I torture people for a living. Yesterday, my job followed me home.

Most people crack when I slice open their eye. The vitreous flows out with such perfect viscosity that, for a moment, I can't even hear their screams.

It's not just the pain that rends their souls. What really gets to a person about the eye is a loss of hope. Most of them believe that they'll escape my tools and go back to a happy life where the family gets together for backyard cookouts and couples plan for retirement. That hope finally drains away when they realize they're about to lose an eye, because it means they can never re-enter society in the way they once knew. I'm not a doctor; by design, the procedure damages their appearance in ways that will dominate every future human interaction.

That, and I think that people imagine themselves as being in their eyes. Arms and legs are distal appendages controlled by where we sit inside ourselves; more than anything else, we see our eyes, those windows to the soul, as the physical space where we exist.

Destroying them tears down boundaries that people think are unbreakable. I've seen men betray their mothers and women give away infant children because I promise it will keep me from digging their eyes out of their faces.

I'm lying, of course.

The fundamental truth of my job is that everyone has a breaking point. If you doubt me, just be grateful that you can live the lie of telling yourself that you would do anything for your family.

Which is why I couldn't understand the man who didn't flinch when I put the spoon against his ocular nerve. He didn't even twitch.

"Does it hurt?" I cooed.

He smiled. He actually smiled. "More than you can possibly imagine."

I frowned and dug the spoon into his skull. I've done this enough times to know when I've separated the eye from its socket; more than you'd think, the sensation is like scooping out a pumpkin.

I couldn't enjoy the eye jelly after he refused to react. "You think I can't make it hurt worse?" I asked, licking my lips as I poured the eye into a Mason jar.

"Nothing I can say will stop you from making it worse," he answered in a complete deadpan.

I flared my nostrils as I picked up the iron. "This will cauterize every wound. Do you understand what this means?"

The man glanced at me and sighed. "Melting my skin will ensure that I don't bleed out from the wound." He shrugged. "It means that you can cut me over and over while keeping me alive to feel it all." The man peered at my tools. "The cherry on top is the process that saves me will cause intense agony in its application."

He spoke with all the enthusiasm of a call-taker at an income tax firm.

"You forgot to mention that I'll do each appendage one at a time to draw this out," I added.

He was silent for three seconds before rolling his gaze toward me. "Sorry, what? I wasn't paying attention."

"Very few people lose nineteen fingers and toes without cracking," I explained thirteen hours later. I rubbed my forehead with my sleeve, then wiped the coagulated blood off the warm iron yet again. "Here goes the last one."

I tossed the ring finger over my shoulder when I was done cauterizing him, sending it bouncing out the door. The room smelled like a whole-hog cookout, which is precisely why I'm a vegetarian.

"You're out of digits," I explained. I didn't attempt to hide my erection. "You know what that means, right?"

He yawned. "It means that it's time to destroy my genitals."

I'll be honest: it creeped me out to see him so unfazed. You'd think that force-feeding a man a meat smoothie of his own body parts would cleave his mind in half, but this guy looked exactly as he did when they brought him in. "You know that the cartel won't send you home, right?" I tried to sound like I wasn't begging, but I knew what they'd do to me if the target didn't crack.

It had never been an issue before.

"Vanjans," he answered.

Shit, that word sent chills up and down my spine before going up and down a second time, finally settling in my nutsack and freezing my taint.

Then he pointed to the door.

I turned around and looked at the bloodstains that had been left when I threw his thumb out of the room.


He wasn't supposed to be able to point.

I turned my head slowly back to look at the man I'd been brutalizing. I prayed that hadn't healed.

All of his fingers and toes were back.

This is why I don't pray.

Trying and failing to hold back the oncoming hyperventilation, I lifted my gaze to meet his face.

His eye was back where it belonged.

"Did you not…" I gasped stupidly.

"Oh, the pain was felt," he answered.

"What the fuck did you do to me?"

He smiled. In contrast to just three minutes ago, he had all thirty-two clean, white teeth still in his head.

"The question, my friend, is what did you do? And to whom?"

I wanted to know just what the hell that meant, but was cut off. My employer sent two of his associates to relieve me of my duty.

They sent me home.

The same thought permeated my head with every footstep:

Was that real?

Because I'd unleashed more aggression, anger, and pain today than I had at any point in my storied career. It seemed impossible that the world would absorb it and just keep spinning.

Then I noticed the blood. It was pooling just outside my front door.


I reached a shaking hand to the knob; it was already ajar, like someone had forgotten to close it after breaking in.

I live to create fear, and I know it like an old friend. So when this particular species of terror crept into me, I understood exactly how afraid I should be.

I couldn't breathe.

That's when I stopped myself and looked down. Blood wasn't the only thing on the ground.

My soul fell out of my body and I could only think of suicide as I recognized the ring on my wife's severed finger between my feet, looking like someone had carelessly thrown it from another room.