If these were the last moments of my life, I hoped I had not lived them in vain. I said that once. If Death had been my neighbor, he must have come in through the back door and did away with the pleasantries of knocking first.
If this were a dream, I hoped not to wake. My eyes could not look away. I watched her auburn hair flap in the wind as she ran toward me. She knelt beside me. Her hands brushed back my hair. Tears ran down both of her cheeks. Her familiar sapphire eyes looked upon me. There was a mournfulness to them I had never seen before. Her lower lip quivered.
If I were in Heaven, I would have expected a look of delight and happiness for us to be reunited. The shock and sadness I saw in her face pulled on every fabric of my heart. A small tug and my heart would crumble. Everything moved around slowly. I felt dizzy but free from pain. Becky. My beautiful sweet sis. I had failed to save her in life, but in death, I had a second chance.
“Charlie! How? Why? Oh my, God, you’re bleeding.”
Her face fell away from me. I remember reaching up; trying to grab her but the darkness inched in around me. Light ebbed away quickly until there was nothing left but darkness.
I woke up flat on my stomach. Perhaps this was a dream or I was in heaven. I couldn’t see anything around me except a small yellow light in the midst of the blackness. I didn’t try to move. Commotion nearby got my attention. I couldn’t make it out at first but the more I strained my ear, held my breath, the voices became clear. Two voices were arguing back and forth.
Becky? I remember seeing her face. Was that a dream? I listened. One voice was male. It sounded like he was speaking through clenched teeth. Mean. Rough. The other voice was the voice I had heard all my life and thought I would never hear again -- Becky.
“He can’t stay here.”
“You know he can’t go back. Do you know what that would do if people found out? It was a big risk bringing you here. Sending someone back is too much of a risk.”
“If you trust me, you can trust him. He needs to go back. He won’t say anything.”
The voices moved away. I could no longer make out what they were saying. I moved to my side, slowly. My back was tender but I didn’t feel any pain. I sat up and touched my abdomen. A large elastic bandage was wrapped around me. Someone had tended to my injuries. Where was I? Was this some sort of hallucination?
I couldn’t see anything except the yellow light. I slid off of the bed and landed on my feet. My knees buckled but I was able to balance myself to keep from falling. I swayed a few moments with my arms stretched out for balance. Once I was steady again, I moved toward the light. I kept my hands out in front of me as I shuffled my feet. I worried that at any moment I was going to walk into something.
My hands found a wall. I felt around, moving along the length of it. I was hoping to find a door. My hands moved along the wall until I came across a connecting wall. The light was now to my back. I turned around and surveyed the darkness. I couldn’t see anything. It was quiet. The floor beneath my bare feet was cold and smooth as if I were walking on steel. The air was cold with a scent of vanilla. It was pleasant.
A man’s voice spoke out from the darkness. It came from the middle of the room.
“Who are you? Where am I?”
“You are where you shouldn’t be.”
“Where’s Becky. I want to see my sister.”
There was silence.
“Do you hear me? I want to see my sister.”
“Do you know what happened to you?”
The voice spoke matter-of-factly. No emotion.
“I don’t have any idea where I am or how I got here. Or how I got bandaged up.”
“Charlie, the lights will turn on and a door will open. You will walk through that door and someone will be waiting for you.”
“Is it Becky? Hello?”
A small hum started from above as pale blue lights slowly illuminated the room. A gurney lay in the middle. Four white walls. The floor had a flat, reflective surface. The room was small, no bigger than my dining room at home. Something clicked along the far wall and a door swung inward.
There was as a soft light coming from the opening. I walked through. The door soundlessly closed behind me. A man dressed in a grey jumpsuit stood in the hall. White walls. White floors. White ceiling. Grey jumpsuit. As soon as I entered the hall, he turned from me and started to walk away. I called out to him but he continued down the hall without ushering a word. I followed the quiet man I grey.
I looked myself over. The clothes I was wearing were not my own. Black sweat pants and a brown pullover sweatshirt completed my ensemble. My body was stiff but no longer burned with the pain I had felt earlier.
We walked to the end of the hall and turned left. No doors or windows adorned the hall, just the same bright white. There were no light fixtures on the ceiling but the light seemed to be emanating from the walls themselves. I had never seen anything like it. It wasn’t a bright light but rather a soft radiance that emanated from walls and ceiling.
We reached the end of the second hall and the man in grey waved his hand in front of a black sensor. A door quietly swung inward. He walked into the new space. I remained in the hall for a moment. I didn’t know where he was taking me nor did I know what was through that door. I held my defiance in the hall until a voice spoke from…somewhere.
“Go into the room. You will find your answers.”
I looked around. I didn’t see a video camera or any other type of surveillance equipment on the walls or ceilings, yet I was being watched.
Reluctantly, I entered the room. The floor was glossy, reflective white. No grout. No tile. Just a flat sheet that extended ten feet deep and eight feet wide. Although the surface looked as if it were made for a slip and slide, my feet didn’t slip once as I walked over to the small metal table in the middle of the room. I couldn’t identify the surface I was walking on. It was stable, hard, but also seemed to absorb each step. I was curious and terrified at the same time.
The walls seemed to be made from the same white material as the floor but did not share its reflective qualities. No pictures or tapestries accented the room. Whoever was paid to decorate this place lacked imagination.
The man in grey stood out in a sea of white on the other side of the table. His back was turned to me. He was medium height, perhaps a foot taller than I was. He was slender but not sickly skinny. His nut-brown hair was neatly cut short. Each hair in its desired place. I took a seat at one of the two chairs at the table.
I expected the man in grey to turn around and take the other chair. But he neither moved nor made any attempt to acknowledge my existence. I could count the minutes by the ticks of my heart. The room was so quiet, so still, that I was at odds with the enormous tidal wave of emotions that were crashing down inside of me.
I don’t know how much time had gone by but I was getting anxious. Speaking to the man in grey would have probably proved fruitless but I couldn’t sit around. Before I could stand up, a voice called my name from behind. No whooshing sound of an opening of a door or the click-de-clap of approaching footsteps announced his arrival. The voice was the same one that spoke to me from the room and then again in the hall. He must be the one in charge of wherever I was.
I remained seated. The man came into view, walked around the table, and took a seat opposite from me. He was bald. That was the first thing I noticed. Then there were the spectacles that sat on the bridge of his nose. They seemed too small for his angular face. His blue eyes gazed at me over the top of this glasses. Unlike the man in grey, he wore a burgundy sweater with thin black stripes in a vertical pattern and khaki pants with tan loafers.
“What is this place?”
“This place is many things to many people. For you, think of it as a hospital.”
The man’s voice had an accent I couldn’t place. It reminded me of Patrick Stewart. Or maybe it was the bald head that made me think of Mr. Stewart but his voice carried the same charm.
“Is this place where a man can find his sister?”
His arms had been folded since he sat down but now he unfolded them and leaned forward in his chair, resting them on the table.
“It is not. See, this place, to most everyone’s knowledge, doesn’t exist. I don’t exist, and to a lesser extent, while you are here, you don’t either. That is why I am sending you back. You don’t belong here.”
I didn’t know what he was saying. There was a lot of that going on lately. Most of what had been said to me in the past twenty-four hours were articulated in ways just beyond my scope of understanding. I wondered if I had somehow lost a dozen IQ points since arriving in Pine Brook Falls.
“My sister, Becky Noble, doesn’t belong here either. I am not leaving without her. I thank you for patching me up and saving my life but my sister belongs back home. No here.”
“There is so much you don’t understand. And for your protection, and ours, it’s best that it remains that way. I don’t know your sister. No one by that name is here.”
I searched his eyes and he met my gaze head on. He neither looked away nor showed any signs that he was be lying. But he was. It just made him a good liar.
“What is this place again? Some type of secret military facility hidden in the mountains in town. And you are keeping my sister prisoner because she knows about your secret experiment running wild in the woods?”
I know I watched too much Science Fiction. Mulder would be proud of my absurd proclamation. Whether it had any hint of truth, the unnamed man in front of me smiled. The lines around his eyes deepened and his mouth opened to a glistening array of pearly-white teeth.
“What it would be to be young again. The young mind is unabashed. Everything is a conspiracy. But, let’s say that you’re right, and this is a secret military installation, what purpose would it serve to allow you to leave. You would expose its secrets. And correct me if I’m wrong, but the military hates to have their secrets revealed.”
For a moment I didn’t know if this was some sort of test, to make me think I was safe, where in reality I had just jumped from one bad situation to another. Yet, this man didn’t come off as a military man. I am not the world’s expert on who is military and who is not. All of my experience had come from movies. Hollywood had a way to always make the military look like the bad guys. If this wasn’t a military base, then what was it? I was in the cave and then I was here. Logic told me that I wasn’t in the mountain. And I wasn’t in Pine Brook Falls anymore, either. What did Becky get herself into? Perhaps this was all a dream, a really detailed dream my mind created because I was still on the floor of the cave dying
“I just want to find my sister. I need to make sure she is okay.”
“Your sister, Charlie, isn’t here.”
The unnamed man checked his wristwatch and exhaled.
“We are out of time. If you follow Mr. Hill, he will lead you back home. If you don’t go with him, well, then I can no longer help you. This is your only opportunity.”
The man stood up and pulled down the bottom of his sweater. He gave me a quick nod before leaving the room. Mr. Hill, the grey man, stood by the door, silently. I had no choice. If this was a dream, then this was my minds way of telling me that it was time to wake up. I rose to my feet and turned toward the door. Mr. Hill had already left through the opened door. I followed him.
We walked down another small hallway before making a left. The hall was quiet. Our feet made no sounds as they made contact with the floor. No squeak of a shoe or scuffle of the smooth floor. The floor’s surface on my bare feet fooled me into believing I was walking on air. The grey man stopped by a small door and hit a button that I didn’t see recessed into the wall. Like all the other doors in this place, it opened inward without a sound. I wondered if the people who designed this place had an intense aversion to sound.
Mr. Hill stood outside the door. I walked into the room beyond the open doorway. The room was four feet by six feet. A soft pale blue light illuminated from the floor itself. The door closed. I stood quietly. Four empty white walls surrounded me. I turned around to try the door but it was gone. The door I had just walked in through was no longer there.
“Hey? Let me out of here. Let me out.”
The lights went out. I held my breath. I felt around in the darkness, waving my hands out in front. Swiping at the air. My heart pounded in my chest. I took a couple breaths. The room was spinning. I swayed left to right, trying to remain on my feet. The pit of my stomach turned over. I gagged. The spinning increased. I dropped to the ground. Holding my hands to my mouth. I tried my best to hold it together. The room was dark. The spinning became more abrupt. My ears rang. A loud shrill erupted in the darkness and I held my hands to my ears, trying to block it out. The last thing I had heard before I lost consciousness was a familiar female voice.