the ghost of you

Miranda’s feet pattered clumsily down the cold metal stairs, flanked on both sides by guards who were ready to grab his arms and yank him back upright in case he slipped and fell. The staircase was longer than Miranda had expected, going down at least three floor’s worth of faded red and orange bricks outlined with pebbled gray before turning into a locked door. The downstairs didn’t have nearly as much heating as he would have desired, so he stood silently with his arms wrapped around his midsection draped with a shoddily-made yellow shift and wished that socks were an official part of the experiment’s uniform.

When the heavy doors finally slid open with the light of a green clearance indicator, Miranda craned his head to try to get a look inside the chambers beyond before the guards resumed their hold on his arms and guided him inside. The right wall was lined with bunk beds made neatly with crisp red sheets and pillows, awaiting use that they hadn’t seen for more than a year, and the left wall had various bulky machines that would be too valuable to risk to a potential tornado- stasis pods, surgical tanks not yet filled with the blue liquid that would allow the subject to retain their life while hanging in the void, and racks of tissue samples collected over the years frozen and locked away in their own cabinets. What was of interest to the guards and a destination for Miranda, however, was the bunk at the far end of the hallway, where a clearly feminine body was attempting to sit up straight against the bed frame and failing due to lack of arm strength.

Gazing upon the girl’s struggle for a dignified position in bed, Miranda was stricken with a fright manifested in shivers slipping down his spine, trying to back away from the figure but held in place by the steadfast guards. In her eyes was a sort of flame that sent vivid horrors into Miranda’s mind- blatant contrasts of scarlet against white and velvet against taut skin and porcelain in technicolor streaks.

“What’s the problem with you? Is she supposed to look like she has a pupil defiricency?” In Miranda’s mental absence, the girl had finally managed to attain an upright position and was now staring at him incredulously.

He swallowed harshly and breathed deeply, trying to regain his composure. “I… I use male pronouns, in case you didn’t know. Sorry about that. I don’t know what overcame me.”

“Are you, say, the head honcho here? Have any answers for me, finally?” She reached around her back and slipped a few of her fingernails under the web of gauze caked over her back side, which concealed what looked like long blades beneath the surface of artificial white. “These things hurt like hell, by the way.”

“I have no more idea of what’s going on than you do.” The guards dropped his arms unexpectedly and left, probably due to some urgent business in another part of the facility. With the girl watching him warily, he reached around her back and started gently coaxing off the stubborn bandages with both hands. “Only woke up about two weeks ago.”

“Then what’s your purpose here?” Miranda’s fingers worked deftly but cautiously, eventually exposing what could have been works of art in some other age. One-sided dagger blades adorned her backside, mimicking wings in a way that steampunks could only envy.

“Hold still.” Removing the final strip of gauze, Miranda shot back a few feet as the girl, who still hadn’t disclosed her name, extended her left wing and exposed the scar tissue surrounding its connection to her body. “That’s not holding still, last time I checked.”

“I didn’t try to do that on purpose.” She drew the wing back in shyly, curling up in her bunk. “My name’s Rena. It’s been a long day. Good luck finding your way upstairs.”


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