In Her Design
by Ashleigh Gauch
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Pain ripped through my spine and became my alarm the next morning. My whole body shook when I tried to stand up, causing me to stumble slightly and fall back to the floor. At some point during my slumber, I had knocked the needle away from me, though the vial stared down at me from its vantage point on my desk. Distantly, I could feel the slight burns from the carpet against my skin when I struggled again to my feet, grasping at the vial before hitting the ground again. Clarity flooded my mind within moments.
It was only after the mental fog cleared that I realized I had forgotten to place the vial back in my lockbox the night before. Panic spread for a moment in a wave of putrid green; then calm, in a sea of white. There appeared to be nothing missing from the vial. He hadn’t broken in again; whatever Amy had done must have taught him a lesson. I had planned on meeting with David this afternoon, though something in the back of my mind told me that it wasn’t going to happen.
When I managed to make it down the stairs, Amy awaited me in the kitchen. “Good morning, Roger!” she chirped. My heart sang, bathing her in a sea of pink. I couldn’t help but bask in the warmth of the kitchen, which remained a stark contrast to the cold of our bedroom above.
I settled down into my chair. It was interesting to note that the pen was perfectly placed this morning and the offending thumbprint from last night had been removed. “What’s for breakfast, love?” The mark from the night before seemed to have disappeared from her cheek, as though I had never struck her. My gaze remained steady on her in the hopes that she wouldn’t bring it up.
“Eggs and toast,” she said softly. There was no hint of expression on her face, nothing to betray her hidden thoughts. I watched her busy herself with preparing breakfast, cracking eggs and brewing coffee.
Somehow, for the first time in many years, my crossword failed to hold my attention. As with most of them, I knew all the words already; it was just a matter of filling them in. My eyes darted from the crossword to the opinion pieces, nearly all of which I agreed with, when suddenly I was standing in front of the stove stirring eggs.
I wish I could say my eyes shot wide in shock, but they did not. My arms moved mechanically with no input from myself. I could feel every sensation, the sting from the occasional oil splashing onto my bare arm, the muscles contracting and relaxing while stirring the eggs. The odd thing was that, despite the pain, I could not even wince, as though I were possessed.
The world shuddered and I sat in my chair with my pen in hand and the crossword before me once more. The sensations were less clear now, hollow somehow, compared to the intensity of my prescribed actions before.
I quickly passed a glance at Amy, still cooking the eggs, still focused intensely on the task at hand. I shuddered. It had to have been a dream or something that had gone sour in the formula. There was no way I was in her head.
Yet something nagged in the back of my mind. When I saw the vibrating strings of light and emotion, I could see hers as well, yet never in the time that I had known David had his been nearly as clear. I’d always attributed this to my closeness to Amy, but how could I be sure? Who was Amy, exactly?
The bog began to spread before me. Dim light the color of algae swallowed the world in its glow. She was my wife, is my wife, has been for four years. Yet I had perfected the clarity formula four years ago, at least for my own personal use, just not for concentration.
But the brick from the Berlin wall had to come from somewhere, right? My vision shook, shuddering to a halt in front of the frying pan, my arms numbly scraping the mildly overcooked eggs onto a plate and sloppily pouring coffee into the empty mug above it.
Images flashed before my eyes while my ears rang: the crossword, the plate, a fork in my hand that I never remembered grabbing, my voice speaking but the words lost in the din. The visions seemed to merge into one for a moment when I stared at my food and began to take the first bite.
Amy kissed me gently on the cheek and whispered, “I love you,” before putting her coat on and heading out the front door to whatever errands she had slated for herself that day. She had never worked; the income from my more lucrative projects usually took care of the bills. I never questioned where she was going up until now.
I wolfed my food down so quickly I could still feel the searing in my mouth where pieces that hadn’t properly cooled scorched my flesh, eager to dismiss these thoughts. I had Ecstasy that I needed to have done for a dealer by five, after which I could tinker with the concentration of my personal poison to try to prepare it for the market.
It was never hard to lose myself in my work and I relished the escape from my doubts, at least until Amy came home. No more strange visions interrupted me, and I made a fair bit to boot. More than enough to replenish supplies and maybe even pick up a beef rib-eye for the two of us to share. Pleasant thoughts carried me into a fitful sleep, with visions of death and blood haunting the edges of my dreams.
* * *
Amy returned home with the beef rib-eye, as though she had read my mind. I had taken my second daily dose in preparation for her return, though I was beginning to suspect that my interactions with her might be greatly improved if I took less. She began cooking the roast without incident while I watched TV in the living room nearby. The scent was maddening.
My thoughts wandered while the familiar programming droned in the background. When we had met so many years ago on a walk around the neighborhood, after shooting up to test the effects of my drug on motor function, it had impressed me how alike we seemed to be.
Our shared interest in hard science fiction and ethnic cuisine had caught me off guard, given how few women these days carry such interests. I had always attributed it to some strange coincidence, even if once or twice she had suggested that we could be “soul mates” or Gemini twins. She was always a bit more superstitious than I was, rather like the way I had been in my youth. Needless to say I’ve grown out of it, though she never seemed to.
The scent of the roast continued to waft into the room, though I began to notice a sour note to it. I made my way through the narrow hallway to the kitchen to see what was going on. Amy was sitting against the far wall and staring intently at me as though she knew I was coming. Something about the intensity of her gaze unnerved me.
“Don’t trust me to cook your dinner now or something?”
I winced. Clearly she had noticed the stiffness of our interactions before. “I don’t know if I would go that far...” I trailed off, grasping at the words to say. She seemed hollow, almost translucent, though the impact of her words, as always, left me reeling.
“How far would you go then? Four years we’ve spent together today and you didn’t even remember! You even had the gall to hit me last night after I made damn sure that dealer would never bother you again! What do you have to say for yourself?”
Tears formed at the edges of her eyes while the shower of red that exploded from her drenched me in its heat. Somewhere in the background, the alarm for the roast was going off, though it seemed as distant and holographic as she did. The green swamp mired my ankles and pinned me where I stood.
She flickered in and out of existence in time with the alarm. This time it was certain my eyes were not playing tricks on me. My limbs almost dragged behind me as I struggled out of the muck, grasping at the oven mitts and pulling the roast out with tears on the edges of my vision, as mechanically as the eggs this morning. The alarm stopped. The scent of charred meat filled the air and, when I turned back to where Amy had been, she was gone.
A frantic search of the house produced nothing, not even the slightest sign of her. The bog had lifted and the shakes did not return, though a creeping fear had begun to grow in the back of my mind. My eyes slid to the lockbox, wondering if I should grab the vial, wondering what would await me if I did. I didn’t want to drown in the swamp, and knowing how I felt now, that’s exactly what would happen.
Yet in the same hellish place behind my thoughts, another fear grew. That she too would await me. That she would only ever await me while I was using. This fear more than anything stayed my hand. I knew the roast needed to rest from Amy’s endless rants about cutting it prematurely so I had some time to kill before I could eat. Pain shot through my chest at the thought that she wouldn’t be joining me. I couldn’t remember a time where she hadn’t.
I reached down to the bottom drawer of my desk and pulled out my lockbox. This time it was not the vial that I sought but something far more useful. The leather-bound logbook I had kept of every single tweak I’d ever made to the formula sat below the vial at the bottom of the lockbox.
The suspicion grew as I sifted through its pages. Every tweak I had made to the formula had coincided with a fight or a slight shift in her personality. Skimming through from the back to the front, I landed on the page four years ago where I had gone on my walk and a lump caught in my throat. “Complete, perfect, no side effects beyond hallucinations. ‘Amy’ is ready for the market,” stared back at me from the page.
I stumbled backwards from my desk and onto the bed, the shakes seizing me within moments. In all these years, I had forgotten the codename I had used for my work. It seemed to fall by the wayside. How had I never noticed before? How could I not? Before I knew it my fingers pounded out the keys to David’s number on my cell phone.
“Hello?” The voice was clearly female.
“Is David there? This is Roger. I need to talk to him.” My heart slammed against my chest.
“Roger? He told me about you. No, he hasn’t come home in a couple of days. He said something about a business meeting two nights ago and I haven’t seen him since. I thought he might have gone to see you.” My blood ran cold.
“No, he isn’t with me, but if I hear from him I’ll let you know.” My voice shook as hard as my body did.
“Thanks. If he comes home I’ll let him know to call you. Have a good night.” The phone slid from my hand and hit the floor with a dull thud. Suddenly the full impact of her words hit me. If Amy wasn’t real, how could she have done something to David? The vial sat in silence on my desk, the only reply I knew I would receive without its use.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Ashleigh Gauch