The Sequence of Kai
The hinges on the door finally give way and I stumble into the next dark carriage, gasping for air. Breathing isn’t a necessity for me anymore but something about that place was suffocating. A traumatic memory from someone trapped inside me, it felt wrong for me to remember it, to view it from my mind’s eye and change it.
Bodies on the floor entice me to join them, not realizing in their nothingness that I cannot. And because they do not know, they still try; my knees give way and I fall limp into a pool of blood. It’s cold and fresh at the same time, reminding me of what it feels like to hastily dissect a creature of the night.
Though my eyes have been open all this time, I still can’t see anything. Even so, I refuse to close them, because I know what I’ll see if I do. I can’t afford to see those things, to be driven mad by the whole of everything like that poor girl. She had a way out before she became what she would have, I don’t.
Mallory curls my body into the fetal position involuntarily. It wasn’t me, Kai would never do something so vulnerable, she never ever would.
“Are you ready to give me a name yet?”
Across from me, a girl comes into view, a mirror image of myself. Her knees are tucked up to her chest and the blood is soaking into her long blonde ponytail. Our faces are about an arms-length across from each other. Why I can see her and nothing else, I do not know. Everything is starting to disconnect from everything else.
“Still too scared?”
“I’m not scared. You have a name, everything has a name. You’re gonna tell me what it is or I’ll beat it out of you.”
“Just close your eyes if you want to know the truth. I know what you can see when you do.”
“And you say that you’re not scared?”
The whoosh of the train entering a tunnel punctuates her sentence.
She’s right. I’m scared. I haven’t felt this scared in a very long time. There’s nothing she can do to me but everything she can take. At all costs, I must avoid closing my eyes.
“You seem to know everything about me."
"More or less."
“Then why did you show me that memory? Were you trying to make me turn back? Did you expect me to cry or scream? It’s been done to me before, you won’t make me flinch with tricks stolen from an emotion reaper.”
"It wasn’t the same. You’ve become accustomed to your own traumas, I know there’s nothing I could show you of Kai’s memories that would make you bat an eye. Instead, I showed you something else, to remind you what it was like to hurt.”
“It sucked, thanks, but I already knew that.”
“No. You had forgotten.”
It’s not something I’d thought about, but it’s true. Ever since I gained this power, the sensation of physical pain has deserted me. In that memory, I knew that getting stung was meant to hurt, but I simply could not comprehend what that would feel like. Instead, every stinger that penetrated my skin felt alien and new, my mind couldn’t remember the sensation of pain so it made something up.
“Why did you come here, Kai?”
“Because you’re hurting people.”
"And you don’t hurt people? I’m pretty sure there’s more blood on your hands than mine."
“I don’t care about being a hypocrite, I don’t think the same things day to day, on another perhaps I would’ve stayed at home. But today I felt like I cared and just because I hurt people, that isn’t a reason to stop you from doing the same.”
The girl’s face stops mirroring mine as it grows disappointed in my words, her body follows suit and stands up to loom over me.
“What’s so wrong with hurting people?”
“That’s a stupid question…”
“No, it’s not,” the girl lifts me up violently and drops me into a vacant seat. “You’re not special, there’s no one, alive or dead, with a sufficient amount of answers to decide that any question is stupid. No answer you can give is itself beyond question. No lie you can tell yourself will ever be convincing enough. No drug, no God, no lover, no adventure, no book can make them disappear. The only solution to questions are answers and death, infinity and nothing, it’s just a matter of which you reach first.”
As the girl crumples into the seat across from me, the train exits the tunnel. Outside, the moon lights up a frozen tundra that never seems to end. For the first time since I passed the warning sign, the light from outside seems to affect visibility within the train. White and blonde-haired bodies litter the cabin floor, one of them is propped up in the seat beside me but I still don’t have the strength to move it. The girl before me who was the man before her looks just like the corpses she made. Another question I’m afraid to ask.
But I can only reach for infinity.
“When I was a kid, before any of this, I was fascinated by insects. They kind of creeped me out, to be honest, all the buzzing would never get out of my ears, the way that they moved was so unnatural, nothing like a human. There was a dream I used to have as a child, involving wings. I would fall from the sky and land in the dirt, completely paralyzed. In an instant, wasps would start burrowing their way out from under me and start stinging me all over. If there wasn’t space where they emerged, they would crawl over each other to find an open patch of skin to insert themselves into. This would happen over and over as I screamed until eventually, they stung me right into the ground. And underneath the ground, there was another sky, with more ground underneath it and more wasps underneath that ground. I’ve never been stung by an insect of any description before.
"Ants are easier to catch than wasps, less scary things to catch too. You ever try to pull the legs from an insect? They just come right off. Human legs don’t do that, if you try to rip one of them away there’s all this blood and screaming and resistance. I pulled the legs off a lot of ants, to work myself up to a wasp. A wasp with no legs cannot land on me, it cannot sting me. There was something very reassuring about watching a wasp spasm around in a jar with no way to right itself, it made me feel stronger than an insect.
"Cats have ribs though. When a car hits one, its ribs can puncture through its skin, just like a human. My dad didn’t do a good job at hiding our dead cat from me, I saw its rib poking through and felt a sharp pain in my abdomen. I could imagine what it might feel like, I had fractured a rib before. When I imagined that kind of pain and made the connection to our cat, I couldn’t stop crying.
"Insects don’t scream. They can’t tell me that they’re hurt, so how was I supposed to know?
"Not too long ago, I slit an innocent girl's throat and felt nothing. It wasn’t anything sad, she wanted to die and she was right to. What is it like to have your throat sliced open? I can’t imagine it. I have her very memory of it seared into my skull and I still can’t imagine how it hurt.
"There’s only one thing that reminds me why pain is bad; Trish. When she feels sad, I feel empathy I thought myself incapable of for the longest time. For a brief moment in my infinity, she has reminded me that other people feel things.
"And I worry for when she dies. How long after her funeral will it be before everyone else morphs back from a cat into a wasp?
"There has to be something I’m missing. Something beyond ‘empathy’, something persistent and something that isn’t a lie.
"So please, tell me your name. I’m scared.”
I gather the strength to look my opponent in the eye but all I find is an empty seat. Collapsing up to my feet, I see tracks in the blood leading further into the train. It’s all I can do to stumble into the next carriage.