Author: Ian Hill

We showed each other our wounds in the iron room.

I saw the soft sump of skin on her head where part of her skull had cratered, and she peered at the fused and welded tendons that twisted the back of my leg. I felt her erratic heartbeat, and she counted all the places where my veins were knotted. I found an interesting cluster of lesions in the shadowy hollow where the bone under her eye was shattered; as I studied these, she stared back at me, tracing the bifurcations of a burn across the divoted dome that was my scalp.

As we got to know one another better, we felt the need to help the other. The thin, taut layer of tissue scraped over her ribs was always wrenching into whorls. I tried fruitlessly to mash her cramps smooth, and she creaked all the while, mouth twitching and eyes rolling. Another time, she carefully excised the worms from the festering place under my arm. But, in the end, we were no doctors; I could not unwind the torsion of her entrails, and she could not extract the poison from my thickening blood. We were terminal partners in that cold, sourcelessly bright room. But still, our angular, dazzling chamber was better than the white beach above where we had met. The cruel things were up there, amorous for more mangling.

The most affecting part of her body was her stomach. That torsion I mentioned before—that terrible writhing of the viscera—had forced some of her organs outward. They bulged against her thin abdominal wall, distending, showing dark and murky and purple as they slumped against her lap, barely retained by a thin layer of skin and fascia. The bloated bumps of hernias were nothing compared to this turgid sac that she had to cradle, lest something horrible happen. My eyes were often drawn to the lumpy coils, to the warm bag of maybe liver, maybe diaphragm, or maybe something new. We were changing, after all.

I tried not to look at her stomach, and she hid it from me in shame, hunching forward, folding her arms and gathering it all in. It frightened me, those unaccountable shapes, lobed and bruised so abhorrently. There were parts of me that revolted her, I know: where my scapula was exposed and sewn with marrow-seeping fissures, where my skin was so desiccated that it wept ash, where my hand contorted into a strange, convulsive club. But she never showed fear, even as convulsions wracked me and bent me into strange shapes.

It turned out that my disgust was well-founded, however. She was sleeping, one time, and I was staring at her sidelong. Something in her gut was churning, distorting. I stared with horror as one of the swollen protrusions crawled back into her. She made a strange sucking noise and turned, mercifully blocking the view. I forced myself to sleep. The next morning, I woke to a sharp intake of breath.

“Oh, God,” she said.

I glanced at the floor and saw a little pink thing quivering there. It was naught but a pile of neoplastic slag, almost—but not quite—formless. I looked away.

“What is that?” she whispered.

“It came out of you.”

We ended up pushing the pulpy thing into the corner, turning our backs, and simply ignoring it. This was for the best.

After a while, it denatured, and it became just another bit of unidentifiable, wholly inert sludge. But she was changed. Her wounds got worse. She withered, and she was glad. I watched it all, and I grew, and I spread. I wondered what I would become.