We walk down to the old cannery, our head down, our hands tucked into the pockets of our jacket. Even with our head down, there is still so much know, so much to distract us.
The air is cold- but not too cold, some of us are quick to point out. The shoes we wear have scuffs in them from walking so much and maybe from kicking things or running to jumping- but we haven’t done much jumping, lately, or kicking for that matter, just a lot of walking walking walking-
We can see through our eyes- though we can’t see our eyes which strikes most of us as fundamentally unfair- that there are little grounds of dirt in the cement. That the sidewalk isn’t smooth at all, it’s rough and like sandpaper if sandpaper were stone- but sandpaper isn’t stone, the more literal of us say. Though it's possible the cement for the walk has sand in it. isn't concrete almost like a sand? Doesn't it start off like dust- which is very sandlike, we think-
We physically sigh and a few of us try to explain what a metaphor or a simile or comparisons are, but most of us who are watching the ground ignore them and continue watching the ground. There are cracks in the sidewalk that look like pictures but we can’t see what the pictures are because we’re walking too fast. Some of us want to stop walking, to get down onto our knees and trace them with our finger so we can all see them better-
No! says the rest of us. We can’t. We have to finish.
And so we keep walking.
We climb over the chain link fence and marvel at how it’s constructed. Some of us vainly try to count the spaces before we force ourselves to move on. We cross the empty parking lot, we go to the front of the building. We go inside.
The doorknob! Twist it again! Inside, outside, inside, outside, in, out, in, out stand between and we're in and out at the same time-
Stop it. We're wasting time. We need to hurry.
We pass by silent canning machines- hulking beasts made of metal. Some of us are afraid of them- what if they turn on? What if we get caught in the gears and our body, our only body, is torn up and the blood comes out and we need that blood and-
They’re just machines, say a few of us. And they’re turned off. Quit being silly.
Others want to play with them. How can we turn them on? we wonder. There must be a button or a switch or-
The rest of us stop them before they can go any farther. We have work to do.
There are crates in the back. Large ones. They’re piled along the back wall. We sometimes wonder what they were used for, as cans seem like such little things and wouldn’t need giant crates like this-
We go to a specific crate in the back and pull off the top. We don’t bother with crowbars, we just dig our fingers into the wood and pull. The top flies off in a cloud of splinters and dust. Our hand is bleeding, but we don’t mind. The bleeding will stop eventually. There ought to be pain- in the hand, in the arm, maybe the shoulder- but there are hundreds of us specifically making sure that we never feel it.
Inside the crate is a man.
We don’t know how old he looks because we aren’t good at ages. His face isn’t lined like ours is, though, and his hair is brown instead of gray-brown like ours, so we assume he’s youngish. His eyes are wide and the middles are brownish while the edges are red and he looks kind of snotty. Some of us are curious- we want to see if he’ll start crying again, and if so, watch what happens. We haven’t cried yet, and so are unfamiliar with the nuances. Some of us are disgusted, either because we recognize it as a sign of weakness, or because the actual process is horribly biological. A few of us feel almost bad, but not bad enough to stop.
He’s not the best we could have gotten, but we were pressed for time. We needed out out out and he was the closest one on hand.
He wriggles farther back into the crate, as far as he can go. His arms are limp beside him.
“Oh God,” he says, shaking his head. “No. Please, not again.”
We effortlessly pull him out of the crate and carry him underarm. He squirms weakly, but remains limp for the most part.
“We are sorry,” we say. “It is necessary.” There is almost no weight to him. Some of us feel guilty about that.
It was necessary, we assure ourselves. We needed him weak.
We carry him to an open spot off to the side. His breathing quickens, coming out in short gasps.
“Oh God, no. I can’t. I can do this anymore. There’s too many, there’s too many! Please, I can’t take it. I can’t, please-“
He chokes and gasps and goes silent. We- They- have silenced him for us. We are grateful.
We lay him down on the floor. He can’t move. Not enough for it to be problematic.
The first time we did this, we had to tie him down. There was a great struggle and we were honestly worried we'd have to hurt him to keep him still. Now, though, we don’t have to. The few of us- the us who are no longer us and should now be considered They- already inside him are holding him still, even if They haven’t managed complete control yet.
He’s scared. He can’t move, but his eyes are wide and his breathing is wrong. We can see that, but we don’t know how to stop it.
We don’t want him to be scared. He's going to help us. We want him to want to help us.
There are thousands of us. More than thousands. And we cannot stay this way. We cannot stay inside one body- it’s not enough. Our presence has already destroyed this one. Yes, the body is functional. Yes, it listens to our commands- the majority commands, but the mind inside has long since gone.
Maybe it is still inside here with us, we say. Maybe it is one of our many.
Maybe it’s dead, we retort. Maybe we killed it.
We need room. We need space.
We look down at the writhing man. We need him. He is the first step.
“We’re sorry,” we say again. Some of us are. Most of us aren’t. We want to live. We want space.
We go around and drop to our knees, resting his head in our lap. We lean over and try to open his mouth. He tries to turn away.
Pathetic. Like an infant. Like kittens.
We gently pry open his mouth and softly exhale into it.
We leave. Hundreds of us- thousands of us. We leave in flocks and droves and those of us left behind can suddenly think so much clearer! There is room now! Room to think, room to be! We love it we love it we love it! And instantly, we want more. We want more room, we want our own room. We want to be singular.
But resist. We resist the urge to shove one another out, to fight aand squabble until only one of us remains. It wouldn’t work that way. We’d wind up overloading this new one-
Like the last one. Like the one we’re in now. We broke it we broke it we broke it-
So we pull away. We stop at the halfway point, when half of us remain us and half of us are now They.
The second we do, the second the flow stops and we straighten up, the man screams. He screams and bucks and kicks and continues to scream. He screams and screams and doesn’t stop until his throat is raw, then he rasps and squeaks. We hold his shoulders- we do not want him to die. We do not want him to hurt himself. They need him. We need him.
So we hold him and watch in fascination. The rasping screams turn to laughter, and then to sobs. He weeps and writhes and still we hold him. Our stomach starts to feel queasy before we can stop it. We’d forgotten to assign some of us to stop that sort of thing.
Finally, he quiets. His eyes close and he goes limp once more, breathing deeply as though asleep.
“Are we alright?” we say, unsure of what, exactly, to call the new They. To call them They would be to admit we were no longer a whole. To think it is one thing, but to say it. . .
“Are we alright?” We shove Them, trying to wake Them up.
The man opens his eyes. For a moment, they are glassy. Unfocused. He blinks a few times, and then, smiles.
“We are functional,” They croak. “Transfer was a success.”
We quickly get up and help Them to Their feet.
“And the host?”
They tap Their forehead. “Still extant. We’ve pushed it aside. It will be safe. Eventually, it will join us.”
We sigh, relieved. Elation bubbles up. It worked! It worked it worked it worked! An entire half of us, fully functional!
“We need more,” we say. “We need many more.”
They nod and examine Their new hands. “Yes,” They say. “Shall we get started?”
We wrap an arm around Their shoulders, and together we leave for the exit. We don’t bother closing the door: we’ll be back here soon enough.