Pain Is a Liar
Number 15 of the eighteen stories in my debut short story collection, Mammals, I Think We Are Called.
A man struggles to hold on to his humanity in a world where the people experimenting on him have evolved beyond pain and empathy.
Read an excerpt:
In the dark forest, there is fear. But the fear is really in the sun glaring above you, in the gaze of the others around you.
“Remember the old days, when it used to hurt?” they tease him.
“Not really,” Anton answers the coterie, forgetting about the voice, and he stretches his ankles out a little on the bed, hoping that the stretch is imperceptible.
But they are distracted, talking among themselves, and it is very gloomy, and he finally dares to let his eyes dart sideways to the windows that go all the way down to the floor. The wind is blowing the cherry blossoms hard against the panes. In the deepening dusk, they have a quality of something. Something important. He can’t explain it. And does it even matter?
Yes, says the voice, it matters.
He pretends the coterie’s incessant whispering is the wind outside. He imagines each splotch of blossom driving one of them from the room.
They finally say they are going for ice creams or a beer or something, but they don’t invite him.
In any case, he doesn’t like ice cream, not after somebody else has licked it, anyway.
He is left alone with impressions of soft pink smashing against glass. It’s not quite enough to stop him shivering. He makes hard fists, careful not to leave any marks. He keeps his fingernails short. They are not the least bit interested in how he looks, as long as he doesn’t hurt himself.
“The experiments are voluntary,” they tell him.
He lifts his head and studies his toes. All there. But they are bent, broken.
“Pain is only in the brain,” they say. “Use your brain to control your pain.”
So why doesn’t he just get up and go?
Pain is a liar, pain is in the brain, he thinks. He slides his leg up the bed. “Holy little fucking gods, it hurts!” he shouts at the trees.
They’ve left painkillers, but if he takes them they’ll think he’s weak.
He imagines arms closing round him, the arms of a long-dead father. Shush, little monkey, shush, the imaginary father says.
And then he is part of the darkness.
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