Reading University Writers Guild

49, 50

By Charlie Murphy


The huge screen flashed into life. Simon stared wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the number 22 glowed in huge red digital figures. He tried to find some meaning to the numbers, each about a metre high in the centre of the black panel. It was suspended from two chains, hanging from the high, dull ceiling and taking up most of the wall space. Simon could not move; he was strapped into a metal chair, restraints around his wrists and ankles. His legs tingled as the seat cut into the back of his knees, restricting the blood supply. The back of the chair was high and stopped him looking around. He could not make any sense of the number, continuing to stare at it, transfixed.

They had taken him during the night; the breaking down of the door, the shouts of the men and the screams of his family seemed to be nothing more than a blur, a bad dream. He had woken strapped to the chair in a cold, still silence. Simon knew that there was only one reason why he had been brought here. It was because of the articles. Throughout university, Simon had spent his spare time searching for secret government documents online, hunting for any signs of scandal, and posting his controversial findings online. He always knew it was only time before they found him.

The screen changed to 23.

“What is this…?” murmured Simon, scanning his eyes over the huge numbers once more. He had originally thought they may have been counting down to… something, but no. Simon pondered again. I haven’t been here 23 hours, have I? He doubted it.

Soon, the number became 24, and then 25, 26.

“What’s going on?” yelled Simon in frustration as fear and confusion left him trembling in the chair.

Behind him, something crackled, “The temperature is now 26 degrees Celsius,” said the voice of an old man through the speaker.

Simon watched in horror as the figure before him became 27. They’re going to burn me alive, Simon realised. They’re going to keep raising the temperature until I die. He panicked, trying to break out of his restraints. His struggling triggered numbers to rise more rapidly, increasing steadily at intervals of less than twenty seconds. When it hit 38, Simon stopped, giving up, panting heavily as beads of sweat trickled from his forehead to his chin and onto his shirt. His breathing was laboured as he shouted for help, questioning the anonymous voice that had spoken to him. There was nothing.

The figure continued to rise to 45 as Simon watched, still weakly trying to pull against the tight binds which dug into his flesh.

“Help me, please!” he begged, his shirt damp with sweat and his short dark fringe plastered to his skin. He kicked and struggled, grunting and straining as he closed his eyes to block out the numbers.

“Prisoner,” said the voice, and Simon froze as he opened his eyes slowly. The giant red 49 filled his vision. “You are only sweating because you are struggling. This room is not 49 degrees.”

Simon calmed, his fears subsiding a little. The voice was right, as he was still the sweat began to dry and cool him down. He almost breathed a sigh of relief.

“It is the room in front of you which is 49 degrees.” There was a mechanical whirring from above as the number 50 appeared and the screen began to rise slowly, hoisted by its chains. 51, 52, 53, 54. The figures were rising faster than before, almost a blur.

“That is the room where your wife and children sit in chairs like you.” As the screen rose higher, it began to reveal a huge glass panel.

About Reading University Writers Guild'
RUWG provides workshops focusing on developing members’ writing skills in a variety of fields, including prose, poetry, and drama, as well as non-fiction branches such as speech writing. We aim to provide a no-judgement atmosphere in which budding writers can share their work. Constructive peer criticism will equip people with the skills they need to become the best writer they can be, and by giving writers a space to publish their work if they wish, we hope to foster a lifelong passion in the hearts of our members for creative writing.

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