Doug Blackford: The Menagerie

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The Menagerie

By Doug Blackford

It was a room, but it was as if whoever had built it had done so from a picture or painting with no idea of its purpose or what was outside of it. Actually, that was exactly the case.

It had four walls, a ceiling, and a floor, like most normal rooms. The forest green paint on the wooden walls was faded and peeling, revealing the sea green of the previous color, and the gray primer beneath that in places. The floor was bare pine, worn yellow with age. Its faint scent had disappeared long ago. The traces of hardened resin that had once sealed the nails gave silent testament to the passage of time.

One of the walls had a door and a fireplace set in it. The door was functional, as far as the function of a door was concerned. He chose not to think about the door whenever possible. It looked much like the rest of the wall, but with hinges on one side and a knob on the other. Same color, same fading and peeling, same … normal. It was what lay beyond the door that caused him to ignore it. As much as he hated this room, he hated beyond the door more.

The fireplace, however, was not functional. It was made of red brick, the mortar crumbling in several places. A single log of unburnt wood, either oak or hickory, rested within. There was no mantle to speak of, but a stone hearth was inset in the floor before it. Although the inside of the fireplace was soot-covered, and the hearth appeared touched by heat and flame, there was no scent of wood or smoke to indicate any kind of recent use, much like the pine flooring and sealing resin — much like the entire room.

It wasn’t so much the lack of scents that bothered him as much as it was the wrong ones. They weren’t strong, but they were there — antiseptic, metal, plastic. At least, that was the closest his brain could make of them. It wasn’t their fault really. They had no comparison for him, and without them, he would probably be dead by now. He wasn’t entirely sure he wouldn’t prefer that option, but they made sure he never had that kind of opportunity.

The only other thing in the room was the chair — wood and wicker, dark cherry and reeds. He hated that chair. The words to explain and express how much he hated that chair did not exist in any language he knew, and he knew a few. He contained the sum knowledge of his species, or at least as much as had been able to fit in his head. Language, music, art, history — there had been many like him sent out to the stars. They had been a last effort to preserve the species — to say, “We were here!” He had no way to know how many of them reached other civilizations, or what had become of them if they had. He didn’t even know how many years, or centuries, or longer, had passed while he drifted through the void of space in suspension. He only knew his own fate. The chair.

They had let him keep the picture, or rather, a facsimile of it. He took it out and read the caption.

A room is what you make of it.

He understood that the room stood for more than just a room. It was his mind, his life, everything over which he could exercise some control — everything that allowed him a choice. Being in this room was like being inside a representation of his will, and a reminder of how few were his choices.

He put the picture away and sat in the chair. It was better than incurring their wrath. He heard the not-quite-silent glide of the wall behind him as it opened to reveal the area on the other side. An orange ambience came through, created by the red and yellow suns in the sky. It gave the room a glow almost like a sunrise or sunset. It was strange and unvarying, but almost familiar and the sole thing that made the chair worth the effort. It was the only sunlight he ever saw, but he had made a choice that it would not be the last sunlight he saw. He didn’t know how he would resolve that choice, but he stood by it … every day.

He just sat there as the gawkers passed by, paused, then moved on. Some were more insistent and tapped or banged on the transparent wall but he didn’t acknowledge them. They seemed to be of all shapes and sizes to his untrained eyes. There were bipeds, quadrupeds, tripeds, tall, short, thin, wide, spidery, cyclopean — all sorts. The few cages he could make out opposite his own were just as varied, and at least one seemed to possess more than just an animal intelligence. He had tried communicating using his world’s universal sign language, and more primitive forms of conceptual signs, but to no avail. They were all just part of some great menagerie — some sort of zoo as far as he could tell.

Today was just another day like every other day. They wouldn’t give him anything with which he might be able to injure himself, but he had to do something to pass the time. That typically meant talking to himself, though he did it by reciting what he knew. He would speak about history and art, speak in different languages, sing songs, whatever he felt in the mood to hear out loud. Today, a way out would present itself. Today, he felt like Shakespeare.

If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge?

Malcolm smiled. It was not a pleasant smile, but they wouldn’t know that.

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Please visit Doug’s blog and follow him! https://smithandscribe.wordpress.com

Write the Story: February 2019 Collection


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One thought on “Doug Blackford: The Menagerie”

  1. Reblogged this on d. a. ratliff and commented:

    Each story submitted for Write the Story continues to amaze me. The varied responses to the same prompt are a testament to the cleverness of our members. Today’s entry by Doug Blackford entitled “The Menagerie” is imaginative and excellent! Enjoy and please visit Doug’s blog and follow him!

    Liked by 1 person

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