She couldn’t remember exactly how long it had taken her to get to this industrial wasteland, only that it seemed a million miles from the bustling streets she left to come here. A blindingly bright forest of dirty white stucco overwhelmed any sense of direction. She struggled through the deafening silence in search of a truck engine, a voice, a birdcall. Nothing. Only a breeze, a soft sound she clung to gratefully as it sent a torn brown page of newspaper across her path. Looking up: not a cloud in the harsh Los Angeles sky. Looking down: dusty concrete, accumulated trash piles, desperate patches of grassy weeds fighting for space along the cracked pavement. The warehouses were closed up. Whatever mysteries lay dormant behind massive rolling doors would remain intact. Fantasies of lush gardens or priceless art gave way to the realistic imagery of rotting boxes filled with useless marketing material, tasteless clothing, cheap furniture, used tires. The place she sought was barely a memory, her data missing, it might not even exist, but she had to find out. Searching for clues, she peered into windows long since painted black, and read the remnants of homemade signs married to wooden electrical posts by staple gun.
A quick boom rang through the air within blocks of her. A gunshot? A backfire? A door slamming? Maybe this was the clue she was searching for. Proof that something, not nothing, lurked within this forgotten acreage. Careful to muffle the sound of her gentle steps, she proceeded, distrustingly glancing around each corner, fearing any perception of her would halt the movement she hoped to find. Find what though? She strained her memory. A slight glance to the street sign above her; Mission Street, a symbolic encouragement. Yes, a mission. Bits and pieces would return to her, their relevance to the mission unknown. Screams. Darkness. Secrets. Shame. Protection.
GUDDUSH. Another loud bang, this one multi-tonal. A door re-opening? Or, God forbid, re-closing? She had to find it. The noise was so jarring it felt as if the resonance continued to sound for minutes after its inception. She followed this feeling, sure it was leading her. Creeping along the sidewalk, hugging the sliver of harsh shadow along the building facades, she stopped. A cigarette butt, still burning, dropped just outside a gate, locked of course. Peeking through the widely spaced iron bars, the door beyond had been left open just a crack. Her slender body gracefully slid between the bars and through the door as if no one had ever been there. Inside, the darkness was thick, her retinas still burnt from the harsh mid-day sun. Her feet climbed cool concrete stairs as her eyes adjusted. A dim glowing shone from double doors at the landing, perceiving no signs of surveillance, she confidently and foolishly stepped through the doors into an open factory floor. Her body froze, her heart lurched, her eyes widened.
The rats. So many rats. Swarming, screeching passionately, devouring something. Bodies. Human bodies. Their heads covered to the neck, their gloved hands splayed out on the dirty floor. Their otherwise naked bodies laid out in obsessive grid-like perfection, equal spacing, straight lines, on black rubber tarps protecting the hard ground below them, and attached at four corners to wires dripping from a mechanical apparatus on the ceiling. Uniformed guards walked the aisles of corpses, overseeing the work. Her repulsion overwhelmed her and her stomach convulsed without warning as her disobedient throat seized in desperation. She was sure they would hear her fear, her panic. Suddenly aware her eyes were shut, she opened them, not wanting to, as she slowly backed toward the wall, her delicate hand searching for unseen obstacles behind her. The guards had not yet noticed her, she could still escape this orgy of death. But then something caught her attention and that of the guard’s simultaneously. One of the bodies; it moved. Not the swarming emergent movement of rodent competition, but a larger, slower, graceful movement. The body was alive.
She had heard of this in the old research journals. The restorative power of their saliva, but it was too horrible to imagine continuing the research. To subject oneself to the damage, the pain, the disgrace. They were abominations. Resurrected through the mutant rats, long abandoned by the military unit that had once occupied these massive architectures. The victims would be revived, yes. But mangled, disfigured, covered in the wounds of the vermin’s gnarled yellow teeth, permanent reminders of the revolting event which had transpired. Born anew, but a decrepit life, back from the dead, a shell of former self, disoriented, confused, vaguely aware of what it had been through, struggling to remember why it had been subjected to such terror.
Horrified realization swept over her contorted face, her mind raced. She screamed. The guards finally saw her and rushed her. She struggled weakly as they held her in place. She watched, captivated, as the ceiling mechanism engaged loudly and slowly, and raised the newly awake body up vertically, away from the rats, on its nightmarish sling. The guard overseeing the resurrection used his apparatus, a thin pole with a narrow net, to brush the remaining animals off the bleeding body onto the floor where they feverishly scurried to join the nearest feast. The body was erected, gloves and hood removed, and led past its peers to a brightly lit room behind a thick steel door.
No one had spoken to her, and after her scream, she had not uttered a sound. Her detainees felt no need for explanation as they tied her hands and placed her in a small holding cell, just off the factory floor, handcuffed to a cot, she waited. The images of the pain on the man’s shocked face as his hood was removed would not leave her eyesight. She felt as if he were still standing in front of her, begging her with his eyes for help, for an explanation. Time crawled in this room, her head felt swollen and her body icy cold. She longed for the calm bright day that she knew was just outside these horrific walls, but doubted she would ever see it again.
She heard footsteps at the door, her fear was mediated by the relief of something happening, anything, as long as she was not left alone with the images any longer. The guard that entered quietly closed the door behind him and unlocked her from the cot. Clutching her thin arm, he raised her up and led her out the door. Her heart raced, what was he planning for her? The rats? But she was still alive. An interrogation? What did they want to know? Torture? For trespassing? Panicked, she bolted. Back the other direction, past the holding cell door, left down a hall, then a right, a random door chosen in desperation. She stood upright, stiff and terrified in a dark corner, hoping her adrenaline had sufficed to outrun him, completely unaware of any next possible move. A full minute passed, the door opened slowly, a sliver of light fell directly onto her position past his silhouetted figure. He was calm, not surprised to find her there, as if it was the agreed meeting spot.
He closed the door and flicked on a dim light. He looked at her. He knew her. She couldn’t grasp why. She couldn’t remember how she had found this room among many, perhaps once used for questioning, but now littered with storage boxes and used wool military blankets. Or why her skin suddenly felt alive, itching, crawling. The guard’s gaze slowly moved down her body, as she had had men do before, devouring her with their desire without her permission. She followed his eyes and looked down at herself, her long sleeves had risen in her struggles and a multitude of recently healed tiny scars peeked out, reaching toward her fragile wrists. He spoke, “I knew you’d come back, you promised. No one knows it was me, who released you. You didn’t remember me when I did, but I knew you would eventually, and that you would return. It was the only way for you to be free.”
She looked in paralyzed shock at her scars as she remembered the rats. She couldn’t see them, but she could feel them, tearing her flesh. Taking her body. She couldn’t fathom it. The atrocity, it couldn’t be real. Her eyes glazed as the realization that she had been here before, with him, came over her. She was the one who had suggested it, they had planned it together. Freedom through death, through the sick resurrection. They had been in this room before, their passion fueled their insane plan, which had gone without a hitch. This poor soul, this wretched man who had allowed this to happen still looked at her with desire, undeterred by the process her body had endured, enlivened by her return. She was horrified, disgusted. He grabbed her, held her, began his familiar work of enjoying her. She must have loved it once, relished in it, what could she do now? Her hands still bound, she felt her whole body was bound, her whole life, her past, her future. Bound.