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For the Greater Good
The pungent smell of rubbing alcohol stung Carrie’s nose as the nurse prepped her skin for the needle. She rubbed her hand across her smooth, bald head, fingers brushing the small square of raised lines behind her ear. The IV tugged at the skin in her hand, making her stomach churn uncomfortably.
“This will hurt,” said the nurse, not bothering to look up at the girl’s terrified expression.
It was suddenly as if the sterile walls of the claustrophobic room were inching in toward her, threatening to squeeze her body into a pulp. Carrie’s hands clenched her gown tightly, and she swallowed hard.
The nurse turned to the table in front of her, nails clinking against metal as she picked up the thick, three-inch needle, examining it with an almost loving gaze. Her heart pounded against her chest, the blood in her ears rushing like a whitewater current over a jagged ravine.
The nurse lowered the needle until it hovered against the sensitive skin on Carrie’s hip, and she flinched as the tip brushed against her with a sharp little prick. She held her breath, gritting her teeth, and looked back at the nurse; she met her pleading stare, baring her teeth in a sick, demonic smile.
“Don’t worry, dear. It’ll be over soon.”
The nurse jammed the needle into her, tearing past layers of tender muscle, and she could hear it scraping against bone and digging deep into marrow. She gasped, her vision bowing to a white flash of pain that seared into her like a hot coal fresh from the fire.
Slowly, as if trying to prolong her agony, the nurse pulled up on the plunger, and thick red fluid slowly rose into the plastic capsule. The needle pinched her muscles, causing her hip to spasm, and the nurse pressed her weight down on her side to keep her from moving. The syringe slurped the marrow from her bone, and her mouth filled with saliva, a metallic taste accompanying the moisture. She covered her lips with her palm, ignoring the pinch of the IV in her vein. She could feel the bile creeping up her throat, leaving a trail of burning flesh behind it.
“Almost done,” the nurse said, and she yanked the needle out. With a final, excruciating pinch, it was over.
Carrie looked back at the nurse, eyes tearing up, saw the capsule filled with crimson liquid, and promptly threw up on the floor.
The fluorescent ceiling lighting above her head flickered irritatingly, buzzing incessantly like a hovering mosquito. Reflecting off the metal table, it seemed to seep into every crevice of her vision, squeezing her temples together.
Carrie had a headache.
This, of course, was fairly common for those who had just been through a particularly rough procedure – especially those after which one had thrown up.
She absentmindedly pushed around the flavorless, colorless – and slightly runny – oatmeal on her tray, focusing on trying to ignore the growing pain in her left temple, when Neil slid into the seat next to her.
“Heard you hurled today,” he said, licking his dry lips.
“How was that?”
Carrie turned her head to look at Neil, muscles engaging in what would have raised an eyebrow, had she had eyebrows.
“It was just dandy, thanks.”
Neil laughed, air whistling through a small gap in his teeth. When he laughed in full, he looked a bit like a monkey, she thought. He had big ears that faced forward, and the skin on his face was darker than the skin on his head, him being freshly shaved; when he smiled, his large nose was somehow more defined, like a grimace.
“I’ll bet the nurse just loved you.”
Carrie shook her head. “Just short of a marriage proposal, I’m sure.”
A tray clattered onto the floor up at the front of the cafeteria, white slosh spreading fast on white tiles. The room grew silent.
Near the source of the clamor, a younger female with pale yellowish skin stood trembling as she watched her meal spread across the floor. Her cheeks turned an opaque kind of white, and she looked as though she might cry.
The sliding glass doors flew open, and through them came the very nurse that had taken care of her operation earlier that day. Her expression was blank, eyes set like cold, black stones in her face as she marched over to the girl and yanked her wrist up violently. The girl let out a high-pitched scream that set Carrie’s nerves on end, goose bumps forming on her arms.
“Please!” she wailed. “It was an accident!”
But the nurse ignored her, dragging her out the sliding glass doors, her cries reverberating around the room until the doors slid shut once again, leaving the cafeteria in a stunned silence.
Bodies shifted uncomfortably in their chairs, which groaned and squeaked under the movement. Beside her, Neil whistled out a long breath of air.
“That poor girl’s got it coming to her, I tell you,” he muttered.
She nodded in agreement. The girl had been sick, that much was obvious. Otherwise she would not have dropped her food. And the Doctor did not allow sickness amongst the Bodies. It went against everything he’d worked for. It was a direct conflict with the very purpose of their existence: to provide a source of health that could be harvested for the Originals, should they become ill themselves. It all made sense to Carrie; she had never seen reason to question the Doctor’s logic. Yet the girl’s screams echoed in her mind with an unsettling tinge.
The din of the hall augmented to its original volume, and Carrie’s eyes felt like they could, at any moment, pop out of their sockets.
Next to her, Neil scooped up the last of his gloop and stood.
“Where’re you going?” she asked.
“Didn’t I tell you?” He rubbed the back of his neck with a scarred hand. “My Original needs a kidney, ‘else he’s gonna die.” He winked. “Or so they tell me.”
He shook his head. “Yeah, it’s always something, ain’t it? Kidney today, maybe it’s my heart tomorrow.” The corners of his mouth twitched upward.
“Well. I’ll see you, then,” Carrie said, her face emotionless.
Neil waved, beginning to walk toward the doors, but stopped in his tracks. He would turn and look back, she thought. Say something smart, a quip for her to remember. It would be like him to do something like that.
But he just shook out his foot with a little twitch that made the fabric of his grey gown ripple, and continued on.
In the weeks that followed, she waited for Neil to show up, hoped for him to sit down beside her in the cafeteria with one of his snarky comments, waited for him to walk into the Stimulation room, tardy with no excuse for the supervising nurse. After the first few days without hearing from him, she just assumed that he’d had a rough procedure, that he was still recovering. But after half a month of his absence, she began to suspect that she might never see Neil again.
It was common for a Body to go off to some operation and never hear of them again. She was used to it. When it happened, they should go about their business and move along like the missing Body had never existed. And Carrie tried, with Neil, really. But each day, she found that his presence lingered in her memory, haunting her thoughts as she lay in her chamber, sleep somehow evading her.
When she finally did sleep, it was always uneasily, restlessly. Images of a shapeless monster, chasing her, invaded her dreams. Tonight, as she was running, the tile floor underneath her became cold, its metallic surface filled with sharp ledges that cut the soles of her feet. And suddenly she found that she could not run, that she was trapped inside a cage made of glass walls. The monster laughed ominously. She screamed and screamed, which only made the monster laugh harder. And her screams evolved, became those of the girl from the cafeteria. And with a great clash, the monster struck the glass cage, walls shattering around her. The monster crept forward, its face twisted in a smile that showed teeth like razors.
Carrie bolted upright, still screaming, and smacked her forehead on the top of her chamber. A bruise began to form. Her heart was racing, and she rubbed the bruise gingerly. Already, as she took in the dark surroundings of her chamber, she was beginning to forget the dream. And that’s all it was, she told herself: a dream. Still, she found, as she drifted back to sleep, that the tense feeling in her gut was not going away.