Alone, still

The man woke again groggily, with no way to guess how long he laid on the floor in a crumpled heap. He felt a knot on the side of his head where it must of hit the hard tile. Lucky, in a way, that he’d had such a throbbing headache to begin with; at least cracking his skull on the ground couldn’t make it any worse. The man gingerly pushed himself into a sitting position.

Night had apparently fallen while he was out, leaving him in almost total darkness. Looking up over the bed, he saw a breathtaking number of stars twinkling in a clear sky, providing pretty much the only light in the room. Moonlight would have been a welcome addition, but was missing, sadly, from his small view of the world outside.

He paused, listening carefully for any sound or vibration that could mean another person was within earshot. The air was quiet and deathly still. He tried shouting, “Hello? Help!” It was barely even a croak.

His turned his attention back to the closest lab table and its prized faucet above. At least it seemed closer from down here, somehow. He tried to pull himself up onto knees, but his legs were weak, and moved much more slowly than he thought they should. With a sigh, he conceded the idea of crawling on hands and knees, and sank back down to chest. Shifting elbows and shoulders, he moved forward, like an infant army-crawling for the first time.

Moments later, after what seemed hours of snaking across the floor, the gaunt man reached the base of the table, gasping for breath. He stopped to rest, trying to keep from wheezing. This was going to be quite a trick; the goal, yet, was several feet above him.

Seeing no alternative, he pulled up again into a sitting position, waiting to reclaim every ounce of strength he could muster. Finally, the thirst overwhelming, he reached his hands over his head and grabbed the edge of the shiny black table top. With a grunt, he heaved himself up onto his knees, pushing from below with what little support his weak legs offered.

One step closer, the top of the table and dull silver goose-neck at eye-level.

Now, for the hardest part. He spread his elbows to obtain leverage, his forearms flat on the table, and closed his eyes. Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, inhale. Power coiled in his elbows, forearms, and shoulders, and he released it with his next breath, visualizing a mechanical spring. He rose from the floor, his feet coming up underneath him for support. Finally, he leaned awkwardly over the table, resting on a base made with his arms and chest.

Elation washed over him.

His fingers touched the flat metal lever engraved with a “C” and he pushed down. A moment of panic when it refused to yield, but finally it did, grudgingly. First, nothing. Then, a hollow rattle in the pipes below. Finally, a few desperate sputters of warm water splashed on his arm before resolving into a steady stream of clear liquid.

He leaned forward and drank deeply, selfishly. The water was stale and tasted of minerals, but his body ached for every drop. He eyed the rivulets falling into the dark drain below with a mixture of disgust and envy. Eventually, having conquered the tremendous thirst, he turned the lever the opposite way, and the flow of water was reduced from a stream to a trickle, and then just drops at regular intervals.

He held himself over the sink, catching his breath again, feeling the cool weight of the water slosh in his belly. It had a been a mistake to drink so much, so quickly, and he retched most of it back into sink.

“Well, well. Among the living, are we?” a cool voice said from the room’s only door.