2037 by Julie Bleth

I tried to convince myself they weren’t that bad, I really did. 

Raw and ragged, they scorch my flesh. My arms. My back. My neck. They envelop delicate porcelain skin with angry red shadows, ravenous with hatred. They burrow into the surface like maggots, oil into my bloodstream, no longer skin deep. They crawl up my arms and hiss into my ears, wet tongue flicking against my cheek. They pollute every moment, every stare, every look of pity, of disgust, I know it’s because of them. They demand your attention, they demand my attention, they consume your sights until nothing is left but raw, ragged, blackened flesh. 

I tried to avoid them. But mirrors follow me everywhere, and eyes along with them. 

Even here, the mirrors have followed me. 

I wonder if the eyes have too. 

The cool steel of the bed against my skin pulls me from my thoughts. An artificial lemony scent fills my nose, the room must be freshly cleaned. It’s small, tidy, the metal bed I’m sitting on now is the only thing that occupies it besides a tacky medical poster. 

And the mirror.

I saw it when the nurse led me into the room earlier. 

I don’t need to see it again. 

I know it’s there, daring me to look up. My eyes are fixed on my thin hands as I slowly peel away the chipped red paint from my uneven fingernails. My feet swing off the side of the bed in an unsteady rhythm. 

The door swings open. I don’t look until she clears her throat. I rip my eyes from my nails and directly into her wide eyes and even wider smile. Ugh. Big mistake. 

The nurse’s skin stretches tight around her face and her upturned eyes somehow make it worse. I think she says something, but all I can focus on are her pillowy lips; they’re slightly overlined and conceal her cupid’s bow, turning her mouth into a red nightmare. Her features combine into a deranged mess. That with her cheery grin makes her look more like a circus clown than a medical professional.

“I’m sorry, can you repeat the question?” I say through a grimace. I still can’t get over her appearance.

She laughs. Oh God, even her laugh is vile. “Nervous?”

I shrug and bite my nail. “That’s one way of putting it.” 

She laughs again, her voice softens, attempting to reassure me. “Don’t worry! It may be kind of scary at first, but plenty of our patients are thrilled with the results!”

 I guess I still look pretty worried, because she says again, “Plenty of our patients are thrilled with the results!” 

“Will it cover… them?” The word I’m avoiding slides down my throat. 

I can’t say it. Not outloud.

But she doesn’t have the same problem. 

“Your burns?” She asks with a look of pity.  I resist the urge to slap her. 

“Yes, my burns.” I practically spit the words. 

“Yes of course! The procedure will fix those all up!” She exclaims, eyes bright with joy. I think she’s just happy to help people.

I nod and look up to her with what I hope is a natural smile. 

“Okay, sounds great! So what now?” I say, a little too cheerfully. 

She laughs a third time, “Okay, lay back.”

The nurse retrieves a needle from her crisp white uniform and I lay down, the sheets of the bed thin between cool metal. 

“This may pinch a bit!” She smiles down at me, dark eyes flashing. The overhead lights up pillowy lips, clownish makeup, and a garish smile, but I don’t care.

 I will finally be complete again.

 My smile matches the nurses as the darkness of sleep comes crashing around me, my dreams are filled with broken mirrors and snakes entwined in twinkling branches. 

I wake up. 

Everything is how it was left. A small rectangular room, a cool medical bed, a tiny cat poster, a faint smell of lemon, and a mirror. The nurse is gone. I’m alone, still lying on thin white sheets. 

It strikes me like venom. 

I’m desperate, trying to untangle myself from the sheets, ripping the fabric away from my new skin. 

I look down. I no longer have ragged flesh. 

Iridescent green scales have embedded beneath my skin, vivid beneath the hospital lights. Scales of dazzling deep ocean fuse into virescent green waves, chips of ice within a stormy sapphire sea. They lap against my flesh, spill into my blood and line the dark circles under my eyes. 

But they’re wrong

Scales crawl up my arms and start streaming into my mouth. I choke on the artificial citrus aroma as they slither their way towards my heart, shredding the soft flesh of my throat. Try to spit them up but they keep streaming and screaming and screaming and screaming as bright lights flicker overhead, gasping for air for help for anything. 

Snakes bite my shoulders, as venom pumps into my system, and the world falls into fluorescent streaks of  light. 

Faint around the sunlit edges of my mind, where memories melt into dreams, a soft spoken voice says, 

“Patient 2037 didn’t take. Should I bring in the next?”