Reap What You Sew (PUblished in Killer Nashville Magazine)

Blood blurs my vision, cakes under my nails, and coats my tongue. Macabre work warrants a droning rhyme. “Pull my string, I unravel. Stitch my skin, pull me in.” Nimble fingers pull joints apart, sew holes closed, and package “products” in ice. 

“Attention. Arms required.”

“Pull my string, I unravel.” I tug the cord holding a female Ingredient’s shoulder in place and it unwinds. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t scream. No Ingredient ever does. The socket releases its precious merchandise. I package the arm in a black box with ice packs. “Stitch my skin, pull me in.” Without thought, my fingers sew the hole closed. I’ve no sooner freed the needle before the chant begins again. 

I yearn for each word to pierce my eardrums, to release my liquefied brain, to save me. Relief never comes. Words batter, harm, rally, and curse, but they lack physicality. I, and those sweating and hemorrhaging against me, have a destiny. We remain captives. 

Damned. Unaltered. I sleep and eat alongside my victims. 

The Fountain of Youth’s billion-dollar secret isn’t its bestselling lipstick, “Ponce Pink,” or its owner, Percival Hornsby’s nefarious business savvy. Hidden deep inside the company barge, “Jacobin-Cradle,” Ingredients dismember their bodies. Boxes of chilled eyes, hands, legs, hearts, livers, and kidneys sent to Fountain of Youth’s production department where they are labeled, priced, and repackaged into emerald boxes tied with crisp white ribbon. Immortality is available, for the right price.

Even after years of breathing its stench, I gag at the metallic taste of blood hanging in the air. Red-brown pools lump with urine. The smell of infested latrines sends bile up my throat. The strip lights illuminate the steel tomb giving its ceiling the look of time-lapse highway photography. Small vents offer enough air circulation to guarantee viable products. When Fountain of Youth requires merchandise, our prison bathes in the Tube’s crimson light displaying urgent messages on its digital black and red screen. An unnatural electronic voice reinforces each order. Ingredients follow with robotic obedience. 

Three stages exist: work, eat, and sleep. If Recruitment did its job, Ingredients are proper worker bees, stopping their grisly work only when the Tube directs them to “Keep Ingredients Growing” or to “Keep Ingredients Fresh.” 


At night, we sleep. Or maybe it’s midday. In my mind, it’s night. I picture a waning moon. I can’t remember its hue, so I paint it auburn. In the outside world, people said orange complimented my eyes. I think they did. I’m uncertain what are true memories and what are imagined delirium. But I know I tire of thick red fountains pouring from chests and spurting from amputated limbs. My mind corrodes with memories and thoughts. I don’t know why, but this rot must not seep into my actions. The Tube hasn’t ordered my Disposal. 

“Pull my string, I unravel. Stitch my—”

Eyeballs dangle like a star from a mobile. One-legged Ingredients fell like trees. Unharvested organs fall from open abdominal cavities. And one Ingredient sprays the wall with rhythmic spurts from her arm stump, and having reached her body’s limit, bleeds out.

“Attention.” Fingers stop mid-stitch. Glazed eyes, attached or hanging, turn to the Tube. 

“Disposal required.”

Corroded gears click, revealing the concealed door. Sweet air floods the sweatshop. Ingredients stumble. Their eyes blinded by day’s forgotten brightness. Two Ingredients tumble into the awaiting canal below. Falls don’t always gift instant death. The unfortunate experience the water’s cleansing effects. Gruesome memories of Ingredient actions drown exhausted minds. Malnourished bodies always succumb. 

“Disposal complete.” The door closes. “Attention. Hearts required,” says the Tube.

Without hesitation, the chant resumes. “Pull my…” Donors and Harvesters paired. 

I have to find one! Panic-stricken, I search in vain, understanding what failure means.

The container echoes with cracking chests. 


Donors convulse. Harvesters drip their counterparts’ blood, but the intoning stays steady. My sewing needle clinks on the floor. 

I’m running out of time. I slip on warm syrup. Get up! 

“I unravel.” The Harvesters seize hearts. I curl beneath a trembling body. 

Just a little longer. I’ve almost made it. 

Footsteps beat behind me. I wipe my face of emotion and cut my eyes. He’s gone. 

“…my skin,” Ingredients say. 

Searing pain numbs me. 

“Pull me…” 

I gasp. My lips form the words without sound. 

Gears groan. The metal door rolls on itself. Light illuminates a man, not an Ingredient. His eyes hate-filled. Bowels snake into the emerald box, striping it crimson. The man ties a white bow. 

My body crumples under his steel-toed kick. I’m falling. Against logic, I tread water and buoy myself with a floating leg. Bodies, bottles, and black boxes orbit me. Cold water seeps into my soundless screaming mouth. 

The man barks at me, “Disposal complete, Mr. Hornsby!”

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