Obsession Macabre

By Al McDonald

Saturday, 24th November 2006

I saw her again today. I see her most days actually, but each time is like the first time. She works as a Student Nurse at the facility and comes into the Shasta on Rotunda on a daily basis, never alone, always with a group of the same circle of friends. Iím happy just to sit and watch as they sip at coffees and giggle. Just one quick glance, a subtle meeting of our eyes and Iím lost for the rest of the day, recalling the light in those beautiful eyes.

I think Iím in love. It must be. Iíve never felt this way before about someone and this is all terrifyingly new to me. Just hearing her name gives me the shakes. I find myself suddenly drifting off through lectures, marvelling at the way her smile fills every part of her soft, round face, the way she moves and carries herself with a quiet pride and dignity. Hell, just watching her sit down is an entire erotic and romantic episode.

She occupies about eighty percent of my daily thought process. Which is a problem as I have no idea how to deal with this. Thereís no mention of this kind of thing in the course directory for Nanobiology. Love doesnít crop up in that subject and all my previous romantic dalliances hasnít prepared me for this emotional onslaught Iíve found myself under.

Karen, Karen, Karen. I can happily write those words over and over again.

God help me.

Monday 13th December 2006

No time to write recently. Uni is being such a bitch at the moment and all my time is spent either revising DNA core sub sample routines or helping professor Johannson in his lab during the evenings. Heís trying to reanimate dead cells using nanotech but seems more keen on kicking around a few theories than actually doing anything of practical use. I want to learn while he wants a safe retirement; we make strange bedfellows. Tonight we were continuing our quest to induce nerve reactions in a severed finger but the software is all fucked up; neither of us are programmers and the current assemblers are vastly unequipped to help with debugging. We either get someone in or learn the software ourselves: I can see a lot of long nights ahead.

I saw Karen again today. She was in uniform; navy blue, professional and very cute with it. I was by the water fountain inside Shasta, my usual spot on the top level which gives a great view of the cafe and the boulevard, drinking my ultra black coffee and reading the funnies from the student journal, when my attention was drawn across the road to Karen and her nursing buddies, sharing something amusing because they are all smiling and laughing. One of the cool things about her is her perpetual smile and easygoing, gentle nature Ė the kind of person to think of others before herself. It seems perfectly fitting that she wants to be a nurse.


3rd January 2007

This is hard to write. Very hard. My hands are shaking and itís only the autocorrect thatís making any sense of this.

Karen is dead. Oh Christ sheís dead.

I canít do this right now.

5th January 2007

She died in my arms.

It was a car accident, just outside Shastaís. Due to overcast clouds it was dark early and the road was bright and shiny with the afternoon rain. I was working on a new assembler, just jotting down random numbers on a sheet of paper, trying to keep myself awake. Iíve been working with Johannson a lot over the last few weeks, sometimes all night and my sleep pattern was fucked sideways. Shasta was busy, which usually distracted me but tonight I welcomed the rush, eagerly waiting to see if she would turn up. I remember thinking that perhaps tonight was the night where I would approach her and at least try to be human without screwing it up in some major way, but as I used to think this every evening I canít be sure if I actually meant it or not. Not that it matters now.

I caught a brief glimpse of her in the corner of my eye. Her uniform stood out (Iíve trained myself to detect the tone of blue in her dress by instinct) as she crossed the road and then in the next she was folded on the ground with my world collapsing in on me. The guy in a sedan was instantly out and running towards a silver van with the dented bumper. The man in that leaped out and they were shouting at each other, gesticulating wildly whilst Karen lay there, immobile. I was the first to reach her, this strange noise coming from my throat as the puddle of blood rapidly started forming underneath her, hips pointing at ninety degress to her body. Her face was deathly pale, eyes half open, right wrist jiggling like it was the only living thing left and trying to escape the dying body it was leashed to. I yelled her name, desperately trying to get some reaction from her, although I knew straight away she was as good as dead. She lifted up easy and I cradled her in my arms, pushing her hair past dimly lit eyes, previously beautiful, now fading. I shook her, urgently.

She looked into my face, whispered something, and then died, just slipped away like she was going to sleep. I sat there, holding her in the rain, trying to comprehend what she had said:

My name. She said my name.

Thatís all I can write now.

8th January 2007

Today was her funeral. How could I not go? I stood at the back, alone in my thoughts. The ghost of those last moments still haunt me. I keep going over it again and again, the fleeting glance in the dimming light of her eyes, how she had offered her last smile on this earth and gently whispered my name. Thatís the only solid, cohesive thought I can hold onto.

After the ceremony, as the muted crowd dispersed into the January snow, a girl came up to me. I recognised her as one of Karenís nursing friends who frequently had lunch with her. She asked if my name was Max and after a momentís careful consideration told me that Karen had talked about me a lot but had never plucked up the nerve to talk to me. She seemed sorry that she had to tell me this and I told her not to worry, thanks for telling me and for what itís worth I had felt the same about Karen. Talking about her in the past tense seemed strange and we drifted apart, lost in our own reverie. Part of me felt devastated, but I also felt elated because I knew that I hadnít gone insane in those last moments with Karen.

Iím glad she told me. Iím glad because I know what to do now.

Karen will approve.

9th January 2007

Well, after an unbelivable amount of hassle, Karen is finally sat opposite me. She keeps leaning forward and slipping off the chair and I have to stop and correct her. Iím tired and scared. It was a lot easier to imagine digging up her body and transporting it to Johannson laboratory than it was to do it. Johannson has this huge freezer for storing all the bits of dead animals and bodies we work on and thereís a place I can put her where she wonít be found. Anyway, Johannson never goes in there; he considers handling all those dead parts beneath him. For once Iím glad.

Iím still terrified, but all I have to do is look at her, look at those pretty brown eyes and imagine one day theyíll have life in them so that that special smile will reach them again and torture me with their beauty.

Thatís all the incentive I need.

13th January 2007

Iím besides myself. She was on the news today; pictures of her open grave on the local news, shots of grieving parents on their doorstep and police officers describing it all as Ďsickeningí. Do they know itís me? Will I expect that knock on my door?

I have no nails left. I canít think straight. I have doubts. Will it work? Can I bring her back?

What if Iíve made a huge mistake?

4th February 2007

I canít get to her! Johannson is in the lab nearly 24 hours a day. That manís stamina never ceases to amaze me. All I can do is help him and wait until he finishes for the night so that I can work on Karen. Iím so tired.


5th May 2007

Long time since Iíve written in this. Typed rather. A lot of things have happened since February. Firstly, Johansson, with help from myself, has finalised his book and the good people at Smithson publication have decided to fast track it to publication. Nano technology is hot news and his work is at the forefront right now. I wish him luck, but canít completely hide my resentment over the fact that without me he would still be years away from where he is now. The upshot of this is he no longer spends as much time in the lab and as reward for my help has given me access whenever I like. This means I can now pull Karen from the freezer and begin my work. For all my frustration Iím glad Iíve spent so much time away from her. Why? Because I now know ten times as much about nano technology with regard to animating dead cells than I did in February. Iíve paid the price though; Iíve lost far too much weight and all my friends have slowly drifted away, leaving Julie as my only contact with the outside word.

Julia is the girl I met at Karenís funeral. We bumped into each other a few times at Shasta (when Iíve been able to break myself away) and have become close, familiar in the way that only two people who share the same grief can. She too is struggling to cope with Karenís death and sometimes I wish I could tell her what Iím trying to do.

Iím glad of her company though because itís all I need to speak to her about Karen and my resolution grows like a thing possessed.

So now I have the laboratory to myself. My work begins.

13th December 2007

She can move her arms! SHE CAN MOVE HER ARMS!! True, she can only do it through the software Iíve written as her brain is still dead (where I can see Iím going to have a lot of trouble) but all I need to do is compile a small app and I can make her wave at me. Look, Iím doing it now! Hello!

18th December 2007

Juliaís asked me to join her for Christmas dinner with her family in Seattle. I need to find a way to say no without upsetting her. With the university closed for the break and Johannsonís key and blessing I have unlimited access to the huge processor banks I canít get to during term time. We are talking about compiling almost a hundred times more than I can do right now.

Iím confident I can get her walking by March.

1st January 2008

Happy new year! I celebrated with Julie and her friends - who are nice but Iím sure secretly wonder who the unkempt bearded recluse is that hangs around with her - then went back to my lab and danced with Karen to the sounds of John Lennon and ĎImagineí. She is still cold, but the dead cells in her face are in a constant regenerative state so that she looks almost alive. True, itís not her heartbeat thatís flooding around her but an electric flood of nanobots running from a cell of batteries connected via a trolley, but itís still heartening.

Just had a thought tonight: She happens to die and the man who loves her is possibly the only person in the world who can bring her back from the dead. If I was a poet, what could I do? Nothing, except hounour her memory with bleak, depressive sonnets and inflict them on others. If I was a Lawyer, what could I do? nothing, except prosecute that stupid fucking driver and at least make sure Karenís family have some compensation for the death of a beautiful person who died before her time.

But me, a Nanobiologist? Shit, I can make her alive again.

4th April 2008

It has not been a good few months. Iíve been nearly caught twice wheeling Karen back to the freezer. The first was security who, despite knowing the late hours I work, still insist on making routine patrols around my lab.

Not only that but my work on Karen has halted. Not through lack of my endeavours, which continue nightly to such a degree that daylight now causes me pain. Iíve hit a roadblock. Two, in fact. I canít get her heart pumping without getting her brain working and I canít get her brain working without her heart pumping. Catch 22. I can get her to walk around a room, bend over, pick things up (with limited success) but this is all via remote control through my system. Unless I plug my data cable into the back of her sheís as inanimate as a brick. I know nothing about how to activate her brain; I can regenerate the cells, but whatís the point of that? I donít know which cells to go for first and I donít want to fire them all up in case I blow a fuse (biologically speaking). I have to tread very carefully because even though I can reactivate cells I canít construct them from nothing. In other words if I destroy anything in her head I canít go back to scratch like muscle tissue or fingernails which are, in comparison, easy to make up. If I break the brain I am totally and utterly fucked.

On top of my attempts to fathom this all out, Julie came around last night and told me that she was in love with me. How on earth could I reply to that? Tell her that Iím the only person Iíve ever been in love with is currently stashed in a fridge in my laboratory? I made something up to try and let her down gently which backfired because Julia knows me well enough and Iím a terrible liar in the first place. We rowed. The main contents of that conversation was Karen and my fixation on her (shit, if only she knew) and that if Julie couldnít compete with her dead best friend anymore then the fight wasnít worth it.

We didnít leave on best terms so now Iím on my own, and running on faith alone. Itís all I have.

18th June 2008

Very busy few months! All good! Well, most of it. My uni finals are next month and although Iím not concerned about passing (in fact, Iím going to fail. I havenít been to a lecture in four weeks. Hell, I donít even know where the exams are being held) it is becoming a lot harder to hide Karen and my experiments on her. Professor Johannson has asked the board to keep me on as an advisor as he has ideas for another book (which are, ironically, concepts Iíve already put into practice for nearly 8 months) and so another stint in the lab is due. This is very good news as I get to stay in the lab, but Iím not looking forward to when he comes back in the lab as I would have to put Karen back in the freezer for another 8 months. Just thinking about it sends me into a blind panic.

But, some really good news; a professor at Stanford University named Eric Drexler demonstrated the first ever live AI system over a net broadcast last night. The AI was so powerful that it sustained consecutive on-line conversations with over thirteen thousand academics. I was one of them. Professor Drexler , in spite of multi-million dollar offers from every OS manufacturer on the planet, is releasing the source code for free. Itís gonna take a bit of time to familiarise myself with the code but I can now seriously look at getting Karenís brain up and running.

Karen is only a year/10 months from living again!

1st December 2008

Iím staring at a syringe. In it is a mixture of polymer liquid and a software driven DNA enzyme, designed to recombine to specific DNA cells and convert them at atomic levels. This has the effect that the cells can absorb any molecules that fit a particular criteria and convert them to a pre-determined state in an instant. I consistenly surprise myself about my previous naivety and confidence; Without the source AI from Professor Drexler this would have taken years, decades even, to map.

Itís been a strange, unnervingly fortunate half year. Iím friends again with Julie, who constantly mothers me. After catching a glimpse of my appearance in the mirror this morning Iíve decided I NEED mothering. I am so used to the late nights and zero sleep that feeling tired and withdrawn is a normality Iíve driven myself to accept. My reflection looks about 35. Hell, Johannson is more sprightly than me nowadays.

Thanks to the man himself I get to retake last year AND am to be paid for any evening work I do in the laboratory. Itís amazing the influence a critically acclaimed author can have on the board. Just a week before I was to be thrown out in he comes, straight up to the board, raises his voice and before I know it Iím reinstated and earn $50 a night. Due to the popularity of his nanotech book his new project is delayed to the start of next year, so until then I have the lab to myself, but speed is of the essence. From an Alpha AI with a beta enzyme mixture, Iím ready to rock and roll yet I canít try this on Karen yet for fear of destroying her beyond repair. There are so many variables and unknowns it would be like trying to cut out a tumor with an electric bread knife.

In short, I need a test subject.

5th December 2008

Youíd be surprised what comes out the back door of a veterinary.

I found this little guy stuffed in a black plastic bag by the side of the trash cans. At the moment heís tapped into the battery cells where the nanomachines are repairing any damaged cell tissue and preparing the body for life. His paws are twitching, which tells me thereís some brain activity, possibly a synaptic cell or two still firing up there. I assume he must have recently died. Hopefully I can offer him a better life than rotting down an alley, thrown away like a piece of trash. And Iíve always wanted a pet.

A few days for the cells to regenerate enough and Iíll make the injection.

7th December 2008

Bad. Bad. Bad.

8th December 2008

I canít believe how bad this has all gotten. Everything, and I mean everything is fucked. Firstly, I injected the mutt at 2.30 am on the 7th, yesterday...shit, is it really only yesterday when I did that? I havenít slept since then and Iím seeing little spots of light forming an insane clown wearing cheerleader posse in the corners of my eyes, so apologies if this comes across as a mad psychotic ramble.

Did the drug work? Oh yes, it most certainly did. I injected the hound, stepped back to watch and within minutes, sheer minutes, it was on its feet. I was ecstatic, shocked and quite unable to believe what Iíd done. The dog shook itself, blinked heavily, stared around belligerently and then in one swift motion proceeded to attack me. Luckily, I had ran a leash around the dog and tied it to the table leg in case it had suddenly ran off. As it leaped it snapped on thin air and yelped itself to the ground. Then, despite the shock and pain, it immediately pulled itself up again and tried to attack me again! In short, itís completely nuts. Psychotic. Mad. Insane.

I refuse to kill it. I need to know why it was this way...was it put down initially because of this terrible condition, or had my injection awakened some instinctive primal urge to kill?

I have locked it in the freezer. Just for the moment, until I worked things out.

Walking back to my makeshift bed (three chairs pulled together) an idea hit me with such severity that I immediately dashed back to the laboratory and fired up the computer. Of course! Iíd given the dog a humanís dose of the mixture! How something so blatantly obvious hadnít occurred to me previously was going to be a great matter of debate, but for the moment I rejoiced. All I needed to do was alter the dose, find another cadaver somewhere and start again and then -

Oh, and then -

My mentor and benefactor Olaf Johansson turned up. Of all the fucking times. He wasnít alone, Bob the security guard loitering behind him, bathed in shadows, installed as backup. I must have looked a hell of a sight; the text book definition of a mad scientist, except without the white coat and black rimmed glasses.

Instantly I was alarmed, and not only because of Johanssonís prescence. Firstly, the security guard behind him was looking decidedly belligerent and imposing, and Johanssonís actions were just downright wierd. He looked around the laboratory, head up, eyes alert, like an animal sniffing something out.

"What have you been doing, Max?"

"Working," I replied. I kept my gaze straight despite the thudding inside my chest.

"We heard barking, " Bob muttered from the back.

Johansson took one last long look around, licked his lips, then asked: "Max...whereís the girl?"

Oh fuck, he knew.

The next bit is a bit of a blur, mainly because violence scares me. Whether my next act was pre-meditated or not I canít be sure because the words flew out of my mouth without a single hint to my brain.

"Sheís in the freezer, "

Not expecting company (the last visitor I had was a cleaner that had somehow gotten lost whilst cleaning Media Studies one block down) I had set Karen up in thee main office at the back of the lab, all wired and ready. She wasnít in the freezer.

But the dog was.

I pointed, numb with shock, towards the freezer door. Johansson was talking to me about how heíd known what Iíd been doing all along, but I wasnít paying attention. Instead the single thought -

youíre not getting her youíre not getting her youíre not getting her

- bounced around my head until his words became a drone, pure white noise, reduced signal ratio.

"In here?" Johannson asked, motioning to the door of the freeze. I nodded, and he grabbed the handle, a sudden eagerness in his gestures threw hot flashes of realisation at me. This was his next book! The one he had been talking about! All this time I had thought I was getting away with it and instead I was being used to fatten his pockets with the minimal of hassle and work. I struggled to contain my fury as the guard followed him inside until they had both crossed the threshold. I slammed the door shut with a voilence that both frightened and excited me.

"Sheís mine Johannson, youíll never get her, " and with a yell I grabbed the handle and threw it into the lock position.

There was something exchanged between them, mutters of confusion and anger. Johansson was about to say something (placating and official, no doubt) when the growling began. I leaned with the back against the door, bracing my ears with my eyes as the screaming and snarling began. I felt myself crying out in harmony, sliding down to the floor, trying to find an angle, some form of attack on the insanity which swarmed and engulfed me.

And then there was silence. Shaking, I opened the door.

Johannson lay face down. There was some blood on the floor, but not much, which indicated that he had died very quickly. I didnít dare turn him over, for fear of what I might see. The dog lay across him, head resting on his leg like a resting pet, but the huge welt on the side of itís face told another story. Just by my feet, with small bony fingers outstretched to the doorway, lay Bob the Guard, crouched in a ball. His baton lay on the floor, beside his leg which was covered in vicious teeth marks amongst a bath of rich, red blood. On automatic, I stepped over his body and knelt down by Johansson, checking the dogís pulse, sniffing back tears sprouting down my cheeks. The poor little thing. It was dead, again. I was supposed to give it the gift of live and instead what had I done? Cursed it to die once more.

Behind me, there was a shuffle and I realised the worst. Bob, still alive, was bravely pulling himself to his feet. I was immobile, a statue with frozen eyes. He was panting, laboured breath painting clouds in the frigid air, completely ignoring me, intent only on getting away from this terrible moment. Amazingly, he staggered out of the freezer, and left. And I let him.

I think I fell asleep. Or something. Time passed in fragments, I know that. I came to with a start, yelling Karenís name over and over again like a mantra. Panic ripped into me, forcing my hand. There wasnít much time, especially with Bob gone (why didnít I stop him? WHY DIDNíT I STOP HIM?) to get help, which left me with very few options...I secured the laboratory, locking every door I could find, barricading them with desks, chairs, anything, all the time muttering in a frenzied fever which eventually left me curled up in a ball on the floor.

I fell asleep, and woke up to a new day.

9th December 2008

The smell is bad. Iíve been around dead tissue long enough so I should be used to it, but not when itís this fresh, this new. Iíve toyed with the idea of using Johansson as another test subject but Iíve got real doubts now. Doubts about my sanity, doubts about my ability, doubts that I can walk away from this. Karen, my memory of her, seems so far away. I look at her now, but itís not Karen I see.

As itís Saturday thereís no students filling the halls, so itís as quiet as 4 in the morning, but every little sound draws me running to the front door, waiting for the inevitable police presence. The fact they arenít here yet confuses me...if Bob made it, they would be here by now. If Bob collapsed in a hallway somewhere, he would have been found by someone, surely? I sit and wait, chew my nails. The computer is linked up to an illegal police audio stream so the second I hear this place mentioned, Iím going to give Karen the injection. Fuck it. Itís ready enough.

Just heard something very disturbing on the audio stream a while back. Iíve double-checked on the local news broadcasts and itís confirmed. Bob, the security guard, has just been shot dead after attacking and fatally wounding a young student girl on her way to the library. The press are everywhere. The police are keeping quiet but thereís a rumour there may be another body somewhere.

Whatís going on?

Seventeen separate violent attacks leading to three deaths in the last half hour. Incidents are occurring faster than they can be reported. WHATíS GOING ON?!?!

Johansson has started to wake up. From the dead. The dog came too first but before it started to cause trouble I cut the head off with a surgical saw and threw it in the waste. As for Johannson, Iíve locked him in the freezer, so he canít get out. There are these strange noises coming from within, animal-like grunts, matched by a rhythmic THUD THUD THUD against the steel door. I presume the nanobytes that had engulfed the dogís bloodstream passed onto Johansson when his throat had been ripped out. Already they have started to rebuild his body, but at the same time warping any sense of humanity into the same psychological ferosity that overcame the hound. Itís the artificial intelligence, Iím guessing. It wants to live, pass from body to body, tissue to tissue, balls to bone and duplicate, infect and consume its host at the cost of a conscience, a memory and above all, a soul. Itís too fucking smart, created by someone who was too fucking stupid not too recognise the most obvious pitfalls of creating a nano-tecchnology driven AI, designed to do one thing: re-animate dead flesh and awaken a dead, empty mind.

The news reports are going mental now. Local has spread to national to international within hours and the death toll rises. The first shaky, terrified reports of the dead coming to life are initially denied by official sources, despite amateur DV shots pouring over the web. The virus, for want of a better word, is spreading. The AI is intelligent, each atom three times as smart as your average man. Soon it will find a way to go airborne, destined to fulfil itís function without need, regard or thought.

Julia, Iím so sorry. So sorry. The thought of you being like one of them, all humanity ripped away, fills me with dread. I gave you up for a dream which has become a nightmare beyond all proportions. Please, read this and pass this email and all my notes onto Johnathon Stone. He is the professor on Nanobiotics at The Gregor School of Antioch University in Seattle and while I donít know if he can do anything he has to try. Iím not strong enough except for one last act: Iím giving Karen the injection.

Karen. Sweet Karen. I have the saw in my hand, waiting your movement, your new birth. My only question...if you awaken, and come to me and your hands reach for my throat...

...will I want to stop you?

The End

Copyright © 2004 by Al McDonald

Bio:Al McDonald is a published author and an editor at a Canadian literary magazine. He writes purely because it is cheaper than therapy. More examples of his work can be found at http://homepage.mac.com/blaize/writing.html. A review of his last published story 'Forever Morning' can be found at http://www.infozine.com/news/stories/op/storiesView/sid/1213/

E-mail: blaize@mac.com


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