The Box – or the extraordinary adventure of a mediocre man

The Box – or the extraordinary adventure of a mediocre man

the box

Level 1.

I need to think. There isn’t much else to do in here, after all. I need to think. It’s amazing how one can get distracted even if there is nothing, absolutely nothing around to get distracted by. Think, just fucking think. Information. No. No, this can’t be right. It must be a mistake. Hey! Hey out there! Is there anyone out there? This is a mistake! You got the wrong man! Hey, can you hear me? Fuck, fuck, fuck this is no good. Right. Deep breath, don’t panic, there’s got to be a perfectly reasonable explanation. What is this place, anyway. A prison? A hospital? A mental hospital? Information. Knowledge, knowledge, knowledge. Knowledge is power. What information do I have. Fuck all, that’s what I have. No, that’s no good either, think, man, for fuck’s sake, think!

Ok.

Thinking.

What do I know of this place.

It’s white. It’s all white. And it’s a box. It’s a room that looks very much like a white box. Ok. What’s it made of. Plastic, I should think, some sort of plastic material or resin. It doesn’t feel either warm or cold to the touch, it doesn’t yield, so there is no padding, but it is rubbery. I could hurt myself quite badly by banging my head repeatedly against it, but it would take exceptional determination and motivation or total insanity. What else. Corners, corners, corners. What about corners? There aren’t any. No corners. It’s all smooth and round. There is no smell. It doesn’t smell like anything. Light. There is light in here, but I can’t really tell where it’s coming from. Or rather, I know it’s coming from the ceiling, as it is the only part of this place that is not dull, it is, in fact, glowing very softly, but I cast no shadow. I suspect the whole ceiling might be a neon plaque, but I can hear no buzzing. I can hear nothing at all, apart from myself panting.

Will someone come and just talk to me for god’s sake! You can’t do this! What the hell is going on here? Christ I can’t believe this, this can’t be real. No, calm down, don’t freak out.

Breathe.

Ok, so there’s a fact I know for sure. I am alone in a white room that looks a lot like a box with round corners, it is neither hot nor cold and it is lit. And there is air. For now, at least. Ok. Moving on.

How did I get here. Buggered if I know. I woke up in here, therefore I was brought here while sleeping. Why. Why. Why. Why. Why and by whom. No, don’t go there yet, need more information for that. One step at a time. How though. How was I brought here, physically. How did I get in. Fuck me, doors! This place ain’t got no fucking doors or windows or anything. Ok, I can walk and think at the same time, I need to get this straight.

Nope. Nothing. Nothing high or low, nothing I can see by examining every inch as close as it is possible to do without a microscope, nothing I can feel with the palm of my hand or the skin of my face. Nothing on the floor, nothing on the walls, nothing in the corners that aren’t corners. I have traced every inch of this place I could reach, I have stroked, prodded, pushed, kicked, felt, punched, smelled and licked: nothing, not the tiniest crack or hole. This place looks like it was made from one single mould. I think I can see a pattern of tiny holes on the ceiling, which might be where the air is coming from, but I can’t be sure because of the glow.

So how the fuck did I get in here. Now, unless teleport has been invented and the people who invented it fucked up big time, which let’s face it is unlikely, it follows that some part of this structure must be designed to open enough to let a grown man through. My money is on the ceiling. It’s the only bit I can’t examine properly, so there must be some hidden crack in there, through which they have lowered me in. Who are they though.

Ok, getting there, think.

What else do I know. Size, right, size and shape. Let’s see. One… two… three… four… five… six… seven. And again. And again. And again. So, seven by seven paces… It looks cubic, so it must be roughly the same height.

Right then. I am in a cube-shaped white box about the size of my living room, there are no doors and I don’t know what I am doing here.

Time.

How long have I been here. I don’t think I have gone insane just yet, so it can’t be that long. Let’s see. What did I do after waking up. Freaked out, ok, I did that for a while. I screamed and called and cursed and cried and kicked and punched the walls. Judging by the pounding of my head, the soreness of my throat and the bruising on my knuckles, I’d say I must have carried on like that for a few hours and then I stopped to think. That doesn’t say much about how long I might have been asleep in here though.

Hold on… beard! Right, I know for a fact that I shaved the last time I woke up in my flat. Let’s see… no, this can not be more than a day’s worth of stubble, so I went to bed last night and woke up here this morning. Which makes this… the fifth of March. Wednesday. Ok, right, got it. It’s Wednesday, the fifth of March and I have not been here longer than half a day. And I’m wearing my pijamas, so they – whoever they are – picked me up from my bed and brought me straight here – wherever here is.

Come to think of it, I’m hungry. Oh god, I’m gonna starve to death in here. They’re gonna leave me here to starve. You can go on without eating for a month, apparently. Or was it three months? Yes, that was it, you can go on for three months without eating, for three weeks without drinking and for three minutes without breathing and then you die. Or was it three weeks without eating and three days without drinking. That’s not right though, I’m sure there are people – deep divers or something – that can hold their breath for longer than three minutes. Whatever, I can’t. And I’m hungry. And I’m thirsty. Hey! Hey, listen, we can talk about this! Can I have a glass of water please? Oh for fuck’s sake why don’t you answer me? Are you listening? What’s the point of keeping me in here if you don’t even know whether I live or die! What am I, Schroedinger’s fucking cat?

 

Are they listening? Are they watching? I can’t see any cameras, but they could be in the ceiling too. Oh shit, shit, shit how did I end up here.

Oh fuck. Oh no. I need to go. Surely they don’t expect me to go… in here? Listen, I really need to use the toilet! I’m serious, please, whoever you are, just show some humanity! I don’t care if I have to do it in front of a platoon, just let me use a toilet! I won’t fight, I’ll come back here quietly, just please let me go to the toilet!

I must not break down. I must not… what’s the point? I can break down all I want, they are not even listening. Or perhaps they are and they want to see me breaking down. Good god, I can’t have come to this. Pissing and shitting in the same place where I might have to sleep. I will never sleep again. Jesus fucking Christ.

I still have to go.

Say I’ll go in one corner and sleep in the opposite corner. They can’t seriously be thinking of leaving me here to rot in my own piss. Ok, let’s do this.

Don’t vomit. Don’t vomit. It fucking stinks in here. I am dizzy and it stinks. And if I keep sitting here staring at the lake of piss in the opposite corner I’ll vomit and it will get worse. On the plus side, I’m no longer hungry. I could not eat in here, not if they paid me.

Happy now? Is this what you want? Did you like that? Seeing a man debased, milling about in his own piss like an animal? Do you people get off on this sort of thing? You won’t get away with this! I will be missed, they will be looking for me! You can’t get away with this, do you hear me?

I will be missed. Sylvia. Do you miss me? I miss you, god, I miss you so much. Have you called the police? Are you even worried yet? Has Daulton called yet, asking what do I think I am doing not showing up? Are you all looking for me? Or do you know I am here, has someone told you something? ‘Grim-faced cops on your doorstep’ -type thing? Are you trying to get to me even now?

I’m going mad. Half a day and already I’m going mad. I must not go mad. Half a day. How do I know? I just… know. But I might be wrong. I’ll just assume it’s the fifth of April. No, March. It’s March. I must not forget. I must keep track of time. I need something to write with. On. I need something to write on. And something to write on it with.

No, something other than my own shit, thank you.

Let’s see.

Chipped button off my pijama top. This might do. The wall is rubbery, maybe this will leave a mark. Not the wall though, I’ll lose it on the wall. A corner, right across from where I’ve pissed. Holy fuck, have I just formed that thought in my head? Really?

Yes, it does leave a very faint mark. March 5th 2014 – Wed. Ok. Now what?

 

Level 2. 

I was not aware that I had slept, but I woke up, so I must have. The piss is gone. Think.        Sharks tearing strips off each other.

Why did I just get that image? There’s a glass of water in the corner where the piss was and a packet of crackers in another corner. How the fuck did they do that with no doors? Shit. This place is getting to me. I don’t want it to get to me. I fell asleep in the smell of piss and now there is no smell at all. Not even on the floor, in the corner where I am absolutely sure I pissed yesterday. Was it yesterday? How long was I asleep? Beard. Can’t tell. Could still be Wednesday. Was it Wednesday? Where is it. It was here. I’m sure it was in this corner. It’s not. It’s not in any corner. Shit. How do they do this?

Christ I’m parched. I don’t want to drink their water though. But I don’t want to die either. What happens if I neither drink nor eat? Will they force me? Will I finally meet them?

Good god, why me? I’m not that kind of man. I’m not a revolutionary, I can barely be arsed to vote! I am not trained for hunger strike and torture, I can’t do this. I am just not like that. I am trained for having a normal life, I can do normal things. I know normal things.

I know that you can make coffee twice as strong if you use more coffee instead of water to brew it. I know how to make pancakes and unplug a sink though not at the same time. I know how to format a laptop and I know that I should always clean off the porn from my browsing history but never delete it altogether otherwise Sylvia will think I’ve been watching porn. I know the minimum amount you need to have in one of our bank accounts to get a decent interest rate and I know how far we can extend your overdraft and how sorry you will be that we did. I know that Sylvia likes to go jogging first thing in the morning, but actually that’s not a good idea, cause you should have breakfast first, but she never listens and we go jogging when she says we do and I get cramp and she doesn’t. I know that Freddie Mercury died in 1991 and I know the lyrics of Bohemian Rhapsody, all of it and not just the Mamma mia bit. I know that you if you rub a clove of garlic on a bee sting it will dull the pain, or at least I think I know cause grandma Anne used to tell me that, but I have never been stung by a bee so I never actually put that bit of knowledge to the test. I know how to drive a car and a motorbike and I can swim. I know that french fries are not called french fries in French, but I don’t know what they are called. I know that Sylvia likes to be kissed on that spot halfway between the ear and the nape of the neck, but she hates to be bitten, though she does like to bite and she doesn’t really care if I like it or not. I know that WWII started in 1939 and I know that there’s something going on in the Middle East, but I can’t quite remember what it’s all about.

I know a lot of things and I can’t find one single piece of information that will help me decide if I should drink that glass of water or not. My tongue feels hairy and too large by half. The water doesn’t smell like anything, but there are drugs that are odourless. I am not afraid they want to poison me, I am afraid they want to give me drugs without my consent, which – come to think of it –  they might have done already. This place doesn’t look like you have to sign a consent form before they lock you up. Maybe there is someone out there that looks just like me and he’s a mass murderer and they think I’m him and they want to turn me into a drooling vegetable and I’ll end up like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and I won’t even have an Indian friend to smother me with a pillow. Native American. Or was it the other way round and he was the one who got off and the Indian friend was the one who got smothered? There was this songwriter in the seventies who was actually Native American and he was better than Bob Dylan, but he could not get a good record deal cause some black guy who was a big cheese in the record industry said he wouldn’t sell cause he didn’t look American enough. And then he outsold Elvis like in South Africa or something, but he stayed poor cause he never found out cause there was no internet back then and anyway they say most Americans don’t know where South Africa is even now, and now there’s no excuse because of the internet and shit. I haven’t actually listened to that guy’s music, but I read a Facebook post about him. There’s a documentary, I think.

One sip. Doesn’t taste like drugs. The fuck do I know what drugs taste like, anyway. Ok, I’ll set it down now and wait. I’ll wait and count to three-thousand-six-hundred and if I don’t feel weird or drugged or drowsy or dying I’ll drink the rest of it.

One.

Two.

Three.

Christ it feels good. Four.

I can wet my lips. Five.

My tongue feels normal again. Six.

Breathe in, breathe out. Seven.

Sylvia. Eight.

Is it because of the bank? Nine.

Is it some account I have worked on? Ten.

Maybe one of my clients did something really huge and they want to get to him? Eleven.

That makes no sense, they should have just asked. Twelve.

There are procedures for this sort of thing. Thirteen.

They’d talk to Daulton about this stuff, not me, I am nobody. Fourteen.

And if it is a mix-up, then there’s a serial killer on the loose? Fifteen.

I do feel faint. Sixteen.

But maybe I’m just hungry. Seventeen.

Maybe I should just eat and drink. Eighteen.

If you don’t eat or drink they can say that you are insane. Nineteen.

They can do all sorts to you if they think you are insane. Twenty.

But surely they must know that people don’t trust you, when you lock them up. Twenty-one.

And if they wanted me dead they’d just have killed me. Twenty-one.

Hang on, I already did twenty-one. Twenty-two.

No, wait, I should skip one now, so Twenty-four.

I am not the kind of person that people want to kill, seriously. Twenty-five.

And why don’t they just ask for whatever it is that they want? Twenty-six.

Hey, is there anybody there? I yield! Twenty-seven.

Whatever it is that you want me to do, I’ll do it! Twenty-eight.

I’ll tell you everything I know about everything, just come and talk to me! Twenty-nine.

Can half a minute be this long? Sure this isn’t right. Thirty.

I’m hungry. Thirty-one.

What did I want to count up to an hour for in the first place. Thirty-two.

They don’t really need to slip me sedatives in a glass of water. Thirty-three.

Whoever it is that put me here, they seem pretty much omnipotent to me. Thirty-four.

So maybe that glass of water is just a glass of water. Thirty-five.

And those crackers are just crackers. Thirty-six.

I can’t wait that long. I can not wait that long. Thirty-seven.

Maybe I should just settle for a minute. Thirty-eight.

That’s right, a minute. If I am not convulsing by the time I get to sixty, I’ll drink. Thirty-nine.

And eat. Forty.

Fuck it, what’s the point. Forty-one.

This is ridiculous. Stop it.

The crackers are stale and the water is just water and I have never enjoyed a meal more. I would make a rubbish spy. I could not endure torture for five seconds, if the bad guy just locks me up with no food and water for half a day I’ll sell him my country, tell him where the microfilm is hidden and let him fuck my sister up the ass. I was not cut out to be a hero. Maybe they need to know this.

Er… people out there? Hello? I just wanted to tell you that I am not really the hero-type. You know, just in case you got the idea that I was tough in any way, I’m not. You don’t have to play this game with me, just ask and I’ll do anything in my power to help you. If I have information you want, you’re welcome to it, I’ll tell you anything you want to know, hell, I’ll write it down, sign it and draw you a map!

 What a spineless wimp you are. Weak, coward, gutless insect. Look at yourself. A few hours in a white room and you’re all ready to sell your mother to the Spanish Inquisition. To be fair, maybe I’m just lacking motivation. Perhaps it is easier to be a coward if you have nothing to defend. Or is it the other way round? Maybe I could be heroic if I had something to fight for. I could be heroic for Sylvia. I could endure torture if it was to save her from harm surely. Couldn’t I? I think I could. She could. Would she do it for me? Would you do it for me, Syl? Are you glad I’m out of the way? Maybe you are. I was never good enough. Never strong enough. Being with me was never an adventure. I am ordinary. I like ordinary. You would like one of those guerrilla-types, wouldn’t you? One that could hitchhike to Cambodia or climb Mount Everest in the buff or wrestle a grizzly bear. One that is not a wuss and doesn’t turn you in after five minutes of light torture. Maybe you wanted me here, out of the way, so you can go and get yourself someone better. Someone stronger.

I’m going mad in here. I need a dump. Fuck no, come on, that’s not fair! One packet of mouldy crackers in god knows how long and my stomach won’t even hold that in for half an hour? They won’t get this off the floor as easily and I’ll have to sleep with it. If I was the kind of person that has a lawyer, I would want my lawyer here right now. But I’m not. So much for my human rights.

 

Level 3.

I have lost count of the times I’ve fallen asleep and woken up. The smell in here is unbearable. On the plus side, now I know which corner of the cell – I’ve decided to think of this as a cell – is which. This, for instance, this one here is the one I have decided to use as sleeping quarters and I know it’s this one, because it has no shit in it.

I don’t want to look. I don’t want to see. I don’t want to think. I’ve yelled myself hoarse and cried more than I thought it was physically possible for an adult human being to cry. I have managed not to vomit – out of sheer repulsion for my bodily fluids, I expect. My beard is growing in freely and my pijamas are starting to feel baggy. Sometimes there’s food when I wake up – stale bread, stale crackers or stale digestive biscuits – and more often than not there’s water, but I touch as little as I can, because I know that what goes in must come out and what comes out stays with me forever, in the opposite corner of the cell. They have not made anything else disappear. It’s all still here. Smells like death in here. I have stopped talking to them, as they either won’t listen or don’t care. The world is a white room that smells like shit and there’s no-one out there listening to my screams. And therefore I do not scream.

This is torture. I didn’t know nor would ever have imagined that nothing could be a form of torture. And yet it is. Just the fact of being, of existing in this confined space, with nothing but my basic needs attended to, gives me more pain than I have felt in my life.

I have tried writing on the wall with the sharp edge of my chipped button again, but it’s white on white and it’s always gone by the time I wake up. So I just huddle in my corner and escape to places I can recall in my head. I don’t go to happy places though. Happy places and happy days are too painful. I go back to normal places, dull places. Bus stops on rainy days. Smelly alleys in dodgy neighbourhoods. Bad hangovers after parties. Boring rows with teenage girlfriends whom I wasn’t that much into anyway. Overcooked pasta and warm beer. That time I sprained my ankle snowboarding, which put an end to the whole winter-sports lark. Those memories I can bear. I cling on to them and wait.

I itch and ache all over: the result of not washing and sleeping on the floor for… how long? I don’t know, two inches long, in beard terms. I don’t really know how much time that is. A few days, probably. I wish they’d just kill me. I wish I had enough willpower not to touch food or drink until it is too late to save me. But I’m a coward and I don’t want to starve to death. I’m mediocre and I’ll die a mediocre death, huddled in a corner, fantasizing about bus stops and warm beer.

Good god, I wish I could take a shower.

Hang on. What happened to the smell? Is it… gone? How the… What the fuck is that? Is it a… cabin? This is not possible, this is not normal! Have I gone completely insane? There was a mound of shit and a lake of piss over there not five seconds ago! Or was it longer? It’s hard to keep track of time, when all you do is rock back and forth with your eyes closed, but still, how did that just appear out of thin air, without making a sound?

Fuck me, it’s a toilet! It’s just a small closet really, barely larger than a telephone box, but it’s got everything in it: bowl, sink, shower, even a loo-roll and towel.

Oh thank you, thank you, thank you! I am so sorry I yelled at you, it won’t happen again, I am so grateful, so grateful!

This is so good. This feels fantastic, better than anything has ever felt. I could stand like this forever, just feeling the water roll over me, and scrubbing my own skin raw with my bare hands. I have cried in the shower before, but I know now that I never meant it. I was mostly being melodramatic: I could have cried anywhere else, but not this time. This time it is the shower itself that makes me want to cry. The fact that it is here and I’m standing in it.

When I’m finished, I get back to my corner – I can still tell it is my corner, cause it’s across from the toilet – and huddle there, wrapped up in my towel. It’s clean and it smells nice and I’m no longer an animal rolling in its own excrement. I’m me, I am clean and I don’t have to be weary of eating any more. In fact, there’s a packet of crisps waiting when I step out of the shower, along with the customary glass of water. I eat and drink and fall asleep almost instantly.

As I wake up, I sit munching at a piece of stale bread and staring at the cabin. I am gripped by a sudden terror that it might disappear, just as suddenly it has been brought into existence. Please, please, please don’t take it away. Why did you decide to give me this cabin? What did I do right? Cause I will do it again and again, if you just leave it right where it is. 

What was I doing when the cabin appeared? Nothing, really, I wasn’t looking. I was sitting with my face between my knees, because I didn’t want to look at the shit in the corner. Maybe they liked that. Show proper respect. Don’t look up. No. Never look up. But if I never look up I won’t know if the cabin is gone. Maybe I should sit by it and touch it and then I’ll know it’s there. But I was not sitting there when it came, I was sitting here. So perhaps I should sit here and look up as little as possible. I’ll just turn on the tap a bit, just to hear the noise and feel the water. It’s a bit on the cold side, but I don’t care. I don’t really remember what it is like to wash with warmer water than this. I mean, it’s not freezing, it’s definitely warm enough.

A high chrome faucet and soap that smelled like honey and mint. I used to nick the tiny soaps and shampoos in hotel rooms. Did I really spend time in hotel rooms? Did I really once complained about there being no mixed nuts in the mini-bar? Did I dream about it all? Or am I dreaming now and any minute I am going to wake up in a hotel bed and reach for the complimentary chocolate on the bedside table?

Did I ever, as a kid, watch the French countryside go by through the rear window of my dad’s car? I think I did. I remember that car. It was a huge grey Audi. Or maybe it was not huge, but I was small enough to stretch out on the backseat and sleep half the journey away. That year we drove all the way to Portugal and watched the sun go down on the Atlantic Ocean while sitting on the terrace of a small restaurant in Porto. Alice said that when she grew up she wanted to be an explorer and do nothing but travel to new places every day of the year. And then she toppled a glass of red wine on the table cloth and mom made her apologise to the waiter, who was Portuguese and could not understand what she said, but I think he got the gist of it.

Alice. No. Painful memory, don’t go there. Alice and Sylvia and mom and dad and… and the rest are out of bounds. It’s like there’s an electric fence around them and whenever I wander too near I get a jolt that reminds me to stay where it is safe. Mr Cotter, at the bank. He is safe. Mr Cotter used to comment on my ties. “I would not wear that round my neck, not even to hang myself.” he would say. He was DGM and we all hated him, except we didn’t really, we pitied him. He could be unbearable. He would yell at you over a trifle and he went into hysterics if the disposition of the stationary on his desk was altered by a fraction of a millimetre. I once witnessed him bringing a cleaning lady to tears, after she had placed two of his pens in his pencil drawer. You don’t put pens in the pencil drawer. Pens go in the pen drawer. That’s pretty self-explanatory, really, only he had not put a label on the drawers and it was the cleaning lady’s first day.

He lived alone with his elderly mother and had no life outside the bank or at least he didn’t look like he had any kind of life at all. He would make one phone call to his mother during his lunch break and I think that’s how we knew he wasn’t married. There were no pictures on his desk, no notes, no children’s drawings, nothing but what was strictly necessary for his day-to-day DGM tasks, whatever they were. Not that I remember. But I remember thinking that he was the kind of man that tops himself at Christmas. I am not. I cling on to life like a cockroach. Cockroaches can survive the nuclear holocaust. If enough atom bombs go off at the same time in different places, the human race will be wiped off the planet along with the animals and most of the plants and the cockroaches will just shrug it off and carry on as if nothing has happened. And then the planet will be populated by billions of coakroaches and one Keith Richards.

If I ever get out of here I want to go to Portugal again. And France. I will need to get some of my strength back first, though. Look at this, my pijama trousers will not stay up. I have to hitch them up every two seconds when I walk. Not that I walk much, except to the cabin and back. They’re filthy as well. I’ll have to try and wash them.

Maybe I should do like prisoners do in films, do press-ups and push-ups and build muscle, like that Korean bloke, the one that ends up getting off with his daughter. But I am not Korean and I do not have a daughter and I was always rubbish at sports. And even if I wanted to give it a go, nobody ever built muscle on a diet of stale crackers and water. Christ my back aches. I’ve considered using the towel as a pillow, but having something soft on which to put my head is not gonna make much difference if the rest of me is lying on the floor.

There is a new bruise on my hip-bone.

I’m never getting out of here.

 

Level 4.

I woke up in a bed. God almighty, I woke up in a bed. A real, actual bed, with a mattress and bed-sheets and a pillow and a blanket. I must have found the lucky spot in the room, cause I was sleeping in the same place as when the cabin appeared. This is my lucky corner, this is the place I have to be. It’s all about making the right connections.

I knew a drug dealer once, but he wasn’t good at his job. I guess he had been making bad decisions or just possibly he was another kind of criminal altogether. He used to be quite well off, he was in charge of a building site, but he wasn’t particularly keen on health and safety and one day sixty-five feet of scaffolding went down and the men working on it had not been wearing whatever it is that construction workers are supposed to wear in order not to die when sixty-five feet of scaffolding collapse under them.  Or possibly on top of them. I forget the details, I was told at the bar of a noisy club, over large amounts of vodka. I was twenty-three back then and thought it very cool to have a drug dealer for a friend. Except he wasn’t really my friend. I’m not sure drug dealers get friends in quite the same way as other people do. Bob. His name was Bob. Anyway, two workers died and one lost the use of his legs. The families pressed charges, Bob was found guilty of more or less everything bad that happened this side of WWII, did some time and had to cough up a fortune – something to do with insurance companies not covering for negligence. His house was repossessed and he started taking loans from the wrong people, for banks don’t really lend money to people like Bob. When the wrong people realized that Bob was never going to be able to pay them back, seen as he had no family to speak of and especially no kids that they could kidnap, they found themselves having to chose between killing him and giving him a job. They gave him a job. He was to push their cocaine in a handful of dodgy clubs, including the dodgy club in which I was working part time as a bartender, to pay my way through university.

Bob used to keep his pebbles in an empty packet of Benson & Hedges. He comes to my bar one night at about one a.m. and he’s practically in tears on account of having lost his precious packet while crossing the dance floor on his way to the cloakroom. “I’m never gonna pay that money back” he tells me “there’s at least thirty rocks in that packet, this time they are gonna blow me fucking head off. If I’m lucky.” And then he starts begging me to go and look for the damn thing as I’m young and my eyes are better than his and he is too drunk and high anyway. So I go. And I find it too and I lock myself in a cubicle in the gents and sit on the floor, just looking at the contents. There’s a year’s worth of tuition in that packet of B&H, or a year’s worth of high. And then I think of the contents of Bob’s skull, strewn on the cobblestones outside the club. I get up and walk back to the bar and slip him the packet undercover of a bowl of peanuts. Bob’s over the moon and insists on giving me a pebble out of his recovered treasure. I told the whole story to the girl I was dating back then and she told me I was a moron and what was wrong with me. Think of the money, she said. But I am just not that kind of person, I guess. He was the scum of the earth, Bob was, but I knew I couldn’t have lived with myself if they had killed him because of me. And anyway, I couldn’t push cocaine in a club any more than I could be a construction worker.

Do they want to know about Bob? To this day, he is the only proper, life-sized criminal I’ve ever met, at least that I know of. Maybe this whole thing is a massive drug bust and they want information on Bob. How did I not think of this before. So I take a deep breath and tell the whole story aloud, hoping it will please them. It doesn’t. Doesn’t displease them either, they just don’t do anything, as usual, so I just lay back on my lovely bed and stare at the ceiling. I have a pillow. I have a blanket and a mattress. I have a shower.

I am not a drug dealer, I never was, I just knew one, ok? And I couldn’t even help that, it’s not like I elected to talk to him: he came up and started talking to me. I was a bartender. That’s what bartenders are for. The whole bartending thing is just a cover-up if you ask me. Bartenders are cheap shrinks that don’t mind if you’re drunk during therapy.

 

They are not listening. Sometimes I think they do not exist. Maybe they don’t, maybe I have invented them. But if they don’t exist, how did I end up in here? Who put me in here? Maybe there is some natural reason for me to be here and I’ve just made them up to make sense of it all. And if it is so, maybe I don’t really need them. I could just go. There must be somewhere, something outside of this box. All these memories that I have, all these people…

Sharks tearing strips off each other.

This is familiar.

I spend most of my time on my new bed. I remember what it was like in the old days, when I had no bed and had to shit on the floor. I am duly grateful for what I have. And yet, as I lay back, looking up at the ceiling, I notice something that makes me want to try for more. The soft glow makes it hard to see clearly, but I think the ceiling is tiled. I can see the faintest dark lines, which could be junctures: the only cracks in this place, the only junctures in the world, as far as I can see.

If I stretch on tiptoe while standing on the bed, I can brush the ceiling with the tip of my finger. I can’t quite reach the nearest line, this is frustrating. It’s too high up, so I can’t really put pressure on it to try and push it open. Maybe I could jump.

Fuck. That hurts.

Er… Hello? I think I have sprained my ankle here! Can you please help me? Seriously, I need help, I’m hurt! FUCK YOU YOU MOTHERFUCKING CUNTS! WOULD YOU CARE IF I HAD BROKEN MY GODDAMN NECK HERE? IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE I’LL FIND YOU AND KILL YOU! YOU BET YOUR ASS I WILL! CAN YOU HEAR ME FUCKERS?

 Apparently, they can’t. I have no idea how long I’ve been lying on the floor, beside the bed. I suspect I feel shittier now because of the crying and screaming than the sprained ankle. I think it’s sprained anyway. Doesn’t feel broken, but it’s swollen and it hurts like a bitch. But my pounding head, right now, is far more irksome than that. I struggle up and hop to the toilet to wash my face and douse my throbbing ankle with cold water, which doesn’t really help cause it’s not nearly cold enough.

Serves me right for attempting to escape, I suppose.

I spend a few days in bed, letting my ankle have the pillow instead of my head. Each time I wake up from sleep, I find food and water by the bed, so I don’t have to get up. You have to hand it to them, they can be very considerate. I appreciate that. The food is getting better too. It’s no longer stale bread and crackers: I get proper meals now. Meat and soup and pizza and fruit and cheese and curry and cake and chocolate. Every now and again a glass of wine appears, or a can of beer.

Sharks tearing strips off each other.

Maybe I should exercise. It’s not just that I was punished for attempting to escape, it’s also that I am weak and flabby and I have been nearly starving for too long. My hair and beard are longer than they have any right to be and I think I must look like an old man, though I don’t think I am old.

I’ll start with something easy and manageable, as soon as my ankle feels better. A little light running, a few crunches. It might take me some time, but “some time” is the only thing I have, more or less. And even if I don’t have unlimited time, I have even less of everything else, so I might as well use the resource I’ve got more of. Makes sense. Doesn’t it? It does. I’ll get fit. Then I’ll try again and maybe I’ll manage. Maybe I’ll leave.

 

Level 5 

I am quite pleased with myself. I should pat myself on the back. My efforts have yielded excellent results. Even though I do not have a mirror, the bits of my body that I can see look in much better shape than they used to. I feel stronger as well. I also have the impression that I am getting much more food lately, which is ironic: they are unwittingly helping me escape, by giving me more sustenance and contributing to my getting healthier and stronger. Hell, I even think I’m building up a bit of a pot-belly already! I have tried leaving a few puddings or packets of crisps unfinished, but the plates I don’t clean off do not disappear and nothing else appears until they are gone. I have tried flushing them down the toilet, but if I approach the cabin with food in my hand, the door does not open. So, I have resolved to finish everything they give me – which is not much of a sacrifice anyway, since it is all good food – and then work it off with some extra fitness practice. Whoa, get those biceps! I was never able to do this many push-ups, not even when I was in school!

School. Memories. Painful. Don’t go there. Electric fence.

Sharks tearing strips off each other.

Wow, what’s that? Is that… a tv-set? Can’t be. I mean… really? Really? Is this for real? Are you taking the piss? A television? With… a… gaming console?

No way. It’s one of those video-game things where you can do fitness workouts. It’s amazing. Maybe they like the fact that I’m taking better care of myself. This is their way to tell me that I’m doing the right thing. It’s not that they don’t communicate, really, it’s just that I need to figure out what they mean as they have their own peculiar way of saying things. And right now they are saying they approve of what I am doing, it’s very clear. I wish they would be this intelligible more often.

Anyway, this thing is just so cool. I can play tennis on it. I have never played tennis in my life, but it’s got a tutorial level and it helps me grow my skills gradually. I am enjoying this, I think I might be quite good at real tennis. And it’s got a boxing game too, which is dead useful. I mean, when I get out of here, I don’t expect it to go all smooth and easy: I might have to fight off guards and soldiers and whatnot. They will be bigger and stronger than me, that’s why I’ve got to perfect my technique. I’m exhilarated at the very thought of them giving me the weapons I’m gonna use against them and not realising. They think they are just rewarding me for being a model prisoner, but I’m biding my time and acquiring skills and assets that will help me escape. For I will escape. I will be free. I say none of this aloud, of course, cause they might be watching me every second of my life, but they can not get into my head. No sir, no way. I’m one step ahead of them in that. They might think I’m just quietly going mad in here, that I have forgotten that my number one priority should be to get my freedom back. Well, I haven’t.

I have never worn boxing gloves in my life – and I’m not wearing them now, I’m using controllers, but the moves feel pretty real to me. This might be a game, but I do think I’m getting the hang of it, of the real thing I mean. It’s a bit like professional airline pilots practicing on the same flight simulators that kids play on at home. This game’s got it all, it’s quite perfect, although my opponents don’t look particularly threatening. They are all cartoonish, with big manga-eyes and one of them has even got glasses, which I think is meant to be funny. Even so, it’s always thrilling to see another human being in this room. Ok, they’re not actually in this room, but it feels like they are. They’ve got arms and legs and heads and eyes and they make sounds. Whenever a new match starts I get a fluttery feeling of anticipation in those four seconds in which the camera swoops down on the ring and the round is announced, before I finally see them and they are people and they feel like people and if I punch them they punch me back.

Love your enemy, indeed.

They keep giving me gifts, which I allow myself to enjoy. There’s no harm in that. Ok, I am a prisoner, ok, this violates every possible definition of human rights, ok, I want to escape and I am doing everything that I possibly can to lay down the path of my spectacular break, but that doesn’t mean I should be miserable all the time, if I can help it.

Dvds are now appearing, as well as other video games. I have now watched the entire Laurel & Hardy collection (it would appear they don’t really know much about my taste in entertainment), Gone With the Wind (which I had never seen before and I am kinda glad that I have now) and every James Bond movie ever made. They get me tv-shows as well, and they are piling up faster than I can watch them, so I sit myself down with the massive hamburger and fries and the jumbo-coke that constitute today’s treat and attack Prison Break – from the third season on, as I have already watched the first two. Now, this does feel a bit like a piss-take, but it’s good television nonetheless.

I’m sort of relieved that I am alone in here, as I always cry when I watch dvds. It’s nothing to do with the subject matter or the quality of what I’m watching. I think it’s because they are there, the actors. The very thought that all these human beings are out there somewhere and that they play-acted while other real live human beings stood behind cameras, so that I could sit here and watch them being and moving and making sounds and speaking in a language that I can understand, that fills me with awe. And it is so painful. There’s this jagged thing in my throat that keeps going up and down and bumping into things, leaving me raw and bringing up the taste of blood.

My ankle is feeling perfect. No residual pain at all. It took a while, but I recovered completely, which proves I do not really need anyone’s help to get back on my feet.

I’m making a start on Grand Theft Auto, which is the best thing that ever happened to me since I can remember. There’s reality itself in there: I can listen to conversations and have them, I can do what I want with my own life. I can shoot people and run, I can go to clubs, I can have sex.

I do remember sex. And they do send in the occasional batch of porn dvds, but it’s not like I needed those to get some relief. They help, though. I don’t think they would be quite my thing, generally speaking, but beggars can’t be choosers. I don’t go in much for Scandinavian beauties, but still, I’m not gonna shut the door on one of those babes if she comes knocking. All in all, I reckon I’m spending much more time watching series and playing GTA than jerking off to ‘Gangbangs of New York’, ‘The Boobyguard’ and ‘Goodfellatio’.

I think I’m putting on weight too. Maybe I should get back to that tennis game.

A door opened in the wall. It’s been there for a while and it doesn’t look like it’s going away. It’s dark and empty beyond the threshold, I might take a look some time or other. Right now, I’ve just got to carry off this bank robbery mission in GTA V. I’ve managed to get hold of this massive SUV and I’m having a killer time.

And I am just about to start the eighth season of Dexter. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.
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