(The Room, 4,045 words, Genre: Realistic Fiction/Drug Fiction)
* Photograph courtesy of Lilith Prins
He looked at his hand. During the pandemic of COVID-19 Andrew had been locked away inside his room and household the entire time. As a university student, it wasn’t easy. Then I suppose life was never meant to be easy. He paid rent to a landlord for the rent of a single bedroom in one of the surrounding suburbs of the university. His door had a lock on it and he didn’t really trust any of his housemates. University life brought about a certain degree of desperation that not too many people are familiar with. You have to live with it, I suppose. And being stuck in a room that was four meters by two meters was never the most comfortable of surroundings. He had a desk where his computer sat and because he couldn’t find any work he had chosen the room in the middle of the house.
The layout of the house itself was abstract, why the room was centred in the middle of the household without any windows was a difficult thing in itself. You could never tell whether it was day or night in that room. But, it was the cheapest room in the household. And that meant, because of the government funding to the welfare payments. He could finally afford to have some fun with himself. Not that that exactly was the most enlightening of experiences in itself. Because of the restrictions involving the pandemic that had broken out, he could have fun… But, he couldn’t have fun with anyone else.
He had bought an ounce of marijuana for the lockdown. Hoping that it would last him for the prolonged stay indoors. He had bought the ounce off of a neighbour that lived down the street. A guy named Ronald who was an ex-con. He had tats up and down his arms that ran all over his body that could be seen reaching beneath his shirt up to the neck. Most people would be freaked out by an old jailbird living so close by, but then again prison actually reforms you… In some ways.
He was always looking on the internet for weird things, his interest in the paranormal and the occult was paramount. Weird things that excited the imagination. He had been told that when the internet was still in development, there were all sorts of crazy things being produced and showcased on the internet. Torture porn, and all sorts of things were accessible to the general public. It was a weird thing, but without those sort of things existing he wouldn’t have developed his excessive paranoid state and his fear of the world. For the most part people have a fascination with death. That which is unknown to them. And what became the black internet was what the internet all was once upon a time.
He had tracked down the weirdest thing that he could find on the internet. And it was a dwarf who had suffered from radiation poisoning, giving life advice to anybody who would ask him for his opinion. He would sit and watch videos of the dwarf answering emails in video footage. The emails were from victims of crimes and similar events and the website had an age restriction on it. The dwarf himself, his face was covered in boils and his hair was stringy. The fact that he had suffered from radiation poisoning showed that there were large patches of skin that covered his head. And only in some parts of his scalp did his hair grow.
The dwarf had explained his own situation once. He had been the victim of a large corporation dumping radioactive waste in his local community and farmland. He was one of the survivors of the government cover-up that had occurred. His time on the planet had been excessively shortened and so with what little time he had left, he offered advice to other people who were suffering around the world. He did have a good mind and people listened to him.
Andrew thought the advice that the dwarf offered to his followers was probably more applicable than anything that some psychological graduate could offer. Andrew reasoned it all out for himself. The man who had suffered through his own life experience was probably better equipped to handle any problems that other people had because through his experience he had become wise. The dwarf was facing his own mortality and had already accepted the fact of the cruel and perverse nature of the world. Even though his body was deteriorating rapidly and that fact was evident. His spirit had grown wise and he would speak out against the insurmountable power of body corporates and how, he as an individual, was dealing with his own insignificant existence.
He would watch videos all the time. The dwarf’s rants were full of rage and passion. Another man caught up in the oppressing powers of social dynamics. Everyone had something to say about their own situation. His voice remained more relevant because of his own lived-in experience.
The dwarf would speak of Gods and eternal entities that other people didn’t understand. Most of all he would speak of the figure of death. He had been acquainted with death and the grim reaper through his own experiences and seemed to have developed his own relationship with the thing. Seeing that most of his other friends had died from the radioactive spill that had occurred. He had come into questioning over why he was still alive. And the conclusion that he proclaimed was that he still hadn’t finished his Earthly work on this plane of existence and the Gods had seen fit to make use of him.
His thoughts on the latest epidemic was that the figure of death had felt robbed somehow and had come to collect what was owed to him. He talked about anti-smoking campaigns and the fact that the latest virus was similarly related to the effects of lung cancer. A similar fate was ascribed to those who suffered from the virus, the incapacity for breath and the relinquishment of life. Death, it seems, would indeed feel robbed from that issue. The dwarf proclaimed it simply, “When your time’s up, your time’s up.” And that’s all there was to it.
The fact that the dwarf was alive was a miracle in itself. His entire existence was an absurdity. With his short stature… How did survival of the fittest exactly apply to this man?
With these thoughts in his mind, Andrew would smoke joints and think about it all. The high of the marijuana would allow for his mind to expand beyond the realm of ordinary human experience and allow him to get his mind around it. Drugs had their influence on history and human thought since time immemorial.
The dwarf was another one of these things. Another messenger from the heavens to allow for people to think about the world and life in different ways. With the world facing the current pandemic and the death toll around the world increasing as it was. What was he meant to think about that? In times of great uncertainty and mayhem, people will always turn to their Gods and issues of faith for their answers. Because the answers there are immediate.
Andrew soon grew bored of the dwarf. The constant rants about pestilence and the great depravities that the world had inflicted upon itself soon grew to be a constant source of his depression. And not even the high that THC provided him could pick him off that floorboard. He stopped looking at the dwarf for answers and instead turned to the Star Wars poster that he had on the wall, just above his single bed.
The poster was of a vintage style and was in good condition. Its focus was on the character of Han Solo. A lifelike representation of Han Solo, or Harrison Ford, holding a blaster with Leah pressed up against his body. As he smoked joint after joint, he meditated and focused his vision on the character of Han Solo. Now, he wasn’t actually visualizing any movement from the picture, nor was he hearing anything. But the constant focus on the character and his inebriated state brought on a fuzzy state of mind. And with his speech slurred, almost drooling, he started talking to the poster, “Well, I don’t know about you Hans, but there’s some weird shit going on. There is definitely some weird shit going on.”
His memory of the films started coming to the forefront of his mind, and he immediately thought, ‘It’s not wise to upset a Wookie.’
Andrew nodded his head in recognition of the character’s voice, he folded his arms and continued to smoke his joint. His eyes already red, bleary and bloodshot. “Well, if I were you… What would I do? I mean what would you do? Would you do anything? Tell me! What is it that I have to do?”
‘Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.’
Andrew took another puff of his joint. Then exhaled the smoke in a cloud. “Yes, yes… I seem to understand now. But you’re in a Galaxy far, far away and we’re in Australia. Stuck in this room. I really think there’s no other way. Would you just tell me what to do… I don’t know what to do anymore.”
‘Over my dead body.’
Andrew started coughing over and over again. The smoke had clouded his mind and it all started making sense to him. “Yes, yes… That seems to be the case now, doesn’t it? A generational thing… The virus only seems to infect the elderly and there was no other way. I see, I see… Thank you for clearing that up for me.”
‘Don’t everybody thank me all at once.’
Afterwards, Andrew went and had a hot shower. The warmth of the water was a luxury that he enjoyed. He stood underneath the warm water for five minutes, then toweled himself down and went to bed to sleep off the high.
When he woke up, he couldn’t remember much of what had occurred. His imaginary conversation with Hans Solo, nor the answers or conclusions that he had come to. The events of the previous night had been a complete blur. But he did feel like joining up to social media to see if he could get answers out of celebrities and other individuals. It would be interesting… To see what they were all like. What they were doing with themselves. It had taken him a long time, but finally he was ready to meet his heroes. To see if they had anything to say about the latest pandemic that had swept the globe.
So he joined social media and started following cult figures of popular culture. He looked at them all. The famous individuals that he had read. The writers had something interesting to say. So did some of the actors. Everyone, it seemed, was caught up in their own war and battle. Each of them fighting for their rights, or at least the rights of those who were suffering worse than they were. And it was true, some people on the planet were all going through horrible events in their lives. It seemed that they had explained their situations to celebrities and the celebrities had voiced their opinions. Or at least put their opinion in the spotlight.
It was an odd occurrence. It seemed. People were dragging these people into the personal wars of others. And so Andrew started reacting to the opinions represented by each one of them. Commenting on the wars of others with his own thoughts. And his own thoughts were shaped by his own experiences. It’s not that his opinion was exactly wrong, nor theirs’. They had just faced different things in their lives. Met different people. He thought about it for a moment. That which exists in one place, does not necessarily exist in another.
He began commenting on some of these issues. And also ‘tweeting’ his own opinions about different issues. But nobody was really following him. He had something like twenty followers, this caused a large dent to his own self-confidence. But nevertheless, he had an opinion and he wished to express it. And so that’s what he did.
But his opinions were largely lost in the swarm of followers that other individuals had. And because his thoughts were being ignored for the large part, he grew angry and frustrated with the situation. His mind fogged with bitterness and so his thought patterns became more absurd and disturbing. His thoughts gradually increased in their absurdity, to the point where some people stopped ignoring him and started paying attention to him. But they were no longer responding to the clear thought patterns of an individual who was thinking clearly. They were responding to thoughts of madness. Madness brewed in isolation and desperation.
The more people that ignored him, the more of an arsehole he became. And so when they were responding to people who threw opinions of hatred and bitterness at them. They were responding to people who had become toxic through the lack of love and adoration. And when they finally did get seen to, they were all arseholes in the end. Because they were all arseholes in the end. People who were angry about being ignored and mistreated… And then, in turn, they were shown the bitterness and hatred of the people that they had once adored.
It was all just a cluster fuck. The whole English speaking world was. He knew that if he stayed on Twitter and continued to voice his opinions, his opinions and ideas would just become more absurd and infused with anger as time went on. Nobody was following him, or he lacked the larger following. So he deleted his Twitter account and decided to go where the love was.
And his love was with the dwarf who was suffering from radiation poisoning. But when he went to check back up on him. There was only one video on there. It was of the dwarf, he had proclaimed that the at-home treatment that he had been receiving was no longer sufficient and that he would now have to enter into a facility for the treatment of palliative care, a hospice.
His last video proclaimed that there was more to life than watching television, or reading the news, or any of the other things that the mass media had pumped into their brains. He wished them all a happy existence and hoped that they would forgive one another for the difficulty caused by their own suffering and get along despite their own individual problems. Because in the end cruelty came from a place where there was a lack of love.
Andrew knew that he had had enough. He wanted to get outside and experience what the world had to offer. But in the end, what did the world have to offer? He rolled himself another joint and picked up a tennis ball. Inside his room, he started bouncing the ball up and against the wall. Smoking the joint, he kept on throwing the ball up against the wall and catching it. In-between the puffs of his joint, he was having himself a ball. His life had always been like this anyway. What else was he meant to do? He thought about the lives of prisoners. They had all faced isolation to extreme degrees through the continuity of their lives.
He started thinking about the days before evidence based investigation. All you needed back in those days was a confession. They didn’t even need to be guilty to have committed the crime. All they needed to do was confess. And then they’d be locked up for life. In Australia, this had a special significance because of the fact that Australia was established as a convict colony. How many people had been sent to this desperate land, all because of some false testimony, or confession gained through ill means? The entire judicial system was corrupt. And had been through the course of history. The only means for some form of redemption in this world was a spiritual one. And crime and its ill-gotten means had always been based in a material world. Life was absurd, it always has been… And for that reason the truth was absurd to reflect that.
He thought about the life of the fall guy. The guy or girl who took the fall for a crime through history. They had probably been some idiot anyway. Some absolutely insignificant person. The only way in which to improve their own lives had always been to take the blame for someone else’s crimes. And now they were useless… Not only to the criminals, but to everyone involved. Two-faced pieces of shit throughout history had always walked away guiltless. Anybody with enough money to pay a family off would be able to walk away from their crimes, while the poor were desperate enough to suffer for them. Oh, money, must be funny in a rich man’s world.
He began listening to music. If everyone in the world is corrupt, then the meaning of corruption becomes meaningless. Unless, I suppose, if you compare your own sins to that of a child. But a child isn’t exactly innocent either, they’re just less experienced. Humanity be damned. The seed of the entire human race, all of them were guilty. To apply any order to it was a concept absurd in itself. People’s lives had been meaningless anyway, unfulfilled, ludicrous. What had been apparent was that the evil intentions of mankind had penetrated all, people through history had been punished over and over again for the most insignificant of actions. And now, evil seeds existed in the hearts of men everywhere. And women too.
Andrew wanted to kill someone for everything that happened. Hell, he felt like killing himself. Who could he blame for all of the perverse things that had happened in his life? His anger needed an outlet somewhere. But through what and to whom? He hadn’t really developed any sort of talent in his younger years, hadn’t focused on any course of study… Now, he was at university. Studying some bullshit course that he had only enrolled into because he had a horrible enter score. What sort of future lay before him?
He supposed the world had always been like this. Wars were endless, the fire of humanity raged on. But at least with the internet they had the ability to view all aspects of humanity for the first time. And now nothing made sense to anybody anymore. Any idea of justice being served, the madness that had existed through history. The anger, the violence, all of it. It was just irresolvable. So for the first time in his life he started thinking clearly about the situation. The world was always evolving, new things and oddities were always coming along. How could science ever record facts in an ever changing and evolving world?
There was no opportunity in his own life that was apparent. Except for one.
He looked it up on the internet and found where they were recruiting. The next testing date for the armed forces. In the end, he knew, he didn’t have any other way of expressing his own anger. And for that, at least his anger would be justified and directed in a way that was compliant with the rules of society.
On the day of the appointment he had been sober for a month. That was, for the first time in his life he had stopped smoking pot. He was no longer fuzzy brained, with the idea of joining the army, for the first time in his life he was finally thinking clearly. He hadn’t been reading any crackpot theories about the world. Instead, he read books of literature. Horror novels and things like that. They were all weird and presented a horrible version of reality. But from what he had experienced in life so far. His mind equated with that sort of information.
At least the characters in these novels were having a worse experience of life than him. The world could always get worse, he supposed. At least he wasn’t a character in a horror novel. There were more terrifying things in the world than what he had currently experienced.
On the day of the appointment, he was thinking clearly. The residue paranoia from all the pot that he had smoked over the years had faded away. And so he went into the appointment thinking clearly. He was still anxious about the event. After all, he was literally signing his life away. He went through and signed in with the secretary. The secretary told him to take a seat amongst the others and he waited in the waiting room.
They were all debriefed on the day’s events and they all handed in their proper identification and did what they had to do. They filled in some light paperwork over who they were and were given a presentation on all of the different opportunities that existed. But there was a catch… Once you had signed up to service you were obligated to give a minimum amount of years before you were allowed to leave. They would train you in whatever you wanted… That much was true, but once basic training was over you wouldn’t be able to back out of it. This made Andrew second guess his intentions of enlisting.
The next thing that occurred was the intelligence test. He had always been an intelligent person and if it wasn’t for all of the pot that he had smoked over the years, he would have been accepted into a higher course of study. But his fascination and experimentation with drugs had been the result of a bizarre series of events. And now these events had led him to this situation. What was he meant to do now?
He sat the intelligence test and did well. When the results came back, he was applicable for a wide variety of specialist fields. He then had an interview with the enrollment officer.
Others were called out first and as he waited in the waiting room they showed media footage of a battle like situation. A promotional video for the armed forces. It was scary, but after having viewed the host of material that had been available on the internet over the years, he had been desensitized to it all.
Then it was his turn for his face-to-face interview. They called him into the room and opposite him sat a large officer in military uniform. The man looked him up and down.
“First of all, do you have any questions?”
“Look…” Andrew said, “I’m not sure if I can make that sort of commitment to what was it… Six years?”
“Yes… I see… And you’re currently enrolled in university.”
“Yes, I mean I want to help, but I’m really uncertain about my future. I mean what the hell is going to happen to me? I’m studying some default course and I don’t know if I’ll get a job out of it or anything.”
“Oh, you’ll get something. They always get something. Even if it’s not what you wanted, they always get something.”
“So what should I do?”
“Well, look, your test results do show that you are capable of a lot of things and are intelligent. Corporations run their own tests for the work, they no longer trust the universities and they train people themselves. They still recognize university graduates, but they test you as well. And their contracts are a bit more flexible than ours’. There are still implications if you don’t keep to your contract, but… It’s a little bit different.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“To be honest, I don’t think you’d pass the physical.”
“Yes, don’t worry son. You’ll get a job. There are plenty of jobs out there made for people just like you.”
“Is that all?”
“I suppose so…”
Andrew walked out of the room with the military officer mumbling something to himself about, ‘Shitty jobs for all.’