Exploring numbing as a solution


The face in the mirror is still recognizable, but I can’t believe it’s mine. It opens its mouth to reveal a bloody, mutilated mess inside. Most of its tongue has been chewed away by my own teeth. I poke at the bruises, but they remain painless blobs of color. My own face reeks of both intense familiarity and disconnected indifference. The mouth breaks out into a wide smile, revealing bleeding gums and missing teeth. This is everything I have ever wanted.

1 day ago

In a dark room, a SNAKE device hums under a thin blanket. A SNAKE refreshes the body, turning it back to a single cell. Overnight, your cells receive all the necessary stimuli to regrow and become the body you are now. The only difference is your DNA. Give yourself any mutation you want and experience your new life! Either too nonsensical or catastrophic for government approval, its few copies likely ended up in the hands of the well-connected who wanted to restart their lives.

As a Participant, my best life is one with mutation 1767X.

I press the cold tip of the needle to my neck and push the “RESTART” button. A sharp pain makes me drop the SNAKE, but I smile, relishing in its last moments.

The pain throbs in the background as visions of my future float behind my eyelids. I recite those lines in the TI-80GENE book: The SCN9A gene codes for Nav1.7, a protein found at high levels in nociceptive neurons. Nociceptive neurons send signals to the brain, where, if the mind agrees that its host is in danger, pain is perceived. Mutation 1767X means no Nav1.7, and no Nav1.7 means no pain. I understand enough of that to know that the next time I open my eyes, my neck won’t hurt anymore. Nothing will hurt anymore.

12 hours ago

The next day is the same as it has always been, but it is completely different. I complete the same Participant tasks for discipline, persistence, and commitment. These tasks are the challenges the greatest warriors did, and I feel invincible as I run on hot coals and… the tasks bleed into each other as I float between them.

The last task: water buckets. No hesitation. My hands plunge deep into the steaming silver buckets. Blisters start to bubble and the coloration of my hands turns shades I have never seen.


I jab at myself in the mirror. Take my own shots like they’re nothing. Right as I decide to hurl my fist at my face, I see Sylvia walk through the bathroom doorway.

“Lillian? What are you–”

My fist connects, and the comfortable feeling of soft contact makes me laugh as the head in the mirror whips violently to the left. I turn and bound towards Sylvia as she backs away.

“U I wave my burned, bruised hands in front of her face. “Easy!”

I’ve imagined this moment countless times, when Sylvia looks at me with admiration and glee as I overcome my physical suffering. But the only look on her face is pain.

“It doesn’t hurt!” I quickly explain. “There’s this gene, and you can mess it up with a SNAKE, and I found one. So I can’t feel pain!”

The look on Sylvia’s face is still so sad, as if she’s in pain thinking about how wonderful my day was. I start to feel guilty for using the SNAKE on myself first.

“I have to tell you something important.”

“This is important! For all of us! Me, you, our parents–”

“Your mom’s dead.”

“Okay. Not my mom,” I continue.

Sylvia stares at me, and the floating comes back. “What?” I ask. My stomach feels uncomfortably hollow. I punch my face and my feet step backwards.

“Your mom’s dead,” Sylvia whispers.

“Okay!” I feel myself trying to grab something, but my fists keep attacking me.

“What are you doing?” Sylvia asks. She rushes towards me, and I think I turn with my hands up, but I see charred fists move in front of me, and redness replaces her face. Someone’s scream sends a chill that just reaches the top of my spine before—

The bathroom door slams shut. I’m alone in the bathroom again. There’s blood on my knuckles—

Your mom’s dead. Your mom’s dead. Your mom’s dead.

I turn to someone. Sylvia’s gone. Why is Sylvia gone?

Someone drops me, and I fall, drowning in pain, the worst pain. It feels almost nostalgic. No, someone says. This is bad. You don’t want this. Isn’t that what this is all for? I need them to be right. I need this all to be right. It hurts too much to let go of me.

I feel my fists rising and I lean my head towards them, but the fists don’t move. They’re too weak. Something stronger is holding them back.

A new door opens, and everything leaves. I wait for something in front of me to enter, but I shut the door the night before. Is there anything still inside? Where’s my mom? Where’s Sylvia? Am I really looking for them? I should be. But someone keeps yelling that looking for them is not the point here.

I crawl back to the cracked mirror and stare at myself again. I don’t feel invincible anymore. I’m not sure I feel anything at all.

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