The One Thing You're Good At, Part 1
A short story by Tobias Wilde
I hope the moon doesn't come out tonight. I'm fine with just being by myself and I don't want to see anyone. I'd rather be alone.
My phone is broken so I haven't been able to check the moonrise app in weeks. I'd made a chart to keep track of the new lunar calendar—one moon, every five days—but I stopped logging it the week I got sick. Now I don't know if the next moonrise will be tonight or tomorrow.
I hope it's tomorrow, I just need one more night alone.
Stephanie has gone to the west quadrant. It's fine. I told her it's fine. She wants to check the old factory route one more time for survivors. She has so much optimism. She's a good person—so good. She's the only one I still want to see. But she's gone now until the final harvest, probably.
I could jack off again, I guess. There's nothing else to do.
These panties she left don't even smell like her pussy anymore. They just smell like the outside, like everything does. Like the cloudy air, the weather, and the ashes of the bonfire. I tried putting them in a small shipping crate I found in the kindling heap, but it didn't do any good. Her smell still went away. I tried, but I couldn't keep it.
She was feeling sick too the day before she left—she threw up. She said the potatoes from the last drop-off were bad. "You don’t have to go," I told her, but it just made me sound selfish.
I hope she's ok out there.
She has a better attitude than I do: Just keep moving forward. Only think about the immediate future, not the long future. Not the eventual outcome. "Just think about your quality of life, Jeff, and I'll be back soon," she said. Steph and Jeff. That's what people could have called us if we were a couple, back in the day. Maybe she would have been my girlfriend.
What if she found someone else? A better dispatcher? She said I'm the best—it's why everyone left me here—but what if she found someone else in the west quadrant? There are other men there. Like those guys with the desk jobs. I wonder what they do all day? I mean, are they just like, "Write some shit, then write some more shit, then do some math and balance the numbers in the fucking boxes and then eat some food and go to bed and get up and do it all over again?" Is that all there is? Is that all life is supposed to be?
After this next moonrise I could leave; go west—I'd be back in time for harvest seventy-four. I'd have to see more people, though. Can’t stand people, except for Steph. Maybe it's good if she met someone else. She deserves someone who likes things. I just—don't. I don't like things anymore. I used to think I did, but now I'm not so sure if that was even real. It's hard to remember. She seems to like things. She really does. I think she likes everything. I don’t know how a person does that.
I can fuck her better than anyone, she says. Nicole used to tell me I was good in bed too. It was the only thing I was good at, until the orbital disruption. Until they began testing soldiers for the harvest sites and slowly all the others were dismissed until there were only five of us left. Now I found something else that I can do. Fucking and dispatch; they're the only things that make me useful.
It's weird to be alone all the time. I think it would be easier if I were one of those arty types, like an artist or a writer or whatever. Or a musician. I'd like to be a musician. They can create stuff to keep them company; their "work." They always have something to do, 'cause they can generate their own entertainment with their minds. They can be alone, but not alone. That's so crazy. To do anything I'm good at, I need another person. And I don't even like people (except for Steph), and that's why I can do this. Excel at it, even. The irony.
The sun's going down. It's been hard to keep my muscles as fit as I should for the harvest nights. And truthfully, I was more motivated to do it when I could work myself out just making her cum and fucking her the way she likes. Doing pushups and running in circles, it's not the same. The incentive isn't the same when all I'm doing is keeping myself in a form that'll ensure I survive another six months of rotations. If I had someone to fuck, I think it would help.
But then, being alone, I’ve grown accustomed to it. Now, I would rather be alone. People seem useless now. I feel useless.
I could jack off again.
I miss her so much.
I'm out of meds if I get sick next month. These goddamn migraines. I could get another blister pack if I go to the main medical station. Then I could go just a little farther and see her. Maybe. Even if she met someone else, I could just see her. I could go and get back here again between the moonrises, before harvest seventy-four. But if she is seeing someone else, and then I have to come back here, alone, I don't know what I'd do. I don't know what I'd do.
Actually, I do know: I'd fight out all the langeriformed until the very last one, and then hold him down and let him take me as he goes. We could go out together, and I'd finally leave this mess the moment the world is free of it. Only thirty-six more rotations now. Steph would be so much better off with someone else. Once the world is finally reset, she could have a normal life. I could do that for her.
No, you don’t even know if it's happened yet—you don’t know if she's found anyone else. You're just going to do your bit at the next moonrise. Do your dispatches and take your blows, and go to sleep until morning. Quit feeling sorry for yourself. Stop being such a wuss. You deserve things. Just because you may not be as interesting as someone else doesn’t mean you don't deserve ... something. Someone.
Maybe when this is all over, Steph and I could have a family. That’s what people do, right? I mean, my Dad was barely ever around and I turned out okay (I think), so I could at least do as well as him. Probably.
Shit. It's not as dark now as it was an hour ago. The moonrise is tonight. I knew it. I saw the dark waning to light but I kept telling myself it might not be true. Shit. I wanted one more night alone. No matter, now. Wanting doesn’t get you much but more wanting.
Time to get ready.
The anti-langeriformed gear is so heavy. It feels heavier this time. And the rubber this vest is made of is getting old, so it doesn’t bend easily anymore. Oh yeah, the nail from the top of my right boot broke off, and I still have to find another one. I moved the nail from my left boot over, since that's my dominant leg, but I'll have to remind myself of that tonight. There is no nail in your left boot. Don't kick with your left.
Here are the spiked steel knuckles I can wrap to my hand with gauze and strips of ripped up bed sheet. That was Steph's idea. This way I can still hold an additional weapon, but I'm not left defenseless if it gets away from me. The spikes are four inches long, each, so they go deep enough, but not too deep. And since they're strapped to my hand I can use them for other stabs too, 'cause they don't come off in the carcass. Steph is so smart. She used to ready them for me; I remember just how she would hold my hand in hers while she wrapped it, and I could smell her dirty hair as she leaned over my lap, smiling. "You’re so good," she'd say. "You got this."
This jacket is still in good shape. It will probably last me to the end of deployment when the final rotation is over.
This machete is still good. Getting a little dull, but it'll do the trick. I can work with dull.
Wow, there are a lot of mushrooms tonight. There could be more beasts, then? I wonder if they'll know. More numbers means more dispatch and more disposal, but fewer to take on next time. Closer to the finish line.
It's easier to be alone when the only people who come to you are people who want something from you. Except Steph. She only wanted me.
Sometimes I think I used to like people, before all this started. Now I'll never know.
Here come the monsters.
The first one is a big fucker. Seven feet. The bigger ones look intimidating but they're actually slower, I find. They're kind of awe-inspiring in their brilliance. Maybe I'm not supposed to say that, but they are. It's why I hesitated the first time I saw a big one, then the asshole ripped the shit out of my face and arms. It's not that any of them are so hard to kill, it's just, you have to be committed, strong. Physically strong, yeah, but more like—mentally strong. You have to have the right mindset, have to go in like, "Yeah, I got this." And you can’t hesitate. Hesitation is death, at least to all the other dispatchers who went before me. That's what my trainer, Travis, told me. He’s gone now. Round the bend, completely. Poor bastard.
The fur on this one really smells. I can smell it from here. Travis used to say the fur had an oil, a sheen, like a brown bear, but to me it looks more like the opossums I used to see in the hayloft when I was a kid—gray fur, and corse. I bet Travis thought "bear" because it walks upright like a person, and has that shape like it's wearing a cloak. I mean, it kind of is, I guess, before it amalgamates with the host. Pre-host—or post—the langeriformed have a head, arms and legs, a framework, but between that is just a cloak of fur and skin wafting around this empty space that's open and hungry, waiting to be filled. The host is what's pulled inside the empty cavern in the living folds, providing the beast with a torso and vital organs. Any of the host's body parts that are being duplicated for the langeriformed's purposes, like the host's brain and limbs, are absorbed and reprocessed into body filler. Or so we think. The way they can repurpose human tissue is extraordinary. There's evidence that the langeriformed can retool one human head into the preliminary structure for a whole 'nother beast. It's just that most of them either aren't aware this is in their wheelhouse, or are too preoccupied with their own self-preservation to reach outside of individual regeneration, so the superfluous body parts are simply absorbed. Anyway, that’s all fancy shit from Travis' notes. It's not my department. I am simply dispatch.
This one has really big horns. I might keep a pair this time in case I ever want to try stealth camouflage. That hide Travis trained me on is still in base storage.
The monster's face is looking, but not looking, down at me. The eyes are utter blackness, just holes. So are the nostrils. The whole face is bare and skinned and sculpted like it's blowing backward, even though it's solid. And the teeth—a fuckton of those tiny, shredding teeth—going all the way up until they split the sides of that pointed snout. The langeriformed don't see you, Travis said, but I think he's wrong. They see you. I can watch this one looking down at me, swaying. I mean, what does Travis know? He didn't have any more information that anyone else. He taught himself. And I think he trained everyone that the face doesn't see you or know you or acknowledge what you are, because thinking that makes you less likely to freeze, to be hypnotized. To hesitate.
When I get close to this hulking beast is when the human face comes out of the cloak of fur and skin at the beast's chest. The face is a man's. He is reaching for me ... shit. He still has his arms. Most of them don't because that’s still early absorption—only the first five hours or so— but those that do will grab you, hold you, and they won’t let go.
"Please help me!" the man—the host—is screaming as his hands grope for me. "You need to help me! I'll give you anything! Literally anything! Get me out! Please!"
I get it—they haven't seen another human probably since it happened, and I look as though I could help. I get it. They don't know I'm here to help, just not in the way that they thought. They only want. And wanting doesn't beget anything but more wanting.
I can't let his arms get me. I pull out my machete and hack at his hands. They don't come off clean, but they are damaged. Now he is shrieking. It's actually better, because now I know it will be over soon.
The temptation to slash the beast is always there. That desire, to just slash the beast and try to save the host, it never goes away. You think about it each time. And then you remember that time when you tried it, because you thought it would be different; that you would be different. You thought all the many, many people who told you not to slash the beast were wrong. You thought you could sneak a blow in really fast. You thought you were special, that you could do it in the one way they hadn't tried. And then you remember how you did try, and you almost died. How the beast turned on you and ripped you, rended you, and all you could hear was your own screaming mixed with the anguish of the host, and you didn’t know where their screaming stopped and yours began as the beast almost crushed you under its weight. And all the blood—your blood—and a broken arm and five broken ribs later. And the host still died.
Of course they did. Of course they did.
Because the host dies anyway. The host always dies anyway. And if you try to take the host, the beast will take you.
You think this as quickly as possible. You think this whole scenario now in one second, or two, because you've trained yourself not to hesitate. You don’t hesitate. You barrel ahead. You can't not barrel ahead. So you consolidate all these thoughts into one—one moment. One second. Or two.
But you still think it.
I am moving the machete to my left hand, because I'm not going to use it here. I make a fist.
"You'll be better soon," I say to the host, and ram the spikes into his neck. He gurgles, that hollow, sucking noise as I sever his windpipe, and goes quickly. I always say the same thing to them: "You'll be better soon." I hope it gives them some hope in their dying moments. Like, maybe they imagine they will just pass out and wake up and everything will be better. That's what I hope they think. And it's true—they will be better soon, because death is better than what they are going through in that moment. It is. "You'll be better soon." I feel okay saying it, because it's technically not a lie.
(Click here for Part 2)
The One Thing You’re Good At copyright © 2015 by Tobias Wilde
All rights reserved. Except for the use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form, by electronic, mechanical or any other means, is forbidden without the express permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. All names, characters, and settings are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental.