I entered a flash fiction contest.
The prompt was two pictures, one of a green room, and one of a girl.
The winner wrote about a man who’s scared of doors.
I wrote this:
I was told that the walls are sea foam for my benefit. I need soothing, and require a calm environment. So I’ve been told. I think it’d be easier to pump me full of meds, but they don’t believe in that here. My reconditioning will be all natural, and the green walls scream natural. They literally scream it, all day and all night. I’d plug my ears to block out the sound, but whoever tied these knots really knew what they were doing. My circulation’s fine, but I’d have to dislocate a shoulder to get my fingers anywhere near my lobes.
Still, I’ve considered it.
There’s a loose board on the floor. If I raise my hips, I can very nearly reach it with the big toe of my left foot. I know it’s loose, because it creaks whenever one of them comes to check on me. When they walk away, the wood rises about a quarter inch on the end. In a room where nothing else moves, that wooden lever and its quarter inch of motion is the fulcrum on which my sanity pivots. I tell myself something magnificent is hidden below the raw plank—a knife to cut these ropes or my caretakers, a sandwich to silence my stomach, a small phone to alert the authorities. Maybe a cigarette butt and temperamental lighter. At this point, I’d throw a parade over a sugar cube and a pen cap—anything would serve as sustenance for my starved body and mind.
Footsteps in the hall; here they come. I hope it’s the old lady today. Sometimes I can convince her to loosen the ropes a bit.
No luck on the old lady. It was the black-haired guy, the one who talks like he’s a doctor but moves like he’s a sadist. I’m almost certain he gets a kick out of watching me struggle and suffer, so I stay statue-still and quiet when he’s in the room. His physical examinations are getting more and more thorough.
Next will be the ginger shrink, with his red hair and his obscure questions.
According to Dr. Ginger, I’m not quite there yet—he still senses some resistance from me, an unwillingness to yield. I wonder if he’s getting that impression from the poetic epithets I insist on shouting at him, or from the way I flinch every time he comes near. Either way, he’s right. I’m not ready to yield. They can threaten me all they like, and paint the walls a delicious rainbow, but I’m not giving in, and I’m not quitting. They’ll kill me before they break me.
I’ve managed to wedge my toe under the floorboard. I lost a decent part of my toenail in the process, but there’s a promising empty space underneath where who-knows-what could be hidden. My hopes for the treasure have become more pointed and concrete—I want it to be a map, a key, a weapon.
I strain to pry the board up more, but my elbow is slick with sweat and slips from beneath me. I’m left lying on my side, my face pressed to the floor, my ankle twisted and my hands pinned under my hip.
Now the old lady comes to check on me. She clucks over my contorted body and pulls me back up to a seated position. I look her in the eye and tell her she reminds me of my grandma. She smiles sweetly, looks away, and turns back with a simpering smile and tiny tears in the corners of her eyes. She asks if there’s anything she can do to make me more comfortable. I tell her the ropes are biting into my wrists.
She loosens them.
I’ve cut my wrists three times on the rusty carpenter nail, but I’ll worry about the possible blood poisoning later. My shoulders are pressed into the wall and my fingers brush the baseboard as I pass my hands up and down in front of the exposed metal.
With a moist ripping noise, the ropes tear and fall. I hesitate, listening to see if anyone heard the miniscule sound and is coming to investigate. Nothing. I turn and wriggle the nail loose from the wall and lay it between my index and middle fingers.
In five quick steps I could make it to the door, but my foot hits the loose board and I stumble. Freedom is in front of me, but the hidey-hole is behind me, and I know I have to see what’s in there. I want to touch the totem that pinned me down on this side of reason.
Using the nail, I crank the board up high enough to slide my hand underneath. At first, I feel nothing but dust, but then something solid brushes my finger. I pull out a thick piece of cardstock. On one side is a whimsical photo of some blonde pixie looking maudlin in a field of pink blooms.
I flip the photo. A few quick lines are scribbled on the back: “Dear Elisa, saw this and thought of you—she looks just like you! Have fun abroad, Mom.” The return address is two thousand miles west of my green room, the delivery address two thousand miles east. I stare at Elisa’s doppelganger and hope that she got out of here, although the worrisome expression and downcast eyes of the fairy don’t make me feel very optimistic. Sad garden fairies are harbingers of gathering storms.
I fold the postcard into a small square and slide it under my tongue—I want a souvenir from my time in this verdant hell. It tastes like salty mushrooms. I feel a rumbling in the pit of my stomach, and smell the sharp tang of ozone in the air. I curl my fingers one-by-one and am convinced of the strength in my fists.
A door opens and closes; footsteps in the hall; I feel dangerously calm.