"Are you OK?"
"Who is this? What do you want?"
"Don't freak out. I just want to know if you're OK or not."
"Leave me alone!"
Keri awakens with a start. Sitting up, she surveys her lavishly decorated bedroom. Sunlight streams through the designer curtains. All of her nicely decorated furnishings seem unmolested. She runs a hand through her silky blonde hair. No spiders or anything weird. She breathes a sigh of relief.
Her heart begins to pound as her physical form is lost in the steam of her shower. This was the point when beautiful young girls always get stabbed in the movies. Kneeling down, she opens the shower stall and peaks around the bathroom. No nefarious intruders detected.
"Well?" Cindy asks as she stops by Keri's desk.
"Well what?" the blonde asks. She wasn't sure why the gorgeous brunette always made it her mission to stop by her desk every morning. Was it just to make sure Keri knew she was taller, more fashionable and had the better body? It was enough to make her want to call in sick.
"Well? How did you sleep last night?"
Keri shrugs and tries her best not to scowl.
"Did you have the nightmare again?" Cindy presses.
Keri looks away and pretends like she's got a deadline to meet. "I don't have time to talk about it right now, OK Cindy? Joe wants this report ASAP."
The tall brunette smirks and walks away. Keri makes a face at her back as she disappears into the maze of cubicles. Why were salespeople always so nosy and good-looking? It was like the sales manager made them all work out on their lunch breaks or something.
The car ride home was excruciating. Rain started coming down in buckets. The outline of a uniformed man waving a glowing baton suddenly materializes in the distance. He taps on Keri's window as she slows to a stop. She reaches for the powered control.
"Road's flooded out up ahead, ma'am. Sand truck is on its way – should have a barrier up in about an hour if you want to wait. Else you'll have to find another way."
She tries not to give him the 'dead eye' stare, but the look on his face says she was unsuccessful. She manages a curt smile and rolls her window back up with a little nod.
"Oh this is just ridiculous," she murmurs as the rain somehow manages to come down even harder. "I can't even see the road anymore."
The car hydroplanes and her heart stops. A red neon sign off to the right catches her attention. A few moments later, she is running for the door to the roadside tavern.
"Really coming down out there, ain't it miss?" purrs the overweight man behind the bar. He flashes her a toothy smile. She pretends she doesn't hear him and slides into the corner booth. She waves the young server girl away when she approaches and stares out the window beside her. The water was washing against the rims of her tires now.
"Keri?" a familiar voice asks.
The hairs on the back of the blonde's neck stand up.
"What are you doing here?" Cindy asks as she slides into the booth.
"The weather. It's kind of… unmanageable at the moment," Keri says as she tries to force the sides of her mouth skyward.
The tall brunette nods. "I don't feel like you're having a very good experience. Should we cut this short?"
Keri's world blurs for a moment and she feels sick to her stomach. "What?" she stammers. "Cut what short?"
Cindy nods again. "Yeah. I think you're done. Hold still for a moment." She reaches over and grabs something invisible on top of Keri's head. The blonde hears a loud click and then everything goes dark and quiet.
"She's coming out of it." The disembodied female voice seems to echo from all around her in the dark.
A male voice responds. "I shouldn't have let you do this. I knew it was a bad idea."
"Oh quit your whining. It's for science. Everything done in the name of science is for the greater good."
Light pours into Keri's reality once again. A laboratory and two blurry human forms begin to take shape. The male bends over and gently holds her shoulders. "Keri? Are you OK? Are you alright?"
She stares at him. He doesn't seem familiar.
"Talk to me, Kerr-bear," he whispers. His face comes into focus to reveal a man with a strong chin and soft, kind eyes.
Keri can only make gurgling sounds when she tries to speak, but manages a little nod to reassure him.
The rest of the room comes into focus and reveals a short, round brunette woman. "I stopped the simulation when it became apparent that it wasn't being well received, didn't I?" she demands.
Her voice was immediately familiar. "Cindy?" Keri grunts.
The brunette smiles at the mention of her name and nods a little. "There. You see? She knows us. No permanent damage done."
"Well she didn't know my voice when you put her under. Look at the readout," the man says as he lifts a sheet of printed paper being spewed from a machine. "She was in a state of fear and anxiety the whole time!"
Cindy tosses her arms in the air and storms out of the room. "I wasn't the one that put her in the machine, Todd. She knew the risks going in, remember?"
"Tom…" Keri rasps.
The man turns back to her and takes her by the hands. "Yeah, I'm here. I'm here, Keri. Don't worry. Everything is going to be OK. You'll see."
Keri coughs violently and spews green fluid all over herself. Todd grabs a towel and begins to wipe the front of her blue hospital gown. "That's OK. It's just the last of the hyper oxygenated fluid you had to breathe while you were under. Can you sit up?"
The blonde manages to sit herself up with some exertion. Various machines surround the gurney she lay on.
She sputters a little and manages to string a complete sentence together. "Tom… I don't… remember what we… were doing here. What… was all this… for?"
"Todd…" he corrects her. "I'm Todd."
Her bare feet make contact with the cold cement floor and she shivers a bit.
"We're working on a new rehabilitation solution for dangerous criminals. Don't you remember?"
The distant look in her eyes answers his question. He begins to breathe a little faster.
"Don't you remember anything, babe? Don't you remember me? Don't you remember… us?" His strong arms find their way around her narrow waistline and he holds her close.
"I need… I need rest…" she stammers. "I can stand now. It's OK – you can let go of me now."
Cindy appears in the doorway again with a wheelchair. "Come on, hun. I'll help you back to your quarters."
Keri sits in the wheelchair with a little nod. "I'll see you… later, Tom."
He watches as Cindy rolls her down the wall way. "It's Todd," he whispers.
"Why don't you take a shower and clear the cobwebs?" Cindy suggests as they enter Keri's quarters. "Here. I'll help you undress."
The blonde pushes away from the short brunette. "I can do it. I don't need you."
The smaller woman sighs as the other woman disrobes. "I'm just trying to help."
Keri doesn't answer as she wobbles into her bathroom and shuts the door.
Her bed sheets don't seem familiar. They are warm however, so she gratefully pulls them over her head and shuts her eyes.
A warm hand running through her hair causes her eyes to flutter open. Todd sits on the edge of her bed and smiles down at her. "Good morning," he whispers. "Did you sleep well?"
She nods at the stranger in her room and pushes his hand away.
He frowns a little and stands. "You still don't remember me, do you?"
She shakes her head and continues to stare at him.
Cindy slides open the door to her chambers and enters with a tray of food. Todd stands, a little red in the face.
"What are you doing?" she glares.
"Noth… nothing…" he stammers. Something gleams in his hand just before he hides it behind his back.
Cindy's eyes grow large. "Todd… what's that in your hand?"
Todd's face turns a deeper red. "I told you. Nothing."
Cindy is silent as she studies him.
"Who are you people again?" Keri asks as she pushes her bed sheets away.
"Quiet!" Cindy commands. "Todd… if you're trying to flush away all the work we've been doing here…"
Todd holds up a scalpel, his face turning grim. "She doesn't remember anything. The experiment is a failure."
"So you'll what? Murder her in cold blood!?" Cindy screams.
Keri pushes back into the wall as much as she can. She curls up into a ball as the argument escalates.
"If I can't have her… no one will!" Todd screams back.
Cindy launches the breakfast tray at Todd's face and attacks him with her fists. The room starts to spin for Keri as her reality starts to blur. The fight taking place in front of her fades to black and silence replaces screaming.
A soft tapping sound echoes in the darkness. A voice speaks, but it's muffled and she can't quite make it out. Another sound fills the space – is it rain? The tapping returns.
"Miss? Miss are you OK?"
Keri comes to with a soft groan and finds herself slumped over her steering wheel. The police officer from earlier continues to tap on her car window.
"Miss? What happened? Were you washed off the road?"
The rain has lessened and is now a soft shower. Keri shakes her head a little to clear the cobwebs as she rolls down the driver side window. "I'm not sure, Officer. I guess so."
"I'll call a tow truck, ma'am. You only slid a few dozen feet down the bank; we'll have you back on the road before you know it." The police officer tips his hat and begins walking back up the hill to his squad car.
"What a day," Keri mumbles. "So confused." She takes a couple of deep breaths. "I think I need to see a…" She stops cold as the glint of a bloodied scalpel on the floor of her car catches her gaze.
Keri blacks out again.