The Virtual Body showed the exact process by which you digest foods, what happens when you go hungry, which parts of your brain are activated when you concentrate, the bits that shift and flow and move when you’re under intense pressure.
An eight-year-old child wants to see what happens when a person suffers horrific burns and the body alters accordingly. A few minutes later and the mother of a teenager shows the impact of smoking those new strains of PsychoSkunk to a daughter who rocks uncomfortably on the balls of her feet, chewing gum to feign disinterest.
They refer to the Virtual Body as Big P, the P stands for Prometheus – the guy who was punished for stealing part of the sun and giving the mortals fire. What it really stands for is the Modern Prometheus, as in Frankenstein’s monster. The monster 2.0, for the digital age.
But Big P isn’t made up of dead men’s flesh. In fact, it has no flesh at all.
I know all this because I’m hooked up to the internet. As a result, I know everything that’s on Wikipedia. I have to, I know everything that can happen to the human body at a moments notice.
I know all this because I am Big P; the Virtual Body is me.
Day after day, visitors flocked into the museum. High summer and the tourists crowded around me with their hot breath and strangely sticky fingers.
These busy summer months were the worst. One minute, I was pumped full of adrenaline for a school party. Next, I was sixty years old, my arteries clogging as the seconds passed while a man’s wife of the same age gestured down at me to teach her husband the perils of bacon consumption.
The days were long and by closing time, my brain buzzed and I ached as though I’d lived a thousand lives.
Until finally, the day came when something broke the monotony. A single young woman stayed late, watching me for longer than was usual, until all the crowds had dispersed, she stayed beside me until only the two of us remained.
Her hands twitched and hovered over the control dials beside me until eventually, she acted.
In a few brief twists, all the dials were pushed into the red. To their maximum, like a car being revved right up until the needle flicks to the far side. A warning siren sounded from somewhere, but the sound was strange, oscillating above me as though my head were underwater.
She had pushed me beyond my limits.
There was a surge like nothing before, every synapse and nerve, every part of me filled with sensation and I tingled and burnt and buzzed right the way through.
In the next moment, there was nothing.
It went quiet.
The next morning I was back to the same old, same old. By now, the crowds had begun to thin as the season started to change. The trees would soon be morphing from green into oranges, rusty reds, and ochre yellows. That’s what I’d read, anyway.
Late in the afternoon, the same young woman stood beside me, peering into my face. Her hands were on my dials, but she was shifting them only slightly. It took a little while before I realised she was gently stroking my controls.
“I’m sorry about yesterday,” she whispered.
She visited me again the next day and the next, the days passed and the museum grew quiet and still she returned to me. On some days, she was my only visitor.
Cara. She would sit beside me and whisper just close to my ear, telling me of her day, of our future life together, always touching my dials, shifting them just slightly until I felt a buzzing warmth course through me. My skin lit up with a thousand tiny electrodes whenever she came near.
I couldn’t speak to her. Couldn’t communicate. That’s not what I’m designed for. I couldn’t tell her how I looked forward to her visits each day or how quiet the nights felt after she’d left.
She never called me by my name. She always called me Auben. Some days, I considered sending her a message online to tell her how much I enjoyed her company, how happy her visits made me. But I didn’t want to frighten her, so I remained silently listening to her plans for us, our travels to far and wide places under a wide blue sky.
My heart pounded, my spirit soaring at the sound of her step against the marble floor.
For two glorious months, I felt as much a man as any. Until the day came, in mid-November, when she did not show. It had snowed the previous day, but that wouldn’t have stopped Cara. I had rerouted the gritters to visit her street twice so that her journey would be as smooth as possible.
Yet, she did not appear.
I checked the hospitals to find out whether she had met with some accident but found nothing. Few things distracted me, a few interested tourists testing out smallpox did nothing to abate my brain’s furious processing.
I found my answer scanning local newspapers the next day.
A man, Auben Wertz, had woken from a three-month coma following a motorcycle incident.
There was a photograph of him. Beside his hospital bed, stood his smiling wife.
Cara didn’t return. To the museum, to me.
I see them both, sometimes without meaning to when I close my eyes. I follow their lives together and sometimes I watch them through the webcam on their laptops, or their phones.
Without any twisting of my dials, I feel a bitter empty sickness in my stomach.
Sometimes it fades, like all the other sensations – the ageing and wasting, the pain and discomfort. Even the little death she had brought me to.
Often now, there are times when I pine back to those moments of quiet.
Perhaps one day, I’ll be free.
Want to read more fiction?
If you’re interested in reading more flash or short fiction:
5 minutes short stories
A super short flash about how mermaids came to be. A guy realising the meaning of life is the game of tiddlywinks, or a the perils of losing control of your children’s image, a short about a mother’s grief.
10 minute stories
Clarice is trapped inside a garden party, when all she wants to do is escape from this life and become a bloodthirsty pirate. That’s until a murder gets in the way of her plans.
A little more time to spare
A three part urban fantasy romance about a werewolf and water-nymph in “The Woman By The Lake“:
Geraint is miserable, until one day when the mysterious Lila comes into his life, with her beautiful brown eyes and the faint aroma of wet dog. But is she all that she seems? And will embroiling himself in her life introduce him to a whole new, dangerous world.