I know I shouldn’t finish it, but I sign the letter “love, Cora” and place it into the red envelope. I know I need to get over her, yet every time I wake up alone in my bed, I remain hollow without Elizabeth.
I stare past the faint glow of candlelight, my clarity of vision becoming lost as thoughts melt down my mind like wax. The thoughts continue dripping down the ridges of my spine into an aubergine pool of liquid onto my nightstand. The grandfather clock downstairs chimes five times and slices through the silence of my house. I cling to the familiarity of partial darkness until my hollowness escapes me momentarily. The sun creeps behind the long dusty curtains that envelope my room in solitude, and I pull them tightly together, sighing. It bothers me when the earth turns its back around to face the sun.
I blow out the candle, wondering how it's smoke appears gray. I suppose the water and carbon dioxide in the air produces the white cloud that hovers above my head. I run my cold fingers through the cloud as it slowly disappears into air. I envy it's effortless nature to vanish.
On the stairs, each step creaks as if warning me to stop thinking about Elizabeth. I wonder when she’ll realize I still love her. Her portrait hangs above my head as I descend the staircase and her eyes follow me into the foyer. In a state of panic, I turn around to see her eyes remain still. A deep sigh escapes my lips. I set the letter down on the foyer table and make my way into the kitchen.
My empty stomach shrivels in pain while I search for salted vegetables. Inside the cupboard the vegetables look almost entirely black. Blacker than how I imagine hell feels. Only one jar of carrots remains pure, for now. I open an infected carrots jar, allowing the sulfuric odor to permeate throughout the air. The stench reminds me of my second home at the morgue. In the dim light, I extract the black carrot with my handkerchief for inspection until I hear a knock on my door.
Lizzie? Have you come back to me? I’m sorry. I can’t do anything right, except for loving you. My body feels so lonely without yours beside mine. Sometimes I feel your fragile hand cling to my fingers.
I wrap the carrot in a cloth later for examination and peer out the window. Victoria, Elizabeth’s sister, waits outside the door. I unlatch the many locks covering the door and she smiles as she enters my house.
“How are you, Cora?” Victoria asks.
She extends her arms for an embrace. Being held feels good.
“I’m doing alright,” I explain.
“And How are you?”
Victoria’s nails reek of the recent outbreak of Crow’s Feet Fungus. As we sit at the dining room table, the nervous shaking of her hand causes the candles lit on the table to flicker in a frenzy.
“We’re doing our best,” Victoria confesses, and her voice cracks like bone.
“I know, I have something for you,” I explain.
I walk into the kitchen and find the one pure jar of vegetables.
I suppose I don’t know why science kills. Maybe God is real. Maybe God is dead. I don’t want to sit here because I know it’ll take me hours in the lab before I assure her that she’ll be okay. I stare at Victoria’s fungus infected skin and think of the insanity of a disgusting eukaryotic organism as it attacks the body. First, the spores consume skin with its obsidian color. Then, it reaches the lungs and burns away the capillaries on the alveoli. This makes it harder to speak, and then harder to breathe. As the fungus travels past the lining of the stomach, it moves to the small intestine, the large intestine, the kidneys, and the liver. Food becomes impossible to digest. The proteins once produced by the body become inhibited by the fungal pathways created. As the fungus enters through the muscles, it eats away at the nerves, preventing motor function. This is when the blood darkens. Finally it reaches the brain, and builds a wall between the brain hemispheres. As a result, the left and right hemispheres no longer coexist. The occipital, frontal, and parietal lobes stop functioning, and sight is the first to go. Then personality. Then hearing. Then feeling. Then being. A disease doesn’t care about anything except for death. Maybe that’s why it fascinates me so much...I never wanted to know the answers about God until now.
I set the jar down in front of them.
“Oh, Corrine, no.”
Victoria shakes her head. Her long stringy brown hair reminds me of dirt. I force eye contact despite her violet eyes.
I explain, “It’s yours.”
“You need it more than us. I know Elizabeth leaving made you stop eating….”
The thought of someone else saying Elizabeth’s name makes me want to run away from the village, even if it’s her own sister. Victoria gazes into my eyes. I hate how someone else’s eyes make me kill the love inside of me.
“That’s just alright, I’ve gotten better. I’ve been testing the Crow’s Feet Fungus in the lab with Corky. Elizabeth...” I pause, and exhale deeply.
“Elizabeth would want you to be healthy, and so do I,” I insist.
I’m the one who's supposed to end suffering. Except I’m far from holy, and every time I try to hammer myself to a cross, I forget where I put the nails.
“Thank you,” She says, as she extends her hand out to touch mine.
“Of course,” I reply.
I hold onto her cold hand. Her skin looks grey. I ignore it. We sit here in loud silence and pretend they won’t be dead in a matter of hours or days.
* * *
“First, you’ll need these.”
Corky holds a gas mask, a black work suit, and gloves.
I slip on the work suit, gloves, and secure the gas mask.
I’m not sure why I agreed to help him preserve the dead that died from the fungus. It’s a nice change from the regular routine of observing fungi from infected vegetables under microscopes.
“And here,” he says.
He holds a laboratory coat with his name, “Professor Corky B. Roll,” stitched onto the side.
“I want you to have this. You’ve been the most hard working apprentice I’ve had in all of my years of teaching.”
I stare at the jacket.
“Corky, are you sure?” I ask.
Corky examines me. He knows I’m always stuck in my mind. He gives me that face like I should snap out of it, as if I’m some sort of doll that can just replace its head with a new one. It’s not his fault though, that he fails to understand. He never lost anyone. He still has that childish wonder about life. And that part of me, well that died when she left me.
“You’re always too modest. You deserve this,” he explains.
“Thank you, Corky.”
I retrieve the laboratory coat and wear it over my suit. Except I feel like we haven’t made any progress. People still die. And God never cares.
“You don’t look too excited for someone who’s about to learn one of the most upcoming scientific practices to date.”
“You know I’m always happy to take apart someone’s head after they die,” I reply with something that resembles a smile.
He laughs and says, “In all seriousness, this can help us understand the human body better. Maybe it will help us develop a vaccine for the fungus. Even if it doesn’t, we can study the mechanisms of the brain, the organs, and the nervous system.”
He uncovers the sheet placed on the dead body. The dead don’t bother me. It’s where they go after they die that scares me the most.
The candles lit in the morgue remind me of how I want to burn my sadness. The problem with burning sadness is that I always hold onto the ashes, and my hands remain covered in the dust of the past.
“We’re going to extract the fungus inside of the brain first. Why don’t you make the first incision.”
The tray of sterile instruments with all of their shiny glare reminds me I can take apart any part of this body with just the cut of a scalpel.
I slice into the flesh. Black liquid seeps out of the cranium. It spills onto the floor like holy water. Saturating my suit, the darkened blood causes the scalpel to slip out of my gloved hands.
I pick up the scalpel and place it on the other table. I retrieve a new one and hold it above the cadaver.
“Take a moment, the sight of blood can make some queasy. You’ll get used to it though.”
“The sight of blood?” I ask.
The instrument slips a little in my hand, but I catch it before it falls.
“Yes, the sight of blood,” He exclaims.
I glance back down at my hands and see the black liquid and furrow my brow in confusion. Take a deep breath, I tell myself. It’s not real.
I slice into the flesh again. More black liquid spews out and the smell of rotten eggs enters through my gas mask.
I listen to Corky as he tells me how to take apart a dead person’s head. I stare at the black pools on the ground as I pray to a God I never believed in.
* * *
Inside my room, I stare at the letter. The candle I lit smells of nightshade, but the stench of rotting wallpaper remains. I blow out the flame and admire the smoke until I wander down the stairs.
I meet eyes with Elizabeth’s portrait again. Except her eyes disapprove of me as though I’m a child who’s done something wrong, and I must forgive her immediately. I turn my back to her.
“Don’t go,” She whispers.
As I slowly turn around, her voice sounds like the core of a peach as it collapses in on itself with one mouthful with all of its juice dripping down my cold fingers.
“Elizabeth?” I ask.
My grasp loosens on the staircase. The void of loneliness and its darkness eats away at my house until I turn into mutations of myself.
“Lizzie?” I cry out.
Reaching my arms out, I search for her, because I need her. She never answers me when I speak her name, but I know she can hear me, somehow. I clench my hands together and the palms remain doused with perspiration as I think of her beautiful laugh. Our laughs collided much how our lips used to touch.
I sit down on the steps to wipe the sweat away. I examine my veins and the novocaine that flows through them as I make myself immune of feelings, except every time I try to numb my brain, I think of her. I remember how her finger would trace over my wrist, following the veins, as if they created a map that opened up my heart like the ocean.
I exhale deeply and descend the stairs until I pass by the foyer mirror. The frown I wear makes me wonder the last time I smiled. The day before Elizabeth left. That was the last time my eyes creased and I felt my ribs full of white sunshine. I force a smile in my reflection, but I don’t find one within me. I wonder when I’ll resemble something other than a corpse because after years, unhappiness hugs my bones much how our limbs intertwined together.
I remove the mirror, and turn it around. She wouldn’t want me unhappy. I know it.
In the foyer, I peer out the curtain and watch villagers pass by my house with their footsteps that echo in the muck and rocks of the dirt road. Some of them wear sewn masks over their faces because of the infection and some expose their faces, but regardless, their bodies morph into each other.
The final passerby disappears from my view. Now, I can make my way down the dirt road in solitude. I feel like she watches me wherever I go, as if she is God. And if she is God, I don’t know what I am.
“Look, we can get that for our dinner!” a boy shouts.
Two young boys stand in their yard and stare at the black furry creature that sits in the dirt road. Its eyes reach mine, and I finally register it’s a cat. I nearly forgot the village has stray cats.
It’s all black, except for its ears which are colored alabaster. I stare at the cat until it turns around, because I need to know it’s not Elizabeth’s cat. It can’t be her cat.
I remember how we’d sit in one of the colorless rooms in my house and her cat, Aster, would sit on her lap as it purred softly. Elizabeth smiled, and she held my hand. In that moment, her soul touched mine, one that reminded me of crystallized honey and sunflowers.
The boys run into the road.
The taller one remarks, “Now mother can finally eat something!”
The cat's emerald eyes stare at me.
“Run away,” I whisper.
I walk over slowly, and I whisper for it to leave again. Except it won’t listen to me. It just sits there, as if it waits for death. And so, I watch the cat’s face and it watches mine as the boys bring it inside their front door marked with a red cross.
I release my grasp on the letter and remove it from my pocket. All of the edges are bent.
“No,” I whisper.
With the envelope sandwiched between my hands, I flatten out the edges. I won’t have her receive a ruined letter. I always promised her that my letter would be perfect.
* * *
“And heaven lord, be thy name,” preaches the father.
The father stands on the stage, with the bible shaking in his veiny hand. His sermons speak of the sin he continues to commit, but never admits.
About fifty cats and dogs remain in cages on the stage. I wonder how the animals feel as they look out to see all of the villagers observe their time of death.
“With God as our witness, we must rid ourselves of the fiends that carry around the infection!” the Priest shouts.
Corky and I stand by the side of the crowd, next to the perimeter of Nester Farm’s cornfields. Corky shakes his head as we watch the Priest pour gasoline all over the animals. They cry out. All of this doesn’t matter. What matters is Elizabeth. What matters is finding her.
I turn back to distract myself with the cornfields. Stuck in between two fallen corn stalks, a woman lies on the ground. I squint and walk over to her.
“Always ditch the sermon,” Corky whispers, as he smirks.
“I’m not ditching. There’s someone in the corn field.”
“Where?” He asks. His eyes search for the woman.
I nod my head toward the left corner of the stalks.
“Well, go on,” He urges, his eyes wide full of curiosity.
I step closer to the edge, and the woman’s violet eyes remain open. My eyes widen as I recognize her face. It’s Victoria. I put my fingers to her wrist. No pulse.
The smell of burnt flesh still makes me choke even though I should be immune to it. The smoke rises from the stage as all of the villagers stare blankly at the carcasses on the stage. If I opened up all the villager’s brains in the morgue, what would I find? Would they feel anything if I shook their insides and poked at their amygdala? Would they tell me how it really feels to live like the dead every single day? But that wouldn’t make sense, because there are no nerves in the brain anyways. They wouldn’t feel anything even if I cut their brains in half with a pair of rusted scissors.
Corky limps over, and surveys Victoria’s dead body. I take out my handkerchief and place it over her face as I start to cry. Except there’s no time to grieve. There never is.
Corky puts his hand on my shoulder and says, “I’m sorry, Corrine.”
I know mothers never give birth for their babies to feel like walking skeletons, yet that’s all I feel.
Victoria rests there in the stalks, her limbs spread out, resembling a puppet. I stare at her open eyes and their purple color. Her face, covered in the fungus, smells of sulfuric acid and prompts me to cover my mouth with my hand. As I stare at her lips, they move upwards in a rag doll smile which reveals black teeth and gums. I know that smile, and it’s not Victoria’s. It’s Elizabeth’s!
I shake the corpse-puppet thing awake, and I understand why physicians tell mothers not to shake their babies. It’s not good for their brain, as it moves and disrupts the neural connections. Their brain actually moves inside of the cranium. When that happens, it causes swelling and internal bleeding. Except she’s not awake, and I need her to be. She needs to read my letter so I know she’ll forgive me for startling her once she awakens.
“Corinne, Victoria is dead,” Corky says. Except it’s not Victoria. It’s Elizabeth.
I hear him but I don’t care. He doesn’t understand just how much I truly love Elizabeth. I’d do anything for her. I’d even kill.
I take off my jacket and wrap it around her body to keep her warm.
“We can’t let her just die.”
“Corrine, people are looking.”
I prop her up beside the sign for Nester Farm. Her head falls down as though she’s ready for burial. But I hold her head up with my hands.
“Wake up, wake up!”
Corky stares at me, and then looks behind me.
I stand up, in a daze, and a few villagers watch me as I enter the state of insanity.
“But we can’t leave her here,” I profess.
“I have an idea,” Corky suggests, as he stares at Victoria’s corpse.
His eyes shine with a little bit of madness which I is why we understand each other, but what does anyone do with a dead body except for bury it, anyways?
* * *
The towering gate signals I’m close to her, so I extract the card in my pocket. I hold it tightly in my hand. The lake beside the grass remains vacant with darkness and the evening light reaches the fog hovering over its reflective surface. I want to know how deep the water is. I could just walk into it right now. Maybe if I sink deep down, I will die less.
I sit down at stare at the headstone with ELIZABETH AVIS spelled out. It’s a small headstone, but as nice as a headstone her parents allowed the villagers to remember her by. I place the letter on top of the others. Yesterday's rain soaked them in eternal sadness, but I still hope she reads them from below.
I walk over to the rose bush. Observing their petals, I run my hand through my hair, as my eyes search for the rose that remains untouched by the infectious fungus. I find one single rose, and its vibrant color appears artificial to the barren graveyard it grows in. I snap it off the bush. The stem breaks and for a moment, I feel like I should have left it there, and let it enjoy its existence before the blackness took over. I sigh, and shake my head in the foolish thought.
The sweet, intoxicating aroma of the rose enters my nose, much how she made me drunk every time she touched me. I feel her warm breath on my neck. Her lips on my lips remind me of the warmest shade of blue. Her kisses always left behind an invisible stain of her love on my skin.
The letter falls onto the grass as I turn around and she’s gone. The fog slithers in between headstones and the sun retreats behind the lake, scared of the night. And I think of how the sun and I are both scared of something. But at least the sun knows their fears.
I think of her cold, lonely bones as they rest inside a wooden coffin. All of those worms touch her body and eat at her indigo eyes. I despise all of those worms, for they use and leave her for nothing. I wonder if her skin falls off like layers of garlic that people use to convince themselves vampires will stay away from their families. I wonder if her soul, a part of it, lives inside her melted brain. I wonder when all of those memories stuck inside her might speak to me once again.
My gaze now focuses on the pure rose in hand. I watch the thorns rip away at my palms and fingers. Blood flows down my hands, drips onto the grass, and soaks into the earth below. Warm tears drip down to soak rose petals in my everlasting misery. I know I should remove the thorns from my skin, but pain feels good. Maybe I deserve the pain in God’s eyes.
I touch the soil below, because this is the only way I stay close to her. Except I’m wrong about that.
It Never Ends
* * *
I stop fidgeting with my wristwatch. I look at the syringes resting on Corky’s desk. All of them contain pathogens to reverse the effects of Crow’s Feet Fungus which we still cannot determine the primary cause of. Some are colored purple, some are blue, and some are yellowish-green, but I should make a new pathogen to reverse all of the emotion in me.
Corky walks over to me and says, “She’s ready to be seen.”
I touch my watch and consider telling him no. I can’t see her like that. But I know I won’t forgive myself if I never see her.
He walks over, and rests one arm on his cane and the other rests over my shoulder. His face frowns and his eyes apologize for something no one can control.
I stare at the creatures inside jars. That’s how she must feel. Stuck inside formaldehyde when she should be stuck in my arms instead. Her embraces always reminded me of the sound of a piano with all its keys as they broke me into pieces when my tired head rested on her chest. That’s when I wanted to dance, forever with her, in the ballroom of my beating sapphire heart.
“Corrine,” He says, delicately.
I look down at my feet. I know I should go see her.
“We have to go before the Priest comes.”
I nod and I remind myself that walking isn’t hard.
We walk down the corridors, and the dirt all over the floor adds a sense of wonderful character inside this makeshift infirmary. That, along with the candle-less chandeliers above. Corky leads the way with his kerosene lamp.
He opens up the door. I see her body. She doesn’t smell as dead as I expected. I stare at her and all of the black fungus that ruins her beautiful face. I ask myself: what have I done to make God hate me?
House of Glowing Misery
* * *
“You have to really put your back into it...my spine is acting up again.”
Corky rests on the side of the mausoleum and records notes in his journal. The moonlight strikes down on the homes of the dead. I feel at home beside them.
“Don’t worry, I got it,” I offer.
I stare at the pile of soiled envelopes, and as the shovel hits the ground, I wonder if this is what it’s like to be God. Bringing back a corpse, has never been easier! I see the future advertisement as if it were like buying a new toothbrush.
A loud clunk reverberates as it echoes throughout the midnight air.
Corky lowers himself into the earth with a sense of curious elation.
Eagerly, he offers, “Let’s open it up.”
We lift open the coffin. The putrid odor of your lover’s decaying corpse is something I never thought I’d have the privilege of experiencing.
I drop the shovel. There must be a thousand worms that squirm inside her mouth, eyes and ears. The purple eyes I looked into every morning to say “I love you,” now colored with vacant darkness and all I want is to see her eyes full of love. The creatures of the earth take her body parts, one by one.
I turn around and throw up. I’m shaking like I’ve never been shaken before, and I climb out from the room in the ground where her body rests.
“Here,” Corky suggests, as he hands me his handkerchief.
He looks at me like a lost cat looks at a stranger. I stare out at the lake and wonder when I can open up my heart like the ocean again or if I should just rip it out and replace it with one of the hearts we regenerated.
I wipe the tears before Corky or the night witnesses my pathetic sadness. I try to breathe a little slower. Send more oxygen to the brain. It’s logical. Nothing is wrong.
I grasp the handkerchief in hand. I notice it's Elizabeth’s. I shake my head. Shoving the handkerchief in my coat pocket, I convince myself it’s all in my head. It’s just the sight of a corpse, a traumatic sight indeed, that would make anyone go a little neurotic sometimes.
Corky pulls out the needle from his lab pocket and holds it in his palm.
I grab it from him.
“This is the time to stop if you wish. You must be sure,” He instructs.
The night remains still, except for a few Ravens crying out above us.
I look down at her corpse.
We lower ourselves into the ground once again.
I hold the needle tightly. It trembles in my hand. Crouching down beside her corpse, I hold my breath. I tell myself, this is just another night at the morgue. Prepare the syringe. Inject the needle. Wait for results.
I inject the purple substance into the abductor pollicis longus, the last remains of her calcified arm, but her body feels like the coals leftover from the burning of her soul. I rest my gloved hands over her decaying arm, and it feels forbidden, wrong, as if I stole all of the apples in the garden of Eden. But her flesh is a part of me and God can’t argue with that.
Too Many Saviors
I stand over her corpse. I wait for the substance to work.
Like a liquified creature, the juices of her corpse form into layers, and piece together to form skin, eyes, lips, all of the parts that the villagers think make them human. The maggots, worms and creatures that feast on her remains now shrivel into the dirt below our feet. A stinging, piercing scream of something unspeakable, of something deformed and terribly strange, rises from her lungs as I fall back into the dirt wall and ask myself: is this a gift from Heaven dressed in something belonging to Hell?
“Elizabeth” I whisper, with my mouth agape.
She is exactly how I remembered her. Her silk dark brown hair I’ve wanted to touch, is now fully grown back. The delicate, rose petal lips I’ve thought about kissing, I can kiss again. The pallor slowly returns to her skin. The image of my love now replaces the memories that scream inside of my brain. Even the purple dress I clothed her in for the burial forms before my eyes. I feel my breath quicken, and it reminds me of when she and I first met. Except my breath pauses and my mouth remains agape because her once violet eyes now remain a frozen blue.
I grasp onto her hand, but it still remains cold, like her eyes. I look into them and it feels as though I stand on a lake in the winter and I’m about to fall in. But I’m not ready for the surface to break, not until the love from her soul radiates my bones.
I find the syringe and place it in a hazard bag inside my pocket.
“Oh my,” Corky exclaims as he scribbles something down in his notebook.
“Elizabeth? It’s me, Corrine,” I whisper, with layers of excitement underneath my tongue.
She looks at the moon, at Corky, then back at me. She lifts herself up from the casket and I have never seen someone so beautiful before. I feel the sunshine enter my lungs, and I want it in my ribs. I want it to infect me.
She says, “Who are you? And who is Elizabeth?”
“You don’t remember?” I ask. I clench my hands together and nearly laugh at myself. As if the dead remember the living!
Elizabeth’s brow furrows. She replies, “I’m afraid we’ve never met.”
The sunshine that glows inside my lungs now burns. It lights me up how witches nailed to crosses burn in a Puritan town. Except I’m the cross and the witch.
I hold onto the drug in my pocket and think, it would be so easy: to forget. There’s still some serum left inside the syringe. We could be strangers. We could start all over again. Except then I wouldn’t remember all of the love we have. I take my hand out of my pocket and step towards her.
“Why am I in a grave?” She asks.
She wipes away the dirt on her dress. The way her hair moves so softly in the wind with its curls reminds me of ocean waves.
“Astonishing…” Corky whispers.
“What’s so astonishing? And you are you two?” She asks.
She scans the graveyard in search of something. But she doesn’t need to search. I’m right here. She just needs to see me.
Corky and I exchange glances. I suppose we failed to plan for what happens after you bring your lover back to life but they have retrograde amnesia.
“I’m Corrine, and that’s Corky. We were just walking through here, and saw someone must have dug up a grave because we noticed the shovel,” I pause, and stare at her eyes. They should be indigo purple. Not grey blue.
Corky offers, “And we were worried that someone disturbed the dead, but we just saw you asleep in a grave instead. We thought you were dead..but fortunately that’s not the case.”
“Here, let’s all get out of this grave, it’s awfully dark down here,” I exclaim.
I offer my hand and she hoists herself up onto the grass. Her skin, it feels even softer than I remembered, like the silk feathers of a Raven.
“And who are you?” Corky asks. Funny how he asks this even though it’s her.
“I--I’m…” She looks up at Corky, and then back at me.
Her bitter eyes now overflow with water as she stutters, “I’m, I--I don’t know.”
In my head, I tell her: I’m right here, Lizzie. As I stare at her, I realize I can’t do anything right. What’s the point if she doesn’t feel anything for me? It’s as if I’m talking to the Virgin Mary in her white glow, except her face remains a mask, and she just peeled it off and God is laughing hysterically at me underneath.
She turns around and looks back at the towering gate that touches the sky. The way she moves, a dancer stuck in retrograde, makes me wonder if the ghost of her still lives inside her empty brain.
I shove all of the letters in my pocket. Now, we can finally read them together.
“Well, can I call you Lizzie? Until you remember your real name, of course.”
Her eyes remind me of the corpses Corky and I experimented on as she contemplates my question. Lost. Desolate. Sterile. How could God erase her aubergine glow? They would sparkle every time she locked eyes with me, and it felt as if I just entered through a secret door made just for us. And her purple eyes contained something beyond me, and beyond earth, as if they were made from Jupiter’s methane oceans full of azurite and quartz dreams that awaited me before I dived in.
She pauses, as she calculates me and analyzes me. But I’m not a body stuck in the laboratory to dissect, so she better answer right because that was far from a question.
* * *
In the gloom of the laboratory, I rest Elizabeth’s head underneath a pillow, for the morgue table remains rigid.
Her breath sinks into her chest and rises serenely as I survey the metallic plate of instruments. I retrieve the syringe and prepare to drill into her skull. By altering the structure and emotions within the amygdala, I will surely bring her back to me. I can feel it within my black heart that this time, it will work. It must work.
Observing the solutions in the erlenmeyer flasks, I see my reflection obscured on the surface of the flask and the purple under my eyes makes me appear as though I’m stuck in rigor mortis.
Beside Elizabeth rests Aster in a deep sleep. I doused Aster in hydrochloride. With the majority of his body already regenerated, there are only a few more hours until he fully grows back. We can all be a happy family, Elizabeth, Aster and I, once this is all over.
Aster’s head is merely a cat’s skull with purple eyes protruding in the sockets. I record notes on his state during the regeneration process and the letters turn into incoherent scribbles. Exhaling deeply, I remind myself I must note the process with obsessive organization, like any scientist who wishes to conduct such complex experiments.
I stare at Elizabeth’s face, and her eyes remain open. For it is unusual, but possible for those in an unconscious state to leave their eyes exposed to the air. Her eyes begin to taunt me. They tell me, you will never feel her love. Boiling tears drip down my face at the thought of her never loving me again but the mask prevents me from wiping them away. The breath within me wraps around my body, constricting my ribs, lungs, and brain until I feel myself lost even though she’s right here. Except it’s not her. It’s the ghost of her. But I can’t kiss her ghost. I can’t touch her ghost. I can’t miss her ghost. I can’t love her ghost.
My gaze leads to the Bills of Mortality that rests on the table beside me. And if all of this death means anything, then it must mean our love will remain alive amongst the souls that die. All of the late nights working on Crow’s Feet Fungus and all of the serums to bring her mind back mean nothing. Because I don’t know if I’ll ever feel our love again. Maybe it will be stuck in the limbo of my lungs for eternity because God despises me. But I despise myself too, because I can’t do anything right. I can’t save our love. I can’t even save the villagers.
In a terrible fit, I knock over the tray of instruments and they clank like chains on the cement floor. I find the journals, all twenty of them, and tear at the pages until they’re all dispersed on the floor. In a state of delirium, I remove the flasks from the burners, the liquid spilling over the counters profusely as I rush to burn the journal entries over open flames. I peel off the gloves and rip them in half before I dispose of them in the trash. I take off the gas mask and throw it on the ground and it crashes into the pile of metal instruments on the ground.
Only the sutures on the tray remain. They glisten, much like how Elizabeth’s aubergine eyes once gleamed. Breathing heavily over Aster’s eyes, I pick up the sutures and stare at the violet cat eyes. Because if Elizabeth can’t remember, well, I don’t care, but I at least need her eyes back. I can’t live without them.
I cut deep, and deeper around Aster’s newly formed eyes until I violently clamp down onto the nerve endings that connect the eyeball to the brain, and the blood drips down from Aster’s eyes. I grasp onto the eyeballs in my bare hands, with the bodily substances saturating my bare skin. The eyeballs smash together in my trembling hand, and I place them onto a tray. Running my hands through my hair, I stare deeper into the void of Elizabeth’s eyes, but I can’t take it anymore, so my fingers reach deep into her eye sockets. My nails tear and rip at her tissue, until I rip out her eyes, because if she’s going to be alive like this, she might as well be dead! All of the blood pours over me. It soaks me, except it’s cold, and slices at my face like harsh winter air. I hate her eyes, I hate them even more as I stare at them in the palms of my hand. I throw them onto the tray, for I can no longer stand the sight of their emptiness. The blood splatters over my mask and the laboratory coat.
I seize the cat’s eyeballs at once, for they almost slip from my fingers and I thrust them violently into her eye sockets. I begin to cry at once, my breath uneven and staggered, because if I’m hurting her, then I’m the Devil. And then a smile emerges from my lips, and I still feel the wet tears drench my face as I begin to laugh, hysterically, for ripping out the eyes of a cat and replacing them on a human is the most Godly act I have done in my life. Searching for a thread and needle, I knock over more instruments and bandages until I find a needle. I string the thread through the hole, and haphazardly tie her optic nerve endings together. I throw the needle on the ground, and laugh more until she gasps for air.
She whispers, “Hello, Corrine.”
And her new eyes glow in the cat-eye of an aubergine dream.
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