Awake at 3 AM because of you. I shouldn’t be surprised; this isn’t the first time, it won’t be the last. (No, no, you’ll never let it be the last, will you?) A dream this time, rapidly fading before the harsh glow of the computer screen. I will capture its essence if I can. You, the mad, unhappy genius, seeker of the elusive philosopher’s stone, had built a machine both wondrous and terrifying. Hidden away from disbeliever’s eyes (but they all disbelieve now, even in the dream) where none could question you, none could stop the mounting fervor. Ah, these words won’t work. The memories are jumbled already by the witching hour. See, you needed someone. A test subject. A warm, willing body to pump full of lightning to take measure of the dark device. And so you sought my assistance, because I am always half believing and too eager, it seems, to cover the rest of the way. In that secret place you revealed the terrible machine, eyes alight with the triumph of captured science, fettered universe. You held out one hand to indicate sit, let us begin, take your rightful place as my experiment in true. You cradled a syringe and when I lay back I felt its brightsharpcold bite at my neck and your fingers on my cheek, loving as if they did not trace the hypothesized paths of lightning arcs. What would you burn into that untouched skin if given free reign? But I balked, I panicked, I smelled ozone in the air and drew away. In your quest for knowledge you would martyr me, turn me inside out, dissect my essence (though you have never needed a machine for that). The light in your eyes snuffed out, then, subsumed in impatient displeasure. The lightning poised in your hand, you demanded do you not still owe me? Shall we find some other way to settle your debt? And I trembled at such a thought (what have I left that I have not already given you time and again, you who take but cannot return?), quailed at the notion of fleeing, of lingering, of remaining the haunted and hunted either way. I swallowed. I nodded. Return tonight, said you. And I spent that day in fearful dread, imagining electricity crawling through my bones, shining like a torch out my wide stretched mouth and unseeing eyes. Strange machine, strange man. Dark machine, dark man. I wept (yes, I) and saw you in every shadow, ’round every turn. I mustn’t go back. I wouldn’t go back. I couldn’t go back. But I did because always there were your snuffed out eyes, so dismissive, so captivating, and your voice saying this is your due as if my living or dying by your stormthunder whim might wipe my burdens clean. Perhaps you truly did want that, and believed your invention had harnessed the forgiveness reserved only for the Lord’s cleansing. Perhaps you, so mad unhappy restless incomplete, could not see the awful wrongness of your machine. Perhaps you were the one in need of saving (from yourself, if only I could). But I knew the bleak truth. No one can harness the universe without sacrifice, and always there was your voice saying you owe this, you owe me, come back tonight and we shall make this all right. You drew me, tragic and wonderful, and the machine drew me, terrifying and impossible. Even as I denied, my feet moved me ever back. I thought I might return and talk myself free (what a silly notion, when words are what have bound me so!), reach through your blind thirst for knowledge to what heart of humanity might yet remain inside you, though starved small and desperate. As I went to my fate I fought back stinging tears, so certain of the end (we always are, in the nightmare) but unable to change course (we never can, in the nightmare). Images flashed before me: the waiting machine, the silver needle, your hand beckoning me to trust when all I have ever earned for that trust is another injection. Still, I would return. The decision had never been mine to make. You, with your black hole core forever sucking in all matter, will always pull me back. Yet whether or not I would submit to that manifestation of your obsession depended on your answer to one question:

Do you love me?

But I never knew, in dreaming or in waking, which answer would have turned me away and which would have drawn me back to your side.

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