Down in the Hole
The time that had passed was abstract. True to the style of the House, the torture was not physical, but a forced disorientation. The last span of darkness, he was sure, had lasted over forty-eight hours. But how long it was beyond that he had no way of knowing. He had been stripped of his clothes other than his underwear, which was rank with the smell of sweat and had gone from a clean white to a filthy tan. There was actually a little toilet – one of those portable devices a person can put on a yacht that isn’t attached to any plumbing, but sequesters away waste until it can be extracted and disposed of. There was a bottle of hand sanitizer that they provided him with, though it wasn’t enough that swallowing it would put him beyond their reach.
The room had a concrete floor and a large glass window facing outward onto what seemed like a dark garage or bunker – a space wide enough to accommodate a pair of large trucks and was featureless save for a few light bulbs that were bare except for simple plastic cages. He could not see the end of that space to the left of his cell, but the cell’s right wall was shared with the back of the room. The glass wall between his cell and the open space seemed to be a couple inches thick, but was manufactured precisely so that it would not distort subjects on the other side.
His own cell was about seven or eight feet wide and maybe twelve feet deep. There was a door in the back wall that they would use to access him when it came time to inject him with psychotropic drugs. He could only theorize that this was accomplished while he was asleep or somehow sedated by an invisible gas, as he could not remember seeing anyone come in the door nor remember receiving injections, but his arm was covered with little spots where the needle had clearly gone in, and the mind-warping experience of the drugs spoke for themselves.
He had come, in his less lucid periods, to doubt the existence of gravity. He had a very specific memory of sitting on the wall, with his back to the ceiling, bawling his eyes out over an obscure line of poetry that, in a dream-logic sort of way, he could not remember. There was a line from this poem – a poem of which, in his right mind, if such a thing existed, he had never heard – that chronicled irony and arrogance:
“Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair.”
He was consumed, in that moment, and thereafter as if experiencing aftershocks of an earthquake, with an unsettling note of horror: had the engraver, or the king he claimed to quote, known of his fate, and left those words not as a boast but as a warning?
The House was dying. Or rather, the House was mutating, evolving into something mad and cruel and, the man who was variously called James Tarson and Chris Thatch and Four Eyes feared, self-destructive. The House was meant to emerge as a new god built of people, rational, immortal, and eternal. Yet here were those who would have it become some writhing mass of destruction, destined to burn out its host and thus perish along with it like a cancerous growth.
When the lights came back on, it was usually Question Time. A tall, handsome black man, about fifty years old, would pull up a metal folding chair and sit down. He was dressed in a cheap, moth-eaten suit that seemed utterly wrong on him. This was a man who was clean-shaven without a hint of stubble and looked as if he had his hair cut on a weekly basis, with a perfect fade and flat-top that never seemed uneven. He was the only human face that Four Eyes had seen since he was captured, and he found him beautiful, and that just made the suit feel all the more wrong.
Mr. Cheap, as he had come to think of him, popped open the document case that doubled as a clipboard. He seemed to review his notes for a solid twenty minutes before he spoke, and Four Eyes had gotten in the habit of waiting in silence rather than fruitlessly attempt to engage his captor.
Making a little note, Mr. Cheap finally looked up. “Four Eyes, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but Six Coins is dead.”
Four Eyes took a moment to process this. Could be a lie, meant to make him feel less on solid ground, or it could be true. Four Eyes decided he would try not to let the information change his behavior.
“When did he recruit you?”
Four Eyes remained silent. He knew better than to offer up information without any incentive.
“Fair enough,” said Mr. Cheap. “Orville Sacker, thirty-three years old. Born in Kelmar, Omlos Province to Mayla Proudley, born Sacker. Half-sister Jaina Proudley. You attended Aligheri University, graduated with honors age 21, worked at Reben Arts Endowment before dropping off the map at age 25. We assume that’s when you were recruited, but I’d appreciate it if you could confirm.”
Four Eyes had to fight not to wince. Yes, Orville Sacker had become just one of many identities for him, and he had long ago accepted the possibility that threats could be made against his family in a situation like this, but it was never enjoyable to see such a hypothetical see realization.
He hadn’t spoken to his mother or his sister in a long time. He had not faked his death, as some Agents were known to do when they entered the House. It had never really bothered him to think that they might be concerned with him. The House had not chosen them, and that meant that, ultimately, they were not all that important. The House had a way of detecting remarkable people and bringing them into the fold. He had a general sense that he would prefer these two women to live comfortable and happy lives – he did not feel any resentment toward them – but again, it did not concern him terribly.
What did concern him was that he was having trouble imagining a scenario in which he walked out of this cell alive. It was possible they had taken him out of fear that he might reveal something he knew about the House. A panicked thought shot through his mind that it was his own faction that had captured him. But if they wanted him dead, that would have happened a long time ago.
“You haven’t killed me yet. So I have something you want.”
“That’s an interesting theory.”
Four Eyes smirked. “Right, so there’s nothing you want me to tell you? I’ve got to be costing you a thousand tolls a day at least, with all the drugs you’re putting in my system. So clearly I’m worth something to you.”
“Not to us, no.”
Ok… thought Four Eyes. Don’t let them know you’re confused.
“To be honest, Mr. Sacker, my main purpose here is to keep you engaged and focused. I’m here to keep your mind from fraying on the edges. Do you know what prolonged isolation can do to a person’s mind? It can lead to intense depression, self-destructive behavior, and even hallucinations.”
“The drugs seem to be taking care of the hallucinations just fine.”
“Drugs?” Mr. Cheap made a note on his pad. “What drugs?”
Four Eyes chuckled. “Ok, look, if you’re going to fuck with me, I’d appreciate it if you put in a little more effort, I mean, look at the tracks on…” and with that, he looked down at his arm. All the pinpricks were gone.
“What makes you think I’m fucking with you, Mr. Sacker?”
“That… uh…” Four Eyes backed away. The lights in the outer room were blinking off one by one. “Where am I?”
“You don’t need to know, Mr. Sacker.”
And with that, the whole outer room went dark, and Four Eyes could not see anything but his own reflection in the thick glass.
(Copyright Daniel Szolovits 2017)