Mick Henderson pushed his feet down against the curving wall. If he didn’t push he would slide. And if he slid he’d end up in the grey-green fluid held in the cupped centre of the cell. That stinking liquid ate holes in his clothes and made his skin itch. The walls curved up and over until all that was left was a bright round hole instead of a ceiling. The hole was too high to reach, and the smooth walls were unclimbable. What need for bars?
Don’t think of the muscle ache, don’t think of the stench, don’t think of the hunger.
His thighs threatened to cramp. He balanced on three limbs and stretched out his left leg and then his right.
Don’t think? That’s a bloody joke.
His stomach growled. He glanced up at the hole and hoped there would be a food drop soon. He had missed the last one and the food cube had fallen into the pool. There was no way he was going to eat anything that had fallen into that crap. He glanced up at the bright hole.
It had to drop soon.
It took all his strength and concentration to push and grip and watch. He needed that food.
Don’t think about food: don’t think of steaks sizzling in a pan with blood oozing from the cracks; don’t think of fluffy layers of sponge sandwiching thick double-cream fillings; don’t think of a large crusty loaf, still warm from the oven, smothered in fresh butter so that you have to lick your fingers; don’t think of a cold crisp apple, the juice spurting into your mouth as your teeth pierce the white flesh; don’t think of a roast chicken, brown and crispy on the outside, white and succulent on the inside, the carving knife slicing the meat with ease; don’t think of gorging yourself so that your stomach is bloated, tight as a drum and painful if you move.
His foot slipped. He threw his hands out, palms and forearms pressed to the curving wall to create some extra grip. The slide stopped a foot or so from the pool. He shuffled back up the wall, his back arched, like a strange four-legged spider. He squatted, his feet under his buttocks, and tried to find some balance that required the least amount of energy with which to hold his position. It was only a matter of time before he had no strength left to keep himself out of the muck.
Somebody started shouting. The sound was full of echoes and reverberations. It was difficult to know if the person shouting was even using a human language. Mick imagined the shouter hurling their voice up at the bright, watchful eye of the hole. He imagined the shouter sitting up to his waist in the pool at the bottom of his cell, too weak to climb out, too weak to care as the pool dissolved the flesh from his bones. Mick’s ears became attuned to the echoes and he began to understand the odd phrase. Out of context the words were as meaningless as they were disturbing.
“…my light-bulb death…”
“…my flesh to feed your soulessness…”
The shouter fell silent. The echoes died away and Mick missed them when they were gone. While the shouting had lasted it had offered a distraction from the pain and the hunger.
He was not alone. That was a comfort, somehow, although it didn’t change a damn thing.
The silence crowded in like unwelcome guests. It brought its own kind of comfort.
In the silence you had time to think.