The darkness is total. But the silence is nonexistent. The sounds of the city batter me from all directions, penetrating my shell in a way light cannot. The squawk of a bicycle horn. The explosive blast of a backfiring Oldsmobile. The bells, striking on the hour … each clamorous ring threatening to shatter the safety of my delicate armor.

The fluttering of wings. The down of a feather.

The beat of a heart.

Ba-dump.

Ba-dump.

Ba-dump.

Floating in my shell. Floating in space. Engulfed by everything and nothing. Warmth blossoming from within, tendrils extending through the embryonic sack. Through the hardened shell that surrounds me … and deep into the vacuous eternity of space.

They’re out there. Watching. Studying. Analyzing.

I hear them I smell them I feel them.

Poking and prodding and measuring.

Experimenting.

Luminous beings of light. Come once again to take me away. Take me as I slumber. Spying on my gestational transformation as the id determines the new self.

A flexible persona caught in a web of forgiveness and deceit.

Watch closely. Consider the egg. Cast an x-ray and seek out what’s inside.

The gentle pad of naked feet on cold metal. The beings have come and they have me and I should have known better than to rest. Than to hide.

Yet they do not know I am awake. Tucked away in my cocoon, oh yes, I hear them. Scraping and tapping on my outside. Jostling me in my hidden place.

I dare not move. But I dare not stop the beat of my own heart. For should I do so, they’d mistake me as expired, and jettison me off into the recess of space or the fiery belly of the brightest star.

Trash. Expelled and replaced by someone new. Someone else with no purpose but to exist, until one day they’re discovered and taken and made special through the simple of act of being desired.

Seventeen.

Fourteen.

Eight.

Twenty-three.

A dozen short.

In my mind, I hold the key. My only possession. All that remains of all that I’ve left behind.

A crack in the skull, widening with every poke of the stranger and every beat of a pigeon’s heart. The key slides in.

Click.

Twist.

I open my eyes and the world explodes in light.

Knock, Knock.

Who’s there?

Is it safe to come out?

Continue to Chapter Thirty-One.