My Wife, The Witch by Barry Burton


My wife is always asking me to kill her. It’s usually while I’m giving her a massage, a venture that’s gotten shorter and shorter as her muscles have disappeared. Twice a week I pull the folded massage table out of the closet and set it up in our living room, between the couch she no longer uses and the hospital bed where she spends the majority of her time. The doctor recommended regular massages to ease the muscle spasms that develop along the hardware in her body, where the blood flow lacks and inflammation persists. I focus on her back and buttocks and what remains of her thighs. This is the meat of her. Very little remains of her neck and shoulders, her forearms and hands, her calves and feet.

I can still feel the shape of her hands and feet as they used to be when I think of them, long and narrow, the nails well cared for, little bones so elegant, like she descended from a bird.

My wife is not the sort of person well-suited for life after a terrible accident. Life had been cruel to her before the bus accident, and afterward no amount of corrective surgery could redeem her. Maybe it’s something to do with her Russian upbringing, or maybe something within the same genetic instructions that provided her elegant figure, but from the moment she woke from her coma she’d given up on a future. My dedication to her from the beginning, dressing and feeding her, changing her bags and dressing her wounds, has only made her bitter. It seems to show her what her life could have been had she looked before stepping out into the road.

My hands glide along my wife’s back with a mind of their own. They push into the meat of her flanks, towards and away from those delicate vertebrae she’s left me, along the upper ridges of her hips, spared the metal, carbon graphite, synthetic flesh, and rearranged anatomy of her legs.

My wife urinates from a spout in her lower abdomen now. She had the option for something more anatomical, but after the surgery that failed to save her genitalia and ended any hope of a sex life, she went for the crudest option. She took the same approach with her face after countless failed reconstructions. When I hear my wife without seeing her, I can clearly visualize her features as they were before the accident. Her face was a sight to behold. Angular with a prominent nose, high cheekbones, severe eyes and brows. My version of a witch, but without the warts or bad complexion.

When there was still a physical hunger between us, she would provoke me with insults and little slaps on my face. I often recall the slap that drew blood while we were making a meal, that drove me to pick her up and throw her onto the very floor where the hospital bed lays. I bit her and teased her for making me bleed. I called her a witch and she called me her devil.

I wouldn’t dare call her a witch now. She will sometimes refer to herself as a troll, but to me she is more like a gremlin. Her cheeks are pinched by roughened flesh that reaches from her jawbones to her temples. The skin is scarred down and mottled from repeated fractures and uneven healing.

Early on she fell a lot. Even though I was home a hundred percent of the time, I would go to the bathroom or rinse off in the shower and find her spread out on the floor. She would tell me she was doing me a favor, hoping a broken hip, skull, etc. would kickstart a downward spiral. Now her robotic legs won’t let her fall, so she asks me to kill her. I pretend she doesn’t mean it, no matter how often she says it. She calls me a coward, an asshole, an abuser, a spineless little shit of a man she never should have married.

Sometimes I dream of doing it. She’s laying on her side in her hospital bed, facing the great windows of our living room. Torrential rain hammers the roof and windows, whiting out the view of our backyard. I run my hands along her scarred shoulders, mostly bone and gristle, patched over with metal and carbon plating along the fronts, coursing down her arms. My fingers pass over the plates and up the thin stretches of wrinkled skin that run up her throat, over the bumps of synthetic muscle grafted onto metal stays. Purple veins bulge around her lopsided head. My fingers encircle her neck perfectly.

Now that she can’t fall anymore, I leave the house when she sleeps, typically late at night. I walk the empty streets with no particular destination. I walk until my feet are sore and I haven’t any idea where I am. Usually that means I’ve wandered towards the south end of town, where police drones don’t patrol and working street lights are fewer and fewer. I’ve been beaten up, mugged, shot at, offered every type of drug, had countless prostitutes throw themselves at me. I’ve seen all kinds of terrible, despicable behavior in the shadows of dark alleys, in the backs of cars, sometimes right in the middle of the street.

When I come home, my wife assumes I’ve been with another woman and started a new family. She continues to call me a coward for leaving her behind instead of finishing her off. She says any decent man would put a monster like her out of her misery.

One night I wandered to the very edge of town, where the remains of an old highway lay, cracked into a million pieces, overtaken by vegetation and trash. Out a ways I found the shell of an old gas station. Around back hung a dim light over some crumbling steps.

It was 4 am when I saw a man hobble away from the building, down the busted highway on a pair of stubby legs, his feet clacking. He got closer and I saw his lower half was covered in bandages, trickles of blood coming through. His legs were oddly shaped, bulky at the thighs, the knees bent back at severe angles. He could only take short, clicking steps. He was walking on a pair of goat legs, I realized. Two stubby white horns poked out of a disheveled curtain of red hair stuck to his face. He crossed the street to a burned out pod-charging station, a leftover from back when pod vehicles still used highways and needed to be recharged. All that was left now was an apron of cracked concrete and a sheet metal roof covered in spray paint and vines.

A pod picked up the man with goat legs and zipped off into town.

I stared at the drops of blood he’d left on the road, barely convinced I hadn’t been hallucinating.

Then I walked to the abandoned gas station and down the decrepit stairs. When I got to the bottom, I was stopped by a bolted steel door. A camera-and-speaker unit taped to the wall said, “This is a private residence. You need a reference to enter.” The voice was impatient, and there was an electric edge to it I was sure wasn’t coming from the speaker.

I tried to imagine what sort of name the goat-legged man had. He probably didn’t go by his legal name, if he still had one.

I took a wild swing and said, “The Red-headed Satyr.”

Several minutes of silence passed. I watched a hopeless fly quiver in a spiderweb next to the speaker. The voice said I’d have to speak to the technician. The door’s bolt thudded and it creaked open.

Beyond the door stood a figure I couldn’t immediately identify as human. It walked on spider-like legs and gripped a pistol in something resembling a three-pronged claw. I followed it down a dark moldy hall and another set of stairs, its steps a soundless blur as it walked, somehow keeping the pistol trained on my head. We entered a great flat arena and a dim pool of light shined in the distance, what must have stretched the length of a city block.

I could only assume this was the work of unregistered mining drones, boring underneath the highway and tapping into abandoned power lines.

The spider-creature led me most of the way to the light, where a pink man in overalls stood next to a scaffold structure attached to a sink. He was cleaning his hands. The spider-creature motioned with its pistol for me to approach. I got closer and saw the man was entirely muscle and tendon. Somehow, by means of translucent skin, his insides were exposed. As his arms worked, scrubbing the ends of various guns, prods, and saws hanging from the scaffold, the muscle fibers swelled and went pink, shrank and grayed in rhythm.

“I just spoke to your reference. He said he doesn’t know you. Who told you about this place?”

“No one. I was just walking, and I found–”

“You should leave,” he cut in.

I felt the spider-creature’s pistol press into my back. “Please, I–I need a new face,” I blurted out. Somehow, I wasn’t shocked at my own words.

He stared, wordless for several moments, studying my face. “Sit down.”

He pulled a helmet down from the scaffold that applied a grid on my face, and over that he penned some markings of incisions, rearrangements of features. None of these were shone to me before he began, perhaps because I hadn’t bothered to provide anything specific.

Metal clamps next to the headrest were screwed tight onto my temples. The technician rubbed an ointment on my face that made it feel like a mask. I hardly softened the bite from his laser knife that smoked and smelt of burnt meat. The pain really began when he started probing at the incisions, stretching the skin and sewing it back down. It was more painful than I could ever have imagined. Somehow I got through it by watching the technician’s exposed arms bulge and blush, slacken and pale as he worked.

Like the man with goat legs, I staggered up the stairs and limped across the highway. A pod picked me up at the burned out station and dropped me off at the end of our street.

It was morning when I walked in the house. I was expecting the usual accusations and jeers from my wife. She saw my bandaged face and hadn’t any words. When I told her what I’d done, she cursed at me in Russian and hid herself in the bedroom for days. Before the surgery, some might have called me handsome. It’s been months since the bandages came off and I still have trouble describing what’s become of my face. Not a single square-inch was spared the technician’s handiwork. I have to appreciate the care he took not to impair my sight or breathing or ability to speak. Despite that, he managed to take every bit of humanity from my face. When my wife finally saw it, she barked a laugh more bitter than anything I’d ever heard in our fifteen years together. Eventually I became the repulsive coward, the hideous asshole, the spineless little shit of a man who obliterated his own looks because he couldn’t kill his wife.

She wasn’t wrong.

I’m still giving her massages and she’s still asking me to kill her. We both know I’ll never do it. I hover over her while my hands do the work on their own, and I daydream of what modification I might have done next. Maybe a tail and some horns.

Her eyes travel over the wreckage of my face. The slightest smile–not even a smile, just the lack of grimace–appears on her face.


Barry lives in Columbus, Ohio. He writes in the wee hours of the morning, before going to work as a physical therapist. He was recently published in Dream of Rust and Glass, a speculative fiction anthology. You can reach him on Twitter and Mastadon at @bbwritesstories.

Published 2/16/23

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