Estimated reading time — 9 minutes
One morning when I was about eight years old, I woke up and my mother wasn’t my mother. I had never seen the person who addressed me as ‘son’ in my life. There was certainly a resemblance, but I knew what my mother looked like and that woman wasn’t her. As you can imagine, it was pretty unnerving for an eight-year-old boy. I was locked in my room in tears the entire day. Sure enough, I cried myself to sleep and stayed asleep the entire night.
The next morning, I woke up and my blankets were green. They had been bright blue the day before. I threw them off of myself and dropped them out of the window. Outside, the usually grey roads were painted with red stripes. I ran downstairs, and my mother was my mother again.
After a few weeks of nearly nonstop screaming and crying, I had begun to adjust. Every day, I would wake up and things would be slightly different—some days were more different than others. One day, the only thing that was different from the day before was that all of the clocks now displayed the number one to twenty-four instead of one to twelve. Another day, I was told I was in the wrong classroom at school even though it was the one I always sat in. Once they moved me to the ‘correct’ room, I learned about geography and found that instead of being names, the world’s countries were labelled with numbers. Another day, I was in the school band and was expected to play the piano as if I was supposed to be an expert. When I got home that day, a pet dog I didn’t have the day before affectionately nuzzled my leg, and the floor was made of some type of material that I was sure didn’t exist the day before—some type of composite of wood and marble, I think now.
Soon, I learned some interesting things. The people around me would always recognize me even though my name and reputation were different some days. I expected my personality to unconsciously change, but as far as I knew, it didn’t. Aside from a few variations once in a while, the people around me would age at the same rate that I did. Although I would have family and friends tell me that they’d known me for long periods of time, no one would ever remember exactly what I had done the day before. They’d usually remember me and my personality, but no one would ever be able to recount a story I’d told the day before or anything I’d done. They’d just tell me that I did something that I’d never done.
Despite that, I’d managed to grow close with people sometimes. Despite all of the changes, some things stayed the same for weeks and months. Once, I had a friend named Marshall whose memories told him we had been friends since we were in kindergarten. He wouldn’t remember anything I did recently—for example, if I told him a story and asked him about it the next day, he’d just recite it incorrectly or even deny I had told it—but those things are surprisingly irrelevant when you’re close friends with someone. We liked each others’ personalities. He changed names once or twice, but we remained close friends for three months before I met him one day and he was mad at me for a relationship complication I was apparently involved in. Then, he didn’t know me for a few weeks. After that, we were only moderately good friends that hung out in groups once every few weeks.
I only ever took wild guesses at what was happening. There’s a theory that alternate universes exist, and perhaps I was waking up in a new universe every time I went to sleep. That’s the closest I had ever come to an explanation. Honestly, I didn’t worry about it too much. It was all I knew since I was a kid. I wouldn’t even think it was a big deal if I wasn’t so different from other people. For example, on days that cars existed, everyone would drive, but I couldn’t since the driver’s license I’d gotten the day before would be gone, or the mechanics of the car would be entirely different. I’d gotten used to everyone forgetting what I do, never growing too close with anyone, and so on.
When I was fourteen or fifteen, I took my realization that nothing I did had any repercussions and applied it to a life of crime. A few times, I had killed people who just mildly annoyed me and I would only be in trouble for the rest of the day. The most I’d had to suffer was a punch from an overzealous police officer, and the bruise disappeared the next morning. I had stolen things from stores and taken advantage of girls I found pretty. I decided that things like bank robbing weren’t worth it. I didn’t know what would happen if I died, but it wasn’t worth the risk. Once I was seventeen, my tirade ended. Except for relieving teenage angst, crime wasn’t rewarding if the money I had stolen was gone the next day or the people I’d killed were revived once I woke up the next morning.
When I was eighteen, I went to the bathroom in the morning with a dull pain on the skin of my face and found that I had stitches on my nose. I asked the two men in the kitchen who I assumed were the day’s parents and—although surprised I didn’t know—they told me about the beating I had received from some guy at school the day before. For the rest of that day, I picked at the stitches and used ice to deal with the pain. When I woke up the next day, the stitches and pain were gone.
Once when I was twenty-three, I woke up one morning in a hospital bed. I wasn’t able to comprehend what was happening, but I realized the next day that I had been in a coma. I could feel my limbs and body, but it was like every muscle in my body was gone. It was terrifying. I couldn’t move or speak. I didn’t know any of the people that paced back and forth. I thought I was dead.
Once, when I was twenty-five, I woke up in a wheelchair. Except for my right arm, all of my limbs were gone. Sensations burst up all of my stumps at once—phantom pains from having never experienced the feeling before. It’s impossible to explain. The feeling in your shoulder when you wriggle your fingers is minute, but when it’s all you feel, it’s excruciating. If my limbs were still there, they would have been violently thrashing in pain. The rest of that day was full of visits from nurses and a man whose skin colour was not my own who claimed to be my father cursing and yelling at me for something in a language I didn’t understand. I think it involved my mother.
After that day, falling asleep became difficult. I had attempted keeping a journal to record how things were so I’d know exactly what had changed, but the journal always disappeared or turned into a grocery list the next morning. The fear of what I was going to wake up to eventually turned into terrible anxiety. I wouldn’t be able to tell if my loved ones would exist when I woke up or if they’d know me, or even if I’d look like myself. I pulled out my phone and called whoever was my friend that day to try and tell her about my situation, but she thought I was joking and hung up when I started screaming and crying.
If I was listening to my own story, I’d wonder why I haven’t killed myself at that point. It seems strange, but I had a lot to live for. In the month that I had with her, I’d fallen in love with a woman named Emma, Teff, or 57436 depending on the day who told me that she knew me since high school and that I’d been married to for a few months. It seems strange to love someone I had no memories with, but the fact was irrelevant to us. She didn’t bring up our memories too often and our personalities lit up together. A week ago, I woke up and we were only roommates. I had to wait to wake up to a universe in which we were in love again.
I had attempted to see what would happen if I didn’t sleep. On a relatively good day when Emma was blind but in good terms with me and I had a reputation as the host of a famous cooking show, I just tried my hardest to stay awake the entire night. It was a worthwhile idea, but I just went unconscious halfway through the night. When I woke, Emma’s name was Clarice and she had a job involving reciting the time out loud on television since written numbers and letters didn’t exist.
When I woke up the next morning, I was arrested for leaving my house. For some reason, the government was monitoring people through cameras in our rooms and we weren’t allowed to leave. Police officers in red leather uniforms and huge rifles on their belts escorted me back to my house in front of my trembling, terrified parents and sister. I don’t want to think about what would happen if I’d gotten further from my house or fought back.
One morning, I woke up and my bedroom was devoid of any carpet or ornamentation. The room had a terrible smell due to the pile of feces and urine in the corner—presumably my own. There was a two meter-long chain attaching me to the bed so that I couldn’t reach the door. The pain in my stomach rendered me unable to move for the first thirty minutes after waking up. The window was covered up so I couldn’t see anything. After what I guessed was a few hours, a burly woman wearing a black robe and a fencing mask opened the door and threw a bag with a hamburger in it onto the floor. She stared at me for a few seconds. I couldn’t see her face, but I could sense the venom seeping out from under the mask. With that, she shut the door and I ate the only meal I got that day. That night, I couldn’t sleep because I couldn’t decide when to stop praying that the next day would take me away.
Three days ago, I woke up in the afternoon, and I was tied to a chair. I didn’t recognize the room that I was in, but it could have been my home. The ropes that tied me to the chair weren’t made of anything that I could identify—some type of pliable rock, I assumed. I couldn’t stand up since wherever I was, nothing could be lifted up. Instead, all of the furniture was attached to the floor and couldn’t be moved. Doors were obsolete as well. When the man with the animal mask came in, he came through a hatch in the floor.
The man’s mask was white and made to look like an animal that I didn’t recognize—something resembling an animal that only existed some days called a meedoph, except with some sort of geometric exoskeleton.
He didn’t say a word before pressing a button on his mask. There wasn’t any collar around my neck, but it immediately became hard to breathe. No air could go through my throat. He kept the button pressed for minutes until my lungs burned and I couldn’t even scream for air. I was about to pass out when he let go of the button and I could breathe again. Thirty seconds later, he pressed it again. By the end of the day, I was in tears. He tortured me like that the entire day. All it would take was for him to press that button for a little longer so that I could pass out and wake up somewhere else, but he never did. By the time he left, it was impossible to breathe silently. I heaved for air and gasped in pain with every breath. The air felt like a fist being shoved in my throat, and my lungs felt like they were going to rip apart. I didn’t even have enough left in me to produce tears. I prayed and prayed to be somewhere else when I woke up with whatever thoughts I still had. I’d never attempted to control where I ended up, but it was a good time to start. Perhaps I’d be in bed lying beside Emma. She’d be as in love with me as I was with her and I would take her out for a lunch date and listen when she complained about work. I hadn’t been in that world for months. Looking back, it sounds like heaven.
The morning after, I woke up and I was chained to a chair. Instead of ropes, it was chains around my chest and legs. The hunger in my stomach was enough to make me scream out loud. Not for the first time, I felt terrified of what was going to happen. The fear of the unknown was suddenly enough to reduce me to tears.
I heard footsteps behind me, and sure enough, there was a man with an animal mask with a panel of buttons on his sleeve. The blood stopped running in my veins. I couldn’t understand my own words when I begged him to kill me instead of putting me through what had happened yesterday. He didn’t listen, and at the press of a button, the air stopped going to my lungs.
Like I said, some things in my life would remain virtually unchanged for months at a time. The torture had been happening for the past three days, and at each night, all of the damage to my body would erase itself so it could happen again with no chance of killing me. With my arms tied, there’s no way for me to kill myself. If I try to suffocate myself by not breathing, my medulla takes over and resuscitates me. I’ve tried choking on my tongue, but I don’t know how. The most mortifying part of it all is the complete lack of knowledge of the next day. Yesterday, the man in the mask spoke to me in a language I didn’t understand. Tomorrow could be exactly the same, except he would be wearing a different mask. Tomorrow could also be vastly different with a new and worse type of torture. The worst of it all is the fact that I had no control over what the next day would look like. It was entirely based on chance, so if fate willed it, every day for the rest of my life could be exactly like the one before.
Credit: Hien Van Nguyen III