By Marie Chavez
Circle time was going smoothly today. So far, there had been no pinching or excessive wiggling. Even the runny noses were under control for once. The children clapped their hands as one of the staff led them through the repetitive motions of a sing-song storybook. Danny, my little brown-eyed boy followed along with glee.
Soon it was time to wind-down with a song. The staff and volunteer mothers pulled out naptime mats and the kids crawled into their places. I sang a soothing lullaby. It was my favorite time of the day, my special time in our daily routine.
There was a sudden sound of pounding footsteps in the hall, threatening to rouse the children. Still singing, I made my way to the door to investigate.
The door flew open and the steely glint of metal was in my face before I could react. I stared down the barrel of a gun for a long moment before I realized what it was. The commands barked at me were a strangely distant echo. Screams started up from behind me.
I acted. I don’t know how or where the instinct came from, but I lashed out against this man threatening the children. A strike, a kick and a brief scuffle. The gun clattered to the floor. My downfall was the fact I assumed there was only one man.
All I heard was a click. Then the world went to hissing, numbing, static.
The next thing I knew, my face was against the cold tile. I opened my eyes to see the little boy I cared for, to see myself in his eyes as he watched on, eyes wide with terror. Those deep, dark brown eyes held me entranced. He was the only thing that mattered. I blinked once. He screamed out to me. The crackling roar of static in my ears overtook the sound of his cries and then consumed me.
It was cold. The water that blasted my bare skin was like ice. I couldn’t move. I blinked, my vision clearing as I became aware the sight of water rushing towards a drain set in a cement floor.
Each time I blinked that strange black and white snow, like an old TV with no reception, flashed across my consciousness. I’d been shot in the head. I was sure of it. Yet here I was, staring at the pale pink tint of my own blood in the water.
I could hear a slow, deliberate, sploosh, splash of boots as water continued to pelt me, a stinging onslaught. I was bitterly, painfully cold. But at least I could feel.
I sat up, stiffly. There was an odd assortment of pale things hanging from the ceiling, lining a table and piled on the ground. It took my fuzzy mind a while to place them. Then it struck me. Body parts--I was surrounded by disembodied, human body parts.
The blast of the hose had stopped. I came aware of the fact that the figure in the boots, a man, was staring at me. I suppose he had assumed I was dead. He fled and I was left alone with the wet smack, smack, smack of his receding footfalls and the jumbled piles of flesh around me.
I felt my temple gingerly. It was strangely painless as my fingertips found the jagged, damp edges of the bullet wound. I pulled myself slowly to my feet, finding it hard not to slip on the slick, blood tinged cement.
Each step was agonizing. I made it to the table and fell hard, scattering cold, stiff body parts in my wake. They thumped and spun on the ground. Determined, I climbed to my feet once more. Danny, the boy I was responsible for--my little boy. I had to get back to him.
The hall was long, tiled and dimly lit. I shuffled along with no real concept of the passage of time. Footsteps, the firm thud of hard-heeled shoes and that familiar wet smack, smack, smack approached.
“--and then she sat up! She’s been in the warehouse for who knows how long.” It was the man in the boots.
“Ah, I remember that one. She was put out of service, shot in the head, when I was just a boy.” The voice was vaguely, strangely familiar. I looked up to find startling familiar, yet aged eyes. Deep, dark brown eyes. Eyes I could never forget.
The crackle of static blurred the edges of my vision. My knees buckled and he caught me. Yes, this had to be the boy I had cared for, sworn to protect. Yet, the face, it was all wrong. This was no boy. This was a man.
“Danny?” I murmured, my vision nothing more than a swirl of black and white snow, a faint roar growing in my ears.
“You’ve served your purpose,” his tone was gentle, and his voice cracked at as he spoke. “You did well.”
“Ghosts,” he said, turning to the man in the boots. “Just a ghost in the machine. Don’t let it bother you.” His fingers tickled the skin at the back of my neck. “The programming was far too convincing back then.” There was a subtle click. “We know better now. A machine is a machine.” A strange sensation tingled through me. “Still, the parts are serviceable. Make sure to re-format then dismantle her. Lingering data can cause issues later.” The static grew into a deafening roar. Then I was gone, just another snowflake between the channels.
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Marie Chavez lives in Seattle with her husband, son, her furry daughter(a mutt of a little dog), three cats and six chickens. When she's not tending to any of the previously mentioned beings in her life, she tries to find time to write.