Word Count: 1,820
I wake up. Everything’s hazy; my mind desperately tries to wade through the quicksand of bleariness. I feel like I’ve been out for days, the harsh, bruising hold of sleep threatening to lull me back into its clutches with every passing moment. All I can grasp is that I am sitting upright, that there’s something vaguely hard under me, and that my vision is nothing but an unending, white abyss.
I don’t think my eyes are closed, and yet I open them anyway. Almost painfully saturated colour blossoms as vision bombards me: green pants blue chair grey tile red tile white tile wh-
“Hi. How are you feeling?”
I unstick my lips and sluggishly clear my throat. “Fine, thanks, who the hell are you.”
“Y- That’s really unnecessary to know.”
Vision stabilizing, I’m finally reassured that I won’t vomit from nausea as soon as I move. My neck crackles a bit as I lift my head. A woman immediately comes into view, dressed in a simple blouse and skirt, standing ramrod straight as she shifts a clipboard between her hands. She looks almost sheepish.
“Ah.” I say, the sound involuntarily bubbling up to fruition. “Real sorry about my rudeness. Was a bit startled.”
“No, no, it’s understandable.”
A friendly smile somehow comes naturally to me. “So, what am I here for?”
The woman smiles back, but I can feel perplexion emanating off her in waves. “Um, nothing, really. I think… I think I’ll see you later.”
She ducks her head, as if embarrassed, and she reaches into her skirt pocket, and everything goes white.
I wake up. Everything’s hazy; my mind desperately tries to wade through the quicksand of bleariness. I feel like I’ve been out for days, the harsh, bruising hold of sleep threatening to lull me back into its clutches with every passing second. All I know is that I am sitting upright, that there’s something hard supporting me, and that my vision is nothing but infinite white.
I don’t think my eyes are closed, but I open them anyway. Almost painfully saturated blobs of colour come into view before vision bombards me: green pants blue chair grey tile red tile white tile wh-
“Hey. How are you feeling?”
I unstick my lips and sluggishly clear my throat. “Fine, thanks, who the hell are you.”
“You don’t need to know that.”
Vision stabilizing, I’m finally sure that I won’t vomit from nausea as soon as I move. My neck crackles a bit as I lift my head. A woman immediately comes into view, dressed in a simple blouse and skirt and standing ramrod straight, a clipboard tucked neatly under her right arm.
Words come to me, unformulated and unintentional and somehow coherent. “Good god, I’m so sorry about my rudeness. Was a bit startled is all.”
“It’s fine; no worries. You feel fine, yes?”
“Absolutely pristine, ma’am.” I lie. “My sleep was really refreshing; it worked wonders. What is it about that sleep, by the way? Did I doze off while working again? It tends to happen from time to time; I really apologize if I did.”
The woman smiles and tilts her head politely while I talk, making the odd noise of sympathy where appropriate. I have a feeling she’s just waiting for me to finish.
“You have nothing to apologize for. Are you sure you feel completely fine though?”
“There’s nothing troubling you? I can help you if there is; you just have to tell me.”
I cock my head in exaggerated puzzlement. “You make it sound like you know I’m bothered by something. I’m perfectly fine, you know.”
She sighs, deep and thorough, and reaches into her skirt pocket. “Yeah, I guess you are.”
I wake up. Everything’s hazy; my mind desperately tries to wade through the quicksand of bleariness. I feel like I’ve been unconscious for days, the harsh, bruising hold of sleep threatening to drag me back into its clutches with every instance that passes. I can tell that I am sitting upright, that there’s something vaguely hard under me, and not much else. The primary thought engulfing me is my complete lack of vision, as if I were staring into an unending, white abyss.
I somehow open my eyes, even though they weren’t closed in the first place. Bright swaths of colour explode across my vision as my lap comes into focus-
“So you’re finally awake.” A voice remarks. It seems genial at first, but there’s a certain haphazard quality to it that renders me immediately wary.
I unstick my lips and clear the gunk from my throat. “No, I think you’re mistaken, actually. I’m still asleep, so leave me the hell alone.”
The voice twists into a sound of vague appreciation. “Snarky, aren’tcha? I can work with that.”
Vision stabilizing, I lift my head to see a boy leaning casually against the wall, clad in the jarring combination of a studded leather jacket overtop a floral print tourist shirt that reads “Aloha, Welcome to Hawaii!”. He’s smiling, but it’s more barbed than friendly.
“Your taste in clothes is hot garbage.” I mutter. The boy raises his eyebrows, smile spreading wider across his face.
“You should see yourself.”
“Yeah, but I was forced to wear this. You put on that voluntarily.”
He pauses, and a look of almost-surprise crosses his face. “How are you so sure you didn’t put on those clothes yourself?”
I roll my eyes, mentally berating myself at the childishness of it as soon as I start. “Well I’m obviously sure that I was- I was — ”
I wake up. Everything’s hazy; my-
“Junes you really can’t be here right now, okay, I know I gave you permit but that doesn’t mean you can just-”
“Fine, jeez, I’ll leave. Can’t do anything around here without you administrators breathing down my neck, god.”
“I’ll- you can come in tomorrow, alright?”
“Not listening; see ya!”
Slam. A pause, a sigh, before “oh-”
I wake up, somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. It’s as if everything is in clockwork; there’s a pounding, incessant ticking in my head that keeps smashing me in and out of consciousness. It’s almost unbearable.
“Hey there. How are you feeling?” I hear a woman ask. She sounds artificial at best.
“There’s a time bomb,” I start, “in my head.”
“No good, huh.”
“Yeah.” I black out for a second before something jolts me back into my body. “No, kidding. Where am I?”
“What if I try something unorthodox?” The woman mutters to herself. “Drop the pretence. Go in headfirst, so to speak. Might be faster, really.”
I try to move out of my chair (it’s blue) and a thunderclap of noise immediately crashes down. The woman turns, startled, and I see genuine fear in her eyes before she casually lets her shoulders drop.
“Oh, you’re awake. Did you have a nice nap?”
“Pretty terrible, actually; this chair is practically made of sandpaper.” I quip. I have no idea what she’s referring to, but I hear her exhale the cusp of a laugh, so it’s enough.
“That’s good. Now, um, this is going to sound kind of weird, but I’d like you to please bear with me.”
“That can’t be good. I don’t even know you.”
“Yeah, and you’re not even in a chair. We both don’t make sense. So, uh, please pay very careful attention to what I’m going to say next.”
“I- of course I knew that-”
“Where is it?”
And the ticking stops, and I go weightless. Something, somewhere, clicks into place.
I feel a smile creep up onto my face. “I’m taking that to the grave.”
“Alright that’s enough.”
You awake. You can’t feel yourself; legs, arms, face- you can’t feel you can’t feel you can’t feel you can’t feel-
“Hello. How are you feeling?”
“Good to know. Where is it?”
A halfhearted sigh. “This really won’t do, will it? Ah, well.”
Wait. Wait, wait, wait, stop-
A ______ (person? thought? thing?) wakes in a room swathed in white. He is questioned as to whether I feel fine, and she responds that one does. They are never genuine, you have never been genuine, because there has always been something that we have been so determined to hide, because that is the last and only hope it has, and try as people might people are just people and the personthoughtthing awakens to see hundreds, thousands, millions of smiles all flooding the floor from above, pooling at a pair of feet, lifeless, as they should be.
“Where is i-”
“There isn’t one.”
“So,” The boy says, stood absentmindedly picking at his fingernails, “now that I have my time with you, is there anything you want to know?”
“Where am I?”
“Lonelyville! The one and only. There’s like 12 people in the whole complex, I think folks call it Headquarters? Doesn’t have an official name, really; the organization’s all very hush-hush.”
“How are you allowed in then?”
The boy clutches dramatically at his chest, as if mortally hurt. “You wound me. I passed all their stupid tests, that’s how. Also helps to have a dad in the upper ranks, but I mean.”
“What tests did you take?”
“The typical blood, temperature, breath, skin, psych, ideology, about fifty metal detectors, so on so forth.”
“So just privilege, basically. Privilege got you in.”
“I mean- privilege sped up the process, yeah, but it’s really the tests that matter.”
“Most people fail those tests?”
He pauses. “… wow. You really don’t know much, do you.”
“How do I know you’re telling the truth?”
The boy hums, lowering himself down to sit cross-legged on the floor. “You don’t, but I’m all you got, aren’t I.”
“I feel like I’m all you got, actually.”
He snickers, and then he laughs, and the bright edge of hysteria froths up to accompany it. “What makes you think that?”
“I’ve been stuck here for days. The walls are indestructible; the room is airtight.”
“Maybe to you.”
“Do you really think you’re that special?” The boy asks, and there’s enough mockery in it to suffocate the room.
“Y’know what,” he starts, and it’s somehow worse when his easy demeanor drops. “Do you want to know who you are?”
“Of course.” And he is stone-faced, as if he had lost the will to smile. He solemnly walks up until his face is all that’s in view. Then carelessly, unthinkingly, he touches his finger and thumb together.
An utterly blinding not-white pours into the room, coating the walls in thick layers, spilling onto the floor, and slowly, methodically, the boy begins to smile, his eyes curving into crescent moons and the most grotesque grin stretching unnaturally wide across his face.
And I scream, and I scream, because beyond him the room has opened up, and hundreds upon thousands upon millions of me stare back at me, all smiling, all full of life.