I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it. I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter - bitter," he answered;
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."
Adam went to see his father.
His father was in a retirement home. Not like the ones people imagined where there was the thinly disguised hint of urine and vitamins, or the ones that had peeling paint and old people in corners coughing and muttering to themselves. His father was in essentially a biosphere, complete with artificial forests and a lake. In the town, nicknamed Topeka and modeled after the idea of 1950's rural innocence, artificial grass and little stone walkways were everywhere. The walls were always sky blue, and were repainted several times a year by automated robot painters, designed by Roomba.
It was a gilded cage, no doubt. Little robots were everywhere, disguised as various animals that chirped and scampered about.
Adam didn't bother to go to his fathers one room “house”, instead following one of the paths around until he found him sitting almost by himself. Beside Adam's father was what looked like a cross between the worlds cutest puppy and a monkey. His father, Martin Storlock, was talking quietly to the little furball and petting it occasionally. After a few minutes Adam cleared his throat and Martin looked around, then directly at Adam. His eyes were momentarily angry until they recognized Adam. Then they became annoyed and dispassionate.
“Oh. What do you want?” Gravel choked across half a century of smoking and scar tissue from a tracheotomy.
“Nice to see you as well, Martin.” Adam sat down next to his father, the robot between them as well as decades of bad feelings. Years and years of everything that had built walls between each other settled comfortably around their hearts. Held together by resentment at the other being alive, reinforced by blood ties. If they met on the street for the first time, they would have been mildly disgusted by each other instead of having this familial disgust.
“Let's get some of the pleasantries out of the way. I'm fine. I'm healthy for my age. The weather is always constant here. Thank you for catching up.” Martin shrugged and half turned away, his head inclined toward Adam waiting for him to leave.
“What's with the robot? Don't I visi...don't you have people here you can talk to?” Adam shifted awkwardly, trying to draw his father out. “Some tape recorder giving you the warm and fuzzies?”
“You don't know what you're talking about. These robots are able to have feelings now. I can talk to Jake, here. He won't judge me like you do. He won't come crying to me when he has a problem because I'm his problem. He cares about me.” The words spat in anger and disgust. They stemmed from guilt. Boiling up behind the wall of his fathers heart was the poison of knowing that he had neglected his living son for his dead one. It corroded his ego and he resented it. He resented the obligation of having to feel, to have pain in his life, and he poured that anger away from himself and onto Adam. “Why are you here. Why do you have to haunt me, too?”
Adam knew why he had to be here. He had just killed a man, pushed him by circumstance into the street to die, the same way his brother had died. Synchronicity and the human ability to draw inference compelled him to tear the scabs of his life away and confront the man who should have bled his shared pain, created an epoxy and bonded them together. Instead the love of self over others, the disease of modern man, used that pain's epoxy to hold grudges, rebellious feelings, and slights. Fences make good neighbors. Walls create resentment.
“My head hurts.” Adam leaned over, his elbows on his knees with his hands dangling in front of his lowered face.
“I fail to see how that's my problem.” Adam felt stirrings of hatred slice his guts and fill his mouth with bile. He wanted to take this stupid robot that had begun to stroke his fathers arm and use it to bludgeon his father. He could imagine it, standing over this frail old man screaming, love this robot! It will show you more love than you ever showed me! He wanted his father to bleed under the lies of intimacy. Instead he looked up at his father.
His father was gone.
In his place was a young man with a torn open face. A young man who could have passed for Adam's brother or a younger... or... or Adam's father. Martin was somehow made young, his blue eyes piercing with an angry frivolity, a joyful anger as malicious and bright as a cancerous sun. The torn flesh of the right side of his face appeared to be squirming. The young Martin began to reach out for his son. Adam saw that his father was naked. From his fathers torn lips words fell, tiny spiders that had meanings in a language Adam couldn't know but did. It was the language of his own shared hate, the only way he and his father could speak to each other. Black poisonous spider after spider fell out of the mouths and wounds and danced their way toward Adam. We were never a good man, they whispered with their velvet chelicerae, we had done terrible things and spread ourselves around disguised as love. We love ourselves most. We love what we look like. You look like your mother. We loved how your mother made us feel until your brother died. Then she didn't make us feel good anymore, and you don't look like us. We only love us. There is no room in our heart for you. Martins desiccated arm indicated, forming expressions and gestures the way he used to do; hand talking. They pointed at Adams own hands and flexed. Adam looked down and saw that his hands had become massive spiders. The legs were his fingers, the abdomens his palms. He flexed them and the spider hands wrapped in on themselves, the chitinous eyes staring blankly at him.
Trembling, Adam looked back at his father. Spiders eat their own. Eat your own. We have many children, you have many brothers. Eat your own, Adam. Eat your own.
Vertigo split Adam in two. One Adam got up and staggered down the path of lies and false love into the world. The other Adam stayed and was wrapped up in the webs of his fathers spiders.
Adam wished he had been dreaming. He prayed and feverishly beat himself up with every rational belief that things like this could only happen while asleep.
But he wasn't sleeping and this wasn't a dream.
He was wide awake.