I'm dead. I'm not looking for sympathy, I just don't want you to be surprised later.
People always told me that I looked dead anyways. Pale skin, deep-set eyes, unkempt hair...that's me. Last year, I even won "best vampire costume" at a Halloween party that I was delivering pizza to. I was so pre-occupied with the calling that I didn't even realize it was Halloween. For that matter, I barely registered that I was delivering pizza that night.
When I woke up, I couldn't breathe. I've always been a little claustrophobic, but it wasn't really a crippling fear of confined spaces or anything. It was more like an uncomfortable feeling. This...this was far from just an uncomfortable feeling...it was dark, and I couldn't even move my arms above my head. Where was I? Why was it so dark? What in Gods name was that horrific smell? A million other questions start raging through my head, and whatever I'm lying in moves.
I start to panic. I try to scream, but I'm only able to manage a barely audible "Meh". This has to be a nightmare, it's the only logical explination! I decide that it would be best for me to just lie there and wait to wake up.
Yeah. That's it. I just have to wake up! I try to will myself awake, and nothing. Still moving in this box thing, still can't move my arms very far.
"Son of a bitch, what the hell is happening?" I think to myself as the box continues to move. I'm not even sure which direction it's going, but it feels like I'm being pulled upwards. "Ok Dan." I think to myself, “Here's what you've gotta do. First thing, say something".
Taco? What the fuck was that about? Great choice of first words Dan. I smack my leg in frustration...and the box stops moving. Did I do that? Did I stop the box by hitting myself? Did I just call myself Dan?
"Why do I keep asking myself all of these questions?" I say out loud. Wait, I just talked! Ok, step one complete. Step two, why am I in a box?
"Subject 8572a, please reach to your left. You will find a lever that will release you" I hear from above me. Ok, so someone knows I'm in this box. Fantastic. Maybe they can tell me how I got here? I start searching for the lever and my hand brushes a cold metallic object. I pull on it, and nothing happens...it's not hooked up to anything.
"K, that's not the lever, where the fuck is it?" I think to myself.
"The lever is on your left." That voice from above again. I freeze...did it just hear my thoughts?
"Subject 8572a, please do not delay. The lever is on your left, directly beside your hand. Please pull it toward your leg to be released". Ok, must not have heard my thoughts...just thinks I'm taking too long. I reach for the lever and pull it toward my leg. As I do, that metallic object gets pushed under me, and out of sight.
From all around me, light starts pouring in. My eyes hurt…God my eyes hurt. At least the smell is starting to dissipate. Whatever it was that was closing me in is slowly sliding apart, I feel a rush of cold air above and beside me. Sweet, sweet fresh air.
“Welcome back honey” I hear quietly from above me. Stupid light is still too damned bright to see anything, but at least the voice sounds friendly.
“Um, hi?” I respond. Who the hell is calling me honey? Doesn’t sound like mom…and last I checked, I was a 24 year old virgin who lived in my parents basement. Yeah, don’t judge me.
“Give it a minute, the process is a bit of a shock to the system. You’ll remember soon enough.”
“Thanks Holly” I say. Wait. How did I know her name?
“Keep your voice down! You know we could both get in trouble if they hear us talking like that! I just came back myself. I can still taste the ice cream she was eating too. Who eats Black Walnut ice cream anyways? Now that I know you’re breathing, I’m going to go run some diagnostics. I’ll be back in about 30 minutes. Rest up sweetheart.” She kisses my forehead quickly, and walks out a door.
What. The. Fuck.
“Welcome to The Calling” the sign reads. I pass it on my way into the massive 197 story building. Today has been the greatest day of my life. I’ve finally graduated and am on my way to being a Shujaa. I’ve only dreamed of this moment since I was 12 years old.
“Identification” says the reception post in front of me. I place my hand on the box and repeat my designation, just like every day of my life for the past 10 years. You think it would get repetitive, but when it’s your dream to save people…those things tend not to bother you.
“Subject 8572a, Denarus province, Shujaa trainee. Please proceed to floor 172, section D for assignment. Have a pleasant day”
I almost skip I’m so enthralled with life right now.
“Dan! Hey, asshole! Wait up!” I hear from behind me. I stop and turn around, Karl. Should have figured. Late as usual, but hey…he’s my best friend. Can’t let him just walk by himself to Janitor duty.
“Dan, you’re all but running…what’s the hurry bud?” Karl says when he catches up. “Did you get some last night? Pretty sure your smile could tear your face in half right now”
“Nah man, just found out, I graduate with honors today! That means I’m all but guaranteed a position as a Shujaa!”
“That’s great man, congrats” Karl looks dejected, but like he’s trying to be happy for me. Since he was from Alkire province, he was automatically denied the opportunity to be one.
“I’m sorry man, I didn’t mean for it to come across like it was rubbing it in your face, it’s just that…I’ve dreamed of this my whole life. I can’t help but be excited. Tell you what, after ceremonies tonight, how about you and me go hit the pub and get a pint or two?”
“Yeah sure, sounds great.” Karl didn’t sound like he believed me.
“No, I’m serious. You, me, beer, and hot women. It’s on me too.”
“Ok, if you insist. We should probably get going, I have to hit up floor 8. Apparently, someone missed the net again.”
I shudder..”Ugh, good luck with that. Glad it doesn’t faze you at all.”
“Man, how are you gonna be a Shujaa if you can’t even handle a little bit of blood?”
I hit the buttons for 8, and 172. “It’s not that I can’t handle it, I just prefer not to deal with it.” I smile. “Theres so many other ways of dealing with things.”
The lift dings on floor 172. “Welcome subject 8572a, please proceed to section D.” the calm voice above me states. I smile and step off the lift. Arrows that only I can see light the pathway to section D. As I walk towards my destination, I start to hum a bit. How can life get any better?
Section D is a large room, but deceptively so. There are boxes lined up in groups of four, and a wall that separates each group of four. All in all, there are 25 groups in this section, who knows how many more in the building. I try not to think about what everyone else does.
“Please proceed to group 12” the voice above me says. Arrows once again light up my path.
“Hey Dan” says Candice, my operator, “Heard about the honors, gratz.”
“Thanks” I say, trying not to show my excitement.
“Are you ready for your simulation today? I’ve got one hell of a new situation. Bank robbery, desparate husband, and his older son. You’ll be the son”.
“Great…last desparate husband I got ended up with 25 years in prison”
“Yeah, but that was only because you forgot the basics, and besides…wasn’t that your first simulation? Everyone fails the first.”
I lie down in the first box. “Who’s the other three?” I ask Candice.
She checks the tab, “Looks like Simon, Alex, and Aaron”.
“Am I at least going to know who they are this time?”
“Looks like you’ll know Alex, she’s the teller. Depending on your choices, you’ll have a chance to know Aaron too. Simon is the observer”
“Fantastic” I say sarcasticly. “Just what I needed. Get started on me, I’ll see you on the other side”
The box seals, and the gas fills it. Geronimo.
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