Something a bit different today!
For my fiction module last semester, we had to write a short story. I’d had this piece knocking around in my brain for quite a while. It was based on a particularly dodgey dream I had once, so I thought I’d put it to good use – and, now that it’s been marked etc (it got a First!!!!) I thought I’d share it here.
I feel like I should also add a warning that it’s pretty graphic, just so y’all with a delicate constitution are aware before ploughing in.
There was nothing ominous about the corridor that stretched out in front of me. Large glass panels glinted at us from either side, coated with red sticky-backed plastic that was starting to peel in the corners.
“This is weird,” said Bonnie. “I don’t remember this being here last time. I guess we just go straight down here.”
We started walking down the corridor towards the bright green Fire Exit sign at the other end. The glass panels became walls that dipped into porches, each containing a single wooden door, garnished with a polished brass doorknob. Every single door was identical.
“Why are all the numbers the same?” said Bonnie, her whisper unsettlingly harsh in the silence.
“I have no idea,” I replied, not wanting to look at her. The carpet was a deep red, a colour that made me think of fresh cherries. We kept our eyes on the green sign – seemingly our light at the end of the tunnel.
“Bonnie,” I whispered, “Can you hear…music?”
We stood in silence for a second.
“Yeah, I can. Where the hell is that coming from?”
Neither of us could breathe as we strained our ears to pinpoint the direction of the music. It faded to silence.
Nervously, we continued down the corridor. The green Exit sign hadn’t gotten nearer, and the gaping archway that lead back to the peeling glass panels was still close behind us.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I said, glancing over my shoulder.
“But we’ve walked past loads of doors!” said Bonnie, “At least, I think we have. They all say forty-one”
We edged our way more forwards again.
The sign above the door, lighting our way, flickered.
A door to our left was slightly ajar. Bonnie inhaled sharply, as if she was going to say something. Before she could, an unbearable screech emitted from somewhere behind the door. Instinctively, we both clamped our hands over our ears as the noise wavered and faded. We looked at each other in horror. A different sound wafted from behind the door. A long, soft moan.
A human voice.
Bonnie’s eyes widened. Mine must have done the same.
“Um…hello?” Bonnie spoke, her voice shaky. She dared not go any closer to the door. The moan continued.
“Maybe he’s in trouble?”
I went to grab the door handle and fully open the door, but jerked back in horror. The pristine brass door handle that we’d seen on every door so far was smeared in blood. I hurriedly wiped my hand on my jeans.
I took a deep breath and looked to Bonnie for support. Using the very tip of my toe, I gave the door a gentle push. It swung open to reveal – carnage.
My hand flew to my mouth. The colour drained from Bonnie’s face and I fought the urge to be sick.
The room contained a bed in one corner. Opposite, a chair at a desk, covered in an array of paper and pens. A landline lay off the hook. A single shirt on a coat hanger hung on the door of the wardrobe.
A picture of a girl lay flat; face up, on the floor.
Everything I could see was covered in the same blood as the brass door handle.
It was obvious where the noise had come from. At the end of the bed was an enormous speaker. A trail of wire snaked along the carpet and plugged into a guitar on the lap of a teenage boy. His hair was short, but matted with blood. His face was deathly pale behind the crimson that had congealed in grotesque beads around his face. Fresh, slick blood continued to flow down the sides of his face and neck like oil, and my stomach lurched when I realised it was coming from his ears. He raised his right hand from his gore-covered guitar and ran it through his hair. His hand was in an even worse state than his face; ruined from obsessive strumming, his fingers were nothing more than stumps. White bone shone through in place, skeletal and sickening.
He turned his head to face us, slowly.
As his eyes met mine, I realised – I knew this boy. I knew who he was; his name was Liam. I choked on my breath. What had happened to him? Was he in pain? It was impossible to tell how much of him was left. When I knew him, he was a promising student who had gone off to university to study music. I couldn’t imagine what had happened to him for him to reach this state. I didn’t want to imagine.
I couldn’t stay. I had to get out of there. Taking my eyes off of Liam’s mangled self was agony, but I couldn’t stand to see him like that anymore.
I grabbed Bonnie’s hand and sprinted up the corridor, as Liam’s tortured symphony echoed up the corridor behind us.
We ran until our chests hammered and our shins throbbed. Towards that green light in the distance that never seemed to get any closer. We stopped, doubled over, gulping air into our blazing lungs. We looked back. The glass archway was definitely further away, but the green Exit was still no closer. It flickered again.
Bonnie and I looked at each other in fear. She took my clammy hand as we turned to face the green Exit sign.
The scream, again
“I hope there’s no blood this time,” whispered Bonnie.
We walked. Another door ajar.
The doorknob, polished brass.
Bonnie gave the door a gentle push, and we entered a room of brilliant white. I flinched; it made my skull ache.
In the centre of the room sat another boy, cross legged, in a pair of thin pyjamas. He looked up at us, dolefully. His eyes were bloodshot, and the bruise-like shadows beneath betrayed a lack of sleep. Even with his hair dishevelled and greasy, and his lips cracked and faded, the absence of blood meant I knew instantly who it was.
His name was Matt. He had been my first “boyfriend,” if you could call it that. We held hands in Year Three, and back then that was enough.
He immediately began to scream again, entwining his fingers in his hair and rocking himself backwards and forwards, overwhelmed by sheer panic. What had he been through? The trauma was unimaginable.
Once we were out of here, he would be harder to heal.
If we got out of here.
How were we going to get out of here?
Matt stopped screaming and began to whimper. It took all I had not to reach out to him, but Bonnie tugged on my arm.
“We can’t leave him!” I wailed, “we can’t leave him like this!”
Bonnie said nothing. She pointed down the corridor. This time, the exit sign was closer, and the glass archway further away.
Was this a relief?
Bonnie didn’t stop pointing.
There was someone standing there.
I knew instantly who it was. No, I couldn’t do this. This was too much.
He stood, facing away from us, his arms straight down at his sides. The sign flickered.
I reached out for Bonnie’s hand, but I couldn’t find it.
Where was she?
I couldn’t take my eyes off of the figure in front of me to check if she was still behind me. I knew she wasn’t. It was him and me.
Just him and me.
The green light flickered.
He flexed his shoulders. My knees went weak.
The man in front of me turned slowly around. He was wearing a white lab coat, riddled with tears, burn holes and chemical stains. The shirt underneath was dirty and torn, and missing a few buttons, revealing his emaciated state beyond. A pair of shattered goggles hung from perished elastic around his neck. His head drooped lazily to one side, as though his neck could barely support the weight of his head. It mocked curiosity.
His face was sunken in and sallow, elevating his cheekbones. His beautiful green eyes were now yellowing, and his pupils a milky grey from spending so long in the dark. Grey circles swooped beneath them. He had clearly not slept in…days? weeks?
I let out a shaky sob as he stood there, staring at me.
“What happened to you?”
He said nothing. I hoped he still knew how to speak.
“Owen. Why are you here?”
He continued to stare at me in silence, but shifted his neck so his head no longer lolled to one side. It relocated with a sickening click. He flexed his shoulders again and raised his arm to rub the back of his neck.
His arm. I hadn’t noticed his arm.
My own hand slapped to my mouth, but I couldn’t stop myself from vomiting. It sprayed down my front and I felt it burn my skin, acrid.
His left arm was unrecognisable. Lumps of stringy viscera dangled from the bone. Flakes of blackened skin fluttered to the carpet, and the stench of decay and ammonia charred the back of my throat . His watch was still wrapped around his wrist, entangled in the vines of tendons and blood vessels that had been exposed as his flesh dissolved.
How was he still alive?
Was he alive?
“Owen,” I sobbed,
This had to be a dream. Someone was playing with my thoughts, torturing me to make sure I saw exactly what I feared the most. A black haze invaded my vision, and a thin white tunnel appeared. The green light flickered, and the last thing I saw was Owen’s sunken features as his head drooped to one side again.
I woke up.
I screwed up my eyes. They stung in the light. I reached up to rub them, and was startled to feel that I wasn’t immediately able to move my arms. Lifting my head slightly, a wave of relief washed over me when I discovered that I wasn’t tied down, but tucked in – with a thin white sheet that covered me from the neck down.
The room surrounding me was entirely white, and for a few seconds I thought I was back with Matt. I swivelled my eyes around the room. It was the size of an aircraft hangar, from what I could see in the harsh floodlights. The gloomy expanse of the ceiling yawned above and around me, and I stared hard into it, hoping my eyes would adjust.
I sat up, slowly.
A black window occupied the wall at the far left end of the room, with a green panel light above it.
“You’re awake,” came a nasal sound from above my head. I jerked upright, looking around frantically for the owner of the voice. A small, grey speaker sat halfway up the pipes behind me, with the same blinking green light.
“Who are you?!”
A pause. “Can you hear me alright?” said the speaker.
“…yes. Who are you?”
“That’s good. Would you like something to eat?”
A small cylindrical turret opened next to me, and a plate full of fruit was elevated out of the top.
The voice was male, but overly sweet and sickly. Like the fruit next to me.
The voice demanded. I picked up an apple and took a minuscule bite.
“There. Isn’t that better?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know how your friends are?”
I looked to the right.
There were four other beds, each containing a different patient.
Beside me was Bonnie. She was physically unharmed, deep in much the same slumber as I must have been.
Beyond her, a bandaged hand escaped the covers. The patient’s head was swathed in bandages, beginning to go pink in places. I assumed it to be Liam’s.
The picture of the girl on his bedside was testament to this. The frame was cracked.
Next to Liam was a glass cubicle containing a bed and a nightstand. In the bed was Matt’s dark mop of hair, with his arms restrained behind his back in some kind of straight jacket. He too, was sleeping soundly.
I clambered out of bed and walked solidly past the others.
The final bed was slightly bigger than the others. Owen lay on top of the white sheet, and nurses in beaked masks with orb-shaped eyes bustled backwards and forwards around his bed. The first thing I noticed was his arm. The mangled slab of meat leapt back into my mind and I felt dizzy. It had been replaced by a sleek, silver metal arm, although the stitches were still fresh at his shoulder.
They’d even managed to rescue his watch, which fit snugly around his new limb.
He’d like that, I thought.
He had a drip attached at the crease of his good arm. A dark purple liquid coursed into his veins – probably a strong painkiller, or some form of nourishment; his ribs jutted out behind his skin in an alarming way.
He was safe now.
We were safe.
Were we safe?
I looked to the long black window at the other end of the room
“See?” said the speaker
I did see.
I clambered out of bed and walked solidly past the others. My fingertips brushed the cold metal of Owen’s reconstructed hand.
The orbs of the nurses beaked masks flashed as they marched towards me.
The green light flickered.