By Brien Slate
I think I left the water running again. I tend to do that from time to time, these bouts of forgetfulness are becoming more and more regular. It’s not Alzheimer’s, I know that for sure. But who am I trying to deceive; I know exactly what the problem is. Sleep deprivation. Insomnia. Whatever, call it what you want. I splash water onto my face and stare at the reflection in the mirror. I didn’t leave the water running, I realized, no I had turned it on when I entered the bathroom. I ask my reflection how long I’ve been standing here, but he doesn’t answer. He never answers. Good god, is that me? I’ve really let myself go, haven’t I? I didn’t realize I could actually grow a beard like this, I’m almost impressed, but these bags under my eyes, don’t look healthy at all. Is pallid a word? I think I read it somewhere but honestly, who can remember these days, am I right? I laugh at my own joke; I am not pleased with what I hear. God, my laugh sounds as hollow as I feel and how that reflection looks. I grin at my wit; it’s been the only thing keeping me sane of late. Isn’t that a hilarious concept though? Sanity… The word feels dirty in my mouth, like some taboo slur that I have no right making my tongue create. I notice I’m grinning and what I see scares me, makes me feel sick. Somewhere in my mouth, the roots of a tooth are rotting and liquefying, oozing blackened blood. I wasn’t aware that sleep deprivation could cause this sort of physical trauma. How long has the water been running? Better question, how much more water is there? I splash water on my face and straighten up, consciously making an effort to turn the little nob and end the gurgling flow. Mirror me, I address the reflection, how much more must I endure?
They say that if you question your own sanity, you’re not insane. That’s a thing, right? Maybe I should record my thoughts in hopes that I’ll start remembering. Maybe. You’d think someone in my profession would have something I could use to record…
I patrol the cafeteria like I expect it to be different than last time. I don’t like it in here, never did. After Kendrick’s body was found though, that’s what really set off the alarms. I didn’t know someone could have the willpower to do that to themselves. Isn’t there some sort of mental mechanism that stops that kind of thing from happening? Surely some part deep in the brain exists that shouts “No, stop, leave your eyeballs in your head, this is a bad idea” or something. He wasn’t the first, unfortunately, and I assure you he wasn’t the last. Those of us that remained tried our best to clean up the mess, but as I stand here staring at the small round table in the back left corner, it’s as if it’s the moment it happened. That terrible moment with his eye and his throat… Out of all the things I’ve grown to forget, I prayed this would be one of the memories to go. It hasn’t yet. I wish I could tear my eyes away, but that’d be just a little too ironic, no?
Suicide? Nope. Hasn’t crossed my mind once. I mean, if it had, why not just go to sleep, right? I think that’s when it started for the others. I don’t know if I can tell you how they died, though. Unlike Kendrick, I wasn’t there when it happened, lucky for me. One by one, as if being picked off by some invisible shooter, people began to die. Shit, I think a shooter would’ve probably been preferred. Would’ve been less painful and a sure lot quicker. We lost primary power three days ago and I can’t imagine the reserves will last for much longer. I tell myself the noises I’ve started hearing are due to the ship’s age, but most if not all of me knows that’s not quite true, is it? Ships don’t skitter about on legs.
I can’t look out the window anymore, that’s when I start to lose track of things. Blackness, all-encompassing blackness, I don’t know what I’d do if I ever saw a star again. We’ve been lost in deep space for what feels like forever. In a funny way, I guess I’m kind of like this ship, if you think about it. Dead inside, running low on power, drifting aimlessly through space…
My body has become reliant on caffeine. I blow on my steaming coffee to cool it, and then take a sip. I know I should be conserving the water but… priorities. Can’t sleep won’t sleep. Why am I drinking cold coffee? And why are the lights brighter? They’re starting to hurt my eyes.
Even now, as I force my body to destroy itself as I withhold sleep, I ask why. The voice echoes hauntingly down the corridors, searching out someone to hear it and respond, but they’re all dead, aren’t they? Sometimes I do remember when I concentrate really, really hard. Sometimes I can remember what they sounded like, Allana’s laugh, the way Burt’s drawl added extra syllables to his words… I don’t remember the others.
I begin to question if my mind isn’t playing tricks on me. Days are now just a notion, time has started blending together. There are times when I remember why I’m on this ship, how things started falling apart. There are times when I remember my own name, but even those have grown more infrequent. I can’t keep forgetting to turn the water off! Stupid!
There are times when I let myself just sit and stare, taking myself out of the equation. I start by trying to collect my thoughts, but that’s more of a joke, something to keep me in light spirits. I try to remember if I have a family. Had. Whatever. I’m malnourished, why am I so hungry? I’m not that far gone, I remember to eat, I remember to drink, I remember to stay alive. Don’t I? Maybe this is all my doing, and I don’t know it?
I realized I had been staring at the dead communicator hub, as if expecting a light to turn on or something. I try not think about this, how as each hour passes, I could be drifting farther and farther from salvation.
I now know that I am for certain not insane, I assure you. Why? Because I felt it move. I was walking the aft deck when I must’ve stared off again. I’m unsure how long I was away for, but what brought me back was the feeling of it moving, not too different from a slither. I remember feeling scared. I’m oddly calm now, though. I now have a why. I wonder if it can hear me talk. I wonder if it can hear me think! I find this hysterical; a deep belly laugh I haven’t felt in some time erupts from my disgusting mouth. Grotesque-sounding. I was a little taken aback when I lost hearing in my left ear.
There’s a scalpel in my hand, and I don’t know how. I’m in the Med Lab, filled with familiarity but who worked here escapes me. I looked around, too. I looked for some sort of clue as to which of my dead friends (they were my friends, right?) worked here. I stare at the paper on the desk but the letters and words are a jumble, like a foreign language. This thing in my head, this is what’s doing it. This is what’s trying to make me sleep. It won’t win! I pocket the scalpel, hoping it doesn’t notice.
I’m throwing up, or trying to. And I thought my laugh sounded terrifying! The horrible sound of my insides trying to climb up and out my throat reverberates in the bowl, sickening my working ear. I stare down at what I’ve expelled. Just a few teeth. I find it odd that this didn’t strike me as odd. Just seemed like the natural progression of things. I think it’s starting to let me feel fear again.
My reflection is wildly looking at me, is that what I really look like? I should’ve tried to mark time, stupid! I don’t know when I started recording these thoughts, how long has it been? I didn’t realize I was shaking as much as I am, or is the mirror shaking? Wait, that wouldn’t make any sense, what am I thinking. What am I thinking, with this scalpel in hand? I throw it into the sink basin and stare at the wild man in the mirror. My vision does it again, like something fluttering too close to register. I lunge closer to the mirror, smashing my face in the process, staring. The flutter again, my god what am I seeing?!
I won’t put the scalpel down. I refuse to. It can’t make me, I won’t let it. I’m pacing. Is it because I’m nervous, or is this thing trying to wear me down? I’ve been trying to piece things together but memories have started overlapping. All I can remember is this ship. Have I always been here? No! I can’t get distracted! I need to find this thing and get it out of my fucking head. My arm refuses to move, my grip a vice on the blade. It hurts to move my arm, like my shoulder is a gear grinding in the wrong direction, like I’m forcing a break. I don’t know when I started screaming, but it got much louder when I buried the tip of the blade into my forehead and began to carve. The pain blinds me, and my nose has started bleeding. Brain must be hemorrhaging, it’s fighting back. What if… I remove the blade with a sickeningly slick slurp, and run, forward, as fast as I can. I lower my head and hope. I hear my skull crack against the door to the mess hall just before I black out.
Is this what sleep feels like?
I jolt awake, slurring a scream as reality tries to realign itself. I don’t know how long I was out. I look at the massive smear of blood. My blood. Wait! Something feels different! It feels…clear. Have I knocked the thing unconscious?! I remember stumbling into the mess hall, my hand trying to stop the blood leaking from my forehead, stupid! What was I thinking? I paid no notice to the sizable gash in my dented skull leaking down the side of my person. I stumble, I think from blood loss, and have to catch myself on a table. I collapse in exhaustion, slumping to the ground, leaning against the table; my head weighs more than my neck can bear. But I do lift it, somehow. My eyes fall over the spot. The spot. Kendrick’s spot. Synapses connect, pieces fall together, dots align. I understood, I understood it all. He did what he had to. He did the only thing he could think of to get that goddamn thing out of his head. I don’t hesitate, I can’t hesitate.
My fingers dig into my eye sockets, a dull ache becoming suddenly sharp. My vision reeled, like a newborn staring at a solar eclipse, blinding light seared into permanent darkness. Then I feel the pop of my left eye, and my face and hands quickly coat with hot blood. I start screaming, but not out of pain. I start screaming because I can’t stop. My right eye pops next, like a grape. It’s in this moment I realize everything. I never stood a chance. I was never in control. As my right hand digs at my face, my left hand finds the scalpel. Kendrick had the right idea, he wouldn’t let it win, and I won’t either. I try to dig the blade into my neck, my arm refuses. My scream slowly ceases to be mine and starts to belong to the something else, but my smile doesn’t, no that’s all me. As hideous as it is, it’s a smile of victory.