I remember the moment I fell for you.
We were in the morgue at the university. Classmates. You cradled lower intestine in your gloved hands, clumsily trying to scratch your nose with your wrist. Your eyes held this fierce glare of childlike determination.
I’m not a moron. I recognize that when a love story begins like this, it’s not going to end well.
So much of what you and I did was wrong that our botched marriage is hardly even worth mentioning, but eight years later I think it’s time to share my point of view of events as they unfolded. Maybe then you’ll understand the result.
I’ll state up front that I know death without the disassociation was going to be our greatest success. Yes. Our. Sometimes you looked at me with this downward sneer, like I was a sad little housewife in the kitchen baking pies. I was an equal partner in our messy business, Roger. I just lacked your obsession.
Anyway, it all comes down to that Tuesday night. Just after sunset. It was hard to tell, because you always kept the blinds in your office closed. You didn’t want to be reminded that there was a world outside that we were both missing.
I tossed a gift-wrapped bottle of aloe & mint aftershave down on your cluttered desk. I’d just herded the corpses into their holding pens and was still covered in that distinctive, banana-tinged sludge of the freshly woken dead. Not that you noticed.
I said, “Bastard, it’s our anniversary.”
“Did you finish collecting the slides for General Dover?” you asked without looking at me. “Rollout is in less than six months, Karla, and we need certification.”
“Screw rollout,” I said. “You promised me dinner. Maybe dancing.”
You buried your head in a book of stats. “You know there must be sacrifices.”
I had willingly done the work for seven years. Had bent my flimsy morality until it was limp.
“Shall I just sacrifice myself, dearest? Will that get your attention?”
You looked up with a mocking smile. “You’re being ridiculous.”
Something in the way you grinned at me, or maybe your pedantic little voice, made me want to show you how truly ridiculous I could be.
Next to your overcrowded outbox were three syringes of Reanimation serum, ready to be packaged and sent out for military approval. I grabbed one, theatrically rolling up the sleeve of my lab coat and blouse.
“I don’t know, Roger, perhaps we should just skip certification. Maybe then you can sleep next to me more than once a week.” I wiped away a couple of hysterical tears. “Do you remember what you said to me when we started this thing?”
You shrugged, unconcerned.
“You said, ‘To succeed, we’re going to have to live the work.’” I pulled off the cap of the needle. “Well, Roger. Ta-freaking-Da.”
I flipped you off with my free hand and jammed the full syringe into my arm.
This behavior may have seemed sudden, but months of being ignored in favor of cadavers had taken their toll. I was desperate.
So yes, I injected myself. Sticking you may have seemed like a more logical choice, but I was due my moment in the spotlight.
There was foaming. Screaming. The actual physical sensations were vague; I watched my body transform from a safe, distant corner of my mind, some sort of shock-induced disassociation. I must have been ugly, because you took out your gun. The shiny, girlish berretta you’d stashed on the underside of your desk with two-sided carpet tape.
I looked down to see smoke where the bullet squished through my chest; little puffs of grey dissipating in the air. I think it was for me what alcoholics refer to as their moment of clarity. Like when they dim the lights in a restaurant, illuminating just what you need to see.
My heart stopped as I turned for the door. It was this sudden, indescribable absence. Like I’d lost a tether. You were yelling come-hither obscenities, but I just kept limping away down the hall, feeling alive for the first time in years.
I sped out of the parking lot in our old sedan. No one followed; I’m assuming you were still too stunned to call security.
I couldn’t go home that night. The cats would have picked me apart. The Pine Crest Motel, that green dilapidated shack over on Third Street, was the first place I saw with a vacancy sign.
I covered up my slow-seeping wound enough for a dignified check in, but by the following morning, my lab coat was soaked through. My thighs numb, I moved with stiff purpose away from the bed, welcoming the day with a moist, fawning, half-cry of exuberance, something Frankenstein’s monster might produce when he realized he could achieve erection. My skin had the fish-scale gleam of week-old bologna. It was coming loose.
I gurgled in tandem with the two-cup percolator on the dresser, picturing you behind your oversized desk. You were probably barking orders at the security team, fanning them out across the city in search of my bastardization of our perfect science.
What you wouldn’t be doing, I knew, was lamenting the half-death of your wife of five years and one day. The woman who had stood by your side through accumulating genius and dissolving humanity.
Now, my confidence boosted by a new state of being, it was time to confront the truth, and talk about separation. Maybe divorce.
It was stupid to go back, but I needed answers. You can understand that, can’t you?
I remember speeding down the freeway and opening my windows. My sense of smell was mostly gone, but I imagined the aroma of sun-dried carnage marinating in the front seat of a Chrysler being hard to stomach. God knows everything else was.
Even though it was barely spring, the lab’s massive front lawn was lush, perfectly green. Like everything else there, unnatural equaled profit. Reanimation Laboratories Inc. read the big white letters on the crystal-clear pyramid that shot up from the concrete building. Four wide floors of science, one glass case for your fragile ego.
I slammed into your Land Rover at full speed. The waif little blond that worked the security checkpoint came running up to me, but backed the hell off when she saw the skin flapping around the glass shards in my neck. Guess she wasn’t ready for the truth.
Anyway, I reached in through your broken rear window and grabbed a crowbar and our mini-cooler.
My body didn’t feel the rush of sanitized air as I walked in the front doors, but I knew it was there. Denial was a thing of the past.
Johan sat behind the front desk, hand dangerously close to the big red button.
“Dr. Baxter.” He addressed me formally, his jaw hanging limp. I grabbed his tie and ran my hand from knot to tip, pulling him forward. He turned his head and gagged.
My lips were on his ear. “Johan, I need to see him. We need to work this out.” I resisted the urge to run my hand over the pecs rising gently from under his starched shirt.
It’s worth noting here that stories like ours usually feature a third element. Some attractive young man or woman that brings a certain causality to unfortunate circumstances. For the record, Roger, I could have had him a dozen times, but I loved you.
“I can’t let you in, Dr. Baxter.”
He made sure I saw his shifting glance over my shoulder. The camera. Still, I tried to break him with my eyes—red but still green.
“I can’t do it, Karla.”
So I gave him a left hook with the crowbar and ran like the devil was at my back. The intruder alarm echoed in steel causeway of sublevel two; the grate down the hall from Secondary Storage pried open easily with the crowbar. I was up and in, crawling in a matter of seconds.
As I climbed back down through the vent in the lower hallway, I heard something rip. Like wet sandpaper.
My pinky toe was dangling from metal lip of the grate. Blood heaved slow and thick from the hole, forming a brownish skin as it settled.
It was the toe’s little bit of red polish that really got me. Lovelorn Lolly. I’d picked it for you, Roger. Do even realize all that I did for you? The self-sacrifice I made in the name of matrimony? All those fucking years of being your assistant, sticking needles into cadavers hoping that one day it would be enough for your own fickle heart to come alive. And now here I was. Minus a goddamn toe.
What a waste.
I was slapped out of my reverie by footsteps over my head. Baker and Totter, those two mammoth henchmen of yours, clomping around on the upper floors. Baker’s deep voice bellowed through the vents.
“No sign of the intruder on main levels, I’m checking the subs.”
Without the pounding heart, the balled-up stomach, all I really had to focus on was what was going on inside my head. It was a toxic yet oddly familiar combination of heartbreak and righteous anger. Resentment, Roger. And like cheap motel coffee, it burned.
I grabbed the toe and shoved it in my pocket, determined not to give you one more ounce of myself.
On jellied knees I made for the elevator, streaming red behind me like a stunt plane on parade day. A little whimper spilled out as I pulled myself up around the control panel. I pulled the circular key from my pocket and jammed it in.
Bing. Help arrived.
The penthouse looked pretty at midday; light shining down on those plastic daisies you had lining your hallway. I shot past them on hands and knees, not quite oblivious to the ripening cheeks hanging out of my low-cuts. Your door—sorry, doors—were closed. You were talking on the phone.
“—It’s being controlled, General, I assure you. Yes, I’m close to the situation, but not as close as you might think—”
I was the situation, Roger. Marriage, love, commitment — they were all just big fucking hurdles on the way to scientific discovery.
Still on knees, I knocked. Hard. The doors swung in, and there you were. Your wonderful, strong jaw was cinched tight.
“You’re a monster,” I blurted. Looking back now, I appreciate the irony.
You lifted me up from under my elbow to the point where we were looking into each other’s eyes. You stared down through my open coat at the hole in my torso before sitting back down in your ergonomic chair.
“I thought that if I proved the tests were working—”
“You convulsed on the carpet, Karla.”
“So you shot me?”
“You were frothing, for Christsake. ReAn isn’t meant for the living.” You picked up the bound folder of red and blue paper, three miles thick. “Do you have any idea how you’ve screwed up our statistics?”
“Don’t you hear what—”
“Karla, you’ve ruined our life’s work for some sort of estrogen-fueled vengeance.”
I had just come to talk, Roger. To hash things out. But you always were a shitty listener.
I let out a wet cry and moved around the side of your desk; I made sure to nail my hang-dog face, like I needed a hug. As you arched your eyebrows, I grabbed another syringe from your desk and swung it around to your throat. The skin around your jugular puckered as I held the needle just so.
“Karla, not only are you mentally unstable, you’re also dead.”
“Half-dead, Roger. And more fucking human than you.”
“Your insistence on reanimating a live person is just—”
I dropped the syringe and reached below your desk, pulling your berretta from the holster. My finger found the safety.
Being callous is so much easier when your heart isn’t beating. In that moment, a little piece of me understood the appeal of being you.
The holding pens were electric that afternoon. The subjects had been administered their daily injections and were crowded around the plexiglass, pushing each other to get toward the front like teen girls at a pop concert. Their awareness was a fascinating thing; all dewy-eyed attentiveness, with just a hint of newborn whimsy. They watched us, their parents, approach.
You balked as I pressed you up against the friendly side of the glass. You smelled like aftershave. Aloe and mint.
They were all you talked about. All you dreamt about. When I craved your approval, you requested documents. When I wanted pillow talk you gave me hard facts about warm bodies that weren’t mine. But now I had your attention, Roger. Now you looked at me with a passion in your eyes that I hadn’t even seen at the altar. I could be wrong, I mean, I know it shouldn’t have been possible, but I swear a shiver ran up my spine.
You started begging when I pulled out my passcard, ready to slide it into the security lock for holding pen one.
“Please, baby,” you whimpered. “This isn’t you.”
People change, Roger. They become nastier versions of themselves, complicated by the icky sludge of everyday life.
You had changed. Evidently, so had I.
I slid the passcard, and to the sound of the breach alarm, I pushed you in.
They surrounded you. More accepting than I ever was. I picked up the clipboard to document my observations, but what I saw would be burned into my memory: Their maiming efficiency had increased exponentially. You puffed up your chest as they pulled you apart, an ungodly smile locked on your blood-soaked face.
It didn’t take long before they were down there; twenty or thirty of your security guys. And I guess someone had called Dover, because he was there too. The military men tracked mud from the front lawn over the clean white floors, their boots squeaking.
The General, in formal uniform, crouched down beside me, pink with rage and disgust. He wanted to know why this had happened. How we had let it come to this.
The answer was simple. As easy to spit out as my teeth.
Do you see now, Roger? I’ve spent eight years coming to grips with it. Eight years of military experiments on cold steel tables.
We did it all for love.
Such clear, conclusive evidence, it’s too bad you’re not here to enjoy it.
You should have taken me dancing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Stacy Sinclair lives in Southwestern Ontario, Canada. She works as a freelance writer, and not-so-freelance mom. Her fiction has appeared in such publications as Fantasy Magazine, On Spec, The Future Fire and Ideomancer.