The six of us exchanged glances. Then I said, “Well, I guess I’d better go turn it off.”
“I don’t know,” said Heather, chewing her lip with uncertainty. “This screams ‘Trap’ to me.”
“Agreed,” said Sara.
My stomach was in a special agony just from looking at the machine across the room. “Do you see any other choice?” I asked through gritted teeth. “I’ve got to turn it off, and I have to do it alone.”
“What?” cried Matilda. “You can hardly stand up. At least let one of us go with you.”
I shook my head. “No,” I said firmly. “This is my task, and I must complete it alone.”
“He’s right,” said Carver. We looked at him questioningly. “I can feel it,” Carver explained. “It’s a mystical thing.”
Matilda threw up her hands. “Fine,” she said, her tone informing us that she found the situation far from fine. “At least let me try to help your stomach again.” With that, she put her hands on me. The pain lessened momentarily, but came back just as strong the moment she moved away. There was a tear in her eye as she looked at me. “Just be careful in there,” she said. “I have an awful feeling.”
“So do I,” said Sara. She took my hand gently in her own and gave it a squeeze. Then Heather stepped around Sara and threw her arms around me. “We love you,” she said in my ear.
“I love you,” I replied.
Heather stepped away, and Gertrude gave me a curt nod. “Be careful,” she said. I nodded.
I turned to Carver. We shook hands. My stomach pain had increased such that I was having trouble remaining upright, but I was determined to do so.
“We’ll be right here at the door,” said Carver. “If things start going wrong, we’ll be available to assist you. But we won’t unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
“Thanks,” I said.
“Grobble yocker,” Carver replied.
Finally, I turned to the doorway. I popped my right pinky finger loose and stuck it in my pocket. Then, without further hesitation, I stepped into the room.
Refreshingly, nothing happened. I took another step and another; still nothing. Just as I was beginning to think it was going to be okay, a wave of pain broke upon my abdomen. I doubled over as a scream was wrenched from me.
I heard a mild disturbance in the doorway behind me, and surmised that Carver was holding back Matilda. “I’m alright,” I called to them. “Stay put.” Under my breath, I said, “Just another hurdle, that’s all.”
Before too long, I could walk again, and when the additional flare-ups came, I was prepared and therefore able to handle them better.
At some point I decided I wanted my mysterious glowing orb, so I called it forth. It rolled out of my pinky like a bowling ball and landed with a sickening clank at my feet. It was a dull leaden grey. “That’s nice,” I said, and stepped around it.
I continued on, and paid dearly for every step. I lost my sense of time. At some point, I emerged from my reverie of misery and noticed that I had drawn even with the elevator to my left. “Half way,” I said, and was cheered by this.
A few steps later, when the elevator had passed beyond my peripheral vision, I was hit with a blast of pain so intense that I simply had no choice but to scream again. I went down to my hands and knees and held the floor away from my face. It began to occur to me that I might die trying to cross this room.
Just then, the elevator chimed, and I heard the doors sliding open.