Bacall tugged the leather straps to make sure they were tight. The flesh along Goyles’ arms whitened, the blood retreating as if it had somewhere to go. Bacall marveled at how the tiny details drew his eye.

He turned to the tray.

First he ripped open the sterile pouch, removing the two number eleven blades. Number tens he opened as well, knowing that some of the cuts would be through muscle. He checked the carbon-steel forceps, the flat-handled scalpel, and the various cotton swabs and gauze. He no longer needed the opened pack of Valium, with half a tablet already pushed under Goyles’ tongue.

That left only the jam jar full of cockroaches.

There were fifty of the reddish brown insects scrambling in the jar. He’d bought a few extra, in case some of the things died or escaped. The bugs unnerved him more than the procedure.

He made himself look Goyles in the face. The man’s glazed eyes stared at the ceiling like two fried eggs.

“Just relax,” Bacall said. He poured antiseptic onto a cotton cloth and scrubbed the skin under Goyles’ breastbone. “You know what I was supposed to be doing today?”

Goyles didn’t say anything. The duct tape prevented him.

“We were going to Vegas. Kate and I. I called and made a reservation at the Bellagio. She said that was the best part–that I called. I never planned. Kind of an organic guy. She tolerated a lot.”

He picked up the scalpel. Goyles strained against his bonds.

“I thought of the ways I could cope. I could get over it. That obviously didn’t happen. I could have killed you. But really, how? I’ve lived in Texas my whole life and never fired a gun.” A sudden horrible urge to cry smashed into him. “You don’t know what it’s like. Every day I wake up and imagine she’s still there, like she’s not a billion tiny atoms floating in the Gulf.”

A single drop of liquid ran down Goyles’ face and flattened on the gurney. Sweat? A tear? The thought of Goyles crying disgusted Bacall. He wanted to take the steel tray and smash it into Goyles’ face. But he wouldn’t do that. This wasn’t torture.

Bacall picked up the scalpel and placed the cold blade against Goyles’ sternum.

He cut.

The blood welled almost immediately, then spilled out the wound like water through a busted dam. Bacall had never considered himself squeamish but the slick liquid made his stomach churn. He thought of strawberries. He had to look away and squeeze his eyes shut, the pupils burning.

If he didn’t act Goyles would bleed out and die.

Bacall took a deep breath, then he unscrewed the jar. One hard-shelled cockroach scuttled into his palm. Using the forceps, he pulled back a flap of severed dermis. Before he could think twice he stuffed the live insect body into the narrow space between skin and bone, then pressed down the edge where flesh met flesh. One-handed he swapped out the forceps for a needle and thread. With deft hands he sewed the bug into the cavity under Goyles’ skin. The skin didn’t writhe, but the bulge was evident.

“Every day, almost every minute, I miss her. Maybe it’s selfish. Maybe I miss how she made me feel. But she’s gone. She’s been cut out of me, every bit.”

Bacall wiped away the blood. The stitches were raised and dark. The procedure would work.

He lifted the jar and cupped his free hand. Goyles threw himself back and forth, terror flinging him violently against the leather straps.

“Originally I planned to tell you a story for every year.”

Flashes. Kate running through a meadow full of dandelions. Kate standing under an awning wearing a pretty sundress.

“But I don’t know what she was like when she was eight. I don’t know if she had braces or liked boys. I never got to hear those stories.”

The cockroaches didn’t look big enough. They needed hooks and needles and wicked sharp claws.

“All I can do it make you feel every lost year.”

Bacall spilled a live cockroach into his hand.

“Thirty eight to go.”

~ fin ~

Jeff Macfee lives in North Texas with his wife, three kids, and a cat named Ed. His has stories in Shotgun Honey (obviously), Needle: A Magazine of Noir, the Flash Fiction Offensive, and A Twist of Noir just to name a few. He performs IT magic for Gearbox Software. He drinks gin. Check him out at http://macfee.net.