Okay, I'm a real estate professional, and even I find debates over land use boring. But how can the situation be bad enough for you to lock up an innocent man and question him about it?
Okay, you can stop right now. How can it be any of my business? It's a parking meter, one parking meter. Why can't the city decide? Why do the bar and the Chinese restaurant have anything to say about it at all?
So the city wants to set the site aside as a memorial. Well, if they've already decided what they were going to do, what are they waiting for? Some formal ceremony? A trial. My trial! For what?
Okay, look, that's ridiculous. I didn't kill anybody. Well, I don't care if you have two dozen witnesses. Or what they think saw.
What did they say they saw?
Christ, that's just sick. No, that's outrageous. And you guys have your signals mixed up, too.
The bad guys are supposed to be the ones wearing masks, and it's supposed to be good cop/bad cop, not bad cop/bad cop/silent cop. One of you is supposed to tell me the truth, or at least try to get me to cut a deal. Or is that why you're leaving me alone in this cell, to soften me up.
Besides, if I were going to kill somebody, I wouldn't grind them to death against a parking meter, or do, Christ, what you said happened after. Do I look like that kind of person? That's not only sick, that's stupid.
I'll grant you one thing, though. Whoever did kill that girl is sneaky. It's like those classic Soviet assassinations from the twentieth century. You know. A disguised KGB agent would "accidentally" brush his special pen against the little finger of his target, then go on his merry way. A dozen hours later, the victim would suffer an "unexpected" heart attack, without the slightest sign that it wasn't natural.
What? No, I don't know this stuff because I'm an assassin. Look, I've certainly been in this cage long enough for you to run a complete background check on me. I'm thirty-nine; I've lived here in Bellingham Washington my whole life. I'm an property manager for Remax on Lakeway, covering both residential and commercial properties. And I've never had anything to do with the New China Café, or the 3B Tavern. I've never even met little Alice Wong or Wang or whatever the name of that little girl was.
Okay, Alice Wang. Sorry. Well, the reason I know this KGB stuff is partially from an old webcast on fallen communist regimes I saw years ago, but I guess I've looked at some books and tapes on the subject recently, now that you mention it.
Why did I look at them? That-- that's a good question. What did start me thinking about these things? I remember looking at my watch and trying to figure out where the time had gone. I remember turning my wrist and-- Jesus Christ.
No, I'm not upset about you taking my watch. I know you didn't take my damn watch, or if you did, who cares. It's these gouges.
No, they don't hurt, really. They're pretty much scabbed over. But it's disturbing to look down and find your arm looks like someone's been plowing it. Somebody must have worked at this for some time, and for me not to be able to remember it--oh.
I remember now. How weird. The memory suddenly popped into visibility, crisp and sudden like a slide show. I remember. It's all clear now.
I woke up abruptly, like I was coming out of a trance. I was at one of the terminals at the office, Rumi's terminal, at the far side of the room. The data station is set up for her; she's left-handed. I'm right-handed. When I realized where I was, I also realized I was shaking terribly and flushing hot and cold all over my body. Except for my left hand. It felt… normal, and it was typing. It was fast. Skilled. It looked like I should be able to read what I was typing, if that makes any sense, but I couldn't. I also couldn't stop typing. It was like I was possessed.
But only that hand. I slapped it, twice, and all my hand did was click "save" and pull back from the keyboard. Like it was waiting.
Don't look at me like that. You weren't there. I remember now. I couldn't get my left hand to move. It was like--it wasn't like anything. It didn't feel asleep and it clearly wasn't paralyzed. It wasn't like it felt funny, really.
But when I couldn't get it to move on its own, I panicked. I picked up Rumi's antique ruler. It's all wood, and so old it's only marked in inches. I started poking at my left hand and arm with it. It wouldn't move. I must have panicked. I gouged it with the edge of the ruler, over and over. When the blood finally came up to the surface, it was slow and muddy. Once a lot of the blood was exposed to the air, I could feel the pain. I screamed, then screamed again when I grabbed my arm.
The blood was hot, and rippled under my hand, like it was moving on its own. I was bleeding pretty hard, but not a single drop fell on Rumi's workstation. I'll bet that if you look, you won't find a sign of a struggle there. You did check? What did you find? Nothing? See, that proves my point.
Don't look at me like that. Since when is it a crime for a man to cut himself and try to stop the bleeding? Did I go to a doctor? Not then. Not for that. I went for my foot. When the doctor couldn't help me, that's when I got interested in those assassination techniques. Don't you think it's fascinating, the idea of your own body betraying you?
Do you have any idea how strange this is? I don't remember anything until you ask a specific question. Then these crystal clear memories flood into my brain. And when they do, I feel all warm and good.
Sorry, I must have drifted off. What was that? Yes, my foot. Well, it's funny. I played a lot of soccer when I was young. I had three older sisters who grew up after women's soccer got big in the U.S. and to keep up with them, I played soccer. I was pretty good, made all region. As a player, I only had one major weakness. I was really right foot dominant.
Anyway, sometime, before or after the hand, I started kicking. I'd kick out with my left foot as I walked along. Clean, beautiful, athletic kicks, the kind that won more than a few games back in high school, but always with my left foot.
And always at the worst time. I kicked an old lady in the organic foods aisle at the co-op. She fell, right in the bean bin, and let out a yelp. I kicked dogs, of course. I kicked a baby duck, crushed its peeping little head against the curb. God, that felt good!
I'm sorry, what was that? Yes, anyway, when my foot started acting up I went to the doctor. I thought it was some variation on Tourette's, but the kicks were too well-timed. That didn't make any sense. The doctor didn't find anything wrong with me, especially nothing that would take my old habits and turn them around, like I was a mirror of myself.
How should I know what I touched while I was at the doctor's? And if he sealed the blood sample he took from me. Are you going to claim that I killed somebody there? What do you mean, not yet? I'm in jail. And who are you anyway? You've been sitting back the whole time letting these two take the point for you. Even wearing face masks like they are, these two jokers are pretty easy to identify. They're local cops, small town clowns. But what about you? Who are you?
The Center for Disease Control sent you? Am I-- do I have a disease?
What do you mean, not exactly? How can someone not exactly have a disease?
No, just no. I'm not talking anymore until you tell me what's going on here.
No. I've never heard of the McNaughton ruling. The Twinkie defense, sure. But why you are looking at me like that, and since when do cops talk to suspects about possible defenses? I don't need your pity, because I certainly didn't kill anybody.
Oh. Christ. It's like a cascade now, a waterfall. I remember. I can see it.
I was driving down Holly, heading for the main post office down by the public library. Then I turned the car.
Or at least the car turned. It's funny how you remember the oddest details from these key moments. Rather than going down to the civic center area, I turned right on Cornwall. My eyes kept straining ahead, downhill and left, towards the water. Where I wanted to go.
I looked that way so hard I could feel my eyeballs pushing at the left corners of my eyes, and a kind of balancing pull on the right side of my neck. I looked left, but I turned right.
I turned right, and in self-defense I looked back in the direction the car was headed. It was so quiet, so strange. As I drove I looked at everyone I passed. At first I just looked, but then I was flicking my eyes very fast, to try to get their attention. No one noticed, because my driving was good. Skillful.
I drove down Cornwall, and turned up Magnolia. I'd say I was getting upset, but can you get upset if your body is completely relaxed? I remember I was whistling…American the Beautiful, it was. I stopped at Magnolia and waited for the light. I signaled.
When the light changed, I turned up Magnolia. I tried closing my eyes, but every time I closed my eyes, my foot lifted off the gas pedal and the incline slowed me to a crawl. I even flicked the emergency flashers by habit.
After a while I kept my eyes open. If all that was left was to be a passenger in my own body as it drove on, so be it. At least I'd go down with my eyes open.
You're so quiet. This is the most ridiculous thing I've said yet, and for once you're all three listening, quiet and polite. That frightens me more than anything else. I'm scared. Would one of you take my hand?
Christ. You all jumped back ten feet. What kind of world do we live in where two cops and a virus spook from Atlanta can pervert a simple request for human compassion into something threatening?
Go on, yes, I'll go on. But you can understand why I wouldn't exactly be eager to finish, can't you?
So I turned on Magnolia and drove uphill with my eyes open. I drove past the bus station, then pulled to a halt at the light at State. I signaled.
When the light changed, I turned right. Listen to you! Reflexes run deep, don't they? You've got me locked up for murder, and what? Carrying some kind of plague, and you're concerned because I turned the wrong way on a one way street. Yes, I admit it. I turned right on State Street. It was me!
Sorry. This next part is hard to tell. I turned right on State Street, and I started to accelerate. It was late morning, after rush hour, so there weren't that many cars on the road. Most of them got out of my way okay, though I remember watching one Volkswagen hybrid run up onto the curb and flip over, despite its stabilizers.
Then a young child walked out of the Chinese restaurant. A little girl. You ever push on your closed eyes when you were a kid? Pushed until those pinwheeling designs showed up on the inside of your eyelids?
It was like that around the girl. She was backlit with dark motion.
The rest of the world went away. It was like she was my target. I kept speeding up. When she stepped out to swipe some adult's card through the meter, I turned towards her.
To aim at her I turned sharply to the right. I accelerated. I bore down on her, and she turned her frightened, innocent face towards me. I remember seeing two things with amazing clarity. First, she was wearing one of those flashing t shirts from that old 3D Imax movie. It said "Mount Saint Helen's II: This Time It's Personal." And second, my turn signal was on. I was swerving to run over a little girl, and my habits were working well enough for me to signal.
What? Did I stop talking? Sorry. These last few seconds were looping on me. I saw the bumper catch her, right above the kneecaps, and drive her little head against the meter's metal pole, her black hair flying out like a beaded curtain. I felt my foot push harder on the gas. The girl's scream cut off.
Then it starts over. Shirt, signal, skull, gas, scream, stop…Then it starts over again. Sometimes I get to the next step, when I jacked the car into reverse, backed into the street, and rammed her again. When it gets that far, I notice how she's crumpled, and how this time the grill dents enough that my front bumper hooks under the back bumper of the car parked in the next space. I can remember how the bumpers sounded when they hooked. The metal almost screamed.
That must be when I got out of the car. I can see it clearly now. I put my emergency blinkers on, turned off my engine, checked my mirror, opened the door, and got out.
As I walked around the car, it was like someone had flipped a switch. Or better, was turning a rheostat. I got hungrier with every step I took. When I got to the little girl, I bit the first thing I could reach, bit hard and tore my head sideways. I got most of the flesh from her left little finger in that first bite. I would have gotten more, but she was holding the card for the meter in that hand.
While I tore her skin and scarfed it down like I was at an Old Country Buffet restaurant, I flicked my eyes to the side, up, down, looking for answers.
I saw the family spill out of New China Café, and saw the pre-lunch crowd pour out of the 3B, some of them with beers in their hands.
I tried to signal them with my eyes, let them know that it wasn't me, but the crowd built fast. They probably focused more on me chomping on the little girl than on my eyes. But I was so hungry.
Anyway, that's about it. The crowd was on me before I could take another bite. Well, the mob. I gotta say, I'm not sure why you didn't let them kill me.
Contagion. You know, I didn't really expect an answer, let alone from you, Mr. Disease Control. What kind of contagion do you think I would spread by being beaten to death?
Wait, you can't both talk at the same time. Fear, okay, I got that one, Officer Friendly. You don't want the good people of Bellingham to be afraid. But you said--
You're joking, right. We're talking Jurassic Park Six stuff here. You think I've got little machines inside me? Like those artificial bugs they put inside the dinosaurs in the movie to try to control their instincts, until it all went Horribly Wrong? Well if you think that, why talk to me at all?
To see if negotiation is possible. Christ, that's scary. What makes you think that it was nanobytes, rather than just road rage or me being evil?
Look, tell me or don't tell me, but don't keep in suspense. What happened to the little girl's body? What do you mean, it attacked her parents? At the funeral.
I'm smiling? If you say so. I can't tell. It's just that it's all clear now. What good is a jail, if the things that were in charge can leave the criminal when he takes a crap, and leave some clueless loser sitting in the cell? Hey, are you boiling my shit, to get rid of these things? Don't answer that. What good is good and evil, if we're all passengers in our own bodies? What good is shooting a guy dead if he can sneeze on you and nanojack your own reflexes?
You wouldn't know who was responsible for what, or if the real evildoers were locked up, or…Christ. It's worse than the old AIDS virus. You couldn't design a better way to dissolve a society based on personal responsibility. What am I saying? It was designed. It had to be. And is it better to know, and be more scared? Or not know, and wait for your lover to drive into traffic on the freeway, then eat the arresting officer? And am I saying all this because I'm just realizing it, or because I think it will be worse if you're infected by these ideas? Or worse still if you're infected by these ideas and the nanobytes?
Oh look at that. Look at what my hand's doing. I've never seen it do that before. Am I still smiling? I can't tell. But it's all clear now, all too clear. You can go, you can run. It doesn't matter. It's all clear now.
Greg Beatty was most of the way through a PhD in English at the University of Iowa when his advisors agreed that letting him go to Clarion West 2000 would be a good idea. Bad idea. He finished his dissertation, on serial killer novels, then gave up on traditional academia and returned to his original dream of writing fiction. He's had four stories accepted in the past four months, most recently by Ideomancer.com and the Hour of Pain anthology. Greg's non-fiction regularly appears in Strange Horizons and the New York Review of Science Fiction.
Beatty lives in Bellingham, Washington and teaches college classes online for several schools. He writes every day, more when it rains. Since Greg lives in the Pacific Northwest, that means that there will be a lot more stories like this one coming your way soon..