30 Days in Hell

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic
Psychological drama about a man with no memory, trapped in a mysterious box. Inspired half by dream, half by Edgar Allen Poe.

Submitted: May 16, 2016

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Submitted: May 16, 2016

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30 Days in Hell

 

  I wake in darkness. I cannot move. Am I dreaming? Am I dead?

  I touch the walls. Smooth stone. No seams. I am curled inside a womb-like box, three feet by two feet by two. My spine is bent. My arms hug my knees. I am naked.

  I feel a hole under my groin, two inches across. It's a latrine. I begin to scream.

 

  I cannot remember my name. My hometown. My likes and dislikes. Everything's gone. I am a blank slate, a tabula rasa. I feel drugged.

  I feel like I was born in this box, and maybe the world before was a cruel dream. The last I remember was hunger and cold, a man waving me over, then the stab of hot lightning in my back.

  Kidnapped.

  By who? A serial killer? The government? I sense in my bones that I am not someone important, not a captive king, but a human rat. I torture my brain for a name, a memory--who would want revenge against me? Who did I hurt so bad?

 

  Water trickles from the ceiling. Drip-drip-drip. It is both joy and horror. I realize I'm not going to die. I knew this hours ago, when I didn't suffocate. I found the plastic spout in the ceiling, like a hollow pen-tube. I pulled. Nothing. I covered it with my thumb. Air hissed. For several minutes, I played with this, my air supply, giddy at the tiny noise, the sense of agency. Then I covered the latrine with my palm; and felt the slightest suction of negative pressure. For hours, I did this, covering one hole, then the other, hissing and popping like a punk drummer. Then the water came.

  It hit my face with almost unbearable ecstasy, each drop an atomic bomb. Greedily, I lapped it, then sucked it straight from the spout, mind full of obscenities, not even realizing how thirsty I had been.

  It stopped. "More!" I screamed into the spout. "More!" While drinking, I had wanted to sing, to float away in a bubble. My very digestion was a pleasure. I could not have been happier at my mother's breast. Now, I raged, beating my fists against the ceiling. Nothing. I rocked my head to and fro, crazed not because I was in a box, but because I had been cheated out of my full drink of water. Somehow, I sensed one was beyond my control and one, was not. Unable to hurt my mysterious jailer, I thrash my own skull against the stone. There's no room. Then the horror sinks in.

  I will not be allowed to die.

 

  I take inventory. Meaning, I see what postures I can contort my body into. I touch my palms together easily, and spread my elbows Buddha-style. "Walking" my feet up the wall, I can almost straighten one leg at a time. I resolve to do this exercise fifty times a day, if only I could track days… With some effort, I can put my forehead against the ceiling and bow my chest forward into the wall, correcting my spine. I can turn completely in place in a little dance; faster and faster I do this, huffing my limited air, until I have it down to six seconds.

  I cup my genitals protectively and consider masturbating. My jailer might be watching on a nightvision camera. Likewise, I stick my finger in my mouth and explore my teeth, the alien-ness of their ridges. With a fingernail, I torment myself, my nipple, my bellybutton, my eyelid. Over and over, I listen to the soft wet flap of skin as my blind eyes roll. I want to push them out. Tenderly, I flick my eyeball. Purple fireworks. Harder.

  The spout gurgles. Quickly, I open my mouth like a baby bird. A lukewarm gruel bathes my tongue, more intense than sex. I am so grateful. So happy. Hours later, I have my first bowel movement. I savor it long as I can.

  Days pass, without light, without hot or cold or sound. Even my own screams sound muffled. Soon, I can no longer speak. I sleep and wake in shorter and shorter cycles, until counting my heartbeat, I suspect my "day" has shrunk to forty minutes. My dreams have become more real than waking. I walk in warm sunlight, eating pie, smelling grass. I weep at the sight of endless trees, or the sound of children's laughter. But I still do not remember who I am, what I'm doing here, what I did before this very moment.

  Sometimes I wake enraged, sometimes suicidal, sometimes strangely happy. Like my body, my mind has contorted into Jekell-like adoptions. Once, I sing "Amazing Grace," then "The Star-Spangled Banner," hoping that someone is listening, perhaps the CIA or a religious nutjob. "Let me out," I wheeze, when I can take no more. Ha. I squirm upside-down to kick the ceiling; somehow, I envision myself underground, and the hatch above me. I give up and stay this way for a while, blood pooling in my head.

  I brainstorm ways to kill myself. Most easily, I could block the air intake hose. But with what? My hand will fall away after I pass out from asphyxiation. I can't think of a way to lean my unconscious form against it. Even my feces are too watery to be of use. They have thought of everything.

 

  I pluck out my eyebrows to make a plug, but it's like threading a needle in the dark.

  I could stop the latrine drain with my body, and eventually drown in water and urine. Over weeks.

  I've heard of Guantanamo Bay inmates growing out their fingernails to slit their throats. If nothing else, it would force them to open the door.

 

  It's so quiet, I can hear my heart beat. My stomach sluice and churn. My joints creak when I turn.

  I fear for my legs. I may never be able to walk again. Hourly, I massage the circulation in my numb feet.

  My imagination has become magic mushroom-worthy. Whatever I imagine becomes real. Voices now haunt my waking and sleep, music and advertisements, books and movies from childhood, scene for scene, rooms in houses, conversations I'm not sure were ever real.

  Ideas come to me, ways to end world hunger, love stories that reduced me to animal tears, Terminator 7, hours of porn. Then the dark begins to whisper. Geometric patterns jangle: triangles become squares become infinite fractals. I rub my eyes, terrified. Someone help me. The blackness pulses like water. It feels like someone's in here with me, another me, wanting to hurt me. It comes closer, shadow on shadow, to merge with me, possess me, until I can't tell who is who.

  I need a name. I need a name to protect me. I dig deep: Jimmy Jack John Paul Ringo--No. Again: Joe, Marc, Luck, Han, Chewy--Dammit!

  Calm. Calm down. Think.

  John Doe. Johnny Cash. John Q.

  John Q. Modest, yet mysterious. I'll take it.

  The darkness seems to agree.

 

  Days and days go by. I laugh, I sing, I cry. I feel like I'm slowly dissolving in acid. My skin itches, and I wake in the constant terror of being covered in insects. But the loneliness is worse. I would almost welcome a little mouse or worm as a pet. I spit a bit a gruel in the corner, but nothing comes. Perhaps I'm not even in the ground, but in a lab somewhere, or encased in concrete. I could be halfway to Jupiter for all I know.

  Don't I have a family somewhere? Isn't anyone looking for me? I can see them, my distraught wife, my rebellious daughter, my forlorn son. For maximum sadness, I add a dog, a glossy golden lab keening by our pool.

  I have adventures with this dog, (after he loyally tracks down my scent and rescues me), hunting down the evil syndicate who buried me to suppress my superpowers…

  I become a spirit, remembering long-forgotten Eastern astral projection techniques I read in an occult book once. I haunt my family, straining to reach them, to guide their finger across a tablet screen, or write on a shower-steamed mirror. For some reason, my fantasies are all full of pain, as if happiness has become unreal to me.

  My wife cheated on me, but I forgive her. She nurses me back to health as I turn my ordeal into book deal, like those trapped miners in Chile.

  Who's doing this to me? I sit at his trial, and look into his eyes, a disturbed fifteen-year-old who strangles cats and hates his violent father, who just wanted to have control over one other person…I see a Nazi scientist, gardening dozens of cages in horror-movie mazes and traps out in the wilderness, smiling back with remorseless blue pupils…I see the Director of the CIA, squirming before cameras as he tries to justify testing a new mind-wiping technique on a rogue double-agent like me…

  I'm going to sue someone. If I survive, I'll find someone and sue them to death.  

  The latrine-hole clatters. Something's coming up. I keen in joyful terror, afraid to call out, to drive my salvation away. My heart deafens me, crying HELP-me, HELP-me.

  Something touches my leg. I grab it, pounce on it, devour it with my hands. Smooth and metal. Please be a key.

  I find a button. Oh yes. Trembling, I press.

  I scream, eyes on fire. My world has lit up, brighter than the sun. It's a keychain light. Even my closed eyelids glow hellishly red after so many days of darkness. I turn it off, weeping, weeping at the wretched thing I've become.

 

  One days, I train my eyes. Now, I search my cell. The walls are marble-smooth, and cannot be marked by fingernail. My latrine-hole curves slightly after six inches. The booger of food I left in the corner is now spotted with multi-colored mold and rock-hard. The light itself has no brand, only a "Made in Taiwan." I relish these letter, this sweet code from the outside, reading them again and again. If I ever get out, I swear to fly to Taiwan, and kiss every last one of them for making this tiny light.

  But my own body is the most shocking sight of all. I don't remember my face, and I still cannot see it, but I now touch my face in dread. Under the light, my skin appears nearly translucent, vampire-pale, a map of blue veins and pink capillaries. My muscles are gone. I can fold my knee-skin four times over, and feel every sharp ridge of bone with my hand. I am suddenly terrified of dying. I begin to train my body, making a fist one thousand times, bending and unbending my elbow, clenching my buttocks. My voice, too, has become hoarse as a ghost, and I recite long conversations to strengthen it, babbling from character to character, until each are as real to me as living souls.

  I prepare elaborate meals for myself, challenging my memory with platters of sushi rolls of yellow tempura and baby onion dipped in green wasabi, or brioche-bun burgers slathered with chopped portobellos in a web of melted mozzarella, atop heirloom tomato and seared Kobe beef…Slowly, I taste each ingredient, and even feel drunk after fantasizing cocktails.

  In some ways, the light has made my life even more hellish. I turn it off to dive into my daydreams, but its very existence taunts me, threatening to jar me back to my bleak hole. Also, absurdly, I have become afraid of the dark. Now that it's optional, my fingers itch for the light. I imagine horrors in the blackness now, some monster creeping towards me, some silent corpse stuffed in here with me--and I'll sit, paralyzed, fear rising until I burst, and rush to point the light at the wall again. Like masturbating, I toy with my terror, holding back the climax as long as I can, sometimes counting, One--I won't look, two--I won't look, until surrender to my own depraved urges, hating myself. I dangle the light over the latrine. Die. One more look. I count down in my head, like an Apollo rocket launch. T-minus ten!...nine!...The tiny chain jingles. Oh God. I can't do it. I pet it little silver body, sobbing with relief. I love you. I say. My precious.

  I wonder if I can sharpen it enough to cut myself. Or die by swallowing my own feces.

  Then I hear the clatter again.

  Eagerly, I peer down my toilet. A metal wire is ascending, wrapped in white string. I grab it. It pulls away. I twist, trying to clamp it in my teeth. I would give my fingers to pull in this wire, to duel by proxy with another human being. It escapes.

  It left the string behind. First I am disappointed. Then I consider how close a person must be, to run a wire into my box. Perhaps he is a sadist, checking to see if I'm alive. I don't care. What I would give to be straightforwardly tortured right now, to at least have a face to talk to, to appeal to. I would hug my torturer if I could.

  Determined to make them proud, I pick up the string, a good foot-and-a-half of sturdy twine. I smell it. Lick it. I may already be ruined from the company of sane men. I tie elaborate knots: nooses, spiderwebs, the alphabet, letter by letter. Tiny animals. After three days, I master the Eiffel Tower. Stiffening the string with dried spit, I can bend it in a white wick, a 3-D sculpture. I feel like I've discovered fire. It morphs God-like in my hands, a child playing with a box. I am so happy. I neglect my exercises. I'm too busy. I no longer even dream; my eyes snap open and seek out the dancing string, with no memory, no past or future. Cotton is my heroin, baby. I drag it across my skin, its slender tickle orgasmic. My imaginary wife is forgotten--now I can think no further than a warehouse full of string, diving in it, tangled in its kingly softness.

  After a week, I create a human shape: a doll the size of my thumb. I admire it in the light. I cannot bear to unravel it, to kill it. This is my son. Now I'm trapped.

  I name him Dominic. How did you sleep, Dominic? Are you cold? Are you scared? Then I realize there's someone watching me, and I am their human string, bending and tying me, making me dance. Let me out, I plea to the doll, a little radio-antenna to the divine. Silence. Silence and silence and silence. Hate erupts in my belly, dense as a black hole. I wish I could poison the whole world, for leaving me in here while they continue, continue being human. Die. I pull out the knots that make my string human, until it's just a corkscrew of DNA, a dead thing mocking me. I pull until it snaps, then stare at my hands in horror, biting my finger, sawing the knuckle with my teeth. If I bite all ten off, maybe I can die.

  Please…please…Maybe they'll open the door to stop me. But then I think of how terrifying it'd be to be free, to close my eyes every night in dread of waking in here, to find out that I was really just a man in a box, dreaming once again of walking in the sun. I would spend the rest of my life touching the walls, afraid they'd dissolve.

  Clatter. I look down. Movement.

  "Hey! Hey!" I press my face to the latrine-hole. What could I possibly ask for? "Hey!...Who are you?" Silence. "Please, j-just tell me your name…"

  Something rises: a thin gray finger. Turning. Daring me to take it. "I want something else." My brain burns. Think. "I…I want to know who I am." The gift begins to descend. I snatch it, nearly breaking it. I open my gnawed fingers.

  A piece of charcoal.

 

  I write in delirium: HERE I AM, GOD HELP ME, I WANT TO LIVE. Over and over until I have to wash the walls with urine and start again. Some days, I run out of words early and simply set the charcoal down next to my light and string, admiring my harem. Soon, I trace my hand, my foot, my whole body the best I can, so I have a hunched shadow to talk to. He is me. Not a god or a demon, just me. I dissect my outline, the black granules in my hands, Martian fingerprints. I'm dying. I fill my cell with hundreds of drawings of my hands in every position, like birds in frozen flight. This will be my gift to the world.

  No. I rub the walls until my skin is soiled dark. I can do better. I sharpen the final nub of char against my teeth, and begin to write.

  Then the light flickers, and dies.

 

  You are almost finished, whispers the dark. You will soon be a success. I open my eyes at a noise I have never known: Stone sliding. I am a child again, all my treasures lost. I'm so scared, yet filled with wonder. A crack of light appears in the ceiling. It's opening.

  "Wake," says the spreading light. "Wake." Hands reach down. The walls dissolve.

  At last, I feel truly naked. The stranger's touch is unbearable, worse than insects. I want to curl away, to hide, as I'm pulled up into an alien sun, to be born. My limbs unbend at long last, crippled with pain. The air smells toxic. I weep, unseeing. I finally remember what I meant to ask for.

  "No," I beg, "I can't…Please. Put me back! Don't make me go out there--Put me back!"

 

  Author's Note: This not part of the story; this is real life. I've been in prison since I was sixteen. I will see parole in 2036, after thirty years flat. I, too, feel like I was born in a box. I have two fears of the future: that I will never get out, and by the time I do, I will not want to.

 

 


© Copyright 2018 Edward Ji. All rights reserved.

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