Michael opened his eyes to a soft glow. It took his eyes a few minutes to adjust and he guessed from the quiet and sterile environment he was in a hospital room.
The bed under him felt hard. His hand moved to touch the surface and he sat up suddenly with the feel of it. White surrounded him on all sides and for a moment he wondered if this was a lucid dream.
The environment had a surreal quality with no shadows to delineate floor from wall, or wall from ceiling. Only white nothingness stared back at him and he wondered if this was a room in his dream.
Nothing appeared to indicate it to be a room, but in his mind, it had to be some form of enclosure to appear without shadow. He moved his legs as if to swaing them from a bed, but realized when his legs did not fall that he had been laying upon a floor. He kneeled, keeping his hand on the floor in front of him and felt light-headed. Searching his memory he attempted to remember how he got here. What was his last memory before waking?
He sat back on his haunches and felt he wore no shoes. He looked down at his clothing and saw that he wore white, the same shade as the milky environment around him. He touched the thin fabric. Probably Lycra, he thought.
He remembered talking to Amber. Had that been just a few hours ago? He didn’t know how long he had been here. The last thing he remembered was standing outside his apartment and kissing Amber before she went home to check on her cat.
He cleared his throat and the sound made him jump, but fell limp upon the white around him. No echo. This place is solid.
“Hello?” his voice sounded weak and he tried again, louder this time. “Hello!” he shouted, “Is anyone there?”
His call was met by white silence. Nothing came back and he wondered if he were still alive. Surely he would know if he were dead. He stood cautiously, feeling off balance with the lack of evidence of solid floor. Though he knew he stood upon a surface, the source of light refused to allow shadow to mark it against any other surface.
Holding his hand out before him for stability, he walked around the area slowly. He inched one foot in front of the other until he felt secure enough to put his hand down. The floor was solid and hard as he moved across it.
He stopped and put his hand up in front of his face. It appeared in stark contrast to the area around him. “Hello!” he shouted again, letting his hand drop to his side. Still no answer.
He began moving again, hoping to find a wall and held his hand out in front of him, just in case. He didn’t want to smack into a solid surface. If he did find a wall, perhaps he could find a door.
Michael walked in what he believed to be a straight line, placing one foot in front of the other so as not to change course and continued to walk across the milky floor for what seemed a very long time.
He understood that time had no relevance here, so what seemed like hours may have just been minutes. He stopped for a moment to ponder that and also wondered where the light was coming from. The room, or chamber or whatever it was, was well lit. He looked upwards, but saw nothing. The white appeared endless, directionless, sound proof and now felt deathly. There was something terrible in the harshness of it.
Walking again, he continued to think about circumstances that would have brought him here. There was nothing he could think of. He had been a fairly average person: had made his way through college, worked for several years at the same firm, had just began seeing someone regularly. He had never done anything particularly unlawful. Most of his friends were from college and like him, had fairly average lives. They worked during the week, spent the weekend playing video games or watching rented movies, worked out a few times a week and were either married or seeing someone regularly.
Suddenly his hand hit a surface. How long had he been walking? He brought his other hand up and felt along the wall. It was definitely solid. He smacked it hard, smiling. “Ha!” he shouted to no one in particular.
He placed one hand over the other, moving them both along the wall, attempting to find any kind of bump or break in the surface. He continued to do this, reaching up as far as he could with both hands, running his hands along the wall all the way down to the floor.
What if he had to use the bathroom? Did the person or persons who put him here even think of that? Probably not. Eventually, he would also get thirsty and need something to drink. What about food?
Suddenly something completely alien came to him. A sharp sound behind him. He turned and saw a small dark spot in the white. It moved quickly and was gone, but something remained there, several yards away in the whiteness.
He moved toward it sprinting across the space, “Hey!” he shouted and ran toward the spot, heart thumping hard. “Hey, is someone there?” His voice sounded pleading, fearful even.
He stopped just short of the platter laying on the floor. The platter was a plain green color, with a baked potato, green beans and a piece of roasted chicken on it. A small plastic bottle of water sat in a round indentation in the platter. He looked around the area, but there was no break in the white. No door. No evidence of where the person had come from or gone to.
It appeared as a harsh, flawless frontier, stretching endlessly before him. He put his hand out again and walked away from the platter, opposite the direction he came from. “Hello! I know someone is there!”
“Can you please tell me why I’m here?” he asked.
He tried to keep the panic from his voice, but the knot tied his stomach. Why would they not answer him? What had he done so terrible to be in this place? Would he die here?
He continued to walk with his hand stretched out and looked back at the platter. At least there was a spot that he could judge distance from now. Then the sound again and he turned toward it and saw the platter was gone.
“What the hell is going on here!” he screamed.
Michael held his head, attempting to stop the throbbing that had begun, then sat down for a moment and tried to convince himself to breathe, realized he was breathing though it was coming raggedly.
Closing his eyes, he concentrated only on his breath. Inhaling, the breath filled his lungs, expanded his stomach—upon exhale, his stomach pulled inward, pushing the breath out. He did this several times, before he finally found himself calming, slowing his heart rate. The panic had subsided, though not completely.
He continued to sit and think about his situation for a few moments. Someone had placed him here. This much he knew. They would provide him with food and water, which meant they did not want him to die in their custody. But then again, they had taken the food and water from him, just when he thought that it marked a spot in distance for him.
That thought stopped him for a moment. It bounced around in his head. Why would they not want him to think something marked space for him?
Stop! That was too mind-boggling. How could they know what he thought? “There’s no such thing,” he said aloud.
He looked at the white again, feeling self-conscious now. Whoever it was, was watching. He knew that much and put his head down, looked at his feet. Again, he felt himself slipping into panic. No answers greeted him. Only this endless white darkness and more questions. This has to be a bad joke. He looked up again and wanted to stand, but felt he might lose his balance. The totality of the situation made him wobbly—mentally and physically.
“I don’t know why I’m here,” he said, speaking directly to the white. “It doesn’t make sense for me to be here if there’s no purpose.”
Still no response. Of course they had a purpose. Perhaps this was an experiment he had stumbled upon. This was some kind of illegal human experimentation. He had read about things like this. The Central Intelligence Agency had done things like this in the 1960s.
“I haven’t done anything wrong!” he yelled. “What’s wrong with you people?”
He forced himself to stand and looked at the area where he believed the platter had been. He put his hand out in front of him and began walking again. He knew if this was an experiment by some government agency, his chance of survival was slim at best. No one survived things like this. Those people…they always covered their tracks. They would eliminate him when the experiment concluded. He would be thrown out like yesterday’s trash.
He continued to walk in the same direction, placing one foot in front of the other for some time, before he realized he had to be going the wrong way. A door had to open somewhere close to where the platter had been placed. He turned right then and moved in that direction for awhile keeping his outstretched hand in front of him.
Perhaps he could reason with them. Maybe strike a bargain. “I’m not going to say anything to anyone,” he said, sounding desperate, even to his own ears.
“If you would just tell me what you want…”
The whiteness remained unbroken and silent. He continued to walk and felt a twinge in his lower back. He touched it with his free hand, pushing on the ache, but continued placing one foot in front of the other until he felt himself tiring.
He felt as if he had been doing this a long time. He wanted someway to keep track of time and space, but there was nothing allowing him that luxury. If only I knew what time it was, he thought. If he could mark time that would tell him how long he moved or sat still.
“Please…” he pleaded. “Please, help me understand this.” He sat down again feeling relief immediately. “I’m so tired.”
Too tired to move, he lay on the floor with his hand under his head. He didn’t know how long he slept or lay there, but when he woke, a clear plastic bottle of water sat in front of him. He continued to lay there and looked at it, wondering if it was drugged. Despite the idea, he reached out, pulled the lid, sating his thirst.
It wouldn’t matter if it was drugged. I’m going to die here, he thought. There is no point prolonging this. He put the bottle back on the space in front of him and lay back down.
People would miss him. Both parents were still alive and though they did not speak daily, he had regular contact with them. Amber. She would miss him. They spoke daily by phone and had been spending their weekends together. His co-workers would miss him. In his five years at the firm, he had only missed six days. Surely someone would investigate his disappearance.
He sat up and looked around again. The whiteness continued as it had before—a perfect, terrible thing, its maw grinning wide, swallowing him totally in its nothingness.
“People are going to miss me,” he said.
What kind of people do something like this, he wondered. Was this their day job? What kind of person would take a job like this and continue it? Only someone who could find nothing else, or someone who really enjoyed their work. He blanched at that.
He looked up, “You people are sick!” he yelled.
The perfect whiteness smiled back at him, mocking. Then suddenly, his own voice came back to him, “You people are sick!” and again it said, “You people are sick! You people are sick…” Over and over.
He smiled, realizing that he must have hit a nerve. Someone did not like the statement. Perhaps it rang too true, he thought. But the recording continued, “You people are sick! You people are sick! You people are sick…”
It proves me correct, he thought. Then suddenly it stopped. He looked up again, expecting something, but nothing else came. Silence replaced his canned voice.
He stretched his legs out before him and leaned over, attempting to stretch out the soreness in his limbs. He must have been walking a long time. He looked at the water bottle beside him. Still half of its contents remained. He stood, grabbing the bottle to bring it with him. An idea was forming, but something prevented him from allowing it into his conscious mind. It felt like something at the edge of his vision, barely glimpsed before it disappeared.
He began the process he had before, putting his free hand out in front of him and walking in one direction. There was nothing to indicate he walked in a particular direction, but he continued anyway, almost immediately hitting a surface with his outstretched hand.
He leaned against the wall with his whole body and smiled. Finally, he thought. He slapped it with his free hand feeling some relief. It was real.
Michael reached above his head and swept his hand downward stretched as far as it would go along the surface. He moved slowly, running his hand from above his head to just below his hip. A doorway would be within this space, somewhere along the wall. He knew this. But his ability to find the doorway depended upon the size of the chamber, for this chamber could be as small as a ten by ten room or as large as an amphitheatre. He had no concept of its size.
He continued slowly, running his hand along it, keeping his face close to the wall, unwilling to move away from the surface, as if it would disappear if he let go of his position. He worked undisturbed for what seemed like hours when he found a small indentation in the wall. The palm of his hand brushed up against what he felt was an almost imperceptible ledge. He could not see, but felt the slight groove of the thing and ran his hand upward along its length, then down and outward.
He held fast to it with one hand and moved around the area with the other. There was nothing else perceptible and he felt desperate to find something of significance that might take him out of the whiteness. Another sudden sound caused him to turn in the direction from where it came. With a whoosh came another dark spot in the white. It meant he would have to leave the security of the wall to view it and he was reluctant to leave his position. He ignored the spot, but it nagged at him. Still, he continued his mission attempting to find a portal.
The ledge ran from the floor to far above his head, probably to the ceiling, wherever that was. He began knocking on the wall around the ledge, hoping to hear or feel something different. He did this for the whole length of the thing and found nothing.
Perhaps I have gone insane, he thought. Maybe this is what insanity is like. To be stuck mentally in an area, but in reality his body would be sitting in his apartment, drooling and mumbling incoherent things.
He knew this was not true, but he found the thought intriguing. True insanity, the person would constantly go over the same thoughts, unable to break from them, though still acknowledging the world around them to some degree. It was something close to a catatonic state combined with utter misery.
He moved slowly along the wall again, moving his hand up and down its length, but at the corner of his vision the dark spot behind him continued to beckon. It appeared to be far behind and he wondered if it was the platter of food again. His stomach rumbled, but even worse, he had been holding his bladder for some time. He wanted to relieve himself, but was reluctant to do so without the convenience of a urinal. Eventually, there would be no choice.
Michael stopped for a few moments and sat with his back against the wall. Exhaustion began to take a toll. “Why are you doing this to me?” he asked.
“What have I done?”
The white glared at him, but remained silent. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the wall placing the water bottle he carried on the floor next to him. His thirst returned and he drained the remaining contents, but decided to hold on to the water bottle. If nothing else, it would serve as a makeshift urinal, he thought.
The past couple of days had been good. Amber had spent Friday and Saturday night with him and they had planned to go to the aquarium later. She had left him on the apartment steps with a kiss telling him she would be back after she fed her cat and bought breakfast.
He remembered watching her bounding down the stairs, smiling, but then the memory ended. Even the simple act of returning to his apartment was gone.
This had to be government. No one else had this kind of technology. Unless it was some kind cult that had stolen the technology. He smiled at that and then jumped when suddenly what sounded like a church hymn burst upon the silence and flashes of a gold cross marked the floor, ceiling and wall behind him.
The sound was so loud it pained him and he covered his ears. . “What the f—”
The music stopped suddenly and was replaced by a canned giggling. He lowered his hands from his ears and sat forward. “What is wrong with you people?” he asked again. “Were you just fucked up by lousy parents or are you naturally this way?”
He stood up, now angry, “Or no. Maybe you just can’t stand the idea of another happy person in the world. Just had to screw up a good thing huh?” He was on a roll. “What a pathetic piece of shit you are.” He slammed his hand against the wall. “What a piece of shit. I really feel sorry for you. I’m sorry you feel so lousy about yourself, but you really shouldn’t bring others into your shit you know.”
He smiled bitterly now, “I wish you nothing but peace and happiness you piece of shit, but not for long. Okay? Do you understand that?”
The giggling started again, but only lasted a few seconds, replaced by the silence again. He sat back down, drew his knees up and leaned against the wall. The dark spot that may have been his dinner was gone now. He hadn’t heard anything, but considering the circumstances that was not so unusual. He laughed aloud at that.
Technology was a beautiful thing, until it was used against innocent people. For things like this. And I’m not getting out of this, am I? He knew the answer.
He glanced at the water bottle that had fallen over on its side and snatched it from its place, removed the lid and placed it on the floor next to him, then poked his thumb into the plastic, attempting to tear it. It would not tear, so he twisted with both hands moving in opposite directions and continued the motion for awhile until he felt the plastic give.
Inspecting his work, he saw that a small hole had been torn, but he needed to tear it in half and worked his index finger into the hole, pulling upward finally causing the plastic to split so he could pull it apart. He sat the lower half next to the lid and held the upper half in his hand, hanging over his knee. He leaned his head back against the wall again, took a deep breath, exhaled and lifted the plastic above his other hand, then brought it down across his palm, slicing deep enough so that it would draw blood.
“Shit!” he whispered. “Shit, shit, shit!” he didn’t realize it would hurt that much, but the deed accomplished, blood running freely, he reached up above his head and smeared the wall with his handprint.