Waiting for Silence – Part 3 (NaNoWriMo 2019)

Part Three

The Coxcythil eventually wore off, leaving me shuddering and gasping for breath. It’s not an unexpected side effect. I find that I tend to hold my breath when I’m anxious, and while this particular drug takes me to more comfortable fantasy worlds than the cracked plastic volume I’m accustomed to, it’s still one in which the threat of imminent disaster looms large. I guess it’s hard to shake off the fact that I’m stuck in a single room (albeit with an enormous closet), adjoining what amounts to a mummy’s tomb. Ah, there we go. For a moment, in the throes of Coxcythil, I actually escaped you. But you’re back, like always, sealed away behind that crudely welded and barred door. I try not to worry about whether I’m a good welder or not. It’s certainly not in my skill set, and I’ll admit that the medical welding gun wasn’t intended to glue big chunks of metal to doors. More likely it’s for delicate pinning of fractured limbs or melting bone, or whatever it is that surgeons actually do. But it looks OK, and it can take a damn hard tug without giving in the least. I know that even if you did somehow wake from your hibernation, the waterfall of tubes and wires tumbling away from you would make such a racket that I’d know you were coming. And what then? There is another door – of course – what kind of structure has two rooms connected to nothing else at all? It’s not exactly accessible though.

My “living chamber” as opposed to the “not-quite living chamber” adjacent used to lead elsewhere. Now though, I have a pair of once-swinging doors that open out onto the beginning of a corridor, allowing headroom for a metre or so before the ceiling and floor are brutally squeezed together, almost fused where they meet. The crunched walls admit no exit. So if you do get loose, I have a couple of options. I can lock myself into the medicine closet (quick check that the key is, indeed, still in my pocket, sweaty and smooth from impulsive squeezing) and wait for that door to be smashed in, while cramming fistfuls of pills into my mouth, hoping for any kind of escape – mental or physical. Alternatively, I can squeeze past one of the deformed doors leading to the abortive hallway, and perhaps cower behind it before forcing myself, ratlike, into the deepest wedge between floor and ceiling. And then be dragged out… It doesn’t bear thinking about, but of course, I do.

Enough of this maudlin wandering. I’ve got important notes to make about the Coxcythil. I award it the rare note of “escape” on the inside of the pharma cupboard, along with “anxiety” and a big tick. I can’t remember where it took me yesterday, but I’ll happily return to a land of predatory flowers in preference to this one. My heart is still racing, frantic staccato rattle of muscle within my scrawny ribcage. I fancy it’s actually bouncing of the ribs and thumping against the intercostal muscle like a lunatic with a meat drum. I take a spoonful of warm water from the container receiving the whistling grace of the taps. Somewhere there’s a water tank that I’m slowly draining…

My room is a mess. It never escapes a degree of untidiness, but this morning’s tremor has done it more harm than usual. I take the opportunity to re-sort the stacks of freeze-dried rations in to piles of alternating colours. I’ve already done it alphabetically, by flavor, by calorie count, shape and so on, but it’s all just preparation for doing something truly artistic with the little rectangular packages. There are fewer of them, though I’m careful to avoid counting them. I’ve no clock in here, and even the machines in your darkened room give me no track of time, unless I wished to count your breaths or you heartbeat. That’s only a temporary measure of temporal affairs, though. With my sleep cycle so thoroughly knackered by the lack of natural light or objective time, I’ve lost all sense of how long I’ve been here. I can count the empty food wrappers and estimate perhaps one or two per waking period, and therefore a rough sense of how many times I’ve slept… But for what? It’s been difficult to escape the idea that time is important – that’s there’s a thing I should do next. I’ve been wired to be on-mission, on-task, on-schedule for so long that my first few days trapped in here are just a mist of panic. I emerged from that callous to the creep of time. All I’ve got to look forward to is running out of food and water, or you waking up. Since you’re in an involuntary hibernation, it’s unlikely that you’ll wake first. So I guess I’ll be safe. And ultimately, I think that’s why I persist. I desperately want to outlive you. The idea of you finding my withered corpse (once you finally smash through that barred door, after ramming it for hours with the sarcophagus you’ve been entombed in, till my ill-welds finally snap), surrounded by empty food wrappers and pill boxes, is just too much. I’m not sure whether that would mean you’ve “won” in some sense I can’t quite grasp, or whether I’ll have finally escaped you, and therefore “won” myself. I suppose once you’re down to dying being a win, it’s a reflection of the state you find yourself in. I’d rather you not find my body, though. I might have left it, but it’s still the me I’ve been used to for such a long time.

I stretch out the rest of the clean up until I start to get tired again. This is the other time-collapsing aspect. The less I eat, the more easily I wear out and the more I sleep. The more I sleep, the less sense of time passing I have. I keep thinking I’ve escaped time’s tyranny, but I clearly haven’t as it comes back to me again and again. I settle myself back down on the bed, sliding gently on my shiny-textured clothes and sheets. The ceiling is buckled, looks like how I’d imagine the inside of tortoise looks, from the perspective of its heart. Like a big metal ribcage, making me its heart, since I’m the only real living thing here. Is it more buckled than it has been before? So hard to tell. Once it was smooth, pristine and gleaming with the efforts of the nano-cleaning crews that swarmed everywhere, eating the lingering waste of people and powering themselves on to the next sanitation mission. They’re notably absent now, and the cleanliness of the ceiling owes more to having just one resident. Its naturally filth-repellent surface does a decent job, but the webwork of cracks has damaged its integrity and each fracture is fringed with a spreading black. Some kind of mould? I welcome its spores as fellow living things. Maybe I’m not as alone as I think I am.

I wonder if time is passing outside. Is there a sun? I remember our crushing impact, the extraordinary sound, like being inside a drum while someone smashes it against rocks. I was thrown across the medical bay, flipped across the desk I was standing behind, rebounding off the wall. It was a brain-deadening blow, but one that saved my life: tossed head over heels into the pharma closet just as the door automatically sealed itself (a fancy security measure to prevent medicines being launched into empty space) left me in a considerably smaller space to be bounced around as our vessel ground its way to a final stop. When I woke (half of my life is waking), half-buried under those drawers and shelves which had at last given way from my being repeatedly smashed into them, I was badly bruised and definitely concussed, but still mobile and alive. Although the little room was spinning around me, I had the benefit of nearby walls to slide along toward the door, grinding blister packs and bottles underfoot. The spare key for the cupboard sat in its little box on the inside for the last time – even in my dizzied state it went straight into my pocket. Outside the closet, the carnage was even worse. It looked like we must have ended up correctly oriented, since the ceiling was still the ceiling and the floor was the floor. My stumbling was more from smacking my head than anything else. It hurt like a bastard, with the pounding we’d taken continuing in my skull.

I kicked through the paper and junk littering the room, fighting my body’s urge to vomit and fall sideways. The intensive care unit was closed tight – the auto-seals got to that one quickly enough. One of the doors leading out into the rest of the hospital section was turned out into the corridor, the other apparently jammed closed. It was only as I stepped up to the shut door that I saw you. You were hanging, impaled on a spar of doorframe from where the door had been splintered by our crash. The frame stuck out from your ribs, like you’d been successfully fished for and were being dangled ready for throwing back, bleeding, into the river. The same blow that had thrown me into a closet had granted you no such safety. Bleeding from a dozen places, you’d clearly been battered around the room and finally slammed into this broken door. Despite the headache and wooziness, the sight of you sent an immediate flush of relief through me. It quite washed my headache away for an instant. I was free. I sank down on the floor, hands over my mouth as the first enormous sob of relief escaped me.

Waiting for Silence – Part 4 (NaNoWriMo 2019)

Part Four

You can get lost in any emotion. I’d never felt the ecstasy of relief before – the profound sense of being released, freed from the chains that bound me. Sure, it was only the physical chains, and the mind holds psychological horrors powerful enough to blot the world, but the idea that you were no longer there left me gasping with shock. It was like imagining a life without oxygen, without skin or hands – inconceivable. Every day that I could remember I’d lived in a trap: dependent on you, thriving on your praise and wisdom, and yet prey to every flash of anger, every twisted desire. Your touch lay on a spectrum of violation, from a pat on the shoulder to a hand tracing up my thigh, to–. A life spent rigid in fear of my best friend and my worst enemy. What could I do if I weren’t striving not to flinch away, pretending everything was OK and screaming into a pillow at night? I never got to find out.

I sat there till my arse was numb from being pressed into my heels – we never choose sensible positions to feel in. My knees had gone to sleep before my tears stopped falling. It was the sheer discomfort that finally dried my eyes, and forced my hands from my face, wiping away the charmless tangle of snot, blinking off the crusting tears. Perhaps it was my choking cough as I shifted myself out of the cramped squat I’d ended up in, or the scratch of my foot dragging fragments of glass across the floor, but I saw your hand twitch. That same hand that had been dripping redly into the growing pool a few inches below your feet. Threads of blood wrapped around too familiar fingers, flexing and doodling new shapes on the ground.

I lurched to my feet, half falling sideways through the open door – a vertiginous combination of concussion, horror and compressed joints. I skittered back on my hands and heels, scraping against the junk strewn across the medical bay. All the thoughts of freedom snuffed out. It was like a portcullis descending over the brilliant blue sky I’d imagined. Hope wrenched away, and I felt it as a physical blow, like someone had tried to rip my spine out through my stomach. Maybe, maybe you would just die. And I wouldn’t have to do anything. I could just wait. With my hand crammed into my mouth I waited.

Dim sounds of clattering and banging from far away intruded on the fainter sounds of the air circulation systems, still miraculously functional. It hadn’t previously occurred to me to use the intercom, but now that I’d thought of it, I wondered why there hadn’t been a general announcement, or at least an alarm, given our apparent status. Without wanting to move, lest I impel you into further life, I strained to detect it in the general wreckage. It’s hard to separate one piece of wrecked junk from another. I could see it was one of the casualties of the crash. Something heavy had torn it off the table, along with everything else once there, and it now lived in a jumble of smashed screens and cables in the opposite corner.

I hold my breath when I’m anxious, till the blood pounding in my temples and the grasping sense of my lungs trying to turn themselves inside out searching for air grows too great. I’m not sure if you can really hold your breath long enough to black out – I’ve never been able to, and I’m pretty sure I’d have managed it by now. You’d think not breathing would make it quieter, but with my pulse hammering in my ears I was deafer than before. It was only when I began to take slow breaths again through my fingers that I could detach sounds from each other. The creaking as vast metal structures settled, grumbling into their new postures. The soft hiss of the air circulator. The faint drip and minute spatter of droplets landing in a growing puddle. And then, at the very edge of my hearing, as I strained to hear,  while fervently praying to not hear, a whisper, barely the ghost of a voice.


My own name. Scratched and hollowed out – a dry invocation, repeating over and over, summoning me. Those puppet strings were plucked hard, and I felt them deep in my belly, a hideous conglomeration of guilt, fear, desire and more, all tugging my body into involuntary motion. Refusing it just means those tugs become tearing fists, ripping holes in my stomach, filling with bloody horror as my brain turns liquid, incapable of holding shape, reason or autonomy. A loathsome sensation. Tears pricked at my eyes once more as I began to heave myself back up, as quietly as I could. Perhaps in the dragged out moments it would take for me to reluctantly pass through that warped door again a solution would present itself.

Maybe you’d just die. Maybe I would – the ceiling might come crashing down and annihilate me, return to me a state of ultimate freedom, perfect nothing. No hopes, no fears, just cool unknowing oblivion. I couldn’t tell which I craved more. They all seemed to contain equal freedoms, even though a more rational slice of my mind knew the only real difference was whether you were in it. But people don’t leave us when they die, they linger, coiled in our minds and hearts, still yanking those agonizing cords, still watching over our shoulders, still waiting for us when we close our eyes or relax, dropping those shields which protect and contain our inner selves. Even if you just fucking died I wouldn’t be free. Your whispered use of my name held all that and more. Perhaps the tone was all in my head, but I heard the cajoling, the unspoken threats, the murmured admixture of praise, longing and contempt.

And yet apparently I could not just let you die. That carefully knotted bundle of obligation, debt and loyalty you’d groomed in to me over the years ran deep. I found myself creeping around the doorway once more to meet your half-raised face and bloodied eyes. It’s hard to explain how you can continue to act with affection towards someone who abuses you, even while you know it. To me, our friendship and the emotional support you’d given me predated your later predations, confusing my sense of what I deserved and what I should be able to reject. Even now I find it difficult to articulate how I could willingly return to someone who hurt me, over and over again, who I feared. I returned to someone who had convinced me that they were my only friend, and was the only person who would ever understand me, and worse, that no one else would understand the friendship we shared. That’s who I saw when I looked into your eyes: all of those things, all at the same time. Somehow, compassion and duty kept on winning out. Your right eye fully red with burst blood vessels, the other glued closed by the blood that ran from your scalp, you could barely hold my gaze.

“I’m here,” I whispered, “I’m here… Elilyod.”

“Help me…”

“I’m going to,” I said. This close, I could see how the ragged spar of window frame had ripped its way through your ribs. I imagined I could see skeins of lung down its length, but there was so much blood I couldn’t tell the difference. “You need to wait – just hold on. You’ll– I can’t just get you down without–” tearing you in half and you bleeding out on the floor, “–I need to find some help. I’ll be back, I promise.”

Your head drooped back onto your chest, in either resignation or acceptance I couldn’t say. I backed away from you, and toward the intensive care unit. Still sealed shut, I kicked aside the drift of junk at its feet and jabbed at the open button. Nothing. I tried again. A faint sound of grinding gears somewhere inside the wall. It just needed some encouragement so I stabbed at the button over and over, using the tried and tested methods familiar to elevator users everywhere of pressing with varied force and repeated blows. They were exactly as effective as in speeding the arrival of a lift, except that the doors stubbornly rejected my efforts. I wove back across the room toward my closet and its ranks of drawers with assorted tools.

I selected a long-handled instrument with a viciously sharp tip and jammed it into the narrow gap between the intensive care unit’s doors. With all of my waning, dizzied strength I worked it deeper into the gap and leant all of my weight on it while stabbing again at the button. A disheartening squeal of mechanical elements suddenly gave way and I was falling again, narrowly catching myself on the doorway before I impaled myself on the makeshift pry bar. Lights flickered on all around me. The ICU looked practically untouched by our crash, save for a distinct rumple in one wall with matching flattened corners above – the same end as the similarly compressed corridor. But all the equipment looked fine, to my untrained eye at least. All the units were recessed into the walls, the coffin-like slab beds flat to the floor. The walls contained neat summaries of basic operations in tidy square panels above or next to each mystifying unit. I took hold of a handle and drew out a stretcher which smoothly extended and unfolded itself from the wall. My hope was that I could push it underneath Elilyod, and ease him off the frame and onto it. I cleared a path through the littered floor for the stretcher’s castor wheels and pushed it into the abrogated corridor. Then I returned to the ICU and activated one of the slab beds. It rose fluidly to the same height as the stretcher and splayed itself open, revealing the gleaming heads of instruments all around its opened shell. Pressing another button set it to a gentle hum and glowing.

I knew there would be more bleeding, so I brought an armful of cotton wadding and two towels from the closet’s supplies. I couldn’t think of much else I could do to prepare. With a deep sigh I readied myself.

“Elilyod,” I whispered, “um, I’m going to try and move you. This might hurt a bit.”

I got no more than a deep groan in response. I bit my lip and maneuvered the stretcher till it bumped up against the back of Elilyod’s legs. As gently as I could, I eased his legs up till they were taking most of his weight, instead of it all being borne by his ribcage. That’s when he started screaming and the blood started pumping everywhere. In shifting the balance of weight, the spar seemed to have pulled back upwards, tearing deeper into his chest and the soft tissues inside. Frantically I pressed the wadding and towels to his chest. I tried to press one of his hands against the swiftly saturating mass, but the screams cut off abruptly and I realized he’d taken refuge in unconsciousness. That sort of helped. With Elilyod seated on the stretcher, he slumped forward and I could push the door back to the wall, half-pulling the twisted metal bar out of his chest. A further jolt of the stretcher forward pulled it free entirely and it spattered the wall and me with blood as it sought to return to its natural position. Elilyod flopped backwards and I barely caught him and awkwardly levered his body back onto the stretcher. There was almost no point in my trying to plug the gushing wounds. I made do with a towel on either side and relied on his weight to press down on the entry wound while I tried to keep pressure on the front and push the stretcher. It immediately slewed out of the path I’d carefully cleared, crap jamming under the castors, resisting my every effort to go in a straight line. With increasing panic I rammed it forward, freaking out about the blood now liberally raining from the stretcher. Finally I pushed it through the ICU doorway, its wheels discarding the mangled plastic casing caught around its front wheel, and almost flying across the smooth floor to the slab I’d activated. Spread open like a carnivorous flower, its instruments awaited prey. I rolled Elilyod off the stretcher, forcing him onto his back and into the slab’s grasp. I stood, hands splayed and ready for – something – the machine whirred into life. Lights flowed over him and, with an eager buzz, needles, manipulator arms and suction tubes lashed out, puncturing, probing, penetrating.