It’s Friday! Halle-freaking-lujah! Once again we’ve all managed to make it to the weekend in one piece. Apologies for the hiatus–as I’m sure you’ve heard, some of us here have been dealing with some serious shizz. Accept our heartfelt virtual flowers.
Last time you heard from us, OH so long ago, we brought you a short by our own Jessie Devine. Today, we give you a Bleeding Heart courtesy of the Queen of Horror.
Meghan Schuler is one kick-ass chick, and if you’re not following her on Twitter, you should be. If you love her hauntingly excellent story (which you will!) please leave a comment or hit her up online. We’ve even given you little links because we’re just that nice. Enjoy!
I drummed my fingers on the desk, tired of the silence, tired of waiting, my chin propped on the heel of my hand. He’d left me nearly three hours ago to speak with Father about marrying me. I’d missed my first demonstration of the evening waiting for him. Henry returned, but instead of embracing me or offering me a shred of what had transpired, he’d avoided me, rushing upstairs to do God knows what before returning to me. My elation that he was finally going to ask Father for my hand was now a black mass of uncertainty and sorrow in my chest, pouring over my heart like tar. He caught me watching him, his thin figure moving along the rows of jarred specimens, hands searching.
“Anna, are you all right?”
“No,” I said. “Henry, why won’t you talk to me? What happened?” I stood from my chair, smoothing my hands over the black fabric of my dress. Black hid any stain a surgeon could come by, but I couldn’t hide the blood etched around my fingernails. Henry’s hands looked much the same as mine, his long, tapered fingers suited to his profession. We were a pair, he and I. My worry earned me only a peck on the cheek.
“Anna, there’s little to talk about.”
“Little? Father kept you for hours, Henry. What did he say?”
He kept his back to me, his black coat stained on the right sleeve. “He said he was pleased you were doing so well at your studies.”
I groaned. “Not about me, about us! You did ask him, didn’t you?” Henry’s face took on a curious blank, as if we hadn’t discussed this a dozen times. “Didn’t you?” I repeated, hoping for a smirk, or a light in his eyes, anything.
Another kiss was all I was granted.
“Henry, I have my reputation to uphold. I can’t keep claiming to be on-call when I’m with you.”
His expression turned worried. “You don’t regret what we—“
“No,” I said, cupping a hand to his jaw. “Absolutely not.” I had no remorse for my actions, our actions. I loved Henry dearly. My floppy-haired surgeon meant the world to me, but his tendency to ignore the obvious drove me insane. Did he not see how his silence killed me?
“You did speak with him, didn’t you?”
Instead of giving me my answer, Henry looked at his pocket watch. “You’ve a cardiology lecture, don’t you?”
I sighed, turning away from him to blink back tears. “Henry, if Father denied you, just tell me. We’ll think of someone else. We’ll elope if we must.” A terrible thought came to me, chilling my blood.
“Oh God, Henry, he didn’t find out, did he? That we…” I couldn’t finish, my throat dry.
He put his hands on my shoulders and lowered his eyes to mine, reassurance in their blue haze. In the dim lighting, they appeared nearly black, like the sea during a storm.
“He knows nothing, Anna. Not about us, anyway. Our secrets are safe.” He kissed me then, a soft brush of his lips against mine. “Sadly, we’ve no time for kisses. We’re late.”
He returned to the specimen rack and collected two jars, one empty, the other containing a bisected human heart. I’d made that one the year we’d met and Henry insisted we take it with us. His sentimentality melted me a bit, but my love was overshadowed by longing. I wanted his answer, Father’s answer, but it appeared I would not be getting it.
I followed him up the narrow staircase, one hand resting on my bodice. I felt ill, angry. How difficult was it to say, ‘Yes, Anna, I can ask for your hand,’ or ‘No, your Father has denied me?’ I followed on instinct, ignoring the blurs of black-clad figures in white masks passing us on the stair. For a moment I wished I still wore that mask, but I was no longer a mere observer in this place.
The third floor housed my cardiology hall, a small room set like a theatre in the middle of a garden. Nothing grew inside, but dirt helped absorb the blood from the cadavers. Henry set the jars on my surgical table, beside the glistening box of scalpels and blades he’d given me for my birthday.
He loved me. In every touch and smile and sidelong glance, I knew. I only wished he’d understand my reason for being upset. He vanished into the storage room, leaving me with the tools of our trade and a body in need of dissecting. It was funny to me that tonight should be my cardiology lecture. I picked up the jar containing half a heart, turning it over in my hands.
Nearly two years earlier, on this same day, I’d managed to animate this heart for nearly ten seconds. I’d rushed through the college to find Henry, then my mentor, and show him what I’d done. He smiled at me and demanded I show Professor Starling, but as the only woman enrolled in the surgical school, I wouldn’t be taken seriously. He refused to let me doubt myself, called me unapologetic, fearless, confident. He believed in me, and I fell for him fast, holding a beating heart in my hands while losing my own to him.
I had preserved it out of sentiment, a reminder that I’d made cardiology my field by force and will.
The lights flickered in the chamber and hastily I tied my apron around my dress. I could see the onlookers filing in from the doors, a black tide against the dim light, stark white faces peering back at me. I tied my hair back, the braid doing little to keep my hair in place. Henry nodded from his position by the door. I tilted the operating table up slightly, making sure the body was secured.
“This man will demonstrate to you the workings of the circulatory system. The way blood is moved through the body in a series of circuits is what maintains our body temperature, keeping the organs warm and functional,” I intoned, picking up my scalpel. The blade slid through the flesh with ease, but a suture near the lower ribs caught my eye. It wasn’t unusual for a body to be checked before dissection, but the cut was fresh.
I continued, pinning back the skin. “To access the heart, one must break through the sternum. This requires precision and power. Once broken, the bone can be separated to expose the heart.”
I did just that, the snap of bone loud in the silence. Blood ran down the sides of the man’s chest and I mopped it away. The heart moved erratically, the atypical rhythm obvious.
“The aorta is the major artery keeping blood flowing from the heart,” I continued, trying not to broadcast my worry. “Puncturing the aortic arc will lead to death in three heartbeats. With nowhere for the blood to go, the patient will bleed out.”
The slightest groan sounded from the operating table. Henry moved from his position against the door, concern painting his features. I looked at my patient. His head lolled against the metal table and his once stable heartbeat sped up. Something caught my attention, and I leaned closer, eyes narrowed. Like the sutures in the flesh, the man’s heart also bore an anomaly: a single row of nearly invisible stitches. I was losing control. I had to salvage this demonstration.
“Increased pulse occurs in when the body is not getting the oxygen in needs. This can result to over oxygenating the blood,” I stammered, trying to hide my nerves. The man opened his eyes and I stepped back, watching the fog clear and his brain register the vision of his chest torn open. The lungs expanded and the screaming began. I cursed myself for not having sutured his jaw shut, but with Henry on my mind, things had slipped away from me. I tried to still him, but he arched his back, my scalpel piercing the aortic arc. I couldn’t stop my own cry as the blood covered me, staining my dress and matting my hair. I wiped as much as I could from my face, but the man was dead before I could do anything. Three heartbeats.
In three heartbeats, Henry had crossed the room to my side, a clean towel in hand. The observers filtered out. I’d no doubt that if they could speak in these rooms, they’d be denouncing me. I sank into my chair, covering my face.
Henry touched my shoulder. “Anna, we’ve all had vivisections go poorly. It’s a difficult task, especially in front of an audience. No one gets it perfect all the time.”
“Constants and variables,” I muttered, glancing back at the ruined body on the table.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed about,” he said, kneeling beside me, a hand on my knee. “You remember my first demonstration. I had to cut the lungs out of that man just to keep from screaming. He managed to get a leg free before he died. Kicked me in the jaw.”
I sniffled. “I remember. You were bruised for a month.”
He lowered my hands and brought the cloth to my cheek, wiping away the blood. “Anna, you are, without a doubt, the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. You’re brilliant, and you are good at what you do. I even love you when you’re covered in blood, perhaps especially then,” he said, and my heart fluttered in my chest. “I know what will make you feel better.”
He rose and crossed over to my newly-deceased cadaver. I watched him, his long fingers cradling the heart while his other hand severed it from the chest cavity. The blood ran over his cuffs, leaving new stains I’d never be able to wash out. He presented the heart to me, a smile on his lips.
I shook my head, feeling a trickle of sticky wetness slide down my ear. “Henry, I’m not much in the mood for further dissection.”
“It’s not for science, it’s for fun,” he said, handing me the blade. He looked so pleased, I couldn’t turn him down. He knelt beside me again as I cut into the tissue, the usually smooth incision proving vastly more difficult. I tore it open, venting my frustration, anger, and worry in one mad slice. A tiny black box filled the crimson chambers of the left ventricle. I pulled it from the muscle, dimly connecting the oddity with the stitches on my patient. Henry tilted his head, and at his command I opened the box.
A silver ring sat on the black cushion, filigree running the edges to accent the diamond set in the center. I pressed the back of my hand to my lips, not caring I was still bloodied. Henry drew my hand away and held it, taking the ring from me as well. The mishap with the demonstration vanished as the grin spread across my face.
“How?” was all I could manage.
Henry grinned fit to spite the devil. “Of course your father approved. He tried to throw us together the first time I called on you,” he answered. “I rushed back to prep the body. He wasn’t going to last long in either case. I can only give you my heart metaphorically, but I can find a spare one or two in effigy.”
I wrapped my arms around his neck, holding him tight before splaying my fingers across his cheeks and kissing him.
“I hadn’t meant to upset you, Anna. I wanted it to be a surprise.”
I reached for the cloth to clear my finger marks from his face, but he caught my hand again, sliding the ring onto my finger.
“Well what?” I teased. He’d tormented me all evening, and I’d be damned if he didn’t say it, even if he already knew my answer.
He blushed, looking away for moment, his handsome face made more darling by the blood on his cheek. I bit my lip, fighting the urge to bite his.
“Annabelle Victoria McKittrick, will you marry me?”
If you think this was as good as we do, don’t forget to show Meghan some love by leaving a comment or hitting her up on social media.
And to show you our appreciation for your taking the time to read these fantastic #BleedingHeart2014 stories,
ENTER OUR GIVEAWAY to win a copy of The Raven Boys, Heart-Shaped Bruise AND an Amazon Gift Voucher!