Not All There
I've been pressing the call button for almost thirty minutes: I'm angry, the painkiller's worn off, I have to pee, and I'm lonely. Steven would have fetched a nurse, but visiting hours are over. Finally, I get up and reach for the IV stand; I miss it, and miss again. Idiot! That hand is gone. I grab the pole with the other and drag the stand to the bathroom. As I stand over the toilet getting used to holding with my right, my missing left hand claws and beats against something. I've heard that people feel their limbs after amputation—phantom pain—but the vibrations rippling from my gauzed elbow are so real it's terrifying.
When I come out, my room is still empty. In the hallway, I spot the nurses' station, distant and lit only by computer screens. My IV stand rattles on the linoleum and echos off the walls—the only sound. Where are the monitor beeps? The chatter?
No one is at the desk. Inexcusable.
My left hand clenches, points down, down, down. I pass the desk and summon the elevator. Above the doors, '5' lights up. Inside, I press '4'.
The nurse on this floor looks up from his paperback and sighs.
"Excuse… me…" I start, distracted: My missing hand is wrenching, jerking its index finger at the floor. "…I’m having problems… with my arm."
He flips his book over and extends his hand. "Chart."
"I don’t have a chart. Or maybe I do, upstairs."
"Then what do you expect me to do?"
My stump jerks forward, following my hand as it snatches for the man's throat. I force my upper arm down, but the lower strains like a dog against a leash. Act normal. Smile. Smile. "Can you summon my nurse?"
"Why do you expect me to have better luck? People like you… why are you even here?"
I need Steven: I'm in pain; I'm frightened. Steven is better under stress.
Something sharp jabs into my missing forearm, and I think: Where is it now? "How does the hospital dispose of body parts?"
"Did you sign a release?"
I wave my stump. "With what?"
He shrugs. "If you didn't do paperwork, how can I look it up? Really, you people… crazy." He resumes reading his book.
I storm to the elevator. Inside, I raise my finger to the panel… Dammit! I bring my other hand up to the '3' but hesitate: The basement… disposal would happen in the basement. I jam 'B' and the numbers count down like a bomb; the car drops so fast my stomach shifts; my hands clench in terror.
An elderly man scrubs an electric buffer over the lobby floor's colored destination lines, his verve that of a five-year-old erasing graphite.
"Excuse me," I call out, "who's in charge down here?"
The man puts his fists on his waist, assessing me, then watches the buffer drift down the corridor and around a corner. "Depends on what you want."
I want Steven. Instead, I wave my stump. "I need to find my arm."
He sucks in a breath, compresses his lips, and then blows the air back out. "Ms. Marks. Follow the yellow line, last door on the right." Then he kneels, inspecting the linoleum, and scratches at the red line with his fingernails.
Beyond the elevator lobby, I notice, scuff marks don't get removed, or walls repainted or gurneys dusted. The other colored lines—blue first, then purple—peel away down different corridors. Yellow twists right and slides under a door. I enter without knocking, and a man slams shut a filing cabinet drawer.
"I'm guessing you're not Ms. Marks."
He laughs. "Good call. She expecting you?"
"I have an appointment."
He squats, pulls back the rug, and hauls open a trapdoor. I edge forward. Metal rungs and the yellow line perspective down to a linoleumed square.
"How am I supposed to get down?"
"Won't be easy. How badly you want to?"
After removing my IV needle, the man helps me start, and then it's step-step, release-grab, step-step, release-grab. By the time my feet touch floor, I'm exhausted: My body wants to recover from surgery; I should be sleeping. The trapdoor slams.
Opposite the ladder, the room expands into a gallery festooned with circular saw blades leaping and dropping on loop pulleys. The painted yellow line zigzags through them to a door. I enter.
"Are you Miss Marks?" I ask the woman writing at her desk.
She glares at my arm stump. "Yes."
"Do you get body parts down here?"
She stands. "We do."
"I'm looking for a lower arm. Left side."
She puckers her lips into a temporary anus and frowns. "Careless. More work for me, more for the Lord." She pushes a filing cabinet, which rolls aside to reveal a door. "My job is medical waste disposal, but ten years back I realized how much drudgery I was making for our Creator come the Rapture—all that rummaging and reassembling—so now I use my knowledge—I have a PhD in Necroscience—to keep body parts pristine and their remnants of soul intact. We must make things easier for the Lord, mustn't we—not annoy Him? No, no, no. I ask you: Should the Chosen galumph around Paradise with pig hearts and missing toes? I think not." She whistles into the doorway. "Visiting hours are posted in the gift shop, but I'll allow you—maybe in the future you'll take more care with—ah!"
Two dwarfs, a man in blue and woman in pink, appear. Both are holding onto a metal rod, which they grip like a roller coaster safety bar.
"Our guest wishes to visit his arm. Please make him feel… welcome, I guess?" She sits, resumes writing.
They nod, pivot, and march into the gloom. We follow an orange line past miles of windowed, backlit tanks packed with human parings: eyeballs, ears, fingers, legs, feet, toes, breasts, kidneys, arms, tonsils, nail clippings. Insulated wires droop from tanks to distribution boards to machines, veining the floor and walls like marble. We stop: There is my arm: my burn scar, my wedding ring, half my tattoo ('Adam +'): so familiar, but with the fingers toward me and elbow facing away, so strange. My left palm slaps the glass; the fingers curl and splay, curl and splay. We all jump.
Blue gazes up at me. "That's never happened before."
"Singular," Pink agrees. "Maybe this heretic is corrupting our flesh."
"Maybe you should go now," they chime.
"Maybe he doesn't belong here," sings Pink as they push the pole into me.
"Send him out the back," chirps Blue.
The metal rod shoots sparks, shocks. I'm herded to an exit.
"He'll come for you, you know," Pink gloats as I back out the door, "him and his army."
I'm back on the basement level. All the other doors along the corridor clack closed, click locked.The floor buffer crosses an intersection, trailing its cord. My arm throbs, points to the green line. Two turns later the line ends at a door, and behind that is snow and sunlight.
I'll go home. Steven will help me. He's so capable, so calming.
Outside, the icy sidewalks are empty, but I'm conscious that I'm barefoot, bandaged, and the back of my hospital gown gapes. Seeking more privacy, I cross to a park.
The entrance opens to a lake, and above the water floats a pulsing knot of limbs and eyes and ears and fingers and more, all sliding and combining—like Arcimboldo’s paintings of fruits, fish, and vegetables—into faces. One pair of 'lips' flicks out a tongue made of arms—and one is mine. My forefinger curls, beckoning. My stump answers, but I refuse to move: That is not me, just a soul-crumb trapped by that woman.
The mass drifts towards me. Above it, a cloud of tumors and foreskins circles and buzzes; below, a tail of liposuction fat skims the water. "Without you," a voice rumbles, "and without him and her and him, we are incomplete—and him—just frozen parts—and her—that can't pass over."
Hand-clasping arms taper into canines, lift out from grooves in the gums as a new mouth opens. "Death," the voice booms, "liberates all of your soul." Fat tonsils, cracked appendixes, and broken-down hearts gush out, roll into a tongue that wriggles across the lips. "Maybe that is your—and their and our—destiny."
I tear away, back to the streets, and I slalom through miles of nondescript buildings until I reach my little block of lawn and white pickets and flowers and exactly one house. The door bursts open at my touch. Inside is warm, quiet, ripe. Steven emerges from the kitchen and gasps.
"Honey, what happened?" He rushes over and strokes my cheek, bracing for whatever I might say.
I'm trembling; my heart is beating hard. I need to focus on Steven, and not what is holding my left hand, tugging it toward the door.
Ken Hueler teaches kung fu in the San Francisco Bay Area and, with fellow members of the Horror Writer's Association's local chapter, gets up to all sorts of adventures (only some involving margaritas). His work has appeared in Weirdbook, The Sirens Call, Space & Time, Weekly Mystery Magazine, and anthologies such as The Lost Librarian’s Grave and Tales for the Camp Fire. You can learn more at: kenhueler.wordpress.com.