Sunday, March 11, 2012


Ryan couldn't will himself out of his car. He stared dismayed at the sight of the dingy single story building in front of him. This couldn't possibly be the home base of the company that had sought out his talents, spent months recruiting him before offering an obscene starting salary.

The memory of his father's mocking laughter while calling him a fool socked him in the gut. He frantically checked the address he was given against the faded numbers by the double glass door, and was disappointed for a fifth time when they matched.

"Idiot," he chastised himself. Going back home wasn't an option. He had brought all his possessions under the premise of free room and board along with the other outrageous benefits. From where he sat, there didn't look to be enough space for a break room let alone the modern furnished apartments he had seen photos of in his orientation video.

He crumpled the printed email and threw it on the floor. He couldn't come up with an alternative, so he pried open the car door and pulled himself out into the open air. He hesitated to lock the door, but reconsidered with a look around the vacant parking lot and trudged towards the entrance.

A simple white stencil reading Isis Laboratories imprinted the glass that slid open to admit his entrance. The interior was a surprising contrast to the homely contrast to the outside. Modern and simple, but sophisticated and designed by someone with a tasteful eye. 

The young woman behind the receptionist desk was chosen with the same refined discrimination. Coffee colored hair framed a bronzed complexion set with two rich brown eyes. She was pressed and professional and rose from her desk to meet him halfway.

Extending a well manicured hand his way, Ryan lost his words as she addressed him with a radiant smile. "Mr Dunbar, welcome." She made no mention of his prolonged wait in the parking lot that could clearly be witnessed from her seat.

"Uh, you know who I am?"  Ryan shifted his weight on alternate feet as customary when he was in the presence of an attractive woman.

"Yes, of course. I'll let Dr Stone know you have arrived." She motioned to the leather couches adorning the lobby. "Please make yourself comfortable. Should only be a few moments."

She gracefully crossed the floor and placed a call in a hushed voice.

Ryan eased onto the nearest seat feeling overly self conscious. His khaki pants had creased during the long drive and he could feel the wrinkled back of his once ironed shirt. His college years had been spent inside a lab leaving his personal fashion sense lacking, but he had made his best effort to be presentable only to look as if he had slept in his clothes.

The receptionist returned with a silver tray carrying a coffee spread. "Dr Stone is occupied and sends his apologies. He asked if you wouldn't mind granting him a few more minutes."

"Of course, is it a bad time? I know I'm a little late, but I..."

"No, not at all. Just an unexpected delay. Shouldn't be long, but you can enjoy some refreshments." She set the tray on the side table next to him and cordially poured a cup before returning to her desk.

The delay allowed Ryan more time to process the fine setting around him, and raised more questions each moment that passed.  What was a high tech lab doing in a remote area disguised as an inconspicuous remnant of a strip mall? How could they employ the thousand man team they boasted with no satellite locations? And what was in his coffee that tasted so amazing?

"Excuse me?" He stopped at the realization he did not know the super model in training's name.

Graciously she understood his hesitation. "Eve."


"My name? Its Eve. Could I get you something?"

He waved away her hostess duties. "No, no I was just wondering what was in the coffee. Its delicious." And while you're at it, warn me if I'm being lured into a sadistic plot where I'm the subject of a twisted scientific experiment?

"It's butter toffee flavored. One of my favorites. I'm glad you like it."

"You always have coffee ready? Doesn't seem like a lot of traffic going through here."

"I'm always prepared for a new arrival. You were scheduled, remember?"

Ryan dropped his view into his cup, cheeks flushed. "Oh yes. Do you have arrivals often?"

"It can vary," she responded with another polite smile. Ryan understood she wasn't going to volunteer any information so he returned to his coffee.

He noticed a lack of any advertising depicting the lab and its purposes. The walls were adorned by serene pictures of landscapes save for one large vintage portrait depicting a mother and her child hanging as a focal point on the wall across from him.

He was about to question Eve about the origin of the painting when a door clicked open. A stocky form in a white lab coat entered the room.  Ryan rose to his feet, nerves firing off anxiety.

"Mr. Dunbar?" The older man asked raising a white eyebrow.

"Yes, yes I'm him. I mean, that's me." Ryan stammered and fumbled with the coffee cup still in his hand. He passed it back and forth between his hands looking for an appropriate place to set it.

"Just leave it on the table. Eve will handle that." He stepped back to hold the door open, indicating Ryan should follow.

He smiled at Eve before stepping into a sterile,white hallway.  It was a striking contrast to the rich warm colors of the lobby. Several feet down an alcove in the wall housed a stern faced security guard. Ryan took note of the firearm he wore should anyone not think the six foot muscular frame wasn't intimidating enough.

"Alright Mr Dunbar," Dr Stone stopped at the desk. "If you could remove any personal items such as a wallet, cell phone, keys and put them here." The guard offered a small plastic bin which Ryan filled with the contents of his pockets. In exchange, Dr Stone handed him an ID badge and his own lab coat, noting it was blue not the starched white of his employer.

The security guard snapped a lid on the box of Ryan's possessions and placed it in a small hatch in the wall. As he pressed a combination of numbers on a keypad next to the small door, Dr Stone explained the items would be in his personal room at the end of his shift.

"If you could please face this wall and be still for just a moment." He motioned to a translucent panel on the wall and Ryan stepped forward. The screen illuminated with his image and he was directed to turn to his right then left.

Formalities completed they walked to the end of the hall to the only exit option of an elevator. The doors slid open to admit the two men and Ryan struggled to put on his coat in the tight space. Dr Stone pressed a button illuminating a down arrow, the only option other than an up arrow.

"I apologize, but things will be slightly out of order for you today. The post you have been assigned to has been unmanned for nearly twenty four hours so I will take you straight there. Your orientation will have to wait, possibly as late as tomorrow. He tapped away on a tablet while making disapproving faces. "Yes, I think that's the best option at this time."

Ryan cleared his throat trying to determine which question to ask first, but his hesitation cost him the opportunity again as the elevator shuddered to a stop and the door opened.

Dr Stone pressed forward not affording Ryan the chance to take in the surreal room around him. The natural subterranean setting was exposed and adorned with glass water features. The floor was smooth and polished glinting veins of quartz. The serenity of the room was maintained by two more armed guards standing watch at a station of monitors. Dr Stone steered their direction right to an opening in the stone wall. Ryan struggled to keep pace despite his legs being twice the length of Dr Stone's.

They approached a large set of steel doors inside the archway of stone. Dr Stone walked up to a panel similar to the one at the first guard station. The screen illuminated with his face, name and "plus 1".

"Alright, now to make sure the system set you up properly." He motioned at the panel and Ryan stepped in front of it. Again the image of his face appeared this time acknowledging his name. The doors pulled open with a groan contesting their weight.

Ryan ignored the sense of trepidation creeping up the back of his neck. He did his best not to consider what needed to be contained by steel doors and stone. It didn't occur to him at the time that they were just as necessary to keep unauthorized persons out as much as appropriate parties in.

Dr Stone led him through a labyrinth of stone turns with the occasional door tucked into the walls. Ryan soon realized he could never find his way around if left alone.

"You will have an escort for some time to help you find your way. It can be quite daunting at first, but you pick it up faster than you think. Here we are." He stopped at the next door they came to, another steel presence with "P-32" etched into the metal at eye level. He plucked Ryan's badge off his jacket and slipped it into the door handle setting off a click and the door swung open.

A small service lift was on the other side. It was clearly meant to accommodate a single passenger, but Dr Stone took a deep breath and fit himself  in next to Ryan's lean frame. The lift pulled them upward into the stone and Ryan was silently grateful he didn't have claustrophobic issues.

The lift birthed them into Ryan's new post. The room offered a three hundred and sixty degree view of a grass field leading down hill to various clumps of trees. Several monitors around the room were powered off and Dr Stone set to the task of bringing the room back to life.

"Now where could your subjects be hiding?" Various boards and screens lit up and hummed, but no other signs of life appeared. "Lets draw them out." Dr Stone grinned at Ryan as he pressed a small blue button. A marble fountain in the grass bubbled up and trickled water into it's surrounding pool.

"They will hear the water and come to investigate. They know an offering of some sort will be available for them." Another button push and the ground near the fountain opened. A pedestal with a tray of fresh peaches rose from the ground and warmed in the sun.

"Ah, I told you that would work."

Ryan turned his view to the direction of Dr Stone's and stifled a shocked gasp.

Coming into view as she climbed the hill was a young woman in a red shift cinched at the waist with an elaborate beaded belt. She moved towards the peaches and called over her shoulder. 

"You will start with only recorded observations. You will need to keep specifics to each subject who you will learn to identify as individuals. I'm not as familiar with this lot so you will need to rely on the last observers notes. You can access them here," he tapped on a keyboard bringing up a roster on the adjacent screen.

Ryan's jaw fell open as more women ranging in age from young girls to middle aged women crested over the hill heading towards the peaches.

"These are my subjects?" His voice could only manage a whisper as he tried to process what was happening.

"Lovely aren't they?" Dr Stone watched the group with a cold scientific eye.

Dr Stone's reaction was nearly as chilling as Ryan's first official observation. They women were all so similar, they had to be related. They each shared the same hair color, skin tone and warm brown eyes. The same shades and features as the stunning receptionist he had met upon his arrival.

He was certain Eve was a close relative to his new subjects.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Her Confidence is Tragic

Thomas had never become a fan of Gwen's neighborhood. She called it "historical", but the small rows of renovated cottages in her neighborhood were surrounded by a depreciating city increasing it's crime rate on a regular basis.

He had offered again to find her a new place, and like every time before she politely refused.

"This home has personality. You can't just buy personality off a listing."

He smirked and leaned against the bookcase. "Sure you can. They call it curb appeal."

Gwen narrowed her eyes at the remark and restrained her bold auburn curls with a silk turquoise scarf. Thomas didn't bother asking her to consider a less conspicuous ensemble. Her ruffled white shirt and stiletto boots over jeans read more modern day pirate than heiress. He knew it would be a wasted battle, like the cottage.

Gwen knew what she wanted even if no one else had any idea why she would.

"Ready?" Thomas pulled his keys from his pocket as a twitch of movement by the sofa got his attention. He cringed suspecting a rat or other vermin had found its way inside of Gwen's vintage abode, but the creature slowly crept into sight, shocking him more than any rat could.

"Uh, Gwen?"

"Hmm?" She continued rummaging her purse, not processing the fear in her brother's voice.

"Would you care to explain how the hell a leopard got into your living room?" He pressed against the bookcase trying to recall if it was better of worse to maintain eye contact.

"What? Oh! You mean Bobo!" She dropped her purse to the floor and crossed the room to the over sized feline. "Silly, he's not a leopard. Just a fancy kitty!" She scratched under the animals chin evoking what may have been a purr, but Thomas was certain could be a growl.

"Gwen, there is no way that thing is a domestic house cat."

"Of course he's not domestic. You know I like foreign things. The man I bought him from called him exotic." She pressed her face into the cat's, "And yes hims certainly is!"

Thomas shook his head in disbelief. "Gwen, it can't be legal. Even if it is an animal you could keep, you would need a license or something to own that kind of pet."

"He sold me one of those too, so no problem." She shrugged off the conversation as Thomas had so often seen their mother do when her mind was set.

"Fine, but when that thing eats your face off while you sleep, don't cry to me about it." He stepped through the front door anxious to put brick walls between himself and the carnivorous beast. He ran through his list of attorneys mentally selecting the most appropriate one to call when Gwen got arrested for taking the cat out for stroll through the park.

Gwen followed close behind, but reversed her direction with a "I forgot something!" She popped back out a moment later with a book in hand.

"Since when do you speak Italian?" Thomas asked eying her copy of translated Shakespearean comedies.

"I don't. I just like to leave it out on the table. Makes people think I'm interesting."

Thomas evaluated her look for a second time wondering how she could think anyone would think she wasn't intriguing, well odd maybe, but certainly not in the normal category.

A short while later they were seated at their usual table on The Ivy patio. It was one of many indulgences he offered to keep her content. Thomas watched as Gwen casually peeked at the paparazzi perched across the street like vultures circling their pray. It took all his restraint to tell her they were not going to recognize her.

Gwen had auditioned for a new reality show and landed a roll. She was the only "name" amongst average citizens by being associated with her father's name. He had built a financial empire in high end real estate long before it was career trend of the week. He had sustained high profits through recessions, scandals and embezzlement investigations. Gwen came into a small fortune when he passed, and also landed on the pseudo celebrity radar making the production company trip over themselves to place her in the cast.

Thomas had to admit the idea had merit. It was somewhat of a murder mystery theatre, each week killing off a cast member while they tried to determine who among them was the killer. It lost its entertainment factor the moment he realized the producers were gearing the lead role of psycho towards his sister. What would land them better ratings than an eccentric millionaire playing a serial killer? He had the foresight to know the general public had a hard time discerning reality from television and put in a call to an old friend in the studio.

The following week, Gwen met her demise on the show.

She wasn't disappointed as she had the dramatic exit of being pushed out of an eighth story window landing in courtyard fountain. It was one of the few highlights that made any noise in the reviews. Unfortunately, it left her with a disillusioned sense of stardom.

Gwen ordered her usual grilled veggie salad then began her routine of meticulously separating each vegetable into its own distinct section of the plate. She also removed all the lettuce and placed it into the spare bowl the waitress knew to bring without asking. Moving counter clockwise around the plate she worked one veggie at a time before moving to the next.

"Mother was asking when you might visit?" Thomas hadn't bothered to ease into the subject. Gwen would be uncomfortable regardless.

She slowly chewed on her asparagus, a full forty three jaw crunches before answering. "I don't know. I've been pretty busy with screen tests."

Thomas knew the lie was coming before it passed her lips. "Gwen, you should see her. It would help her."

"Or snap her completely. Remember the last time?" A visible tremble shook her shoulders and the rose from her cheeks drained. She absently fanned the pages of her book lying next to her plate.

Thomas remembered it too well. He should have turned Gwen away as the nurses had already warned him Mother was having a difficult day. She had maxed out her medications potential and her physician was in Barcelona for three weeks. Since she refused any doctor but him, new medication regiments would have to wait.

Seeing Gwen triggered the memory of a small auburn haired girl playing in the mud while wearing her mother's new designer gown that was intended for a red carpet premier the next night. She had screamed foul, hateful insults that no six year old should ever receive from a mother, and she repeated each and every colorful obscenity to the grown but fragile young woman.

Thomas had yet to forgive himself for hurting Gwen that day.

"She's been doing better. Asks about you, how you are, what you like to do. She even watched your show. Every episode."

"She did?" Gwen didn't look up from the pile of tomatoes she was concentrating on.

"Even cried after your exit, but kept saying you looked so beautiful even when playing a corpse."

"She said that?" This time she looked up to find sincerity in his big brother's face.

"You know I don't lie to you." Thomas patted her fork wielding hand.

Gwen shook her head and pushed around a ruby tomato. "No, Tommy. You don't." Her vision slipped past his shoulder and her thoughts shifted. He recognized the look of a celebrity spotting.

"Gwen? Will you come?" He fought to keep her in the moment before it was lost.

She bit the inside of her cheek and scrunched her eyebrows together. "Maybe."

An involuntary sigh escaped from Thomas. Maybe wasn't a yes, but it was better than the stonewalling he had hit for seven months.

"I think that's Grayson Pax two tables down. I should introduce myself." Gwen dropped her fork and dabbed the corners of her mouth.

"Grayson who?" Thomas began to turn around, but was shushed by Gwen.

"Don't look! Sheesh!"

"You want to walk up and interrupt his meal, but I can't casually glance at the man? Who is he?"

"An up and coming director. Likes darker films and prefers casting new faces. Heard a rumor he is considering a script based off of Poe poetry."

"And you are hoping to get the role of the Raven?"

Gwen tolerated most of her brother's teasing, but not about her career aspirations. She refused to comment and rose from her seat.

"What are you doing?" Thomas' voice was admonishing and parental.

"Just going to say hello." She picked up her coffee and headed towards his table.

Thomas refused to watch, but the audio was enough.

"Oh my gosh! I am so sorry! Shoot, I hope it wasn't hot still!"

Thomas released a burdened sigh and resigned himself to play his own greatest role, damage control for his damaged sister.