Research Study #54

“Demetrius?” I glance up at Liv, who looks spent, but at least not hysterical.

“Hey. Did you have enough light to wash up with? “

“The flashlight you’re using is the only light that’s still going strong. You think we should save it?” Her voice sounds older. As though this room, these hours, have aged her decades.

I click off the flashlight so that we’re sitting in complete darkness. Maybe this is hell. Maybe it’s my — our? — punishment for some crime forgotten long ago, whose ramifications will haunt, infect, and torture us throughout eternity.

I shake my head. Man, can this place mess with your mind.

“Did you ever watch those old Star Trek shows?” Liv’s voice startles me, bringing me back from the isolation of my imaginings. I’m suddenly so grateful she’s with me, I want to cry.

I swallow and breathe deeply. “Uh, Star Trek?”

She doesn’t answer immediately, and I’m afraid she’s heard the desperation in my voice. She reaches out to me where I’m sitting on the chair just opposite her bed. Her fingers scale my leg to my arm then over to my chest until they’re on my stubbly chin. One finger touches my lower lip before skimming down to my shoulder.

“Yeah. The ships had these crawl spaces behind the walls for maintenance. Jeffries Tubes, they called them. If there were problems, people went inside the tubes so they could fix whatever was wrong.”

I take her hand in mine.

“I noticed a vent in the ceiling the first day we were in here.” She sounds almost normal. Intense, yes, but not strangled like earlier.

“Yeah, I saw it, too.” Is she thinking she could climb through that place? “Liv, it’s way too small, even for you.”


I kiss her fingers. I don’t know why. This is no time for romance. I think I just need to feel something besides desperation.

“How are we going to get out of here?” There’s a hitch in her voice.

“Hey.” I say it like it’s a brilliant thought. Maybe it is. “You think the mirrors in here are really mirrors?”

“You don’t think so? Wait. What? You think they’re actually two-way glass?” Hope has jumped into her voice. She stands, not releasing my hand.

“Maybe.” Maybe!

“I think we should find out.”

“Me too!”

Journal Entry: Monday afternoon (I wish I knew whether this is true)

We’ve been in here for what seems to be roughly 72 hours, and there’s no sign of life outside this room. We thought maybe they were observing us through two-way glass. The mirrors in this room and the bathroom were both attached to the walls. On the off chance they were serving as something more than mirrors, we threw the already-broken chair at them. Unfortunately, our “hosts” left us with no broom or dustpan; cleaning the shards of glass out of the sink and finding the tiny slivers on the floor took some time. Not that we lack that.

We’ve slipped notes under the door in the hope someone will see them. No response yet. We’ve also jumped and screamed and waved our arms at two little surveillance cameras hung in the corners of the room by the ceiling.

Lunch was half a mushy banana and three nasty hard candies that I think were stored next to soap.

Liv has been pacing. Her hands are jittery, and I occasionally hear her muttering to herself.

I need to figure out how to get us out of here.

This flashlight isn’t going to last forever. Most of the time, we sit in darkness.

Why won’t they come for us?

Journal Entry: Wednesday evening

The food is gone, although I thought I heard the sound of a cellophane candy wrapper when Liv was lying on her bed facing the wall this afternoon. When I confronted her, she just started crying.
A piece of candy isn’t going to do much for me, anyway. It’s just the idea that she’d be hiding it from me.

She’s stopped talking to me, although she wanders over to see my progress in digging through the wall. I’m doing most of the work in the dark, of course. (Even my writing is done partially in the dark. I doubt even I’ll be able to decipher it later.) My only tools are the silverware they left for us. I’ve mangled both ends of two forks and a knife already. That leaves two spoons — the handle end works pretty well — and a knife. I’m baffled as to why they only gave us that much silverware. Unless they expected — or planned on — this scenario.

I flash between moments of rage and despair; neither serves me or Liv well. She’s scared when I flare up and covers her head and ears with her arms.

I hold her when we sleep. Without that contact, this truly would be hell.

“Liv!” I cry out. “I think I’m—” Through. Though the hole is tiny, the explosion of light that beams through is almost blinding.

“He’s done it,” I hear from the other side. It’s the Regulator’s voice, and it floods my mind with memories like a firehose turned against a mosquito.

I’m suddenly somewhere else, in a clamoring crowd, protesting. There are so many, calling for justice. The sound rises, crescendos with shots, screams, moans so loud that nothing exists for a moment but the noise. And the crush. I bounce to a new location. My room? Yes. Just as I left it. I’m on my keyboard, pounding out code, and someone is at my side. Liv? Then darkness. Not like here, but very dim. Again a shift and I’m standing before a man — this man, the Regulator — who’s saying, “The court finds you guilty of creating a cascading power outage through a cyber-attack that plunged millions into darkness for a month and caused the death of at least four thousand. You are therefore condemned to a virtual mind-wipe and isolation with your co-conspirator for as long as the court deems appropriate. You will remember nothing of the past until you hear my voice again.”

The memory of his words demolishes me. Liv — my co-conspirator; my girlfriend — might have died. Because of me.

When the door swings open, light stabs my eyes like spears.

“It’s okay,” a man’s silhouette says. “You’ve served your time.”

Liv and I gape at each other, but don’t move.

“Come on. It’s over.”

But he’s wrong.

This will be a part of us for as long as we live.

Maybe that’s what they planned.


Lisa Clark’s work has appeared in various publications including The Alligator, The Gnu, Scarlet Leaf Review, and Best Modern Voices, v 2. She’s winner of the Glass Woman Prize for fiction and the Mia Pia Forte Prize for creative non-fiction. Bulgaria has been her home for over eighteen years. She is currently working on a YA novel about AI sentience. Visit her author webpage at

Featured image via Max Pixel, Public Domain C0