Logan Thrasher Collins
I’m running down a dimly lit hallway, passing a painting with a jet black frame. The painting depicts a girl made from rose petals. I don’t recall when I started running, but it feels like I’ve been here for years. My former life is blurry, memories like ink drawings soaking in the rain.
I do remember trying to build a machine to bring someone back from the dead. I remember laying down in the machine and smiling and then something bad happened. But all that is in the past. Now, my only goals are to reach Natalia and escape the mechanical demon. Natalia’s voice echoes somewhere ahead of me. I startle with excitement. She hasn’t spoken for days.
“Nathaniel.” She says my name. Then the usual nonsense. “Murderer. Hematoma. Glimmering. Kiss. Razor blades.”
“What are you trying to tell me?” I shout into the darkness, desperation clear in my tone.
“Hunger. Galaxy. Risk. Wristwatch.” I continue pelting along the hallway. She’s not making any sense. The demon’s metallic rasping sounds louder than usual. I look over my shoulder. Thankfully, the beast isn’t close enough to be visible. Its noises are still getting louder though. I grit my teeth and run faster. There’s a grey face hanging on the wall. It appears to be the visage of a wrinkled old man.
“Go back.” The face wheezes. I pause momentarily. This was the first time the art had talked to me.
“Explain. Fast.” I reply, glancing over my shoulder fearfully.
“This is the wrong way. Ya’ got to go back to the rose girl.”
“Natalia’s ahead. The demon is back there.” I say angrily. “I go back, I die and never see her again.”
“Rose knows how to get out.”
“I can’t live without Natalia.”
“Natalia is dead!” The old man spits. “Listen, I know this cause’ I’m you. The other part. The part that got split off. The rose girl is you as well. She’ll know the rest of the story.”
“I don’t have time for this. The demon is still chasing me. But Natalia isn’t dead. She’s up there. I can hear her.”
“Why do ya’ think she babbles? That voice isn’t her. It’s just another part of your brain, feeding you broken static. It sounds like her because yer’ mind got rewired when you went in.” I regard the old man’s disembodied face. I know that I should be running. The demon must be close now. But I’m tired and the old man just might help me end this apparently endless chase.
“Even if that’s not her, she’s not dead.” I state quietly. “But I’ll do what you say.”
“She’s dead. You killed her. It was an accident, but ya’ were the one who did her in. But I suppose you wouldn’t remember that.” The old man cackles coldly.
“Shut up!” I roar, drawing my fist back in rage. Then the mechanical demon arrives. It barely fits in the hall, towering to the ceiling. Jagged iron teeth frame an incinerator mouth full of bloodred fire. It looks like an enormous metal centipede with the face of a warped vampire bat. Intense heat emanates from its jaws. But then I notice the rose girl on the opposite wall. I’m not sure whether or not she was there all along.
“Nathaniel, you have to wake up. If you don’t wake up, you’re going to die and face oblivion.” The rose girl tells me. The demon chitters with the sound of ten million burning locusts.
“How? The old man told me you would know.” I responded.
“Natalia is dead. You have to admit it.” Rose states sadly.
“Young love. Evisceration. Methodical.” Natalia is more distant now. I glance longingly in the direction of her voice.
“She’s not f***ing dead!” I cry, tears burning at the corners of my eyes.
“She’s gone. You have to wake up. There are still people left to save. You have to fix your mistakes. Wake up.” The demon unhinges its jaw, preparing to devour me. Despite the heat and my terror, I step toward the monster. Its lurid scarlet glow begins to surround me. The fire hurts ferociously as it bakes my skin. I know that Natalia is dead. I’ve known it this entire time.
The fire bleeds away. I open my eyes to see stars glittering through a skylight above me. I unplug the cord from my brainstem. Natalia is dead, but there are still people out there who need my help. I get out of the machine and return to my notes and tools.