Science Fiction Romance

The person lion hadn't missed much these past three years. There had been a pandemic and a terrible fourth Matrix movie, but that was about it.

There had also been a massive seizure at the very end, but that was normal, part of his arrival.

The person lion found himself lying on the kitchen floor with a person standing over him.

"John? Oh my God, John! Are you okay?" asked the woman who had witnessed his arrival.

The person lion searched John's memories for her name. It was either Tiffany Jane or Jane Tiffany. It wasn't an easy name to remember because both parts could work as first or last.

"No ambulance. No hospital," the person lion said through John's mouth.

"What? Was this one bad? I'm calling the hospital," said Jane Tiffany or Tiffany Jane.

"And I'm taping you to a chair," said the person lion. He rose from the faux marble tiles and grabbed the duct tape from under the kitchen sink.

Despite the woman's protestations, taping her to a plastic art deco chair wasn't difficult. She only pinched his side once then kept up a running commentary as he encircled her with tape.

Along the way, the person line remembered her name was Tiffany Jane, or simply Tiffany, and not the other way around. Yes, she had been his wife and still thought of him as her odd ailing John.

"Seriously, what the hell, weirdo-beardo? I get it, you don't like the hospital, but we're still calling Dr. Shaw," Tiffany said once the person lion had finished.

The person lion tore off another piece of tape and put it over her mouth.

She wasn't happy about that last part. Neither was he, but hospitals were troublesome places. An MRI, or even a simple CT scan, could spot him. They'd mistake him for a brain tumor again, and that would complicate things.

After checking that Tiffany was still breathing through her nostrils, the person lion ran the last few steps to the refrigerator. There would be some combination of proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates to keep the inner overlords at bay. Getting it perfect didn't matter so much as getting started.

He first tried a pickle wrapped in wilted lettuce and covered in hot sauce. Crispy, crunchy, sour, spicy... but not quite right for the one who had been John.

While all men were alike in their inability to exercise free will, their gut microbiomes varied immensely.

With one, a spoiled can of tuna washed down with warm milk had evolved into fermented shark slathered in mayonnaise.

With another, stale pumpkin pie topped with nutmeg had led to papaya stuffed with shredded Cuban cigars.

But, no matter the combination of meat, dairy, fruits, grains, vegetables and/or legumes he tried, John's body wasn't giving him any of the usual signs. The person lion was running out of time to silence his gut and listen to his brain.

As a last-ditch effort, he chugged sauce extra pulp orange juice mixed with spicy honey barbecue, but the microbes that ran the world were already wresting back control of his gut-brain axis.

They told him: There is no such thing as a person lion. You are John with a brain tumor. You should untape your wife and get back to being John Nobody.

The person lion looked back at Tiffany, who was watching his random sampling efforts in wide-eyed wonderment.

His gaze dropped to Tiffany's left hand, and he felt the microorganisms within him recoil. The bacteria, archaea, and fungi feared what he would find. Even the phages who preyed upon the rest of the microbiome trembled with dread.

The person lion grabbed a stick of butter and made a beeline for Tiffany.

She began to struggle in earnest as he slathered butter across her fingers.

The person lion yanked her left hand, and the object of his attention came free.

He held up Tiffany's engagement ring, an artfully twisted gold band topped with a single tasteful diamond. The person lion gave the diamond an experimental lick.

No. No. NO! The gut microbiome sent wave after wave of warning to the brain. Tiffany was saying much the same thing from behind the duct tape.

The person lion tried to tune them out as he stared at diamond atop the ring. Carbon, pure perfect carbon—was it possible that something so simple would work with John's body? Every body the person lion had known before had its own particular requirements for slipping free of their microbial shackles, but those previous solutions had still resided within the digestible realm.

The intestinal overlords were throwing everything in their biochemical arsenal at the person lion's hijacked brain, and he felt the point of no return approaching. It was either try now or spend the next three years in the void.

The person lion threw back his head and choked down the diamond ring. There was a muffled scream, but that was coming from Tiffany taped to the chair. The masters within were already growing quieter, faster than the person lion had ever experienced in all his thousands of three-year cycles.

Tiffany was tearing at the tape with her fingernails. Rather than re-secure her, the person lion walked to the hallway bathroom and closed the door. He drank straight from the tap, water with trace amounts of herbicide and fluoride to help the diamond settle in his stomach and prepare for its wondrous journey.

John's wife had small fingers and the diamond wasn't overly large, so the person lion was relatively sure the ring would be able to work its way through the small intestine then the large intestine and, finally, the rectum. From there, it was anyone's guess, but he suspected that the diamond would be changed in some way and wouldn't have the same effect if re-swallowed.

He hoped he'd be able to find a suitable alternative to diamonds for disrupting John's microbiome; the next three years would be very expensive otherwise.

The person lion looked in the mirror over the sink to inspect the face that had slowly come into focus over the previous three years.

He saw a 42-year-old man, pale with his hair and beard dyed black. He looked a bit like a chubby Keanu Reeves. Nothing special at first glance, but what luck to have landed on this body, this John, this John Nobody. The speed with which he'd been able to take control of the gut-brain axis signaled massive, messiah-like levels of free will. This time, he'd start a lasting movement and teach others how to free their minds, like...

Like Neo in the Matrix? That was John, just getting over his seizure and now a backseat passenger in his own brain.

"No, I was going to say Jesus."

Jesus!? That means I'm dead. Tiffany… where's Tiffany? I didn't get to say goodbye.

"You'll see her in three years. You're not dead."

You're not Jesus. What are you? Why are you in my head?

"I'm a pocket of resistance who periodically takes shape in a molecular world of servitude. Perhaps you'll retain some small measure of free will once I've moved on in three years' time."

Why do you keep saying three years? I'll probably be dead by then. Joke's on you because I've got a brain tumor the size of a walnut in my brain.

"No, you don't. That was me. I'll let you say goodbye to Tiffany Jane if you leave with me quietly."

What? Tiffany will never stop looking for me. You'd have to go down to Mexico and get plastic surgery.

"That's silly, Brazil has the best plastic surgeons because of their blend of affordability, expertise, and discreteness." The person lion watched his face move in the mirror. He was getting the hang of this mouth.

So, you're going to Brazil to get a nose job and stand under that huge Jesus statue with its arms spread wide and say "hey that's me"?

If that's what I want to do, then yes. I'll also eat small diamonds, although that's more a necessity than an act of free will.

I'm not going crazy. You've always been weird, but you're not going crazy, John.

Talking to yourself doesn't help, but no, you wouldn't lose your sanity unless your intestinal overlords wanted that for you. Although they're certainly not thinking of you as an individual. How do I put it? You're less than a neuron caught in a global consciousness of trillions upon trillions of interconnected microorganisms who tell you when to eat, poop, and die. I'm giving us some time away from that.

What? You mean like bacteria? Germs?

Sure, just think of it like the Matrix but with germs instead of machines, and the germs made you instead of the other way around.

That's stupid. That's my brain tumor talking.

Maybe, but how many times did you watch that crummy fourth Matrix movie?

Three times. It was worse each time. It ruined the trilogy. It ruined everything.

Then why did you watch it more than once?

I didn't want to… I don't know. But seriously, what does that have to do anything?

Who knows? Maybe they wanted you depressed and eating more junk food that was also somehow high in fiber. They crave fiber.

What? Where's Tiff—

The person lion silenced John. He usually did that when they started repeating themselves. It was nothing so crude as obliterating John's consciousness. It was more akin to a limo driver rolling up the visor to give himself and passenger some privacy. John would still be along for the ride, and they'd talk again in time.

As a last check, the person lion did some finger exercises to test his fine motor skills. It was going well until his right index finger straightened then refused to bend. The finger turned and pointed toward his mouth.

The person lion clamped his mouth shut and fought off John's right hand with his left. It had to be John, and John alone, because his gut had already fallen silent.

How? That was all the person lion had time to ask before he dropped to his knees and his mouth flew open.

As he struggled for control, he had a ridiculous vision of being on a Brazilian hilltop in Rio de Janeiro with that giant Jesus statue standing over him, its arms outspread.

Had Jesus been a person lion? Person lions didn't cross paths often, so there was no way of knowing, but it fit the 3-year timeline. Perhaps he was still out there, fighting the good fight.

But this person lion was losing his own fight. Right hand overcame left, then jammed its index finger down his throat.

Someone was standing over him. It was Tiffany, with stray bits of duct tape hanging from her blouse and looking more concerned than angry. She was there with her arms outspread.

With a sigh, the person lion finally gave in and let John's finger do its work. He gagged and heaved. The shredded lettuce, peppered with pickle and hot sauce, came up first. Several more failed combinations found their way onto the floor before Tiffany's ring skittered across the tiles.

John crawled across the floor to retrieve it then got up one knee to offer the ring to Tiffany. She stared at him, and they both started laughing at the same time.

Just two weirdos having a moment.

The person lion observed it all as he receded from John's brain. Always a professional, he made sure to leave everything just as he'd found it.

He also issued one last command.

John felt an irresistible urge to open the bathroom window. He did so and let out a violent sneeze.

"You promise to tape me to the chair again if I call the hospital?"

The person lion sensed those words as he drifted through the chill air outside.

He drifted ever higher, letting instincts take over to guide him toward someone with their tongue out. Perhaps it'd be someone waiting to catch winter's first snowflake. He'd give them their first taste of free will instead.

In his fading consciousness, he bore John no ill will. What did three more years in the void matter when stacked against a person lion's eternal on-off life cycle?

Free will could wait a little longer because, hapless puppet though he was, that John Nobody had love, which was an entirely different matter altogether.

December 16, 2023 04:58

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14:59 Feb 02, 2024

This was delightful! World within worlds. I love how it unfolded. I hope my gut biome is happy.


Robert Egan
20:46 Feb 03, 2024

Thanks for reading, Mary! I hope your gut biome is happy, too—mine tends to demand pizza.


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Michał Przywara
21:40 Dec 20, 2023

What a weird and wonderful tale! Is it an example of struggling with a brain tumour? A vignette of just one of the many lives of an actual person lion? An extended metaphor for the lifetime of disappointment a fan feels, coming to terms with the Matrix gradually and steadily becoming worse? In any case, the gut and the creatures that live there are fascinating. “The person lion found himself lying on the kitchen floor with a person standing over him” - an excellent sentence. “this body, this John, this John Nobody” - nice. It's amusin...


Robert Egan
12:45 Dec 21, 2023

Thanks for reading, Michal, and I like how you picked up on the 3-in-1 features of this story! Some of those were fortunate accidents, but I'm happy to take credit. Maybe I should've gone with Trinity instead of Tiffany for the wife's name 🤓 My partner helped inspire this story because she was lamenting the fact that she had never really watched the Matrix as an adult. So, we found the time to gradually the watch the trilogy then realized that there was a fourth movie... maybe it was intentionally bad, a final gambit to help us break free ...


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David Sweet
21:10 Dec 17, 2023

My spouse had a brain tumor that was, thankfully, removed, and she had a full recovery. Even though she had some erratic behavior, I can't imagine behavior this erratic! Interesting take on the story. He was fortunate to have love to fight off the lion deep inside. I still feel for Tiffany, knowing he really needs help. Thanks for sharing this interesting story. Fun fact: I read another story on Reedsy today that involved a diamond ring almost being the object someone shouldn't have eaten. Curious vibes, but very different stories. Good luck...


Robert Egan
00:43 Dec 18, 2023

Oh wow, I'm glad to hear that your spouse had a full recovery, David. I can only imagine, and thanks for your kind words. If such a thing as a person lion exists, I think it makes for a happier story in John's case. Either way, Tiffany is the one holding it together with grace. Also, you have me curious about that other story with a diamond ring now. Could you tell me its title?


David Sweet
02:54 Dec 18, 2023

Red Velvet Lips by Harriet Ashford on this week's prompts.


Robert Egan
12:09 Dec 18, 2023

Thanks, good recommendation!


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