The Room And The Briefcase: part 1
‘The Room and the Briefcase’ is an extract from the forthcoming collection ’11:47′, available next year. Parts 1&2 of the story will be available for download directly to Amazon Kindle devices soon.
The room is about ten feet by six, and the ceiling is low — only about eight feet separate it from the floor. There are no windows, which gives the room a damp, humid smell, underpinned by another odour, like meat that’s been left in the fridge too long. I haven’t heard any sounds from the outside world, so I’m assuming the room is underground, but I don’t know how far.
The room was white once, but it hasn’t seen a decent coat of paint in years — possibly decades — and the walls and floor are concrete. There are dark, mottled patches everywhere, each roughly the size of a person. He’s had a go at painting over them, but you can see the stains coming back through the peeling paint like mould.
The room is empty apart from me, and I’m chained to the floor opposite the heavy steel door that serves as his entrance and exit. He’s positioned me so I have no choice but to look at him when he comes in. He likes that, you see. He’s always dressed smartly, like he’s just come from the office, and he’s always carrying a briefcase. He never talks.
There are two thick metal rings buried either side of me and I’m shackled to them, crucifix-style by heavy chains. There’s enough play in them for me to sit up, scratch my face and stuff like that, but the cuffs are inlaid with rows of sharp spikes which have pierced my skin and will rip my wrists to ribbons if I try to pull them out. I black out occasionally, and when I wake up, I always find there’s fresh blood seeping from the wounds — like I’ve been struggling in my sleep.
The cuts are infected now, and there’s a faint rotten smell coming from them. My contacts fell out long ago and my mouth feels hot and putrid. I smell sour with sweat. My clothes are hanging off me and when I wake up from my blackouts, the floor is hard against my now jutting bones. My face is a scratchy mass of beard and my hair is lank and greasy. The days of haircuts, perfectly trimmed stubble and hard effort at the gym just to fill out my t-shirts seem so far away now – and so pointless.
I don’t know how long I’ve been here. It must have been a while, because the faces of the people I love are becoming fuzzy in my mind. I try to recall John’s face, but as soon as I get a clear picture, it melts away. I try to remember if I told him I loved him that morning, or if I texted him something soppy and alcohol-fuelled later when I was out drinking after work, but I can’t check, because my phone’s been taken. I hope I told him I love him. I miss him. I wonder if he’s trying to find me.
Panic is supposed to subside over time, isn’t it? It’s not true. The fear is relentless. I’m full of adrenaline every waking second, waiting for the sound of the door. My whole life now revolves around waiting for the sound of that door come and to rip apart the constant silence. That’s probably why I keep blacking out. I guess your body is only designed to cope with so much stress before it shuts down. Unconsciousness is a relief to be honest. I mean, I have dreams, but they’re all about being in this room anyway. Sometimes I wake up and don’t realise I’m still dreaming, and sometimes when I’m awake, I question whether I’m conscious. I wonder if I’m going insane.
There’s a screeching sound from the door as he pulls back the heavy bolt on the other side, and despite the fact I’ve been waiting for it, a thunderbolt of fear slashes through me. My bones jump beneath my sagging skin, bile rises in my throat — although there’s nothing in my stomach to throw up — and my pulse hammers in my veins.
And then he’s there in the doorway — an unattractive guy of about fifty, with greying temples and a paunch. He’s wearing the grey suit today, with a cornflower blue shirt and a patterned tie. He’s got two suits — one grey and one navy — and about four ties. He sticks to white and blue shirts. And of course he’s got the briefcase. Always with that fucking briefcase.
He shuffles, slightly hunched over, into the middle of the room, sets the briefcase down and walks back out. He’s disappeared from view, but I hear a faint clanking, whizzing sound, like a rope against a pulley. I suspect he has some sort of dumbwaiter system, because he always returns with a tray.
He checks to make sure his briefcase is still there, and shuts the door. Although it’s already silent in here, the sound still feels like it’s been sucked out of the room; like the air’s tighter somehow. He walks towards me.
I often wondered what it would be like to stare into the eyes of a madman, and now I know. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. If that’s true, this man has no soul. There’s nothing there behind his eyes. Absolutely nothing.
At first, when I still had the strength to get angry, I used to scream abuse at him. Brutal, primal things I never even imagined myself saying in my head, let alone out loud. I’d vow to get free and tear him limb from limb. I’d spit, kick and bite, scream at him like nothing human until my throat was in shreds, but he never reacted. He just stood there, observing me with this kind of… muted curiosity until I wore myself out.
Later on, I switched to begging with him, asking why I was there, what he wanted from me. I’d describe where I lived, what I did, the kind of person I was, hoping to connect with whatever last scrap of humanity he may have had. But he just watched silently as I slowly wore down and broke; until there was nothing more of the ‘me’ I used to be. Until I was just a whimpering slab of meat, sobbing and flinching whenever he came near me.
Now I stay silent the entire time he’s here. My trembling gives me away, but I’m damned if I ever let him see me cry again. I’m not in a position to make resolutions — I’m going to die here, I know that now — but I’ve promised myself one thing: I will never cry again in front of that monster.
He carries on now like he’s tending to a mannequin and not a human, pulling down my trousers so I can defecate into a bedpan. Once I’m done, he pulls them back up and begins spooning stone-cold porridge from the tray into my mouth. His breath stinks like cold chips, and every time he inhales, I hear a rattling, wheezing sound. The spoon clatters like a tuning fork against my teeth.
When he’s finished feeding me, he goes and sits on top of the briefcase and just watches, head tilted slightly to the side as if he’s pondering something. At first — back when I had a spirit — I tried to stare him out, but I never won. I refuse to look directly at him now, but I won’t turn my head away. Instead I fix on the spot on the wall just beyond his left ear, and wait till he’s done. Sometimes he’ll sit there for a few minutes, sometimes much longer. The only sounds are the thundering of my heart and his rattling breaths.
He gets up after a few minutes, and immediately I’m a mannequin again to him. I’m invisible as he picks up the briefcase and heads to the door.
I don’t know why, but for the first time in what must be weeks, I speak to him. My voice is alien, dry and unfamiliar, yet resolute, echoing off the bare walls.
“I’m not afraid of dying.”
He stops in the doorway and turns his head slowly to the left, but he doesn’t look at me. And for the first time ever, I hear him speak:
After the door shuts, after the bolt shrieks into place, and after counting to a thousand to make sure he’s gone. I break down.
I cry for me. I cry for the memory of sun on my face, the feel of a hot shower on my skin. I cry for the smell of John’s aftershave, for sex, eating chicken salad, and the loss of my dignity. I cry for the little things, like fresh sheets and the cold side of the pillow on Sunday mornings when John goes out for a run. I cry for my life and my meaningless achievements. I cry for an end to all this.
He was wrong. I’m not afraid of dying — I’m afraid it won’t come soon enough.
Another blackout. I’ve fallen onto my left wrist and the barbs inside the shackles have bitten deep. My forearm is hot, swollen and bloody. I stretch my good hand into my jeans pocket. After all this time, I still can’t believe he missed it when he took my stuff, but there it is, small and metallic in the palm of my hand:
A USB recorder.
I press the button and begin to speak…