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Silence is Punishment Enough
Author's note: Written for the Nanowrimo competition, I hope that people will finish this story realising nothing is simply black and white. The world is casted in shades of grey and fine lines are thicker than you think. That mystery is in everything and that knowing the truth doesn't really mean anything at all.
A box has been sent. Cardboard brown and a bit too small for its contents: a large book in handwritten scrawls and stained with ink and old age. Has the mail come today? Is it outside yet? A small yellowed note is tapped to it, nothing else.
A message and a warning:
This isn’t a fairytale.
It doesn’t start with once upon a time.
It doesn’t end with happily ever after.
You won’t finish these pages with a renewed sense of self, with some immense satisfaction in humanity.
There will be no revelations, no enlightenments, no serendipitous discoveries.
No, facts about life will not appear once this is concluded.
Messages from higher powers will not be revealed.
There will, however, be a fear. A creeping sense of fear that was there all along.
Or maybe it was set inside of you and has been dormant, waiting to bloom.
Placed by some unknown, preternatural force and is ready to become efflorescent.
What I know is this: it doesn’t come suddenly. It comes slowly, in waves, growing more and more frequent until you are emerged in the water, gasping for breath, for the air you once took for granted.
But it will not come, the tides will not subside, you will not get what you want. You will be surrounded in the fear.
And some day, you’ll forget what it was like to inhale. You’ll become so use to the anxiety, the period before it will seem like some lucid dream.
Some lucid nightmare.
Only slightly fogging around the edges like a car just touched by the earliest caresses of frost.
But it will still be there, the nagging sense of dread gnawing on your mind.
Nibbling on your thoughts.
Tasting your aspirations.
Yes, it will always be there. Maybe it is there now.
But go ahead, read further.
Curiosity killed the cat.
But at least you got a warning.
A Part of a Whole
I’d like to dream now
But they tell me not to
And I listen
People tell me lots of things
Like when to cross the street
If I should rhyme today
And what foods to eat
Dark room, dark room
I am in a dark room
It is blinding white
I am blinded by the light
I try not to listen
To make my own decisions
But they are so convincing
When I don’t have a choice
This seem rather hazy
I wonder if I was defiant
Or simply lazy
For instead of dreaming
You are staring at a wall.
Sometimes it looks white.
Sometimes it looks hueless.
And sometimes, at night, when the shadows aren’t being cast anymore because there is no light, it isn’t a wall at all. It is a screen.
And you watch a movie. Not any movie, but the special kind that seems painstakingly true and suspiciously familiar.
But right now it is nothing. It isn’t a wall or a projector. It isn’t white.
It isn’t there.
But it is there, it’s right there.
You focus on that area, but you see nothing.
You want to blink, as if that would help.
But you don’t blink.
Your eyes are beginning to water yet you won’t blink.
Then thoughts crowd in your mind, pushing themselves between the already tightly filled spaces.
You need to clear it out.
So you began to make a list, a fresh sheet of paper is dated in your mind.
You type the words, watch them appear on the lines, in that cold black print you’ve thought of. You have created it.
I can’t blink
I haven’t for so long
I’ve kept my eyes open
Not daring to miss what would happen
What didn’t happen
And now it scares me to close them
For I haven’t in so long
What will I see?
So even though my eyes burn and sting with natural desire
I leave them open
Afraid of what I might see
Afraid of what I might not
It was the last of many poems you would write in the room with the sometimes-white sometimes-walls.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
You look at the area again, this time you use your imagination and try to trick yourself into seeing the curves of the wall. It is almost tangible, but not quite.
Then a funny idea strikes you, hits you like a shockwave; you are here because of your ‘ability to mix up fantasy and reality’ and you can’t even fantasise seeing a wall.
Is that funny?
Well, you think so, and try to let out a chuckle.
But it’s dry and hoarse because you haven’t spoken out loud in days and it scares you, not amuses you.
Why haven’t you said anything aloud in a while?
But, as you begin to gather the nerves to say something, you realise there is nothing to say, no one to say them to.
And you begin to think of the room again, and how instead of seeing a wall you see empty space, a transparent barrier to what was behind the capacity of the room.
How come you can’t see the wall? It is so obvious!
“But I can’t see things that aren’t there,” it’s supposed to be a hiss. It is instead a cracked whisper.
It is there, you are just stupid.
“I’m not stupid!” It is supposed to be a yell. It is instead a shaky defence.
You hate them.
Those people in the room with you.
The man who is perpetually yelling.
His voice never goes hoarse and you envy that.
He lays in the space between your bed and the floor, rocking back and forth, bellowing in a pain that is inconceivable to you.
The quiet girl.
Whom may look nice but each thought out word cuts with malice and preplanned contempt. She’ll never say anything directly, but the things she insinuates are cruel enough.
Then there is the person who is never quite there, never fully touchable.
He almost seems like a thought.
And when he leaves, you feel empty, like a big gaping hole has been torn in you and all you can do is gap dumbly at no one like a fish who thinks he is out of water but is really in water and just can’t understand the difference between anything anymore.
You now focus on the room.
There aren’t many things in there.
Just the sometimes-walls, a window, and a glass jar.
The window is in the top corner of the wall adjacent to you.
It’s small and only a dim light shines through but it gets lost in the vibrant ambiance of the walls. A ledge sticks out about four centimetres all around, and you wonder what it is for. It’s too high up for any sitting or casual placing, and this certainly doesn’t seem like the type of room for flower pots.
The glass jar is the most alluding, for it serves no purpose and is painfully empty and mysteriously opaque.
What is the container for?
Again, you don’t know.
You don’t even know if you want to know.
Ignorance is bliss you’ve heard.
But you try not to think of that too much, and try to get lost in the other senses the room can appeal to. There aren’t many.
The room doesn’t have a particular scent. Just the smell of cleansed death, of purified suffering.
Of something putrid covered up with Fabreeze.
In normal terms bleach and demise.
You begin to wonder what is in the room next to you, what could cause these smells?
Besides the three other people in your room, you feel so alone.
The only other sane person you’ve seen is the lady in a short white dress with large silver buttons and a small white cap.
She barely stays though, only to ask about irrelevant things like how you feel and what you are thinking about.
She never tells you anything important.
But her voice, it’s rather lovely, with a low timbre and a smooth vibrato.
It comes out unwrinkled, suave, like pouring freshly obtained milk into a clear glass cup.
You like that sound, it distracts you.
Because normally you only hear the the hollow echo of your thoughts.
They bounce around in your cramped head, it’s full of sounds and people and places foreign to you, intrusive ideas that neither help nor prepare you, in fact it hurts you.
It causes you harm.
So you welcome distraction. And usually it comes eagerly, flooding into your open arms.
But not lately.
No, lately you’ve noticed somethings have been changing.
Something has been different.
Besides the cruel whispers, the other inhabitants of the room began a hushed chant, and it stirs the worry inside of you.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
And the worry brings to life other emotions that you normally don’t receive in the dull state you are left in.
You feel confusion, for why are you here?
They have told you nothing.
It’s been so long you hardly remember what it was like before you entered the room.
You forget what it was like to sit outside in the grass, and look at the blue sky, or listen to the sweet sounds of birds chirping.
Yes, it seems all you know is the colourless room, the lady, the guests, and yourself.
But do you know yourself?
What do you sound like?
What do you look like?
You wonder if your eyes are green or brown.
Maybe they are hazel.
Somehow this reminds you of your other feelings.
You feel like a prisoner.
And that sense of confinement doesn’t suit you well, it makes all the congested things inside of you more compact.
The screamer who never goes hoarse.
The girl who is quiet.
The man who leaves you feeling hollow.
You want to run away from them.
You can feel their stares, taste their gossip, and it makes you feel all the more broken.
All the more shattered.
But it seems like they are in your head, they will never leave you alone.
And the room is too white.
And they are too loud.
And it’s too quite.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
A knock on the wall breaks you out of your thoughts, out of your feelings, and back into the numb state of not knowing and not caring.
“Yes?” You raise your voice as much as you can, knowing it’d be meaningless if it is not heard.
Instead of a verbal response, the wall is opened at the intersection, and the lady in white is standing inside of the room, smiling her smile, not yet speaking her words though.
“Hi Juliet.” Ah, the voice. Just as good as you remembered.
You don’t reply, just stare at her, studying the lines of her face and the rays of the body.
It’s much easier to see then the wall.
“How are you?”
You give her a shoulder shrug, pushing out your slightly chapped lips for more effect.
Her hands are placed akimbo, and the lady in white leans down and grins a cheshire cat worth grin. “If you tell me you get something extra with dinner tonight.”
You are familiar with her bribes, they are never true and you wonder how dumb she thinks you are.
Maybe you should ask her?
You glare at the girl in the corner, but she just looks back at you with clear innocent eyes and you look away, suddenly nervous.
“Are you okay Juliet?”
You nod your head sharply, and you catch a glimpse of pale hair.
“Is it okay if I take your temperature?”
She probably doesn’t remember what that is
“I do too remember it!” You scream at the man who is now standing right behind the lady.
“That wasn’t the answer I was looking for, are you sure you’re fine?” She manages to make herself sound sad, but you don’t trust her.
You tried telling her about the other guest in the room before, but she never believes you, and just gives a standard yet polite nod.
“I don’t mind if you check my temperature.”
And the lady does, pulling out a strange stick and instructing you to open your mouth. It gags you, and you struggle not to pull away.
But she takes the plastic rectangle out after a couple seconds and reads something on it, her smile wavering about.
“Normal temp, great,” But the cheshire grin isn’t there anymore. It has faded into a cheap smile, the kind they give to you at 99 cent stores.
After that she leaves, but not without telling you dinner and cleaning will come soon.
You still don’t believe her, and the smile she gave you doesn’t help her case much either.
That’s good, I heard she wasn’t so honest.
The roommates start talking again.
You decide to close your eyes, your head has began to throb.
You’ve done enough thinking for today.
Goodnight, don’t let the bed bugs bite
And they are.
At first you aren’t sure if it is really a dream, or if you’re actually awake. But a small chirp clarifies that quickly. It comes from somewhere above you.
You glance up at the window and perched on the useless ledge is a bird. It looks delicate next to the monotones of the wall. Too precious to be confined somewhere so tainted. Its dark feathers make it seem more out of place then it already would in the light, airy room. It lets out another tweet, a sweet sound that you could get used to easily.
Your friends are not there, but their lack of presences goes by unnoticed from you.
All of your attention is on the tiny creature ever so slightly above your reach.
Yes, above your reach.
A metre or so too high.
But you try to grab it anyways, as if by just wanting something, you’ll receive it.
And because it’s a dream you do.
And you are at the right height.
Whether the window moved down, or you moved up is something you may never know.
But it doesn’t bother you.
The anticipation of stroking the bird bothers you.
The thought of smoothing down its wings, stroking around its beak scares you, but also makes you exuberant with the thought of doing something you normally couldn’t do it the solitude your life.
And so your hand stretches out, shaky, albeit somewhat confident of the outcome.
It is your mind controlling the outcome, right?
So why is it so perturbing when you do not touch the bird?
And when you don’t feel the soft, warm body beneath your fingertips, but instead a crumbly mass of some black, soot like material, why does it shock you so?
Your hands form two fists in disbelief, but the bird is still not there, and now the black ashy matter is smeared into your hands, and you can’t look at it anymore.
You look around, and the room is different.
The guests are back. They are sitting the different corners and are cloaked by shadows from the night.
The talking is resumed and things are instantly too loud.
The walls are black, and closer.
Practically touching you.
Nearly closing in on you.
But you’ve never felt more alone.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
You wake up drenched in sweat, you don’t know what woke you up, but are thankful for that something nonetheless.
After opening your eyes, you become aware of what ended your dream so abruptly.
The lady in white is in your room.
She isn’t wearing her hat and her hair is down and you make note of its midnight black colour.
“Ready to go to the dining hall, Ms. Juliet?”
You shake your head, but know your opinion doesn’t really matter.
“Aw, sweetie, why not?” The lady has a southern twang to her voice at times like these. Normally it’s that low, sultry, and smooth voice, but now it seems higher and more accented.
You give her another shrug, and she gives you another sharp look so you quickly elaborate.
“You are going to put something in my food.”
“And why do you think that?” “Because I was told that.” She bites her lip and looks down, which makes you begin to wonder if maybe you were being lied to.
Set up to make a fool of yourself.
But then she back up at you.
And her eyes aren’t the same anymore.
And her smile isn’t the same anymore.
And her words, worst of all, are the same still.
“And who told you that?”
“The other people in this room.”
“There is no one else in the room Juliet.”
You don’t accept it, you are staring right at them, and she is telling you lies.
Sweet lies from her mouth and she just stares at you with those cold eyes and grins at you with that fake grin.
You nod, and stand up, ready to be lead out of the room.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
Getting out of bed is weird for you, you spend the majority of your time in the room laying in bed. The lady in white instructs you walk around during the day, but you don’t listen to her.
You’ve heard she has a lying problem.
You look down at yourself and see the pale blue gown you are given to wear, and pasty white legs that look like they’ve never seen the sun.
Maybe they haven’t.
You have been outside Jules.
“What is it like?”
It’s different at different times.
“Juliet, are you paying attention to where you are going?”
Yes, you are in the hallway heading for the large room with the indigo dishes and the shiny glass cups that are too fancy for the occasion.
You don’t know if it is the truth or not, but you hope it is.
Soon, the smell can guide you the rest of the way, and you stop noticing the other white rooms as you walk to the dining hall.
The lady is still ahead of you and is rather useless, for your feet are moving quicker and you soon catch up.
Your elbows are touching and you are waking side by side, almost equals.
“Sit wherever you want today,” She says it as if it some treat, as if you had options.
But the room is empty and besides your roommates, there is no one to sit by anyway.
“Where would you like to sit today?”
Don’t pick somewhere stupid
“Oh, I’m not eating with you, I’m sorry,” The lady in white explains, and you only nod because you weren’t talking to her really.
So you walk past the rows of empty chairs and desolate tables until you find a nice corner away from the lady and all the other ladies she eats with.
I bet she poisoned the food, we could tell she was lying when the question was asked
“Don’t tell me that, I’m hungry.”
Maybe it will be perfectly fine
“Oh, don’t say it like that either! You make is sound as if it’s a possibility the food will be not fine.”
I only make it sound that way because it could be
You try to block them out, you know they are joking. You look at the screamer.
He isn’t screaming anymore, and you wonder if he is okay.
So you ask him.
He only looks at you, bloodshot eyes and thick eyebrows.
And you try to stare back at him, but have to look away quickly, because he puts you in such an intense state that sometimes you wonder if he is even human.
If he is even real.
Like if you would reach out to touch him, he’d crumble to dust just like the bird.
And for a second you want to, you want to reach out to the silent screamer, to prove to yourself he’s not a figment of your thoughts, an idea you made up simply for amusement, but a living breathing, real life creature.
But you don’t.
He seems distant and cold and you are scared.
Scared that he will just fade through your fingertips.
And this causes a tension at the table, and you pray for it to end quickly.
The lady in white saves the day.
She comes over with your food, and you almost have nerve to ask for your roommates food.
But she doesn’t believe in them.
At least that is what she tells you.
She is a liar.
And it smells so good.
You don’t know what it is called, but it’s pasta and a sauce and it’s creamy and warm.
The noodles are thick and seem homemade.
But not enough.
“Are you guys hungry?”
No, it’s fine, we don’t need something as silly as food
You decide to leave some anyways. And you emerge yourself into the dish, feeling a bit apologetic for your lack of a conversational aptitude.
And soon it becomes very quite.
You look up from the bowl and notice your roommates aren’t there anymore.
All is calm and you wonder why you don’t feel whole.
Why you feel broken again.
But you try to enjoy the silence and to clear your head even if some nagging sense of voidness is still there.
However, it is short lived.
They begin to whisper to you again.
Different voices and different words.
They are using you.
And you begin to speculate if there is any truth into what the voices say.
“How are they using me? What am I even worth?”
More then you would understand now.
And you try not to get mad.
You try to believe that maybe they know something that they can’t tell you.
Yet you can’t help feel like a kid talking to grown-ups around Christmastime.
They have a secret and they can tell, but they chose to hold it over your head, make you seem lesser for not knowing it. But how can you understand if no one ever explains?
Then again, maybe you don’t want to know anyway.
And that phrase is so simple.
So heartbreakingly perplexing.
You lose your appetite.
Looks like they got the bowl anyway.
“I’m going to go clean up, you guys can have it. I don’t want it anymore.”
You walk to the lady in white, pick her out of the small crowd, and politely wait for her to notice you.
She seems so comfortable with her friends, laughing, listening, caring.
You began to doubt you even have friends, your roommates are rather dubious in character, and hardly ever there when you need them.
Aren’t friends supposed to be the opposite of that?
“Yes, Juliet?” She asks after a while, gazing at you will some horribly hidden disdain, some poorly concealed amusement.
“I’m ready to be cleaned.”
And the lady gets up, signalling to her friends that she’ll be back soon by holding up one finger and painting on an apologetic look of feigned annoyance and duty.
And now you’re walking down the hallway again.
And it isn’t as empty as it should be.
You feel surrounded and invisible.
You see lots of people walking by, and you know those are the other guests from other white rooms with sometimes-walls. And they are talking and walking right past you, as if they don’t see you. As if they didn’t care.
You feel unreal.
You feel sketchy.
And you try to close your eyes, but the blinking problem has started again, and you are to scared to see darkness.
You fear seeing the bird again, and you fear seeing the walls close in on you.
Maybe this time they’ll catch you between their sturdy frames.
“Are you okay?”
You don’t know if the question is directed for you, the hallway is crowded.
You aren’t even certain if it was spoken out loud.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
No, this is in your head.
It’s all in your head.
Your eyes are burning again.
Tears start to flow down, you only notice because you feel a cool moisture collect in the crevices of your cheek.
“Juliet, hun, are you okay?”
You are now positive those words are for you, but how do you even respond? Are you even real? Is this another dream? If you touch the lady in white, will she turn to ash?
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
Her hands are placed squarely on your quivering shoulder blades, effectively stopping you in your tracks.
You thought the worry would never lessen, could be relieved.
But, her simply touch assuaged your fears in ways that you couldn’t believe.
With that the sobs imperceptibly stopped, and your checks just feel sticky from the dried up tears, and you could talk.
And the lady in white doesn’t believe you.
She is a liar, she can spot a mistruth quite easily.
Especially from someone completely lacking the aptitude to deceive.
Yet either she doesn’t care enough, or has something else planned, because you are lead on down the crowded hall towards the cleansing room in utter silence.
You’ve been there before, frequently, that much you know.
What you don’t know, is why you’re so scared.
She pushed open the wooden wall, and you are instantly in a dark solitude.
It is opposites of the room you spend the majority of your time in. The room with the sometimes-walls.
In the middle of the dark room is a silver tub, with rust clinging lethargically to the great legs that hold the bath up.
The lady runs the water, testing the temperature with her slender, ivory fingers every now and then and adjusting the knobs.
You stand awkwardly, conscious of what you must do, but not willing to do it without some admonition.
“Juliet, you are not ready for your bath.”
“Look away please.” You don’t know where the sudden embarrassment came from, but you don’t want the lady in white to watch you as you undress, revealing your modest body in the presence of another person.
But she doesn’t turn away, and she watches you with some sort of ominous stare and an unamused smile.
Scrupulously, you face the wooden door, and peel off the pale gown and watch it slide to the dark, stained floor.
Then with quick strides you enter the silver tub, shivering at the unexpected warmth of the water. The lady in white is by your side, with a yellowed wash cloth and a worn bar of soap.
“I can do it myself today,” You tell her, looking at her dead in the eyes, no longer feeling intimidated by what stares back out at you.
“I’ve been instructed to not allow that.”
“And who has told you that?”
She is about to lie
Don’t trust her
“The doctor, of course.”
You remember now.
You’ve heard of the doctor.
Of what he’s done.
And how he has done it.
“I don’t think I’d like the doctor.”
She doesn’t say anything, just dips the yellow towel into the warm but cooling water.
“When do I get to leave here?” you ask though you feel certain it will not get answered. Truthfully at least.
“You ask this everyday Juliet, the answer won’t change.” She is now furiously lathering the washcloth with the soap.
This startles you, and that feeling you had in the hallway is back with a vengeance.
You don’t remember asking this question.
Maybe this is a trick.
Maybe the lady in white is just joking with you.
Maybe this isn’t even real.
Yes, perhaps this is just a dream
You whip your head back, looking for the girl.
You heard her, why can’t you see her?
“Where are you?”
“Juliet, what are you talking about?”
The lady in white has now stopped, she is holding the washcloth in her right hand and you hear the disregarded drops of water hit the floor.
I’m right here Jules
You turn around sharply again, and this time water sloshes over the side of the tub, startling the lady.
“Stop playing games with me!”
“Juliet, calm down!” And she is standing up now, and she is smothering you.
She is grabbing you by the shoulders and was not in the way she held you in the hallway, she isn’t concerned this time.
She is determined.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
And for some reason, you feel like you should struggle against her, like you shouldn’t give in so easily. More of the bathtub water is cast over the side in the process of your struggle.
The doctor is coming Jules, you better quit now.
“The doctor is coming?” You haven’t seen him in person, but his name is formidable enough to slow down your efforts until the lady in white has restrained you completely.
“No, the doctor is busy. He wouldn’t waste valuable time helping you find your little friends.”
“They aren’t my friends.” You huff, cross your arms, and glare at a piece of grime floating around the murky water still left after the incident.
I’ll be leaving now
“Goodbye.” The words are tired, and clearly lacking interest.
Today has been long, and you consider maybe it has been multiple days.
The dream, the crying, the meal, the bath. Too many things for one day.
Time blends together in the room with the sometimes-walls, and it could have been months when you are thinking mere hours.
The white room.
That reminds you of the whispers you’ve been hearing.
Over and over again.
They are in your head, you can at least figure that out.
But how did they get there? The thoughts are intrusive enough, and startling as well.
You’d be less surprised if they weren’t so different then what you normally think.
Still, they have some valuable message.
It might just be time to leave behind the white room, and the wooden walls, and the shiny glass cups from the dining room.
And the voices.
The ones in your head and in the halls.
In the darkness, and in the light, and when you are awake and when you are asleep.
They tell you, in murmurs and mutters, to leave and maybe if you listen they’ll take the same advice as well.
You close your eyes now, not worried about the bird at the moment, and think for once.
You feel the water rocking back and forth on your thighs, and it isn’t warm anymore, just a cold line half of your body is emerged in.
You hear the lady in white moving somewhere behind you.
You smell cheap soap and iodine in the room.
And the decision is made.
You will be leaving tonight.
And for a second you want to tell the lady in white, give her a proper goodbye. Tell her you’ll miss her even if it would be an outlandish lie.
But you remain quiet, yes, it seems that telling her wouldn’t be a good thing.
Hurry, hushed feet travel further
And you want to get as far away as possible.