MRI machine view from inside the tube

Short Story Challenge Week 14: Inside The Tube

Something a little different for this week’s short story, which may contain just a touch of claustrophobia.

This week’s story is partly based on something I had to do this week — no prizes for guessing what that was — and also a desire to link to something I’ve written before.

For those just joining me, a few years back I did another of these challenges, coming up with a short story concept for a full 52 weeks, otherwise known as a year. That effort is available as an eBook, and it contains one short story that has a link to this week’s short story.


Buy Fifty Two through Amazon for your Kindle e-reader here.

Buy Fifty Two through Apple for your iPad or iOS devices/Macs here.

Buy Fifty Two through Smashwords for any other e-reader format here.


Now, if you haven’t bought and read Fifty Two, then what are you waiting for, it’s excellent, don’t panic as you don’t have to read the other story to get the feel of this one. It’s more of an arc idea that I’ve got percolating in what passes for my brain these days that I may expand out further. Or maybe not. We’ll have to wait and see.

And now, without further ado (is there ever lesser ado? It always seems to add up. I blame Shakespeare, but I digress), here’s this week’s short story. A little tale I call:

Inside The Tube

MRI machine view from inside the tube

It’s cold. Colder than I had thought it would be, as I lie here waiting for it to take me in.

I must not move. That, and I can’t have anything metal on me, which is why the nurse insisted I had to strip down to my unmentionables and wear this weird paper gown.

I said to her, If it’s meant to protect my dignity, well, that left town the last time I went to a bar. She smirked, but still, there’s not much to it. Which is why I’m cold, and more than a little nervous.

Focus on something else, they said. Try not to think about what’s happening, or why you’re here, or that you’re about to be inside a tube for god knows how many minutes.

Sure, they tell you “it’s just a couple of minutes”, but you know what I’m really bad at counting?

Minutes. It would be great if I could take my watch in with me, but again, no metal, nothing that could mess up the pictures that they need to take.

No metal, and no movement. I dare not even look down at my toes, because while this is eerie, the reason I’m here, the doctor thinks, is even more scary.

So I lie, and I wait, just outside the tube. Just me, and the sound of my breathing.

In the distance, I can just about make out the sound of the receptionist talking to somebody, but it’s just sounds, not words I can recognise.

She could be on the phone, or talking to somebody in the waiting room.

Or she could be talking about how she’s just going to pop down here to gawp at the celebrity in the thin as hell paper gown, maybe grab a few snaps to sell to the highest bidder… no, I can’t let myself think like that.

These people are medical professionals, and there are rules and laws and things like that, aren’t there?

Mind you, anyone coming in could get one hell of a shot straight up the gown to my bikini line. Not that the world hasn’t seen that area before, but it wouldn’t exactly be from what you’d call a flattering angle.

Must. Stay. Still.

There’s a whirring sound that seems very loud, and I can feel myself sliding backwards as the human-sized tray I’m lying on starts to roll back into the tube.

Who designs a human-sized tray anyway? Where do you go to school to design human body sized trays, and where do you go to buy them?

That would be a weird supermarket. Aisle 1, Vegetables, Aisle 2, Frozen Family Meals, Aisle 3, Human Sized Body Trays and Chainsaws…

Must not giggle. But I must remember that one to tell Kaitlyn over dinner.

Staying still. Not moving. Totally still. Still as the… no, I don’t want to think about that, because this is just… what was the word Doctor Singh used… this is just precautionary.

Just a precautionary test, just to check and be certain and sure while we work out the next step. That’s what he said, the next step, like a step in a dance routine.

More noise, as things spin and whir above my eyes and around my body, from my head to my toes. I so desperately want to wriggle my toes, just to remind myself that I still have toes.

Do I still have toes? Of course I still have toes, don’t be so stupid.

Just stay still, and wait, and in a few minutes this will be over. The spinning things are spinning really fast now. I could see what I thought were cameras a few seconds ago, but now they’re just a blur of spinning metal.

Ooh… looking at this spin is making my head spin, and I feel like I’m tumbling around and around and around and…

And I’d really like to get out of here. Really, I truly would. I can feel the tears coming, and there’s nothing I can do to stop them. I can feel them tumbling down my face, and I’m trying to keep this expression, keep my head from moving or my nose from snorting but I’m scared. Really deeply scared, right down to the back of my head scared, scared like I haven’t been for a long time.

This is taking a long time. A very long time, and it’s still whirring and spinning and the noise seems to be getting louder all the time. I so badly want to be out of here, but I know I have to wait until it’s done, and then the machine will gently roll me out, and I can go and slip into some actual comfortable clothes and get the HELL OUT OF HERE.

It seems to be slowing down. Yes, it’s definitely getting slower and quieter, and I can start to make out the cameras, or whatever the hell they are that were just spinning around me. I just need to wait for them to stop.

Just need to wait for them to stop. Any minute now.

Any minute… NOW.

They have stopped. But I’m still here. Still inside the tube, staring up at some technical doodad I’ve got no chance of understanding, waiting for a result I don’t really want to hear and… I can feel my panic setting in.

Calm down. CALM. Breathe in, and out, and in, and out. Let your eyes close. That shouldn’t be a problem, should it? They’re not scanning for my eyelids, or even for anything to do with my eyes anyway.

Yeah, close those eyes, and just stay calm. I can open them the minute I feel the tray moving, because that’s when I can get out of here.


Where am I?

What’s going on?

Oh. My eyes feel… crusty, like I’ve been asleep. My back is cold and very sore, and it’s quite dark in… wherever I am.

Oh. That’s right. I’m in the tube thing, that machine that they said had some long name, but I wasn’t paying attention because I was checking my social feed for any mentions of me being here. None, thank God, but the staff didn’t seem to appreciate how important that was.

But if I fell asleep… why is it so dark in here? There’s no light at all, it’s really dark through the whole tube.

Can I call out? Would that break the process? What if they’re about to start more of the whirring and the scanning because they needed another go?

I think I’ll try. Just softly, so I don’t have to move my mouth too much. I don’t want to do this again.

“Hello?”

OK, that was pointless. Even I could barely hear that.

“Hellooooooo?”

“HELLO?”

OK, that was a shout, and your entire jaw moved. If I’ve busted this, it’s busted now and there’s no going back. May as well look down to see what’s going on beyond the world of this stupid godawful tube beyond my feet.

It’s… dark. Like, nighttime dark, and it was only morning when I came in.

“HELLO, IS ANYONE THERE? I’M STUCK IN THIS TUBE!”

No answer.

“GODDAMMIT, SOMEBODY COME GET ME OUT OF THIS TUBE RIGHT THIS MINUTE!”

Nothing. Right, that’s it, I’m getting out if I have to crawl on my hands and knees to make it happen.

Shit. I can’t crawl on my hands and knees, because there’s no room in this stupid tube to crawl, or even roll over properly on this cold, hard human body tray.

How am I getting out of here?

I’m just going to have to… yeah, that’ll work, if I pull my knees up like so, I can shimmy my butt down like that, and repeat, and make my way out.

Ow, there’s a hard lip on this tray, and I just jammed my ankles against it. Gotta keep going anyway.

Here we go, butt over the ridge, and I can feel my ankles sliding over the side of the table, so I can move a little faster and…

I’M OUT!

OUT OF THE TUBE!

Into… the darkness of the surgery, almost no light at all, but I can just make out the bench where my stuff should be. Yeah, there it is, which means I can stop shivering in the dark and do my best job of getting dressed.

One more I owe Kaitlyn, because she reminded me to wear something soft and comfortable coming here. Not my usual style, but it helped keep me incognito, and right now soft and comfortable is also real easy to slide into in minimal lighting.

What time is it? Oh yeah, my phone can tell me.

3:14am.

Wait, what? That can’t be right. 3:14am? I mean, I know they say this city never sleeps, but that procedure was only meant to take a coupla’ minutes, and I had a photo shoot to attend this afternoon. Somebody’s going to have to pay for this, once I can get onto the lawyers.

Oh crap, Kaitlyn’s going to be beside herself with worry. I’d better call her, even if it is the middle of the night.

No phone service. What? I definitely paid my bill on time, and I’m meant to have unlimited calling minutes all of the time.

What is going on? Where the hell is everyone? Did they just forget I was in their stupid tube and go home?

Shoes on, thank you Kaitlyn for grabbing my slip-ons before I headed out the door… and that’s just where I’m headed.

A little more light… but is that… fire? I can smell the smoke now, and see the neon signs that should be glowing through the desert night are flickering… if they’re not strewn all over the boulevard.

What the hell has happened to Las Vegas?


Enjoyed this story?

It’s week 14 of my challenge, and that means there’s already 13 others to choose from.

Maybe more if you’re reading this even later down the track (you could check the short story challenge tag to be sure), but at the time of writing, 13 others is your lot.

Short Story Challenge Week 1: Before The War

Short Story Challenge Week 2: Apples Cannot Scream

Short Story Challenge Week 3: Blankets

Short Story Challenge Week 4: Charles Leadworth

Short Story Challenge Week 5: Cloud Running

Short Story Challenge Week 6: The Bowl

Short Story Challenge Week 7: Mr Breckinridge

Short Story Challenge Week 8: Inspiration

Short Story Challenge Week 9: FreeDog

Short Story Challenge Week 10: Black Dog

Short Story Challenge Week 11: I Don’t Know What To Do

Short Story Challenge Week 12: Sacrifice

Short Story Challenge Week 13: Oak House


As I already mentioned, the last time I did this, I ended up with enough short stories to fill an eBook. An eBook called Fifty Two, to be precise, and here I am, plugging it again. Got to pay the bills somehow.


Buy Fifty Two through Amazon for your Kindle e-reader here.

Buy Fifty Two through Apple for your iPad or iOS devices/Macs here.

Buy Fifty Two through Smashwords for any other e-reader format here.


And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:

Buy Sharksplosion for Amazon Kindle

Buy Sharksplosion for iBooks (iPhone, iPad, etc)

Buy Sharksplosion for all other e-readers through Smashwords


About the author

Alex Kidman is a multi-award winning Australian technology writer, former editor at Gizmodo, CNET, GameSpot, ZDNet, PC Mag, APC, Finder and as a contributor to the ABC, SMH, AFR, Courier Mail, GadgetGuy, PC & Tech Authority, Atomic and many more. He's been writing professionally since 1998, and his passions include technology, social issues, education, retro gaming and professional wrestling.

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