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December 10th, 2255.
I waited at the end of a dark aisle, fiddling with my straightened tie. No one could usher me to peer into the depths of the mahogany casket at the aisle’s conclusion, not even death. Coagulated music hummed, saddening the mood. Designed to make the already despaired feel worse.
Hands grazed against my shoulder, mournful whispers carried, “I’m sorry” in dozens like roses, thorns sharp as ever. A hunch, maybe a fleeting touch of ESP, fed me the idea they should have been saving blessings and apologies for more important times.
I hid my sneer.
February 28th, 2256.
“Christina Kiselev died two and a half months ago. She was twenty-six, 5’4” and 139 pounds,” said Doctor Samson Richter, voice the excited side of calm. “In her will she states her body will be dedicated to science, specifically by our choice, to the Renaissance Trials. These Trials, an innovative method of rebirth, or prolonged-death-resuscitation, has only been tested on animals in a controlled environment, ergo, we cannot be sure how long it shall take for the chemicals to become effective in humans. Nor may we tell you the results of the preliminary animal testing.”
My family and I were absorbed in the television, the pixels grasping our retinas. Except for my older brother, his attention captivated by our mother, whom he cradled in his arms. Whispering to her that this was simply another magic show, and nothing else. His dancing smirk and skeptical eyes would wane now and again, fear of science’s frightening potency seeping through his expression. Providing evidence that he didn’t truly believe his own words. That this supposed magic show could be real.
My father stood behind the love seat, arms crossed, satellite remote in his left hand. A dour stare, that I was sure could penetrate and travel across the satellite transmission, emanated from his eyes. On screen, Richter fidgeted. I had a childish notion that my father caused it.
A tabby cat nestled against the exposed flesh between my socks and shorts. Her purr reminded me to breathe. Normally, I’d never think about the body’s natural motor functions. Now I concentrated on breathing and blinking. Even though, moments before, Richter had mentioned that after administering the chemicals, it would take an undetermined amount of time to see any reaction. Still, I wanted to control my eyelids. Make sure moments were not missed. This simply wasn’t a discovery; it could mean the end of death…or the beginning of a new breed of death.
A bit unwillingly, my mother emerged from the shell of my brother’s arms. She averted her body so she could speak to me without seeing the Doctor clearly, perhaps afraid of focusing completely on the television. Something about this whole scenario of resurrecting a person probably made her uncomfortable. Probably? It likely made the entire planet uncomfortable. A few times during the program, I tried to feel the Earth move in a global shift of nervous weight.
“Do you think it’s just fall programming? You know, an illusionists hour,” my mother said. Her damp, brunette hair clung to the curve of her jaw.
The tabby inched along my vertebrae’s canal, massaging bare skin. “No…could be real. They are keeping the feed live until the woman—“
My brother threw a shoe at my head, frightening the tabby away.
I licked my lips. “Until Christina wakes up…”
Marcus said, “It’s fake Sasha. Just another TV show for ratings.”
The tabby came back and nestled against my face. I nudged her onto my shoulders and down my back again. “And yet we’re all watching it,” I said. I turned the volume up on the television a few bars.
Richter said, “Yes citizens and members of the family are protesting outside the building this very second.” The camera followed him as he strolled about the clear vat holding Christina.
My eyes never strayed from the screen as I said, “See, we missed a question from the audience…”
“I’ll take another question.” Richter smiled, pointing into the audience. The camera remained steady on him. “Yes, you sir with the red hat.” There was a faint voice. “Please wait for your microphone to be turned on.”
“H-Hello? Okay. It isn’t right, you know, bringing people back to life! God’s plan wasn’t this. It’s the same…” His studio microphone was severed, but his voice carried anyway, “as murder! She’s in heaven and you’re destroying her soul to bring her back! Christina left this plane along with her soul, what you have in that case is just a shell! Did you and your board of butchers ever think of that?”
With the mannerism of a typical movie scientist, or doctor, Richter toyed with his spectacles. “That is not a true question, but I will respond none the less.” He put his hands in the pockets of his coat.
“The cadaver we have here was supplied to the sciences by the late Christina Kiselev. She had her say, and she chose this route. The cadaver no longer belongs to her. I can emphasize. I am Catholic, and if this were my daughter, or someone I knew, it would be uncomfortable for me. But I’m sure after all is said and done, the family would rather have her at the dinner table than rotting in a…” Richter licked his lips, cleared his throat. “Rather than resting in a cemetery plot. The wom—The cadaver was willingly given to the advancement of the sciences.”
My brother said, “Bullshit. I bet money she didn’t know this was going to happen.”
I glanced at him, his chest heaving as he sighed. The almost frail looking form of my mother shrunk within his arms. “Marcus,” she said. Cursing, or idiot language as she described it, was prohibited in our home. Even though my brother was twenty-three, she had called him on it.
I devoted my attention back to the program, and hoped I wouldn’t become distracted again. Richter was already in the process of taking another question. “You, ma’am. Yes, blue suit.”
“If the Renaissance Trials experiment proves successful, does the scientific community, or those involved in the Trials, plan on holding more of them—turning the Trials into a lucrative business of restoring life?” The woman asked.
I was beyond sure she was a reporter. For some reason I glanced at my Father, who was still hovering beyond the love seat. His eyes were glossy, focused, but not on the brink of tears. The inconspicuous quiver of the flesh about his brow pierced my gut. His jaw muscles flexed as he chewed the insides of his mouth. Once he realized I was staring at him, and the trance was severed, his body fell inscrutable. The trepidation of science imposing itself on God’s territory irked his nerves. As he caught my gaze again, his nervousness seemingly subsided. He hid it from me to appear like the man his father had always told him to be—a model for his children, emotionally steady, and not openly afraid of anything. Even in the face of a jump-started evolution.
He was quite the religious man. I wasn’t forced to attend Mass, though. I couldn’t imagine how this resurrection ordeal was affecting him. If Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, Allah, Muhammad allowed a spirit to escape from whichever heaven that possibly existed, would that destroy belief? It was doubtful, but still a possibility not many were willing to explore. The fear, the emotional claustrophobia that was falling upon the God-fearing must be too awesome to admit error. The Pope would never recant the teachings he abides by.
I returned to the program, catching the last of Richter’s response.
Richter stuttered and looked off camera. “—we need to get through this Trial first, and then we will see. But I highly doubt it.”
“If in the future,” the woman said, following up her last question, “someone holds sensitive information which must be extracted for some reason, would the Trials be a viable instrument of retracting that information?”
He looked off camera again. “We need to get through this Trial first. But I highly doubt it.”
My mother said, “I think his superiors are on set. Repeating himself now.”
I nodded absently and yawned, realizing the tabby had scampered off. This current segment was more about the people to an extent—other people, not Christina. It was filler until the actual event. What the entire world was waiting for. To see if they could bring her back, and then we’d all understand the world was going to be thrown into chaos. The earlier segment had explained the basics of the experiment.
Marcus groaned. “That question was staged! This can’t be real. They’ll let her rest, right? They wouldn’t really—”
I said, “What question? I missed it.”
“You’re missing more than you’re catching. Some guy asked if Christina would come back the same.”
“Well,” I turned on my side as I finished my sentence, “all the questions might be staged.” I was trying to feed their delusion. Somewhere in their psyche’s, they knew this wasn’t reality television. Or a “Martian Invasion” hoax from the archaic radio shows, reinvented for a new generation.
“Which means the whole fucking thing is just another TV show in disguise.” Marcus said.
My mother slapped him on the chest.
“Sorry, sorry. Won’t do it again.” His crooked smile spread like a hook in the cheek.
The family rarely gathered. Mom was busy teaching, correcting papers when I came home, with my father at the computer typing an article for newspaper and magazine spreads. Marcus was on leave from not doing much of anything. I had the reticence of adolescence to explore; experimenting with how much weed I could smoke in my room without getting caught. We were all swallowing ourselves in any action to take our mind off the truth.
“Dad,” I said, “You think if they succeed everything will remain…the same?” I didn’t believe my own words, but I still wanted his opinion. The quiet hurricane of my father wasn’t befitting for a time such as this.
His nostrils flared, eyes narrowed. He seemed calculated. Leopards looked the same on the discovery channel while hunting. Except his was a word hunt. The latter could be as bloody.
“Ninety year old tycoons will be scurrying to be brought back once they’ve died. Someone will evolve the technology and try to bring back Hitler, Pharaoh Tut, and the whole deal probably. At least it’ll weed out the casual Christians, or those too insecure in their beliefs to hold back and not rush to their local university, in hopes that they’ll have the new technology ready for them. This shit will destroy the fucking world.”
My mother sensed the resentment and raw anguish in the undertones of his words, because she didn’t try to call him on his cursing. She might have been in agreement—I could never tell with her. Save for the correction of grammar and language, her opinions remained hers.
Richter brought his hands up, motioning to Christina. “Moving on…I’ll explain in detail what my colleague only graced in the beginning segments of this broadcast. Though explicit explanations are out of the equation.”
He took a deep breath, brewing his response in the silence. “The cadaver shall be injected with a series of hybrid chemicals. Because of security reasons, we cannot say exactly which, but a few of the elements involved cannot be found on the periodic table…yet, of course.” He waited, expecting a response—laughter or gasps, something. There were neither.
“The energy within the human body maintains a certain type of balance. Every human body has varying amounts energy, synchronized perfectly by nature to keep the universe in balance. That energy is disposed into the atmosphere upon death into increments impossible to measure. The hybrid chemicals, when injected into the deceased, interact as a magnetic mediator to those displaced energies. To discern which energy belonged to the cadaver’s—”
I heard my Father say, “She has a name…”
“A blueprint of the cadavers atoms, cells, basically an anatomical schematic, had to be created. We found a similarity between each that linked one part of the body to the next.” Richter shook his head at something. His methodical speech never fragmented. “We imposed this link into the chemicals, which serves as the attraction that summons the energies back into the cadaver. The cadaver itself must be coated with a buffer to hold the energies in place long enough for revitalization to occur.” Richter frowned. He shook his head, waved his hands. “I apologize, sir, no more questions allowed. Sir, please—please, sit…”
He stumbled backwards. “Security!”
A man with dirty blonde hair and gray slacks came into view, the camera sweeping to catch his movements. Personnel angled him off, tackling him to the ground.
“You’ll get yours! If not me, then by someone else!” The man shouted.
With much effort, they carried him off camera. A woman followed, the focus returning to Richter.
He emerged, his words flustered. “Each of you signed a contract allowing lethal force to be issued if the need arise. Remember that! Please, remember that.” He looked around. “D-Doctors, lets begin the procedure.”
Two women, and one woman that looked like a man, joined Richter on stage. Each placed a non-reflective silver case on the container housing Christina. A separate chamber lay atop her translucent coffin.
“How are they even gonna get the syringes near her? They sealed her up, so wouldn’t opening it up contaminate it all to shit?”
“I give up,” my mother said, “so curse all you want.”
I propped my chin up in the palm of my hands. “See that conjoining chamber? Outside objects can be moved inside without affecting the atmosphere. Well, that’s what I think anyway.” To me, it was obvious.
They removed syringes filled with colorless liquid, and placed them inside the chamber. Slipping their hands into built-in gloves, the Doctors injected Christina with the series of liquids.
Richter came to the forefront, facing the camera, smiling broadly. “Now that we have initiated the process, we wait. The building will be cleared, except for immediate personnel, and the cameras will stay on. The satellite feed will remain continuous until results are seen.”
My Father, the immobile gargoyle, moved from his perch and swooped before the television, blocking my view. “That’s your cue for bed, Sasha.” I wasn’t going to protest. The strain of trying not to systemically blink tired my eyes.
Marcus wiggled free of Mother, rising to his feet, resembling a genie rousing himself from a disturbing slumber. He stretched his arms high above his head, yawning. “I’ma follow suit.”
We headed upstairs.
On the stairwell, Marcus whispered, “There’s something wrong here. My stomach feels like a few bullets sliced into it. I want to run out of the house screaming, because this whole thing is fucking scary. I’m not sure. Might be the idea of coming back to life.”
We stopped at the top of the stairs. The moonlight cascaded across the hardwood floor, lighting a pathway to my room.
“‘Member when it was easy to sneak out the house? Mom and Dad were still upstairs, next to Chrissy,” he said.
I shook my head. “Never did.”
“Well I did and loved it.” He smiled, nibbling the skin on his lip. “Um, Sasha, if you died and went to Heaven, would you be happy with being ripped from that?”
Dual partial shadows skulked beneath us. I lead Marcus to his doorway. He scratched at the back of his hand.
“Depends,” I said. “If science could allow me to be graced with those I loved and lost, then yes. Have to question whether you would be in a blanket of blackness…deal with the possibility that there isn’t an after-life, you know. Could be like going to sleep, and waking up disoriented, because you’ve been forcefully awakened. But when you sleep, on some level you know you are still alive, awake, right? But with this thing, at least you’re forced awake, then allowed to stay in a state of comatose unconsciousness.”
Marcus stared at me like an apparition. His grin was noticeable in the near dark. “You sounded like Dad for a sec. Smart as hell. Too much for your own good. Well, except for all the no after-life talk. Don’t let him hear you say that shit.”
The years of my mother’s reinforcement against cursing tempted me to correct him on his. “I know, I know, I know. But do you think he’d be angrier if I said I was smarter than an angel planning to escape heaven?” I smiled, my lips cracking slightly. I ran my tongue over them, which did less than it should have. My tongue felt as if it needed a shave.
“You’d be risking your life, then. Real and social.” He scratched furiously at the side of his neck. “Let me see your hand.”
He gripped my hand, smacking me in the face. “Why ya hittin’ yourself?”
I jerked my hand away, wishing I could sew my lips shut and prevent a smile. Rewarding his comedy would only provoke him to do it again. “Dumbass. Night,” I said, heading into my room. I closed the door, pressing soundly against it, half expecting to fall through to the other side. I wanted to tumble away in the folds of reality. Marcus already voiced his similar feelings, and my parents probably felt the same. What sort of cosmic behemoth was waiting to be released? Or were we just over analyzing…
A humid breeze inched over my body, like fingertips delicately touching the hairs upon my flesh. Climbing between the covers nullified the sensation. The visceral instinct to flee the universe remained.
I placed my head down.
And jerked it back up again. Inhuman screams tore me from the false tranquility of sleep. No, the sound wasn't inhuman—not a creature on Earth could manifest such cacophony. Awareness flooded my nervous system in agonizing waves like the blind suddenly graced with the ability to see. I kicked the covers away from my legs, charged into the hall. Running down the stairs, I automatically gripped the banister, watching my feet on the smooth steps. I skipped the last few steps, leaping to the landing, and slipping on contact. I grabbed a rail and pulled myself into a dash towards the living room.
The screams were coming from the television and my mother. My eyes darted to the television screen. I saw Christina convulsing, thrashing her arms against the container walls. The contact of her flailing limbs engraved lacerations on her arms, splattering blood everywhere.
Marcus came in after me. My heartbeat was like a flutter of multiple wings.
Still looking at Christina, I shouted, “Mom, it’s okay, it’s just…a side effect, it’s okay!”
I heard an amalgam of frightened voices from the television. “What the hell…M-My arms…We were wrong, why did we…God, forgive…Help me, my skin its…The sky, it’s alive…“
My mother had her hands over her face. Marcus was asking her what’s wrong, trying to pry her hands away. As he did, I felt as if I should avert my eyes. Huddle in a corner and rock gently while humming a lullaby. Do what was in my power to not believe. I just did not want to believe.
“Mom…your…” I stared at her ashen skull, the only remaining evidence of my mother’s features being her beautiful brunette hair. I wanted to move, run, anything. The single part of me that seemed to be trying to rush any place was my heart.
The roof of our house groaned and levitated into a silver sky. The moon looked further away than usual, while other planets I had never seen before were visible. My brother’s screams pulled my eyes from the sky. He collapsed into a fetal position, his skin bubbling. An assortment of insects, many you’d believe only existed in science fiction, materialized through the ground and ate at his flesh. Millipedes with finger long pinchers slithered from his mouth. The ground slowly began swallowing him.
Where was my father? “Da—“ Pains punched my chest. Looking down, I saw my heart seep through my chest and shirt. Irises opened in the middle of my palm and on my fingers. There weren’t faces attached, but I could feel them smiling. I fell to my knees, and did not want to accept death, but knew that was a fallacy. And in death, I wanted to stay faded, silent, buried, and not summoned back to this world destroyed by human ingenuity. Stars exploded in the sky.
I opened my eyes, seeing the yellow of a hardwood floor. Sunlight warmed the room. There weren’t any insects vying for the juiciest piece of flesh. End of the world events had only occurred mentally. I climbed back onto the bed, still trying to wash the nightmare clean. My mother’s skull wouldn’t wipe.
Someone pounded on the door.
“Hey ugly,” Marcus said, “get up. Pops said science doesn’t stop you from going to school.”
“Is she awake?” I asked…pleaded.
“Shuddup. Get ready. I’m taking you, so we can be a little late.” Footsteps clunked into oblivion.
I smirked into my pillow at the notion of standing and let sleep welcome me.
Marcus shouted, “We’re, I mean, you’re late! Get up now!”
It’s odd how someone talking will remove you from a deep sleep, and the words you hear always seem like the first, even though they’ve been screaming for minutes.
I jumped into jeans and a shirt I couldn’t testify was clean or not.
Marcus and I slowed to a stop before the iron gates of my school. Eagle head of a griffon statue peeking above the gate. The tinted windows of the jeep failed to null a darkened gray and blue sky prepared to spew down a funnel. I always considered tornados the sky’s botched attempt at growing appendages.
Marcus sighed. “C’mon, not going inside will make you worse.”
I looked at him while opening the door. “You think I’m worse inside, so you put me outside, only to tell me getting inside will make it better again?”
“That’s right, so ignore me. Ignore what people say, and listen to yourself. All you can do really.”
I lightly closed the door then poked my head inside.
“Don’t say shit Sasha,” Marcus preempted.
I turned around.
“Tell you what,” he said, “Stay a few hours, and I’ll get you early.”
I left him behind, fighting the urge to watch the Jeep crawl into a memory.
An elderly man with a malfunctioning bionic hip could’ve made it through the quad quicker than I did. Today, the world rushed on around me.
The school halls were visibly empty, though the scent of perfume and molding lunches lingered. If these walls could speak, they’d tell me to get the hell out now. I went to my locker, fingerprint recognition gel pad warm to the touch.
In English class, students glanced my way while passing notes and sneaking text messages. Even the teacher stuttered in her preaching after meeting my eyes. And two following classes later, of almost the same whispers, gestures, I am despondently content with them.
During the intermission between classes, a student aide found me nibbling on an empty box of raisins I had found in my locker. She told me the vice principal needed to see me. I knew what it was about. Vice principal wanted to play therapist and patient—obtain that shining eye from the school board. By incidental association, I had become a green pasture in barren lands.
Delinquents waited in the office for one of the three guidance counselors. If this were a couple of months ago, I’d be fidgeting in the same uncomfortable multi-colored plastic chairs. I walked past them into the larger back office.
Vice principal Judy Garland sat behind a desk that screamed neat freak. I had restrained my disobedience to minor infractions, so minor charm prevented me from ever seeing the vice principal. At a school this massive, most students didn’t know what their principal looked like.
Judy’s eyes weren’t naturally hazel; the slight reflective gloss of her eyes told me she wore contacts. She was in her late forties with a handful of wrinkles. She had features that made you wonder just how beautiful she would be if she were your age.
“Sasha, hello, please, sit down,” she said, gesturing towards a tweed chair with metal frame.
“I halted the acting up.” At school, I mentally added, at school. “So may I ask…why am I here?” I nibbled on my thumbnail, plopping down into the chair.
She stuttered, “I don’t…I’m not…” She shuffled through a stack of papers.
“Normally a counselor would deal with this…”
“With what?” I dragged the chair against the carpet, moving closer to the desk.
“What the hell is…”
Judy interrupted, “They’re on their way…I…so, they’ll tell you.”
“Who? My family?”
She nodded. “It’s not my place…not my place.”
I bumped the desk, spilling a vat of pencils and paperclips. She didn’t notice.
“Tell me, something!” I realized the gloss wasn’t from her contacts. She was on the brim of being in tears.
“It’s, it’s, about—“
The trio—mother, father, and brother—walked in abruptly, stapling Judy’s mouth shut. I could have sworn Marcus and my mother had been in the kitchen, slicing onions, because their eyes were watery and scorched. Without another word to be uttered, I knew…she was awake.
We drove towards a rural government facility, the radio singing, making the uncomfortable silence more perturbed, not less. We passed a flourishing tree, pregnant with crows. At the first gated checkpoint, the guards asked us to exit the vehicle, and told us we’d be driven the rest of the way by an official.
The government complex was bland—nothing was obtrusive. If I left, I may not remember every aspect of it. The interior had a bit more color, only, I assumed, to designate which areas were more off limits than others. The official, coupled with soldiers, quietly led us down a series of halls. I felt like a kitten with someone dragging yarn across the carpet.
My Father was the first to break our silence. “Excuse me. Hey, I’m talking to you! When are you going to tell us something dammit?”
We arrived at a door.
“Now,” the official said.
The door opened from the inside.
“Where is she?” Marcus asked.
The room was vast, larger than our house, and absolutely white. Rows of meticulously aligned chairs spread out one after another like an ant brigade. If the room had had any flagrant features to admire, I would’ve been annoyed the soldiers were rushing us towards the front of the room. Already sitting in the front row, with hair the color of urine and dry dirt, was Andry Kiselev, Christina’s fiancé.
Marcus clutched my Mother tighter at the sight of him—they shared looks I thought were reserved only for Doctor Samson Richter and his Trials. My Father was the only one of us that went to him. They conversed for a few minutes before Andry tried taking a step in my Mother’s direction. A muscular hand touched Andry’s stomach, my Father shaking his head.
The official positioned himself at the forefront, facing the first row of chairs.
I sat one row behind my family.
The official began, “In a moment you’ll be allowed to see her. Though she’s been completely unresponsive.” He raised his hand towards his face, I figured, to scratch his mustache. Halfway through, he stopped and clutched his hands together again. “Please do not enter with expectations of full conversation.”
“The order you’ll go in as has been pre-decided. In the order of most contact. Mother, Father, oldest sibling, youngest sibling, and then,” pointing to Andry, “you. And stay behind the yellow line.”
I waited patiently as the visitation process began. Christina had to feel like a member of the circus freak show. On display twenty-four hours a day.
Each time someone entered the next room, they didn’t return. The official noticed my expression.
“It’s a separate antechamber, little man. They’ll be waiting for you on the other side.”
I shivered. Occasionally, Andry would whisper to himself, and glance at me from the corner of his eye. I hopped over two seats.
“My mother may not like you,” I said.
Andry’s face appeared like he was boxing sleep and winning. “I-I don’t know why Denise doesn’t…”
“Doesn’t mean I feel guilty she doesn’t like you, and feel I have to. I just think you loved her.”
“But sometimes love just isn’t enough.”
The official coughed. “Your turn small fry,” he said.
Soldiers pushed me into a slim white hallway, promptly closing the door. Maneuvering room was sparse.
“Stand still,” a filtered voice commanded. “We must scan and clean your system before we allow you to proceed. You may feel a stinging sensation.”
I expected a mock alien abduction—a kaleidoscope of dizzying lights and shaking foundation. There was nothing of the sort.
A door opened directly to my left.
I thought the plain, unremarkable floor to suddenly be highly remarkable. Directing my eyes to stay focused on it as I entered.
Thick, clear vinyl stretched from wall to wall, a chair fused to the ground. Through the vinyl, eyes still adjusted on the floor, I saw Christina’s frail, cracked feet. Toenails discolored, on the verge of shattering from the power of my breathing alone. I sat down in the chair, feet overlapping the yellow rectangle situated at its base.
I sighed. Look at her Sasha. Why can’t you look at her?
“Look at me,” Christina said solidly, voice not containing a bit of meekness.
Half a second later I was gazing into her averted eyes. Once upon a time, they were traffic light green, instead of murky darkness. The emptiness her face retained on television hadn’t changed now that she was reanimated. She was immobile. Had stone beneath the skin where muscle should’ve been.
“Come closer,” she said.
But her lips did not move. Her chest did not heave with the breath it takes to speak. Her throat tendons remained flaccid. Leaning closer, I stepped over the yellow line, and like the second hand on a clock, her eyes shifted towards me. My hands pressed against the vinyl, breath fogging it up. My nose drew incoherent shapes in the haze. Her movements were latent, but mirrored mine. I didn’t see any fog on her side.
“Please step back behind the yellow line,” a voice commanded.
Christina’s fingers sluggishly, albeit acutely, tore through the vinyl and interlocked with my hands. There was no warmth to her palms.
I stopped listening to the voice.
“The end was the beginning Sasha,” she whispered, “and now the end is no more.”
Soldiers and officials rushed into the room. If the world were pulled into Hell, I’d go kicking and screaming; soldiers hauling me away was no different.
“What does that mean?” I shouted as they dragged me away. She mouthed, I love you, but I wasn’t entirely sure if she really had. Imagination anxiety hybrids screw with your perception.
They dragged me into the antechamber where my family was. Vociferous shouts united in a numbing hum. The officials clashed with my Father in a pushing match. Marcus pulled my deadweight towards a blue door marked with two block male and female figures. Mascara was smeared beneath my Mother’s eyes. In her yearbook pictures, and even presently, she was a beautiful woman men tried suiting regularly. But now, with her nose tainted red and saliva collecting about her mouth, I thought she looked like a pit bull. Ugly, the woman my Father said natural disasters halted for. The wondrous seemed dead. She vanished as the door swung closed.
Marcus had to shake me a few times before his words became clear. “What the hell went on in there?”
Panic writhed against my intestines like a parasite, ravenous, ominous. But I had to tell someone. “Spoke to me, she…you feel it?”
Disbelief with hints of jealousy washed over his face. “Throw some cold water on ya face, guy, cool yourself out. Come on,” he said.
Shakily, I stood in front of the mirror. Marcus walked to the first stall, but it was locked. He grinned at me. He tried and entered the third stall. Sighing, I spun the warm knob on, waiting a moment for the water to turn hot. I dipped my hands into the water, skin on my palms erupting in rawness almost instantly. In waves, I splashed the corporal fire onto my face. Anguish was something native, natural. The first stages of evolution, and I needed it to remind me Earth hadn’t stopped spinning.
“Sasha, it’ll be all right,” Marcus shouted. “That’s my theory, it’s gonna pan out. She’ll come around…you think?”
I angled water into my mouth, swishing it around. I straightened myself and looked into the mirror.
Christina skulked behind my reflection, eyes a shining. I choked on the water, darting around. Only thing behind me were urinals.
“Sasha, you think?”
November 7th, 2256.
The repeated gunshots in the distance were faint, yet still rattled my nerves.
Unlike other places, where the Kiselev disease had yet to run ferociously rampant, morning was the busiest of times in our home. Pre-dawn was almost as kinetic, with my Mother and I colliding downstairs, conversation being television, before the service company shut it off, and incessant yawning, both of us consumed by insomnia’s trace.
Marcus walked in from the kitchen and sat down. Placing a full glass of apple juice on the table.
“Let me have some juice,” I said, reaching for the glass.
He knocked my hand away. “It’s…not juice. This, uhh, puzzle’s taking too damn long,” he said, slouching down in his chair.
I rubbed a thin, durable glass puzzle piece between my fingers. “Today’s transmission starts soon anyway. Better than lounging about.” I stared at the faded and jagged image on the piece. I tried connecting it in the middle, but it wouldn’t fit.
“Hey, don’t force the damn thing. Can’t force it. You’ll break something.”
The radio transmission began. “Cecila Stein reporting: The zero-mortality Kiselev toll has reached an estimated 6,360,470,500 people—more than half the world’s population.”
“Isaac?” My Mother called from the porch.
“In the kitchen!” Marcus shouted.
My Father walked by, asking, “How many now?”
“Bout six bill, Pop,” Marcus said.
Radio correspondent said, “Resources are sparse, yes, but do not attempt pillaging. Stay calm.”
My Father walked by again. “Forgot the shotgun.”
I gave up trying to forcefully wedge the piece in. I found the correct niche. “They always end the same. Stay calm. Don’t panic. Don’t know why the transmissions won’t tell us how the UN and the NIH are dealing with it. Probably experimenting with new methods to successfully kill people, huh?”
Marcus murmured, “Yeah.”
I heard the shotgun being cocked.
He walked through the living room again. “Give the planet about three, four more generations before there are too many of us to keep balanced.” He stopped at the doorway. “If the birthrate stops increasing…”
Marcus swallowed some the alcohol in hefty gulps, like he was dehydrated. It appeared a bit redundant. He exhaled heavily.
“That’s all I hear him talk about,” I said. “I haven’t heard her name on their lips in—”
“Shut up and let’s finish this.”
I pleaded, “But she…”
“C’mon, hard enough as it is,” Marcus spat.
I nodded lackadaisically, concentrating on our near complete puzzle of the Double Helix.
Things that are done can be undone.