A single light illuminated the table between us. Miah fidgeted across from me, his hands free, not bound like mine. The dark room echoed with scary vastness, much bigger than the rooms in which I’d been held. The man tucked in the shadows spoke up, his shadow black, just that much darker than the surrounding wall I could see him move.
“Under each box is a ping pong ball, one white, one orange. You and only you can know the color under each box. You aren’t to show or otherwise indicate which ball is which. Your partner has an identical set.” He sounded almost bored, like he’d memorized these lines to rattle off without emotion.
I tore my eyes from the small white cardboard boxes carefully positioned before us. As I sought Miah’s gaze, I couldn’t help but fidget with the thick plastic restraints pinning my wrists together. He stared at the boxes as if waiting for them to attack. He opened his mouth to say something before clamping it shut. His shaggy hair hung in greasy clumps, beard longer than normal, but on the whole, he looked no worse for wear.
“Okay,” I frowned, glancing into the darkness.
“The rules are simple. Choose orange to save yourself, white to save the other person. If you both choose the white ball, you both live. If you both choose the orange ball, you die.”
My tongue felt sluggish inside the dry walls of my mouth. “And if I choose white and he chooses orange?” I asked the shadow.
Miah finally met my eye. I tried to read those icy blues and came up with only question marks. My boyfriend of a year, a man I’d let into my inner circle, and I couldn’t read a thing on his face. The reality of the situation sank like a lead ball in my gut and I struggled to remain calm. I fixed a poker face, trying to hide any outward sign that I was scared shitless. The reason I was in this situation was still a mystery, but I knew whoever had organized this little game would’ve loved watching me dissolve.
Miah’s throat clicked before he spoke up, answering my question with a flat voice. “You die.”
The boxes sat motionless, concealing my fate. There was a beauty and simplicity in the game. I knew there was a trick lurking in there somewhere, but I had to buy enough time to think it through and plan.
“You have five minutes to decide. Feel free to discuss your decision,” the voice said from the corner. I could practically hear the pleasure dripping from his commands. The guy was getting his rocks off on this and I still had no idea why.
My eyebrows shot up. “Wait. We talk about this first? It’s not a one, two, three draw type thing?”
Miah leaned forward, stealing my attention. He pressed his hands flat on the table as he spoke. “There’s nothing to talk about. Obviously, I’m going to save you.”
My brain tripped on that word a few times like a record caught on a scratch. Obviously. Obviously. A few tense heartbeats passed before I couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
“If this is an elaborate way of proposing, I’ll give you one guess what my answer will be.”
“It’s a pretty obvious solution. We both choose white and we walk out of here, right?” He said it with such conviction, like he couldn’t imagine a scenario where I wouldn’t go along with that plan.
There was that word again. My throat creaked my discomfort and he looked up, brows wrinkling in horrified concern. “Right?”
I didn’t yet know what ball each box hid, but my hands hovered over them as if holding a great weight. “It’s not that simple,” I whispered, mostly to myself.
Miah slammed his elbows down on the table and gestured with both hands. “Yes it is. It is that simple.”
My vision swam with tears I dared not show. “And how do I know you won’t choose the orange ball?”
He considered the simple question. When he spoke next, his voice was low. “I suppose you don’t.” He lurched forward, the wooden chair clattering out from under him. “You have to trust me.”
“Trust…” I whispered as I stared at the boxes. That’s what this all comes down to. Do I trust my boyfriend?