Student short story submission

Brendan Weir’s “Paprika”

Brendan Weir, Student submission

He stirred, although it is too dark to see him. Unaware of the true situation, Jake sat up and rubbed his eyes, as if to rub away his drowsiness. Giving off a yawn he opened his eyes, revealing his light blue eyes to the small room, only to see nothing, for he had awaken in total darkness. Looking around his eyes strained to recognize anything, but the darkness cut him off from his surroundings, the extreme darkness of the room engulfed him. And for how big the room is, one can’t even tell. Without light, you can’t even tell if the four walls of the room are just an arm’s length away, or if you’re in an airplane hangar, spanning 100 feet all around you of emptiness. It’s just impossible to tell. It was the type of darkness that makes you uncomfortable, the type that only a blind man can understand because it would be better to accept that fact that you can’t see anything and to close your eyes than to try to see. But that’s easier to say than to do, as Jake looks around he sees nothing, giving a quick sense of alarm.

“Where am I?” He thought, feeling around the floor that he had awaken on. His hands, sliding around, as he pressed down his hand pushed into the floor, it was soft and cushioned, like a bed.

Continuing across the floor, his hands timidly slid across, pausing at any slight difference on the floor, afraid of what they might run into. Reaching further into the abyss ahead of him, his fingertips ran into something hard, Jake recoiled, unsure of what it was. He reaches back out and realizes that it’s a bar. A bar the width of a dime extending upward, too high for him to feel the top. What a strange thing to have in the middle of a room. Jake goes back to the floor and continues his search. For what he was searching for, he didn’t know, just anything that would help him understand where he was. At the base of the pole, he slid his hand to the right, not even three inches away from the first, he found another bar. The more he slid to the right the more bars he found.

The more bars he found the faster his pace would be. His heart beating faster and faster, following the bars, after the 8th bar they lined up in a different direction, going back; he continued to follow. His suspicion built as he found himself crawling in a complete circle, and he had confirmed his final fear: he was trapped in a cage! Jake panicked, going back around the cage, feeling every single bar once again to see if there was any way of getting out. But getting out was about as hopeless as seeing the other end of the room. At this point he couldn’t contain his fear, breathing wildly, his eyes tearing up from fear, palms slipping against each other in sweat, and all he could think was “How did I get here?!”

Not even ten hours earlier Jake was in a place much different from this. Thinking back, what had happened last night? Jake was at home and right after eating dinner he has been sitting on the couch, just watching TV. Nothing seemed peculiar did it? He couldn’t remember what happened after he watched TV. Routinely, he would watch TV for about an hour, then would go to bed. Unfortunately, there is some grey area between watching TV and how he had gotten into this cage. Nonetheless, his memory held no key to his escape.

The feeling of isolation kicked in. Not only was he alone in complete darkness, but even his memory had abandoned him. Thinking back as hard as he could, and no image, not even a glimpse of last night after TV came to him. The room was getting bigger, and himself smaller than he’s ever been. Alone in a cage, alone in a room, feeling alone in the world. He sat, drowning in the darkness, and now that his breathing has relaxed he is being taken over by the profound silence. The dead of the night. Silence leaving him more alone and smaller than ever. Silence that is almost a piercing noise of its own because you strain to hear something, anything, but just nothing registers. Nothing but the light whisp of Jake’s own breath could be heard in the room, and a rustle of the bedding below him as he rocked nervously side to side.

Thinking, what could be done. Jake crawls over to the wall of bars, almost hopelessly, presses his face between two to see if his head could fit. But of course this was only to reach failure, the bars were about three inches apart from each other, no human, young or old, could fit their body through these bars. Who should be surprised though, what’s the point of a cage if one can slip right between the bars, but in Jake’s situation, he continued to try. With fear relentlessly engulfing him, he tried two more times trying even harder to press his face between the bars. Again, no success could be reached.

Extending his right arm out, Jake proceeded to push his arm through the bars sideways. Getting past the bars with his hand, his forearm, his upper arm, his shoulder, then lastly, getting stuck at his chest and head. Slowly realizing that there was no way to slip between the bars, Jake slumped back down on his butt and sighed with hopelessness. An empty sigh, for his situation only seemed worse after each failed attempt to get out. His motivation declining slowly, almost weakening his body with this negative thoughts, he laid on his back to relax.

“What had happened last night?” He repeated to himself. This time, thinking harder to what he was doing. Yesterday he had ate his dinner, then sat on the couch to watch TV. He remembers he was watching his favorite show, he didn’t remember the name, but it was a mystery show that he often watched. The detective, Steve, solves mysteries by finding clues with the help of his canine partner, but how did the last episode end? He remembers the longer he watched the heavier his eyes got, trying to take him from the live world and bring him to rest. Almost uncontrollably he sank deeper and deeper into the couch as his body was going into a sleep state. That’s what had happened! Jake had fallen asleep on the couch. But that doesn’t really explain anything. He goes to sleep on a couch and wakes up in a cage!?

Someone must have kidnapped him, possibly drugged his dinner so that he wouldn’t wake during the movement into his imprisonment. But why? Jake thought back, who could possibly have a grudge against him? He is not one to have a whole lot of friends, doesn’t have a large social circle and certainly does not have any enemies. Even if he had an enemy, Jake’s family would have noticed someone breaking into his house and kidnapping him. Unless… unless his family was taken as well, or even murdered! With this fear, a wave of worry took Jake over again, reminding him how alone he was. Scared for his family, and where they could be, hopefully unharmed, and hopefully not trapped in a cage like himself. But if they were, wouldn’t they be near?

Jake called out to his family, but like his outstretched hand finding the bars, his calling was timid. Restrained as if Jake’s nervousness physically reached out of himself and held a hand around Jake’s own throat, keeping his calling out to a hushed call for help. He is trying to keep the balance between calling loud enough to get the attention of his family, assuming they may be there, and catching the attention of whoever his captor may be. For it would be amazing, it would be drastically worse if he his captor were to hear instead, whoever they may be.

The options are limitless. Who knows who his captor could be, whether he is a rapist, serial killer, or even a psychopath looking for a someone to possess, any of these options could make anyone shudder. Being overtaken by the fear that you could be a mere cow in a factory. Caged up, fed if he is lucky, all in order to be primed up to slaughter for the captor’s twisted games. Fearing the worst never helps, but it’s all he could do in his little bubble of fear. And the factor of not knowing makes the situation even worse. For most people will fear the unknown more than certain evil. There is a weird sense of comfort in knowing what your fate is even if it is bad over the unknown impending fate. And this is the fear that’s struck Jake’s intended shout into a hushed call out for help.

Alas, it was to no success. Jake again slumped back down in fear and now slight exhaustion. His mind going, what to do, what to do? An idea popped into his head. He got himself on hands and knees and crawled himself over to the the bars in front of him, the ones he previously tried slipping between. With both arms, he grabbed the bars, his soft skin on the smooth bars, but began to pull himself to his feet. His hands followed the bar as high as they could reach: he felt nothing. He put his hand around the bar and gripped, to try to pull himself a little higher, but this only extended his reach a few inches, for he was too weak bring climb up the bars. The bars extended upward, and to Jake’s imagination they could have gone up forever.

The darkness still left so much room for imagination, none of which bringing him pleasant thoughts. He repeated this process three more times on each side of the cage he was in, running into the same result each time.

As sad as it may be, the cage served its purpose quite well. There seemed to be no escape. And with each failed attempt to escape diminished Jake’s hope even further than he could he thought it could have. Reality setting in like as his knees buckled and he fell back down on his butt and laid down, flat on his back. He wept to himself.
“Will I ever get out?” He thought to himself, his lip quivering and tears building up at the corners of his eyes. His hoarse breathing, sniffling and quiet whimpering was seeping into the silence around him.

At this point time was nothing to him. He laid there, without any reference for time he had no idea how long he’d been in there, how long he’d even been awake. He laid there, his thoughts and fears invading every aspect of his mind for as his hope left, the fear took over. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours, at least that’s what it felt like. For all he knew he could have been awake for only 20 minutes, or it could have been even a few hours, there was just no way of knowing. Time was just another thing that this endless darkness and silence stole from Jake. It’d be like putting yourself in the shoes of a blind and deaf person. What is there to perceive? Being born that way is one thing, but to have this natural born senses stripped of you is a completely new and unnerving experience.

Slowly Jake’s crying died down and he was finally able to relax. Strange how an emotion like fear itself took part with the escape attempts to drain him of a lot of his energy. He began to notice his body slow down and sink into the cushioned floor of his cell. His breathing, from sporadic intake and output of breaths to a steady inhale and exhale, simultaneously slowing down with his body. He closed his eyes, as if it made any difference, and altogether felt as though his body was shutting down, and that was when he slipped away from himself.

“Jake! Jake! Jake!” His sister called as she neared him, hands outstretched revealing a sand dollar she had dug up, “look what I found!” She was young and full of energy, excitement, and wanted nothing more but to find something cool to show her brother.

Jake took the offer and little Emma ran back to the tide, playing in the warm Hawaiian waters with his two cousins. The breeze against Jake’s skin bringing the smell of seawater into his nose as he watched his family around him. His mother and father, sitting next to him soaking the sun into their weathered skin, his uncle and aunt could be seen about half a mile down the beach just walking along the tide, The blue sky filled with a single white cloud above reassured that he was in paradise. What a time this was, without a worry in the world Jake enjoyed this vacation. A time where he hadn’t felt so free in his entire life, where there was no schedule, no restraints, just the warmth of the sun hugging him in paradise.

This brought a smile to his face, all the events leading up to him sitting at the beach had disappeared from his memory. No more cage, no more silence, no more darkness, just pure tranquility and happiness was all Jake could feel in this paradise with the ones he loved. Sitting in the sand he wondered how he had gotten there, but like him being imprisoned, he had no idea. He thought hard and came up with nothing.

It only took the sound of a distant beeping to take the paradise right out from under him. The blue sky, sandy beach, voices of his family around him all slowly muted and turned back to dark and the beeping brought back to reality. The faint memory of the past left him just about as quick as it came as he began to be aware of what was going on. His eyes opened, and the beeping seemed to get louder the more he woke up, but it was still far away from him. It was not in the same room, but he could tell it was in the same building.

“What is this?” Was all he could ask himself. He listened hard, it sounded consistent, and monotone: beep beep beep be- and it had stopped. Returning the room back to silence. Jake sat up, wide-eyed as if he could see anything the more he focused, but still, the darkness was impenetrable. The sound of a door creaking could be heard, and a shuffling followed, getting louder as it grew near the room that Jake was in.

This was it, Jake was finally going to meet his captor and he couldn’t be more scared. He slid himself against the bars behind and and continued to try to slide back but it was useless. Will it be a killer he had imagined? The creepy psychopath? The rapist? All of the above into one? His mind going 1000 miles per hour thinking of every possible outcome could come out of this. “What if they have my family?” He thought, “Will someone save me? What wil-”

Creeeaaaakkkk. The door began to open to the room Jake was in. He could sense the figure ahead of him and he held his breath. His heart pounding but the rest of his body frozen. He tried to push himself back but he couldn’t will himself to move a muscle, he was a deer in headlights, stuck in his tracks just waiting for the impending danger. And what could he do? As far as he knew he was absolutely trapped on all four sides in bars, with nowhere to go, he was completely helpless.
Flick, the light in the room had been switched on and Jake was blinded. He immediately closed his eyes for the change from complete darkness to brightness burned. His hands over his eyes as they adjusted to the brightness, he almost couldn’t bring himself to uncover his eyes in fear of who he would find ahead of him. Footsteps drew nearer and nearer: thump thump thump, and they stopped. Right as he uncovered his eyes the voice of his captor spoke.

“Hey sleepy head, time to wake up!” The woman spoke in a cheery voice.

A large toothless smile broke across Jake’s face as he began to giggle in excitement. He knew that voice all too well and all he could respond with was a an overjoyed, “MA-MA!”

Jake’s mom picked him up out of his crib, “You must have been tired last night, Jake, you fell asleep during Blue’s Clues, your favorite show!”

Jake just giggled again and hugged his mother, happy to be with someone again.