Content Warning: Forced drugging, kidnapping, needles
Chelsea heard footsteps behind her and jumped, whipping her head around.
“Whoa, sorry,” said Sam. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”
“Sorry,” said Chelsea. “I’m a little jumpy today.”
“What are you doing eating in here? Hiding from the other interns?” Sam chuckled. “I don’t blame you. Most of those guys are imbeciles.”
Chelsea shrugged. She was hiding from the other interns but not for the reason Sam thought she was. She’d been fielding questions about the bruises on her neck all day, and she was getting tired of having to explain what had happened to her again and again, editing out the stranger parts of the story.
“I usually eat in here too. If Jen doesn’t drag me to the cafe, that is.” Sam sat down in a chair beside her. “Whoa! What happened to your neck?”
“Oh, um…” Chelsea suppressed a sigh. “Someone broke into my friend’s house yesterday while I was there and attacked me.”
“Oh, wow,” said Sam. “Oh my god, that’s– Are you okay?”
“I’m a little shaken up,” she said, “but I’m fine. Mostly I’m just glad no one was seriously hurt.”
“Yeah, me too,” said Sam. “That’s scary. Was it a robbery, or…?”
“Yeah,” Chelsea lied. “Most likely.”
Sam pulled the ring of magnets off his wrist and began fidgeting with them, and Chelsea took it as an opportunity to change the subject.
“Those magnets look cool,” she said.
“These?” He looked down at the magnets, then looked at her and smiled. “Yeah, aren’t they awesome? I’d let you hold them, but they’re high powered and very dangerous.”
“Oh, wow. Really?” She smiled back at him. Her distraction had worked.
“They’re called neodymium magnets. They’re the strongest magnets in the world, so they’re highly illegal in the United States. I actually had to import mine from Japan…”
Chelsea was fairly certain most of what he was saying wasn’t true, but she feigned interest as he continued to tell her about his magnets.
“…more than three times the magnetic strength of solar sunspots.” Sam leaned forward in his chair. “Well, I actually just came down here to grab some coffee. I hate to leave you to eat alone, but I should probably get back to work. Sorry about what happened to you and your friend.”
“Thanks. It was nice talking to you, Sam. I’ll see you later.”
Sam got up and headed for the coffee machines. Chelsea resumed eating her sandwich as the latte machine burbled behind her. After a minute, she saw Sam make his way up the stairs with a steaming mug, his magnets hanging in a ring around the handle. When he reached the top of the stairs, he turned around and raised his free hand in a wave, then disappeared down a hallway.
She stopped eating and looked around, suddenly aware of how quiet the building was. Everyone was either working in their labs and offices or taking their lunch breaks, leaving the engineering building atrium almost completely empty. The only sound came from one of the frosted glass conference rooms on the other side of the atrium, where some kind of meeting or luncheon was taking place.
She packed her half-eaten sandwich into her lunchbox, picked up her purse, and headed up the stairs, deciding to look for a break room to eat lunch in. The quiet, empty space and high glass ceiling were making her feel uneasy.
She rounded a corner into a hallway, nearly bumping into a woman in a lab coat who was standing in the way.
“Oh, sorry!” Chelsea said, trying not to sound as startled as she felt. “Excuse me.”
The woman didn’t move or respond, so Chelsea tapped her shoulder.
“Excuse me, do you mind if I just slide past y–“
The woman turned around, and Chelsea stopped cold.
Chelsea could feel her heart pounding in her head.
“Help!” she shouted. “Someone, please, hel–“
The woman extended a hand, and Chelsea slammed into the wall.
Chelsea tried to move, but it felt as though something was pressing down on her, holding her arms and legs immobile against the wall.
“Let me go,” she said.
“There is literally no reason for me to do that,” said the woman.
The woman reached for Chelsea, pulling her from the wall and wrapping an arm around her neck.
“I know better than to try mind-choking you now,” she said. “I guess I’ll try the old-fashioned way.”
“Welcome to Chaz’s Chicken Hut,” said Lachlan. “What can we get started for you?”
“Lachlan. You need to cluck when you greet the customers.” His manager Kathy looked up from a clipboard and frowned. “We’ve been over this. It’s about good customer experience.”
“Excuse me.” Lachlan turned to the teenage boy on the other side of the counter. “I’m just curious, but if I clucked at you right now, would that improve your customer experience?”
“Uh, not really,” said the boy. “I just want chicken nuggets.”
“The customer is always right,” said Lachlan.
“That’s not what that means and you know it.” Kathy stood up and walked up to the counter beside Lachlan. “Go ahead. This young man is waiting.”
“Nah,” said Lachlan.
“Can I just order?” said the teenage boy.
“Cluck, cluck! Welcome to Chaz’s Chicken Hut!” Kathy stuck her elbows out, imitating chicken wings. “Now you try.”
Lachlan sighed. “Cluck, cluck.”
“You need to do the arms.”
“I’m not doing the arms,” said Lachlan. “I draw the line at doing the arms.”
The boy turned away from the counter. “Um, I’ll just go to Red Rooster.”
“Red Rooster’s not open this late,” Kathy called after him.
The boy ignored her and continued out the door.
Lachlan turned away from the register and headed toward the back door.
“Well, we don’t have any customers now,” he said. “I’m taking my break.”
He closed the door before Kathy had the chance to say anything.
He let out a heavy sigh and leaned on the wall behind him. It was a cool night, and he could feel the cold bricks through the back of his shirt. He usually liked to wear a T-shirt under his ridiculous uniform so he could pull it off as soon as his shift was finished, but he’d been in a hurry tonight. He was almost glad he hadn’t worn another shirt now; the cold on his back was refreshing after standing over a hot fryer for a few hours.
The night was quiet except for the occasional sound of a passing car, and a soft rustling behind the skip bin–probably a cat or possum looking for a quick meal.
He pulled his iPod out of his pocket, put in his earbuds, and selected a song by The Goldfish Technique.
I’ll go back in after five songs, he thought. If I feel like it.
He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall.
‘Hey, hey won’t you leave me alone? I’m better off when I’m on my own,’ he sang along. ‘You’re just a silly boy, silly boy. You treat me like I’m just a toy.’
He was so lost in his music, he didn’t hear the men approach until they were right in front of him.
It was too dark for Lachlan to make out their features. He could only see their silhouettes in the streetlight’s dim glow. The man in the center was thin, and not much taller than Lachlan. The men standing on either side were large in two different ways–one was built like a rugby player, the other looked more like a sumo wrestler.
The thin man reached over and pulled Lachlan’s earbuds from his ear.
“What you listening to, mate?”
“Look, I don’t have any money,” said Lachlan. “I don’t have my wallet with me. I’d rather you not have my iPod, but if you’re going to stab me or something, go ahead. Take it.”
In the darkness, Lachlan could just barely make out the sneers that stretched across the men’s faces.
“Money?” said the fat man. “We don’t want your money, chicken boy.”
“Then what do you want?” Lachlan felt a cold weight in his chest. “My… my mobile?”
The thin man pulled something small and cylindrical from his pocket. The man stepped forward, and jammed the object into Lachlan’s neck.
“Ow, fuck! I–” Lachlan’s anger gave way to horror as he realized what had happened. “What… what did you do to me?”
He tried to reach for the door handle beside him, but his arms felt like they were made of lead. When his legs buckled under him, he felt as though he was falling in slow motion. He tried to shout for help, but only a weak, strangled whimper escaped his lips.
The already dim streetlight seemed to darken even more as a thick, staticky fog began to dance across his vision.