CHAPTER 1: THE AWAKENING

[20.07.2020]

Writhing around slowly with an unconscious economy of movement, Ben began to surface. Firing up slowly and with an empowering lethargy, his mind readied. Sluggish and clogged, syncing with the surroundings, subconscious turned to conscious with a restless tension. Still dark outside, light rays crept across his face. It was no normal day.

Writhing around slowly with an unconscious economy of movement, Ben began to surface. Firing up slowly and with an empowering lethargy, his mind readied. Sluggish and clogged, syncing with the surroundings, subconscious turned to conscious with a restless tension. Still dark outside, light rays crept across his face. It was no normal day.

A chill shot across his leg emanating from a window behind. Searching for familiarity, his eyes darted under the lids as thoughts surfaced from his subconscious. Shut tight, they were interrupted only momentarily by the feelings of discontent sweeping across him.

With the sounds of the room beginning to register, his left eye opened cautiously. Desperately trying to focus through a bloodshot curtain, it was hastily joined by the right. Cranking his head forward, the surroundings began to sharpen, bringing startling validation to the situation. Awkwardly positioned, his hair was dishevelled and brittle. Lying spread-eagled, with a solitary sheet draped across his body, his clothes formed an uncomfortable barrier to acceptance.

Channelling his reserves, he began to sit up. Usually the simplest of processes, it was a mental assault course. What usually took a few seconds felt like an hour. Resting against the headboard, adrenaline perforated his spine. The room was lifeless, soulless, eerie, cold and oppressive. It was unlike anything he was accustomed to, or for that matter, knew existed. Qualifying only through a box-like formation, it went against any convention of what a room should feel like. A new reality, it put to shame his seemingly perfect middle class upbringing. At home, although messy at times, everything had its place. It had a warmth and a charm. This was different. Something was missing, as if only a hollow sadness had ever been present.

The room was comparable in size to his student halls, yet with some stark differences. A cream colour, dark patches invaded the corners, signposting a lack of care over what looked like decades. Sparsely decorated, the bed was the clear centrepiece, set off by a plain plywood wardrobe directly in front, in the corner of the room. A sink sat awkwardly next to it with a mirror above. Cloudy and smeared, the mirror's appearance was less concerning than the sink. Stained and dirty, it clearly deputised as a toilet more out of repression than necessity.

Odd markings scattered the walls in disconcerting places. In student rooms, there was a rationale to them resulting from the posters or pictures used to dress them. This was different. Dirt was present in unexpected places. Bits of newspaper left by previous inhabitants lay scattered as if to tell a story, while scrawled writings began to jump out.

Dragging himself across the bed towards the window, the activity was quickly accompanied by feelings of imprisonment. A bolt restricting its opening to a fist’s width looked out to grey and nondescript surroundings. Leaving nothing to the imagination, a short walkway was stifled by a concrete building roughly ten metres away.

Forcing his gaze back to the room, Ben focused slowly on the door. Drained, it was no easy challenge. The unconventional presence of his mind was pressing upon previously autonomic movements. Stumbling with every movement, nothing could be taken for granted.

Trying desperately to connect his memories, he panicked. A previously enriched pool of self-reflection was now filled with a suffocating black hole. With little comfort, he examined his body for clues. Devoid of possessions, his jeans weren't scuffed beyond surprise. His T-shirt was also only slightly muddied, as if before detergent testing.

Scanning his arms, small scratches could have easily been picked up playing football. Searching more closely however, his wrists started to pulse with a dull pain. Bringing them up to the light unmasked clearly defined handcuff marks. Having never been in trouble with the police, it was a major surprise. Frustratingly though, the shock did nothing to wake memories of the previous night’s events.

A wave of resignation began to pin him. It wasn’t a dream. A nightmare of the highest order, the room felt like a prop in an altogether more disconcerting story. Establishing rationality now went way beyond any compulsion to consult self-pity.

With his mental reserves depleting rapidly, a surge of tiredness engulfed him once again. A crashing weight on his mind, keeping his eyes open presented a hopeless challenge. Falling swiftly back to where he lay, they fluttered and then closed rhythmically to a point of no return. Awake for less than a minute, Ben was dragged restlessly back into deep sleep.