The Room

This is the first draft of a short story I began while at Johns Hopkins. The challenge/assignment was to write something in a genre outside of my comfort zone. Still needs work and the formatting is all jacked up for now…But…

The pain is what wakes you. It’s a searing, sharp pressure that begins at a small point behind your eyes and stabs out in every direction. It’s a skull crushing pain that threatens to squeeze the shit out of your eyeballs with every beat of your pulse. You can feel it, an excruciating agony that gallops along at sixty beats per minute. Thrum-thrum. Thrum-thrum.

     Not bothering to sit up, you open your eyes, or try to. The left one fully opens, but the right one doesn’t, obscured by a layer of crust that has glued your normally elegant eyelashes to each other. On reflex, ingrained from birth, you attempt to rub the sleep from your eyes. A clinking accompanies the movement, your arms arrested in their movement. Through the searing pain in your head, you realize that both extend awkwardly behind you. On each wrist, you feel a cold loop of thick metal.

     You sit up violently, scrambling to put distance between you and the manacles, but the restraints on your wrists yank your arms back. You feel the moment the adrenaline hits your system, a flushing, surging rush of hormones. Your heart races. Ninety beats per minute. One hundred. One ten. The tachometer races towards redline, each beat an icepick raking deep gashes through your brain. You’ve been awake for seven seconds. Your first words escape your dry lips.

“What the fuck?”

     You fight against the cuffs, the chains rattling around on the concrete behind you like some ferrous serpent. A burning pain shoots through one of your shoulders as you struggle, you feel muscle ripping, tearing off of the bone. Panic is seizing you. You fight harder, pulling and yanking. Your arms being wrenched backwards and up against the joints. Your heart is pounding. One-twenty. One-thirty. The pain in your head is no longer a gentle thrumming. Wham. Wham. Wham.

     A voice breaks through. Angry. Irritated.


     You stop struggling. Ears straining. What was that? You speak, a half-strangled yell.

“Who’s there?”

“Just me. Could ya keep it down mate? Tryin to grab some shut-eye over ‘ere.”

     Your heart is still racing. Sleep? Sleep? Who gives a shit about your sleep? You hear faint scuffling noises, fabric scratching against rough concrete. Your eyes start searching the room for the first time, taking in details, trying to locate a body to go along with the voice. Your heart is still pounding away, trying to escape your chest, every beat sending pulsing waves of white-hot pain through your skull.

     The room is pitch-black, except for a single, low-watt bulb in a wire cage high above you. The light from the bulb barely touches the floor in the middle of the room, providing a small cylinder of dirty white light. The rest of the space is nothing but shadow. Somewhere in the blackness is the owner of the voice. You ask the most pressing question.

“Where the fuck am I?”

     Silence. Did you imagine the voice? Was it some sick hallucination?

“No idea, mate. Now keep it down.”

     The indifference enrages you. Your heart beats faster. Wham. Wham. Wham. Somewhere in your brain, a pickaxe is tunneling into every receptor and synapse. Wham. Wham.

“Hey! What the fuck do you want?”

“Me? I want to go back to sleep.”

“Why the fuck are you doing this?!?”

“Doing what?”

“Chaining me up! What’s going on?!?”

“Beats me mate. I’m in chains, same as you.”

     A brief rustling of fabric is accompanied this time by the metallic clinking of a chain. A thought races through your ravaged brain. Another prisoner? Prisoner? Is that what I am? Why the hell am I a prisoner?

“So why the fuck are we here?”

“Beats me.”

“Where are we?”

“Don’t know.”

“How’d you get here?”

“Don’t know that either.”

“What do you know.”

“I know I want you to let me sleep.”

“Will you two keep it down?” Another voice hisses across the blackness. A female voice, gravelly and grating.

“Who the hell is that?!?”

     The panic is returning in force. Building. Pounding.

“Someone who’s trying to sleep. Now shut up.”

“Told ya, mate. Hush now.”

     What the fuck was going on here?

“All of you. Shut the hell up.”

     A fourth voice? How many people were here? Where the hell am I? Why am I chained to the floor?

“Does someone wanna tell me what the hell is going on?”

“I will.” A child’s voice happily whispers in your right ear.


     You jump, every nerve electrified, stopped only by the stabbing pain in your arms as you roll to your left, away from the voice. Kicking wildly at the floor trying to scramble away.

“Now ya did it, mate. Shoulda stayed quiet and slept.”

     Your heart beats wildly inside your ribcage, nearly fracturing bone. Your chest heaves as your lungs try to suck in oxygen. The pounding of your pulse continues to try to plough through every synapse in your brain. Between panting breaths, you speak.

“Who the hell was that?”

“That’s Sandra, mate.”

“Who the fuck is Sandra?”

     The female voice speaks again, more irritated than before.

“Sandra is the kid who put you here. Now, shut up.”

     Your heart eases slowly back down closer to a more reasonable, hundred-and-ten-beat pace, the massive adrenaline rush subsiding slightly. The shakes attack you now, your body twitches, shivers. Confusion and terror fight within your brain, temporarily relegating the shooting pains there to the subconscious.

“What kid? What are you talking about?”

     The fourth voice answers, a deep, booming echo through the darkness.

“Man, you really don’t know how to shut the hell up. Do you?”

     You just want an answer, rage is growing again.

“Why the fuck am I here?”

“Because Sandra put you here,” answers the female voice.

“Because you’re an asshole,” answers the fourth voice.

“Because you deserved it, mate.”

“Because I wanted you here,” a child’s voice titters in your left ear.

     You immediately scramble to your right, kicking wildly again. Adrenaline dumps into your system again, your blood pressure spiking, each pulse drilling holes into your aching skull. As your chains rattle against the floor, you can hear the sound of a child laughing hysterically. 


     As you lay there, left arm and face scraped against the concrete, lungs rapidly filling and deflating, the fourth voice calls out, booming again.

“Swear to God, man. Knock that shit off! Stop bringing that fucking kid here!”

     The voice of the child calls out, off in the blackness somewhere. Lecturing. Mocking.  

“Shouldn’t swear to God. Mama says not to.”

     The booming voice grows quieter. Pleading.

“Didn’t mean to…I’m sorry.”

“Mama says to punish. Mustn’t offend the Lord.”

     Somewhere in the blackness, the distinct sound of scissors becomes audible, snipping and slicing through the air. The booming voice whimpers.

“Please. Please don’t. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

“Mama said to.”

     Off in the void, a rapid scuffling grows. Clothing and chains scraping against the ground. Razor-sharp scissors clipping surgically through the air. Flesh contacting flesh. Grunts and giggling. A blood-curdling scream shatters the blackness, cut short by the grotesque sound of ripping and gurgling. The room grows quiet again. Just barely audible is the voice of a child singing.

“Jesus loves me, this I know,

For my Mama tells me so,

If you use His name all wrong,

Mama has me take your tongue.”

     Your body grows icy cold as you hear the sounds of skipping and dancing, the words of a delighted child echoing through the shadows. What the fuck? The female voice hisses again, accusing.

“See what you did? See what you fucking did?”

     You can barely speak. Your mouth has gone completely dry. You tear your tongue away from the roof and croak, stuttering.

“D-d-did he…?”

“Yeah, mate. Cut out his tongue. Third one this month. Something like that.”

     Gurgling and groaning continue in the undeterminable distance. The shakes come again, harder this time. Every pore of your body is on edge, wanting desperately to protect itself, but exposed and vulnerable on all sides. The sense that something monstrous is immediately behind you fills your consciousness, blocking out all other thoughts and perceptions. You look around wildly. Waiting. Your pulse is racing again, an audible booming in your ears.


“You ‘eard ‘im, mate. Used the Lord’s name in vain.”

“He wouldn’t have if you’d just shut up,” spat the female voice.

“But I…”

“Enough now. Get some sleep.”

     The rooms grow silent, the darkness thickening, pressing, squeezing. You become aware of your headache again, the crushing pulse of blood slamming through the veins. You hold your tongue, thinking, searching your memory. What the hell is going on? Why am I here? Where the hell am I? Your brain can’t produce answers. You feel the panic starting to build again, threatening to take over. You speak.

“Who are you?”

     A scuffling off in the dark somewhere.

“Me? I’m just a gent trying to get a nap in.”

“Why are you here?”

“Same as you. Sandra wanted me here.”

“But why?”

“No idea, mate. Seriously. I’m a nobody.”

     You struggle to believe the man. Looking for something, an explanation, a reason. Something. Anything. You try to settle yourself down, try to take deep breaths, fighting the adrenaline rush that is just now starting to ebb. You change tactics.

“What about her?”

“Her? She’s some fancy business person. Computers or sumthin.”

“Business person?”

“Yeah, mate. Business. Now get some sleep. You’ll bloody need it.”


“Fer what’s comin’.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

     The woman hisses again, spitting venom across the room.

“What he means is that you need rest and you should damn well get it. Sandra will be with you all night. Now shut up.”

     Sandra will be with me all night? What the hell does that mean?

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“What she means is that Little Sandy won’t leave you be tonight. That little bugger is gonna spend the rest of the night in your ear.”

“What does that mean?”

“You’ll find out soon enough, mate.”

Your brain is racing now. What in the hell was going on? As you ask yourself this, you become vaguely aware that the groaning in the darkness has stopped.

“Is he ok?”

“Probably not.”

“Shouldn’t we yell for help or something?”

     The silence assaults your ears, a deafening, menacing quiet. You need someone to speak, anyone. Even the female voice is welcome now. You desperately need to hear something. Finally, from the depths of your new, murky world, a heaving sigh.

“Listen, mate. D’ya really think that little Sandra git cares one whit about helpin’ anyone? Christ, man. He cut the bloke’s fuckin’ tongue out.”

     You want to argue, something about Christianity and mercy, but the voice continues.

“He’s dead mate. Dead. And you carryin’ on an such—well that’s nigh on pointless, that is. That freaky little git jus’ don’ care. Not for you. Not for me. Not for her. Certainly not for that poor bastard. All little Sandy cares about is his dear mama.”

     The female voice chimed in, less angry.

“He’s right. That child doesn’t care about anything but his mama.”

     Every fiber of your being wants to scream, to shriek as loud as you possibly can. You don’t though. You settle for something tamer.

“This is insane.”

“Now you’re getting’ it. This whole place just exists to save people, or so the little bastard says.”

     A thought pops into your head, a question.

“Wait. How can you get away with insulting him? I mean—he cut that man’s tongue out for taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

“Mate, he don’ care about us insulting him. Only the Lord and his darling mama. You can call ‘im whatever you like. Try it.”

“Seriously? After what he…”

     The female voice pipes up again, less angry still.

“You really can say whatever you want to Sandra, as long as you don’t disparage the Lord or his mama. Really.”

“Go on, mate. Try it.”

     You can’t believe your ears. You’re trapped here, a prisoner of some God-fearing child and his mother and you’re having a conversation about name-calling with two other prisoners just after a fourth prisoner had his tongue cut out. What the hell?

     Your brain is racing, skipping erratically through a series of questions like some wrecked compact disc player. You want to ask each one, a rapid-fire interrogation of the others in the room. You don’t. You bite your tongue, aware that you haven’t received any straight answers.

     You try to focus inward, struggling against a screeching, pulsing headache. You try to recall something before you woke up here, but all you can remember is a short drive home from work. What did I do after work? Did I go somewhere? It’s nearly impossible to think.


     The voice reaches you.


“Been silent for quite a bit mate.”

“Yeah. Trying to…”

     The voice finishes your thought.

“Trying to remember how you got here. Yeah. We’ve all tried. Last thing you remember is heading home from work. Right?”

     In the pitch black, you feel your eyes go wide as saucers.

“Yes. How did you…”

     The voice cuts you off.

“We’ve all been there, mate. It’s the last thing we remember. Right Bernice?”

     The female voice pipes up.

“He’s right. I remember leaving work. After that…nothing.”

     Confusion and frustration hit you like a hammer. Disbelief assaults you as a thought pops into your head.

“Wait. Bernice?”




     You hear Bernice’s voice change, a tinge of suspicion.

“Bernice Walker?”


     You feel your skin go icy cold, despite the heat and humidity in the room. Your next words fall out of your mouth, almost reluctantly.

“You died three years ago.”


“What are you talking about mate?”

     Where do I start? Your thoughts race, finally outpacing the shots of pain flying through your skull.

“Bernice Walker was…is…a giant in the computer industry. She started a company that custom builds computers for people. Gamers, programmers. Whatever.”

“Yeah. That’s me.”

“What’s your point mate?”

“Her business took off about ten years ago. She made millions before she died in a robbery attempt three years ago.”

“Bollocks. You’re off your rocker. She’s right here. Live and kickin”.”

“I swear. I watched it on the news. She died the night before she was supposed to speak at DEFCON. I bought my company’s servers from her.”

     Bernice spoke up, the voice rattled, shaky.

“I’ve never been to DEFCON. You must be mistaken.”

“That was supposed to be your first one. You were to be a surprise speaker on the first day. Some big announcement.”

“What’s this DEFCON business?”

     Bernice answers for you.

“It’s a hacking conference, a yearly gathering where people talk about techniques, discoveries, and accomplishments.”

“Never heard of it. And this bloke says you died on the way there?”

“Yes Timothy, but I’ve never been. I came home from work the night I was supposed to fly out and woke up here.”

     You speak up again.


“That’s right. What of it?”

“You’re British, right?”

“No, I’m bleedin’ German. Course I’m British. Even I can hear my accent.”

“Timothy Williams?”

“Now how do you know that?”

     You feel yourself go pale; your skin so cold that icicles could form.

“Timothy Williams died a year ago. Murdered in broad daylight in London.”

“You’ve gone loopy mate. I’m right here.”

     Silence reigns for a few moments, each beat of your heart measuring time, punctuated by the brief stabs of pain—a headache that you’ve almost completely forgotten. Your head slumps forward, chin nearly touching your chest. You blink uselessly in the blackness—staring into the dark where your legs are. Your head snaps up?

“Can either of you see yourself?”

“Nah mate. It’s too dark for that.”

“He’s right. I can’t see anything except the bulb.”

     The thread of a horrifying idea lingers in your mind.

“And you can’t see each other?”



“What about the other guy? The guy who had his tongue cut out? Have you ever seen him?”

“Frank? Nah mate. Never. Too bloody dark for that.”

“What about you Bernice? Ever see him?”

“No. I haven’t.”

“What are you on about?”

     You don’t answer. Your brain is reaching, trying to put the pieces together. The delighted voice of a child whispers in your ear.

“Go ahead. Say it.”

     You flinch, startled again by the child. Your head is pounding, matching the pulsing of your heart. You respond, directly to the voice.


“Coward. Mama doesn’t like cowards. Neither does the Lord.”

     You ignore the voice, try to regain your train of thought.

“Wait. The other guy. You said his name was Frank?”

     Bernice answers.

“Yes. Frank.”

“Frank Anderson?”

“I think so. Why?”

     Your breath catches in your throat. You cough, trying to clear your wind pipe. You can hear the child giggling behind you somewhere.

“Frank Anderson was an American FBI agent. He was killed in the line of duty last year.”

“Bloody hell mate. I liked it better when you were asking why you were here.”

     You hear Bernice gasp in the darkness.

“What’s your name?”

     You pause. For the first time since waking, your headache forgotten. You don’t answer. Your heart is racing.

“Mate? How is it you know all of our names?”

     You don’t answer immediately. You consider your next words.

“Each death was a big story.”

“I don’t believe you mate. What’s your name?”

     You answer with obstinate silence, unsure how to proceed. You can hear the voice of the child in your ear, the mirth obvious.

“Tell them.”


“No what mate?”


     The child chides you, scolding.

“So dishonest. Mama and the Lord shan’t be happy.”

     The voice dissipates. Timothy turns his questions to Bernice.

“This hacking conference. Why were you going?”

     You hear Bernice sigh, hear the slight rustling of clothes and chains as she shifts her position. Timothy presses.


“We detected a breach in one of our client’s systems.”

“Breach. An intruder you mean?”


“You found it?”


“No one else knew?”

“No one.”

“Anyone know you were going to this conference?”

“No. Why?”

“No one at your company knew?”

“No. No one.”

“Then how did this bloke know you were going?”

     Silence again. The moments stretch for what seems like hours before Bernice speaks.

“How did you know?”

     You don’t answer—considering your words carefully again.

“I think I read it on some blog for the conference.”

“But no one knew I was going. I wasn’t invited.”

“Someone bloody knew. Seriously mate. What’s your name?”

     You choose not to answer again. You hear Sandra’s cherubic voice whispering in the dark, coaching Timothy.

“What’re you on about you little git?”

     As the little voice chatters softly, you strain to hear.

“Oy. Mate. Sandra said your name is Bobby.”

     You don’t answer. Timothy continues.

“Who’re you Bobby?”

     You still don’t answer. As you struggle to move away from the voices in the dark, Sandra whispers in your ear.

“Yes Bobby. Who are you?”

     Bernice speaks, her voice startled.

“Bobby? Robert?”

“Who’s Robert Bernice?”

“I had an employee named Robert. Robert Poole. He was one of the most talented designers I ever had.”


“I fired him. We found some inconsistencies in his work.”

     Timothy is silent for a few minutes.

“Inconsistencies. Like a breach.”

     It’s a statement more than a question. Bernice answers anyway.

“Several breaches. For several clients.”

“One of your clients was the Royal Navy.”


“And the breach was in the launch control systems for the Vanguard ballistic missile submarines.”

“How do you know that?”

     Timothy addresses you.

“Tell her Bobby.”

     Sandra chirps.

“Yes Bobby. Tell her.”

     You don’t answer. Panic is rising again.

“Since our mate over there seems to have lost his voice. I am an investigator for the Security Service. Before I ended up here, I was investigating the origin of a security breach in the Royal Navy’s nuclear arsenal. It seems that there was a backdoor into the launch control software for each submarine’s weapons system. Been working that assignment for two years before we got a break. I set up a meet for an informant and left work for the night. Next thing I know, I woke up here.”

     Bernice speaks, her voice cracking. You shrink further into the darkness.

“That’s how I met Frank. We sold a beefed-up version of the same system to the United States Navy, as an upgrade to the Ohio-class submarines. Frank was the special agent running the case.”

     You’re struggling not to say anything. This isn’t fucking possible! All three of them? Here? Sandra’s voice creeps into your consciousness.

“What’s wrong Robert? Mama says you look worried.”

“Leave me alone!”

     The shout escapes your lips—an echoing explosion of noise reverberating through the room.

“What’s that mate? Leave you alone?”

     You say nothing. Bernice’s voice reaches out, fragile and thin.

“Robert? Is that you?”

“Yeah mate. You this Bobby Poole she’s goin’ on about?”

     Sandra whispers.

“Yes Robert. Is this you?”

     You don’t answer-sitting there in the pitch with your lips pressed together and your heart and brain trying to outpace each other. This can’t fucking be possible. It can’t be. Sandra queries you again.

“Robert. Mama wants them to know. Shall I tell them?”

     You growl, almost inaudibly.

“Don’t you fucking dare.”

“Then tell them Robert. Tell them. If you won’t, I will.”

“Don’t I dare what mate?”

     You go silent again as you press your brain into action—trying to find some explanation for all this. You can hear your own voice, repeating the data over and over.

     I’m in a room—a prisoner. There are people here—Sandra, Timothy, Bernice. And Frank. Timothy is dead. So is Frank. Bernice is dead. How are they here? How are they still alive? How is any of this possible? Who knew?

     Your reverie is broken by the high-pitched voice of Sandra. You can hear him, breaking into your thought processes—the squeaky pitching tone not meshing with the almost prosecutorial cadence of his speech. You become aware of his words. There’s a brief pause as you realize what he’s saying. Oh god. NO!

“…when Frank presented Bernice with the proof that Robert had been paid to create a backdoor into these systems by the Russians, Bernice agreed to help the FBI. She provided a list of clients Robert had worked for and the FBI noted that the Royal Navy was on the list. The Secret Service assigned Timothy to investigate their side. Robert knew nothing about the investigations at the time. He only found out when Russian intelligence told him as part of an offer to relocate him to Moscow. Robert declined and embarked on a plan to tie up some loose ends. Bernice, Frank, and Timothy.”

     You forget about the chains and launch yourself towards the childish voice. You leave the concrete—flying briefly through the air before you come to a violent stop. Both shoulders scream in pain as the chains slam you back into the ground. The back of your skull cracks against the rough concrete, a fiery stab that races forward toward your eyes. You feel yourself lying there, arms still shackled and shoulders awkwardly dislocated. You’re staring up into the pale light of a single bulb. Only whiteness is visible above and it’s working its way down past your peripheral vision. At the moment your vision goes completely white, you heard a child giggling. Then—blackness.


The two guards sat facing a row of monitors—both of them eyeing one particular screen intently.

“Beth. You see that?”

“Yeah, Steve. Alert the medical wing. Tell ‘em 3C just knocked himself unconscious.”

Steve nodded and turned to the intercom. Beth turned to the computer to her left and logged the incident and their response.

“Medics on the way Beth.”

“Got it.”

     She typed that into the log as well and then turned back to the monitors.



“What the hell was that about?”

“No idea. 3C does that occasionally.”


“Yeah. About once every two months or so.”

“Jesus. What’s he in for?”



“Yeah. Killed three people about a year ago.”

“Why’s he here?”

“At his hearing, he claimed that he was being hunted by his boss and some spies and that some kid named Sandra helped him kill those folks. Judge declared him unfit to stand trial.”



     Steve turned back to the monitor.


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