The door opens before I knock.
Standing there is a man, thin build, approximately 38 years old. Wearing wire-rimmed glasses, head completely shaved.
“Hello,” he says.
The man does not appear surprised. This is strange, as we have never met.
“I need somewhere to go,” I say.
“Please,” he says, “come in.”
The man motions me inside, does not ask questions. Instead offers me leftovers from his fridge. I am not hungry. I tell him this and he looks at me, nodding and saying, “Of course.” He laughs. I do not know why he laughs.
When I ask the man what I should call him, he says his name is Jeff, so I should call him that. He does not ask my name.
This man, Jeff, goes into the kitchen, fixes himself something to eat. Tells me he was in the middle of cooking dinner. I stand and stare at him before moving into the kitchen as well. The television is on in the adjoining room, displaying a 24-hour news station. This provides an ambiance of voices faintly talking about unfortunate social and political events. Jeff clears his throat, offers a seat beside him at the kitchen table. I decline. He sits anyway, does not apologize for eating in front of me.
In between forkfuls of what he calls “buttered noodles” Jeff asks questions. Wants to know what thoughts I am having, if any. Where I have been, what I have seen.
“I can’t remember.”
“Yes.” He nods as he chews. “I know.”
I attempt to discern the way he is looking at me. I do not know a name for this expression and tell him so. He says he does not know either. Lets out a heavy sigh. Pushes away his bowl.
After an appropriate amount of silence I begin to ask him questions. I ask what he does for a living. There is another brief silence and then he tells me he is an inventor. I ask him what kind of inventor. Jeff looks away, suddenly distracted. Something on the news.
“…this shocking and nearly tragic event. The President of the United States within mere inches of losing his life. Experts saying it was even less than that, possibly a fraction of an inch. Obviously White House officials and security have taken the President to an undisclosed location until more can be determined…”
“Something happened,” I say.
“Yes.” Jeff is still looking over at the television.
“It could have been very bad. Yes.”
“What happened, Jeff?”
“Someone shot at the President.”
The reporter continues, “…with our political anchor, Cedric Smith, who is on the scene in Philadelphia tonight, where the assassination attempt took place. Cedric, what can you tell us…”
“Philadelphia,” I say, “is within a 25 mile radius of this location.”
“Yes, it is.” Jeff looks back at me. “He was here giving a speech.”
“The President was nearly killed.”
“Nearly. He is fine, though. Just fine. Still breathing. Still spreading his rhetoric. Insane propaganda and tyrannical policies.”
“That is unfortunate,” I say. “He should have been killed. The President should have been shot through the brain and killed.”
“Yes,” Jeff says. “He should have been.”
“He should no longer be breathing.”
“It should have been a direct shot. It was supposed to be a direct shot. Through the brain.”
Jeff is silent.
I ask Jeff if it is okay for me to stay because I have nowhere else to go. Jeff replies that this is fine. I tell him I do not need to sleep in a bed. I will be fine on a couch or even on the floor or even standing. Jeff laughs at this, though his expression and body language reveal nervous energy, distraction. His eyes keep going back to the television. He says I can do whatever I want, that his place is my place.
He is still looking at the television as he says, “Goodnight.”
Jeff gets up from the table, walks through the doorway of what appears to be some kind of workplace. I am able to glimpse tools and instruments on a bench before the door slams shut.
I sit at the table for most of the night. After a few hours pass, I stand, go to the living room, lay on my back on the couch. This will put Jeff at ease.
I have not seen Jeff emerge from the room. Sounds from the other side of the door indicate that he is working on something. I would like to determine what Jeff is working on, why he is working so late. So I stand, go to the door.
I do not wish to disturb my host. So I only open the door slightly, just enough to see in.
First I see sparks. A long metal device attached to a cable comes into view. Jeff is holding the device, wearing goggles, staring down at a workbench, intensely focused. More sparks. Some of the sparks fly, almost hitting my face.
I realize Jeff already knows I am there, so I push open the door, step inside. His electrified tool powers off abruptly. The harsh noise takes a moment to fade.
Now I am able to see what he is working on. A mechanical body.
“Finishing touches,” Jeff says, still staring down.
He brings the body to a sitting position. Puts a gloved hand on its face, turning it left and then right, inspecting it. “Come,” he says. “You can see it.”
Moving, stepping closer, I ask, “What is it?”
I peer at it. Slowly raise my hands. Touch its face, my own face.
Jeff takes off his goggles, looking at me. He seems very tired.
“The old model was a failure,” he says.
“It was a failure because I failed. It was supposed to be 100% accurate. More accurate than any human.” He looks away for a moment, then back at me. “It won’t happen again. The new model only needed some slight modifications. Now it is perfect.”
I am still touching my own face.
“Finally,” Jeff says, “things in this country will change.”
I look into Jeff’s face.
Jeff leans forward, his hand disappearing. I think to say, “Good luck,” but there is not enough time before the flash, the black.
Marc Dickerson is a writer and filmmaker from Philadelphia, PA. He writes short stories, graphic novels, screenplays, and has recently completed his first prose novel, ART FARM. He mostly enjoys creating dark comedies as well as fiction that incorporates unique or surreal elements. His work has appeared online and in publications such as Black Petals, Thimble Literature Magazine, Culture Cult Magazine, and Burial Day.