Short Fiction.

by Clay McLeod Chapman

This is about biology, isn't it?

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His throat opened to me. Flaps of flesh trailed in the blade's wake, curling outwards — like theatrical curtains, red velvet sinew, peeling back to reveal the stage of his trachea. Parted so smoothly. No resistance. None at all. Just a rift in his skin, reaching deeper.

Formaldehyde rose up into my nose. Stung my nostrils. Eyes started watering. There was a sour taste in my mouth now, the flavor of formaldehyde burning at the back of my throat — but I kept carving. Couldn't stop now, you know? Made it this far. Passed the tendons. Passed the esophagus. All that was left to sever was the spine. My science partner had run off already by then, screaming to our teacher — leaving me behind to behead the rest by myself, lopping off the frog's head with one last slash of the scalpel. 

This is about biology, isn't it? Why did I decapitate my laboratory frog when — what, exactly? I should've simply been dissecting him?

My scalpel strayed, okay. Fine. This much I will admit to the principal. But I needed to see. I'm staring down at the tray — the frog sprawled out before me, arms outstretched, legs spread. And I saw him. From the video. He's kneeling right there in front of me. I'm watching him whimper. Begging at me all over again.

A friend from school told me where I could find it. Said if I went to this one address, I could watch the whole thing. All the parts the nightly news wouldn't show on air, completely uncut. Unedited. Uncensored. Just pure, streaming video.

Whole beheading, right there. Start to finish.

Mom caught me on a porn site a couple months ago. Hearing me moan from the hallway, she thought I might be sick. Barges right into my room, not even knocking. She finds me at my desk, hovering over the keyboard. Pale as a bleached sheet pulled off the clothesline. From where she's standing, it must've looked like I was gripping my stomach — so she asks me if I'm feeling okay, if dinner wasn't settling too well. But when the grumbles from my tummy start sounding like two lesbians licking their clitorises, doesn't take too long for her genuine maternal concern to curdle.

That's right about the time when she noticed I had my pants pulled down. Had my hands held together in prayer, pleading with Jesus for mom to just turn back around and quietly close the door behind her — while all the while, my weenis is whithering within my palms, my hopes of this all blowing over deflating away with my erection.

Needless to say — that night, mom tightened the parental controls on my computer.

This is the great barrier. The internet Berlin Wall.

Well — Mr. AOL, tear down this wall!

The website says you have to be at least 18 to enter. Like threatening a kid with perjury is going to stop him from clicking on. Most kids my age don't even know what perjury means. Probably think it's some kind of injury bulimics get from throwing up too fast.

It's easy pushing a button. Such a cinch to click on. Gets easier and easier the more you do it, too. Becomes a reflex. Your finger nearly does it without the rest of your hand even realizing what's going on. Think about all those eggheads in the military. Some geek's sitting in some bullshit room, surrounded by nothing but computer consoles. No windows. Fucker hasn't seen sunlight for weeks, just waiting for the top brass to order him to push a button. The shiny red button. Doesn't have a clue what happens when he pushes it or who it happens to — but the second his finger punches the key, somewhere, in some country he probably can't even pronounce or find on a map, miles and miles away, some woman fetching water from a nearby well watches this missile swim through the air, suddenly diving down, right out from the clouds, heading her way. Dissintegrates her village in a blink. All gone.

That egghead started here. Awake at three AM. Sitting at his computer while his mom's fast asleep. He's got school in less than three hours — but he can't sleep because he knows there's this website where he can watch a hostage get beheaded. He can actually watch it with his own eyes and no one's going to stop him from clicking on. The only barrier between him and the beheading is his fingernail.

Push the button and the world opens up to you from a two inch slit, pouring forth.

The video's about three minutes long. Grainy footage. All out of focus. Fluctuates like a fever dream, blurring for a brief moment. Clarity coming back. Sounds out of sync — but I can hear him. His voice trembles, his throat's already surrendering. He's pleading with me. Begging for help.

Don't just sit there. How about you help me?

What do you want me to do?

Fuck if I know. Go call someone.


How about your mom?

She's already in bed.

Wake her up then.

She'd kill me if she knew I was watching this ...

She doesn't know? That I'm here?

I don't know. Maybe? Hasn't talked to me about it.

Fuck it. Your mother doesn't even know how to turn a computer on, let alone work the internet.

What are they going to do to you?

Wait and see. It's a doozy...

My computer monitor is set at a lower resolution. 800x600 pixels. You can see the flesh separate into little dots. The bleeding seems to seep into the computer screen — like when mom accidentally tips her glass of wine over at the dinner table, the various threads in the tablecloth leaching up all the red. The graphic image is guttered in by rows and columns of digital bits. A million pixels channel his blood down the front of his jumpsuit.

When his head separates from his shoulders, I thought there might've been some sort of convergence error in my monitor. A glitch. So I clicked the replay button, opening the file once more. Just to be sure. The sun started seeping in through the window. Morning was here and I hadn't even gone to bed. Felt like I was cramming for an exam, pulling an all-nighter playing and replaying the video. Watching his eyes roll up into the back of his head. Trying to isolate the moment where life left the premises of his body.

Formaldehyde's still on my fingers. I can smell it in my skin. I hear students have started complaining about dissecting animals in class. Biology should teach life and all that. A dead frog takes the learning out of a living thing, where a book works just as well. So instead of picking up the scalpel, they're going to start using this online program called — Virtual Frog Dissection Kit. It's an interactive lab. Students click on the internet to vivisect their frogs now, looking at digital images of the gullet. The glottis. The oviducts and cloaca.

While, just a couple clicks away, there's a man kneeling on the floor. Just waiting for someone to watch. Get beheaded all over again.



Clay McLeod Chapman is the creator of the Pumpkin Pie Show, a rigorous storytelling session backed by its own live soundtrack. He is the author of rest area, a collection of short stories, and miss corpus, a novel.

Buy Clay McLeod Chapman's books through Amazon at the LOST Store.

Articles in this Issue

The Revolutionary War, by James Thacher, M.D.
War of 1812, by Dr. William Beaumont
Mexican-American War, by James Nagle
The Civil War, by Bret Harte
The Spanish-American War, by Theodore Roosevelt
World War I, by Frank Buckles
World War II, by Audie Murphy
Korean War, by James Brady
Vietnam, by Crane Davis
The Iraq War, by Joshua Key
Pixels, by Clay McLeod Chapman
Clamor, by E. B. Moore