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The Other Room

Stumbling sleepily, hypnogogic somnambulists are taken from the familiar darkness of their homes and impossibly imprisoned, trapped as fear and thirst slowly madden them.


It is a familiar enough scenario: You wake in the night, throat parched, stumble only half-awake down hallways you know intimately, almost to the point of obliviousness in daylight, until at journey's end, by necessity, you turn on the light and certainty takes the place of surety. Except in those cases where it is instead replaced by the shock of the unexpected; where you might illuminate what you assume to be a familiar darkness only to find yourself in a room starkly different and distinct from the one in which you believe you were standing. You would, understandably, be confused, you might even be scared and, if you had any idea what awaited you, you would be right to be scared. Though those who find themselves trapped in The Other Room almost always survive, they almost never emerge unscathed.

All the stories about The Other Room share these initial generalities; the addle of sleep giving way to an acute awareness engendered by adrenaline. There is a natural assumption that it must be a particularly vivid nightmare, an assumption buoyed when, inevitably, they turn on their heels and find a wall where they expected an escape. At this point the accounts begin to vary - some beat their fists raw and bloody, screaming themselves hoarse, while others succumb to the numbness of despair - the animal aspect of human nature being overridden by more evolved and more individual tics and traits. From the survivors - few can maintain sufficient panic to render themselves insensate for the entire experience - we can begin to draw together an idea of what The Other Room looks like, and how its simplicity makes it a particularly cruel trap.

The descriptions of The Other Room are similar enough to determine that it merits the use of that definite article but, nonetheless, vary enough from person to person to suggest that the memory is not a fabrication, a cover either willingly assumed by or imprinted upon survivors to disguise some more overt act of malice. No matter the strength or the ferocity of their initial reaction to realising that they are both awake and yet caught in an impossible trap, time and the drain of adrenaline melting away eventually force a victim’s fear to mutate; first into acceptance and, later, tedium. Left without any obvious means of escape there is nothing to do but take stock of the room, and it’s from accounts of this first lull that the descriptions of The Other Room are predominantly gathered.

By their unknowing and growing consensus, we know that The Other Room is roughly a cube - though a few people have said that the ceiling is too high for this - some twenty feet along each edge. The walls are made of breezeblocks, painted in a wan, too thin coat of some cheap and blandly emollient beige emulsion, the ceiling a drab plaster in the same colour with a single, incandescent bulb, hanging limply and glowing dully. The floor is similarly non-descript, carpeted in some cheap grey nylon; the aesthetic of budget student accommodation adding to the surreal and nightmarish unreality. Still we can be somewhat sure that, despite the impossibility of its construction, The Other Room is - functionally - as it appears to be: every reachable inch of it having been searched and physically interrogated for even the merest hope of escape throughout the course of innumerable abductions.

There are dozens of these incidents each and every year, people going missing from their own homes in the middle of the night but leaving no hint of a disturbance or of having taken flight, only to reappear a day or two later; dehydrated and delirious and sprawled out on the floor of whichever room they had intended as their destination on their initial, fruitless excursion. Where they still have the wherewithal and enough energy to get help, or where such help chances upon them in time, the vast majority of returned abductees physically recover with the proper medical ministrations: namely fluids and rest. Some are less lucky - although calling anyone who has spent time in The Other Room “lucky” feels obscene - and suffer organ damage from the severity of their dehydration. Far fewer still, no matter how complete their physical convalescence, are able to regain their former psychological equilibrium.

Survivors are left with a story, an explanation for their absence and their obvious suffering, that simply does not fit within most people’s understanding of the world. Whether that understanding comes from a singular source - like religion or science - or some middle ground, it is seldom malleable enough to allow for such extreme outliers. In the face of scepticism or outright disbelief, no matter how kindly intended or how hostile, there is additional pressure on an already traumatised survivor. Those who are not able to bend can break, the truth of their experience being more important than coming to terms with their suffering in a world that largely disputes it as a possibility. Most manage to find some sort of compromise, a degree of denial and a rehearsed retelling that frames The Other Room as the product of a mind pushed far beyond the bounds of understanding its usual narrative constraints.

I have found accounts of this specific phenomenon dating back over ten years, having started abruptly in North America before beginning to take place across the western world, and the details that are recounted are always both specific and similar. The first statement, the first report, is often the most certain - doubt and disbelief tend to take root thereafter, but despite poring over several hundred versions of the same story (either first-hand or as described in medical files and police reports) I can find no significant commonality between survivors. They stumble into The Other Room in darkness, suffer and starve for several days and then, either passed out or having closed their eyes to rest, are suddenly home, entirely the worse for wear. Nevertheless, and despite our inability to understand or explain it, The Other Room exists, its strange design playing out over and over, apparently without intent, without greater purpose. I hope we never discover its nature more intimately.


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