This is the first installment of my 12 week web serial. Enjoy!
By: C. S. Warner
A Great Escape
The sensation of rushing water consumed him. A corkscrewing whirlpool recklessly swirling from side to side raged within his head; it was deafening... suffocating. With a deep inhale, his lungs stretched in pain as if it were his first breath. Though he tried to open his eyes, there was only black; they felt glued and with a hard blink he ripped them open with excruciating force. His eyes were dry, but then, a hazy gray light slowly flooded in. For a moment he struggled to focus, but it was as if he were staring into a thick fog. His arms were heavy, made of lead, as he fought against the still strong dizzying feeling, and they fell limply back with a ‘smack’ onto a cold metal surface. What… wait… where am I? The thought finally formed; he was becoming more coherent, slightly more able to decipher some form of thought through the overwhelming queasiness.
One, two, three blinks later the fog steadily cleared and slowly his other senses began to awaken: he was cold, very cold, his jaw trembled, and... “OOOWWW!” The noise exploded out from deep within him and his weak arms flung around to his left side. There was a sharp piercing pain running from his ribs to his pelvis; it burned. Tracing his finger gently along his skin he found what felt like a zipper. Like a magnet, his head stuck to the hard surface beneath, but then with the same determined force that he had used on his eyelids, he jolted it up and looked down, still swirling, and made out a poorly stitched line. I’m tied together like a rag doll! His confusion turned to rage.
“UUHH, UUHH, AAHH!” Only unintelligible noises blurted out. Frantically, he looked around. He was lying naked on a metal slab in a small room; it reminded him of a patient room in a doctor’s office. Cotton ball filled jars, stark white cabinets, laminate countertops, and an array of small, yet terrifying, metal instruments. To his right, a large brown door stood closed and although he desperately wanted to scream out, “Help me, please!” he thought better of it and instead tried to calm his breathing and think.
What’s the last thing I remember? Nothing, there was nothing. What’s my name? That came quickly, Jeffrey… I’m Jeffrey… I’m in pain… I… Wait, I remember! He began to replay the last few months in his head: he was sick.
Coming from a wealthy family had its benefits. For years, while every other 26 year old was out either enjoying life or finding a career, he visited doctor after doctor seeking a cure until one day an attentive physician proposed an unorthodox route to recovery. “Our medicine just isn’t advanced enough yet to help you, but I feel strongly it will be, one day. I’m sure you know that you only have, maybe, three months left.” Jeffrey nodded solemnly; he was trying to beat that time despite the price tag. “Well, if you’re serious about wanting to get better at any cost, maybe you could consider cryogenics and wait to be woken up when there is a cure available for you.” The suggestion was so matter of fact that Jeffrey didn’t know whether she was joking or not.
Over the next couple months Jeffrey toured several cryogenic labs before deciding on one that had been in business the longest and had the most funding -both very important factors to him. The thought of the company losing money and his body thawing out and decomposing in a ditch somewhere, forgotten, frightened him more than dying in pain. The one major requirement that the lab asked of him was that he take a month of counseling, but since his diagnosis only afforded him a month left, they settled on seven days straight.
Jessica Dominic (not a psychologist's name, he thought) met Jeffrey at his house. “I see why you aren’t ready to die,” she joked, brashly. He tried to let the tactless comment on his swiftly approaching demise fly past, but the fact that that was her first impression, her first words to him, stuck under his skin. “I guess.” She could obviously read the judgmental expression on his face and attempted to soften the blow with a sweet smile. “It is very nice to meet you, Jeffrey, even if under these unfortunate circumstances,” she held out her hand, still smiling. Hesitantly, he took it, “Yeah…”
Unbeknownst to Jeffrey, Jessica’s audacious comments and behavior were actually part of her technique. She tried to bring the discomfort and life-altering decision of ‘freezing’ oneself to the surface.
It was all coming back to him: saying goodbye, going under, and the terrifying sensation as he went to sleep, but he couldn’t keep thinking about that; he needed a doctor, or at the very least medicine. The sharp pain in his side accompanying another violent shiver overtook him; he was still cold as he lied nude on the metal table.
Running his hands all over himself, in a desperate attempt at warmth, he sat up and dangled his feet off the table. There was nothing in sight to dress in. Where are my clothes? Weak, feeble muscles made it difficult to step down and he instantly collapsed, painfully, to the floor. “UUUAAAHHH!” His body throbbed intensely and he pressed tightly onto the horrid stitch-work along his side, but the skin burned under his touch. Deep breath, in and out, slowly, he tried to calm his mounting anxiety while simultaneously (and sloppily) pulling himself up to his feet. His fingers were thinner and bonier than he remembered as he stared at them clutching the countertop; his feet, too, looked different, almost blue, but they all worked.
Without any warning he was vomiting a clear mucousy fluid. After a minute it passed and he began to pull himself along the cabinets checking in every one, but, to his disappointment, no medicine nor clothes.
What was this place? Why was he sewn up so horribly? Was he supposed to be being prepped for his awakening? So many questions buzzed around him and a sudden feeling of dread blanketed his shoulders. Closing his eyes tightly, he took a moment to try and stand upright on his own: success! This new found strength inspired courage and he walked over and gently opened the door.
There was a deafening silence in the long white hallway as he peered out. Seeing no one, Jeffrey stepped over the threshold, looking anxiously in either direction, but each end felt as far away as the other. On a whim, he decided to go right, using the cold wall as a guide. Below him, black streaks broke up the white linoleum floor while above rectangular fluorescent lights buzzed along the way.
A door, identical to the one he had just exited, came up on his right. Jiggling the knob, he pushed it open revealing a carbon copy of his room. Again, he vomited unexpectedly. There was an older woman lying on the metal slab. Her eyes were closed and her naked, pale skin appeared blue. She too had been cut and disgracefully sewn up, but, as he got closer, she had five incisions all along her torso. With a trembling hand, Jeffrey touched her arm -ice cold and hard as a rock. “No,” finally he could speak.
After checking her cabinets and once again coming up empty handed, he turned and continued down the empty hall passing by two more brown doors before coming to an ‘L’ with another hall. At the end was a blue metal door leading to a stairwell; only up. “Is up out?” he whispered, as loud as his throat would let him. Steadily, he climbed one flight, it continued another level, but he was weak and convinced himself he wouldn’t make it all the way. Pulling the stairway door open, he walked into what looked like the living room of a large house: couches, ottomans, fake foliage, and a large bank of windows looking out and down a small hill to the beach below.
Shuffling forward, he reached the attached kitchen and beelined for the fridge. Cheese! He took a slice of cheddar, it tasted sour and he spit it out; bologna, flavorless, but he got it down; a yogurt cup, rancid and he threw it to the ground. He was sure of it, his taste buds were wrong. He opened a can of soda; the bubbles fizzed and tickled his nose, but the refreshing taste just wasn’t there. It felt like he hadn’t eaten or drank anything in years. Closing the fridge he walked to the sink and turned on the faucet, drinking vigorously. Water -that was what he needed!
He remained cockeyed under the running water taking in as much as he could until his searing pain resurfaced. With a clink of the pipes the faucet ceased and he began opening the cupboards. Finally, aspirin. He shoveled four into his mouth and drank again from the faucet to get them down before continuing through the house. There were three bedrooms on that level, all empty; no beds nor clothes in the closets.
Back near the kitchen he noticed a door; a possible exit, complete with a foyer. Jeffrey opened, instead, the small entryway closet next to it and, eureka, found several jackets and a pair of boots (just a bit too tight), but no pants. He put on a jacket and stepped the wrong way into a sweater; makeshift pants. Unbolting the door, he walked out into the warm sun and onto a large porch looking down the hill and out onto the water. After several deep breaths of the salty air, he took a few steps out and walked around the perimeter of the very large house. There were two Jeeps parked in front of a closed garage, but still no people. As he rounded the building it dawned on him: he was on a tiny island. Crashing waves circled around and again he began to panic, almost hyperventilate, as the feeling of dread beared down hard on his shoulders once more.
Deep breath, in and out; his chest heaved on command. Through his pain and confusion Jeffrey made out a dock at the bottom of the hill. It was long and fat, as if meant for a yacht, but only a small jon boat, tied to the end, bobbed up and down alongside. “What is going on?” he tried to scream, but still only a hushed whisper. With a painful thud, he fell to his knees, the warm setting sun tingled his face and the cool grass itched through the knit sweater.
His returning rational mind tried to sort everything out. A basement with doctor’s offices; a woman, possibly another cryo, filleted and then sewn up; both left alone; a house, a somewhat normal house, above ground, on an island, with two Jeeps... -that caught his attention. Where are they driving to? he wondered, looking around, but saw nothing but the house and the surrounding beach below.
Standing back up, Jeffrey teetered down the hill to the boat. Under the only seat was a life-jacket and first aid kit, complete with a flare gun. “But where would I go?” He walked back into the house and began looking for a phone. “But who would I call?” His question didn’t matter, there was no landline nor cellphone anywhere in sight. He found, instead, a canvas bag in the kitchen and began loading it with food. He quickly put together sandwiches, grabbed sodas, aspirin, and bottled water from the pantry. On his way out he also snatched two more coats, assuming night would be cold.
The dinghy’s motor appeared to be full of gas and there were two paddles attached to each side, just in case. He loaded up the boat and pulled the cord once, twice until it grumbled and he was off, motoring along (happy to get away from whatever that was) and continued into the sunset.
Jeffrey was right, night was cold; he hadn’t brought enough jackets after all. Shivers, worse than before, with uncontrollable convulsions made it difficult to even eat a sandwich. He took another aspirin. The surrounding cold began to overshadow the seething pain in his side, and the spray from the ocean wasn’t helping. It had only been a couple hours, but he couldn’t help it, he fired one of the only two flares directly above him into the cloudy night sky. Pitifully, he curled up into a ball, huddled, shivering under the jackets on the bottom of the small boat; a poor attempt to hide from the crashing waves as they forcefully knocked against the hull sending droplets raining down upon him.
The wind whistled and swirled around him and he wasn’t sure if it was the pain, or hypothermia, making him faint, but he kept falling asleep. Loud waves clapping against the fiberglass pulled him back, but just as easily he retreated into unconsciousness each time.
Morning came and the warm sun shone a bright orange on his left; he’d been turned in the night and sent adrift to who knew where. Though he pulled the engine cord again and again, he knew it to be in vain: it had ran out of gas the night before. With thin, feeble arms, he began rowing until the sun rose high overhead and he could no longer lift a muscle.
Lying on his back, staring at the passing clouds, Jeffrey felt hopeless. Muddied thoughts clouded his mind… Had he gone the wrong way? Or perhaps maybe he should have waited at the house? but waited for what? His gut still insisted that it was the right decision to leave, but his mind pleaded with him to go back, but where was back? More panicked thoughts seeped in. He popped another aspirin, drank an entire bottle of water, and just lied there. The sounds of the rhythmic waves rocked him to sleep, a welcomed sleep; anything to get away from the pain in his side.
It was late in the afternoon by the time Jeffrey awoke from his own violent shivering. He covered himself up tightly with the jackets, but they too were wet from the mist and crashing waves. Again, he fired the flare gun, but it was his last flare and that realization hit hard; he began to cry. His helpless, hopelessness had won.
Part 2 Scoundrel or Savior? ➡️
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