top of page
Search
  • coltonreview

The Very Pulse of the Machine by Lauren Bartos

The Very Pulse of the Machine

By Lauren Bartos


Inspired by Soma by Frictional Games


Trigger Warnings: Mention of suicide and suicidal ideation, discussion of terminal illness/cancer, body dysphoria, description of a corpse, existential dread


They declared my brain tumor inoperable. Something about it being in such a delicate area, and the fact that it had gone undetected for so long. They had no clue if it had spread or not. They gave me a year to live, at most. 

The news had left me with a sort of resigned acceptance. My migraines had been steadily becoming worse, and more often than not my sleep would be interrupted by violent seizures. My memory’s been shot to hell, too. I hadn’t expected to be given good news.

My father had sobbed, clutched onto one of my hands so tightly I thought he would break it. My brothers tried to argue their way out of my prognosis, as if it was only a matter of opinion. My friends—for some reason, I can’t remember their names, although I can barely remember my own birthday so I’m not exactly surprised—devoted themselves to finding fringe cases where people like me pulled through, survived risky surgeries and demanding treatment plans. 

I had already accepted my death at that point, so sitting squashed between what’re-their-names in the back of a taxi wasn’t how I wanted to spend what little time I had left. I was humoring them, I think. Trying to help them work through the news. The three of us were close—very close. Our relationship had started out of pure necessity, with us splitting the rent for a house located near the base where we worked. 

It worried my father—he always meant well, but I think that he thought my being autistic would cause the whole living situation to crash and burn. His outstanding show of trust in me definitely didn’t start a week-long fight between us. I was notoriously introverted, and had a difficult time getting along with other people.  

There had been an…“incident” with a roommate I had in college that made him overly-cautious. I hesitate to even call it that, since it implies a level of seriousness that isn’t warranted. There had been a fight—a culmination of a lot of different things that turned explosive near the end of that semester. He thought I was sleeping with his girlfriend, and I had told him, quite plainly, that she wasn’t my type. I ended up with a broken nose, and he lost a few of his teeth.

As I said—really nothing worth making a big deal about.

My father smothered me, tried to convince me to just get an apartment where I could be on my own and not have to worry about sharing a living space with “strange men.” (What was I, a teenage girl being lectured about going out at night? I wanted to tell him that out of the three of us, I was the strangest.)

He went so far as to offer to pay for the apartment himself. With his salary, I knew he could afford it, but I wanted to be self-sufficient. I wanted to try new things and meet new people, even if the thought of changing my routine terrified me. 

But the thing is, on-base housing sucks total ass. Sure, it costs more to rent close by, but I think it’s worth the hassle.

My two friends and I ended up getting along surprisingly well. The shorter one was almost suspiciously friendly—he could probably befriend a rock if he put his mind to it. He soldiered past my bluntness and my tendency to remain completely silent for long stretches of time. He certainly talked enough to make up for my quietness. I’ve always been more than happy to just sit there and let him talk at me. The taller one was always more reserved. We rarely “hung out” in the typical sense. It was more that we would sit in the same room and do our own things. Parallel play. He painted miniatures—something that always amused me, as the figures seemed microscopic in his hands. I built model planes. The two of us often shared paints and supplies.

We were close. The news of my imminent death shattered them.

Sometimes it felt like they were the ones on their deathbeds. Like they were the ones who had to watch themselves rot away in the mirror. At the time, it annoyed me. They weren’t losing their hair in massive clumps. They weren’t losing muscle mass at such a fast rate that even holding a cup felt like a monumental task. But it’s always easier to retroactively forgive someone. I’ve always had a soft spot for the two of them.

Things are too dire for me to be able to hold a grudge. I don’t have the luxury of allowing things to go unsaid. 

As much as I was annoyed by their stubborn refusal of the truth, I didn’t want them to feel like they could have done something more to help me. My taller friend had already suffered through loss after loss, and I could tell that even if he tried to put on a brave face, he was desperate. He didn’t want to be named in my will—scoffed and said that we still had time, there was no need to give up just yet. I think I ended up giving him my Walkman and cassette collection. I hoped he would recognize the significance of it. That I was leaving him with the items I was practically born with. The writing of my will passed by in a blur. It felt unreal. I was dying. I am dying, and I needed to spend precious time deciding how my belongings would be divied up. 

I figured that (hopefully) the two of them would still be together after I passed. That way, they could both make sure my stuff wouldn’t just sit and collect dust. There was no way I was going to trust my belongings to my brothers. I won't delude myself into thinking I’m the only reason the three of us became friends, but I know how loss can affect people. 

I can’t remember which one of them first contacted Athena—not that it really matters in the end, I guess. It was the shorter one, maybe. (I have a 50/50 chance of being right.) He interrupted an otherwise silent meal to tell me that he was looking through medical journals and don’t roll your eyes this time, and he found something interesting. A neurologist in Anchorage was utilizing a new form of brain scan—one that, apparently, went deeper than just the form and chemistry of the brain. It wasn’t just a static image—it could create a working copy. 

Her work showed a lot of promise, but she needed willing participants. I told him that I didn’t want to spend my last year as a test subject, and he grinned at me. That was the best part—you didn’t need to be present after the initial scan. I’d be able to spend my time at home while the computer would use the scan to test and compare different treatments at an impossible rate. 

The computer program could predict how Treatment option A would pan out, then option B, on and on, condensing hundreds of cumulative years into a convenient data set. No more trial and error, I could rest while it did the heavy lifting. Once the trials had been exhausted, they would be able to see which treatments had the highest rates of success. It seemed unrealistic, too good to be true. I should have trusted that feeling.

He reached out to her, spoke at length about how my situation was an exact match for what she developed the tech for. It was good timing that he contacted her when he did—they were recently approved to start testing on people. No more monkey and rat brains, they were in the position to start doing something real

I had sighed into my meal with the sort of tired resignation that followed me everywhere. All the way in Anchorage? I really don’t like the idea of doing all that traveling…Piper (my sister-in-law, a wonderful woman who had the misfortune of falling in love with one of my dipshit brothers) is due to have her baby any day now. What if I miss it?

He assured me that we wouldn’t, and even if we did, wouldn’t I prefer a potential cure so that I could spend more time with my niece/nephew?

It was a long shot—we both knew it. But I’ve always had a bleeding heart. I knew that they would torture themselves with “what ifs” for years to come if I didn’t entertain their theories and upstart treatment plans. Just the thought made me feel terrible.

We stepped out of the taxi and onto the filthy, black snow mush, and I could see that someone was waiting for us. They stood in front of a nondescript office building, their arms wrapped around themselves to shield their body from the biting temperatures. I would learn this man’s name later—Kieran McCarthy. The friend that reached out had done a lot of research into the people behind the project. McCarthy was an MIT graduate with a degree in engineering. Apparently, he was a bit of a celebrity in the world of robotics, which seemed completely unrelated at the time. He shook each of our hands in turn, before looking at me and asking if I’m Mr. Landvik. I joked about how that made me feel old, and he might as well just call me Marius. 

He had a friendly-looking face. Warm, brown eyes that matched his ear-length brown hair. He was taller than me (not that that is a difficult bar to clear, seeing as puberty granted me the generous height of 5’2) but shorter than both of my friends. Young, as well. Early thirties if I had to guess. (I wonder why I remember his appearance so clearly, when I struggle to recall the names of my family members.)

McCarthy gave us a small tour through the building, pointing out different labs and scientists and how they contributed towards the dream. It wasn’t some college grad’s side project housed in their parent’s basement, which was a huge plus. It wasn’t anything like the stupid crabapple treatment someone was running in their backyard that my friends dragged me to. Their project seemed well-funded and a genuine labor of love. Even my taller friend—who was a self-proclaimed nihilist with an eternally bad attitude—appeared hopeful. 

I was tired. Walking and talking and even just standing took up so much energy. I just wanted to go home and rest.

I asked, more out of politeness than any real desire to get to know him, what made you decide to start this project? Did someone close to you—

Oh, no, nothing like that. He cut me off with a wave of his hand. My expression must have been visibly sour, as he rushed to apologize. Sorry for interrupting you Mr. La—uh, Marius. I just didn’t want you to think—I wanted to make sure that—ugh, sorry, I’m not very good at talking to people. They usually have me working in the background, making sure everything’s running properly. 

There was a moment of tense silence as I did my best to stop myself from making a snide comment. My shorter friend gave me a “just give it a chance” sort of smile.

We stopped in front of an unassuming door as he punched a code into a small keypad. It’s strange—before that point most of my memories are blurry, difficult to make out, like an overexposed polaroid—but I can remember what happened after with clarity. The buzzing fluorescent lights would make the room look like a hospital if it wasn’t for the behemoth sitting in the center. A hunk of metal and wires with what looked like VR goggles mixed with a bike helmet suspended over a single chair. It produced a continuous humming noise, almost like a purr.

Standing next to it, dressed in a pristine white lab coat, was a woman—Athena. Her black hair was pulled into a tight bun, and her face was schooled into an expression that I assume was meant to be comforting. (It looked more like a grimace.) She held out a perfectly manicured hand for me to shake, and her grip was firm. Mr. Landvik, she started, it’s good to finally meet you.

Her voice carried a light accent, one I still haven’t figured out the origin of. She talked about how moved she was by my story, and how she hopes her work will at the very least give me an improved quality of life. She gave the three of us a simplified explanation of how the tech functioned—like an MRI, but with entirely new formatting. It would preserve everything about my brain chemistry and structure, creating a perfect one-to-one copy.

As she spoke, her eyes never left my forehead. It felt like she could see straight through my skull and was staring at the tumor. Like she was talking directly to it.

I just wanted it to be over. The hotel beds weren’t comfortable, but they were better than this. Why did I have to be such a people-pleaser? 

She ushered me towards the machine, motioning for me to take a seat. She knew that I traveled a long way, so I’d probably expect the procedure to be lengthy and complicated, but the actual scan should only take a few minutes. I keep saying that we should’ve picked a more convenient location, McCarthy said, not looking away from the screen of a nearby computer. All this travel for something that amounts to getting your brain’s picture taken

I spoke, did you know some Native Americans thought that when a camera takes your picture, it steals your soul? My shorter friend laughed, while the taller one shook his head and mumbled that hopefully there wasn’t any truth to the claim.

Athena seemed amused at the idea, or maybe I was just imagining the way her lips curled into a smirk. Wouldn’t that be something? She hummed as she adjusted something behind me. 

She told me that I would probably feel some slight pressure, but if anything felt painful, to let them know. She reached up, grabbed the helmet-looking-thing, and pulled it down onto my head. Her fingers moved deftly as she adjusted straps and sensors, fitting it snugly against my head. The helmet covered my ears, blocked out the sounds of the room around me, and left me only with the sound of my own heartbeat pounding against my eardrums.

All of that traveling and arguing and convincing has led to this—me, sitting in a repurposed office chair as I feel more than hear the machine whir to life behind me. There’s a click, and a feeling like my entire body has been doused in ice water. I grip onto the edge of the armrests. 

I wait.

And wait.

Nothing happens.

I try my best to not start fidgeting, unsure of how it could affect the quality of the scan. There’s no pain, not even any real pressure, and I’m starting to feel like the biggest moron on earth for letting what’s-his-name drag me to fucking Alaska all so I can sit in a chair with my eyes covered while two people I’ve known for ten minutes do tests on me. 

I’m going to haunt him for the rest of his stupid life.

The room feels colder than it did when I walked in. 

I wait five more minutes (I know because I count the seconds, seeing as there’s nothing else for me to focus on) before speaking up.

“Is it done?” I flinch at the sound of my own voice, at how strange speaking feels. The words come out clear, but it feels like my tongue is glued to the roof of my mouth. Like it’s impossible for my lips to actually form what I want to say. There’s no response.

Slowly, so that they have time to stop me if needed, I move my hands towards the helmet. When no one intervenes, I pull it off. The room is dark, but the details quickly come into sharp focus. It’s…definitely not the room I was just in. For one, the place looks completely trashed. There’re miscellaneous bits of garbage strewn everywhere, and everything is covered with a thick layer of filth and dust. The general layout is the same, but it’s like it was sent two hundred years into the future. As if it’s been long-abandoned, and the elements were allowed to have their way with the equipment.

“Guys? This isn’t funny!” I try my best to sound angry, but the trembling in my voice gives away just how terrified I am. My body feels heavy and weak as I try to push myself out of the chair. I take a few stumbling steps forward as I look around, trying to get a better look at the room. “What kind of person plays a prank on a guy with cancer? Was everyone else in on it? Athena? McCarthy?”

My voice echoes, and no one responds.

Somewhere nearby, a pipe is dripping water at five-second intervals. Drip…drip…drip…

Wrapping my arms around myself, I take a few more steps forward. No one jumps out of the impossibly dark shadows to scare me, what’s-his-name-why-can’t-I-remember-his-name doesn’t appear from around a corner to apologize for taking a joke too far. 

His jokes usually aren’t this mean-spirited. There’s a significant difference between replacing the sugar with salt and…whatever this is. And he’s been so careful around me lately—like I’ll die instantly if the AC isn’t at the perfect temperature or if he raises his voice. I won’t waste my time wishing for things to go back to normal, but having everyone around me walk on eggshells is wearing my patience thin.

It’s like everyone’s suddenly turned into my father, the way they see me as being incapable of taking care of myself. (“The doctor said to avoid ‘high-stress situations,’ Porter. I don’t think she was talking about driving with the windows down.” The memory seems to come from nowhere. That was my voice, but who’s Porter?)

I glance down. My clothes haven’t changed, at least. Old Adidas sneakers that were passed down from one of my brothers, gray sweatpants, a T-shirt that used to be white, and my father’s nylon flight jacket. (I had given up dressing “nicely” a week after the diagnosis. I figured I might as well be comfortable during the time I had left.)

My stomach churns as I pull in deep breaths, trying to prevent myself from launching into a panic attack. The doctors said—what did the doctors say? I don’t remember their exact words, it was something about how high stress levels could trigger seizures or aneurysms. 

Which one was it? What’s the difference? 

My phone isn’t in my pocket anymore.

I need to start moving, try to find where those morons went. If they get mad at me for ruining their little experiment, I’ll tear them a new one. 

There’s a door on the opposite end of the room—industrial looking, with a sheet metal face and rusted hinges. It screeches loudly as I push it open, sounding as if it hasn’t been moved in centuries. The door opens into a hallway that’s just as dirty as the room I was in. My room seems to be right in the middle, with both sides of the hall stretching into indiscernible darkness. 

The walls are lined with refuse and debris formed into haphazard piles, and are covered in scrawling black handwriting and deep, claw-like gouges. The hallway is dark, but for some reason, I have no issue reading the text. “They lied” is etched into one segment. “Stuck in hell staring at heaven” is written just below where the wall meets the ceiling. Dread settles into the pit of my stomach. 

Where’s the humor in this? I don’t understand what part of this situation is funny.

  “Hello?” I call again. There’s no response.

Reluctantly, I step out into the hallway, avoiding suspicious puddles and other bits of scrap that are waiting for the chance to give me tetanus. Figuring that neither side seems more promising than the other, I choose to head down the left portion of the corridor. 

My footsteps sound excessively loud when compared to the relative silence of the building. Makes me feel like I’ve suddenly become 100 pounds heavier. (I’ve always been underweight, no matter how hard I try to put on muscle. The issue has only been exacerbated by the tumor. I look like a scrawny teenage boy.)

The quiet reminds me of when my brothers forced me to go into a haunted house with them. I’m the youngest in my family, and yet they made me go first into every room and around every corner. Right now, there’s a distinct lack of people wearing dollar-store masks jumping out at me.

A part of me wants that to happen. Just so that I know I’m not alone.

The temperature continues to drop as I walk. There must be some sort of draft that’s letting the outside air in. I pull in a deep breath, and the smell of mold nearly makes me sneeze. How did I not notice it on my way in? That should have been the door I entered through, but the layout has totally shifted.

I don’t recognize the twists and turns of the hall—gone are the large glass windows looking into busy labs. It feels like the inside of the office building has doubled in size. The metal walls are covered in dents and patches of rust. Assorted litter and detritus covers the floor, and everything is covered in a layer of black grime. I scowl at the crumpled paper, food wrappers, and…shit, that’s a spent bullet casing.

Squatting down, I pick up the small piece of metal. 9mm. Impossible to know for certain, but most likely fired from a handgun of some sort. I glance to my left and right, as if said handgun will miraculously appear from thin air. Nothing.

The uneasy feeling in my chest worsens. Ammo is expensive, and neither of my friends are the type to waste it. 

In the distance, I hear the sound of metal clanging against itself. I stand up quickly, dropping the casing with a delicate clink. “Hello?” I call out once again. 

There’s a noise that might be a response, but it’s too muffled for me to be certain. Regardless, it’s still something other than all-consuming silence. I walk down the hallways and towards where the noise originated from. When I trail a hand along the wall, it makes a weird scraping noise. 

Maybe this isn’t a prank.

The thought leaves a sour taste in my mouth, but it’s probably true. 

This is too complicated. Too cruel. Why would my friends fly me out to Alaska just to torment me? It doesn’t make sense. Nothing does.

Maybe not a prank. A dream? 

It’s a cheap, overdone explanation, but I can’t think of anything else. Maybe the combination of the darkened helmet and the humming lullaby of the machine put me to sleep, and all of this is just a bizarre, tumor-induced dream.

I make a left, moving slowly through the dark hallway until my foot bangs against something metal. The resulting clang is enough to nearly make me jump out of my skin. I glance down to see what it is I kicked.

On the ground in front of me is a machine. Broken beyond repair, built in a vaguely humanoid design. A head, with a shattered white mask partially covering its “face.” I can see the curve of an eyebrow and most of a forehead, but the rest has been broken off. A single yellow eye, gazing vaguely in my direction. A mop of stringy fake hair covering its scalp. One arm, with the other mangled under a heavy-looking block of concrete. I glance briefly upward, and see the broken ceiling that had fallen on the unfortunate thing. No legs, but there’s ragged, warped metal where they should be.

“You!” It says suddenly, pointing an accusatory finger at me. Its voice is garbled and full of static, though it sounds vaguely masculine. “Yes, I am speaking to you, boy! Do you work here?”

“Huh? I—”

“Just as I suspected! The hospitality of this dreadful place is absolutely abominable! Not once have I been offered a drink, or to have my bags taken to my room for me, and one of your coworkers pushed me! That insolent brute! What is his name? The tall one!”

“I don’t—”

It slaps its hand on the ground. “Do not try to play dumb with me, boy! Look at you—dressed like a bum, where is your uniform? You’re supposed to have name tags! What is your name, boy?!” The exposed wires in its legs spark, and I can hear a continuous whirring noise coming from its center.

“Um… Marius?”

“Do not frame it as a question!”

“Marius.”

“There. Was that so difficult, Marius? What has the world come to? The situation might be dire, but that is no reason to completely abandon good manners. Now—would you please assist me in freeing my arm of this heavy luggage?” It gestures towards the hunk of concrete.

“That’s concrete,” I say, though it should be obvious. 

It sputters indignantly, suddenly seeming offended. “Concrete—concrete?! This is authentic Louis Vuitton! Just one of these is worth more than what you make in a year!”

“It’s a concrete brick,” I repeat stubbornly. “From the concrete ceiling. It fell on you.”

“You little…” It lurches to the side, trying to pull its arm out from under the rubble. I can hear the metal of its arm creaking from the pressure, and it makes a pained groan. The whirring sound increases in volume, and the yellow eye brightens. “I… I can’t move it…”

There’s a moment of silence between me and it. A part of me feels bad for it. Another part is still annoyed that it said I’m dressed like a bum. I sigh dejectedly, then take a few steps forward and wrap my fingers underneath the edge of the concrete block. Pulling in a deep breath, I use my legs to push upwards, and—

The block moves. Pretty easily, as well. 

It tumbles away with a loud, heavy crash. I look up at the ceiling again, then glance down and pick up a smaller piece of the broken material. It looks like concrete, but it’s deceptively light. Maybe some sort of “eco-friendly” alternative? There was an article I read about stuff like that, once. 

“Thank you,” the machine says, sounding genuinely relieved. “Now, if you could help me up?”

“But you don’t have any legs.”

“Yes, I do, you little—little—little—” It glitches, stuck on a single word before abruptly cutting itself off. The single yellow eye dims, and its body slumps, before suddenly returning to its prior position. “And instead of, I don’t know, trying to get me a doctor, you’ve decided to just stand there with your thumb up your ass like a moron?! I’m bleeding out, here!”

“No you aren’t. Robots don’t bleed,” I point out. It doesn’t seem very happy at the response, but then again, I’ve always been terrible at comforting others. 

“Does this look mechanical to you?” It holds up its good hand and waves at me. “No! All flesh! Unlike whatever you have going on, I’m a perfectly normal human being!”

Ouch. I know I look terrible, but hearing someone else say it still doesn’t feel good.

“Where is Athena!” It squeals, pushing itself upwards with its good arm. “That woman—that harpy promised us paradise! Safety! And now look at us! You—a bumbling idiot—just standing there and mocking me! You’re working with that—that beast aren’t you?! The one that took—took my—my—my legs!” Its voice is quickly devolving into a stuttering, glitching mess. 

Cautiously, I move back to put some space between us.

Smoke pours from the vents on its sides. “Where is it…Where is it?! Tell it to come back and—and—and finish the job!” It won’t stop shouting, its voice bouncing off the enclosed space. It claws at the ground, slowly pulling itself towards me.

In the distance, I hear the sound of something sharp being dragged across the floor. Screech…screech…screech…

My blood runs cold, and I watch, petrified, as a long shadow is cast on the furthest wall of the hallway. Broad, towering, backlit by red emergency lights. I’m frozen, and with heavy, thundering footsteps, it keeps getting closer. It turns the corner. I am beheld by two pin-prick red eyes.

The machine grabs onto my ankle, and the sensation is enough to snap me out of my trance. I kick its hand away, causing it to wail, and bolt in the opposite direction. A roar—animalistic and mechanical and inhuman follows me. The machine screams in response, but is cut short with the sudden sound of metal being crushed. 

My breath catches in my throat. 

I don’t look back. I know better than to look back.

A small part of me thinks that I could’ve helped it. It seemed…aware? Sentient? Frightened? I’m not sure what the right word is, but it seemed scarily human. The more logical part of my brain reminds me that I’m 5’2 and built like a twig. I remind myself– It’s just a machine.

A strange hissing noise—like air being forced through a small opening—follows me as I turn a blind corner, taking random turns as I try to get as far away from it as possible. 

The building is maze-like, with random dead-ends and twisting, labyrinthine corridors. It feels as if the walls are closing in on me, hell bent on squeezing the tiny bit of life left in me. 

I gasp, producing a sound that sounds embarrassingly close to a sob. Why me? Why me?

In the military, they teach you to stay calm in critical situations. Panic does nothing to help you—in fact, it can really only make things worse. But the thing is, I’m completely unarmed, likely outnumbered, utterly lost, and already half-dead. 

Christ. The stress might kill me before the tumor does. 

The hallway I’m currently in has rows of doors lining either side. I pick on at random, nearly throwing myself into the room. 

Locking the door behind me, I take a few steps back and wait. 

Blood rushes through my ears, and my heartbeat is so fast, it sounds like it isn't even beating at all. I place a hand on my neck to search for my pulse, but my hands shake too badly for me to find it. 

My ears strain to hear anything of note. There’s a soft whirring noise, though I suspect it's nothing more than the background noise of the building’s various systems. There are no footsteps, and no sharp-edged scratching. 

I sigh in relief, my shoulders slumping. This is the most exercise I’ve done in months.

As my heartrate slowly drops, I glance around to see where I've ended up.

It looks like a dorm room of some sort, decorated like it belongs to a stereotypical teenage girl. Everything is covered in a thick layer of grime, but I can tell that it used to be bright pink. Posters for bands I don’t recognize are pinned to the walls—I wonder what genre Pastel Epoch is? It doesn’t seem like the sort of band I’d enjoy, but I have to admit that I like the design of the poster: a pink and white unicorn with the severed head of a wolf impaled on its horn. 

When I was a shitty 15-year-old, I tried to start a band with some of my friends. As is typical of most garage bands, we never even got to the point of settling on a name. 

Most of the laminate floor is covered by the remains of a shag carpet. I can’t really tell what color it used to be. Now, it’s a filthy shade of brown. 

Near the head of the bed is a dresser, the top of which is almost completely covered in small origami cranes and tea candles. A few of them are lit, casting the room in a faint orange glow. I guess it looks nice, but it’s also a major fire hazard. I can already hear my father chiding me, saying never leave a lit candle unattended. It only takes one nudge and poof! No more house.

He was speaking from experience. One of my brothers (how many do I have? All I can remember is that I’m the youngest) had a stroke of genius and decided to play with matches. We had to get the entire kitchen replaced.

This doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that red-eyed monstrosity from the hallway would do, but I shouldn’t make assumptions.

In the center of the mess is a picture frame. I pick it up, careful to not knock over any of the candles. The picture is of a large group of people, all standing side-by-side in front of one of the blank metal walls and smiling at the camera. They’re dressed in matching uniforms—black jumpsuits with insignias too tiny to discern on their chests. In the bottom left corner, “Abbotech Industries crew” is written in black sharpie. 

It almost reminds me of a shrine. But for who?

I set the picture down and step back, wincing as I hear one of the cranes crunch under my foot.

There’s a small desk facing the end of the bed frame that’s covered with various makeup accessories and papers. I can see an ID card. On it, there’s a picture of a smiling woman. Next to her face, “Evelyn Brown” and “Psychologist” are written.  I pick up one of the thick paper packets, lifting the first page to look at its contents. It looks like a psych eval—the kind they make soldiers take to assess their mental and emotional fitness. This one is for a man named Atlas Summers. 

I know I probably shouldn’t be looking at it, but I need to sate my curiosity.

At the top left corner of the page is a small picture of him. His face is set into an expression of…dare I say, fatherly disapproval. Like he caught the photographer watching porn on the family computer. The paper is covered in looping cursive, detailing how he’s a security guard, and has three children working in different departments.

The notes section is strange—Evelyn writes that he is good at his job, but at the time of her writing, was one of only two guards left. A part of me wonders what happened to the others. She writes that he is ex-military, and she is concerned about the possibility of lasting PTSD from his time in it. 

Apparently, he is the one who found the body of one of their coworkers. A suicide, apparently. This evaluation was meant to be paired with an incident report.

I set the paper down, aware that it definitely isn’t for me to look through.

Underneath a different pile of papers is a small notebook. It’s plain and black, standing out starkly against the cotton-candy-colored decorations. I open it to a random page, not having learned my lesson about leaving things that aren’t mine. “Dear diary,” is scrawled along the top of the page. The youngest-sibling urge to stick my nose in other people’s business grows stronger.


Dear diary,

Today was a disaster. Two more suicides and morale is continuously dropping. I keep asking myself if there was anything I could’ve done to stop them… The science and mechanisms of the scans have been explained to us a million times but people just won’t listen.

Only a copy is made. Why do they think that their consciousness will be transferred? Someone—I still haven't figured out who exactly—is convincing the others that if they commit suicide after having their brains scanned, their consciousnesses will be shifted into the scan itself. What idiot thought that up? Maybe it was Amelia—she was the first suicide we had. All future scans have been put on hold indefinitely. Those who were about to be scanned aren’t happy at all about this. 

How do I keep everything from falling apart? We’re on the verge of total collapse and none of the higher-ups want to acknowledge it.


I press my lips into a thin line. 

Moving towards the bed, I examine the massive pile of stuffed animals. A round caricature of a horse smiles up at me. (What’s-his-name’s family owns a farm that has horses on it. One of them sneezed on me.Why, of all things, is that what I can remember?) I nudge it to the side to see what’s behind it, and my hand brushes against something hard under the blanket.

My hand jerks back as I glance towards the head of the bed. Nothing moves—no one jumps out from under the covers, screaming at me to leave. Slowly, I reach down and poke at it. Something under the covers rattles. 

“Mm…” A worried hum escapes me as I inch my hand towards the top of the covers. It’s just like ripping off a band-aid—

I pull back the blankets and scream. 

A face—gaunt, with skin pulled so tight that I can see the ridges of the skull underneath—stares back at me with empty eye sockets. A corpse that’s been mummified. Her flesh looks brittle, and has turned a similar color to leather. Patches of her long, blonde hair are still attached to her scalp, and there are still remnants of light blue nail polish on her fingers. Her mouth is twisted open, like her last moments were spent screaming in terror. Her hands, twisted and gnarled, clutch what’s left of her T-shirt. The sheets underneath her are stained black with old blood and other body fluids. It’s obvious that she’s been here for quite some time.

This isn’t a prank. Oh God, this isn’t a prank.

Stumbling backwards, I nearly trip over the carpet, only barely managing to regain my balance and brace myself against the opposite wall. Only to be met with… something.

There’s a door I failed to notice, and a pair of glowing red eyes peer back at me from the shadows. I only catch a glimpse of it before fleeing—shaped like a person, a bulky body tensed as if ready to lunge. The machine called it a beast, and I find the description terribly fitting. (How did it get so close? I should’ve heard it.)

My heartbeat pounds in my ears as I race down the hall, desperately trying to put as much distance between it and myself as possible. Adrenaline races through my veins. I gasp for air, but it just isn’t enough and the walls are closing in on me and that thing is right on my heels—

It killed the machine. Will it do the same to me? I should have known better than to let my guard down—fuck me, what a stupid goddamn thing to do. I might be actively dying, but that doesn’t mean I want to be murdered.

I can’t tell if it’s still following me, but better safe than sorry. I take a sharp right and push open the heavy rusted door.

Only to run face-first into it.

Before my brain has the chance to process what’s happening, a large, clawed hand is wrapped around my throat and I am lifted into the air. I gasp against the pressure, kicking my legs in vain and grabbing at the thing’s arm. 

Its grip is like iron, and my struggling fails to do anything. I scratch at the metal plating of its forearm, revealing thin lines of silver metal from under the black paint. My lungs burn, and I grit my teeth against the mounting pressure against my throat.

Why me?

I am beheld by bright red eyes, looking out from between the strips of black fabric that are wrapped around its head and face. A shiny, white material peeks out from gaps in the covering. A mask. Obscured.

The room we’re in is huge—with tall, vaulted ceilings that remind me of cathedrals. Machinery lines the walls, covered in assorted lights and humming with electricity. They look like computer servers. There—peeking out from over its shoulder, blinking on and off at the opposite side of the room, is an emergency exit sign. Fuck me. Fuck me, I’m so close.

Even as I am held up by my throat, it towers over me. Over six feet, at the very least. Probably close to seven. Built like a goddamn brick shithouse, with each “bicep” larger than my entire head. It has no trouble holding my entire weight with one arm, and seems almost amused at my escape attempts. The sharp angles of its body are painted a matte black, though it has started to chip away in various places.

Various holsters and gear are strapped onto its body. There—on its chest is a sheathed Bowie knife. My arms are too short to reach it right now, but if I could just get a little closer…

The thing chuckles—a low, rumbling sound that I feel more than hear. Its grip shifts, thumb moving to press against the side of my jaw. With a voice that seems to surround me, rattling my teeth and ricocheting off the insides of my skull, it speaks.

“You’re new,” It says, quite simply. It’s voice is deep and rough, like it spent the last twenty years chain smoking and eating gravel. Masculine, just like the other one. Older. 

A flash of confusion briefly overtakes me. “What?” I gasp out. My throat is being crushed, but the word comes out with surprising clarity. I feel warm. Like there’s a mounting fever within me. My brain is fuzzy and overworked. The military teaches its special operations squadrons how to withstand torture. Unfortunately for me, they decided I didn’t need that knowledge. 

“I thought you were…Well, I don’t really know who I thought you were. Haven’t seen you before. What division are you with?”

It sounds like genuine curiosity, but it (he?) still has its (his?) hand wrapped around my throat. (Why haven’t I passed out from lack of air yet? The burning need for oxygen is still present, but slowly lessening.)

I rack my brain for an answer. “Strike Fighter Squadron VFA-31. Honorable discharge in… in…” Fuck me, when was it? “2019. Health-related.”

“You’re Navy?”

“Y-yes.”

It tilts its head to the side, grip loosening slightly. With a thoughtful hum, it regards me for a moment. There is a noise like a camera aperture adjusting as its red eyes look me up and down. “Hm. 2019, huh? How old are you, then?”

I suck in air greedily, and the strange heat dissipates. Thinking is easier. My hands wrap around its wrist, and my legs dangle uselessly beneath me. “25,” I answer. 

Another pause. I can almost hear it thinking. 

“What year is it now?” Its arm bends, and I am brought ever-so-slightly closer. 

Just a little bit more…

“2023.”

“Jesus christ,” It hisses, sounding shocked, and I am given the opening I need to act. I grab the handle of the knife, yank it from its sheath, and plunge the blade deep into the unprotected mechanisms of the thing’s elbow.

It howls in pain, dropping me and clutching onto its now-sparking arm. “You son of a— stop fucking running!” 

The thing is hot on my trail as I sprint down the length of the room, but its height and weight means I am just barely able to outmaneuver each attempt at grabbing me again. The emergency exit signs glow like lighthouses, like beacons, like promises of salvation. My legs are strong and I am fast—gone is the all-encompassing weakness brought about by the tumor.

Pure adrenaline pumps through my veins. I feel like I could run for hours without getting tired. I bang my head against a low-hanging metal pipe, but I don’t let it slow me down. It barely even hurts.

“I am trying to help you!” It shouts.

“You’re trying to kill me! You’re going to tear off my legs!”

“Just calm down and let me explain! You don’t know what’s happening!”

I don’t care. I don’t care. This isn’t a dream and it isn’t a prank and I have no idea what it is but it doesn’t matter. There’s a door straight ahead– a small, heavy-looking one that resembles the hatch of a military ship. Behind me, I hear the thing lunge forward.

Its claws miss me by mere centimeters, and with a snarl it lands face-first on the floor.

The mistake gives me just enough time to grab onto the circular handle, wrench it downwards, and then use my entire body weight to push the hatch door open.

My eyes reflexively squint against the sudden blinding light and the howling, biting wind. My breath catches in my throat, and I hear the thing yelling for me to stop, but I move forward anyways. A vast, endless field of snow and metal and destruction lies in front of me. I stumble forward a few steps, and something underneath my foot crunches.

I glance down. It’s a femur—cleanly broken in two.

Human. I know it is. Old, too. Brittle. Fragile.

The more I look, the more skeletal remains I find. 

Gathered around the hatch door in unknowable numbers, as if they were all trying to get in. 

Some of the bones are small. Too small.

I’m breathing heavily, almost hyperventilating, but there are no puffs of air coming from my mouth. The continuous whirring noise—like computer fans—has followed me outside. An overwhelming sense of defeat hits me like a truck.

I feel tired. I feel heavy. I feel like my entire life has been taken from me.

The will to escape has been pulled from me in an instant. Where would I go? Into the crumbling remnants of buildings surrounding me? Towards the mountain range in the distance? Would I keep running forever? 

Footsteps approach from behind. The thing comes to a stop on my right, standing maybe a foot away. Heat radiates from it. I look down again, and there are twin patches of melted snow beneath both of us. “You shouldn’t stay out here for long,” He says, and there’s something deeper to his tone. A softness that comforts and annoys me at the same time. Reminds me of my father. 

God, I’m tired. I miss my father. 

“What happened?” I ask. My voice sounds distant and strange.

A sigh. “War. Bombs. Death. Long after your time, kid. This place was supposed to protect the few that were left, but…It really gets to you, y’know. The loneliness. The survivor’s guilt. We couldn’t let everyone in– we just didn’t have enough supplies, and…I just wish things turned out different.”

The information washes over me, and I examine it with a sort of neutral, if not resigned acceptance. I’m tired of running. “What year is it?”

“2183, approximately. I haven’t really paid much attention to the time.”

I stare ahead at the falling snow. I haven’t blinked for five minutes, but my eyes don’t burn. Above me, the sky has been entirely blocked by miserable gray clouds.  The strong wind causes my clothes to flap wildly. I’m not cold. “200 years.” It takes me a moment to do the mental math. “I was in that chair for 200 years?”

“No, not exactly. Your brain scan was kept in a pretty sizable storage drive for most of that time. So…you probably weren’t in that chair for longer than a few days. You’re small—I doubt it took very long to build you.” There’s a pause, then he pulls in a sharp breath. “Oh. Uh, about that…”

“Don’t say it,” I whisper. Saying it out loud would make it real. Would mean the feelings of wrongness and otherness aren’t just in my head. He has no reason to lie to me, and I’m not sure I can handle any difficult truths right now. 

“You don’t want me to rip off the band-aid?”

I think over the offer for a moment, then hold up my hands in front of my face. The flesh is pale, with light blue veins running just under the surface. Are they mine? 

“I don’t know.” If I try to pay close attention to the way my mouth moves while forming the sounds, everything starts to feel fuzzy. Like water off a duck’s back—my attention is almost immediately diverted towards something else. An itch, the feeling of something crawling up my arm, someone’s gaze burning into the back of my head. As if something is urging me away from the point of no return. 

The wind howls. When I glance back at him, I notice that the fabric that was wrapping his face has been pushed down, now wrapped around his neck like a thin, trailing scarf. His arms are crossed against his broad chest, and his head is tilted to the side. I have to crane my own head upwards to see his face. It’s a strange mimicry of the human version, but I still recognize him.

“You’re Atlas Summers,” I say. “A security guard. I saw your eval in Evelyn’s room.”

“Mm. That stuff’s supposed to be confidential, you know.”

“Did you kill her?”

“No,” He snaps, and the severity in his tone makes me flinch. When he speaks again, his voice is softer. “No. It was…When food ran out, people got desperate. Someone killed her, but couldn’t go through with…you know what I mean. I don’t need to spell it out for you.”

“You didn’t kill her, but what about the…the robot.

“Oh. Well, that guy was fucking annoying. And it isn’t like I killed him for good– his brain scan’s still in the system. If I wanted to kill him for good, I’d have to get rid of all the backups. I won’t lie; the idea is alluring.”

“Why’d you try to kill me?

“Ugh, you’re making it sound like I’m some sort of blood-crazed maniac. I wasn’t trying to kill you, I was just trying to catch you.”

“You nearly choked me to death.”

“Fine, I’ll admit I could’ve handled things better. It’s just that whenever the Lazarus Protocol spits out someone new, they always manage to break shit before I find them. You were never in any real danger. I could stick your head underwater for an hour, and you still wouldn’t suffocate.”

For some reason, that doesn’t comfort me. He probably isn’t lying, but the feeling of oxygen deprivation had been so real. Was it just that—a feeling, with nothing substantial behind it? Is any of what’s happening real? Is this all the imaginings of a disease mind being pumped full of chemicals and hormones as it dies? Am I real?

I remember the faces of my family, though blurred and difficult to parse. If what he’s saying is true, that means they’re all dead. Gone. Dust. Already finished rotting. Eaten by worms and bacteria and who knows what else. 

My sister-in-law had her baby, and it is dead by now, too. They're all gone, and here I stand, still staring at the mechanized simulacrum of some security guard. I wonder, distantly, what the point of all of this is. Some sort of cosmic joke? A punishment?

“What am I?” I ask, because existential questions have never been my strong suit. A literal answer would be best. 

He doesn’t answer right away, instead turning his attention to something in the distance behind me. The anticipation makes me nervous. “Not here,” He eventually says, turning his attention back to me. “Inside. I’ll show you.”

Like an animal to slaughter, or like an obedient child, I follow him into the winding expanse of the bunker. The door shuts behind me with a slam that sounds final. He leads me through the twists and turns of the halls, moving with a single-minded purpose. Neither of us say anything. I am more than happy to keep the silence.

The two of us end up in what looks to be a server room. Rows upon rows of computer servers, LED lights blinking on and off like distant stars. The room seems to continue on forever—there’s no end in sight, like I’m getting a small glimpse of something infinitely larger than myself. 

“It’s in here, somewhere,” Atlas mutters, trailing a finger along the machinery. Carefully, he pulls out an external storage drive. It’s the size of a small book– around 8 by 5 inches, if you put a gun to my head and told me to approximate. With a surprising amount of gentleness, he removes the wires attached to it and holds it out for me to take.

It is warm in my hands, and I cradle it like it’s something precious. Along the flat edge, there’s a piece of tape. “Legacy Scan-MTL2023 (DO NOT FUCKING OVERWRITE!!)” is written in neat black letters.

“We had issues with people reusing older storage devices. Yours was too important to lose, so…” 

As if that’s the part I have questions about.

“What’s a legacy scan?” I keep my gaze trained solely on the black box in my grip. 

His gaze flicks upwards, like he’s having difficulty remembering. “Brain scans from the beginning of the Revenant project. Back when it was meant to help determine potential cures for terminal diseases. Right now, they’re mainly used as training tools for AI and robotics engineers. Or, well…that’s what they were used for. Before everything went to shit.”

“Training tools…I’m not…” There were others? 

“I don’t mean to suggest that you’re, like, a toy that grad students fucked with in their spare time. Legacy scans like yours were included in kits used in teaching. I think…I think people’ve been using them for so long, they sort of forgot the scan originated from a real person. Just started treating them like any other tool.” 

He places his hands on his hips, continuing in an almost conversational tone. “A lot of people utilized them, but a lot also suggested they were unreliable and outdated. Older scans like you have a bad habit of developing memory issues and personality drifts. Something about the technology still being in development when they were recorded. But they were cheap and easy to copy, so…”

Memory issues. Memory issues. I know my name is Marius Landvik, but the names of my friends are still glaring holes in my mind. What do I look like? Where do I live? I’m 25 and the youngest in my family, but how many brothers do I have? “If I’m a legacy scan, what does that make you?” There is a strange, static edge to my voice. My mouth doesn’t move when I speak.

(There have been others, just like me. Where are they now?)

Cheap copies. Mass-produced.

“Nothing important,” he says with a sigh. “More of an obligation or part of a routine than anything exciting. Brain-scans were mandatory for everyone living on-base. Y’know. Just in case anything were to happen.”

I press the storage drive against my chest, over where my heart should be. In my hands, I hold my brain. My heart. My soul? I’ve never been religious, but I guess the apocalypse is as good a time to start practicing as any. In the military, I was never afraid. I was confident in my abilities and the skills of those around me. Here, everything scares me. All illusions of control have been ripped away.

I miss my father. The thought comes unbidden, and a part of me wants to reflexively dismiss it. The part of me that didn’t want him to be the one taking care of me in hospice—the one that ignored his phone calls and rolled my eyes at his concern when the seizures started and my memory worsened. He was smothering, but I want to be smothered right now. I want him to act like he knows everything and all I have to do is sit still while he takes charge of the situation.

“I want a mirror,” I eventually say, barely loud enough for Atlas to hear. 

He asks me if I’m sure, and seems genuinely concerned. I nod. With a sigh, he tells me that the only mirror left is in Evelyn’s room. All of the others have been smashed. He says the last part like a warning—like that fact will make me think twice about my demand. 

It doesn’t.

Atlas leads me back to Evelyn’s room with a sense of grim finality. During the walk, a set of glowing red eyes watch me from one of the darkened rooms. Atlas hisses at them to go away, and they disappear into the inky blackness. 

“Sorry,” He says to me, somewhat sheepishly. “It gets boring down here after a while. The others get curious.”

“How many more are there?”

“Since this mess began, there’ve been twelve, including me. That makes you lucky number thirteen. That rich bastard used to be number twelve, but no one really liked him, so there’s not much of a loss there. Counting us, there’re only four active right now. The rest… didn’t adjust very well.”

Not much of a loss. Replaceable. A copy of a copy.

Adjustments. I don’t like change. I like having my schedule and sticking to it with near- religious fervor. Why do things never go my way?

When we reach Evelyn’s room, Atlas carefully adjusts the blankets so that they are covering the dead woman’s face again. He returns the stuffed animals to their rightful spots, then turns to face me and gestures towards what I previously thought was an opening. 

I stand in the doorway for a moment, on the precipice of some great truth. I swallow thickly, producing a weird clicking sound. I open and close my hands repeatedly. I shuffle in place. I…

Atlas watches me, and although the neutral facade of his mask-face hasn’t changed, I can’t help but feel the fatherly concern emanating from him. Two others, excluding us. A security guard with three children. There’s no guaranteeing the two are even his children. (I want to ask about it, but the time isn’t right, and there are more pressing issues directly affecting me right now.)

Stepping through the door, I enter Evelyn’s room. Leaning against the wall on the far end of the room is the rectangular shape that I thought was a doorway. Slowly, reluctantly, I walk up to it, pausing as those eyes reappear.

Bright, piercing red eyes with a circular white “pupil” in the center.

It is a mirror.

My hands clench into fists as I stare at the thing I’ve become. A machine. A robot. A shitty simulacrum. Just as short, just as slight– the bulkiness I saw earlier was due to the outlines of my clothing. When I look down, I see the sweatpants and jacket I wore during the brain scan. 

The mirror shows something different, though. A uniform, reminiscent of the one Atlas is wearing, though scaled down to fit my proportions. I trail my fingers over the emblem stitched onto the breast. “Who…dressed me?” I manage to ask, my voice tinged with static.

He jumps, ever so slightly, like he wasn’t expecting me to say anything. “Oh. It’s, uh, an automatic thing. For modesty, mostly. Make sure no one gets flashed.”

That’s a goddamn relief. To know I haven’t been fucking neutered.

The parts of my body that should be flesh are a gunpowder gray color, and the spaces between my fingers and other moving points are covered with what looks like black Kevlar. I can’t bring myself to look at what’s under my clothes. 

Whatever built me must have utilized memories of looking into mirrors—It has recreated my face using some sort of fragile-looking material, sculpted it into an expression of perfect neutrality. Its glossy surface has been partially shattered. Splintering cracks, originating from the spot where I hit my head, cut into the perfect white facade. Reaching up, I hook my fingers into the seam where the mask connects to the rest of my head. I tug. It doesn’t move.

When I look down at myself, I still see flesh. My fake, imagined, hallucinated skin crawls. The urge to peel it off layer by layer is growing, and I’m not sure how much longer I can resist it.  

Behind me, both Evelyn’s corpse and Atlas are silent.

  I think she and I would have gotten along in a different life. For him, I’m not certain. He reminds me of my father. The thought makes my throat feel tight. “What should I do? I don’t…” The red of my eyes flashes with each word, and I start to pick at imaginary fingernails. It’s the motion that soothes me, even if I’m no longer able to tear my fingers into shreds. “I need someone to tell me what to do…”

I need…a manual or something. A handbook titled “Accepting The Fact That You Aren’t Human Anymore For Morons.” 

I’ve always needed something like that. Something that lays out, in perfect detail, how to interact with the world and people around me. What to do, what to say, what’s considered normal or not. Even when I was still flesh and blood, I always felt less human than everyone else. (This must be the natural conclusion of that feeling. A manifestation.) 

A choked sob escapes my throat, and I wrap my arms around myself. The edges of the storage drive dig into the plating of my arm. It isn’t comfortable, but the sensation isn’t even real. It only hurts because the technology making up my false nervous system says it should. 

My eyes sting, but no tears fall.

“Why…am I here?” I whisper.

Atlas looks away, turning his gaze downwards. His foot taps out a quick, steady tempo. “Mm. It’s—there isn’t a…a straightforward answer.”

“You’re responsible, aren’t you? Somehow.”

The sigh I get in return cements the accusation. “I didn’t…I had no idea there was even a possibility you would be chosen. It was supposed to be a numbers game—one of the scans would be picked at random, and the assembly system would stick ‘em in a body.”

“Look how that turned out,” I say with no small amount of bitterness. 

“I’d like to see how well you do, spending years alone in a goddamn sealed tomb. Hate me all you want, kid, but everyone else they’ve got stored in those data servers knew what they were signing up for with the brain scans. It’s not my fault they couldn’t handle the cognitive dissonance.”

“And after the first few killed themselves, you didn’t think to stop? Didn’t think that maybe this entire endeavor was a massive waste of time and effort? Was doomed from the start?”

“I’m no fatalist.”

I don’t respond to him.

I miss my father. The thought comes unbidden, and a part of me wants to reflexively dismiss it. The part of me that didn’t want him to be the one taking care of me in hospice—the one that ignored his phone calls and rolled my eyes at his concern when the seizures started and my memory worsened. He was smothering, but I want to be smothered right now. I want him to act like he knows everything and all I have to do is sit still while he takes control of the situation.

Atlas doesn’t scratch that itch. I don’t want tough-love realism.

I can’t rely on other people. My bed has been made, and I have to sleep in it.

Maybe I’m not actually Marius, but I owe my own existence to him. Giving up feels like an insult to his memory. And my friends—this is definitely not what they were thinking when they hoped to keep me alive, but... (Am I alive? Can you even call existence like this “life?” I was never a philosopher. Maybe someone smarter than I will come to a satisfying conclusion to that answer.) Maybe I’m not alive in the literal sense, but I’m aware. Sentient and conscious. That has to count for something. 

Slowly, keeping my gaze fixed on the mirror in front of me, I drop to my knees. My joints move smoothly, but if I focus carefully, I can hear the internal mechanisms whirring and moving. The sound of fans running gets louder. It’s almost funny—I can literally hear myself think. (I think, therefore I am. But what am I?)

A dead man stuck in a sleeping world. Stationary. Stagnant. Still. Nothing but a mistake.

I was the one in hospice, but I ended up outliving everyone else. I want to be mad at my friends. To rage and seethe over the fact that they are the reason I’m stuck halfway between a man and a fucking toaster.

But the anger doesn’t last. It dissipates as quickly as it appears, burning out near-immediately. They thought they were helping, and it isn’t nice to speak ill of the—

Oh god. Somehow, it only hits me now. They’re dead, aren’t they? Turned into worm food years ago. Probably nothing more than filthy bones barely connected with dried sinew and whatever else the maggots turned their noses up at. They’re dead and I’m not. I Survived. I was the one with terminal cancer, and I outlasted them all.

It’s funny—all of this is just so funny. It’s so funny that I can’t stand it. In the end, that mass pushing against my brain saved me. My body shakes with laughter, but the garbled static noise that escapes me would be impossible to identify as such. The storage drive slips from my grasp and I raise hands that are not my own to cover a face that is a simulacrum of a person who hasn’t existed in nearly 200 years. 

A heavy palm is placed on my shoulder, but I don’t look up.

Silently, I weep.



3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All

The Yellow Note by Lilly Koonce

The Yellow Note By Lilly Koonce Trigger Warnings: Suggestions of abuse, arson, and murder. For years, my mother warned me not to go near the yellow house at the end of the road. All the other parents

Comments


bottom of page