Part XII, a

Thom negotiated the broad steps carefully, coming to a large landing where the staircase turned the opposite direction before continuing to the floor below. He felt immeasurably stronger than when he woke up weeks ago – almost new again, really – but the possibility of toppling over and rolling to the bottom was still very real; he hadn’t walked down stairs with his own legs in a long time. His left hand clung gingerly to the railing, just in case.

His slippers slapped against the hard steps as he moved, bouncing echoes around in the space slowly coming into view. He cringed without knowing exactly why, since there couldn’t be anyone down here except Ana. Disturbing the otherwise absolute quiet was nerve-racking, though, which played right into his blossoming paranoia. Going barefoot might have been less unsettling, but he really didn’t want to catch a cold, or worse, from a chilly floor that hadn’t seen a mop in at least three years. Especially over a little noise that no one but a few rats was around to hear.

He reached the bottom and was very glad he’d thought to bring a flashlight. A few windows here and there let in a measure of pale autumn afternoon light, but not much. It was late enough too, that the sun would be reaching towards the horizon before long.

He thumbed the flashlight on and took a look around.

A long hallway ran from where he stood at the bottom of the steps to a set of double doors, roughly 50 yards away. He could just make out the word “Gymnasium” above them. Immediately to his right were two sets of glass doors leading outside, and just beyond them down the hall was the school’s main office. He thought the external doors were likely the main entrance.

Taking a few steps forward, he turned to this right and looked into the office. Behind the wooden counter intended to separate the administration personnel from the students were three standard-sized desks, two along the wall to the left and the third facing him from the middle of the room. They still held a few stacks of file folders and some errant paperwork, which meant they likely belonged to the secretarial staff. The center one even had a picture frame or two, face down on an oversized 2007 desk calendar. Hanging from the back wall was a large grid of staff mailboxes, a few of which contained unclaimed mail. Finally, he noticed a narrow doorway at the far back of the room on the left, which he figured would lead to the infamous principal’s office.

Making an about face, Thom found himself looking at the school’s cafeteria. It was completely open and took up the entire left side of the hall running from the stairway to the gym. Twenty or twenty-five circular lunch tables were spread relatively evenly throughout, reaching all the way to the back of the room where archways opened to the food service area that would have served hungry students back when there were still students.

Since he was nearly sick to death of reconstituted soup, beef jerky, and instant oatmeal, finding a better variety of canned good seemed a lot more interesting at the moment than digging through old records or looking around in the gym. Shooting some hoops was definitely on the to-do list, if he could find a basketball that would hold air, but food absolutely came first. He stepped forward into the lunch room and walked toward a door bearing the label “Kitchen Staff Only”.

The grey swinging door squeaked loudly as he pushed past it into the kitchen area proper. Once inside, he found stainless steel work tables and kitchen appliances, and a dingy floor composed of tan tiles. The two work tables stood in the center of the room, to his right as he stood near the door. Behind them, along the back wall, was a large metal griddle next to several gas-powered burners, all under a big ventilation hood. A single pot sat on one of the burners, which he guessed Ana used to make soup for him. There were several other pieces of equipment along that same wall whose purpose eluded him since he’d never been in a kitchen with commercial-grade appliances before.

Directly in front of him were two large metal doors with clasp handles and a third plain-looking one which reminded him of a closet. He stepped to that one first and tried the doorknob, which twisted easily. He pulled the door open and nearly clapped when he saw a shelf full of cans that meant he’d found the pantry. The happiness was short-lived, though, as he took stock of what was available in the little room. Cans of chicken soup, cans of bean soup, cans of tomato soup, two cans of dark red kidney beans, and a can of creamed corn that looked like it was from the 70’s. On the lowest shelf he found some tomato paste and a huge can labeled “Beets” that was bigger than a gallon-sized can of paint.

“Looks like it’s going to be soup for a while yet,” he mumbled, disappointed.

He exited the pantry, closed the door, and stepped to the larger doors. He suspected one was a freezer and the other a refrigerator, so wasn’t terribly surprised when he pulled the handle of the first and a wave of frigid air rushed past him. It was a fairly sizeable walk-in freezer, but held nothing other than one rather oddly-shaped hunk of whitish meat. Pork was his best guess, but he couldn’t be certain. His mouth watered profusely at the thought of devouring a big, juicy roasted hunk of meat, and he briefly considered grabbing it. Unfortunately, though, he didn’t know where to begin trying to cook it in a kitchen like this. Besides, being frozen, it was probably too late to make for an evening meal tonight anyway. He left it alone and let the door swing shut, which produced a thud as it hit its frame and then a click when the handle clasp settled into position.

Thom immediately reached for the next door, which had to be the fridge. He was even more disappointed with its contents, two shelves of labeled bags which appeared to contain blood, a stand-up rack of vials, and several small bottles of various types of medication. Ana was obviously using the refrigerator for medical supplies needing to be kept cold.

He thought the blood seemed a little unusual, at first, until he realized it was bagged to hang from IV hooks like the one he drug around weeks ago. He knew that athletes often used blood transfusions as a way to increase strength and stamina, and it wouldn’t surprise him if Ana had done the same thing to him early on. There was little question he could have used the help, and she didn’t seem to have any problem doing whatever she saw fit to him medically.

He took a closer look at the rack of vials. To his untrained eye, they appeared to be samples for testing, the kind that your doctor drew when you got a physical exam or were sick and needed some type of exotic-sounding cell count. Each was labeled simply, with just a number and a date. Two vials were labeled with a “1” and both were dated well over a year ago. Six or seven carried a “2” and were least six months old, while more than a dozen had a “3” and all seemed to be from the last couple of months.

He might have considered it just a coincidence, but the saying “it was a small world” had been around since well before he theoretically became one of the last real people in it. So, no, no coincidence; the contents of those number “3” vials had almost certain been taken from him in the very recent past. However, just as he couldn’t figure out how Ana had taken out his IV without him realizing it, he was baffled at how she’d drawn samples of his blood unbeknownst to him. Sure, the first few probably weren’t hard to get when he was still mostly in a coma, but the most recent vial was dated two weeks ago, long after that IV line had been removed. She’d clearly had to use a syringe, if these actually were his samples, and it unnerved him to think she could just stick a needle in his arm and take blood without waking him.

In that case, a circus running through the room probably wouldn’t wake him, and he wasn’t comforted by the idea that he was sleeping that soundly when dangerous people were supposed to be looking for him. He wondered, not for the first time, if she was slipping him some kind of tranquilizer at night. It was definitely time to have a very serious talk with Ana about what she was giving him.

Right on the heels of that thought, a more significant question occurred to him and he cocked his head to the side quizzically. “If the number threes are mine, where did the number one and two samples come from?”

Thinking back over all the conversations he’d had with her over the past two months, Thom tried to pull out anything that might give him a clue about the other two sets of vials. Unfortunately, nothing was forthcoming.

Simply asking her would, of course, be the quickest way to find out, but she wasn’t exactly at his beckoned call. There was no telling when she might appear again when he was awake, and this kind of thing would prey on his mind until he had an answer. A research journal or notebook of some kind might shed some light on it, but he couldn’t think of time when he’d seen her with anything like that.

That thought, actually, suddenly struck him as a little odd. She seemed an extremely meticulous person; in fact, she reminded him of a girl from his intro Psychology course that wrote down every word the professor spoke in class, verbatim. The girl never had a button undone, a shoelace loose, or a hair out of place, which is exactly how he pictured Ana in her college days, assuming she’d had any. Either way, if she was taking samples and tracking his rehab scientifically at all, there had to be some kind of research journal, somewhere. If he was lucky, it stayed when she left.

“The office”, he said to himself. Surely if such a collection of notes could be found in the building, it would be in the main office.