Through Those Dark Doorways

Since the Change, everything has fallen apart. Pockets of humanity survive against all odds, raiding the surrounding areas for food and supplies, in constant danger from the innumerable 'Changed' - diseased, deranged and deadly creatures that were once men. Still, those who remain face an even greater danger: themselves...

But something is happening among the Changed. They are mutating, becoming faster, stronger - better. And their lust for fresh meat cannot be slaked.

Humanity's last chance has presented itself. But with the Changed roaming the streets at will, psychopaths rising to power and end-time cults putting their own plans into action, can the last dregs of mankind pull together? Or will they be destroyed by the Changed?

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3. Chapter Two - Rose

Pain must be an interesting sensation.

                To someone who has never before experienced hurt, it’s impossible to describe. I should know – people have tried before, so many hundreds of times. But no matter how the doctors reiterate, rephrase or reconsider their words, I just don’t get it. I live in a world where pain is something that happens to other people.

                It’s not my fault. The doctors say that it’s a genetic condition – built into my DNA; an abnormality that can’t be corrected. Someone once told me that it was a chance mutation, but frankly, it’s not something I care too much about. I simply can’t feel pain. Sometimes it’s to my advantage, and at other times it’s a terrible weakness. Often, I am horribly aware of how I should be feeling pain, but am not. 

                Right now is one of those times.

                I am momentarily blinded by the harsh light. I lower my eyelids – I may not be able to feel pain, but I know enough not to stare at bright lights. My eyes are meant to last me a lifetime; I’m not going to risk destroying them. In today’s world, the incapacitated are of no use to anyone. If I go blind, I may as well be dead.

                With some degree of interest, I realise that the pulse at the back of my neck is more pronounced than usual. Normally I can sense it, but it doesn’t usually feel like this. I press my hand to my neck. The flesh is hot and swollen. I suppose that’s where they hit me; how they knocked me out.

                Knocked out? I guess that would explain why I had to wake up. We only ever wake up when we sleep, I think wryly. Wasn’t that a line in some song...? ‘Avenged Sevenfold’, I think. I giggle light-headedly. My brain’s fried. I guess they hit me rather hard.

                “Welcome back to the land of the living,” says a voice – not mine. I reopen my eyes. A tall, white-coated man stands over me, shining a bright light into my eyes. I flinch.

                “Where am I?”

                “Nothing like an original line,” he mutters. Then, upon finding his professional attitude: “It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that you’ve been selected.” Selected. That was what they had said – the men who came in the night, the men who stole me.

                I lash out, catching the unfortunate man in the jaw. At the same time, I push myself up from where I lie and leap to my feet. Without mercy, I plant my knee firmly in the man’s guts. He collapses to the floor, winded.

                For the first time, I register my environment. I appear to be in a doctor’s examination room: a variety of medical instruments and machines stand about the room on trays, or free-stand against the wall. The smell of sterility permeates the air – an olfactory mirror of the white walls and chrome furnishings. The spot where I awoke appears to be a bed of some sort (a table, maybe?). But I’m only really interested in one aspect of this godforsaken box.

                I rush to the door – a smooth blue sheet set into the wall, the silver doorknob a rounded twist-and-yank affair. My hand alights on its cool metal surface, my skin hot against the cold. Maybe I cannot be hurt, but I can sense the world around me well enough. I wrench the smooth orb to the side.

                “Stop,” commands a strong, male voice. Surprised, I halt, obeying the order. I frown – the voice is not that of the white-coated man. It is too deep, too echo-y... too distorted.

                Speakers, I think. The room’s bugged.

                For the first time I notice the pocket-size cameras in every corner of the room, their glassy eyes trained on me. I stare into one, knowing that I am gazing out at an observer somewhere: an invisible man.

                “I advise you not to open that door. Behind it stands a guard. He has orders to render unconscious anyone leaving the room that does not have my verbal permission. I am not giving you that permission. You will back away from the door and submit to examination; else you shall sustain another head injury – an action I would find most regrettable.”

                There’s an element of truth in his words, hidden in the cold hardness of his militaristic tone. I’m inclined to believe the voice – and not because I’m a trusting person. There appears to be a high level of organisation in this place, a fact evident from the cameras. It wouldn’t be entirely surprising if there was a security guard on the other side of the door, itching to knock my lights out. But I can’t be sure. One thing is certain: I am not hanging around much longer. Not willingly, at least.

                The white-coated man stirs, coughing and groaning. I haven’t the time to deliberate any longer. It’s now or never.

                I jerk the door open.

                Something long and hard connects with the bridge of my nose, knocking me to the floor. Damn. The guard exists. I look at him: a towering hulk of a man, dressed all in black, a baton in hand.

                The baton has my blood on it.

                I can no longer breathe through my nostrils. With disturbing fascination, I touch my fingers to my nose. Taking them away, all I can see is blood. I feel the red liquid trickle down and into my mouth. The metallic tang of iron is all I can taste.

                I know that I should feel my nose throbbing. I should be crying with agony, clutching my face. But I don’t. All I know is that my burst blood vessels are pulsing, pumping a river of scarlet down my face.

                The guard stoops, grimacing. “You should have stayed in the room.”

                There’s a loud crack, and the baton smashes against my temple. He’s hit me so hard, I can feel my consciousness being knocked from my body, tumbling into the darkness of the abyss...

                My last thought before passing out is that the guard was right. I was foolish to ignore the warning. These people mean business: they grabbed me in the night and threw me in the back of a van. They razed my home to the ground. They struck down my family, my friends.

                As I pass out, one thing is clear in my mind. I will not submit.

 

“Rosetta Elizabeth Parker. I hope the events of three hours ago were simply a misunderstanding.”

                My eyelids flutter open for the second time this day. My head feels weird – heavy. It’s not like a tired kind of heavy; it has a more clogged-up kind of weight to it, like when you have a cold. It must be a side-effect of being knocked out twice in one day – or, in all probability, being knocked out, full stop. Now is a good time to lack the ability to feel pain.

                I raise my head, alert. Nothing has changed: I am still in my white prison, the floors sparkling clean, the walls blindingly bright. At least there are no lights burning out my corneas this time round. Instinctively, I know that there are other differences, though – changes so obvious that my addled brain has overlooked them.

                “What the hell just happened?”

                “You ignored my express order not to open the door, and for that, you suffered.”

                I match the voice immediately. It’s the man who tried to warn me off earlier. He’s here, now – in this room.

                “Unfortunately, the guard was a little overzealous. He broke your nose. I wouldn’t worry if I were you – we’ll fix you up soon enough. Our medics are top-of-the-line, the best of the best. We wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s all a mistake, of course – you woke up to find yourself in unfamiliar surroundings; it’s only natural that you panicked. Now that you’ve had some time to calm down, I hope you’ll be more... compliant.”

                “Where are you?” I challenge. “Why can’t I see you?”

                “It’s a simple matter: I am somewhere else. You cannot see through walls. Ergo, you cannot see me. Honestly, Rosetta – I thought you were smart. At least, that’s what it says in your file...”

                File? My file?  Have these people been reading up on me? No, that can’t be – all the electronic databases crashed during the Change, lost along with all computer access; all digital information. After all, what good’s a computer when there’s no electricity to power it?

                “We’re going to conduct a full medical examination,” the unseen man tells me. “It’s not really completely necessary – after all, we have all your records to hand – but it’s best to be sure that everything’s in order. One typographical error and everything goes awry. We don’t want you to share any diseases you’ve picked up in the last six months, now do we?”

                The white-coated man from before – presumably a doctor – passes in front of me. For the first time, I realise what else has changed: I am now lying upright, almost standing. I try to flex my arms, but find them restrained, tied to a cold metal surface by strong bonds.

                “Let me go,” I hiss at the doctor. “Or I swear, when I get loose, I’ll take you apart. Again.”

                The doctor flinches, but shows no signs of pulling away. “We’re taking precautions with you, Miss Parker. We don’t want you running around with no-one to restrain you. Open wide and say ‘ah’, please.”

                My mouth remains closed. The doctor sighs.

                “Let me outline the situation to you. The guard has been doubled since you made your last escape attempt. There are two goons waiting outside the door. I would have no qualms about calling one in and having him hold your mouth open. I think that it would be easier for all of us if you simply opened your mouth and said ‘ah’.”

                I glare into his eyes, but his logic’s irrefutable. One way or another, he’s conducting this examination. It’s just a matter of how long I draw it out. I open my mouth and let out a long ‘ah’. I get a lollipop stick in the tongue for my trouble.

                “I don’t suppose you have any idea why you were chosen?” he asks quietly. I regard him carefully – is he taunting me? But no, he seems genuinely curious. He pulls the stick from my mouth, swapping it instead for a device that looks like a hammer crossed with a torch. “Roll your head to the left; let me take a look in that ear of yours.”

                I contemplate his question for a moment. All I know is that I was ‘selected’. I’ve not really been in any position to learn any more about my situation, having spent most of it out cold. “No,” I answer carefully. “What do you mean, ‘chosen’?”

                “Ah.” The doctor hesitates in mid-probe. The tapering metal end is cool against my ear canal. “They didn’t tell you what this is all about?”

                “Haven’t had the time – I’ve been busy sleeping, or having nasty encounters with the wrong ends of batons.” A flicker of a grimace passes across his pale face. He removes the instrument (what the heck do you call those things?) and pushes my head to the side. The icy touch of the weird device chills my other ear.

                “What’s this all about?” I ask.

                “I couldn’t say,” he says cautiously, regarding a camera nervously. “You’ll find out in due course – but not before. It isn’t my place to reveal such things.”

                “Then whose is it?”

                No reply is presented to me.

                A gloved hand grips my chin, manipulating my face. The doctor swaps the ear probe for a penlight. “Follow the light, please.” Reluctantly, I obey.

                “He’s quite right,” he mutters. “You do have a broken nose... interesting. Unfortunate, but easy to fix – it might leave a mark, but a pretty girl like you can deal with that, I trust.” He pauses a moment to write something down on his clipboard. “I would give you something to kill the pain, but I think we both know that you won’t need anything of that sort.”

                “Who are you people?” I demand. They know everything about me, yet I know nothing of them. “What are you – stalkers?”

                Glasses are removed from the doctor’s nose to reveal wearied eyes. “I’m just the doctor,” he sighs. “They don’t tell me much. But I can tell you this: you were selected for a purpose. You were taken from the world outside to provide you with a chance – a chance to live out your life in peace and safety.”

                “That sounds remarkably like what the animals were told before being locked in their cages,” I hiss. “What are peace and safety if freedom is the cost?” I strain against the straps. “Look at me! I’ve been knocked out twice, had my nose broken, and been tied to a... whatever this is. Getting my face smashed is hardly what I would call ‘safe’ or ‘peaceful’.”

                “That was indeed unfortunate,” he agrees, subconsciously stroking his bruised jaw as he does so. “But I’m not the one to talk to about things like this. As I said, I’m just the doctor – a medical handyman, patching people up and prescribing pills. No, you’d be better debating with those who can debate back.”

                The door swings open, the hinges whispering softly. The doorway is a perfect rectangle – just another gormless feature of this functional place. Across the threshold steps a man dressed all in black. At first, he looks to me like one of the guards, but there are subtle differences: a stripe of silver across his shoulder, a band of chrome stretching down the centre of his perfectly fitting helmet. And the gun in its holster, the tip poking through: a brilliantly polished reflective barrel, a deadly mirror.

                “Someone,” breathed the doctor, “like him.”

                “Examination’s over, doctor,” he says. It is immediately clear that it is not a request. What this man says is law; I can see that even in my muddled state. His tone is very similar to that of the bodiless voice that floated through the speakers earlier – but no, this is not that man. His voice is lighter, airier than the other – but it still carries the same authority, the same assuredness. “You will compile a report immediately. I want it on my desk by this evening – no later. Your work here is done, for now. And you,” he says, scanning me, “will come with me. Release her.”

                The blood rushes back to my fingers as the straps are loosened, my various limbs released from their tightened prisons. I get up slowly, stretching the stiffness from my legs. I roll my shoulders, flex my arms. I realise that the various restraints have dug into my skin, leaving red marks. But they aren’t sore – for me, nothing is.

                I feel his full attention fall upon me. “Rosetta Elizabeth Parker,” the newcomer growls. “You will come with me now. You will cause no trouble. You will not try to escape, or attract attention. Failure to comply will result in swift and immediate punishment.” He fingers the grip of the gun. It goes without saying: we both know what he means by ‘punishment’.

                Let’s hope he isn’t as trigger-happy as his growing grin suggests.

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