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Widowmaker

by Bradley Ramsey (He/Him) about a year ago in Horror
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A Short Story

I could feel the life draining out of her with every passing second. My hands wrapped tightly around her throat, our eyes locked, adrenaline coursing through my veins. It was kill or be killed, but there was one thing I couldn’t shake as her convulsing spasms finally abated.

Why does she have my face?

The reality hit all at once and I fell backward onto my palms, furiously crawling away from the scene of the crime until my back hit a damp wall. A woman, a perfect copy of me, lay lifeless across the room, and despite my heightened state, I couldn’t begin to recall who she was, or how I got there.

“Aadhya, can you hear me?”

A disembodied voice echoed all around me as pain spiraled through my head. I clutched my skull as a blinding light overtook me.

“Aadhya, it’s okay, you’re back.”

My eyes shot open as a hulking device lifted up and away from me. Round glass lenses reflected that face back at me as I laid there trying to stop the endless thoughts racing through my head.

“Where am I, what’s going on?” I asked.

A young doctor in a lab coat emerged. I tried to sit up, but felt restraints holding my arms and legs down onto a bed.

“It’s alright Aadhya, the treatment is complete. You may feel a little disoriented, but that’s entirely normal.”

There was a blank space in my memory. I remembered arriving for my appointment, but everything past that was a void in my mind.

“I can’t remember the treatment. Did it go well?” I asked.

The doctor turned to a screen mounted poorly on a nearby wall. Slightly crooked, covered in dust.

“Yes, everything looks good. We’ve also successfully attached your Lockhart. Remember, the simulation is only half of the treatment. It’s how we map your neural pathways. To truly be cured, you’ll need to make sure nothing happens to this little guy right here.”

The doctor gestured to my chest and I looked down to see a small silver heart-shaped locket dangling just below my neck. It pulsated with a soft red light that seemed to match my heartbeat. It was held aloft by a pair of tubes that snaked upward, around my neck, and burrowed into the skin at the base of my skull.

“Lockhart will send a solution into your brain via those tubes, slowly distributing the treatment based on the results of the simulation. We’ll see you in a few weeks to make sure everything is working properly. Nadia will check you out up front.”

The doctor removed the restraints and stood patiently by the door while I gathered my things.

“No more burnout then?” I asked.

His fragile smile faltered for a moment.

“No, of course not.”

The mere mention of the word seemed to shake him to his core. Nothing could cure the memories we all carried with us. The ones we locked deep inside of the time before. The one’s we’ll carry with us to our graves, and if we’re lucky, won’t follow us beyond.

I signed the paperwork, and promised to pay for this treatment for the rest of my life. I fell in line, chose the path of least resistance. We all did. It was the only choice we had.

There’s always another choice.

I looked up from the forms on the counter. Past the receptionist stood a woman in a bloody smock, head down, jet black hair covering her face, a pair of scissors gripped tightly in her hand.

You remember, don’t you?

Her head snapped upward and our eyes locked. It was like looking into a mirror.

“Ma’am?”

I blinked and she was gone. The receptionist was holding my insurance card, along with a receipt for the first of many payments.

“They deliver the bill on the first of each month,” she said through a brittle smile.

“Thanks.”

The walk home was long, but this was the closest office still standing. That woman, that version of me. It wasn’t the first time I had seen her, but it had never been so vivid. I reasoned with myself. It was just the treatment kicking in. I saw her in my nightmares, nothing could ever fix that, but the treatment would help.

No more anxiety, no more depression, no more burnout.

The streets were crowded as I emerged from the office. Work crews had spent the last year trying to clean up, but we were a long way from any kind of normal. Most buildings had been destroyed, blown apart, or burned down. Roads were suitable for walking, but little else.

Perhaps the only thing that wasn’t broken were the billboards that hung from the walls that still stood. Their bright colors, thin screens, and clean lines were a stark contrast to everything around them.

“Rebuild our world, rebuild your mind, rebuild your heart. Receive your Lockhart implant today,” the speakers declared. They made it seem like a choice, but the ones who refused treatment were rarely seen again.

People walked through the streets with their eyes to the ground, as if making eye contact would somehow bring up all of the guilt, all of the pain, all of the sins they committed during the Burnout.

We weren’t ourselves, we had been pushed to our limit. It was inevitable.

Even with Lockhart, we still had to justify it in our minds.

But it was you, wasn’t it?

Her voice again. I stopped and let the crowd flow past me, like water rushing past a stone in a river. I scanned my surroundings.

Admit it. You enjoyed it.

I felt her breath on my ear and instinctively reached up to grab her. My hand brushed against an innocent passerby who immediately threw up their hands in surrender. The fear in their eyes was overwhelming.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you,” I pleaded.

The person put their hands down and fell back into the crowd, eager to get out of the situation. I resumed the long walk home, eyes down, fists clenched until my fingernails cut into my palms. She didn’t bother me anymore on the walk home, but she didn’t have to.

I could feel her watching me.

***

When I finally reached my apartment building, my hands shook as I fumbled through the keys. The building was filled past capacity, some rooms held multiple families. With so much of the city destroyed and in the process of being rebuilt, they shoved people into the remaining space until it was ready to burst.

My husband, Bakshi, was scheduled to get his Lockhart implant last week, but had yet to make the trip. He kept coming up with excuses every time the office called to remind him. In the meantime, we had the apartment to ourselves, as was protocol.

I pushed open the door and stepped inside. Without any air conditioning, the smell of bodily odor and alcohol hung heavy in the air.

“Bakshi, are you here?” I asked.

“She returns!” Bakshi shouted from the living room.

I looked the other way when he drank. He had suffered immensely in this life, and when we shared stories of our Burnout memories, I realized the burden that weighed heavy on his soul.

What else was a man to do when broken so completely, but seek any way to numb the pain? I couldn’t just stay quiet anymore.

“Bakshi, did you schedule your appointment?” I asked as I walked into the living room.

My husband, the man I loved with every fiber of my being, was sprawled out on a tattered couch, hand clutching a half-finished bottle of bourbon, a rarity in our broken world. He wasn’t the first to succumb to his vices, but such niceties were expensive to say the least. He sat marinating in clothes he hadn’t changed in days, sweat shimmering on his forehead as he struggled to breathe in his inebriated state.

“Leave me be, I do not want their implant.”

I felt frustration setting in.

“You would rather drown yourself in this booze we can’t afford?” I asked.

“I can afford it.”

“With what? When was the last time you worked?”

Bakshi’s eyes fluttered open.

“I see your implant is working just fine. Tell me, can you feel them controlling your thoughts?”

I felt anger surging upward, felt the pain coming back in the front of my skull. I walked away from Bakshi and towards the bathroom, closing the door behind me. I looked up at the mirror, covered in dust and dirt, and locked eyes with my reflection.

Why isn’t Lockhart working? I can feel it boiling up inside of me.

Despite me being silent, my reflection spoke to me.

Don’t resist Aadhya. Let the rage out. Show him you won’t bear his burden.

“Stop, this isn’t real.”

The reflection in the mirror raised her hands and before I could react, her fingers exploded out from the mirror and gripped my neck. All around me, reflections of myself appeared, surrounding me completely as their hands tore at my arms and my sides, clawing as they screamed at me from every angle.

EAT LESS!

WORK HARDER!

YOU’RE NOT DEPRESSED, YOU’RE JUST SAD!

STOP FAKING IT!

Their screams assaulted my ears as their hands ripped apart my resolve. There was no stopping it now.

***

I felt a sharp pain strike my chest as their screams subsided and looked down at my open palms. My Lockhart implant flashed several times before going dark. I closed my eyes, and my vision turned red.

This feeling was all too familiar. Was I in control? I honestly didn’t know, but the events played out like a film in my mind, and me, the helpless witness, looked on in equal parts terror and delight.

The door to the bathroom swung open, striking the wall with a resounding crack as I charged out into the living room. Bakshi must have seen the bloody rage in my eyes, because he sobered up quickly and tried to climb over the back of the couch. He was slow and sluggish. An easy kill.

I picked up the bottle of bourbon from the floor where the liquid sloshed out onto the stained carpet below. With a swing of my wrist, I smashed the bottle on the coffee table, sending glass across the room.

Bakshi pleaded for his life, gushed about how much he loved me, but his words fell on deaf ears. With almost machine-like precision, I slashed the jagged bottom of the bottle across his throat, unleashing a torrent of blood across his soiled clothes.

The implications of my actions were lost on me. The final straw had snapped. I was hungry for more, thirsty for violence in all of its forms. I spun around to continue my conquest, only to be greeted by the backside of a rifle. The police had come to collect Bakshi for missing his appointment yet again.

***

I once again found myself lying in bed, tied down. My mind was a haze. I tried to speak, but words would not form from my lips. To my side, I could hear the muffled voice of my doctor from earlier. He was having a heated conversation.

“No, of course not!” he shouted.

“Then how did this happen?” another voice asked.

“I don’t know!”

“We cannot have another incident like this. Put her back into the simulation.”

“But that could kill her!”

“Do it. Or I will.”

I was helpless to defend myself as the machine from earlier that same day descended onto my face. I wanted to scream, to tell them I couldn’t remember anything past my walk home.

Everything went black for a moment, and I found myself standing in a cold, dark room. The air around me was damp. A woman’s voice spoke from behind me.

“Hello again, old friend.”

Horror

About the author

Bradley Ramsey (He/Him)

Lover of dogs, gaming, and long walks on the beach. Content Marketing Manager by day, aspiring writer by night. Long time ghostwriter, finally stepping into the light. Alone, we cannot change this world, but we can create better ones.

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