John Gerard Fagan
Aileen’s eyes unstuck and saw a single bulb dangling from a damp-infested ceiling. She tried to scream but her lips were glued. Her head, hands, and legs were chained to a cold bed frame. Pain ran along her sides and pooled in her spine. Breaths became shorter as her chest pounded through a stained white sheet. The room smelled of bleach. A humming sound came from beneath the bed.
An elderly man dressed in a burgundy dressing gown shuffled into the room and studied something beside her she couldn’t quite see. He yawned and pinched the top of his nose.
“Ah, you’re awake, Patient 325.” He sat on the edge of the bed. “Now this is a surprise. Patients rarely wake down here. They must have misjudged your dosage, sweet girl. But better you wake now than later.”
Aileen wriggled, screaming with her eyes. The man patted her head with a hand that smelled like cigarettes. “Shhh, don’t worry, I’m a qualified doctor and I’m delighted to report that you are in perfect health. Please relax. This…” he said, tapping the cold restraints with his palm, “…is for your body’s own good. Now, don’t move your mouth so much – that’s a powerful adhesive. We don’t want you to tear your lips.”
He wandered away and came back wearing a pair of glasses held together in the middle by tape. He sat by her head and smiled.
“If you just calm down, seeing as you are awake, I’ll explain everything. It gets rather lonely down here, so it’ll be my pleasure to go over the details. Oh how I’ve missed patient interaction.”
He took in short breaths from his nose and his face turned to the door.
“Oh, hold on now. I’ve a few slices of bacon needing taken off the fryer. Just relax and I’ll be back in a minute.”
Aileen closed both eyes and took in long breaths. She was in hospital with a doctor and everything was going to be okay. Must have been in an accident, but he said she was in perfect health. Was he lying to her? She couldn’t remember anything after leaving the office. Did she fall? He wasn’t lying. Nothing was coming back just yet. Needed to stay calm. Her parents were probably waiting outside the room, waiting for her to wake up. Maybe even that bastard Jim had come to his senses and was there, too. Everything was going to be fine. She pictured being a child again by the harbour, swimming in the cool water with her brothers, and soon the humming sound from that room was replace by silence. The sun beating down on her face. The sound of birds on a nearby beach. Her brothers were all laughing, splashing in the shallows. Everything was going to be fine. Only the beating of her heart betrayed the sense of calm she was trying to instill.
She opened both eyes and blinked. The elderly man was standing over her again. He took a bite out of a bacon sandwich and tomato sauce dripped over his fingers.
“Feeling better? Blink one for yes, two for no,” he said, spitting bits of food over her neck.
She blinked once.
“That is great, Patient 325, just great. I’m head of procedures, and you’ll be glad to know, you’re all set. Approved and ready to go. Now to those details you’ve been after, sweet girl.”
He leaned over her, pulled out a chart and smiled. He licked his fingers and flicked through a few pages. He tapped her chest with a long fingernail and cleared his throat.
- “Un-dyed red hair, twenty inches — $300. Any sort of dye renders it worthless, so this was a rather good bonus.
- Two healthy kidneys – $140,000. Non-drinker patients are my personal favourites. When they brought you down, I had you pinned as a heavy binge drinker like many young women your age. I was especially pleased with that test result.
- A strong heart – $100,000. No issues there.
- Two eyeballs, blue – $1,600. A good colour for the Asian markets. Though green fetches the top dollars. But still, a fair price. 20/20 vision sadly isn’t what it used to be worth since laser eye surgery came into play. But good for you.
- Spleen – $500. You have a splendid blood filter in there.
- Eight pints of O-negative blood – $1,100. The 5th most common blood group, so that was a nice surprise. We haven’t had so much of that with recent patients.
- Small intestine – $2,000. Normal and healthy.
- 1.45 square meters of fair, unbleached skin – $4,000. I expected a tattoo or two but I’m pleased you were unblemished by such unnecessary deformities.
- 27 healthy teeth – $1,750. That one filling in your back molar is the only negative there. You had your wisdom teeth removed, but they are not so important for us or you. No harm done.
- Disease-free lungs – $3,700. A non-smoker, too. I’ve tried to quit several times, but alas I failed. Good to see you never picked up the nasty habit.
- Bone marrow – $13,000…”
He cupped a shaky hand over her ear. “But I think we can squeeze more marrow out and get that price up. These are all conservative estimations, you see.”
He took a deep breath. “Where was I? Oh yes. And finally, 12. Fertile eggs – $3,000. We have got you at a good age. Everything else is surprisingly worthless. Of course there are many more valuable things swimming around in there but there’s no demand right now. If you don’t match your supply with the demand you’re asking for trouble.”
He stroked the side of her head and his fingers came back wet with sweat. “Your brain, for example, is not even worth the procedure to extract it. But don’t be too disappointed about that.”
She felt tears stream along her cheeks. As realisation sunk in, her body spasmed. She fought with everything she had to break free. He placed his fingers over her eyes.
“Calm down. Calm down. There, there. Patient 325, would you believe, you are worth a grand total of $270,950. I think I can see a smile there. Can I? I think I can. That’s $3,312 more than patient 117, our second most valuable acquisition this year. Congratulations.”
He got to his feet, stretched his back and winced, “Oh, I’m getting on, but please be comforted in the fact that I still have art in me yet. I will make a masterpiece of the removal. Be thankful you’ll never have to experience the aches and pain of old age.”
He took out a syringe filled with a clear liquid and pricked her stomach. “This will guide you to your final sleep, my sweet girl. If you’re wondering, why you were chosen, I’m sorry but I have no idea. It’s a different department that selects the patients. Some are sold to us, some selected. It could be as simple as just being a case of bad luck.”
As he walked to the door, he flicked off the light switch and the room filled with darkness. Her body trembled. A kaleidoscope of images appeared as if her whole life was trying to appear at the same moment.
“Stay strong and I sincerely hope you dream a beautiful farewell. And don’t stress about pain for there will be none. Most patients are out cold before any scalpel comes anywhere near them. We’re not animals here. Of course we feel for you losing your life in this way, but there are well over seven billion people in this world now, and we all have to find a way to make money, don’t we? You are a necessary casualty I’m afraid,” he said and closed the door.
John Gerard Fagan is a Scottish writer, currently teaching Creative Writing in Japan at Meikai University. He has had over 50 short stories and essays published in several magazines, including horror in Black Static and Massacre.