Lab Rat

I have no idea where I am. I’ve been awake in this strange room surrounded by complete darkness for what feels like hours, maybe days. The ground is hard and cold against my bare feet. The walls are close together and solid. I can’t lay stretched out without my feet or head hitting a wall.

Suddenly, the lights above blaze on and I cover my eyes against the startlingly white walls that sear my eyes until they water. A loud metallic crunch shakes the ground and then I hear gears clicking and metal scraping against metal. Squinting against the harsh brightness of the fluorescent lights, I see one of the walls retracting into the ceiling.

Immediately, I’m hit with the aroma of searing meat. My empty stomach growls and cramps with hunger. I haven’t eaten anything since I first woke up in that tiny room.

Edging into the hallway in front of me, I hesitantly venture forward. What is that? Hamburgers? My mouth waters as I follow the hallway away from the room. Either my eyes are adjusting to the light or the hallway is less bright. Either way I can keep my eyes open with ease.

After a few steps I nearly jump out of my skin when the clanging, screeching sounds again and the door slams shut behind me. There’s no where to go but forward.

Everything is white. The tile floors are white, the walls are white, the ceiling is white. There aren’t any pictures or doors. I don’t even see any fingerprints or dirt smudges on the walls.

The hallway is long, and I realize we must be in some sort of warehouse because it’s too long to be a home, at least not any house I’ve ever been in. Finally, I reach the end, or rather, the bend, and turn sharply to the left. After a few steps, it branches into two hallways. One goes straight ahead and the other one turns left again, stretching out in the same direction I’ve come from. Not sure which is the best way to go, I stand in indecision for a minute, before finally choosing the hall straight ahead.

Along the way it, twists and turns. Every time there is a choice I go back and forth, choosing right, then left, the right again. Hoping that I’m following the scent of beef, I image all of the different toppings I will add to my burger as I’m walking. I’m so distracted by the image in my head, I barely see what’s in front of me. At the next turn I see a large, wide open green space with a BBQ at the end of the hall. As I quicken my pace I notice that the ground in that space is covered in grass and I can see blue sky overhead. The large, open area appears to be surrounded by the same white walls I’ve been walking through.

I’m almost at the door when I notice a man in a large Hawaiian shirt and a bushy brown beard working at the BBQ with metal tongs.

Just before the door into the greenspace, the hallway turns to the right and continues, but I don’t care. I’m about to walk straight through to the grass when a blaze of fire shoots across the doorway blocking my way. I stumble back as the heat pushes against me.

In a second, it’s gone. Feeling apprehensive, I take another small step forward and pause. The fire wall blazes up for a few seconds before snuffing out again. This continues at irregular intervals. Sometimes 30 seconds go by, sometimes 1-2 seconds. The wall of fire is thick, about two feet wide. The man at the BBQ seems unperturbed by either the fire or me and continues with his business as though neither of us are mere feet from him. Even when I shout out to him, he seems not to notice me.

I’m so close to food, but I don’t want to get fried up. I tentatively try to time the flames and think I might be able to jump through if I go immediately after the flame goes out, but the next two spurts follow each other by a mere half second. If I’d chosen to jump through, I would be more BBQ’d than the burger I’m craving.

Finally, I give up. I’ve noticed that the courtyard has other doors leading inside. Hoping to have better luck at one of those doors, I move sullenly away.

I’m so hungry I feel faint, dragging my feet and feeling grumpy. I keep trying to turn to the right, but as the hallway twists and turns I’m not sure which way the courtyard is anymore. Eventually, I’m just randomly choosing again.

Finally, I turn the corner and there in front of me is the courtyard again! I found it. I stumble forward tripping over my feet in my sudden rush.

There’s a weird light, a glow around the entrance, especially along the floor. At first, I can’t figure out what it is. It’s not until I’m closer that I realize it’s not a glow, but a reflection. The ground is covered in shards of broken glass and quickly realize that there’s no way through. I’m barefoot and while some of the shards are large, most are tiny and even the big shards are covered in jagged dust sprinkled over everything.

I try brushing some of it to the side to see if I can clear a path, but immediately regret it as sharp pinpricks of pain stab the side of my hand even drawing blood in some places. If I were to put my full weight on this, my feet would be wrecked.

Angry, I take off running this time. Twice now, I’ve now come so close to food and the smell is overpowering. I’m running around bends and randomly choosing forks in the road. I pass the fire door again, but refuse to let that deter me. Finally, I find my way to another door and slow to a walk as I approach it, unsure what horrors await me. I edge closer to the door, but nothing happens. I swipe my arm through the air, still nothing. Then, I tentatively step over the threshold and into the courtyard. The man at the BBQ finally looks up.

“Welcome!” he smiles beneath his beard. “Would you like a burger?” He’s already holding up a plate with a burger on it.

I grab it and wolf it down in about two bites.

His eyes open in surprise. “I was going to tell you that there are fixings on the table.” He motions to a table set up with cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and a myriad of there things I didn’t immediately recognize.

“Er, thanks,” I say, feeling slight remorse that I’d missed them. Before I can ask if I can if I can have another, a voice interrupts, “53 minutes for a base time. Not bad. Let’s see how well he does with the virus.”

Confused, I turn to see the owner of the voice as the man with the beard responds, “Knock him out.”

Then, everything goes black.

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