The first thing Seth was aware of was his throat. Dry, scratchy, like he'd been chugging sand before he'd fallen asleep. He cracked open his eyes, the only thought occupying any space in his head was that he needed to find something to drink.
That changed quickly when a bolt of panic shot through him as he realized he wasn't in his bedroom. He jumped up, in his excitement getting caught up in the blanket and nearly falling face first onto the wooden floor.
He found himself in a pair of strange pajamas that certainly didn't belong to him. His mind was racing, trying to remember how he'd wound up there, or even where 'there' was. The last thing he remembered was being led out of the van. There was that big metal door. Then nothing.
He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He sat on the bed, trying to remember. Anything, any little detail, but somewhere along the line everything just went blurry. The futility got to him quickly, frustration setting in, and noticing this set the matter aside.
It was quite possible he could sit for the rest of his life and not remember what happened after that. Besides, it wasn't like it would make him remember anything any faster regardless. They'd either come back at their own pace, or not at all. It would be a much better use of his time to explore the place. There could even be something laying around that might spark his memory.
Taking his first good look around the place, he found a window in the back of the room, cracked just a hair to let in a cool breeze. It was muggy as if it had just rained, but the sun was out in full force. The room was more or less empty, with only the bed and accompanying nightstand to occupy it. An old fashioned oil lantern sat on top of the nightstand, and from what he could see it looked like it was only about half full. He went to pick it up out of curiosity, in doing so discovering a large brass key behind it.
He turned the key over and over in his hand trying to find any kind of marking on it. To his surprise, it seemed to be smooth on both sides, save of course for the handful of teeth on the end and the occasional nick or scratch.
Taking note of the door on the opposite side from the bed, he had to guess the key was probably meant to unlock it. Setting the lantern back down, he noticed the nightstand gave a hallow thump that he hadn't expected. Taking a closer look, he noticed a drawer attached to the bottom.
Pulling it out, he found a pair of clean clothes jammed inside, just barely managing to squeeze into the narrow space. It wasn't anything fancy, just a blue shirt, a pair of black pants and a belt. As he'd expected, they fit him perfectly, and after changing left his discarded pajamas on the bed. All he was missing was a pair of shoes, and quickly enough he found a pair of boots laying next to the foot of the bed.
Tentatively advancing towards the door, he couldn't help but imagine what might be waiting for him on the other side. He pictured some kind of strange prison where everyone was allowed to wonder the facility, doing as they pleased, thoughts of what kind of people might be waiting out there for him making him second guess his next move.
He couldn't shake the feeling that he was being manipulated somehow, like he was doing exactly as some invisible puppeteer wished, but with a last surge of determination marched forward and slid the key home. The lock turned with a solid click, and with a gentle nudge the door opened out into a narrow corridor.
Pocketing the key, he took his first step outside, closing the door behind him. Doors identical to his own lined both sides of the hall, his room being at the end of a long line. There didn't seem to be any kind of identification on the outside, no plate with a room number etched into it or anything similar, so he had wonder how everyone was supposed to make their way back to their rooms later.
Starting down the hallway, he idly wondered how many rooms this place had. He'd passed well over twenty by the time he came to a T-intersection, and there were still at least a dozen more in this corridor alone. And strangely, while the walk had been no arduous task he could already feel the effects of fatigue slowing his limbs. Maybe he hadn't gotten enough sleep?
He gazed down the hallway to his left, finding a hall not too different from the one he was in now all except for the fact that the walls were bare. Continuing forward looked much the same as the hallway behind him, just room after room after room.
It was a toss up between the two, but when the sound of booming, boisterous laughter reached his ears, he made his decision. It was clearly coming from his left, and while normally that would be exactly the kind of thing he would steer clear of, it piqued his interest.
It didn't take long to come to a set of stairs, and once at the bottom, succeeded only in raising a thousand times more questions than he'd had before.
Staring dumbfounded, he found the source of the laughter that had brought him here. A group of four young men sat around a table, drinking and joking and having a good old time while being tended to by a middle-aged woman standing behind the bar.
But something felt... Off. Aside from the obvious. The people gave him a strange feeling, both the guys at the table and the woman behind the bar. For one, they hadn't noticed him yet, and while he may have been standing quietly in the doorway a person would've had to have been blind and deaf to have not noticed him by now.
Another thing was how they were interacting. They felt stiff, lifeless, even though they were being so loud and carefree.
Walking up to the counter, he wasn't really sure what to say. The first questions that came to him were the obvious 'Where am I?', 'How did I get here?', 'What the hell?', but he decided to take a different route.
The woman looked up, a professional smile flashing across her face. "Well aren't you a late riser," the woman joked. "All the others left more than an hour ago."
Letting that first comment slide, he had to ask "The others?"
"I can't say you don't have great timing though," the woman went on, completely disregarding his question. "My shipment's running late and I'm nearly out of beer. If you can find out what's going on, you're room will be on the house."
This woman wasn't going to be any help at all. She was probably a staff member of the people who took him in. Is this what they meant by 'experimental'?
And wait, his room wasn't free!?
He gave a quiet sigh, mumbling to himself "I'd love to know what's going on here myself."
"It's a deal then," the woman suddenly said with a clap, ducking under the counter.
"Wait, I didn't mean-" Before Seth could even finish his feeble retort the woman had already emerged with an envelope.What was inside he could only guess.
"Give this to Zane in Hethersbrooke. He's the one I buy all of my drinks from, so if anyone knows something, it'll be him."
A combination of frustration and indignation were burning together in his chest as the woman had not only so easily dismissed him but had suddenly turned him into her errand boy. "Hold on! I don't even know where I am! The last thing I remember I was-"
To his disbelief, the woman merely gave a quiet giggle like he'd managed to amuse her in some way. "Harry at the stables should be able to loan you a horse if you tell him you're on an errand for Marry at the inn. He hasn't paid his tab in ages, so he owes me."
Left flapping his mouth like a fish out of water, wanting to tell this woman off but not having the slightest clue what to say, the best he could manage was a high pitch squeak that seemed more likely to come out of a mouse than a human being.
"Be quick now, I don't know how long my supplies will last!" He was shooed out the door, staring at the envelope in his hand. He looked back and forth between the inn and the envelope a half dozen times before settling on the envelope.
"You know what," he spoke to himself. "I don't even care anymore."
He folded the letter over in half and shoved it in his pocket, looking around for the first time. Some part of him felt like he should have been more surprised to find himself standing in a little town that looked like it had been plucked right out of the 1800's, but he wasn't. He wasn't sure if there was much of anything that could surprise him at this point.
He would soon find that he was mistaken.