Robert awoke and curled up into the fetal position as he thought about the weird nightmare he'd just had. He lay in his bed for a few minutes, reflecting on it and looked over at the clock to see what time it was. It was noon and he was late for work. He bolted out of bed, quickly put on some clothes, and sprinted out to his car. Twenty minutes later he pulled into the parking lot of the gas station where he worked.  

Robert walked in and explained to his boss about what happened. His boss was an older man, maybe in his late fifties, and reeked of cigarette smoke. He had a rather bulky figure and didn’t really care for anything. Robert made up an excuse as to why he was late. His boss brushed it off and told him to get to work. There was something off about him today but Robert couldn’t figure out what it was.  

Robert got to work. The gas station didn’t get that much activity but it got just enough to keep it operating. Robert stood there, playing a game on his phone and waiting for something to happen. Three hours later only two people had come in and Robert was bored. He went to the restroom and when he came out a man had just walked in. The man was rather young, no older than twenty-five. He had a Yankees baseball cap on and donned a coat with more pockets than he could count. Robert hadn’t seen his face yet, but the man seemed strikingly familiar for some odd reason.

Robert waited at the counter for the man as he took his slow, sweet time deciding what he was going to purchase. After what seemed a millennium, the man walked over to the counter holding a soda and a bag of Doritos. For some reason the man kept staring at his shoes and leaned against the counter as if he needed it to keep himself standing.  

“That’ll be $5.19 sir,” Robert said. The man stood there, continuing to look down, and wouldn’t even acknowledge Robert. He waited, and something struck a chord within him.  

“$5.19.” Why did this number bother him?  

Robert felt something strange tugging at him in his stomach, and his vision started failing. Robert doubled over and started stumbling around, bumping into everything.  He bumped into his boss, who was just sitting at the other counter, and he disappeared. Robert started panicking.  

“What is happening?” he thought to himself. He made his way over to the counter where the man was standing and asked him to call 911. The man finally lifted his face.  

“Oh God,” Robert said out loud. He recognized the man. The man had a slim face with some stubble growing out. He had distinct blue eyes and looked young and rather pleasant. This face had haunted Robert’s nightmares for months. Robert collapsed onto the ground and the man leaned over him. As he lay there the man pulled out a gun and aimed it at him. Robert recognized the gun. It was the same gun he used once…

Robert woke in his cell screaming. He was sweating so bad that the sheets were completely soaked, with his pillow sticking to his hair. Robert got up and sat in his cell, recovering from what just happened. He noticed from the tiny hole in his wall that it was daylight. He got up, and added another tally mark to a piece of paper he had hanging on his wall. There were sixty tally marks total; he had been in the prison for two months now. The date was July 19th, and he did not know how much longer he would last.

The prison he resided in was not a normal prison. Growing up, he had always heard legends about how this prison tortured its prisoners, and how many of them never lived for more than a couple of months.  

Robert heard footsteps approaching his cell. He braced himself for the day as the cell door opened. A large, muscular man opened the door. Robert tried to escape from this man everyday, but no matter how hard he fought, the man always carried him to a certain room where he would face his daily punishment for his crime.  

Robert did not even try to fight this day. He let the man carry him off into the room as he mentally prepared himself. They had been only taking him to the room for the past month now, and Robert felt like he was slowly going more insane everyday. Who were they? Robert didn’t exactly know. He would get into the room where it is usually pitch black. He’ll wait by the door, clawing at the walls for a way out, until a voice comes over a speaker somewhere in the room. The person speaking will usually give him options as to what he wants his daily punishment to be, and Robert has to pick one. If he doesn’t pick an option, an even worse punishment would be inflicted upon him. Robert would spend what seems centuries in the room, dealing with the agony, until he would be thrown back into his cell.

Today, no voice had spoke, and he stood there in the dark, waiting longer than he usually did. Suddenly, a small light came on, illuminating a table filled with what appeared to be a bunch of small pills. Robert heard a voice come on over the speaker.

“Hello Robert. As you can see, there are an assortment of pills on the table before you. Pick one, and swallow it.”

Robert cautiously approached the table, terrified of what awaited him. He looked over the pills. There were ten in total, and they all varied in size and colour. He stood over them for a moment, debating which one to take.

“Any day now, Robert,” he heard over the speaker.

He picked a pill. It was a small, blue pill, and stared at it, hoping it was a fake or a dud or anything to prevent today’s punishment. He swallowed it.  

Robert didn’t notice anything happening at first. He stood there for a few minutes, waiting. After about 10 minutes or so, he decided that the pill was a dud, and he started to walk towards the door, hoping that it would be unlocked so he could exit the horrendous room.  

Wait a second. There was no door. Robert walked to the spot where the door previously was, and felt for a doorknob, hoping that it was actually there and he just couldn’t see it. He couldn’t feel anything, and started panicking. He turned around, and saw a staircase where the pills were. The staircase went down. Robert didn’t want to go down, but his legs forced him to.  

He walked slowly down the stairs, and they seemed to get larger every step he took. He started hearing things. They sounded like voices, but he couldn’t decipher what they were saying. He kept walking and walking down the never ending stairs. Suddenly, he hit something. The stairs had ended, and there was a white wall in front of him. There was some weird dialect written on it. The wall seemed to go on forever, and Robert started to follow it.

Robert really couldn’t describe the place he was in. It was like an abyss, but he could feel solid ground below him. He looked around, and all he saw was darkness, and the wall.  

As Robert continued to follow the wall, he noticed a sensation developing in his brain. It was a sensation of pure hopelessness, as if there was no escape from the abyssal realm he was currently traversing. Voices were starting to speak in his head, telling him to repent for the crime he had committed. The voices started getting louder, and louder, and Robert couldn’t silence them. Robert felt the same guilt he had felt the day he had murdered a man, and the feeling kept intensifying.  

He couldn’t handle it anymore. The voices were screeching in his head, and the guilt was overbearing. He fell onto the ground, which chilled him to the bones. He pounded his head, trying to get the voices to stop as they got even louder by the second. He looked at the wall as the strange dialect started to form something.  

The dialect had transformed itself into English. On the wall, the words read, “Have you learned your lesson?”  Robert stared in disbelief, wondering how this was possible. He wondered how anything in this situation was possible. He concluded that it was in his mind, but it felt so real.  

He was suddenly struck by severe agony. He looked down, and noticed a bullet lodged itself inside of his chest. The man from the dream was standing over him, holding the same gun Robert had used to murder him two months earlier. Robert looked at the wall one last time as his vision started fading. With his last breath, he screamed, “Yes,” and everything faded to black.

Robert awoke in his bed, screaming. He looked around, bewildered at what he last remembered. He got out of his bed and looked around in panicked confusion. Everything had appeared to be normal, and he wasn’t hearing voices or anything of the sort. He wondered what kind of cruel tricks they were playing on him this time as a punishment. He sat in his bed, and awaited another punishment. After about two hours, nothing had happened.  

Robert walked out of the room, and braced himself. He took a step out, and nothing happened. After quick inspection, he realized that he was actually in his house. He went downstairs into his living room, and looked out a window by his door. Everything looked normal. He watched for a few minutes as cars passed by his house, and was shocked at the sight. Why had he been let out of the prison?

He sat down on a couch in his living room. He turned on his TV, adjusting to life outside of the prison, but was still being haunted by fear of his house all being a cruel prank by them.  

Robert looked at his table and noticed a folded up piece of paper. He unfolded it, and read the text written on it.  

“Hello Robert. You’re the only one who has actually survived the punishment you faced. We are going to let you free, simply because we know you will not commit another crime. If you do, we will find you, and we will not set you free again.”

Robert set down the note, and resumed life as though he had never killed a man.