Author: Hayden Waller

It is impossible to determine where my body ends and the universe begins. My blood cells are stars, my veins their galaxies. Every muscle feels as if it were coated in a thin layer of cloud, cool and dewy, gently lifting me into the sky above like an offering to the sun. For once, my mind is at peace. The black tendrils of worry that worm their way through my broken brain have shriveled up, beaten back by this vanguard of Bliss.

There is a woman next to me. My wife. I reach out and touch her arm and remember we are in love. Visible waves of ecstasy roll off her and into me. My eyes roll back in my head as the warm current travels from the tips of my fingers to the tips of my toes, bathing every inch of my form in golden light. Every neuron, alight. Je t’aime ma fleur I whisper. The words leave my mouth and hang in the air, swirling around our heads like a drop of dye in a glass of water. She smiles at me and lays down on her back. Mmm. A soft moan escapes her lips as she slowly writhes in the grass. I roll over onto my belly and drag my face back and forth across blades. It tickles. The smell of rich soil enters my nose and I begin to cry. Tears of pure joy.

When I raise my head, there is a beetle in front of me. I stare at it. It seems to stare back. The creature is stunning. A miracle of creation. Each hardened plate of its body reflects the sunlight in a different way, a kaleidoscope of shimmering purples, blues, and blacks. I set out an open hand and coax the creature onto my palm. Its legs articulate like an organic machine as it climbs up the flesh of my thumb. I bring it closer to my face. I study it. It seems to study me back. And then, without warning, it bites my flesh. I’m sorry Mr. Beetle, I did not mean to disturb you I say.

And then, I feel it. The warm blood in my hand turns to ice and the world around me begins to change. As the chill travels up my arm the lush carpet of soft grass disappears, revealing a concrete floor stained with dried blood and motor oil. The chill hits my shoulder. Above my head, the brilliant sun in the cloudless blue sky becomes a cracked ceiling with a flickering fluorescent bulb. By the time it reaches my chest, the beetle’s once-glistening exoskeleton has become matte and metallic. It scurries away across the floor on its six mechanical limbs and into the gloved hand of an armored patrol officer. The sobriety cocktail the scout drone injected into my thumb finally reaches my heart and the last remnants of Bliss are gone. My wife scrambles to prop herself up on her elbows. A look of terror washes over her as a second drone scurries away from her towards the officer. But I am not scared. I already know what happens next.

A synthetic voice comes through a tiny speaker on the side of the officer’s black, visored helmet. Users located it says. Proceeding with termination. The officer takes his sidearm from its holster and presses it to my forehead. Je t’aime ma fleur I whisper one last time, and my vision goes black.