Pain is Revenge

Originally published in the anthology "Under the Knife" in 2013. I was in a lot of pain when I wrote this, so I have no idea if it's any good. I don't think I can do anything else with this story. This is the published text, properly formatted.

Pain is Revenge

by James L. Steele

“What is your name?”

I lift my head from the padded floor. A pair of eyes is staring at me through the slot in the door. I’m used to this. For many years now humanity has been nothing more than different sets of eyes staring at me. It has been a long time since I saw a human face. If I had been born and raised in this room, I would have grown up believing human beings existed as pairs of eyes at this door slot. These eyes are unfamiliar.

“Valerie,” I say

“Hello, Valerie,” say the eyes.

They sound too interested to be a doctor’s eyes. Like they are genuinely interested. Like they care. Like they have just seen something that surprised them. The eyes look me over from head to toe.

“What happened to your feet?” say the eyes.

I look down at them. I still feel them. They still ache—they still fucking hurt but only when I think about them! Only when some doctor looks through the door and makes me think about them. My face cinches up and I slam my legs on the plush floor over and over and over.

The eyes behind the door now look very concerned and apologetic. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Valerie, have I said something wrong?”

I slam my legs on the floor more and more, trying to hurt them, trying to get them back, trying to make them feel pain so they will know what it’s like and stop giving it to me!

For a whole minute the eyes try to calm me down—try to tell me everything is all right—try to tell me to relax—try to convince me of the opposite of the truth. Eventually my feet calm down and stop hurting me. In return, I stop hurting them. The eyes at the door probably believe their effort to calm me down succeeded.

“Valerie, what’s wrong?”

I spin around on the soft floor and look up at the eyes in the door slot. “You made me think about my feet! Stop making me think about my feet!”

“I just want to know what happened to them. And... your nose.”

I laugh. I laugh hard. “Why do you want to know?”

The eyes blink. They expected that question. “I just do, Valerie. I care about you. I care about everyone here.”

“Do you want the short version, or the long one?” I answer.

“The long version, please.”

I smile. It hurts my face, so I rarely do it. I lift myself off the floor and sit against the wall, facing the eyes. “I worked at a hospital. I was on my feet all the time. Over the years my feet kept hurting. They gave me pain. I gave them good shoes. I gave them lots of rest. I gave them everything they asked for, but they still gave me pain. Years of it.”

“What did your feet want?” say the eyes.

“They wanted comfortable shoes. Good support. I gave it to them. Every year they only started hurting again. Finally I reached a point I couldn’t find good shoes anymore. I worked for years with the worst pain! I begged my feet to stop hurting but they kept giving me pain! So I cut them off!”

I look down at my legs. They end at the ankles.

“You don’t say?” say the eyes, blinking a lot.

“I told my feet if they wouldn’t stop hurting, I’d make them stop! They wouldn’t stop, so I made them!” I raise my leg for the eyes to see. “Everybody else just lives with the pain, but I got rid of it!” 



“And... your nose, Valerie?”

I lower my leg and stare at the eyes, smiling. “Allergies. I had them since I was a kid. Took a long time before realized what the problem was. I was just dealing with the pain. Are you a doctor?”

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” say the eyes.

“Well you doctors are idiots. You kept giving me medicine to treat the allergies, but the allergies were still there. I just couldn’t feel it. Then the meds stopped working. I felt it then. Took years of going through other pills, but nothing worked. I gave my body what it wanted, relief from the pain and misery, and what did it give me in return? It resisted the medicine. I tried to make it comfortable, but it fought back. It was going to give me more pain! I was living at the mercy of my body! If my body gave me pain, I had no choice but to take it. But I did have a choice. I smashed it.”

I smile again. “It hurts. Even after all these years since I smashed my nose with a hammer it still hurts, but it’s the good kind of hurt. It’s the kind of hurt I caused. It’s not the pain my body gives me because it wants me to suffer. The body hates pain, too. That’s how we should be fighting it. Not calming it down and pampering it, but forcing it to hurt! That’s the only thing it understands! Pain! The body hates pain, too, but it enjoys causing us pain. It doesn’t enjoy it when we fight back.”

“Is that when you ended up here, Ms. Valerie? When you crushed your nose?”

“Oh, no, no. I still went to work. Told my bosses I was in a biking accident. They offered to reconstruct my face, but I refused.”

“They let you go back to work like that? How did you walk?”

“This was before my feet. Nose was first. Then my fingers.” I try to hold up my hand, but they’re held down in this jacket. I wish I could show him. I’m very proud of them.

“Did you cut your fingers off, too?”

“A few of them.”

“Were they giving you pain?”

I nod. “Arthritis.”

The eyes blink. “But you worked at a hospital. They could’ve seen you. Figured out how to treat it.”

“They’d only give me more pills. It’s not the real problem. Our bodies hate us. They want to be in pain because that makes us miserable. The more misery we’re in, the happier our bodies are. I know... My parents were both doctors. They raised me to take good care of myself. So I did. Always ate healthy, always exercised, wore my sunblock... But I still had allergies. I still got arthritis. My feet... still hurt.”

“How did you end up here, Valerie?”

I sit and stare at the eyes for a while. They blink many times. Staring at them makes my eyes hurt. I shut them, try to will them not to hurt anymore.

“Pain. I’m tired of pain.”

“I can understand that. But there were other ways to deal with it, Valerie.”

“It never goes away... It stays there. Always under the surface. Just under the medication... Just barely. The body wants us to know it’s in pain. It wants us to be miserable all the time. It’s the only reason the medicine stopped working. The body rejected it. It wouldn’t do that if we were giving it what it wanted. The body wants us to be in pain! I can’t forget.”

“Why are you here?”

“I tried to show it to someone.”

“To someone at the hospital,” say the eyes.

“Yes. I was off for the day. I snuck in. I knew her. Knew her for years. In the hospital bed. Living in pain all the time. She had been in pain for years. Nobody knew what was wrong with her. She was just in... pain. All the time. I asked her where it hurt. She said everywhere. I said I could help her. So I did.”

“You stabbed her with scissors repeatedly.”

I nod. “I had to help her. She was living on a morphine drip. So many years. Just lying there... In pain. It’s the body. Our bodies don’t want to be alive. That’s it... Our bodies hate being alive, so they make us as miserable as possible. It’s like passive resistance. As long as it has to be alive, it refuses to be happy.”

“So you hurt her even more, Valerie?”

“She wanted the pain to end. She asked the doctors to stop the pain. They couldn’t. But they kept her alive so she could feel more of it.”

I reel, leaning against the wall, swaying from side to side, aching all over my body just thinking about the poor woman in the hospital bed.

“Doctors tried to help her,” say the eyes. “They were doing everything they could for that woman.”

“They weren’t treating the real cause,” I say. “I showed her how to fight the pain. How to fight the body. Fighting back... That’s the only way we can win.”

The eyes blink a few times. “You didn’t want that to happen to you?”

“It was already happening to me. I thought if I cut off the parts that were making me suffer it wouldn’t spread like it did for her.”

“And there were others?”

“Many others... I tried to help them. Pain is the body complaining that it has to be alive. What do you do to a whiny child? Make him stop whining! I made my nose stop. I made my fingers stop. I thought it worked. I went to another bed.”

“You found a man with a broken leg.”

I nod. I lie down on the padded floor, still looking at the door slot. “He’d been there for a couple days. Leg was still hurting. I helped him.”

“You tried to cut his leg off at the thigh. Nurses rushed in and stopped you. Somehow you got away...”

“That’s right.”

“You hadn’t cut your feet off yet?”

“No, no, not yet. I had to help all these people first.”

“Yes, I’ve heard you ran to another room and tried to cut off a man’s hand with a bone saw.”

“I’ve seen him before. He was in all the time for arthritis. You should have seen his fingers. They’re bent and twisted. He didn’t even have to move them and he was in pain. I talked to that man. He lived a good life. Active, happy... He had a good job, good wife and two sons... He didn’t do anything wrong. He was a good man. But his body still punished him.”

“Punished him for what?” say the eyes.

“For living. His body was looking for a way to make him suffer. His hands were the first to give him pain. I tried to show him how to end it.”

“That’s when hospital security restrained you.”

“I got away. Made it to my car. Went home. Had just enough time to save myself from ending up there, in constant pain, with the rest of them, unable to fight back.” I move my legs around. For only a brief minute I feel proud of myself. “I stopped the pain before it spread. I showed my body who was in control.”

The eyes blink. “What happened then?”

I lie there. Take a few moments to gather my thoughts. I’m still staring at the eyes, but I’m also waiting. Waiting for it to return. Sure enough when I think about it, there it is. The dull ache of my feet. The runny nose. The stiff joints.

“It was supposed to work!” I shout. “It was supposed to! Oh, God, my feet! I gave my body everything it needed to be happy, and it still gave me pain! Nothing but pain! Pain all the time! Pain! Pain! I hate the pain!”

I thrash, kick my legs on the floor. When they’re tired and burning I stand on them and slam my body against the wall, trying to direct the force onto my hidden hands. It works, but it doesn’t cause enough pain.

“Valerie! Valerie, calm down! What happened?”

I’m still throwing myself against the wall. “It didn’t work! It didn’t work! They still hurt!”

“What still hurts?”

“My feet! They’re still there! They’re still giving me pain! My fingers still hurt! I still have allergies! Everything hurts! It’s not fair! It’s not fair! I showed my body who’s boss and it’s still giving me pain! Doctors are wrong about everything! The body is alive, but we’re not the body! We’re not in control of the body! Our souls are parasites on the body! Pain is how the body fights back and tries to force a parasite to leave! Being alive is unnatural and the body fights it with the only weapon it has! It uses pain to resist us! You waste all your time treating the body like it’s part of us but it’s not! It’s not! Stop giving me pills and let me fight it!”

The throbbing in my phantom knuckles fades. The dull ache in my nonexistent heels evaporates. I calm down, stop ramming the wall and face the eyes again.

“Valerie, I’m so sorry...” they say.

“Don’t be sorry! Let me out of here! Let me fight back! The pills you give me only make my body want to hurt me more! The body rejects the medicine so it can hurt me again! Then you have to put me on more powerful medicine, the body fights back, it’s trying to hurt me! Pretty soon it will be able to resist anything and then the pain will be so bad it will kill me! Fighting pain with pain is the only way to get it to stop! It’s the only thing that relieves it anymore so let me fix this!”

“I’m sorry, Valerie, but I can’t do that. And I’m afraid I must go now. It was good to talk to you. I promise to do everything I can to help.” The slot closes. The eyes are gone.

Screaming, I stand up on my ankles and stomp them on the padded floor. It hurts. A lot. Even after all these years it still hurts, but it’s not me who’s feeling the pain. My body feels it; it knows what this means but it still resists me. It still refuses to be happy and content—it insists on making me miserable.

My body’s pain never leaves. Those damn eyes reminded me how much pain I’m in, and now it will never go away. After a minute the pain is so great I want to die, but I keep hurting it. I can’t hurt it enough, but it’s the best I can do in this room. I wish I could hurt myself even more. The doctors refuse to hurt me more. They make it impossible for me to hurt myself because they want my body to win. As long as I’m alive I won’t let it win. They can’t make me surrender, and I never will. I intend to make my body as miserable as possible. Pain is good. Pain is revenge. Give me more.


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