A collection of short stories, mostly written for 'Screams!'
| The Red Room
I'm no angel, otherwise I wouldn't be here. The fact is, I cannot stand by and watch someone being bullied or abused without stepping forward to intervene. Not even when the one doing the bullying is a figure of authority. That's what brought me here, to a place known simply as Area 16.
Up until now I've kept as much to myself as possible. We all get lined up, multiple times a day, but for the most part I keep my eyes fixed to the floor. There is so much abuse of power going on inside this place that I'd not survive a day if I let myself acknowledge it. Area 16 is turning me into something I hate - a coward - just like all the other inmates here.
There's a rumor that those who even speak out end up in 'The Red Room'. Those three words are always said at not much more than a whisper; the place inspires absolute dread. Yet, no one seems to know anything more about the place. Not where it is, and certainly not what happens inside of it. It seems like those that go into it do not come out of it again.
Lately I've started to doubt whether the room exists at all. Perhaps it's like the Bogey Man, an invented threat as a way of achieving compliance. They are not stupid, the people that control us. They are conceited thugs with severe superiority complexes, but they are not dumb; they know that without some form of threat to keep us in line there would be uproar in here.
Sure, they have weapons and we don't, but the inmates outnumber the staff by at least twenty to one. Maybe far more than that. If we dared to organize ourselves we could overthrow them, seize the weapons and turn the tables. The Red Room keeps us from doing that. Me too, until today, when this thug of a guard smashed his fist into the girl's face.
She was in front of me in the queue. I didn't know her name as we have no need of names inside here, but she could have been no more than ten years old. Her crime? She looked up at the guard instead of keeping her eyes respectfully averted.
The force of the blow made her head turn and I found myself sprayed with her blood before she crumpled and hit the floor. She was conscious; her eyes met mine and the look she gave me showed how utterly petrified she was.
Before I could stop myself, I had stepped forward, grabbed the arm of the guard. "What did you do that for? Look at her. She was no threat to you."
The guard stared back at me through emotionless eyes. I expected a blow from fist or from the baton all guards carry. None came. Instead the guard reached inside his sleeve and he must have pressed some kind of signalling device, for suddenly there are guards everywhere. They are surrounding me, cutting me off from the other prisoners, positioning themselves so that they make an impenetrable wall of bodies.
And then I feel the jolt in the back of my head, so strong that it lifts me from my feet. That's the last thing I know until I open my eyes.
The room is dimly lit. That's good, because the pain in my head would not have taken kindly to anything brighter. I am flat on my back staring at a ceiling... one that can only be described of as red. There is a shiver of fear that runs down my back, but I force myself into a sitting position, because, let's face it, just because the ceiling is red it doesn't mean the rest of the room is.
That's what I try to convince myself of, but the walls are red, the floor is red. Not a bright cheery shade, but a dark shade, bordering on brown. The Red Room is the color of drying blood.
Once that thought has managed to make its way into my mind, I can smell it. You know the smell; an almost metallic smell, but one that also carries a hint of animal, of flesh. Gingerly, I let my hands explore my body, because maybe I am bleeding badly. Depending on where the injury is I might be able to staunch the flow.
My fingers come away dry; and okay, I couldn't call them clean but at least they are free of any sign of blood.
I pull myself unsteadily up on to my feet and begin to look around. The Red Room is empty, apart from me, and it seems to be entirely featureless. It's not comfortable being inside here... maybe that's what the room does... drives you crazy.
"Hello!" The first time I call out, I don't do so very loudly, but the second time I put a bit more power into my voice. Doesn't make any difference... the room seems to absorb the sound, cutting my voice off instantly.
I don't know how long it takes me to notice the grille in the wall. Maybe it could become a way out of here for me. I get down onto my hands and knees and take a closer look. It, too, is painted that same reddy-brown. I reckon if I could remove it I would be able to squeeze myself into the gap that I imagine is behind it. I look around the edges, hoping for screws. I've used my fingernails to loosen those before now. No screws. The grille is riveted into position. It's while I am down on the floor that I see something else.
There's a circular hole of about three inches diameter. There is a cover on it, but even as I look, the cover lifts up, disappears. Gas? Are thy going to fill this place with some kind of toxic fumes? Nervously I push my face down towards the hole and sniff. Nothing. But I know that not all gases can be detected by the human nose. There's no unusual taste to the air either, but there is a faint scrabbling sound.
Whatever is inside the pipe is getting closer. I can hear the noise quite clearly now, even as I begin to inch away. The nose that pokes out tells me all I need to know. The creature in the pipe is a rat.
It pushes it's way into the room, its greasy black fur a stark contrast to the red. Beady eyes look back at me, and I can see it's nose twitch as its lips curl back to show me its teeth.
The rat has been in this position before. I don't know how I know that but I do. Me, I have not. That gives it the advantage, for it suddenly leaps and attaches itself to my upper arm. The pain it causes is intense as it rips through flesh and muscle. I grab hold of it and pull it away from me, taking a good sized chunk of my arm with it. I hurl it at one of the walls with all the force I can muster, but it shakes its head before coming back towards me. I scrabble with my feet, trying to manoeuvrer myself into a corner.
It stops and stares at me, in no hurry to attack again. And then I realize why. There is more scrabbling, a lot of it, coming from the pipe. Reinforcements, no doubt, and not for me. I scream, can't help myself, but the Red Room swallows the sound as the rats stream their way into the room alongside me.