“Wake up!” a gruff male voice said with a command.
This was followed by a blow on the right cheek with a simultaneous flash of bright, white light. The man didn’t know if the light came from the blow or if he caught a glimpse of the vivid lamp shining overhead.
As the man regained his consciousness he became aware of his surroundings. No longer was he lying on his bed, or rather, his mattress. He was lying on something hard and cold - a metal table perhaps. Overhead was a glaring lamp with five light sources which looked like the kind of light one would see in an operating room. The rest of the room was dark and he could only make out what was in the immediate glow of the light source. His head, wrists and ankles were strapped. He pulled at them, more as an automatic response than an attempt to escape. They held fast. Whoever did this expected him to stay here.
At the bend of his right elbow he became aware of a smarting sensation – almost like a bee sting. He looked down. A needle mark – someone had given him a shot of some kind. No wonder he was out cold. He certainly never slept this soundly on his own ever since arriving at this place.
His eyes began to adjust. He could now make out a man just beyond the halo of light. He was just standing there as if waiting for someone to tell him what to do. He was wearing a white lab coat.
The man on the table heard a door open somewhere to his right. He strained against the strap on his head trying to get a glimpse of who came in. His curiosity was soon satisfied.
“Mr. Dempsworth, so glad to see you could join us this morning,” a man’s voice said. The voice was rich and deep – almost pleasant and soothing. He could hear a couple of snickers coming from somewhere over his head.
“Where am I? What are you doing to me?” the man on the table said just short of a scream.
“In due time Mr. Dempsworth. In due time.” The rich voice said in a calming tone. With that, the man felt a pat on his right forearm. The touch was gentle and the man’s hand was warm. This caused him to turn his head as far as he could to see the source of that pat. The man with the rich, deep voice had stepped up to the table and patted Dempsworth’s arm like a father would pat his child’s arm to comfort him. The man was wearing a dark suit. He was thin with what looked to be sharp features. He could also make out that he was wearing glasses.
“You’ve been a naughty boy Mr. Dempsworth and naughty boys need to be punished.”
“What!? But, what have I done?”
“Oh Mr. Dempsworth,” the man said with a laugh. “You are quite the comedian. I’m sure if you gave it a little thought you’d know.”
John Dempsworth’s mind raced, straining his brain reviewing the immediate past hours, days, weeks, months, years of his life. Nothing came to mind. He was an engineer with a major aircraft company which was contracted for not only aircraft design but other specialty projects as well. He ran through the inventory of all the projects he had been a part of. Nothing stood out. Everything he and the company he worked for did was beneficial. He was a man of strong morals and wouldn’t allow himself to be a part of anything which would be detrimental to mankind.
“Why Mr. Dempsworth, I can tell by the look on your face that you truly do not know what I’m talking about,” the man said shaking his head. “No matter. Let’s just say that we could not have come into being one of the projects you were working on. It would have been very bad for us Mr. Dempsworth, very bad indeed. Get him ready!”
The man turned his head and spoke to the other man in the lab coat. He in turn motioned to whomever it was that was standing over Dempsworth’s head. He heard two sets of masculine footfalls walk from the top of his head, around his left side out of his field of vision and beyond his feet. A door opened and he heard them walk through.
In a few moments that same door opened again. Something was being rolled into the room – something heavy and no doubt big. Rubber wheels squeaked on a hard floor groaning under the weight of whatever object they bore. It reminded him of his work when he was assisting building aircraft and the sound the wheels of the four-wheel dollies made as gigantic aircraft parts were rolled into the hangar.
“Stand him up so he may see,” the pleasant voiced man said.
The overhead surgical light became dark only to be immediately replaced by a more severe white light that flooded the entire room. An arm reached up and pulled the surgical lamp to one side. He heard a click of what was probably a foot operated switch beneath him. He heard a whir of an electric motor. The table on which he was lying gently vibrated. He was moving, being tilted. They were standing him upright on his feet.
The white painted concrete ceiling began to move as he tilted. A mirror came into his field of vision. He got a full glimpse of himself. Hope drained from him as he looked at his reflection. He was indeed in some sort of operating room – white tiled walls and floor, white enameled metal cabinets with glass doors extended from the floor up to about four feet on the remaining walls. Black laboratory counter tops with a microscope and stool at several work stations were on the perimeter counters. More cabinets were above the work stations extending to the ceiling.
Four men were in the room with him: the man in the dark suit and the man with the lab coat were to his right. Two other men were in front of him. They looked to be your typical lackey goons; large, muscled, wearing long sleeved black turtle neck sweaters and black cargo pants. What they were pushing into the room caught and held his attention.
Through the door, located to the right of the mirror, he could see into the adjoining room – a bigger, better equipped lab. The goons were pushing what looked like a large aquarium, or perhaps a shower stall. It was constructed of clear glass and stood about 10 feet tall. The stall looked to be three or four feet square and was attached to a stainless steel, wheeled base which was about six feet square. There was a lid on the glass box with an accordion, flexible tube extending from it and going down to a round, metal tank also resting on the base. Dempsworth recognized this immediately to be an exhaust tube since he used glassed in containers like this all the time in his laboratory, but never this big. One other item was on the base – a stainless steel container about the size and shape of a scuba tank. A smaller stainless steel tube, less than an inch in diameter, went from the tank into the glass case. A rubber sealed door was in the front of the box big enough for a man to go through. Any remaining hope Dempsworth had just drained out of him.
“Put him in,” the pleasant voiced man said. His voice wasn’t so pleasant now though.
The two goons left the glass box and walked over to either side of Dempsworth, unstrapped his ankles then his head. With one hand they each grabbed an arm and with the other they unstrapped his wrists. His knees gave way as he stepped off the foot plate of the table and the goons tightened their grips. For a brief moment he was thankful they were there to keep him from falling but then full realization came to him as to why they were there in the first place.
“Just a moment,” the man said.
The goons stopped and the pleasant voiced man stepped between Dempsworth and the glass stall.
“I’m sure this all must be very confusing to you Mr. Dempsworth,” the man said. “However, when your colleagues hear what has happened to their team leader we’re hoping that project you were working on will be scrapped and no one else will have to go through this. So, you might say you are a hero – saving the lives of all those people. It’s really a tad bit Messianic – you dying for the sins of your cohorts. I do hope they get the message.”
The man smiled then stepped aside.
“Carry on,” he said.
The goons walked Dempsworth the rest of the way to the glass box. The one on his left opened the door and they threw him inside. The door closed with a whoosh and a soft click – totally air tight. A hissing noise came from the floor to his right. He turned toward the source of the noise. It was coming from a port where the scuba shaped tank was joined to the glass case. Some kind of gas was coming into the tank although he could not see or smell anything. The only evidence anything was happening at all was the hissing sound and the tank floor and walls around the port were distorted like looking at an object through a heat vapor that comes off a road on a hot day.
Dempsworth began banging on the door through which he just came.
“Let me out!” he screamed.
But everyone in the room just stood there motionless, watching. They had no expression on their faces except the pleasant voiced man who had the slightest of smiles on his face.
At first, nothing happened. He now detected a slight ozone scent. He was suddenly aware that he had inhaled but hadn’t exhaled. He tried to exhale but his lungs were not cooperating. He flexed every muscle in his chest and abdominal region attempting to force his lungs and diaphragm to cooperate. Nothing. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead and his eyes grew wide as he began to panic. He could feel his carotid arteries still pulsing and delivering blood to his brain so he remained conscious. He beat on the glass door more furiously. No one in the room moved. He tried to scream and could not. His chest and throat were on fire as blood pooled there feeding oxygen and nutrients to his respiratory muscles but to no avail. The fiery pain spread to the rest of his body. It was becoming unbearable. He noticed his heart. He felt it beating rapidly in his chest – lub-dub, lub-dub, lub-dub, then lub…
“Dear God, my heart has stopped,” Dempsworth thought.
The pain now had become unbearable. His body began to writhe. This was his final thought before darkness overtook him. His last sight was that of the four men in the white laboratory and the pleasant voice man dressed in a dark suit laughing uncontrollably.
The scream startled the man awake. He should be getting used to them by now but they always get to him. This one sounded farther away than a lot of them - like it had originated past corners and down corridors. It must be late. The sun had gone down what had to be several hours ago. The man wondered what time it was.
Another scream. This one sounded a little weaker than the first one.
“What are they doing to that man?” he thought. “What are they going to do to me – and when?”
He lay on his side and drew his knees up into his chest and grabbed them with his arms. He was determined not to cry – he had done enough of that. He was weak and so tired but his mattress wasn’t comfortable so sleep came with effort and not as often as he would have liked.
He remembered his daughter’s face – how her dimples appeared when she smiled. That last day was a great day. His wife, his daughter, a picnic lunch beside the stream. It was a warm day for early October. In fact, that’s why they decided to take a picnic knowing they wouldn’t get too many more days like this one.
The food was simple: a freshly baked loaf of bread, some fruit, some freshly sliced ham, cheese and wine – all they had picked up at a market on their way out of town since it was an impromptu picnic. Things done on the spur of the moment are always best because you never know….
His thought trailed off and he began to cry again. His thought was …because you never know when you’ll get to do something like this again. He fought off the tears.
“What else did we do that day?” he thought. Memories began to emerge. His wife had on a long summer dress of a light colored fabric that came down to her mid-calf. The dress had no sleeves and he remembered when she stood in front of the sun he could see the outline of her beautiful body through it. He could feel himself getting a little aroused. He could smell her perfume. A faint smile came upon his face.
After lunch he took his daughter by her hand and led her to the stream. It was time to teach her the fine art of skipping stones across a creek. Everyone needs to know how to do this. He remembered walking along the bank searching for just the right stone: small enough to fit easily into the hand and yet big enough to have some weight in order for inertia to carry it on across the stream. And the shape! Yes, the most important element – it had to be flat in order to skim across the top of the water. He showed her how to bend down and throw the rock with the forearm parallel to the ground in order for the rock to land flat on the surface of the water and not plunge in at a steep angle and go into the water. After showing her several times he stood behind her and guided her arm through the correct pitching movement. He remembered how he laughed and applauded the first time she tried it on her own. It actually skipped a couple of times. He remembered looking back to his wife. She was barefoot having kicked off her shoes. She loved going barefoot. She was sitting upright with her legs pulled up and her arms wrapped around them. She was laughing and applauding with him at the marvelous feat their daughter had performed.
He must have played, rewound, and played the scene of that picnic at least a hundred times in his head – maybe even a thousand. Remembering things like that in his life helped him maintain his sanity. How long had he been here? Months, years. The other times in his life were getting hazier. That’s why he kept thinking about the picnic. That was the last thing he and his family had done together.
“Why am I here?” He thought. “What could they possibly want with me? I am a peaceful man. I only want what is best for my fellow human beings.”