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Almost

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Monday moved along for Brandon. Another monotonous eight hours of the mechanical whirr of conveyors and the mechanical motions of his life. Another bot stopped at his booth, its lifeless eyes seeking his approval. Brandon glanced at this construct, a male, designed around six foot and created to be anatomically correct. His eye caught a few flaws in the face, the most important zone to inspect. The nose was off by a few centimeters and one ear was fixed at an improper angle. Brandon leaned into the microphone and whispered, “almost,” and the bot was tossed off of the conveyor into the furnace.

He hated having to dispose of some bots. Some were either human enough that he experienced a misplaced sympathy or disfigured enough that they seemed like defenseless, broken people. Some, however, disgusted him so truly that he could not seem to activate the disposal mechanism fast enough. Some seemed so human, yet so entirely inhuman.

She was the worst.

The next few bots were fine. Some minor defects in some, but none great enough to trigger any major psychological response. The day drifted into night and it was soon almost time for Brandon to leave. With around a minute until closing, the belt was still running but construction was finished.

As Brandon slowly collected his belongings, he heard the familiar clank of the construction line. Confused, he returned to his station for the late bot, wondering why the line had brought another. The body slid into the chamber.

Brandon stared at the wreck, mouth agape, for what seemed like hours. Her body was almost flawless, a beautiful copy of a pristine model, hell, hers was even an improvement upon most human bodies. Her bronzed figure, slender as it was with its perfect curvature served only as a majestic pedestal for her horrific face. Her eye sockets stood unfilled, though their deep blackness seemed to peer into Brandon's very soul. Her hair, her golden hair was splotchy and mangled, as if patches were simply haphazardly tossed upon her unrealistically smooth head. Even the very skin on her face was patchy, revealing the fleshy red substance behind it! Its mouth stood agape, mocking his own when what may have been a smile appeared upon it.

She was so close to being a perfect specimen, yet in being so close she was so far! Her arms flailed, no, they moved precisely about at perfectly programmed angles with sharp, jutting motions, and all the while her wretched face was pointed right at Brandon's own. He could hardly keep from screaming.

Brandon leaned as close to the microphone as he could and screamed, “almost!” but nothing happened. “DAMN!” he shouted, as she turned and glared at him, her mouth forming a perfect frown. The conveyor had shut down, he knew, as it was already past five. He stared at the wall behind him, as far away from the beast as he could be in the small room, composing himself with knowledge of his safety behind the reinforced glass of his office. He scurried out of the room telling himself he would dispose of that distorted creature in the morrow.

When Brandon had finally reached his own room, he had almost forgotten the incident, setting the image of the creature aside as a horror story to share with his friends. The next morning he went back to work to find that the creature was gone with – to his immense relief – no signs that she had escaped. He figured she had been properly disposed of. The week passed without any similar incidents, but on one occasion Brandon got a good laugh out of a bot whose nose and mouth had somehow switched positions.

It was Monday again and Brandon couldn't shake a reawakened ominous feeling as he remembered the week before. He was so utterly and completely relieved when the workday passed without any commotion. Not a single bot had to be burned today, they were all flawless and harmless and each bot who passed made Brandon feel more and more irrational and altogether silly for his fears.

Brandon made his way home.

On the way, he decided to stop by his local bar to grab something to drink and to share a tale or two with his friends. His pub was shabby, but not grimy or filthy in any way, simply a humble and warm brown building lit up with small signs advertising different brands of alcohol.

“Hey Fred,” Brandon said to the chubby man behind the bar. The man nodded in Brandon's direction. “Where are the guys?” Brandon asked, as a blue sign flickered over one of many empty tables.

“Everyone's out,” the bartender grumbled, “some sort of celebration or something. They never told me about it, they never tell me about anything. I'm just the guy who keeps the booze flowing in their direction.”

Brandon spoke with the man as long as he could but without anyone else the conversation broke within a few minutes. Brandon left out of the back door while Fred had gone to wash some glasses. He heard a shallow cough from the corner of some building.

“Hello?” Brandon whispered. He heard another cough, this one louder, deeper. “Who's there?” he asked.

“Sorry if my coughing has bothered you,” said a sweet voice, “I'm a bit sick, I fear.”

“That's quite alright,” Brandon responded, he walked towards the corner and saw a scrawny lady hugging her own knees.

Dirt was plastered on her face but it was a kind face all the same. Her body was thin but gorgeous still. Brandon saw her and felt both sorrow and fear. Was he afraid for her? He couldn't decide before his mouth asked, “Do you need a place to...” he stopped himself, this was stupid. He was stupid. But she was rather beautiful, and perhaps she would match his favor with her own. No. That's a terrible thought, he thought, but he was interrupted by her words.

“No, I think I should be fine here for the night.” She coughed pitifully.

“It's quite alright, I have another bed you can sleep on,” Brandon said without another thought, “And even some clothes my ex left.”

After a bit more conversation with an inevitable ending, they walked together towards his house. They talked so loudly and so cheerfully that by the time they got home any thought Brandon held considering this to be an awful mistake had fled his mind completely. He headed to his bed and fell asleep almost instantly, having told her where the shower was, where the clothes were, and where she could sleep.

In the dead of night, he heard his floorboards creak. Brandon woke with a gasp and fearfully glanced about. His room was still quite dark and empty but he could hear footsteps walking towards his door. They were rhythmic, each step timed perfectly after the last, the sound was almost calming but he was far from calm. Relax, he told himself, remember you have a guest, she probably had trouble sleeping in a strange house. The door opened and the light slipped in along with the beautiful woman he had let into his home.

“Trouble sleeping?” he asked, rubbing his eyes. “Need someone to lay with?” he smiled.

The room was silent for a time, her eyes lay fixed on a window on the wall opposite him. She turned her head and stared directly into his soul with a horrid scowl upon her face. As her eyes slowly dripped out of their sockets, as the sides of her mouth loosened and flakes of skin fell, as patches of synthetic hair fell from her unrealistically smooth head, he heard a familiar mechanical whirring and saw the void that once resembled a mouth turn into what may have been a smile. He heard a fractured voice whisper, mockingly, “almost.”

The house became a furnace itself, Brandon inside of it, and she walked out with an empty smile on her face and red splotches covering her almost perfect body.

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