The Invisible Box5 min read


J. J. Litke
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Viola watched the unconscious man trapped inside the transparent cube. He would wake soon. She counted down the seconds until his eyelids fluttered. The sedative’s dosage had been precisely timed. Her engineering background gave her the skills to systematically plan every detail.

At first, the man was groggy and unsteady. As unsteady as Viola’s mother had been after her trembling hands dropped a skillet, spattering hot oil on her legs. She wouldn’t venture into the kitchen again, and Viola convinced her to go into the assisted living facility. The place had solid recommendations that the facility director held up to Viola like badges of honor. It wasn’t until later that she found out how much effort they put into squashing negative reviews and complaints.

As the man fully woke, he looked at the city square around him, confused. Confused like Viola’s mother, when she said she hadn’t received her medications. Viola talked to the attendants, and they always insisted everything was given on schedule. Her mother was only forgetting that she’d taken the medication to control her tremors, or the cholinesterase inhibitor meant to help her memory. Once her mother became angry, raising her frail voice louder than Viola thought she still could, demanding that she was not getting her medications every day. And Viola hadn’t known whether to believe her.

The man stood up and tugged at the black and white striped shirt he wore, the black pants, the red suspenders. These were not his clothes, but he didn’t know how he had come to be dressed this way. Viola didn’t know that the attendants in charge of her mother’s care were not getting the training she’d been assured they all had. Even if they’d taken the supposedly required eight-hour class, it fell far short of the necessary training for memory care. The director led Viola to believe he employed a far higher ratio of medically licensed staff than he actually did. She didn’t know many of them were low paid, and turnover was high.

Now the man in the city square stared at the unfamiliar people who walked past him. The way Viola’s mother sometimes stared at her when she came to visit, a distant look tinged with bewilderment. She once asked Viola her name. Viola’s throat choked her reply, and her mother had curled her shoulders down and drawn her arms in, shielding herself from this agitated stranger. Viola tried to get Mother’s doctor to intervene, and he prescribed a different medication. Viola wondered how often her mother had actually received it.

The man touched the white greasepaint that coated his face, recoiling. When Viola got the call informing her of her mother’s death, she recoiled back from the phone, dropping it to the floor. She had thought from the impersonal tone beginning the call that it was going to be a telemarketer. At the facility, no one could tell her what had happened. Mother was simply found dead, lying in the courtyard. Viola tried to talk to the director—he was not interested in meeting with her, always conveniently unavailable.

The man started to walk, then bounced backward as he hit the invisible barrier of his prison. He stretched out his hands, putting them flat against the wall. He pounded on it. Then he started trying to feel his way up—down—side to side, seeking an edge, tracing his way around the inside of his invisible box. Viola was impressed at how much he looked like a genuine mime. He was no longer a director who would hire unskilled workers, understaff his facility, then encourage them to lie and cover up abuse. Now he was just a mime in an invisible box.

The man shouted, but no one could hear him through the transparent plasma shield. Just like no one had listened when Viola tried to convince law enforcement to press charges. The director saw to it that no evidence existed and no personnel would testify to any wrongdoing. Her only option was a civil lawsuit. But the facility’s pockets were deeper than hers, and loss of money wouldn’t hurt them the way Viola wanted them to hurt.

Instead, she used her connections as an engineer. Viola made a few subtle inquiries about a company working on the tech she needed. Their force field project had been discontinued due to instability at a large scale. But the smaller models worked for Viola’s purposes.

A forged ID badge and disguise got her in. Security cameras wouldn’t identify her any more than her mother had during their last visit. Then Viola walked out with a wealth of plasma technology. Most importantly, she took several sets of ground strips from the force field project. The strips generated magnetic fields that would confine plasma injected with dust particles, allowing the plasma to crystallize and behave as a solid. This would effectively create flat planes and become the walls of her prison.

Her captive had a chance at rescue. He might use the greasepaint to write a message, or find some other way to beg for help. Eventually, the strips would run out of power and collapse the magnetic fields, most likely before he suffocated. As he had not intended to murder her mother, Viola was not intent on murdering him. He would be punished, though. And this experience would haunt him the rest of his life. Viola’s mother had been robbed of her memories, but memory would be a torture for those who failed her.

The man waved at people, trying to get their attention. A little girl waved back, but the girl’s mother pulled her along, hurrying past without making eye contact. He finally turned and spotted Viola standing a short distance away. He wouldn’t recognize her with her wig and modified features, but she stared straight at him. He beckoned. He threw himself against the wall. He fell to his knees and started to sob. Viola had cried many days recently. Now she smiled. He would not be able to break the plasma shield, and passersby would only see a mime pretending to hit a wall, the lack of sound adding to the illusion. And there he would stay, invisible in plain sight.

Viola stayed until he got up and started around his box again. Funny how much he looked like a mime. Robbed of freedom and dignity, just as he’d done to her mother.

A new identity along with her new face ensured Viola couldn’t be caught before fulfilling the rest of her plan. The director’s name was only the first on her list. There were more injustices to correct, more villains to be punished. Soon more mimes would be appearing around the city, patting their hands against the walls of their own invisible boxes.

And people would ignore them as best they could.

  • J. J. Litke

    J.J. Litke lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes SFF and moonlights as a graphic design instructor. She is not a robot—she enjoys non-petroleum beverages, engages in sentient-life activities, and has taken a human mate. Her fiction has also appeared in Cast of Wonders, Andromeda Spaceways, and Farstrider Magazine. Find her at and on Twitter as @jenztweets.

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