Forty-eight years ago, we were visited by the little creatures. Nobody got hurt, not when they first showed up. Instead, they brought all of us patients down from the hospital into these… these tunnels they’d built, connected to our hospital through the basement. There were miles of them! Lit from sources I couldn’t make out, twisting and turning at odd places and periodically disrupted by unmarked doors.
Why did we do what they said? The little creatures were so frail, and unarmed. Their skin was so translucent, it looked like even a little brush would split it open. For God’s sake, they didn’t even have eyes! I don’t… I don’t think they even spoke, really. Now that I think about it, they never even spoke.
What kind of voice could come from such twisted little forms? A scary voice would be one thing, but maybe it would be worse if they had completely normal voices. Like completely normal people. My mind wanders in directions like that these days, trying to keep itself occupied.
However they compelled us, we filed, peaceful and orderly, into those tunnels. The patients who couldn’t walk were assisted by nurses, but other than that, no staff came with us. I haven’t figured out how deep the conspiracy goes, but I do wonder about that.
Some of us got shuffled off into big, empty rooms, almost as big as gymnasiums from what I saw. But people like me, and him? We walked for a long, long time, and came to rest in a smaller chamber, attended by several of the little creatures.
“This is bullshit!” my boyfriend protested, while the other fourteen of us fidgeted and tried not to look too long at anything, not even each other. “You can’t do this to us!”
The little creatures never spoke, and he never actually moved to attack them. A few times, he stood, but he sat right back down every time. It wasn’t like him to turn down a fight. That’s what we were doing in the hospital, after all. His big mouth got both of us whupped. I thought for sure he’d try to hit one, but he just clenched his fists.
“We’re gonna be okay, babe,” he promised, squeezing my shoulder. “Don’t be scared.”
A dumb thing to say, but he said it with real earnesty, so I tried to do it. Panic welled up a few times, leaked out my eyes as burning tears, but I swallowed it down and made myself stay still.
Eventually, a tall creature came in. It looked like them, but stretched up and up and up, so stretched that in places it was transparent. Its eyes were huge, not clouded over with thin, veiny skin like theirs, but clear and black. It was pushing a cart.
Obediently, we stuck out our arms. Beside me, he trembled, veins standing out, sweat pouring down his cheeks, in an effort to resist, but his arm stayed out. The tall creature’s hands were cool and gentle, and the needle it inserted in my vein barely even pinched.
It hooked us all up to the same machine, and with a wave of its hand, this machine began to pump. The fluid was clear, and its course through my body was as soft and… and comforting, almost, as the creature’s hands. But I knew, I just knew, that nothing good would come of anything being pumped into us.
There were strange noises from the hall outside, but none of us moved to investigate. His eyes were dripping as he struggled, and I was so scared I felt faint, the world fading in and out of existence as my brain tried to flee to safer oblivion.
The first person to drop was a small girl. She sighed and just… collapsed. It was like she was asleep, but you know a corpse when you see it. The tall creature went to her, carefully pulled her free of the machine, and cradled her in its arms until a new group of little creatures came with a gurney.
As the minutes ticked past, more people fell dead. It wasn’t until the sixth that changes became apparent. Ruptured veins and collapsed-looking eyes. People’s hair started falling out in clumps, limbs spasmed and bones snapped, boils full of glittering fluid burst over people’s skin, but still we sat, until we died.
“I don’t want to die,” I whispered, though I’d meant to scream. Nothing had happened to me yet, but that only made me dread the changes more. As they went, they got worse and worse.
He opened his mouth. Maybe it was the comfort me. But instead, I saw his tongue, splitting into countless fine tendrils. His tears were tinged grey as they streaked down his paling face. I wept, then, and they let me do that. I still never rose, never even thought of it, but I was allowed to bury my face in one hand and sob.
My arm ached from so long extended, but I couldn’t put it down. Around the needle was beginning to bruise, but other than that, there was no sign of change. Definitely not the horrific changes that took him and turned him into something I didn’t know.
It was still him. It could never be anyone but him, not in my eyes.
Finally, it was just me and him. Everyone else had been taken away, dead, mutated into forms that were only very loosely human. He… he was the same, only human because I knew that once, he had been. The stitches in his head had burst out long ago.
His eyes were branching now, with many pupils that dilated and constricted at their own, independent rates. His nose wasn’t there anymore, save as two little slits, and his mouth had widened to make room for his many-filamented tongue, and odd teeth with a complicated shape.
The extended arm with its needle was much, much longer than it had been, so long that a few of the little creatures had folded it backwards to rest in his lap. His breathing was now so expansive that he bumped me with every inhalation, but still, we sat.
“Babe?” I asked.
He turned his head to look at me, branching fungus eyes twitching toward me. At least he still knew me. He was beginning to ooze glittering slime from every pore.
How long did we sit there in that brightly-lit room, hooked up to that dreadful machine? How long did he twist and twist, expand, mutate, while I stayed just the same? I never felt hungry or thirsty, I never had to pee, but it seemed like days. The tall creature watched us without moving, and the little creatures came and went, busy on their own rotations.
Finally, when he was big enough to take up nearly half the room and I had cried so long and hard my eyelids were raw, the tall creature pulled the needle from my arm, and his. It took its horrible machine and disappeared out the door, its job done, or so I assumed.
The little creatures came and took me away. I reached for him, and he for me, spined tentacles stretching for my extended fingers, but I was too far away. He was being herded backwards by a veritable army of the little creatures, and the wheezing gurgles he made were unmistakably desperate.
The door closed without a sound, and there was silence, save for my sobs and my footsteps on the ceramic below. A few times, we passed doors and I could hear the hint of sound, something like moaning, but the little creatures hustled me forward with little prods to my legs. They seemed… excited, almost, moving with more energy than before, less organized.
More and more of them appeared from doors and connecting corridors, until it seemed like I was wading through a sea of white, writhing bodies. Even in such numbers, they didn’t make a noise, but they were buzzing around me as chaotic as bees, each trying to get close and then being pushed away in turn. All the while, we descended deeper into the complex.
Finally, at the end of our march, there was an arched doorway. The little creatures urged me forward, but didn’t join me. I collapsed before it, and they watched, unmoving, while I cried, and tried to collect myself.
Though I knew it wouldn’t do any good, I tried to walk through them. They held rank, and pushed me back toward the doorway. It took me a few minutes to gear myself up all the way, but I couldn’t just stay there, not forever.
The doors hissed as they parted, and until I stepped in, all I saw was white light. As they closed behind me, a room came into focus. There were six of the tall creatures, and each came up to me, hands cool on my shoulders, to guide me forward to a low, soft-looking bed.
One caressed my face as I was laid down. Another pulled the blanket over me. All of them stared down at me, crowding to get close as the little creatures had.
“I don’t understand,” I told them, prompted by another sudden urge. “I don’t understand what happened. Where’s my boyfriend? What did you do to us? Why am I okay?”
One of the creatures put a near-invisible hand over my mouth. I knew that all would be revealed in time, as useless as that was to me now. They filed out, and the light dimmed. At once, I fell asleep.
When I woke up, the facility was as it is now. None of the creatures were anywhere to be found. The rooms… they were filled with the other patients. Nothing seemed to be wrong with them, they just… stood there.
I found him in a chamber down several lifts, at the end of a narrow hallway that wasn’t nearly well-lit as the others. He shrank back from the light, pale as any of the other creatures, but reached for me when I came to him. In the shadows we sat, for a long, long time. There was too much of him for me to get my arms around, but I did as well as I could, sinking into the gelatinous expanse of his chest, tucking myself under his narrow head.
But I couldn’t stay like that forever. I started exploring the facility a little more. All the halls loops back together, eventually, save the one that my boyfriend lives in. There are some doors that don’t open, but most of them do. The rooms that aren’t occupied by other patients tend to be empty, or to contain inexplicable… medical equipment, I suppose.
More machines like the one I was hooked up to, yards and yards and yards of plastic tubing. None of the stuff they pumped in, and no needles, not that I would interested in putting any more of that stuff in me. A few rooms contain nothing but perfect spheres about as tall as I am, humming softly.
Those rooms were so ominous to me that I decided to leave them alone very, very quickly.
I know where the door to the outside is. It doesn’t respond to anything I do. I’ve tried begging, I’ve tried screaming, I’ve tried throwing myself at it until my bones shatter and I’ve bled an ocean. Nothing works.
The clothes are rotting off of my body. The bodies of the other patients, too, though they don’t do anything but stand stock still and stare at nothing. When I push them over, they stand back up, but they never retaliate. I attack them, and they just take it. Nothing makes them respond, not anything, not a damn–well, that’s not true.
They crowd around when I bleed. When I fall, or when I throw myself at the door in the vain hope that this time, it’ll open, they surge out of their rooms and come to investigate, bodies moving with a marionette’s graceless jerks, eyes glazed.
They touch my wounds and moan, very softly, in one voice. It was terrifying the first time it happened, and the second, and, Hell, the third. But I got used to it. At least they show some sign of life.
My boyfriend isn’t as bad as them, but I know he’s not the man he used to be. He can’t speak, and my attempts at figuring out what it is he knows and remembers are… well, I don’t think he does. He never responds to anything, any of my stories, but I know he understands me. I can get him to do things, like boost me up to peer out the narrow windows just above the door to the outside, or roll over, or follow me around. I can get him to tap his feet, to hold up his tendrils, to open his mouth… he understands me. He knows me. But he’s lost everything else.
He’s still my boyfriend. Even if I could get out of here… would I leave? He can never leave this place again, looking like he does, and I couldn’t condemn him to a life alone. The other patients are no company at all.
We were going to get married, one day, when he had a real job and kicked the drugs, and I could get away from my family. I wish he remembered those hopeful, heady days, when we were both human and lived above ground.
About a decade in, I discovered the computer room. I was just mucking about, and ended up striking a panel in the wall that opened up into one screen… and from that screen, I was able to access all the others. There’s a wall full of them, touch screens showing all sorts of data in a language I can’t even begin to read.
I see my file. My boyfriend’s file. The file of every patient, and the nurses that helped them down. Three hundred of us, give or take, stuck in this place. Not one of us left unchanged.
There are also camera feeds to the outside, much clearer than the narrow windows above the door. The hospital is gone, collapsed into rubble on top of us, so a lot of the feeds are just darkness, maybe with a few beams of light. The open feeds show bright green plants growing over the buildings, tearing up the roads.
Sometimes I see people. They come up to the rubble and sift through it, sometimes, looking for things they can use. Surviving medical supplies. In all forty-eight years, none have found the door, as little good as it would probably do me.
They seem to be in good health, the people I see. I’ve watched some of them age and die. But I never change from how I looked the day the little creatures came.
I think there’s other facilities. I think there’s other places, full of people like me… or like the patients. Or maybe nothing like me at all, but without the ability to read the language I can’t really know anything. But I think there’s more.
I hope someone finds me, one day. The only other person here is my boyfriend, and he’s barely a person. All the patients are mindless, all I can get out of them is arranging them in shapes, and the moans when I hurt myself. I’m going crazy down here, with such poor company.
I’m going crazy down here, unable to hunger, to thirst, to age. It’s been so long since I felt water on my tongue, tasted anything but my blood or spit or the slime that my boyfriend puts off. I can’t even remember what anything tastes like, but I know I want it.
A few times I’ve considered taking a bite out of one of the patients. It’s not like they care. But that’s horrible. I have to cling to what’s left of my humanity, or else what’s the point? What’s the point of hanging on, of trying to figure something else out? If I was going to go that far, I might as well just abandon the computers, the window, and stay in my boyfriend’s wet embrace in his dark hallway forever.
It doesn’t seem like a bad option, sometimes. At least it’s something to do. It’s the only real stimulation I get here that isn’t pain. But I’ve gotta hold on.
One day, someone will find me. I’ll be able to find out what happened, why everything has changed. If they saw the little creatures too, if they know anything.
They have to find me. It might take fifty years, or a hundred, or maybe even more. But someone, eventually, has to find me and get that door open. Eventually I’ll be able to leave. All I want is the option. I might come right back! I’ll probably come right back! But I want the choice!
Ever since the day the little creatures came, I’ve lived down here against my will. All I want is the ability to leave when I want. Even if I just come right back.
Header image by M3-Production.