The Thing About Lloyd Stanford

Submitted into Contest #167 in response to: Write a story about a character who can’t tell what’s real and what’s not.... view prompt

1 comment

Fiction Science Fiction

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

Lloyd Stanford was your average, overweight, middle-age working stiff with none of those go-getter, climb-the-corporate-ladder “ambitions,” thank you very much. He was quite content with his nine to five desk job where nothing unusual ever happened, and every day bled together with the one before it and the one after it until Lloyd’s weekdays became indeterminate blurs differentiated only by the color of shirt he chose to wear. It was Tuesday, and Lloyd’s shirt was a dingy taupe color, the shade of an old coffee stain. 

“And how are we feeling today, Mr. Stanford?”

Lloyd’s boss, Mr. Anderson, was making his usual morning rounds.

“Just fine, sir!” was Lloyd’s characteristic response. 

“Excellent! Keep up the good work, Lloyd. You’re one of our most valuable employees, you know.”

Lloyd offered Mr. Anderson a perfunctory nod and a small smile as he disappeared into the maze of cubicles, reciting the same line to each of the accountants in turn.

The day passed as it always did: From nine o’clock to eleven o’clock, Lloyd drank the typical three-and-a-half cups of weak, bitter coffee from the break room coffee pot. This brought him to his eleven-thirty bathroom break and the usual eleven forty-five trip to the vending machine. Today, Lloyd’s pudgy fingers jammed the buttons labeled “B” and “4”; a bag of salt and vinegar potato chips tumbled down into the receptacle. The bag rustled loudly as Lloyd tore it open, popping the oily chips into his mouth one after another as he headed back to his desk. 

Around one o’clock, Lloyd retreated to the break room with his lunch: a dense, greasy slab of gray meatloaf leftover from last night’s supper which he slathered in ketchup and ate cold, and a can of soda. After lunch, Lloyd returned to his desk and worked for another hour or two before the craving for something sweet drove him back to the vending machine—M & M’s were Lloyd’s candy of choice. The subsequent sugar high generally saw Lloyd through the remainder of the afternoon, but every now and then he needed another cup or two of gritty, reheated coffee to make it to five o’clock. Today was one of those days. 

Promptly at five, Lloyd turned off his computer, donned his jacket, and made his way to the elevator in the hall with the rest of the pasty, dead-eyed accountants. The drive home took fifteen minutes if Lloyd managed to beat the rush hour traffic, forty-five if he was not so lucky. It was nearing six when the sputtering sedan rolled to a stop in front of Lloyd’s residence: a squat 1950’s brick house, complete with scalloped window awnings, a procession of neatly-trimmed hedges lining the walkway, and an aluminum screen door that slapped loudly when you closed it. 

Lloyd’s wife, Mary, a hefty blonde woman of Scandinavian descent, had a casserole cooking in the oven and a pint of Lloyd’s favorite ice cream—rocky road—waiting for him in the freezer. After dinner and a couple of beers, Lloyd retrieved the ice cream from the freezer, planted himself in his recliner in front of the television and flicked on the news. By ten o’clock, Lloyd had fallen asleep in the armchair, the melted remains of rocky road seeping slowly into a sticky puddle on his TV tray. Eventually Lloyd would awaken, click off the television and amble sluggishly to bed, making sure his alarm was set for six-thirty before climbing in next to Mary.

As Lloyd drifted back to sleep, he knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that tomorrow would be just the same as today: Boring. Predictable. Mundane. Nothing ever happened to Lloyd Stanford, and that was how he liked it. Lloyd’s snoring began softly at first, then crescendoed into a full-blown rumble like a tractor engine as he drifted into a heavy, dreamless sleep. What Lloyd didn’t know was that Wednesday would be the day that everything changed. 

Lloyd Stanford felt good. Really good. Better than he had in years. He stretched as he lay in bed and found that his back did not ache and creak, and his joints did not pop and crack as they usually did. Every movement was smooth as butter, every muscle limber and flexible. Lloyd sat up and noticed several things: his stomach, which typically rolled out over the top of his sweats in a flabby white paunch, was flat and smooth and tan; his arms and legs were lean and strong; and he was taller. His feet, rather than dangling a few inches above the floor, rested comfortably on the plushy carpet. 

Lloyd stood up and looked around. The room he was in was nice. Too nice, actually. Whoever’s house this was had to be making at least three times Lloyd’s annual salary. But before Lloyd even got around to questioning how he’d arrived there, a young, beautiful woman in Spandex shorts, a tank top, and a ponytail of long, flowing blonde hair walked into the room. Her body glistened with sweat as she pulled a set of earbuds out of her ears and flashed Lloyd a dazzling smile.

“Morning,” she said slyly, sauntering over to him, wrapping her arms around his neck and planting a passionate, sweaty kiss on his mouth. “I was wondering when you were going to get up,” she called over her shoulder as she headed to an immense bathroom just opposite the bed. “I thought you were going to go jogging with me, Lloyd,” she pouted as she removed her shoes and tank top. 

Lloyd, who had never jogged for any reason in his life except to catch up with the donut vendor who visited their building once a month, stood there bemused. 

“Who— ” he began, but then out of the corner of his eye he noticed a framed photograph on the dresser: the woman, clad in an extravagant wedding dress, stood next to a man that bore an uncanny resemblance to Lloyd—a healthier, fitter, younger looking Lloyd.

“Mary?” he asked, unable to keep his jaw from hanging off his face like a gasping fish.

“Yes?” She looked at him quizzically. “What’s the matter, Lloyd?”

“You look … different. We look different.”

“What do you mean, ‘different’?”

“Look!” 

Lloyd strode over to the bathroom and stood beside Mary, gaping into the mirror at the two perfectly sculpted bodies and attractive faces staring back at him. Instead of a beer gut, double chin and receding hairline, Lloyd had visible abs, chiseled features, and a head full of luscious, shining chestnut hair. Mary had traded her short, lank blonde curls for long, soft, luxuriant tresses, and her ample thighs and midsection for tight, toned curves. 

“What happened to us?”

“Lloyd, what do you mean?” Mary asked, a touch of concern in her voice. “We’ve always looked like this. I mean, sure, after the kids my stomach just isn’t what it used to be, but— ”

“Kids?”

“Okay, Lloyd, this isn’t funny anymore. You’re starting to scare me. Maybe you should go to the doctor.” She placed the back of her hand against his forehead. “Do you feel sick?”

“No. Maybe. I don’t know,” he said with a slight whimper. “Maybe I should call in to work, take some time to figure this out.”

“Call in to work? Lloyd,” Mary said in the sort of serious, grown-up voice one uses with very young children, “you’re a painter. It’s how we met, remember? I’m an art dealer.” She spoke slowly and deliberately, staring into his eyes with each word. “I don’t know, maybe I should just cancel my trip to London. Do you need me to take you to see Dr. Anderson?”

“Did you say ‘Doctor Anderson’?”

“Yes, Lloyd, your psychiatrist.”

“What do I need a psychiatrist for?”

Mary stood up then, eyeing Lloyd with alarm. She pulled her phone out of a hidden pocket on the back of her Spandex and started to make a call. 

“Yes, Dr. Anderson, please,” she said quietly.

Lloyd’s head was swimming. What in the world was going on? Was he losing his mind? Hallucinating, maybe? 

“Okay, Dr. Anderson will see you at two-fifteen,” Mary told him as she hung up. “Do you think you can make it there yourself? I really don’t want to miss the London auction.”

“Sure,” Lloyd muttered uncertainly. “Sure, I can make it. What’s the address?”

“It’s in your phone, Lloyd.”

“Right.”

Two fifteen rolled around and Lloyd found himself in Dr. Anderson’s office, staring at the man who, up until today, had been his boss at Anderson & Jones Accounting. 

“What seems to be troubling you, Lloyd?” he asked, peering out over the top of his round, wire-rimmed glasses.

Lloyd shifted uncomfortably beneath Dr. Anderson’s piercing stare.

“Well, uh … I … I’m not the same person I was yesterday.”

“Oh? How so?”

“My body, it’s changed.”

“Feeling depressed about getting older is nothing out of the ordinary, Lloyd. In fact— ” 

“No! It’s not that. I mean, my body is completely different. And Mary’s too. And our house, our jobs, all of it! We have kids! I have kids!”

“And this upsets you?”

“Yes! Well, no. I guess I just don’t understand what happened. How can a man go to bed one person and wake up another?”

“So you feel like a different person than you used to be?”

“I don’t ‘feel’ like it; I am!”

“Hmm…”

Doctor Anderson scratched out a few hasty notes in his notebook, muttering under his breath as he did so. Lloyd fidgeted anxiously in the cushy armchair.

“Right. Jonathan, let’s try the female simulation.”

“What? My name is Lloyd. Lloyd Stanford.”

“Yes, I know.”

All of a sudden, Lloyd felt a peculiar change come over his body. The hair on his legs and arms grew lighter and finer and shorter, while the hair on his head sprouted longer and thicker. He felt his chin narrow and his nose and ears shrink. Lloyd’s backside plumped up beneath him while a peculiar shriveling was occurring between his legs. Then, a strange swelling sensation erupted on his chest—breasts. He had grown breasts.

“What the hell?!”

Lloyd shot up out of the armchair and rushed over to the window. He could just barely make out his reflection in the glass, but there was no mistaking it: Lloyd Stanford was a woman.

“How do you feel now, Mr. Stanford?” Dr. Anderson asked calmly as he shined his spectacles with a small white cloth.

“What just happened?” Lloyd demanded in a shrill and panicky feminine voice. “What did you do to me?!”

“I have merely altered the input.”

“Altered the input? What does that mean? Tell me what’s happening to me!” Lloyd didn’t like the edge in his voice or the fact that his racing heart felt like it might explode at any moment.

Dr. Anderson leaned forward in his chair and motioned for Lloyd to resume his seat. 

“No! I’m not sitting down until you change me back!” 

Dr. Anderson sighed, then said, “Alright, Jonathan.” 

“Why do you keep calling me— ” But Lloyd never finished. His body began to morph and bulge and rearrange itself until finally overweight, middle-aged, average Lloyd Stanford stood in the center of Dr. Anderson’s office, a dazed look on his face. Cautiously he sat back down, quite certain that if he had not lost his mind, then someone must have slipped him acid. 

“Mr. Stanford, what I’m about to say to you may come as quite a shock.” Dr. Anderson paused, took a deep breath, then said, “None of this is real.”

“W-what do you mean?” Lloyd stammered. “Have I lost my mind, is that it? I’m imagining all of this? I’m really in some mental institution somewhere, aren’t I?”

“No, no, nothing like that,” Dr. Anderson replied.

“Oh … good,” Lloyd sighed in relief.

“Actually, you’re dead.”

There was a long, horrible silence.

“You’re joking, right?”

“No. Lloyd Stanford died about a month ago from a rare form of cancer.”

Lloyd sat stunned and speechless.

“It was his wish that his body be donated to science in order to further medical research into the disease and possibly find a cure. However, a private research facility offered a rather large sum of money to his soon-to-be widowed wife, Mary, for his brain.”

“My brain?”

“No, you do not have a brain; you are one. You are Lloyd Stanford’s brain.”

“How?” Lloyd managed to choke out.

“As Lloyd’s condition worsened, we induced a comatose state. Gradually we began feeding his brain electrical signals—‘altering the input,’ as it were. We were able to modify Lloyd's memories and erase all recollection of the illness. Then it was a simple matter of extracting the brain from the body and waking it up. We didn’t want to shock it, of course, which is why you have retained all of Lloyd’s memories. You simply picked up where you left off. We’ve been monitoring you for about a week, feeding you Lloyd’s ‘life’ in the form of electrical data. Today was the first day we decided to shake things up a bit.”

“Shake things up? Are you out of your damn mind?!” Lloyd rose from the chair, anger and horror mingled together in the look on his face. “You’re screwing with me, aren’t you? This is all a lie, some big government experiment! You’ve drugged me, that’s what!”

“No, you’re not drugged. You’re Lloyd Stanford’s brain and you’re existing in a simulated reality.”

“NO! NO! I DON’T BELIEVE IT!” 

Lloyd grabbed Dr. Anderson by the collar and began punching his face repeatedly, blow after blow after blow. Shards from his broken glasses embedded themselves in his face and the blood flowed thick from his eyes, nose and mouth, but he made no noise. This frightened Lloyd even more. Dr. Anderson was hardly recognizable when Lloyd finally stopped, slumping to the floor in a shaky, sweaty mess. Dr. Anderson rose from his chair as if nothing had happened and said calmly, “Switch it off.”

“What?”

“Switch it off, Jonathan.”

“Who are you talking to?” Lloyd demanded.

Suddenly, a disembodied voice echoed through the office: “Dr. Anderson, I don’t think we should.”

“Who is that? Whose voice is that?”

“Do as I instructed, Jonathan.”

“But— ”

“Who is Jonathan?!”

“Do it now.”

There was a click somewhere deep inside Lloyd Stanford’s brain, and he knew no more.

“What the hell was that?”

“Whatever do you mean, Jonathan?”

“You told him— told it what it was!”

“Well of course I did, what did you think these experiments were about?”

“When you said we were going to be studying the nature of reality I didn’t think— ”

“You didn’t think what?”

“I— I don’t know what I thought, but— ”

“You have some moral reservations about my work?”

“Well, it’s … wrong, isn’t it? I mean, we just killed a man!”

“Incorrect. We killed an organ that thought it was a man; the man himself has been dead for some time now. Thankfully, our government does not recognize personhood in a mere collection of cells. How else would science advance?”

“But he didn’t know that!”

“It doesn’t matter what it knew or did not know, Jonathan. The fundamental truth of the matter is that the human brain cannot distinguish between what is objectively real and what is merely sensory stimuli being fed to it electrically. We have just proven as much. Why, I think it’s safe to say none of us can ever truly know what’s real and what isn’t, wouldn’t you agree?”

“You and I are real. This lab is real. That … thing was real.”

“Are you quite sure, Jonathan? You’re a scientist; consider what we have just witnessed:”—he reached one white, gloved hand into a vat of thick, greenish liquid and pulled out a dripping, glistening gray mass—“the brain of a dead man believed itself to be alive!” His grip on the slimy lump tightened and a fiery zeal filled his eyes so that, as Jonathan stared at him, he appeared quite mad. “Isn’t it equally as plausible that you or I could be, at this very moment, in a similar condition? That we left our bodies to science and our brains are now the subject of such experiments? Or perhaps you are merely a construct within my simulated world, and once the powers that be pull the plug, you will cease to exist?”

Jonathan gulped—a twitchy sort of fear was forming in his stomach. Dr. Anderson smiled a deranged smile as he waved the brain mere inches from Jonathan’s face.

“I just … don’t know how I feel about it, that’s all.”

Dr. Anderson laughed as he grabbed a plastic bag labeled “BIO WASTE,” sealed the brain inside and dropped it in a large metal trash can with a sickening thunk

“If you’re going to survive in this field, Jonathan, you’re going to have to develop a more calloused sense of curiosity; it exerts a stronger pull than morality.” Dr. Anderson discarded his gloves and removed his lab coat, hanging it on a hook on the wall. “You’ll find a well-funded, highly intelligent man with unbridled curiosity is far more dangerous than your average depraved psychopath.” He winked as he grabbed his jacket and powered down the computer. “I trust you’ll prepare the next specimen for tomorrow after you’ve cleaned up?”

Jonathan nodded meekly as Dr. Anderson headed out the laboratory door.

“Oh, and Jonathan?” he called back. 

“Yes?”

“Do switch off the lights when you go, won’t you?”

October 11, 2022 03:42

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Ralph Aldrich
13:47 Oct 20, 2022

I thought your story was creative and well written.

Reply

Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.