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Explanation of Benefits

By Brynn Herndon

A dissatisfied customer stands over me, glowering. His hands are pale, and prone to shaking, so he lays them flat on my desk. His body is holding together—barely, he’s over six feet tall, and I’m sure what ails him makes his massive existence more difficult with time. He asks me for his heart. I ask him for his name. He calls me a thief, and I correct him—no, I’m the secretary.

He leans closer, towering over me fully when I don’t shift my position—I’m busy, I have deadlines—and I hear the muted ticking in his chest.

“Are you not satisfied with your purchase, Mr…?” I ask him. He grunts.

“Green, Roy Green,” he tells me his name as though it is a favor he is doing me. I allow it. “I didn’t purchase anything. I wake up in the hospital and there’s a fucking bomb in my chest—”

“A timepiece, Mr. Green, it’s harmless.”

“Where my heart should be? I was having knee surgery—there was no reason to take anything. Where is it?”

“As per the agreement you signed, Mr. Green,” I begin, bringing a contract up—maybe not his exactly, but they are all the same—and turning my monitor to face him. He has to bend lower to look, at my eye level, which he doesn’t acknowledge, “Mira Corps covered your surgery entirely, and will cover all of your outpatient care, so long as we are allowed to take a non-monetary donation for our assistance. Your heart was replaced with a perfectly adequate equivalent, free of charge.”

He looks like he could kill me. This is not new. I have had patients try to set me on fire with their eyes, with only one nearly succeeding. The smell of burning hair permeated the office for days. I was thinking of cutting it anyway.

“Where. Is. It?” He asks again, and the third punctuated pause was what leads his hand to wrap around my throat.

This had happened before as well, and I know that the results of this venture will be more tragic—it’s the standard. I feel my lungs seize for a second, my mouth ache and throb as fangs slice through my gums, through the roof of my mouth and launch themselves into Mr. Green’s clenched fist. He lets go, throwing me back into my chair, and the company defense mechanism retracts as soon as I was free to breathe again. The cracking and stretching of bones and skin are all I can hear for a few moments, and I feel blood drip from my mouth onto my blouse. I like this blouse, it’s navy with a floral print, wonderful for Tuesdays.

Mr. Green yelped as soon as the bite occurred, and he dissolved into agonized screams. His hand turned black as the venom rocketed through it. I open my smallest desk drawer to retrieve the large syringe I usually buried under my extra supply of hard candies. I finally stand up, waiting for Mr. Green to writhe back in my general direction before plunging the needle into his necrotic hand, forcing the electric blue fluid into him to stop the venom from spreading any further. He falls to the floor, groaning, one arm dead from the elbow down. His breathing evens out slowly, and his now foggy, bleary gray eyes finally meet mine. After all the screaming, he just wheezes a curse at me, his voice gone.

“A real human heart would’ve circulated that venom impossibly fast,” I inform him. It really is quite a coincidence. I walk back around the desk, nearly tripping over the chain—wouldn’t be the first time—and sit back down, turning my monitor back toward me and pulling up our inventory screen. “We do have adult-sized forearms available, but because you’re at fault for the bite, you would have to pay full price. When you feel up to standing, I’d be happy to go over our payment plans with you.”

I wipe the blood off of my face and chest with the last view tissues in my desk box and pull a university sweatshirt over my ruined blouse. I open a new tab, hopefully I’ll find a new Tuesday blouse before the end of the week. The idea of wearing one of my others on the wrong day—it makes me shudder. I can’t imagine.

Mr. Green groans once more. I take a hard candy from the dish and gently toss it toward him. He does not thank me. I note this in his file.


Brynn Herndon is a queer writer from southern New Mexico. She obtained her MFA from Minnesota State University in Mankato, Minnesota, where she currently lives.

She writes mostly female-led narratives both mundane and magical.


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