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My Little Oubliette (Draft, Reviewed)[]

Author's note: This is (A Draft For) the The Vesper's Bell's entry for the Liminal Spaces story contest.

Oubliette Experiment, Trial # 48. Internal Self-Assessment Extrapolated Inter-Mortem via Engram Emulsification. Test Subject - Charlie

Entry #1:  

Contest image 7
As I gaze up at the small, square, grated skylight above me, I can’t help but imagine how much cheerier this courtyard would be if the top was entirely open to the sky. Or at least, I assume that I’m in a courtyard. What else could it be?

I've become fixated on the details of the environment in which I have found myself, in the perhaps vain hope that they will yield some means of escape, or at the very least revive some memory of how I got here. I am ensconced by four walls, each of them four-stories tall, each plastered in off-white drywall. The top three floors have six narrow, rectangular windows, though the ones on the corners have been drywalled over, I assume to accommodate a stairwell, or elevator shaft, or something of that nature. The windows are all dark, and I’m unable to see much through them from my position on the ground – just the occasional flicker of light that could be anything.

There are no windows on the ground floor. No doors either. Lacking any memory of how I ended up in here is one thing, but the absence of any obvious mode of entrance is quite another. Was I lowered in through the skylight? Did someone remove and immediately replace a window pane? Is there a hidden trap door somehow concealed beneath the seamless concrete floor?

The floor doesn’t even have a drain, which is peculiar because I’m sure there’s not any glass in the skylight above me. It’s just a steel grate, with nothing to keep precipitation or other detritus from falling inside.

The ceiling in particular is just peculiar. It’s white drywall, with a skylight in the middle, and two concentric perimeters of tiny, plastered-over squares. They’re like the plastered windows, but smaller. Too small to be windows themselves, surely. I can’t quite imagine what function they once served, or may still serve. There are four main lights in the ceiling, several smaller ones, and multiple small indentations which may be lights as well. Each wall also has a pair of lights between the third and fourth floors, but the daylight pouring in through the skylight is my principal source of illumination.

I assume it’s daylight, at any rate. I can’t actually see the sky through the skylight – just what I think must be daylight. I hear nothing of the outside world. No wind, no birds, no voices, no traffic; nothing at all.

And, that’s it. That’s all I can say for certain about this place, this prison, that I find myself in. No, not a prison; a dungeon – an oubliette. Contemplating the skylight above me has dredged that word from the recesses of my memory, a word which means ‘to be forgotten’, ironically enough. Oubliettes were holes built within medieval castles, too deep and narrow to climb out of. A prisoner would be sealed into one, and left to slowly perish.

My little oubliette is far more spacious than the ones found in an old torture chamber, but I am nonetheless convinced that that is what it is. I must have been thrown in from the grate, which perhaps explains my lapse in memory. My head doesn’t hurt, however, and I see not a single drop of blood anywhere, nor any other sign that I have suffered any injury.

I try to remember how long I’ve been here, but once again am forced to concede failure. Taking stock of my surroundings, I see no evidence of a prolonged captivity. I see no accumulation of urine, feces, or anything of that nature. My body does not appear to be malnourished or unkempt, and in fact, I feel absolutely no hunger or thirst or all, so much so that the lack of any food or water in my apparently inescapable prison does not immediately concern me in the slightest.

I don’t bother to shout. I do not plead for mercy, I do not insist upon an explanation, I do not demand freedom, because for some reason I cannot explain, I’ve already accepted that such cries would be futile. Have I done this before? It feels like I’ve done this before, like I’ve been here before. Déjà vu fails to describe the uncannily inexplicable sense of familiarity I feel at such a bizarre situation. I have no memory of this, and yet I recognize it.

Desperate to escape the turmoil of my own disturbing and intrusive thoughts, I rise and begin to pace the floor. I will continue to do so until I either collapse from exhaustion, or some new development gives me a reason to stop.

Entry #2:

Night has fallen, and the windows above me are no longer so dark. The sky has long since faded to black, and the small artificial lights do little to illuminate the concrete courtyard. Lights on the other side of the widows have come to life, shining down into my little oubliette and giving me a glimpse of the hallways that encircle me. I still can’t see much from my position, but I can see shadows crossing from one window to the next from time to time. This place is not abandoned. There are people in those halls.

None have yet dared to venture close enough for me to see, and I am forced to wonder if they even know that I am here. If this is an oubliette, as I believe, then I was left in here to be forgotten. I am tempted to shout, to throw a shoe at a window, to do something to at least illicit a reaction from whoever may be just above me, but a heavy sense of fatalism holds me down in apathy. They will not react. I know this. I do not know how I know it, but I know it regardless.

Instead, I sit in the center of the room to ensure I am fully visible to those above. I keep a careful vigil on the windows, my head quivering towards any shadow on my periphery, lest I miss the chance to observe my observers. No matter how indifferent they may be to me, surely it is only a matter of time before one of them passes close enough to a window for me to catch a fleeting glimpse of them? Yes. It is only a matter of time, and I have no shortage of time here.

Entry #3:

It is day again. I do not remember falling asleep, and I do not remember waking up, but I do remember the day before. This lifts my heart somewhat, and I take it as a sign that I am making progress. It occurs to me that I have now unquestionably gone at least twenty-four hours without urinating or defecating, and I remain unbothered by thirst or hunger. I feel my face for stubble, and find that there is none.

Something is wrong. Horribly wrong. Either my bodily functions are being manipulated somehow, or time or entropy or something else isn’t working the way it’s supposed to in this place. I pace the perimeter of the courtyard, running my hand along the smooth walls as I do so in the hopes of finding some irregularity or imperfection. I don’t bother to watch the windows, since in the daylight they serve only as dark mirrors. If anyone was watching me now, I would never know. I glance upwards only to look at the grate, in the hopes of seeing something of the outside world beyond my little oubliette.

Entry #4:

It is night once again, but this time I am no longer alone. Behind each window stands exactly one person. I became aware of their presence only gradually as the daylight faded, so it’s entirely possible they’ve been watching me all day. They’re all men, I think, but it’s hard to know for certain. I can only make out the outlines of their shadowed forms, but from what I can see they appear to be bald men in lab coats. They’re all of seemingly the same height and lanky build as well, so perhaps they are not men but one man, simply repeated over and over again? They do not move in unison, but their movements and mannerisms are all strikingly similar – as well as being eerily familiar. Some jot notes down on clipboards, some occasionally speak into audio recorders or check readings on Geiger counters, and others just glare down at me with a dispassionate clinical interest.  

They’ve made no attempt to try to communicate with me, and I’ve made no attempt to communicate with them. We are each, perhaps, waiting on the other, but I see no point in making the first move. They’re the ones in control here, not me. If they just want to see how long I last before I break, I intend to keep my dignity for as long as possible.

Entry #5:

Day has returned, but this time without sunlight. The sky above me is overcast, and if I strain myself, I can hear rolling thunder in the distance. The courtyard’s lack of any sort of drainage system, originally nothing more than idle curiosity on my part, has now become a very practical concern. I wonder if any of my dozens of observers might be able to trouble themselves to close the grate should it start to rain. I very much doubt that they will.

I tell myself that I am worrying about nothing. The grate is fairly small, after all, and my oubliette’s volume is quite large. It would surely require an enormous torrent of rain to cause any significant flooding. Any accumulation would more likely prove a welcomed reserve of fresh water than an environmental hazard.

No, I have far more pressing things to worry about.

In the dimmer light of a cloudy day, I can just barely make out the forms of my observers on the other side of the windows. They have been watching me during the day, and it would seem that they are as eternally unmoving as I. Moreso, perhaps, as at least I can pace around the courtyard. Do these beings, these men who look like but one man, have no more need for sleep or sustenance as myself? Do they have no wants they might wish to fulfill away from their posts, more pressing desires than the unfaltering observation of a lone prisoner? I watch them as acutely as they watch me, hoping to pick up on any sign or clue towards their motivations. I perceive no change in them at all as the day wears on.

The only change is that the sound of thunder outside draws closer.

Entry # 6:

The rain started sometime after nightfall. Thunder crackles high overhead as the raindrops strike the hard floor in rapid succession. I can barely see it, for my little oubliette is far darker now than on previous nights, but I cannot help but hear the incessant inundation. The floor is perfectly flat and smooth, so the water spreads out evenly as it accumulates. Accordingly, I’ve retreated to the far edges of the courtyard, endeavouring to remain dry for as long as possible.

When the rain started, I caught it in my mouth before it struck the floor. Though I still have no thirst to quench, it felt good splashed upon my face and running down my throat. It was cold though, much colder than I would have thought given the clement climate of the oubliette. Given the lack of any sort of obvious ventilation system other than the grate, it can’t possibly be heated.

Aside from that, there was nothing strange about the water at all. It tasted clean and pure, and I was glad for it. I do not expect the rain to last forever or for long, and realize that a stagnant pond in the center of my prison will likely not be as pleasant and may even attract breeding insects from above, but there is nothing I can do about that.

My observers have finally moved from their posts. They pace now, one and all, back and forth. I see them walk across a window, and when they are in the intervening space they must turn around and walk across again. This behaviour is much more troubling than anything they’ve done before. At least their previous behaviour made some kind of sense. But this? I have no idea what they’re doing. They’ve gone from acting coldly clinical to downright ritualistic, with each crossing of a window feeling like the recitation of a prayer on rosary beads.

If they are not all one man, then they are at least all of one mind, for now there is no variation in their behaviour at all. Why something as mundane as rain should prompt such uniform madness from them is beyond me. Despite this, they still keep their gaze fixed upon me when they cross a window, and their movements are synchronized so that there is always at least one set of eyes upon me at all times.

Slumping against the wall I bury my head in my knees, and wait for the rain to stop so that this bizarre ritual can be over.

Final Entry:

The rain never stopped. As the night wore on, the downpour only grew in intensity, and the water level in my prison grew faster and faster. It is now the next day, at least, but the blackened sky has left me with no way to measure time. The water remains inexplicably freezing, and I’ve been treading water in it for hours on end. I shiver uncontrollably, borderline hypothermic and exhausted, but some hope for survival still remains. The water has risen so high that I am now able to reach the first floor of windows. With no other choice, I bang upon them with what remains of my strength, screaming at my observers to have mercy and to let me inside.

I can see them clearly now, my observers. They’ve stopped pacing, and now stand right up against the windows, clearly backlit in my storm-darkened oubliette.

They’re me. Hairless, half-starved, and half-dead, but me nonetheless. I am sure of it. I bang on one window, and they bang on all of them. Everything I say to them, they repeat backwards. I’m so horrified and repulsed by these sickening caricatures of myself that I can’t even begin to fathom an explanation. I don’t want to understand. I just want to live.

Try as I might, I cannot break the windows any more than I can convince my morbid doppelgangers to open them. I swim back out into the dark waters and look up towards the grated skylight above, my final hope. If the water is rising, and rising ever faster, then perhaps I can last long enough until it’s high enough for me to reach the grate. I’m already freezing and weary, but if I don’t need food or water in this place, then why should I need warmth or rest? I lack the strength to break glass, but perhaps I can bend steel as a virtual tidal wave beats down upon me. I just have to keep treading. I just have to keep my head above water. I’ve lasted this long already, surely I can last just a little bit longer to make it to the grate. Just a little bit longer. That’s all I need. Just a little bit longer.      

Oubliette Experiment, Trial # 48. Internal Self-Assessment Extrapolated Inter-Mortem via Engram Emulsification. Test Subject - Delta

Entry #1: 
As I gaze up at the small, square, grated skylight above me, I can’t help but imagine how much cheerier this courtyard would be if the top was entirely open to the sky.
Or at least, I assume that I’m in a courtyard. What else could it be?
I find myself fixated on the details of the environment in which I have somehow wandered, in the perhaps vain hope that they will yield some means of escape, or at the very least revive some memory of how I got here.
I am ensconced by four walls, each of them four-stories tall, each plastered in off-white drywall…

Written by The Vesper's Bell
Content is available under CC BY-SA

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Kolpik (talk) 04:26, 25 August 2022 (UTC)[]

What horrific desperation drives these men, these clones, to experiment on one of their one? What do they hope to discover through their observations? You don't answer these questions and that's okay. It certainly adds to the mystery and I'd say that feeling of not knowing riding on my shoulders through the entire story fits well with the contest challenge. Although, I won't pretend to fully understand the whole liminal spaces thing (I'm not expecting my contest entry to score too high).

I don't really see any issues in the story I can poke at to bring to your attention. In fact, I'm probably just wasting your time here. It got me asking questions and that's something I appreciate in a story. You do a good job of explaining away the narrator's odd behavior such as why they aren't more alarmed, etc. It made the narrator seem wrong or inhuman in some way. That got me wondering what was done to this person to make him the way he is. I figured not remembering how he got there or even how long he'd been there barely scratches the surface of whatever was done to him. The ending answered a little of that for me, but it still leaves me with plenty to think about.

His lack of emotion other than some basic curiosity and mild concern adds even more to that feeling he's a big part of whatever is going on. Of course, the situation he finds himself in is messed up, but for me it all points back to him and his nearly affectless behavior. His astute observations of his surroundings and the realization he's being observed seem like foreshadowing to me. Whether intentional or not, it's a nice touch.

Anyway, I hope you can find something useful in my ramblings. I don't want to take up too much of your time, so I'll end this by saying I enjoyed your story and good luck in the contest.

A strong draft[]

TetsuyaH (talk) 01:22, 26 August 2022 (UTC) I think an experiment / log entry style was definitely a good way to go for this competiton and the mystery of the files recorded certainly lends itself to the image that you were given. I have to say you did surprise me with the experiment take and didn't fall into the usual tropes. I was immediately intrigued and I found myself constantly wondering about the figures, about how the test subject could survive without needing food or water and what it was all for. I think you give us just enough so that the story isn't boring and just enough to have the reader begging for more. If you choose not to expand in a later draft I don't think that would be a bad thing. All in all it was an enjoyable read and I wish you the best of luck in the contest as a fellow participant!