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Jessica Lao


Flash. Thunk.

An indignant scream, followed by a mumbled apology that couldn’t hide the grin rising up in him.

It wasn’t that he’d meant to hurt her, after all. He couldn’t help the urge inside him to capture, to examine, to dissect and precisely sew back together each specimen pinned under the bright white light. It was an urge that consumed him and electrified the fingers, which were now hovering anxiously over metal dials and evil-smelling bottles of acid. A bead of sweat inched slowly down the subject’s trembling cheek, and he took a moment to admire the porcelain sheen of the skin before grinding the pesky flaw out of existence. A fine specimen, he mused, slightly annoyed at this twitching business as his feverish fingers brushed past her temple. Not everyone understood his toils, and even fewer understood the unquenchable thirst that drove his every waking moment. But he had realized that long ago.

He saw himself as a painter, really; he loved the way his concoctions gleamed dark and thick in the pitch black of his preferred lair, oozing and dripping in languid, luxurious teardrops. Eyes watering with the stenches of his labor, he couldn’t help but swell with pride at the sight of his potent brews swirling and pulsing with a light within like rubies, or blood—he supposed it depended on his mood which one.

He loved the cold feel of metal against skin, the more supple and giving the better. His long fingers were made, he thought, for tracing over slopes of steel and fine devices, and indeed, a neighbor whose name had been long forgotten had given a boy a toy doctor set a long time ago; a future surgeon (or so everyone thought) had been born. Running a chilly finger through his quivering subject’s hair now, he noted with amusement that his current occupation might be a distant cousin of that esteemed profession.

He loved their frozen expressions, manipulated by his expert fingers and poked and prodded in the dark until they were worthy of being treasured forever. He relished in the power to catch a subject unknown, to bring her home to toy with in his lair with all his contraptions until her secrets were laid bare under the harsh bright lights. That was his favorite part—how skilled he had become in his obsession that no one was spared his incisive, ever-hungry vision.

It was a bit like playing God. No—better. Why heal an imperfect subject and prolong an imperfect, stodgy reality, when one could truly freeze time and life in its tracks? Why settle for a temporary fix, a fleeting forever? He thought of his brother laboring over a surgeon’s table and grinned. This, this was cheating death. Sometimes he looked back upon them with fondness—he liked to think of these as “visits” to preferred pets; sometimes he didn’t. Anyway, it was all the more reason to be mindful and take his time now, he clucked and reminded himself sternly. Not that he needed the gesture. He was always one to take things slow, painstakingly so for his subjects.

Huffing with equal parts exhilaration and impatience, he fumbled now with the myriad steel instruments and buttons hidden deep in his coat. This is it, he thought, a low chuckle escaping his throat. Shaking imperceptibly, the day’s specimen of choice—a young woman in her twenties held immobile by his gaze—sensed the end; she, too, was awash with relief.


Yes, yes, yes!

Flash! More flinching.

Zzzzt. Zzzt.

Something was stuck. Tearing, rustling, something dragging now—cries from both sides.


Hastily, the photographer snatched up the photo, let out an explosion of curses, then loaded up his camera for another take.

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