Marla, from Marla’s World, has created a writing challenge. The challenge is for multiple authors to write a single story. She will choose a story that she has written, or that another author has submitted for this challenge, and she will nominate the next person to continue writing it. Once that person has added their section, they will nominate the next author. It will continue like this until the story is complete.
The Mystery of the Menagerie
Exhausted, I yanked the door handle on my locker and yanked it open. Looking inside my locker, my shoes up on the top shelf and my clothes neatly folded at the bottom, I felt too run-down to even begin to change. I thought about laying down on the bench that ran between the lockers for a short nap when I saw a hideous face reflected at me on the little magnetized mirror hanging inside. Just as I registered that this could be trouble, I was shoved forward, hitting my face and shoulders into the locker.
Adrenaline rushed through me, and I was suddenly very awake. If he wanted a fight, I was glad to oblige. I’m not a professional boxer, but I think he thought he could daze me with a sneak attack, and whatever it was that he had wanted wasn’t worth fighting over. So, he took off after only a few minutes.
I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that he had split my lip, and it was bleeding pretty badly. I looked down to see if any droplets hit the floor, and I saw a note that my assailant had most likely dropped. Opening it, I read:
That was the locker number right next to me. He must have thought I was using that locker and attacked me because of it. What would be important enough to start a fight over?
I plopped back down on the bench and grabbed a towel to stop the bleeding on my lip. Staring at an unlocked locker S 24, my curiosity got the best of me, and I opened it. Much to my surprise, NOTHING was inside.
“So, what the hell?!”
I got slammed head-first into a locker; why? I started racking my brain. Was I on a machine too long? Was I staring at this dude? I can’t worry about this. I manage to control the bleeding on my lip, but I know I’ll need to get some ice at some point. I dressed and headed out of the gym to the elevator to the parking garage
I didn’t see Joe Attitude anywhere. This is not how I wanted to end my day. I got on the elevator and pushed G for the garage; on the descent, stopping at floor 5, an older woman got on with me. She scowled in my direction, and it was most likely my lip. Stopping again at floor three, two young men in black hoodies got on and pushed G. They said something to each other. One of the guys looked back at me and smiled…
The smile on his face sent shivers down my spine. These guys were definitely connected to the guy who attacked me, Joe. The atmosphere in the elevator was so uneasy that I was wishing that it would reach the garage level ASAP and I would escape to the safety of my car.
The elevator stopped on the first floor, and a girl got in. She had a huge bag with her. My unease increased manyfold. And acting impulsively, just before the doors closed again, I dashed out of the elevator. Instead of descending the stairs, I headed toward the apartment of a guy I knew. I was barely inside his apartment when I heard running feet going past the door.
Nick opened his mouth to ask what was happening, but I shushed him. When the commotion outside died, I opened the door carefully and peeped out. The corridor was quiet.
I waved goodbye to Nick and stepped outside when suddenly …
Someone grabbed me by my collar and dragged me backwards. Twisting to gain my balance, I spun around into a low crouch, eyes wide, fists already rising, but there stood Nick with a worried expression on his face.
“Mate,” he said, “don’t rush off; I need your help.”
Seven minutes later, we were sitting at his dining table, screwing our faces up at Nick’s dark roast.
“You need to get some Maxwell House, Nick. This stuff is seriously rank. Anyway, what’s up? What do you need my help for?”
“I’ll tell you in a bit. First off: what’s up with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you just about smash my door down, you’re as sweaty as frick and then you want to rush off like …”
I told him about being attacked by some nutter with a weird-looking face in the gym upstairs and then about being followed down to his apartment. He listened in silence, scepticism written all over his face, and then when I’d done, he reached out and placed his hand on my arm.
“You keeping up with your meds, right?”
I tamped down immediately on the spike of anger. Nick was my friend. He’d been there for me when I’d come back, broken, from Afghanistan. He knew about the panic attacks, the flashbacks, and the paranoia. I nodded.
“Well then …”
He left the words hanging in the air with my flapping mind. Then I thought of something. I fished in my pocket and pulled out the slip of paper I’d picked up.
“There’s this,” I said and handed it over. “S24. The locker next to mine. I think the guy who attacked me dropped it.”
He frowned, pulled his phone out and tapped for a few moments, then showed me the screen. It was a picture of a locker. The code on the front was S24.
“Why do you have a picture of this?”
“That’s my new locker number,” he said. “I switched gyms yesterday. It made more sense to work out in my building. I was going to tell you,” he finished lamely.
A piece of the puzzle clicked into place. Nick had pretty much the same build as me, and we had the same crew cut. From behind …
“From behind, we probably look the same, you know,” he said, following my thoughts. Then he frowned. “Hey, you said that the person who attacked you looked weird. Weird, how?” Before I could answer I saw a thought flash into his eyes. “Wait, did he look a bit like a … a ferret?”
“Yeah; how did you know that?”
“Have you ever heard of The Menagerie?“
“No. What’s that?”
“Vivisection. But with a twist. Ever seen that old flick The Island of Dr Moreau?” He didn’t wait for me to reply. “Anyway, that’s what I need your help with. Saddle up, dude, I’ll tell you about it on the way.”
Nick got his jacket, and we checked the corridor before going to the garage lot. We used the stairs, and neither of us said a word until we were in his car. “What’s going on, Nick?” I asked. “And what has an old science fiction movie got to do with all this?”
Soon we were on the open road cruising at a sensible speed, though I knew this baby could do a ton plus if Nick wanted it to. He said he didn’t want to attract attention.
“The movie might have been sci-fi, but the potential has been picked up and there are experiments going on that I stumbled upon by accident when I fell over a dead body at a masquerade party.”
“So? Why didn’t you go to the police?”
Nick glared at me. “You’re joking, right? Why would they believe me with my record? Remember I knocked that guy out with one punch, and he died!”
I could see his point. It had been a freak accident, but the family’s lawyers picked up on Nick’s violent father and said it ran in the family. The trial had been messy and very public, but Nick had been acquitted as it turned out the guy had a brain aneurysm and could have knocked his head on a bedpost, and the result would have been the same.
“So?” I asked again. “Why is someone after you?”
“The face was not a mask. It was hideous, rat-like. Then I heard voices and hid.” Nick went on to explain about an overheard conversation and the mention of vivisection but to do with transplants rather than altering DNA.
“They were growing tissue in the lab and then?”
Nick said that he had an idea where the ferret-faced dude lived, well at least he thought it might be in those rundown apartments at the other end of town, so that is where we went. When we reached our destination, Nick backed into a parking spot, explaining that this was necessary in case we had to leave in a hurry. We walked to the back of his car, and Nick popped it open and told me to grab any weapon I liked. I saw Nick pick out a baseball bat, and I said, “Is that a Taser? How cool is that? I have never seen one up close.”
Nick said, “It’s a stun gun, as it doesn’t have those projectile prongs that attach to the target. You need to close in on your opponent between 0 to 3 feet away when you use a stun gun, but they are both illegal, and you will stop someone in their tracks with a Taser, but the stun gun will incapacitate them long enough for us to get away.”
That Nick sure knew his weapons, so I asked him if I take the stun gun was there was anything that I needed to know about how to use it. Nick said, “You made a good choice and as long as you are careful, you just line your weapon up with your target and then press the button to begin the electric shock. I have the voltage set on medium, so you may need to hold the stun gun against your attacker for about 3 to 5 seconds and try to keep your body away from him while you are executing the stun. If you want to up the voltage, that is fine, but that will take all the power away, and you will only get one stun.”
Realizing that I had to see this through with Nick, I grabbed the stun gun, and now we would try and find ferret face, who I was initially calling Joe Attitude (in case anyone is still following this convoluted bizarre story). My mind kept switching back and forth between the Glass Menagerie and the Island of Dr Moreau, and I was worried that Laura Wingfield’s collection of glass animals might be turned into some horrible creatures. Then I realized that it was time for me to take more of my meds. I gulped 3 down, knowing I am fragile like Laura and nobody understands my mental issues, not even Nick. Now I am thinking about M*A*S*H, and I remember that Frank Burns’ nickname was “Ferret Face,” and I think Nick and I are a lot like Hawkeye and Trapper. Just then, I spotted….
The nurse walking through the door checked my handcuffs on the bed. “You feeling any better today?” she asksed, passing over a small paper cup with a couple of tablets. She looked slightly like Nick in some ways if he were a woman. Although, I’m not sure he would be pleased if I said that.
I put the tablets under my tongue, refusing the water she offered me. I’m not sure if I have been dreaming or passed out. I can’t get the image of Nick out of my head. Was it him talking about genetics? Is that why I am here? So, I can be tested on, like some lab rats. My brain was used in some sort of warped experiment.
All I can remember is S24, the locker, and the fight. Trying to find Nick, then nothing. I wish I could remember more than I do. There must be a meaning behind that locker number. Series 24 pops into my head, perhaps the name of the tablets they are trying to force me to take.
She won’t get me alive, and as soon as she leaves, I will spit them out. With a thumbs up, I poke out my tongue. The door shut quietly behind her, and the tablets are pushed out of my mouth, crushed beneath my fingers. ‘This is for you, Nick,’ I say.
There must be a way out of these cuffs.
A robotic voice from behind stopped my struggling. “Trust no one!”
“36GXD-1, why are you back?” – The voice continued – “More importantly, why are you struggling with the wrist modules? They are there at your request, and this is part of your package. This is the ultimate in gaming; isn’t this what you wanted? The absolute shebang for the billionaire?”
“The complete out-of-body experience – the full extreme gaming sequence? When you signed the contract for ‘ExM-G/S-1 – S:24.’ I thought we, the corporation, had made it clear to you that this would not be a ‘walk in the park’ encounter.”
“You agreed to trial the new prototype S-1 – S:24 – Sleep Supplement Series 1 – Schizophrenia 24, did you not? Did we not make it clear and precise to you in the contract that you would experience real-time real-life progressions and heightened anxiety? Did you read the small print 36GXD-1? We do explicitly instruct all our clients to read the small print.”
“Did you set up the safe words or just the pleasant ones?” the voice continued.
“Is this the game?” I asked, “Is this the ultimate experience? I thought I had a week to prepare. When l signed the contract, I was informed I had a week to prepare to make ready, that I was not to tell anyone, and I followed the long list in the booklet entitled Trust No One. What have I done, what did I do wrong, where did I go wrong?”
“You trusted someone – You trusted us – trust no one means trust no one. Agent 47 prepare 36GXD-1 for the next stage of his pleasure game.”
“Now the Fun Realy Starts! No more tablets to be spat out and crushed, which for the record, were just bits of chalk. Give our friend here the injection.”
A familiar face appeared before me, dressed all in black except for the huge smiling face and in his hands was a very deadly-looking needle filled with an effervescent golden pink liquid. “Nick, what the f….”
“Hello moneybags. Bad news, this is gonna hurt, pal!”
After reports of nearly a dozen missing persons, people who disappeared without a trace never to be heard from again, the police were at a loss. Fred Morrisey and his partner, Ron Hayden, were the latest detectives to be assigned to the case. The case file was titled “Menagerie” because the police could draw no connections at all between any of the missing persons. All were from different socio-economic strata in society, were from different parts of the city, different ages, genders, races, occupations. Nothing in common to link them.
Morrisey was not optimistic that he and Hayden would be able to close the case anytime soon, since every lead so far had turned into a dead end. But then Morrisey received a call from the Medical Examiner on the scene where a body was found by a group of bicyclists.
When Morrisey and Hayden showed up at the scene, the ME greeted them. “This guy has been drugged and tortured,” the ME said. “His body was found out here, about 50 yards from that building at the top of the hill. It’s hard to say if he was dumped here or if he was trying to escape. The officers went to that building and it’s filled with advanced electronics, high potency hallucinogens and other drugs, hospital beds, and there are fucking humanoid-like robots in the there, but they’re inoperable.”
“Was there anything on the body to help us identify him?” Morrisey asked.
“I scanned his fingerprints and am waiting for the report, but I did find this in one of his pockets.” The ME handed Morrisey a piece of note paper. Morrisey looked at it, and handed it over to his partner.
Hayden read what was on the note paper. “It just says ‘S 24.’ What do you make of that?” he asked Morrisey.
“I have no idea, but maybe it’s our first real clue,” Morrisey said. “Bag it and get it fingerprinted.”
I kinda think this story has run its course, but if there’s one blogger I know who might be able to keep this story going forward, it’s Nancy, the Sicilian Storyteller who blogs at The Elephant’s Trunk. Nancy, let me know if you want to run with this. If not, I’ll turn it back over to Marla.