The amount of time he had been stuck in this freezer felt unreal. According to Nee he had been there five days, but his mind told him otherwise. He had been there weeks, no months, maybe a year. There was no way it had been only five days, but if it was, those were five whole days of Lumis not coming to rescue him. Five whole days of staring at Jarvis’ ugly fucking face. Five whole days of listening to that incessant scratching. Five whole days of nothing to do but reflect on his life only to come back to the same god damn point.
He could feel his skin constantly fluster every time his thoughts creeped back to those soft spots. No matter how hard he tried to shudder them away they would just crawl back in. It had become a constant battle taking him back and forth between terrors and glories. Like attempting something for hours and hours with the burning desire that makes your skin warm and your lungs tighten until it is finally accomplished or you are forced to give up.
Except Jimmy could never give up.
Jimmy had found himself staring at Jarvis often. The corpse’s ugly face had taken on a mocking expression since Jimmy had propped him up against the containers. Each time he would get more food, the things lips seemed to curl further up, as if it knew something that it would never tell. As if it knew it was only a matter of time.
The faint blue emergency lights inside the foggy chamber switched to red for a second and then back to blue. Jimmy was reluctant to look away from the corpse. He felt that as soon as he did, the bastard would reveal what it had been hiding from him. But there was nothing it could hide from him, it was dead. It was nothing now. An ugly, miserable, empty, mocking sack of nothing.
A mocking sack.
The lights flickered red over the corpse. A wide toothy grin flashed over his grandfather’s face. It hadn’t been hiding anything from Jimmy. No. It had watched with its massive open orbs that threatened to pop out of its skull. It had silently observed Jimmy, learning who he was, who he really was. It had made Jimmy think he was alone when really it had been there all along, taking note of it all.
Taking note of what a coward Jimmy was. Seeing what a useless loser he was. How terrified he was of being abandoned again.
“James,” it said in Alice’s voice, its toothy grin never fading. His name echoed all throughout the room. A constant reminder of what would happen when he let people close. It mocked him. It knew. “There’s a problem.”
He shook his head and reopened his eyes to find no trace of his sneering grandfather. The body’s eyes were open just enough to give it the lazy appearance of a stoner more interested in resting than taking in the world around them. He felt warm streaks run down his cheeks. Jimmy didn’t remember crying.
He needed to get out of his head.
“What is it?” he said, raising his eyes from the corpse and gritting his teeth. He didn’t like this. It wasn’t like him. Jimmy had revelled in being self reliant. People were distractions, both good and bad. They were temporary. He was constant.
“The oxygen systems are depleted,” said Nee, “You will be running out of oxygen.”
“That’s impossible,” said Jimmy. He knew the systems were self sufficient. They were supposed to suck the oxygen from the depths continuously without any real maintenance. He also knew Nee did not say things for no reason. “How?”
“The system is not functioning properly on emergency power,” said Nee.
Of all things to not leave fully functional in an emergency. He felt surprisingly calm over the matter, likely because of how calm she was. “How long do I have?”
“Thirty to thirty-six hours.”
Jimmy gulped down the terror that tried to crawl up his throat. He stared into the eyes of the corpse, his mind repeating thirty to thirty-six.
“There is a way to reboot the systems manually,” said Nee.
Of course there is. Let me guess, I have to leave my prison. “I’m a tradesman Nee.”
“You are, and you’ve made an art of it,” replied Nee. He had programmed her to say it when he had first received her. He had with all the generations before her. But it was not why he had said it.
He kept staring at the corpse, slowly morphing into his grandfather. “You’ll be a dead man soon. You should have slit your wrists alongside me but we both know you’re the real coward,” it mocked, “do it. I’ll watch.”
“I’ve mapped out the route,” said Nee. The map pulled up over the unit with the route highlighted over it.
“I’m not crawling through that again,” said Jimmy.
“Of course you’re not,” said his grandfather, his sinister smile returning slowly. “That would mean having to explain to Roberts why you killed him.”
“I didn’t kill him,” said Jimmy. Laughter began to echo all around him. “There was nothing I could have done.”
“Not when you were so busy locking him behind you.”
“I am attempting to unlock the doors,” said Nee, unaware of Jimmy’s other conversation.
“It was either him, or both of us,” said Jimmy, gritting his teeth as he glared at his grandfather.
“Yessss,” hissed the voice, “practice your story with me. We don’t want people knowing you killed your girlfriend too. Just in case we make it out of here.”
“There is no we!” he yelled, immediately regretting it. He knew he shouldn’t be entertaining this any longer. “Any luck?” he said into his unit.
“It will require your ID, but I can get it to open,” said Nee.
He felt his stomach turn. The thought of going back out there did not rest well with him. He had always been one to push the uncomfortable, but this was different. This meant sharing space with something, or things, that had killed everyone else but him down here. This wasn’t pushing the uncomfortable, this was pushing his life.
He made his way over the fudge claw container and allowed his body to release what his nerves were losing control over. He heard the echo of a chuckle around him and cupped his ears, hoping to drown it out but to no avail.
“Who would you rather die like?” came his grandfather’s voice. “The psycho bitch of your girlfriend or the fat slob. Or maybe you’d like to die like me. Seems you have a habit of watching everyone die.”
Jimmy felt anger well up within him but knew if he entertained the thought further he would simply be adding fuel to it. He cleared himself up and closed the lid before the smell seeped out further.
“Aww, are you mad Jimmy?” mocked the voice, “Are you made that mommy and daddy think you’re worthless?”
He clenched his jaw tight, trying to ignore the bait as he made his way to the corpse. They were his thoughts, they had to be, which meant he was able to shut them off. He was a rational man. He was having too much time with not enough stimuli. He knew it was his mind’s method of retaliation.
Jimmy rummaged through the rows of containers nearby, looking for one small enough to fit the temporary rations he would take. He didn’t plan on staying out there long but he would be prepared to. His mind could use the break from this frozen prison.
He found a small box of condiments which he turned over. He stared at the propped up animated nightmare, wondering if his mind would continue to use its puppet to torture him further. He bent down and cautiously reached out. All he had to do was rationalize the issue, and right now the issue was not having enough to do.
He had been through moments like this in the past. Low points where he was stuck inside his own head for a day or two, a week at most. He would feel sad, alone, empty. It was his body reminding him once in a great while that he was a human and could not live in the skies forever. Every time he would think through why. Realize how ridiculous it was, find a new goal, complete it and return to his god-like state.
Even in the midst of the heaviest of crowds we can feel alone.
Searching for love is a temporary fix, but searching for purpose is something else entirely. Jimmy just needed the occasional reminder.
“Well, here I am!” screamed the puppet loud enough to cause Jimmy to jump back. The laughing echoed all around him, taunting him, ridiculing him at how stupid he looked. The lights flickered blue to red, allowing the puppet’s face to turn toward him and morph into a twisted blend of his grandfather, Zoe, and Roberts. A sickening grin too big for its face and seemingly endless rows of perfect teeth stretched past the ears. The skin melted into the shadows taking different shapes, most which he recognized but some, his mind was unable to place from where.
The laughter rang louder and louder in his head, the faces shifting faster. Nearly all of them were women but all of them were grinning with the satisfaction of seeing the man who had used and emotionally tortured them being tortured in return. Wrecking him into the weak and useless creature he truly was. Louder it echoed, faster they morphed.
Until it became Alice.
Just as he remembered her. One of the most beautiful women he had ever laid eyes on. Her eyes gave an air of confidence that made Jimmy feel at ease. She watched him the way she did when others were around. Stoic but with an obvious glimmer of desire that he had learned to read. It was their secret. Her eyes softened and her lips warmed, the way they did when they were alone, sending his heart into a flutter. He wanted to kiss her.
“You’ll never forget,” she said as her smile began to stretch back into the haunting grin. The laughter began to echo all around him.
A blanket of uncontrolled rage fell over Jimmy. He kicked into its face until he felt the bone crunch and then kicked some more. The laughter ceased and was overtaken by an even louder screaming. He only stopped once he was sure the grin had disappeared completely and he realized the screams had been his own.
He tried to catch his breath as he stared at the mess of brains and bone he had left. If not for his unit, there was no way anyone would ever be able to recognize who this thing had once been. Jimmy blinked repeatedly, trying to take it all in.
“Fuck,” he whispered, pressing his fists against his temple. “Fuck, fuck, god damnit, fuck!”
He was losing it again. He knew it and needed to get out of there. He was not responsible for anyone’s misfortune. He pushed what remained of the head back, letting it flop and spill its contents over the floor, and stretched the collar back. He quickly stuffed his hand in and withdrew the packets of food that were furthest down.
People hurt themselves and, instead of owning it, chose to blame others for their pain. He dumped the packets into the small container. That was the difference between him and others. He recognized his errors, even as he was making them, and did not blame anyone but himself for it. He hadn’t forced himself onto anyone, it had been a give and take. He had given them the means to learn the traits they admired about him and he had taken the temporary admiration they provided him. It wasn’t his fault that they had expected more of him.
Everyone makes their own choices.
He kicked the corpse over, letting whatever remained in it to crack and spill over the floor. Jimmy reached back into the suit and took out the rest of the packets. He had a feeling he would not be returning here, no matter what.