The Room Of Forking Paths, Chapter Six: The Exit Door Leads In

The next, and hopefully last, room looked nothing like the previous ones. If anything it looked like a doctor’s reception, except with out the medical posters on the walls. There was a door on one side of the room and in the centre of the same wall there was a reception window. On the other side of the room was a row of small, uncomfortable looking chairs, and a shelf on the wall filled with paperback books. There was also a small coffee table with an assortment of fashion and sport related magazines.

I walked over to the door. Unlike the previous ones this one had a keyhole beneath the handle. There was also a window in the top half of the door, filled with frosted glass that was impossible to see through. I tried the handle. Locked.

Turning around, I looked over to the reception window. There was a set of wooden shutters on the other side of the glass that had been closed up, preventing me from seeing any further. I took a step back. At one corner, just under the window, was a small button, with a hand written label that read ‘push for assistance’ crudely taped to it. I moved closer and pushed the button. From somewhere on the other side of the wall I could here a faint buzzing noise. After a few seconds I released the button and the noise stopped. A moment later, from a speaker that must have been concealed somewhere in the room, I heard what sounded like a recorded message: ‘Please take a seat, and someone will be with you shortly’. I walked over to the chairs, looked at the bookshelf for a moment before settling on a paperback with the title ‘Men Who Hate Women And The Women Who Love Them,’ and sat down to wait.

Not having a watch, I can only estimate how much time had passed before the door opened, but it seemed like at least half an hour. I had been flicking through one of the magazines, and when I heard a key turning in the lock my head snapped up and I jumped to my feet. I was halfway across the room when the door swung open and a tall man in a long white coat stepped through. There was a  thin smile on his face.

“Well, this is a surprise!” he said, sounding genuinely pleased. “We expected you to take a lot longer to get here.”

“We?”

“Yes, myself and the rest of the staff here at the facility.”

“What facility? Where is this place? And why was I brought here?”

His brows furrowed and the smile faded. He looked like a doctor about to deliver some bad news. “I can understand how confusing this may seem, but rest assured, everything will make sense once your recent memories are restored.”

I had been preparing myself for an argument in response to whatever bureaucratic obfuscations he voiced, but his comment about memories threw me. “What do you mean? Why would my memories need to be restored?”

His smile resurfaced. ” Well, we had to remove them in order for the procedure to be successful.”

“What procedure? What did you do to me?”

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sheet of paper. “Nothing you didn’t readily agree to, I assure you.” He passed the paper to me and I looked it over. It was some kind of written agreement regarding an experimental medical procedure. At the bottom was my signature. I looked at it for a while but there was nothing about it to suggest a forgery. Not that my signature was difficult to copy.

I looked up from the sheet to the mysterious scientist. He wasn’t wearing a name badge. “Sorry, before we go on, could you tell me your name?”

“Of course. Dr Miles Prescott.” He held out his hand, which I shook briefly. “Now, I expect you have a barrage of questions. Why don’t we go down to my office-”

“Just a moment.” He seemed surprised, but not annoyed by the interruption. “Just tell me one thing. If I volunteered, why did you need to erase my memories of signing up for this… this… whatever it is?”

“Because we didn’t just take memories out, we put them in.” His grin widened. “You may have noticed that all of the clues in those rooms seemed based on specific memories. None of those memories were yours.”

“Who… whose were they?”

” Another volunteer, I expect. I wasn’t responsible for that side of the procedure. The important thing is, we wanted to know if your mind could successfully accept these new memories as your own. In order to test that, it was necessary that you be unaware of what was happening.”

“But why this convoluted puzzle?”

“Lets just say that our research indicated that the best way to bring any implanted memories to the surface would be through association, rather than direct questioning. Especially with memories as banal as these.”

It took a moment for all of this to sink in. It seemed ridiculous, but also explained exactly how they had been aware of such small and unimportant memories. “But why those memories? Why not something bigger?”

“That’s simple enough.” He gestured at the paper bags that I had left on the coffee table. “How do you feel, now that you know you didn’t really eat those doughnuts for a year?” I thought about it for a moment, but was unsure how to answer. I didn’t really feel anything. “Don’t worry, it’s not a trick question. If you are indifferent then please tell me so.”

I shrugged. “I guess that sums it up. I don’t really care either way.”

“Exactly. Now, think how you would feel if the false memories were of a close personal relationship, a wife or a child, for example. How would it feel then, to find out that those memories were not real?” Evidently this was a rhetorical question, as he didn’t wait for an answer, but put a hand on my arm and started leading me toward the door. “Now that that’s clear, let’s go to my office. There are a couple of other things that needed to be explained.”

As we walked I felt a sense of relief, but there was a tiny nagging doubt at the back of my mind. It was very convenient for them to say that my memories of volunteering had been erased. But why would they want to lie? Unless whatever the procedure was, it was still running. This could all be on the level, or it could be just a setup for something much bigger, something that I probably didn’t sign up for. As we stepped through the door, I resolved not to trust anyone until I could be sure of the situation.

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