The continuation of Watch Me As I Bleed
“…I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t turn away… I couldn’t…” AJ started to weep again, his whole body shaking.
The detective reached out, as if to touch his shoulder, then hesitated. Instead, she reached for the box of tissues again and mopped his face for him. He didn’t want to continue, for the next part of the story was the most vivid and, quite literally, the most painful, but he knew he would have to.
“Sh-she took whatever she cut out of Brian into the other room and was in there for a long time. I dunno what she was doing, but when she came back… she had the saw.”
He closed his eyes, and the bright hospital room and kind face of Detective Abrams vanished, and in their place, as if the scene had been painted onto the backs of his eyelids, he saw the other room, equally bright and clinical, and the mask of Abraham Lincoln. Odd, that he would picture the mask first, before the saw, but it was that frozen face, that rubbery caricature of the face on a five-dollar bill, that haunted him the most.
“What kind of a saw?”
In his mind’s eye, he pictured the tool: small, but deadly, its sharp blade already stained with blood, so that it matched the once-white, now-red gloves that gripped its handle, hands that knew how to wield such a weapon, that had already used it on his best friend. That was Howie’s blood, he realized, gleaming on the blade, still sticky wet as it started to congeal…
“AJ?” the detective probed gently.
He opened his eyes, swallowing hard. “It was a power saw,” he croaked, “but not a chainsaw. It was… smaller. Almost like a drill.”
“Some kind of bone saw, maybe?” Detective Abrams supplied, and although her words made him cringe, AJ nodded.
“Yeah… I guess so.”
“And who did she use it on first?”
He closed his eyes again and returned to the room, where he and Kevin had lain, side by side, strapped down, the only ones left alive, wondering which of them would be next. Deep down, AJ had already known, because hadn’t she just worked her way down the line? First Howie… then Nick… then Brian… and then…
Up until that point, his eyes had been fixated upon the bloodied blade of the saw in her hands, but when she stopped beside his table, he forced himself to look away, to turn his head in the opposite direction so that he could see Kevin instead. Kevin was staring back at him, his heavy brows knitted over eyes that were wide with terror and brimming with tears. His mouth gaped open, moving soundlessly, as if he wanted to say something, but couldn’t get the words out.
But AJ, knowing he had only seconds left in which to speak, dug deep within himself to find some last words and the strength to say them. “Kevin,” he rasped, and his brother’s stricken face swam before his eyes as they filled with fresh tears. “I love you, bro. You saved my life. I wish I could return the favor…”
His words were drowned out by the buzz of the saw, and he felt, rather than saw, its blade pierce the skin of his right arm, just below the shoulder. He didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of screaming, but the pain was so intense that he couldn’t help it; he squeezed his eyes shut and screamed and screamed… but not even the bloodcurdling shrieks rising out of his own throat could block out the grinding whine of the saw as it sank through the last layer of muscle and struck bone.
It was then that the once-bright room, which had been growing darker and darker around the edges as it closed in on him, faded into blackness, the screaming stopped, and the pain went away.
When AJ opened his eyes once more, they were brimming with tears again. The hospital room blurred before them, and he felt woozy, like he might pass out again. He could still feel the fiery pain in his arm, but he told himself that this wasn’t possible, that it was just because he was remembering it. This pain wasn’t real, just a figment of his imagination. He tried to master it, fought to regain control. “She… she used it on me, to cut through my arm,” he said shakily. “And then I must have blacked out, in the middle of it. That’s all I remember. When I woke up, I was here.”
The fluorescent lights seemed to flicker on and off as he blinked rapidly, trying to get his eyes to adjust. After the blackout, they seemed blindingly bright. He wasn’t sure how long he’d been out, but the lights made him think he was still in the room… with her. When the dark silhouette of a person loomed over him, he thrashed and screamed again, struggling to get away.
But something felt different. He didn’t seem to be strapped down anymore. He could kick his legs and twist his body, underneath what he recognized as blankets. He was no longer on the hard table, but in a soft bed. He tried to sit up, but didn’t have the strength, and his arms felt strangely useless to help boost him off the bed, like they were completely outside of his control. As he struggled, a hand caught him in the chest and pushed him back down onto the mattress, while a stranger’s voice said his name. “AJ… AJ, relax. Just relax.”
AJ only struggled harder, but before it had occurred to him that the voice was deep like a man’s, that the hand was bigger, heavier, and gentler than he would have expected the woman’s to be, he felt a sharp prick of pain in the side of his neck. He tried to twist away, but the pressure of the hand increased on his chest, holding him down, until the sensation spread to the rest of his body. He fought the feeling as long as possible, but eventually, when his head and limbs grew too heavy to move, he gave in and allowed himself to sink back into the blackness.
“So you didn’t witness what happened to Kevin?”
AJ swallowed again with difficulty and shook his head. “All I know is what I’ve been told by you people.”
The second time he awoke, he was calmer. The bright lights still alarmed him, and at first, it was like waking up to a recurring nightmare – déjà vu, like that old movie Groundhog’s Day. But this time, he controlled his panic long enough to let his eyes adjust, to let himself look around and see that this was not the same room. Hospital, he realized, his senses taking in the sight of a latex glove dispenser mounted on the pastel wall, the smell of hand sanitizer, and the sound of various blips and drips one associates with an intensive care ward. I’m alive, he thought, though a few seconds passed before he could believe it. I’m safe now.
He tried again to sit up, but something still felt wrong; his arms weren’t working right, and he wasn’t strong enough to pull himself up without them. His heart monitor went haywire with the effort, and a nurse came to see what was the matter. “Mr. McLean, you’re awake,” she said, smiling down at him. “Are you in any pain?”
Pain? No, it wasn’t pain, what he was feeling. It was… numbness. “What’s wrong with me?” he asked, his voice cracking. “What did she do to me?”
The nurse’s smile flickered. “Try to relax. I’ll get the doctor.”
“Wait!” he cried after her, as she bustled back out. “God damnit, wait! What the hell did she-?”
But he stopped suddenly, the question dying in his throat, for as he turned his head to watch her leave the room, still struggling to get up from the bed, his eyes fell upon his right shoulder… and the bandaged stump of an arm that stopped just beneath it. He gasped in disbelief and started to hyperventilate, his heart beating so fast inside his chest that it threatened to burst through his ribcage. And in the midst of this panic attack, he tried to reach over with his left hand, tried to reach over and touch the place where his right arm had been, needing to feel the empty air, needing to prove to himself that he wasn’t seeing things, that it really was gone…
But something was wrong. He could feel his hand, sort of, but it wasn’t coming when his brain called it, and he looked over in confusion, expecting to see it lying dead at his side, somehow paralyzed, but there, still there. It didn’t occur to him that it could be gone, too, until he saw the second stump, saw his left shoulder swathed in bandages, too, and beyond it… nothing.
“Oh God…” he whimpered, his eyes darting between the two little arm buds flapping at his sides, and the words became a scream. “OH GOD!!! WHAT DID SHE DO TO ME?!”
The nurse came back then, bringing the doctor in his white coat with his trusty syringe. They held AJ down, placed an oxygen mask over his face, and shot him up with another dose of sedative. It wasn’t as strong as the first; it relaxed him, but didn’t knock him out. He was conscious and calmer when the doctor finally pulled up a chair alongside his bed and sat down to talk to him.
He only remembered bits and pieces of this initial conversation. Most of it was a blur. He remembered the doctor assuring him that he would be all right, in time. He had come dangerously close to death, having lost half his blood volume before the paramedics found him; he’d even flatlined in the ambulance, but they had resuscitated him and replenished his blood through transfusions at the hospital, where he’d undergone emergency surgery to tie off the blood vessels in his severed arms and close the open wounds.
“I’m afraid whoever did this to you didn’t leave much residual limb,” he recalled the doctor saying at one point, “but a lot of advances have been made in arm prosthetics over the years.”
But AJ hadn’t been in any state to hear about arm prosthetics. “Did they catch her?” he asked dully, staring down at his covers. “The one who did this?”
“Not yet. The police say she had bolted by the time they arrived on the scene.”
“How did they find us?”
“Someone heard screaming and called 911. It’s lucky they did; if the ambulance had arrived any later, you and your friend both would have bled to death.”
AJ looked up, drawing in a sharp breath. “Kevin. Kevin’s alive?”
“He’s still in critical condition here in the ICU, but yes, he’s alive.”
“What happened? What did she do to him?” AJ demanded to know, but deep down, he had already guessed correctly.
At least he wasn’t shocked, later that day, when they propped him up in a wheelchair and pushed him down the hall to visit Kevin. From the waist up, Kevin looked whole and unharmed. If it weren’t for the tubes and wires snaking out of every opening in his hospital gown, AJ might have thought he was just sleeping, the covers folded down neatly over his chest. He could see the shape of Kevin’s body clearly under the thin blanket that covered it, could see the place, just below the waist, where his legs stopped: two lumps, resting side by side, and then nothing but flat, smooth covers all the way to the foot of the bed.
Kevin was still unconscious, gravely ill from an infection that had resulted from a failed attempt to surgically reattach his amputated legs. There had been no chance of saving AJ’s arms, the doctor had regretted to tell him. AJ regretted it, too. He looked at Kevin’s hand, lying still at his side, and realized he couldn’t even reach out and take it, give it a squeeze to reassure Kevin that he was there, that he had survived, that they were both still alive. AJ would never hold anyone’s hand again. Of all the things he would never be able to do again, hand-holding might have seemed insignificant, but in that moment, it meant everything to him. The realization that he was incapable of even the simplest gesture hit him hard, and as the tears welled up in his eyes and began to overflow, it occurred to him that he couldn’t wipe his face, either…
Detective Abrams reached out with another tissue, catching the last of the tears that trickled from his eyes. “Thanks,” AJ rasped, embarrassed, but appreciative all the same. The detective simply nodded and set the tissue aside.
“That’s all the questions I have for now,” she said. “I’ll be in touch throughout the investigation, but in the meantime, if you remember anything else, even the tiniest detail, please give me a call. The number’s on my card.” She started to hand it to him, then quickly realized her mistake and placed it on his bedside table instead. Shifting awkwardly, she asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you before I go?”
“No,” AJ said dully. The nurses would take good care of him. They would wash his face and brush his teeth, bathe him and shave him and feed him and help him go to the bathroom, as they had every day since he’d awoken in this hellhole. It was not the same room… but sometimes, he thought he might have been better off if he’d just died there, alongside Brian, Nick, and Howie. He was alive, but only in the most basic sense of the word. How could this miserable existence be considered living, when he was practically an invalid, unable to do even the most basic tasks by himself? The woman behind the mask had taken more than just his arms; she had taken his independence. In a way, she had taken his life, the same as she had taken theirs. “Just… find her,” he told the detective. “Find the sick bitch that did this.”
“We’re doing everything we can,” she assured him. “The crime scene has already been canvassed for fingerprints and DNA evidence. Unfortunately, not much was found, which makes sense, now that you’ve told us she wore gloves and kept herself covered the whole time. Your statement will help us finish putting together a psychological profile, which may give us a lead.”
“What’s your profile of her say so far?” he asked, feeling mildly curious for the first time.
“Well, she seems to be quite intelligent. We’re guessing she either works in the medical profession or is in training. She displayed extensive knowledge of anatomy and surgical skills, and she had access to medical equipment and surgical tools, yet her methods were somewhat crude. It’s clear she intended to torture you before killing you; otherwise, she would have performed her operations in a more controlled setting, under anesthesia.”
“But that wasn’t the point, was it?” AJ interjected. “It wasn’t just about torturing us or killing us. She wanted something else. That’s why she took different parts from each of us, didn’t she?” His voice was shaking, along with the rest of his body, and he felt light-headed, on the verge of blacking out again. He struggled to stay alert and maintain his control, needing to know if his suspicions were correct. The look on Detective Abrams’s suddenly pale face told him he was coming dangerously close to the truth. “My arms… Kevin’s legs…” As he started to list them, his voice grew stronger, even as the words got harder to say. “…Nick’s head… Brian’s voice box… and Howie. She used Howie’s body, didn’t she?”
“His torso, yes,” Detective Abrams said, closing her eyes. “She surgically attached the other body parts to him.”
His worst fear confirmed, AJ felt sick. “Like fucking Frankenstein,” he hissed. “What did she think she was making, the ultimate boyband member? What was she gonna do, zap it to life and send it out on auditions? Or screw it in her bed, like some goddamned zombie sex doll!”
“We won’t know her true motives until we catch her. It’s likely she created it to keep for herself, like a sort of ‘living’ shrine to her favorite music group.”
“Favorite?” AJ snorted. “You’re saying she was a fan?”
“Fans – fanatics – have been known to do crazy things. In a sick way, she might have loved you – or thought she did.”
He shook his head in disgust and disbelief. “She didn’t love us. She just left us there in pieces.”