If only she could find the right words to thank him.
As he cuts into her thigh, she wants to say something, some small word of gratitude, but her tongue is gone and so she keeps quiet—utters not even a mumble as he continues his work. The scalpel shaves off small slivers of flesh and the sensation is electrifying, little jolts that flash through the drug-haze, and when it’s all over she stares down with dull curiosity at her legs, flayed to the bone. There is a detachment there in which she luxuriates.
They close the session and when she leans back and logs out, the disconnect between the pain that should have been there and her own joy is absolutely delicious. She fixes herself a cup of tea and remembers to tab his profile and friend him. He was an artist, that one, and she wants him all for herself—was she not a worthy canvas? It was her first time and, even though a small part of her knows it was fake, nonetheless she hums with excitement. A little note arrives in her inbox and when she reads it she sends out a quick reply:
It was a pleasure.
But a week passes before they can meet again. The meeting is held this time in a small industrial complex located south of the portal. They reset the instance and walk in holding hands. She’s dressed in a Latina template, lustrous skin and all exaggerated curves, and he’s all done up like a surgeon complete with a porcelain mask. It is completely blank, just a faceless white shell.
“Thank you for coming,” he says. “I dreamed of you.”
“About how you bled.”
She laughs, lies down on the concrete floor. Everything has a theatrical flavor to it.
“Anything in particular you’d like?”
“I’m at your mercy,” she whispers. The words sound so terribly pathetic; out of some cheap porn, maybe, and she wonders if this is where she should start letting out fake moans in tune with the buzz of the bone saw.
“I can bind you if you’d like.”
“I don’t need it.”
He shrugs. “As you wish.”
The blade cuts into her wrist and she squeals as the pain, so muted, nonetheless begins drumming in.
It is not the pain that she craves, of course. Some pain is good. But it’s the horror, at the mangling, the crippling, which she seeks.
She weeps as he removes her other hand. He moves down her body, settles a cold hand on her hips; he cuts in, rips through the joint, the right leg is flung away and she watches it bounce off the wall. It is like a mannequin’s limb, so rubbery and fake.
“There is nothing wrong with what we do,” he says, as he begins work on her breasts. The carving knife works easily through the fatty tissue.
“It’s not that,” she says as she sobs. “I’m happy right now.”
“So . . . tears of joy?”
“Something like that.” Then he digs in and removes her ribs one by one.
She screams as he plucks each one out of her and the horror is so acute she can taste the ache of it in the back of her mouth. Like needles scraping against her tongue, metallic and bloody, and as he moves down to her crotch with a nail-gun in hand, a small part of her moans with terror at all the savage things to come, even as another part laughs—roars—at the utter joy of it, at how she is divided, at how she is cut, at how she bleeds.
She lifts herself out of the couch and stares at the clock, wondering at how the time has passed so quickly. For three hours she screamed and again she is overwhelmed by how normal her throat felt, in comparison to the virtual where she’d screamed herself hoarse until the cleaver struck across her windpipe.
She turns all the lights on and makes herself another cup of tea. Sits there and drinks it and waits for him to send something—anything—a word of thanks maybe, even a simple greeting, but nothing comes and she sits until she finishes her tea. She shivers with the memory of how her body fell apart. She touches herself. It doesn’t help. Her fingers feel extraneous. Her teeth ache. She puts her ring-finger in her mouth, sets her teeth, slowly bites down. The pain stops her. She pulls it out and it dangles with spit. She breathes in, breathes out, hyper-alert, her fingers all still present and she trembles as she dreams of those useless things cut off and falling to the ground, one digit at a time.
After their third meeting she leaves the instance and wakes up blinking in the middle of her room. There’s a message for her on the console. She pulls it up—just an image, with a note by it:
Just a suggestion—here’s a picture.
She looks at it and at first it’s just a human woman sitting on the edge of the bed. There’s something running up in a straight line from her vagina to her belly all the way up to her throat and face. Then she looks at it again and notices that the body has two different hues—one side darker than the other, a slight difference in skin-tone. The hair color is different as well, one side black and the other a very deep dark-red. It’s as if two women, twins, were cut in half and stitched together at the seams. She zooms in and she can see the stitch marks, then runs to the restroom and throws up before she goes back out to study the thing once more.
I’m not quite ready for that, she replies. The message is sent and she deletes the image, but it stays in her mind. There is no reply. She waits anxiously yet there is no answer, no communication at all.
It’s not until a week has passed that he sends her an invitation for another play-date.
On their fifth date, something is missing.
“It just isn’t the same anymore,” she says, as he begins work on her toes.
He clips off each one and lets them fall to the ground. “What do you mean?”
She stares down at her feet, now shorn of their digits. Blood oozes out from fast-healing wounds. She’s in the guise of a Northern princess, tall and fair. He is an inquisitor. The color of the cross on his tunic shifts with his movements, from red to black, purple to pink.
“I don’t know,” she says. Before they began, the man impaled her hands through the meat-hook hanging from the ceiling. She swings, slightly, and pain roars muted from where the steel was punched through the bones of her palms. She smiles. Thick lips slide back from yellowed teeth. A young girl, tanned and lithe, slowly dissembled as she hangs in the air. This template is a good one. She remembers how he smiled when he saw her.
His guise this time is of a suited man, pale skin, a leer on those thin lips. Blood splatters him as he works. “To be honest,” he says, “I was beginning to feel the same way.”
“I’ve never seen you change templates mid-session before.”
“Just felt more appropriate,” he says with a shrug. “But yet, this is beginning to become . . . routine.”
He de-bones her legs.
“Is this what happened before?”
He looks up. The saw is halfway up the fat of her thigh. Blood runs down in ceaseless streams. “With the others? Yes.”
“Why did you leave them?” Unvoiced, of course, is another question: Will you leave me?
“People want . . . different things. I could no longer satisfy myself. A little ridiculous, perhaps—I always feel a little foolish when I say this, but for me, a large part of the pleasure I derive from these meetings is about the surprise I see on their—your—faces. So as some people seek out intact hymens—as if that’s real—I seek out, well, newbies.”
“When I put out the ad—”
“It wasn’t because I was attracted to your profile,” he says, softly. “All I saw was that you had no experience.”
She resets herself. Stands whole, neither bleeding or cut. Upset. She logs off and the man stares at the puddle of blood on the floor before he sighs and leaves as well.
On their sixth meeting she comes as a tired-looking housewife.
They assemble a cafe and populate it with customers. He plops down a portly man by the window, a clerk at the register, a woman reading the paper on the couch just a meter away from where the two of them sit. She contents herself with just watching.
“I’m sorry about what I said last time,” he says.
“No, it’s fine. It was fine. I’m not too worried about it anymore.” She orders coffee. No sugar.
“They’re role-players, by the way.”
“The . . . staff?”
“One, at least. I know her—knew her, rather.”
“Was she like me?”
“How did she handle it?”
“The news that I was getting tired of whatever amusements she offered me? Not very well. No one really does. I think it’s just another price of me seeking that first-timer—it creates a bonding effect, I think, not that I’ve ever looked it up.”
She sips. Says, “I see.”
“You could almost call it love.”
“Who are you, really?”
“Just a man.” He smiles. “Did I ever tell you how much I enjoy anonymity? Why I do what I do—perhaps I’m a monster, perhaps—”
“How about you just tell me and cut out the pretentious bullshit.”
“The lady has teeth.”
“Goodbye, then.” She logs out; the cafe dissolves.
Are you looking for a good time?
She puts out another ad. But there isn’t much interest—she has nothing to offer them. In this place where there is no true damage to the body, the damage, to the mind, is more valuable, for there is a price on how things scar.
Experienced companion seeking anyone with an interest in artistic mutilation!
She waits a month. In the meantime her life goes on aimlessly. She joins an old-style forum and argues about inconsequential things. Joins a role-playing society, mock-pretends to be a Victorian courtier. Plays games. Gains weight, loses it again. Once in a while her daughter leaves a message. More needless things—how are you doing, mom? And she answers, I’m doing fine, even as she searches for someone to destroy her.
Please tab me and I’ll follow up ASAP. Thanks!
Even she herself can’t understand this need. Perhaps she’s a masochist—but it’s not the pain that calls out to her. It’s in how skin fell from flesh and flesh from bone, how she bled—in how pieces of her body were ripped from her. She thinks about how her leg bounced when the man threw it away—how it hit the wall, and how it flopped down still leaking blood—and she shivers again.
Used to a pain threshold of fifteen percent, but willing to negotiate for a higher limit if needed. Call me!
It is their seventh meeting.
“Why did you call me?” she asks him. She is uncomfortable. What’s around her—the real world, the true thing, with all its bustle and filth—presses in against her skin and squishes her down. She feels so terribly exposed, and yet, she feels as if she’s choking. The air outside has an unfamiliar tang to it.
And across from her is the man’s doppel. Figures, she thinks, that he wouldn’t come out himself. A slight man with a receding chin. Thin, frameless glasses set on a sharp nose. Is that what he truly looks like? So incongruous in comparison to the power he wields online.
“I saw your ad,” he says. “You re-listed it.”
“Which is a lie. You’ve had zero queries.”
She freezes up. “How did you . . .”
“You really are new to this, aren’t you? Privacy settings. That’s all . . .”
“Why did you bother, then? I thought you were bored of me.” Some anger begins to come back, she can feel it, and it helps steady her nerves. “If you think I’ll beg for you to—”
“I don’t want you, either,” he says. “That time has passed. But . . . I do keep tabs on all the people I’ve helped.”
“You might not see it that way, but what I do isn’t completely selfish.”
He loves talking, doesn’t he? She says, instead, “Just get on with it.”
“Are you tired of living?”
“Let me start from the beginning, then. I’ve done this for many years now—and there’s a reason I asked you to come out in flesh. If you should agree to this, I shall show myself to you. I am a man of particular skills—” and here he smiles— “and should you agree, well . . .”
She gets up. The doppel makes no attempt to stop her as she leaves.
“I don’t need you,” she says. There is no one there in the room as she posts the ad once more. A picture of some of her more fetching shots, mouth agape, bleeding from the nails driven into her shoulders. “Experienced,” that’s what she has labeled herself. “Experienced.” Bodies can be repaired. No damage is permanent when everything is virtual. But the mind—what did he want from her at first? The surprise on her face as the first cut was made. Virginity, of a sort. Shock blossoming, spreading.
“I don’t need you,” she says, thinking of him. She trembles as her fingers take on a life of their own. They creep down her thigh and onto her knees and she stoops low as those fingers spider onto her ankles and feet. They creep back up and tickle up her stomach and rest on her collarbones. They climb into her mouth. She suckles on one and again the hunger returns. She bites. Teeth move against skin and she feels meat and bone tense up.
“I don’t need you,” she mumbles, and dreams of the way his knife sliced into her tendons as she bites down.
The pain makes her stop.
I saw the oddest thing tonight. Did you see it? A woman with a Hispanic template sitting by the fountain. A doppel, really, it wasn’t decent at all and it wasn’t long before the cops showed up and took it down. I hope they track her down, because kids were there.
Okay, she strips naked, right? It’s a nice piece of work too because you didn’t get the usual distortions that you get with projections. So probably this rich woman or man and I was just passing by, and only stopped because there were people standing around staring at something—I look in their direction and there’s this woman, by the fountain, she strips naked and half the people there just have their phones out, filming the thing.
Nudists aren’t anything rare, though.
I know. Just keep listening. So this bitch is nude now and she reaches in, and pulls her guts out.
Yeah, her guts. Just fucking slices in with the palm of her hand and she reaches in and unspools ropes of the stuff. They just all tumble out and like I said, it’s a damn good piece of work—you could even see the steam coming out. Fucking unreal.
Yeah, and there were kids there too, Christmas shopping and shit. Fucking disgusting, man. I wanted to throw up a bit and there she is standing there with her guts hanging out just fucking smiling.
She takes out a scissor. The twin blades are silver and sharp. She cuts off one toe and then the other, and when she runs out of toes she clips off her right ear then the left. They fall down to the floor. Her lips follow, then her eyes. She tries to smile, fails. There is no pain, and no sign that this will ever affect her. She wonders, sometimes, what might have happened had she bitten through her fingers. If they’d tumbled to the floor in real-life, how those stumps would have bled, the taste in her mouth, the pain, always the pain, and most of all, how that loss would have been permanent.
She aches for it. One day, she’ll take a knife and cut herself a hole. She’ll climb in, a hole for her and her alone, and it will swallow her.
© 2012 J.B. Park.
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