Horror – Split Brain –
A man wakes up to find something has turned half the occupants of his city into violent, bloodthirsty killers. Even worse, because of a rare neurological condition, it has turned half of him into one as well.
|Publication Date||December 26, 2011|
|Series||Split Brain, Bk. 1|
|BCRS ratings?Learn more|
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There was brightness, and pain.
He was on his back, looking up at the light set in the center of the ceiling. His head throbbed. He was in the room where he cooked and ate food. What was this room called?
His vision rolled to one side, away from the light. He gagged, and his mouth filled with a taste that made him think of paper cuts and copper coins. He spit onto the floor.
Red splashed against the white tiles.
He couldn’t think of the word seizure, but the idea was there. It should be. The waking up on the floor, the disorientation, the feeling like a piece of his life had just gone missing, all this was familiar. It had happened before, happened too many times to count.
But there was something wrong. Because he wasn’t supposed to have seizures anymore. Not after the surgery. Not after the doctors opened up his skull and performed a procedure called a corpus callosotomy. The last resort of last resorts for treating severe cases of epilepsy. The kinds of severe cases that refused to be controlled by any combination of medication. Cases like his. The surgeons had shaved his head, peeled back his scalp, sawed open his skull, and carefully dragged a scalpel through his corpus callosum, the bundle of neural fibers that connected the right hemisphere of his brain to the left. Basically, they’d sliced his brain in two. The end result was called a “split brain.”
The severed connection was supposed to make it impossible for his brain to host the violent storms of activity that caused his seizures. It had worked. Perfectly. He hadn’t had a single seizure since he went under the knife two years earlier.
So why the fuck was he waking up from one now?
He gagged again, and more red spewed from his mouth. This was not good. He couldn’t think of the name for the red fluid, but he knew what it was, knew that vomiting up puddles of the stuff was very bad.
He couldn’t think of the word doctors, but in his mind he pictured men and women with white coats and rubbery hands. He needed to go to them. They would help him.
He was moving. His hands pressed flat against the floor. Then his feet. His body raised itself into a standing position. He was aware of these movements. He could feel the cold floor under his palms, he could feel his joints and spine straighten. He could feel these actions, but he was not in control of them.
The reflection in the mirror terrified him. One half more than the other.
The right side of his face looked like a Halloween mask. The skin was peppered with rash. The muscles underneath were clenched in a rictus. Spider webs of purple veins bulged from his cheek, from the right side of his nose, from his forehead and chin. The white of his right eye was no longer white, but bright red, demonic. Blood and pus leaked from under the eyelid. More blood dripped from the right corner of his mouth, where his lips were drawn back in a snarl.
At the center of his face, these symptoms faded. The left side of his face looked normal. Mostly. The skin looked bleached. The lips were colorless and pressed tight. The eye was wide with fear.
He’d spent most of his life–all but the past two years, really–battling epilepsy, and consequently, he’d learned a lot about the human brain. It was institutionalized knowledge, like the armchair legal degree of a felon who’d sat through countless hours of hearings, trials, appeals, and meetings with attorneys. Some of the knowledge he’d read, most of it he’d garnered from the many neurologists he’d spoken to.
He knew that the two hemispheres of a normal human brain were contralateral–the left hemisphere controlled the right side of the body, the right hemisphere the left side of the body. He also knew the left and right hemispheres of the human brain functioned differently. Each favored different styles of thinking. The left hemisphere preferred verbal instructions, logic, sequences, structure, language, and writing. The right brain preferred visual demonstrations, clusters of information, spatial relations, resemblances, and intuition. The right brain was not as sensitive to the mechanics of language, but was better attuned to intonation and facial perception. It knew what a speaker was feeling better than what they were saying.
In a normal human brain, the two hemispheres interacted with one another, sharing information. In a split brain, they functioned like two separate brains. They operated parallel to one another, but did not interact.
His left eye stared back at him, terrified, the look of a man locked inside a cage with a ravenous, violent animal.
In the mirror’s reflection he looked into his red right eye. There was no recognition on either side. Not his, not its–it being whatever was now occupying the left side of his brain. Because he no longer was. Warmth spread down the left leg of his pants as his bladder let go.
His vision tilted, and he felt something rising in his throat. Another gout of red splattered on the floor by his shoes. Then his legs began to move, carrying him away from the mirror. That’s what it was like, being carried. He focused, tried to exert some control over his limbs. His left leg stepped in front of his right and he toppled forward, crashing to the floor.
His body began to pick itself up again. He didn’t try to stop it, or tell it what to do. He stayed still inside the half of his skull that was still his, a passenger inside his own body. His legs moved, carrying him in the direction of the front door.
On his way out of the apartment he passed by a large, gray box. The front was glass.
Smoke wafted from behind the box, filling his nostrils with the smell of burning plastic.
The burning plastic smell sparked a flash of memory: sitting in front of the box, watching people behind the glass. Then, the people behind the glass were gone, obliterated by a blast of color, light, and sound.
Then nothing. With his left brain gone, reasoning through what had happened was difficult. But intuition resided on the right side of the brain, and he knew that the blast had somehow done this to him, put him in this state, turned him into a passenger inside his own body.
His left brain led him out of the apartment. It did not bother to close the door behind him.
There was a body in the stairwell. It might have been one of his neighbors, but it was impossible to tell. There was little left of the head, and the body had been flayed, stripped of its skin, muscle, organs. He willed his head not to look, not to stop and touch it like he knew his left brain wanted to. He pulled his body along as if it were a dog on a leash. He minded his feet this time, and made it downstairs without tripping.
Outside, the night glowed with fire. Across the street from his apartment building, flames flickered from the shattered windows of a blackened car. Down the block, a structure fire blazed inside the corner grocery store. Beyond that, there were piles of trash, more vehicles, more buildings, even what looked like more bodies, all in flames. In every direction something burned. In the distance, he could hear screams, gunshots, breaking glass, explosions. It was a war zone.
A scream–close, moving towards him. He turned to face it. A man charged at him, holding a claw hammer above his head like an Apache warrior wielding a tomahawk.
His right brain froze.
His left brain reacted.
He charged forward, colliding with the screaming man. The hammer came down, but he was already underneath the attack. He felt the hammer thump harmlessly against his back as he drove the screaming man into the ground.
The struggle lasted only seconds. His mouth lunged for the screaming man’s throat. His teeth bit into flesh as tough and sinewy as uncooked steak. His mouth filled with the taste of copper and salt. The screams became gurgles. He pulled back, tearing away a chunk of the man’s throat.
His jaw chewed, masticating the tough flesh.
Terrified, he held still inside the right side of his skull. He felt a lump move down his throat as he swallowed.
The kill attracted attention.
They slinked from the shadows, into the flickering light of the burning car. Males, females, young, old. What had happened to them did not discriminate by age or gender. Their clothes were filthy and stained with dark fluid–some their own, some not. Their faces were red with broken blood vessels, spider-webbed with purple veins. Their entire faces, not only the right half. Each had two red eyes to his one.
As the first few approached, he was scared. Again his right brain froze, his left brain reacted. He reached down and picked up the hammer the screaming man had dropped. He hefted the hammer in his left hand, ready to fight. For a moment, the two hemispheres of his brain were thinking the same thing:
Would they look at the left side of his face and kill him, or look at the right side of his face and recognize him as one of their own?
As it were, half a face was enough. The others gave him only a cursory look before they knelt at the body. A dozen hands clawed at the dead man’s clothes, pulling back the layers of fabric in their way. The soft parts were the first to be eaten. Wounds were ripped wider to expose the meat underneath. When some ate their fill, they were pushed aside, and others took their turn. Mouthful by mouthful, the body’s bones were revealed as its flesh disappeared. It was like a pride of lions devouring a zebra. It was terrifying to watch. More terrifying was the hunger he felt in his stomach. All-consuming, impossible to ignore, like he hadn’t eaten in days.
The two halves of his brain struggled for control of his body. The left urged him to move forward, to push his way through the others and eat his share of the kill. The right urged him to stay bolted in place, and tried to think of the word cannibal. In the end, his left brain won.
He fell into step with the rest of the pack.
They moved through the streets. Everywhere: shadows and firelight, smoke and the smell of burning fuel. There were more bodies, some stripped of their flesh, others that had been burned or ripped to pieces.
They started out a dozen strong. Their number soon doubled, tripled. He lost track of how big they got after that. He was near the front of the… mob.
A word his right brain could retrieve. While brain functions were lateralized to the right and left hemispheres, that functionality was not rigid. Each hemisphere had its preferences, but there was overlap. Especially with split brains. Each hemisphere learned to adapt. There were intuitions that resided on the left, words that became inscribed on the right.
Words like mob, and hammer.
He carried his hammer in his right hand, the hand wired to his left brain. Some of the others marching alongside him were also carrying weapons–lengths of wood, kitchen knives, household items. One even toted a machete–a word his right brain could also recall.
None spoke. If they did, he might have asked them what they had been doing right before all this started. He guessed most of them had been at home, in front of their–he thought of the gray box, the one with the glass side that faced the room, that he had seen in his apartment. What was it called?
He thought again of the blast of color, light, and sound on his television screen. He pictured this happening all over the city, cooking the brains of anyone who happened to be watching, turning them into the roaming mob that he was now a part of.
His brain, of course, had been different. Whatever was transmitted in that blast must have entered the brain in the left hemisphere, then moved on to the right, using the neural fibers connecting the hemispheres as a bridge.
But his brain didn’t have a bridge. The surgeons had torn it down two years ago. Whatever it was that had created these monsters had only made it through his left hemisphere before plummeting into the dark chasm between his two brains.
There were others that had escaped the blast, who had not been watching television when it came. They tried to escape. A few did. Most were dragged down by the mob, their screams ending in a series of wet ripping sounds as their bodies were peeled like fruit and devoured.
His left brain reveled in the violence. With each kill it pushed his body to the front of the mob and fought for its share of the meat, feeding the hunger in his belly that refused to be sated.
His right brain stood by in horror, terrified that the other hunters would notice he was different, that they would turn on him. He pictured his corpse lying in the street, the left side of his body eaten down to the bones, the right side untouched.
A sudden wave of heat and light from the back of the mob, and a BOOM of sound. He was thrown forward. The skin on his palms and elbows scraped raw against pavement.
He stood just in time to see the second explosion. A pillar of fire that rose from the street like something out of the Old Testament, engulfing the bodies around it. Then, gunfire from windows and rooftops above. Red fluid sprayed in every direction as bullets shredded the bodies around him.
It was like setting fire to an anthill. The hunters scattered, fleeing in different directions.
There was no thought, only instinct, as he ran for whatever was left of his life.
The voice thundered overhead, God-like:
“This is the United States National Guard. A terrorist attack is in progress and the city has been quarantined. If you can understand this message, report to the checkpoints located at the city limits. Proceed on foot. Avoid major streets and main roads. Avoid any large groups of people…”
There was more, but it was too hard to focus on. And though he could understand what it said, he was pretty sure he’d be shot on sight if he approached a checkpoint.
He was alone again, in another part of the city, some back alley, a neighborhood he didn’t recognize. The hammer was still clutched in his right hand.
In the streets around him the screams and gunfire persisted, some distant, some not so far away.
Behind him, the sound of shoes scraping against concrete. He turned. A figure stepped into the alley, then two more. Even before he could see their red eyes, their veined faces, he knew they were hunters. The half of his brain that was like them could sense its own kind.
They didn’t motion for him to follow, they didn’t have to. His left brain knew what to do. He walked forward, and then they were four.
No mob this time. They traveled in their small pack. Three males, one female. They avoided wide roads where they could be ambushed, gunned down. They kept to the alleys, moved from building to building. The hunger in their bellies had gone quiet, but it had been replaced by a different appetite: the overwhelming urge to hunt, to kill, to destroy anything that was not like them.
They found plenty to feed this appetite. Some fought back. Others kneeled and bowed their heads. None were spared.
His right brain watched through his left eye, trapped inside the nightmare, as his left brain threw his body into each murder. He was unable to stop it, unable to control his limbs for more than a moment. The thing that had taken over half his skull seemed to feed off the bloodshed, grow stronger with each act of violence.
It didn’t matter. The announcements overhead told him the city was cordoned off. Gunfire and explosions told him the military was exterminating everyone affected. Right brain or no right brain, he was not escaping this. He would be gunned down with the rest of them. It was a welcome thought. All he had to do was wait.
The apartment was small and crowded. There was a bloodstain streaked across the floor, like something had been killed and dragged away. They found them in the bedroom, inside a closet: a mother and two children. It might have been a good place to hide had the children been able to keep quiet, to stop crying.
The mother put herself between her children and the three-and-a-half snarling, demonic faces that blocked any chance of escape.
Her hands were clasped in front of her as tears poured from her eyes and she begged with a single world, “Please,” repeated over and over again.
She looked at each face in turn, looking for mercy, finding only bloodstained teeth and red eyes. The pack seemed energized by her terror.
He felt his stomach ache with fresh hunger.
Her gaze arrived on his face and held his eyes for a moment. Maybe it confused her, why he only wore half the mask of death. Maybe she saw a glimmer of hope in the left eye, the normal eye, the one wired to the right side of his brain.
Whatever she saw didn’t matter. What he saw with his left eye–fear, more powerful and overwhelming than any he’d seen in any of the other victims–surged from his right brain, down his spine, through his limbs.
Before he realized what he was doing, his left hand reached across his body and pulled the hammer from the grasp of his right. He turned to the hunter standing next to him, raised the hammer, and drove the claw-end into its skull. Metal pierced bone with a crunch. Dark red geysered from the wound.
He yanked the hammer free. The hunter’s body collapsed on the floor.
The two other hunters looked at him, confused. One was male, the other female. He swung the hammer into the female’s face, sending her toppling into the center of the room. The male came at him, slashing with a knife. He ducked and countered, swinging the hammer into the male’s knee. There was a crunch as the joint shattered. The leg buckled. The male howled and kept slashing back and forth with the knife. Bowed to one knee, it was an easy target. A hammer to the temple snapped its head sideways, dropped it the floor, limbs twitching.
The female regained her footing. The blow to her face had broken her jaw, and her mouth hung open in a sagging U. He drew the hammer back and swung, hitting the female in the left side of the head. Red mist sprayed from her ear. The blow knocked her from her feet. This time, the female didn’t get up.
Standing in front of the mother and her children, he turned his head toward his right shoulder, hiding the half of his face that was ruined and terrifying. His left eye met the mother’s stare. He tried to talk but couldn’t. It didn’t matter. She understood.
Taking each child by the hand, she followed him out of the apartment.
More hunters waited in the hallway outside, drawn by the sounds of the fight and the smell of fresh blood. There were at least a dozen, a phalanx of veiny red faces, grimy hands, and filthy, fluid-spattered clothes.
He stepped forward, blocking the mother and her two children with his body. He adjusted his grip on the hammer.
The hallway was narrow. They could only come at him one, two at a time.
This fact was lost on them.
Three immediately charged forward and bottlenecked, their bodies jamming shoulder to shoulder between the hallway’s walls like a Three Stooges routine.
Three whacks of his hammer dropped them to the floor, the contents of their skulls pouring onto the scuffed wood finish.
The next hunter in line put its head down and charged.
It tripped on the twitching limbs of The Three Stooges, and stumbled forward, face first. He stepped back, raised the hammer, and buried the claw-end in the base of the hunter’s skull.
He moved forward, over the bodies. The faces at the front of the pack screamed at him, capillaries in their cheeks rupturing as their mouths strained impossibly wide. They only saw the half of him that was right brain, that was not like them.
They attacked. He rushed into the onslaught.
Bludgeons. Knives. Hands. Teeth. They beat him, bit him, stabbed him, tore at his flesh. He swung the hammer again and again, striking out at any opening–wrists, knees, ribs, throats, heads–the thud of metal against meat and bone was like a drum beat underneath the screams of attack and gurgles of death. He fought them with his right brain–and his left. His right hand picked up a fallen butcher knife and slashed one attacker’s throat, then drove it under another’s sternum, the instinct for survival proving stronger than loyalty to its own kind.
One after another fell at his feet, until he stood at the end of the hallway, the dead trailing out behind him, the blood on the floor ankle-deep.
He looked back to the mother and her children, and motioned for them to follow.
There was constant noise in the dark sky above the city: the steady whump-whumpwhump of helicopter rotors, and louder, the announcement booming from the helicopters’ speakers: “This is the United States National Guard. A terrorist attack is in progress and the city has been quarantined. If you can understand this message, report to the checkpoints located at the city limits. Proceed on foot. Avoid major streets and main roads. Avoid any large groups of people…”
They encountered more hunters on their way to the edge of the city. Each time he put his own body between the mother and her children. Each time, he fought, he killed, and he stepped over the falled bodies of his would-be destroyers.
Eventually they arrived at a checkpoint.
It was a bridge, one he’d traveled across hundreds of times coming and going from the city. The entrance to the bridge had been barricaded. Floodlights rose from the ground, illuminating the surrounding area. Everywhere were men with guns, dressed head to toe in green.
He stopped in the shadows beyond the reach of the floodlights. If he moved any closer, he would be shot.The mother took his hand in hers, and looked into his left eye. “Thank you,” she said.
She squeezed his left hand, kissed his left cheek.
He watched them walk into the light. The men in green moved forward, guns raised. After a minute, the mother and her children were led across the bridge. He watched them shrink, then disappear from sight.
There was no chance of getting out of this alive. If he approached the checkpoint, he would be shot. More green men with guns were combing the city, exterminating the affected. Eventually he would be gunned down or cooked alive in an explosion. It didn’t matter. He was half dead already. All he had was half a brain and the chance to stay alive a little while longer. And he needed to. Even through the noise of the helicopters, the chatter of gunfire, the distant crump of explosions, he could hear the screams, the cries for help, the sounds of terror and panic.
He turned his back to the light from the bridge and looked back at the city. It was in flames.
There were people left alive in there. People he could save.
He adjusted his grip on the hammer, and walked toward the fire.