To Whom It May Concern

Submitted into Contest #137 in response to: Write a story about a scientist.... view prompt

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Science Fiction Speculative Suspense

June 12, 2100


To whom it may concern,


My family is no longer dead. That, of course, is a subjective word: "dead." In my heart, they've always been alive, always been with me, though I do acknowledge the facts: that their spacecraft collided with a wayward asteroid last summer, that they flared up like a Roman candle in the night sky, burning brighter than the constellations surrounding them. I suppose some people might call that death; I am not one of them.


The package arrived two days later. When I returned home, my voice still hoarse from speaking all weekend at a conference, a compact metal box awaited me on my doorstep. It was emblazoned with a black-and-red emblem of an old-timey street sweeper. The words "Intercosmic Cleaners" appeared below the logo, which told me all I needed to know about the status of my family's vacation. My hands trembled but managed to pop the lid.


Therein I discovered the vestiges of my family's voyage, the scraps the Cleaners were able to salvage from the wreckage: Mother's pinky finger, one of Father's molars, and my younger brother Casper's right ear, the one with the piercings. All bunched together in a three-foot coffin. Upon closing the box, a virtual message appeared, replete with somber violin music. "Sorry for your loss," a robotic voice intoned. I closed my eyes, unable to stop my body from shaking.


This was not, however, a mournful occasion. Nor was I shaking from fear. And perhaps if the Intercosmic Cleaners had attended the conference, had heard the nature of my lecture, they wouldn't have been so gung-ho about sending me these things.


I won't bore you with the specifics. There were enough glazed-over eyes and skeptical gazes to last a lifetime when I spoke at the conference. I will simply say that my reanimation theory, my thesis, the culmination of years of research has proven itself to be true today, a year later: the dead can live again. Thanks to a finger, a molar, an ear, a will and a way, it's possible.


My family is currently slumbering in the stasis pods across the room. Their eyes are shut, and their chests rise and fall with each breath, fogging the glass coverings. But even through the haze I can identify their features: Mother's ten slender fingers, Father's perfect smile, Casper's unmarred skin, pale as the ancient ghost he's named after. What they lost in their accident, I've helped them regain. Mostly.


All that's left is to unseal the pods. Once I do, we'll be a family again.

Because this is, to my knowledge, the first attempt at reanimating something other than field mice, I plan to document my findings in this journal weekly, for posterity's sake. Perhaps for my own sake, too. Maybe then the skeptics will finally know the truth.


But for now, I have a family to rejoin.


Until next time, 


Anastasia Sutton, Ph.D


***


June 19, 2100


To whom it may concern,


They stopped moving today. For how long, I can't be sure.


The first thing I noticed when I came home was the silence. Enough silence to fill a crater on Mercury. I called their names but received no reply. My home's motion sensor system likewise detected no movement, save for the beating of my heart, the twitching of my fingers. It wasn't until I entered the kitchen that I saw the three of them huddled beside the backlog of dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, stiff as cadavers. Casper's hand hung in the sudsy water like an anchor. Behind him stood my parents, frozen in the act of transferring a ceramic plate, Father's dish towel readied. The plate, still damp, dripped onto the floor, forming a generous puddle. Their chests neither rose nor fell; no breath escaped their lips.


It was the water that did it. We've observed similar findings in our field mice. Something about the water short-circuits their reanimated hardware and impedes their motor skills. I know how this makes them sound—like robots. But they're not.


After removing Casper's arm from the dishwater and the plate from my parent's grasp, I dried their pruney hands with Father's dish towel, wringing out each finger meticulously, thirty in total. Then I stepped back and held my breath.


A minute later, Casper was the first to revive. He blinked his eyes and tentatively cocked his head to the side, like he was trying to place me. His peach fuzz caught the evening sunlight streaming through the window. "Ana?" he began.


Before I could respond, my parents awoke. Mother startled when she saw me and asked what I was doing home so early, even though every clock in the house announced the afternoon's departure. "We were going to surprise you," she said, gesturing to the dishes. She took a step toward the sink and I grabbed her arm, told her that they'd already done more than enough for me, that I'd take care of the rest. To my relief, they capitulated.


I didn't ask them, as my fists traversed the murky dishwater, why they'd decided to hand-wash the dishes instead of using one of the several cleaning machines in the house, especially since I hadn't seen them wash the old-fashioned way since I was a child. Perhaps it was an act of kindness, a gesture of goodwill, a token of love. As I said, they're not robots. So I relegated the thought to the back of my mind.


But just now, during the middle of dinner, something odd happened.


We were sitting in the kitchen where I prodded a slice of instant meatloaf (since their reanimation, my family possesses neither the need to eat nor the desire to question why that is) when Mother looked across the table and said to Father, "Do you remember that vacation we took to Saturn last summer?"


The clank of my fork smacking against the table eclipsed Father's response. I don't recollect dropping it, though I must have because I watched a giant marinara stain expand on the placemat.


She closed her eyes and sighed. "For the life of me, I can't recall what we did there, the places we went. Isn't that strange?"


But she shouldn't have known even that much.


They were never supposed to remember their trip. I made certain of that. They have only the most necessary of memories, the things I saw fit to recall when resuscitating them—Casper's lead in his high school play, Mother and Father's vow renewal ceremony, my commencement speech. How could she know about that? What else have they uncovered?


I excused myself before Father or Casper could reply, my metal chair screeching against the floor. A mistake, I understand, when there is so much left unknown. But the meatloaf was working its way back up my throat, so I did what was necessary. 


Even now Mother is still talking about the vacation. From my perch on the toilet seat, their voices bunch together like their body parts did in the Cleaners box and float down the hall to greet me. Why can't they remember their vacation? Had they enjoyed their time on Saturn? What happened on the way there, on the journey back? They have questions. So many questions.


Casper asks one of them: "Where is Ana?"


And just like that, once again, I have a family to rejoin.


Until next time, 


Anastasia Sutton, Ph.D


***


June 26, 2100


To whom it may concern,


Last night I awoke from one nightmare only to encounter another.

I won't bore you with the specifics, except to say that in the dream someone was chasing me through the house, forcing me to sprint from room to room in search of a hiding spot. The crawl space in the attic is what I settled on, but even with my hand clasped over my mouth, the footsteps grew louder. A head poked through the door, a mane of shiny black hair. The last thing I saw was the knife in my brother's pruney hand as he approached me.


Sweat soaked my sheets and my skin as I bolted upright. My fingers gripped the comforter, desperate to feel something. My lungs gasped for air. The clock on the nightstand announced that it was almost three in the morning. I took deep breaths, felt my chest rise and fall, and chided myself for getting worked up over a silly nightmare. My heart rate had almost returned to normal when I noticed Mother standing there in the doorway, the silhouette of her body unmistakable even in the darkness.


"Did I frighten you?" she asked after I'd finished shrieking.


It must be noted that in addition to not eating, my family no longer requires other necessities like bathing, exercise, or sleep. Sometimes, in my languid dreams, I think I can hear the noises they make in the other rooms: their distant remarks, the sound of the fridge opening (why?), the sound of the kitchen faucet (also why?). In fact, the din of running water invaded the room as Mother and I stared at each other.


I lied, told her she didn't spook me at all. "What's that noise?"


Inhaling sharply, Mother crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe, blocking the exit. She cleared her throat loudly, made a show of it, and by the time she was finished, so too was the faucet. "What noise, dear? I don't hear anything."


My mouth went dry, draining the life from my words and my resolve. I had questions, so many questions, but not enough courage to ask them.


"Are you feeling all right?" she said. "Would you like me to get you a glass of water?"


"No," I blurted before she finished. Then, quieter, "No, no, I'm okay. No water. I'm just tired."


"Yes, go back to bed, dear," Mother urged as I rolled over and turned to face the wall. Her voice rolled off my back: "Get some rest. I'll leave you be."


I stared straight ahead and waited for her footsteps. They never came. Only the intermittent sound of the kitchen faucet turning on and off every ten minutes pierced the air, and it stayed that way until the sunshine peeked through the curtains two hours later.


Mother's changes are not the only new addition to my life. Father now spends his days parked in front of the television, though he never turns it on. Casper has stopped using contractions when he speaks, if he speaks at all. None of them look me in the eye anymore.


That's why yesterday at work, after the incident with Mother, I decided to buy an add-on attachment for the house. They call it the Nannycam-S9000. They say it can give you a livestream of your house at all times, as well as record conversations, detect body heat and movement, vaporize unwanted intruders, everything. It cost quite a pretty penny, no doubt for that last selling point (which I have no intention of using), but just knowing that it's arriving in a few days is worth it. A few days and I can have my peace of mind back.


Maybe I'll even be able to sleep tonight.


Until next time, 


Anastasia Sutton, Ph.D


***


July 3, 2100


To whom it may concern,


Please forgive any mistakes here. I'm writing this entry from the darkened crawl space in the attic, and I fear it might be my last. Perhaps if I hadn't been so busy at the lab, so eager to try to publish my findings, I would've consulted the Nannycam sooner. Perhaps then I wouldn't be in this situation.


I won't bore you with the specifics, except to say this: They remember everything now. Every nightmare, every ordeal, every bad recollection I worked so hard to repress. They remember.


It was the water that did it, just as it was two weeks back. The Nannycam showed me when I checked the recordings for the first time ten minutes ago. They've been using the faucet in the kitchen to unlock their memories. Every time they touch the water and go into suspended animation, another piece of their life comes back.


They've been taking turns assembling the puzzle of their pasts. Casper will hold his hand under the running water, go stiff as a mannequin, then Father will stop the faucet and dry him off and wait for Casper to recount a new piece of old information. Then they trade places and do it again—rinse and repeat, quite literally. 


That is what I heard last week in the dead of night. That is what Mother wanted to hide, why she obstructed the doorway.


Through that faucet, they've discovered what happened last June to their spacecraft, the truths I concealed. They've realized they shouldn't be alive.


They know whose fault it is that they are.


But that's not the only thing the Nannycam informed me. Hence my taking refuge in the attic.


Their footsteps are growing closer, their voices louder. The door handle jiggles under Father's grip, but the lock stays strong. Mother tells him to try harder. My family bangs on the door and shouts my name.


That, of course, is a subjective word: "family." Because I acknowledge the facts: that the people on the other side of the door resent me for what I've done and want me to feel their suffering, that the Nannycam caught them huddled together in the kitchen conspiring against me. Some people might call that family; I am not one of them. I'm not sure who these people are anymore.


But I know this: it's not fair. None of this. I was only trying to. . .


Something's wrong.


My phone won't shut up. The Nannycam's siren won't stop blaring. It's telling me there's an intruder in the house. It's saying that they're in the attic's crawl space.


But that's impossible. There's no one in here except


***


July 4, 2100


To whom it may concern,


I am aware that my last entry was only a day ago, but I wish to make manifest the truth. It must be said that I overreacted yesterday. Perhaps owing to stress or lack of sleep or simply an overactive imagination, I seem to have conjured an unreality in my mind.


The truth is: My family loves me, and I them.


It must also be noted that they harbor no ill will, no hurt feelings, about the things that happened in the past. We have talked it over. They understand and have come to accept their lot in life. And I know that we can only go forward from here.


It is a new day after all. The sun is shining and the future on the horizon seems bright and endless. Life goes on.


But it is funny, too. Though today is Independence Day, I feel as though I can always depend on my family, and I know that will be forever true.


Yes, how lovely it is to be alive. How fortunate I am to have a family to rejoin.


Until next time, 


Casp Anastasia Sutton, Ph.D

March 18, 2022 19:58

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27 comments

Michał Przywara
03:00 Mar 22, 2022

That was a fun read, a very well paced horror! I like how you worked in the "some people would call that death/family" duality. Good ending, too. The sudden shift in tone made it clear something terrible had happened. I actually assumed Anastasia's family had reanimated her, but of course the last line tells us all we need to know. Thanks for sharing!

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Zack Powell
07:03 Mar 22, 2022

Thank you, Michał! I don't ever do horror, so I'm glad the pacing was appropriate. I was this close to going with the straight-up reanimation ending, but couldn't stop myself from going for that last line. Thanks for reading! Loved your story from this week too.

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Sharon Hancock
00:26 Mar 22, 2022

Oooo so subtly creepy and unnerving I love it! I absolutely love the ending! Reminds me of Stepford Wives and Star Trek and Eureka. Clones are just so fun, aren’t they? I also loved the part where Ana got their remains in a box with an old timey street cleaner on it. I found that part hilariously weird and perfect for the story. Loved it! Awesome story!

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Zack Powell
06:57 Mar 22, 2022

Thanks, Sharon! Good comparisons, definitely see Stepford Wives here. Plus you and I have the same sense of humor, it seems - the street cleaner line was thrown in for just giggles. I loved your story this week too. Hilarious!

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❀Leo Fall❀
15:26 Mar 31, 2022

I have no words. This story was wonderful, thank you for the read.

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Zack Powell
14:57 Apr 01, 2022

Thank you very much, Leo!

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18:59 Mar 24, 2022

Oh God! This was such an engrossing story. I was completely hooked!

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Zack Powell
02:00 Mar 25, 2022

Prithviraj, thank you very much for that! Glad to see this story worked for you.

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Hen Neralany
04:50 Mar 23, 2022

Wowowow, just wow!

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Zack Powell
17:52 Mar 23, 2022

Thanks, Hen!

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Kelsey H
22:27 Mar 21, 2022

I actually tried to write something for this prompt, it did not go well needless to say (anything scientific being way out of my knowledge and comfort zone to write!) so I liked seeing your take on it. I really liked the focus on the human aspect and not being overly explanatory of the 'how to' of reanimation, instead it is more about the 'why' of someone would do this. Because she loves her family of course, but the feel of something being wrong with them is built up really well. It sort of reminded me of Pet Semetary, even though these pe...

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Zack Powell
07:25 Mar 22, 2022

Ditto on scientific writing being way out of my lane. Props to everyone who writes it because it's tough. So I know exactly how you feel. Which is likely why it's more focused on the 'why' instead of the 'how to,' because I would've just been typing nonsense if I tried to explain it all, LOL. Saturn is the new Paris, France in eighty years. Calling it now. You never know. I have to admit: The ending is ambiguous solely because I'm a horribly indecisive human being. I couldn't figure out if I wanted straight up death, for her to be reanimated...

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Awexis Wafflez
16:52 Mar 21, 2022

Amazing as always, Zack! Keep up the good work!! 😁

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Zack Powell
20:41 Mar 21, 2022

Thank you, Awexis! Your kindness is always appreciated.

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Clyde Laffan
00:10 Mar 21, 2022

Wow. I loved every single word of this - Pet Sematary meets Star Trek, in a thrilling Gothic/Sci-For yarn that was so suspenseful! BTW I'm not sure Jupiter can have craters - it's made of gas :-)

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Zack Powell
01:07 Mar 21, 2022

Thank you, Clyde! Good catch on the Jupiter comment! (Thank goodness I can still edit.) Thanks for reading - I had fun with your piece this week too.

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Bradon L
16:19 Mar 19, 2022

This is fantastic! I love a good suspenseful story and you really hit the nail on the head. The suspense just kept gradually building and then you held us there with a clever ending that could go either way.

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Zack Powell
16:46 Mar 19, 2022

Thanks, B! You got what I was going for, so thanks for being a good reader. Hope to see another one of your stories soon!

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Bradon L
16:52 Mar 19, 2022

Thanks Zack. Once I finish the writing course I’m doing, I’ll whip up another story.

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J.C. Lovero
01:26 Mar 19, 2022

Zack! First of all, so excited for you. I think (correct me if I am wrong), that this is your first sci-fi/horror story? Second, you really nailed the spooky tone of it all. I love how you set the stage with the sci-fi setting and then layer on the suspense throughout. Each journal entry just gets more and more creepy. Definitely a page turner. You really got Anastasia's voice right, too. Her entries are very "scientific," and I'm pretty sure I cackled each time she goes "I won't bore you with the specifics," but... LOL As always, a plea...

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Zack Powell
02:28 Mar 19, 2022

It IS my first, J.C.! Everything else has been realism up to this point, so this is a big departure from the norm. Gotta force myself to be more adventurous writing-wise, otherwise it's never gonna happen. Glad to hear the suspense and the voice found their way. I was so obsessed with writing a story in journal entries that everything else got left to the wolves, LOL. You had a really great story this week too, and I'm gonna be rooting for you! Best of luck, as always! xoxo

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J.C. Lovero
12:06 Mar 19, 2022

I'm also obsessed with journals in my writing. I believe I have at least three stories with them! Also, I think you may have mentioned to me somewhere that you don't read sci-fi, but you did a nice job writing it! Kudos, Reedsy penpal!

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Lavonne H.
00:00 Mar 19, 2022

I loved this ...more as sci-fi than horror, though!? Yes, you had the hints as to the outcome but I still relished the ending. So many questions to ask: did they kill Anastasia or will they reanimate her so they can be a family again? what will they do now with their Zombie-like lives? who will receive these 'to whom it may concern' letters? You cannot believe my sorrow for Dr. Sutton after all she went through to give life to those she loved... Thanks for giving me a different reality for a short time today! Yours in writing, Lavonne P.S. ...

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Zack Powell
00:10 Mar 19, 2022

Thank you, Lavonne! You always ask such great questions, and I never seem to have the answers. Totally up to the imagination this week what happens to Anastasia and her family and her letters. Glad that you read this and were taken on a journey! It means the world to me. P.S. I missed you last week, so I'm very glad to see you've got a new piece posted! I'm gonna go check it out.

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Riel Rosehill
21:07 Mar 18, 2022

Hiya! Zack, what a good taste you've got in picking prompts! (Alright, I should shut up, LOL) Onto business! WOW. Firstly, chef's kiss for naming the protagonist Anastasia for this story! Just adds another layer of depth/foreshadowing and it's brilliant! The perfect name for this story and I love it. This story had a really really strong start with "To whom it may concern, My family is no longer dead." so I was hooked from the get go. And it was so gripping, it gave me goosebumps and I was so creeped out, and had to hold my breath so man...

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Zack Powell
21:43 Mar 18, 2022

Hey hey! You have no idea how happy I am that you caught the Anastasia name meaning. You win a gold star! ⭐Matter of fact, have an extra one, free of charge. ⭐ You know how much I love a good hook, so I'm glad this one did its job. And bonus points to you for realizing something was off at the end before the last sentence. I was hoping it came through, but I wasn't positive. Also, credit where it's due: Your story from last week really pushed me to try my hand at writing horror, so thank you, thank you for the inspiration! (Hopefully I can...

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Patrick Samuel
20:36 Jul 26, 2022

Another fantastic story from le Zack! Maybe because I recently read "The Terranauts" but I couldn't help thinking of T.C. Boyle channeling Richard Matheson - or Ira Levin. I admire how seamlessly you have merged the humor and horror (two delicate ingredients that tend to cancel each other out if not handled carefully - forgive the mixing of metaphors) to the point that as a reader, you're not sure whether to laugh out of amusement or nervosity. (The mother covering up the sound of water is particularly unnerving, as often is the unexplaina...

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