Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Trapped 1/3

Short story:

It was hard at first. Trying to comprehend that my friend Carter wasn’t dead, merely no longer a physical being, was just bizarre. I mean, I understood why he did it. He had been trapped in his body when he was 19, a motorcycle accident.

What use was his body? Despite having significant technological enhancements that enabled him to live a more or less “normal” life, he was perceived as decrepit or as merely some sort of cyborg abomination. Granted his body was nearly useless. His wheelchair strapped his body into what was nearly a pod. It had cold mechanical hands that served as cold clammy substitutes for his mangled and deformed ones. Two independent wheels on gyroscopes served as his legs, getting him nearly anywhere he wanted to go. It was his bionic body as we jokingly called it.

Even his speech was modified by an amplifier that massaged his throat muscles to make sounds. His life was not normal. The hardest thing was going out on weekends. When we were in college, before his accident, he used to bring home a different girl every night. In the five years since then, he hadn’t been able to hold more than a polite pity conversation with any girl. It was hard for him and he was often angry.

He drank. Who could blame him? He dropped out. Of course he did, the transition was hard. But this, I still wasn’t sure. What would it accomplish?

I remember the last conversation I had with him in person. We were in his room and he was getting ready for bed. I was getting ready to leave but he had a lot less difficulty when someone helped him. I propped him up as he directed his bionic body to unbutton his shirt. He spoke slowly to me.

“I’m...not...sure...I...can...do...this” his voice was more strained than usual.

“What are you talking about? Get ready for bed?”

He started weeping, heaving sighs. When he cried his body didn’t tense, instead wheezing shrieks came from him, a disturbing sound that was all the energy his weakened body could release. “All...this...” he said between sobs.

His bionic body opened his pajama shirt and I slid his arms in, one by one. I tried to comfort him, I rubbed his back until I realized he could not feel my hand, “sure you can. C’mon man, you’re smart, you have so much.”

“No...no...no” he said, his voice distorted by the machines in his throat, “no...body...” I opened my mouth but he wasn’t done. “No...skills...no friends...no...women.”

I couldn’t argue with him. He had been the unfortunate recipient of a life-altering accident and had never been able to escape from the haunting moment when a faulty bolt gave way and threw a piece of twisted metal at his neck.

I looked at the helmet mounted on his wall. It had a deep gash in it. He insisted that I mount it for him. The helmet had saved his life, but it didn’t protect him fully. I became very aware of his pain at that moment. He took in a sharp breath and gathered himself.

“She...didn’t...pretend” he said. My mind raced ahead of his words, pretend what? She, who was she? When did this happen? What the hell were they talking about? “I...asked...her...to...hang...out...and...” his voice strained and cracked. I didn’t need to hear the rest of the story. It was the same every time. They smiled and walked away. Sometimes they didn’t even smile. “Just...wanted...t’be...a part...of it.”

They treated Carter like he was a cute parlor trick at first. Always some accessory, like a purse. Then when he became human--too human--they left. There was no excuse for it--except that there always was an excuse. Carter couldn’t cope; he was just an outsider looking in.

His bionic body picked him up and I pulled the covers on his bed back. The body lowered him gently into the bed and I pulled the covers up to his neck. He turned away from me as he cried. I didn’t have anything to say. I went to the door, turned off the light, and left.