Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
As I slowly regained consciousness, I felt a wave of dullness wash over my fractured mind. I couldn’t move, much less remember what had happened before I passed out.
My eyes burned as I opened them. I’d spent too much time in darkness to quickly adapt to the incessant flow of light.
“Hello?” I tried to call out, but what emerged from my lips was merely a whisper.
Once I could finally see, I took note of the room I’d awoken in. The walls, floor, and ceiling were all covered in weird sound insulation foam.
I tried to get to my feet, but my legs refused to cooperate. They weren’t atrophied, but had weakened significantly. That fact, alongside my groggy mind, made me realize I must have been drugged.
“Is there anyone there?” I asked, a bit louder that time.
I tried to think back, clawing at my own memories, hoping for even the faintest scrap of information. I’d been heavily sedated, that much was clear, but why they’d placed me in a sound-proof room, I didn’t know.
After what felt like an eternity, I finally managed to pull myself up onto my feet. Still feeling wobbly, I started to look for an exit. Alas, everything around me was perfectly sealed in that ridiculous foam.
I collapsed back to the floor, still exhausted from sleep. That’s when I truly realized just how quiet it was. The room wasn’t just keeping sound in, but it kept everything out as well. No people talking, no traffic, not even the sound of water pipes built into the walls.
It was deafening.
I held my breath, and pressed my ear against the wall… nothing. All I could hear was my own heart beating, and the sound of my intestines churning away at whatever I’d eaten the day before.
What seemed almost fascinating at first, quickly became my worst nightmare. Within the room, I was the only source of sound, and in the absence of any external stimulus, the silence got louder.
“Please, let me out of here!” I begged.
Then, I remember something. Nothing more than a faint hint of a distant memory, a glance into a time long since passed. It was a meeting, a conversation I’d had with a man I couldn’t recognize.
“Why are you here?” the man asked.
“I’m sorry, Sir?”
“This isn’t a good place, Ryan. You’re young, healthy. Shouldn’t you be out in the real world, maybe find a wife?”
“I had one…”
The brief memory was cut short by a paper floating through the air. While distracted, someone had delivered a note through the ceiling.
“Hey, what the hell is this? Let me out!” I called as I looked for whatever hole the note had come from.
Without a response, I picked the paper up. It was oddly soft, producing almost no sound as my fingers brushed over it.
On it, was a single line of text. “Day 1: Listen.”
“Listen to what, assholes?” I called out.
I started running around the room, desperately trying to pry the foam off the walls in search of a way out. It was a futile task, and before long, I collapsed to the floor in exhaustion. The drugs still lingered in my body, and I couldn’t think clearly enough to form a coherent escape plan.
There’s a significant difference between being deaf, and living in absolute silence. Same goes for being blind, versus being put into darkness. With functioning sensory organs, but no input, your mind takes it upon itself to come up with stimuli. Anything even remotely audible, gets amplified a thousand times over.
As my mind drifted away, another memory greeted my shattered brain.
“So that’s it?” the man asked. “You lost her, and now you’re here.”
“What happened to her?”
“I killed her,” I responded with a trembling voice.
Once I awoke once more, I was immediately assaulted by the sounds produced by my own internal organs.
“God dammit, shut up!” I yelled at myself.
There were no echoes within the room. Each word I spoke, simply vanished into the insulation foam. I had to constantly keep talking to myself, just to keep my own bodily sounds at bay.
That’s the first time I noticed how desperately I needed to use the bathroom.
“What if I need to take a piss, then?” I asked out loud.
With that, one of the foam panes popped up from the ground. Beneath, lay little more than a small, foam covered tunnel. Even my own stream of urine fell silently down into the darkness below.
Once I finished relieving myself, another piece of paper fell from the ceiling. Alongside it, a stream of water appeared. It hit the ground almost without producing a sound, and was immediately absorbed by the foam. Nevertheless, I dove under it, parched from a day without liquid.
After the stream stopped, I picked up the second piece of paper.
“Day 2: Do you hear them yet?” it read.
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I yelled to no one in particular.
Still, no response. Not that I expected anything else.
I spent most of day two investigating the room. With the drugs cleared from my system, I could finally think. Though, despite being clear of mind, my memories remained hazy.
There was no way out. No cracks in the horrendous facade. I was alone, in an isolated room. The churning sounds of my intestines the only thing to keep me company. I tried lying in different positions to muffle the sounds, but it felt as if they just grew louder.
Confused, and trapped, I had another memory flash by.
“It’s an anhedonic chamber. The quietest place in the entire world. A concrete block resting on a spring plate, isolated with sound-proof foam, to make sure not a single sound can get in, nor out. While one exists at Orfield Laboratories, this one is special, one by my own design,” the man said.
“It must have been expensive. What’s the point?” I asked.
“To make people hear the truth.”
On the third day, I didn’t awake until I heard the faint sound of water hitting the foam. I shot to my feet and started drinking from the short lasting stream. That time, they even dropped down some weird loaf of bread. It was heavy, and packed with strange bits of vegetable and seeds, some kind of Neutraloaf.
A note also dropped down alongside the food and water.
“Day 3: Accept it,” it read.
It felt like pure ecstasy, to hear the bread tear apart as I bit into it. Finally, an audible sound that didn’t come from my own guts. Unfortunately, it was short lived. As soon as the bread had been eaten, I was once again plunged into absolute silence.
I tried to keep myself preoccupied by talking, but my voice could only keep going for so long before my throat dried out. I realized then, that they were purposefully keeping my water supply limited, to prevent exactly that. I’d be too weak to fight back, too weak to keep talking, but healthy enough to remain conscious.
There I sat, listening to my own organs work. I hated them, disgusting, pieces of flesh that produced squishy, sickly sounds that never ceased. Then, I heard something new, a faint voice hidden beneath the sound of my beating heart.
“Please, just make it stop. I can’t take it anymore,” the voice said.
It belonged to that of a woman. Oddly familiar, yet so strange.
“Hey, where are you?” I called out.
“It hurts so much. I don’t deserve this, why is this happening to me?”
There was no discernible location for the sound. It almost felt as if it was coming from both nowhere, and everywhere, all at once.
“Come on, I need to know where you are if I’m going to help you!”
“Ryan? It hurts so much, please help me!” she begged, before the voice vanished into thin air.
“Linda? Oh, my God,” I called out, praying her voice would return.
It had been my wife, the voice I’d longed to hear for so long. I almost couldn’t believe it. Through the immense silence, I’d heard the love of my life, and she was suffering. I cried as memories of her flowed back, how she had died.
“I’m sorry,” I said out loud. “I’m so, so sorry. Please forgive me.”
But she wasn’t real. She had to be a figment of my imagination, or a hallucination brought on by the quiet room I’d been living in.
As I sobbed into the foam floor, my mind wandered involuntarily back to my most recent, partially intact memory.
“How did she die?” the man asked.
“Why are you asking me these questions? I already signed the fucking papers for project Orcus.”
“Because you might be able to talk to her again.”
The fourth day arrived, and another piece of paper dropped from the ceiling.
“Day 4: Don’t ignore them. They’re as real as you and me,” it read.
I tore the letter apart. Not out of anger, but to enjoy the barely audible sound it produced as I ripped it to pieces. I made sure they were only thin strips, keeping it going for as long as possible. I savored every moment of it, before I was forced back into silence.
No sooner had the silence returned, before I started hearing whispers all around me. At first, they were just incomprehensible sounds, voices that didn’t make any sense. But, among it all, I heard Linda call out for me.
“Ryan, stay away. It’s not safe here!” she begged.
But she wasn’t the only one. There were dozens of muffled whispers all around me. I tried to filter them out, focusing only on my wife’s beautiful, haunting voice, but as time passed, they kept getting louder.
Day five arrived. I was on the brink of total insanity. The whispers had kept me awake for hours, only to vanish when the next paper quietly hit the ground.
“The voices will set you free.”
It was a temporary relief. After I’d torn the paper to shreds, the voices immediately returned. Each hour gone, made them louder, and I could do nothing to block them out.
Day six came and went in the blink of an eye, the voices had fused together. The mess of sound that came from all around me just never ceased for a single second. Even as I shouted with my hoarse voice, they just kept coming. The only real thing I remember from the day, is the note that fell from the ceiling.
“Keep quiet, and let them guide you.”
Once I’d lost my voice completely, I sat back, and surrendered. I let the voices overrun my mind, still growing louder, and louder, and louder.
That’s when I realized, that they weren’t whispers at all… they were screams.
Each of the thousand voices that had haunted me, were cries for help. The people, wherever they came from, were in perpetual, unrelenting pain. They were begging me for a way out, but I could do nothing save listen to their infinite suffering.
In the midst of it all, I still heard the voice of my wife. I don’t know why hers was louder, or clearer than the others’. I’d been clinging firmly to the idea that it was all in my head, but my sanity couldn’t prevail for much longer. Soon, I’d have to give in.
“Let me the fuck out of here!” I shouted as loud as I could, with my hoarse voice.
My mind was deteriorating rapidly. Day eight was a haze of broken thoughts, and day nine didn’t fare much better. I stopped reading the notes. The screams kept going, among them, I could hear discernible words and phrases, but wouldn’t be until the tenth day, before I could finally understand them.
“Help me, please!” a child cried.
“You’re not real, none of you are real,” I said back.
“But you can hear us!”
“You’re nothing but figments of my broken mind, you’re all in my head.”
“That doesn’t mean we’re not real. I – I can prove it!”
“The last note that feel from the ceiling. It’s a list of names.”
I glanced over at the papers I still haven’t checked. As I picked one up, I realized he was right.
“Henry Jones, Peter Dawson, Alex Moore, David Lawrence.”
I dropped the paper and picked up another. The same list, same people, but no instructions.
“Who are they?” I asked.
“They are the people you’re supposed to find,” the child responded. “I’m one of them. My name is Alex.”
“What happened to you?”
But it was too late, his voice had faded away, replaced by the continuous screams of torture. I kept my eyes fixed on the paper, and as I read the names one more time, another memory flashed by.
“Do you know what to do?” the man asked.
“We need to sedate you, and you’ll undergo electroshock therapy. It’s the only way you’ll be susceptible to the environment.”
“I understand.” I responded plainly.
“I don’t care.”
“It also means you’ll be extremely disoriented when you wake up. You might have forgotten who I am, or even who you are. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance that you keep the mission in mind. Don’t forget it, let it be the only thing you remember.”
For the next day, I sat in a corner, barely drinking or eating. All I did, was repeat the names on the list, hoping the mystery would somehow unravel itself.
“Henry Jones… Peter Dawson… who the hell are you guys?” I mumbled to myself.
Then, as if a switch had been flicked on, I suddenly understood. The screams, the whispers, the voices, everything I’d heard for the past eleven days made sense. A veil had been lifted from my mind, and I could understand everything they’d been trying to tell me.
“Ryan?” my wife called out for me.
“Linda, you’re still with me,” I responded with a hint of joy.
“I don’t have much time. It’s hard to keep focused,” she said, clearly struggling.
“What’s happening to you?”
“It’s not important right now. I just need you to know that it wasn’t your fault.”
Her words of comfort hardly masked the pain she was in.
“Yes it was. I was – ”
Before I could finish my sentence, I was interrupted by more, deafening screaming.
“It’s time for you to leave,” she said.
“Wait, are you okay? I mean, where you are.”
“No, none of us are. I’m sorry,” she said with a trembling voice.
With that, she vanished for the last time, and a final paper fell from the ceiling.
“Day 12: Did you find them?”
I took a moment just to listen. There, among the pain, I heard them call out for me. They’d been apart of the same project as me, and had since died. Yet, they held the instructions I needed to get out of the room.
There was something scattered around within the foam. Seven buttons that had to be pushed in a certain order. Based on the voices, I could easily open the door. Just the act of finding them was a feat on its own, so deducing the correct sequence surely meant I’d made contact with the other side of life.
I stepped outside. For the first time in almost two weeks, I saw another human being.
“Welcome back, Ryan. You made it,” the man said.
I didn’t respond, I just walked past him, and traversed the long hallways towards the end of the anhedonic chamber. Once outside, I just collapsed to the ground, and listened to all the insignificant sounds around me. Water flowing through pipes, the silent hum of old florescent light bulbs, footsteps shuffling around the facility, it was all equally heavenly.
Once I’d gotten used to the real world, the man joined me. He was my boss, I could remember that much, but my memories still remained hazy due to whatever treatment I’d been given before entering the chamber.
“Are you ready to talk?” he asked.
I sat down by the table, listening to the chairs scrape against the solid floor.
“The names,” he said. “Do you remember them?”
“Henry Jones, Peter Dawson, Alex Moore, David Lawrence,” I responded without skipping a beat.
“And you’re aware of what happened to them?”
“Henry Jones, age: 75. Passed away from fourth stage lung cancer. He signed up for the Orcus project a month before his death. Payment was supposed to be sent to his family.”
“Peter Dawson, age: 32. Diagnosed with ALS, and immediately signed up for the Orcus project. David Lawrence, age: 56. Passed from heart failure.”
“Alex Moore. He wasn’t a part of the project, he was a child. I still don’t know what happened to him.”
“Neither do we,” the man said as smiled at me, a smirk born from completion of selfish intentions.
“Good work, and how are they doing now?” he continued.
I thought back to everything I’d heard. Through the screams, I’d been given mostly bits and pieces. It took me a moment just to put it all together.
“They’re in pain. They say the last moment of consciousness they ever experienced, is what they’ve been going through for every moment since their passing. There’s no safe haven on the other side, no paradise, only the everlasting pain they felt before death.”
He scribbled down some notes onto a piece of paper. A smile still occupied his face, as if his theories had been confirmed.
“Thank you Ryan. We at Artifex owe you a great debt for your services. This marks the end of our partnership. As agreed, you’ll be well provided for,” he said, as he gestured for a couple of guards to take me away.
As they escorted me towards the exit. My boss gave me a final glance.
“Enjoy the rest of your life, Ryan,” he said.
I packed the few belongings that I had. There were still multiple holes in my memory spanning over the past year, but I suppose that’s why they let me just go. I know nothing about the people in charge, even my knowledge about the Orcus project is scanty.
Once I returned home, I started to remember the life I’d left behind. The rough memories of my dead wife. I’d signed up to get away from my failure to keep her safe. And, when the man first told me I could talk to her again, I was ecstatic.
It was a mistake…
Because, even now that I’m a hundred miles away from the anhedonic chamber, I still hear them screaming. They never stop, they’re in so much pain. And, once we die, we’ll all join them in their misery.
WRITTEN BY: Richard Saxon
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