Day I: Captors
Author's Note: This is a companion story to the story Day I, found here: http://ledoppelganger.blogspot.com/2006/05/day-i.html
"Look at that, another one. When will they learn that they can't beat the State?"
The wooden chair creeked as it adjusted to the guard's shifting weight as he leaned back. The chair slid into the grooves in the floor that it had worn there from being leaned back so often.
"Can you blame them? It always takes one hard lesson," replied the other guard, as a breeze from the air conditioning blew his air to one side. He sat with his chair firmly on the ground, his hands lightly resting on the edge of the control panel in front of him. The black and white televison screen built into the panel showed the cell and the prisoner in it.
"He was already sweating like a pig when we brought him in. It won't take long until he's dehydrated, the lights will see to that. I wonder if he'll take to drinking out of the toilet like some of the others have," the first guard said. He twirled a pencil in his hands, already bored with the figure on the screen. "They never do much of interest. I wish we could get a football game on this screen. I never have figured out why these prisoners need watching twenty four seven from one person, much less the both of us."
"So we all keep our sanity."
"What? " The guard lowed his chair so it was resting on all four legs again. The air conditioning caught the collar of his shirt and made it flutter a bit. "What are you talking about? The whole purpose of shining the constant light is to drive him insane. Hell, before they got rid of the one way glass it used to drive the guards insane too."
"Yes, I know, but with two guards we can keep each other company. Hearing a voice does a lot to keep one sane." The guard kept his hands resting on the edge of the control panel, sitting still as the air conditioner circulated the air around him.
"Well, I suppose it's good to know someone might care about us. All they want out of him," the guard said, leaning back again and waving his hand at the screen, "is for him to go nuts. "If they show up to court that way it makes the case easy to handle. The sooner he needs a jacket the better for everyone. It means the State is happy and we get out of here sooner."
"I've got all the time in the world, so I don't mind waiting."
"Yeah, you don't have any girl to go back home to, and from the looks of things, you aren't going to be getting one any time soon either." Chuckling cut through the quiet, persistent rattling of the air conditioner.
The other guard sat unwavering, waiting for the chuckle to die away. "It's okay if I don't end up with a girl. Having my sanity is enough."
"You're a strange one ..." The guard's voice trailed off as he leaned in close to the monitor. "How did he get that object? What do you think it is, I can't tell. He seems to have carved something into the wall."
"I think it's a nail."
"I'll be damned, I think you're right. How would you know something like that? Well, I don't think him having a nail is going to hurt anything." The chair creeked again as the guard leaned back. "Look, I'm tired, you watch him for a while. Here, I'll flip on the sound so you don't even have to pay that close attention." The guard leaned forward to flip a switch on the console then leaned back again, letting his chin fall to his chest. After several moments, light snoring began to mingle with the rattle fo the air conditioner and the sound of the prisoner shifting around restlessly in the cell. It makes for a strange symphony, thought the guard who still sat still, his hands never leaving their positon on the edge of the console.
BAM! The guard jolted upright, his chair slamming back onto all four legs. "Why didn't you wake me! What is the prisoner doing?" Screams echoed from the speakers. A quick look at the monitor revealed the scene in the cell. The prisoner held the nail in one hand, repeatedly jabbing it into his eyes. A dark stain was running down his face and soaking into his shirt. "You knew this was coming didn't you? They want them insane, not mutilated. Now I've got a mess to clean up and explain. You're a sick bastard."
The other guard made no reply. He had nothing to say. The air conditioned air felt good against his face, and he really didn't want to move.
"You'll be blamed for this you know", the guard said, picking up the pencil that he had left sitting on the console and placing it in his pocket. "You're the one who didn't pay close enough attention to him." The guard flicked the switch to turn off the speakers before briskly walking out the door in the back of the room.
The monitor still flickered, casting shifting light into the dimly lit room, as it showed the prisoner still taking a nail to his eyes. The guard tilted his head to one side, waiting to hear the door close, all the while never taking his hands from the edge of the console. The light played over his face, deeping the shadows of his empty eye sockets.
Programmer's Error, Part I
Greg stared at the computer screen before him. He sat, leaning back in his padded leather office chair with an elbow resting on the arm rest and his chin on his hand. He didn't like to jump right into work when he first came into the office; it was always better to take five to start the day.
A steaming cup of green tea sat on the desk, a slightly fragrent sent wafting to Greg's nose. He picked up the cup and held it, taking in the smell, before sipping the tea. On the computer screen a browser window was open in the background, showing the edges of some content off of Microsoft's site. In the forground a window showed a blinking cursor at the end of the black text of computer code. Greg wondered what problem the program would confront him with today.
"Hey Greg, awake yet this morning?"
"Getting there. How about yourself, Sammy?"
Greg knew Sammy would be around. Sammy always did his morning rounds to make sure all his employees were in to work on time. Greg knew he liked to run a tight ship.
"I've got my drug of choice" Sammy replied, lifting his cup of coffee higher into the air. "How's the code coming along?"
"It's going without any major hitches so far. I should have something working by the end of the day, so by tomorrow I'll have something functional to show you."
"Great, I look forward to seeing it. Have a good day then."
Sammy strolled off to check on the next crew employee. Greg figured it was time to dig into the code so setting his cup down he focused on the computer screen.
Yesterday I was working on finishing up this bit of functionallity. Shouldn't take too long to insert a bit more code and then give it a test run, Greg throught to himself.
Greg's fingers hummed along the keys on the keyboard and a foreign language began to appear on the screen. Greg always felt pride that he understood a language most of the general population didn't. Granted, it was a language that only computers understood, but with the number of computers grown exponentially every day, Greg figured that made him a some what powerful person.
After several minutes adding new lines of code to the program, Greg sat back and surveyed his work. "Finished," he said to no one in particular. For the past several days Greg had been ahead of schedule on his work and he was looking forward to leaving the office early today. He hadn't told Sammy that he was ahead because hie didn't want to be handed something else to do.
Greg reached for his mouse and clicked the compile button and then waited to see if the computer liked the code he had written. After several seconds the computer returned its response.
Greg referred to line 523 and found the spot he had forgotten to place the semicolon. One press of the keyboard and the semicolon was in its place. Greg clicked the compile button and after several seconds teh computer again returned its response.
Greg's eyes widened in mild surprize. Should have seen it coming he figured. Fixing an error like a mising semicolon usually lead to the computer then finding every other error you had made. After several minutes spent going through the code, Greg was again ready to compile it.
At least it all worked this time, Greg thought. He had fogrotten about his tea while coding, but remember it now he took a sip. It was cold. Oh well, he could get another cup once he finished this section of code. All he needed to do was make sure it ran right.
Finding the icon represent the finished code, Greg double clicked it. A black box appeared on the screen showing the code was running. Awesome, thought Greg, now I can get that tea while this runs.
The white words glowed on the black backgroud. The program stopped running and Greg stopped with his knees bent, halfway out of his chair. This was unexpected. Greg sat back down and closed the program before running it again. Same results.
Referring back to the code, Greg began to mentally trace through it, following it as the computer would follow it. Something was causing the error, but what?
The minute hand on the clock ticket away. Greg ran his hand through his hair, unable to figure out what was wrong. Nothing seemed out of place, the code should work beautifully.
"Hey Dan," Greg called across the cubical wall. A voice floated back over the wall.
"I've got a piece of code that isn't working and I can't figure out what is wrong. Would you take a look at it?"
"Sure, just email it to me and I'll see if I can find what's wrong."
Greg finally got his cup of tea while Dan looked at the code. When Greg made it back from the breakroom Dan had news for him. "I looked at your code and it looks good to me. I even tried running it and it runs fine on my system."
"Really? I'll try it again on my system then."
"It still gives me a segmentation fault. Can I see it on your system?"
"Yeah, sure, come take a look." Greg walked around the cubical wall and found Dan sitting in front of his computer screen with Greg's code visible on the monitor. Greg took up a position looking over Dan's should and when Dan ran the code it ran flawlessly.
"I'll be damned, it must be something with my system."
"That's all I can figure," Dan replied, swiveling in his chair to face Greg. Greg reached over and clicked the button to run the code again, just to make sure it was working.
A Non-Story Post
So when I started this blog, I fooled myself. I said I'm going to write a short story every day and then post it. I quickly realized I couldn't keep up with that pace, so I decided I post a couple of a week. If the gap in my posts is any indication, that isn't necessarily going to work either. It isn't only that I haven't been writing, but several other events have intruded in my life that have keep me from transfering the worlds in my head onto the page, whether that page is paper or electronic. Also, the currently story I'm writing has turned out longer than I thought it would and I can't bring myself to post it half finished. I'll post it when it's done.
In the meantime, when I'm not writing I'm usually reading - a lot. I love to read, as the number of books that sit on my bookshelf and around my room can attest to. I also read a lot of material on the internet and it ranges across all kinds of topics. So to keep this blog fresh and to fill the time between short story posts, which I will continue to post, I figured I'd post my thoughts on various topics or else link to something interesting I've found and that I think others might enjoy. To start with, I came across this interesting essay on entertainment and literature. It is by Michael Chabon and it is also the introduction to the book Best American Short Stories 2005. Enjoy.
Sarbud was on his way home from the grocery store. Despite the pudge around his waist, he was glad that he lived in the city and could walk from his home to all the needed modern conveniences; his favorite being the grocery store. A white plastic bag sagged by his side. The bag struggled to hold the multiple jars of pickles and bunches of bananas, as well as a single loaf of wheat bread. He loved pickle and banana sandwhiches. Nothing was better in the world and he couldn't understand why sandwhich shops didn't offer them. One day, if he earned enough money, he was going to open his own sandwhich shop and there would be pickle and banana sandwhiches on the menu.
Along his walk Sarbud passed various types of housing, ranging from apartment complexes to small homes. About a block away from one small brick home his ears began to pick up the faint sound of music. He couldn't see the house yet, it was still hidden by the trees, but in his mind he knew what he would find when it came into sight. The car would be parked on the grass. In the carport there would be an old couch that had seen better days pushed to the back. To the side, there would be an upright piano that had also seen better days, but amazingly still was capable of holding a tune. Sitting at the piano playing would be a young man, whom Sarbud guessed attended the local college. He'd probably be dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He had glasses and well kept hair. He was also an exception piano player, at least to Sarbud he was. Sarbud didn't know anyone else who could play the Super Mario Brother's Theme so exceptionally well. Of course, Sarbud didn't know anyone else who could even play the theme.
As Sarbud neared the house he could hear the song more clearly, and began humming it to himself. He didn't think about what he was doing, he just started humming. He had heard the song everytime he passed the house and the young man was outside playing the piano. Sarbud didn't know if the young man knew how to play anything else. At least the tune was catchy and it provided a nice soundtrack, so Sarbud didn't mind.
As he listened to the music, Sarbud tuned out the world around him. He failed to notice the small brown dog who darted into the street, who was then promptly run over. The dog was flattened in its midsection, with the rest of its body still intact. Blood squirted out at odd angles. Had Sarbud noticed this, he would have thought it looked like ketchup being squirted from the bottle. He might even have wondered if a cat had been run over if its blood would be yellow, for if a dog had ketchup inside, then why couldn't a cat have mustard in side?
The dog's foray into the road had caused the driver who ran over it to swerve, and in so doing he had run his sports utility vehicle into a fire hydrant. An impromptu fountain had been created, with the water gushing well over two stories into the air. As it fell back to the ground, a young girl, who had been walking with her mother on the opposite side of the street from Sarbud, was asking about the rainbow. She wanted to know if they could go look for the pot of gold at the end of it, but her mother wanted nothing to do with the water and was dragging the child away from the hydrant, despite the child's protests. The driver of the SUV was at a loss for what he should do, so he leaned against a tree just out of reach of the water. He figured perhaps he should call the police, but surely someone else had seen the accident and would do that for him. He didn't want to use up the minutes on his cell phone. He fished a cigaret and a lighter from his shirt pocket and lit up a cigarette.
Sarbud missed all of this, he was so absorbed in his little world. He could see Mario rushing to save the princess now. He thought about how much fun Mario must have jumping on the Koopas and collecting coins. He also though about how Mario grew to such a large size when he ate a mushroom. Sarbud stopped walking for a moment, while the music continued to play in the background, and thought about this. Who had ever heard of growing big by eating a mushroom? It was just an absurd thing to have happen. Absolutely absurd.
The first day of my captivity. Only one mark upon the wall. Others will follow, of that I'm sure. I think my captors left me the nail on purpose, just so I could keep track of the length of my stay. They didn't leave much else to comfort me. A commode is located in the corner. It is made of a single piece of metal, bolted firmly to the floor, with the bolts then welded to the commode. A pipe rises from the back of it and disappears into the wall at a location only slightly higher than the commode's rim. There is no cover, no seat. Nothing that could be taken off. It even lacks a handle for flushing. Instead, sometime in the wee hours of the morning, it flushes automatically and washes any excrement from the day away. I know this because I was thrown in this cell early this morning, as the commode was flushing.
There is no bed. Besides the commode, the only other object in the cell is the metal slab that protrudes from the wall in the opposite corner from the commode. It is built into the wall, firmly mortared into place. If I wanted to sleep, I either have to try and sleep sitting on the slab with my head learning on the wall, or else lay on the concrete floor. There is no window. Light pours in through the bars that make up one side of the cell. The bars look out on a hallway as depressing as this cell, but I can't make out much. The light is blinding and hot, as multiple lights are shone directly into the cell from the hallway. The only refuge from the light is the back of the cell, the part of the cell where the commode and seat reside.
When my captors left me, they only appeared as silhouttes, their features hidden by the light. The light never turns off, instead it always shines, always blinding me if I try to look at it or beyond. My retinas burn if I attempt to discern where I might be. Only the dark offers me refuge. I don't think a door would be necessary here, the light is more impenatrable than anything solid would be. I have no desire to test the strength of the bars, the light is simply too unbearable.
I find as this day goes on my eyes are weary from the constant light. I only assume this is day, as I am not tired. My body's internal clock is all I have to base time upon. No meal has been delivered to me. Food doesn't seem to be part of the routine for this day.
Resting with my eyes closed is the only thing I can think, or want to do. If I look out of the cell, the light makes me see images. Spots dance before my vision. Even with my eyes closed, I still see the light. It permeates everything. I tried pulling my shirt over my head, but it was no use, the light still filters through. Even the back of the cell offers no escape any more. My retinas retain the never waivering light, no matter what I do.
With my eyes closed, I play with the nail. I twirl it, bite on it, pretend it's a pen. I have nothing else to carve into the wall, nothing to say to anyone who may come after me. I've already carved day I. A calendar to number my days is all I want, so when I am released I can know how much time has passed and understand why things have changed so much.
I don't know what time it is. Sleep has been trying to overtake me, but the light won't let it. The light follows me, it torments me. No rest for the weary it tells me. I've tried bargaining with it, but it only gives me a deaf ear.
The commode flushes. The sound echos about the cell, startles me into opening my eyes. The light floods in. I can't slap my hands to my face fast enough. To late, the damage is already done. My head spins and the floor coldly greets me. There is nothing to be done to stop the pain. I can feel the bruise forming on my temple. Curling up in a ball does nothing, facing the back wall does nothing. The light magnifies the pain. The light is the pain.
My hand grips the nail. I can't see the day I carved into the wall anymore, the light hides it. There is no escape. No point in tracking the number of days, for I can't see my calendar.
The first and last day of my calendar. The day I took a nail to my eyes and escaped the light.
A grand experiment to tell stories. Stories of mine and of others. Stories of truth and of lies. Stories of complexity and simplicity. A grand experiment, plain and simple.