A Hard Pill to Swallow (Part 2)

A Hard Pill to Swallow (Part 2)

Alexandra Risi

I wake up in a room enveloped in darkness. All of my memories have been blurred together into one, singular thought – that poster I saw. “The Pill Initiative”? What could it possibly mean? As I scrape the bottom of my brain, hoping to find anything that would help me understand this mess, a singular light turns on. The yellow illuminance reveals the thick, stiff rope that has connected my legs to the stool I’m sitting on. My hands are shackled behind my back, and as I listen for any sort of noise that could signify my safety, I am met with the deafening silence that ensures I’m truly alone. 

I remain on this stool for what feels like hours, met only by my confusing, wild thoughts. At some points I try to fight my way out, but my combat skills are no match for the knots that keep me compliant. After spending what can only be described as a century in this silence, the wall in front of me changes colors to a slightly lighter gray, and I can see both my shadow and the shadow of the man walking next to me. I try to turn my head to see him, but it’s impossible. Instead, I’m forced to watch his immense shadow hover over me, as he clears his throat and begins to speak in a hushed, quick tone. 

“Hello there, Aria, it’s so nice to see you again.”

His voice strikes me with an unsettling familiarity, but there’s a new piece of it that I cannot place. I refuse to respond to him out of defiance and confusion, so he continues. 

“It truly hurts that you felt the need to stop taking your pills” he explains, “it would have made everything so much easier. You see, my organization has been losing popularity at an exponential rate in your country. So, I had to do something about it.”

“You can’t force people to like you,” I scoff, “that’s up to them to decide.”

“Precisely,” he continues, “but what if they didn’t have that freedom? What if, perhaps, I was able to develop a pill that would take over the part of the brain that chooses. And then, I would simply make their choices for you.”

“Like brainwashing the population?”, I mutter, “You’re sick.”

“I prefer to call it ‘redirecting’ the people to make the decisions that will benefit them in the long run. Just think, with less choices, there would be less room for conflict. Everyone in the country would be able to live in perfect unity.”

My blood boils as I try to find the words to explain his flawed thoughts. All I can spit out is, “You’re an insane, delusional dictator who will never be able to make this plan work.”

I can feel his smile behind me as he says, “You know, I was thinking that too. When I first prescribed you the pills, I could tell you would be a difficult one to contain. And then, when I couldn’t reach into your brain anymore, my plan was beginning to fall apart. You were like a little nail in my tire that could crash the entire car. Luckily, I found the perfect patch to cover up the holes you were making, and all I needed to do was get you down here.”

As I processed his words, I realized that this man who was my “doctor” was actually running this whole operation, and my prescribed delusions were nothing but a sham to control me. He could sense the realization forming in my brain, as he spewed more of his evil tale.

“Now my proposition.” he explained, “If you want to live, you will leave this room with your guards, go down the hall, and put on the outfit I have picked out for you, and fix yourself up to look as presentable as possible.”

With no other option, I reluctantly agree and the man slices through the rope, letting me feel a sense of false freedom. Before I can take a step, two large, terrifying men stand behind me, and nod in the direction of the door. 

I take slow, calculated steps through the hallway, making note of every detail I can find. The hallways are white and pristine, with not so much as a window of escape. At the end of the hall is a large, blue door, and I push it open to reveal a simple white cot with a package on top. 

As I peel back the brown paper, a bright orange jumpsuit is revealed, with a brown “Pill Initiative” embroidered on the collar. I turn around to see the guards still standing there, watching my every move. “I can’t change with you in here”, I say, and they quickly hurry out, making it known that they are just outside that door should I choose to be difficult. 

As soon as the door swings shut behind them, I scale the room for any way to escape, but it’s impossible. The clean, white walls lock me in, leaving not a single error or crack that could be used to my advantage. After at least 15 minutes of searching, I slip on the orange jumpsuit, trying not to let the scratchy fabric touch my bruised limbs. When I put on the pants, a red post-it note falls out of the pocket, reading “Don’t say yes!”. I rack my brain trying to figure out what it means, but my thoughts are interrupted by the guards pulling me out of the room and down the hall, to a similar blue door. 

There, I’m met face-to-face with my doctor. He looks so much more terrifying than I ever could have imagined, and his piercing eyes remind me of the terrors I have faced in these past few hours. 

He gives a toothy smile, and begins to go into yet another one of his villainizing monologues. “Ahhh Aria, it’s so nice to see you’re cooperating with protocol. I would’ve really hated having to take care of you this early in the game.” I give him a scowl, which only fuels his slyness and motivates him to keep speaking.

“You see, Aria, if it were just you that defied my plan, I would’ve had you killed immediately. But you had to spread your ‘message of defiance’ to half of your coworkers, and now I have a whole swarm of these rebels to deal with.” 

I smiled at his admittance of difficulty. “I guess I saw right through your evil little plan, didn’t I?”

He didn’t seem as defeated as I would’ve liked, as he explained, “Maybe so. But now, it’s your job to exterminate these pests for me.” 

“Exterminate?” I gulp.

“Well not literally, of course. I’m no monster. But I will need you to go into that room and tell all of your recruits that my pill has made you feel so much better, and you were wrong to ever question it.”

“And why would I do that?” I say. 

“Because they trust you more than they could ever trust any of my men, and if you don’t comply, I’ll just kill you all. I’m trying to be more humane about this, Aria, but I do have options.”

The decision seems so clear to me. Save my friends, even if it means admitting them into a society where they would never get the freedom we took advantage of. Maybe the doctor’s right. Maybe this will be better for them. 

As I take a deep breath and prepare myself for compliance, the thought of the red post-it comes crashing into my brain. For some reason, I can’t ignore it’s message. My curiosity and rebelliousness gets the best of me, and I shake my head no. 

If I’m expecting some sort of shock for him, he refuses to give it to me. “Okay,” he says expressionlessly, “Johnson, prepare her for extermination.” 

Before I have time to react, he has left the room, and I’m handcuffed again. Only this time, the man taking care of me is my boss. His face looks softer than it did before, and there’s a kind of distant fear in his eyes that I have never seen before. 

Despite this look of vulnerability, he pulls me into the next room, and uses no gentle motions as he pushes me onto a gray trapdoor. 

“Ready for extermination” he robotically says into his walkie-talkie, and my heart begins to beat incessantly.

I look at the man I once looked up to with fear in my eyes, and as my eyes move down, I see the corner of a red post-it stack sticking out of his jacket pocket. Our eyes meet, but before either of us can say anything, the trapdoor opens, and I am once again swimming in a pool of darkness. I hope and pray that I can find some way out of this, but until then, I am falling, and stuck in this constant loophole of terror.