The door to the small, dark cell opened, and a guard threw a tray of food on the floor. “Happy Thanksgiving.” His gruff voice was the first sound from another human I had heard in a long time.
“Is it really Thanksgiving?”
The guard shrugged. “Maybe. What do you care? You’ve got nothing to be thankful for.” Done with me, he slammed the door shut and left.
Once more, the light shrank to whatever filtered through the small, barred window on the door. Still, it was enough to see that the food was the same gruel trying to pass itself off as stew. I ate every bit of it because there would be nothing better. The guard had probably lied about it being Thanksgiving.
Besides, he was right, what did I have to be thankful for? Left in this underground cell to rot, the only light coming from a low-watt bulb in the corridor. The food barely deserved to be called that. No human interaction. I wasn’t even certain I remembered what crime I had committed to be thrown in here. Nobody even bothered to torment me. I was certain I was fed only when someone remembered I existed. That’s how I would die; they’d just forget to feed me, and I would starve.
Still, it was tradition. Surely I could think of something to be thankful for. I was alive. I had a roof over my head. Food in my belly. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t muster any thankfulness for any of it. The food was horrible, and the roof felt more like the lid to a coffin. And frankly, I wasn’t certain I was even alive.
“I think he was lying about Thanksgiving.” The voice seemed to come from the wall behind me.
“I’m in the cell next to yours, I think.”
There had never been anyone else in here. “Are you real? Or am I imagining you?”
“Good question, but I’m real. Are you?”
How do you know if you’re real? Except for this disembodied voice, and the occasional grunt from a guard, no one had acknowledged my existence for as long as I could remember. Maybe I wasn’t real…
“Hey! You there? You know I can’t hear your thoughts. You gotta talk out loud.”
“Sorry. I think I’m real. Why haven’t I heard you before?”
“Same reason I hadn’t heard you until that guard talked to you. No reason to say anything.”
That made sense, I supposed. “How long have you been here?”
“Six months? Maybe. I was brought here in January, so I don’t think it’s November already. How long have you been here?”
“I don’t know. I’m not even sure when I came here anymore. Pretty sure it’s been longer than six months.”
Silence came rushing back in, much louder than before. I tried to remember how to have a conversation, to keep the other person talking. I didn’t care about what, and that made it harder to think of something to say. But I needed to hear a human voice, even if it was just my imagination.
“How… Why did you get put in here?” I asked the first question that popped into my head.
“Boring story. You don’t want to hear it.”
“I do. Really. Even if it’s boring.”
A pause before the other spoke again. “Okay, but I warned you. It started with a broken headlight…”