The Laboratory


                                  The Laboratory

I was upside down in the freezer, legs sticking straight up out of the top, and like a contortion artist, twisted around trying to see up and under the led "pig" that the photomultiplier tubes were housed in. Occasionally I'd hear the crunch of the apple that the lab manager was munching on, after he'd parked himself in the doorway to keep an eye on me.

He was a huge guy with shoulder length hair, not much of a talker. My inquiry about what type of research it was that they were doing there was met with absolute silence and another bite of apple.

It was a rickety old wooden building with bars on all the windows, a repurposed, decades old Boardinghouse I'd heard. Little did I know that at that very moment across the room, in this unregulated, off the map little country laboratory, there was something occurring called a nuclear criticality.

The intermittent sounding of an alarm horn started, and a red light began flashing, but then both stopped. As I climbed out of the gamma detector that I was repairing, I noticed that the steel reinforced laboratory door, the only exit, was slowly closing. It locked with a metallic "clunk" that I can only describe as sounding absolutely final. After shaking the door knob, hearing the alarm and seeing the mess across the room, I was getting a little worried.

I walked straight over to the lab desk and picked up the telephone. There was a dial tone for a second before it went silent. As I hung the phone up I glanced out of the window, and in total disbelief observed the lab manager pushing my car down a steep slope, then standing there with folded arms as it rolled into the lake behind the building and sank.

It occured to me that if I was to simply disappear, there'd be no one to report the incident, no Nuclear Regulatory Commission inquiry, and no immediate and permanent closure of this lab which I knew had to be involved in some kind of a criminal operation.

At this point, all bets were off. I wondered, had I already received a lethal dose of radiation? All they needed to do now was wait for me to get horribly sick and die before joining my brand new sixty-three Rambler in that lake outside. Nobody would have a clue for days that I was even missing, maybe weeks. The last creature to have seen me alive, I realized, would have been my German Shepard and roommate Sam.

I pulled the desk chair over and climbed up to have a look out into the hallway through the small window over the door. There were already people writhing on the floor dying, the people who must have been in the lab next door, working on the other side of the wall only a few feet away from ground zero.

They each went limp as the lab manager injected them one by one, and rolled them away on stainless steel tables. Maybe I'll be OK, I thought. That lab manager seemed OK and he wasn't much further away than I was from the source. I began feeling a little sick, but it quickly escalated so I laid down on the floor.

A short time later the steel laboratory door clanked open and I looked up as the lab manager leaned over me with his syringe. I felt the burn of the needle in my arm, and immediately felt much better, wonderful really, but was completely paralyzed, able only to move my eyes. I was lifted up and on to the table, was rolled out of the lab. I could only watch the lights on the ceiling pass by as the table rattled down the hallway.

When we stopped, he walked around and opened a door, and I found myself in a dimly lit room full of people like me, lying motionless on stainless steel tables. I fell asleep for what felt like an hour or so and when I woke up I was sitting in a sealed circular chamber of some kind. The thing was, I had about three weeks of beard growth, as did all the other men in the chamber.

The next time I woke up a few more weeks had passed. I was sitting in my kitchen at home. My dog Sam, well fed and healthy, was licking my face.

When I went back to the laboratory, I found only an empty, abandoned building. There was a big long haired homeless man there living in the garden shed. When I asked him if he knew anything about what had been going on there, he just looked at me and took a bite of his apple.

We were engaged eye to eye when I realized who he was. He smiled a snaggletooth grin through the beard and hair, then his eyes changed somehow. At that moment, I became inexplicably distracted, losing all concentration. When I finally came out of the hypnotic stupor he'd somehow put me in, and gotten myself together, he was of course gone. Then like a dream remembered, I recalled that he had simply walked away, brushing my shoulder as he passed by.

That whole story was not one that should be reported to the authorities for now, I thought. One for the record. But like some other life experiences, fell squarely behind the "Best kept to yourself" tab in the back of the book.

Robert Palmer 4/24/17

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