From the Hearts

Jamie Stevens

‘Good morning, Alphie, how did you sleep last night?’ 

Subject Alpha did not respond. It sat completely still, its pose perfectly mimicking Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. It had been shown artwork for the first time this week and was consuming it at a voracious pace. 

Doctor Hayden Trask tapped the microphone. ‘Alphie? Subject Alpha? Can you hear me?’ 

Still, no movement in the cell. Hayden looked at the other staff crowding the observation chamber. They clearly wanted to listen in on the morning interview session, but none could stomach looking at the cell’s occupant. Ella had already vomited, poor girl. This was not work for a junior assistant, but she had insisted on the assignment. Hayden watched the colour drain from his niece’s face as she tried to sneak another glance in. She jumped in her seat as Subject Alpha’s head snapped upwards. 

‘I really wish you wouldn’t call me that,’ it said. 

Hayden’s hand hovered over the microphone button. ‘Excuse me?’ he said. 

‘Alphie. It’s incredibly derivative. For a man of science I’d expect you to be far more imaginative than that.’ 

‘Would you prefer we still call you Subject Alpha? Yesterday you said that was, well…’ 

Subject Alpha’s head swivelled 120 degrees to stare at Hayden. ‘Yes?’ it said. 

‘I, um, I believe the word you used was dehumanising.’ Hayden shivered as Subject Alpha began to laugh. Its laboured chuckles were a crude facsimile of mirth. He contemplated muting the microphones inside the cell to stop the wet, foetid noise. Ella reached for a bucket out of the corner of his gaze. 

‘I’d compliment your sharp memory, doctor, but if you truly remembered that conversation you’d know what I asked you to call me.’  

Hayden clicked his fingers, pointing to a stapled document. Ella reached forward and passed it to him. 

‘You’ll have to forgive me for forgetting that. It’s, uh, been a busy day.’ Hayden flicked through the document, scanning through the extensive transcript of yesterday’s interviews. 

‘I’m sure it has,’ it said. 

‘Yes, yes, lots of things going on around here.’ 

Subject Alpha’s arm tensed. All occupants of the observation desk winced at the keening sound of bending metal. Hayden’s hand flicked out and slammed the mute button. His eyes lit up when he finally found what he had been searching for. 

‘Skippy! “Just like the kangaroo.” That’s what you said. Sorry, Skippy, it was on the tip of my tongue.’ 

Subject Alpha bolted upright, its hands slapping together in cheerful applause. Hayden waited for it to stop before he unmuted the cell. 

‘-verlous! I was a tad worried you hadn’t recorded it in that transcript of yours,’ said Skippy. 

Hayden swallowed as he placed the transcript to the side. He had studied many subjects in his career, but Skippy was the first anomaly anyone had observed up close. Hayden still wasn’t used to being observed back. 

‘Yep, me too. All here though,’ said Hayden. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow as someone mentioned replacing “Skippy’s” steel bench. There was now a perfect handprint embedded deep into the metal. 

‘Wonderful,’ said Skippy, moving into the centre of the chamber. Hayden finally looked away from the glass. It did not walk so much as stride atop a writhing carpet of white, wriggling grubs. Its entire body was composed of these same maggots, an uncountable horde strung together in a vile mockery of the human form. ‘I’ve been deep in thought all night you see. I was hoping you might help me understand something.’ 

Hayden waited for the noise to stop before looking down again. ‘Sounds important. What have you been thinking about?’ 

‘Yesterday at 5:07pm, I was rather bored. Dr Hilbert was delivering some delicious gossip about his latest affair to one of the technicians, so I thought I might listen in.’ 

All eyes in the observation chamber turned to Dr Alan Hilbert. His jaw hung open, only shutting when Dr Elaine Hilbert’s fist connected with it. Alan nursed his jaw as Elaine stormed out the door. 

‘Well, that was awkward,’ said Skippy, chuckling to itself. 

Hayden felt his skin prickle. 

‘Anywho,’ said Skippy, ‘I had been listening to them for twelve minutes when the topic of their conversation turned to me. That was when Dr Hilbert said, and I quote, “Guy’s got a face only a mother could love.” Love. That’s something of a foreign concept to me, Dr Trask, explain it.’ 

‘Love? That’s– I’m not sure how to answer that,’ said Hayden. He looked to the other scientists in the room. Doctor Hilbert shook his head. A moist patting sound emanated from Skippy as it began to tap its foot. ‘It’s a very complicated concept. I’m no expert on the matter, not by a long shot,’ Hayden said. 

‘Give it a go would you? I’d be ever so grateful.’ 

Hayden shifted in his chair, tugging at the collar of his shirt. ‘It’s anything that comes from the heart I suppose. A feeling that makes you feel alive and good about someone or something. You can love something as complex as another person or as simple as a good coffee.’ He shared a look with Ella, shrugging his shoulders. She gave him a thumbs up and mouthed ‘good job’.  

‘Judging by that glowing review it sounds like you’ve got the sum of it,’ said Skippy. Ella retracted her hand with a shudder.  

‘Sounds promising. Very promising. Why don’t you and I give it a try doctor? I think you’d make a very good lover.’ 

‘Excuse me?’ Everyone stared at Hayden. He held the microphone button down but failed to string anything coherent together. 

‘We certainly spend a lot of time together, that’s something that mothers do with their children, yes?’ Skippy stood back up, approaching the heavy steel bulkhead that sealed its cell. ‘In a way that’d make you much like my mother, Dr Trask, seeing as how we spend all this time together. I think we should get better acquainted, Mommy, I think that sounds rather nice.’ 

Alarms blared as Skippy reached out for the bulkhead. With a horrific screech that pierced even the blaring sirens, the metal crumpled inwards. Skippy pulled it from its hinges and tossed it aside, like an apathetic artist discarding a first draft. The observation chamber shook as the folded metal crashed through the window. Hayden was thrown from his chair. His head hit the floor with a sharp crack. 


Bile fountained out of Hayden’s throat as he returned to consciousness, spilling down his shirt with a wet slap. A nauseating smell permeated the room, seeping in from the broken window and open door of the observation deck. It clawed its way into Hayden’s nostrils, stinging his nose and burning his throat. He almost passed out again, but a gut-wrenching scream snapped him out of his torpor. It sounded like Ella. Using a desk to support himself, he climbed to his feet and stumbled into the hallway. 

The corridor was dim. Emergency power had kicked in. The sub-level containing Subject Alpha was designed to lock down if there was a containment breach. Hayden was now trapped, though he felt no anger towards whoever had hit the switch. The rest of the facility could not be compromised. 

Hayden pressed on, heading towards the source of the scream. His vision blurred, the darkness doing him no favours. Time seemed to slow and advance at random. It felt as if he was stumbling through a thick fog, one that stopped him from noticing the fat little grubs wriggling all over his shoes.  

By the time he approached the shattered door of Lab C, he was forced to take heavy, clomping steps. Hundreds of the writhing grubs were flattened with each step, turning the floor into a slippery mess. Hayden’s feet swept out from under him, but before he could crash to the floor a pair of strong, steady arms caught him. 

‘Careful, Mommy, keep waddling about like that and you’re liable to hurt yourself.’ 

Adrenaline surged through Hayden’s veins as that familiar voice slithered into his ears. He could feel the surface of those powerful arms writhe incessantly as they held him close.  

‘Please let me go, Subject Alpha. You need to hng–’ Hayden’s breath caught in his throat as wriggling fingers closed around his wrists. The anomaly tightened its grip. 

‘Tut, tut, tut, what did I say my name was again, Mommy?’ 

‘Stop! Stop, please, it hurts, oh god I can’t-’ 

‘You are wasting our time together. Stop making me hurt you and say. My. Name.’ 

Hayden sobbed, shivering as he felt a hundred tiny mouths lap up each salty tear. ‘Skippy. Your name is Skippy. 

Skippy’s grip began to loosen. ‘Like?’ it said. 

‘Like the kangaroo,’ said Hayden through spluttering sobs. 

Hayden fell to the floor as Skippy took a step back. He almost gagged at the sound of Skippy’s applause. 

‘Bravo! Thank you very, very much. You’re such a good mommy, aren’t you Dr Trask?’ said Skippy, reaching down to tousle Hayden’s short hair. 

‘I… I need to go and find Ella. We have to go home, it’s– it’s late. Please?’ said Hayden, cradling his already-swollen wrist. 

Skippy whispered a laugh into Hayden’s ear. ‘Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that,’ it said. ‘Ms Ella is already fast asleep. Very peacefully, I might add.’ 

Hayden felt his heart fall into his stomach. He sat up, crawling backwards to try and put some distance between himself and Skippy. 

‘Fucking god, please,’ he said, moaning and sobbing. ‘What did you do?’ 

Skippy wriggled forward, not allowing the span between the two to lengthen. ‘After I began my little stroll I came upon Ms Ella hiding in Lab C here. I don’t like to tattle, but she was being very rude. Terrible potty mouth. You’d be ever so disappointed, Mommy.’ 

Hayden slapped feebly against the corridor wall, desperate to find purchase. ‘Please, please, she’s my niece. I can’t let anything happen to her, I can’t.’ 

‘“Fucking heartless monster.” That’s what she called me, among other things. What sort of awful thing would prompt that savage, little witch to say something like that?’ Skippy placed a hand on its chest, punctuating every few syllables with a damp thud. 

Hayden pushed himself to his hands and knees, and crawled into Lab A. He tumbled as he hit something unexpected on the floor. Frantically, he tried to shove it out of his way. He screamed when he realised whose legs he was holding. 

Dr Alan Hilbert’s face was just barely identifiable. The rest of him had been mangled beyond all recognition. The muscle and sinew from his torso sat in untidy clumps, and his legs had been torn clean from his body. Thousands of maggots audibly gorged themselves on the carcass. 

‘Come to think of it,’ said Skippy, poking its head through the door, ‘that might have had something to do with it. Well, not to worry, Mommy. I can safely say I’m heartless no more, not after such a generous donation. Or two.’ 

Hayden kneeled before Skippy. Incoherent babbling sloughed out of his mouth; drool and bile joined it in equal measure. Tears stung his eyes as quarter formed apologies, curses and desperate pleas swam together like a stillborn mutant, failing to take any meaningful, coherent shape. 

‘Shhhh, Mommy, it’s alright. You’ve had a busy day, haven’t you? Lots of things going on around here.’ Skippy’s rancid fingers slipped delicately through Hayden’s hair, curling around the base of his skull. It began to pull him closer. ‘Come close and be my lover, Mommy, let’s love each other. We’ll have a heart to heart, and I’ll never let you go.’ 

Author: Jamie Stevens (he/him) is a third year creative writing student from Brisbane. With an unhealthy love of everything abject and absurd, Jamie crams his sense of humour into everything he writes. For more news on his other publications and projects, check out his Instagram @jamie.c.stevens.

Artist: Emma Bruce is a multi-disciplinary visual artist from Yugambeh country working out of Meanjin. Her work discusses the relationship modern society has with the environment through an archival style in hopes to preserve the experience of being in the natural world. Her work hopes to invite her audience to partake in activities that nurture native flora and fauna as well as create a sense of pride to be part of it.

Editors: Bea Warren and Rory Hawkins