Wicked Valves, by Daniel Patrick Black

Melissa looked from the gaping wound in her chest to the still beating heart in her hand, and said, “fuck.”

She laid flat as the World on a plank of wood stripped from an abandoned ark, now hallucinating on the bottom of the sea. The eyes at the bow noticed sticky tentacles reaching out for its remains from the murky horizon. Fish hooks, barb end out, jutted out from each suction cup with poisonous points. Reaching blindly ’til the End. The rotting plank sat atop two upside down, wheel-less grocery carts, stretched from one to the other. Melissa looked up to the Carver staring down at her in his blood splattered apron, she couldn’t believe it had come to this. Most of his teeth were missing, a few transplanted from other species. Curved, thin, and sharp. He’d been chewing on uncooked flesh like gum since the procedure began. The alleyway was his pen. Volunteered incarceration. Millions of microscopic wardens kept careful watch as they gnawed away at the grime. The Carver bent down to his mish-mash of tools: pliers, blowtorch, saw, assortment of pointed and sharpened steel, hammer, rods, plates, pinchers, nails, needles, etc. He poured out an uncounted handful of viscosity enhancers from a dirty orange prescription bottle and dumped the pills into her mouth. Profuse bleeding slowed, blood thickened.

“Make it stop, you smelly bastard. But without decimating it. It needs to stay intact”, Melissa set down her own pumping heart, still connected via rubber tubing extensions, onto her pasty stomach.

As she reached down for the whiskey, it slid off her to the left – SQUIIP – onto the board, reddening it by the second. She drank and drooled down her chin, towards the hole in her sternum. The booze crept into the edge of the cavity; she yelled out with horror, the seagulls fled. The Carver picked up the wet organ with riveted tongs tightly. He placed it into a metal tray next to Melissa’s massacred body and scooped out a single wriggling insect. He popped a flathead into a recently sealed paint can, round the outside. He pried the lid off to reveal bubbling gray liquid. It swashed and cracked at him violently. He dipped a used paintbrush, still green to the tips, into the ooze. Hand pulsed. The Carver carefully brought the brush up to the tray and began lathering the goop onto Melissa’s heart. He noticed her eyes starting to roll back in her head. In a sweaty fervor he stuck her with a syringe, pressed down hard. She coughed again. Meanwhile, the blood pump had soaked up the gray liquid and slowed its pace. With flint and steel, the blowtorch ignited and hissed. The Carver took it in hand, tweaked the levels, and took a breath. He singed the heart’s outer layer like an expensive cut of meat, seared a colorless coating onto the outside. A dried gray exoskeleton.

“That’s it. Fuck me… you’ve done it! Hit me with some more ‘a that, eh?”, Melissa rolled onto her side a tad and motioned at the holy offering of med’s and tranq’s. They knelt before her genuflecting, haloed and pure. The Carver had managed to turn Melissa’s rather large heart into something inhumane. Exactly as she’d wanted… Nay, needed.

The city huddled submissively on a harbor and the sea. It was once a fishing village, before the privileges of time and space were stripped away from it. Melissa arrived on the 4th; not that it mattered here, it didn’t. She paid an overseer – with coins marked only by a slashed scar – for a horse drawn ride through Main to a foul tower block where she was scheduled to spend eternity. Her black boot hit the dirt and a crowd of bondservants and laborers surrounded her on their knees begging for anything. They were nude, save for thick cast-iron locking shackles around their necks. The chains led down into the terrain. One was yanked sharply, effectively snapping the neck; he disappeared quickly, consumed into the ground.

She managed to get through her building’s crooked door, where she was greeted with a shotgun pointed at her face. The old man wore thinning, greased back silver hair and overalls stuffed with red shells for his piece. No shoes and little else. He warned Melissa, “stay in at night, find yerself a gun, come near me I blow your face off.” This was the nicest person in St. Ireneaus. Through the hallway to her new place she saw terrifying black and white images projected onto each wall like Super 8 films. The stocks would burn themselves to smoke when finished and quickly self replace. Door 6C swung wide open. An overweight man with his pants around his ankles pumped brown liquids into a man and a woman dressed like a cowboy and prostitute. He groped himself as they convulsed and vomited all over the bed and each other. Melissa, in a near catatonic state, reached her room and locked herself in. She cried fully clothed under a cold shower until her skin felt dry as jerky. She finally wrapped her head around what she’d seen, where she was, who she was. Melissa needed a transformation of the self effective immediately, if only for a fighting chance. Dying wouldn’t help her. Couldn’t. This was the only way.

The Carver finished reconnecting the aorta and the pulmonary arteries. He pushed firm but steady on the blackened gray heart, it slithered into place. Melissa helped him hold a rounded steel hubcap – scrounged off a dead vendor’s cart – over her chest, while he pounded it down with a rubber mallet. She put her shirt back on and polished off the bottle. The Carver handed her an opened switch blade, smiled toothy and ragged.

“Feel different already. Right then, let’s see if this works…” Melissa climbed up and moved into the street, knife concealed in hand. She spotted a mustached man with a gun in his trousers walking gingerly, and followed him into a shadowed brick alley…

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Submitted for the 11/09 challenge, “Heart.”

This story was written in response to the prompt, Melissa looked from the gaping wound in her chest to the still-beating heart in her hand, and said, “Fuck.” Here’s what Dan had to say about his story:

With your contest, and Melissa’s line about her beating heart, I was originally going to go the most obvious route.  To me, the way she says “fuck” is in a pissed off way.  So I asked myself, why would a woman be so pissed when she sees her heart is still beating?  Easy – she’s trying to kill herself.  But no.  I didn’t want to do that.  It seemed obvious, boring (even though it’d be interesting to write a black-humor piece about a woman trying to kill herself), and depressing.  So I found myself back at the original question.  But I changed it to a more metaphorical context.  She’s pissed her heart’s still working, in the sense of what a “human heart” means, but why?  Why would she be upset to have a heart?  What would want her to become heartless?  This led me to environment.  So with that in mind, I started writing.  What came out was a woman arriving in a place so foreign and brutal, the only way she could survive was to be heartless.

To see more of Dan’s work, check out his blog, the Sonny Wilkins Chronicle.