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"Am I going to die in here, Herbert?"
"Yes, John, you're going to die in here."
"Go back to sleep, John."
The loud speaker made the usual cracking noise, before the room fell into a deathly silence. John shivered under the thin blankets provided for him, he was dying. It had been ninety days since he had eaten regular food, six since he was given a pill, and one hundred and sixteen since he last saw a human being. The world felt lonely.
John tried to force his body to sleep but the hunger won out. He rose from the bed and paced around the tiny 12 foot cube. He reached the one side of the room, checked the tiny drop box, found nothing, and turned around. When he reached the other side, he would pause and look outside the window, where he could observe the wall of dirt, seemingly inches away. It wasn't spectacular by any means, but John found when you got desperate enough, you could see anything you wanted. Lush, tropical rain forests, busy vibrant street corners, even your own house, but in the end, it was just dirt. He might as well be dead already.
Squeaking noises filled the tiny cube as John paced back and forth for what must have been an hour. He wasn't sure what time it was, but he started to feel tired again and his stomach no longer hurt. It just felt like a void, like something was missing inside of him, so he returned to his small bed where he tossed and turned, until falling into an uneasy sleep. There was no such thing as a good sleep here.
Now and then, John would hear noises. A rattle here, or maybe the clanking of metal there. The first few weeks, these noises would keep John awake at night in terror, but now, they offered the only sign of life other than the voice from the loud speaker. The voice had been there from the beginning: Herbert. Herbert brought John into this new world, and Herbert would be the one to usher him out. Ever since John awoke that first day, dry, heaving in a cold sweat, he felt a pull to the voice over the intercom.
Hello, John, try not to overexert yourself, we wouldn't want you to hurt yourself so soon.
Though the words were cold, John had an almost childlike attachment to them, or at least whoever was speaking them. At the time, it might have been because he thought it was what was going to lead him to freedom, but now it was because it was the only thing he had to remind him he wasn't dreaming. This wasn't hell, this was real, and he was alive for every minute of it.
"How was your sleep, John?"
"Good? Care to elaborate?"
"Very monosyllabic today aren't we?"
John was upset because he hadn't received his little pill in the drop box. He always found one in the metallic compartment after he slept. It was routine, and now that the routine had been broken, panic had been washing over John all morning.
"What is it, John?"
"I said shut up."
"Is it your ration, John?"
"Where is it?"
"I asked, is it your ration, John?"
"Yes, where the fuck is it?"
John was on the edge of breaking down. His whole existence was based around this simple routine, sleep, eat, pace, sleep, eat, pace, sleep. Now it was gone; leaving John with nothing.
"Oh calm down, I'm sure it'll turn up somewhere."
"I'm going to die."
"We're all going to die some day, John."
John tapped on the glass window nervously, he was anxious. If he didn't get the pill, he would starve for sure. It was the only thing keeping him alive. Thoughts ran through his head, contemplating why the decided they wanted him dead today, why put so much time into this and then decide to just starve him. "Why kill me like this?"
"Kill you, John? I assure you that no one is trying to kill you."
"Then where is the pill?"
A sigh came through the loud speaker. "You're simply unreasonable right now, I think you need some time to calm down and collect your thoughts."
"Herbert I swear to God I-"
The loud speaker crackled and then the room was silent once more. John was almost glad Herbert had left so abruptly, he had no idea what he was going to swear God for; he had nothing to bargain with. Threats to Herbert only made him laugh as he found out within the first days, and when he talked about suicide, Herbert would only say, "I would rather not deal with a mess today, John."
It was useless. Even if John wanted to kill himself, he had no means to do it. He thought about breaking the window once and trying to use a piece of glass to slit his throat, but Herbert informed him it was made of shatter-proof glass. He was, essentially, death proof.
Hours passed as John checked the drop box for what must have been every other minute; hoping and praying for the little pill to come so he could survive another day, maybe two. He would have to take breaks every so often. His small, chicken legs weren't able to carry the weight of his bone frame. There wasn't much muscle, and certainly not any fat left on him. When he did have the energy to walk, his legs wobbled uneasily, like a toddler taking his first steps. He couldn't remember if he had always been like this, or if it was a symptom of the starvation. Regardless, it was a sign of death.
Hungry and mentally exhausted from getting his hopes up with the drop box so much, John went to bed defeated and scared. For the first time in a while, scared of death. Herbert and John talked about death quite frequently, John's death in fact. It had always been calm and almost soothing to know he would finally be somewhere else, somewhere outside these walls, but tonight, it was terrifying. The real feeling of death slowly creeping up on him. What would it feel like? Where will I go? Will I still be hungry? All these thoughts worked him up until he was sobbing into the small pillow on his bed.
"John?" the intercom crackled.
John sniffed and spat blobs of snot onto the bed, tears dripping down his face.
"John, I know you're not dead, talk to me please. I'm sorry about earlier."
John shuffled in the bed. Not sure what to make of the apology. Apology was a sign of error or weakness. Something Herbert had never shown.
"Come on now, John, don't treat me like this. Am I not good to you?"
"What do you want?" John said in a shrill voice.
"There's the John I know, listen, I have a surprise for you," the voice sounded cheery as it came out of the device on the wall.
John looked around the room, scared. He didn't know what this meant. Was the room going to explode into a fiery inferno? Would poisonous gas to be released into the room, ending his life? Would he be forced to crawl into a tiny box until he was squeezed into hundreds of tiny pieces? John shuddered and curled up into a ball.
"Now, now John don't be shy," chuckled Herbert. "Check your mail box."
John's eyes shifted to the side of the room with the drop box. It looked unchanged. He hadn't heard or seen any movement in the room, nothing could be in there.
"Are you always so precautious when receiving gifts?"
John crawled out of bed and hobbled over to the box. He grasped the small handle and pulled it open slowly, revealing the small round stick at the bottom. He reached in, half expecting it to bite him, but it didn't, it remained the small, round stick it had always been. He lifted it into the bright white room and realization flooded over him. He knew what this was; he had seen a lot of these before. It was a screwdriver.
"Ah, nothing like a good set of tools, is there, John?"
"Am I supposed to stab myself?"
"Dear God boy, don't be absurd!"
John studied the tool. It was small and about as round as a hotdog. The handle was red and shiny, nothing like anything he had seen in a long time. Above the handle was the flat, metallic top, just a standard screwdriver.
"Do I get a 'Thank you'?"
"Well I never," Herbert muttered this as the intercom went silent. John wasn't alone anymore though. Something felt different. Why would they give him a screwdriver? John was tempted to put it back in the box, it couldn't bring anything but bad, but he couldn't. He felt connected to it, they were two foreign objects in a place they had no business being, and he couldn't abandon it, because he knew he would never be alone again. John curled up in bed with the new friend and went to sleep, suspicious, but thankful. It was the best sleep he had had since he got there.
John woke up feeling much more refreshed than usual. The deep feeling of emptiness was still present but it wasn't as prominent as before. John got out of bed, firmly grasping the screwdriver and walked over to the drop box. He opened it and to his surprise he found two pills. Overjoyed, John quickly grabbed one and wolfed it down in a matter of seconds. Though it had the consistency of chalk, his senses went wild. His stomach felt full again, he was content. He picked up the pill and was about to casually pop it in his mouth just as the intercom cracked and Herbert's perky voice cried through.
"Morning, John! How was breakfast?"
"Good, why's there two?"
"Breakfasts? No, no silly, it goes breakfast, then lunch, then dinner."
"Shut up, why are there two pills?"
"Oh, that! I'm glad you noticed to be honest, sometimes the little things are the most important."
John fidgeted, it was unusual for Herbert to be so casual, but this was two days in a row, something was going on and it troubled him.
"Well, you made such a fuss about yesterday's pill not being there, we thought we'd give you two!"
"Why?" John asked again, this time a little louder, now that is stomach was full he was a little more confident.
"It's only fair, John! We missed a day so today we had to give you two to make up for it, it's simple really."
John didn't want to believe him, but everything in his head told him he wasn't lying. He couldn't argue, there wasn't anything to argue. It was simple like Herbert said; he was just repaying what was owed. It was the right thing to do.
"Oh, you're very welcome, John, very, very welcome," Herbert said this in a flat tone, he was more his regular self, no longer the cheery giver he was a minute ago. John put the extra pill in his pocket; he would save it for an emergency, just in case. John then took his screwdriver and returned to bed. He stared at the ceiling for a long time, thinking about what would become of him? Would he stay here forever? Had he aged at all? He couldn't remember anything of before he came here. He didn't even know his own name until that first "Hello, John."
For all he knew he never had a name, just a blip in society, one who slipped through the cracks. He believed this because he hated the alternative, that he had a life, a family, and friends. People who have been missing him. They probably would have had a funeral by now, no one would still be looking for him. This depressed John greatly, so he went back to thinking he was a nobody. John laid there some more until he had an idea. He would start his own history, and he would record it in his room. He grabbed his screwdriver and pressed it to the bright white walls. He wasn't sure what they were made of, but he prayed they would scratch. He pushed down with pressure and a horrible screeching noise echoed throughout the room, but there was a small mark where the screwdriver has slid. John could write. He chiseled away for a few minutes until he had something he was proud of, right in the center of the wall he had written.
"My name is John Nobody." It wasn't much but it was a start. He wasn't sure to what, but it was definitely a start and John was proud of it. He wished he had someone who could admire it with him, which made him think of Herbert. He loved Herbert more than he ever had, Herbert had given him the screwdriver and in essence, had given him sanity. John, for the first time in weeks, was thinking clearly and rationally. There was a more to life than just survival, there was thought, feelings, curiosities. It was wonderful. John wanted to thank Herbert more than anything else.
"Can I see you?"
"It's against the rules, John, go to sleep."
John shuffled uneasily in his bed. He wanted to press further but he didn't want to annoy Herbert. He tried closing his eyes but he couldn't bring himself to do it.
There was an unsettling silence. Something was wrong. Someone must have found Herbert and slit his throat. He was more than likely lying in a pool of his own blood and now John was truly and utterly alone. He would starve without the watchful eyes of Herbert observing and commenting on his daily life. John was nothing now.
"You're welcome, go to sleep."
John sighed and sank into the mattress. He could sleep easy knowing Herbert, like a mother caring for her child, was always watching and protecting. John quickly fell asleep, content and full of life. He had everything he would ever need, food, company even rudimentary entertainment. He was a complete man.
John awoke the next morning and set out to work with his new friend after retrieving and consuming the fresh pill. Through the incessant wailing, scratched markings began making words, which then became a full sentence.
"Days I haven't been dead."
This was written off in the corner. There was ample room left just below this, leaving space beside one lone scratch. John decided he might as well have a basic understanding of time. He knew he stayed up roughly the same amount of time every day, so that means he should sleep roughly the same amount of time.
Using that logic he could just make a new tick every time he woke up. He used to count the days in the beginning, by when the pill came, but after a while it seemed pointless. There was no point in knowing how long it took him to die, just that he was going to, and it was unavoidable, but John felt different now, he had a small amount of joy in his life and he took pride in his new writings. He had a new appreciation for being alive.
After admiring his work thoughtfully for some time, John gently placed his friend on the bed. He then slowly knelt down to the floor, his legs still a little shaky, and then stretched out flat.
He started by trying to the just lift himself up a little, he didn't think his arms would support him but to his surprise, he managed to do a full pushup. Confident, he tried again but only managed half of one before his arms buckled and he smashed his face against metal floor. A little dazed he pulled himself back up into the bed. He grabbed his friend and curled in close.
He spent the rest of the day dreaming, of the things he could now do. He thought about how he had the means to kill himself now, but quickly perished the thought. There was no way he could kill himself, now that he wasn't alone, he couldn't just leave like that. So he decided he would live, for as long as possible, and he would continue to write, even if only a sentence at a time, he was determined to have something unchangeable and permanent in his life, and in the writings, he had that.
John woke up to the sound of crying. He had no idea what time it was. He thought he might be dreaming, but for several minutes the crying continued. It was high pitched yet sounded low and guttural, almost as if the person was being smothered. Scared he grabbed his screwdriver; no one was going to hurt his friend. He pressed himself up against the corner of the wall, grasping the weapon in one hand and the other firmly clenched into a fist. He stayed like this for what seemed like hours until finally the crying died out. John was shocked. It was the first thing he had heard that sounded even vaguely human for God knows how long, besides Herbert, of course.
"Oh, John, what are you doing up at such an ungodly hour?"
John jumped at the sudden sound being emitted from the speaker. He eased up once he realized the familiar, calm voice belonged to Herbert.
"What the fuck was that?"
"What was the crying?"
"Crying? I think you're a little tired, John."
"Herbert, please I-"
The loud speaker cracked and then fizzled out. John was left confused and scared without any sort of explanation. Maybe Herbert was right, maybe John just dreamed the noise, but he was certain he was awake. Then he thought it might be Herbert, just playing a trick on him. John decided this was the most logical answer and the best course of action would be to ignore it. There was no point in giving Herbert the satisfaction of seeing John panic over a stupid noise. From now on, John would be unshakable.
After sleeping for what seemed like only minutes John got out of the small bed and walked over to the drop box. As expected, a small pill was there, awaiting consumption. John complied to the nonexistent request and ate the pill quickly. He returned to bed where he picked up his friend carefully and went to work on adding another tick.
After suffering through the terrible noise, John hopped off the bed and onto the floor. He felt good and full of energy so he decided he might as well work out. If he was going to die, hell, he might as well look good. So he did pushups for quite some time, until he got tired and returned to his bed.
He would lie there and twiddle the screwdriver between his thumbs, thinking of new things to write. He could never decide on anything he really had the desire to put down, but it got him thinking, it kept him sane.
More crying in the night. This time it seemed louder, more focused. Almost like it was calling to John. Determined not to satisfy Herbert in his sick game, John remained still and acted as if he heard nothing.
He just listened to the noise while maintaining his regular sleeping position. He did this, until the crying finally died down. John was proud of his accomplishment. Content, he fell back asleep.
John's life slowly became more and more routine; he would get up, eat a fresh pill every morning, make a new tick on the wall, exercise and then get lost in his thoughts. It was boring but oddly fulfilling to John, he forgot the luxuries of regular living, so for him, this was enough to satisfy him.
The crying also became routine, every time John went to sleep the noise would come back and John would ignore it as always. This pattern continued on for 13 days, until one night, when the crying got particularly loud. John remained still, apathetic to the noise. He had almost gotten used to the noise, and sometimes even managed to fall back asleep while it persisted. John was just about to do so until he heard something that made his eyes open wide.
"For the love of God, someone please help me!"
John's eyes bulged. His teeth clenched.
"Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit," muttered John.
He clenched the screwdriver tighter than ever. A million thoughts raced through his head, but none were intelligible. His world was shattered. Here he had thought he was the only person, but mere seconds ago, he had clearly heard someone speak.
It didn't make any sense. Terrified, John curled up tighter, but the crying continued. Though no more words were spoken and the noise eventually stopped, John remained up for a long a time; too mortified to even consider getting out of bed. John was completely confused, trying to comprehend what he heard until suddenly, it all made sense. Herbert. This had to be Herbert's doing. If Herbert was capable of generating crying noises every night, why couldn't he make a sentence?
John began to chuckle quietly. What and idiot he had been, of course it was Herbert. Relieved and a little giddy, John hobbled over to the drop box and there was a pill waiting for him, he had been up all night. John ate the pill and walked back to bed where he made a fresh tick.
He decided it would be best to fall back into regular routine, and not give Herbert the twisted satisfaction of seeing him so uneasy.
Push ups were what John decided to do, to stay normal, to keep Herbert oblivious to how horribly scared and tired he was. John was unsure how long it had been from when he last heard the speaking, but he had remained motionless on his bed for a long time, too jittery to do anything. He knew he needed to move, or else Herbert would catch on to the fact that John knew, knew how he tormented him in the night. He kicked his legs off the bed and slowly climbed down onto the floor.
"Stay cool, stay calm."
He placed his palms flat and took a deep breath. He closed his eyes and pushed. His arms wobbled uncontrollably, but he persisted. He wanted, no, he was going to do at least one push up. His arms now fully outstretched, John struggled to make a small smile through the burning pain.
He had triumphed, he was satisfied. Suddenly, John lost feeling in his arm; he hadn't realized how long he had been holding himself up. Tired and not thinking, John let go.
Dizziness consumed him; his vision was a blurred mess of white and black flashes.
"What the hell?"
John muttered half finished words under his breath as he spit red globs out of his mouth.
At first he was terrified, he must have been attacked; assaulted in his own home, but he quickly put aside these thoughts. He knew what really happened. His own body continued to betray him, slowly deteriorating despite the pills, only giving him enough to live.
John picked his head up slightly out of the puddle he made and felt something on his face. Something cold. Scared, John looked around but he couldn't see anything that could be the source. He looked at the pool of blood and saliva, confused. John scanned the mess until he realized he could only feel it on one side of his face. Had he damaged nerves? Was it going to be like this forever? John began to get scared. He looked around the small area of his bed one last time, and then he saw it.
A small rectangular panel with holes in it. Under the bed, pushed up against the wall. John looked around the room one last time, he didn't want to be attacked from behind while he was under the bed. John crawled under until he couldn't fit anymore. He laid there in complete bafflement, he knew what this was. It was a vent, but what the hell was it doing here? He couldn't see much through the holes, they were only tiny enough to let through a faint breeze. John began picking at the corners, trying to pry the vent open. He only managed to cut his fingers, dejected, John crawled out from underneath the bed and sat.
He looked from the puddle on the ground, to his hands, both equally covered in blood. He reached for one of the blankets beside him. John figured he would only need one blanket to sleep well and if things got bad, he could use the bloodied one. He began the slow process of wiping the blood off his hands. After a while, they were dry, but no amount of rubbing appeared to remove the red hue. At first this distressed John. Would his hands ever go back to normal? But he decided it didn't matter much; at the rate his hands were failing him, he wouldn't be able to lift them in a few days time. John lazily threw the sullied blanket across the room. It hit the wall with a dull thwack as John turned and lied down to try to sleep.
John woke up with the common feeling of only sleeping for minutes. There was no way to tell how long it has been, but John added a tick to the "Days I haven't been dead" portion of the wall anyways. He had been doing this regularly and had in turn, amassed quite the collection of scratches. John thought about making the walk over to the drop box to see if there was a new pill, but quickly remembered his important discovery. This was only met with an empty feeling of disappointment.
His fingers still beared the markings of defeat. John spent the rest of the day in a zombie-like trance, periodically checking the drop box for a pill, and then returning to bed. This went on until he tired himself out and tried to sleep again. John secretly wished it would be the last time. The scratches that once brought John joy only now served as a reminder of his inevitable death. There was no way out, John would spend the next day here, and the day after that, and the tick after that and every other tick until he was dead.
Jesus Christ, oh, Jesus
John had been hearing more screams, louder than before yet still muffled except tonight, they were followed by wild banging noises.
What the fuck?
Cold sweat dripped off of John's face. He was terrified. His mind ran through thoughts of a horrible monster ripping him apart, as soon as it was done with whoever was screaming, all he had to do was let his guard down and he'd be dead. His eyes darted around the room searching for something to defend himself with.
Window? No, it's shatter proof. Blanket? Too flimsy.
There was nothing, it was hopeless. John clenched his fists in anticipation of death and felt a hard piece of plastic brush up against his fingers. The screwdriver. Instantly, John took it in his hands and pointed it towards the other end of the room, shaking it wildly, as if fending off a mob. John did this as he clenched his eyes, until he realized something. The room was completely silent. John's ears were ringing and his eyes watered. He loosened his grip and the screwdriver rolled onto the bed. John felt embarrassed, he just wanted to curl up and fall asleep forever, but he couldn't even do that. Surely Herbert was enjoying this, clapping slowly, as tears of laughter rolled down his cheek. The adrenalin was still flowing, and there was no way John could just go back to sleep. John got out of his bed and paced the room, searching for anything, something different.
Nothing new in the drop box, same amount of ticks on the wall.
John kept searching for something, it could be anything. He just wanted something to take his mind off of the noises and the embarrassment. John walked over to his bed and sat down, his heart still beating out of control.
The words kept flowing through John's head, but there was no answer, nothing to console him. John became more and more angry, until he was clenching his knuckles so hard they turned white. His face started to contort, tightening up as his eyes began to water.
This became John's mantra. He clenched his teeth as he rocked back and forth. His hand's shaking out of control.
John began to bite his lip. A small drop of blood flowed from the wound onto the bed.
John's head filled with a thousand voices, screaming out of control but still saying the same thing.
His face grew hot and red.
John raised his arm and hurled the screwdriver forward at the wall. Screaming as the handle shattered against the wall, sending the screw head flying.
John sat and sobbed into the bed. The voices were gone but a new sound filled the air. One of great sadness. John sat and cried, the taste of blood and salt slowly filling his mouth. He spat huge blobs onto the floor beside the stain from earlier, the room wreaked of filth. John looked around the room, expecting to see Herbert laughing at him, but he did not. He saw the same room he had seen for the past ten days, and the ten days before that, and the hundred days before that, and then he saw the shattered handle. John sprang from the bed and fell beside the red fragments. He tried collecting them in his hand but they were too small and he couldn't grasp them.
"Oh my God."
John rocked back and forth, mumbling to himself as he collected the pieces of his dead friend.
"What have I done?"
John felt more tears coming up until he noticed something. The actual screw. It was missing. John looked around the room but he couldn't see it anywhere. He stood up and frantically paced the room, ignoring the tiny pieces of plastic being imbedded in his foot.
"Where are you? I'm sorry... oh God, I'm sorry."
John wished he could go back in time, to before he threw his friend. He wanted to make things better. John had to stop looking periodically, as huge waves of remorse took over and he had to sit down. He couldn't handle it. John walked back over to the bed and observed the puddle of muck he had spat out.
His heart skipped a beat as the sudden realization hit him.
John crouched down and moved his hand towards the puddle. Just as his fingertips touch, he pulled his hand back. It didn't make any sense for it to be in the puddle. It made sense seconds ago, John was eager to shove his hand into the mess, certain he would find his friend in there. Not only was his body deteriorating but so was his mind.
"What the hell is happening to me?"
John let himself fall backwards onto the floor, resting his head beside the puddle. He just wanted to die right there, he had no reason to live. He killed the one friend he had in this place. He stared off blankly as he contemplated diving head first off his bed. As his mind wandered, imagining the bliss that would be death, something seemed to shine under the bed. Thinking his eyes were failing him, he raised his head slightly, but sure enough, there was still a small shine. He was excited now.
He repositioned himself and began pulling himself under the bed, smearing the spit globs all over himself in the process. He kept sliding under the bed, until his nose almost touched the wall. He looked down and sure enough, there was a long flat piece of metal. His friend. John jutted his arm out from under him and grabbed the screwdriver. He brought it to his face and examined it closely. It looked unharmed.
"Oh thank God."
John pressed it to his face as he whispered sorry over and over again, thankful to not be alone anymore. John started the slow process of turning around so he could finally try to get some sleep. He shifted his arm but it scraped against something cold and hard. John cursed and turned around to see what cut him, shuffling around until it was blowing a steady stream of air onto his face. It was the vent. John began to turn back around until he had a revelation. He could pry it open, he had his friend with him. John carefully slid the top under one of corners and began trying to force it open.
At first it would hardly move but John put as much weight as he could onto the screwdriver until the corner finally popped up with a loud bang. The air from the vent continued to blow, but it sounded different now. John continued and placed the screwdriver under the other corner, ignoring the pain as the handless tool dug into his palm. Again, the corner popped up and now John could almost see into the vent, he just needed to pry open the last two corners. After letting his hands recover, and getting into a better position, John managed to pop open the remaining side. John was excited, sweat dripped off of his face onto the floor now. What would he find? John carefully moved the destroyed vent cover to the side and wiggled forward until his face was directly over the hole. John took a deep breath and looked down. He saw light. Almost blinding white light. It was familiar, yet odd.
"What the hell?"
John couldn't think, his brain felt like it was going to explode. He hadn't talked to anyone for God knows how long, except Herbert, but this was different.
"Who's talking?" The voice sounded terrified, desperate.
"Me," John almost whispered down the vent.
"Where are you?"
John continued looking down the hole. There was still nothing but white, until a figure appeared. It was a person. They were scrawny and had shaggy dark hair. They looked wildly around the room, clearly scared out of their mind.
"I'm up here," John said again, more confidently.
The Stranger looked up and squinted his eyes.
"Oh thank God, are you here to get me out?"
A sense of hopelessness washed over John. In the back of his mind, he somehow thought this person might be his way out, but clearly this wasn't the case. This person seemed just as out of it as he did, maybe even more so.
"No, no, I've been here for a long time." The words weren't coming easy to John, it had been a long time since he had talked to anyone, let alone someone in person.
"Fuck, fuck, fuck!" The Stranger grabbed his head and walked in and out of John's view. He was swearing louder and louder. John just lay there.
"Listen, how long have you been here?" John tried calming The Stranger down, get him focused.
"Uh, uhm, I don't know, I don't know, like a night? Two, maybe three? I don't know man." The Stranger was jittery.
"Have you gotten a pill?"
"Uh, what? Pill? What the hell are you talking about?" The Stranger was looking upwards directly at John's face now.
John licked his lips. If he wasn't getting the pill he must be hungry.
"Look, my name's John, I'm stuck in here just like you, do you know how you got here?"
"How I got here? Huh, how I got here?" The Stranger almost laughed as they repeated the line. "I don't remember shit."
"Alright, can you tell me what's in your room?"
"Fucking nothing man, nothing. There's uh, there's a window and uh, a bed. Yeah, there's a bed. That's it man, there's not even a fucking door man."
John got a little nervous. "Is there a loud speaker?"
"A what? Listen man, there ain't shit in here." The Stranger was still looking directly upwards. John wasn't sure if he could see him through the vent or not.
Why wouldn't there be a loud speaker? How else would Herbert talk to him? What the hell was going on?
"Do you have any food, John?"
John rubbed the extra pill he had been keeping in his pocket.
"Damn, this isn't right man." The Stranger walked out of sight again.
John's eyes kept slowly closing, he was fighting to keep them open.
"Look, I've got to go, but I'll come back later, I haven't slept right in days."
The Stranger muttered something, but John was too tired to hear. He wanted to stay, he wanted to talk. This was the biggest thing to ever happen to him, he finally actually had someone. He wasn't alone. But he needed sleep, he didn't want to pass out under the bed.
He slowly crawled out backwards, passing over the now dark reddish orange stain on the floor. He pulled himself onto the bed and laid his head down. He had so much to think about but no energy to do it. Within no time, John fell asleep.
John's eyes opened sharply. He sat upright and looked around the room. He was still alone, but just below him, there was someone else now. Someone to talk to, plan with, maybe even escape with one day. John staggered out of bed and went to the drop box, there was a pill.
He grabbed it and popped it into his mouth, letting it slide down his throat eagerly. He picked up the broken screw head beside his bed and scraped across the wall. The room filled with the expected terrible noise but John pressed on until there was a new tick on the wall. He wasn't dead yet.
John had almost perfected sliding under the bed. He wiggled back and forth until he was in the usual position. He tilted his head forward and pressed it up against the hole.
John heard shuffling noises, a few soft bangs.
"Wha-who's there? John? John, is that you?"
"Don't fucking do that, man." The Stranger walked into view wiping his eyes.
"How'd you sleep?"
"Sleep? No man, can't sleep. No sleep right now." The Stranger was pacing again.
"You should try, it'll help, make the first while a bit easier."
"Easier? Easier than what? Either way I'm trapped in a fucking box. Either way I'm fucking dead unless I get some food." The Stranger sounded quieter, he must have been in the corner.
"It'll help you think clearly."
"Think clearly? Man, I don't want to be thinking clearly in here. No way man, no way. If I'm going out I might as well do it freaking out, you know what I mean?" The Stranger's words were heard over a dull thud, he was banging his head rhythmically against the wall.
John repositioned himself. It had been four days and The Stranger was only getting worse.
"Hey... did they bring you any food yet?"
The Stranger just laughed and the banging continued.
"Food? What food, man? There's no food here..." The Stranger began pacing the room while cursing to himself.
John fingered the small pill in his pocket, it was still there. He could give it to The Stranger... but what if John needed it? He couldn't risk it.
"How about any medicine? Like a pill or something?"
"I don't want any fucking medicine from these people, man, you'd trust these people? The fuck is wrong with you?" The Stranger was banging on each wall, testing the strength.
John's stomach leaped into his throat. Holy shit... what if these pills had been poison? What if these pills were messing with his head, his ability to think clearly, his ability to sleep, his ability to remember. His head was ringing, he needed time to think about this.
John tried to open his mouth to say something but The Stranger's banging soon became the only audible sound over the ringing of his ears and he decided it was pointless to continue the conversation. John crawled out from under the bed, his shirt scraping against the filthy stain on the floor.
Upon leaving the darkness of the bed, John was blinded by the almost glowing white walls. He stood up and ran his hands over head. Panic washed over his brain. John never even contemplated the thought that they, that Herbert, would try to poison him. John saw images of himself lying in a giant room filled with other people, all of them seemingly asleep, dreaming the same horrid nightmare as him. Is this stranger even real? Is any of this even happening or is this all some vivid hallucination concocted by the pills and his own distraught psyche? It was too much to handle, John felt like he was going to throw up. He stumbled onto his bed and yanked the covers over his head. He clamped his hands hard against his ears to try to silence the ringing, the ringing and the goddamn banging from below. John clenched his teeth and pressed his hands harder against his head to try to dampen the sound of the persistent bang.
Sweat rolled down John's forehead.
John's palms turned red and shook against the tension.
John started to hold his breath.
Tears began to roll down his now red face.
John's whole body began to shake, as he continued to hold his breath.
John opened his mouth, unsure whether he was going to breath or scream.
Darkness. It was quiet now.
"Are you going to die in here, John?"
John let out a gasp as he quickly sat up in the bed. The room was dark, impossibly so. The white walls had always left the room in perpetual light, yet John could hardly see.
"Do you want to die in here, John?"
Voices in the dark. John pressed his back against the wall, hugging his legs to his chest.
"Wh... who are you?"
Suddenly hundreds of indiscernible whispers filled the room, repeating John's soft words.
"Who are you? Who are you? Who are you?"
John's heart beat rapidly, loudly.
"John, do you want to die in here?" the whispers spoke as a single entity, no one voice took dominance.
"No... no, no, no, no," John spat out the words shaking his head as tears rolled down his face.
"Don't trust him, John," "He is not to be trusted," "He is lying to you, John," "You can get out of here, John."
John was certain he had gone insane, he was shaking his head harder now. He heard their words but they had no meaning. John wanted to die, he wanted this all to be over. He began to sob louder.
"Don't trust him, John," "He is not to be trusted."
The thousands of soft voices came at John from all directions. John started to scream a deep primal noise at the darkness. He screamed for the seemingly thousands of nights he had been in here, he screamed for the hunger, he screamed for the terror but most of all, he screamed to prove he was still human, he was still alive. His eyes began to bulge out of his head as he stared into the darkness and his roar became louder. Suddenly, a form began to take shape in the darkness. In the opposite corner of the room, the figure of a human could be barely seen. John's roar stopped as he looked at the being. He could make out no features on the being as it stood motionless in the corner.
John sat huddled in silence. The whispers had stopped and he now noticed the eerie absence of sound, it was like being in a vacuum. John stared closer at the presence, being careful not to move. The curiosity outweighed the horror, and John opened his mouth to speak. Instantly the sound of a thousand screaming voices filled the room, no longer soft. The being in the corner began to shift, slowly moving towards John. John was paralyzed, the voices were louder than anything he had ever heard, he felt like his eardrums were going to pop.
John again wished for death, he wanted to be out this room, away from the voices, away from this hell. His eyes began to roll to the back of his head as the voices grew louder, more angry. John couldn't breath, his body trembled, struggling for air. The presence continued to slowly move towards John, amongst the chaos. John's lungs began to burn and his eyes felt like they were going to explode. The pain was excruciating. Just as John felt he was going to die from the pain, he felt a cold hand gently cup the back of his head and a soft breeze against his ear. The voices stopped and the room filled with white light once again, as John heard a single word gently whispered into his ear.
John regained consciousness lying down normally in his bed. His body felt stiff as he forced himself to sit up straight. John slowly stood up and looked around the room cautiously. It was normal, exactly the way he remembered it before last night. John paced around the room, making sure not to miss any detail but still, he could not find a single abnormal mark or object. Satisfied with the small search, John checked the drop box. There was a new pill, John popped it in his mouth and let it slide down his dry throat. He sat down on the floor and put his hands in his head.
"What the fuck happened last night?"
John's brain went over thousands of possible scenarios, but only one made sense. John was going insane, his mind had finally snapped and this was the beginning of his descent into complete madness. John started to laugh quietly to himself. After all these days all these nights he had finally snapped and it still made no difference. Whether he was sane or completely out of his mind he would still be in this room. Forever. That's when John remembered the voices. Before the screaming they had spoke to him, they had said something.
"You can get out of here, John."
The soft voices still rang clear in John's head. Maybe he wasn't going insane... maybe he could get out of here. John shifted his hand and felt something cold brush up against it. Suddenly the cold hand from last night flashed into his head and he immediately backed away from where he was sitting. John's heart was pounding fast again as he looked at the spot where his hand was rested. There sat the screw head. John laughed once again.
"I am really am going insane..."
John crawled back over the screwdriver and clasped it in his hand. He stood up and walked over to where he made his daily ticks.
"Days I haven't been dead."
John read the words, and remembered back to when he first scratched them into the wall. John considered scratching out dead and replacing it with insane but decided against it. Nothing would matter anymore if he truly did lose his mind. John quickly made another tick against the wall. He backed up and admired his work. Over time, the wall had quickly filled up. Multiple rows and columns of ticks lined John's walls and right in the center was "My name is John Nobody."
John ran his fingers across the name.
"I am somebody," John thought to himself. "I am somebody..."
Suddenly a loud hollering came from below, it was The Stranger. John quickly went to the bed and dragged himself over the now black stain on the ground as he crawled towards the vent. The hollering continued and John stuck his face over the vent.
"You! Oh man it's you, oh Jesus this is great," The Stranger sounded ecstatic, he was pacing quickly around the room, frequently letting out loud cheers.
John just watched nervously as The Stranger moved around the room.
"I uh, I can get out of here and you, fuck, you too man! We can both get out of here!"
John was uneasy, what The Stranger was saying was complete nonsense but he had truth in his voice. John opened his mouth.
"How?" The Stranger laughed and let out another cheer. "We just fucking walk out, man!" The Stranger laughed hysterically and beat his hands loudly against the wall like a drum.
John now knew he was not insane, he was looking at true insanity.
"Yeah man, there's uh, this panel right? This heavy panel, heaviest fucking thing I've ever seen man and it's right in my fucking room!" More laughing.
"How'd you find it?"
"It's fucking heavy, man!" The Stranger sounded like he was panting.
John tried to clear his throat, "How did you find the panel?"
"Oh, man, I'm fucking hungry you know? I just need some food man, something to eat and I could move this. I'm too weak right now, too weak man, too weak." John couldn't hear footsteps anymore, The Stranger must have sat down.
John shifted under the bed trying to get comfortable. "So uh... they still haven't fed you?"
"Too weak man, I could move this if I just had some food... then I could get out of here! And come get you, man! I could come get you!" The Stranger made a wet cough, John was unsure if it was blood or just spit.
John shifted once again and something small pressed against his chest. John lifted himself up and put his hand into his chest pocket. There was a pill, the extra one John had been saving. He pulled it out and stared at it.
"Man, I'm so hungry..." The Stranger started to slur his words, it sounded like he was passing out.
John just stared at the pill. He knew he could give it to The Stranger... what if he wasn't crazy? What if there really was some panel leading to freedom?
"Hey uh... you. You didn't tell me how you found the panel.
John waited but heard nothing, just the sound of faint breathing. He began to turn around when The Stranger mumbled something. John pressed his ear against the vent hole.
"Voices, man... those voices... so many."
The Stranger let out a loud snore and John heard the dull thud as his body sulked to the floor. He had passed out.
John quickly crawled out from under the bed and began pacing the room and rubbing his face. The Stranger's words both excited and horrified John. He was excited because he now knew he wasn't crazy, those voices, that thing, had actually happened last night. He was still sane, for now. He was horrified because he wasn't crazy. Those things had actually happened, something was in his room last night, something indescribable. John could still feel its faint presence, as if it was still in the room with him, watching, observing. John tried to ignore the feeling by thinking about The Stranger.
Pills had been coming consistently for a long time now, John felt certain that they wouldn't stop coming. He could give his extra to The Stranger, so he could open this panel, and then maybe they could both escape. The thought was overwhelming to John. Just seeing another person, being in a different room, let alone, the outside world felt like something out of a fairy tale. John knew The Stranger would die soon without some sort of food, without the pill, but The Stranger was crazy.
His mind had already seemed to have left him and even after eating, how could John trust him to do anything, other than ruin a potential chance at escape? His choices were simple; he could give the Stranger his pill and hope that somehow, he would be able to not only find John, but get him out of this room, or he could keep the pill for himself he case he needed it again. The latter started to become more and more preferable, as memories of being near starvation during the times when the pill stopped coming, but the entire time John could not shake the thought of potentially escaping.
John sat up to go to his bed. The choice was too big to make right away, he needed to sleep on it. John made his way over to the bed and lied down staring at the ceiling. A million different outcomes played out in his head, some ended with John escaping with this Stranger, both of them seeing actual daylight again, but most were not like this. Most ended with John still in this room, as an old man. The walls covered in thousands of small ticks.
Every so often John would open his mouth to try to scream, but a cold dark hand would wrap itself around John's mouth, silencing him. With that thought burning into his mind, John fell asleep.
John's eyes slowly opened. He was still in the same position, staring at the white ceiling. He moved his hands across the bed and his fingers ran over the cold screwdriver head. John thought it must have fallen out of his pocket. He slowly sat up and stretched his arms, as he turned his head to the side, his body immediately stiffened. There was a black creature in the corner.
Its body was exactly the same as humans but it had no clothes and no identifiable characteristics. Its skin looked rough, like sand paper, but was completely black.
Its face was what horrified John the most. There were no ears or nose or anything else except for two round white eyes and a permanent smile on the creature's face. The eyes never blinked and they were staring straight at John. John immediately reached for the screwdriver and pushed himself deep into the corner of the bed. He thrust his arm outwards and screamed, "Stay the fuck away from me!"
The creature remained stationary. Smiling.
John kept his arm with the screwdriver outstretched, horrified that the abomination might pounce at the first sign of weakness. His arm grew heavy and tired and started to sag, John began to cry.
The creature remained in the corner.
John continually tried raising his arm, in an attempt to hold the thing off even though it made no signs of advance. Both John and the creature stayed like this for what seemed like hours. The only movement was that of John's tired arm as the screwdriver was raised in defense and then dropped. The smile bore deep into John's brain. It horrified every inch of him.
The unblinking eyes were locked on with John's, as if looking into his soul. John slowly drifted in and out of consciousness; fearing for his life if he fell completely asleep.
John was mentally and physically exhausted; he couldn't fight it anymore. He let his eyes close and his arm dropped once more for good. Just before John lost total consciousness he felt a cold hand rest upon the top of his head, and then he was asleep.
John bolted upright in his bed. He was breathing heavy, and his face was wet with sweat. He suddenly remembered the events of last night and held his breath in horror.
He scanned the white room but found nothing, he was safe. John felt as if he should be crying but his body has no more tears to cry. He was exhausted, both physically and mentally. He wasn't going to last much longer like this. He got up out of his bed and opened the drop box, swallowing the waiting pill inside. As his energy slowly returned to him he began to think. He could give the pill to The Stranger; he had to. This might be his only chance, no matter how insane it was, to escape from this place. He had no other options.
John quickly scooped up the pill and crawled under the bed, none of that mattered now.
He was getting out of here, today. He couldn't stand the thought of spending another night in this place, it was driving him insane, or had driven him insane.
The past few nights blurred John's perception of reality, none of this could actually be happening. John was simply dreaming, at home in his bed. The idea comforted John for a brief second until it occurred to him he couldn't remember what it was like to have a home. John slammed his fists on the ground in anger and frustration at his own stupid mind and pulled his face over the small grate.
Red. John saw deep dark pools of red flowing beneath him.
"Blood..." The liquid covered the entire portion of the floor John could see. He felt like he was going to vomit.
"Oh Jesus Christ."
John put his hand to his mouth in case he couldn't control himself.
John panicked, this man, The Stranger, was still alive. John was certain it was his voice.
John pushed his ear up to the vent turning his face away, he couldn't look at the blood any longer.
"I..." John started to cry. "I'm sorry... I can't hear you."
John heard The Stranger let out soft sobbing.
"Listen... what... what happened?"
The Stranger let out a loud yell.
"Fuck... please, please don't die." John was in hysterics. The Stranger was his one chance out and now he was bleeding out 10 feet below him with no way to help. "Listen to my voice, don't die... please, please don't die." A pool of tears was forming around where John laid his face.
The Stranger let out another yell before beginning to say something, "Kill..."
John pressed his face hard against the vent.
John slammed his fists against the floor, his hands went numb.
"Don't you fucking die, don't you fucking die on me." John was slamming his fists harder and harder against the floor." You're my way out here! You're my way out, you piece of shit!"
The Stranger began crying louder.
"You can't die... you can't die." John's anger slowly left him and feeling returned to his hands. He felt like he had broken his wrist. The sound of the two men crying filled the room.
"How?" John said, spitting out a glob of spit.
"Please... Kill me." John began to get annoyed again.
"I can't, don't you understand, you're trapped just like me. We're both going to fucking die alone in here, why don't you ju-" John turned his head to speak directly into the room. He stopped mid-thought. No longer did red fill the room below, in fact, John could not even see the room.
Inside the vent was complete darkness. John couldn't see anything, except two piercing white eyes and a giant toothy smile. John was frozen. He was no more than four feet away from the face; the entity. He could reach out and touch it if he wanted to, but he didn't, he wanted to be away from it. As far away as humanly possible, yet his body wouldn't let him. John looked deep into the eyes... they were lifeless, unblinking. John could not say the same for himself, his entire body was violently shaking, and tears rolled down his face as he continued to silently cry. The thing continued to smile, unmoving.
John inhaled deeply, and as if he was unleashing what remained of his sanity he let out a scream. He closed his eyes and screamed as loud as he could directly at the face. This lasted for what felt like hours to John. When he finally stopped, gasping for air, he opened his eyes and realized the face was gone. Before John could even form another thought, he felt the familiar cold hand wrap its fingers around his face and whisper nothing but "Sleep."
John woke up in his bed. He slowly opened his eyes and remembered the blood, the face, the soft whisper. None of it mattered now, John wanted to be dead. He had lost the last shred of his will to live. John was nothing but an insignificant speck in some sick and twisted universe.
John would end his life using the only friend he had in this place, the thing he once believed to be catalyst for his sanity. His screwdriver. John rolled onto his side reaching to grab for his screwdriver one last time when suddenly he noticed the walls.
There were markings, thousands of them scrawled over every inch of the wall. John quickly crawled out of bed, making his way to the middle of his writing wall. He ran his hands over his original writing. "My name is John Nobody." It had been scratched out. Thousands of new scratches covered the wall.
"My name is JOHN #1045960."
John scanned the entire room, thousands of new markings all saying the same thing.
"My name is JOHN #1045960."
John spun in circles around the room. He didn't understand what was how this was possible... he would have heard this happening and even then, who? Who could have done this? John stopped spinning and looked in the middle of the floor. His screwdriver.
"You..." John said with a mixture of anger and great sadness.
The screwdriver was positioned in the middle of the room, facing John.
"You... why?" tears rolled down John's face.
"I... I trusted you."
The screwdriver remained motionless.
"Why?" John began to sob while crawling towards the object.
"Why? Why? Why? Why?"
John clutched the screwdriver in his hand and brought it to his face. "You and me were the same..."
A cool breeze rushed through the room. John looked up, screwdriver still in hand. The Thing was standing in the corner, watching John. Its smile the exact same as John remembered it, the eyes still burning into John's mind.
John looked at the smiling presence and back to the screwdriver when it dawned on him. He hadn't been betrayed... no... it was this... this monster who had done this. John repositioned the screwdriver in his hand, pointing it at the smiling being. "You did this!" Spit flew out of John's mouth as he yelled hysterically. "This was you..." John's body shook with every loud sob he let out.
"I... I'll fucking kill you!" John stepped towards the being swinging the screwdriver wildly. The being continued to watch John unflinchingly. John planted his feet in the ground and let out a wild scream as he launched himself at the being. John latched himself around the being.
It was freezing and had the texture of a gravel, almost, but John lashed at it violently. John stabbed the creature in the chest with the screwdriver, and cold air blew violently against John's hand, flowing from the wounds. John yelled like an animal with every thrust of his weapon. He reverted to a primal stage, thinking of nothing but the kill. John's grunts and yells were mixed with sporadic sobs and only a few comprehensible words.
"Why?" This was the one word that John could still focus is mind on with each stab. John took the screwdriver with both hands and let out one final blow directly to the being's chest with all his might. John panted as he tried to catch his breath, he remained sitting on top of the being.
His thoughts began to return to him and as his bloodlust subsided. John realized his eyes had been closed the entire time. He slowly opened them to look at what he had done.
Underneath John lay the being, holes covered the completely black body from where John had stabbed him, yet his face, remained unchanged.
The eyes stared directly back at John, the mouth, ever smiling. John grabbed the creature and pressed his hands hard against its head. "How do I get out of here?!" The creature continued to stare at John and just as he was about to stab it again, it raised an arm. John spun to where it was pointing and nearly fainted. A door. A single white door had appeared on the far wall.
John's heart began to beat faster and faster. The screwdriver loosely rolled over John's hand, falling into the creature's chest, being consumed amongst the darkness. John slowly stood up and walked, hand outstretched, towards the door. Behind him the creature seemingly floated into an upright position. Watching. Smiling.
"I'm going to get out of here... I'm going to go... home."
John thought of a million different things that could be on the other side of the door, every single one of them was better than being here, being in this room. He finally reached the door and let his hand rest gently upon the handle. He took a deep breath and turned one last time to look at the room. The drop box, the lone window leading nowhere, his bed... he would never see any of it again. John took one last look at the being, still smiling at John, and pushed his hand down. It was time to leave.
The door swung open slowly. John could see light, real light, not the blinding whiteness he had become accustomed to. John slowly walked out of the room. The door swinging shut behind him. He was in a long hallway. John looked to each side of him, thousands of doors lined the halls. Each door had a single light bulb above it. Some were lit, while others flickered sporadically. John slowly walked forward, half expecting there to be a trap or for him to wake up any minute now, still inside that room. John turned around to look back at the door he left out of. It was exactly like all the others. The doors were white, the same colour as the walls in his room except for a single brown plaque in the middle. It had a number on it.
John ran his fingers across the numbers until he realized something. It was dark where he was standing. John looked up to see a single light bulb above his door, just like all the others... except his was burnt out.
John backed away from the door, scared and confused.
"Hello?" John yelled down the hallways, he received no response except for faint echoes. John spun around and looked at the door that was adjacent to his.
Horror rushed over John. He quickly placed his hand on the door handle and swung it open. The room was a blinding light, there was an old man huddled in the corner, rocking back and forth. John went to say something but then looked to the other side of the room. The Thing, no, a thing was watching the old man, smiling. John's body tensed up and the thing turned its head immediately towards John. John quickly slammed the door shut and began running. Tears ran down his face and poured onto the ground as he ran.
"I want to go home..."
John ran down the dimly lit hallway until he saw a door with a flickering light. He grabbed the handle and swung it open. There was a man sitting in the middle of the room with his back facing John. A small pool of red liquid surrounded him.
The man in the room screamed, and his whole body jumped. The man sharply turned his head to look at John. His face was badly bruised and covered in blood. John opened his mouth to speak but the man on the floor let out a deep laugh. Blood ran like a river from the man's mouth, all his teeth were missing. John then noticed the screwdriver in the man's hand. The man continued to laugh while spitting blood at John. John's stomach felt horrible, as he slammed the door shut he could make out the faint image of a smiling face in the back of the room.
John ran full sprint down the hallway, screaming as he moved.
"I want to go home."
John looked to both his sides as he ran, the doors were all open now. John could see people inside them, some of them appeared normal, doing pushups, walking, others made John sick to his stomach. People covered in blood, maimed, disfigured.
In every single room, he could see one of those things, starting, smiling. John's tears clouded his vision but he could make out a brighter than usual light not too far ahead. He ran with all his energy towards it, as it got closer and closer, until he hit something hard. It was another door. He came crashing through it and landed on a cold, hard, white floor. John was dizzy and confused but he could still hear something, a voice.
"Oh! Why hello there, John!"
John picked himself up off the ground and looked around his new surroundings. He was in a blinding white room similar to his own. It had a bed with a few blankets and a quilt needed folded on top of it. Bookshelves lined the walls filled with large, important-looking books.
There was a single desk pushed against one of the walls, with nothing but a small television and a microphone on it, neither of which were plugged into anything. Then there was the man. He was a short, pudgy man in a plain black suit. He was completely bald and his eyes were solid white, there was no iris.
"My, my, my! You look horrible, John! What happened to you?!"
John wiped his eyes and the nausea returned to him, he didn't understand what was happening.
"You're not going to be sick, are you, John? Come, come! Sit down!" The fat man motioned John towards the bed.
"Shh-shh-shh my boy! You're tired! You're sick! Here, have this!" The man walked over to one of his bookshelves and produced a thermos with two small glasses. He opened the thermos and poured a sweet smelling liquid into both of the glasses.
"What shall we drink to? Oh how rude of me, but of course we will drink to you, to John!"
John was confused, the man, John felt like he had known him his whole life yet he had no memory of him. The fat man held the cup to John's lips and the sweet liquid poured down John's throat. John felt relaxed, comfortable. He drank the whole cup as the fat man placed his warm hands on John's face.
"Sleep now, John, sleep."
John woke up after what felt like centuries. His body was stiff and it hurt to move. He tried to breathe but the air burned his lungs and he violently coughed.
"Oh! You're awake, my boy!"
John continued to cough as the fat man's footsteps could be heard walking over to him. John realized he was in a different room, it was dark except for a single light illuminating himself.
"Don't hurt yourself just yet, John, we haven't even had a chance to catch up!"
John inhaled once more and this time managed to retrain the coughs, he slowly let the air out and inhaled again, the worst of it was done though his chest still ached.
"Where... where am I?"
John looked around the room once more, there was nothing but darkness.
"Who are you?"
The fat man made a fake gasping sound. "John, I'm hurt!"
John tried to move his hands to rub his face but his arms wouldn't move, they were numb.
"Don't try to move too much, John, you'll want to save your energy."
John recognized the voice... the tone.
"Why is this happening to me?"
"Why is what happening to you, John?"
"This... why am I here?"
"I brought you here, my boy!"
"I mean here... this... this place. Why can't I remember before all this ever happened to me."
"Before what, John?"
"You know what I fucking mean!" John coughed again and choked on something wet, it tasted like metal.
"Shh, calm down now, John... John, tell me something. Why do you want to leave here?"
"Because I hate it... I miss my home... I want to go home."
"What do you remember of home, John?"
John was silent.
"Well, John, what do you miss? Home is merely an invention of modern society, what is a home really?"
"I want to go home..."
"Don't be a fool, John, what can you miss what you've never known? The grass isn't always greener, my boy."
"I want to be home, Herbert... I want to be happy again."
"Happy? John, you were happy! The conversations we had, the screwdriver, you loved that screwdriver, didn't you, John!"
John looked away from the fat man, there was a creature standing just at the edge of the light, smiling, watching John.
"I mean really happy..."
"How can you know what that is, John?"
"Because I felt sadness... I felt like I wanted to die... like there are blank voids in my life I can't fill, but to feel that, to feel sadness, I have to have known what it's like to have been happy... to know what it's like to lose something."
John noticed more beings, they were surrounding the two men.
"Herbert, please, I just want to-" More coughing, this time liquid leaked out of the side of John's mouth.
"Oh John, it appears your system isn't quite happy with what we gave you." Herbert pulled out a small handkerchief and wiped the liquid from John's mouth, it was red.
"What... did you do to me?"
"John have you ever dreamed?"
"Dreamed, John... like in your sleep? I find it a marvelous phenomenon."
Hundreds of faces were all staring at John, smiling the same smile.
"Of course I dream... everyone does."
"Tell me about your dreams, John."
"You can't remember, can you, John?"
The room was deathly silent.
I used to dream quite often, John. It was an entirely different world than the reality I was forced to live in. I dreamt I had an ant farm. I loved that farm. I gave each and every ant their own special name. I would feed them every day, I gave them shelter, protection. I even talked to them, John, quite often. I felt like I had a bond with them. Then one day, I dreamt they escaped, they broke out of the farm and you know what they did, John?
John coughed up more blood.
"They bit me, they bit me over and over and it hurt, John, quite a bit. I tried to get them off, but I couldn't no matter how hard I rubbed and how hard I scraped. I tried to wash them off but that didn't work either, all I could do was sit and let the ants consume me, my own friends, betraying me... you wouldn't betray me now, would you, John?"
John's vision was going blurry, all he could see was Herbert and the faces... so many faces.
"And you know something John? I... John? John?"
John's eyes began to close.
"Oh never mind, it seems it's run its course."
John could feel cold hands placing themselves all over his body. Lifting him upwards.
"Am I going to die in here, Herbert?"
"Yes, John, you're going to die in here."
The cold air rushed all over his body, he was freezing yet his head felt like it was on fire. John opened his eyes one last time, the faces all stared at him, as if wanting to ask him something. John was slowly rising upwards.
"Go to sleep now, John... sleep."
Original author unknown