Chapter 9 - Lynch Me
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rating: +6+x

Contains themes of suicide and suicidal ideation.

I

I hear the sound of chains being dragged along an asphalt road.

The sun’s hot on my face, and I can’t open my eyes without blinding myself. I'm arched uncomfortably over something that digs into my back. I feel it shift and rise and fall beneath me, its breathing heavy and unstable. It's a man. A man is carrying me.

I try to turn, but something cold and hard tightens around my neck and keeps me still. My broken hands rise to my throat and I pull at the metal collar. Using all of my strength, I'm barely able to give myself enough room to breathe before it crushes back down. The man mutters something incoherent. Something about high branches.

My lips are cracked and caked with blood. Whenever I try to steal a breath, I feel needles stabbing into my throat. But still I keep trying. I turn myself around, and again I am forced back into place. The man is yelling now. I know what he's saying, but my mind can't quite place the words together into anything coherent. The pieces just scatter away.

Questions. I need to ask him questions. Dozens come to mind, but I only have the strength to sift through a few. Every second I spend debating, my throat screams louder and louder. You're going to die, it says. I am going to die.

“Wuh…”

The man stops. I try to speak through the pain, but each time I clench my teeth together, it increases tenfold. Hooks form in my throat that drag my voice down to a whisper.

“W-Water,” I finally say.

He's silent for too long before replying, “You’re not going to need it.”

He has a painful voice.

Minutes crawl by, bringing along more pain. My body slowly realizes that it's not going to be getting water, and my thirst soon disappears. There's no sweat on my brow and no tears in my eyes. I can feel the grooves on the roof of my mouth with my tongue. Sometimes, a shadow falls onto my face and I'm given a reprieve from the sunlight before being plunged back into it a second later.

The man leans forward. I roll off onto the ground.

I spit out a loud "Fuck!" as my body nearly breaks in half. I kneel on my hands and knees as the shock wears away. The world is buzzing; the wind is violent.

Grass meets my fingers. There's a soft sizzle as I am comforted by the cool earth. I feel the ground rocking back and forth from the breeze like it's a living thing. A part of me wants to believe that's true. It wants the earth to swallow me, to force my body to become a part of it. Then all of the heat would be gone. There's a tug and the chain clinks against the collar that now hangs loosely around my neck. I examine it with my hands.

It's a thick ring of old metal — there's no lock. It's impossible to tell whether I had just woken up with it one day or I had been wearing it for years but never realized.

I feel around to the back. The chain is made of something softer. If I pressed hard enough, I might be able to break it. I squeeze, but the chain fights back, slicing into me. My arms droop down. I'm too weak. My body is disfigured and starved like a dying dog, its legs broken. Even my eyes have trouble remembering to stay open.

The grass is like dry fur sprouting out of the ground. The sunlight cuts through the impossibly tall trees. Bits of asphalt and concrete pepper the ground. I'm next to a road that extends far off into the distance. This is where I'm going to die. I will be buried beneath this concrete and my bones will rattle every time a car drives through.

There's a tug, and I fall onto my stomach. Another painful bout of coughing. I look up at him, chain spooled gently in his palm. My muscles are so weak I can only crawl towards him. "You…" I mutter. "Who…"

In an act that had to be retaliation, the man pulls the chain again, hard. More coughing. More pain. There's blood in my mouth now.

"Don't worry about who I am." He examines a nearby tree. "It doesn't matter. You won't see me after this. But I'll be many things to you while you're still here. Maybe a listener, if you can withstand it." He heaves back and chucks the spool up. I hear it snag onto a few branches before returning obediently back to his hand. He pulls on it once or twice, then he turns to me.

"But for now, I am going to be the man that murders you."

"Y-You're not…"

The collar tightens. I don't even have time to think before I'm wrenched up from the ground. My spine strains itself as I'm hoisted up so high my feet can't touch the ground. The man tugs down and my face contorts in pain. My limbs draw into my chest like a goddamn child. I force them back out. I will die like a real man.

"Don't worry about the branches breaking. The trees here can hold things twice as heavy as you. Don't be afraid of this. Fear only makes it hurt more." The man tugs again and I fly. Panic chews into my leg. "Your body will try to save itself. Don't worry, that's a natural response. You'll fight it, you're strong."

I rise higher and higher. The trees turn into honey-brown sticks and the leaves melt together into a large green wave. I can barely see the man, but I know he's looking at me, seeing whether I will try and fight my death. My hands see the cue and fly to the collar. They try with every last fiber of strength to tear it off, to escape the inevitable. But even they seem to notice how pathetic the attempts are.

"It always feels longer than it actually is," the man yells. "You'll feel the worst pain of your life for a few seconds, then the world will go dark. It's probably dimming by now, isn't it?"

I can't feel my body anymore. The man was right: I am terrified. The initial excitement and panic leaves, and I'm just stuck in the aftermath. The world feels hollow. My head feels hollow. Something tells me that the universe wanted this to happen. It wanted me to struggle and to humiliate myself and to give up.

Clef was wrong. Humanity does have a meaning in the universe. We are meant to be murdered.

There are birds chirping in the distance. One rests on a branch right in front of me, and caws. The sound echoes in my mind — back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. The world disappears as I spiral downward to somewhere beneath me. I feel the wind on my face, an ever-so-soft wind caressing my face.

II

“Please state your name and employee ID.”

I am seated in a shadowy room. There's a dingy light overhead. It's so bright I can't see the ceiling behind it, like it's just a floating sphere above me. In the corners of the room, where the darkest shadows lie, is movement. Monsters twitch and distort and crawl along the walls, staring at me with a fearful hunger in their eyes. The burning light is the only thing that protects me. If one of them were to step inside, they wouldn't be able to withstand the pain. Their flesh would be seared to an oily black by the light. The pain reminds me that I am a human being, that I can withstand the light and they can't. Now the only threat facing me is the other human being sitting before me.

I can't capture an image of her face. She's sitting right there, but there's nothing remarkable about her. She could have been replaced with any civilian off the street and I wouldn't be able to tell the difference. Is there even a difference at all between her and everyone else? There has to be. She's working at the SCP Foundation and they're not. But that difference is so subtle that I don't care to separate her from everyone else. She still bleeds human blood. She still breathes human air.

"Excuse me, sir," she snaps. "I need your name and employee identification number."

I swallow. "Williams. Huxley Williams, with an 'X'."

"I know." She flicks at something on her neck. "Employee ID?"

I spit out a set of numbers of letters that I had long committed to muscle memory. She types them into the computer that's resting on the table before her. Blue light shines onto her face. I pick as some dead skin as I wait out the short peace before the storm.

"So why are you here today?" The woman crosses her arms and tries to stare into my eyes. I avert them downwards.

"I, um, I want to have my background expunged. Or at least my employee summary, so that people can only see if it they need to," I say. The words were formed a long time ago.

"So you want to have your background declared as sensitive information?"

I nod.

She turns back to the computer, tossing an off glance at me. "There's barely any information here. No date or place of birth, no living relatives. The only record here I have is of you passing a recruitment course."

I take her words as a joke, but my laugh only intensified her stare. "Yeah, I guess you could say that."

"So what's your issue with your background?"

Strings of anxiety grow in my stomach. "What?"

"I need a reason why you want to expunge your background."

"Um… personal reasons."

"I need something more than that."

"What? Why do I have to tell you? Can't I just say that I don't want people to know and be done with it?"

The woman sighs. The strings begin to climb up the walls of my esophagus. "No. I need a specific, official reason. Just tell me so I can sign off of it."

Fuck.

I grab my pants and squeeze my knees. There are thousands of reason why she could have asked that question. Most of them are meaningless, just empty tunnels that will lead me nowhere. But my mind still follows each and every one. Whenever it stumbles into an empty conclusion, it convinces itself that the next tunnel will surely have the answer. I know I won't find one, though. I have to speak.

I open my mouth, but nothing leaves. She can't know. It doesn't matter if I give her ten-million bullshit reasons, she can't know why I'm doing this. Nobody can. I guess that's the same thought every other guilty person has when they're trying to do this. Am I just another guilty person? I thrash myself for the question. Of course I'm like everybody else, I'm made of the same flesh and blood as them. And since I'm like everybody else, she must know the next thing I'm about to say is a lie. Does she even care?

No, she doesn't. She has no power over me and no influence over the people that do. It doesn't matter if she likes me or not, she still sleeps in the same part of the ship that I do. Even if she had the authority to kill me, why should she care? She said it herself, she sees hundreds of people a day. There must be others like me. I'll let myself fade into the machine until she won't have the energy to try and find me again.

Despite me telling myself that over and over, I can't say the words. My mouth is dry, my tongue is cramped. Seconds tick by. I had to say something.

So I began, "I'm, um… I don't like talking to other people. I don't talk to my coworkers. People tell that one day, I'll start liking the people next to me, but I've been working here for a decade now and I know that's not true. I don't have friends at work. I sleep at my Site, and I don't have anyone to come home to. There are one or two people that I'm associates with. But I don't think that's a bad thing. I'm not the type of person that needs those things from people. I like it when people don't know much about me. And I don't want them to know my background. I just want to be left alone."

I let out a sigh that had been stuck inside of my for years. The woman nods and types away. Happiness flows through my veins like a drug. I have to bite my lip to keep myself from smiling. I can already feel myself slipping out of her grasp into the cracks of the omnipresent death machine. It was just enough truth to keep her fed, but not enough to leave her wanting more.

One of my legs jumps from the electricity surging through my muscles. I press down on it, hard.

"Excited, huh?" she says. She's not even looking at my legs.

"N-No, I'm just…" The gears in my head keep running. "It's been a while since I've got something like that off my chest. It's good. Definitely, definitely good." I smile to sell the words.

"Hmph." I can't tell whether she's satisfied or disappointed. But that doesn't matter to me now. She had found her chance to seize the conversation and she didn't take it, and now she was powerless. I can feel the fear draining out of me. "Huxley, you're different from a lot of people that come here. Do you know that?"

I straighten myself. "What do you mean?"

The woman keeps her eyes on the computer. "Most people would have been too scared from the hanging to make it this long. Even fewer try to play along, and none have… devoted themselves to it as much as you have. It scares me a little, honestly. You're smiling right now, but I remember just ten or fifteen minutes ago, you were terrified of me. Are you not afraid anymore or are you just burying it and hoping it goes away?"

She stands, her chair screeching as it scrapes across the floor. She picks up the computer and walks around the table.

"Wait," I interrupt. She turns, but I can't meet her gaze. "What does any of that mean? What's going on?"

She scoffs and continues her exit. My hands flies out and snatches the sleeve of her coat. I'm dangerously closer to the shadows now. I can only make out her silhouette. I say, "Hey! You can't just leave me here."

“Huxley, stop." She pulls back, and my grip on her coat is broken. “Do you want to know why I called you different? Because everyone else realized what was happening and stopped playing games with me. They stopped acting like stubborn children. Don't sit here acting like you weren't just hanged. Don't act like you enjoy playing along."

I pause. “What… what are you talking about?”

“You know exactly what I’m talking about, Huxley.”

Then she turns away. Then she leaves. And I am alone.

I am seated in a shadowy room. The lamp still blazes above me, but it doesn't protect me anymore. I wonder if it ever did. I can't see any monsters out in the dark. It’s just me, a delusional thing that thinks that its greater than anything else. The light irritates my skin a little.

Is this what death is? Is it this interview and this dark room? The idea won't leave my mind, even when I know how pointless speculating is. There's no point to trying to find a winning move when there isn't a game being played. That was how it was with Emma, wasn't it? There was never a game, there was never a fight. It was all just paranoia.

It was just me. A stubborn child in a shadowy room terrifying myself with imaginary monsters.

III

HUXLEY.

“Mmph.”

OPEN YOUR EYES, HUXLEY.

“I don’t care. I just want to sleep.”

“…”

…NO.

My eyes shoot open.

I am sleeping on a dirty mattress, a blanket wrapped around my naked body. It's stiff and scratchy like a sheet of metal, and it presses down hard on my chest. Not that I mind — it's the only thing protecting my face from the cold air. My brain must have placed me inside of a seedy hotel room. Or an apartment in a bad neighborhood, I can't tell the difference.

I can hear cars roaring by like they do in big cities. There are no stars tonight, but the streets are on fire. A kaleidoscopic wave of headlights shines through my window, and crashes onto me. Everything held a depressing glow to it, like they just wanted to be left in the dark. I feel twinges of pain all over. I groan and turn to my side.

AWAKE, HUXLEY.

My muscles tense. A shiver shoot through my legs and spine as I kick away the blanket and expose myself to the world. The air latches onto me like a leech, sucking away my body heat. It's pathetic. I am destroyed by things that don't even affect normal people. I can't even get out of bed without collapsing from the weight of my own body. But that voice in my head keeps ordering me to; it keeps forcing me to embarrass myself.

"Fuck off," I call out. The voice does the opposite, burrowing itself deeper inside my skull. I feel it wriggle under my skin and take control. I slowly lose control of my legs, my arms, my chest, until I can't tell if I even have anything left. My body convulses, trying to fight its influence, but it's pointless. I was never fully occupied in my mind. There was always space for everybody else.

I force my eyes shut, trying to get it to stop. It pushes further instead. I feel an ice-cold animal climb onto my chest and dig its claws into my stomach. My lungs can barely take in air. It growls, a low ringing sound. I'm just restless, I tell myself. This must be a fever dream or something caused by my insomnia. I need to buy more sleeping medication.

STOP MAKING EXCUSES.

My gasp is stifled as the animal grips around my throat and squeezes hard. My body feels paralyzed, my arms are almost lifeless on the bed. The voice pins me down to the bed. It has complete control over me. Still, my body tries to reject its rule. It thrashes around as the animal — now a monster — freezes my brain and burns down my mental defenses.

"F-Fuck you!"

My body instantly utters an apology as it crushes my throat completely. My lungs start convulsing, begging to take in anything. An icy hand manifests on my chest, another on my leg, more on my wrists and face and stomach. Each one pulses, sending painful psychic shocks throughout my body. They infect me with uncomfortable thoughts that I can't control.

One grabs my leg. I grit and teeth and try to block out the thoughts, but they quickly overpower me. It moves its way up my thigh, leaving a trail of unfeeling behind it. A large black stain spreads across my leg onto my crotch. Fuck. I start panicking. The hands seize my fear, coiling themselves up further. My neck, my chest, my waist, my face, my eyes. My entire body is trapped.

My soul tells me to stop. It pleads with me to give up my fight and let go. I need to go, it screams, I need to go anywhere but here. I refuse to let it leave. The voice stabs holes in my mental walls and forces itself inside. It twists my thoughts with its words. It distorts everything around it.

And once my defenses are in ruins on the ground, the hands tear me apart.

One pulls out the last few strands of hair on my head. One forces itself down my throat. One wraps its bony fingers around the base of my penis and digs its fingernails inside. Pain pools in a red puddle on the bedsheets as it cuts through the veins. I feel it fall off. It moves lower, prying off my testicles. Warmth flows away from me, and all I see is bloody red. I smile when it's finished. I don't deserve children. Nothing like me does.

I realize now what all of this is for. The world — no, reality itself is just correcting a mistake. Did I forget who I am? I am a subtherium. I am scum. I am that which must be the destroyed.

STOP IT, HUXLEY. YOU’RE DOING THIS TO YOURSELF.

“I don’t… care.” My life spills out onto the mattress. I can already feel myself degrading into a corpse, maggots bursting out of my flesh and worms making home in my deformed skeleton.

STOP. LOOK AT ME.

“You don’t give a damn about me. I don't… I don't…”

I NEED TO SEE. YOU HAVE TO LET ME INSIDE.

“I don’t want you to see. I want you to kill me.” The hands grow tighter. I can see the world fading to black.

THAT’S A LIE, HUXLEY. YOU CAN BREATHE. YOU JUST HAVE TO DO IT.

I can’t. I’m too weak. I was always too weak.

IF I’M HERE, THAT MEANS YOU’RE STRONG. THAT MEANS YOU CAN SURVIVE THIS.

The devil lies.

HUXLEY…

I can’t live.

HUXLEY. PLEASE.

I gasp.

My eyes shoot open, and finally I am able to see. The bedsheets are still clinging to my body. The fan is still creaking above me, and the cars are still blaring in the distance. I am completely alone in this room. Everything is fine. Or more accurately, I am fine. I'm fine for now, at least.

I swing my legs over the side of the bed and examine myself. My body is fully intact; there are no black patches of warm blood. The pain has eased only a little. I was still breathing with distorted lungs and looking with malformed eyes. The bedsheet felt like it was rocking back and forth, like I was sleeping on top of a great animal that could at any moment chose to devour me. I can still feel it breathing on my neck.

HUXLEY… I—

"Don't act surprised." I grin. "Don't congratulate me. This isn't something to be proud of, and I still want you gone. But I don't think I can do that by just…"

IGNORING ME?

I nod. It isn't because I hadn't found any more words, but because I didn't have the strength to express the feeling that was forcing itself into my heart. It starts to beat like a drum in my chest. With my relief comes a deep, agonizing shame. I must be insane. I must a goddamn idiot to keep chasing the delusion that he will still survive this.

I take a deep breath.

"Fine. I don't care anymore," I say. "Come in."

IV

"No, no, no, no, no. I'm sorry, I can't. I really can't. Can we just go back? I'll let you murder me if it makes everything alright. Can you do that? Just make everything okay again. Give me this one little thing and I won't fight you again."

NO.

I run. The world bends around me, lengthening and swirling into a lifeless beach. Gray sand clings to my feet and similarly-colored seaweed is strewn across the ground. There was an intense banging sound. Hundreds of tiny holes appeared in the walls as they snapped away from the floor and the ceiling, crumbling beneath their own weight into cliffs and mountains that soon settled into the distance. I run, but the voice follows me. It materializes — it forces itself to become real. With ghostly hands, it steals itself a name, a body, a whole identity.

The waves are growing more violent. They beat into the sand, the remnants pooling around my feet. But even those are enough to cause him to stumble. I have to fight to stay upright. Thunder strikes somewhere close and my ears blow out into static for a few seconds. My hands fly to the sides of my head as an intense light flashes before me and I collapse.

I turn my head, my teeth grinding against each other. Far off in the distance, deep in the ocean, I see what the voice has become. It is a monster, a leviathan that rises up through the sky and sits in the clouds like a king. Its head is buried and mist, and enormous tentacles descend to the sea. They carefully examine the world like serpents stalking their prey. One plunges into the ocean, creating another tidal wave that will eventually collapse into me. It dives through the water, rising out suddenly a few hundred meters later and shooting back up to the sky.

Its body seems to transcend beyond what I can see. The space around it twists and blurs as more tentacles descend to the earth. They whip across the water, slowly approaching the beach where I am slowly crumbling. I try to stand, but suddenly a choir of voices scream in my head, tearing through my soul and keeping me pinned to the ground.

The only thing I could do was watch it come closer.

WHAT IS HURTING YOU, HUXLEY?

It would take me more years than I could imagine to think of an answer to that question, so I just point to the leviathan. I point to the voice.

WERE YOU NOT HURTING BEFORE?

I don't want the voice to be here. I want it to leave. I want everything to leave for just a second.

YOU'RE IN CONTROL IN YOUR MIND. IF I AM HERE, THAT'S BECAUSE YOU WANT ME HERE.

The leviathan wails. It screams something to me, something tha under any under circumstance I would understand. But I don't know what it's trying to say. I can't think, and it takes the rest of my mental energy to realize that I can't think. Every calculation takes a lifetime. I felt myself falling something beneath the ground. My limbs are numb, and I can't smile or frown.

Every thought in my mind pushes me closer to brain death. They shove me into a deep chasm in my mind where the walls are always spinning and the floors are never solid. I try to climb back out, but cement falls on top of me, pushing me back down. Illegal thoughts swarm my mind, dragging me deeper and deeper. I hear a roaring voice far below me.

It shouts at me, "Yes, you're right! There is no happiness here! There is no joy! You must obliterate the sadness; you must murder the dark. Kill it! Kill it until there is nothing left but light!"

The walls collapse at the voice's command.

I am surrounded by dark blues and purple, by rocks and seaweed, by monsters and the things those monsters fear. Waves flow through me — and even though I'm holding my mouth shut, I can feel myself drowning. The voices are just a whisper now. The colors and the caverns leave. Everything leaves.

I'm rocking back and forth, but my body isn't moving. I float in a place that grows more alive by the second. Soon, I feel its arms around me and I can hear it breathing slowly, steadily on my neck. Its jaw unhinges as it slowly devours me, finally bringing me to somewhere physical.

Suddenly, voices.

"Ritualizing this introduces a whole new can of worms. No, it's dumping a barrel-full of them into a lake the size of your sink. We would have a virtually one-in-a-million shot of even keeping this thing alive," one says. It is a man, his voice high-pitched as if he were whining out every word.

"We've only got six or seven minutes before it's braindead. We either use a ritual or we let it die," another voice responds. Her voice is younger, and somehow feels more real than the man's.

No, it doesn't. She's not speaking. She isn't even real.

WHY DID YOU HIDE THIS?

"Even if we do it your way, what chances does this thing have of surviving? It's not exactly the strongest entity we've found today. Why should we risk our lives for something that's going to keel over in a few years either way?"

"Because we're here to save whatever we can find. We don't get to decide who get saved. All of these things deserve a life."

"That is not true and you damn well know it."

YOU REMEMBER IT SO WELL. HOW OFTEN DO YOU THINK ABOUT THIS?

I don't think about it. This is just a fantasy that runs its course through my subconscious every few days. The words are bits and pieces of conversation I heard at the camp. The people were never here. This conversation is meaningless.

The woman groans. "Yes, of course I know that. But the point is that we have the opportunity to save one and you're choosing to let it die."

"Yes! To save something more valuable!"

EVERY WORD, EVERY INFLECTION IN TONE. I'M IMPRESSED.

I feel the presence of somebody else. I know exactly who it is, but I refuse to let myself remember his name. That will make it too personal. He's sitting on a stool next to my head, looking down at my face. That is all he focuses on for a moment, my pale, underdeveloped face that is dwarfed by the mountain of flesh that's attached to it. He taps his finger on the surgical table, sending tiny shockwaves across my body.

"We don't have time. It's FATHER's decision."

He simply says, "I'll operate on it. Alone." I can't forget his voice. It always sounded on edge, as if he could raise it to a yell at any moment.

"No. That's absolutely absurd, FATHER," the man counters. "Even if we go with her plan, we can't risk you on something this… small. Put me on it."

"I am the only one on this ship that knows the Sarkic rituals. I will perform this surgery."

"But if something happens—"

"If I die, then there will be a new captain. You'll make do, won't you?"

A beat passes as both parties consider their next move. FATHER breathes heavily. Panic is slowly wearing down my walls, and my mind is preparing to fight it. Eventually, the man lets out a sigh.

"Fine. I can't stop you. But it's going to die whether you'd like it to or not. Not amount of magic can change what it is." There's footsteps, then the sound of a door opening and closing.

I feel FATHER's hot breath on my forehead. It sticks to my skin. The sensation is enough to make me squirm, but my body remains still, paralyzed. There's a heavy weight on my chest that's suffocating me. He couldn't concentrate. A million thoughts must have been going through his bed at that moment. And out of all of those ideas, he picked the worst decision possible.

DON'T DIVERT.

FATHER lowers his head next to mine. I can feel the emotions bouncing around in his head, desperate to bridge the gap between him and me. He begins uttering words that I can't decipher. It was a jumble of prayers from a language that I now know had been declared dead decades ago. He speaks with forcefulness, as if there is an invisible gun to his head.

A bridge begins forming between his mind and mine. I can feel his thoughts collide with each other and spill over the side, falling into my body and bringing me new life. I realize that I can breathe.

FATHER allows me to peer into his soul. I see his memories. Women and children dance around me. They are soon replaced with muddy waters tinged with red stains and the bodies of things that should not be real. There are pillars of flesh in a vast ocean and, a little further ahead, rivers that bleed life and lust. There is a beach where something not-quite-dead lies in agony. FATHER stares down at it, a rope in one hand and a gun in the other. Somebody behind him says to shoot the damn thing and get it over with, but he refuses. He lowers the rope.

That was when the light came.

My mind burst into blue flame. My thoughts, my memories, and my emotions were all obliterated. Hundreds of craters instantly appeared on my skull. The bridge collapsed and everything that I knew about FATHER spilled out onto the table. I felt my soul burn up in my chest and I screamed. I was dying. It wasn't a physical death, but one that ran much deeper. It was the death of everything that made me want to be. It was a stern look from a stranger at the office. It was the ramblings of a disappointed friend. It was the screaming fits of a poisoned mind. It was chants and prayers and utter shock and denial because no, things like me didn't exist anymore.

HUXLEY.

The fire climbed up the last remaining threads between my mind and FATHER's, setting his skull ablaze. I felt his life pour out through his eyes. I saw him crying. I saw him smiling. I saw him imagining his own funeral. Nobody was there. He didn't blame them. Nobody would want to stand and stare at a pool of blood in the ground.

CAN YOU SEE ME, HUXLEY?

His body slumped over. There was a snap as the last remnants of his skull split off of his spine and his brain dribbled onto my stomach. I knew he was dead before I get a chance to see. As he wheezed out his final breath, I gasped for air.

HUXLEY!

I don't know much of what happened after that. It's been decades, but my mind has only allowed me to remember a few details. One of the crewmates barged in. I ate something that wasn't regurgitated from the maw of a demon, and I slept in something that wasn't soaked with seawater. I didn't know how to speak, but even without them, I knew what I had done. I was a thief. I had stolen life from somebody that deserved it more. His thoughts still haunt me. They beg for me to let them go, to let them rejoin him in whatever afterlife he was sent to.

I fought them for a while, before I realized that I was lying to myself. Every single one of them was correct.

SO YOU DESERVE TO DIE BECAUSE SOMEBODY SACRIFIED THEMSELVES FOR YOU?

"He didn't sacrifice anything! FATHER didn't want to die," I spit at the voice. It doesn't have to know about this. I still have power over my mind; if I wanted to, I can convince it that this entire thing is an elaborate lie.

BUT YOU WON'T, BECAUSE IT'S NOT A LIE.

"What?" The bitterness inside of me suddenly vanishes. There isn't even a goodbye note. "Damn. I forgot you could see into my thoughts. It doesn't matter anymore. FATHER's dead, and he's not going to be forgiving me anytime soon."

HUXLEY, WHY DO YOU—

"I don't know. If you're going to ask me why I think I deserve to… you know. I don't know. Maybe it'll bring some justice or balance back to the universe. It'll put that man's soul to rest. Or maybe I just want to give the rest of what I have to the SCP Foundation. They're everything I have left."

I WASN'T GOING TO ASK THAT.

"Then why are you still talking? You got what you wanted."

LOOK AT ME.

"What?"

I'M RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU, BUT YOU CAN'T SEE ME. YOU NEED TO LOOK. CLOSER, DEEPER. LOOK INTO MY BODY. LOOK INTO MY HEART. ENVISION ME. MAKE ME SOMETHING MORE THAN A VOICE, HUXLEY. MAKE ME REAL.

I turn away as my eyes tear up. For some reason, a simple request is enough to break something in me. I need to see it. I need to see something more than just a collection of noises in my head. I picture it in my mind: skin, muscles, organs, thoughts, feelings. I know it's finished when I hear it gasping for air. It takes me a few moments to build up the courage to turn and look at it. The voice lies on the ground, gasping for air.

V

Wave after wave of ocean water slams into the near-vertical rockface. It's the only thing protecting me from the sea. I walk along a small trail, the cold wind flowing across my face. It's calmer now, as if it's tired of trying to assault me. A white lab coat hangs off of my shoulders.

A man follows me. He asks, "How long until we get there?" His voice is as low as an old man's, but as powerless as a child's.

"Soon," I reply. He nods and look out to the waves.

The sun stretches upward, blending with the clouds and the pale blue sky. It had rained last night, and most of the heat had been smothered. Fog envelopes everything. Only a few beams of light are able to pass through, enough to warm me but not enough to make themselves known. It's the best kind of heat.

Soon we make it to our destination: a small outcrop where the rocks smooth into solid, waist-high walls that taper off towards the edge but don't quite meet, creating a small gap one can easily slip through. I didn't want to stop here at first, but something inside me kept my feet from walking any further. The man and I stand as far away from each other as possible. I try to keep myself from looking at him, and he tries not to tap his foot in fear.

"When do you plan on starting?" he asks me. My legs start burning, so I sit cross-legged on the ground.

"Whenever you want to," I respond. "You're the one that wants answers, don't you? You're the interviewer, I'm the subtherium, so start acting like it."

He shuffles around. I smirk at his inexperience.

I lean over the edge, my vision catching the man's face getting more anxious the closer I get. Below the hole is a bubbling pit of water, separated from the main body. From here, it looks safe to dive into, but as I look closer I see dozens of short stalagmites that jut out a few centimeters above the water. They're strong enough to break a person before forcing their mangled skeleton out to be swallowed by the sea.

Out of some need to spite him, I push myself close enough to where I can dangle my legs over, tempting that animalistic side of my mind to choose to throw me over. That finally gets his mouth open. "Wouldn't it be… unfortunate for you to die after all of this effort?"

"I don't plan on it." He lets out a long-held breath. I say, "I like sitting here. I like looking at the ocean. Sometimes if I stare for long enough, my eyes go blurry and it looks like the water is waving back at me."

The man doesn't respond; he just stares at the ground. I realize now why he's so frightened. Giving him a physical form made him more real, but it also made him vulnerable. He no longer had control over me. He had to experience the same things that I did. If I want to, I can force him to walk through an endless blizzard just for fun. It's too big of a risk to take for him not to want something.

Minutes pass before I lose my patience and say, "You can leave me, can't you?"

"What do you mean?"

"This is like a dream. Me, you, this whole world is inside my head. And that means that I could get rid of you if I really wanted to. Or if I can't, then I can refuse to play along. I can get rid of everything else. I can shut down this reality until you decide to leave me alone, can't I?" I turn to the man. I examine his face. It's as plain and unmemorable as the first time I had seen it. He flushes pink from my stare and tilts his face downward.

"I'm not the man you see here," he says. "I'm something that you cannot fully understand. Everyone I've met has called me a god, but that's not what I am. I am not a divine being. I am ugly and unpolished. I could unveil my true form to you — I could implant an emotion or a vision into your mind, but you wouldn't be able to handle it. You haven't embraced apathy like the others. It would drive you insane."

"You're a subtherium."

He laughs. "You say that like it's an insult."

"It's meant to be. That's why they changed the word, don't you remember? That's why they don't call things like you 'SCPs' anymore. It's because you're not good to even warrant containment and protection. You deserve death."

"You're projecting, Huxley."

"Does it matter if I'm right?"

The wind blows sharply across my ears as I wait for a response. The sun creeps further along its path, the fog slowly clearing. I can feel ground growing warmer by the second.

The man says, "I want you to come with me. I want to show you what other people think of you. What people actually think of you—"

"Shut up. You don't know anything about how I think. I know how you work; I've read your file. You just want me to give up my mind. You want me to kill myself and give my body up for your survival, you goddamn parasite." My voice begins to tremble by the end. I instinctively pull back a little.

"I want you to stop living in this fantasy that the people around you want you to die. You've been clinging onto it for your whole life, Huxley. I've seen how deep this poisonous root goes, and I want to see how the world really is."

"This is how the world really is!"

The words come out as a scream. I didn't expect it, but once it happens I understand why on a primal level. I don't care enough to try and explain it to myself. I just wipe my eyes clean.

"You're stubborn," the man says. "I'm not surprised. So are a lot of people. You probably think that you're the only one that has those thoughts, but you're wrong. I've heard your exact words hundreds of times before. And I know that you're lying to me, Huxley. You don't give a damn about keeping your identity. You don't care about your individuality. You've spent every second of every day of your life trying to destroy yourself."

I turn away, but the man comes closer. My throat starts to swell. He says, "You don't want to keep your life. You just want to lose it in the right way. You're not fighting to prove that you deserve to live — you're fighting for who gets to lynch you first."

"…Stop." I return fire, but there are no more bullets in my mouth. I want him to flinch at least, but he simply stands there like an immovable statue. My desire to fight is slowly strangled out of me. I don't want to argue anymore. I don't want to keep pushing everything away and hoping that it all dies somewhere where I don't have to look at it.

I want to hear myself say the words.

"You know," I begin, still trembling, "I'm not an idiot. Every time I wake up I remember what I am. I know that I'm something that everyone around me wants to destroy. It never leaves me, it gnaws at me constantly. It doesn't matter if I'm interviewing someone or talking with Emma or just passing through the halls. It keeps reminding me over and over again: they want to destroy you, they want to destroy you." I suddenly get the urge to stand, to walk away from the conversation. The man pulls closer, and my body locks up in fear.

"But sometimes, there are these… these moments where I forget that for a few seconds. My mind tricks itself into thinking that I might be human. I start speaking like the person in front of me can't see me and can't tell that I'm not. When I realize it's happening, that feeling goes away and I usually end up spending months thinking about it."

I can't handle this. My body forces its way past the man and begins trekking down the trail, which soon begins to slope downward towards a hidden beach in the distance. I can hear the man's footsteps behind me. My eyes are locked on the line where the ocean meets the sand.

"I-I just want to live like that. I want people to see me as something normal. I don't want to keep having those bastards stare at me and suspect that I'm a fucking monster. All of this pointless lying and being scared to death that they're going to find out and slit your throat while you're sleeping. I don't care anymore. I don't want to… I don't want to…"

The waves smash into my legs. I fall on my back as the water rushes back into the sea. It's impossible to move, so I look up at the blurry sky. The sun is well into setting now. It shoots out orange and yellow streams that meld into the clouds. It's a sight that I know will only last for a few minutes.

"I don't want to die."

The man is silent for a few unbearable seconds. Finally, he swallows and says, "Who do you think is going to murder you?"

"…I-It's…"

It's everybody. It's every face that I have seen and every soul that I have talked to. It's the suspects that I have to interrogate and the coworkers that I have to pretend to be friends with. I am an alien in this world, and aliens will never be accepted. It doesn't matter how much I tell people that things will get better, I'm just lying to myself. It doesn't get better. The SCP Foundation will never stop chasing me. They will never stop trying to lynch me.

And I will never stop trying to hand them the rope.

VI

Huxley’s eyes drift open to the sound of the sea. The air smells like white salt. Flakes of sand falls onto his chest, causing dead patches of skin to form under his eyes. He can’t tell whether he has been laying there for a few hours or an entire lifetime. It is a miracle that he did not freeze to death.

His stomach aches. Memories of last night come in brief, terrifying flashes. Dark waters, alien figures, and a light that slowly, slowly fades away. He rolls from his back to his stomach. Seawater falls out of his mouth. It takes him a few minutes to realize that he’s still alive. Then, there's a great amount of relief.

He is still here, through everything.

Huxley pushes himself to his hands and knees. His spine arches like an old, rusted chain, and he bites his lip to keep himself from screaming. He hates the sound. The idea of his voice stealing so much space in the air makes him want to grind his teeth until there's nothing left. But he appreciates it. His voice reminds him that he’s still alive. It reminds him that he exists.

He pushes those thoughts away, for now. Rocks scrape his knees as he begins dragging himself across the beach. The wind flows along his back as he slowly regains his strength. Soon, he finds himself at his feet, on the edge of a forest. The trees shudder, terrified to move in any direction. The ground is thick with roots.

Huxley forces himself to tread through the woods. His feet complain, but he doesn't care. They don't understand what he needs to do. He digs his hands into trees to keep himself from collapsing. Embarrassment nags at him the entire time. Imagine how low of a person he must be to continue to do this, to live a little longer rather than dying in the sand.

He turns to his left and sees a small hill. Like a stupid animal to a bright light, Huxley lets go of the tree and slowly wanders to it. As he climbs, his body lowers to the ground, animalistic. His mind is blank. His thoughts are focused. He waits for something to whip him for acting so inhuman, but it doesn't come. That mental voice sits quietly.

Huxley is at the top now. He looks out ahead.

There is rocky desert for miles, occasionally offset by patches of plainland and small bundles of trees. They're grouped together tightly like herds, protecting each other from everything else. But even at this distance, Huxley can tell that they are starting to decay. There are dots of brown in the leaves.

Sunlight caresses his skin, careful not to burn it. It feels… comforting, he thinks to himself. The sun had just rose above the mountains, coating everything in white. Where had this sun been the last few days? Did it finally build up the courage to appear, alone, in front of Huxley? Or was it always there, he just couldn't see it?

Huxley doesn't know the answer. In a way, he can't. So he chooses instead to close his eyes and breathe. There's no salt or wind on the top of the hill, just the air. The loving air, the forgiving air. It hugs him, nearly lifting him off of his feet. He takes a step forward, accepting its embrace. Then, he opens his eyes and screams.

The ground obliterates his body.










Post-Foundation
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