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Science Fiction Suspense

Rick stumbles into his apartment, tripping over his coffee table and landing face-first on the hardwood floor. The cold floor felt nice against his red-hot face, though he didn’t enjoy the smell of alcohol coming from his breath. Reaching up, he hopes to hit the right button on his answering machine. A loud beep followed by a woman's voice saying; You have one new message, let him know that he succeeded.

“Hello Rick, It's Jon. I'm calling to ask if you’ve received your final check." The man spoke with a deep and stern voice. "Just so you don't try and lie your way out later, I'll remind you. Your mother and I agree to continue your allowance when you meet our terms. We hope you have the decency to live up to them." 

It was about Twelve Thirty p.m. when he awoke. His head was pounding, and one look out the window blinded him. With little to no feelings in his muscles, he decides to lie on the floor for a little longer. It took him a moment to notice something poking his fingers. In his hand is a crumpled piece of paper with his address. Smokey, the bartender, had given it to Rick in case he couldn't communicate with the taxi driver. Flipping it over reveals an ad for a job as a test subject in a lab experiment. 

$200 per test, safety guaranteed; call 555-013-9920.  

Last night, Rick had spent his last dollar on a shot of tequila, hoping to drown out the stress and heartache of being the only student at his university who was failing all of his courses. Although his parents could afford to bribe the teachers, especially since his father had connections. They felt he should try to pass a class at least once in his life.

Two hundred dollars seemed like millions to him, especially if he wanted to pay rent that month. It'd be a quicker way to get some cash than waiting for a part-time job. After taking some painkillers, Rick calls the number on the flier. After a few rings, an annoyed old man picked up the phone.

"Aikman residents." he said.

"Hello, Mr. Aikman? I was calling-"

"Doctor!" Aikman interjected sternly.

“Sorry, Doctor, I was calling about being a test subject”

"Oh?" His voice suddenly softened, and his tone lightened up. "Thank you so much for calling. Apologies for my outburst. The field of science can be stressful. Lots to do, so little time."

"Yeah, right." Rick replied, smelling the lies.

"If you have a moment, I'd like to ask you a few questions. Standard procedure, to see if you're qualified."

"Sure, no problem."

Rick Hartley. sex: male. Age: 21. Height: 5 ft 7 in. Weight: 190. Build: Athletic. Blood type: B+. No medical history of heart conditions, brain injuries, or lung failure.

"Thank you, Mr. Hartley. You can come by tomorrow and we can have our first test run." Aikman responds in excitement.

"That seems a bit soon. I don't even know what it is I'm testing." Rick replies with concern.

"Oh! Forgive me, I'm always one too many steps ahead. You will be testing the effects of a new transportation method. Of course, I cannot disclose any more information until you've signed some forms."

"Sorry, but this just doesn't seem official."

"I assure you, it is. Just come by my lab, and you'll see that this is as real as the moon and stars."

Rick anxiously bites his nails; this "doctor" sounds like a quack who will probably mug him for every penny he has. The only problem was, he didn’t even have a penny to his name.

***

Rick drove nearly two hours before arriving at 1037 Mason Drive. It was not the large science facility that he was expecting. Instead, it is a dilapidated, two-story wooden house in the middle of a field. It gave Rick an uneasy feeling, he'd seen enough horror movies to know that when you end up in a place like this, you turn around and run like hell. Unfortunately, he needed the money. Fortunately, he did tell a couple of his friends where he'd be that day. So, if he is murdered, the cops can at least arrest this Aikman guy. 

The wooden steps squealed at the slightest bit of pressure and the rotting patio felt like it would give out at any moment. Rick lifts his hand to knock, but before he even touches the door, it swings open. 

Staring at Rick was a man with gray hair circling the sides of his head but, sadly, none had reached the top. With a smile, he reveals that he is missing some teeth and what remained was a dark yellow.

"You must be Mr. Hartley." He says with a warm and welcoming tone "Sorry if I startled you, I heard you walking up the stairs. I’m Dr. Aikman, please, come in." 

Aikman stands aside to let Rick in, who, with hesitance, enters the house. Aikman slams the door shut behind him before quickly walking ahead of Rick. 

"Follow me," he says. "My lab is in the basement."

Rick follows the doctor down a flight of less squeaky stairs, keeping his guard up. When they reach the bottom, Rick is surrounded by science equipment, tangled wires and large cables covering the floor, and large jars of chemicals placed neatly on metal shelves covered in glass. Two whiteboards covered in equations and drawings that Rick couldn’t understand. All the things needed to make an at-home laboratory. 

"Woah." Rick says in amazement.

Just then, Dr. Aikman shoved a stack of papers into Rick's hands. 

"I'll need you to sign these before we can begin." Aikman says.

"What's that thing?" Rick asks, pointing at a cylindrical metal tube against the far wall.

"I can't answer any questions until you sign."

It takes a few minutes for Rick to sign safety agreements, and other legal documents that Rick didn’t bother reading. While Aikman watched over his shoulder. Rick knows he should ask the appropriate questions, like: Why is your lab in the basement of a rundown house? Why aren't there other scientists here? Am I the only test subject here? If not, what happened to the others? But, as soon as Rick dotted his last I, Aikman grabbed the papers and tossed Rick a form-fitting, silver jumpsuit.

"Put this on. Quickly." He said, losing his friendly tone.

***

Rick stood before the metal tube he pointed to earlier, adjusting the jumpsuit.

“So, this thing is a teleporter?” Rick asks nervously. “Does that mean it’s gonna like, painfully rip my atoms apart and put them back together?” 

“No.” Aikman responds, annoyed. “To simplify it to your standards, it folds space and time until two different points meet and align perfectly. Causing you to move from one point, pod A, to another, pod B. Think of a piece of paper-” 

“Then fold it and poke a hole through it, yeah, I’ve seen the movies.”

Rick nervously steps into the pod, and it immediately closes behind him. 

Aikman’s voice comes from a small speaker near the door, piercing Rick's eardrums. “Make sure you stand perfectly still.” 

Rick presses his hands tightly against his ears. “Could you turn that down?”

“Sorry.” Aikman responds at a much quieter volume.

Rick removes his hands. “Are you sure this is safe, Mr.-” He quickly stops and rolls his eyes “Doc?”

“Mr. Hartley, your chances of survival are ninety-nine point eight percent.” 

“What about the other point two percent?” Rick utters under his breath.

Aikman flips some switches, and turns some knobs, before pulling a large lever. Rick’s pod begins to hum and vibrate. He feels a warm, tingling sensation all over his body as lights suddenly burst into sparks and the pod shakes violently. Suddenly, a loud shriek echoes inside the lab, growing louder and louder until, BOOM! 

Aikman is sent flying from the control panel, smashing against a filing cabinet, and landing with a thud on the ground. He coughs and gasps, trying to catch his breath, but the room is filled with smoke. Groaning as he picks himself back up, he crawls over to the controls, flipping a switch that turns on an air vent that clears the smoke. 

“Mr. Hartley?!” He shouts. “Rick, are you alright?”

Aikman rushes to pod A, but the door is already open. He sticks his head in, and aside from a little smoke billowing at the top, the pod is empty. Quickly rushing over to pod B, he swings the door open, it is also empty.

“Oh god…” he says in shock. 

He stumbles backward, nearly tripping the wires.

“He couldn’t-.” 

For a few seconds, Aikman stands in silence, defeated, but it’s eventually broken when he says. “He stopped by for the job, but he seemed to be on something.” He started talking more confidently. “He attacked me when I asked him to leave. Yes, then when I went to get my gun, he ran off and-”

Suddenly, a hand lands on Aikman’s shoulder, causing him to jump and scream in terror as he falls to the ground.

“Dr. Aikman,” Rick says, standing over Aikman and catching his breath. “you will not believe what happened.”

“You’re alive.” Aikman sighs with relief.

***

“Incredible!” Aikman exclaims joyfully, rapidly scribbling equations on sheet after sheet of paper. 

“Doctor!” Rick abruptly interrupts Aikman’s celebration by slamming his fist on the table. “Could you please tell me what the hell happened to me?” He begs.

“Of course. See, I did not fold the fabric of reality, so to speak, but I did, however, fold the fabric of time.” Aikman explains excitedly, still scribbling away. “Except, the two ends weren’t aligned, so it wasn’t instantaneous and you were stuck in between. Now, if what you’re telling me is accurate, you were moving at least fifty percent faster than everything else.” His hands slowly stop as his eyes look up to meet Rick’s. “For five minutes, you were the fastest living thing in existence.”

Rick and Aikman take a moment to process their scientific achievement fully.

“How long till our next test run?” Rick asks eagerly.

“Two days.” Aikman replies with a grin.

After leaving Aikman’s lab, Rick drives a few miles down the road to Flanagan's diner. Rick spent all the cash Aikman gave him on two double cheeseburgers, three chicken fried steaks, three servings of fries, a baked potato, and a slice of pumpkin pie. He shoves every dish down his throat, barely taking a moment to breathe, nearly choking several times. Thankfully, the diner had free refills.

***

“I’ve made a few adjustments to the pod.” Aikman explains as he connects large cables into the pod. “If my theory is correct, you’ll be shot into the fold, causing time to stand still for approximately one hour.”

“What am I supposed to do for an hour?” Rick asks

Aikman rolls his eyes. “Walk around, take notes, study your surroundings, and collect data. Now, hurry up and get in the pod.”

Rick gladly followed orders and leapt into the pod.

Being in the fold was like nothing he had ever felt before. It felt like he could do anything, and he could and no one would ever know it was him. Once he saw life as a still image, it felt like all his problems didn't matter anymore. He studied the frozen world, birds hovering high in the sky, sunlight reflecting off the droplets from a sprinkler, and trees skewed due to the wind. 

During the exploration, he peers through a car window, placing his hands on the car door, and sees a man, likely on his way home. Unfortunately for him, he’s spilling his coffee onto himself, giving Rick a good chuckle. 

Further down the street, a group of children are playing in a yard, laughing and seemingly chasing each other. On the porch is a fluffy, gray-haired cat, lying on its side. Rick couldn’t help himself and patted the little guy on his head, noting that the fur didn't feel right. It felt soft but not like cat hair, and it didn't move, as if glued stiff. 

Eventually, time starts to catch up, and as Rick travels back to Aikman’s lab, he notices a little girl crossing the road. She was waving goodbye to another girl and must have been too distracted to see the truck about to hit her. As hours return to minutes and minutes return to seconds, the vehicle is fast approaching. Thinking on his feet, he gently picks the girl up and places her on the sidewalk, some school supplies falling out of her backpack. Once the girl is safe, Rick feels a sense of pride, smiling the whole way back to Aikman’s lab. Until he feels a little dizzy and light-headed, suddenly, the world goes dark.

***

A blinding light shines on Rick’s eyes, causing him to regain consciousness. His eyes take a moment to adjust, and when they do, he sees that he is lying in a bed, in a room that is unfamiliar to him. He tries sitting up but struggles as his arms begin shaking, which turns his attention to the I.V. attached to his vein. He rips the tube from his arm and carefully walks into the hallway, taking one step at a time as he makes his way down a flight of stairs. When he reaches the bottom, he realizes he’s in Aikman's house, but he doesn’t remember making it back. 

“Dr. Aikman?” He tries calling out, but his voice barely makes a sound.

He begins walking toward the basement staircase, but as he walks by a mirror, he froze in his tracks.

“Jesus…” Rick utters.

Looking at his reflection, his cheeks had sunken in, and his eyes were slightly enlarged. He lifted his shirt, seeing his skin was pressing tightly against his bones. Rick was so horrified at the sight of his grotesque body that he didn’t realize that his skin had an odd glow. 

“Doctor!” Rick attempts to shout.

He tries his best to hurry down the stairs, but stumbles and falls down the last few steps. 

“Rick!” Aikman shouts. “You’re awake.” He rushes over and helps Rick to his feet.

“What the hell happened to me?” Rick asks.

“Well, technically it’s, what is happening to you.” Aikman corrects him, setting him on a stool nearby. “Tell me, the last time you were in the fold, did you notice an increase in appetite, fatigue, or dehydration?” 

“Yeah.” Rick groans. “How did you…” he trails off, slowly leaning forward. Aikman catches him before he falls off the stool.

“Rick! Rick, wake up.” Aikman responds, slapping Rick’s cheek repeatedly. “If you can hear me, your body is not adjusting to our, let’s say, plane of existence.”

Rick struggles to keep his eyes open, mumbling “huh?”

“Jesus-” Aikman sighs in frustration. “The cells in your body are still adjusted to the fold and moving faster than they should. To put it bluntly, you’re dying.”

Rick felt his stomach drop, his blood run cold, and a shiver run down his spine. Suddenly, he was wide awake.  

“I know, Rick. This is not an ideal situation for the both of us, which is why I hate to ask this, but- I need you to go back to the fold.”

Shaking his head, Rick says. “No, it-it’s killing me.” 

“I know, but the way I see it, if you’re going to die anyway, you might as well help further our scientific advancements. I need to know what happens if you go back in.”

“No. No, I won't do it.” 

Aikman sighs. “It’s not a request, Rick.”

Panicked, Rick uses all his strength to push Aikman away, dropping onto the floor and attempting to crawl away. Unfortunately, with his muscles lacking any nutrients, he can’t even pull himself an inch.

“I’m sorry, Rick, I really, truly am. But there’s nothing else we can do for you.” Aikman spouts as he grabs Rick by the ankles and begins dragging him to the pod. 

Rick's fingertips scrape against the floor as he continues to try crawling away. “Please, please, please.” Was the only thing he could say, over and over again.

“If it makes you feel better, I’ve already planned for your disappearance.” 

Aikman grabs Rick by the collar and effortlessly tosses him into the pod, quickly shutting the door.

“You went out for a couple of drinks by yourself.” Aikman continues, speaking into the com system. “Then, on your way home, you stopped by Witchitt Lake and fell asleep with the car running. But something went wrong with the engine and poof.” Aikman begins turning on the machine, and a loud buzzing noise echoes through the room. “I took a tooth or two while you were sleeping. They practically fell out. That’ll be all they find of you.” He places his hand on the lever. “I truly am sorry, Rick.” 

With full force, Aikman pulls the lever down, causing the buzzing noise to rise in pitch before a sudden flash of light nearly blinds him. Suddenly, the machine powers off nearly as instantly as it turns on, the pod door is opened, and sprawled out in front of it are the burning ashes of Rick Hartley.

Aikman sighs, kneeling before the ashes, and has a moment of silence for his fallen subject. When he feels he’s waited long enough, he puts gloves on and begins collecting Rick's ashes into a jar and placing them on his desk. 

The morning paper was filled with reports of strange events in the area. A man’s car had suddenly flipped over and rolled its way through a, thankfully, empty home. A family cat had burst into flames as children watched in horror. Finally, an eight-year-old girl was rushed to a hospital after having somehow contracted severe whiplash.

Dr. Aikman read the results of Rick’s test, fascinated with the outcome, and jotted them down into his journal.

June 08, 2024 03:58

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1 comment

Dennis Colby
17:22 Jun 10, 2024

I appreciate how you tied-up all of the loose ends (over the intercom to Rick) and did a call-back to the "strange events" from throughout the story in the morning paper at the end.

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