5310 words, short story
The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill
2015 Finalist for the Theodore A. Sturgeon Memorial Award
“I rise today on this September 11th, the one-year anniversary of the greatest tragedy on American soil in our history, with a heavy heart . . . ”
—Hon. Jim Turner
September 9, 2001
Jessica slumped against the inside of the truck door. The girl behind the wheel and the other one squished between them on the bench seat kept stealing glances at her. Jessica ignored them, just like she tried to ignore the itchy pull and tug deep inside her, under her belly button, where the aliens were trying to knit her guts back together.
“You party pretty hard last night?” the driver asked.
Jessica rested her burning forehead on the window. The hum of the highway under the wheels buzzed through her skull. The truck cab stank of incense.
“You shouldn’t hitchhike, it’s not safe,” the other girl said. “I sound like my mom saying it and I hate that but it’s really true. So many dead girls. They haven’t even found all the bodies.”
“Highway of Tears,” the driver said.
“Yeah, Highway of Tears,” the other one repeated. “Bloody Sixteen.”
“Nobody calls it that,” the driver snapped.
Jessica pulled her hair up off her neck, trying to cool the sticky heat pulsing through her. The two girls looked like tree planters. She’d spent the summer working full time at the gas station and now she could smell a tree planter a mile away. They’d come in for smokes and mix, dirty, hairy, dressed in fleece and hemp just like these two. The driver had blond dreadlocks and the other had tattoos circling her wrists. Not that much older than her, lecturing her about staying safe just like somebody’s mom.
Well, she’s right, Jessica thought. A gush of blood flooded the crotch of her jeans.
Water. Jessica, we can do this but you’ve got to get some water. We need to replenish your fluids.
“You got any water?” Jessica asked. Her voice rasped, throat stripped raw from all the screaming.
The tattooed girl dug through the backpack at Jessica’s feet and came up with a two-liter mason jar half-full of water. Hippies, Jessica thought as she fumbled with the lid. Like one stupid jar will save the world.
“Let me help.” The tattooed girl unscrewed the lid and steadied the heavy jar as Jessica lifted it to her lips.
She gagged. Her throat was tight as a fist but she forced herself to swallow, wash down the dirt and puke coating her mouth.
Good. Drink more.
“I can’t,” Jessica said. The tattooed girl stared at her.
You need to. We can’t do this alone. You have to help us.
“Are you okay?” the driver asked. “You look wrecked.”
Jessica wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “I’m fine. Just hot.”
“Yeah, you’re really flushed,” said the tattooed girl. “You should take off your coat.”
Jessica ignored her and gulped at the jar until it was empty.
Not so fast. Careful!
“Do you want to swing past the hospital when we get into town?” the driver asked.
A bolt of pain knifed through Jessica’s guts. The empty jar slipped from her grip and rolled across the floor of the truck. The pain faded.
“I’m fine,” she repeated. “I just got a bad period.”
That did it. The lines of worry eased off both girls’ faces.
“Do you have a pad? I’m gonna bleed all over your seat.” Jessica’s vision dimmed, like someone had put a shade over the morning sun.
“No problem.” The tattooed girl fished through the backpack. “I bleed heavy too. It depletes my iron.”
“That’s just an excuse for you to eat meat,” said the driver.
Jessica leaned her forehead on the window and waited for the light to come back into the world. The two girls were bickering now, caught up in their own private drama.
Another flood of blood. More this time. She curled her fists into her lap. Her insides twisted and jumped like a fish on a line.
Your lungs are fine. Breathe deeply, in and out, that’s it. We need all the oxygen you can get.
The tattooed girl pulled a pink wrapped maxi pad out of her backpack and offered it to Jessica. The driver slowed down and turned the truck into a roadside campground.
“Hot,” Jessica said. The girls didn’t hear. Now they were bitching at each other about disposable pads and something called a keeper cup.
We know. You’ll be okay. We can heal you.
“Don’t wait for me,” Jessica said as they pulled up to the campground outhouse. She flipped the door handle and nearly fell out of the truck. “I can catch another ride.”
Cold air washed over her as she stumbled toward the outhouse. She unzipped her long coat and let the breeze play though—chill air on boiling skin. Still early September but they always got a cold snap at the start of fall. First snow only a few days ago. Didn’t last. Never did.
The outhouse stench hit her like a slap. Jessica fumbled with the lock. Her fingers felt stiff and clumsy.
“Why am I so hot?” she said, leaning on the cold plywood wall. Her voice sounded strange, ripped apart and multiplied into echoes.
Your immune system is trying to fight us but we’ve got it under control. The fever isn’t dangerous, just uncomfortable.
She shed her coat and let it fall to the floor. Unzipped her jeans, slipped them down her hips. No panties. She hadn’t been able to find them.
No, Jessica. Don’t look.
Pubic hair hacked away along with most of her skin. Two deep slices puckered angry down the inside of her right thigh. And blood. On her legs, on her jeans, inside her coat. Blood everywhere, dark and sticky.
An iron tang filled the outhouse as a gout of blood dribbled down her legs. Jessica fell back on the toilet seat. Deep within her chest something fluttered, like a bird beating its wings on her ribs, trying to get out. The light drained from the air.
If you die, we die too. Please give us a chance.
The flutters turned into fists pounding on her breastbone. She struggled to inhale, tried to drag the outhouse stink deep into her lungs but the air felt thick. Solid. Like a wall against her face.
Don’t go. Please.
Breath escaped her like smoke from a fire burned down to coal and ash. She collapsed against the wall of the outhouse. Vision turned to pinpricks; she crumpled like paper and died.
“Everything okay in there?”
The thumping on the door made the whole outhouse shake. Jessica lurched to her feet. Her chest burned like she’d been breathing acid.
“I’m fine. Gimme a second.”
Jessica plucked the pad off the outhouse floor, ripped it open and stuck it on the crotch of her bloody jeans, zipped them up. She zipped her coat to her chin. She felt strong. Invincible. She unlocked the door.
The two girls were right there, eyes big and concerned and in her business.
“You didn’t have to wait,” Jessica said.
“How old are you, fifteen? We waited,” the driver said as they climbed back into the truck.
“We’re not going to let you hitchhike,” said the tattooed girl. “Especially not you.”
“Why not me?” Jessica slammed the truck door behind her.
“Most of the dead and missing girls are First Nations.”
“You think I’m an Indian? Fuck you. Am I on a reserve?”
The driver glared at her friend as she turned the truck back onto the highway.
“Sorry,” the tattooed girl said.
“Do I look like an Indian?”
“Fuck you.” Jessica leaned on the window, watching the highway signs peel by as they rolled toward Prince George. When they got to the city the invincible feeling was long gone. The driver insisted on taking her right to Gran’s.
“Thanks,” Jessica said as she slid out of the truck.
The driver waved. “Remember, no hitchhiking.”
September 8, 2001
Jessica never hitchhiked.
She wasn’t stupid. But Prince George was spread out. Busses ran maybe once an hour weekdays and barely at all on weekends, and when the weather turned cold you could freeze to death trying to walk everywhere. So yeah, she took rides when she could, if she knew the driver.
After her Saturday shift she’d started walking down the highway. Mom didn’t know she was coming. Jessica had tried to get through three times from the gas station phone, left voice mails. Mom didn’t always pick up—usually didn’t—and when she did it was some excuse about her phone battery or connection.
Mom was working as a cook at a retreat center out by Tabor Lake. A two hour walk, but Mom would get someone to drive her back to Gran’s.
Only seven o’clock but getting cold and the wind had come up. Semis bombed down the highway, stirring up the trash and making it dance at her feet and fly in her face as she walked along the ditch.
It wasn’t even dark when the car pulled over to the side of the highway.
“Are you Jessica?”
The man looked ordinary. Baseball cap, hoodie. Somebody’s dad trying to look young.
“Yeah,” Jessica said.
“Your mom sent me to pick you up.”
A semi honked as it blasted past his car. A McDonald’s wrapper flipped through the air and smacked her in the back of the head. She got in.
The car was skunky with pot smoke. She almost didn’t notice when he passed the Tabor Lake turnoff.
“That was the turn,” she said.
“Yeah, she’s not there. She’s out at the ski hill.”
“At this time of year?”
“Some kind of event.” He took a drag on his smoke and smiled.
Jessica hadn’t even twigged. Mom had always wanted to work at the ski hill, where she could party all night and ski all day.
It was twenty minutes before Jessica started to clue in.
When he slowed to take a turn onto a gravel road she braced herself to roll out of the car. The door handle was broken. She went at him with her fingernails but he had the jump on her, hit her in the throat with his elbow. She gulped air and tried to roll down the window.
It was broken too. She battered the glass with her fists, then spun and lunged for the wheel. He hit her again, slammed her head against the dashboard three times. The world stuttered and swam.
Pain brought everything back into focus. Face down, her arms flailed, fingers clawed at the dirt. Spruce needles flew up her nose and coated her tongue. Her butt was jacked up over a log and every thrust pounded her face into the dirt. One part of her was screaming, screaming. The other part watched the pile of deer shit inches from her nose. It looked like a heap of candy. Chocolate-covered almonds.
She didn’t listen to what he was telling her. She’d heard worse from boys at school. He couldn’t make her listen. He didn’t exist except as a medium for pain.
When he got off, Jessica felt ripped in half, split like firewood. She tried to roll off the log. She’d crawl into the bush, he’d drive away, and it would be over.
Then he showed her the knife.
When he rammed the knife up her she found a new kind of pain. It drove the breath from her lungs and sliced the struggle from her limbs. She listened to herself whimper, thinking it sounded like a newborn kitten, crying for its mother.
The pain didn’t stop until the world had retreated to little flecks of light deep in her skull. The ground spun around her as he dragged her through the bush and rolled her into a ravine. She landed face down in a stream. Her head flopped, neck canted at a weird angle.
Jessica curled her fingers around something cold and round. A rock. It fit in her hand perfectly and if he came back she’d let him have it right in the teeth. And then her breath bubbled away and she died.
When she came back to life a bear corpse was lying beside her, furry and rank. She dug her fingers into its pelt and pulled herself up. It was still warm. And skinny—nothing but sinew and bone under the skin.
She stumbled through the stream, toes in wet socks stubbing against the rocks but it didn’t hurt. Nothing hurt. She was good. She could do anything.
She found her coat in the mud, her jeans too. One sneaker by the bear and then she looked and looked for the other one.
It’s up the bank.
She climbed up. The shoe was by the log where it had happened. The toe was coated in blood. She wiped it in the dirt.
You need to drink some water.
A short dirt track led down to the road. The gravel glowed white in the dim light of early morning. No idea which way led to the highway. She picked a direction.
“How do you know what I need?”
We know. We’re trying to heal you. The damage is extensive. You’ve lost a lot of blood and the internal injuries are catastrophic.
We can fix you. We just need time.
Her guts writhed. Snakes fought in her belly, biting and coiling.
Feel that? That’s us working. Inside you.
“Why doesn’t it hurt?”
We’ve established a colony in your thalamus. That’s where we’re blocking the pain. If we didn’t, you’d die of shock.
“A colony. What the fuck are you? Aliens?”
Yes. We’re also distributing a hormonal cocktail of adrenaline and testosterone to keep you moving, but we’ll have to taper it off soon because it puts too much stress on your heart. Right now it’s very important for you to drink some water.
“Shut up about the water.” She wasn’t thirsty. She felt great.
A few minutes later the fight drained out of her. Thirsty, exhausted, she ached as though the hinge of every moving part was crusted in rust, from her jaw to her toes. Her eyelids rasped like sandpaper. Her breath sucked and blew without reaching her lungs. Every rock in the road was a mountain and every pothole a canyon.
But she walked. Dragged her sneakers through the gravel, taking smaller and smaller steps until she just couldn’t lift her feet anymore. She stood in the middle of the road and waited. Waited to fall over. Waited for the world to slip from her grasp and darkness to drown her in cold nothing.
When she heard the truck speeding toward her she didn’t even look up. Didn’t matter who it was, what it was. She stuck out her thumb.
September 10, 2001
Jessica woke soaked. Covered in blood, she thought, struggling with the blankets. But it wasn’t blood.
Your urethra was damaged so we eliminated excess fluid through your pores. It’s repaired now. You’ll be able to urinate.
She pried herself out of the wet blankets.
No solid food, though. Your colon is shredded and your small intestine has multiple ruptures.
When the tree planters dropped her off, Gran had been sacked out on the couch. Jessica had stayed in the shower for a good half hour, watching the blood swirl down the drain with the spruce needles and the dirt, the blood clots and shreds of raw flesh.
And all the while she drank. Opened her mouth and let the cool spray fill her. Then she had stuffed her bloody clothes in a garbage bag and slept.
Jessica ran her fingertips over the gashes inside her thigh. The wounds puckered like wide toothless mouths, sliced edges pasted together and sunk deep within her flesh. The rest of the damage was hardened over with amber-colored scabs. She’d have to use a mirror to see it all. She didn’t want to look.
“I should go to the hospital,” she whispered.
That’s not a good idea. It would take multiple interventions to repair the damage to your digestive tract. They’d never be able to save your uterus or reconstruct your vulva and clitoris. The damage to your cervix alone—
Do you want to have children someday?
“I don’t know.”
Trust us. We can fix this.
She hated the hospital anyway. Went to Emergency after she’d twisted her knee but the nurse had turned her away, said she wouldn’t bother the on-call for something minor. Told her to go home and put a bag of peas on it.
And the cops were even worse than anyone at the hospital. Didn’t give a shit. Not one of them.
Gran was on the couch, snoring. A deck of cards was scattered across the coffee table in between the empties—looked like she’d been playing solitaire all weekend.
Gran hadn’t fed the cats, either. They had to be starving but they wouldn’t come to her, not even when she was filling their dishes. Not even Gringo, who had hogged her bed every night since she was ten. He just hissed and ran.
Usually Jessica would wake up Gran before leaving for school, try to get her on her feet so she didn’t sleep all day. Today she didn’t have the strength. She shook Gran’s shoulder.
“Night night, baby,” Gran said, and turned over.
Jessica waited for the school bus. She felt cloudy, dispersed, her thoughts blowing away with the wind. And cold now, without her coat. The fever was gone.
“Could you fix Gran?”
Perhaps. What’s wrong with her?
Jessica shrugged. “I don’t know. Everything.”
We can try. Eventually.
She sleepwalked through her classes. It wasn’t a problem. The teachers were more bothered when she did well than when she slacked off. She stayed in the shadows, off everyone’s radar.
After school she walked to the gas station. Usually when she got to work she’d buy some chips or a chocolate bar, get whoever was going off shift to ring it up so nobody could say she hadn’t paid for it.
“How come I’m not hungry?” she asked when she had the place to herself.
You are; you just can’t perceive it.
It was a quiet night. The gas station across the highway had posted a half cent lower so everyone was going there. Usually she’d go stir crazy from boredom but today she just zoned out. Badly photocopied faces stared at her from the posters taped to the cigarette cabinet overhead.
An SUV pulled up to pump number three. A bull elk was strapped to the hood, tongue lolling.
“What was the deal with the bear?” she said.
The bear’s den was adjacent to our crash site. It was killed by the concussive wave.
“Crash site. A spaceship?”
Yes. Unfortunate for the bear, but very fortunate for us.
“You brought the bear back to life. Healed it.”
“And before finding me you were just riding around in the bear.”
Yes. It was attracted by the scent of your blood.
“So you saw what happened to me. You watched.” She should be upset, shouldn’t she? But her mind felt dull, thoughts thudding inside an empty skull.
We have no access to the visual cortex.
“What are you?”
A form of bacteria.
“Like an infection.”
The door chimed and the hunter handed over his credit card. She rang it through. When he was gone she opened her mouth to ask another question, but then her gut convulsed like she’d been hit. She doubled over the counter. Bile stung her throat.
He’d been here on Saturday.
Jessica had been on the phone, telling mom’s voice mail that she’d walk out to Talbot Lake after work. While she was talking she’d rung up a purchase, $32.25 in gas and a pack of smokes. She’d punched it through automatically, cradling the phone on her shoulder. She’d given him change from fifty.
An ordinary man. Hoodie. Cap.
Her head whipped around, eyes wild, hands scrambling reflexively for a weapon. Nobody was at the pumps, nobody parked at the air pump. He could come back any moment. Bring his knife and finish the job.
Please breathe. There’s no apparent danger.
She fell to her knees and crawled out from behind the counter. Nobody would stop him, nobody would save her. Just like they hadn’t saved all those dead and missing girls whose posters had been staring at her all summer from up on the cigarette cabinet.
When she’d started the job they’d creeped her out, those posters. For a few weeks she’d thought twice about walking after dark. But then those dead and missing girls disappeared into the landscape. Forgotten.
You must calm down.
Now she was one of them.
We may not be able to bring you back again.
She scrambled to the bathroom on all fours, threw herself against the door, twisted the lock. Her hands were shuddering, teeth chattering like it was forty below. Her chest squeezed and bucked, throwing acid behind her teeth.
There was a frosted window high on the wall. He could get in, if he wanted. She could almost see the knife tick-tick-ticking on the glass.
No escape. Jessica plowed herself into the narrow gap between the wall and toilet, wedging herself there, fists clutching at her burning chest as she retched bile onto the floor. The light winked and flickered. A scream flushed out of her and she died.
A fist banged on the door.
“Jessica, what the hell!” Her boss’s voice.
A key scraped in the lock. Jessica gripped the toilet and wrenched herself off the floor to face him. His face was flushed with anger and though he was a big guy, he couldn’t scare her now. She felt bigger, taller, stronger, too. And she’d always been smarter than him.
“Jesus, what’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing, I’m fine.” Better than fine. She was butterfly-light, like if she opened her wings she could fly away.
“The station’s wide open. Anybody could have waltzed in here and walked off with the till.”
His mouth hung open for a second. “Did they what?”
“Walk off with the fucking till?”
“Are you on drugs?”
She smiled. She didn’t need him. She could do anything.
“That’s it,” he said. “You’re gone. Don’t come back.”
A taxi was gassing up at pump number one. She got in the back and waited, watching her boss pace and yell into his phone. The invincible feeling faded before the tank was full. By the time she got home Jessica’s joints had locked stiff and her thoughts had turned fuzzy.
All the lights were on. Gran was halfway into her second bottle of u-brew red so she was pretty out of it, too. Jessica sat with her at the kitchen table for a few minutes and was just thinking about crawling to bed when the phone rang.
It was Mom.
“Did you send someone to pick me up on the highway?” Jessica stole a glance at Gran. She was staring at her reflection in the kitchen window, maybe listening, maybe not.
“No, why would I do that?”
“I left you messages. On Saturday.”
“I’m sorry, baby. This phone is so bad, you know that.”
“Listen, I need to talk to you.” Jessica kept her voice low.
“Is it your grandma?” Mom asked.
“Yeah. It’s bad. She’s not talking.”
“She does this every time the residential school thing hits the news. Gets super excited, wants to go up north and see if any of her family are still alive. But she gives up after a couple of days. Shuts down. It’s too much for her. She was only six when they took her away, you know.”
“Yeah. When are you coming home?”
“I got a line on a great job, cooking for an oil rig crew. One month on, one month off.”
Jessica didn’t have the strength to argue. All she wanted to do was sleep.
“Don’t worry about your Gran,” Mom said. “She’ll be okay in a week or two. Listen, I got to go.”
“Night night, baby,” Mom said, and hung up.
September 11, 2001
Jessica waited alone for the school bus. The street was deserted. When the bus pulled up the driver was chattering before she’d even climbed in.
“Can you believe it? Isn’t it horrible?” The driver’s eyes were puffy, mascara swiped to a gray stain under her eyes.
“Yeah,” Jessica agreed automatically.
“When first I saw the news I thought it was so early, nobody would be at work. But it was nine in the morning in New York. Those towers were full of people.” The driver wiped her nose.
The bus was nearly empty. Two little kids sat behind the driver, hugging their backpacks. The radio blared. Horror in New York. Attack on Washington. Jessica dropped into the shotgun seat and let the noise wash over her for a few minutes as they twisted slowly through the empty streets. Then she moved to the back of the bus.
When she’d gotten dressed that morning her jeans had nearly slipped off her hips. Something about that was important. She tried to concentrate, but the thoughts flitted from her grasp, darting away before she could pin them down.
She focused on the sensation within her, the buck and heave under her ribs and in front of her spine.
“What are you fixing right now?” she asked.
An ongoing challenge is the sequestration of the fecal and digestive matter that leaked into your abdominal cavity.
“What about the stuff you mentioned yesterday? The intestine and the . . . whatever it was.”
Once we have repaired your digestive tract and restored gut motility we will begin reconstructive efforts on your reproductive organs.
“You like big words, don’t you?”
We assure you the terminology is accurate.
There it was. That was the thing that had been bothering her, niggling at the back of her mind, trying to break through the fog.
“How do you know those words? How can you even speak English?”
We aren’t communicating in language. The meaning is conveyed by socio-linguistic impulses interpreted by the brain’s speech processing loci. Because of the specifics of our biology, verbal communication is an irrelevant medium.
“You’re not talking, you’re just making me hallucinate,” Jessica said.
That is essentially correct.
How could the terminology be accurate, then? She didn’t know those words—cervix and whatever—so how could she hallucinate them?
“Were you watching the news when the towers collapsed?” the driver asked as she pulled into the high school parking lot. Jessica ignored her and slowly stepped off the bus.
The aliens were trying to baffle her with big words and science talk. For three days she’d had them inside her, their voice behind her eyes, their fingers deep in her guts, and she’d trusted them. Hadn’t even thought twice. She had no choice.
If they could make her hallucinate, what else were they doing to her?
The hallways were quiet, the classrooms deserted except for one room at the end of the hall with 40 kids packed in. The teacher had wheeled in an AV cart. Some of the kids hadn’t even taken off their coats.
Jessica stood in the doorway. The news flashed clips of smoking towers collapsing into ash clouds. The bottom third of the screen was overlaid with scrolling, flashing text, the sound layered with frantic voiceovers. People were jumping from the towers, hanging in the air like dancers. The clips replayed over and over again. The teacher passed around a box of Kleenex.
Jessica turned her back on the class and climbed upstairs, joints creaking, jeans threatening to slide off with every step. She hitched them up. The biology lab was empty. She leaned on the cork board and scanned the parasite diagrams. Ring worm. Tape worm. Liver fluke. Black wasp.
Some parasites can change their host’s biology, the poster said, or even change their host’s behavior.
Jessica took a push pin from the board and shoved it into her thumb. It didn’t hurt. When she ripped it out a thin stream of blood trickled from the skin, followed by an ooze of clear amber from deep within the gash.
What are you doing?
None of your business, she thought.
Everything is going to be okay.
No it won’t, she thought. She squeezed the amber ooze from her thumb, let it drip on the floor. The aliens were wrenching her around like a puppet, but without them she would be dead. Three times dead. Maybe she should feel grateful, but she didn’t.
“Why didn’t you want me to go to the hospital?” she asked as she slowly hinged down the stairs.
They couldn’t have helped you, Jessica. You would have died.
Again, Jessica thought. Died again. And again.
“You said that if I die, you die too.”
When your respiration stops, we can only survive for a limited time.
The mirror in the girls’ bathroom wasn’t real glass, just a sheet of polished aluminum, its shine pitted and worn. She leaned on the counter, rested her forehead on the cool metal. Her reflection warped and stretched.
“If I’d gone to the hospital, it would have been bad for you. Wouldn’t it?”
That is likely.
“So you kept me from going. You kept me from doing a lot of things.”
We assure you that is untrue. You may exercise your choices as you see fit. We will not interfere.
“You haven’t left me any choices.”
Jessica left the bathroom and walked down the hall. The news blared from the teacher’s lounge. She looked in. At least a dozen teachers crowded in front of an AV cart, backs turned. Jessica slipped behind them and ducked into the teachers’ washroom. She locked the door.
It was like a real bathroom. Air freshener, moisturizing lotion, floral soap. Real mirror on the wall and a makeup mirror propped on the toilet tank. Jessica put it on the floor.
“Since when do bacteria have spaceships?” She pulled her sweater over her head and dropped it over the mirror.
Jessica, you’re not making sense. You’re confused.
She put her heel on the sweater and stepped down hard. The mirror cracked.
Go to the hospital now, if you want.
“If I take you to the hospital, what will you do? Infect other people? How many?”
Jessica, please. Haven’t we helped you?
“You’ve helped yourself.”
The room pitched and flipped. Jessica fell to her knees. She reached for the broken mirror but it swam out of reach. Her vision telescoped and she batted at the glass with clumsy hands. A scream built behind her teeth, swelled and choked her. She swallowed it whole, gulped it, forced it down her throat like she was starving.
You don’t have to do this. We aren’t a threat.
She caught a mirror shard in one fist and swam along the floor as the room tilted and whirled. With one hand she pinned it to the yawning floor like a spike, windmilled her free arm and slammed her wrist down. The walls folded in, collapsing on her like the whole weight of the world, crushing in.
She felt another scream building. She forced her tongue between clenched teeth and bit down. Amber fluid oozed down her chin and pooled on the floor.
Please. We only want to help.
“Night night, baby,” she said, and raked the mirror up her arm.
The fluorescent light flashed overhead. The room plunged into darkness as a world of pain dove into her for one hanging moment. Then it lifted. Jessica convulsed on the floor, watching the bars of light overhead stutter and compress to two tiny glimmers inside the thin parched shell of her skull. And she died, finally, at last.
Kelly Robson's short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, Tor.com, Asimov's Science Fiction, and multiple year's best anthologies. Her book "Gods, Monsters and the Lucky Peach" will be published this March from Tor.com Publishing. In 2017, she was a finalist for the 2017 John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. Her novella "Waters of Versailles" won the 2016 Aurora Award and was a finalist for both the Nebula and World Fantasy Awards. She lives in Toronto with her wife, fellow SF writer A.M. Dellamonica.