From the Memoirs of Irwin Morrow
I was born at the age of thirty-three, cold and alone on a soiled floor. The wet of industrial grade amniotic fluid coated my body and pooled around my huddled form filling my nose and mouth with its semi-sweet taste. My body convulsed and hacked up thick mucus in great globs until I laid supine, gulping down my first real breaths and shivering naked on the stained rubberized tile.
Only after a calm fell upon my stormy breaths did my eyes pull themselves open for the very first time. It was several long heart beats before they focused enough to decern anything distinct in my new illuminated existence. A pale green light washed the world around me revealing the translucent leathery shell of the amniotic sack in which I had grown for the past thirty-three years. A shiver rippled across my flesh leaving a wave of goosebumps in its wake. It was so warm in there but out here is so brutally cold.
The sack was suspended from a tall cylindrical machine enameled in a smooth, if grimy, pastel green. The source of the light turned out to be a monitor that stood out from the body of the incubator on an adjustable arm. I know now that its glow was soft and subtle but then it had been a galling light as searing as the sun. Afterall, it was the first light I had ever known.
I made the slow shaky climb to my feet with my muscles wobbling as they took my weight for the first time. My frame was fully formed and fit, crafted to purpose. After a handful of precarious steps, I felt the strength of my construction. I was no superhuman, but I had grown well in the incubator and could handle my weight with ease.
With the awkwardness of virgin limbs finally sorted, the room about me took on new significance. In the green gloom, deep shadows pooled around the walls and between the other darkened incubators. There were two lines of them, one row against each wall, and each was a dead thing. The amniotic sacks of most had burst and hung flaccid above irregular rings of curdled, yellow mold and softened human bone. The few sacks that remained intact held stillborns suspended in clouded fluid. Two were children, barely toddlers, and the third was a teenage girl. My siblings. My family… I blinked at a stinging sensation in my eyes and touched two fingers to my cheek. They came back wet.
With a rusted squeal, the door opened into a hall of smooth, jointed concrete. Flickering, yellow emergency lighting shone through grime and cobwebs. Mud had been smeared in patches and crumbled masonry had found its way into the corners. Dripping sounded somewhere deeper down the corridor.
From those depths came an inhuman scream. It rattled up the hall with a sound like a gutted goat. The hairs on the back of my neck rose and I reached mechanically to cover my nakedness. The austerity of the corridor seemed to highlight my exposure and the pressure of fear pushed on my shoulders with the quickening of my pulse.
I followed the hall away from the scream toward an imprinted memory of a room that whispered inaudible murmurs of safety. I had never trodden these halls or any halls before. Yet, the way unfolded in my mind instinctually as a young goose knows the way south in winter.
When I arrived, the door was a solid thing of scarred steel with runners of rust around the frame. A long aluminum lever served as the handle. My fingers rested on the metal for a moment before I remembered that the door was locked. I have long wondered how I could remember a thing that I had never experienced or known. Yet, there was the memory tucked away in my mind, the knowledge that this door would be locked. There is a keypad. Again, the memory of things that never were floated into my head and, as a reflex, my eyes turned to the wall next the frame. There was an unobtrusive metal box built into the blast grade concrete and, underneath the cover, was a keypad with a tiny glowing red light.
My hand trembled and though a chill filled the corridor, a bead of sweat ran down my temple. My index finger extended and pressed four numbers into the pad. 2-1-0-5. There was a clang like a heavy metal rod sliding into place that reverberated inside the walls. I steadied my hands with a deep slow breath and then gripped the long handle and pushed it upwards until I felt the catch slip clear of the frame.
The door pushed inward to a dim bunkroom. Lines of metal bunkbeds each flanked by gunmetal gray lockers trimmed the space. In the center, two rusting picnic tables each coated with flaking thermoplastic covered a small pond’s worth of stinking, stagnant water. A crack in the ceiling fed the pool with a constant dripping metronome.
I followed the bunks counterclockwise until I reached the far, left corner. There my baby soft feet exhausted their muscle memory and deposited me in front of a dingy locker labeled “Morrow”. A pale flame of recognition fluttered somewhere inside as shades of memory floated behind my eyes.
I reached towards the dial of the combination lock. Between my fingers it spun first clockwise, and then counter, and then clockwise again. Two. Ten. Five. The shackle released and with a sheet metal rumble like stage thunder the door swung open.
Inside were fastidiously folded, olive fatigues next to undershirts and tube socks which had begun to yellow. Black combat boots waited on the shelf above. A thick field jacket hung next to a thin vest of body armor. The glint of metal twirling on a thin chain caught my eye and I scooped it up into my palm. It was a flimsy disk of cheap steel stamped with letters that resolved themselves into words.
Private First Class
For a long moment, the world went black around the edges as my being shrunk into the shell of my flesh. I fell into myself spinning like Alice down the rabbit hole and clinging to that steel revelation. Then the chain, powered by impulse, slipped over my head so that the metal disk rested against my heart and I pressed it to me for a few long deep breaths. My pulse had been pounding in my chest and in my ears while my mind spun with all the terrible unknowns. I was a child in a man’s body, and, like a child, I clung to my talisman under the blinking fluorescent light praying to survive the monsters of this life.