The White Room by Anastasiya Olkanetska​ya

A work-weary detective wakes up in a surreal kind of prison, haunted by the memories of the murder scenes he has been investigating; by Anastasiya Olkanetskaya.

The alley smelled of rot, the ground covered in yellowish pus that dripped from a nearby trash bin; my slick black shoes were covered in a film from pacing in it. I put my back against a crumbling brick wall and lit a cigarette, willing the solitary door across from me to open. It was old, like everything here, peeling and graffiti-covered to the point that it was almost unrecognizable. A single light bulb hung, illuminating the yellow knob. It was shiny, as if recently replaced. That didn't surprise me. Even a shithole like this pub was privy to getting broken into in the bad part of town; or maybe the door had been kicked down in an attempt to get out quick. The Safe House was an idiotic name for the place considering you'd be more likely to get shot inside than out. The smoke swirled toward the many stars above. I stood in the shadows, the red glow from the tip of my cigarette bright in the darkness. I checked my watch; it was 9:07pm.

He was late. The wind had picked up, bringing with it dark clouds to hide the starry sky, the air smelled of rain. I pulled my coat closed and inhaled the smoke a little deeper, letting it claw at my lungs. I checked my watch again; 9:10pm. It wasn't like me to be impatient but this couldn't wait any longer. I dropped the cigarette, letting it extinguish with a hiss as it hit the slimy ground. I stared at the door; the light that hung over it had begun to swing and flicker. It did nothing to illuminate the surrounding darkness, as if the light was confined to the area around the door and the dark around it was too thick to permeate. I pushed off the wall and started to pace again, squishing my way back and forth through the grime. I heard a thump. I spun around and listened to the clicking of locks moving down the door. The knob had turned before the light bulb swung and went out, leaving me in complete darkness. The door opened slightly, letting a sliver of light and loud music into the stillness of the alley. My hand moved automatically to my holster, hovering above the handle of my pistol. A silhouette of a man stood in the frame as the door swung open.

That was the last thing I remember.

I awoke in this... prison. My eyes opened to a blinding light and a throbbing headache as I sat up. I closed my eyes, but I could do nothing for the pain that spread through my skull. The back of my head was supporting a lump the size of a baseball; the lightest touch made sparks appear in front of my eyes. I left the thing alone and began concentrating on adjusting my vision. I let my eyelids part slowly, looking at my surroundings through the haze of lashes first, and then blinking until I could stand the brightness. The room was white. Everything was a blinding white. A cushy white couch and chairs were placed neatly around a white square table in the middle of the room. A white toilet next to a white sink occupied the corner opposite from where I sat on a white bed with white sheets. There was a white analogue clock hanging on the opposite wall; it had no numbers, just two white hands outlined in black. A mirror to my right stretched the length of the wall. White florescent lights were evenly spaced on the ceiling and made the white walls and white floor seem to expand into forever. There was no door. Apart from the mirror, everything looked like it was suspended in nothingness. It made me think of hospitals, the room seemed sterile. I turned to face my reflection. The same tired face looked back at me; watery grey eyes with dark bags underneath, skin lined with deep-set wrinkles and scars. My hair - a short dark brown, laden with grey - was messy; as if I'd woken from a peaceful sleep. The only differences were the white scrubs that replaced my tan pants and black turtleneck and the protruding lump on the back of my head. I pushed off the bed and the room spun around me. My legs shook and I was forced down on my hands and knees as the built up acid made its way up my throat. When my stomach was empty I rolled onto my side, breathing deep to suppress the lingering nausea. I stared at the clock; it read something around 12:30. I couldn't tell if it was morning or night nor the length of time that had passed since I had been brought here. I had no idea where I was, when I was, or how I was supposed to get out. It was obvious that I was not meant to leave this room. I closed my eyes and let myself drift.

When I opened my eyes again, the clock read something around 3:50. The vomit that should have been dried and crusty was gone without a trace. My splitting headache had become a pulsating throb and I was no longer nauseous. I chanced another attempt at getting upright; as I pushed off the floor the room stayed motionless. My legs were still shaky but they managed to hold my weight. I stared at the bed in front of me; it was as if no one had ever lain in it before. Someone had to have come in here while I was out to clean the place. But there was no door. I scanned the room again, looking more closely. Nothing had changed, but this time I noticed the two air vents that were above the bed. They were about a foot apart and both the size of a small dog door, too small to try and crawl through. I shakily made my way around the room, examining the walls and finally the mirror. It was a standard two-way mirror, exactly the same as we used at the precinct. Usually it's hard to tell, but they're easy to spot when you've worked with one for over twenty years; the lining around the perimeter was too thick for a regular mirror. No doubt whoever put me here was also closely paying attention. Maybe there was a way to remove the mirror, but from this end it was flawlessly merged with the wall. I sat on the bed, thinking about what kind of shit I'd gotten myself into this time. I thought of my family, and the last words I'd exchanged with my wife, my children:

"No, James. That really isn't how it works. The kids need their father around, and I don't mean sometimes, I mean most of the time. Your absence is damaging their psyches." The coffee she was pouring missed the cup and dribbled off the table. The matter-of-fact tone she used irritated the crap out of me; I hated when she talked to me like one of her patients.

"Don't try and shrink them, Rachel! I'm there for them, I'm sure their psyches are fine." I grabbed a sponge off the sink and began wiping up the coffee. The smell of it filled the kitchen. It was leaving a stain on the white tile. "Shit."

"When was the last time you went to one of Tony's soccer games? Or one of Sarah's recitals? Did you know that she's leading the troupe tomorrow in their representation of Sleeping Beauty? No. You didn't. Because you're never here. You come home at three or four in the morning, and you leave at seven." She sipped at her coffee and took a bite of toast.

"What are you trying to say? That I'm cheating? Are you out of your mind? There's a serial killer running around hacking people, and it's my job to stop him. I'm pretty sure I wouldn't even find the time to cheat. I barely have the time to sleep, you said it yourself. And the same goes for the practice and recitals. I think that keeping them safe is more important." I threw the sponge into the sink and grabbed a cleaner from underneath. I started scrubbing at the coffee stain with a brush.

"I know you'd never cheat on me. That's not the point. They have other detectives. You didn't have to take the case. You could have spent the time at home, with us. Do you know how many birthdays you've missed? How many anniversaries? I'm sorry James, but after twenty years of absence I don't think I can do this anymore. You're my husband, not my roommate." She threw the empty cup and crust of toast in the sink. "I'm going to be late."

"This is the last case, Rachel. I promise. Nothing but deskwork for me after this one. I'll get regular hours, and days off like everyone else. We could take a vacation with the kids. Maybe go to Disney World. You know they'd love it. Please. I have to find this guy and put him away for good before I can rest." I took her hands but she pulled them out of my grasp.

"We'll discuss this later. Come say good bye to your kids." Her heels clicked on the hardwood as she walked out of the kitchen and to the door. I threw the cleaning supplies in the sink and washed my hands before joining Rachel. "Let's go you two, we're running late!" The kids bounded down the stairs, book bags bouncing on their backs. Sarah looked almost exactly like her mother, and Tony had the same features as I. I kneeled to face the two of them and grabbed them into a tight hug.

"I love you guys, be good. Have fun at school." I gave them an extra tight squeeze and kissed them on the cheeks. Rachel had already opened the door and was ushering them out toward the car. I grabbed her hand tightly. "Rachel, I love you. Please don't be mad at me. We will work it out." The door slammed shut behind them.

I opened my eyes to the clock reading 9:40. I don't remember falling asleep. My bladder was full and with a side glace at the mirror, I made my way toward the toilet. After washing my hands I turned to find a white tray with a white bowl and a white spoon on the table. I hadn't noticed it on the way to the toilet, but maybe I was too preoccupied. If anyone had been in here I would have heard or seen them, it was not a very large room. I moved slowly toward the bowl and peered inside. Oatmeal. My stomach rumbled at the sight of food. After all the trouble that had been taken to bring me here I didn't think it poisoned. I grabbed the bowl and sat on the couch. I spooned the mushy substance into my mouth. It was still hot. It had no taste but felt welcome in my empty stomach. I finished the bowl and tossed it on the table. That's when I noticed the glass of water. It wasn't there before, it couldn't have been. I was sitting on the couch in front of the table; if anyone had put it there, I'd have seen them. I picked up the glass and sniffed at the clear substance; odorless. I downed the liquid and set the glass on the table. No adverse reaction. Maybe I just didn't notice; I had sustained a blow to the head. The clock read 10:00. I wandered the room, inspecting for any other possible place of entry. I tried pulling the couch and chairs from the floor but they seemed welded down. I found nothing. The clock read 10:25.

I sat on the couch and thought back to my last memory, trying to find anything I could grab onto, any type of link that would explain what happened. I was meeting my informant, the only lead I had regarding my most recent case; he had requested I come alone and meet him in the alley behind The Safe House. It was dark; the assailant was waiting for me in the shadows. It might have been a set up, a way to get me out of the picture, but that was not typical serial killer behavior. The guy I was after was committed to making his victims suffer, killing them in the most grotesque ways. This was definitely not part of his M.O. I recalled the first murder scene:

"Detective Avery, over here!" A tall young man with blond hair and kind eyes waved to me as I closed the door of my car. We were in front of an abandoned building downtown, scheduled for demolition next week. The small brick building was one story high, the windows were boarded up. The one door seemed to be pried open with a crow bar and hung loosely from its top hinge. Caution tape covered the perimeter of the building. "My name is Officer Harlow. It's a pleasure to meet you, sir." I exchanged a quick handshake before ducking under the tape and making my way towards the door. The stench of corpse hit me. I proceeded inside, drawing a handkerchief from my breast pocket and placing it over my nose and mouth. The place was covered in blood; it was smeared over the walls, pooled on the floor and covered almost every inch of the room. In the middle of the ceiling, written in blood were the words "Toward immortality..." A strange symbol was drawn underneath.

The victim lay in the middle of the room, naked. The killer had tied his limbs and stretched them out in different directions using rope; there were deep cuts in the wrists and ankles from the victim struggling. The victim had been skinned from head to toe. The corpse was red and covered in dry blood. The face of the victim seemed paralyzed in a silent scream. The eyes were still open; a horror lingering in the gaze. Several officers and technicians were standing over the body while others took pictures and dusted for prints. I walked over to Charlie Mason, the chief, who was talking to a couple of patrol cops.

"So you got called in anonymously cause someone smelled something rotting?" He shook his head at the patrol officers. "Son of a bitch probably called in it himself." He turned to me, still shaking his head. "Nice to see you here, Avery. Finally decided to show up, huh? We got a real whack job here; skinned the guy while he was still alive. He was sedated, so he didn't get to feel, but he got to see. Died of blood loss. We can't find the missing skin; I guess the psycho kept it as a memento, the sick fuck. So far, that's all we got. No witnesses, no evidence, no weapon, just a skinned dead guy in an abandoned building. We're working on identifying the victim right now. Forensics will give you all they got but I doubt that'd be much at this point. You got your work cut out for you."

The clock read 12:50. I found myself in bed without any recollection of how I got there. I stared at the wall. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary except for the small red mark across from where I sat. I moved toward it gingerly. It looked like a streak of blood. I rubbed at it, but it did not go away. I examined the rest of the room, trying to find any other differences. There was another bowl on the table, and another glass of water. My stomach growled ferociously. How long had it been since I'd last eaten? It must have been a few hours, surely. I grabbed the bowl and wolfed down the tasteless oatmeal and washed it down with the water. Leaving the bowl and glass on the table, I went back to the wall with the mark on it. It seemed to have changed slightly, grown in length and size. I rubbed my sleeve on it but it did not leave any residue on the white fabric. I sat with my back against the wall. The mark seemed to have come out of nowhere. The fluorescent light buzzed slightly. The second murder scene flowed into my thoughts:

It was another abandoned place; a house this time no more than five miles away from the last scene. It had been two weeks since the last murder and we had nothing to go on. This time, we got a call about a fire. A frantic woman at the scene said she was walking home from work when she noticed the smoke coming through the window. That's when she saw the flames and called the police.

"Detective Avery!" The same blond man fell into step with me as I walked toward the house. "I researched the symbol the killer has been leaving, I've compared it to dozens of religious symbols across the globe but there is no match."

"Tell me something I don't know, Harley." I quickened my pace.

"It's Harlow, sir. And it might be a stretch, but I think this might be related to a satanic ritual. The closest symbol I've found had been that of a satanic cult that was formed here in the 90s. All the members were said to have committed suicide in self-sacrifice but not all the bodies were accounted for. It also seems we have a cannibal on our hands, sir. I think that's what happened to the missing skin from the previous murder. The victim here is missing his right arm. We found the bones; badly burned in the room with the victim but with distinct bite marks on them. The structure of the teeth matches that of a human. We're sending it to the lab to see if we can get matching dental records." The room we walked into was charred black. The floor and walls had peeled and burned in the fire leaving singed holes. The victim was positioned on what seemed to be a metal chair in the middle of the floor. The right arm had been cut off from the shoulder. The left arm, feet, and torso were bound to the chair with wire. The smell of smoke and burning flesh filled the small room. "The firemen were the first to get here, sir. After putting out the fire they narrowed the source to the victim. I think the killer made him watch his own arm eaten before he set the man on fire. There is also this, Detective." Harlow moved past the burned skeleton and into the bathroom to the right. The mirror was shattered, the pieces in a heap in the sink. On the tile over the tub, in blood, was written: "Toward immortality..." Signed with the same symbol as before.

"Identify whose blood was used to write that message." I walked out of the bathroom and out of the house. The smell of smoke set into my clothes, my hair, my being.

It was 4:20. I awoke to the stench of smoke. The small smear on the wall in front of me had expanded into a gaping hole. It seemed as if the wall was alive and someone had cut away at its flesh leaving the meat exposed. Blood was streaming from the wound and pooling on the white surface of the floor. I stood and stared at my white scrubs, they were spotless. But my hands were crusted in dry blood. It didn't seem to be my blood but I examined myself in the mirror for injuries. No cuts, no bruises. My face looked hollow though; my eyes sunken further into their sockets, my skin losing its elasticity and drooping slightly. The corners of my mouth were turned down in a continuous scowl. My lower jaw was covered in a grey shadow. I walked around the room avoiding the hole. The sink looked worn and dirty and the water was rust colored. I washed away the dry blood under the murky stream. The smell of smoke still hung in the air.

I moved to face the hole in the wall. It was still bleeding slightly; a generous puddle had formed on the floor underneath. I walked closer; the hole seemed to be pulsating. My toes made contact with the liquid on the floor; the substance felt viscous and warm. I stared at the rippling muscle; it contracted and expanded. My right arm moved of its own accord reaching toward the moving flesh. My fingers stretched toward the warm, bleeding tissue. The stench of smoke was growing heavier. I pressed two fingers into the mass, it was soft, and it was alive. Blood began to flow from where my fingers had touched in a continuous stream down the wall. I stumbled backwards, alarmed at the sudden gush that exploded from my touch. I stared in disbelief and awe as bony fingers clawed their way through the flesh in the hole. Soon, two skinned hands had emerged, followed by skinned arms and a skinned head. The thing hung from the hole, fingers slightly swaying over the surface of the pool underneath. The head began to rise, slowly, the muscles working in the neck. The eyes rolled back and forth in their sockets, examining the room before resting on me. A bloody arm reached for me, a bloody finger pointed at my chest.

"To you I give my skin, the outer covering of the human soul. To ingest it will make you impermeable and will set you on the path toward immortality..." The muscle of the face seemed to stretch into what was meant to be a smile. It looked savage; the teeth sharpened to points.

"What... No!" I backed away from the struggling mass; the thing seemed keen on freeing itself from the hole, it pushed against the sides of the wall, the muscles in the arms flexing. My foot caught on the side of the couch and I flew backwards. My eyes shut for a moment as I landed and when I scrambled back up, the room was filled with smoke. My lungs filled with the poisonous gas, and tears streamed down my face as I succumbed to a coughing fit. I kneeled and gasped for air.

"Dinner is served, James." A voice called from the other side of the couch. I made my way around it on my hands and knees, peering from behind. A skeleton sat on a chair in front of the table. The smoke was coming from the flames that engulfed its body. It reached toward me with its left arm. "To you I give my arm, the tool used to inflict power. To ingest it will give you incredible strength and will set you on the path toward immortality..."

"Ahg!" I pushed off the floor and ran toward the mirror. My fists banged on the glass. "What the hell is going on? Let me out of here!" In the reflection, the bodies of the victims were moving toward me. The smoke was circling and moving as the flames and bloody mass inched closer. The smoke filled my lungs once more and I was choking. The two bodies reached toward me, the bones and the flesh almost touching my face. And then everything was black.

The third murder took place eight miles from the scene of the first one. I was on my way to Tony's soccer game when I received the call. Mason did not sound happy when I answered.

"Goddamn it, Avery. Murder number three in four weeks! Are you even doing your goddamn job? Get over to 32nd and 5th immediately!" I heard the door open in the background, a female voice saying something quietly. "Tell the press to stick their cameras where the sun don't shine! This is an investigation, not a sideshow! Just tell them I'll call them back!"

"Sir, I am doing everything I can to nail this guy. But there's been nothing so far, you know that. The dentals didn't match anyone perfectly and the few people that were close are either dead or in prison." I made a u-turn and sped toward the intersection of 32nd and 5th.

"Just get your ass over there. I expect some actual detective work out of you this time. We can't have any more people showing up dead!" The phone clicked as the line was cut off. I flipped on my siren and slammed on the gas. I arrived at the scene in less than twenty minutes. The vast space was full of patrol cars and flashing lights. It used to belong to a wealthy credit card company before it went under. The building was torn down but the parking lot remained intact under the concrete. It stretched underneath the now gone building into a spiral of two levels. Harlow greeted me at the scene as always.

"You better have something good for me this time, Harlow." I stormed pass him into the darkness of the parking garage.

"Some punk kids called it in this time. Apparently it's their favorite hang out to smoke and break things in. I don't think they had much fun this time." He shook his head. "The body is down on the second level of the garage. This one is pretty brutal but there is an upside. We found blood that didn't belong to the victim. Either the killer cut himself during the ritual or the victim managed to injure him. Either way, we finally have something." The parking garage was illuminated by a series of lights strung along the wall. They led down the spiral ramp to the second level and off to the left. Our footsteps echoed as we approached. The body lay on an enlarged version of the symbol we'd seen before. A circle had been made around the body with the words "Toward immortality..." repeating. The victim had been nailed to the ground with railroad spikes. The body was positioned with the feet together and the arms out to the sides; a mockery of the crucifixion, the feet pointed north. The victim's rib cage had been pried apart, exposing the internal organs. The heart was missing.

It was 5:20. The room had transformed significantly. The once white walls ran crimson. Streaks of blood and flesh coated the room. Sections were burned or peeling away and everywhere the symbol of the killer appeared. The mirror, cracked and smeared with bloody handprints reflected my shocked expression. My face had changed. It was fuller, wrinkle free. No bags hung under my eyes. The scars acquired from work were flawlessly gone. My skin was smooth and soft. The grey in my hair had vanished, leaving it thicker and fuller. I looked at my hands, clenched and unclenched them to feel the current of power flow through my arms. My eyesight was sharper, my hearing crisper. My mouth stretched into a smirk. The feeling was incredible.

A sound made my eyes focus on what was behind me; a body lying in the middle of the blood-streaked floor had begun to stir. The hands and feet of the man had been nailed down and he was pulling them up through the spikes; blood flowed from the wounds. The man had stood, his eyes closed. He reached into his broken chest and pulled out a beating heart. Blood dripped through his fingers and down his arm. He stumbled toward me; the movement jagged and erratic. He reached the heart out toward me, letting it linger in front of my face. I could almost taste the iron in the blood. The eyes of the man flew open; they were completely engulfed in black.

"Do you want it? You do, I know. You lust after the power that flows through your arms. You crave it, you want more. But it won't last. That was just a taste; soon you'll go back to being your simple mortal self again." The man turned his head sideways, the mouth stretching into a frightening smile. "But I have the answer; I can give you immortal life. All that I ask is for a few souls in return." With the other hand, he reached toward me and pointed at my chest. I could feel the power drain from my arms, my senses dulling, and exhaustion setting in. I turned to face the mirror once more; the reflection showed a shadow of a man, skin over bones, dying quickly.

"No." I croaked. My voice was ragged and torn. I moved my arm with unbearable effort toward my face. My fingers touched the folds of skin around my skull. My eyes looked lifeless. "How?" I managed to choke out through the dryness of my throat.

"It's simple, James. Just eat this heart. In doing so, a binding contract will be made. You will return to the human world and in my name you must kill and devour three pure souls. Once I've collected my dues, your powers will return and you will be free to use them as you please. But be aware, James; the ritual must be exact for you to get your powers in the end." The man placed the heart in my outstretched hand.

"How will I know what to do?" I brought the heart toward my mouth. My lips pressed against the beating muscle.

"You've seen it all before! It's simple for someone who's studied to take the test. Now bite!" My teeth sunk into the flesh, my mouth filled with blood. I felt the beating on my teeth, the blood slipping down my throat.

The sun shone brightly through shades of the window by my bed. A steady beeping came from a machine that registered my heartbeat. My eyes blinked, adjusting to the light. I sat up, removing the numerous tubes and wires that hung from my body. The machine flatlined with a drawn out beep. I looked around the room. The analogue clock hung above an open door leading out into a hallway. It was 11:33am. A small white chair occupied the corner in front of me. A door led to the bathroom on the left. A nurse in light blue scrubs came rushing in through the door.

"Mr. Avery! You're awake!" The young woman's eyes were a gentle shade of green, her mouth upturned in a wide grin. "You had quite a fall in the alley; it seems you slipped and hit your head on a trash bin. It's a miracle someone found you and brought you to us! You've been semi conscious for over twenty-four hours. We weren't sure if the brain damage was lasting. This is wonderful news. I'll have the doctor come and examine you right away." She ran out of the room leaving me staring after her.

"What a kind heart, and what a pure soul." I reveled in the thought of peeling her flesh, her green eyes horror stricken. "That power shall be mine; nothing personal." I pulled the covers from my legs and silently slipped out of the hospital room.


  1. Crumbs! brilliantly descriptive, and definitely an absolute chiller.
    leave the light on after reading!

    Michael McCarthy

  2. Whoa! I think there might be a hair or two standing on the nape of my neck! Nicely done. Definitely creeeeeepy.

  3. I was still in the first paragraph and Jack Webb's voice as Sgt, Friday,
    took over and ran with the whole story, as though he'd been drafted out of an earlier and soapier world and brought into this macabre setting full of horrors that Detective Friday never met once in my early TV days. Thoroughly creepy, scary, over-the-shoulder looking, details enough for any cop, or Bella Lugosi himself..

  4. Nice. I liked the image of the fleshy hole opening up in the wall.

    Benjamin Finateri

  5. I love your adjectives!

  6. Beautiful writing! Nice dark twist,( that I did not see coming!). Reading this story was like stumbling over a hidden dive on a rainy night in the city- a place with great jazz and good scotch at an address- you can never find again,
    but can't seem to forget.