content warning: gore, references to mental illness

The wound appeared on my face the day I turned eighteen.

A gaping, bloody hole stretching from the upper temple to the right side of my jaw—a sliver of cheekbone visible among a mass of yellow fat, pinkish muscle and criss- crossing veins spurting fluid. Each time I squinted or opened my mouth, every anatomical element moved with mechanical precision.

Detachment. I simply couldn’t make the connection between the gory cavity and the entity known as ‘Me.’ The neural impulses trying to comprehend the two concepts had become trapped in self-defeating paralysis. The figure stood there in the toothpaste- spattered bathroom mirror, and every movement my hand made was theirs. Each prodding of a pumping artery, each stroke of my cheekbone, each gentle grasp of my shifting masseter. My vision began to blur—the blood flowing from my upper temple had carved a path along older scars and passed my brow, flooding my eye and colouring my perceptions red.

But when I tore my eyes away from the mirror to glance at my hand—the one just moments ago thrust inside my face—it was stainless. Absolutely bereft of any blood or bits of muscle and flesh.

A tiny squeal began in my ear canal. Constant and keening, a machine malfunctioning in my head.


I would spend the next hour trying to explain to my parents that I needed to go to the hospital because I was bleeding out from my face, all the while barely able to make out their expressions through the scarlet veiling my vision.

They refused. I was informed that there was no wound and that I was in fact worrying them quite severely and that if this was a joke I should stop but it wasn’t a joke so I didn’t stop and thus I found myself booked to see a psychiatrist the next day.

The thing I recall most clearly about the psychiatrist was the way his eyes lingered longer on his clipboard than they did on me. He wore his disinterest like he wore his gaudy sweater. He listened to me recite information regarding my wound and thought processes and family and school and childhood and hobbies and what I had for breakfast that day, responding to each new account with hmm’s, aha’s and harrumph’s.

At the end of it all, he jotted something in his notes before saying Alright, kid. Stopped to tap his pen on his armrest. Sounds like you’re experiencing intense dissociation and visual hallucinations. I’m going to prescribe you so-and-so and put you on this treatment plan to be conducted by Dr Whatserface and hopefully within a few months..


Those “few months” passed. I would recollect them here, but ever since the wound developed, I found my brain had stopped processing memories like it used to. Experiences would happen to me and then dissipate, as if they had escaped through the rift in my head. All that remained was broad themes. The stinging, alcoholic odour of the sanitiser at the clinic. The roughness of the bandages. Nosebleeds crusting around my nostrils. An ill-conceived episode with needle and string.

But the memories etched deepest into my brain, the ones which had clung to my hippocampus with a tenacity not even the wound could thwart, were the looks I would get in conversations.

People would never notice the hole initially. They’d maintain eye contact and they’d smile at my small talk and light up at my compliments and nod at appropriate intervals during my anecdotes. Then something would always go awry—a joke would be too off- colour, a story too revealing—and it would fall apart. Their eyes would drift, shifting from enthusiasm to disgust, and in those moments, I knew they were seeing it. Taking it in with the same clearness and lucidity I did every time I glimpsed myself in the mirror.

How could it just be a hallucination in the face of looks like that?


One evening I found myself on the bus home, preoccupied with the face I saw in the window. The wound had grown and festered, and I could not grasp how everyone around me was not aware of the pus which had developed along much of the right side of my face, projecting a sickly-sweet odour like molasses left to mould. Absently, my mind wandered, and a vision penetrated my psyche—the bloody void, spreading and deepening until it consumed me. I wondered if the bloody void would spread, deepening until it consumed me. Leaving nothing but red.

The static in my ear heightened to an unbearable volume, but was interrupted by the ding of the bus doors opening. A new passenger appeared, an ordinary mid-forties fellow at first. The usual white-collar type—monochromatically suited with briefcase in hand. A straightness of spine which hinted at an enduring sense of dignity. It was easy to miss his face. But there was no hiding such a thing from me.

From above his eye to below his lip ran a wild beast of a scar, curving across his cheek, leaving innumerable pockmarks in its wake. It stretched the surrounding skin taut, but there was no anger in it, no fierce redness. It blended in—around his jaw, it was even covered by stubble—and while once disfiguring, had grown into a simple, faded reminder of past pain.

He met my stare. The eye touched by his scar was cloudy, distant. But the other bore into me. His gaze was unrelenting, not once breaking contact. I was sure he was going to yell some scolding remark.

The sun was setting behind him; one of those late summer sunsets, shot through with a barren red that belonged more in a desert than suburbia.

The man turned around to view it as well, and said, “Awfully late sunset tonight. When I was a boy, I sometimes worried that a late sunset meant that the sun was stuck— paralysed, right there in the sky. Kind of a silly thought now though, eh?”

He turned back and smiled. As he walked past me to the back of the bus, he clapped me on the shoulder. I sat there, contemplating his words as my eyes traced the sun’s inevitable passage below the horizon, before a revelation struck me.

It was my nineteenth birthday.

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