|Image credit: www.totallythomas.com|
Location: a laboratory
Object: a toy train
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The Night in the Lab
Ethan Brown swiped his employee card, and the lab door gave way to his shaking hands. The air in the laboratory was stagnant and dry. Coughing into his elbow, Ethan reached for the light switch to the right of the door. The light went on for a couple of seconds, and then the bulb burst. The glass shards sparkled in the darkness, like snowflakes, as they fell down on one of the lab tables in the middle of the room. Ethan’s desk stood in the corner, so he groped his way towards it to switch on the table-lamp. When he came near it, his left foot stepped on something, and he would have fallen had he not held on to the desk.
The dim lamplight revealed that the object Ethan stepped on was a two-car metal toy train painted in black with one red line highlighting the rows of tinted windows. Even the conductor’s window was tinted.
“What the hell is this doing here?” Ethan mumbled, scratching his hairless head.
His voice echoed in the silence, and the train vibrated in his hand. He shrugged, blaming it on his excitement, and threw the train into one of his desk’s drawers. He had an important experiment to conduct. If it went well, he would become the first person (and the first African-American) to find the cure for cancer, and if he failed, no one would know. As far as the security officer was concerned, he came to feed the rats and take care of some paperwork.
He felt the chills as he opened the lab’s refrigerator and took out the cure, which he had prepared a week prior, and placed it into a syringe. His shadow stood erect, like a monument, a gray cloud on the sterile-white wall and a bulked-up version of his emaciated body. Ever since he had been diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago, he lost his appetite and gradually turned into a skeleton, upholstered with skin. If the cure worked on the experimental rats, inflicted with cancer cells, it could also save his life. The lab was so quiet Ethan could hear his heartbeat.
In the meantime, through the outline of his silhouette crawled another shadow, a zoomed-in version of the toy train, this one as big as his palm, with three cars. Following invisible tracks, it semi-circled Ethan and struck him in the chest. Throwing the syringe into the right pocket of his lab coat, Ethan tried to catch the train, but it slipped out of his fingers. Sharp as the edge of a tin can lid, the wheels left deep bloody scratches on his palm. His chest felt heavy all of a sudden. Ethan rubbed it, smudging his blood on his lab coat. The appearance of the train was bizarre, but the pain was real. Ethan closed his eyes for a moment, then reached into the drawer where he had put the train, and found it empty.
Even though Ethan could not see the train, he could hear the rumble of its wheels, which grew louder and louder, echoed by his coughing. In a moment, the train crept right in front of Ethan and sucker-punched him in the back of his knees. Ethan kept his balance and grabbed a chair, intending to hit the train or use it as a shield. But the train flew past him, ascending towards the ceiling, made a loop and, like a hawk, landed right on Ethan’s face. Ethan’s nose started bleeding, and he felt dizzy, following the train’s trajectory. The train grew in size as it picked up speed, and Ethan counted five cars, each as long as Ethan’s arm from shoulder to elbow. The thought that it would eventually become big enough to crush him terrified Ethan, and he began crawling on all fours towards the exit. His head pounded. The train continued landing new blows, spiraling and circling in front of his eyes. Overcome with fatigue, Ethan could not move anymore. He sat on the floor only a few feet away from the door, his whole body insulated with a thick blanket of pain. Reaching into his lab coat pocket, he found the syringe with the cure. As he ducked from the train flying at him at full speed, Ethan slipped the cap off the syringe and thrust the needle into his palm. A loud clap, resembling a bomb explosion was the last thing Ethan heard before he lost consciousness, burying his face in his lap.
The sun was rising when Ethan finally woke up. The blood on his face and hands had dried up, but bruises all over his body still hurt. Gasping for air, he wobbled towards the window, opened it wide and inhaled the fresh November breeze. The air circulated through him, filling his lungs with oxygen. Leaving the window open, Ethan walked back to his desk and noticed the syringe where it had fallen out of his hand the night before. A few feet away lay the toy train, reduced to its original size, crumpled in the front and mottled on the right side, where the paint chipped from the collision. Ethan picked the train up and threw it out of the window, watching it smash against the asphalt eight stories down.
“Not invincible any more, are you?” he said, with a smile of relief on his thin unshaven face.