Whoever invented coffee should have won a flipping Nobel Peace Prize. I inhaled the smell of the perfectly mixed mocha latté from the cup which was warming my hands as I sat on a freezing cold bench outside of work. My work. It was the third week of my internship, and I still couldn’t believe I had made it here. I’d busted my butt the last four and a half years of college just to have a chance at this very job—though in reality, I’d worked a lot longer than that toward my goal, but those college years were the ones that really counted—and it had happened.
I took a long swig of my coffee as a cold breeze whipped some hair out from under the comfort of my hat and across my face. I thought my k-cups at home were magical, but they had nothing on this vending-machine-on-steroids stuff Falcone Industries had. I let out an “Mmmm” and immediately looked around to make sure no one had witnessed my embarrassing reaction to a simple cup of coffee. Relieved to find I was still alone, I tucked my hair back into my hat with my free hand and laughed at myself.
I was on my first of two mandatory fifteen-minute breaks, which the company was known to be real sticklers about. I had to completely clear out of my workspace during the allotted break times, which seemed extreme, but apparently too many people got burnt out if they passed up their breaks. At this early stage in my career, I wasn’t going to argue with trivial things like breaks, not when I was on track to accomplish what I’d always wanted.
I was a research scientist. Well, almost. I had this final internship and a few more papers, and then I’d be able to start whatever job I could get upon graduation. My passion had always been in genetic research. I guess it wasn’t really my passion, per se. I had just forced myself to go that route.
Falcone Industries was a leader in the pharmaceutical world, and its headquarters were located within the same town I went to school, which I of course had planned for. I had made it my goal to intern for the number one company in the country, so I could ensure a top-notch job upon graduation, and here I was. I felt like it was the best way to make my parents proud.
I tilted my head back and closed my eyes, letting the sun warm my face through the biting cold air, wondering if they were looking down on me as I prepared to get back to work. It was the dead of winter. The cold had never bothered me as much as it did other people, but I wasn’t immune to the nipping wind that seemed to be picking up.
The knot in my stomach, which was becoming far too familiar, started gnawing at me again as I thought about returning inside, and I tried to push it away. It was getting harder to do so. Every time I savored how far I’d come, I worried things were not what they appeared. For about two weeks now, I’d been uncomfortable and it was increasingly harder to ignore. I thought back to the very first week of my internship and the incident that had caused me to wonder what really went on behind the scenes here at Falcone.
I had been late getting out of my cubicle for lunch and heard some shouting coming from a hallway I hadn’t ventured down before. I had a dangerous sense of curiosity, which led me to see what was going on. I’d made my way down and came across two technicians arguing. One of them held a blood sample and folder in her hands which she’d dramatically waved around as she spoke.
“You know this takes time,” she hissed.
“He’s not giving us anythi—” the male technician was saying but stopped when he saw me.
The female tech looked over her shoulder in my direction and feigned joy. “Ah, finally. An intern who would know what to do, I’m sure.” The male technician she’d been arguing with hung his head.
“I’m sorry to interrupt. I was just on my way to lunch,” I said, backing away.
“Nonsense,” she retorted, halting my retreat. “There’s nothing to interrupt. Can you run an errand for me?” she asked.
I nodded, respectfully.
“Good. Deliver this sample and the contents of this folder to the third floor on your way to the cafeteria.”
I stood awkwardly for a minute.
“Now, please.” She plastered on what I could only assume was supposed to be a smile before turning on her heel. The man followed her down the hallway, farther away from me.
Surprised to be asked to do something by anyone, I obeyed, rushing to the third floor. I’d never been to the lab before, but I had memorized the layout of the building and carried a map with me that first week just in case I got lost. I pulled it out and found the lab without a problem.
I glanced down at the folder, wondering where this sample was from. I hadn’t yet learned all the trials we were involved in. The folder wasn’t sealed, so I peeked inside as I walked and convinced myself it wouldn’t hurt to read up on some of the active trials Falcone was working on.
My eyes widened as I started reading to myself. Species: Non-human. Day 35 Sample for Patient 624. Male appears to be showing signs of strength. Some disassociation. Run a full work up to see what’s remaining to determine next dosage. I tripped as I tried to process the words that seemed to be jumping off the page at me.
What in the world? I quickly picked myself up and glanced around, seeing the papers I had been trying to innocently read now scattered around me in a mess. I glanced around, making sure no one saw my embarrassing spill and briskly gathered everything back together and made my way to the lab door.
“Another one of Darcy’s experiments, eh?” A voice snapped me from digging any deeper the moment I entered into the lab.
I looked up and frowned, until I realized I was holding the papers in my hand, outside the folder they had originally come in, and the trial number was clearly visible. I dropped the documents back into the folder, pretending to know what he was talking about. “Yes, I was told to bring this here.”
“I won’t tell her you were double checking her work.” The short man with thick-rimmed glasses nodded at me and held out his hand.
“Right,” I said and then handed over the documents before I rushed out of the lab.
I ran through everything again in my head, as I had been doing since the day it happened. The paperwork had clearly read non-human, but the technicians were arguing about a “he.” Then again, I hadn’t heard of non-humans showing signs of disassociation. As far as I knew, Falcone didn’t do animal testing of any kind.
Despite my incessant worrying, no one had approached me about anything, and I hadn’t been down that hallway or seen either of the technicians again since my run-in with them. Though it was probably nothing, the whole thing wasn’t sitting well with me.
I took a deep breath and one more swig of coffee and then stood to head back inside. I had only been gone ten minutes, so I wandered into the building slowly and tried to eat up the rest of the time. I tossed my cup into the trash receptacle and felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle in anticipation. I turned, glancing around at the peacefully quiet surroundings, wondering what could possibly be out here to cause any unease.
Falcone was situated on the edge of a picturesque hillside in the woods. For being a place where secure testing was taking place, they had a remarkably open and airy design to their research facility. The glass building was surrounded by a wooded area which led to breathtaking views of a mountain peak in the distance. I looked around again, and the discomfort started to die down.
I shook off my anxiety as I walked inside. The hallways seemed strangely quiet as I made my way back to my area in Cube Farm C. I guess people really did take the whole fifteen-minute break thing seriously. I was only about two minutes off. That couldn’t be that bad.
As I opened the door to my area, a loud crash startled me. I stopped at the threshold and frowned at such a brash noise breaking the silence around me. I paused, trying to will my curiosity to take a back seat for once, when something that sounded close to a growl made the hair stand up on my neck, again. I peered around once more to see if anyone was around before shutting the door to my cube and walking slowly down a hallway to my left—that same hallway from two weeks ago.
There wasn’t a chance I was going to walk into my cubicle and forget the sounds I was hearing now. As I made my way closer, I heard a scream, and I jumped back, looking around to see if anyone was coming.
Shouldn’t there be some security around if there’s an issue?
I quickened my pace toward the noises, having no idea what I was going to do when I got there. If someone was in trouble, there should be some way to alert others in the building, and it was starting to sound like they might need some help. I looked in the corners of the hallway, expecting to see the cameras that the building was covered with and was surprised to see nothing. Why would no one be watching this particular hallway?
I came around the corner and saw a large room with metallic window casings covering the inside, except for in one small area. There was a dented-in section which looked an awful lot like a bloody handprint had clawed off a piece of the metal. I dipped my head down to peek inside.
“You’ll pay for this,” a burly-looking man spat out as six larger men in Falcone lab coats strapped him onto a metal gurney.
I could see his muscles bulging as the six men surrounding him tried their best to contain him. The veins in the restrained man’s arms stood out, and the strain made the definition of his muscles pop. He looked extremely powerful.
A woman lay on the floor with blood on her coat, and I gasped, bringing my hand over my mouth to silence myself. It was the woman who had handed me the sample and the folder from my first week.
“You’re boring me with idle threats,” another voice came from across the room. I could see legs and a pair of black heels but no face. The voice sounded familiar, though.
My breathing escalated, and I tried to understand the scene playing out in front of me, but I couldn’t. Surely nothing was happening without the man’s consent. I mean, we were a research and testing facility, but every trial we had was above board. We had a strict rule book, down to our breaks for goodness sake. Something else must be going on. I ducked away from the break in the metal barrier and tried to make my way around the corner to see if there was a better angle to get a look inside the room.
I saw the door a few feet away. I made my way toward it, and the murmuring voices grew louder as I got closer. The growling I thought I had heard earlier, which I clearly must have imagined since it was only a man in the room and not a beast, had turned into a sedated whimper.
The blinds in the doorframe covered much less than the metal surrounding the rest of the room, and they must not have expected anyone down this far in the facility because they weren’t closed all the way.
Still, I couldn’t make out what the woman talking looked like, but I watched as metal clamps were locked into place not only around the man’s wrists, but around his ankles, thighs, and forearms. I’d never seen anyone so restrained before. I racked my brain, trying to figure out what drug we could even be working on that would cause a need for such a serious restraint.
I watched in horror as two of the men injected syringes into the patient’s neck. He looked terrified, and I felt a twinge in my heart and an overwhelming sense of helplessness. I wondered what was wrong with this poor man that he needed such an intense drug. It was only a few moments after the fluid was injected into his bloodstream that he stopped struggling altogether and lay there, staring at the overly lit ceiling. It was shocking to me that something could be given to him to change this fearsome fighter into a person who just lay there, motionless, in such a small amount of time.
“Good, hook up the monitors and—” a voice rang out but was immediately cut off.
I stared, wide-eyed as the man completely broke out of all eight metal restraints with one movement. The growling from earlier returned, and I realized it had, in fact, come from the patient in the room. It was not just growling now, though. The noise he made was transforming into a terrible gnashing sound I’d never heard before. He tore at the people around him, looking savage with his teeth barred while an intimidating rumble escaped from his throat. The way he stood made him look like a predator, waiting for his attackers to dare make a move. I watched as he seemed to grow tired of waiting and grabbed one of the technicians who couldn’t get away quick enough. He bit down onto his neck.
Something was very wrong with this guy. I wasn’t sure if he was sick or injured and thought he was somewhere else. Or if he was something else. Was he the experiment? I was frozen in fear, unable to run for help. I watched as another technician shot the man with a large gun. Whatever he used made the man collapse in a heap. A shadow came across the doorframe, and I knew it was time for me to get out of there, and fast.
I scrambled, mentally urging my legs to take me away from what I’d seen. I rounded the corner and flung open my Cube Farm door to find my colleagues sitting at their desks as if nothing in the world was off. They looked up, surprised at my sudden burst into the area.
“There you are, Jules,” my cubemate Angie said. She was an intern too, and a bit nosey for my taste. She had the kind of personality where she was desperate to latch on to someone around her at all times. Not that I minded that part. Most people sort of latched onto me, when I thought about it. Maybe I just give off an available ear vibe.
“I was just telling Jamison that the coffee today was so amazing,” she continued, breaking me away from my thoughts. “You had some right? Wow, can you even believe it?”
I smiled, shakily, and nodded, gulping once before answering. “Yeah, it’s something else.”
My mind raced as I sat at my desk, trying to calm my nerves and not attract any attention.
Who was that man? It certainly did not seem like he was voluntarily being injected with whatever those syringes held. Even if it was for a trial, they should have immediately stopped once they saw the distress he was in. Any protocol would state that much.
We didn’t have another break until lunch, but I already knew I’d be sneaking away to try to find him. I was never very good at leaving things alone, especially when I thought someone might need help. My aunt always teased me that I was a softy. I had a bad habit of taking on other people’s problems and emotions as if they were my own. If she were here now, I’m sure she’d tell me to mind my own business. But she wasn’t and what if I could help? Maybe I could calmly talk to the man and explain that I was sure the technicians were simply trying to assist him and make him better, from whatever he had.
The hours ticked by more slowly than I could ever remember them ticking. I didn’t even know what spreadsheets I touched, what questions I answered, nothing. I watched the clock and idly occupied my time, waiting for the moment I could get up and run back down that corridor, or sneak back down it since I knew I had no business being there, but I’d worry about that later.
Finally, the sound of shuffling papers signaled that everyone was getting ready to take a break. Angie hung by my desk as I pretended to finish a document.
“I’ll catch up. I’m going to save this and run to the bathroom. Save me a seat?” I asked, sounding more cheerful than necessary.
“Of course!” she replied eagerly and headed out the door.
I looked around, making sure I was alone again before I snuck out, quietly closing the cube door behind me. Getting caught so early in my time here probably wouldn’t go over well, and as much as I wanted to see what was happening, I really didn’t want to lose my job over it.
I made my way back down the eerie hallway. It seemed strange to me that a research facility like this could contain such abandoned-looking areas like this. Although, if they wanted privacy for whatever experiment they were running, it probably worked for keeping most people out. Most.
It was silent on the walk back to the room where I had witnessed, well…who knew what I witnessed earlier. I peeked in through the door window, which was open now, and noticed the room was completely empty. I stood from my crouched position, a bit perturbed at the anti-climactic ending I was met with. Empty?
I glanced once at the door knob and questioned if I dared to walk into the room. No one appeared to be in there, and it wouldn’t hurt to look inside for a minute before heading to the lunch room. I started to scold myself for my curiosity but stopped. I knew that curiosity was part of what made me a good student, and what would make me a great researcher one day.
I slowly turned the knob, trying to be quiet, and pushed the door open a crack. I waited, listening for a sign of anyone coming. The coast seemed clear. I let out a small sigh, but my relief was short-lived. A hand appeared around the door, snatching it out of mine from inside the room. I jumped back, startled by the sudden movement. A low, menacing growl came from the darkness.
I turned to run, frightened by not only what I heard, but also at the prospect of getting caught snooping around, even if it was with good intentions to help.
As soon as I could get my legs moving, a chilling, ripping sound came from behind me. I turned back and saw the man from earlier, only this time he looked much more haggard than I remembered. And he definitely was not strapped to anything that prevented him from escaping. I refocused my attention in front of me, wondering where I could run.
Before I could make that decision, something grabbed my arms roughly and threw me up against the wall. I stared down into the face of what didn’t look like a man at all. I frowned. His hair hung over his eyes—eyes which were a strange crimson red color. The veins in his face were unnaturally defined, as if something was pumping through him like a steroid. A very bad steroid.
His lips curled back as he came closer to my face, and he took a deep breath.
“Are you okay?” I asked with a shaky voice.
Seriously? Are you okay? That was what I could come up with when I’m being attacked by a madman? The patient must have been surprised at my response as well, because he dropped me, and with a wary look in his eyes, tore down the hallway toward an emergency exit at the edge of the building.
I was sure there would be security footage somewhere of me, even if there wasn’t a camera in this particular hallway. I was already screwed, and if this guy was in trouble, he shouldn’t be wandering around in the woods alone. I rolled my eyes and decided to chase after him, hoping he wasn’t dangerous and was simply scared.
I ran through the emergency door as well and saw the direction he had run off in. It wasn’t hard to tell. There was gravel knocked about as if he’d been dragging his feet along abnormally.
“Hello!” I called out, receiving nothing in response. “I don’t want to hurt you, sir. I just want to help,” I tried again, walking farther away from the building and closer to the edge of the woods.
A deep, intimidating laugh rang out from the shadows. “Help? I will be the one helping myself to your pathetic, little figure, pretty girl. What an easy target you are. Coming out here all alone.”
They must have given him some heavy sedative or hallucinogen if he thought lurking around in the shadows made more sense than being around our doctors and pharmacists. I still couldn’t put eyes on him in the darkness he’d disappeared to. I shivered once but tried to disregard his creepiness and said, “Please, if you’d just come back with me I know we can assist you.”
The man suddenly emerged from the shadows, a smile etched onto his face that looked as wide as a cartoon. His teeth looked funny, like they had been filed to points on his canines. I squinted but realized I might not have time to study him at the moment. He stalked toward me before he started moving in a slow, deliberate circle. I crossed my arms over my chest to try to hide my trembling at not just the cold, but at the realization of how bad this situation might be.
“I’m much better, now. And the first thing I’m going to do is rip you apart and savor the fresh, innocent blood I’m sure is flowing through those delicate veins.”
I frowned, stumbling back a few steps as I came to terms with the fact that chasing after a mad man alone was a very stupid move.
The hairs on my neck stood up again, but this time I felt a strong hand touch the small of my back. A moment later, another touched my arm and a strange spark ran through my body, both warming and calming me all at once.
“Run,” a voice said softly in my ear.
I turned to look into the ice blue eyes of a stranger. I backed up, and he furrowed his brow for a minute, as if he’d felt the electric shock too, before refocusing and letting go of me.
“Are—Are you security?” I asked, slightly stunned not only by the jolt I felt, but the smoldering eyes watching me as well.
“Something like that.” His lips quirked into a small, devilish smirk before his eyes darted back over to the man who had suddenly started rushing toward us. “Go, now. Get inside,” he said more urgently and turned to face the deranged patient from our facility.
Despite my worry about this stranger facing off with a clearly unstable man, I started to back away. Why would our company have only one guy on hand for security?
The two of them started fighting, and I yelped, terrified by the strength with which they brawled. Their movements were quick and appeared deadly. The strength with which they were hitting each other seemed to be much more than either was letting on. I kept backing away, slowly.
The troubled man took notice of me again and came rushing in my direction, reaching out to grab at my arm. The blue-eyed stranger, quicker than I would have thought possible, twisted the patent’s outstretched arm behind his back and slammed him down onto the ground.
He looked back up at me, with a fierceness in his eyes that hadn’t been there before. “Please, you need to go,” he urged as his blue eyes intensified in color.
My fight or flight senses finally kicked in, and I obeyed. I ran back to the emergency exit I came out of and slammed the door behind me.
I looked around and remembered my training on the first day about building security and integrity. There was a red button on the side that would lock down the facility. I looked around for some sort of sign that the guard outside would be getting backup, but the hallways were still quiet. The fight raging outside was still going strong, and both men appeared to be getting farther away from the building. I debated whether I should push the alert or not and then was overcome with frustration. For a man who had six technicians on him earlier, how was he left alone and no one had noticed he was gone?
I decided I’d rather cover my ass than be questioned later for hiding anything. As soon as my hand touched the button, the sirens sounded throughout the building, indicating a shutdown had been initiated. I turned from the windows and the exit and ran, trying to find someone who looked like they were in a position of authority that I could explain the situation to.
As I came around the corner, I bumped into men who looked much more like guards than my savior had. “Miss, you’ll need to come with us,” one of them said, annoyed. He was stocky and shorter than I was.
“Gladly,” I replied, hoping they’d take me to their boss. “But your man outside, he might need—”
The other guard, a taller male held up his hand and silenced me before I could let them know they really needed to get outside. “Just come with us,” he said in a high-pitched voice.
We walked along a few corridors and took an elevator up one floor. I knew we were heading somewhere important, and I was glad I could finally speak to someone. The stranger outside was going to need backup, and who knew what was going to happen to that psycho patient. I shuddered and wondered if he would have been strong enough to succeed in hurting me if no one else had shown up.
The guards led me into the executive suites. It was a beautiful office area, circular shaped and open. The entryway desk was huge, and there were hallways leading to various rooms to the right and left of the desk.
“Have a seat,” the stocky guard commanded.
I listened to him. The palms of my hands were sweaty, and I rubbed them along my skirt, opening my hands wide to try to air them out.
“Name?” A beautiful woman with glasses came out from behind the reception desk and appeared in front of me.
“She was in the passage where the shutdown was initiated from,” the guard with the high-pitched voice answered.
The girl popped a large bubblegum bubble and stared at the guard over her glasses for a moment before continuing. “I still need her name, love.”
She turned her attention back to me, raising her eyebrows expectantly.
“Jules Parker. I can explain. I think one of the guards outside may need some help,” I started, but she just nodded and jotted something down. Then she turned and walked back behind the desk.
I sat in the cushioned visitor’s chair, my stomach churning the longer the quiet wait continued. I wondered who I‘d have to talk to. Probably someone in security, or maybe operations. Maybe the man who saved me would turn up here, and I could get a name to thank him. I shook my head. Really, Jules? Stop thinking about the hot guard.
Finally, the receptionist stood from behind her desk again. “This way, Ms. Parker. Gentlemen, that’ll be all,” she said as she waved the guards away.
I had no idea whom she was taking me to see or what they would say. I ran through my story in my head a few times. I was heading to lunch when a man shoved into me and ran out. I thought he looked troubled and went to help. That was plausible and mostly the truth. I’d make sure the guard who helped me had brought the patient back safely, and then I’d get back to work and keep my head down. Serves me right for poking around and trying to help a stranger.
We kept walking farther and farther back. The more offices we passed, the more nervous I got. Whose office could we be heading to? Why was it taking so long to be seen for this? We finally stopped outside a large set of double doors. The receptionist smiled at me before opening them up.
“Ms. Malcovey will see you now.”
My eyes widened. “Did you just say, Ms. Malcov…” my voice trailed off in fear as the doors opened and a tall, elegant woman in a perfectly tailored skirt suit stood with her arms by her side, a small smile gracing her face.
“Ms. Parker, won’t you please join me?” She motioned to the seats in front of her ornately decorated desk, and I unsteadily made my way forward into the plush executive office of Falcone Industries President & CEO, Marissa Malcovey.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish