This is it.
This challenge has taken us through the depths of fiction, and now we stand ready to bring down the death-stroke.
To sever the head of the challenge, and bring glory to Coolerbs.com!
Will you stand with me?
You just want me to write the last 500 words of a story by another person?
I guess it is all up to me to end this story, and see where it takes us.
Toni J’s portion is blue, Leahheard’s in green, and mine in red.
Ted stared at the wall of empty cubbies. They had been his countdown calendar for five hundred days. Each cubby was meant for one day’s worth of food. It was now day 501.
Yesterday, the final food cubby contained an extra box. He celebrated his supposed last day with chocolate cake.
Today, the wall of meals was completely and utterly empty. He hadn’t brought any of his own snacks when he entered the room. The study told him not to. He brought entertainment – video games, a kindle, notebooks to record his experience – but nothing edible.
He walked back to the thick, windowless door. It was still locked, like it had been the past ten times he checked it that morning.
“Hello? I think there’s been a mistake.”
It hurt his throat to speak aloud. Was this another test within the larger study? What would future astronauts do if they were en route to Mars and ran out of food? Ted had done well with the brain teasers and other tests that were sent to him. But to tell him he would be finished and then leave him? That was something else entirely. Something must have gone horribly wrong.
He banged on the door. It echoed hollow through the room.
“Hey! Is anybody out there? I’d like to come out!”
Hadn’t there been a code phrase for if he had a mental breakdown? They would open the door immediately if he said the right thing. Ah, that was it.
“Little green men!”
Ted folded his arms while he thought. He’d been chosen for this study because he could handle extensive time alone. But even he had limits. After a year, he’d been eager for the isolation to end.
Now, he’d kill to get out.
By the evening, looming dread picked at the edges of his mind.
He had been forgotten. Some explorer of the distant future would find his skeletal husk and wonder what Ted had done to be put in such a prison.
He laughed to himself. He could barely remember why he signed up for the study in the first place. It wasn’t money or fame. He never had the noble urge to expand humanity’s knowledge either. It was… a girl. She left him and he needed purpose in his life. Then again, maybe that was a lie he told himself. Maybe he was insane. Maybe everything around him was an illusion. Or he was dead. Or…
His stomach growled.
Dead men didn’t get hungry.
Ted shut off the light, retreated to his cot, and hoped for sleep to distract him.
He was awoken by vibrations a short time later. He rolled over to press his hand to the floor. The room’s hydraulic system was meant to simulate space flight. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least the machines hadn’t left him.
But, they felt different today. Louder, more insistent.
Bright yellow light poured in from a crack on the far wall.
The door was opening.
He walked into the antechamber he’d entered over a year ago. Then he’d been surrounded by hovering technicians doing last minute checks on filtration systems and waste management procedures and all kinds of things Ted didn’t care to think about in great detail.
Now it was empty. Only the strident beeping of the airlock’s alarm pierced the silence.
“Hello?” he called out. He felt awkward shouting into the silence, and slightly embarrassed for his earlier panic. Wasn’t someone supposed to meet him? Protocol inside the iso-unit was clear enough, but he didn’t remember getting any instructions for release. Control probably thought he was a moron, if they were watching.
Of course they were watching, he reminded himself. That was the point.
Ted looked up to meet the glassy stare of the security camera mounted on the wall. “Hey, I think there may have been some malfunction in the machinery a few minutes back. Any techs want to come down and check out the hydraulics?”
He continued to stare up into the camera for several seconds, waiting for Control’s response on the intercom. None came.
Was it a joke? Unlikely. The project lead, Dr. Gundersen, had the unfortunate combination of high-handedness and a total lack of a sense of humor. And those were his good points.
“Dr. Gundersen? Anyone up there in Control?” Ted said, gulping down the panic that was beginning to rise again in his throat like bile.
He pushed past the heavy doors that separated him from the rest of the facility, more alarms jangling in protest as he did.
Clean white halls, glinting with wax under dead fluorescence. It was the middle of the morning by his clock, and the hall should be buzzing by this time: interns ferrying paperwork, project leads swearing into their coffees, techs dashing from one lab to the next.
Maybe we lost funding, Ted thought. But the multi-million dollar equipment still idled in the glass-walled labs that lined the hall. It was as though everyone in the entire building had just–disappeared.
A stab of hunger reminded Ted of priorities: he hadn’t eaten in more than a day. There was a vending machine in the break-room, he remembered. He turned on his heel and jogged down the hall; it felt good to get blood moving through his muscles, and he had the vague idea that it might help him think.
Ted had the feeling that there must be some obvious and wonderfully normal explanation for all of this, but he was just too stupid to grasp it. But once he did, all would be well.
The breakroom was also empty, and this time Ted didn’t bother calling out to the people who obviously weren’t there.
He didn’t have any cash, but dug into the utilitarian gray metal lockbox that served for the team’s pop fund, feeling absurdly guilty as he read the sign above it: “PLEASE use for TEAM BUSINESS ONLY! THANK you!!”
Sorry, he thought. But where the hell is the team? Or anyone?
Crack! Pop! Fzzzz!
The soda-can sprayed carbon into the air as he drank from it. The combination of cake, and now soda, making his insides buzz. In the chamber food had been regulated, protein and carbohydrates given at just the right time. The cubbies arranged with that sole purpose in mind.
But out here, sugar helped him think.
It was quiet; that was the main problem. Eerily quiet. The simulations had made him grow accustomed to the hum of the machinery. The machines out here however, made no noise, and it was maddening.
He gave the vending machine another use, making it rain food into the chamber below.
Peanuts, bars, and another soda graced him lips, and he finally felt better. His eyes remaining glued to his shoes as he ate. It was only after he had feasted, that he noticed the reflection behind him. A splash of red; a smear across the walls.
He spun on his heels to look, mind already flashing with morbid thoughts. Yet he was proven wrong. This sign was not blood, no, instead an arrow was plastered across the white wall. Aimed down the hallway. Painted, and allowed to dry, it was already flaking off as he ran his fingers over it. Chips falling on his shoes with each pass of the hand.
With no other option, Ted followed it. Going down the halls, until another caught his attention.
At this point he felt more like a dog on a leash than anything else, as continuous arrows drove him towards…something.
He was sure that this was another part of the test. The purpose of which thou, that was a mystery. The arrows being the only clue.
At least until now.
The arrows persisted, motioning through a door, but this one was marked. Words scrawled across it in the same red paint. More meticulous now, a careful hand had been used for clarity.
Ted stared at it for a moment, going through every possibility. The message was not meant for him for him to go back in the chamber was it? No, that would be ridiculous he thought, and continued through the door.
Once the wall had begun, they had much more to say.
WE LEFT SO THAT WE COULD CONTINUE
WE KEPT YOU SAFE, PURE
Ted throat went dry as he looked around the room. In addition to the words, another thing stood out to him. The room itself was familiar, if only slightly. The days he had gone in…they were fuzzy now, but he remembered this room. It was the same as the one that had been used to watch him. The exact same console, the same chairs.
But the screens were dark, non-functioning.
A soft glow came from the console. A phrase flashing on it over and over. The letters in red.
A SYSTEM ERROR HAS OCCURRED: 54 DAYS AGO
STATUS: OXYGEN FAILURE
He opened the door. The lock disabling from the outside with simply a button push.
A body fell past him, clanging at his feet. A corpse clothed in a yellow dress.
Something about a girl…can’t remember
The wall at the back of the room read simply, One word scratched into the plaster.
Well, that completes the trilogy of challenges. I hope you all enjoyed!
See you on Saturday!
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