This story is by Keegan Usher and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I awake groggy, disoriented and confused. My head pounding, making me cross-eyed at times. I sit up trying to gather myself and my thoughts. I can’t seem to remember how I got this way. I ease myself up and look down. I’m wearing a navy blue jumpsuit. Something I have never worn before. There are no markings or tags. I pat my body and notice that I am not wearing any underwear or socks. There is a chill on my head so I run my hand through my hai… My hair? I have been shaved bald. I scamper back on my hands propping myself up against the wall. Then I notice the room. It was maybe the size of a large bedroom. And everything looks the same, this opaque gray that almost seems like glass but much stronger, smooth to the touch except for the floor which has what I can only guess is grip so you don’t slip. Looking around I spot something near one of the corners. Not able to fully get my legs under me yet I crawl over to the corner. It appears to be a trap door of some sort, circular in shape with a small tab sticking up. I take the tab and push, sliding the door open. I open it halfway and close it immediately as I jerk my body away and almost throw up. The stench is horrible but distinct. It smells like a campsite bathroom but much worse. My heart starts to race and I can feel a panic attack coming on when I hear a voice.
Intercom: “Subject 008, you have been confined to a beta simulation prison system. To better help those that commit violent crimes to rehabilitate and get back into civilization.”
Me: “Hello… What?… Wait. What crime?”
Intercom: “You will go through a series of simulations that fit your crimes. Afterward, if you pass, you will be released and able to return to your life.”
Me: “Hello? I can’t remember committing any…”
Intercom: “The first simulation will start shortly. Please read the scenario instructions thoroughly.”
Then there is a long period of silence.
Me: “Hello! Get me out of here. I don’t deserve to be here.”
I quickly scan the room for a door but don’t see one or any outline of one. I am finally able to get to my feet and start walking down the wall banging, hoping to find a door.
Me: “Hello, let me out!”
The room goes black, I can’t even see my hand in front of me. Then I see words appear on the opposite wall.
Scenario 1, You come across a scene where a small group of white men are harassing and pushing what appears to be two Muslim women wearing hijabs. Your task is to de-escalate the situation without violence. This simulation will start in 5 minutes.
On the other three walls, a large countdown timer appears. My brain is still foggy from whatever drugs they have given me. I am trying to think if I have ever been involved in a situation like this, but I am having trouble remembering the past year of my life. The last memory I have is sitting at the bar drinking by myself. And rambling on about something I was angry about to the bartender, but I can’t remember what I was so angry about.
Then the simulation starts. A flash of light and color hit my eyes making me momentarily blind. Once my eyes adjust I stand there in amazement looking around. I am back home standing in the middle of the street. I look up and around at the apartment buildings around me. I can see the sky and the top of the buildings. You can’t even tell you are inside a room with a ceiling and walls. Everything looks so, real, from the streets to the trees to the cars driving by. Then I can hear cursing and jeering and that snaps me out of it. I turn around and see three white men closing in on a couple of Muslim women, pushing them on a bench. Then I snap. I feel my face turn red and anger well up inside of me. I was in the military for 10 years and I have been to Afghanistan and Iraq. I have seen the difference between Muslim terrorists and innocent people and these ladies did not deserve to be treated this way. I completely forget that I am in a simulation and approach. As I get closer the ladies look at me with terror in their eyes thinking that I was coming to add to their situation. Then the men look at me and start to say something but I just throw a punch at the closet one. My fist goes through the hologram and the simulation ends and everything turns white with the words “Failed” on every wall. After a minute or so everything changes to a big open meadow of yellow flowers. It looks so real, the flowers even cover my ankles but I can’t feel them. A breeze comes through and all the flowers flow with the wind. I have never been somewhere so peaceful. Then the voice on the intercom speaks.
Intercom: “You have failed the first simulation.”
Me: “Get me out of here!”
But the voice never responds as if it can hear me. In fact, it actually sounds more like a computer synthesized voice.
Intercom: “You will have a brief period of time to calm down before the next simulation”
Now I am in complete silence except for the sound of the breeze and swaying flowers. I am sitting here for so long that I fall asleep.
I am awakened by the ticking of a clock and open my eyes to see that the room is completely black with a big clock ticking down. I look around and see the scenario description.
Scenario 2, You are in an apartment and can hear a man and women arguing with each other. You hear a thud, followed by a woman screaming. Your task is to handle the situation without violence. The simulation will start in 5 minutes.
Again a wave of blind anger has come over me and I react. I fail the simulation. I have been trained to react to a situation as quickly and efficiently as I can. When somebody’s life is at stake there is no time to waste.
It’s like a bomb goes off inside my head and a wave of memories start to flood my mind. Then I feel this undeniable and uncontrollable rage. Then I remember. I REMEMBER!
What got me put into this hell hole. The first scenario… Except it wasn’t a couple of Muslim women, it was a black family, a dad, a mom, and a little boy that were being harassed by 4 white guys. When they started to push the dad around and punching on him I jumped into action and treated those guys like they treated that family.
I couldn’t cope with being back in society after I left the military. It had been 10 years since I walked the streets of America and I come back to this! Rape! Murder! Hate crimes! Discrimination! Domestic violence! Police brutality! I couldn’t take anymore! My vision turned red. Everywhere I looked I would see something or someone doing something that brought me to a complete halt and filled me with an impulse to take action. To hurt them like they hurt someone else. So I took matters into my own hands because the authorities could no longer be trusted in my neighborhood.
Another scenario starts and ends, then another and another…
I lose count of how many scenarios I have been through and I just start pounding the wall and screaming. My fist bloody, I can’t feel my hands anymore.
How much longer will I be in here?
How much more do I have to take?
After a while, I sit in the corner with my head in my hands trying to block out the violent scenarios that continuously take place around me. Then they stopped… Everything goes back to the gray walls.
Intercom: “Subject 008, you failed to pass the proper amount of scenarios. You will now be incarcerated. You will be transported to a holding cell to await your trail. The results of your simulations will be processed and submitted into evidence.”
I don’t move. I just sit in the corner, crying, to overtaken with what just happened, I’m just trying to make sense of it all.
How can I be held a hero one minute and a criminal the next for the same things I would have done in another country.
I sit there waiting to be transferred but nobody comes…