I open my eyes and I am blitzed by an array of green, red, and yellow coloured fruit. I pose and I am poised, in front of that golden gilded hall mirror. The reflection is of me, in the original inpatient stay clinic, before this modern therapy treatment was possible. Before the pandemic rise of it. Like the eye of a hurricane, it mischievously lulled a large portion of members of our community into a state of security, then sucked us up with one sinister intake of breath.
My reflection captures me in all my nakedness. My hair swathes over my scrawny shoulders and breasts. A pair of hands come up from behind me, pushes away my tresses and cups my breasts. A deep throb pulsates in-between my inner thighs. I cannot fight it. I submit. My head tilts back; my mouth opens to reveal my tongue. It is like a red carpet, waiting for a celebrity to enter. It is him. His dreadlocks tinkle with multi coloured beads. His tongue commands to explore mine as if it is a well-versed master of sorcery. I tremble from the hot expulsion trickling down my inner thighs.M y eyes remould into wide crop circles. I realise that it has tricked me again. I spit out the clustered black mob of grapes into the bowl of fruit. I only have a moist stain as a reminder of his existence.
‘The time is 06:35 a.m. The location: the bathroom. It feels more aggressive – not dormant as the manual states are what should be happening.’
‘Record and ready to engage. This is ED500, the time 6 a.m., the date is 12/04/2025, location: bathroom. Two feedamile tablets taken. Weight: stable. This is attempt 8.’
I close my eyes and open them. I see an ashen me spiralling further and further away as the powder compact mirror is whacked out from my hands. I can’t see my reflection, so I start furiously tapping on my collarbone, urging it to jut out that bit more. Gristle grinds against gristle. My knees knock together repeatedly: agonisingly tender from the friction. It takes more pain to make me feel. I can hold my head up that little bit higher.
A surge of power brushes a justified half -smile up my cheek, as they wheel me out of the ambulance and into ‘the starch whites’ base. I peer into my old inpatient room with its rosy shaded walls. The ‘starch whites’ are preparing for that time again. The battle with them every meal time. Their lips are moving but I can’t hear them.
My eyes veer to the sight of my legs- splayed wide on the bed. In between my legs, reveals the man’s body, which seemingly hustles in time to some primal, instinctive beat. His tongue flicks in and out of my moist swelling vulva. My inner thighs quiver. Combined sweat drips collecting evidence of our lust. The flicking escalates in speed. My chest rises and falls in breathy rhythm.
I open my eyes and he is gone! Another trick! On demand it projectile vomits grotesque abstractions out of drink supplements and gourmet food; flung and hung pretentiously along the walls of that room. Cups, plates, knives are thrown about. It takes three of them to get that tube down me. Three!
‘Record. This is ED500; it is 2 a.m., the 13/04/2025 Location: my bedroom. There is an almighty sound of bells clanking. I am trying to do the breathing exercises from the prescription manual app but my eyes won’t register the letters.’
The contained puddle of letters on the screen splatter as my tablet falls to the floor. The memory is too potent. My back arched involuntarily, my eyes will not open fully. Seizing up, they flicker upwards into the half-moon gloom of my eyelids. DING- A LING! A bell rings. Saliva sloshes down the sides of my chin. My back is set against a cool wall; I look up and around and find myself in an unidentified location. The walls, the flooring- everything is a shade of white. ‘The starch whites’ hover around the location in an aura of purity. I fiddle with my zip jean and pull down my T-shirt as I try to cover a mound of excess flesh. I join the procession of the group gathered around the bell ringer.
The wait commences. A stomach grunts hoggishly. Mine. My eyes sweep across the group hoping no one has heard it. In total, there are fifty of my kind. We all have the same scraggy arms and legs and distended stomach. We do not queue politely, but circle around the bell ringer like a pack, collectively growling, from the pit of our stomach, slavering: ready to attack. It does not do political correctness. It does not like conformity. Nobody wants to look too eager. It is part of the game. Parlour Tricks.
One involuntary twitch in the ringer’s direction and the game is lost. The bell rings again. I look up, it is him. He winks at me. It rages from him seeing me ready to engage in combat in the ‘labyrinth of edibles’. It gains so much power in numbers. Deafening whispers ripple around the group. Those that cover their mouths with their hands only heighten the grand faux pas of my behaviour. The smirking turns to vaporous laughter. I watch that retro version of myself, head bowed, arms folded, shoulders hunched, walk alone and into hostile territory- a vulnerable outsider for betraying it.
‘The time is 3 am, location: my bedroom. Urgent memo! I should be having more control over my flashbacks not less. ED500 needs to make contact’
‘Record and ready to engage. This is ED500, the time 6 a.m., the date is 13/05/2025, location: bathroom. Two feedamile tablets consumed. Weight 0.2 grams more than 13/04/2025.’
I close my eyes and when I open them, I am naked and in what appears to be a floor to ceiling mirrored dressing room. Reflecting back in every mirror is us! The man stands behind me- pulling me in every direction. Every angle stabs at my eyes, repeatedly. One stab- that’s me! Another stab –no, that’s me! What am I looking at? An arm. The shards of deceptive flesh wound my eyeballs. An almighty shriek surrenders from my lungs; I see a pair of hands reach up to cover my eyes. Is this real? I grab an arm and pinch it, hard. The skin feels dimpled, not in that artistic stippled kind of way but in that bumpier cellulite fashion.
‘The time is 06:15 am Location: bathroom. I feel out of control, I repeat I feel out of control. Urgent contact needs to be made.’
Dr Owle presses the pause button.
‘You have stuck rigorously to the manual?’ – I see that flashback projected onto a wall- paused and very much in control.
‘Well, of course.’ I blather, ‘That’s why I signed myself up for this whole spectacle. You told me that I would be able to control the memory and the sensory triggers. I can’t just flick the pause button on like you’ve just done’
‘The results when adhered to correctly have shown a 100 % success rate. Today is the final attempt. Are you still willing to engage voluntarily? ‘He looks in my direction. I nod sagely.
‘Record and ready to engage. This is ED500, the time is 09:00 a.m., the date is the 13/06/2025, location: Professor Owle’s office, two feedamile tablets consumed at 6:00 am this morning. My weight is 0.3 grams heavier than 13/05/2025.’
Final attempt. I close my eyes and open them. Astonished, I see a pair of muscular legs, a toned stomach adorned by a hint of hipbone. My wrists have a nodule of bone on each side, giving it a certain elegance. There is a fleeting recognition of this body. A fragmented puzzle of reflections pulls together as natural as gravity. The magnetic pull, reassures, in the way that waking up before landing in a fall-dream- reassures. In the mirror reflection, I see him. A bolt of nerves implode in my brain, splintered nerves carve furiously.
‘What do you see?’ It’s the Owls-no, the professor’s voice: the professor is an owl? My mind steeps in ambiguity.
Then an almighty pressure forces my head to drop back from the weight of it. My hands instinctively go to touch the intruding protrusion. I catch sight of my reflection in the orange oblong mirror. My head is malformed. I look like some freak, like some helpless victim with radiation side effects from some way out, an imaginary town in Chernobyl. Grievous puss amalgamated to create a massive abscess.
‘I’m disfigured’, I scream. I feel his presence in the room as he moves closer to my puss-filled growth. Stretched, overcooked, fibrous skin. Heated puss bubbles away inside. He holds my head up.
‘It’s the man. I don’t know what he is going to do. He has something in his hand. He is going to kill me.’
Tortured screams echo around the space. Another voice penetrates through the pain.
‘Have you seen him before? Look properly. ’ it is Professor Owle.
‘No, I can’t bear to look . I’m repulsive!’
‘Don’t give up. Open your eyes and look in the mirror, tell me what you see.’
‘Something has gone wrong. I’ve consumed too much. The experiment has failed.’ I weep.
‘This is professor Owle. Tell me what you see!’ he orders.
‘Tell him my name’ the man urges, his dreadlocks shake off a familiar laugh.
‘He wants me to name him.’ I howl in pain, ‘He’s jabbed a needle into me! He has jabbed a needle in my head. He is extracting the puss. It wants more power. I will not name it. Never! The truth is what I‘ve believed from the start. You give it a name and it automatically assumes power’, I scream.
‘Look at me. Please!’ the dreadlocked man implores.
SLAM! A car skids unlawfully across the black ice.
‘Who are you, what do you want?’ a tone of hysteria.
BANG! Car tyres leave vicious tracks marks on a deer.
‘Are there any letters forming in your mind? The professor inquires.
CRASH! A body smashes through the windscreen.
‘Yes, but I’m too afraid to let them form. Abort the experiment please, Professor.’
The body lands with a nondescript THUMP. Blood marinades the icy snow.
‘You need to fight it.’, Professor Owle cajoles me.
My eyes burst open like a ruptured pea pod. I look into the mirror and this is what I see. It is me –a hysterical woman with savage hair, screaming in despair I take both my hands and scrape my fingernails down both sides of my face. My grey slate- coloured eyes, dilated, search with hope. The man’s hand goes to brush away the tears trickling done my face. My hand goes up frantically trying to scratch away at the face etched with wretched wrinkles.
‘It is an older me. The growth has gone.’ Fearfully I take in the rest of my body. Again, I see reflected the same pair of muscular legs, a toned stomach adorned by a hint of hipbone. My wrists have a nodule of bone on each side- Holy shit, how can this be? This reflection is the missing piece to a surprising feeling of unity. I look over to him– he smiles. I look into his eyes- all I can see is admiration.
‘It’s me! Not perfect-far from it. But it is me!’ The man leans in to kiss my neck then his reflection turns around and leaves the room.
‘Very good, now carry on –what is the man saying? Interjects the Professor.
‘Professor, he has gone. ’, I turn away and around from the mirror to make sure that the mirror has not deceived me.
Gone. It’s me. Professor Owle. It’s me! It is Vesna. My name is Vesna Numeral’ I babble out.
‘Vesna? If this is Vesna tell me who the man is? Professor Owle enquires dubiously.
A wave knocks my emotions. I buckle. The reeds of guilt tangle around my legs pulling me down to my knees
‘Oh my God! No, it’s Raymond.’ I cry.
‘Bravo Vesna. Well done. You did it- you engaged until the very end. We can finally start the de-briefing process.’ The professor hugs me.
‘I’m recovered? ’ my tone incredulous. ‘All he tried to do was help me recover from it.’
Yes, Vesna. It was an accident…’
‘I couldn’t control.’ I conclude.
‘We now work together to start the process to rehabilitate you back into society.’
‘My family. My friends.’ A medley of images calibrate in my mind. ‘I will never go backwards, never! I have to keep ticking forwards’
‘Life will have a purpose again,’ the professor smiles
One year later and numbers still hold this world together. I can never completely get away from numbers. It might not possess me but it still haunts me every so often by catching me off- guard. These days a brief encounter with my reflection consistently reveals my broken half capped teeth and withered bones. These are the scars of my struggle. I remember the lesson Raymond tried to teach me. These days I tend to look into people’s eyes when I speak and I tend to listen more. It is so easy to get caught up in that negative internal chatter everyone has in them. These days in spite of my scars, I smile and look for that small break in the sky. My name is Vesna; and like a cloud that merges and transforms all too rapidly, I too refuse to be defined by it.
Most excellent prose! Great pace and anticipation. Love it! x
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Thanks Matt, xx
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