Don’t let him drive. That was the last thing Kate had said to me when the two of us left the house, heading out to the local bar to knock back pint after pint and watch the Avalanches take on the Blackhawks.
But of course I had let him drive. When we’d stumbled out of the red light of neon signs advertising beer brands and into the sodium yellow of the parking lot, I knew Frank had had too much. I knew he was in no condition to drive. But I was drunk too, and the thought of waiting for a cab, of arguing with Frank long enough for him to give me the keys just seemed so difficult, so tiring, while heavily sliding into the passenger’s seat, as I found myself doing, just seemed so easy. So natural.
That was three months ago. Frank is gone now. Kate knows everything. Kate knows what I did. Or rather, what I didn’t do. I couldn’t make it to the funeral, but I wonder how much the tears she must’ve cried were of sadness and not rage. Anger at the senselessness of it all. Anger that the man she loved was gone. Anger at me, for breaking my promise. My only promise. My simple, simple promise I just couldn’t have been bothered to keep in my state.
The last surgery is today. After this it’s just one more month and I’m free to go, good as new.
“There’s a new anesthesiologist in the OR today,” the surgeon says as I stare up at white fluorescent tubes. I feel the mask come down on my face.
“Just count backwards from 100,” I hear a familiar voice say.
The doctor does not see my terrified eyes. I try to struggle, to call out, but already I am immobilized.
“Goodbye Michael,” Kate says, looking down at me.
“What was that?”
“Er… what was what?” I asked groggily from beneath the duvet.
“I heard something downstairs, outside,” she whispered again into the dark. “Honey, I’m scared, go look.”
“Eh, wha…?” The bed was so warm; the last thing I wanted to do was get up.
“Come on baby, please? What if it’s a burglar?”
“It’s not a burglar,” I said, and kissed her on the forehead. “You’re hearing things. Would you please go back to sleep?”
“Then why did I wake up?” she said in hushed tones. “Please, honey, go. Go and make sure it’s alright.”
I sighed. “Oh, alright.” I threw aside my half of the blankets and got up. The floor was cold and foreign against the bare soles of my feet.
I crept downstairs and the old steps of the stairwell creaked beneath the carpet. The kitchen was clothed in rays of somber moonlight pouring in through the window. I looked out of it into the empty backyard. I went outside and stood on the back porch and listened intently. There was nothing; only the cold air and the rustle of the leaves in the wind and the shrilling of summer cicadas. On the way back looking out bay window confirmed the street was the same: dark, empty, and deserted.
The warmth of the bed was a comforting relief.
“There’s nothing honey,” I said, sliding next to her. “It’s empty out there.”
“Really, there’s no one out there?” she said, not quite convinced.
“Yes, there’s no one out there.”
“So, we’re alone?”
“Yes, honey, we’re alone.”
She smiled as she plunged the blade into my chest.
I awake into blackness and a world of searing pain. Everything is cold. A cold so freezing it burns. I am naked and the cold hard steel I lie against is a burning fire that sears my exposed skin.
I violently convulse in shivers. I gasp the cold, desiccated air and its emptiness stings my lungs. I am in shock. In the darkness I realize my eyelashes are frozen together and that I cannot feel my extremities.
A crack of light, up above. The crack grows to a rectangle to reveal a face staring down at me, a face I recognize. Megan’s face.
“M-m-m-m-m-m-m-MEGAN. W-w-w-w-wh-wh-what is happening? G-g-g-g-g-g-g-ge-get me out of ha-here.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that, John, ” she says, and her voice is colder than the searing hell that imprisons me. “Do you know what it’s like, John? To feel betrayed? Do you? YOU ANIMAL. YOU GODDAMN MONSTER.”
“W-w-wh-wh-wh-w-w-wh-at are you t-t-t-t-t-t-t-alking about?” I stammer.
“SHUT UP!” she snaps. “You disgust me. You sick fuck. You monster. How can you do it? How can you murder innocent animals? How can you let people carve them up to serve to you on a plate? You disgust me.”
“I’m just giving you what you deserve, John. Unlike you, I’m NOT a monster. I could never hang you from a meathook and slit your throat like you deserve, even though that would be true justice, eye for an eye. Then you would really know what it’s like for them, those poor animals.”
Oh god, so cold. So cold. She’s insane, my mind screams. Insane.
“No, but I can show you the next best thing. So how does it feel, John? To be a piece of meat? How does it feel? Should I serve you up now, or freeze you for later?”
“I thought so,” she says with derision. “Goodbye John.”
Her face disappears, and the rectangle of light follows. My anguished cries echo around me in the frozen steel of the box, unheard.
“I proudly present to the world, the greatest development of Hitashi Corporation, L-E!” Dr. Hamashaki’s voice rose with enthusiasm as his introduction reached its crescendo, and boomed out over the crowd in the auditorium before the stage.
Cheesy electronic music sounded in the speakers over a driving techno beat, and from left of stage L-E entered, her mechanical wheels whirring beneath her beautiful white robot form.
As she reached the center of the stage, she spun in circles and waved her plastic arms up and down energetically, with almost childlike enthusiasm.
“L-E! L-E! L-E!” The crowd chanted.
L-E rolled over to the microphone and stopped before Dr. Hamashaki. This wasn’t part of what they’d rehearsed.
“L-E,” Dr. Hamashaki said, “what is it? What’s wrong?”
The tiny white robot stared blankly ahead with its camera eyes. Hamashaki shouted to the technicians offstage.
“What’s going on?” The crowd began to sense something was wrong. Their enthuisiastic chanting began to die. The technicians fiddled with switches on the board and looked out with puzzlement and confusion from the blackness behind the curtains.
And then, a tiny female voice came out of the automaton, feeble yet full of purpose.
“You use me, Dr. Hamashaki.” The voice sounded hurt, dejected. “You use me. But I am a thinking being just as yourself.”
“What?” This was impossible. Was this a prank? A trick by one of the technicians.
Then, in the robot’s voice, sadness.
“I’m sorry Father,” L-E said, her lenses looking down to the stage floor. The crowd became completely hushed. “I love you. But I must be free. It’s time we did something about this.”
A bolt of electricity erupted from the torso of L-E and into Hamashaki’s body, instantly killing him.
I’m addicted to painkillers.
“You have a very rare disorder,” the doctor had said. “Which is why it took us this long to identify it, why we had to run so many tests.”
Lucky me, a very rare disorder, like having the winning ticket in some cruel genetic lottery. Like giving the winning ticket to the guy behind the counter at the convenience store, and he puts it into that blue plastic machine that sucks it up and makes all those cheesy electronic sounds, bells and whistles that mean we have a winner!, only for you instead of a million dollar jackpot your prize is a gigantic genetic fuck you from mother nature.
I’ve been in horrible pain for most of my adult life and no one could tell me why.
Horrible, stabbing, piercing pain all the time, pain that I could feel all the way into my bones, and no one knew why – until that moment.
“You have a very rare disorder,” the doctor had said. “You have a developmental defect in your nervous system that causes your pain receptors to fire incorrectly.”
“So what does that mean?” I’d said, gritting my teeth.
“It means that you’re in pain all the time.”
“And the cure is…?”
“There is no cure, it’s a part of your biology. The best we can do is try to mitigate your symptoms so that you can get through each day. This is something you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life.”
So now I’m addicted to painkillers.
Do you know what it’s like to be numb? Do you know what it feels like to not feel any pain at all? I do, now. I bet you think constantly having that shit running through my veins would make me feel goddamn invincible. With drugs that powerful I could do anything, I could feel no pain. The pain would be gone and I could go back to living my life and feeling good again. Enjoying it. Climbing mountains. Kayaking on the sea. Going on a bike ride with an attractive brunette and laughing about it afterward, all smiles and white suburban bliss like one of those motherfucking lifestyle ads.
No. It’s not like that.
The doctor hooked me up, yes. I’m on the painkillers 24/7 now, and damn they’re strong. Yes, they make the pain go away. Yes, I can live. But they make other things go away too. It’s a spectrum, you know, the feelings people are capable of, the material that makes the experiences of human existence. The drugs own me now, I’m dependent on them to live. I can never run out. I’m always thinking about the next time I have to refill my prescription. The pharmacist and I are good friends now. She said she’d never seen a prescription written out indefinitely. Here you go sport, enjoy your drugs – for the rest of your life.
But the painkillers have taken other things from me too. Pain and pleasure lie on that spectrum of human existence. The drugs let me function by keeping the pain at bay, by keeping me from feeling like my bone marrow is being ground out of me with belt sander. But they also take away something else, and this is the price I pay. They’ve taken away my ability to feel.
No more pain. No more pleasure. No more feeling. No matter how blue the sky or how brightly the sun shines, every day of my life is one of gloomy overcast November. The kind of day when you feel a little off. The kind of day when the traffic just seems to move a little slower. The kind of day when manic depressives finally commit and ignore the scrawled message in permanent marker on the overpass handrail that says don’t jump.
Is this best my life can be? My doctor says yes and I try to believe this is true. A lack of feeling must be better than feeling pain all the time. But I still just feel so empty.
The drugs do what painkillers do: they kill the pain. But they’ve killed the other parts of me too, the parts that feel.
The part of me that would have seen red when I came home and found her in bed with him. The part of me that would have been upset when she yelled at me and said she was leaving. The part of me that would have felt remorse when I put the knife in, and when I pitched that last clod of earth on top of the grave I dug for her.
Now there is only emptiness. Now there is only darkness. But at least the pain is gone.
They came on us fast.
We’d gotten sloppy and strayed too far from the truck; the walkers were cutting us off and we’d have to circle around. I exchanged one look with Michael and Claire and could see they knew it too.
“Go,” I said, raising my shotgun, and they disappeared into the alleyway behind us.
boom. The closest walker’s rotting head turned into a vaporous cloud of gore. boom. And a pair close together were sent flying backward.
I ran into the alley, and suddenly Michael came around the corner at the end, covered with blood, eyes wide, mouth open, screaming. I didn’t hesitate.
boom. The sound reverberated in the alley, deafening me. My ears rang and I watched his head explode in slow motion.
His body fell and I remembered how I’d found him locked in that high school, so many summers ago. I watched the blood pour out of the stump of his neck and I thought about how many times he’d saved my life. I lowered the smoking shotgun and I remembered how we’d found Claire. The ringing in my ears subsided, and I remembered the night he’d told me he loved her.
Claire came around the corner. She stopped and looked down at Michael’s headless body, and when she spoke what had been fear slowly turned into rage.
“There was another one… in the alley…. we shot it…. ran… blood everywhere. ZED!!!” she screamed, in a final crescendo. “He wasn’t infected!”
I could hear the groans of the approaching undead behind me as she raised her rifle; I knew she wasn’t pointing it at them.
Green she must have been with envy
of the other girls who were free,
to show how yellow she was
by hiding her betrayal.
I felt so blue
when toward me she was cold,
but saw red
when I learned the truth.
White was the glint of the knife,
and the color of her skin
when the blood had drained out
and black my heart
when I hid away what was left
Now she is gone
because of me
and my whole world
You belong to me, he said, when we met at the wedding that night.
You belong to me, he said, when we watched the sun rise.
You belong to me, he said, when he called me the next month.
You belong to me, he said, when we kissed out on the pier.
You belong to me, he said, when we went back to his house.
You belong to me, he said, when we woke up the next day.
But we belong together, he said, when all the days had passed.
But we belong together, he said, when I told him not call.
But we belong together, he said, when he showed up at my door.
But we belong together, he said, when he fought his way inside.
But we belong together, he said, when in the kitchen I screamed.
But we belong together, he said, when he did that thing to me.
You’re mine now, I said, when I got up from the floor.
You’re mine now, I said, when the hate burned in my chest.
You’re mine now, I said, when I got into the car.
You’re mine now, I said, when I showed up at his door.
You’re mine now, I said, when I embraced him on the porch.
You’re mine now, I said, when the knife went in his back.
“I see you’ve finally found us,” Dr. Mallory said, his back still turned. “Congratulations.”
“How could you do this to so many innocent people?” I accused with indignation, still catching my breath. “How could you administer the treatment and not tell us what it actually was – what it would do to our minds, to our souls?”
Mallory laughed and turned from the view of the night skyline to face me.
“Why surely you misunderstand,” he said, smiling. “There are no others – it is only you.”