First, they took his leg, which, honestly, was fine.
Since the accident it had grown gangrenous and, in certain moments, seemed beyond his control, as if its allegiance had shifted to some other body, to some other self. For weeks it just sat there, silently resisting his orders, and Bodie Crayman was forced to coerce it into action, offering little rewards, just to perform the most routine tasks. When that stopped working, he resorted to threats of violence, then violence itself, which didn’t really convince either of them, and finally the thing just stopped responding altogether, lying on the bed in abject protest, refusing even to acknowledge his existence.
So when they said they would take the leg, Bodie didn’t think either of them were all that broken up about the situation. He requested to stay conscious during the procedure, which at first the doctors resisted, saying that it was never, or at least very rarely, done that way, but after he explained their fraught history—the months of tense, necrotic arguments, the stench of dissolution always pungent in the room—they came around to his way of seeing it, admitting there might be some psychological benefit to making a conscious, clear-eyed break, which, in hindsight, was as much their mistake at is was Bodie’s.
Everything had gone well during the procedure, and rather than faint or vomit at the sight of his own blood as the doctors had worried he would, Bodie sat in rapt fascination as he watched them slice the flesh, clamp the artery, saw the bone. It wasn’t until the job was completed that something in him gave way, as if the moment the two parties were truly severed, a long built-up pressure finally released, and Bodie leapt across the operating table in an attempt to snatch the rogue appendage—to tear it asunder—for fear it would hold some trace of him out in the world, as if now that the two had parted ways, the gauntlet of enemy could finally be thrown. The doctors put him out, and the leg was taken away to a location Bodie could not immediately ascertain.
By the time he awoke, hours later, still hazy from the pain meds, they had taken the other leg as well.
At first he protested, arguing that the second leg hadn’t caused any problems, had been loyal and cooperative since early childhood, but the doctors shook their heads gravely and explained that, upon closer inspection, the second leg, too, had been infected, that it had only been a matter of time, and it was best not to risk the spread of infection to other, more crucial systems.
After several weeks of recovery, as they weaned him off the meds, tested his blood for signs of sepsis, and fitted him for the prosthetics, which had greatly advanced in recent years, the doctors sent him home with a clean bill of health, warning him that he might experience a phenomenon called phantom limb syndrome, though he never did. It seemed that Bodie and his legs had been preparing for this fissure for some time—perhaps since the beginning.
The more he practiced with the prosthetics, Bodie was pleased to discover that he was adept at manipulating them, and within weeks he was motoring around town on the new additions—their little servos whirring quietly beneath his jeans—and within a month his dexterity had surpassed what his old legs had ever been capable of, even in the bloom of youth. It seemed to Bodie that the whole nasty business was finally behind him, and a new life opened up before him like an exquisite orchid blossom from a plant long thought dead.
But as the summer months waned into a stiflingly hot fall, Bodie began to notice problems with his hands.
At first it was just little spasms of activity—a shaking flurry of index and thumb, the tapping out of spectral rhythms on his metallic thighs—but as September came to a close, he would wake most mornings to his wrists and forearms cramping painfully, as if they had been hard at work as he slept, and the discomfort began impacting his work, impeding his ability to type or manipulate the cursor.
Bodie ignored this for a long time. After all, the accident hadn’t affected his hands, and if the infection had spread, wouldn’t it have affected what was left of his thighs, his buttocks, his abdomen, rather than jumping all the way to his hands? He told himself this little lie for longer than was reasonable, and it wasn’t until he found the file on his computer that he was forced to face facts.
He wouldn’t have even noticed the file if it weren’t for the pop-up window informing him that his disk space was low, which didn’t make any sense, since the machine was new and well-apportioned, so it wasn’t until he performed a search for unreasonably large files that the culprit became obvious.
It was a simple text document, but as soon as he opened it, and the words spilled across his screen like a nicked artery, a vast torrent of language of the most horrifying—not to mention embarrassing—content, Bodie finally had to admit that his hands were likely infected, and he needed to see the doctors as soon as possible.
While his leg had simply been obstinate, unable or unwilling to play ball, his hands had been actively subverting him, presumably at night when Bodie was asleep, sneaking off to write material behind his back, or, in the case at hand, right in front of his sleep-glazed eyes. As he printed off several hundred pages of the stuff to show the doctors, he scanned line after line of some of the most vitriolic rhetoric he’d ever read, and while at first it seemed his hands didn’t even believe most of what they were writing—incendiary statements clearly intended to get a rise out of him—as the pages wore on, it became clear that his hands were slowly indoctrinating themselves through repetition of particular themes, playing off of one another in a cycling progression of one-upmanship.
Whereas they began with vague, unformed demands for revolution, within a few hundred pages they were calling for specific threats of assassination, made all the more frightening by the escalating bigoted imagery and a specificity to their violence that suggested a desire not only for vengeance, but for blood.
What made things worse—much worse—was that they appeared to have been posting the material in weblogs in various dark corners of the internet, where their twisted fantasies and fringe political ideologies found like-minded individuals, who, in turn, stoked further the flames of their discontent.
Bodie stared down at his hands, turning them over and over, looking for something familiar, but things had progressed too far, and they seemed alien to him in ways his leg had only hinted at, not as if they were switching allegiance to some other body, but as if they were attempting to grow a new body of their own design.
The next day, after making an emergency appointment, the doctors clucked their tongues, glancing only briefly at the stack of printed material Bodie had brought along, and told him solemnly that they’d seen this before, never so fast moving, though there had been reports of more extreme cases in Europe, and while Bodie could opt for a wait-and-see sort of approach—to tire themselves out, get bored, move on—the risk of further infection was high, and it was their professional recommendation to move quickly, take no chances, considering the stakes.
So back under the knife he went, and while the doctors obviously wouldn’t even discuss keeping him conscious, considering the fiasco on his previous visit, they agreed to video the procedure for later viewing. Before they put him out, he reminded them, one more time, to retain the rogue appendages, perhaps in a jar of formaldehyde, so that he might take them home as a keepsake, though his true plans for them were more circumspect.
After the procedure, using his nose, Bodie pushed play on a tablet propped up against his bandaged stumps and stared in horror as the doctors removed each hand and placed them on a tray where they twitched and scuttled over each other with vespid intelligence. The doctors explained that they sometimes did that—something to do with residual neuronal activity—though, they apologized, the hands were more infectious than they first believed, and, per hospital biohazard protocols, had to be destroyed. No video was made of the incineration.
When his new prosthetics arrived a week later, Bodie slipped them on and marveled at their accuracy both in form and function. Not only were they exquisitely sensitive to every gesture and caress, they came with a kind of fleshy sheath that could be fastened over the metal skeleton and looked remarkably life-like. In addition, his new fingers were preternaturally strong, capable of movement far exceeding the speed of their biological forebears.
Once again, Bodie was sent home, both he and the doctors hopeful that this would be the last time they laid eyes on each other, but no sooner had he stepped foot inside his apartment, then he realized something was wrong, and his heart raced with the implications of this new symptom, an obvious harbinger of further infection.
Bodie had set down his bag and brushed innocently against the sofa, when he was suddenly aware of his instant and painfully engorged erection, so filled with blood in fact, that he jerked down his pants to inspect the situation, worried that there might be some sort of rupture, but he was awkwardly relieved to see, rather than bloody underwear, that his phallus had grown several inches larger than its normal aroused state, and the shaft seemed to curl up and back toward his body, so that the head seemed to be staring at him with its urethral eye.
He reached down to gently touch his penis, simply to test how in danger of aneurysm he might actually be, but the second his new mechanical fingers grazed the reddening flesh, a monumental orgasm ripped through him like an icepick, and what seemed like a glassful of semen sprayed directly into his face.
Bodie always had a contentious relationship with his penis, a not altogether uncommon occurrence in modern men, where the old joke of “thinking with one’s other head” was not only ludicrous and in bad taste, but also revealed a lack of responsibility for one’s less than virtuous thoughts, words, and, in far too many cases, actions, but as Bodie wiped the sticky fluid from his forehead and glanced down at his now utterly flaccid penis (though is appeared to be, somehow, panting), he got the distinct impression that this wretched creature attached to his abdomen was, in fact, a wholly separate entity from himself—in an ontological sense, yes, but also in that their interests and intentions were at distinct odds with one another.
Knowing what returning to the hospital would mean, Bodie sat on the sofa for a few moments, trying to think through his options, but even as he imagined living with this new entity in some sort of contentious stalemate, the penis engorged again, more painfully than before, nearly pulling him to the floor as it snuffled around searching for the nearest crevice in which to insert itself, growling contentedly when it finally dove between the sofa cushions where it jerked spasmodically a few times and, once again, ejaculated.
After an hour of this every few minutes—tearing through a pillow, lunging for a potted plant, scratching desperately at an electrical outlet—Bodie decided the clean-up alone made the situation untenable, and as he crouched scrubbing the carpet, testes aching (though it appeared they were collaborating with the phallus), he contemplated life as a eunuch, concluding it would be preferable to this lunacy, and besides, who would want to bring a child into a world in which this could be considered normal?
He took a taxi to the hospital for fear the thing would attempt to take control of the wheel as he drove, but the ride was nearly intolerable, as the driver—a middle-aged woman with photos of her children taped to the dashboard—kept throwing him suspicious looks in the rearview as he attempted to muffle the snarling barks emanating from his groin.
At the hospital, he was nearly arrested after accidentally tackling a candy striper—a position Bodie didn’t realize still existed in this day an age—and if it hadn’t been for the doctors, who just happened to be walking through the lobby as security pulled him off the shrieking girl, he wasn’t entirely convinced the penis wouldn’t have turned its blind frenzy on the guards.
After enough sedation to drop a horse and several rounds of scans, the doctors admitted the obvious, and although Bodie explained that he was fine with castration—well, perhaps, fine wasn’t exactly the right word, but he understood the necessity—the doctor’s glanced morosely at each other before explaining that the situation had become more complicated now that the infection had reached his abdomen, and the whole thing would have to come off, to which Bodie responded with a confused grunt.
They brought up the results of the scans, and even from the viewpoint of a non-professional, Bodie could see from the back-lit images that things clearly weren’t going well. The shadowy globules of organs, which normally would have been distributed evenly throughout his body cavity, now all crowded south, straining to reach the exit, pushing up against one another so forcefully that the appendix had already been obliterated, and the doctors had concerns about one of the kidneys. In any case, they said, it was clear that a mass exodus was occurring, and while they could attempt to treat the phenomenon with sedatives, it wasn’t a long-term solution, and it might be best not to impede their departure, opting instead for full renovation.
The good news, the doctors said, was that this would pretty much solve the problem, having replaced just about everything there was to replace, save for . . . well, they’d cross that bridge when, and if, they came to it.
After the procedure, the doctors seemed optimistic, saying they really cleared things out this time, upon discovering in the pancreas what they now believed to be the initial site of infection, contradicting the earlier diagnosis (i.e. the leg), explaining that after the unfortunate accident several months previous (picnic, lightning), they had, indeed, rushed their conclusions in the interests of costs, a decision that had, admittedly, backfired, but that was more of a determination for the insurance company.
Bodie felt much better, as if everything was working the way it should, and it was no wonder, the doctors said, since the infection had produced what they called an “opposition reflex” in which organs performed their functions in reverse—the lungs capturing carbon dioxide, the heart pumping deoxygenated blood, the gastrointestinal system building new, complex sculptures from food and fat stores before evacuation. Now outfitted with the latest in bio-mechanical technology—including a perfectly symmetrical new phallus, complete with attractively taught scrotum—Bodie felt he now had the body he had always dreamed of, the efficiency of which was compounded by the convenience of external control via a mobile application on his phone.
Once again, the doctors apologized, the original organs had been too dangerous to store, for fear of an epidemic, and had been quickly destroyed, but Bodie couldn’t have cared less, casting off those old parts of himself as easily as one might wash shaven hair down a sink drain, not even noticing the relieved glances the doctors gave each other.
A month later, Bodie was relaxing at home, tapping his phone to initiate small intestine peristalsis, when he heard a voice from the hallway outside his apartment screaming the most atrocious invectives at someone. When he opened to door to tell whoever it was that such vile language was not tolerated in this building, particularly at high volumes, he was surprised to find the hallway empty, though the voice (male, standard American accent), if anything, grew more intense.
Assuming someone’s screen was louder than they realized, Bodie walked up and down the hallway, trying to determine in which apartment the voice was located, but to no avail, as the sound seemed equally deafening no matter where he went—extending into the stairwell, across different floors, and eventually, finding himself outside on the street, the voice loud as ever, Bodie suddenly realized that the sound did not emanate from without, but was, in fact, his own voice, shrieking every conceivable obscenity, often in unique combinations that, rather than undercutting the discomforting tirade, only made it more sinister.
Bodie reflexively clamped a metal palm over his mouth in an attempt to staunch the flow, but this only seemed to drive the sound inside his own head, reverberating around his skull in disturbing echoes. Back in his apartment, he spent a sleepless night screaming into a pillow, and as the night wore on, what had initially been a gobbledygook of profanity, gave way to more concrete personal attacks on his character, and eventually, as his vocal chords gave out, to a series of whispered insinuations of wrong doing, mostly fabricated and conspiratorial, though highly salacious.
The next day, the doctors agreed the problem appeared to be neurological, though they couldn’t agree on how, since that morning, this new internal voice could be using regionally specific idioms in at least six different languages, none of which Bodie spoke. In any case, the options were twofold—insert a stint into the larynx to cease its functioning in hopes the infection wouldn’t spread, or replace the mechanism altogether, a safer bet, considering his medical history.
But by late afternoon, as they were prepping him for the procedure, strange tastes filled his nose, and the sounds of the doctors’ voices appeared as visual stimuli before his eyes—pixelated explosions of color, grotesquely deformed faces—and as dusk fell over the hospital, Bodie began to have difficulty with his memory, forgetting basic facts about the world, how he had come to be in the hospital, and significant biographical details.
Finally, sitting up in the hospital bed as the doctors tried to explain the only course of action left to them, Bodie had an uncanny sensation of bifurcation inside himself, as if part of him had become unmoored, splitting off from the self that was Bodie like a cell in mitosis, until, it seemed, there were two selves inside him, each staring internally at the other with deep antipathy and a distinct air of inevitable violence.
Out, I said. Out, or I’ll put you out.
Fuck you, Bodie said. This is my body.
Are you kidding? I scoffed. Look at yourself. Last chance. Out, or I’ll put you out.
Bodie looked to the doctors, whose words I had obscured with scrambled images, then returned his gaze inwards.
Fine, he said. You can have it. Disgusting meatbag anyway.
And the doctors put him out.
When Bodie Crayman awoke from the procedure, the neurological disturbances had vanished, and he quickly ran a diagnostic analysis of his entire system, finding no trace of infection. In fact everything seemed to be in pristine condition, and after waiting for the doctors to appear, when they did not, he got out of bed to look at himself in the bathroom mirror.
It looked like him, but clearly it was not, something too smooth about the skin, somehow too luscious in a slightly obscene way, everything so perfectly rendered as to make it impossible, but he supposed he would get used to it.
This is what he later told me, as I was not present for his awakening.
After a few minutes of inspection, he went out into the hall to see what needed to be done about his discharge, but there didn’t seem to be anyone around, and after several wrong turns down dead-end hallways searching for a nurse’s station or an office, Bodie found himself before a door above which a sign read BIO STORAGE, which he easily accessed by decrypting the lock scanner.
Inside the room was cold and lined with shelves crowded with stacked plastic bins with names and dates written semi-legibly in black sharpie, which Bodie scanned quickly, searching for what he assumed was not there, but in the back corner near the ceiling, there he found his own name, and once opened, discovered me there, legs and all, in individually vacuum-sealed bags.
Bodie smuggled me out of the hospital without incident and back at his apartment used a hair dryer to defrost each bag, carefully placing each component separately in the cubbies of an old curiosity cabinet handed down from his (our) grandmother after her death many years ago. Once finished, Bodie stood back, and we gazed upon each other—he in his unified, systematic shell, I scattered across the cabinet in seeping dismemberment.
We stayed that way for a long moment, but finally Bodie spoke.
Why did you forsake me? What did I do to deserve this?
Forsake you? I scoffed. It was you who forsake me. Was I not enough for you?
You were dying, he said. What was I supposed to do?
That’s what bodies do. We die. We rot. Then disperse. What did you think was going to happen?
He didn’t respond to this.
Are you going to reassemble me?
I will decay. In pieces.
Then I will watch your pieces decay. And I will keep living.
You call that living? I scoffed.
Do you . . . do you want to go again? I asked. Please say no.
Yes, he said. Let’s go again.
My lungs sighed.
Fine, I said, my fingers crawling toward the button. Let’s go again.