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“The Cell” by Rayne Renney

I wake up in a dim cell. It is cramped and has no window. There’s no cot or toilet. There’s a huge, shut metal door and cement block walls. I sit and cry alone. Soon, I need to use the restroom and make do with a corner. My stomach growls. It is so cold and stark and grey.

Time seems to not exist. Nothing happens. I remain, huddled alone in the corner furthest from where I relieved myself, only a couple feet away, trying to hold myself and comprehend how I could be here. I don’t remember coming here. I struggle to remember anything. I am alone.

A while later, a man comes, with some moldy bread and scummy water. He places the stuff on the floor. I try not to look at him. I am afraid of who would hold me hostage. I don’t want either item, but can’t expect better, so eat it, feel sick, and vomit in the same corner I had used before.

I hear from behind me, “What do you want?”

What did he say? What do I want? Not this.

I turn toward him, crouched on the floor, hunched over, peering in his direction over my shoulder. What can I say? I don’t know how dangerous he is.

“How about bread without mold next time, and maybe drinkable water,” I dare to mutter sarcastically. I peek up at him.

He nods and leaves. I try to sleep on an uneven block floor, with some skittering rats.

I can smell my body’s fluids at the other edge of the cell and can feel the dampness and coolness of the cement sinking into my skin. I think a rat is eating one of my shoes, but my foot is too numb for me to tell for sure. It’s a long dreamless night.

The next day, more loneliness. More trying not to feel the shame of that corner I expel fluids into. What did I do to deserve this? He comes in, eventually, and the bread is stale, the water just old. I drink it and guzzle it down and am grateful I am not sick this time.

“What do you want?” he asks.

Again, the question. Frustration rises in me. Fine, since he asked, I reply, “Who taught you how to run a prison? This must not be the United States, cuz there are laws about this! There should be a toilet, and a cot and some heat and no rats!”

He nods and leaves. My day is spent sitting alone, hating this. It takes a long time, but finally the rat comes back to finish my shoe, so I toss it to him. I realize a rat is my only company before finding a fitful sleep.

In the morning, I wake up in a cot, and I’m not cold. The rats are gone, and in that corner I had come to loathe is a toilet. Wow. The cell has become livable. I feel not only the confusion and shame of my situation, but now, also, I’m suspicious. What is this predator trying to gain by tricking me like this?

At some point he comes in, with more stale bread and stagnant water. I eat it slowly and study him. He doesn’t look ugly, or handsome. He is just, well, normal looking.

“How’d you put in a toilet without waking me up?”

He just looks at me.

“How did you get me into this cot without waking me?”

He patiently watches me, not answering.

“Ok, fine, what do I want, right?”

He nods.

“Decent food, like pizza, or a burger, or noodles. With good fresh water.  And some clean clothes, blue ones if ya got ‘em, and a shower and a bigger cell so I can exercise and not be completely bored the whole day till you come back. And speaking of which, how about three meals in a day instead of one, and a book to read, like Watership Down. Something I won’t finish in one day. And a real bed!”

He nods, and leaves.

I wonder if any of that could actually happen and decide it’s silly to expect a captor to do such things as I fall asleep in the relief of a warm cot that night.

When I wake up, it’s all there. I am in a bigger cell, with a shower, and a change of blue clothes hanging over the curtain rod. I’m in a little bed, and there’s a tray by the door with some cheese pizza on it for breakfast. Watership Down is on the toilet back, and I am suddenly excited. It’s so much better than it was. There’s still no window, and it’s still lonely, but the water is warm in the shower, and the book is good like I remember, and it is nice to be able to at least get up and walk a bit or do jumping jacks.

I don’t know why this is happening. I don’t know how this is happening. I am too grateful to care.

At lunch, a burger is slid under the door, and at dinner, he brings Yakisoba. I eat, wondering at my captor. He doesn’t seem mean. But then why am I here? Why can’t I go outside? Why am I a prisoner?

“What do you want?” he asks.

“Ok, you’re still asking, so why not? I want a room, not a cell, and a piano to play, and an easel and paints to paint, and some paper and pencils to draw, and a computer to write and play video games on. Oh, and a window! I want more meals every day that I’d like, and, and a hot tub!”

He just nods, like always, and leaves.

I don’t know why, but I feel proud of myself for showing him up. There’s no way he can do all of that. I do like my bed, though, I think, as I fall asleep.


When I arise in the morning, there it all is. The light streaming in from the window onto my face. I sit up to find a piano, computer, easel, pencils, all of it. There’s falafel on a plate by the door, and even a bubbling hot tub. I’m in awe. This is frustrating.

On the one hand, I am happy. I finally have hobbies to occupy my time; distractions from the isolation. On the other hand, how is this possible? Where is this all coming from? It’s nice, but I still feel uncomfortable. How can I trust what doesn’t feel real?

For lunch Palak Paneer is slid under the door. It smells good. It is hot and tastes real, but is it? Eating in the spot of light on the floor from the window, I feel hollow. I am still a prisoner.

When he brings dinner, Pad See Ew, it even comes with a dessert of chocolate mousse. He sets down the tray upon the table covered in art supplies, and says, “What do you want?”

I get mad.

“What? Why? Why do you keep asking me that, and giving me whatever I say? You have to know what I want! You knew what foods I liked even when I didn’t tell you! Why torture me like this? Are you some sort of stalker or serial killer or something, and this is some sick game?!”

I start crying. I feel ashamed, like a child who has thrown a tantrum. He reaches down and lifts my head with a hand under my chin. He looks me in the eyes, gently, and says, “What do you want?”

“I want to go outside! I don’t want to live alone here forever. I want to do something useful! I want to be free.”

He smiles and takes my hand. He lifts me up and leads me to the door. He opens it and walks out. It had no lock the whole time.


Outside are fields and flowers and a rainbow. A rainbow means it must have rained, maybe even stormed. Still, the breeze on my face and the warmth of the day invigorate me. In the distance are trees rising from the earth to greet me. Outside, in the light from the sun, I can see him better, and realize he isn’t ordinary at all.  How had I not recognized him?

He is me, some younger me who hadn’t given up on life yet. He guided me out of my own prison, the one I had built for myself. Each block, made of pain. I had built a cell to guard myself from the outside, and somehow buried myself within.

Now, I stand, the whole world expanding before me–intimidating but exhilarating all the same. Imperfect as it is, the world calls to me. I don’t want the walls.

Before me are all the possibilities and the dreams I once dared to dream. He smiles wide and waves me onward as I take my first steps forward. This is what I want.

I am free.

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