Maria breathed in deep as she woke up. She didn’t open her eyes yet, as she was considering staying in bed for awhile. It was Sunday, and if her mother found her awake before nine, she’d insist on Maria accompanying her to church. For Maria, this was barely even a choice. Sit through a lecture by Father Davis about how she was living in sin, or stay in bed in her increasingly comfortable bed. She resolved to stay in bed for the foreseeable future. She’d had an amazing night’s sleep. At college there was always something keeping her awake into the AM. Either she was cramming hard for a test, working desperately to finish a project, or, more commonly, out with Allison. Maria was aware that if she didn’t spend quite so many nights out and about, she wouldn’t need to cram so often, but she didn’t care. She was doing well in class, so she didn’t see a need to change her schedule. Besides, maybe she could get away with sleeping all day today and make up for a few missed nights while she was home.
No that wouldn’t do. She was a bit hungry. Still, she needed to dodge the church-going bullet. She could still stay in bed another hour or two. She curled up to get comfortable and realized that her blanket wasn’t covering her. She must had kicked it off in the night, she thought, so she reached around for the blanket.
She felt nothing. No blanket. No sheet. No bed. She waved her arm about beneath her, and felt nothing but air.
There was a moment of panic, followed by a moment of mental back-pedaling. Alright, so I’m not awake, She reasoned, I’m still asleep and dreaming. No problem, just one of those odd ultra-real dreams.
She opened her eyes to see what tonight’s dream world looked like, but instead, once again, there was nothing. Just a dark empty void that she was floating in. She could see nothing, but she could hear things. Things were out there, in the darkness. She could hear them breathing. Ahead. Above. All around her there were things in the dark.
Despite her best efforts, the panic returned and this time resisted all efforts to be talked down. What was out there? Was it coming closer? It felt like it might be coming closer.
She nearly died of a heart attacked when her heel brushed against something.
She very nearly died again, when the thing she touched screamed.
Whatever– correction: whoever it was, started screaming and thrashing around. It seems whoever it was was young. A boy, ten-ish maybe. Maria was about to tell him to calm down when his screams were joined by more. Dozens of voices, all around her (above and below) screaming and shouting, young and old alike. They were terrified, demanding to know what was going on, trying to find loved ones. Some of them seemed to be succeeding.
Above her and to the left, Maria could hear her mother’s voice.
“Maria!? Maria!? Baby please tell me you’re there!”
“I’m here mom!” Maria called back. It was difficult to hear her own voice over all the others. She called out again, this time louder. She thought she heard her mom sigh, but it was still difficult. Shouts of pain, threats and insults started to join the din as people began to bump into each other, or strike each other as they thrashed about looking for something solid. At least that’s what Maria thought. It was still pitch black as far as she could see.
She grunted in pain as something hit her in the gut.
“Ow!” She cried.
“Maria?” The voice was male, older, familiar.
“Mr. Poulder?” She guessed.
“Yeah. What’s going on? Where are we?” He shouted at her. The din had yet to fade.
She shrugged, not that Andrew Poulder could see it, “I have no idea. But I’m weightless. Are you?”
“Yeah,” he called, “How is that possible?”
“Well there are only two ways I know of that can make that happen. And in one of them the plane would have leveled off by now I think,” she said as calmly as she could while shouting to him.
“Alright then. LISTEN UP!!” Mr. Poulder shouted to the room. The noise finally began to die down. Some of the voices muttered recognition of Andrew’s voice. “I’m not entirely sure who I’m talking to! But it sounds like some of you know me! Now, I’m not gonna pretend to know what’s going on, but we seem to be weightless.”
“This is impossible!” Someone cried out. Male, middle-aged, not familiar to Maria.
“No it’s not. It’s just like I dreamed, we’ve been saved.” Decried an older woman who sounded a bit familiar.
Maria’s ears picked up. If they had been abducted, maybe someone had woken up during the event.
Mr. Poulder seemed to pick up on this as well. He seemed to recognize the speaker. “What do you know Mabel.” Ah! From her mother’s church.
Mabel responded, “We were Saved. God has lifted us up…” Maria drowned the rest out. Mabel was harmless, but this wasn’t helping. While Mr. Poulder and others tried to convince Mabel that they had not in fact been raptured, she turned in the direction she’d last heard her mother in.
“Hey mom.” The voices had lowered to a more reasonable volume, so Maria didn’t have to shout this time.
“Yeah honey?” Her mom was clearly scared.
“Can you feel anything around you? A wall or something?”
“Hang on.” She waited as her mother probed the space around her. She couldn’t see but she could hear her mom’s clothes rustling. The sound made Maria suddenly and acutely aware that she was clad only in a pair of panties and a T-shirt. It made her appreciate the total darkness just a little bit.
“I can feel something.”
“I…I don’t know. It’s rough…cold…metal I think. Flat, I think it might be a wall.” She sounded unsure. Maria was thinking fast now. It’s a puzzle, so solve it.
“Mr. Poulder?” she said, then had to shout it again to get his attention over the argument about the rapture that was ongoing. Eventually he acknowledge her and Maria asked, “I need to know who can feel the walls. I…we need to figure out the dimensions we’re dealing with, and maybe find a light.”
She said the last item while pulling her shirt down, trying to figure out how much of herself she could cover if they did find lights to turn on.
Mr. Poulder shouted out instructions, and people shut up and listened to him. There was a reason he’d been mayor for 20 years. It was a commanding voice. Almost immediately, people began reporting feeling rough metal surfaces, Some were far enough away for Maria to guess that the room must be very large. Upon Maria’s suggestion, orientation or surfaces was being called in relation to Mr. Poulder’s voice, and found that people were close to the all six walls (including ceiling and floor, but Maria reminded herself that if you’re weightless, there isn’t really a ceiling or floor). So now came the hard part.
“We need to try and find a light if we’re going to figure this out,” she grumbled.
“We’ve got people near all the walls, it shouldn’t take us too long,” Poulder replied.
“It might,” Maria sighed, “I hate to be the first to say ‘aliens’ but if we are on an alien ship-”
“Who says aliens? This could just be some weird government thing, couldn’t it?”
“I….look, I’m not trying to make any assumptions, but I highly doubt this is a government thing. All I know for sure, is we’re in a weightless room against our will, and that if it is aliens, the assumption that their light switch will be recognizable to us is a stretch.”
Just as she was saying it though, the room was suddenly bathed in a dim light. It came from a series of lines on two opposite ‘walls’ of the room they floated in. The room was even bigger than Maria had guessed, easily holding the floating crowd of several hundred people. All appeared to be residents of her hometown, and most appeared in various states of undress. Maria felt an urge to cover up as much as she could, but she wasn’t the worst off. The worst off had to be those who had gone to bed naked. Much laughing, screaming, and eye averting ensued.
Maria though, averted her eyes from nothing. She was scanning the room for somebody near a control.
“Nobody move!” she yelled. It elicited no response until Mr. Poulder shouted it, then everybody stopped moving. At least deliberately moving. Inertia ensured that anyone not holding onto a surface was still moving the direction they were when the stopped. Maria resumed scanning the room, but could see nobody near anything that looked like a light switch, there were too many people in the way. Instead, she took the time to examine the room in the new light. It was a huge box of a room, seeming squared at first, but she could just barely make out a slightly curve to two opposite walls (one convex and the other concave). The walls were a dark metal of some kind, but despite her mother and many people claiming it was rough, it looked incredibly smooth. Her mother was immediately above her (or at least in a direction moving from her toes to head) in her pajamas and running her hands over the surface of the wall. Maria looked around for an entrance of some kind, and found one, at the junction of the concave curved wall and another.
“Did anyone just hit a switch, or find a breaker, or touch anything that might have turned on the lights?” Mr. Poulder shouted. The lights suddenly went off, followed by a few screams, then the lights came back up.
“I think it was me,” said a guy in boxers and a pit stained white shirt about forty feet ‘below’ Maria. She thought she should start thinking of the walls in cardinal directions for convenience sake. The walls with lights were at her sides (left/right), so that was easy. A line from head to toe would then point to ceiling and floor then. Looking back to the man and door, that made the it forty feet ‘behind’ her. Oh Well.
Maria didn’t recognize the guy, but he looked about in his early thirties with short black hair and had a nasty looking scar on his bare left leg. He was by another space that looked like it could be a door or hatch of some kind. Maria twisted her body around to look back where he was, then at her mother, then back to the thing she assumed was a door.
“Can you get any purchase on the door?” she called over.
“Sure, there’s a plenty of spaces to grip over here,” he called back, “You want me to try and open it?”
“No!” Maria called, “I mean…not until I’ve had a chance to look at it. For all we know it opens to…well…let’s just say that right now, at least we have air to breath.”
The guy at the door nodded, “What do you need?”
“One sec,” she called down. She looked around her. She had been fairly close to at least three people when she woke up: her mother, Mr. Poulder, and the eleven year old boy now crying nearby. Since her collision with Mr. Poulder though, she had been drifting away from him and would soon make contact with the wall. It looked smooth, shiny, almost wet even, but she hoped she could get enough purchase to propel herself down to the door. She reached out her hand to feel the wall’s surface. She was startled to find that it was, in fact, very rough. Not a painful kind of rough, but when she dragged her fingers over it they seemed to catch and pull her along. She tested this by extending her other hand and using both hands, gently pulled herself along the wall. She moved, she then pressed her hands against the wall, and though this did give her some momentum moving away from the wall, she did mostly stop moving along the wall the way she had been. It must be designed for moving around in zero g, she thought to herself. She resumed pulling herself along, hand over hand, down to the door.
The dark haired man held out a hand to pull her the rest of the way, which she accepted. Now in front of the door, she had a chance to see how it worked. It was mostly smooth looking like the wall, but a few lines and edges set if apart. First, there was a perfect square of an edge that marked the edges of the slightly recessed door. The door was about 7x7ft (much larger than it would need to be if it was man made), then there was another barely recessed square at the center of the door that was maybe 2x2ft. To her left, Maria could see a thing that vaguely resembled a latch. And just beyond that, beside the edge of the door on the wall, was a panel of sorts with a few oversized knobs on it.
“Those are what I fiddled with to get the lights up,” explained her companion.
“Which one specifically?” she asked.
“The first one,” he pointed to the one closest to the door.
“Did you try the other ones?” Maria said looked at the point where the door met the frame, trying to figure if this was meant to open to space of another compartment. Of course, if she had been designing a spaceship, all the doors would be designed to hold back vacuum, in case of an accident. She was fairly sure NASA did that, but, maybe the aliens ignored this safety tip, she thought to herself. She ran her fingers over the door as the guy explained he hadn’t touched the other nobs.
“What’s your name?” he asked, the question pulled her away from her train of thought.
“Maria,” she said.
There was a thunk as the guy pulled the latch.
“Not yet!” Maria yelled, but it was too late. The door hissed, and Maria could feel the pressure change as air was pulled out through the broken seal. The pull gave everyone in the room the slightest momentum towards the door before it evened out. Maria breathed slowly as the door was pushed out, and swung into an empty corridor that went on until it curved up and away in the distance. Maria looked out into the hall, and felt herself floating out into it, following the air that had escaped. She breathed slowly and deliberately, waiting for something to happen, for the air to thin or be gone completely.
“What’s out there?” Mr. Poulder called down to her.
“Looks like a corridor,” the idiot (that was how Maria now identified him) called back up.
To be continued
Ooooh, a mystery! Fun! I’m liking this set up. An entire town, taken in their sleep and put in a big, weightless box. What happened? Who did it? Was anyone awake when it happened? Why is Maria the protagonist?
There were several spots where I had to mentally change a few words to get things to flow correctly. Is pointing out that sort of thing helpful? Would more detail be useful, or is noting this sort of thing unhelpful? I do want to make sure I focus my comments on things that help you improve your craft, as much as I am able to do so.
You’ve done a good job setting up an interesting situation, and I look forward to seeing how it progresses.
It is actually quite helpful 🙂
As much detail as you want. Even it makes me cringe at my previous mistakes, I’m glad to know if I made them so i can fix them next time.