by Dawyn Henriquez, ’19
“Who are you?”
“No, no, no,” he said, his silver mask reflecting the late afternoon sun into my eyes. “Who are you?”
“Thomson Eliot Harkos,” I said, thinking my full name should do the trick. At that he laughed, his grimacing false face emphasizing the ill-natured air between us. I’ll never forget that laugh—a howl as dry as a cool fall breeze cutting through a late summer’s day.
“Who are you?” he asked. Mocking his monotonous tone, I began to say my name, but, just as I started to speak, the ‘E’ in my middle name collided with the shattering pain of his knee swinging up into my groin. My abdomen clenched like I was about to hurl, everything in me telling me to double over and scream, but I couldn’t even flinch. I was frozen in place, not a single muscle moving in response to the pain, as if I hadn’t been hit at all. Internally I was screaming, clawing at my will to move, but nothing. There were no signs, I hadn’t even an inkling to the fact that he had control all along; my body was no longer my own.
“Who are you?” He asked with amusement painting his words and making my blood boil. I didn’t say shit, like hell I was going to keep getting played with. I didn’t even care about my name much anyway, according to this world it was never mine to begin with. It was always his: the twin brother I never knew, the brother whose crimes I had to pay for because his death was mercy.
“Who are you?” he repeated as if I hadn’t just willingly ignored him, but there was no laugh. I knew it was going to go bad when he stayed silent for a couple of seconds; a silence scorched the space between us with malice. The quieter it became the more I realized one thing: silence was going to cost me. Without warning he just started pummeling me, his metal-plated gloved fists going on consecutive dates with my face as I tried to fight back with no body to do so. A couple of jabs and an uppercut later I was on the ground, close to unconscious but unable to drift away—I couldn’t even if I wanted to. I hadn’t committed any crime, I hadn’t hurt anyone, and yet my blood was being shed, simply because of who I was. Is this what the world has come to? The innocent suffering for the crimes of the wretched? As I started to drift further I felt his brusque hands flip me over, anchoring my mind before it got away. He pulled me up by my shirt, a crimson stream trailing behind my head as the rest of me just laid there, paralyzed until he felt otherwise.
“Who are you?” This time I could tell he was enjoying himself. His monotone voice rose a couple of octaves behind that sneering mask, every word steeped in sadistic excitement.
“Screw you, you coward,” I spit back.
“You are a fun one! I hope you have the same spirit in there,” he said with uncharacteristic excitement, gesturing towards the underground prison entrance. “As for out here, you will get whatever you give, so make it easy on yourself and tell me.”
“Go to hell.” At that he started cackling, as if I were the funniest person he’d ever met.
“My dear friend, I am afraid that is where we have been all along,” he said in between chuckles. With more strength than humanly possible he pulled me up and tossed me against the nearest boulder like an oversized ragdoll. Taking slow, deliberate, steps, he walked up to my body. As he got closer he pulled a baton out from inside his black cloak, swinging it around like he was a professional baseball player until he got to me. Fear started making its way into my veins, coursing into every part of me until I was buzzing with the prospect of running; but that moment would never come. He got up close, yanking me up by my hair just when I thought he couldn’t further demean me, and slammed the baton on my throat with no reservations. Pain seized every nerve in my neck as I began to lose air. I was panicking, trying to get my arms to move, but getting no response. At that moment, I was convinced I wasn’t even going to make it into the prison at all; then he repeated his favorite question:
“Who are you?” The ice in his voice cutting deep into my mind, further stopping my attempts to breathe.
“I…” blood sputtered out of my mouth as I made the effort to speak. “I-I…don’t…know.” I got out from under the choking pressure, tears I had initially held back arced their way down my bloodied cheeks. He took the baton out from under my chin slowly, as if contemplating whether I had given the right answer, and, just as I was taking in greedy helpings of breath, he slapped me across the face with it so hard that I fell over.
I’ve taken beatings before, hell, I’ve given them, that’s part of growing up a hothead. No matter what, I was always fighting back, always unwilling to go down without landing a couple of punches, leaving my mark on whoever dared lay a hand on me, but this time I couldn’t even swing at the guy—that’s what bothered me most. I just laid there, my face swimming in a pool of blood, the pain ebbing into every corner of my body causing the world to slow around me. Ribbons of red trickled off my lips and into the brown dirt that cushioned me, drop by century-long drop. Every second felt like a lifetime, an eternity’s wait to simply live or die.
“Who…are…you?” He asked again in his half-excited half-bored to death tone from before. I knew that if I didn’t answer the way he wanted I was going to die this time, I could feel it in my bones. And yet, I had no answers, no voice, no mind, and barely a body. And, just when I thought his patience had worn thin, just as I sensed he was about to finally put an end to me, the baton pushing down on my skull, the words spilled off my tongue, covered in blood, like I had known them all my life.
“I’m no one. I’ve never been anyone. I’ll never be anyone.”
At that the baton found itself lifting, all pressure and punishment going with it. The atmosphere of brutal murder that lingered in the sky above me disappeared as his mind forced mine into a false sense of safety. He helped me up and leaned me against the boulder with the gentle hands of a caregiver, as if rewarding my new self-proclaimed lack of identity. Once he made sure I had enough of my brain and balance to stand on my own he began to peel off his mask. The first thing I noticed were his eyes, the darkest irises I had ever seen. Eyes of pure night, black holes that pulled mine into his—condensed chasms of darkness placed on a face. A face so close in likeness to mine that I couldn’t distinguish any difference whatsoever—because it was mine. That was my face; those were my eyes.
He smiled at me, a Mona Lisa-like smile—all-knowing and un-telling, and he seemingly found delightful the recognition I was aiming at him. For a second I was about to say, “You bastard, you’re still alive?” I thought it was my brother, but, just as suddenly as I thought it, my face was gone, replaced by a blank head devoid of any features or identity, yet somehow still able to laugh without a mouth.
“Welcome to Futorren Prison,” he said, right into my mind. “A personal hell to all and a prison to no one.”