handAt the Seams

by Aeryn Rudel

It’s getting harder to maintain focus. If I let it slip for an instant, I’ll lose something. Maybe just a fingernail or a clump of hair and maybe a whole lot more. I want to look down at the empty end of my pant leg where my left foot used to be, but I don’t. I’d like to hold on to my right foot a while longer.

In the end I know it’s pointless. How long can you keep thinking about just one thing? That kind of focus is not really possible. The mind wanders. Other thoughts intrude, and you just can’t—

There is sudden, blinding pain in my right hand. I look down and see that my right index finger now ends shortly after the first knuckle. The rest of the finger lies on the floor, twitching and flexing like a fat, flesh-colored worm. There’s no blood, just a clean separation after the knuckle, as if my finger never possessed that extra two inches of meat and bone.

I jerk my eyes away from the rogue fingertip and imagine myself floating naked in a white void, arms and legs outstretched. I am completely intact, and my body is surrounded by a faint blue haze. The haze is the force field that keeps my body parts connected to one another, keeps me from flying apart. This thought has kept me alive for the last six hours, sitting on the edge of my bed staring at the wall. I’d like to get up and turn off the light. I think it would be easier to focus in the dark. I can’t risk it though, the expenditure of thought required would likely cost me—

Searing agony on the side of my head. My right ear lands in my lap with faint fleshy plop.

“Fucking stupid,” I whisper and doggedly refuse to focus on the fear and anger surging into my brain. Thinking about turning off the light cost me that one. I quickly sweep the ear onto the floor to join my other orphaned body parts and try to return to the vision of the unbroken me.

I succeed and time passes. It’s hard to know how much.

I don’t know how I ended up this way. Maybe it’s some kind of virus. I’ve got a bit of an anxiety issue, so I spend a lot of time on the Internet researching terrible diseases—mostly to see if I have any of the symptoms—but I’ve never heard of anything like this. Maybe it’s a curse or something. I don’t normally believe in that stuff, but for some reason I think about the old Russian lady who runs the laundromat. She yells at me because I take too long to dry my clothes. Sometimes she yells at me in Russian, and it sort of sounds like a spell or incantation. Maybe she’s a witch, like that Baba Yaga I used to read about in my Dungeons & Dragons books. She could have put the whammy on me because of that time I forgot my quarters—

My right shoulder is a white-hot mote of excruciating pain. My arm probably weighs fifteen pounds, and it makes a solid, meaty thud when it hits the floor. I don’t look. If I do, it’ll be all I can think about.

“I’m whole. I’m whole. I’m whole,” I say aloud, almost chanting. The strange mantra pushes my thoughts back to the vision of the unified me, almost. It sounds like I’m saying “I’m a hole” over and over again. That’s kind of funny, and—

Splintering pain inside my mouth. It feels like I’ve got an enormous semisolid chunk of bubblegum in there. I open up and my tongue falls out, hitting the carpet with a soft wet noise. I taste the thick, dirty shag for a split second.

“I’m ho. I’m ho. I’m ho,” I sputter and then burst out laughing. This costs me two fingers on my left hand.

“I’m ho! I’m ho! I’m ho!” I shout now, desperate, trying to recapture the one thought that will halt my slow, bizarre dismemberment. I get there. I see the perfect, complete, and wholly intact me. I cling to it. I manage another indeterminate span of minutes without losing anything else.

My carefully cultivated focus is soon broken by the sound of the front door opening up the hall. My nose falls off. The carpet doesn’t smell any better than it tastes.

“Randy?” My wife’s voice drifts through the closed door of our bedroom.

“I’m ho! I’m ho! I’m ho!” I’m yelling at the top of my lungs now, although I can still hear fingers and toes falling onto the bed and carpet in rapid succession.

The door opens and my wife enters the room. Her scream rises above my shouted mantra, and it becomes the only thought in my brain. The room spins end over end, and it sounds like someone has dropped a bowling ball on the floor.

My head rolls across the room and comes to a stop at my wife’s feet. I’m looking up into her wide, terrified eyes. I manage one more “I’m ho.”

#

Aeryn Rudel is the publications manager for Privateer Press, the acquisitions editor for the fiction imprint Skull Island eXpeditions, and has been a writer and editor in the tabletop gaming industry for ten years. He is also a notorious dinosaur nerd, a rare polearms expert, a baseball connoisseur, and has mastered the art of fighting with sword-shaped objects (but not actual swords).
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