• The Molecules That Bind Us

    by  • October 23, 2017 • Fiction • 0 Comments

    An essay by Dr. Ian Wessner, as provided by Christa Carmen
    Art by Luke Spooner


    Some might find it disconcerting, creepy, even; but to me, Dr. Ian Wessner Jr., the sound is music to my ears. It’s like something from a Star Wars movie–a combination of R2-D2 passing along some critical message and the Millennium Falcon readying for takeoff. Even a regenerative medicine researcher with more graduate degrees than is prudent can play make-believe, and I love to pretend that the telltale sounds of the custom-designed 3D printer, utilizing a water-based ink optimized to promote the growth of encapsulated cells, and printing in alternating layers with biodegradable plastic micro-channels, are announcing the approach of a futuristic spacecraft.

    It’s a pleasant, harmless distraction, and one that brings me back to my boyhood days in Eerie, Indiana. I would wage epic battles with an impressive collection of timeworn action figures, my father, agreeing with mock reluctance to play Darth Vader before launching a lethal Death Star attack, me, scrambling to retaliate while intoning the appropriate soundtrack for the battle between the Dark Side and the Force with my own vocal chords.

    Not that the business of the bioprinting lab isn’t sci-fi enough. A wet, slurping sound joins the printer’s normal beeps and whirs as transplantable, 3D-printed tissue takes the shape of a human liver.

    Clacking away, I type up a note on the day’s progress, a breakthrough, in my humble opinion. It has been five months since my partner and I implanted 3D-printed livers into rats, and the tissue is still thriving inside the rodents’ bodies. One of the greatest challenges in bioprinting thus far has been getting printed tissue to survive long enough to form blood vessels and nerves, to integrate with the body in which it was implanted. So, a breakthrough indeed. I finish entering the note, save it, and put the computer into sleep mode.

    The clock glows alien green above the desk; I hadn’t meant to work a fifteen-hour day. Then again, I hadn’t meant to work a fifteen-hour day every day for the last three weeks, but that’s the nature of my work. My research is as addicting as any drug, not that I would really know. I’ve never smoked a cigarette, and I’ve been tipsy only a handful of times. I reach for the oversized can of Red Bull–I suppose I can’t get away with saying my work is my only addiction after all–and gulp several warm, flat swallows.

    The clanking of the can on the metal desk coincides with another sound. The plop of the completed liver on the bottom of the specimen tray is my signal to move. I approach the machine, quiet now as it winds down from its exertions, and pick up the tray with great care. I’ll transfer it to a cooler of dry ice before sealing the Styrofoam and relocating the whole container down the hall to the transplant testing laboratory. I label the cooler with large, legible letters: Phase 3, Lifecycle 17, Batch 453; Human Liver, healthy specimen. Capping the Sharpie, I walk the precious goods to the stainless-steel refrigerator marked: “For 3D-printed organs only. NO FOOD ALLOWED.”

    I turn off the lights. The laser-like glow from the mouth of the printer is the brightest thing in the room. Red light shines on the layer of plastic below, creating an impressive imitation of a dystopian monster with a mouthful of bloodstained teeth. I slip from the lab, locking the door behind me with a fingerprint-activated keypad. There is only one other set of fingerprints the keypad will accept.

    I traverse the long, dimly-lit corridor separating the top-secret research lab from the rest of the laboratories in the university basement. Another fingerprint-activated keypad lets me into a second hallway. A regular numeric keypad allows me to exit the area marked “RESTRICTED” and enter the gowning station. I drop my lab coat, polypropylene shoe covers, and hair net into a bin of recyclables on my way to the shared locker room. The silence is deafening. The weight of it settles over my eardrums with near crushing pressure.

    The locker room is dark. I flip the switch over an emergency containment alarm pull station. Green light explodes in the room as the bulb blows out.

    “Shit!” I draw in a breath. I retrieve my cell phone from my pocket and swipe up to access the flashlight. There’s a switch connected to a generator at the back of the room, if I can only–

    At the sight of the pale, slight, ghost of a man sitting on the bench in the dark, I would have sworn again, but have yet to drag enough air into my lungs. Instead, I bend, hands on my knees, and breathe, adrenaline pulsing through my bloodstream to combat the unwelcome surprise.

    Lightheaded, I admonish myself, Fifteen hours of work and not one break to eat. I stand and fix the motionless man on the bench with a pained expression.

    “Graham. What the hell, man? I thought you took off hours ago. What are you still doing here? And why are you in the dark?”

    “Thinking.” Dr. Graham Averill delivers the reply as if it’s the most obvious answer in the world. Of course, I think with disdain. What else would a brilliant, troubled research scientist be doing alone in a dark laboratory basement?

    I check myself on the inclusion of the word “troubled” in this thought. I have no idea why I think there’s something troubling Graham, I only know that this is so. I cannot attribute this belief to anything Graham himself has said, or anything I have heard from another doctor or professor. It’s just a fact, as indisputable as the boiling point of water, or the chemical composition of any one of the human organs I have printed with success.

    I don’t know if Graham Averill has a wife. I don’t know if he has kids, or where Graham went to college. I don’t know what type of music my research partner likes, what he does for fun, or what kind of food he likes to eat. The only thing I know about Graham Averill is that he drives an old, black Rolls Royce, a beauty of an automobile, but one that reminds me of a hearse.

    Graham speaks very little, and never smiles. I suspect that Graham attempts to stagger our time spent in the lab, a difficult task considering we both log countless hours in this basement. When the university first assigned Graham and I to work in 3D printing, post-residency–me for my background in both surgery and regenerative medicine; Graham’s résumé as elusive as anything else–I went out of my way to get to know Graham. I posed friendly questions and invited him to join me for lunch. I shared solutions to the quirks I discovered within our Medicopia computer system and attempted to co-analyze early research findings.

    It wasn’t long before I gave up on trying to win Graham over. He repaid my efforts with one-word replies at best, and grunts or silence at worst. Once I caught him staring into space and made the mistake of placing a well-meaning hand on the doctor’s shoulder.

    “Hey, Graham, you ok, buddy?” I’d asked. Graham made no indication that he had heard me or even sensed my presence in the room.

    Locked-in syndrome, I’d thought, rather ridiculously. There was nothing wrong with Graham Averill’s nervous system, the man wasn’t actually paralyzed, but the idea of Graham trapped in his own head and lacking possession of the key that would release his tongue rattled me more than it should have.

    I wasn’t able to shake Graham from his reverie that day and had backed out of the room, leaving the troubled doctor alone with whatever horror movie played behind the glazed-over film of his eyes.

    Graham lacks that locked-in look now; rather, his gaze bears into mine under the beam of the flashlight with a glittering intensity. He wears a navy dress shirt, somehow still crisp despite having spent the day beneath the folds of a starchy white lab coat, and the keys to the Rolls are strewn on the bench near one hand. I feel a surge of anger rise from the pit of my stomach to the back of my desiccated throat. I swallow it down with difficulty.

    “Thinking about what?” I manage to sound civil, friendly even. What I want to say to Graham is this: “Why do you have to be so goddamn creepy all the time?”

    “Many things,” comes the underwhelming response.

    I circumnavigate Graham’s vigil of deliberation to the backup light switch and flick it, breathing a small sigh of relief as fluorescents chase the shadows from the room. I go to the locker assigned to me twenty-four months ago and begin to spin the combination, keeping one eye on my partner.

    “Dr. Wessner, do you ever think about what drives you in your work? Whether it’s sheer academia that motivates you, or a personal passion that pushes you forward day after day?”

    I try–and fail–to disguise the look of shock that I’m sure has come over my angular features. I stare into Graham’s face, less severe and sharply-angled than my own, mired in the last of the stubborn shadows.

    “Um, well, I—” I stutter, my sluggish tongue trying–and failing–to catch up to the onslaught of questions my brain churns out. “Sure, I’ve thought about it. I imagine most doctors, researchers, anyone in a ‘helping’ profession, would be remiss to say they hadn’t. That’s what you’ve been thinking about, Dr. Averill? What is it that drives you?”

    Graham ignores my question.

    “I dated a woman once, many years ago, who was in grad school to become a mental health counselor. She did her internship at a detox center and thought she wanted to work in the substance abuse field. We were pretty serious, and I supported her in her career choice. But one night she came home from work, at this point she’d graduated and gotten a job at a treatment center in the city we were living in, and said she couldn’t do it anymore.

    “You see, Dr. Wessner, she wasn’t in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction herself, and she’d never dealt with a family member or loved one who’d struggled with it either. She said she just didn’t have the personal connection to the patients and what they were going through in order to have a passion for the work.” Graham looks at me now, his expression grave.

    “I left her that night, Doctor. I thought that any woman who could feel that way was a cold woman indeed. Do you agree with my decision? Do you agree that to have a passion for the work, you must connect to it on a gut-wrenchingly personal level?”

    I think before responding. “I don’t know if I could fault somebody for not being able to dredge up enthusiasm for work they just didn’t feel passionate about. On the other hand, if it is personal connection that lights your fire, then that fire is going to burn brighter and stronger, and burn more barriers down, than if you’d sat there rubbing two sticks together for God knows how long in order to get a spark.”

    “God is not here,” Graham says. Or at least that’s what I think Graham says. Graham’s voice is so low, and his words so strange, that I can’t be sure.

    “I’m sorry?”

    “I said, ‘that is what I feared.’ You see, Dr. Wessner, I’ve come to the determination that I was wrong to have dispensed with my former partner so unceremoniously. She was right, had been right all along. In order to do great work, work that will change the course of humanity, your ego, your psyche, your everything has to be tied up in it. Passion has to come from a place so raw and so hungry, that to fail would be to die.”

    I notice that Graham’s eyes are red-rimmed. Has he been crying? What I say is, “Have you found that passion?”

    Again, Graham dodges the direct inquiry, turning the question on me instead. “What drives you, Dr. Wessner? Is it money? Power? Prestige? Or is it something you keep much closer to the vest? Something that perhaps, you’ve never told anyone before?”

    I feel a flash of defensiveness at his boldness. I make a show of checking my watch. “It’s late, Dr. Averill. I have to be going now. It was … nice talking to you. I’ll see you in the morning. Well, I guess I’ll see you later this morning,” I correct. It’s after midnight. “Have a nice stint away from the lab, however short.”

    I slam my locker and walk out into the relatively fresh air of the hallway. Foregoing the elevator for the stairs, I climb to the main floor and slip outside, grateful to be back in the land of the living.

    Twenty-seven minutes later, I drum my fingers on the steering wheel while waiting for my garage door to rise. As I walk up the three low stairs to the mud room of my modest, two-floor home, I realize that my lips are moving in silent prayer. I open the door, brace for the first sign of chaos to assail my senses. I do not have to wait long.

    The smell of vomit hits me first, a sickly-sweet smell of fruit that’s gone bad in its bowl. I drop my bag by the washing machine and embark on my near-nightly ritual of hide-and-seek.

    The refrigerator door hangs open, casting an eerie glow over the kitchen and spotlighting the foodstuffs dismembered on the floor in front of it. A cracked jar of mustard seeps its contents onto the tile, while bags of deli meat rustle in the breeze of the ceiling fan, circling overhead like a silent bird of prey. I give the mess a wide berth on my way to the living room.

    The lights are off but the television has been left on. Static. I can’t help but think of the scene in The Poltergeist right before the young girl disappears. I shiver. The window is open, despite the wind and rain. I hold the dripping blinds away from the pane and pull the stubborn thing shut. It groans in protest. In the damp and empty living room, with the smell of mustard and vomit still hanging in the air, I finally call out.

    “Dad?”

    ~

    Ian Michael Wessner, Senior, did not respond to my voice, but then, I didn’t expect him to. With quiet deliberation, I search for my sixty-eight-year-old father, wondering, with ever-increasing anxiety, what shape I’ll find him in. I search the entire house. The only discoveries I make are a broken mirror and another indication that my father has been ill. Simultaneously panicked and numb, I retrace my steps to the kitchen. The basement door is ajar. I place shaky fingers on the frame and fling it open. The lightweight wood smashes into the wall behind the door. No sound emanates from the abyss below.

    I flip the switch, but for the second time tonight, the bulb is out. I fish my phone from my pocket, grateful the battery still has some juice. The bouncing strobe of the flashlight gives my descent a surreal, jittery feel, and by the time I reach the bottom, my already-frayed nerves are shot.

    “Dad?” I call again. A twinge of anger permeates my fear. “You down here?”

    The black shadow rushes me from one corner, the banshee wail warning me of the impending attack a half a second before the first blow hits my shoulder. I swing the beam on my attacker, illuminating a lunatic with rheumy eyes. I feel breath, hot and rancid, on my cheek.

    “Dad! Stop! It’s Ian! Dad … Dad!”

    I encircle my father’s thin frame in a bear hug, the purpose of which being to keep him from raising the vodka bottle over his head to bring down upon mine. He fights me like a bear, clawing and growling and resisting as if his life depends on defeating the enemy before him. A moment later, I succeed in wrenching the bottle from his bony fingers. I bring my father, whose strength is waning, to a prone position on the cold, concrete floor.

    He mutters incomprehensibly. Tears streak his gaunt face, but the intensity of the moment has passed, and I feel the adrenaline leaving my body like foaming surf at low tide. I sink to the ground next to his twitching form and let out a hopeless sigh.

    “Oh, Dad. What am I going to do with you?”

    I pick up the empty bottle of vodka and turn it over in my hands. This impossible bottle, a bottle that has no earthly reason for being in my house. A bottle that should have been down the street, still full, on the shelf of Dick’s World of Wines. Instead, my alcoholic father either purchased or stole the bottle after I left for work that morning, bringing it back to the home I’ve moved him into while he waits on the infinite liver transplant list.

    There’s no doubt in my mind that my father will die before getting to the top of that list. It’s why I work so tirelessly at the Frankenstein-esque business of the lab. I gave up long ago on solving the issue of my father’s alcoholism. We tried it all over the years, first with my mother at the helm, then, when she passed away at only fifty-three, the stress of dealing with her husband’s drinking for twenty-seven years a likely culprit, I took over navigating the storms of my father’s disease.

    Art for "The Molecules That Bind Us"

    I break out in gooseflesh despite the heat. I know I had not neglected to turn the printer off. Even if I had, this would not explain the sounds of the machine working on a job.

    Nothing has worked; not AA meetings or detox, not Antabuse or Vivitrol or Naltrexone, not even locking him in the basement, restrained to the arm of a hospital cot I borrowed from the university. He escaped, as he always did, got his hands on some cash, and slogged his sweating and tremulous body to Dick’s. My father has conquered handcuffs, snowstorms, the DTs, malnutrition, and locked institutions, all in the name of the drink.

    No, I cannot conquer my father’s alcoholism, but I can conquer the 3D printing of human organs. If the telephone never rings with the news that a transplantable liver is available, or if the call does come, we proceed with the transplant, and he drinks through the new liver, I can come to the rescue with my 3D printer and my surgical skills. It’s the only solution I see. It’s the only solution there is.

    The first sign that Ian Sr. is gathering his wits about him is a soft, bird-like twitter at the back of his throat. I prepare for a second bout of truculence, and he does sit up like a corpse, reanimated, but either the fight is drained too far out of him, or the booze has flowed too long in his veins. He leans against my shoulder and begins to sob. At this definitive sign of surrender, I climb to my feet and struggle to help my father to his.

    With effortful, lurching steps, I assist him up the basement stairs, across the first floor, and into the bedroom at the back of the house. I converted this room into a bedroom with the express purpose of keeping him off the stairs when he’s had too much to drink. I never anticipated that the basement would draw him like a moth to a flame.

    It was the place my mother died, had keeled over in front of the washing machine, dead of a heart attack before she hit the floor. My father will drink to the point of drunkenness, descend into the dark, and cry in supposed despair for his dead wife. I loved my mother. I love my father with a tolerance and perpetuity I’ve known for no other. Still, I can’t help but think that it’s guilt, not grief, that drives my father into the basement several times a week.

    I know guilt when I see it. It’s the emotion that hits me like a freight train when I don’t latch the basement door before leaving for work, or leave the keys somewhere I know my bloodhound of a father can sniff them out. I don’t want anything to happen to him, though every instance of Ian Sr. becoming injured has occurred as a result of a tumble down the basement stairs. My father is all I have; there are neither siblings nor a significant other. He is the reason I go to work every day.

    But there’s a twinge of resentment that manifests each night when I lay my head upon my pillow. A trickle of anger, a seepage of self-loathing for having become a slave to my father’s drinking and failing liver as much as he has. A tendril of worry that when I do perfect the final blueprint of the man-made liver–and it’s only a matter of time–I will use it to the undoing of my medical degree and standing within the university.

    I help my father onto the bed. It’s after three now, and I’d wanted to be back at the lab by six, seven at the latest. It has taken well over an hour to get him bathed and into fresh clothes. I’m in that over-caffeinated, over-tired state I spend ninety-seven percent of my waking hours in, and as I draw the covers up under my father’s chin, double checking to make sure the Excedrin and a bottle of water still grace the nightstand surface, I wonder if I’ll be able to sleep at all.

    I linger at the bedroom door, watching the concave chest rise and fall beneath the blanket, imagining, as if with x-ray vision, the diseased liver under the deceptively heathy-looking flesh, biding its time until the moment when it will cease to perform its obligatory functions and abandon the body of which it is part.

    I shake my head, dispelling the unpleasant thought, and pad toward the kitchen to make a cup of tea. If I fall asleep, wonderful. If not, the warm chamomile will keep me company during that black expanse of night when dawn seems as unlikely as the prospect of farming 3D-generated organs once did.

    ~

    It surprises me to find the lab empty after seeing Graham’s Rolls Royce in the parking lot. There is no sign of Dr. Averill in the locker room, and the usual organized chaos that accompanies the enigmatic doctor at his work station is not present. I puzzle over Graham’s whereabouts only until I gown up and busy myself with preparations for the day.

    Also expelled by the ho-hum of routine is the memory of the fight with my father this morning. I locked the basement door and added the key to my keyring under his reproachful eye.

    “There a reason you’re locking that there door? Can’t see why my own son would be trying to control me like that.” And we were off, tearing into each other, our words so saturated with venom, it was enough for my coffee to curdle in my stomach. His heated exposition culminated in a coughing fit; I pretended not to see the shock of red against the white of the handkerchief he brought to his mouth.

    Several days out of a month, be it a full moon, a change in mood, or a failure to come up with the funds, I’ll come home to find my father sober; I know that today will not be one of those days.

    Concentrate, I chide myself. There’ll be plenty of time later to deal with whatever mess he creates today.

    And so the morning passes, lunchtime goes by unnoticed, and afternoon turns to evening. I am taping up the cooler on the third specimen of the day when I realize that Dr. Averill has never materialized. Perhaps he is sick and got a ride home from the university?

    I place one palm on the printer, still chuffing from its last heroic output. It’s warm, hot even, too hot to feed a new job into without allowing a good half hour to pass. The thought strikes me like the first shot of booze on an empty stomach. If I act now, with Graham absent from the premises, I can take the liver home to my father unobserved.

    I go to the cage in the corner of the room. The largest rat is up on hind legs, drinking from the water bottle’s metal straw. All the rats are bright-eyed and energetic. I think of the blood in my father’s handkerchief again.

    I go back to the printer, still hot, and blow on it. It’s a futile, foolish thing to do, one that makes my cheeks flush in embarrassment despite the fact that I am alone. I queue up the mass of plastic, a two-hundred-thousand-dollar machine worth so much more than the sum of its parts. I prepare to insert the ingredients for the recipe that will save my father’s life.

    Beep … beep … whirrrrrrrrrr … beep … beep …  whirrrrrrrrrr.

    I bite my nails and pace the room. I will the printer to go faster, to hurry up and complete its laborious task. I can come up with no Star Wars analogies to blunt the sharp edge of my panic, no pleasant distractions while I listen to the maddening, repetitive sounds of the job.

    I stalk the space around the printer for over an hour, only veering from the cyclical path I’ve carved out to divert to the lab’s one small window, ensuring I am free from impending company. When the newborn organ is complete, pulsing and shiny in its tray like some hairless rodent yet to shed the confines of its placenta, I rush it onto a bed of dry ice before turning to shut down the computer and tidy up the lab. I slip the Styrofoam cooler, a smaller, travel-size version of the ones we use to store all 3D-printed specimens, under the lapel of my wool pea coat, and force myself not to sprint, cognizant of the surveillance cameras lurking in the surrounding corridors.

    ~

    I am a stone’s throw away from home when I realize–in the wake of rapid cortisol reduction to overtaxed muscles–that I forgot to implement the cover-up plan I devised on the night that the organ heist had moved from pipe dream to possibility. A little voice in my head whispers to me, reminds me of my exhaustion, of my father’s dependence on me, and this voice almost spurs me forward. But ten years of dedication to pursuing a medical degree I am loath to lose speaks louder. I bring the Impala to a screeching halt, swing a wide U-turn, and speed back toward the scene of the crime.

    The first thing I notice upon my return is that Dr. Graham Averill’s car is still in the lot. Maybe he isn’t ill, maybe he had car trouble and left the Rolls until he can get a tow. For the first time since working at Miskatonic University, I disregard the gowning station, running straight through the check point in my haste.

    The second issue of concern is the temperature. The lab is a good twenty degrees warmer than the rest of the basement, a good twenty degrees warmer than it should be. And something else. Something akin to the running of water or the chiming of wind chimes; unnoticeable until it’s not, and then what was once white noise is all you can hear.

    The printer. The 3D printer is running.

    I break out in gooseflesh despite the heat. I know I had not neglected to turn the printer off. Even if I had, this would not explain the sounds of the machine working on a job. One extra job over the course of a day–a mistake, an erroneous loading of cell matter into the feed–that’s one thing. But two superfluous jobs in a single evening might very well draw the attention of Miskatonic’s higher-ups. Might get me fired, or worse, investigated. Panic takes hold, the overwhelming desire to rush forward and turn the damnable machine off.

    Dr. Graham Averill steps from behind a supply closet, blocking my path.

    “Jesus!” I exclaim. Bile rises like a tidal wave while my heart takes a nosedive. “What are you doing here, Graham? You scared the shit out of me!”

    Dr. Averill stares, his mouth pressed in a thin, hard line. “I could ask you the same, Dr. Wessner. Hadn’t you gone home for the day?”

    “I, well, yes, I had, but … I forgot something,” I finish. The excuse is hollow, even to my ears.

    “Hmm, I imagine you did,” Graham replies. “Tell me, Dr. Wessner, have you thought about the conversation we had yesterday. Have you thought about where your passion lies? It is not in research papers, I know that much is true. Is it a sick wife at home, awaiting your return? An adored child? Come come, quid pro quo, as Dr. Lecter says.”

    “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I whisper. In my shame, it shocks me to find I’m yearning for a drink.

    “Of course you do. Let’s not play games with one another. We’ve been well on the way to becoming friends, or so I’d thought. Who is the liver for?”

    My eyes grow wide and I feel my face flush. I bring both hands to my chest, where they flutter like useless birds. “How … how … how did you know? How could you know?”

    “I told you, friend. Those who harbor the greatest passion are driven by a personal vendetta. And one passionate, desperate man recognizes his mirror image in another.”

    I can only stare, incredulous.

    “I have sensed a pain in you similar to my own for quite some time, Ian,” Graham says. “Something troubles you. I know, because something troubles me. Eats away at me, every second of every day. An incessant, greedy, torturous need. And God is no witness to my plight.” Graham’s gaze travels upward, stopping on the emergency sprinkler system.

    As Graham speaks, my face stretches into a mask of disbelief. Never has it occurred to me that silent, troubled Graham Averill saw through my veneer. The printer startles me from my thoughts. It beeps and clicks before producing a disparate, heavy-sounding thump.

    Graham is looking at me again. “Was I correct in my hypothesis? Is the liver for your son or daughter?”

    “My father,” I choke out. “He’s an alcoholic. His liver’s failing.”

    “I see,” Graham says. His tone conveys utter comprehension. “And by mastering the 3D printing of a liver, not to mention your background as a surgeon, you’ll always have the solution to a drinking problem that may never end. How remarkable.” Graham steps back and begins straightening a stack of papers on the desk. The task is maddening in its ordinariness.

    The printer begins to rock like a mechanical bull in a bar, erratically, forcefully, relentlessly. I turn, but can see only the shadow of the printer from my angle behind the doorframe. Graham puts a hand on my shoulder, and I jump.

    “Do not worry, Dr. Wessner. Go home. Go home to your father and do not concern yourself with covering your tracks. Your secret is safe with me.”

    Graham picks up a pair of latex gloves and a medical device that I know, but cannot place. Forceps? He places one hand on the door frame and the other on the knob. Dr. Averill is readying himself to shut the door and get to work.

    “Go now, Ian. There is nothing more for you to do here.” He smiles.

    Like a monkey imitating the facial expressions of its handler, I smile back. I turn to go. Turn back. “Why are you doing this for me?” Understanding dawns. “What are you making in there? What passion drives your printing, Doctor?”

    Graham’s smile becomes wistful. Another thump from the printer tray behind us. He makes a half turn as if to go to it, but turns back and holds my grey irises with his green ones.

    “My wife and I lost our only child. There were complications that resulted in a hysterectomy necessary to save my wife’s life. Not being able to have another child was a sentence crueler than death.” He turns with purpose now, for the miracle-working 3D printer. “No longer,” he says, more to himself than to me.

    Dr. Averill goes to retrieve his creation. The door swings on squeaky hinges. It travels past its frame, and in the interlude before reversing its trajectory, I hear something.

    The sound betrays its origin.

    The sound pays homage to both human and machine.


    Dr. Ian Wessner was born in Eerie, Indiana, to Ian Wessner, Sr., and Rose Wessner, and knew he wanted to be a doctor from a very young age. Dr. Wessner is currently employed at Miskatonic University as a regenerative medicine researcher, though prior to his appointment as one half of the duo tasked with bringing the printing of human organs to life (quite literally), the other half being Wessner’s quiet and enigmatic partner, Dr. Graham Averill, Dr. Wessner was a surgeon at Beverly Hospital in Massachusetts. Dr. Wessner enjoys spending time with his father, hates drinking, and loves Star Wars.


    Christa Carmen’s short fiction has appeared in Year’s Best Hardcore Horror Volume 2, WolfSinger Publications’ Just Desserts, the DreamFusion Press anthology, The Book of the Macabre, Devolution Z Horror Magazine, The J.J. Outré Review, Jitter Press, Literally Stories, Fiction on the Web, Corner Bar Magazine, pennyshorts, and Dark Fire Fiction. Four Souls of Eve is available through Frith Books as a standalone eBook, and is soon to appear in their All Hallows anthology, and “The One Who Answers the Door” took Best in Genre for Thriller/Horror in wordhaus‘ Trick or Treat Fall Story Contest. Additional work is forthcoming from Anotherealm.


    Luke Spooner, a.k.a. ‘Carrion House,’ currently lives and works in the South of England. Having recently graduated from the University of Portsmouth with a first class degree, he is now a full time illustrator for just about any project that piques his interest. Despite regular forays into children’s books and fairy tales, his true love lies in anything macabre, melancholy, or dark in nature and essence. He believes that the job of putting someone else’s words into a visual form, to accompany and support their text, is a massive responsibility, as well as being something he truly treasures. You can visit his web site at www.carrionhouse.com.


    “The Molecules that Bind Us” is Copyright 2017 Christa Carmen
    Art accompanying story is Copyright 2017 Luke Spooner

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *