January 20th 2025 9.40am
Richard Decker glanced nervously about the sterile waiting room, with its magnolia coloured walls, brown leather chairs and hardwood floors and wondered for the umpteenth time just what had brought him here. His right leg jittered impatiently, a sub-conscious movement of growing agitation.
He took another lingering look around the room, taking in the rest of the plain surroundings. There were several paintings on the walls, ranging from abstract to bland by Decker’s tastes. Behind him, was a plain door with a key code entry lock. The people he’d come to see obviously didn’t tolerate casual wanderers.
He noticed there were several other people in the room. All of them, he thought, could well be in a similar situation to himself. They were all staring morosely at the floor, clothed in worn jeans, tatty jumpers or faded t-shirts and shoes that had seen better days. Decker thought he’d seen one or two of them before.
He knew exactly what had brought him to this place, what had brought them all here.
Decker hadn’t eaten in four days. Hunger to him was like an old friend. He lived in a single bedroom flat in a dingy high rise, built six years ago as part of a government project to house the poorest sections of society. Like the vast majority of the inhabitants, he was unemployed, living on meagre benefits and food parcels to survive. Every Tuesday, he made the five mile walk to the nearest Redistribution Station, to collect his food parcel. Decker’s neighbour, a man in his early eighties, who had also fallen on hard times, had opened his food parcel on one occasion and complained that he’d seen more food when on rationing in the years following the second world war.
Decker, on receipt of his food parcel, had inspected its contents and had been inclined to agree. There was a loaf of bread, three tins of baked beans, two tins of potatoes, a tin of peas and one tin of meatballs. There was a small box of cornflakes, three cartons of full fat milk, a small bag of pasta and a single jar of pasta sauce. There was no sign of fruit. He’d explained to the stout man in grey, (who in Decker’s mind; had never missed a day’s meal in his life) that he had two children to feed besides himself, but had received little more than a “take it or leave it” response. Wearily, he accepted the food and trudged back to the squalid, cramped high rise that he grudgingly called home. With so little food to go round, the children ate and he starved. The only time he was able to get food for himself was to steal it. Each night as they huddled under a duvet in the freezing cold flat on a lumpy mattress, Decker hated himself for having failed his family. His children deserved so much better than this.
Wearily, he reflected that it hadn’t always been like this. Four years ago, he’d had a respectable job, a nice house in a decent part of town, a loving wife and his troubles had seemed so far away.
Then, quite suddenly, things had taken a turn for the worst. The country had been plunged into recession and he’d lost his job. He’d arrived one morning at the factory he’d worked at, to find the gates locked, notices pinned to them and private hire security guards standing grimly by in case of trouble.
Bewildered, he’d gathered outside the gates with his equally confused fellow workers and managed to get the story off one of the night shift workers.
Apparently, six hours into the shift, men in suits had walked into the building, accompanied by police and handed a note to the shift supervisor. Several calls to the manager of the company had gone unanswered and they’d been removed (several quite forcefully) from the building.
So, that had been it. The end of a job he’d had for sixteen years.
Things had deteriorated rapidly from there. With no redundancy money and the handouts slashed by the government, Decker found himself forced to live on their savings. He applied for job after job, but with thousands chasing every vacancy, he fancied his chances of winning the lottery were probably better than finding work.
Six weeks later, his wife Sarah, who had been doing part time work as a receptionist in an office block on the outskirts of town had come home early and explained she too had just been made redundant.
With no money coming in, their savings quickly evaporated. Despite continued efforts from both of them, neither of them were able to find work. Decker had applied for every job he could think of – he hadn’t cared how poor the pay was or how long the hours were, he had just wanted to provide for his family. Before they knew it, they’d lost the house and found themselves crammed into a bedsit, sharing a squalid kitchen and bathroom with twenty other people who had been squeezed into the dire rooms on the third floor.
A few months later and Sarah had got sick. There had been a particularly nasty bug circulating throughout the bedsit, a virulent form of pneumonia which had already claimed four lives. Several weeks later, it claimed its fifth victim.
Sarah had been just thirty-five when she’d died.
Decker’s mouth tightened in a thin line as he pushed the thoughts of his dead wife from his mind. There wasn’t a day that dawned when he didn’t miss her, but he realised that if he allowed himself to become overwhelmed by grief, his children would suffer. He couldn’t allow it. They’d already been through enough.
So, here he found himself, in this strange waiting room, having answered an advert he’d found pushed under the door of the flat one cold morning. He remembered having seen one similar on the notice boards of the redistribution centre whilst waiting for his paltry rations, but had been reluctant. However, a few weeks on, with winter biting, he realised that if he didn’t take some kind of desperate action soon, they would either starve or freeze to death. It was just a question of which one claimed them first.
Volunteers wanted. The flyer had said. To participate in drug trials. Two thousand, cash in hand. No awkward questions. Just show up, get the injection, hang around for a while, then go home, considerably richer.
Two thousand pounds!
Decker’s stomach growled as the thought of the food he could buy for the children and himself with that kind of money. They’d be well fed for at least three months, and who knew? There might even be another drugs trial he could participate in by then. Perhaps there was some kind of list he could go on. If offering himself as a guinea pig meant his children would stay clothed, fed and warm, he would gladly do it.
The occupants of the room looked up as the locked door behind Decker opened and a woman strode into the centre of the room. She wore a crisp, white lab coat, black pencil skirt, heels and a pale pink blouse. She had blonde hair scraped back off her forehead into a tight bun and fashionable black rimmed spectacles. She had sharp, almost birdlike features and a smile which verged on unpleasant. Something in her manner made Decker shudder inadvertently. In one hand she held a clipboard. She studied the details on the papers for a moment and cast a somewhat disdainful eye about the room of dishevelled occupants.
“Mr Decker?” She called; her voice had a clipped, authoritative tone to it.
“Here.” Decker shot up a hand and scrambled hurriedly to his feet.
“Mr Decker, come with me.” She motioned to him to follow and opened the door for him.
“After you.” She followed her statement up with a smile that Decker was certain he didn’t like the look of.
Too late for regrets now. He told himself. Let’s just get this over and done with.
He stepped through the doorway and into the equally sterile looking corridor beyond. The woman stepped through the door behind him and closed it. She strode ahead, her black heels clacking noisily over the polished floors of the corridor. Brilliant light from florescent tubes overhead reflected off the brilliant white tiles, dazzling after the muted light of the oppressive waiting room.
The corridor seemed to stretch on forever. Decker and the woman passed numerous doorways to their left and right. Eventually, they rounded a corner and after passing several more doors, the woman stopped by one of them, which she opened, revealing another brilliantly lit room beyond.
Decker craned his neck nervously to view the scene within. He saw white walls and floors and sterile stainless steel. There was a black chair, much akin to one he would have expected to have seen at a dentist’s. For a moment, he thought he saw the presence of leather straps and for a second faltered.
Quite suddenly, a man popped into view, from just behind the doorway. He was well into his sixties and had old fashioned horn rimmed glasses. He was a short man, little over five-six, a virtual midget to Decker who was well over six foot. The man before him wore a white lab coat. He had grey hair and narrow features fused into a permanent scowl.
Decker didn’t know why, but he took an instant dislike into the man.
“Mr Decker?” The man offered him a smile which Decker found equally repugnant. It seemed close to a self-satisfied sneer.
“Welcome. Come inside, won’t you?”
I’m doing this for my kids. Decker thought grimly, as despite all his misgivings, despite the warnings screamed by his brain, he stepped into the brightly lit room beyond. He glanced over his shoulder at the woman, as she closed the door behind him.
The woman stood in the corridor for a moment, checked down her list. She smiled softly to herself as she read down the long list of names. She unclipped a black pen from her breast pocket and still smirking softly to herself, drew a line through Richard Decker’s name; as if he had never existed. She flipped through the pages on the clipboard, past page after page of names, all of them crossed out, as if none of them had ever existed at all.
She started back up the corridor, briefly stepping aside for two men who were wheeling a trolley down the corridor towards her. On it; was a shapeless hump covered by a white sheet. Dangling limply just below the crisp white sheet, startlingly bright against the white of the cloth and stainless steel trolley was a blood splattered forearm, blood streaked fingers frozen in a terminal claw. The two men sauntered past, one of them whistled softly as they went about their business.
The woman with the clipboard didn’t stop or even glance over her shoulder as the grisly cargo rounded the corner, disappearing from sight. In fact, she didn’t pay the body on the stretcher another thought.
After all, there would be plenty more before the day was out.