The darkness stripped back, unveiled for her eyes a dim man blocking her passage.
"What is wanted?" asked the gatekeeper.
She gangled the child toward him.
"Yes," he said. "You carry the dead."
"A child," she said.
"A dead child," he consented.
She stepped to step past. He stretched out his palm, repelled her by main force of his hand.
"What is wanted?" he asked again.
She displayed again the child.
"Yes," said the gatekeeper. "You carry the dead. This much has been established."
"Child," she said.
"Yes," he said. "We have conceded as much."
She tried to shoulder past, found the repulsant palm ever before her. She fought past, felt her body lifted, hurled back down the hall-way to strike against the gates.
Clutching her ribs, she agonized to her knees. She took up the child, rose to her feet. The gatekeeper stood serene, arms folded against his chest.
"What is wanted?" he asked.
"Admission," she said.
"That is correct," he said. "You may enter."
He took the child from her, led her through a door into a sparse room. Placing the child upon a desk, he vanished.
A man at the other side of the desk motioned her to come forward. She sat, saw him turn his attention to the child. He upturned the child’s face. He pushed the limbs flat, observed the limbs to curl back. Taking a pen, he made notation upon paper.
He reached into a drawer of the desk, removed a carpet bag, dropped it onto the floor beside.
He straightened the limbs of the child, watched them crumple back.
"Dead a long while?" he asked, not taking his eyes from the child.
She shrugged. "No?" she said.
"No?" he said.
He made notation. He extirpated from the carpet bag a coil of copper wire, followed by a pipe wrench. These he placed upon the desk, cronied them with the corpse.
"No?" he said.
"Yes?" she said.
He took up the pipe wrench, hefted it in a hand. Quickly he screwed the jaws closed. With his free hand he twisted around one of the child’s arms. The upper flesh crackled, the shoulder ball rolling counter the socket. He brought the pipe wrench down to shatter the elbow. He shattered its twin, crushed the caps of both knees.
She murmured from an impulse born no less of incomprehension than of the maternal. He winced at her sounds, spoke sharply. "If you find the task unpleasant, avert your eyes," he said. "This is no longer your child."
He unwound the spooled wire, spread it in loops across the desk. Worrying the carpetbag, he at last forced from within a pair of wire cutters.
He severed a length of wire, sectioned it.
"There is blood on your hands?" he asked.
"No," she said.
"Show them to me," he said.
She held her hands to him across the desk.
He scrutined the nails, levered the palms skyward. He snorted, pushed her hands away.
"There is blood upon your hands," he said.
He tightened a strangle of wire around the child’s forearm, ran the wire over the elbow, bound the length around the separated joint of the shoulder. He bent the wire, encouraged the arm to bend. Selecting a second wire, he forced it around the other arm. Carefully he contorted wire around knees, ankles, hips. Bending the wires, he made the corpse to stand.
Bending and unbending wires, he locomoted the child across the desk, talking to it in an odd and soothing singsong. He spread the body flat upon the desk.
She took the child up, felt the cold of the copper braces against her hands.
The deskman reached across his desk, pried her hands off the child. He pressed his ear to the chest, thumped the skull.
"All is not well for the child," he said.
He reached across the desk, took her by the arm, pulled her up out of her chair. He pressed his ear to her upper breast, pulled her feet othe floor, pulled her hips onto the desk.
"Nor is all well for you."
He led her down corridors past identic men. He led her through doorway, up stairway, left her alone and dim-roomed without a word. She sat upon the edge of a raised pallet, knees abutted, child cradled upon her lap. Near the pallet squattled a wheeled and metal table. Metal apparati hung forth as shadows from the walls. She dozed to and from sleep, her hands resting lightly upon the wire-bound flesh. She awoke, placed the child upon the table. Spreading her body upon the pallet, she cradled her head in the palm of her hand.
She awoke numb-hipped. She caused her pockets to extrude their last contents. Stones dropped, scattered themselves across the floor. She examined her palms in the dim, and, for all, could see nothing of blood to them. Soon, she slept.
She awoke to a squat face. In place of eyes were round spectacles opaque with light. The face moved toward her own face, a pen-light lodged between its teeth flashing her eye.
She fluttered an eyelid, found it to retain itself open despite her efforts. The blade of light flitted across her face. Gloved hands palpated a path down her flesh.
The face moved back into a man, smocked white. He spat the penlight into a palm. He regarded her askance. He pointed toward the door.
Covering her breasts, she rose to sit at the edge of the palette. She buttoned her shirt, closed her trousers.
The surgeon set a satchel upon the pallet at her side. She slid from the pallet. He tossed his penlight into the satchel.
She took up the child, slung it over an arm.
"What of the child?" she asked.
He folded the jaws of the satchel together, closed the clasp. Removing himself to the sink, he stripped ogloves as if layers of skin, discarded them. He opened the faucet, ran his red hands under the water.
"Take it from here and dump it," he said.
"Where?" she asked.
His smile was disjointed and twisted. He shook his head. Closing the faucet, he wiped his fingers upon his smock. He approached a bin in the corner, depressed its pedal. The lid gaped, disjointed its jaw.
"Throw it in," he said.
She shook her head.
Shrugging, he allowed the lid fall. He sprung the clasp of the satchel, broke apart the top.
He approached the table, hands outstretched, fingers splayed. He demanded she reach into his smock, slide out the penlight. He instructed her to its operation, insisted she direct the beam in accord with his desire.
He bent over the child. He probed the holes of the lesser head, lacerated the intact eye. As he scrutined the exterior skeleton of wire, he gave a queer smile.
He muddled within the satchel, removed a pair of wire cutters. He sheared through the wire, cast it onto the floor. He applied a genuclast to the knees, broke apart the joints, beating the lesser joints mobile with a fist.
He removed a cleaver, stropped it across the surface of the table. Centering the child upon the table, he aligned the head. He braced his legs, tightened his hand upon the cronge of the cleaver, split the dry body in two. The halves fell apart, as if unhinged. A storm of insects spewed out of the gut, scattering off all sides of the table, spreading themselves out across the floor. He braced his knees against the table, worked the cleaver loose, wrenched it free.
The woman stepped back, bumped against the pallet. She crawled backwards onto the pallet and over it, crouched on the far side. He regarded what was to be seen of her, birthed a horse-laugh.
He stripped the flesh off the joints, forced thin wires in through the cartilage. He renervated the wires beneath the flesh, connected the bundles from joint to joint, brought them together in a tangle which he left lying between the halves of the corpse. He patched the flesh over the joints. He tugged upon the coil of wires. Limbs moved, fingers flexed. Driving her forth from her refuge, he di-rected her to hold steady the penlight. He prodded the viscerae, evacuated the corpse. He freed the split tongue, sewed in its place a trip of crushed velvet. He pried out the halves of the windpipe, inserted a column of lead. He dug out the heart, insinuated in its cavity an apple, suturing the arteries to the wormy skin. Severing the lobes of the lungs, he blunted them in a line along the table. He inflated two balloons, forced them under the cage of ribs. He sucked the eyes out, filled the sockets with foamy spittle. He scraped out the mushed hemispherics of the brain and positioned the bundle of wires between the barren bowls of the skull. Striking the woman, he commanded her to hold steady the light. The severed genitalia she saw him slip into the pocket of his smock. He tore out the stomach, sewed in a hot water bottle. He unraveled the intestines, coiled in the belly-hole a dirty length of hemp.
He forced the two halves of the body together, stapled the split bones. He stretched the flesh over the gaps, sewed it down.
He clamped an apparatus upon the child’s chest, threw a switch. The limbs contorted, laxened. The eyes frothed. The body began to hum.
The doctor stripped the flesh off his fingers, disposed of it. He gathered his instruments, packed his satchel, left mother and son to their joy.
From Brian Evenson’s novel Dark Property, reprinted with permission from Black Square Editions.
BRIAN EVENSON is the author of ten books of fiction, most recently the limited edition novella Baby Leg. He has translated work by Christian Gailly, Jean Frémon, Claro, Jacques Jouet, Eric Chevillard, Antoine Volodine, and others. He is the recipient of three O. Henry Prizes as well as an NEA fellowship.