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Her eyes caught on something, and she took hold of it, crossing back to him. It was a strip of rubber.

“You know what to do,” said Victor, surprised by the calm in his voice. Everything beneath his skin was trembling. “Start at the low setting, and go up.”

“Turn off, turn on,” she whispered, before holding the rubber above his mouth. “Bite down on this.”

Victor took a last deep breath, and forced his mouth to open. The strap was between his teeth, his fingers testing their grip on the small table bars. He could do this. Eli held himself under. Victor could, too.

Angie was back at the machine. Their eyes met, and for an instant everything else vanished—the lab and the humming machines and the existence of EO and Eli and the years since Victor and Angie had shared a milkshake—and he was just happy to have her looking at him. Seeing him.

And then she closed her eyes, and turned the dial a single click, and the only thing Victor could think of was the pain.

* * *

VICTOR fell back against the table in a cold sweat.

He couldn’t breathe.

He gasped, expecting a pause, a moment to recover. Expecting Angie to change her mind, to stop, to give up.

But Angie turned the dial up.

The need to be sick was overcome by the need to scream and he bit into the rubber strap until he thought his teeth would crack but a moan still escaped, and he thought Angie must have heard, and she’d turn the machine off now, but the dial went up again.

And again.

And again.

Victor thought he would black out but before he could, the dial turned up and the spasm of pain brought him back to his body and the table and the room and he couldn’t escape.

The pain kept him there.

The pain tied him down as it shot through every nerve in every limb.

He tried to spit out the strap but he couldn’t open his mouth. His jaw was locked.

The dial went up.

Every time Victor thought the dial couldn’t go any further, the pain couldn’t get any worse, and then it did and it did and it did, and Victor could hear himself screaming even though the strap was still between his teeth and he could feel every nerve in his body breaking and he wanted it to stop. He wanted it to stop.

He begged Angie but the words were cut short by the strap and the dial turning up again and the sound in the air like cracking ice and shredding paper and static.

The darkness blinked around him and he wanted it because it meant the pain would stop but he didn’t want to die and he was afraid that the darkness was death and so he pulled violently back from it.

He felt himself crying.

The dial went up.

His hands ached where they gripped the table bars, cramped in place.

The dial went up.

He wished for the first time in his life that he believed in God.

The dial went up.

He felt his heart skip a beat, felt it grind and then double.

The dial went up.

He heard a machine warn, then alarm.

The dial went up.

And everything stopped.




SYDNEY watched the lines in Victor’s face deepen. He must be dreaming.

It was late. The night beyond the floor-to-ceiling glass was dark—or as dark as it could be, in a city like this—and she stood and stretched, and was about to go back to bed when she saw the piece of paper, and everything in her went cold.

The newspaper article sat open beside Victor on the couch. The heavy bars of black on the page were the first thing that caught her attention, but the photo beneath was what held it. Sydney’s chest tightened, sudden and sharp, and she couldn’t breathe. It felt like she was drowning, again—Serena calling from the patio, a picnic basket hooked on the elbow of her winter coat, telling Syd to hurry up, or the ice would be all melted, which it was, underneath that brittle shell of frost and snow—but when she squeezed her eyes shut, it wasn’t the half-frozen water of the lake that folded over her, but the memory of the field a year later, the stretch of frozen grass and the body and her sister’s encouragement and then the sound of the gunshot, echoing in her ears.

Two different days, two different deaths, overlapping, swirling together. She blinked both memories away, but the photo was still there, staring up at her, and she couldn’t tear her gaze away, and before she knew what she was doing, her hand was reaching out, stretching past Victor, toward the paper and the smiling man on its front.

It all happened fast.

Sydney’s fingers curled around the newspaper page but as she lifted it, her forearm grazed Victor’s knee and before she could shift her weight or pull back he shot forward, eyes open but empty, hand vising around Sydney’s small wrist. Without warning, pain tore up her arm and through her small body, crashing over her in a wave. It was worse than drowning, worse than being shot, worse than anything she had ever felt. It was like every one of her nerves was shattering, and Sydney did the only thing she could.

She screamed.




THE pain had followed him up again, and Victor came to, screaming.

Angie was fumbling with his hands, trying to coax them free of the bars. He shot forward, clutching his head. Why was the electricity still running? The pain was a wave, a wall, wracking his muscles, his heart. His skin was tearing with it, and Angie was talking but Victor couldn’t hear anything through the agony. He curled in on himself and stifled another scream.

Why wouldn’t the pain stop? WHY WOULDN’T IT STOP?

And then, as sudden as a flipped switch, the pain was gone, and Victor was left feeling … nothing. The machines were off, the lights sprinkled across their fronts all dead. Angie was still talking, her hands running over skin, unbuckling the ankle straps, but Victor didn’t hear her as he stared down at his hands and wondered at the sudden hollowness, as if the electricity had gutted his nerves and left only shells.


Where did it go? he wondered. Will it come back?

In the sudden absence of pain, he found himself trying to remember how it felt, to drum up the sensation, a shadow of it, and as he did the switch clicked again, and the energy was there, crackling like static through the room. He heard the crinkle of the air, and then he heard a scream. He wondered for an instant if it was coming from him, but the pain was beyond Victor now, outside of him, humming over his skin without touching it.

He felt slow, dazed, as he tried to process the situation. Nothing hurt, so who was screaming? And then the body crumpled to the lab floor beside his table, and the space between his thoughts collapsed, and he snapped back to his senses.

Angie. No. He jumped down from the table to find her writhing on the floor, still screaming in pain, and he thought stop! but the electrical buzzing in the room continued to grow around him. Stop. She clutched her chest.

Victor tried to help her up but Angie cried out even louder when he touched her and he stumbled back, confusion and panic pouring through him. The buzzing, he thought. He had to turn it down. He closed his eyes and tried to imagine it as a dial, tried to imagine turning some invisible device. He tried to feel calm. Numb. He was surprised by how easily it came to him in the midst of chaos, the calm. And then he realized how horribly quiet the room had gone. Victor opened his eyes, and saw Angie sprawled on the floor, head back, eyes open, red hair a cloud around her face. The humming in the air had faded to a tingle, and then to nothing, but it was still too late.