A Bit Early for Labels


Harold screamed, but didn’t.

The room was large. Very large. So large, in fact, it was as if there were no windows or doors. No sound but the electric humming of medical equipment. No light but the harsh, cutting white of surgical lamps reflecting on impressively polished steel tools with lots of little blades and teeth. Nobody to hear screams that never came. And while this large, empty place was also, somehow, kept at a pleasant seventy-two degrees, Harold was too preoccupied to properly appreciate it.

“Sorry,” Oliver said from somewhere, casually walking over to Harold, then flipping a switch with an adorable little click. “You looked like you had something to say.”

Harold looked at Oliver, then squeaked a startled yelp.

Oliver waited. “Go on. Get it out. Nobody can hear you scream.”

Harold considered this. “Pot to Kettle, how much more of a cliche can you be?”

“Not to put too fine a point on this,” Oliver chewed, “but I am a surgeon holding his wife’s lover captive in a big, secret laboratory.”

“Fair enough,” Harold said. “But, where the Hell did you come from? I thought I was alone.”

“Bit of lunch and socks,” Oliver gestured with his sandwich and feet.

“Where’s Sophia?”

“Why? Feeling lonely?”

“What did you do to her?”

“I scooped out her brain,” Oliver said, still using that sandwich as a teaching aide, “and put it into the relatively younger body of a pink-haired woman who tried to sell me cologne from the trunk of her car.” He took another bite of his sandwich, swallowed, then continued. “You were there.”

“Did none of that sound crazy to you?”

“Look. If it helps, you weren’t the first.”


“Yeah. Sorry,” Oliver said, disappearing for a moment. “There was this guy from high school, a few coworkers.”


“I’m not even Sophia’s first husband,” Oliver said, rolling back over to Harold in a small desk chair. “Now, that guy? Real piece of work. I got some good practice out of him, though.”

“Why would she do all that?”

Oliver finished his sandwich and shrugged. “It makes her happy.”

“You’re shitting me.”

“You slept with my wife,” Oliver said, picking up one of the shiny steel tools with the scary little blades and teeth. “I don’t think you get to shame other people’s kinks.”

Harold seized on the scary little blades and teeth, and ignored everything else. “Jesus. If you’re going to kill me, just do it already.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” Oliver chuckled. “I’m not going to kill you.”

Harold puzzled this. “You’re not?”

“Of course not. Keeping you alive is the whole point.”

“Wait. What?”

Oliver rolled over to a large mirror, rolled back with it, spun it around, and Harold eventually saw everything. And what he saw there was more or less a chrome-finished Salvador Dali painting. But instead of melted, sagging clocks, twisted figures, or surreal landscapes, Harold’s insides were stretched and sagging and dripping on the outside, and all over Oliver’s otherwise spartan, make-shift surgery room. His lungs were draped over the back of a chair. His entrails wrapped around one of the surgical lights, across the operating table with his exposed and mostly empty chest cavity, and inexplicably tied on the other end to an old Victrola. And his head dangled above this from several cables, with a number of tubes and wires clipped or stuck into this or that hole, one of which was connected to that switch with the adorable little click.

“See, Harold?” Oliver said, holding up Harold’ still-beating heart, and jangling it in front of Harold playfully like a set of keys. “I’m a bit of an artist myself.”

Harold ignored this, and screamed.

Oliver sat there with Harold’s heart still in his hand, shook his head disapprovingly, and then flipped the switch. Click. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s enough of that.”

Harold shot Oliver a look, and silently cursed.

“What?” Oliver blinked. “I meant nobody else can hear you scream.”


There are precisely two types of people in this world. The first are those eclectic few showcasing their gaudy wealth in a secret art gallery located beneath the surface of the sort of affluent California “community” where everyone is as artificial as the grass, trees, and even the lightly-scented air. (For fear of being assimilated, the name of this particular town escapes me at the moment.) Meanwhile, the other sort are the art. And as Harold stared at a clock hung between a pair of terrified teenagers frozen in freshly-carved ice sculptures, he took solace in the fact that while his most embarrassing memories were currently being projected on the wall behind him, at least the portly couple with matching bear-hands in front of him couldn’t tell he was crying.

“Hey!” a familiar lilt called, scrambling the feed.

The portly couple turned ever so slightly to their left to find a pink bob cut in a silk sundress and adorable shoes approaching them, started to whisper something about superficiality and the tasteless fashion sense to not wear a bra in public, then smiled and gushed in unison. “Sophia!”

“I see the two of you are enjoying Harold’s work,” the pink bob cut smiled.

“Our grandson absolutely loves it,” gushed the portly man with an impressive mustache.

The man’s portly, clean-shaved husband nodded in agreement. “Sophia, you’re looking so daring these days!”

“I wasn’t going to keep it,” Sophia said with a tease of her hair, fingers gliding across faint, thick lines in her scalp. “But it kinda grew on me.”

“I’m not sure yet,” a tinny voice said.

Sophia and the portly couple turned to a pair of speakers connected to an old laptop somehow wired to the brain in a jar beside them. The brain bubbled in its solution. The projector flickered vague images, flashing frames of bodies in pieces and blurred faces lost among bits of pixels and noise. And a woman’s voice repeated the same six words, again and again, from the speakers. “So, what does that make me?”

“What is that awful thing?” the portly mustache asked.

“One of Oliver’s little toys.”

Clean-shaved husband pawed at his ears. “Bit gratuitous, isn’t it?”

Sophia nodded, Mmhm. “Don’t let Oliver hear you say that.”

“He’s a magnificent surgeon–” the woman crackled from the speaker.

“I’m sorry,” Sophia said, turning to the couple. “But I better get Oliver over here to fix this.”

“–you can only roll back the clock so far,” the woman on the speaker continued.

The portly coupled said their goodbyes, and Sophia watched them waddle off, paw-in-paw.

“Do they bother you?” the woman asked.

Sophia turned back to Harold, and Harold bubbled in his jar. She began to speak, thought better of it, and then disappeared into the crowd.

The End