The Big Red Button of Doom

Here is a short story I wrote a few months back. Let me know what you think.

The Big Red Button of Doom

The room was pale white, not pasty (like my skin) but dull (like my voice). It held three objects: a man, a chair, and a big red button. For the man, whose name is unimportant, the red button was irresistible. He couldn’t stop looking at it. His eyes, which were named Trevor and Kenneth, bore into the button as if it was the coolest, sexiest thing they had ever seen. But it wasn’t a cool button. Its temperature was slightly below that of the room- about 72 degrees Fahrenheit. And it wasn’t exactly sexy; that is, Kenneth thought the button had the potential to be attractive, but Trevor just saw it as round and red. Typical Trevor.

Anyways, the man sat motionless, staring at the button. That’s what the guys in the lab coats told him to do. And who was he to refuse? They were paying him a decent amount of money to do this experiment, though he couldn’t stand it for much longer. He just couldn’t handle this type of pressure. Who could?

Two hours earlier

The man walked into an office. It seemed normal. A few chairs. Some magazines. A receptionist. He signed a few papers. He didn’t read the papers. He just signed. Other men– two doctors in lab coats– brought him back through to a small office. The office was sterile and empty save three chairs. They sat down and introduced themselves.

“I’m Dr. Brown,” said Dr. Brown.

“I’m Dr. Smith,” said Dr. Smith.

“My name…” started the man.

“Wait,” interrupted Dr. Smith. “We don’t care about your name. Just look at this.”

Then Dr. Brown handed him a manila folder full of paper. The man took the file without hesitation.

“If you look at this graph,” said Dr. Smith, “then you’ll see the population growth (estimated, of course) for the next fifty years.”

“Alright.”

“Now,” said Dr. Brown, shuffling to a different paper, “compare that with the amount of food production, carbon emissions, potential economic downturn, and predicted natural disasters.”

“I see.”

“You’ll notice that these numbers are in conflict,” said Dr. Smith. “They don’t align. In fact, they don’t align so much that in fifty years the earth will be a wasteland. There won’t be any water, except for recycled waste sold by ludicrous companies. There won’t be any fuel for our cars. The whole world will have to pedal to work on bicycles.”

“Bikes chafe my thighs,” said Dr. Brown.

“I hate chafing,” said the man.

“We all do,” said Dr. Smith sympathetically. “Now if you look over here, you’ll see that—because of famine and soil depletion—our food supplies will cease to exist. There won’t be any food for our children.”

“In short,” added Dr. Brown, “it’s the end of the world.”

“That’s right,” nodded Dr. Smith, “essentially the earth will no longer be able to support human life. I mean, just look at those charts! The data doesn’t lie.”

The man looked at the charts diligently. They were paying him by the hour, after all, and he didn’t want to let them down. But he was confused.

“I’m sorry, gentlemen,” he said after a thoughtful pause, “but I don’t really understand what you want me to do. I mean, what’s the experiment?”

The two doctors chuckled.

“It’s less of an experiment,” said Dr. Brown. “It’s more of a… what’s the word…”

“Opportunity,” suggested Dr. Smith.

“Yes, good,” smiled Dr. Brown. “This is an opportunity- a great opportunity. We are going to send you into a room. In that room will be a red button. If you decide to press this button, two-thirds of all humanity will perish. It’s a tragedy, you know, but it’s a tragedy to prevent future tragedy. We could save a third of humanity now, or we could lose all of humanity in fifty to sixty years.”

Presently

The man had sat still for an hour, a long and seemingly endless hour. He thought the doctors were probably mad. He had found out about this experiment through an ad. Surely he wasn’t deciding the fate of the world through an advertisement. And the charts, reflected the man, they looked professional, but maybe they were just created to fool him. Anybody can make charts, after all. It was this line of logic that led the man to conclude that the experiment was a fake– just another social experiment to mess with his mind. He wondered what they were actually studying. “That didn’t matter,” he told himself. The big red button winked at him from across the room. He stared at it for a long while. Then he shook his head, shooing away the delusion, the fiction.

They were convincing, though, whether they were hired actors or professional quacks. Their charts, their office, even their secretary seemed real. For a moment, he had actually believed them. He laughed at himself for his naivety. It was so ridiculous. He stood up to exit the room; yet, he hesitated. His hand had reached the doorknob, but he couldn’t leave. He looked back, and the button gleamed large in the man’s eyes. “I’ll just push the button for fun,” thought the man; “the good doctors will get a kick out of it.” His heart began to beat faster.

He pressed the button.

Nothing happened. A moment passed. He laughed at himself again. Then the room shook. He stopped laughing. The man thought it was a sort of earthquake, but the walls of the room were being lifted up, slowly. The room had been a façade. The four walls rose through the air, leaving the man behind. A flash. Absurdly bright lights burned his eyes. He covered his face, but still couldn’t see anything beyond the edge of the room. Voices rose from all around him. The man, stumbling about the place in shock, was confused. His eyes adjusted to the light. He could see a stadium now. A crowd filled the seats, and their voices whispered.

“So this is the end of the world,” thought the man.

A screeching came over a loudspeaker; it boomed through the auditorium. Out of the speaker came a mean, gangly voice. It said:

THE MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM IS YOUR ENEMY. UNLESS YOU END HIM, THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT WILL BE DESTROYED, TWO-THIRDS OF HUMANITY WILL DIE, AND MANY OF YOU WILL NOT MAKE IT OUT OF THIS AUDITORIUM ALIVE. YOU HAVE 5 MINUTES TO MAKE YOUR DECISION.

A huge, impressive digital clock hanging from the above the stands began a countdown. The burning neon numbers glowed menacingly. If you had been there, you might have been able to hear the buzz of electricity, for an unpleasant silence followed the announcement. The man stood up, raised his arms in a sort of surrender, and began to plead with the people.

“I’m just like you… I didn’t do anything… You aren’t really going to take this announcement seriously? There’s no need to panic! Wait…. Wait!”

But the crowd heard none of his pleas. They were shouting across the room, informing one another on the benefits of killing the man. Some in the crowd were against the killing. There seemed to be a short argument, a mumbling, and then a rumbling chaos.

The crowd shouted wild shouts; their voices bashed the man’s skull, like sirens screaming through a thunderstorm. And before he knew it, before he could react, before he could run away, the crowd was upon him. It was ugly. I would describe it more thoroughly (and with gusto!), but my wife said I should leave this part out, so that the story isn’t too gruesome. They tore the man into four separate and distinct pieces, ultimately ripping his arms from the sockets. Blood stained the auditorium floor. In the end, he was unrecognizable.

I saw all this from a spacious booth that stood at the top of the auditorium, far from the din and the madness of the crowd. I saw the countdown clock stop with 3 minutes and 8 seconds remaining. It took the crowd 112 second to decide a man’s fate. They didn’t even wait a full 2 minutes; they had hardly discussed the matter at all. What a world!

I had the charts—the same data Dr. Brown and Dr. Smith had given the man—and I had made my decision, though it took me a little longer than 112 seconds.

I pressed the button.

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