Smug Little Bomb

Submitted into Contest #219 in response to: Set your story in a type of prison cell.... view prompt


Drama Fiction Science Fiction

I wake up with a pounding headache, to find myself lying on a small metal bed of the industrial type. You know, the kind you find in a prison. Instantly alarmed, I roll over, struggling not to lose the contents of my stomach, and peer blearily around.

That’s when I realize I’m in a cell.

At least, I think it’s a cell.

Walls of hard concrete surround me. There are no windows. The only light is a soft, diffuse glow from a recessed fixture in the ceiling, a good ten feet overhead. The only furnishings are the singularly uncomfortable cot beneath me, and a combination toilet/sink in one corner. So, yeah, I’m pretty sure it’s a prison cell.

Except there’s no door.

That’s right. On the wall right in front of me is an opening where in an ordinary prison cell there’d be a door. Probably something metal, battered and rusty, covered in a dozen layers of vomit green paint, peeling and flaking, with an obvious and intimidating lock. But no. No door here. Just an empty space leading out of the room I’m in.

Beyond the place where there should be a door lies a hallway, the same stark gray concrete as the walls of the cell, devoid of any distinguishing features. It goes straight for maybe fifty feet, then rounds a corner. There’s nothing to indicate what lies beyond that corner.

But back to the opening, the one right in front of me. So, yeah, there’s no door there. But there is something, maybe something worse than a locked door.

It’s a small, flat disc, maybe six inches across, sitting on the floor in the exact middle of that opening. It’s some sort of plastic, I think, as grey and unassuming as the walls and floor.

Except for the little blinking green light. It pulses rhythmically, in time with a soft beep, a sort of little chirp. The noise reminds me of a smoke detector with a low battery, that same insistent, grating sound. Most likely, it’s meant to tell me that whatever the device is, it is indeed working, fulfilling its purpose, whatever that might be.

If I had to guess, I’d same it’s some kind of bomb. It just gives off that vibe. Sitting there, the blinking light flashing in my eyes, the soft chirp already wearing on my nerves. It’s a smug little bomb, probably motion sensing. Designed to go off if I get too close. One wrong step… well, let’s not think about that too much.

So, that’s my dilemma. I’m a prisoner, in a cell with no door or lock or bars.

And I can’t get out.


I’m starting to see the subtle cruelty at work here.

I’m not unmonitored or neglected. Food comes through a slot in one wall, at what I assume are regular intervals, since I have no way of measuring the passage of time. I wouldn’t say I’m eating well, but it’s enough to keep me alive. I have a toilet and a sink, so I can take care of business and stay something like reasonably clean. So it’s not like I’m going to die of abandonment.

But it’s still a cell, and I’m still a prisoner, for all that there’s no door.

I’ve got nothing better to do than think about my predicament. In fact, I’ve got almost nothing else to do at all. I just sit on the bed, or lie on the bed, or get up and pace right in front of the bed. I have to be careful with that; I can’t risk getting too close to where the door should be.

I go over to the sink, run the water, splash some in my face. As I straighten, drying my face on my shirt, I glance at the opening for what has to be the millionth time.

Yeah, the bomb is still there. Still blinking its green light. Still chirping. Despite how annoying I find the noise, I’m starting to think it’s a pleased sound, like the bomb is happy just to be there, between me and freedom.

Smug little bomb. Part of me would like to just walk over there and trigger the device, just to ruin its day. That’d teach it to be so perky, oh yes.

See, it’s getting to me.

I go back to the bed and sit down. I stare at that gray, plastic disc. Watch the light blink. Listen to the chirp.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I knew exactly why I’m here. I mean, I know I’m no poster child of a law-abiding citizen, and I clearly recall what could be termed my latest arrest. But I don’t think I’ve done anything to warrant this level of torture. If this is how they’re going to punish everybody who steps out of line… well, I can’t say it isn’t effective. I’m about ready to sign a confession, admit to anything, just to get out of this room.

This cell.

With this stupid, smug little bomb blinking at me, chirping at me.

Daring me to make a try for my freedom.


I’m still in the cell. The door is still open. The bomb is still there.

Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp.

This is getting old. Really old.

I have no idea how long I’ve been here. No idea what time it is, what day. What year. I thought about trying to keep track of the time. Make marks on the wall to record the passage of the days. But I don’t have anything to scratch the walls with. The clothes I’m wearing are soft fabric with elastic cuffs and waist. The slippers are the same.

I hop to my feet, start pacing again. Ten steps one way, pivot, ten steps the other way. I’ve done this a lot. Haven’t yet worn a track in the floor, but concrete is like that.

How much longer can this go on? I think of myself as a patient guy, and I can put up with a lot, but I’m pretty sure this would test the limits of anyone. I’ve tried banging on the walls, yelling myself hoarse. No response. The only proof I have that anyone is even aware of my existence is that the food keeps coming. I guess I could stop eating, do a hunger strike in protest of my treatment. But if I’m going to do that, I might as well try the doorway.

I pause in my pacing, look at the bomb.

Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp.

Smug little bomb.

I take a step towards it.

Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp.

I take another.

Now the light suddenly changes, flashing yellow and coming faster. The chirp speeds up, too.


My nerve fails me, and I back away. The normal cadence resumes. The smug little bomb is happy again.

It’s won this round.


I remember the concept of water torture. Dripping water, one drop at a time, on a person’s bare forehead. Drip. Drip. Drip. One drop wouldn’t bother you. A trickle wouldn’t be all that bad. But one drop after another, in a slow, measured cadence, becomes exquisite torture, chilling the bone, until each one feels like an icy hammer striking your head.

Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp.

It’s the same concept.

I wish I had something to throw at the bomb. I suppose if I really wanted to, I could use a slipper.

Hmmm. I think I’m about ready to risk it.

I take off a slipper, holding it in my hands, turning it over and over. I glance from the piece of coarse fabric and rubber to the bomb. Then, before I can think better of it, I toss it toward the bomb, immediately rolling away and huddling against the wall on the far side of the cot.

The slipper misses the device, bounces past it.

The bomb doesn’t react at all.

Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp.

Okay. So maybe it only reacts to things of a certain size.

Sitting up, I pull off my shirt. Spreading it between my hands, I take careful aim, and toss it like a net. The cloth flutters in the air, and lands draped over the bomb.

Nothing happens.

Through the thin fabric, I can still see the light blinking green, hear the soft chirp.

Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp. Blink. Chirp.

I blow out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. So. Do I dare? Well, let’s see… yep, I’ve reached my limit.

I dare.

I stand up, take a deep breath, then walk toward the bomb.

Again, the light changes to yellow, the blinking and chirping speeding up.

I keep walking, keep hearing the almost frantic chirping. It’s like a guard, suddenly realizing that the inmate is no longer intimidated, no longer respects the gun or uniform, but just wants out, one way or another.

I can’t help but squeeze my eyes shut as I step right over the bomb.

A long, drawn-out tone sounds, and I think this is it.

Nothing happens.

I open my eyes. I’m outside the cell, in the corridor. There’s nothing between me and freedom. I look back. The bomb sits there on the floor, the light dark, the chirping silenced.

The air hisses out of my lungs. So it was all a test. Some sick joke. The smug little bomb wasn’t a bomb after all. Does this mean I’m free to go? Let’s find out.

I take another step. Then another. I think I’ve done it. I’m free.

From behind me, a rapid chirping sounds.

Startled, I spin around.

The light is on again, glaring through the shirt draped over the bomb.

It’s flashing red.

As brilliant light fills the hallway, and blazing heat and thunderous noise wash over me, I have time for one last thought.

I hate that smug little bomb.

October 13, 2023 15:43

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