He stood in the control room, watching his colleagues bring in the newest batch of test subjects on the screen in front of him, and wondered how he’d ended up here. Ten years ago, this assignment had been the peak of everything he’d worked for. He was one of the youngest and brightest of his class. And to be chosen to lead the team to conduct cutting-edge research that would give his people a new lease on life—it just didn’t get any better than that. He had waited impatiently for the facility to be built, dreaming about the prestige and reward his future held.
It’s funny how life can turn you on your head.
With a sigh, he ran a hand through his already wild black hair. The last of his colleagues passed into the containment room and the guards quickly sealed the entrance behind them. He pressed the green button in front of him. An automated voice announced the decontamination procedure to the room below. The guards and his colleagues knew the routine, but he cringed as the new test subjects screamed. Being decontaminated felt kind of like you were having your skin ripped off. He leaned over and switched off the audio feed from the room, then turned and looked out the window.
The sun was setting on the world outside, but he could still see the forest in the distance, beyond the ruined cityscape. He felt a pang. Regret? Longing? Maybe both. Lately, the pangs had been growing in frequency and intensity. He caught his reflection in the glass. Tall and lanky. And so pale he could have been a ghost. These days, he didn’t have to look closely to see the dark circles around his eyes. With long grey fingers he reached up to straighten his hair.
As the sky grew darker he saw the lights popping up just outside the city. The pang inside him grew stronger. He knew those lights. They came every night. Waiting. Watching. Hoping.
The knock on the door was a welcome distraction. He steeled his heart and turned to greet his research assistant.
“Sir, the new test subjects have passed through decontamination,” she said. “One didn’t make it.”
“Do you want to come and see them?”
He nodded again and led the way out of the room.
The subjects had been placed in the holding room that was attached to the main lab. He stepped inside and looked around, fighting the pang that stabbed into his chest. They were all so little. Tiny humans. The eldest couldn’t have been more than three years old. He thought of their parents, waiting on the outskirts of the city. Hoping they would one day get their children back.
The pang was nearly suffocating now. He thanked his team and excused himself as quickly as he could. As he made his way to his personal quarters, he felt a shift somewhere deep inside, like a door being unlocked. And he knew he was about to change his future.
This was written in response to the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge. This week, they asked us to write about a character that’s been haunting us. The Stranger in my piece is a character I’ve been thinking about for a while and he’s part of a larger story I’m working on.