“Incredible, just incredible.” A young doctor with boyish good looks stroked the few chin hairs he had available.
“I can’t believe it, we’ve fucking done it — we’ve really fucking done it.” A portly balding man sat on a stool in the corner, his words full of relief.
A heavy metal door swung open, revealing a flash of pale light. An older woman, gray hair pinned neatly in a tight bun, strode in confidently, heels clicking against the linoleum floor. Her features were stern, mannerisms cold and robotic.
Clearing her throat loudly, she addressed the men in the room “Let’s not celebrate quite yet gentleman. Her vitals may be stable, but we have not yet confirmed consciousness. Harold, initiate Protocol 13.”
Jumping from his stool, almost panicked, the portly gentleman jogged to the other end of the room and opened a metal cabinet. Slowly and methodically, he pulled out seven hypodermic needles and placed them onto a metal tray. Each needle was filled with a different color fluid, a series of hyphenated letters and numbers printed in black along the edges.
In the middle of the room was a young brunette, no older than nineteen, strapped into a gurney. Tubes protruded from all over her body, connected to beeping machines scattered around the room. Directly above the woman was a spider-like medical device, multiple limbs extending down towards her. The younger man retrieved the metal tray, and inserted each needle into the limbs of the machine.
“Mam, do we need to be in the room for this? I know the rules, but….” He asked as the last needle was inserted, voice quivering slightly as his words trailed off.
For a moment the room was silent, a heavy tension descending upon them. Both men looked nervous, glancing around like lost puppies in the rain. The older woman just stood there, glaring.
“You willingly, happily even, signed the contract. The time for negotiation has long passed, wouldn’t you agree? If you’re so inclined, we can review the termination clauses.” She emphasized ‘termination’ with a frightening gusto.
“Yes mam, of course, mam. I did not mean to disrespect you or the organization, I’d never do such a thing. I’ve been here since I graduated from college, and as you know I’ve always been—”
“Keith, can you please shut the fuck up.” The chubby doctor piped in, cutting off his colleague mid-sentence. “Mam, we know what needs to be done.”
A slight smile cracked on the woman’s face. As she turned towards the door to exit, she left with a few parting words before slamming the door behind her, “I knew there was a reason we’ve kept you around for so long Harold.”
Picking up a cattle prod, Harold strode angrily towards me. “I have to admit, seeing you like a monkey in a cage is one of my few pleasures these days. It brings me such satisfaction, I can almost taste it.” He licked his lips mockingly.
I was beyond frightened, shivering like a young rabbit face with a fox. I had no idea who I was, let alone the man speaking to me with such hatred. For weeks, I’d been living in a cramped cage, with just enough room to walk around. The only amenities available a concrete bed with a paper-thin mattress and a small opening to relieve myself. Any memories before that were nonexistent, I knew nothing about myself or the situation I had found myself in.
“It’s a pity you don’t recognize her, that would only add to my enjoyment. But you’re nothing but a pathetic husk of a man, in fact, you’ve always been pathetic Robert.” Harold quickly clasped his hands over his mouth, as if he’d made some fateful error.
“You better hope she didn’t hear that Harold. Maybe you should heed your own advice.” Keith had a smug look of satisfaction on his face.
Robert, the name sparked an intense feeling within me. It was a lighthouse in the fog of my mind, just barely out of reach. Robert, I let the name stew in my mind, hoping to bring it into focus.
“Attention. All staff with level 4 clearance and below, return to your modules immediately. Failure to comply will result in immediate termination.” A recorded message crackled to life, playing intermittently between a high-pitched siren. Red flashing lights flooded the room, creating a cacophony of noise and light. It felt chaotic, and in my disheveled state, it was more than I could bear. Falling to the floor, I cusped my ears, rocking back and forth in a fetal position.
Eventually, the noise stopped, and another voice filled the room. “Good news gentlemen. If the test is successful, the directors have agreed to issue a Declaration of Completion. You’ll be paid a generous severance package and be allowed to leave the facility and return home. Prove to us your worth.”
Both men froze for a second, seemingly blindsided by the news. They both struggled to retain composure, clearly rattled. Keith pulled out a silver cross from his lab coat and gently stroked it, mouthing an unseen prayer. Harold’s jaw quivered, tears welling in his eyes — but he wiped them away as quickly as they came.
“Let’s finish this, no room for errors. Take a deep breath and get your shit together.” Keith slid the cross back into his pocket, nodding silently in agreement. The men stared at each other for a brief moment, before swinging into action.
Keith stood over several control panels, twisting knobs and typing furiously. He bounced from on to another making slight adjustments. Graphs and formulas streamed across the screens, all the while, Harold took notes and entered data into a computer attached to the spider-like device.
“She’s ready, are you?” Harold looked at Keith intently, his belly heaving up and down.
Steadying himself, Keith grabbed a small microphone fixed directly to the wall. Underneath were two buttons, he pressed both simultaneously. “We are entering the final phase of Protocol 13, any last directives?”
“No.” The response was immediate and curt. The type of response superiors give to subordinates they care little about, a privileged noble speaking to the serfs.
A blaring siren once again filled the room. Keith and Harold each lifted a glass cover and flipped a series of switches in sequential order. They moved in total synchrony, as if this had been done a thousand times before.
The mechanical limbs slowly descended onto the girl, until they hovered over her legs, arms, heart, esophagus, and forehead. With a sudden lurching motion, they plunged the needles into her body, releasing the mysterious chemicals into her bloodstream.
Almost immediately, the girl began shaking violently. A black liquid began frothing from her mouth, pooling onto the floor below. Her eyes remained closed, but you could see her pupils darting rapidly behind closed eyelids.
“I hope you’re watching closely, because if this works, you’ll be up next — again. And trust me, it’s as painful as it looks.” Harold eyes gleamed with a look of sadistic pleasure, like a man whose soul had long been lost to the abyss.
His words barely phased me, passing through like a gentle breeze. All I could hear, was a single word, playing over and over again in my mind — Robert. The name scratched away at my insides, and the pain manifested physically. I felt on fire, my mind overheating.
“It’s your fault you know, all of this is your fault. The reason I’ve rotted here for a decade. The reason the world will soon change, for the betterment of the few and the misery of the many. The reason she has to endure such torture. Your misery is just a small consolation, a small consolation indeed.”
A heavy clanking followed by an agonized scream startled Harold and diverted his attention away from me. Keith was slumped on the floor, a metal tray lay next to him, one of the edges covered in blood. The girl’s eyes were now wide open, her smile sinister with intent.
An inhuman scream ripped through the room, oscillating between several octaves. The girl’s upper body began to swell many times its size, undulating waves appearing underneath her skin. The leather straps securing her snapped, and she rolled onto the floor with a large thud.
Dropping the cattle prod in his hands, Harold flew towards the exterior door, chubby legs swaying with all of their might. The girl reacted immediately, a massive arm swinging upwards, knocking Harold to the ground. In a split second, she was on him, tearing into his flesh like a knife through butter. He lived long enough to feel too much, I’ll never forget his agonized cries.
At that moment Keith stirred from his unconscious state, groggily rising to his feet. Still in a stupor, he fell backward into the wall, having difficulty steadying himself.
The girl continued to transform, fleshy growths multiplying at an alarming rate. Barely standing. Keith pushed the intercom and screamed into the mic, “Specimen is out of containment, terminate Protocol 13. For the love of god, terminate Protocol 13 — please!” He had begun weeping, dribbles of spit flying from his mouth.
Attracted to the commotion, the girl dragged herself across the floor and fell upon Keith, who had collapsed once again. With a single swipe of her arm, Keith’s head was relieved from his body, rolling roughy across the linoleum tiles. The force of the blow caused his ID card, attached to a lanyard, to slide across the room, finally resting against my cell. Without hesitation, I picked it up and tucked the ID into my pocket.
“Terminating Protocol 13.” A pre-recorded female voice, soothing yet stern, echoed throughout the room. The accompanying sirens drove the girl into a frenzy, causing her to thrash about the room. Steel cabinets were reduced to scraps, monitors filleted in a single hit. A mass of flesh struck against my cell, dislodging several bars. As the girl continued to thrash about, I dove through the gap in the bars onto the cold awaiting floor.
Blood was everywhere, spraying the walls like a Jackson Pollock painting. The girl’s frenzied movements had pulverized what was left of Keith and Harold, their remains were now the “shit on her shoe”.
The automatic door to the room suddenly opened, a team of soldiers busting in, firing indiscriminately. I stuck close to the ground, hunkered behind a scrap of metal, hoping to avoid the melee. Screeching in delight, the girl made quick work of the commandos, cutting them to pieces with ease. Their weapons seemed to have no effect, her flesh absorbed the bullets like it was puddy.
With each kill her mass grew, leaving her even further removed from any semblance of human traits. Wailing with rage, she used her massive limbs to smash through the concrete walls, revealing a dimly lit, sterile hallway. I watched with unease as she pushed her mass through the newly created hole, disappearing around a bend. Wasting no time, I followed quickly behind, hoping to escape the only memory I had.
Shuffling down a narrow corridor, I passed a series of cells, just like the one I had escaped from. I imagined the unspeakable horrors that remained hidden behind those walls, but I quickly pushed those thoughts out of my mind. Focus you fucking idiot, I yelled internally.
The sound of screams and gunshots echoed from somewhere unseen in the facility, as all sorts of alarms played on repeat. I continued to blindly flee, praying for a miracle — and soon enough that miracle was gifted. The hallway opened up into a large concrete room, a freight elevator waiting patiently on the far end. Using the ID card I had snatched, I slid it through a reader situated on the elevator door — for a moment nothing happened. Then, like the light of Jehovah, a green light flashed and the doors opened up, the most beautiful sight in my remembered life to date.
Stepping into the elevator, I saw only a single button labeled “Z” — I pressed it hesitantly. The elevator lurched to life, climbing with astonishing speed, but even so, it took at least a minute to reach the top floor.
As the doors slid open, I was greeted to a beautifully decorated lobby, filled with historical antiquities. A massive, hand-carved lion served as the centerpiece, mouth open in a ferocious roar. The room was lined with windows, the sunlight streaming in like water.
A chorus of gunfire and the crashing of glass erupted from a nearby room. Blood-curdling screams soon followed, but they were quickly silenced. Fear coursing through me, I ran to the nearest window and looked below — I was at least three stories up. Another round of gunfire, even closer this time, hardened my resolve to do whatever it took. With that, I shattered the window with a chair and readied myself to jump.
Just as I was about to jump, a painting hanging over a mantle place caught my eye. It was of a stoic young man, dressed to the nines, a beautiful woman hanging on his arm. Although I had no idea what I looked like, photos weren’t exactly allowed during confinement, I knew immediately who the man was — me.
“Stop now or I’ll shoot!” A gruff voice shouted behind me.
I did not stop, and he did shoot — luckily for me, he missed. Even luckier, the fall only broke one of my ankles and I was able to skitter off into the surrounding woods, eventually making my way to a nearby town.
I’d rather not discuss how I survived for the first three months after my escape, but survive I did. My past is still lost to me, but truthfully, whoever that person was is long dead — RIP Robert. Still, it’s difficult not to dwell on the past, especially when the past stays so relevant.
Across the world, there has been a sudden and precipitous rise in violent crime, disappearances, political and religious conflict, and unexplained phenomenons. I’ve continued to see things I can’t explain, more precisely, I don’t want to explain. Dark forces seem to follow me, and wherever I go, death will follow.
The funny thing is, I like it, dare I say, love it. This mayhem is feeding an urge that resides somewhere hidden, for now. Something inside of me is awakening, and it stirs more and more every day.
I wonder if the old me is trying to get out, and if so, what does he have to say?