Under a Paper Moon

The paper lantern that shrouded the light bulb, hung from the ceiling like a false moon casting a harsh, incandescent glow upon his naked body. The glow provided no warmth and exposed the horripilation that turned his skin into a mountainous landscape. Apart from the fake moon, a bucket and a ceramic jug filled with water the room was bare.

Sean Chesterfield sat with his knees to his chest, his hunched posture caused his vertebrae to protrude from his back. He shuffled from side to side to relieve the pressure from his buttocks that were pressed against the cold, hard concrete floor. Twisting the hairs at the base of his knees between his fingers, he blankly stared at three flies that appeared to be orbiting the paper satellite above his head.

They darted, turned and flew at each other as if threatening each other with collision. The threats were empty as they never made contact with one another. It was the cold war of the insect world and its only witness was a captive.

Sean rubbed his unkempt curls with a hand, that due to hunger, felt simultaneously light and heavy. He straightened his spine and stretched sinking his vertebrae between his muscle, and brought his hands behind his head. The skin on his knuckles was eroded from punching the door and walls; his frantic spirit was now diminished and, as he sat watching the flies dance around the light, he possessed nothing but helplessness. As his eyes burned into the electric globe he remembered the last hours of his freedom.

 

The Disco Ball spun from the ceiling of Barcelona spitting flecks of iridescent light onto the faces and bodies of the intoxicated, promiscuous punters. Barcelona is the bar that exists in every small town, that only sees business when they sell bottled, sugary vodka based drinks at discount prices on a Thursday night. Thursday nights at Barcelona are when the locals, who wouldn’t normally find a person to share a bed with on a Saturday night, venture out in the hope of relieving their midweek sexual frustrations.

Sean, holding a bottle of Scottish Pride, awkwardly propped the bar up and surveyed the scene of bodies convulsing and gyrating out of time with the music. For the fifteenth time in so many minutes he checked his phone and for the fifteenth time he turned the screen from his body and looked away in disappointment. It was tactic. He wasn’t expecting anyone to text, call or show up; he believed that constantly checking his phone made him appear less pathetic when stood alone in bar, when the opposite was the case. It was on that fifteenth contrived check of the phone that she appeared at his side, placed her hand on top of his and leaned towards him to shout over the music,

“I’ve been stood up as well, drink?”

Sean felt his armpits flood his chequered shirt with sweat as he attempted to think of something witty yet nonchalant to say other than, fuck yes!  

“Well” She persisted, “are we drinking or are you gonna catch flies all night?”

 

The flies continued to spiral around one another as if they were suspended from an elastic fishing wire. They’d fly past each other to a certain point and then snap back in the opposite direction. It was as if they were not in control of their own aviation and that their courses were predetermined by a higher force. Sean gripped his big toe and chewed his lower lip as he rested his gaunt face on his knees, grimacing up at the insects. He wondered if they were orbiting the fake moon until they could settle on his dead body and convert his orifices into nests. One of the flies extinguished his morbid fantasy by resting on the lip of the lantern.

Sean pulled the ceramic jug towards his emaciated body, brought it to his face and filled his mouth with room temperature water. He held the water in his mouth and waited for it to heat with the rage and confusion that was building in his torso. He turned onto his stomach and pressed his finger nails into the floor causing them to splinter under his weight. Every breath he inhaled became trapped in his throat as his mind raced, attempting to rationalise who would do this to him and why? Incensed he spat the water from his mouth and propelled his body at the door shouting,

“Who are you?”

His body crashed into the locked door and ricocheted back on the floor. With his knees, forearms and head on the floor he cried and watched as his tears pool onto the concrete. Between his sobs he would ask the empty room,  

“Who are you?”

 

The speakers lambasted their ears with the sounds of the early noughties, making conversation impossible. Sean’s new companion struggled to decipher his soft tones over the music,

“What?” She shouted.

“Sorry” Sean had a habit of apologising when there was no need, “What’s your name?” 

“Oh..It’s Lola!”

This was Sean’s opportunity to give her his name and the impression that he was somewhat collected. Instead, he laughed and sung at her in a shouty voice,

“ L. O. L. A. Lola, lalala Lola!”

Lola held her drink to her side and stared at him in stunned silence. Sean instantly realised his potential error and wore the face of a child that had just been caught scribbling on the living room walls. He felt as though his pre-frontal cortex was imploding as he attempted to think of something to say next, but his inept brain could only recall the word ‘fuck’. He scanned Lola’s face for a social cue on what to do next, then he noticed a smile start to creep from the one corner of her mouth,

“Did you just sing ‘The Kinks’ at me?” There was a hint of amusement in her voice.

“Shit. I did yeah…shit!”

Lola placed her drink on the bar, gently pulled on his collar, kissed his burning cheek and suggested they leave together. Sean, internally questioning the reality of the situation, nodded in silent agreement. The pair weaved their way through the many gyrating mating rituals until they reached the door and walked into the night.

 

The paper lantern went out and darkness engulfed the room. Blind, Sean bolted upright and hauled himself to his feet. He heard the door unlock, swing open and two sets of feet enter. Sean’s breath hastened and failed to pass further than his nostrils. He heard them walking towards him. His heart thrashed against his rib cage. A man’s voice called out,

“Sean, it’s okay.”

He felt them move around him. He lifted his arms and swung them frantically like a windmill. His body collapsed. He didn’t hit the floor, he fell into arms that lowered him onto the ground.

“Sean, we’re sorry this is taking so long!”

They walked away. Sean reached and grabbed a trouser leg. The leg moved forward causing him to lose his grip. The fabric of the trouser burned his broken skin as it escaped from his grasp. Sean released a scream from his lungs, passed his throat and out through gritted teeth. The feet moved away.

“It will be over soon, Sean.”

The door closed and locked. The paper moon came back on to reveal a pair of cotton trousers folded on the floor. Sean waited a few moments before slipping his feet into the modest garment. With his genitals no longer exposed to the cold air, Sean regained some of his humanity. He looked back to the moon with its flies and started to think about Lola again.

 

As they walked to the shop for cigarettes and wine, Sean felt there was something familiar about Lola. She was, however, like nobody he had ever seen before. As she talked she brushed her thick, wavy red hair away from her frosty, pale face to show off an undercut covered in tattoos. The street lamps acted as her personal spotlights, exposing one of her eyes as crystal blue and the other chocolate-brown. Sean decided they looked like pick a mix eyes, but he determined not to tell her that her eyes looked like confectionary, incase the sentiment became lost in translation. She was cool, too cool for Sean.

“Are you a model?” He half asked and half blurted out as they entered the shop.

“I’m a Doctor of Genetics”

She did not ask his profession, which is just as well as Sean struggled to lie on the spot. As surreal as having this woman showing an interest was, he decided not to question or say anything ruin it. Whilst she was ordering the cigarettes and wine at the counter, a newspaper stole Sean’s attention from her allure. The front page headline read:

ZOMBIE CYBORGS KILL TO RECRUIT!

Sean gripped the paper and scoured the article with terrified agitation. He had seen various articles about the Cyborg threat, but none so far had instilled such a sense of fear in him. He remembered when the news first reported it, it was his biggest fantasy and worst nightmare all rolled into one human package.

A woman reported encountering her dead uncle on the street. He had donated his body to science and then twelve months later, she saw his corpse, filled with an artificial nervous system of nanobots, walking around like a regular man. Outraged she alerted the authorities and media. Since then, there had been various civil rights movements campaigning for equal rights, but more so, movements that worked to eradicate the potential threat. But nothing compared to what this paper was claiming. It made sense to Sean that, if they couldn’t procreate biologically, they would kill civilians in order to increase numbers.

“Sean, are you okay?” Lola had her arm placed on his forearm as an act of reassurance.  

“They are killing people. The world is going to be populated by Zombies!” His voice shook in disbelief.

“Is that what really think? Sean, Don’t think…”

“Course it’s wha’e finks!” The shopkeeper piped up, “Is wha’s ‘appening. Facking Corpses! If Ya ask me, we need ta get ‘em in tha ground before they kill us all!”

“We’re not asking you!” Lola snapped, “Let’s go to mine, Sean.”

“Bitch! Ya a facking sympathiser!” The shopkeeper screamed from over the counter.

Lola ushered Sean out of the shop. When they hit the pavement Sean regained his senses and apologised for failing to take on more of a masculine role during the encounter. Lola responded by handing him the bottle of wine and saying, “It’s 2017, the streets a paved with Robots, drink?”

 

Sean took another mouthful from the jug, slowly spat it onto his cupped hand and watched it seep down his wrist. His thoughts were fixed on the altercation  in the shop, there was something about the look on Lola’s face when she saw the paper, something about the way she spoke. Sean closed his fingers around what was left of the water, rubbed it into palm and unfocused his eyes. She didn’t appear fearful, Sean recalled how she almost pleaded with him not think the robotic dead were killing people.  He released his fingers, brought his eyes back into focus and licked his dry lip. It was, he thought, almost as if she was defending them, as if she was defending herself. He bit into his lip and pulled one of his curls down the front of his face. She’s was one of them. She recruited him. He remembered the man who brought the trousers telling him that, it will be over soon. Sean felt his bowels drop to the floor and his heart follow them-they were going to kill him.

Sensing his pending fate, Sean frantically scanned the room for an exit he had previously missed, a weakness in the door or a crack in the walls. There was nothing, there wasn’t a way out. Stood with his palms against the wall, distraught and powerless, he threw his head into the plaster until it bled and screamed from his lungs, “Lola! You bitch! Fucking bitch! You dead bitch!”

Lola was dead and she was going to kill him as well. He knew it.

 

Sean was intoxicated when they arrived at Lola’s flat, whereas, Lola appeared composed. Her living quarters appeared bare, the walls were a dirty white shade and the floors uncarpeted with only a sofa in the living room.

“You just moved in?” Sean slurred.

“Something like that, yeah.”

She appeared less relaxed than she had previously. Sean determined it was natural for a woman to feel on edge with a strange man in her home. She offered Sean a seat on the sofa a whiskey.

“You! You’re trying to get me drunk, you!” He was losing control of his speech.

Lola stood over him with his thigh between her legs, leaned over him, placed a glass of whiskey into his hand and whispered, “You already are, but there’s room.”

Sean found himself slumped on the sofa with a loose grip on the glass, drifting in and out of consciousness. Lola was stood over him when his eyes closed. When he opened them again she was stood by the window, then his eyes closed again.  When he reopened them, she was rustling inside her handbag and pulled out a small remote control. Sean’s arms and legs felt as though they were filled with liquid iron that was solidifying, weighing him down onto the sofa. He felt as though his cheeks were either filled with the same substance, or  an external force was pulling his facial muscles downwards.

“Th..th..ers no teee veep int he…eer” He managed to mumble at Lola.

Lola turned to him and said nothing. He closed his eyes, opened them and Lola was closer to him, she was closer to him each time he opened his eyes until she was sat next to him. She reached her arm across his torso and caressed his shoulder, Sean tried to reciprocate but his arm had glued itself to the cushion. Lola drew her lips to the inside of her mouth, bowed her head and murmured, “I’m sorry, Sean.”

Sean closed his eyes and the room went dark. When Sean reopened his eyes, he was, naked, blinded by the incandescent glow radiating from the fake moon.  

 

Sean decided he was not going to allow the Cyborgs to murder and then resurrect him, he was going to fight. He stood, once again naked, by the side of the door. He held the trousers, stretched across his torso, in both hands. He had decided that when the lights went out and the men entered, he would ambush and attempt to strangle them with the trousers, then find and kill Lola. He waited. Whilst repeating the forthcoming scenario in his mind, his thoughts also jumped to how this could possibly happen to him. There was nothing interesting about him, he possessed no special attributes to influence the robotic dead into choosing to recruit him. He was an inherently a boring man.

The lamp went out.

Darkness.

The door opened and the feet entered. Sean released a battle scream and launched himself without aim in the direction of the men. He fell onto someone and attempted to wrap the trousers around them. A pair of arms gripped his shoulders, a second pair forced him onto the floor and snatched the trousers from his grip. The arms that pushed him onto the ground, lifted him and pulled him back across the room.

“No, no..please, please, no!” Sean cried.

The arms laid him down onto his back and held his hands above his head. The other man straddled his waist. A voice softly said,

“It’s okay, Sean, it’s nearly over now.”

Sean attempted to struggle free, but the combination of the strength of his assailants and his crippling fear paralysed him. Each breath he took was inhaled with a scream and exhaled with a whimper. His brain sprinted from the thought of being murdered in the dark to, how could they see, it was pitch black, how could they see? He could feel his face was contorted in terror, he could feel his heart trying to bash its way from his chest, he could feel the tears flushing down the side of his face, then he could feel the needle. It was pressed to the inside of his elbow, he could feel its sharp end digging into his vein. He could feel the bleating sound that was penetrating the air from his throat. This was wrong. He fought to find his words and begged’

“Please don’t. No! No! Please, please. I don’t want to…”

“Sean,” one of the men interrupted, “it’s nearly over…”

“I don’t want, I don’t want to die, please.”

“Sean..”

“I don’t want to be a robot. Please, please, don’t kill me and turn me into a robot. I want to go home. Please, I don’t want to be a robot!” Once he started pleading, he couldn’t stop. he continued to beg as one of them men said,

“Fuck!”

“I can’t do this, this isn’t right.” The other responded.

“Me neither,” The first agreed, “She should do it.”

The two men vacated the room, leaving Sean alone in the dark begging for his life.

The door opened again and Sean felt the hands of the men holding his arms down once more. Sean then felt a familiar, smaller hand stroking his hair and then working its way to his inner elbow.  He felt his throat close in as he attempted to exhale. He felt the needle burrow its way into his skin and a patch of cold spread down his arm. He felt his body giving up.

“Please, please…” he was defeated in his pleas.

“Shh, Sean, I’m so sorry.” It was Lola’s voice.

“Please, don’t leave me in the dark, please…” the fear of the dark was now greater than that of death.

“You want to see?” Lola asked, “okay.”

The lamp filled the room with light again.

The two men were stood beside Sean, one with his head in his hands the other stood motionless aghast at the situation. Lola was sat next to Sean’s naked, vulnerable body, stroking his hair with one hand and holding a small remote control in the other. Sean opened his mouth and wailed. A small string like fleck of spit flung from his mouth, twisted in the air and settled on his chin. He sucked in his cheeks as the tears streamed over his face. He looked at the remote control.

“You’re not,” He sobbed, “You’re not turning the light off, are you?”

“No,” Lola responded in a hushed tone.

“You…you’re..you’re..-God, you’re turning my eyes off, aren’t you” As his body rapidly paralysed and fear and realisation took hold of him, it became increasingly hard for Sean to speak.

Lola looked at the paper lantern and nodded,

“I’m so sorry, Sean, I’m sorry. When, when we made you, we designed you so you wouldn’t have any memories of your former life and ignorant of what you are. You wouldn’t have worked otherwise.” A flurry of guilt induced tears seeped down her pale cheeks. “It was meant to be your second chance at life. It could never have been a second chance if you were constantly living in the past or questioning your humanity. I’m sorry.”

The men left the room.

Sean’s eyes darted around the room.

“Why?” He begged, “I’m already dead? Fuck, I’m not human!”

Lola lifted him by his shoulders and held him close to her, his paralysed arms hung by the side of torso. She held her face to his and whispered,

“You are Human, you are. It shouldn’t have been like this for you, you were meant to be happy and you were. But the media, what they are saying it’s not true, it’s becoming dangerous. And, the government, have set up an initiative to capture and enslave cyborg citizens. You were on their list, they were coming for you and I couldn’t… they wouldn’t have stopped until they had you and I couldn’t let you live that life. I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have brought you back, we were wrong and I’m so, so sorry.”

No longer able to move and held in the grasp Lola’s arms, Sean gazed beyond her frizzy hair at the false moon and it’s three flies. They were twisting and darting as is to mock Sean’s immobility, gloating and taunting him from above. He thought about how he was dead, how he was walking around like a normal man and about how those articles that incited fear in him were written about him-if only he knew.  He fought through the paralysis and his frozen face to ask,

“Who was I?”

Lola kissed his increasingly cold cheek and replied, “You were loved.”

Through the coldness, Sean felt a glimmer of warmth spread from his chest to his fingertips. He watched the flies and the black trails of light they left behind them. They’re tiny legs curled up under their bodies and they flew through the air. Spinning, Spiraling, Swirling until they landed on the moon.

The room went dark.   

 

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