In the latest edition of Inspired, I have had the privilege of working with the incredibly talented Jason Franks. Jason is an illustrator from Leyland, UK and he very recently worked alongside 20th Century Fox to create some truly terrifying Alien art for the release of Alien: Covenant. If you like his stuff as much as me, you can see more of his work on his Facebook and Instagram
A New You
She stared at her body in the mirror, lines drawn across it, dissecting every sad and saggy piece of skin, a road map of her flaws. She had been beautiful once, but time has plans for us all. Over many years, she had watched her body bloom and blossom, rose pink and splendid, before seeing it wither and wilt before her eyes. She was a husk now. A hollow piece of wood. In a world where appearance was everything, where beauty meant more than intellect or creativity, she was merely an unwanted reminder to the young, of their own mortality. She saw how they looked at her, like they had suddenly smelled something rotting. At one time, she was marvelled at. Her face adorned the front of magazines and on billboards and advertisements all over the world. She was admired, adored. Now, she was ignored, forgotten. She was nothing.
She had tried everything to stop the inevitable decline; creams, lotions, botox, Chinese herbs, crystals, she had even visited a priest. But no amount of money or connections could turn back the hands of time. She had almost given up hope, when she heard about Dr Volo. It was said, that in his skilled and steady hands, he could take off twenty years, maybe more. He was her miracle. He was her last chance. He had been incredibly difficult to employ, but then all the best surgeons are. After pulling strings, blackmail, bribery and spending most of her fortune, she had got a consultation with the man himself.
He had not been what she expected. Usually, the surgeons were as fabricated as their clients, all shiny, orange skin and stone faces. Not Dr Volo. He wore his lined face with pride. He was a tall, delicate man, with sharp eyes and thin lips. He wore his jet black hair slicked back and shiny, and a thin moustache underlined his crooked nose. He spoke with a melodic, European accent, although she was unsure exactly where he was from originally and when he stared at her with his green eyes, she felt like he was reading those very lines she hated; her life story etched in flesh, her desires and fears, her longing to renew. He had sketched his art on her body’s canvas, and these black inked lines represented how he would wield his scalpel like a brush and paint her anew.
There was a gentle knock at the door. She quickly put on the paper gown which had been laid out for her, and placed herself delicately onto the gurney. Excitement and nerves mixed and churned within her, the combination causing her skin to erupt in goosebumps.
“How are we feeling Helen?”
She hadn’t even noticed him come in, never mind cross the room to her side. He moved so quietly that no footsteps were ever heard. It was the one thing about him which disconcerted her.
“Fine Dr. A few nervous butterflies, but I’m excited.”
“Before we do, I just wanted to make sure this was what you wanted?”
She was completely taken aback by the question. She had been to three separate consultations, paid the fees, signed the consent forms and was now a human doodle wearing a paper dress with her ass hanging out. What exactly indicated she may have changed her mind? He seemed to see her thoughts forming in the lines of her furrowed brow.
“I know it may seem like a silly question, but I just like to make sure my clients are one hundred percent sure about going through this process. This is a big decision to make, and it carries risks. I know we have been through this, and you have signed all of the relevant wavers, but I have to ask you one more question. What exactly is it you want?”
At first, she was speechless. They had had dozens of conversations about exactly what she wanted, detailed discussions about every nip, every tuck, every slice. Now, he was asking her what she wanted? She thought the answer to that question was fairly obvious.
“I want to be beautiful again. I want to look young. I want to be a new woman.”
His thin lips curled up into a smile which unsettled her slightly.
“That, I can do.”
Before another word could be spoken, identical nurses in identical white uniforms and stockings shuffled into the room, and a gas mask was placed over her mouth. She was asked by one to count to ten, but only made it to three before everything blurred and darkened. The last thing she saw before she succumbed to the void, was Dr Volo’s smiling face.
When she awoke, her eyes were dry and it took her a while to adjust to the light. When the world came into focus, instead of the hospital light, she found herself beneath a bare bulb, flickering slightly. She raised her arm up to rub her eyes, expecting to feel pain and to be restricted by dressings or a medical drip, but she felt nothing. In fact, not only was her arm free of bandages or wounds, but her skin was soft and supple. There was no sagging, no age marks, just perfect skin. She checked the other arm as well, and found it to be the same. She became so excited to inspect her own body, she didn’t notice that the crisp white hospital sheets had been replaced by a grey wool blanket, old and washed a thousand times. Her legs were the same, young and strong.
She clambered off the bed and ran to the mirror screwed above the sink opposite her bed. Her face was not that of her own in youth, but it was certainly young and very definitely beautiful. Her cheeks were plump where they had once been sallow, her forehead was taut where it had once been lined, her lips were plump and full where they had once been thin and listless. Even her hair was new. Instead of thinning grey and lifeless, it was a lush chestnut brown, which caught even the light of the dull bulb overhead. She smiled, her teeth perfectly white and her gums no longer receding. She did not look at all like herself, and she could not have been happier. She looked young, and beautiful, and nothing else mattered.
She had to speak with the Dr, to congratulate him, to hug him, and kiss him and sing his praises. He had delivered everything he had promised, plus so much more. Not only was she glowing with a youthful exuberance, but she could see no scars, no cuts, no wounds. She was changed and she was healed. How, she could not even comprehend, but whatever his methods, he was a genius. She turned to press the call button for one of the stepford nurses, when she finally noticed her surroundings.
Just as with her body, the room was also transformed. She had fallen asleep in a white room, with crisp white bedding on a shiny metal trolley bed. One entire wall was taken up by a large silver mirror, which reflected the white light of the crystal chandelier over head, and sent tiny rainbows across the white carpet. There had been a white arm chair, and a white screen to change behind. She had not expected to wake up in that room of course. She had expected to wake up in a ward, with green fabric screens and hospital machines, and rubber tiled floors. But this, this was something different altogether.
The room in which she now stood, would be better described as a cell. The walls were bare brick, painted in a dull grey and the floor was bare concrete with a sad little threadbare rug directly beside the bed. A striped mattress lay on top, covered in bedding which was once white, but after thousands of washes, now took on the same grey tinge as the walls. There was a desk, also attached to the wall, without a chair, and a black leather bible sat on it’s surface. The only other contents of the room was the sink, and the mirror she had been staring into without realising it was made of plastic. Something close to panic began to rise within her, as her eyes fell on the door. It was a heavy one, with only a small barred window, and no handle on her side.
She wondered if this was a drug induced nightmare. Anaesthetic had played with people’s minds in the past; she had read of people wide awake and aware of every slice into their flesh, but unable to move or cry out in pain. Perhaps, her reaction would be vivid hallucinations, yes that was it, it was just a dream. She closed her eyes hard, concentrating on waking up, but when she opened them again, she found herself staring at the same sad little room. She tried again, this time closing her eyes so tightly it hurt, and sent blurred shapes across her vision when she once again opened them to find her situation unchanged. A thought occurred to her, a rule of thumb which everyone knew to be true: you cannot feel pain in a dream. So, she grabbed a chunk of her new, supple flesh and nipped and twisted it as hard as she could. Pain shot down as the skin reddened.
Tears began to form, as she ran at the door, pounding her fists and screaming as loud as she could. The room was too small, and it was definitely getting smaller, closing in around her, trapping her within her own fears. She was awake, she knew this with every painful thump of her fists on the steel door. She stopped, hearing a set of keys jingling in a lock, a movement of cogs and parts, as the door unlocked and squeaked open. It was Dr Volo accompanied by one of his pert blonde nurses. She fell into his arms, grateful to see something, someone familiar. He would sort this out, he would help her.
“Oh Doctor, thank God! I thought…I don’t know what I thought! I was so frightened, when I woke up here. What’s happening? Where am I? What is this place?”
“This is your room, within Lakeview psychiatric hospital. You’ve asked me this same question a dozen times Eva, and the answer is always the same.”
“Eva? Who is Eva? What are you talking about? A psychiatric hospital?”
“Eva, we can’t keep going in circles like this, at some point you have to accept..”
“MY NAME’S NOT EVA.”
She screamed it so loud, she startled even herself. Both Doctor and nurse fell silent, their faces crumpled with a mixture of concern and pity.
“My name is Helen, Helen Ford. I was a model, I was an actress, I was famous. I came to Lakeview medical clinic for plastic surgery to be young again, to stop looking sixty. There is no psychiatric hospital here. Why are you saying this? Why are you lying to me?”
She felt tears land on her chest and make their way between her now pert breasts. This had to be some kind of sick joke. Maybe this was one of those prank shows she had heard about, a special episode where they pranked the old stars. Or was it the drugs? She had taken plenty in her lifetime, both legal and illegal, but they were always coming up with something new.
“Your name is Eva Giles. You are twenty years old. You were never a model or actress, you were just a normal high school student. You always suffered from mental health issues, which gradually increased in severity and volatility, resulting in you burning down your family home, killing everyone inside; your parents, your Grandmother and your little brother Paul. You were committed here when you were deemed unfit for trial. You know all of this Eva. You repeatedly invent new personalities, new people to be, so you don’t have to be yourself, so you don’t have to face up to what you did and avoid the guilt which tears at you. You’re sick. I thought we were making progress, I thought…it’s fine. You’ll be fine, but you have to let us help you.”
She caught her reflection in the plastic mirror, a scared, young girl staring back at her, so different from the face she had known, or at least, thought she had known. Was it true? Was this all in her head? No! She shook the thoughts from her mind. She could remember a lifetime, sixty years of faces and rooms. She could remember the men she had loved, and the fights which drove them apart. She could remember a mother, bitter and twisted by the space left by her father. She could see her face when she was a girl, hitting her for some minor error, and older, weaker, wheezing in a hospital bed attached to tubes and wires, machines beeping and then a sheet pulled over a still face. She saw her brother, the only man she had never grown to hate. She remembered her devastation when he had died drunk behind the wheel of a burning car. She could taste her first kiss, remember the weight of the many men she had known over sixty years on earth. She saw her wedding day, both of them, in vivid colour, just as she could see the ink of her signature drying on her divorce papers. No, she was Helen Ford, and nothing they said could shake that certainty.
She ran at them, pushing the nurse with all her strength, sending her hard into the wall. She went to run past her through the gap her absence created, but she felt two strong arms bear hug her from behind, tightening as both bodies slid to the floor.
“Nurse, get a sedative, quickly.”
The nurse, blonde hair now sticking out from her hat, pulled herself up and ran out of view. Helen kicked and lashed and even tried to bite the Doctor, using every ounce of strength she could to escape.
“Now, is that any way to treat the man who made you young again Helen?”
She froze, breathing heavily from the exertion. He had called her by her real name. She knew she wasn’t mad, but then what was this? She felt him loosen his grip enough for her to turn and look into his dark, pitiless eyes.
“Why? Because you asked me to. You wanted to be young, you wanted to be beautiful. Well, you have your wish Helen…you’re a whole new woman.”
His lips curled into that same snide smile, and she again tried to break free, lashing out, screaming for help. But he was so strong, and soon the nurse returned, needle in hand. She felt a sharp pain in her thigh, before her strength began to fail her, and the room started to melt and blur. Soon, she lay immobilised on the cold concrete floor, the world around her fading into black, her eyelids heavy and insistent despite her best efforts to fight, to flee. But the drugs overcame her will power, her body limp, her mind shutting down.
The last thing she saw before she succumbed to the void, was Dr Volo’s smiling face.