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Oct 28

She: Instinct

She sat, resting, with her back against the wall, knees pulled up to her chest, the towel wrapped around her shoulders to keep the wet goo in her hair from soaking through the white jumpsuit she now wore.  Now dry and clothed, her warmth was returning, and her shivering abated. It was a relief.

She looked around, but the room remained unfamiliar. Its stark featurelessness was unnerving. She wondered if she was being watched.

Or if there was anyone else out there at all.

Too jumpy to sit still, she crawled slowly to the base of her container — well, she supposed it wasn’t hers anymore — and carefully, gingerly, reached up the side, grasping whatever protrusions and handholds she could find, pulling her feet underneath her. With a deep breath, she pulled herself up its side, willing her legs to lift her, to support her weight. After several agonizing seconds, she stood — unsteadily, her thigh muscles quivering, her hands gripping white-knuckled onto the container to steady herself, but she stood.

Hand over hand along the container, feet shuffling over the cold tile floor, she moved toward the wall and the open drawer. Peering inside, she saw that it also contained a number of other items. She poked at them with a finger, teasing the jumbled pile of stuff apart into individual, distinct objects. One she grabbed, with a small sense of solace, and began dragging it through her long dark hair, carefully picking apart the wet tangles that snarled her locks into ropey cords.

Abruptly she stopped, the realization hitting her that she knew what this object was. She even had the impression of a word, a name for this thing, that flitted around the edges of her conscious mind. She stared at the object, willing the word forth, out of the shadows of her subconscious, into the light of her awareness. Long and narrow, with many tines that separated the individual strands of her hair. A comb.

Encouraged, she reached back into the dark corners of her memory again, searching… but, nothing more.

She poked at the other objects in the drawer, but no others immediately triggered any recall. She took some small comfort in the hope that having the objects around would jog her memory of them — eventually. Unwilling to leave these new-found talismans behind, she began stuffing them into the deep pockets of her jumpsuit.

After a moment, she paused. A small smile touched her lips. She’d done it again. Pockets. Her mood lightening, she finished collecting her things, until there was nothing but an empty drawer.

She pushed the drawer closed, and took a tentative step along the wall, away from her (former) container. Her legs seemed somewhat steadier, somewhat more willing to carry her forward and support her weight. Another step, and another. It was tiring, but she was gaining confidence. Not too fast, step by step, using the wall to steady herself, she made her way across the short distance to the next container. She held onto it, panting a little.

On this one, the lid was still in place. Set in the top were clear panels; inside, it appeared to be filled with a dark amber, viscous fluid. She made her way another step or two down its length, away from the wall, in order to peer more closely through the glass. The stuff inside was hard to see through, but she thought she saw chunks of… something… drifting around inside.

With a sudden BUMP, a human skull floated up to the clear panel in front of her face and collided with it. A few tattered shreds of flesh still clung to it, and it housed only one bloated, grey, decaying eye.

She shrieked and flung herself away from the panel, stumbling backward and crashing once again to the floor. Nausea wormed its way from her gut up to her throat. She shuddered — finally comprehending that those floating chunks were decomposing flesh. Someone had occupied that container.

She wondered how long ago they’d died.

…She wondered how they’d died.

Shoving that sickening thought away, she re-wrapped her towel around her shoulders, then crawled away from that… death chamber. Once again finding handholds on her own container, she pulled herself up, and looked for a means of escaping this horrible, bleak room. The walls were smooth, blank, and she felt her panic begin to stir again. Then she noticed a slightly recessed area of the wall opposite the drawer. Plunging toward it, her instinct to flee taking over, it slid away as she approached, hindering her stumbling flight not at all as she lurched through the opening.

She stopped only when she crashed into a wall a few steps from the doorway. Blindly grabbing onto an array of pipes that ran horizontally along the wall, she managed to keep herself from falling.

She was in a long corridor. The lighting was dim, and it seemed to stretch off in either direction as far as she could see. Similarly recessed doors, spaced at seemingly arbitrary intervals, were along the same wall as the doorway she had just exited. The pipes she clung to ran along the opposite wall. She could see no other distinguishing features — everything all looked the same. It would be very easy to get lost.

Not that she had any sense of where she was to begin with.

She chose a direction at random and began to shuffle forward, her hand on the pipes to steady and support herself. She could choose any door, any of seemingly hundreds, all of them a mystery, a great unknown. She shivered, but this time the cold was inside her. What could be on the other side of those doors? Something helpful? Something to tell her where… or who… she was?

…Or more bloated and rotting corpses? Or worse? Could anything be worse?

She whimpered, though she was unaware of making a noise.

She passed the doors one by one, not brave enough to open them and discover what was beyond them. She was already beginning to feel weary, her muscles protesting the exertion after such a long period of disuse. For that was what this was, surely. Finally reorienting herself to her own body, she was growing to understand that that was what this weakness felt like.

She pushed on anyway. She convinced herself that those terrible containers — prisons, or caskets — pods evidently filled with people, or former people — should all be grouped in the same general area of this place. Whatever this place was. So if she walked far enough, she could leave them behind her, be free of them, be free to discover something that might bring her safety, comfort. Sanity.

So she walked. Clinging to the wall to keep herself upright. Out of breath, her legs burning with effort. She walked past many doors, too many to count. She didn’t try, didn’t look at them, just focused on putting one foot in front of the other, on putting that tattered skull as far behind her as she could.

Finally, she stopped, leaning against the wall. She stood opposite a door, identical to every other door, keeping its mysteries a secret behind its blank surface. This one? She felt like she’d been walking forever.

She had to try one sooner or later.

After a moment, catching her breath, gathering her courage, she stepped toward it, a hand reaching out. Before her fingers could touch it, it slid away with a barely audible swoosh. It was dark on the other side. She couldn’t see beyond the first few feet from the doorway.

She stepped inside. Lights flickered on overhead, dim and sputtering, making her jump. She turned her head.

A pod. No, two of them, and another two on her other side. Through an open doorway to her left, she saw another still. A small, defeated wail escaped her throat as she shrank back against the door frame. How unlucky could she be?

After the initial shock wore off, she realized that this room was different than the last. The floor under her feet was a softer surface, coarsely textured, but warmer and more comfortable than the hard tile. A built-in bench ran around the interior walls. She realized that the tubes and cables running from these pods snaked through missing panels in the ceiling, as though the pods themselves had been put in here as an afterthought.

That seemed strange.

She stepped further inside, awkwardly attempting to keep as much distance between her and the pods as possible. Skittering between them, she headed for the open doorway.

A new set of lights turned on as she entered the second room, brighter, but still sputtering. This room housed only the one tank she had seen, as the bulk of the room was occupied by other facilities. To her right were several sinks placed against the wall behind her; beyond that, against the right wall, were several privacy stalls each containing a toilet. In front of her, just beyond the solitary pod, were several more, larger, privacy stalls with sunken floors.

Showers.

She knew these things. They were familiar, recognizable. Comforting. A cascade of memories spilled forth: names of things, what they were used for. She dug into her pockets, pulling out bottles — bottles! — of liquid soaps. A toothbrush. She sniffed at another, slightly larger bottle. Lotion?

Skirting the pod, refusing to look at it, she sped as fast as her exhausted limbs would carry her to the showers. Did they work? Oh please…

A light above the stall turned on as she approached, and a moment later water began streaming out of the nozzle set high on the wall. She didn’t know if the water was warm or cold, and she didn’t care. Stripping out of her jumpsuit, and dropping both it and the towel on the tile floor where she stood, she ran to stand underneath the streaming water.

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