Razor Mountain is a serial novel, with new parts published every week or two. For more info, visit the Razor Mountain landing page.
Christopher awoke to the aching of his body. He was stiff and sore everywhere; he felt like he had been beaten. But he was also immediately aware of a clarity of thought. He felt rested in a way that he hadn’t for days, maybe weeks. He also felt that he could continue sleeping forever, but his body suggested that there were more immediate needs. He was incredibly hungry and thirsty.
He worked on sitting up. Each movement brought a new twang or jolt of his joints and muscles. By the time he was able to sit upright on the metal bed, he was holding his breath and tensed all over. He caught his breath and looked around the cell. It was essentially the same as it had been for his entire stay, but it felt entirely transformed. There was silence, the lights were set to a reasonable level, and the temperature was comfortable. There was also a tray of food and an unlabeled plastic bottle of water sitting on the floor, just inside the cell door.
Christopher would have lunged to the tray, if his body hadn’t betrayed him with jolting pain. Instead, he embarked on the arduous task of sliding into a sitting position on the floor, where he could scoot himself the two feet over to the food. It was real food, not whatever bland mush they had been feeding him. There was a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, a small and slightly under-ripe apple, five baby carrots, and a hard little chocolate chip cookie.
While it was objectively something like a mediocre school lunch, it was the best meal Christopher had ever eaten. It put past cookouts and fancy restaurants and thanksgivings to shame. He nearly wept as he ate the cookie in two bites. The lukewarm bottle of water was even better. It was probably his imagination, but he thought he could feel it spreading through his body, the moisture infusing his scratchy eyes, cracked lips, and tight throat.
Perversely, his stomach hurt even more after the food and water. It felt like a wooden knot in his belly that the food was being forced through. Still, he would have eaten several more meals if they had been offered.
Unable to bear the idea of getting back onto the bed, Christopher slid himself into a sitting position against the stone wall. He closed his eyes and felt the moisture welling up under the lids, soothing the sandpaper feeling. He dozed, savoring the silence that now seemed like such an incredible treasure. In his half-dreaming, he thought he ought to be angry. He didn’t have the strength for it. Instead, he felt amazed by everything around him: the taste of the food, the silence, the warm air. There were a lot of simple things worthy of appreciation, and he hadn’t given them the respect they deserved before this ordeal. He wondered if he was still delirious.
He was jolted awake by the sound of the door opening. The uniformed guard entered, carrying another bottle of water.
Christopher wondered if this was the same guard each time. It was difficult to remember anyone other than Sergeant Meadows. There might have been multiple guards, but he couldn’t picture their faces.
The man walked smartly to Christopher’s cell, set the bottle of water inside through the bars, and picked up the empty bottle and tray that Christopher had left. Christopher wanted to ask him what had happened. Why were they suddenly treating their prisoner as though he were an actual human being? Had Christopher somehow told them something they wanted to hear? Had he inadvertently mentioned some secret about Harold and Garrett and the rest of the exiles? Or had Meadows finally decided that Christopher really was just a very unfortunate person in the wrong place?
Christopher wanted to ask the guard if he was proud to have participated in the torture of an innocent person, but he couldn’t even be sure this particular soldier was involved, and he was too grateful for the bottle of water.
All he managed to croak was “thank you,” before the soldier walked back to the door and stepped out of the room. Despite the gift of the water bottle, Christopher saw no warmth in the soldier’s attitude. There was no hint of eye contact or acknowledgment of Christopher’s presence. Just a man whose job was to set a water bottle down inside a room and pick up the discarded bottle and tray. No human interaction necessary.
As Christopher slowly made his way over to the water bottle, he tried to remember what he had said to Meadows. It was all clouded. Christopher knew that some of the things he remembered must be hallucinations: places melding together, people and events that were long past or never happened.
He remembered Meadows fishing for information about the exiles, talking about Harold and Garrett, the woman who had been their apparent leader, the many others whose names he didn’t know, and even Amaranth. He remembered talking about the fall from the plane, the bunker and the lake and his excursions into the wilderness. The messages on the radio. He remembered talking about his own life in ever expanding detail. His job, his schooling, his family.
He had told Meadows about his brother’s death, about how it had fractured their family, about all of the problems and sorrows in Christopher’s life that had come out of that one event. It wasn’t clear how much of that was real, and how much of it happened in fever-dreams. Christopher recalled a particular feeling, the feeling that something had broken inside of him, and the strange connection he had felt as he huddled in the corner of his cell and remembered sitting at the top of the stairs, listening to his parents argue down in the kitchen. It was as though the two moments had become linked across the span of years.
A new memory intruded. Christopher had stopped the interrogations. He sat across the metal table from Meadows and told him calmly that he would no longer participate.
“I’ll talk to whoever you report to,” Christopher had said, “but I’m done talking to you. You can keep doing whatever you want to me. You can kill me. But I’m done with you.”
After that, Christopher had become like a rock, hard and mindless. He had some vague sense that they had, in fact, kept doing the same things to him, but the conversations had stopped. Somehow, with his brain barely functioning, Christopher had found a way to keep control of himself. He remembered the grim satisfaction of sitting across from Meadows in silence.
As Christopher sat on the floor, savoring the bottle of water, he wondered if his stupid strategy had actually worked.