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Today's Story by Mason Coyle

No one would ever want to be friends with a freak like you.

Eyes Open But Unseeing

An atrophied smile stretched across John Donovan’s face for the people he passed. Walking through his dorm building, John had seen these same people hundreds of times before, yet their names were as mysterious as their inner struggles. Holding eye contact for as briefly as possible, John fiddled with his keys in preparation for reaching the sanctuary of his room. The moment he was away from judging eyes his smile crumbled into a stale façade of indifference.

It made him feel like a whore, faking pleasure or happiness in order to get by, but it was the only way. There had been times when he didn’t try to pretend, days when he didn’t talk or smile. Those days were the worst. John could see it in their eyes. He could sense the tension underneath their skin and hear the disapproving tone in their voices, voices which incessantly nagged inside John’s head.

Why aren’t you normal?

Are you crazy?

You’re freaking everybody out.

You’re bringing everybody down.

What the fuck do you have to be so upset about anyway?

No one may have ever spoken those words aloud but they didn’t need to. It was so obvious, so clear.

The door to John’s room was wide open. He kicked the doorstop out and let the door slam behind him.

“What’re you doing man?” John’s roommate Nick said, turning his head away from his computer.

“The door stays closed when I’m in here. I don’t need to see and hear all the people moving through the hall.”

“Whatever man,” Nick said, turning back to his computer screen. John appreciated that Nick didn’t push the conversation. For four years John had kept the same room with four different roommates, never wanting to go through the hassle of making friends or finding another place to live. The room had become John’s steady companion and Nick was just some uninvited guest. They both understood that.

“Some people are gonna be dropping by though,” Nick said.

John dropped his book bag and sat at his desk. “Well they ain’t gonna be staying here.”

“Of course not. It’s Friday night, man. We’re going out,” Nick said, getting up and moving to his wardrobe. “You should come with us for a change.”

“I’d rather not.”

“What’s your deal?”

“I don’t like going out.”

“Well we don’t have to go out,” Nick said, putting on a dress shirt and immersing himself in a cloud of body spray. John struggled not to gag. “We could have a good time here if you bought us some beer.”

“Not gonna happen,” John said, opening his laptop.

“Whatever, man. You could still hang out with us though.”

“I don’t even know those guys.”

“You’ve met them like four times.”

“I’m not good with names,” John said, leaning back to his mini-fridge and pulling out a bottle of orange juice. “Besides, why should I bother to learn who they are? I’m here for a couple more months and then I’m out. I haven’t made any friends the last three years. Why should this one be different?”

“Man, you’ve got to get out of this room. Maybe you’ll make friends, maybe not. You won’t know unless you go out and try to have a good time.”

No one would ever want to be friends with a freak like you.

John scoffed and drank.

“Well, whatcha gonna do instead?”

John shrugged his shoulders and clicked open his music library.

“Whatever, man. Be that way,” Nick said, examining himself in the mirror hanging on the wall beside his wardrobe. “We’re all gonna go to a party tonight. If you change your mind you’re welcome to join us.”

So that everyone can see how pathetically abnormal you are.

“No thanks.”

“Oh, come on man,” Nick whined, turning to look at John. “We could have so much more fun if we have someone twenty-one with us. Lizzy is gonna be there.”

What on earth could she see in you?

“Lizzy doesn’t even know I exist.”

“Whose fault is that? She’d totally be into you if you just introduced yourself. She’s got that too-cool-for-school attitude just like you.”

“I don’t think I’m too cool—you know what? I’m not even gonna say that.”

“Whatever, man. If you wanna spend your whole life in this room go ahead.”

John searched his music library for the perfect song to play.

“Nick!” voices shouted from outside the room.

The door shuddered as at least three sets of fists pounded on it. Nick opened the door and five people poured into the room. There was a guy with impressive biceps and an abnormally large forehead, another guy with a lip piercing, a lanky girl with hair dyed black, another with hair dyed an intense red which ran all the way down to her ass, and finally Lizzy. She was no more attractive than the other girls, her style a little more subtle with her natural brown hair and unexceptional outfit, but she had the most adorable smile. The corners of her lips curved up as she looked at John. Her lips glistened with a layer of cherry lip gloss.

John smiled. Inexplicable laughter bubbled from deep inside him, but he stifled it before it could escape.

“Hey John!” the group shouted.

John raised an eyebrow. “You all been downing energy drinks or something?”

“I have!” lip ring guy said.

“It’s Friday!” black haired girl said. “We’re gonna party!”

“We’re gonna get drunk!” forehead guy said.

“You guys can get drunk. Us girls are gonna dance,” long haired girl said, wrapping her arms around Lizzy.

“And we’re gonna enjoy watching,” Nick said, picking up his car keys. “You coming with us John?”

The eyes all stared. John couldn’t bear to glance in Lizzy’s direction. His eyes glued themselves to his computer screen.

“No,” John muttered.

“Oh come on,” long haired girl cried. “You could dance with us.”

You could show how pathetically awkward you are. Then no girls would ever bother talking to you again.

John forced his voice to sound sincere. “I really can’t. I have things to do.”

“Like what?”


“That’s what the weekend is for, not Friday night!”

“I can’t go.”

“I don’t believe you,” black haired girl said. “We’re not gonna stop till you agree to come out with us.”

“Ah, leave him alone Sarah,” Nick said. “He’s got stuff to do. We’ll all hang out another night.”

“Come on, let’s go” forehead guy said, “I’m starving.”

The group followed forehead guy’s lead. They drifted out the door and down the hallway bickering loudly over where they were headed. John walked to the door and locked it.

Moving back to his desk, he closed his laptop and turned to the cupboard above the fridge. A half empty bottle of Kamchatka vodka sat beside a glass, ready for John to start his weekend ritual. John poured what was left of his orange juice into the glass and filled the rest with vodka. John drank it as fast as he could, the strong taste of citrus having more effect on him than the alcohol. John poured another glass, minus the juice.

You probably should have gone with them.

“Shut up,” John whispered to himself as he paced around the room, gulping the alcohol. He winced and shuddered.

People shouted outside. The window beside John’s desk revealed a scene of people pulling on each other as they walked to their cars. They were talking, laughing. Happy.

John closed the blinds and finished his drink. He grabbed the vodka bottle and swirled the clear contents inside. Soundless whispers gave empty promises of relief. There was only enough left for half a glass. John knew it wouldn’t be enough, it was never enough. Tipping the bottle upside down over the glass, he listened to the sound of the liquid splashing. As silenced signaled the bottle was empty John tossed it into the trash and sat on the floor.

He closed his eyes. The sound of waves crashing rippled through his mind. The smell of sea salt filled his nose. He could taste it. Sand filled in between his toes. Sinking deeper, the sand covered his feet, then his ankles. It was comforting to feel the pressure on his feet, grounding him. The cleansing water rushed over him. He no longer was on a beach but on the bottom of the sea, a warm sea, somewhere in the Caribbean. Fish of every brilliant color swarmed and played around John as if he were part of the reef. There were no people and no voices. John smiled.

“Friday night! Let’s Party!” some idiot shouted as his footsteps thundered down the hallway. John’s concentration was broken. His half empty glass of vodka stared up at him. John downed the drink. It burned in his stomach and an upturn of nausea churned inside.

When it passed, John stood and staggered to his bed. His alarm clock read 7:21 p.m. John wasn’t tired, but he lay in bed anyway.

Aren’t you the cool kid, going to bed before eight? Nice.

Shut up, John thought.

So you’re never gonna make a move on Lizzy? I guess I wouldn’t either if I were you. I mean what are the chances she’d be into a bumbling idiot who spends all his time talking to voices in his head.

Shut up.

Alright fine. You get awfully touchy about that girl.

Please shut up. John focused on his breathing, quieting his mind. He closed his eyes and tried to sleep.

You are aware that you’re going to die alone, right?


The alarm blared at twice its normal volume. John bolted up in surprise. The numbers on the clock kept scrolling forward, hours became seconds on the digital screen, and suddenly the day supposedly passed. John turned off the alarm and the numbers instantly disappeared. The illuminated green numbers of the microwave’s clock across the room went dark too.

Power’s out, was John’s first thought, but he didn’t quite believe himself.

Climbing out of bed and opening his laptop, he wasn’t surprised as the power didn’t switch on. He pulled his cell phone from his pocket. It too was blank.

Nick’s bed was still empty which most likely meant it wasn’t very late or very early. John walked to his window. It would be easy to guess what time it was from the number of smokers loitering in front of the building.

John pulled the shades up. No view. No window.

A solid wall stared back into John’s wide eyes. He pressed his hands against the impossible wall. It was solid.

John spun towards the door and the room spun as well. The floor tilted and John stumbled across the room and into the door. He grabbed the handle. The knob turned in his hand but no matter how hard he pushed or pulled the door remained closed.

Taking a step back from the door, John noticed that no light seeped in around the corners. The lights outside in the hallway were supposed to remain on all night.  The peephole revealed nothing but darkness. John put his ears to the door and heard nothing. That never happened in a college dorm. John shouted. He pounded on the door, but there was no answer, not even an echo.

Slowly John wandered back to his bed, a smile across his face. He imagined a vision of the world. It was empty, quiet. His isolated room was all that existed. He was the last human being alive. He was finally free from the never ending game of courtesies and expectations. Free from the inane babbling of small talk and the idiotic pursuit of cheap pleasures. More importantly he was free from the voices. For the first time John could be himself.

Sprawling across the bed with open arms, John took a deep and cleansing breath. It felt like the first true breath in his life. A rush of excitement mixed with the unlimited possibilities of happiness overwhelmed his mind till all he could do was laugh.

A part of John felt that his happiness was only the result of a dream, yet he had never had such an intensely vivid dream before. The smile that still grew on his face felt so foreign. John silently wished that it would be able to remain when he woke.


John awoke with a pain in his neck and back. He rolled himself up. His bed was gone. His desk. Gone.

Only four blank walls, a ceiling, and a floor remained, all spotlessly white, smooth, and indistinguishable. There were no lights in the room but it wasn’t dark. The walls illuminated the space with their own unexplainable glow.

John stumbled through the room, feeling and knocking on the hard surroundings. The room was hard as rock but seemed somehow artificial like plastic. Whatever it was, it was definitely solid. There was no way in or out.

At first John dismissed his surrounding yet again as a dream, but the more he began to notice his senses the more he doubted himself. The smell of his deodorant wafted to his nose. The noise of his shoes against the floor was subtle but clear. His vision of the miniscule rings of his fingerprints was distinct, as was the sensation of rubbing his index finger against his thumb. Above all else the taste of his dry mouth was so aggravating that he was sure he could not be sleeping. All he wanted was a glass of water to moisten his tongue. If he couldn’t wake up from his discomfort or his conscious desire to, it became uncertain if he could wake up at all.

John sat in the middle of the room. For years he had imagined all the things he could do if he were free from society. He had imagined being free from the confines of a normal life. It seemed like there were so many ideas of things for him to do, but now… now that freedom was his, his mind struggled to think of anything.

What was it you wanted to do? Was there anything at all?

“I can do whatever I want now.”

Not really. You’re absolutely alone and far from anything real. What can you do?

“I can finally be myself.”

You could have done that before. No. No, you were looking for something, a feeling. What was it? Comfort? Safety? Love?

A thought came to John. A face. Lizzy.

The air thinned.

It’s too bad you never even tried. Who knows what would have happened. Now it’s too late.

John struggled to keep his breathing under control. He paced back and forth with increasing speed. His senses were all in working order, but none of the information they passed to his brain made any sense.

It was warm. Nervous sweat covered John’s forehead. He dropped himself on the floor and slowed his panting breaths.

“It’s not real,” he said. “It can’t be. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m gonna wake up.”

Time kept moving, but how much time John didn’t know. An hour passed, or maybe just a minute. He was restless. He shifted himself on the hard floor, praying for sleep to come.

John closed his eyes.

“One, two, three, four, five…”


“Two thousand seven hundred and forty four, two thousand seven hundred and forty six… no, five. Two thousand seven hundred and… Oh, who gives a shit?”

John buried his face in his hands.


John sat up against the wall. Silence. The brutal silence of the room.

“A hundred bottles of beer on the wall, a hundred bottles of beer…”


John paced the room.
“I stand amid the roar
Of a surf-tormented shore,
And I hold within my hand
Grains of the golden sand—
How few! yet how they creep
Through my fingers to the deep,
While I weep—While I weep!
O God! can I not grasp
Them with a tighter clasp?
O God! can I not save
One from the pitiless wave
Is all that we see or seem
But a dream within a dream?”


There is no knowing how many hours passed with John quoting movies or poetry or how many hours he wasted recalling all the conversations he used to have. He imagined the ways he could have changed those conversations.

“Why you still in the room, man? Man, you gotta get out of here. Lizzy wants to see you.

“I’d like to see her too. Can you tell me the way to get out?

“Through the door.

“There’s no door Nick! You fucking idiot! Get out of here before I beat the shit out of you!

“Man, you’ve got to get out of this room. Maybe you’ll make friends maybe not. You won’t know unless you go out and try to have a good time.”


John awoke in the room. How many days had passed? Could it have been weeks, months? John stood and paced. He was in hell. How long would eternity be if he didn’t even have a clock?

“I’m dead—

“No, it’s just a dream—

“No, you’ve just gone crazy—

“If only you had gone with them.

“Where am I?


“You’re a fuckin’ idiot!

“More like fuckin’ insane.

“Shut up!” John yelled, pulling his shoe off and throwing it against the blank wall.

“God damn it, let me out!”

John ripped his shirt off and tore it to pieces. He tossed the cloth into the air. He grabbed his other shoe and pulled the strings out. His fingernails dug into the shoe, trying to rip and tear it apart, but unsuccessfully. Defeated, John threw it to the floor, spat on it, and kicked it across the room. Dropping down to his knees John picked up the discarded shoelace and wrapped it around his throat.

John pulled the strings tight. His throat choked and coughed. For an instant his grip loosened, but then he reasserted himself, and the strings dug into his neck. He would hold his breath like a child with a temper tantrum if he had to. Dots of light flashed in front of his eyes. He pulled the strings tighter and the world faded into merciful darkness.


John woke up with a headache. He was naked.

The room was as blank as ever. The remnants of his clothes were nowhere to be found. Luckily the room was not cold, but nevertheless it was hard and uncaring towards John’s soft skin. John didn’t bother to stand. He cried. No way to know how long he cried. However long it takes for the human body to lose the ability to make tears.

You’ve done it now, the voice said softly. You’ve totally lost your mind. The uncountable, mystifying treasures of the real world have been abandoned for a room. A blank and empty room. Do you feel safe now? Are you comfortable?

John lifted his head and dropped his temple against the floor. A thud reverberated in the room. It didn’t hurt much. John did it again. A similar thud. No pain, but a swelling sensation hummed inside his head.

It won’t work you know. Nothing you do in here is really happening.

He beat his head against the floor harder. He winced. He wished he still had tears.

You’re just a shell of a creature now. Eyes open but unseeing.

His head bashed the floor again, harder. A crack. Pain erupted and warm blood ran down his face.

You will spend the rest of your days lying in bed at a mental hospital, mumbling about a room, pleading to be let out.

Again his head smashed against the floor, still harder than before. Another crack mixed with a squishing sound.

All you have to do is go outside.

The room went dark.



John woke up. His vision was blurry but the white emptiness of the room was undeniable. His head was fused to the floor as blood crusted over his skin and hair. John struggled to lift his head. Slowly tearing himself free from his dried blood, he dropped his head on the floor once more.


Mason Coyle is a writer beginning his career. Living in Cincinnati, he holds a B.A. in English with an emphasis on Creative Writing after graduating from Wright State University.


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