The scene began with a shuffling noise, not unlike a theater curtain. Short, quick, and mechanical, the reinforced door to the patient’s room slid open. Through the sting, as the fluorescent lights turn on and scrape away the darkness, see the prim black heels and the worn red sneakers, then pan upward: the two familiar figures — woman in a long white coat, man in a patch-adorned bomber jacket — rushing in with tired eyes. Hurrying to observe something on a hospital bed, out of sight. The man checks the silent monitors beside it, puzzled, as the woman sets her hands on the curious thing. They tower over the bed, dominating the room despite the concern and confusion plain on their faces.
“What..?” the woman began, trailing off as she poked and prodded.
“What the hell happened here? Cinq, how did you not notice any of this?”
“Castella,” the man replied, “I told you: I’d been paying attention this whole time. The readings just went… silent, all of a sudden! I called you as soon as it happened!”
“Considering you still aren’t calling me Dr. Delacroix as ordered, color me skeptical.”
“I don’t see you calling me Trente-Cinq all day every day, so—”
“Regardless,” Castella snapped, circling the bed. “There’s got to be an explanation here.”
Faint skittering noises, like the tinkling of pins on tile, sounded out around the room — but neither the doctor nor her assistant caught them as they inspected the thing on the bed and the equipment hooked up to it. Catch the soft vibrations running through the bone-white flooring: pulsing, drumming to a faint, steady beat. The rhythm was lost on the pair.
Cinq shook his head.
“No useful info from the monitors,” he noted. “Everything was fine, until it wasn’t.”
“You mean to tell me that chunks just—”
“Doc. You did the last round of blood tests, right? Anyone show signs of degeneration?”
“None of the subjects in this block. And even if they had, the symptoms don’t manifest like this.” Castella looked down, hesitant.
“At least… they never have before.”
Cinq looked concerned.
“This is… weird,” he said. “Weirder than usual, even.”
“Yeah,” Castella said. “It’s still warm.”
Watch the pair revolve around the bed, a waltz of stylish fabric and discerning eyes, peering down at it like carrion birds — all as the skitter-skritch and dull, throbbing beat of the room’s activity goes unnoticed. Lose yourself in it all, as the doctor and her assistant puzzle over the centerpiece on the metal and cushions. Dance around to get a glimpse, dance like you haven’t danced in a long, long time. Dreamy and loose and free — like an infant giraffe taking its first steps on awkward legs.
Castella groaned, the sound muffled as she held her face in her hands.
“Shit… we’re really doing this today, then. Cinq, who was this?”
“Wait, seriously? You are cold-blooded. The same 15 subjects for two months, and you haven’t learned their names? Still?”
“I stopped paying attention after failure number 35,” castella said flatly.
Cinq made a pained noise, best translated as ‘Yikes.’
“…Anyway, this is… Victor Brawnbay. 22 years old, goes by ‘Vi’.”
The drums miss a beat. They pick up the pace as the room grows chilly. Something’s coming.
“Okay,” Castella said. “What else do we have on him?”
“Them,” Cinq corrected.
“Oh. Well, still.”
Cinq took a breath.
“170 pounds, five and a half feet tall exactly. No current health complications, but they used to suffer from a minor eating disorder. Lived in the Arcanum suburbs. Dance student at one of the conservatories in the city. They were on leave when we picked ‘em up.”
There’s a soft, fleshy smack as fragile legs give out under something heavy.
“That would explain the definition in their—”
Castella held up a hand, stopping mid-sentence. She looked around.
“In their legs, yeah. What about it?”
“No, no, wait,” Castella said. “What was that noise?”
“What noise?” Cinq asked.
Castella jerked her head in a direction, inching towards the sound’s origin. The room feels frigid, and there’s a cold, burning sensation as the doctor crouches, gasps, and grabs something from under the dresser. Feel the pressure of a grip coming from somewhere as the drum rhythm pounds staccato and everything starts to move too-fast. In the peripheries, shapes rush by in a blur — little things doing a panicked lindy hop to the thump thump thump of the beat.
“Cinq!” Castella called out, “Look! It’s—”
“Shit, look around, they’re everywhere!”
“Grab one, then! Don’t shy away!”
“Lady, this is way too gross for all the money you aren’t paying me!”
“Shut up and do it, Cinq!”
“Okay, okay! Eww!”
Feel the dizzying height as a nervous hand plucks a skittering thing from the floor, going up, up, up, until the whole of the room is visible. Up close, the illusion of Trente-Cinq’s humanity starts to fray at the seams: his features are a little too symmetrical, the creases on his forehead too centralized, his eyes a hazel color that’s too bright to be natural and too seamless to be the result of color contacts. Watch as the android’s pupils focus manually, to better examine the thing in his hand.
In the reflection, observe the eyeball, flailing about nervously with the thin, needle-like legs that have sprouted from it. See the truth of the matter, and confront the dreamy dissociation.
“It’s… an eye,” Cinq said softly.
“Makes sense,” Castella said. “I found a stomach. There’s a pounding heart here, too.”
“Do you think it could be—”
“The holes match up, don’t they?”
Feel the panic rise up from within and claw, desperate to get out, as the suspended eye turns and gets a glimpse of the thing on the bed. The body of a dancer, heavier-set but graceful, missing bits and pieces and whole chunks of itself. Portions of skin stretchy and deflated in wake of the holes beneath, a hand trundling along in the background on black, spindly legs. See your own body from afar, as a part of you spalled off by bad luck and misfortune. Know that you’re still alive, your lungs breathing shallow from behind a vase of dead flowers. Watch yourself as you jolt up in bed, touching your pocketed face from across the room.
I realized that this was no dream, and I screamed to remind myself that I was awake.
Thanks for having me, GenderTerror!
I’m Blake Flournoy (BlakeLocked), a 20-year-old genderfluid fool. I’m a Junior in college studying Psychology and Creative/Professional Writing, and I do… a lot! I write for newspapers and online journals on occasion, and I do a lot of event planning — some of it for social justice, some of it for silly fun!
I’m terrified of wasps and I’ve never seen Seinfeld. No lie.
If you enjoyed this and want to see more from me — perhaps a novella I’ll be releasing soon about a flower witch in the big city poor Vi Brawnbay’s from? — follow me on Twitter!
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