I’m falling.

I’m falling and my arms are waving wildly, an impotent struggle against forces far beyond my control. The wind tears at my skin and I’m hurtling towards the ground faster than I can imagine, and yet it seems impossibly far. I want the pain to end, I want to stop falling, I want to just crash and finish this. As if acquiescing to my will, my body slams against the ground, my body vibrating, feeling my bones shatter –

– But why is the ground so soft?

My eyes fly open and I sit up, breathing hard, so hard that I can feel my lungs hurt. My hands press hard downwards, and I find that I am, indeed, on something that feels ridiculously soft. What the fuck? I can’t see anything though, the room is pitch dark. Feeling around, I find a pillow and realise that I am on a bed. Okay. That’s a good sign. Maybe a hospital room? But what hospital room is this badly-lit? And which hospital bed is this soft?

Instinctively, I feel around to the edge of the bed and then grope blindly in the dark till I can feel a switchboard, and press a button or two until the lights come on.

My eyes blink and burn at the sudden light, but the image that I manage to see before I have to close them is etched in my mind in vivid contrast. I quickly blink to confirm if what I have seen is true, and it is. This is like no hospital I’ve ever seen or known of.

This looks...impossibly...like a hotel room. A really nice hotel room. It is very spacious, housing an
incredibly soft double bed, a huge wall-mounted TV, rich, well-decorated carpet, and a well-burnished study table. There is a large set of bay windows here, but...strangely, they’ve been completely blacked out. I tug on them to open them and I am unable to. The only light in the room is from the bulbs above.

Looking around, I see a door that probably leads to a similarly luxurious bathroom. This place looks like something my highest-end clients would stay in while vacationing.

But what am I doing here?

Hazily, I remember the events of...yesterday? Earlier? Whenever I was last awake. An explosion, fire...gas? And fainting. Everyone fainting. What had happened to the rest of them?

Feeling a dull throbbing in my head, I get off the bed and examine myself. My clothes are what I remember wearing last, and they seem a bit crumpled but otherwise undamaged. I pat my pockets and find that I am carrying almost nothing: no phone or anything else I can recognise.

The only thing I can find is a shiny steel key, which I have never seen before in my life. The key has a wooden keychain attached to it on which the number 7 has been painted. The keychain shows clear signs that somebody has erased what was originally on it. I put it back in my pocket and look around my immediate area. I can’t spot any of my belongings. That’s alarming, and there’s a sense of foreboding that cuts through my grogginess.

I take a step forward to go search the room, and I find my right leg suddenly feeling heavy. Puzzled, I lift the hem of the right leg of my pantsuit and find...something. I cannot identify it, but it looks like a thick glass tube that has been strapped in place with solid-looking metal. Inside the glass tube is a yellowish liquid that I also cannot identify.

Next to the contraption is another strange-looking device, a dull metal circle that is held in place with a similar-looking strap. I bend down and try to see if there are any buckles or anything that I can unlock, but my hands can find no purchase. Deciding I better not mess with it right now, I try and move my leg experimentally. There’s no restriction of movement, and my leg feels undamaged. Okay.

Hesitantly moving on.

I make my way to the TV. Maybe there’s some news of what happened to everyone at the event. The remote is below, curiously bereft of any markings or indications on its buttons. I try to switch the TV on. It quickly complies, only to reward me with static. I try switching channels, changing output – nothing. All static. On the table below the TV is a small freestanding clock. The time reads 3:14. There are no other indicators on it; no date or whether it’s even am or pm. The event was...late morning, around 11. Does that mean it’s been a few hours since? Has it been closer to sixteen hours? What if more than a day has passed? With the lighting situation the way it is, there’s just no way to tell.

As I think of what to do next, my eye catches something that is neatly kept on the table. It is a white hospital gown and a standard black face mask. On top of it is a printed note: Wear this and make your way out of the room, and down the elevator to the lobby. Do not attempt to leave the room without wearing this. Do not talk to anyone on the way. Do not try to manipulate your ankle devices. If you try to do any of the above, the consequences will be shocking.

Excerpted with permission from The Only Way Out is Death, Varun Gwalani, Saga Fiction.