Yay productivity! Another happy Easter thing I was inspired to write. I think there are some tense issues, but, I am a bit terrible at editing my own work, and haven't found anyone to do it for me so- enjoy, sorry for any mistakes!
I thought we were going back to the the lab. I hoped we weren’t. The last few months had been the worst of my life. And the last few years hadn’t been great. I had thought, leaving high school, that I would go to college, hopefully get a degree then a decent job and go on to live my boring middle class life. Only to find that my whole life was a lie. My mom cried when she told me about my birth, about how she was in college when and with two older brothers she didn’t think she could support me. She said when the biology department came to her with the proposal she couldn’t think of another way. I could think of a few, but it was 18 years too late.
I couldn’t hear or see, speak or smell. I could hardly walk. It was a feeling I would never get used to. The doctors, or scientists always bound me when we went anywhere. I had never given them any reason to but I guess they thought with all they did to me there had to be a point where I would crack. There was a heavy blindfold over my eyes and headphones over my ears. At first they had only blocked sound, but now they always played and insistent infuriating white noise. Over my mouth and nose there was some sort of air filter that made the air dry and tasteless. I always though the air was tasteless until they first fitted this apparatus, it was pure nothing. I couldn’t even taste my own spit. They forced me to take tiny steps, I felt constantly on the verge of tripping. My heart pattered in my chest. I had never liked the dark, or silence. And this was the most helpless I ever felt, these trips down hallways I had never seen.
Finally we stopped, the covers were removed from my ears.
“Stay still, we are going to begin testing soon.” Begin testing? wasn’t that what they had been doing for all these months. If those weren’t tests this was going to truly be torture. “There will be others, pay them no mind. You will only be judged on your own results.” Was this a competition? I was always the last picked on sports teams. I had never been very athletic. Whatever they had done to me probably hadn’t helped that too much, if any. Maybe if I failed all the tests I would be able to leave.
The headphones were replaced and the breathing thing was removed. I took deep grateful breaths of the hospital smelling air. Antibacterial soap and bleach were infinitely better than nothing. I even rubbed my cheek against the hand that brushed my jaw when it came. I had the impression someone was speaking but I couldn’t hear. The hand tightened painfully forcing my mouth open and another apparatus slipped inside, a voice came through the headphones.
“This is to measure your oxygen uptake, don’t spit it out.” then a mask was fitted over that and my mouth. I wished I could speak ask questions. I couldn’t find the words.
Someone gripped my elbow and I was led to some other part of the room, “step up” came the voice and I was nudged sideways onto what felt like a treadmill. My hands were guided to a bar to help keep my balance. I wished I could see. I wished I could speak. The machine began to hum beneath my hands and I had to walk to keep from falling. It felt awkward to use my natural stride after all these months of small steps, I tripped several times. I felt hands on my body, sliding under the soft cotton shirt that had been my only option for these years. I felt cool gel on my chest down my sides, above my hipbones and heart. Just spots of cold. Then stinging clips. I jumped at each one. I guessed they were electrodes of some kind. Another test. I wondered why they didn’t think they should give me some sort of warning. I guess they didn’t really see me as a person, just as a part of their experiment.
After I began to feel a bit more comfortable the speed began to pick up. I jogged, then ran. It was hard to breathe, I could feel my heart pounding under the electrode, I could feel it pounding through my whole body. I was gasping around the tube in my mouth . I gripped in in my teeth. I wanted to spit it out but knew from experience that if I did I would most likely have to begin the test again. I felt the shirt fall off my body, someone must have cut it. I almost panicked, but didn’t have the energy, impossibly the machine moved faster and so did I. I lost track of time, all my focus on breathing and not falling or losing my grip on the bar that was the only thing orienting me in space. Then finally, finally the speed began to slow.
“Good job Willow, very good.” I jumped at the voice. My nerves were shot. Sweat was dripping down my chest, my legs, I could feel it soaking into the waistband of the soft cotton pants. I wished they would call me Will like everyone else did, but for the 2 plus years I had been here, I was Willow, another humiliation added to the hundreds of others.
“Just a few more minutes of cool down and we will take the mask off, okay?” This voice sounded kinder, I nodded, but I didn’t know if I was going to make it a few more minutes. My legs were shaking. My hands spasm around the bar, my eyelids flutter behind the mask. I was walking on the treadmill, but now every few steps one of my feet would drag and I would stumble, each time it was harder to keep my feet. Finally I didn’t. I expected my head to hit the bar, my knees to scrape the ground. I expected pain, instead I was lowered slowly to the freezing linoleum tiles.
“Willow?” I nodded, I guessed they couldn’t tell if I was awake. Plus I liked this new voice. It seemed to still think I was a person. “I'm going to take off the mask. I need you to relax and take slow breaths.” I nodded again. I wasn’t going to want slow breaths, I thought. The normal air felt amazing on my tongue. It was still dry, but it had texture, it was also cool, and I was so hot. My whole body was overheated, but covered in goosebumps from the cold tile against my back, my head, however, was cradled on some raised surface.
“Next I’m going to take off the headphones,” I nod, and off they come. I feel a bit dizzy, I realize I have gotten used to the white noise, and even the beeping of the lab machines don’t make up for it. I feel even more disorientated than before. “Okay Willow, you are going to want to close your eyes, I’m going to take off the blindfold and it a little bright in here.” The last thing I want to do is close my eyes. I’ve been in the dark for what seems like forever, even if it has only been a few hours.
“That isn’t a good idea.”
“The subject shouldn't connect us with-”
“The results have to remain-” Immediately the other voices begin to protest. I wish they wouldn’t. They know my name. I know they know. But still I am just an object.
“It really doesn’t matter he doesn’t know how to read the feeds.” And then there is light. So much light it burns like soap in my eyes. And I can't really see anything. But it's okay because I can see, if only for a little while. Someone smooths my hair back from my face. I remember how tired I am. The voices swirl around me as I drift. I don’t understand what they are saying, nice voice is right. I don’t notice the other subjects in the room, I don’t remember the faces of those who have been tormenting me. I only remember the soft stroking of a hand in my hair as I drift off to sleep.
I wake again in the small room that has become my home in the past few days. It is about the size of the dorm room I hoped to spend these years in, and serves the same purpose. A tiny place with a bed, a TV, and a mini fridge where I can be stored until I can be of use. I wake in the small room very confused. I am still shirtless, and more tired and sore than I can ever remember being. I wonder how I could wake up and still be this tired when my stomach lets out a defining growl. I moan. With all the other aches and pains I can almost ignore my hunger. But not quite. I roll out of bed and crawl to the fridge. It has a few pieces of fruit and a disgusting looking protein bar. I eat all and am still starving. I force myself to the door and try to open it. It is locked, as it usually is. I am not wanted at the moment. I look up at the corner of the room. A blinking red light looks back at me.
“Can I have some food?” I ask. I have never done anything to show I am dangerous. I have never tried to run or escape. And still I am treated like the most dangerous criminal. I always try to be as cooperative as possible and tell myself it helps. But with the minimal human contact I get, and none with any other “subjects” I really have no idea if I am helping myself at all. I lie back on the bed and wait. It is agonizing. No position I can find is comfortable. I settle how I slept as a baby, I think it is called child's pose in yoga. My knees are curled underneath me and I face the bed, my hands cradling my forehead, my feet cradling my hips. I feel like my stomach is crawling through my spine. I wish I could sleep, but I don’t think I will be able to until I eat.
An indeterminate amount of time later a chime comes and the door opens.
“You slept for 30 hours. That is quite unexpected.” it is the man with the nice voice. I turn to see if he has brought any food. It does not appear so. I turn back to my resting position. I hope gravity will stop my stomach from emerging through my back for a few more hours. “We need to do some scans to see how much damage was done to your muscles and other body tissues.” More tests? Not for the first time I wonder if this study is legal. Where they are getting their funding. “If you eat any more it will be harder to do the tests, or else I would give you something.” the man sounds genuinely sorry, but at this point I don’t really care. I am so tired. So sore. He walks over to me and pulls me up. I am kneeling, I hunch over, the change in position makes shifts the acid in my stomach and I feel like I am dying. He rubs my back and makes a sympathetic noise. I want to punch him but I don’t have the energy. Plus if I did they would probably find even more ways to treat me like a criminal. I don’t know how, but I really didn’t want to find out.
We sat for a few more minutes. When my stomach settled he pulled me up.
“The sooner you get the tests done the sooner you can eat.” Standing up was the hardest thing I had done so far. The room swam, the colors swirling brilliantly. I leaned heavily toward the man, surprised I didn’t topple him over. He wasn’t much taller than me, and just a bit broader through the shoulders, but I had a lot of dead weight. He pushed me forward, and I was sure I was going to hit the door frame. The room spun and so did the hallway. It wasn’t until we were halfway to the lab that I realized he hadn’t put on any of the usual hardware. I could actually see where I was going, well in a round about sense. We stopped suddenly outside the door.
“There aren’t any cameras here.” he whispered suddenly and handed me a cracker. It was plain and dry, a saltine. Still I eat it happily. When I was done he handed me another. When I had eaten five I felt a tiny bit better. He smiles. And brushes a few crumbs off my cheek. “Can't have you feinting can we?” I still wobble when we enter the room. But it doesn't spin nearly as badly.
The tests weren’t as bad as I expected. It was one mostly, like a MRI, I lay on a bed-like thing and was slowly slid through a large white tube. Several numbers with medical sounding acronyms and names were called out and I dozed off. After that there was a short survey. One of the techs had to read the questions to me because I couldn’t focus on the questions. The room had begun to spin again when I was finally done and I was wheeled back to my room in a wheelchair.
“Measure how much the subject eats.” said a white-haired bespectacled lab-coat wearing man that I guessed was in charge of the whole operation. I had identified his voice as the one that most commonly spoke through the headphones. He had thoroughly berated nice voice for letting me walk around “sensationally intact and fully able to physically or mentally destroy decades of cutting edge technology”. I wondered how I could mentally destroy technology, but I had stayed silent, as had Nice Voice. He had nodded, then pushed my wheelchair out of the room.
I ate a pizza, if it could be called that, it tasted rather like tomato paste on salty cardboard. Oatmeal, toast (without butter) peas, corn, orange jello, half a baguette, a jar of peanut butter, three hard boiled eggs, a bowl of pasta (with butter), brussel sprouts, two chicken breasts, and a piece of the driest chocolate cake I had ever seen. And I was still hungry. Unfortunately that was all that Nice Voice would give me. “You'll make yourself sick” he said “You'll throw up” he said. I just wanted to eat more. But after I brushed my teeth and flopped into bed I was asleep in an instant, still growling stomach forgotten.
I woke to the impression of being watched. I had gotten used to the feeling because of the constantly watching camera, but this was different. Without moving I opened my eyes. I was curled on my side facing the wall. Sighing I turned to face the room. Nice Voice was standing in the doorway. He wasn’t wearing the usual uniform of scrubs and a lab coat, or the leaders similar uniform of slacks, a button down and a lab coat. He was wearing relaxed jeans and a soft tee shirt that wasn’t so different than mine. He almost smiled when his eyes met mine, but it quickly faded.
“I'm so sorry.” he whispered, so softly I almost didn’t hear it, then he was gone. I wish I knew his name.