Sneak Peek: The God of Halfway

“We’re here, mom.”

 

Lori’s left eye fluttered open. Her right eye shuddered, strained to overcome the rheum gluing her eyelashes together, and fell still.

 

Half the world in light. Half the world in darkness.

 

“Mom, can you hear me?”

 

Lori reached out with her good hand and clawed at the dark. Tried to strike the monsters that lived there. She’d never managed to hit one. But she knew they were there, always hiding, dancing and giggling beyond sight. She could almost hear them laughing at her, the little shits.

 

Lori slouched back in the car seat, exhausted by the effort. Trying to catch her breath, she gasped through what felt like a mouthful of dessicated, flavorless jam. She failed. There was never enough breath.

 

Some part of her brain was still struggling with the disconnect in her eyes, still waiting for input from a dead orb. It took a while before the world resolved from a blur into her daughter’s face.

 

Her daughter?

 

When had her daughter shown up?

 

No. The problem was deeper than that. More essential.

 

When the fuck had she had a daughter?

 

“We’re there now, Mom.”

 

Now? There? Here?

 

Mom?!?

 

Lori squeezed her left eye shut, as if by doing so she could wring clarity out of the patchwork of living and dead tissue that her brain had become since the stroke. It didn’t help much, but then again it never did. It only gave her some small sense of control. Enough to leave her pissed off, anyway. Being pissed off and crippled always felt a lot better than being confused and crippled.

 

She opened her eye again. A bit of clarity returned. She must’ve fallen asleep at the home. And they had moved her and now she had woken up somewhere strange. That explained how she got here. Christ, she needed to stop nodding off like that. It was like being teleported against her will.

 

She pushed on her chin with her shaking left hand to change her angle of view. The terrifying curtain of black that hid the right half of the world moved aside, now hiding God only knew what fresh horrors.

 

They’d arrived at some kind of condominium complex. The buildings spread out like rectangular mountains. Or they might as well have been, for they were as impossible to climb or navigate. Why was she at a condominium complex?

 

“We’re going to take you out of the car now, Mom. Okay?”

 

“Oo.”

 

No.

 

Lori reached out with her left hand to grasp her seat belt, hoping it might make moving her more difficult, but her feeble grip broke when that fag her daughter married reached in and wrapped his arms around around her waist. The memories were starting to come back now.

 

Oh yes!

 

Charles (don’t-call-me-Charlie followed by a stupid mock-serious grin that was supposed to be funny but only ever came across as strained, pathetic and awkward) was a computer programmer. A great, big fat slob with a too-tight shirt that showed off his tits. No kind of man at all, no matter how much money he made. Unable to control her neck, Lori’s face fell forward into his cleavage as he lifted her. His breasts stunk like cheap cologne and bubble gum.

 

Lori wiggled against his gut to no avail.

 

“Ush oo oooaahh.”

 

“I love you too, Mom. But we’ve really got to get you out of there now, okay?”

 

Lori shook her head, furious. Had everyone gone deaf? Not love you. Fuck you. Fuck you both.

 

Sarah (that was her daughter’s name!) patted Lori’s head like she was some kind of retard. Ruffled her hair like she would a dog’s. Lori’s blood pounded hard enough she could feel it swirling around her skull. Could feel the same pressure she’d felt in the seconds before this tragedy had struck her.

 

She snarled at Sarah. Or tried to.

 

God she hated that fucking kid. She should have had the abortion… or no, wait… was that the other one? Did she even have another kid? She couldn’t recall. In either case, it would be better to be ignored in a state home than to be dragged around while having to listen to this whiny cunt and her faggot husband. And now they were… what were they doing again?

 

It was hard to focus through the heat of rage, but Lori was sure whatever they were doing was rotten. It had to be selfish. Mean-spirited. And….

 

That’s right! They were foisting her off onto her other daughter. She remembered now. She did have another daughter. That was the daughter she’d almost aborted. The worst daughter. They were giving her to the worst daughter!

 

It wasn’t fair.

 

“Charles and I will be real gentle, Mom. We promise.”

 

“Eeen isss!”

 

Eat piss.

 

She hung in Charles’ arms like a puppet with half of its strings cut, until he dragged her over to a bench and set her down on a thick white sheet like a bundle of dirty laundry. She should have rolled right out of the fucking thing and made them drag her out of the gutter. She couldn’t, of course. Not with the right side of her body paralyzed and the left half barely functional.

 

They wouldn’t have dared do this before the stroke. Not with her temper. They would have been too afraid. Lori balled her left hand into a fist so hard it shook. Oh, they wouldn’t have dared lay a finger on her if she was still young and in full control of herself!

 

“It’ll all be over soon, Mom. Then you’ll get to spend every day with Gina. I bet you’ll really like that, huh?”

 

Gina? Her other daughter? A flash of insight.

 

Fuck Gina!

 

“Oo! Oo!”

 

No! No!

 

They carried her toward the stinking condos, each holding one end of the sheet. They nearly dropped her on the stairs half a dozen times so that she swung from side to side like a ship at sea. It made her want to vomit, but she couldn’t risk it, not after she’d almost choked on her own sickness at the hospital. That a was a memory somehow stronger and more fundamental than her whole childhood. How she’d lain there forcing stinking air through her nostrils until the nurse had come hours later and cleaned out her mouth with a wet cloth. She fought back the nausea with all of what little control she still had over her body, willing the vomit not to come.

 

When they finally entered the apartment at the top landing, Charles and Sarah unceremoniously dropped her into yet another in a never-ending series of stale hospital beds. The plastic sheets crinkled against the left half of her body. It felt like laying down on an open candy wrapper. Itchy and sticky at the same time.

 

“Ow oo uuu ing isss ooo ee! I uuur uuuiiinnn uer!”

 

How could you do this to me! I’m your fucking mother!

 

She reached out with her hand again, this time shaping it like a claw, hoping she might be able to snag an earring or something awful like that, but Sarah took her hand before she could grab anything interesting and squeezed it. Three times. I love you. Oh Christ, what a silly cunt she’d given birth to. What an oblivious, sanctimonious cunt!

 

“We brought this bed in special for you, Mom. Do you like it?”

 

“Oo!”

 

No.

 

“Yes, it is good, isn’t it, Mom? It’s got all kinds of motors in it to move you around just how you like! And we got you this tv to watch. And Gina is going to be home soon, and she’s going to take care of you. You two will get to be together again! Won’t you like that?”

 

Gina. The worst daughter. The worst goddamn daughter. The one who’d stolen… something. Whatever it was, it had been goddamn important.

 

Sarah kept babbling.

 

Lori scowled.

 

“O oo och!”

 

Hope you choke!

 

“That’s okay mom, we’ll miss you too. But I promise we’ll come back to visit. We’re going to leave you with the nurse now. Her name is Rosa, remember? Rosa. Just ask her if you need anything. She’s real nice, I promise. I bet you two will get to be real good friends. Charles and I have to leave so we can get back in time to pick up the kids from school.”

 

Lori turned her head when they had gone. When the fury faded and she was able to shift her body in just the right way that her head would have to flop over to the other side. The nurse was a spick. They’d left her all alone with a spick. Probably wouldn’t do anything but watch those awful goddamn soap operas all day.

 

The nurse turned to Lori, smiling. Her teeth went up and up and up and still Lori couldn’t see her gums. The woman set down her phone and turned on the television to some terrible Spanish soap opera. Everyone talking all crazy fast so that Lori could barely fall back to sleep.

 

It figured.

 

*****

 

She was seventeen again. And, oh, how she danced! How she flitted, and turned, every part of her body inscribing circles and curves. She spun, a series of complex orbits as the solar system of her body screamed sex in a red dress.

 

Some masochistic part of her broken brain said she must be dreaming because she was always seventeen in her dreams. Seventeen, energetic, and beautiful. She could have been a movie star if she’d been born someplace other than the gutter. Her beauty had brought her far from there, though. She was dancing in the country club with all the snobby kids from the other side of the tracks. Grinding up against their eager little pricks through the fronts of their khaki slacks, drunk on booze she’d got from the bar after lying about her age. She hadn’t paid for the drink, of course. She never paid for anything in her dreams. Especially not her mistakes.

 

She flashed a grin at the pathetic men flowering the walls, all the men who wanted her but were too afraid to come up and do something. Not at all like the rough-fingered boys from her side of the tracks, who took what she gave whenever she would give it. No, these were the boys too scared of mommy and daddy to do anything. But oh, how they changed when she got them alone.

 

They always changed.

 

And the things they changed into always gave her whatever she wanted.

 

Lori had her eyes on an older fellow with no ring on his finger and a gold watch on his wrist. Big-nosed and balding but a good frame. He looked like a Kike. Lori flashed a smile at him. He looked from side to side to see if she was smiling at someone else. Then, a small secret smile over the top of his drink as his eyes sucked in the sight of her.

 

She shuddered with the thrill of it.

 

The way she’d get him alone. The way he’d give her what she wanted. Maybe she’d even get pregnant by this one, like she’d been planning. Maybe this one would be her meal ticket.

 

Kikes always had money.

 

*****

 

 

The monsters! So close now! She struck out at them, her arm taking an eternity to rise to her defense. (Was it dark or had her other eye gone dead as well? Please let it only be dark! Please, oh God!) What a time to be slow, when the monsters were almost upon her. When she could feel their putrid corpse-breath tickling her nostrils. What a time to be forever blind!

 

A hand caught hers, the flesh cool and firm even through the mangled network of Lori’s senses. She screamed, a broken exhalation without even the dignity of certitude.

 

“Ooooooo?”

 

A question of a scream. An interrogative of terror.

 

“Calm down, mom. The nurse isn’t here anymore, and I’m not going to take your shit like she does,” said the monster from the dark.

 

It couldn’t be. Surely not. She had never given birth to a monster. Had she?

 

“Oooooo?” she asked the dark.

 

“Jesus Christ, Lori, cut the bullshit.”

 

Lori wrung her eye again. Squeezed it tight. Clarity danced just beyond reach. Gina. She was at Gina’s house. She’d been dropped off by… Sarah, whoever that was.

 

“So, Sarah told me you’re crippled now. A bit retarded too. Is it true?”

 

There was a faint bit of moonglow from the other sides of the shades, gray-light, but after a few moments of adjustment it was enough to see by.

 

A young, pale face that looked disconcertingly like the vision of herself she’d been dreaming of only moments ago bent close and peered at her. A finger poked her right below the eye. Poked her!

 

Jab.

 

Jab jab jab.

 

Lori tried to turn her face aside, shying away from the finger. She saw the hand rise and fall three more times but felt nothing.

 

“Fuck me, it’s true!” Gina laughed, “You couldn’t stop me even if you wanted to, could you?”

 

A dozen quick jabs followed on the left side of her body.

 

“Ooop! Oooop iii!” Stop! Stop it!

 

“Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting for this? I used to dream of this when I was a kid! I used to have wet dreams about this!”

 

“Eeeellll! Ursss!”

 

Help! Nurse!

 

The jabs subsided into a cackling so nakedly wicked it hurt Lori’s ear to register the sound.

 

“Hey, you really can’t feel anything over here can you? I mean, I’m really digging into you. Haha, you’re half a corpse already!”

 

Gina scratched at her from the dark side, the right side, from the unknown half-world of her dead eye, and the only way that Lori could tell was because of the way it rocked her left half of her body.

 

“Eee ooo.”

 

“Be good? Really mom? That’s rich from you. I guess this is kind of juvenile, though. Ugh, fine. I’ll stop. So, how have you been?”

 

Lori lay on her pressed plastic sheets, sticky and sweating and panting so hard she could not make the effort to speak. Old woman sweat. It smelled like unwashed potatoes and soap.

 

“When’s the last time we saw each other? Eight, ten years ago? I would have been… hold on, I’m thinking here,” Gina put a bemused finger to her chin, “I was sixteen and pregnant. You gave me four-hundred dollars and a bus-ticket and told me you didn’t feel like cleaning up the mess I’d made by… how did you put it? How could I forget? The mess I’d made by stealing your boyfriend?”

 

Gina laughed and slapped her leg, silhouetted in front of the moonlit shades of the window at the end of the bed. There wasn’t anything funny about it. The forced donkey bray of laughter died and then Gina was standing over the end of the bed.

 

“Don’t feel bad. It’s a family trait, I think. Sarah hadn’t spoken to me in three years. Last thing before that was a birthday card. She said she just sort of… forgot. I don’t blame her. I don’t like to see her either. She’s very wrapped up in her delusions of what a normal life is supposed to be, but I think her husband is a friend of Dorothy if you catch my meaning. One of her kids is addicted to heroin too, but you didn’t hear that from me. Who am I to judge, though? I don’t like thinking about the bad stuff either. So, how are ya, mom?”

 

Gina pinched Lori’s left toe three times.

 

“Uuuuuh leeeeep,” Lori murmured.

 

“Why would you want to go to sleep? We have so much catching up to do! Don’t you want to know how I’ve been?” Gina squeezed Lori’s toe three times more.

 

“I already know how you’ve been. I’ve snooped in my little ways over the years. I used to drive by your house, you know. In the middle of the night, to count the cars and see who was there. I must admit it made me happy when you broke up with that rapist fuck, even though it took you eight months. I think I kept driving by until I graduated community college. One time, after he was gone, I almost knocked on the door. I stood there on your porch for ten minutes while you slept. I just couldn’t find the will to press the doorbell. I was afraid you’d say you hated me. I was more afraid you’d say sorry. It felt like all I had during that time was my hate for you. What do you think you would have done, if I rang?”

 

Three squeezes again. Too hard this time. It hurt. Lori’s toenail felt like it might break from the pressure. Gina’s face went blank and she ran away, suddenly, and there was a terrifying commotion all through the back of the house and finally, an eternity later, Gina stood back at the end of the bed in a nurses uniform. It was impossible for Lori to say how much time had passed.

 

“Did you know I became a nurse? Aced all their tests. Fourth in my class. I won all kinds of awards and scholarships. You have no idea how useful you were in all of those personal essays. You know those college liberals, mom, just like you said. They always love a sob story.

 

“Sarah’s a college liberal now too, mom. Bet you hate that. She ate that fucking sob story like it was applesauce. Sarah heard my daughter died. His daughter. Your granddaughter. She killed herself. Last spring. You know, I always tried to smile in front of that kid. Always tried to pretend I wasn’t anything like you, even to myself, while she was alive. Went to all kinds of seminars and things trying to fight the part of you that lived in me. But your shadow fell over her anyway, and my little flower withered away.”

 

Something gleamed in Gina’s hand. A pair of toenail clippers gleaming in one hand. They opened and shut like the mouth of a dinosaur.

 

No, not toenail clippers. Pruning shears. Little plastic pruning shears. The kind for trimming rosebushes and snapping small branches.

 

“I kept track of you. Your five divorces. Your domestic violence arrests. The ones where you did it and the ones where it was done to you. I think of you every time I take a shower and see the cigarette burns. I told Sarah all the things I was supposed to tell her to make her put you in my care. It was easy. How I was so lonely. How I wished things hadn’t ended between us like they had. How this was our chance to make it right.

 

“Every time I lied, all I could think about was my daughter. I think… I think I could forgive you for it all… and this could all be a nightmare and I’ll wake up tomorrow and I won’t have actually been serious about any of this -if you can do just one thing. If you just don’t fail me one more time. If you show the smallest possible bit of love, I’ll forgive you.

 

“What was my daughter’s name, mom? Say her name and I’ll love you more than I hate you. Cry for her with me and we’ll wash away the past with our tears. Can you do that? Just say her name?”

 

Lees? On hurr me,” Lori wept.

 

Please? Don’t hurt me.

 

In the gray light, Gina’s face became grayer. Gray as stone. Gray as thunder clouds. Corpse-gray. Lori watched her daughter sit there for what must have been an hour. Watched her until she was no longer certain she was sane or if this wasn’t a dream, and until Gina herself might have just been a trick of the light.

 

“Sarah said you needed your toenails clipped,” Gina whispered, clumsily cutting the toenails of Lori’s good foot. “I guess I’m the real good daughter because I’m the one who will do the disgusting jobs that Sarah doesn’t want to do up in her palace. I’ll do the jobs that Sarah doesn’t even want to know about.”

 

The toenail clippings flew off at random angles. The shears made rough and jagged cuts and Lori could feel her toenails becoming sharp. Like talons. One of the toenail clippings landed on Lori’s chin and it seemed to bite her like the perpetual kiss of a spider.

 

“Remember when you caught him?” Gina whispered, lovingly. “And he ran out of the house? I remember there was a moment there where you were horrified and couldn’t say anything. I remember I thought you loved me and that you would hold me and tell me it was going to be okay. That it wasn’t my fault a forty-year old man would do something like that to a sixteen year old girl. That I’d only smiled at him and that didn’t justify what he’d done. Then that moment was gone and you couldn’t stop yelling at me and hitting me with my hairbrush. Remember that? Remember when you called me a whore? And told me you’d known I was trying to steal him away? That I was a whore? And a slut?

 

With one ear, Lori heard five quick snips on the toes of the foot she could not feel. A sound like five thick carrots being broken in half. She felt half of her heart drop into half of her stomach.

 

“Huh, you really can’t feel a thing on this side, can you? Not a thing.

 

Half of Lori’s face felt cold and clammy. Half a nose smelled copper and iron. One hand gripped a sheet in a feeble kitten grip.

 

“Why am I just like you, mom? That’s what I hate you for the most, you know. Why did I have to be your daughter?”

 

Gina, sobbing, held one hand over Lori’s chest and opened it. Five little things… five toes fell onto Lori’s chest. Little wrinkled old lady toes, silver and blue and red. Five of them.

 

“Oh mom, we’re going to have so much fun together.”

 

“OooooooOooooo,” screamed Lori, like a tea kettle.

 

Like this story? … actually, that doesn’t work here. Anyway, the rest of it will be upcoming with the “Family of Fang and Claw Collection.” I’m putting it here for the purposes of building anticipation and being kind of a dick. It’s also available right now on my Patreon starting from the low cost of $3/mos for the purposes of being evil.

Gehenna

It has been three months since I returned from Gehenna. For three months, I have not told a soul what I found there. Not my mother, though she asks why my eyes seem so empty. Not my father, though he wonders why I cannot bring myself to smile. I can no longer even bear to see old friends for I do not feel there is anyone left in the world who truly knows me. The person they all knew is gone, left behind like the shell of some sea-creature destined to take a new shape and transform into something larger and stranger.

 

There is what my life was before Gehenna, and that person is a stranger even to me. A little girl I met once, who had all these dreams about what was right and what was wrong. There is only the life I’m living now, after Gehenna, and I feel like I am a trillion years old and that even the stars are young in my eyes.

 

It is no longer possible for me to say if what I found at Gehenna is right or if it is wrong, because the scope of it is still beyond my ability to judge. No human could judge it. Yet I feel if I do not answer this question I will never be able to become human again.

 

Another part of me feels that being human was merely something I did when I was a child. That humanity is something for children, and I outgrew it like I outgrew my toys and that I cannot go back. When I was given the responsibility of God, set to judge the wicked, I accepted the responsibility. I ate the hamburger. No child would have eaten that hamburger. Yet, it was satisfying and I laughed to see the cows cry. Maybe all I have been feeling since that fateful moment is an attempt to find absolution for that sin, if it even was a sin.

 

Gehenna cannot be explained outright. Gehenna cannot be defined. Doing so would not let you experience the reality of that place. Gehenna must be experienced to be understood. Therefore, I will explain it to you as I experienced it. And then I hope you will forgive me for helping you to understand.

 

*****

 

“A question, young lady!”

 

A gentle shake on my shoulder woke me. The hands were soft, like old well-used leather or a baby’s earlobes. Kind hands. A grandfather’s hands. I groaned coming awake but the hands made me feel safe so I did not scream.

 

“Focus, please. Yes, time to wake up. Gently, gently. Quite a blow you took to the head. We shall have to get you an ice pack, but you have no concussion. I checked while you were sleeping. I have an important question for you, please. Very important, so try to focus.”

 

I lifted my head, but my vision was too blurry to make anything out in detail. God, how my head hurt. I remember it felt like my whole skull was about to split apart in a hundred fragments. It was like a red wine hangover but concentrated in one angry knot at the back of my head where what felt like an egg was growing. When it hatched, I felt surely a dragon must spring from my skull, all red and breathing fire. A soft hand caressed my cheek, the only point of comfort on my entire skull. It might have been intrusive or offensive had the hands not been so kind. Sometimes I can still feel them there and I shudder to think that the same hands that built something so terrible once touched my face.

 

“If you were to eat the horse half of a centaur would that be cannibalism?”

 

The words were just sounds and I lacked the ability to put them together, but something about the way they were said caused me to jerk my head away. Even if I had understood, the strangeness of the question would have repulsed me. The oddness of it. The way the terror and absurdity of it made an alloy of unpleasantness. The egg on my head collided with the headrest of a heavy metal chair and the room spun. I tried to scream but then I realized there was a rag in my mouth.

 

“Ah yes, the gag. Our Mister Hoffman is being overzealous again. He worries about exposure, you see. Yet I have always planned for this facility to be public. Your break-in only advanced the date. Shake your head yes or no and we shall decide what to do with you.”

 

My captor, a bent-back and wizened old man who I could only assume was Jewish from the yarmulke on his head, sighed when he saw my obvious shock. With a sense of dread, I tried to move my hands and I realized I couldn’t. I was tied thoroughly to the chair. Panic set in and I struggled against my bonds, barely able to breathe.

 

“Young lady, please. We are not the monsters that you suppose.”

 

I had no recollection of how I had come to be in the chair. All I could remember was breaking into the slaughterhouse with my friends and the horror we all felt while videotaping the atrocities that were being committed against the cows. We were out trying to right the world’s wrongs and we’d had no idea of what we’d find. None of us had imagined the horror. I remembered the stink of blood and shit, which I could smell faintly even here. Then I remembered a darkness that came when something had struck me on the back of the head.

 

“Yes, calm now. It’s not so bad as that. Calm please. Calm.”

 

The man’s frail old hands pat me on my shoulder again, somehow slowing my breathing despite the danger I knew I was in. The incongruity of him, the sweetness of his old face in this bare concrete room with only a light bulb overhead, two chairs, and a drain in the middle of the flower soothed me somehow. Like finding an oasis in the middle of a desert. I still do not know if I should have found that oasis to be poisonous or pleasant.

 

“Ah, I understand. ‘Deciding what to do with you.’ Poor choice of words. My apologies. English is not my best language. You are not in danger. We will not hurt you more than you have already been hurt. Maybe we will have the authorities slap you on the wrist for trespassing, yes, but we are not murderers. Far from it. So focus. A centaur. The creature from Greek mythology, are you familiar? Part man and part horse?”

 

His hands were on both my shoulders now and he breathed in time with me, as if to pace me until I had calmed down. I nodded when sense began to return, the action more reflexive than deliberate, heart racing so hard I could feel my pulse in my entire body.

 

“If you ate the horse part of a centaur would that be cannibalism?” he asked again. His eyes, despite their age, were clear and a dark brown the color of fertile soil. I realized he was one of the oldest men I’d ever seen. Almost a hundred years old, I’d say. Maybe even older.

 

I remembered the cows again. The pictures I’d taken on my cellphone. The horrors outside of this concrete room. The reason I’d come to this place.

 

I screamed into the gag.

 

The old man sat down and sighed, rubbing his lower back, frettinging in a language I guessed was Hebrew. He seemed more distressed than diabolical.

 

“I cannot stand this. To be the cause of your screams? Bah! What we have done here is good and I will not have it tainted with these actions. If we remove your gag, will you speak with me civilly? I understand you are… animal rights activist? That is the term? Yes. Good. Morality is very important to you. It is important to us as well. Mr. Hoffman, remove the young lady’s gag please.”

 

I didn’t even know anyone was behind me when the hands came around my face and pulled away the gag. The hands smelled like the cows had smelled. Like sweat, shit, blood and fear. I gagged to have them so near my face.

 

“Young lady, I would like to have you on your way so your friends will not be worried about you. Will you-”

 

When the gag was all the way out, I screamed as loud as I have ever screamed in my life. Unmuffled, the scream was so loud it hurt even my own ears. When I was done, I gulped down another chestful of air and screamed again. A scream so piercing it was like a needle until my lungs were so empty I could see stars. The old man winced and frowned, then gave that characteristic sigh again.

 

“Would you like me to put the gag back in, sir?” the voice asked from behind me.

 

The old man shook his head, emphatically.

 

“We are not monsters, Mr. Hoffman! Our cause is a just one. She is scared. I will not have us be the kind of people who will gag a scared woman.”

 

The old man pointed a finger in the air, signalling an idea had just occurred to him. I thought for sure he was going to change his mind and order me executed. After what I’d seen him doing to those cows, I figured he had to be some kind of sicko. Maybe he is. I don’t know. As I have said, I still can’t figure out if what he’s doing is right or wrong.

 

Fully expecting to die, to my surprise he only rolled up his sleeve and held his left forearm a few feet in front of my face. I saw a tattoo so faded it looked like a blur but I thought there was some structure there, numbers maybe, and what I believed to be a triangle under the numbers.

 

“The numbers, yes. Look. You can see. The numbers. You see? Good girl. Very smart. You know what this is, yes? Your schools still teach it, good. May it never be forgotten. I see it in your eyes. Once I was held captive and hurt. I would like you out of those restraints as soon as possible. It is my sincerest wish. Will you speak with me?”

 

I nodded, mostly because I wasn’t sure I could scream anymore. Then I started crying. I’d never been so terrified.

 

“Am I… are you going to kill me?” I asked between sobbing fits.

 

“So brave,” snorted Mr. Hoffman.

 

The old man snapped his fingers, like you would at a dog, with a loudness that belied his age.

 

Mr. Hoffman went silent again.

 

“No, my word on it. I am in charge here. No harm will come to you. In fact, I apologize for your treatment. Mr. Hoffman said he found no explosives on your person, only pamphlets. You came here to spread your message, to take videos, yes? Not to hurt anyone? You came to protect the animals? I very much respect this. I wish this had been done for me many years ago.”

 

I nodded again, unable to speak.

 

“Mr. Hoffman, please remove the restraints. Do not give me that look! We are not monsters. If you cannot do this work with a just heart, I can find others to replace you! We will not become what we are fighting here.”

 

Slowly, the restraints around my arms, legs and chest slackened. I saw the side of Mr. Hoffman’s face as he maneuvered around me. He looked like Liev Schreiber except bigger and with a few extra pounds. Like he would have been handsome if he took better care of himself.

Most of all, he wasn’t that scary now that I could see his face.

 

I took a full minute to catch my breath.

 

“I… I saw the cows,” I panted, “You do… awful things here. I saw you tearing the skin off of cows that were fully awake. I saw a cow having its eyes burned out with a poker. I saw… I saw… a man rip off a cow’s legs with a…”

 

Bile rose in my throat at the thought.

 

“It was a pneumatic tugger,” said the old man, helpfully.

 

I pressed my head into my hands and let the tears flow.

 

“How… how can you do something so awful? That’s monstrous! You’re going to hell!” I screamed.

 

I found some of my fighting spirit again, now that I knew I was safe. In fact, I almost felt stupid for having been scared. Like I’d betrayed my values. What I had gone through was nothing compared to the suffering of those animals. In another few minutes, I was sure I could work myself up to the level of anger I’d had when I broke into this place. The level of rage that I was then certain needed to be directed at a place such as this.

 

“Jews don’t believe in hell,” Mr. Hoffman chuckled from behind me.

 

The old man shot a disgusted look over my shoulder.

 

“Much as I hate to agree, Mr. Hoffman brings up an important point. Jews do not believe in hell as you do, though the name for this place comes from our closest analogue- or actually, we have not yet been introduced. I am Dr. Abraham Adelmann. Although I’ve been retired for some years I was a neurologist. What is your religion? I normally would not ask so bluntly, but it has some bearing on the situation.”

 

“You’re fucking sick,” I spat.

 

Dr. Adelmann’s kindly grandfather smile didn’t drop in the slightest.

 

“We are not what you suppose, young lady. Those… creatures you care so much about are not innocent. Those are not cows out there. Or rather, I should say, they are not just cows.”

He sounded like he was explaining something simple, as to a child.

 

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

 

I felt the anger coming back. It felt good to be angry. I had never understood people who could be confronted by monsters and sit by idly and let them devastate the world. And it’s that very conviction that now makes me so unsure of my first impressions of the slaughterhouse. For now I am older than I was then, and I understand that hell can be virtuous.

 

“Justice, young lady. Those creatures deserve everything we are doing to them. Jews do not believe in hell. It was necessary for us to create one to find justice. That is what I am trying to explain.”

 

For the first time there was something cold in Dr. Adelmann’s face and it made me think of something horrible my own grandfather had told me. When I was young he had sat me on his knee and told me there was nothing in the world more dangerous than the fury of a peaceful man.

 

“Your name,” the doctor insisted.

 

“Hannah,” I said, “Hannah Arenson.”

 

The doctor laughed, delighted.

 

“I sense you are not observant, but you are Jewish, yes? Through your father’s side at least? What else do I see? Do not tell me. Irish? Good! Wonderful! I can dispense with my questions, then. How silly they must have seemed! A fellow Jew, what a blessing! Do you see Mr. Hoffman? I knew it would all work out! I am quite progressive on this, though. I have hope one day all races might be one. Then terrible men such as the one who brings us here will not be able to make us kill each other so easily. But perhaps, for now, it is better only Jews should see this place.”

 

I heard Mr. Hoffman grunting behind me and I jumped forward in my chair.

 

“Dr. Adelmann, all due respect, this is a threat to the security of the facility.”

 

“Shush, Mr. Hoffman! You have never understood my designs for this place. Why, once the world knows of it, I imagine there might be something like global peace. This slaughterhouse is a deterrent greater than the atom bomb. Who would ever dare commit atrocities again if they knew they might end up here? Atom bombs were meant to deter nations from going to war, but jeopardize the world. This facility will stop the monsters who would lead their nations to war and it targets no one but them.”

 

I stood up, which ended their conversation abruptly.

 

“Hey listen, how do I get out of here? I want my phone and my backpack and I want to go home! Then I’m going to upload those pictures and show the world what fucking creeps you are! I still don’t fucking get it! Are you getting paid for this? Are some sickos watching this on webcams somewhere? Animals deserve better than this. They’ve never done anything to anyone. I want out of here. Now! You sick fucking creeps!”

 

The doctor did not seem disturbed in the least and mister Hoffman only chuckled.

 

“You’re American, yes? Of course, what else would you be with that accent? I will have questions later about how you heard about an Israeli slaughterhouse, but not today. You are American and we will be hospitable. Though I was liberated by Soviets, I owe much to your nation. Those animals, as I have said, are not innocent. In fact, after this, we will have a hamburger. French fries too. They are my favorite.”

 

I gave him the most patronizing look I could muster.

 

“I’m vegan. Obviously. And I wouldn’t eat anything that came off those poor animals even if I wasn’t.”

 

The doctor laughed again, all out of proportion to the situation and I wondered if he wasn’t senile.

 

“I am as well! We are so much alike, young Hannah! I could not stand to eat meat after the Camps. I felt too much compassion with the animals. I have no compassion for these creatures. We will let you go shortly, but may I tell you a story? In fact, I will tell you the story of this place. I will tell you why we do what we do. For your articles and newsletters and pamphlets?”

 

I turned around to get a full view of Mr. Hoffman and was surprised to realize I was taller than he was by a full four inches. And for all his laughter he seemed scared now that I was moving about under my own power.

 

“I want my phone. I want to get someplace where I can see the outside. I want to let my friends know where I am. Then… yeah, I’ll listen to your fucking story.”

 

Mr. Hoffman said several things I’m pretty sure were terrible curse words, but which I couldn’t follow and stormed out of a door that had been directly behind my chair. He returned with my backpack which he shoved into my chest and then disappeared again only to return with a wheelchair.

 

“You’ve already exhausted him enough. While you’re in there telling our secrets I’m going to go talk to the board. Some of them are more practical than Dr. Adelmann.”

 

Somehow, I wasn’t afraid of him. I snapped a picture of him with my cellphone. He blinked and I think he would have ripped the phone out of my hands if the doctor wasn’t staring right at him.

 

“I’m going to make you famous,” I sneered.

 

Hoffman’s face was stone.

 

“I am going to talk to the directors about this, Dr. Adelmann. We can’t compromise this facility yet.”

 

Dr. Adelmann ignored the comment.

 

“Take us up to the visitor’s center, to the tour shuttle. It should be safe enough after the last week of construction. You can talk to the directors while I explain this place to Miss Arenson. That should give you plenty of time. I warn you though that they will agree with me. We are survivors, after all. I am confident the young lady will see our point of view after we explain.”

We navigated several tunnels and emerged in a dewy meadow I had seen on my arrival at this place. I could hear eerily human screaming not far away. And… sounds. Like flesh being ripped apart. The sounds of the slaughterhouse.

 

I was about to scream again when the doctor’s hand was back at my arm.

 

“Patience, Miss Arenson. All will be explained. Everything happening here is moral. And when we are done, you will share a hamburger with me,” Dr. Adelmann laughed.

 

Even the thought of meat made me want to throw up.

 

We walked a few dozen yards more and I began to wonder if I was walking to my death. Except

it all seemed so harmless suddenly. The way Hoffman pushed Dr. Adelmann was so emasculating and pathetic that it turned off all of my internal alarms. Which is stupid, I know. Monsters don’t look like monsters. They look like regular people. And sometimes, in real life, you can’t tell the difference between a monster and a hero.

 

Hoffman had to fight with several tarps and Dr. Adelmann’s wheelchair but after ten or so minutes we finally arrived at something that looked like a roller coaster. Hoffman put Adelmann in the front cart and the doctor patted the seat next to him, signalling for me to join.

 

“What the fuck is this?” I asked.

 

“Justice,” said Dr. Adelmann again, “Justice that has taken me the better part of eighty years to attain. There are no audio recordings yet for the tour so I will provide the narration. One day, we plan that every Jew in the world should be able to come to this place and see what we have done here. Why not be the first?”

 

“Are you crazy?” I asked, too confused to be angry.

 

“Perhaps,” Dr. Adelmann laughed, “you tell me when the tour is done.”

 

I sent a text message to my friends and waited to make sure it had been sent, along with the pictures of Hoffman so they’d know who to look for if I went missing, and then sat down in the seat next to the doctor. Mr. Hoffman must have pressed some kind of button out of sight because the next thing I knew the cart was lurching forward in that somewhat jerky way that roller-coasters do. I felt the pit of my stomach drop as we made a sharp turn.

 

We shot out across the dewy field for only a moment before we came to a stop in what looked like a museum. Everywhere I looked I saw old medical equipment from the the early 1900’s. Glass jars full of God knew what. Old textbooks. Old notebooks. A picture of a young man who looked uncannily like Dr. Adelmann. There were also several half-completed dioramas of medical offices.

 

“Ah yes, the resemblance is strong. Not me, though. That’s my father. He was a brilliant surgeon in Munich before the start of the war. I was not quite five when that picture was taken. It is hard to explain to someone as young as you what hopes we had for science back then. It seems so much of that enthusiasm was lost after the war. The world saw what science could do at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and recoiled. Yet in my life, I saw us go from the horse and buggy to putting men on the moon. I saw us go from gas lamps to electric lights. My father believed that one day even death might be conquered. He was not alone.

 

“I’m afraid the next exhibit is not quite ready. It is mostly just ice. I should have brought you a jacket.”

 

The cart advanced into an empty facility and I shivered with cold. There was ice everywhere. On one wall was a picture of a brain, labeled in extraordinary detail. I looked over to the old man who seemed unaffected. His eyes were less mirthful in this exhibit. Dark like they had been before.

 

“My father was a pioneer in the field of cryogenics. In fact, he made discoveries and breakthroughs in his work that were not replicated until the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. It is a common misconception that cryogenics is not viable due to ice crystals forming in the cells of the specimen. If water were used, it is true that it would cause irreversible cellular damage. However, this was not true even in my father’s work. The key was to rapidly dehydrate a specimen after death and replace the body’s blood with an antifreeze agent. The specimen was then not frozen but vitrified. Turned, literally, into a sort of biological glass. Ice crystals do not make cryogenics nonviable. What makes cryogenics nonviable was that no one had any idea how to revive the specimen after it had been vitrified. At least at that time.”

 

The cart advanced again. We were in another room. This one full of pictures of… him.

 

Everywhere I looked, there were pictures of him. Mad eyes gleaming and his hand raised high. I was speechless. Videos played of his speeches. A whole biography of his life was laid out on all the walls.

 

“The Fuehrer was, of course, attracted to this work although he could not publicly admit that he found value in the work of one of the Juden. All mad men want to live forever. Charlatans have offered immortality to rulers for as long as humans have lived. Yet my father promised not immediate immortality but the only practical path by which it might be attained. Freeze a brain, wait until future science allowed it to be reanimated and the body to be reconstituted. I try to forgive my father for those early entreaties. He was not aware, then, of what was waiting inside of that wicked man. At first, the Fuehrer paid my father to conduct research and left him alone to operate as a free man. This was before the Final Solution. Then, I and my family were sent away to the camps to serve as hostages while my father became something like a slave, forced to freeze the brains of captive Jews to perfect the science of cryogenics.

 

“I am proud to say he fought this at first. It was not until they sent him my mother’s head and my sister’s eyes that he relented.”

 

I put my hand over my mouth.

 

“Oh my God,” I said.

 

Dr. Adelmann only shrugged.

 

“I do not believe God took any part.”

 

The cart rolled forward. We were in a room that seemed to be some kind of replica of a bunker. There were mannequins in uniforms everywhere. Everywhere I turned there were replica figures standing in various locations in full Nazi regalia. Then I noticed one diorama that made no sense. I saw a wax figure that looked like Dr. Adelmann’s father bending over the wax figure of what was obviously Hitler’s corpse. Dr. Adelmann’s father was holding a jar… with a brain inside.

 

“God was not with us during the Holocaust. Perhaps he turned his back for a time, but we were not his Chosen in the Camps. Not in my opinion. Perhaps he came back later when the Americans and Soviets arrived. Anyhow, we could not rely upon God to condemn such a man such as Hitler to hell.

 

“Ah, here is the bunker. Where the body of Adolf Hitler died and where his brain was secured and stored by my father. Yes, I know the story with which you are familiar. The bunker was raided later. My father escaped prior to that under guard. The guards who escorted him and the brain were among the last to surrender after the war. My father slipped away before that, and he kept the brain. He kept it. Do you understand? He got away with it!”

 

Dr. Adelmann hissed the last few sentences, the kindly grandfather eyes replaced by something much harsher now and much crueller.

 

The cart lurched forward and what I saw ahead was worse even than the cows. Everywhere around us were pictures of the Holocaust. A German in a jeep driving over the bodies of Jews. A mass grave. A German soldier throwing a Jewish baby up in the air and spearing it on his bayonet. Every horror of the Holocaust was laid open, bare and explicit in this room.

 

“One man caused the death of eleven million, six million of whom were Jews. Oh, he was helped. Others were also responsible. But his was the will that they obeyed and so the ultimate responsibility was his. One man did all of this. One man killed my mother and my sisters and my brothers and forced my father to kill. One man sought fit to industrialize murder and exterminate a people. One man brought the nations of the world to war.”

 

The cart rattled forward again. This time I saw a modern lab and pictures of Dr. Adelmann a few years younger than he was now, surrounded by a team of researchers.

 

“It took three years for me to find my father again after the war. I was all that was left, and although still quite young, I was already on the path to becoming a doctor. When I saw the brain was intact, I knew then that I had a responsibility. I dedicated my life to reviving it. I was not alone in my efforts to reanimate the brain. It was the work of thousands of scientists, only a handful of whom knew the true goal of the project. We cultured neural tissue. We grew whole brains. We learned how to image the brain at the atomic level and reassemble it. In short, we could reproduce the original. And once we knew how to do this we just needed a place to put it.

 

“A human would have been the easiest but that had certain ethical implications. What if he escaped? Many who claim to revile him would flock to support him if he were to reappear in such a fashion. No, we needed a form which no one would ever follow. Which no hateful man could be inspired by.”

 

The cart rattled forward and now we were in a room where there were pictures of Dr. Adelmann transplanting a brain into… a cow.

 

“The cows are clones. I insisted on this for ethical reasons. I am, as you know, a vegan. We grow the cows without brains. They are never alive, truly. Our current capacity to do this is at about a hundred cows a month. The mothers live out their lives in freedom, I am happy to say. It is all done with the utmost concern for ethics. I chose cows… because a slaughterhouse is what the Camps were. A slaughterhouse is a place where murder is industrialized. It was the most fitting punishment I could devise. I wished to return to him what he had given to the world.”

 

The cart rattled forward and I could hear the screams… the human screams and smell the shit and the piss and the blood and the fear. We were going back to the facility I had been in earlier. The heart of the slaughterhouse. The building where I had been taking the pictures when I was knocked out.

 

“I’m curious that you didn’t question the coloring. We have them marked very specifically to keep them distinct in case one ever gets away. An all white cow with a single black spot on its head and a single black spot on its lips. I am told the resemblance is uncanny from just these details. And the way they speak. Did you not notice? We never planned that they should learn to speak. They are not good at it. Yet I’m surprised you did not realize they were speaking German.”

 

A cow approached us, nothing but skin and bones and it looked up at me and Dr. Adelmann with the most piteous, comprehending eyes I had ever seen on any animal.

 

“Habt Gnade. Bitte. Tötet mich. Es war falsch mich über andere zu stellen. Bitte, ich flehe euch an. Es tut mir leid was ich den Juden angetan habe.”

 

I could hear the words now, distorted though they were. I did not know how I’d misunderstood before as being the sounds of a distressed animal. Dr. Adelmann whistled and a man with a cow prod appeared and hit the starving creature in the face, sending blue sparks everywhere.

 

“As I said, these things deserve all the punishment we can give. They are Hitler. They are all Hitler. This is Hitler’s hell.”

 

Further into the facility, I watched a machine rip off a cow’s skin, leaving a red bulk of muscle quivering where the whole cow had once stood. Lidless eyes conveying terror as the cow’s mouth silently screamed. It walked around for a dozen steps screaming before blowers appeared and blew salt onto the bloody meat. Another machine appeared and whipped the animal until it fell to the ground more pulp than cow, yet still horribly alive.

 

I turned my head. There was the sound of the pneumatic tugger again, ripping off a cow’s feet and leaving its body rolling on the ground screaming, bleeding from four stumps. There were a dozen cows not far away in stalls. They had been propped up and were being anally penetrated to death by spiked chrome pistons so that their insides bled and liquified and oozed out every time the piston retracted.

 

I watched a cow stumble fearfully out into a hot piece of iron that gradually turned red until the cow’s hooves melted in place, only for the plate to grow cool again. A glass cylinder descended and encased the cow, and spiders were blown down as if by a fan, pinching and furious from the treatment and smelling blood. The cow snapped its own legs off trying to flee.

 

“We have the original living in a relatively unmolested place where it can oversee the whole process. We have mutilated it somewhat, of course. It has no tongue. We could not risk some fanatic somewhere being seduced by its words. I ripped that out myself, I’m glad to say. I used plyers and Mr. Hoffman helped me keep the grip. We also amputated its legs although we did so more carefully than what you see below. We intend it should live a long time, watching all of this.”

 

I did not know what to say.

 

I still don’t.

 

And maybe that’s why I’m writing this, because I don’t know if what they’re doing is right or if it’s so wrong that even Hitler doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps humans were not meant to wield the Justice of Hell.

 

“We have told the one in the observation booth that we will do this eleven million times. Once for every person he ordered killed. He will be the last victim and we intend to make that last a decade. After that, who knows? The world has no shortage of genocidal maniacs who deserve this place.”

 

I couldn’t stop trembling. Dr. Adelmann put a hand on my arm to comfort me but I pulled away.

 

“Ah, you must be worried about the waste. Fear not. We utilize all that we can. We have a gift shop full of leather products. Shoes, belts, jackets. Even lamp-shades! We use every bit and we grind down the excess and feed it back to the monsters!

 

“I can also tell you that the old Spanish proverb is quite wrong. Revenge is not a dish best served cold. I prefer mine medium well-done with a slice of tomato, relish and onion between a vegan bun. Would you care to join me, Miss Arenson? I assure you this meat is truly guilt-free.”

Feeder of Her Part II

Jeepers! I guess it’s been a dang month since I wrote in this thing. What can I say? There’s sooo much good television down here! I found a whole bunch of British shows I’d never seen before and I could hardly tear myself away. All the fancy ones with nice dresses and accents and some guy with black hair who is mean, but sooo dreamy, and you just know he’s going to end up with the main girl. So that’s kept me busy. That, and you can never have too many naps. Still haven’t seen a kitty, but the scraps I leave out at night are always gone before I wake up.

 

It’s only a matter of time!

 

I never meant to just put this thing down and forget about it like that, but I suppose I was a bit of a mess reliving all that stuff again. Now I can talk to you all about all the good things!

 

I’ve got to talk about the Food Box! It’s basically the best invention EVER!!! I’ve got no idea how it works or why the Little Gentleman needs me to test it, but it’s the best! Just the absolute BEST!!!

 

There aren’t enough exclamation marks in the universe for the Food Box, and when the Little Gentleman asks me for my product attestation that’s exactly what I’m going to say!!!

 

The Food Box is a cube, because duh it’s a box! It’s about two feet on each side and it’s perfectly black. Midnight black. Black licorice black. Dark between the stars black. I tried polishing it with some napkins, because I’m always nervous it’s going to break or something, but it’s so black I can’t even see my face in it. I know it’s going to be the death of me, but I just love it! I know the Little Gentleman told me it couldn’t hurt me, but if that was true that would mean I was already in heaven anyhow.

 

I don’t even have to open it or close it! I just think about what I want to eat and then the Food Box opens itself and there it is! Right in arm’s reach! The best food you’ve ever tasted in your whole life and it’s still warm!!!

 

I saw a thing on the news once about 3-D printers and I think it must be something like that, except I can’t see any power cord or stuff going into it. It’s set on this little pedastal thing and the thickest part can’t be more than a few inches thick. Doesn’t seem like you could put anything in there big enough to do what it does, but I don’t know much about that kind of thing. Oh well, it can stay a mystery for all I care! I should know better than to question a miracle.

 

This morning I ate six sausage and egg omelettes, about a pound of hash browns smothered in ketchup, and a whole gallon of orange juice! And now I’m snacking on some cream-filled cinnamon dough balls. Like I said, it’s the best thing ever!!!

 

The Little Gentleman showed it to me when I got here, first thing.

 

Oh? I should explain how he did that.

 

Long and short of it: Forklift.

 

I don’t know how he got it in there, but he ran out of the room as soon as I said yes, drove back in with a tiny forklift like they have in a grocery store, threw a blanket over the top of me and drove me the heck out of there. I smelled iron when we rode through the hallway, like maybe he took me through some back way with a lot of rusty pipes, but I didn’t ask any questions. You see, when he came back with the forklift, he also brought my promised bucket of chicken and that took just about all of my attention.

 

The next thing I knew I was in the back of a delivery truck with a nice little space heater and oh my… just shelf upon shelf of snacks and food and a little microwave! I was finally being rescued from that awful hospital and that terrible “food” they made me eat! I must have eaten about twenty pounds of gas station snacks and five buckets of chicken by the time the Little Gentleman got me to this place.

 

When we finally got here, I knew it had to be some place special because it felt like all of the sudden the truck started driving straight down. I about tipped over and had to grab onto the shelves for support, but just as I was about to go behind over tea kettle, as the saying goes, the truck came level again.

 

Next I knew, the Little Gentleman was opening up the back of the truck. After such a terrible few weeks, the pale television light of this place that touched my body really was like heaven.

 

“Are you ready to see your new home?”

 

Boy was I!

 

It was all like a dream.

 

The first thing I noticed was the television. I’d never seen one so big in all my life! At first I thought it had to be some kind of movie projector, but nope! It covers the whole dang wall and it’s got to be about ninety feet across if it’s an inch. Not to mention it’s panoramic! It’s like I’m going to other places without ever having to move from where I’m sitting.

 

The Little Gentleman knelt before me like a knight and held out a remote control to me like a sword. I could barely stop my hands from shaking when I took it and hit the Home Screen button. I was overwhelmed by everything and I had to fight back tears of joy.

 

“What kind of channels does it have?” I asked, in awe. I know I should have said thank you and what not, but I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t think straight.

 

“All of them,” said the Little Gentleman, “every movie and television show ever made or that is being made or… well, I’ll leave that last as a surprise to you. Just know you’ll never get bored. And none of the shows or movies on here will ever make you feel uncomfortable.”

 

I took the remote control and felt a shiver run through me as I pressed it to my chest like a baby. I felt security. True security like I’d felt with Quester.

 

The Little Gentleman took my hand and I seemed to hover… or maybe I even walked by some strange miracle for a few steps under my own power. Golly, isn’t it strange that I think it’s more likely that I floated than I walked? Anyway, he took me to a feather mattress shaped like a bowl. A mattress perfectly fitted and molded for my body. I sat in it and felt… oh so many things. Warmth. Silk. Softness. Clouds. A nice refreshing spring breeze. Flowers tickling my toes. A feeling I hadn’t felt since I was a little girl, like diving into a summer spring and feeling my entire body enveloped in perfect clear, beautiful water.

 

“This is your bed, my monument. Feathers, though not from gooses. I suppose if you knew what we had to do to gather these that it would make you sad or disgusted, depending on how religious you are. So let us not speak of it! Except to say that these feathers will never get matted down. Nor will they ever give you sores. Every moment of every day you will feel like you’re floating on a cloud. You could even describe these feathers as… heavenly,” said the Little Gentleman with just the tiniest smirk I’d ever seen.

 

“What if…” I was so overwhelmed, I couldn’t keep my jaw from quavering, but somehow I got out a tiny whisper, “what about when I have to do my necessary?”

 

I pointed between my legs so he’d know what I was talking about. The Little Gentleman laughed a high and shrill laugh and I felt myself turning red again, but he even though it felt like he was laughing at me I wondered how that could possibly be so when he had done me such kindness.

 

“Well, shall we say, this food is… different. But if you should feel the urge: just release it! These feather hate filth. The bed will clean whatever mess you make. The bed will pass it through to the sewer. From there it will go somewhere you don’t have to worry about it! But come, don’t feel sad, feel whatever it is that you think is happiness. Come see this! This is the Food Box!”

 

The Little Gentleman dragged the Food Box over to me on its little pedastal. It made that same screech sound that you see whenever someone drags something in a quiet place, like in all the movies. The kind of sound you never hear in real life. For some reason that made me feel afraid again. Like all of this was some kind of elaborate trick.

 

“Think of something! The tastiest something! The best ever food of your life!”

 

I could only sit there, feeling vaguely nervous.

 

“Come on! Close your eyes! Get in the spirit of it! What do you want most? What’s the thing you would sell your soul for? What do you want more than anything else in the entire world?”

 

Somehow, from the way he said it, I felt guilty. I felt like I should have said “Quester” and that if this were a fairy tale that would have made him be alive again. Except that’s not what I felt in my heart. My heart felt strong then, so I can’t even say I was weak. My heart felt strong and strange. It beat hard and I thought I might be having a heart attack but there was sweat on my upper lip and I felt goosebumps all over me. The bed felt sinful to me then, but I wallowed in that feeling. It was a dirty feeling. And with that dirty feeling like I haven’t had since I was very young and had first noticed boys I said:

 

“Aunt Peggy’s lasagna! Four… no eight pans of it! Enough of it that I want to throw up!”

 

The food box opened up and there were… eight pans of Aunt Peggy’s lasagna!!! In the same durex pans she’d always used, even down to the little stains and nicks! Tray after tray shooting forward like paper out of a printer so quick I could hardly even grab them all to set them down!

 

They were warm, but somehow they didn’t hurt me. They were just the right warmth, like fresh baked cookies at their best point. I stacked them up all around me, not even bothering for a fork. Just reaching down with my hand to scoop it up and shove it in my mouth and… sure enough, it tasted just like Aunt Peggy’s lasagna. Ground beef. Bits of sausage. Caramelized onions! Peas! Carrots! Garlic! Oh God, it was her! How can I explain it? It was her lasagna!

 

I didn’t even speak. I couldn’t speak. Why would I want to waste my mouth with words when I could be eating that lasagna like that? I knew after a while, after the frenzy had died down some, that I was stretching out my stomach too far. Even beyond my limits, except I wasn’t. I didn’t feel bad at all. I felt like I could keep eating and… well, I guess you get the point.

 

The Little Gentleman watched me with the happiest smile on his face.

 

“You are awe-full,” he said.

 

He disappeared for a bit and brought some other items, including this book of paper, and set them down next to me.

 

“You will never grow too full. You will never feel the pain of eating too much. Your body will grow strong, not weak. And you will grow. You will grow and grow and you will be a fine monument.”

 

He leaned close to me.

 

“Is there anything else you want?” he asked.

 

I thought for a moment.

 

“More,” I said.

 

The Food Box met my request and the Little Gentleman was gone.

 

Got to go.

 

All that remembering is making me hungry for some more of that lasagna.

 

*****

 

You know what? I’m being a silly goose with this diary. This is the life I’ve always wanted, apart from Quester being gone. Why on Earth should I care that I feel lonely? I’ve got the television here with me and I just got to a whole bunch of shows I’ve never seen before.

 

It keeps saying the release date is for 2020, but I know that can’t be right because I know I haven’t been here that long. Maybe it’s one of those things where the release date is pushed back and back or something.

 

Anyway, I’m comfortable, I’m well fed, and I’m entertained.

 

All I’m doing with this diary is bringing struggle into my life, and struggle isn’t something that people need to live. No matter what my uncle Jack used to say. I think it’s time to just be me and live in the present.

 

*****

 

Well, here I am again.

 

Been two months since the last time I wrote anything.

 

I lost the pen for a while in my belly-button, you see. Ugh, why is that making me blush. I’ve got no reason to feel ashamed! I guess I sort of let things get away from me for a while. But I won’t do that again! There’s no reason I shouldn’t be perfectly happy here. No reason at all!

 

I guess I probably weigh something like five thousand pounds now. I’m not sure. I was making guesses before based on how much more of the floor I was covering, but it’s hard to say. I think… I mean, I couldn’t be the size of a whale. Could I? No way. Except, I’m real real big. Real big. But, I mean, a gull dang whale? Doesn’t seem like you should be able to get to be the size of a whale without noticing.

 

Yet even though I know I’m  beautiful, somehow I don’t feel beautiful. How is that possible?

 

I never ever thought in my whole life I would get bored of eating. And there isn’t hardly any reason for it. My jaw doesn’t hurt. My teeth feel fine. I feel clean. And I’m sleeping well, better than I’ve ever slept really. And the Food Box is always excellent. Always. Without Fail. Perfect.

 

I tried thinking up some sour grapes, the kind you get every now and again when you bite into one and it ends up being real bad but the Food Box only gave me perfect grapes instead. I think bad food might be the only kind of food that it can’t make. Why is that?

 

I’m just down in the dumps. It happened every so often, even back when Quester was alive to take care of me. Maybe being down in the dumps is just a part of life?

 

The bed keeps growing under me, and I don’t know how that can be but it’s true. I feel comfortable and supported. I feel good all over.

 

I guess I miss the way I’d feel when I felt bad. Like when I’d tumble over or when the bed would start giving me sores. I don’t how that can be, but it’s true. When I was with Quester, I used feel like I was drowning in myself, like I couldn’t breathe, and then I’d wake up and I’d realize I’d rolled the wrong way. Or sometimes I’d watch a movie and then I’d see a girl or a guy doing something and it’d make me feel bad about myself and I’d start wondering about my weight and my choices.

 

None of that ever happens here.

 

None of the movies I watch have any scenes like that.

 

Not. A. Single. One.

 

I’m starting to wonder, where is this place, really? I think I know where I am from what all the signs say. They says missile complex. They say ATLAS. But maybe none of that’s true. Maybe I’m really somewhere else. I can’t know for sure because there aren’t any windows here and I can’t get out.

 

Oh, I should mention that. I’ve hit the point of no return. Nothing I can do to get out of here.

 

I’m too big to leave. Not that I would, but I looked at the giant doors to this room and I realized for the first time today that I’m too big to squeeze through them. Those are big doors too. Big like you’d see in an aquarium or a factory. Even if I could walk, even if I tried my hardest I couldn’t get through those doors now.

 

I think… I think I might be bigger than a whale.

 

I guess I could try to diet but…

 

Who even cares what happens to me in here? I don’t.

 

Everyone who ever loved me or even knew my name is dead.

 

I need to find one of those cats. I think if I find one of those cats that it’ll all be better somehow.

 

And I need to nose lose this pencil again. It’s the only one I have. I just can’t believe I got so dang big I could lose a pencil in myself.

 

*****

 

I’ve been real careful with the diary since I lost the pencil and I’ve been setting it on the Food Box but I just can’t find the will to write most days. It’s been three weeks, and I’ve just been having awful dreams. Last night, I had the worst dream ever.

 

I think maybe that means that I’m finally pulling out of my depression. I sure hope so, anyway. Somehow feeling low down in paradise is worse than feeling low down someplace that’s already low down. I guess it makes sense that the higher you have to fall the harder you’ll hit. Except now I think maybe I’m bouncing back up again.

 

I finally saw the cats! Except they weren’t cats, of course. That’s part of the reason I feel so good. They’ve got me feeling all tingly inside!

 

But that’s me getting ahead of myself again.

 

I had a scary dream last night, like I said, real bad. Real real bad. I haven’t remembered any of my bad dreams till this one. It made me feel better to remember, somehow. Less alone. Odd that a bad dream would make me feel better. Strange that it would feel like it was keeping me company. Maybe bad dreams are like those nutrients where a whole bunch of it is poison but a little bit of it is good for you?

 

Anyhow, I had a dream I was as big as a mountain. I was so big I was an island, floating in the middle of the dang ocean. You couldn’t see my arms or legs because they’d been buried underneath my rolls, and I was so big parts of me were resting on the ocean floor. Seaweed and a bunch of other ocean things had grown all over the bottom of me like a little hula skirt. My face was drowning in my neck fat, but my face was right there at the summit screaming for help.

 

Except I couldn’t scream too much because I was choking, like I said.

 

I could feel Quester scrambling up my body. His tiny fingers digging into my rolls, his knees digging into me so he could make his way up. When I did scream, I kept screaming for him, but the louder I screamed the faster my fat would come flopping down over my face trying to suffocate me. I screamed anyway, though, as much as I could, till my whole body was purple as grape soda.

 

There was a storm suddenly and I was tossed about. I broke a reef and washed ashore on an island. It was a terrible place! All full of scorpions and spiders and they tried to scramble up over me! I rolled around, trying to knock them off. I knew that the way I was moving around would make climbing dangerous for Quester but no matter how hard I tried to stay still, I couldn’t. I just kept flapping all over the place, breaking everything. I was trapped inside my own body.

 

Even though climbing was very hard, I could always feel Quester clinging to me. Bless that man, even in my dreams he never gave up on me. Quester had to climb for years, eating all the scorpions and spiders that crawled on me, all the while fighting tooth and nail to stay on me when I kept trying to slip away.

 

By the time he made it to the top, he was hardly nothing more than a skeleton.

 

“Becca?” Quester called, when he reached the top.

 

He saw my face, then he kissed me.

 

Oh God did that feel good! The way he kissed me like that! Like being kissed by Prince Valiant. I cried, but I tried to stop because I knew if I cried too much it would fill up the the valley of fat around me and I’d drown.

 

“Becca are you alive in there?” he whispered.

 

He was so weak, the poor thing. I could almost see his skull through his skin he was so thin. I nodded to let him know I was still kicking even though he couldn’t see my legs, but I’d become so big I couldn’t speak at all now, except maybe for one word and then I’d die.

 

“Becca, is this what you want? He told me I couldn’t see you again if I agreed to his bargain…. but someone helped me to sneak a look at you and I… I just have to make sure. Are you happy? Is this what you really want? Do you feel good? Am I doing right by you?”

 

He kissed my lips this time and when he did I felt a little bit of me, like an iceberg made of fat, fall off into the ocean. One of my legs come free and started squiggling around like a little tail! God it felt so good! I dreamed a weird dream inside the dream, of what it was like to be a little girl and dance through the fields and tease tease aunt Peggy’s cows.

 

“You say the word, Becca, and I’ll just let go and die like I was supposed to. I’ll free you from this place. You can’t keep on like you have been with the eating,” I could tell it hurt him to say the words, “but you can move on and go make a new life, without me holding you back. I love you that much. I love you enough that it’s okay for you to hate me for a bit. I think maybe I didn’t know that till now, but I do.”

 

Lightning struck and the Little Gentleman was there suddenly, but he was angry and all different somehow. His feet hurt me, stamping like hooves. His eyes glowed pale yellow like a jack-o-lantern and when he spoke it came out as a growl.

 

“Was it the tranny or that old darkie who brought you here?”

 

I think it’s okay for me to write that, on account of it is what someone else said in a dream. Anyway, that’s what he said. The Little Gentleman came up besides Quester and grabbed hold of his shoulder. Quester moaned so bad then, and it was so pathetic and I knew he was hurting so bad that I started to cry harder.

 

“Do you think you can break our deal? Break my name? Did the tranny or the old darkie tell you that you could escape so easily? We’re past the point where you can just say the words. You’ve got to really feel it. You have to want it, deep down.”

 

Quester looked at me so big and so sad and so pitiful.

 

“There’s a meal you haven’t tasted yet, Rebecca. The best of all possible foods. Heavenly food. Tell me now, in this place where there can be no lies. Do you want to be alone? Do you want to have to struggle to lose all that weight you’ve put on? Do you want to be set free to make your own way? Would you take back pain, struggle, and failure? Or would you rather taste the ultimate dish?”

 

When I spoke, my whole body rumbled like a volcano.

 

I said:

 

“Food!”

 

Then I woke up and the Little Gentleman was there. God it was so good to see his face! His skin pale as whipped cream. His eyes like little dark chocolate dots. He was petting my stomach so tenderly and lovingly that my tears of joy turned into tears of relief.

 

“Did you have a bad dream, Becca? I’m here, now. Your worries are mine to carry. I came because I worried the Food Box had become boring. There’s only so much the imagination can conceive after all. So, I thought I’d let you try another dish.”

 

I must have written this a hundred times by now in this stupid diary, but I really was crying so hard I could barely even talk. I feel like that’s all I do. Cry so hard I can barely talk.

 

“Thank you,” I whispered.

 

The Little Gentleman brought up a bag that was by his side, and at first I thought it was  a bag full of cats. It sounded just like the cats in the walls, at least. A sort of weird mewling sound, but it was different when it was closer. Before I could ask any questions, the Little Gentleman started to climb me. It hurt more than it had in the dream, and the feet still felt sharp as knives, but it wasn’t long before the Little Gentleman was sitting on my shoulder.

 

“I let them scamper around here for a bit, after I plucked their feathers for your bed. The feathers go bad if they’re too far away, you see. You probably heard them. There’s a full thirteen of them here, and I promise they’re delicious. They’re not as big as they once were, I’m afraid. They shrunk when I took their wings. But I promise that they’re the best thing you’ve ever tasted. Like nothing else! Even the Food Box couldn’t produce these!”

 

I was real curious then, eager for anything other than something that might make me think of my nightmare.

 

“What are they?” I asked.

 

The Little Gentleman smiled and pulled a little man all covered in blood out of his bag, no more than ten inches tall.

 

“Angels,” he said.

 

I didn’t realize it until it was up close, but the little guy was singing! The Little Gentleman held the angel upside down by his feet right in front of my nose. All that scratching just sounded like scratching because they were too far away and too small. Why were they trying to climb the walls? I wondered why they hadn’t come out and said hello to me. If they were there the whole time and they really were angels, why didn’t they come out and say hello? Didn’t they know I was lonely? Isn’t that what angels are supposed to do?

 

That made me real mad. Real real mad.

 

I snapped my head back and the Little Gentleman threw it in my mouth like I was a dang trained seal.

 

It sung the whole time I ate it, even for a while after it was in my stomach. It tasted like music.

 

So, really, I am feeling lots better.

 

*****

 

Well, today, I finally got big enough that I touched the walls. I’ve had to set the Food Box on top of myself, right in front of my mouth. It’s easier that way since I eat pretty much all the time now, like breathing. I’ve got real good at it and my jaw doesn’t get tired or nothing. I’ve felt a lot better since eating those little angels, although I sure do wish I had more. I should have thought to ask the Little Gentleman but he was gone again by the time I woke up. They were tasty but they sure did make me sleepy. I ate all of them in about five minutes, silly me.

 

Nothing the Food Box makes come close to those little guys! When I close my eyes to think of them, all I get is a pan of lasagna. It’s good, don’t get me wrong. But it ain’t no angel.

 

Imagine that feeling you’ve only had once or twice in your whole life, where everything was good and the world was perfect and everything almost sort of sang. That time and that feeling where nothing could be better and it was like you were full of light. That’s what angels taste like. Better maybe.

 

Now, I thought I’d feel guilty, but I knew they couldn’t really be angels. They were too little! I think they’re probably just some kind of sea animal or something that looks like little men. Still, I hope the Little Gentleman catches some more and brings them back to me. I know I said it before but he was right, the Food Box can’t even come close to how good those little guys tasted! It makes me blush to say it, but I’d murder God and burn down heaven to eat more of those guys!

 

I figured I didn’t even need this diary anymore but it happened to get washed back up to me today by my wiggling around so I thought I’d write a little update for completeness sake.

 

Like I said, I finally got big enough that I hit the walls today. Nowhere for me to grow but up! Straight to heaven! And when I get there I’m going to eat another angel! I can feel myself starting to lift off the ground a little tiny bit but I’m not uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong, the Food Box never fed me anything that hurt me but nothing feels as good as eating those angels felt and I’ve felt so good since then I can hardly stand it.

 

And the movies! The movies lately are literally out of this world!

 

All the movies you could ever want! Movies that won’t be made for a hundred years! A thousand years! Movies I’ve already seen but with different actors! And, I’ll say it! You won’t believe what I’m going to say next, but I’m going to and I’m not even going to blush! Who is going to judge me down here? There are dirty movies, too! Dirty movies with all the celebrities I like and all the boys I liked in high school! And they do all sorts of bad things! They do all the bad things to someone who looks just like me! Wicked naughty things and it feels so good!

 

It all feels so good and I want all of it that I could ever have forever!

 

And that’s all I’ve got to write for a long while!

 

*****

 

Man, it’s a real gas reading through these old entries! I’ve never been much of a reader but the diary got washed up in front of me again today and I figured, what the heck?!? I can’t believe how far I’ve come since then. I hardly even recognize that person I used to be! Did I really ever blush that much? Man oh man did I have a lot of guilt back then too! I’m as free as a bird now!

 

You know what? Quester never ever gave me a life near as good as what the Little Gentleman has given me. Not even close. All I had with him was the promise of an eventual stroke or a heart attack and a weekly bucket of chicken and a whole mess of obligations and him second guessing the way he was treating me. But what have I got here? I’ve got all the food I could ever want! I’ve got that tv and it keeps going up as I go up and it keeps staying at just the right height for me to see EVERYTHING! That bed underneath me keeps me feeling clean, even though it’s gotta be so tiny right now and I can hardly feel it.

 

I’ve filled this place halfway up! And I’m getting close to the top! And when I do, I’ll bust out and then I’ll cover the whole dang world!

 

Oh, I had a dream last night. And no, it wasn’t a nightmare!!! I dreamed I was a mountain again and that Quester had climbed back on top of me, and this time he was even more of a skeleton than before. The Little Gentleman was there too, but he just stayed off in the background, smiling his cute little smile.

 

“Did you really eat angels, baby?” Quester asked, and his voice was all weak and pathetic when he said it. Like when he complained about money and buying me food and couldn’t find the courage to say no.

 

“Sure did, and they were tasty too!” I yelled back.

 

I was an even bigger island than before, and this time I could talk. Boy could I talk! Loud and proud like I’d wanted to be all my life! Like I’d been in the hospital. It made Quester cry to hear it and it didn’t bother me in the dream and it still doesn’t!!!

 

“I don’t think this is right, baby. I don’t think it’s right that I sold my soul to bring you to this place. I don’t think it’s right that you’ve eaten angels. I think we messed up real bad, hon. I think we messed up real, real bad.”

 

I smiled a teeny tiny smile, and I said our dirty bedroom words.

 

“Bet you’d still like it if I ate your cock!” I demurred.

 

That gave him pause. He didn’t say anything for a bit, like he never said things when he was hungry for me. Then, still quiet, he came up over my face, crawled down into the valley around my mouth and pulled his pants down.

 

“I guess even the dead have to have some pleasure,” he said.

 

I sucked it for a while and when I heard him moan, that’s what I started to chew.

 

Being honest, I always thought about it. What it would be like to eat Quester. For all my reservations about everything, I was never a run of the mill kind of gal. Not in my own mind at least.

 

Quester didn’t move, didn’t do anything but sort of choke as my fat fell in on him and forced him down into my mouth until only his head was poking up from my lips.

 

“I’m so sorry, baby. I’m so sorry I never hurt you. I didn’t know that hurting someone was good sometimes.”

 

Those were the last nonsense words he said, and then my jaw popped down like an anaconda and I swallowed him whole.

 

Tasted like a dusty pig, can you believe that?

 

Like a pork chop you’d tossed around in an attic.

 

Anyway, fuck this diary. And you know what? Fuck you too!!!

 

*****

 

Face smooshed against top of silo now. Diary and pencil trapped by hand. Can’t stop eating. LG brought more angels. All I can eat!!!
So good!!!

 

*****

 

SHAWNEE COUNTY, Kansas (AP) – Emergency workers have been dispatched to the scene of an apparent septic reservoir explosion this morning, in what appears to be a first of its kind incident. While state engineers have so far been at a loss to explain the cause of the apparent explosion, no one can deny the palpable mess. The debris field stretches from Auburn to Wakarusa to Pauline and has made a two mile stretch of I-335 completely impassable.

 

Engineers gauge the mass of the ejected waste to be on the order of 200 tons, though all known septic pools have been accounted for and found to be intact and there has been no reported pressure or water loss anywhere in the county. The waste represents the annual output of well over a thousand adults. Early commuters reported thinking that they were caught in the middle of some kind of mudslide, with a former resident of the Pacific Northwest likening the smell to a dynamited whale.
When reached for comment by e-mail, a representative of the sanitation department responded with the following:

 

“We’re simply at a loss to account for this. All we can say with certainty is that whatever it was that exploded is nowhere now in use, or documented anywhere in the available blueprints of the septic system. Nearest we can guess, is that the explosion might have been caused by animals using an old missile silo as a -pardon the pun- dumping ground. We have found a large mass of feathers in some of the waste, so the theory holds some weight. If the area ever became sealed off, the natural gases emitted by the waste might have resulted in pressures high enough to cause this explosion, though it’s still hard to see how. Pressures like this aren’t generally caused by natural phenomena.”
Emergency workers are asking that residents please not leave their homes or travel with small children or adults with compromised immune systems. The situation is literally toxic and exposure without approved safety apparel is cautioned against in the strongest possible terms. Authorities are also asking residents to please report any unusual sightings or symptoms such as hallucinations. Several residents have reported hearing angels and have been taken into the hospital for observation. There are serious concerns about infection so please don’t hesitate to report.