This is my story for the weekly challenge to write a story with the ending at the beginning. I haven’t written for a few years so I am sure there will be plenty to say about it and I welcome your feedback , Here is a link to the challenge.
I survey the carnage before me. Smoke rises in thick, black plumes into the cloudless blue sky. The building before me burns, the flames seeking out their next victim, be it wood or brick. I watch as they engulf the rest of the structure, laying to waste the horrors I experienced there. Although I wonder, will those horrors leave my mind so easily as they leave physical existence? I know I should leave, and soon, but I feel the grass beneath me, where I sit, watching. I let my fingers play with the soft, smooth blades, careful to only touch and not to destroy. There were times whilst in that fortress I was unsure if I would ever feel grass again, or see the sky, I appreciate now, as I breathe in the outside air, that sometimes life and beauty is most appreciated after a time of woe and strife. Satisfied that the raging inferno will become nothing but soot and ashes I stand up, shakily and walk away. Ready to appreciate life, ready to grasp it with both hands, ready to really live for the first time in my 30 years, only this time I will be someone else.
3 weeks ago I was sitting in my flat, a floor of a lovely town house, pondering my existence, as one does from time to time. As a freelance political journalist I generally annoyed people, usually those with power for writing about the truth, usually. Sometimes I actually managed to annoy the public too, after all they are not free of blame for the state of things in society today. My main love is exposure. I like to expose the people, the situations and the truth.
My family and friends laughed and joked about me becoming a journalist. After all I decided quite late in life that a career change was needed. Determined to be ethical, moral and honest. It’s not an easy industry to be any of those things, but I have one thing on my side, I cannot be bought. They say everyone has a price, but I don’t. I was left a lovely house by my parents, who were tragically killed in a car accident, but it has given me an income which is steady (I rent it out, I can’t live there, I find it too painful). So my rent is paid with enough left over to see some of the bills paid, I have a comfortable existence and have never found money to be my driving force. I don’t really care for designer labels, fancy food or a house I’d have to clean and care for and I don’t drive so have no need for a car. I have what I need, so the various offers that have been made to silence me have fallen on deaf ears.
All these things were on my mind as I sat and watched the world go by outside my window. I hear the phone so reach over and answer it. The voice on the other end is not one I recognise.
“I understand you intend to write an article about the Fallwell Incident?” It’s a man, gruff voice, that’s all I can tell.
“Correct, who is this?” I respond quite curtly.
“I strongly advise against this.” Gruff voice, but the words are spoken without malice.
“Why would I take advice from a person who has not introduced themselves?” The line goes dead.
I frown, it was an unusual phone call. I have had anonymous tips before, even the occasional warning, but this was….odd. The man did not sound threatening and his voice appeared of the gravelly kind, but not in a natural way. Why he would think I would listen without even being aware of whom it is advising me I am even less sure. No background noise. I pick up the phone and try to recall the number but not surprisingly it is withheld. Oh well, it’s not like I’m going to listen. I pick up my notepad and read.
Fallwell, Gerald Fallwell, was a member of cabinet who worked closely with the minister for economy. It was spread across the journalistic grapevine that he was going to bow the whistle on our own government for atrocities committed both abroad and on our own soil with strong links to our economic degradation. Fallwell disappeared. No body, no clues, just nothing. It seems fairly dubious that after the rumour being spread that he should disappear. For a while many thought he had sought asylum, but no word from him in over a month.
I have been planning an article around the whole incident (yes, he called it an incident, but to naturally use that terminology makes me even more sure there is something in this) and have been digging to try and find out what it possibly could be that he was due to expose. An interview here and there and no real progress. I wonder if I was this stubborn as a child. My mind is buzzing so I decide to practice some yoga then do some aerobics. I like to keep fit, I feel better when I eat well, exercise regularly and get a decent amount of sleep. After this exertion I shower and decide to take a walk to a local cafe for lunch.
I am about to step out the door when the phone rings again, I only keep a mobile so it’s already in my pocket, I answer it and the same voice as earlier greets me with:
“Will you continue with your story?” Mr No Name asks me.
“Yes.” I respond simply. The line goes dead again.
I continue to step through the doorway, depositing the phone back into my pocket, as I open the door the sunshine hits my face and makes me smile, I didn’t know then that it would be the last time for what seemed like a very long time, that I would see it.
I start to stir from a deep slumber, faintly confused, I have been dreaming but as I start to rise from the haze of sleep I realise I do not feel as though I am in my bed, or any place that I recognise. Despite the shock of this waking me completely, I open my eyes slowly, I sense danger. I look between my lashes at where I am. I’m on a bed of sorts, basic isn’t the word, from experience I see it very much as a bed from a cell, in fact, this does appear to be a kind of cell. The room is small, bare, no window and no bars, only a thick heavy set door that appears to be made of metal. I am alone, so I sit up and survey my surroundings. Bare walls, some exposed pipes, the bed covers the back wall of the room, with either end touching the walls, the room is small, very small. There is some sort of contraption to the right of the door, as I am looking at it. I get up, feeling somewhat groggy, and inspect the contraption, it is a toilet that tucks into the wall, no wash basin. The door does not appear to have any openings, no handle, there is a sensor to the side so it must be activated with a pass card of some kind. The light in the room is dim and the light fixture has a cage around it, bolted to the ceiling. The bed is likewise bolted to the floor, no blankets. There is an air vent, also with a cage around it, bolted to the wall. The temperature is warm, kind of humid, a little stale and I feel a bit like there isn’t enough of it. My breath starts to quicken and my heart beats faster, the realisation of my situation risking the onset of panic, I must remain calm.
I take deep breaths in and then forcefully breathe out long and slow until I have calmed myself. I can’t ascertain whether the door opens inwards or outwards. This room is obviously designed so that the occupant is not getting out. I have had the misfortune of being in a police cell before and although this has similarities it is much, much worse. My clothing appears to be overalls, so someone has undressed me, my underwear is still on, thankfully and I don’t feel…violated, so that is at least, a good thing.
I go back to the toilet and release it from it’s snug fit into the wall, it’s solid, one piece, no protruding parts, nothing that I can…use. I feel the panic starting to wash over me again and repeat my breathing. The room is practically a square, room enough for some yoga poses to try and calm myself.
Time seems to change when locked away from stimulus, like it stretches out, farther and farther. Without anything to occupy you and no means of telling the time you tend to find that minutes feel like hours. I complete a routine that would normally take me 30 minutes. So I have a rough idea that time has passed. I conduct another search of the room, I am looking for a means to defend myself. I don’t know where I am, why I’m here and I can only assume I was rendered unconscious as I stepped out of my door. My head doesn’t hurt even though when I awoke I felt groggy so I can assume I was drugged.
I sit on the makeshift bed and listen. A faint hum, air conditioning perhaps? Nothing else. Where the hell am I? Good old panic tries to muscle it’s way into to my psyche but I push it away again, as before, panic will not help, panic will make you make mistakes, panic is not your friend. I lie on the bed and stare up at the ceiling with its crisp paint. So this room at least is newly decorated. I check the walls, also appears newly painted. Although not that new as it doesn’t smell like new paint, but it’s very, very clean. I get up and inspect the cage around the vent and the light, both are solid. The fixings are just as solid. I put my ear to the door, still only the faint hum. I knock gently on the walls, all solid, no stud partition or plasterboard here, these walls are made of stone. I see panic now like a bully trying to force me into a state I don’t want to be in, continually picking away at my resolve. I need to calm down, I feel tears begin to form and I cannot give in to that, I breathe deeply and try a meditation technique of counting while I do this, making each breath exact, clearing my mind of the thoughts in there that seem to support panic in its mission to foil me.
I hear a beep and the door swings outwards, a man in a blue uniform stands before me, I look at him, he looks at me. I raise my eyebrows as if to ask him what he wants. His response chills me.
“You are to remain here until you are rehabilitated. Until that time you will remain in your room, you will be brought food at 8am, 12pm and 6pm and once a day will be accompanied to the shower block at 9am, you will have no contact with anyone other than me.” With that, before my stunned vocal cords can find the muster to protest, he closes the door, there’s a beep and he’s gone.
At first I feel stunned, I can hardly breath, panic is almost winning, then I think to myself, rehabilitated? From what? No trial, no jury, no nothing, one minute I’m on my front step, the next I’m locked up to be…rehabilitated. How will that happen? I’m not sure. It could be anything, is this legal? If it’s not, what do I do? I have no contact with the outside world. I think back to when the man visited my room, his uniform was unmarked, he was tall, stocky, he didn’t look unkind, short hair, possibly military, he stood very straight, very confident. Behind him was a wall and there was no sound coming from the corridor. I didn’t see where he had his key card. At least now I know the door opens outwards. It is another 3 hours before I learn what rehabilitation means.
I have been lying on the bed, thinking, thinking of ways to get out, when I see the guard next I shall speak with him, out of nowhere and incredibly loud a voice projects into the room. It asks me do I know who I am, what my purpose in life is, questions, lots of questions, all relating to who I am and my ideals and belief system. Repeated over and over again in a tone that was uncomfortable to hear. I try to block out the constant barrage of questions by covering my ears, but it’s too loud.
I don’t know how long it has been running, the questions seem to become a blur, I try my best to remove myself mentally from the situation, but it’s so hard with the constant drone of, Do you know who you are? Why do you do what you do? Why do you hurt others with lies? Why do you betray your people? Why do you betray your country? Why do you believe that you have the right to be judge, jury and executioner? Are you who you say you are? What is your name? Where were you born? What is your purpose? You have no purpose.
That last one is new. For as long as I’ve been paying attention it’s just been questions. Ironically questions I find it difficult to think about with the tirade of further questions. If this is meant to encourage me to question what I do for a living I’m not sure it’s having the right effect. The more those questions are fired at me from whatever recording they have, the more I want to expose this site, the more I want to get out and the less likely I am to be following their orders.
An undetermined amount of time later and the questions stop, the door opens, two pieces of bread and a plastic cup of water are placed on a tray on the floor in front of the door and it’s closed before I even have a chance to register what has happened. So this is their idea of feeding me then. I should make the most of it, eat it slowly, I sit with my bread and water thinking. The plastic cup is flimsy, the bread is on a paper plate and the tray is a thin plastic, that I can use, that I can…
The door opens, the guard strides in and snatches up the items, I try to protest and stop him but he points a taser at me, I sit on the bed and glare at him, it appears there is a time limit for eating and drinking and that was it, so I don’t know what meal that was and I ate a quarter of a slice of bread and drank 3 mouthfuls of water. Time passes and I’m still glaring at the space where the guard had been. I need to think and act fast. Oh no! It’s started again, the recording of the questions, over and over again in a level that’s just too loud! I roll onto my side, turn my back to the door and stare at the wall, panic enters my mind with a question. At which point am I rehabilitated?
Some time later the lights go out. My stomach rumbles as I realise that was supposed to be supper. At this point I start to breath, mediation style to try and clear my mind to sleep, I must have succeeded because when the recording starts again in the pitch black, I am woken with a fright and my heart beats hard and fast and my body trembles. I can’t help it this time, panic wins, I’m tired, I’m scared, I’m hungry and within seconds I’m also crying.
This continues through the night, I estimate that they allow me to sleep for an hour and listen to their drivel for 2, the result is broken sleep, disorientation and panic seems to be fighting with despair for dominance. I have always been strong willed and coping with the death of my beloved parents at only 19 taught me something in the way of resilience. By the time the same guard arrives with breakfast, I’m tired and very, very angry, no sooner does the door beep am I shouting a few questions of my own, he opens the door, regards me with a quizzical (yes, quizzical, it strikes me as a little odd, doesn’t he realise I am kept there against my will or knowledge) leaves the bread and water and leaves again. I eat the bread, drink the water and try again when I next hear the beep. Again, nothing, not a word. So that’s breakfast, I know I have an hour before shower time and maybe I will see something that will help me when outside this room.
So it’s time for my shower. My hands are cuffed behind me and I am lead into the corridor, I try to survey as much as possible in the short space of time. There are other doors like mine, 10 in total, the corridor is as you would expect, door, wall, door, wall, door etc, no discernible features, nothing that stands out, a swipe point for the access card to the right of each door and a handle on the outside, before I really have time to take it in I am led into another room, identical in size and shape only tiled with a caged shower head coming down from the ceiling and a towel folded on the floor. The door is locked behind me. I don’t see a switch or pull cord to turn it on, so I undress and stand under it thinking it may have a sensor, after about 30 seconds it comes on, luke warm, almost cold, it runs for a few minutes and switches off, no soap. I dry and dress and am led back to my room. The shower room is on the end on the right of the corridor so that’s 9 more potential occupants. I don’t hear anything from any of the rooms and begin to wonder if they are sound proof.
It is all very efficient, very formal and very suspect. It dawns on me that this is a very well run operation designed to brainwash the occupants into compliance. It screams Nineteen Eighty Four. So by proxy it dawns on me that our own government, those sworn to protect us, supposed “civil SERVANTS” must have sanctioned this, may even be running the facility. So far I’ve only seen one guard and can only assume the other occupants, if there are any, are suffering the same fate.
Days pass in fits of hunger, exhaustion and the barrage of questions being played into my room on a regular basis. I start to feel my resolve slipping away and I know that I must act. I must act soon, before I am “rehabilitated”. There is a reason why brainwashing techniques can be so effective. The lack of sleep alone is enough to ruin your clarity of thought, the constant questions, lack of food, they leave me weak. I know this, which is why I know if I don’t act soon I will have no strength at all. I have taken to trying to practice yoga and meditation simultaneously to try and drown out the noise. To an extent I think I am achieving my goal of finding some kind of peace within it all but it is as fragile as the wing of an insect with not nearly as much power. I won’t last long. I’m strong, stubborn and sure of myself but even I know that this will break me eventually. I have no idea how many days have passed. It could have been weeks or even months, the banality of the routine mixed with the sleep and food deprivation make it all meld into one long nightmare. I must act now.
I decide my time will be when the food is delivered, this is the only time other than showering that I leave the room or he enters, I know that being cuffed is not a good way to start. As if on cue there is a beep, the door opens and the food is placed on the floor. I pick it up and eat it, he has gone for now, but he will be back, when he does I will be as ready as I can be.
My body has become accustomed somewhat to the lack of food, it draws energy from the bread quite quickly but it never lasts long. I drink the water and then smack the tray on the bed until it snaps and shatters, I get a good shard, one that could be a knife in another life. I need to be ready. When he enters, he always does it the same way, he must hold the keycard and taser in his right hand, the tray is always in the left. I assume he deposits the keycard somewhere and then reaches for the handle to open the door, he must do this with the taser in his hand, or no, wait, I think it may be attached to his wrist by a cord, so always at hand, so that when he has opened the door to place the tray inside he has time to put the taser into his hand. I need to surprise him, stab him and get the hell out. My adrenalin is pumping now, I’m shaking slightly. The door opens outwards, if I let him open it, he’ll see that here is no tray (I’ve hidden the remains under the bed) that might alarm him. I look up at the cage covering the light and I know what I have to do.
It happens in a heartbeat, he opens the door, I’m already hanging from the light cage, I swing so that my feet make contact with the door as it’s opening, the door makes contact with him, the surprise knocks him off balance a little and I’m on my feet, I plunge my plastic shard of a knife into his neck, roughly where I know there to be an artery, but he already has the taser, he fires it and I’m reduced to a pain filled wreck on the floor and quickly I lose consciousness.
I come to and I’m aware that nothing has changed around me, except the tape has started again, the guard is dead not far from me, surrounded by his own congealing blood, the look of surprise still in his unblinking eyes. I get to my feet and keep the shard with me, on searching the guard I find the key card, the taser and nothing else, not a thing. I take his shoes and socks, they are too big but they’ll do. I also take the jacket. I have never handled a dead body before, least of all killed someone but there’s a steady calm that has washed over me, almost like I am numb to the act. Time to get out.
I walk out of my room to the right, there only appears to be an exit on the right. I stop at the door next to me, wondering who is inside, should I let them out? I decide that I should, after all, I want to escape, there is no doubt if someone else got out I’d want them to let me out too. I use the keycard and the door swings open.
I am not sure what it was I expected, but I didn’t expect what I found. No one. It was empty, as was the next room and the next. It wasn’t until I got to the last door left other than mine, the shower room and the exit that I found another person. It was Fallwell. I say was, because he certainly wasn’t an is. He had the same idea it seems, that the tray could be broken and used, only he hadn’t decided to use it on the guard, he had used it on himself. Well that was one mystery over.
I leave via the exit, it is pointless to stay, up some stairs and into an office. There is no one else there, CCTV cameras show the outside, but none for the inside. The outside is clear, it appears to be in the middle of nowhere. There is a desk, a computer, a chest of drawers, a bed and a room leading off, on investigation I find this is a toilet, basin and shower room. There isn’t any evidence of anyone else being there. It strikes me as odd, but then if our government created this facility, maybe they don’t want anyone to know about it.
Stupidly the computer is activated by the keycard, they would have been more prudent to have a password, I read the emails and any documentation I can find, this is indeed what appears to be a “Rehabilitation Facility” it seemed, for severe cases only, where the risk to the government and to the monarchy was that great that disappearance forever wasn’t an option. They needed the occupants to return at some point. So Fallwell must have been about to blow the whistle on something extreme, with myself in the firing line for investigating.
It appears the guard had no real idea of who was there or what was happening. He had orders to never enter the rooms except at the allotted times for the allotted tasks. He didn’t appear to control the recordings or anything else for that matter, it was almost all automated. I searched the office, for any clue and found nothing of interest.
I sit and stare at the blank computer screen for a while, I understand the need to silence us both, I even to an extent understand why the need for brainwashing is necessary. I don’t however understand what it was that they hoped to achieve. Fallwell is dead, he won’t be returning to society to say he didn’t mean it and doesn’t have a thing on anyone. How long should the guard (his name was Davey Pratt) keep us there? No instructions, no communications just us in the cells and him up here. I found the bread in a freezer with some other food, all of it basic, I noted one of the loaves was on a worktop, defrosting, we must have finished the last one.
I am not bad with computers, I probably could have gotten into the computer without the card, it’s a hobby of mine, I look into protection on the web, hardware and software and have learned a few tricks on the way. I check for any deleted items. I know I should leave, but I’m quite confident it was just old Davey boy and a quick glance at the CCTV confirms I am still on my own.
I hit the jackpot eventually, I find a file relating to the nature of the facility, the intentions are clear and really what I had previously deduced. However, alongside the brainwashing each captive is subliminally planted with a code word. On contacting the individual and giving them the code word they will shut down. Like a switch, the code word is spoken and nothing more is said, a means of control in case the subjects forget their brainwashing. It states that once used it will render the person unable to speak or communicate in any way. Basically with one word they can turn me into a vegetable. I have no idea what the word is or even if it has worked. I do some more snooping around the computer. This is when I found the self destruct command, put in place in case a captive escapes or the facility is found. I take one last look around the office deciding it really is the only way to go, they will never know who got out, if anyone, the cells are underground and this seems so far from anywhere that I doubt anyone will come for some time. It’s fairly simple, I type in the detonation code into the command prompt and hit enter.
My last hope as I hurry out of the door and into the clean, fresh air outside is that they will never know that I am alive. Maybe their brainwashing worked because I have no desire to expose this truth. I think now that I underestimated the actions of our government, that there are no lengths that they will not go to in order to achieve their goals. I spent the last 11 years working most of the time to try and give people a glimpse at the truth behind the lies. I realise now as I walk away from a building that is about to explode that I never really lived in all that time and that most people just don’t care or believe what the truth is. So why do I keep trying to tell them? Because I want to know the truth? Not anymore, now I just want to live the rest of my days in peace, it won’t be easy, I can’t go home, can’t withdraw from my bank, I can’t be seen, I’ll have to start again without anything, but maybe that’s a good place to start. On some level it occurs to me that who I was is gone, that in some part the facility worked, but for the most part, I’m just happy to be alive.