Vapor, page 9
There was a door on the right, behind which I was further horrified to discover a pleasant bathroom.
I went back to the TV monitors. Each screen showed a different room of the house. I recognized the living room, and although the other rooms were unfamiliar to me (Damon hadn’t given me the tour after all), I felt it was reasonable to assume they were rooms of this house, for they all had clouds in them.
On one screen I noticed movement. It was him, walking around in a bedroom. I watched him until he plopped down on the bed and lay back.
I wondered why he had these monitors in here with me, and whether I was being filmed as well. I could see no cameras around the ceiling.
I turned to the windows. They were locked, but not barred. I glanced around the room for a heavy object to break them. The one-story jump couldn’t be fatal. But the stay could.
There was the lamp on the night table. And the alarm clock. But then my eyes landed on the bowling ball and hammer, either one of which would do much better. I picked up the hammer, and saw a handwritten note taped to its handle. It read:
Here are a hammer and a bowling ball for your convenience, so that you won’t try to use the lamp or the alarm clock to break the windows. I should warn you, however, that the windows are made of soundproof, bulletproof glass, and that trying to break them will only bruise them, limiting your enjoyment of the view from then on, in case you care about such things.
It was signed Damon. Unlike in the instructionless entrance hall, now I felt more like an informed Alice in Wonderland.
Using all my strength, I banged the hammer against the window. Then against the other window. Again, and again.
Then the bowling ball, throwing it at the windows.
But all of this made only bruises on the glass. And tremendous noise. The furniture and walls rattled.
I went back to using the hammer, panicked by the words: “from then on.” Those words implied more than a few hours. Even more than a day, probably. Actually, what was the maximum amount of time those words could imply?
Hammer in midair, I paused and stared into space, thinking about that question.
The hammer came hurling down against the window-pane: “from then on” did not exclude forever.
After a long time, I stopped hammering and throwing the ball. It was obvious I wouldn’t break the glass. I dropped the hammer and went to the TV monitors. Damon was still lying on his bed, apparently undisturbed by the racket. He must have expected it.
So. Damon turned out to be a psycho. I still had a faint hope that this was a game, but it seemed unlikely. And even if it was, Damon was still a psycho.
And the worst part was that it was not so surprising. Looking back, I could not comfortably say, “I would never have expected such a thing from such a person.” He made clouds, after all. But in a way, it was those very clouds that kept me off guard, that occupied my imagination too much to let it do its normal job: creating healthy paranoias of things like … oh, I don’t know, I’ll just say what comes to mind—imprisonments, why not.
I rushed around the cell in circles, inspecting every corner. I should never have saved him that night in the subway, arrogant fool that I was. The businessmen had been right: Who the hell did I think I was, Super Cinderella or something?
I searched the room thoroughly, but found no secret door, no way of escape. There was a closet, near the bed, with only a vacuum cleaner in it.
All I could do now was try to find a way to escape psychologically. Maybe there was something I could say, some way I could act, that might persuade Damon to let me go.
Before settling down to think, I took the hammer and stuffed it under my sweater. The metal was cold against my stomach. I hadn’t worn a T-shirt underneath, to be sexier. The memory brought tears to my eyes. I sat on the floor, near the bars, against the right wall of the cell, so that I’d be able to watch the TV monitors if I felt like it.
I had to figure out why Damon was doing this, what his motives were. Then I would know how to approach him. I replayed in my mind the last half hour before he imprisoned me. I mulled over his cryptic comments. He said he wanted to make me happy. Maybe he was now planning to give me jewels and treat me like a princess, having me live in extraordinary luxury, but somehow I doubted this: although my cell was nice, it didn’t have that kind of opulence; it wasn’t stuffed with satins and precious stones and rose petals and trays of fancy foods and closets full of gowns. But maybe that was because Damon wasn’t yet sure what my tastes were, and he didn’t want to impose satins on me if I preferred some other cloth.
Or maybe he wanted to use me in some pleasant scientific experiments involving his clouds.
Or maybe he knew I had a crush on him, and he wanted to offer himself to me; exactly the way I imagined he would when he was dragging me up the stairs.
But then I realized that with a psycho like him, even if he did, truly, want to make me happy, that did not exclude death. Maybe he felt I would be happier dead.
But if I came to my senses for a moment and stopped assuming he meant it when he said he wanted to make me happy, the field of possibilities opened up considerably and unattractively, ranging anywhere from torture to torture and death. Not knowing which it was, was itself torture. And would his torture, if that’s what it was, be mental or physical? And why the TV monitors?
I frequently got up and changed positions, because I didn’t always want to watch Damon sleeping. Sometimes I wanted to and sometimes I didn’t, and when I didn’t, I didn’t want to have to close my eyes not to, so I went and sat against the opposite wall until I wanted to again.
The hammer was by now warm against my stomach. Tense, I pressed it harder into my skin. I hadn’t managed to devote even a minute to thinking of a strategy. I was completely unprepared.
Damon came in when I was sitting against the no-looking-at-Damon wall. I was startled.
He was carrying a chair in one hand, and my overnight bag in the other. He took only one step into the room and stopped.
“I’ll trade you information for the hammer,” he said. “I don’t want you hurling it at my head.”
I was still sitting on the floor with my legs bent, and there was no way he could have seen I had a hammer under my baggy sweater. I wondered if I had been filmed, after all.
“No, you were not videotaped,” he said, as if reading my mind. “I just know that any reasonably intelligent person would try to hurl the hammer at my head. On the other hand, a brilliant or stupid person might not. I’m not implying you’re not brilliant. I’m sure there must be some brilliant people who would.”
I sat there, considering the offer of trade.
After a while, he said, “You’ll still have the bowling ball.”
What I was hesitating about now was not whether I would agree to trade the hammer for information—I had decided I would—but whether I would gently hand it back to him or hurl it at his head.
I ended up doing neither, because he gave me instructions: “Toss the hammer at least four feet out of your cell, and out of your kicking range.”
I did what he said. He relaxed immediately and bustled about, placing the chair near the cell, out of my kicking range, and putting my bag against the bars.
He then sat on the chair, and said, “Now I can answer your questions.”
“Why am I in here?”
“To receive a present.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I said.”
“I already have myself.”
“You have a certain version of yourself. But I’ll give you another version.”
“An improved version. If everything goes according to plan, once I’m through with you, the new self I will give back to you will be able to make all your dreams come true.”
I was relieved that so far, at least, it seemed he did not intend to kill me. Unles
I said, “I see. So this will be a sort of self-affirmation seminar. Like ‘How to Be More Successful’ or ‘How to Improve Your Self-Esteem’? You’ll sit there and tell me I’m great? Or you’ll make me listen to subliminal tapes.”
“No. But I’m glad you’re not too upset to make light of this.”
I was furious. “I’m just astonished. And disgusted. I want you to let me out of here right now. I have no interest in your little plan. If you want to make me happy, let me out of here.”
“How long are you intending to keep me in here?”
“I’m not sure exactly. Awhile.”
I sighed. “What are you thinking of doing to me?”
“Me? Nothing much. But you’ll be doing things to yourself. And you won’t do other things. I will alter you. Or rather, I will make you alter yourself. My gift to you will be to take away your freedom of choice for a while. Freedom can be very unhealthy and unproductive. Instead, you’ll have freedom from choice.”
“Please, just let me go.”
I spat out: “Because it’s unpleasant to be imprisoned.”
“What would you prefer?”
“What do you want to do?”
“To do what?”
“Oh, please. To live.”
“You can live here for a while.”
Obviously, I had to think of things I could only do at home. “I want to see my family, my friends, go to my jobs, meet new people, work on my acting—”
“Bingo! We will act. Among other things not worth mentioning right now. But most of all, we’ll do some acting.”
He got up, and left me gaping.
I needed a cigarette. I grabbed my overnight bag, but couldn’t squeeze it through the bars, so I looked for my pack of cigarettes with my face pressing between two bars.
Unable to find my pack or my lighter, I got frustrated and poured the entire contents of my bag onto the floor. I still couldn’t find them. Why had Damon taken my cigarettes and lighter? Maybe he thought I would set the place on fire. But then why were my Life Savers also missing? Nothing else was gone. I squeezed the empty bag through the bars, and filled it back up slowly.
When I got up and turned around, my eyes landed on what I forgot to ask him about: the TV monitors.
Maybe he liked to be watched. He’d walk around his room naked. That made sense. He already had an exhibitionist streak: walking around in transparent clothes. Why not go the whole way?
I didn’t even try to sleep. I screamed a few times during the night, and banged on the walls, and watched the monitors to see if he stirred. I thought about my parents and wondered when they would start getting worried. I cried a bit.
I sat staring out the bulletproof window. My view of the lit woods was blemished by the bruise marks I had caused and was already regretting. How long would it take for the police to start looking for me? Would I be reported missing on the news, eventually?
I got up and turned on the TV, thinking it would comfort me to be in touch with the free world. And maybe I’d come upon reports of missing people, and I’d understand what types of people got to get reported missing. I found a channel that was broadcasting news at this late hour, and to my astonishment I saw myself on the news! It was a video of me, taken from the back, running away, with Chriskate Turschicraw chasing me down the street. The anchorwoman was saying, “Ever since two o’clock this afternoon, everybody has been wondering: ‘Who is the pursued woman? Who could this woman be, pursued by the woman who is pursued by the world.’ Speculations abound.”
Next, a reporter was interviewing random people on the street, asking them who they thought the pursued woman was.
Someone answered, “I don’t know who she is, but she must be extraordinary, to be chased by such an extraordinary person.”
A man said, “I don’t know, but there must be something about her that’s different. Otherwise, why would the most beautiful woman in the world wanna catch her?”
Someone else said, “I think she must be a very famous actress or rock star. Or maybe another model.”
This time the reporter replied, “But didn’t you see the footage of the pursued woman? She doesn’t have a model’s body.”
“No, I didn’t see it. I heard the story on the radio. I don’t have a TV.”
Someone else said, “No, you can tell from her back that she’s not someone exceptional. I mean, she’s far from perfect, her butt’s not like rock. I think she’s an ordinary citizen, which is what makes it exciting. It means that any one of us could be chased down the street by someone like the Shell. It’s uplifting. You don’t have to be someone special, someone famous, to be pursued by people of worth.”
I watched, gaping. Maybe this insane broadcast meant that I was only dreaming. Maybe I had fallen asleep on Damon’s couch, and everything afterward had not really happened, including my imprisonment. Or better yet, maybe I had fallen asleep at home, after my bath, and had only dreamed that Damon called inviting me to the country.
I opened my eyes as wide as possible to wake myself up, in case this was indeed a dream. I had often used this technique successfully to wake myself up from nightmares. But this time nothing happened; the world didn’t change.
The anchorwoman came back on the screen. “The nation asks the pursued woman: please step forward. Let us know who you are. Let us know you.”
I screamed for Damon. The nation wanted me. I had to step forward. He had to let me step forward. Good excuse to be released. But he didn’t budge in his bed.
I stayed awake all night.
At ten of eight, Damon was still sleeping in his bed. At eight o’clock he came in, carrying a bag. He took out a key and entered my cell without hesitating.
I was mildly insulted. After all, I was the caged, angry animal, and what was he doing coming into my cage, risking his life? I felt like an emasculated beast.
“Hi,” he said, chewing gum. “You probably didn’t get much sleep. We can take it easy today.”
He plopped his bag down and was about to sit on the floor against the wall, when I told him about my fame as the pursued woman. I convinced him to watch the news with me until the story came on, which it did, to my relief. When the footage of the chase was shown, I told him that was me, running away from Chriskate Turschicraw. He was surprised, got a kick out of it, but said it changed nothing to his plan: the nation would have to wait to meet me. I told him I wanted the nation to meet me now, and that this could be a great opportunity for my acting career.
“Nonsense,” he said. “You have to be a good actress. Being pursued by Chriskate Turschicraw might open doors, but it won’t win you Oscars. Which leads me to what I want to talk to you about. To prepare myself to become your trainer, I’ve read many books on acting, which I’m sure you’ve read as well. I don’t think we should follow their theories. We won’t follow any theory. We’ll just act.” He smiled. “I also read some scene books, but I don’t think we’ll do any scenes from them. I’ll write scenes myself that we can memorize and perform.”
He took out of his bag a little notepad and flipped it open. “I also took notes of your desires and wishes. I will do everything in my power to make them come true.”
“Did you have this whole thing planned from the beginning or did you decide to kidnap me on the spur of the moment?”
“We were by the river one day when the idea came to me. I had been trying to figure out a way to repay you for saving me.”
“You realize it’s illegal what you’re doing?”
“Yes, I know.”
“I suggest you try to make me happy in a legal way.”
“Don’t worry, Anna, the end will justify the means, you’ll see. It’s simply a question of delayed gratification.”
“What are these TV monitors for?
“I thought you might feel less lonely if you could see me doing stuff in the rest of the house. It might reassure you somehow, destroy an uncomfortable feeling of mystery.”
“Yes, it’ll make me feel better to see you enjoying your freedom while I’m in this cage.”
With the sudden, un-thought-out urge of a wild animal, I decided to attack Damon. I threw myself on him and tried to strangle him. He did not push me away, but instead reached into his bag and pulled out a gun. I immediately stopped my attack and stared at the gun in shock, not because I hadn’t dreamed it possible that he would have a gun, but because this was a water gun. Damon was not laughing, or even smiling. The gun was bright orange transparent plastic.
I rushed to the bathroom and closed the door and laughed, trying not to let him hear me. I wanted to neither flatter him nor offend him with my laughter. I buried my face in the thick bath towel and laughed until my eyes were wet with tears and I could barely breathe. The thought of him, in his transparent outfit, shooting his orange water gun, while his jiggling willy was faintly visible, was overwhelming.
And then I felt like crying, because this giant, insane child was not letting me go. I wanted him to shoot me. I wanted to see the thin stream of water wet my clothing like a wimpy ejaculation.
But I couldn’t risk it. Maybe real bullets came out. Maybe the gimmick was that it was a real gun that just looked like a water gun.
“Is that a real gun?” I shouted from the bathroom, knowing he would probably answer yes, just to be strange.
“Is it a water gun?”
“Yes. But I can hurt you with it.”
“How? By throwing it at me?”
I opened the door and looked at him. The gun was no longer in sight. He was sitting on the floor against the wall, flipping through the pages of a book while blowing bubbles with his chewing gum.
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