a short story by AD Bane
She’d forgotten there was anything other than the dream, and the disappointment angered her, for the dream was better. The world focused for a second, though still clouded by the blinding light of the sun – no, it wasn’t the sun, it was too white and too all-consuming: it was cold, not warm, and it was behind her eyes like a firestorm. She raised one hand tentatively, but it was a blur: it was impossible to see anything in that light. She didn’t know what had happened, only that the dream was better, and her nightmare was waking up.
She’d only just been in bed, she thought: she could remember waking in the dark to the familiar glow of the bedside alarm clock and the cold moonlight streaming through the blinds, and then– but no, there was nothing coherent to make after that. The ghostly night demons still crowded round, like terrified children that know they are afraid but not of what. Her thoughts ran rampant and wild, unable to control themselves in any way that made sense through the glare of the light that was inside her head. For a brief moment she could remember something before the dream: the palms all in a line rising and falling with the breaking of the waves and the rush of the wind on the rocks at her home in Oahu. She could see the creatures in the tidal pools, the ragged volcanic rocks, and the texture of the palm bark in startling detail; but then something was wrong and she was falling, falling forever into that abyss that wanted to devour her; and the sea salt and the wind and the surf was in her face, and the crash of the waves drowned out her dreams.
That’s how she knew she was still asleep in her bed at home. It was the falling.
The world was dragging itself into focus now, all blanketed and crawling with hoar frost. Someone had breathed on it, and the flakes were torn back in a flurry: her memories were active, carved from time and space: the house, that deadman’s knot that Uncle Jerry had left her, something was wrong with it, but what? She didn’t know. The corridor, the kitchen, the living room: everything was well kept, for Uncle Jerry had made his fortune, and he respected it. She could pick out the petals of the roses Michael had left her on the table, the individual teeth of the knife on the counter – but something was wrong, like there were eyes in the walls looking back at her. She could see them behind the panels, eyeballs that never blinked.
She was aware suddenly of the black strands of hair that covered her face. Her hand brushed her forehead, pushing back the shadows once more, but it wasn’t hair: it was water, water everywhere, but not clear and saline like the sea: it was irony and matted and sticky between her fingers.
She sat up, straitened her back, clutched at the stainless steel table with broken finger nails, gasped for breath. Her lungs filled with the stuff, coming in like the sea to the caves beneath her home, pounding on the rocks till they surely must be broken. It hurt like hell, all down and through her abdomen, but it felt good to be breathing again.
Her eyes were shut, and she didn’t dare to look. So she just breathed in and out, in spite of the burning fire in her body – that fire, like she’d just come from the reef, her body so starved for oxygen. The white light that wasn’t the sun was pushing against her eyelids, threatening to get in, and the unnaturalness of it made her shudder: who knew what monsters could live in that light.
A hand grasped her throat, its warmth and the texture of its fingers undeniable: it pushed her back to the table and she couldn’t resist. She wanted to scream, to run, but found she was bound and defenceless. She struggled, but the cords bit into her wrists; and when she’d knocked her head against the table she gave it up.
She opened her eyes, ignorant of the light that blinded them. But she could see, despite the shock, and wished she’d not done it.
She was laying on an operating table. For a moment she thought she’d fallen, there’d been some accident and she’d needed an operation. She couldn’t remember what’d happened, but it was the only explanation. She searched her own body but found the crude bandages they’d put her back together with were bound around her chest. What surgery had they done then? A tray was nearby, the tools of the trade all dripping in blood, but the monitors were silent. Only a camera watched her from the ceiling.
“It worked,” said a cold voice she couldn’t see – a man’s. “She’s active.”
A woman answered: “But is she one of them?”
She could hear other sounds, too, now, and realized her ears had been ringing with a steady hmmmmm that drove out everything else. There was machinery noise, and the whir of power tools. And she could hear the monitors now, beeping away. There were voices, too, like the distance fall of waves on the shore. They were counting, always counting. Numbers. Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Counting, always counting.
In the still silence of the operating room, something was missing.
Ten. Nine. Eight.
Her feet? No, they were still there, and she could move her toes.
Seven. Six. Five.
Her face was intact, and she could feel it with her fingers.
Four. Three. Two.
Her hands, they were good, stronger than usual: she broke free from her bonds and slid from the table. And that was when she knew what it was, the thing that wasn’t quite right: for the monitor that should’ve been counting her heartbeats was flatline. She touched the bandages that circled her chest, and the horror of it filled her: I’m dead! she thought. I’m actually dead!
The door to her hell was opening. The doctors came in, men in white jackets, their hair combed and their faces emotionless. “This is verification subject 334729 is awake and active,” said the first. “Resume medical examination for the record. Stand by for confirmation.”
“What did you do to me?” she tried to scream, though she couldn’t be sure if any noise had come out. She gasped for breath, and realized she’d been holding it in. Then the counting again, always counting:
Ten. Nine. Eight.
The doctors looked at her broken bonds, then at her, and she glared back at them as angrily as she could: she hated them. She knew now they’d done something horrible to her.
Seven. Six. Five.
They lunged to restrain her again. One of them brandished his sedative and struck at her arm, but she hit the side of his face before he could, and was alarmed to see him vanish into the wall of the operating room.
Four. Three. Two.
She threw off the other two doctors, one to the floor where his head struck the foot of the tray, and the blood told her as much as she needed to know: he wouldn’t get up again in a hurry. The other she wrestled with for a moment, striking at the man’s face several times before she found they were deadlocked and looking into one anothers eyes; and she realized this person was like her – a woman. She fell back, alarmed, and the woman fled from the room.
The counting. Counting in her head.
Four. Four. Four. Four calling birds.
She ran for the door before it closed, and shook it, but it had shut fast.
Four. Four. Four. Four calling birds.
She panicked. The blood, the hole in the wall: adrenaline took over. She took the table and threw it over her head, and it seemed a natural thing to do. It never occurred to her she shouldn’t be able to do that. It went through the door and the wall and into the corridor beyond.
There was a voice. It came from everywhere: it was in her head: “Subject 334729, you have nowhere to go. Submit to security and return to your room.” She paid it no attention.
Men and women in lab coats were scattering before her now. They locked themselves behind closed doors and looked out at her with panic-stricken faces. And she found herself gazing down a long, empty corridor at a square pane of blue sky. She knew what it was, that sky, she knew it was her way out.
She ran for it.
“Subject 334729!” cried the voice. “You have nowhere to go!”
The counting again, and she counted with it as she ran.
Three. Three. Three. Three French hens.
She dodged a cart and pushed an orderly aside.
Two. Two. Two. Two turtle doves.
She held back a moment as a security guard moved into the corridor in front of her, but he fell back when she brandished a fire extinguisher.
One. One. One. One bloody partridge.
And she remembered now. Her home in Oahu, the house Uncle Jerry had given to her: the crash of the surf, the wind through the palms. And the eyes always watching her. She’d felt them in the house, and she’d torn the walls apart, thrown the furniture, looking for the eyes. Finally, on Christmas morning, she’d found one in the light fixture over the kitchen sink, and that’s when she’d known they were watching her the whole time.
Uncle Jerry had given her the house.
“Stop or we’ll shoot!” cried the security officers at her back.
The sound of a chime cleared the fog that consumed her head for a moment. She shook it and looked around. There was an elevator at the end of the corridor, and the door had just opened, bringing two officers in uniform, reaching for their tasers. “Get her, now!” one whispered. She knew it was no more than a whisper but it rang in her head like someone had yelled it in her ear. Jump! The words returned like lightning, searing down her skull, and she obeyed.
The glass pane broke, and then she was falling
For a second she felt she was floating in the air, then down, down, the rush, the thrill, the air shrieking in her ears—
There was a knock at the door. She remembered it now, as she lay on the pavement beneath the Boston Harbour skyline. She remembered the knock, because the men who’d stood on her doorstep had the words Symbico International printed on their jackets – and she could see it printed on the building, too. They’d knocked, she’d answered. It was time. Uncle Jerry had known it all along; that was why he gave her the house. “You’re special, Anna,” he’d said. “This house will make you what you are, and one day you’ll understand everything.” At the time she hadn’t known what he meant; but now, as she picked herself up from the street in front of the Symbico International building and looked at the indentation where she’d fallen and the broken window so far above her head she had to squint to make it out, she knew this had been planned from the beginning. What she didn’t know was whether she was a lab rat or a product.
But did it really matter? She was dead – and not dead: and they’d given her a world of endless possibilities.
This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2011 ADBane.com