The scorching rays of the morning sun shone through Ainsley's window, poking like spears into his face and into his eyes.
Ainsley stirred, glancing around the box which he had finally accepted to be his home. With a pasty, bony hand, he reached out towards the window beside his head, pressing his fingertips against the warm glass.
Spring-like scenery was what welcomed Eric as he sat upright in his narrow single bed. The sight from his window – wherever it was – was as wonderful as ever: the mountains on the horizon reached into the few wisps of cloud which attempted to cover the sky, much of which still burned a dazzling orange from the sunrise. Ainsley was sure that the mountain peaks were losing more snow by the day, the solid white caps of even the tallest mountain slowly giving way to the upward encroachment of bare brown rock. Dense forests, a roaring river, square kilometres of empty grasslands rolled across the hills which dwelled in between the mountains and Ainsley's window, ending several metres below his box. 'I'm a long way up,' Ainsley contemplated, the sight growing more familiar by the day. 'Wherever I am.'
Ainsley pushed his hand against the vibrantly red metallic frame of his bed, examining the plain, lime green walls of his box. Every day the vintage 21st-century theme grew on him, the red kitchen surfaces, the jet blue desk, and the pokey orange shower in the corner no longer staring him in the face, but instead taking the form of his home. 'Perhaps that's what the 22nd century is lacking,' Ainsley pondered. 'Colour.'
It took several minutes for Ainsley to reach out of his vibrant red bed and step into the equally-vibrant orange shower. As the soap-sudded water poured out from the pale blue hose above his head, Ainsley peered through the glass at the mountainous view from the window which took up the whole of his far wall once more. 'Is this real?' he wondered. 'Is this even a window? Am I overlooking the mountains or am I just looking at a screen?' He glanced around the inside of his box some more. 'Is this room even real?' he asked. 'Or is it a hologram? Am I real?'
Ainsley breathed a sigh of relief as he stepped out of the shower and into his stomach-churningly yellow and green day-clothes, as he realised that his thoughts could finally concentrate upon the bowl of muesli which he ate from his jet blue desk. He could have sworn that he never liked muesli before, but he had learned to ever since the robots had made a habit of including it in what they delivered to his door every day.
Or maybe he did like muesli? Ainsley racked his brain for the ghosts of his life before he had arrived in this box. Maybe he loved muesli, perhaps it was his favourite breakfast cereal; his favourite food, even. Memories of Ainsley happily eating muesli in his life outside of the box competed with memories of him showing vehement disgust at all things muesli. 'What if both these memories are a lie?' he pondered to himself, 'With memories so vague, what past do I have? How can I know who I was or what I did if I cannot trust what I remember?'
Ainsley buried his face in his hands. His beloved muesli was getting soggy. Rapidly, he stood up, walked towards the window and rubbed his fingers against the glass once again. "What are you?" he whispered, before slamming his fist against the window so hard he was sure he could feel the entire room shake. "WHAT ARE YOU?!" Tearily, Ainsley pushed his cereal to one side – he wasn't hungry anyway – and waved his fist in front of the smaller screen placed inside his lime green wall, to the other side of his desk. "Computer, open the search," he seethed, through gritted teeth, whilst rising up to scratch a seventh tally mark into the wall above the screen. 'A whole week,' he thought. 'And what do I even know about this place?'
"What can I help you with?" the computer buzzed merrily.
"What am I doing here?" Ainsley asked. "What is this facility? What is going on?"
"Here are the results I could find," the computer replied.
Ainsley poured through the exact same repetitive philosophical dross and bonkers conspiracy theories that he had seen day after day. Every single link that he scrolled through was achingly familiar to him by now, for he had clicked and read every one of them, most of them several times.
'The truth behind the Lochmaessie Hospital Facility,' read the title of one particularly unhinged article, every word familiar to him as he read it. Ainsley had already known he was going to read this one since before he got out of bed, but he struggled to place why.
'They're breeding a new race of people there,' cried a blogger from beneath a tin foil hat. 'They want to create a new breed of virus-resistant super-humans to replace us with! Why can nobody see it? Why else would they build such a pointlessly large facility in the middle of nowhere?'
'Enough,' Ainsley thought.
"Ainsley Henderson," Ainsley requested. "Search for Ainsley Henderson."
"Showing results for Ainsley Henderson."
'Why do I even bother?' Ainsley wondered. As usual, every result was for the famous actress Ainsley Henderson. Ainsley buried his face in his hands once more as he contemplated how many results he would have to search through and how many filters he would have to apply in order to find any other by the same name.
"Open the map," Ainsley commanded.
A faint, blue, three-dimensional hologram poured out from the screen, filling the room with a series of outlines which joined together to resemble the corridors which Ainsley had found so far. Carefully, Ainsley's eyes examined every individual detail that he could find, every missing piece of this impossible puzzle.
'Is it 10:15 already?' Ainsley wondered, glancing at his watch yet another time, disappointed to find that it was barely 7am.
Ainsley's careful examination of the map turned into a slow, steady glance across whatever sections happened to catch his eye. His slow, steady glance transformed into a fixation for several minutes on random corners, doorways or corridors, as he struggled to recall what they looked like when he first encountered them over the past week. As the time pressed onwards, flailing more and more as it tried to find the stamina to make it to 10:15, Ainsley's fixations transformed into absent-minded, indiscriminate stares at arbitrary segments of the map, its contents utterly failing to make the journey into his mind.
As the hour digit transformed from a '9' into a '10', Ainsley's stomach began to churn excitedly. Finally, after fifteen minutes of Ainsley barely looking away from his watch, a loud buzz sounded from the door. The moment he saw the green light that had illuminated above the doorframe, Ainsley scrambled from his seat, pushing down on the door handle and bursting into the corridor outside. 'Let's do this,' he thought, glancing at his watch as it menacingly counted down the seconds before the display would read '10:30'.
"Put my tracker to full map mode," Ainsley commanded his watch, as he examined the now-familiar surroundings which lay outside his box. A corridor, lined with pale blue laminate flooring and blank, vibrant yellow walls stretched as far as the eye could see in both directions, doors identical to Ainsley's but each with a different coloured garish frame appearing every few paces on both sides.
'No time to lose,' Ainsley thought, as he marched down the corridor, his pace even faster than that of the previous day. As usual, despite the outrageously large number of doors which lined the corridor, Ainsley failed to encounter a single soul. 'Are there people behind those doors?' Ainsley wondered. 'Or is it just me here? Am I alone in this facility?' Occasionally, Ainsley thought he heard the odd scuffling, a rustle, perhaps even somebody talking from behind a door. 'But that's what I want to hear,' Ainsley realised. 'Can I really hear it? Is there anything to hear? Can I even trust my own senses? Are these even real doors?'
Ainsley recognised the window which he finally came to after five minutes of swerving around the maze of corridors. The window, like the one in his room, stretched from floor to ceiling, wide enough for Ainsley to lean his entire body against it in several different places, its flat and clear glass providing him with a different view of the same scenery; the fields and forests beneath him with the mountains in the distance, although this time with the river ran parallel to the building, rather than towards it.
One pane of the window didn't quite reach the ceiling, the tiny window above it just low enough for Ainsley to look through it. A handle existed to the bottom of it, and Ainsley had carefully observed the hinged mechanism which existed within it. This window had the capacity to open; a gateway to the world outside which Ainsley so vaguely remembered. 'That is, if this is even a real window,' Ainsley thought.
Ainsley's hand shook as he placed it against the window handle. Just as he had done yesterday. Just has he had done when he discovered it the day before. 'This time,' Ainsley thought. His hand trembled a little. 'Why am I here?' he pondered. 'Is there a reason why I've been denied access to the outside world? What if it's dangerous? Perhaps the air outside can't be breathed?'
Ainsley's hand slipped from the handle and fell by his side. Swiftly, he turned around, facing the door opposite the window which may or may not have contained a person behind it. Slowly, he walked away, glancing at the time on his watch. 10:21, it read. 'There's still time,' Ainsley thought, eyeing the window once more, frozen to the spot several paces away where he stood.
He tried to walk away. He could not bring himself to do so.
He tried to walk towards the window. He could not bring himself to do so.
10:23, read Ainsley's watch. 'Now or never,' he thought.
Ainsley took a deep breath. In one swift movement, he marched forwards and placed his hand upon the handle. Pausing for a moment, he pulled the handle upwards and pushed the window outwards, sticking his face into the gap that was now vacated.
The fresh mountain air swept across Ainsley's face like a gentle kiss, filling his lungs with unimaginable pleasure. The sensation felt familiar to him, like he knew what the outdoor air tasted like. 'Perhaps my memories of the outdoors are true,' he thought, untrustingly.
A leaf flapped against Ainsley's face, sticking against his eye. He pulled up a hand to remove it, withdrawing into the corridor to examine it further.
10:26. 'Better get back,' he thought.
'Why?' he argued. 'Why not stay out longer?'
'I don't know what they'll do if I'm out for too long,' he replied. But who were they? Did they even exist? What would they do if he stayed out past 10:30?
10:27. 'Can't take that risk,' Ainsley thought, closing the window. 'Going to have to run.'
A gentle sprint brought Ainsley, breathless, to the outside of his door. 10:29, read the time. 'I'm back,' he thought, pressing against the door and walking into to his room. 'See? I've returned. Don't do anything to me. Please.' Ainsley collapsed against his vibrantly red bed as the green light above the door disappeared. He held the tiny green leaf in his hands, examining it carefully above his face. It felt delicate, like it could fall apart at any moment, yet well-worn, rugged and dirty compared to the plethora of spotless items that surrounded him.
Ainsley looked at his window once more. He could see thousands of such leaves from where he lay. 'This doesn't open,' he thought. 'If it's real, then why doesn't it open?'