I stand in line. People stretch forever in both directions. I don’t mind the wait. There are plenty of things to distract me. Sea life surrounds the tunnel, our lights unmasking their beautiful colors, reflecting off of their scales, those that have them. I watch in wonder, feeling as if I have been swallowed by a mythical rainbow.The names of the various species come to me as they pass by. Sea turtles. Rays. A million different varieties of surgeonfish. Clownfish and octopi. Sharks. Facts about all of them swirl through my head, how they live, how they interact, how they can be used. I shift my backpack around to open it, my school books rustling inside. I pull out my Ocean Life textbook, start flipping through it.The call for screenings is random. This one came during school. Most of us are sporting bags or books. Many sit leaning against the glass as they read. I join them, scooting down every five minutes or so, keeping with the line.I turn the pages slowly, glancing up, then down, to match the pictures to the real thing. My fingers move along the words as I read. New information lodges into my brain, falling into the whirlpool of details. I am totally engrossed.Someone nudges me with their foot. Confused, I look up from my book. Marchen, the boy in front of me, says, “You have to get up, Cocho.”I push myself to my feet. “What’s going on?”He points toward the front of the line. “They’re storing everyone’s possessions until after the test.”And sure enough, an official in white scrubs is pushing a cart down the tunnel, making everyone stand to make room. People slung their packs on the racks or set their books in neat little piles.“They’ve never done that before, have they?” I ask.Marchen shrugs. “They’ve never called during school either.”He was right. I shove my textbook back into its backpack cage and place my belongings on the cart as it passes, barely slowing. A flicker of worry ignites in my stomach, but I douse it quickly.The line continues to move forward, quieter and straighter than before. I stare out the glass, but all the names and facts have left my brain, finally sucked down through the vertex. All I can do is count, count each step, one for every person who’s taken their test.“Marchen,” I pause as he turns to look at me, “have you ever failed the test?”A funny expression crosses his face. “How should I know?”I look away, back to the ocean. “Just wondered if you did. Do you know of anyone who has failed the test?”He rolls his eyes. “We’ve done this tons of times. Nothing’s ever happened if we have failed. It’s nothing to worry about.” He turns back to the front.A few more minutes, totaling ten steps, and I can see the official who mans the door. She holds a clipboard, checking off names as she lets one person at a time go through to the testing room. She doesn’t say a word. She doesn’t have to.Eight more steps, eight more people, and she’s holding the door open for Marchen. He slips inside and she closes the door before I can get more than a glimpse of the white room beyond.“Cocho Mar,” I tell her while we wait. She lifts a page, marks that I was here, and then we are both standing, staring at the little pad next to the door, waiting for it to tell us that it’s time. There is a soft bump as an octopus attaches itself to the glass. I can see its mouth, sucking and horrible, out of the corner of my eye.The light on the screen turns green. The official opens the door and I step into the white. She shuts the door and I am alone with the walls.In the middle of the room, sits a small metal table, its four legs curving in to touch each other. On that table, sits a small cup of water. I walk across the room toward it, pick it up. It is cool and wet against my hand.I’ve taken the test many times. I know what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to drink it. Easy enough. But I pause, looking at the bottom of the cup through the clear liquid.“Please drink the water, Mr. Mar, so that we may proceed with the test.” The instructions come from the loudspeaker, the same voice that gave them to me in my very first time. A voice I haven’t heard since..I touch the cup to my lips and lean back my head, letting the drink slide down my throat. I don’t set the cup down until it’s all gone. I don’t know why I have to do these things. They don’t give us reasons for the things we do. They just tell us to do them.The whirring starts, hidden fans mixing the air. I glance up at the vents that cover them, wondering. I take a step away from the table, my neck craned back. There is a muted ding. I frown, looking forward again, at the exit across from me. It should have been louder than that.A voice whispers. “Please exit the room, Mr. Mar. Your test is—” The words lose meaning as I step forward, trip, fall, the table going down with me. The floor rushes up at me. It is white, hard, painful, slapping my face. It is hard to breathe through the floor. My lungs work, my mouth gapes, my tongue licking the floor, and I get nothing.Someone touches me, flips me over. My face touches air, but air does not touch my throat, my lungs so desperately screaming for it. Spots form in my eyes. One is darker than the others, bigger. Another one appears beside it. They move toward each other.I catch very soft words. “Hydrogen.” “Reacting.” “Airway.” “Obstructed.” A prick on my arm and I lose my focus. The spots are disappearing, black consuming them. And then, and then, my chest rises. Air. Sweet air!My chest starts to fall as I breathe out, except nothing touches my throat. It all stays inside, making me feel bloated and heavy. Panic makes my eyes roll.“It’s not working,” someone yells and they are loud. Too loud. “It’s not working.” Now, not loud enough.I know.I know I am going to die.Turning my head, I spot an empty syringe rolling lazily back and forth on the floor. Whatever was in it, whatever was in my veins, hadn’t worked.I know.I know what the test is for.Past the heads above me, it comes into sharp clarity, one of the vents. The fans have stopped. The fans that launched what is killing me into the room, the hydrogen.I know.I know I failed the test.Wet. Something on my cheek is wet. Someone is crying over me. I can’t hear them, but I can see the movement of their sobbing shoulders.And because I know all these things.I know we are all going to die.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Prompt #49: He wouldn't have died if he'd known what the word "hydrogenated" meant.
During 2011 I participated in The Chrysalis Experiment. However, I did not finish all 52 of the short stories. So I am continuing to write and post them until I have 52. I hope you're still up to reading them. ^^