The Panic Dome

I wrote this circa 2004. Found it again last year. Just for fun. 

the panic dome finished

A man volunteers for a government study on panic. They said he would be put into a room, where they cannot see or hear him and he cannot see or hear them. They have video cameras that will record everything for their study later. They have assured him that he will come into contact with many hazardous and dangerous things but that he will not die, he will fully recover, and they will pay him two million dollars.

If you have seen the documentary behind the scenes of the movie Castaway you’ve seen that in Hollywood they have this big enclosed area where they can simulate the ocean. It was an enclosure like that, not simply for water, but for all other kinds of climates. It could be sunny, rainy, hot, cold, snow, etc. It was really a scientific marvel. They called it the Panic Dome.

To ensure his safety they gave him a panic button. This would allow him to immediately stop the program and get out of the enclosure. It was a little plastic device much like a garage door opener with a raised red button on it. It was a panic button. He was only to push it when he had reached his breaking point where the two million dollars would not be worth his staying in there any longer. Once he pushed it the program would stop and within five seconds, one whole wall would open up and he would be able to exit to safety.

Now, inside the enclosure was a full scale model of a city block including houses and a few businesses, cars, trees, etc. There would be all manner of food and beverages, pastimes and pleasures, etc.

So, he enters the enclosure, he’s got his panic button hanging around his neck. He is sealed in and the program begins. Within a few minutes, it becomes cloudy and the man is in the midst of a tornado. It touches down, damages a house but then disappears. The man’s heart nearly jumps out of his chest, but for two million bucks, he’s fine.

Pretty soon, a massive wall of water rushes towards him like a tsunami, and the waters rise. The man cannot swim. He begins to panic, trying to find something to hold onto, and when he is just about ready to push the panic button, the waters recede, almost immediately, and he drops to the ground, spraining his ankle. He has sustained an injury, but he is alive. The scientists have promised he wouldn’t die and that he would recover no matter what happened, proving it by giving him this garage-door-opener-like panic button. So, he consoles himself with his future wealth, calms down, and nurses his sprained ankle.

The scientists had told a small white lie to the man. In order to get a more realistic behavior, they told him they could not see or hear him. But they could. And for the next several hours, the scientists sent every imaginable hazard to him. He was cornered by fire, chased by wolves, bitten by a snake. The lights totally darkened and he was haunted by evil voices. Every imaginable thing had come his way, but when he would reach for the panic button and consider it, the scientists pulled back. They were measuring his tolerance for terrible situations and now it was time to observe sheer panic.

As the man was resting against a tree, the sky darkened, there was extreme thunder and lightning and a torrential rain began to cause a flood. The man had been through this before and survived. They promised he would live and recover and he had his panic button. So the waters rose and the man began to struggle in the water. This time the water was not receding like it had done before. Maybe something was wrong with the program. Maybe they had forgotten that he could not swim. Maybe they had misjudged the intensity of the program. He wanted the money more than anything but not enough to die. So, he reached for the panic button, and at what he thought was pretty near his last moments, he pushed it. It fell apart. Before the waters carried it away, he could see that it was just an empty piece of plastic. It had no wires or anything necessary to make it sound an alarm of any kind. So, the man feared for his life, felt he had been betrayed. For the next hour, the scientists subjected the man to all of the horrors again, only this time, the man went through them without the security of the panic button. After a few minutes of disorientation, the man, who was a Christian, found a secure room in one of the houses. And as the wolves were beginning to make progress at getting through the door to the man, the man found a place to pray.

Altogether, the company of scientists spent a hundred million dollars testing fifty people in the Panic Dome. They observed what people did when they finally reached the place of sheer panic; when they realized there was no panic button. Some prayed, some drank, some went temporarily insane. But all lived, all recovered, all got their money.

There are more parallels between the man in the story and the Christian than most Christians would be willing to admit. The man in the story was subject to all manner of troubles. He trusted in the security of the panic button right up until he pushed it and saw that it was of no help. When he realized that the panic button was a farce, he was forced to deal with the situation in another way. In that hour, his character, his stamina, his belief system, his faith, his determination were all revealed.

Categories: Fiction

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