My lips pursed as I came around the corner. He was sitting as close as he could be to the glass, pressing his hands up against the spotless pane. As he removed his hands, smudges of grease were left. Disgusting. I didn’t like this unofficial ritual. Looking at each other, examining each other’s facial expressions. I know he’s trying to make me guilty. I was just doing my job, I told him once, like the rest of us. I entered the key into the lock and turned until I heard a familiar click. He knew not to challenge me. He turned his back to the door, his hands placed behind him for me to tie. His wrists were still raw from yesterday. That sour tinge of regret, repressed, as I wrap the cord thrice around his arms, pulling tighter each time, until knotting. He follows me through the corridor, as I take in that hospital scent. Bright floors scrubbed until they shine. The white walls, turned cream with age. Everything was in its place, as it should be.
We’re encouraged not to engage with patients. So most days, finding what room we’ve been assigned is done in silence, with the occasional violent outburst, which is to be expected. He was so desperate. Yet he knew there was nothing to be done. We take a sharp left, my heels squeak. I roll my eyes, turn back around, and repeat my mistaken step. All is done with purpose. I see smoke come out from under a beige door, no one’s ever been this close to his unit before. Keeping my gaze away from the door, I shuffle my feet through the rest of the hallway, before splitting off into another left.
“How many others are there?” he asks as more of a statement than a question.
I straighten my back before turning around, “I may not disclose that information to you.”
He flicks his gaze upwards, “You’ve never told me that before.”
“We must keep walking.” I whisper, as I flip back into my original stance.
He tugs me back by the tail of my blouse, “Why am I here? You owe me an explanation. You know you do,” his face begins to turn red, losing his composure, as he chokes out the last syllables.
My eyes narrow, “You mustn't treat me that way,” flecks of saliva land on his face, “-you know what what my job is.”
His eyes widen a bit, before he retreats back to his expressionless demeanor, “That’s the one thing I do know.”
I take a moment to cool down, tucking the unruly pieces of hair behind my ear, “It is all you need to know. You are doing your part.”
His eyes are beginning to glaze over. He looks so innocent. His cotton shirt tattered and browned. Scars litter his body. He had a life before this, why- why would I do this to him? What had he done wrong? No. I will not question the motives of those who are pure. I must take part in the rehabilitation of mankind.
My shoes make a clacking sound as a I step, in contrast to the patting of his bare feet. Our door; I chuckle. It’s blue today, my favorite color.
“Please,” his voice trembles. It’s almost as if he’s a child again.
“I-” my voice cracks, “I’m sorry,” I touch my hand to his face.
“You are not helping human lives. How could the solution be to bring pain and hurt,” his words began to blur, “You know I’m right- please.”
What a pleasant thought. It would be a miracle if I knew what was right. I hit him. He falls to the ground and stays there. “I am vital; to our success.” I annunciate each letter vehemently.
As I slip my card into the port, I see him in the glossy exterior of the door. He touches his face lightly, pulling back as he winces. The shape of my hand begins to bubble on the surface of his reddened skin.I step back as the door slides open, revealing the unwelcoming room inside.
“Get up,” I command. He’s motionless with his head tilted towards the ground. “Get up,” I ram the point of my foot into his rib cage, he grunts.
My pulse quickens. I can feel my muscles tense. Grasping his ankle, I yank him into the harsh light. I can hear the door seal with a brief rush of air, the rustle of fabric, that low ringing in my ears. Turning my head, I see him lifting one leg on top of the other, leaving them in a crossed position. He stretches his spine upwards releasing several audible cracks. I bend down onto my knees and extend each of my fingers around his neck. He begins to gasp for air, I press harder. To torment those who are unloyal. A high honor, a crucial one. I can only see the whites of his eyes now, he lifts his arms before bringing them back down with a thump, perhaps in an effort to save himself. I pull back slowly, letting go as he sputters out a disarray of coughs. Brushing off my skirt, I stand back up and watch him. Pathetic. I hoist him up onto the table. Clean steel, heated by the electric base it’s sat upon. I wait, eyeing the transparent tube that runs across the wall and down to a spout planted a few feet away from the table. Any second now, I think to myself. I put on a disposable mask;that sickly bluish green color that makes me squeamish; taking in a deep breath of cheap plastic.
I hear a sudden woosh, right on time. Reaching blindly to the spout, I pick up a piece of feathery paper. My heart skips a beat as I open the folded parchment. No matter how many times I do it I never get used to the shock. I take another mask, adjusting it over his eyes. I can’t stand staring at those eyes.
“Begin,” I say clearly.
The surrounding lights dim, substituted by a warm crimson glow, shot out in one clean ray directly above the table. My gloves snap on. It’s like a game. The first move is always hardest, but we must continue from there.“What do we have here?” I mumble to myself.
I pick up a clear vial. I bite down on my lip, popping the lid off with my thumb. Odorless. Devoid of color. Yet I know it isn’t harmless. I swish the liquid in circles, watching as it froths up before settling back down, cringing at the thought of doing anything with it.
I set the vial above a magnetic plate, it floats in a polished metal ring.
“I forgot to remove your bindings. Please sit up,” I nudge him gently.
His back arches before returning rigidly, like the bending of a ruler. I pull up a stool behind me, keeping my eyes on him, and sit down.
I tap on the table twice forcefully, “Requesting clearance for removing ties.”
The light above the table briefly flashes green. A drawer opens on my right side, containing a small serrated knife. I pluck it out of the drawer, which slams with a thud. Sawing through the cord, our skin rubs together. Cold to the touch with a thin layer of sweat, I shiver. Hearing the last break of fabric, I set the knife onto the edge of the table, ordering him to lay back in his original spot. I fasten his arms into the cuffs.
I gently slide the vial out of its protective ring, making sure not to spill. I tilt it slightly over his forearm. A drop hangs on to the rim of the glass. I watch as it is forced to fall, staining his skin. His teeth clench, his arms pull in the restraints. I hear the sizzle of his flesh, as the liquid burns away. Steam drifts off of the newly formed wound, shifting in the direction opposite of the air vent.
I must use the remaining elixir sparingly. I push another droplet onto the table. Unreactive. Only effective on human skin, acidic properties. I look back over to the wound, it’s begun to swell dramatically. The table vibrates. A feeling I’ve been accustomed to, signifying that I have thirty minutes remaining. I turn his arm to the other side and make a slit in his skin, two inches in length. The knife cuts through smoothly. As I draw it out, it brings a red film. I grace the blade with a few more drops of the elixir and press it back into the slit, cutting deeper into the flesh. He yells in agony, revealing beet red gums. He pulls and twists and turns. Just as before, the affected flesh begins to swell and burn. But where is most effective? I sit, staring at the vial. A thought occurs to me-an excruciating thought- but a thought nonetheless.
“Open your mouth,” I remark. He hesitates, before acting on my command, “Don’t move.”
My hand quivers as I hold the vial over his face, a drop falls down, “I’m sorry-I’m sorry.”
He blocks a scream still keeping his mouth open. I can see his mask dampening over his eyes. I place my hand over my mouth and pour the remaining solution down his throat. He wretches and gags. He bangs his hands down on the table. I step back in horror as he thrashes violently. His movements slow. His struggle becomes less apparent, he gasps for unattainable breath. The inside of his gullet is still festering.
“No. No no no,” my tongue feels like it swelled. I rip off his mask and slap his face, “Come on- wake up,” my voice croaks.
I unfasten his restraints and pull him off the table. His dead weight seems to run through my fingers. Blood runs from his forearm onto my wrist. Whatever solution was still left, leaves scorching burns traveling up the entirety of my arm.
I drop him and slam my fist onto the table, “Sterilization-” my voice cuts off.
I can feel it eating away at my flesh. Something I had only experienced second hand. The center of the table descends downwards into the base. Up comes a white foam center. I pull him back onto the table. His face is blue, I open his eyes, only seeing red lines traveling to the back of his skull.
I pound the table again, “Start you damn thing. Begin! Begin!”
A glass border rises around him, meeting in the middle, a few inches above his face. The border is now translucent, clouded by steam. The water rinses him A machine hums, scanning his body. Two metal arms pull out of a compartment in the table one brandishing a thick needle and the other what looks like to be gauze. I hear a hollow thump as the needle pushes through his chest. It pulls out just as quickly, the other metal appendage swooping in with the gauze. Plates rise on his left and right side locating themselves on his chest. It administers several electric shocks.
I wait. The building seems to wait with me. I tap on the glass, my finger breaks the sheet of condensation. His mouth opens slightly. Blood is smudged on the inside of his lip. He gags.
“Thank god.” My shoulders relax.
He breathes shakily, “You-” he pauses to cough, “-are godless.”
I let out a sigh and tap on the table, “Repair.”
This room is a wonder. Coded to absolute perfection. Not a surprise of course, we have been given the best. Metal arms sew together his skin, each seam laid with care. Another attachment spritzes his wounds. The coating sets. It’ll be ready to peel away the dead tissue in an hour. Only scars will be left. Advancement is the only way for a society to thrive. A small glass comes up from the base of the table, full of an opaque liquid.
“Drink it.” I say mindlessly. If he treats me as a monster, I will act as such.
The drink slips down his throat, he puckers, “So; when’d you become one of the government’s leeches?”
I sit back in my stool, eyeing my burns, “You know very well how important I-and the work I’m doing- is.”
His forehead creases, “Yeah. Good luck with that.”
How can he manage to be sarcastic in a situation like this? “I’m leaving. I’ll send someone to bring you back to your unit.”
“You mean my cell?”
This idiot seems to challenge me more in a glass box than when he’s free, “Enjoy the rest of your day.” I smile sweetly.
As soon as the door shuts behind me my posture loosens. I let down my hair with the pull of a pencil. The hallway becomes thinner. The first door; much sleeker than my patient’s stand in front of me. I punch in my four digit code, it opens, blending in flawlessly with the rest of the frame. Another minute of walking, the next door being in sight the whole time. I swipe my key card. That bright flash of green eases my mind. The third door is not more than five feet away from the second. Voice recognition. I shout a series of numbers, followed by my patient’s name, never to be said outside of the facility. Open, finally. I run through the open space, littered with people. If I dropped a piece of trash in here someone would have a stroke. I run on the needlessly slippery floors, cutting through all the people, who look almost like mannequins. As soon as I leave the door my nerves are instantly calmed.
I lie down grasping the grass beneath me. The wind carries the smell of pine trees, much preferred to the sterile stuffy air I had just escaped from. I forgot to check in. I hoist my unwilling body up and back into the large building, more glass than anything else. Up a lengthy staircase deprived of a railing, for the purpose of being aesthetically pleasing. Now aesthetically pleasing it was, with cool grey stone and speckles of black, but not conventional in the slightest. I tip-toe my way up the stairs, past a few people and up to the first office. I lean over and twist my hair back up with the pencil.
I knock on the door lightly. It’s opened before I can knock a second time.
“Hello,” a voice says cooly.
“Hello,” I take a small step into the room, “Where are you?”
“Behind the door,” the voice laughs.
“Oh,” I match the laughter while stepping further. The door shuts, matching a figure to the voice. A burly man, with crinkles around his eyes. He sits behind a black desk I can see my reflection in.
“I know who you are. I’ve been told we expect great things from you.” he smiles.
“Oh. Thank you. I’m here to give-”
“Your report, yes, go on.” I’m worried if his face got stuck in that toothy grin.
“Yes. The patient. I think we should- I think we should release him from such an intensive treatment.”
“Now why would we want to do that?” he inquires, his voice gruff.
“I was giving him the new treatme-”
“Ah yes, serum 76A. Was that successful for you?”“I suppose so. It’s just that I think it’s too severe-” his forehead creases, “-he’s just been through so much.”
“Are you beginning to sympathize with him?”
“Of course not. I just think that he is beneficial for other treatment studies. He has become hard to work with,” my words blur together into one string.
“Why didn’t you just say so?” back again to his broad grin, “Patients are notorious for being difficult. Don’t come in tomorrow, the problem shall be dealt with. Now; regarding the serum?”
“It has proved to be very effective. I’ll submit a full report by Tuesday,” the words roll of my tongue, but I can’t seem to figure out how they got there.
“Excellent! And I have a feeling that after you submit it-” he lowers his voice, “-they’ll be a raise in pay,” he speaks in a cartoonish manner.“Thank you.” I turn to go.“What is that?” he says accusingly.
I look down at my arm, covering it with my hand, “Nothing.”
He’s standing now, “The serum. What did he do?”“He did nothing. I’m leaving now. I’ll stop by the medical center on the way home.”
He appears next to me, grabbing my burns, “Let me go.”
“I can have that taken care of as soon as possible,” he turns over my palm, kissing the back of my hand.
“Get off me.” my voice stays low, but I treat the sentence as I would with a patient.
He takes a step back, appalled. I run out the door, and down the absurd stairs. I finally catch my breath when I’m back on the grass. I take off my flats when I’m under a beautiful oak tree. I climb up and sit in a nook. The bark is rough against my bare feet. Golden light drips through the leaves. The leaves still are still wet from last night’s rain. I wish I didn’t have to be here. And be doing this. I close my eyes.
“What are you doing up there?” a bodiless voice says.
I keep my eyes close, soaking up the sun, “Honestly, whoever the hell you are, I could not care less about you.” “Well that’s rude,” the voice still sounds cheery.
“That’s my speciality.” I don’t even bother to look at them.
My eyes stay closed for a few minutes but when I open them hours have passed. My arms are covered with goose bumps. My breath puffs into white clouds in the air. I hop down from the tree and stumble back to my weary home. It isn’t very far away. They picked one closest to the facility. I jiggle the lock, realizing I forgot my keys inside. Great. I finally get in, with the assistance of an open window. Just as blank and desolate as I left it.
I slide my skirt down my legs and unbutton my top, changing into an oversized old t-shirt. I unleash my ocean of curls with the pull of that lucky pencil. I eat a vile pre-cooked meal. Its steam burns my nose as I sit over it unceremoniously. My mattress perfectly contours to my back. Every aspect of my home is engineered to be perfect for me. With my track record, if it wasn’t that way someone would be fired. No matter how much I surround myself with money and success, I can’t get those eyes out of my head. Those cold lifeless eyes. And I have a feeling that now, I won’t be seeing them again.