By Tom Gumbert.
Again I’m unable to sleep. I try but it’s as if my brain won’t shut off. Thoughts flash through my consciousness like a meteor shower, each intensely illuminating for the briefest of moments before disappearing, never again to be recalled. For the past six hours I’ve tossed and turned, physically exhausted and cognitively wired. This bites.
I reach for the cigarette, take a long drag, hold it and finally expel before chasing the nicotine with Cocoroco. I grimace. It feels like swallowing shards of glass. For most people, the quantity I’m consuming would be incapacitating. Unfortunately that isn’t the case for me.
There’s a slight breeze coming off the bay. Anywhere else in the region such conditions would be considered paradise. Not here. This is paradise lost, and the devil, well that depends on your point of view.
I look at the lights shimmering on the waves of the bay. If you imagine hard enough, will your mind with all your might, it could possibly appear romantic. I’ve heard some of the guys talk that way. Particularly Rose. That guy’s a born romantic. Maybe it has something to do with the name. When he looks at the bay he imagines being on the beach with an island honey, sipping some rum drink that ultimately culminates in intense lovemaking. Right.
When I look at the bay I see…(shudder).
The sky is softening in anticipation of the sun’s arrival. Reveille in twenty three minutes; maybe I should jump in the shower. Wait. It’s my day off. Damn. A day with nothing scheduled, nothing to do but be alone with my thoughts. I’d rather have teeth pulled sans Novocain.
Maybe I’ll Skype Mom. Or Dad. Maybe not. Maybe Rebecca. She could always make me laugh, make me feel good about myself, about life. Wait. She’s somewhere in Africa doing relief work. No contact. She’s so brave, so selfless.
Guess I’ll go to the gym, workout until I can barely move, then surf for a while. The internet’s always good for killing time and brain cells.
I’m exhausted. Physically, mentally, emotionally exhausted. I need to sleep. I want to sleep. But I can’t. I run my hand over my head, the stubble bristling as my fingers prod in a ridiculous search for an off switch. Instead, they find a small indentation. It’s as long as the tip of my finger is wide and probably no deeper than a cunt hair, but I imagine it a trench. I run my nail over it, the skin smooth and sensitive, and I push down until the pain sharpens. I imagine a probe buried in my head by some grey alien when I was abducted as a child, or perhaps by the government before they gave me this assignment. Then I remember. It was an unfortunate run-in with a mail box. Literally.
I sit up, bored with the imagination game. If I can’t sleep, maybe I can do something productive. How many times have I said what great things I could accomplish if only I didn’t have to sleep? Well, put up or shut up.
I spent two hours on Rosetta Stone learning to become angry in a second language. Two hours perra. ¿Por qué no puedo hacer que pare? I finished the Cocoroco and lay in the sun for hours, thinking the combo would knock my ass out. Wrong. All I got for the effort was a gallon of sweat and a sunburn that could cost me my paycheck. Joder esta meirda. I followed that up by eating nearly a whole turkey and watching Pi. Not Life of Pi, which was a pretty cool movie, but that math movie with a title that looks like co-joined uppercase T’s. Coma inducing movie. I thought combined with tryptophan it would knock me out, but still I’m awake. I can hear the screaming. It’s impossible I know, but I swear I can hear it. Time for pharmaceuticals. Hopefully dude is in and fully stocked.
It’s risky, I know, but what choice do I have? He claims any one of the shit he sold me will do the trick—knock me out cold. If it does, I might not wake up on time tomorrow and that would be bad, especially if they run a drug screen. With the stuff I have in my blood, instead of guarding the inmates I could become one. Or worse, what if the shit he’s sold me mixes with the ample alcohol in my blood to form a fatal toxin? Goddamn it. Seventy two hours without sleep, man that’s insane. I know my body can’t sustain this, and my mind doesn’t want to. I roll the pills around in my palm. Eeny meeny miny moe. I pop one into my mouth and swallow.
This is so fucked. The pill didn’t work. None of them did. Dude said any one of them would do the trick within minutes. It’s been hours and nothing. Yeah, I took them all. I think dude fucked me. Pills are probably placebos. Fucker. I went back to his room like four times. The last time he threatened to kill me. It wasn’t an idle threat.
I can’t get the screaming out of my head. I turned the stereo full volume, the windows rattling, but still I hear them. MPs came by and made me turn it down, said if they had to come back I was going in. One looked like he wanted to take me in right then, but the other one chilled him. Told his boy to give me a break; told him that I was a Delta Dog. I wish. Here at Gitmo those dudes are Gods. I put on the headphones. I know if they return my shit is weak.
The headphones don’t help. I still hear the screaming. I put a pillow over my face and scream until I’m hoarse. Then I stare at the wall. What was that? A vortex entered through the wall, crossed the room and exited the opposite wall. I inspect both walls and can find nothing. Que mierda?
I watch the walls closely for hours but see nothing. I talk on the phone to my grandfather for like an hour. Then I remember he’s been dead for ten years. Maybe it’s the aliens. The little grey fuckers have come back for me. They’re never going to let me alone. I close my eyes and try to will them away.
The slap is loud, but it takes two more before I’m conscious enough to realize it’s my face being hit. I try to open my eyes, but something sticky prevents it. I hear words, but they seem foreign. Cold water strikes my face with stunning force, and I gasp and sputter. My eyes sting, but I find I’m able to crack them open and peer through the slits at a blurry man holding a bucket.
“Are you ready to talk?” I hear a thickly accented voice ask.
My head spins trying to make sense of this, but before I can, I’m knocked to the floor. I land on my side, my head bouncing against cement, and the pain sears through me. I moan and feel my breath leave as a boot connects to my gut just below the rib-cage.
Still gasping for air, I’m lifted, the chair I’m bound to set upright. I manage to suck enough air into my lungs to gasp, “What the fuck?”
“Ha!” the voice exclaims. “Nice talk for a zealot.”
I suck as much air as possible into my lungs and look toward the voice. A short, muscled, blonde haired man wearing khaki trousers and a sleeveless white t-shirt watches me as he wraps white tape around his hands.
“Where am I?”
He ignores my question and says something to the man with the bucket, who promptly disappears through a heavy steel door that appears to be the only egress. “Some call this shirt a wife beater,” he says smiling. Walking slowly toward me he alternates hands punching one palm, then the other. “Here we call it a sand nigger beater.” His punch is so quick and compact that I don’t see it before it strikes me above my left ear and sends me back to the floor.
Head spinning, I instinctively curl into a defensive posture.
He laughs as he squats to grab my bindings and wrench me to a sitting position, the chair teetering before settling on the pavement. Walking in a circle around the chair he stretches his neck, his shoulders and flexes his arms. “You ready?”
As I try to focus my eyes, the screaming starts. Somewhere nearby someone is suffering unimaginable agony. The steel door swings open then slams shut, as the man who left with the bucket returns with a watering can. Water sloshes over the rim as the men exchange information in a language unfamiliar to me. “W-what do you want?”
My interrogator shrugs. “So many things. But let’s start with some basics. What is your mission?”
I blink several times in rapid succession. It’s as if I instantly develop lockjaw, my mouth unable to open, my brain unable to connect the necessary synapses to respond. A hood is thrown over my head, and I feel myself being tipped backward. I try to flail, to catch myself but bindings prevent my movement, and I’m totally at the mercy of my captors, who hold me precariously titled back.
Suddenly water’s filling my nose and mouth. My body reacts, gagging, gasping for air but sucking in water. I choke. My heart pounds, trying to escape my chest in an effort to gain the life sustaining oxygen I’m unable to provide. In the darkness of the hood my eyes squeezed closed, I imagine my death, even as my body struggles for life.
I’m pulled forward, gagging and gasping, panicking and unable to catch my breath. “Your mission?” I hear him scream and a second later I’m jerked backward.
I don’t know how many times this process was repeated. I don’t remember what, if anything, I said or how long I’ve been sitting here in the dark crying. I hear the call to worship. I hear the angels sing. I hear the door open and footsteps approach. The hood is pulled from my head and sunlight reflecting off the ocean stings my eyes.
I blink to clear my vision and squint upward into the face of my rescuers. I smile at them, these heroes who have come for me. They help me to my feet, and someone asks if I’m okay. I nod. A woman puts a stethoscope to my chest and asks me to take deep breaths. I tell them about the torture. I tell them I can identify my torturer. They exchange glances. I turn and see him in the room, standing across from me, staring at me. I point and scream and continue screaming until they pull me away from the mirror.
TOM GUMBERT lives near Cincinnati, OH with his wife Andrea (Andy) in a log home overlooking the Ohio River, in an area that was an active part of the Underground Railroad.
His work has appeared in over a dozen publications in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. He co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” which was published by All Things That Matter Press in March 2014, and is currently editing his novel.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @TomGumbert