Ana gathers her thoughts as the elevator slides up the shaft of the glistening Seattle skyscraper. Christian will be waiting in the Red Room, with his enigmatic eyes and gentle teasing smile. The doors slide seductively open and she steps into the anteroom of the CEO suite, ignoring the appraising eye of the identikit blonde personal assistant. Ana knows that they are well aware of the most important instruction, on pain of instant dismissal: never disturb Mr Grey in the Red Room.
She has her own key for the Red Room, coming and going as she pleases, or as Christian pleases. Usually coming, she thinks, with a half-smile. The room is slightly larger than the boardroom, floored with blood- red mats and padded in thick foam and red leather, with wall-fixings for submission and dominance games, all completely soundproofed. The key slides into the lock, probing deeply to release the electronic mechanism, and the door swings open with a whoosh of air.
The smell hits her first, as she steps through the. She gags on the stench of faeces and urine. Then the horror of the spectacle registers in her mind. Christian Grey hangs there in the reddish half-light, naked, dangling from a knotted rope, his smooth thighs stained by purged bodily fluids.
Ana’s hands fly to her mouth, suppressing a scream. She turns to summon help, but it is too late. The door has closed silently behind her, locking her in a soundproofed dungeon of padded red leather, alone with a corpse.
Her eyes return to Christian’s sleek and lifeless body. The skin appears translucently pale at first, but it is mottled and discoloured where the blood has sunk downwards, and his sex has shrunk into its pubic nest. The ligature has dug deeply into his neck, with a swollen bruise circling above the livid rope-line where blood has gathered. A small step-ladder lies on the floor, kicked aside, lying beside a coil of rope and a torn pulley wrenched from a ragged hole in the ceiling, the rope dangling from a harness on Christian’s back like a monkey’s tail.
The picture forms clearly in Ana’s mind: Christian was hanging himself and whacking off, using a safety harness, but the pulley failed to hold his weight. Tears prick the corners of her eyes, before her thoughts return to her own predicament. The door can only be unlocked by Christian, through a hidden mechanism, his ultimate level of control. She runs her hands along the padded walls, seeking the recess and it slides open, exposing a ten-button keypad. She pushes the buttons frantically but it is no use: the panel glares redly at her. She pulls out her cellphone and screams in anguish as she notices there is no signal.
A thought pops in her mind, like a balloon: Christian did this on purpose. She hammers on the padded door, but the blows sink into plush padded leather and she slides helplessly to the floor, sobbing and crying, panic overwhelming her as she blacks out.
A buzzing noise wakes her. Something is tickling her lip. She brushes it away and the fat bluebottle climbs lazily into the air to join its fellows, circling in an insect halo around Christian’s drooping head. Then, one of them breaks away and disappears up his left nostril. Ana retches, spewing thin bile, convulsing as her stomach empties its meagre contents. She realises that she has no idea how much time has elapsed. Her cellphone battery has died and the dim light in the room is the same as when she arrived.
Ana’s thoughts spiral in her mind like panicked birds and she fights to regain control of herself. They will check here eventually, she tells herself. All she has to do is survive in a locked room with a dangling body until someone breaks down the door. Then she remembers the most important instruction: Never disturb Mr Grey in the Red Room. Terror rises in her gullet as she picks through the knotty problem and her lips move, giving voice to her frantic thoughts.
“They must think to check here, eventually, they will, they must!” She repeats this over and over again, like a prayer, until her voice dwindles into silence. She looks across to the dangling corpse. Christian’s skin now has a greenish sheen and his once-taut stomach is bloating, black veins spreading forward from his flanks.
Thirst burns her mouth. Ana knows there are recessed cabinets which contain a sink and faucet, and other accessories in addition to the whips and objects hanging from the walls. She runs her hands along the walls, finding the recess. She slides the catch which opens the panel and drinks greedily from the faucet, scooping the water into her mouth with both hands. Hunger pangs grip her stomach and she searches through the drawers beneath the sink unit. She smiles briefly as she finds a tube of chocolate body-paint, an erotic device they have not tried, and now never will. She bursts the top open and squeezes the tube between her lips, gulping down the thick chocolate semi-fluid.
She slumps in exhaustion for a moment, closing her eyes. She opens them again and her gaze fixes on the dangling corpse. She can’t bear to look at it any more, and it hangs in the corner of her vision no matter where she looks. The eyes, those enigmatic grey eyes, are now shrunken in hollowed sockets, bruises spreading beneath the green-tinged flesh. A fly crawls from the right nostril and then she decides she can’t bear the sight of the hanging body any longer.
Ana erects the stepladder and climbs up, level with Christian’s head. She tries not to look as she reaches up and pulls at the knot, but a meaty smell creeps into her nostrils. Sweat stings her eyes as her fingernails pull at the knotted rope, looped through an eyelet in the ceiling, and just as she thinks she can’t take any more, the final strand slips free. The corpse slips to the floor with a hollow thud, gases bursting from the rectum in an explosion of dull flatulence.
She pushes Christian’s body into a far corner of the room, shoving it with her foot time and time again, the reluctant limbs dragging on the floor as the head lolls with every push. She crawls into the opposite corner and sits down, wrapping her arms around her head, calming herself with self-help breathing exercises. But her panicked thoughts take flight once more and her mind teeters on the brink of a mental precipice, on the edge of falling and shattering into a million pieces.
“I must hang on, I must hang on…” she whispers to herself in prayer. “Help will come, help will come….”
An idea sparks in her mind. She darts across to the cabinet and rummages in the drawer, pulling out an unlabelled box. She knows what it contains: non-prescription amyl nitrite, known as poppers to recreational users. She tears open the packet and pulls out a small brown bottle. She crawls back to her corner and turns the safety-cap with slippery hands. She breathes deeply, quickly replacing the top as the rush floods her body and mind. Her heart races as blood surges into her brain, sweeping away the panicked thoughts of earlier. Then darkness floods her mind and the last thing she hears is the bottle falling softly to the floor.
Ana wakes with a start, clinging to the remnants of a dream in which she was stretched out in her own bed. Hunger pangs grip her stomach in a fierce vice, but these flutter away as she looks across at Christian, shoved into the corner like a discarded mannequin. His skin is darker now, mottled, purple-black where the blood has pooled close to the floor. Ana’s eyes slide up his naked body until she realises that his head is facing towards her, the features now puffy with corruption, with purging fluids trickling from nose and mouth. His coppery hair is greasy and his eyes are squeezed shut by swollen flesh, as if in horror. One arm is pointed outwards, rigid, as if in salute, which she realises is rigor mortis.
She drags her glance away from the sight, thoughts flooding back into her mind: what is happening, are people looking for us, how long has it been? Her mouth is dry, so she drinks from the faucet again, trying to ignore the odour of meat that hangs in the air. Her stomach is clenched in a starving knot, and she pulls open all the recessed cabinets in the room, rummaging through the bondage equipment in search of anything edible. She holds her breath as she pulls open the cabinet closest to the corpse, but something surprising lies inside.
“His clothes!” Hope flutters in her heart as she drags the jacket, shirt and trousers out of the recess. The grey-patterned tie falls across the body and she lets it lie there as she shakes out the suit-jacket. Something thuds to the floor: a cell-phone. She picks it up and flips it open, grinning insanely as the display bursts brightly into life. The battery life bar is two-thirds full and there is a date and time: 1845, 14 July. She punches 9-1-1 but the phone does not respond and it takes her a few moments to realise that it is asking for a key-code.
“Fuck!” She just manages to stop herself from throwing the phone down in frustration in case it breaks. She types in numbers:
Ana is halfway through her third guess as the phone unlocks.
“Yes! Yes!” she roars. “One two three four!” She types in 9-1-1 again, and holds the phone to her ear, waiting patiently on it ringing before she is connected to the reassuring voice of an operator.
But nothing happens.
She checks the display. The signal bar is at zero, without even a flicker of life.
“No!” she screams, throwing the phone to the floor, bursting into tears as the back of the handset breaks away. A thought flashes in her mind: Christian refused to be disturbed when in the Red Room. Ever. Never. Not even by phone.
Another idea flares in her mind and she scrabbles for the battery, searching for her own phone, yelling again in anguish as she tries again and again to vainly force it into the battery slot.
But it doesn’t fit and she screams again, hammering her fists on the matted floor.
After a few moments of sobbing, she fumbles for the batter and jams it back into Grey’s cellphone. She checks the date and time again.
1851, 14 July.
Her mind works backwards and her lips move in calculation: “I’ve been stuck in here for thirty hours. They must be looking for us by now…they must be!” Her finger slides across the display, flicking through the applications, before settling on Grey’s calendar icon. She pops it open and a fortnight’s appointments appear.
14 July: Packing
15 July to 22 July: Surprise Vacation with A, Seychelles, HOLD ALL CALLS
23 July: Board Meeting
24 July: Saudi contract meeting
25 July: Golf with V-P
The implications flash instantly in her brain. A surprise trip, I never knew about it, they won’t look for him as it’ll be in the calendar, my family don’t know about Christian, I have no friends…
Panic overwhelms her again and she convulses in a sobbing heap, burrowing into the dark refuge of her corner. As the tears subside, she reaches for the brown bottle, in search of the head-rush followed by blessed oblivion.
Ana’s bladder is full. She needs to go to the toilet, and she hates getting up in the middle of the night, almost as much as lying in bed, unable to sleep, needing to urinate. She stirs and stretches and the cold reality hits her as the stench drifts across the room and she feels the dull gnawing of hunger in her belly. She is trapped in a dungeon with a corpse.
Indecision grips her as she looks around the room. Her corner is opposite Christian’s corner and there are two other corners. She decides to squat two-thirds of the way down one of the facing walls, close to the corpse but not too close. The water takes a while to come, and her eyes are drawn inexorably to Christian’s body. For some reason the sight is more bearable when she is pissing. Her urine burns as it leaves her body, pungent with uric acid, a symptom of dehydration.
The body is dull-green all over, skin shining as it stretches with bloating. There is seepage from the ears and a sticky puddle under the body.
Something wriggles in Christian’s ear, something small and white, barely noticeable other than the movement. It is a maggot, its blind head writing in the dim half-light, and another glistening shape pushes eagerly past it. Revulsion grips Ana’s stomach and she collapses in her own urine, retching but bringing up nothing but bile and bloody coffee-grounds.
She crawls back to her corner. She hammers the walls until her fists are numb and bruised, screaming and screaming until she passes out.
Ana wakes again, shaking with hunger, instantly alert. She casts a panic-stricken glance in the direction of Christian Grey, in expectation of a swarm of white forms writhing towards her. But there is nothing except the foul stench hanging in the air. She thinks she can see wriggling beneath the thick coppery locks of hair and she runs her fingers through her own greasy and tangled hair. Again, there is nothing.
A pang of hunger grips her stomach and a wave of shivering seizes her body. She fumbles for the phone and checks the display.
1443, 15 July.
Her mind feels fuzzy with starvation. She glances across at the body, now in full bloat, the line of the ligature obscured by swollen green flesh. Thoughts and images flash in her mind. The taste of wriggling maggots, slithering down her gullet. The sheen of Christian’s upper arm, the darkened skin containing glossy meat, a few mouthfuls to calm the surging pangs consuming her stomach. Saliva floods her mouth and she swallows the sticky fluid which momentarily soothes the raging hunger. Then she vomits again, at the thought of rancid fluid-dripping flesh and the white meat of writhing maggots.
She crawls across to the corpse, shivering with hunger. The smell of putrefying tissue coats her mouth, but her body is too exhausted and depleted to vomit. Christian’s skin is puffy green, dark veins livid against the skin. Maggots are crawling in the bloody fluid that has thickened under the body, in the shadowy places unreached by the light. His ears are full of maggots and bloody tears have crusted in streaks from his squeezed-shut eyelids. His mouth is curled in a half-snarl, bruised lips dragged back by rigor and bloating, a thickened slug of a tongue lolling out like yet another feasting creature.
Tears prick her eyes as she crouches over the body she has tasted so often, and she places her cracked lips against the skin once again. She can taste nothing beyond the thick smell of decay as her teeth dig into the cool skin. There is a slight hint of a salty taste as her mouth encloses the flesh and she bites deeply, but fat and muscle simply slide away under the skin as if avoiding her bite. She pulls away from the teeth-bitten flesh, thinking of other possibilities, the looser flesh on fingers and toes, the soft white maggots like prawns, even the meagre meat of the shrivelled penis, just enough to calm the all-consuming starvation and get her through another sleep, until rescue comes. And then another sleep, and another, and maybe another….
The tie is lying there across the body, its light and dark grey patterns a brief reminder of normality. She seizes it and scrabbles back to her own corner on all fours. There is a gleaming ring-bolt fixed to the nearby wall, about a metre in height above the floor, and she slides the tie through the ring, pulling it tight in a firm knot, with most of the length dangling downwards. She squats underneath the ring and ties a noose with fumbling fingers. She takes a deep breath, slipping the noose around her throat and sliding the knot tight towards the back of her neck.
The brown bottle of amyl nitrite is within arm’s reach. She grabs it and struggles to unscrews the top with a shaking hand. She touches the bottleneck to her cracked lips and inhales the fluid, her head rushing from the fumes, and then she knocks back the pungent liquid, which sears her gullet as it burns its way towards her stomach. Then, she lets her legs slide forward, gagging as the tie digs into her throat, cutting off the flow of air from her lungs and blood from her brain.
Ana’s feet scrabble frantically on the floormats as her body fights for life. She closes her eyes in a half-haze of sparks flashing in her vision, which fades to grey. Her desperate kicking slows and stops, as life slips from her body, just as the firefighters smash though the doorway and light and air flood in to the chamber…