Hi guys, I’m back, still alive.
I’d somehow managed to fall asleep in my husband’s arms, cuddled next to him, in his ICU bed. After a comfortable few hours of much needed rest, I awoke to the sound of rattling, knocking, only it wasn’t coming from the locked door.
“Knock, bang, clank, bang,” the noise was coming from the opposite wall. “Screech.” The large frosted window appeared to be welded shut. But someone or something was trying to get in.
From where my body rested, I could see a figure. It was a slender, humanoid with long dark blond hair. The light of the new morning was too bright to allow me to make out features, but he appeared to be wearing jeans and a white t-shirt.
“Hey!” shouted a male voice as he banged on the thick glass pane. The sound was loud, somewhat metallic as if he was hitting the window with something other than his fist. The voice sounded young, possibly a teenager. “Can you hear me, Barbie girl? I’m coming in.” He sounded happy, friendly; almost like this was all some kind of prank.
How the hell did he know my name? I regressed from a grown woman to a little girl and did the only thing I could think to do; I pulled the blankets over my head and held on to my husband’s body like he was an emotional support plushie.
I could hear the window open, with an audible crack, followed by the crash of glass and possibly chunks of drywall falling to the ground. The stranger was in the room.
I couldn’t help but sob. Why was he here? Where was hospital security? Was he hospital security? The man’s footsteps sounded like combat boots; firm, strong, and more than a little terrifying.
“Barbie?” His voice was innocent, sweet. “Barbara-Ann?” He cleared his throat like a nervous teen addressing a teacher. “Mrs. Mercer? I know you must be hungry. You have a life growing inside you.” With the last sentence, a hint of an American southern accent started to slip through.
I turned my head just enough to catch a view of his face. What stood before me was a young man with my husband’s blue eyes, blonde hair, distinctive nose, and jawline. The man was definitely older than eighteen. If I had to guess I’d say he was in his twenties, maybe a college student. But more than anything, he looked like he could be my husband’s kid brother. Except Kenneth didn’t have a brother. “Who are you?”
The man smiled, his blue eyes catching my gaze. “I would say you can call me Kenny or Ken, but I’m sure you’re not going to be okay with that, given the circumstances.” He took a step closer and motioned to my husband’s sleeping face. “Just to be respectful, how about you call me K?”
K still sounded too much like Kenneth for my liking. “How about if I call you Kai?” It was the only other male ‘K’ name I could think of. I’d heard it from a video game, and the fact that is rhymed with ‘pie’ made me slightly less uncomfortable.
“I like it.” Kai reached into his jean pocket and pulled out a king-sized Snickers bar, the kind with two in the package.
“Wow.” I’d only ever seen them, back home in America. And I was in fact very hungry.
“Here, Barbie, you need to eat,” he said offering me the whole package. “If not for you then do it for the baby. You’re what, two months along?”
I kept my hands where they were. Thoughts of food positioning, drugging or worse raced through my mind; this was a setup, this was how I was going to die. But I needed to stay calm, Kai was acting friendly because I was acting friendly. “I’m three months pregnant, but how do you know that?”
“I only know what I’ve been access to. But it’s more than enough.” He opened the package, pulling out a bar. He broke off a piece, squishing the chocolate and caramel between his fingers. “I know all about you, Barbie, I want to be with you.”
My eyes bulged in shock, as my lips hung open, unable to speak or even breathe.
Kai apparently took that as in invitation to put his finger in my mouth. “Here, see, it’s just a regular Snicker’s bar.”
I closed my mouth forcing myself to swallow the bite if only to appease him. It tasted fine. And If I was wrong, hopefully, I wouldn’t suffer too badly. “Are you a clone?”
Kai laughed and shook his head, the way that Kenneth always did. “I’m more of a compilation album.”
“Like, the best of…?” My eyes motioned to my husband, while my body remained paralyzed with fear.
“More like I’m what’s left of him,” Kai muttered. For a moment his voice changed; his southern accent disappeared, revealing something that sounded Eastern-European.
But he caught himself, just as quickly. “Look, Miss Mercer, can I call you Barbie?” Kai asked as he tried to finger feed me another piece of candy, like a lamb at a petting zoo.
You’ve been calling me Barbie for the last ten minutes. “Missus Mercer will be fine,” I replied through gritted teeth.
Kai ate the remainder of the piece of chocolate, sucking his own fingers as he spoke. “The fact is, Ma’am, Master Sergeant Kenneth Mercer is not waking up. They’ve been harvesting him for months, he’s been lucky to last as long as he did.”
And now everything he owns (everything he was) belongs to you? No, I had a more pressing question. “Who’s ‘they’?”
Kai only chuckled. “I think you already know the answer to that.”
I couldn’t look away. His smile was familiar yet alien, terrifying, yet soothing. “Did they send you?”
Kai shook his head. He was glancing at his hands with a cocky grin. “Do I look like a product of the military, to you?”
“No, you look like some kind of genetic experiment,” I said unintentionally out loud.
“Look, do you want this candy or not? If you’re willing to leave with me I can get you someplace safe.” He walked his fingers down my face, to my jaw. “A place with food, water, and a nice bed.”
I wasn’t leaving, not without Kenneth. But if I couldn’t wake him up, I was in a bit of a bind. “Will you stay with me?”
“Sure,” Kai said, as he ran his fingers through his hair like a slacker-surfer. “I mean, I already went through the trouble of breaking in.”
“Yeah, you did,” I replied with a fake smile, to hopefully look more innocent and trustworthy.
Kai pulled up a chair, by the bed, facing me at eye level as he stroked my cheek. “Totally worth it.”
I locked eyes with him, taking a moment to fully take in his demeanor. “Will you take your clothes off?” I asked in a surgery sweet whisper. Sure, Kai was handsome, but in truth, I needed to know what exactly I was dealing with. Was he a robot, a human or something else entirely?
“Will you get out of bed and eat candy with me?”
“Of course.” I took a breath, gathering the courage to release my husband’s body and sit up on my own. I could see Kai’s arms, they were bruised and scared. But his skin tone was rather strange. Large sections of his skin were discolored. Some places looked like tan-lines while others look like surgical scars. I moved my hands under his shirt, expecting to feel six-pack abs and a toned chest.
But instead, my hands were met with something leathery, dry and held together with sutures of various sizes. It was what I imagined Frankenstein’s monster must have felt like.
Kai held my hand, guiding me to remove his t-shirt. His body was a mess of scars; tissue that had been grafted, rejected and replaced. “Don’t worry, Barbie-girl, it’s just a touch of cancer.”
I jerked my hand back. “You are a clone.”
Kai growled in frustration. “I really don’t care for that word.” He somehow managed to hold on to his southern accent, even as his eyes filled with rage.
“Sorry?” I managed to squeak out.
Kai was gripping my wrists hard. “I’m superior to Kenneth Mercer in every possible way. When they gave me his cancer-laced DNA I beat it.”
Because they cut the rotting flesh from your body and replaced it with new parts. He wasn’t a clone, at least not just of my husband. I needed a closer look.
“I want to hold you.”
“What?” Kai asked with more surprise than suspicion. He, of course, obliged, pulling me off the bed.
I placed his hands upon my hips, allowing him to embrace me the way my husband would. His eyes were clear, human, perfect copies of Kenneth’s eyes. That’s what made the next part easier. I kissed him on the lips. His mouth tasted like a bag of quarters; cold, metallic. But he had a normal tongue, that seemed to function the way one should.
Part of him was metal, perhaps robotic? And yet I could feel his heart beating.
Kai pressed his lips to my ear. “I won’t hurt you.” His breathy American accent was back and felt so good. I looked deep into his eyes, falling into a hypnotic trance.
“How f****d up would it be if your scrap-heap of a husband woke up right now? Not that it’d matter since he’s mostly blind. The first night in the ICU they took his corneas, to make sure he couldn’t get out of bed even if he tried.” Kai’s lips caressed mine, as he released a soft breath. “He can’t even kiss you. How can you expect him to be able to love you.”
His words caused me to shed a single tear.
Suddenly I fell from Kai’s lap, landing on the floor. Clone-boy had dropped me.
Dazed, it took me a moment to realize, Kai was screaming.
I quickly got to my feet, adjusting my clothes. I managed to look up just in time to see Ken with his hands around Kai’s throat. But that was just to hold his victim in place as he sank his teeth into Kai’s neck like something out of a zombie movie.
There was blood, so much blood. But my eyes went straight to the streaks of blue energy. I just know it was the same energy I had seen on my own body, except Kai wasn’t giving it up willingly.
With each mouthful of blood and shimmering energy, Ken was growing physically stronger. He could already sit up on his own. From his abnormally strong grip, I could see he had full use of his upper body. If that was the case, he was well on his way to getting out of the bed.
Of course, life is never that clean. Just as we locked eyes, Ken gripped his chest, struggling for breath. He appeared to have hit his limit on the consumption of electric life force.
He released Kai, letting his body fall to the floor with a thud.
I took a few steps closer, to see if he was dead. He wasn’t.
“Please, Mrs. Mercer, I’m so sorry!” Kai was shivering, crying. “My father is part of the cleaning crew. He helped me escape, told me where to find you.”
“He’s not my biological father.” Kai turned his head as tears streamed down his face. They were not tears of remorse, but rather tears of pain. The stitching in Kai’s back was coming apart.
That was I noticed the stripes. He was made of stripes of flesh; layers upon layers of flesh in all possible states of decay. “Kai, can you get us out of here?”
“On-only if he gives it back. He needs to give it back.”
“Give what back?” I asked, although I already knew the answer.
“What he stole from me, what they gave to me.”
It was clear, Kai apparently survived on the blue energy; the physical form of Kenneth’s life force, perhaps even his soul.
“Take it from me,” I offered, reaching out my hand. I was trembling, blinking back tears. I didn’t even know if this would work. I felt the energy from Ken because we had a connection: a connection, I sure as f**k didn’t share with Kai.
“No!” Ken shouted. He opened his mouth again as if to continue his thought, but no further words came out. Ken grimaced in pain as he used his arms to lift his unmoving legs. He was trying to get out of bed.
I pulled my hand back, willing to let Kenneth take control of the situation. I looked around the room; if we were to try for an escape we needed clothes, supplies. There were a few cabinets, where I found hospital scrubs, medication in IV bags, and needles.
“Now, you freak,” Ken muttered. “Take back just enough to get us out of here.”
“Um yeah, sure thing, Sir,” Kai said, in an apologetic tone. In one swift motion, Kai grabbed Kenneth by the wrist and bit hard. With his metal teeth, it wasn’t difficult for him to draw a significant amount of blood.
I was holding a fistful of IV needles. Not much of a weapon but it would have to do. “Stop it!” I punched Kai in the face as hard as I could.
He released Kenneth’s wrist and stood up. Kai walked with a limp but seemed to have enough energy to make it to the window. “I-I climbed the wall to get up here.”
Looking down the wall I could see how that was possible. There appeared to be notches in the brick surface, making for an easy climb. Easy for someone with fully functioning limbs. Anyway, I turned back, slightly concerned about Ken’s ability. “Kenny, are you okay to climb?”
Ken was out of bed, standing on his own. He locked eyes with me quickly, as if reading my mind. “I’ll jump if I need to.”
I could see he was limping. And unfortunately, Kai was correct: my husband was nearly completely blind. “Here, take my hand.”
Kai went down first. I went second while guiding Ken. No alarms sounded until we reached the bottom. We started to run, making our way through the farmlands and eventually the forest.
I allowed Kai to lead the way. After all, we were in Germany. I knew nothing about the backroads.
As night started to fall, we came across an unoccupied cabin. It had no electricity but plenty of candles, and lamps. I just needed to make a fire.
“I can make a fire,” Kai offered. “Go see if there’s any food or water.”
I agreed but only after I made sure Kenneth would be safe. After traveling for hours, he was able to stand on his own, siphoning energy from my exposed skin.
Outside I could see there was a well. It actually contained clear water. I gave it a taste, and for whatever reason, it tasted like hospital water. It had that chemical, tap water flavor. It was almost as if this was a setup.
I returned with a bucket filled with water. “We should probably still boil this.”
Kai had made a fire out of a piece of newspaper and a lighter that he had in his pocket the entire time.
“That works, I found this.” He opened a cabinet to reveal glass jars filled with dry goods. “I think it’s flour and oats. But there’s not much else.”
I took down a jar of oats. they seemed to be stale but not too out of date. After a meal of porridge that tasted like wallpaper paste, we went to bed; Kenneth and I on the one bed and Kai on the floor like a dog.
I, of course, stayed with Ken. I stripped out of my sweaty clothes and rested my head on his chest. We were lucky the local weather seemed to be stuck in summer-mode, allowing us to sleep without keeping a fire going throughout the night. Maybe we could even find some clean clothes in this ‘magical’ cabin.
Ken’s eyes were closed, his breathing was so peacefully calm. I reached for his hand, wanting to hold it close to me while I slept. “I love you, Kenny.”
“I love you too, Barbie girl.” He gently lifted my face, to look into his eyes. Ken seemed to focus on eye contact, staring without blinking.
Was that normal for a blind man?
After a few seconds, he collapsed into my arms suffering a seizure. “Ken!” I positioned his body on the bed, in the middle of the undressed mattress, so he could safely ride out the convulsions. Hopefully afterward he would comfortably drift off to sleep.
Sitting on the side of the bed, I snuck a peek at Kai if he had been watching he wasn’t watching now.
Kai had his arms over his chest, pulling his legs into the fetal position as he rocked himself the way a stereotypical mentally unstable person would.
I got off the bed, moving closer. “You ok?”
Kai nodded silently. I could hear him sobbing.
Something about seeing him cry true tears touched my heart. Both men were weak yet strong, kind yet frightening; the whole situation was like a scale; each of their bodies held a portion of life energy.
And somehow I had some too. Was it genetic? Was I hurting the baby? Or was it mine to give as I pleased? I sat at Kai’s side, on the floor, stroking his back. “Did your father give you that lighter?”
Kai nodded. “Will you hold me?” he asked in a soft, innocent whisper.
“Sure.” I put my arms around him, resting my head on his back. “Tell me more about your father.”
“I met him maybe a year ago, maybe two. After all my treatments and surgeries I kinda lost my concept of time. I just know it felt like a long time but I know logically that it wasn’t. I was getting pumped full of drugs, IV’s, all while being kept awake for days at a time; it was prepping my brain, like formatting a computer. But when they started the process of re-modeling my jaw, I must have gone into shock. I awoke in a dark cell; freezing cold left to die. And I would have, if not for Father.”
“Does he go by any other name.”
“Not that I know of. I told me to refer to him as Father and he would call me Son.” Kai wiped tears from his eyes. “He would bring me food and water, encouraged me to continue my training. He knew if I worked hard, I could prove to my superiors that I was strong, worthy.”
“Worthy of receiving Ken’s harvested parts?”
“Worthy of being made whole again.” Kai flicked the lighter, holding the flame to his palm. “Through the process, I got really sick; developing cancer antibodies is a real b***h. Father gave me this lighter to divert my pain.”
“The more I burn myself, the less pain I feel. It put me in control.”
“I guess that makes sense.”
“And that’s kinda how I escaped.”
Kai closed the lighter and turned to me. “My father told me you were kind. You would care for me like a mother.”
“I’m not a clone. I know I was a child, I lived in an orphanage, in Russia or someplace like that.” Kai wiped tears from his eyes. “But I-I can barely remember.”
“But you can remember. You remember a life other than Kenneth’s?”
“I know what I lost, what never had, and what got replaced. But mostly I have an archive of Kenneth’s data; his childhood, his memories, his military training, and his brilliant mind.”
“What about his face? Did you always look like him?”
“When I was thirteen, the people in charge of me, they broke my jaw, fractured my skull and rebuilt certain parts with metal implants.
“We’re your eyes always blue?”
Kai nodded. “My eyes are my own.” He closed his eyes, sobbing even harder. “Or maybe they were my mother’s eyes.”
“You know, I love Kenneth.” My words had little context, maybe it was a question at the front of my mind. What would become of Kai if we made it to safety?
“You saw what he did to me. They changed him, he’s savage, he’ll hurt you.”
I fell asleep holding Kai’s back. It felt right, there was where I needed to be.
“What the f**k, Mom!” said a female voice, in a deep, breathy whisper. “Why is he still alive?”
“Kai is an innocent victim.”
An innocent victim?” The woman moved closer, bathing her face in the moonlight. It was Becca, she was older, maybe in her thirties, wearing camo-gear and a pack. She reached her arm back and pulled out a live rabbit. It was a calm creature, like someone’s pet. “Sometimes innocent victims need to die so others can live,” she snapped the rabbit’s neck with her bare hands. “For tomorrow’s breakfast.”
I awoke to the morning sun and one very dead rabbit.
I don’t know what to do. I still have my cell phone and I’m typing this out while Kai and Kenneth sleep. I just feel so stuck, the only ‘help’ I have is already in this cabin. There’s no one else. I think the best course of action would be to head south, towards France. Hopefully, my cellphone will still work. I can only assume I’m racking up a massive amount of roaming charges.