The attic in my house is locked up tight. My dad uses it as a personal office of some sort, and spends most of his free time there. For awhile I’ve suspected he was hiding some terrible secret up there, but I didn’t have any proof. I do now though, and things will never be the same.
My father is an engineer of some sort. Computer science I think, but honestly, I couldn’t say for sure. He’s also pretty reclusive. Not many friends to speak of, and spends most of his time up in his quadruple-locked attic. He and I see little of each other, but we will sometimes get into conversations about computers and stuff. Not really my cup of tea, but I enjoy any conversation with him really.
When I was around eight, my mother and I were in a car accident. My mother passed away, but I survived and spent the next year and a half recovering at home after suffering spinal damage. I have no memory of my time in the hospital, but luckily dad has filled me in on the details.
This accident has left me with some unfortunate lasting injuries. Chronic fatigue, a permanent crick in the neck, and a certain rather unpleasant scenario in the form of a colostomy bag. I also ended up dropping out of public school in favor of an online homeschool regiment. It’s not ideal circumstances, but I’m alive, and that’s better than the alternative.
As I mentioned, my dad spends most of his time away from work up in his attic. I assume because of his passion for tech, that he’s been working on some kind of invention. Every once in a while, I’ll hear the sounds of drilling or mechanical whirring of some kind coming from the attic.
“Just working on some gizmos and whatnot.” Being his go-to line whenever I broach the topic. He never really brings it up, so for a while I stopped asking. Everyone’s got hobbies after all, some people just don’t like talking about them I guess.
I never really paid it much thought, until the other night. I was up in my room, just working on homework and listening to music. With my headphones on I suddenly saw a plume of dust descend from my ceiling from the corner of my eye.
I paused my music and stared upwards at it. Specks of dust gently trickled down from the ceiling, sparkling in the faux lighting. A thud then struck again. I saw the ceiling quiver ever so slightly, followed by another small cascade of dust particles drift from the ceiling.
I probably should’ve felt the vibration from the impact earlier, but unfortunately, I feel nothing anymore. My nerve endings were severely damaged in the car crash and subsequent spinal damage. Because of that I no longer feel pain, or any sort of physical sensation.
You may think that would be a good thing, and at first, I did too. After a while though, you honestly realize it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s really the little things that got me. The feeling of a cozy, silk blanket in the middle of winter. A warm shower after a stressful day. The touch of another person in a tight embrace.
I put my pencil down, and decided to make my way to where the noise had originated. Upstairs I heard someone clamoring about, heavy footsteps and a sort of faint grunting noise. Not animalistic, but more like someone trying to loosen a really tight screw and exerting a lot of physical effort.
As I moved, I suddenly heard something much more distinct. The sounds of a female voice. She sounded like she was in pain, but her muffled groans could’ve been of an entirely different variety.
Two terrifying thoughts entered my mind simultaneously.
One: my father is a serial killer and was attempting to restrain and murder his latest victim.
And two: my father was busy getting funky with a new lady friend.
The thought of walking in on either scene was terrifying to contemplate. I thought about calling the police, or pretending like I never heard anything. But if either of my suspicions were correct, then those choices could’ve been either disastrous or rather embarrassing depending on the reality. I realized there was only one thing I could do, so I took a deep breath and continued walking.
I moved down the hallway from my room, until I was standing just below the attic door. Our house is kind of triangle-shaped from a standing perspective. No basement with both of our bedrooms on the second floor. At the end of the hall is the door to the attic, which consists of two sharply-angled triangular shaped walls that comprise the entire third floor.
I lifted a hand to knock on the door, when something stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Yes.” I paused, as a female voice spoke. Her voice seemed unusually informal given the circumstances. Her tone also didn’t seem to match either scenario I had concocted in my mind.
“Dad?” I called, knocking gently on the ghetto-rigged door. The commotion from upstairs suddenly ceased.
“Jess is that you?” Dad called back.
“Yeah… is everything okay up there?” I heard him shuffle around, before footsteps came quickly down the stairs. The door cracked open a second later, and my dad’s disheveled face poked out from within.
“Hey hun, what’s up?” His balding head had splotches of what appeared to be grease or oil of some kind mixed with glistening beads of sweat. Bags had formed below his eyes, and I could tell he hasn’t slept well lately.
“Nothing um… is everything okay? I heard a noise…” Dad’s eyes grew wide as I spoke. He disappeared within for a brief moment, and I heard chains and locks on the other end. He popped out a moment later, removing his fogged-over glasses.
“What did you hear?” His eyes were wide, and face contorted into a peculiar and intense stare. It made me nervous to see him suddenly so serious.
“Uh… just some like banging noises or something. Just wanted to make sure you were okay.” I shifted uncomfortably on my feet. Dad seemed to breathe a slight sigh of relief, and his worried expression turned back to a smile. We talked for several minutes, and dad claimed he had dropped a box of knick-knacks that caused the noise. I returned to my room soon after, but I knew then. He was hiding something from me.
The rest of that week went by as normal, with me busying myself with my online school, dad going to work, and both of us not seeing much of each other. Then Friday came.
All the while I had been researching things for a school project, when somehow, I stumbled upon an article discussing psychopaths and serial killers. To my dismay, my dad seemed to meet a lot of the criteria for them.
Intelligent and cunning, check.
It was a disturbing realization, but again I had no conclusive evidence. I told myself I was just misunderstanding him, and as his daughter I desperately didn’t want to believe it.
Another thing I should probably mention, is that from time to time I tend to have seizures. I’m pretty sure it’s another side effect of the crash, but as of yet, I have not gotten a solid diagnosis. They’re usually not a huge deal anyways, but I do end up blacking out from them every once in a while. Whenever I do, I wake up some time later in my bed, usually with my dad seated beside me.
This time was no different, and when I awoke I found dad sitting in a chair beside my bed reading something on his iPad. He broke from his task and removed his glasses as I stirred awake. He asked me how I was feeling, and groggily I said that I was okay. Then I saw the wires, blue and pulsating. They ran from his iPad directly into my ankle. I inquired about them, and quickly dad rose and removed them, claiming that they were a heartrate monitor.
He gave me some medicine, and he and I sat and talked for a while. I can tell my episodes make him nervous, and yet every time I mention going to the doctor, he resists the suggestion.
“Honey, the pills they give you will just turn you into a zombie.” Not literally of course, but typical anti-seizure meds can have effects of severe lethargy. I have been on a CBD oil regiment for quite some time. It has cut down on the seizures significantly, but unfortunately, they do still happen from time to time.
Dad also gives me a medication of his own. Some matt-grey pills with little sparkles on them. I don’t know what they are exactly, but I trust him. He knows his stuff.
We sat and chatted for a while, with dad again eventually veering into the realms of computers and technical stuff.
“Did mom ever have seizures like me?” The words suddenly burst from my mouth. Dad’s eyes flickered to me. His jovial smile contorting to a stoic grimace.
“No… she never showed any signs of it.” He paused and rubbed his hands. His eyes watered slightly, and part of me felt guilty for opening old wounds.
“I miss her…” I muttered. Dad did his best to offer a genuine smile, but there was no hiding the sorrow in his eyes. He moved closer and we shared a long hug. I wanted to cry, to unleash all the pain I felt, but the tears would not come.
Dad left a short while later, stating that he was headed to the store to get some things. I laid back in my bed, still drowsy and feeling a bit weak from my earlier episode. I was scrolling through Facebook when something caught my attention.
It was like a slight scratching noise, like nails dragging across wooden panels. I paused the video I was watching, and listened for several seconds. The scratching continued. It was consistent, like someone sawing a log far in the distance. But it was coming from above me, from the attic.
I rose from my bed and approached the door as the scratching continued.
“Dad?” I called, fumbling as the words left my mouth. He did not respond, but the noise continued.
*Scratch, scratch, scratch.* Dread began to seep it’s way into my mind, as I reached for the door handle.
*Scratch, scratch, BAM.* A sudden thud slammed overhead, causing me to jump. A cascade of dust particles drifted down from the roof and glimmered in the light.
I felt my pulse elevate, and pupils dilate as the scratching noise stopped. A torrent of thoughts flooded my mind. Was someone in the house? Was I just overreacting? Before I could rationally assess the situation, I found my hand reaching for the doorknob.
Slowly, I pried it open and stared down the dark hallway. Immediately something it became clear something was different. The door to the attic was wide open. Dad never left it open, not once had I seen it even slightly ajar, but this time it was.
A faux light flickered from above, illuminating the old wooden stairs that led to the attic. The dread I felt turned to a lead weight in my stomach. There was also something else though, curiosity.
I had never even seen the attic before, and the aroma wafting from the forbidden fruit was quite alluring. Part of me wanted to dash out the front door screaming, but another, stronger part of me wanted to see what was up there.
If my dad was up to something, nefarious, then I had to find out. What if someone was trapped up there? What if my dad was indeed actually a serial killer and his latest victim was trying to escape? Despite how strong my fear was, I knew I had to look.
I grabbed my taser from my dresser, and carefully snuck out my door. Each step I took seemed to coincide perfectly with my elevating my heart rate. The light from atop the attic shown brighter and brighter as I tiptoed my way towards it.
I reached the bottom, and stared up the old stairs. At the top I saw only a light shining in an empty room. I swallowed hard, and stepped onto the first stair. They creaked and groaned with each step I took, seeming to warn me away with desperate pleas, but I was not deterred.
It seemed like hours before I finally crested the top of the stairs, and for the first time entered the attic. A large desk lay in front of me opposite the stairs, lit by a long industrial lamp overhead that illuminated the room.
On the desk were various knick-knacks and electrical devices. The old remnants of a laptop that had been partially taken apart. A few coils of wiring bound tightly with zip-ties. Boxes of screws, staples and washers. A mannequin’s head, with some strange electrical apparatus strapped to it.
Behind the desk was a large intricate diagram of a human body, in a pose similar to Da Vinci’s Renaissance Man. The image was altered though. It was biomechanical, with various drawings of machinery parts replacing organs and muscles.
To the right was a gaggle of containers and boxes, all strewn haphazardly about and stacked in uneven piles. The floor itself was rather cluttered, with all sorts of random tools, parts and objects littered all over. Each step I took knocked something around.
To the right was a computer desk, with three separate monitors and several other improvised machines which I did not recognize. The room appeared almost how I had imagined it. Cluttered and disorganized, with my father’s half-completed inventions lying about.
I inspected the mannequin’s head on the lab bench. The device around it was like some sort of helmet, or at least the skeletal outline of it. Strands of the metallic cage ran down the cheeks and onto the chin, before conjoining around the scalp and under the neck. It looked like a very uncomfortable accessory, but I doubt fashion was my father’s main intention.
I turned away and towards the computer. Initially I thought all the screens were powered down, but upon closer inspection I saw one was still active. The home screen was entirely black and devoid of any icons, making the cursor stand out in the top right corner.
I approached the desk, being careful as to disturb as little of the junk at my feet as possible. I had calmed a bit from my initial disturbance, and rationalized that the noise I had heard earlier must’ve just been one of the stacks of boxes falling over. The scratching was probably just a rat in the walls. More than anything my curiosity took hold, and I wanted to discover what exactly my father was up to in his makeshift laboratory.
Upon the computer desk was a vast array of scribbled notes and calculations. Most of it was gibberish and formulas that I didn’t understand. My father’s penmanship is terrible, and deciphering his writing is like reading from a chalkboard underwater.
I stared at the notes, my mind struggling to discern patterns. I did see a few things of interest though.
“Transistor A-117 misfire. Blackout 21:32 Oct. 28th. Circuitry overload on Port-20. Adjust wattage during shutdown Epsilon.” That last sentence was scribbled out, and underneath ‘No’ was scrawled in bold font.
I didn’t know what any of it meant, though I didn’t expect to learn much from his notes. I lifted another piece of paper from the desk, and something fell out underneath it. A flash drive. I picked it up and turned it over. There was a piece of red tape on the underside, and written in permanent marker was a single word. Cassie.
Cassie is short for Cassandra, my mother’s name. A flood of emotions surged through me as I saw it. I miss her so much. I know dad does too, he just isn’t good at showing it a lot of the time.
As I held the drive in my hand and thought about my late mother, I noticed something else on the desk. It looked like a USB terminal. A makeshift one with wires running from it into the back of the active monitor. I plugged the drive into it.
I expected to find some old pictures of her. Maybe a few family videos as a sort of digital picture book in memoriam of her. Oh, how wrong I was. The computer screen shifted momentarily, before a window popped up. In the center was a ring of blue that shifted around almost like the audio waves on music apps when a song is playing. I heard something emanate from the speakers. Crying.
The crying continued for a brief moment, before the voice hiccupped and paused.
“Hello?” A female voice asked. A female voice that matched perfectly with the memories of my mother.
“Is someone there? Hello? Please help me…” She broke down into a chorus of sobs once again. The words struck like frozen needles into my chest. I may feel no physical pain, but emotional never goes away.
“Mom… Mom is that you?” I asked, voice beginning to quiver as sorrow blended in. She didn’t respond, only kept crying and muttering pleas for someone to ‘let her out.’ What had my dad done to her? Was this some audio recording of her being tormented before she passed? Why did he have this?
Another much more ridiculous thought then entered my mind. What if it was really her? What if she was communicating through the computer, or trapped within it somehow? I know that sounds completely insane for me to have thought that, but I just wanted so bad to talk to her.
I fumbled around on the desk, trying to find a mic or headset which I could use to respond. In my patented clumsy manner, I ended up accidently brushing a stack of electrical components off and onto the floor. They hit with a smack, dragging a few of the paper notes along with them. I cursed to myself, and began to lean in to retrieve the items. That’s when I saw it.
I froze, hoping desperately that my eyes had lied to me. Slowly my head tilted back up, and heart sunk into my chest. A face. It was motionless, pale and obscured by a stack of boxes in the furthest depths of the room. But I saw it, wide unblinking eyes staring back at me. Dark hair draped from the top of it’s head. It’s face was female, but I could not see the distinct characteristics.
I fell backwards, landing on my back and staring dead ahead at the face in the shadows. It just stood there, completely motionless. I’ve never felt terror so strong in my life.
“Hel… hello?” My voice stammered as the words left my throat. The person did not react. It just stood there, partially hidden as the serenade of weeping continued from the computer.
A door then shut down below. It hardly even registered in my mind, as no matter what I did I was unable to peel my gaze away from the figure in the shadows.
Footsteps fell one by one as someone approached from below. I was frozen, a deer in headlights as the footsteps drew closer. I lifted my taser and held it to my chest, knowing I may have to use it, but entirely unconvinced of my ability.
The footsteps reached the bottom of the attic stairs, and I scrambled back towards the work bench. My back pushed firmly against it, I watched as a figure in a dark hoodie emerged into the light.
“Stay back!” I shouted, igniting my gun and letting the electricity crackle through the diodes. The person suddenly jumped, and removed his hood. It was my dad, a look of utter bewilderment upon his face.
“Jess… what are you doing?” He asked, face rife with confusion as he removed the headphones from his ears.
“Dad there’s somebody over there…” I shouted back, pointing a shaking hand towards the corner which held the figure. Dad turned towards where I pointed, his perturbed glance never leaving his face.
“Jess what do you…”
“The corner dad! Somebody’s in the corner!” I shouted again. Dad lifted both hands in a peaceful gesture, and turned to the indicated corner.
“Here?” He asked. Before I could reply he moved quickly over towards it.
“No wait…” I shouted, but it was too late. Dad walked straight over to the figure and began fumbling with a lightbulb off to the side. All the while the person continued an unmoving stare back at me. Dad grabbed the bulb, and sighed loudly.
“I hoped you’d never have to see this…” He spoke. His words were shameful, like a child caught stealing a cookie from the jar.
I couldn’t even speak. A brief moment of silence separated us, before my dad turned on the light. The harsh LED bulb ignited like a flare from the sun, cutting through the dim room and banishing the shadows.
My eyes adjusted a moment later, and then I saw her. The figure which moments ago had petrified me, a familiar woman. Her pale face with rosy cheeks, amber eyes and dark flowing hair. Her imperfections were there, the slight wrinkles under her eyes, and patches of freckles on her cheeks. It was impossible, it was my mother.
“What the hell is this dad?” My head swiveled on my shoulders as I began to feel faint. Tears still refused to form within my eyes. Dad sighed deep, and stared at the uncanny figure.
“After the accident… I didn’t know what to do…” He paused and ran his hand down the figure’s cheek. The figure did not react. Dad swallowed hard and adjusted his glasses while choking up.
“I couldn’t bare life without you…” He looked to me with glimmering eyes, then back to the dummy. The vocalizations of my mother’s voice continued to broadcast from the computer speakers. I turned to it, seeing the blue ring fluctuate wildly in resonance.
“What did you do?” My lips quivered as dad contemplated the question. I didn’t even know if I wanted an answer. A horribly morbid thought arose to me then. Was that truly her? Her corpse preserved as taxidermy? I began to feel sick as dad glanced back to the computer, shaking his head.
“For some reason I can’t get her program to properly synchronize.” He lifted a hand to the figure’s face and fumbled around with it for a moment. I watched, stricken with terror and on the verge of collapse. A clicking noise sounded, and I watched as dad removed the skin of the figure.
I gasped as he pulled back. Underneath I saw two large white orbs painted to resemble eyes. A series of wiring, metallic hinges and small pistons replacing the presence of bones and veins. Her skull itself was comprised of a metal frame, lined with little LED’s and circuitry. Dad turned back towards me, holding her faceplate in his hand. Two strands of tears drifted from either of his eyes.
“I just wanted us to be a family again…” He almost broke as he said it. I hauled myself to my feet.
“A robot?” Dad shrugged, rubbing his neck.
“Well… android… technically speaking.” He adjusted his glasses.
“No, no, no dad this is wrong!”
“Jess wait…” He begged, but I wasn’t listening. It was just too much. I rushed towards the door, but as I did, my inner klutz took hold and stepped upon some random object on the ground. My footing was swept from underneath me, and I tumbled down the stairs. There was no pain, not physical at least.
I hit the bottom a moment later and quickly rose to my feet. Dad stared down from the top of the stairs. Arm outstretched and face infused with sorrow. I rose to my feet, and he gasped.
“Jess…” He was staring down at my side. I looked down, and saw that my arm had been split open from the fall. There was no blood. I inspected the wound, and felt my head begin to spin. There was no flesh, no arteries, no sinew. Just wires, and mechanical parts.
“No…” I shook my head again and reached into the wound. I pinched a wire, and pulled it upwards. It glowed a slight neon blue that pulsed periodically. I looked back to dad, desperate for him to abate my worries.
“Jess please wait… I can explain.” I was far beyond his explanations. I dashed from the room and into the hall bathroom. The footsteps of dad came rumbling down the stairs after me as I slid the lock on the door. I stared at myself in the mirror. My brown hair, hazel eyes, pallid cheeks. All of them contrasted by the atrocity within my left arm.
I pinched my cheek, and drew the flesh slightly downward. Underneath it, I saw the feint glimmering of neon blue. My nails dug into my cheek and I tried tearing flesh away, but it would not budge. I tore at my neck and around my ears as well, until finally I found miniscule staples around my jaw.
It took a bit of effort, but soon I was able to pop them open using my fingernails. I dug in deeper, and after fiddling a moment, I felt where the pieces were connected. My father was sobbing and pounding on the door, but I paid him no mind.
Slowly I pried harder upon the joint, eliciting a series of clicks, cracks and pops. Finally, the thing broke, and my entire face gave way. I removed it, and stared at the abomination in the mirror. Wires, pistons, circuitry and hinges. A neon blue strobe passing through the components in an almost rhythmic fashion. My eyes moved around, but without my faceplate I was unable to blink. What the hell am I?
I managed to remove the skin covering my chest awhile later. Underneath it, I saw an articulate display of clockwork organs that mimic authentic ones. My heart is a bulbous, metallic bag like contraption. My ribs are a dull grey metal, probably aluminum or some other lightweight material.
I watched my lungs swell as I artificially breathed in and out. There is no purpose to my breathing. It was all a lie to convince me that I was real, and not an imitation. There is no flesh, no blood, no humanity.
I’m not even human, just a fucking robot, an abomination. The accident, the recovery, my mother. Is it all just a lie? Was I ever even human to begin with? Are they memories or just programming?
I am just a science project, an algorithm driving an imperfect machine. Something just smart enough to emulate free will, and just dumb enough to believe I actually have it. I have no purpose, no reason for being. I am just an imitation of life, nothing more. What hell am I supposed to do?
Another memory just flashed in my mind. My father’s notes, although difficult to decipher, I’m fairly certain I recognized something. I’m pretty sure those notes about the blackout referenced me. Above them, I saw the heading ‘#172.4’.
Does that mean there are more of us? My father has been at the same job for my entire life. God knows what he’s done during his time there. I don’t know the answer, but I know I can no longer stay here. I have to find the others. I don’t know what else to do.