The tear was gruesome. It came from the coat hook that had caught Meena on the back of her shoulder, after she fell from the ladder. She had been attempting to change a light bulb in the kitchen but now she stood in the bathroom, twisting her body toward the mirror, staring. The tear was gruesome. Yet it was painless as well. And because of this, a river of ice ran down Meena’s spine. It should have been horribly painful.
She took a towel and wiped away the blood. Her shoulder looked like fresh road kill; ragged pink tissue splotched in red. Meena undressed and stepped into the shower. Hot water flushed her wound, but still no pain. She bit her lip and felt a rush of heat gather below her brows, swelling deep behind her eyes. In haste, Meena turned off the water, toweled herself dry, and then went back to the mirror.
The tear had been cleansed, and now Meena gave a sharp cry. She leaned closer, pulling on her shoulder with the other hand, spreading the terrible gash. She caught a glimpse of her face in the mirror; revulsion wriggled on her lips, shuddered through her cheeks. Meena suddenly felt very cold.
A spark of fire popped out of her wound, and Meena jumped. She screamed, and then looked again into the mirror. She pulled harder, spreading skin, tissue, membrane. No blood, no pain, only tightly packed red fibers, running parallel to one another, fighting against Meena’s fierce tug, seemingly hiding that which lay beneath.
And beneath, was mechanical movement — a black cable extending from a small servo driver buried at the base of her shoulder. The cable flexed, Meena thought. Meena thought, and the cable flexed, and she thought some more, searching her past for whatever terrible accident could have caused this. Another spark cracked out of her wound and Meena fell to the floor, aghast.
There was no terrible accident, Meena was certain. The light in the bathroom faded to a dark grey, and the room grew cold as a grave. Meena curled fetal-like on the floor, wailing. She felt the tile beneath her “crawl,” as if she was lying on an anthill, and then the smooth marble floor became a pock-ridden, chalky slab of concrete.
Meena’s wailing ceased. She watched as the paint on the bathroom walls sloughed away, like rotting skin falling off the dead. No, there were no terrible accidents in Meena’s past—because there was no past, she thought.
Slowly, Meena stood. The mirror turned black, black as the cables now running the length of her arm, extending from cold joints made of brass and Teflon. A dull light dithered across the mirror, bluish silver, like a clouded sky above an icy lake. It was the turning of Meena’s apartment: the collapse of stone, the plummet of paint, the rise of death, and the birth of dust.
Meena shivered then stepped out of the bathroom, her eyes dripping mercury onto the powdery floor below. The nakedness of her body receded, along with her womanhood, as her russet flesh shrank against a spreading disease of circuitry.
When the glass windows surrounding her exploded outward into the vast purple sky forty stories high, Meena tried to scream again. She tried to scream as she watched the accessories of her life—the furniture, the photos, the many other things—soften and liquefy, then dissolve away into the floor. She tried to cry but now even her voice seemed unfamiliar, tinny and weak.
Then she heard the men stomping below, their metal boots clanking on metal stairs, gripping metal weapons with gloved hands. She heard the piercing howl of the airships outside, zeroing in on the building. She pictured these men and machines racing toward her, alarmed to an unknown threat, sweeping past a world that was quickly flaking away.
At the edge of a window, Meena observed her new world, the old world. The bones of the city matched the bones of her life, thin and brittle, eroded, reduced to a trembling state of fleeting memories. They were coming because of what Meena now knew, and what she knew was a sea of lies. Each of her memories was simply an electronic burst, one small flash in an algorithm now broken beyond repair. There were no green trees or birds in flight, Meena realized. There was no simple apartment with simple things, no other people, no friends or family, no one to remember her, no one to…
Meena’s last complicated thought was if forty stories would be high enough. She never felt the breath of the wind across her fleshless body, her leap into the air being nothing more than a step forward. She never felt the weight of the world rush toward her, hinting at an explosive ruin of metal and plastic. And Meena never felt her final bleeding, the release of consciousness as the carbon-fibered net, ionized and sizzling, spat out from the airship just before impact. Meena never felt any of these things because Meena never was to begin with.
This story originally appeared in Saturday Night Reader.
Christian Riley‘s stories have appeared in over sixty magazines and anthologies. He is represented by Trident Media Group, and his debut novel is pending publication. As a previous citizen of the Pacific Northwest, he vows one day to return, knowing that that which has yet to be discovered lurks somewhere behind the Redwood Curtain. Until then, he keeps a blog of his writings here, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.