Challenge Accepted is an anthology of speculative fiction, featuring people with disabilities who rise to the challenge. This is an extract from Walk of Courage by Layla Pinkett.
“Put him down there. Take off his legs. We don’t want him trying anything stupid like escaping, do we?”
Toby’s body tensed as those words came from the mouth of one of his captors. With some kind of hood over his head, he had no way of seeing where he’d been taken, and no idea why these people wanted him. All he knew, was that he was scared, and there was no denying it. He guessed that there were at least three of these people, could be more, but only three that he knew of so far.
One of them pushed him down hard into a chair, and his prosthetics were removed, but more gently than he had expected. They must have someone who knew how to do it. Another tugging sensation and the hood was pulled from Toby’s head. In the moment, it didn’t make much difference to how much he could see because the light was too bright and his vision blurred. When he was finally able to focus on his kidnappers he still saw no faces. They had ski-masks on to conceal their identities. Very clever.
Toby’s first impression of his surroundings was of a sea of grey and a dank smell, like laundry that had been left too long in the washer. The place was derelict, everything in it worn or broken. Except a set of monitors on the back wall of the room. Ten he counted—nine in a block together and one to the side. Apart from the chair he was sitting on, a sofa in the corner, and a small table, there was no other furniture. Minimalist. Bleak. The ideal kidnappers’ hideaway.
One of the men—despite the masks he was pretty sure they were all men – —picked up Toby’s artificial limbs, a leg in each hand, and lowered himself down to his captive’s level.
“If it weren’t for the clattering of these when we picked you up, we’d never have known you were a cripple.” The masked man stood back upright.
Toby could feel his top lip curling, as anger began to outweigh his fear.
Cripple? He’d been called a lot worse every day at school, but it still put the familiar stone in his guts to hear it said.
“What do you want with me?” His voice quavered as he spoke which he hated as he didn’t want them to know how scared he was. But there was no response anyway. They might not even have heard him. The man holding his legs leaned them up against the wall and nodded to the other two. One left the room scooping up Toby’s prosthetics on the way, while the other went over to the screens, all of which were in hibernation state.
“This is why you’re here.” The man doing all the talking gestured towards the screens. Despite the gleam of intelligence in his eyes, he was overweight and unkempt. Chubby. Thinking that made Toby feel a little bit less afraid. Chubs. Yeah, that’s it, he’s called Chubs.
Chubs was the one in charge. He stood there, pulling a small disc from his pocket, then placed it into a little crevice in the wall by the screens. Low-tech, or what? But then the whole place was low-tech. Most the stuff in the room was obsolete. These people, whoever they were, looked like hoarders of the old, with no interest in the new.
The monitors flickered into life. As each screen turned on, it added a new piece to the overall picture, like a puzzle. By the end of it, Toby saw himself in the images, himself and a woman he recognized, holding a microphone up for him. It was right outside the Coramax building and this was the interview he’d had with the local news channel yesterday, right after he collected his prize from Coramax’s CEO. Why did that have anything to do with his being kidnapped? Toby wracked his brain, but nothing came. Then the images started moving as the interview began.
Challenge Accepted is available to preorder and will be released on 29 March!