The Flipside #3: Endurance
Bijou has resisted and fought against the greatest evils on Earth since she was a child. She’s been tortured and survived enough times to know that one of her greatest strengths is the power of endurance. Her life depends on it. But an old adversary has just upped the ante—and Bijou is about to be introduced to a brand new enemy. This time, will endurance be enough?
Our Story Begins...
THE HARSH, BRIGHT WHITE lights in the ceiling bore through Bijou’s closed eyes so that the capillaries in the skin of her eyelids glowed like red highways of flowing blood. She slowly followed the highways, moving her eyes from the left side all the way to the right. She’d never noticed that the inside of her eyelid looked like a microscopic map hung up on an x-ray board.
Her eye muscles got to a place where they strained to rotate further, like they were tied off by a rope at the dock, where the bloody waters turned a deeper red and then blackish.
Bijou tried to force her eyes to break free and float off into the dark. It would be peaceful there. But it hurt to do that, the sharp twinge of a headache, so she let her eyes just rotate back to stare at the red capillary highways.
Human eyelids had a bad design—they should be thicker. Maybe even made of a hard substance, like cartilage. Why this paper thin tissue?
She imagined tiny cell people living in her bloodstream, driving red blood cell cars, going around on their business across her eyelids. They were rectangular-type cell people, kinda cartoonish. They had jobs to do, families that they cared about, cities that they lived in. But their society was totally different than modern American or European—they were peaceful. They always tried to help each other out.
Bijou was just getting into imagining blood cell nations when the lock on the door in the small autopsy room clicked, a whip-crack loud pop between the soundless walls.
Her eyes flew open and the white lights struck her pupils with a lash of blinding pain. Her whole world burned white.
She shut her eyes again and reflexively tried to raise her bound head and her bound arms, but she could only slightly wiggle. The leather restraints marrying the joints of her naked body to the cold, steel table were sculpted to her body in a beloved and most magnificent form of art—the art of professional torture.
The muscles in her throat constricted and sour bile washed up into the back of her nose. It joined the rank odor of formaldehyde that had already burned her sinuses.
Was the door still open?
Was someone standing there?
She squinted and strained to look down her nose, her eyelashes woven together like magnified insect legs. Her cheek bones were blurry mountains rising to obstruct her view of the room.
She closed her eyes and let the red, paper-thin tissue swallow her sight again. Her pupils paced back and forth.
The silence bore down and her leg twitched in anticipation of sound.
Stupid body. She couldn’t always control it.
The instinct to live had always been its single-minded goal, anyway. All those billions of cells working together, all those chemical reactions, those highways of blood carrying nutrients. The heart pumping like a steadfast soldier, loyal to the cause.
Loyal to the cause until the last breath.
Cool air fingered the hair on her arms, traveled up her navel, between her exposed breasts. It smelled like lemongrass. How strange. Because she was sure she was downstairs, far underground, and away from the San Francisco streets and restaurants.
They’d tied a black bag over her head in the car, and muscled her into an unseen alleyway. She’d caught a whiff of rank garbage, felt the cool air on her arms caused by shadows blocking the sun. The doorway was narrow, like a service entrance, and they squeezed her inside.
She remembered the staccato echo of footsteps, like a herd of animals in a stairwell, going down, down, down. The men had walked swift with authority. There was a cloying smell. It felt like a very prominent building. Like a behemoth of concrete and steel.
Like an owned building.
And now, someone had ordered fresh takeout. Fresh, mouth-watering, coconut Tom Kha soup. It could be sitting in a Styrofoam cup, beautifully steaming beyond the open door.
But that someone who bought it wasn’t saying anything.
Wasn’t moving forward or back. The door was just open and Bijou suddenly felt even more naked and more exposed under the antiseptic lights.
“You look like cadaver,” a man finally said in a thick accent. Vietnamese or maybe Thai.
These were the first words anyone had spoken since the other men had stripped her clothes off, tied her up, and arranged the glaring light bulbs. She’d caught a single glimpse of the surroundings when the black sack was yanked off, just before they slammed her head down with a sharp, bone-thudding crack.
That stainless steel table pushed up by the wall had been the biggest clue.
The perforated grid plates, the hydro-asperator, the built-in sink at the bottom where a dead body’s feet would lay. Of course that cloying smell in the stairwell had been the sanitized, saccharine smell of any hospital where sick people clustered.
And downstairs, of course, was the morgue.