the sickroom_ part I: the sickroom_ the hallway_ I walk down the hall. The hallway is gray and dull and has bad energy in the air. I walk by with chills in my spine and a caught tongue. I do not speak. I hold the food tray in my hand, which bears a meal worse than hospital food. Stale, cardboard bread with cheap cheese that’s just under expiration. The milk in the carton on the tray must have already curdled. It disgusts me that I myself am delivering this to someone; but I have gotten used to the bad energy. It no longer bothers me, like a room with a horrid stench that you have gotten used to over time, whose prudence has diminished. It is still there, but you neither have the time nor the patience to acknowledge it. You ignore it. I turn from the hallway to a doorway and walk into a room. An old man is sitting in his wheelchair with a straight, serious look on his face. He is next in the line. He will be the next test experiment subject. There is a board resting on the two arms of the wheelchair. I place the tray there and walk away, careful not to make eye contact. I do not want to develop feelings for any of these people. I do not need the stress or the guilt. I try to do as much as I can to stay emotionally separate with these people. I do not smile. I do not wave. I only complete my task and walk away. I walk back into the hallway towards the kitchen, where I am to deliver a food tray to another test subject. I pass a door with a plaque on it, with the engraved words: BIOHAZARD. AUTHORIZED PERSONELL ONLY. DO NOT ENTER. That is the room where they experiment, the Genetic Experiments Lab. I try not to think about it. I pass another, much larger room. That is the sickroom. My mind differs from that as I continue down the hall towards the kitchen. I enter the kitchen and grab the next tray the “cook” has left out for me. There is a note on the tray that says, “B19”. I do not like the letter B. I despise the resemblance. It means I will have to go into the sickroom, the one area that I could go the rest of my life without venturing into. Ignoring my desire to leave the tray alone, I pick it up and walk on. the sickroom_ I turn to the doorway of the sickroom and walk inside. It is a long room. Along both walls are long rows of small, single-sized cots, bearing sickly people, coughing and breathing in uneven patterns that can make a spectator relate their condition only to near-death or the deceased. Their faces are gray. Some are pale. They are all frightened to the bone, while at the same time fatally ill, forming two long corridors of dying people. I walk along the middle pathway, between the cots, careful to eye only the numbers on the cots. Since 219 is an odd number, I figure that the person in which I am delivering the food to is on the left side. B01. B03. B05. B07. They code everything by letters. A is an experiment. B is someone in the sickroom. C is a scientist or worker. I pass more cots. B09. B11. B13. Someone emits a large cough from their throat. They all have a certain disease that killed my parents. They are all either going to die or get cured. If the scientists think that they’ve found the cure, then the people in the sickroom will be cured. However, the scientists haven’t found the cure for years, and at least every other day someone dies. Since my parents died five years ago, I have devoted myself to help find a cure with Project White. Now, I live in this facility that is completely confidential to the government. The government does not want people to know about us. I sleep here with no parents. I just do what I am told. B15. B17. B19. Here it is. I place the tray next to the old man lying on the cot. He is too ill to eat. He glances up at me and I immediately look away, hoping not to make eye contact. I flee. I had made eye contact with his poor, innocent, ill eyes. It was only a flash, a minute sighting of the off-white coloring of an eyeball, but still my stomach churns and I feel sick. the hallway_ Moments later, the man dies. Luckily, that was my last delivery for the day. I return to my quarters. Over the intercom, a monotone voice drones out the words: “Could all staff please report to the main office immediately. Could all staff please immediately come to the main office. Thank you.” News is never good when they summon us to the main office. I sigh and walk to the office. the office_ I arrive in the office. The other staff members have already arrived. I am the last one to show up. “Thank you,” the man standing, Mr. Green, says. “Please take a seat.” I sit down. “Now,” he says, “We bear good news.” Everyone’s eyes open widely to display their attentiveness. Perhaps it is play-acting. “We seem to have found the main cause for this sickness,” he continues. “It appears to be bacteria that infects the blood. The bacteria quickly spreads and soon infects the blood to a point where it can take very long time periods of treatment to cure. Luckily, with this information, it will be much…more simple to find the cure.” Mr. Green lifts a glass sample. “Inside this small glass disk lays the bacteria.” He raises a small test tube with gray liquid in it. “This is a liquid form of the bacteria.” He raises another test tube, with a maroon-brown color liquid. “This is the blood of an infected individual.” The staff remains silent. “The scientists are saying that in a couple weeks we may find the cure.” He sits down at his desk. “You are all excused.” The staff members stand up from their chairs and walk out of the room. I exit with them. the bunk_ I am done for the day. It is hours after the meeting. The digital clock besides my own cot in my bunk reveals the glowing digits: 1:00 a.m. The other staff is asleep except for me and the night shift nurses. I cannot sleep. I cannot stop thinking about the meeting. Can they truly be only weeks away from finally curing the disease? I stand up and exit my bunk. the hallway_ Walking around in the hallway, I notice there is no one around. Not even someone guarding the Genetic Experiments Lab. The hallway is a ghost town, but still the sounds of coughing and the gloomy energy makes it seem like it is the middle of the day. Many people in the sickroom are still awake. Some are asleep. Some may already be dead. I pass by the door of the Genetic Experiments Lab. BIOHAZARD. AUTHORIZED PERSONELL ONLY. DO NOT ENTER. I stop in my tracks. AUTHORIZED PERSONELL ONLY. I had originally never been brave enough to open that door for two main reasons: one, the fear that I would get in a considerable amount of trouble, for I am only staff, but not authorized to go into that room. Secondly, I never personally wanted to see for myself, but something inside me had always made the need to go in there rise. I want to see it, but I don’t. The terror and disgust of the experiments that they pull in that lab and the curiosity of what they might be doing blended and mixed together into a horror more gut-wrenching than anything you could imagine. This was not werewolves and zombies and vampires. This was real. DO NOT ENTER. I put my hand on the doorknob, feeling the cold chrome chill run up through my spine. DO NOT ENTER. The sign was warning me. The pressure of whether or not to turn that door knob was overwhelming-if a word to so describe the pressure did exist. Exuberating. DO NOT ENTER. It is not only a warning that unauthorized personnel who enter that area will be punished, but also a warning for my own good. DO NOT ENTER. My grip on the knob tightens. I am almost hoping that the door will be locked. I turn the doorknob. “DO NOT ENTER!” the door is screaming to me. “DO NOT ENTER THIS ROOM!” I cannot find the strength to open the door. I run back to my cot, careful of the sounds of my footsteps. I may wake a patient. That would be the last thing I want. the bunk_ Sweat breaks out on my forehead. I am suddenly reminded of my parents and my painful longing for them. I am now suddenly aware of how soon it can be over. I question why I have to live alone, without my parents. I realize how soon the tragic sadness will be over. I cry myself to sleep. morning_ I wake up by the sound of a shrieking alarm on my nightstand. Wake up call. I silence the noise and get out of bed. Shower time is in 10 minutes, but I skip the shower for the day. I put on a new apron and get to work. the hallway_ I hear shrieking. I close my eyes and ignore it. I enter the kitchen, where a note is waiting for me, type-written. It says: Mr. Martin- The scientists in the Genetic Experiments Lab have requested your assistance in testing possible cures for the disease. Please come to my office when you have a spare moment. -Mr. Green I wonder: do they want me for assistance, or for an experiment? If I accept, I will finally be granted access into the Genetic Experiments Lab. If I decline, my world will remain as it has been for the past five years, but it drastically lowers the chances that I will be used as an experiment. I ponder the purpose of declining his offer. If I say no, what would be happening that is so special in my life outside of what goes on in that laboratory? Interest, at the risk of death, is the best alternative to boredom. I walk back through the hallway towards Mr. Green’s office, where I accept his offer. the Genetic Experiments Lab_ Today is my fifth day of assistance in the Genetic Experiments Lab. Prof. Gerald is the main scientist, C1. The other scientists are Prof. Atwood, C2; Dr. Santellano, C3; and Dr. Stevens, C4. I am the assistant, C8. Sometimes I am used as a junior scientist or just as an assistant. Today we have been studying the bacteria. We ran an experiment on one healthy man, A78, to see the bacteria’s effects on blood. During that experiment, I had not had the guts to watch and examine what the bacteria had done to that man. I had ran to the bathroom and vomited. I could not bear what we were doing to that man. The man died within a couple of hours. We ran the experiment on an infected person, B237. We got the same results. By examining the effects of the bacteria, we found out that the bacteria multiplies in the blood stream, killing white blood cells to destroy the body’s immune system. Plus, the more bacteria that is inside your bloodstream, the more efficient and faster it will multiply. It quadruples the effect if you have double the amount of bacteria. It does not matter how much bacteria you have inside you, because when it multiplies the cells quickly divide and conquer. Thus, the more bacteria inside you, the faster you die. Soon, the day is over and I retire to my bunk. the bunk_ During the night I have a horrible nightmare. It is about the people we experimented on. It was that they rose from the table and I had actually seen them die. They had bolted upright when we had injected the serum into their bodies. Their eyes had been popping out of their sockets. Their hands had throbbing veins and were cold and grey. They were screaming with an inhaled breath until they ran out of air. Then, they collapsed off the table. And I wake up. I know that they do not die like that. It was just a nightmare. Infected people usually only scream or go out silently, and their eyes do not pop out of their sockets, and it is not that intense. Not long after I wake up in the middle of the night, I fall back asleep. I question how long I can endure working in the Genetic Experiments Lab. morning_ I wake up by the sound of the alarm and get up. I take a short shower and put on my scientists’ garb: a white lab coat, rubber gloves and safety goggles. I head out to the Genetic Experiments Lab. the Genetic Experiments Lab_ I enter the room. Prof. Atwood is filing papers. Prof. Gerald is reviewing some records of previous test results at his desk. He looks up at me. “Oh, good morning, Mr. Martin. Please have a seat.” I walk over to his desk and sit down. “Check this out,” he says, and slides a paper over to my side of the desk. “I noticed that the effect of the bacteria doubles when injected into an already infected patient.” He passes another paper to me. The first paper is a data chart of how fast the blood took control of the healthy patient’s body and the rate of how much bacteria was in the bloodstream at a certain amount of time after the injection. The second paper is a similar chart, only the subject was an infected patient. The infected patient had double the bacteria the first, healthy patient had. “Interesting,” I mutter, numbly. “The main effect of the bacteria,” he continues, “is that it destroys white blood cells and attacks the bloodstream, mixing itself with the blood. This has led me to believe that we need to create an antidote that restores white blood cells and something to somewhat clean up the blood. This is just a theory, but I think it’s worth a shot.” Prof. Gerald glances back down at other papers on his desk, sliding them around his desk into some sort of arrangement. “It seems that you and Mr. Atwood are the only ones here. Could you please page the rest of the scientist team for me?” Prof. Atwood’s head perks up from his files. “Yes, sir?” “Nothing.” Prof. Gerald turns back to me. “Could you, please?” “Yes, sir,” I say, and turn to go get them. the hallway_ The scientists, like me, each have their own different bunk. Also, each individual bunk is conveniently spread out across from each other on completely opposite sides of the facility. This will be a longer task than usual. I decide to start with the scientist on my side of the facility, Dr. Santellano. I travel across the hallway to the end of the hallway, where his door lies. C3, the engraved plaque on the door says. I knock gently on it and call, “Dr. Santellano, please report to the Genetic Expirements Lab momentarily.” I leave and turn the corner to another hallway. I end up winding down several paths until I reach Dr. Stevens bunk. His plaque says C4. I do the same thing to him. I pass by the kitchen, grateful that I do not have to deliver any more food. Soon, I am back in the G.E.L. lab, where we research on what substances help the immune system, and strengthen or, more preferably, restore white blood cells. I am grateful that we do not have to perform any experiments. the bunk_ Prof. Gerald’s blasting voice over the intercom startles me awake. “Would all members of the science team please report to the G.E.L. lab immediately.” I look over at my clock. 3:00 A.M. Wonderful. I dress and hurry over there, half-awake. the G.E.L. lab_ I am the second member to arrive. Prof. Gerald and Dr. Santellano are already there, discussing something with serious looks on their faces. Prof. Gerald looks over at me. “Mr. Martin. Please come.” He gestures for me to come and I obey. “Please look at this.” He hands me a paper with pictures that seem to have been taken from a microscope. “I saw that, when mixed with infected blood samples, most of our trials had a long-time effect. It took about 7 hours for a minimal effect to kick in. It reached its maximum effect at 29 hours. In hours after that, status did not change. The effect was that the substances mainly strengthened white blood cells but did little to kill traces of bacteria. The problem is that these substances mainly only strengthen white blood cells over a long period of time. We need a fast acting substance that can rejuvenate white blood cells while attacking the bacteria. It most likely will call for a compound substance made up of different things…” Prof. Gerald re-adjusts his glasses. “This has led me to the decision that we need to test our current substance on sick patients and see its reaction. The normal lifespan of an infected patient is about 26 hours. However, a full syringe of liquid bacteria can kill an infected person within minutes. We need to see to what extent this current substance can help. If effective, I think we should try and mix it with another substance to double-team the bacteria.” Prof. Gerald sips from his coffee cup and continues talking with his mug at his mouth. “I’ve already scheduled for an experiment in one hour.” Prof. Atwood speaks from behind me. “Who will do the honors?” “You,” Gerald says, looking at Atwood. “And I must say you make quite a silent entry.” “Thank you.” He chuckles. I remain silent, disgusted in a mixture of pity and resent. Prof. Gerald sets his cup down on his desk. “I would advise you to relax before the experiment. Get some coffee or something. Visit the cafeteria for breakfast if you want. I’m going to stay here if you need me.” I exit. the hallway_ In the hallway, I cross paths with some of the other professors and doctors. I grab myself a coffee to wake up and lean against a wall to drink it. I hear an ear shattering scream and drop my Styrofoam cup. Coffee splashes everywhere. I run to the sickroom, where I hear it get louder as I move toward it. the sickroom_ An elderly patient is screaming, waking and disturbing other patients. Her eyes are closed. She is probably having a nightmare. From behind me, Dr. Stevens scurries into the room in a fast walk, carrying a syringe full of gray liquid. My mouth drops. Dr. Stevens speed-walks over to the patient’s cot number, B224. The lady’s eyes shoot open as the needle is inserted into her vein. She screams louder. Dr. Stevens pushes the bottom of the syringe, injecting the bacteria right into her bloodstream until the syringe is empty. The woman is still screaming as her eyes slowly close. Moments later, she is silent. Dr. Stevens walks out of the room, his slick-backed hair now unkempt and flung unto his face. I throw up on the floor and retire to my bunk for the rest of the day.