If I told you I knew where the idea for this story came from I’d be lying, but it’s one of the stories I remain very proud of. If nothing else it allowed me to do something I rarely do: tell a love story … albeit one spun around the most deranged pregnancy imaginable.
(15 minute read)
I am wrapped in your embrace.
Warm. Loving. Together.
I am entwined with you. Contained in you. Sustained by you.
The sun caresses us, its honey glow lighting your skin. The grass presses beneath our bodies, thick and strong. People pass us, barely seen. The cool air carries us away. The day is fading. This moment lasts forever.
I try to remember when it happens.
I can’t remember. When do we first meet…? Do you remember when we are…?
It doesn’t matter. You’re smiling, just the way you used to, before—
I hear sounds in the distance. The sun disappears.
It’s coming …
It’s all I have left: I’m warm. And dry … more or less. Two things. I remember them. I use them to tell myself how things could be worse.
Just thinking that makes me want to laugh.
Things could be worse? Really? How?
I don’t laugh. It reminds me of—
I don’t listen.
Things could be still be worse. I could be cold. I could be dead. I could be hungry. I could be in pain.
I’m none of those things. I’m all of them. I’m the fading memory of a person who used to be alive. The cold numbs the pain. If I was ever hungry, my body has forgotten what it’s like. I’m alive, but this isn’t living.
I can hear it coming.
Krrrr-dmmm-scritch … krrrr—
It makes other sounds. I try not to hear them. I leave them to ring and echo across the rock.
The rock. The cavern. All of it draped in crystal blue.
Blue used to be your favourite colour. Do you remember?
But it’s not blue: it’s green. And crimson. And black. The colours fade and bloom into one another. I don’t know if it’s just my eyes; I can’t tell if they work properly anymore.
Shards of light creep in through the darkness, bouncing off the oily rock; tiny eyes staring down at me. In another life I would have been consumed with awe at the scale of this place; an obsidian cathedral, rock walls flowing like water before vaulting into the sky. From the distance comes the sound of a stream … or of something wet. All around me are tiny pockets of life embedded into the rock, demanding purchase.
All around me are the dead things that it has brought here.
All around me is the cocoon, so cold and hard I don’t even feel it.
I feel your weight on mine, pressing against me. A little piece of you; a little piece of me. We stole the belief that we could grow something together, that we could make our own perfect human in our own perfect image. We thought that nothing in the universe could stop us, that whatever we wanted was already ours to have.
Do you remember that? If I tell you our story, will you remember it for me?
Once upon a time we had more than enough happiness. We needed no one else, but our joy and arrogance convinced us that it was only right that someone else should be there to bear witness.
How long did it take to realise we were wrong? How many years?
We knew we’d have a child eventually. Until we knew we were never going to have one. The slow dawn of truth gnawed away at us, filling our lives with an emptiness we couldn’t even see. We didn’t realise what was missing until we knew it would never be there.
So, in our despair and spite, we did the only thing we could.
We left it all behind.
We left Earth.
I’ve never been so alone.
But I’m not alone.
There’s something else in here with me. There’s something else inside me. I can’t feel it, but I can feel the space that it fills. I feel the hole that it’s made. I feel it feeding. I feel it breathing.
I sustain it. I contain it. I am giving everything I am to it.
The pain has long gone. The parts of my body have given up trying to feel, their agonies have plateaued into distant memory. I am fading into nothing. The thing inside of me lives and grows. It becomes.
I wonder if anyone will remember me.
I wonder if it will remember me.
They wanted explorers, adventurers, pioneers; people with everything to live for and nothing to lose.
That was us.
We were the second generation. The waypoints and hyperspace tunnels had already been built by people bolder and crazier than we ever were—people who hadn’t always made it back. People who were no longer there to tell us what waited on the other side. We were the fresh stock, packaged up and sent to the new frontier. A hundred of us packed into a deep space shuttle and flung towards a tiny planetoid that was barely a moon. If we survived, they’d send a thousand next time: if we didn’t, they’d write us off and look further down the list. Until then, we had it all to ourselves.
Our new home was fresh and untouched, travelled only by the robots that had been sent ahead to construct our homes for us. We were the first living creatures to visit this new world.
So we thought.
It was perfect, wasn’t it?
We hardly noticed the others. The arrogant scientists, the scarred veterans, the criminals, the families who didn’t realise they’d been conned until it was too late. None of them mattered. All that mattered was the new life waiting for us.
Do you remember those days?
We felt like the whole world belonged to us.
Do you remember how long a day is here?
It’s been so long since I last saw the sun …
We were sent to explore, and that’s what we did. We travelled just so we didn’t have to stop. We wandered as if we owned the place, invading every corner of its surface. We’d been told to look for food, sources of water, locations for new colonies: anything that could make the planet habitable.
We found something else.
You’ll come for me. I know you will.
You wouldn’t—you couldn’t leave me alone like this. We’re inseparable. Entwined. You’re the only thing I can feel anymore.
You’ll come and take me, wrench me away from this place. That’s the dream. That’s the memory. We’ll go back to our sun-drenched field, just you and I. All the horrors that we found in this place, all the death that we uncovered, all of it forgotten. All of it forgiven. It’s just us.
We had no idea what we’d found.
At first it looked like something that had grown inside the cavern: a misshapen dome of vaulted arches that stretched far above our heads, a violent clutch of rocky limbs wrapped around one another—just another one of the many oddities we had already discovered on this world.
Then I saw it as a machine: a leviathan-like device rusted into near-oblivion, preserved only by the grace of the cavern that contained it. Whatever purpose it might have once served, all of its secrets now lay before us. I thrilled at the idea of long-dead beings that had walked in our footsteps millennia ago. What other devices might they have left behind? What other snapshots of their forgotten existence were out there waiting for us to discover them?
Did you wonder that too? Did you still think we had a future left too?
We catalogued every part of the machine diligently, learning whatever we could. Not learning nearly enough.
Then we almost left it behind.
We came so close, didn’t we?
We almost left it to be forgotten again, almost returned it to the unseen reaches of our new home.
But you wanted to touch it.
You had to touch it.
In my memories this is when it starts to look like bones. No longer a machine. But we are all of us machines: machines of blood, and flesh, and bone. I say nothing. In my mind I warn you, but it’s already too late. Somewhere there’s a future for us; one where I see the truth in time. One where I see the beast that merely sleeps on our planet. I stop you. We leave. We live happily ever after.
Ha-ha-happily ever after…
These moments play in my mind forever, no matter how hard I try to forget them.
I see you. You walk over to it. You remove your glove. You reach out with your hand.
You can’t properly understand something just by looking at it, you say to me. You have to feel it, experience it. You have to make it a part of you.
Was that last bit something you said, or something I …?
You pause. I think you don’t really wanted to touch it now, but it’s too late: you can’t stop it happening.
Your hand …
… touches …
I can’t see your face anymore, but it’s always there in my head. That gentle half-smile you always wore whenever you discovered something new.
Then the frown. That shot of fear. The smile gone.
And it moves …
I feel a slow, inevitable shift as something groans to life in the cavern. A shadow covers me. Something too massive to move flexes its dead limbs in the new darkness. The rock trembles. Air rushes past me, trying to escape. Everything changes.
We need to run, but we don’t. It happens too fast.
You have enough time for one last look at me. It lasts forever. Then something swoops down from above us and you’re gone. I don’t know how long I stand there.
Then I’m running. Out of the cave. Out of the darkness.
I leave you.
We’ll be together again.
I know this.
I travelled the universe with you. Nothing can keep us apart. The beast took you, now it can take me. My fear is so great, it’s all I can feel. I tell myself that I’m not afraid. I make myself believe the lie.
I hear the heavy fall of something shaking the dust from the rock walls around me.
I hear the screaming. I can’t tell if it’s me or someone else.
Death comes. I can’t even run away.
I fled to the colony, alone and far too late. We had been equipped to fend off any danger our employers could imagine: weather, disease, predators.
No one could have imagined what came for us.
I walked through the devastation in mute horror, too numb from my own loss for any of it to sink in. The shattered hulks of our homes, the precious building blocks of our new lives, all of it pieces beneath my feet. I walked past bodies. Parts of bodies. I walked past things that were once human, but had been ripped, torn and crushed beyond all recognition.
I found our home.
Do you remember our home?
They allowed us to bring a single memento from Earth each. I brought my red-spotted shirt. It used to make you go wild—do you remember that? I knew I would never wear it again, but I could never leave it behind. You bought Alby, that plush ghost toy I gave you on our second date. Do you remember? I was so sure we were going to work out that I broke all my rules, giving you gifts from the very start. You brought Alby in case you ever needed to remember why we were here: it would never matter where we were, you told me, as long as we were there together.
Do you remember? Do you remember that?
Do you remember leaving me? Do you remember that, you stupid dumb fucking idiot? Do you remember leaving me alone?
You had to reach out and touch it …
The anger almost swallows me. Then it’s gone.
Our home is in pieces. Even the pieces have been shattered and ground into the earth. But Alby and my red shirt are still there: torn, and almost unrecognisable under the blood and dirt. I pull them from the remains and clutch them to myself. I hold them tight, the final pieces of us that I have. I can’t cry. I can’t scream. I can’t feel anything. I want the cold to take me, to lock me in ice and carry me quietly into nothing.
I thought I was the last person alive and had been spared for a lonely death.
I was wrong.
We all leave pieces of ourselves behind.
I think about this as I break and crumble and feel myself dissolving into emptiness. How many parts of ourselves did we leave behind on earth? Skin. Fluids. Memories. I’m all over the place. Everywhere. There are parts of you inside me. I feel them moving. There are parts of other people around me. I hear them screaming.
I cling to these thoughts as I die alone. As the thing growing inside eats away at me. As I wait for you to come for me. As the cavern fills with shadow. As the thundering of approaching footsteps becomes everything.
The survivors found me and dragged me away from our ruined memories. They took me to the shuttle, the only place strong enough to bear the assault. It might have offered shelter, but it would never fly again. This was our last stand. All of us knew that we were already dead.
They told me how the darkness had screamed and a beast from the worst depths of their nightmares had emerged to destroy them. I couldn’t tell the truth: that it was us who had brought the horror to life. I told them that it had come for us first, killing you as I ran to warn the colony.
So many died on that first night. Some of the bodies we buried; others we could only find parts, but there were never enough parts to make up all of the people who had gone missing. Some of the living talked about hunting down the beast. The talk only lasted as long as the daylight did. When the darkness returned so did the terror.
The worst thing was how we knew it was coming: a death cry that pierced the night long before the beast reached us, turning our fear into something we could no longer hide from. The sound grew in the distance—a harbinger—lasting forever until the beast finally arrived and began to take us.
While the others fought for their lives, I sat empty and motionless, waiting for the beast to take me too. My connection with the world had been snapped. Somewhere beneath the shock and pain and anger, I was missing. I didn’t want to die, but life had already stopped working.
On the third night something awoke inside me again. I started to feel it. Pain. Anger.
I pushed my way into the battle, past the dozen of us that still remained. I had nothing left to live for; why not die for them? I saw the shadow of the beast rising against the blue starlit sky, more massive than it could ever have been inside that cavern. In my memories I saw it as a spider, but nothing about it was remotely that close to nature. I saw those irregular, arched limbs—six of them? … more?—but no head, no body.
And then I see.
I understand why the others never demanded that I join the fight; why they left me alone. I understand that it was never a death cry that the beast unleashed; it was an unending cry of pain and anguish, borne by the human trapped at the heart of the beast.
I’d never heard you scream before.
And now it’s all you can do.
You took me last.
Did you kill the rest of them? Or did I? I can’t remember. They kept shooting at you. I tried to go to you, but they wouldn’t let me. Did you come back for me? Was that all you wanted?
The sound of your screaming fills the cavern. It tells me that that the beast hasn’t taken every part of you yet. You’re still inside there somewhere. You grow quiet as you get closer, as you see me.
I try to see you the way you were—not trapped in the beast’s fatal embrace; not immersed in its cavity, flesh ripped apart and bonded back together with the beast’s own structure. I try to see us wrapped in each other, the sun beating down on us, warm grass beneath our bodies.
The beast is silent and still. It has torn your eyes out, but I still feel you looking at me. I feel the beast looking at me, and I know it’s you inside there. The beast is nothing without you. We’re nothing without each other.
If I could move, I would reach out and touch you. I try to smile. I try to tell you everything will be alright, but so many parts of me are broken now. Something rises, extending from the dark folds of the beast. It passes across the bulge throbbing gently at my side—in my side—then stops to rest against my cheek.
I feel the life growing inside me. I feel that some part of us is alive again. I feel the beast and its mindless desire to spawn and die. To kill and live.
I feel you. You will always be a part of me.
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