Below is a short story posted as a series. Each new part will be added as a blog post as well as onto this page.
The faint click of the old camcorder. That was the sound. There was the faint click, a few phrases muttered here and there, my breathing, the usual muddy rumble from above, and my heartbeat. It was like selective listening, if comparable to anything. The camcorder click. All other noise was nothing compared to that small little press of plastic. It meant we were in the basement, we were in a dark room, it meant there were many of them. Another click. The zoom. And then light.
I slowly opened my eyes once the blindfold was untied, the light above shining in my face. My hands instinctively tried to rub my eyelids, but they were cuffed behind my back. Lights faded in and out, so did the sounds, until finally one of them yelled. It wasn’t a usual yell. It was right in front of me. I could hear his quick draw of breath in, his spit slapping against his dirty teeth, the breath of a corpse spilling out into the air around us.
These were the types of yells after the click of a camcorder. It was usual, it was patterned, it was regular by then. There would be foggy air around me as I moved my eyes over to the scruffy mouth, the jagged teeth, squinting against the screams of the crazed beast. Colors and shapes would become more clear, slowly, and I would recognize the words. I would remember them. They echoed in my mind, rattled around my dark, tendril thoughts. Repeating themselves, uttering and muttering along with the ramblings of craziness.
“What’s your name?”
I opened my mouth, slowly. The taste was something reminiscent of dead horse and vomit. There was no saliva, there was barely air. Just a putrid taste inside of my cracked lips. I didn’t dare move my tongue, in fear it would break, and pressed my mouth closed again as I stared at the camera, mustering up as much strength as I could.
There were people behind the camera, one holding a midnight colored whip. There were little white dots on it that reminded me of stars. He held onto the whip like it was a pet snake, caressing it, hyping it up for battle. One held onto the tripod, making sure the lens was aimed right at me, the lighting was gravely bright, everything was set. The other, the woman, just stood like a statue with her arms crossed. The man standing by me huffed.
I forced my mouth open again, daring to swallow, and nearly choked on the dryness of my throat. The heat of the light started getting to me. I blinked. Looked right at the outdated lens.
“A, Ab-” My voice was worse than a 200 year old smoker with lung cancer. I held eye contact with the camera. “Abi-” I started coughing. Each dry heave stung like hell, making me bend forward, threatening to collapse. I didn’t have my hands to break my fall on the concrete. It would hurt, sort of. The crack of the whip hurt more.
My body made it’s way back up like one of those inflatable, wiggling people outside of car dealerships. I kept coughing, hacking up dust and gasping in hot, dry breaths. But I was up. And I looked back into the camera with a deafening glare, and said my name in such a hoarse wrinkle of speech.
“Abigail. My name is Abigail.” It hurt. Not only was my throat sand, but my voice was already faded with time, my vocal chords ruined beyond compare. That camera didn’t care, though. It just stared at me, not blinking, showing the faintest blurred reflection of the girl kneeling in front of it. A blob of white linen, dirt, blood.
“Catch your breath.”
There was a loud crash from above us, and none of them looked. The man holding the whip fondled it like it was a part of him, staring at me while doing so, those stars not sparkling in the slightest. The man behind the camera zoomed in on me. The lens focused and adjusted with familiar precision. It was almost mesmerizing listening to it. It was the closest thing to music I had heard in a long time.
“Do you want water?”
I slowly moved my neck to see the man next to me. My lower jaw trembled at the thought of water, the thought of something so simple, so pure. He tried hiding the grin, but I saw. I saw the yellow teeth, the mossy treasure hidden in between each brick, each yellow stone. His eyes grinned, blue and fading. Glossy with some high.
“Ye,” I drew in a quick wheeze. “Yes.” It was basically a whisper.
“What’s that, now?”
“Yes, y- eh- pl-” The coughing. “Please, wat-water.” All of my words faded into one another in this voice that was not my own. It was horrifying. It was worse than begging for water while being taped, it was worse than being handcuffed; an inflatable wiggly balloon with no wiggly arms.
“Abigail,” He said menacingly, for the camera. “Why haven’t you had any water?” It was a simple question. It was something so easy to answer, so easy to understand. I think that’s why it was so hard to say it.
“I,” I said slowly, cracking my throat. “I am a murderer.”
“I,” I looked back at the lens, at the white blob. “Am a murderer.”
“Why are you a murderer?” It was asked so matter-of-factly. I tried swallowing again, feeling the cuffs on my wrists draw more blood. I looked to the man with the whip, watched the shadows on his face dance as his body moved along with his hands. Stroking the snake, smiling at me, the night sky becoming more and more wound up, the stars becoming redder than the moon. For a moment it was just us, us and the snake, floating in outer space.
“Abigail…” He tested. “Why don’t you answer for me, for them,” He gripped my chin, forcing me to look at the camera. I could feel my skin tear where his thumb pressed into my jaw, I could feel his hot breath, the hot lights, my stinging throat, the lack of air. The camcorder stared at me. Why don’t I answer? It begged. For them. My tongue clicked as I searched for words, time heating every second, boiling out skin, boiling the snake, the concrete, the rumble from above.
“There is no answer.”
I was on the ground, looking at a small pool of blood on the dusty, gray floor. The whip cracked again, creating the dark space I became so familiar with, so friendly towards. A foot found itself in my side, my hands were smashed against the metal cuffs. And then they spoke, but not to me, not to the camera, but to them. They spoke to them.
I dream about the man in a hat, from those surrealist paintings. He has something to say to me, but the apple covering his face just creates a sad, muffled drone.
I woke up in a dark room. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed. I could feel something gooey in my mouth, something other than dust. It took me a few decades to realize that it was blood, and it was draining down my chin, all over the white linen. I moved forward upon realizing this, but was stopped. I was chained to the wall by my wrists.
I could rest my head against the wall, cool and damp, but only for so long, until the blood filled my mouth and I had to spit it out. I spent years coughing nonstop, feeling splatters of blood bounce off the ground onto my face. My stomach lurched, and in effort to relieve the pain, I would lay on my side, feeling the goo trickle down my cheek.
Sometimes, while lying on my side, I could feel a dampness between my legs drizzle down onto the floor. Blood. I would try and not think of why, think of the pain in my stomach, the scars on my wrists from struggling against the chains. It was something most women went to a hospital for. It was something most women wept over. For me, miscarriages were a small blessing in the centuries of darkness.
I would keep thinking about the camera click. I heard the question being asked over and over through the silence. Each creak in the chains that bound me was the same. What’s your name? Such a humanizing question, such a simple formality. While I lay, bleeding, I would ask myself the same. What is my name? I would ask the blood, I would ask the death seeping onto the concrete, what would have been your name? Each drip of blood was a camera click. Every single sound was that question. What is my name? It nearly drove me insane.
If not troubling my thoughts with questions, with reviews in mind of each time that camera clicked, each time I knelt and stared the white blob down, I would find myself focused on my thirst, my hunger. If I urinated, I would have drunk that. But there was nothing. There wasn’t an ounce of water in my body; we were on a waterless earth for all I knew. I tried licking the sweat off my arms, but it made my mouth sour and salty. There was nothing.
My focus was primarily on the fact that there was nothing. I would go millenniums without food. Hunger stopped, thirst prevailed. In the great war of thirst and hunger, thirst managed to wipe the enemy clean, drink their blood, and still be left unsatisfied. I would cough, continuously, sticky blood only making the taste in my mouth worse. Everything was dry. Everything was so dry, it was just simplified, in my mind, to nothingness. I focused on nothingness for eons.
Focusing on nothingness, focusing on the moment, was the only thing I could do. I would think about the blood, the pain, the thirst. I would block every other memory, every other productive thought from my mind. There was no way to get out of the chains. There was no way to run, let alone stand up on my own. There was just the now. Just the pain. Just the nothingness.
My mind would wander off into the darkness now and again. It dropped the lantern and ran. The midnight stars were gone, the people, all gone. Just darkness to swirl around in, to lather up into thought. I would dream when I slept. I would walk around when I woke. In the darkness I would stumble upon overgrown branches of thought, places I hadn’t been in eras. I would see a shadowy face: a deformation in the trees. A glimpse of light: a divot in the dark ground. My imagination was my playmate, and I would time and time again be tricked with darkness. It was both a happy and scary adventure.
I was quite deep in thought when the dark became blue. The door was opening. I sat up, a soft groan escaping with the pain in my side, the broken ribs, the miscarriage, the handcuffs.
Squinting, I saw the familiar bearded man walk toward me, behind him the midnight man without his starry snake. The bearded man held a knapsack. I watched, barely conscious, as he reached into worn fabric, eyeing me the entire time, and pulled out a blindfold. This little blue, pathetic blindfold, submerged with us underwater, floating toward my face. Darkness.
As they walked me out of the room, the midnight man’s rough hands around my arm, I lost myself within the sea. I was floating, I had no legs. We walked, the three of us, but we were actually floating through the blue light of the ocean. The security doors that opened were just new caves to explore. The hum of light above was just a nearby boat, passing us without aid.
Through the water, a muted voice spoke, his hand lifting up the soaking linen from my skin. Each touch from him gave me cold, starry chills. Explosions of helium, nitrogen, ice; my swimming legs stepped back.
When I gave up walking, my mind gave up remembering. It did this often, but I wish it had given up from the start. I don’t want to remember the dusky touches, the blood, the nothingness. Remembering nothingness is worse than remembering everything.
I dream that the man in a hat is handing me an apple. I take it, tentatively, and place it in front of my face. It floats there, bobbing with the air currents. There is a hole in the center of the apple. Inside, utopia.
My mind couldn’t stop making memories. Each wave of pressure on my broken rib caused a hidden scream within me. My mouth tried parting, adhesive proving stronger. Screaming silently, I was trapped in an old film, begging someone to hear me. But there was no piano.
The blindfold provided a barrier between my face and the many hands that urged to touch it. Sometimes a sweaty gust of stardust would slither over my nose, pushing the blue fabric away, allowing my teary eyes to see underwater. Another rush of pain, a lock of hair in my view, and then, sometimes, a distant, submerged object, watching, and if not an old film, listening.
I couldn’t tell anymore what was blood and what wasn’t. A current of pain, a bout of numbness, a hand around my throat. Whips lashed at me, trained snakes of the night. Were my eyes bleeding? Were the snakes crying? I tried to forget, I tried to swim away, to float nowhere in space. But instead, I just lay, motionless. My mind couldn’t stop making memories.
The faint click of the old camcorder. I silently screamed, realizing that the click turned it off. My arms thrashed, fruitlessly as they were strapped down, and my legs kicked, resulting in pain from the shackles. Each scream was a river of blood, trying to drown every creature who dwelt inside.
“Someone told me it made it easier.”
Each scream tore the inside of my throat, layers of skin peeled away with my cries. I shed the esophagus, felt the cracking in my jaw, felt my head being severed from my body. My skull filled with sound. My neck tore, strands of tissue giving up. My lungs wheezed, my shoulders retracted. Beheaded, I cried. I was hanged by screams, killed by sheer silent screeching.
Something silenced me. A blunt object against my head.
We are both crying.
I’m starting to get sick, I can’t watch this anymore. I go to stand up, but I don’t move. I can’t move. I can’t blink. I can’t breathe.
“That’s enough.” He says, pausing the images. The sound turns off with it. All we hear now is me, crying, and a few other people sniffing, trying to compose themselves. We are professionals. We cry in the headquarters of a government building.
“I don’t s-see why they would send us this. The-there isn’t any real message anymore.” I muster out, turning to my boss. His eyes are red, streams of scarlet dive toward the pupil. He sniffs, face remaining stone.
“That is the message.” He waves a hand toward the frozen image. “That. It’s their-” He stops himself, making sure his voice doesn’t waver. “That is their manifesto.”
Someone gags. We all watch the rookie vomit onto the concrete and then pass out. He falls with a thud, barely missing the sick on the ground. He’s almost a sleeping child, the way he lay unconscious. I swallow, casually turning back to my boss.
“Get somebody,” He says, basically ignoring what just happened. “I don’t care who- just take care of this.”
Someone nods and walks toward the door, swipes his security card, and leaves. Before the doors close I can hear him let out a small cry. The only noise in the empty hallway. It reminds me to wipe my eyes again.
“I need a report sent to the board. Be vague. Make sure every frame is checked for anything we might have missed. No one hears about this before the board.” He thinks for a second. “Finish the report by tomorrow. Before tomorrow- no, finish it tonight. Judith, come with me.”
I stand up, rickety, and follow my boss out of the room. He waits while I fumble with my card, my emotions threatening to break when it won’t swipe properly. I drop it, crying. I can’t believe how uncomposed I’m acting. He picks it up, and in one swift motion, swipes it and hands it back to me. And we leave.
While we ride in the tube to his office, on the other side of the compound, I try and stop my crying. I close my eyes. In the darkness, I watch Abigail slowly die.
My boss is an interesting man. He waits until the security doors close before even breathing at an audible level. His breath is quiet, his eyes are red, his hand is on my arm. I’ve never touched him like this before, with such grief.
“Please,” He asks. I know he means ‘please stop crying’, but my emotions waver. I begin to feel nauseated. “Judith.”
“I can’t do this anymore.” I confess, watching him move away, his sweaty hand leaving my bare arm. It’s a sad parting, for some reason. “I can’t watch them,” My voice calls as he walks away from me, as if the office is a loud station, people buzzing about. I beg for one more glance backwards. Like an old film.
My boss sits at his desk, looking up at my frozen body. I impatiently look down, adjusting my stance, heels clicking on the tile floor. The necklace sitting on my chest rattles. It sounds so much like chains that I involuntarily gag.
I watch him swivel in his chair and, with his card, open up a bottom drawer of the pearly desk. I sniff as he sets a bottle of brown liquid down on the glassy table top. He motions I move toward him. I shake my head and shut my eyes close. Abigail looks up at me, hands bound behind her back. I step forward.
“You take privacy seriously.” I say quietly. Two glasses clink together as he sets them down. I watch as he pours the liquid into the glass. His hand slowly hands me one. I notice it’s shaking. We are both taking privacy seriously.
Once I throw back the stinging, bitter, banned liquid, I can finally let myself sit down. My boss does the same, swallowing as soon as the glass touches his lips, and then scratches his face. A sign of nervousness.
“It’s your job,” He says quietly. “To watch them.”
“I don’t think-”
“We are going to get her back. She’s not going to die there.”
“She’s already dead.” My voice cuts through his ego. He deflates. His eyes beg me to find a solution, to find a message, to bring Abigail home. “Even if she’s breathing, no one can survive that. No one can come back from that. We aren’t even there and we’re barely living.”
He doesn’t say anything. There’s nothing to say. They don’t have a message, they don’t have anything. We are professionals. And we can’t even begin to handle what is being thrown at us, what we are being submerged in. We’re supposed to be swimming freely and instead we are trying not to drown in fire.
“There’s no message,” I say. The words catch in my throat. My boss pours himself another glass, and very cooly downs it. He does everything in one motion, like he plans things three steps ahead. And yet, he still hasn’t figured out how to breathe in fire. “Why did you ask me to come in here?”
“I need your help.” He is a deflated balloon. He is an empty can of person. He has given up.
“Judy, stop.” He sits up, eyes wincing at the effort. “You know her better than anyone here. You’re brilliant. Any idea you’ve got, anything. Please.”
“We talked about you calling me Judy.” I look at my hands in my lap.
“You,” I sigh, twirling the ring on my finger. Watching it spark in the light. “You called it a manifesto. Everyone thinks it’s sheer torture. I think maybe… it’s a metaphor.”
I look up and see him staring coldly at me. I focus on my ring again, trying not to come to terms with what I’ve just said.
“We watched her wa-” My voice cracks. I breathe. I can do this. “We watched her watch herself…” Breathe. Tears well up in my eyes again. The fire still burns in my heart. “Maybe she is a symbol, a representation for something else.”
“For what?” He’s angry. I know it’s not at me personally but I can’t help but feel stings of hatred.
“I, I don’t know. Us?” I say. I twirl the ring. Look back up. Even I don’t fully understand what I’m saying. His eyes are embers. “Them, maybe? They want to show us cruelty. Maybe they want us to understand something other than a direct message.”
“There was nothing indirect about that recording.” His voice is grave, crumpled under dirt. His upper lip pulls upwards, just a tad, and then he violently presses his hand against his eye, catching the tear before it falls onto his stone face like rain on a statue.
I close my eyes. Abigail is strapped to the table. I swallow.
“Sir,” I look up.
“A metaphor?” He shakes his head, running his hand through the short hair. “Who are these people?”
“Sir, I,” I swallow. “I don’t know, it’s my best guess. We can-”
“Judith,” He interrupts, filling again with flames. I close my eyes. “We need something for the board. A message. Indirect or not.” His voice speaks but all I can hear are Abigail’s screams as she watches herself scream. As she sits, hands tied behind her back, eyes clipped open, watching the recording. Watching herself. I swallow. “I need something, Judy.” He begs. “Anything.”
“I trust you. Write up your metaphor ideas, do whatever. But you can’t quit on me.”
“Sir, I think-”
“What is it?”
I stand up and fall over into his trash can, right next to the pearly desk, and get sick right in front of him. The banned liquid burns my throat and my eyes well up with tears. I grip the metal can, leaning my weight on it to stand up, and fall again, sweaty hands slipping.
My boss helps me stand up, holding onto my arms. We stand inches apart.
“This is what they want.” I swallow again, staring into his fiery eyes.
“This,” I motion down to the sick in the trash, beyond the office toward the unconscious rookie. “This is part of that message. She wasn’t just watching herself. She was reliving it, she- she was living it. Look at you,” I say breathlessly through the flames. “Look at your eyes. It’s everyone. All of us- we all have to live it.”
My boss wipes a tear from my cheek, his thumb moving like the world’s slowest strike of a match. I can feel his fingerprints, the ashy remnants of phosphorus. We stare at each other, holding the frozen pose in a boiling room. We are immovable.
“I will get started on the report.” I whisper. My voice makes the silence more apparent, makes the wind from the fire blow my hair in front of my face, fencing off our shared gazes. The flames once again lick at us, poke our thoughts. We are two marble figures in a lake of fire, frozen and immovable.
“Thank you.” His hand falls from my face. I nod and step away, heels clicking on the tile like the rocking of a table on concrete. “She won’t have to live this much longer.”
I wince, swiping my security card. The door whooshes open, putting out the fire, a short breath to a small candle.
I step out of the room and the doors close behind me. Composing myself, I brush of my lips, smooth my hair back, and wipe the phosphorous from my face.
I could see the death in Abigail’s eyes. We are the ones who need to stop living this.
My head was full of grainy, sharp air. It started at my throat, spreading through my blood vessels up to the top of my head, where the air spilled out all over my hair, down in front of my eyes, and then, eventually, over my lips. My ears were screeching, bleeding sharp air, down into my throat. Up from my throat, my tongue was glass; red, grainy glass. I was a hot air balloon, an ancient fabric, filled with carbon dioxide.
Every time I coughed, I could feel my pink lungs becoming gray. Dust and debris escaped, forcing the hot air to brush against the glass, cracking it under the temperature change. My entire figure would lean forward, all of my bones would crack under the pressure, everything was boiling, everything was breaking. Every quake in my system was a black hole of pain.
I lay on the desert floor, my hands sweeping through the sand, feeling the prickly stings that come with sweet death. I would look up at the sun and let my corneas burn, I would let myself engulf in helium, jaggedly breathing in the surface. The star glared on my body of glass with nothing but indifference. I looked up, and I couldn’t help but find myself consumed in lust.
A shadow appeared in front of the ignited life. A woman looked at me, white icicles falling downward. Her black eyes absorbed what was left of my consciousness.
“I’m taking you somewhere.”
Her voice was a cool lake, but the sun kept burning. I remember opening my mouth, going to say something, but no sound escaping. The glass just broke, the hot air was brain condensation.
The woman took out a blindfold. Darkness.
Slowly everything became clear again.
“Please look up.”
I hadn’t heard formal communication in decades. The word please was something of another language, another form of speaking only animals knew of. It rung in my ears, rattling my mind. It meant something was happening, something else was crawling with us in the desert.
I slowly lifted my head, neck cracking, stiff and unmovable. A hot sun from above shone over my eyes, glaring my view, bright and unforgiving. Please, it begged. Please.
In the glowing light of bliss, I saw the woman. Her hair floated around. We were in an underwater desert. Dust particles, little creatures, swarmed her, showing me her beauty. White, yellow. Sand was now air. On her glowing face, a bright red scar started at her nose and crept along to the bottom of her ear.
“Write your name.” She said, handing me a gray sheet of paper. She knelt down. We were equal. Her knees folded in the sand like cloth. Her grave hand set down the paper, sliding it on the concrete toward me. Our eyes met. Inside the glowing gray was a white blob.
The gray paper sat on the concrete pitifully. An ink pen dropped down from the sky. It landed with a slight bounce, clicking. I looked back up.
Two figures stood, watching me. One with beautiful, starry hair. The other with horrifying starry eyes. Beyond them the camcorder stood still. They watched me. With this realization, I felt myself grow weak, almost falling into the desert.
“Write your name.”
My hand was shaking as an elder’s hand shakes when they watch their loved one die. My fingers were purple, dry, skin about to peel off. The were thin, calloused at the wrists. My hands were rocks. My mouth was a dried up well.
I took the pen slowly. It was cool, new. It was foreign. The weight was so incredibly heavy that I almost dropped it as soon as it was in my grip. But once my fingers noticed what they were holding, the desert faded away. I was transported back in time. I held the pen, I stood on top a mountain. I was new. I was transformed. The paper and everything in my sights was mine. No longer were my hands trapped, bound. No longer were my thoughts held captive. I was new. I was transformed.
I put the ink to the paper. A familiar task that caused no pain. It could have been new.
I looked up. The woman almost smiled down at me from the sky. She cleared her throat while I stole another glance at my name. I almost allowed myself to remember, almost connecting that word with myself. But I couldn’t. The frail string couldn’t stretch far enough; my thoughts would break.
“Now please write down why you are here.”
I took a small breath, my throat cursing me while doing so, and wrote the usual phrase down. I am a murderer. It looked so real in the ink. A small drop found itself under the I, a little pool of death. I swallowed the dust and looked back up for my next task. All I could think about was how willing I was to do this for the rest of my life. This was a reward for something I couldn’t put my finger on.
“How has justice come to you?” She asked me. I twirled the pen in my hand. I felt there was no justice. I sit, dying, holding a pen, while they asked me about justice. Something that would only happen there, in hell.
Justice, I wrote, has shown me death.
I looked at the paper. The drop under the I started to roll down the paper, slowly. My eyes went back to the sun, to the midnight man next to her. He stepped forward.
“I feel,” He said, slowly kneeling down. “That justice has not come to you yet, Abigail. I feel as if you have no feelings toward what you have done. Your indifference toward your own actions makes me wonder whether or not you understand.”
I let my head drop, breathing out the hot air, watching the drop under the I fall down, blurring out the J underneath. The J turned into a black, smeared dot. It was a plague, spreading, falling down on the paper as the letters fell with it.
“You think you have seen death?” He asked, grabbing onto my jaw, forcing me to look up at him. His starry eyes dove into me, setting fire to everything in my body, starting at my face, my nose, and working it’s way down.
“You’re not anywhere close to death,” He whispered. “You’ve got nothing but time. But we can speed up time. If they don’t cooperate, we can find a way to skip years, maybe even decades of time on your behalf. Here’s the thing, my love,” He smiled. “They probably won’t cooperate. They’ll be the ones to kill you.”
He smiled even more at his irony, bringing my jaw toward him, leading my body forward. Our faces were almost touching one another. I could feel his hot breath, I could even hear his blinking. His grinning mouth brushed against mine, slowly. I tried pulling back, but his hand was stronger than my entire body. I could feel his teeth slowly nibble on my lower lip. We floated through space together, stars exploding desperately. I opened my mouth slightly, hoping any remnants of saliva would find its way onto my tongue, relieving me of thirst if only for a moment.
His nose pressed against my cheek, his breath was hot in my mouth. Slowly, I felt the corner of his lips press into mine, teeth grazing sideways, tongue barely present. Small hints of saliva swept across my bottom lip, drizzled into my mouth. I closed my eyes at the waterfall of paradise. He leaned into me again, putting his entire bottom lip in my mouth, and then the grasp on my jaw tightened. And he threw me to the ground.
“Write down your act of injustice.” He said, walking away. I watched his feet slide across the concrete. The paper lay next to me. “You sick girl.”
I dream that the man in a hat is handing me a paper. An apple sits atop. I pick up the apple and on the paper lay printed a picture of another apple. I look at the apple in my hand. Printed on the fruit lay a small, gray rectangle. The only word I can think of is endless.
I sit in my office, foot tapping wildly. The room is an ice chamber of glass and words and gray paper. Letters and numbers swirl around the blizzard, confusing all of us. The anxiety in the stale air echoes along with the tapping of my foot on the ashy concrete. Cold air brushes against my skin and seeps into my chest, soaking my heart in icy fibers.
“Judith,” My assistant’s voice scrapes out of the intercom. I take a sharp breath, calming myself from the shock of her unexpected rasp, and tap the glass.
“He’s here for the report.”
“Let him in,” I say, breathing slowly. The emptiness of the room is suddenly loud and apparent. It’s cold and dead; a catacomb of the government. I look around and feel my chest rise and fall. The door clicks first, and then slides open with a jarring sound. I realize now how long I had been sitting in the tundra in silence. I stand as my boss enters, icy fingers pushing hair out of my face.
“It’s freezing in here.” He says, but it’s more of his way of avoiding hello. I nod. The door slides shut as he walks towards me. I don’t mention I keep it cold because it helps me focus. He doesn’t mention that I’ve been working nonstop since we’ve last spoken. “They’ve made her sign a confessional.”
“What?” My voice is loud and shrill. He looks down, nodding, fixing his sleeves.
“I’ll be candid, Judy, I don’t know what our next steps are.”
“We can’t cooperate with this.” I swallow. “She’s been through enough.”
“If we don’t cooperate they’ll execute her. There’s no reasoning with these people, you know that.” He looks toward the window, thinking for a moment. “There’s more footage. We’ll watch it at the briefing. And then we all figure out what we can legally do. They’ve gotten her to sign the confessional, they can get her to do more.”
“She’s already done so much.” I say blankly. He gives me a chastising glare. My frosted speech wasn’t permitted. My fingers clench. “I can’t watch her anymore.”
“We talked about this.”
“I can’t watch us try and save someone already dead. They’ve broken Abigail and now they’re trying to break us.”
He sighs heavily. I wonder how long he’s been awake. How long we’ve all gone without sleep. I’ve become a frozen figure, working through the night, endlessly. But not everyone can freeze. His thawed eyes move onto me.
“I need you, Judy.”
“I can still write everything, I can still be a part of the team, I just can’t watch her anymore.”
“No, not like that.”
I don’t move. The blizzard wind picks up, whiping at my eyes, burning my skin. I swallow.
“Judy,” He steps closer, the ice cracking beneath him. The crack spreads, the breaking echoes through our minds. I shake my head.
“You should go.” I look down, pick up the gray sheets. “I have the report. Take it. You should go.”
I watch as the man next to me taps his foot, bouncing his folded hands up and down with every scream. His hand carves into the other, grasping for something unachievable. His thumb presses so harshly into the skin it appears brighter, stronger almost. I do nothing as he draws blood.
“The footage ends here.”
I look back up and swallow the nausea away, only imagining what could have paired with the sound on that screen. My eyes sweep over to him, a tower amongst rubble. He is the only one standing among all of us, the one in charge, the one we look up to. And yet he looks down on me for help.
“How many hours of footage have we collectively watched?” I ask the crowd. Most people don’t even turn to me. I stand from the bench, taking in the gray suits and slick hair. The young, professional government faces. The faces of those about to give up, be sick, or both.
“Fifty, so far,” one man says, not taking his eyes off the floor.
He looks up.
“But I’ve archived-”
“Fifty hours of tape have been archived, they’ve sent us fifty hours.” I take a deep breath, smooth down my thoughts. “But that’s fifty amongst all of us. Five-hundred. Now add the other agents who’ve seen it. Then add all the times you’ve played it over in your mind. All the times you couldn’t sleep because when you closed your eyes, you saw that fogy screen, you heard Abigail cry.”
They all slowly make their eyes up to me. We’ve seen torture but somehow I know this is the most human they’ve felt in a long time. We are faceless instruments of the government. We’ve abandoned all human emotion but the ones we watch through a screen. It’s no way to live.
I turn, scanning over everyone except him.
“This has been going on for so long now. She’s been going through this, and worse, and what we don’t see, for so long now. We stay at the base, trying to wager something, figure out what they want, trying to get her back. Hoping she remains loyal the entire time. Hoping she doesn’t give up while those men…” One woman lets out a small cry, immediately covering her mouth. I nod.
“We’ve been trying to save her, figure out what they want. But this…” I motion to them. “This is what they want. They want to force us to watch this, force us to expel time and effort into this hopeless cause, force us to go mental. This is what they want. By trying to stop them we have let them win.”
Saying it aloud makes the weight of the world crash down on my chest.
“So what do we do?”
“We let them know that they have won.”
“She signed a confessional.”
“Everything it says is true.”
My mouth goes numb. Everything is silent and ringing.
You’re all caught up. Thanks for reading, stay tuned for part V.