This story is by Retta Bodhaine and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Subject 17 – Day 91:
Skin glows in candle light. It absorbs and then reflects the dancing flames, like deftly hammered bronze in need of polishing. I softly scrub away another patch of dirt, this one on her upper left thigh, and watch the water droplets roll down the sides of her flame lit flesh. The sound of the sponge being dipped and squeezed in the wooden bucket of water is dampened by the thick dirt walls; it adds to my calm.
I’m gentler with her bloodied knee than I have been with the rest of her. Her eyelids twitch but remained closed. I remove the grass and gravel, blot her healing wounds dry, and bandage them. It’s such a waste that she marred that luminous skin. It would not have happened if she had not run from me, but they all run.
They’re all caught too.
I continue down the rest of her mud splattered and dust caked leg and then repeat the process in reverse on its twin. After her legs are complete, I pay the same attention to her pelvis as I hear my father’s warning in my head, “an unclean woman is a breeding ground for disease.” I need my subjects healthy, and I am not wasting good antibiotics when simple hygienic care will suffice.
My eyebrow mirrors her back as it arches at one of my sponge’s more languorous passes. The movement suggests that she is either lonely, wanton, or ovulating. Over the past three months of clandestine observations, I did not witness that she had nighttime callers. Her trash indicates that she should be menstruating in less than a week. I add lonely to my list of her surface characteristics, and then move on to washing her hips.
A primal fear must be triggered at an unexpected touch to the abdomen. Something about the innate need to protect all those squishy, vulnerable, vital organs. In any case, Subject 17’s eyes pop open at the first stroke. I see her take an account of her current situation. Naked. Restrained. Underground. NOT ALONE.
The water that had flowed out of my hand and streamed down her sides like liquid crystal, now trembles in disjointed drops. Shivering, goose pimpled skin becomes opaque rather than incandescent and the blissful sounds of quiet bathing are lost in the white noise of her terror.
It is the usual, “Who are you? What do you want? Why are you doing this? Where are my clothes?” and the ever popular, “Are you going to kill me?”
I take a deep breath in and rub at my forhead. Once they wake up, day 91 is the worst of chores. Yes, even more so than dirty dishes. They’re all the same, there’s nothing new to discover, explore, or experiment with.
I ignore the inane blathering that turns into heaving sobs interspaced with outbursts of frustrated rage and helplessness. I am as thorough in her cleaning now as I was before. I am a professional after all, I just don’t get any joy out of it anymore.
It is incumbent of me to note, that Subject 17 displays the same behavior as the subjects before her (apart from Subjects 8 and 11 – see previous entries). It seems the unconscious mind is more threatened by an abdominal touch, while the conscious mind objects more to the touching of mammary tissue.
I finish with the washing, and dress her in the khaki cotton underwear, shorts, and t-shirt I give all my subjects. I check to make sure that I’ve secured the restraints properly after having to loosen them while dressing her. She stopped screaming as much once she was dressed, but she starts back up, with renewed gusto, as I buzz cut her hair. She should be thanking me. It’s much more sanitary this way.
I add more stabilizing tethers and wheel her over to the magnetic resonance imaging machine. She struggles pointlessly against the restraints. I see her face darken with the patina of frustration when she fails to even turn her head. It seems to surprise them when the cloth binds them more effectively than metal could. Another plus, I can put them into the machine as is; there is no metal to remove.
I allow myself a moment of pride. I have mastered moving them from the cart to the machine without assistance. I turn the machine on and let it do its work.
I review my notes from the past 90 days of observation. I’ll need to ask her personally jarring questions during the electroencephalography to map out her starting personality correctly.
MRI completed, I sit her at the table and give her soup and water that she can sip through straws. She doesn’t touch the provided refreshments. I strap the EEG cap to her head, making sure all the sensors are appropriately connected.
I sit in front of her and give her the same introductory speech I give to all my subjects, “I am Dr. Kells. I am interested in the scientific proof of the existence of a self or a soul. I plan to study this through several successive neurological examinations while I hamper and eventually extinguish your frontal lobe’s functionality.”
I raise my voice over her objecting clamors. “The frontal lobe is currently believed to be the home of the human personality; however, I maintain that personalities are under our conscious ego’s control, and therefore hamper our ability to locate and examine our potential links to the higher-level Creator. Only by getting rid of the conscious self can we determine who we truly are. I am looking for observable traits that remain the same after your ego is out of the way and look for patterns among my subjects to find our truly defining characteristics. You are one of my study’s subjects. You will survive the testing and be returned to your home. Now, let’s begin.”
I make a show of flipping through my notes. She’s yelling at me, but her voice is easy to tune out. It’s one of the reasons why I chose her.
“What is your name?” I ask. As with my notes, I also play up my examination of the results as she responds. Predictably, she doesn’t break her tantrum to answer my question, but that makes no difference today. I can see what I need to by her instinctive reaction to certain trigger words I’ll bring up during our “dialogue.” I continue. I never stray from my script.
I know that in the coming days she’ll answer the questions, hoping for a different outcome than the one she gets today. Eventually, as hope runs out, she’ll stop responding to anything. At that time, I’ll be uncharacteristically incompetent, and she’ll discover that she’s not the only one of my subjects being held here. I’ll allow the hope of escape to bloom enough that she keeps answering my questions to avoid arousing suspicion. By the time she realizes there is no hope, it will be too late.
After our question and non-answer segment is over, I study the maps I’ve made of her brain. I prepare a razor and bowl of water. I take precise measurements of her skull and shave a square inch patch of hair directly over her frontal lobe.
She screams much more than is necessary while I use a needle and taper tool to insert 4 nonferromagnetic dermal anchors just below her skin. I didn’t even crack her skull, and she screams like I’m murdering her. I clean up the piercing sites and even offer her some acetaminophen with her now cold soup. She refuses both.
Using the dermal piercings with clamp attachments, I insert and tighten down an adjustable strength electromagnet in the center of the shaved square. Since the piercings are nonferromagnetic and the magnet is removable by a loosening of the clamps, I’ll still be able to use magnetic resonance imaging.
Finally, I use elongated needle nose pliers to insert an electronic device encased in ferromagnetic metal as far up her nostril as possible. In a few weeks the magnet will pull the device through her cartilage and bone into her skull. Once it’s deeply imbedded, it should not affect the magnetic resonance imaging.
Eventually it will eat its way through her frontal lobe, sending out small electronic shocks, as I tell it to, that will kill off the parts of the brain that are in direct contact with it. I’ll slowly chip away at her “personality” until all of her preprograming is deleted and we’re left with the base entity.
After my studies are completed, I’ll remove the devise, dermal anchors, and magnet from her skull. I’ll tend her wounds, and I’ll return her to her previous life, as I told her I would.
I know many of my subjects fear that I’ll take their lives, but I have no interest in senseless murder. I’d only kill if my research demanded I do so. After all, I’m not a monster.