Theod didn’t like to think of it as depression that had him lingering by the tracks, readying to jump at the right moment. It felt more like advanced boredom, but neither did he like ennui, as the insufferably hip named it. He refused to join those ranks, and while he didn’t really want to hurt himself, he wouldn’t mind being dead if it meant he didn’t have to get up and go to work in the morning.
He jumped an instant too late to catch the brunt of it and instead of granting oblivion the engine merely clipped his forearm and deflected him back onto the platform. Yet in that moment of brutal physics he saw his arm hinge on a new joint, so he lay gasping on the wet concrete, viewing a vivisected forearm. It was open from the top of his hand almost to his elbow, the skin and connective tissue flayed, the muscle pulled aside to show the shattered bones beneath. Blood welled up, but there was no pain. Instead he felt giddy, his shoulders quivering with laughter. There was some fine white powder in the breaks, and small shards. He picked up one of the larger fragments with his good hand. It didn’t look or feel like he expected. It was glassy on the outer surface and the edge was sharp. It was… ceramic, like a broken tea cup.
He collapsed in hysterics, pounding the ground with his good fist. He could barely feel it. There were people placing hands on him. Voices. His eyes watered and he was miserably hot and nauseous. In his last moment of consciousness he realized he was blind and panicked at the darkness.
Detached, he saw himself disembarking an automated train at a resource depot. The rust-red walls of the city were still visible, towers rising yet higher to a slate sky, yet there were no humans here. Instead, great harvesting machines worked, grinding up the old sprawl, returning heaps of concrete, steel and plastic to the depot. He hurried into a district the harvesters had yet to reach, losing sight of the city behind the ruins. Away from the noise pronghorn grazed above crumbled asphalt. The sprawl meandered pointlessly, endlessly via strips of dense sagebrush between boxy ruins. Lost in the labyrinth, he began to think of the tribes of cannibals and abominations they said still existed out in the sprawl. The sky turned red, and growing desperation goaded him into the open door of a two story building that had been some kind of domicile. He followed stairs down into the basement to hide, but was surprised to find a heavy steel door there. It swung on greased hinges and the stairs went down and down. The LED’s of ancient computers still flickered in the dark, vast space, and he was drawn to a glowing screen. But a painful noise startled him, the roar of the harvesters biting into the house, bringing it all down, and there were shapes on the opposite wall, advertisements, a window, a bushy ponderosa outside, and he realized that he was the one moaning.
“Back with us?” someone asked.
It took some effort, but he nodded.
“Do you know where you are?”
He found himself in a tiny, sterile room with one door, one window, and a bespectacled, gracefully aging man in scrubs asking questions.
Grasping for words, he made a guess. “Hospital?”
“I’m doctor Athew. I had the pleasure of fixing you up today.” He described the surgery that had mended Theod’s arm in the few hours since the accident; it would soon be good as new. Reading off the charts in his glasses, he detailed the therapy and prescription that would be needed to speed his recovery, never inquiring about his mental state. He had probably not seen a suicide attempt in many years; people were mostly content since the Strife ended. Content with their jobs, their families, the city—even their goddamn ennui.
Theod’s eyes hurt as he struggled to keep up with the doctor, so he shut them. The dream was still vivid behind his eyelids, like a deeply nested memory suddenly recalled. The words from the screen were still clear, though nonsensical. He spoke to take his mind off it. “I thought there was something wrong with me. My bones didn’t look… real. Like they were made of some kind of… concrete or ceramic or something.”
Dr. Athew smiled, bemused. “Well, there was something wrong with you—you were hit by a train. Don’t worry, they looked perfectly real to me.”
Theod nodded, and had to smirk. He looked down at his bandaged arm. Beneath the wrapping it was impossible to see that any harm had befallen it, and he felt only a dull ache. He reached out to touch it with his good hand.
“If you’d like we could arrange for you to stay the night—”
Something fell from Theod’s hand, landing on his chest. He picked it up carefully, squinting. It was a white chunk half the size of his fingertip, rough and dense on the broken underside, smooth and shiny on the curved outer surface. The jagged edge was sharp as obsidian. He noticed the dried blood where it had cut into his palm. And the doctor staring past his glasses at it.
“—In fact, I might need to alter your prescription a bit. I’ll have the nurse bring you something to help you rest.” He forced a quick smile and left, closing the door behind him.
Theod sat up quickly, doubling over as his vision momentarily browned out. He anticipated roaring harvesters to wake him again, but there was the shard of not-bone in his hand and the doctor’s lie. And the words on the screen.
We made you to be us in our absence.
His mind spun with confusion, repulsion, horror… everything but ennui.
Dr. Athew found the room empty. For the patient’s safety, he had locked the door. But not the window.
© 2015 by John Giezentanner
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