It started when I woke up. I was lying flat on my back on some hard surface with a thin cushion underneath. When I opened my eyes I saw a strange sight, a mirror on the ceiling showing the reflection of what appeared to be a body covered from head to toe in a shiny, black rubber suit. The multitude of tan leather straps crossing that suit stood out in sharp contrast to the black background. Those belts securely lashed the body to a medical examining table. What is this? I thought.
When I tried to raise my head I discovered I was that reflection. One of those leather straps ran across the forehead, immobilizing my head. A second strap ran down from the first, under the chin, fixing it in place. It was my head inside the rubber hood that was held down. When my eyes focused I could see padded blocks on either side of my head, preventing any movement side to side.
It had to be me in there. The reflection followed the slight motions while I struggled with the harness. I couldn’t see a face though; the front was a type of gas mask, with two tubes attached to an otherwise featureless sheet of rubber. Where my eyes should be were two small round circles of some transparent material. That had to be the eyepieces which permitted me a view of my predicament.
My first reaction was to reach up and pull off the straps on my head. That’s when I discovered my arms were bound tight against my body. I could see them in the mirror, fastened to the table. Where my hand should be was some type of mitten, ending in a squared off stump instead of the fingers of a normal glove. I tried to flex my hands but a heavy, stiff material inside the mitts rendered my fingers useless.
Trying to hold down a rising panic I studied the picture in the mirror. Those leather straps were fixed to the table. There were so many that even my feet were bound to a metal plate at the base of the table. I tensed my muscles, searching for some slack in my bonds without success. Even an attempt to wiggle my toes was stopped by the same stiff material that imprisoned my fingers.
I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Stay calm, I told myself. Whoever had done this to me wanted me alive. At least I hoped that was true. There had to be some reason I was here, still breathing and in one piece.
I could breathe, but only through my mouth. The hood blocked my nose. I tried yelling for help, though the rubber muffled my attempts. Someone had to be out there to hear me. Several times I called for help, all in vain. “Hello? I’m in here! I’m awake. Get me out of this thing!” I screamed over and over. If someone was listening my pleas fell on deaf ears. No one came to my assistance.
Once more I fought the restraints with all my strength. Exhausted, hot, and with nothing to show for it I stopped to catch my breath. Whoever had done this to me obviously knew how to use medical restraints. I was a prisoner and there was nothing I could do about it.
I stared up at the mirror. The rubber suit had turned me into a nameless, faceless object, one that couldn’t even move. How could I communicate with my mysterious captor? Those TV shows always advised building empathy with the kidnapper. They didn’t explain how to do that when the kidnapper ignored everything I said.
Once more I fought the straps, and once more I accomplished nothing. I finally gave up, resigned to waiting for someone to let me go. I stared up at my reflection, studying the little details. I could make out the buckles on the straps, nothing remarkable except they were larger to fit the wide, thick straps. The rubber suit looked vaguely like a diver’s wetsuit, except the polished material reflected the light. I couldn’t spot any seams or zippers from my limited view.
The air hoses, at least I assumed that’s what they were, ran off into the distance, out of sight. The air I was breathing must be from those tubes, one to inhale fresh air, the second to exhale. I could feel a slight give in the hood, timed to the air. That told me the hood was airtight, a real gas mask.
Without the airflow from those hoses I would quickly suffocate. That scared me. There had to be a reason for it, and the only one I came up with was turning it off to get my attention. My life depended on a simple valve; turn it one way and I could breathe, the other way and that was it for me.
I counted myself lucky that hadn’t happened yet. There was nothing left for me to try, so I decided to wait. And wait I did, for what felt like hours I stared up at the mirror, hoping something would change. There must be a purpose in bringing me here, and it had to be more than occupying space on a table.
At some point I noticed a noise in my ears. At first I couldn’t make it out, but as it got louder it sounded like the static from a radio when it’s not on a station. There must be headphones in those pads wedged against the sides of my head. The volume wasn’t so loud as to be painful but it covered up any other sounds that might penetrate my little prison.
When the lights suddenly went out my first reaction was to beg for help. I hadn’t heard anyone moving around but the background noise in my ears was making it difficult to hear. I called out, hoping this time I’d be heard.
At the same time I thrashed around, as much as I could manage, hoping to attract some attention. The rubber suit trapped a lot of body heat, as I discovered when I kept on fighting the straps. I was getting hot and sweaty. I had to stop to cool off or I was sure I’d pass out from heat stroke.
Whoever was out there didn’t react. The sound in my ears must be white noise, not annoying but it tended to drown out everything else. I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination or if the volume was increasing. Finally I tried lying still. Anxious about what my tormentor might be preparing for me I decided cooperation would be a better way to go.
Nothing happened, leaving me literally in the dark. I strained to think back, trying to figure out how I was abducted. How long had I been unconscious? The last thing I remembered was going to bed. This couldn’t be some kind of nightmare, or so I told myself without much conviction. The usual test, pinching myself, I had to rule out. Nothing else came to mind, which left me in a quandary. If I was dreaming, how could I prove it? No, it was no dream. The restraints were all too real.
It was a safe assumption I’d been drugged and kidnapped. The reason why was another question altogether. Did I have some kind of secret enemy out to seek a terrible revenge on me? That was the stuff of bad TV plots, not real life. Any why was I wrapped up like a rubber mummy? That made no sense at all.
I closed my eyes, trying to formulate an explanation for my situation. Other than space aliens intending to experiment on me nothing came to mind. What should I do now? Or the better question, what can I do? That last image in the mirror told me little about what to expect. And why were the lights off?
Over and over I ran through what had happened in my head. From any angle I could not find a reason why I would be picked as the victim for some demented experiment. Maybe that was the explanation; random chance had thrust me into someone else’s psychotic nightmare.
If that were true I was in a bad way, with poor prospects for surviving whatever ordeal awaited me. How long before anyone would notice my disappearance, and if I truly was an arbitrary target how would the police ever find me? There would be nothing to link me to that person out there, watching me now.
That path led me to more than one gruesome scenario. What would it be? Waterboarding, electric shock, some horrific medieval torture, or simply turning off the air; all led to a fatal end when my battered body finally gave out. I squeezed my eyes shut, forcing out any more speculation in that direction.
When I opened my eyes the lights were still out. The room must be completely sealed since there wasn’t a hint of illumination. I thought back to the image in the mirror. Around the table a small strip of concrete floor had been visible to me. Otherwise the room was empty save for the tubes running from my head to somewhere else. There might be all sorts of equipment in the room, just outside my field of view. I didn’t want to contemplate what that implied either.
I tried to listen for faint sounds. The headphones built into the hood emitted a constant hiss of static, loud enough to interfere with hints from any activity around me. In one way or another all my senses were blocked: hearing from the white noise; touch overwhelmed by the clinging rubber suit; sight from the pitch dark room; smell eliminated by the same rubber hood covering my nose; and taste, all I could taste was the dry, stale air. If the intention was to isolate me it was working.
Although I expected one of those torture sessions to begin at any moment I was left alone. Time passed while I laid on that table, for how long I couldn’t tell. Ironically the one event I didn’t predict, boredom, began to affect me. My mind drifted as fragments of old memories came and went.
At some point I must have fallen asleep. I woke up suddenly when I heard a faint whisper in my ear. I didn’t catch all of it but what I did hear was the ending fragment of a word, something like “…less”, so low I wasn’t even sure it was real or imagined. I cursed the background static still coming through the headphones. The poor quality of the audio circuit seemed out of character considering the meticulous planning that went into capturing and maintaining me as a prisoner.
I tried to be as quiet as possible, barely breathing, while straining to hear that voice again. “Darkness,” I was sure I heard the word this time. The voice had a mechanical tone to it, as if it were synthesized. I found it annoying. I could see for myself it was dark in the room. I didn’t need to be told.
More silence, overlaid by that infuriating static. “Hopeless,” there it was again. I hadn’t given up hope yet, despite what the voice suggested. I tried to time the gap between words by counting seconds.
More words came, but there was no pattern in the timing. Sometimes they would be seconds apart, and at other times several minutes. There was a pattern of sorts though. Each faint whisper was a single word, chosen to remind me how badly off I was. “Powerless” followed by “despair” and then “misery,” all intended to create an oppressive atmosphere.
I tried to ignore them at first. The problem was I couldn’t turn off my ears. I tried to drown them out by singing. It didn’t work that well. I could still hear the murmuring in my ears no matter how much I tried to ignore that incessant babbling. Eventually I gave up and resigned myself to being bombarded with the whispering.
In some ways the low volume, barely above that hated static hiss, was worse than a blaring commercial. Try as I might not to listen I found myself waiting in anticipation for each morsel fed in my ears. The words were repeated, but at random times something new would be added. None of them did anything to improve my mood, but it was obvious that was the intention behind the exercise.
It must have gone on for hours, over and over again, that monotone voice in my ear telling me how miserable I felt. It was wearing on my nerves, the way it kept going combined with my frustration in trying to keep those whispers out of my head. At some point I started shouting, “turn it off!” It was an admission they were getting to me but I didn’t care.
Over and over I yelled as loud as I could manage. At some point I realized the voice had stopped. I waited, lying quietly, to see if they came back. Maybe the shouting had done some good after all?
Time passed in silence, except for that ever present hiss. Why didn’t they fix it? “Your audio playback is broken,” I spoke in a loud voice. My complaints stopped the whispering, so I figured it might get rid of that incessant buzz too.
Unfortunately it didn’t work. The background noise remained, but it did seem to decrease in volume. The only other sound that reached my ears was my own breathing, of the air rushing in and out of the hood through those tubes.
Again and Again
How long I laid on that table shrouded in relative silence I don’t know. Time ceased to have any meaning. As those whispers so often reminded me I was helpless, trapped in darkness, powerless to prevent whatever new torment my captor intended to inflict on me. My mental resolve to hold out was weakening and I couldn’t seem to halt the decline.
“Relentless,” the whisper came into my ears. It was back again. This time there was a difference. It was louder, or the background hiss had gone down. And it was an echo, starting in my left ear with a delay in the right. “Unstoppable,” followed the first word, this time echoing in the other direction. The next three kept the same direction, and then two more without any echo effect. What was the point? “Lost,” the voice told me, this time in only one ear.
If the intended effect was to get my attention it was working. I found myself trying to predict the direction for the next word, just for something to do to break the monotony. Most of the time I got it wrong; there must be some kind of randomizer in use. Oddly, the lack of a pattern annoyed me more than the content.
“It’s not going to work,” I yelled. “I know what you’re trying to do to me. I’m not playing that game.” In truth that was a bluff; I had no idea what the ultimate goal of the whispering campaign was supposed to accomplish, other than to slowly drive me crazy.
To my surprise the voice stopped. Even the background noise died away, leaving me in total silence save for the air flow and my breathing. I could feel the puff of air on my face each time I inhaled and the slight sucking motion from the exhaust tube when I exhaled. For a moment I felt renewed hope that I might survive this ordeal after all. I figured showing a firm resolve on my part had convinced them of the futility in continuing.
Then the air stopped.
When I inhaled instead of the expected flow of air the hood pulled in on my face. Over and over I tried to breathe but the tiny amount of air left in the hood wasn’t enough. I began gasping, trying desperately to get oxygen into my lungs. Without thinking I fought to free my hands, to rip off the hood so I could breathe again.
I was starting to feel dizzy when I felt the puff of air return. I took a deep breathe, and then another, my body reflexively trying to get oxygen back into my blood. After a few minutes I was back to normal, except I was terrified the air would stop again.
Had I done something to provoke it? Maybe it had been that little rant about not playing the game. From now on I was determined to keep my mouth shut.
“Punishment,” that voice whispered in my ear. I got the message. No more shows of defiance, no matter how good I felt afterwards. The cost was too high. “Discipline,” was the next bit of advice. My first thought was this was a new list of cheery words of encouragement. “Obedience,” came a little later, followed almost immediately by “submission.” This set had a definite theme.
The whispers were coming faster now, new words mixed with old ones. It seemed to go on forever without any let up. I was ready to start screaming again but the memory of what happened afterwards kept my mouth shut.
Then it came to a sudden stop. I was tired, sore and all I wanted was for the nightmare to stop. What came next was even worse.
I felt exhausted, mentally if not physically. The voice in my ear kept coming back, unrelenting in its effort to brainwash me. I didn’t think it was working, not yet anyway. I was still determined to resist, passively since I didn’t want to face suffocation again. An idle thought came to mind; this voice was the worst motivational speaker I’d ever encountered.
“Repeat each phrase,” the voice ordered. This was different, commands instead of single words. Now I was to be an active participant? “Failure to comply will be punished,” the voice warned. That settled one question; I was suddenly in a talkative mood.
“I am helpless,” the whispers started. Dutifully I repeated the phrase, word for word. “I need guidance,” and again I parroted back what I heard. “I respect authority,” was followed by “show me the way.” There were no delays this time. As soon as I finished one the voice was ready with another. I didn’t even have time to think about what I was saying. My only worry was keeping up, and not making mistakes.
“I have no face” and in quick succession “I am only an object” had to be references to my appearance. Right after those two phrases the lights flashed back on. There I was again, a faceless object in the mirror’s reflection. The voice stopped, only to be replaced once again by that irritating background static.
The lights went out again just as the voice started over. More phrases, “Tell me what to do” and “I’m lost” to start, with several others in the same vein. The whispering never let up, and I dare not risk missing one. There would be sudden pauses, but as soon as I thought it was over the voice began again.
At some point it all became a blur. I could hear myself but I didn’t know what I was saying. My world shrunk to that whispering in my ear. At some point I must have fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion.
Whispers in the Mind
I woke up sitting in my chair at home. From the sunlight streaming in the window it had to be late afternoon, though I wasn’t sure what day it was. My first thought was to pinch the skin on my arm, to make sure I really was awake. It hurt, a good sign. My fear was I was in another dream, about to wake up in that suit, still strapped to the table.
I was tired, sore, hungry and thirsty. I needed a bath too. I wasted no time heading to the kitchen, desperate for a drink of water. My legs felt stiff from inactivity.
After the second glass of water I slowed down to take stock. What had happened to me? The ordeal had been too real for a dream. I had survived and been returned to my home, unscathed as far as I could determine. Should I call the police? And just what would I tell them? A gang had kidnapped me, stuck me in a rubber suit for a while and then brought me back home? I shook my head. No, after a tale like that I’d wind up in the county hospital mental ward for observation.
I needed time to put events into perspective. The best way to start was soaking in a nice, hot bath. It would do wonders for the sore muscles while I came up with a plan.
When I slid into the bathtub the warm water was pure bliss. I closed my eyes and leaned back, letting the warmth carry away all the cares of the last few days. The gentle heat worked into sore muscles, relaxing me.
“I need guidance.” My eyes flew open when the whisper in my ear came back. I sat up, looking around. Where had it come from? No one was there. It had to be my imagination. I slipped back down into the bath.
“Disobedience is punished.” Thee it was again. I put my hands over my ears, trying to block out that voice. “I have no face.” The voice was inside my head, my own words coming back to haunt me.
The Technician looked up when the Supervisor entered the Subject room. “Are you disappointed this Subject didn’t turn out as well as expected?” the Technician asked. The smell of disinfectant hung in the air from the solution the Technician was using to wipe down the examination table.
“Disappointed?” the Supervisor asked rhetorically. “Not at all. The Process for this Subject went quite well. I’m pleased with the results. Why would you say it failed?”
The Technician started checking the rubber hood for pinhole leaks. “My impression was the Subject showed considerable verbal defiance. I concluded this was a sign of high resistance to the Process.”
The Supervisor smiled. Knowing the reputation of this particular Supervisor the facial expression sent a chill down the Technician’s back. “On the contrary, those superficial outbursts only confirmed the Process had achieved all I wished to accomplish. You see, the human mind wants to go in a certain direction, but society puts up roadblocks to prevent it. The Process is designed to break through those roadblocks so the mind is free to travel the path to personal freedom. Those protests were the sounds of the roadblocks falling away.”
“Then the Subject is progressing as expected?” The Technician had heard the Supervisor’s explanation before. Even so there had to be an innate talent in sensing the Subject’s state of mind, a knack Supervisors seemed to have in abundance but was totally lacking in Technicians.
“We’ll be seeing this particular Subject again, in the not so distant future. Yes, I expect it will be quite soon. I look forward to it.” The Supervisor’s tone was filled with excitement.
The Technician turned away, preparing to store the rubber suit. “Ever been in one of those?” the Supervisor asked. “It’s a bit like the caterpillar entering the cocoon. When you emerge you are a new person, spreading newfound wings just like the butterfly. If you like I can help you experience what a change it can bring to your life.”
The Technician turned back to face the Supervisor. The predatory glint in the eyes convinced the Technician the last thing anyone could want is to become another butterfly in the Supervisor’s collection. “Thanks but I’ll pass.”