“Remember us - if at all - not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men”
- T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men,” 1925
I was dying. Or at least I really hoped I was.
During the operations, I often screamed for my own death, begging them to just hurry up and kill me. They didn’t, though. They planned on keeping me alive for as long as they could, dissecting me over and over again.
I’m not even sure what they were looking for, and honestly, I don’t think they knew either. From what Dr. Daniels had told me, the doctors and scientists at the quarantine were no closer to finding a cure for the lyssavirus, despite all examinations and tests and vivisection they’d performed on me.
Daniels was the doctor I dealt with the most. He did the day-to-day things with me and drew blood, occasionally gave me shots, but nothing too terrible. All the truly gruesome experiments and surgeries were left with a nameless, faceless mob of butchers.
Even though Daniels repeatedly assured me that they were surgeons, some of the finest that had ever practiced medicine, I wasn’t convinced. Any doctor that had taken the Hippocratic Oath couldn’t act like they did.
In the night, they would come into my little white room – a windowless cell that was a cross between a lab and a prison. The surgeons always came when I was sleeping based on some theory I was more complacent when I was drowsy, but I don’t think that was true.
Two or three large men would come to get me, their faces blocked by surgical masks. They didn’t need them, not yet, so I can only assume they wore them to keep themselves hidden. They wanted to make this as impersonal as possible. To them, I was just a lab rat, and they didn’t want to humanize the situation with introductions.
I tried to fight them when they came, kicking and hitting as best I could, but I was growing weak. Everything they did to me, it was killing me, even if went much slower than I’d have liked. Almost all my bones were visible, and my veins popped bright blue through my nearly translucent skin.
I tried to work out – doing pushups, curl ups, jogging in place, anything I could think of to keep my muscles from atrophying. But I was barely eating, I hadn’t seen the sun in I don’t know how long, and I was constantly losing blood and the occasional organ.
When I’d first starting getting carted off to these surgeries, they’d sent four men, and they could barely hold me. But last night, they’d only sent two.
Lately, I’d been considering not fighting them, since it was a waste of energy. I never prevented anything from happening. I only exhausted myself. So last night, I’d attempted to not fight, to just let them take me away.
But as soon as I saw the operating room, I couldn’t help it. Just the sight of the cold metal, the ultra-bright lights, the scent of the disinfectant, it flipped a switch inside me. It filled me with an all-too familiar terror and a wave of intense nausea passed over me.
Each of the men had taken one of my arms, so my bare feet were still on the ground. As soon as the door swung open to the operating room, I bucked against them. I tried pull back and wiggle out of their grasps, and when that didn’t work, I tried kicking them.
But it didn’t matter. They were stronger than me, and I knew the only reward I’d get for my troubles would be bruises on my arms and legs.
By the time they dragged me over to the table, I’d given up on fighting on them. I’d resorted to begging, trying to appeal to their humanity, even though that had never worked. Anything I said – tears, prayers, bartering, pleading – it all fell on deaf ears.
They took off my shirt, and laid me down on the cold metal table. They held me down until the leather straps were secure. A strap ran across each ankle, thigh, wrist, and either over my ribs or my hips, depending on where they planned to cut. Today, the strap went over my ribs, so that meant my abdomen.
After that, the two men left, and I waited. Sometimes I’d wait hours, maybe even longer.
But eventually, the operating team came in. Five men, all dressed in white, their operating masks on, their hair in surgical caps, plastic gloves on their hands. It all appeared like any normal surgery save one thing – the patient was completely lucid without any pain medication.
All their surgeries were performed while I was wide awake.
“Please,” I begged them. I strained to lift my head, as if it would somehow be better if I could see what they were doing, if I knew what tools exactly they were using to slice me open. “Please. Don’t do this. You just did this a few weeks ago. I need time to heal. Please. Let’s postpone this.”
But they didn’t talk to me. They never even acknowledged me. They’d talk amongst themselves in low whispers that I couldn’t understand.
“Okay, if we have to do this, can you just give me a warning?” I asked. “Just let me know before you cut me. Give me a second to prepare myself. Okay?”
When nobody said anything, I lay my head back, staring up at the light above me. It was so bright, it nearly blinded me.
Then, without warning, I felt the blade, cold metal slicing through my flesh. I gritted my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut. This wasn’t even the worst of it. Cutting through my skin was the least painful part of what they did.
It was when they were inside, playing with my organs, taking biopsies, squeezing things, investigating, that was impossibly brutal. Sometimes I’d pass out from the pain, but not often enough.
I winced as excruciating pain began in my abdomen. I couldn’t see what they were doing, but my skin was stretching as they pried open the incision they’d just made. In a few moments, they’d be cutting into some organ I probably needed to use to stay alive.
“Oh hell,” I said through gritted teeth, and the pain got worse. I balled up my fists and pulled at the straps as much as I could. Blinding agony ran through me, and I don’t even know what I was saying, but I knew I was screaming.
A blaring siren rang out through the room, and for a moment, I just thought it was a side effect from the pain. But when I opened my eyes, gasping for breath in an attempt to fight the pain, I saw that the room had been bathed in flashing red lights.
“What’s happening?” I asked.
I strained to lift my head, but all I could see where the doctors hovering over me, their hands bloodied from cutting me open. They exchanged looks and mumbled to each other, but they didn’t appear to know what was going on any more than I did.
“Hey, what’s going on?” I asked again. “Did the zombies get in?”
The surgeon that had cut me pulled his bloodied gloves off, then tossed them on me. I felt them, cold and latex, on my bare skin. Then he turned and walked away. He’d discarded his trash on top of me, and he and the rest of the doctors were leaving.
“Hey!” I shouted after them. “You can’t just leave me here! Unhook my straps! Hey!”
But they didn’t come back, not that I’d really expected them to. There was an emergency, and they didn’t have time to waste on me. I was nothing more than a science experiment to them.
If zombies had broken in – as I strongly suspected – I would be a buffet for them. I was tied down, unable to move, and my stomach had already been cut open, giving them easier access to their favorite foods. If they got in here, they would literally tear me apart.
As much as I wanted to die, or at least I’d rather be dead instead of having these surgeries, I did not want to get ripped to shreds. I wanted a nice quiet fall-asleep-and-never-wake-up kind of death. And if I couldn’t get that, then I had to get out of here.
I pulled at the straps, but they didn’t budge. After surgeries, I always had welts on my skin from fighting against them. The leather was ridiculously strong.
But since I had no other options, I kept straining at them. I tried to arch my back, even though it killed my abdomen, and I rocked the table.
All my struggling didn’t succeed in getting myself free, but it did tip the table over. It clattered to the concrete floor. The metal holding my strap in place was crushed between the table and floor. It wasn’t broken, not yet, but if I could keep rocking the table on it, I might be able to get the one hand free.
In order to do that, I had to smash my left hand painfully against the floor, but it was the only way I knew to get out. So I rocked backward, almost tipping the table again, but it steadied itself on the side.
Finally, the metal hook bent far enough that I could slide the wrist strap out. The leather was still around my wrist, like a bracelet, but I didn’t care as long as my hand was free.
With my free hand, I reached up to undo the strap on my right wrist. That sounded simpler than it actually was. I had to twist my freshly sliced open abdomen and stretch and strain. I ended up crying out as I undid my other hand.
The other straps were quicker and easier, and once I finally had them all off, I got to my feet. I took a look at my incision. It only ran about three inches across, so it wasn’t the worst they’d done, but blood was seeping out of it down my stomach and pants.
I couldn’t walk around like that, not with zombies attracted to the scent of blood. There was a needle and thread on the smaller table with all the surgical tools. The butchers always sewed me up when they were done, so that was something, I guess.
My hands were shaking, and my left hand was sore and scraped up from hitting the floor. Plus, I’d never been that great of a seamstress. But I couldn’t just walk around like this, and I was certain the doctors weren’t coming back.
I threaded the needle and braced myself on the tray. Fortunately, all the surgeries had raised my pain tolerance quite a bit. Unfortunately, it still hurt like hell when I shoved a needle through my own skin.
I didn’t scream, though. I didn’t want to attract unwanted attention from a zombie. I just clenched my teeth and powered through it. I nearly threw up half way through, but I kept it down.
With slick bloodied hands, I staggered around the room. I found a towel and wiped myself as best I could, then I put on the shirt I’d come in with. I grabbed a scalpel from the tray, since it was the closest thing I had to a weapon, and I left the operating room to find out what was waiting for me.
It was rather anticlimactic, because at first, there was nothing. The third floor – the floor I lived on – was completely deserted. The red flashing lights and warning sirens had scared everyone, as was their job.
The next floor was exactly the same, but I finally found something when I staggered out of the stair well onto the first floor.
That main level was soldiers’ quarters. It was like a dormitory, where they slept and lived. It was dark and appeared to be empty, but as I walked down the hall, one hand running along it for support, I heard something coming from a room.
I didn’t think I could fight, not in this condition with a tiny scalpel, so my best bet to escape a zombie was to take off running. And that’s exactly what I did.
I’d only made it a few steps, my bare feet slapping against the cool tiles, when I heard someone calling my name.