's 2015 Horror Write-off:

" Before the Experiment "

Submitted by Irene Vallone

Outside the window, nothing but darkness.

I peer through the glass, craning my neck and tilting my head to change the patterns of light on the window, but to no avail.  All I see is my own reflection, my own dark eyes a mirror to the blackness outside.

There are some things, it seems, that even I cannot see beyond.

Memory, for one thing, consistently fails me.  There is a point in my life before which I can remember nothing.  I remember the exact moment I came into existence, emerging into this sterile hulk I now inhabit, empty and confused; but I possessed even then a vague tingling sensation in my mind, a memory trying to worm its way to the surface, a recollection of a previous life.

I can neither dredge this memory to the surface nor bury it entirely.  I must suffer, it seems, with the nagging sensation that I was something else; that I was one of them.

My life now has advantages, I will admit.  Immateriality has its perks.  I can move through the air with but a thought – I imagine where I want to go, and I am carried there as if by a gust of wind.  I am not limited by the scope of a physical body; I can reach through vast distances of space as if they were within arm’s length.  This realm I live in now, limited in size though it may be, grants me and my fellow inhabitants access to any part of the world we wish.  But there are things I miss about the life I believe to have once led.  I miss the basic sensations of life—eating, breathing, sleeping—that I am no longer capable of doing despite my best attempts.  I miss having a body.

I am lucky that my fellow inhabitants feel the same way, that they all possess similar nagging thoughts and unfulfilled desires.  I am lucky that our shared expertise allows us to take advantage of this place into which we emerged.  It seems to have been designed for our settled-upon purpose—by whom, none of us know.

Perhaps there will be time to investigate that after we achieve our current goal.  

One of my fellow inhabitants sends me a telepathic message requesting my presence—a single sub-vocal syllable, with as much nuance and meaning in its brevity as a perfectly constructed haiku.  I miss the inefficiency of speech, and the mouth I once possessed to speak with.

I sink through space, from the uppermost deck into the lowermost chamber.  Our latest subject is in position, strapped to the operation table.  The physical straps are more than enough to keep their primitive body restrained.  To be restrained—to be limited!  To feel the ground beneath one’s feet, to have to walk from one place to another in a single temporal direction!  A relief that cannot come soon enough.

Our subject struggles, mouth open.  Although I am no longer able to hear, I know that they are screaming.  One of my fellows lowers the muting tank from the ceiling and turns its crank, filling the subject’s mouth with putty.  It hardens quickly, inhibiting their cries.

The others part, allowing me to approach the subject.  I hang over their body, looking down at their face as their eyes widen.  They silently beg me for freedom.  I try to reprimand them, remind them of how lucky they are to not take freedom for granted, to feel sorrow when it is taken away.  I know they cannot understand me, or even detect my message to them at all.  None of them can.  None of their limited minds can interpret us properly.

I order the others to prepare for operation.  They raise pedestals from the floor and lower machines from the ceiling, and pull tools and apparatuses from distant points in space, which appear in their slim hands out of thin air.  One of them attaches suction-cupped wires to the subject’s forehead—perhaps the brain activity readings will show us the secrets of returning to the physical.

I produce a syringe.  I pay no mind to where I take it from.  As the others prepare themselves, I move ahead to take a sample from the subject.  I lower the syringe’s needle to their bare throat.

I ponder as I prepare to extract a sample—perhaps this will finally be a successful attempt.  Perhaps the samples and readings we collect from this latest subject will finally show us how to become like them again.

I see myself reflected in the subject’s eye—my stick-thin limbs and sallow skin, my minimalist impression of a head.  I look nothing like them, save for the similar layouts of our limbs and heads.

As I plunge the syringe into the squirming subject’s throat, I am suddenly filled with uncertainty.  I wonder whether I truly used to be one of these beings at all.  I am conflicted as to whether our experiments are worth the effort—whether they will ever be successful.  The feeling brings me back to a more limited time, a time when I was uncertain about many things—the reality of the world, the nature of life and death—and I am filled with sweet ecstasy.