Another one for my fiction workshop class, along with Ten Percent. Criticism is greatly appreciated.
I wake up.
My surroundings havenâ€™t changed; every time I wake up, I wake up in the same room, in the same place, in the same position. The room is roughly a cube, and I would estimate it to be about two and a half times my height in each dimension; I donâ€™t know my height, but what I can see of my body proportions without a mirror suggests Iâ€™m somewhere between five and a half and six and a half feet tall. I have no other reference besides this guesswork, and of course I could be grossly incorrect, especially about the height of the ceiling (I cannot get anywhere near it). The walls of the room are a dull gray â€“ most everything here is a dull gray â€“ with no luster and a flat texture. Its contents, not including myself, are a single bed, single table, and single chair. The frame of the bed is as high as the soft part of my knee when I stand next to it, and if my thumb from the tip of my nail to the joint is one inch long then the mattress is about four inches thick when not compressed by my body weight; it is apparently of the simple spring type. There is no pillow. The tabletop is square and almost exactly the length of my arm from the tip of my fully-extended middle finger to my armpit; sitting atop a single, central leg that becomes an X-shape at the floor, the table reaches about two thumb-inches below my navel when I stand next to it. The seat of the unpadded but otherwise ergonomic four-legged chair is about knee height; the back is as high as my crotch. There is one exit from the room â€“ a doorway of dimensions such that I cannot pass through with my elbows extended out from my shoulders or my arms above my head â€“ and no windows. The floor is of the same material as the walls and ceiling. White light comes from a globe recessed into the ceiling at what seems to be its exact center. If the light was in the center of the floor rather than the ceiling, I estimate it would be exactly between where the bed is attached to the floor and where the table is, directly across the table from where the chair is when I wake up (the chair isnâ€™t bolted down; often when I wake up, the first thing I do is move the chair; out of spite, perhaps).
What I know about myself is less than I know about the room, because it is harder to study my own body than it is to study my surroundings. As I said before, my estimate of my height is broadly between five and a half and six feet tall. I am not particularly muscular nor particularly fat; to estimate my weight would require a more exact understanding of my height. My hair is dark brown, as evidenced by my relatively sparse body hair and the color of the short hair I pulled out of my head for the purpose of that same test. I am male. Every time I wake up I am dressed in a plain gray coverall without any tags or markings, a pair of gray briefs, and a pair of plain gray shoes with no laces. I always wake up in the bed, lying on my back with my arms at my sides and with my
shoes on, even though when I lay in the bed to rest (not to sleep; I cannot recall a time when I have laid down in the bed of my own accord and fallen asleep) I always find it more comfortable to do so on my stomach with my head resting on my arms and my feet bare.
As can probably be assumed, I have no memory of events before I came to this place. I do not know my name. I know many facts, but strangely disjointed ones; for instance, I know what a month is â€“ a 28 to 31-day period, segmenting the year â€“ but cannot name any of them, identify how many there should be, or identify what a year is beyond â€œa certain number of monthsâ€. Likewise, I know what a city and a country is, but cannot name one of either, never mind those attached to my birth. I know I live on the planet Earth but otherwise have no knowledge of what a planet is or what Earth is besides being the planet on which I live. I can name each part of my body and even explain to a fair degree what each part does, and of course know the names of all of my furniture (and often wish for an ottoman, knowing fully what one is).
I do not eat. I do not recall any intermittent states of sleep besides being awake and jolting awake, nor any dreams. I have no reference with which to keep track of time; not even the ability to make marks for the days (or what I call the days; sometimes the time between waking up and waking up is barely long enough to get out of bed).
I sit up on the bed. I have the almost-uncontrollable reflex to rub my eyes to free them of the sticky detritus of dried tears, but even though I know to expect them I have never had to deal with them in my memory, regardless of the number of times I have suddenly opened my eyelids to face my mostly-featureless ceiling.
Today I will go to one of the other rooms. By a rough count, I havenâ€™t left the bedroom in about fifteen days. Based on the fact that the previous two days were especially long, I think Iâ€™m due today for torture.
My bedroom is at the end of a hall; leaving my room, the rest of the hall extends to the left. The hall is longer than I can walk even on the longest day, and the most doors I have counted walking all day are 2133 on the left side (counting my own room) and 2024 on the right side. Near my room, the doors are spaced fairly close together, with probably only six inches of partition between the rooms, but the space of empty wall from door to door grows as you go down the hall until by the thousandth door the spacing has become one hundred paces or more.
With the exception of the bed, table, and chair in my own bedroom, each of the rooms in the hall is featureless except for the light in the ceiling, placed (as in my room) in the exact center. However, not all the rooms are the same size, and seem to vary by about ten feet â€“ all are cubes, which is disconcerting because of the difference in ceiling heights.
The reason I am leaving the room today is to try and obscure the strange noises with the warning voice. Going past the doorway of the ninetieth room on the left is one of the five ways to invoke the warning voice. â€œTHIS IS NOT ACCORDING TO PROTOCOL,â€ the voice says. â€œRETURN TO THE AREA OF THE LIVING QUARTERS.â€ The voice says this once every time my whole body passes past the close side of the doorway; it will not activate again after a slow count to five.
The other four ways I have discovered that activate the voice are all ways in which I have attempted to kill myself after particularly bad sessions of torture. I woke up from each of them in the bed on my back, no lasting harm done. I tried each of them at least fifteen more times with the same effect. My failure to commit suicide after trying at least sixty times gave credence to my previously-held theory that I am in hell. However, an eternity to contemplate my sins would be preferable to an eternity of not remembering anything, sin or otherwise, that I could contemplate, so I must conclude that I am not in the traditional hell (what tradition, I could not begin to say).
The noises occur every torture session, and in some ways are the worst part of all, which is why I am on my way out the door, counting the doors on the left. Before the ninetieth door I stop and wait, on edge, straining my ears to listen for the warning that will begin the noises and the torture. The noises are the same each time. Having done this before, I know how to poise myself so that when the torture buckles my knees I will fall forward and pass the door and be warned to return to the area of the living quarters.
â€œIT IS AGAINST PROTOCOL TO ATTEMPT TO MOVE DURING THE FOLLOWING PROCESS,â€ proclaims the voice above me as the noises start. The first noise is like someone saying â€œshoopâ€ and then there is a constant tapping and a few other noises I cannot describe. My muscles begin to seize shortly after this begins, but I do not buckle yet.
There is a voice amid the noises; central to them, in fact. Hearing its gibberish is terrible.
â€œHere come old flattop
He come groovinâ€™ up slowly
He got joo-joo eyeball
He one holy rollerâ€
Here I buckle.
â€œTHIS IS NOT ACCORDING TO PROTOCOL down to his knees
RETURN TO THE AREA OF THE LIVING QUARTERS he just do what he pleaseâ€
The voice , replaced by â€œshoopâ€s and taps. I my jaw is clenching and unclenching and I am making strangled noises. I would scream if I could; the pain is unbearable, as accustomed as I am to my ordeal.
â€œHe wear no shoeshine
He got toe-jam football
He got monkey finger
He shoot coca cola
He say â€˜I know you, you know meâ€™â€
I cannot squirm back past the door in time to cover up the sound of the next thing the voice says. I never can.
â€œOne thing I can tell you is you got to be free
I weep, insensate with pain and the haunting familiarity of the noises, the inescapable feeling that they should have meaning. That is the root of their terror.
I have never been able to count the seconds of the pain, even though there was a period of about forty tortures where I tried for each one, but it is long. The pattern of the noises repeats once.
It does stop, and I wake up in my bed, wailing my agony.
The PROTOCOL Rehabilitation System
The PROTOCOL system is a new advancement in the science of rehabilitation. The subjectâ€™s mind exists in a virtual conceptualization of a perfect world without hunger or fatigue, most of the subjectâ€™s memories and knowledge locked away to prevent the mind from recognizing the world as false. In this way, the subject is kept perfectly still as injuries to the body are quickly reversed by state-of-the-art medical practices.
Muscle stimulations every few minutes are a necessity to ensure proper healing, but the program overlays the experience with the subjectâ€™s favorite song to greatly dampen the effects of the pain. The system operates in a series of cycles, and at the beginning of each the simulation resets.
The test subject for the first use of the PROTOCOL system is 28-year-old Marcus Gold, who received several critical injuries in an automobile accident. Marcusâ€™s favorite song, which his wife told the presiding doctors reminds him strongly of when they met, is â€œCome Togetherâ€ by the Beatles, and so that is the song the system overlays the stimulations with; of course, his mind does not currently process the associates it normally makes with it. We believe this to be a calming factor for the otherwise-traumatic experience.
The main argument against the use of the virtual aspect of the PROTOCOL system is that time will be dilated for the subject, but data at this point in the experiment cannot confirm or deny this.
At the end of this first work-day of testing, the results are promising. The two-month process will continue as scheduled.
"Tell you what, Leto, I won't fight with you. Zeus' wives are pretty tough customers. You have my permission to boast openly that you have beaten the daylights out of me."
-Hermes, the Iliad (Stanley Lombardo, translator) Book 21