AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following story contains descriptions of torture, vomiting, panic attacks And violence. Reader discretion is advised.
I don’t have enough time so I’m just gonna jump right into it, okay?
Oh, yeah. Hi.
So it’s me and you again. I’m sorry if I scared you or made you feel uncomfortable with what I said the last time I talked to you. Funny thing, I am guilty of talking about guilt.
It’s been a long couple of weeks and… well, you probably saw that someone messed with this place for a while. Not to worry, Duke (The idiot from before) and I managed to get everything back on track. You will be able to find everything where it was supposed to be. I would have written sooner, you would have needed for me to write to you sooner, but I only just was able to escape their custody again.
There are places where people like me can go to. But I don’t want to go there.
I don’t expect you to understand that.
I’m not sure I understand that all that much, but I just know that I can’t leave, yet. This kind of life is dangerous, and no life at all, to be honest. But it is the one thing I have left.
You have seen us all talk about each other, talk about people in your life (Daisy is okay, in case you want to know. After you packed up and left, a team of people came to pick her up an relocate her. I’m sure wherever she is now, she is helping someone else like she helped you).
I won’t talk about other people today, much as I want to. No. Today I will talk about myself, and the things that led me to this point. I think you have earned that much.
I was born Carmen Delgado about 27 years ago. I had three brothers and one smaller sister. I lived in Palmstrick Hull, far away from the montains and woods, somewhere you’d never expect to exist. In the winter time, the snow would pile as high as your knees, and if you dug deep enough, below the crips whiteness you’d find an almost golden orange seeping in from the ground.
I loved it there. I know that most people, when the talk about their pasts, they don’t sound too fond of them. But I was. I didn’t have identity crisis, or lived in a poor area. My family was never attacked by illness or misfortune. I led, by all accounts, a good life.
But, just like anyone who’s ever been in my past position, there was something wrong with it all– no. There was something wrong with me.
I know others have talked about this before, but— I think it’s best to hear it from the source, you know?
So, I’ll tell you about my experience with reconditioning.
We all first go through the Recondition process at age six. Or well, that’s what everyone says, but in truth, it’s different for everyone. It’s not about brain maturity, it’s about the signs. I would know, I actually worked on this for a while. So, you just keep an eye on the brats, and when they stop being, you know, all kiddy and happy, and start to question things, that’s when you act.
I did actually go through the Recondition process at six, most of my class did. As I mentioned, most of us had good lives and didn’t have much reason to question things. A group of us (five to ten children) were asked to go to the main office. We thought it was strange since there were no meetings planned for that day.
Oh, right. I was in one of those experimental schools that had children go to different offices to test their cognitive development. I don’t think I’ve seen many of them still functioning, just one or two here and there.
I remember the walk there, the sound of my shoes on the linoleum floor, and the way Penelope Abilene’s plaited pony tail swung from side to side as we walked, like the tail of a curious cat. We were all holding hands, something encouraged on children but discouraged in adults. I guess it’s because we needed more tangible things to hold onto in our infancy but we need to be distant as grownups.
When we got to the office, the head mistress was not there waitig for us. Instead, there was a tall woman with a pinched expression. I remember her the most. I remember I used to think she looked exactly like a stern scientist should look in horror stories for children. I also remember feeling… excited. If this was an adventure book, then me and my peers would be able to defeat this great and stern evil… sadly, this was not a children’s adveture book, and my peers and I… well, we had no chance against a group of adults.
But we didn’t know that yet.
Some of them would never know.
We just stood there. I remember that. My shoulders felt so weak and small. I don’t remember how that thought even entered my head, but I do remember rolling my shoulders, as if to take care of a great weight. I guess, we all knew, we could feel it in the air, that that day was different from all others.
“Delgado,” The stern lady called my name with a surprisingly soft voice. I raised my head to look at her and stopped fidgeting. There was something like approval in her face. “You are on group B8.”
Group B8, I would come to realise, meant my process would be more… thorough, than the other groups.
Camila Salsedo, Eric Soza and I were the only ones in group B8. We had to watch as the other kids were led away into other rooms while nurses and short men with lavender lab coats took samples and asked them questions.
It wasn’t at all like other monitoring sessions or screenings. There were no upperclassmen, or fellow students warning you before hand of the questions, or even scaring you about the procedure. No one knew which ones were the right answers and which ones were the wrong ones. We were all flying blind. And for a group of six-year-old children, that was terrifying.
It’s funny how you never learn to fear adults until they are showing you all the reasons why you have to.
After what felt like hours, another short man came for us in group B8, and led us to another room, further away from everyone else. Looking back on it, it was obvious that the guy was new to what he was doing. He kept smiling at us and trying to start small talk.
“Those are very lovely shoes,” I remember he said to me. “I had ones just like those growing up.”
“Now I know you’re scared,” He carried on. “But there is nothing to be afraid of. They just need to ask you some questions, do a medical check up and then you are free to go!”
He didn’t tell us that “medical check up” meant that we were going to be taken somewhere else. He didn’t mention anything about the machines, and the scalpels, the many people in lab coats and the overflowing questions. He definitely didn’t say anything about electricity.
I will not bore you with the details of my interview… It’s so boring, looking back, that even I have managed to forget most of it.
I will give you the questions, though. I happened to stumble upon one of the questionnaires a while ago, and I kept it.
So here it is:
- Please state your name, age and address.
- How many people live in your house? Are they all relatives of yours?
- Describe your room in as much detail as possible.
- Describe each member of your household in detail.
- Describe yourself physically.
- What do you wish to do when you are older?
- What is your favourite colour?
- Name all of your classmates.
- How many windows are in this room?
- Describe the route you took to get here?
- Name all your teachers.
- How do you like living in (Insert name of place)?
- Describe yourself emotionally.
- Do you have any friends? If so, name them.
- What is your latest memory?
- What is your earliest memory?
- What is your favourite song?
- What is your least favourite thing about living in (Insert name of place)?
- Who is (Insert name of person no relevant to the subject’s life)?
- Describe this picture. (Picture provided by the Institute of Developmental Sciences and Psychology, formerly known as INTS.)
Don’t worry if you tried to answer the questions and you couldn’t. The point of Reconditioning is that you can’t answer any of that.
After the interview, we were asked to perform the same tasks of any evaluation (physical tasks).
After that, there is a whole bunch of things I either repressed (yay for trauma!) or The Machine did its job right and I actually don’t have those memories anymore.
Next thing I remember is getting out of a white van and walking into the INTS building. Unlike the tales and pictures I’ve seen from other people’s experiences, INTS was not located in an old creepy house on the outskirts of town. It was actually a big white building with windows covering over 60% of the walls. It had the name written outside in bold silver letters and anyone knew that if you wanted to get better, you didn’t go to the hospital, or many small clinics in town, you went to the Institute of New Technologies and Sciences.
I had never actually been sick in my life, and no one in my family had ever needed to go into INTS, so everything was new, scary and exciting for me. Eric had had a very serious illness just a couple of months before this all happened, and he was greeted by all the pastel and monochromatic personnel we encountered. Of course that that made him practically a celebrity in our eyes.
Too bad we wouldn’t remember this later, this was Eric’s only moment of popularity and fame.
Upon entering the building, the three of us were immediately separated. Again, this was done accordingly with our test results which dictated who needed a longer procedure and who was beyond salvation.
I never saw Camila or Penelope ever again.
I was the last to go in, and now, I want you to stop reading. This is not for you.
I know I am supposed to write this for you, that you need it, wherever it is that you are. I know we all promised them that we would help sort you through this. I know we said we’d get you to Cromly Park even if meant losing them, but— I need to say this, okay? And me saying this will not help you in any way. I know because I was not you but I had someone like you.
Screws, we… we’re not meant to own things, to want to own things. We’re not supposed to have feelings, or wants, or needs, or people that we need to love and protect above it all.But fuck sakes, we do. We are people, okay? Despite everything and whatever they do to us, they can’t change that fact. The can’t change me or you, and God knows they won’t be able to change them. You can break people, tear them apart and then try to piece them together in a different order, but the pieces are still the same. They still come from the same place as before. They are still someone. They are still us. And there is nothing the machine, or the lab coats, or the Institute can do to change that.
We are all dying in this God forsaken island. We are an experiment and we don’t even know it until we cease being useful. And nobody fucking cares, okay?
Out of every single person inside and outside the borders, us, the most broken individuals, we are the only ones who care. And caring is killing us. Literally. We care and we are being hunted, extinguished like the spare parts that we are.
You can tell people that caring is wrong, that they are part of a well-oiled machine, but you can’t make them stop being who they already were.
So I know, okay? I fucking know that I shouldn’t be telling you this, that I should sugar coat it because the truth can only hurt you but I feel like if I don’t say this here I will die and nothing will have changed. I will still be a Screw that got loose.
And I am tired of being that.
Read if you want or need to, but if you know that it can only hurt you… then please don’t read what comes next… not until I tell you to.
*** I was the last one to go in. By this point in the afternoon, school had already let out for the day. I had heard the bell and the sound of children moving all over town, while I was locked up in a small white office on the third floor of INTS.
When the ladies came for me, I didn’t fight it. I didn’t know it was an option, for me this place was a sanctuary for healing, somewhere people went to get better. I foolishly believed I was there to get better.
I was not.
The three ladies in matching seafoam green robes took me to the elevator and then down, down, down, down, to a place where there were no numbers to express the level.
The longer we stayed there the more I panicked and fidgeted. The woman standing right behind me pinched me on the arm and told me to be still.
That’s when I started crying.
Once the doors opened, I didn’t want to leave. I couldn’t even raise my head to look out. It felt colder than it should have been, and it smelled metallic and moist, and decaying. The woman behind me grabbed me by the arm. I tried pulling away, but she was stronger, so much stronger than me. I grappled with her, I tried scratching and punching, but I was small and I couldn’t.
When one of the other women came closer I hit her with my recoiling arm. That’s when the woman holding onto me slapped me. Hard.
I peed myself. I had never been hit before, my only punishments were time outs and quiet introspection sessions.
To this day if I focus enough, I can feel the imprint of her large hand against my face.
The other women made a disgusted noise, and the one holding onto me squeezed my arm so tight I felt my hand go numb from lack of circulation. She then pushed me off the elevator. I slipped on my urine, and she only laughed. One of the other women slapped me on the back of the head and called me a nuisance.
I was crying so hard I could barely see a thing as they dragged me deeper into the room. I could hear things, though, screaming and pleading, and people reciting words too fast for me to hear. On top of the medical and surgical smells, I could taste the smell of my urine with every gasping breath I took. I blubbered, and snot ran down my nose and neck, even going into my mouth in between inhales. My throat started aching, parched from my gasping breaths. I got dizzy and not long after I started dry heaving as they dragged me through the corridors. The smell, the blurred out walls and tiles made me even more nauseous and I would have thrown up on the floor had it no been for the dirty look one of the women threw me. The sour puke got stuck in y throat and I had to force myself to swallow it back. I didn’t want to incite the women’s anger.
My shoulder, which felt so small and weak through the thin cotton of my shirt earlier that day, burnt under the woman’s ministrations.
They dragged me through long white corridors, through screaming and whirrings and beepings of machines, until we got somewhere with an open door.
I was still crying and gagging intermittently, and the woman holding onto me had to shake me a couple of times to get me to stand on my own.
There was someone inside the room, a tall and stern looking man. He looked nothing like the woman from earlier. He looked everything like the woman from earlier.
He didn’t talk to me. From this moment on, no one talked to me again. It was like I wasn’t there. No. It was like I was a broken utility that was there to be repaired.
The women left me there, and someone everyone referred to as the Wrench -Yeah, you can see that for a shady evil organisation, these people aren’t that creative- grabbed me and pulled me further into the room.
I don’t know much about the Recondition process, other than my memory of it. The whole thing is need to know basis, and only the five people who work on it are allowed to know. And even the identities and tasks of those people are mostly unknown by the rest of the Machine.
The only ones I remember from back then are the Wrench and the head doctor. Everyone else has remained nameless and faceless in my head. But I do know there were five of them, two men, three women.
The Wrench was tall and willowy. He had dirty blond hair… not dirty blond as in the shade of colour, but dirty as in untended. Like he didn’t have enough time or care about personal hygiene. His eyes had deep circles under there and they were sunk so deep into his skull it looked like he had no eyeballs at all. He wasn’t wearing a lab coat like the others, just sweatpants and a loose, shirt. He had a recorder in his hand and he was constantly writing things down on a notepad that seemed to always move without me noticing. At one point I spat blood on him and he didn’t even grimace. It was as if nothing would ever bother him again.
The head doctor had a stern… well… everything, but a surprisingly pleasant smile, which… I don’t know if it was for better or worse. He looked older but not wise beyond his years. His face had more wrinkles than features, but he had steady hands and a grim determination. His hair was dark, and well taken care of. He was wearing a sort of plastic, lime green scrubs that one of the women (the youngest one) teased him about. He only smiled once at me, when his hand was pushing the first needle through the corner of my left eye.
The head nurse was also the youngest of the bunch. She was ruthless, her hands didn’t shake once, and her lips were permanently pursed into a frown. I don’t remember much about her except that she seemed… tired, and her pink scrubs had strangely scattered splatters of blood in them. The head doctor asked her, at one point, why she didn’t change and she said, “there’s no point. This is one of the busiest days. After this one I have three other scheduled and it would be a hassle to be changing in my ten minute break.”
She was the one that scared me the most.
The other two women, the assitants whose names and designations I don’t remember wore clear scrubs and plastic gloves that got stuck to every bit of skin they touched. One of them made a gagging motion and pointed to my soiled legs. She asked if they could do something about it. The head doctor, head nurse and the other assitant (from now on Ass1 and Ass2) considered the option for a moment before the Wrench shook his head and told them, “it will get messier. It’s best if you change its clothes after we’re done here.”
It. I was “it”. If I didn’t know any better I’d say that depersonalising us made their job easier… but it’s not that. They honestly don’t think of anyone who walks into their facilities as human, not before and not after reconditioning.
The assistants led me to a chair-like contraption. It was way more uncomfortable than hospital beds have ever been allowed to be and it bent in sharp angles an turn to allow easy access to… Everything, I guess. They sat me down first, while the Wrench went through some papers and notes and the head doctor and head nurse talked about what needed to be done.
don’t remember the exact words, so I will not bother transcribing any of the butchered recollection I have. They used long words and overly complicated jargon. The cost if it was that I was complicated, and they needed to do things to me that would be easier if they just split my head open. But I was too young and “it’s her first infraction. Let’s wait until its second before we ruin its soft little head.”
I choked on all the things I wanted to say, things like “please” or “help” or maybe even “why?”. My throat ached and I could feel the beginning of hysteria bubbling in my chest, ready to burst out of me in peals of laughter.
One of the asses (not sure which one) gave me a dirty look, slapped me (albeit a lot lighter than the woman from before) and gave my hand a sharp tug. My vision swam and I could see black spots of varying colour dancing behind my eyelids, and before I realised, the asses had strapped me to the bed-chair. There were thick leather straps separating my legs and securing them to the legs of the cushioned chair, they did the same to my arms, waist, and neck.
They were all tight enough to almost cut off circulation to my limbs, but it was the neck one that still gives me nightmares. Being strapped down while a group of people with bloodied clothes and cold eyes ready to hurt you, is one thing. But being there while someone is restricting your breathing, when your chest is ready to cave in and your eyes don’t even know if they can ever be eyes again, after what they’ve seen, and your lips are dry, and taste like, vomit, tears and snot, while the world flickers in and out of existence and the air is thick and not enough, never enough, never again, and your hands and feet are no longer yours, they never were, that is when you know true terror. That’s when you realize you have a body, and that body needs and want things that you thought it would always have, but nothing is ever assured. So your body that was supposed to be always yours, isn’t. Cannot be. Who are you if you don’t have a body? What can you own, is you don’t own yourself?
opened my mouth again, to ask, beg, cry, anything, but the asses were faster than me, and in seconds a new item had joined the other restrictions: a thick cloth covering my mouth, or no… Shover inside my mouth. It tasted like humidity and it made me gag again. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t speak or move. I had turned into a thing, that could be experimented on.
After I was properly secured the doctor, nurse and Wrench approached us. The Wrench analysed my bindings with cool detachment. He even pointed to my left foot where I had managed to -somehow- loosen one of the straps, so they could tighten it again.
In that moment I loathed them so much. I though, if I lived, I would never be able to feel anything other than hate and fear for the people in the room.
The doctor and the nurse seemed to have come to an agreement and… That’s when the true fun began.
I know I said to stop reading this, but let’s be honest, apart from that one time that you did what Duke told you to do and checked your cat’s name tag, you don’t have a very good track record of doing as asked or expected from you. So I would not be wrong to assume you’re still here. In case that you still are, which let’s be real, you totally are, this is where shit gets ugly and vague… So either skip it or… Well, try not to think too hard about this.
My reconditioning had four stages:
Some people have more and some people have left. And not all stages are the same.
For me, Priming came after everyone had made sure I was not going to be able to hurt anyone in my desperation (actual words uttered by someone while I tried not to choke on my tongue and one of my nails sunk into my palm).
The asses grabbed a small tray with what looked like knitting needles, but thinner. They were connected to a small machine that whirred and beeped in an uneven rhythm. I didn’t figure out what they were for until I the doctor started to steadily push the longest and thickest one into the meat of my thigh. It’s crazy how I don’t remember it hurting, and how it just went in and in and in like I was made of bread dough. There were eight in total, and they were all pushed into place in the same fashion. There was one in each thigh, one in the arch of my feet, the back of my hands, one in my right forearm arm and one in the exposed section of my neck.
I whimpered a bit, I think, but one seemed to listen.
Then came lightning. Or it felt like it. Uneven intervals of a sharp pain that seemed to slice all the way to the bone. My eyes teared up and I screamed and and screamed, not even pausing to breath, until the work was nothing but pain and crying and screaming, and vile rising up and then being pushed back in my throat. My feet shook, my hands squeezed shut, my eyes unseeing towards the unkind faces of asses 1 and 2. In that moment I thought I would never be able to feel or see or be anything other than what I was in that table. I was six, and the only pain I’d ever felt was that one time I fell off a tree trying to rescue a ball.
I don’t know how long the Priming process was. I only bow that when my ears stopped buzzing, I was still screaming, and the head nurse was removing the needles from my body. Some seemed to have gotten stuck to something, but she didn’t care, she tugged and pulled until it left my body with a trickle of blood. The air smelled like sweat and urine, and feces (mine of course) and for a moment I relished in that. I might be strapped here being tortured but you guys have to put up with my smell. I willed my body to smell worse, to rebel and rot and die in their hands. I wasn’t relieved for the reprieve because I knew that whatever came next, could only be worse.
I wasn’t wrong.
After the Priming came the setting. If you think having electricity shot through your body was bad, that’s because you don’t know its third uglier cousin that catcalls you from a car as you walk by: electricity through your brain. Now, this didn’t hurt. At all. It was mostly strange and made your mouth taste all weird and your nose and eyeballs buzz but in comparison to what came before it wasn’t as bad.
The only terrible part about it was how the electricity came to be there. Well, its preferred method of travel apparently was needles through uncomfortable places.
Did you know you can’t put things in your eyes? I mean, you get used to it, yes it’s easy. But your eye at first will rebel against the idea of having anything against its gelatinous surface.
The solution? To ply your eyes open with something. Maybe your fingers or maybe another machine created for this very nefarious purpose.
Guess which one I got?
Don’t worry, though. The needle didn’t really go through my eye, just next to it, through the corner of it. Where eye and nose meet.
This, I don’t remember.
After the setting comes the Condition.
They unstrapped my neck and made the chair lean into a gentler angle.
This was the point where the Wrench came to me and I spit pieces of lips, tongue and vomit to his already disgusting attire. He looked at me, pulled a sheet of paper out of his clipboard and asked me the same questions as before.
I would like to say that I spat at him again. That I was defiant in my youth and aggressively demanded answers and explanations. But I didn’t. Instead, I cried. I cried and I couldn’t stop once I started. I tried to beg then to stop, to set me free or kill me, but I was crying to hard to breath and form coherent words. They just stood there, unmoved, looking at me, waiting for me to answer the fucking questions. There were no false platitudes. They didn’t tell me they stopped if only I answered. They just stayed there, looking.
Once I had no more tears and my body was ready to give up, as I sagged against the chair, the Wrench asked me again. And this time, I answered.
I was honest I said I knew or didn’t know and every time I got something wrong, I’d feel it again, the sharp buzzing behind my nose. Only it seemed to reverberate through my entire body, reminding my hands and legs that they could feel pain again, that hey had felt it before. It was a promise of what would happen if I got it wrong.
I answered everything. Again and again and again. Until I stopped feeling the promise.
Then they brought another needle… A thicker one. And the told me to calm down and be still. And I obeyed. They told me to keep my eye open and I did, they told me to count to ten and I did. The meddle pushed something into my head, something other than electricity and fear. I would understand until later that it was a small apparatus that allowed them to keep tabs on me.
The nurse told me to sleep and I did.
They’re here. I don’t know how or why but they’re here. Shit. I’ll talk to you later. Finish my tale and shit but now I just got to