Sunday, August 1, 2010

Sunday Anniversary Bonus

Since it's been one month since I first started this blog, (hooray!) I've decided to give everyone a story to read, if only to prove that I don't actually only write advice.

This story is called Maladroit. I wrote it about a year ago. There are things in the story that I would change if I wrote it again. Tell me what you think in the comments!

There was a whirring noise when I woke up. It sounded like an old computer booting up. A rushing sound filled my ears, it sounded like I was underwater. Something was making my back itch. It felt like I was laying down on the worst mattress ever made. I opened my eyes slowly. The ceiling fell into focus. The tiles on the ceiling had a staggered pattern that irritated me for some unknown reason. Fluorescent lights hummed softly, filling the room with greenish-white light. I tried to sit up, but my legs didn't want to move. I couldn't feel any pain, which I thought was odd. Hopefully it was a good thing.

I craned my neck in an attempt to see where I was. It was a grayish room. A little bit like a hospital. There were other beds with cloth partitions keeping them separate from each other. Across the room I could just see the outline of another patient on the bed across from mine. He looked confused, and he was also craning his head and looking around. Maybe it was a ward for people with spinal injuries? There were two doors at the end of the room, the kind with that fogged glass that you see in hospitals. The writing on the door was backwards. I tried to make it out, but my brain did a sort of spasm when I tried, so I decided it would be safer if I didn't read it.

Just then, there was an astonishing pain throughout my body. It whipped through me like electricity, and then it was gone. It was like my blood had suddenly caught on fire. I would have screamed, but it was gone before I could gasp. A dull, throbbing pain remained in my body, gnawing at me whenever I moved.

I chanced looking up again. There was a clock near the door that I hadn't noticed before, I tried to read it, but the writing was backwards. Why would a clock be backwards? It was then I realized that the room was much smaller than I first thought. There was a mirror on the opposite wall. For such an easy realization, it seemed like an epiphany to me. I also read the writing on the reflected door, it said “CONTAINMENT 2.”

Just what needed to be contained, anyway? Surely I wasn't a health risk. I felt something physically click in my head. That had never happened before. Maybe I was brain damaged? After all, I couldn't remember doing anything to get to this room. Retrograde amnesia. Why was it that I was able to remember something that I had learned in high school, and yet I couldn't remember much more than my name?

“Adam Caldwell,” I said out loud. The noise didn't go very far, which was surprising. The sound didn't echo. At least I knew my name, at any rate. And I suppose I knew that I was a man. My age was a little hazy.

I leaned back against the table I was laying on. It wasn't a bed by any stretch of the imagination. It was the same kind of stainless steel table that veterinarians examined animals on. I recalled seeing some long-forgotten pet being euthanized on that table. On the bright side, there was another memory. My brain wasn't too far gone to be saved, after all. That was good news, but I still felt sad.

Checkers the cat. That was the animal who had been euthanized.

Maybe I was panicking. Whatever it was, it didn't feel good. I also felt I was forgetting something, as if I had already made a critical realization and then forgotten it.

It was then I noticed that the room actually had a mirror on the opposite wall, making it appear much bigger than it was. The door, which I had previously been unable to read, was easily readable in the reflection. It said “CONTAINMENT 2.” I wonder what was supposed to be contained in this room. There wasn't anyone around except myself and the man across the room. Wait.

I craned my neck again and looked back at my reflection. It was hard to make out features from where I was, and I could only just see him. My eyes hurt from looking downward so hard; it was like trying to see your own lips. I put my head back down. My head clicked again.

“Dammit!” I said, without meaning to. It seemed that my brain was doing things on its own, because I had never meant to speak. The the rear of my tongue was doing strange muscle spasms that left my whole mouth feeling cramped.

The digital clock said it was 55:2 in the mirror, so that made it 2:55. Unfortunately it didn't specify whether it was AM or PM. It was a shame that America hadn't adopted the much more usable European twenty-four hour clock. It was probably AM. That meant that there wouldn't be anyone along to check on me until morning. I wasn't tired, anyway. I felt like I had just slept for eighteen hours straight, and my brain and body weren't in the mood for more. In fact, I felt like I might develop bedsores if I stayed in bed much longer.

I tried to sit up again and did much better this time. The pain from my convulsion was still there, lurking somewhere backstage. I shuffled my shoulders, inching up the wall slowly. My legs still weren't responding, so I had to hold the table with my hands and force myself upward. Once I was sitting up against the wall, I noticed that I was wearing a hospital robe. Of course I was.

I could now clearly see myself in the mirror across the room. A gaunt, but good-looking man peered back at me. My head was wrapped in bandages. My face was exposed, but my hair was completely obscured by the bandage. I briefly wondered what my hair looked like. They probably shaved it off, anyway, by the looks of things. Usually head bandages meant some kind of cranial trauma, or at the very least, surgery. At least I knew why I was having trouble remembering things.

I breathed a sigh of relief, though I still felt a little worried. I itched my nose. As I did, I noticed my hand. It was bigger than I recalled, but more importantly, the skin looked a little strange. I couldn't remember exactly what my skin looked like, but I distantly recalled bonier wrists, and a lot more arm hair. My arms and hands now looked like they might belong to a baseball player. My wrists seemed thicker, and much less hairy. I was probably just imagining things, anyway. You don't just wake up and notice your arms are different, I was probably remembering seeing someone with the arms and hands I remembered. My brain was probably damaged.

I heard someone unlock the door at the end of the room. I could see their wavy outline through the glass. The steel door handle turned and in stepped a forgettable-looking nurse wearing those awful flowered scrubs that so many nurses wear. She entered and immediately locked the door behind her. She turned around, saw me looking at her and gave me a tired smile, the kind that you know a thousand other patients have seen that day, so you know you're not special. A forced, well-worn smile, but not the kind she used around her family. It was her work-smile. I tried to smile back, but the muscles seemed too tired.

“You're up I see,” said the nurse, walking over to my bed and pulling the chart out of the basket at the foot of the bed.

“That's right,” I said. She made a note on the chart as she replied.

“Do you know where you are?” she asked pleasantly.

“I don't remember much,” I said, “except my name.”

She stopped writing. Her eyes flicked from the chart to my face. Her smile faded.

There was a moment of silence while I waited for her to speak.

“That's good,” she said, the smile returning once again, “I'm Cherise, I work nights here, I've been taking care of you while you've been under.”

“It's nice to meet you Cherise,” I said, “I would shake your hand, but I'm having trouble moving my limbs.”

“Oh, that's normal,” she reassured me. She was scribbling furiously on the chart.

“Can you tell me how long you've been awake?” she asked.

“Ten minutes, I'd guess,” I said.

“Have you experienced any discomfort? Pain? Headaches? Numbness?”

“Um, a little of everything, actually,” I said, “I was in a lot of pain just after I woke up, it felt like I'd been struck by lightning.”

Just then I noticed that there was nurse standing in front of me, clasping a clipboard and writing on it furiously. She looked hispanic, and she was wearing ugly flower-patterned scrubs. She was looking at me expectantly.

“Can I help you?” I asked.

“You don't remember?” she asked.

“I don't remember you,” I said, “I was alone in here just a second ago.”

“I'm Sarah,” she said, “I've been your nurse here since you arrived, I'm the night shift. You're lucky that you got out of that accident.”

“Hello Sarah,” I said, “I'm Adam, and I don't feel right.”

Her pen was flying over the paper. Her writing was sure to look like Arabic by the time she finished.

“Adam Caldwell?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

She finished writing.

“I'll be back in a few hours,” she said, folding the clipboard under her arm. She clicked her pen once and put it into her front pocket. “Get some sleep, there will be some people here in the morning to speak with you.”

“What kind of people?” I asked.

“Goodnight,” she said.

I nodded awake a moment later. I was still propped up against the wall, but Sarah was gone. She must have turned off the lights when she left, because the room was dark. I could just see the orange glow of morning coming from door-window, but it was distant. I sat there for what seemed like a long time, watching it become brighter.

The lights clicked on again. I looked over at my reflection again. I still looked pale and sad. How strange it was that I didn't remember my own face.

Someone unlocked the door again, and in came three men and a female nurse. It wasn't Sarah.

“Good,” said one of the men, “he's awake.”

They walked over to me. The nurse moved aside the partitions so they could surround me. It was unsettling.

“Good morning, Adam,” said one of the men. He was large, and slightly grandfatherly. His paunch bulged over his belt, but he was dressed as if there were a blizzard outside. He smiled down at me. Even though I was sitting up, the men still towered over me.

“What's so good about it?” I asked, “I feel like a prisoner.”

The men exchanged glances.

“You're not a prisoner here, Adam,” said the grandfatherly man, betraying the slightest of southern accents. He sounded like a friendly plantation owner from Alabama. “You can leave whenever you like. It's just that you're not healthy enough to be out in the world. We're taking care of you.

“Oh how rude of me, we haven't introduced ourselves. I'm Johnathan Price,” he extended his hand to shake, I shook it, but his squeeze hurt my hand.

“Ow! Damn!” I said, retracting my hand.

“Still sensitive to pressure,” whispered one of the other men.

“My apologies,” said Mr. Price, “these are my colleagues,” he gestured to the spindly-framed man who had whispered, “this is William Fullerton, and that's Lewis Warhol,” the last man had the demeanor of a mafia boss. He was fat and richly dressed. He glared down at me like a butcher appraising meat.

“Wheelchair,” said Mr. Price to the nurse. She nodded and left the room.

“We have some good news for you, Mr. Caldwell,” said Mr. Price. It seemed that he was going to do all of the talking.

“Good news?” I said.

“It would seem that you didn't die,” said Mr. Price, “and that is very good news for both of us.”

“I don't understand,” I said.

“You don't yet. But you will.”

The nurse reappeared, pushing a wheelchair.

The nurse and Mr. Fullerton hoisted me into the wheelchair with little difficulty. Mr. Price began pushing me out of the room.

“You represent the future, Adam,” he said.

“Do I?” I looked into the mirror he pushed me past it. I looked even more unfamiliar up close. It was only for a moment, then we were out of the room and into the hallway. I could see the twitchy Mr. Fullerton talking in excited hisses to Mr. Warhol.

“The industry of tissue reconstruction is at its inception,” said Mr. Price, “I have some investors that are going to take great interest in you.”

“What for? Did I lose a limb?”

There was a pause, then Price said, “in a manner of speaking.”

I was pushed down the hallway and into another darkened room that was filled with computer monitors. The monitors were displaying different close-up x-rays of a various part of somebody's body. There were a few people in the room behind computers. They all wore lab coats and most wore glasses.

“Adam,” said Price, “three weeks ago, you died.”

I turned in the wheelchair and looked at Price. “And you revived me?”

“No,” he said, “you were...” he paused and grimaced, “decapitated.”

I looked down at my body. “Are you saying that I just 'got better?'”

“No, Adam. You died. Your body is gone, destroyed. They even had a funeral for you.”

On the monitors it played footage of sad-looking people standing in a graveyard.

“This is your funeral. Do you remember any of these people?”

I looked closely at the faces.

“I don't!” I said, “but what you're saying--that I died--why am I here now? How is this possible?”

The people behind the computers looked up and smiled at Mr. Price, then looked down at me like proud parents.

There was a moment of silence. It was uncomfortable.

“You're an android, Adam,” said Price, “the first of your kind.” He barely concealed his excitement. It was like I was a prize-winning dog.

I was speechless.

“Well technically, only your body is,” said one of the researchers, standing up from his computer, “it's an immensely complicated procedure.”

“You were dead,” interrupted Price, “they took you to the hospital. Your were listed as an organ donor, so we took your brain. Of course, your remaining organs were giving to the hospital, for their personal use,” he cleared his throat.

“I'm Dr. Hastings,” said the researcher, stepping over to me and shaking my hand gently, “I oversaw the creation process of your body.” Everyone seemed excited.

“So I'm... a robot?” I said.

Several people spoke at once, including Price.


“It's not like that--”


“--What we've done is too advanced to be called robotics,” said Dr. Hastings, “the technology won't be mainstream for another twenty years--”

At that point, the world was starting to go dark. I had passed out before, but never from shock. I had a certain weakness toward blood; the sight of it was always enough to make me feel dizzy, but I had never encountered anything like this. It seemed ironic now, the last part of me that was really me was going to do the only thing over which I had any control, and that was to pass out. I looked up at Dr. Hastings as a circle of dark fog surrounded my vision, encasing his head in a ring of hazy darkness.

“He's passing out,” said someone. They like they were speaking to me from one end of a long, echoing hallway.

“Don't let him,” I heard Price say, “we just got him awake, and I want to keep him that way,”

I felt some pressure on my left arm. I looked over to see what it was. Of course it was a needle, injecting something into my arm that looked like milk. My eyes rolled and I felt my head fall backward.

There was a surge of energy in my chest, my eyes snapped open and I sat up. It was like having caffeine injected into my heart. I exhaled deeply.

“What was that?” I asked, “adrenaline to the heart?”

There were a few more people standing around me now, looking a little apprehensive.

“You don't really have a heart anymore, Adam,” said one of them, “now you have a little motorized pump that--”

“Don't tell him about those kind of things,” said Price, “we don't want another faint.”

The researcher bowed away.

Hastings knelt down in front of me and said, “it was synthetic compound that's made specially for your body.”

“It looked like milk,” I said, feeling like I could run a marathon.

“Well, it's based on milk,” Hastings said. “It's calcium, lubricants, vitamins and many other things.” He stood back up and looked over my head toward Price.

“Why can't I move my legs?” I asked.

“I'm sorry,” said one of the female researchers, looking up at Price, “we haven't turned them on yet.”

Everyone looked at Price.

“Turn 'em on, then,” he said. The room seemed to relax a little.

The female researcher grabbed something that looked like a police stun gun from a table and walked over to me.

“Lean down,” she said, “this has to touch your spine.”

I obliged. She untied the hospital gown a little. With her fingertips, she gently crept down my spine until she found the spot she had in mind. I felt pressure against my vertebrae and a mild electric shock.

“All done,” she said stepping away and smiling at me. I wiggled my toes. I could feel pins and needles in my feet.

“Any scientific explanation as to why a robotic –ur, android-- foot might fall asleep?” I asked, “I'm feeling pins and needles here.”

The room was silent for a moment, then Dr. Hastings said, “Paresthesia could be because of your panic attack,”

“Or a blood clot,” said the female scientist. They were talking more to each other than they were to me.

“It should be fine,” said Price quickly, “Adam and I have business elsewhere. The scientists nodded and went back to their computers. It seemed that I was quite the spectacle.

Mr. Price wheeled me out of the room. I was expecting him to talk, but he didn't. He left me alone with my thoughts for the moment.

An artificial body with the brain of a human? This seemed like something out of science fiction. Had technology really advanced this much? What had happened to my family? Of course, I didn't even know if I had a family, but I at least knew enough people to fill a funeral procession. Was I really even human anymore? Did I have a soul? What about my old body? Was this new one supposed to be stronger? Sort of a bionic commando? I wasn't going to fight any wars for these people. I didn't feel any stronger, but then again, I wasn't sure what it would feel like to be strong as an android. Apparently I could feel pain. What about pleasure? Happiness? I was sure I was feeling fear already. Most of those things seemed tied up in the last bit of humanity that I possessed; my brain. It seemed that my life as I knew it, was over.


  1. Okay, that was really interesting. Especially how things kept changing at the beginning, like the nurse. It was like some freaky TV show where everything you see is wrong.

    Or like the reading the first half of Saint.

  2. I've never read Saint. Who wrote that? And it that a compliment?

  3. Aside from Blink, it's one of the few Ted Dekkers I actually ever liked. So it's a compliment. I can bring it over if you like. It's about an assassin who is telekinetic, and it's also got lots of mind screw. :-)

  4. Really interesting concept. In the first few paragraphs Adam repeats things sometimes, is his new brain glitching slightly as it turns on? It'd be interesting to see how people treat Adam, knowing that he's a robot even if he behaves like a normal human. Will he behave like a normal human, or will his new life and body come with new behaviors? I like that the doctors can't seem to decide whether to treat him like a science project or a new baby. The line about turning his legs on is very unnerving, hinting at how different and odd things could be for him now.

  5. Hey Will, I liked it in a sort of creepy way, and TEAR UP YOUR DONER CARD!!!! I am going to make you read Coma. Good story and a happy nice first Month! :)