The Fantastique

by Joseph Jude

 

It was a blurry mass. Mostly black and dim blue. However, there was one point that stood out. It was a mix of pink and green with some red. It was moving.

Ethan became afraid. He tried to focus on it more intently with no reward. His vision was returning at its own pace. He watched the thing’s motion. Then he relaxed slightly, determining that it wasn’t moving towards him. It just seemed to be bobbling up and down. It was the dash board hula girl his kid sister gave him when he first bought his Lexus. It was sideways; or rather the entire car was sideways. Ethan was upside down. Despite a migraine that felt like it would blow his skull apart, he tried to remember what had happened.

He was driving. He had left the office directly after speaking with Mrs. Jennifer Heisensten about the flap reconstruction on her left breast. Both she and her husband, Douglas, seemed quite pleased with the decision to transplant to the chest as a micro vascular flap. There would be the longer healing time on the scar, but Mrs. Heisensten liked the news that the tissue would be taken from another part of her body, and that she could even have an improved abdominal contour. In fact, she requested she have the skin taken from her thighs.

Ethan loved that part of his job. The rich people were always so agreeable when they were told they could look as good as new, even better, whatever the cost. Money was no object but they certainly were and wished to remain so. Even after, when they didn’t look instantly beautiful, they could be talked into believing that more time, and more checks, were all that was necessary. It was such an easy sell. It was so much different from the other jobs he took to get him through school. Many that he lost when he was too pushy with the customers who didn’t want to see it his way.

It was very dark for six. There was a brief patch where he turned off the bridge, a spot of trees and very little traffic. It was never his favorite part of the drive home, and he always tried to make his way through it as fast as possible. It was here that the red truck came at him. It had to be right out of the foliage as there was no intersection. He remembered seeing it at the last second before it collided with the passenger’s side. The Lexus rocked and slid, and he could remember it flipping as it glided off the road, into the forest behind. That was when he blacked out.

His eyesight was finally clearing up. He could see the dashboard and the dark shadowy trees beyond his broken windshield. He tried to right himself, and then he heard the noise. Somebody was walking though the grass, towards him. He turned to the sound of the driver’s door opening, people coming at him. He couldn’t make out their faces in time. He couldn’t make out anything. It seemed anywhere between two and ten people the way he perceived the commotion. So many faces and hands reaching at him.

Then he was out again.

* * * * *

This time, his vision wasn’t blurry. He sprung straight up with a scream. He saw the same events play out over and over in his dreams; variances included strange people doing strange things to him. They were groping, pulling at him. He felt like he was floating. He was moving, he was being moved. Then he wasn’t moving, but he was. He was in something that was moving. He was taken out of his car, and placed in a different one. Then he was floating again. He could hear a terrible squeal, some kind of animal. It couldn’t be. It was too regular. The people were all around him. He couldn’t make out their faces. It was blurry, fractured, as if looking in a broken mirror.

Ethan jumped to attention, swinging his arms and searching around. There was no one there, nobody attacking him. He checked his body, he seemed to be intact.

But he wasn’t safe. He was in a strange place. He was on an old hospital stretcher that was stained and musty. A single bulb hung above him barely lighting the room. He was shrouded in dark hues of umber, a combination of the lighting and the dirty walls.

“It’s okay. You’re protected.”

Ethan looked in the direction of the voice, there was someone approaching him. It seemed to be a woman but there was something wrong with her voice. It reverberated oddly with a deep bass like she had the worst frog in her throat.

“We’ve been waiting for you to come to. You can meet us now.”

Ethan could see her. He could see it.

It was humanoid in the loosest sense. It had a face made up of many faces, different pieces from different people, sewn together roughshod. A blue eye in a Caucasian socket was entangled with a brown eye in an African American socket which led down to a man’s mouth sewn to the right side of another woman’s mouth. There may have been twenty different pieces, sewn together with no concern for symmetry. One side of a nose stretched and twisted into the other side which was far too short to match. Veins were extra prominent due to the inadequate fashion in which they were attached or reattached. Much of the skin seemed ready to rip open from the pieces of skull that jutted out entirely too much. The eyes, the ears, the hairline that held a multitude of different strands of hair, it was a horrible mess of features that stared at him.

That was only for starters, the head sat atop a body equal in it misshapen mess. One breast of the darkest skin was attached to a lily white chest merged to a male sternal region leading down an inframammary region, abdomen and flank of five different colors. There were a lot of patches of blue on it, flesh that blood wasn’t properly flowing to, tissue that was rotting off this living creature.

The thing walked awkwardly towards him. It simply didn’t function well. One shoulder twisted in and out of is frame as if it could snap loose at any second. One leg was entirely too short compared to the other. It could barely keep its balance. An unfortunate amount of curiosity made him glance between those legs. He saw half of what would be hanging between a man’s. It was perfectly halved with exposed insides, and something meshed and pink in the body sewn into the base of it. Ethan quickly looked away.

It was right in front of him. It spoke and Ethan could deduce why its voice was so distorted. Heaven knows what was done to the vocal cords.

“You must come now.” Half of its mouth smiled with some muscles pulling so tight they pressed right through the skin, the Zygomaticus minor and major. The other half of the mouth didn’t work at all.

“I don’t want to. I don’t want to be here.” Ethan was as forceful as ever. No matter what this thing looked like he wasn’t in the mood for its nonsense.

It lost its smile. It rose above him.

“Come. We won’t hurt you. What we have to show you is amazing.”

Hope for an exit drove him forward.

The thing led him down a long hallway. The place seemed to be a typical doctor’s office once. There was a hallway with various rooms on each side. He saw one doorway at the end far ahead without a door that could lead to the entrance from the outside, and he considered just running to it, but decided to wait. Ethan didn’t want to admit he was scared. The thing was a walking card house, but the dementia it emitted kept infecting him to his heart.

The whole time he looked at the walls, the cracks and the mold and occasional foggy picture that hung crooked, left behind from whoever owned this place before. Anything to keep from having to look at his guide; oozing pus, colored liquids, and thick blood flowing from its seams. It opened a door to the left, between two stands with vases. No flowers in them, just dirt and maggots.

They entered and three other “people” turned to Ethan. One spoke. Its voice could be male or female depending on the word.

“Ethan Foree. We’re happy to meet you.”

“Who are you people?”

“We don’t use names anymore. We… are we.”

“Huh?”

“We are a people that exist under a brilliant new philosophy. A solution to the horrors of the world. An amazingly simple one. What our society does instead of tackling the prejudice and hate on a cerebral level, is attack it on a physical one.”

“Physical?”

“We are perfect. We are without individual identity. We are all people, all races, all sexes. Once we convert everyone there will be no longer a reason to argue about differences, about identity. There will no longer be a reason to hate.”

“That’s great.” Ethan didn’t smile. “So when can I leave?”

They said nothing.

Ethan sucked in a gust of air, then asked. “Okay, So… what do you want from… me?”

“We want you to join us.”

“Of course.”

“We regularly choose new members to join our people, but we’re especially anxious about you. Before we cut your driver’s license up, we noticed it said MD. You are a doctor?”

“Plastic surgeon.”

“Oh, that is especially fortunate. You will be of great help to us.”

“You cut up my driver’s license?”

“Yes. We each have a piece now.”

He was looking at the others closely. The one that spoke seemed to have more masculine parts than feminine. At least on the body, the head however was entirely female.

There was more. Hanging off of the body were extra parts. A bicep dangled off its side. An entire arm erupted from its back. Extra patellae protruded from the same knee. Looking closer, Ethan could see additional fingers, toes, ears, noses, and not just on the parts of the body they belong, but sprinkled all over as ugly growths. Bones and joints seemed randomly inserted through the body with skin pulled over them giving the person long spokes, some of which could move and twist by themselves.

The other two people were equally mixed and matched. One had two hands where its feet should be. Its face made up of more hands, fingers intertwined and sewn together except where the mouth, nostrils, and eyes should be. Long thin muscles tightened, and metacarpophalangeal articulations of the hand seemed spread all over the body. For the third one, about fifty eyes covered its body like a leopard’s spots. Some of them still moved and blinked.

“How many of you are here?”

“Millions.”

Ethan figured not to push it. Trying to get straight answers out of these people would be like trying to push a toothpick through cement. He also knew that there had to be a lot of donors for these parts, people that probably didn’t want to come over to their way of thinking.

“What happens if I don’t want to join your community?”

“Everyone joins us.”

“Crap.”

“You should see our newest member. We picked her up a week ago. Like you, she was hesitant, but soon she saw the logic in our life. She is currently becoming part of us. We can show you.”

“I don’t want to see.”

“But you must. You must see.”

What Ethan did see were knives; long, homemade, bloody ones in their hands, and they had a lot of hands.

* * * * *

Ethan was taken to an operating room at the far end of the hall, right next to the waiting room he was first led out of. He had seen the doors back then. It chilled him to think that he was looking at a person in some horrible state just behind them. Ethan didn’t want to go through those doors. He had pulled apart skin and muscle, repaired people after circumstances broke them to shards, and he still didn’t want to see what was beyond those doors.

It was what was behind their logic. The horrible truth behind their logic.

“I’m telling you people, I don’t want any part of this.”

“You’ll see.” The one from before couldn’t stop grinning. It had extra teeth jutting out from its gums.

The mixed people pushed open both doors for Ethan to cross through. He took one step, then another. He tried to stretch it out as long as he could, but he could see his hosts growing impatient. As he moved further in, he could see a curtain drawn in front of what he assumed was the bed holding their newest convert. A light behind lit the curtain blue.

Ethan paced around the curtain to see. There was a thin carcass lying on an operating table. No skin left, much of the musculature had been torn out. Fresh components had already been fastened in some places. Tendons from outside sources weaved with her own, creating new pulley systems for the extra parts to be added later. Additional bones were tied to her leftover ones with locks of dead flesh. A third working lung was imbedded in the remaining leg, alongside new roots for growing hair inside the skin. It was questionable who had the other leg.

Ethan sighed and sucked his lips in as he looked at the head that stared back. It had to. There were no eyelids. Much of the face was removed, and the woman breathed in and out in short, strained breathes. A number of intravenous tubes led into the holes through the remaining portions of her face, the buccinator, the masseter, and the levator labii superioris. The tubes fed her any possible combination of fluids that kept her alive, nothing that Ethan could recognize. Many were a putrid brown. One looked like urine.

“She is still in the process. It has to be slow or she’ll die.”

“How long before she’s done?” Ethan sarcastically pouted.

“None of us are complete. We must continue to change and evolve.”

Ethan mulled his options. There’s no way these thrown together clunkers could outmaneuver or overpower him. Still, those knives. They were all around him. All they needed was a lucky jab, and it would be curtains. On the other hand, there was no way that things were going to get better.

“This is what I have to look forward to?”

“Yes. Beautiful, isn’t it.”

“Can I… Can I have some time to think about it?”

It looked at him. It tried to furrow its brow in a confused expression but the skin just compressed together and one eyeball rolled completely backwards.

“We guess you can.”

It must not be a question too many visitors have asked.

* * * * *

Ethan was led into a small room, a utility room. He was tied to an old metal chair and left alone. They locked the door behind them.

Ethan started to notice the cold. The furnace wasn’t working. Most likely nothing was working. These people probably warmed themselves with bonfires, drank the remaining water out of the toilets, and ate whatever meat they didn’t attach to themselves. Ethan looked around for a clue, more information on them. Who were they? Where did they come from? There was nothing of use.

“Damn it.”

Ethan sat for several minutes in silence trying to formulate a plan. He hadn’t counted on them tying him up. As loopy as they were, these living quilts weren’t totally out of it. He regretted not making a break for it when he was free. He imagined he was stepping in the footprints of the poor girl in the operating room who now stared endlessly at the ceiling while alien flesh devoured her.

His thoughts were broken when the door opened again. Two new hosts entered or was it one? Ethan couldn’t tell. One set of legs stepped in, followed by another set of legs, all belonging to the same animal. It was a jumble like the others. Two of them sharing one torso, a chest from which two heads sprouted out the top and two waists sprouted out the bottom. It was two people perpetually facing each other. It was impossible to pin ownership to either side. Both had backs. There was no front. They shared a pair of arms with thumbs on both ends. Two sets of muscles on each side of the hands with no palms on either. The fingers crudely bent both ways.

The heads turned, and smiled at Ethan. They could’ve been female or male.

“We understand you are unsure about becoming one of us.” One of the heads said. “We can show you the splendor of what we are.” The other one said. Both heads kissed long and hard.

While they kissed, it inched closer to Ethan until it dominated his view. Ethan turned his head to both sides, trying to avoid it. He closed his eyes, tight. He could hear them still, the sound of their lips smacking, body parts rubbing.

A hand suddenly dug into Ethan’s face. He screamed through it.

“Open your eyes and watch.”

“I don’t want to watch this, you freaks.”

“Open them. Open them.”

The hand dug tighter.

“Alright! Alright. Let go.”

The hand unclasped from his face. It drew away from his sight and he could see it, both heads smiling at him. Then they went back to their spectacle. Squinting his eyes, but having to leave them open enough so it could tell he was looking, Ethan watched it explore itself. The hands rubbed over the pieces that one head owned, then the same hands went over the other head’s pieces. Back and forth, all over the legs, buttocks, back, between the legs where they had an arrangement like his first host had. On each waist were mirror images on either side. A half of one male genitalia merged with the half of one female across from another half of each. They could’ve been two halves of the same wholes.

They were designed to fit into each other, although not quite perfectly due to the quality of the surgery.

Ethan could taste sickness in his throat as his stomach churned. He tried to concentrate on not throwing up. This helped divert his attention. He had to keep staring. They would constantly turn to make sure he was watching to see how fabulous this freak show was. Their sex organs slid in and out of each other. As before, there was no skin to cover the insides of what was cut off and they chafed against each other too. Brownish clear liquid slimed between it all, dripping off. The same could be said for the rest of its body where the cuts and seams were only fairly seamless, and the ordeal and rubbing was too much for the form.

They continued anyway, moaning and groaning. Their expressions contorted in eccentric ways. Their teeth glistened nonstop. Part of it was the way their new faces were constructed, but Ethan knew that despite whatever psychoses these people were suffering from, they were also in a lot of pain. They probably didn’t even know why at this point. They hopped onto this strange answer to whatever problems they were tormented from before and continued to push, convinced it was the cure. All the hurt it caused only persuaded them they needed further adjustment.

Ethan wasn’t even paying attention. His eyes were locked on them but he wasn’t seeing. His face had settled into a sad relaxed gaze. They did manage to instill a sense of understanding.

He felt pity for these people.

They climaxed together, dripping with blood-tainted sweat. Weakly, they both faced him and beamed, totally converted to their twisted world.

* * * * *

The two-headed creature left, and Ethan was alone again for a minute. Then they all came back. The one who spoke the most, the leader who probably first dreamt up this crap, approached Ethan.

“Have you made your decision?”

“I have… I want to get the fuck out of here.”

It sighed. “You still do not grasp our reasoning. You still hold on to your desire to be separate. Why?”

“Why?”

“Everyone we’ve ever known who wanted to be separate, wanted to so they could hurt others. Why do you want to hurt others? We can cure you.”

“I don’t want your cure. I don’t hurt anyone. I’m a doctor. I’ve spent my life healing people.”

They didn’t respond. Ethan made an attempt to reach out.

“I can heal you. All of you.”

The leader thought a moment.

“Of course, I understand now.”

“You do?” Ethan could tell it didn’t understand in the least.

“I see what you need to understand.”

“What?”

* * * * *

Dr. Foree was back in the operating room. Back standing over the girl picked up a week ago. This time, two small tables stood on each side of him. On one was a collection of the tools they had been using; old scalpels, saws, needles, thread, pliers, screwdrivers. Everything was rusted solid. On the other table were the materials for use; a forearm, a thigh, the gaping head of a thirty-some-year-old man, and a pile of random skin.

The crowd waited eagerly behind him.

Ethan looked at the girl, at the table of parts, at the knife in his hand.

“What do you want me to do, exactly?”

“Do what your expertise tells you. Heal her. Complete her.”

“I… I…”

“You said you could. Don’t you do it all the time?”

“Not like this.” Ethan looked at them. The leader, especially, was getting edgy. Ethan couldn’t think at all. They wanted him to—what?

Go hog wild? Chop and sew this girl any way he wanted like she’s a blank canvas?

He looked down at her. She was still conscious. She was witnessing everything that was going on. Worse, she was probably still feeling it. Ethan was hoping that the agony she had gone though had short-circuited her sense of comprehension, but maybe not. She looked up at him, blade in his hand, intention to cause her more pain to impress these nuts and buy him time.

“DOCTOR!”

“Alright.”

He looked at the supply table. He avoided looking at the head, lest it look back as well. He focused on the arm. Making a show out of inspecting it, he picked it up, looked at all the sides, as if there was actually something he was trying to determine. Then his took his knife and slid it into the dead limb, cutting through the skin, removing a rectangular piece as if he was a butcher cutting lunch meat. He carefully lifted the hunk of skin, all the while knowing that it made no difference if the damn thing bounced off the floor a few times.

Cradling it in his hands, he took another look at the fidgeting crowd. Then he laid the skin down next to the girl’s side, and looked at the knife in his hand. He would have to jab her with it sooner or later.

He looked at her eyes, blank but alive.

Ethan could feel his heart beating so much it almost hurt. He could hear her heart beating just as rapidly. It was pretty easy to, considering how exposed her insides were. She was aware.

He lightly pressed his knife against her shoulder, what remained of it, about to push harder. He could draw blood with a feather nudge.

Then, inspiration hit him.

“Anesthesia.”

No one said anything.

“I said anesthesia.”

They looked back and forth to each other. The eye-spotted one spoke. “We—we have none.”

“You have none? How do you expect me to work without it? In fact, how do you expect me to work with any of this? These tools are totally inadequate.”

“They are all we have.”

“That will not do. I am the expert and if anyone knows how to properly apply your theory to living subjects, it would be me. Now, to complete her as well as the rest of you, I need the proper tools. Then you will all be… perfect.”

The leader spoke. “Really?”

“Yes.” Ethan was grinning ear to ear, his best salesman smile.

“Before I complete any more work. I will compile a lift of necessary items. Then a few of us will go to retrieve them, and yes, I must go with you. Only I have the knowledge to pick out what we need. Once we have done that we can start on truly transforming you all into flawless people.

They all smiled. They were excited.

“Tell us. We have no time to waste.”

Ethan rattled off some random items; whatever came to mind first; lipo suction cannulas, nagata sculpture knives, an auricular septum elevator, some diamond dermabraders, and a flux capacitor for good measure. They scrawled down the words on a tablet. Then, they exited the room. They had to gather clothes, and ready themselves for another trip outside. They would have to be extra prepared. They were doing more than simply running someone off the road this time.

They all scurried out, leaving Ethan alone with the patient. He thought about trying to make a run for it, but considered that it might be better to wait until he was on the road. He could overpower whoever there was riding with him, and take the car to the police. They might try to tie him up again for the trip though. He would have to have some bullshit ready, a reason why he must be free.

Ethan remembered the girl behind him. She was quivering. She was crying.

He wondered if there was any way to save her. Nothing that he could think of could undo the damage. Even if she did live, would she want to? Worse, what if he came back with the cops and they weren’t here. What if they went on the lam, taking her with them. This may be the last time anyone normal would have access to her.

He knew what he had to do to heal her.

Ethan grabbed the bottom of the curtain, scrunching it up. He took the curtain in both his hands, and pressed them down on what was left of her face. Her body shook violently for about a minute. Then it was done.

He couldn’t hear her heart anymore.

He turned away from her and the leader was right there, stabbing him in the stomach. Stunned, Ethan dropped to his knees. Soon the others were back, surrounding and holding him.

“We believed you.”

“Wait, you—you don’t understand.”

“We should’ve known. You have none of us in you yet. You are still tainted. We have to introduce you to us first.”

It lifted its knife.

“NO! WAIT!”

It held Ethan’s head firm and placed the blade to his cheek. Ethan pulled, but couldn’t move. He could feel the blade sliding under his skin.

“Wait! Wait! I’ll do it! I’ll really help you! Whatever you want. I’ll join you. Stop! Just for a second. Please!”

“But why would I stop if you want to join?”

It slit deep into Ethan’s face. He felt it cutting in, deeper and deeper. It felt like it was going to reach his eye. He screamed then blacked out.

“One way or another, everyone becomes part of us.”

* * * * *

Ethan awoke. He was on the stretcher. The pain was extraordinary. He instinctively grabbed his face then pulled his hand away when it hurt even more. He looked at his palm. It was coated in blood. Ethan’s breath trembled. Low, quick moans of panic escaped him. His hand leveled over his sore that he couldn’t see but feel. He wondered how much of his face was left. He lightly tapped parts of his head to see if the skin was intact. He could determine the breaks directly below his left eye to his jawbone, through his lip. There must’ve been a good two-inch chunk missing.

Then he deciphered another pain, one farther down, around his thigh.

Terrified, he slowly pushed himself upright, constantly glancing down his body, then looking away, not wanting to see what they did. Finally, the point of violence came into his view.

His right leg was gone, cut from the femoral depression. In its place was a small, more slender leg, a woman’s leg sewn on.

A mix of horror and disgust filled his scream. He tried to grab the leg with his hands but couldn’t. His hands wouldn’t touch it. His whole body shook, including the foreign leg that shuddered both to his body’s instructions and of its own authority, a parasite trying to become one with him.

He couldn’t stop spilling out small screams.

Eventually, his brain functioned again and he realized an important fact. He was alone, and he wasn’t tied down.

He was still in the operating room. He looked next to him, the table where the woman still laid. Ethan looked at her right thigh where there used to be a leg.

“Fuckers.”

He looked around. He didn’t hear anything. He needed a weapon. There were the doors that led to the hall. There was another small door, some kind of closet.

He swung his body, lowered the legs to the floor and lifted himself off the stretcher. He could feel the slow cold oozing of blood down the rest of his face. More spurted out the seams between his body and the leg. He tried his best to operate the new appendage, but it only worked on a rudimentary level. When Ethan concentrated, he was able to support his weight on it for a few seconds, enough to limp on it and use his other leg and his arms on the surroundings to move about.

He pushed the stretcher along with him, leaning on it as he made his way towards the closet door. He pulled it open. Inside was a pile of unused limbs and organs. Flies and maggots infested it all.

He noticed something else. The pieces were all on top of some kind of clothes. He strained to reach down without falling. He pulled on the cloth. The parts tumbled out of the closet, but he pulled out what seemed to be a few straight jackets with more possibly underneath. The first skin shed by these people.

Nothing else of use, he limped himself and the stretcher over to the hallway doors. He slid one door open a bit, peeking down the hallway.

It was a clear path.

Ethan knew he had to hightail it. He was already feeling weak and dizzy. He pushed open the door, cursing himself for the loud noise it made. The stretcher was even worse. Its old rusted wheels wailed down the hall, alerting everyone to its movement.

The entrance in front of him opened and one of the mix people came out, the leader.

“You cannot leave. You are part of us now.”

Ethan was ready with the proper course of action this time.

“You want part of me? Have my fist!”

Propelling himself from the stretcher, he sprung forward, driving his clenched fist out. He connected with the leader who dropped backwards. Ethan fell to the ground too. He was feeling very faint at this point. He squinted his eyes, concentrating on the one necessary task of getting up.

He pushed himself to his feet, feeling backwards for the stretcher to brace himself. He could see the leader struggling on the ground. It was plain how Ethan managed to drop him with one shot.

The mix’s neck had tore open and its head hung only by a few cords. It gagged and choked out, striving to speak, juices gushing out all over the floor.

“Just shut up damn it.” Ethan looked at him. It was a prime moment when he could poise his disgust with these people and what they were doing with what he thought was the most humane solution to their disease. Steadying himself on the new leg just long enough, he stomped down his own foot through the leaders head. It exploded like a water balloon.

Ethan had to keep it up. He picked up the leader’s blade, and continued pushing the stretcher down the hall. More doors opened and more mix people charged out at him, their eyes fluttering in disbelief. Somehow, despite how many times victims must have rebelled, this group still could not process that anyone would want to fight back. Familiar from before, these people rushed at Ethan. They couldn’t run, they really could only move with a minute amount more precision than Ethan. He swung the blade across and clipped all three of the fanatics across their necks and faces, dropping them. Loose meat ruptured out of the holes, spraying Ethan across his own wound. This only made the doctor angrier. Even in death, these things were trying to merge with him.

Next, the two-headed creature appeared in front of him, as shocked as the others. Each head had something to say.

“Please, don’t leave.”

“Please stay.”

“You can join us.”

“We always wanted you to be part of us.”

“GET OUT OF MY WAY!” Ethan jabbed the blade straight down between their heads into the one chest. Both owners gasped, and then looked at Ethan, simultaneously screaming “NO!” The devastating terror of being torn apart was all over them. They grabbed his hand, trying to force it back up. Instead of pushing the blade farther down, he yanked his hand back out of their weak grasp. Each of his hands grabbed a head, and he pulled them away from each other. Their mouths swung open but silent as he pulled the being apart, leaving only a second long gusher of blood and organs that dropped to the floor.

“Anyone else? Huh? I’ll rip your arm off and beat you with it.”

Ethan slid a bit, walking over the remains, but was gaining confidence in his new limb and didn’t fall. He heard the screaming behind him. He looked at three more beings coming out of rooms that he already passed, people that he hadn’t seen before. One was missing a head and had its face sewn into its stomach. Another slithered out, no major body parts, just a twisting stalk of necks and random skin bound together with an elongated head on top, possibly made of several fractured skulls. The last was a web of torsos and limbs. It took the most time to crawl, spider-like into view. On top of a thick neck were three heads that met at the mouth, each piece taking the place of one lower jaw. All three heads had a brain inside; all three clicked their teeth against each others. Their eyes shifted all around, fighting to get some of the view. These things were spectacular in a way. A marvel of engineering despite the fact that none of them worked right. They all struggled to get down the hall. It was clear why it took them so long to make an entrance. Ethan decided not to even pay them mind, and instead rushed forward toward the front door.

Outside the door was a small staircase that led up to another door. Ethan left the stretcher behind and climbed up. Unlocking the deadbolt, he slipped out into the deserted street. The fresh night air hit him, and he felt a second wind.

He couldn’t tell where he was. It looked like an abandoned neighborhood, mostly closed stores and empty lots. Ethan didn’t know what to do, where to go. He wouldn’t last long; he was too weak, dying. He scuffled along, scanning everywhere. Behind the building was a parking lot with several cars, all covered by tarps. Ethan hurried to them. Yanking a few of the tarps off, he found several different vehicles, including the Ford Truck that hit his own. Wherever they obtained the cars was questionable, what they were used for wasn’t. All of them were smashed in the front or back. Ethan tried the door on an old Dodge Ram. Not surprisingly, it was unlocked. The keys left in the ignition.

“Mental patients.”

Ethan started the Dodge. His first idea was to clear out of there, but then he saw a pack of matches in the ashtray. All of these cars were probably sitting in a similar state of readiness, and Ethan figured out a way to improve the circumstances.

He used his good leg to hit the gas and sped the truck around the corner, past the doctor’s office. After several feet, Ethan swung the truck around, and flew it right back to the front of the office. He braced himself under the dashboard as the truck bashed through the front of the building. When he felt the thing finally stop moving, he poked his head up to see that he had broke through all the way to the main hall.

He couldn’t see where any of the mix people were, nor did he care. He swung open the door and climbed out the truck to the gas tank, carrying with him the matches and a map from the glove compartment. Twisting the map up into a long stalk, he opened the flap to the gas tank and stuffed the map in leaving a good portion of it pointing out as a wick. Enough for him to light. He climbed out the front hole he made.

Ethan limped all the way to the parking lot when he heard the explosion. He could see the orange glow from the front of the building and smoke was already rising out in large puffs. He stepped into an old white van, its keys waiting to be turned. He slammed the pedal, and was on the road in no time.

He looked behind him. The fire was clear to be seen but none of the tenants were. He was very weak now, could barely keep his eyes open. The bright white lights of a gas station drew him. When he saw an eighteen-year-old kid rushing to his bloody body that had spilled out of the door, he knew it was safe to pass out.

* * * * *

It was five months later. Ethan’s friends had pitched in to ensure he received the best treatment, many handling the work themselves. His face never looked the same. In spite of their best efforts, there was just too much lost. Luckily it was only half of his face, and he always had a joke about his good side at the ready. His exercise was a bit grueling at first, but he adapted to the prosthetic leg sooner than anyone thought. With the help of a cane, he was back to moving naturally. He couldn’t do much surgery anymore. He settled into teaching and advising roles, and of course, there was an interest in his story for its potboiler value and among the medical profession. Indeed, seeing the work the mix people completed did give him a unique perspective on just what medicine could accomplish and the human body was capable of. Whether or not it should be accomplished was another story.

The police thoroughly investigated the area, especially the remains of the doctor’s office. None of the mix people could be found, although a slew of dead bodies, or what remained of them, were uncovered. It took a while for the police to identify them as teeth, fingerprints and any other parts that could be used to establish identity were intentionally removed, even from their dead. No individuality, no names, just flesh.

Ethan wondered whatever became of them. The detectives gave him a few updates when he inquired. Ultimately, there was no resolution. No mental hospital ever emerged as the source of the mix people. No occurrences in which they appeared again. Ethan wondered what the survivors could be doing now. They could be dead. They could be mixing themselves with animal parts. They could be joined together into one giant muddled mass, which he assumed was their eventual goal.

Ethan was concerned about whether they would come back for him. He figured that they probably didn’t even remember who he was, just more meat. Then again, he was an expert on bodies. Perhaps the reason why the mix people’s methods would never work was that there are simply some things the body doesn’t want, just as there are some things the body does. He remained a little scared because, if nothing else, there was always the possibility that one day, wherever it was, that leg of his would track him down.

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