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Authors: Sèphera Girón

Flesh failure

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From out of the grave.

London, 1888: Agatha drags herself from a shallow grave to roam the fog-shrouded streets of the dark city, trying to piece together what happened. Her new friends, the ladies of the night, live in terror of Jack the Ripper, while Agatha persistently searches for what she discovers she needs to stay alive—electrical charges.

As her memory grows stronger, the hazy images from her past come into focus, but questions remain. Do her answers lie in the shadows of the streets, the hidden corridors of London Hospital, or someplace far more frightening?

Flesh Failure

Sèphera Girón

Dedication

Mary Shelley

Acknowledgements

I wish to thank my tireless editor, Don D'Auria, who has seen me through six books with hopefully more to come. It has been a fabulous ride so far. Thank you for your belief in me, Don, and for bringing my work to life!

My children, Adrian and Dorian, teach me strength in many forms and are the lights of my life. I love you both with all my heart and soul. Thank you for the extra push, Dorian. I couldn't have done it without you!

My parents, Arsenio and Patricia Girón, have provided me with great support over my half a century on this earth and continue to encourage me to write despite my choice in material. Thank you for standing by your daughter!

Thank you to my Bellefires, who prove that writing groups can be so much more than dissecting words on paper: Sandra Kasturi, Michael Rowe, Halli Villegas, Gemma Files, Nancy Baker, and Helen Marshall.

Special thanks to the Ontario Arts Council for providing a writing grant that allowed me to focus on creatingFlesh Failure.

Flesh Failure

I burst awake.

Intense pain flooded through my body as if a dam had burst open. How was it possible to endure such agony and still exist?

When I moved my arms, they were met with great resistance. I slowly moved my hand yet I couldn't do more than wiggle my fingers. I wiggled and scratched; cold dirt moved and shifted, my nails breaking. It took an excruciatingly long time in the blackness to keep wiggling that hand until I made enough space to splay out my fingers. Inch by inch, my hand scratched and clawed, up and up.

As the dirt around me shifted, I was able to move my other hand. Rotating my wrists back and forth, I managed to tunnel very slowly, using both hands.

I dug against whatever was keeping me contained. The pressure against my face was so great I couldn't open my eyes. There was no way to breathe yet somehow, I could move. Somehow, I was alive in my deadness.

As the dirt continued to shift and loosen, I was soon able to jiggle my legs and feet. Slowly, slowly, the dirt released its resistance.

It was arduous, grueling work and the more dirt that loosened around me, the more urgently I clawed. Faster and faster my hands worked as the resistance grew lighter.

The reality was, I had to dig my way out of the dirt. There was no way to even scream or cry out as mud was packed down my throat and into my nose. At last, I extracted myself from that wretched hole, born again, yet again, gasping for air and pulling mud from my eyes. I coughed up slick dark pellets of mud, glistening worms and squirming black beetles with their legs flailing. Staring at the bugs, nausea overwhelmed me and I vomited up more bile, more mud, more worms, more glowing-white maggots.

A sudden pain seized the left side of my chest. If I could have put my hand to it, I would have. It felt like someone was clutching my heart in his hand, squeezing and squeezing. I writhed, stiffly lurching up and flipping to my side as a fish out of water. My left arm ached with a new pain. Tight and pulsing at the same time and then numbness. At last, there was a release, the relief so comforting as my heart struggled for one beat. I gasped in wonderment as it seized and then beat again. I howled with the sharp, stabbing pain, my cries echoing through the woods as a wild animal.

There was a new sensation from my heart, a labyrinth of feeling as my blood began to flood through my torso and into my extremities. Each beat of my heart was painful but pump by pump, the pain lessened enough that I stopped howling and lay down.

My body jerked and convulsed as the blood flowed. I gasped for breath. It seemed like forever before I stopped flopping like a fish. My heart beat very slowly but it beat. My blood moved slowly but it moved.

Shivering and shaking, I rolled stiffly away from my pools of filth. When I lay on the surface of Mother Earth, I let the bright sunshine warm me up. It wasn't helping at first, for the chill of being buried alive was bone deep.

I lay exhausted, staring up at the green leafy trees, gasping for air. The branches were dark slashes while patterns like lace fluttered above me in the late summer wind. Thick swarms of flies buzzed around me, lighting on me in exploration and then whizzing off. Their drones were blurs in my mud-filled ears, extinguishing any outside noise with their audacity.

It was hard to understand what had happened to me while I gasped for air during those first few hours. Snatches of memory were hazy, no words were matching the images in my mind with the knowledge to decipher them. Nothing was connecting yet.

I was born from the earth, scrambling my way through a filthy mud womb, towards the light. A bright, white-hot light.

The sun was warm. That's all I understood in those first few hours of my rebirth.

I pried mud from my mouth, my nose, my ears. Now that I was freed from my tomb, my fingers were so stiff I couldn't even bend them. I lay in the warm sunlight. Twitching limbs jerking, more coughing fits resulting in the expulsion of thick chunks of mud and fluids. I expelled my insides again and lay back once more, too exhausted to move more than I had to.

There were sounds around me. Rustlings and thumpings. Rattlings and singing. Sounds that instilled an echo of familiarity.

As the numbness of the premature burial wore off, searing slices of agony burned through me. It seemed that from head to toe, there were pockets of pain, ebbing and flowing with their own patterns. I was in too much pain to move, my throat too packed with mud to scream. My mind had been overwhelmed with the memories and pain tormenting me down different paths.

I finally was able to sit up. My head was heavy, hefting to one side and then to the other. I fingered the threads that encircled my neck. They itched and burned beneath the coat of mud.

I spread my legs out straight and wide in an attempt to gain balance. Wobbling like a doll, I eventually found equilibrium.

As my thought patterns slowly began to return, I realized that I didn't have to lie in that spot anymore. But the agony of trying to sit up, let alone stand, was excruciating. I needed more time to figure out how to make my body work.

The birds had a good time with me. Three braver ones flew down for curious looks, darting here and there, staring at me with dark beady eyes. They chirped and sang; hopping closer, snatching at flies, bravely scooping up beetles and worms from my feet and then flying away to feast.

As I craned up to watch them through the thick swarm of flies that hovered above me, the weight of my head threw my body backwards. I was lying down again, staring up at the sun.

The first day I couldn't even lift my arms towards them. Once the adrenaline from my frenzied digging wore off, I was paralyzed. A woman baking in the sun, fetid flesh rotting and stinking as infections took hold in the knitted-together flesh and oozed from the wounds.

One black bird had taken a fancy to me. He circled and then landed on my chest. He was heavier than I imagined and though I didn't like him there, staring at me with beady black eyes and large hooked beak, there wasn't much I could do about it. I lay helpless as if I were dead, which I was somewhat, while Mr. Bird hopped along my body, pecking at the maggots that writhed along my chest, and then flew up to a tree to scream at me.

The sun set that first day, beautiful orange rays filling the sky above the trees. I watched as darkness fell and the woods came alive with the night creatures. In that first day, the first few days, my mind didn't work very well. I didn't know there were birds or beasts. I didn't know what the sun was or that I should be concerned about lying in the forest by myself. I didn't know that I was naked and that respectable people shouldn't be caught naked in the woods. I knew nothing but hot, blinding pain and cold.

By the second day, my fingers weren't quite as stiff as they'd been that first day and I wiggled them. I even was able to bend them and pick up a leaf and a stick that were on the ground near me. I ran my fingers along my own body. I tugged the threads that wove around my body parts. Rough mosaic patterns that meant nothing to me but sharpness and pain and bright lights. For hours, I lay naked in the sun, tracing the threads around my neck, around my forehead, against my ears, my nose. I ran my hands along my torso and found my breasts too were woven with the threads, my legs, all decorated with the laborious stitches. The threads were crusty with blood and mud and a few bugs the birds had missed. I could do nothing but pick at threads. I picked at the mud, teased it from the threads with clumsy fingers. Every time I pulled a clump of mud from my stitches, I felt a little better, a little lighter, a little more hopeful that somehow I'd soon be able to piece together the mystery of who I was and how I came to be buried alive.

I was too cold and too stiff to move more than my hands so they kept busy, cleaning the stitches that were close enough to reach with my filthy fingers while the birds circled and screamed above me.

I didn't move much but the wildlife around me certainly did.

The flies constantly swarmed.

By the third day, most of my dazed and confused numbness was wearing off. My body was less cold. However, the only problem with thawing out was that the pain increased proportionately. I was very aware the day my heart began to beat at a steady, frequent pace. The tightness in my chest returned. The sharp, shooting pain turned numbness down my left arm was so strong that I jumped. As my heart beat faster, I jerked and spasmed, once again flopping around as a fish out of water. This time, there was more feeling in my flesh and every branch and stone pinched me with pain on contact. My heart grew steady and I slowed down. I relaxed with deep, steady breaths. I closed my eyes to the sun that peeked in over the tree tops and listened to the sound of my own heart thumping against my chest.

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

It seemed so loud to me but perhaps that was because the woods had suddenly become very still. Even my body had stopped twitching. I listened.

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

Somewhere a branch snapped. And then another. As I was that day, I didn't have the sense to be frightened. I didn't even have the sense that it was a branch snapping. On that day, it was just another noise that I didn't recognize.

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

Snap

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

Thump-thump

Snap

At last the white-hot pain subsided, the regular pain flooded my arm as the numbness dissipated. There was another snap.

A large buck stepped into view. He stood majestically, his many horned antlers gleaming in the sunlight. His dark eyes glimmered as he stared at me. I stared back, unable to move, not certain if I should or what I would do if I could.

The buck stared at me awhile longer and walked away. I couldn't lift my head to see him go, but the snapping of twigs only continued on a little longer and then I couldn't hear it anymore.

On the morning of the fourth day, I woke to a paw on my face. I opened my eyes and saw a wolf gazing down at me. His yellow eyes glowed in the rising sun, the morning dew still fresh on the ground. I was cold but lay still. He sniffed at me, nudging me roughly along my body. He sighed deeply and then ran off into the woods.

I moved my arms and legs more freely. This time, I tried to sit up. It was slow, painful work but at last I was able to do it. As I sat up, my heart beat strongly, but not as painfully as before. My head ached and I grew dizzy. The stitches in my neck felt as though they were ripping the skin from my body as agony surged through me. I reached up my hands to hold my head up. This gave relief to my stitches and I was able to look around. The trees were thick and spread as far as I could see in all directions. Although patches of light shone through, much of the woods was dark. Squirrels dashed around, frantically gathering nuts. Above me, several birds were sitting on a nearby branch. They watched me looking at them. They began to caw, their tone critical and harsh. The sound was piercing to my ears and I wished they would stop.

At last, something caused them to take flight and they were gone.

The stress of sitting up was too much so I lay back down. I rolled closer to a tree and lay in the crook of its roots. For a while, sleep soothed me until I woke again.

I slept and woke in the safe comfort of the tree until the next day.

By afternoon of the fifth day, the sky darkened and it began to rain. At first the drops fell lightly but that turned to pelting me with quick and rapid vengeance. I rolled closer to the tree, seeking refuge from the hail. I forced myself to sit up against the tree. Holding my head back against it offered some relief.

The sky rolled with thunder and a wind whipped through the forest. The branches of the trees were bending and the hail fell harder. Lightning flashed in the sky and more thunder boomed. The sights and sounds frightened me. For the first time, I felt fear.

A large crackling sizzle filled the air and a jolt surged through my body. I was thrown from the tree and fell forward into the mud. My mind buzzed and snapped as the lightning journeyed through me to the earth. A memory flashed. Electric lights and wires, all leading to me, all sparking and shimmering above me, shooting energy through me as the lightning had just done.

There was a horrible creaking, cracking, breaking noise and as I rolled over to see what the commotion was, part of the tree fell away. The sound was deafening as the tree was monstrous. The roots pulled up threw me further yet again as half the tree fell over with a crash. The ground rumbled. I scrambled as quickly as my body would allow while the forest floor beneath me continued to swell and burst, the massive root system ripping away from the earth.

The smell of burning wood filled the air. The hail continued to pound down on me and the tree. If it was to catch on fire, it couldn't.

After watching the tree for a while, it was apparent to me that something inside of me had shifted. I was sitting up and the excruciating pain wasn't so bad. I raised my hands and they felt so much better. I crawled away from the fallen tree and found a new tree to huddle up against. After a while I was covered in a glowing sheen of ice, a statue affixed to the tree. There was nothing to do but hug my knees with my eyes squeezed shut and wish for the hail to stop.

Lightning, sizzling pops and crackles continued on around me and inside of me.

The hail turned to rain and soon the rain tapered off to a steady constant flow. The ice melted, falling from me in thin slices as the rain fell in large, thick drops. The tree was slippery and cold and I nestled lower into the root system where it was slightly warmer.

My mind was filled with shimmers of colours and zigzags of random patterns.

The rain turned to a light drizzle, the gentle patter falling against the leaves and hitting the forest floor, lulling me to sleep.