MICHAEL SAUNDERS

Purgatory

     I have no idea how long I have been here or where
here is for that matter. The room I am in is bare
except for the bed I sleep in and a toilet. The
toilet sits in the corner of the room. It is the
kind that flushes automatically when you move away
from it. There is no basin on the back or pipes
running into it, so I have no idea where the water
comes from to fill it after it flushes. There always
seems to be two rolls of paper sitting on the floor
beside it. I have no idea where the paper comes
from.

     The bed I sleep in is more like a box, built into
the corner of the room. It is a twin size bed. The
mattress is very thick and firm. There is a single
white sheet that seems to be made into the bottom of
the mattress. The sheet is always clean. Yet I never
see anyone come to change it.

     There is a single rectangular window in the wall
above the bed. The window is at the top of the wall,
near the ceiling. The ceiling is about ten feet from
the floor so the window is too high to look directly
out of. The window has a row of thick black bars
across it. During the daytime the window is the
only source of light in the room.

     Watching the shadows of the bars move about the
room as the sun travels across the sky is one of the
few forms of entertainment I have. One of the others is
to intentionally cause the toilet to flush.

     When it grows dark outside, a light will come on in
the ceiling over the center of the room. The light
is set into the ceiling about half a foot deep. I
have spent quite a lot of time standing under it and
looking up. There is no bulb visible in the light.

     The room itself is about twelve by ten. The walls
are all painted a very light pink and the floor is
covered with lanolin.

     There is a single door that has no knob, at least
on the inside. There is a small bar-covered window in
the upper center of the door. There is a flap over
the window that can only be opened from the outside.
I often see the flap open and know that someone is
looking in at me, but I can never see anyone.

     I wear a light pink paper jumpsuit. It is fastened
in front with velcro. It is made from a strong
material because, try as I might, I cannot tear it.
My shoes are made from a rubbery substance that slip
on and off easily.

     There is no sink in the room and yet I am always
clean shaven and my hair is always braided. There
are always two pieces of fine red cloth tied to the
ends of my braids.

     I never hear any noise coming from outside the
room. Each morning when I wake up, there is a
breakfast plate sitting on the floor by the door.
There is always a carton of juice with the plate, but
never a utensil to eat it with. I have to use my
fingers. When I am done eating, I put the plate by
the door and when I'm not looking the plate will
vanish. If I don't leave the plate by the door it
will be in the room until I go to sleep and be gone
in the morning when I wake up. I never see anyone
come into the room at any time.

     In the afternoon, a dinner plate will show up by the
door. Always when I'm not looking. If I sit on my
bed and stare at the door, then no food will show.
All I have to do is turn my head for a split second
and the plate of food will arrive.

     Like I said before, I have no idea how long I have
been in this room. For as long as I can remember. I
have no idea where this room is, how big this building
is. I spend my time trying to be company to myself.
I don't do a very good job of it. I talk to myself.
Like now. I call it, keeping an audio journal.
There is this theory, I think I've read it in books,
though I have no idea when or where, that everything
that happens continues to exist in time and space so
that what is happening right now, may be seen by
someone in space far away, light years later. So,
even though I have no way of recording my audio
journal, maybe someone light years from now will be
listening to my voice. It doesn't matter.

     I can always tell when it is time to go to sleep,
because the light in the room will grow dim. Most
nights I will already be asleep since there isn't
much else to do, but some nights I will have a hard
time sleeping.

     I realize that those sleepless nights are also nights
in which I don't eat any dinner. I assume that they,
whoever they are, my keepers, put something in the
food to aid in sleeping. Nice of them, don't you
think? To relieve my boredom by inducing sleep.

     One particular night, when I hadn't eaten, and could
not sleep, I was pacing around the room. I was
somewhat agitated by my condition. Not knowing was
driving me mad. Not knowing who I was or where I was.
Not knowing why I was here. Not knowing who my
keepers were. Not knowing, just not knowing.

     I was pacing when the light grew dim. I stopped
under it and looked up at the dull glow coming
from the inset in the ceiling. I wanted to ask
someone, anyone, why they did things like that. Why
they insisted on total control. I stomped to the door
and began to pound upon it. Of course, no one
responded. I could have pounded on it for hours, even
days, and no one would have come. While I pounded on
the door I began to think that maybe I was here
because I deserved to be. Maybe I was some sort of
criminal and was placed in this place because I was a
danger to others. But, if that were so, why couldn't
I remember. Or, maybe I was insane and was in some
sort of institution for those people who had gone
stark raving mad.

     In any case, while pounding on the door, I began to
look at it closely. I began to study the crack
between the door and the door facing. I dropped to
my knees and studied the spot where the latch would
have been if there were a door knob on the door.
There was no sign of a latch. Could it be that there
was no knob on the outside of the door? I stood up
and pushed hard on the door. It moved just a little.

     Could the door be unlocked?

     I sat on my bed and stared at the door. What irony I
thought. To be a prisoner for god knew how long in a
room that wasn't even locked. I began to pace again.
While I walked around in circles, I held my hands up
in front of me, looking at my fingernails. They
were clean and long. I glanced over at the door and
back at my nails.

     I walked to the door and placed my fingertips at the
crack between the door facing and the edge of the
door. I pulled with my finger tips. There was
movement but my fingers slipped. I repositioned my
body so that I was standing close to the center of
the door. I placed my fingers near the crack and
tried to slip my nails into it. I rested my thumbs,
on the door. I pulled. The door moved toward me and
with one hand I slid my finger tips forward and
pulled some more. The door moved again and I was
able to slip my finger tips on my left hand into the
small space made between the door and door facing. I
pulled the door open.

     I stood there, in the doorway, listening for the
sounds of an alarm or for the sound of running feet in
my direction. There was nothing. There was no
indication that my captors wanted to keep me in my
room. I took one step out of my door, careful not to
let the door shut behind me. My room, my cell, my
rectangular box of confinement, opened into a long
corridor.

     I saw that there was a door, identical to mine,
across the corridor from me. To the left of my door
was a wall with a bar-covered window just like the
one in my room, near the ceiling. The walls of the
corridor were the same color pink as my room and the
floor was covered with the same lanolin. There were
lights inset into the ceiling, evenly spaced down the
corridor. I looked around my door to the other end of
the corridor. There were four more doors, like mine
on either side of the long corridor and at the far
end was a different type of door. There was a
handle, the type you push down to open, and a
large red light which read, exits above it.

     That's why no one was concerned about my door being
locked, I thought. The door at the end of the
corridor was, no doubt, locked. The whole corridor was
my prison, our prison, assuming that the other rooms
were occupied.

     I wanted to explore the corridor but I didn't want
to let the door to my room shut. I had a fear of
finding myself locked out. This little room had
become the only home I knew. I sat in the doorway
and removed my shoes. I placed them between the door
and door facing and let the door go. It worked, the
door didn't close all the way.

     I walked across the hall and pushed on the door. It
moved. I pushed harder and the door swung open. I
stuck my head into the dimly lit room. I knew now that
I could get back into my room, but I didn't bother
retrieving my shoes.

     The room was identical to mine. I could see a
person lying on the bed. He was lying on his
side with his back towards the door. I closed the
door without making a sound. I don't know why, but I
didn't want to awaken the person inside.

     I made my way down the hall, going from door to
door. Each room was inhabited. There were men and
women. One even housed a young boy. All were
asleep. I came to the door three down from mine, on
my side of the hall. I pushed on it but it would not
open. Something was pushed against it. I stood on
tip toes and opened the flap to peek inside.

     Whoever occupied the room had managed to pull the
bed free from the wall. Whoever occupied the room had
to possess great strength. I could see where two of
the bars on the window had been bent in different
directions. Someone had attempted to pull them apart.

     The bed had been pushed against the door. I could
look down and see someone lying on the bed. I could
see his legs and feet. His feet were crossed and
he lay motionless on the bed. He was
unconcerned by my efforts to open the door.

     It occurred to me that the person inside, by placing
the bed against the door, had deprived himself of
food, unless of course, our captors had another way
of placing food into the rooms. In any case, the
person inside had made a statement to our captors that
he would rather starve than remain a prisoner.
I couldn't stand on my tiptoes any longer. I let
the flap close and I moved to the door across the
hall.

     I pushed the door open and was shocked to find the
room unoccupied. Someone had been there because the
sheet on the bed was disturbed. Whoever lived here
had left. Maybe they had left it just like me. For
the first time I had hope that the door at the end of
the corridor was unlocked. Whoever had left this
room wasn't in the hall now. My inclination was to
run to the end of the corridor and try the door.
There were only two doors left between me and the end
of the corridor and I decided I would check each of
them first.

     I went to the next door and pushed it open. After
looking inside, the hope I had felt earlier, faded.
Inside the room were two men. One was apparently the
inhabitant of the room next door. Neither man
noticed me for they were engaged in activity that
shocked me. They lay, naked, in the middle of the
floor. The men were coupling. Neither man made a
sound. Their only movement was the motion of their
hips, gyrating back and forth.

     I let the door close and moved onto the last
door. I pushed it open and looked inside to see a
woman sitting on the bed. She rested her head in her
hands. She looked up at me and smiled.

     "I knew you were coming," she said.

     Her voice was the first human voice I had heard,
other than my own, in as long as I could remember.

     I smiled back at her. She was beautiful. She
lowered her head back to her hands.

     "Continue your exploring. When you are done, come
back for me," she said.

     I found her words disconcerting. Yet her voice was
magnificent, even if there was a sadness about it.
She seemed in total despair and without hope.

     I let her door shut.

     I made my way to the door at the end of the
corridor. I stood under the exit sign and looked up.
It was the brightest light in the entire corridor. I
looked down at the latch on the door and placed both
hands upon it.

     "Please God!" I spoke aloud.

     I pushed with all my might and the door swung open.
I stepped through the doorway, holding the door open.
I was in a stairwell with stairs going in both
directions.

     Again, I was afraid to let the door close behind me.
I looked around the door to see if there was a
handle on the other side. There was, and there was
something more. What I saw there frightened me beyond
hope. It was three simple numbers, imbedded into the
door. If those numbers meant what I took them to
mean, well it was impossible. I looked again at the
stairs. They went up for as far as I could see. I
looked down. Again, there seemed to be no end to
their descent.

     There were no windows in the stairwell anywhere.
The only light came from the small glow of lights,
inset into the wall. They were just like the ceiling
light in the corridor and in our rooms.

     I looked once more at the back of the door, hoping
that what I had seen before was some sort of optical
illusion. Staring back at me were the numbers three,
one and six. Three hundred and sixteen. Could I
possible be on the three hundred and sixteenth floor?
There were no buildings in the entire world that were
that tall, yet this one seemed to go far above. I
looked up again to see stairs that seemed to go on
forever.

     I realized then, that the woman in the last room had
been this far. Maybe she had even traveled farther.
I returned to her door and pushed it open. She
looked up at me and made a small effort to smile.

     "You've seen?" She asked.

     I nodded my head.

     "How far have you gone?" I asked.

     "This far," she said.

     I didn't understand her answer and the expression on
my face must have shown it because she continued.

     "I left my room on the five hundred and first floor
and headed down. I stopped here, one hundred and
eighty-five floors later," she said.

     "That can't be," I said. I looked down at her feet.
She must have done like me and left her shoes
propping open the door to her room. Her feet were
bare and covered with dried blood.

     "I came in here," she said. "This room was empty so
I stopped to rest. But it is pointless to go on."
She began to cry.

     I started to enter the room and stopped short. I
turned and hurried down the corridor to my own room.
I reached down for my shoes and let my door swing
shut. I knew I could easily re-enter my room if I
needed to. Then I made my way to the room where the
two men had been engaged on the floor. Without
hesitation I pushed open their door and placed my
shoes in the doorway to prop it open. The two men
lay asleep, together, on the bed.

     I pushed my way into the room and picked up their
shoes. On the way out of the room, I retrieved my own
shoes. I hurried out the door, letting it slam shut
behind me. I pushed open the door to the room where
the woman was and I saw her lying on the bed. She had
her left arm thrown over her eyes and her right arm
dangling toward the floor. Her feet were propped up on
the end of the bed.

     Again, I placed my shoes in the doorway to hold the
door open. I entered the room and sat on the floor
by the end of the bed. I lifted her feet and tried
the shoes on them. The larger pair I threw to the
side. The other pair was a little big, but they
would have to do. She had laid there and watched me
without protest.

     I stood up and offered her my hand. She looked up
at me with a blank expression on her face.

     "Come on," I said. "We need to go."

     She looked at me and laughed.

     "Go," she said. "Go where?"

     "Wherever the stairs will take us," I said.

     "Why?" She asked again.

     "Because," I said. "Wherever the stairs take us, it
has got to be better than here!"

     She took my hand and I pulled her to her feet.

     "Maybe you're right," she said.

     I stopped in her doorway long enough to put my own
shoes on and then we moved to the doorway at the end
of the corridor.

     We pushed it open and plunged into the stairwell.

     "How close to the top were you?" I asked.

     "It looked like the stairs climbed up forever," she
said. "And it doesn't look like I am any closer to
the bottom than when I started."

     Still holding her hand, I led her down the stairs.
We traveled down flight after flight. She was very
tired and I knew that her feet were hurting.

     We had traveled over a hundred flights. Our
jumpsuits were covered in sweat. It seemed that the
farther down we went the hotter it got.

     "Can we please stop and rest for a while?" She
asked.

     I looked at her. I had been holding her hand the
entire way. I let go.

     "I suppose we should," I said.

     We both sat down on the stairs. I leaned against
the wall and she rested her head against my chest. I
put my arm around her and we both closed our eyes.

     I jumped and sat straight up. I had fallen asleep
and I had no idea how long I had slept. I looked
around for the woman and saw that she had gone down to
the landing just below where we stopped. She had
stretched out on the floor and gone to sleep.

     I walked down to where she was and sat beside her.
I shook her. She opened her eyes and smiled up at
me.

     "You look like a nice man," she said.

     I smiled.

     "Come on, we should go," I said.

     I held her hand and stood up, pulling her to her feet.

     "How far have we come?" She asked.

     I looked at the door leading into the corridor. The
numbers on it were one four and two. I looked at her.

     "We've come down a hundred and seventy-four floors,"
I said.

     "It's really hot," she said. "And I'm thirsty and
getting hungry."

     "We could check out the rooms on this floor," I
said. "We might find some food and juice."

     She shook her head.

     "Could we?" She asked. "Does it seem like it's
getting hotter to you?"

     "Yes, I had noticed it," I said.

     We opened the door to the corridor. We stepped
inside and right away I noticed the smell. It was
almost over powering.

     "It smells like rotten eggs," She said.

     I looked at her.

     "Sulfur," I said.

     "What?"

     "It's sulfur."

     We both noticed the waves of heat that were rising
from the floor. She started to move down the
corridor, but I grabbed her arm and pulled her back
into the stairwell. Once in the stairwell she pulled
free of my grasp.

     "What is the matter with you?" She asked.

     "We have to go," I said. "We can't stay here."

     Again I took her hand and I started to climb the
stairs. She pulled me to a stop.

     "Where are you going?" She looked at me like I was
crazy.

     "We've been going the wrong way," I said.

     "The wrong way," she shouted. I'm not going back up
there." She pointed up the stairs.

     I turned to her.

     "Don't you understand," I began. "The farther down
we have come the hotter it has gotten."

     "Yeah, so what."

     "In there." I pointed to the corridor. "You smelled
the sulfur!"

     "So what." She was yelling at me.

     "We're going down, don't you see." I started. "Next
might be the smell of brimstone. Maybe even fire!"

     She gave me a crazed look.

     "What the hell are you talking about."

     "That's right." I was the one shouting now. I
grabbed her by the shoulders.

     "If we keep going down, we might end up in hell," I
said.

      She laughed.

     "You're mad," she said. "I've walked down over
three hundred flights of stairs. I'm not about to
start walking back up them."

     "We have to," I said.

     "I don't." she said.

     She pulled free of my grasp and turned down the
stairs.

     "Wait," I yelled.

     She just waved her hand at me and kept going. She
never looked back.

     I started to go after her. Maybe she was right. I
was crazy. Then I remembered the smell of sulfur. I
looked up the stairs and I started to climb.

     After a hundred flights, the air started to
cool again. I was very tired and needed to rest. I
stopped at a landing. It was the two hundred and
fifty first floor. I opened the door to the corridor.
Maybe I could find an empty room and rest for awhile.

     I went to the first door and pushed it open and
looked inside. What I saw wasn't possible. I stared
in disbelief.

     There was a woman sitting on the bed, She was
resting her head in her hands. She looked up at me
and smiled.

     "I knew you were coming," she said.

     I let the door shut and ran across the hall and
pushed the door open. Two men were making love in the
middle of the floor. I shut the door and leaned
against the wall in the corridor. I let myself slide
down the wall to the floor and cried. I have no idea
how long I cried.

     I'm back in my room now, only this room is on the
two hundred and fifty first floor. I have no idea how
long I have been here. I will keep pacing and
retelling my story to the four walls and anyone out
there in space who might hear me some day.

     There is no point in doing anything else.


Michael Saunders is a mixed blood, American Indian,
(the term he prefers) of Cherokee and Ottawa descent.
He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and
taught American Indian Studies at the University. He
currently lives and writes in the mountains of East
Tennessee. He is married. He and his wife, Darlene,
have four children.

Michael has had stories published in the Copperfield
Review and Bygone Days, He has a story appearing in
the February issue of Wild Child.







2005 Underground Voices