I've nearly colored the walls black with the screwdriver. The tally marks fill up everything- save for a little space at the corner. Maybe I should stop keeping count.
I can tell you how many days I've been stuck in this room. I count the tally marks every night, and at the end of each counting, I pick up my screwdriver and scratch a new mark on the wall. One more day I've survived in this world. One more day this room has not devoured my mind and spit me out, like the others outside.
I've been stuck in this small, decrepit room for exactly five-thousand and thirty-six days. I can count the marks again if you want- I count them every night. I've grown very proficient at it over the years. Strange- I don't remember how many days are in a year any more. Maybe it's a sign. Or maybe it's a blessing. So I don't remember how I got in here in the first place. So I don't bother scratching my head out for why this room exists, and how it does things to the people trapped inside it. So I become one with the room.
Have others gone here before me? Did they scratch marks on the walls, too? How long did they stay here?
How long will I be here?
I'm very good at counting and asking questions. But this is one question I can't answer.
Exactly five-thousand and thirty-six days ago, Clifford died.
When everyone save for a few million people were wiped from the face of the Earth in a blink of an eye, you don't really care about death any more. You get so used to the dead bodies that surround you day and night. Reminders that a world used to exist here. Reminders that you were once part of this world.
To everyone that survived whatever wiped us off the face of the planet five-thousand days ago, the bodies were the reminder. The stench as they rotted, the regret as the survivors dragged their weary bodies onward through the cities of this Earth, knowing that time was passing, they survived, and others did not.
To me, Clifford was that reminder.
On the day I met Clifford, I was scavenging for something that could keep me alive- food, water, things of that sort. I had broken into a supermarket and was stuffing loads of goods into my bag when I heard the door open.
A relatively young man strode into the supermarket, carefully stepping over the broken glass. He had the stubble of a man who didn't need to shave a week before, but now he did. In his left hand he held a broken knapsack, with a visually broken zipper on it. In his right, a pistol.
He raised the firearm.
"Give me the bag and everything that's in it."
After that, things happened so fast. I heard a gunshot, and saw the man fall over, his body limp. I saw another man walk into the market- this one much older than the first one- carrying a smoking gun. He checked the body and looked at me.
"I'm Clifford. Nice to meet you."
I stayed in Clifford's house for nearly three-hundred days. He gave me food and shelter. He taught me so much- so much that I can barely remember what he taught me right now. He was the father I never had. He was Clifford.
And all that was gone in a day.
He left one morning, said he would be back in the afternoon. He wasn't. I waited. Two days passed. Then three. On the eighth day, I noticed that the food storage was growing low. I packed what I could (which included a bag of potato chips- it's still with me here, right now. I'm afraid what's going to happen if I open it) and left the house, not knowing that I would never see it again.
I don't remember where I searched for Clifford, but I do know where and when I found him.
Nearly the entire day had passed, and it was getting dark. The sun was setting in the horizon, and I knew that if I didn't find him soon I would have to abandon the search and get into some shelter. Clifford's house was out of the question, since I had walked a half-day's worth of distance already. I was about to give up when I spotted something on the ground that was camouflaged by the dust and rubble-
To this day I have no idea what killed him. I just panicked and ran.
Sometimes, I think the room was taunting me, luring me into its grasp. Because one second I was screaming bloody murder and running from Clifford's corpse, and the next I was in front of a door. A wooden one. Which was rare, considering I was in sort of a high-end district.
Nevertheless, I opened the door and stepped into a bare, musty room with white walls, a single window facing the street, and a locked wooden door: what would be my home for the next five-thousand and thirty-six days. And counting.
Sometimes, I like to think of the room as a replacement for Clifford. It feeds me with plates of food mysteriously appearing in front of me every morning. It shelters me from whatever monsters are outside. I wonder if I can call them monsters. Really, they're just people like me. Except they're wandering around aimlessly. The wanderers.
I can call the food and the shelter mere coincidences- maybe someone is taking care of me. Maybe someone is distracting the people outside, because they never look through the window and straight at me- they always look at something above me. But I don't call the aging a coincidence.
I know what my face looks like, but more importantly, I know what it feels like. I'm a man, so I should be slowly growing a beard by now.
But I'm not.
Every morning, right after I wake up and before I scratch another mark on the wall using Clifford's screwdriver, I feel my face.
Still smooth from the last shave using Clifford's shaver in Clifford's house.
For five-thousand and thirty-six days this has been going on, and I have come up with no plausible conclusions during my stay in this room. Or why I started marking the walls.
It began as sort of a hobby, as a way to pass time. But I don't exactly remember how I started it. Why did I wake up on the first day and have the sudden need to scratch on the wall? I don't even remember taking Clifford's screwdriver with me.
The room is an enigma. I scratch the walls every morning, but I have no inclination to do so during the rest of the day. The door and window are both invulnerable to damage, food magically appears out of nowhere, and my memories are slowly being erased. Maybe I am right. Maybe me and the room are becoming one.
I am sure of a lot of things. I know the sun rises and sets every day. I know that there are still people out there, surviving, wandering. And now, I am sure that I am not the only visitor to this room. I have the hunch that people came here before, and the room slowly digested them, bit by bit, until the only remains that you have left are the memories people have of you.
If they can remember you.
Scratch. Another tick, another mark, another day. The bodies stink, decompose a bit more. The survivors wander for 24 hours. The sun rises and sets, once for each time, a pair. They never leave each other, sunrise and sunset, because they do not exist without one another.
The man scratches on the wall, making the mark look darker and darker, until, if the room was a hall- and many a time the man has dreamed it was- a person sitting on the other end could see it with their naked eye. He crouches, squints, digs into the wall. He has grown accustomed to the room. It is almost as if he and the room are one. They know each other. A pair. They never leave each other, like the sun and moon, because they do not exist without one another.
Finally, he wipes his brow with the shirt that has stayed on his body for over 13 years, and looks at the wall.
The corner of space is growing smaller, and in a distant, sentient part of the man's brain, a set of words run:
Time is running out.
As if on cue, like a program running, the plate appears before the man, and he gulps down the food.
A yawn. Stretch. Wipe of the brow.
The sound of a screwdriver being picked up off the ground. The mind of a man who does not believe he has not aged in 13 years.
The tick is half the height of the others. Time seems to pause around the man- a glitch in the program.
If he finishes the tick, the room will be completely blank. Even the ceiling- he has gone through the liberty of scratching the ceiling.
For the first time in 13 years, the man steps back and witnesses what he has done. Art? Accomplishment? He does not know how to interpret this. In astonishment, he speaks aloud, hearing his voice for the first time in 13 years:
The room stays still, as it has always done.
He knows that if he finishes the tick, he will be granted another meal. But what if he finishes the tick? What happens then? What miraculous event will occur? Punishment, or reward?
He sits down to ponder, as he has done for the past 13 years, and before he knows it, the sun sets. His stomach growls from the lack of food. His eyes cry not for sleep- but for the answer. The answer to the room.
He gets up and stares outside the window. The apartment across him is black, just like the room. But the blackness is not interrupted by white- it is solid, full. The road is dark. Everything is dark in the night.
And then he sees it. People. A group of people. They pass him, mere centimeters from the window- but they do not look at him. Nobody looks at him. They always look above him. At what, at what? the man would ask himself. But like the people passing him right now, the answer looks away from him. Above him, so to say.
And then he sees a young boy, around the age of five. He is running, trying to catch up with the group. And then the young boy's head turns to look not above the room, but rather, into the room. His eyes sweep the room, and then, just for a second, just for a tiny second, a fragment of time- the boy's eyes meet the man's. The eyes finish sweeping the room, and the head turns back down towards the ground.
He continues running to catch up with the others. The others who wander.
The man stands there in the darkness for a minute, and then he tries the doorknob.
It is unlocked.
He stands there, wondering. He stands there, his knuckles white from gripping the doorknob. He stands.
The sun on the horizon starts to rise. First, unsure of what lies in the beyond- then it quickens its pace, matches it with the empty Earth's.
He stands there, watching, waiting. Waiting for something. Watching for something. A sign.
He tightens his grip on the doorknob, testing it once more.
Does he want to become like the rest of them? Living their days out in a room like his? A bigger room, one called Earth? Does he want to wander memories of a distant past, wander the skeletons of a dead carcass that's long gone, picking up remains like a wandering survivor of a disaster?
He lets go of the doorknob. Sits down. Opens his knapsack. Digs around.
He finds the one thing he has that he truly cannot explain. The one thing that could not come from a coincidence.
He opens the bag of chips, and starts eating.