The steak in the table across from mine looks as succulent as I always remembered it to be. The lady who ordered it moves her utensils with precision and the knife cuts through it with almost unreal ease. Red juices flow from it, and my saliva follows suit. There’s actual saliva dripping from my mouth. I quickly clean myself and notice how fast she is eating, barely chewing her meat at all. I then realize I’m staring. I look down and try to make sense of what’s in front of me. The restaurant, which looks somewhat elegant in its dim lighting and monochromatic shades of green and brown, has only a few patrons, all sitting alone, looking mesmerized down at their own really dark black tables. There is a pattern of dim colored lights in mine, illuminating what would otherwise be an almost invisible table in the dark. They look almost like Christmas lights but smaller and less brilliant. They’re not lightbulbs either, and look more as if they were part of the table itself.
Ready to order? Asks the waiter, startling me from behind. That I say loudly and point directly at the lady with the steak, as I am still struggling to form words or regulate my volume. This garners me some looks, including the lady in front of me of course. Did… you see the menu? He replies, casually pointing at the lights on the table. I nod effusively, even though I didn’t, and gesture towards the lady again, this time trying to be more subtle. He nods back at me with a smile and leaves.
I have to clean my mouth again. I must have woken up less than two days ago and I’m still regaining full motor control. The doctor told me not to leave the lab, but my stomach was about to implode and he had refused to tell me much, if anything at all. I still feel light-headed, and all my memories are fuzzy. Leaving the lab shocked me more than I had expected. I can’t be sure if I’m still in Chicago, if they brought me back to Kansas City or if I’m a different country for that matter. One thing is for sure, I have been sleeping for far longer than I had anticipated. Then again, I guess I never really knew how long it would take. My family is most likely dead at this point, as they didn’t approve of the method to begin with and I’m sure they wouldn’t do it for themselves. Everything looks so strange now. If given the chance, I wonder if I would do it all again.
Enjoy your lunch sir
The waiter sneaks from behind again, it took him almost no time to bring the food. He leaves before I can even react to him leaving the plate in front of me, as fast as he had so quickly arrived. My stomach grumbles. I cut a piece and I can’t help but to start shaking, my hands feel like I have Parkinson. I calm myself enough to take a bite, anxious to rejoice in a familiar flavor. But then, nothing. The piece of meat dissolves almost as I put it in my mouth, the taste basically non-existent. I take another bite, wary of my own stunted senses. Nothing. This is not steak.
The lady across from me stands up, takes what looks like a transparent foldable phone from a breast pocket, and taps the side of her table. She then leaves unceremoniously, acknowledging no one. In turn, nobody seems to notice this or care about it, the waiter, the only staff I had encounter so far, is nowhere to be found. Then I realize, I didn’t think of how I would pay for this. Not that the food was worth its price, whatever it may be. My head starts pounding again, and I decide I must leave immediately for some reason. Slow as I’ve become but trying my best to move fast, I jump out of the door and try to run, but my legs are still weak and I fall straight on my face. I didn’t move far at all, twelve, fifteen feet at the most. Still on the floor I turn around alarmed, the waiter standing right behind me, looking at my defeated face. Instead of acting upon my vulnerability, he just turns back around and goes back to the restaurant.
Mom, who is that man?
A little girl asks while I’m still down. Her mom grabs her closer and in a swift move she takes a device similar to the one the lady from the restaurant had and moves it around me. She looks somewhat familiar, though I can’t be place where I know her from. He’s no one honey. The phone is back in her pocket and she’s rushing the kid, trying to move away from me fast. Wait, I yell, or at least try to. Wait! More saliva starts dripping from my mouth, I try to get up but my legs are still fragile. I slowly regain my composure, breathing heavily as I try to forget the pain in my head, but she’s gone by the time I fully stand up. I know for a fact I know her, but I cannot, for the life of me, put a finger on where I know her from. Could anyone I know still be alive? When exactly is this anyway? I could try and ask someone but I would risk looking crazier than I already do, and who knows how they would treat me for something like that. Then again, there’s virtually no people around me anyways.
I move away from the restaurant in the direction I think I came from. From what I remember, the lab was just two blocks away, but I’m not sure I can trust myself very much. The restaurant was the first thing I noticed and my hunger demanded me to stop there. Now I feel totally satiated, even when I ate almost nothing at all. As I walk I doubt that I’m actually going back to the lab, I was so dizzy and disoriented when I first escaped from it. I know it’s underground because climbing the stairs was impossibly hard in my state. Still, I keep walking, afraid of losing control of my limbs again if I stop doing so. Before I know it, I’m walking in the middle of the road.
Please, move away from the vehicle pathway.
There’s four people inside the car, all looking down at screens of varied sizes that look to be attached to their arms. The car looks like a perfect squircle, a boxed shape with edges so well rounded it is hard to tell where they even start. I can’t see the wheels on it. The top is almost all glass, can’t really tell the doors from the windows, and the bottom is a painfully plain white that goes down until it meets the road.
Please, move away from the vehicle pathway.
The voice comes from the car, not the passengers, though three of them end up looking up when they hear the command a second time. They look at me as if I were a freak. My legs shake as I finally move away and towards what I have, correctly it seems, assumed to be the sidewalk. This too is strange. It is a mute mixture of gray silver and blue, and though it feels like concrete, it looks like it’s made of plastic. I hadn’t noticed before but now I see very small lights around my feet, similar to the ones on the restaurant’s table. I feel that they are following me as I move, but there are also a few lights that seem to always be in front of me. I decide to follow those. They move in a straight line on the sidewalk until they abruptly turn left to hit a wall. The light turns bright green for half a second and then turns into an stylized font that for a moment reads St. Clarence’s and then disappears again. As I look up I notice what seems to be a storefront, a single tall window showing an unclothed genderless mannequin. The store seems to occupy the first floor of a tall building, though I don’t see a door anywhere near. Other than the mannequin there doesn’t seem to be anything in the store, or at least nothing I can see. There is no lighting inside it, and the sky itself is dark, even if the waiter claims it is lunch time. When I look back at the mannequin it is now wearing what looks like a one piece jumpsuit, dark blue with purple sleeves and greenish pants with fluffy ankles. In its hands I notice the skin of the doll changed too, from its robotic silver to a lightly tanned white. The hands are swollen and I anticipate the worst part. I look up and confirm it, the doll has my face. A scarred, swollen, almost unrecognizable face, somehow managing to smile confidently even though I’m surely not smiling myself. The people in the car were right, I’m a fucking freak.
I stumble back into the street and almost make it to the vehicle pathway again. My knees are shaking. A man is walking towards me but stops and looks at the lights around his feet. He pulls up the device everyone seems to have from his breast pocket and wraps it around his forearm, then points to the ground and swipes his hand. As he gets closer I notice there aren’t lights around him anymore.
Excuse me. I try to say, but comes off softly. Sir, excuse me I yell this time. He stops on his tracks and shoots me a disdainful look. There’s saliva coming out of my mouth, I can feel it. I struggle to swallow some and trying not to make a mess I ask where are we? He looks around incredulous, as if this were a joke. He then says 37th street. Helpful. Where are we? I ask again, yelling loudly as the man starts walking away from me and I struggle to keep up. 37th street he says again this time making a swift move with his device, pointing at the ground first and then to the sky. A thin street post materializes from the ground and it reads 37th street on the top. In a second, the post disappears again and I realize the man is already about twenty feet away from me, walking faster to get away from me.
I understand him. I understand the lady with her kid. If I saw someone that looked or acted like me, I would probably do the same. I am a fucking freak.
I drop to my knees and start breathing heavily again. Why can’t I remember anything? Why am I awake with such poor care from the doctor? Who could I know that is still here? And of course, who in the world was that woman after all? I want to cry but nothing comes out of my swollen eyes. I’m frozen, kneeling on the ground and ready to go. Hey comes a voice from behind. I turn around and see him, it’s the doctor. The last thing I see is his foot, fast approaching my face.
I come to my senses when I hear loud coughing behind me. My head still hurts badly. The cough comes from the doctor, he is holding a handkerchief with blood on it. He sees that I’m awake and comes back to move me. I am in a wheelchair, and we move through a hall I hadn’t seen before to an operating room. On our way there I notice there is a body laying on the ground, its back to us. The body is naked, but I can only make up his dark brown hair and scars in his back. I don’t know if I’m shaking as I can’t really feel my body, but I can feel the fear intensify in me. We stop next to a hospital bed and he struggles to move me from the chair to the bed. I offer no resistance, trying as hard as I can, I can’t move a muscle. He starts coughing again.
I’m sorry about that, it’s just that I’m really sick. He says wiping some more blood with the handkerchief. I’m sorry about hitting you too he continues as he prepares something on the side but I think it worked for the best for us. I had to inject you with an anti-inflammatory and it helped with your face as well. He is sitting in a rolling chair and comes near me, bringing down a blinding light like the ones dentists use. Yeah, looking a lot better, you might actually be ready now. He starts coughing again.
He rolls back away from me, barely moving the light away from my face, the cough gets very bad this time around and he spits blood in the ground. The light is still hanging next to me but the light isn’t blinding me anymore, and I see my reflection in the silver edge that surrounds around the lightbulb. He’s right, my face is less swollen. After so long, I had honestly forgotten how I looked. My face is still somewhat deformed, but now I can see my dark brown hair, small black eyes and a still swollen but aquiline looking nose. Sorry I keep doing this man, but I have a pretty bad case of lung cancer. Come to think about it, I look a lot like the doctor. Doctors say I don’t have much time left, but I think I’ll survive, what do you think? He rolls his chair closer to me and looks at me as if he was really asking a question. You’ve been through this before, haven’t you? I remember I had been diagnosed with the same thing. I was once a terminal patient too. How did you make it?
His question seems genuine, and he stands there patiently waiting for a retort. I can’t even open my mouth, and I think he knows this. Then again, I don’t have an answer for him. I honestly can’t remember exactly what had happened anymore. As far as I can tell I entered an experimental treatment where I would be cryogenically frozen and sometime in the future they would do something to bring me back to life. That is the last I remember, and that’s why I had thought the guy in front of me would be the doctor who was bringing me back. Now it dawns on me, I was wrong. By sheer willpower my lips start to quiver. Frozen I manage to say. The effort makes me dizzy, but for some reason I feel that I owe him an explanation. Are you sure? He asks. I’m not. I never got the details of the procedure, but it had something to do with transferring my memories once they had the means to bring me back to life. He seems to know more about it than I do. He starts coughing again.
I truly apologize. This sort of comes with age. He didn’t look like he could be any more than thirty years old. This isn’t my first time, you know? He stares at the ground, at the spot where he spat earlier, the blood still wet on the floor. A timid smile starts to form, contrasting with his sever frown as he continues monologuing. It’s probably the seventh, maybe eighth time I go through this. It starts to blend in with time, and trust me, it gets harder every time. His sad eyes show he’s lost in his thoughts. I’m supposed to be two centuries old in a few years. Does that sound right to you? He looks at me again as if waiting for an answer. He rolls his chair close to me and very delicately touches my lips with one finger. You really don’t remember how you survived your bout with cancer, do you? I don’t, but for a brief moment, it doesn’t matter, as I don’t feel anything anymore. No pain, no fear, no worries. A grimace assaults his face and he quickly turns around as a bout of cough attacks him again. Don’t worry, we’re going to be okay. He immediately rolls back to his work station and plays around with some syringes.
Daddy, daddy, where are you?
The disembodied voice of a little girl comes from what sounds like upstairs. A quick smile forms in the doctor’s face. A woman’s voice follows. Robert, are you here? We’re running late. I’m sure she’s not talking to me. The smile fades from his face and a look of disappointment quickly replaces it. I’ll be there in a minute. The voices sound awfully familiar, but I’m too confused to pin them down.
You are starting to look so good, says the doctor, as he caresses my face with one hand, a syringe in the other. The light is off now. I guess we’ll have to finish later. Then it hits me. That’s why the lady and her daughter looked so familiar on the street. She’s the same woman that is now upstairs. Sheila I manage to say, this time without as much effort as it took me before. The doctor nods softly without looking at me, as injects a liquid in my arm. Memories start flooding my head as the white liquid floods my veins. That’s when I realize, this won’t be the first time I die.