New Guy. Short Story.

“Give your eyes a second to adjust.”

Brad stood still on the landing, Jeff was to his left and he knew that there were stairs somewhere in front of him. In the darkness below he could hear sounds, clicking, slurping, splashing. He tried not to think about it, he would see it all clearly soon enough, and he wanted to delay it for as long as possible. He had been told about them, seen pictures of them, but everyone had assured him that seeing them in person was so much worse. The room began to brighten, almost imperceptibly at first, until he could make out Jeff, who was leaning against some railings.
“We keep the lights low as possible, it keeps them calmed, settled. They don’t like any kind of light.” Brad nodded. Silence fell between them, but he could still hear those sounds. Finally Jeff pushed himself off the railings, “Shall we go down then?”
Brad swallowed, “Sure.” Jeff started towards the stairs and Brad had a brief moment of panic. It wasn’t too late to back out, not really and everyone would understand. He took a deep breath to calm himself, then regretted it. The air was stale and fetid, he coughed, then glanced at Jeff, hoping his blushing cheeks wouldn’t be seen in the gloom.
“I thought the air was piped in fresh?”
“It is. They do something to it. Not sure what, but they like it like that so we’re not too keen to go messing around with it all.”

As they walked Brad concentrated on the steps, not wanting to look out across the vast hall. He wasn’t sure if he would be able to handle seeing so many all at once.
They reached the bottom of the stairs, Jeff stopped and turned, looking out at them. He didn’t look at Brad, Brad was thankful for it. His heart was hammering wildly in his chest, he could hear a few of the ones nearby reacting to it. A kind of harsh pant, a clink of shifting chains. Calm. He needed to be calm. He took a slow, shallow breath and released it. He closed his eyes and turned, facing the noises. Then, clenching his hands, he opened his eyes.
His eyes moved over them all frantically, searching for something normal, something he could hold onto. Extended jaws, impossibly wide, tongues too red, too bright. Thick globs of saliva that drip drip dripped onto the floor. Skin a harsh red and covered in sores and blotches. Eyes, all three white, milky and roving endlessly. Slits for nostrils, like their noses had been peeled back from their face. Long, impossibly thin arms grasping for him, three fingers on each hand, ending in sharp, thick nails. Strands of loose hair hung from their mostly bald scalps, covered in scabs and things that wriggled and writhed. He turned his head away, trying not to vomit. His breathing quickened, then he felt a strange calm come over him. His breathing began to slow and deepen, a small smile appearing on his face. Everything was fine, there was nothing-pain sudden and harsh against his cheek. An arm wrapped around his and started to drag him upwards, Brad stumbled, once, twice, but he kept his balance. On the landing, Jeff let go of Brad, he was feeling a little better up here, away from it. Down below he could still hear them, he shuddered as the last remaining threads of calm vanished.

“Better?”
Brad nodded, unable to speak.

Finally, after a few minutes, “What was that?”
“Pheromones. Makes you docile, calm.”
Brad shuddered.
“Everyone gets exposed the first time. It really hammers home the danger.”
“Why weren’t you affected?”
“I’m inoculated against it. You will be too. They release it when they sense pray nearby. Normally it works pretty well, you got a look at them first though, usually they’re hidden away, or they drop down from above so you don’t know what hit you.”

Brad looked out, he couldn’t help himself, there were hundreds of the things, thousands. All in neat little rows, occasionally the low light would glint off saliva, a tooth, a chain. He turned away from it. Jeff slung his arm around Brads shoulders and led him towards the door.
“C’mon, we’ll take a break, then we’re going to the slaughter house. Don’t worry, it’s an easier place to visit.”
Brad nodded as he was lead from the room. They stepped into the smaller hallway that was dimly lit, the door behind them closed and locked, the one in front opened, bright light flooding the hall. Brad squinted as he was tugged forward.
Outside his head cleared fully and he took a deep breath. Jeff pulled a bottle of water from his bag and passed it to Brad, Brad unscrewed it and took a sip.
“I should warn you, you’re probably going to have nightmares for a few weeks. They’ll be scary and confusing as hell, there might also be some sexiness thrown in. Don’t worry, it’s gross but it happens to a lot of people. There’s nothing wrong with you. Just thought I’d head that off now. You’re going to have your therapy sessions soon enough, but the dreams will probably hit before then.”
Brad nodded, then shuddered as an image flashed in his mind, one of the things, writhing against the chains, almost sensuously. He suppressed the nausea with another sip of water.
Jeff smiled sympathetically, “maybe keep a bucket by your bed? I threw up the first few nights. There’s no shame in it. Happens to the best of us.”

 

They stopped outside a plain, unmarked door. Jeff pulled down the handle and opened it smoothly, Brad had expected there to be a lock, or some resistance. Jeff stepped through the door and Brad followed, closing it behind him. He stopped, surprised. The room was large and bright, couches were placed about the room, as were piles of cushions and blankets. A few of the walls had TVs, all playing something different, but with no sound. People lounged around the room, sixty in all, reclining on couches or cushions. They were dressed only in thin underwear.

 

“The slaughter house is a state of the art facility. He gestured at a man sitting on the couch, wearing a pair of headphones, “They are connected to the TV to provide sound to those who want it, and it allows tranquillity for those who don’t.” He lead Brad through the room, weaving around the people, they stepped through to another room, this one had a large but shallow pool and hot tubs, a few people lounged around the edges, one floated on her back in the centre of the water. “in here are some bathing and relaxation facilities. The water is heated to the optimum temperature.” He entered another door, “here is our dining facility” it was similar to the first room, but there were long, low tables dotted about the room. “The residents can order what ever they like and it will be provided. There is fresh fruit kept stocked at all times.” Jeff picked a grape from a vine and popped it into his mouth, grinning, “Have one if you like, they’re delicious, and no one will care.”
Brad went to pick one, then another image, the creature, gesturing to him. He stopped. He couldn’t eat.
“How do you keep them in here?”
“It isn’t hard, why would they leave?”
“Don’t they know?”
“Of course they do. Most have been down to the storage room multiple times. In fact another portion will be returning from the cleaning process any moment now. They don’t care. They’re off their faces on pheromones and god knows what else. They’re happy, they don’t want to leave.”
“Where did you get them?”
“Homeless, some volunteers, a few that were on death row. It’s pretty simple. We clean them up, get them addicted to what ever it is the creatures are pumping out. The drugs the creatures give them have a positive affect. Makes them a bit younger, healthier. There’s ongoing research into marketing it as a self improvement aid, though I don’t know how long it’ll take to work out the kinks.”
“Kinks?”
“Well, it won’t work if everyone turns super docile and they’re not too concerned with much of anything, would it?”
“I guess not.”

They left the room and entered a courtyard that was covered in lush, green grass. More people lounged out here, some in hammocks, some lying in the grass.

“So they’re extinct everywhere else, right?”
Jeff nodded, “we have the last known survivors. The rest have been exterminated. We have kept these for research purposes mostly. They can’t escape.”
Brad nodded, “Don’t worry, the nervousness will fade. It’s all part of their thing. We think it’s the primal part of your brain trying to get through the fog and give off the right warning signals.”
They stepped through another door, out of the courtyard and into a small hallway, “And this concludes the tour and your first day. You’ll be getting the inoculation against them tomorrow, have to let some of the gunk get out of your system. So, how about we head to the pub for a pint? It helps get you over the jitters.”
Brad nodded, unsure of how else to answer, “Great, the company will pick up the tab. C’mon, grab your things and I’ll round up a few of the people you’ll be working with.”

Still feeling a little off, Brad followed Jeff as he started walking again, a bemused smile on his face.

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Abnormalities. Flash Fiction.

Sandra sat on the bench, watching the people go by. It was so strange seeing everyone going about their day as if nothing had happened. A slight wind picked up, chilling her. There wasn’t much warmth in the sunlight. She pulled a bottle of water from her bag and took a sip, then she pulled out her sandwich. Sandra didn’t really want to eat, but she knew she should. The sandwich seemed dry and tough to swallow, but she managed to get it all down. She took another sip of water and put away her rubbish. How long until everything just collapsed? Until everyone stopped living in denial. She herself was guilty of it, just like they were. She wasn’t going out and seizing the day. It would be hard doing by herself. Not much point, was there? She’d still be arrested and charged if she broke any laws. There had been a spate of suicides, they were trying to keep it hushed up but word still spread. She could do that, get it over with on her own terms. But then what would people think of her afterwards? Besides, she couldn’t do that to her parents, her brother. No. She’d tough it out.

 

Sandra stood from the bench and started to walk. She had been going for walks most days, experiencing nature. It was nice to be out in the fresh air, around the people, even if they were acting strangely. They were never violent, just odd. Like the man she had seen yesterday who had suddenly burst into loud, braying sobs, he had stood there for a few minutes, arms at his sides, head tipped backwards. Then he stopped and continued on like nothing had happened. There was a lot of that. People crying or laughing hysterically for no reason. Sandra hadn’t done anything like that. Not yet at least. There were also some creepy people, like the ones who just stared. Eyes straight ahead, just staring at nothing, occasionally blinking. They worried Sandra and she always sped up a little going passed them. There was never an indication that they were dangerous, but she didn’t want to be around if one of them suddenly snapped.

 

Things would continue to shift and change as they always did, but people would just become used to it. They always had before. Those that were still normal, or as normal as one could be these days, were the lucky ones. Pure chance had saved them and it was something that they could never forget. Perhaps they tests would become cheaper soon and people would be able to know for definite. For now though, it was just a case of wait and see.

 

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New Town. Part 23

Part 1, Part 22

The baron stopped outside a pair of elaborately styled gates and waited as they opened, once there was enough room he eased the car through, almost immediately the gates started to close again. The house was big, but not as big as Doug had expected, it was a wide house that was two stories high, the outside was red brick. The driveway was short and expertly landscaped, trees and high bushes created a large privacy screen to prevent anyone from looking over the walls and seeing in. The Baron stopped the car and got out, Doug followed a second later, feeling out of place. “You’ll be safe here, don’t worry. Once we get inside I’ll call Max and let him know where you are, then we can figure out a plan to get you out of the city safely.”
“So you think I should just go?”
“Yes, it would be best for all of us I think.” The Baron climbed the short flight of steps to the door and opened it, he stepped inside, then gestured for Doug to do the same. Once inside, The Baron closed and locked the door. The hallway they were in was tiled white, The Baron threw his keys into a small bowl that sat atop a table that was against the wall. He shrugged out of his jacket and put it onto a wooden coat rack, then he started walking. Doug’s stomach grumbled, the house smelled like food. The Baron opened the door at the end of the hall to reveal a kitchen, Doug had expected they would go to some sort of dining or sitting room, and he had thought the kitchen would be nestled away somewhere at the back of the house. The kitchen was large and spacious, with windows providing plenty of natural light. A long table created an island for workspace, while counters that lined the walls provided even more space. Despite everything being clean, white lines, the place felt warm and welcoming. A man was stirring something in a large pot. He turned and smiled at them as they entered, “I’m sorry I thought you would be a little longer.”
“That’s ok, there’s no rush.” The Baron turned to Doug, “Do you want a snack to tide you over?”
“No, I’m ok thank you.”
The Baron gestured at a bowl of fruit, “Help yourself if you want, it shouldn’t be too much longer until the food is done.” The Baron stepped up to the man at the pot and kissed him lightly on the cheek, “Need a hand?”
“No, I think I have everything covered. I’m Mark, by the way.”
“I’m sorry, I should have introduced you, Doug this is Mark, my husband.” Mark reached over and shook Doug’s hand across the small island counter, “Nice to meet you.”
“You too.”
“Do you want a drink? We have soft drink, wine or beer.”
“Some water would be great, thank you.”
The Baron stepped around Mark and took out some glasses, he filled one with water and passed it to Doug, then he filled the other two with wine and took a sip himself before passing a glass to Mark.
The Baron moved around the island and sat down at the table, gesturing for Doug to sit too, then he pulled a phone from his pocket and started to dial.
“Hi Max? It’s Todd. Doug’s here with me. He’s safe. Yeah…I…Hang on.”
The Baron handed the phone to Doug, “He wants to make sure you’re safe.”
“Doug?”
“Yeah”
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Are you being coerced into saying anything?”
“No, I’m sitting here and we’re going to be eating soon.”
“…ok…Could you put him back on please?”
Doug passed the phone back.

“Yeah?…Well, look we’re about to eat, why don’t you stop by? If you want you can bring one or two people, however the less people who know where Doug is the better. Great. See you soon.”
The Baron hung up, “Max is coming?”
“Yeah, and he’ll be by himself, he likes to pretend I’m some big villain like it’s a movie or something. If he really thought that though, he wouldn’t step foot in here without a guard.”
It wasn’t long after they had finished eating when Max arrived, he entered, as the Baron predicted, alone. “are you ok?”
“Yes, I’m fine.”
“Good. Ok.” He turned to the Baron, “Thank you for finding him, now if you’ll excuse us, we must be going.”
“Where?”
“To bring Doug back to his place obviously. He’ll be safe there, at least we have security.”
“Twice under your watch he has been attacked. Twice.”
“Obviously there will be a full enquiry as to how that happened, but for now we really must be going.”
“No, we’re going to sit down and discuss this. I’m not going to let you railroad anyone here.”
“C’mon Doug, we should leave.”
“No, I think that Th-Todd is right. We should discuss this first.”
“It isn’t safe here, there are no guards, nothing to protect you.”
“Guards didn’t make that much a difference before, did they? Realistically I’m as safe here as I was there.”
“I have protections put in place that otherwise would be ineffective in other places.”
Max glared at the Baron, “fine. We’ll sit and talk about it, then we’ll do the sane thing and leave here.”

“So, what is the plan now?”
“Well, we continue on with your visit. You still have five days left, it isn’t that long a period of time. We should do some easy things over the next day or two, maybe visit a school and talk to some of the kids, see the market, that kind of thing.”
“How is that safe? You’ll never be able to control the market, not enough to stop another attempt getting at Doug.”
“Look, it’s much better to finish up the visit as scheduled. If we cut it short, it won’t look good, it will send the message that we are weak, that we can be intimidated. I don’t want to send the wrong impression out into the world.”
“And what about his safety? What if they capture him and kill him next time?”

“There won’t be a next time. Besides, he was rescued both times.”

“He shouldn’t be in that position in the first place.”
The room fell silent, “I think it would be best if I left. We can reschedule another visit soon, once you have sorted out what ever problems this caused.”
“No, that isn’t a good idea. If you leave now they won’t let you back in.”
“That’s a risk I’ll just have to take. Besides, me leaving with your full support shows good leadership. It shows that you are a tactical thinker. It makes more sense for me to leave. It proves you’ll do what ever it takes to protect visitors, even if that means they have to leave.”
Max sat back in his chair, “I’m not going to force you to stay against your will, I truly believe it is the best if you stay, leaving gives the idea that you’re frightened, running away. However, if you truly want to leave then we will escort you to the gate.”
“Have you talked to the outside? Told them of what is happening?”
“No, not yet.”
“Well, let them know the new travel arrangements. It wouldn’t do if you went to the trouble of getting him to the gate and finding it locked.”
“Yes. You’re right of course. I’ve been taking steps to clear the streets of people who are behind this. So far we’re making good progress. You should be able to leave with minimal fuss. I’ll contact them tonight and organise it all. Tomorrow you’ll be leaving. Is that acceptable?”
“Yes. I think so.”

Max nodded once, “I have to say though, I am disappointed. I thought you’d stick it out. I really did.”
Doug shrugged, unsure what to say.
“If you like you can spend the night here in the guest room, or you could return to the apartment that was given to you.”
“I think you would be better off coming with me, though obviously we’ll be moving you to another location with stricter security.”
“I think I’ll stay here, if that is ok.”
“Of course. Mark already set it up just in case.”
Max scowled, “We can’t protect you in this house.”
“No, but I can protect him. I’m going to call in some of my own people. You’ll be safe here. This is one of the safest places in the city.”

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Skin Deep. Short Story.

“Aren’t you excited?”
“No, not really. It’s always a big let down, isn’t it?”
“Not to me.’
“That’s not what you said last year.”
“Last year was different. They were all crap.”
“And the year before?”
“Cock-eyed.”
Dan shook his head, “You really need to be more realistic about all of this.”
“Stop being a killjoy, just relax. It’s fun.”
“Every year you say that and each time there’s something wrong with them. You’re never happy and you never will be.”
“This year is different, I can feel it.”
Dan let out a sigh and gave up, there was no point in trying to convince her. He had tried for the last seven years without success. Sally had wanted to go out for it, watch it with everyone at the pub or something, but Dan had overruled it. You always got idiots drinking and shouting every year. He didn’t want to deal with it. It seemed nice to be at home. It had been a much more respectable event five years ago, then you could actually attend, now it was all lotteries to get tickets. People didn’t get pissed and spent the night acting like hooligans back then either. It held an almost religious tone before. Now look at it. How fast the human race could degrade things never ceased to surprise him. He took a swing of his drink, then stood, “what anything?” Sally shook her head, attention never leaving the TV. Dan entered the small kitchenette and began to look through the cupboards. He didn’t really want anything, after a few moments of rooting around he returned to the small sitting room empty handed and sat down again. He took another drink.

It was almost time. Sally’s hand reached out for his and gripped it tightly. He gave her a brief, reassuring squeeze. People got so caught up in it all. He never really understood it. He could from a logical standpoint, it was necessary for the continuation of the human race, but he couldn’t understand why people made such a big deal out of it. It was going to happen every year for the foreseeable future, there was no sign of it stopping and really, at this point even if it did they would be able to continue on without it. The theme music started to play, that sound that had once been hopeful on pipe organs now blared out on guitars and drums, the tempo upped to a more poppy version of it. He grimaced slightly. The old version held more gravitas, made the event seem solemn. This made it seem like some kind of trashy party. The screen misted over as steam began to pump from the machine, its doors slid back silently, revealing the first person. They stepped out, looking slightly confused and disorientated, lights flashed around them, spot lights endlessly spinning. Someone approached with a blanket and led them to a small section where they were sat down on a couch, in front of them was a selection of water and fruits. Still looking faintly confused, the person took up a glass of water and started to sip. The music reached its crescendo then started again as the doors slid closed and opened once more. As the fifth one came out he heard Sally make a small noise of disgust, “What the hell is wrong with their faces? Seriously.” Dan rolled his eyes. Sure they looked a little…off, but that was to be expected. No one was perfect.
“No, seriously, I’m not being funny, but what the hell is that supposed to be?”
“They’re people. Like us.”
“No, I know, but look at them. I can’t even tell which are which.”

Dan didn’t bother to point out it was always hard to tell. When the emerged they were bald and had thick jumpsuits that obscured body shape. Some were immediately obvious, but others held features that were both hard and soft, masculine and feminine. In a few weeks their hair would grow in and they’d be wearing normal clothes.

They watched for an hour, the machine showed no signs of slowing down, Sally grabbed the remote and switched off the TV. Dan looked at her, she shrugged, “There’s no point, they all look the same. Ugly.”
He sighed, every year.

“Give it a week or two and you won’t be able to pick them out of a crowd.”
“Sure I will. It’s easy.”

“In a generation or two no one will ever know.”
“Maybe. Ugh. Can you imagine if they had beautiful kids and everyone else had ugly ones? That’d be cruel.”
“You know that isn’t going to happen.”
Sally sniffed, “It might. We don’t know all the ramifications, not really.”
“What if people were talking about you like that?”
“I’m sure they are. I don’t care, they can say what they like. Besides, people wouldn’t dare say anything in public. We’re third generation, we’ve got status. It’s why we have such a large and lovely home.”
They looked at each other and started laughing at the same time. Their home was just a bit too small for the two of them, they’d be upgraded if they had a child. Even then all rooms of the same class were identical.
Dan leaned over and kissed her, “You’re like this every year.”
She sniffed, “Am not.” In a day or two she’d decide she actually kind of liked the new look and then go around telling off anyone who said otherwise. Truth was none of them could really talk. Everyone had something wrong with them. It was just the way the world was at the moment. In a few years that would all go away, but for now, people dealt with it. He looked at old pictures sometimes and wondered what they’d say about his generations, about how ugly they were. It wasn’t like it was their fault, if anything it was the fault of those who came before. They hadn’t designed the machines well enough to ensure there were no physical deformities during the gestation periods, and at the moment they were too technologically unsure of it to start messing around. At least they knew it was just down to the machine rather than genetic abnormalities that would be passed down.
Dan stood from the couch and Sally reached up, he pulled her to her feet then they kissed again. Still holding his hand she lead him to the small bedroom, the night was still young and they had plenty of time for fun. They only had a few more months left before they’d have to start trying properly for a family, but until then, they would make as much use of the time as they could.

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Seclusion. Short Story.

“Good morning Mark.”
Mark groaned and rolled over, mumbling something. After a second he swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat up, he rubbed at his eyes, “Good morning.” He stumbled from the bed to the small sink and started to brush his teeth as the lights slowly returned to full brightness.

“What’s on the docket today?”
“Nothing too strenuous, some mental exercises.”
“Good, I’m still wiped out from yesterday.”
“You did very well, you should be proud of yourself.”

A slot opened in the wall and a tray was slid through onto the table attached, “Enjoy your breakfast.”

Mark sat down at the table and looked over the food, scrambled eggs, toast, a small glass of juice and a banana. He started to eat, enjoying it, that was one upside, the food was usually pretty good. When he finished eating he wiped his mouth with a napkin and slid the tray towards the slot, as it neared the slot opened and he pushed it through. Once his hand was clear the slot closed again. He stood from the table and went to the small sink again, filling up a glass of water, he drank half quickly, then refilled it.

“Are you ready?”
“Yes. I think so. Can I bring my water?”
“You can if you like, there will be refreshments provided should you need them.”
One of the doors in the room opened and Mark stepped through, the second room was about ten foot by ten foot, at the centre was a desk and a chair, on the desk were a stack of papers. The rest of the room was white, the walls were all the same. The only break in the smooth surface was along the ceiling, where gaps were filled with lights. Mark sat at the table and looked at the top sheet, reading over the instructions.
“You may begin when you are ready.”
Mark picked up the pen and got to work.

Six hours later, he stretched and groaned, he felt tired, drained. At some point a panel in the wall had opened revealing a pack of bottled water and some snacks, Mark hadn’t bothered getting any of them. His stomach growled faintly as he stood, he approached the snacks and looked them over. He shook his head slightly, it was almost time for lunch anyway. The door behind him opened and Mark left the room, returning to his own. Already his lunch had been placed on the table, a sandwich and a bag of potato chips. Mark sat at the table and began to eat. The room he was in was larger than the other, but still had the same colour scheme. Everything was white or silver. There was a small, comfortable bed attached to the wall, a table, also attached to the wall, a chair, a toilet and sink. A nozzle extended from one part of the wall along with a few knobs, providing him with a shower.
“How are you feeling?”
“Tired.”
“That’s to be expected. It was a difficult test.”
Mark nodded.
“How are you doing emotionally?”
Mark shrugged, “can’t complain.”
“No fears or worries? No anger or anything?”
“Nope, not that I’m aware of.”
“Good. I’m glad.”
“How long is left?”
There was a brief silence, “approximately three months.”
“That long huh?”
“As of tomorrow you will hit the halfway point.”
“How are things outside?”
“I’m afraid I can’t tell you that.”
“Well, it was worth a shot, right?”

“Would you like anything?”
“No. I don’t think so.”

Mark sat on the bed and crossed his legs, he leaned against the wall and closed his eyes. Only a few more months and he would be free from this place. He wondered what it would be like once this was over. It was so strange, he did most things because he felt like he should rather than because of any need. He knew he was being monitored at all times and as such he continued doing what he would normally do if he was still in the outside world. It had taken a little while to get used to using the shower and toilet knowing that someone was watching him, but it had become surprisingly easy. He had never met any of the voices that spoke to him, perhaps he would after this was over, but for now they weren’t really people. They hadn’t explained to him what they were testing for, only assuring him that he would be completely safe and if there were problems it would be shut down immediately. So far everything had run smoothly. The only real entertainment he had were books, he was permitted one new book each week, but to get it he had to return the last one he was given. Besides the books the only things for distraction were the tests that were performed and the voices. The tests seemed to have covered everything so far. He had undergone exams that were both physical and mental. Half the time he didn’t understand what was going on, but he tried his best at each one. The room only had two doors, the one which he entered, and the one that connected to the testing room. He knew that there had to be other doors in the testing room as the layout and contents of the room changed regularly. They were allowed talk to him for a set period of time throughout the day, Mark was never quite sure how long it was. He had reached the limit most days, but the conversations were so spread out it was hard to keep track of how long they had been talking. When the limit was reached he received no response to his questions. He knew that they were still listening though, he had tested it by asking for a bottle of cola, and he found the idea comforting. Even if he was just rambling away to himself, someone would still hear him.

 

Six months of his life gone for this, but the pay was good and he wasn’t doing anything else with his life beforehand. He had been unemployed for the last two years and was single, his family and friends seemed to be hesitantly supportive of his decision. They knew he was safe though and they were allowed ring for updates on him. Mark expected that only his parents would take advantage of that. He sometimes passed the time by planning what he would do once he was out of the study, perhaps he would use the money saved to go travelling somewhere. He deserved a little holiday after this, but he had already decided it would be somewhere loud and filled with people.

 

He opened his eyes at the sound of the tray sliding across the table, he must have dozed off. He uncrossed his legs and waited for the pins and needles to pass before he stood. Dinner was spaghetti Bolognese and garlic bread. He sat at the table and started to eat. Once he had finished and returned the tray, a voice spoke, “Could you please enter the testing room?”
Mark walked through the door and found it had the same layout as earlier, he was glad, he didn’t think he’d be able to handle any kind of exercise or endurance test after the meal. He sat at the table, “Please start at any time.”

He looked at the first page, frowning slightly. The first question had small boxes, each one filled with a different colour, he was asked to pick the colour that seemed the most intelligent. He sighed, one of these again. He picked up the pen and started to work. These always took him awhile, good thing there was no time limits. He circled the off brown colour and moved on to the next question. Just a few more months and he would be off somewhere nice. He would go somewhere with hot weather and long, wide beaches. He stifled a yawn, he was feeling drowsy after the food. He shook his head then rubbed his eyes, focus, he needed to focus.

 

When the test was over he stumbled back into his small room and collapsed onto the bed, not bothering to change out of his thin clothes. He had never thought doing tests could be so exhausting. He turned over once and fell asleep. Tomorrow he would wake up and it would begin all over again.

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New Town. Part 22.

 

Part 1, Part 21

A cool wind blew through the streets, the sky threatened rain. Most people were huddled indoors, away from the unnaturally cold weather. It was never a good sign when such weather shifts occurred. Outside people who needed to travel did so as fast as possible, scurrying from place to place, heads down and collars pulled up. Finally, the skies opened and rain began to fall, slow at first but building into a steady torrent. He stood in an alley, under a small overhang which helped keep most of the rain off him. He didn’t have an umbrella, or a coat. Occasionally he shivered and stamped his feet, trying to keep warm. There were downsides to everything and this was one of them. He glanced at his watch, checking when his shift was over. He sighed, it wasn’t over soon enough for his liking. For the first twenty minutes he had been on edge, jumping at sounds, heart hammering, but then it had faded, being replaced with boredom. He didn’t really want to be here, but the money was good and his family needed him to work. Not that he had much choice in that matter either, if he didn’t he wouldn’t be a part of the family for much longer. He didn’t want to be abandoned, hell, even Johnny had it better and he hadn’t even gone through the change yet. They pitied him more than anything. Kept him around out of a familiar sense of love, but someone to be looked down upon. He didn’t like that too much, but it wasn’t like he could say anything without getting into trouble himself. He took a quick look up and down the alley, then he reached into his pocket and took out a small bar of chocolate. He unwrapped it carefully, relying on the rain slamming into the metal dumpster nearby to hide the sounds. He ate it slowly, enjoying it and making it last. It was a welcome distraction. When he was done, he balled up the wrapped and threw it into the rain. It sat in a puddle, wilting. He yawned, then stretched. There were others like him, dotted around the place, watching, waiting.
His replacement showed up a few minutes late, he didn’t say anything to her as she tossed a backpack at him. He opened it and quickly threw on the heavy jacket inside. He shouldered the bag, then shoved his hands into his pockets and left without saying anything. The rain was cold and shocking. He had avoided the worst of it under his little shelter. He wished she had thought to give him an umbrella. He kept his head down and moved quickly, not even glancing at the few he passed in the street. No doubt they were just like him, wanting to get home and out of the cold rain. His long circuitous path eventually brought him to a small house, he opened the gate and went up to the door. It was the same house they lived in before the wall came down, it looked pretty much the same, but it felt different. It wasn’t the place it was before, everything had changed after the wall came down. He opened the door and stepped inside, disappointed to find the place cold. “Hello?” he waited a moment then he took off the jacket. Everyone else must be out working. Sighing, he moved into the sitting room and began to put wood into the fire place. He might as well make the place toasty for everyone else when they returned. When the fire was going, he stood and went into the kitchen, looking for something to eat. There never was much food in the house, but he could get lucky. He found some ham in the fridge and a few slices of stale bread, and he made himself dinner, eating it with a glass of water in the sitting room. The fire was starting to warm him up and he was feeling sleepy. Outside the rain continued to fall, creating a steady, comforting rhythm of the ceiling and windows. His head started to dip, he stood from the couch and shook himself, then added some wood to the fire. He didn’t want to fall asleep before everyone else got home. He looked at his watch, where was Johnny? He should have been here at the very least.
He looked at his watch again, had something happened? There was no note and the house looked the same. Maybe they were just working late, there had been a lot of over time lately. Maybe he should call the boss? He approached the phone, heart beating quickly, he had the number, but he’d never used it before, he wasn’t supposed to, but everyone was gone, and someone should be here by now. None of them had cell phones, but their shifts should have ended by now. He picked up the phone and started to dial, ignoring the silence on the other end.
“Hello?”
“Hi, um, I’m from block 91, did something happen?”
“No, why?”
“Well, no one’s here but me and there should be others home.”
“I’ll check.”
He let out a small breath, it wasn’t the boss, just an underling.
“I have no reports of problems. They all left their posts at the allotted times. Maybe they’re just out.”
“Yeah. Maybe.”
They hung up, so did he. He went back into the sitting room and looked out the window, trying to see if there was anything suspicious outside. He couldn’t see anything. He moved back and went to the door, opening it a small crack, outside there was nothing but darkness. He reached out, his hand hitting against it. Solid, sturdy, cold. He closed the door, he needed to remain calm. He’d call again, they’d know what to do.
He dialled the number and waited.
“Hello?”
“There’s something wrong. There’s darkness outside.”
“We know. It’s a new thing. Security measure. Don’t worry. It’s fine.”
They hung up.
So did he.
He went back to the window, he could see the light from the streetlight inside, but he couldn’t see out. He opened it and found the same solid blackness. He shut the window again and moved closer to the fire. Someone would be home soon and they’d know what to do. They’d figure it out.

“Are they working?”
“Yes, we’ve so far eliminated twenty of them.”
“Good. How long does it last?”
“A few day at least, maybe a week. They’ll be safe. They’re in their houses, they’ll have food.”
Max nodded, “What about the others?”
“We’ll get them, don’t worry.”

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Containment Breach. Short Story.

Andy sat in the corner, huddled against the wall, eyes closed and fingers covering his ears. The red lights lazily spinning, the alarms blaring. It was so loud, so difficult to think. A dull throb started in the back of his head, overpowering his feelings of fear, he was fucked, completely and utterly. There was nothing he could do, he couldn’t move, he couldn’t think, he couldn’t even-silence. Blessed quiet. He lowered his fingers slowly, expecting it to start going any second, but it didn’t. He opened his eyes as the red lights flickered once, then turned off. The room was plunged into darkness then the overheads came on, bathing the room in sterile, white light. Shakily, Andy stood and went to his desk, then he started to rifle through the drawers, until he found the small bottle of aspirin he kept for emergencies. He swallowed two, dry, then he sat on the chair. Was it over? Had the emergency passed? He picked up the phone and dialled, feeling hopeful as it started to ring. His heart picked up speed as the phone continued to ring, showing no sign of being answered. He counted out a minute, then hung up slowly, hoping that someone would answer. It wasn’t over.

He stood and moved to the door, it looked simple, just a plain, brown wooden door, but it had a steel core, it was heavy, reinforced, as all the doors were. He should be safe in here until a rescue team could be dispatched. He pulled the handle down lightly, testing it, it didn’t move. Good, the locks had engaged. He let out a little sigh, he was safe. Really, at this point, all he could do was wait it out.

Andy returned to his seat and settled in, slightly pissed he was stuck here. If it had only held off another week or so he could have used the escape route from his new office. But no, he had to be stuck down here still, where escape was impossible during emergencies. The doors all sealed and the speed of an average human wasn’t fast enough to get them to an exit in time. Still, he was safe here, in this little room. Jesus. He had been in the john not five minutes before the alarm started, if he had been in the bathroom he might have been ok, he didn’t know if those doors locked, but if he had been in the hall. He shook his head, how many people milled about out there? Chatting while standing just outside the door? Then those poor bastards who dealt with the mail and the interns who were eternally fetching coffee. Probably all gone. Damn. That would be a nightmare for H.R. He picked up his cup of coffee and took a sip, it was cold. If only he knew the place was going to shut down he’d have gotten himself a fresh cup and some snacks. Well, realistically, he’d have gotten the hell out of the building. He took another sip of coffee, then paused, probably best not to drink it until there was no other options. He opened a drawer and found a bottle of water, left there sometime last week, but sealed and still good. He placed it on the desk, resolving to only sip it occasionally.

After a few minutes of staring aimlessly at the walls, Andy realised he should probably do some work, it would help pass the time and he wouldn’t get in trouble for the down time. It wasn’t like he could really do much of anything else. He clicked around the computer for a few minutes, but gave up, the systems had either been shut down or destroyed at some point. He had a vague hope that the office instant message system would be still active, but that was down too. It would have been nice to talk to some people, even if it was just complaining that they were all stuck here. Besides, if what ever it was started to get into offices, he’d have some kind of advanced warning for where it was.

Andy sat up, straining to listen, there had been a noise. There it was again. Faint and almost too low to hear, but it was definitely something. Did that mean the rescue teams were in the building? He had been trapped for almost two hours now, he’d like to get out into some fresh air. He moved to the door and pressed his ear against it, but there was no other noise. The fear had been replaced by apathy, he knew he was safe in the office and that there was no point in getting all worked up about it. They’d be in soon and he’d be rescued. Still, there were doubts there. What if he was the only one left? They wouldn’t see any point in a rush, after all at that point, what’s one more body? What if what ever it was had stopped the alarm going out, or even stopped the rescue teams? What if they decided it would be better to just seal up the facility? What if more than one got out? There were so many, if what ever escaped started to let others out they’d seal up the place for ever. No. It was just his imagination, that was all. There was nothing else to do in this damn room but sit and think.

There was a faint buzz, then a click. Andy smiled and stood against the back wall, hands up and out. Finally they had gotten around to rescuing him. They’d clear the room and bring him out. After a moment the smile faltered and turned into a frown. They should have come in by now. Did he dare go and open it himself? They could open fire. He counted to ten, then twenty. When he reached seventy, he decided he’d look out. He would open the door slowly, stay away from the gap and call out. He rested his hand on the door handle, trying to build up the courage to pull it open. Heart thudding, he leaned down, then pulled ever so slightly. A smell entered the room, caustic but with a hint of something else. The sprinkler system must have decontaminated the hall. “Hello?”
There was no response.

“I’m human, my name is Andy Jones, number 2584.”

Nothing.

He eased the door open a little more, “Don’t shoot, I’m coming out.” He eased his head slowly around the door, then stopped. The floor in front of him was a pale pink colour, scattered around were chunks of dark meat, some still covered in the clothes the people had once worn. There was no one standing in the hall, no one living. The rescue team would have opened the doors one at a time. Something was wrong, his door must have malfunctioned. The air started to burn his nostrils, the fumes were too thick. He peered down the corridor, heart thudding heavily. He could see no one else peeking out, all the other doors were closed. He looked both ways, then quickly entered the hall and pulled down the handle of the door across from him. He hadn’t expected it to open, but it did with ease. The other office was empty. Andy turned to the door beside it and opened it. A woman was standing against the wall, arms up and out. She frowned when she saw him, “Andy? What are you doing? Is the rescue team with you?”
“No, the hall is empty, my door just unlocked a minute ago.”
“Mine too. There’s no one out there?”
“No.”
“Shit. The doors must have malfunctioned. Quick, get in or get out, don’t stand in the hall.”
Andy stepped inside and closed the door behind him.
“Did you leave your door open?”
“I don’t know, maybe?”
“Go check. Make sure it’s closed. If it already decided it can’t get into the offices it probably won’t try, but if it sees a door open…”
“Shit.”

Andy opened the door and peered into the hall, his door had been left open. Stupid. He strode across the hall and pulled the door shut, he turned and went back to Mindy’s office, he pushed the door but it didn’t move. He felt sick, did it relock? He pulled the handle down, it moved freely. She must have blocked it off. He pushed again then stopped. What a bitch. He was thankful to have someone to talk to, but apparently she was not. He banged the door once with his hand, then winced as the noise echoed down the corridor. He scurried back to his own office berating himself for making such a mistake over something so petty.

Back in his office, Andy moved his chair against the door, then sat down. At least he knew there were others still here. Though surely if their doors opened, then everyone’s must have and he couldn’t be the only one that looked outside. He stood and started to heave the desk across the floor to block the door. It wouldn’t be long until it figured out the doors were unlocked. As he pushed the desk against the door Andy wondered if the emergency doors were still locked, after all they were on the same system. He could escape. Hell, the creature may not even be in the building anymore, it could have slipped out as soon as the locks were disengaged. He sat against the desk, wondering about his options. He could stay here and hopefully someone would come soon enough to let him out, before the creature got to him, or he could try and escape. Escape seemed like it had better odds, particularly as the rescue teams should have already cleared the building. Besides once the creature realised that the doors opened, it would check every room and if only half of the workers were in their offices, that was still a lot. And he’d have plenty of warning as to if it was ahead by their screams. Surely at that point, if he needed to take cover, he’d be able to recruit a few people to team up and move some furniture into one room to create a sturdier barricade. Andy stood, then moved the desk part way away from the door, enough for him to squeeze out of, but it would still give someone pause if they were trying to break in. He felt exposed standing in the corridor, there was nothing to hide behind. He ignored the gore that splattered the walls, ceilings and floor, stepping over the chunks and broken bits of furniture. Not even the office plants out here had survived. It must have been happening when the alarms were going off. Which meant either the creature was incredibly fast, or it was incredibly close by. The containment units weren’t supposed to be that close to the workers, but he knew that in the past that rule had been bent. After a moments indecision he decided that it must be fast. It was safer to assume that.

He was about halfway to the exit when he decided it had been a stupid plan. What ever had escaped was vicious and violent, he had yet to come across a clean part of hallway. His heart thudded heavily in his chest making it hard to hear. His feet squished and squelched with each step and he was feeling light headed from the fumes. A few times he had considered just stopping and hiding in a different office, but then there would be a crash or bang, sometimes followed by screaming and the sound of things being ripped and torn. During those moments he moved a little faster, relying on the sound to drown out the noise he was making.

Finally, there it was, that unassuming brown door that would lead to freedom. He paused, listening intently, there was no noise and there hadn’t been for the last few minutes. He hoped that the harsh chemicals would block out his scent and so far it seemed to have worked. He approached the door and pulled at the handle, there was a faint click as it swung open, fresh air started to flow in, almost sweet against the harsh air around him, a slight breeze blowing at his hair. Freedom. He stepped through the door hand already reaching out to close it behind him when something slammed him into the wall. Pain, bright and burning from the centre of his back, he tried to breathe, but it felt as though no air was going into his lungs. His body crumpled backwards, what ever it was had already left, not bothering to stay to finish the job. Warmth pooled around him, he couldn’t move his legs, each breath was agony. Above he could hear noises, screams and bangs, he just needed to hang on and someone would save him. Just…a…little……

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