Koren Shadmi

The Treatment

The perfect drug for these times is the one that makes you feel like you don't exist. Today's epic Terraform is about a catastrophic epidemic of invisibility.

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Aug 17 2018, 5:15pm

Koren Shadmi


The broken screen lit up. 3:24 AM. The air stood still, thick and heavy. Sammi tossed and turned, trying to soothe her aching body, but it was futile. She’s never been so uncomfortable in her own skin. The cracked screen lit up again as she typed: ‘Risks to baby—Purilexa.’ She had entered those keywords over a hundred times with varying combinations and always got the same results.

She sighed and ran her hands down her full belly, probing for life. He wasn’t kicking tonight. That wasn’t unusual considering the time. She could hear Chrysler snoring from the corner of the room. How can she sleep in this heat? Sammi sat up and looked around. Broken glass, empty beer cans and crusty styrofoam containers were scattered on the dusty floor. An old laptop playing ocean sounds sat open on a busted armchair. She thought she saw insects crawling across the torn up upholstery. All the windows were boarded up yet a single beam of moonlight managed to sneak in, piercing the dark space.

She unchained the front door and walked out, breathing the air. Still hot and humid, but not as stale. Her ‘Home’ was a former stationary store at the center of Main street, right in the belly of the carcass. What was once a bustling artery now lay abandoned, in various stages of disrepair. Almost all visible windows were either boarded up or broken. A few blackened skeletons of vehicles dotted the otherwise empty road.

In the distance, she could make out the silhouette of Industry Towers. The newest additions to the hulking structure were carbon turrets, ready to shoot down any intruder on sight. Supposedly, the system AI had yet to distinguish between humans and animals, and heaps of dead critters were piling up around the fortified walls. She started walking down Main street, and after a few blocks she stopped and looked up. The broken sign above read “Silver Spoon Coffee. Purveyors of Artisanal Brews.” She stepped past the broken glass and into the shop. A few bent chairs were scattered on the floor, and what remained of the cabinets and shelves lay bare. The thick wooden counter was still mostly intact, and on its edge sat a single, defiant coffee mug. Otherwise, the junkies had fully ravaged the place. Sammi sat down at the only remaining booth and produced her e-cig. She took a deep drag and exhaled a plume of blue smoke into the dusty air.

*

The previous summer she was sitting in the same exact booth, exhausted. She had just finished her shift. Ben sat across from her, eating blueberry pie. She could tell from his face that he was entering one of his depressive episodes. She didn’t have the energy to cheer him up. He was unemployed for over a year now, without the faintest prospect of work. Ben wasn’t alone, the triple-dip recession had hit the town hard. Pharmalex was the only large local employer to survive, but even they were laying off. People left the town in droves—where to, she wasn’t sure. Others had just given up. At least she still had her nursing job at the hospital. Still, their credit debt had doubled in the last year alone.

“You want some?” Ben asked, pointing at the pie with his fork. “I’m not hungry.” She nodded, looking him over with her tired eyes. It felt like sitting with a stranger. Ben must have gained 40 pounds since he lost his job, and his hair had turned almost completely grey. He looked much older than 34.

“Have you seen Dr. Hemmings yet?” she asked. His face sank. “No. I just don’t see the point,” he replied, pushing around a bit of crust with his fork.

She brought out her phone and clicked on the hospital’s app. “I’m scheduling an appointment for you with him. Next Tuesday. No arguments,” she said.

Ben massaged his forehead, as if in pain. “I know you hate the hospital, but people are talking about Dr. Hemmings,” Sammi pushed on. “He’s doing something right, helping people get out of their funk, you know?” Ben looked up at her, resigned. “I’ll go, but I doubt there’s anything the man can do to help me.”

A week had passed. Sammi was napping on the sofa when Ben rocked her awake. “I’m back,” he said. She sat slowly, barely able to open her eyes. ”How’d it go?” she asked, yawning. “Good. Dr. Hemmings gave me something,” Ben said. From his backpack he produced an elegant white box, which he promptly opened. Inside the box was a small white tube. She squinted, trying to focus on the object. ‘Purilexa,’ the tube read.

“What’s this?” she asked. Ben checked his phone. “Let me see, here’s a press release. Brand new prescription medication. Made in—well I’ll be damned—right up the hill. Pharmalex, Industry Towers. The drug is now on a limited test run. Blah blah blah. Treats a wide variety of conditions including Chronic Pain, Depression, Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Insomnia. Purilexa targets the adrenal and pituitary glands, slowing the body’s metabolism and minimizing a variety of the body’s demands. Purilexa also targets the Hypothalamus, reducing appetite, as well as sensitivity to external stimuli, blah blah blah… okay, we get it.”

Ben held the tube over his lap, opened its top, and inserted his index finger. The device made a soft tone and momentarily lit up. He took his finger out. “That’s it?” Sammi asked. He shrugged. “Yeah. There’s some substance inside, dosing is done through touch.”

She held the tube to the light, examining it. “Must be potent,” she whispered.

*

She woke up to loud clanking noises. Her legs ached and she struggled to push herself into a seated position. In the past month even the smallest movement had become laborious. Chrysler stood over their makeshift kitchen, making oatmeal and brewing her trademark jet-fuel strength coffee. “Rise and shine honey. How'd you sleep?” Chrysler shouted over the din.

“Fine, just fine,” Sammi said.

Chrysler was short and stocky, and covered with tattoos. She was especially partial to frogs. An elaborately drawn goliath frog covered her exposed skull, its tongue shooting down towards a swarm of fireflies decorating her neck. She handed Sammi a warm bowl of oatmeal. Sammi took a bite. It was stale, no sugar. Still, after a few bites she felt the kicks. It was a relief. He always kicked when she ate. Chrysler’s right hand was shaking nervously. She was probably on her third cup of coffee by now. “So. Have you had more time to think over the plan?” Chrysler asked, looking hopeful. Sammi sighed. “It’s too early in the morning… let me get my bearings first.”

Chrysler didn’t hear a word she said, and went on, excitedly. “Me and Jackrabbit had ourselves a little powwow last night. If his intel is right—and it seems legit—we’re in for the motherlode.”

Sammi looked at her wearily. “The motherlode being?”

Chrysler was so excited now that her teeth started clanking together. “Hundreds, maybe even thousands of empty tubes! They’re sending them off to be recycled. There’s a truck leaving Industry Towers every night at 1AM, it’s disguised as a FEDEX truck.” Sammi swallowed the last bite of oatmeal. “Empty? Then what’s the point?”

“Well. You know how much residue is left in a single empty tube?” Chrysler’s right hand was shaking violently now, coffee spilled all over the floor. “You have any idea? There’s a special procedure we’re gonna use. You melt the bottles in a hermetically sealed furnace at about 800 degrees. The Puri molecules separate from the tube’s glass encasement. They rise up through a series of pipes and filters, up up up and then Bam! You trap em’!” Chrysler hit a nearby table, making Sammi jump. “Then you inject the stuff into little bottles, hold them up to your nose and-” she made a deep, exaggerated inhaling sound.

Sammi thought it over—she couldn’t help but feel excited by the thought of inhaling some Puri. It’d been months since she’d had a taste. She wanted to de-exist again, even if it was just for a moment. She forced herself to relax. Chrysler’s demented eyes were probing her.

At that moment Sammi couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for her. Chrysler used to have a little farm outside of town with a fairly successful microbrewery called Tadpole Creek. Sammi remembered seeing Chrysler driving down Main street in her vintage, bright green truck, full of kegs. One day she had a minor accident, a little whiplash. The Doctor prescribed Puri for her back pain. The rest was history.

“Well, will you do it?” Chrysler asked again. Sammi held her belly as if protecting her unborn son. “I don’t know, it sounds risky,” she said. Chrysler was getting desperate, her eyes looked like they were going to fall out of their sockets. “We gotta do it! We gotta have you! YOU are part of the plan! It’s tight, super tight! Jackrabbit has it all figured out.” She looked down at Sammi’s belly. “Very low risk to you and, and, especially, to junior! Nobody’s gonna hurt a pregnant woman!”

Sammi had just come back from work. It was hot out and she couldn’t wait to get out of her uniform and lay down with the AC on full blast. “Hey, I’m home,” she shouted into the living room. No answer. The blinds were all drawn. The apartment was almost completely dark. She opened the bedroom door and saw Ben, hunched over his desk. In only a month he’d quickly slimmed down to his old weight. He barely ate, barely slept, barely left the house. Sometimes it seemed like he barely saw her. She knew, though he hadn’t told her, that he was taking more than his prescribed dose of the drug. But he seemed less depressed, and more than once he’d given her a taste. She could see the appeal.

She kissed the back of his head and sat on the bed, taking off her shoes. “God, what a day. It seems like all of the geezers from Meadow Park came by today, must be some bug going around there. They were coughing phlegm in colors I didn’t even know existed,” she sighed. “I don’t think I can do these double shifts for much longer.” There was no answer from Ben, who was fully immersed in the screen. “So this is the big operation you were talking about?” She asked. “Yeah, sorry—keep quiet, I gotta focus,” Ben mumbled. She frowned. He was watching and re-watching the same YouTube video on his laptop. On the table lay a white tube of Puri, next to it was a set of odd looking screwdrivers Ben had ordered off the web. She sank back into the bed, looking at her phone.

“OK. I think I’m ready,” Ben exclaimed. Sammi walked over to his desk and observed as he carefully dismantled the Purilexa tube. It took awhile, but he finally managed to crack the thing open. Inside the encasement lay a small mechanism holding an even smaller glass tube. She could see a milky substance inside. Very slowly, carefully, Ben dismantled the mechanism, ejecting the glass tube onto a paper towel. Gingerly, he unscrewed the top of the tube. He then inserted a glass dropper, sucking up the white liquid. He turned to Sammi. “Will you do the honors?” Sammi smiled. She sat on the edge of the bed and opened her mouth. Ben brought the dropper down, letting a single drop fall onto her eager tongue. The room turned white.

The first hit of undiluted Puri was something she would never forget. The very burden of existing was suddenly lifted. She was there, but then she wasn’t. Not a human being, but a set of eyes floating through a whiter-than-white replica of her living room. She needed nothing, she thought nothing, she was nothing. Her existence was contingent on nothing. It was pure bliss.

*

The sun was blaring mercilessly from a cloudless sky. Sammi hated walking outside during daytime, but there was no choice. The trip to Bakersville could have taken them half an hour in Chrysler’s old truck, but they had traded it weeks ago for a laughably small batch of P. So now they had to walk, and walk slow because of Sammi’s ‘condition’. Every step hurt. Her torn up New Balance were so eroded that her heels were touching asphalt. Chrysler handed her a water jerry can every so often. “You have to stay hydrated,” she repeated. The statement struck her as particularly absurd, considering the suicide mission they were embarking on. State route 287 was completely empty other than the occasional charred skeleton of an SUV. Finally, the road bent to the right, exposing a partially burned sign welcoming them to the town of Bakersville.

They walked for another mile before reaching town. Bakersville didn’t look all that different from her own ravaged hometown, Sammy thought. Boarded up storefronts. Garbage piled up on the sidewalks. One thing was different: A giant, burnt down, semi trailer turned over in the middle of the street. But otherwise, the familiarity was almost comforting. They kept walking in silence when she felt a chill. Several sets of eyes were watching them from behind a boarded up storefront. She nudged Chrysler, who didn’t seem phased. “They can see we got nothing on us. Don’t worry,” she said. “Hey-Ho Amigos! Just visiting Mayor Jackrabbit!” Chrysler shouted. There was no answer. Finally they arrived at what used to be a small corner pharmacy. Chrysler stood outside texting on her phone. They waited for a few minutes before hearing the sound of a mechanism being unlocked.

A steel door swung open and there stood Jackrabbit, looking like a lunatic’s parody of Christ. His emaciated torso was exposed and full of purple sores, and his lower half was draped in an odd pair of white parachute pants. His long scrappy hair was coming in patches out of his skull. At the center of his face, a set of flimsy looking aviator sunglasses hung off what looked like it had once been a nose. Chrysler had told her how Jackrabbit ‘lost’ his nose to a bad batch of Puri earlier that year. “Welcome to Bakersville!” he exclaimed, motioning them to come in.

*

The e-cig was empty, but Sammi kept on sucking, hoping to extract some hidden morsel of nicotine from the purple cylinder. She’d started skipping lunch weeks ago. Instead, she would spend her break sitting on a bench by the lawn, staring into space. Her break had ended almost an hour before, but she just couldn’t make herself get up. It was now late September and it had gotten noticeably colder. She was underdressed and shivering, but she didn’t notice, or didn’t care. Her left arm was completely wrapped up in gauze. She told everyone it was eczema, but she still got suspicious looks. The week before she’d woken up in horror to find the skin of her left arm completely transparent. She could see all the veins and nerves crisscrossing her hand like a miniature blue and red superhighway. This was a known side effect of Puri abuse; pureskin, they called it. She showed Ben, crying. Something similar had happened to his left toe. She swore off the stuff right there and then. But by the time she got back from work, the craving was too strong. Ben and her took a double dose and lay on the sofa, letting the beautiful white nothing take over the living room.

Sammi looked at her phone. 2:15PM. She forced herself up and off the bench, and entered the hospital’s peach colored lobby, tucking her e-cig away. She walked towards her ward down a long corridor. By the time she noticed Mr. Parsell’s bald head approaching her, it was already too late, she couldn’t dodge him. His face was contorted in displeasure.

“Sammi. I’m glad I ran into you,” Parsell said coldly. “Do you mind stepping into my office for a quick chat?” he asked. Sammi felt like she couldn’t breathe. She clenched her bandaged arm. “S-Sure, would be happy to.”

She couldn’t stop looking at the taxidermied owl on the top shelf of Mr. Parsell’s office. The thing had always freaked her out, with its piercing, dead eyes. Mr. Parsell cleared his throat. “Sammi, there’s no easy way of putting this. Your performance in the past months has been truly… disappointing. Nurse Paley has informed me of your increasing number of latenesses and absences,” he paused, frowned, and continued. “And, well, she told me all about the incident at Room 455.” Sammi’s face drained of blood, “I’ve never mixed up a dose before, I’m not sure what happened that day, but I assure you-” Parsell cut her off. “You’ve put a patient’s life at risk, that’s the bottom line. God knows that with the Dr. Hemmings scandal, the last thing I need on my hands is more problems.” he huffed, then continued. “It turns out he wasn’t the only one handing out that damn poison. I think half the town is on the stuff by now.” He looked at her arm knowingly. “Listen, this is a warning, but you’ll only get one. Shape up, or you’ll be out of here, and we all know nobody else hiring round these parts,” he concluded. Sammi looked down and mumbled, “Yes Mr. Parsell. I’ll get it together, I promise.”

A few minutes later she was in the bathroom, washing her face with cold water. She looked at herself in the mirror. Her left cheek looked like it was becoming translucent, she could see the veins, the muscle. She blinked in panic. No, her skin was still there, she was imagining. She dried her face with a paper towel and breathed in, trying to calm herself. She sure could go for a drop of Puri right about now.

*

They were on the outskirts of Bakersville. It was night, but still oppressively hot and humid. Sammi slapped a mosquito dead on her arm. Bakersville was close to the creek, and in the summer the place was swarmed. She lay atop a sleeping bag, like a hot meal ready to be devoured. Her dress was drenched in sweat and stuck to her skin. Surprisingly, she didn’t feel tired. Jackrabbit had given them some yellow pills for dinner. She wasn’t sure what they were but her heart was beating fast and she felt better than she had in awhile. Jackrabbit appeared out of the shrubbery. “OK, kid, we’re all set. Let me show you to your stage,” he said, grabbing her hand.

Once they were out, she could finally see the ridiculous set-up that Jackrabbit and Chrysler had been toiling on. In the middle of the road sat a large red velvet sofa. It was encircled by four giant flood lights wired to a generator. The red was so powerful it seemed otherworldly. Chrysler stood next to one of the floodlights, grinning, “Ain’t it a beaut?” Jackrabbit pointed at the sofa, “Now I want y’all to sit right there, and pretend like you’re in labor.” Sammi looked confused. “Labor? Why?” she asked. “It’s all part of the plan kid, don’t you worry,” Jackrabbit said, seeming very confident. Chrysler chimed in, “We’ve got it down to a tee. Just go with the flow.” Sammi sat down on the sofa.

The lights were blinding and hot. “Okay, now make like you in labor!” Jackrabbit commanded. Sammi moaned in faux pain. Jackrabbit was unimpressed, “Give me more emotion. More pathos! I needs to believe you’re in pain!” Sammi moaned louder, she clenched her belly. She thought she felt a kick. She kept going for a few minutes. “Ahh now that’s good! Much better! Okay we’re all set.” Jackrabbit smiled and looked at his phone, “Oh! And just in time! Okay, I wants you to keep going, keep moaning.” Chrysler and Jackrabbit retreated into the darkness. “Don’t stop!” She heard him shout from behind the trees.

A few minutes passed. Sammi kept on moaning, clenching her belly. She felt like a complete lunatic. Then suddenly she heard a distant rumbling. From beyond the hill a truck appeared, its headlights blindingly bright. It was racing towards her, and she began to panic, thinking that it wouldn’t stop. Then finally, almost too late, the truck screeched to a halt. It sat there for a moment, silent, towering over her. Then the door opened and a man dismounted. He was wearing a grey overall and held a small machine gun in his arm.

“What the hell is going on here?” he shouted. Sammi looked at the man, confused. She opened her mouth to answer but before she could speak a high pitched hiss pierced the air. The man collapsed to the ground, a white arrow in his neck. A second man dismounted, screaming and clenching his gun—but he didn’t get far. Chrysler came out from behind him with a baseball bat. She hit him hard on the back. The man collapsed to the ground. Chrysler kept at it. There was a sound of bone cracking. The man stopped moving.

“WE DID IT!” she hollered maniacally into the empty night.

*

It was mid November. Four feet of snow had piled up overnight. Everything was white and still. It was late afternoon, but none of the driveways had been cleared, and even the main roads remained unplowed. An odd sight for sure, but no one seemed to notice. The pharmacy was walking-distance away. If you really needed a refill, you just walked. The apartment was dark, silent, and freezing. On the kitchen table lay a pile of unpaid bills. The power had been cut the previous week.

Sammi lay on the carpet, staring up into deep, glorious whiteness. A hand penetrated the milky mist, and pulled her back into the drabness of her living room. “What’d you do that for? Huh?” She grumbled. “This is bad,” Ben said, “Listen to this,” he was reading off his phone. “The FDA has ordered the drug maker Pharmalex to begin an immediate recall of their drug Purilexa. Starting from today the drug will not be available for purchase anywhere in the State even to those holding an existing prescription or perscription refill. Purilexa has been on a limited trial in several counties. According to doctors the drug has been extremely successful in treating a wide variety of conditions. But the drug has also recently come under scrutiny due to reports of it’s unusual habit-forming traits as well as widespread hacking of its dispensing mechanism. Pharmalex have declined to be interviewed for this article, but have noted that they are working on a new, so-called hackproof dispensing mechanism.”

Sammi was trying to focus her eyes on the glowing screen. She mumbled, “So, this isn’t good?” Ben was shaking, “Not good? This is TERRIBLE! This is. We, we only have a few day’s worth.” Sammi struggled to open her eyes. She held his hand and tried to calm him down, “It’s okay, maybe I can sneak into the hospital or something, get into storage; maybe my badge still works.”

Ben was screaming now. “No, no, no, no! Don’t you remember? You tried that last week, your badge doesn’t fucking work anymore!!!” Sammi scratched her head. He was right. “Calm down, let me think, I’ll figure something out,” Sammi said. She lay back on the carpet and fell asleep.

She woke up to the sound of sirens. Her head was spinning, and there was a foul taste in her mouth. She’d been nauseated for weeks now, not a common side effect of Puri use. The sirens kept raging, so she looked through a window. Outside, billowing smoke was rising from the direction of Main street. Several of her neighbours were pushing their way through the snow, some were wearing only pajamas, seemingly indifferent to the subzero temperatures. One man was completely naked and holding a shotgun. She couldn’t make out the expression on his face.

“Ben!” She called out into the dark living room. “Ben… what’s going on?” There was no answer. Sammi got up and looked around. He wasn’t in the kitchen, or the bedroom. She noticed a slit of light under the bathroom door. She swung the door open and gasped. Ben was laying on the tiled floor, his hands clenching their last tube of Puri. It seemed to have exploded in his hands. The milky substance ran down his injured fingers, mixed with his blood, and dotted the floor with a gruesome pink. His torso was full of tiny glass shards, little lines of blood ran down his white skin. Her gaze reached his face. She felt sick. His face wasn’t there, just a skull, wrapped in muscle tissue and veins. One eyeball was still there, the other only partially visible. His teeth were exposed, all the way down to the molars. Ben’s lifeless skull grinned at her blissfully, still high on the ultimate hit.

The first light of day was invading the dusty pharmacy in Bakersville. Jackrabbit was firing up his makeshift furnace. While working he kept his prosthetic nose off. Sammi couldn’t stop staring at the gaping hole in the center of his face. In front of him lay several large aluminum cases full of used up Puri tubes. He kept feeding wood to the open furnace. His rig consisted of a clunky mishmash of steel tubes, duct tape, dusty beakers, and old glass vases. Sammi began to wonder if he would actually be able to melt the damn things and extract that Puri. Chrysler was sitting at the counter on the other end of the room. She was playing with a pile of tubes she had ‘borrowed’, methodically sticking her finger into each tube. She grumbled as the tubes turned red.

“These are all totally fucking empty! I thought maybe someone would’ve left a little bit behind.” Jackrabbit chuckled at her, “You kidding? Who gonna leave that good stuff behind?” Chrysler rubbed her arm nervously. “Fuck.”

Sammi sat on a dusty sofa, feeling faint. The pills were wearing off. She felt guilty, for putting herself and the baby through all that. She should rest, force herself to eat, drink some water, maybe.

A loud blast erupted and the door flew open. Five men invaded the space. They were all wearing black kevlar vests, ‘S.W.A.T’ branded on dark fabric. Their faces were hidden under shiny black helmets. Each held a gun with a red laser pointer.

“Stay where you are. Hold your hands up above your heads!” one man, possibly the ranking officer, shouted. “Don’t move!” He aimed his laser at Jackrabbit’s forehead. Jackrabbit looked shocked. He lifted his arms above his head, squealing. “How?”

The officer kicked an aluminum container with his boot. “All microchipped, asshole.” There was a sudden clunking noise. A few empty tubes of Puri fell to the ground as Chrysler dove behind a counter. One of the men let out a burst of fire, punching holes in the wood the size of a child’s fist. Chrysler’s lifeless arm unravelled from behind the counter, a tiny orange frog was resting behind her knuckles.

Jackrabbit started shaking in panic, he lowered his hands, as if to defend himself. “Please don’t shoot, I swear… I didn’t think no one cares about this junk.” The officer shouted, “I warned you, keep your hands over your head or…”

A single bullet pierced Jackrabbit’s forehead. He toppled to the floor. “Who did that?” the officer shouted. A few of the men chuckled. The officer ignored them and approached Sammi. She was on her knees, her mouth was open in terror, heart racing. She clutched her belly, sharp pains were radiating down her abdomen. Then officer lowered his gun, “Fuck.” He stood there for a minute, contemplating. Sammi couldn’t speak, she just looking at him in dread. “Take her out to the truck,” he shouted.

*

Summer was almost over. It was late afternoon, or so she thought. It was hard to tell on the windowless level 22. She was getting tired, but the day was not over yet. Her screen informed her there were thirty seven more calls left in order for her to reach her daily quota. She tapped her headset and the computer made the call. “Hello, is this Dr. Epstine?” Sammi asked softly. “My name is Sammi and I’m calling on behalf of Pharmalex. We wanted to see if you had any interest in receiving a box of free samples of PuriLite?” Sammi listened. “No, no, none of the problems of the previous incarnation. PuriLite has been fully tested and is approved by the FDA. I can send you a PDF of a recent study conducted in- Yes? That’s fantastic. I would be happy to send you our starter kit. Let me confirm your address.”

At 6PM all screens turned off. The room filled with a collective sigh of relief. She got up and stretched, then joined the line of inmates marching out of the hall. They were all wearing the same white jumpsuit. Some were missing skin on their faces or limbs. It was a gruesome parade.

The glass door to her cell opened with a soft click. She walked into the tiny white space and stretched out on her bunk. There was a little screen with limited internet access on the wall, but she kept it off. She lay there staring at the ceiling, till around 8, when the nurse came in with her daily dose. The nurse held a tray in front of her with a single white tube. The new encasement was a beautiful feat of industrial design, seamless; it looked completely impenetrable. Sammi put her finger on top of the tube and felt a little jolt. Everything became slightly whiter. She thanked the nurse, lay down on her bunk, and closed her eyes. She slept a dreamless, medicated slumber. Around 4 AM, she began to drift out of sleep. That was when the stuff usually started wearing off. Her heart began racing. She couldn’t stop the flood of memories engulfing her.

The day she was caught was a blur. One moment she was in a police holding cell, in another stretched out in ambulance gurney, loud beeping noises all around her. Then darkness. Then she woke up in pain in a familiar place. The hospital. There was a single floor still in operation and that must have been where she was. One of the nurses tending to her looked familiar. Dianne. She held her hand. “Hey Sammi, it’s going to be okay.” She whispered. Then darkness. Then a piercing pain. People in scrubs were standing in a half circle above her. There was a blue screen draped across her belly. She couldn’t see what was happening but she knew they were cutting her open. She screamed. The doctor lifted a small figure above her. There was a gasp around the room.

The doctor gently laid the the figure down on a padded table. She looked at it, tears running down her cheek. It was her baby boy, but he had no skin, his muscles and arteries were exposed. His internal organs were at various stages of transparency. Inside his chest she could make out the shape of his beating heart. Then darkness again.

When she woke up they told her the baby was stillborn. She knew they were lying. She cried and screamed, so they pumped her full of tranquilizers. She drifted into darkness. Yet even in the dark, at the edge of consciousness, she was still there. She wished more than anything that she could, once again, not exist.