Better

Better

Ezra T. Gray

 

The man-beast perched on the limb, his chest muscles straining against the shredded remains of his shirt. Soon these last fragments of humanity would fall away and he would be just a beast.

Once he had been just a man. Puny. Pathetic. Now he was stronger. Faster. Better.

The night air burned his nostrils as he sucked it in. On the air was the sweet scent of meat, flesh and blood. Man’s flesh. The man-beast was a man hunter—no other flesh would sustain him. And the more he partook, the further he slipped into the beast. Very soon the thoughts of man, the trappings of man would be gone. He would be wild. Better.

The Prometheus implant was deceptively simple. Once implanted it emitted minute electrical impulses that hyper-stimulated the parts of the brain that control strength, intellect, sexual pleasure and enjoyment of food, among other things. Once implanted, it was impossible to remove. And at first no one wanted it removed. Hell, you were super human! Better!

Unfortunately there were unforeseen complications.

The man-beast remembered the euphoria he felt when he first received his implant, his new-found strength and, of course, the endless hours of sex. He remembered a mate. His altered mind struggled for the word…wife. Yes…he had a wife… He could not recall what had become of her.

But science had not foreseen what was to come. Hormones and proteins were used up faster than the body could replace them. Even supplements failed to keep up with the body’s new demands. After a few months, the super-human traits gave way to regression in some areas. First to go were societal inhibitions and morality. Finally each person who received the implant succumbed to a complete breakdown, descending into a psychosis from which they never recovered. Strength and sexual prowess remained, yet those with the implant were still only as strong as the limits of their human bodies allowed. And the only way to replace the necessary proteins was to feed on the only flesh that contained them.

The man-beast had watched as much of the population regressed. He had held out longer than most, but yes…he did remember…his wife. He had killed her, devoured her…and…his offspring. A tug of sorrow pulled at him, but it was nothing more than the ghost of feelings he had once known.

He drew the night air in again. The man, his prey, was closer. Soon he would feast. Sometimes, during the daylight, when he lay curled in whatever den he had chosen, the bloodlust would fade, but the return of the darkness always renewed his need. He hated man, but he loved the flesh, the blood… He licked his lips as the scent of man passed through his nostrils. His prey was nearly beneath him now. He could barely hold back. He inhaled quietly and detected another scent—a second human. His lips peeled away from his teeth in a silent snarl. Better than one man, now he would have two.

Even as he readied himself to attack, a third scent filled his nostrils. It was dog. Dogs hunted the beast. They hated the beast as much as the beast hated man. The beast drew in on himself, near to panic. He could hear the dogs’ breathing, their panting and slobbering excitement growing nearer. Where seconds before the beast had been the hunter, now he was the hunted, the frightened prey hiding in the forest.

He started to move, then froze. The first man had come too close. Caught off guard by the presence of the dogs, the beast was cornered. Adrenalin surged through his body as scent and sound revealed he was surrounded by dogs. His only chance of escape lay past the first man. He would not have time to eat, but he would certainly kill the man.

He rose up on the limb to jump, tearing away the last shreds of his shirt. As he looked down something seemed vaguely familiar about this particular man. The dogs closed in, snapping and pulling at their leashes. With an eerily human yell the trapped beast leaped. Blinding white light flashed. Something struck the beast. He hit the ground on his knees. Sharp pain flashed through his legs and was gone, but the spasms radiating from his stomach doubled him over and refused to dissipate.

He struggled to his feet. He was very tired. The hounds were almost upon him, but the beast no longer cared. Escape now his only concern, he tried to run. A second blinding flash erupted and darkness descended.

***

The man holstered his magnum and gazed down sadly at the carcass that was once the husband of his baby sister. The beast’s features were twisted almost beyond recognition, but the man knew who he was.

Another man walked up cradling a rifle in the crook of his arm. “Big John, you got him, huh?”

“Yes. Yes I did.” Surprisingly soft spoken for his size, Big John was dressed in dark clothing and a tan hunting vest. “Billy, I hate this.”

“I know, John.” Billy was a small man, but his confidence and capability made him a comforting presence during this crisis. He reached up and patted John’s shoulder. “I know, buddy, but now he’s gone. He can’t hurt anyone else. Come on, we have a lot more hunting to do tonight.”

Billy walked purposefully into the darkness. John kicked the carcass. “How could you?” he whispered. “I told her not to stay with you, but she loved you. And you ate her, and your own children! How could you?”

Billy’s voice crackled over the two-way radio on John’s belt. “John! John, we may have another one! We need you!”

“I hope you’re better now,” John whispered. Then he walked away.

***

Unseen by the men, a wraith watched. Freed, now, from his twisted body, he could remember and regret the atrocities he had committed. All he had really wanted was to be better. He looked longingly after his brother-in-law. They had once been friends.

The wraith felt a tugging, as though a breeze was flowing through him, pulling him away. He turned from his carcass toward a light. To his dismay, though not to his surprise, he found not the soft welcoming light of eternal peace, but the harsh revealing light of eternal judgment.

The End

Special thanks to Aphelion Ezine for the first publication of this story in 2005 as New and Improved.


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