I woke up three weeks ago in this place. It's a medium-sized room with concrete walls, floor and ceiling. In spots, the concrete is stained and cracked. A single light bulb hangs from the ceiling and sometimes it flickers. It's not a very powerful bulb, but enough to see by.
I woke up next to a woman. I didn't recognize her, but that didn't matter. I didn't know where I was. I didn't even know how I'd gotten here. There didn't seem to be any doors or windows or openings of any kind. Just a concrete box with me and a sleeping woman in it.
I woke her up after a few moments of dazed confusion. She didn't scream, which was my worry, and instead asked questions calmly.
"Where are we?" she asked.
"I don't know."
"How did I get here?"
"I don't know."
"Who are you?"
I smiled. Finally, a question I could answer. "I'm Tom," I said. "Tom Greene. I woke up here just a minute ago and I was hoping you'd have an idea about it. But since you don't... well, we may as well get acquainted. You know my name, what's yours?" I stuck out my hand.
She shook my hand. "I'm Melissa," she replied. "Melissa Dobbs. Last I remember, I was--" she froze and creased her eyebrows. "Did you hear that?" I listened but didn't hear anything. I shook my head. "What was it?" I asked.
"It sounded like... I don't know... a thump."
We sat in silence for a few minutes, listening for another noise. There was nothing but silence as long as we sat there. After so long, I just shook my head.
"I don't think there's anything there, Melissa," I said. "But if you did hear a sound, that means we're close to the surface."
"The surface?" She repeated. "What do you mean, the surface?"
"Well, the way I figure, we're probably underground. Where else would someone keep a concrete box? Another thing I'm wondering is how they even got us in here. It all seems like a dream, you know?" I sighed and leaned my back against the wall. This couldn't be happening, not really.
"I know what you mean," Melissa said. "It just doesn't seem real. This doesn't just happen. This can't just happen. I--"
This time I heard the noise, too. It was like a thump, but a squishy thump. Like if you hit an animal with a heavy object. Images of bleeding animals flashed in my mind, pictures of infants being hit with hammers and baseball bats. I almost jumped, I was so surprised. Why would I think that? That wasn't normal. None of this was normal. This place and that sound and these thoughts. None of this was right.
"Yeah, I heard it," I interrupted Melissa. I started to ask if she saw things, but... she would think I was crazy. Being here was making me a little stressed, sure, but crazy? No. No, and I wouldn't let her think that.
Melissa and I spent the rest of the day discussing the situation and listening for the noises. It seems they came at regular intervals, once every ten minutes or so. I thought maybe we were near an automatic machine. Sometimes when the sounds came, I would have the flashes of terrible things. It was disgusting and wrong, but it happened. I couldn't help it. I wondered if Melissa had the flashes, but I didn't dare ask her. If my only companion thought I was crazy... well, I didn't think it would end well.
We had thought it was some sort of hostage-taking at first. We thought we had been taken captive by criminals. That's what we'd decided. It was a normal assumption. About 30 thumps into the day, though, our thoughts changed.
We were hungry. If the thumps really were coming every ten minutes, then thirty thumps meant we'd been awake for five hours. I could hear my stomach growling and once I even heard Melissa's. We were thirsty more, though. My throat was sore and dry, but we had no water or food.
We were talking about what we'd do when we got out of this box when it happened. The interviews and books and maybe even movies that would come. We could both get rich off of this. We tried to remain positive like that. Suddenly, everything went black. It felt like only a second and I didn't realize my eyes had closed until I opened them.
Melissa and I woke up at the same time. We were confused. Somehow we'd blacked out at the same time, woken up at the same time, and...
"Food," Melissa whispered. "There's food...and water..." She was staring into a corner of the room where before there'd been nothing, but now there were two trays with food and water on them. My stomach rumbled and I didn't care where they had come from or how we'd blacked out.
"Let's eat," I said, grabbing our trays. "We can talk about it in a few thumps."
Melissa actually laughed. "Funny how the way we measure time can change just like that," She said, grabbing her food. "But I guess it's just as good as minutes or hours."
The food was good. Warm. Steak and potatoes. A scoop of ice cream for dessert. A liter bottle of water to drink. The steak was precut for us, so no knives. The forks we were given were dull, very dull. No way we could hurt anyone with them. Not that we would be able to regardless, since it seemed they could induce loss of consciousness whenever they wanted to. I got the feeling that once we were done eating we'd just black out again and the forks and trays would be gone.
We ate in silence and then my guess was confirmed. We lost our trays and our forks and again we were just in an empty concrete box. We never actually talked about it. We kept busy talking about other things. After another 50 or so thumps we went to sleep.
It was hard at first to sleep with the thumps. But as with anything, you grow accustomed to it. You grow accustomed to the thumps and the flashes and the blackouts. Just as people grow accustomed to planes and phones and iPods.
This is adaptation.
This is evolution.
I don't know how long we slept, but every day there seemed to be less time in between each thump. Each day, though, the food seemed to get a little better. The first day's food was good, but it seemed bland. Each day the food tasted better, as if a reward for losing time between thumps.
This is conditioning.
By day ten, there was barely any time between thumps. The food was delicious. We couldn't get enough. Melissa and I got along well enough. We were becoming pretty big friends and at around day five we started having sex. We didn't love each other, but we were both adults. We both wanted something to keep us busy and entertained. Why not sex?
Day twelve, though, things took a turn. They went bad.
We were eagerly awaiting lunch. We were ready for the blackout, ready to delight in the delicious food we'd come to expect. We weren't thinking about escape. We weren't thinking about anything. Thumps, flashes, food. Thumps, flashes, food.
The flashes had gotten worse. So much worse. The thumps came so fast now, the flashes were in my head all the time. Babies, flayed open and dead. Dogs, limbs severed and laying in pools of blood. Cats, with their eyes pulled out and their organs ripped from their abdomens. All just animals. Dead animals, their lives that had been so important before, now useless. Now nothing. Now just a heap of bloody regret.
This is my future.
This is the death of all.
When I awoke, I didn't smell food like I was used to. Melissa was already awake, crying.
"What's the matter?" I asked her. "Why are you awake already?"
"I didn't fall asleep this time," She whispered. "They... they came in. They came in straight through the wall. They were so... hideous. They... they..." She started to sob.
"Calm down, Melissa," I said. I went to her and put my arm around her. She latched onto me weakly. "Tell me what happened."
"They don't have mouths, Tom," she cried. "They're not human. But the thumps...the thumps come from their heads. We don't hear them with our ears, Tom. I never noticed before, but we hear them in our heads. Do you understand? They didn't bring food. They said that they'll keep bringing food from now on, but not today. They tried to tell me something else, but... but... they had to stop thumping to talk to me. And once the thumping was gone...I didn't hear. I didn't want to. I begged them to stop, to bring it back. They stopped talking. They left."
This is necessary.
I held Melissa until she stopped crying and fell asleep. I thought about the changes we had now. I was trying to comfort her, but all I could think about was the...
The flashes had stopped. I hadn't realized until that moment because I was so used to the flashes accompanying the thumps that I had given myself flashes. But they weren't coming anymore, not really. Something had changed since meal time, and it made me almost uncomfortable. I could understand Melissa panicking when the thumping stopped now, though I didn't think I would've freaked out that badly.
Melissa was still crying. "I'm sorry, Tom," she mumbled, pushing her face into my chest. I could feel her tears seeping through my shirt. "I should've been able to talk to them. But the thumps... it's so strange when they're gone. I'm used to them now."
I understood. I understood perfectly. We spent the rest of that day solemnly, talking not about what we would do when we got out, but how we possibly COULD get out. Things weren't normal. The thought that we might get out was beyond us now. We accepted that. We could live like this, at least for a while. Then one day, maybe in a month or a year, we might use our forks and dig into our wrists.
Do they have thumps in heaven or hell or whatever lies beyond?
We got food the next day. The thumps continued and the flashes remained silent. The food was better and life was good again. Melissa, though... she was shaken. Maybe it was seeing our captors that had her so on edge. Maybe they put something in her head.
The flashes, I thought. Is it possible they left my head and went to hers? Crazy, but crazier things had happened here.
Every day, Melissa got more nervous, more agitated. I couldn't understand. I tried to talk to her about it, but she wouldn't answer my questions. She just looked at me and shook her head.
"Nothing's wrong," she would say. "I'm just tired."
This is denial.
It happened on day twenty. We fell asleep. We woke up and ate our food. We went about things as usual. I didn't know. If I had, I would've done something. Suffering alone is 1000 times worse than suffering with a friend. I was finishing my dessert and Melissa did it quick as lightning. She stabbed herself, hard, in one wrist. Then the other. Then she shoved it in her mouth. She jammed it in her throat, pulling and pushing and grinding it in there. Trying desperately to kill herself, to end it.
One wrist was bright red, but it hadn't drawn blood. The other she'd stabbed harder, much harder, and it had holes in it. The holes were pretty deep, leaking - pouring - blood. Blood was trickling out of her mouth and when I throw my food down and reached out to stop her she kicked me in the chest. I fell against the wall and she just kept stabbing, cutting, choking with the fork. I didn't even realize I was screaming; the thumps had joined together by this point, making constant noise, and it was hard to hear over.
Eventually she slowed and tried to force the fork down her throat. She gagged and choked and retched but it didn't come out. I got to her and pushed her arms away and reached in, but it was far down at this point. Too far. My only companion, dying.
She died quickly. Between the blood and the choking, I don't know what killed her. I didn't care. I cried the rest of that day. I felt like doing the same thing. I thought maybe I would, the next day. Maybe I would join her again. At least I wouldn't be alone.
The next day, however, didn't work out like that. I waited and waited. Eventually, the blackout came. I was eager to kill myself after a delightful meal. I just hoped I didn't mess it up. I'd hate to be half dead on the floor, pissing and shitting myself, alone, for who knows how long. Fortunately, I didn't have the opportunity to mess it up.
I woke up outside. It was dark. This wasn't right.
"No," I whispered.
No one was in sight, but I could see the lights of a town in the distance. I was out. I'd made it out of my concrete prison.
This is panic. This is change. I'm not ready for this.
The thumps were gone. But things had changed. Adaptation. Conditioning. The thumps were gone. The flashes were back.
I wasn't used to the silence. It was driving me mad. The flashes didn't help. I knew what would make the flashes go away, though. The thumps. They would keep the flashes at bay, make me comfortable again. That was all I needed.
And they'd been teaching me how to make the thumps. They'd been teaching me since day one. I just had to...
I grimaced, not wanting to think about it. But I needed the thumps. What did I have to lose, anyway? My only companion was gone. I stood... and headed for the town in the distance.