The More Things Change...
In my rush to get out of bed to answer the ringing phone my foot got caught in the sheets and I tripped, falling hard to the floor and bashing my thumb off the leg of a chair. Wincing in pain I hauled myself to my feet and made it to the kitchen. By the time I got there the phone had stopped ringing.
Fighting off the urge to sob loudly I sat down on one of the kitchen chairs and stared at the moonlight out the window. The chair wobbled slightly, ever so slightly lopsided since that day I first tried to throw it out the window.
I hadn't bothered with the kitchen lights, but there was plenty of moonlight coming through the windows so I could see just fine. Still, it wasn't exactly bright. Maybe that's why the blinking light on the phone caught my attention. I got up and walked over to it slowly, not daring to hope. The answering machine message light was blinking steadily.
Apparently I had voice-mail.
With considerable trepidation I reached out a forefinger and pushed the play button. I held my breath. At first I didn't hear anything except some fumbling noises, like someone had dropped the receiver or something. Then, a voice. It was quiet, a bit breathless, but it was a voice very much like my own. That of a teenage boy. I recognized the tone well. It was the tone teens everywhere use when they're trying to do something fast and quiet, something they're not supposed to do. The voice said, “Uh...Hello? Um, Jeffrey? Are you there?” Then more fumbling noises before the voice continued, “I need to explain...”
The voice stopped at that moment, interrupted by another voice in the background. This one of a slightly angry, very impatient adult male. Another tone I recognized oh so well. This voice said, “Dillon, what on earth...you had better not be doing what I think you're doing...” And then the message ended.
I stood there for a few long seconds, my eyes wide. Then I scrambled for the handset and clicked on the caller ID history. Private number. Figures.
Now, I might be a mess. I might be screwed up. I might have little to no social skills, and be the most visible victim for all of the bullies from the entire school district. I might be a homo, which is simply not acceptable to my parents, my school, and, as it turned out, my so-called very best friend since we were both five years old. Or maybe that should all be past tense if I'm dead. But I always thought I had one thing going for me. My brains.
I'm usually pretty smart. Not to sound boastful or anything, but I know it's true. I can figure things out. Always could. Everything except how to fix my fucked up life, anyway. So I sat down and thought about all of this for a while.
Okay, it was fairly easy to think maybe I was dead in the weeks when nothing changed and I was living in some surreal little existence in this bizarre house. But then the changes of the past several days happened, and now this, the phone message. It seemed likely, almost a certainty, that the events were related.
So, what do I know? What facts and conclusions can I make from my limited information?
Well, I'm not alone. Not only am I not alone, but there's another kid out there who sounds roughly my age, and who tried to contact me. And whatever adult was around most definitely did not want him to do so. So I knew of at least two other people. People who sounded and acted like regular people very familiar to me.
It seems like a reasonable assumption then that maybe I'm not actually dead. Especially when put together with my sore toe, sprained thumb and my back injury from before. Not to mention all of the other normal bodily functions since I've been here. Breathing and sweating and eating and shi...uh, well, you know.
But, if true, then what is going on?
Well, if the events are connected then it seems likely the adult I heard was somehow responsible for this place. At least in part. For me being here, for the décor, for the modernization, for the house with no outside doors.
The one and only glaring conclusion I could make from all of this was not a pleasant one.
I was a prisoner.
The question was, of course, why?
They had a good deal more control of things than I was used to. First of all, this place. Unbreakable windows and walls, things always reset back to clean and orderly no matter what I did, somehow without my knowledge. I tried to stay awake on so many nights to see how it happened. Oh, how I tried. I never could.
Then all the times at the beginning when I tried to kill myself again and didn't get farther than the thoughts.
Oh shit. A sudden realization struck me.
That meant they knew my thoughts.
This most definitely sucked. Especially since, if true, they knew that I knew the game was up.
How would that change things? What would happen now?
I felt myself becoming scared. When I realized what I was feeling I laughed out loud. After all, not long ago I thought I was dead. Not long ago I tried repeatedly to ensure that happened. So then, why in the world would I be scared? Why did I care? But I found, much to my astonishment, that I did.
As such things tend to do, fear eventually morphed into anger and I found myself pacing and growling, yelling and swearing. I've always had a tendency to let my anger get out of control. One of my many problems. Maybe I had tried to kill myself, maybe even succeeded, but this still pissed me off. How dare they! I wanted to be in control. I wanted some say in what was happening to me. I wanted to know what was going on!
I picked up the phone and yelled profanity to the dial tone before throwing the receiver across the room. Then I kicked the nice new flat screen TV, smashed the microwave, and generally had a full blown childish tantrum.
When I woke up the next morning things were, of course, reset back to normal. No new changes today that I could find. At least not so far.
I sulked and decided to go on a hunger strike.
Then I suddenly found myself wiping my face with a napkin after a full breakfast.
What the fuck?
Now they were really messing with me.
My brain kicked back into gear. I thought about it. It seemed I could do whatever I liked, within the physical parameters of this house, so long as those actions didn't involve a real attempt to do permanent harm to myself. That, it seemed, wasn't tolerated, for whatever reason, by whoever was responsible. Minor injuries were obviously just fine, though.
Okay, so they wanted me alive. They wanted me ignorant. And they didn't care, at least so far today, that they knew I was on to them.
So where did that leave me? What do I do differently now? How do I approach my “life” with this new knowledge?
That's where I was stuck. Without any leverage, not even a sliver, I just couldn't see how anything was really different.
I did find myself motivated though. A feeling I most definitely wasn't used to. One I hadn't really felt for the past couple of years. Motivated to find out more. To find out if I could get any more information, any leverage, any control at all of this situation.
I broke it down into two categories. First, information and control about myself, my thoughts, and my body. Second, information and control about the environment. The house and the stuff in it.
I set up some experiments. In order of decreasing severity, I thought of several new methods of suicide or at least serious permanent bodily harm. Each time I did this I had the expected result, waking up the next morning without being able to make the first move towards putting any plan into action. But eventually I reached a point where this didn't happen.
I was lucky though. I had planned to cut off a finger with the big kitchen knife. I managed to get as far as having my hand on the cutting board, the knife swishing hard down through the air towards the targeted finger before my reflexes kicked in and I yanked my finger out of the way, slightly too late. After stanching the blood and bandaging the luckily not too serious cut I concluded that my prison guards would allow finger amputation, but nothing worse. The line had been found.
As for the house, I set up a schedule for myself. I methodically searched every square centimeter. Room by room, starting at the top and working my way down to the basement everything was searched. Every tile was tested, every electrical outlet, every wall, every bit of plumbing, wiring, fixture, doorknob, and piece of moulding.
Turns out almost everything was exactly what it looked like, except for the unbreakable nature of the windows, walls, and doors. Everything else acted as normal and could be broken as normal. Except that it would reappear perfectly fine the next day.
I spent considerable time in the little workshop that was set up in one room of the basement.
I don't think I mentioned the workshop before. There's a good reason for that, though I really wish I could figure it all out. The workshop wasn't there before. At least I don't think it was.
Then, one day, I went downstairs and into the workshop. Just as if I knew that it was there. As if it was there all along. I was already getting tools down from the shelf before this really hit me.
If it wasn't there before, then why did it seem so familiar? Why did I just go and walk into it? And if it was there, well, then why couldn't I remember seeing it before? Why couldn't I remember being in it before?
I hated that. The feeling of confusion. The feeling that I was somehow being duped. Being manipulated.
I didn't go into the workshop after that for a number of days. But, I was curious. And, I was bored. So, one day, naturally, I found myself in there again.
It was full of tools. An amazing assortment. Woodworking tools, electrical tools, plumbing tools, metalworking tools, electronics, you name it. Each had its own little section neatly arranged and set up. I was able to find books in the living room to help me learn how to use some of these tools and something about what I was working on.
Anyway, I used the stuff in the workshop to help me in my extremely thorough search of the house. Using the tools, I was able to do a really amazing amount of deconstruction and destruction through the next three or four days. Not to mention learning more about electronics, construction, plumbing, and wiring then I ever thought I would know.
Other than that though, I didn't learn anything new or useful about the house. My prison.
The next time the phone rang I managed to get to it before it stopped ringing. I had been in the basement workshop trying to breadboard together enough electronics to make a power inverter for that blasted dead laptop. I just about had the DC voltage right when the phone made me jump. I made it to the kitchen before the end of the second ring.
“Hello?” I answered breathlessly, hoping I would hear any answer over the thunder of my hammering heart.
The same voice from the message answered back, still in the same quiet, strained, hesitant tone. “Um, hello? Jeffrey?”
Well who the hell else would it be? It's not like there were a lot of people here. “Yes, it's me. Who are you? Where am I? What's going on? Why am I here? Who the fuck....” I said all in a rush before I was interrupted. That damnable temper of mine.
“I'm Dillon,” the voice said. “Listen, I probably only have a few seconds before someone realizes I'm on the equipment but I don't think it's fair what they're doing. You should know more about why you're there and what's next. Things aren't exactly the way they're trying to get you to think they are.”
Well, I thought to myself, I knew that already. “Just answer my questions, Dillon,” I snarled. Probably not the best tone to use. The guy was obviously trying to help. But dammit, I was pissed.
“I'm the one who changed some of the stuff there. I knew it wasn't quite right for you. Decades off. I wasn't supposed to. I'm in trouble now and I shouldn't even be in here, but listen, things have changed. Yes, you're alive, and real. Physically you're fine. The damage to your liver and the rest of your body from that chemical you ingested has all been repaired. The mental damage that led to you doing that has almost all been...” The voice stopped suddenly, then started again. “Fuck! I gotta go!” the voice said and the phone went dead just as an adult voice, female this time, yelled Dillon's name in the background.
I hung up the phone slowly, my thoughts swirling.
Mental damage? Did that describe me? Well, I supposed it made sense on one level, but that's not really how I saw things. I just didn't see I had much of a choice. Every day was too hard. Too painful. Too much soul shredding each and every waking moment. I didn't see it ending. I couldn't find a way to make it stop, other than the solution I finally picked.
I'll admit after I arrived here I had plenty of time to re-think things. And it was easier without my parents, family, classmates, teachers, and former friends all tearing me to pieces every day. Being here gave me perspective. I second guessed things. I realized that maybe I did have a few options, ones I couldn't see through the fog of self loathing, anger, and fear.
But I didn't see how it mattered. It was far too late.
What did Dillon mean about how he changed things? How he knew it wasn't right, decades off? What did that imply? The possible conclusions chilled me. He talked like it was all history. A long time ago.
Wait a minute. Dillon said the mental damage had almost all been repaired. Maybe that meant I was fixed! For the first time in a long time I thought about something that just hadn't seemed important anymore. Relationships. And sex.
I know, seems impossible, right? For a hormone riddled teenage boy to not think about sex. Not only didn't I think about it, I didn't realize I wasn't thinking about it until now.
The more I thought about this, the stranger it seemed to be. That had never happened before. Not since I was about eleven. In fact, it seemed downright impossible. I mean, I was fifteen. I used to schedule half my life around the next time I had a chance to beat off.
I had to conclude that somehow they were responsible for that.
But I was thinking about it now. It was like a dam had burst. Boy was I thinking about it! I was horny. Incredibly so. More than I could ever remember being in my entire life. I was so hard it hurt, except it felt good. I could barely sit still. Then I couldn't sit still. I had my pants off and was stroking furiously before I even knew what I was doing. That first touch of my hand on my dick was intoxicating. Incredible. I was spurting in less than a minute, but my horniness and my erection didn't go down. I just kept jacking. Furiously, now with my semen as lube. Another two minutes and I spurted again. I groaned loudly as I did so and my hips bucked, my muscles strained.
I never groaned.
So much for that.
It took a third ejaculation before I finally relaxed, my erection subsided and I sat there in a daze on the living room floor up against a chair, where I had dropped when my sudden horniness had hit. I was still breathing hard. I was a mess. I had semen all over my chest, stomach, hand, dick, and balls. All mashed into my pubic hair. It was getting sticky. I finally took my hand off my dick and got to my feet and made my way into the shower.
Well, that answered that question.
I wasn't fixed. Not that way anyway. I knew exactly what I was thinking about and getting turned on by during my frantic masturbatory frenzy. I was still gay.
Funny thing though.
It had changed.
I didn't feel filthy like before, after I jerked off. I wasn't guilty. I didn't hear my dad's voice in my head telling me I was sick. I wasn't disgusted with myself. I wasn't a fucking faggot. I wasn't a perverted homo. I wasn't full of self hate.
I was just gay.
It didn't seem any more important than the fact my hair was brown and curly. It just was.
How very odd.
Maybe more had changed than I realized.
After I finished my shower I was starving, so I went into the kitchen for something to eat. I had picked out a couple of nice recipes from the cookbook and was just getting the ingredients out when the phone rang.
I picked up quickly, “Hello?”
Dillon's voice giggled back quietly, “That was fantastic! Wow!”
I stood there confused for a second before I blushed hard, red down to my toes.
“Oh boy, did I! And I needed a shower too afterwards. I can't talk, I shouldn't even be doing this. But I absolutely had to tell you. So totally freak! Bye!” The line went dead.
I stood there and stared at the phone for long seconds before I set it down. Well that was weird. Something else though. The more I thought about it, about Dillon watching, and, from the sounds of it, joining in, the more turned on I was getting.
Uh-oh. Here we go again.
Dinner might just have to wait.
This time I finished with Dillon's soft giggle in my mind.
I ate late that day.
As I lay in bed that night I stared up at the ceiling, mulling over the events of the day. Lots of things were going through my mind. The sudden return of my sex drive, the strangeness of its absence before that, why I didn't feel violated knowing Dillon was watching me stroke one out, hints about what was going on from a few things Dillon had said, Dillon.
Hmm, seemed to be a recurring theme here. I hadn't even met him. All I knew was a voice, and a grand total of a hundred words or so.
Still, that didn't seem to matter. My thoughts continued along this vein and my hand soon found its way back to my penis. How many times was this today? I guess my body was trying to make up for lost time.
I got the laptop working the next day. My cobbled together power inverter worked, though the loose wires I used in lieu of a proper power jack took me a while to get in place. I booted it up eagerly. It booted to a login screen. I tried a few different usernames and passwords before realizing I was wasting my time.
But I wasn't done yet. I recognized the login screen, though it wasn't exactly the same as I was used to. The computer was running some kind of variant of Linux. I used the keyboard combination to change to a basic text console screen, and again was greeted with a different login prompt. Again I tried various guesses, and finally hit the magic combination. I should have tried it first. A combination used fairly often as the default login for testing before everything was set up in many different distributions of Linux. The login was root, and the password was toor.
Not only was I in, I was root, which in Linux meant I had complete control over the system.
I quickly checked out a few obvious things. The distribution was something I had never heard of called Multi Linux Version 14.
I checked if there was an internet connection. I knew there wasn't a wired connection but I had vague hopes the wireless would connect to something. After scanning and finding no access points in range I was a bit disappointed, but figured there might still be something to learn here.
I created a regular user account and changed back to the graphical login screen and logged in to a regular graphical environment. Checking through the menus I found the usual array of utilities, games, settings, and basic programs like a text editor. Most were unfamiliar though I recognized the name of a few.
On a whim, I checked out the Linux kernel version, the kernel being the most basic part of any operating system and not something a typical user usually thought about or came in contact with. The result gave me a bit of a shock. When I killed myself, the kernel version on my computer was 2.6.39. The 2.6 series had been around it seemed like forever. Years. I wondered if we were ever going to see anything beyond that.
The kernel version on this computer was 7.8.15.
At the rate these things changed, this would have been years in the future. Decades more likely.
It took all of this fumbling about before I thought of trying the simplest and most obvious thing. Cursing myself for doing everything the complicated way I clicked on the time in the lower right hand corner, bringing up a nice little calendar.
I sat there staring at it for the longest time. I wasn't quite sure what to do with the information.
It said July 17, 2087. It was apparently a Thursday.
I wasn't sure how much I could trust it. I mean, it kind of made sense. It explained a bit about this place. But it didn't explain everything, that's for sure. Even this computer. The way things had changed in computers just in my lifetime made me think that this computer should look and act nothing like anything I was used to if it was 2087.
Maybe the clock was wrong. It kind of fit with the software version though. Maybe the computer was made like this for my benefit, like the house and all the appliances.
That would explain a lot.
Though why would they then make the mistake of not adjusting the date, if they wanted to keep up the ruse? And why even put the thing here, and then forget the power cord? I had to figure out how to actually make one by myself. Before I could do that I had to teach myself all about electricity and the difference between AC and DC and how an inverter worked.
Then it all clicked. The weird combination of books. Arts, humanities, science, history, fiction, you name it. The music on the radio, even the talk shows, so eclectic. The workshop in the basement. All the things I had learned, built, and tried. Even the cooking.
That's what they wanted. I was supposed to learn all of this.
And it worked.
That part still didn't make sense.
I left the computer alone and pulled out the retro vacuum cleaner from the closet and vacuumed the house. Another one of those weird things. Turns out vacuuming was a good way for me to think and mull things over.
I sure hoped that wasn't one of those lessons I'm supposed to be learning.
The next morning I awoke with the feeling that I wasn't alone.
That probably had something to do with the fact that I wasn't alone.