By Gregory Kimbrell
I relax my grip on Sobek’s hand. But he tightens his own on mine. I’m
not letting go, I tell him. I’m not taking chances, he says. My eyes ache from
my keeping them wide in the pitch dark, in which a stream of cool dry
air blows down from ventilation shafts above the low ceiling. Whether
we rush into a trap from which we’ll discover no escape, or toward the
seemingly remote possibility of emergence into daylight, or into simply
more of the same, sterile corridors, neither of us of course could begin
to say. Though that hardly matters—behind us, the robot grows closer.
* * * *
The fingers of my left hand, with which I follow the wall, catch on the
rubberized handle of a steel door. Like the rest, this one opens inward,
and we step over the threshold. On the other side, I turn the hydraulic
lock that throws the bolts in place. Perhaps everything in this complex
connects in more ways than one, and my barring this route before our
pursuer, who can see in the dark and could never be lost inside a maze,
is therefore only delaying the inevitable, but I feel better straying from
the single, unobstructed path, making what at least resembles a choice.
* * * *
In any case, Sobek says that it’s getting colder in here, and true enough,
my sweat gives me gooseflesh. The corridor ends at an automatic door
that slides open, admitting us to a cramped square space like an airlock,
and a second door opens once the other has shut, revealing a chamber
glowing dimly with a red light that has no obvious source, in which we
see row upon row of transparent glass caskets containing some sort of
sexless people, with gill-like slits at either side of the neck. Like embryos,
says Sobek, who holds me tightly at the elbow and has begun to shiver.
* * * *
In the light, he too has the look of a pen-and-ink sketch, of someone’s
fevered recollection of an erect primate, clutching me as if in imitation
of intimacy, as though a misplaced idea of intimacy had been stored in
cryosleep, here in the bowels of this Hades, for the both of us to claim.
What use could we possibly make of it now? And as the dull sound of
some object colliding repeatedly, powerfully with a bulkhead becomes
distinct from the breaths we draw in the electrically charged air, I have
something like a premonition that I’m looking at a man selected to die.
Gregory Kimbrell is the author of The Primitive Observatory (Southern Illinois University Press, 2016) and winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. His poems have appeared in Parentheses, Blackbird, The Laurel Review, and other journals. He is the events and programs coordinator for Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries.
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