Can’t tell what time of day it is; there are too many clouds. I’m wearing a tracksuit or something and trainers – I think: it’s all rather vague. I’m also stumbling because the tall wiry grass, thrashed by tearing gusts, whips my hands and face.
I’m going to head for the line of trees I can see. They’re big and also swaying – taking more energy from the angry wind. It takes me ages. You have to almost swim through this stuff like breaststroke but each arm in turn. It’s hot work and I get trickles of sweat down the hollow of my back.
There’s gap between the grass and the trees as if I’ve just arrived at the edge of a field.
I stop to get my breath back. To my right is a man dressed in chain mail and wearing a helmet. With an electric screwdriver he’s attaching a small sign to a huge tree. I approach him and lurch as the wind and rough ground make me stagger. Shouting over the roar of the gale I ask, “What is this place?”
He turns, lifts a pointed metal visor, stares at me for a while and lowers it. He has such a warm smile and happy eyes. Thumb jerked over his shoulder he indicates I’m to read the sign. Turning, he stamps away. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t need to stamp that hard or raise his knees so much. He’ll exhaust himself. I saw him last maybe about two weeks ago. He was dressed in magician’s robes.
I approach the sign and read:
Sane? I don’t even know why I’m here or where I am.
I walk deeper into the wood and avoid the spiky holly bushes or tangles of bramble. Why are there so many fences here? All ancient wrought iron and seemingly set at random angles. They are too short and end in a way that could not stop anything or anyone getting round them. Weird, was this some sort of art installation? They are made of identical two-metre high square rods topped with spearheads. Well, I assume they were identical; some of them are rusted right through in places, others buckled or swallowed as trees grew.
From one hangs a sign saying, ‘It’s OK, we’ve got your memories until you need them again.’
I pass so many fences and have to detour around some of the longer ones.
A girl’s voice calls, “Only a few minutes now. You’ve done so well!”
I look around and see a girl with her orange T-shirt tucked into jeans – the girl that changes her name every time I meet her. She has her knees round a branch and hangs upside-down, her hair swinging like the beard of an ancient Celtic king.
I walk towards her. “What do you mean? Who are you today?”
“You need to hang upside down,” she shouts.
“Because that makes you invisible. Don’t you know anything?”
“But I can see you…”
“They confuse you, mix up your memories. You could wake up thinking you are any of the people you’ve ever met – at any age. You get frightened and confused. You cry and shake and scream.”
“What does this?”
She looks over my shoulder. “Quick, quick – there’s one coming!”
A heaving roar and the sound of low groans erupts behind me. I panic and run, darting between fences and shrubs. A low branch offers salvation. It’s too big to hang from but grew almost horizontally from the ground and arches skywards. I run up it and grab a more suitable one above.
What am I doing? That was just a powerful gust blasting through the palisade of trunks and grinding branches together. As the noise subsides I can hear the girl’s laughter.
Hang on … what’s this? I have to lie on the branch to see it clearly. Inscribed on the underside of the branch I was going to climb is:
16 years, two months and four days to go
Try to stay sane? It’s getting quite hard.
Another voice calls: this time from above. The laughing boy I tell stories to is dressed in a furry rabbit costume with oversized ears. He swings on a bough and says, “Close one eye. Close one eye!”
“The light is coming. It helps with the shock of it. And stand up or you’ll be too unsteady: stand up now!”
“Who are you to boss me around, you little mischief?”
“I’m only trying to help. Will we see you again?”
I don’t know what he means. I shrug and stand, moving with the tree as I disturb the limbs.
But as I stand I feel dizzy and lurch; my hand thumps into what feels like a stone wall. A metallic clang like a bucket being kicked makes me jump.
Wait … this isn’t a tracksuit … it’s fatigues. The other hand rubs against my unshaven jaw. Why haven’t I shaved in ages? Memory erupts back into my mind.
More clangs and the creak of metal doors. I close one eye as light floods in. A silhouetted figure barks. “It’s over. You can return to your cell.”
Sixteen more years, two months and four days in this hell… In this building in which the prisoners and guards are my tormentors. No way.
He goes on, “Seventeen days solitary… longest you’ve had yet. Try and be a good boy or we’ll extend it again.”
I’ll be back, my friends. Won’t be long.
©Gary Bonn: 2016