Season 2, Episode 025: She

season 2 of raconteuse radio

I decided to test out an A.I. named Salli to read my story this week. Listen and let me know what you think. Stream it and read along with the text!

Music: Kyoto Sunset from ZapSplat.

It was the same room as yesterday. The day before that, the day before that. One single-paned window provided natural light. The sounds of a neural concept of the natural world She had plugged into her mind contributed background music. No furniture. Amenities were nonexistent. Does having a toilet count as an amenity? It wasn’t like She needed it. She wasn’t even sure where it ended. Is this a life She was living? She couldn’t be sure. What was confidence? What was hate? Were these feelings? Was She aware of that? Beyond who She was, what was She? She would touch her skin, different spots, and She knew it was skin. That’s what She knew.

She walked a lot. It took 847 steps to make a perfect walk of the room. How She discovered numbers was weird too. She knew. If She was on Earth, She knew it was the third planet from the sun. She remembered the rhyme that identified the planets from elementary school. My very educated mother just sent us nine pizzas. But Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore. Right? How did She know that? What year did that happen? Was it recent, or was it a historical event? She knew what seasons were: summer, winter, spring, and autumn. They happened outside her window. It helped pass the time to identify the changing weather patterns outside.

The scars on her hands had healed a long time ago. The blood had dried. It was at least one season ago. The scar tissue was a gentle reminder of her imprisonment because that is what this was. There was no other explanation. She wondered what She did to cause this. Who was holding her captive? Or did She submit herself to a scientific experiment? This was a cruel joke, a test designed by some mad god. She wasn’t on Earth anymore, She was in another realm.

Several seasons passed before her answers became more questions. Finally, she decided to test the god in charge of her science project. Instead of sleeping – or feigning some semblance of sleep – She forced herself to stay awake. Twenty-four hours with no artificial stimulation. She could do it without much stress on her functions if they were things that needed monitoring. Twenty-four became forty-eight; forty-eight became seventy-two. Her body functioned well enough to have no physical damage to her body despite the lack of sustenance. On her ninety-sixth hour of being awake, the season changed from spring to summer.

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She looked up into the sky and knew it was Death Valley. How could She read the sky like that? This must be a continuation of the experiment. The barren environment became a room with no walls; 847 steps put her back at the beginning. She felt the coarse desert sand burning her skin. She examined her feet; She saw no blisters, suffered no damaged skin. The sun went down as She walked step 505 to the salt flats. She looked up and saw the sign demarcating the sea level. She walked away from the signage discovering the perfect spot to leave her mark in the salt. There were no sticks to use as a writing utensil; the rocks were too small to assist. Her foot hovered over the new deposit of salt. What was her name? It concerned her that god had given her consciousness but no personal details. Or He did, and She forgot. What name did She want? She could have any name. God must have given her a word to use. She racked her brain and wrote SHE. It was a good name.

Step 322 brought her to the famous sailing stones of her outdoor prison. She watched as they crawled across the sand, unaided by outside forces. Seeing them defy Newton’s first law of motion amused her. It was a chessboard, and He played against the Devil for someone’s soul. She smiled at the thought that the prize was probably her soul. Well then, who was winning? And if they were winning, what would happen to her story? Why would they choose her eternal soul as the bounty?

Step 825 brought her to a tiny town like you would see in an old Western. John Wayne. Duke. He was her favorite movie star. Her eyes examined the clapboard signs weathered by the elements. They announced the mercantile, the hotel, the saloon. She went into the pub, and the doors squeaked on their hinges to announce her arrival. The tavern was empty, as She knew it would be. Her eyes traveled upwards to the top shelf of the well-stocked bar. There was a dusty bottle of whiskey. If this were a Western, they would have served this bottle to its high-falutin’ patrons long ago. She nodded to the nonexistent barman and scaled the back counter to help herself to the whiskey. She tasted nothing. No familiar burn inching its way down her throat, no warmth in her belly. She poured the contents straight down her gullet. She was unable to perceive her stomach distend from the first drink She had had since her incarceration. Her knee-jerk reaction was to cry and curse her jailer, but instead, She smiled. There wasn’t much left to arouse an emotional response.

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Step 444 brought her to the hotel. Inside, She found a grand piano in the lobby area. Her fingers hovered over the keys, and She began to play Für Elise. She was unsure how She knew the song, but her fingers did, and She went along with it. The song ended where it did. Her mind’s eye wandered. She took stock of what She was and what She was retaining. She remembered that she was the prize of an unnamed higher power; she decided that she needed to declare a winner. She was fully prepared to grant unconditional surrender. Knowledge of such a catastrophic event would free her from her quarantine. She was confident of that. She spoke the first words She knew from her lips in the tongue that was in her head: “you win.” She waited. No burning bush, no parting of a sea, no apocalyptic ending.

She made her way to the hotel front desk. In her peripheral vision, She saw the hotel safe. It’s irresistible to her. Ice shot through her veins. The safe was designed by a great evil that She wasn’t supposed to know. The worn numbers “7” and “2” register in her mind. She instinctively pressed the keys three times: 72-72-72. The handle on the face of the safe turned to the right with her machinations. How did She know to touch it that way? The door unsealed as though it were the vault to a great secret. Inside was an envelope bearing her name and a set of keys. She’s confused. The first time She encountered the feeling since the beginning of her consciousness. She left the envelope on the counter and exited the building. Something was reaching out to her, but She did not know what.

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Guilliean Pacheco (she/her) is a writer and editor of Filipino heritage and the host of the City of Writers podcast. Her work has appeared in TechTarget, Nevada Humanities, and Helen: A Literary Magazine. She has an M.F.A. in Writing from the University of San Francisco and is an Anaphora Arts poetry fellow. She’s a misplaced California girl who lives in Las Vegas normally, if one could call living there normal, on Southern Paiute land. Follow her on Twitter.

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