Written for sufferingforscience, who also kindly provided the concept of Erin being scientifically exploited by Loki.
She was excited at first.
I remember him leading her in, and hearing it in her voice, the admiration and near-drunken elation that she was going to be part of something truly amazing.
Something so selfless and beneficial.
Something she could finally be proud of.
There’s no real cause to demean her for it; we all believed, in the beginning.
We were going to do… wonderful things. We were going to save lives.
Funny, how deeply we’d believed that. Save lives? Ha. We couldn’t even save our own.
But back then, on that first day, she was happy.
She’d been CHOSEN, see.
The few, the proud.
I’d seen her around town a few times, prior to my own involvement with the Beakers.
Pretty girl. Sweet and friendly and naive. Back then, I couldn’t look at that sweet, pretty face without my head filling with hideous thoughts. Heinous imagery that used to only come to me at night while I dreamed, but which had become inextricably tangled into the weaving of my daily thoughts.
I’d look at that gentle face and those kind, green eyes, and I…
There is no absolution for those private sins. Nor do I want it. The way I thought about her, the things I did to her when I let myself lift the scarred and creaking floorboards of my mind, when I crept down into that filthy crawlspace, mired in the dirt and the shit of my own inner workings. Even now there is a phantom ache between my legs as I remember…
I see her on the other side of the bars, and the images are still there, weak and faded. Everything now is weak and faded. But even now when she looks at me, her eyes are kind and hopeful beneath the smudges of her old makeup. She still assures me that this will all be worth it, that our suffering will benefit mankind. As if though I should feel good about it, this little girl’s fantasies of a peaceful kingdom built from the blood and bone of the helpless.
I just smile at her from across the cell, and think my ugly thoughts.
I overheard her speaking once, to one of her silly, vapid friends. About her brother, The Scientist, The Smartest Man Alive, The Hero We Needed But Didn’t Deserve. Ah, but the praise would have gagged a maggot. Her absolute, unwavering sincerity made it all the more intolerable. Sickening.
But I had sought him out afterwards, hadn’t I? I’d gone looking for him, The Scientist, The Smartest Hero We Didn’t Deserve, with an obsessive, lusty zeal. Begged him. Take me, use me, transform me.
Mother had been angry. I hadn’t washed the dishes yet on that day they took me with them to the New Home, and I bet they were still sitting there, crusty and buzzing with flies when they’d packed me back up and sent me to the Newer Home.
That is what I think of when I think of Mother. Flies. Winged armies of tiny shit-eating monsters. They exist only to make things that much worse.
We have that in common.
Flies can’t reach us in here, but I’ve always been curious. Would they come for me? Would they lay their eggs in my wounds? Would I be able to peel back the dressing on my legs and see the bubbling river of maggots writhing within the blackened meat?
I could still be a father.
Please don’t, she whispers, when I ask her about her thoughts on the matter.
I don’t tell her that it used to be her in those fantasies.
I wonder sometimes what he had said to her to convince her to volunteer.
It’s for the betterment of mankind, maybe. Or, think of the children.
Perhaps he’d simply said, “Please.”
I think of her on that first day, in her pale pink dress and little blue sweater, and her blonde hair and her green eyes, and the way she’d looked at him like he was the Second Coming of Christ.
I knew what was going through her mind. Could see it, plain as day, on that open, guileless face.
He was going to save the world, the whole fucking world and everything in it, and he’d thought of her. He’d asked her to help him. Probably he’d even asked nicely.
She’d been so excited. Was there anyone else on earth who needed to be needed worse than Erin Beaker? Would sacrificing herself to her brother’s ambition finally satiate that endless craving? Even the poorly lit, metallic smelling laboratory hadn’t dimmed her enthusiasm.
“Someday he’ll have the money for a real laboratory,” she’d said to me in the beginning. I’d been sitting with my back to her for most of the morning. Annie’s bed was still empty, but I’d gotten sick of staring at it.
There had been a sad finality to her screams the last time they had taken her out. She wouldn’t be coming back this time.
“Everything will be shiny and clean,” she’d said, already envisioning it, this glorious, sterile lab where her brother would work tirelessly to cure disease and end world hunger. “He’ll have stainless steel everything.” Like some kind of celebrity kitchen where he sliced and diced human DNA into a seven-layer chimera casserole.
“Will he be famous, Erin?” I’d asked over my shoulder. I’d been mocking her, but she hadn’t caught it. “Will his face be on all the magazines?” Will he be glaring at me through his stiff mass of facial hair from amidst the rows of gum and breath fresheners? Would he have the gall to judge me, even then?
“Oh, yes,” she’d replied, eager and grateful for my sudden contribution to the conversation. “He’ll be a household name. Not that it really matters. Loki’s never cared about fame, or anything like that. He just wants to help the world reach its greatest potential. Even when we were kids, he…”
I remember looking back at Annie’s bed, then.
Some day they’d take me Downstairs, and then my bed will be empty, too.
At last, the flies will find me.
She is so pretty, even now. Especially now.
All of her makeup is gone. Her hair is dry and matted.
Her skin is pale and bruised, the bones are beginning to show, and she looks like she’s been crying.
“Who used to be in that cell between us?”
“What happened to her?”
Dead, probably. Bella definitely was. Lyla still appeared from time to time, although it had taken a while to recognize her. But the only thing I know for sure is, she isn’t here.
“They took her downstairs, Erin. That’s all I’ve got.”
She doesn’t ask anything more. She knows that Upstairs is bad, but Downstairs is worse.
That’s all she needs to know.
I fake snore aggressively, my back to her.
I hear her mattress creak, the rustle of old fabric.
She cries into her pillow, like she thinks I can’t hear it.
Again, the phantom ache.
“Your turn, Erin.”
She used to jack-rabbit off the fucking bed like he was taking her to Disney World. Her face would light up at the sound of his voice, and she’d all but launch herself at the bars. Gonna save the world, the Beakers were. Gonna purge and purify everything in it.
“Okay, Loki,” she whispers. She smiles at him as she struggles to make her body do things her mind, dizzy with terror, is so desperately opposed to.
He smiles back, but there’s no kindness in it, no goodness.
There’s no joy, either, though.
“It’s almost over now,” he reassures her, as he always does. “Circe is so close, she just needs a little bit more… then you’ll be all better. Everything will be better.”
Erin nods, slowly. The drugs they’ve been giving her have made her lethargic.
“Come on, Er-bear,” he says, and helps her out of her cell. Together they trudge back down the thin path to the heavy steel door, and then they’re gone.
I sit on my bed and wait for the screaming to start.
“What happens Downstairs, Nervous?”
Her voice is raspy, barely above a whisper. Some of the blood has cleared from her eyes, but they remain unfocused, even as she stares straight at me without blinking.
She’s still recovering from the last ordeal.
“What kinds of terrible things?”
I could tell her. I haven’t been Downstairs yet myself, but Annie told me enough, and I could fill in the blanks on my own. Plug up the holes with bits and pieces torn from the rotten, soiled fabric of my own imagination.
But that would ruin the surprise.
Weeks went by. We alternated on the operating table.
By now I know the sound of her screams as surely as I know my own. I wish I could record them, to listen to them over and over again, even when she’s in the cell next to me, too frail and broken to do anything but lie there and breathe.
Instead I must rely on the impure replication I’ve created in my mind. From there, I wrap her voice around the sharp edges of my name, and pull it taut.
It is… so magical.
At night, we lay on our beds and listen to each other suffer.
She doesn’t smile anymore. She doesn’t talk.
I like her better, now.
They shaved her head the last time. She doesn’t even have that anymore.
I don’t think she cares.
When Loki comes to the door for her, she can’t get up on her own. He is not a strong man, but he lifts her as if though she were weightless, and carries her out of the cell, down the short path, and through the heavy door.
I look at her empty bed.
I look at Annie’s.
I wait for the screaming to begin.
I wait, and wait.
There is only silence.
Only cruel, miserable silence.
Time has passed, I don’t know how much.
Erin’s bed is still empty.
Annie’s bed, Bella’s bed, Lyla’s bed. Empty.
I am still here.
Something is not right.
I sleep now more often than I don’t. Food appears on the floor of my cell. My empty trays are cleared away. Nobody has collected me yet, but I am waiting.
I am waiting.
A tapping on the glass draws my attention to the large, circular window Loki had installed to keep an eye on us.
Erin is there, on the other side, in a pretty pink dress I’ve never seen before.
Smiling so happy, and if it weren’t for her bald head, I wouldn’t trust this moment. We could have gone back in time, but we haven’t.
She crooks her finger at me, beckoning me to join her.
The door to my cell is unlocked. The heavy door at the end of the short path is as well.
Erin is waiting for me on the other side.
“It’s beautiful, Nervous,” she said. “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful.”
I followed her out of the laboratory, where the deep metal penny taste got in my nose and mouth, the smell of myself, of Erin, and Bella, and Lyla and Annie.
We had left a stain on every inch of that horrible, wondrous place.
I followed her through the living room, past the kitchen, and out into daylight for the first time in — years? Has it been that long?
“Look, Nervous. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Yes. Yes, oh my God, oh my dear sweet Lord, it was amazing.
I was smiling. My face hurt from it. I smiled harder, grinning into the pain.
I see Lyla in the distance. What was left of her.
I see Annie.
Annie was smiling, smiling such a happy, happy smile.
And Erin was smiling, too.
At me, smiling, and I am smiling back, at her, at Annie, at Lyla, smiling and we are all so happy.
“It’s time for you to go now,” Erin said gently, and she was smiling.
“Yes,” I said, and I was smiling, smiling so hard it hurt, smiling as hard as I could stand it. “I have been waiting to go for so long.”
We were both smiling as Annie began to change.
Behind me, Annie sprouted fur and her teeth grew sharp as the wind picked up, and pelted me with hot sand.
I could hear the buzzing, and I thought of Mother, and she was smiling.
Lyla was smiling, I think, in the distance, and I smiled wider until there was blood in the corners of my mouth, because I wanted her to see.
See how happy I was.
So, so happy.
And then, finally, the flies found me.
sufferingforscience, for the concept of demented bastard Loki experimenting on his own little sister, the story name, and for introducing me to a new favorite in the form of were-pug Annie Howell.
mr-maxis-match, for an awesome recreation of the PSP’s Annie Howell.
a-sunset-in-harrow, for being my new partner-in-crime and an unofficial
test subject beta.