The Hatch Marked “2” – A Short Story

1

Schunk. Click. Ssssssh.

He looked up from his drawing at the noise, and rose from his chair. He walked tentatively over to the hatch marked “1”, pushing the handle up. He took out the small pile of envelopes and parcels, and let it fall back down.

TO BE INCINERATED – UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT – HANDLE WITH CAUTION

He shuffled to the other side of the room and, balancing the documents in one hand, opened up the hatch marked “2”. The heat from the furnace within lashed out at him, and his glasses steamed up so much that he could hardly see. He quickly pushed the packages inside and slammed the door shut. Through a little window in the hatch he looked on as the papers caught fire almost immediately. The flames swirled around the stack, engulfing it. He stood in wonder at the light that came forth from the small room inside, watching it get brighter and brighter until it was so bright he couldn’t stand to look any more. He wrenched his eyes away, and sat back down, concentrating on his drawing.

They all said that. Every package that he’d incinerated in this job had that same line of text down the centre. To be incinerated, United States government, handle with caution. He’d seen it so many times he’d memorised it, but he’d not once thought to ask anyone what it meant. After all, he was never one to question authority, was he? And after all, he had a job to do- a very important job, too. It was his sole responsibility, as the man in charge of this room, to sit down in that chair and be very quiet. Then, when a package came through into the hatch, he was to pick it up carefully, take it to the other side of the room, and put it into the incinerator. Then was to sit back down again in that chair, and be very quiet.

He was not, on any account, allowed to open the packages. Not that he would ever want to, of course, but he knew that if he did want to, and he did do it, he would never get to incinerate another package again, and then where would he be?

He decided he didn’t like thinking like this, so he stopped. He went back to his drawing. He had been working on this drawing since the day he’d started work here, and it was almost finished. A masterpiece, every corner filled with the subtlest shades and the finest shapes. He was very proud of it; apart from incinerating packages, drawing was his favourite thing to do. With a practiced skill he carefully picked a colour from his box – luminescent orange – for the final details. When he had started, they had told him to draw whatever was on his mind, and without hesitation he had known exactly what to draw.

He was just picking out the right shade of brown for the walls when another package arrived.

Schunk. Click. Ssssssh.

He took this one out of the hatch marked “1”. It was a big package. Heavy, too- it took him three goes to pick it up and move it to the hatch marked “2”, and even then he’d needed a rest in between. Sometimes the packages were like this, though. They came in lots of different shapes and sizes, and some of them were big and heavy (like this one) and some of them were small scraps of paper, covered with that same text- the text that he now saw written in large red letters on the top of the package.

TO BE INCINERATED – UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT – HANDLE WITH CAUTION

Despite the harsh tone of the message, he felt a little comforted by seeing it again. It was like an old friend to him, and as he mouthed the words along whilst reading it he felt a great sense of calmness wash over him. Smiling, he hefted the package into the hatch marked “2”. He watched it burn, reciting those words in his head, over and over. One day, he thought, he would ask someone what they meant, but not yet. It was not in his nature to ask questions, and it probably wasn’t too important anyway. He wondered what a united states government was, though. That sounded interesting.

2

He dreams of a boat in a storm. He stands on the deck alone, waiting for the inevitable. A thunderclap seems to shake the boat, and the torrent of rain from the heavens has him drenched. Eventually it happens; the boat collapses, and he is left in the water, at the mercy of nature, and he knows it should represent something, because he knows it’s a dream, but the second he realises that he knows that, it disappears. The boat folds away, the storm dries, the claps of thunder are silenced, only to be replaced with-

– the room. He sat bolt upright in his chair. He had fallen asleep on the job! This had happened before, he thought, and he remembered that they punished him badly for it. Exactly how they punished him, he couldn’t remember, but he knew that it had something to do with the dream. He sat looking at the wall of the room, where they came from, but nothing happened. No noise, no movement, no hurting…he was safe. He smiled at the wall, because he thought they could see him, and turned back to his picture.

His picture wasn’t there.

He thought that was odd, because it was there before he had fallen asleep. He looked under his chair, but it wasn’t there. He opened the hatch marked “1” and looked inside, but he couldn’t see it. He looked through the window of the hatch marked “2”, but even through the flames of the furnace the picture wasn’t there.

He sat back down on his chair and put his head in his hands. That was his favourite picture, and drawing was his favourite thing to do, and now it was gone. Still, at least he had managed to finish it, and he had seen the final result before it had been taken from him. He looked around at the bare brown walls that surrounded him, and smiled. He was happy.

Schunk. Click. Ssssssh.

Another package! He scrambled to his feet and opened the hatch marked “1”, excited to see those words again. It was just one large A4 envelope, but it was heavy. He should’ve put it straight into the hatch marked “2”, but he wanted to savour this moment. Incinerating was his favourite thing to do, after all.

He felt the edges of the envelope gently. It seemed like there were lots and lots of pieces of paper in here; a big bundle of them. He was just wondering what they contained when he accidentally ripped a corner.

He froze.

He didn’t dare move. He had opened a package, and now he was in trouble. Even if they wouldn’t come get him after the dreaming episode, then this time he was definitely done for.He waited for the wall to slam open, for the whole room to turn black again.

But nothing did happen. The room stayed silent, but for the sound of his own (suddenly very obvious) beating heart.

Cautiously, silently, he tried to replace the corner he had ripped off. At the same time, he averted his eyes, so he didn’t see what was in the package, but it was no good. He couldn’t fit the corner on without seeing it, so he turned back to it.

At the edge of the top piece of paper, the exposed part, he saw a tiny flash of luminescent orange. It couldn’t….

He didn’t dare touch the package further for fear of ripping it, so he lay it on the floor. But still, was that not the….no, of course not.

Don’t be silly, just get it into the hatch marked “2”! Every instinct in his brain screamed at him to do his job, to follow orders, but he had to look. He lowered himself to the ground and, angling his vision just through the crack in the envelope, he peeked inside.

His picture! It was in there! Without a second’s thought he ripped open the package and saw that it was indeed his picture, finished as it was when he had last seen it. He was so happy to be reunited with it that it took him a minute to notice all the other pieces of paper in the envelope. Finally, though, he looked down at them on the floor, and his heart stopped.

That was him. Someone had drawn a picture of him, and they’d used his colours to do it! He recognised the deep red of the shirt, the sky blue of the eyes, the…the shading on the hair. It was exactly like his shading. Someone had not only used his materials, but had also imitated his style. In fact, this could’ve been a self-portrait, but he had no memory of ever having drawn it.

He looked at the one below. A house in the middle of a field. Again it was his colours, again his drawing. He was now sure that nobody could have copied these- this was his work.

He sat on the floor and flicked through the other photos. There were hundreds – thousands! – and every one different. A football, a book, a smiling woman, an office…all his. He flipped to the back picture, and was faced with the smile of a child.

She was a little girl; three, four years old? She was holding a balloon, she was standing in a garden, and her name was Gabriella, and she was born on the fifth of September, and this picture is her fourth birthday, and she is his daughter.

Everything hits him at once; a sudden rush of memories, of being taken in the night, and brought here, and drawing all of these pictures, of being told to draw whatever was on his mind, and them, them looking at the pictures he drew, and them shaking their heads, and hurting him, and making him forget it all, and doing it again, and again, and opening a package, and finding his driver’s license, and another, a card he wrote last Christmas, and another, his own computer history, printed out, and the years of hurting, and of forgetting, and then he looked back at the pictures.

His life was laid out here; his true life, his real one, not this facade. His house, his football, his wife, his daughter, his loves, his hates, his hopes, his dreams, he had drawn them all. Then he looked at what he had drawn most recently; the picture that he had been so happy with just minutes ago.

He had drawn the room. The room that he was in. The brown walls, the chair, the luminescent orange of the hatch marked “2” – this is what had been on their mind, and now he understood why they hadn’t punished him for dreaming. He had forgotten. This room was who he was now. He was the property of the United States government. He was a commodity to be handled with caution. Well, he would show them. Now he knew what was happening, he could stop it. He could protest. He could-

The brown door (not a wall, a door, a DOOR!) slammed open, and before he could say a word, he was hit. He did not get one look at his assailant before collapsing into blackness. He heard voices talking, and then they stopped, and there was some shouting, and a gunshot, and silence. One voice, alone, quietly muttered something. Then he heard the hatch marked “2” opening, and felt someone pick him up. He tried to cry out but he couldn’t, and then he felt himself being lowered down, and then a searing pain, a burning, and then nothing.

EXPERIMENT FAILED – PATIENT SK1029 REGAINED MEMORY – TO BE INCINERATED

(If you enjoyed this story, then you can download it via Google Docs)

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2 thoughts on “The Hatch Marked “2” – A Short Story

  1. Pingback: Death Coasters & Terrible Poetry « Professional Echo

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