My eyes are either shut or simply not working.
Hoping for the former I open my eyes, face down on the floor, my vision consisting of vague shapes and rough colours. Lifting my head takes muster, my brain reluctant to keep up with the images it receives. Everything shimmers like an old video recording. Shapes flicker but never settle, as though I am travelling through time without any way of stopping.
Assuming I am unable to move I try anyway and surprise myself by rolling over, groping in the fuzziness for a hold. The low buzzing I can hear sounds suspiciously internal. My ears pick up every painful vibration. Somewhere to my left a protracted groan echoes. Reaching out I can feel harsh metal frameworks, my body touching against other slug-like torsos, all rolling around on the sodden sheets that cover the floor.
Without any warning I vomit all over my hand, tasting my insides as I do so. I try to recall where I am, a vague sense that this is the seventh floor, unable to recall its name. Wriggling through the filth I focus away from the rocking, sobbing slug-people. I reach a far wall with clumsy hand movements, desperate to find an exit that I assume must exist. My thoughts are methodical but my movements frantic.
I find a small hatch in the wall that opens inwards to reveal a miniature flight of stairs – the entrance to the eighth floor. My choices are clear now and once again I think about dying. I think about the others and where they went, losing them somewhere earlier – the LOYALTY floor maybe. We should have stuck within our limits and listened to the man downstairs.
It seems so long ago I can barely remember fragments.
Our invite had been no more than a rumor, an urban legend with no specific date or time. All we knew of was a vague location within the countryside. It had taken us all day to cross the fields and farmland, eventually finding a manor house hidden below our familiar horizon. There was no welcome or sign of authority. Smartly dressed strangers loitered in spacious rooms of period green. Music came from an unknown source. People drank politely. A video screen covered one wall, showing us a live image of party goers in a darkened room, waving at us nervously through the delay.
In one of the hallways we found a man who took it upon himself to warn us of the upper floors, sensing that we were first timers and full of misguided enthusiasm. His words were cryptic and spoken with authority despite having no such mandate. It was unclear if his warnings were genuine or designed to stimulate even further. The more he spoke the more the lure of upstairs pulled us, sounding like everything our invite had offered.
Ignoring his advice we headed upstairs, passing the word SUBSTANCE painted on the second riser. A plain looking girl handed us a milky drinks and we downed them like liquid sugar. Here the rooms were smaller and the layout more disorientating. People sat at low dusty tables. A new drink was offered in every doorway as we moved through the labyrinth, sometimes returning back to where we started.
Our bearings dissolved with every directional choice. We welcomed a new drink or powder in every doorway on our route. Conscious decision making gave way to circumstance. We met new best friends that we would never meet again, a chorus of faces and words and sentiments and sounds. In our final room of the floor we scooped powder and drinks from a table into a unique cocktail, drinking our secret recipe to the delight of the crowd and each other.
A doorway found us that we laughably struggled to open, revealing a stairway to the floor above. We chinked our glasses together in celebration before continuing our ascent. This stairway was narrower than before with the word INHABITION painted on the third riser. At the top we emerged into a large and open space. There were beds scattered at irregular intervals and mattresses covering the floor space. People were pale and undressed.
Looking back we had reached our natural limit and I suspect we knew as much. Looking back now it seems both obvious and foolish.
The stairway to the eighth floor is the smallest one yet. It is located within a cramped tunnel. As I pull myself into the wall the hatch snaps shut behind me, forcing my hand. The fear of dying has gone and been replaced by something much worse. On every floor the exit has been less obvious and I wonder if the phenomenon is actual or imagined.
The stairway feels tighter the more I climb – my head unable to turn and the stairs scraping across my stomach like I am being grated. The word REFLECTION passes me at eye level, painted on the final riser before I haul myself out into the room above.
The eighth floor is a compact loft. Untreated floorboards run the length of a single room. Moonlight pours in through a small window in the sloped roof. The memory of outside sharpens my senses, bringing into focus a single wooden chair and another human being. Her clothes look too big for her and it feels like I am shrinking.
She stands from the chair and opens a door in the far wall. The breeze is shocking and alien. Before she can leave I beg her to take me. My internal buzzing hides my desperate words. I sound like how I hear myself on tape. She speaks with a voice of acquired authority – tells me that I am the new king of the castle, how I cannot leave until someone else finds and releases me, how I must wait like her before me.
I can recognise the individual words but not the ordering of them. For many reasons this floor is making less sense than all of the others. As she steps out onto the fire escape I ask how long she has been waiting. Three weeks she replies before dissolving from view. I slump onto the floor face down and dissolve into everything else around me. My eyes close once more and I stop seeing colours.
The next time I open my eyes the attic is bathed in sunrise. It could be hours or days later, and I guess somewhere in between. The chair feels nearer now and I drag myself to it, thankful for its structure and comfort. I stretch all of my limbs to their extremes, silent and hidden from the rumble of the party below. Much is coming back throughout the slow and painful comedown. Outside seems impossible to rationalise and conceptually stale. Imprisonment from the daily routine no longer feels reckless or unwise. It feels obvious. It feels so next week.
With my ear pushed to the floor I can hear the muffled sounds coming from below, everyone enduring the structure design to break structure itself. I wonder about the rule keeping me here and if it really does exist, or if it is blind faith passed on from previous participants, self-created as a final comfort, a final rule to cling onto before their outside world inevitably changes forever. I wonder that it might be the final test. I wonder how my world is changing with every moment that I am not in it.
I wonder if I should give a fuck about anything at all.
I sit back and soak up the sunrise, waiting for the next ruler to come by and unwittingly take charge.
Banner Image: By Vikiçizer at Turkish Wikipedia [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons