Time flies when you only remember six hours out of every day and for Jack, the next few days seem to slip by like ghosts in the night. There were no more scratches on his body or messages in his briefcase, although he pored through every scrap of paper in it.
He talked for hours with Sarah, although the conversations were dry and often frustrating. She would not reveal anything about herself and he knew almost nothing about himself to tell. She was constantly asking how he felt: if he was angry, if he was relaxed. The questions themselves put him on edge, but he never told her that.
Jack began to fixate on her more and more as the days went by. She was the only person he knew in the world and his only contact with the human world. All his pent-up frustration, suspicion, loneliness, and lusty desires—they all became focused on her. He found himself loving her and hating her both, without even knowing who she was.
He wondered what she was like and if he had known her before—out in the real world. For all he knew, the Jack outside knew her and the two of them had lunch together every day. Not that it helped the Jack in here any.
If he was in a good mood, he would tease her and try to cajole her into telling him more about herself. What’s your favorite color? Come on, what’s it going to hurt? Let me guess: is it blue? All he ever got were smiley emoticons and avoidance.
On the fifth day—May 14th according to the computer’s calendar—Jack walked through the door with a sore foot. The pain was coming from the inside of his left foot. He sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV, covering that part of his foot with his hand and slowly stripped off his socks. He pretended to be stretching and raised his hand slightly to see the side of his foot. Here, the cuts were deeper than before and easier to read. Sarah bday, they read.
He had sent himself another message—against the rules—to say it was Sarah’s birthday. That must mean he knew her on the outside, unless this was only part of the experiment. He was getting frustrated with the whole thing. Sarah would not even tell him when it was going to end; just to be patient. Maybe there were other, darker forces lurking behind her, telling her what to say. He tried to see her as a victim as well in order to shield her from all the rage that were boiling inside of him.
Jack sat down in front of the computer. Yo Sarah, happy birthday!
For a moment, there was no response. Then, How did you know?
May 14 is your birthday, right?
How did you know? Did you remember it? Tell me, Jack, did you remember it was my birthday?
It was either that or admit he had read it off scratches on his foot. Finally, he typed, Yeah, I saw it was May 14 and suddenly thought it was your birthday. I guess I was right.
What else do you remember? Do you remember me? Describe me.
The only thing he associated with Sarah was the icon of the woman in the blue dress, but that probably wasn’t even her. He didn’t even know if the person on the other end of the chat program really was Sarah. They knew he didn’t remember and they were trying to trap him. Suddenly, he didn’t care anymore.
You’re eight feet tall with a lazy eye and long fingernails, he typed. You like raw seafood and nude demolition derbies.
There was no response to this. “Answer me,” he growled. So, what are you doing tonight for your birthday? Got a hot date lined up?
He barely even knew what he was typing. All he wanted was to get some sort of reaction out of her, to make her show herself as human, to show even a little of herself to him.
Wanna go out with me? Come on, just come pick me up. Or just come on in and we’ll screw on the couch.
There was no answer. Jack had been getting more furious as he wrote and now something seemed to explode in his head. “Answer me!” he screamed out loud and picking up the chair, he hurled it at the window.
The chair rebounded off the glass without even leaving a mark. Bulletproof glass. He was looking around for more furniture to throw when the phone rang.
The phone was in the kitchen. Jack had picked it up when he had first arrived, but there was no dial tone and he had ignored it as only a prop. Now, he strode over to it, jerking it savagely off the cradle.
It was a woman’s voice on the other end. “Jack, what are you doing?” She sounded scared.
“You got me in a prison here,” he said. “And now I find I can’t even break the windows? I’m done with this. Let me out.”
“Jack, you agreed to do the full length of the experiment.”
“Yeah, well now I’m unagreeing to it. I want out and I want to keep my memories.”
“Jack, please.” There was pleading in her voice. “You must be patient. I know you don’t understand right now, but you have to trust me.”
“Why should I trust you?” Jack demanded. “I don’t even know you. Who are you anyway?”
“Do I know you, out there?”
“Yes…yes, you do, but I can’t tell you how.”
“Just tell me if we are related. Are you my sister, cousin, mother?”
There was a slight pause. “No, we’re not related,” Sarah said. “Listen, I have to go. Remember Jack, be patient and trust me.” The line went dead.
Jack put the phone down and went back to the computer, but Sarah had logged off. That night he dreamed about her, but she always seemed to be just beyond his grasp.
The next day Jack got up and robotically went about getting ready. At 7:35, he stood in front of the door with his briefcase full of meaningless lesson plans and student reports. It seemed to get harder with time, having to walk through that door that erased all his memories and deposited him, a second later, back in the same place and hours later. Finally, he sighed and stepped forward…
…Jack Simons emerged from the model house attached to Northcross Prison and was immediately surrounded by guards. They took his briefcase and while they watched, he undressed and was handed an orange prison uniform.
Sub-Warden Neese, walked up to him with a tablet computer, shaking his head slightly.
“How did I do in there?” Jack asked.
“You got violent, Jack,” Neese said. “You tried to break a window with your chair. I was about to pull the program right there, but Sarah convinced me to let her call you and calm you down. You’re not doing well, Jack.”
“It’s not fair, though!” Jack said. “If you would just let me know what was going on, I’d behave for you. I’d be as good as gold.”
“You know why we can’t do that, Jack. Of course you can play nice for a while. What we are trying to determine is if you are a fundamentally dangerous and unstable person. I’ll see you back here in ten hours.”
“It’s all bull, if you ask me,” Jack’s cellmate, Chris Jamer said. They were lying on their bunks, staring at the ceiling. “Who wouldn’t get anxious and violent in a place like that, where they don’t tell you anything? They’re trying to get you to fail.”
“I have to try to get another message through to myself,” Jack said.
“Man, you know they said they would cancel the whole program if they caught you doing that again.”
“I’m going to fail anyway,” Jack said. “They said Sarah phoned me in there. I wonder if I recognized her voice. I gotta do this for her.”
“If you get caught trying to sneak another message in to yourself, you’ll never see her again,” Chris said. “You were lucky enough to be chosen for that program. Don’t screw it up now.”
“Give me your razor. I’ll make it small and put it between my fingers. They’ve never checked there yet.”
“You’re a fool, Jack,” Chris said, but he reached under his mattress and pulled out a tiny razor blade and handed it to Jack.
At 5:00, the guards came for Jack. They led him to a staging area where he undressed fully and stood naked while the guards checked him for contraband and messages.
“Arms up.” He raised his arms. “Fingers spread. I said, fingers spread!” One of the guards seized Jack’s ring finger. He looked at it for a second, then gave a harsh laugh and threw the hand down. “I didn’t see nothing,” he said in a low tone, “but you’d better follow your own advice in there, cuz after today, you’ll never see the inside of that house again, if you don’t.”
Jack got dressed in his teacher clothes and was handed his briefcase. Then he walked through the door and into the house…