“Wake up. You have to wake up.”
The sluggish whirring of an overhead fan barely makes a dent on the oppressive heat filling the room. The air is too thick to breathe. I suck in tiny molecules; gasping like a fish caught, hook in its mouth, flipping about on dry land. The air seems something of a novelty. My last memory had no measure of breath.
It might be the afternoon. There is a salty smell of an ocean sea breeze wafting through an open window somewhere nearby. I can’t tell where it is coming from. It takes the edge off sweat beads covering what could be my skin. This sack stretched tight seems to bind me together. It feels so alien.
Blood throbs through my veins. It is the only solid sound, a beating drum shattering the silence.
“Are you awake? Can you hear me?”
I don’t want to open my eyes. My lids are so heavy, they might be welded shut. My hands feel drained. There are likely bruises smattered along my arms. I imagine the slimy green and purple hues of a puffer fish encrusted with barnacles. This is what I might see if I could see myself in an out-of-body experience.
My jaw throbs as if broken in several places. My throat is shredded beyond the cracks of wear and tear, chasms of space in those fissures. It feels like some tube has just been wrenched out of my mouth. I do not know why I ache.
“Are you able to move? Can you open your eyes for me?”
I can hear a male voice through an insidious fog. It is a soft gentle command but it seems so far away. My head bobs around and around trying to pinpoint the sound. It is like the head of a wooden toy half-detached from its body after being overused by a twelve-year-old boy. Were it not for a throbbing body filling the space below my head, it would seem these two parts could not possibly be one whole.
“You have to wake up. Can you speak at all?”
I can’t focus on anything as I gingerly open my eyes. My body is sapped of energy. My limbs are like driftwood beside my torso.
A man with no face is hovering close enough to check my vitals. He blends into and out of the white surrounds, a gecko in his natural habitat. I am distracted by a sheer curtain behind him dancing in the draught floating through the room. Like this breeze, I expect him to float away. He moves at different speeds and darts about in random directions. He might be a ghost we are so disconnected.
“Do you realize where you are? Can you tell me what happened?”
I try to shake my head and open my mouth but neither a movement nor a sound can escape. The air chokes my vocal cord and scratches across it like a scourer sponge. This damaged vinyl record cannot produce any noise.
I muster a scrap of strength to shrug my shoulders and shake my head. A wave of nausea washes over me. I expect a mess to spill out from my mouth but there is nothing inside of me left to give.
I have no idea where I am, how I got here and why I feel like a semi-trailer has crashed into my stomach.
“It doesn’t matter. You are here now. The only question I must ask is do you really want to stay?”
The man with no face has a soothing melodic voice. It makes me wonder if I been rash in thinking this man could be a doctor. He does not speak like a medico yet he seems to be a care-giver of sorts. Every word he utters is gentle as if he has known me a lifetime, implying there is a bond between us. He is here trying to help me. But why?
Is he my protector? Instinctively I trust this might be so. Does he want to save me? Perhaps he wants to save me from myself. Why does this thought even cross my mind? The last question he has asked me suggests he might have failed in such a quest.
My focus sharpens as his fingers reach out and entwine with mine. I see them link together without recognizing the hands he has taken hold of belongs to me. I cannot feel his touch, my body is not my own. It is a reassuring gesture nonetheless. I break his gaze, and glance around the room with a blank-slate stare.
All I see is a single piece of furniture, a wooden bench in the center of the room. I am sitting there waiting with him by my side. No bed, no machines checking my vitals, empty. The room seems to be floating like a cloud in the sky, where every wall has floor-to-ceiling open windows and the space outside is as empty as the room itself. There is nothing beyond the transparent walls. My eyes are deceiving me.
“You are here because you made a choice. I tried to stop you; stepped out of your shadow so I could take hold of you in my arms. Your life is bleeding slowly out of you. It is the darkest of stains spilling onto my lap.”
The unknown man turns my arms over to show me open wounds; shredded veins where silver blades had sliced and cut. A crimson fluid still flows from the gaping holes, trickling through his fingers and mine, tiny droplets splashing in slow motion as they fall onto the floor.
I should be terrified but I do not fear this sight. This is something I might have wanted but I am unsure. If what I see is a real measure of success, I should not be afraid of this ending. It embraces me with an all knowing silent caress, a warm hug and a cold slap.
“Let me show you,” he says and pulls me up, so I can see through the window. I imagine myself carefully side-stepping a sticky red trail below our shuffling feet if I were to walk the distance. “Look closely.”
I peer out the window as instructed.
Out beyond the darkness, I finally see.
I see the distant image of a porcelain bath permanently marked by ageing spilt blood. In the dim light, it looks like a black ink stain that can never be scrubbed away. Inside another a white room filled with once clean plush towels, the damp linen is being held tightly in place against my damaged skin, by another faceless man. The stranger is desperately clutching my almost lifeless sack, rocking back and forth crying as he waits for a paramedic to arrive. Signposted, neon bright, it is the ultimatum that ends everything.
Outside of me, this room I see, it is another place. The memory of this event seems to have been jettisoned as if it never happened. I can’t imagine how my own hands came to wield the weapon that ripped me to pieces. Is this what I really wanted? It is not me I see but another stranger like the one who stands beside me. That stranger in the distance is a foreign body being held by a man possessed with grief. They are both minds lost, being consumed by the blackness. We are inside a bright white room.
This picture, this is what I have done. The man in that room, the man standing beside me, I am struck by the wave of disappointment over my selfish choice. My protector could not save me from that moment.
I stare down at my distant self as if there is a choice about what happens next.
“If you step out of this window, you can fall back, down to where you made your last choice,” the man with no face presents something new. “Tell me, do you want to stay or do you want to leave?”
“If I leave, will my next room be forever black?” I ask, wondering if I am already there.
Source of inspiration for this story — There was a recurring dream I had through my teenage years, which made me wonder if there was such a thing as a guardian angel. In the dream, I found myself in a white room floating like a cloud in the sky, where every wall has floor to ceiling open windows and sheer curtains that dance with the flow of a breeze moving through the air. I am sitting there in the center of the room as if it is a waiting room, not knowing how or why I came to be there. A man, whose face I can never see, wanders around the room, stopping occasionally to reassure me that he will always take care of me — my mysterious protector. This particular dream always seemed to fill me with a sense of calm.