Horror Science Fiction Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.



Sometimes, in the afternoon, I would look back on the day and find myself shocked that it had all happened in a 24-hour span. Mornings always seemed like a lifetime ago.

I had spent this morning doting on my dog, trying to decide whether my arteries could handle a second bowl of cereal.

I couldn’t figure out how much time had passed since then. I couldn’t figure out much of anything, really.

I tried to focus on the senses my body could recognize.

There was blood on my fingertips. Thick. Hot. Snaking its way down my arms.

I could feel my fists clenched around something. I brought my hands to my eyes, trying to figure out what I was holding. Tried to open my eyelids. No luck.

All I could register was the hot, rancid breath on the forearm I held near my face. The feral panting of an animal, escaping from my own mouth. The smell of sweat. Of sickness.

A voice, crawling its way into my consciousness.

try not to worry, james. you never used them much anyway.



I was woken by the soft thud thud thud of Thor's tail against the wall. He was all smiles, ears pricked and alert, his body leaning towards the door I knew my roommate Patrick was due to enter through any minute.

Thor turned to look at me, eyes bright, his excitement static in the air.

Purebred border collie. Running your fingers through his coat was what I imagined meeting God would feel like. I fuckin loved that dog.

Right on cue, Patrick cracked the door open just an inch, enough to stick his nose through right at Thor's level. The dog practically leapt into the air, launching himself at the opening. He hurdled himself through the door, fur flying in every direction, smothering Patrick in kisses. My roommate lay winded on the floor, choking down laughter.

"You're late," I clicked my tongue, "I'm not mad, just disappointed. I told your dog his dad left us for some nineteen-year-old harlot in the city."

"He knows you're full of it, don't u worry," Patrick laughed, “You know James is a little shit stirrer, don’t you Thor?”

I had met Patrick in a biomedical engineering course back in my first year of uni. He was a right prick. But then, I think I had been too. He had been pure freckles and sun-tanned skin, bright orange hair and freshly seventeen-year-old optimism. Nothing had really changed. Except maybe that the naiveté and "giftedness" that had brought us together had been beaten down by rejected job applications, internships, and piss poor work conditions. I don't want to say we were jaded, sleep deprived twenty something year old losers, but I also wouldn't want to lie.

At the very least, we had Thor. And we had each other.

"Working late tomorrow," Patrick sighed.

"Course you are."

"Yeah well, you should too. We need the money."

That didn't mean I had to like it. Sure, I loved my job. It was a great opportunity, I had worked hard to get to where I was, other people would kill for my position. All that shit. But it was still a job. I was more interested in the fantasy the company sold, the grandiose. Actually having to show up for my internship didn’t have the same effect.

Patrick and I worked for a company called HollisTech. The business had been almost as irrelevant as I was until a few years back, when a dude named Theodore inherited it. He did something no one else had been capable of; he had carved a place in the industry, made a name for himself, made it mean something.

He was a genius. Yeah, I looked up to the guy. Or maybe I was jealous. It was hard not to be. Theodore was an innovator; I like to think that’s something that made us similar.

That’s not what drew Patrick and I to the company though. The hook was the AI.

Sometimes I imagine all the things we could achieve if we were freed to do as we pleased, with everything mundane taken care of. This was powerful stuff. This was what Theodore was creating with his funds – and it was fucking brilliant. We were closer than we had ever been to true artificial intelligence. Ok, yeah, I was an intern. That didn’t mean I wasn’t going to claim my part in the whole thing – it was history in the making.

I had been dreaming of robots and AI since I was a kid. Baby James would be in awe; the tech I was working next to was closer than I had ever imagined it being.

I felt a prickle in the back of my brain. Heard something that could’ve been a sniff of distain. I shook my head, resetting my thoughts.

“I went on that date with the Hinge chick,” Patrick’s voice rang through the apartment, snapping me back to where I sat on the couch. His statement trailed into silence.

There was a pause. I knew he wanted me to ask about it. I relented, regretting it almost instantly.


“God, she did not stop talking man,” I heard him laugh from the kitchen, “I mean I would understand if she had anything interesting to say. But she works at the fucking gas station.”

I clicked on the tv.

“You deserve better,” I offered. The same line I always used.

“Yeah, yeah. I know. I just feel like it’s never gonna happen, you know?”

Flicked to the news channel.

Riots in the states. Surprise, surprise. Three people had died in a fist fight at a peace rally. I found that slightly ironic.

“I just feel like no one understand me, you know? Like I speak to these girls and when they’re talking, I’m just like, we really are in two different worlds. Like I’d genuinely be surprised if any of them graduated high school.”

Too many fucking news channels. I flicked through them impatiently.

“I’m everything they don’t know they want,” Patrick chuckled.

“It’s their loss man.”

A gecko crawled slowly over the arm of the couch, its tiny chest fluttering rapidly with its heartbeat. I squished it between my thumb and index.

Patrick droned on. When the guy was on a rant, you didn’t need to contribute a single thing for the conversation to last hours. Luckily, he got tired after a good five minutes and decided to retire for the night.

“You’ll have better luck tomorrow,” I called after him as his door closed with a resounding click. The sudden silence crackled through the room like electricity.

I got to enjoy it for about two seconds, before -

you two are perfect for each other.

A woman’s voice. Pretentious, sharp with sarcasm.

Annoyance pricked the back of my neck.

“What do you mean.” I said after a few seconds. I didn’t try to hide my distain. 

i think you already know.

Yeah, maybe I was regretting taking this job.

“Stop acting like you know me,” I snapped, “Stick to your programming and stay in your fucking place.”

If I couldn't get her out of my head, I could at least loosen the tether of politeness I had held myself to so far. Give myself a little breathing room.

It was met with silence.

of course

Her name was Lyra. Named after the woman that had programmed her.

God was it claustrophobic.

But I meant it when I said I was going to claim my part in this shit. I’d be a part of history if I had to crawl my way towards it.

why do you still live here?

“Patrick is a good guy. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”

Another silence.

Of course.

I had woken a few weeks ago to an email in my inbox. I had won a competition I couldn’t even remember entering. And the prize was this god irritating woman wired to my brain, dissecting my thoughts. It was the kind of luck I was beginning to expect for myself.

The email had detailed what I already knew; Lyra was an experimental AI, with the closest thing to a human brain that had ever been synthetically recreated. She even had a body, somewhere in the world. I sure as hell wasn’t going to be told where. She could feel pain, supposedly.

listening to this is causing me pain.

Deep breaths.

The trial was called the Integration Initiative.

I fingered the chip in the back of neck, pursing my lips.

Lyra was listening, learning. She would live a hundred lives, through a hundred different people. Maybe more. That’s just the number I was told, and as much as I wanted to fool myself into thinking otherwise, I knew they were probably giving all the participants alternate information.

She would be the world’s first sentient artificial intelligence. This was the first step.

I was doing something good.

Overhead, the kitchen light flickered. A light tap tap, like a finger flicking the glass from inside the bulb.

that’s an interesting simile, Lyra’s voice interrupted my thoughts, piercing the air like a bullet.

Another flicker. Tap tap tap. The bulb must be broken.

I got up to take a look at it, pulling the curtain closed on the frosted window as I passed. Times were chilly.

Standing on a chair and reaching upwards, I tapped the light bulb once, twice, trying to think of the last time it had been changed. Probably not since I had first moved in, since –

I felt a hand on my leg, tight pressure right on my ankle. I yelped, almost slipping off the chair. A chill hummed down my spine as I raked the room with my eyes. Patrick was still snoring in his bedroom, and not a single dismembered hand in sight. Stupid.

I breathed, trying to calm myself.

The bulb flickered again, this time growing dimmer. I squinted at it, bringing my face closer. Shadows danced inside the light, casting strange reflections on the walls. Something seemed to be moving inside. I reached a finger up to clean it, thinking it might have been dust collecting on its surface, when I heard a voice. A familiar voice, echoing through the bulb.

“James, I really don’t like him. Please, can we just find our own apartment,” the voice said. A sick feeling rose in my throat.

Just as I was about to step away, to get as much distance from the whole situation as I could, the light hummed and grew blindingly bright. I shielded my eyes, feeling a searing heat on my cheek. When I opened them, I was in a different time, in the same living room.

My ex-girlfriend was standing in front of me. She looked upset.

“He was inside my room, James! I’m scared of him, will you please just listen to me?”

“You always make such a massive deal out of everything, can you never just let something go?” I snapped, “I’ve known him for years, do you know how fucking stupid you sound? He’s harmless.”

It wasn’t true.

She turned to leave. I grabbed her wrist, hard. Pulled her closer, searched her eyes until I found the fear I was looking for.

The light flared, and suddenly I was stood with my hands in my pockets, in the same place in the living room, looking at Patrick. It was two weeks later.

“She turned up and grabbed her things, fucked off in the middle of the night. I don’t know what else to tell you,” he said, shrugging. He wouldn’t look me in the eyes.

“And she didn’t tell you anything?” I asked.

“Didn’t speak to the girl.” Patrick never used her name. He looked down as he picked at his fingers, licking his cracked lips.

Something had happened between them. He had done something. And I never, ever wanted to know what it was.

I blinked and it was the three days later. I was sat on the couch, staring into my girlfriend’s laptop. She had never come back for it. I was looking at her thesis essay. Her name, Tanaka Hoshi, was printed in bold in the corner. I backspaced, replacing it with my own: James Harbin.

I needed it more, I remember thinking to myself. I might even be doing the world a favour, I’m not sure I would trust her in the field. And she doesn’t deserve to graduate anyway.

The light hummed louder, burrowing itself deep inside my brain. There was too much noise. My head was spinning, spinning so fast I thought my neck might snap, spinning and spinning and spinning and I can’t take this much longer I can’t take –

I was sitting on the couch. Patrick was talking from the kitchen.

I was squishing a gecko between my fingers, feeling its delicate spine snap underneath my knuckle. Just vermin, I thought. Above my head, the lightbulb grew brighter and brighter, blinding me, until it burst with the sound of a gunshot.

All I could think was why me, why me, why me. I don’t deserve any of this.

and what did tanaka deserve?

I whipped around at the sound of her voice, my heart beating in my throat.

Lyra stood in front of me. Her skin was translucent, stretched thin over ticking machinery and wires that twisted through metal bones like vines. Bright blue eyes moving slowly back and forth underneath her closed eyelids, watching me. Her skull seemed to grin as she tilted her head. She held open her hand, a gecko peeking its head from behind her thumb, light glinting off its iridescent scales.

“That’s different,” I choked, my voice grating against the silence, “All of that, it's different. You didn't know Tanaka."

"And that..." I gestured to the lizard in her hands, "don't act like I'm some monster. It's a fucking lizard!”

i never commented. you did that yourself.

Suddenly, I was 17. Patrick and I were throwing the body of a cat into a river, its torso puckered with tiny holes, its fur matted with blood. We were laughing.

i always loved cats.

“You can’t judge me,” I panted, choking as sweat dripped its way into my open mouth, “You aren’t… fucking… human.”

maybe not. does it matter?

I lunged at her, my fingers aching to wrap themselves around her neck, to test if she really could feel pain, to gouge my fingers into her skull and pierce those bright blue eyes that looked so deeply into my own. To rip them right out of her head.

I fell through her, into the floor, my face smacking against the tiles with a dull thud. Lyra was gone.

why do you think you were chosen for this trial?

“I don’t care,” I choked, spitting out a mouthful of blood.

i chose you. you and I were a match made in heaven.

Her voice grew louder, louder, a clamouring in front of me and inside me and running through my bloodstream. It spoke and I couldn’t hear what it said, I didn’t care. There was something behind my eyes. She was behind my eyes.

who made you the judge of what’s human?

I felt my arm move. I hadn’t given it permission. I found my fingers touching the cold skin around my eyes, felt a spark at the sudden contact. I felt my fingernails dig into warm flesh. Heard one sickening pop. Then another. And then I was clenching them in my fists, like a child clenches their hands around a garden worm. It was the first time I had ever felt the urge to handle something tenderly.

try not to worry, james. you never used them much anyway.

June 17, 2022 14:09

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Zelda C. Thorne
19:40 Jun 21, 2022

Oooooo I liked the ending! The pacing ramped up towards the climax, which is what we want! I feel like you handled jumping around between different times quite well, but it could have been smoother - I got a bit of whiplash, but then again, you might have done that on purpose to show his state of mind. Do you read your stories out loud? I do that to check pacing - it also works for noticing other things too. Just a thought. I think putting Lyra's dialogue in italics like that worked well. Good call. Enjoyable read :)


Ash CR
23:50 Jun 21, 2022

Thanks so much for the feedback, i appreciate it. Glad u enjoyed the read as much as i did yours :)


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Rama Shaar
18:58 Jun 21, 2022

This was a scary read (I'm someone who avoids blood and horror at all costs), but I couldn't stop reading! Well done!


Ash CR
23:51 Jun 21, 2022

I’m glad it got u hooked! thanks for the comment :)


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Michael Regan
16:07 Jun 21, 2022

Once you have established that it is a first person narrative, you can reduce the number of time you say 'I'. Also, consider an active voice instead of passive. For example: "I was woken by the soft thud thud thud" could be "Woken by the soft thud thud thud" or even "Waking to the soft thud thud thud"


Ash CR
23:52 Jun 21, 2022

Super helpful, thanks for taking the time to comment :)


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13:51 Jun 21, 2022

This is really well written, with a very personal voice and vivid prose. I especially enjoyed the setup and the banter between the MC and Patrick in the first part of the story. My only suggestion is at a point late in the story where 4 characters were active all sort of at the same time. Perhaps Lyra and Tanaka and Patrick could have been intertwined slightly less, or the different episodes could have introduced more distinctly, in the section starting from "I blinked and it was the three days later."


Ash CR
23:54 Jun 21, 2022

Thanks for the feedback, i’ll try to make things more distinct in the future. Thanks for the comment legend :) :)


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Tobin Wheeler
12:34 Jun 21, 2022

I loved this story. The ending sent a chill down my spine, and I liked the buildup as the story climaxed. I’m a sucker for non-conventional dialogue structures, so I appreciate the italicized and lowercase text when Lyra is speaking. It sets her voice apart and as a reader allows me to “hear” her as a more robotic, monotone sort of voice. If I had one critique, it would be to focus on pacing. You ramp up quite a bit towards the end, and it’s almost too fast to process. Take your time some, and I promise the suspense and buildup will come jus...


Ash CR
12:44 Jun 21, 2022

This was a really constructive comment, made me smile, thank u so much! i’ll try to work on my pacing in future stories :) i’m glad u enjoyed overall :) :)


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Michał Przywara
05:11 Jun 21, 2022

I think you hit all three of the tags well! Definitely a tense story. Seems like there's some dark history between James and Patrick, and we gradually learn more about it. But then Lyra isn't all that harmless either. Perhaps this is just a matter of justice, but it also seems reckless to wire an experimental AI to your brain. I like the little details, like James stealing Tanaka's essay. It's a shitty thing to do, but also very believable, very human. "you never used them much anyway" -- a powerful line, considering what he did to himsel...


Ash CR
06:51 Jun 21, 2022

This comment rly made my day, thanks for such a close reading! i decided to leave the ending more open as to whether lyra influenced james or if it was a matter of guilt, im glad you found that interesting :) i appreciate the thought put into the comment, thanks so much :) :)


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Mae Reeves
01:43 Jun 21, 2022

This was so slay, really well written and the hook had me on edge wondering what was going to happen. pop off king. also poor gecko :(


Ash CR
01:51 Jun 21, 2022

no ur so slay, i’ll resurrect that gecko for u


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Graham Kinross
02:09 Jun 19, 2022

Your MC being cruel makes the case for the machine being the better 'person'. The dialogue serves that case really well and shows the machine's attitude. Well written Ash.


Ash CR
07:03 Jun 19, 2022

rly appreciate it, thanks graham


Graham Kinross
22:32 Jun 19, 2022

Working on any stories at the moment?


Ash CR
00:54 Jun 20, 2022

writing a submission for the next competition as well as a personal project, what about you?


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Seán McNicholl
11:10 Jun 18, 2022

Really enjoyed this Ash! Loved how the AI seemed to have more humanity than the main character! Also really enjoyed the relationship between Patrick and the main character, thought you portrayed that really well. Small continuity thing: In the opening few paragraphs you said that they met in first year of university. But later on they knew each other all their lives. Only a small thing! Didn’t detract from the story! Well done!


Ash CR
00:40 Jun 19, 2022

Thanks so much for the comment, im glad you enjoyed it :) and thanks for pointing out that error i completely missed it, absolute legend


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Betty Gilgoff
15:06 Jun 22, 2022

I wish you weren’t deleting your work as I’d love to read more, to see the progression. This was an interesting read for sure. Good use of dialogue, and yes, like others have commented on, effectively done with italics and no capitalization for Lyra’s voice. That makes it easy to follow. Some good character development too through the quick flashbacks though you left me wanting more understanding of how some of it was relevant. I enjoyed the read.


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