“Ten.” A dozen or so voices. Digits appear on either side of the room, on screens like scoreboards. Glances flicker between the number and me. Why should they be nervous, with a wall of glass three inches thick between us? I’ve been in a drug-induced paralysis since last night — standard procedure just in case one of us panics. That’s understandable too, although it never occurred to me.

“Nine.” The number dissolves and reforms. Public opinion was divided on my case, a number of inconsequential but up-and-coming figures speaking out on my spiritual, if not legal behalf. Female serial killers aren’t so common; no one knows what to make of us. Some of the faces behind the glass were in the courtroom. How many of them hate me? How many will enjoy this?

Someone behind me coughs — one of the guards, armed and bored. For all the preparation, this will only take half an hour, cleanup and all. It was early when they woke me. These men, with their precautionary military-grade equipment, probably have a dozen sessions left today.

“Eight.” My eye itches, at the outer corner, at the base of my eyelashes. A minor annoyance, but unfixable with my arms both bound and paralyzed. I blink, and wary eyes snap to me. The itch disappears, leaving a tingling, the kind you’re supposed to report to doctors. It radiates across the side of my face, engulfing my ear and my lips. Like ant bites, but less sharp — ant nibbles, millions of them. I want to squirm.

“Seven.” Prickling spreads, creeping down my spine, nestling inside my navel and simmering there, clinging to my fingertips, emerging from underneath my nails. It burrows, invading my organs, bones, marrow — places I didn’t know I could feel.

“Six.” The burning crawl pauses. Air rushing in and out through my nose steadies. Will everything just fade?

“Five.” Fire erupts in my every nerve, catching onto blood and bone and soft tissue like dry tinder. My chest, elbows, feet scream, needing to jerk away, but drugs and steel clamps hold them still. My head throbs, clogged with smoke.

“Four.” My eyes sting, trying flush themselves clean, but can’t — another part of the torture. Total paralysis, even for involuntary bodily functions. No tears. Deny sympathy at every chance. Images of witch burnings flash across my eyes, and an icy thrill sears through me. Is this what my prey felt in their last moments?

“Three.” Stony gazes through the glass, unaware of the lava bubbling in the body they’re watching. It can’t escape so it fills my thighs, my gut, my breasts. 

“Two.” In my mind, I strain to keep just beyond the bloody, boiling soup; in the chair, nothing moves. Throat, nostrils, eye sockets blister and melt. A grin looms behind the glass.


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