Author: Letícia Piroutek

Hayden slams the door of his underground metal shoebox. Technology my ass. Everything is cramped and he can hear his neighbors yelling as if they’re inside his “apartment”.

It consists of a sink with artificial water that tastes like plastic no matter how many flavor tablets you add to it, one single electronic stove that works when it wants to, a steel fold-down table attached to the wall, a chair with a grey ugly cushion in front of the window that has a see-through screen attached to it. It shows a fake image of rain hitting the window, and woods right outside. He doesn’t even know if trees looked like that. There’s also a shower in the corner, inside a tube where he can barely fit inside.

He sleeps on top of a futon that he stretches out every night onto the body-sized space on the floor. Every time he looks at it, he can’t believe he could fit in there with Lulu. She was so tiny; her hands were so small… he can barely breathe in here.

He is privileged though, there are even smaller places in the desert. And people share them.

He walks into the shower tube and presses the button. Artificial cold water falls on his body for 60 seconds. No more, no less. It’s not enough to wash out all the sand, grime, and sweat off his skin, but he makes it work. He washes his body with a thin sheet of “soap” that is barely enough to clean his hands let alone the rest of his body. It will do. It must.

As soon as he walks out and puts some pants on, that feel more and more like they’re made of sandpaper and less like actual fabric, the siren starts ringing loudly and the lights start flashing red. He looks at the clock: 6 am. It’s the witching hour already and he completely forgot to activate his locks before leaving for work at sundown. He’s so tired, all the time… and now this. He runs the two steps to his control panel near the door. He hits the lock button, already starting to shake in fear, he can’t believe how stupid he was. The button shines bright red and a woman’s robotic voice says loudly: “LOW BATTERY! LOW BATTERY! LOW BATTERY!”

“Fuck!” he says out loud. He runs to the kitchen area and opens the tiny cupboard above the stove, he takes a wire from inside it and runs back to the panel. This is fruitless, he knows. But he plugs it in anyway. The robotic voice speaks loudly again: “CHARGING TIME: TEN MINUTES!”

Fuck, fuck, fuck. He’s going to die. One less human. They’re already in extinction and he’s going to die here, in his shitty shoebox apartment, exhausted, depressed, and not nearly clean enough. Because he was just too stupid to remember to charge his locks during sundown before leaving for his shitty desert job. That’s when he hears the first creek of metal and the first howl. He starts shivering, the sound reverberating through his entire body, his spinal cord. He wishes Lulu was here, he misses her so much. If it wasn’t for that fucking droid, if it wasn’t for its own self-preservation instincts… she’d still be here. Lulu would be here, and he’d never have forgotten to charge the batteries. He thinks a part of him did this on purpose, the part of him that wants to be gone, that wants to die and disappear forever. The part of him that was only living to protect Lulu is gone.

The sound is getting louder now, the robotic howls becoming one, and he squeezes his eyes shut. He thinks of her, her tiny hands, her short hair, her always scraped little knees. His baby girl, his baby Lulu.

His front door starts shaking, it’s one of them. The nails scratching up and down the metal making the most horrific sound. The extremely loud banging on the door starts.

Hayden waits. And waits. And waits. His eyes squeezed shut and sweat dripping down his forehead, getting into his eyes like teardrops. The banging gets louder and louder and then… nothing. It’s completely silent, no one is trying to get in anymore. He is paralyzed on the floor, the sirens still loud and the red light still blinking nonstop, messing with all his senses.

And then…

There’s a knock on the door. Three soft knocks. He slowly opens his eyes, sweat making them burn. He can barely see anything, he’s dizzied, and the sweat is starting to cool on his skin, leaving him cold and making him shake. He stares at the blurry door, waiting.

Three soft knocks again.

He finally takes a big breath, gets up, and moves forward.