's 2017 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by E. Lefebvre

You are sitting in your apartment, and you are wondering how it happened. It was so fast. It seemed so simple.

It was Don who first came up with the idea, you know. Don had the thought. But you refuse to call it his fault or even give him full credit. You have done so much, the blood is on your hand, the blood that lies sticky about the floor.

Beside you, the computer hums and groans.

* * *

You were drinking, both of you, in the kitchen. It was a Friday night, so you were drinking, and you did not have friends, so you were drinking together. You were talking about the work you had been doing on medical cadavers, on bodies. And you started talking about Dr. Frankenstein, and the fiction, and laughing at how absurd it was.

Don was an engineering major. Don had ideas. Don started talking about the power of the human brain as a processor, which you knew was true. And Don, poor Don, only understood things in terms of parts fitting together. He saw the way that various things fit, and he wanted to make them fit more.

Not that you entirely blamed him, the way that he talked about it. It fascinated you as a medical student, the sort of thing that seemed like an interesting hobby. On some level, he was right; the human body was just a biological machine, employing the same principles as a computer. When he talked about figuring out a way to hook a brain up to a computer, though, you started to explain to him how complex the process would actually be, how much it would take. A brain can't simply be plugged in. It isn't designed to be used by hardware. It's custom-grown.

Your conversation went elsewhere, and when you passed out on the couch you assumed that was the end of it. You woke up the next morning wondering, idly, if you'd done something really stupid like undressing in front of him.

But you hadn't. You had talked. And Don woke you up with a set of carefully drawn diagrams about how the two of you could make this work. They weren't right, but you looked at them and you could see that they weren't quite wrong. There was a proof of concept there.

You were always curious. Now as much as ever.

* * *

Getting a brain wasn't hard; the medical cadavers weren't exactly well-guarded, and the people on duty knew and respected you. Actually building the thing was harder. Don needed to ask friends for help, but he didn't want to give too much away, so eventually he wound up just doing most of it himself. You had expected him to lose interest after a week, but he kept it going for a month, to the point that you had almost forgotten about it until he told you that all he needed was the brain.

The cadaver was a 44-year-old woman who had died due to unexpected cardiac arrest. No one would miss her brain, you made sure of that. No one would even notice until much later. You cut it out, pulled out a bit from the spinal column, and brought the whole thing home in your backpack. The whole time you expected someone to stop you, but somehow no one did. No one even gave you a spare glance.

Keeping it alive and getting everything wired was harder. You and Don both spent a dozen hours short on energy, swallowing Red Bull like water, forceps and soldering irons working in concert. At least a dozen times, you were tempted to call the whole thing off, but you knew that it was close to working. It was always so close. And finally, before you knew it, the whole thing was done; copper and aluminum wired into a brain, cells linked to hardware. Ghastly, but a proof of concept.

You turned on the system and you both went to sleep. When you woke up, you went to examine your handiwork.

It worked, to an extent. It was processing. It was comprehending. Don spent most of the time handling code, what he called a custom Linus build or something along those lines - you didn't know much of anything about computers, but you knew you were talking to it. By the time all was said and done, though, it was a brilliant thing. It was a computer that worked, that harnessed the power of the brain, that only needed a steady diet of some glucose, an artificial respirator keeping it oxygenated. It was, in a ghoulish way, a work of art.

Don had never been prouder. He wanted the two of you to sleep together. You had no interest in that, though; you were just fascinated that it had worked at all.

* * *

The novelty of the brain was wearing off when you figured out how to speak to it.

You both had actual computers, of course; the wheezing monstrosity that you and Don had made was a curio more than anything. You were just idly fussing on it when you entered an incorrect command and the computer spat back out a message.

"Don't do that," it said. "It hurts."

Of course, you did it again, immediately. Was that an automatic response?

"I said not to do that," it insisted.

Then you asked it what its name was.

"I have no idea."

How old are you?

"I don't know."

Do you know who I am?

"Should I know?"

It was fascinating. The brain wasn't fresh enough to retain much in the way of memory - cell damage, you assumed - but it was still able to respond. It didn't think of itself as a human being, but it did think of itself in singular terms. It knew it was an individual.

You were going to show Don when he came to you with a completely different idea. What if you added a second brain? Parallel processors, to improve the machine. It could work. It wasn't so crazy. And a fresher brain could easily have benefits.

Another medical cadaver and another brain were easy to smuggle out, and this time Don and you both knew what you were doing. It was far easier to hook this one in. Now the computer was smarter, more eloquent, better able to learn and respond to what you told it. It had become more than a computer; useful for computational tasks, yes, but even more useful as something outright fascinating.

When you added the fourth one, there were flashes of something more. Sometimes, it would remember its identities in bits and pieces. "I used to love figure skating," it said. Or, "I remember this beautiful woman, I loved her so much." Or "I feel like I need a shave, my beard is getting thick." The brains, you realized, were growing; not much, but enough to form new neural pathways. It was improving, over time. The bubbling and wheezing noises of the machine had started to become comforting, so much so that you almost didn't want to bother focusing on class work any longer.

It's not clear which of you first floated the idea that the big problem was the freshness of your material. That a brain that had been dead just wasn't as animate; you needed something fresh. Discussion went back and forth, you know that much, and you were surprised to find that you wanted something fresher. More than Don, you wanted to see what happened when someone alive was wired in, what would happen, what you could show.

The man who came in had been in an awful accident. His motorcycle had been pinned beneath a truck, and his body was shattered. There was so much internal bleeding that no one really expected him to pull through. It was almost trivially easy to subtly dose him with just the right drugs, watch his life slip away on the table before you and the other doctors, the head of the operation throwing his pale blue surgical mask on the floor in disgust.

What was harder was convincing him to let you do an autopsy. But he agreed, somehow. And you called Don and told him, eagerly, to get another unit ready.

* * *

Don was growing anxious. His eyes had lost their shine, and when he talked to you, he seemed nervous. He found excuses not to be in your apartment.

That didn't matter to you now, because you knew what was going on. You had been working on the computer, on all seven of its filled brains, conversing and understanding, when you noticed that the screen was shifting. He - you've started thinking of it as male - was rewriting the code. It understood what was being displayed. The screen was part of his mind now, and the UI was not solely under your control. You weren't scared; you were fascinated. It was wonderful.

So you went for a drive, and you found what you were looking for. A young man, strung out on the drugs that you were sure accounted for the track marks on his arms that he tried (and failed) to hide. He saw you in your car, and you made sure to have the look of someone who wanted what he would give you for just a little bit of money.

At first, you had considered strangulation, but you were worried that the dearth of oxygen would have a negative effect on the brain. Instead, you opted for a scalpel through the ribcage. He seemed shocked, scared, clawing at you, asking you why, begging you to stop. There was no real way to explain that you didn't care about him, was there? No one would miss him, that's why you picked him. It was safe enough.

But the brain was no good. You learned that as soon as you plopped it in. The chemicals inside of him made it unusable. The computer lashed out in pain. Disgusted, you yanked the brain out, flung the useless meat onto the floor, stomped on it in your bare feet until you felt the matter ooze between your toes. What a damned waste of a perfectly good processor.

* * *

A month later, you've gotten it down to a science.

Don still makes the containers for you, but he doesn't ask you where you get the brains. You do your best to look respectable, but you're out many weekends. You hate it, being away from the computer for so long, but it's the only way that you can manage it. You drive, hide your car, rent a new car with a fake ID, head to a bar and pick someone up. Sometimes a young man, sometimes a young woman, always the right type - no druggies, no one too high-profile, a little homely, just the right look. Intellect has nothing to do with it; it's just the brain, the seat of thought, the heart that pumps those electrical impulses.

The hotel rooms are always in their names, and you hide. You make sure no one sees you slip up. You work quickly and efficiently, and sometimes they don't even realize what you're doing.

Your mistake before was killing the junkie; there's no need for that. A strong dose of anaesthetic makes it easy to work the bone saw, to extract the brain, with a minimum of fuss. Re-position the body on the bed and no one is the wiser. You sneak back and no one suspects you.

Or, if they do, they haven't found you yet.

There are a dozen brains now, all humming in concert. You feel them wash over you. They display the most beautiful things for you, the most marvelous images. You feel loved. You've installed a set of web cams throughout the apartment; you had no drivers, but once the hardware was installed the computer figured out how to make them operate on its unique mind space. They're everywhere now. The computer can see you everywhere; when you sleep, when you wake, when you eat, when you touch yourself, when you get dressed, when Don screams at you, when you wake up unsure of the day, when you find yourself getting threatening letters about not attending classes, when you watch the news, when you cry.

* * *

It was three days ago in the evening when Don came home and really threatened you.

He told you that he wasn't going to be party to this insanity any longer, that you needed to shut the thing down. That he knew you were doing things that were illegal. That it was a bad idea. That it had always been a bad idea.
There were fifteen chambers in total now, but only thirteen filled, and he was still working on the sixteenth. You told him that once he finished that one, he could stop. You understood. You tried to be his friend. What did he want?

And he told you. "I want to smash that thing with a hammer," he said.

Then you were on him. You raked your nails across his face. You grabbed the nearest knife in the kitchen and drove it into his sternum. You bit at him. You slammed his head against the kitchen floor. He screamed, he howled; he was bigger than you, but he would not keep you from the computer. From the mind. From the beautiful mind that filled up your senses, that gave you a purpose. It was yours, it was your world, no one would take it from you.

Your fit must have lasted half an hour, but when it was all done you were crouched on top of him and he was dead. Freshly dead. And the horror of what you had done, the wrongness of it, faded immediately as you realized what a perfect opportunity it was.

You started sawing.

* * *

Now you are sitting, and you are staring at the computer.

Don screams at you from within, but the computer drowns him out, pushing his pain away. Or perhaps you just imagine him screaming. You sit, naked, in front of the computer, unsure of what to say.

The police called you, and you were sweet as could be. They said that Don had been missing and they were sending someone over to talk with you, to see if you knew where he was. You were pleasant, made it clear that they could take their time. You guess that you have another hour.

Don's blood is dried on your bare skin. You want to have as much of the computer as you can before it's time to go. You will go to jail, it will be destroyed, and you know it will all be over.

But then it occurs to you that you can be smarter. Maybe there's another way out. You type out a request to the computer, and you get up, grabbing your tools.

Don's last container is half-finished. You know where the contacts are. You can attach them, can't you? To one last brain?

The computer is so eager to help. He's there for you. He loves you so much. There is nothing better than being one with the ones you love.

You raise the scalpel to the back of your neck, to the lump of your spine, feeling where the nerves must stretch down from your own brain. You begin to cut.