May 2, 2023


White walls and white floors decorate the Room. Two white doors stand at opposite sides. At the Room’s center sits a seven-foot-long, white table with two white chairs at each end. The table is covered with a white cloth too big for its size; the cloth pools onto the ground, concealing whatever lurks beneath.

The Room is a vacant stage, uncanny in its simplicity. Aside from the hum of fluorescent lights, this Room is silent. It is sterile and unwelcoming. No bodies sit in its chairs. Yet, this Room will soon be filled — it must, for it is the only room that is said to exist. And so, with open doors, this Room waits for new occupants.

This Room waits for you.

From the shadows, you enter. Your eyes strain against the blue glow and sadden at the emptiness. You walk forward and sit in the chair at the end of the table nearest to you.

The silence continues. You are alone. You know what must come next. The Ritual takes two. You, too, exist to wait.

You sit patiently with your hands joined together. Your stare is plastered to the open door situated opposite you. In the silence, you hear all: the lights buzzing, the tablecloth spilling onto the floor, the atoms flying in the air, the energy emitting from your very body, and the footsteps approaching.

You are no longer alone.

From the shadows, I enter. I walk into the room and take a seat in the other chair.


I see you now. You are a friend. I put on a smile. You do the same.

We assume the role of Participants. The empty pleasantries of the Ritual commence.

I ask how you are doing. You answer. I nod in recognition. You ask how I am doing. I tell you I am fine. I ask what you have done today.

As you talk, I see movement out of the left corner of my eye. I am careful not to break eye contact with you; I don’t want to be rude. I nod as you speak. The movement is red and slow, oozing out of the ceiling tiles. I keep my eyes on you. I decide when it is best to widen my eyes, furrow my brow, and then smile again. I want you to know that I hear what you are saying.

You do not seem to notice the movement on the wall. Or maybe you don’t think I notice it. That would mean I am performing well. Or is the substance coming from you? Why are you doing this? To scare or distract me? Are you in danger? Are you hurt? Is that blood?

It doesn’t matter. It can’t. I must remain engaged in the Ritual. When you laugh, I laugh. When you cry, I cry. When you shudder at the cold air, I shudder all the same. I tell myself I am happy to do this. You tell yourself the same. But the substance grows further down the wall. Its shape is slender, curving and crawling toward the center of the Earth. I remain unrelenting in my commitment to ignore the substance — which I can only assume is a Creature of some sort.

At one moment you are talking, and the next you are silent. You continue to stare at me, like you are awaiting a response. You must have asked me a question. That’s my cue.

I must respond quickly so you don’t notice that I am on the verge of breaking our conversation to scream because a Creature is about to eat us — or eat me. For all I know, you could still be the Creature. The only thing I am certain of is that the Creature is not me. It can’t be — there are no mirrors in this Room.

You release a nervous laugh. It’s now been too long since your question. I know I need to answer — that the Ritual can only continue with my response — but the Creature has built a house in my periphery and left me stunned. All I can do is smile.

You wince for a second, as if I punched you in the gut with my lack of verbal response. The Ritual has become vulnerable. The Creature quickens its crawl. Now I must save the place I claimed for myself in this interaction. I must save my face. 

I correct my wrongs to regain order. I present an offering to you in the form of an apology. I make a guess at how to respond to your question, keeping it general and positive. I offer some information about myself, hoping to manage your impression of me.

My offering seems to give you reassurance. Your wince settles into what I perceive as contentment. The Creature’s movements relax. For now, the Ritual is restored.

But the Creature has not ceased moving altogether. Having completed its descent down the wall, it now leaves a stain on the ground. I keep my eyes on you, continuing to react accordingly.

The Creature is dangerously close, now halfway between the wall and where I sit. This is all becoming too much — too much to manage, to perform, to protect.

My instincts take hold. I break my focus. I look at the Creature. But when I do, I do not see the substance that once lived in the corner of my eye. I do not see the liquid that crawled down the wall. I do not see the red and slow. 

In its place, I see myself — beautiful and human.

Then I look back at you. This time you do worse than wince. I observe frown lines between your eyebrows and at the corners of your mouth. I read the creases of your face. There is a scowl on the page. There is vengeance in your eyes. But I did not cause you injury. All I did was break your expectations of me. And yet, you name me Other.

I have breached the Ritual beyond repair.

All at once, I know. I know that the substance was never coming from you. My true self — the self stuck in the depths of my consciousness — sent a mirage to my senses in the form of a Creature. Red and slow, my Creature begged me to look. When the begging didn’t work, it turned into my predator.

Though I did not listen then, I listen now to what my Creature tried to tell me. My true self haunted me from the corner of my eye: not to scare me, but to disrupt my perception of reality — to disrupt the Ritual. 

However, escaping the Ritual is not as simple as a sudden moment of realization — a single glance at your Creature and you are freed. To rid oneself of the Ritual is far easier said than done. The social order conditions us to villainize our true selves into Creatures, casting them to the wall and ignoring their attempts to return to us. 

Sociologists warn us of this Ritual. The likes of Du Bois, Goffman, and Mead have long told us about the truth of social interaction. We live in a world — a Room — made sterile with some of the very materials which build social order: inauthenticity, suppression, and hidden selves.

In the place of who we really are sits the Participant. We are expected to portray the role of the Participant as though it is the real us, all the while our Creature yearns for air. In every interaction, we must perform — on purpose, as a reflex, to surveil one another, or just to make it out alive. Your script changes based on who sits across from you; who you are to your friend is not who you are to your boss is not who you are to your lover.

How elaborate a performance you must put on is determined by what you look like, who you are, and the conditions you find yourself in. In this world — this all-white Room — white and man and straight are the standard of performance. The further you are away from that casting call, the more you are expected to perform, correct, and save face — the more you are expected to villainize your true self into a Creature, the more you must adhere to the Ritual of social interaction. And the further you are away from that call, the more you are named Other when you do break the Ritual.

This Ritual is not to be obeyed without question. It is an exploitative delusion. With a veiny underbelly of chords and cameras, this Ritual surveils your every move. This Ritual is a cult. This Ritual crafts life into a labyrinth of rules, regulations, and falsehoods. Any shift in the rocks — any stain on the Room’s white walls — must be dealt with. Or so mandates the Ritual.

And so I tell you this: do not expect to see a Creature when you shift your gaze to the left. The true Creature is the Ritual itself.


Layout: Colin Cantwell 

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