John sat at the head of the table, looking at his family. He was so blessed to have them all, for God to have provided for him. To his right and left were the children, Ann and Sam, across from him was Julie. They sat in pre-dinner silence, he savoured it. The moment he had been looking forward to all day. The food gently steamed on the table, in a few moments it would be served, by Julie of course, while he cut the meat. He reached out his hands and the children took one each, clasping tightly, they joined hands with Julie and together, they bowed their heads as one.
“Thank you, God, for providing us with such wonderful food, and a warm, loving family in which to share it. Please, make our burdens lighter, ease our struggles and guide us from temptation. We are yours in heart, mind and spirit. Amen.” They kept their heads bowed for a moment longer, then, as one they released each other. John passed his plate to Julie who immediately began to fill it with vegetables and potatoes. As she did this, John stood and, grasping the large knife firmly, he began to carve the roast. The plates were passed around, Julie filling each one, her hands barely shaking. The children waited quietly and without complaint, hands folded politely in their laps when not passing something. When the meat was sliced, John started dishing it out, taking a few slices for himself, then giving Julie hers, before finally serving the children. He placed the knife to the side and sat once more, then, he bowed his head for a moment, the others followed suit. When he raised it again, he smiled at them all,
“Well, dig in”
Still smiling he picked up his knife and fork and began to eat, around him were the gentle sounds of clinking cutlery. It lasted only a second before Julie smiled at him, her eyes just barely meeting his.
“How was your day honey?”
He smiled at her and popped the piece of meat on his fork into his mouth,
“Why, it was wonderful dear, thank you for asking. Work went extremely well today, I think I might be getting a raise soon.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful news dear, I’m so happy for you.”
“And you, how was your day?”
“The children and I cleaned the house, then, while they finished their chores, I made dinner, it was such a peaceful day, very relaxing.”
He smiled at them all. “I’m glad to see my family getting along so well.”
As they ate, he kept an eye on them all, their manners were impeccable. This was it, it really was, this, this was his family.
When dinner was finished, he had come to a decision. A momentous decision that would mean great change for them all. First, he cleared away the plates, insisting Julie sit, after all, she had done enough for the day, making the house spotless, cooking the perfect meal. Once that was done, he sat at the table again, and looked at them all. While he had been clearing the plates they remained silent. “I think it’s time you all regain some of your privileges. To such an end, they’re coming off tonight. Just for a trial run, we’ll see how it goes. Though, I must warn you, if you do misbehave, they will be going back and you will be punished. Am I clear?” Everyone nodded, “I said, am I clear?”
“Yes dear” “yes, father.”
he nodded once. Then, he stood and took the key from his pocket, one by one he undid the chains around their feet.
“Now, doesn’t that feel better everyone? Knowing we can trust each other like this?”
“Julie smiled up at him, “Honey, you’ve had a long day and you’ve done so much already, please, sit. We still have to have dessert.”
He sat again, smiling at her. “Would you like a drink to accompany it? Maybe coffee?”
“Coffee would be wonderful dear.”
Smiling, she rose from the table, as she passed him, she bent and gave him a quick, chaste peck on the cheek, while she was still close, he breathed out one word in an almost sigh, “later.” Repressing a shudder, she left the room, a picture of control.
In the kitchen she started to shake. The lights seemed too bright, everything gleamed in spotless perfection. The counters were clear. The plates had been piled into the sink. She’d have to clean those, quickly, before he became angry. But there was no time now. She started the coffee machine, placing a cup underneath it, then, she started on desert. It was a quick and simple affair, a sponge cake with some fruit and cream. When she had filled four plates she placed them on a small tray, after adding the coffee cup, she entered the dining room again, smiling. The air wasn’t tense. She felt herself relax a little. She placed the tray on the side board and placed a plate in front of John, then, she gave him his coffee, afterwards she gave the children their plates then sat with her own. They ate in silence, and, once everyone was done, she gathered the plates and brought them into the kitchen. She heard the children ask if they could be excused while she started the washing up. She had to stay calm, keep doing what she was doing. She’d find a way out. She was unchained now while he was in the house, that was already a step forward. She’d been here, what, three months so far? It was hard to tell.
Hands suddenly wrapped themselves around her waist, he leaned into her, his body warm against hers. She was proud she didn’t jump nor shudder. She could feel him, pressing into her. She felt nausea build in her stomach.
“I have some things to do, I’ll be back soon.”
He kissed her neck, she shivered slightly in revulsion, he pressed harder against her and let out a faint groan. “Soon my love.” Then he was gone. She could hear the trap door opening and he left, and the clunk and clink of it closing and being locked. That door was the key, it was the only way out she could find, the place was like a bunker. She hadn’t seen the upstairs, she had been blindfolded and bound when he had brought her down here. She assumed that it wasn’t that large above. Down here there were eight rooms, along with some storage closets. The walls had windows, but beyond them lay nothing but brick. It looked like he had painted the bricks in swathes of green and blue with red splotches that might resemble the grass, sky and flowers if you squinted long enough. The girl, Ann, had been here before Julie, the girl didn’t know how long she’d been down here, but she remembered two other mothers. Sam was brought down a week after Julie. Ann remembered other brothers too. Julie tried not to think about it. She just glad that John had never shown interest in Ann. She finished the washing up and dried the dishes. Even after three months the décor still unnerved her. It was a weird fusion of sixties design and modern technology, everything gleaming and shining. Her wardrobe was filled with only dresses. She could hear the children watching TV in the sitting room. It wasn’t live or connected to anything. It was set to some kind of auto play, where different TV shows and movies played constantly. Though she knew John had control over it. TV shows that the children claimed to like would play frequently during the day.
They had been chained whenever he was in the house, when he left he would unchain them. The rules had been simple, while he was present no more than one of them would be unlocked at a time. When he left the chains undid themselves electronically, when he returned he would talk through a speaker, instructing them to return to the chains. It wasn’t until each was secured around their ankles that he entered the room. From that she guessed that he had some kind of camera system monitoring them all. She tried to keep that in mind. She had managed to explore most of the place while playing games with the children, most notably hide and seek and so far she had found nothing that would indicate a way for them to get out. She’d have to figure out a way to get the key. Maybe she’d have to kill him. There was no way she could be sure though, what if he over powered her? He had done it once and he was so very strong. She had been running when he had taken her. Out for her nightly run, trying to clear her mind after a spat with her fiancé. She tried not to shudder again. She didn’t like to think about him, about what he was doing, whether or not he was looking for her. She did wonder if that’s why she was chosen. After all she didn’t recognise the children from anywhere, there had been no amber alerts that she could recall. Maybe they were taken because their parents didn’t care, maybe they were negligent. Maybe in his mind, John was saving them all.
That was dangerous thinking. She couldn’t allow stuff like that to interfere. He kept them here, held them prisoners, did things to her every night. He’d kill her if he knew she wanted to leave, he’d kill the children too, she’d no doubt he’d done it before. She dried her hands on a dishtowel and went into the sitting room, there she sat on the couch, between the children, they leaned into her, resting themselves against her sides, she wrapped her arms around them both. She’d make sure they stayed safe, no matter what happened to her. She would keep them safe.