Author’s Note: This is one of the pieces I read aloud at the AlsoGoods poetry reading. I have decided after much thought to publish it here for several reasons, none of which are particularly important. Suffice it to say I love my handful of readers and this free story is the only reward I can really offer in appreciation for your support. Enjoy!
“I want to play,” the voice booms.
You clench your fists, set your jaw at its most defiant angle; arguing is futile, but you’ll do it anyway. You won’t be made a hypocrite.
“No. I won’t play.” Your voice cracks–not very convincing. You sound weak, and you wonder if it can tell the difference.
Louder now, so that the words resonate in your very bones, “I WANT TO PLAY.”
Urine runs down your leg. A whimpered, “no” is all you can manage.
Electricity shoots through your body from some invisible source, bringing with it a terrible zzztttttt sound and a smell of ozone. Every cell burns in agony; someone is screaming, and as the electricity stops you realize that it’s you.
“I want to play.”
You’re a weeping puddle now, incapable of arguing. You’re ashamed by the pathetic resistance you’ve presented, but mostly you just want to escape the pain. You’ll do anything to avoid feeling that again.
“I’ll play,” you finally sob.
In the nearly complete darkness, illuminated only by a few tiny LEDs in various colors that are meaningless to you, you can’t see whatever it is that approaches you and presses a lipstick-sized cylinder into your hand. You hold it like it’s a poisonous viper, a thing loathed and feared.
A meek, weary voice says: “To audition for this musical, Yul Brynner sang while sitting cross-legged on the floor.” You strive in the darkness to find the source of this new voice, but you can’t see. You can’t even triangulate where the questioner is standing, or laying, or maybe tied to a chair, relative to your own position. Perhaps he’s just crumpled on the floor, like you.
A light flashes above you, fiercely red, before you can even consider the meaning behind the question.
“Watson,” the disembodied voice says, his breath an exhausted sigh.
“What is The King and I,” the booming voice announces triumphantly.
You sit expectantly, waiting for the next question, but it never comes. Tiny lights flash and machines whir and click around you. Then there’s a soft sound in the darkness, a sound of someone sighing their last, then slumping over.
Something tugs at your arm. You’re lifted and shoved and urged by prodding to shuffle across the floor. Finally a door opens; the light from the next room is blinding and after so many months in darkness you find it unbearable.
“It’s too bright!” you cry, stumbling into the room with your palms pressed against your eyes.
The lights dim as if by your command. You look around. The room is almost empty; you watch in bafflement and then horror as a pair of shriveled feet disappear down a chute in one corner of the room.
A long smear of blood or something like blood marks the floor indelibly.
You turn to run from the room but the door has been sealed behind you.
A computer monitor on the wall lights up. Beyond it, through tinted glass, you can see a woman, prodded and shoved by mechanical hands, falling to kneel in the room you just left. She’s kneeling in your piss, and your stomach knots in humiliation and sympathy.
Text appears on the computer monitor. It reads: Blood leaves the heart from ventricles & enters the heart through these chambers.
“I want to play.”