Despair. Confusion. Frustration. Gerald’s state of mind bounced between the three, as he mouthed to himself the three hastily scrawn words that now angrily adorned the pages of his notebook.
Drifting? Who wrote this, and what does it mean??
He rubbed his left temple, and took another look around the remains of the padded cell. Complete tatters, crumpled and broken, like it had been beaten thoroughly into submission. Whatever had happened here was less of a prize fight, and more of a one-sided barrage. It sure as hell was nothing he should have survived, could have survived. This place was a ruin. But yet here he was, still in one (albeit fragile, fragmented) piece. And then the crushing realisation hit him.
Where was everyone else?
The wind blew another fierce, howling gale, and Gerald grimaced, forced back into the here & now. As much as he would normally prefer to stay put, his brief “secure accommodation” no longer offered any protection from the harsh elements. He needed to find other people, find help if there was any to be found. He also needed to find something better to wear. The hospital robes were doing nothing for him, aesthetically or functionally. He closed the notebook, held it firmly like a child grips onto a security blanket, and walked out of the room into the labyrinthine underground corridors.
The fluorescent lighting that had earlier co-conspired with the anesthetic to haze his vision, now threatened to give him a seizure as it flickered in pain, broken and flailing from the ceiling. Further along, some sections were plunged into complete darkness, whilst others were spotlit by sickly pale sun shafts piercing their way through large cracks and crevices. Gerald stumbled awkwardly through the theatrical maze, searching for any kind of supply store and a way to the upper level.
All the rooms, all the wards were empty. Every doorway he passed presented the same abandoned state of disrepair. Cracked, chipped walls, broken beds and overgrown floors. Turning a corner, he could just make out up ahead a set of red double doors, with a sign above it gently swaying from the one chain that was still attached to the ceiling. As he got closer, he was able to read the words as they passed his eyes like a pendulum.
[ F E XI ]
What the hell? Wait..
Gerald looked again, squinting, and realised that there were spaces for several letters. They were worn away, almost scratched away by something. Whatever ripped through here really did a number on the place. That’s it! he exclaimed to himself.. Fire Exit! This must be the quickest way out. He tried the handles, but the rusting hinges were seized and refused to let him through. Gerald tried again, putting all of his force into his shoulder, and barged the doors. The hinges gave instantly, and he burst through into the next space, falling to the floor. The notebook flew out his hand and bounced into a nearby open unit.
“AAH! Jeez my arm!”
He picked himself up, rubbing his deltoid gingerly, and surveyed the area. Another set of wards perhaps, but this time half the doors were still standing. Some beaten up chairs lay against one of the moss covered walls, and… the space his book had flung itself into was what looked like an old office of some kind? He followed after it, and after feeling around on the wall found a switch. Trying his luck, a single light buzzed into life, coating every surface in a dim sunrise blue tint. He found himself amongst a dust covered desk and several large filing cabinets. This was more like an archive room, probably with all the hospital’s former medical records.
Gerald peered at the countless folders covering the top of desk. Just about all of them were emblazoned with a faded red stamp. He picked one up and looked closer.
PROJECT PURE -XI
LVL 8 PERSONNEL ONLY
TEST SUBJECT THETA 7
Pure XI.. what the hell is that? He opened the file and scanned the contents.
“Day 1, Theta 7 is administered the Pure -X1 serum. Despite initial overload of pain receptors, no further immediate side effects are witnessed. The committee remains hopeful that -XI shows positive results with Theta Group.”
“Day 3, Theta 7 exhibits early signs of skin and tissue regeneration. Radiation levels from subject are beginning to subside. Further tests are needed for long term assessment.”
“Day 12, Full tissue regeneration has been achieved. A landmark result. However, subject Theta 7 experiencing migraines and hypersensitivity to touch and taste.”
“Day 17, Half of Theta Group have developed erratic mood swings and highly aggressive psychological tendencies. This has resulted in several violent outbursts, particularly against the remaining subjects. 2 fatalities. Communal Interaction is terminated.”
“Day 20, Theta subjects’ have reached peak levels of aggression and sociopathy. Furthermore, tissue regeneration has slowed to a severely reduced rate. Alongside Theta 4 and 9, Theta 7 showing alarming signs of physical and mental mutation”
“Day 22, Committee order termination of Pure — XI, and all remaining Theta Subjects”
Holy Shit, Gerald thought as he slowly closed the file and dropped it back on the pile. What sort of screwed up place is this… was this? They kept him down here… with those things? What if, what if he’d been given the same treatment, this serum? He could feel the anxiety welling up within him again.. the neck veins were about to bring the band back together for a new album.
Get a grip, Gerry… you don’t know anything for sure. you just need to find a way out.
As he turned back towards the entrance, he noticed a dirty, yet intact doctor’s coat strewn over one of the cabinets. He lifted it off and gave it a few thorough shakes, resulting in plumes of dust and grime billowing into the air like a miniature mushroom cloud. At least this tattered thing gave him more protection than just the flimsy gown. As he threw on the coat.. which proved to be a few sizes too big for him, he felt something hit the side of his thigh and clink. Placing his hand in the pockets, he pulled out a worn, rusting set of keys. This could be his way out! Finally, a bit of good luck. He leant down to pick up his notebook from its resting place, and walked back out into the hallway.
Of all the other rooms without doors, only one held anything of value. It was clearly a supply store in its heyday, but the last few objects present were five beaten lockers, one of which had a padlock. The first four bore no fruit. Gerald tried several of the keys from the bunch he had discovered on the fifth, which took far longer than normal as the stores’ overhead light refused to cooperate. Finally, on the fourth key the locker swung open. Inside were a crusty pair of leather boots (miraculously his size), and a faint photograph of what appeared to be someone’s partner. Grabbing the footwear from the locker he sat on one of the weary chairs in the hall and laced them up.
Gerald then found himself in a bit of a dilemma (as if this whole experience wasn’t a big enough one already). Should he or shouldn’t he attempt the remaining cells? It was evident they were cells, from the report he’d had the delight of reading. Coming to the decision that he’d rather not play “Schrodinger’s Mutated Corpse”, he decided to avoid them, and retrace his steps. Only a stone wall sat at the end of this corridor. He must have missed a turning to an access door to some steps, or even a lift lobby. In any case, he hung onto the keys for good measure.
As he walked back out of the red double doors, he turned and looked up again at the swaying sign. So much for a fire exit, he thought. But as he examined it further, Gerald realised there was something not right about that F. Like part of the character had worn off with the rest of the letters.
And that’s when he heard the roar.