Bleh, awakening, what a dreadfully unpleasant state to arrive at after departing the fantastical world of dreams, Sylvia thought to herself.

She wrestled her left eyelid to prise it open, but was still none the wiser as to her location. All the evidence she could gather told her she was in a darkened room, with streams of muted light radiating through a small barred window.

And so she worked on the other eyelid. This let just enough light in to notice a torch at her feet. Handy, she thought, and switched it on.

The flicking of the switch made her abruptly aware of a giant cardboard box right in front of her. She scanned its surface with the feeble torch beam.

! was written across it in unmistakably large red letters.

Safe - she could think of two meanings for this word: a state of being protected from harm; or a locked metallic box for securing valuables. Either one sounded pretty good, so she became determined to open the box.

The tricky part was this: the box was so large that the opening at its top was taller than her hands could possibly reach. She endeavoured to search the room for objects that could serve as tools to break the damn thing open.

On the far wall, beneath the window, was a plaque containing a list of names: Cheryl Babbage; Miguel Gonzalez; Suzy Chang; Daisy Bates; Fred Black... and thousands more in increasingly miniscule font wrapping around in a meandering rivulet of words.

Suspended by a string hanging from the plaque was a switchblade. How convenient! Perhaps this adventure would prove simpler than she had imagined. She pushed open the blade and cut the knife free from the string.

Sylvia held the light up to the box once more, and this time noticed: OPEN HERE was written in smaller font, with an arrow pointing towards a dotted line. Feeling unabashed glee, she stabbed the line with all the ferocity of a rabid Rottweiler.

Through the slash she had created, a heavy black particulate cloud emanated and encircled her. It danced about gaily like a drunken banshee, cackling as it whizzed around.

'Good afternoon Sylvia Childe. The name's Pandora, Pandora Jones, not the Pandora you're probably thinking of, but I too have a box. And well... as with the real Pandora's box, you'd have to be kinda stupid to open it,' a voice oozed out from the black cloud.

'How... how do you know my name?' Sylvia uttered with trepidation tripping off her tangled tongue.

'Just be quiet and listen!,' Pandora insisted. 'You have been selected to enter this room based on your complete lack of contribution to the world before reaching the age of 45. You have failed to develop the skills required to function in human society, and so we have decided to terminate your existence. Your identity will be decomposed and recycled for use by a more deserving individual - a foetus yet to be given the opportunity to do good in the world, untainted by the stark reality of existence that oft makes you humans turn into basket cases. Unless... I'm in a kind mood, if you can justify your continued existence I will give you a second chance,' Pandora offered, as if as an afterthought, 'I'm mellowing in my old age,' she added.

'Well ...' Sylvia paused to delve into the depths of her 45 years on the planet Earth, 'I watched a lot of TV, that helped keep actors in gainful employment, I ate a lot of food, that kept the farmers busy, and I produced a lot of carbon dioxide, that gave the greenies something to protest about.'

'Seriously, that's the best you can do?' Pandora asked with a raised eyebrow, 'That is the worst blubbering twaddle I have heard in all my 200 years in this job, okay, you're gone. Do you have any final requests?'

'Um... err...' Sylvia babbled, then started to sob uncontrollably. She felt devastated, confused, if only somebody had explained to her at the start that her life was supposed to have some kind of purpose, she might have made a stab at it.

'I'll take that as a no. Good-bye then,' Pandora whispered as she weaved around Sylvia once more, engulfing her into a cloud of fine black particles, which faded to a white, then to a void of non-existence. Pandora's black cloud re-materialised in a room which no longer contained Sylvia Childe.

'Congratulations Sylvia Childe, you have failed the idiot test,' bellowed a voice from the centre of the black swirl.

To the plaque on the wall was now added the name Sylvia Childe.

No longer in existence, it was too late for Sylvia to notice the two critical details she had missed. On the far wall was a door containing a sign with the words Real Exit printed on it, and on the other side of the box, the acronym was spelled out:

SAFE! - Sure As F*** Extinction!

Author note: Written for the November 2011 Writing Challenge Contest (WCC).


'Ah, this is obviously some strange usage of the word 'safe' that I wasn't previously aware of.'

Arthur Dent in Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

So sad that Douglas Adams is no longer with us, it was great to have the opportunity to be inspired by his work. If only I could live up to his brilliance.