The Wall

The Wall

There was simply no way for normal traffic to use Unity Plaza on a Saturday night. From Tech Boulevard up all the way to the northern stretch of the Wall, Plaza Street was bound to be aswarm with party people. The hip bars were already attracting their crowd as darkness fell. In a few hours the elite clubs would power up, churning in and spilling out those eligible for this sort of life style.

“Wait…!” Rika squeaked in peril of losing her two friends within the human torrent.

Although only a few metres away, Erilyn was on the verge of being swallowed up. Luckily Paz’s cyan-dyed hair was outré enough even for such challenging environments.

“Move it, sweetie!”

The taller girl grabbed Rika’s hand and pulled her straight through a flock of female joy-seekers. The ladies, finding their own group integrity so rudely shattered, protested in adequte volume and vocabulary. But Paz and Erilyn were already blazing their trail further up Plaza Street, dragging a mincing Rika with them.

Things turned a bit less inappropriately touchy as the street finally opened out to both sides into the plaza itself. Out of breath, faces red from both teetering and giggling, the trio let itself slump onto the stairs of the vast pedestrian bridge. Over twenty metres in width, it did not only connect the two halves of Unity Plaza, but also merged into the vanguard architecture around. Rika had always felt the white surfaces, the bluish glass facades and frosted steel a bit too try-hard. Not that she had any recollections of the city looking different per se – just the dimensions had grown bolder over time.

“Party!”

Rika, Paz and Erilyn shrieked in unison as a boy with a beer bottle in each hand sprinted past them down the wide stairs. As his continuing announcements of the upcoming events grew a bit too overenthusiastic, he lost his footing, stumbled two steps down and negotiated the last three on his bottom. For a moment he kept lying at the foot of the stairs, bottles still intact thanks to cat-like body control he simply could not have mustered sober. With his back still on the plaza’s ground he suddenly lifted both booze-packing arms in triumph.

“Party!”

Rika covered her eyes with her palm.

“Powers above…!”

The lad was already up again and vanished into the crowd.

With the sun now way behind the horizon drawn by the Wall’s crown, willfully cool light design accentuated the buildings. Not a few illuminations would soon beat in sync with the baselines pumped out by the clubs. Until then another squad was taking it upon themselves to soundtrack the young night.

“How could we ever forget about them…?” Erilyn groaned.

The statement about normal traffic at Unity Plaza on a Saturday night did not necessarily hold true for those considering themselves outside the automotive norm. For this was the chosen venue of a rather particular gathering. Crankheads. Neither a specific club nor a clear-cut subculture, just a gathering of everything stanced and cammed, slammed down or riced up. No matter make nor model, as long as the conveyance was internal combustion powered – and white. There was this strange obsession with this colour in this city, running so deep that for long years Rika hadn’t even wondered about it. Like many other aspects of everyone’s daily life it was a given. Whether those posers were embracing or ridiculing this preference she could not tell. But like booze, petrol was cheap.

“Okay, no rest for the wicked!” Paz cheered and jumped up.

“Just give me a minute,” Rika groaned.

The slender girl wasn’t used to high heels, and standing in queue in front of a club was nothing she was looking forward to. She had reluctantly agreed to be “slutted up” a tad for the night, to quote the trio’s self-proclaimed fashion icon. Paz had taken it upon herself to hand-pick an outfit together with footwear and accessories from her own armoury for Rika to borrow. Having sensed Rika’s rising panic, she’d ensured to pursuing a decent approach, which did little to calm her friend. Around Paz’s closet, “decent” meant one’s tits and arse wouldn’t be hanging out at the same time.

On the plaza the now stationary crankheads went crazy with their ice-blue running lights and obnoxious sound systems, both essential ingredients to make a car faster. They, too, were more often than not synchronised, and the audio-optical pulses had an almost hypnotic effect on Rika. Zoned out, she allowed her gaze to wander across the waving, raving crowd, then rise up along the sleek structures to the south-west. Against the darkened sky she spotted a standard-issue police drone hovering over the square. As soon as it had ensured itself that no no burn-outs or other mischief was in progress, it cut the posers some slack and veered to the south.

“Did you ever wonder what’s behind the Wall?”

Both Paz and Erilyn gawked at her in utter bafflement. Rika herself couldn’t tell whence the question had come.

“What do you mean, behind?” Paz struggled to comprehend, her confusion genuine.

“Like, if one were to go past it.”

“You’ve already had a few too many,” Erilyn replied sharply, clarifying to Rika just how socially unacceptable it was to debate the structure’s origins and purpose.

Put off by this fierce reaction, Rika tried to laugh it off.

“Ease up, will you? I was just pulling your legs. And you two always state I am the unfunny one!”

Ten minutes later, as they were patiently waiting to start their night of clubbing at the Ionised, Rika had willed herself to forget about that weird episode.

_____

When they brought her into the room, she was still in her party outfit. The young woman expressed some weak protests as the two guards pushed her none too gently onto the metal stool in front of the table. They didn’t bother taking off her handcuffs, yet neither secure their chain with the karabiner at the rear of the seat. The stool was bolted to the concrete floor and would hold much stronger persons in place, but the man on the other side of the table did not expect any kind of trouble from tonight’s unwilling guest.

“Thank you. I will call you when we are finished.”

The guards left the room, an action declared finished with the sound of a heavy bolt locking a metal door. The man continued to look through papers in front of him, papers that had nothing to do with the case at hand. Five minutes, maybe ten. Several times he senses that she was on the verge of saying something, but holding back in the last moment. Why she was here. What they wanted from her.

Eventually he shoved his papers together, put them neatly into a folder, put the folder neatly into the top left drawer, took a file from the top right drawer and opened it on the desktop.

“In accordance with paragraph 12c, Free Citizen Law, you are hereby informed that this interview is recorded in sound and vision. Please state your name, age, and Section of birth for the record.”

The woman, although not fond of his administrative tone, seemed actually glad to finally have the opportunity to speak.

“Rika Tern, twenty-two, Section 5, Newborough.”

“Newborough?” He pushed the dreary tone out of his voice which always settled in when things became too legal. “I’d actually never been to Newborough until they built that new stadium. I’m a Section 8 myself. Go Whitebridge! First match on the new ground, you wasted us 5:0.”

“I’m… not that much into football,” she replied carefully, not really knowing how to take on the situation. A situation starting with being apprehend right from the steps of a nightclub and finding its so far end in being Go-Whitebridge’d inside a windowless, ill-lit room.

“I have to apologise. Sometimes I get carry away down here.”

“Where am I? Why am I here?”

The classics.

“You are currently in an evaluation environment until we’ve sorted out your case. You know, evaluation whether there is a case to begin with. Nine out of ten of those anonymous tips are either false alarm, some vengeful acts or simply enough tasteless pranks.”

“Do I need a lawyer? I mean, I’m entitled to one, am I not?”

“Not that early in the investigation, I’m afraid. There’s still the hypothetical possibility of concealment, so we have to restrict the flow of information.”

The petite woman seemed to grew even a bit tinier on the stool, rattling with the cuff chain involuntarily.

“Have you been doing drugs at the club?” the man asked without accusation.

“No.”

“Have you robbed a liquor store? Stabbed someone with a pen?”

“What? No!”

“Then, pray tell, why would you need a lawyer? To be honest, it’s all overly bureaucratic. In fact, everyone who meets me will see me stuck behind this desk.”

He padded the table. Ms Tern’s eyes flickered left, right, upwards. To the walls and ceiling shrouded in darkness.

“I can guess what you are thinking. And yes, I would be happy about an office with a window. But you will be spending a much shorter time in here than I will. In fact, I am still waiting on the presumably three lines long report from the constables who escorted you from the club entrance, so we are done for now. As I said: bureaucracy.”

He reached out to his landline phone, ready to press a designated button to call the guards back in. Then he froze, maybe a bit too theatrical.

“One last question, though: What do you reckon is behind the Wall, Ms Tern?”

The restrained woman swallowed visibly. Maybe she had thought that things had shifted in her favour. Maybe the man had encouraged those thoughts.

“I really don’t know.”

He made a nonchalant gesture.

“Just hazard a guest. There are no wrong answers during brainstorming.”

“Something that poses a danger to the City, I suppose. Or…?”

A good answer. Generic, but good. Problem was: It sounded memorised. Recorded. The man imagined some sort of audible aliasing effect when listening to these words on the room’s records.

The woman eyed him, the faintest layer of sweat on her forehead despite the chilly temperature. The man crackled benevolently.

“Don’t look at me like that, Miss Tern. I barely know what’s behind my own living room’s wall, so every time I drill a hole I face the danger of electrocuting myself.”

With a smile he pressed the button.

_____

They had provided Ms Tern with the regular white jumpsuit mandatory for all detainees. The few seconds needed to put her arm through the sleeves might have been the only time she had been without the steel cuffs in thirty-odd hours.

“In accordance with paragraph 12c, Free Citizen Law, you are hereby informed that this interview is recorded in sound and vision.”

They had hooked her to the stool today.

“Good morning, Ms Tern.”

She did not reply, just looking at him, then casting her eyes down. Looking up, down. She was now collared, too, which allowed for her to be handled more easily. Nevertheless some additional measures seemed to have been employed as well.

“What happened to you lip?”

Her tongue darted out to lick her split lower lip.

“One of the guards backhanded me.”

“When?”

“When I was in the… other room.”

“I will make a note for an official complain.”

The man brought his fountain pen down to the paper in front of him.

“Do you know which guard?”

“I couldn’t tell.”

“It shouldn’t be too hard to find out. We are running a tight ship here.”

The man finished his jotting with a determined underline.

“Such behaviour cannot be tolerated. This shouldn’t be any of your concern, though, Ms Tern. I have received the official report this morning, and as already expected, it is a waste of both our times.”

The young woman on the other side of the table did a poor job to hide her relief.

“Someone in the queue at the Ionised – lame elderly me just charging onwards her and supposing that’s the club’s name…”

She chuckled nervously.

“Said someone overheard someone saying something, no context, party goers chatting all around. Which boils down to another paper chase for me and a story to tell for you.”

“So,” the woman almost whispered, “can I go now?”

“You can go now. Almost now. But I have to ask you again, and I feel silly about it: What is behind the Wall?”

The woman drew in her breath, then chuckled anew, utterly humourless.

“I really don’t know. I already gave you my best guess yesterday, I’m afraid.”

“Ms Tern, please – nothing to be afraid of. And I am serious about it. This…” he pointed at his own lip as substitute, “… will not go unnoticed, absolutely disconnected from everything else we discuss here. So, just share your thoughts: What is behind the Wall?”

“What do you want me to say?”

She almost tried to lift her arms in an interrogative gesture.

The man sighed.

“You have to work with me here, Ms Tern. What is behind the Wall?”

“Listen―”

She interrupted herself, realising just now that he’d never told her his name.

“You are keeping me her for what? Over a day now? I truly believe there’s some kind of misunderstanding.”

“Then solve it with me. I have pen and paper right here. Tell me what I shall write.”

“I don’t know what you shall write, because I don’t know what’s behind that bloody wall. I wish I knew.”

She suddenly fell silent, and the man nodded as he pressed the button. As the two guards took her away, he put the paper with the note into the folder and the folder into the top right drawer.

_____

“In accordance with paragraph 12c, Free Citizen Law, you are hereby informed that this interview is recorded in sound and vision.”

The bruises on her chin and cheekbones were fresh, and she was shaking visibly on the stool. Her being a pretty young woman had exacerbated last night’s events dramatically. She avoided eye contact most of the time, but when she looked up, she pleaded through wide bloodshot doe-eyes.

“Ms Tern.”

She winced at her own name.

“Ms Tern.”

She glanced at him. Doe-eyed. Pleading.

“What has happened to you so far is rather unfortunate, more so because it is rather unnecessary. At least it would be if it wasn’t made necessary by your behaviour.”

“Please…”

No glancing this time.

“Allow me to be frank with you, Ms Tern. How you have managed to aggravate a simple run-of-the-mill investigation into something like this is beyond me.”

The man paused for a moment.

“Is there anything you want to tell me?”

Her eyes flinched, dark-rimmed.

“Just let me go. Please. I will tell no-one.”

“Tell no-one about what?”

“About the Wall.”

“What about the Wall?”

The bruised woman did not respond.

“You may stand under the impression that last night was the worst one in your young life, and most likely that is true – until dusk. What is behind the Wall?”

A tremor ran through her beaten body, and she lurched forwards. She had been hooked to the stool again, though, and was lurching towards exactly nowhere.

“I don’t now! I don’t fucking know! Toxic waste! Your mother!” she yelled hoarsely in belated anger.

The man had expected such an outburst sooner. Her raspy voice, though, came as no surprise.

“Calm yourself, Ms Tern! I gave you every opportunity to solve this matter in a civilised way, but I will not put up with subversive behaviour.”

He laid his finger on the button.

“No-no-no! Please! There’s nothing behind the Wall! Nothing!”

Good answer. Really good answer.

He pressed down.

_____

She was in an even worse shape than the last time. Gaunt, pale. Eyes sunken in, wrists bleeding from the ever-present handcuffs. Stains of body fluids on her once white jumpsuit. Some older, some relatively fresh.

“In accordance with paragraph 12c, Free Citizen Law, you are hereby informed that this interview is recorded in sound and vision.”

She did not move. Just sat bent over, greasy hair hanging down long.

“What is behind the Wall?”

No answer.

“If you decide to be uncooperative, our meeting is quite pointless.”

She raised her head, yet not high enough to look at him.

“Why are you doing this to me?”

She’d done a good deal more screaming, judging by the state of her voice.

“I’m doing nothing to you except keep on offering you a way out. And time after time you reject it, which becomes not only tiresome, but also quite stupid. Tell me, Ms Tern, what are you hoping to achieve here?”

“I― what…?”

“Sit up straight. I am trying to have a conversation with you here, and you are acting rude, no offence.”

She hesitated, not out of defiance, but because every movement shot stabs of white-hot pain through her body.

“What is behind the Wall?”

She remained silent for a very long time, and the man allowed it.

“Waterfalls. Woods. Wild animals.”

The man dutifully noted her statements to enquire how she’d come by those concepts. An ideologically deviant upbringing, perhaps. He could not but admire her imagination. The wildest animal she had ever encountered had most likely been a stray cat.

“Can you name some animals?”

“Dogs. Cats.”

“Some more, please.”

“Birds.”

“Can you be more specific?”

She did not understand his request.

“Never mind. Some other animals, perhaps?”

“Giraffe.”

She actually dumbfounded him with that one.

“A giraffe? That’s quite impressive. Can you describe a giraffe to me?”

“It has a long neck.”

“Long enough to look over the Wall?”

_____

As they dragged her in, she was barely able to support herself on her legs. It was the first time the man had seen her without handcuffs. Her arms were dangling twisted and strengthless at the side of her body.

“In accordance with paragraph 12c, Free Citizen Law, you are hereby informed that this interview is recorded in sound and vision.”

One guard remained on his own initiative, holding the woman up at her collar lest she slump off the stool. Her hair was matted and stuck to her face. Dark wet patches on her jumpsuit indicated that she had been hosed down before being dressed halfheartedly. The distinctive odour of urine and bile was clinging to her nonetheless.

“Ms Tern?”

The zombie before him remained in its artificial position.

“Rika?”

Under enormous strain the woman lifted her head.

“It will all be over soon, I promise.”

Her cracked lips trembled, as though she was trying to form words.

“Can you answer me a question? Be not afraid. You already know what question.”

She managed to keep her head in position.

“What is behind the Wall?”

The guard let go of her collar not to put pressure on her neck. Instead he stabilised her by her shoulders. The woman’s lower jaw twichted, and the man leant forwards over the table. Two, three attempts, then her shattered voice became audible, a mere whisper.

“I don’t care.”

The man exhaled in relief. A really good answer. They were finally getting somewhere.

The End

About Venom

Bloke from Central Europe; Petrol Head; Observer of Human Depravity View all posts by Venom

11 responses to “The Wall

  • Vandalay

    Well, well….Mr. V. Mr. K would be impressed.

  • Vandalay

    My apologies. The reference is a bit oblique, but I am referring to Franz Kafla, who liked to use initials to mask the identities of his characters. And “The Wall” is very Kafaesque.

  • Vandalay

    Uggh. Too many typos. Kafka, and Kafkaeque!

    • Venom

      Got it, thanks! I like Kafka’s work and discussed it back in German classes (he wrote in Prager Deutsch). But to be honest I did not use his motifs consciously. Maybe the story’s setting is too modern, almost futuristic for me to have made this cognitive step. Or too close to the present day. Leave the designated path of thinking, the corridor of opinions, and you are in deep shit.

  • Vandalay

    I had a feeling the similarities weren’t conscious on your part, for the story is modern, as you say. And yet whenever I read a story that involves figures of authority pushing about a helpless pawn, especially when an interrogation is involved, I think of Kafka. But that’s not to suggest that your story is derivative. Not at all. Maybe what we’re moving toward is “Kafka meets the Marquis de Sade.” Again, I apologize. I seem to have strayed from the corridors of opinion…

  • Retroguy

    “Leave the designated path of thinking, the corridor of opinions, and you are in deep shit.”

    While this sort of theme may be particularly appropriate now, the theme itself is ancient, certainly dating back to Socrates and probably well before then. It’s also the source of some of the most thought-provoking works by some of the best writers. Whether this particular work will still be read 2+ millennia from now remains to be seen, but it fits right in with the rest of those works.

    While reading it I had the feeling that I was being given a sneak peek at a couple of chapters in a pretty good-sized novel, a novel that I’d really like to see the rest of someday.

    • Venom

      Very subtle, your final lines, I must say. Pray hold your horses just a few more weeks.

      As for the story’s theme and its underlying idea: yes, it absolutely results from classic motifs, from thoughts about the mechanics of oppression. I’m unsure whether this work of mine will be read in two thousand years’ time, though — depends on how long the servers will hold up.

  • Absolutist

    For me the obvious reference would be Orwell’s 1984, although in this modernized version the dreary oppression of the original seems to be shrouded by glitzy consumerism – that does count as progress, I assume. IMHO the officially approved answer to the doggedly asked question has to be “What wall?” achieving perfect dissociation and we’re slowly but surely getting there …

    An excellent, but hardly erotic piece.

    • Venom

      Great analysis. Indeed the shallow, hollow party culture serves as distraction from the obvious. It’s not even necessary for the Wall to be ignored, though — simply not pondering over its meaning is sufficient. Like the sky, it has always been there, and what fool asks: “What is behind the sky?”

      As for your final line: Again yes. I would put this story in the same category as The Writer.

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