“Ride into the danger zone!”
Rufus threw his head out of the car window, basking in the bright morning sunshine as he sang along at the top of his lungs. He was revelling in the marvellous, two day pocket of freedom between leaving home and starting his new job. For the first time in his life he had nothing to worry about at all: his mother and Jake were safe at home, and in just a few hours he would be embarking upon the career he had always dreamed of. It seemed like nothing could go wrong, at least until he felt his truck gently begin to swerve to the side. He ducked his head back inside and scrabbled to get a hold of the wheel.
“Danger indeed,” he remarked to himself, steering back onto the path.
It had thrown him now. He tried to think back to the interview, wondering what they would expect him to say when he arrived. Would they expect him to have his own ideas for research papers already? Looking back on the heady, nectar-poached days surrounding his graduation, the thought occurred to him that he might not have prepared himself in quite the best of ways.
“Oh, gerbits,” he cursed under his breath, casting his mind around in search of an intellectual thought. Half of what he found was utterly unoriginal, and the other half was Jake’s childish ramblings, which annoyingly he couldn’t shift from his mind.
“Relax, dude.” He took a deep breath. “It’ll be fine. This is the dream – in the wild, with the wolves. No school runs, no jocks, no pressure. Just you, nature and science.” He breathed out, smile returning to his face, and turned the stereo back up. Before long he could see the top of the facility just in front of him. It was a grey, square building with severe windows and a flat roof. Whoever had designed it hadn’t thought to make it blend in with its surroundings; a less natural-looking place you couldn’t have imagined. As he drove up, he saw someone was waiting out front. It was the same man who had interviewed him, Dr something-or-other, a balding elder with a sharp eye and a straightforward manner. He waved and walked up to the truck.
“Rufus Lowell! Good to see you lad,” he said. “Just park up over there and then I’ll show you in.” Rufus gave a thumbs-up and stepped out, glancing up at the building in front of him, and shook his hand. Somehow he was both fizzing with excitement and utterly flat at the same time. The bald man didn’t seem to be paying much attention.
“Excellent, step this way, I’ll give you the grand tour.” He ushered Rufus into the facility and led him round the different rooms. There was a living area, a kitchen, two bedrooms, a bathroom and a lab. The same feeling he had outside followed him in: just a couple of notches down from excitement. Like a balloon that’s not quite full, he thought.
Then he realised he’d actually said it aloud to the man, who was now staring at him with the expression of someone wondering what kind of idiot he’s just hired.
Rufus smiled sheepishly and gave himself a sharp kick in the back of the leg, giving himself a sharp warning not to blow this when he’d barely got his foot in the door. Luckily he managed to regain his concentration for the rest of the tour, and accompanied his guide back to the door of the facility.
“So, that’s the place, your colleague will explain what you’re researching. Yes, don’t worry, you’ve got company. We make it a policy not to leave anyone alone up on the mountain, stops anything dangerous happening. Don’t want you going all Shining on us, eh?” Rufus nodded and picked up his suitcase. He looked behind him.
“Yeah. Although… the guy in that story wasn’t alone either, was he?” But the bald man was already out of earshot. Rufus shrugged and turned back into the building. He made his way into his bedroom and unpacked his suitcase, attempting to brighten up the grey walls with as many posters and photographs as possible. He nodded and started back towards the door. Then he stopped, pulled out some clothes from his dresser and scattered them about the place.
He encountered his companion almost immediately upon re-entering the the living area. A man about his own age with a white coat and his hair in a bandana came out of the laboratory door. He sat down on the sofa and gestured to the seat behind him.
“Hi!” He had a warm, cheerful voice. “You’re Rufus, right?” Rufus nodded.
“I’m Steven, nice to meet you. Was that you singing a while ago? Or did you run over some wildlife?” He gestured in the direction of the path and winked. Rufus blushed. He couldn’t quite fathom why he’d suddenly come over all nervous. He knew he couldn’t sing, in fact his ‘howling’ had earned him wolfish nicknames before he’d even revealed his specialist subject. So what was the big deal? Steven seemed to have noticed too.
“What, are you scared?” he said, a concerned look coming over his face.
“No,” replied Rufus in a voice that clearly meant ‘yes’.
“Don’t be,” grinned Steven. He waved the TV remote. “You like sports?”
“Sure, I guess.”
“Then we’ll get along just fine.” Rufus shrugged and sat down. How bad could it be?