The White Room

January 25, 2012
I woke up to white, everywhere. The walls, the ceiling, and my clothes were all white. My skin was even white; it stretched over the fragile bones in my hand, so pale it was translucent. My fingernails were pearls, glistening clean and soft on my fingertips.
Oddly, I didn’t panic. I would sit and stare at all the white around me, digging into my memory but coming up blank every time. Often, glimpses of random memories would cross my mind. Usually they would be what I guessed to be memories of what I longed and missed for. They always were a sound; not once did I get a visual.
The sound of thunder shaking the walls while I tried to sleep, crickets chirping out my window, ocean waves, a laugh, and the call of a name.
The name would repeat by far the most. At some point I came to a conclusion: I am not calling the name, it is someone else calling my name. Marlie, the name short and sweet on my lips, lingering just long enough for me to get a taste of something, happiness I think.
Other times, when things seemed hopeless, heart wrenching sounds filled my head and screamed in my ears. A gun shot, a little girl’s scream, crying, more crying, so much crying I thought I couldn’t hear anything but it again. I let them fade and came to a point where I couldn’t hear them again.
When the hours passed I began to feel I was trapped inside a nightmare. I wanted to sleep and to dream lovely dreams but when I laid down to go to sleep, something I couldn’t remember ever doing, the sleep never came. I hovered just past consciousness, aware of my surroundings but unable to move. It was a tantalizing mix of torture and luxury.
I pace around the room, running my right hand along the wall as my bare feet hit the floor. It feels cold and foreign under the soles of my feet. I count the seconds to match my footsteps.
1, 2, 3, 4…
I don’t remember where I learned to count or what the numbers mean, I only know the numbers. I hold onto the few sounds that continuously repeat through my head. I can’t let them go, if anything I can’t let them go.
19, 20, 21, 22…
I switch from walking counterclockwise to clockwise, running my left hand along the wall now.
33, 34, 35, 36…
I know without any uncertainty that I have been in here for a total of two days, sixteen hours, forty-two minutes and forty-five seconds. This ability to keep time is built into my head. From the moment I woke up it started ticking and even then I knew when it hit three days something terrible would happen.
“I don’t want to do this, it feels wrong.” I murmur, watching the screens flicker with the intense white color. She sits against the wall unmoving, calm.
“She agreed to it Michael.” Marty’s deep voice rumbles from behind me, “Don’t take the blame, no one could stop her.”
“But why? Why would she want this?” I whisper as I watch her.
She closes her eyes, her eyelids so translucent I can see the point where her irises begin. Green glows behind them like candies, the only color in the room of white. Her lips are a ghostly white, long past the deathly blue.
Marty is silent.
“I want her, but I can never have her back again.”
Two days, nineteen hours, twenty-one minutes and fifty-four seconds.
I can feel eyes watching me now. They weren’t before, I think they were scared, but they defiantly are now. They can feel the time ticking closer as I do.
Instead of sounds, memories of feeling are coming back to me. The rough texture of wood, the smooth cream of paper, fingers holding onto mine, a hug, and a kiss. Where are these memories coming from?
I keep my eyes close, refusing to let those eyes penetrate me.
“She hasn’t moved in over an hour!” I scream, raking my fingers through her hair.
“She isn’t dead, you know that.” Marty’s voice and stature are oddly calm.
I refuse myself to look at the screens. Just looking at her, unmoving, her skin, her lips, her clothes and her hair all the same shade of deathly white makes me want to leave this evil place forever. She is so joyful usually, so upbeat and happy. Watching her blend into the walls is beating at the barriers I held up.
We’re doing a good thing. Marty’s words from the day before flash through my head.
No matter how many times I tell myself those words, I can never listen to them. It doesn’t matter to me that she chose to do this on her own, it doesn’t matter if it’s a good thing, none of it matters. She will never be the same again and neither will I.
“It’s almost done Michael.” He walks towards me and pats my back, “Then you can go back to normalcy.”
My hands clench in my hair, my face going red as my other hand clamps down on his arm.
“Things will never be normal.”
Two days, twenty hours, thirty-one minutes, and eighteen seconds.
They’re growing restless, whoever they are. I can feel their eyes on me as I sit motionless. It’s driving them crazy, I can tell. For some reason I get joy out of it. If they are going to trap me in this white prison then I’m going to trap them with guilt.
I have had one, strong, crisp memory since the feeling memories. It was an image of a man, tall and stocky, his facial features hard and emotionless. He was dressed in all white, though the memory was in black and white, and had a mask over his mouth. He held a syringe with a long needle, a dark liquid dripping off the tip.
A hand squeezed mine from the left of me. I looked over and I saw another man, this one also tall but his facial features were soft and forlorn. I was shocked to see color, the only color I could see. His eyes were a storm, deep blue but raging with thunder and rain. Tears fell from his eyes and thoughts shook his head. He had soft sandy hair that accented his eyes tremendously.
“I love you, don’t forget that.” He told me.
His eyes flickered from mine for the briefest moment and at the syringe to the right of me. I opened my mouth to tell him something but a sharp burning pain erupted in my chest and I stopped short. I could tell he cared a lot about me and I did also. My heart burst from my chest, fire coursed through my veins, my brain pounded against my skull, a pain equal to the amount of getting ran over by a steam roller-
Then darkness.
I can still feel the pain reliving the memory. I know that it must have been much worse when it actually happened but I still cringe every time I feel the needle pierce through the skin and into my heart.
Three hours, twenty-one minutes and fifty-one seconds until it happens.
They’re contemplating it, I can tell. If they should do it, if they shouldn’t but I know in the end they will. Everyone does.
“Michael, come look at her brain waves, it’s astonishing.” A doctor calls me.
I rush over, bending over to look at the screen where I watch the spikes and dips of her brain waves. They are barely noticeable for the first half of the first day, then gradually growing larger by each minute. In the last five hours alone they have nearly tripled in size of a normal human being at the age of twelve.
“What does this mean?” I whisper, not exactly sure of what it is I am looking at.
“This means she is tapping into her memories, ones that were supposed to be erased from her mind completely. We think she knows what is coming, not specifically but she knows something bad is going to happen. What do we do?” The doctor looks frazzled at me, expecting me to know all the answers.
I straighten up and turn my back on him, crossing to the other side of the room and to the screens, my heart thumping in my chest. This is not what was supposed to happen, she is exceeding all prior assumptions.
I watch the screen as she stands up and turns directly toward me and speaks the most frightening three words I have heard come out of her mouth.
“Things are changing.”
Two days, twenty-one hours, forty-four minutes and thirty-one seconds.
More memories, these ones stranger and clearer than the first. The sandy haired man I saw in the first memory is in all of the new ones. All of them are in black and white beside for the two features of the sandy haired man, as the first had been.
They are all random. A hug between this man and I. Sharing tears as he holds me to him. Feeling my long, long hair as a tear escapes my eye. I reach up to feel the top of my head. My hair is there but cut short and feels like hay. The last memory was one of pure darkness, the only thing was one name; Michael.
Thirty doctors are now crowded around the screen that holds Marlie’s increasing brain waves. Every time she regains a memory they spike dramatically. The doctors are amazed. They talk about not following through with their first plan but instead going through with a different plan, one that involves me.
I stay planted in front of the screens, watching every movement she makes. I’m still shaken from the words she told the group that was in the room with me.
Things are certainly changing.
Two hours exactly until three days. Three days of wonderment, three days of confusion, three days of whiteness, pressing in closer and closer…
I like Michael; I feel a deep longing in my heart for him. His sandy hair and stormy eyes being the only colors I can see makes me feel a deep connection to him. How do I know him? Where do I know him from? The memories confirm my assumptions for me.
I can feel they have changed their minds about me. They are confused; apparently I’m not acting like I’m supposed to. They are going to do something different. Indecision is hanging in the air and I don’t like it.
She is staring right at the camera, like she did before she spoke to us. Her eyes squint in concentration. There is no possibility she can know there is a camera there, the light would be far too bright. She knows people are watching her, there is no doubt about it.
“Incredible.” Marty whispers from beside me.
“It’s been an hour, there’s not much time left.” I mutter, nervous.
My fists clench then relax at my sides.
“They’re going to test her, run tests they weren’t before.”
My fists clench, “I don’t like the sound of it Marty, I don’t like it at all.”
Forty-six minutes and thirty-seven seconds left. A decision has been made.
I’m beginning to feel emotions. This white room makes me feel foreign, strange, and uncomfortable. The sound the word Michael brings holds comfort in my heart. I feel safe when I hear his name and remember the memories. I’m terrified of the people who are holding me here. I’m horrified they have the morality to trap me like this. I’m petrified of what they are planning to do to me.
A memory came to me a while ago. It was of the man who gave me the shot in the first memory. In the memory comes no visuals, only an… emotion, a feeling, and a certainty. This man is a good man. I trust him in every sense. He gave me that shot because I wanted it and I wanted no one other than him to give it to me.
“Incredible, isn’t it?” Marty asks me as he hands me a cup of tea.
I sip it cautiously, my eyelids drooping with drowsiness. I haven’t slept in two days. The warmth the tea brings soothes me.
“They say she remembers both of us.” I whisper, equally amazed as I continue to stare at her through the monitors.
There is just twenty minutes left.
A black haze seeps in the corners of my vision and I feel my muscles relax. The sound of porcelain crashing the floor shoots in my ears, painful almost. I lean against the edge of a table as I look at Marty incredulously.
“How could you?” I whisper unintelligently as my knees buckle under me and I crash to the floor.
The black haze almost consumes my vision but I hold it back as Marty leans down at looks at me with a sad look in his eyes, “I’m sorry Michael, we had to do it.”
The black haze overwhelms me and I succumb to the darkness to the sound of the door clicking and opening.
I failed her.
Nineteen minutes and forty-seven seconds.
They were not supposed to come yet but they did anyway.
A door opened on one of the four white walls, slowly, a hissing noise escaping as it folded open towards me. I press my back closer against the wall farthest from it. There is something not right about this.
Inside the door is nothing but pure darkness, a harsh contrast to all the white surrounding me. They want me to go into that, they are testing me.
“I want Michael.” I say loudly but calming, “Then you can do whatever you want with me.”
The blackness presses against my face, refusing for me to open my eyes. I fight it, but no matter how hard I try it doesn’t fade. I have to wait for the drug Marty gave me to end before I can help anyone.
There’s no answer, there hasn’t been for the last four minutes and twenty-seven seconds. The door stays open, the looming darkness menacing.
Then, a person appears. I see no color in him.
The veil of darkness has run very thin. I smash through it, at the same time my eyes flashing open. I gasp for breath as I struggle to my feet. My head whips all around me, looking for Marty but the tall man is nowhere to be found.
The doctors are still clustered around the computer screen showing her brain waves. I just want her out of there. I want her to be safe with me. No illness, no cure, no tests-
My eyes find the monitors where every angle of the white room is displayed. Marty stands in front of Marlie. She looks completely and utterly calm.
“You are the man that gave me the shot.” I say in all certainty.
“Yes, I am.” He confirms, coming no closer than the few steps he took out of the door.
I walk towards him, stopping only a few feet in front of him, “Who are you?”
He’s taken aback by my question, expecting for me to ask him what was in the shot or where I am, but that is not what I’m interested in.
“My name is Marty.”
A memory flashes across my eyes and I gasp, “You’re my brother.”
Complete silence fills the entire room. The doctors’ jaws hang as they watch the brain waves spike again. I stare at the screens, my jaw clenched; Marty is only making this worse.
“How do you know that?” Marty gasps in return as his face shows his shock.
“I just do.” She responds curtly as she swivels in her steps and faces the wall, “I want Michael, bring him to me.”
My heart skips a beat. She remembers me, she really does. Maybe there is hope after all.
He doesn’t respond. I feel the mayhem erupting where the people are watching me. I want this to end and I can feel if I see Michael it will end.
“Please,” I whisper, a tear escaping my eye, “You can’t get anything else out from me.”
“We can’t do that Marlie.”
I whip around to face him, my blood boiling, “Yes you can, you know you can and so can I. You have enough information. I just want to see him.”
I have never felt this much emotion since waking up. This man, Marty, my… brother. He should be on my side, shouldn’t he?
“You wanted this Marlie. You wanted us to do this to you. You will see him when we want you to.” He begins to walk forward to comfort me, but stops, “It’s what you would’ve wanted.”
I hear him walk out. The door closes behind him. I walk into a corner of the room, the one farthest from the door and lean into it. Why would I ever want this?
“You have the information you need! It works, what else do you want? It’s time to end this.” I scream at Marty.
“We just need a little bit more time!” He screams back, “It’s almost the end of the third day.” His face lightens as he whispers to me, “It works Michael, it works.”
Fifty-five seconds left.
The door has opened several times since Marty left but I turned around for none of them. I don’t care what they are, all I want is to see Michael. He holds comfort and warmth, he holds the answers and he holds the end to all of this, I can feel it.
I stand outside the door, it’s closed now and the monitor above shows her facing the wall, unmoving for the last fifteen minutes. I’m so close to her, I can feel it. The door opens, signaling for me to go in. I take in one last breathe and cross the threshold.
She sits in a corner, refusing to look at anything but the horridly white walls. My heart lurches in my chest as I see how translucent she is; she blends into the walls like she is the walls itself.
“Marlie dear.” My shaking voice calls.
3 days exactly is the moment when the door had opened.
My head whips around to face him as soon as I hear his shaky voice call to me. When the door opened for what seemed like the nth time I didn’t bother to turn around. But it was Michael, it is Michael.
I pull myself to my feet and begin to make my way towards him, every part of my body shaking as my mind goes twenty miles per hour. I stop a few yards in front of him, unsure of what to do. I know this man, but how do I?
She stares at me with fear in her eyes, her hands shaking like a leaf and her feet hesitating to take a step towards me. Hurt stabs me in the heart, as much as I know she can’t help being frightened. I would be too if I was in her.
“Can you tell me why I’m here? It’s been three days.” Her voice shocks me, clear and crisp like an apple, nothing like it is on the monitors.
“Don’t you want to know who I am first? Or Marty?”
“No,” her voice is surprisingly calm, “I want to know why I’m here.”
I take a step towards her and she automatically takes one back. The pain on my face must be evident for hers softens. I clear my throat and stare at my hands as I begin talking:
“Things were difficult Marlie. Three months ago a virus plagued the world. One out of every three people had it and it soon became palpable that the world was headed for extinction when those same infected people began dying in less than a week. Two weeks ago you caught the virus and I was… heartbroken.”
I look up from my hands and see her face free of emotions, her body a tall stone statue. She always was the strongest person I knew, I shouldn’t have expected that to change because of a virus.
“Go on.”
I push my hand through my hair and close my eyes, “They announced to the world that they were testing a cure, but they couldn’t be sure it worked unless they tested it. You’d had the virus for three days then and you were already growing weak. Your hair was receding into your skull, your skin growing paler and paler each day and your bones were shrinking inside your body. Soon enough you’d collapse into nothing.”
I stop, a tear ripping through my heart. My fists clench in my hair, pain riveting through my skull. This is too painful to retell, not after watching her experience it all.
I see him struggling to tell me everything. His fists pull hair from his skull, his eyes squeeze painfully closed in frustration, and every nerve and muscle in his body seems to be on a livewire.
“What happened Michael? How did the world react to the cure?” I ask him, my voice calm, even though every nerve in my body screams at me to run.
“You volunteered to be tested and so did thousands of others, most of which were male. They brought you to this place,” he looks around with horror spread across his stormy eyes, “and they waited until you only had one day left. Translucent skin, short white hair, so frail you couldn’t stand for longer than a couple of minutes. It was pure torture. For them to test the cure on you they had to stick the serum into your heart and you had always been painfully terrified of needles. You insisted the one and only man to give you the shot would be your brother, Marty. He was a trained doctor and I trusted him also. When you were younger, your parents… died. Marty was the only one there to help you grow up–’’
“–and he was one of the most important people in the world to me and I could trust him with anything.” The words come out of my mouth like falling leaves, memories slowly seeping into my brain as his harmonious voice speaks love to my ears.
“Yes, exactly right.” He says, bewildered at my obscure knowledge. He shakes his head, closes his eyes and continues, “When he gave you the shot you fell into a coma for five days. They were afraid you wouldn’t wake because every single male that had taken the cure had died. You were the first voluntary female to take the cure for testing.
“They put you in this white room and put a microchip in your brain. They were studying your brainwaves, seeing what you could remember and what the cure had done to your brain. They recognized immediately that your memory was gone the moment you woke. They were amazed in the last three days how your mind has grown.
“On the end of the third day exactly they were going to do a final test to see if it would trigger anything in your brain. They were going to put something from your life that was one of the most strongly attachable physical things that could trigger something. Instead, they saw your brain waves grow with each passing minute and decided to see how you reacted to a variety of things, especially people. So they–”
“–Did it work?” I cut him off, curiosity sparking inside of me for the first time.
He looks at me baffled, “Pardon me?”
“Did the cure work? Am I free of the virus?”
A smile spreads across his lips and he takes several leaps forward until he is inches from my face. This time I don’t shrink away.
“The cure worked in every aspect they had hoped and dreamed for with only few, minor side effects. Sure your hair won’t grow or your skin won’t tan but I don’t care!”
I grab hold of her and squeeze her as I close my eyes in happiness, “You’re alive, Marlie! You’re alive.” I whisper in disbelief.
Her arms freeze in the air that surrounds us, shocked of the sudden move I made. She feels frail and tiny under my arms, saddening me faster than the news she was cured had made me happy.
“And who are you Michael?” She whispers in my ear softly, as if I was a small child and she was trying not to frighten me, “How do I know you?”
I pull her from my arms and grasp her boney shoulders, forcing her to stare into my eyes, “You’re my beautiful, talented, brave, wonderful, caring, and amazing wife and I will never, ever let you put either of us through something like that again.”
They come in like a tidal wave. Memories upon memories upon even more memories overflowing me like a capsizing dam. I feel myself crumble into Michael’s arms, my legs no longer able to support me. Michael screams and I hear many footsteps stampede through the door, shaking the hard ground beneath me.
Blackness washes over me as the pain equivalent to the shot stabbing my heart erupts in my forehead. Images flash across my eyes so fast I can’t keep my eyes open. The scenes rush through my head and I feel unconscious quickly grab hold of them and drag me away. I feel myself clawing towards the darkness, trying so desperately to get back to my husband that I love so truly and dearly.
I remember now Michael, I remember our life.
I remember how we married the week we found out I had the virus. I remember you saying you didn’t care if I was going to die, you only cared that I was bound to you forever. You whispered the vows to me every night I lied in my bed with the virus.
For better or worse, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.
You spoke me those words every night and sung me a lullaby until I fell asleep. You didn’t abandon me and you wouldn’t dare to think of it.
I remember telling you I was going to volunteer for the cure, even when all those men had died. You fought me on it but in the end you stood by me while the syringe shot the black fluid into my heart.
You told me to never forget you loved me when I lost all my memories, since the doctors had all predicted I would. I’m sorry I forgot Michael and I promise I will never again.
When we get out of these white walls, will you take me to the zoo again? Will you laugh with me as we watch the lions, tigers, and the bears? Will you sit with me in the front row of the dolphin show, just hoping to get splashed?
Will you take me to the park and teach me to roller skate all over again? Will you bring me home a bundle of lilacs from the field next to the school I used to work out? Will you buy a house with me and raise a family? Will you live a happy and long life with me forever?
I sure hope you will Michael, things will always return to those empty but hopeful days in the white walls if you don’t.
I remember our story Michael and I won’t soon forget it.

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