He knows that it is useless. But he can't suppress the impulse that wells up from within his own flesh.
He needs to do it—to hurl his entire body against the bars. It does no good at all. His flesh simply bounces off the thick iron bars. "Number 8! What the hell are you doing?" The guard's angry shout echoes down the corridor. The prisoners are never called by name, only by the numbers on their cells. Kaim is Number 8.
Kaim says nothing. Instead, he slams his shoulder against the bars.
The massive bars of iron never nudge. All they do is leave a dull, heavy ache in Kaim's superbly conditioned muscles and bones.
Now, instead of shouting again, the guard blows his whistle, and the other guard come running from their station.
"Number 8! What's it going to take to make you understand?"
"Do you want to be thrown into the punishment cell?"
"Don't look at me like that. Start resisting, and all it will get you is a longer time in here!"
Sitting on the floor of his cell, legs splayed out, Kaim ignores the guards' shouts.
He has been to the punishment room any number of times. He knows he has been branded a "highly rebellious prisoner."
But he can't help himself.
Something is squirming deep down inside him.
Some hot thing trapped inside there is seething and writhing.
"Some war hero you turned out to be!" says one guard.
"You can't do shit in here. What's the matter, soldier boy? Can't do anything without an enemy staring you in the face?"
The guard next to him taunts Kaim with laughter.
"Too bad for you, buddy, no enemies in here? Nobody from your side, either. We've got you locked up all by yourself."
After the guards leave, Kaim curls up on the floor, hugging his knees, eyes clamped tight.
All by myself—
The guard was right.
I thought I was used to living alone, in battle, on the road.
But the loneliness here in prison is deeper than any I've ever experienced before.
And more frightening.
Walls on three sides, and beyond the bars nothing but another wall enclosing the narrow corridor.
This dungeon was built so as to prevent prisoners from seeing each other, or even to sense each others' presence.
The total lack of a change in the view paralyzes the sense of time as well. Kaim has no idea how many days have passed since he was thrown in here. Time flows on, that much is certain. But with nowhere to go, it simply stagnates inside him.
The true torture that prison inflicts on a man is neither to rob him of his freedom nor to force him to experience loneliness.
The real punishment is having to live where nothing ever moves in your field of view and time never flows.
The water in a river will never putrefy, but lock it in a jar and that is exactly what it will eventually do.
The same is true here.
Maybe parts of him deep down in his body and mind are already beginning to give off a rotten stench.
Because he is aware of this, Kaim drags himself up from the floor again and slams himself into the bars over and over.
There is not the remotest chance that doing so will break a bar.
Nor does he think he can manage to escape this way.
Still, he does it repeatedly.
He can't help himself. He has to do it again and again.
In the instant before his body smashes into that bars—for that split second—a puff of wind strikes his cheek. The unmoving air moves, if only for that brief interval. The touch of the air is the one thing that gives Kaim a fragmentary hint of the flow of time.
The guards comes running, face grim with anger.
Now I can see human shapes where before there was only a wall. That alone is enough to lift my spirits. Don't these guards realize that?
"All right, Number 8, it's the punishment room for you! Let's see if three days in there will cool your head!"
Kaim's lips relax into a smile when he hears the order.
Don't these guys get it? Now my scenery will change. Time will start flowing again. I'm thankful for that.
Kaim laughs aloud.
The guards tie his hand behind him, put chains on his ankles, and start for the punishment room.
"What the hell are you laughing at, Number 8?"
"Yeah, stop it! We'll punish you even more!"
But Kaim just keeps on laughing; laughing at the top of his lungs.
If I fill my lungs with all new air, will the stench disappear?
Or have my body and mind rotted so much already that I can't get rid of the stench so easily?
How long will they keep me locked up in here?
When can I get out of here?
Will it be too late by then?
When everything has rotted away, will I become less a "him" than an "it," the way our troops count enemy corpses?
Kaim can hardly breathe.
It is as if the air is being squeezed out of his chest and the excruciating pain of it is drawing him back from the world of dreams to reality.
Was I once in a prison in the far, far distant past?
He half-wanders in the space between dream and reality.
He has had this dream any number of times—this nightmare, it might even be called. After waking, he tried to recall it, but nothing stays in his memory. One thing is certain, however: the appearance of the jail and of the guards in the dream if always the same.
Could this be something I have actually experienced?
If so, when could it have been?
There is no way for him to tell.
Once he is fully awake, those questions he asked between dream and reality are, themselves, erased from his memory.
He springs up with a scream, his breath labored, the back of his hand wiping the streams of sweat from his brow, and all that is left is the shuddering terror. It is always like this.
He mutters to himself as he attempts to retrieve whatever memory is left in a remote corner of his brain. "What kind of past life could I have lived through?"