Confinement

There was a time I watched as this played out in front of me and I questioned the purpose but those times have passed, I have learned it is better to silence the mind and simply follow the cues. Nothing here can harm me, I no longer worry.

The alarm is a set of chimes, the tone and number of their call is precise and the same as it was each day before. My eyes open to the ceiling. Gray, featureless, no lamps. The room is lit softly from the window, the only light allowed here is that which comes from outside.

I don’t bother looking for the source of the chimes, they will end after thirteen tones, just as they always have.

I exhale as the final note plays and rise.

In the room is a small desk with a screen and a keyboard resting atop. The screen is black. A black leather couch rests on the opposite wall of my bed. The walls are bare. The carpet is plush, a beige that reminds me of some natural element that I can’t remember.

Thirty seconds from the last chime is all I have before I must go clean, or else my privilege is lost for the day. I rise without hurry from the bed, flipping the gray comforter from my legs, and leave the room.

In the bathroom, I wait. From my calculations, I have ten seconds before it happens. I stand in front of the sink, a square mirror hangs above, reflecting my image back. At least, I think it’s me but I don’t remember. Steel gray walls surround me. A glass corral conceals the shower. All of it is clean.

There aren’t handles on the faucet in the sink or the shower. No cleaning supplies, brushes, or combs lay about. There is nothing here that shouldn’t be.

The last three seconds extinguish as I wait, prepared.

A tone sounds. After which, a square in the wall extends toward me. It’s a drawer without depth, a flat surface like a platter. On the drawer is a toothbrush, it glimmers at me, sparkling clean.

I grab the brush. The drawer disappears into the wall and I wait, unthinking, with the end of the brush poised near the drawer. Another tone. This time a cylinder emerges from the wall, extending perpendicularly. With my toothbrush underneath, the nozzle lays a quarter inch of tooth paste on the bristles, and retreats back into the wall.

A second later, the faucet turns on, and I’m ready. A splash of water, then the tap stops. After this, I have ninety seconds to brush my teeth before the next spatter of water comes, this time it lasts for ten seconds. It allows me to rinse my mouth and the brush before the drawer spits out from the wall, I place the brush its cradle, and the drawer pulls back again.

There was a time I watched as this played out in front of me and I questioned the purpose but those times have passed, I have learned it is better to silence the mind and simply follow the cues. Nothing here can harm me, I no longer worry. It is only for my good and if I do not wash, breakfast will not come. I figured this out the the hard way.

There are fifteen seconds now for me to undress. I pull off my black athletic shorts and strip the tee off my back, both are of the same color and material. I set them on a shelf near the toilet. Soon, a rectangle opens, it hisses, and the garments are sucked away. I stand naked in front of the glass doors to the shower and looked down. My penis lays flat against my scrotum, it’s color consistent. The hairs surrounding are short and trim, as are the hairs that cover my legs. A shiver runs up my body as I wait.

A pneumatic sound and the glass door slides open. I step in. The door closes behind me. It is locked now, the door, I’ve tried to open it before but it is not a trap, only to keep the water inside the compartment. At least, that’s what I assume.

The shower head comes to life. The spray embraces my skin, a perfect temperature, not too hot or cool. Nozzles emerge from the wall. Shampoo first, then conditioner, finally comes body wash. I scrub thoroughly. My scalp, face, arms, chest, pits, legs, and feet. Moving quickly through these, I save my anus, balls, and penis for last, spending more time on them than the others. I don’t know why, there is some primal urge that forces me into this routine. As I wash my penis, I feel a prickle of electricity run through my stomach, but I force the feeling away. Last time, when I pursued this sensation, the water turned icy and I shivered the rest of the day because of it.

Two minutes later, I am rinsed and the shower head stops. Not one drip continues from the end, it is completely dry. Large squares open from each wall, the ceiling, and the floor of the tub. There is a gurgle from the vents and they come to life, whipping warm air at me from all directions. I stand with my legs spread and run my hands through my hair to help it dry quickly. After a short while, I am dry. The shower door hisses open and I step onto the cold floor.

On the shelf, where I placed my shorts and shirt, lays a pressed white dress shirt, gray slacks, black tie, black belt, and a shining pair of black shoes.

I quickly dress and check myself in the mirror one last time. My black hair is trim and appears combed, though I haven’t touched it. My eyes are silver, the same color as the walls. My body is overall thin but there is muscular definition to my face, neck, and shoulders. After this moment, which I know is the last moment I will see myself for the day, the mirror fades away and becomes part of the steel gray walls.

I walk from the bathroom and the door shuts behind me.

From there I enter the only other room in the flat. It resembles a kitchen but there isn’t a stove, sink, or microwave. It is empty except for a small square table with two chairs. The same gray walls surround all sides, nothing hangs from them, with a single window opposite from the table. I sit at the chair which faces the window and the empty seat across from me.

As usual, I contemplate the seat and the window, both useless. The blinds are drawn and the seat vacant.

Natural light floods through the slits of the blinds but, otherwise, nothing else is to be seen. I am not allowed to approach the window, because the blinds will fold over and close all light from the room, I’ve tried. I like the light, so I have not attempted this again.

The seat is a question in itself. It seems out of place because it is only I who occupies this place and I cannot sit in both chairs at once. However, I have the option to sit in the other chair, if I choose. This is the one thing I have a decision in, everything else is left to their discretion. Still, not once have I had company, one chair always remains empty, and I hate it for being here. It reminds me of an emotion I cannot recall, like standing at the edge of a dark hole, an emptiness whose depth is without measure.

Three minutes pass, as I sit at the table. I do not know why I have so much time without anything to occupy my thoughts but it’s always this way. I press away the questions of what lays on the opposite side of the window, the empty chair and table, but they come flying back at me as if they intend not to go unnoticed.

The bell rings, a ding-dong, and I rise from my seat.

Tracing my steps back through the room, I stop where the hall turns to my right, leading to the bathroom and bedroom. To my left is something that is only here three times a day, a door.

I step towards it.

It is a door unlike the rest, all of them automatic, because, on this one, is a handle. Another decision I have yet to mention, is that I can choose to open the door or watch as it fades away, a minute later. But I do not count this as much of a decision because my stomach growls in hunger and forces me to grab the handle, as I have always done.

I open the door. On the other side is a young woman. She is wearing a navy blue uniform dress that rises to her neck, culminating in a white collar. Her face is fair and her features smooth, framed by shoulder length black hair. She is younger than me, I can tell, no lines at the edge of her smile or eyes as I do. In her hands is a metal tray with a lid over it’s contents. Next to the lid is a thermos of steaming coffee.

A fragrant smell of living things strike my nose, drifting toward me from a warm breeze at her back but her hair does not shift in the wind. Behind her extends a concrete walkway, it travels straight and is bordered by green plants and tall trees. The sunlight tips the trees in gold but leaves the walkway in the cool of shadows. There is no one else in view. No buildings except for my own. The only thing that exists is the path which leads from my door, a path that I will always wonder to which it leads, but I am not allowed to travel its length. There is a stab of pain in my heart at the thought, similar to the sensation the chair gives me.

“Good Morning, Cornelius.” The woman says. Her tone is harmonic and her syllables well placed. Her face shows no emotion.

“Good Morning, Tabitha.” I return the greeting.

“Here is your breakfast.” She extends the tray. “The coffee is black. A light roast, just the way you like it.” She adds.

I nod and take the tray. This is the moment I should return to my room but I hesitate.

“Will I be allowed to leave today?” I ask and search her black eyes. They tell me nothing.

“Not today, Cornelius. It is still too dangerous. Maybe tomorrow.” She says, her tone is without inflection.

“You said that yesterday. It seems peaceful out. I could keep close to home.” I say.

Tabitha nods but it isn’t agreement.

“It may seem that way, Cornelius. But we are safe here, beyond what we can see are dangers I cannot explain. This is for your own good.” Tabitha says at last. As she speaks, she moves to the side and we both gaze down the path that leads from my door.

The breeze ripples the leaves of the bulbous shaped trees and square bushes. Nothing else moves. No animals stir or call. The path is clean, there isn’t a speck of debris anywhere. I cannot see where the path leads, before long it descends and drops out of sight. In the daylight, it looks inviting and I feel lust rising in my chest, even though I know what Tabitha says is true.

“Where do you go, when you are not bringing my food?” I ask her at last.

“Secrets are our only way to remain safe, Cornelius. You must not ask questions of this nature. Knowledge brings danger. I am your doorkeeper and I am here to keep you safe, what I do beyond that does not matter. I exist for this alone.” Tabitha tells me.

I nod and look down at the tray. The scent of the coffee rises to my nostrils and awakens my craving.

“Would you like to come in?” I ask her.

“I cannot keep watch on your door if I join you. You must understand this.” She replies.

“Why do I have two chairs?” I ask her.

“Because a table is not complete without it.”

“But the chair remains empty. It’s excessive. I don’t like looking at it.” I say.

“One day, the chair will be filled and then will you understand. But you must be patient.” Tabitha says and folds her hands across her stomach.

“I have been here for a long time, Tabitha. Not one is coming. There is no one here but you and if you will not come in then I will sit alone again today.” I say.

“One day, it will be safe again, you will walk the path and others will join you. But you must put these thoughts away, they can only harm you, and you will be lonelier because of them. For now, you must remain inside and safe.” She tells me.

“When will one day come?” I ask.

“You must go back inside, Cornelius. The door is about to close.” Tabitha says firmly.

I nod and step backwards, not wanting to turn my eyes from her. Once I’m past the door, it closes automatically and disappears. I am locked in silence.

I return to the table and set the tray down. From the window filters white light, the warmth I’d seen at my door is extracted from it, and it glows pale and soft around the room.

After I’m seated, I lift the tray, releasing the scent of freshly seared vegetables, eggs, and a single biscuit.

I grab the biscuit and peel it apart. As I do, something falls from its center to the ground. A thin strip of paper. I scoot back and reach under the table to pick it up. It is folded and blank on either side. When I open it, there is a single word scrawled upon it’s surface in black ink.

ESCAPE, it reads.

The note does not alarm me. In fact, I receive this same note every morning, only at breakfast, tucked away in a biscuit or muffin, under my coffee, or wrapped in a tortilla. Similar one word messages, all of them. Such as; FREEDOM, UNTRUTH, DISBELIEVE, LIES, HIDDEN, GO. I do not have the courage to ask Tabitha where they come from, I do not want her to worry. As she said, I must remain here, it is unsafe for me to leave, and I believe her.

I place the strip of paper on my biscuit, butter over it, and eat it, as I have done each morning before.

Little Nightmares

”They’re coming”, he said, “Giant rats.” He stared up at me with enormous golden eyes. It was Saxon, the cat I had as a little girl. He looked right at me. Then he licked his lips and walked away.’

‘Start from the beginning.’ Dr. Johansen said slowly.

The two of them sat across from each other, in the shadowy side of the office. The doctor near the large desk and the young woman nearest the door. A faded burgundy carpet lay between and underneath their chairs. A small table stood to the side, two sweating glasses of water perched on it’s surface. The walls were white and bare except for a framed university degree, which hung high above the desk, to the rear of the room.

‘Before I went to bed, I sealed the blinds and closed the drapes.’ Cara said.

‘This is part of the dream?’ Dr. Johansen asked.

‘No. Before I fell asleep.’ Cara said.

‘I thought you wanted to talk about the dream?’

‘I do. I just want to point out what I did beforehand.’

‘Is it relevant?’

‘It’s important.’

‘Why did you close the blinds?’

‘Because of the streetlamp.’

‘I see. Continue.’ Dr. Johansen encouraged.

‘The room was dark, except for slivers of light that got around the edges of my drapes. I’ve always hated those. I’ve thought about taping the drapes to the wall but I never quite follow through.’ Cara sighed.

‘Let’s stay on course with the dream.’ Dr. Johansen said.

‘I just want to say again, I always close the drapes. Always.’ Cara said, nodding to herself while swaying gently from side to side in her chair. She was nervous, she hated talking about her dreams, giving them life beyond her sleep made them more real, but she was the one who called Dr. Johansen. It was too late to back out now.

Dr. Johansen shifted her pantsuit, pulling at the ruffles, straitening a pleat. Cara was her final appointment for the day, one she dreaded. When Cara’s eyes dropped to her hands, as she formulated her next words, Dr. Johansen glanced at the clock. It was almost five. At six she was meeting colleagues for dinner, a business dinner. The kind of meeting that can shift one’s career. She needed something, anything to stimulate her practice, and this opportunity just might do. Maybe then she could stop putting ad’s on groupon for discounted sessions, which is how the young woman sitting across from her had come to find Dr. Johansen in the first place.

The doctor stifled a yawn and looked back at Cara.

Cara’s hands were clasped together and she turned them over and over as if she was folding towels. Her platinum eyes where distant, tired, fretful. Only she could understand the weight of what she was going to tell Dr. Johansen and she feared that, no matter what she said, the doctor would only prescribe medication, maybe telling her to journal the dreams, and set up another appointment, for full price, all without solution. But there wasn’t time for more appointments.

‘It was the house on Heckler Avenue.’

‘Your dream?’

‘Yes.’

‘Is Heckler Avenue a real place outside of your dreams?’

‘Yes.’ Cara said with certainty, then recanted. ‘Well, I don’t really know, yet.’

‘Okay, the house on Heckler was in your dream?’

‘No. I was in the house.’

‘Go on.’

‘It was dark. Darker than my room is at night, even if I was to tape up the drapes. I couldn’t see anything.’ Cara took a long breath before continuing. ‘My left hand was on a railing. It was made of wood, smooth in places but littered with nicks and scratches and pealing varnish. It was old. My feet were on steps, steep and short, leading down.

It was very quiet. So quiet I could hear the way the air shifted throughout the room. It wasn’t a draft. No. There were things breathing down there, on the main floor. Things.

I held onto the railing and struggled to step down the stairs. It always seems like I have trouble moving in the beginning of the dream. Do you ever have trouble with that, Doctor?’ Cara asked.

‘I don’t dream much.’ Dr. Johansen lied.

‘Oh.’ Cara mumbled. ‘That’s very strange. Richard says everyone dreams. Everyone dreams, every night.’

‘Who is Richard?’

‘He’s the old black man in my dream.’

’So, you were struggling down the steps?’ The doctor directed the conversation again.

‘Yes. My feet were heavy. I felt as though going down the stairs might be harder than going up, like someone switched around the laws of gravity.

After a while, I made it to the bottom of the steps. I could only tell because- remember it was completely dark, I couldn’t see anything- my feet landed on a wide space, tiled, it was very cold. I nearly tripped because I didn’t know where the steps ended and my weight- oh, well. So, I held onto the post at the end of the banister to keep from falling.

The next time I looked around, the room had changed. Twilight was beginning. A gray light was hovering over everything as if the room was made of the stuff they put in clock hands to make them glow in the dark.’

‘Radium.’ The doctor said.

‘What?’ Cara asked.

‘Radium. It’s what makes clock hands glow in the dark. No matter, go on.’

‘Oh. Okay. So, things in the room were glowing but they were glowing a grayish blue.

There was a long couch against the right wall, a fire stove and hearth against the wall in front of me, a dinner table and chairs in an open room to the left which connected to the room I was in.

There was a desk, too. It was in a strange place, the middle of the main room, next to where I was standing. There was a stack of papers on it’s surface, the papers were glowing too, slightly brighter than anything else in the room.

I walked forward, in between the desk and the hearth and the long couch on my right. It was an open space, maybe a twelve foot square. And I just stood there and waited. I felt a chill. A breeze, coming from above. I looked up, expecting a hole in the ceiling to the sky but it was just an old ceiling fan. The fan was missing a blade. Every third revolution, and it turned slow, it screemed like rusty hinges.

Then a rumbling began. I thought it was an earthquake at first. But the room didn’t sway. It just echoed with the drum of falling hooves, like a pack of horses in the distance. The rumbling and the scream of the fan. Rumble, scream.

I was staring up at the ceiling fan when I heard a voice at my feet.

”They’re coming”, he said, “Giant rats.” He stared up at me with enormous golden eyes. It was Saxon, the cat I had as a little girl. He looked right at me. Then he licked his lips and walked away.’

‘This was your childhood cat?’ Dr. Johansen asked.

‘Oh yes. He was such a good cat. I loved him dearly.’

‘What happened to Saxon?’

‘What do you mean?’ Cara asked, alarmed.

‘How did he die?’

‘Oh he’s not dead. Not really.’

‘You said it was your childhood cat.’

‘I did. He’s sixteen years old now.’

Dr. Johansen nodded and pretended to make a note of it, while motioning for Cara to continue. She checked her watch, the session would be over soon.

‘The rumbling escalated, louder and louder.’ Cara said and tapped her fingers rapidly on the arms of the chair, the sound echoed in the empty room. ‘I heard little high pitched squeals, like bats, but I knew it had to be the rats Saxon warned me about. The room began to shake. I heard them run under the floorboards, above the ceiling, in the walls. Dust was knocked from the sheetrock. The room pulsed as if it was alive.

I became weak. I’ve never been so scared of anything in my life. My knees went numb and I collapsed onto the couch, so that I was facing the room. Any moment, I believed, the rats would find their way through the house and eat me alive, I knew it was me they were coming for.

I felt something against my lower back, creeping between the cushions, touching the bare patch of skin between the bottom of my shirt and the top of my pants. It took me a moment to realize that is was a nose. A cold, wet, despicable nose. I writhed and screamed and tried to get off the couch, but something held me there. I didn’t have the strength to get away. Oh, you can’t even begin to imagine, Doctor! I could smell it’s foul breath on me and I knew the teeth weren’t far behind.’ Cara said, trembling, as her voice pitched to the octave of a frightened child.

‘What did you do?’ The doctor asked, calmly.

‘I did the only thing I could do, the only thing the dream would allow me to do. I reached behind me and grabbed the snout of the rat and ripped him from the couch. Only his skin was entirely smooth and metal, not a hair on him.

Then I realized, it wasn’t a rat at all but a revolver. You know, the kind of pistols detectives use. It was loaded. For some reason, I knew it was mine but I don’t own a gun.

The next moment, the rats fled. The rumbling stopped. It was silent again.’ Cara said, her eyes dropped to something on the floor. She never met Dr. Johansen’s eyes at any point when she spoke.

A soft, singular beep from the doctors watch broke Cara’s concentration.

‘Ahh. We’ve run out of time.’ Dr. Johansen said, feigning remorse.

‘But I haven’t told you half of the dream yet!’ Cara pleaded.

‘We’ll have time for that in the next session. I would extend this one but I already have commitments tonight. You understand?’ Dr. Johansen said apologetically.

Cara nodded, still staring at the floor.

‘Well, I’m going to recommend this for your sleep.’ the doctor said, handing Cara a pharmacy note. Cara grabbed it without looking at it and didn’t speak.

Dr. Johansen cleared her throat theatrically.

‘Shall I put you down for the same time next week?’ Dr. Johansen asked brightly.

Cara shrugged.

Dr. Johansen, taking this for agreement, penciled Cara into her calendar and closed the notepad. She stood and walked to the door, expecting Cara to follow. Cara didn’t, she kept looking at the floor, at the same spot underneath Dr. Johansen’s desk.

‘Cara! You must be going now. It’s not fair to make me late for my other appointments.’ Dr. Johansen pleaded.

Slowly, Cara rose from the wide backed chair, her small frame barely visible over the top, from where the doctor was standing. Then Cara turned, clutching her purse with both arms as if it was a baby, her eyes turned downward, and shuffled toward the door.

When Cara finally reached her, the doctor spoke.

‘Is something wrong, Cara?’ Dr. Johansen asked politely, not wanting to lose a chance Cara would come back for a full price session.

‘You remember the drapes?’ Cara asked.

‘Yes, how can I forget. The ones you always close before bed.’ The doctor assured her.

Cara turned her face up, she was a good foot shorter than Dr. Johansen, and looked the doctor in the eyes.

Dr. Johansen noticed how startlingly brilliant Cara’s eyes were. A sheer platinum, flecked with diamonds, ringed with dark gray. They were captivating, stunning. Especially for such a sullen woman.

Cara stared at Dr. Johansen for a moment. Then spoke with a voice much deeper, stronger than before.

‘The drapes were open when I woke up.’ Cara said and walked out the door.

Dr. Johansen shut the door to her office and collapsed in the chair at her desk. She suddenly felt very heavy and buried her face in her palms, massaged her temples, and tried to press the day away. There was work to accomplish tonight. A research job would mean she could give up this lousy office and her lousy clients, she could be part of something bigger, something that might change the course of psychology. Better yet, the future. She had to nail this dinner with the board.

Dr. Johansen scooted back in her chair and opened the desk drawer over her lap. She pulled out the bottle of generic alprazolam, anxiety medicine she began taking a year ago, and shook out a couple pills. Then she deposited the bottle back in the drawer and slammed the drawer shut.

Dr. Johansen screamed.

Under her desk was a dead rat.

Somewhere outside the building which housed Dr. Johansen’s office, Cara walked home slowly in the driving rain, still clutching her purse to her chest with both arms. Her eyes were distant, intent on nothing, as the edges of her lips curled into a smile.