Someone was screaming, and it was probably Earl.
Layne winced at the pitch, squinting his eyes open to a very unfamiliar setting. He was in what seemed to be an abandoned building, rusted metal beams and debris littered across the floor, bright graffiti colouring the crumbling walls. He could see a doorway leading out of the building from where he was, but for some reason he couldn’t get up.
Taking stock of his body, Layne found that he was chained to a chair. Everything ached, and there was a sharp throbbing in his ankle. It was almost definitely sprained, if not fractured.
“Guys? Guys, are y’all okay?” Geoff called. The others were similarly tied up and bruised, in chairs arranged in a circle and facing away from each other.
“I think my arm is broken,” Earl said shakily, and Layne looked to his right to see that Earl’s arm was indeed oddly shaped from where it was strapped to the arm of his chair.
“I think we have bigger problems to worry about,” Layne said, eyeing the bright red bomb sitting cheerily on the slab of concrete in front of him, the timer counting down and just passing the ten minute mark.
“Why? What’s wrong?” Eli asked.
“There’s a time bomb. Ten minutes.” A spike of fear stabbed through Layne’s chest, but he refused to acknowledge it. He would be strong for them, and they would make it out okay.
“You’re fucking kidding, right?!” J shouted, trying to wrestle his way out of the chair unsuccessfully. There was a moment where they all tried to break free from their binds, chains jostling and clinking pitifully. Exempt from the struggle was Earl, who was doing his best to not move his arm, pale and breathing heavily in pain.
“Okay, so there’s a bomb. We have to escape, then,” Layne thought aloud, attempting to block out the large blinking numbers that were decreasing all too quickly.
“No shit, Sherlock!” Eli exclaimed.
“Can anyone loosen their restraints or anything? Enough to slip out?” Geoff inquired, sounding all too calm. Layne tested his chains, but unlike Geoff who could freely move his hands, he was strapped down tightly. Even his legs were wrapped in rope and secured to the legs of the chair, which was aggravating his ankle even further.
“How much time, Layne?” J asked.
They had eight minutes. Eight minutes left to live. Layne thought about his family at home, his parents, his friends, and the guys around him that would be gone in eight minutes along with him. No one would know where they went, no one would know what happened to them. Would they ever be found?
Layne blinked, suddenly hit with the realization that they might actually die incredibly soon. It was a very real, very dangerous threat, and it was sitting right in front of him and beeping cheerfully as if it were a songbird bringing them to whatever afterlife there was.
He wouldn’t get to say goodbye.
“Geoff. Geoff!” Eli yelled, jolting against the chains as their friend miraculously rose from his chair and sprinted to the door.
“Just- just wait, I promise I’ll be back!” He insisted before bolting out of the building.
“If this is it, I want to say thank you to you guys. You guys mean the world to me, and I’m sorry it has to end like this,” Earl said through gritted teeth. Eli and J replied with similar sentiments, but Layne wasn’t listening. The only thing he could hear was the ticking of the bomb, ticking in time with his too-fast heartbeat.
They weren’t even forty yet. J wasn’t even thirty yet. They had their entire lives left, lives that would go unfinished and empty. Cyndi and their four beautiful daughters would be left without a dad, something he swore would never happen.
“Layne. Layne!” Eli snapped, catching his attention. He was suddenly all too aware of how tight his chest was, how laboured his breathing was, and the swirling anxiety that tightened around his neck and shook into his hands.
“Layne, you okay?” J asked from the other side of the chair circle. Opening his mouth to try and answer, all that came out was a scratchy whine, much to his chagrin.
Eli turned as far as he could, looking at Layne with concern on his face. “Shit. Layne, we’re going to be okay. Geoff will come back and get us out of here, okay?”
Layne tried to nod, but his heaving picked up uncontrollably and he began gasping for breath. His lungs burned, an invisible noose stealing the air from him and piercing his tender throat.
“Hey! Breathe!” Eli all but begged, helplessly squirming and twisting, doing everything in his power to break free, wanting nothing more than to help his friend calm down.
It was terrifying, not being able to move or even breathe, watching your life click away in bold red numbers. All Layne could do was choke on a lack of oxygen, knowing full well that he was doing nothing to help their situation but unable to prevent his illogical reactions.
“Layne! You’re okay, I promise!” Doing all he could from where he was, Eli kept fighting his chains in desperation.
His head was clouded, and his vision blurred and swam as he hunched over as best he could. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t help them try to escape if he couldn’t breathe, and if they didn’t escape they were going to die. Everything hurt, everything was too overwhelming, and everything was wrong.
“Where the hell is Geoff?” J growled. They were all restless, in pain, and confused, praying that the next few minutes wouldn’t be their last, that they would get to see home again, that this was all some god-awful nightmare.
Layne counted in his head, attempting to relax enough so that he could at least breathe and speak, but before he could get through a full round Geoff burst into the room, holding a pair of pliers. He tossed his broken chains across the room hastily, then knelt down next to the bomb.
“Do you even know how to stop that thing?” Earl asked, his voice shaky, presumably due to his several injuries.
Geoff glanced at him and shook his head. “What other choice do we have? Unless one of you know how, it’s faster to just try and do it myself.”
Shifting his aching legs, Layne’s ankle protested at the movement, and he involuntarily let out a particularly loud gasp between haggard wheezes. Geoff looked up at him, hesitating, caught between trying to help his friend or keep puzzling with the bomb. He was about to move to comfort Layne when Eli started yelling at him to focus on the bomb. Geoff flinched, but obediently situated himself in front of the bomb and examined the wires nervously.
Layne leaned back in his chair and simply watched. It was still far too difficult to get any air, but he didn’t want to be a nuisance or act pathetic. At least, not more than he already was.
“There are too many goddamn wires,” Geoff muttered, hitting the handle of the pliers against the concrete in frustration.
“Just pick one and cut it, what’s the worst that could happen?” J offered.
“The worst that could happen is that it blows up and we die!” Eli retorted.
“We’re going to die anyways if I don’t cut one,” Geoff shot back, swiping back his hair from his face. “Might as well try and hope for the best.”
“Fine. Just hurry,” Eli relented, tensing as Geoff lifted the pliers, poising them millimetres away from a green wire.
There was a terrifying thrill in the air as they all prepared for the worst. Layne couldn’t tear his eyes away from the bomb, hyper-fixated on the pliers in Geoff’s trembling hands. An unspoken understanding passed through them all as they glanced at each other, potentially for the last time.
“I love you guys,” Geoff whispered. In one swift movement, he cut the wire. A clean cut, straight through. Layne squeezed his eyes shut, expecting a rush of heat and pain.
When nothing happened, he opened his eyes to see Geoff crouched around the bomb, sheltering it with his body, even though the timer had stopped just before it had hit zero. His eyes were shut as well, curled around the bomb protectively, not an ounce of fear in his expression. He had intended to absorb the impact if it had gone off.
“Holy shit, we’re alive,” Eli breathed. Geoff opened his eyes, gently releasing the bomb and letting it fall to the ground. He exhaled and slumped against the concrete, his body shivering violently from the excessive amounts of stress.
“Geoff, are you okay?” Layne asked gently. The two looked at each other, and a surreal feeling washed over them when they realized that it wasn’t the last time they would ever see the other’s face.
“I’m okay,” Geoff breathed, his hand opening and closing mechanically.
“Then.. could you maybe get us out of here?” J asked. Eli snorted almost manically, too relieved to care. As Geoff went around breaking the guys out of their chains, Layne found that he, too, was trembling unconsciously, his throat and chest burning and his ankle screaming in agony.
None of them were unscathed; Geoff had several cuts across his face and had nearly taken the full blast of the (luckily deterred) explosion, Eli was bruised and raw from pulling against the metal holding him down, J most definitely had a concussion, and Earl suffered a broken arm and an ugly gash along his cheek.
But they were alive.
No more countdown, no more wondering the what-ifs, no more doubts and regrets and guilts. Someone had tried to pry them apart, take everything away from them in the form of their lives, but they had gone down fighting and rose back up in well-deserved victory. They were alive, and that was what mattered.
They were going home.