“Get off my lane, you idiot” I said while accelerating my 2030 Toyota Camry. The man gave me a look like a leopard was ready to pounce on its prey. I ignored and drove through the highway to stop again after 5 minutes.
Most cars were moving at a snail’s pace. A giant truck was in a lane beside me. The truck driver looked at me like an elephant looks at an ant, ready to crush under its feet. A man with sunglasses in a red Mercedes Benz Model C was honking, moving slow, showing off his latest toy.
What’s the use of this fancy car when you’re stuck in traffic?
I looked through the windshield of my car and said “What the hell is happening? Why’s this so slow today?”. This wasn’t the peak hour, but still, the traffic was insane. Everything was stopped. There were no cops, no emergency vehicles. Just the regular traffic where cars weren’t even moving. The sunlight was fading that fall evening as I waited to move. Patience was waning. I was stuck in one place for five minutes. Other drivers were getting impatient, some of them came out of the car to see what was happening. There was no clear idea. The traffic, the congestion. I stayed inside the car, waiting if something changes if cars move. Another five minutes and now we were stuck in the same place for the last fifteen minutes.
I lowered the window. The breeze of a fall evening hit me in the face. The engine was cranking, the fan was blowing cold air. I asked the gentleman in Mercedes. He didn’t know either what was happening. It seemed like a mystery. The frustration was piling up. Road rage was real, it was boiling, coming out now. Even I stepped out of my car. Most people were standing by their cars.
As the sun was moving behind the horizon, a helicopter hovered over in the sky, flashing a beam of high intensity light. That whirring sound, that flashing light, that blowing wind, it seemed like a VIP person was in town and the traffic was blocked. The helicopter continued to make rounds. It was flashing light as if trying to capture photos of people. When I opened the door to get back in my car, there was a sound on the mic.
“Attention, stay inside your car. This traffic has been blocked. All the cars will be allowed to move in a short period of time.” The voice on the microphone said.
Why, why on earth they have blocked the traffic?
I hammered a punch on my driving wheel. The helicopter was still hovering. I don’t know when I’ll be home to meet my wife. I looked at my phone and she had called me three times already. I dialed the phone.
“Hey Sweetheart, so sorry, I’m stuck in traffic here on highway 76. Traffic hasn’t moved for the last twenty minutes and now there’s a helicopter hovering in the sky and informing us about traffic block, but not telling any reason.” I said.
“Oh no, we’ll be late for the play. I was so excited to see you, darling.” She said.
“I hope we’ll still be able to make in time. Why don’t you eat something and I’ll eat later after the play?”
“Sounds good. See you soon honey”
The darkness of the evening, the sound of helicopter whirring continued to occupy my mind.
I hate this traffic so much. I hate it, I hate it from the bottom of my heart. I hate driving, I hate this city, I hate this road. I want to be home with my wife, so I can watch a darn play.
With every passing moment, hatred was piling up, the road rage was inevitable. Everybody was cursing. Some people moved their cars inside the lane, parked there and started walking. At least that made move other cars.
It seems a better idea to leave the car here and walk home all the way. I live five miles from here, still a long walk.
When a car from side lane moved into my lane ahead of me, I shouted at the driver. “You fucking idiot. How dare you!” After a few more minutes, traffic moved. It was slow, but it was moving.
I switched on the radio to listen if there was anything. After a brief movement, traffic stopped again.
“This announcement is for everyone who is stuck in traffic on Highway 76” Radio announcer said. “So listen carefully.”
“Traffic congestion is a part of a clinical experiment. Everybody who has been showing signs of road rage will be moved to the nearest hospital for further experiments. If you rage against this and don’t comply with the rules, you will be put in jail. Follow the cops who will take you to the hospital and you’ll be fine.” The radio announcer said.
What the fuck? How do they know who is in road rage? Are they monitoring us?
I was in shock. I stayed there, trying to control myself. I didn’t want to react further. Most of the cars were in three lanes on that highway. Everyone was moving, slowly, going further. I was feeling normal after that announcement. I controlled my anger as I was not sure what kind of experiment they were running. I felt like hammering my head against something, to break something, to destroy anything that comes my way. I was in a jail of my own car. My mind was constantly telling crazy stories of clinical experiments.
This wasn’t how I was expecting my evening to go. I was fine at work.
Slowly the helicopter was now ordering all cars to move and diverting them to a nearby Hospital Kenney. This hospital was recently opened in the last three months. Cops had arrived in their cars and diverting the traffic. Few of the car drivers didn’t oblige and took off. With sirens buzzing, police cars chased them down. That terrible sight crippled everyone. Nobody wanted to get into cops’ business. The fear of the unknown was creeping up.
We had arrived close to the hospital. Cop cars were still inside lanes on both sides of the road. The helicopter had disappeared. At least the annoying sound and unnecessary wind had stopped. My phone was ringing. It was my wife.
“Where’re you, honey? I’m so waiting for you. I thought you were going to be home by 6 PM, it’s already 6:45 PM and the play starts in fifteen minutes.”
“Sweetheart, I don’t know. All the traffic has been directed to the hospital. Hospital Kenney. I don’t know if I’ll be able to make it to a play.”
“What do you mean by you won’t make it to a play? I thought this was our date.”
“I know, I’m so sorry. I’ll call you once I’m out of here.”
“So, I’m staying in?”
“I guess so for now.” He put down the phone as he had to focus on driving his car towards the hospital.
Few cops were walking and directing the cars in the parking lot of the hospital. I lowered the window as a cop came by car. He told me to turn to the right to go in the parking lot on the third floor.
“Officer, how long will this take?”
“We don’t know. Just follow the orders.” He said. I didn’t like how the officer answered my simple question. I smacked my palm on the driving wheel.
I followed the orders and parked my car in the parking lot. Another cop with a flashy blue uniform came by my car.
“Please come out of your car.” At least he was polite. I stepped out of the car.
“Please go into the elevator and a nurse will take you further from that elevator.”
“Where am I going?”
“Follow the orders, you’ll know soon.”
I walked into the elevator. There was an old gentleman and a young lady who were with me in the elevator. A nurse in green scrub was standing in the elevator. She looked at us and smiled.
I was impatient. “Where are we going?” I said.
“We’re going to meet a doctor.”
“Doctor? For what?”
She looked at me, smiled, but didn’t answer my question. Elevator moved down while making a stirring noise and it was all dark when the nurse opened the door. As she stepped out of the elevator, she asked us to follow her. At that time, I had enough, I rebelled.
“I’m not coming. Do whatever you want to do.”
The other young woman and the old man followed the nurse. I stayed there in the elevator and tried to close the door. But it wasn’t closing. All my attempts to make the elevator go up were futile. Elevator was locked by a special key which only the nurse had.
“You either follow us or you can stay here in the darkness.” The nurse said.
After much frustration, I had no option but to follow her. As soon as I stepped out of the elevator, the door was closed and the elevator went up, making the same stirring noise.
The nurse took us to a room which was empty with few chairs. She asked us to sit. There was no one else. She switched on the light. The sudden high intense light beam disturbed the vision. I squinched my eyes while staring at the other two people in the room.
“Sit down and the doctor will be here.” She said.
“Why are we here?” I asked again. She smiled at me, dodging to answer once again. “Why don’t you answer my question?”
“Don’t worry, the doctor is coming, and he’ll answer all your questions.”
She left the room, closing the door and keeping the lights on. I sat there in the closed room, looking at the old man and the young lady. They weren’t talking, so I didn’t try much. I didn’t have my phone with me. I didn’t know what I was going to do if my wife called.
We waited. Half an hour, an hour, an hour and a half, two hours. Nobody came. I was so frustrated that I took the chair and slammed it against the door. I broke that chair, but couldn’t open the door. The old man was equally angry, he was cursing with every passing moment. He was telling how his sick wife was waiting for him. The young lady was patient for initial thirty minutes, but she had enough. She screamed, yelled at the door. But nobody came. The walls of that room were so thick that even a person standing a few feet away from those walls couldn’t hear us. I was mad, pulling my hair.
“Where on earth I’m?” I said.
“I’ve to leave and meet my dad.” The young lady said.
“My wife is sick, these idiots don’t know anything. Why did they bring us here?” The old man said. His face was red. He hammered a blow on the door, another one, another one. “Open the fucking door please.”
After all that frustration, the old man and young lady sat down in their chairs, while I sat down against the wall. I looked at my wristwatch, the sound of second hand movement was distinct in that silence. I could feel the time, it was slow. As the clock struck for 11 pm, I felt like crying. My lovely wife had been waiting home for more than four hours. The old man had lost his patience. He sat down by me. His red face had turned white and his eyebrows had lowered. He put a hand on my shoulders.
“At least your wife is fine. My wife is sick, she has been in bed for the last five days and I was rushing through traffic with her medicine.”
I didn’t say anything, but looked at him with kindness. I gasped. The young lady was more patient than us. She was silent, listening to us. She wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere. She sat there, thinking, dreaming. That’s when the lights went off. We were in the darkest room deep down under the earth. We had no connection with the outside world. No phone connection, no contact with family. The tragedy of the day hadn’t ended that we lied there in obscurity, not knowing what was going to happen. With no food, no water, no light and no strength to display any more emotions, we sat there disconnected from the world.
“I’m going to sleep” She said.
“You can sleep in this darkness?” I asked.
“What else there for us to do?”
We lay on the floor. The young lady was on the left side of the old man and I was on the right side. I looked up towards the ceiling, it was so pitch dark that if we did anything, nobody was going to notice anything.
Where on earth are we? That question constantly troubled me, kept me awake the whole night. The young lady and the old man were asleep. The hopelessness had driven me crazy, I was a few hours away from going completely mad, insane, utter psychotic. It was so delirious situation that nobody would be sane for long. The hunger, the madness and sanity had limits. I didn’t realize when I went to sleep.
I woke up when the old man coughed. I put my hand on his head, his body was burning like a fire. I got up and helped him to sit.
“You ok? I know the night had been crazy, the darkness isn’t helping either.” I said.
“The body is aching sleeping on the floor. I can’t see anything.”
I got up, banged on the door with both of my hands and shouted. “Anybody there? Open the fucking door please” I had enough. “Please open the fucking door” I cried, I screamed, I pleaded. But nothing, nothing had changed. I had lost, I had given up. In the last twelve hours, I had been through a roller coaster ride which was not going to end any time soon. I didn’t know how to control in that darkness, in that unbreathable place. The young lady had woken up.
“Attention, attention, attention. You’re all part of an experiment.” A voice said through a loudspeaker. It stopped there. It didn’t say a word more.
“When are they letting us go? How long is this experiment?” I said.
The old man was tired and sick. With every passing moment, his health was deteriorating. The hospital hadn’t provided any food or water. The young lady was thirsty and continued to comfort her throat. We all three were awake now, contemplating the agony that had thudded upon us.
“You know my wife is in hospital. I don’t know what’s going to happen to her. She is in the final stage of her liver cancer. I had a chance to take her to the hospital when she was diagnosed with it in earlier stages. But I didn’t. I had no money. I didn’t care for her. Every moment, I blamed her for unhappiness in the house. Now here I am, in this dark room, even more helpless and want to get out of it so I can be with her. I can be with her in last moments. I am a terrible, terrible, terrible husband.” The old man said with teary eyes. The young woman consoled him while hugging him from the side.
“I had a date night with my wife. But we’ve been in a turmoil of our relationship. I wanted to be out of this relationship. I hated her after our struggle with kids. We don’t have kids, we can’t have kids. We had a huge argument, she smacked a utensil in my direction. At that moment, I had enough. I was a bad husband equally. I stormed out of the house and slept in the office. Next day she apologized and planned a date for us. Now here I am, in this dark room, struggling to survive, coping some way so I can be out of this hell.” The old man put his hand on my shoulder.
The young woman was silent. She gasped. There was something on her mind.
“I am a terrible daughter. My dad had worked hard to raise me, a single kid. After my mom left him, he did his best, he did everything to provide me the best childhood. And now he was alone and I haven’t seen him for eight years. I blamed him for letting my mom go. He is struggling with health, with his living conditions. He called me a thousand times in last week and I didn’t care to respond. I was happy in my lonely life. I was a terrible daughter, a selfish person who never cared for anyone but myself. Now here I am, in this dark room, gasping for my survival so I can go and see him. I want to meet him and take care of him. How could I be so inhuman?” The old man looked at her with kindness and calmed her.
After all those stories, the darkness in that room was even more evil, more dangerous. The breathing was harder, we were hungry, thirsty. We had enough.
Few days passed by and there was a breaking news on TV “3 dead bodies found at Hospital Kenney in a failed clinical experiment. Investigation continues.”
Yogesh Mali is a software engineer and writer. When he is not working in IT, he likes to dive in an imaginary world of fiction, science-fiction. He has published two books, 500 Miles and Blind Alley previously, both a collection of short stories. Other than that, he has submitted multiple short stories to different online magazines. He and his wife live in Minneapolis with their kids.