“I delight in what I fear.” — Shirley Jackson
Tomas blinked against the harsh glare, eyes watering as they tried to focus. He tried to turn away but found he couldn’t move.
“Here, let me move that for you.” The voice was pleasant. Soon the light wasn’t quite so blinding. “Better?”
“Yes.” The hoarseness of his voice surprised Tomas. He swallowed. “Where am I?”
A face appeared in his field of vision, a gauze mask obscuring the nose and mouth. But the eyes, her eyes were a warm brown, corners crinkled with seeming amusement. They seemed like kind eyes, ones capable of infinite reassurance. And yet…
Tomas became aware of an increased beeping, less silence between the sounds.
The brown eyes darted off to the side and the woman made a tsking sound. “We can’t have that.”
She disappeared from view and soon a sense peace settled over Tomas. The beeping diminished and he floated, contented, for a time.
A man came into view, naked, pale, bound to an inclined table. Tomas blinked. The man blinked as well.
“What’s…” The word came out thick, slurred, trailing off into silence as realization came.
The woman stepped from behind his mirror image, clothed from head to toe in a white hazmat suit. Her eyes, while still visible, were now covered by a clear shield.
Again her gaze focused on something beside him. “Excellent.”
The beeping remained steady and consistent. Tomas tried to scream and only air escaped.
“Perfect,” the woman said.
She wheeled a small table up to his side, silver instruments winking under the light.
Tomas wanted to struggle, to scream, anything…but all he could do is watch and wait.
The woman ran a gloved hand over the instruments, pausing over a couple before moving on. Finally her fingers curled around a long, thin scalpel.
Tomas mentally flinched away as she brought the blade to his right shoulder. He waited for the coldness, the pain. But there was nothing, not even when she pressed down, drawing a bright red line on a diagonal toward the center of his chest. She repeated this on the left side.
Her eyes lifted from her work, met Tomas’. “Still with me?”
All he could do was blink.
The brown eyes smiled. “Good boy.”
She pressed the blade to the bottom of the wide V and slowly drew the scalpel down, down, bisecting his abdomen. Then her fingers pressed against the red line, curling inward, pulling–
Tomas’ eyes locked on his own in the mirror. He tried to focus on those, refusing to look anywhere else. But gradually his gaze drifted down to his chin, to his neck, to the brilliant red heart thudding away in a cradle between spongy pink lungs.
He closed his eyes, praying for darkness…to wake up…anything but this.
“I know you’re back with me, Tomas. Best open your eyes on your own, darling. You won’t like the alternative.”
No, he was sure he wouldn’t. So he opened his eyes.
“Cooperative. Smart man.” She resumed her work, but continued talking. “Don’t worry, you haven’t missed anything too interesting yet, a bit of subcutaneous fat, muscle, ribcage…although that gave me some trouble. Strong bones.”
Tomas’ eyes fluttered closed, but only for a moment.
“Who knows? Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two before I’m done.” Those eyes met his one more time. “The last guy I had only made it to his second kidney. I’m hoping you can at least make it to your first lung.”
Tomas was certain oblivion would reclaim him when she started on his intestines…but piece by piece she emptied him out and Tomas remained awake, aware until the very end with his vision fading as she severed the last vessel connecting him to his heart.