By Víctor Parra Avellaneda
Eating became frowned upon between us, me and my sisters. It was like slowly killing my father.
When we were able to get the million dollars and deposit it in the soul thieves’ bank account, the worst thing happened. The kidnappers sent us a small box, inside which was a grey rat along with a letter informing us that they had increased the ransom fee. It was no longer a million, but fifteen million.
There was nothing we could do. Absolutely nothing. Everything we did was worthless now. We just stayed with that grey rat. He was the only thing left of my dad.
From that moment on the rat, who we stopped calling “rat”, we called Father.
Father lived out the rest of his days in a cage with all the possible comforts he could get. Food, a small exercise wheel and plenty of water.
Every night, when we return home, my sisters and I sit around what is left of our house and we caress Father. Now it is not he who tells us stories before we go to sleep, but my sisters, who now speak to him and tell him the relevant things of the day.
In the background, I can see mother watching us, with a sad face, and a long tear running down her face. She says nothing. She hasn’t for a long time, just like Father.
I, too, am beginning to lose the ability to say anything as the days go by. I watch my sisters talk to Father and how little by little their voices become indistinguishable, until they become silent. I too withdraw and lie down in my bed, where I cannot sleep.
A million dollars for your father, if you ever want to see him again, said the low voice on the other end of the line, before cutting off and giving way to the most terrifying silence I have ever experienced in my life.
Where and how would I get a million dollars and in the time demanded by the kidnappers? They were crazy! They always have been! They kidnap a family member and ask for an unreachable amount of money in a ridiculously short time. Most of the time this ends in tragedy and the kidnapped person never returns to his family.
It distresses me to think that I will never be able to see him again, and that all the effort I made along with my family and friends, will be completely useless.
It already happened with my cousin Ana Laura’s husband, who was kidnapped after leaving his job and his body was found a few weeks later in a vacant lot, unrecognizable and devoured by a group of fly larvae.
It also happened to Roxana, a fellow student, who was kidnapped and for her the soul thieves demanded five hundred thousand. Her family mortgaged all their belongings, and they managed to get the amount of money they requested, but when the deadline for payment came they increased the figure.
–If you want to see your daughter, you’ll have to give us seven hundred thousand– said the kidnappers.
–We had a deal; you can’t change it at the last minute! –exclaimed Roxana’s parents in despair.
–Would you like to see your daughter again? Pay what we ask, or you will never see her whole.
Or you’ll never see her whole… that’s what they tell everyone.
Roxana’s family and her friends, myself included, knew what it was like to see someone you love in that state. One day a small cardboard box arrived with a message written in violent calligraphy:
Here’s a little piece of your Roxana. If you want her whole, cooperate. If you don’t cooperate, be content with this.
A million dollars for your father… if you ever want to see him again, there’s that damn voice again, those damn words…
…if you want to see him again, if you want to see him again, if you want to see him again…
Of course, I want to see him again! I him back with my mom! I want him doing the antics he knows how to do and telling stories to my sisters before bed! I want him back in my life, to be able to hold him one more time and feel his arms!
But… but… Where the hell are we gonna get the money?!
Like with Roxana’s family, we mortgaged the house and sold everything. We bankrupted ourselves to get the money. I dropped out of school and my sisters and mother worked every job possible. There were days when we ate absolutely nothing.
When we opened the box we watched in distress what it contained.
–It’s a rat–said Roxana’s father, bursting into tears as he held the rat in his hands and caressed it with devotion.
–My little girl, my Roxy– What have they done to you? –Roxana’s mother cried, shattered, almost fainting.
I could not say anything. It was the first time I had ever seen anything like it. I had heard it many times in similar cases- sometimes rats arrived, sometimes cats and sometimes birds.
–Part of my little girl is here– said the father, kneeling defeated, his eyes red and submerged under a veritable ocean of tears–my little girl has been torn to pieces and one of the pieces is this rat.
After a month Roxana’s family was able to get more money, not the full amount the kidnappers had demanded but an advance, for which they received another box with another rat. Now there were two rats.
–We’ve almost got you home, my love–said Roxana’s father, as he carefully placed the second rat in a large fish tank which served as a terrarium for the rodents.
Then he went to the kitchen and brought some food for the little animals.
Roxana’s father had stopped doing all the things he considered superfluous and concentrated all his energy on work until exhaustion. He began to break down as a person, all to attend to the rat’s full time. He wouldn’t let anyone near him. The rats were his main concern. In fact, that’s why he had serious problems with his wife and us.
–Get away from the rats, I want those damn cell phones put away. They can kill you with a heart attack! I’m not going to let that happen–he said to us and Roxana’s friend Amelia, who took out her cell phone.
From then on, we visited Roxana’s parents less often. It was understandable. If something happened to the rats, if they got sick or if one of them died, it was the end for Roxana.
Weeks passed, in which Roxana’s family paid another fee and received another box with another rat. They got 10 rats in total. At this point they had no way to get more money. They were in debt and broke.
–Bankrupt? –cried Roxana’s father, furious– Being bankrupt is nothing to worry about! The horrible thing, the truly hellish thing is not having our daughter! For me to have the house, the furniture, the cars taken away, to have my job taken away, to have my own life taken away! I would give my own life just to have Roxana back! My life is worthless now, it has no meaning, damn it!
The time came when there were no more new rats. They had all arrived. Now what arrived was Roxana’s body, in a refrigerator filled with ice.
The parents kept the body for days, with all the medical care possible, while desperately contacting some resuscitating doctor.
-“Gentlemen, I understand your desperation. I want you to understand that the process is very delicate. While it is possible to bring your daughter back, the intervention is too delicate and Roxana may not end up being herself. There is a good chance that, because of the bad treatments her body has undergone, there will be side effects,” said the resuscitator.
–I don’t care. I don’t care about anything anymore. I want my daughter. Do you understand? –said the father angrily.
–Alright, We’ll do the operation. We’ll try our best and ensure the greatest stability in the return of your daughter.
Roxana woke up, but it wasn’t her. Just what the doctor said.
She showed signs of severe mental retardation, as if she had forgotten everything. In addition, she was paralyzed and could not move any of her limbs. She could barely babble indistinguishable sounds.
–It seems that many of your daughter’s neural networks were lost, or died in the process. It’s something that often happens in such delicate cases. She is destined to spend the rest of her life like this– said the doctor.
–My daughter’s alive…–said the father, taking Roxana’s hands, crying, and kissing her fingers uncontrollably, until she fainted on the floor with sadness.
From that moment on, the life of Roxana’s family had begun a gradual but imminent process of deterioration. Roxana was the light of that family and despite her return, she was gone. You could see the reflection of the world forming over the surface of her eyes. That image was increasingly opaque and distant. She no longer existed. That Roxana was another Roxana.
The operation took place on a hot Sunday at the city’s clinical hospital. The rats were all transported separately in separate boxes numbered 1-10, and the body was moved in the refrigerator.
The team of the resuscitating doctor, twenty specialists in neurosurgery, carefully took each of the rats and extracted their brains, which were placed in containers with a liquid that achieved the survival of the rats outside their bodies.
–Remember, the soul of the patient is in each of these rats. If anything goes wrong with the treatment of any one of these little brains the operation can be lost– said the resuscitating doctor to his assistant.
–I know, doctor, I’m doing the best I can–said the assistant as he suspended the first rat’s brain in the liquid.
After a few minutes all the brains were placed in these containers.
–Doctor, the neural tissue decoupling reaction is proceeding. The rat brain loses its shape– said the assistant, as he watched the rat brains dissolve into the liquid medium and then two layers formed, a superficial, whitish layer corresponding to the rat cells themselves, and at the bottom, a slightly pinkish layer, comprising human neural cells: these were Roxana’s neural connections.
–Perfect, we waited a few minutes for the neuronal compatibility reaction to be completed, so that we could rescue the patient’s neurons and implant them–said the resuscitator.
The neurons, which could be said to be Roxana’s soul, were extracted from the liquid medium and deposited in a brain mould, i.e. an exact copy of the inside of Roxana’s skull cavity, made of gel. There the liquid would be deposited with the human neurons. After a few months, under the rigorous care of the doctors, Roxana’s brain, her memories and her personality would again manifest themselves, with all their neural networks restored. This is what resurrection was all about.
He was my father now. Kidnapped on the way out of the house. He was just going to buy some things at the neighborhood store when he was caught by some hoods and taken away in a van. There was nothing we could do. A week later, they called us. That damn call. That fucking voice.
A million dollars for your father…
Those words echoed in my head all night. I couldn’t sleep. Not that day, not all week.
I imagined my father being decapitated to extract his brain, his memories, and his personality inside the brains of ten or fifteen rats, after countless chemical processes, poorly made with expired reagents and infected material in a clandestine laboratory.
This procedure, capturing the victim’s mind and dividing it among several animal brains, is a fairly efficient strategy for trafficking abductees and asking for larger amounts of money. In the past, long before neural network transplantation was invented, kidnappers cut off parts of their victims and sent them to their relatives as a warning; their loved ones gave everything, got rid of everything, just to have that person back. With the standardization of bone, muscle and skin regeneration methods, all that no longer makes much sense, because new limbs or a whole body can be rebuilt in a matter of weeks. However, with the brain everything gets complicated, mainly because although memory can be transferred, if the neural networks are damaged, they cannot regenerate and everything that was the individual, its essence mainly, is lost.
In this case, the victim’s body is relegated to a secondary plane and is no longer mutilated. The body is a bait to try to make the extorted relatives give in to the demands of the kidnappers, who imply that the body is in a condition to regain the mind that gave it life. Mind that is cut up and transported in a pile of rats, which represents many advantages for the criminals, mainly because people can scream and ask for help, rats cannot.
As I walk down Lázaro Cárdenas Avenue in Guadalajara, I see the striking sign of a pet shop. I enter, out of curiosity and in a large gallery of fish tanks, there are different types of reptiles. Iguanas, geckos and snakes.
I see a caretaker feeding one of these snakes. He is holding a white rat with his hands wrapped in purple gloves, which he places inside the snake’s fish tank. Then he takes a gray rat and does the same. The two rats, the white one and the gray one, look at each other with their bulging eyes and their agitated breathing. They look uncontrollably in all directions while in the background, the snake stares coldly at the two rodents.
The reptile approaches slowly and from one moment to the next, like a shot, it clamps its jaws over the head of the white rat and in a few moments swallows it whole. The same thing happens later to the grey rat.
I am paralyzed. Stupefied. I feel that everything around me ceases to exist. I can only see that scene. The constricting snake devouring those two rats. I want to leave but I can’t, no matter how hard I try, I can’t. My eyes record every second that passes, every detail, every image to record it indelibly in my memory.
–Dad; Roxana! –I scream, desperate, hysterical.
All the people inside the store leave everything they were doing, and frightened by my scream they look at me with bewilderment.
–No! –I shout again–Don’t do it, let them go! Let them go!
I jump to the glass of the fishbowl and beat it with fury. My fists can’t do anything. The glass is very hard and I can only make my hands bleed.
The storekeepers call a security guard who soon subdues me and takes me outside.
–Roxana, Dad! –I scream until my voice breaks and I start to drown in tears.
Those two rats were the same color as the ones that held Roxana and Father’s mind.
What if it was the second rat with Father’s soul? What if in there, there are the other rats that are missing? What if it was the last rat? What if there is nothing to be done?
How do I tell the officer who arrested me that the rat devoured by the python was my dad?
I’d like to think it’s not. That’s not my father. My father, now distributed in I don’t know how many rats lives quietly, cared for by some boy or girl who keeps them as pets and gives them food every day.
But what if those rats had in their little brains the souls and memories of someone else, someone other than family and friends who I do not know? Someone who is still being desperately searched for?
I don’t want to think about that. I don’t want to think about anything anymore.
About the Author: Víctor Parra Avellaneda (Tepic, Nayarit, 1998).He is a biology student at UDG, interested in genetics, microbiology, virology and scientific divulgation areas, founder and co-editor of the literary magazine Primero Sueño, focused on publishing and giving voice to new Spanish-speaking writers of speculative fiction. He has published stories of speculative fiction in Axxón, Marabunta, Sci-FdI, Monolito, La Sirena Varada, Almiar, Dumas de demain, Nymphs and The Temz Review. Author of the satirical novel El intrigante caso de Locostein (Editorial Dreamers, 2019). He was a PECDA Nayarit 2018-2019 scholarship holder in the short story category. He currently has his scientific divulgation project Mimivirus through Facebook, focused on virology issues. All his literary published works are available in his personal blog Virósfera ficticia, where are all his speculative fiction short stories that appear in literary magazines.
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