Team days were the worst. Alex was only one man, and often had enough trouble when he only had one person to look after. Three people was often more than he could handle. But Greg wanted teams, so Alex found himself standing in the garden trying to wrangle too many people who had grown to hate him. He watched as the three of them huddled around the shed in their boiler suits, reading the task he had set out for them.

“‘Transport as many eggs as possible from bucket A to bucket B,’” Libby read slowly.

They all took a moment to locate both buckets, one against the fence near the lab, full of brown eggs, and the second empty bucket by the caravan.

“‘You may not move either bucket,’” Libby read on. “‘You may not transport any egg shells, and you may only use your bare hands to transport the eggs. Only one person may transport eggs at a time, and you must take it in turns to transport eggs. You have ten minutes. Your time starts when someone asks a question.’”

Alex stood ready to start the clock, counting down the seconds until he asked if they were ready. Libby, Keiran, and Theo all stood huddled together, looking around the garden for any more clues.

“Hang on, what?” Kieran asked, snatching the task from Libby.

Alex started the clock, watching quietly as Kieran read the task again, more slowly as he pointed to each item in turn.

“Alex, what the fuck is this shit?” he asked finally.

Alex wrote that down. “Which part don’t you understand?” he asked.

“The whole fucking thing,” Kieran said. “Move the eggs, but don’t touch the eggs, but you can’t use anything else?”

Alex nodded. “All the information is on the task.”

Kieran picked up a pebble from the ground and threw it at Alex. Alex managed to duck out of the way, allowing the pebble to fly into the hedge behind him.

“Clock’s running,” Alex said.

The three of them all looked up at him with a sharp jolt, having clearly not realised they’d already started the time. While Libby and Theo rushed over to the bucket by the fence, Kieran read the task over again.

“Oh!” he shouted as he tossed the page aside. “God, okay. Hold out your hand.”

He grabbed Libby’s wrists, arranging her hands so they were cupped above the bucket. Then, he picked up an egg from the bucket and cracked it into her hand.

“Hold it there,” Kieran said, his words drowned out by Libby letting out a disgusted shout.

“How many can you hold?” Kieran asked.

“I don’t fucking know,” Libby said.

He cracked another egg into her hands, even as the first was already dripping through her fingers. Alex watched them scramble, marking down each egg that got cracked open. After three, Libby ran across the garden, leaving a slimy trail of egg behind her. As soon as she dumped what remained in her hands into the bucket, Theo began cracking eggs into Kieran’s hands, establishing a cycle. It was difficult for Alex to pick out any specific conversation to write down, as the three of them all shouted over one another as they worked out exactly what it was they were doing.

Their plan all fell apart when Libby tried to crack eggs into Theo’s hands. With her hands still covered in egg, she couldn’t get a good grip on the ones she picked up, and she dropped three to the ground.

“Fuckssake!” she shouted, struggling to grab another one well enough to crack it open. “I can’t get the egg out of the egg!”

She only managed to break one egg into Theo’s hands before she gave up and sent him running. By the time Alex blew his whistle, they had more eggs on the ground than in the bucket by the caravan. As soon as their time ended, the three of them all seemed to deflate a bit as they abruptly stopped and turned to glare at Alex.

“Thank you,” Alex said loudly enough for all of them to hear. “Go inside now.”

“Fuck you, Alex,” Kieran said.

He picked up one of the remaining eggs from the bucket and threw it at Alex, but Alex dodged that one as well.

“Thank you,” Alex said again.

He watched as the three of them trudged back to the front door to go get cleaned off. Once he heard the door latch, Alex stepped over to the first bucket to count the remaining eggs, making sure to account for the one that was thrown at him after the whistle. They only had eight remaining, out of 50, which was better than he had expected. But when he checked the second bucket by the caravan, that one told a different story. Even with the broken egg yolks, it was obvious that there was nowhere near 41 eggs in the bucket. He picked up the bucket and took it to the shed, where he had already set the tare on the scale to account for the weight of the empty bucket. At barely over 700 grams, Alex’s quick maths gave them a tentative total of about 14 eggs in the bucket. He’d double check that figure later, but for now, he had to clean up the mess and get the next task started.

Alex heard the noise outside, but didn’t register what it meant until he turned to open the shed door and found it locked. He thought maybe it had got stuck, but repeated attempts to open the door brought a rising fear each time he shoved his entire weight into it.

“Hello!” he shouted finally. “Open the door, please!”

He could hear laughter on the other side, and thought it was Libby and Kieran.

“Please unlock the door and go back inside,” Alex said.

“No, I think this is better,” Kieran said.

On the scale of indignities he had suffered at the hands of Greg’s guests, being locked in the shed was relatively low, but that didn’t change the fact that he had completely lost control of the situation. Alex set his clipboard down and looked around for anything that might help him, but all he could see was the window. He’d have to break the glass to get out, and even if he did that, the frame wouldn’t allow him to get more than just his head out. Greg may have liked to call him little, but Alex was well aware of his size. Still, he pulled the curtain aside and tried to look as menacing as possible through the glass.

“Unlock the door. Now,” he said, done with manners and politeness.

Kieran and Libby did not unlock the door. They threw the remaining eggs at him, smashing them against the side of the shed. Two of them struck the window, cracking the glass panes.

“Stop it!” Alex shouted.

They did stop, but only because they ran out of eggs. After that, they both ran off where he could no longer see them. Alex was sure he could brute force his way through the door with enough time and effort, but he would already be punished for this. If he damaged the shed any more than it already had been, Greg would be even more annoyed at having to get it replaced. For the sake of the shed and his own shoulder, Alex ignored the door and searched for anything else. But the shed was unhelpful by design, full of broken charity shop rubbish and old sport gear. Alex tried once more to get through the window, hoping he might be able to pop the entire frame out to make a larger gap. If he could get the whole thing out in one piece, it might be easier to repair, and he could get out and put a stop to whatever was going on without him. But the frame was well secure, and it took only a few smacks with the flat of his hand to be apparent that he wasn’t going to work it loose.

There was one other option available to him, and it was the one most likely to make Greg angry. At the same time, it eliminated the possibility of Greg finding out later, and accusing Alex of undermining him somehow. Greg still wouldn’t be happy, but Alex hoped that maybe he’d at least be lenient. He looked around the shed one more time, hoping for another option, but nothing stood out to him. This wasn’t a crafty puzzle to solve; it was quite simply a disaster he needed to fix quickly, so he pulled his phone from his pocket and took a moment to accept the inevitable.

He had to tell Greg directly. Anything else would be taken in the worst possible light. But he couldn’t call, because Greg wouldn’t answer anyway. It would have to be a text, and Alex knew that text would be answered on Greg’s time. Alex sent the message quickly, and then looked for a way to at least get comfortable while he waited.

Greg personally showed him the cottage. Together, they walked along a narrow path that skirted around the golf course to a small, fenced in area near the road. As they walked, Alex flipped through a stack of pages on a clipboard he’d been given, though he couldn’t quite make sense of them. He got as far as working out that it was various floor plans of the entire cottage, individual rooms, and the garden, but there were little boxes with Xs in them scattered throughout. That they were included at all was enough of an indication for Alex to figure out they were important, but he couldn’t think of anything the little boxes might be representing. Each page was also shaded oddly, with seemingly random geometric shapes scattered throughout.

They went through a hidden gate, painted green to match the hedges it was buried in, giving Alex his first look at the cottage itself. There was an odd whimsy to it, with high arched gables and a big clock on the one facing out over the garden. Greg led Alex round the front door, leading the way into a scene that felt almost shocking. The giant portrait of Greg hanging on the wall, so it was the first thing anyone saw when walking through the door was perhaps the least surprising of it. The man had an endless collection of portraits of himself, which had already faded into normality for Alex. One more wasn’t going to change things there. But the small house was so fundamentally different to the manor that for a moment Alex wondered if they were in the wrong place. Black and white zebra stripes covered the floor, while random knickknacks and baubles decorated the walls. The whole thing radiated a sort of chaotic discomfort that Alex couldn’t quite overcome.

But he noticed something else right away, even before Greg pointed them out. In the corners, up by the ceiling, were cameras. Alex looked down at the documents he’d been given, and realised what the strange geometry overlaid on the floor plan was: blind spots.

“Are the cameras always rolling?” Alex asked, unable to shake the feeling that he’d wandered into something sinister.

“Always,” Greg said. He led the way down the hall, stopping to show him a cluttered kitchen. “We take security very seriously.”

Alex didn’t believe that; or at least, he didn’t believe that Greg’s words were the whole truth. It was the first thing Greg had said that Alex rejected, and he didn’t like it. But he also didn’t openly question it, and instead nodded along.

“When we have guests, they’ll mostly be taking care of themselves,” Greg said. “But you’ll want to get to know your way around the place anyway.”

“What exactly will I be doing?” Alex asked.

The kitchen at least seemed like a kitchen. Nothing untoward happening in there, aside from perhaps an ungodly amount of eggs beneath one of the windows.

“Just making sure everyone has what they need, really,” Greg said. “Some of my guests can get a bit out of hand, and you’ll need to keep them in check.”

He turned across the hall and opened a door to a small, cosy living room. Alex followed him, unsurprised to find yet another giant portrait of Greg hanging on the wall, this one in a modern graffiti style reminiscent of Banksy.

“Right,” Alex said. “Will I be staying here?”

Greg was leaving crucial information out of the brief, and it was getting to a point that Alex could no longer ignore it.

“No, no,” Greg said, waving off the idea entirely. “You’ll come here in the mornings, open the place up, and stay for the day. Nobody stays here overnight.”

Again, Alex nodded. That at least seemed more reasonable somehow, even if he still had no idea what he’d actually be doing.

“Guest rooms, where they’ll spend most of their time,” Greg said, leading Alex back out to the hall.

He showed Alex two small rooms that didn’t feel like they were in the right place. They reminded Alex more of a waiting room than anywhere a person might wish to spend their time. But that was immediately forgotten when Greg opened the door at the end of the hall. The room on the other side sent a shock of terror through Alex that he couldn’t quite clamp down. An empty white room, draped in plastic sheets from floor to ceiling.

Rooms like this were usually only used for one thing.

“What’s this?” he asked slowly, not quite able to force himself to step inside.

“Lab,” Greg said, as if that explained anything. “Some of the activities we host get a bit messy.”

Alex couldn’t keep up the façade much longer. Every time Greg spoke, he made less and less sense.

“I’m sorry, I don’t quite understand,” he said, trying not to let his frustrations show. “What activities, exactly?”

The brief silence that spanned between them was just enough to make Alex think that he should have continued to go along with things; that whatever activities happened in this room would next feature him.

“Oh!” Greg said suddenly. He reached inside his jacket and pulled out an envelope. “Completely forgot. I meant to give you this last night.”

He handed Alex the envelope, and watched him almost expectantly as Alex turned it over to inspect it. The first thing he noticed was that it wasn’t a typical envelope, but a heavy sheet of paper folded in thirds and sealed with red wax. Alex looked up at Greg, waiting until he was given a small nod to break the seal. He unfolded the page, finding a long, handwritten list laid out for him. Alex read over it slowly, finding the contents just as confusing and nonsensical as everything else.

“I’m sorry. ‘Eat a plate of spaghetti without using hands.’” He looked up at Greg, unable to hold back a nervous laugh. “What is this?”

Alex knew, just by the look on Greg’s face that said he saw nothing unusual with this list, that he had wandered into something he might not be able to get out of. This wasn’t normal behaviour, even for eccentric men with titles and money. But at the same time, he was compelled to stay and see whatever this was through. If he walked out without notice, he’d never get work again. A bad reference from a peer would haunt him for the rest of his life, no matter where he sought work next.

“It’s what you’ll be doing when we get back from Spain next month,” Greg said. He nodded toward the clipboard still in Alex’s hand. “Place that ad tomorrow, and get all that typed up before we leave.”

Greg had a way of saying a lot without saying anything, leaving Alex muddled and wondering if maybe he just hadn’t been able to keep up. He nodded quietly and shifted through the pages on his clipboard to the very end, where he found the ad Greg wanted placed. It was going into a paper Alex had never heard of, but the information was plainly laid out so all he had to do was phone the number provided.

“‘What would you do for a million pounds?’” he read out.

He looked up at Greg, ignoring the critical stare now being levied at him, and then around the terrifying serial killer room they stood in. And suddenly, Alex understood. He nodded, and slotted the list and the ad onto his clipboard with the rest.

“Right. Of course,” he said. “I’ll get right on that.”

“Get familiar with the place. I’m going out with Roisin for dinner, so take the evening for yourself,” Greg said.

Again, Alex nodded as Greg strode past him. “Thank you,” he said.

He stayed where he was until he heard the front door slam shut, and only then rushed to get out of the so-called lab. As he went through each room, taking meticulous notes on everything he could find, Alex tried to figure out when and how to go about putting in his notice. The Spain trip had already been arranged, and if he left before then, the reference from Greg would be just as poor as if he’d turned and walked out of the door right then and there. He could put his notice in during the trip, but then there wouldn’t be much time to find and train a replacement. Alex had already made a few notes of his own in the instructions he had inherited, and knew firsthand how difficult it was to learn a job like this without any real training. He’d at the very least need to stay on to train his replacement to make everything easier for everyone.

After the trip, then. That was the only time for it. He’d wait until they returned, and then give his notice.

He forgot all about the matter when he opened a drawer in the kitchen and found it full to the brim with Hundreds and Thousands, spilling over onto the floor from the momentum of the drawer being pulled open. Suddenly, the only thing on Alex’s mind was working out where the broom was kept.

The sun had sunk low to the horizon, and a cold wind had picked up by the time Alex heard the gate open. He heard the car roll down the drive, and the doors slam shut before footsteps crunched along the gravel.

“I’m in here!” Alex shouted, no longer worried about the consequences.

He was cold and his entire body sore from sitting on the floor all day, and he just wanted to go home, take his punishment, and go to bed. But he knew it wouldn’t be that easy as soon as he heard someone on the other side of the door fussing with the lock. Until then, Alex had assumed the door had only been latched. Of course, it had been much worse than that. Sighing, he got to his feet and ignored his stiff muscles and joints protesting it, and stepped close to the door.

“I’ve got the only key,” he said.

“Can you get it through the door?” the man on the other side asked.

Alex pulled his keys from his pocket and looked at them with a tired sigh. “Yes, one moment.”

He wasn’t supposed to let anyone else handle the keys, but he couldn’t see a single other way out of this. As his mystery saviour walked around to the side of the shed, Alex worked the key from his ring, so he could only be accused of handing over that one, and not all of them. He was able to lean against the door just enough to force a small opening at the top, though which he could slip the key to the other side. Alex couldn’t see what was going on beyond the door, but he could hear the person on the other side picking the key up from the gravel. As soon as Alex was freed, he took the key back and put it back in its place with the rest of them. The man who had freed him wouldn’t even look directly at him, and Alex hated it. The man had to have known that Alex was the one who would be punished for this, but every now and then Greg managed to hire someone with a conscience, it seemed. Alex wished he knew the man’s name, even though it wouldn’t have done him any good. So he stayed silent on the matter as he steeled himself for the inevitable. Then, with a deep breath, he looked toward the house and decided to get on with it. First, he tried the door to the living room, but immediately found it bound shut with gaffer tape.

“Fucking hell,” he hissed quietly.

It was worse than just gaffer tape holding the door shut. Just by looking through the glass, he could see that the entire house had been trashed. Alex wasn’t going to be getting home any time soon, and he knew it. He gave up on the side door and went round to the front. They had barricaded it from the inside, but Alex was still able to get it unlocked. It gave him just enough leverage to force it open enough to step inside, past the living room table and a chair from one of the guest rooms. It was clear that every single drawer had been emptied, and every shelf upended onto the floor. Ketchup and salad cream had been smeared all over the walls, and something purple dripped from a large patch on the ceiling.

Greg was absolutely going to kill him for this.

Alex found the three of them in the lab, where they’d all torn the plastic sheeting from the walls and used it to build a fort. He stood silently in the doorway, half-expecting them to rush him. But it was clear that the game was over. Alex needed only step aside to make room for the three of them to get up from the floor and shuffle quietly past him. The handler took them from there, leading them out of the house and into the car that would take them back to their rooms. For a long moment, Alex stood in one place, just looking around the mess that had been made. But it wasn’t going to clean itself, so he took off his jacket to find somewhere safe to hang it so he could spend his night scrubbing jam and Nutella from the floors.

Alex started in the lab and worked his way toward the front of the house. The convenient thing about the house being the way it was meant that everything Alex needed for repairs could be found somewhere on the property. He re-hung fresh plastic sheets and got all the cameras re-positioned, both relieved and surprised they had only been fiddled with, and not completely broken.

He ran out of energy halfway through cleaning up the living room. Alex knew he’d be back the following day to finish cleaning up, and had to resist the urge to kip up in the caravan for the night. Someone else might have been able to convince Greg that it was a good idea that would save him time getting the house put back together, but someone else didn’t have other duties to see to. Alex had completely skipped dinner and all his other evening chores, and he knew Greg would not be happy if he also skipped breakfast the following morning. So Alex trudged back up to the manor so he could at least be present in the morning. He expected to be able to sneak in unnoticed, but he got as far as the front door before those hopes were dashed. He barely got his key in the lock before the door swung open, revealing Greg on the other side. For a moment, they both stared at one another, neither moving or saying a word. Then, Greg stepped aside and crossed his arms over his chest. Alex stepped through the door and braced for the inevitable impact, but it didn’t come. Instead, Greg grabbed him by the collar and pulled him along down the hall like a disobedient dog. Once Alex realised he was being taken to the study, he knew he was in for a serious dressing down over what had happened.

Greg didn’t let go of him until they were inside the room, with the door closed behind them. Alex put a few steps of distance between them, but he knew it wouldn’t matter. Greg could be surprisingly fast for a man of his size, and there was only so far Alex could run in the confined space.

“Am I some sort of joke to you?” Greg asked.

Alex shook his head quickly. “No,” he said.

Greg leaned into Alex’s space, so close their faces nearly touched. “Then what’s with this Lord of the Flies bullshit you’re letting happen?” Greg asked lowly.

Again, Alex shook his head, resisting the urge to take a step backwards. “They locked me in the shed. There was nothing I could do about it,” he said.

“Yeah, and about that,” Greg said, barely letting him finish. “What’s this I hear about you handing your keys off to someone else, huh?”

Alex barely clamped down on the urge to back away. “Just the shed key,” he said.

“Just nothing,” Greg said. “First it’s the shed key, then who knows what’s next?”

Alex could feel himself shrinking beneath Greg. He wondered if he’d get small enough to slip through a crack in the floor. Greg certainly made him feel that small, looming over him so he was finally forced to take a step back.

“It’s just the shed,” he said. “I don’t see why there shouldn’t be more copies of it.”

He had just enough time to register Greg backing away from him before Greg struck him across the face. Alex stumbled from the force of it, but the shock overwhelmed the pain. His face was the one area that Greg always tried to avoid, so he knew he had truly misstepped for Greg to forget even his own boundaries.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said quickly as he took another step backwards to put more distance between them. “I—I shouldn’t have said that.”

He was starting to stammer, and soon he’d be tripping over his own tongue. For each step he took backwards, Greg walked toward him, until Alex was trapped with his back against the wall with nowhere to run.

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Greg said, his voice low and even. “But you can be a real mouthy cunt, you know that? And I don’t punish you enough for it.”

Alex held his mouth closed tightly and shook his head again, because he knew that anything he said would be the wrong thing. There was no getting out of this in one piece, but he could at least get out alive.

“I’ve just about had it with you,” Greg said. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t have you replaced tomorrow.”

Words and reasons tumbled through Alex’s mind, every one of them getting caught on his tongue and keeping him from saying anything. He fought with all of them, starting to speak half a dozen times before he even knew what he ought to say.

“I’m here for life. You keep saying that,” he said finally, praying it was the right answer.

Just by the way Greg shook his head, Alex knew it wasn’t.

“And you think that’s my problem?” Greg asked. “You think I don’t know how to get rid of a mouthy little prick like you?”

All Alex could do was shake his head and stumble over his words. “No, I think you do,” he finally managed to stammer out.

He stared up at Greg, barely able to even make himself blink. Every part of his being wanted to run and hide, but he didn’t dare move a muscle. If he ran, his punishment would be ten times worse than whatever was already going through Greg’s mind at that moment.

“You know what I can do to you,” Greg said. “And you still let those bastards destroy my house?”

A thousand responses raced through Alex’s head, but he knew none of them were the response Greg wanted to hear. But he had to say something, so he opened his mouth and said the first words that jumped to the front of his mind.

“It would be a lot easier to do things right if I had help,” he said.

He knew even as he spoke it was the wrong thing to say. This time, he was able to brace himself for the strike across his face, but bracing only did so much against a man of Greg’s size. His head swam from the impact, but before he could recover Greg grabbed him by the neck and dragged him across the floor. Alex barely managed to stay on his feet as Greg hauled him from the study and down the hall. All he could do was keep up with Greg’s stride, because he knew even if he stumbled and fell, Greg would not stop. He’d be dragged through the house by his throat if he didn’t keep up, and he knew it from experience.

Alex couldn’t even be surprised when Greg threw him into his cupboard, or when he heard the familiar scrape of the lock fastening on the other side. There was a certain comfort in the cupboard, alone in the dark as Greg’s stomping footsteps receded. Whatever Greg might do to him wouldn’t come immediately, and that was enough to let Alex begin to relax. As long as he was in the cupboard, he was safe. He sat on the floor and leaned against the wall, giving himself time to remember how to breathe. Alex knew Greg wasn’t done with him though. Being locked in the cupboard wasn’t much of a punishment, and they both knew it. Alex was locked in the cupboard so he stayed out of the way while Greg decided what his true punishment would be. Very occasionally, Greg would lock him in the cupboard to give himself time to cool down, but Alex didn’t think this would be one of those times.

As Alex calmed down, his exhaustion from the day quickly caught up with him. He took off his jacket and his shoes and lay down to sleep on the floor. He had only a thin blanket to curl up with, which he had to do because neither the blanket nor the cupboard were big enough to allow him to stretch out properly. Despite everything, he fell asleep quickly, though he did not have a restful night by any means. He hadn’t been allowed to eat anything all day, and now with nothing to distract him from his hunger, it was enough to keep waking him through the night. Each time he woke, he checked his phone for the time, having to squint against the bright screen. Even on its dimmest setting, it was like a torch blinding him, but it was somehow comforting to know how much time had passed since he had last checked. As the night dragged further on, Alex became increasingly aware of a bigger problem than his phone screen burning bright spots in his eyes. At first, he thought he could ignore it, but it wasn’t long before his need to have a wee kept from from falling back to sleep at all. No matter how he twisted and turned and curled himself up, it didn’t go away.

Watching the clock became less of a ritual to ground himself, and more of an act of desperation as the night wore on. He knew Greg wouldn’t come for him until after he’d sorted his own breakfast out, and Alex became increasingly certain he wouldn’t be able to wait for that long. Alex’s usual morning started earlier than Greg’s, but that didn’t help him with the lock on the outside of the door.

He gave up on sleep when it became apparent he was heading toward real trouble. One way or another, Greg would open the cupboard to find it reeking of piss, and it was up to Alex to pick how he wanted to be punished for it. That was how Greg’s punishments worked. Alex would be punished either way, but the form that punishment took was always up to him in the end, determined by his choice of actions. He sat up against the wall, trying to find any way he could to buy himself more time. As need turned into painful desperation, Alex began to properly consider his options. Ultimately, he only had two, and neither were good. Either way, whether he pissed in the corner or in his pants, Greg would be furious with him. In the corner, Greg would treat it like some act of wilful defiance. In his pants, it was a shameful lack of control. His choice came down to whether he’d rather sacrifice his last remaining shreds of dignity, or take the harsher punishment.

In the end, all it took was a cough, and not even a big one. A small tickle in the back of his throat that quickly turned into a sharp, choking gasp as Alex grappled with the dissonance of relief and a bone-deep self loathing that started with his pants becoming rapidly soaked. Even as urine soaked into Alex’s trousers and onto the floor, he stayed where he was, fist held tightly against his mouth to keep any other sound from escaping. Once it had started, it seemed it would never stop. He did nothing to try and fix the situation either, staying where he sat against the wall as a puddle of piss grew around him. But it did stop, and still Alex stayed where he was, suddenly far too tired to even get up to shed his clothes. But sleep still eluded him, as his soaked pants and trousers began to chafe against his skin as everything cooled. He’d had only tea all day, and soon his own stink began to make him gag with each breath, but he still did nothing to fix the situation because there was no fixing it. He could strip completely, and he’d still be locked in a reeking cupboard. There was still a large puddle on the floor that would need to be dealt with, and he had only the clothes he wore and a blanket at hand. A blanket that had no doubt been collateral damage already.

Alex stopped checking his phone after that, letting the darkness within the cupboard fully consume him. If he checked his phone, it would cast enough light for him to see the true scope of the situation, and he didn’t want to see it. Even in the dark, he kept his eyes closed as though he could hide from even himself. Like that, sat against the wall with his knees brought up to his chin, he almost felt like he could cease to exist entirely. There was no cupboard, and no world beyond it. No Alex. His mind was completely empty, barely even conscious of the mess he had made before long.

He didn’t know how much longer he had been left in the cupboard. Whether it was minutes or days, it all felt like the same thing. He barely registered the scrape of the lock on the other side of the door, only realising the door had opened at all when he instinctively flinched away from the light.

“Jesus Christ!” Greg shouted.

He slammed the door again, and Alex thought he’d be left alone again. Beyond the door, he could hear Greg gagging, but he didn’t seem to be leaving. Then, the door opened again, pouring light in once more, and Alex could see the true extent of his problem. He had just enough time to look up before Greg was inside the cupboard with him, grabbing him by the back of the neck.

“You disgusting pig,” Greg said as he pulled Alex around.

Greg wrestled Alex to all fours while he avoided stepping in the mess himself. Alex had no choice but to brace himself against the floor, hands planted beneath him as Greg tried to shove him all the way to the ground. But Greg was bigger and heavier than him, and he pressed Alex’s face closer to the floor with seemingly little effort.

“No, please,” Alex said, trying to resist having his face shoved into his own piss.

“No?” Greg asked. “How about learning some goddamn control over yourself.”

With one more harsh shove, he pressed Alex’s face against the floor. Alex sputtered and coughed against the stench as Greg continued to hold him down into his own piss. Alex’s eyes and throat burned, and even though he knew it was useless, he tried to push himself up again. Each time he tried, Greg leaned more of his weight against Alex, holding him down even longer.

“I’m sorry,” Alex said through his teeth, trying to keep his mouth as closed as possible.

Greg shoved Alex, as though trying to scrub the floor with his beard. Alex tried to brace himself against it, but he was quickly running out of any ability to fight back or resist.

“Sorry’s what you say when you’re not going to do it again,” Greg said, shoving Alex against the floor once more. “Are you gonna do it again?”

Alex huffed against Greg’s weight atop him, struggling to keep his face turned away enough to breathe. He wanted to say that he wouldn’t do it again; that he’d learned his lesson and would be more careful next time.

“Yes,” he said instead, because he knew better than to pretend he had any control over what Greg might make him do in future.

Greg pressed harder against Alex, dragging his face through his own piss one last time before he let up. Alex had just enough time to lift his head before Greg took him by the back his neck and hauled him to his feet. Stinking and soaked, Alex found himself dragged through the house fully on display. If anyone had seen him, it would have been painfully clear what had happened. Still, he struggled to keep up with Greg’s long strides, even as Greg took him to the back of the house and outside. There was no immediate back garden. That was beyond a low fence that blocked off a small gravel patch that held rubbish bins and deliveries that hadn’t been processed and gardening equipment. Greg let go of Alex as they hit the gravel, shoving him so he fell down to his knees. The cold air stung sharply against his wet skin, and he wondered if it might be cold enough to freeze.

He didn’t have long to wonder though. Alex looked up to see Greg unwinding the hose from where it hung against the wall, muttering an endless string of profanity to himself. Greg turned the water on and tested the pressure with a quick blast to the ground before turning it on Alex. Alex shielded his face from the freezing torrent, unable to do anything more than gasp and hiss sharply.

“Strip, Horne,” Greg shouted over the water. “Filthy little piggy needs a proper bath.”

Alex struggled to open his shirt, finding his hands too shaky and stiff to work the buttons.

“Stop, please,” he said.

Greg didn’t stop. Alex turned his face away so he didn’t inhale the jet of icy water, and slowly worked his shirt open one button at a time. Once it was open, getting it off and tossed to the ground was the easier part. Then, he had to struggle with his belt and trousers, though getting his zip down was somewhat easier.

“Pants too,” Greg said.

Alex nodded haltingly as he pulled everything down, stripping even his socks so he was fully naked as Greg continued to spray him with the hose. Alex could still smell the stench of urine in his beard, so he turned his face into the jet once again, cringing against the cold water as it got up his nose and in his eyes. He stayed on his knees, head bowed as he shivered and trembled, even after Greg turned the water off. It was so cold, Alex wasn’t even sure he could move.

“You’ve got two messes to clean up now,” Greg said as he tossed the hose generally in the direction where it belonged. “Better get started, because I expect you home for dinner tonight.”

Alex nodded in a stilted, jerky motion, but said nothing. He slowly pulled himself to his feet and gathered up his soaked and discarded clothes to wring them out. With nothing else to cover himself, he held everything in front of his waist to cover as much as possible as he fled back inside to dress.