An essay by Emilia O. Anthony, as provided by Johanna B. Stumpf
Art by Luke Spooner
I swipe my key card in front of the keypad and wait. A short beep and a small green light indicate access has been granted. A hydraulic hum sounds almost inconceivably, and the two metal doors in front of me slide aside swiftly.
My heels click sharply on the tiled floor as I enter through the doors and walk along the corridor. The neon lights on the low ceiling bathe the scene in merciless white light. On both sides of the hallway are more doors exactly like the one I just stepped through. No signs or markings. Just impenetrable steel doors with keypads to one side. I only have access to some of them, and sometimes I try to guess what might be behind the others. The projects, the experiments, the prototypes. On other days, these thoughts fill me with excitement, but today I’m not in the mood for guessing games.
My destination is the eleventh door on the left. I don’t have to count. I have been there almost every day in the last four months, and my feet carry me to the right door without a second thought.
I stop and swipe my key card absentmindedly. The door remains closed. Lost in thoughts as I am, it takes a few seconds before I realize the door won’t open. I swipe my card again. A red light blinks once on the keypad. My heart skips a beat. I try one more time, putting the key card carefully in front of the card reader. This time the light turns green and the hydraulic motors start humming. I step forward eagerly.
For a moment there, I was afraid. Afraid the experiment had been canceled and the room had been sealed off. I have seen it many times before. Once I arrived at work, only to find that the laboratory I had been working in had disappeared overnight. Well, technically, the room was still there. Had to be there. Somewhere in this building. Right next to this corridor. Deep underneath the earth. But the doors were gone. In the place where they used to be was just a plain wall. It didn’t even look new. That day I continued to walk to the next doors that would grant me access and started working on a new project behind them. I never asked anyone about the abandoned experiment. In a place like this, it is better not to ask too many questions.
Maybe the memory of that blank wall was what made me come in so early today. The official workday won’t start until several hours from now. But my current project is important to me. After months of work, I have finally reached the prototype stage. And the specifications seem promising.
Well, at least they seemed promising until yesterday. Yesterday, the readouts suddenly changed. They were completely jumbled up, and I was unsure where the problem was. It almost looked as if someone messed with the results on purpose, but that’s impossible. I’m the only scientist working on this experiment. I’m the only one with access to this laboratory.
The problem didn’t let me sleep, so somewhere between the late hours of one day and the early hours of the next, I decided to just go back to work.
As the doors slide open, another wave of anxiety floods over me. For a split-second, I imagine my desk ransacked, other scientists brooding over my results, engineers taking apart my machine. But the room is devoid of any unwanted activities. I breathe out and realize only then that I had held my breath. Everything is in the same state I left it in.
The machine fills most of the laboratory, a colossus of steel, plastic, and copper. My desk with the terminal is on the far left. I hurry over to check the results produced in the few hours I was gone. Behind me, the steel doors close softly.
I scan the printouts for irregularities, but my eyes skip eagerly to the last line. It doesn’t look like technical specifications. It is different. It stands out. The line reads, “The experiment was successful. Your service is no longer required.”
For a second, I stare at the line in disbelief. Then I turn around and run. The steel doors stop me dead in my tracks. I dig out my key card and slam it hard on the card reader. The light flashes red. I keep the card pressed against the plastic square. The red light blinks relentlessly. Leaning my back against the cold metal of the door, I take a deep breath and force myself to hold the key card steadily in front of the reader. In my shoulder blades, I can feel a dull rumbling through the steel of the door. The reader flashes red again. On the other side, the construction work has already begun.
Emilia O. Anthony holds PhDs in electrical engineering and computer science. Unfortunately, the university recently lost all records of her studies. The fact that her birth records went missing from her hometown around the same time is completely coincidental. The loss of her dental records is entirely unrelated and has not even been noticed by her dentist yet.
Johanna B. Stumpf is a German millennial, living and working in Norway. She is fairly new to fiction writing, but she did enough academic writing to earn a PhD in computer science from the University of Oslo.
Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.
“Behind Closed Doors” is © 2019 Johanna B. Stumpf
Art accompanying story is © 2019 Luke Spooner