[In the dark? Let the light of the previous chapter illumine your path.]
Vinny lies in his bed and stares at the ceiling. He breathes slowly, measuring out the air flowing through his nostrils, in and out, in and out.
In the corner of the room a light blinks on a CCTV camera. Vinny thinks about the guy on the other end of the camera. “Are you as bored as I am?” he thinks. “Are you wishing you were looking at anything else right now? Maybe you should pick up that novel you’ve got lying there. No, of course you’re not supposed to bring reading material in to work, but you and me we know how the rules are don’t we? Even in a place like this people get away with a lot they technically shouldn’t. Or maybe you’d like to lay back and take a long nap. Dream. Dream for me. Mine haven’t been so nice lately.”
In his mind, the guy watching the camera is a dumpy middle-aged guy with thinning hair and a couple of kids at home. His marriage has lost some of its spark, but he’s trying to work it out. Today he’s planning on buying his wife a bouquet of flowers, nothing too expensive, maybe some daisies or something. And that night when the kids have been put to bed he’ll try to get something started, but his wife will have a headache so they’ll watch reruns of The West Wing instead.
Vinny has a lot of time to think these things.
Dr. Hyde is worried about him. Vinny has seen it in his eyes. For that matter the doctor came right out and said as much. “I’m worried about you Vinny. You need to eat.”
“I don’t need to eat,” Vinny had replied. “Have you seen me? The last thing in the world I need to do is EAT.”
“It’s not healthy,” Dr. Hyde had said.
And Vinny replied, “Ketosis can keep me going for a good while longer, doc. When that runs out…well we’ll worry about that when it gets here.”
Vinny knows about ketosis because he looked it up on the computer terminal in his room. It’s got very limited access of course, no chance of sending out an email for help or anything like that. Not that it would matter much if he did. “Help, I’m being held in an underground base by a paramilitary organization,” might get 4chan’s attention for a day or two, but with no other evidence, and no clue what his actual location was, it would pan out like every other crackpot story on the internet.
“Sorry I doubted you John Titor,” Vinny thinks.
So he lies on the bed, stiff as a board, arms straight be his sides and focuses on his breathing.
This is all part of the plan. Or rather, it’s part of the plan to make them think he has a plan, make them think he’s got something he’s not giving them. He’s seen it in the one doctor’s eyes. Hyde, he says his name is, thought Vinny’s not sure if he believes it. He’s not sure he believes much of anything anymore. You work for a super-secret paramilitary outfit you don’t give the prisoners your real name do you? No of course not. Unless…
It’s the “unless” that’s got Vinny worried. Because there’s that little nagging voice the back of his head telling him, “If you’re not any good to these people they won’t waste their time with you. They’ll kill you if they think you’ve given them all you know. They don’t care about you. No one is looking for you. You’re only chance is to make them think you’re something more than what you are.”
So Vinny lays there and breathes. He tries to keep his eyes from flicking over to the clock on the wall too often.
The clock ticks. He remembers that once upon a time his mother had a pocket watch and he could hold it up to his ear and hear the ticking, a light fast clicking sound like the heartbeat of a mechanical mouse. It was beautiful. But the clock on the wall doesn’t sound like that. It ticks loud and slow, one second at a time, and there is a grating quality to each tick as if the second hand were a skeletal finger being dragged bit by bit across the pitted surface of an old record.
But sometimes the clock doesn’t tick. No warning, no reason, no pattern. He’ll be laying there listening to it tick tacking away and out of the blue there will be silence. He’s tried counting the space between the silences. Sometimes the clock will go for hours without missing a tick, Vinny counting in his head up past 3600 seconds. Passing an hour by counting the seconds between missed ticks is the worst torture imaginable and he’s inflicting it on himself.
He lets himself look over at the clock. It’s almost time. The second hand rounds the face, once twice, three times…
And then at exactly 11:23 AM he sits bolt upright in bed.
Vinny imagines the balding guy in the control room nearly spitting out his coffee with surprise. He doesn’t let himself smile though, not yet. Instead he turns and stands, mechanically, zombie-like, and walks over toward the corner.
“How long do you think you can keep this up Vincent?” Dr. Hyde had asked him during their last session.
“What is it that’s happening inside of you?” Dr. Jenkins asked the day before that. “We want to help you.”
Vinny stands with his nose pressed into the corner away from the camera, hands clasped behind his back. Jenkins is the nicer one. She acts like she cares. Maybe it’s just an act. Maybe it’s true. He can’t tell. Either way he likes her better because she’s pretty in that reserved unpretentious way some middle-aged women affect. He knows this is shallow, but he’s beyond caring at this point.
How long do you think you can keep this up, the little voice of conscience asks. Not thinking of quitting now are you?
No. No he’s not thinking of quitting. He can keep this up forever. Or at least until he dies. By his calculations he’s got a good couple of months left before his body runs out of fat to burn. Maybe more. He hasn’t eaten a thing since his breakfast with Angie. He knows how these stories go. When the elves take you to their magical otherworld the one thing you should never NEVER do is eat the food. It was hard at first. But not as hard as he thought it might be.
It occurs to him that he’s spent his whole life leading up to this moment, eating and eating until he was an engorged mass of fat. He’d always thought he was trying to fill some void. Now he knows the truth. He was prepping, like a bear gorging itself before the hibernation.
Is he crazy? He thinks he might be. Just a little.
But if he is, crazy feels better than sane. Having a plan that isn’t a plan is what he’s best at. Going through the motions of action without purpose…that’s been his whole life. And at least now he knows it’s not just him. It’s everyone. Everywhere. The world is made of madness.
He measures his breath in and out, in and out. And somewhere out of nowhere in the back of his mind he remembers something Angie said, what seems like a lifetime ago. “The books on these shelves, they’re out of order,” and somewhere inside of him something clicks into place. He smiles a smiles a wide, toothy smile.
Maybe madness is sanity from a different perspective. Maybe order can hide in the folds of chaos. Maybe he has a plan after all.
And somewhere behind him the clock misses a tick.