“Much indebted,” the big man said, placing an oversized hand on Dirth’s arm. “Many thanks to you.”
“Don’t mention it,” Dirth replied, more casually than he intended. He let the gauze bandage hang in his hand after unwrapping it from the man’s face. Sitting up on the stretcher, the man’s whole body seemed to hang from his chin – much like it had sounded when they’d been lying across from each other.
It had taken what felt like an eternity for Dirth to work himself free of the restraints, but he had finally managed it. And as he’d worked, the man had kept him company, his voice acting as a beacon of sanity. He had spoken to Dirth about his life in the bad part, how he had lost his wife early on, how it had affected his son who he had recently lost as well, and lastly of his daughter who had gone missing a few days before. He had spoken about God, and how it was God’s grace, and alcohol, that had gotten him through everything.
When Dirth removed the gauze, he could still see the trails that salted tears had left behind on the man’s cheeks.
Dirth hadn’t been able to share much in return, unfortunately, with only wisps of memory floating by at a time. Faces, colors. As soon as he tried to grasp at any one memory, the substance of it would slip away, frustrating him. So far he had only made out a handful of images: a small boy drawing in the sand, was it him? A son? A blue sky, a deer in the woods. He might’ve gone frantic if it wasn't for the distraction that the man, Bob, had provided.
In that moment, Dirth stood standing before the man on the stretcher and a sense of gratitude passed between them. It had only been a few hours, but each felt he knew the other deeply. After the moment passed, Bob rubbed his wrists, newly released from their restraints, and they both took a look around the room.
Now that they were free, maybe they could find a way to get out of here.
Next to the two stretchers, there was a long row of cabinets topped by a counter. There was a door on each side of the room.
“You reckon they’re watching us right now? Whoever put us in here?”
Dirth looked up at the walls. There were no visible cameras, but there was a whole lot of equipment in the room that he didn’t recognize. It was lined up along the counter, hanging ominously from the ceiling, and latched onto Dirth’s stretcher even. “I’m not sure," he answered, "but if any of these things were recording us, I think they would've been here by now.”
“Yeap, well let's not wait around to find out.”
“My thoughts exactly,” Dirth replied, breaking off a rounded metal extension on one of the countertop devices. “And you might want to grab a weapon.”
Just then, the door on the right side of the room burst open and a man in a grey-blue lab coat stood in the darkened doorway. He looked just as shocked as they did. Behind him, voices of other men drew near. They would be there in seconds.
Dirth ran around his stretcher towards the door on the opposite wall.
The man in the doorway reached out his hand. “Stop.” He said it as a plea, perhaps the way a scientist would appeal to his most precious rat before it ran away. “Please.”
Dirth looked at Bob, hopelessly embedded on the stretcher, his massive weight impossible to ignore in this situation. Bob looked back at him, and in his eyes Dirth saw assent, and good bye.
“Please find my Barb,” he said. He had found the name like a gem, after digging for hours through his memory. Barb. It was the last word Bob said before the other men rushed into the room – dressed in a darker shade of gray – and surrounded him. As the door to the room swung shut behind him, Dirth could hear a final shout, and then silence. He was in total darkness. He started to run.
Dirth kept one hand extended in front of him as he barreled along in the dark expanse. He felt he should fear the floor dropping out from under him like a trap, but for some reason the sound of his steps echoing against the walls assured him that this was not that kind of place. He wasn’t sure what kind of place this was.
As he ran, a vaguely familiar sound blared out above him. “FREEZE WHERE YOU ARE. FREEZE!”
In an instant, Dirth was drowning in nausea, his vision a bright white, and he staggered a few feet right before crumpling against a wall. The wall against his face was cold to the touch, smooth.
“FREEZE WHERE YOU ARE! FREEZE!”
His temples throbbed; his forehead was hot. What in the world was going on?
Dirth took a few heaving gasps and pried himself off the wall – it took all his effort to stand on his own two feet. With one hand on the wall, he managed one step forward. He put his right foot in front of his left, then again, and again, until he was tracing along the wall, still braced by it, moving as fast as he possibly could.
Far away, he could hear the sounds of men entering the same space. They must have just come through the door. Dirth sped up, hobbling now. The sound of their boots striking the floor reminded him of something – had he been here before? In a flash, he saw his own feet working a path across a pile of rubble. He saw a bright white tunnel. There had been a factory. Had he been there before? Was that where he was now?
“Stop where you are!” came the voices behind him.
Dirth's hand followed a turn in the wall. As he raced around the corner, he came to a full stop. It was a dead end. But against the rightmost wall, there was an archway – it was military looking and angular, with dim blue and green lights twinkling along its top and a panel of red lights on its side. Set a few inches within the archway was a void, perhaps hiding a door, but all that was visible was a dark blank space.
“Stop!” came the voices, closer now.
Dirth ran towards the arch, and lunged into the darkness. He reached for a handle, but was surprised to meet no resistance. It was as though he was blinded. Then all around him was the brightest, bluest sky.