Nurse Stitch has her mouth sewn shut and her memory erased.
John Doe has undergone 'nightmare surgery', his memory also erased, replaced by crippling trauma and delusions.
Mahmoud Farouz is a captured insurgent from Iraq who is going to be used by a special Black Op organization to make America feel fear again.
When these three prisoners of a secret underground torture facility band together to escape, they cannot realize that not only has their torture been orchestrated, but so too will be their path to freedom.
PART 1: STITCH
It was a center mirror with two wing mirrors. The reflected face had a white paste skin tone with purple blood eyelids, a mesh of red veins stretched across the sclera of the eyeballs, three days unshaven, thick cords of muscle in a V fronting the neck, the eyes blue. The ears stuck out, fat earlobes, brown hair shaven at the sides, a few grey hairs mixed in the brown. A hand lifted to feel the crust of the hair thick on the head, sweat dried in and re-soaked over days, beginning to rise once again along the hairline. No scars or bruises on the hands, soft palms, feminine knuckles.
Staring into his looking-glass self, he realized he couldn't even remember his name.READ MORE
The room was dark except for a line of five frosted lightbulbs across the top of the mirror. Blackness behind him. He turned, tried to see into the shadows. How did he know he was in a bathroom? Because there was a mirror and a sink, porcelain taps with 'Hot' and 'Cold' stenciled on them, a rubber stopper wedged in the drain, waiting to hold back water.
The mirror was separated into three panels, two wings on either side of the larger mirror staring back at him. Fingers pried open the left wing. Three small glass shelves, the middle shelf holding an old-fashioned straight razor, folded. No shaving cream, no brush. The razor felt heavier than it should've been, as though made of iron. Unfolding it, he saw the steel blade glint in the light. He looked at his mirror self, at the cords of his neck.
The plug in the sink was waiting … for water, perhaps? For blood?
His eyes darted around the room, looking for a door, up to the ceiling looking for a camera watching him. But there was nothing in the darkness. Felt with grasping fingertips on either side of the mirror, but there was no wall. Couldn't see his feet (so far below him), only the waistband of pajama bottoms, olive green, felt no floor, cold tile was what he expected, but his feet were numb. Non-existent.
This was a trap. Something was being orchestrated. From beyond this room, beyond the mirror. Who puts a razor with no shaving cream at his disposal? Who wants him to cut his own throat?
Snapped the razor closed, slapped it back down on the glass shelf, slammed the wing of mirror closed. Leaned his arms on the edge of the sink and stared at the stopper. Closed his eyes, a balm soothing the burn of his vision, wanted to sleep but couldn't. He edged each of the taps on and water trickled out. Clean, clear water submerged the stopper, bubbles roiling and popping. Two fingers held under the stream as he adjusted the temperature. Dipping down his face, he cupped hands under the taps, felt water soothe his skin. Washed away the sweat, pushed water through his hair, looked into the mirror as droplets fell off his eyebrows, nose and chin.
His stomach churned. Fingers snapped off the taps and waited for vomit to rise. Don’t try to resist it, just let it come. Held his mouth open, lips slack, bent over the water wavering the stopper below. His stomach settled. Mouth too dry for saliva to drip as a prelude to sickness. He was fine. Everything was fine.
Glanced at his right ear in the right wing of the mirror. Pried open the mirror to see a toothbrush and toothpaste sitting on the glass shelves. Took weight off his elbows as he stood, plucked toothbrush and paste in either hand, flicked the mirror closed with a finger.
A smile tightened his lips as he stared at the contents of his hands. Looked up at the mirror and laughed at himself. If there was something being orchestrated beyond the room, beyond himself, then he understood the rules of the test. A silly test, a game. Either cut your throat or brush your teeth. How many people faced with such a test (and were there others, in other darkened bathrooms?) would see the razor first and stop there? How many would obey the razor's demands, and how many would panic and try to find an exit from the room?
Observe your surroundings without fear, the test seemed to be saying. Assess all details before making a decision. A razor was sometimes just a razor, having no meaning of its own, making no demands on whomever held it. And a toothbrush was just a toothbrush.
He dipped the brush into the water, unscrewed the cap off the paste, squeezed the tube. Out came … toothpaste. He touched it with the tip of his tongue. Mint. As it was supposed to be. Like a normal, unafraid, human being, he brushed his teeth.
The environment would explain itself, eventually. Lights would come on, walls and floor would appear, a group of familiar faces would appear behind him to scare the shit out of him as they yelled 'Surprise!". His beautiful wife would be holding a birthday cake lit with too many candles, and he would wonder why and how they all fit themselves into the bathroom.
Must be his birthday. An important one, middle-age judging by the sagging of his chest, the bulge of his belly. Too many lines in his hands to be those of a younger man. Smiled and snuffled a laugh through his nostrils as he thought what a perfect, and terribly macabre, game his wife and friends were playing on him. Middle-aged: a razor or a toothbrush – what'll it be? Tough getting older. Maybe his birthday was the day before, and he was in withdrawal.
He stopped scraping the brush across his molars when he felt something drop into the cup of his tongue. Let it roll into his palm. A molar. Blood on the tooth. He opened his mouth wide to the mirror, saw the black blood sit in his gums. Red washed across his tongue, the taste of iron and salt. The toothbrush clattered to the sink, its brush dunked into water stained with blood flowers.
He reached a crooked finger into the pit where the tooth had been as red saliva drooled out over his bottom lip. His gums didn’t hurt, they felt numb, so he pushed down, hoping to staunch the blood flow. The pressure of his finger in the hole loosened molars on either side of the pit. Like dice, they rolled across his tongue into the basin of pink water.
His gums itched and he couldn’t help scratching them. Yellow, cracked fingernails tore at the teeth, dropping them into the stained water with a rattle muted by liquid. Nails tore like mini-razors through the hard flesh of his gums, filling the space under his tongue with blood and saliva.
Red ants rose up out of the dark hollow of his throat to swarm across his tongue. Tiny bodies stacked thickly, crawling up the insides of his cheeks and across his upper palate, clogging his throat. Their pincers snipped off bites of his tongue, stripping off taste buds, digging deep into the blood-coated muscle until only a stump of flesh remained, buried beneath the insects at the back of his throat. The ants poured over his lips, stuck to his sweat-soaked face, nestled into the hollows of his nostrils, explored the flesh shells of his ears, marched across the rims of his eyes.
Before all his senses were lost to the mandibles of the crimson swarm, he saw in the blackness of the mirror above his sunken head, a face. A beautiful young girl, a child, with light brown skin and whose black hair swam around her head like seaweed in a swirling tide. Her chin rose up as her mouth opened to say, "Remember me. I am your salvation."
Her hair burst from black strands to white-hot fire as flames consumed her beauty, melted the softness of her skin into wax, muscle pouring off the bone of her skull. The man tried to scream, but his tongue was gone. The ants swarmed their pinprick feet across his vision, and ate his eyes.
I think this might be my new favourite Rob Bliss book.
The story is told in 3 parts, Part One was my favourite and the most disturbing part of this book. It was very dark, scary and gross and a little extreme at times too. This was messed up, nightmare inducing stuff, brilliantly horrific with people being tortured in every way possible, both shocking and gruesome (enough to make you afraid of whoever came up with these ideas - I’m looking at you Mr Bliss).
His warped story then moves on to Part Two, this was actually really quite different from the first section and instead of horror it becomes more like a mystery thriller, albeit a violent one! It was full of action and guns as we followed our protagonists on their adventures. It kept me guessing about what everyone’s next move might be but it did get a little OTT towards the end of this section, but then Rob Bliss has never been one to rein in crazy so I should not be surprised.
Part Three is where the answers are and the big finale. It wasn’t a perfect ending for me, although not sure what would have been the perfect ending to this tale.
Overall this is a great story, messed up sure but good fun, it was a little confusing at times though and hard to follow with the hallucinations, it’s always difficult to know what is going on with those in books I find, although he did a pretty good job of it.
This book is full on horror at the start so be warned, we have people suffering physically, mentally and sexually, the level of abuse/torture is in itself scary. The book is essentially about control and how some people will do anything to get it, nothing is taboo.
A great story but with imperfect writing, not enough to ruin the story but it can get frustrating with a few typos here and there, however don't let that put you off this is still a very good read with some great characters, Stitch in particular was my favourite. This was a really crazy horror adventure read, and not just gore horror, there is plenty of that but also a psychological horror to it as well. Overall very little to fault here, not quite perfect but not far off.
4*/5, but probably more like a 4.5*/5 ish.