This is only the first half of a story! The Terribleminds challenge this week said to write the first 500 words, then next week somebody else will finish it (and I’ll finish somebody else’s).
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Ted stared at the wall of empty cubbies. They had been his countdown calendar for five hundred days. Each cubby was meant for one day’s worth of food. It was now day 501.
Yesterday, the final food cubby contained an extra box. He celebrated his supposed last day with chocolate cake.
Today, the wall of meals was completely and utterly empty. He hadn’t brought any of his own snacks when he entered the room. The study told him not to. He brought entertainment – video games, a kindle, notebooks to record his experience – but nothing edible.
He walked back to the thick, windowless door. It was still locked, like it had been the past ten times he checked it that morning.
“Hello? I think there’s been a mistake.”
It hurt his throat to speak aloud. Was this another test within the larger study? What would future astronauts do if they were en route to Mars and ran out of food? Ted had done well with the brain teasers and other tests that were sent to him. But to tell him he would be finished and then leave him? That was something else entirely. Something must have gone horribly wrong.
He banged on the door. It echoed hollow through the room.
“Hey! Is anybody out there? I’d like to come out!”
Hadn’t there been a code phrase for if he had a mental breakdown? They would open the door immediately if he said the right thing. Ah, that was it.
“Little green men!”
Ted folded his arms while he thought. He’d been chosen for this study because he could handle extensive time alone. But even he had limits. After a year, he’d been eager for the isolation to end.
Now, he’d kill to get out.
By the evening, looming dread picked at the edges of his mind.
He had been forgotten. Some explorer of the distant future would find his skeletal husk and wonder what Ted had done to be put in such a prison.
He laughed to himself. He could barely remember why he signed up for the study in the first place. It wasn’t money or fame. He never had the noble urge to expand humanity’s knowledge either. It was… a girl. She left him and he needed purpose in his life. Then again, maybe that was a lie he told himself. Maybe he was insane. Maybe everything around him was an illusion. Or he was dead. Or…
His stomach growled.
Dead men didn’t get hungry.
Ted shut off the light, retreated to his cot, and hoped for sleep to distract him.
He was awoken by vibrations a short time later. He rolled over to press his hand to the floor. The room’s hydraulic system was meant to simulate space flight. He breathed a sigh of relief. At least the machines hadn’t left him.
But, they felt different today. Louder, more insistent.
Bright yellow light poured in from a crack on the far wall.
The door was opening.