The electricity surged through his brain, speeding his recall even as it cauterized the loose flapping edges of his soul. The memories revolved around each other, spinning and picking up speed. He remembered losing his mother to cancer. His aunt. His best friend. There had been something in their water from the new factory.
He hated the year 1916. In his neighborhood at least, that was when the factories appeared in full force, like glaciers of garbage suddenly on the horizon. They’d eaten up the work, the sky, and then his family.
It was 1923 now and he hated that he’d been spared. Of all the dice rolls to win, why this one? He was alone now. Not for long. Those years had been filled with research, with rats and their induced tumors. The whole time he drank the contaminated water and waited. There was one evening, he remembered it now as the electric experiment rattled his mind, where he had taken one of his rats home and cut out its tumor. He had eaten it like a steak, with knife and fork and sauce, hoping for the disease to reach out and take his hand.
He remembered the year he got his cancer: 1921. It was a race now, but not one he particularly cared to win. Either he would cure the disease or it would cure life of him. Either way he would be at peace. What was his name? The electricity must have burned it away. It didn’t matter. Only the experiment mattered.
Turning his head to look at the body was impossible, but he knew the wires were still attached. Two from each of his ears and eyes drooped between the tables and connected to the face of a recent corpse. It was his cousin. Not cancer, just sudden heart failure. Not so surprising to the man behind the experiment, because his cousin had lost three children already. Heart failure was inevitable.
The last memories whizzed by. Then he was in the wires. Then he was in his cousin’s mind. His father would be by later to pick up the body, but the body picked itself up. The obsessed scientist ripped the wires from his new face and touched the small holes left behind.
The cousin’s name was still there: Martin. He was Martin now. Cancer-free Martin. That was the solution. The disease couldn’t be beat, but it could be left behind. He stared at his cancer, wrapped up in his old body. He thought he would feel happiness, but he was simply cold: a side effect of entering a home that had all its doors and windows flung open, perhaps. That was essentially what he’d done.
His legs were stiff because the sludge in his veins hadn’t refreshed yet. He stumbled against every piece of furniture in the building as he found his way to the street. It was dark. There was rain. Everything was slightly different. He, the man people would call Martin, realized the variety of humanity. Martin’s experience of rain was slightly different to his cousin’s. His rain was softer, more like cotton balls striking his head.
With fresh blood from the reignited heart, sense came back to him. The battle was not over, far from it. Nobody knew of his research. They had to be told. It could be refined. People could hop between bodies all they wanted, ditching anything worse than a sniffle. They could be a new race, a race of electric ghosts laughing at the meat and hair as it tried to catch up. The new Martin stumbled out into the night.
“Get out!” He was tossed into the street, papers flying. Who knew medical colleges had such strapping students. Martin looked at his skinned elbow, caused by their refusal to even acknowledge his data. Why would they? He wasn’t a doctor anymore. That was his old self. Now he was just a young man who had worked in a canning factory and died, and whose body disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
He had no credentials, no way to afford equipment, and no way to convince them. It had been another three years since his god-defying success, his new body was aging just as it should have originally, and yet the disease still ravaged his homeland. Every day there was a new paint, a new tonic, a new thing that he understood as carcinogenic. These people would pay the price. When the tumors bloomed he would be waiting.
Turning them down would be a dark pleasure, but less than the success he had so wanted. Martin gathered up his papers and walked, hunched, back to his home. He was squatting in a burnt-out shell of a building outside the city. His only company was felled pine trees and half-starved groundhogs. He wondered why death had not come for him yet. He was not treating the new body well. He ate very little and drank less. He kept it in the cold and wouldn’t let it shiver.
Somehow he was trapped once again. Nobody would listen! Nobody would heed, even as they painted their teeth with the new paint and breathed the fumes of the new engines. There had to be a force behind it, something that could follow between bodies. Something his research had failed to bring to light.
“What are you?” he howled at the treetops. “Show yourself! What deal have you struck with cancer to keep me from both death and success?” His answer was the sound of something running through the brush, like a wolf, but a wolf that didn’t fully understand its own feet. Its movements sounded swollen and squishy, like someone rolling preserved eyeballs down a flight of dusty stairs.
Martin ran after it. It had to be the culprit. Theories swirled in his head, some more wild than his initial experiment, and some less. The most convincing seemed to be a ghost. Yes, a spirit could have latched on during the transition, grabbed the live wires joining the two bodies, and followed him.
The sound turned around and pounced on him. He was knocked to the ground by nothing but his imagination. His head struck a stone. That allowed him to finally see the specter. It was hairless, drooling, and had eyes that couldn’t focus.
“What are you?” he asked, truly disgusted. He had lived in a corpse for years, traveled via lightning, and eaten the innards of diseased rats, but none of it compared to this creature’s face.
“Cancer,” it answered, loose teeth tumbling out of its mouth. “I was in your brain the whole time, after that tasty tasty rat.” A vomit of dry blood-stained teeth. “Your meat and your thoughts are more connected than you know. You were always doomed to die of me, but only when I willed it. I only will it when I am bored.”
The specter vanished. Martin shot to his feet. There was no way out. Even if he took a knife to his own heart, the cancer was in his soul now. It would follow him to heaven or hell. He was trapped, trapped until the beast’s eyes finally focused.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by itsraindropz during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop bytwitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!