It took a few seconds for John to realize the voice was not inside his head. When the realization came he quickly sprang to his feet and rushed towards the car. He made it a few steps before his foot hit a large rock half buried in the ground and sent him face first into the frozen ground. He flipped over onto his back and held his hands in front of his face like a pathetic shield. Maybe it will be quick, gotta die sometime. Then he heard…laughter. John moved his hands from in front of his face. The cold wind stung his face and his eyes watered, but through the haze he saw his visitor: Human shaped, covered in protective robes and a hooded mask, laughing at the fool sprawled out on the frosted ground in the dead of night.
“If I wanted to kill you, you would already be dead. No need to be afraid.”
The voice was higher than his own, and John could detect no malice
John’s voice cracked as he spoke, “You’re a”
“Deviant? Monster? Heretic? Human?”
She laughed again.
“Yes, I am.” She walked over to the car and picked up the hood that John had thrown in impotent rage. She held it out for him.
“You really should put this back on. Looks like you already have some burns. Going to feel that in the morning.”
John got up and took the hood. After placing it back on his head he stood awkwardly for a few moments staring at the person before him. It had been so long since he’d seen another person awake, a person he could talk to that could actually talk back. He felt the acid in his stomach begin to churn and a new kind of fear began to take hold of his mind. Don’t screw this up John.
“My name is, uh, John. John is my name, is what I mean”
She stared at him, saying nothing. Hard to read expressions through a masked hood.
You screwed it up John.
“Why do you come here John? I’ve seen you many. You come, you do nothing, and then you leave. Why?”
“I…don’t know, I guess. I like the way the salt reflects the moonlight, maybe? Or the way the stars fly by my window as I speed through the empty world? I feel alive out here.”
“You are strange, John,” she said.
“Do you have a name?” he asked.
“I do. Maybe I’ll tell you next time.” He felt her smile.
“Maybe. Goodbye John.”
She turned without saying anything else and walked into the plains. John watched her until she disappeared over the horizon and he was alone again.
John woke to an alarm and a flashing screen. Two soul transfers completed. The first was an old man John had no recollection of during the time before. He loaded him on the cart and headed over to the disposal center. He watched as the man dissolved before unceremoniously in front of him. A body, worn from years of life. Those eyes had probably seen things that he could only imagine now. Those hands, perhaps they had offered solace, or pain, or damnation. None of it mattered now. Just deconstructed material in a vat, indistinguishable from the rest.
The other transfer completion was a young woman. John wasn’t sure how old he was, not exactly anyway, but he guessed she was close to his age. Her skin was pristine and her hair fell perfectly around her shoulders as she lay there in the silence of her glass tube. She was beautiful.
“What were you like when your eyes were open and you walked this cursed land? Were you one of the women from the neon cities? Were you covered in gowns made from the living fibers that radiated all the colors visible to the human eye? Was it all so terrible, to know and feel everything at once, that life in a glass tube was preferable?”
The empty shell in the tube said nothing. John loaded her into the cart and took her to disposal.
He drove faster that night than he had ever driven before. The wheels on the vehicle began to shake as they struggled to grip the broken road. Slow down John, might actually be something worth living for now. Try not to die. He eased off the accelerator as glimmer of the plains came into view. He stopped his car at the edge of the sea but did not get out. His eyes scanned the horizon…nothing.
What if she’s come and gone? What if she never
Then it appeared, a light on the horizon moving towards him. John exited the car and walked to the shoreline. Before long he could see her outline and her cloak blowing in the night winds. Then, she was there. The metal torch in her hand illuminated the mask beneath the hood. He could could see her eyes through the glass, pale and blue.
“It was you the other night.”
“Yes, it was. Now that I know you won’t run away I don’t have to walk in the dark.”
“Sorry about that.”
“I would have run too.”
“My name, it’s Marina.”
She deactivated the light of her torch and turned towards the great expanse of white. They watched the stars and satellites blinking in the void above as the wind howled and raged around them.