Edition 18: The Visitors by Michelle Ann King
Edging ever closer to a new horizon, after her unwilling combination with the visitors, she waits for the inevitable. Alone and afraid, unsure of what her future holds, the daughter waits. A flash of the dilemma of the end. SY
‘It’s all right,’ they told her, when it started. ‘You’re going to be okay.’
It was even possible they believed it, in the beginning. People still got sick, after all.
She wanted to believe it too, but she didn’t feel okay. She felt feverish and shivery, aching, coming back to herself sludgily with too many toxic dreams sweating out of her pores. It felt like she’d been weaponised in her sleep. Made into a time bomb, a booby trap, a layer of microscopic destruction under a ratty, stained duvet.
She slept again—or passed out, it was getting hard to tell the difference—and woke up in one of the clinics. Her own bed, comfortable if unsanitary, was gone. Burned, she imagined, as if this was a plague that could be purified. She wished it was.
‘It’s normal,’ they told her, but that one she didn’t even try to believe. Nothing was normal, not any more. The word was redundant, obsolete, anachronistic. Normal had taken one look at the visitors and given up. Normal had left the building a long time ago. Left and ran away screaming.
She would have liked to do the same, but there were bars on the windows and seals on the doors. You didn’t leave these places the way you came in.
‘You’ve been chosen,’ they told her. ‘It’s a great honour.’ Maybe that was something they were trying to get themselves to believe. Because the visitors could honour anyone, after all. Anyone at all.
There were support groups, meetings, online resources. Message boards and forums. For the families and friends, of course. Not for her.
They embraced the opportunity; shared stories, offered wisdom, accepted virtual hugs. Received congratulations and commiserations.
Nobody asked her what she thought. Or whether she wanted, or expected, either of those things. Maybe they didn’t ask because they didn’t want to know. Maybe they just knew there would be no point.
‘It’ll be different,’ they told her, ‘when it’s over.’
That made her laugh out loud, even though it caused her a lot of pain to do so. The movement jangled her chest, shook loose what was left of her vapourising organs. Her solidifying breath.
It was going to be over? Really?
‘You’re going to see the stars,’ they told her. ‘It’s going to be wonderful.’
Gas giants and nebulae, flaming comets and spinning suns. Satellites, asteroid belts, dwarf stars and solar winds. Worlds so far away the distance couldn’t be expressed or comprehended. The dark, breath-taking beauty of the vacuum.
Awe: Noun. Powerful sense of admiration and wonder. Archaic: inspiring reverence or fear. Obsolete: Feeling of fear or dread.
They talked about admiration and wonder. They talked as if God was more than a conceptual anomaly. They talked as if they still knew who she was.
‘It could be worse,’ they told her, and that at least she knew to be true. The visitors’ favour took other forms, and those haunted her dreams. If you could still call them dreams. May your dreams come true, such a loaded phrase. Blessing and curse, contradiction inherent. Just like awe.
The visitors didn’t believe in contradiction. Duality was a natural state. It was a gift. She was starting to see that, now.
‘We love you,’ they told her, and cried. She wept with them. Or she would have, if her tears hadn’t frozen.
‘You’re still our daughter,’ they told her. ‘That won’t ever change.’
Was that true? She pondered the question for a long time. The one thing guaranteed not to change was the nature of change. Or was that just circular logic? Some things she understood, now, some stayed beyond her grasp. Some things she thought she might have forgotten.
‘You’re still beautiful,’ they told her, even though they were no longer able to look. ‘In our eyes, you’ll always be beautiful.’
Eyes. Was that one of the things she’d forgotten?
‘We’re here,’ they told her. ‘Right here. We’re with you.’
Some did that: bore witness. A strange choice, she’d thought, but it made sense now. Life, the old kind, had always been about watching what could never be appreciated. Not just distances that couldn’t be envisaged, but connections that couldn’t be made. Patterns that couldn’t be grasped.
They didn’t know her. They couldn’t. But it had never stopped them trying.
She loved them for that.
‘You’ll always be our baby,’ they told her. Or they would have, if she’d still been able to hear.
It was all so far away, now. But she knew. She knew.
Michelle Ann King writes science fiction, fantasy and horror from her kitchen table in Essex, England. Her work has appeared at Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and Penumbra Magazine. Her short stories are being collected in the Transient Tales series, and she is currently at work on a paranormal crime novel.
Michelle Ann King’s work has appeared earlier in SQ Mag 10.