Joe woke some indeterminate amount of time later feeling simultaneously freezing and in a terrific amount of pain. He tried to sit up with an excellent impression of an unfolding broken step ladder as he realised that various parts of him were now pretty well locked up. He eventually managed to sit up on his lab coat and hugged his knees with a shiver. Just being off the heat leaching floor was already allowing his body temperature to tick up a few degrees from near hypothermia. His whole body felt like it was experiencing a cross between and ice-cream headache and a hangover without consuming either of the enjoyable precursors.

He rubbed some circulation back into his arms and looked out of the glass wall wondering what time it was. The previous total darkness had given way to at least an ambient grey light. There were no windows close to the lab so either it must be shining through the windows of labs further down the corridor or while he was asleep management had installed the most depressing light bulbs known to mankind. From his half bent position Joe was pretty sure it looked like the glow of daylight filtered through the other labs. As it was Summer this put the time of day anywhere from about 04:30 onwards. So at the very least he’d slept through 4 more hours of his ordeal, which was better than a smack in the face, although he realised that a smack in the face might have been more pleasant than his current all body cramp.

Joe stood up with a minor orchestral accompaniment of “agh”, “oooh” and “ow”. He was pretty sure it was going to be a while before he was able to walk normally again as it appeared that a number of his joints had almost totally forgotten that they were meant to bend. Joe did wonder if a trip to the gym might be in order to try and get himself into shape to help his poor joints. At least that way he could drown out their protests with a general sense of embarrassment at how red faced he got by just looking at the equipment. This threat apparently was enough to persuade several of his joints to make more of an effort and Joe managed to stand almost totally upright while only using one hand to prop himself up with!

Stretching and yawning Joe again wondered about the time and looked over to the still peacefully sleeping computer. He limped across the lab, turning on the lamp as he went and sat down in front of the computer and tapped a few random keys on the keyboard. The computer started to whirr back into life and this time Joe pre-emptively looked away from the screen before it flicked into life with blinding whiteness. It wasn’t clear if this ocular preservation was a sign that Joe was finally learning something or if Joe’s retinas had seized control of his brain and taken matters into their own hands. Joe turned down the screen brightness while looking sideways at the monitor until he felt it was safe to look. The clock showed “05:26” – wow, he’d actually slept for quite a while. Maybe the floor was a better bed than he thought, deceptively restful, in fact so deceptively restful that most people would have actually mistaken it for a vicious joint torturing device. Joe stretched again and the shooting pain confirmed that it really was a very convincing deception.

Joe started to again think about when people might actually come around the labs and find him. He’d never been in the labs any earlier than 10:00 so really had no idea when anyone got in. He had once come in early for a meeting but he’d been too groggy to remember much more than his excellent idea/day dream of how IV coffee should be available for all meetings starting before 09:00. He assumed that the technicians would probably work a fairly sensible day and might appear sometime between eight and nine. The technicians were by far the most reliable people in the building; if they weren’t in to work then there was a good chance that it was the apocalypse and they were busy quietly rebuilding society.

Suddenly Joe was aware of a low humming noise behind him that was sort of pulsing. He spun away from the computer to see a cleaner outside pushing a floor cleaner enthusiastically side-to-side down the corridor. The cleaner looked at Joe, smiled and waved in that nice friendly way that cleaners are all trained to do. Automatically Joe waved weakly back, the cleaner turned back to the job in hand a continued on past the glass wall. Still waving out of shocked confusion Joe realised that the cleaner just thought Joe had come in early, he was probably quite used to see academics at strange hours and nothing about Joe’s situation seemed strange.

Joe rushed to the glass window and looked out at the cleaner like a certain trademarked lasagna loving cat stuck on a car window. As Joe had practiced fruitlessly last night he started banging on the glass and shouting at the top of his lungs. To start with the cleaner didn’t appear to hear him and carried on further down the corridor, swinging his floor cleaner back and forth in a well practiced arc that only seasoned cleaners know how to do. Joe upped the yelling and banging to a level which was in danger of breaking the glass given the frantic energy he was now putting into both. This time the cleaner paused and reached down to turn off the hoover. Joe’s shouting reached the same level as the front row of a One Direction concert and the window wobbled.

The cleaner turned and looked very strangely at the academic currently doing very un-acadmic things further up the corridor. Leaving the floor cleaner he waked back up to the window and looked with a confused expression though the glass. The man appeared to be trying to talk through the glass but just sounded muffled and almost impossible to make out. Eventually he started to make lots of hand gestures and pointed at the door to the left of the widow. With a perplexed expression the cleaner decided that this probably wasn’t a wind-up, or at least not one he could work out and followed the directions into the open door, stepped into the antechamber and pushed on the door to the lab. Which, unknown to the cleaner had been very well established some hours ago, stayed quite firmly stuck.

The man inside the lab was now waving frantically at the door. The door was obviously less noise insulating than the window and the cleaner could make out some shouting about closing doors and pressure. Not being well versed on cleanroom design the cleaner was now getting quite worried as to why the strangely animated man wanted him to close himself in this small room. He’d not yet heard of a slew of missing cleaners but he was fairly sure that if he was going to be abducted this was a very strange way to go about it and short of any other explanation he thought he should try following the man’s directions. Besides, the door to the lab appeared locked so it’s not like the now very animated man was going to do anything. He picked up the little yellow floor cleaning sign and the door closed with a swish. The man behind the door seemed very happy about this and started pulling on the door.

After a few trial yanks while the pressure balanced in the antechamber Joe gave one giant tug to the door and it flew open to reveal a very nervous looking janitor. Joe face broke out into a giant relieved grin so quickly that his muscles took a moment to remember how to move that way; they went though at least a few expressions that looked like he’d suffered some kind of series of high speed strokes. Eventually his face caught up and he beamed at the cleaner with the look of a small child that’s just been told that there is too much chocolate in the house and they need to eat as much as they can to get rid of it. He resisted the urge to jump forward and hug the cleaner. Not least because if anything Joe’s look of relief and new found freedom seemed to have actually made the janitor look more nervous and he’d even taken a little step back and had sort of flattened himself against the wall.

Talking quickly and excitably Joe explained to the cleaner what had happened and that he’d been stuck here all night. As he explained the cleaner looked visibly relieved which was a little strange to Joe but after everything else he wasn’t about to question it. Joe reached back to the bench and grabbed his phone, without letting go of the open door and surveyed the lab. He should really pick up his lab coat and wipes pillow but he was reluctant to go any further in to the lab because he’d have to let go of the now open door and he wasn’t prepared to do that right now. He looked triumphantly at the computer which as before looked back with no visible signs of recognition or reaction.

Joe turned and slid past the cleaner snatching up his bag and stepped towards the corridor. Joe got one foot out side the main door before pausing and turning back to the lab. He moved past the again confused looking cleaner and almost sheepishly picked up the carefully labeled bottle on the lab bench and its self created contents. Stepping back into the antechamber Joe briefly slowed to squeeze past the cleaner who looked at the yellow filled bottle and then up at Joe. They shared a look and Joe saw the cleaners gaze switch from confusion to realisation. Joe looked down at his feet and quickly existed the lab leaving the cleaner standing in the cleanroom a little unsure what to make of all this.

Joe practically skipped down the corridor away from the lab never so pleased at being able to leave work. He started to wonder when the first bus would be and how he was going to stop at the first place on the way home selling bacon sandwiches. But as pleased as he was to be leaving again his treacherous mind reminded him he’d have to be back tomorrow. He still had to process his samples and besides then he could move on to the 7th pointless experimental repeat and his supervisor might actually let him do something half sensible, which was a nice thought. Although in all the excitement and panic Joe had forgotten to put his samples in the fridge overnight so when he does get back and check on them he’ll realise that he’s actually got to repeat all that pipetting all over again. But at least Joe would have a happy day recovering before he realised that.

The end

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Categories: ErrantWritings

1 Comment

Jonathan O'Donnell · 17 May 2018 at 22:56

Thanks for this. I really enjoyed it.

In episode six, you say
“Which would at least add some verity to their comments.”
I think you meant ‘variety’, instead of ‘verity’.

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