No Free Agent

The ferocious beast leaps, smashing Adam to the ground. The stiletto claws pierce his flesh. He agonizes to resist, clutching at the rhythm of his erratic breath to withstand the pain.

Like his namesake, Adam Keister is cursed with knowledge. He suffers the future as well as the past. And it is the future he fears. In the morning they will come for him again. Can his frail body withstand another onslaught?

Whatever they do, he must lie still. Allow the beast to move about him, sniffing, gnawing, and tearing. Eventually the experts will tire of their torture; toss him back for another day, a small and unexceptional catch.

He must not succumb. If he lets go, if he lets the body run, his mouth will split open and vomit the terrors of his life. He knows. He has witnessed others whose secrets have been extracted; pearls wrenched from a living oyster.

It is night. The harsh fluorescent light from the hallway does not deceive Adam. There is a peculiar hush to night. The fragile artery of time, stretched to its limit, reverberates at the slightest touch.

Adam, the astronaut, floating in the sky, held by a thin gut to his ship. Held by the thread of time to the night; held by the threat of death to the pain of life.

The victim can no longer separate the parts of his body: the withered fingers which once had moved smoothly across a keyboard; the battered legs which once had carried him to alpine meadows; the skeletal arms which once held his beloved daughter and the wizened penis which once had brought Anna joy. All now a heap of bones and shriveled muscles, creased yellow flesh, wounds and scabs.

Can he control himself? Nail shut his mouth aching to regurgitate his message. He knows there will be no release until he allows his secrets to flood from him.

“You choose your fate,” his elder sister had pontificated from her window station, where she crocheted steadily in thin gray wool.

“Your job,” she smirked, “will destroy you. I don’t have to know the details to know the risks.”

He had laughed scornfully. People imagined his work was glamorous. Shuffling along in the line, the tail of the one ahead in their teeth, all dreamt of being lions. But the life of a lion is risky. Eventually, you meet more ferocious lions.

Of course, he had known this day would come. No luck or ingenuity allows one to avoid it. Superman only exists in comics. Here on earth, you end up with a bang or a whimper. Now they have him here, there is no chance of drifting off during the night. He is in the hands of professionals.

Every day they come for him according to plan, every night he lies recovering from their abuses. He prays to a god he abandoned long ago that his physical heart will succumb; his spirit withered the moment he read his future in their faces.

Still in weaker moments, he fantasizes about flying free, soaring above them, their impotent eyes pursuing as he rises through the ceiling to that other place. He knows they will not look up; they are not spiritually inclined. They will merely stare at the savaged shell, bitter that it collapsed before giving up its secrets, and speculating that they should have resorted to more sophisticated technologies.

If only he could escape to some remote island. The sweetness of the word ‘escape’ hangs before him: alive, fragile, and illusive. He savors the fragrance of its perfume: wildflowers in an open field. The taste as sweet as summer strawberries.

But escape to where? The hall? Futile. They would find him. The only deliverance for his broken body is the final one.

And even should he escape, he will never again be free. Ever waking moment, he will be aware of the possibilities. At a party, ice clinking in his glass, a soft-voiced woman leaning her warm body towards him, he will see the man. Anticipating an evening meal, a favourite Bach concerto in the background, glancing out the window at the deserted street, he will see the shadow.

But he not home. He is here. No free agent: a broken and useless operator. He makes no choices, takes no initiatives. It is they who plan his life. He wills the night to continue until he can gather his strength. There are people in the building but they are elsewhere. They are caretakers, not technicians. Probably laughing and drinking coffee. For whatever one’s profession, whatever one’s political allegiance, one lives much the same.

Above the noise of his own rasping breath, Adam hears a faint scratching. He imagines rats scurrying along the hallway towards him. Then from the distant outside world the familiar sound of a car—going somewhere, going home—echoes along the empty street. His heart quickens at the comforting sound but the scratching persists. He is imprisoned, trapped.

Never before has he feared rats. Knowing he could kill them with something, a stick, his bare hands. All that is past.

His eyes dart frantically about the room, flicking from corner to corner. The window? Too high to jump. They count on that. It would make for a bad report.

He feels the ghosts of those who have passed before. He wonders if there were another man trapped in this very bed who lost his wife, whose daughter had grown away from him? Like him, deserted.

The rough sheets scratch his bruised cheeks. A remembrance, like soothing sun warmed water, flows over him. Once, in another life, when he had suffered a common illness, his baby daughter Maria had affectionately nursed him. Pressing her soft body against him, she had lisped nursery songs about animals and forests.

Pain snaps at his leg. The cold empty room breaks into morning. Someone is coming. Adam holds his breath, his muscles tense. The door cracks open, a voice calls out, “Mr. Keister, ready for another day?”

His mind scrambles frantically over the sharp razor rocks desperate to return to Maria’s tender arms.

~ Melodie Corrigall

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