SHOT IN THE HEAD WHILST COMPLETING THE HOLOCAUST
So, as you may gather from the title, this is not a nice story. I guess I am to blame for writing it and stuff, but you could also blame girlshapedguitar for making me share the Most Awkward Sex Scene I’ve ever written, which happens to be in the middle of this train wreck of a story. It is a machine of death story that I never submitted. (See: machineofdeath.net)
[Trigger Warnings: baby hitler, suicide, pregnancy angst]
SHOT IN THE HEAD WHILST COMPLETING THE HOLOCAUST
a machine of death story
Week 21, day 2
The room glowed a little from being in the presence of that silvery machine. From its top, like a slack tongue, a small strip of paper jutted out.
Björn Willems, MD, tore the strip of paper off and handed it to the woman sitting in front of him. Like a statue of someone who has just received disastrous news, she sat perfectly still. The good doctor leant back in his chair and observed her. It was a good chair, a proper chair. He’d arranged the office furnishings himself, after the MD before him had been killed in a freak accident. It wouldn’t do to keep the furniture of an unlucky woman.
Therefore, the table was new and the chairs were all new. They looked the same but in fact Dr. Willems’ chair was ten centimeters higher off the ground than any other chair. From his elevated position, the doctor gave the woman on the other side of the table a warm, friendly smile.
She smiled back, at first thinly and then as broadly as the doctor, and then they both strained their face muscles and some laughter bubbled up. It turned into a guffaw from Björn and a soundless, out-of-breath clucking from the pregnant woman. Even the little machine seemed to join in, vibrating as it did.
The woman caught her breath, “this is a joke, right? That is,” another breath, “why we are laughing, isn’t it?”
The doctor immediately withdrew his smile into his beard and stopped laughing. He balled his fist and coughed into it once. “What? No, not at all. It is just kind of funny. Don’t worry though, I’m sure he grows up to be a healthy young man.”
All non-artificial colour disappeared from her face. “Try again. New needle. Something must have gone wrong.”
The machines had never been wrong.
Week 25, day 5
“You know, it could mean anything, really.” Elin held her friend’s hand. “Maybe there’s a videogame called the Holocaust and just as he … completes it, someone shoots him in the face and –” She stopped talking. Chewed some air, rubbed her friend’s shoulder, took a deep breath. “You’ve not been out of your apartment in forever. Come on. You can’t just give up like this just because some stupid slip of paper from a stupid box told you a stupid thing. That’s exactly the kind of thing they warn you about on the news, don’t you know?”
Her own slip had said SOON, but she still went out. She still did things. The box hadn’t brought her down like this. She wished she could make her friend understand.
Elin had taken the liberty of making both of them some tea. It was a good decision, and eventually both cups were empty.
“Do you know what helps?” the crying woman asked.
Elin virtually shone. “What?”
“Girl talk. Do you want to hear about the dad?”
Week 26, day 7
A phone buzzed. The ceiling was a whorl of darkness. The phone lit up a part of the room but the light was too weak to reach the ceiling, at least the part Daniel was currently staring at.
The phone buzzed again, crawling closer to the edge of the nightstand. Phone calls in the middle of the night were always bad things: either the call is important enough, and enough of an emergency, for someone to disturb a good night’s sleep, or the caller is irritating enough to break that social norm for no apparent reason. It didn’t matter, Daniel thought, that he was yet to fall asleep.
Another buzz. He thought about it. It couldn’t be, because Daniel never received booty-calls. There was some sort of universal law against him having casual sex, well, casually.
The phone knocked his glass of lukewarm milk off the nightstand in a desperate attempt to grab his atttention and he gave up. Growling, he picked up the phone and pressed the green button.
“Hi,” said an unplaceable voice. It was weak, unwilling to be heard. The person on the other end of the line sounded completely sober. Daniel prepared himself for bad news, and in his head he made a list of relatives who would die soon.
“Daniel here,” he said, “who’s calling?”
“Hi,” said the voice again. “I’m…”
“That tells me absolutely nothing. Speak up, please.”
The same thing happened again.
“Okay, just tell me why you’re calling. Are you sure you have the right number?” Daniel tried to find the area of the screen that would end the call, and made a mental note to clean the milk up tomorrow morning.
“We only met once,” the voice said and he recognized it now. He nearly dropped the phone. For about three seconds, Daniel thought the law against casual sex had been repealed. “Maybe you did not get my name, I – we had … intercourse.”
The day of conception
The company had arranged a conference. The conference had been a bore. There were four lectures and one had to attend all of them, otherwise one lost one’s job. The lectures had dragged on, and on. The constant threat to one’s career had become dull after so many reminders. The co-workers had talked about their families, or told the same story over and over again. The buffet was the same each day. Names blurred together. Everything was boring, composed of equally boring details. It had been fractally boring.
They lectured about effectiveness and team-building, theory and synergy, middle-management and green-painting. It was also impossible to get out of the hotel for more than a cigarette break, Daniel found. There was always something someone had to show him, and him specifically. There was always more banal conversation to be had.
Inside the hotel everything was neat but dead. There were faux-antique pillars and a lot of gleaming surfaces. A couple of lamps lit up the place; they shone in mirrors and windows and in small glass containers with ornaments on the side and in people’s lacquered shoes. The carpets were straight and creaseless, and even when it rained outside, the lobby floor was clean and shiny.
There was never any movement. No air circulation stirred the live candles, they could not flicker. If a human stood anywhere for conversation, they leaned against walls and appeared motionless. If they shifted their weight from one leg to another, they did it when Daniel was looking elsewhere. The staff stood behind the counter, sans room to manoeuvre, or they were invisible: behind closed doors and on other floors.
So the hotel was neat but dead; a corpse in make-up. Each attendee had a room to themselves, and on the last night, Daniel had company in his. The night had been decent – there was wine and snogging and messy hair. Then she and – “uh, Daniel, was it?” – had sex.
They looked at each other, and at each other’s feet. He was uncertain whether it was more polite to take his socks off or more sexy to just throw himself at her, and that was when the night should have ended. But they were drunk, and they had inertia.
He could undo her bra very easily, though he had problems actually touching her. His hands got tangled up in her hair and they were full of static electricity from rubbing against her dress for what felt like hours. When he disentangled himself, her hair followed his fingertips and distracted him.
She had problems with his shirt buttons, and he wore two button-up shirts.
They managed to put the condom on on the third try. Their rhythms didn’t sync. In the middle of it, Daniel panicked and had to ask her if she was on the pill. He had to ask thrice for her to hear him properly.
Afterwards, she had started to put on her clothes again and Daniel had asked her to stay. So she lay there, next to him, and he lay next to her. Half-regret filled the air more than the stench of sex had.
Week 26, day 7
“But … you were on the pill?” Daniel was stuck in denial. This seemed like a terrible practical joke. In the middle of the night. Reluctantly. By someone who sounded completely serious. Someone who was probably incapable of even making a joke.
“And … we used a condom. This is impossible. You must’ve got the wrong person.” He wanted to add, “I’m nowhere near enough responsible to be a dad, also,” but thought this might, once he got out of denial, ruin all his chances of further sex this millennium. Then he felt like a bad person.
“No, you’re only one I’ve had intercourse with for …” her voice died away.
“I don’t understand why it is important that you call now.”
“I got … tested. The baby got tested.”
Daniel’s brain took a couple of seconds to connect the different circuits to understand what test she was talking about. It was a test he’d done on himself, too, when it became popular.
He waited for the punchline.
“I just want to tell you that this is not a joke.”
“And this is actually what the slip said.”
“Okay.” Daniel stopped breathing; the voice on the other end was quiet enough that his breathing drowned it out.
“And we tested several times. Until the doctor thought it would be dangerous for the child and me if he did more tests.”
There was silence. Daniel opened his mouth, “what did it say?”
Week 27, day 1
Daniel’s slip had said SUICIDE; he hadn’t believed it until now.
Week 27, day 4
Björn Willems, MD, poured himself a cup of coffee from his brand new espresso machine. He drank from it directly and it scolded his tongue. The cup, adorned with teddy bears and tiny pink hearts, was a gift from his daughter. Or maybe she wasn’t really his daughter – not that he cared. When he talked, steam from the coffee came out of his mouth and nostrils, like he was a cartoon character.
“So,” he said to the woman, “how’s the baby doing?” He smiled his smile.
She was the statue again.
“Some coffee?” His beard smiled with him. He poured some into a cup and pushed it over the table to his patient. He tried to recall whether caffeine did anything bad and maybe she shouldn’t actually drink it, but he didn’t really care.
“Its dad killed himself five days ago,” the woman said, finally.
“Well,” he said, “at least you didn’t know him.” He drank some more coffee; it had no taste. This morning he had probably left the shower on when he exited it. He remembered this now. The bill would be huge, even if his daughter (who might not be his daughter, but who gave a fuck?) found it and turned it off after school.
Björn Willems had tested himself once; the slip had said that he would die from CARING TOO MUCH. He had adjusted accordingly.
The woman blinked away some tears. “Björn…” she tried, “do you think this slip could mean something different? Perhaps he–”
The doctor laughed. “No. That is the most unambiguous reading I’ve seen in a long time.”
Week 28, day 2
A silhouette of two humans. One of them is hugging the other very, very tight. They’re on a bridge, they’re on TV, and disaster has been averted.
Elin whispered, “don’t you ever ever ever try something like this again. Ever.” Both cried.
Week 37, day 6
Inside the door, just beneath the mail slot, was a small hill of bills, envelopes, brochures, letters, advertisements and pizza boxes.
The woman sat in her couch, trying to keep her hands somewhere other than on the bulge of her stomach. Her left hand held a chicken wing drenched in peanut sauce, her right hand was covered in the same sauce. She tried to lick it off. A huge bottle of Pepsi was open on the table next to the couch; a half-eaten jar och pickles stood menacingly close to the edge of the table.. The curtains were drawn. The floor in here was even more of a minefield than the hall.
The TV blabbered. It filled the silence with something. The woman burst into tears every time the silvery machine was mentioned in the news, but she cried a lot anyway. At the moment, a reporter was hastily establishing the facts about a man who had jumped in front of a train after his slip had predicted a DEATH BY SANDWICH. He was allergic to cucumber, according to his family, and he was assumed to be dead now. Proof that the machine was wrong.
The woman gnawed on the chicken bone. She waited for the punchline.
In the middle of the live coverage, the man’s heart started again spontaneously, and he screamed as if struck by lightning.
The phone rang. Not the cell phone, which had died long ago in the middle of a text conversation with Elin, but the other phone. The landline. It hid behind a flower pot, on the floor behind her. She picked the phone up and held it to her ear.
“Hi! It’s me!” Elin sounded happier than she had ever been. “I was right all along!”
The TV-reporter pushed through a commotion. It had started raining and many had left the scene that had gathered around the undead man. The ambulance was yet to arrive.
“Doctor Zyss has foud a way to beat the machine! To make yourself free from the predictions. It’s so simple, and so genius! That no-one had thought of it before …” Elin continued for a while. She sounded like she believed her own words.
On the TV a man in cloaks, like a cultist’s, had appeared. He held aloft a sandwich triumphantly, and before anyone could stop him, he jammed it into the undead man’s face.
“He’s done this a million times,” Elin said, “all you have to do is fulfill the prophecy once and then come back to life again. Then you can never get tested again and you’re free!”
The woman in the couch looked at the chicken wing and then back at the TV. She felt physically ill.
“Are you even listening to me?”
The woman made a small noise to say yes. Suddenly, she felt water running down her legs.
Week 37, day 7
They gave her anaesthetics and they cut up her stomach because she couldn’t push any more. The baby was choked by the umbilical cord and she screamed at them through the drug haze. The baby was purple all over and that was wrong, but they gave her life again and she shrieked and shrieked, her bald little head wholly red even after they wiped the blood and tissue away from her face. As they wrapped her in a blanket and gave her to her mother, someone said, “congratulations. It’s a healthy baby girl.”
The woman cradled her child at the same time as Dr. Willems stitched her stomach up. He hummed some jolly melody.
Perhaps all the anaesthetics had removed her doubt, but this was her child. Her daughter. A little baby who, even if it wanted to, was not capable of evil. She would love her.