I hear the creature that had once been Alcius mewling as he lies on the slab. It’s a pitiful sound, and it makes me feel sick to hear him sound so weak and broken. He may have led us here, into this hell, but he was never weak. A fool, perhaps, to think that we could escape the wraiths.
At least the Alcius-thing isn’t howling with pain anymore. I never wish to hear such sounds again. If only I could press my hands against my ears to muffle the sounds, but I can’t move my arms anymore. Do I even have arms? Does it have arms?
It had cursed and cried and wailed, as the toxins coursed through its flesh.
His flesh. I have to remember it was once human.
I can smell excrement and sickness. It doesn’t just come from the thing on the slab, but from the floor and the corners of the room. There are other things. Some of them I remember as my friends and family. Others could have been once xenos or human, or animal for all I know. There is no difference between them now.
If I turn my head to the left, I can see a fused centipede that has once been Lydia and Colm, but is now only an idiot monster, drooling and mumbling half-forgotten childhood rhymes. I don’t look at it. If I do, I might meet its eyes and see something of Alcius’ wife and son look back at me.
If I look to the right, I can see Milla’s head sewn onto something that might have once been a horse and some kind of an undersea monster. She tries to speak sometimes, I can see her lips move, but no voice comes. Does she know I cannot hear her?
The Alcius-thing’s voice grows stronger and I wonder if perhaps there’s something left in it of its previous spirit.
His spirit. I have to remember it was once human.
It does not struggle and I wonder if I should blame it for its weakness. But no, Alcius had never been weak. If it does not fight, then it cannot anymore. It is broken.
None of the captive grotesques fight anymore. They have learned the futility of such action. Once the creature on the slab had broken free of its bonds and tried to rally the others. But back then it has still been Alcius. Weak, weary, and in pain, but still human, still prepared to fight, to protect his family. He had thought we could run away.
The master of this bedlam laboratory had laughed, even when his creations turned against him. Back then, it had puzzled me—did he not know he was in danger? He had spat teeth and nursed broken bones, but he still had laughed and we all learned why.
First, Colm crumpled down convulsing. With his fall a domino of flesh tumbled, all in pain, so much pain, we never knew this kind of pain.
When I awoke we were no longer human. Perhaps we had never been human? Perhaps I am just a scrap of meat, dreaming it had ever been more?
No. I have to remember that once I had been human, too.
I am still human. Toxins and pain cannot make me something less. As long as I think, I remain. My mind is still mine, my fortress and my bulwark.
The Alcius-thing on the slab whimpers, and I hear its body writhe. Perhaps it’s trying to escape or perhaps the toxins had some delayed effect? I do not know.
No… I do know. It is in pain again. Something is changing in its body. I hear the snap of twisting bones and wet sounds as they pierce meat and skin. The toxin was something more, then.
I swallow convulsively and bile rises in my throat. I do not vomit, but only because my stomach is empty and has been for ages. I screw my eyes shut, tears streaming down my cheeks and into my mouth. They’re not salty anymore, they taste of copper.
A bestial howl of pain pierces the air and other voices join it. There is a song, a lullaby, its words broken and confused. And there is laughter.
And there is pain. It radiates from my chest and burns like a supernova in my limbs. It crawls through my muscles and flows in my blood. Every breath of air, every gulped lungful is akin to swallowing acid.
My eye-lids are wrenched open and I have to gaze into the black orbs of my tormentor. He grins, thin lips spreading to show pearly white teeth. They’re filed and even, though they should be broken. Did we not break them when we tried to run?
“Trying to run again?” it hisses.
I shouldn’t have even noticed, and yet, I felt a small prick as the needle of a syringe pierced the tender flesh of my neck. The pain did not die down, but the cracking of rearranging bones and the wet meaty sounds of tearing tissue died down.
But… why? It had been the thing on the slab that was being torn apart by its own body.
“Don’t deny,” my tormentor laughs. “You try to pretend it’s not you, but your body knows.”
I am not the Alcius-thing. He must be lying—it is not me, for that thing is barely recognizable as human, and I am still a man.