You close your eyes and try to shut out the cold, sterile light of the room. Every movement is stiff, painful and unnatural. You are sick of waking up. All you want to do is roll over and die. Even death is a privilege that you are denied.
“You can’t die,” says the familiar gleeful voice in your ear.
The voice confirms her presence. She giggles at your feeble attempts to fight the frayed sheet off. That singular sheet was supposed to be your sole defense against the snow. Just as how this room was supposed to be your defense from her. The stray threads of the cover clings to you, trying to comfort you, to embrace you. It feels like they are suffocating you.
The little girl laughs when you wince to sit up. “You look tired and ugly!”
She gloats as she skips around in front of the bunker. She personifies joy. She stares at your charred, scarred, wounded body, in fascination, almost as if intrigued by the depth cast by the shadows. She bobs up in front of you, her singsong voice echoes off the cold, brutal walls.
“Is that a new one?” she asks, reaching out for a particularly deep gash on your shoulder.
You shrink from her image. From the touch of her soft, small hands. You cannot bear to acknowledge her presence. Almost as if in empathy, the wounds begin to hurt all over again. She is surprised to see you back away from her.
“You’re scared of me?!” asks the little girl, barely taller than your knee. She finds this amusing, as she does about everything about you. You cannot help but suppress an involuntary pang of terror as you hear her innocent, childish laugh. The laughter echoes around the room. Maybe it’s just you, or maybe it sounds louder than the last time. You cannot deny the truth to yourself. You are scared of her. She haunts every living memory and every dream that plagues you.
But this emotion, is it fear? No. Not just fear. It’s awe as well. Overwhelming awe. You have been reduced to her plaything. She laughs at you. She mocks you. She controls you. Her innocent face knows every thought in your head. She manipulates you in ways that are so subtle, so insidious that you are torn between wondering if you were listening to her or acting out of your own volition. Of course, you’re scared. Wouldn’t anyone be if they had to acknowledge the absolute and complete loss of self-control? You have long since surrendered the right to live, especially when confronted with the intensity of the power she wields over you.
“Come on,” she says,perched at the edge of your cot,” let’s play one of your drawing games.”
Your body protests. But it protests in vain. Your aching, throbbing hands automatically pick up a sharp, jagged edge of a stone lying at the corner of your room. Your back hurts violently as you stoop over, on your unbending knees on the floor. Even on your knees, you tower over her. Your eyes water as she holds your gaze.
Then the cramps come, and all the scars hurt and your body registers its displeasure by forcing you to collapse. It’s a struggle. It always has been. You pick yourself up until you are back on your haunches. It’s a wonder how you manage to live from one moment to the next. But you do, don’t you? If this can be called living?
Your hand marks out a large, smooth ellipse on the floor with the sharper edge of the stone. It is a practiced movement. A closer scrutiny of the floor proves that the ellipses and circles of previous games are already caked with years of dirt. How many times have you done this before?
“Now, fill it with pictures of your life,” says the little girl, sounding more authoritative than her age betrayed her to be.
It is a command. Not a request. You close your eyes for a moment, wishing this world, and this girl would just go away and maybe you would open them up to some infinite ocean of darkness. Maybe that would have sounded terrifying in any other context. But the void is soothing. The nothingness would save your soul from bearing any more scars of this world.
“Tell me the story,” she giggles, reverting back to an adorable child.
You try to ignore the cold pit of fear in your chest. No! She cannot be doing this to you! Your body and soul urge you to defy her power. Your tired eyes try to focus on her bright image, staring at her. Your voice doesn’t have much to go on. Why does she keep asking more from your broken soul? You try to tell her that you can’t play her games anymore. You don’t want to play her games anymore. The wheezes and the coughing are incomprehensible, and they crumble to silence in the dust.
“What happened? Why aren’t you playing?” asks her voice, louder than the truth of reality, itself.
You must resist. Hold strong, with whatever you have. You cannot let this go. Your stories are all you have of yourself. You cannot relinquish them without a fight. Even if this struggle leads you onto death, sweet death, you cannot let go of them. They are your last anchor.
She senses your pathetic attempt to acquire self-control. Anybody else would think that a child liker her would burst into tears or throw a tantrum. She merely smiles. It is sneering, derisive, contemptuous. Strangely enough, it looks cute on her, as she stares back you and says, “Play.”
Your fear is too strong. It takes you hostage and forces you to behave. You have failed yourself, again. Your strength must not dwindle. You must go on. Your hand continues to fill the ellipse with lines and shapes. Your tortured throat must narrate the story of your life. Reliving the entirety of your once wholesome experience in the shadows of hoarse words…
You don’t remember when the game was over, or when she was gone or when the cruel floor had been colder, or when the walls had shrunk so much around you. You are sprawled on the floor, wracked with some unknown agony, so real and yet, so intangible, that you feel a little bit more of your soul give up inside. Your body is devastated.
But, there is a silence. Your brain wants to soak it in, drown itself in this fragment of an eternal, soothing silence. Random thoughts, which had never before resurfaced, flit through. Thoughts of a normal life. Breakfast. Pancakes. They used to smell so warm, you know? So warm. Like colors, like the reds and oranges of an existence passed by. Children loved warm colors. Toys and games, so brightly colored, so vibrant with life, with being. Games.
“Miss me?” asks her voice again, soft, persistent and dreadful.
She is back again, to take away another part of your memories, of your stories. You can taste your hate and fear at the back of your throat. Your mad scramble for some semblance of sanity gives you strength. Strength to pound the floor, strength to attack the walls, strength to force life into your abused body, for however short that moment may be. You beg, you plead, you screech for mercy. Doesn’t matter if you feel your voice break up. Dying now would be better than continuing her games. This cannot happen again. No, no,no, no, no, no, no, no, no……
Arms pick you up and strap you to something. The handcuffs they place are cold, yet the touch of the cold metal is reassuring. This is not a story. This is not a dream. This is not one of her game. This. Is. Not. A. Dream. This. Is. Not. A. Game.
Or is it?
You are escorted out somewhere that is illuminated in a blinding white. You want to instinctively shut the world outside. And for that moment, for that little while, she is silent. Your head throbs as though a million angry thoughts were pounding on the skin of you walls, trying to break free from a desolate realm. You are made to walk. Your feet stumble, unable to grasp the motions of actual, real motion, unable to believe in how alien that familiar motion had become.
Your eyes open into the darkness. You are too shocked to believe your final wish will be granted. Is this death? Was all that walking, the restraint of metal all the route to death? It felt too bland, to painless to be death. Your eyes get accustomed to the light. A voice begins to speak. You almost cry out in delight for it being the voice of the Interrogator instead of the little girl. Anything, anything is better than the little girl.
“It’s been three months since we last met. Has your story changed?” the Interrogator asks.
The same voice which forced you to lie, the same voice that refused to believe you. Everything that you said was a lie. Nothing that the voice asked of you could be satisfied with the truth. This is that voice. The voice that laughed as you cringed in pain, the voice that demanded answers, the voice that warned you of dire consequences. Now, it is asking for another fragment of you soul, in that unflinching clear voice. Hesitation is a liberty for liars.
Your fractured mind cannot comprehend the depths to which you have sunk. This is the person who has tortured you so much. Your body bears evidence of his wrath. You are disgusted at yourself for being delighted at hearing the voice of someone who has scarred you beyond measure. You wonder why. Why is it that you seek an almost rabid attachment to this voice? Probably because the Interrogator is the last tangible thing in your reality. No matter if the Interrogator attaches those painful cables again, no matter if you must scream till every vocal cord is ripped apart, no matter if another bone is shattered, no matter at all. As long as the Interrogator is there, the little girl is not. That is all that matters.
The Interrogator tells you a story. It is one that will inevitably bring you a sense of déjà vu. It speaks of you. It speaks of a horrible crime. The ghastly details are accurately described, and your mind attempts to paint a picture in your head with the knowledge coming in from your bleeding ears. It tries and it tries, but it is so tired, it fails. Then the story goes on about a little girl. The little girl who died. The Interrogator describes her funeral, wishing to evoke more emotion in you than you possibly have to give. It is pointless to deny. That girl is not dead. She is alive. She is so alive that she feeds off you. She is a parasitic memory, draining you more powerfully than any physical torture possibly can. How can she be dead when she’s right there in your cell, before your very eyes, in that small, cramped, claustrophobic room?
The Interrogator laughs at your refusal. The voice that demanded so much of the truth is reduced to spouting lies and laughing at you for denying them.
“…..solitary detention?” finished the Interrogator. You don’t remember when that blow came, and at any rate it was too fast for you to react to. The lower jaw is the first to feel the impact and the shock travels through your body, combining the shattered whole together for one instant till it leaves behind a million new fragments in its wake.
You do not want to surrender. You do not want to accept defeat, even as the blood streams down. In the midst of this pain, your brain slowly realizes the meaning of the little girl’s game. The ellipses you scratch out on the floor are her stories, but now they have become yours. You earnestly try to will your mind to stop existing. But you cannot. You are too weak.
The Interrogator continues with the regular routine. It is surprising why he expects a different answer to the same question every time. Each jolt of electricity, each bone-crumbling blow and each excruciating slice gives you something to hold on to. For that while, your mind numbs itself with enough physical pain to stop itself from seeing that girl. Such relish.
Initially, these sessions seemed too long. But now, they are too short. You do not know how many days, weeks or even years will pass before you are blessed with another touch of reality. You cannot even try to protest as you are knocked out cold, muttering your supposed lies. Some dim thought at the back of your head registers that you will be dragged back to your eternal hell. How could a body that was designed to resist death to such a degree want it so intensely? You hope that this time, maybe this time, perhaps you are so weak and their force is so strong that you do not have to ever wake up again. You do not have to wake up and play the little girl’s games again.
But you cannot choose your torture. You are left to crawl on the cold floor, sinking deeply into the silent terror of being alone. Can you live with yourself in the supposed silence?
Your body has forgotten how it returned back to the floor, or how it overcame the fresh wounds to begin again. Dread and the little girl are your constant companions. You are back on your haunches, your fingers desperately grasping onto the stone edge, holding edge smooth from use and ready to scratch at the floor in some futile exercise. Your cursed eyes look up to the little girl at the edge of your cot.
“Play with me,” she says sweetly, gently, almost persuasively.
Your hand obeys by drawing out a fresh ellipse on a floor etched with infinitely many. You cannot stop. As long as her memory lives, as long as death doesn’t come to rescue you, you cannot stop. You have to play her games. You are her plaything. So you must tell your story again and again and again and again……