Infinite Loop by James Rumpel

Infinite Loop by James Rumpel

4:43. Allan didn’t want to look at the oversized digital numbers on the desk clock. He didn’t have to. It always started at 4:43.

He had lost track of how many times he had relived these moments. No matter how many different paths, different actions, he attempted, he always ended up right back at this place and time. He took a quick glance around the room, though he knew exactly what he would find.

A rickety cot stood against the far wall. A threadbare grey blanket and pillow served as its only adornments. The four walls of the windowless room were all painted a lifeless beige, stains and cracks peppering the surface. The only interruptions to the melancholic hue were a single painting and a door. The painting depicting a lonely path passing through an autumn forest. Allan knew every stroke of that amateur piece of art, having studied it for hours. The door was locked, always impenetrable.

Alan sat at a beaten wooden desk. The surface marred by scratches and age-old scribblings carved into the soft pine. The words etched there offered no explanation for the strange version of hell Alan found himself in. He had devoted a great deal of time attempting to extract some secret code from the names and curse words, but with no success.

Alan’s mind was, as usual, clouded with confusion and anguish. With each iteration of the day, he lost more and more of his recollections of time before the room. He remembered only fleeting details and he didn’t completely trust those memories. He knew his name, Alan Overby. He knew there was some important task he had to complete. He knew he had to escape the confines of this godforsaken chamber. Beyond that, his memories of the time before his unexplained sentencing to this room were only the slightest glimpses of unfocused moments.

His memories of his time in the room all blurred together, hours and hours piled on top of each other with nothing to separate one from the next. He had searched for an exit by every means he could conceive, always failing. Recently he found himself spending his time laying on the makeshift bed, wishing for an end to this eternal repetition, an end by any means, even death.

For some inexplicable reason, on this day, Alan had a renewed vigor. He considered his options. At one time, prying a board from the floor had yielded positive results. Remembering that a flimsy floorboard lay somewhere under the bed, Alan proceeded to slide the light-weight bed to the side. Kneeling, he began to use his fingernails to chip away the wood around a marginally loose nail. Each minuscule splinter he managed to peel away inflicted agonizing pain into his fingertips. Occasionally, the tiny bits of wood would wedge under his fingernail or stab into his skin forming an irritating sliver.

As he continued with the tedious endeavor, Alan’s mind, for the thousandth time, returned to the question of why he was here. He had compounded an immense list of theories. However, none of the explanations Alan considered moved him nearer to escape. With each cycle, he came closer and closer to the realization that there was no hope.

     Eventually, his labor yielded results and Alan was able to extract the nail from the floor. Next, he took the shaky chair and smashed it against the door. The door remained unaffected, as always, but the chair shattered into a multitude of different sized fragments. Alan was encouraged to find that one of the segments was long enough to be useful. Had the chair not broken properly, he would have had to wait until the next repetition. The chair and floorboard would, like everything else, reset.

Using the tips of his fingers, Alan lifted the unnailed corner of the floorboard enough to wedge the section of chair under the aged wood. Carefully, not wanting to break his makeshift crowbar, he elevated the end of the board and slid his fingers beneath it. The board resisted, fighting to lay itself flat as it was intended. Alan’s fingers felt as if they were being crushed, but he found the strength and will to yank the board upward; a primal yell escaped from his throat as he did so. A second nail yielded, releasing its grip and one side of the floorboard came free. The force of Alan’s heave caused the plank to fracture halfway along its six-foot length. Alan’s reward was a rectangular shaped hole in the floor.

He quickly doubled the size of the hole by prying free the remainder of the broken board. Hands throbbing, Alan sat on the floor, exhausted. Now what?

The opening in the floor revealed loosely packed dirt. Using the side of the broken board as a makeshift shovel, Alan began pushing the dirt aside. His plan was to remove enough soil that he could reach under the floor joist and, possibly, pull it loose. The board that served as the floor joist appeared to be rotting and weak. Spurred on by the tiniest bit of hope, he removed handful after handful of dirt. It wouldn’t be long before he would be able to reach under the decaying board. If he could remove the second board, he could, possibly, tunnel his way. Reaching this position was progress he had never achieved before.  

4:43. Allan didn’t want to look at the oversized digital numbers on the desk clock. He didn’t have to. It always started at 4:43.


“Hello, customer service? I need to know if it is safe to turn off an Integrated Virtual Reality game while someone is in the game. I just got back to my dorm room and my roommate appears to stuck inside Zombie Slayer. The game seems to be rebooting every five or six seconds.

Yes, the neural receiver is connected at the base of his skull. 

I’m not sure. I would guess about six hours of real time. That would be months of game time. He probably started when he got back from class, somewhere between 4:30 and 4:45.”


Copyright James Rumpel 2019

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