I couldn’t breathe. All there was, was darkness… and the walls. I could feel the walls surrounding me, trapping me, caging me. I didn’t even have to extend my arm to feel the rough surface. What was it that they told me? “You’ll be fine! We’re just doing another little experiment,” but they were wrong! I wouldn’t be fine! I couldn’t breathe, or maybe I was breathing too fast? The blood was roaring in my ears, the only sound I could hear besides my quiet, desperate whimpers. My hand was lying open across my chest, just over my racing heart. Was it my imagination or was my vision blurring? The way the air was moving seemed to have shifted. Oh God I really was going to die. The walls were closing in. They were inching closer and closer towards me. They were going to—oh god no—they were going to crush me! My whole body started shaking and I felt my knees give out, but before I could hit the floor—or rather the opposite wall—my eyes closed and I stopped breathing.
I felt a familiar sharp sting in the center of my hand. My mother had slipped another needle beneath my skin. The thin tube filled slowly with my blood and, after pulling the needle free, she wiped the area clean with an anti-bacterial wipe. Then she glanced up at me, finally noticing I was awake.
“You overreacted again. You know we’d never hurt you. Did you honestly believe that we would? How many times do we have to do this experiment before you finally get your part right? All we’re trying to do is prove that your… condition is curable. Why do you have to be so difficult?”
I sighed and closed my eyes. It had been five times now that I had passed out during their research. The first time it had taken a mere two minutes before my heart had reached its limit. Some people don’t believe that it’s possible to die of fear—but it is. It really, truly is. Each time, I had lasted slightly longer than the last, but that didn’t please my parents.
“Do you know how much trouble it is for us to have to bring you back every time you nearly kill yourself? When you hyperventilate like that you completely screw up our research. We’re not lying when we say that if you just cooperate you wouldn’t have to do this anymore. It would make our lives so much easier! Don’t you understand that?”
I nodded mutely and focused on the machine beeping next to my head. I had heard this before as well. In a second my mom would leave me, my IV the only company I would have for hours before she returned to bring me some juice and bread. My dad would come in the next morning and tell me about all the kids that they could help if I just proved that this would work to cure my condition. Everyone would look up to them as the scientists who saved them from the helplessness of being afraid of something that was nearly impossible to avoid.
After the door clicked behind my mother I sat up. I was in the room in our basement. It was right next to the room that my parents performed their tests in, and right on top of the underground observation room that I had spent the last three years nearly dying in.
The first time my parents had asked me for my ‘help’ in their research; I had just woken up and gone downstairs to make myself some breakfast. I had agreed enthusiastically. It was the first time they’d ever seemed like they needed me, and I was so excited, so happy that they had finally asked me to do something for them that I didn’t even think to ask what I’d be doing to help. Mistake Number 1.
After rushing through breakfast I had sprinted down the stairs to the previously forbidden basement. My parents ushered me into a small room. My hands got clammy the second I entered and I turned towards the doorway. My dad stood there leaning against the door, keeping it open for me. I smiled slightly at him in gratitude and returned my attention to my mother.
“Now we’re going to try a little experiment. See, we have been researching how to break you of this… condition for quite a while. Then we got this idea to see just how long you could put up with being enclosed in a small space. Daniel would you help us with this? Please? If you call we’ll take you out right away. We’ll be just on the other side of the door.
I hesitated for a long time. So long that my mother’s gaze flicked toward my dad’s anxiously. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my dad shift his body, ever-so-slightly, as if ready to block me. But no, these were my parents! They wouldn’t do anything to hurt me. And besides, I had finally been asked to help them. I nodded my head in agreement and my mom sighed in relief.
“Alright Daniel if you would just follow your dad, he’ll show you where the test is. I’ll follow in a second, I just have to check up on something.”
So I turned to find my dad already walking down a narrow hallway toward another set of stairs. I wondered idly why I had never been allowed to enter the basement, then pushed the thought to the back of my mind as I reached the bottom of the stairs. There was a small platform just before a door… and that’s all there was. My dad moved aside and I walked curiously toward the door. Once my dad was slightly behind me, the door was pulled open, fast, and I was shoved into a wall. The room was so small that the slightest pressure of my dad’s hand had sent me into a wall. Then the door was slammed in my face. I heard one, two, three clicks like locks before I threw myself against the door. There wasn’t enough room to get good leverage. I kept trying though, for what seemed like a lifetime, but had been only a minute. I slumped, not from exhaustion, but from hopelessness. That was when the walls had started moving.
I stopped myself from remembering the rest. I had ended up in this exact same room, days later, having been so mentally exhausted from the fear. My mom had gone through the same process she was now, maybe hiding a little more about their secret lives, but the same idea. She guilted me into doing it again… and again… until today.