Discover more from Gary Paul Varner
THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 2: A Wake
When Maggie opened her eyes, there were two things she noticed. Number one: she was not in the hospital. Number two: she was naked. But that wasn’t her first concern. She had to find Ray. She began to sit up. Bones and joints creaked and groaned as everything began to blur. Maggie forced herself to sit upright and shook her head while taking several deep breaths. Just as the world grew black, the pain subsided. She took another breath, and her vision cleared. After another minute, she noted her trembling arms which held up her skeletal torso and looked around the room. The walls were chrome and looked as if they were made of countless steel plates that had been welded together. She was sitting on a cold, metal table. The floor was white tile. One fluorescent light shone in the center of the ceiling which was also made of the steel plates. On her left was a one-way mirror. Save for the steel table she lay on, the room looked like an interrogation room from a detective show.
Maggie slowly moved her legs until they were dangling over the table and faced the mirror. She tried shouting, but only a raspy croak escaped her lips. How long had she been unconscious? Maggie looked down at the tile floor and debated about trying to walk. For the last couple months, she’d needed a walker. It was almost a guarantee that if she tried to climb down, her knees would give out instantly, and she would collapse.
“Help! I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” the lady from the commercials chirped sarcastically in her head. If she tried to walk and couldn’t, how long would she be left writhing on the ground? And would her brittle bones be able to take the fall? How many ribs would she break on impact? “You might break a hip!” another sarcastic voice mocked. Her eyes began to burn; under normal circumstances, there would’ve been tears. She couldn’t even accomplish the simple feat of walking. Her husband was in danger, and she was useless.
Her hand moved absently to her bald skull, and she cringed when she felt the loose flesh on her crown. She stared at the floor as if it were an opponent. She had to try. She had to find Ray. She moved her hands to the edge of the table and took a deep breath. She began to slowly slide off the cold steel when a door beside the mirror flew open, and a purple-haired woman in a lab coat charged into the room.
“What is this!” she roared.
Maggie recoiled back onto the table and stared at the enraged woman who scanned her quickly, turned and started screaming at some unknown person in the hall.
“Why is she in here? And why is she naked! Get Horace and Randolf! Now!” There was some timid muttering on the other side of the door. “I don’t care who they work for!” the woman screamed. “If the powers from on freaking high want to screw with me, I’ll enjoy it! But I want words with those two ogres, now!” She turned to Maggie. “I am so, so sorry for this! You have no idea. This is wrong! This is all sorts of wrong! I can’t imagine how scared you are. That’s the last time I let Albertson handle these sorts of details. I should have known better.”
“Where’s my husband?” Maggie asked.
The woman looked at Maggie, bewildered. Then her face turned the same color as her dyed hair. “They brought your husband!” She screamed, her voice cracking like a high-school boy in the middle of puberty. She turned her head and shouted down the hallway. “I WANT THEM HERE NOW!”
The woman sagged in the doorway, hanging off the frame. A full minute passed before she lifted her head and turned to face Maggie, trying to smile. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know where your husband is, but he’s here, somewhere, and we’ll find him. Now, listen. I know you’re scared, but I need you to stay where you are and try not to move. You are a very special guest here. A true honor is being given to you, and I’m excited to tell you about it, but first, I need to find you some clothes and a wheelchair. So, please, Mrs. Stone, stay where you are. Just bear with us for a little while, and I will answer your questions. Just give me some time.”
With that, the woman left the doorway, and Maggie listened to the clatter of her high heels as she sprinted down the hall. Maggie laid back down. She knew her pain would gradually worsen and continuing to sit upright would only accelerate matters. She’d been foolish to try and walk, and she knew it, so if this melodramatic woman was willing to offer her some hope, she’d take it. She didn’t have a choice. The pain wasn’t bad…yet, but if she didn’t get some sort of drug in her soon, she would be screaming just like the purple-haired woman. Maggie closed her eyes and tried her best not to think about Ray. Dead or alive, she couldn’t help him. All she could do, was hope the woman wasn’t putting on an act to keep her calm.
She must have fallen asleep because when she opened her eyes again, the purple-haired woman was dressing her in a simple white dress with daisies on it. When she was clothed, the woman lifted her like she was a small child and placed her on a wheelchair positioned by the table.
“She didn’t even grunt,” Maggie thought bitterly. It didn’t matter how long she’d been sick. Maggie hated being helped with every little thing. The worst part about dying was the complete loss of independence. Still, Maggie gave the woman a polite smile which she’d trained herself to give over the last year.
The woman nodded and took a step back. Maggie turned the wheelchair toward the door just as Horace and Randolf, or as she thought of them, the Vermin and the Cheese, stopped in front of the doorway. Both men were panting and trying to stand tall at the same time.
“We’ve only been gone a couple minutes,” Horace said, rubbing his forehead and doing everything he could to avoid eye contact with the purple-haired woman who was half a foot taller than him. He was holding an armful of clothes as he spoke.
“We had to get rid of the hospital gown,” Randolf added. “It smelled like death.”
“You know what I saw?” the purple-haired woman asked, marching toward them and stopping an inch from the Vermin’s nose. “I saw this cancer ridden woman force herself up by shear will. Then I watched her attempt to walk even though her medical records indicate she has not been able to do so without assistance for months. Do you know what that tells me? It tells me you two did the one thing I told you not to do. You coerced her, didn’t you! You intimidated her into compliance!” The two men stood in guilty silence. The purple-haired woman began screaming at the top of her lungs again. “Damnit! This is why I didn’t want the government involved. But no! You idiots speak one language: FORCE! Everything is, ‘Do this or else. Do that or else.’ The experiment won’t work unless they comply. Didn’t I say that? I could have sworn I said that!”
“She agreed to come along,” Horace whimpered.
“Then why was she drugged? Did I give you drugs?”
“Listen, ma’am, you gave us a hard task,” Randolf said. “How are we supposed to find somebody who’s going to believe this whole thing? It’s not like it’s an easy sell. We tried the entire hospital, and we were laughed out of every room.”
“Did I not say you could grab somebody who had mental issues? Wouldn’t that have been more interesting, to see what a mentally handicapped person is like once their issues are cured? They just had to be aware enough to say yes. That’s it. That’s all. But no. You two wanted to throw your weight around. Now, where’s her husband?” The two exchanged guilty stares. Maggie’s heart stopped.
“I’ll go get him,” Horace sighed.
“I suggest you both go,” the purple-haired woman said. “If I see one bruise, so help me…” She stopped and took a breath. “Just go get him.” Horace and Randolf scampered off, muttering to themselves. The purple-haired woman turned to Maggie, trying to smile and catch her breath at the same time. “What can you eat?”
“Not much,” Maggie confessed.
The woman nodded. “We’ll find you something.” The strange woman took Maggie’s wheelchair and pushed her through the door into a dark hallway. Given the number of florescent lights, the hallway should have been much brighter than it was; instead, everything was dim and had a nasty green tint to it as if the whole building was seasick. There were no pictures or charts or decorations of any kind. Everything was bare, save for the doorways which appeared randomly, as if some drunk had designed the place.
Maggie expected to see staff, but the place was quiet. The only sounds were the squeaking of one of the wheels on her wheelchair, the clattering of the woman’s heels, and the faint humming of the fluorescent lights. Maggie felt like she and this strange doctor were the only ones in the building.
After multiple twists and turns, Maggie found herself in a small cafeteria where the walls were painted bluish green. She was pushed up to a long, sticky table, just like every other table in the history of cafeterias. The purple-haired woman sat down beside her and patted one of Maggie’s hands. “Do you like applesauce?”
Maggie hated apple sauce, and she resented that this particular food was the first suggestion the woman made, but she was hungry, and the last thing she wanted to do was antagonize this strange doctor.
“Applesauce is just fine,” Maggie said.
The woman smiled and left Maggie alone with her thoughts. She scanned the room. There was nothing remarkable about it. Like the hallway, there were no posters, no windows or decorations, just bluish green walls and fluorescent lights hanging from the steel ceiling. There were ten long tables, forming two rows of five. Most of the chairs were stacked in three rows on the opposite end of the room. They had brown padding, and the metal bars that formed the frames were covered in rust. There were two glass displays where old saran-wrapped sandwiches sat on green plastic garnish. A single metal cash register sat on a wooden podium in between the two displays. Behind the register, was an open doorway leading to the kitchen, where the floor tiles turned red, and the walls went from blue to a white, plastic sheeting. Grease stains tainted the white walls, indicating most of the food cooked was of the deep-fried variety.
“I’m sure the food here will do wonders for the cancer” Maggie thought. She chuckled. It hurt, but she didn’t care. She needed to laugh. She heard bustling in the kitchen. This place had cooks, at least.
A few minutes later, the purple-haired woman returned with a plastic bowl filled with applesauce. At the same time, Maggie heard footsteps coming from the door leading to the hallway. Maggie turned around to see Ray standing between Horace and Randolf. He was alive, although, groggy. He looked at Maggie, blinking stupidly in that familiar way she’d come to love. Maggie wanted nothing more than to stand up and run to him, embrace him with her frail arms, but she couldn’t. She was confined to her chair, so he had to run to her. He bent over and squeezed her thin body.
“I’m so glad you’re alright,” he said. “I thought I was never going to see you again.”
“I know,” Maggie said. “I thought the same thing.”
Horace and Randolf did not approach the table. They stood in front of the door, looking at each other and then back at the open doorway behind them. The purple-haired woman saw Ray, immediately went back into the kitchen, and returned with a plain ham sandwich. She placed the sandwich on the table beside the applesauce and shot the two men a hot look. Horace and Randolf took her glare as their cue to leave. They spun around and scurried back into the hallway. The woman stood over the table and watched them leave. Then she slid the sandwich in front of a chair to Maggie’s right. She met Ray’s eyes and politely nodded for the old man to sit down.
Ray looked at her, nodded in return, and sat in the chair next to Maggie never taking his eyes off the strange woman. Ray grabbed the sandwich and took a large mouthful of bread and meat while keeping his eyes on the doctor who walked to the far wall, grabbed another chair, and placed it to Maggie’s left so that she was facing the elderly couple. When she sat down, she looked at Maggie who understood she was supposed to be eating as well. Maggie looked at the mush and fought the urge to grimace. She didn’t want the applesauce, but she didn’t know enough about this woman to risk angering her. So, she slowly lifted the bowl to her lips and began to sip at the applesauce as if it were hot tea. When Maggie was halfway finished, the purple-haired woman spoke. “So, I know you both have questions,” she began, smiling. “First, let me introduce myself. I should have done it before, but those two fools have really made a mess of things. My name is Dr. Rachel Lane. I know, I don’t look like a traditional doctor, but there’s a good reason, and I will explain it here in a minute, but first, tell me what Horace and Randolf have told you about this…opportunity.”
“Nothing,” Ray said, sounding angry despite Dr. Lane’s pleasant demeanor. “They rambled about the key to immortality, or some such nonsense, then threatened us before knocking us out.”
Dr. Lane frowned and leaned back in her chair, shaking her head. “I wouldn’t say it’s the key to immortality. I mean, the possibility has entered my mind, but we’re nowhere near there…yet.” She went blank for a moment, just long enough to be awkward before coming back suddenly with a rather loud laugh. “I’m sorry. There’s just enough truth in that statement to be confusing!” She stood up and began to pace back and forth in front of the glass displays filled with saran-wrapped sandwiches. “Maybe I should explain the situation all at once. I can’t think of a way to breach the subject gradually, especially now that you’re here. Let me start with a question. How would you feel if Frankenstein had a happy ending? What if the experiment had worked?”
“It did work,” Maggie said. “The monster came to life.”
“But that’s just it, isn’t it? The monster came to life. Why was he a monster?” She didn’t wait for them to answer. She turned and looked at her reflection in the glass display. “He was ugly.” She said this quietly and didn’t look at them. “He was rejected because he was made from dead parts. He looked like a monster.”
“Didn’t he have an abnormal brain?” Ray asked.
“What does that even mean?” Dr. Lane scoffed. “No. He was rejected. He was probably rejected in his former life, too.” She turned to them and almost ran back to the table. Her eyes were shining, and her smile seemed to touch her ears. The doctor looked beautiful then, radiant and full of joy. “What if Frankenstein’s monster looked like Adam? What if he not only represented the possibility of eternal life but also human perfection?” Her eyes narrowed, and she looked at them like she was about to confess a sin she was proud of. “That’s what I did.”
“You made Frankenstein?” Maggie asked.
“I perfected Frankenstein’s monster,” Dr. Lane said. “Sort of. Rather, I extrapolated Frankenstein’s concept beyond its original purpose. I’m not saying I can bring people back from the dead, but what if I could get to the person before they died?”
Maggie and Ray looked at each other. After a minute, Ray spoke slowly. “So, young lady, if I understand you right, what you’re trying to say is that you’ve found a way to make bodies. To make Frankenstein’s monsters.”
Dr. Lane looked impressed. “Yes!” she shouted. “That’s exactly what I’ve done! I’ve made bodies! Lots and lots of bodies!” She marched around the table, grabbed her chair, and sat it next to Ray. She sat so close to him their shoulders were touching. It was as if she’d finally found a friend who understood her. “I know the book is fiction, but the book was right in its core premise. Everything hinges on the brain. The brain is a computer! You understand? You’re brain stores information. Supposedly, Frankenstein’s error was using a pickled brain. But it wouldn’t have mattered even if he did grab an abnormal brain because the second a person dies, their brain starts to break down. Using a dead brain is like trying to play music on a badly scratched CD. You get pieces of music, but the whole thing is too damaged to enjoy everything, and this decomposition process starts right away. So, you can’t just put one brain into another body because no matter how quickly you do it, the brain breaks down too fast to be reused. But…but what if you could recreate the brain and its functions from scratch? Then it would just be a matter of getting the information from the old brain to the new one. That’s what we did! Your brain uses a combination of chemicals to store information, creating an alphabet all its own. It’s a code, just like DNA! It’s a little different, of course, but it serves the same function. And we found the alphabet. We figured out the letters, but unlike other scientist, we didn’t try to figure out the functions of each chemical. We decided to build another housing for the alphabet, then we copy each individual’s code onto it. All we had to do was find a way to transfer the information. And we did, or rather, I did! I found a way to transfer that information from one computer to another. Only this computer is designed to last longer!” She howled at this and slapped her hand on the table. “I can take everything inside your wife and move her to another computer! Do you understand what I’m saying? You can have your wife all over again, Ray. You can have a second marriage.”
“I hope you’re not going to stick me inside a bunch of corpse parts sewed together,” Maggie said, trying to make a joke out of it but not really finding anything particularly funny.
Dr. Lane howled with laughter again. “No, of course not!” she said. “We made the rest of the body from scratch using similar material, but compared to the brain, that was the easy part.”
So, you’re going to stick me inside a robot?” Maggie asked. It was hard to grasp what the doctor was saying, but more than anything, she was trying desperately not to get her hopes up. This had to be some sort of joke.
Dr. Lane shook her head so hard Maggie thought her earrings were going to fly off. “No! No!” Dr. Lane cried, standing up again. “These bodies are real! They’re organic! They’re flesh and blood…well, I mean, their mostly silicone and some other things, but at their core, they are flesh and blood. You’re not going to rust, Maggie, My Dear. I promise you!”
“I don’t…I don’t know,” Ray said. “I’m having a hard time processing this. It’s… well, not only is it hard to believe, it’s hard to understand.”
“I know it’s hard to believe. But did people believe in airplanes when they were first invented? Did they believe in cars? I bet not! Those inventions changed the world, and my bodies will do the same. We’re moving away from the mechanical age and into the chemical, into the organic! My bodies are a harbinger of this new age, and you, Maggie…well, we’re going to show you to the world, and everyone will have to believe. We’re ready. This isn’t a science experiment. Do you understand? This is a guarantee. There’s no risk for you, only reward. I just need you to agree.”
“Why?” Maggie asked.
“That’s harder to explain. But when the brain is resistant, it puts up barriers. The transfer doesn’t work as well.”
The thoughts in Maggie’s brain were clogged. They were trying to come out all at once but were jammed at the door. Fortunately, Ray asked an obvious question. “Can we see these bodies?”
“Of course!” Dr. Lane cried. “In fact, you’re already looking at one.”
Without another word, the doctor threw off her coat and shirt, standing in front of them in her black bra.
“Young Lady!” Maggie cried. She hated how old she sounded in that moment, but she couldn’t help it. Then to make matters even more bizarre, the girl pointed to her stomach.
“Look closely!” Dr. Lane said. “Tell me what you notice?”
Ray stared at her stomach hard, too hard. Maggie cheeks grew hot. She was sure she was beet red despite her cancer. “Put your clothes on!” Maggie roared. Her throat did some screaming of its own, and she grabbed her neck and coughed a second later. How she despised being old.
“Please, just look!” Dr. Lane pleaded.
“Of all the…”
“Maggie,” Ray said calmly, but his voice was firm. She recognized his tone, a gentle warning to pay attention. He saw something. She looked at him, and his face was pale. So, she stared at the woman’s stomach and saw it. There were no pours, no hair or peach fuzz, no bumps, moles, or imperfections of any kind. Her skin looked almost plastic like a mannequin or a doll. It was a subtle thing, but it became obvious the longer she looked. The doctor was beautiful, stunningly beautiful, the most beautiful woman Maggie had ever seen, but she was beautiful in the way a magazine model is beautiful, someone with perfect proportions and perfect hair and perfect teeth, someone who was photo-shopped beyond recognition, but while she looked pretty, she also looked manufactured.
“Do you see it?” Dr. Lane asked.
“You did this to yourself?” Ray asked, horrified.
“Yes,” Dr. Lane said. “I told you, the time for experimentation has passed. It works. I wouldn’t have done it to myself if it didn’t work.”
“Please, get dressed,” Ray said. He turned and looked at Maggie. “I don’t want you to do this.”
Maggie was silent. She stared at her husband, ashamed. She wanted to do it. She desperately wanted to do it. When Dr. Lane was clothed again, Maggie pulled her eyes away from her husband and looked at the doctor. “Before I decide, please show me the other bodies.”
“Maggie, not only will I show you the bodies, I’ll let you pick the one you want,” Dr. Lane said.
“Just take me to them,” Maggie said. She looked at Ray as if to apologize. Ray stared back at her. He didn’t look angry, just scared.
Without a word, Dr. Lane grabbed Maggie’s wheelchair and rolled her out of the cafeteria and into the hall. Ray followed close behind. “I have to show you something unpleasant first. I warn you; it’s gross.”
“What’s that?” Maggie asked.
The doctor only looked at her and smiled. She rolled Maggie down the narrow hallway, making innumerable twists and turns until they finally came to a locked door. Dr. Lane reached into her pocket, pulled out a key ring, and after fiddling with several different keys, she found the right one and opened the door. He held the door open for Maggie as she rolled her chair into the room. It was empty, except for a single glass window. Maggie couldn’t see through the window because the wheelchair was too low, but she guessed they were on the other side of a one-way mirror. Whatever they were about to see was in a room similar to the one she’d woken up in. Ray entered the room, and after looking through the window, gasped.
Dr. Lane didn’t react to him. She stepped around Ray and Maggie and stared into the window. Her face turned to stone for a few moments, as if she’d simply turned off…like a robot. Then she shivered and stared down at Maggie, her smile and friendly demeanor was gone, replaced by a stoic professional.
“Can you stand?”
“I can try,” Maggie said. She grabbed the countertop in front of the window. It took some effort, but she finally managed to pull herself up. Maggie stood and peered through the one-way mirror to see a bloated corpse.
“That’s me,” Dr. Lane said quietly. “Well, it was me. Now, it’s just a shell, a broken computer.”
Maggie stared at the gelatinous, pale-green thing that lay on the steel table, just like the one she’d woken up on. Most of the body was covered by a sheet, but the face was still in plain few. It looked like a misshapen balloon. Its green cheeks were swollen and rounded as if the corpse had marbles inside its mouth. Its eyes bulged, staring blankly at the ceiling. The rest of the corpse looked like a white misshapen mound on the metal table. Maggie resisted the urge to vomit, trying not to think about what grotesque thing had lain on her own table before she’d arrived.
“That’s not all bloating,” Dr. Lane said sadly. “I used to be very fat. The moment I first discovered chemistry and the idea that life could be made of silicone instead of carbon in other parts of the universe, my dream was to make a new body for myself. I don’t think it’s melodramatic to say this has literally been my life’s work. Now, my work is complete.”
“You were so young,” Ray said.
“Yes,” Dr. Lane said. “I’m surprised you can still see that. What can I say? I was always insecure about my body, and when the previous experiment was a success…well, in all the ways that mattered…I…I just couldn’t help myself.”
“There was a previous experiment?” Maggie asked.
Dr. Lane looked at the couple and shrugged. “Well, the experiment was a success, but what the gentleman chose to do with his success is another matter. Let’s just say that it’s never a good idea to use an inmate on death-row for an experiment. But I didn’t have a choice. Funding became an issue. Eventually, my grants ran out, and I had to plead my case to the government. They agreed to fund my project, but only under certain conditions. One of those conditions was to use government property, prison inmates. Thankfully, once the experiment succeeded, I was allowed to pursue a more public demonstration. The only problem was that agents from the government wanted to pick the lucky volunteer, and…well, you know the rest.”
“What happened to the inmate?” Maggie asked.
“I don’t wish to discuss him,” Dr. Lane said firmly. “I apologize, but it’s a sore subject. He did something to spite me.” She smiled. “He’s being dealt with.” She must have noticed a change in their expression because her face turned red, and she let out nervous laugh. “Wow, listen to me. I sound morbid. It’s nothing as dark as it sounds.” She turned back to the corpse. “I imagine I’m not making a very good salesman. How about we visit my children?”
“You mean the bodies,” Ray said.
“Before we go, tell me something,” Ray said, pointing toward the window. “Why are you watching yourself rot?”
“I hated that body,” Dr. Lane said. “It’s cathartic. But also, it’s for science. We had to confirm the body would decompose after my…energy left the brain. We needed to confirm some theories about where the brain ends, and the mind begins. Once the mind is gone, the automatic functions in the brain stop as well.” She shrugged. “Doesn’t bode well for the soul, does it?” Dr. Lane continued staring at the rotting corpse, saying nothing for a long time. When she spoke again, it was more to herself than to the couple. “I should probably get rid of it.” She looked back at Maggie and Ray. “Let’s go.”
“Hold on,” Ray said. He turned to Maggie. “Look into that room. Are you still considering this?”
Maggie stared at the corpse. She placed her hand on the glass and noted the liver spots and the mole hair that refused to die. “I’ve been watching myself rot for the last year.”
Dr. Lane smiled as Maggie lowered herself back into her chair. She grabbed Maggie’s wheelchair, and the three of them left the room and started back down the hall. The further along they went, the more uneasy Maggie became. The halls were still empty. There weren’t even lights under the cracks of the countless doors, no faint conversations, no footsteps, no commotion whatsoever. It was just the three of them. Every step they took echoed down the narrow walkway like they were in a large, open cavern. The wheelchair continued to squeak. After several more twists and turns, the doctor spoke again. “I should confess one more thing before you make your selection.” She pulled at her purple hair. “It really isn’t a big thing, but I can’t seem to get the pigmentation in the hair to come out right. I wouldn’t worry. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to dye it, but when you first wake up, your hair is going to be an odd color.”
“So, that’s your natural hair?” Maggie asked. “Why haven’t you dyed it?”
“I kind of like it,” Dr. Lane replied. “It’s got a mad scientist vibe.”
The doctor stopped at the last door before a dead end. Again, she thumbed through the giant ring of keys before finding the right one and opening the door. The three of them stepped inside.
The room was much larger than its humble door suggested. More than anything, it was long, so long that Maggie couldn’t make out its end in the dim fluorescent light which still cast a sickly, greenish hue over everything. There were two rows of steel tables to their left and right. On each table lay a naked body. The left row was male. The right was female.
Dr. Lane rolled Maggie to the first woman. She was hairless, except for her head, and she had a lanky frame. It was a body that reminded Maggie of her own when she was young. Her mind flashed back to her youth when she ran and jumped and played basketball. She’d been a tomboy in her teenage years, and her lifestyle was frowned on by her parents. It wasn’t until she graduated that she succumbed to the traditional pressures of the day, seeking a man as fast as possible. It would be some time before she would meet Ray, and her previous partners had been less than pleasant. What would it be like to play basketball, to run and jump again and have no one frowning at her for it? Would she enjoy it as much as she did in her youth? She suspected she would.
The hair, just as Dr. Lane had said, was an odd color. It was red like a rose, as if the girl were wearing cheap dye. Her skin was pale. Her blue eyes were open. She stared at the plain ceiling above her. A chill went through Maggie. She just knew those eyes were going to look at her. They were going stare into her…and take something.
Maggie looked up at Dr. Lane, and without a word, the doctor rolled her to the next table. This girl was shorter and had blue hair. She was a little stout but not fat. None of them were fat. These were supposed to be ideal bodies. Wasn’t that the point? The doctor took her to the next one and then the next. Despite the different proportions and despite the different hair, they were all gorgeous, a gallery of beauties. But why was the air so thick? Why did she want to run…if she could’ve run…out of the room?
The whole time, Ray said nothing. Maggie kept looking up at her husband. Was he feeling as scared as she was? Ray’s face was stone. For the first time in years, she couldn’t make out what he was thinking. Dr. Lane stopped at the next table and Maggie stared at a young woman with long dark green hair like an emerald. Without thinking, Maggie pointed to the girl. “This one,” she whispered. “She didn’t choose the girl because there was anything particularly impressive about her features, but because it was the only body that didn’t terrify her. Perhaps, it was the hair. It reminded her of spring, a fresh start.
“So, you’ve decided?” Dr. Lane asked.
Maggie hadn’t decided anything. She looked at her husband then at the doctor then at the body lying on the steel table. She didn’t want the body. She wanted to run and jump and play like she did when she was younger. She wanted to wear nice clothes, have a job and make love to her husband. She wanted to watch her children marry, but she didn’t want to do any of it in that body. And, of course, all of this was assuming the doctor was telling her the truth, and this just wasn’t some sort of joke or social experiment. She wasn’t even sure she believed the doctor.
Despite all these questions, there was one thing Maggie knew. She wanted to live. And she knew if she didn’t take that body, she wouldn’t. Yes, she was ninety years old. Yes, she’d had what most would consider a full life. Yes, she could’ve died now, and there would be no shame in it; there would be no regrets. But she didn’t want to die.
“Yes,” Maggie said. She looked up at Ray. He didn’t seem angry. She took his hand, and to her relief, he squeezed it. He bent down and kissed her bald head. Maggie looked down at the bare, blank body on the table, and wondered if he would kiss her like that once she was inside the thing.