A Waltz with Worms
rating: +2+x

It's 1987, Site-19. The day is sunny.

The rabbi practically sings the rites, to the tune of 19's droning chorus of turbines, generators, and reactors. Yehezkel doesn't hear him, too enraptured by the gorgeous woman standing at once a kiss and eternity apart.

The day melts around him. The kiss, the office party among colleague and friend, the walk back to their room, the hole in Rivka's face

Yehezkel wakes up.

He is presently sitting at his desk within an island of fluorescent light, amongst a sea of darkness. Before him, his computer, open to the SCiPNet listing for SCP-4947.

The slot is empty.

Yehezkel looks at the time on his terminal.

1:27 AM
31/07/2020


Tomorrow, or more accurately today, is the 33rd anniversary of his marriage to the woman who was once Rivka Yarkoni.

Yehezkel will not be attempting to rewrite SCP-4947 tonight.


"I need your ID."

The man at the counter is short, brunet. Mid-30s. Not the woman who manned the counter last month. Yehezkel sees the picture pinned to his alcove, of the man, a woman, and a child posing by a lake. He looks back at the man's present vacant expression, and decides that he hates him already.

Yehezkel unclips the card from the breast of his coat, handing it to the man at the counter. The man, meanwhile, nods blankly, swiping his card through the reader with disgustingly deadened motions. The machine beeps thrice: once to accompany Yehezkel's accreditation, and the last two to signal what the teller will say next.

"Clear. Your card's set to expire in a little less than a month. Looks like I'll need to escort you to the Registry Office after the visit, Mr. Yarkoni."

The next words out of Yehezkel mouth have been extensively practiced: "Very well."

He nods, and Yehezkel can hear the practice in his next words: "In accordance with Foundation policy, have you been in contact with any persons or items known to have contracted the COVID-19 Novel Coronavirus, or have you experienced nausea, fever, diarrhea, fatigue, muscle cramps, shortness of breath, or excess cough?"

He shakes his head. "I have not. I work with-"

"Thank you, Mr. Yarkoni. Please take a seat."

Yehezkel takes a seat under the g-dforsaken clown painting on the wall, because it is the only seat where he cannot see it. His right hand, idle, finds its way into the folds of his jacket, brushing against the small velvet box he'd brought with him.

He waits.

He waits.

He waits he waits he waits he waits he waits he waits he-

"Mr. Yarkoni?"

***

The woman in the corner of the room is not Rivka; she hasn't been Rivka for at least three months.

Where Rivka was bright and colorful, this woman is pale and subdued. Her physician's coat and colorful suspenders have been replaced with drab scrubs. The Foundation spared not even the hairs of her head; Rivka's beloved hair, luxurious even in her twilight years, had been cut away into nothing.

Yehezkel steps into her room, fingering the hinge of the velvet box. "Good morning, dearest."

For a second, Yehezkel can see Rivka in the face that turns towards him and smiles. "Oh, aziz-e delam, you came." She stands, weakly, and makes to hug Yehezkel; he allows himself this little bit of indulgence. "I've not seen you in ages, jigar tala. They keep me in this room, like an SCP to poke and prod. But I'm not so old that I can't take care of myself, no?" She pulls back, squeezing Yehezkel's hand.

Yehezkel finds himself smiling. "It's good to see you too, dearest Rivka."

"Oh, Yusef!"

Yehezkel stops smiling in time for the woman formerly known as Rivka to pull his mask aside and drag him into a kiss. Her mouth is dry and her skin is clammy, and her breath is the scent of dirt, rot, and worm. He's not sure whether to savor it or pull away.

It's then that the orderly, face blank in typical disinterest, wedges himself between the two of them and pushes Yehezkel back into a wall. "Please refrain from touching the patients, Mr. Yarkoni."

"I…" Yehezkel sighs and nods, before readjusting his mask and turning back to the woman who was not Rivka. "… Ana is doing well. I've been told her wife has been considering children."

"And Sara?"

A grave chill passes through Yehezkel. He finds himself looking to the orderly, who looks back in practiced disinterest, before turning back to the woman who was not Rivka. Her face, twisted as it is, bears the guise of genuine curiosity, and so he lies. "She's fine."

"Such a curious child, that one. Can't understand why she'd drop out of Yale. Do you think she felt insecure around all those rich kids, Yusef? Oh, if only Yehezkel and I could have been there for her! Blasted work."

Yehezkel stays silent, fingering the velvet box in his coat.

The woman tilts her head. Something small and white falls out of her ear. "I wish they'd put me back to work, Yusef. 4947 is such a pest, eating away at the everything and anything. They call it an Ontohazard, but I know it can think, I know it can." She looks from side to side. "Don't tell anyone I told you this, not until you change your name, but it talks to me, Yusef."

Yehezkel looks back to the attendant orderly, eyes already glazing over as the worm wraps itself around his neck. He turns back to the woman who might have been Rivka and nods.

The woman sits back onto her bed. "Why does it let me remember? Everyone else gets to forget, but I remember everything, Yusef. Every little thing!"

Yehezkel so badly wants to sit down with her. Take her in his arms and squeeze. Comfort her like he would in the olden days, when the monster under Site-56 would breach its glittered cage and her lab assistant would choke against living porcine intestines and Sara wouldn't return her calls. Kiss her, hope his own warmth might reunite Rivka's spark. Lie her onto the bed and make up for two and a half years in bureaucratic exile.

But the orderly's dead eyes have blanks pressed point blank into the back of his head. "… I'm sorry, dearest Rivka."

The woman who was not Rivka lets out a sound, somewhere between a laugh and a sob. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Yusef."

'Yusef has everything to be sorry for.', thinks Yehezkel. 'For forcing you to uproot for the sake of his own conversion, for bringing you into the jaws of the American lion, its rotten den of worms and broken glass and its numerous shrines to the rotten Shedim. For Sara and Ana and you.'

"That'd I'd only been a better wife!" Tears well around the eyes of the woman who musn't be Rivka. A worm curls up from her scrubs to lick at them as they fall. "That I'd used my pull to keep Yehezkel in Site-56. I was a well-respected doctor, Yusef."

"There's no use pining for what could have been". That's his therapist's advice, at least.

"But what already was, Yusef! I…" The woman who, for Yehezkel's sake, cannot be Rivka trails off with a sigh. "… please don't tell him, Yusef. Promise?"

"I…" His throat is empty of words. To promise so is a lie, no? But to tell her no is to admit to something deeper. The end to something that was once wonderful, perhaps. Of connection's death.

It matters not. Yehezkel reaches into his coat pocket, brushing past the worms as he removes the velvet box. "I brought you a gift, dearest Rivka." He opens-

"I cheated on Yehezkel with our boss."

The world stops.

Everything's cold and still. The temperature is always overcompensated for the heat but right now it's cold. Cold, cold, cold, frozen solid like an invisible layer of resin coating a scene Yehezkel can't quite process. Something he didn't hear. Couldn't have heard, most especially not from the woman who was almost certainly 100% absolutely positively please for the love of G-d let it be anyone in the entire multiverse but Rivka Yarkoni who had spoken those seven words to him.

Rivka continues against all goodness. "I was just under so much stress! Drummond was so understanding, and Yehezkel was too busy with the move and I needed something, anything to distract from the work and work and work work work! Oh, that I could go back and slap myself for my foolishness."

Something rises in Yehezkel's throat, and it's not words. An invisible, squirming bile, like a worm-infested tide of stomach acid.

"Excuse me, Mr. Yarkoni."

Yehezkel feels his collar tug at him, drag him out of the room at a drowning pace, back into the sterile white halls filled only by him and the orderly. His velvet box is snatched out of his hands by a man with dead eyes. "You're not allowed to gift items to the patient without extensive vetting, Mr. Yarkoni."

He's motionless, until Yehezkel yanks at his own strings and responds. "It… it was our anniversary. It should have-"

The orderly opens the box, to find the tiny glass deer Yehezkal had waited months to finally present his wife. "… apologies, Mr. Yarkoni, but you cannot gift fragile materials to our patients."

The orderly tosses the deer into a nearby bin.

"Thank you for your time, Mr. Yarkoni." He clears his throat. "I'll need you head back into the waiting room for now. Someone should come by to escort you to the Registry Office shortly thereafter."

The orderly leaves.

Yehezkel looks into the bin, and can't find the deer amidst the broken glass. So he shrinks into himself and hopes that if he makes himself small enough, he can snuff out the ordeal of being for good.


A wet click and a flash of light

snap Yehezkel out of his haze.

He's standing in a room the color of worms and sunlight through curtains. Before him is a camera, and a woman sitting behind a plastic divider.

A sound like a fax machine cuts through the air, and the woman sighs. "We can't use this picture."

"Why not?"

"You need to be smiling, Mr. Yarkoni."

The briefest wave of confusion cuts across Yehezkel, as his face contorts into an expression of almost disbelief. "But why do-"

A wet click and a flash of light

cut Yehezkel off, and he nearly screams.

The woman, almost a silhouette against the artifacts of bright light, sighs once more. "We can't use this picture, Mr. Yarkoni. Please remember to smile this time."

His hands expect something more than bright air when they clasp together in exasperation. Perhaps they expect a worm to strangle. "Why do I need to be smiling? It's just identification, no?"

The silhouette adjusts the shadow of her glasses. "Identification policy dictates that all non-disposable personnel are to smile for their photography."

"But why-"

A wet click and a flash of light

cuts Yehezkel off, and he actually screams.

The splotch of black against the wall twitches. "You need to be smiling, Mr. Yarkoni."

"My wife cheated on me!" Yehezkel tears up, and he isn't sure if it's a result of the bright lights. "What reason do I have to smile?! Would the Foundation have me grin and bear the destruction of-"

A wet click and a flash of light

***


but I swear to G-d if you talk to me like a fucking bureaucrat I'll have you killed!"





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