I’d never learned to count past ten, so I’m not quite sure what age I am. We keep marks on the door and the walls, with chalk and dirt and mud. And fecal matter. So, if we ever learned how long a year is, we could figure it out, and then we’d know our ages.
Until then though, I am somewhere past ten. And for the last five of that ten, I’ve been in this room. They bring me birthday gifts, and I counted them. Each one was a slightly larger sack. I wear them until they are too small.
Which is funny because it is all too small. All of it too little space. My home, and the other’s home, they do not contain much but our own bodies. We’ve made due, though, we’ve split up the space.
Off in the corner, that’s Nine, he’s only got that many fingers. He says he ate one when he got too hungry. If only because he’s threatened to eat other’s fingers, and with his ratty hair and thin frame and wide eyes, I believe him.
I believe him enough to leave him alone.
Off to the side, always together, is Pip and Pap. They talk to each other, and not much to anyone else. A pair they are. I’m not sure why, but they are always kissing and putting up each other’s long auburn hair into buns, and then getting it messed up when they kiss again.
Our one wooden clock strikes some time: it’s two ones next to each other. So, I guess it’s another day or something. That clock is too high and hidden behind metal bars, so we can’t mess with it. I wish there was something I could throw, something to damage it—because I hate that sound it makes every hour.
Someone hates it more though, and that’s the final person in our little box with no beds, and food delivered only occasionally. Splat. He’s got a broken nose never set right, and now tilts sideways over his cracked-lip mouth. He has blond hair, and some level of growth on his arms from all the fruitless climbing he’s done to get at that clock.
Right now, he eyes the clock and hunts around the dirty, moldy, dingy ground for what remains of a chicken. He finds it and throws, and the bone clangs on the barrier, and I wince—but that’s all that comes of the situation. We never make a change in this place. We never do anything to it.
And the clock finishes chiming, and the dull ring’s echo fades, and we all stand in the quiet. All there is to listen to is Pip and Pap letting out little sounds as they paw at each other, and the soft pop of Nine blowing spit bubbles.
We all jolt when the room shakes—some sound coming from far away and then refining until it comes out the clock. The warden’s voice; there is his voice screaming in our ears. I’ve never seen him, never met him, but his voice is scratchy and mangled, hoarse even.
I imagine he drinks what we drink, and it has made his throat sore.
“Come on Swirl, we need you for the building.”
I flinch because you never think it will be you they call. When I came into the room, it was a different batch of kids, except for Nine—he’s been here for a long time. And, one by one, they all went to help with the building, and never came back to the room.
And here I was, going too, I guess.
Like with everyone else, the door swung open, and the air smells like something we don’t know, and out pops a head not like our own.
The yellow eyes find me, and a slow hand reaches out from the slight crack in the door. This man—who is not the warden—has rocky skin, gray and cracked. Flecks of dust come from him and swirl and dance. He shakes his hand to urge me onward.
“Come now, come now,” he says, and his voice grates.
I turn to give a wave of goodbye, but only Splat even looks at me, and he does so with something wild in his eyes.
“Okay…” I say, and turn to him, and put my hand in his. He squashes my fingers, and it feels as though my hands are broken, breaking, shattered. But no blood comes out, so I am sorta okay, and we walk down a path I remember hazily from long ago.
The ground is slick, and he walks on it with a glide, while I jitter around, and my bare feet grow ever colder from the walking. He is incessant, though, the pulling—he keeps making me move along. I almost fall twice, and he does not look back at me.
“Where are we going?” I ask, and he does not turn but does respond.
“You are for the building. You will be part of it.”
“Do you need me to work?”
The stone man turns and peers at me, and his face is unsurprisingly unreadable. He opens his mouth and I glimpse his flat shelf of teeth. “We need you for the building.”
And, again, he tugs me along, making my feet drag even harder.
“But—I never hear—what are you building?” I say, after managing again not to fall.
He says it like it is a deity: “The Wall.”
“’The wall?’” I ask, and he stops again. We are by a door, and that door is shut.
“Yes, you will be a child of The Wall. Building it bigger.”
“But not helping make it?” I clarify, and he smiles, and it is a stone smile, giving away nothing of the situation.
“No… you will help make it.”
Before I can ask another question, the door slides open, and in from the crack comes the sounds of uncountable voices, all screaming, all close. I see one section of The Wall and I run, but he grabs my arm and pulls me back toward it.