Folio

SLCC's Premiere Art & Literary Magazine

The Malpractice of Marcel Holmes

Michael Paige

IFinal Preparations

The Anesthesia has overwhelmed her now. Consciousness has fallen into the black chasm behind those eyelids. Her bare spine lies vulnerable against the chilled silver slab. Every crevice and pore of her skin is radiant beneath the operating light. A dormant, almost peaceful expression haunts her face. You're doing great, my thoughts reconcile her deaf ears. My gloved fingers run cautiously up the cliff side of her shoulder.

My eyes regularly magnetize to the screen with its electronic beeping from her transmitted heartbeat. Lying on a separate table are several metal containers impregnated with sterile Hemostats, Forceps, and cutting tools… But one is missing; a scalpel from my pocket. I can feel an oval shaped hole along the patch where it must have slipped out. No matter, we'll find it later.

There is sound, like the buzz of an angry wasp. One hand keeps the head still while the other traverses into the myriad hair strands. Rotating blades shave the thickets down to her scalp. The floor is now a blanket of cotton candy clumps.

The speculum reaches its metal hands into the fissure of her inferior eyelid. I tilt the head slightly toward the light as to avoid corneal involvement. Tug softly on the lower lid and position the retractors upper portion into the top crevice. With this instrument, I am granted access to the soul's window. Her dilated pupil looks hypnotized by the light.

II. Watch Tower

I wasn't born with the name Marcel H. Holmes. No, I changed it much later, several times, in fact, starting twenty years after July sixth, 1988. I was born in Manchester, New Hampshire in a family of two older brothers and one younger sister three years after me. My mother worked as a cashier in the closest convenient store and sang in the catholic choir every Sunday, a placebo for her sadness. My father was an electrician who struggled from Parkinson's.

I always thought of him as God's watchtower in our household with my mother as the golden angel singing atop its peak. For a God fearing catholic, his breath often smelled like half digested schnapps. "It helps stop the shaking, swear to god." I'd hear him tell my mother before bed. I always prayed for the yelling to not start afterward. Any backtalk or disobedience earned my brothers and me a swift beating. If he ever heard you mutter God's name in vein, you'd be too marked up to go to school that day or the next. He never laid one hand on my little sister; she was his baby girl after all.

III. The Womb

"Alright, see you tonight, thank you." I poked the glowing red phone icon. I'd rather have her text or reply to my email, but she insisted on the call. Perhaps to construct a support beam of reassurance that this so called Doctor Holmes actually existed. Maybe I'll adjust my memo to say, ’No calls, hates the sound of his own voice.' Regardless of my preferences, she'd be here tonight.

I had Henley to thank for his impromptu planning methods. He had the tendencies of a ramrod but proved to be more than a helpful organizer and also served as a guide for decent prices of medical supplies from the deep web. Certain equipment wasn't cheap but at the very least was available. I swigged the last of my warm tea and ruminated about the dream last night.

Not just an indiscriminate dream, the recurring one for the past week and a half. It generally starts out with me painting in the living room. I can never get a clear picture of the shifting blur on the canvas. Pink veins sprout between the indents of the floor tiles. They are like wriggling worms that web up the ground with a repulsive squishing sound. Then I can hear my fathering yelling at me. The walls become tangled nets of blood vessels that crawl along the ceiling. Everything goes dark. A bile taste glazes my tongue and almost makes me vomit. My fingers make a squelching noise into the fleshy matter that consumes the remaining flooring. Globs of meat cake underneath my nails.

Then a spiral of light starts crowning from the darkness. As it draws closer, I feel an energy penetrating so deep it vibrates my marrow. The glow is coming from an amalgam of white bone plated skin taking a helical formation like my own DNA strand. A face nears mine, the face of an immeasurable serpent. Its divided tongue fluxes at me. Between the scaled slits of its skull, one eye formed out of a gemstone rotates in its socket. I can't help but weep beneath its unfathomable beauty encircling me.

I asked the Ophidian where we were, though it's always difficult since I never hear myself speak.

"This is a womb, the birthing place for your ideals." Its voice carried along the living walls. "Have you forgotten where all thoughts come from?"

Yes, I always remember where I am at the last blurred fragments of that dream. For that moment, I am inside the inner chamber where all my inspirations are developed and born to the world.

"The hour has come again, like a thief in the night. The hour of my—"

I heard a rhythm of thumps at the door. The sky was now a darker tint and the sun had slipped beneath the windowsill.

IV. Enucleation Procedure

One holds the surgical scissors delicately for the precision of its crossing blades. The first incision is made into the membrane of her sclera that encases the eye. Its teeth glide like a steel ship's hulk splitting apart a transparent pond. The gelatinous tissue is divided and opened, revealing the Tenon's Capsule, one step closer to her soul. We travel further, my tool and I, into its smooth inner surface.

The eye has now taken on the redness of a strawberry. It is here we spy the Lateral Rectus hiding beneath its compromised jelly-like barrier. With my muscle hooks, the rectus folds are strung up like wet clothes with the tools blunt end. A few more snips from the overlapping blades severs the crimson muscle. The toe of the hook lies firmly pressed against the globe. Three more rectus muscles are detached, almost resembling pink flower petals splayed around the eye. I set my sights on the inner pulley-system making up her Oblique muscles. Both are isolated and transected in their meaty structures. The globe is now able to rotate freely from its shackles in the socket.

My hemostat is wedged in the narrow space of the eye and curved upward to elevate it from its orbit. Yes, we have reached the foundation of her vision, the Optic nerve. It's stem acting as a bridge from the retina to the brain, transmitting the data of the world. The hemostat uses its teeth to compress and interrupt the flow of the blood vessels. Once in position, the scissors start lacerating a long segment from the nerve. It takes one final slit to the stem to end the retina's link forever. The eye is removed from the cavity and plopped in a glass cup like a swollen olive. A bandage with pressure is applied to the canal space for any seeping blood. For now, we move on.

V. Angelic Choir

I hated school more than the kids hated me. Both of my brothers had a plethora of friends. I was just the weird little shadow that tailed behind them. I remember hiding in the bathroom stall to eat my lunch. Kids can be cruel little shits, can't they? My favorite class time activity was arts and crafts, especially painting. It was the only thing that made me happy to be there. I loved it so much I refused to do any other projects. When my teacher's worry climaxed he expressed his concerns to both of my parents. That night my father made sure we'd never have that conversation again.

After my first day in the fourth grade, my mother committed suicide by inhaling exhaust fumes in our van. I realize now it was because we couldn't afford her antidepressants. Or father didn't want to afford it. When the paramedics came I saw her one last time with that peaceful two-dimensional face that disappeared inside the ambulance. "She's singing with God now", my father told us. Before that, I never knew that fathers could cry. Our neighbor let us adopt a kitten from their batch after the ward heard about our loss. My father thought it would help catch the rats in our backyard.

Four months later on a summer day, father told us he'd be gone for most of the day and that the house had to be spotless. We spent half the day cleaning, and then my brothers left to go fool around with their friends at the junkyard just down the street from our neighborhood. While my little sister was sleeping in her room, I was playing with our kitten in the living room. We named her Snowy since her short fur was bright white. She had a tendency to bite us too hard or scratch with her maturing claws. That day, in particular, she grappled my arm and dug into my skin with her teeth and back claws. A bloody weal streaked down my hand. I felt a burning wet pain, but I wasn't crying. There was a swelling anger inside me.

VI. Laugh and Smile

She's here already? I slid my body into the door and probed the peaking hole. There were two silhouettes behind the lens, both females. Why were there two? I was only expecting one. David never specified two appointments. My thumb pressed over my index finger and cracked it. Remember, you must relax, you must breathe, and for God's sake smile. I opened the door for the two guests.

The tall blonde flashed her white teeth and violet lipstick at me. Her face was a heart shape with two amber eyes encased in eye shadow for an unsuccessful attempt to divert onlookers from the slits of crow's feet. Probably from too many years of squinting, I thought. She had a beauty mark on her left sunken cheekbone. She looked easily broken, to say the least, as though a FRAGILE label were printed on her forehead. Her casual black dress with long white sleeves had a cat silhouette whose ears did not perk along her flat chest. Her head cocked to the side with an insecure expression. "Doctor Holmes?" Her voice squeaked.

"Linda Wilcox?" I squeaked back in a matching voice. If you can make them laugh, they like you faster. She giggled at me awkwardly and presented her assortment of acrylic nails. I shook her soft hands respectively.

Her hand patted against the feline's ears. "Thank god this was the right house, I was getting worried!" She said flashing that white smile again. "Oh, this is my friend, Kat-"

"Kathleen Garde, just here for moral support. I didn't like the thought of my friend coming here alone." The shorter African American woman spoke who was wearing a zebra print top. A speck of cynicism in those narrow brown eyes spotlighted me. Her lengthened hair draped over her shoulders in an avalanche of soft brunette. She wasn't wearing any cosmetics and held an assertion that told the world she didn't have to. Her mouth was curled to the side with a type of bravado.

"It's a pleasure to meet both of you." I lead them to my living room where they shared a seat on the chesterfield. "Care to tell me how you've heard of me?" I asked.

"Well," She forced out an awkward chuckle and let her mouse-like voice slip out. "I've never done anything like this before. You've worked on a few of my friends who I perform with. Hopefully, this doesn't sound too dramatic, but you changed their lives. And I was hoping you'd change mine. I got your information from David...Henry?"

"Henley," I helped her. "I think you're giving me far too much credit. My patients are the ones who make the decision to ask for help, I'm just a bridge they cross. Everyone deserves to feel happy in their own skin and love themselves again. If I can achieve that, the time spent in between my day job is worth it." God, I hate my voice. "But let's focus on you, Take a look at these, and tell me what interests you." I brought out the small pamphlet I threw together recently to go over the possible procedures. Breast Enhancements, Buttock injections, Dermal Fillers, Botox, and the list never tired. I stood from my seat. "Would either of you like some Chamomile tea? I was just brewing some up." Kathleen didn't hesitate to shake her head.

"No thank you." Linda shook her head in tandem as she sifted through the pages.

"Are you sure, the tea usually helps take the nerves off the needle for first timers." I persisted.

"Well, I mean, you'd know more than I would." She said looking up at me and rescinding her answer.

VII. Bifurcation Procedure

My pulse has risen into a crescendo that bulges goosebumps down my arms. At this moment, I realized through my puckered cheeks, I couldn't stop smiling. The Jennings Gag joins for the next procedure, fitting its metal hinges around her head. Several clicks from a ratchet device located on its side are twisted to hold her mouth ajar to an appropriate degree, similar to opening a clam. Within the chest of teeth lies the fleshy moist tongue beneath the oral cavity. A spread of white bacteria coated over its pale body.

Forceps pinch into the taste buds and pull the V-shaped organ from the warmth of its home. I hold the Scalpel securely between the thumb and middle finger. He who holds this silver does not stand equally to their patient. They are given an unnatural power over any finite body. He has become a shared vessel to God and the Reaper. With one stroke, he can grant life. With the same stroke, he can take it away. It is the true wrath of an artist.

There is a slight pressure as the tip of the blade sinks into the pale harbor. We've struck oil! An overflow of blood submerges the scalpel. It plunges further into the hemorrhaging fibers. A little more pressure guides the blade down the middle of the muscle, leaving behind a wake of red. It reminds me momentarily of Moses parting the red sea. The blood starts coagulating on her chin and my knife. It takes one final tug for the tongue to be separated into two separate flaps.

There is too much blood this time. Such a sight would harrow a delicate mind, but not of the calloused surgeon. This calls for the intrusive needle with its threaded tail. Yes, it is a sharp friend yet ever so dainty if gripped impolitely. I palm the needle driver and clasp it mid-shaft at a curvature. Depth and width of the suture must always be correct. The tip moves into the fold of flesh as I flick and curve my wrist. We reset the needle and move equidistant across the gaping wound. The suture pulls the tongue's top skin into the split. The first tie is always a double wrap. It must be a snug, yet gentle traction, lest the tissue, may break. We repeat across the cavern of exposed flesh until the blood flow seizes. The metallic grip is then and her mouth closes with the newly forked tongue.

VIII. Secret Colors

I clenched a handful of Snowy's scruff and threw her against the wall as hard as I could. She didn't hiss or moan a drawn out yowl; it was making a sound I never heard before. The kitten's back legs were not moving as it dragged its body along the floor, screaming. If my little sister woke up and she told father, he'd hurt me worse than ever before. The thought alone left a vile taste in the pit of my throat. No matter what I tried the kitten wouldn't stop that ululating. I gripped its scruff and the spine this time and threw it against the wall four maybe five more times until the sound finally stopped.

There was a red blemish on the wall and small little red spots that grew out of Snowy's fur. They reminded me of tiny blooming roses. I cleaned up the wall and hid Snowy in the backyard inside a plastic bag. She was shoved in between our shed and picket fence.

Nobody could find her when they came home. I showed them my scratches and said Snowy attacked me then ran away. I knew I was lying, and God knew I was lying, but I didn't want any more pain to come.

After a sleepless night, I took the bag to the junkyard. The outer fence always had a hole that anyone could squeeze through. I found a good spot to leave it and plopped the kitten out of the bag. The blooming red roses had turned to ugly brown smudges with an acrid smell. A chilling sentiment of grief washed over me that they were no longer as pretty as before. Then I had a thought; maybe Snowy had more? I sifted through the scraps and garbage trying to find something sharp enough until I found a decapitated kitchen knife. Although the tip was snapped off, the spine's remaining uneven edge would work fine.

Cutting into the hide was similar to a thick furry steak. The small skin folds split apart like a wide mouth. It smelled horrible and almost made me vomit breakfast. But I couldn't stop staring at the new world of colors and moist objects. Its liver looked like a swollen cherry. I poked the small plump stomach with the knife's hilt. I couldn't get enough of those secret colors.

I visited Snowy every day after school before I walked home. Progressively the acrid smell grew worse and the colors turned black. Flies, Maggots, and Carrion Beetles intruded the body and began their glorious feast. I wasn't able to enjoy her much longer after that.

IX. White Tablet

I retreated into the kitchen and boiled up some water in the kettle. The living room was close enough to hear segments of the hushed conversation happening within.

"...Take his information and think on it. Why are you so determined to do it now?" Kathleen's voice came.

"...Appreciate you being here, but this is my decision to make." Linda whispered back.

A tablespoon of the torn leaves and stems formed a mound at the bottom of my two white mugs. If only her friend wanted a glass, that would have made things simpler.

Kathleen's quiet voice raised an octave. "...Always getting you out of these shitty situations. Why don't you take my advice this once?"

"...Don't want to support me then leave, I'll find another way home." Linda retorted with a hint of passive aggression.

Both of their voices stilled as the kettle started to scream. The high pitch died down as I removed it from the burner and poured the steaming tea into both mugs. I watched the small buds pervade through the scalding water and digest away. Then I dropped a small white tablet in her cup.

X. Amputation Procedure

The red blotches congealed over my blue fingers. These contaminated gloves need to be replaced by a sterile pair. Just a few more steps until she reaches fruition. This primitive weak body that use to belong to her is only temporary property. The artist beneath my skin whispers a prayer that she'll understand this free gift. It's doubted, but just maybe. I squeeze her immobile hand with my own. Tears swell out of my tear ducts and conjoin together down my cheeks.

Black webbing from a tourniquet is wrapped around her bicep. I secure its position and reconnect its head into the buckle. A firm yank on the tail removes any slack from pressure. Conveniently located on the side is a black handle able to be twisted clockwise to constrict the limb further. A few intervals impede the arteries from delivering oxygen to the appendage.

Such a tool like a scalpel could not conquer the feat we were about to commit. No, we will need a more articulate tool. With the Listen Knife's steel-belly we start with a circular cut into a moist wilderness of gleaming flesh. The first bundle of red beef is sliced cleanly through. I imagine for a moment that I am an explorer cutting through a thick and bloody marsh. One almost expects to find ancient hieroglyphics carved in the walls of the uncharted cavern. I peel back the soft filleted tissue gently in order to reveal our treasure buried within the pink soil. The bone structure is such a strange sight in its natural habit, uninhibited by the outside world, until this day.

Now that the bone has been unearthed, we call to arms the Oscillating saw whose serrated teeth are hungry for collagen. The grinding of the Humerus begins with each stroke of to and fro. Some blood catches my cheek, I hardly notice. Fiber begins to chisel beneath the silver fangs. I started to laugh at the irony of my own arm getting tired. The floor is coated with skeletal splinters, bundles of hair, and yellow globs of fatty marrow. After the final flux of pressure, her entire arm droops, dangles, and then flops to my feet. Grisly threads of torn muscle dangle around the pockmarked bone fragment. The muscle mass and loose skin flaps are folded down until it makes stump that is sealed up by more sutures. One down, I thought, one more to go.

XI. Rekindled flame

Mr. Jones, a neighbor who lived three houses down from us and was head of the Neighborhood Watch had taken it upon himself to deal with the feral cat and rodent infestation. Any animal trap you found along a fence or against a curb most likely belonged to him. The one I stole was hiding at the base of a tree at the park. I remember Mr. Jones and his long lecture at church threatening to find the criminal who stole his property. "Under God's roof, I will have justice!" He said with his raspy voice and tobacco stained teeth. I used the trap to capture cats, squirrels, and rodents, anything that was attracted to the food in our fridge.

I took the Rat Poison father kept in the cabinet and laced a special batch of food. Whatever I took to the junkyard that day had to eat every last bite. After checking for about five to six days, the small thing usually dropped dead. Then I would get to open it up just like Snowy. Eventually, I came to realize the wet blood made for a good medium to paint with. Father refused to buy me any paint supplies at the store since he found it too distracting for my studies. The iron made for a unique color, but sometimes stained too brown when I wanted red. A part of me was scared that God was going to punish me for stealing and lying, but I had hoped that a junkyard was too filthy for him to see anything. Families sometimes visited our home asking if we've seen their pet cat or family dog. After years of doing this, the excitement began to starve. A deep dismal sadness festered inside me as the drive I felt that one day floated off. Throughout school, the depression seasoned into self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

2007, the same year as the stem cell breakthrough, I left home for good and attended Geisel school of Medicine. I cut all contact with my family and sustained a job as a pharmacy cashier. Five months after I found a place to live, my father passed away from an untreated blood clot in his leg. I didn't attend the funeral; my sights were set on the future. I wanted a career in the medical field. Anatomy class was the first time I had ever seen a human cadaver. No words can possibly express the plateau of satisfaction I felt that day. The drive was living inside of me again, like a pulse that stopped years ago. Once I cut open my first, a true appreciation for humanity inhabited me. The impeccable system we harbor inside of our bodies is almost hypnotic.

I graduated with a major in Human Physiology and a minor in Sculpture. It was either that or Pre-medicine. My career started as a cosmetic surgeon for Foundation Surgery. That was where I met a lovely nurse named Julia Yolke. After a year of working with one another, I grew excessively fond of her company, to the point of swallowing my self-consciousness and asking her out. We dated the following four months in secret. Relationships at work were heavily frowned upon by the staff.

XII. Shedding Skin

I returned to the room with an awkward atmosphere from their private discussion.

She thanked me for the glass and brought it up to her lips while reading. Just before she took that one sip, her finger tapped on the section about Dermal Fillers. "Can we talk about this?"

I eyed the glass she held loosely in her grip. "With this, we can focus more on jaw line definition and restore some volume to your face. The filler injection will be able to puff out the depression on both cheeks. Is that what you are looking for?"

Her fingers bobbed on the glass. "My struggle is competing with the other dancers who are a lot more talented and gorgeous than I am. It would be nice to feel like I am on par with them." She pauses for another awkward chuckle and drank some tea. "I'm sorry to bore you with pointless detail. Yes, I'd like that for now anyway, I want to take this slow..."

I couldn't keep from smiling at her with raised eyebrows. "Bore me? You have to be joking. Learning about these small facts that compose you only strengthens our trust, right?"

She let her eyes sink to the floor and smiled. "I could have my own show from all the mistakes I've made, but I can say with pure confidence that I love entertaining. The feeling of making someone desire me and feeling weightless on that stage has kept me waking up every morning. It would be nice to not spend every day wanting to shed my skin for a new body, you know?"

My pulse started to increase dramatically. "In this profession, I can certainly make that dream come true. Shall we get started?"

XIII. The Stillborn

Sweat is wiped from my brows. Not of nervousness, but from the addictive effects of jubilation. One hand lifts her ankle while the other uses the Listen Knife and to open a cleft in the back of her heel. The blade does not have far to travel in order to find a thick cord within the calf muscle. It feeds on the Achilles' tendon and snaps it in half like a leather belt. The same band of tissue is also severed in her other ankle.

My focus returns to the empty eye socket as we remove the stained bandage. I reach my fingers into a container of gemstones, all different sizes. Each individual sphere has four platinum pegs drilled in their front with four more lined on the opposite side. I pluck out the first stone, no; the measurements are too small. Then a second one, yes; it is the perfect size, about twenty-one millimeters. Its encasing colored glass is a mixture of green, yellow, and blue spirals. The makeshift prosthetic is inserted into the vacant eye socket. Once inside, the gem is twisted clockwise. Its several pegs dig into the grooves of the bone, straddling it and keeping the replacement orb stationary. There is a little more blood, not enough to be concerned. After the speculum is collapsed, her eyelid forms a deceptive bulge from the stone, almost unable to close entirely.

Then I heard a sound, a nightmarish sound for all surgeons. The fluctuation lines on the electrocardiogram had fallen horizontal, screaming a high pitched tone. No pulse. With my hands on top of each other, I compress into her chest thirty times in a row. No Pulse. The line remains stationary with that insufferable lasting signal. She can't die here, not yet, not this way. The nativity must be complete before her life is taken by my hand. I'm not finished with you yet. I tilt her head back and pinch her nose as I blow into her mouth and down her throat. Ten minutes of CPR, no changes or signs of life, I finally realize she has left my work unfinished.

It's over, all the blood and sweat that we have shed together have lead to this imperfection. Things like this were not meant to happen to artists. My vision turns bleary as the tray of instruments is thrown and smashed into the wall. Metal and plastic shrapnel are propelled across the floor. I scream in her corpse eyes with that blank meaningless look. Could this be how a God feels when a child dies? A child they made from a piece of clay and bled life into? Have I lost my touch for these projects? Has too much time passed since the last? Somewhere in my shattered thoughts, a voice of sanity manifested. Calm down, the serpent spoke. Control yourself. This isn't over yet. I was on the floor now. My thumb and finger were pinching the dorsum on my nose and kneading the bags beneath my eyes. Yes, there was hope somewhere in this unjust world.

My tray is recovered from the floor and filled with brushes and plastic containers of body paint. The brush strokes over the pores on her skin with a thick white substance. Every region and every cranny of her is coated in a thin decorative casing. It looks as though every ounce of blood had been siphoned out of her. I create a network of black diamond scales that overlay across the white streaks. Together they form a web that envelopes her entire body. The remaining urine in her bladder empties itself and forms a pellucid puddle between her legs. I wipe it away with a cloth and toss it in the disposable container. Once the body paint is dry enough, I twist her around and mirror the details down her spine. There is no solid waste, not yet anyway. Curved theatrical snake fangs are glued to both sets of her canine teeth. One contact lens of a white reptilian eye is suctioned over the surface of her remaining glassy eye. Then like a couple on their honeymoon, we leave the room together with her in my arms. Her neck hangs back like a sleeve and her feet bob through the air. I am an abysmal parent holding a stillborn.

XIV.Dream God

It was one night that I experienced a paradigm shift so unforeseen, it could potentially drive you mad. I dreamt that a God visited me. It resembled a gorgeous elk with tan landscapes of rich fur and sky-scraping antlers. Just the sight of those unfathomable branching towers drenched my pillow in tears. It spoke to me in a deeply potent voice. I was issued a command to create a terrestrial body for it to be birthed and then sacrificed as an offering. The first night I passed it off as a beautiful dream. But after that night, it kept on returning to me, issuing the same command. I was convinced I had made contact with a being from another realm. Some sort of Nexus that links to our innermost thoughts and desires. It contacted me, it needed me. The principles of this world changed drastically. There isn't only one God watching us, there are many. And I was worthy to serve them. But how was I to create an earthly body for this deity? Yes, I had the perfect person in mind, someone who deserved this incomparable gift.

It took a week to gather all the supplies I needed for the oblation. That night I drugged Julia's wine before dinner and took her to the basement. The procedure took six, maybe seven hours, but I succeeded. She was beautiful; truly the doppelganger of this immortal being. As much as it pained me; while it was my responsibility to create this flawless vessel, it was also my duty to take it away. I kissed her forehead and slit her throat. Her things were burned away at the fireplace and the body was divided and buried in different locations. After that night, the elk never tread my dreams again.

Several weeks passed by after her disappearance. I left my job and moved away to Vermont, Bennington with a new name and clear slate. I landed a job as a keeper in the Southwestern Vermont Medical center, where I became associated with David Henley. Although he was fired after his first month of working there, we established a friendship with one another. He gave me an interest toward the night community, saying I could make some tax-free revenue performing at-home cosmetic procedures. Our relationship became symbiotic after that point. As long as I supplied him enough prescriptions for his heroin addiction, he provided me patients who were in need of inexpensive help. A few months after that, I was visited by another God...

XV. Nativity Scene

"You seem a little queasy, are you alright?" I asked her as I prepared the syringe of soft tissue filler.

She exhaled a sigh and massaged two fingers against her temple. "Yes, Yes, It has to be the nervousness catching up to me. I just feel a little lightheaded."

"It's alright, I understand. It isn't uncommon for my first-time patients to experience some cold feet." My hand runs along the stitching of her leg. "There is nothing to be worried about; I've done this plenty of times."

"Linda," Kathleen's interjecting voice rose. Her narrowed eyes were marking the placement of my hands with an accusation of cynicism. "I think we should get some fresh air, it might help." Linda leaned against her and agreed.

I watched through furrowed brows as they both stood up. My hands gripped the Scalpel's handle that was buried in my pocket. Linda leaned into Kathleen for support as one of her legs fell weaker. The moment they pirouetted towards the door, I flew from my chair and hooked my dominant arm around Kathleen's neck. Linda fell to the ground incapacitated and out of the way. Kathleen's elbow jabbed into my gut. My left foot stepped into Linda's palsied leg. I exerted pressure from my biceps to constrict her jugular. "It's okay," I whispered in her ear. The Scalpel was pulled from my pocket and pressed against her cheek. "It's okay, just let go." Her nails pierced through the sleeve and dug into my skin. She kicked at my table and clattered the mug on the floor. Her resistance slackened and her face flushed over. When she finally blacked out, I released my hold and left her unconscious on the sofa. There would be marks on her neck, no doubt. A thin trail of blood lined her cheek from the blade.

My heart palpitations vibrated through my chest and soared up to my Adam's apple. Had the wall not been there for support, I'd have been on the ground breathing madly. This familiar light headed pleasure that I had been possessed with before. It was as though the Serpent's coils had begun to constrict around my brain. I was being consumed again, devoured by this surreal pleasure.

"The hour has come again, like a thief in the night." The serpent's voice calls, "The hour of my nativity"

XVI. Marcel's Retribution

In the next room, there is a large white sheet that lines the wall and drapes over the floor. Audiences of shop lamps all illuminate the white fabric. It is here in my studio where my accomplishments are framed. Each of my projects is brought here to capture the true essence of their beauty. It is a necessary process, like a collection of trophies to remind you of life's purpose. As though Linda was alive, I softly place her on the studio floor. With a camera in hand, I move around her and begin the photo shoot of her naked serpentine body.

My knee tilts to the floor. Yes, hold that angle; perfect, look at me with both eyes, please. I wish I could tell her. My thumb scrunches up the top of her lid to reveal the gemstone. A little clear tape is enough to hold it open. My fingers tug out the swollen forked tongue between her pale lips. Another perfect pose captured. Thirty minutes pass of our shoot together. The anxious aspiration that I can feel blistering in my chest grows worse by the second like a malignant disease. She is a stillbirth, but perhaps a god can still inhabit her? One can only pray about it. This situation was unprecedented. If everything had gone according to the plan, I would have slit her throat right now thanked her for the selfless sacrifice. The same way I thanked them all.

Her body is taken to the final room of our venture. A place I've come to call Bon Voyage, since it is where empty vessels are dissipated. Her body here is dismembered into smaller pieces, like a deconstructed puzzle. Steam rises from a large vat of Lye I had preemptively heated up to three hundred degrees. Piece by piece, the flesh and tissue are dropped into the seething liquid where it will be digested away and more closely resembling a foul coffee after the next several hours. It reminds me of chamomile tea.

My time with Linda Wilcox had reached its climax. What if it didn't work? I've never let down a God before, were there repercussions? There had to be some form of forgiveness. Then I realized my perplexity had caused me to forget a crucial detail. Kathleen Garde, the friend who joined her for support. Yes, she was the perfect opportunity for retribution. Through the Serpent God's grace, she was being held in the prep room until I decided what to do with her. We'll perform the same operation, just to be safe, just to be sure. We'll fix that cut on her cheek and grant her this beauty too. Only this time I will not let my pleasures distract me, there will not be another miscarriage.

I approach the colorless door to the prep room, where patients are readied for surgery. Perched next to the door is a silver bin stuffed with both Linda and Kathleen's clothes, waiting to become ashes in the furnace. The lever and catch are released as I hoist the door open. My shadow crawls up the wall from the hallway light in the otherwise pitch black room. I click a switch that brings a flickering, yet suitable row of lights to life. Bulbs most likely need to be switched out later. The room is practically empty, save for a few folded blankets, a chamber pot, and a silhouette curled up in the corner.

Kathleen's face is buried into the wall's curve with the rest of her body shrinking into herself. Both of her wrists and ankles are restrained by tight plastic straps. Facing me is her bare back that doesn't seem to be shaking or shivering. At this point, patients are typically screaming or sobbing gibberish. "Kathleen," My voice reverberates off the walls. She doesn't flinch or answer back. My hands disclose a syringe filled with a clear, yellow-tinged fluid. Just a slight dose of Midazolam is enough to coax any patient before the anesthesia. "You're going to feel a slight sting." I grip one of her arms and prepare to slide the sterile needle into a vein.

The lights flicker again. Something moves swiftly in my peripheral. A powerful pressure builds in the side of my neck as my collar start turning red. I can see those two animalistic eyes glaring wildly at me with her hand squeezing a scalpel protruding from my neck. "So are you, fucking psycho." She hisses.

I try to speak, but all I can taste is copper. My legs give out and fall back to the floor. She violently yanks the blade from my neck and cuts the straps around her ankles. The pressure was swelling into a burning pain that makes me spurt mouthfuls of blood. I force out a gagging wheeze as the pain becomes an unbearable fire. I can hear the door slam and the muffled cry of Kathleen screaming for Linda down the hallway. Won't find her, she's become art now. Yes, she'll find the upstairs and escape. Then the authorities will come in droves to witness everything I have done. They'll call my creations abhorrent and monstrous abominations. But will they be enlightened? It's doubted, but just maybe.

Breathing becomes impossible from swallowing clumps of blood, like forcing down battery fluid. Can't breathe, drowning. My lungs are on fire. The world around me is getting too blurry to see, almost like grain from an old film. A dreamlike cloudiness starts to prod my nerves with cold needles. I splutter an incoherent apology to the Gods as my throat swells. The darkness is moving closer, hungry for the remnants of life in my eyes. As it encases me, one thought manages to escape before the crippling silence; I wonder who will bare my nativity?