Cold was the first sensation he felt. They must have dumped a bucket of ice water over him to bring him to. Most of his body was in shock from the extreme temperature change – not that being knocked unconscious wasn’t damage enough on its own. His head was full of noise, but most of it wasn’t coming from his ears.
“What’s your name?”
A rough hand grabbed the back of his neck and forced his face toward the blinding light. Even with his eyes closed he winced. The sudden motion made his head spin, and he nearly passed out again. What time was it? Was that sunlight on his face or more of the piped luminescence that filled this place? Why was his head so noisy?
His ears picked up a loud crack a moment before his face started to burn. He knew there were already welts on his arms from the wood stick they were using, though in the haze he couldn’t recall getting them. The stick had struck him across the cheek and cut into his nose. He felt the blood dripping onto his lip, and tried to spit it away from his mouth.
“You’d better speak when he asks you a question!” said a voice that was very clearly not the first. His face was burning up. He could all but feel a great welt growing across his cheek.
His neck was stiff. Perhaps he had been sleeping on it wrong? He couldn’t remember the last time he had slept. In fact, he couldn’t remember much of anything. He thought he should know the names of the men torturing him. He had heard them address each other often enough. But his mind was foggy and he couldn’t hold onto details. Things seemed to slip back and forth, like waves on the seashore, and calling them up was like grasping at the sand when the water came. All the facts became the same.
“He’s a cheerful one,” said the first voice again. “Maybe this’ll find him a tongue!”
The stick struck him again, this time dangerously close to his eye. It cut another wound into the bridge of his nose, right above the first. The pain followed a moment later. He tried to move himself, to sort himself out. But he was trapped. They had him in some sort of chair, and his arms must be bound behind him. When he tried to move, his wrist opened up a world of pain all its own. He clenched his teeth and tried not to scream. Was it broken?
He needed to get his bearings. The waves inside his head were still crashing, making it difficult for him to figure things out. Had they tied him up before or after he went unconscious? He shook his head, trying to remember, to clear away the haze. He couldn’t recall being put here, but what came before that? They had been dragging him through a hallway with a flickering light. He remembered his head hanging down and seeing a bloody trail where he had been. But was there anything before that?
This time the blow must have been from a fist. It wasn’t very hard, but it still hurt plenty and disrupted his thoughts. It also cleared his head up a little. There was the snow. Before the hallway he had been in the snow. It had been dark then. The snow had been in the to.
He looked up again, and tried to open his eyes. The light was brighter than he thought it would be. It dazed him, and he tried to turn his head away, but the hand caught him again, and held him roughly in place for the stick. This time they struck him from the other side. His body jerked from the shock, and all the nerves in his wrist sent him murder messages all over again.
“Speak up! Who are you?”
He opened his mouth, but all that came out was a dry cough. He tried to reorganize his memories, but the waves were flowing back again. What had come first? Had it been the hallway? He closed his eyes tighter, concentrating on the details that came to him. He needed to remember.
“Answer the question!” his torturer grabbed him by the hands and began to pull. That was more than he could endure. The haze rushed in on him, and he choked on a mouthful of blood. Pain chased away memory and he went into frenzy. He needed it to stop.
“I don’t know,” he rasped, before breaking into a cough. He shook his head violently, in a futile attempt to break their grip. The light aggravated his eyes, and brought back splitting headaches. He fell forward and his bonds came taught against his wrists. The pain returned to his brain, but this time he hardly flinched. He was done. “I don’t know…” he repeated.
He lifted up his head as a last effort in defiance. The light hurt his eyes and as the waves washed over him again he wondered if it were more of that piped luminescence that filled this world, or if perhaps it might be sunlight. He began to wonder why his wrist hurt so much.