Today was the day I was set to visit doc at his lab. I found it kind of funny I'd never happened by it before, since it was in the middle of Thistleton Ave, not far from where it intersected with 4th street. That's damn near the city center, where I'd spend a lot of my time off. Despite its proximity to the most densely-populated part of the downtown area, though, the nearest bus stop was a couple blocks away.
I got to have a nice little walk on my way there and ended up finding several quarters strewn along the sidewalk in various places. I ended up with $1.50, which was just enough for a cheap, shitty coffee from the gas station near my apartment. As I walked, though, I saw loads of little flowers just beginning to bloom and unfurl their petals. I couldn't remember ever seeing anything like them before; they were like little white roses that grew in gnarly, tangled bunches of vines, and had these weird red spots on them. I could tell it was just the natural coloration of the petals, but it looked eerily like dried blood.
As I came up to the address doc had given me, I found myself starting to doubt if I was in the right place at all; the building that sat at the provided address was a small, round-roofed concrete bunker-looking-thing painted a perfect, snowy white. Some turf had been placed over the top of the bunker-like structure, and dozens upon dozens of those eerie "blood-stained" white roses grew all around it, almost like they were trying to hide it, or something. I texted doc to let him know I was outside, and he texted back saying to come in; he'd apparently left the door unlocked.
I stepped into the odd building after pushing the strangely quiet metal door open. The interior of the bunker was much like the exterior; it was painted completely white. It was a little surreal, to be honest. It was at the least well-lit, if a little cramped. Ahead of me was an elevator, the only thing not painted like new-fallen snow; it was an oddly reflective steel, though, polished to a mirror-sheen. My phone buzzed again; it was doc. He said to get in the elevator, and press the button for the 20th floor specifically. He said if I pressed any other button, I might get lost. I didn't fully get what he meant, but I obliged anyways.
The inside of the elevator was the same as the outside; steel that shone so profoundly I could see my reflection perfectly in every surface. As I hit the button for the 20th floor, it began to descend in an unusually smooth manner; I was used to those elevators at the mall and around various other places that jerked and halted every now and then, I suppose.
When the elevator came to a stop, it took me a few moments to process what, precisely, I was looking at; the entire area in front of me was painted in that flawless, impossible white; but the room beyond was absolutely huge. Easily two, maybe three stories tall, about a football field long, but it was all one great, round chamber. In the very center there was a giant tree that stretched up and through a hole in the ceiling likely put there specifically for it. The tree, too, was completely white; each and every leaf had been painted in pain-staking detail, with what looked like gold leafing in very fine, precise strokes to perfectly match up with every tiny little vein on each and every leaf. At the base of the tree, atop a hill-like mount of white grass, dirt, and giant roots, sat a man whom I could only assume was doc Ben, next to Amy.
I couldn't make out what they were talking about until I got a little closer, and even then, they stopped talking as soon as they noticed I was there. Amy looked really distressed about something, and doc looked like he was doing his best to comfort her. From what I could make out, the last few lines of their conversation went like this:
"-ber your training, Amy. You know precisely what you must do, what you must say."
"I-I know. It's just..."
"The other day. He said something...I was doing something differently."
"Don't worry. He's a little naive, but ultimately means well. He will have written it off by now. Just proceed as you would normally, alright?"
"...Yeah. But what if-Oh, look who's here!"
That was when they both noticed me. I felt a little awkward, having just sort of...Stood there, eavesdropping, but they didn't mention anything about it, so I figured I'd do the same and make it as not-awkward as possible. Amy and doc both got up and made their way over to me from the base of the tree, all smiles and happy greetings. Eventually, doc lead me and Amy to a room off to the side of this gargantuan one which was, while still fairly roomy, much smaller. I almost felt...Relieved? I'm not sure how to put it. Something about the prior room being so big, and yet so empty made me kind of uncomfortable, I think.
The smaller room featured a table with three chairs, and every wall was occupied by a massive fish tank which spanned the length of the room. The floors, ceiling, furniture, etc. were, of course, all painted that same snowy white color. The fish tank was illuminated with blue lights, however, which offered some very much needed color to the room. Doc really took his theming seriously, though; every single fish in the massive aquarium was an albino of its species, so they, too, were all white.
Doc showed us to the table and had us sit down while he went off to fetch the tea and pastries he'd promised us, leaving me and Amy to chit-chat idly.
"Hey, James, how's it going at work?"
"It's going great, actually. I have a big job starting tomorrow, gonna need the whole team to come with. It's out of town, though, so it looks like I'll have to take the train over there. Heh, remember that one time back in 10th grade? When we almost got arrested at the train station on a class trip, cause our teacher forgot our tickets in his car?"
She gave me a sort of...I don't know, like a customer service smile? I don't know how to put it.
"Haha, yeah. I do remember. It was pretty funny."
"So, uh, Ben tells me you've been in touch with Ryan lately? Isn't it wild, what happened with the car?"
"Um, yes. It is very wild. I can't believe it happened, haha, but it did."
"...Do you know what actually went down?"
"Of course, James. We've been friends for years. He drove his car into the highway divider one night when he was drunk, and the car hasn't functioned properly since."
I gave her a confused look, furrowing my eyebrows.
"...Amy, that happened, like, a long time ago. I'm talking about what happened a couple weeks back, give or take."
"Oh...I haven't heard about that, no. I'm sorry. What happened?"
"Uh...He entered into that raffle thing the dealership over by his ex's house does, y'know, the one nobody's ever won before? Well, he won his dream car by picking a lucky key. He's ecstatic."
"Ah, I see! I am very happy for him. I know he's wanted that car for a very long time."
Doc came in with the refreshments then, and I could swear I saw something like relief flicker in her eyes when he did. As we chowed down on the croissants he'd brought with him, we shot the shit about various goings-on in town. Doc went over some interesting psychology facts, like how cram-studying makes you remember less, and quizzing yourself actually works better, that kind of thing.
When we'd finished, doc looked at us both with this grin on his face, like the one I'd imagined him having during some of our phone calls. He didn't exactly look like I was expecting him to; the way he spoke made me think he was an older guy who just sort of sounded youthful, but he looked pretty young, too, maybe not even ten years older than myself. He had this golden-blond hair that parted in the middle and reached backward in these manicured, perfect, wavy locks. Ryan would get such a kick out of talking to this guy about how he does his hair. His nose was round, a little on the smaller side, and he had sorta middling cheekbones; not exactly super high, but not terribly low. His eyes were this intense, cloudy green, and seemed forever lit up with some kind of curious excitement that lay far beneath.
"Well, I gotta say, doc, this has been a pleasure. I'm really impressed with your lab, it's way bigger than I'd thought of it as. I kinda like the 'everything-painted-white' look, too. I thought it was pretty weird at first, I won't lie, but after being here a while it's kinda growing on me. It goes nicely with those flowers out front."
Amy nearly spit out the mouthful of tea she had yet to swallow, and Ben laughed while patting her on the back sympathetically.
"Why, thank you. I take great pride in cultivating my garden, as well as in the upkeep of my laboratory. Please excuse miss Amy, she didn't mean to come off like she was laughing at what you'd said, did you?"
He turned his calm, collected gaze to her, that same smile still passively occupying his lips.
"N-no, not at all. Sorry. I had some tea go down the wrong tube, haha..."
Ben chuckled once more, and then turned his attention back to me.
"Now, I hate to seem like I'm chasing you off, James, but I do happen to have a private meeting with Amy coming up very shortly. If you'd be so kind as to allow us some privacy, it would be greatly appreciated. You can feel free to return here once more next week, or call me like usual. I never mind having company."
I thought about it for a few moments, and shook my head.
"I think I'm gonna be on the job site this day next week, sorry. I'll just call instead, is that alright?"
Ben nodded, his smile growing a little wider.
"Of course, James. Once again, I'd like to thank you for your continued companionship and support of my experiment. Your contributions to this field of science will not go unrewarded, my friend."
I nodded, and excused myself. As I made my way to the elevator to leave, I heard Amy and doc start talking between themselves. I couldn't make it out too well since they were whispering, likely aware I wasn't fully out of earshot, but it sounded kind of like:
"He can see them?" -Amy
"So it would seem." -Ben
I can't be sure though, I was listening to whispers from a few yards away, and words are sure to be lost in that kind of situation. The rest of the day's passed without anything of note, really. I left the lab, caught a bus home, and sat down to write. I'll get another one in when I speak with doc again, I think.