Vi said, “Andy, nothing you say is going to—”

“Shut the f**k up! Do you remember, Luther, what you said to me in the desert all those years ago?”

He just stared at me.

“You told me, ‘We all want blood.’ And you know what? You were right.”

I could see the wheels beginning to turn.

Traction.

I said, “You miss him, don’t you?”

“Yes.” He said it with no emotion but for the faintest glimmer of heartbreak in his eyes.

“You think my twin and I don’t share some core, elemental chemistry?”

“You’re lying.”

“Have you read my books?”

“They’re just that, Andy. Books. And how long did you scream that they didn’t reflect what was really inside of you?”

“You think it’s easy coming to terms with this?”

“You’re lying.”

“Let me prove it.”

This provoked a smile.

“You think this is bullshit?” I asked.

“I kind of do.”

“I won’t kill her.”

“Excuse me?”

“I won’t kill Violet,” I said. “But I’ll hurt her. Bad.”

His black eyes bored into me.

“This is real, Luther. This is happening. I know you’re lonely. There aren’t many out there like us. Who share our view of the world. It’s hard. But I’m there with you.”

“No one’s with me.”

“Well if you never trust, then you’ll never know.”

“I’ve never trusted anyone, Andy. Not even your brother.”

“But you loved him. As much as you’re capable of loving anything beyond your own gratification.”

He looked at Violet.

I told myself as the words streamed out of my mouth that it was all a lie. The only way to save us.

“Don’t tell me this isn’t what you want, Luther. A connection with someone else like you. You aren’t completely inhuman.”

The pain was flowing back into my legs and arms.

The strap across my forehead digging into my skin.

“You’re going to hurt her,” he said.

“Yes.”

“You’re going to do exactly what I tell you.”

“Yes. And then you’ll let her go.”

“But she’ll come back. She’ll look for this place. For me and for—”

“No,” I said. “I promise you. She will never come back.”

I could barely stand. It had been days.

The muscles in my legs as taut as steel cables.

He’d just jammed a syringe-full of painkiller into the side of my leg, and the effect couldn’t come quickly enough.

Luther had to help me across the concrete floor, ice-cold against the bare soles of my feet.

We stopped at the side of Violet’s gurney, and I stared down at her.

Heard her grunting against the pull.

“Andy,” she said. “I love you.”

“I love you, too.”

I looked at Luther as the drug hit my bloodstream.

The pain evaporated.

Clarity.

I stood on my own now. I stood taller.

“Don’t move from this spot,” Luther said.

He walked back to the control panel and pushed the cart over.

I reached down and touched her face, tears shimmering on the surface of her eyes like pools of liquid glass.

“Andy.” He grabbed me by the arm and pulled me over to the control panel and the rack of tools.

He guided my hands onto what resembled a mixing board.

The dials and equalizers were grouped in sections identified by white labels scrawled upon with black Magic Marker.

HEAT.

COLD.

PRESSURE.

ELECTRICITY.

PERFORATION.

ABRASION.

“Hurting the one you love,” he said, “takes real strength. Ask her what she’s most afraid of.”

“What are you most afraid of, Violet?”

“Andy—”

“Here are your options: heat, cold, pressure, electricity, perforation, abrasion.”

“Andy, what are you doing?”

“He’s embracing what he’s been fighting his entire life.”

“What’s that, Luther?” she asked.

“Truth.”

“This isn’t truth, Andy.”

“Do you want to live, Violet?”

“Yes.”

“Then I have to do this.”

“This is just one more game of his. Neither of us are going to survive this.”

“I’m sorry for everything. I’m sorry you ever met me. That I came into your life. I mean that. Now choose.”

She closed her eyes, her body shaking with sobs.

“Choose for her,” Luther whispered in my ear.

“Fine. Heat,” I said. “How does this work?”

“These ten dials manage the conduction of heat to the electrodes in the gurney—two per leg, two per arm, one on the head, a big panel flush against her back. They can heat to eight hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Turn a glowing orange. Beyond eight hundred, the heat panels can’t stop the wood from igniting.”

I looked up at Luther.

Lightheaded, weightless.

“You want this,” he said to me. “You’ve always wanted this.”

“Andy, please,” Violet wept.

“It’s time, Andy.”

My hands shook. I couldn’t even recall the last time I’d seen daylight. It could’ve been a year.

“And she leaves after this?”

“She leaves.”

I looked down at Violet in her immobilized terror.

“You don’t have to do this,” she said.

I put my hand on the dial.

“Actually, I do.”

Standing naked at the control panel and watching her struggle as the panels heated to two hundred and fifty degrees, something inside of me, deep beyond reckoning, began to fracture.

I didn’t look away.

I stared into her eyes as her face flushed a deep scarlet.

The woman I had loved in incomprehensible pain.

Screaming.

Begging me to make this stop.

Her tracksuit smoking and melting away.

There was a part of me that couldn’t take it.

I locked that part away to shriek and beat its head against a padded, soundproof room, and let the detachment flow through me.

No other possible way to move through this.

It was human suffering.

So what.

There was nothing more constant and guaranteed in human history—written and still to come.

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