I’ve been trying so hard all of my life, to fit in. None of it has paid off. Why else would I be sitting here in this glass box, with that bright light above me right now? They think I am a freak. They call me “other.”
Other, other, other. That’s all I keep hearing and when I hear it, I want to bang my fist up against the wall and shout.
“Shut up! Shut up! I’m not other!”
But this only provokes them further. They’ve begun to do weird things to me. At first, it was just taking my blood and testing it. Swabbing my cheek, taking down my measurements, peeing in the cup. Things like that.
But now they keep on battering me with questions that I don’t know the answer to. Or at least, those answers never seem to satisfy them.
“How did you feel when your mother died?”
I would say, “I felt sad, you piece of shit. What do you want me to say? Go rot in hell.”
And they would just laugh.
They would play that video of Mama over and over, to make me cry, I think.
“Why are you crying? What makes this sad?” And again, no answer I ever gave sufficed.
Other times, I just screamed back in response but in the end, the result was all the same.
Screaming, yelling, laughing, crying, screaming, laughing.
They would nudge each other and whisper, look at the images on the screen and shake their head at me. At first I didn’t know what was on the screen. It turned out to be my brain - fuzzy and grey, with random splotches of color sometimes appearing when I cried or yelled or banged my fist.
They would take notes while aggravating me. I don’t know what they were writing but certain things really amused them. Sometimes they filled up my box with water to see my reactions as the water rose and rose. I tried to remain calm, because why would they kill me? They enjoyed this after all.
I’ve been in here for.. I don’t know how long actually. Weeks? Months? I don’t know the time anymore, and it is confusing to think sometimes, when the light is on. It’s almost always on, unwavering above me as if taunting me with them.
The water would keep on rising, tickling right beneath my nose and I would choke out in fear. I would stand on my tippy toes and press my face against the top of the glass box where the only other hole is, big enough for a small child’s fist, and try to suck in all the air that I could while my clothes ballooned out around me, weighing me down, trying to drag me into death. And every single time, it felt like I might follow.
They would record the time and again return to the brain scans to jot down more notes.
Other times they do turn off the lights. At first it felt completely random, and maybe it was. But after a while I sensed a pattern to how often the lights would turn off. I would be terrified for hours, curled up in a corner of the glass box, with my arms around my knees in the pitch black. But no matter how hard I tried to fight it, sleep would get the best of me. My grip would loosen and my head would slump over and the nightmares I had were enough to excite them all - the strange creatures in human clothes.
I don’t always have nightmares. In fact, the nightmares have been occurring less and less. Sometimes I would close my eyes in the darkness and when I opened them again, it was still dark, and that darkness would stretch on and on until the blinding lights would come on again in a snap - as if they’ve been waiting.
These days, it’s been hard to feel anything.
That’s not true - I’d say it’s just easier not to feel anything. I think it’s because we are so adaptable. And I know what they want by now. They like it when I cry or get angry. So I’ve been trying to supress myself and sometimes I don’t even have to think about it, switching on and off.
For example, when they show me the video of Mama now, I only feel a twinge of sadness. I remember the first time I threw up all over in my glass box and I could not stop bawling. When they do the weekly electric shock, my heart no longer races in agony like it did the very first time. I just simply lie there and grit my teeth, trying to get through it.
Most of all, I just feel a quiet despair. I would rather feel nothing, and at the same time, it scares me. That this “nothingness” I so long for is happening. That’s what it feels like.
“How do you feel about how your Mama died?” the man asked, after pausing the video and switching over to my brain scans once again. Her organs had been strewn all over the screen, a startling bright pink and red in a room full of white lab coats.
I blinked. I was barely paying attention this time, too consumed by when my next meal would be. Usually they fed me after the lights turned on, but instead of my usual sandwich they turned on the screen again, much to my annoyance.
“I don’t know.”
The man smiled. It was the first time I had seen him smile and it was eerie - there was too much teeth. Too many gums. It was as if there was invisible tape plastered over his cheeks, forcing them to go up, so much that his eyes crinkled, as if he was laughing at me in his head.
“Decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex and decrease in size of the amygdala,” he triumphantly proclaimed to his colleagues. For the first time, it occured to me that the photos on the screen - my brain - had been changing this whole time and that’s what they were studying.
The woman by his side calmly looked at the images. She pulled up a similar image next to the current image; this one looked familiar yet foreign to me. It was also my brain, but from March 24. 2020.
“Hmm, as we suspected Chris, but we still have a lot of work to do. Give it some more time.” She fixed her icy gaze on me and I shivered and looked away.
For the first time in a while, I felt surprise and an ache of unsettlement. How long have I been in here? A year? Five years? When was the last time I even cared to wonder that? I literally had no idea. Have I completely given up? What was wrong with me?
“How long have I been in here?” I tried to keep my voice calm and collected, and not let the anxiety show. To my surprise, somebody actually answered. Usually they laughed when I asked questions and ridiculed me.
“Roughly 800 days,” a small man in the corner said, winking at me.
“Shut up, Adam. She isn’t supposed to know, idiot! That’s why you’re low functioning,” the woman said, glaring at him. Abruptly, a fight broke out into the room as voices all around joined in.
“Low functioning? I built this company, you stupid slut. How about you go suck my dick?” Adam retorted.
“Christina’s right, letting the subject know the time frame could jeopardize our experiment so you should think about that before saying whatever you want,” Chris said.
Adam shoved him in response and soon the men were wrestling on the floor. Eventually the bigger of the two stood up, brushed his white lab coat off and sighed at his bloody hands.
A pocket knife was injected into Adam’s abdomen and he laid there croaking on the floor. The rest of the men and women in the room looked at him in disgust.
“Great, now someone’s gonna have to clean that up,” Chris said. There were frequent riots in the “office” and there was always somebody new taking charge so I saw new faces all of the time. Chris, however, had managed to hold onto his power over this room, at least.
I was too occupied with my own thoughts to really care about the events that took place outside of my fish bowl. 800 days? That was more than a year… more than two. Less than three… two years and a half maybe? Doing the math hurt and then a voice right beside my box broke into my thoughts, startling me.
“I said, you’re up princess,” Chris said.
I blinked back in response. “What?”
“Getting awfully spacy nowadays, aren’t we? I hope we’re not just killing brain cells in there. We’re trying to help, you know,” he said. The others laughed along with his joke although I didn’t really understand what was so funny.
“Anyway, Adam has become rather bothersome. We don’t really need him anymore. So finish him off, will you?” he continued, gesturing towards the badly bleeding body on the floor. He dragged Adam’s groaning body towards my box and I froze up.
“What are you doing?”
Without another word, he unlocked the glass box and threw Adam inside with me. I recoiled into my corner as Adam lifted his head ever so slightly and grinned, the stench of blood quickly filling the contained prism.
Christina and the others looked on with interest at my hesitation. I trembled. “Wha-What am I supposed to finish him off with?”
“Be creative,” Chris said and again the eerie smile took over his face.
Adam slowly exhaled, pressing down on his wound with his hands. He took off his tie and kept it against the oozing hole. “You won’t do it.”
For some reason, that bothered me. “What do you mean I won’t? How do you know?” I said, trying to sound defiant.
“I just know it. I know you - you’re weak and incapable. Couldn’t do anything to save your mother and now you’re stuck here. With me!” He chucked maniacally. He shook his head. “Typical fucking neurotypical. I thought we had gotten rid of you guys a long time ago.”
Again, his statements rubbed me the wrong way and I felt a flare of anger inside of me. But I turned my head away from him, the pathetic bleeding mess of a man.
Hours passed. My sandwich never came and I felt nauseous and light headed from breathing in the thick metallic smell of Adam’s blood. I could see from the dying outlines on his shirt that it was just a shallow wound and he would probably heal in a week. I sure as hell didn’t want him in there with me for another second, though. He was taking up all of my space.
Chris, bored by the inaction, had left a while ago and his colleagues followed suit. Christina had paused before leaving, touching her hand to the glass on my side. It was strange.
Soon, the lights went out. While this no longer surprised or bothered me as it had in the beginning, I knew it wasn’t a good thing for the lights to be out with Adam in the glass box with me. I stayed vigilant, for who knows how long. Sometimes I felt my eyes close and then after a brief pause in the darkness, I’d hear a stirring from either Adam or myself and I would pinch myself awake again.
It was as if I was walking the line between a dream and reality, those days. I would open my eyes and smell blood and remember it all again. Once, I woke up with my face pressed against the glass and a hand down my pants. It was Adam and in his other hand was his dick. He was jerking off furiously and when he met my eyes, his teeth shone in the darkness. I kicked his face in the darkness and scooted as far away as I possibly could in the box.
I could still feel his disgusting fingers all over me and it was revolting. I knew I had to do something soon. He was clearly getting better again, and fast. Maybe the others would take care of him in the end - after all, Chris said they had no more use of him.
But it definitely would not be for my sake. They didn’t give a shit about me. Who knows what Adam would do to me before they decided to take him out once and for all?
As if they had somehow heard my thoughts, a drop of water dripped onto my head. This drop turned into a rapid trickle, which led into a stream and soon a downpour of water. Great. They were filling the box up again.
Why now, now of all times? Haven’t I passed whatever test they were giving me multiple times, with flying colors, by now? I tried not to panic.
The box had two holes - assumingly one for air and another for the faucet to reach into and waterboard the fuck out of whoever was shut in there. I was sitting by the faucet hole and Adam by the air hole. He met eyes with me again in the darkness as the water rose up our ankles. His teeth gleamed. He knew he had won.
“Good luck neuro. You should’ve let me fuck you when you had the chance, now you’re going to die in here,” he said. He was taller than me and could easily reach the air hole.
“We can both share it. We can both make it… please.” I hated pleading with him and I knew it would make no difference. I also instantly regretted even trying to reason with him because then the cocky bastard pretended to think.
He said, “Hmm… no. No, I don’t think we can both make it. The way I see it, there is only one hole we can breath out of and…. Look! There’s two of us. So no, sorry we can’t both make it.” He made an exaggerated sad face, twisting his balled up fists around his eyes as if crying, before laughing again.
The water was cold against my waist and the sound of the water splashing against itself was driving me insane. A pool of faded red was also spreading from Adam’s shirt and in the darkness, I thought I heard a wince. Perhaps he wasn’t healing as fast as I thought he was. I gave up trying to argue or reason with him - the man had no soul. There was nothing I could offer him anyways.
The water rose up to my chest and shakily slapped at my neck as I waded closer and closer to Adam. He still wore the same smirk on his face but behind the mask he looked unsettled by my movements and the determined scowl in my expression.
I said to him, “Move.”
He said, “No can d-”
I punched him in the stomach, close to where Chris had stabbed him. Taken by surprise, the whites of his eyes expanded and I heard a soft thud to where his head banged against the glass, stifled by the sound of pouring water behind me. By now I was struggling to remain upright, the water bobbing around my jaw and lips. I struck Adam again, releasing another spurt of blood in the water. His knees gave out and he gave a cry before falling over. I could taste blood as the tainted water got into my mouth.
As fast as he dropped, he rose again. We met eyes and we both knew the stakes. His arms stretched out to grab me and I used this to my advantage. I moved away, grabbing his outreached arms and pulled him to the side of the box with all of my force. His body weight thudded soundly against contact with the glass, shaking the box so hard that I thought it might fall over.
The sudden movement made the water rise even move on the side of the air hole. I was never able to float in the water before, but with the extra water due to Adam’s body weight, and all of the extra movement in the cage my feet could no longer reach or stay on the floor. I wildly kicked around, hearing my feet smack against the glass and Adam.
He grabbed a hold of my legs and pushed me deeper into the water, keeping my face down. I screamed, as air escaped in bubbles from my mouth and I swallowed a mouthful of dirty metallic water. My hair floated all around me and for a second I almost felt at peace. Was it so bad here?
I closed my eyes and held my breath, feeling the cool water at full force over my scalp and bombarding my nostrils and ears. Cool water… mixed with a pervert’s blood. Trapped in a glass box. Yes, it was so bad in here.
Without moving my head, I jabbed my fingers deep into the knife wound, deeper and deeper, before closing my fist and tearing out a chunk. He momentarily let go of my head, cramping over. The blood stung my eyes. I grabbed his head and banged it against the side of the head repeatedly while he jerked around violently. I heard a crack from his nose and then, “Stop, stop! We can share the hole. We can share it, let’s share it-”
I slammed his face against the box again. It was as if all of the adrenaline I missed out on during my childhood, all of the anger at these strange people in their stupid lab coats, all of the resentment at my mother, everything, snapped a switch inside of me. I continued banging his head against the wall even though I couldn’t breathe myself. Blood now flowed from his abdomen and head and in the darkness, I wasn’t sure if I was surrounded in water or blood anymore. I could only see red.
I was faintly aware that the water had stopped pouring and it was beginning to drain, yet I continued to blindly bash Adam’s head against the wall of the box. I don’t know when I stopped, when the red cleared up or when the lights turned back on. I could hear sputtering come from deep within from his throat, or was it the gutters? Either way it really irritated me. Couldn’t he just shut the fuck up for once? Wasn’t he dead by now? I grabbed a tuft of his hair and jerked his head up to face me.
It was heavy and as I gazed into his glassy eyes reflected by the beams above I realized he couldn’t see me. Or anything. His mouth hung gaped upon, his lips loose, fat and bruised. His cheeks and chin were stained with his own blood and quite possibly my own. He looked like a weird sea creature: he looked other.
I continued turning his face this way and that, admiring the way his cheekbones and wet lips shone in the light. Then I observed my own fists - purpleish, veiny, with tiny cuts forming from slamming into the glass so many times. I had done what I needed to do. I protected myself and I was proud of it. My tired gaze wandered down next to Adam’s feet. Next to his cheap leather shoes was his bloodied tie, with only a few faded patches of blue peeking through to indicate the tie’s original color.
Hmmm… I quickly picked up the tie and folded it five times before tucking it into my pocket. For safekeeping - to remind myself what I was capable of, and what I would need to do in the future to survive.
The door clicked upon and Chris walked in. In his hand was a turkey sandwich wrapped in tinfoil.
“Congratulations. We’ve been waiting,” he said, beaming at me. I smiled back and took the sandwich.
There are alternative endings to this story.