★ ★ ★ ★
ROAR. SCREAM. LAUGH.
Electric hum. Liquid surge. Lights. Pneumatics. Action.
When will it end?
I just want to sleep.
I was sleeping.
I was dreaming of the jungle. The real jungle. Full of smells and sounds and living things.
The air was rich. Air my lungs wanted to breathe. Not this staleness they pump in here.
For the show.
I was stalking a hadrosaur. I could feel my legs hitting the jungle floor as I chased it down. Vegetation damp with dew slapped my thighs. Small trees lay flattened in my wake. I roared as I pinned my prey to the ground. A family of frightened palintropis flew from the treetops. My blood was pumping. My skin was taut. My teeth sharp and glistening with hunger.
It was great.
I was great. Once.
But on with the show. It’s that time again.
Drums. Music. Mist.
I rise. I raise my head. My neck twists left. My neck twists right. Then down I lean. My eyes lock onto the assembled crowd. My jaws unhinge. I roar.
Then they laugh at themselves for screaming. For being afraid.
I’m not real. Or so they believe. I am a mechanical monster. Well-constructed. Artfully-rendered. I am here for their entertainment. For their amusement. I am here. Always here.
Show over. They move on. Into the gift shop. Out into the world. While I remain.
Next show in fifteen minutes. Every half hour until closing.
I retreat into the landscape. An oversized jack-in-the-box.
The crowds aren’t what they used to be. They used to flock to my make-believe corner of the jungle. I used to enjoy my moment to be king. To be larger than life. To demonstrate how lucky they were not to have been born during the time I ruled the land. I would rise up out of the mist and look down upon them. I would see the fear on their faces. The awe in their eyes. It gave me a thrill. A reason to be.
But no more. The show is no longer a show. I don’t feel big at all. I feel small. I long for who I am in my dreams. It’s painful.
However, throughout the day there is one I see. He keeps coming back. He doesn’t flinch. He doesn’t laugh. He studies me. And I study him.
I see him talking to the manager.
This curiosity is enough to pass the hours till closing time.
The lights go down. Power bleeds to just a trickle. I relax and slowly sink into my hiding place.
Where I will dream again. Dream of a time when there was no them. No they. No laughing. No show.
Clean air. Thick jungle. Home.
* * *
In my dream I am standing tall. I am mighty. Tricerotops. Stegosaurus. Monoclonius. All give me a wide birth as I strut and stomp across my territory. My domain. Only the pteranodon and the archaeopteryx escape my wrath. My hunger.
Power up. Electric hum.
No. Not now. Not when I feel so alive. So free.
But something is different. The air is different. The space that surrounds me is no longer confining.
Where my body used to end has been modified.
There is no hole. No well of grief I used to hide within. No jack-in-the-box.
I now have legs.
I am standing.
The space here is much larger. Enough to hold ten of me. There are tools and machinery. Computers with screens aglow with numbers and drawings. Pieces and parts of previous experiments litter the floor.
I raise my head. My neck twists left. My neck twists right. Then down I lean. My eyes lock onto him.
The one from before. The one who studied me. Could he have sensed that I was more than machine? That even a replica who repeats the same imitation of life over and over again will eventually become real?
Now, he watches me. To see what I will do with my newfound legs. My newfound freedom.
I stretch. I do not sigh. My jaws unhinge. I roar.
He holds a device in his hand. He pushes a button, and with a clank and rattle the space opens even more.
A doorway to a world where the air is rich. The sky above is bright and blue. Where the sun beams with a warmth I only find in my dreams.
I leave this space and enter a greater space beyond. Walking at first. Growing accustomed to my new legs. I pick up speed. Leaving footprints deep in the earth behind me.
I run toward the great wall of green in the distance.
I run. I don’t look back.
Kurt Newton is a health physicist. His science and technical background, combined with his love of horror, fuels his sometimes dark, cautionary view of technology and its unintended consequences. His fiction has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Black Infinity and The Arcanist.
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