Short Story
                                  The #6
                                                  By Rob Bliss

  “Hello, Mr. Boll.  I’m glad we’re finally meeting.  I’ve been looking forward to
it.  May I call you Ray?”

  “That’s preferable, I suppose.”

  “How do you mean?  Preferable?”

  “To what you’d rather call me.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “You have my file there, you’ve looked me over, assessed me – that’s why I’
m here, right – to see if I can get out of here.”

  “Well, no, not exactly.  Granted, you’ve made excellent progress, but the
Institute doesn’t feel you’re quite –”

  “Feel?  Excuse me?  Feel.  I feel.  The Institute feels.”

  “Please, Ray, you’re just here as a routine assessment –”

  “See?  Assessment!  So why aren’t you letting me go?  I don’t need the
Institute to feel anything.  What do the doctors do?  They assess with drugs,
with strange tests showing me pictures, asking what I see … what do I see –
you tell me.”

  “The doctors are evaluating your mental state to see if you are no longer a
harm to yourself or to others.”

  “Excuse me.  I repeat.  Who have I harmed – whom?  I haven’t touched
anyone here.”

  “Not here, no.  But, yes, I have read your file, and you and I both know what
happened to bring you here.”

  “That is nothing, it’s gone, it was another me – don’t you get it?  That other
me is outside these walls.”

  “Okay.  Then what you is here with me right now?”

  “See?  You want to.  I can hear you when you don’t talk.  You want to say it.”

  “What do I want to say?”

  “That I’m 6.”

  “I see.”

  “You’ve read it – where is it –”

  “Please – Ray – I’ll ask you not to reach over my desk.”

  “Why not?  Because you’re afraid?  Afraid of what?  Your fear is your own, I
didn’t cause it.  Are you afraid of 6?  It’s just a number.  Right or wrong?”

  “Yes.  I see here that the number six has become very important to you since
you’ve been here.”

  “The number 6 is me.  Am I important to myself?  I have 6 wives and 6
children and 6 mothers and 6 fathers.  Are they important?”

  “Do you know how this compulsion with the number six came about?  In your
words, not in the words of the file.”

  “You can’t see?  None of you see.  I have a tic-tac-toe tattoo dead centre in
the middle of my spine – my nerve centre – in which the only numbers played
are 6's.”

  “Can I see this tattoo?”

  “You can’t see it because you don’t want to see it.”

  “When did you get this tattoo?”

  “6 years ago.”

  “Your file shows that you’ve been here for three years –”

  “That’s a lie!  You people build up a world of lies to contain me, to surround
me, to prevent me from existing as 6.”

  “Perhaps there’s been a mistake.  So you’ve been here six years?”

  “And when I get out it’ll be in 6 years.  I’ll die in 6 years at the age of 6,
having lived and been incarcerated in this Institute for 6 years.”

  “I see.”

  “I have been branded with the number 6 just above my forbidden area,
approximately in my abdominal region.  The region of the child.”

  
  “Branded?  You mean with fire – heated metal burning into the skin?”

  “Branded by Lucifer himself, Father of Light.”

  “Lucifer?”

  “See?  I knew it!  You were dying to call me that name.  You can’t deny what
you know, what you’re holding back, and who I am.  I don’t care.  Call me by
that name if it appeases you.”

  “Why do you think you’re Lucifer?”

  “Because of being branded by 6.  You’re not listening.  No one in here
listens to me!”

  “We are, Ray.  We are listening to you and we are trying to help you.”

  “Then call me by my name!”

  “Lucifer.”

  “You’re a brave man.  Most are too terrified to speak that name.”

  “So those who are afraid call you ‘Six’?”

  “I have 6's all over my body, most of them invisible.  On my tongue, tattooed
under my bottom lip – if you shave my head you’ll see a 6 on my skull.  I am 6.”

  “I see.  I see, R – Six.  Then I apologize, but I cannot see how the Institute
can release you – even on a day pass – at this time.”

  “I know.  You promise, then you lie.  All of you do.  I still have 6 years to
serve.  But you want to know something?  Ask, I dare you.”

  “Fine.”

  “I can change the time.  From 6 to 666 years, if I want.  Wanna know how?”

  “Please tell me.”

  “With this.”

  “What is that, Ray?  Where did you get that?”

  “I made it out of a bedspring.  That’s metal, strong, like 6.”

  “Ray, that object is against Institute rules.  Please place it on my desk and
drop your hands to your sides.”

  “Don’t press that button under your desk!  I know it’s there.  I’m here to
assess you, doctor.  Are you a doctor?  Are you like them?”

  “Why do you feel the need to assess me?  And, yes, I’m a doctor.”

  “I need to assess if you understand the weight of the number 6.  The gravity
it holds.  All 6s have greater gravity than any other number.  It is a holy
number, the number of Man.  It can pin you to the earth, to time – imprison
you, lay you on your back, strapped to a bed, tied down and drugged

  – for all eternity.”

  “Please give me the –”

  “ – until Lucifer tells you how to use your prison to gain your freedom.  The
bed you’re pinned to holds a spring.  Could be 6 more years or 666 years
more.  6 decides.”

  “Ray, I insist that you immediately place that instrument –”

  “I insist on the gravity of 6!”

  “It is a weapon and it is strictly forbidden for any patient –”

  “Aaaaahh!  There!  There!  Feel it?  Feel the 6's tearing into you, searing
your flesh – feel it?  6 is inside you like a new life!  That’s the power of 6, my
friend.  Hold still, hold still – don’t fight me, never fight me!  The gravity pins
you.  6 is your prison now.  6 is the mouth opening your throat.  6 is the dye of
your blood.  6 burns in your lungs and beats against your heart, carves into
you, its body becoming your body.  See the burden I carry every day?  Feel it!  
6 is the shape of a man – the cradling fetus of a human being.  Now you are 6
too, doctor, assessor.  I have freed you.  We will both be here for 666 years,
until time calms us and claims us and we are all assessed anew.”
                
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