Only in Chaos Are We Conceivable
April was jolted awake when someone tried to drag her out of her wreck of a car. Her blurry vision waxed on and off. She could feel that there was blood flowing down her hair. Echoed voices rang in her ear. Her left shoulder and leg bore faint lacerations and bruises from bits of glass and twisted metal.
“Oy, stay with me now,” one of the voices called out to her, noticing she had come to. “Thomas, she’ll be alright I think. Go fetch your phone and call an ambulance.”
The owner of the voice picked her up from the ground and carried her over to the other side of the street. They laid her down on an oak bench overlooking the curb. As her vision began to clear, April spotted her car. The cracked hood had caught fire from the collision with a brick wall. Flames had spread to both the driver and passenger seats. April remembered the vulnerable compartment on the passenger's side containing her camera.
“Glove box,” she croaked.
“You got stuff in there? Forget about it,” the voice belonged to a young man standing above her. He was dressed in a dark suit as if attending a funeral. “I managed to fish out your phone though.”
April tried rising from her seat, but her left side burned in protest and the searing pain forced her to collapse back against the wooden frame. She watched helplessly as the flames engulfed the glove box. She sighed and slumped over.
“No, no, no, keep your head level,” the man sat down and raised her chin with two fingers. He fished around in his jacket for a flask and handkerchief. “Here. Drink some water.”
“I could use a cocktail,” April mumbled. Yes, she thought. That sounded perfect.
“Don’t think that would be a great idea right now,” he chided, wiping her face with his handkerchief. He stared into one of her eyes. “Looks like a cocktail is probably what got us into this mess.”
“I’m. Kidding,” April feebly drank from the flask. She hated the pain. It hurt to talk. “I’ve already had. My one drink. For the night.”
“Stop talking. Keep drinking, and try not to close your eyes,” the young man instructed. “I’ll tell my brother to call an ambulance. I’ll be right back.”
Ambulance. The word rang in April’s ears like the unending vibrations of a gong. Don’t take the ambulance. Shouldn’t do it. Can’t do it.
The young man got up and walked over to who April assumed was his brother. The brother stood slouched over while reaching for his phone. His glasses kept falling out of place on account of them being too large, and he was constantly running his thin fingers through his disheveled hair. The two of them both stood next to their own car, a minivan which suffered less damage than hers but was nonetheless just as unfit to drive.
A taxi arrived and parked just up the street. A tall woman exited the vehicle and approached the two young men by their broken car. Her hair was tucked beneath a wool beret. She wore a black sundress and appeared more like an out of town art collector than a taxi driver. She greeted the two as if she knew them. April strained to hear what they were talking about.
“You’re lucky I was close by and saw what happened.”
“Yes, you’re always so conveniently lucky.”
“My, my, what are you accusing me of Yuki? Someone might overhear and get the wrong idea.”
The woman pivoted on her heels and approached April. Behind her calm demeanor and tranquil hazel eyes, April couldn’t help but feel that the woman’s gaze was piercing deep within her. Anger? No. Expectation? She couldn’t explain it herself, but those eyes held a kind of prophetic authoritative quality, as if the only thing they saw was the undeniable traces of destiny.
“Oh, look at you, you’re going to ruin a perfectly pretty face,” she mused. She turned to the two gentleman behind her. “Why don’t we take her along? There’s a late night clinic on the way that’ll see her.”
“We still need to wait for the police to file a report, not to mention both our cars need to get towed,” the young man the woman had called Yuki responded. “Why not just wait for the ambulance? It’s faster.”
“She’s gonna fork over a fortune for both the ambulance and the hospital bills,” the woman frowned, examining April closely. “Besides, she also doesn’t look too bad. Bruises, but no broken bones. She’s bleeding a bit from her forehead, but she just needs to get disinfected and bandaged. A good night’s sleep after. But there’s no need to pay one month’s salary for that.”
“So I shouldn’t call?” the brother with oversized glasses spoke up. His voice cracked halfway through. “Sorry. I shouldn’t call, right?”
“Yuki, will you stop making your brother shout and both of you just get over here,” the woman sighed. “Standing in the dark like that, how suspicious do you guys want to look when the police show up? Sorry for all the noise honey. Ah, there. Finally, I can see you Thomas. How pleasant it is to see you out and about for once.”
“Good to see you too. Erin.” Thomas replied sheepishly.
“Do you need more water,” Erin asked. April shook her head. “Alright, alright, then lie down flat on the bench here. Just like that, yes. Deep breath. My name is Erin. I run an automated taxi service. These are some regular customers. Yuki and Thomas Miyamoto. Brothers, as I’m sure you’ve guessed.”
“We shouldn’t crowd around her like this,” Yuki mumbled.
“I’m fine, I think,” April moaned. “Thanks. For saving me earlier.”
“It was nothing,” Yuki deflected. Electronic pop music rang out from his pockets and broke an awkward silence. He pulled out a phone and slid it open to answer. “Sorry, that’s mine. If you’ll excuse me for a moment.”
“Interesting,” Erin gazed as Yuki stepped back into the shadows, where the streetlights could no longer see him. “So, Thomas, what’s gotten you out of your room this late at night. Manuscript due tonight?”
“At midnight,” Thomas rubbed his neck. “Editor wants to see it.”
“Sequel to the what was it called?” Erin fiddled with her fingers. “Quest for the Lost Grove?”
“No, it’s an entirely new original actually, it’s about the town’s urban legend,” Thomas seemed more eloquent now that he was talking about his writing. His eyes widened with excitement, and he leaned forward when speaking. “You know. The legend of the woman. The woman who claims your final words. Your death sentence.”
April remembered. Patients at the hospital, ambulance, hospital, her head was hurting again. The patients were the first to recount the incidents. Those on their death beds would be visited by a beautiful woman dressed in a glowing white shroud. It was like the description of angels in the lost colony texts. From beneath her robe, the woman would brandish a notebook and a pen and command you to write one final sentence. Your death sentence.
“People love their legends in this town too much,” Erin blew hair out of her face. “I’m sure your editor was ecstatic to hear about this.”
“More than that,” Thomas beamed. “Both he and I know. We've discovered the truth. She’s real.”
“Oh?” Erin asked, though her eyes remained unconvinced.
“I’ve finally figured it out, you just have to look at one case,” Thomas pushed his falling glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Everything starts in the year ’54. If you work backwards from the conclusion that she exists, then the murders that year begin to make perfect sense. Just look at the messages from each of the kids, for instance. It was always one sentence. It was their death sentence.”
April remembered. She had taken some of the first pictures when one by one, the bodies of a school bus full of missing children were found. Each time they were founding hanging with a slip of paper around their necks. A final message from the dead, written in crimson cursive, was etched on each piece.
The machine unconscious calls to me, and I have embraced rejection.
I am guilty of having given ground to desire.
I have drank the aphrodisiac of innocence, but I could not forgive myself when the stupor wore off.
When the old world returns to the new, your only protection will be the Edge.
Hospitals bad. Ambulances bad. Aphrodisiac good.
A demon and a black goat offered me the universe for a fair price.
Each sentiment read as cryptic as the next, and nobody believed these were suicide notes that could have been written by mere teenagers. But amid the growing Fukuyama scandal, the messages could only have been interpreted as very clear demands. Stop sullying the purity of our bodies with machines or you will discover more dead children. Fukuyama Industries, it seemed, had been dealt a lethal hand. A generation of cybernetics were recalled. The company fell into obscurity. Some even rumored, perhaps in an attempt to cope, that a handful of children had been saved.
“Those ‘suicide notes?’ They were death sentences,” Thomas argued. “She visited them in their last moments and took their last words. Only this time, their words were hung around their necks.”
“That’s very cute Thomas, but you’re missing the motive,” Erin said. “No iteration of the legend has ever talked about her leaving behind the death sentences for people to find and read for themselves.”
“This was a special case,” Thomas explained. “Every one of those kids had something in common. They weren’t all on the same school bus for no reason.”
“You’re talking about the fact they were all diagnosed with some degree of neurodivergent behavior,” Erin speculated.
April remembered. The kids had been special. Special like her? No. April shook her head in confusion. She was a different case of special, wasn’t she?
“No, even more importantly,” Thomas corrected. “That they were undergoing cybernetic psychotherapy as a revolutionary treatment. Don’t you get it Erin? Many of them were given cybernetic minds. Machine brains to help straighten out their social interactions. This changes everything. That’s why we saw their death sentences. It’s because she didn’t accept them, because a part of their mind had become eternal.”
His statement hung in the air for a brief moment. Erin stared blankly back at Thomas. April, also very briefly, felt that familiar chill crawling up her spine at the sound of a haunting earth shattering revelation. But that tension evaporated quickly when Erin began laughing uncontrollably, clutching her belly and cackling wildly.
“Very amusing. This is why I love authors, the poetic conclusion is tantamount to the truth,” Erin clapped a few times and wiped tears from her eyes. “It’ll make for a good story, Thomas, I’ll give you that. It’s too bad there are still too many unexplained mysteries. Why were the notes so cryptically conceived? Some of the kids were implanted with cybernetic cornea, so why did their eyes not record this woman? If the detectives couldn’t get it right, what new information could a shut-in really offer besides fantasy and speculation?”
“I’m sure it’ll make for a good book, Thomas,” Erin chuckled. “Don’t dwell on my misgivings. Why don’t you go check on your brother? He’s been on the phone for a while. Or wait, I think I see some blinking lights. Maybe you should give the inbound officers your statement?”
As the police cars approached, Thomas wandered off, deciding between approaching his brother, who bore a rather serious expression on his face, or the officer who was stepping out of her car. He took the latter approach and shook hands awkwardly with the officer, who began asking him for his side of the story. With everyone distracted, Erin leaned closer to April Browne and began to whisper.
“Now would be a good time to leave,” she murmured. “It’s not safe for you to be here. They’re going to find out, and your symptoms are only going to get worse.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Hmm, your denial seems genuine enough,” Erin scanned over April’s expressions. “But you must be feeling it? Don’t lie. You’ve noticed, you’ve awakened in a sense. Your heart palpitates when you hear any mention of a medical facility. The shock is begging you for just one more drink. Well, I’m here to tell you there is one more drink. In the backseat of my car, there’s a flask of liquor. Take it. Consider it yours.”
“Why are you telling me this? What's going on,” April narrowed her eyes. Her body somehow found renewed strength at what Erin had said. She sat up straight. She couldn’t help it. Her eyes shifted away from Erin to the taxi a half block walk away.
“If I told you that the key to saving your life lies at the bottom of a swig of brandy,” Erin shrugged. “Would you even believe me?”
“No. Of course you don’t have to worry. Of course. Consider it done, sir,” Yuki Miyamoto finished the call a few minutes later. He shut off his phone and turned around.
Police cars lit up the street intersection, and a pair of tow trucks were dragging their cars away. Thomas was still giving his statement to the police officer, who listened patiently as he had returned to tripping over his own words.
“Yes, that’s what happened, I think,” Thomas squeaked. “No Officer Searle, she should be...wait where is she? She was just over there. No that’s not her. It was someone different.”
Yuki spotted Erin, who had taken over April’s spot on the bench. She sat there legs folded, looking quite pleased with herself. She was humming an old tune to herself and paid no attention to anyone else. As he walked towards her, he looked every which way for a sign of the journalist that had been lying there before.
But no matter where he looked, it appeared April Browne had vanished.
“Where did she go?” Yuki asked.
“Left on a journey of self-discovery I suppose,” Erin whistled. “Looks like it’ll just be the three of us, as usual.”
“I wasn’t looking.”
“Liar,” Yuki glowered. “You’re always looking.“
"Indeed,” Erin looked up at him, then at the phone he was holding firmly in his hand. She matched his glare. “I am also always listening.”