She was sitting at a desk with her hands on a keyboard. Her fingers seemed to be moving without her.
Why was she sitting at computer? Why did her head hurt so fucking much? She seemed able to focus on what was right in front of her, the computer screen and the keyboard. Everything else seemed fuzzy, hazy somehow. She could make out white… walls?, that seemed to backdrop the blurred movement and bodies around her. She looked to the computer screen, dazed. Then curious in her daze, searching for information about when it was or where she was. She found it odd to find no time or date display on the monitor. She wasn’t sure her eyes were working properly. Finally, she found it did say TUESDAY in fat black letters. Useless.
A moment later she processed the information that wherever she was, it was Tuesday. It had been Saturday though. How could she have lost three days? Where were Sunday and Monday? She rested her throbbing head in her hands, her brain hurting her. Maybe this was a joke. Maybe her eyes were playing tricks on her. They were definitely not working properly. Everything was blurry beyond her hands and the screen. She rested a moment with her eyes closed, hoping when she opened them that she’d see things differently.
She didn’t. The screen still said TUESDAY, she was still surrounded by blurriness and the backdrop to it all was still a uninspiring white.
Head heaving, Stella looked down at her body in the chair and was perplexed by the clothes she appeared to be wearing. It was a black, ill-fitting suit made of a very cheap fabric. It was certainly NOT hers. She’d NEVER wear anything so cheap. She peered into the boring and now-noticeably-itchy white blouse that accompanied her uninspired pantsuit and realized that her bra wasn’t hers either. Her rage rose fast and quick, as it often did. Who the fuck changed my underwear? Why the fuck would they change my fucking underwear? Where the fuck am I? Why the fuck can’t I see? She attempted to focus her aching, raging mind on remembering the bra she’d been wearing last. What was Saturday? What happened Saturday?
It started to come back to her. She’d been wearing her favourite bra, the fiery red one. She’d worn it for confidence that morning. Now, she wore a beige cotton sports bra and, as a lingerie snob, it was making her sick. Her anger propelled her mind forward and she reviewed the last of her memories before finding herself here. What was she to do now?
Still unable to see her surroundings but becoming more acutely aware of the movement around her, Stella felt the anxiety rising in her, and in response she rose from her desk quickly, perhaps a bit too quickly for a half a second later she found herself on the floor. She tried to bring herself to her feet but her head hurt so much she was seeing stars and she fell to the floor again. Unsure what to do, she sat there for a moment regaining her energy when a hand suddenly appeared in front of her nose and a familiar voice offered to help her to her feet. Taking the small hand in hers, she slowly, unsteadily rose to her feet and returned to her chair. Afraid that if she lost sight of her feet, they might fail her again, it took her a moment to look up at the person who had helped her. The face while blurred, seemed almost familiar. Her mouth seemed to be moving though Stella couldn’t hear a word she said. Staring at her, her aching mind continued to whir trying to connect her.
“I know you.” Her voice cracked and the words sounded like a raspy whisper. Her mouth was so dry. Her tongue felt enormous in her mouth.
The woman didn’t respond or did she? Stella couldn’t be sure. Her face seemed to register nothing.
“Bath. Room.” Stella managed to croak out, louder this time. This time something registered across the woman’s face. Surprise? Panic? Without a word, the woman pointed in a direction towards something Stella could not see in what she guessed was the corner of the room she found herself in.
As the woman silently slipped away, Stella was sure she heard her assure her, “I don’t know how but I won’t tell.” Won’t tell what?
She sat for a moment longer before holding gingerly onto the corner of her desk and beginning to slowly move herself towards the part of the room she thought the bathroom was in. She felt like a total zombie and she noted how she barely had energy to shuffle one foot in front of the other. Moving through the room slowly she could still not make out what was happening in the room around her but she could now hear the hum of computers, another kind of weird hum, and the clacking of keys. She could also sense bodies sometimes passing by her at faster speeds to her own, and from them a hum, the weird hum was emerging. Focused on the corner that she thought the woman had pointed in, Stella eventually reached the edge of the room and was able to find a door to what she could only assume was the bathroom. There was no sign on it that she could see. Taking a shallow breath, she opened the heavy door and quickly stepped through it, closing it quickly behind her.
The room was tiny and dark. Stepping further into it, she was almost nose-to-nose with the toilet, which was helpful since she could barely see it. To the left of her she thought she could make out a fuzzy looking sink and a distorted mirror. Perhaps the lack of light helped her eyes? Fiddling with the doorknob, she heard the familiar click of the sound and security she had been looking for. Next she brushed her hands near the door until she found the other thing she’d been looking for.
The unnatural, focused light tore through her sensitive retinas and she shrieked in pain, covering them. Fumbling, she turned the light off. The pain subsided almost immediately but not quick enough. It had felt like she was staring directly at the sun.
Her eyes needed to focus and function. And this headache, it needed to get better or go away. It felt like her brain might explode from the pressure. She used her right hand to feel her way over to the toilet bowl in the darkness while her left searched her forehead, looking for the source of the searing pain. Glad that she couldn’t see the seat of the toilet, she sat down and focused on gently massaging the spot on her forehead she found, just inside her right eye cavity. The pressure she put on it she knew from experience had a healing effect and with some focused rubbing and breathing the pain did subside. Standing up, she turned on the filthy-even-in-the-dark-and-if-you’re-near-blind faucet and began splashing cold water in her malfunctioning eyes. If felt really good, so she kept doing it, over and over, her hair and her horrible pantsuit getting soaked in the process. Each splash felt like it was bringing her one step closer to feeling more like her self again.
The floor was covered in water when she finally stopped and her socks that were not her socks were absolutely soaked. Stella lifting her foot and placing it back down, listened to the squishy watery sound that confirmed the private bath her feet were taking. Resting her elbows on the lips of the filthy sink, she could make out an image in the mirror, more than she had before. Feeling brave, she turned on the bathroom light again, bracing herself for the searing pain, and being pleasantly surprised when it only gave her a light beating.
With eyes closed, one, two splashes from the sink and upon opening her eyes she was shocked by her reflection. She looked like a zombie. Not in the rotting flesh sense but in the blank, emotionless stare and lack if living energy sense. She looked washed out, numb, lifeless, dull — totally unlike herself. And they had cut her hair. First the lingerie, and now the hair. It was too much. Her beautiful long auburn hair had been cut into a crude bob. It was uneven everywhere, it’s like they’d simply cut her ponytail off and left it.
What the hell had happened to her? Stella leaned into the faucet and ran a stream of cold water into her chalky mouth. She need to get out of there. Now.
There was only the door of the bathroom. Gulping up the water, she turned off the tap, wiped her mouth and ran her fingers through her newly cropped hair. She kinda liked the shortness of it — it felt kinda liberating, but the cut, the cut was horrible. Ignoring the pool of water around her and if her eyes were truly functioning properly again, Stella walked confidently out of the bathroom door. She was getting out of here. She could see again! The room she was in was huge. Gapingly, humongously enormous. A short line of what she could only describe as people waited lifelessly for the bathroom she had occupied for so long. The place looked like a factory in China, like the ones she’s seen in Manufactured Landscapes. Rows and columns of identical work stations were neatly organized, filling the room in a bland and un-distracting way. At each station, instead of holding an idealistic and hardworking young person, it held a soulless-looking person with an average haircut and a sleek black computer station. By far, the computers were the most arousing things in the room.
People, those who weren’t working at their computer, seemed to be moving in a uniform pace around the room. Who were all these people? There had to be… a thousand of them? Where was she? The room felt cold, like the people in it. Looking to the long line of weirdos that had formed while she was in the bathroom, she picked the first man she saw and tugged at him gently, using her smile to urge him to step out of the line a bit. When he turned to look at her, her hand dropped from his sleeve and her smile left her face. His eyes, they were dead. They looked at her but she could see that they saw nothing. Rimmed faintly in red, they looked right through her to nothing. Glancing wildly around the room, she now noted how everyone seemed to be on another planet.
She stood out standing there. Searching the people in the room, if she could call them that, she looked for the person in control. She couldn’t seem to find anyone, everyone seemed to be acting like zombies out of their own volition and rather than risk it, Stella figured she might as well act like the other animals. Unsure of where she had been sitting, she entered the slow conga line of people shuffling around the massive room. It gave her time to survey the room at ease though she was conscious to keep her eyes mostly focused on the floor, like the other animals were.
Eventually she found a desk almost dead center in the room that seemed like hers and she sat down, eager to figure out how to get the hell out of there. It looked like there were only two other doors, besides the one she’d come out of, in the room. Opposite each other in the gaping room, one was well lit and had people seemingly socializing nearby it, while the other was barren, poorly lit and forgotten looking.
Contemplating what to do next, she searched her desk and found absolutely nothing other than a cup. The only thing of value was the computer. The screen was locked and she didn’t know what her password could have been. It still said TUESDAY in the corner. What door was the exit? She sat watching the two doors while fake typing into the locked computer. By the social door, when people stood near it, they acted different. They started laughing and grinning like fools, as if on cue. Five emotionless people would approach the area almost in unison, stand around some kind of antique water dispensing machine and erupt into raucous laughing for minutes before a new group would replace them and they’d return to their desks scattered around the room.
No one was entering or leaving the door near the social area. No one seemed to really be looking at it at all. She wondered if they couldn’t see it or perhaps simply didn’t care. Looking to the poorly lit one on the opposite side of the room was a stark contrast. There was no one near it and no one laughing. It sat alone and forgotten. Looking back to the other door, a new group was at the water dispenser laughing only there was two things wrong with it. There was a person missing, and she knew one of the people.
It was Noam.
She hadn’t thought of him, and she felt a bit shocked to see him. Then she felt angry. It was HIM that got HER into this situation. HIM and HIS stupid actions. SHE wouldn’t be in this fucked up people farm with bad underwear and a mom cut if it wasn’t for HIM and HIS stupid adventures. HE thought the Rewriter sounded cool. HE wanted to meet him. And yet here she was trapped and seething with anger.
Taking a breath, it occurred to her that she might be the missing person in the group. She had been with Noam when they started this so perhaps people were grouped together by arrival in some way?
Standing up, she grabbed her cup and attempted to walk towards them, and the door, as quickly, lifelessly, and as silently as shoes, black clunky ugly loafers filled with wet cotton socks, could go. Reaching the water dispenser, she injected herself awkwardly into the group, matching their almost maniacal laughing. No one seemed to acknowledge her presence, or anyone else’s. Their faces were expressionless, empty though they were laughing with intense gusto. Noam looked like shit.
“Which door is the exit?” She asked loudly and boldly, suspecting the response she would receive. No one stopped laughing, no one noticed, no one looked her in the eye.
Then everyone stopped laughing. And for the smallest of moments she thought they might answer her. The group, in unison, gave empty smiles to each other and no one at all, poured out the extra water from their cups and began shuffling towards their desks scattered throughout the massive room.
Should she follow Noam? She copied the rest of the group and headed back to her desk understanding that HE was THE problem. The further she stayed from him, the more likely she would get out of this place. She hated herself for stealing a few glances to see where he was in the room. And she hated herself even more for how quickly she determined he was 8 rows and 3 columns away from her. And now as she sat there, thinking about what to do next, she hated the sight of his stupid face. How could she have let herself get into this insane situation?
She needed to get out of there. One of those doors must be the exit, right? It’s a 50/50 shot I pick the right one. Where’s that lady I know? She couldn’t find her in the huge room. It seemed to Stella that no one was monitoring what happened in the room. There were no obvious guards or ‘managers’ or people in charge that she could pinpoint. It just seemed like everyone was in a daze of productivity, doing stuff and doing nothing at all. Looking up into the rafters of the room, she noticed a small window that looked down on everything happening in the room. She couldn’t see anyone at it but it meant to her that someone or something was watching, and that she had better be cautious.
She focused her sight on the dark corner of the room where the unremarkable white door sat. That, she knew, was the exit. She could feel that it was her hope of getting out of there. It had to be. Decided, she began heading not towards the water machine but to the wall parallel. Acting cool and emotionless, like everyone else walking around her, she focused her eyes intently on her target, being sure to stay with the flow of the group moving around her. Eventually the flow drifted near the corner she had been watching so intently and she took a breathe, broke from the pack and raced to grab a hold of the metal door handle she’d been targeting. Feeling it in her now sweaty hands, she pushed it open.