The Quiet Room
by Melissa R. Mendelson
In a not too distant future, solitary confinement is the new treatment for junkies and social deviants. But when someone is locked up who doesn’t seem to be either, is it worth the risk to do something about it?
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August 21, 2050. 5 p.m. They brought her in. She was bloody, disoriented, and hysterical. She mumbled incoherent sentences as they pulled her past me. Like a doll, she was thrown inside, and then the white wall came crashing down, cutting her out from this world. A hand print pressed against the panel. Infinite, which was strange for the ones mostly brought here lasted anywhere from a day to a few years. There was one that was of different circumstances that remained behind the white wall for over ten years, so was she the same?
I knew better than to ask questions. I received their paperwork, and without a word, they left. They reminded me of a pack of wolves but in corporate wear, so I definitely knew better than to ask them anything. Sure, I wanted to know, but the last guy to ask questions was found shortly later in an alleyway with not only his tongue cut out but also his prized jewels. I valued mine, so I would be quiet. I would be as quiet as these quiet rooms.
Now, to business. I dropped the paperwork for the newcomer on the nearly visible desk that liked floating right behind me. I lost track of how many times I bumped or bruised into it. It was better when desks didn’t float. Computers were now the size of dimes, so why couldn’t desks be the same? And the desk swallowed her paperwork and spat out those waiting to be released from confinement.
It was funny releasing those cut from this world. They reminded me of children. They all wore long, white gowns with fuzzy, white slippers. They were clean from the condensing showers inside. Not one germ touched their pale skin, and their eyes shined from the fluorescent lights. They looked at me but didn’t say a word. I gestured to the panel for their handprint, and they followed my lead. And then I would lead them to the waiting area, where someone normally would await them. If nobody was there, and there were those situations, I would have to call in Assistance. And those people were never too friendly. They acted like these lost souls were the burden of society and treated them as such, getting them ready to go outside just to throw them to the curb. It was disgusting, and I despised them. But I never said a word.
There were four today. One was here for a day. Another a month. Two had been confined for almost two years. I wondered what they had done to deserve that sentence, and like the newcomer, they came in wild. And now they were porcelain dolls standing before me and hoping to be part of the world once again, and who am I to deny them that? They suffered enough, so I led them to the waiting area, where all but one had someone waiting. Great. Now, I had to call in Assistance, and with gritted teeth, I did just that.
What else was on the agenda? Nothing. Once Assistance dragged off that last soul, I was left to do my normal routine. The quiet rooms reminded of that labyrinth tale, the one with the minotaur at the end, Theseus, I believe. I loved drifting across those jagged corridors, thinking nothing, listening against the soft, white walls for life inside. Mostly, I heard nothing, and if I heard something, it was crying. It was always crying. They just couldn’t stand to be alone, and the thought of isolation shivered through me. I would hate to be them. Most of them came here because of drugs, and in this world, rehabilitation was a street hoar at the corner giving you the low dose stuff. So, they came here. The others were just crazy, but I know that you’re not supposed to use that word. But I don’t care. Which one was the newcomer, and like the others, she was crying too.
A month passed. She was always crying. When she wasn’t crying, she was screaming. Half the time, I couldn’t understand her. The other half was crazy talk. Murder. Conspiracy. Lies. Betrayal. It was the stuff of novels, and as I drifted around in-between errands, I found myself drawn to her room. If I was a writer, I would capture her words, but I’m not. I was never good with words, which was one reason why I came here. They wanted people like me. They knew I would not ask questions, and I didn’t. I might be curious but not dangerously curious, so they watched me less. And when I did need something, I would tap on the security cameras twice, and someone would come. But that rarely occurred.
Four months later. She was the last newcomer. That caused me to fear. The last place like this that was shut down was covered in conspiracy. The staffer like me had disappeared. Some patients vanished too because the shutdown was prior to their release date. Some whispered that they were all murdered, cleansed out. Some said that they were dropped off onto one of those islands far, far out to sea to never be heard from again. That wouldn’t be so bad to be stranded on an island, but I doubted those words. They were dead. If this place goes, so do I.
I had started checking her panel often. She showered once a day. She slept six to seven hours. She read when she was awake. The crying and screaming had finally ceased. She seemed more hungry now than before. Strange. Their appetites mostly diminished here, but hers had increased. It was like she was eating for two, but that couldn’t be right. They did medical checks before bringing them here, but what if they missed something with her?
My curiosity itched. Part of me wanted to open the white wall, but that was forbidden. That was certain death, and her panel was red locked. If I dared to open it, it would sound the alarms. I wouldn’t even have time to run. Her life was not worth mine, so I ignored the itch. But it grew, and a few months later, I felt nearly consumed.
I pressed my ear against the white wall, wishing I could peer inside. I could feel her on the other side. Did she know I was there? I could talk to her or at least try, but I was never good with words. I knocked once against the soft surface, and then I glanced anxiously at the cameras overhead. They were watching. I knew better, but I couldn’t help it. Something was off. I felt it. Since she arrived here, it wasn’t right, and even if they never returned, I knew they were close. One wrong move, and it was all over.
“Hello?” I jumped back. “Hello?” I crept forward and knocked on the white surface in response. “Please. Please, help me. They’re going to kill me. Please.” I opened my mouth, but no words escaped. “I’m pregnant.” My mouth slammed shut. “They’ll come for me when they… If they discover that. I’m sure you noticed I’m eating more, and I’ve heard about these rooms. When blood touches the floor, the alarms will sound, and they’ll come for me.”
She was right. The utensils the computer provided was plastic, but one managed to slice their wrists open with a plastic knife. Blood sprayed everywhere. There were no alarms at that time, and when his release date arrived, the smell that escaped that room was horrific. His body was slumped against a wall, and his white gown was brown. And his face… The last staffer threw his lunch up and then some. After that, new security protocols were put into place, and if a single drop of blood touches the padded floor, the alarms would scream.
“Are you there? I know you’re there. Help me. Please!”
I wanted to. I really did. My life was not much. I too was cut early from this world, and this place fit me like a glove. I did not want to disturb that. I couldn’t disturb that, but I felt something. It was no longer curiosity. It was something else, something that I had not felt in such a long time. Humanity.
I forced myself away. I couldn’t help her. They were watching. If I acted out of the ordinary, they would descend upon me like hungry hounds. I forced myself to cruise the jagged edges that I once called home, and again, I bumped into that damn desk. I was able to keep this way for maybe another month or two, but now whenever I passed that room, she was talking. She was having conversations with herself, but she imagined talking to me. And I started to listen.
She was not a lost soul. She was someone important. She never did drugs. She wasn’t corrupt. She wasn’t crazy or bloodthirsty. Her only crime was love. The man she loved was dangerous, and it was his fault that she was here. He made too many enemies, but his bloodline was important, powerful. The baby would be wanted, but she wouldn’t be. She was right. Once the baby came, they would kill her.
“Do you hear me? The baby will be here soon. Can you live with my death?” I knelt against the wall, touching the white surface. “What kind of human are you to live with such a heavy burden?” I flinched. “Let me out. Let me go. Please. I know this means your death, but you would have saved two lives. Two lives. Please,” and a tear surprised my pressed lips. “Do you hear me?”
I did. I couldn’t respond, but I did. Again, I forced myself away. I walked and walked, trying to forget her words, but they haunted me. I couldn’t tune them out. I couldn’t focus on routine. I was her prisoner, and yet, I held her keys to freedom. Two lives, she said. I would save two lives, but I would surely die. They too would find me in alleyway, but maybe not with my tongue and jewels cut out. They would find me in a worse way. Was there a worse way? That I did not want to think about, but if I saved her, if I saved them, then I had to face the music. I would die.
I don’t know how much time passed exactly. It could’ve been a day. It could’ve been a week. Maybe but doubtful, a month. I was ready. I was not good with words. I never was, but I could write. At least, someone would know. At least, someone would remember me, and I stood before her panel. I had to break protocol by shutting down the cameras, which would alert security after their timely lunch break, so that gave me about ten minutes. I had her clothes in hand, and I reached forward, noting the angry red surface. I pushed forward, springing the white wall up and meeting her face to face.
“Thank you.” I handed her the clothes and letter. “What’s this?” She held the letter up for me to see. Then, it dawned on her. “I will,” and she surprised me with a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you,” and I glanced down at her belly, confirming her words.
“I… Saved… Two.”
She nodded. “I will never forget that or you,” and then she was gone, running as fast as her feet could take her. But I could not go with her.
Ten minutes. The cameras resumed. Her quiet room was open. Security came running, so did the originals that brought her here. I waited. They slammed me against the wall, screaming in my face, and pulling me left to right. I was done. I knew that, and as they dragged me toward the boiler room, I saw him. It was the new staffer. There was always one on wait, and he was activated. And I would be terminated, but it didn’t matter. I saved two, and I would never be forgotten. No more words needed to be said.