The Center – Chapter 1
December 21st, 2035. My name is Sam Fillmore. My story is as true as it is impossible. I’m writing this journal as a record of the events that unfolded here at The Center over the last eight months. I was stationed here, along with over thirty other people, as part of a psychological study meant to help improve the lives of workers in high stress and depression prone environments, or so we thought. Now there are only nine of us left and two are isolated in separate rooms, quarantined. It all seemed to happen so fast.
Of course there were signs. We just didn’t want to see them. It started with the headaches. We should have seen it coming after Luke died, but it was too unbelievable. We were all so focused on finding a logical explanation that we purposely avoided the truth until it was too late. Now we’re trapped on the second underground level of this god forsaken place, surrounded by solid concrete with nothing to do but wait. The soldiers are getting antsy, we all are, but they’re planning something. I can see it in their body language.
I think they are going to ditch us and make a break for it. Hell, they might even sacrifice us as a diversion. I don’t blame them. If I’m thinking about the possibility, I have to imagine that I would consider it if I were in their shoes also. Maybe it’s only fair; they are probably the only ones with any hope of getting out of here alive. If anyone here deserves to die, it has to be me. I was so blind to the truth… but I guess that was why I was chosen, because I could be manipulated and kept in check easily enough.
The only thing we can do now to fix our mistakes is to prevent this from spreading. I know what to do, I just don’t know if I have the nerve to do it.
Eight months earlier:
Life was supposed to get easier as I got older. Instead, I am zeroing in on thirty-three and life is anything but peachy. Turns out, I have some issues, specifically in the anger management department. Personally, I don’t see it, but nevertheless I’m stuck doing weekly visits to a “therapist” for “mediation”. I don’t know why, but I always get a good laugh out of how far people will go to avoid calling things what they really are these days; political correctness, the bane of my existence.
Doctor Phillip Sizemore is the shrink. He’s a good guy and he seems genuine enough. He doesn’t have much in the way of a sense of humor but that may just be his professionalism getting in the way. Turns out that not only do I have rage issues, but I also use humor as an escape mechanism when dealing with… well, pretty much everything. Doctor Phil, as I love to call him to his chagrin, has recently become quite famous, which makes visiting him bearable. I think it is a sort of shameless, awesome-by-association feeling that of course is not warranted in any way.
So how did I end up here? Standing on the sidewalk, outside of a reputed psychiatrist’s office building, smoking a fake cigarette and pondering the meaning of my puny existence? Fate really did a number on me. I used to get really frustrated with people whose lives tanked on them and yet they had no idea. It always seemed like they were swimming in a sea of never-ending excuses. I mean, there are always signs right? It turns out that is not the only thing I was completely wrong about in life.
I have always been a tough, hard-working, physical laborer all my life. You know, the meat and potatoes, tailgate party and extreme wrestling kind of guy. People that went to psychologists and group therapy were a bunch of yuppies and wealthy whiners that could not handle a day of honest work, at least so I thought.
Three years ago, I was living the dream. I was happily married to a gorgeous younger woman, driving my favorite truck and living in a great house. I was still working at a factory, but I was next in line to become foreman and the current one was two years off of retirement. I wanted to have kids. Turns out, my wife wanted to move to Barbados and become a stripper. Truthfully, I don’t actually know where she skipped out to, it just makes me feel better to believe that.
It took nearly a year of drunken debauchery before I got my act together enough to start shaving and showering regularly. Surprisingly I was excelling at work. I guess because it offered me a mental release and probably because I could not drink on the job with all the heavy machinery and whatnot. On the year anniversary of being ditched, I received the official divorce, due to abandonment, papers and a phone call from my best friend, Dominic.
I was going to be offered the foreman job the next morning but I had to be at work by 6:00AM for the meeting. Old Ferguson was retiring early, score for me. Or so I thought. Life can be overwhelmingly unpredictable and all it took was one cold snowy day to send the world toppling down on my face… again. I could barely sleep because I was so excited, genuinely excited for the first time in a year. I was up by 3:00AM and raring to go.
If only I would have looked outside. Every year we are bombarded with messages from the doomsayers, soothsayers and self-appointed prophets claiming that global warming will be the death of us or that it is just another unavoidable phase in the circle of life. I am not really a science-guy, but I know enough to realize that since I was a little kid, the snowfall in our area has been practically doubling every couple of years.
I took my time, showered, shaved, put on my nicest working clothes and brushed my teeth. I was reveling in the glory that was to come in just two short hours. I guess because work had become my life, I was getting an Olympic gold medal caliber feeling of acceptance and recognition. What was it really? A few thousand more a year, better benefits and triple the workload combined with a guarantee of being the least liked person at the plant by the end of the year. Still, I had nothing else going on for me at the time, so it felt great.
I headed outside at 4:00AM, even though it only took a half an hour to get to work on a busy day, to find that the entire street had been blanketed in almost two feet of snow. I busted my ass shoveling the driveway and cleaning off the truck and even salted. It was 4:45AM and the street was still not plowed. My eighty-four year old neighbor, Miss Lively, was outside on her porch with a shovel. She was a wicked old lady, but I couldn’t just leave her there.
So I headed over and offered to shovel for her. She nodded and walked away without even a smile or “thank you”, as if she had no intention of ever shoveling and only stepped outside to remind me that she was old and I should help her. I hated her, so I did a shit job and maybe that was the reason I slipped and fell, injuring my back. It was at that moment that I became a big believer in karma.
It was after 5:00AM and the street was not any closer to getting plowed. I figured my truck would be fine; it was in the commercials anyway, zipping around in the tundra. So I head out and even though it is slippery, I managed to make it to the end of the street fairly easily. All the sudden this little SUV with a plow mounted to the front comes skidding down the road towards me.
I floored the accelerator only the truck wouldn’t budge as the tire spun on some ice. The SUV stopped barely an inch from my passenger side door and then boom, the tires caught and my truck raced forward, right into a stop sign. Of course the SUV hightailed it away as if nothing happened, leaving me with an at-fault accident I would have to explain to my insurance company later.
I wasn’t going to let one bad morning ruin my special day. After work, I would down a few beers to celebrate and this would all be a distant memory. As I was reversing from the mangled sign, I could see my house in the rearview mirror. An enormous limb from Miss Lively’s old, dead tree, the same one I had been begging her for months to have removed, snapped under the weight of the ice and snow and crashed onto my roof, smashing the eave and sending some shingles flying.
I won’t get into specifics about what I was shouting at that point, but needless to say, it would definitely fit the description of an anger management issue. I left it alone; the promotion would pay for the repairs, and headed out to the highway. Only, the highway was littered with stalled and stuck vehicles, making it treacherous and ridiculously slow to maneuver. Finally when I hit a clear stretch, I was trapped behind a wall of four, very large salt trucks, clearing the way for me.
My blood was burning hot in my veins and heart was verging on exploding. All I wanted to do was get to work on time and every possible barrier, from nature, to morals to stupidity, managed to get in my way. Maybe I shouldn’t have helped Miss Lively. Then again, maybe I should have done a good job and not spent fifteen minutes writhing on the ground in agony.
I had my house and truck to fix and both would require calling the insurance company and that meant deductibles and probably raised premiums. My back was hurting bad, but unfortunately since the injury occurred outside of work, I wasn’t covered by either the government, or the company’s worker’s compensation plans, meaning I was due to lose some time at work and the pay that goes along with that time.
By the time I got to work, my nerves had been completely fried. From the moment I stepped in the building my mouth ran at a hundred miles per hour, spewing obscenity laced, nonsensical gibberish. When I finally made it to the meeting room, I blacked out just as I reached for the door handle. I’ve been on sick leave ever since and the company insisted that I complete an anger management program before returning, if I did, they would keep the foreman position available for me.
Did I mention that all happened on the one-year anniversary of the day my wife up and left me without notice?
However, that was not going to be my legacy. Life bottomed out on me and I managed to stay afloat, albeit with significant psychiatric assistance. Doctor Phil told me that he was working on something huge and that he wanted me to be a part of it. He said that if I succeeded, it would be beneficial for both of us. That it could turn my life around and help me move forward, emotionally.
I didn’t really want to go to whatever dull, psychobabble seminar this would end up being, but seeing as how my day was going to otherwise consist of sitting around watching television and feeling guilty about putting on weight as I downed several beers with potato chips, I figured I would humor him and go.