Light reflected of the gleaming white floors. There were tiny abrasions in the perfection that Connie noticed at the feet of the tables, certain trails that certain patients repeated ad nauseam every waking hour of their lives in the institution. She tried not to notice, tried to resist the lure of these chaotic moments along the floors, but the more she resisted the more she focused. She would lose herself in the knotted scratch marks and when she could bear no more she would look away to the worn upholstery of the couch she sat on and go over, in her head, her primary functions as she remembered them. First function was to serve the betterment of mankind, second to obey all orders to the best of her ability without question and the third was to blend with the dominant species and assimilate to their customs. These were not real functions, she was human, but her mind sometimes went back to that place. She would stop if she could but her alternatives were limited it was a choice between these false robotic functions or the chaos of the pristine floors with its rich veins of scratch marks, Yin and Yang, light and dark, too much to think about easier to just go over her functions. “Connie.”
She looked up almost relieved by the intrusion. The room was a morgue composed of chairs and card tables. Patients crowd the room all dressed in pajamas and robes. Some patients mill around like zombies, some sit in huddled groups playing endless games of hearts, checkers and chess.
“It’s time.” The nurse smiled down at Connie. Connie became suddenly aware that she had been crying and wiped her cheek as she stood.
She was lead to the office of Doctor Hayam, the head administrator of the institution Connie resided in. He was an older man with a massive shaggy beard and a Santa-like paunch. He had an easy smile and wrote a few notes as Connie sat. Her posture was always impeccable and she developed a habit of staring straight ahead whenever she was required to speak to somebody. She was fearful of eyes. “How is your day so far?”
“Good.” There was a hint of a robotic inflection to her voice as she spoke.
“I’ve brought you here today, Connie, because we’re not going to be able to house you here any longer. It’s all very complicated business stuff, but we have seen your improvement over the years and have deemed you fit to go out on your own.” The Doctor leaned back against his chair and crossed his arms behind his head in a casual manner.
“No.” Connie answered.
He scratched his head with his pen and leaned forward as he spoke again. “Connie, this is good news for you. You’re going to be independent, get a job, get on with your life.”
“Doctor, I am not well.” The smell of cherry pipe tobacco that permeated the room rushed her senses and made her swoon. Her stomach churned at the thought of leaving. She couldn’t read the Doctor’s expression, to her he just seemed to stare complacent to send her into the unknown with a duffle bag full of clothes and a bus token.
She stood outside the institution waiting for a bus. She wore a tattered jacket floodwater pants and a small top that no longer fit. These were the clothes she arrived in; she filled them out beautifully, but in a totally inappropriate way. She stood awkwardly and stared straight ahead. Quietly she went over her directives lest she become distracted by the qualities of the outside world.
Thunder rumbled high above and rain quickly followed. Connie looked upward into the vast grey waste and let the rain fall against her skin.
15 years ago
Joseph was a gaunt boy with stringy hair and coke bottle glasses. He watched little Connie play in the puddles outside. His face was slack a slight string of drool formed at his lower lip and threatened to spill over as he watched. Inside the house he could hear his parents laughing as they discussed something, he couldn’t tell what and scarcely cared, his mind was focused on his little perfect sister.
Connie played outside letting the thick mud run through her fingers before she formed up a tiny tower as an addition to her sizable mud castle. It was near the size of a city to her imaginings with winding alleys; grand towers, halls, flying buttresses and small lumpen gargoyles perched at every ledge. Joseph stood behind her, she could feel him watching, he often made her nervous. “What is your designation?” He asked.
Connie straightened her back her mind rifling for strength to object. Her eyes unfocused “Connie Jacobs.”
“Why are you playing?”
“I like to play in the rain.” She spoke robotically, it started as a game, but Joseph became more insistent the longer they played. She gave up fighting and just allowed herself to be the robot.
“You don’t like anything, I programmed you to blend in and that’s just what you’re doing. I am concerned that the rain may hurt your circuitry.”
Connie didn’t like it when he spoke like this, but it was becoming harder to remember that he was pretending, she would forget sometimes. “I’m not a robot, Mom told me Joseph.”
“She’s not your mom; she was conditioned to believe she is. To help you better assimilate. You are a prototype, a very sensitive top-secret prototype. She doesn’t have clearance. If she were to find out what you really are. The consequences could be dire.”
Connie tried to run, but Joseph grabbed her in a bear hug from behind. Connie struggled, but he was too strong and he kept saying over and over “You are a robot. You are a robot. You are a robot.”
Finally she exhausted herself from her own struggle and felt the rain pour down on her hot scalp. She wanted him to stop, but he kept repeating his phrase until it became mantra to her. Her hair was slicked to her forehead and her eyes were closed. She hated this game. “I am a robot.” She would finally say, her accent was perfect.
Connie sat on the bus surrounded by commuters going to someplace from another. The bus was a zoological collection of businessmen, homeless folks and college students. One traveler, the Mugwump, watched Connie very closely as she stared forward waiting patiently for her stop.
Grinning and evil his head bobbed in a vaguely shark-like motion. He could hear the whispers as they explained what he needed to do and he nodded his agreement.
Connie got off the bus on a deserted street and wound her way through the ghost neighborhood. Barren lawns, poverty encrusted houses and shapeless husks of rust and rubber met her at each bend in the road. Her brain was too busy extrapolating the information around her to notice the slow moving menace bobbing its head as it plodded behind her.
People moved inside caged windows some peering out at her as she passed. The jarring sound of police sirens echoed from distant blocks. Connie passed a toothless woman sitting on a stoop. They exchanged no words. The woman watched Connie and innocuously flipped a wooden drumstick through her fingers.
A wrinkled mailbox with chipped letters reading “AC BS” elicited a smile at the corners of Connie’s mouth. She looked at the knobbed weeping willow she climbed as a child. The makeshift latter her brother made from nailed boards still hung from the trees heavy hide. She traced the contours of the tree until she faced the decrepit house of her childhood. The front door hung open vulgarly, a step was missing from the deck and the screen that once held away bugs was stripped and gone the only evidence of its existence was in the draped shreds. Connie made the ascent and entered the decrepit house.
She thumbed her old keys as she crossed the threshold. Mildewed scraps of wallpaper decorated the walls. Nature had its way with the house the doorways were crooked Seussian things that lead to further profusions of weeds and animal feces. A bisected couch sat in the center of the room. Some black shape twitched on the remaining arm. Connie moved toward the shape reached out to touch it, but the demon thing sensed her presence and reared up hissing and spitting. It lashed out with its claws and slashed Connie’s hand.
15 years ago
A black cat lounged along the arm of a couch. Sunshine burst through the living room window reflecting off the cat’s shiny coat. It stretched, arched its back and yawned in one long protracted movement. Young Connie ran her hand along the cat’s back. Its muscles twitched as her fingers formed long indentations in its fur from its willowy neck to its tail. She grinned as it began purring, rubbing itself against her leaving its scent and its hair all over her frilly dress.
Connie moved to the kitchen. Jagged pipes jutted from the wall marking the absence of appliances. The sink remained but it was filled with rancid water.
15 years ago
Elise pulled a soap slickened plate from the sink, washed it and placed it in a rack with its twins. She emptied the drain and pleasantly hummed to herself as she examined the leaves of a flourishing pothos. She reached over to a spray bottle and caught her arm on one of the drying knives slicing it viciously. She recoiled instantly and looked down at the bleeding wound.
Connie reacted from the kitchen table. “Are you all right?”
The wound was pouring and the color drained from Elise’s face. The world around her started to blur and dance in an almost drunken pleasantness if not for the sharp pain in her limb she would sit and enjoy the warm spaceyness. “No it’s fine baby, just sliced myself on a knife.” She slurred. Heavy drops of red formed a community along the linoleum floor.
“Let me see.” Connie snatched the limb and pulled it to her. She wiped at the blood trying to see the wound below, but she found none. Only clean unmolested skin lay beneath the growing gore of her wrist.
Her mother felt the difference instantly the pain had retreated, but her mind still held on to the shreds of her approaching shock. She looked down to find the slice washed her wrist and the wound had disappeared. She turned to her daughter and dropped to her level. “Connie. What did you do baby?”
Connie just shrugged.
Her mother ran her fingers through Connie’s hair and smiled gratefully “You’re very special, you know that don’t you baby?”
Connie looks up at her strangely, her eyes unfocused “I know that Elise.”
Elise hugs her daughter “Call me Mommy.”
Tears streamed down Connie’s face. Her whole face lost its composure. Her nose filled with snot and her mouth seemed unable to hold in her saliva; which left her drooling as she cried. Her lower lip curled into itself, her strength peeled away from her muscles and she dropped to the floor and cradled herself in the middle of the rancid kitchen.
“There, there.” The voice was hollow and grim. It almost struck as one would be struck by a bullet or a knife. The shock and fear of that voice erased everything and replaced it with sudden panic. Her head darted around until her eyes met the man’s hulking form emerging from the shadows. Her limbs lifted her reflexively and she backed herself in amongst the ancient pipes. “What’s a pretty girl like you doin’ in a nasty place like this?” The creature said as he approached. His face entered the light it was worn and his bestial eyes carried a crazed intensity. His mouth was drawn into a rictus.
“Get away.” She wanted to scream but her voice was snatched from her in the dank air between them and it came out as a startled whisper.
“We haven’t even gotten to know each other.” Mugwump snatched at her. His maul-like hands immobilized any resistance she could muster. Her body thrashed and she kicked as hard as she could toward whatever tender vittles her foot could find, but her fear betrayed her and tore her strength away. The man just smiled at her spirited attempt and promptly put his fist in her face. Connie had up until this point never been punched. Once her father spanked her with a belt and at one point in the institution another patient scratched her face, but neither incident came close to the stunning brutality of this one punch. Her nose felt as if it had exploded, her eyes were already tearful, but this brought a whole new torrent. She imagined a mace hitting like this, Ivan Drago hit like this, Gods hurling boulders hit like this man-beast. Flashes of red sparked deep in her brain and then all went black. She heard, just faintly, one last thing from her attacker. He said “Fun Time.”
13 years ago
Joseph was alone in the dark of his room; the only light was the dull green glow of his monitor. His bedroom door opened and obliterated the darkness. Joseph rotated in his seat and looked at Connie silhouetted in the hallway’s light. Her expression was colorless, her arms held loosely at her sides and her eyes stared straight ahead. “What took you?”
She started to say “Mom,” but he quickly interrupted her. “She’s not your Mother!” The venom in his voice hacked away at her heart.
She waited for a moment before speaking again. “ Designation Elise asked me to fold laundry.”
Joseph leaned back in his chair. “What is your primary function?”
“To serve the betterment –”
“Next!” He spat.
Joseph removed his glasses and leaned forward in his chair. “To obey, close the door.” Connie complied. “Kneel.” She dropped casually to her knees between his legs. “You are not to tell Elise or Michael about this. Understood?”
Joseph unzipped his pants and watched her carefully, the glow of the computer showed the barest hint of her right cheek and eye. “Then proceed.” He breathed.
Connie could hear muttering at the edge of her consciousness. She lifted her head off a musty patch of carpet and realized she was bound at her hands and feet. She was in Joseph’s old room. The Mugwump stood in the corner tapping his forehead against the sagging drywall. He seemed to hear her, because he turned his attention to her and said, “Make them stop.” He turned to her and rubbing his temples he leaned his back against the corner. “Can’t you hear them? They keep going on and on, they won’t stop.”
Connie struggled with the duct tape around her wrists twisting and pulling her hands free as he muttered to himself. He put his hand through a wall, the sudden movement and anger startled Connie for a moment, but he kept up his assault on the wall oblivious to Connie’s presence. She quickly untaped her ankles and blasted for the window. The Mugwump turned when she began her run. She covered her head and jumped. The window broke free with little resistance. The rotting wood gave way and she was in the back lawn with few options.
The lawn was gated on all side with chain link fence and junk from years of disuse had built up making it a obstacle course of tires, old television sets, broken down bicycles, glass, garbage bags and other unidentified refuse. Her clearest path was to the old shed.
10 years ago
The shed door was open. Joseph leaned in the doorway, his demeanor was casual even friendly as he beckoned Connie. “Connie, come in here. I need to show you something.”
Young Connie walked slowly, stiffly to him and entered the warm glow of the shed.
The Mugwump hunched outside the broken out window and watched Connie. She seemed oblivious to him, freed from her previous panic. The voices pushed for him to attack, beat her down and rape her, but he felt something stirring in his freakish heart and felt this strange curiosity come over him.
She entered the shed.
10 years ago
Joseph looked down at her as she entered. “I need you to understand that this is your fault.”
Connie’s parents, Michael and Elise, lay in a heap in the corner of the room. Their necks jutted at broken angles, blood and bruises speckled their bodies. Michael had a slash along his mouth that curved his expression into a vicious smile and Elise seemed to have been stabbed in the stomach. Connie tilted her head like a confused dog and looked back at Joseph.
“I told you not to tell them and now look.” The sound of Joseph’s voice is curved like he is holding onto a laugh. Connie wondered if perhaps this was some prank he and her parents had pulled. At any moment they would jump up and yell surprise, grab Connie and hug her till she burst. She couldn’t find it in her to express any of it. Instead she felt the wetness of a single tear burn down her cheek. “You did this, you killed them Connie, robot girl.”
Connie stood at the center of the shed and turned when her pursuer’s massive form eclipsed her shadow. Connie gripped a solid seeming board from a pile of them off to her left. “They keep talkin’. They want you.” He says.
Connie brandished her club and turned to face him.
He bull rushed her; the force lifted her off the ground. As she raised she swung with the club and caught him full on the crown. He responded by grabbing her by the throat. She dropped the club as he forced her tiny body against the wall. He moved in close to her nearly nose to nose before he spoke. “Someone died in here. I can smell it. I’m thinkin’ that you done somethin’ awful here. I wanna know what it was. Why are you here pretty girl?”
10 years ago
Joseph stood facing the pegboard wall full of tools. He clucked his tongue as he looked over the various instruments. He grabbed a garden trowel and a hammer and held them as if weighing them against each other. “You are no longer a viable subject. You’re going to deactivate yourself. Kill yourself. Which tool will be best? Any suggestions?”
Connie stood frozen in place her face devoid of emotion. “I do not want to deactivate.”
He turned violently towards her and slapped her across the face, a red mark started to from almost instantly. “How many times do I have to tell you? You don’t want anything.” He grabbed a screwdriver from the pegboard and slapped it into her hand. “I wish there were another way, but you brought this on yourself.” He lifted her hand up with the screwdriver in it and pointed it toward her heart. “Now impale this through your chest.” He stepped back. “Obey.”
She looked over the screwdriver and up at her brother, “I will not.” She answered.
Joseph’s face turned beat red “You did this!” He pointed at their parents again. “You forced my hand, now you need to not be here. The experiment is over. Just do it.” He paced and threw his hands in the air. “Do it.”
Connie lifted the screwdriver up, it felt heavy and warm in her hand, and she thrust it into her brother. The screwdriver caught him squarely on his back and sunk in deep. She cried out, shrieked and ran from the shed.
She had the phone in her blood covered hands and spoke into the receiver, “The programming failed. They are dead, all dead. Please, please come.”
“I killed him.” Connie answered.
“Me.” A grizzled bum leveled a sawed off shotgun at the interloper. He moved with a drunken swagger and his nose had the beaten red ball shape of an alcoholic. He glared at Connie through watery eyes. The Mugwump dropped Connie and moved toward Joseph. Joseph barely seemed aware of his presence, he focused all his attention on Connie as she coughed and wiped blood from her face. Joseph pulled the trigger sending a spray of buckshot into the beast.
He fell against the wall grabbed at the smoking wound. He looked up blood dribbled from his mouth as he grinned at Joseph. “Pussy.” Joseph fired again and ambled toward Connie.
“I’ve been waiting for you Connie.” He reloaded his gun as he spoke. “I’m very cross with you Connie. The second directive was obedience.”
“I’m not a fucking robot.” She braced herself up against the wall and wiped tears from her eyes. “Mom said so.” Joseph braced raised the gun to fire on her. Full of fury she pressed her forehead against the barrel of the shotgun, wincing at the heat. “Do you remember Mom, Joseph?” Joseph cocked the hammers back. “Do you!” Joseph was frozen in place his face a mixture of torments, the shotgun braced firmly against his shoulder. “Did she scream Joseph? How did it feel to hit her with the shovel?” Connie’s eyes were boring into Joseph who seemed unable or unwilling to pull the trigger. His finger idly traced the contours of the trigger guard. “Murderer!”
Joseph held firm then finally wavered, pulled the gun away and opened the breach. “You’re one to talk. You killed me Connie.” He put the shells in his pocket and dropped the shotgun on the floor. “Three months in the ICU only to be denied coverage. It went downhill from there hopping from shelter to shelter. No home, no job, my life was over.” He launched himself at her caught her in the stomach and pushed her face into a wall. She responded by pulling at his hair and bashing him in the face with her palm heel.
They fell apart and circled each other. “Your life?” Joseph speared her, quickly scrambled to mount her and finally pinned her arms down. The collective damage was taking its toll on her body and her adrenalin was no longer carrying her. Her struggles became weaker as he pinned her legs and arms completely immobilizing her.
“You’re not worth the bullet.” He growled.
Out of nowhere the Mugwump grabbed Joseph by the face and launched him across the room. Joseph made for the shotgun, but not before the interloper kicked it out of the way. Joseph found himself staring up at him, he tried to scramble out of the way but not before Mugwump stomped on his back. He casually picked up the shotgun opened the breach and just as quickly dropped it when he realized it was empty.
“You two are a damn piece of work. Shit, I ain’t never heard so fucked up a story. I mean I got my problems, but you are some Texas Chainsaw Massacre shit. I don’t know the particulars, but I’m sure it’s much worse than it sounds.” He paced as he spoke and then dropped to Joseph’s level. “What really pisses me off is that you busted in on my dance.”
“You want me?” Connie stood up behind the Mugwump. He turned his attention to her. “I have been away a long time. You should have just asked for a dance.”
He smirked and pulled her in close. “What about before?”
“I was startled. I was not myself, but I am now.” She hugged him around the neck and drew him close. “We are all broken.”
“What are you doing?” He held her at arms length.
“I am trying to save you.” She touched his forehead. The Mugwump tried to pull away, but she kept her hand firmly against his forehead. “I can hear the voices. I want them. Give them to me.” The light started as a pinprick pouring from Mugwump’s forehead, but the ray quickly expanded to consume them both. The column of light plumed upward from their conjoined forms blew through the roof and filtered out into the rainy sky. Tears streamed from the Man Beast’s eyes as his heart filled with warmth he had never known was possible.
The air around them felt electric, alive, it caressed Joseph as he covered his eyes. He heard faint whispers that shamed him for what he had done and bade him to seek forgiveness, but his mind pulsed with fear and he grabbed the shotgun and burst from the remnants of the shed and into the house.
Connie placed her hand on the Mugwump’s chest and dark clouds billowed from his chest in heavy motes. It whirled the air and was eviscerated by the pouring tremendous light, whispy tendrils were all that remained. Yet more energy flowed from Mugwump and tore into Connie as if in its death knells it was trying to fight her, attack her, kill her. It pulsed into her eyes and mouth blotting her face. A final explosion of light and dark finished off what was left of the shed.
Connie and The Mugwump were left kneeling in the empty space the shed once occupied. Smoke or steam wafted from Connie’s tiny form. She stood slowly and walked to the Mugwump. His limbs hung against the ground and he looked up at her serenity washed over his face. “What did you do?”
“I took away the voices.” She wiped the sweat from his brow. “I can hear them, vile and full of anger. I’m sorry for what you’ve gone through.” She left him, “ I need to speak to my brother now.”
Joseph is cowering in the corner of his room. He looked up as she entered, his eyes wild and his whole visage wrought with terror. “What are you going to do to me?” He tried to press himself further into the wall, but it wouldn’t budge.
“Nothing it’s over now.” She gave him her hand. “I forgive you.”
The Police greeted Connie as she stepped out of the old house she grew up in. They yelled things at her as she approached, their guns were drawn and their stances were rigid pictures of action. Connie knelt down in front of the Police and they were quick to claim her. Joseph wandered out of the house, the shotgun at his side. “Connie!” He yelled, she didn’t turn; frustrated he raised his shotgun oblivious to the Police orders. They were unforgiving in their assault. Joseph was ripped apart in seconds as the bullets pierced his chest, arms, legs and head. He managed two more short steps before a stray bullet caught him in the ocular cavity and pushed its way to the back of his skull creating a fist sized hole accompanied by a fine pink mist.
Connie looked up at the nearest Officer and said very quietly and with a robotic accent, “It is over now.”