WHITE LIGHT RAINED down from somewhere up above, the ceiling from where it came too high to reach. The air was thick like breathing in tropical heat but lacking the warmth or moisture. All walls were padded with a canvas-like material that responded like a stationary punching bag when hit. Grime clung to the walls most heavily from the floor to about seven feet high: as far as most could reach up to. Blood had stained various parts making my four by four cell talk to me. Prisoners of old had punched their fists raw, scrabbled in a descent to madness at the sides of this room. From my slumped figure on the concrete floor I spotted ‘RW’ in red, daubed near the bottom of the door. Those two letters would become my companions, as I imagined what they stood for. Reginald Wode. Reverend Winnipeg. Rita Wentworth. Rex Wellington. Robert Wise. The list went on and on in my head.
In truth I didn’t know if it was the door. No discernible lines or marks indicated its location and I’d no way of knowing myself having entered wearing a hood under the influence highly effective tranquilisers. I was so disoriented were there no light I wouldn’t know which way up was – my throat so dry I wouldn’t have been able to spit either. Part of their tactics. Light had at first been a comfort but when it came to falling asleep, it was so bright that it seemed to radiate straight through a protective arm and burned away eyelids. Part of the process. They hadn’t even told me why I was being detained. Should death follow, my last memories of the outside world would be of walking along a quiet dusty street talking to my close friend, Zeke, as a black Toyota people carrier pulled up along side. The sound of the side door being pulled back now repeated over and over. Many hands grabbed at me, tentacles from inside the blacked out vehicle and my head slammed against the floor. The door was rammed shut and tires spat up gravel. I had barely felt the needle through my khakis. Just a scratch.
I had no wife or kids, so they couldn’t harm them. Most of my relatives were scattered across the world, still more of them were dead, some from natural causes of course but most from wars. Friendly fire didn’t look so amicable up close.
Just as I was beginning to trip out on nostalgia with a little help from whatever came out the syringe earlier on, they started. Shock tactics. Somewhere up above I could hear music being pumped in, distorted and off key without melody. Louder and louder, until I wanted to burrow into the ground and tear my ears off by hand. It jarred, stopped and then continued to pulsate carrying the most unnatural noises down to me, drowning me in audio. My brain felt as if it might start leaking, as if it had been caused to burst inside my skull. This continued for – well – I didn’t have a watch. Far too long went by until a fine mist descended. Abruptly the noise stopped, the air went still. Before my mind could even begin to wonder what was in the droplets I was unconscious again.
My joints ached. My throat was arid. Everything felt so dry, as if trapped in a slow cook oven. I was on the floor sprawled out entirely naked. Someone had been in, the boxers I had previously been wearing were no longer being worn. Psychological tactics. Humiliation was a key component of breaking down the enemy, I knew that much. My brain felt fuzzier than ever, every thought delayed like a trans-Atlantic phone call. From somewhere a burst of energy. I felt the need to stand up. Easier said than done. Limb by limb I managed to get myself to a kneeling position, then used my weak arms to lean on the wall for support. Exhausted but determined I did it, standing up as free as I’d felt since my arrival days or even weeks ago – who knew. I liked to think this was a symbol of my defiance, my unbending will, that no matter what they did to me I would rise again to stand tall, to make a mark above the six foot line. But I couldn’t jump. My calves felt as if the muscle had been sucked out. Feebly, I couldn’t even clear the ground, collapsing instead into a sorrowful heap, looking upward at the light, blinking as tears dribbled down my temples, my last reserves of fluid.
Soon the music began again. I sat against my favourite of the four identical walls to listen, to act like I enjoyed every single discordant note. As if this was my own private concert by Elvis.
The music was different this time. Horrendous but not the same. Every so often a small sequence of melody or a snippet of a voice would play before the cacophony resumed, jangling, jarring and burning, even louder this time, a crescendo of the most inhuman noises thinkable kept playing. They stopped it for five seconds making me think the session was over, before starting it again. I tried to cry, but couldn’t even do that. My ears felt as if they were bleeding. I would check every so often, expecting to see bloody fingertips. A headache had started too, pounding along to the distorted beat. Before the session was over I must have passed out, saving them some mist.
I awoke in a plain white t-shirt, nothing else. My eyes struggled to adjust to the intensity of the lighting. Was the sun itself directly above me? That would mean I was outside…I wasn’t thirsty either. They must have replaced some fluids. They don’t want me dying on them before they have the information. Classic mental warfare. Remembering my last stand, I was desperate to repeat it. Strangely I found my muscles felt better and I was able to stand almost without support from a blood stained wall. I looked up and raised my arms toward the glow above. Still feeling tender I couldn’t stand for long and slumped back down, seeing Randolph Weschler opposite. He spoke to me, but I said I was in no mood for conversation. Idiot – couldn’t he see the state of me? Actually..
‘Do you know a way out?’ I said. My lips had barely moved. I laughed like the maniac I was, briefly, very briefly, my last laughs slipping away.
Then it began again. It was almost boring now, the predictable nature of it like a prodigy’s school timetable. Music. Music. Music. Louder than ever it blasted through, unfiltered and raw, filling my head with lyrics and chords; this was putting a stack of CD’s through a meat grinder. It felt like every part of my brain was being exploded from the inside in time to the arrhythmic beat. Every second felt as if tiny shards of glass were being driven through my brain, cutting it up into a kind of viscous pulp until I was longer able to think and began to claw at the walls. The finger tips were the first to bleed. Then the nails began to bend, breaking off in unnatural patterns. I rolled on the floor howling, hands to my ears, begging to someone somewhere to stop this madness. I hammered with fists on the floor feeling a pain powerful enough to override the audio stimulation, drowning it out for precious seconds at a time. For hours this continued, maybe even days. Daze.
As I lay prostrate, bleeding from multiple places, I could imagine no worse place on earth. Suddenly the music cut out. As my head tried to repair itself from within I listened to my breathing, rasping harshly, but at least a familiar noise, something I’d made myself, that I had control over. Then the next session began far sooner than usual and I hadn’t even been knocked out between sessions this time.
To my pleasure I heard music of clarity. There was a distinct melody – Yes! – then some sort of synthesiser kicked in over the drums. Was this to lull me into a false sense of security? Hostage Taking 101. No sooner had my eyes closed in relief at a recognisable tune, than the song changed. Lyrics were being sung over the stripped down beat. The most horrible and horrific words possible to utter, were continually being spewed from the speakers. Usually it would take me some time to resort to scrabbling at the walls or floor but within thirty licks I was howling, blood encrusted index fingers jammed in my ears, a futile attempt to block out the noise reverberating in the cell. I felt like confessing there and then, to what I didn’t know, but if someone had asked me then and there a simple Yes / No question I would have said absolutely anything to escape. I opened an eye and spotted a rag-nail on my pinky. It was like an exit sign. I placed it carefully between my teeth and ripped as hard as I could. Excruciating pain shot through my hand and arm; I forgot about the saccharine lyrics for at least ten seconds. But an insane man’s counting is not to be trusted for accuracy.
As if some deity had sensed my extreme pain and suffering, the wall I was slumped on turned into a door. I fell backwards, clean noise, free air, the first things to hit me. Some faces wearing surgical masks peered over me, blurry noses and eyes looked downward. Hidden lips spoke.
‘Thank you for taking part in this experiment. You will be paid in full once your medical has been carried out and you’ve been discharged.’
I couldn’t make out a single word, my ears ringing in pain, noises muffled. I passed out shortly afterwards.
They continued to examine my body once I was unconscious. ‘Interesting. Just like the others, it was the Justin Beiber songs which really sent him over the edge. We’ll pass that on to HQ.’
I woke up in the deserted reception of a hospital I’d never been to before. My whole being felt like it needed to be replaced with new parts, better parts preferably. Instinctively I put my hands in my pockets wincing at the pain. I pulled out a bit of paper, it was from some newspaper. All my clothes had been through the wash, the print wasn’t easy to make out. I pulled the fragile paper apart at the folds with tender fingers and flipped it around. It was an old advert.
Do you like listening to music? Take part in a three day experiment. Payment upon completion!
The number had been washed off.