The sound of crunching Cheerios woke me up.
I rolled over noisily, nearly falling from the couch. At first, I couldn’t remember where I was.
Then I noticed Derek staring angrily at me, shoveling soggy cereal into his mouth.
“What?” I asked, sitting straighter, and ruffling my hair. I noticed that someone had covered me with a blanket, and I couldn’t help but think it hadn’t been Derek.
“He took my table,” Derek explained, motioning toward the kitchen. His voice was harsh, as though this was all my fault.
I followed Derek’s finger, and found Chay. He was pacing, and looking downward in deep concentration.
“What’s he doing?” I asked, and Derek huffed, setting his bowl on the on the floor harshly.
“Trying to make sense of your writing.”
I leaned against the couch. “Maybe he’ll have better luck than me.”
“If he doesn’t, then we’re done for.” Derek spat. He walked into the kitchen, leaving me alone.
Except for the pen and notepad.
Chay must have set them nearby, in case I wanted to write.
(“I can’t make you possibly comprehend how important your writing is.”)
That still didn’t mean that I wanted anything to do with writing.
I tried to keep myself occupied by watching Chay and Derek, until they saw me and sent me furious looks.
My eyes wandered back to the arm of the couch, where the pen and notepad were balancing.
It felt as though they were staring at me, begging me to write.
I attempted to concentrate on the fact that I hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours, yet the last thing I felt was hunger.
Two very boring moments later, I’d begun tapping my foot anxiously.
It couldn’t hurt to doodle.
I grabbed at the pen, and began drawing the first thing that came to mind.
It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized I’d drawn Cyrus’ heartless gaze.
I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the feeling I’d been neglecting for days–the door to another world was opening, yet all I wanted to do was remain tethered to reality… or rather, to the present.
When I opened my eyes again, however, they were staring at the page, which was quickly filling with words.
I didn’t remember actually moving my arm, or clenching the pen.
But I couldn’t help but love the rush that I was feeling. The rush that I had thought was gone forever.
Yet here it was, so natural that it felt as though it had never left.
I grinned. I felt as though I was falling, as though I was losing control.
And it was the best I’d felt in days.
My grin stretched into a wide smile, as I stared at the paper, the surrounding apartment slowly fading to darkness–
Talk about beating Writer’s Block.
Cyrus was very quiet. There was no need to speak when he was so intent upon listening to the news that Henbane was giving him. His lone eye was lit with a type of satisfaction that Cyrus couldn’t name or place–but he could describe it, for he was feeling it, too. It was the sense of purest elation. Cyrus didn’t feel as though he was walking on clouds; no, Cyrus felt as though there was a great fire welling within him, and his emotions were rising on the steam, much like air would rise when hit by a geyser. It was completely enveloping and it took all of his self-control to keep his face set in strict lines of professionalism. He nodded his head every once in a while when Henbane spoke, crossing his fingers over his desk.
“A complete success.”
Cyrus stopped, mid-nod. The words seemed to coincide with each other, yet hearing them together was like…. He shook his head. It was too much. Cyrus rose, standing beside his window and smiling. “A complete success?”
Cyrus’ face fell. His muscles were suddenly tight as he turned slowly, watching Henbane. It was difficult to see his associate–the office was dark and most of Henbane’s face was concealed by shadows. Despite the good news, Henbane’s tone had been heavy. “And do you see a problem?”
Henbane shook his head. The action was fluid, and seemed to cause the office to grow darker as Cyrus refocused his attention on Henbane’s stoic form. When Henbane spoke, it was unemotional and matter-of-fact. “You don’t think there will be an investigation?”
Cyrus grinned. “One thing that is certain about the losers of society is that they are easily ignored and neglected. No one goes looking for those they didn’t want to see in the first place, Henbane.”
Henbane didn’t seem convinced. He frowned, and straightened his back.
“Let me worry over the legalities, Henbane,” Cyrus said, his voice throaty as he walked briskly toward the door. “First, I would like to see the progress.”
“It’s not been cleaned.”
“Excellent, excellent.” Cyrus was practically moaning with pleasure. “I want to see what it’s capable of it.”
Henbane stayed where he was. Cyrus frowned, twisting his head slightly in order to eye Henbane. “Aren’t you coming?”
“I saw it happen.”
Cyrus narrowed an eyebrow. “And it bothered you?”
Henbane ‘s head snapped back to attention.“I’m offended that you would think so. I just don’t see any need in witnessing carnage.”
Cyrus shrugged. “Have it your way.” He was turning again, when Henbane’s voice caught him off-guard:
“What’s leftover hardly shows the intensity of what you’ve created, Cyrus. It doesn’t give it justice.”
Cyrus frowned. “What do you mean by that?”
Henbane didn’t respond; he shrugged the answer away. Cyrus closed his eyes, shaking his head. He wanted to get away from Henbane–he’d been working too long and too hard to have this moment ruined. He wanted to enjoy this victory–this crucial advantage. He didn’t need someone to point out every flaw–he knew the weaknesses and he’d accounted for them.
“Let’s go,” he ordered, nonetheless. Henbane was an important part of this project–he would need his expertise in evaluating this “complete success.” They went to the elevator, typing in a password–42sToke!sIMPos2814–and descended downward, beyond any floors that were on any blueprints.
Cyrus found that he was walking faster than he’d intended. He’d reached the room before he’d even realized he’d gotten there. The door was plain and white with the number 5 painted across it in bold, professional black writing. Everything in this building was white–Cyrus hated the color. It hurt his eyes and reminded him of nasty things–hospitals and offices. He preferred warm earth tones; they made him feel at home. But this experiment needed to be completed far from prying eyes, or–more importantly–nosy reporters. Cyrus gritted his teeth–no plan was perfect, and his was most certainly fallible. But it was simply a matter of being two steps ahead of everyone else.
He frowned at the sudden frustration that had welled in the pit of his stomach; that was a prize he would never be able to gain. However, that didn’t mean he couldn’t still try. Cyrus wrenched open the door, shaking his head.
The space on the other side of the door was equally as white and just as blinding. There were two men on the other side. They were small men with glasses that were always askew no matter what they were doing. They were young, because the youth were always the easiest to manipulate. Morals were still flexible and easily tarnished with the lure of money and the promise of promotion. Cyrus resisted the urge to grin–people were easy.
They looked up as soon as Cyrus strode into the room, his face sculpted into careful lines of seriousness. “I’ve been told there’s good news.”
The older of the two stood, nodding his head. He was incredibly pale, and his face was sleek with sweat. “Yes, Mr. Stokes. Things occurred exactly as you… uh… wanted.”
Cyrus didn’t allow his features to loosen. He looked at the other man. “Wallace, do you say the same thing?”
Wallace wouldn’t look at him. He nodded, gulping audibly.
Cyrus looked at a wide window. The blinds were closed tightly. “And can I see it?”
Wallace didn’t move, nor did his partner.
“Burnett, let me see.”
The oldest remained still.
“Burnett.” Cyrus’ voice turned grave. Burnett appeared frozen; he watched Cyrus carefully, breathing slowly through his nose. His hands were shoved into his lab coat.
Cyrus was losing his patience; everyone was intent on disrupting his excitement when all he wanted was to revel in it. “Is there something you need to tell me, Burnett?” His voice was soft, like the sound of a snake slithering across sand.
“Actually, yes,” Burnett began. He glanced at his partner; Wallace was still staring at the ground. Cyrus noticed that a tremor seemed to vibrate through Wallace’s body; his head shook in an odd spasm, as though a discreet signal for Burnett to keep quiet.
Cyrus saw it. He felt suddenly furious. When he spoke, his voice was so level that it was unnatural. “By all means, Burnett, here at IMPOS we want all of our employees to be satisfied. What is your problem?”
“I’ve never seen a man killed before.”
Cyrus didn’t frown. He didn’t do anything except mutter, “Burnett, you were warned of the nature of this work.”
“I wasn’t aware that… that the intensity would be…. Death isn’t something I think I should be dealing with.”
“You aren’t capable of performing this duty.”
Wallace was so stiff that he looked as though the slightest touch would cause him to shatter. Burnett, however, seemed to be growing stronger. His breath was coming quickly; it expanded his chest with each forceful word. “I’m quite capable, Mr. Stokes, I’m just not interested in pursuing this any further. This is murder.” His voice shook on the final sentence.
Cyrus frowned. “This is an experiment.”
“People are dead.”
“Show me.” Cyrus couldn’t contain his excitement any longer. He crossed the room in two long strides and yanked at the blinds. They flew open, revealing the other room.
Cyrus felt as though he couldn’t breathe. Henbane had not been speaking lightly–carnage was precisely the word needed to describe the… success. Somehow, “success” wasn’t an appropriate term. Sprawled before him was everything that he’d desired, yet the sight was repulsive: it was raw and real.
Cyrus was grateful that he had a strong stomach. He knew the smell had to be stifling–looking at the mess didn’t allow the mind to truly see what was spread across the floor and up the walls; he had to stare at it.
There was blood. Red was smeared along the walls as though a toddler had splattered red paint during a temper tantrum. But the blood wasn’t the problem–blood was normal. It only highlighted the gore–a sideshow to the main attraction. There were pools of blood that reflected the fluorescent lights like dark mirrors. Cyrus gulped in an attempt to maintain his composure–the puddles would have been very mirror-like, except for one flaw: mirrors were smooth. The pools of blood were hardly smooth–they were interrupted in their fluidity by the pieces of flesh that had been tossed into them like discarded pieces of a puzzle.
Cyrus thought the comparison was sickening. He nearly gagged–the body in the center of the room had been torn apart like a puzzle. He allowed his gaze to wander to the corpse–at first glance it seemed perfectly whole. Its arms and legs were sprawled on the ground. It was face-up; unseeing eyes stared at the lights above it. The skin was bloodstained and copiously cut, but the man appeared to be whole.
But a closer look–Cyrus straightened himself and flexed his hands; these were movements he performed throughout the day when emotion threatened to escape from him. He needed to remain in control. He’d never found the task more daunting than in this moment–there was too much swirling in his body at one time: the victory of a success, the shock of the appalling sight, and–surprisingly–the apprehension of the future. He wondered, briefly, if there was any sort of line he had crossed.
But where did he draw that line? Was he willing to run from his
goals simply because his ambitions had finally evolved?
No. The answer was simple. There was nothing that could quell the desire that was pulsating through his veins and squirming through his body like some sort of sweet disease–as though his blood had turned to molasses.
He wasn’t crossing a line–he was breaking a boundary; he was tearing it
to shreds and spitting on its sad remains.
Cyrus forced himself to look at the body. There were chunks ripped from the skin–holes swept his body. The muscle beneath the skin was visible; fine tendons twisted into the air.
Cyrus spun around; Burnett was staring at him, arms crossed. There was a knowing look in his eye; it was a gaze that seemed to say, “You and I both know how wrong this is, and I’ve just convinced you to change your ways.”
Cyrus nearly shook his head in disagreement. Nothing had ever been more wrong–this was progress. This was good news. And any one who dared to say it wasn’t….
Cyrus breathed heavily. “I regret that you will no longer be offering your services to IMPOS, Burnett.”
Burnett faltered for an instant, but regained his composure quickly. “I–I can’t do this.”
“Not all can.” Cyrus frowned. “Not all can grasp change when it is thrust upon them; they must look upon it with fear.”
“This is… is a crime. I want no part of it.”
“And aren’t all great leaps in humanity a crime? For the great to prevail, the weak must perish. It is the law of the land–survival of the fittest. Humans are animals like all others, and we desire the same things. It is simply that some of us desire more than other. And the more we desire, the more we need.” Cyrus faked a frown. “It is a shame that you are unwilling to embark on this adventure, Burnett.”
Cyrus nodded. “Your capabilities fall short of my expectations. All you had to do was sit aside and take notes. You couldn’t eve do that. It’s a pity.” He turned away from Burnett. The full intensity of his gaze was on Wallace. “Where is the subject?”
Wallace didn’t speak.
“I don’t pride myself on my patience, Wallace.”
“You didn’t see?” Wallace’s voice was shaky and he still refused to look from the floor.
Cyrus didn’t respond. He moved slightly to look more closely into the room, his eyes narrowed. “What didn’t I–”
“We couldn’t stop it!” Wallace was shouting. The tone was completely adverse to his prior whimpering. He was still sitting, yet his form was erect and his beady eyes were large behind his thick glasses. “There was nothing we could do! No control! Nothing!” He seemed to be pleading with Cyrus; he was nearly begging as he leaned forward, shaking his head and raising his voice. “NOTHING!”
He was standing now–everything about him was wide with fear: his eyes, his mouth… even his face seemed to have expanded. “There isn’t any way to control what’s been created, don’t you understand that? THERE WAS NOTHING WE COULD DO ABOUT THE–”
Burnett leapt backward, ramming himself against the wall. Wallace was perfectly still as he fell to the ground–Cyrus hardly flinched. He hadn’t heard Henbane enter the room, but his presence was tangible as he lowered his gun and stared at the mess that was spilling across the floor.
“Pessimism isn’t something that Mr. Stokes can afford in this operation,” he said quietly. He glanced at Burnett. “Anyone is expendable.” He said it as a fact, not a threat.
Burnett slid along the wall, keeping his feet up from the mess that had–only seconds ago–been his partner. He seemed unable to speak; his mouth was open, yet only a strangled rasping sound escaped his lips.
“The test subject?” Cyrus asked calmly.
Burnett didn’t look at him, but nodded. “Dead.” He murmured something under his breath that sounded remarkably like, “They’re all dead,” but Cyrus wasn’t completely sure he’d heard it. Burnett could have simply released a shaky sigh.
Cyrus looked into the room again. He was giving Wallace a wide berth, as he craned his neck. Cyrus found the subject quickly: he was on his back. His fingers were opened like claws and his bloodied face was filled with a blankness unrelated to death.
“What was the problem?” Cyrus’ tone was furious. “The directions were clear. The signal–”
“Did what it was supposed to do, Mr. Stokes,” Burnett whispered. “We saw it. He killed him quickly and mercilessly.” His spine gave a harsh tremor. “Violently.”
“And we sent the second signal, as we were instructed. Theoretically, he should have ceased the… rampage–” (he spoke the word as though it was sharp liquor on his tongue) “–but he didn’t.” He shook his head. “As Wall–as my part–as was already said, there was nothing we could do. Going in ourselves would have been suicidal.”
“You have not answered why he’s dead?”
“That would be me, Cyrus,” Henbane muttered.
Cyrus turned to him.
“He was completely out of control. It was a matter of time before he left the testing area and destroyed anything–or anyone–he came in contact with.”
“I thought you said we had a complete success.”
Henbane shrugged. “I don’t see a problem in disposing of tools once they have outlived their purpose.”
“Blind killing doesn’t amount to much if we can’t make it stop,” Cyrus mumbled. He was silent for a long time. At last, he turned to Burnett, his features were rigid. “Henbane,” he began, “Burnett would like to express his resignation.”
Henbane grinned. “Of course.” He cradled his gun carefully.
Burnett shook his head; his glasses nearly fell from his face. “No, no.” He stood, nearly slipping on the floor. “My mistake. I… uh… have much to contribute to this project. Allow me to continue my work–”
“Report to the head your observations,” Cyrus said simply. He moved toward the door; Henbane followed. They both stepped carelessly over the body. Cyrus paused at the door, his voice icily calm. “And clean up this mess.” He looked from Wallace to the two bodies in the other room. “All of it. I know how difficult it is to work when your area is cluttered.” He closed the door behind him, a smirk pulling at his face.
Copyright Sarah Davidson 2020