But I don’t want to be.
Not like this.
Every inhale. Every exhale. The sound persists. It’s stained on my mind, never relenting. The cruel brain that operated on me should listen. He should be tortured by the vibration that dominates me now. But he won’t know. He’s long since dead, leaving his punishment to sweet Dorin.
Just stop breathing. My lips clamp together.
Dorin’s voice is the only thing that keeps me here. I strain to see him, my body stiff, broken, planted. As he enters my room, I reach a trembling arm for him. He’s red, dusted. The desert hasn’t been kind to him. It never is. He lowers the fabric at his mouth, raises the goggles from his eyes. The smile sewn on his face is strained, the fading glint in his eyes almost dim. But his hand still clasps into mine, a perfect fit since the day we met.
Our pattern is set. For years he wanders the desert, only to return to my side empty-handed. Not once has he complained, and not once will I.
“You didn’t sleep?” he wonders. His fingers break from my grasp, drawing along my brow. “Did it keep you up again?” The whir. It doesn’t have to be spoken. We both know it haunts me. My everlasting defect.
With deft movements, he hides the blood in his palm. But I don’t have to see it to know. Lately, the sandstorms have been worse. They’re not just wearing down the exterior, his interior is suffering. The opposite of me.
I’m a partial machine.
He’ll eventually die without me.
And I won’t be able to lift an arm to do myself in. So as he fades away physically, I do so mentally. Each day is more difficult. And each day he prepares me to live alone, the way I once did. The way I never wanted to.
“I’ve been called,” he explains. Wiping his bloody palm on the inside of his jacket, he then replaces it on my forehead. “It’s a short job this time. I’ll be back in no time.”
But it isn’t a short job.
The winds wake me. Each rattle of the windows, the door, startle me. He’s not walking back in. I’ve long since resigned myself to that fact--and yet, hope persists. Time is a construct I no longer follow. But the length of my hair is all I need. From where it tickled my chin, it now curls at my breast. In my experience, that means years.
And I still lay here.
My eyes flit from the door to the ceiling. Peeling back my lips, I prepare to scream.
The air departs, then reverts. My mechanical throat devours the sand-ridden air, cleansing it--the waste is expunged. Just let me scream. Let me. It’s all I’ve wanted to do since the day I was reborn a monster, after the accident. From human to hybrid.
Closing my eyes, I inhale through my nose. It’s the last sense that’s my own.
The door whips itself open. And the smell consumes me. Sand, blood, wet sage.
“She needs consistent care.” A deep voice, my creator.
“But she’ll live.” Dorin’s words, so confident.
“Yes, she’ll live,” my creator agreed. He was a disconnect, a darkness in the distance. Even Dorin was just a figure, but I knew his silhouette. It was distinct, familiar. But I’d only just met him.
“Then I’ll help her.” His fingers stroked down my arm. “She’ll be herself in no time.” He lifted me into his arms, carried me to the door, and walked me down the hallway. It was an eternity. The length of that hallway gave me nightmares.
And then the white door.
He shoved it open with his shoulder. It was clad in the same white. When the white clashed, I felt the first pang of fear. A box. Four walls. It was big enough for us, but nothing else. Though the floor was cushioned, it was no bed. And he left me there.
I’ll help her.
My mind never let go of those words. As I lay on the floor, nothing more than a ragdoll, that phrase repeated. I made myself sick thinking it’d bring his care. I hurt myself in the only way I could, begging his attention to return. Nights of gulping blood. Scars lining the inside of my cheeks. All to be enveloped in unloving arms.
He came. It took every waking moment, but he finally came. In a whirlwind of sand and wet sage, he brought a fury-infused fist down on my caretakers.
I’ll help her. She’ll be herself in no time.
When would I be myself?
I don’t want to be alone. Not anymore. Please come back soon, Dorin.
The door claps against its frame.
“Hold her!” Dorin commanded, stepping into my room. I wouldn’t fight. I couldn’t fight. But the men drug me from the cushions, pressing me to the back wall.
I hated him.
“This is for your own good,” he promised. And then he jammed his thumbs through my lips, parting my jaws. The agony was unbearable. He didn’t care. The bars he inserted between my teeth kept my mouth from closing. It was enough for my lips to drop together, but my teeth never met one another again.
I couldn’t bite my cheeks. I couldn’t cry for attention in the only way I knew how.
And I wanted him to die.
His eyes swallowed me as the men released me. My body drooped, a marionette whose puppeteer resented it. But he held my gaze. Those stern eyes didn’t leave me until the door blocked them. I pretended it meant he felt guilty. If he was guilty, then there was still a chance the words were true.
I’ll help her.
Just so long as he erased me from existence, I considered that helping me. If only he had.
The days persisted, the pain numbed. I learned to breathe through the fan, through the bars, against my instincts. And because I couldn’t harm myself, no one came. I was a machine, a machine that didn’t need sustenance, defecation, and therefore: care.
But the emotions in me never left.
I’ve never liked the darkness. The sand’s flooding through, finding a home in my box. And with it, the light dims. It flickers with every stroke of the wind. But I won’t suffocate.
“Can’t we quiet that blasted noise?” Dorin stood over me, but he was speaking to another. All of them hovered above me. I was laid out on a table or a bench. The metal was cold on my skin.
“We’ve tried.” A sheepish voice. My eyes slid to him. He was more bone than I was. I was almost jealous. It meant he was human, starved, but human. My legs were imitations. Porcelain silicone hid the truth. It didn’t match the skin tone of my arms, which had seen the sun for twenty years.
“Earplugs,” Dorin held out an impatient hand. His eyes never met mine, although I awaited them. I even prepared the expression I would return. But he never gave me the chance.
To mask his guilt, to assuage his own heart, he wore those earplugs. And ignored my pleading gaze.
But I continued to hear it.
Even as the men around me checked my legs. I listened to it. It was louder than anything they whispered to one another. Drowned, desperate, hurt, I remained still.
While they peeled the silicone from the wires of my calf, I stared. I thought how nice it would be to speak my objections. The few women I met were strong-willed, mouthy. They didn’t worry about the men’s feelings as they warned them off.
I thought how nice it would be to shove Dorin away. And then I’d scoff at him.
I’d help myself.
I lift my arm, protecting my eyes. The sand burns. And as it whips, I feel it sear. Two arms aren’t enough to leave.
Just a doll. A living doll. It beats a machine. At least it implies human-like qualities.
Of those, I wish I had more.
I moved my fingers.
It was the first time.
The pride I felt welled in my chest until Dorin crushed it. He wasn’t impressed. He expected more.
“It’s been a year,” he explained. The earplugs, I could see them hidden in the depths of his ears. With a clipboard in hand, he walked closer to me. “Fingers. Your fingers. That’s it?” Dropping to a squat before me, he grabbed my arm. “It’s your own!”
Without words, I couldn’t stand my ground. But I had something better. No movement could explain my disbelief as well as my finger did. One pointed, hateful middle finger was all it took. I expected his rage. It was normal.
But he laughed.
“I deserve that.”
He dropped to a seat across from me. For a long moment, our eyes held. I wanted him to know I hated him. I wanted to express the shame and belittlement he caused me. But he just kept smiling. So I lifted my finger again.
His smile fell, replaced by fury.
“We saved you!” he screamed the words into my face, which was followed by the clipboard. It was the first time I felt my head turn like that.
And I couldn't reposition it on my own.
He might actually cry this time. He holds it in so well. But I’ve been waiting for the dam to break. It’s wishful thinking. For, even buried in sand, I still live. I persist. Like a roach, a disease, a stain.
He’ll know I’m not dead. If he ever does cry, it’ll be for himself: when he rots.
The box was quiet. But the surrounding cacophony had my heart in tatters. Fires, screaming, fear. The world crumbled around me.
That’s what they called them, what they called me. Unlike me, they exacted their revenge. Their hatred and power were unmatched. The men died. The mouthy women melted to their knees or dissolved into human slaves. And I remained in my box.
Dorin invaded it.
“Please,” he begged. “Hide me. Help me.”
I’ll help her.
There were a thousand replies I wanted to counter with. But I was exhausted. I couldn’t even use my one voice. So he stayed. He sat on the opposite side of my box until he was thin. I think he finally learned fear, true fear. The attack was over, the damage done, but he was still hesitant to leave.
“Do you need anything?” he whispered one day. I just wanted him to leave. The white he always wore shed to the floor behind him as he stood. “You don’t sleep well, do you?” With every ounce of energy I had left in me, I lifted my one, blessed finger.
Leave me alone.
He did. For a time. I took great happiness in my solace. For so long I’d begged for attention, but no more. I was finally helping myself.
Me. Not them.
Then he returned. Upon seeing him, I expected to hold the hatred I always had. But he was different. The glow of sunlight flooded in behind him, illuminating his figure.
And my heart seized.
Sand, blood, wet sage.
It’s really him.
My arms lift, drawing the sand away. He’s emaciated. The remnants of the man he used to be must've finally fallen away. It fell much slower than the tears dripping down his cheeks. He’s practically blubbering.
“Lea,” the relief in his voice is short-lived. He digs his way to me, shoveling sand aside with his hands. “I’m sorry.” From relief to sorrow. My eyes swivel, glancing past him. The sun is rising over the hills. It’s been so long since I’ve seen a proper sunrise. I gasp.
I gurgle, surprised. My eyes return to his.
“I’m sorry,” he repeats. “I’m so sorry.” The knife sinks deeper into my chest with a sickening sound of flesh. It sounds wet, feels wet. “This is killing me.” Is it? I finally relented to my feelings for him. I finally stopped hating him.
I lift my hand over his, shoving him back.
“I'm doing what's best for you,” he whispers. For a long time I hated him, and then I’d changed my mind. I went from hating him to hating myself. But for what? What made me love him: his kind words, him returning to my side, those eyes?
He smells like tea brewed by the hand of death.
I’m a fool.
I return to my cushion, my head resting on my casket pillow. And he leaves, clasping the door shut behind him. From end to beginning. I return to the life I hated. The man I hated.
I hate him for leaving me in here, a tall grave lost to the desert.
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I agree with the comments below that use the word poetic. There is a power in the concise descriptions, and the repetition throughout this story. Once I started, it wouldn't let me leave. The sense of desperation and claustrophobia; I just wanted the narrator to find some sort of relief, release...something. You brought about some powerful emotions in a short time. So well done!
Wow, thank you so much! I really appreciate your kind words and you taking the time to read my story :). I'm glad I was able to capture your attention!
Hey, Molly! First of all, great story! Second, I wanted to let you know that I wrote a "Zombies Sound Safer Than My Family - Part 2." You had read the first and seemed to enjoy it, so I was just letting you know that I had made a second if you wanted to check it out. :)
Thank you <3. Oh my gosh, yay! I will definitely go and read that when I have a moment!
AHHHH this was so cool and beautiful and poetic! First of all, you had me hooked right with "The sound persists. It’s stained on my mind, never relenting." I really like the use of "stained" there. I also LOVED this: "And the smell consumes me. Sand, blood, wet sage. Heaven." So much emotion in those few words! I didn't think the switch between past/present tense was confusing at all. It made a lot of sense and I liked the rhythm a lot!! My only thoughts: "The smile sewn on his face is strained, the fading glint in his eyes is alm...
YAY!! I'm so glad you like it!! That makes me beyond happy :D. I fixed the errors you mentioned, thanks for pointing them out!! I've been struggling between thinking the past/present didn't work and thinking it did. I read it and I see the issue, but then I read it again and I'm like...but I tried to make it flow ;(. Haha! I'm glad you think it works. I was going for a movie-style back and forth, that's why the sounds continued... It's funny because I took this idea from one of my stories I wrote in high school. At the time, I wanted ...
I think it totally works! The scene breaks are also super helpful in making the timing clear. You could always consider italicizing the sections from the past--I thin A.g. said they didn't like that but I think it can work especially in short stories, where it's only a few paragraphs italicized max. You could DEFINITELY make this into a novella! I think this could perhaps be either the beginning or middle point. Let me know when it gets published. ;)
Okay! Well, I'll probably keep it then. It just feels like it makes the most sense for her mind. She's broken, the text is broken. BAM! xD Yeah, A.g. did say that they didn't like the italicize. I didn't like it much either, that's why I went with the past tense. But, I don't know haha! HMMMMM well, if I ever do I will definitely let you know ;). I'll dedicate it to you
Exactly!! I agree! And it's great without the italics right now, so it's totally up to you. :D AHHHH YAYYYYYYY I'LL BUY 20 COPIES
HAHA!!! THAT'S A LOT XD! I guess you'll be my biggest fan then ;)
I could just be tired or inferior but it took me a number of squints and head scratches and a second read to understand the chronological order of all this. It's certainly not told in a conventional way. & This is just a preference thing but I'm not a fan of big blocks of italic text. I understand it emphasizes the way you've structured the story, and signals to us what's a memory and what's not - but the memories are already in a different tense, so it's redundant (I'd choose one or the other, depending). That out of the way, I found the...
I'm glad you said something about the memories because I also prefer them to just be in the past tense...but I wasn't sure if it was enough. If you think it's enough, then it must be ;). Hmm, I may need to revisit and make sure everything is explicit in terms of when it's happening. Any strategies or suggestions? Thanks for the heads up! You're always so fast. Gosh. Thank you so much for taking the time to hop on my stories the way you do xD. I very much appreciate you!
This might not be your preference but I would do less cutting back to the present once you've started the memory - like, have the present stuff bookend everything. While the changes aren't too difficult to see, they do slow the flow a little bit (in my opinion). That's probably part of the reason you chose to do the italics in the first place, but I think you can find a way to weave the memories together without those interstitial flashes of the present.
Hmmm, that makes a lot of sense. It does interrupt the flow. Part of the reason I did the cuts was that the memories didn't flow as one time--they span several years. Do you think it would work if I just cut the present and leave the past segments as they are? That might be confusing too...
I'm trying to think about how I would tell a story from my memory like that. The absolute easiest thing to do would be to specify time like "a few months after my surgery... the next month" etc., but that's more like patching than stitching, so I'd seek a more elegant solution. Maybe you could think of a narrative thread which weaves through each of the memories, something that gives a sense of progress as the story goes on. Then you could center everything around that thread and use it for the transitions. (the example that popped into m...
Yeah, as you might be able to tell, I avoid those phrases like the plague xD. UGH, you're giving me too much credit! Haha. I've read it a thousand times and I still don't know what to do. The Forrest Gump metaphor does help! My brain is stuck in film right now...it's watching my story instead of reading it haha. BUT I really appreciate you throwing some ideas around with me. One of them is bound to spark something...
Another great story, Molly. You're a literary virtuoso--your versatility is astounding. Really love the cadence and style here--you can immediately tell that the narrator is not entirely human. Brief lines like: "My everlasting defect" are so telling and constructed so that we feel that we're in the protagonist's head. Magnificent. : )
Thank you so much! I'm glad the effect of her "otherness" came through well :). That makes me so very happy! ~
Molly!! I just read in your bio that you injured your hand. :( Sending you healing vibes!!!
I did, I did :(. Thank you!! Don't worry! I'm on my way to healing. I should at least be able to write next week! I'm terribly tired right now, but I have plans to tackle all your new stories tomorrow ;). I look forward to them!
Oh my gosh I just saw all your comments. :') going to reply to them rn but just want to say you're the BEST. I hope you can write next week!!!
I hope I can!! If not, I'll just be your main editor again :P
There is a hypnotic rhythm about this piece which conjures the reality of her breathing difficulty. I could hear the puff and hiss of breathing aparatus. It's her inability to breathe under her own steam which takes her towards her eventual 'survival.' That awful journey through frustration, isolation and loneliness is what takes her into her own true essence and her inner strength. This feels to me like an allegory for our very strange times! Well done!
Thank you so much! I was definitely thinking about how everyone is suffering right now and wanted to entertain the idea without being outright about it. (Everyone's tired of hearing about it directly, I think xD) I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment on my story :).
Oh wow this is AMAZING. So elegantly-written. Just beautiful. The desperation and claustrophobia of the narrator made me cringe so hard--I'd rather be dead than be in her spot. And the unconvential semi-romance was very intruiging. Good luck and keep writing! ;)
Thank you! :) I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I was going for a kind of Stockholm Syndrome style romance because he's the only person she knows!
What a great story! I love your writing style! It's very poetic, and you're great at describing what in people's minds. I really enjoyed the fragmented thoughts. Would you mind checking out some of my stories, too? Thanks!
Thank you! :) I really appreciate you taking the time to read my story and all the kind words! I'd be glad to share the love ~
I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I found the story an intriguing one that captured my attention, and held it there until the end. Well done
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed it :). I appreciate you taking the time to read through my story!