The Subject awoke, peeling sticky eyelids across glazed eyeballs as the room shifted lazily into focus. A beam of bright white neon was blinking at him, rattling away at his retinas with a vicious staccato. In its off beats, The Subject could see the outline of broken and degraded polystyrene ceiling tiles crumbling around the fixture. He opened his mouth but found the movement of his jaw restricted; his chin fixed in place by something. An unusual tightness pulled across the bottom of his cheek. He was gagged with something thick and solid, spanning from the bottom of his nose to the peak of his chin. He could feel sweat building underneath it; his sleepiness gave way to panic.
He tried to move his forehead but only managed to get the slightest of distances before it too was held back. Another restraint was pinning his head in place, forcing his gaze into the stark ceiling tiles above him. He shook at his wrists and ankles, although he had realised it was a futile effort even before beginning. Someone does not bind a subject’s head and mouth without ensuring the remainder of their body is covered with an equal level of restriction.
He could feel sweat beading over his whole body now as his convulsions slowed. Less violent now, the whole of his body shook gently. He opened his eyes, peering around the ceiling ahead of him. Thick metal loops suspended a sheet of plastic like a curtain at a crime scene. At the opposite side of his peripheral he could see the top of a reflective surface; possibly a mirror or the edge of a window. The strain of peering at the edge of his vision made him feel nauseous so he returned his gaze to the ceiling tiles.
The Subject’s memory was patchy. An office job occupying too much of his time, carrying out an unknown function. It involved numbers, spiked upon each other, stumbling up and down, urging for mathematical significance. The significance of the numbers, or the job, or indeed his former life was completely lost on The Subject as he lay defenceless, staring at the roof. His spine was beginning to feel cool as the sweat from across his body collected, streaming down him. He could feel rubber on his back, a hospital sheet for the terminally piss ridden.
His throat was drying and the more he gulped down air and spit to try and lubricate himself, the more it felt like his neck was swelling. He let out a tentative yelp which sounded like a dog being kicked. It was not meant to be a discernible word, just a shot in the dark at being heard. The Subject accepted that he had no idea who the sound might have been heard by. He was strapped to a bed, suggesting whoever had put him here did not have the purest of intentions. That said, he was strapped tightly enough that even impure intentions might be out of the question.
He closed his eyes and his memory flickered and jittered into a dream. He was walking through a corridor so bright that it hurt his eyes. Lining the corridor were white benches, beaten and aged with time but polished to a sheen which reflecting vicious neon light. At the end of the corridor was a door with a small square window in its centre. His stopped walking and stooped down to peer through the glass.
On the other side of the door there were three beds. On each bed lay a figure, bound firmly with thick leather straps. A bald man with a clip board was leaning over one of the figures making notes eagerly on his pad. Occasionally he would tap his pencil on one of them and stare intently at the spot before scribbling again. As he watched, The Subject saw the figure on the central bed begin to jerk and convulse, pulling upward at his bindings and stretching his fingers out as if they were trying to escape from his body. The doctor hung his clipboard on the wall before calling out something inaudible to an unknown party across the room. This unknown party transpired to be a nurse. She was in her thirties and wore her hair in a tight bun behind her head. She was carrying a metal tray towards the doctor. He reached his hand inside, withdrawing a large silver syringe.
The figure’s convulsions had intensified now, his feet twisting and writhing beneath him. The doctor leant in and plunged the needle into the man’s side while holding him still with his free hand. The patient continued to twitch and wriggle but by the time the doctor had replaced the needle in the tray the movement had slowed. He walked back across to the nurse and muttered something to her. It resulted in her nodding and disappearing back round the corner.
The Subject’s eyes followed her up to the edge of the window and he pushed his forehead into the glass as he tried to see where she was going. It wasn’t until he heard the click of the door handle that he realised the doctor was exiting the treatment room. He jumped back quickly to avoid falling through the doorway.
“Hey, you’re not supposed to be out here.” The Subject studied the lines on the man’s face as he spoke. They curled around his lips and across the arches of his cheeks like the tide lapping against a shore line.
“Sorry,” replied The Subject. It was all he could manage. The doctor sighed and patted him on the shoulder.
“That’s OK kid, not your fault.” He removed his glasses and wiped his cuff across his forehead.
“What’s wrong with them?” asked The Subject, pointing at the window pane in the doorway.
“Your guess is as good as mine. Some kind of infection is the best I can make out. They aren’t responding to any treatments I throw at them though. Whatever it is, it’s eating away at their skin and making their bones as brittle as glass.”
The Subject’s face went white at the mention of this and he stumbled backwards into the wall of the ghostly corridor.
“Hey, I’m sorry kid. You didn’t need to hear that. Been a tough day.” The doctor pulled a cigarette out of a packet in his pocket before lighting it and taking a deep drag. “Hell, it’s been a tough God knows how long.” He tapped the accumulated ash from the end of his cigarette and grinned, staring at it. “And they say these things kill you. How about we get you back to bed?”
As the doctor placed his arm around the child’s shoulder, The Subject opened his eyes with a start and gulped down a deep breath of air. He felt the bands around his legs, arms and head pinning him to his bed as he realised he was no longer on the outside of the treatment room. His skin felt warmer and wetter. He had thought it was sweat but now realised it had to be more sinister than that.
He lay still, his breathing getting heavier and heavier as the polystyrene islands in front of him seemed to rotate and swirl in the stark white light. He was afraid to move for fear of his bones so just lay still, waiting. He had a horrible feeling creeping through his body as he realised he didn’t have long left.
In the viewing gallery to the side of the room, a shape twisted in the half light. The separation offered by the one way mirror may as well have been a gulf of 1000 miles. The gallery was covered in plastic sheeting where old instruments and control panels had been hastily covered and forgotten. The shape arched its way in front of the window. It stretched, casting a silhouette of twisted arms across the viewing pane until a large crack was followed by a whimper and a gentle sobbing.
The shape crouched into a pool of light which illuminated a stream of tears flowing down its pock marked and decaying skin. A voice trickled across the darkness towards him. It was raspy and wet, causing the words to stick and slur together.
The shape in the pool of light nodded and the skin on its face wriggled and slipped around like day old custard.
“Is The Subject still clear of any sign of infection?”
The shape in the corner pulled a rag to its cheek and dabbed with it removing tears and skin in equal measure before responding.
“Yes, no sign of it. It is unfathomable really. He is the only one. The only one anywhere.”
The pair sat in silence for a minute as, behind the smoked mirror façade, The Subject lay motionless in his bindings.
“What the hell are we going to do with him?”
Across the room, the second speaker stood slowly and carefully until he was as near to full height as he was willing to risk. He was wearing a long lab coat which would once have been white although now showed the signs of age and abuse through the matrix of stains all around it. He reached carefully into his pocket before pulling out a slightly bent cigarette.
He peeled his lips apart leaving fragments of one on the other before placing the filter between them and lighting the tip. Smoke billowed out of his nostrils and through fresh scars and holes in the side of his neck.
“Keep him where he is. He’ll get ill at some point.”
“And if he doesn’t?”
“That’s a very good question.”