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Change must come from the inside.

That’s what they tell us, at least. You want to change the world around you – start from yourself. You want to change yourself – you need to dig deep into yourself, find your own flaws and… Well, here advises divert quite often. Some say, you need to eliminate them, some say, you need to convert them, turn into advantages. I guess, this depends on what flaws those are and what you can do with them. But how can you find your flaws?

When I look in the mirror I a middle-aged man with a tummy and light hair loss. I am an office worker in a financial company, which will not be missed by anyone should it fold someday. I’m divorced, with my ex-wife holding full custody over our daughter, although I was never sure if the girl was mine in the first place. I was not able to bother with DNA test or whatever to prove it, thinking, she has nothing to do with our problems. My problems. She is not the one to blame.

I am.

Another thing that people say is: “Do not blame others for your mistakes. You are where you are because of your own choices and actions.” So, yes, I should blame myself. I am working at a place I am dissatisfied with, since it was my choice to drop out of high school to pursue my dream in coding. It was my own fault, that I was not able to pick up the slack enough to make it a success and, at least, get a job as a developer. It was my own fault, that I chose to go for an “operator” job, essentially pushing buttons during the day to start or stop processes. It is my own fault that I am bad at presenting my ideas, that could improve those said processes and I only get comments like: “Good idea. We will see if we can implement this.” Such bullshit.

It’s also my own and not anyone else’s fault, that Phillipa hooked up with me solely for financial stability’s sake. I was not and am not earning that much, but it is a steady income and the company is unlikely to actually fold, no matter how much I fantasize about that. It is my own fault, that she was bored with me. When we first met, she did make it look like she finds me funny, but as soon as we started to live together, I’ve seen her smile less and less frequently. Don’t even mention her laugh.

Well, I am boring. I do not go out that much, essentially a shut in. I do not exercise and eat rather poorly, so I am not that attractive to even want to go out with in the evening. I am just… Average. No wonder she started seeing other men. And I tried to keep it cool. I played, as if I did not notice anything, did not realize. I did not question her pregnancy even. It felt… Normal. Or maybe I simply felt undeserving to intrude.

Secretly, though, I felt jealousy. But I was taught when I was a kid, that jealousy is a bad feeling. So, I suppressed it. And then Jenny was born and… Nothing really changed that much for me. I think Phillipa stopped seeing others even during pregnancy, or perhaps she hid it better, but for my part… I simply took Jenny on weekend walks and that’s it. Phillipa tried to make me do something more, but I always found an excuse, that I am too tired after work. And I did feel quite sleepy after it, so it was not exactly a lie.

One day though, that ended. I returned home with Jenny on my arms to find out Phillipa with another man in our bed. That “bad feeling”, that jealousy – it overflowed, I guess. I could not hold it in anymore. We started arguing, while the men silently ran away from the house. And you know… I have always been good at analyzing stuff, finding flaws, including flaws in people. And I laid it all out on her. All her flaws.

She slapped me. It was second, maybe third time I was ever slapped. And I also slapped her back. She fell on the floor even. The look in her eyes… It was perplexing. Anger, fear, disappointment, disgust. And determination.

While she was dressing up and gathering hers and Jenny’s stuff, I sat in the armchair, sinking into the burning feeling of the smack on my cheek and agonizing power in my hand. That sense of power was fleeting, but I could still taste it and it made me… Puzzled. And somehow empty. There was not any excitement there.

Phillipa left, while I was dazing off. I had no idea where she went and did not care that much, to be honest. Neither about her nor Jenny. In a week I got the divorce papers. I signed them without paying much attention to them, nonchalantly. That was another choice I made, that brought me closer to where I am now. I had to give away the house, for example. It was not a big one, but still. I must send almost half my paycheck to them monthly, which makes it quite a bit harder to pay my rent for the apartment now. I am not allowed to see them and should not come closer than 400 feet. Not that I feel the need to.

Either way, when I look in the mirror what I see there is what they’d call a “looser”. And unlike with a lot of other things and people I am unable to analyze myself. When I look at others, I am able to understand their motivations, reasons behind the actions, traits of character, skills and abilities. In the mirror, though, I see just a bag of meat and bones. Nothing more.

But what if?.. What if it’s my skin that’s the issue? What if my eyes can’t penetrate it for some reason, maybe as some kind of safety mechanism? Perhaps I have some sort of x-ray vision, which is filtered on sub-conscious level and it turns off when I look at myself, in order not to expose myself to radiation? What if I could open myself up? Cut my belly open and look inside? Maybe then I will be able to see what’s wrong with me, what I need to change?

I try doing just that with a kitchen knife but drop it as soon as steel prickles my skin. As a small rivulet of blood streams down I realize that I am afraid of pain. And same as other humans I am wired to feel it, when being cut. I need away to avoid that pain.

Drugs. Surgeons do lots of operations on people’s bellies and those being operated on do not feel anything. And there are drugs to stop your headaches or stomachaches or whatever other aches. Wow, so many of them… Hmm… I think ******* should suit my needs. As per description it’s potent enough to numb quite a wide area.

I get some *******. Through some shady characters, though, since it’s not something readily available in pharmacies, at least not in in the amount and purity, that I need. I also get a proper scalpel: kitchen knife may be convenient in its availability, but I would prefer to cut myself cleanly and precisely. Smaller and sharper knife is better for this.

I turn on all the lights in my apartment and sit on my knees on the carpet, which I covered with some plastic, not far from the bed, naked, so that no piece of cloth would get in my way. Leaning on the bad is the mirror I took from the bathroom. Obviously, it’s not that well lit up as a surgeon’s room, but it should be good enough. At least I am able to discern separate hairs on my belly with ease.

To the left of me there is a syringe, filled with *******. There is enough for 5 incisions there, which I do around my belly button, driving the needle deep into my skin. This is painful, but not as painful as cutting myself. 3 of the shots seem to be perfect, there is not a drop of blood from them. The other two do have some drops forming atop of them, but that should be fine, probably just damaged capillaries.

I wait for a few minutes feeling as numbness spreads across my stomach, pubis, lower part of chest and even partially lower back. There is some strange tingling in my arms, but otherwise they seem to retain their sensation. Strangely, my heart rate seems to be going up a bit, but I calm down by placing my hand on the box with the surgeon’s knife by the right.

I know what to do. I punch my belly and do not feel a thing, which means I am ready to do it. I open the box and grab hold of the knife. It’s small but somehow feels heavy, probably, I am a bit nervous, after all. Heart rate seems to be rising again, so that’s probably it. I hold the knife in both hands to make it as steady as possible, point it towards the lower left part of the belly, just a bit over pubis, and…


Or rather just thrust it inside slowly. Instinctively I close my eyes, anticipating pain, but there is nothing. Despite lack of pain I feel a bit dizzy from how surreal the reflection in the mirror looks. Still I pull the knife up. Steadily. A couple more inches and I reach ribcage and have turn the knife. The sound of it touching the bone makes me cringe.

I reach the middle of the chest, around where the ribs from both sides meet and pull the knife out. I feel groggy. Hyperventilating. I lean towards hoping to meat plastic with my hands, but it’s all covered in blood and I almost slip in it. I did not expect there would be so much of it. My head feels heavy as well.

I try to straighten up to continue my work, but my arms give in under my own weight and I fall into the pool of my own blood, splashing some of it around. I try to get up but feel almost no strength in arms as they shake trying to make the muscles work. I feel like suffocating, breathing heavily and erratically. Am I anemic? A heart-attack? Am I dying?

At least that’s the way I’d probably end if I follow what Charles Hiems wrote in his book. In his “Hearts Perplexing” he described a man, which I associated myself with, because we were so similar, who wanted to change, change for the better, to not be a loser anymore and he decided to look inside of himself literally. I get what he was willing to do and why. I feel the same way, although it’s not like I want to stop being a loser. I do not think this can change that easily, especially since some people a born losers and are meant to stay that way. But I do want to see what makes me one.

Hiems makes a lot of unrealistic assumptions, though. Most obvious is blood loss. Even if it’s not enough to make oneself anemic, it will be fatiguing one heavily, easy enough to lose consciousness, and you’re out you will certainly bleed to death. So, I would definitely throw in some coagulating agent to prevent excessive bleeding.

And the way the cut is done? You need to think of a way to stitch yourself up if you survive right? If you cut too close to the ribs it would be extremely difficult to do that on oneself without any help. Unless you’re extremely fat and have lots of loose skin on your chest. Personally, I’d use a one cut right in the middle similar to what actual surgeons do and then simply spread the skin to expose the insides.

But I can attribute such inaccuracies to Hiems wanting to make the episode a bit more exciting and graphic. What irritates me is him censoring the anesthetic. What does ******* mean? In an interview he said that he consulted with some anesthesiologists to find a proper drug, but then editors decided to censor it, to avoid potential psychos from using it in their activities. But there are not that many anesthetics with seven letters in them and then most of them would cause heart attack or some similar failure in doses required to numb the whole abdomen region. Is it truly a seven-letter name even? Or maybe the number of asterisks is also used to throw people off track?

I tried some of anesthetics, I could get a hold of. Eleven to be precise. Not on myself, though, I am not that stupid. But none of them worked in a way he described it in the book. Some were not strong enough when used with only five incisions and people felt the pain when going deep enough. When dosage got increased, they got side-effects like anaphylactic shock or heart failure. Some drugs were so strong that they knocked people out completely, even though, not so fast as a breathable anesthetic would, but still, it would not be good for me to pass-out in the middle of the process.

So, what drug did Hiems mean?

In order to find out, I’ve been stalking him for almost a month now. Unlike my other subjects he is relatively popular and sociable, so it’s difficult to find a good opportunity, when I can get him alone. Hopefully today will be the day. He has another book signing today and as last two has shown he goes to a bar afterwards and then heads home through back-alleys, probably to avoid fans.

And yes, today he follows the same routine. Now I just need to be quick to chloroform him. And… Done. Now, get a cab pretending he is drunk, which is partially true, and place him on the table at the basement. After all, unlike his character, I did not lose my house at least, thus I have ample of opportunities to experiment with anesthetics.

I strip him and then use duct tape to type to the table. Unlike some professional serial killers, I do not have a metallic table, just a wooden one, but I have enough plastic to cover it up, so that nothing would spoil it. And there will be blood here, at least: disregarding what kind of information Hiems will share with me, I can’t let him go, since he will go to police and they will come after me and I doubt I will be able to analyze my insides behind the bars, and without that I will still be a loser.

Finally, he wakes up trying to look around and mumbling something, which is prevent by the tape on Hiems’ mouth. I walk up to him and press my finger against the tape:

- Shh. Do not scream. I do not like loud noises and its unlikely anyone will hear you either way. I just have one question for you: you answer it and I’ll let you go.

Of course, I’d lie, if that could help to calm him down. And looks like it worked pretty well: his eyes told me that he believed this. Is he a retard? Or perhaps he is a bit confused after chloroform? Either way I tear the tape and makes a grimace from it.

- My question is simple. In “Hearts Perplexing” one of the characters used some anesthetic on himself in order to operate on oneself. What’s the name of the drug?

- What? What are you?.. You mean Jeff? The divorced guy? I have no idea about the drug.

- But in one of your interviews you said that you talked to some doctors and they advised a drug, but your editor decided to censor it.

- Of course, we said that. Such legend would attract more audience. More audience – more money. At first, I used lidocaine in the text, but then we thought, that replacing it with asterisks and telling that there is real drug that could help one do something like that, it would be interesting and help us avoid potential legal issues. And using asterisks seemed like an interesting artistic approach.

I make a few steps back from bound writer trying to collect my thoughts. How stupid of me. I considered using less or more asterisks than present in actual drug’s name but did not consider it being an artistic method and, thus, fake altogether.

- So, all of that was pure fiction?

- Of course. That’s my job to write fiction. Now that I’ve answered your question, can you, please, let me go?

- You think I would?

- Well, yes. You said you would. And we covered such potential cases with my manager: keep calm and do what they say, and they will let you go. Fans may come in various flavors, but they will come down after a while of talking to…

- Are you an actual idiot? I do realize that I am one for hoping you would tell me anything useful, but you are supposed to be smart to write sellable books.

- But you said…

- So what? I lied. Same as you did. Wait… Does that not make us… Alike?..

- What are you talking about?

I sit on the chair near the table and think a bit. He lied about the drug. I lied about letting him go. That makes us both liars, thus similar. I that enough?..

- That Jeff character. When you wrote him, did you… Did you put some of your own experiences into him?

- Huh? My own experiences?.. Well, I had a midlife crisis after my wife left me, so… I guess?.. A little bit?.. I did have to work some things out and only through that I’ve found my ability to write stuff.

- So, that’s how it is. I see. I see. You know, Charlie… Can I call you Charlie? Not tat it matters…. What matters is I felt kinship with Jeff. Sometimes it was as if I was reading about myself. At the moment, same as him I am trying to understand what has made me or is making me a loser that I am right now. If you imbued Jeff with a part of you, you must know that feeling, right? What helped you with that?

- Psychiatrist?..

- Really? That simple? He helped you look at yourself and find your own flaws?

- Well… Kinda. He listened, asked questions and me answering those questions led me to certain thoughts, they led to certain realizations… It was a process.

- But does that not mean, that you were analyzing not your actual self, but your self, as perceived by psychiatrist?

- Ah… I do not get it.

- It was psychiatrist, that showed you what he thought were your flaws. It was his subjective view and opinion. But on the other hand, you did not have an opportunity like I have right now…

- What are you talking about? You are starting to make less and less sense. Let me go and I’ll refer you to him. He is a good specialist.

I come up to the head of Hiems’ “bed” and put another piece of duct tape over his mouth:

- No. No-no-no. It’s a waste of time doing it like that. I need to see what makes me tick. Perhaps, with you here I have the best chance to do it. I was inspired by your book, you see, by the idea that you shared with me through it. I picked up some hobos and experimented on them with the anesthetics to get similar effects to what you described. But now, that I think about it, I was wrong. I did not need to avoid pain like that. I need to avoid my own pain, but that does not mean, that I need to avoid inflicting it, if necessary. I can find people like me and open them up. If we are alike then it stands to reason, that we will be similar on the inside as well, right?

I walk across the basement to the shelf that holds the box with a set of scalpels and pick one of them. Then back to the table. Hiems is struggling to get out, but the tape is keeping him in place. I make an incision and then cut him hum as he described in the book but finish the circle properly. At some point while I am at it the writer stops shaking, which makes the job a bit easier. A circle of bleeding flesh is spread before me, as if a lid covering a jar of pickles. Instead of pickles though, there is…

- Nothing. It’s just… Guts and stomach… I do not see it. Damn it. Is it because he’s dead?

I feel quite a bit disappointed, but somehow not discouraged at all. Perhaps I am still a loser, but I think I am less of a loser than this one, since I am, at least, trying, like, actually trying. But, I guess, I will need to try keeping them alive during the process. Maybe then I will be able to see what makes them tick and through that, find my own flaws and change and become the winner. But now…

Clean up time.