Why You Haven’t Heard From Me
by Margaret Karmazin
“Remove your clothing and step in,” ordered Agine. She motioned toward what was apparently a shower. I obeyed and was sprayed from all angles, shot with suds, then rinsed again. She handed me a cloth to get the private areas, then I was dried and covered with a fine mist, possibly an antiseptic.
I would never see my jeans and other clothes again and instead was given plain, seamless underwear and a soft jumpsuit to put on. The shoes were rubber-soled slippers.
“This will be your home,” she said as she led me into an eight by ten room equipped with toilet, smaller shower, bed, chair and table. One entire side was glass. I saw immediately that I was being put into a cell.
“There’s no privacy!” I cried.
“You are fortunate to have this,” she said.
After a while I lost track of time. A few “days” — which were artificial, of course — after my incarceration, while Heribba the guard was dealing with other prisoners, I dared to speak to my neighbor, whose cell was next door. We could not see each other but I knew he was male because I’d heard him talking.
“Hey,” I said, “are you human?”
There was a moment before he responded. He was probably checking to see where the guards were. “Yes. I assume that you are also?”
I could tell by his accent that he was Asian. “What’s your name? I’m Lisa.”
“Guang,” he said.
“How did they get you?”
He explained. Same way they got me, in the same cave, only weeks before.
“Is this their method of capture? This cave is their lure?”
“No,” he said, “they don’t really want humans, at least not often. Heribba has told me they have closed off that area now to prevent more captures.”
It was a door slamming shut forever. I would never get back, it was official. Not that I could hope to locate that entrance should I be allowed to try. I had the impression that we were in a large, underground city. There were the sounds of many “people” and machines.
Guang told me his history. “I was in the U.S, to earn my doctorate in biophysics at Carnegie Mellon. Foolishly, I went caving. If I’d only stayed home that afternoon when my roommate wanted me to help him with something, I would not have ruined my life.” I heard him swallow a sob and it tore my heart.
“I was writing my thesis for my own doctorate in art history,” I said. “The topic was ‘The Prostitute in Nineteenth Century Western European Painting.’ A fascinating subject. I remember complaining to my sister about how much work was involved. What I would give for such work now.”
Guang said, “My scientific curiosity is stirred by our situation, but since we’re not permitted out of these cells, I can’t satisfy it.”
“Where do these reptilian creatures originate, Guang? And who are the ones who look human?”
“Heribba, who is relatively kind, told me they call themselves Allestia. The human-like beings — you’re correct in noticing that they are not like us, though they resemble us — I’m guessing they’re clones. There seems to be something missing from inside them; their eyes are empty.” He looked like he wanted to say more, but did not.
I was about to say that perhaps this something was soul, but our conversation was cut short by the appearance of the reptilian I called “The Warden,” Gredriddon. He stood in front of my cell and the look in his eyes scared me.
Without greeting, he let himself into my quarters. He took hold of my waist, lifted me as if I were a cat and deposited me on the bed, then pressed something on his belt which turned the glass, front wall of the cell black.
Apparently, this hell was going to keep getting worse, though Gredriddon went about his business with some elegance, including certain motions meant to stimulate my interest. I didn’t bother to struggle. He was relatively gentle though he grew more rough, but he didn’t really hurt me. His penis was no larger than a man’s, though it had a coarse feel to it.
Somehow during it, I managed to wonder why he would want me at all since I personally have never had the urge to mate with another species. But he seemed to enjoy it, grunting as he did. When he finished, I wiped myself off with my underwear. This whole time, neither of us said a word.
He stood by the small sink, rinsing off his hands. “Why did you do that?” I demanded, my heart still pounding.
He slitted his eyes and wiggled his head, which by now I could interpret as a sort of shrug. “It is my right,” he said. “I own you.”
“I thought the community down here owned me,” I said, daring to be impudent. My anger was rising to a dangerous level.
He snorted, which passed for an Allestia laugh. “So it does,” he said, “but in this small section of it, I do.”
Perhaps someday, I thought, I would entice him in here with more sex, then stab him in the neck. I had eating utensils and in the meantime, could rub them against the rock wall to sharpen them. They would kill me afterwards, but it might be worth it. Or was his skin too tough to penetrate?
“I’m sorry you had to endure that,” Guang whispered later.
“I’m embarrassed that you heard it.”
“Don’t be. He did it to me also.”
“It won’t happen again,” said Guang. “It just establishes his dominance.”
I shivered for days.
“What planet are you from?” I asked Heribba. He was smaller than Gredriddon and very different in temperament. His eyes, though red, were amiable. I suspected that he wasn’t especially bright.
“I do not know what you mean,” he said. “I have always lived here. I was a youngling here.”
“Gredriddon, was he a youngling here too?”
“Of course,” said Heribba.
“Why do you live underground?”
He hesitated, his expression blank. “I... I am not sure exactly. Surfacers live up there. Too much light for us.”
Not a very good answer. “Thank you, Heribba,” I sighed.
“A gift for you,” he then said, pulling a rolling cart which held a large package into view.
I stood back as he moved it into the cell. He stayed to watch me open it. Art supplies, kinds that I recognized and some that I didn’t. Hard and soft pencils and chalks, oily chalks, Crayola crayons — where did they get those? — water paints, oil paints, canvases, board, papers, you name it.
Was this given out of kindness? Not exactly. Gredriddon showed up with one of the empty-eyed women.“This is Netrassa. She will explain what we expect of you. You will be busy from now on.”
She stood stiffly. She was extremely slender though not anorexic. Her limbs had nicely defined musculature.
“You, being an artist, will earn your keep by providing entertainment and visual pleasure for certain of the populace. You can, when not commissioned to do a certain picture, paint or draw what you like. When you finish each piece, we will present it to the Committee and they will sell or gift it to whomever they choose. Sometimes you will be commissioned to do portraits or other subjects.”
I was stunned. “But I’m not a good artist! Where did you get the idea that I was?”
“You said you were a student of art history. Besides, your name and address were in your belongings and we have access to surface databases. You studied art at the University of Pittsburgh.”
“You know things like that about the world up there?”
Her mouth curved slightly. “We know your society better than you can imagine.”
My hackles rose. “Well, you don’t know me very well! Being an art history major does not mean that a person is an artist! Art history and making art are two different things!”
Her expression remained blank.
“Okay,” I said, “I can draw and paint some, but not much better than an amateur. I can try, do my best, but why should I provide entertainment for my freakin’ captors?”
“Because if you don’t, they will end up using you for food. Do you understand now?”
My chest felt like it was going to cave in. “What?” I said. “They do eat humans?”
“On occasion,” she said. “Not the clones, of course. We don’t have the same life force, so our meat is uninteresting.”
“Life force?” I asked. “What do you mean?”
But she turned away and let herself out the glass door, which sealed behind her. Before walking away, she said, “Get to work.”
There was little in my cell to use as subject matter. At first, like Van Gogh, I tried to find excitement and mystery in my two chairs and table, though they were made of metal, not a warm, organic wood as he had painted. I drew the strangely shaped toilet, the shower stall, the bed and the reflections on the front glass wall. I drew my hand and feet and a large bug that I captured by covering it with a glass. They let me keep this glass, which looked like any normal surface glass; maybe that’s where they got it. There was no mirror, so I could not draw myself.
“How are you doing with all that?” Guang whispered.
“What they say about practice making perfect?” I replied. “Well, not true about the perfect, but it does make better.”
With the same method they used to find out about me, they learned that Guang was an amateur Spanish guitar player, so they brought him a guitar, though not a Spanish one. Like me, he was forced to develop his ability. I could enjoy his work, though he could not see mine.
“Do you like making art?” he asked after Heribba had taken away our meal trays.
“I’m liking it, yes, but only between times of wanting to kill myself.” I said this sardonically, though I meant it.
Guang was silent, then said, “Please. If we ever do it, let us do it together.”
We were making a pact. Before being captured, I would never have approved of suicide in a practical sense and a spiritual one. But now I felt that possibly God would not mind in our special case, and as for the practicality of it, that was obvious. What human in her right mind would want to live out a lifetime as a prisoner of monsters?
“I agree, Guang,” I said sadly. “If we do it, we’ll do it together.”
Gredriddon now treated me with mild contempt. As Guang had predicted, he showed no further interest in sexual relations, for which I was grateful. He disgusted me. The Allestia and Gredriddon in particular appeared a bit Satanic.
I whispered this to Guang. “They live underground. Is this where our ancestors got the notion of the devil and his abode in an under-earth Hell?”
“And my ancestors, their dragons,” Guang whispered back. “We have probably found the answers to these mysteries, but can never share them with our cultures.”
“Even if we were able to,” I said, “no one would believe us. I wish I knew the whole truth about who they are.”
Guang whispered, “One of the human types — her name was Friana — she never comes by anymore. She told me that millions of years ago, aliens came from space and mixed their DNA with a particularly intelligent reptile. They did this to create workers because they were mining gold from here. Apparently, these creatures are the leftovers of the early ones.”
“You mean,” I said, “that these reptilian types were here before us?”
“That’s what she said, whether true or not,” said Guang. “Maybe she shouldn’t have told me. They must have found out or possibly she just got transferred somewhere else. Maybe we shouldn’t talk about it.”
Copyright © 2013 by Margaret Karmazin