Michael Martin knew the protocol for working in the staging room, he’d just never done it before. He knew that working in a -20°C environment required insulated boots, thermal overalls, a thermal jacket, gloves with thermal liners, a hat-and-facemask combo, and goggles. He had none of these. They were just a few feet out of reach beyond the staging room door piled neatly on the racks against the far wall.
Procedure also called for a supervisory co-worker to watch through the door’s window to ensure that no harm befell the person working in the staging room. There was no one looking out for Michael, and there might not be anyone looking for him any time soon. Even with all of that protective gear, workers were only permitted in the staging room for a total of eight minutes. Michael had already been trapped in the freezer for twice that long, at least.
He huddled by the door, which was cracked just wide enough to allow the foggy vapor of the staging room to pour out into the relatively much warmer refrigerated room. It was this thin interface of slightly warmer air that kept Michael alive, but for how long, he didn’t know.
His shivering was beyond his control at this point, though he knew that was his body’s way of trying to warm itself up. Or was it? Had he read that in school or just heard it somewhere? He couldn’t remember. No, it was his body trying to warm itself up, that made sense. That’s what he told himself to keep his panic down, to keep his heart-rate steady. He could feel it starting to race in his chest a bit and it was making him a little nauseous. And yet, despite feeling like his guts were going to heave on him, Michael couldn’t help but think about how good a nice, hot burger would be right about then.
He tried to stand, to get the blood pumping through his legs, arms, and core, but he found that his fingers were already losing their grip strength and his feet weren’t obeying his commands. He pushed back against the door and slid to a standing position. As the room swam before him, he immediately regretted that decision. Michael slumped to the floor, exhausted.
His breath was coming rapidly now, little puffs of warmth disappearing into the unforgiving cold. Michael called out again through the narrow crack in the door with the small hope that some passerby would hear it. His cry for help crystallized on his tongue and fell short, never passing his lips. He craned his head back and stared up at the huge sign on the inside of the door emblazoned with the hopeful message:
“Don’t panic! This door cannot be locked.”