a conversation between what is alive, and what only pretends to be - hybrid by Anne Fu
i think there is a machine in my basement. it grinds with the thunder-roll of gears on gears, spits and flickers in binary love. if i’m not mistaken, it’s a power generator for the hospital downtown, and i can hear the steady throb of the heartbeats it channels humming through the walls: pace and set, increment by increment. the noise is unbearable. thirty-thousand volts of electricity are nothing new; it eats up and belches out life like a cathedral.
i love you, i love you, the machine confesses to me one night, words pouring out in an urgent clamour. i would destroy myself for you. i would plunge a billion lives into the boiling dark for you. you just need to ask.
i tap back on the exposed pipe in the basement, one cheek pressed against the wall, i don’t think that’s fair. i think there are so many who need you more than you need them. being good is a choice. you have to choose to live. we are what we make of ourselves.
and i think to myself (but i do not verbalize), that the default state is a zero. a one or a zero. the default state of all things is dark, dead, damp in a cellar, hovering in un-death but alive with potential. at some point, the non-living assembles and merges itself into the living. atoms combine to make proteins and organs and then me. switches flick off and on until they resemble something alive.
the days are worse than the nights. in the morning, i wake up and swat flies away from my body, fat and sticky and black, buzzing with their blameful drone. in the afternoon, i trace the arc of the sun overhead from my bed, seeping in to touch the far wall like a lover. i drag my carcass into the dumpster; i scavenge out what i can. my hands are cracked red from the searching. the remnants of dinner congeal themselves into thick clots onto my plate and i eat, trembling fingers feeding fork to mouth. i eat and i eat, until there is nothing but me and the sensation of fullness, and i marvel at the great coincidence of the universe that birthed me from light and dust into form.
at night i return, once the blisters become unbearable and my joints stiffen under scar tissue. it is good to be unknowable, i remind myself, to occupy the wedge of shadow in a living room and simply watch. the darkness is not oppressive, but warm like a fleece, and it is in the way that i know all the other windows on the street have their curtains drawn, that nobody else in the neighbourhood can bear witness to my rotting body, that i find comfort. when unilluminated, no one else can be entirely certain that you are there at all. it is the limbo between wake-sleep-death.
the machine greets me when i come back home, switches the lights on for me in a small sort of mercy. you know, i’ve been thinking, it starts, voice petulant, and i think you’re just jealous. i think you wish you had the power i did. if i turned myself off — click! — i could kill everyone who depends on me in an instant. a city’s worth of life, smothered to death by a hitch in my artificial pulse. they need me. you need me.
shut up, i want to tell it. maggots spill from my mouth when i say so, dribbling out from between my lips like berries. i am already dead. i do not need you to keep me alive. i drag myself back into bed.
but the potential is impressive, isn’t it? electricity washes over the walls, casts the house into soft, phosphorescent glow. when i press my hand against the peeling paint it crackles, thin like static. the lamplight flickers in morse, on and off, one and zero, one and two. i can hurt others if i wish to. that is the ultimate form of dominance: man’s superiority over his environment. i may be only a machine, but i am no slave. i could do it, if you asked me to.
no thank you, i’m good. please don’t kill those sick people in the hospital.
good night, then. i love you.
Anne Fu is a non-binary high school student living somewhere unremarkable in Southern Ontario. They enjoy showing empathy to small insects and eating pasta. Their work has been previously published in a couple of places you’ve never heard of, all under various pseudonyms, because they like to cultivate an air of mystery and impermanence.