Ellie opened her eyes. Tried to move but couldn’t. It was dark, and her vision was cloudy. She was able to make out the square case of a window. Curtains drawn, flaccid. A single wooden chair. She was lying on a wrought-iron bed.
She lifted her head, felt a wave of nausea roll through her. Remembered the noxious cloth. She wiggled her wrists and ankles. Something was binding them — something sharp and unyielding. Plastic cable ties.
She tried to scream, but the sound came out as a muffled moan.
Where am I? Who did this?
Light splashed the wall as someone entered an unseen door.
“Hello, Ellie,” a deep voice said. “Do you know how long I’ve been dreaming about this moment?”
She knew she couldn’t respond, not with the gag filling her mouth. But she tried anyway, releasing a series of stifled sobs.
“There, there,” the man said, stepping into view. The bed frame shifted as he eased himself next to her. “You’ll have your chance to speak soon enough. But first I’d like to get properly reacquainted. It’s been so long.” He paused, gazing into her eyes. “Man, what a surprise it was to see you driving by after all these years … you, of all people. I recognized you instantly. Still as beautiful as ever. Then, that shower routine you put on the other night … what a show, Ellie, what a show …”
Ellie stiffened. Remembered the feeling of being watched the night she’d tested the new outdoor shower. The man was crazy, or he’d made a mistake. Once he removed the gag, she could explain to him that he’d mixed her up with some other woman. Surely then he’d let her go. Otherwise, Neil would return with the groceries and he’d find her missing from their cottage. He’d call the police and she’d be saved.
“Ellie, Ellie, Ellie … the things you do to me,” he continued. “Neil is a lucky guy. But it seems his luck has finally run out. You see, I have a little game in mind for the three of us. Hey, don’t look so worried, I promise it’ll be fun. You just have to follow my rules. Rule Number One: no screaming. Rule Number Two: no flailing, no fighting, no trying to escape. And finally, Rule Number Three, the most important one of all …” He paused and stroked her hair. “It’s easy. All you have to do … is tell me my name.”
The man got up and looked down at her. With a surprisingly delicate touch, he leaned over and removed her gag, brushing away the tear that had trickled down her cheek.
“Please, you have me confused with someone else!” Ellie cried, anguished. “I swear to God. This is all a mistake —”
“Oh, spare me, Eloise. Do you really think I’d have gone to all this trouble if I wasn’t sure it was you? Look, I’m not saying it’ll be easy. It has been a while, and the truth is — well, I didn’t always look this good. I’ve made a few changes to impress you. But I want you to try to see past all the superficial details, see me for who I really am … for the man I’ve always been. Now, look at me, Ellie. Look at me really closely, and think.”
Ellie was sure she didn’t know the kind of sicko who’d abduct a woman from her own kitchen, surgery or not. The room was spinning so wildly she thought she was going to be sick. She closed her eyes and tried to calm down, tried to think of a plan to get free.
Her eyes snapped open as a sound caught her ear, the sound of a car passing outside. She could hear it slowing, then pulling into a driveway a little farther down the road. Their driveway.
“Hear that?” the man said. “That’s the sound of our game beginning. Time to put that pretty little head to work. Just say my name, Ellie. Say it, or your husband loses a toe. See you soon.”
The door clicked shut behind him.