Visual art by Shusu Hsu.
You are a rat in the machine. You are running. Run you bastard rat run. You have always been running like this. Always been scrabbling along the constantly turning wheel, claws slipping on the grease. Can you even remember how it was before you started running? Oh how they taunt you. They wave success before you. Münster success. Dangling on fraying rope. You can almost taste the sweat dripping from the cheese. Taste it between your razor sharp incisors. It will be delicious. Then they inject you again. It hurts. It burns. It burns like… It burns like the last shot they gave you. The last boost of steroids they sent coursing through your blood. That is all you know anymore. The way your muscles tense. The way they spasm. The searing in your chest as you run. One day these shots will let the military men in the middle east shoot one more civilian before they curl up to die in the dust. But how could you know this? You are a rat. Why should I tell you this story? I do not want to talk to a rat. You do not care.
Run. Cheese. Run. Run. Cheese.
Now you are Mrs. Brown. This will be much more fitting. You are as simple as your name. You are of medium height, medium stature, and moderate temperament. Your hair is brown. Short cut. So you do not burn it off in a cylinder of hydrochloric acid. You like to keep your hair in relatively nice condition and are hoping to seduce a man that works in communications. You never will. I can tell you this because it is a given. It is no surprise. You wrap your coat around yourself. It is white and reaches down to your ankles. Something else to do with hydrochloric acid. The safety procedures are all that matter anymore. If you keep safe then you will be able to spend another evening defrosting a Kids Meal while watching Desperate Military Wives. You feel empathy for them, but you are more desperate than any of them, Mr. Brown will never come home. He will shit himself dead in a small outhouse in Afghanistan. Gonorrhea. A warrior’s death.
Maybe you now know who you are. Know the semantics of Mrs. Brown, and thus can be told your relation to the story.
You wake up and brush your teeth. Tom’s All Natural toothpaste. It tastes like acid rain but you do not care. It is healthy. You edit that statement. It tastes like Hydrocloric acid. The PH of rain is not nearly high enough to affect the taste buds. But, acid on the other hand. Oh how you love the acid. You hang your chemical proof trench coat over your shoulders. Safety first kids. On the walk down to your car you pause. Today feels like a good day to stay home. To sip a mug of cocoa in front of the telly. Your intuition is usually very good. But. You have never missed a day of work before. Your car is a grey one. It is made by Toyota and promised to be able to handle in the snow. A pair of small fluffy dice dangle above the dash board and the oil hasn’t been changed in months. You have only crashed it twice. A record. The dents barely show anyway. Neither do the coffee stains on the upholstery. You fire up your car and drive to work. Poor Mrs. Brown. You should have stayed home today.
You walk into the laboratory. Everything is starch white. It reminds you of a movie that played last night on the SyFy channel. Everyone except the main character died. The main character then realized he had become part of the system and hung himself in the starch white laboratory. The movie made you cry for three hours. You walk down the hallway and notice a sharp smell. It must be a new cleaning solution. Gleaming before you is the number 29. That is your office. You open the door and scream.
That is all you need to do. Scream.
Run. Cheese. Run. Cheese. Cheese. Run.
Now, and you will like this part. This part is exciting. We look back roughly two hours. 120 minutes. 7200 seconds. You are now a man named Paul Schneider. I will call you Paul. Not because you have any more right to a surname than Mrs. Brown, but the name Schneider catches the tongue. Catches it like a noose. You have a bristly mustache, much like your father did and live a slightly more exciting life than Mrs. Brown. But you do not need to know this. All you need to know of yourself is that you are very timely. You have a small green Swiss Military Watch. Not only does it tell you the time in 30 different countries but it also tells you the temperature in Mumbai and whether there will be rain or fog next week. It is a shame for you that it does not tell the future. You just had to come early didn’t you Paul?
You wake up at 6:30 in the morning. Still rubbing sleep from her eyes your wife complains about you getting up so early. She looks beautiful like this, trapped in a cocoon of sheets. You pause momentarily to stare at her, feeling a momentary pang of guilt. The guilt passes. You remember what she looks like. Who she is. She is only beautiful because you can not see her through the royal crimson sheets. You had hoped the sheets would add spice to your crusting sex life. It only gathered more dust. You had married her for convenience anyway. You have been splitting the rent with her for the past two months, but she will leave you soon. It is not even a guess. It is a given. Your savings have been exponentially decreasing. You even drew out a small graph of the practical half lives of your wealth. It did not help you save any money. You can attribute the impending poverty to the bike insurance you have been paying out your ass. BUT. You had to have the Kawasaki. It goes so fast. And the looks women give you are so fresh.
You take an hour long jog, checking your cardiometer every 10 minutes. You want to be in top condition. After your jog you fire up the Ferrari. It rumbles in the most pleasing way. You drop by the florists briefly on the way to work. Despite the protests of the florist, you buy a bushel of aging roses. You deny the discount she offers you for the wilted flowers. A matter of pride. You do not know much about flowers anyway. You don’t think Mrs. Brown does either. You know courting Mrs. Brown will only serve to damage your relationship with the wife further. I can not fathom what it is, but you see something special in the stupid scientist. You don’t have very good taste in women do you Paul?
You drive to the laboratory. You unlock the sliding glass doors at the front of the building. You want to go through the front door today. Stride in your moment of triumph. If only you had taken the side entrance. You would have noticed that the side door was slightly ajar. Would have saved so many lives.
You walk down the gleaming hallway to a door marked 29. You remark how unimpressive the bronze numbers look. They haven’t been polished in days. This is Mrs. Browns office. It is also where they keep the rats. You hate the rats. You and Mrs. Brown both. You work with them in the name of science however. The stupid creatures could rot otherwise. The door is locked. Mrs. Brown has not been here yet. The keys work for all the doors however. An oversight of the management. You step into the office. Something is wrong. You know it but you haven’t placed it yet. You set the roses down on Mrs. Brown’s desk and stare at them briefly. Maybe one day the two of you will call it love. Spine still crawling, you look upwards at the ceiling of the dark room. A single empty noose recedes from the gloom. The rats are in a frenzy. You tense.
The chloroform works so fast.
Run. Cheese. Run. Cheese. Cheese.
You might be confused at this point. Might wonder of the fates of Paul and Mrs. Brown. Neither of them mattered. But you are empathetic. Human. You are not the only one that is confused. Detective Ramiro is confused. You two must briefly inhabit the same space to understand the minutia of the next part. You are Detective Ramiro.
You pour over your notes and try to ignore the bustle and commotion of the scientists around you. None of it makes any sense. You never wanted to work in Criminal Investigation. Hell. You wanted to be a pilot. You were nearsighted. Your notes are written on a small pad of carbon paper. The lab provided it for you. You have been trying to work on your organization. They say it is a necessary trait for detectives. You still forgot your pen, however, so your notes are scrawled in a glaring yellow highlighter. Three names are written on the page with a single phrase next to each. Brown: Death by acid burns. Schneider: Death by hanging. Revere: Death by hanging. It looks like suicide. You want it to be suicide. You know it is not suicide. As a detective you rely more on your instincts than intuition. You fancy yourself more of a Marlowe than a Sherlock. You do not realize that you are neither. You are a failed CU Boulder student. Your parents provided for you since. They even bought you your position into the police force. You are a trust fund detective. You hadn’t wanted that. You had wanted to fly. Wanted to spread your wings and soar through the desert skies, raining destruction from above. You had dreams of glory back then. They had kept you going those aspirations, gotten you through all the doldrums of your mediocre high school education. But then they had dubbed you 20/70. Blind, naive child. Now, you think you are Marlowe. You think you are a fictional character and nothing anyone says will convince you otherwise.
You consult your notes one more time. The murders must have come from within the company. There is no evidence of a break in. There are too many people around to concentrate. You begin to pace, lost in thought. You turn a corner into a deserted hallway. A figure appears at the end of it. You squint at them but cannot make out a face. A true detective needs no glasses. The figure begins to walk towards you, pulling an indistinguishable object from its pocket. You squint. A shot rings out. It begins. But you do not care.
You are in too much pain to care.
Run. Cheese. Run.
But it begins to soon. So many more voices need their say. How can you truly understand what happened if you do not listen to the screams?
You must now go back in time roughly four hours. Mrs. Brown and Paul have already fulfilled their respective destinies. You are now MR. Revere. Do not worry. This one will be short. Rather like Mr. Revere’s life.
You are part of the cleaning crew. You get spit on just like the rest of maintenance. You hate everything about your job. It has aged you prematurely. A scraggled beard clings to your face and your skin is simply asking for skin cancer. You think you will die of said cancer. You are wrong. But had things gone differently, you probably would be right. You are planning to quit today. To slam your papers down on your managers desk and begin your life anew. Maybe you will go to Hawaii. Buy a small yacht. Live a life of leisure on the high sea. Doesn’t that sound majestic? Yet, some things are just not meant to be. You believe in heaven however. Subscribe to all of the churches whims. You even have a small Jesus that dangles from your third ear piercing. By your beliefs, this will be the greatest favor you have ever received.
The sun has yet to rise. It is maybe 8:00. Fuck winter. You walk up to the front of the laboratory. Something catches your eye. A massive luminescent sign pulses slowly above the doorway. It reads Los Alamos Laboratory. A dark shape swings peacefully from it, framed by the neon light. You take a step closer. It is a body. You panic. You run. It is what any animal would do. You needn’t be ashamed. But. You run into the laboratory. That is stupid. You should be ashamed. Panic has such a persuasive voice. You practically run into my arms. It is as though I have beckoned you to me. I do not want to kill you. You hate the place as much as I do.
Sacrifices have to be made.
Run. Cheese. Cheese. CHEESE.
Can you see yet? You with your all seeing eye? you who has seen through the eyes of the murdered? Can you hear how the swine squeal? Do you not loathe them as well? These men of the new millennia. These fathers of a new era of science. You have seen pathetic lives. They are just a few examples. The first few brave raindrops that spatter against the pavement before the storm. Don’t you want it to rain? I promise, it will be refreshing. But first. You must see I am not heartless. I gave them a chance to repent. You must walk now as my herald. You are Gerald “Jerry” Graves. Your story starts the evening before the unfortunate demise of Mrs. Brown.
You can not sleep. The Nyquil, the sleeping pills, the crying, the masturbation, none of it will sate you. But why should it? You have been spared. You know you have been spared. He had come up to you, the only man who had really, truly, been your friend. He had told you of the day you would die. You toss again, entangling your legs in your sheet. Sleep will not bless you tonight. You have been spared. You have been warned. But it brings you no solace. Somewhere in your body you yearn to be the savior. Too be idolized as the hero. You are not to fault. For your whole life you have had more nicknames than friends. AT first you considered them one in the same. It was all In jest. A cruel jest, where you were forced to play the clown. Yet you feel no resentment. You feel no need for vengeance, you only want acceptance. That is where we differ. You run your eyes over the assorted The Amazing Spider-Man first comics you have treasured since your childhood. They are devoid of their usual entertainment. Dead to you. You never really grew up did you Jerry? I suppose you never will.
You rise from bed the next morning and report to the lab an hour later than usual. Exactly as instructed. You wear all black. You turn your Cartman and Kenny shirt inside out to hide the logo. You would never do that. But you are not really yourself anymore are you? Your compatriots barely notice you in the bustle of the day. They barely even register the events of the morning. To wrapped up in their own personal agendas to take their eyes from their work for but a moment to feel mourning for Mrs. Brown. True humanitarians. It strikes you as strange, that they are still working. Working as though nothing happened. It does not matter. You know how they will die. Miss Beryl, a woman you have always felt a strong attraction to walks by. She is wearing tight shorts and a tank top. You feel a tear on your cheek. She will die at twelve o’ clock. This knowledge terrifies you. Harold. Smugs. Peter. You watch them all walk by. You knew each of them personally. You want to do something about it. You want to go up to them and warn them. Tell them to run. Fear paralyzes you. You cannot move. Your tongue lies limp in your mouth. It reminds you of one of Doctor Octopus’s severed bionic arms. You wish you were a superhero in this moment. Wish you were more than a boy trapped inside a man’s body. You wish you could scream and tell them to run. Beautiful Miss Beryl will die at twelve 30 and 48 seconds. You begin to break down. The clock rings the hour. In thirty minutes and 46 seconds Miss Beryl will die. You can almost hear the thunder in the distance. You raise your hand to stop her. To tell her. You can be brave. You can be the hero. BUT. You are a coward.
Miss Beryl will die.
Now we must dance in the rain together. You must be me. You must be me after I have rolled in the blood of the fallen. Be my Joy. Be my victory. My friend. We are the murderer. We are glorious, glowing, a practical deity. Is our power not astounding. Just look at all we have accomplished.
We sit cross-legged in the chemical closet of room 29. The dark drapes over us. It is cool and quiet. Rats are nuzzling at a corpse beside us. We begin to shake.
They have mistreated us for so long. Us, and the rats as well. They hired us to care for the rats. To administer the steroids into their heaving skin. To hear them squeal in pain. The rats hadn’t yielded the results they needed however. They turned to us. At first they offered us small reparations, good medical insurance, the kind of things that any sane man would take a shot or two for. How easily a shot becomes three however. Then four. Then five. Then the payments began to drain away, replaced with zealous chatter. With idealistic expostulations that, We, We were the new age of science. We were the new frontier. We had had enough. Now we sit beside their corpses. The world comes full circle. Beautiful justice.
We are triumphant my friend. Immortal.
We have followed them all for so long. Planned for so many days. Watched their movements. Calculated their breaths. When they come for us. With their guns and their badges. They will ask why we did it. And when they do we will smile and we will tell them why. We will say. Because They Were Mortal.
You are confused. You are running away. You are not sure who you are. You can remember having a family. All you want is to get back to them. To find them to protect them. You hear more gunfire and run around a corner. You hide. Door number 29 stands before you. You know where you are. If you turn left you will find an exit. You remember your daughter. Lilly. She likes videogames. A real tomboy. You want to play videogames with Lilly. You still cannot remember your name. But you remember Lilly. You hear a door opening. Run. Your body screams at you to run. You freeze. A torrent of rage and fur comes pouring from door 29. Rats. You tell yourself they are just rats. There are hundreds of them. They stream around you, a wall of teeth and claws. They are not just rats. They are Armageddon. You hear the gunfire coming closer. You Scream.
That is all you get. A single scream.
That is your first thought. There it is before you. Cheese. You have been running for that cheese your whole life. There it is. There are hundreds of you. Loud noises are booming around you. Rats everywhere. Your sensory organs go into overload. You cannot think straight. Run. Cheese. Sex. Run. You begin to quiver. Clawed feet scraping against the varnished floor you run, spattering through the thin veil of blood that settles in crimson pools around you. And there is the cheese. It smells delicious. You rear above it and bite downwards. Sink your teeth deep into its succulent flesh. It is delicious.