Pant. Pant. Pant.
“What do you hear?” A woman’s voice crooned soothingly in Jason’s ear.
“My… breath… Can’t… breathe…” Jason doubled forward and pushed his palms against the smooth chestnut fur on his knees.
“Yes you can. If you can talk you can breathe.” She sounded so gentle yet firm as she comforted him, just as a mother should. If only she were his mother. He would like that.
Pant. Gasp. Pant. Gasp.
“My heart feels like it might exploded out of my chest!” Jason whined, reaching up to clutch beside a few wiry strands sprouting up in a patch of chest hair he was foolishly proud of.
“Your heart isn’t in your chest Jason. That’s just the oxygen filling your lungs. Just keep breathing.” She corrected him. She corrected him a lot which irked Jason. All adults did that. Why didn’t they just let him express himself? He could have sworn freedom of expression was a basic right.
There was a pause as Jason regained his breath. The woman didn’t speak and Jason swore he could hear a scribbling sound, as if she were making notes.
“What do you hear?” The woman applied a little pressure to her voice, indicating her growing impatience.
“Blood rushing out of my head. Birds… flapping and squawking as they fly away. The wind roaring through the trees. Snaps and rustles of the forests and the distant thuds of my parents riding after me.” Jason physically strained, his face turning a deeper shade of red as it screwed up. As if that would increase his hearing range. How cute.
“Good. Goooood.” The woman in Jason’s ear crooned, clearly pleased with Jason’s report. She scribbled more things down and sighed before addressing Jason once more.
“Trot until you recover and then I want you to sprint again. Go faster, further. Push yourself harder son.” She sounded so eager, so hopeful. Jason didn’t want to let her down but at the same time his entire body was screaming in protest.
“I…” Pant. “Can’t…” Pant.
“Jason, you were bred for this. You can do it. Sprint for me Jason. I promise this is the last one.” She was so passionate.
Ever eager to please following praise, Jason straightened up and ran a hand through his long mane of hair. His eyes narrowed as he surveyed the uneven terrain of the forest before him. He hated sports. He loathed exercise but she was right, he had been bred for this. Jason had never cared about what his parents or teachers or peers thought of him but this was different. There was this innate drive to do well for her . So he would. He would do his best for her. Maybe in return she would reward him.
The lab in which Penelope sat was not your standard pristine white clinical cliché. Sure, the floor tiles were white ceramic rectangles placed in a strict, close-knit regimented rows but many individual panels were at least partially stained varying shades of brown where yellow and red liquids had pooled upon them only to crust and seep into the grout between. Many tiles were chipped and cracked where heavy items had been hurled off of the desks while others had corroded, leaving behind a solid fizz from acid puddles that were nearly always accidental. Nearly always.
Warm polished wooden cabinets and cupboards were crammed into the room, their varnish peeling under the heavy weight of scratched up granite worktops. Wires skittered like mice along the back of the worktops against the cream speckled walls, connecting home-made contraptions in haphazard glass cases to a large black box attached to the side of a huge tank. Inside this tank were several floors completely separated from one another, only accessible by hatches locked from the outside that were big enough for a slender arm to snake through. On each floor were about 3 wheels in which different creatures ran around and around tirelessly. While different in species, they all had the same blank stare portrayed through bulging bloodshot eyes. The squeaks of the wheels and snuffles of their occupants could be heard over the hum of the machines that they powered.
In a corner far away from this tank, Penelope lounged in a scratchy swivel chair, her beady little eyes trained on a series of monitors in front of her. She watched as Jason shot across the path of various cameras, her eyes occasionally flicking down to the glass-faced stopwatch gripped tightly in her ham-coloured fist. When he stopped again Penelope noted the time.
“Wonderful,” she smiled, leaning in to an ancient microphone plugged into her computer. “Just wonderful Jason. Why don’t you take out that earpiece and go home?”
“Are you sure?” Although he wasn’t looking directly at any of her concealed cameras, Penelope still had a clear view of Jason’s face as it dropped.
“I’m sure. You’ve done great. I’ll swing by later with today’s results.” Penelope promised, knowing it would lift the young lad’s spirits.
“Okay. See you later.” Jason nodded, perking up once more.
Penelope watched as he powered down the small communication device clipped to his ear. As he had no other means to carry it, Jason would wait until he got home to remove the thing. He didn’t want to upset Penelope by losing it after all. In the lab, Penelope reshuffled her pages of notes in to chronological order. Keeping sight of Jason on one monitor, she opened a report document on the other screen and began to type up her scribbles. Every so often her eyes would dart up to the monitor to keep track of the young stallion. The cameras switched to track him automatically so at least she didn’t have to pause in her typing to follow him manually.
It didn’t take long for Jason to trot back home and in the brief period of time Penelope had finished copying up her notes. The moment Jason passed through his front door she disabled the trackers with a couple of keyboard tap. Not wasting a moment, she opened a different document on her screen and crossed Jason off of the list.
“Who’s next?” she mused aloud. It was a completely unnecessary action but all alone in her lab she was lonely. It was nice to fill the ambient noise with her voice every once in awhile.