Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: 2
Title: Bone Deep
We practiced it, peddled it, obsessed over it.
Never mind that beneath the shampoo ad hair and flawless cosmetics, beneath the pampered skin and gym-regimented physiques, we looked nearly the same. A pile of bones, some in nicer bags than others, but ultimately with little difference from one set to the next.
Or so I thought until I began my training.
The first time I held a scalpel in my hand and cut through human flesh, my hands trembled like a detoxing junkie. I caused no pain, for the man beneath my knife had passed on, but I shook. There’d been no blood. The body had long since been drained for its future clinical use.
I still shook.
My teacher had taunted me, sworn I wouldn’t make the grade.
No surgeon worth his or her malpractice insurance had less than rock steady hands.
By purely stubborn will, I held on—to my composure and my lunch—and I cut away the layers of tissue.
The epidermis. The dermis. The hypodermis.
Connective, epithelial, muscle, and nervous tissues.
I pulled the civilized mask of humanity off and revealed the primitive beauty beneath. Once stripped clean, the bones told stories of a thousand hurts the protective layers hid beneath their façade. Chips, breaks—some properly healed, some haphazardly—brittleness, wear.
In the bones I found my true purpose.
My true love.
A soft moan drew me from my introspective thoughts.
I faced the woman strapped down on a table devoted as much to art as science.
I’d seen her often enough to know she took exceptional pride in her appearance. She flaunted a natural beauty that men longed to claim and women resented.
“There, there,” I said, absently soothing even as I prepared for the next stage.
My work required such delicate care. Cut too quickly, and my subjects could bleed out before I cauterized the wounds. I’d practiced many times though, in preparation for this night.
I checked the IV that fed her a fresh supply of O-negative, allowing me to work longer.
The iron sweet scent of blood mixed with that of singed flesh and I sighed, eager to begin anew.
I lifted blood soaked strands of her long hair away from her face and stroked a gloved finger along the line of her jaw, drawing a weak, shivery scream from her as I traced exposed bone. I watched that bone and the remaining connective tissue and cartilage in motion, unimpeded by skin and most of the muscle. I’d left just enough to hold her together, to study the minutiae of movement.
Her cry echoed through the room, exquisite in its raw purity.
Our brains strove to protect us from the worst, I knew, with extensive defense mechanisms to shield us, making those flashes of pain that slipped through the defenses all the more precious. Soon enough her brain would begin to shut down any sort of response.
I pressed harder, drawing a piercing shriek from her.
“Such gorgeous bone structure.” I complimented her, patting her shoulder as she thrashed in her bonds. “I never knew you’d broken your jaw. An accident, perhaps? Maybe a jealous lover?”
Her breath caught and she coughed, choking on her own spit, easily trebling her pain. I stared, riveted by the tiniest movements and sounds.
“You should see yourself like this. You’re beautiful, you know. More so than you ever knew.”
Even without the nuances of emotion the outer layers of her face once provided, I knew the moment she recognized my voice. Her jaw clenched, teeth gnashed tightly together.
“You inspired me, you know,” I told her softly. “I can think of no greater accolade a student can give her teacher.”
Tears slipped down her cheeks. She screamed as the salty liquid touched exposed nerves, quickly subsiding into pained gasps.
“You told me I’d never make it.”
She became so utterly still, only her jaw working. She had no lips left for me to read; I’d removed them first, admiring the work of her dentist as I slowly stripped away the vain surface to reveal her true inner beauty. Nothing sensible emerged, but she captivated me nonetheless.
“You told me I didn’t have the hands or the nerves to be a true surgeon.”
I picked up my scalpel and I proved her wrong.
Cut by precise cut.
Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.