Protesters swarmed with signs and claws. Questions shouted at my face. Insults cast at my conscience. The glass door hissed open and I stepped out of the mob and into the lab. The door closed at my back, whispering me into silence. Cheeks and limbs squeaked along the pane. Muffled voices still hollered. I fumbled with a torn flap of my shirt, ripped free by a woman who I fear would have strangled me were it not for her wheelchair.
I shook Dr. Morgan’s outstretched hand.
“You handle the protesters better than I,” he said. “I’ve been close to homicide some mornings.” He glared at the throng on the other side of the glass, even smiled before turning his back to them. “Shall we?”
Fluorescent lights fizzed above us as we walked the length of a white corridor. Our footsteps played a ghostly tennis match off the walls. The vents pumped cool air, chilling the sweat on my brow and neck.
We passed several doors with LED screens stuck to their centers. Meaningless names blurred by in my periphery. I wondered what went on in those rooms, the ones without my wife.
“Will I recognize her?”
“To the naked eye, Mr. Lynch, she is as beautiful as the day you met.”
“Will she recognize me?”
Dr. Morgan squeezed my shoulder and grinned confidently. “If all has gone well, and I have no reason to speculate that it has not, she’ll have every memory still intact.”
“But the crash–”
“Not to worry,” said Dr. Morgan, removing his hand from my shoulder. “She won’t remember the crash.”
We stepped into the newest wing of the lab, the one named after me, and continued until we reached the furthest door. The name on the screen was Alexandra L.
“Here we are, Mr. Lynch.”
I half turned, ready to run from the door and back down the hall, to give myself to those who hated me. But I wouldn’t run. If she was truly there, truly herself, how could I?
“This is the fruit of your generosity,” said Dr. Morgan, and together we stepped into the room.
Alexandra was seated in a chair in the center of the small white room. Two other doctors flanked her on either side. Her head was slumped sideways, resting on her shoulder, and her hair was tied into a ponytail like in the footage I’d supplied during the first meeting. She wore a loose white gown that sagged around her limbs. She looked uncomfortable, but I knew that she wasn’t. At that moment, in that chair, she wasn’t anything.
“Breathe, Mr. Lynch.”
When had I stopped? I inhaled sharply. The air tasted like oil.
“It’s really her,” I whispered.
Dr. Morgan stepped behind the chair and positioned himself between the two other doctors. “Are you ready to welcome her back?”
No, I wasn’t. It was too much already, having her there, clothed and made up and ready to return to me.
The three of them stared at me in anticipation. Dr. Morgan licked his lips.
He pressed a button I couldn’t see. The room filled with a soft electric hum. It was coming from Alexandra.
The limpness faded from her body as strength filled her limbs. Her chest rose and fell, mimicking the intake of air, accompanied by a quiet whirring sound.
But it was her; her face, her hands, her chest, her legs. It was real. I stepped slowly toward her.
“Go ahead,” said Dr. Morgan. “Touch her.”
I leaned forward and placed my finger to her warm flesh.
Her eyes fluttered open, gloriously blue. They turned to me, and when they did I heard that whirring sound from within her head. She sat up and straightened her neck. Her mouth opened a little, and a hint of recognition flashed in her face.
“Alex…” I said, and lifted my hand to her face.
She blinked once, twice, and then she screamed; a shrill cry echoing in the tiny room. Her arms flailed wildly, knocking me back.
I looked to Dr. Morgan, who was frantically trying to calm Alexandra. “Doctor, what’s happening?”
She didn’t take her eyes off of me as she fell from the chair to the floor. She dug her fingers into her face, peeling the flesh away like old fabric. Beneath, shining silver gleamed through. Within seconds she had ripped half of her face to the floor.
I abandoned the shadow of my wife as she writhed upon the floor and escaped from that horrible room.
Dr. Morgan’s voice danced after me down the long white corridor. “Shut it off!” he cried. “Shut it off, now!”
I ran toward the mad faces of those who called us monsters, amassed beyond the glass doors of the lab. They claimed that we had overstepped our bounds, crossed into a realm not fit for man. I’d seen the fear of death in my wife’s eyes for a second time and knew that they were right. She suffered again because of my own dark selfishness.
I burst forth from the lab and into the buzzing fray of judgement. Hands grabbed. Mouths cursed. A lonely blade flashed at the edge of my vision. It slid into my flesh, cold, and I felt the depth of their justified hate.
My eyes opened some time later and I was greeted by Alexandra’s smiling face. Unscathed, smooth, and beautiful, it was like the first time we’d ever met.
“Thank heavens,” said a slimy, familiar voice. “Two in a row without the fear.” Dr. Morgan stepped forward, moved my wife aside. “And we owe it all to your many … donations.” He grinned, placed a hand on my shoulder. “Breathe, Mr. Lynch.”
Alexandra took my hand into hers. She squeezed, the gears in her wrist purring. I gasped in air. My chest loudly expanded outward. Air entered my new lungs, cold and useless and tainted with the sour taste of oil.
Cory Cone lives in Baltimore, MD and works as a Database Manager at the Maryland Institute College of Art. He is happily married and raising two annoying cats. He tweets occasionally, @corycone, and blogs now and again at www.corycone.com.
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