These entries from October's challenge were selected as Honorable Mentions. Those who completed this challenge are now encouraged to share their stories in the comments section of the "October Writing Challenge."
Lying on the stone tile floor, where blood should run through the cracks, there is a whirring tick of something that isn’t quite life. It wakes up and pulls itself up using the countertop as leverage. It’s shaped like a woman and is close enough to one.
The almost-woman dusts herself down and cleans shattered glass bottles from the floor with a dustpan that gets too much use. She stumbles across the tile with her broken heeled shoe, red and shiny this morning, scuffed and snapped at the heel now. She reaches for the laundry, pulls out a fresh white apron edged with frill, and smooths it down her skirt, covering dark wine stains on the front of her peach dress.
She finds herself a few days later against the sink, supported by the porcelain basin. Her nose should be broken. She checks her makeup in the mirror and redraws a perfect red smile.
She scrubs pans and leaves them to dry by the sunny window until she falls back into the wicker chair and he finds her sometime later, pulls her limp body to the wall, and recharges her there until she reawakens some hours later and puts the dry pans in the cupboard.
If she wasn’t here, the house would likely be covered in dust. Or blood. She had worked that one out for herself. If she was real, she’d be dead. Humans were breakable, their bones crack and their flesh spills blood. If she wasn’t here to distract and stay unbroken, and the only other option was other, realer people, she didn’t know how many people he would have hurt.
She stood in place of a broken woman’s body, lying in a pool of blood on the floor. She was just capable of getting back up.
It isn’t long before it happens again. She wakes to pieces of smashed bottle in her hair. She shakes them out, gets the sweeping brush. She reaches out a hand to curl around the handle and notices a severe malfunction with her system. Where her humanoid hand should be, there is a horrendous rip through her false flesh. Her arm stops at the wrist, and her torn wires hint at where fingers had been yesterday.
Later in the day, almost noon, he finally pulls himself out of his drunken, bedridden state. He finds her dusting the windowsill and reaches for her arm to stop her. She lets him take her to the dining room chair. He gloves her broken hand with cloth; he’ll fix her properly later. And says:
“This time will be different. I promise.”
It sounds more like a promise to himself. But she accepts it. She kind of has to. But she hopes there are more times he is violent to her. Because she can be fixed, new skin pressed over old, rewired, parts replaced. And real people can’t.
It happens again. But this time she wakes in a pool. Not of blood, but a clear and probably alcoholic liquid.
Her torn hand pointed accusingly at his body, lying coiled and harmless, electrocuted by her torn wiring charging the liquid she lay in.
She remembers nothing. He lies dead. She supposes he was right. This time was different. He broke her to the point of breaking himself. And he, being a lot more human than she was, wasn’t coming back. But she does notice the glove-cloth that she must have cast aside when his bottle hit her. And she can’t convince herself to rule out it being a complete accident on her part to drop it.
The Harthorne Facility
All those that agreed to partake in the Harthorne Facility Project had, in their minds, nothing to lose and everything to gain. As an isolated organisation that held thirty-five volunteers as a part of an experimental research project studying the socialisation between people with various mental disorders, it was guaranteed that these individuals would be offered secure routines, regular medication, and a place to live until they were ready to leave. Thus far, nobody amongst them had felt the itch of confinement nor the desire to scratch said itch with the nails of freedom.
Twenty-five-year-old Lua Ramires had come to see Harthorne as her home. Five years ago, her therapist sent her an email with the details of the experimental project attached. Lua had been feeling so trapped and hopeless, despite the love and support of her family and fiance.
“I just feel like I need a really drastic change,” she told her therapist, who nodded along and upped her dosage.
When Lua saw that email, it was as if something clicked inside her; eight years of severe manic depression with little relief from therapy and medication led her to this decision to fill out the online application, pack up her few belongings, and travel across the world to offer herself to science.
Despite not being in touch with her family for years, despite leaving behind everything she knew and loved, Lua had developed a sense of contentment here. The other residents had become her family, and the stark, cold halls of Harthorne were as familiar to her as the corners of her brain. Every day she carried out the same, comfortable routine.
She woke up at 9:30am, took her medication, showered, and dressed. She ate breakfast, attended her group therapy session, and then enjoyed free time, where she liked to play cards, take care of her plants, and draw. Then lunchtime, followed by more free-time, including movie hour. Then came dinner, and after that, one-on-one therapy, and finally, bedtime, to wake up and repeat the whole process again.
Lua liked to tick off each part of her routine in her head as she went along, which she was happily doing on this particular day; medication, shower, get dressed, breakfast, group, water my plants—
Before Lua could retire to her room to take to the canvas, she was ambushed. Logan Reilly had smothered her with his impossibly huge shadow and was tugging at her arm urgently.
“You have to listen to me, Lua, this is fake, we’re all fake—” Lua shook him off, alarmed. Logan suffered from a very severe case of Dissociation Depersonalisation Disorder, but he hadn’t suffered from a seriously delusional state since the very first week he arrived.
“No, Logan, listen, it’s okay, I’m gonna go and get someone for you—”
Logan ignored her, dragging her into a corner. Lua struggled, trying to calm him, but before she could break free, he had shoved a photograph into her grasp.
“I was so curious about all this data they’ve collected on us, and I went snooping. I found all these notes and files. It all says that we’re AI, Lua. That can’t be true, can it?!”
She stared at the photo in her hand. A group of researchers surrounding a high-tech computer. The computer screen held an image of her she’d never seen before, completely naked, arms and legs in a starfish pose. In the corner, ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE CREATION 3, 2014.
Her memories clanged in her head, desperately real. Or so she thought.
She stared at Logan, eyes wide.
“Why would you show me this?”
He died again. This is around the 27th time, I think. If I am correct, he should be here any minute now, knocking on my door and continuing his life with me.
It all started several hundred years ago. From the moment we met, there was a connection. We fell in love instantly. Sometime after we got married, he told me something. He said that reincarnation was real. He knew this because after he died, he would come back, remembering everything except his death. Any other normal person would have dumped him then for being crazy, but I believed him. Why? Because the unexplainable happened to me as well. I explained to him plain and simple: I am immortal.
For years after that, our life together felt like fate, until one day. I don’t know what came over him, but he tried to kill me. He took a gun to my head and shot. This obviously didn’t hurt me, but I decided we both needed a fresh start, so I killed him. I waited and waited, hoping that what he said was true, and it was. He didn’t remember his death, only how much he loved me, so we continued our life together. Life was back to normal; well, as normal as it could be. Except, every time things were going great until he tried to kill me, each time somewhat differently, and each time I killed him.
The spark we had is gone. I can’t live with him anymore. I can’t be with him knowing that something I did makes him want to kill me. I just can’t. There is a knock on the door, and I already know who it is. I open the door, and before I can even say anything, he says, “I lied to you. I remember everything, each time I tried to kill you and you killing me in return. I’ve been doing research, and I think I found the answer.” I stood there dumbfounded. I was confused and terrified to the point where I didn’t even see him take out the needle he just injected into my arm. “This time will be different. I promise.” My whole body starts shutting down. Whatever he injected into me is so painful. All my muscles are contracting, and I can’t breathe. “I’m sorry,” he says, as everything goes black.