On Monday mornings, I send out a story via email: ultra-brief tales of 1,000 words or more, usually in genres including horror, science fiction, and the supernatural. Those stories collectively are called Once Upon A Time. I’ve also published several ebooks and compendium volumes of those stories so far.
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The changes I’ve noticed have horrified me. They appeared slowly at first, but they can no longer be denied. It all began on that night in the lab.
I was working on my great project, alone of course because my assistant had already retired for the evening. My work is of critical importance, but not everyone has the stamina or the stomach for it.
The work is complex and difficult, and requires vast amounts of both attention and intellect. It has never been attempted before, and now I fear that it may never be completed — by me, at least. And it was going so well.
I couldn’t have foreseen the fluctuation in my borrowed power supply, and the resulting electrical surge. The blown-out components were of little value, but shards of glass from a broken bulb in turn shattered a beaker on a tripod nearby, and I was standing behind it. My eyes and hands were protected, but the substance penetrated my clothing and found my skin. I initiated decontamination procedures immediately, rousing my assistant to help me, and for a time I thought I had escaped unharmed. But then I noticed the incongruities.
I would waken more tired than when I fell asleep. I would find myself in day wear when I had definitely dressed for bed the night before. My door — or my window — would be unlocked, even though I had secured the premises before turning in.
And then there were the whispered words of my neighbours, not suspecting me at all; I would be the very last target of their accusation! But I would hear them, and I would wonder. Before long, the newspapers were starting to report unusual occurrences by night, and even stories of a barely-seen figure, abroad under cover of darkness. There was the incident at the orphanage by the docks, and when I woke the following morning I could smell briny sea air and industrial oil on my clothing.
My own assistant took to asking where I went at night, and I saw the doubt in his eyes when I said I went nowhere and remained indoors. I tried to distract myself with my work, but to little avail.
It became impossible to ignore when I found my perceptions shifting by day as well as apparently by night. Things I was once so certain of no longer seemed definite. I started to reconsider my beliefs, and at length I even began to question my work — the one constant of my life, and my reason to continue. As the weeks went by, ultimately I dismissed my assistant with instructions to visit his family and not to hurry back, an act that was unheard-of for me. I needed time to think, and to investigate. And it was also a symptom, I now believe.
I have had one course during my life. One goal. I have remained true to it through all manner of adversity and opposition. It has distanced me from family members and friends, it has destroyed relationships both after and before they had begun. It has cost me most of the opportunities that the common people take for granted. But I haven’t wavered. I know that I have a higher calling, and that my cause is of singular importance.
I’ve paid for my devotion. Cast out from the university, and then from private industry. Shunned and investigated, warned and harassed. Forced to live my life in secret, pursuing the noblest goal of all: bringing humanity to its rightful place. But now I face the prospect that perhaps it was all for nothing.
I have always wanted to rule the world. I have always wanted to subjugate all of the people of this planet, dooming them to eternal servitude under my rule. I have always known that my true place is as the emperor of mankind, wielding the power of the gods on earth. My many inventions — the microwave atomiser ray, the programmable nanovirus, the burrowing hunter drones — all failed to find sufficient funding for full development. They said I was mad. So I said to hell with them, and embarked upon my most ambitious project yet.
I would infect their water supplies and the very air they breathed with a synthetic biological agent which would literally make them see my point of view. Instead of being shunned, I would find myself in the majority — but a majority with weakened will, and a powerful instinct to obey without question. At last, I would have a world that was acceptable to me, and mine to command.
But something went horribly wrong that night. The newspaper reports speak for themselves. The mysterious nocturnal deeds of charity. The anonymous donation of supplies and food to the orphanage. The unexplained increase in the bank balances of so many wholesome causes. The thwarting of young criminals by night. I feel the sweat of terror on my brow as I write these words.
I have been changed, perhaps forever, by an unforeseen interaction during chance circumstances, and when I look in the mirror I see not just myself, but something else lurking behind my familiar but fearful eyes.
I see a new and different being there, far back in the shadows, waiting for the moment when my defences are down and my consciousness fades towards sleep. That’s when it comes out. It takes control, and animates my own limbs to take me out upon the world, pursuing its own ends. Its altruistic deeds and its ethical endeavours. It sickens me to think of it. All my work, for all of these years, and for nothing. I have become that which I hate most.
I have become good.
I hope you enjoyed this brief tale. If you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear from you; I'm @mattgemmell on Twitter.
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