From the author: Renascent means ‘rising again into being or vigor’, an apt title for my story. The origin of this story came from my personal questioning about whether organ recipients take on the traits of their organ donors. I also learned about the horrific black market in organs during my research and wanted to shed light on that subject.
by Pauline Yates
The Scalpers took my left eye today, but I wish they’d take my heart. Every beat holds me shackled to this existence and I want out. I give up trying to escape. I can’t find the right connection with any of my recipients. I can’t even rely on my soul. I sold that to the Scalpers the second I signed the consent form. My face may now be on a missing person’s list, but I’ll never be gone. I’ll live on in other people while my ghost remains here, on this recliner chair in this grey-walled room, for eternity.
Since I’m not dead yet, I may as well continue tormenting the new owner of my right hand. She’s just arrived for her shift. I thought she’d show some level of kindness due to our new connection, but she still treats me like a piece of meat curing on a slab waiting to be sliced and diced. Her name is Cathy. She has small eyes and a paunch for a neck and greasy, black hair pinned up in a bun. She also has not one ounce of humanity. Not one of the Tubers do. If they did, they’d have reported the Scalpers long ago and this heinous body parts trafficking operation wouldn’t exist.
The Scalpers are clever how they nab their victims. If I was clever, I wouldn’t have been duped with their lure of a fat cheque in return for trialling a new allergy drug. How proud was I to accept money from a stranger instead of calling home to ask my parents to top up my bank account? Smart backpackers know how to make a quick buck, the Scalpers told me. But smart backpackers don’t arrive at an unassuming medical clinic without a friend in tow. I bet the Scalpers saw straight through me—a naïve twenty-year-old who was a fool to think she had the wits to survive travelling around a foreign country alone.
I wonder how many of the other seven victims currently in this room hate Cathy as much as I do? Being on the second chair at the end of the row, I can’t see everyone. I don’t even know if they are the same people who were here when I arrived. Bodies get wheeled in and out through the large doors at the end of the room so often I lose track of who is who. No one looks the same when they return minus limbs, or hair, or eyes.
Nor can I keep track of time. I have no sense whether days or weeks have passed. I don’t know if it’s night or day. All I know is that the discovery of my extrasensory ability keeps me sane.
A metal bucket clangs on the floor, followed by the stench of body fluids being drained through tubes. Rolling my eye to the left, I watch Cathy tend to each victim with intensifying hatred. She grabs arms, of those who still have arms, with unnecessary force and jabs needles into elbow joints as if driving in metal stakes. She uses scissors instead of plastic-tipped forceps to remove the tubes that drain the cavities left after the Scalpers have taken what they need. Watching her dig the tip of the scissors into a raw wound then twist the cutting blades so it’s easier to insert a new tube makes bile rise in my throat. Slipping into her, I try to make her reach for the forceps that peek from a pocket on her apron, but Cathy resists my attempt at control by twisting the scissors harder.
I don’t give up. I slip back out, letting her think she wins this round, but when she reaches the chair next to mine, I dart back in and make her grab the metal hinge that swings the back of the chair up and down. My tactic works. Caught off guard, Cathy clamps onto the hinge, her fingers closing around the same spring mechanism that caused her freak accident—a reminder it’s thanks to me she’s not an amputee. But after the initial shock, she smirks and forces her hand to unclench. Then she continues to my chair.
Standing so the other Tuber on duty can’t see what she does, Cathy picks up my stomach tube and holds it up until gastric fluid dribbles from my mouth. If I could move, I’d spit the bile at her face. But I can’t move. I can only watch while Cathy picks up the scissors and traces the tip of the blade around my remaining right eye. I want to scream that we share something more than flesh and bone and I’ll clamp my hand around her throat while she sleeps. But I can’t scream, either. My tongue was the first part of my body the Scalpers removed.
The other Tuber walks toward us. Cathy pockets the scissors, lowers the tube, and resumes her duties as if nothing happened. Seething inwardly, I bide my time while considering my next move.
I could escape with Cathy but that would mean returning to this room every day and doing to the other victims what I hate having done to me. I’ve learned from Cathy’s small-talk with another Tuber that she’ll never leave this job. She has a mortgage and car repayments and likes the job security the Scalpers afford her. She must have lots of money to be able to pay for her transplant. I wonder if she paid extra to jump the queue. Judging by the number of limbless torsos wheeled from this room, replacement body parts are in high demand. Maybe the Scalpers calculated in the cost of finding a replacement Tuber. I doubt they’d advertise a job vacancy in a local newspaper.
Even if I could convince Cathy to quit, I couldn’t live in a person I despise. But that won’t stop me using her. I’ve discovered there are no parameters when it comes to the metaphysical cellular connection between an organ donor and recipient. I practice strengthening my out-of-body ability with her every chance I get. If she wasn’t so cruel, my intrusion would go unnoticed. But I can’t be in her and do nothing. Cathy must have some understanding of how the cellular connection works because she’s always ready to retaliate. She says nothing to the other Tubers, however. This cellular battle for domination is between us.
Her worst ammunition is to ignore me, which she does now. It’s another form of rejection and makes it harder for me to slip into her. While I search for a way around her defences, she attaches a drip bag filled with reddish-grey fluid to the catheter in my stomach—breakfast—then releases a lower tube to drain away my excess body fluid. While the fluid leaks into a bucket at the foot of my chair, she engages in idle gossip with the other Tuber who mops the floor around the chair next to mine. They talk about movies and dinner plans and the latest drama on their favourite television show. Infuriated to hear about their normal lives, I force my way into Cathy using strength I didn’t know I possessed, and make her knock over the bucket. The stinking mess spreads across the floor. The other Tuber gives Cathy the mop with a reprimand to be more careful. Cathy takes the mop, her mouth a hard, straight line, but before she turns her back on me, I glimpse her haunted expression. For all her bravado, I think she’s scared at how powerful I’m becoming.
I’m not scared. I have nothing to lose. But Cathy does. I should do my worst and force my hand to reject her body. There’s still time. But I won’t do that yet. There’s one last thing I want to try.
I want to kill God.
God stands at the end of the room, a hulking, blinking, beeping machine that takes over the function of our removed organs. He’s connected to every victim by thick tubes that attach to the base of our skulls. When my kidneys were sold, God cleaned the waste from my body. When my right lung was removed, God breathed for me. God is our lifeline. Cut that lifeline and we all die.
The indicator light on my vitals panel flashes and a beep from God alerts an error. It’s the second time today the alarm has blared for me. I like the ensuing chaos. Cathy, thinking my body is about to die, drops the mop and rushes to God in a panic. The Scalpers can’t charge a premium price for tissue that’s already dead. That’s why they keep us alive. Living tissue results in a higher transplant success rate. And that equals profit.
Cathy adjusts dials and knobs to stabilize my vitals. After all my tormenting, I’d think she’d want me to die. But when she returns and picks up the mop, she gives me a smug smile that suggests she’ll make sure I die slow.
With my plan to kill God fixed in my mind, I slip back into Cathy and try to make her mop closer to the tubes that run along the wall. But Cathy is ready for me. She puts down the mop, removes the scissors from her apron and places them on a shelf on the opposite side of the room. When she resumes her duties, she asks the other Tuber for assistance when she needs to trim the end of a tube, saying her fingers aren’t yet strong enough to close down on the scissor’s handles. She lies. I’ve felt the strength in her hand. The Scalpers do good work. She’s just sending me a message—she’s the dominant party and I’m a fool if I think otherwise.
Thwarted again, I withdraw into myself. I don’t know why I keep trying to force Cathy’s will. The Scalpers own her as they own me and this black-market transplant clinic will continue long after my body dies. I wonder if recipients would be so quick to part with their money if they knew their replacement body parts weren’t coming from deceased organ donors.
Cathy returns to apply purple spray to the cross-stitch that pulls the skin closed over my empty eye socket. The spray is supposed to stop infection setting into the wound, but it didn’t work on my legs judging by the whiff of rotting flesh that drifts from the stumps below my knees. My phantom feet used to ache but I’ve felt nothing for three Tuber shift changes. Nor do I feel connected to the recipient who bought both my lower legs. I suspect my recipient wore high heels that were too tight for my broad feet. I don’t like heels. Maybe my rejection of that type of footwear caused a transplant rejection and my legs have been removed and disposed of. I hope so.
Cathy leaves me and tends to the next victim along the row. Body fluid squelches through a tube. I ignore it by letting my thoughts drift to my parents, but that causes such a pain in my heart a tear trickles from my right eye. How do my parents cope not knowing what happened to their only daughter? Would they turn their heads if they crossed paths with one of my recipients? Would I know them? Or is dead dead and any notion I have of living in another person is just a survival trick of the mind? Maybe there is no escape like I’ve convinced myself to believe.
God beeps. Another error code flashes on my vitals panel for the third time. Cathy drops the tube she holds and runs to the machine. A new tear slips down my cheek as she presses buttons to keep me alive. But the tear isn’t for me. It’s for the next victim who wakes up in a recliner chair, numb from a spinal tap after accepting a cheque that will never be cashed.
The beeping stops. I live again. Cathy returns to her duties. I’m done tormenting her. For God to beep three times I must be close to death. I focus instead on the worsening pain in my heart. I wonder if I can force my heart to stop? If I can control Cathy’s body, why not my own? There’s little left of me for the Scalpers to take, anyway—a lung, a liver, my right eye. But what do I know about human anatomy? From the state of the torsos removed from the room, the Scalpers waste nothing.
I’m distracted by a shadow that crosses my vision. I imagine my left eye blinking. The movement is so real I forget for a second I no longer have my eye. Then I have the strangest sensation that someone unrolls a bandage from my head.
I’ve never experienced a connection with one of my recipients this strong so soon. It’s like my missing body part seeks me out. But I’m hesitant to connect. What if this is another trick of my mind, another type of survival mechanism that draws my attention from trying to stop my own heart from beating? I’ve tried so many times to find the right recipient and all have let me down. I don’t think I have enough heart left to try again.
But can I die wondering if this next recipient is the right one?
Daring to chance one last time, I slip from my body and follow the metaphysical connection to my left eye. I blink again at the shadow. Colour floods my vision. First muddy black, then bright white, then soft grey. The three hues swirl and reform into an image. A face appears—a reflection in a mirror. It’s a woman, mid-twenties, with short hair that curls around her neck in the same way I wore my hair before it was shaved off for a wig. The woman smiles. Why wouldn’t she? She’s been gifted new sight thanks to the Scalpers. And me.
Anger at having another part of my body sold without my consent makes the cellular connection with the woman ripple like a ribbon caught in the wind. I expect the connection to break. It doesn’t. My sight grows clearer. Rich colour replaces the grey-scale. The connection to my eye is much stronger than the one I have with my hand. I wonder if it’s because I can see my eye in the mirror? Or maybe I have become stronger which is why Cathy showed fear? To test, I imagine blinking. My left eye blinks in response to my thoughts. I blink again then roll my eye from side to side. The movement is easy like my eye is back in my own head.
The woman’s smile fades, but she looks more curious than afraid. I wonder if she can sense my presence. To test how far I can push my control, I concentrate on making the woman raise her hand and prod around my eye with her fingers. She does. Her mouth parts in surprise.
My mouth parts in surprise.
To merge so fast with my recipient means the Scalpers have matched our cellular compatibility to perfection. Even the colour of our irises are similar. But they’ve done more than gift this woman new sight. They’ve gifted me a new body. This woman is my escape. And I’m going to take it.
I concentrate on holding the connection, but as I imagine myself living as this woman, a long, uninterrupted beep intrudes into my thoughts. Cathy shouts. Something hard punches my chest causing me to slip back into my own body. Determined not to lose this battle, I fight back by imaging my heart has turned to stone and not God or any amount of chest pounding by Cathy will make it beat again. Then, using my new-found strength, I slip from my body and follow the rhythmic beats belonging to my new heart.
The long beep fades away. Cathy’s voice becomes a whisper. I hear a voice I don’t recognize. The woman turns from the mirror and faces a smiling general practitioner who holds the unravelled bandage. Ignoring him, I look down at the woman’s body. She has an athletic build like I used to have. Her arms are tanned from the sun. A white, cotton tee-shirt hangs over my favourite choice of faded jeans. She wears flats, not heels. If I’d searched every person on earth, I doubt I’d find anyone more perfect.
I wonder if she knows that everything we are is contained in one single cell? Or that recipients can adopt the traits of their donor? It would explain her curiosity. To ensure her body doesn’t reject mine, I stay quiet so I don’t cause her alarm. In time we’ll see if she becomes me or if I become her. If it does come to a battle, my practice against Cathy won’t go to waste. I know I have the strength to win now. And when I dominate, I’ll hunt down the Scalpers who prey on the naïve with lures of fat checks.
But I’ll pay Cathy a visit first. Take a pair of scissors and thank her for being kind.
About the Author
Australian writer, Pauline Yates, likes to explore the dark side of humanity through her stories. Her fiction can be found with publications including Metaphorosis, Abyss & Apex, Redwood Press, Black Hare Press, plus others. She is the winner of the 2020 AHWA Short Story competition.
About the Narrator
Kat Day is a PhD chemist who was once a teacher and is now a writer and editor. By day she mostly works as a freelance editor and proofreader of scientific materials, with bits of article and book-writing thrown in. By night she… mostly does all the stuff she hasn’t managed to do during the day. She’s had articles published in Chemistry World, has written science content for DK and has produced scripts for Crash Course Organic Chemistry. Her fiction can be found at Daily Science Fiction and Cast of Wonders among others. You can follow her on Twitter at @chronicleflask , or check out her blogs, The Chronicle Flask and The Fiction Phial. She lives with her husband, two children and cat in Oxfordshire, England. She thinks black coffee is far superior to tea. The purple liquid on the stovetop is none of your concern. Kat joined the team in 2019, and became assistant editor in 2021.