“Get her onto the table, and strap her down, its time.” Those muffled words came back, but I didn’t have the voice or the mind to acknowledge it.
I was moved, and suddenly there was light. I flinched away from it as it bit into my eyes, hostile after so long away from its warmth.
My body wouldn’t move even if I wanted it to. My limbs weighed down my torso, my blood pumped full of lead and all my emotions gone, bled off into the hungry nothingness and lost to me. I didn’t fight when they untied me and dumped me ungracefully onto yet another hard, unforgiving surface, and I didn’t fight them when they made the straps too tight. I didn’t even make a sound.
Someone came and stood over me. It was too bright to focus on them, so I ignored them.
“It’s all right sweetheart, everything is going to be all right, we have to do something to you, and if it works, you will be very special, and very valuable. If it doesn’t, well, we’ll sort something out then.” The voice tried to be soothing, to be warm and comforting, but it came off cold, practised.
A mask came down over my head and it was held there until the world left me again.
When I woke up I thought I had been put back into the dark room, I was almost happy – I could fade away, maybe if I stopped thinking I would stop existing, it would be so much better than this. But the shadows bled from my view and a blinding brilliance was left in its place. The White Room.
A sound bubbled up from my throat and it took me a while to recognise that I was laughing. How strange.
There was someone else in the room and after the laughter went away I found myself staring at him. I thought I recognised him, but the thought went away as quickly as it had come and he didn’t matter anymore.
“Good morning.” The voice echoed off the walls and I thought I could see the words in vibrant colours. I watched as they floated and pulsed through the air.
“I imagine that you are fairly unstable. That’s probably for the best; you will be able to accept it more readily.” He was sitting on the dead girl’s bench.
The words were still bouncing off the walls and each was a different colour. I hadn’t seen colours in so long. Each one was precious. I wanted to keep them safe. I tried to hold one but it disappeared.
“However, your sanity is something that will have to be restored if we can call this test a success.”
I couldn’t quite figure out how he was making the words appear. I used to know, I think I used to know. I frowned.
He walked over to me, he looked big and powerful. I forgot about the disappearing words and watched him curiously.
“We are going to into a room and you are going to do a series of puzzles, do you like puzzles?” He asked. I blinked at him, unable to recall what puzzles were but liking the word. Puz-zle. I tried it out in my mind, it was deliciously foreign. Then I got stuck on the word foreign and how I knew what it meant.
He took me lightly by the shoulder and led me down the hallway. “I think you will like these puzzles. They aren’t very challenging, but they are engaging. I quite like them myself on occasion.” He kept talking and I kept trying to figure out words. It was very “engaging.”
I let out a peal of laughter and he stared at me. I had remembered how to make sounds. “Words are sounds and sounds are words.” I informed him, sure of the sense of the discovery.
“Fantastic.” He beamed, continuing down the corridor.
We came to a room that was all purple. The walls, floors, even lights all gave off a deep purple glow. I loved it. It had the same colour as a couple of the words.....
The only thing that wasn’t purple was a square of glowing white on the table, or in it, I hadn’t quite made up my mind yet.
He steered me over to a chair behind the table and directed my attention towards the glowing square. “Draw.” He said.
It took me a while to figure out what that meant, “draw” it was like making sounds, just out of my reach.
My hand brushed over a little stick on the table next to the glowing white box. It was purple, like the table. I frowned at it. It was a skinny little thing that looked like it would break if I pressed it too hard, but it was very pretty. I could see through it and it cast a lighter purple light over the room when I held it over the white.
My head cocked to the side as I studied the stick. Eventually I pressed it to the hard white square and a black dot appeared. I blinked and then touched it. It disappeared. I swiped the stick down the square and a line appeared. I watched it for a long time, waiting for it to disappear.
I tried the stick again, delighted when I could make more lines appear. Eventually I tried other shapes, circles, squares, triangles. They all appeared at my will. I worked out that I could make the lines disappear by touching them. Time completely eluded me, and when He stopped me I frowned at him, confused and a bit upset. I didn’t want to stop.
He came over and looked at what was on the white square and smiled. “Very good.”
He had a little device with him. It was all black and he stretched it out so it covered the white square. It was sticky and see-through and cold. I didn’t like it very much. It felt dead.
When he picked it up, all my lines had disappeared and were now stuck in the black stuff. I tried not to cry. I didn’t want the lines stuck in the dead black stuff.
He ignored my sniffles and pressed something. The white square made a noise and turned purple and I looked under the table, thinking that maybe it had sunk. It wasn’t there.
A wooden block appeared on the table. He didn’t give me any instructions. I tried to draw on the block, but the stick didn’t make any lines on it. There were holes in it though and I thought there might be something I was forgetting. Something that would tell me what to do here.
I tried putting the stick into one of the holes and got a shock. Snatching my hand back, I frowned at the block. I grabbed at the stick, now firmly lodged into one of the holes, and got shocked again. I threw the block against the wall, a growl rising up in my throat.
“Good girl, very well done. Now calm down and pick it up again, take the stylus out and try something else.” He cooed at me. I turned my frown on him, but all I got was a few expectant gestures.
Tentatively picking my way across the room, I picked up the block and took it back to the table and tried to get the stick out. It kept shocking me every time I touched it and I looked at him beseechingly, but he didn’t do anything.
I made a frustrated sound and wrenched the stick out of the box in one swift motion, ignoring the painful shock that resulted. I then slammed the block down on the table and refused to touch it. He took me back to my white room.
Every day, I think – it was another one of those things that got away from me – we went to the purple room and did more puzzles. He always brought out the block last and sometimes I would try some things but mostly I would just refuse to touch it at all.
I don’t know how many days passed, or how many puzzles I did. One day I got it though. The block. I figured out what to do with it.
I had just completed a jigsaw puzzle of a great black cat – I remembered it to be a panther – when he brought it out along with the stylus. I stopped him before he could put it down, struck by the way the light was passing through the slim purple strip and playing upon the surface of the cube.
I grabbed both of the objects out of his hands and looked at them closer. There was a little symbol carved into the side of the stylus, and similar symbols were carved all over the block, next to the holes. I matched the symbol on the stylus up with different symbols, ignoring them after they looked wrong. Eventually I found one that was identical and stuck the stylus into the hole that went with it.
The whole cube lit up, but I didn’t get shocked. It started to shrink, the stylus bouncing on the table and clattering to the floor. My eyes remained fixated to the cube as it stopped shrinking and started melting away. There was a shimmering item inside it that fell into my hand as the last of the substance pooled onto the table and reformed into a cube.
Looking down into my hand, I gasped. That was the last thing I did though, before I slipped off the chair and blacked out.
The city was on fire. Smoke rose in isolated columns to merge and create a roiling, seething blanket of despair writhing above my head and waiting to attack, to force me from this world and into the next.
Screams echoed through the streets and cries of loss, pain and grief rolled through the air, carried on the currents of heat. I didn’t scream. I didn’t cry out or ask why this was happening. I was hollow, and distant. None of it reached me but at the same time all of it did, I was left in the street watching my house burn down with a feeling of numbness tinged at the edges with complete, heart-wrenching agony.
Nothing had made it out of there.
Someone guided me away and I let them, I didn’t want to stay there anymore. There was nothing left for me there. Nothing but the empty shells of my family.
Music was playing in the police cruiser, but it couldn’t drown out the names coming through the scanner. A continuous, looping list of the dead.
I didn’t know where we were going or who was taking me, it didn’t matter. Nothing mattered, not now. Nothing.
Except him. A part of me whispered. I scrambled for my phone and punched in his number, long since memorised. He didn’t pick up. I tried again and again but there was still no answer. I called every hour for four hours, my one lifeline of hope in this damned car. In between calls I listened to the names, hoping that I wouldn’t hear his. I couldn’t take hearing his name.
Every time the names repeated I breathed a sigh of relief, swallowing down the fresh waves of agony that came with hearing my family listed.
After six hours I finally heard it, what I had been dreading. One more name, but the one that changed everything. I couldn’t move, couldn’t think. The pain was making me choke. I slumped over in the back seat and curled up, holding the pieces of me together so that I wouldn’t fall apart. That was when I truly stopped caring.