Began writing this at around 11:40 – just finished swing dancing and was taking a train back home using a longer, more roundabout way. Continued writing this even as I walked through interchanges in the subway (Hong Kong subways extremely safe, don’t worry) and sat in my apartment building’s lobby to finish this at around 1:20 in the morning. One hour and forty minutes used to write this piece. I don’t think I should write a postscript for this, but if anybody asks (in the comments) or through an email or asks me on my Facebook page wall (most preferred), I’d be happy to answer any questions that anybody might have. 2641 words, I haven’t made any edits yet, written in one go. I haven’t written for a week, so this is extremely satisfying, even just by the act of finishing it.
Edit @11:53 the next morning – gonna clean up the beginning few paragraphs, a few phrases that I thought brought character to the piece was actually just bad writing.
Inside of his small little room, his small little box containing one screen, one keyboard, one mouse, a slot for food to pass through and for empty plates to be returned, inside of this place he was bored.
He had been offered the chance to leave his room many times, but he was told that he would never be allowed to go back. What he had made inside of his room would stay inside, never to be seen again. Anything that he had uploaded onto the net would be deleted and his existence on the net would be removed. He had been inside for four years, three months and two days.
In his Quiet Time he would try out puzzles online, games that looked like chess but were played on different looking boards. They had the nicknames of things like Catan, Ticket to Ride and other variations. In his Louder Time he would listen to music on a site called YouTube but most of the time he looked at the videos that came with the music for appearances of beautiful men and women, so different from the reflection he saw of himself on the screen. At the end of his day, at End of the Day Time, signified only by sleep and not really running on any schedule he would find Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas where people, angry with one another fought wars in virtual fighting grounds instead of wasting life like in the wars that had previously happened. Some battles were civil. Some were furious, wishing cancer upon the opponents regardless of win or loss.
That was his usual schedule and it had been for quite a while, but something had been disrupting it. There was a voice in-between Times that came whenever it wanted and it kept on taking his attention from away from the innards of his room, and into the Outsides of it. Sure, his reverie was sometimes broken by the slipping of food into the room if the warden was not quiet when he did it, but he had gotten used to that. The warden never spoke.
This voice said hello. Won’t you come out. Won’t you come out?
It was time for MOBAs, the Arena time. The computer screen crackled and flickered blue and people greeted him as he appeared on his friend’s lists. He wasn’t an elite of the game but people were friendly enough. Then the voice came hissing in.
“Won’t you come out?”
The first time that the voice had come out he had ignored it. But when it didn’t stop and crooned “I know you can hear me, won’t you say anything?”, he began to smack his iron cup against the iron door until his Loud Time came during his Quiet Time. He didn’t like that.
He said it loudly.
“Won’t you come out?”
The voice repeated itself. It was like a clock, but broken, the cuckoo-bird coming out whenever it wanted.
“There’s nothing out there. I have a life in here. Go away.”
As usual, the voice gave a little laugh.
“All you need to do is open this door. Sure, you’ll lose what you have inside, but you’ll gain so much more.”
He gave no heed to the temptress or tempter or whatever gender it was.
“I have a life here.”
Inserting his earphones into his wax-filled ears, he scraped some out before replacing the buds inside.
“I’m not listening to you. Go away.”
And he didn’t listen to him. If the voice continued to croon, he wouldn’t have known.
Year four, month three, day twelve.
“Won’t you come out? The world’s waiting for you, you know.”
The voice had developed a melodic tune, though it seemed very different from the one that he had heard before.
“Nobody’s waiting for me,” the inhabitant replied. He was in his newly accepted ‘going to be interrupted’ Time. He had accepted it, but there was something different about this voice. “There was never anyone who wanted to see me, and there’s nobody who I want to see now.”
“I want to see you. Do I count?” The voice giggled.
He removed the earphone from the canal on the right, the one closer to the door. He listened closely as the voice mimicked an echo.
“Hellooo? Hello, hello, hello.” Then there was another giggle. He ventured the irresistible question.
“You’re not the same person as two days ago, and last week, are you?”
“I don’t know. Am I?”
A bright laugh. For a second the sun peered through the keyhole.
“Guess you’d have to open this door to find out.”
He looked at the door for a moment. The warden would be coming soon to insert his food through the flap. He re-inserted his earphones and after he ate, finding food very cold very much later, he decided to play one more game as he usually did before his End of the Day Sleep Time.
Then he heard her voice again.
For some reason, even though it was Sleep Time, he could not.
Four years, three months and nineteen days.
“Good morning. Won’t you come out?”
He started with some surprise.
“You’re not the same person as yesterday.”
A louder laugh. Rougher. Was it? Did the voice lose its melody? He didn’t know.
“Won’t you come out?”
On his screen it was his turn to play. Would he accuse anyone of being the werewolf? The people needed his vote. The virtual hourglass dripped sand like blood and a timer showed just 68 seconds left of thinking time, the green text in the white box a passing by in a flurry of activity, red words like accuse and phrases like ‘know it is’ jumping down the screen as if they were fireflies rushing off to be vaporized in a blinding white incinerator.
Fifty-two seconds left. He looked back at the slot. There was no begging this time, no attempt at prodding an answer out of him. Fourteen seconds. Ten. Nine. Four.
He let his turn pass. The villagers groaned. He turned off his screen.
“What’s out there? What will I see if I come out?”
The voice answered.
“Not much. To be honest, you won’t see anything exciting. Not for a while anyway.”
“Then why should I come out?”
“Do you think that’s air you’re breathing?”
The inhabitant of the cell laughed. The voice laughed alongside with him. It was a famous line from a movie he rather liked, the name of the movie The Matrix. It was an interesting film. With a chuckle he replied.
“Yes. It is air I’m breathing.”
The voice smiled.
“Do you like it?”
What a strange question, he thought.
“It’s air. There’s nothing to like or dislike.”
“Do you like the smell of gas?”
“What, like a fart? No, but the air is cleaner than that. Doesn’t smell at all.” A sudden worrisome idea leapt into his head. “Are you going to fart into my room?”
The voice broke into a raucous laugh, heavy and thunderous in the small room.
“Smoke you out with a fart! That’s a good one. Maybe I should, but no, that’s not going to happen. Just saying though, the air must be boring in there. ”
“The air is air. It’s the same all round.”
The voice smiled again. Nowadays he spent his time with his chair rotated and facing the slot and sometimes, just for a little bit he could see the slot’s sides turn upwards, but that was a rare occurrence, and he knew it was just in the playgrounds of his mind.
“The air smells better out here.”
“That’s silly. The air is the air. There’s nothing to smell in it.”
“Au contraire, my friend, there’s pollen and trees to smell in the air.” The voice put on a dreamy dress, waving and lifting in the echo of the room. “There’s more than just green paint and the exhaust fan of a regularly updated computer. Smells very different.”
The person in the room was quiet. The screen hummed itself and the after burn of the computer screen glowed with a ghostlike aura. The computer itself hummed as the fan rotated and he reached down to shut it off. He was not worried that he would ruin the computer; if it ever had problems it would be fixed when he woke. The room fell into quiet. He hadn’t had a real Silent Time for a while. Then he realized with a start that he hadn’t had a Time for a while. He looked at the slot. Then he looked around his room, scanning it.
He had a bed here. He had a chair, earphones and a speaker. He had a computer set-up and he always had access to the Internet, access to other people.
“Is it nice?” he ventured.
“The air. Is it nice?”
The voice paused, thoughtfully.
“Not always. I tell it as it is. Sometimes the air isn’t great.”
“Then why should I come out? I have a life here.”
“Because… wait.” There was a movement that came as a scuffle. “Give me a second.”
He gave the voice a second. In fact, by his count, he gave the voice twelve minutes and eighteen seconds. By the time it came back, he was looking at the screen again, but he was idly clicking at the picture of a rabbit on his desktop background.
“Sorry about that. You there?”
“Yeah. Where’d you go?”
“I’ll show you. Put your face to the slot.”
His reaction was immediate, but he regretted it instantly.
“I’m sorry. But trust me. I got you something.”
“What are you going to do?”
“You’ll understand once it happens. I won’t hurt you. I can’t hurt you.”
The warden was probably watching, he realized. He was safe. The warden would protect him. His seat creaked for a second as his derriere left the cushion. Then he sat back down. What was he doing? His legs were unsteady and thin. He didn’t have to go. He waited. He didn’t want to stand.
The slot looked at him. It creaked a little, the person on the other side probably prodding it with his finger, even though the door was thick. Plates could easily push through, but fingers found it hard to reach the edge.
“Come on. It’ll be worth it. Trust me.”
He stared at the slot. His bones groaned. He took an unsteady step. Usually he rolled his chair over to collect his food but he knew he needed to stand for this.
The voice sounded almost relieved.
“Okay. Tell me when you’ve got your face to the slot. You’ll need to open it a bit from your side though.”
He knelt down, his knees not used to the sensation of the cold, grainy cement. It had been a long time since he had felt the roughness of it, his feet had long grown used to the sensation. He put his nose to the crack.
He opened the slot just wide enough to put his nose in the opening. A squeal from the other side screeched into the room. He shut it quickly, but not before he smelt it.
It was – … what was it?
“Don’t be scared.”
The squeal happened again.
“What is that?”
It was fresh. It was different. It was dangerous smelling but heavy. It tasted like, a bit of his sweat on a Dance Day and a bit of his, his love on his, what was it? The slot smiled again.
“It’s air. From outside. I’m out of it now, but isn’t that nice?”
He crept away from the door, his eyes closed, his nose turned upwards to try to catch what was left of the scent. It was gone. The scent was gone, but he remembered it.
“It’s gone now.”
“Yeah. It’s gone now.” The voice replied. “Don’t have anymore.”
He looked at the door.
“Won’t you come out?” the voice asked.
He looked at the door.
Then he looked at his computer and his bed and his green walls. Then he looked at the door.
He howled suddenly. “GO AWAY!” he screamed. Then he leapt into his bed and held the pillow over his head and leaned on his frail arm for cover. He was not cold, but he shivered twice, the taste of the air still lingering on his tongue.
It was the fourth day.
“I can’t do it.” He moaned in frustration.
It had been two weeks since he had last heard the voices, though not because they hadn’t come. There was no such thing as Sleep Time anymore; the earphones were always in, something always playing. The food had come but he made sure to turn the speakers to maximum volume before going to collect it.
Her voice resounded from the other side of the door.
“How’re you doing?”
When one day he turned off the music, the voices didn’t sound out. It had been two weeks and he waited in silence, but nothing was the same. The screen rarely switched on to show anything. The music was bland. Most of his time ever spent at the computer was to look at pictures of the Outside. The taste of the air had never left his world.
Finally he asked.
The voice had never left. It responded.
Now he needed to open the door, and they had shown him by jiggling the doorknob from their side that it was locked.
“It’s not locked on your side,” they whispered, encouragingly.
All three of them were there. He was there, she was there, and he, the gruff one, was also there.
“I can’t do it,” he repeated. “Help me.”
He fell to his knees.
Their whispers overlapped one another.
“We’ve always been here.”
“There’s nothing to fear.”
“Just turn it, it’ll all be okay.”
Then the gruff one said:
“We can’t do it for you. It’s just a door.”
He looked back and suddenly the room was so enticing. He had a world of his own there. A personality. He would go once again from something, into nothing. The bed, would he even have a bed outside? From what they had said, he wouldn’t. Why did he need to go outside?
“Don’t have second thoughts now” she said.
“We know what you’re thinking” the first one added. “Won’t you come out?”
His hand shaking, he moved his left hand, bony and frail to the door’s handle. On his side it was a long pole even though they swore that it was a circle on their end.
“Won’t you come out? The air is warm, out here.”
The metal was cold. He took a look back at his computer, his bed and all of his comforts. Then he turned the handle.
He found himself one day, outside of a door. He crooned in through the slot, with his friends, who, like him were bald and clad entirely in white, her, him and him. They took one door in the endless white corridor while others worked on the others. He had asked at one point “What now?” and they had brought him to smell the world and when he saw it with his own eyes, smelled it with his own nose and thought about it himself, he had wept more tears than he thought his body could contain. They traveled across the plains from place to place for as far as their feet could take them, but eventually, just like his friends, he agreed that he needed to spread the gift to those who were just like him, not so long ago. They whispered in through the doorslots.
“The air is different out here.”
They pushed on large balloons, transparent boxes filled with the air of the outside. Down the corridor another million voices echoed the same phrase.
“Won’t you come out?”
—– END —–
- j. NG
I know that this piece didn’t hit as the pitch of language used (basically the degree of difficult vocabulary used) like in pieces before, but I didn’t find it appropriate to ‘up’ the register. Hope I did okay. If you liked this piece, please share and give it a like!