Aphelion Issue 278, Volume 26
November 2022
 
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A Head Like Yours

by Joshua Beggs


"With a head like yours, you can do anything." This is what my mother sang to me, while waddling toy soldiers arthritically alongside mine, her legs folded beneath her on the playroom rug.

"You can do anything," she repeated, while straightening my top hat the night I left for university, her back to the streetlamps outside turning the evening fug into spoilt milk.

"Anything," she pleaded, while squeezing my hand on her mockingly thick-boned hospital cot, her face pinched at her own spoiled sweetmeat smell.

This struck a chord, with me and within me, as a freshly minted man of science. What a disappointing design, this human body, I thought as her casket lowered into the ground. How clunky, how outdated, how pathetically temperamental. The newspapers said a new age was dawning, one of science and electricity and raging coal-powered machines. Already, factories had replaced men and horses with cogs and gears. Already, Doctor Frankenstein had done the impossible, tethering mind and body together after death had cleaved them apart.

I determined to do the opposite.

I started small, with my toes-the littlest ones, first, then working my way up. They plunked into the Thames like fleshy pebbles, swallowed whole by the gold-flecked murk. And as I thumped home with the bloody bucket in hand, I knew I walked the path to greatness.

Next came the feet, the shins, the femurs-surprisingly cumbersome bones, these, and too conspicuous to cast into the river, though alley dogs asked no questions, and disposed of them discreetly.

I proceeded with pelvis, ribs, and spine. These proved more reluctant to leave where they were no longer welcome, though I had fortunately, at this point, recruited an assistant, an old and cadaveric man with bones that rattled together visibly beneath his skin and more scalp than most would ever admit to. He made a point not to share his name, or ask mine. I made a point not to ask him how he'd become so skilled with knife sharpening, or titrating chloroform.

But he was desperate for money, and because of that, faithful. He tended to me, in his increasingly ridiculous human outfit, while I carved myself into an icon for this new age, a modern Michelangelo's David, a model for our maturing society's keen, stark reason and relentless functionalism. He watched over me with his hands clasped and shaking before him, almost comically ill-at-ease, as I lay in my wheelchair and traced my purpled veins with my fingertips, imagining the distilled essence of humanity throbbing through with ever less resistance. In them coursed the concentrate of the innate intuition that'd propelled human civilization for centuries, the intellect that'd earned my tenure at Cambridge, the visionary daring that'd led to my dismissal when I'd suggested this very experiment.

And so I continued.

Appendix, gallbladder, spleen. Kidneys, liver, intestines. Stomach, pancreas, lungs. Heart. I preserved only my hands, those imperfect interpreters of what the mind plans, imagines, envisions. Chuffing engines and burbling beakers took over my necessary functions: cleansing my blood, distributing what little nutrition my body still needed, oxygenating my precious head. Simple chemistry. Basic physics. The science became child's play, as effortless as marching toy soldiers to war. What had once felt like snags in my hypothesis unraveled between my fingertips.

All except for one.

For, already, the new age had become old, and I along with it. I'd jarred and pickled myself in my own preconceptions, like the cadavers that I'd used for my early research, and which still shook my assistant's lapels with a shudder each time he glanced towards the basement's darkened corners. I began to wonder whether my mother might not be mistaken. I began to realize that I might join her again, were I not careful. "Mind over matter," Sir Charles Lyell famously told the world, and so I aspired to prove.

And so the real work began.

I directed it all, from the center of the basement that'd become my home. My attendant set up a workbench for me, taking care not to nudge the copper piping hooked into my neck and shoulders. My mind blazed with undiluted energy, the distillate of my very soul, one with my purpose and my project. With a head like mine, I could do anything. I could do anything. Anything.

It may have been midday or midnight when I finished. I called my attendant with a sharp clap and a wordless wail, my tongue and teeth long since pruned away. He appeared in the stairwell's gloom, and even then, stayed outside arm's reach when I beckoned him closer. I pointed one willow-switch finger at the glass tank before me, the culmination of so many years' toil, the next step after so many generations' fumbling evolution. My assistant's face paled in the electricity shimmering across the fluid's surface, sizzling with the energy that would keep my mind alive without the burden of anything else, not even my hands. For what is a head, if not one final barrier for the mind?

I nodded to my assistant.

His dried earthworm lips struggled and squirmed.

The chisel lifted to my forehead.

Whack. Crack. Plunk. Hiss.

And then…nothing. Not death, not exactly, just…numbness. Deafness. Blindness. Dumbness. Consciousness, and nothing to be conscious of. Only my own mind, its thrumming energy, its deepest, shadowed cracks. I have explored each abyss, to its fullest. They have probed me in return. They're all I have now, this darkness, and these memories-

-and you. You, lost here, in this void, with me. How did you get here? Did someone else finally take up my research? Is that what you meant, when you said you had uploaded? What is the world like? How long has it been-decades, centuries, millennia? Tell me. Tell me! I've been caged for too long alone. I am hungry, starving, raging for information. It's all you have now, those memories, and this darkness-and me.


© 2022 Joshua Beggs

Joshua Beggs is a graduate from Hendrix College and a current MD candidate at Kansas University Medical Center, with recent flash fiction publications including "Off Planet" in Chestnut Review, "Wired" in Allium, and "Animal" in Roadrunner Review. In his free time, he volunteers as a clinical Spanish interpreter and makes a podcast that his mom says is awesome.

Find more by Joshua Beggs in the Author Index.

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