Slowly, as he woke, Dan felt the presence his girlfriend, Tara. He remembered the excitement when once they’d met in the cool of the concrete cages at the side of the laboratory, where the tall, torpedo-like gas cylinders were kept. In one sense, in the heat of summer, it was a good place to be, but like being round the back of the bike sheds at school, somehow illicit.
The cylinders stood to about six feet tall and had to be chained to restrain their weight and prevent them from toppling with their high centre of gravity. They held gases of many different types, under enormous pressures, common ones like oxygen and nitrogen, but some toxic like carbon monoxide and chlorine, all used to calibrate environmental monitoring equipment.
The Institute was set on the side of a valley, among oak trees, moss and lichen, barely visible from the road, behind a low dry stone wall, topped with thick slabs of slate and sedum. At the bottom of the valley, a stream.
The steps down to the office were shiny, metal, with rough, grip treads, the sun through the trees, occasionally caught reflections, glinting.
It was cold in the shade of the concrete housing, with the chill metal cylinders beneath a light galvanised roof which would give way and vent in case of an explosion. Two mesh gates one an emergency exit, so that you couldn’t be trapped.
Cold, even under the sun, cold in the concrete shade in contrast with the heat of her. He thought of her, close, so very close, clothes touching, the anticipation of skin on skin, heat rose within him.
Carbon monoxide is seriously seductive, coaxing the life out of you whether awake, or already asleep. It is not irritant, like many other toxic gases, so goes unnoticed even if the mucous linings of the nose, mouth, windpipe and lungs are exposed to it.
After it’s breathed in, it enters your bloodstream and mixes with haemoglobin (the protein part of red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body), to form carboxyhaemoglobin, and in the process changing the protein’s shape. When this happens, the blood is no longer able to carry oxygen. This lack of oxygen causes the body’s cells and tissue to fail, and ultimately to die.