The first thing he saw, as his vision cleared and his groggy mind focused, was the gun pointed right at him. Bleary eyes widened in shock and surprise, and his mind whirred into action as he looked around. With nothing to glean from his surroundings and no obvious way to escape, Anthony's gaze fell on his captor. Her tear-streaked cheeks were blotchy and pink, her hair wild and unkempt, but the expression on her face was calm, defiant – so sure and steady that she might have passed for a statue dressed in a what might have once been a wedding dress, though the garment was in such tattered disrepair that he couldn't be sure. His rationality suddenly caught up with him at that last thought and he blinked in confusion. A wedding dress?
His thoughts spun, connected, and clicked into place as realisation dawned on him. Anthony gave a shout and tried to back away, but only succeeded in making the chair he was fettered to teeter on its legs. He tried to yell, but the veil – her veil – gagging his mouth muffled his attempts. He began to hyperventilate instead, the action making his chest scream in agony as the rope chafed and bit into his skin. The little blood that was still able to circulate around his tightly bound body was rushing to his feet in his panic, but his struggle was to no avail. The questions and explanations chasing each other around in his head simultaneously spilled from his lips as he fought to express himself, but all he could manage was a frenzied, incomprehensible babble.
The woman before him – his ex-fiancée, though how could it be? – said nothing at first, her expression impassive, only acknowledging his awakening with an almost infinitesimal quirk of her lip, her silent, deranged amusement scaring him more than if she had said anything at all. He tried to convince himself this couldn't be happening, that this had to be some sort of sick joke, but he didn't need pinching to know that his current predicament was all too real.
"I would have been fine if you had just broken my heart," Edith said, her words measured and calm, but with a chilling undercurrent that made him shiver. "I can deal with heartbreak. That's not the hard part. But heartbreak after five years of 'unconditional love'? Three months of 'happy engagement'?" She sneered, her voice increasing in pitch as the words spilled from her lips like poison. "You had plenty of time to tell me about your cold feet, but no, you said nothing. No, you stuck with me every second of every day, planning for our wedding, discussing our future, letting me kid myself into thinking you actually loved me, and then you jilt me at the altar!?"
He tried to interrupt, but was abruptly cut off. "No. You don't understand what it's like," she spat. "The utter loss I felt when you walked out of that church, taking all my hopes and dreams with you. Those looks of pity everyone tossed my way as they stood up to leave. Not to mention the sheer humiliation of it all." Edith shuddered, her steely gaze daring him to look away.
"So I came after you. I had to find out why." Her expression softened so it resembled something almost tender. "It was easy, really. It barely took me several hours to find you alone, so I knocked you out and brought you here to explain." Her free hand shot out and Anthony flinched. There was a ripping sound as the gag was torn free; he coughed and gasped, his mouth dry. "Explain!" she demanded.
It took him a few moments for him to catch his breath before he spoke. "I do love you," he managed to choke out, "but we can't be together." He hesitated as she stiffened, and began to talk faster. "Please, Edith, hear me out. This will never work between us. I'm much too old for you, and if you were to marry me, I'd only be a burden. You deserve better. I only wanted you to be happy." The desperation and subtle pleas for forgiveness were evident in his voice, and for a moment it seemed as if Edith had been convinced. The hand holding the gun relaxed just a fraction, and Anthony breathed a sigh of relief. "So you see," he said, chancing his luck, "I couldn't let you fantasise – "
Evidently he had said something wrong. Edith's expression twisted; the gun, still pointed at him, shook as the last layer of her sanity was stripped away to reveal a sudden, blinding rage, crumbling before him like a tower being demolished by dynamite in slow-motion as she took a step forward and screamed. The shrill sound rang through the air and sliced at his ears with a vengeance, the pain and anguish bombarding him with guilt and fear, seeping into his very being. Just when he thought she was going to stop, she took another breath and screamed again. Anthony could only watch her with wide-eyed fear as the tortuous devastation showing in her face intensified with every shriek. She's gone mad, he thought stupidly.
His thoughts were immediately cut short as she took a step forward, and the cold muzzle of the gun dug into the skin of his forehead. He let out a shuddering gasp as he heard her whisper into his ear, her sour breath tickling his neck like a million little knives. "I simply can't live with myself, not whilst you still walk this earth. So one of us has to go." She leaned in ever-closer. "Who's it going to be?"
No no no no no; his senses went into overdrive. Time slowed. His mind went blank. His eyelids flickered shut as his entire body went rigid from terror. Anthony closed his eyes, his breathing becoming more ragged and harsh with every gasping gulp of air. Now he was so cold, he couldn't feel the gun at his forehead anymore. He braced himself –
Boom. He could hear the metallic clang of the gun as it clattered to the floor, squeaking chee-chee-chee as it skittered across ceramic tiles.
The pain from the gunshot tore across his chest, and his ears rang with the sound, reverberating across his skull so he heard nothing else, processed nothing else; his mind clean, blank and blissfully empty. Anthony felt light, and a peaceful, floating sensation filled him as he drifted away, out of the room, away from all the horror and blood and fear.
He sat and pictured all this, until he realised it hadn't happened. Unable to fathom what was going on, Anthony kept his eyes closed, noticing how his breathing became more ragged and harsher with every breath he took. All was still, uncomfortably so. Edith was there, he told himself. She had to be; she was inside the room with him. But how was it so quiet?
The minutes stretched out before him the longer he sat, and Anthony knew he couldn't go on like this, sitting stiffly with his eyes closed, adamantly denying what logic told him had already happened. He needed to escape his bonds; his feet had already gone numb and he knew the feeling would only spread if he stayed like this.
He had no choice. He let out a slow, shuddering breath, and opened his eyes.