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I only enter one cell today. I can't say I'm lucky. Other days, yes, I am forced to visit containment units that have armed guards, or strict handling procedures, or deadly test subjects with their humanity extracted, or drained, or harvested from them. Each discovery from the tests I administer only provokes worse conditions, one way or another. More armed guards, or more rigid procedures. And the specimens - the humans - become less and less like so.

It's not as if I care anymore. I work for an industry that specializes in sin. There are adults, fresh from this facility, that are sitting inside a transport bound for a barracks for conscription. Thirty minutes ago, they were young children. Psychologically, they still are.

Bloodied walls and flickering lights greet me as I exit the elevator and proceed into the hallway of the nth sublevel. Each footstep echoes with the weight of a death-row gunshot. They might as well be real echoes. A long-haired phantasm jolts out from the floor, wailing at me, wailing through me, wailing behind me. Ignored, it reappears in front of me, shrieking even louder as I near the other end of the hallway.

The door opens, and I leave the banshee behind. From a platform to my left, the fallen(?) priest looks momentarily at me, his eyes human, but his lips no longer. He continues with his ritual. A canvas-wrapped form of a human being - wriggling like a maggot - is affixed to the wall adjacent of the entrance. Written in white, the corpse's bag read: traitor.

Going forward, I see the enclosure, and the one lone guardsman assigned to screen me standing with his automatic weapon at the ready. I could tell he wants to shoot me. For what? To take a guess, to make everything stop. To make the entity at the other side of the door stop torturing him every other hour of his lone vigil here.

To sacrifice me? Of course.

Why would I be a useful sacrifice? Having personally fed others into the chamber when we experimented on occult variables, I could say that we achieved nothing. And then, today, should the guard get me shot and killed, what if I end up finally sating the thing inside the unit, with my blood turning out to be the sole catalyst to put its madness to rest, with the malingering hatred in the cell dissipating with my last breath?

If my guard inferred as much, he should have the chance to be proven right.

This is my wife's cell. With my heart and soul closed off from everything else, I disappear into the dark room, step towards the observation window, and wait for silence.

It's a matter of announcing my presence - a gesture of intimate meaning that I quickly accompany with a phrase I often used with her in her mortal life; both are supposed to conjure up an air of familiarity between me and the spirit, to let her know that she is safe. To let her know that it is me.

Whatever that still means to her.

She is in her cell, appearing like such pitiful starlight. This isn't my wife, is a thought I impulsively think and quickly crush. It's like seeing her through a battered telescope in a dense fog, her image a blur of ashen clouds, the dots of distant stars, and grey ectoplasm. Her face is visible, so gorgeous and sad. I can't see her eyes, but it's an instinct to know when my wife is looking at me. My security clearance for this duty gave me permission to smile, and… I smile.

At nothing. She has disappeared again. I am not allowed to sigh. I simply begin with my duties.

My left hand sweeps across the control panel for the enclosure settings' buttons. I press a sequence and the speaker system inside the cell comes to life.

"Subject. If you recognize this voice, please manifest inside your cell for the monthly assessment. The blood rations will return once you comply with your tasks." I say to the empty room.

One full minute passes, and the subject has not made any indication of cooperation. I feel cracks in my mental training start to form, and to resist is to cause everything inside my head to fracture. I relent.

"Please cooperate, and you will be fed."

Like a melting candle, the ashen liquid of the Type-J47 ectoplasmic entity begins to condense on the edges of the observation panel and in moments streams down the window into weeping rivers. As the glass fogs, a chill comes into the viewdeck. There are definitely cold fingers, and a much colder palm, touching me, I think, before remembering that there is no way she could ever reach out to me from her cell.

The rivers of ash and the fog fade from existence, and my wife is there, standing at the very center of her cell, facing me. Her eyes are blind and hidden in her own darkness, but it's the broken way she is standing that scathes me.

For a few seconds, my mind goes blank. The silence of the room begins to feel like it's strangling my throat. Something heavy settles below my lungs.

I realize I've said 'Good evening' to her - to the entity - and as if in response, the temperature inside the observation unit steadily drops, going down ten degrees, twenty degrees, thirty… in a minute it's fifty degrees below freezing, and my body struggles to remain alive. She had attempted to kill me like this before, when I was physiologically more human than what I currently am.

"The assessment will begin now."

Clearing my throat, I engage a switch and the sole fixture on the ceiling of the entity's unit comes on.

The light is cold. My sensors detect a brief flinch coming from the entity upon being illuminated. Within moments, I could see the dead, smoky starlight convecting around my wife recede, like a matchstick burning in reverse, causing her hazy outline to be more coherent, more concrete, until her form becomes truly recognizable and resplendent.

She is staring at me. Her irises - stark, crystalline and white, would have made me think that they were diamonds. Diamonds that the dead might wear in the otherworld. I acquiesce that it is difficult to remove myself from staring back.

I took down my notes. The subject's form remains sensitive to being exposed to light. Her ectoentropic 'starlight,' an ether I theorized to be made up of the same components that comprise the rest of her visible form, seemingly retreats and incorporates itself into her to make her more solid. Solid, a thought passes in my head, should have never been a word I'd use to compliment my wife.

But right now, I was seeing her form defined clearly. Would that she still thought about herself, I imagine that she'd feel a bit satisfied as well to be fully seen again.

The first step was finished.

She is naked, with skin so dead and grey I'm afraid a small gust would make her scatter into ash. The second step required me to turn off the light again. I find myself stopping from deactivating the switch.

She is bare before me, and yet her posture was one that commanded esteem and admiration. Her thin arms hang at her sides, straight and stiff. Slender legs stand tightly together; the nails on her feet are colored like Egyptian parchment. I avoid looking at her face as I see her neck, her collarbones, her breasts, her stomach. A cloud of starry smoke conceals the rest of her.

Then a ringing starts behind my ears. I shake my head, and press the switch to return the room to its former darkness.

She shuts her eyes as soon as the light dies, and before mine could properly adjust, the total pitch-black of the room caught me off-guard, startled and left wondering if I was still in the enclosure or not, if she had finally made a move after all these years and took my life; if the pain of death had been felt and forgotten, or if my punishment in her hands hadn't even begun yet and I was finally going to meet her again and touch and hold her again.

Her eyes open once more, and then I see something she has never done before. Slowly, she tilts her head to the left and narrows her eyes playfully, as if noticing that I had been startled.

It's something I remember her doing a lot, and the memories I do not want to see begin to escape from their cells.

Without a second thought, and without looking at that thing, I impulsively reach for the torment control panel, calibrate the settings, and press the first button. As soon as I do that, the two fixtures at each side of the small unit come alive, glowing sickly white, and then give off a malignant hum as they start irradiating the room.

The subject is thrown forward, nearly hitting the observation window, and her pain is observable even when she could no longer scream. The diamonds in her eyes are hidden from view as she hides her head in her hands and adopts a kneeling, turtling position on the floor. Her stardust escapes her body and scatters away.

After two minutes of radiation, the stardust has all but dissipated. A faint, smoky grey is spread all around the unit.

I press a second button, and the light fixture on the ceiling activates, glowing and humming as with the fixtures on the walls. The subject is in agony. It's taking more and more of her power to keep herself together, to survive. Because even ghosts want to survive. My fingers chance over a slider and I increase the radiation level twofold. The room is very bright now. Her shadowy features appear overwhelmed in so much light.

She almost seems human now. The radiation is dragging the entity away from its tethers to the otherworld, strips it of the mysterious ether, and forces it to focus itself into a corporeal form. A thought reminded me that I could, in a moment, break the window of the observation deck, climb inside, and have the chance to touch my wife again.

The thought passes, and my fingers find the third button. It activates another control panel, and upon pressing the first button of the new panel, a section of the wall unfolds behind the entity, revealing a twisted, coiled device thrumming angrily.

I look away from the device to adjust the settings on the panel, and when I raise my head to look up again I catch a glimpse of her again. Her hands are leaking a grey liquid. Very little falls down to the floor; the liquid evaporates into smoke almost as soon as it comes out of the corners of her eyes and mouth. Her eyes emerge from behind her hands, looking at me, pleading silently.

The device's coils begin to spin, and the smoke inside the enclosure curls inward of itself into plumes and forms veritable petals of ash that slowly fall to the ground.

I look at the subject once more to find her struggling to stand, trying to steady herself on her knees. The coils on the device spin even faster, almost finished with warming up, and a small red light on the panel indicates that it is ready to be activated. She raises her head from her crumpling stance to look at me, and for the first moment in a long time, I see her lips part, quivering, quaking in so much pain, and feebly, with the dying light in her eyes, she begs.

… p l e a s e … l o v e m e

The device whirls and roars for a moment, then stops, retreating back inside the wall. The light fixtures at each side of the unit flicker and then die. The fixture on the ceiling stops humming and dies as well.

My hands break away from the control panel, shaking.

The rapid deactivation must have caused an electrical problem. The lights won't turn back on. A blue auxilliary light comes on inside the observation room, but it illuminates nothing in front of me. The enclosure is completely dark. There is no starlight nor gemstones staring at me. I can't even see her silhouette. It is also still cold - very cold - but I can feel sweat on my hands and on my neck.

I had cut off the power to the systems.

I heard her speak.

I heard my wife speak.

My legs falter as the faintest whisper of her plea plays in my head. My knees give, and I find myself clutching a handle on the control panel for support. The notepad I had been using to list my observations slides and falls down; my pen rolls away into the darkness.

I turn around to try and see where it had went, only to realize the auxilliary light had gone out. The darkness had returned. A sense of dread crept up on me as I realized that my eyes could not adjust to the darkness no matter what. I couldn't see anything.

Something is freezing me in place and keeping me from deciding on the next course of action. Of course, it has to be her. There's a silent gaze cast upon me. A needy, expectant gaze. She is hurting badly, and she knows I am going to leave her again.

Inside my head, something broke open.

I called out, "are you there?"

No response.

I said her name on the second time, before repeating myself. "Are you there?"

A heavy silence descended upon the enclosure. Then, softly, like a cat, and softly, like a ghost, she answered.

i ' m h e r e …

The air was very cold.

"You deserve so much more than what I'm giving you."

I heard her sigh.

… h u r t i s f e e l i n g … t o f e e l s o m e t h i n g i s l i v i n g

"You deserve so much more than feeling only pain."

… o n l y f e e l i n g …

"I gave you a miserable existence."

c h o i c e m a d e … i s e e y o u s a t i s f i e d … s a c r i f i c e o k a y

"I hope you are alright, wherever you really are. I hope I don't tether you to this world too strongly. I miss you, but you have to try leaving."

… f o r t h e b e t t e r …

"I love you."

There was no response.

I said her name. "I love you."

She answered.

t h a n k y o u

"Forgive me."

There was no response.

I said her name again. "I'm sorry."

There was no response.

A heavy silence descended upon the enclosure once more, and settled over the room like a pall.

With nothing else left, I told myself to conclude the assessment and exit the enclosure. I took a step towards the door.

Once upon a stony creek, with tufts of soft grass and lilies against my back and her legs, and a small river running beneath us, there was a promise of quite a life for her and I.

Her enclosure is a four-by-four, blank and empty cell. Her mind is a fraying tangle of post-mortem torture and old memories. Her once good and free soul is a captive for me to twist. Again, and again, and again, and again. And I will do it for as long as I live. These moments are the closest that I am ever to praying. If you pried away my thoughts now, you'd know that each time I enter this room and look at her empty cell, a part of me wishes that she had gone away. Perhaps one day she will. Forever, and far, far away from this place.

Until then, I will continue to come here and cut the wings off of angels, to turn Creation against itself. I will make the dead wish for Death, make souls become bodies, make dust become light, and, once all the ashes recollect into a garden of roses and madmen such as I come to begin the harvest, to make logic out of illogic.

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