The Apokalypsis Pentaptych
She started crying at the age of fifteen and could not stop. How it started not even she knew now; possibly getting dumped by that boy she liked, the one with the green eyes and chestnut hair, or it might have been that poetry contest she was sure she’d win but didn’t, or it could have been just a burst of overwhelming hormones. Whatever the cause, she cried and cried, and then when she was ready to stop, she found herself unable. Her tear ducts locked open, the flow of saline a constant thing.
The bucket that her mother placed by her bed was replaced by a larger bucket to decrease the trips to the bathroom to empty it. With no sign of stopping, her father bought an inexpensive bathtub and rigged up the plumbing so that the tears would funnel to the outside and connect up with the drainpipe. But the tears continued unabated, and soon the garden was flooded, and then the entire yard.
The doctors were stumped, and angry at their shoes being ruined by the salt water. She wasn’t getting dehydrated, they said, so we don’t have any idea where the water is coming from.
She was taken to the Grand Canyon, but she filled it. They placed her in the sewers, but she flooded them. Her parents drove her out to the middle of Arizona and left her there.
Her tears overflowed the world, drowned out the buildings, the people. She floated on an oak door in the sea of her sadness, and cried for her solitude. But soon, survivors appeared on their makeshift rafts and said, “We are here to worship you, to tell you that you are not alone.”
She looked at the small band of travelers who had sacrificed so much to reach her, and she smiled. The tears slowed, then stopped. She was happy.
You knew this would happen, didn’t you? I don’t put it past you to have omitted certain facets of my existence, to leave me out of the loop. “Oh, I just didn’t get around to telling you,” you might have said, or, “Well, I really didn’t think it was that important.”
But it is important. My dissolution is pretty. Fucking. Important.
When you patched me together from the corpses of others, you knew I would have a shelf life, a termination point, a sell-by date. A decade of life may seem like a long time, but it’s just a drop in the bucket, a cosmic blink. I’m disposable, the tissue you casually toss into the bin when it no longer serves your purpose.
I’ve tried to hide it with baggy clothes, but people are starting to notice the pieces dropping off of me, like a snake’s second skin, only this is my only skin, these my only parts, and I am slowly losing them all. It has been five years since I escaped from your laboratory, and the people of this lost European city have grown used to seeing me on the streets. But the smell is getting unbearable, this leprosy of the undead, and even when I try to buy bread or fish at the market stalls, the merchants see the trail, the long trail of detritus extending behind me, the rotted bits and pieces of me, and they deny me purchase, cowering behind their stalls, as if they could catch my affliction.
It’s hard to walk now that my toes are all gone. I sneezed last week, and my nose dropped into my lap. When I set out a saucer of cream yesterday for the neighborhood cats, my lower lip and one of my ears slid off my face and splashed into the whiteness.
It can’t be much longer now.
What will be left of me when this is all done? How will I be found? An assemblage of body parts, now come unstitched? It seems such a senseless way to end this existence. I wonder what the gendarmes will think when they investigate my dissolution.
Times like these, I wish I hadn’t escaped. Maybe you could have fixed me, replaced the old bits with new. Maybe if you hadn’t died of emphysema (I always scolded you for your cigars), I could have pleaded with you for a longer life. Maybe you would have agreed. But, it no longer matters.
So I sit in my dusty hovel, and I read the broadsheets, holding the papers with my few remaining fingers. Every time I cough, bits of my lungs separate themselves from the rest of me. I sit here, and read, and slowly fall to pieces.
The more he scrubs it, the more it bleeds.
It is the size of a tick, and clutches fast to an area just below the pit of his right knee, at the top of his calf. But he is not worried about Lyme disease, since it is, in fact, not a tick.
When they take you up into the blinding light, you are disoriented and afraid. When they return you, often without any memory of the abduction, they leave behind a tracking device. An organic nub that relays information about location and blood sugar level and thyroid balance.
Most don’t remember the trip, the examinations, the scrutiny, the taking apart and putting back together again. Most don’t, but he does.
It has been three months, and he wakes every night, screaming and tangled in sheets soaked through with his own sweat.
When he tried pulling off the tracking device, every joint in his body shrieked with the feeling of shards of glass being ground in. When he tried to burn it off with an acetylene torch, his heart and lungs temporarily shut down. When he tried to drown it in rubbing alcohol, he urinated blood for a week.
He feels them peering into his brain, using the device to look through his eyes, feel through his skin. More and more, his body does not feel like his own.
And so he scrubs at the tracking device that looks like a tick but isn’t, grinding the steel wool into its surface and the surrounding skin of his calf, turning both a deep incarnadine.
He still scrubbing as they reappear, blinding him with blue-white light, gently taking the steel wool from his raw fingers, looking this time more angry than inquisitive, numbing his nerves with their long fingers, no longer interested in examination. As he quickly falls into the black hole of unconsciousness, he knows that he will not be returning this time, that this time they are abducting him to inflict punishment, to teach them who is dominant, that resistance is useless.
We sit here, you and I, together in this cell, unknowing, unaware. I watch your jerky movements, spastic, the twitches of thousands of misfired neurons. I do not remember you, and from your blank look I can see that the feeling is mutual. I do know that I loved you, even if your identity is gone, like mine.
The dry cake they feed us, delivered once a day through a wall tube, crumbles like ash, tasteless, void of nutritional value. Water drips somewhere, but I cannot locate its source. I am thirsty, my lips cracked, my skin parchment. I know nothing other than this cell, and you.
Why do they, whoever “they” are, keep us here? Flashes of intelligence secrets linger in my hippocampus, though nothing I can grab on to, vaporous and ephemeral in the eye of my mind. Information important to the opposition, to the rebels. Haven’t we given them everything they want to know?
Whatever procedure they used to delete my memories seems to have overloaded your poor brain, and you can only communicate now in grunts, reversed down the evolutionary chain to your simian ancestors. Your movements become more erratic every day, and I fear you will turn violent.
Perhaps they have forgotten about us, now that they know everything we know. Maybe our side attacked, and is unaware we are here. Or you were actually the interrogator, and I fought back. Or maybe the reverse is true. It’s impossible to know for sure.
The air grows thin. I have lost all hope of being released from this place. Either I will starve, or you will kill me in ignorant rage. I do hope it happens quickly. The one thing I hang on to is the knowledge-perhaps false, perhaps true-that at one time, long ago, I held you in my arms and kissed you, and you kissed me back.
She stood there mesmerized as Honey Volcano erupted in front of her, awake now after two millennia of dormancy. Sugar crystals ignited in the air, then drifted down to settle on the thatched roofs of the homes of the townspeople. Screams from behind her, and the thunder of stampeding exodus, but she couldn’t take her eyes away from the exploding mountain. Thick syrupy lava oozed a swath down the slope, its path taking it straight into town, straight through her. She closed her eyes and let it claim her. She recited the poetry of her ancestors as it flowed over her feet, ankles, shins, knees, waist, stomach, breasts, shoulders. Her words still uttered as the honey-colored lava slipped over her head, her words as mellifluous as the flow, her voice preserved for centuries.
Today, if you can find the poor abandoned village, and if you can manage to excavate down to the houses and trees and lives that were assimilated by Honey Volcano, and if you chip away at the lava rock enough to find an air bubble, in that moment of release when your pick frees the air that has been trapped for hundreds of years, you will hear ancient poetry, recited by a faint but beautiful female voice.
Background music: “corona radiata,” by Nine Inch Nails, from their album the slip. It is available for use under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.