He clung to the pale mustard receiver, hoping an answering machine would not pick up. He glanced at the series of photos on the counter again, and a flash of worry danced across his brow.
“Yes, hello? I need to speak to Molly Fritzen. Yes Doctor Molly Fritzen. I know what time it is, I need her immediately.”
He closed his eyes and leaned against the pale yellow wall. He always thought the wall used to be white and had turned over the years, but had never found a reason for this assumption to be true. The clock seemed to fill the silence with unusually load and slow ticks. He knew they weren’t slow, his perceptions were off, because-
“Yes I’m here. Doctor Fritzen? … Yes I’m Doug down at the research facility and your number is listed incase- … We have been following procedure and we took the photos yesterday, well I say yesterday, I mean about 12 hours ago around 2pm … yes ma’am … Well you see the reason I’m calling is we just now printed the photos. It’s all automated you see and we-… … I know that isn’t procedure and I’m sorry. … No, we usually are very prompt. There’s a problem with the sheep. … No I’m sure there’s a problem. It’s listed under the guidelines to wake you up, their eyes are glowing. … I’m sure it’s not reflections, and I’m sure it’s not- … The photos look like there were taken at midnight, but every piece of equipment I can test confirms 2pm, and all the photos have the same flock, with the same issues. Their eyes glow and the light has been sucked out of the photo. Yes there are three of us here tonight, just like proc-… … yes… … yes ma’am.”
Doug closed his eyes, and knew the terrible position he was in. He sighed as he held his hand over the receiver and called down the hall, “Sam? Trudy? Could you please come in here?” He was the senior adviser of this project, with the person on the phone in charge of the whole facility. He had to do his job. He clenched his jaw. Sam, a young, lean athlete on a basketball scholarship, and Trudy, a pleasantly plump student on her last year of medical prep entered through the hallway door. They squinted at all the lights in the large lab room.
“I have Doctor Fritzen on the phone and she is, um, requesting one of us go take the vitals of the newest flock. It seems important that we do it right now. Do either of you volunteer?” Doug waited for either of them to make a move. Neither did, nor would they make eye contact.
He put the receiver back up to his ear, “I’ll go check and I will hand the phone to Trudy. Please honor all contracts if…” He didn’t wait for Molly to respond. He gathered the small kit, steeled himself and headed toward the door outside.
“Don’t go.” Sam said, and moved to put himself in Doug’s path. “You know-”
“I must. I’m honor bound, duty bound, and I could never send either of you,” Doug said. He pushed passed Sam and put his hand on the door. He glanced outside through the large window in the door, into the night. The sole light right outside the door reflected their eyes. The sheep were watching him, or possibly the door. His knees went weak, and he had to force himself to turn the knob. He heard Trudy say as the door closed behind him, “Yes ma’am, he went outside.”
Whispers started when the door closed. Doug, come closer, we like you Doug. The hair on the back of his neck stood up, and he froze. “Can you talk now?” he said into the night.
Doug, we like you. You’ve always been kind. Come closer.
Doug couldn’t tell if they were whispering, or something else was going on. “May I come and take your vitals?”
We will allow you to touch us Doug. Come closer.
He stiffly walked up to the group, who greeted him as they always did, with little jumps and sheep smiles. They gently gathered around him, and he did his work quickly. He checked three of them for pulse, temperature, and eye movements. It was a little clumsier than usual because he wasn’t used to also holding a flashlight, but everything seemed to work and he didn’t feel threatened at all once he got close to them.
“Are you all alright?” Doug said in a low voice. He placed the flashlight on the ground and watched their jaws.
We like you. You’ve always been kind. Tell Fritzen we seem healthy and there might be complications that she should check in the morning. Swear not to tell her we speak and you’ll live.
Doug’s blood ran cold. They were not using their jaws, they were whispering some other way. He felt their anger toward Fritzen the moment they mentioned her. He knew they were serious. “I promise.” He stood, went back to the door, and went inside the too bright room.
“Oh, he just came back in,” Trudy said to the phone. She held the receiver out toward Doug and he took it. He carefully placed the kit on the counter, hesitated for a moment, then put the receive up to his ear.
“They seem healthy. There was something strange about their behavior, so you might want to check them in the mor- … Yes, we usually do speak to them when we interact with them, it helps calm them. Trudy is new and hasn’t had a full introduc- … … Someone will be here in the morning to greet you with coffee Ma’am.” He hung the receiver back in the cradle.
“What happened?” Sam said, his eyes wide.
“I’m sorry if I said something I shouldn’t have,” Trudy said.
“Don’t go near the newest flock without me, okay? From now on. Fritzen will be here in the morning. I suggest you both take off about a half an hour early before she gets here at 8. She’ll be an unholy terror,” Doug said.
“But-” Trudy said.
“He is right. I’ve never known Doug to do anything to hurt a student’s career or chances to learn and advance. I’ll take his advice any day over any other assistant or professor. We should finish our work, stay away from the flock, and leave early. You’re a brave man, Doug,” Sam said.
The next day the whole university was abuzz with rumors. Frizten was missing, her experiments were gone, records wiped from computers, and then a fire in her lab.