I’m not sure how long I’ve been standing here, but I’m starting to get tired again. I need to see it one last time though before I drift off, so I continue to keep my eye out. I glance around once more at my neighbors standing next to me. Most of them were quiet and stared blankly into space, while others attempted to catch some sleep. And trust me, when you’re exhausted like I am, sleeping while standing up is much more comfortable than you think.
You can always tell when someone is new to the group. They constantly fidget and look frantically about, eyes wide with fear. Then they would desperately try to move their legs and bend over to free themselves from the metal clamps that held their feet in place, forcing them to stand. Of course, they would eventually figure out how futile their attempts of escape were, and would fall silent like the rest of us.
I can only imagine that I must have acted just like them when I had first come here, but like I said, I don’t remember how long I’ve been standing.
It’s almost time again, so I anxiously look towards the left. It always enters my line of sight from that direction then exits on the right. There! There it is! It’s a small stain on the tile floor. It only enters my line of sight briefly before vanishing once again into the darkness. Seeing it is the only thing I have to look forward to now; it’s the only thing that keeps me sane. But most importantly, it lets me know that I’m still moving.
Oh right. I guess I didn’t mention that part. Those of you who are good listeners must have already figured out that stains on tile can’t move on their own, and have likely concluded that I must be the one moving somehow. Well you’re right.
I’m actually standing on a conveyor belt like platform, secured to it by these metal clamps around my feet. Although I can’t see more than a few feet in front of me, I know that the belt I’m on isn’t a straight one; it’s in the shape of a huge ring and cycles in an endless loop. I know this because of that stain I told you about. It passes by about once an hour, and yes I was so bored that I mentally calculated that. And it’s not like there are multiple stains on the floor or anything because I’ve memorized every little curve of the stain, and the design of it is always the same each time I encounter it. That should give you an estimate of how long I’ve been here, but like I said, I don’t even know how long it’s been.
So here I am still standing shoulder to shoulder with a bunch of people I’ve never met or talked to. Those whose voices had once filled the place fell silent long ago or have likely forgotten how to speak all together.
The space, room, area, or wherever we are, is pitch black; save for the dim lights that dot the sides of the conveyor belt. Each one illuminates only about three feet in diameter; but beyond that, darkness. No matter how hard I squint, I can’t make out any detail of anything that may be in front of me, at the center of this circle. There could be someone standing right in front of me, just outside the light, and I wouldn’t know it.
Behind me isn’t much better. Not only is it a pain to try and turn around when my feet are secured pointing straight in front of me, and I have to shove aside the people standing next to me in order to rotate my body, but it just isn’t worth it. The view I get from behind is exactly what I see in front, the only difference is that my sides cramp up from looking behind myself for too long. So I usually just face forward and wait for the stain to come around again.
There is one other defining feature about this place. On very rare occasions, a second conveyor belt can be seen, and it always arouses excitement amongst the people standing around me. This belt isn’t circular like the one I share with everyone else. It’s straight. The belt emerges from the dark depths of the circle and connects itself to the outside ring. When it appears, it is said that one person is selected from the ring to ride down the long platform towards the center of the circle. Once they vanish into the sea of darkness, they are never seen again. Then the mysterious conveyor belt retracts back into the dark void in which it came.
I saw this belt appear only once since I’ve been here. It came for a man about twenty people down to my left. Those around him shouted and tugged violently at his clothes as he was removed from his routine course and began to follow the straight and narrow path before him. By the time I had moved up to the spot where the man had been taken, he had already long since vanished into the darkness, but I could just barely make out the remainder of the retreating conveyor belt before it disappeared from sight completely.
I’m still not sure of what to make of that ghostly thing. I don’t know whether I should fear it or beg for it to take me away from this place. But there is one thing I know for sure now. There is something in front of me, awaiting me at the center of this circle.
I suddenly awoke to a hand grabbing my shoulder. My eyelids bolted open and I quickly whipped my head towards whoever was touching me. I didn’t scream, but my eyes must have been wide with fear because a voice said, “Oh sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you.” Then the hand pulled away and its owner draped it back at his side.
I didn’t respond. I could only look in awe at this stranger who seemed to have materialized next to me. I definitely don’t remember him standing next to me before I dozed off, it had been someone else. So how did he get there?
The only logical conclusion I could reach was that he was a newbie and must have joined the circle while I was sleeping. But, he didn’t act like all the others who were new to the group. He wasn’t scanning the area in fear or desperately trying to remove the metal clamps from his feet. Even the tone he spoke to me in seemed calm and sincerely apologetic for waking me. I guess he could’ve been here long enough for him to accept this strange situation. But if that’s the case, how long have I been sleeping?
I didn’t even realize that I was still staring at the man until he once again spoke.
“Look, I’m sorry I woke you up. But you’re starting to creep me out now.”
I blinked a couple times, then turned away and looked down in embarrassment, still haunted by the fact that someone managed to sneak up right next to me without my knowing. It wasn’t anything major but it was still an unsettling thought.
“Hey, are you okay?” said the man. “I’m really sorry for scaring you, but I thought maybe you could tell me what’s going on here.”
I shook my head silently, not because I didn’t want to tell him; but because I myself didn’t even know why I was here or what was going on. I don’t even know how long I’ve been here.
“Oh. I guess you can’t tell me either then.” He sounded disappointed. “So what’s your name?”
The question shocked me more than it should have; but in all the time that I had been standing here, no one had once asked me for my name. Heck, I don’t even remember talking to anyone around me if I ever did because, like I said, I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here.
My voice was raspy since speech had eluded me for so long, but I managed to answer him.
“I-I don’t know.”
He paused for a bit.
“Aww come on! You can’t seriously not know your own name.”
But it was true. I don’t have any memories prior to being here, not even of the day I arrived, and that includes my own name as I never remembered ever speaking it. Like I said, I don’t know how long I’ve been standing here.
“Oh. I see then,” the man said with concern in his voice. “Well, are you okay at least?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I’m okay.”
“Well then it’s mighty nice to meet you O. Kay!” he said with sudden enthusiasm.
I cocked my head to the side and gave him a puzzled look.
“What?” he said. “You said you were O. Kay, so that must be your name.” He smiled at his joke.
I groaned. What was this guy’s problem? No one ever acted like this.
“Is that supposed to be funny?” I asked.
He paused for a bit, “Did I say it wrong?”
I was ready to punch this guy’s face in. He must’ve picked up on that too because he quickly raised his hands in defense.
“Alright! Alright! I’m sorry!” He went silent after that.
I turned away from him and just stared blankly into the darkness, waiting for that stain on the floor to come around again.
After a long while, I began to feel uneasy. After speaking for the first time in what felt like an eternity, the empty silence felt cold and hostile. The last time I had ever heard human voices was when the man was taken away on the long conveyor belt. Maybe that’s what compelled me; or maybe deep down I just wanted someone to talk to, but I turned to face my new acquaintance once again.
“So, what’s your name?” I asked him.
“Jean,” he replied. “You know, like the pants you’re wearing?”
I looked down at my attire. Right, that’s what they were called.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you Jean.” I said.
He smiled. “I’m still not sure what to call you though.”
I thought for a moment. “I don’t really care as long as it’s not something stupid like O. Kay.”
He chuckled a bit. “How about just Kay then? It could be a real name.”
I smiled back at him. “Hehehe. Alright that’s fine.”
Jean and I then became good friends after that. I found out that he, much like me, didn’t know how he got here or how much time had passed before he started to talk to me. He also couldn’t recollect any significant memories about his life prior to being here. Even though I didn’t know much about him, I was sincerely thankful for his presence and the fact that I now had someone to talk to. Even if our conversations were short and spread out, they provided a warm relief from the foreboding silence as we moved along our endless path through the darkness.
After a while, I decided to show him that stain on the ground. All that time watching and waiting for it to come around again had kept me from completely losing my mind all the time I had been standing here. I figured if I showed it to Jean, that it would do the same for him. I wasn’t exactly ready to have my only friend go insane from the sheer emptiness of this place like so many others had.
When I mentioned the stain to him, his eyes immediately perked up with interest and he made some witty remark along the lines of how it was about time he got to see some new scenery.
When it was just about time before we passed by the stain again, I bent down so I could point it out more easily. I try not to bend down normally if I can avoid it. The clamps around my feet end up cutting into my ankles, and it’s pretty painful to say the least.
Jean bent down beside me to get a better view as well. From the dim lights on the side of the conveyor belt illuminating his face, I could now see that he was about my age, maybe a couple years younger. He had unnaturally red hair and piercing green eyes, although they were starting to fill with tears at the moment. No doubt from the pain the braces on his feet must be causing him.
Finally the stain on the floor came around again and I hastily pointed it out.
“There! Do you see it?!” I yelled frantically. But before I could get a reply, the stain vanished from sight once more.
“Aww what? That was it?” Jean whined.
“Well it’s better than nothing.” I replied finally standing back up, with a newfound pain in my ankles.
“When will it come back again?” he asked.
“About an hour give or take.”
Jean groaned. “Are there any other secrets I should know about this place then?”
I thought for a moment. “Well I guess there is something else worth mentioning.”
I told him about the strange conveyor belt. The straight one that appears out of nowhere and steals away a lone person form the ring, before retreating back into the center of the circle. Jean didn’t have anything to say. He just listened intently while I spoke. He didn’t even question me for making up such a ridiculous story. After I finished, we just stood in silence.
The stain on the ground passed by five times before he spoke again.
“What do you think lies in the center of the ring?” he asked.
I was slow to answer. “I…honestly never gave it much thought.”
We were both silent for a long while.
“What if it’s freedom?” he said confidently.
I turned to look at him. Jean was staring straight ahead towards the center of the circle, with a stern expression on his face.
From that point on we would spend our time counting how many times we passed the stain on the floor and imagining what freedom would be like. I would mostly just fantasize about how nice it would feel to get these damn clamps off my feet and walk around, but Jean had much grander thoughts. He would talk about how he would go and figure out who he was. How he would reclaim the life that had been stolen from him. But most of all, he wanted to know what the purpose of this place was and why we were here.
“Then you should go first.” I said. “When the conveyor belt appears again, I hope it picks you.”
He replied almost immediately. “What? No! You’ve been here way longer than I have. So if anyone deserves freedom, it’s you Kay.”
“See that’s why I can’t go.” I said. “I don’t remember my real name like you do. You at least have a chance of finding out who you are.”
Jean didn’t have anything to say to that.
“Well it’s not like we have a choice in who gets picked.” He said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”
We did see. Although it was inevitable, nothing could’ve prepared me for the day when it arrived. Between me and Jean, we counted the stain fifty-one times before the straight conveyor belt was once again seen emerging from the darkness.
But it didn’t come for me.
It took me a few seconds before I realized that Jean was no longer next to me, but was moving away into the sea of black, guided by the mysterious retreating conveyor belt. Then he was gone. And all was…silent.
That’s when I snapped. The sudden realization that I was once again alone in the foreboding silence caused me to go into a wild panic. I was so scared. I desperately shouted at the top of my lungs crying and begging for Jean to come back. I didn’t want to be left alone again. I didn’t want to lose myself to the madness of the darkness like the numerous others standing with me. I twisted my ankles and desperately pulled at the metal clamps, earning me a deep gash around my leg. Feeling the warm blood drip down at my feet just caused me to panic more. I cried and screamed until my throat became too sore to continue.
I was blinding myself with tears at this point. But I couldn’t do anything. I could only pray in silence for that conveyor belt to return and take me away to freedom. If not, I would inevitably forget about it along with all aspects of my existence. All I can do is stand here and cry as I revolve in this sea of black.
I don’t remember falling asleep, but I was jerked awake by a sudden change in my momentum, which caused me to vomit. Something was wrong. I looked around frantically and frightened to see a line of lights slowly vanishing into the distance. I was riding the straight conveyor belt.
My head suddenly erupted with all kinds of conflicting thoughts. Fear. Excitement. Curiosity. I glanced behind me once more to see the remainder of the outside ring disappear from sight as I traveled deeper and deeper into the dark void.
After a long while, I could see a light at the end of the conveyor belt. It came down from the dark sky like a thin spotlight, illuminating my destination. As I got closer, I could make out the silhouettes of about thirty people, all standing in a small circle and revolving around the center at a slow pace, guided by a new circular conveyor belt. But the horrifying part was that they were screaming at the top of their lungs and crying out like mad men. I had to cover my ears to save myself from going deaf as I approached the ring of people.
After I took my place in the new circle, I frantically scanned the faces of those around me. Many were screaming and crying, or attempting to free themselves from the metal clamps on their feet, cutting themselves in the process.
Then I saw him. Jean! He was standing about ten people down from my left. I was so excited that I called out to him and waved my arms to get his attention. But he didn’t respond. Maybe he couldn’t hear me over the deafening screams of the crowd.
That’s when I noticed that his green eyes were bloodshot and puffy, and his face was covered in multiple fluids as if he had been crying uncontrollably. He wasn’t screaming like the others, he just stood there staring straight ahead with a horrified expression on his face. Puzzled, I followed his gaze to the center of the circle.
There in the middle of the spotlight was a golden platform, just barely wide enough for one person to stand on top. If I wanted to, I could reach over with all my effort and touch the edge of it; but I didn’t want to, for there was no floor between the ring and the golden center. I peered over the edge in hopes of seeing the bottom of the pit before me, but was met with endless darkness.
That’s when I noticed the screaming around me was getting louder, as if something was refueling the people’s anxiety. I looked up to see Jean…floating towards the golden platform. Then he came to rest on its center, still staring into space with that horrified expression on his face.
“Jean! Jean! What’s going on?!” I shouted.
He didn’t respond. He probably couldn’t hear me over the screaming.
I began shouting louder “Jean! Please answer me! What’s happening?!” I called out his name again and again trying to provoke any sort of response to see if he was okay.
“SHUT UP!” Jean viciously shouted. He turned and stared at me, following my movements, with a look so murderous that, had the clamps on his feet not been there to restrain him, I’m sure he would’ve leapt across the canyon and strangled me to death.
I was quiet after that. For the longest time we just stared at each other. Jean’s bloodshot eyes pierced mine like emerald daggers. The way the light fell on him created dark shadows around his eyes. That plus his fiery red hair gave him a malevolent and demonic appearance.
Jean then started giggling to himself softly. I couldn’t hear it too well at first over the screaming, but it steadily grew louder and louder until he was laughing psychotically, all the while not breaking eye contact with me.
“Hehehehehe hehehe Don’t you see Kay? This is what we have been waiting for all this time. THIS is our freedom! Hehehe hehe hehe and soon…you will join me.”
I…I didn’t know what to make of this. What did he mean by this being freedom? But, I would never get the chance to ask him.
Before I could speak, an impossibly long vertical saw blade rose from the dark depths of the pit. Its numerous sharp teeth glinted in the spotlight as it moved over and touched Jean’s shoulder.
Then it began sawing. Its blade slowly slicing through Jean’s flesh. The people’s screaming reached its climax, and I could hear the snapping of bones and squishy tearing of meat as the hungry teeth of the saw made its way from left to right across Jean’s body; separating his front from his back and creating two perfect human silhouettes.
All I could do was watch in horror as my friend was being sliced. Being forced to move along the ringed conveyor belt meant that I got a 360 degree view of the carnage, as Jean’s metal clamps held his feet in place, keeping him stationary.
Throughout the process, Jean never screamed or struggled. Blood now soaked his clothes as well as his entire body, and numerous tears streamed down his face from the pain. He looked up at me one last time, with a wide smile on his face. Just as the jagged blade sliced through the last portion of his brain, I saw the light leave his eyes. As the saw exited his body, both halves of my friend fell into the black pit below. Then he was gone, swallowed up by the bottomless maw of the pit. And the saw followed, retreating back into the darkness.
I stood there…unblinking at where my friend had been, tears flowing endlessly down my face. No. This couldn’t…this couldn’t be what we wanted. H-how could…w-was it all for…nothing?
The people around me just kept crying and shrieking at the top of their lungs. They don’t stop. Their cries of agony are refueled when a young woman hovers towards the golden center. The saw once again rises from the depths of the pit and begins grinding its new victim with jagged teeth. The woman lets out a blood-curdling scream and twists away from the blade, causing it to split her spine at a most agonizing angle. Blood sprays everywhere as the woman desperately struggles to escape with no avail. Soon she falls silent, and her mangled body disappears with the saw into the bottomless darkness.
And everyone else just keeps screaming. Each time a new victim is selected, the cries intensify, growing louder and louder but never showing signs of stopping. My ears are ringing with intensifying pain. I shout and cry begging for the noise to stop, but it doesn’t. It just gets louder and louder with each passing moment.
I’m still standing, revolving around this ring, crying in pain from the unearthly shrieks of those being carved up by the saw’s teeth and the screams from those forced to watch with me. I want to go back. Back to the darkness and the stain on the floor. Back with that boy. W-what was his name? I think it started with a “J”. No! I remember he was my friend! I couldn’t have forgotten! I couldn’t have been here that long…right? Please! I need to remember!”
GOD DAMMIT!!! I can’t think with all of this blasted screaming! Shut up. Just shut up. It doesn’t matter how many of them are killed, they just get replaced with more screaming bastards!!! I can’t take it! Just shut up! Please…I can’t…I can’t take it anymore.
I don’t flinch as I float over to the golden platform. I stand perfectly still as the saw begins to split my left shoulder. I don’t react as the slow, jagged momentum of the sharp teeth slice through my flesh and snap my bones. As my skull cracks and the saw begins shredding my brain, I look up to see a ring of people revolving around me; looking up at me with horrified faces drenched in tears and the blood of past victims.
I smile. Soon it will all be over. Soon everything will be silent. Soon I will leave this damned place.
Soon, I will be free.