Unseen And Helpless

My first attempt at the DPChallenge 🙂

This week’s writing challenge:

Write a short story or piece of descriptive faux-journalism describing your personal idea of a dystopia — a dark future when everything you hold dear is on the chopping block.

It was supposed to be a cure for depression.

That’s what they told us when they gave out those innocuous, little white pills. It didn’t come cheap either; a small pack of five tablets that looked no different than any other anti-depressant, and they charged half a grand for it. In any other circumstance, I wouldn’t have gone for it, but my mother had pleaded for me to try it.

I wasn’t blind. I could see the stress lines forming on her face as I looked upon the world and turned away with disgust. I wasn’t ignorant of the tears she wept behind closed doors after a strenuous day out, when I would spend more time trapped in pessimistic thoughts and self-pity than enjoying the scant time I had to spend with her. Even I, absorbed in my own sorrow as I was, could recognise the dimming light in her eyes every time she looked at me. So I had agreed to her request that I try this new cure, which purportedly had a 98% success rate.

It should have worked. Perhaps it would have, if I had taken that last pill. But that day I had been caught up in the throngs of the rush hour crowd on the platform, and the packet that I had gripped in my hand, planning to take it once I was safely on the train, had been knocked onto the tracks by some faceless person. The logical thing to do would have been to go and buy more, but I had no intention of spending another fortune on medicine that might not even work. I didn’t tell anyone that I hadn’t taken that last pill, and faced with my parents’ relieved expressions at thinking that I’d been cured, I could not bear to tell them that it had not worked.

So, for their sake, I pretended it had worked, that I was now living quite happily and enjoying all aspects of life. Perhaps I presented a decent act, or perhaps they were simply too happy with this outcome to look further, but either way, my parents believed that I was rid of the depression.

Things had been fine, or so I’d thought.

Then, one day a smarmy-looking man had knocked on our door, claiming to be from the association that had founded the medicine. His smile seemed just a tad too wide as he innocently claimed that he would like to take me in for an examination to ensure that the cure had fully worked. Alarm bells were ringing in my head, and I had already taken a step back and began shaking my head in refusal, but my mother had pushed me forward with a smile.

“Oh, go on.” She said. “Better safe than sorry, after all, right?”

“Indeed.” The man replied promptly. “It shouldn’t take more than a day or two.”

And so I had reluctantly gotten into the waiting car, a nondescript blue four-wheel drive, and stared resolutely out the window as my mother waved us off. All through the drive, the man kept up an annoying chatter, and as we passed street after street,  I eventually found myself drifting off, lulled by the quiet hum of the motor and his steady monologue.

I woke to an unfamiliar, distinctly outback scenery. In front of us was a singular white building, looking decidedly out of place amidst the empty land. The windows were dark and unwelcoming, and I felt an unpleasant chill down my spine as I stared up at it.

“This is the medical facility?” I asked dubiously, but received no reply. It seemed that the doctor had finally run out of words.

I was ushered inside, where a blank-faced nurse came and escorted me down several pristine, white corridors. I lost count after the first few corners, and gave up the attempt. Finally, I was led into a plain, white room. It had bars on the singular window, and there was nothing else in there except a sink and a bed. It felt almost like a prison cell.

“Please change into the garments laid out on the bed.” The nurse said in a monotone voice. I turned to ask her about the examination, but she was already slipping out the door before I could utter more than a word.

I turned back towards the bed and found that there were indeed some clothing laid out for me. Closer inspection showed them to be a simple hospital gown and some disposable underwear. Guessing that they were for the examination, I stripped off my own clothes and folded them neatly in a pile before tugging on the proffered cloths. I then sat on the bed to wait, taking the time to look about the room. My previous thought that it was like a jail intensified. There really was nothing in the room. The door, which I was now facing, showed out to a corridor through a wide square window, and there was a strange table-like attachment at the bottom of the window, as if for sliding meals onto. Feeling more and more edgy and impatient, I at last stood up with an annoyed huff and tried the door, planning on calling out and asking someone what was happening.

The door didn’t budge. I tried it a few more times, depressing the handle uselessly, not quite believing the situation, but the result was the same. Finally, I gave up and returned to the bed, my unease growing. After what seemed like hours, a shadow filled the doorway, and then there was a quiet click as the door opened.

“They’re ready for you.” The man said abruptly, already turning away as if expecting me to immediately follow. I did, eager to be out of the depressing room, but I certainly had no intention of accepting the situation like a doormat.

“What’s going to happen?” I demanded as he hurried us down the corridors. “What took so long? Why did you lock the door?”

The man glanced over his shoulder at me, his tanned skin a sharp contrast to the white lab coat he was wearing. “It’s for your own safety.”

“Safety from what?” But once again, I received no answer.

I was shown into a brightly lit room, occupied by two other doctors in lab coats, who stood next to an examination table and a tray of surgical equipment.

“Please lie on the table.” The shorter one said, indicating the metal slab as the man behind me closed the door behind us. Their voice was muffled, but I had the distinct impression that they were female.

Reluctantly, I sat down on where she’d indicated, looking around the room suspiciously.

“Please lie down.” The woman repeated, actually reaching out to lightly push against my shoulders. I did so, but tried to spring up again when I felt straps wrap around my wrist.

“What are you doing?!”

“It’s merely a precaution.” The third man said soothingly, filling my line of sight with pure white.

Still feeling anxious, I did my best to relax as they strapped my hands and feet to the table.

“Now, just relax.” The man continued in the same soothing voice. He turned away for a moment, and when he faced me again, I saw with trepidation that he was holding a syringe filled with a clear substance.

I opened my mouth to demand he stop, but then there was a tell-tale prick in the skin of my left elbow, and I knew no more.

~

I woke to pain coursing through my body, in a familiar room and to the smell of familiar cooking. Clutching my head gingerly, I got up and stumbled through the familiar scenery of my house, confused and bewildered. What was I doing here? What had happened at the examination?

I walked into the kitchen to the sight of my mother cooking breakfast, humming quietly along to the radio.

“Mum.”

She turned to face the doorway with a smile. “Good morning, love.”

There was a grunt behind me, and I quickly moved aside as my dad stumbled in, hair mussed from sleep and face looking rather haggard. He seemed strangely older, as if he had aged overnight.

“’Morning, dad.”

There was a moment of silence as the two of us made our way to the table and my mother began to plate up the breakfasts.

“Dad, what happened?” I asked when we had settled into our seats. “How did I get home?”

“Honestly dear, I don’t know why you go out drinking so late when you know this is the result.” Mum tutted as she set a plate down in front of him.

I turned to face her as she turned back and began plating up a second plate.

“What do you mean?” I asked in confusion. “I haven’t gone out drinking in years. Is that what happened yesterday? Did I go out after the examination?”

“You should really go see the doctor again, honey. She said over her shoulder. “I don’t think he did a very good diagnosis if this is what you’re doing with yourself.”

Finished cleaning up the stove area, she headed over; I noted with confusion that there was only one plate. She sat down with it in front of her, and picked up her fork to begin eating.

“Mum, where’s mine?” I queried.

“Stop worrying.” My dad grumbled at last. ‘I’m still here, aren’t I?”

“Of course I worry.” My mother shot back, face uncharacteristically tight. “After what happened to her…”

There was unease growing in the pit of my stomach again, slowly overpowering the confusion. “What happened to who, mum?”

“We don’t know what happened to her.” Dad barked back. “Damn it all, it’s been years and we still don’t know anything!”

“Mum? Who is it? What happened to them? Dad?” I asked, feeling rather panicky.

“Maybe if we just wait a bit longer” Mum said anxiously. “I’m sure they’re doing their best to – ”

“To what?!” he shouted, slamming his fist down. Mum and I both flinched. “There’s not even any trace of them! They were obviously behind what happened to our daughter, and here you are defending them!”

Daughter…? I was an only child, they only had one…

“Mum?” I asked.

“I know that.” She whispered, covering her face and her breath hitched. “I do. But if there’s hope that she’s still out there somewhere… How can I give up on her?”

“Mum!” I cried in frustration, reaching out to try and shake a response from her.

I felt myself grow cold in horrid fascination as my hand went through her shoulder.

“I know that.” Dad continued with a heavy sigh, as if nothing remotely shocking had just happened. “I can’t either, but I just… I can’t.”

“I should never have asked her to go.” She whispered quietly, dropping her arms to the table to weep.

I sat back in stunned silence. They were talking about me. They were talking as if I wasn’t even in the room, as if they couldn’t even…

I stared at my hand in horror. It was surreal. My skin seemed solid and properly flesh-coloured; I could feel the hard grain of the chair beneath me, could smell the delicious scent of my mother’s cooking. And yet, to the other occupants of this room, I wasn’t there.

~

I found out later that it had been five years since I’d gone to that facility. It seemed that the other patients who’d been treated were fine and had returned to their families for a while before leaving the country for work or other reasons. But for me, there had been no news, and I had never returned. From watching them and rifling through the letters, now left on the coffee table in a messy pile, it seemed that when I had not returned they had sent letters to the company. At first there were replies that there had been some complications, which was why it was taking longer. But after a while, no replies came at all, and my parents’ letters returned unopened. It seemed that my father had even gone out to look for the company’s office, but had come back with nothing.

There is a strange agony in watching your parents slowly fade away in despair. I feel like I finally know how my parents felt when I’d succumbed to the dark depressive thoughts. There they were, right in front of me, and yet I could do nothing to help them, to ease their burden or wipe away their fears.

The people I loved the most in the world were right there, within hand’s reach, and yet I could do nothing at all.

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