Trial and Error
Sometimes you can't learn from your mistakes until it's too late...
The human brain is a funny thing, and memory can be as fickle as the wind. And I was about as successful at trying to grasp ahold of my memories as if I was trying to grab a handful of the air whipping at my face.
I stood at the open window, my hair coming loose from my top knot and clawing at my face, but I couldn't bring myself to care. I felt as if I was coming out of a trance, my thoughts coming in flashes, as blurry as the rapidly passing scenery.
As my mind struggled make sense of what my eyes were seeing, two realizations came to me then in perfect clarity.
One, I was on a train, moving at an incredibly high speed.
Two, I had no idea how I had gotten there.
I stepped away from the window and made my way on wobbly legs to a bench seat. As I collapsed onto the bench, I closed my eyes, willing myself to remember anything, anything that would give me some clue as to how I had gotten here, what was going on.
Have you ever been on a train.
My eyes snapped open. Those words were now echoing in my head, feedback that won't fade away. I couldn't seem to remember when or where I had heard them, but I was almost positive they had been spoken to me.
I felt my mental fog lifting, and the panic began to set in. I leapt off the bench, fueled by a sudden urgency. It's almost manic in it's nature, and I didn't know where it came from. All I knew is that something was wrong, and I needed to find a way off this train.
I stuck my head out of a window and looked left and right. It looked like I was on an old fashioned steam engine, and in addition to the locomotive and caboose, it appeared that mine was the only car. It was plowing ahead on the tracks, and it almost seemed as if it was gaining speed.
Have you ever been on a train?
I pulled my head back inside and looked around. I was in the middle of the row of bench seats on either side of a central aisle. I bolted towards one end of the car and rattled at the door. Locked.
Panicking in earnest now, I turned around and ran to the door on the other end, only vaguely registering a small wooden box sitting on one of the benches.
I got to the door and grab the handle. It swung open.
The train was truly moving at an alarming speed now. If I had tried this door the second I woke up, perhaps I could have jumped off. I tried not to dwell on my mistake. My only option now was to jump the gap to the caboose. It was much farther than I thought.
I was steeling myself to make the jump when I felt a blinding pain in my head. My vision went momentarily black, and my ears started to ring. I grabbed the bar to keep from falling off the platform. When the pain started to fade to a dull ache, I reached up to my face. My nose was tricking blood.
I swiped the blood away and stumbled back inside the car to gather my thoughts. That's when my eyes landed on the wooden box again. I walked over to the bench and knelt in front of it. I lifted the lid, trying to ignore the now dulled pounding in my head.
Have you ever been on a train?
There was a laminated paper glued to the inside of the lid. Inside the box, a piece of cloth was laid flat. I reached down to lift the cloth and see what's underneath.
A stab of pain shot through my head.
I whipped around to see if anyone was behind me, but no one was there. I was still alone on this godforsaken train.
I turned my attention back to the laminated sheet of paper and swiped at my nose again. A drop of blood marked the cloth. I did my best to read the words, but the pain was receding far slower than the first time around.
"Hello. You might be wondering how you arrived here, and where you are going. Well, neither your origin nor your destination is of any consequence. The only matter that is of concern to you now is what decisions you make on this short journey.
Provided here are three solutions that provide very different results. Only one can be your salvation. It is up to you to figure it out. To do so will require some... trial and error. The results of the simulation depend on it. Good luck."
What the hell was going on.
I gingerly lifted the cloth to see what was beneath. There were three small vials filled with clear liquid. They all looked identical.
Was I supposed to drink these? How would one of these concoctions be my "salvation." I eyed the vials with trepidation, trying to think of any way to get myself off this train. Clearly, this was a cruel prank being played on me by some sadistic, twisted person. I wanted no part of this.
Have you ever been on a train?
I was going crazy. My head was pounding, my vision going blurry, these thoughts kept flooding my consciousness, that same phrase over and over. I couldn't take this much longer.
I reached for a vial and threw it back before I could change my mind.
Stillness. Peace. Then... Pain.
My head felt like it was going to explode. My vision went black and I fell to the floor, taking big gasping breaths to try and fill my lungs with oxygen. Suddenly, I remembered.
The memories were rushing back in a torrent. A jumble of disconnected scenes playing in my head, until they slowly knit together to form a cohesive thought.
I remembered how I got there.
I remembered why I'm there.
And I realized there was only one way to get out.
I could barely walk. There was an invisible jackhammer chipping away at the back of my skull. I was shivering. Why was I shivering? Pain, adrenaline, fear. Probably all three. But somehow, I made it to the door and pushed through.
The jump was too wide, there was no way I could make it to the other side.
Good thing I wasn't trying to.
If I "died," I'd be free, right? That was my way out. That was my salvation. Returning my thoughts, so I could have this moment of lucidity. So I could remember why I'm here... And that I can get myself out.
I took a deep, shuddering breath. I leapt.
The world went black, and finally, the pain was gone.
. . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Doctor glanced down at his watch, then forced his eyes back to the body on the table with a sigh. The woman had been hooked up to a number of monitors, and electrical pads placed on her temples. She had been stripped naked to allow space for the numerous sensors.
This had all been done after she had been rendered unconscious, of course.
"What was her time?" he asked the the tech tapping away at computer keys behind him.
"2 minutes sir. Longer than any other trials so far," the tech responded.
"Yes. She was close. We are so close, I can feel it. What are we missing?" The Doctor seemed to direct the question to no one in particular.
There was silence for a few moments as they contemplated the outcome of the latest trial. The Doctor closed his eyes, trying so hard to figure out what they were doing wrong. She could have made it. She could have learned from the mistake she made. They gave her so many signs to change her trajectory.
His head started to spin, the beeping of the machines suddenly sounding so loud they were grating at his nerves.
"Unhook her," he snapped. "We need to dispose of the body and bring in the next volunteer. We don't have very much time, but I have a good feeling about the next trial."
The Doctor took one last look at the woman on the table. Her hair was still neatly coiled in a top knot, her eyes closed and her face serene. No signs to indicate she was anything other than peacefully sleeping, aside from the small trail of blood slowly descending out of her left nostril.
They monitored every second the subject endured during their trial. They knew what they were thinking, what they were feeling. They also had all their vitals monitored and tracked.
He knew what she endured, and he knew it wasn't pleasant.
But it had to be done.
When the body was removed, they ushered in the next subject. A small, mousy woman that shuffled as she walked through the door. She was wearing the flimsy hospital style gown they gave all the subjects. She was young and healthy, but she seemed to physically try and make herself as small as possible. However, when she raised her eyes to meet the Doctor's, he saw the strength. The desperation.
She would be the one, he knew it. She was strong enough to make it.
As they seated her in the chair, the Doctor took a seat next to her. While they were hooking her up to some of the monitors, he explained what the process entailed. A trial for a virtual reality simulator, in essence, is what he told her. Not necessarily the entire truth, but that's all she needed to know.
"Do you have any questions?" he asked her when he was finished.
She paused, thinking. "You haven't mentioned the purpose of the simulation. What is the setting?"
He looked into those eyes, full of strength and determination, and smiled.
"Have you ever been on a train?"
About the author
Hi everyone! My two passions are reading and writing. Writing has always been an activity I enjoy, but it was a hobby placed on the back burner in my busy life. Now, I’m ready to devote some quality time to pursuing my passion.