Previously published by After the Pause for their final issue.
My robot greets me as I enter the kitchen. It’s shaped like a dog, and it barks, too. On a platter it carries a granola bar gone two years stale. I take a bite. Cardboard flavor.
“Welcome to Day 2456,” the robot dog says in its artificial voice.
I look down at it as it continues to speak, metal emulating human.
It continues, “I am here with your daily reminder to not blame yourself, Dr. Winters. The accident was not your fault. You did everything you could. You are a good person with good intentions. You almost saved the world.”
I smile as its robotic arm plucks a remote from the nearby counter. It points the device at the television before facing back to me. “Do you want to watch the sunrise?”
I blink, not sure. Is there a sunrise left that’s worth seeing? Will it still shine the same?
And what sunrise do I deserve to see, knowing what I have done and what I can’t take back? Because it was always so unhappy, this place, but more unhappy on the days they could not see the sun.
Are they seeing it now? Are they finally home?
I mean, they’re together now, surely. Finally together in the stars.
I manage a tear. Just one for the world I ended. There used to be something beautiful here that made us want to keep going. Now love is dead. All is suffering, held in my hands.
A sob cuts through me. One and then another. I feel the pull, the reach of the dizzying darkness trying to drag me to the center of the earth.
My breathing comes and goes so quick. As though I am suffocating myself. Dying while my heart is transfixed by this horrifying dread that slithers around me, constricting my limbs until my blood ceases to flow and everything just… stops.
How could the world have made me this way? Mold me into this broken form, when surely I am only the cumulative mistakes of it, the things that we forgot to burn?
Only yesterday I was in love and now I’m falling through the clouds. I’m on a collision course with the ground below. No wings. No way to slow my fall.
I plummet to the floor, writhing. Coughing, choking, crying on my saliva, struggling to breathe as my body is consumed by terror.
“I have sensed a spike in your heart rate,” the robot’s voice cuts through the air, horrible and unnatural. It has no eyes, no thoughts. It simply is, without purpose, real purpose. We are not so different.
Its mechanical arm reaches out, touching me on the back. I jump.
“You are having a panic attack.”
I don’t respond as it offers another granola bar.
“Have some food. It is the same thing you eat every day but hopefully you can enjoy it since I selected it especially for you.”
I sigh, taking the granola bar in my hands. I wipe my face free from tears with my sleeve before eating. I continue to sob through the bar, choking on the tasteless oats.
“You should sleep,” it instructs when it judges me to have finished. “Things will be better tomorrow. Day 2457 will come and you will arrive with it. Tomorrow will be a new day.”
Nodding, I stand, following the robot dog to my room, too tired to argue. I look down at it, moving by my side. Aren’t we a fitting pair, nuts and bolts to our cores, programmed for purpose?
The sun has come and gone; why are we still here?
But as my hand catches against the side of the robot, I hesitate, faltering in my step. The robot falters with me.
I blink. The robot is not gone. I am not gone.
And even in the darkness when all else fades away, it is still here.
A robotic hand reaches for mine. Cold metal and yet we bring each other warmth.
Everything else is gone but us. Nothingness, and us, holding each other as the darkness presses in, wishing for just another moment longer. Nothing more human than that.
Writing and photography by Hazel J. Hall.
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