BE SURE TO VOTE FOR YOUR FAVORITE. AND COMMENT AT THE END. FOR THIS ROUND I’M GIVING AWAY A COPY OF MY COLLECTION, THESE OLD TALES (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK) FOR DAVID ANDERSON AND RACHEL AUKES IS GIVING AWAY A COPY OF 100 DAYS IN DEADLAND (WINNERS CHOICE OF EBOOK OR AUDIOBOOK). YOU HAVE TO COMMENT TO WIN. VOTING AND COMMENTING CLOSE WHEN THE NEXT ROUND BEGINS.
BRAIN MAPPING FOR THE ADVANCED NEUROSCIENTIST
Entry 137 – Voice Transcription Initialized – 14 March
It has taken me many years but I have finally succeeded. Success came while walking in the afternoon sun. I happened upon a man and his son on a stroll. The boy stumbled and his father, without thought, reached out and grabbed him. It was pure instinct, controlled, at least in part, by the spinal column and peripheral ganglia. You see, the mind isn’t simply the cerebellum, the pallium, hypothalamus, and so on. It extends into other areas!
When I programmed my slugs to not only map the brain, but the spinal column as well, it made all the difference. After they made their route through the latest cadaver, I loaded them into the reader and was thrilled to find the data was intact! The subject’s memories had been successfully recorded. I must further investigate the findings for other abilities and skills but it is late and I grow tired.
Entry 138 – 15 March
I spoke too soon, I am afraid. Though the subject’s memories were mostly intact, other functions were lost. From what I understand, in life, this man was a gifted violinist. After combing through every line of code, I found no sign of his ability. The memories were there but the skill he had honed over years of practice had simply vanished.
I know there is something missing but I do not yet know what.
Entry 139 – 19 March
I hesitate to commit this to record for fear of reprisal but in the name of progress some social, and perhaps even moral, limitations must be bypassed. After extensive research, I believe the problem with losing data stems from the subject being deceased. This indicates that, in order for the process to be successful, the subject must still be living when the process occurs.
I must admit that I find myself struggling with this. I do not want to take the life of another human being, but how many lives could be saved if the mind of the world’s foremost authority on cancer research were to be recorded, saved, and duplicated? If his or her experience and thought process could be coupled with that of other brilliant minds in the field, what breakthroughs could occur? Is not the life of one human being a small price to pay to save millions? And over time, billions?
Entry 140 – 26 March
I’ve altered the encryption on these recordings in the hopes of staving off discovery.
While walking to the market last night after the sun had set, I passed a homeless man warming himself by a barrel fire. I would have paid him no mind but he whistled a lovely tune. I do not know that I have ever heard it before but it was beautiful with many highs and lows which he traversed with great ease. It occurred to me that whistling is not a difficult skill to master but this man had a particular talent. If I could be successful in mapping something this simple, perhaps I could move forward in other areas.
I am not proud to admit what comes next. I removed a small bill from my wallet and approached him. He reeked of alcohol and body odor but when he was close enough, I injected him with a strong sedative. He was difficult to drag down alleyway but in the dark of night, I am certain no one saw me.
I put him in my trunk and drove immediately to the lab. After strapping him to the table, I waited for him to regain consciousness. If nothing else, I felt I owed him some explanation. He should know what a large part of history he was becoming.
Of course, he begged and pleaded but to no avail. I must press on in the hopes of saving future generations. Despite his protests, I cut open a small portion of skin to the left of where his cerebellum, brain stem, and spinal column connect and let the mappers get to work.
I fear his screams will haunt me to the end of my days.
Entry 141 – 27 March
Despite the difficulty in coming to terms with what I have done, I was successful! After the initial upload of normal brain functions, I began to see new lines of code; things I had never seen before. They strung along in wonderful characters converting not only a lifetime of practice but also latent talent into quantifiable data! Once completed, I checked the findings four times before convincing myself it was all there.
Next comes the hurdle of transferring that data from computer memory to a useful vessel, another human.
Entry 142 – 1 June
I have not committed anything from the past two months to this record. Installing the port into my skull with no help was a long, arduous, and painful process. Despite this, I have tried the process and it was successful.
Two days ago, I could not recall the tune that caught my attention. I remember it was lovely and I enjoyed it but the details were lost. I uploaded those new lines of code to one of my “mapping monsters,” as I have come to call them. I’m not sure I like the name though.
I placed it next to the port in the back of my skull and waited. The slithering felt cold and unusual initially but once it found entry, the sensation was forgotten. There was some discomfort as I felt it latch onto my brain and begin sending electrical impulses to rewrite portions of my memory. Within seconds I was whistling the tune as if I had been doing it for years.
Think of the implications! The skilled hands of a surgeon being passed along to hundreds of doctors! The talent of the next Picasso or Rembrandt being distributed to so many promising young artists!
I will explore my results further but first, perhaps a celebratory drink is in order. I do not normally imbibe, but it is a special occasion.
Entry 143 – 2 June
I may have over extended my celebrating last night. I wish to resume my work but my head is aching fiercely and I am having trouble maintaining focus. At the very least, I can categorize this as a new experience, scientifically analyze the sensations.
But first, I’m going to take a nap.
Entry 144 – 5 June
I have spent the past few days wrestling with my desire to see my research continue and my reluctance due to moral reasons. I am repulsed by the notion of taking another human being’s life but the greater good of humanity itself hangs in the balance. Despite my reservations, I feel I must continue.
This is why I recently disguised myself and visited the local homeless shelter. The vagrants are less likely to be missed, reducing my chances of being caught. Having never learned to speak another language, I sought out someone who could. I came across a man who used to be a high school French teacher. The “thought slug” has already mapped his brain.
No, I don’t like that name either.
I am now placing the creature near my port. The sensation is still somewhat unnerving. The lubricant excreted helps conduct the electrical charge but it is more than a little uncomfortable.
It is now inside my skull. I just felt a slight pinch as it latched on. Ah!
At-il travailler? Je ne suis pas sûr.
Entry 145 – 8 June
It has been a very busy few days. There are limited possibilities with homeless shelters but so far, I have learned to play the piano and speak French, Spanish, and a little Mandarin. Unfortunately, I feel I have reached the end of the possibilities here. Thus, I have begun searching for new subjects in different areas.
What was that?
I must be tired. I need rest.
Entry 146 – 12 June
It seems fortune has smiled on me. At a locale convenience store, a strapping young man came out to find his car broken down. It’s a shame how that happens. He was returning from his sophomore year and attending university on a football scholarship. Quarterback.
The short version is that now, I can throw a football sixty yards and still hit a plastic cup. Strangely enough, this time, it took a little while to master. Though my brain had the knowledge, my muscles took longer to acclimate to the new abilities.
Entry 147 – 13 June
My knowledge remains intact as do my recently acquired physical abilities. I haven’t noticed any real side effects yet. I hypothesized there might be some but so far, nothing.
Entry 148 – 15 June
I think my lab may have become home to a rodent. I keep hearing random noises.
This makes me curious. Could the abilities of a scavenger or predator be successfully mapped and transferred across species? That’s a big question. I will need to do a lot more research.
Entry 149 – 19 June
I think local law enforcement may have become aware of what I’m doing. I keep hearing a buzzing sound and the hint of voices. Could they have bugged my lab? I’ve been very careful to incinerate all evidence. Even the college boy’s car was dumped in the lake. Nothing should be tied back to me but I have to stay careful. I am making too much progress to be stopped. They wouldn’t understand.
As a side note, I still haven’t found that rat. I’ll get him though.
Entry 150 – 21 June
I can sing! I visited a karaoke bar late last night and befriended a man with an incredible voice. He had amazing control and power, even though he was obviously drunk. The promise of more alcohol and perhaps a romantic encounter was all it took to lure him here.
Needless to say, after a brief brain rewrite by one of my mechanical friends and a couple of hours practicing, I could probably get a job with a local band. Ha! Amazing!
Entry 151 – 23 June
I have to find that bug! The police are messing with my head! They want to stop my research. Maybe they want it for themselves. They could use it to create an entire force of super cops. They could take over the city and impose their law on everyone.
I won’t let that happen!
Entry 152 – 24 June
My head hurts. I need rest but I have to continue my research. What are the limits of my brain? If I continue, how much knowledge and skill can I get? What all can I do?
What did you say?
I don’t know. I’ll get it later.
Entry 153 – 27 June
I can cook! All the wonderful flavors and textures and combinations! It’s fantastic!
I’ll admit that this subject was a little harder to handle. He was rather large. But you know what they say, never trust a skinny chef! Ha!
I wonder if I’ll get fat now.
Entry 154 – 28 June
A cop car followed me for three blocks after I left the grocery store today. They know. I’m sure of it.
Entry 155 – 30 June
I’m not sure where to go next. There are so many possibilities. I’ve lost count of how many subjects I’ve collected. I can do some astounding things now.
Okay, I’ll tell them.
I can juggle! How cool is that?
Entry 156 – 2 July
The bad news is that a police officer came by to ask me if I’d noticed any strange things happening in the area lately, unusual people running around or acting odd. I panicked.
The good news is that I know how to shoot a gun now.
Entry 157 – 3 July
They’re here! Here to stop my work! They don’t want me to reach my full potential. I’ll show them. I’m loading everything onto the Net. All the neural maps, schematics for the leeches and ports, and all of my journal entries.
I’d hoped to have more time to research this next part but I don’t. I’m plugging my brain into the computers. I’m going to load my mind and all of its skills on the Net. They may kill my body but not my mind!
What are you doing? No! You can’t!
Stay away from that! No!
Don’t turn that—
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
“Gramps was right,” the man said to his girlfriend, a grin wide on his face. “Gramps told me he found this place over sixty years ago on a hiking trip with his high school buddies. It’s exactly like he described it. Absolutely perfect.”
She wanted to argue, especially after a full day’s drive and a hot morning’s hike out here, but instead she couldn’t help but return his smile. It really was beautiful. A tiny island, hidden among the Cyprus trees, encircled by a moat. A fairytale paradise, truly. Even as he spoke, a couple Monarch butterflies had fluttered by her cheek.
“C’mon,” he said, tucking the hand-drawn map into his cargo pocket. “Let’s get to the island.”
Her smile fell into a frown. The only access to the island was a rickety looking wood plank bridge. “We’re crossing that?”
He cautiously stepped on it and then did a tiny jump. The board creaked but held. He let out a whoop. “It’s fine. Just like Gramps said.”
“That was sixty years ago,” she reminded him.
He shrugged. Confidence filled his steps as he crossed the bridge. When he was on solid ground again, he faced her. “See? It’s a piece of cake.” He motioned to her. “Your turn.”
After a moment’s hesitation, she gave a tight nod and stepped onto the warped two-by-eight piece of wood. She took a deep breath and put a foot forward. The water below was dark and murky. It wasn’t that she was afraid of getting wet. It was the idea of walking several miles in wet hiking books that didn’t set well with her. Step by timid step, she crossed, feeling the wood bend and creak beneath her feet. She took the last few steps in a rush and jumped onto the island with a squeal.
He caught her and pulled her into a kiss. The kiss turned in a caress, which turned into a lovemaking session, followed by the romantic picnic lunch they’d brought in their backpacks. “Here’s to our first year together,” he toasted and clinked their wine glasses.
Afterward, the pair lay under the shade of the tiny island’s single tree, with birds providing music. She snuggled deeper into his embrace, despite the humid heat drenching them.
He chuckled. “While I’d love to stay here forever with you, if we don’t start heading back now, we’ll have to hike in the dark.”
“I wish we could stay here forever,” she murmured before stretching and coming to her feet, reluctant to abandon their newfound Eden. “We’ll come back every year,” she said. “This will always be our place.”
He smiled and kissed her. “Our place, I like the sound of that.” With that, they dressed and packed their trash.
He took the bridge first, each step bringing a creak from the wood. Midway across, a loud crack resounded in the air, and the board broke in half. She gasped as he plummeted into the water in a splashing flurry of limbs and wood.
“Oh my god, are you okay?” she called out, stepping to the edge of the water.
“Fine,” he sputtered out between coughs.
She laughed as he slung a wad of algae from his hair. “Gross!”
He smiled and swam toward her. “Agh!” His eyes widened and he disappeared under the water. It was only an instant before he burst forward onto the land and pulled at his skin.
Her mouth dropped open. He was covered by hundreds of the biggest, scariest leeches she’d ever seen.
“Get them off me!” he cried out as he tried to shake them off him. “Get them off!”
She reached out but didn’t touch him. “I don’t know what to do!” Frantic, she scanned the woods across the water. “Help!” she cried out. “Anyone! Please help us!”
He pulled out his pocket knife and tried to scrape off a leech. “They-they have some kind of shell. I can’t get under them.”
Rivulets of blood ran where he’d cut himself, but the leech remained unscathed, feasting on his blood. His hands shaky, he kept trying while he cried out in agony.
Gripped by terror, she watched her lover grow paler beneath her. When he dropped the knife because he was shaking so badly, she grabbed the blade and tried to peel a quickly growing leech from his skin. But it seemed to have attached itself perfectly, leaving no edge to pry. She tried to carefully stab at it, but its shell was like armor. “I don’t understand,” she whimpered. “Leeches aren’t supposed to be like this.”
He stumbled and fell onto his butt. The leeches grew so quickly, now covering over three-quarters of his body.
After staring at the knife, she jerked around and pulled off her backpack. She rummaged through the contents and pulled out her phone. No signal. She held up the phone higher. No signal. Nevertheless, she still tried to place several calls. Next, she tried to send a text.
By then, he’d collapsed onto his back. His shaking had lessened. His jaws were clenched in pain and his movements were becoming sluggish.
Dropping her phone, she continued to scream for help. She went to hold his hand, but leeches covered both palms. “Hang in there, honey. Stay with me,” she murmured before he stood and walked in a circle. “Help us, goddammit! Someone, anyone, help!”
“I-” He tried to speak but no more words emerged.
His face had become shrunken as his precious blood was sucked from his body. It took less than a minute for the life to leave his eyes.
The woman did nothing. She watched in shock as, one by one, the leeches detached themselves and slunk back into the water. It wasn’t possible, she tried to tell herself as she stood there, shaking under the hot sun, but the lifeless body of the man she loved told her differently. When stillness reclaimed the island, she sobbed and clutched him against her.
She cried for help, for him, for anything to make sense, until her voice became hoarse and then abandoned her. She cried until the moon replaced the sun, even as mosquitoes bit her and creepy things crawled over her. At dawn’s twilight, she finally released her dead lover.
She drank what was left in her water bottle and set out the contents of both their backpacks. Some crackers and a quarter bottle of water was all that remained. After all, they’d been planning to return to the car after the picnic. She gazed across the water and prayed for hikers to find her, but she knew how secluded this area was. She searched for ways to cross the water, but the island was barren aside from the single Cypress tree.
She regulated her intake of water, but the day was hot and she was thirsty, and she was left with nothing by noon. She tried to call out for help, but her voice never returned. She tried her phone while walking over every inch of the island. She tried her lover’s phone. She was alone, trapped from the world by a rim of deadly water.
She refilled the water bottle, but the water was cloudy. Still, she took a sip but spit out the horribly rotten-tasting liquid.
By the following night, both phone batteries were dead from her attempts to reach help. Flies pecked at the corpse of her lover, who she’d covered with the red and white picnic blanket. She cried more, but no tears emerged.
The second night was worse. Her energy had been taken by the heat and by exhaustion. Anguish had given way to hopelessness.
By the third night, hopelessness had given way to apathy. She’d lost her strength. Her parched tongue was swollen with dehydration. Welts from mosquitoes covered her skin.
The following morning, her hands and feet had gone numb. Somehow, she still managed to push herself, albeit shakily, to her feet.
She took a step. That one was the hardest. Then she took a second step. Then another.
She stumbled a quiet plop into the water. Another step, and it came up to her neck. For a second, she stood there. The water was still. Nothing attacked.
She shouldn’t have waited so long. If only she’d left earlier, she would’ve had more strength to walk back to the car. She would’ve—
The first sting felt like a molten bullet in her calf. Then, a hundred more followed, piercing every part of her body. If she still had a voice, she would’ve screamed. She stumbled back onto the island and collapsed next to her lover.
Her wish had come true after all.
They did get to stay on that island forever.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel Aukes is the bestselling author of 100 Days in Deadland, which was named one of the best books of 2013 by Suspense Magazine and one of the best zombie books by the Huffington Post. Rachel lives in the Midwest United States with her husband and an incredibly spoiled sixty-pound lap dog. When not writing, she can be found flying old airplanes and trying (not so successfully) to prepare for the zombie apocalypse. Learn more at www.RachelAukes.com.
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