But then Kells said, “Just relax.”
Her words echoed in my mind, in someone else’s voice.
There was a little flip in my chest, and the monitor beside my bed beeped. I didn’t understand. Was it the words? A bead of sweat rolled down Wayne’s forehead. He wiped it away with his sleeved forearm, then moved his thick fingers to the crook of my elbow. My mind flinched and my muscles went tense.
Wayne seemed to feel it. “Are you sure—are you sure she’s stable?” He was nervous. Good.
Kells looked at my arm. “Mara, I want your body, your arms, and your hands to go limp.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, they did. I looked at myself in the ceiling mirror. My expression was slack.
“When you see something you’re afraid of, your mind tells your body to react. It tells your kidneys to release adrenaline, which makes your heart rate increase, and your pulse, and your rate of breathing. This is to prepare you to run away from, or to fight, the thing you’re afraid of, regardless of whether that fear is rational. In your case fear triggers your anomaly. So what we’re doing is making sure that the medicine we’ve developed to help you is doing what it’s supposed to, which is to separate your mental reactions from your physical reactions. The main goal, of course, is total aversion—blocking the pathway that transforms your . . .” She rubbed a thumb over her bottom lip as she searched for words. “Negative thoughts,” she finally said, “into action. Anemosyne doesn’t prevent your thoughts, but it prevents the physical consequences of them, rendering you as harmless as a non-carrier. Now turn her,” she said to Wayne.
Wayne swallowed, his jowls trembling with the movement as he took me by the shoulders and began to turn me over. At some point an attachment had been fitted to the bed that allowed me to lie on my stomach without craning my neck to either side. I stared at the floor, grateful that it too wasn’t mirrored. At least I wouldn’t have to watch.
My ankles were strapped down. He positioned each arm so that it hung over the side, then shackled my wrists together, like I was hugging the bed.
“Show her the syringe,” Dr. Kells said to him.
Wayne moved the needle in front of my eyes, letting me see it from every angle. My heartbeat sped up, and with it, the monitor.
“Should her heart be beating like that?” Wayne asked nervously.
“Just a reflex,” Kells explained. “Her body is still capable of responding to reflexes, but her emotions, her fear, can’t trigger her ability regardless of what she thinks,” she said matter-of-factly. “Consciously or subconsciously.”
Wayne lifted the back of the white hospital gown they’d dressed me in. I didn’t want him touching me, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
Then something scraped, slid toward me on the floor. A mirror. It showed me my face, which was white and bloodless, and in the ceiling mirror I saw my exposed back. I looked thin. Unhealthy.
I didn’t want to see whatever it was they were going to do to me, and that I could do something about. I squeezed my eyes shut.
“Open your eyes,” Dr. Kells said, and I did. I had to, and I hated it.
She angled the mirror, and I watched as Wayne took a cotton ball from the metal stand beside the bed and drenched it in iodine. I flinched when he rubbed it on my back.
He noticed. “What does that mean?”
“Just a reflex,” Kells said, her voice thin. Exasperated. “To the cold,” she said to him. Then to me, “If I were to hit your knee with a hammer, Mara, it would jerk. It’s just your response to fear that we’re trying to dull. If we’re successful, you’ll be able to live a normal, productive life unhindered by your irrational fears, and without having to worry that you will unintentionally will consequences that could be disastrous for the people you love and others.”
I vaguely remembered that I used to care about that.
“We’re going to extract some of your spinal fluid first,” Kells said, and Wayne positioned the needle closer to my skin. “This will only hurt a little.”
Every movement from that moment on was processed in slow motion. The needle as Wayne allowed it to hover just millimeters from my skin. The feel of cold steel piercing my skin, first a pinch; then, as it went deeper, a sting, an ache, a burn, and I wanted to thrash but I didn’t move, couldn’t move. Kells told me to watch my face in the mirror, and I did. It was still blank. A mask of skin hiding every feeling. My mind screamed but my mouth stayed shut.
There was pressure as the syringe sucked fluid from my spine. “You’re doing very well,” Kells said, her voice toneless. “Isn’t this better, Mara? There’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s just a needle and it’s only pain. Pain is just a feeling, and feelings aren’t real.”
After what felt like hours Wayne withdrew the needle, and the pressure stopped but the pain didn’t. Something cold and wet trickled slowly down my skin before Wayne pressed a piece of gauze to absorb it. My breath was deep and even. I didn’t gasp, I didn’t throw up. I’d thought those were reflexes. Guess not.
Wayne cleaned up my back, unshackled my wrists, unbuckled the straps from my ankles, and then gently, in a way that made my mind sick, turned me over onto my back.
“I know that wasn’t pleasant for you, Mara,” Kells said. “But despite your internal discomfort, it was a very successful test. What the drug is allowing you to do right now is separate your mental reactions from your physical reactions. The side effect, though, is also quite exciting.” She didn’t sound excited at all.
“I’m sure you wanted to react during that procedure. I’m sure you wanted to scream and probably cry. But thanks to the drug, your physical reflexes will remain intact, but they’re divorced from your emotions. In other words, with Anemosyne, if someone chops onions near you, or if an eyelash is stuck in your eye, you’ll still tear in response to stimuli. Your eyes will try to flush out the irritant. But you’ll no longer cry because of fear, or because of sadness or frustration. It severs that connection to prevent you from losing control.” She hovered over me. “I know it’s a strange sensation for you now, but you’ll adapt. And the benefit to you, and others, will be enormous. Once we settle on the appropriate dosage for you, we’ll need to boost your infusions only every few months. You’ll eventually be able to go home to your family, come to therapy with me, and have the normal life that you wanted, as this drug keeps working.” She reached out to smooth my hair in what I supposed was meant to be a maternal gesture, and I felt the urge to bite her.