The first story I'm posting online. This was written just yesterday within two hours and a great deal of fatigue for my Lang Arts homework. Frankly, I'm fine with the way the story is, especially since it's the only short story handed up to the teacher in my class, as far as I know. It's about 2000-2100 words long.
The whole process took days, at first. Days which to the hooded man passed agonizingly. He stood with other hooded men, and like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, a voice emitted from the group, ordering the hooded men what next to do. The voice might have come from any one of them. Indeed, when the hooded man had the respite of a second, of a heartbeat or so, he spoke to himself. ‘This is my voice,’ he always said, and it always sounded like the voice he lived his life by.
What the voice that sounded like but was not his had to say was painful. Sometimes, it demanded delivery of items. A fishing hook, a hubcap, a roof tile, all items from a life before the process began, all part of a whole life sucked into the process. All somehow managing to be right beside one of the hooded men, who then took them up and shuffled over to the dark, musty chute beside the control panel. Relax the hands, and the items began a journey for which their goal was human flesh, and its slow destruction. But there was more to the process than that, more speed. It lay in the control panel.
Ah, the control panel. That was what else the voice talked about. Far more frequently, it uttered the position of a button. Starting with panel to section to square to button number to shape. Whomsoever found themselves closest to the required button placed himself coolly directly before the button. They then announced their readiness, gaining in reply a full list of requirements for pressing the button.
Push until two clicks are heard. Lift up after three flashes of the button. Push down again until four clicks. Hold it there for nine seconds. Finally, the two magic words: Move back. When told to move back, it was supposed mean a hooded man had done all he could to contribute to the process, and it was enough.
Within a minute, within two, rarely, the screams would come. All sorts of screams. If the hooded man’s memory of the process and of his previous life could be trusted, he had heard the final cries of train engineers, military juntas, tree surgeons, architects, prime ministers, few among a lot, from the space around the room. The time working here had given ‘move back’ another interpretation, much the same way as Pavlovian conditioning. It was the signal that the process had worked, and the hooded men would get their rewards. A reasonable reward, judging by the shivers of ecstasy and excitement that ran through each member of the group upon the arrival of the screams.
They were at once both the smallest form of payment and the best form of enjoyment. In both its purposes, the screams made the hooded men content in a uncomfortable situation, and that made them carry out the process easier, and that ensured the screams always came.
Days faded away into each other, night and day equally bright in the dim greyness of the room. By right they must had turned into months, but the hooded man failed to discern if any of his estimates were too long or too short. Easier to measure the hours of life by events, taking the time with a watch of actions and observations. Thus about six months, or about twenty months after the process took its lives, it lost one of them all over again.
It started innocently enough. That day, that hour, that very second of a past that had been present, the voice called for a study chair. Naturally, it stood beside a hooded man. Naturally, he took it up and prepared to go to the chute. Unnaturally, he stopped halfway, and returned.
He set the chair down. He sat on it. He bent forward. He picked up an irregular blob. In the dim greyness, it was only an irregular blob. To the hooded man sitting there, and the hooded men beside him, it was a vaguely-featured lump of cloth with a vague shape and a vague beige colour, what a toy rabbit might be like after an adult’s full life of negligence.
The hooded man sitting there held it in his hands, looking at it silently. He turned it this way, and that way, moved his hands across its rough tattered fur. He squeezed it a bit, experimentally. Then he brought it to his chest. He bent down over it, shaking with the effort of sobbing.
It was a break from routine. All the hooded men were around the one sitting by now. As he cried, there was a flurry of motion, such as the swiveling of heads left to right would be in dim greyness. Another motion, and one of the hooded men stood behind the one sitting down, hand moving gently to his shoulder.
‘DELIVER A STUDY CHAIR, AN OLD STUFFED TOY AND THE TWO HOODED MEN CURRENTLY NEAREST TO THEM!’ Demands for several items were not uncommon.
The break from routine ceased to be, as the pair of hooded men were loaded onto the chair by another two, pushed to the chute together and loaded into the dark musty tunnel together. The loading pair moved back from the chute automatically.
But there was to be another break from routine. Not a major event. Just the absence of a minor event. Just the first simultaneous rest the hooded men had ever had from the process. Again, the flurry of motion in the dim greyness. Uneasy motion, for though the hooded men stood still, there was an air that said they didn’t want to, an air that pervaded the room. The hooded man who knew his voice spoke again to himself. He remembered his voice. It was exactly that of the voice that demanded. He might have demanded items for himself, and the other hooded men would have answered.
Abruptly, there was a hooded man before him, holding out a black leather wallet. The hooded man tried out his mouth and larynx, found them subject to recent effort. The flurry of motion towards him told him whatever he thought was thought out loud.
The hooded man took the wallet from the other hooded man. He opened it to see some dark-skinned, vaguely Oriental person with blond hair and brown eyes. Name of Goyle Shivanan. Birth date of forty years before the process began. Behind the card that held this data was a rectangular green paper. This was what the hooded man had worked for, before the process. He removed the card, and the green paper behind it, and put them inside his robe. The wallet he dropped to the floor, only an item that was to be demanded.
Slowly, the hooded men waited for the next call.
That was a time ago, as time was measured in this place. Months melted into raw passing of events, and many many events of the same occurred. Years must have passed, by right.
And came the second break in routine.
Huge red lights the hooded men had seen all the time as walls suddenly burst into action. In their blindness, the hooded men hung onto the voice that began speaking.
‘Take up the longest, hardest, sharpest item or one that displays an acceptable combination of each. Arrange yourselves before the panel into a circle, the ones with the most acceptable items outside, the rest inside.’
They did as told. Presently, the hooded man found himself holding up a rusted piece of railing to the empty air. Looking right, he saw the panel. He hadn’t pressed that for some time. He wanted to. Wanted to feel the pleasure of knowing he had done something to bring the screams.
He looked back in front, and someone stood up just outside the reach of the railing. They looked at the panel, whiteness in their face, mainly the top of the face. They maintained that look as they shifted his gaze to the hooded men standing there.
‘In the name of-’ they exclaimed. The someone fell short of explaining it, because they jolted with shock. They looked at the hooded men with a terrible, terrible understanding, one born of the random shifting of mental concepts, observations and connections. They moved closer to the hooded man holding the piece of railing.
‘This is a prison. Was a prison,’ they added wryly. ‘They do experiments here now, with people who were prisoners, and people who were not, whatever difference that makes now.’ They paused, moving his hands before themselves, drawing out the next chain of thought.
‘I think you are the ones carrying out the experiments on us. I remember the chute. It brought things. The wardens down there used those things on us. The most mundane thing in a storeroom brings fear to me now.’
‘It changed, one day. It’s possible you know, though you more likely have forgotten. Two hooded men like you fell down the chute, still alive. The wardens used them too. Used them.’
The someone hugged themselves at this juncture. ‘Used them in the most humiliating, demeaning ways I ever imagined. And then some from their own imaginations. There were just like you, and they got used the same way as those items. When the wardens were done, do you know what they did? They threw them away.’
The someone took in a deep breath. They looked around again, shivering uncontrollably upon seeing the panel, and less so upon the items scattered on the floor of the room, and almost not at all upon the circle of hooded men.
‘You probably don’t know this. But when I was running here, I passed other cells. I looked inside them to save as many as I could, but there was no one to save. There was no one inside the cells. Just air, and stone. I counted the cells as I passed over them, and I see your panel has just as many divisions, sections, whatever as that, when you include the cells where I was. You know what? You all are pressing buttons geared to empty cells. You’re torturing nothing about eighty percent of the time. I know you torture us, because the things the wardens use are far too power-demanding for a local power source. But for this place to have so many buttons…’
The someone sighed softly. As they did so, hooded men came out from all over the room. In their hands they held far longer, far sharper, and far harder things than the piece of railing in its best days.
‘Oh no,’ breathed the someone, and impaled themselves on the hooded man’s piece of railing.
The wardens instructed the hooded man to pass the corpse to them. He did so, and they instructed the hooded men to get back to work. They did so.
Years ran together, if there was yet something to run together into. The hooded men were kept busier than ever now. Respites of any sort were eliminated, and forgotten. Despite this, the hooded man who knew his voice always thought to himself, saying out the thoughts he needed to remember before the next demand for items or buttons.
He had a life before the process. A happy life, but not complete. Lacking innovation, the feeling of pushing borders. One day, he was told to push the borders of the human psyche, and he did so. He kept doing so. He kept doing so.
The experiment lasted far longer than any other, save, perhaps, social ones. He made arrangements to ensure he could remain in the experiment, and so did his colleagues. One day, they were told to don the hoods.
He remembered more now. Not everything, but more, and for now, that was enough. He had the dead man’s card, and the dead man’s green bills. He had the solitary opening to outside twenty metres above the panel, easily accessed with the pieces of broken ladder around. He had asked of help sufficiently to know he alone thought this way. He had enough of pushing buttons to hear screams.
It is one thing to be a torturer, he thought. It is another to be a torturer and not know the prisoners. He knew which he was, and that was why he was escaping.