Punky sits alone in the restaurant. A metal chopstick sticks out of her eye. Her attacker presumably had expected her to die, but she’s still here. When she looks around, the chopstick follows like a silver laser pointer. Don’t think you can have a silver laser. She hadn’t listened much in physics class. She knows these run-on thoughts are either caused by her panicking or to prevent panicking further. Or maybe to avoid doing what she knew she had to. You’re not supposed to remove the bullet if someone is shot, but she doesn’t think that applies when something is so heavy and stuck out of your fucking eye. She touches the end with her nails. Bright colours flash across her vision. Why not use a knife? A baseball bat? Hell, you can buy anything on Taobao. Surely you can buy a better weapon than a fucking chopstick. She pushes herself up against the table and tries to reach for a chair for support. The restaurant is dark, with only glimmers of neon from the EXIT sign glittering across the gaudy decoration. Another themed restaurant where the theme is having a billion themes. License plates and tacky candelabras. The food wasn’t even that good, mere set-dressing for beauty-cam selfies on some wannabe influencers’ WeChat moments. This whole thing could have been avoided if she trusted her gut instead of Dianping. She gets a hold of the back of the chair and hoists herself to the seat, her hands still slick with blood. Her phone is on the table. The screen had cracked when that… that thing in a delivery guy’s clothes lunged at her.
She opens the camera app. Her thumb hovers over the icon that would reveal her face. Hours earlier she fixed and refixed her face in the mirror, watching a contouring tutorial on her laptop while messaging her date on her phone. The date that didn’t show up. The phone that’s now shattered.
“Fuck!” she says aloud, way too loud; her hand covers her mouth instinctively. There’s so much blood. The chopstick had missed her iris, sticking out of the white at a weird angle. The minute hand is at three, the hour hand… what, memories of primary school English now? Just pull it out. Just pull out the fucking chopstick. She keeps trying to blink or even shut her eyes so she didn’t have to look at herself, didn’t have to still be present in this horrible moment. But her lids won’t close on account of the fucking chopstick. A spider of pus crawls from the wound, flecks of jelly caught in her eyelashes. In the dark, her dyed hair seems to glow, or it’s her eyes fucking up.
A noise from outside. Should she just try and get out of here? She feels like she can barely walk. Was it still here? She couldn’t see its face. A shadow cast across the eyes. A bloodied paper mask around its mouth. And yet, the presence of it. Inhuman. Burned into her brain. She must have blacked out after the stabbing.
She guides her fingers with the camera as her mirror. Her mouth hanging open in terror, teeth chattering between the cracks of glass. Those colours again, the weight of the stick straining the muscles behind her eyes.
More banging from outside the store. Is the mall closed? Somehow, she always wants to check her wrist for the time, even when it’s right there on her phone. 00:57. She’d been out for a few hours, then. No wonder there was no one here. None of those assholes thought to call a paramedic? She tries to zoom in with a pinch, but with the bits of dried her on the screen, she accidentally takes a picture instead. The flash stings her eyes, and she nearly drops it again. Not a photo she’ll share. No signal anyway.
Get it over with. Her fingers wrap around the stick. Pull. Do it. Pull.
“Pull!” she shouts as if that will force her fingers to move. They do not. She sees the fear in her eyes reflected back at her. Another bang, this time followed by a shout. Can’t tell what they’re saying. She feels her consciousness fading out again. Now or never.
She can feel her eye lifting out the socket with each yank on the stick, her field view shifting and warping as it bulges out her lids. The pain shoots through her body. Her brain feels like it’s on fire. Something white and viscous spurts out, cloudy like congee water. The noise is getting closer. She can hear the sound in her head too, the pulling of sinews and scraping of bone. That didn’t even really make sense. Nerves firing in ways they shouldn’t. Crossed wires, even. Her brain unable to process what’s happening despite her senses and the mirror of the camera.
It comes loose.
So does the eye.
It falls out, hanging by the optic nerve, swinging left and right. She gags, her stuck out tongue making contact with her eye. What does it taste like, Punky? Earlier, when it was clear her date would arrive, she was eating noodles with those meatballs that absorb the soup water and burst when you chew on them. They were kind of rubbery and bland, the flavour of the soup not coming through. Does it taste like that, Punky? The pendulum swing of her eye catches sight of her congealed self on the sharp point of the stick.
She chokes back vomit and begins to finger the eye back into the socket. It squishes like a gooey rice cake. Puke bubbles out the corner of her mouth, the taste of her eye lingering on her tongue. She winces as her nail scrapes the surface. No time to think about that. Scars will heal. Do scars heal on eyeballs? Maybe. It’s surprisingly heavy and unsurprisingly wet. She lifts it with two fingers, her other hand holding opening her eyelids. It pops in with a squelch. Her iris drifts unbidden. She tries to blink it back into the proper position but that doesn’t seem to work. Wipes the eye goo on her skirt. Fuck it. Bigger problems. That banging noise has been upgraded to a scraping, and it’s definitely getting closer.
It’s here in the doorway. Her sight is blurred. Is it coming from the left or right? The demon in yellow and black. Something glints in its right hand. The other chopstick. Its head tilts and faces her. She stumbles back. Need to get on your feet, Punky. You don’t want to die. You can’t die here. Not after avoiding death in the first place.
Step backwards into terror. The shape has a good half metre on her height. It does not rush. It does not falter. Human bodies aren’t supposed to move that way. They’re not so… static. Like its bones were all held together with steel and wire. She looks around the restaurant. Her vision is clearing, but it’s still so so dark. Low-power brain calculates that there’s not enough space between her, the beast and the door it tore through to successfully make that run. But where else can she go? Each moment of hesitation is another step closer to death.
Think back. It’d all happened so fast. It wasn’t weird to see delivery drivers queue outside the restaurant to pick up orders. It wasn’t weird to see them come in the shop, or even sit on the tables, scrolling Douyin and Taobao. Couldn’t begrudge them that. Rushing around. But this guy was different. He commanded a presence. It was like those old Westerns when the lone gunman would burst through the saloon doors and all the other dudes would turn around in silence. A waiter with goofy Harry Potter glasses and overalls (because what was the theme of this restaurant again?) wandered up to him.
“Pick up or take out?” The beast grabbed his lapels and lifted him to eye level. “That’s not what I meant-” The colour drained from the waiter’s face. “What are you….” A flash of silver. A metal chopstick stabbed into his ear canal. Snapped downwards. A crack of bone, a spurting of blood. It removed the stick and let the body crumple onto the floor. Punky dropped her own sticks, splashing soup. A clattering of chairs and tables, but she was frozen. That’s when she had noticed it—the phone fused into his wrist, screen buried under a layer of thin skin. Wires punctured the surface, spiralling around his arm into the back of his head. And then, well. Eye met stick. But if she could just pull out that wire…
No time for that now. She was still too weak. Limbs held up by pure adrenaline, scalding nausea lurking in the back of her throat. Even if she rushed him, her eyes were not something to be relied on. That EXIT sign. If it’s a fire exit it should give her a route out of the mall. She bends her knees, willing all her energy into her thighs, ready to spring. Wait for it.
A voice from the skin phone. [KILL].
Wait for it…
“KILL” the beast echoes, lunging towards her.
Now! She turns on her heel and leaps towards the neon. She hears a clatter behind her. Don’t look back. Maybe it fell. Anything to give her time. Keep moving. Chintzy knickknacks give way to a concrete stairwell illuminated by hanging bulbs. She couldn’t remember what floor she’d been on. Nowhere to go but down. It’s that or death.
Each step draws more and more from her dwindling energy. She can hear it stomping after her. She is faster. She can get away.
Its footsteps stop.
The sound of plastic scraping against metal. The lights flicker.
“No, no no. Please”
Bang. The flickering becomes a nightclub strobe, the world blinking in and out of existence, her movements missing in-between frames. She can see a service door, almost tasting the fresh air. Just a few more flights.
Blackout. Just… just keep calm, keep the momentum. Each stair is the same. Just keep going. Hell this way your fucked up eye isn’t even gonna be an issue, right? Right, Punky?
[NO ESCAPE] The dim light of the skin phone is a beacon in the dark.
“NO ESCAPE”, the voice uncomfortably close to her back.
“FUCK. FUCK YOU FUCK THIS FUCK FUCK FUCK” The white heat of terror lies parallel to anger. Anger is not the acid. It is the engine. Faster, faster. She must be so close now.
Too fast. The rhythm broken. Her foot meets the stair but the stair is not there. No solid endpoint to her downward force, so instead it continues down, pulling the rest of her body with it. She braces her arms against her face.
Elbows, meet concrete. Sharp pain followed by shaking bones but not enough to stop her fall, too much momentum. She tumbles and crumples like clothes in a dryer, stopped only by the thud of a metal door. There’s a bone poking out of her hoodie sleeve. Instinctively she tries to push it back under her skin, but that just sprays more blood, like the lever of a water fountain. Everything feels broken. She tries to push herself up, but the floor is slick with coughed blood. A roach scuttles away from her flailing fingers.
And then she touches something soft.
Her hand recoils. The touch felt eerily familiar. Don’t think about it.
Wait. Door? She reaches for the handle. Fuck. Locked.
“Hey! What are you doing in there?” A voice from the other side. A sliver of hope.
“Let me out!” She can hear the heavy footfalls getting closer. “Someone’s trying to kill me!”
“You’re not supposed to be in there. Didn’t you hear the announcement?”
“LET ME OUT RIGHT NOW!” She bangs on the door, her arm leaving bloody prints.
“Hold on. I need to talk with the chief.”
“YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE! OPEN THE DOOR!” Stepped boots on pavement. “DON’T YOU FUCKING DARE WALK OFF! COME BACK HERE RIGHT NOW!”
A shadow climbs the door. She bangs and bangs but the voice doesn’t come back. Her own voice has left her throat, replaced by a scratchy gargle. Fine then. She will face it with a mess of blood and sweat and snot and tears. The beast is almost upon her, its chopstick playing a one note melody on the hand rail.
It squats down to her level. A rotten smell from the black and yellow uniform.
She thrashes at the wires. They get caught on her exposed bone, pulling them from the beast’s head. A moment of silence that feels like an eternity. The beast is still until it is not. His head twitches and lilts to the side as if nothing held it up. A scream more human than any other sound it’d made, somewhere between pain and fury.
[KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL] The phone screams over and over, the skin bubbling and rupturing around it. Wires grow and snake out of the flesh. Reconnected. You tried, Punky. You really did.
[KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL KILL]
Her energy is gone, but not her venom. She gathers as much as she can muster into two simple words.
He pushes the chopstick into her mouth.
It pierces the roof. Her jaw hangs loose. She sputters and gargles.
The beast lifts her by the stick. Her lopsided eye stares into his void face and sees nothing. No eyes no face no will no soul. Just blood and shadow.
A gloved hand reaches out of view. She sees something soft and white in its gargantuan hands and she screams and spits and cries. The beast shoves her eye down her throat, her body offering only the meek resistance of vomit. It grabs her by the throat. The chopstick angles to the left. The hand angles herneck to the right. X-ray of spine flashes across her eyes. Snap.