Darkness has fallen.
Glancing up from the screen, you gaze out through a window into the black of the night. Deb still hasn’t shown up; the house is a mess of food; there are blood stains of at least two strange men glazing the room like honey on an old doughnut; and your furry guests could appear any minute. Yet, here you sit — controller in hand, not a drop of vinegar in the house.
Suddenly an Xbox message comes up: CoRoCK3R69 wants to chat.
“The fuck?” you say.
Grabbing the headset from the end table, you slip it on and accept the chat.
“Hey, you there?” asks a familiar voice.
You rub your temple. “Yes Coworker, how did you get my live account?”
“What? Oh, I hacked your e-mail. I also took the opportunity to add myself as a friend on your account. I’m all assertive like that.”
Yep. Workplace relationship boundaries.
“So, you’re playing Battlefield 3, huh?” he adds tentatively. “Yeeeah, I went ahead and beat the story mode on your account too, got that achievement you’ve been working on.”
“Naturally,” you say, dropping the controller and grabbing a smoke.
“But, hey, there’s always multiplayer! Personally, I like Modern Warfare better. It’s so realistic! War is fucking awesome!”
You drag deep, saying nothing.
“America’s military is the shit!” he says, puffed with pride. “We should totally bomb Iran.”
“Er…” you mutter, smoke escaping with the word.
“You don’t agree?” he asks.
“I dunno, it’s just–”
“Ooooh! I get it, you’re one of those tree hugging Libertarians, aren’t you?”
“I bet you even think 9/11 was an inside job!” he laughs.
“That’s a bit extre–”
“Yeah, well, you can be as crazy as you want.” Coworker scoffs. “America’s the good guys! We’d never do something like that to our own citizens!”
The wall of your house explodes.
“What the fu–” you scream as the couch topples back. The controller is launched from your hand, wrenching the headset from your noggin as you tumble over backwards in a heap. Scrambling to get your bearings straight, you hear a thunder of boots crunching in the dried blood stains of your carpeting. Looking up, you see an assault rifle in the hands of a camouflaged soldier, aimed straight for your face.
“I don’t suppose you happen to have any vinegar,” you say.
With that he cracks your face with the butt of the rifle.
You see stars, then nothing.
* * *
A blur. A headache. Everything is cold, hard.
“Wake up Mr. Mack.”
“I’ll… take that as a no,” you whisper, blinking your eyes.
Slowly the world comes into focus.
You’re sitting at a cold steel table on a matching chair, one of those uncomfortable folding types that makes your ass fall asleep and back hurt for hours. Glancing around, you suddenly realize that your hands are cuffed behind your back and a surly, square jawed zombie in a military uniform is huffing down on you, his breath the acrid reek of decay and Bubblicious gum. The room is a nondescript white with nothing more than a single door. Glancing up at a corner of the ceiling, you’re not surprised to see a camera aimed down at you.
“You know,” you say to the soldier, “this has to be the most unoriginal setting in the history of –”
“Shut up!” he bellows. You do as you’re told. ”Here’s how it’s going to be. You are going to answer our questions, or we are going to waterboard your ass!”
Now, I’d like to stop the story to ask a rhetorical question. When you find yourself in desperate need of vinegar, and wake up in a bad action/horror film, what do you do?
“You find this amusing, Mr. Mack?” the zombie soldier growls. His left eye looks dangerously close to falling out of the socket.
“No sir,” you giggle, “I… find this… deeply inconvenient… and thoroughly unconstitutional. It’s just… what could you possibly want… from me?”
“Mr. Mack, we have reason to believe you may be a terrorist sympathizer.”
Your laughter intensifies. You roll back in the chair, cackling.
“W…why?” you bark through guffaws.
“Don’t play coy! Our spy drones scanned your dwelling. We could see all the food cluttered in your kitchen! We know that you have more than seven days worth stored at your house!”
You can’t breath as the tears streak down your cheeks. You think about all the blood stains and bullet holes in the walls, and roar with laughter.
Stepping back, the soldier gives you an awkward eye. Literally. It slips out and dangles at his cheek. This sends you into a fresh new burst, and he growls.
“You’re insane. But don’t think that will save you, Mr. Mack. We can detain you now indefinitely, and we will break you. You’ll never see sunlight again.”
With that he leaves.
The door locks with a heavy clunk.
It takes some time for the laughter to slow down, to fade to some random, barking chuckles. Your face hurts from all the smiling, and it occurs to you that you haven’t had this much fun in a long time.
Leaning back, you actually feel better, like a weight is somewhat lifted. You glance up at the camera. The lens rotates as it zooms in on you with interest. Looking around, a warmth fills your heart. No windows, no phone, no knocks at your door. Sure, you’ll soon have water gushed into your nose and mouth at an impossible angle, sending your body into an agonizing and life threatening shock, while large, angry men scream at you, demanding something you can never give; but there’ll be no more Hell Beasts, no Deb, and more importantly, no Coworker…
You figure it’s a fair trade.
Leaning back, you close your eyes and smile.
“Pst,” comes a voice from a wall nearby.
Your eyes pop open.
Turning slowly, you wonder if it was in your head. Surely you didn’t hear a–
“Pst! Hey, you in there!”
With a sigh, you say, “Um. Yeah?”
“Ah, sweet! I got a neighbor! Cool, now we can chat all the time, man. Keeps ya sane, ya know? So hey, did you happen to catch the Oscars? Did ‘The Help’ win?”
“Fuck it, we’ll find out together, ’cause I got a plan, man! We’re breaking out!”
“The name’s Cellmate by the way, what’s yours?”
Turning back to the door, your smile drains like a flushed toilet.
© 2012 J. Chris Lawrence