Her gentle footsteps on the stairs sent Harlan into a panic. He yanked his chains knowing it was inconsequential. He can’t remember how long he’d been her prisoner or how many times he’d pleaded for mercy.
She called his name in a singsong voice announcing her presence. She held a plyer in her hand, and Harlan knew what was coming next…
Harlan’s mind teetered at the edge of insanity and despair. Shrouded in darkness, pitch blackness was his world. Isolation, his only friend. His confinement was a mystery to him. He couldn’t remember how he’d arrived at this peculiar situation. He didn’t have any memories. Instead, he focused on what he could discern in front of him.
He was suspended in mid-air. There were no ropes or harnesses on him. His feet didn’t touch the ground. When he spit, he couldn’t hear it hit anything. When he screamed, there was no echo. He pictured himself in a shaft or a cavern. Somewhere isolated and dark. A place where a human could be confined and no one could ever find them.
Sensory deprivation and continuous isolation are enough to push Harlan’s psyche over the edge. It is only then Harlan is set free from his nightmare.
Harlan awakens and finds himself comfortably warm. His eyes take a moment to adjust to the light, and he can see again. There are other people around him. All of them are laying on plain cots. They sniffle and cough. Others wept.
Harlan takes a deep breath, hoping to never return to the shaft, and gags on the stench of piss and body odor.
Placing the blanket over his head, Harlan felt exhausted. The nightmare of dangling in the dark hole remained on his mind, and he feared returning to it. He allowed himself to relax and only wanted to rest his eyes.
A pair of men wearing gas masks and military uniforms toss Harlan from his cot and drag him across the room. They’re grumbling commands he can’t understand. He doesn’t fight them. He doesn’t have the energy. Plus, no one else was in the building. All the cots were empty.
Tossed outside onto the street, he shivered against the cold winter morning and saw others were standing on the road. Many of them huddled together for warmth. Others marched off into the distance. The sky was overcast, and everything including the people seemed to be an odd shade of gray.
He explored the city which was nothing more than rusted cars along empty streets. All the stores were closed. Faces watched him from apartment windows. He explored further and further out until the light faded away and an eerie silence pervaded around him.
Then the earth rumbled.
Everything ahead of him disintegrated before his eyes. The buildings, the streets, and the sky. Harlan tried to run but it was futile…
Her gentle footsteps recede up the stairs and Harlan is relieved for the moment.
He knows she’ll be back.