This story is by Koen Martens and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The door is locked. It won’t open, no matter what I try. I’m tired, weak. I need to sit down. I shuffle back to the chair, brushing past plain white walls, cold to the touch. I see myself in a mirror, shrivelled, cadaverous. It’s this place. It wears you down.
The cell is dark. I shiver. I need to get out before they return to torture me. I turn around, walk to the door. I try to open it, but it is locked. I am a prisoner. I can’t remember what I have done. I only remember this place. The plain white walls. I shuffle back. So tired.
The lights are on. How much time has passed? I sit, stare at the plain white wall. I’m starving. I can’t remember the last time I had any food. They don’t feed you here. I’m thirsty as well.
I hear voices on the other side of the door. I hope they don’t come in. I hear a beep and the door opens. A strange man enters. He is wearing a white uniform. A guard, then. Two mechanical men, naked, metal skinned, follow him into the cell, whirring when their legs move.
The guard says something, but I’m not listening. I’m fixated on the machines. The guard stands back to the side. The mechanical men advance in my direction. I shrink back into the chair, my breath fast and shallow.
One of the men holds up my arms, his cold metal hands enclosing my wrists. It doesn’t hurt, but I don’t like it. The other one grabs my shirt. I don’t want them to take off my shirt, especially not with the guard watching.
I struggle, but my arms won’t move in the tight grip of the metal man. I kick, but my feet are weak and the metal legs strong. Before I know it, they have taken off my shirt and my trousers. I am naked.
The guard opens a door I didn’t know was there. Cold light beams out. I hear the sound of running water. What kind of torture awaits me? The metallic men hoist me out of the chair, slowly, one on each side. I try to resist. But my feet fail to find purchase and they drag me towards the door screaming.
What time is it? How long have I been here? I don’t know. I don’t know where I am. I only know I want to get out. I try to get up, but my knees hurt. Have they beaten me? I don’t remember. It’s this place, it wears you down. I stare at the plain white wall.
There is a book on the table. I pick it up. It is in an alien language, the pages filled with symbols I don’t recognize. I put it back on the table. I hear a scream. I feel it in the marrow of my bones. I want to hide, but there is nowhere to hide in the little cell. I rock back and forth. Maybe they will forget about me while they torture the other.
I hear a beep and the sound of something metallic sliding inside the door. The door opens wide. A guard stands in the doorway, looking sideways. Behind him, I see a wooden box on a cart roll past. There’s a word for it, but I don’t remember it. I don’t remember the word for a wooden box that they put dead people in. But that is what it is. They killed someone. Am I next?
The guard enters. The door closes behind him. He is holding something. He says, “Your pills, Mister Jones.” He puts a plastic cup in front of me.
Pills? I’m not ill. I don’t need pills. Why are they giving me pills? I close my mouth, lips tight, arms crossed. I won’t take their pills. I refuse to let the guards drug me. Or is it poison?
The guard says, “Come on Mister Jones. You know I’m not leaving before you take your pills.” The guard smiles, but I’m not buying it. He holds out the pills. I take them but don’t put them in my mouth.
He says, “They will make you feel calm and relaxed, Mister Jones.” I just want him to go away. I put the pills in my mouth, take a sip of water. When the guard is gone, I spit out the pills and hide them inside the book on the table.
I am a prisoner. I try the door again, but it won’t open. What have I done to deserve this? I made things, before. I was a maker of things. I don’t remember the name of the things, but I remember I was good at making things. Big things. People would go inside and travel to other planets inside the things. They would thank me for making the things go fast. I don’t remember how I made them fast, but I remember they were faster than anything anyone else could make.
I hear voices on the other side of the door. Arguing. Someone is pounding on the door from the other side. I startle and stumble backwards. I lose my balance and fall. I hit the ground on my side. I hear a crack. It hurts. I cry out until the light fades.
I wake up. I’m on the bed, staring at the plain white wall at the end. What time is it? Where am I? I look around. Still in this place. How long have I been here? I want to get out. I try to get up, but I can’t move my torso. My arms are free, but my legs won’t move either. I am tied to the bed.
I stare at the plain white wall. I start to see things. A rectangle of wall, wider than it is high, turns black and then fills with a field of stars. I must be losing it. The stars fade, and a woman appears.
Maggie! My wife! Finally, she has found me! She will get me out!
She has a stern look on her face. That’s my Maggie. She’ll raise hell now that she knows I’m here, stop at nothing until she gets me out.
I cry at the wall, “Maggie! My dear, dear Maggie! You have found me. Please, get me out of here. I don’t belong here!”
My wife says, “Oh, Dad. What have you done? Look at you! I told you to be careful.”
I am confused. Dad? I say, “Maggie, please, I want to go home. Will you get me out of here?” My eyes fill up. I love her so much.
“Come on Dad, we went through this before.” She sighs, a tired look on her face. I know that look. She’s mad at me for something. I don’t remember what I did, why I am in prison, but it must be bad if Maggie is mad at me.
“Maggie is my mother, your wife. She’s dead. Mom died 6 years ago,” she rattles off, as if she’s explained it a thousand times before. “I’m your daughter and I’m worried!” I want to look away. I should know all this? I must be losing my mind. This place does that to you.
“Please,” I plead, “I want to go home.” I’m crying. Tears soak the pillow.
She, the woman who is my wife but also my daughter, but we don’t have kids, or do we, says, “You ARE home dad. You live in the care facility on orbital station R45 now. Don’t you remember?” She looks sad. Am I making her sad? “No. No, of course you don’t remember.” She sighs.
“I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to visit lately. I am on the moon for work. It’s fantastic! Look, I will be back in two weeks, OK? I’ll come and visit you then, show you the stereoscopic snapshots I took! Remember when we used to go to the moon on holidays, dad? You, me and mom?”
I don’t remember. I don’t understand. Why is she not helping me? I yell, “No, you are not my wife! It’s a trick! Go away!”
The door is locked. It won’t open, no matter what I try. I shuffle back to the chair, brushing past plain white walls, cold to the touch. It hurts when I walk. Not an immediate pain, lingering, an old wound. I lean on my cane. I’m tired, weak. I need to sit down. It’s this place, it wears you down.
I shiver. I need to get out before they return to torture me. I turn around, walk to the door. I try to open it, but it is locked. I am a prisoner. I can’t remember what I have done. I only remember this place. I shuffle back to the chair. I sit down and stare at the plain white wall.