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Amir Sher

The Room

Jake woke up laying on a cold hard concrete floor. He opened his eyes and looked around, but it was pitch black. He looked up, down and sideways, hoping to catch a glimpse of light, but it was too dark. Dark and dead quiet.
He raised and sat on the cold floor, hugging his knees tight and trying to remember where and who he was. He could not recall what he did and where he was before waking up.
He held his breath, trying to tune in any sound around him. Suddenly he heard something. It was very quiet, but it sounded like someone or something breathing in the distance.
“Hello! Is there someone here?” He cried, hoping for a friendly voice that would assure him that he was safe, or at least not alone. His voice echoed back at him from all directions.
“Yes, I am here,” a low and sad voice was heard after a long, dispiriting moment of silence. Jake was relieved to know he was not alone. He stood up and cried ”I am Jake, who are you?”
“I am Tony.” The low voice replied.
Jake put one foot after another and strolled towards Tony’s voice, stretching his arms in front of him, until his hands hit a body. He felt strong hands holding his shoulders. “That’s it, buddy, I’m right here.”
“Where the hell are we?” Jake hoped Tony could shed some light on the dark and bewildering situation they were both in.
“It’s a room.”
“Yeah, I know it’s a room. A very dark room, but…but…How long are you here? How did you get in here?” Jake had more questions he could voice.
“I am not sure how long I have been here,” Tony drawled as if he was trying to remember. “A week, maybe a month…Less than a year.”
“A month?! A year?! Alone here in the dark? Are you insane?” Jake felt cold sweat pouring down his eyes.
“I wasn’t alone at first,” Tony continued. “There was another guy here. He was already lost when I met him.”
“Where is he?” Jake asked and turned his head, trying to pick other sounds.
“He is dead. They took his body.” Tony replied in his low, sad voice.
“Who are they? Who put us here?” Jake was more confused than before.
“I don’t know. I can only remember a doctor.”
“A doctor?” A new memory flashed through Jake’s head. “Yes! A tall man with a long white coat!”
“Exactly!” Tony said, “The one with a grey beard and thick glasses.”
“I recall a big syringe. Yeah…The bastard doped us! But…why? Who is he?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know,” Tony said. “I can remember his face clearly, but I never saw him here.”
“Where is the door?” Jake could not remember much about himself, but he was sure he would be able to pick any lock.
“There is no door,” Tony said. “Believe me. I have spent days rubbing the walls, trying to find a way out or at least a light switch. Trust me, the walls are solid.”
“There must be a way out!” Jake refused to sink into despair. He sat down on the concrete floor and closed his eyes. The smug bearded face of the doctor appeared to him again, he was holding a syringe with long needle and laughed sinisterly. Suddenly the vision of the doctor turned into a new image of small children. Five children were tied to beds, two of them were struggling, the other three were crying.
Jake opened his eyes in fear. “The children!” He cried. “Where are the children?”
“What children? I don’t remember any children,” Tony said.
“I remember the doctor…and the children. He took some children too! We must find them!” Jake began crawling. “If the walls are solid there must be something on the floor!”
Tony listened to Jake’s voice fading away. “He killed some women too,” He said sadly. “I don’t remember the children, but I remember the women… so many women… and the blood…”
The sound of a thump woke Tony from his nightmarish vision. “Are you okay buddy?”
“Yeah, I hit something…Come over.” Jake sounded excited.
Tony walked slowly towards Jake’s voice. “What is it?”
“I think it’s a desk. There are drawers on the side. Some of them are opened.”
“Did you find anything interesting?” Tony asked and reached the desk.
Suddenly a bright beam of light covered the floor between Jake and Tony.
“I found a flashlight!” Jake said happily and held the flashlight under his chin, pointing it upwards across his face, making him look like a demon.
Tony squinted. The sudden flash hurt his eyes. “Let’s see what’s around the room,” he said while partially covering his eyes.
Jake pointed the flashlight around. They were standing in the middle of the room, which was about 30 feet by 30 feet. The walls and floors were coloured dark grey, with no visible openings. The ceiling was about 12 feet tall.
“Did you find anything else in the desk?” Tony asked.
Jake opened the drawers and used the light to peek inside. “A-ha!” He cried and took out a small brass key.
“A key… Great,” said Tony scornfully. “Do you see any door around? And suppose we find the hidden door, why would the Doctor leave us a key?”
Jake didn’t allow the sceptic Tony to depress him. He pointed the flashlight towards the ceiling and followed the light beam with his eyes. He almost gave up before noticing a small crack at the corner of the room. He moved closer and there it was — a door in the ceiling. It was painted black as the ceiling and was almost invisible.
“There is our exit!” Jake cried excitedly and flashed the light at the ceiling. “Move the…” he started to say, but Tony was already pushing the desk towards the corner of the room. The two men climbed on the table and looked up at the door.
“It’s too high,” Tony said, “you will have to climb my shoulders.” Tony stood like a rock and held the flashlight while Jake, who was smaller, climbed on his broad shoulders.
The door was locked with a padlock. Jake tried the brass key, and it fit. “I told you!” he laughed and removed the lock.
Tony did not share Jake’s enthusiasm. “Don’t you find it strange that the door is locked from the inside of the room?”
Jake pushed the door, and it opened outwards. The desk and the walls were suddenly illuminated by a half moon that shone through the opening in the ceiling. He grabbed the edges of the opening and pulled himself up.
Tony watched his partner climbing out of the room and hoped Jake would not forget him. A few seconds later Jake’s head appeared in the opening, and a rope ladder dropped through it. “You didn’t think I would leave you, did ya?” Jake cried from above. “Hmm, a rope ladder… How convenient,” Tony thought. He remained a sceptic but staying in the dark room wasn’t an option. He grabbed the ladder and climbed up.
The two men stood near the opening in the ground and looked around. A small log cabin stood on the right, surrounded by some bare trees, and a dark barn stood on their left, about thirty yards away. It was quiet except for a dog barking in the distance.
Jake observed the cabin, that was strangely familiar to him. The windows were dark except for a flickering pale blue light, perhaps projected by a television set. The attic appeared dark through a small circular window. “The attic!” he thought. He remembered the children again. Their faces were terrified. Some of them were tied to bedposts, others were crying silently on the floor, the attic floor.
“This is where I saw the poor children! We have to save them!” Jake whispered and started to move towards the cabin.
Tony followed silently behind Jake without looking up, until he saw a small puddle of blood on the ground. The drops of blood seemed to follow a trail towards the dark barn. Tony closed his eyes and remembered the horror. He recalled naked women shackled to a barn wall, trembling from the cold and terror. Tony left Jake without saying a word and followed the trail of blood towards the barn.
Jake realised he was alone only after he reached the front door of the cabin. He turned around and caught a glimpse of Tony’s back disappearing into the shadows of the barn. “Goddammit, Tony! We need to stick together,” he thought and took a deep breath.
The sound of a TV talk show was coming out of an open window near the door, and occasionally a squeaky laugh followed the TV audience laughs and claps.
Jake crouched underneath the window and peeped inside the cabin. The room was illuminated only by the light of the television that was partially hidden behind an old dark leather armchair. He could not see anyone in the room, but he could clearly hear the squeaky laughter of a person, apparently sitting in front of the TV, hidden behind the back of the armchair.
Jake took a rusty shovel that was leaning against the wall and opened the door slowly with a slight squeak that was masked by the loud TV sound. He quickly jumped in front of the armchair, raised the shovel and bashed it into the chair. The shovel tore a hole in the leather cover, but the chair was empty, except for a plastic clown toy that continued its squeaky laugh, disregarding the presence of baffled Jake.
Jake pulled the shovel from the armchair, wiped the cold sweat off his brow and started climbing towards the attic, dragging the shovel on the wooden stairs. He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest as he reached the door.
The attic door was locked, but the key was conveniently hanging on a hook near the door.
Jake’s hand was trembling when he unlocked the door. He opened the door slowly and peered inside. The attic was dark and gloomy, illuminated by a pale blue moonlight through a small circular window. Five boys, ages four to seven, were lying like rug-dolls on three beds. Their shirtless bodies looked pale and malnourished. When Jake entered the room and turned the light on they did not move, but they were awake and aware of his presence. Their big red eyes followed him without showing any emotion. They were neither scared nor happy.
Jake dropped the shovel and sat on one of the beds. “You are safe now, boys,” he said softly, “I’m gonna take you away from here.”
The boys raised together and sat on the beds. A four years old boy who was sitting next to Jake wrapped his thin arms around Jake’s neck and gave him a hug. Jake hugged him back. He wanted to let go of the boy, but the boy would not release his firm grip, and instead, squeezed tighter. Jake could not breathe. He tried to push the boy away, but he was surprisingly strong for a young child. After a minute the boy released his grasp and Jake fell to the floor, coughing blood.
Jake sat on his knees, gasping for air. He looked up at the boys. This time he saw the rage in their red eyes. A seven years old boy was holding the shovel above his head. He felt paralysed and too heavy to move before the shovel smashed the back of his head.
***
Warden Dixon entered the lab, followed by Senator Gibbs. A tall bearded man with a long white coat and thick glasses was standing in front of some monitors. When the door opened, he turned around and fixed his tie. The senator approached the man and gave him a firm handshake. “Senator Gibbs, please meet Doctor Marius Walther,” the warden introduced the two men, “Doctor Walther is our Chief Medical Technology Officer, and as the founder and architect of IICF – the Immobilised Inmates Correctional Facility, he will tell you about the experiment.”
The senator followed the doctor who stopped in front of two metal boxes in the size and shape of a coffin.
“We use two test subjects in the final stages of the experiment,” the doctor started his orientation, “after injecting the subject with Neuromuscular-blocking and induced semi-coma drugs, we put him inside a cell pod, which provides the subject with mechanical ventilation, nutrition, brain neuro-signals decoder/encoder and virtual reality headset.”
“Is he in a coma? Can he feel anything?” the senator asked and watched the signals displayed on the monitor.
“The subject’s body is paralysed, but his brain is active,” the doctor said. “He is not aware of his real surroundings, but we can program his mind to feel a different virtual environment. In his mind he is wide awake and vital, he can feel with all five senses whatever we want him to experience, and the virtual environment feels very real to him.”
“I have heard you lost one of the inmates. Please tell me about that,” the senator said and looked into the doctor’s eyes.
“Yes, well…” the doctor stammered, “We put our first subject in a total void environment, an empty dark room, in complete solitude. After a few weeks, his body was flooded with stress hormones and inflammation. Eventually, his brain collapsed and died. We put another subject in his environment to keep him company, but it was too late for him. we have learned the harmful effect of solitude and despair, so now we put the inmates in groups and provide them with a sense of hope and challenges.”
“Who are the test subjects?” the senator asked and looked back at the cell pods.
Warden Dixon came forward and pointed at the left pod. “In here lies Anthony Giordano, a serial killer and a rapist. He was sentenced to twenty-four life sentences for kidnapping, raping and murdering of twenty-four women in his Midwest farm two years ago.” The warden pointed at the right cell pod and continued, “And here lies Jake Dudley, a known pedophile. He was sentenced to five life sentences for kidnapping and molesting of children, four of them were found dead in his summer cabin.”
The senator turned to the warden and said, “before we are moving two thousand maximum-security convicts from Attica Prison to this facility, we need to prove the Supreme Court that we are treating the inmates fairly, and the public would like to make sure they are paying for their crimes and not sleeping calmly through their sentence period.”
“Oh, trust me,” said the doctor, “they are paying for their crimes.”
***
Jake woke up laying on a cold hard concrete floor. He opened his eyes and looked around, but it was pitch black.

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