Warning: this chapter depicts waterboarding.
She jolted awake to the drumming of boots in the corridor. Rebane fell on the floor in a flash of helpless terror, still tangled in the blankets. The one she had named Grizzly, held a taser in his hand as the cell door swung open. The current impaled her with a whole-body cramp. The spooked flutter of her heart forced a whimper for mercy from her lips. The guards besieged her as she wriggled in a puddle of urine. Experienced hands rolled her like pastry. Dust from the floor watered her eyes. The hood they drew over her head transformed the men into fleeting shadows. Rebane struggled to locate the guards by following their dialogue. She grabbed the nearest man by the trouser leg.
“Stop it! I’ll tase you again.” It was Grizzly’s voice.
Her chest tightened, but Grizzly didn’t fulfill his threat. One of them grasped her T-shirt moistened with cold sweat. Swift, firm handholds cuffed Rebane and attached the chain onto the belt which they wrapped around her waist. She threw a punch at the nearest silhouette but missed. They squeezed her between their large, muscular bodies and spun her around to disorient. She kicked when they strapped her feet together and lifted the package of her. The lights on the ceiling of the corridor swished by, and her stomach churned with fear. The hood rustled against her ears, and her breathing grew noisy while she thrashed in vain.
The moist air condensed as they descended.
You’re taking me to the torture chamber!
The metal chair received her weight as the men lowered her down. She picked out Weisser’s aftershave amid the dank air. The hood lifted. Her skin turned to ice as her eyes adjusted to the bright light. The gurney with straps and the narrow plank over the sawbucks could mean only one thing.
Zinc buckets and plastic canisters – all filled with water- crowded the wet cement floor. A hand landed on Rebane’s shoulder. Weisser’s fingers squeezed her muscles. His breath against her cheek remained the only warmth around.
“Talk, and I won’t drown you.” His words slithered like molten lava.
Rebane needed a spark of hope but his expression remained untranslated as he stepped in front of her.
“I give you my word as an officer,” he said.
You’ll torture me anyway- to make sure that I speak the truth.
The hose which leaked on the gurney hypnotized Rebane. Sweat pearls ran down her temples.
“No,” she whispered as the war drum in her heart picked up tempo.
“You have to speak up. I can’t hear you.”
“No! Are you deaf?” Rebane screamed and bounced up.
A nudge from Weisser forced her back into the bolted-down chair. A sideward glance from him and Grizzly closed the door. Weisser retreated by the table to remove his uniform jacket. He loosened his black tie and rolled up his sleeves. The religious ritual of preparation disheartened her. Grizzly stomped across the floor and grabbed her by the neck.
They strapped her on the plank and tilted it to elevate her feet and lower her head. The change in gravity offered a foretaste of suffocation. She allowed the hot tears to burst between her eyelids as the room spun. The third man put on violent music. The singer roared the same words all over again as the vicious drumbeats melted together. The electric guitar screamed a prolonged agony which echoed from the grey walls. Blue lightning flashed through Rebane’s closed eyelids.
A fucking disco ball!
They played a tape of a baby screaming for help. The voice made the plank vibrate beneath her. The water on the puddles rippled. The door slammed against the wall, and something shuffled past her. The guards carried a young man trailed by a cloud of feces and urine. Rebane raised her head. She couldn’t control her urge to watch.
The dried blood on his face appeared black, and his fingernails had been ripped out. The young man was hardly twenty years of age. He didn’t resist as the guards strapped him on the gurney. Grizzly and the third man hooded him and pulled a towel over his face. The hose bulged as Grizzly turned the tab. Water rushed to fill the fabrics. The youngster shook- not like the living shake from cold- but with a continuous tremor of the brain dead. Rebane couldn’t have cared less for his life.
A single thought filled her head: Don’t you die. They’ll do it to me if you die!
As the music stopped, she couldn’t escape the gurgling sound of the young man suffocating. The water entered his windpipes, and his agonized breathing tried to fight the force of the liquid. Rebane turned her head to avoid witnessing his drowning. Weisser stood next to her with his arms crossed over his broad chest. His eyes remained hidden behind the mirror surface of his glasses, and his shirt glowed electric blue with each flash of the blacklight. Another second bathed the room pitch black, but Weisser’s image stayed on her retinas. The surreal horror did not affect him, and for Rebane, he was the most horrifying thing in the torture chamber.
The hose dropped on her chest, and the water soaked her uniform. A chair screeched against the floor. Water splashed. Her heart slugged as his hands unbuttoned her shirt, and lifted her top.
“No, please no!”
A prodding finger felt her chest for her solar plexus. The solar plexus gave her away if she timed her breathing according to the doses of water. This wasn’t the SERE course where the GRU men would never drown her. She didn’t dare to open her eyes when he tightened the strap around her forehead. Rebane ground her teeth and arched her back against the plank on the sawbuck.
Weisser moved her wet hair aside: “You are a woman. You are weaker than him. Save yourself.”
His voice was mild and convincing. Grizzly whispered in the background.
“Begin,” Weisser sighed.
The music pounded again. A fluffy towel tightened over her face as they pulled down from both sides. They poured small amounts of water which began to seep through. She counted to ten and had to breathe out. A deep inhalation followed. Water rushed into her windpipes instead of oxygen and stung in her nose, throat. She spluttered and coughed when the burning sensation spread into her chest. Her diaphragm contracted. Vomit climbed her esophagus, but the cloth blocked its route. More water raced in. The wet towel glued over her eyes, nose, mouth.
A voice entered through the darkness: “Alk, u alk,” but she didn’t recognize the language until his voice repeated: “If you don’t talk, we will drown you.”
The restrains loosened. Warm hands steadied Rebane sitting as she folded to vomit on the floor. The water rushed out with enormous pressure. Weisser had his arm wrapped around her, and he radiated comforting heat. Rebane gasped for air like a fish out of water.
“That was twenty seconds,” he said.
Twenty is nothing!
Her teeth clattered. She had vomited on him. But Weisser didn’t wait for long.
“We start again.”
She tried to claw and bite, but they stretched Rebane on the plank. The wet towel clogged every inlet of air.
She had lost consciousness again.
She opened her eyes to stop the hand from slapping her cheek — no music, no lightning- only the silence of the tomb. Rebane couldn’t sit upright when they unstrapped her. Weisser held her sitting on the plank, and she let her head tilt against his shoulder. He waited until her agonal reflex for air ceased. She looked at him. He frowned.
You are afraid that I’ll die before I talk. Bastard!
“I don’t know how much more you can take, Miss Nordstrom. Give me something. Help yourself.”
She wanted to claw his eyes out, but instead, she used each passing second to breathe. The gurney was empty. The corpse of the young boy had disappeared.
“You leave me no choice,” he said with disappointment in his tone.
They strapped her on the plank. Rebane was too exhausted to resist the tightening binds. She shivered and her wet hair stuck to her neck, but the towel didn’t return yet.
“We can take care of the bitch. It’s late, Sir,” Grizzly mumbled among the gulps of cheap whiskey. He burped and returned the empty bottle among its companions on the blood-stained table.
Weisser glanced at his folded jacket which rested on the back of a chair. He searched for a pack of his expensive cigarettes from the uniform pockets and sat to light one. He crossed his legs and smoked while the smirking duo drained more alcohol. Weisser’s shirt was no longer starched white. The color of the still water in his eyes studied her through the veil of smoke.
“No. I want to see how long the Siberian lasts.”
Weisser straightened his back and crushed the glow into the graveyard of the ashtray. Grizzly approached her with the towel and sent Rebane fighting anew. The belt buckle chinked against the legs of the sawbuck but she was helpless as the hose fed rushing water into her lungs.
A splash and a ripple as Rebane’s body broke the silver surface of the thin ice. The driftwood floated apart. The deep devoured her. The sunlight which slashed the shallow water couldn’t reach her anymore. The smell of wet cement faded, and the waves crashing against the shore washed over the screams.
She curled inside the safety of her mother’s womb when she landed in the black tide. The ferryman stared at her with the moonstone eyes. She gestured for Rebane to come onboard but didn’t ask for the coin. Rebane sat on the bench at the stern. She waited while the single oar made the boat glide over the river of death. Nothingness condensed on the opposite shore where Daniil stood wearing his uniform. His shoulders hunched, and his face remained in the shadows, but Rebane knew who she would kiss in the dark.
The order sliced the water when the bow of the soundless boat met the silicone sand.
Rebane rushed to the bow. She leaned forward and extended her hand to feel Daniil’s touch as light as the feathers on the raven. His fingers slipped away as the violent hands caught up with Rebane. A hold stronger than death grabbed, pulled, and shook her. The weight of the repeated push compressed her ribcage, but she resisted the urge to breathe as the earth shook.
It wasn’t the earth. It was him. Weisser pressed hard on her chest, many times. He blew air into her mouth and forced her into continuous breathing. He pounded her stomach with his fists and compelled her to vomit the water which Rebane needed to stay dead.
Rebane laid on the cement floor. Weisser knelt beside her. She pushed him off with all her strength. She drew her arm back, and her fist smacked against the side of his face, just below his left eye. He lost balance and fell back. His glasses ended up on the floor with a broken lens.
“Fuck you!” she screamed and filled the basement with roaring.
Copyright © 2019 Rebecka Jäger
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