Today’s prompt from Alissa Leonard’s Finish That Thought is the opening sentence I ran for the door, but someone had taken the keys. Bonus challenge: include a ticking clock or countdown. Normally Tuesdays are bad writing days for me – bad days in general due to work – but I have not been writing much so I felt like I should force myself to do some.
It turns out that I found this to be a spectacularly difficult opening sentence to work with; I got stuck in the minutiae of trying to figure out how the keys and the door and the exit were supposed to be working and it felt very illogical indeed.
The opening sequence is in fact inspired by the time in residency when I went running to respond to a code siren and forgot that the emergency department doors required you to push a button to open them. It was extremely awkward and I almost broke my nose. Also, the intern beat me to the code.
That said, here it is:
Keys (491 words)
I ran for the door, but someone had taken the keys. The little red light on the touchpad registered a moment before my face registered the imprint of magnetically locked glass and chrome doors along its entire length. My hand, outstretched in the reflex that normally triggered the lock, encountered the chrome a moment later, my knuckles stinging.
I bounced back, struggling to inhale, my stunned brain scrambling to process what, exactly, had just caused it to careen off the front of my skull. There was a dull ringing in my ears, and I shook my head to clear it, which was probably in retrospect the wrong movement to make and had far more effect on my vertigo than the sound. Despite my best efforts, it continued to warble, worming its way into a part of my brain indoctrinated in elementary school and triggering a reflexive understanding.
I blinked blurred eyes and felt the sting of smoke against them for the first time, smelled the sharp tang of circuitry burning drilling into my nostrils. In front of me, the chrome reflected red-gold glints through the dull grey roiling up around me. My elementary brain stamped its foot and screamed at me.
A moment shy of rolling backward into the flames, I pressed my face against the crack between the doorways and inhaled fresh air at knee level, fighting the urge to gasp and waste the little oxygen I had available to me. Through the glass, I could see clean white tiles and the green EXIT glowing above its white metal door. I imagined myself as thin as the stick man on the sign, papering through the gap in the magnet locked doors and scampering two-dimensionally away to freedom.
The crackle and pop of the fire brought me back abruptly to reality. I turned, not really wanting to know how close it was, and wondering why the fire suppression systems hadn’t kicked in. I wondered why the power was still on, why the magnetic locks hadn’t failed, where the keys had gone to when we always kept them on a cable right by the pad, in case of emergencies. Emergencies just like this.
And then, crouched on the floor watching two million dollars of research and development turn into greasy electrical smoke, I understood. The magnet locks weren’t going to fail. The fire suppression systems weren’t going to fire. And I wasn’t going to turn into a two-dimensional stick figure and slide between the crack in the doors. I wasn’t going to go anywhere. By the time anyone got to the lab and put out the fire — if anyone came at all, before the flames choked themselves to death on their own oxidation — there would be nothing left of me.
Me. And my data. And the secrets I’d been so sure would be safe locked inside my own brain. Unhackable. Uncopyable.
There were no backups of me.