Fiction Friday - The Man in Striped Pajamas
Been a quiet blog week for me, and in the interest of full disclosure, I'll admit the reason for that is that I haven't written a damn thing worth reading all week. Sadly, that also includes fiction. So, instead of continuing the story I had going on, I'm going to post a short story I co-wrote with a good friend of mine and a very talented writer* named Ami. I say co-wrote, which is true for the first half of the story, but after the POV switch halfway through, the rest, and admittedly better part, is all her doing. It might be a little long for a blog post, five pages in total, but still. Read it, enjoy it, make with the feedback.
*I say both of those things about her very, very grudgingly.
My only defense was to write down every word they said. I knew they were lying. More importantly, they knew they were lying. But they knew I had no proof, that it was my word against theirs, and with them being a them and me being a me, I was in a bad way. So I had to write it all down, every filthy lie, and hopefully I'd be able to trip them up, catch them contradicting each other. So far, though, it wasn't working. It was like they had rehearsed it all, every word.
"If you d-d-don't take chances," said the man in striped pajamas, "you m-m-m-might as well not be alive."
The man in striped pajamas was my cell mate. I didn't know his real name, and by this time, he might have forgotten... so he was just the man in striped pajamas.
But striped pajamas or not, he had a point. By now I had collected so many of their words I could spit them back verbatim. But what could I do with them? "What do you do with words?" I asked my striped cell mate.
"S-S-S-Say em'. You could m-m-make a living d-doing that kind of thing," he answered, and I supposed I could, but I had never thought about it til then. That's what the man in striped pajamas was good at; sure, he was freeze-dried, batshit crazy, but it was the kind of crazy that was seriously wise if you thought about it. A lot of people made a whole lot of money selling their words, and God knows they didn't have half the story to tell that I did.
And it's not like I didn't have the fucking time on my hands.
Everyone's story's different. Everyone's story is one person's lie and another person's truth. They keep telling me I was blind to the truth. It wasn't so much that I had been blind to it. It was just that I had seen the truth differently, and obviously, so did they.
I rapped on the cell door. There were no bars, only a solid metal door with two windows that slid open; one at face height and the other down low, where they slid in the chemical waste they called chow.
But now, I had something. What, I didn't actually know. It didn't make much sense, but it was something. Something I could shove down their throat like they'd been doing to me for the past however fuck long. Don't ever let anyone tell you that revenge isn't sweet.
As images of my sugary revenge danced in my head, I could hear the sounds of footsteps coming down the hall. In the brief seconds before the door slowly creaked open, panic set in. Were they coming for me, or the man in the striped pajamas? The idea that it could be me had me shaking in my government issued socks, but being him wasn't any better. The crazy bastard was the only friend I had, and I wasn't sure how many more "sessions" with the doc he could take.
Light spilled into the room. It spread from the crack under the door and kept coming. My friend cowered in the corner and soiled his striped pajamas. I knew because the unmistakable smell of urine and shit drifted over to me. I didn't pay too much attention. After spending, fuck knows how long we'd been here, in a six foot by six foot room you get used to certain things. Not to mention I was trapped by the silhouette that appeared in the light.
The "doctor" strode the rest of the way in and wrinkled his nose. "You, in the striped pajamas. To the showers." He turned to me as my friend struggled against the hands of the burly guards that dragged him to his feet. "You. Come with me." He smiled; his perfect white teeth reminded me of my mother's pearls.
I didn't want to go with him. I didn't want to get hooked up to his chair again, to listen to him tell me what a horrible person I was for the "lies" I told. What I wanted to do was ram those perfect pearls down his throat til he choked. But I also didn't want to give him the satisfaction of having me dragged... so I got up and walked like a man, knowing that when I denied his lies like I always did, the pain would intensify... and I would cry like a lost puppy in the middle of fucking winter. Yeah, some man.
I followed him down the long corridor, the white of his lab coat gleaming against the dingy walls. We walked past other doors like ours, mine and the man with the striped pajamas. I could hear nothing but the sharp click of his heels on the concrete. I had never seen anyone else here, just them and us. As far as I could tell that's all there ever had been.
As we neared the door at the end of the hall, I started to sweat. Not polite, I've-been-out-in-the-sun sweat, but rank, heavy, drenching fear sweat. I stank with it. It poured down my back, my shirt stuck to me; it dripped down my forehead, into my eyes, stinging them, blinding me momentarily.
The moment was enough of a delay. The doctor snapped his fingers and two of his mountain-sized guards grabbed me, one under each elbow, and picked me up. I tried to fight back, but after months of processed crap from a can, I was weak as a fucking kitten.
The two behemoths slammed me into the good doctor's chair and started tightening the leather straps. By now they were almost like home. First came the legs; they had learned their lesson the first time, when they started with the arms and one of them got their jewels kicked into their throat. In fact, it might have been the one holding me down while his buddy did my legs, I honestly can't tell them apart anymore.
When they had me all nice n' cozied in, the doc started flipping on the lights. One at a time, the large surgery lamps blasted my cornea until all I saw was white so bright I thought they'd lit a fire inside of my skull. If I hadn't known any better, I might have thought I was heading straight to heaven. Then the devil himself stepped into view. I couldn't see him clearly, not against those bright lights, but it was him. I'd never forget that silhouette. And I knew he was smiling that fuckin' grin of his, just dying to do whatever it was they were going to do to me this time.
"Let's begin, shall we?" His voice was smooth and dark like a fine whiskey, Old Scratch himself. But it didn't quite cover the sound of him placing his toys on the tray next to the chair. That tinkle of his metal torture devices dropping onto the aluminum tray was a whole different brand of hell. If I ever got out of here I never wanted to hear that sound again for the rest of my life.
"The last time we spoke, you seemed to have some trouble remembering your name. Have you had any luck with that?"
I couldn't help it, I chuckled, “Sure did Doc. I'm Santa fuckin' Claus.”
Something slammed into my jaw. Jesus, were they hitting me with two-by-fours now? My teeth felt loose in my gums. After the initial shock I looked into the lights and spit. I could hear my saliva sizzling on the hot bulbs.
"Now that's not very nice. I just asked you a question."
I couldn't have answered the rat bastard even if I wanted to, not with the way my teeth were still rattling from that shot. I settled for flipping him off. I doubt it looked as good as I wanted it to with my wrists strapped to the chair.
"How long have you been here, do you think?"
"You mean you don't know? And I thought you PHD's were supposed to be educated." Sure it was ballsy, but at this point ballsy was all I had left and I wasn't sure how long it would hold out.
He started to laugh at me. I hated when he did that. I'm sure he said something, but I couldn't tell past the feeling of something sharp being slammed into my guts. If I could have, I would have doubled over in pain. As it was, all I could do was thrash against my straps, gasping for air.
I know I screamed. I always did. I'm not so proud that I can't admit it. I screamed long and hard, with tears to boot. But I can say one thing: I never begged.
After what felt like hours of questions and pain, the doctor dimmed the lights. The hum from the halogen faded and all I could hear was my own ragged, shallow breathing.
"Well done." That's all he said. That's it. Just "well done." What the fuck? I'd been scared before and angry and I'm even sure at some point I had to have been happy, but never had I been so full of hate and rage as when I heard those two fucking words, "Well done." I stared at him, one of those stares that make people say stupid things like, "Man, if looks could kill, he'd be dead." He just smiled at me.
His henchmen unhooked me, one of them catching me before I fell on my face. They hauled me back to my cell, almost carrying me, before dumping me on the floor. As they locked the door behind them, I dragged myself up onto my bed. The man in the striped pajamas was back; from the smell he was showered and his pants had been cleaned.
He was sitting in the corner of his bed with his knees drawn up to his chest, picking determinedly at a spot on the wall that had offended him. "I n-n-know it hurts," he said without looking up. "It hurts sometimes m-m-more than you can bear. But you're a man. Don't forget that. Don't. I'm not. I shit m-myself, like a b-b-b-baby... like an animal. But you're a man. Don't let them take that away."
All the while, he picked at the wall. The whole time I'd been here, I never saw him cry. At that moment, I wanted to cry. I wanted to sob my fucking eyes out. I wanted to hear my sad sack of ass echo for a million miles. I wanted to bang on those doors until more scary mother fuckers came to kick the shit out of me for making too much noise. I wanted to beg. I wanted to hand them all of the words I had been saving and tell them that I would say whatever the fuck they wanted if they would just let him go. I wanted to weep. I wanted to cry. I wanted to cry for him.
* * * * *
I could hear them. The voices behind the wall. They didn't know it, but I could. The voices floated to me through the crack in the wall aimed right at my mouth, like they were trying to tell me something. Trying to fill me with their words.
There are two different kinds of “they” and “them”. One kind was the voices. They tried to tell me things, but I could never hear them clearly enough. I don't know what I would do with their words if I could make them out. I had to keep trying I had to hear what they said, “If you d-d-don't take chances," I said to myself, "you m-m-m-might as well not be alive." Sometimes talking to myself makes ideas clearer.
“What do you with words?” My second best friend, the big man with the scar on his face asked. Yeah, what do you do with words?
"S-S-S-Say em'. You could m-m-make a living d-doing that kind of thing," I said. I was afraid to tell him about the voices in case they got mad at me and didn't come back, but I didn't mind sharing a little with him, him being my second best friend and all.
My first best friend was the ones who talked to me through the wall. There was more than one of them, but I couldn't understand them so I just counted them as one.
The man with the scar scared me when they, the bad they, put him here. I thought he was a spy. That they put him in here to find out what my first best friend was saying to me. But I knew they wouldn't talk to them.
But then I saw them take the man with the scar. He was big and scary and tough. Like the superheroes on TV, but when they brought him back he couldn't walk and his face was purple and red. So purple and red that his scar looked like lightning on his cheek. He wasn't a spy. He wasn't one of them. I told the voices in the wall that he was safe. I knew they worried about me.
The man with the scar stood up and banged on the metal door of our room. I hated when he did that. It always brought them. It did this time too. I could hear them. You can hear a lot through stone if you listen real hard. I heard the doctor's footsteps. Doctor. He's not a real doctor. I remember doctors. Doctors are supposed to help you, but he's one of them. He only hurts me. Me and the man with the scar.
I heard moaning and it started to smell like a bathroom. It was me. I had shat myself again. I hated when I did that. But that sound... that clip-cloppy sound of nice shoes in the hallway...it scares me. Scares me so bad I don't know who I am anymore. I asked him once to wear slippers. He laughed at me and turned the bright lights on. I didn't want him to be there for me. I didn't want him to be there for the man with the scar either. I just didn't want him to be there.
Our big, heavy, metal door swung open and there he stood. He always looked so big. Like a big skeleton with a jack-o-lantern smile. He smiled so wide his face looked split in half. I hated when he smiled.
“You,in the stripped pajamas. To the showers.” He was pointing at me. I know I smelled. Shit smells. The two monsters that came to get me, they were mad. They were mad at me. They grabbed me, an arm each. I didn't want them to do that. I hated when they did that. I tried to get away. I shouldn't have done that. It makes them really mad, but I couldn't help it. I was scared and scared things try to get away.
They picked my feet up off the floor. I was flying over the stone in their metal hands. They threw me on the floor of the shower. My nose mashed up against the big drain in the concrete. I tried once to count all of the little square holes in the grate, but I kept losing count.
It's a big grate.
The monsters were back. They yanked off my clothes. I didn't want to be naked. Not around them.
“Jesus Christ, will you look at him? He's like a fucking baby. He's all curled up like a god damned baby.” I didn't want to look at his face, but his voice was a little too high pitched. It didn't go with his metal hands.
The second monster's voice was deeper. It felt better. “Yeah, some great mind he turned out to be. Can't even keep from shitting himself.”
They stood me up and turned on the water... too hot....too hot... too hot. They laughed when I danced in the burning water, but at least they turned the cold on. I was a great mind. That's what they said. A great mind. I wonder what I thought about?
I was watching the water turn less and less brown as it went past my toes and they threw the powdered soap on me. It was bright pink, like Bazooka bubble gum. It smelled kind of like it too, but it didn't taste like it. I tried once. It burned my mouth and wasn't sweet at all. I bet it wouldn't have blown good bubbles either.
I cleaned myself. I could still do that. I could still get myself clean. They gave me dry pajamas. The only thing I liked about it here. I got stripped pajamas. They're not very soft, but I like the way the stripes go up and down and not across.
The monsters let me put the pajamas on by myself. They said they didn't want to play dolls with a grown-ass man. I think they meant me, but I don't think I'm a doll, but I don't feel like a man either. The man with the scar on his face. He's a man.
I tried to take a little extra time putting my clothes back on. I like having the space to spread my arms, but I had to be careful. If I looked like I was having fun they would hurt me. They said the needed to remind me that I wasn't here for fun.
I don't remember why I was there anymore. It all gets so blurry. All I can remember are the bright white lights and the doctor laughing at me when I screamed for them to stop hurting me. They strapped me down and hurt me...a lot. I don't like that chair. The chair with the straps and the buckles. I hate that chair.
The monsters took me back to our room, but this time they let me walk. I guess I was less scared after my shower. I saw that they left dinner for us, but the man with the scar on his face wasn't back yet. I left the food alone and looked at my bed. It looked different. I don't like it when things look different. I had clean sheets. I guess my old ones were dirty. These ones were white, just like the other ones. Well that was something I guess.
My stomach started to rumble. I looked at the tray they left on the floor again. It's rude to start dinner if everyone's not at the table. I remember my manners, but I was so hungry. My second best friend wouldn't mind if I started without him and I didn't know when he would be back.
They didn't give us a table, they said that we could make the wood into a weapon. I don't want to fight. I hate fighting. Everyone gets so mad when you fight, but the man with the scar on his face might have wanted to fight. He was a man and men fight. So I guess it's good there's no table.
I took the tray and sat in the light. We have one light bulb. It's always on. I like how it makes a perfect circle between our beds. It's like having another room that's only light. Sometimes I come here to think. Sometimes it's easier to think in the light.
I used my finger because it was clean after my shower, and I pushed his half to one side of the tray and ate mine. I know it's not good food. It's gooey and tastes like paste. I think I ate paste once. That's how I know what paste tastes like. But it's all they ever pushed under the door. I wish just once they would give us two slices of bread. Good bread. Thick bread. The kind I think grandmothers make in kitchens. Or maybe I just read that somewhere once. I would want my second best friend to be there when it came though because I would want him to have some, but I don't think I would be able to share if he wasn't here. That would be hard.
The one thing I didn't mind about it was the color. It was such a bright, happy yellow color. It was pretty to look at, but I was so hungry I didn't look at it as much as I ate it. I finished my half and drank exactly one half of the water they poured into the cup. I don't know why they didn't give us two cups. You can't fight with a cup. A cup holds things. It doesn't hurt them. I put the rest of dinner on the floor next to the bed that belonged to the man with the scar on his face. Then I sat in the light room a little longer. Sometimes things weren't so bad when I sat in the light.
I don't think I was sitting there very long when I heard my first best friend. The voices were back! I got up on my bed next to the crack in the wall. I leaned my ear against it, but I couldn't hear them very well. I started picking at the wall to make the crack bigger. If I could make the crack bigger, maybe I could hear them better.
I must have been trying really hard to hear them because I didn't hear them coming. They opened the door and threw my second best friend into the room. I was afraid that they threw him into this dinner, but they hadn't. I waited until they closed the door and started trying to get to the voices again. That rock is really hard and I didn't have very long nails.
I looked at my friend, the man with the scar on his face. They had hurt him again. His scar looked like lightning again. "I n-n-know it hurts," I said. I was still trying to get to the voices. I wanted them to hear too. "It hurts sometimes m-m-more than you can bear. But you're a m-man. Don't forget that. Don't. I'm not. I shit m-myself, like a b-b-b-baby... like an animal. But you're a man. Don't let them take that away."
I started to shake then. Really hard. My whole body just shook and jiggled.
I don't know why.