From Roger Jackson: The Torture Chamber

THE TORTURE CHAMBER

Jesus, it's the waiting I can't stand.

I've been telling myself that I can handle the pain, and maybe I can, or maybe I can't, but the waiting is killing me piece by piece. Just sitting here on this hard plastic chair and staring at the four walls around me, listening to the big clock tick away the minutes until it's time for me to go in. It's all just some psychological game, I know. The chairs are all a cheerful orange colour, but the hard edges won't let me relax. The walls are a combination of blue and green that should be soothing but instead is cold, and quietly unsettling. The clock is unnaturally loud, its ticking pushing aside silences, filling in the spaces between the sudden noises that sometimes come from along the corridor to my left.

From the Torture Chamber.

No-one I've ever met who shares my fear calls it that, but that's how we all see it. Believe that.

There's a woman behind the desk several feet in front of me. She's wearing a crisp, white uniform and too much warpaint. I keep trying to catch her eyes, to see if there's anything beyond them and maybe win a smile. But she doesn’t look my way; she busies herself with the documents on her desk, occasionally rising to file away papers in the tall metal cabinet behind her. There's a black telephone on her desk, but it doesn't ring. Not once.

A door to my right opens and another victim walks in. Like me, he has a companion with him to make sure he doesn’t make a run for it. They approach the desk and his name is quietly given. As the woman checks her list our respective guardians nod to each other, acknowledging one another's role. There is no conversation. There doesn’t seem to be enough oxygen in the room for many words. There is only the clock. Tick. Tick. Tick.

Not long to go now.

They sit. The new arrival squirms in his hard plastic seat until his companion places a firm hand upon his arm. The victim tries to keep still and I study him. He's thirty or so, a few years younger than me, and his hands are trembling. I try to imagine what's going through his mind and decide that he's probably glad that I'm here. Not out of any comforting illusion of kinship but rather because there's one more unfortunate soul in the chair before him.

I can understand that. I was glad to see the blonde girl, the one who was sitting and waiting before me. The one in the Torture Chamber right now.

I stare at the newest victim, hoping to provoke some reaction, but it seems as if I'm as invisible to him as I am to the woman behind the desk. His eyes dart between his trembling hands and the empty chairs around us, as though he's hoping to find a magazine to read, something to take his mind of the impending ordeal. And the phone, of course. Time and time again, he looks at the silent black phone.

Suddenly a sound cleaves the silence (Silence! Ha! Rememember the clock!) - a rising, high-pitched whine. The song of an electric drill, some instrument small and precise and terrifying. The other victim stops examining his hands and looks down the corridor, his face the colour of cigarette ash. We can hear the blonde girl making some sound, some strangled moaning, and suddenly I feel inexplicably pleased with myself. I won't scream or weep, I know it. I'm scared enough to project my condemned man's breakfast across the waiting room, but I won't make a sound. I promised myself that.

But then, I've broken promises before.

The drill continues to whine for a minute or ten and then stops. So does the blonde girl. After another minute the door to the Torture Chamber slowly opens and her companion leads her out. She seems a little unsteady on her feet, and the tissue pressed to her mouth looks startlingly red against her paper-white face. They walk down the corridor away from us, towards the exit.

My turn. My turn next.

The Torturer's assistant enters the waiting room. She's tall and pretty but like her deskbound colleague she's overcompensated with the make-up. Her flesh is just a little too flesh-coloured to be believed and her bee-stung lips are as lividly flushed as an open wound.

I stand. My companion and I follow her into the Torture Chamber and it looks much like I had expected, a room carved from my nightmares. White and starkly-lit, with a trolley of highly-polished instruments standing ready beside the big high-backed chair that dominates the room. The chair is shiny and black and somehow fleshy to the touch, and as my companion persuades me to sit in it I can't help but notice how very cold it is, as though it had been unoccupied for years instead of minutes, as though the blonde girl had never existed at all.

The Torturer himself has his back to me, a broad back encased in a white smock. He hums while he washes his hands. Then he turns and I see that his face is not what I was expecting. My dreams had conjured him as sharp- countenanced, vulpine, with cold glittering eyes the colour of permafrost. Instead his wrinkled features are kindly beneath the carefully combed grey hair, and behind the gold-rimmed spectacles, his eyes are brown. So are his teeth.

He greets my companion with a curt nod and smiles into my face. His breath reeks of cigar smoke and decay. He doesn’t speak. My own mind spins with a thousand questions but my mouth refuses to make them into words. My bowels have turned to water.

The Torturer leans over his trolley. His eyes narrow and his fingers flex, itching to enfold polished steel. He licks his lips slowly, as if selecting a dessert. His hand reaches out for a syringe filled with ... anaesthetic? No ... No, I don't think so. Suddenly the hand swoops left, to pick up the drill.

I was right, it seems. The drill is small. And precise. And terrifying.

He squeezes the trigger, twice, eliciting a brace of short squeals from the device. It gleams beneath the powerful lights, but when he returns it to the trolley and picks up the scalpel, somehow I know he's going to start with my eyes.

- Roger Jackson

 

Roger Jackson can be reached on Twitter and at his website An Ark Hive.