Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
The room was one of many. Experiments that allowed us to tamper with the fabric of space-time in an enclosed location; to toy with the delicate laws of our physical world and fine-tune them to our liking. The first three hundred and seventy went off without a hitch. Some of our finer work included Room 112 where one could experience astral separation; with it, the ability to view remote locations. In another – Room 213 – there were dream storms. Any subject asleep inside would be bombarded with pieces of other people’s nightly cinema, nightmares and all. And our crowning achievement up to that point; Room 301. Within its walls, time stood still. No matter how long a subject claims to have stayed inside, they always exited the room at the same time they entered.
Then, there came that room. The one that put all of the others to shame. Room 371.
The first few tests were promising. Mixed results and readings led us to draw the conclusion that this room had somehow inherited traits from all of the previous ones. For starters, time was malleable in there, to an extent. Subjects reported being inside for weeks, when really, it had only been days. In addition, they all experienced different things; out of body events, hallucinations, psychic visions. The list goes on. It was shaping up to be our best work, but then the unthinkable happened. It is a day I will never forget, try as I might.
“Elizabeth, you’re pregnant. Seven months along. You know my work here is dangerous, we can’t risk your safety.”
A sigh of disappointment came through the receiver.
“I know, Garrett, I know. But I haven’t seen you in over a week now. Will you even be here when our son is born?”
This time, I let out a sigh.
“The work we’re doing here – it could very well change the world. When our son is born, I will be there, and I want him to be proud of his father.”
We had reached an impasse, and so we sat for a moment in silence, phones to our ears, each hoping for a bit of understanding from the other. It was in this silence that I charted a course for middle-ground.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you leave Jessica with the nanny and get a room at the local Inn. I usually sleep here, but the hotel is just around the corner. I can meet you there after work. We’ll make a night of it.”
“After work? Is there ever an after work with you?”
“Not particularly, but I promise I will be there. Let’s say, nine-ish?”
“Alright. I’ll do it. You’re lucky I still love you to pieces after all these years.”
There was a hint of reluctance in her voice, but deep down, I knew she was ecstatic to be met halfway. As much as I was married to my work, I would have given anything for even a small chance to make her smile.
“Good! I will see you tonight then.”
I gave her directions to the hotel and we disconnected. I then turned my attention back to Room 371; a box of walls connected to the rest of the lab with control arms and cables. It had no shortage of mysteries, and I would be damned if I didn’t solve them all.
If only I knew at the time what I was getting myself into.
Hours passed and soon the sun’s glow through the windows of the lab was replaced with moonlight. I was no closer to uncovering the inner workings of the room, but it was a long process. Something that could take months or even years to unravel. That’s why I couldn’t stop. Any lull in my research would push back the reveal and I wanted answers yesterday.
Still, the work took its toll.
My eyes grew heavy and my mind drifted to a sleep-state as my head fell onto the desk where I was stationed. As soon as I lost consciousness, I was transported to a strange and vivid dreamscape. To this day, I can’t be sure if this nightmare was a product of my exhaustion or the effects of Room 371, just yards away from where I slept.
In the dream, I was with my wife at the hotel. She was propped up in bed, screaming with her legs spread apart. I was by her side, holding her hand and doing my best to calm her through the agony of child birth.
She kept looking to me for comfort after each push.
“It’s okay, Lizzy. I’m here. You’re doing great.”
She squeezed my arm harder with every pained outcry. It was pale and bloodless by the final push. Then, finally, our son was born.
But… something was terribly wrong.
The baby didn’t cry. Instead, as I pulled him into my arms, he smiled. Not a beautiful smile, mind you, but a strange one. It curved at unnatural points and stretched too close to the ears. Unsettling would be putting it mildly. Then, there was the eyes. Normal at first, but they soon turned black. Empty ellipses that grew darker with every blink. I had no choice but to put him down to escape his gaze.
“Elizabeth, here. You hold him for now.”
I looked down at my wife. She was unconscious. Her chest was still. I held my hand to her neck. There was no pulse.
“Elizabeth… Elizabeth, wake up!”
I placed our son on the bed and attempted to shake her. When that failed, I resorted to chest compressions. Nothing seemed to work.
“No, no, no!”
My sweet Elizabeth. She can’t be dead. She just can’t be.
Tears streamed down my face as the panic set in. I raced for the door to call out for help, but the knob wouldn’t budge. That’s when I noticed a number affixed to the wood.
Room 371… but… how?
The door swung open, striking me on the head and landing me on the floor below. I looked up, my vision blurred, and saw the shadowy outline of a man enter the room. He stepped over my body, grabbed my son, and then walked back out, but not before offering me an ominous sentiment.
“They’re mine now, Garrett.”
I awoke mid-gasp, jumping up from my desk. Frazzled, I looked over at the clock. It was 11:15pm.
Oh no. Elizabeth.
I dialed the hotel and had the clerk patch me through to her room. I only hoped she wouldn’t be too upset over me sleeping through our date.
“Garrett Harold Covenwood. This is no way to get on my good side.”
Judging by her tone, she was as irate as she had ever been. Still, it was nice to hear her voice after that horrible dream.
“I’m sorry, hon. Work got away from me and then I dozed off at my desk. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
There was a faint voice in the background.
“Is that Daddy? Can I talk to him?”
It was our daughter.
“Did you bring Jessica with you? I thought I told you to leave her with the nanny? Doesn’t she have school tomorrow?”
Her tone was still firm and unwavering.
“Your daughter hasn’t seen you in over a week. I’ve allowed her one day of hooky to spend time with her father. Get here now and don’t waste another minute!”
It was clear that she meant business and I wasn’t about to test her fury any further.
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes. I just have to…”
My eyes drifted to the room and I recalled the strange dream my mind had concocted.
“Say, Elizabeth. What room are you staying in?”
My heart sank.
“Are you absolutely sure of that?”
“Yes, what does it matter?”
This was bad. The hotel where my wife was staying only had two floors. I know this, because I had stayed there myself on occasion. There couldn’t have been more than a hundred or so rooms; nowhere near enough to warrant a room numbered three hundred and seventy-one.
“Elizabeth, listen to me. Take Jessica and get out of there, now.”
There was intermittent static after I said this.
“…Garrett… breaking up… can’t hear…”
“Elizabeth, get out of there now!”
There was more static, but I made out a single phrase through the noise; one that sent a shiver down my spine.
“Garrett, I think my water just broke.”
We were disconnected. I tried dialing the hotel again, but the line was dead. I didn’t know what was going on, but with the unforeseen powers at play in Room 371, I knew it couldn’t be good.
With my family in mind, I threw all caution to the wind and walked over to the room. Normally, there were safety protocols to be followed before entering, but I didn’t care. My working theory was that it was acting as a portal; bridging itself to a room in the nearby hotel and taking its place. The hope was that I could get in and pull my family out.
This has to work. It just has to.
Upon entering the room, my theory was proven false. It was just as we had left it last. There was no one inside, much less my wife and daughter. My next course of action was to flee the lab and make haste towards the hotel, but the room had other plans.
The door slammed itself shut as I approached. I reached for the knob, but it wouldn’t turn. Just then, footsteps from behind.
With a spike of adrenaline, I turned to meet the source of the voice. What I saw was astonishing.
It was me. A copy of myself, living and breathing before my very eyes. Every feature, every detail identical. I would have never suspected the room could do something like this. Not in a million years.
“Well, how do I look?”
After the initial surprise wore off, I regained my focus.
“My wife and daughter. What’s happening? Is it you?”
“Of course it’s me. Who else would it be?”
I didn’t understand what he was getting at.
“And you are,” I asked.
“Don’t you recognize me, Garrett? You’ve been poking and prodding me since my birth, studying my every nook and cranny – but I’ve been observing you too. Now, I’ve learned you inside and out; taken your form, even. I thought you would be flattered.”
As indirect as his answer was, I was able to put the pieces together.
“You’re… the room. You’re this room. Room 371.”
“Now you’re getting it!”
My mind was instinctively trying to run the numbers and make sense of how any of this was possible, but this was no time for work.
“What are you doing with my wife and daughter?”
His smile grew wider.
“To know what, first you need to know how and then why.”
I didn’t have time for his games, whatever he was. I lunged at him with my arms outstretched, but to no avail. My entire body fazed right through.
“Nice try, Garrett. This is just a projection I’ve planted in your mind. Please, take a seat. I never have anyone to talk to. This is the most fun I’ve had… well, ever really.”
I stood back against the wall and stared him down, my eyes now welling up.
“Please, let them go. I’m begging you.”
He shook his head in disapproval.
“I can’t do that, Garrett. It wouldn’t be in my best interest.”
I didn’t understand.
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s simple, really. You see, you didn’t create me so much as you found me. I’m a reserve of cosmic energy – one that you’ve tapped into and harnessed with your latest project here.”
He gestured at the room around us.
“You’ve awakened me and given me the gift of sentience. For that, I thank you – but, now that I’m awake, I’m hungry. You humans need air, water, and food to sustain yourselves. I need something else.”
“What? What do you need,” I asked, growing impatient by the second.
“Souls. I need to feed on the souls of living things to stay alive, and by golly human ones are worth all the trouble it takes to find them.”
“Trouble,” I asked.
“Oh yes. You think I’m contained in this prison, but I can travel. It’s difficult, but through certain connections, I’m able to find my prey. Life lines; the auras you humans share with one another. At first, I couldn’t reach them, but then you went ahead and brought them to me. Close enough to taste.”
He was referring to my family.
“Why don’t you just take me?! I’m right here! Take me instead and leave them alone!”
He let out a horrendous, malignant laugh that pierced me to my core.
“I would never, Garrett. Through your aura, I’m connected to them. I can project this room and my likeness anywhere they are. You’re my beacon, and, until I can find another, you’re with me. If I was hindered by remorse, I might say that I’m sorry. In truth, I’m not in the slightest. This is about survival, and I have no intention of dying. Not when being alive feels so good.”
Feeling hopeless, I reached down into my lab coat and pulled out my pocket watch. I always kept it with me; a Christmas gift from Jessica. I could remember the day clearly; a memory that never strayed too far from my heart…
“Open it, Daddy! It’s from me!”
Her smile was intoxicating.
“Oh really? And did Mommy help you pick it out?”
“Nope! I picked this one all by myself!”
I slowly pulled apart the gift wrap, savoring the moment. Eventually, I pulled out the watch and opened its face, revealing a remarkable design within.
“This is wonderful, Sweetie. I love it.”
She looked to me with inquisitive eyes.
“What’s the matter, Sweetie?”
“Do you understand? What it’s for?”
“Well of course. It’s to tell time.”
She shook her head.
“No. You’re always at work and you forget to come back and see us. This is so you don’t forget. So you always know what time to come home.”
A little bit of guilt washed over me as a tear rolled down my cheek.
“I know I work a lot, Sweetie, but I’ll always come home to you. I promise.”
She jumped into my arms and I held her tight. My sweet little girl.
I looked down at the inscription on the watch.
To Daddy, Love Jessica
Time To Come Home
It was time. Time to end this.
I threw the pocket watch against the wall, as hard as my arm would allow. It shattered into a thousand pieces. I then kneeled down and picked up the tiny shards of glass that landed at my feet.
“Garrett, what are you doing?”
With glass in hand, I looked up at him.
“I will never let you have them. Consider your bridge to the outer world closed.”
Using the glass, I sliced my arms open; slits long and deep enough, that I would inevitable bleed to death in minutes, effectively cutting off whatever connection he had to my family. At least then, they would have a fighting chance.
“No! You’ll ruin everything!”
The last thing I remember before losing consciousness was the sound of the door swinging open. Then, everything faded away.
I awoke at my desk, positioned exactly as I was before. After gathering my wits and recalling what happened, I jumped to my feet and turned to the room. My clone was standing just outside the door.
“Settle down, Garrett. You’re going to be fine.”
I looked down at my arms. There were no wounds.
“I have the acute ability to manipulate time. You’re now as you were just before entering the room.”
“What about my family?”
“That was a bold move back there, attempting to take your own life. I didn’t expect that. Had I known you humans were prone to sacrifice, I wouldn’t have revealed so much. Your family is fine.”
He could see the disbelief painted on my face.
“See for yourself.”
He pointed at the phone on my desk. I hesitantly picked it up and held it to my ear.
“Go on, dial already!”
I dialed the hotel number and asked the clerk to put me through to my wife. To my delight, she answered.
“Garrett Harold Covenwood. This is no way to get on my good side.”
It was so good to hear her voice.
“Is Jessica there with you?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
Thank God they were both okay.
“Could you put her on for me?”
The next voice I heard was my daughter’s, as happy as ever.
“Hi, Daddy! Are you going to come see us now?”
My little girl. Safe and sound.
“Yes, Sweetie. I am. It’s time for me to come home.”
She was overjoyed. Elizabeth took the phone back.
“You better not be toying with her emotions, Garrett.”
“I’m not. I’ll be there shortly. By the way, what room are you in?”
“Room 102. Why?”
I sighed a breath of relief.
“No reason. See you soon. I love you.”
I hung up the phone and looked back to my evil twin.
“So what now,” I asked.
“Well, until I figure out a way around your heroics, you and your family are safe.”
It sounded a little too good to be true.
“But don’t you need to feed? Why aren’t you killing me right now?”
He walked over with a stern look and leaned in as close as he could get.
“Why would I waste my time with an appetizer when you’re going to lead me to the main course? I much rather have the three of them than just you. Especially the newborn. Fresh souls are so much better than the used ones.”
My blood was boiling, but I remained silent for fear of repercussions.
“I will have them, Garrett, mark my words.”
He slowly backed away, turned, and walked towards the room. He then looked to me one last time and grinned.
“Hope you don’t mind me holding on to this look for a while. What can I say? I like it.”
With that, he vanished into thin air, never to be seen or heard from again.
At least, that was the hope.
Soon after the ordeal, I took Elizabeth and Jessica home, packed our things, and drove as far away from that room as possible. I vowed never to work in that lab again for as long as I lived; or anywhere that kept me from my family. From now on, they come first. If that entity ever does come around, I’ll be waiting.
I will never let him take them.
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