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Rfid
Tonight I sleep. Oh heavenly lord, I will sleep.

My sheets are warm and fresh out of the dryer, just how I like them. My bedroom is filled with what detergent manufacturers think a summer breeze smells like. That hellhound next door has shut its evil maw for once, which was a smart decision, because otherwise I’d have been paying it a little visit with a little roll of duct tape. And as I take one last look at my calendar, I confirm once and for all that I haven’t got shit to do tomorrow.

I lean over and switch off my bedside lamp. There isn’t even a moon tonight. Just darkness. Blissful, quiet darkness. I’m already half afloat in it.

I clear a tickle from my throat, nuzzle my pillow and-

PNEUMONIA. BACTERIAL. METHICILLIN-RESISTANT STAPHYLOCOCCUS AUREUS.

God fucking damn it.

---

I hate waiting rooms. I hate waiting in general, but I hate waiting rooms twice as much.

I’m sat next to, or rather pressed up against, some clammy lardass with his gut draped over his lap. It’s damn near draped over my lap. For the last half hour, he’s been coughing and spitting into a handkerchief. I managed to sneak a peek inside it. Shit looked like molasses. He shouldn’t be here. He belongs in the emergency ward. People who aren’t about to die don’t make these sounds or produce this substance.

He lurches forward to grab a magazine and one of his fat folds bulges out and brushes against my thigh. I curl in on myself, crossing my legs and clamping them together like invisible wolverines have declared war on my balls.

How do I know what this guy’s incubating? What if he’s infectious? Am I the only one giving a fuck? Anywhere else I could steer well clear, but the one place I can’t escape his miasma, the one place I have to choke down his germs is the place that’s supposed to take care of my health. What a crock. Why not lean over and give me a kiss, you rotten blimp? You might as well, with how long your air’s been festering in my lungs. You might as fucking well. Do it. Shove your putrid slug of a tongue in my mouth and hock your slime straight down my-

“Mr. Heath?“

“...fucking neck.”

I look up. The all too familiar face of my doctor pokes out of the doorway.

“Sorry?” I say.

“We’re ready for you.”

I follow him to his office. The fat guy gives me a weird look as I walk past.

---

“Everything’s coming back clear, Mr. Heath.”

I don’t roll my eyes. I can’t even muster that much anymore.

“You say this happened while you were in bed.” He taps on his keyboard a few times with his middle finger. Still typing hunt-and-peck, doctor? Or are you just trying to look industrious? “Is it possible you’d fallen asleep? Could it have been a dream?”

“It felt the same as it always does. It wasn’t a dream.” And even if it had been, the thing kept hollering long after I got up. Every muted little “ahem”, there it was. You don’t realise how often you cough throughout the day until the word PNEUMONIA thunders through your neurons every time you do.

“I’ve had enough,” I tell him. “I want it taken out.”

“I’m sorry,” he says. Like hell you are. If you’re sorry, look at me. Stop pretending to read your computer screen. “We can’t do that. You agreed to test the implant for at least two more years.”

“It’s broken. Okay? If the chip stops working properly, if it puts my health at risk, I am no longer under contract. I read the small print. My lawyer read the small print. He’s got a copy in his office.”

I brandish my phone like a pistol and he actually puts his hands up. Calmly, at shoulder height, but still. “Are you gonna make me call him? Is that where this is going?”

“I understand your frustration. But we’ve run dozens of diagnostics, Mr. Heath, at your insistence, and there is nothing to suggest a malfunction.”

“Oh really? So do I have pneumonia, then? ‘Cause if not, there’s your malfunction.“

He inhales deeply through his nose. “You don’t have pneumonia.”

“Good. That’s real good to hear. What else don’t I have? How many things do I need to not have before you admit there’s a problem?”

I don’t allow him to answer, not that he seemed like he was going to. I’m Getting Started now. I promised myself I wouldn’t Get Started, not this time, it never helps, it only makes them take you that much less seriously, but it’s already crawling up my throat like vomit and it will not be swallowed.

“I was taking a leak the other day and I got one of those pangs, you know, one of those split-second little twinges you get. You know?”

I wait a couple of seconds for him to indicate that he does know, but he’s just staring at me with that passive doctor look. That “I hope you like sugar pills” look. This guy’s done for the day. He’s switched off. Did he just glance at the clock? Dick.

“Anyway, I got one of those, and the thing told me I had gonorrhoea. I'm pretty sure I'd have noticed gonorrhoea by now. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't slip by me. I don’t believe I’ve ever had the chance to catch gonorrhoea, doctor. I think I might be grateful for a little gonorrhoea.”

“Alright, Mr. Heath.” He’s writing something.

“Should we check?” I jump out of my chair and grab my fly between thumb and forefinger. “I don’t think I came in that time. Should we check for gonorrhoea? Swab me? Or do I need to pee in something? I was in that waiting room a while. I think I can manage. What should I pee in, doctor? Mug. Coffee mug, right here. Perfect. Looks like you’re done with it. Let’s go.”

He slides a sheet of paper across the desk. “I’m referring you to a therapist, Mr. Heath.”

I sit.

It’s a form. All filled and signed, my name at the top and his scrawl of a signature at the bottom. A therapist. A shrink. You stick faulty goods in my brain and then tell me my brain is fucked up.

“So you think I’m just making this up,” I say, flatly. “I’m the problem here.”

“Whatever the case may be, this is clearly causing you some distress. I think it would benefit you to talk to someone.”

He gives me a time and an address. I leave. He doesn’t stop me. Once I’m out of the building, I crumple the paper and dunk it into the first garbage can I see. Fucking bullshit. Fucking useless assholes.

---

I’m a survivor.

At least that’s what I resemble, looking at myself in the mirror. Like I’ve just survived something. A war. A year in the gulag. I’m in my thirties, but if I went to the movies tonight and asked for a senior’s discount, nobody would look twice. Ugly bags weigh down my eyelids. Got a zit coming up there. Skin of a corpse...

A zit?

I turn my head and peer at it. A red, tender spot on my cheek, slightly swollen. Not quite a zit, but the larval stage of one.

Jesus. I haven’t had zits since I was-

TUMOUR. MALIGNANT. INOPERABLE. LOCATION: LEFT CHEEK.

Oh, fuck off. Fuck off.

TUMOUR. MALIGNANT. INOPERABLE. LOCATION: LEFT CHEEK.

“Shut up,” I mutter. “It’s a fucking zit. Look.”

I pinch it between my index fingers and squeeze as hard as I can. The surrounding skin whitens under the pressure, but I can barely tell the difference. When that doesn’t work, I try again with my knuckles. I stick my thumb in my mouth and push from the inside to keep the skin taut. I press my fingernails in until they draw blood, until it’s stinging and throbbing and ten times worse than if I’d just let it be. All the tricks you’d use as a teenager to burst the thing as messily as possible and guarantee a scar. No dice. It’s not ripe enough.

TUMOUR. MALIGNANT. INOPERABLE. LOCATION: LEFT CHEEK.

A prickling in my armpits tells me I’m starting to sweat. I take my phone out of my pocket. The headphones are still attached. I jam them into my ears and play the first song that comes up on the list, cranking the volume loud enough to deafen, but it

TUMOUR. MALIGNANT. INOPERABLE. LOCATION: LEFT CHEEK.

doesn’t work. It doesn’t speak into your ears. It’s not some outside voice you can drown out with enough noise. It’s not the hellhound next door. It’s the hellhound in in your head. It’s a consciousness that’s not your own, biting and clawing and snarling for dominance. It commandeers your train of thought. It opens a hole in your brain and fucks it to mush.

I stomp into the kitchen and fling a drawer open so hard it falls from the sliders and hits the floor at an angle, scattering cutlery everywhere. I fumble through the mess for a paring knife. I take it back to the bathroom, to the mirror. My gaze is feral.

“Inoperable?”

I put the blade to my cheek.

“Inoperable?”

I start at the bottom, leaving a quarter-inch margin. I try to use just the tip and cut around it in a circle, the same way you hull a strawberry, but there’s too much give and the knife isn’t that sharp. So I inch it further in, struggling to keep myself from wincing, and flick outwards. There's a wet snap as the blade plucks out a gob of bloody flesh, leaving it hanging by a flap of skin. Little hobbit door to my dermis. It doesn’t hurt as much as I thought it would.

“There.” I hack off what’s left and smear it across the glass with my thumb. “There’s your fucking-“

TUMOUR. MALIGNANT. INOPERABLE. LOCATION: LEFT CHEEK.

My fist clenches over the hilt. I press on the corner of my lips with my free hand, mashing them to one side, and bring the knife up again. My aim trembles from pain and anger and just how tightly I’m gripping. I jab it into the wound and dig deeper, deeper, scraping out the inside, hollowing it like a pumpkin. Maggotish slivers of soggy meat plop into the sink. My face is rigid with concentration. Deeper. Have to make sure I get it all. I can’t even tell what I’m cutting anymore. There’s too much blood. I taste the tip of the knife poking through my cheek lining. Did I wash it? I don’t think I washed it first. Fuck.

When I’m finished, I’m bleeding all down my jaw and into my mouth. Tears of agony streak down my face and salt the wound. It hurts exactly as much as I thought it would.

“Are you done?” I say to my reflection. The sight of me makes me sob in earnest. “Are you fucking done now?”

TETANUS. INFECTED WOUND. LOCATION: LEFT CHEEK.

No.

I strike the mirror with the knife butt. I push air through my teeth. Again. Again. My breath whistles through my cheek. The glass cracks. I have three eyes. I keep going. I hammer and hammer at it until I can’t make myself out anymore. Even once I stop, I can feel the pounding in my fist. There are shards in the edge of my palm. I pull one out.

TETANUS. INFECTED WOUND. LOCATION: RIGHT PALM.

Another. Pull them out.

Pull it out.

I lift my hand to the back of my head and probe under the bristly hair.

No more. Where is it. Where the fuck is it. Where the FUCK...

There. A line-shaped bump, right there. That’s the scar. That’s where they put it.

I raise the knife.

TETANUS. INFECTED WOUND. LOCATION: BACK OF SCALP.

No more. No more.

TETANUS. INFECTED WOUND. LOCATION: BACK OF SCALP.

TETANUS. INFECTED WOUND. LOCATION: BACK OF SCALP.

---

CONCUSSION.

---

FRACTURE. SKULL. OCCIPITAL BONE.

TETANUS. INFECTED WOUND. LOCATION: OCCIPITAL LOBE. BRAIN HAEMORR-

Got you.

I set down the chisel.

Got you. Got you. You fucker.

I hold the thing to my face. Squint. Got dark in here. Can’t see properly. What if it’s a piece of bone?

I run fingertips along. Square-shaped. Tiny spikes on the back. Rough. Not bone. That’s it. Got you.

I toss it away. Say “fuck you” but it doesn’t sound like words when it came out.

Tired.

I try to stand. I try to stand. I stand.

Hand on wall. Might blood on it. Tomorrow. Tired now, bed.

Open door and I fall down. Reach out. Something soft. Bed? It’ll do. Dog still not barking. Quiet dog. Good dog. Nothing tomorrow. Nothing to do.

Tonight I sleep oh heavenly lord I will

HYPOVOLAEMIA.

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