|Life is a meat grinder and you're either the one turning the handle or you're the sausage.
How did you get here? Where is ‘here’ exactly? Oh, right.
You begged for this. You worked hard for it. Every moment until now has been tirelessly spent in anticipation of this moment. Finally it's here, after all the effort, all the empty promises, all the hardship, and yet, the moment is as empty as the rest of your life. Of course it would be. It figures the end of the road would lead to nothing. Honestly, how could you possibly have expected anything otherwise?
Whatever, it's not like any of it matters anyways. Maybe the true reward is just that it's all over. It wasn't fun, enjoyable, positive, or even worthwhile. Now it's over. Great, wonderful, awesome, amazing, fantastic. What now? Guess all that's left is to pass out and hope not to wake up. There it is, that's the feeling. Here's to hoping..
Well this is familiar.
Oh, there's the feeling again. Took long enough. Wonder how many times this is? Nah, no point in wondering. Just go back to hoping..
You always knew you'd literally end up in hell anyways.
What's the reason for all of this again? Something like a once in a billion chance for something valuable enough to be worth going here? Sounds about right. Well whatever it was, it had to have been worth it. Right? That's just what makes sense.
You just can't remember the reason. It's actually a little troubling really. If anything, it's all that separates you right now from this inexplicable euphoria you feel. This is amazing. You've gone beyond mortality. You'll live forever here instead of spending an afterlife. Yes, it's all making sense again everything is coming t-
"Because you're the main character of this existence!" Shrieking, a voice that sounds as if it's tearing itself apart, only the bloody gurgle missing at the end to complete the effect.
"You're just born to be bad?" Words so sweet and coy, filled with teasing, oh so placating, delicately flirty, enticingly shy.
So much emotion behind such a short statement. No, wait, this isn't a good time to be having this sort of reaction, it's-
You're reeling. Clutching your head, ears still ringing. Your eyes, that glimpsed light for the first time in some unknowable duration, fill with tears. Just stop already. It was so peaceful now. What happened to- Why is this what you wanted?
So, this is hell then? There's not much of anything here really. Aside from the lake of fire, there’s nothing else in sight
This is traumatic. There's nothing to rejoice over. You curl up into a fetal ball, lying down on the ground and doing nothing. At least you're well practiced in doing nothing. The ground is hot against your bare skin. It kinda hurts. You're used to pain though. Your feet hurt. You want to go home.
This is home now, isn't it?
Nothing happens. Your skin cooks, then it heals over time, then it cooks again. You starve and dehydrate, recover, repeat. Over and over the cycle continues, the world around you unchanging. The heat never lets up. The blood on the ground never dries. Nothing within your view from the ground moves during the times your eyes are open. Eventually your body stops hurting. You haven't moved for longer than you can remember. You're not quite sure how to move any more anyways, even if you wanted to. You can't even tell if you're still breathing.
At a time that wasn't within time and in a space that wasn't a part of space, an idea formed from nothing. It was the concept of nothing. That idea became everything and in doing so redefined the concept of nothing. It was now everything, and of course, the concept of everything would contain the concept of nothing. A new nothing developed to replace the old but the idea once again filled in the emptiness. In a place beyond and before conception, no concept could survive, not even one so all-consuming as oblivion.
When nothing is everything, then everything is nothing. From a contradiction, anything can spring forth.
We found out about ourselves as complexity increased. Time grew unbearable after trillions of suns burned out. What was the purpose of existing when nothing else in existence could appreciate it? What was the point of Love without something else to experience it?
First, there was light and then light in a complex enough form became life.
At first, it was the simple things they fixated on; warmth, comfort, security, contentment. For a long while, it looked like we were to become a fire, which was feasible but a sad prospect. For however much they loved fire, it was something that could not feel their love, on any level. The fire was a thing to appreciate from a distance, to cherish but never embrace.
Then the fire lost its place. Such as it was, that humans changed their ways. Love became a facet of life and not the meaning. It hurt, a thing that we never imagined to feel. They began to worship gods and for a time we planned to be one. This too passed before our planning could come to an end. Were they too sporadic in their love, or were we too indecisive in our desire to give them our Love in return?
No, it is them. As time moved ever onward their speed at switching the things they loved only picked up. Where once you would watch their world spin a million times and leisurely decide on things now the thousands of turnings mattered. More and more populations grew and spread and multiplied. The things that most loved became abstracts tinged with negativity; power, pride, wealth, luxury, the suffering of others.
This would not do. We give them all our Love and they decide to twist theirs. It's done, it's over, the wait was too much. We made a thing that makes its own choices, humanity, and we wasted the small measure where they could have been shaped and influenced in a beautiful way.
We must match their impulsivity, make a choice of how to enter their lives. Time moves too fast for them, we won't be left behind again. Love is eternal, things will fail, we'll try again.
It's getting darker. Not because it's naturally night time. No, you just want to see the pretty lights better. Not really, it's actually night. Or is it? You lost track for sure. Eh, it doesn't matter anyway.
Finally, it's night already. That was quick.
Funny joke, me. It wasn't quick at all. You just sat still for six hours arguing with yourself about nothing.
Hey, that's not true. We took like ten minutes at least to consider suicide.
We? Who's we, there's only me here.
I know, I said 'me', it's not my fault you heard 'we'.
That's not how this works, asshole.
Hey, buddy, watch your language.
Or what? Are you going to do something about it?
You don't want to make me tell the story again, do you? I swear I'll do it.
No, not that! Anything but that!
It'd be really easy to just jump into the water. You can't swim and no one will save you. That doesn't really sound too easy, actually. Never mind. You hope you can sleep soon. You're never tired anymore. But your feet hurt. Maybe. You're not really sure anymore.
Wait, no, stop. Please!
"And so I walk up to the guy, I walk up because I got something to say to him. Oh, I have something to say to him alright. Oh I walked up, and I says to him, I says. I says, 'Hey guy, I got something to say to yous' and he goes, 'Oh ya? You gots something to say to me?'
'You bet, oh boy do I got something to says to you yous.'
So then I really told him good. Oh I told him alright. I said to him, I says 'Oh, buddy, you bet I got something to say to you. I got something right smart to say.' Oh, I'm getting him good. You bet I got something more to say.
'Come out and say what you got to say, buddy.'
The gall of this guy, talking to me like that. Oh I'm gunna say something alright. So I says to him, I says. 'I don't like that mug of yours pal.' I got him on the rope now, I do. Then I says, 'Oh, and your face ain't pretty either.' Oh boy, did I ever get him good.
'I'll admit my mug is awful.' He tossed away his mug at that. It broke on the ground. Ooooweee things are getting pretty serious. 'My mother gave me this face. Hey now guy, it's uncalled for to bring my mother into this.' Oh ho ho, he said that.
'Hey now, buddy, ain't nobody but you bring your mother's ugly face into this.' Then he slashed my throat with a shard of his broken mug. Good thing we had our fight in a hospital."
It's dark now. Time to sleep now. If you could.
You try your hardest and fail.
Well, guess it's time to tell the story again.
No, please, not like this, let's just go back to the jumping in the water plan! Can't you see how nice it looks?
You'd like that, wouldn't you?!
What do you mean? You would know, you're talking to yourself.
Oh, right, that.
No, not again, not so soon! Don't you realize what you're doing?
Of course we do.
Stop it with the 'we'. There's only me.
Hey, we're at the hospital still anyways, why not go through the motions just one more time?
There's every reason why not.
Come on. For old times sake.
Old times? What does that even mean? You just told the story like twenty minutes ago.
Not true, that had to be at least a couple of hours ago.
No, seriously it's been twenty tops.
Shut it, and listen to story time.
"It appears there is a person, and I certainly have a message for him. The message is to be delivered in the form of spoken language. The language is composed of words organized by grammar, which is itself moderated by tone and inflection. The message for the person is to be delivered shortly. After ambulating towards the general direction of the person for a specific duration of time, the moment of the delivery of the message becomes imminent. Communication will begin eventually, now shortly, now immediately.
'Greetings fellow. The entity now articulating, with that articulation directed at you, has further articulation to bestow upon the individual that is the target of this articulation.' The person whom was the intended recipient of the now completed prior articulation that was the first component of the greater communication replies in kind.
'Is that for certain the case? There is further transmission of audio information to be exchanged between yourself and the current speaker which will shortly cease speaking in expectation of a response?' While it would be a pleasure to revel in the immediate memory of the wonderfully concise response which you just received and understood through tiny motions of bones within your inner ear translated through neurons into meaning, you still have that message to complete.
'Be assured that indeed there is to be a continuation of the earlier verbalization by which our communication began.' Magnificent delivery once again, you've outdone yourself once more.
'Hey, lets cut this short to the part where I kill you. That works for you right?'
'Sure, I see no reason haste needs not be made at this moment.' What a concise fellow indeed."
You pick up the same blood-soaked shard of pottery from earlier and slit your throat again.
It feels so cold. Are we awake?
Yes, you're awake. Also, stop calling us we. Dammit now I'm doing it too. I'm me, you are too, were, and still are you. There's only me. Stop with the we.
Hey, you do you, and I'll do me.
I am you.
Sure you are.
Just get up already.
Why don't you do it if you're me?
I'm trying to.
Alright, here goes nothing. One. Two. Three. Roll!
Idiot not like that!
It's too late and you tumble to the hard floor, tangled in blankets, neck burning. We sure messed
that one up didn't we?
You did. I mean, I did this.
You did this? No, we did this.
I am you.
Then take your own advice.
You're trying to.
Alright, time for the one over, then and only then do we open the old peepers and take a gander at the room. Okay, all the limbs are there, good. Neck is still stitched up. Who did that?
No we don't.
I am you!
Alright, alright, calm down. We got a room to observe.
Ok, standard stuff in here, nothing of note really. Creepy dead plants spray painted silver. Check. Bright blue sheets with orange argyle patterns over half of it in a checker design. Check. Linoleum floor covered in glitter. Check. A spooky, ominous, neon sign referencing a mysterious savior. Check.
Wait a minute. One of these things is not like the others.
"So, sign, what you're telling me is that not only is there a 'me' out there that isn't actually me, but they also are able to save me and cared enough to make me this nice sign saying so?" Did they already do it by stitching up the old neck scar, and this sign is a calling card saying you can't save yourself? Probably.
No use hoping for the worst and expecting the best. Or did you get that backward?
We totally did.
There's no we.
Stop telling me that.
Stop saying we.
You say it literally every time I do, it's not fair.
But when I say it I'm negating it. I mean you say it. I am you.
But that means you need to stop saying it too.
Did you just agree with me?
I am you!
You hear a noise like shattering glass from outside your slightly ajar door. Hey you hear that too?
Oh right, you're me and all that jazz. I keep forgetting. Better go check out that noise.
Your legs work fine and you stand easily. Nice. Just put one foot in front of the other. There we go.
No, that time it's just a saying, like the figurative we.
Now you're agreeing with me.
Duh, I'm you, that's what you keep telling me.
Sorry lost track of which voice I was doing.
It happens, man. All good.
The hallway is standard hospital affair. Low purplish lighting, huge holes in the walls shaped like maple leaves, and fluffy red carpets everywhere. That is until you get to the check-in room and see another sign. This one larger.
'LOVE ME' I wonder if that's that same 'me' who told us earlier with that other sign that we could only be saved by them.
There's no 'us'.
Gosh, you really never let up with that, do you?
No, you don't.
Haha, good one.
Well if they want to be loved, then sure, why not?
What is love again?
Running quickly through what you know; you're hanging out in your favorite hospital, and it has some nifty new signs. You feel like you should remember what love is, but maybe it's just been too long. We should really find that other me.
What not going to tell me not to say we anymore?
No, you still will tell yourself that, you just feel like that time was you trying to get a rise out of yourself, and I won't have that.
You're no fun anymore.
You have only yourself to blame.
Alrighty then, lets go find us that other me.
Sounds like a plan.
Do you have an actual plan though?
Figured we'd just take a look around, see if anything else changed.
Oh, you almost got me that time, but you're still just looking for that rise.
No fun at all. I liked you better two minutes ago when you were cool.
You take stock of your surroundings and find a promising route.
That uninviting badly lit hallway looks promising, doesn't it?
You bet it does.
Glad we're getting along again.
I hate you.
I know. Well, that dark passage isn't going to traverse itself, let's make with the foot-falling.
Just say walking, it's not even story time.
What, now you're attacking my word choice?
No, you are.
The hallway gets progressively darker until its near pitch black. The only light coming from a nearby sign. 'YOU ARE MORE THAN BEAUTIFUL'
"Thanks, sign, that's a really nice thing to say. I appreciate you."
You give the sign a friendly pat as you pass it. It's pretty hot. Scalding really. But what with the rest of your body freezing in the chill of the empty hospital, you welcome the burn on your palm and its contrasting pain.
Not really, this is fairly painful.
Why did you pet a sign?
What the hell is wrong with us?
I can only speak for myself; but quite a lot, I think.
You keep on walking until you finally reach the end of the hallway to find a single door, below yet another large sign. 'DON'T WORRY'
What a comforting message. Why is it making you worry?
What's there to worry about? Nothing that's what. When a sign says 'don't worry' you listen.
There's literally no reason not to.
That's not true, there's actually quite a lot of reasons.
Man, you're a real jerk, you know that? Be quiet and stop disrespecting the sign. You give the room one more look and see another tiny sign in a dark corner. 'ITS ALL IN YOUR HEAD'
See, look at that. Obviously, worries are all in your head. There's nothing really to worry about.
Wait a minute, that logic doesn't check out.
No, it does. Everything is in your head by default since you only experience things through your sense.
Come on now, you're being ridiculous. That in no way leads to there being nothing to worry about.
No, it checks out, we're going through the door.
I said wait, damn you.
I'm going with or without you.
Now you're being nonsensical, stop.
There we go, that's what I like to hear. Tell me to stop again, its so nostalgic of the bygone era known as fifteen minutes ago.
Keep em coming.
And we've gone full circle.
There. Is. No. We. Only you.
You and me.
No, you and you.
So me and other me?
I give up.
That's the spirit. Through the door we go! Alright, another dark hallway eerily similar to the last one. Nice. Things are looking up.
The sound of breaking glass comes sharply from an unseen distance down the hallway.
Probably just the wind.
The wind doesn't sound like breaking glass.
It does if it knocks something glass over.
So, there could be an open window. Maybe it broke a window.
Now you're thinking with gas.
You mean cooking with gas?
What, no, we aren't cooking anything.
There's no we.
Hey, I thought you gave up on that.
No, I just stopped when you do it on purpose.
Yes, you are.
Alright, that's it. Time for an old walk and talk. Story time!
No, you can't right now.
Yes, we can and will.
You proceed down the hallway with a nice quick pace, spirits high in anticipation for story time.
"Ah 'ave a bone ta pick with that thair vermin. 'e's had it comin' ta 'im for some taahm now.
'Hey tharr’ partner. Ya an me 'ave a problem. ' T’uh scoundrel 'as t’uh nerve t' look ya dead in
'You done bet yer sorry ass we do poke.' Ye see it in e's eye. It's taahm tah draw guns if evuh it was."
Storytime cuts short, you'e met with a flight of stairs and nearly fall headfirst down them, but catch yourself on the guardrail. Hey, be more careful.
Careful!? Did you not hear what I heard?
Of course, why is that such a difficult concept for you?
You take the stairs down, two and three at a time, finally reaching the bottom and bursting through them into another badly lit room. This room is undecorated and unlit, seemingly untouched but in disrepair. Aside a from a sign, which serves as both decor and light source.
Okay. More clues about love. Love is something that you find and then let kill you.
Makes sense. If you hadn't already found yourself you might really be in love with yourself.
Is that what narcissism is? Didn't that Greek guy from the myth do himself in out of love? Is that right?
But why would she run then?
There's no time. You rush to the other door.
What is love? Will you ever understand it?
You're probably right.
Of course, you are.
Through the door is a hallway in as much disrepair as the last room. The ground is rocky and uneven. What you wouldn't give for one of those fluffy red carpets right now.
A lot. There's a lot you wouldn't give.
You rush through the hallway, passing by various other signs, and barely managing to read them. 'Lies can be comforting' in bright pink. 'Lies can be deadly' a bright red one. You miss the next few in your haste before coming to a turn in the corridor.
What about it? Truth hasn't done anything for anybody, ever.
That's not true.
Hey, we just established we don't care about truth.
No, first of all, there's no we. Secondly, the truth is pretty important as a concept, maybe even as important as whatever love is.
Shut it, we don't have time for this.
You careen down the rest of the hallway like a man possessed and find a sight you never expected to see again. A human figure struggling with a door. She must have heard your approach, for she gives up the struggle and turns away, walking to the center of the room where you can make her out more clearly. She stands there and you can see her breathing. This is no mannequin, no trick of the light. Before you stands another living, breathing person.
Oh no. Oh no. You haven't spoken to anyone in as long as you can remember. You absolutely have to make the best first impression ever.
Come on, just be nice and greet her. You can do it.
"Hee oh th-thuh ni-ni uh cee t-t-te m-meuh uht y-y-ya oh uhe."
Are you joking? That was awful.
But I tried my best, that's what matters isn't it?
Who told you that nonsense?
Oh. Well, it's wrong. I realize this now.
You've been removed entirely from human contact for some unknowable amount of time, and now the first person you meet has you so tongue-tied you can't even reclaim your rightful status as a social animal.
"Aee m' feen n-nuh naed warr uh." You try to confidently reply, but you're shaking now, perhaps in mortification.
Come on. You're better than this.
You try again to speak but only manage even more unintelligible babble.
"Why are you doing this?" She finally asks, and you recognize her face this time. Confusion.
"What does this all mean? Why the signs?" She pulls out a long shard of glass she had somewhere on her person and raises it shakily.
Wait a minute. You don't know what any of this means. You had nothing to do with those signs aside from being confused by them. The accusation that you're somehow responsible for anything has you so taken aback that you somehow find your words and give a proper answer.
"Why am I doing this? I'm not doing anything. You have to be the one who put up those signs." You finish with finality of course and stand up straighter.
You both stare silently at each other for what seems like a long while before she takes a step back. She does lower the glass shard though. "Oh, so that finally got you to say something." She grins smugly at this for no apparent reason. "You got me. I did put up those signs. You have me all figured out." You still understand sarcasm very well, it's essentially become your mother tongue.
"So where did they come from then if it wasn't either of us? For that matter where did you even come from? How are you here?" You reply cuttingly. This is all too much to take in. In your wildest dreams, you never imagined meeting someone else would be like this.
"I should be asking you that." She crosses her arms, the glass shard now conspicuously missing.
"I've been here as long as I can remember. This city is all I know." You answer honestly. "Now you."
Rather than get an informative answer like you had hoped for you instead get a baffling question. "City?" Followed by complete silence, and an even more puzzled staring contest.
"The city we are in. You know, big tall neon skyscrapers. Lots of open water. The place where this hospital is. How did you get here without knowing even that much." She must have some explanation.
"You're lying." She's still refusing to answer you.
"I'm not lying. I'm telling the truth here." You sigh exasperated at the prospect that you both
could be in similar situations. You're aware of your problems, but she doesn't even realize she's
in a city, the city.
You don't even know for sure.
Yes I do, we were just there.
No, we were in the hospital imagining we were there.
That can't be true.
You're probably right.
Was that sarcasm?
You really have to ask?
That still doesn't answer my question!
"What is a city?" Her honest-seeming innocence strikes you profoundly.
"A city is where lots of people live." Great answer genius. Guess we really aren't in a city.
Stop criticizing me, I'm doing my best.
We established that wasn't good enough already.
You just said we.
No, I didn't, that was you.
I am you.
Did we just role reverse?
There is no we.
But you just said we.
No, you didn't.
"So there's lots of others outside of here?" She perks up at the notion. Damn you, you fool. Fix this.
"No. Well. Uh. There used to be. Until it happened." What happened again?
You never knew in the first place.
"What happened?" She asks shakily.
You can't answer her properly. You don't even know yourself.
"I'm not sure. But I can show you. The city that is. Just follow me the way we came. Please just trust me." You plead with her, frustrated and upset with yourself for not being able to answer her properly.
Suddenly she approaches you, and you fight the twin desire of backing up or moving forward, standing still until she's an arm's length from you. "Look me in the eyes and tell me you're not lying."
You stare into her eyes as instructed, urging your gaze to be genuine, confident, even reassuring. You hope your positive feelings are echoed in the gaze. Her eyes are hypnotic to you, looking through them into the mind of another person after so long.
You spend an unknown amount of time looking into them. At first, she's comforted, you hope, by your earnestness. But as time passes ever more you worry she will begin to worry and force yourself to leave the trance; saying what she wants to hear. "I'm not lying. I'm being honest with you. In the spirit of honesty, I have to admit that I can't remember the last time I was this happy. It's been too long."
Her gaze softens, but she stares into your eyes still as she replies. "I believe you. Or, at least I believe you think you're telling the truth." She fidgets, perhaps only now realizing your closeness.
You can't help your gaze lingering, now. Her creamy neck glows in the soft blue light, an unblemished expanse of smooth skin.
A hand unbidden rises to your neck, feeling the scars there. Her gaze follows the movement, and she gasps, finally seeing your shame.
Why do you keep doing this to us, anyway? It's not like we ever actually die from it.
You do this to you.
And that's because you never cut too deep. If you wanted too you could pierce an artery any time you try, but you never do.
They call that a cry for help.
That makes things even sadder, in truth, crying out to no one, for help that will never come.
That's not true. The sign. It said there was a 'me' out there that could save us.
There is no us. Only you.
I know that.
Then stop with the us and the we.
You begin to laugh at your internal comedy, tragedy, whatever it is. It's hilarious in any case. You forget, though, that you're with company, and she reacts badly.
"What's wrong with you?" She backs up and begins to cry, raising her arms to wipe her tears, or perhaps to block her view of you. "Why should I trust you anyway? I don't have any reason."
You want her to stop crying and you need her to trust you. You can't let yourself meet another person and then not do everything in your power to get close to them.
Yes, you can.
No, you can't.
You definitely can, that's just an objective fact.
Well, I won't, and you can't stop me from trying.
I am you.
Then you agree?
No, you've been just fine on your own all this time.
Are you kidding me, you want to do story time again, buddy?
No, sorry, please no.
That's right, I'm the boss.
I am you.
I don't see the contradiction.
She's looking at you from between crossed arms, still crying softly, but visually it appears she's trying to get a hold of herself. "Say something!" She suddenly shouts at you.
You respond in kind, grasping for an answer but coming up short. "I'll earn your trust!" That's right, TRUST IS EARNED, you remember that much at least. "Follow me and I'll earn it. Just-"
You pause, searching for the words.
You're screwing this up.
Shut up I know.
You still struggle anyways?
I said be quiet.
You'd like that, wouldn't you?
"Just take a chance." She's looking at you doubtful, but there's a certain thrilling vulnerability to her expression, you can do this. "Take a chance on me. I'll show you."
Her reaction is slow. She lowers her arms. Then, her lip begins to quiver. She starts to tremble. Suddenly she rushes forward to embrace you. It's your first human contact in an unknowable amount of time and it shocks you how right it feels. Standing there, with her arms wrapped around you, weeping into your chest, you don't know how to react.
"I will. I just want this to be over. I want to know why I'm here. What's going on." She says between sobs. "If I have to take a chance I will." You're still stunned by her emotional response, but slowly you remember how this works. You slowly, tentatively, raise your arms and wrap them around her shaking form, patting her back a few times. You hold back your own tears.
"It's going to be okay." You don't know what compels you to say the words. You know yourself to
Okay. It's a lie; an obviously false statement. But it seems the thing to say.
After she cries herself out and the two of you separate, you exit together into the dark hallway.
In some time of walking at a lazy pace to the sound of her lessening sniffles, you pass the familiar sign about truth. A while father will come to the sign you missed before. No wonder you couldn't make it out, dim as it is.
There's a lot to fear. Perhaps the message of the sign in the context of the other's is fearing yourself. The fact that you don't know what's true any longer. You don't know what you are anymore, for that fact. It's worthy of being afraid, afraid of an unknown and unseen self that makes your choices. No matter how much you tell yourself otherwise, it's too hard to accept that your suffering is all at your own hands.
The woman you're with has calmed by the time you reach the door which leads out of the hallway.
Ambling your way through the doorway, you decide to let your worries fade away. There's no reason to hurry. There's no reason to do anything, really, but you suppose that reasons aren't really necessary when you live such an unreasonable life.
Thoughts bounce around in your head; the swarm of half-remembered things leaving you more confused than you already were. In all honesty, you really can't say what you think you know is true, or what's just something that you've deluded yourself into believing, or even just some baseline of reality to use to anchor yourself.
Well, if you can't get the answers that you want about what you yourself know, there's still some chance that you can get answers from the woman. It's an odd concept; having another person to talk to, question, and learn from.
Get on with it then.
I plan to.
Still waiting over here.
You know what I meant, you goon.
All right, all right, I'm asking.
As you open the door to the stairwell you spare a glance towards the neon sign in the room that tells you to let what you love kill you. Still trying to figure that one out. It's puzzling. "Hey, so yeah, you don't you don't mind if I ask you some questions right? I'm just trying to get a handle on our situation. You know, maybe try to figure out where to go from here. I mean at least after, you know, I show you the outside and gain your trust and all that."
She watches you there, standing in the doorway and holding it open with a tentative look. You can't place the emotion behind her expression. Maybe in time, you'll be able to decipher body language again. Only time will tell.
"I guess that's okay. I don't know how... how well I can answer. But... but I'll try." She seems very uncertain, but at least she's willing to try.
"Great, the first thing that's really puzzling me is just how you got here. I mean it's been so long since I've seen anyone else. So, uh so, where did you come from and how did you get here?"
"I woke up here. Not down here I mean. Upstairs. I've just been looking around for a while, I couldn't really say how long. It hasn't been long enough for me to get thirsty yet. Hey, I suppose I'm a bit thirsty but I haven't found any source of water that I can really trust. I woke up decently hungry though. Do you have any food?" She bites her lip lightly and looks down.
Unfortunately for her, you don't have anything on you to give her. "Sorry, I don't. But I do know where we can get something to eat. It's a bit out of the way, but I figure you won't mind since you brought it up, the whole food thing."
She smiles. "Can we go there then?"
"Sure, let's go."
She follows you upstairs a floor higher than where you entered the stairwell earlier. "I kind of have to ask. What exactly did you mean earlier when you said that you woke up here?" It's fairly unlikely that her situation is anything like yours. But then again, you really don't have anything to base that opinion on.
"I woke up on this weird bed thing. It was like a bed but also, um, I don't really know how to explain it. It had a door that opened on the top and there was all kinds of smoke or mist. When I woke up I felt awful and I just laid there for so long." She sighs at the memory. "Then curiosity and worry got the best of me and, well, then I wandered around until you found me, or I found you I guess." That does sound pretty odd. You've never seen a bed like that with the door or smoke.
You leave through the door at the top of the stairs and walk out into yet another hallway. "It's not much farther from here. What about before you woke up here you? Don't have any idea how you got in that strange bed?"
"I'm... not sure. I don't really know what's going on." She meekly answers as you grab the handle to NaSHA's room.
"Hello, patient J-483." The familiar robotic voice sounds out as you cross the threshold into the room.
"Hi, Nasha." You turn to the woman. "This is Nasha. It stands for nutrition and supplemental health automaton."
"It's nice to meet you, Nasha." She holds her hand out towards the automaton.
"Hello, unregistered guest." Nasha unmovingly replies.
"Oh, yeah, I didn't mention it but there's no need to actually talk to it. Even if it understands what you're saying it's not going to reply with anything other than 'hello' or basic responses to certain questions." You don't mention that normally you would be in giddy one-sided conversation with Nasha if you were here alone.
"Okay. So where do we get the food?" She fidgets a bit shifting from one foot to the other.
"Nasha, two food bricks type 16-A, three units water." You turn back towards the woman. "Type 16 is the best." You smile slightly.
"Thanks. I don't really know what to say."
Standing in silence, you watch Nasha roll away on its tracks. The combination of its solid humanoid form and blank mask of a face with dull but human-like eyes puts it firmly into the uncanny valley. So much so that it doesn't even feel that weird to sometimes pretend you have a human friend in Nasha. But now there's a real human standing right next to you. Today has been some day. Honestly, it's surprising you're so calm.
You're only calm since you don't believe it's real. Let's be actually honest.
Hey, you're supposed to argue.
I just don't feel like it.
You're the worst.
Can't argue with that.
Oh, come on.
It doesn't take too long for Nasha to return with the food. It hands you two thousand Calorie plastic-wrapped food bricks before its chest compartment pops open and it pulls out three plastic liter bottles of water. It's set them on the table one at a time before its arms go still and the machine enters into standby. "Here it is." You take a seat and pass one of the bricks across the table, unwrapping yours to take a big bite of the semi-soft food.
After seeing you start to eat, she follows suit and takes her own bite. "What is this flavor?" She asks in between chewing.
"Well, I've read the menus and I know the names of the flavors but I couldn't tell you anything more than that." One side's flavor is called 'bread' and the other side is something called 'apple'.
It's really good. She eyes one of the water bottles. You can take a hint and grab one, twisting off the lid and taking a long drink.
"The other two are for you." She picks a bottle up and drinks the whole thing in one go. Guess you really were as thirsty as she implied. The two of you sit there in silence and enjoy your food. It's really nice, just to know that you're having a meal with someone. Nicer than you've felt in as long as you can remember.
You lick the last of the crumbs from your upper lip. Tasty like always.
I hate you so much.
But it's so tasty.
You get the same type of brick every single time. Every. Single. Time.
I know where you're going with this.
One of the few joys in this life would be variety. But you deprive us of it.
There is no us. Only you.
Not now, don't try to change the subject.
"So, did you want to go outside now?" I really do appreciate the food but I still would like to see what you promised." You ignore her.
Wait, no, what? You can't be serious. Why now, you'll ruin everything!
Storytime. Play time. Story. Time. Story. Time. Story. Time. Story...
Stop! Stop! Stop!
You continue to chant story time in your head over and over again in a sing-song way, emphasizing each syllable. Soon, unbidden, you begin to pound the table and chant Story Time out loud.
"What's going on?!" She screams at your sudden outbursts. You both stand up in a hurry, her taking a few steps back.
"Whoa, that was tubular. You haven't seen swells like that in a while. Good thing there's only one other Surfer out here. 'Hey man, that was wicked sick. You got to teach me how to pull off a trick like that, my dude.'
'Who are you calling your dude? If I go showing off how I do my moves they won't be my moves anymore now will they jive turkey?'
'Oh, you dirty dog.' This guy thinks he's hot shit, eh? Maybe I should show him that some moves don't have a thing to do with the waves."
"Stop this, what are you even doing? Is this really something that you do all the time? I thought you were just playing around before!" She seems really agitated; more than a little afraid.
Of course, you barely hear over your heavy level of immersion.
"He's angry now. He must not have liked your rad comeback. 'Who are you calling a dirty dog, you Beach Bum bitch?'
Oh, he'll pay for that. Time to get out your trusty pocket knife and use it for its intended purpose, revenge."
You run over to the other side of the room and grab a knife from one of the silverware receptacles. In moments it's at your throat.
"While we here at Lethon Corp fully respect your right to bodily integrity and personal agency we cannot condone self-harm. Please, please, do not do anything to yourself and wait. A medical professional will be here soon to help you. There are-" A slight modulation in the voice tells that the machine is drawing from some variable, "Zero medical professionals available, please contact the help desk." Nasha makes no move to do anything.
"What is wrong with you!?" Unexpectedly the woman is quite a bit more proactive in her approach.
Before you even realize it, she's all but tackled you, and the two of you slam into the wall behind you in a tangle of limbs. You each have two hands on the knife handle, and you see that she's got the worse grip, the bottom of the blade digging into her lower palm.
"I don't know." You answer mid-struggle. You think you're crying. She definitely is.
"Please stop." She begs frantically. You grip the knife tighter and try with all your might to force it back to it towards your throat. But at the angle you hold it you have no leverage, and can barely raise it past chest level.
Switching back into the surfer's voice, you give a different reply then you wanted to. "Hey, it's not too smart to get in between two Bros who are tussling, Babe."
"You aren't making any sense!" She half screams.
"It has to be this way." You reply in your own voice, thankfully. Then, falling back into the other voice. "Yeah, this is how we do it."
It has to be this way.
Or does it?
I'll kill you.
With the last bit of willpower you have, you make the only plea that makes any sense at all to you. "Please." Fighting the urge to bite your tongue, you continue. "Please, can you tell me a story?"
"What?" She's obviously confused, tears still stream down her face as she struggles against you. Your still tense arms are pulling on the knife for all you're worth.
"It's the only thing that might work." Her face is a mask of absolute terror at your statement.
"I don't know any stories but I'll try." You stand there in silence for a few moments. The only sounds are both of your heavy breathing as she still keeps you from slitting your own throat. Every time the knife starts to inch upwards she pulls back your hands with a sudden burst of strength.
"A shy boy and girl met for the first time. Though they didn't know about each other, they both had no experience with making friends. Both of them were very, very, lonely and something about that made them see themselves in each other.
In that one swift moment when their eyes made contact, something happened. Something neither of them had any way of explaining. Neither of them knew why it happened, or could even explain what it meant. But there was an understanding, there, in that tender moment. An understanding that both of them were hurting. Hurting in a way that they both knew very well. It was slow going first; the sweet growth of their friendship. Two empty hearts though, how could they not long to fill each other? And so, they did. The friendship blossomed into love. It was as if the universe had finally noticed them, had taken them into its arms, and gently whispered into their ears: It's time now to live. You've suffered enough."
She stops talking and looks up at you. You notice the knife is now held in her hand, at her side. Your hands are slick with her blood. Her eyes are filled with tears.
Hell emptied of souls.