, the rough torn nails. “I’m so sorry love.”
“Not your fault, none of it. Really, don’t go blaming yourself. Look now there’s two of us, and you’re not even tied up we’ll get out. We just need to work out the best way.”
“Do you know how I got here anyway?”
“Well, as I say there was all this racket and then the door opened and the bloke just carried you in and dumped you on the floor. You’ve been out for a while. I thought at first that you were dead. He didn’t say anything, just left you there. I don’t know where your clothes are. Aunty Jean you’re not, you know, hurt or anything?”
“She took a moment. She couldn’t feel any real pain, the was soreness in her eyes and her throat and she felt achy and unwell but she understood what he meant and shook her head. “I’m okay. I’m all okay, I don’t think they did anything. Well, other than try to drown me that is.” She tried to laugh but it came out as a hollow huff of noise. Carl leaned down to hug her and for just a minute she let herself bask in the warmth of his body and the feel of his arms. Then she pushed away.
“I really am sorry about this Carl. I had no idea what I was getting us into.”
“But, what is it that we are into? I just don’t understand.”
“I have no idea love. I truly don’t. They think I know something. I don’t and that’s it. Anyway look, your mum will have called the police by now. I don’t know what time it is but it must be well past time, and she’ll have called them. All we have to do now is sit tight and wait for them to find us.” As she spoke she tamped down the truth that it wasn’t quite so simple, but she had spent her life reassuring and protecting this boy and it was impossible to stop now.