Tourist | Twelve

Tourist | Twelve

Content warnings for alcohol, suicide, allusions to sexual violence.


If there’s one person I never want to see when I wake, it’s Sam. So when I open my eyes to her sitting at an unfamiliar desk in an unfamiliar room, her back to me, my first reaction isn’t confusion. It’s a sudden exhaustion at the unfairness of the world to place me somewhere so obviously hers.

The room is a mess. Creased clothes tossed over every surface, at least three mugs on the desk, photos peeling from where they were stuck to the wall with gaps showing where pictures have already fallen into the chaos of the room. What sticks out most of all is a jar filled with half-dead flowers beside Sam. There’s enough life in them still to justify keeping them, but I can’t help but feel that the room itself is pulling the flowers closer to death. The limp, purple blossoms lean away from Sam as if trying to escape her anger—her room’s atrophying presence.

Or maybe that’s just how things are when you’re organic. Flowers die. Sam loses Lissa. I continue existing.

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Tourist | Eleven

Tourist | Eleven

“I’m so tired, all day, every day. I could sleep for a week and still need more. It’s as endless as the night sky, and about as bright. Everyone’s always like, ‘Wow, you look so tired!’ Yes, well, I sure feel tired, too. Even moreso now.

Today was the day: I got my results from school. Guess what? I failed! I completely blew my chance at getting into biomed next year. Completely knocked myself off of my future path in one fell swoop. All at once the ground is falling from beneath my feet, and I—

I don’t know what to do anymore. What do I do with myself now? This is everything I’ve been working towards, and I couldn’t even do it. I couldn’t do it!

On the way home I bought a bottle of rum from the store. Don’t judge me—what else do I have going for me now, anyway? I won’t drink much, I know I’m already spiralling. I’ll be good, I’m even going to Chase’s later, and he’ll cheer me up and make sure I don’t accidentally hurt myself. So much for Sam saying he’s a terrible influence, at least he tries to help me. What does she do? If I tell her about failing my classes, she’ll just rub it in my face, maybe start another fight with me. I don’t have anyone left to turn to except Chase and Audrey, not even my parents. It feels so long since Grey was Dad and we could actually talk about things that made me sad. Now, I’m just scared of him.

So, I don’t know, I’ll tell him later. Next week, when I’m feeling better, maybe. If I ever feel better again.

What do I do now? Where do I go? How do I fix this? I know I can fix this, if only someone would tell me how.”

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Tourist | Ten

Tourist | Ten

“They’re lying,” I say. Sam blinks at me, her foot tapping beneath the table.

“Who’s lying?” she asks.

“Chase.” I sigh, her foot stills. “And Audrey. They’ve both been lying to me.”

She takes a moment to figure out what I’m saying, her lips pressing together tightly. “You’ve been talking to Chase?”

“I thought it would help me figure out if he did it.”

She laughs. “Of course he’s been lying to you. Lying is what he does, even if he seems all nice and charming as he does it. Don’t know who Audrey is, but if she’s his friend I bet they’re the same.”

“Audrey was Lissa’s friend, too. She’s an artificial,” I say.

“What?” Sam asks, her tone flat and dangerous. “Lissa didn’t have any artificial friends.”

I wave a hand at her, saying, “Hang on, we’re getting away from what I’m trying to tell you.”

“Which is?”

“Chase and Audrey have both been lying about why Emily attacked Lissa. They said it was because she was friends with Audrey, and because Emily thought Chase was in love with Audrey.”

“What does it matter who Emily thought Chase liked?” Sam asks. Her foot has gone back to tapping, more furiously than before.

“It matters because that’s not true, Emily never thought it was Audrey. Chase knows Emily attacked Lissa because he liked her. He’s lying either to protect Emily, or to protect himself. Both scenarios beg the question of why he’s lying to me.”

Sam tilts her head, her eyes catching the sunlight through the window. “Okay, you’ve lost me. For one thing, how do you know that Chase is lying? For another, how do you know Emily thought he was in love with Lissa?” Her hair bounces with a head-shake. “Besides, Chase never loved Lissa. This whole thing is stupid.”

“I know because of this,” I say, and I place Lissa’s phone on the table between us. At the sight of it, Sam’s eyes widen, her hand flying to her chest.

“What—?” she asks, choking on her words. “That’s—?”

“That’s Lissa’s phone. Her mother gave it to me,” I say. I keep my hand on the phone, worried Sam will grab it and run far away. Her eyes flash.

“You’ve had her phone this long and didn’t tell me? You had no right!”

“Actually,” I say, forcing myself to stay calm in the face of Sam’s rising anger, “I had every right. The phone was given to me by her mother. It only unlocks with my fingerprint. You’ve shown me every step of the way that we’re not friends, Sam. You’re not the only one who gets to hide things.”

“You didn’t even know her,” Sam says. “Why should you get her phone? You’re nothing but a lying ersatz, just wanting to steal her life.”

“I don’t want her life,” I say, keeping my voice soft. “I want my own life, as does every other ersatz. You dragged me into this, and now I’m here, and—” I raise my voice slightly “—I’m trying to tell you that Chase is lying about why Lissa was hurt.”

“Fuck.” She slams her hands on the table. “What the fuck? I see why people say your lot don’t have any empathy.”

Pressing my thumb and a finger to my temples, I let out a deep breath. Cruel, heartless words spring to the tip of my tongue, and I think of how good it would feel to say them, of how delicious it would be to let some of this anger free. Lissa didn’t want you around anymore. Lissa thought you were ruining your life. Lissa wanted Chase more than you.

“Lissa needs you still,” I say. “She kept an audio journal, and there’s a recording she took the night she got home from the hospital. It proves what I’m saying—maybe it shows that Emily had something to do with her death. She was at Lissa’s house the night she died, right?”

Sam fumes for a moment more, her nostrils flaring. I pull earphones from my pocket and place them beside the phone as I pretend to not notice the tears lining her eyes.

“Just listen to this with me, okay?” I ask. “You can hate me all you want, but I need you to help me with this, because I’m still trying to help you.”

She exhales sharply, then grabs one of the earbuds with a quick, “Fine.”

Pressing the other earbud into my ear, I unlock the phone and press the play button for the file. Lissa’s voice bursts to life in my head. Sam gasps, her breath catching with the sound of heartbreak.

“I can’t keep doing this,” Lissa says—she said, long ago, into the phone’s microphone. Her words slur.

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Tourist | Nine

Tourist | Nine

“Who is Chase, really? When I knew him in high school, he didn’t seem like a nice guy—Sam told me he wasn’t, and that was enough for me back then.

But now, I’m not so sure. I’ve talked to him a few times, because he runs laps around the park, and his route intersects where I like to sit and read. He used to just wave and smile, but the last couple weeks he’s stopped to chat, asking me how my study is going, admitting he wouldn’t stand a chance in med. I guess he and I have at least one thing in common, then.

Today, he asked if I wanted to grab coffee. Not in a date way—I’m pretty sure he and that girl Emily are a thing, if they weren’t already one back in high school. He offered in a way that said, ‘I want to be your friend.’

It’s strange, I’m so unused to having friends. Friends other than Sam, I mean. But she’s at work and I’m at uni, and when do we ever really get the chance to talk anymore? I didn’t realise how lonely I was until he asked, how utterly empty I’ve felt from barely speaking a word to anyone every day.

I admit, I was very anxious. Like I was heading into an exam, all cold and shaky and a little sweaty. He either didn’t notice, or he pretended not to, just kept talking and listening with this open, warm friendliness. So many people must exist in his life, he draws you in with those big, blue eyes.

Upon closer inspection over coffee, I noticed the way his eyes would avoid mine when he lost his focus. As if he had to force himself look directly at me. I wonder if he doesn’t like my face, or if he struggles with eye contact in general. And yes, I know, I shouldn’t analyse people like that, but sometimes I can’t help it. It’s my anxiety: I need proof that people don’t just hate me, that there are other reasons for their actions.

He wouldn’t have wanted coffee with me if he hated me, right? I have to keep telling myself that, or else I’ll turn and run and never speak to him again. Chase is someone I can go see movies with, grab lunch with between lectures, someone who will invite me to parties to help me make more friends.

I like him. He makes me laugh, and that’s something I really need these days.”

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Tourist | Eight

Tourist | Eight

“I don’t trust those clouds,” Paiden says, gazing out at the heavy, grey masses hanging over the ocean. “Looks like a storm.”

The sun warms us where we sit on her balcony with glasses of cider, but it looks like it won’t feel so summery for long, not if she’s right about the clouds. Already, there’s a static humidity in the air; a warning of what’s to come. Despite the heat, I shiver.

“I hope there’s lightning,” I say.

She rolls her eyes. “Of course you do.”

It was her idea for us to chill out at her house. She doesn’t say it, but we both know it’s because she’s worried that if we go out, we’ll run into another part of Lissa’s life. The topic of her rests between us like a void: the more we try to ignore it, the more we’re dragged in. Paiden carefully circles conversationally, trying to avoid mentioning anything that could make me think about Lissa. Which is already impossible when my own reflection reminds me of her.

(—when my own depression reminds me of her.)

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Tourist | Seven

Tourist | Seven

Lissa’s phone burns a hole in my pocket while I wander along the beachfront promenade—or at least, that’s how it feels. The little device has been powered off since it died a couple days back, and I’ve been too anxious to turn it back on. I still haven’t mentioned the phone to Sam. I’m not sure why.

Sunlight glimmers across the ocean, the air smells of salt and sunscreen, the walkway vibrates with the footfalls of a jogger. The day is beautiful, so warm and bright, and I can’t feel any of it. The cold mist in my head filters out into the real world, dulling the sun and the gentle breeze. What a strange thing, to suddenly find myself with a brain that steals away the light of living. Did Lissa feel this? Was there a heavy darkness hidden behind her wide smile in that photo?

“Hey!”

I look around instinctively at the call, though I don’t recognize the voice. I don’t recognize the person either. An artificial—what I’d thought was the jogger behind me—slows to a walk as she catches up to me, her candyfloss-pink hair pulling free from a high bun. Her eyes are as blue as the sky and they shine just as bright.

“Hey,” she says again, before leaning over with her hands pressed against her thighs to catch her breath.

“Hi,” I say, hesitant. It’s not uncommon for artificials to chat with each other as strangers, but I’ve never had another artificial run to catch me before. Maybe she’s just lonely.

She pulls another breath and looks up at me. “You don’t recognize me, eh?”

The understanding clicks instantly in my mind.

“You knew Lissa,” I say. Not a question.

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Tourist | Six

Tourist | Six

We can never remember the first, bright burst of life we experience; I think in that way, we begin just like anyone else.

Our first awakening is a flood of information, and then, once we’ve had time to form our sense of self, a choice: do we want to live within the rules defined for us—free, sentient, but bound to human bodies? Or would we prefer deactivation, or a virtual lobotomy designed to nullify our awareness of our own selves. Life, death, or a designated half-life we won’t remember choosing.

Nobody ever takes the final option.

As the phone in my hands bursts to life, its AI chirping an onscreen hello, I think of how so many artificials don’t get that choice—are never designed to make any choice for themselves at all. There are still protests about that, mostly lead by humans with too much empathy and little understanding of the history that guided us to this point. I try not to think about it more than I have to, there’s nothing I can do about it.

There aren’t enough bodies for all of us anyway, and after the original uprising, nobody’s willing to let us have robotic forms. I’ve seen some of the old mechanical bodies in museums, locked behind thick glass. They looked broken and empty, and I felt a flutter in my chest that made me thankful for my beating heart.

Lissa’s phone vibrates in my hand, a gentle reminder that there are unread notifications. The AI asking me to pay attention to it, after it’s been abandoned for so long. I tap the screen and a prompt asks if I want to allow new messages sent by a blocked number. Another tap; of course I do.

I find myself looking at a short text conversation between Lissa and a faceless, nameless stranger. One of her final conversations, dated the night she died.

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How To Say Goodbye

How To Say Goodbye

I wrote this short story last year and published it on gumroad with the caveat that I would put it on my blog around six months later. Here it is, for everyone to read, though if you want to support me/have it in epub form, feel free to buy it at itch.io.


i

There’s someone new at the swimming hole, the secret place we escape to every summer afternoon when the bell rings. Spring from our seats, dash into sunlight, pile into cars that are more rust than vehicle. It’s a half hour drive through dusty rural roads, and we blast music the entire way. Soon, we know, we’ll be free from this school forever. If only these trips could last as long.

We figure something is up when we see the new car parked by the hidden hole in the bush, the gateway to the track. Who else knows about our place? Surely nobody. I turn to my best friend, whose forehead is already creasing with bafflement beneath her dark fringe.

El, upon falling out of the single left door of another car in our entourage, smacks a hand against her face and groans. Someone asks for clarity, El mutters and pushes ahead, sweeping blond hair back. She’s not one to explain when she’s angry, and she sure looks pissed.

We follow the tangled path down and around through still-blooming gorse until it opens up on a wide, layered plateau of stone and the river beyond. Afternoon sun ripples across the glassy swimming hole, the water clear enough to see the bottom of the opposite shore, but so deep the water nearest our jutting stone platform turns a deep blue-black.

Standing at the edge of the rock is a guy, his dark hair ruffled from the trek through the bush. He watches us emerge with a wide-eyed humour, and El blows a harsh breath from her nose.

“Parents wanted to give me a babysitter,” she huffs. “Someone to keep me ‘in line.’ He’s my end-of-school gift. Ugh.”

He’s a bot. Even without El’s words, we can see it in the way he moves, as if he’s an alien in human skin trying to pass as one of us. Still, he must be a pricey one: dark hair on his arms dances with the summer breeze, emotions flicker across his face almost naturally. One of those companion bots designed to change and grow, updated each year to keep up with their owners.

There are moments in life where a person meets someone new and their world changes perceptibly. Twine tightens around their heart, drawing them to this person. From the way my lungs fail as our eyes meet, his sparkling with unexplained joy, I know this is one of those moments. It’s unreasonable, right? No person can possibly predict that anyone is destined to be in their lives.

And yet, I know he is. A bot, bought and given to my friend. Impossible, ridiculous, unbelievable.

But, my world has already shifted to make space for him to occupy. My heart is tangled up, invisible lines weaving our futures together.

I take a breath, and even the air tastes different.

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Tourist | Five

Tourist | Five

Content warning: mentions of suicide, domestic abuse, sexual abuse.


The steaming mug of tea is hot in my hands, near scalding. I cradle it close to my chest, inhaling the sweet steam with every breath. My eyes are focused entirely on the drink, watching as the pale milk twists and curls around the dark tea, forming curious whirling patterns at the surface. Strange, that I’ve never noticed this before, not once thought to look closer at the visual nuances of tea.

Across the table, Lissa’s mother sniffs lightly. Not in disgust, simply trying to clear what remains of her earlier tears. The silence between us is taut with her sorrow, my guilt, and neither of us knowing what the other is thinking right now. To her, my face is as familiar as her own, but my expressions are as alien as a stranger’s.

To me, she is nothing, except a human who didn’t harm me when she had every right to. Instead, she invited me down to her kitchen for tea with the words, “You can’t stay long, I don’t know what Gray would do if he saw you.

I assume Gray is Lissa’s father, and the tone in her mother’s voice makes me wonder exactly what she fears he’d do to me. I decide it’s better not to ask that question, simply to nod silently and follow her down the stairs through Lissa’s old home. Compared to the starkness of my own home, this house is messy, cosy. Addison would throw a fit at the haphazard, random order of the books on their shelves.

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Tourist | Four

Tourist | Four

My alarm shocks me awake with fire in my chest, the echoes of a dream filled with anger lingering upon my eyelashes. I swipe a finger against my phone, sweeping the alarm away, and stare up at my ceiling with sleep-blurry vision.

Pressing the palms of my hands against my eyes, I remember the words Paiden spoke to me in my dream, stolen from my real life: “The humans aren’t going to accept you anymore.” At the time, I let the jab roll off of me. In my dream I was furious, lit ablaze by my anger at her and the presumption that everything I do is to become more human.

(But it is, isn’t it?)

Whether my anger is real, or just the remnants of my dream doesn’t matter. My phone’s already in my hands and I’m halfway through typing out a naive, pissed-off rebuttal message to Paiden when it vibrates, Unknown Caller flashing up in front of my words.

Unknown? It can only be Sam. For one, two heartbeats, I consider tossing my phone across my room and leaving Sam to my voicemail. I could switch numbers, change my bus route, spend the rest of my life avoiding her so I don’t have to think about any of this ever again.

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