“Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move,” Milo told himself over and over standing at the window. For fifty-one nights he stood this post, whispering his chant and staring out into the dark void of the woods surrounding the cabin. “Don’t blink, don’t breathe, don’t move.”
I am writing this report with the hope that someone someday will find it and still be able to read. My wish is that my words will explain what happened and give the reader some insight as to how things went so terribly wrong.
Today, I am writing from a cave I found in an area which was never well populated. That fact should help keep me safe for a little while longer. But I know they will find me. They always do.
It has now been just over ten years since the first noticeable problems began to appear. I can remember the time well because it was the last time I saw my family. When I say saw my family, I mean actually living, breathing and standing in front of me. As much as I can, I still search for them. My heart tells me I am probably too late.
So many mistakes had already been made by the time I was called up. In the beginning, they weren’t sure of the cause. Even when I tried to tell them the truth, they refused to listen. They said I was wrong. They said my facts were all distorted. They also said I was crazy. Not listening to me, not heeding my advice was their biggest mistake.
I remember when this new technology was introduced. Nothing of this magnitude had been presented since Alexander Wolcott patented the first camera back in 1840.
Imagine, three-dimensional photographs so real you felt like you could stick your hand right inside the picture and pull out what was in there. I often wondered if there was a sudden rise in the amount of sprained or broken fingers heading to the emergency rooms.
Don’t ask me how they got it to work. After all of my investigations, I still don’t know. What I do know is that it caught on and spread across the globe like ants invading a sugar cube factory.
At first, the new cameras were somewhat expensive. Three-Dee Pics incorporated held the patent for the first five years and were reaping in the early benefits. But, as with any new, popular toy, demand increased and, after a government-imposed mandate, soon everyone could afford one. I must admit I was also impressed. Eventually, I got one for each member of my family. It is a mistake which will haunt me until the time I can no longer draw breath.
I think the first real sign was when that plane fell out of the sky and nosed dived into an apartment complex in Queens. The media, along with most of us, immediately wondered if the terrorists were at it again. With the tragedies of 911, who could blame us for thinking that way. But, when that second plane fell, outside of Denver, two days later, just missing a crowded high school by a quarter mile, I began to wonder if something else was the cause.
John died the same day Jenny’s name moved up on the waitlist. She’d waited three months to reach the top of that list, and was unconscious for most of it. I didn’t see any difference whether she was the one to receive his heart or not. It could’ve been anybody. ‘His last act on earth will be to save the life of another’ is what everybody kept saying, or some variation of it at least. I don’t know why they thought I would care. When my grandfather died and my nephew was born a month later, it was the same thing. My grandmother’s suffering wasn’t any less because of it, but her new life contained more ups and downs than before. I wasn’t receiving any ‘ups’ from the death of the only other person in the world who loved me. Jenny’s life was completely disposable compared to John’s, of course it would be. Like I said, it could’ve been anybody, and anybody’s life would have meant less than nothing next to my husband’s. But still, it was his life taken randomly and given to her.
Technically, it was the second time that he should have died. Long before we met, when John was a teenager, he and his skateboard were sent flying in a hit and run that by all means should have killed him. It wasn’t until he’d hit thirty-two and was inside the car that fate would come back to claim him. I wondered at that. In some parallel dimension, he’d died at seventeen. And in another, he’d never been hit at all. And in another, he was still here, with a rebroken femur and twenty more stitches holding together his skull. But I was in this one. This one where he survived only to meet me and become the one human being that made me feel like a person, only to be taken in his prime. It’s nothing to say I would die for him. I don’t and never have cared much for my own life, an early onset of depression untreated for decades will do that to you. I would’ve died for my cats. But there was nothing I could do to trade my life for John’s. The prospect I had now was to at least join him. It was repulsively unfair that I should go about my life while he, empty-chested, laid in the ground. What made me so special?
I’d thought about this moment before. Everytime he stood at the curb, or leaned into the subway tunnel to look for the train, or walked on red towing me behind him, I thought of it. What if something happened to him? What if, in a split second, he was mangled under a semi, unrecognizably torn into nothing but fleshy meat, while I melted into the cement wishing to all god I had a gun in my hand? I’d thought about the situation multiple times. John, lying in a hospital bed, legally dead save for his lungs pumping and heart beating, while doctors and family talked over ‘the next steps’. I’d be on that hospital roof in a flash. Every ounce of love and grief I had for him would smash into the pavement at the same time my body did. But that’s not how it happened. John had decided to be an organ-donor.
Any half-decent expert will tell you that there are numerous things you should never say to a gurzzle. They are unusually touchy animals and tend to respond to any form of offense—intended or otherwise—with quick, decisive and invariably violent action. If, for example, you were to criticize the shape and size of their ears, the particular shade of their fur, or the fact that they are the only animal known to science to have three limbs, they would probably feel inclined to shoot out their two, prehensile tongues, wrap them around you until you couldn’t move, and devour you in two or three bites of their very sharp teeth.
And they really wouldn’t care whether or not you were a princess.
Sym found this out the hard way. She and Pryor had been exploring Harold’s Wood, the large semi-enchanted forest on the edge of the kingdom, when they had heard the strange sound from which the animal gets its name:
“Gurrrrzzzzzle,” it said, sounding like a purr, a gargle and a low roar all at once.
“Is that…?” asked Pryor. But before he could finish his thought, Sym was away. She, too, had heard the sound and wanted to see a gurzzle firsthand. She had never seen one before, except for pictures in books.
It was sleeping when they found it. Sym and Pryor crouched behind some convenient rocks and saw it wrapped in its two great arms like it was giving itself a hug.
“It’s beautiful,” Sym breathed.
“Are we both looking at the same thing?” asked Pryor. All he saw was a mass of teeth and fur with a nasty reputation for killing and eating people.
“Hand me your lightbox,” said Sym.
Pryor’s eyes widened. “You want a picture of that thing?”
“Why else would I be asking for your lightbox?”
Knowing it was pointless to argue, Pryor reached into his bag, pulled out the wooden box with its various lenses and other components which he didn’t understand but which very clever men and women had concocted to create lifelike images on small slips of paper and handed it to Sym, who held it to her eye, unable to believe her luck.
“Hurry up,” Pryor insisted. “It could wake up at any second!”
“Wouldn’t that be bril? It’d make a much better picture if it was awake.”
“I’m being serious, Sym.”
“I need to get closer.”
Pryor simply could not believe his ears. “You…you what? Sym, that thing is dangerous!”
“Yeah, for now.”
“Just hush up! I’ll be right back.”
Deaf to Pryor’s protests, Sym inched closer to the sleeping gurzzle. Fortunately, her years of training had made her exceptionally light on her feet and she could move silently. By rather stark contrast, Pryor was having a great deal of trouble keeping quiet, even while holding perfectly still, as every fiber of his being wanted to yell out to Sym to stop doing the enormously stupid thing she was now doing.
Sarah hurried through the bustling streets and dodged other people who were also eager to get home after a long day’s work. Her mind was numb from hours of filing and answering phone calls at her job as an administrative assistant, but the fog in her brain began to clear as she inhaled the cool autumn air, her breath coming out in wisps.
Her heart thumped in anticipation. Jay, her long-distance boyfriend, had arrived from Toronto that afternoon and let himself into her apartment with the key she’d given him on his last visit. She hadn’t seen him in a month, and her excitement made her anxious to get home. She hoped that this would be the weekend that he would propose.
Sarah was annoyed at having to stand on her tiptoes to see over people’s shoulders as she waited to cross the street. Instead, she looked up at the grey sky, the daylight already fading into dusk, and wondered if it would rain again. She brushed her blonde hair out of her eyes and tapped her toe as she waited for the light to change. When it finally did, Sarah strolled briskly with the crowd, anticipation quickening her steps. She walked twenty minutes, past monochrome office buildings only shades darker than the sky, making the world seem colourless, though she hardly noticed, and toward a cluster of squat apartment buildings. When her building came into view, a red-bricked two-storied cube, she pulled out her keys and jogged the last few steps. Her hands trembled, making it difficult to put the key in the lock. She threw the door open and hurried up a small, worn flight of stairs to apartment number eight. Her keys jangled loudly in the quiet hallway as she unlocked the door, and when she tried to push it open, the chain banged loudly, giving her a start and preventing her from getting in.
Sarah peeked through the crack into her apartment and called out, “Jay? Jay, why am I locked out?”
She caught a glimpse of him leaning out of the kitchen, which was directly adjacent to the entrance. He looked nervous. He pushed his glasses up with one finger and wiped sweat from his forehead as he examined her. He did not move to open the door. “Sarah?” he said, his voice low and shaky.
“Yes, it’s me. Can you please let me in, so we can say hello properly?” She felt her excitement fade as she watched him fidget with the hem of his shirt. Something was wrong.
Jay took one step, then another, and peered through the crack, looking into her eyes for a long moment before nodding, closing the door, and unhooking the chain.
Sarah did not rush in right away. All day, she’d imagined jumping into his arms and kissing him, and holding his face in her hands, while his arms wrapped around her. Now, she entered slowly, narrowing her eyes at him. She looked him up and down, tying to determine the cause of his unease. “What’s the matter?”
“Something weird happened,” Jay said. He hurried past Sarah, locked the deadbolt, and then put the chain back on. He looked out the peephole for a minute, tested the door handle to make sure it was locked, and then finally turned to face her. He looked pale, and his eyes darted in every direction.
He avoided her gaze, looking instead at his short, clean fingernails. His cheeks burned a bright red, contrasting strongly against his pale skin. “I-I don’t want to talk about it. I’m not even sure it happened.”
“For God’s sake, Jay! What is it?” Sarah dropped her bags to the floor and stood there with her hands on her hips, waiting. She looked around as she waited for an answer. The apartment was dim on the best of days, the light blocked by taller buildings, but today it was downright gloomy. Jay had drawn all the curtains. She raised an eyebrow at him.
“Please, can we just move on? I’m fine, but I want to talk about something else.” Jay finally put his arms around her and held her tightly, as though he’d wondered if he’d ever get to hold her again. She felt his heart pounding wildly in his chest.
“No! Something obviously happened, and I want to know what.” She pushed his shoulders back, so she could look into his wide, fearful eyes.
I remember how cold I was, how scared. My eyes opened slowly, heavy from whatever drugs you had poisoned
me with. Damp, dark and freezing; those are the words I used to describe the stone room I awoke in. You were
not there when I woke up, though, it was just me and my thoughts.
Relief poured through my tired body when I heard footsteps; I should have known they would be yours.
Before the first girl arrived, I was lonely and scared, in constant fear of what you would do when you came in next. You never spoke, just watched as I ate, as I drank, as I cried. You watched with a confused expression on your face as if you had never seen a real human before. It scared me.
The First Girl
You always picked the pretty ones. The first girl to arrive after me was Robyn, black hair swinging as she fought you; punching, kicking, scratching and scraping. Until you injected her with something, and she fell to the floor like a rag doll her head cracking painfully on the concrete.
I remember being mesmerised by her clear, pale skin; her black hair and plump lips. It made me feel worthless with my bruises and flat, brown hair.
She arose angry, cursing at you again and again until her voice cracked.
She wouldn’t speak to me though. She just sat and stared, analysing. It wasn’t until she saw the littering of bruises on my skin that she started to warm to me.
It was the next day that she finally conversed with me, her voice dry and cracked – yet she’d refuse to drink any water. “I’m not touching anything that that creep gives us,” She would say, determined, “I’d rather die.”
The next day she guzzled the whole bottle of water in one sitting.
The Second Girl
Abbey was next, her arrival like a kick to the throat. I remember looking at her school uniform and clenching my fists so hard that my nails broke the skin.
She was still drugged as you yanked her through the large metal door, murmuring nonsense into your empty chest. Robyn, who was much braver than me, lunged at you. You dropped the young girl on the floor to backhand Robyn around the face. This was the first time you ever hit one of us.
Abbey cried a lot that day, wet, incurable sobs that racked through her tiny frame. It felt good to comfort someone.
We didn’t eat until Robyn went to her knees to apologise.
The Third Girl
Lily was next. Beautiful of course, and scarred – jagged lines marking from wrist to elbow. Robyn didn’t fight this time; her punishment was still too vivid, the memory of you in her mouth too rich. Witnessing the limp woman, dropped like trash at her feet, made Abbey cry again.
You wrinkled your nose. “Don’t cry,” You said, “It’s ugly.”