Calculations by Nancy Hoffmann

We are all damaged here.

The lucky ones are missing limbs. The unlucky are missing emotions, but only the shitty emotions we’d all rather do without like fear, rage, and anxiety.

Generations ago, every adult had to choose. Removal of a limb or removal of shitty emotions. The Invaders feed on both. Early on, they called themselves Visitors. That didn’t last long. Not with stealing emotions and limbs.The Empties wonder why we weep. That urge must still be within them, though they no longer have the ability. They ask me and others without fingers, hands, feet, and lower legs to explain what they cannot feel. We tell them, but they can’t hold on to it. There’s a gold and silver inlay at the base of their skulls that pulls the emotions from them as the feelings rise. The Empties look off into the distance, like an old man searching for a word he’s forgotten, hoping, knowing it’s right there, but never finding it. That’s why we call them Empties, like an empty bottle of scotch or can of beer. There’s only the stink of what was once inside.

Our great, great grandparents had to choose and now it’s a family tree that’s hacked and scarred. Emotions or flesh. Back then, no one understood the meaning of their choice. How could they?

The empties are unable to understand when I tell them about the canyon. They know what it means, but they can’t feel what it means. I’ve calculated how important emotions are to understanding, and Empties are nearly ninety times less likely to understand a threat or danger.

Communication with other towns is difficult, though I’ve sent word as best I can. My generation will be the last to lose its digits and limbs.

I tell this to the Empty as we walk along the path to the canyon. As good as my replacement parts are, I walk with a limp. My son will never walk like me, will never have a hand like mine.

On the hill, the lights flare red and angry. The Invaders are hungry.

I begin to weep. There’s no turning back.

“What’s wrong?” the Empty asks.

“I’m going to push you into the canyon,” I say.

He stares at me for a moment. He knows what that means, but he can’t feel what it means. The lights on the hill dim a little.

The Invaders prefer emotions to flesh. It was my second greatest calculation, greater than all the electronic and mechanical calculations needed to wire artificial hands and legs into our nervous systems.

“You’re going to fall more than twenty stories,” I tell him, and I nearly vomit from my cruelty.

The Empties never gave us names. Meanness and sarcasm would rise in them only to be sucked out. We had no trouble giving ourselves names. They started plain enough: gimps, fakes, prosies, for our prosthetics. We settled on Meats. Our cruelty is intact.

The Empty tries to turn back, but others like me, the Meats, shuffle behind us. The Empty follows me.

He doesn’t scream or shake with fear. He doesn’t panic. The lights on the hill dim to a shade of orange. The Empty is feeding the Invaders.

Every town must find someone like me, a murderer, a martyr. One person must do this, only one. In every town. No matter how large or small.

Years from now, maybe sooner, the Invaders will want the pain I carry, the guilt I must face at the end. I have calculated this. The invaders will break their agreement with us and attach inlays to me. Or maybe one day they’ll figure out how to feed on my emotions without the inlays.

From my life as a Meat and from what I have done at the canyon, from what that one person in every town has done, many Invaders will choke and die on the abundance of our pain. Others will become sated, sleepy, and immobile, and then the Meats will slaughter them. This I have calculated.

“Any message for your children?” I ask the Empty. They keep having children, more than required. That’s what happens when the only emotions available are ones like hope, love, and trust.

He searches for something to say, but I don’t wait. Despite my limp, I’m quick and strong. He isn’t prepared. He doesn’t understand to defend himself. He’s an Empty and the absence of fear makes him vulnerable.

I watch the Empty fall. I must watch. Terror never fully rises to his face, and he doesn’t scream because the gold and silver inlay transfers his shitty emotions to the Invaders. Before he hits the rocks, the lights on the hill will be dark.

I watch until the end, then turn away, telling myself not to puke this time though I know I will.

But now I’m falling.

I watch the rocks approach. I’m not afraid. I watch and hope the Meats have calculated correctly.

Nancy has an MA in writing from Johns Hopkins University. She has been published in Every Day Fiction, Aperion Review, and recently had a piece of flash accepted by Wilderness House Literary Review. She lives on a horse farm in Maryland.