Chapter 2:

The Phantom Pain


I am most definitely skipping school today.

I did tell myself I would if I couldn’t summon Elopas last night, after all. And as close as I got, pretty sure whatever that was doesn’t count. I mean, the whole point of summoning Elopas would be so that I could talk to her, and right now I’m just sitting alone on my bed! Elopas isn’t here. Even if everything I experienced last night was real, I’ve still failed because I didn’t reach my goal.

…But I didn’t “fail.”

I really did summon her. I know I did. What other explanation is there? By all means, I should go to school. My conditions were met. But I just don’t really fucking feel like it. I didn’t get what I wanted out of yesterday. Just like I thought, it was a shitty, boring Tuesday, and unless I do something about it, today’ll be a shitty, boring Wednesday. So this is my excuse, to myself- even if I reached the biggest milestone thus far of my experimentation yesterday- I have decided that I failed. And I’m going to spend the next few hours convincing myself of that.

Those few hours soon pass, along with the weekday morning that’s usually reserved for preparing for school, after my few moment's rest in between days of this sickening life. Huey knocks on my door. I know it’s him cause Elaine talks first and only knocks once she realizes my music’s too damn loud. He just skips straight to the knockin’. He’s polite, in that way.

“Hey, Molly? Hope you’re okay. Take it easy, alright?”

“Huey?” Elaine calls him from downstairs. “You aren’t getting out of this, come on.”

My parents think I’m sick. I’m pretty close. I can stir up a feeling of borderline nausea on the spot if it gets me out of going to class. Won’t affect my tests today, though. I don’t get VR sick. Not ever. It’s in my blood as a member of the virtual newtype elite. Course, even if it did… after last night’s failure, I’m willing to push myself to death to see myself succeed.

Even though I didn’t summon her, I now have proof to myself that Elopas can be reached. This character- whether I created her or have simply been given her by some higher power as a vision in my dream- she now exists. I just have to bring her out, at any cost. So today’s the day. I wait for my parents to head off to their jobs first. A Ho99o9 album is enough to kill the time. Huey goes first without so much as a kiss on the cheek, then Elaine follows an hour or so later. Sometimes I forget where either of ‘em work. It seems to change too fast for me to pay attention and they never really talk about it anyway. We hardly talk at all. They must lead boring lives. Once they’re gone, I slide the VISTA back on. Okay, time to get started.

The day is a complete and utter failure.

I try everything. Runes, chants, hacks, every chip I had… she ain’t biting. Really, I wonder if any of my previous attempts, all of which very much resembled these, did anything at all. I mean… if I’m being honest here, I’m just fumbling in the dark, calling upon a vague power to fulfil a specific wish- that power being little more than that of “the aesthetic.” I have long since forgotten if I believe in any of this techno-witchcraft shit or not. The point is, I like it so much I can’t give it up. Even if… that chip Debby gave me was the deciding factor in it all. I mean… that stuff worked, didn’t it? I chanted, I prayed… and with the help of the Maxfeel, something happened! So I must be on the right track!

But the Maxfeel’s fucking broke, and I don’t have any way to get me a new one.

I text Wire.

Today 8:13 (Me)

Get me the girls number from yesterday

Today 8:13 (Wire)

Check this list here

Today 8:14 (Me)

Thanks creep

Today 8:14 (Wire)

You’re very welcome.

Today 8:19 (Me)

wait Which one is it

Today 8:23 (Wire)

It’s alphabetized by last name.

Today 8:23 (Me)


Today 8:23 (Me)

Theres no fucking names

Today 8:23 (Wire)

Writing the names was boring, sorry.

Today 8:23 (Me)

The rest wasn’t?

Today 8:23 (Wire)

No it was fun actually. Why do you think I did it?

Today 8:24 (Me)

Okay k so which one is the girl

Today 8:26 (Wire)

Debby Vincent?

Today 8:26 (Me)

Yeah her

Today 8:30 (Wire)

Okay I went and looked it should be row 22, column 2.

Today 8:31 (Me)

Thank you thank you we need to work on your organization skills I couldnt have read this without you

Today 8:31 (Wire)

I can read it just fine

I lie back in bed. With a bit of anxiety starting to bud on my fingertips, I dial the number. Not used to calling girls, so it doesn’t come as easy as I’d like it to. Not like I even have much interest in this one, desperate as I may be. While I’m waiting for her to pick up, I wonder if she’s anything like me. After all, whenever I get a call from a number I don’t recognize, I just block it immediately. But after a prolonged period of waiting and redialing, her voice finally comes out on the line.


“Hi?” I say. “This is Molly.”

“S-Shouldn’t you be in class?”

“Where you picking up from?”

“I-I asked to take a bathroom break… nobody’s called me like this before…”

“Great yeah okay. I need info. Where the hell did you get that Maxfeel?”

“I… told you yesterday, it was Gormage.”


“My friend Gormage.”

“Ohhh yeah okay. So where exactly can I find this guy?”

“Wait, so… yesterday, you said you’d cut off my leg… D-do you… when do you want to come and do that?”

Shit, I did say that, didn’t I? I was so focused on Elopas I can hardly remember much else.

“Let’s do it later today at your place. I’d… ask you to cut class, but then we’d get found out.”


She stutters, choking up something.

“S-sorry, it’s just- I can’t believe any of this is really happening.”

“You’re telling me. Look, just text me your address later, I’ll get Dylan to drive me.”


“My friend. He held you up in the hallway yesterday. So tell me, where exactly does Goremage roam around?”

“It’s a- very small message board. It’s called RedeadHillZone. Kinda a hybrid gaming-bodymod-gore site.”

“Bitchin’. And if I look that up I’ll find it?”

“Y-yes. But there’s one thing you should, um, know.”


“Gormage, he- he won’t want to talk to you, probably.”

“What can I do?”

“We only became friends because we both had Sonic profile pics, he’s a big fan.”

“The rat, not the restaurant, right? Just to be clear.”

“He’s a hedgehog.”

“Got it. Uhhh so is that everything then?”

“Yes, that’s right. You’ll be here later correct?”

“I’ll give you a heads up. Actually, just let me know when. Getting your parents out of the house would be a good idea.”

“Okay. Y-yes ma’am. I’ll make sure.”

“See ya.”

I’ve hardly even hung up by the time I’ve opened my phone browser and am typing in the website name. It's a simple feed of red and white borders with black text. There’s no gore right away when you come in. It’s a section or something. Not that it’d be anything new for me, but I appreciate that. I look for some kind of search feature and eventually find one at the bottom of the page instead of the top. My fingers scatter across the touch screen after I select it.


No results.

I backspace that.


No results.

This could take a while.

By the time I find his page, “Gormage” as it’s spelled, I’ve lost a bit of my drive. Looking at the profile picture of a robotic Sonic the Hedgehog, I feel nothing but disgust that I must go to some weirdo on the internet for my goods instead of getting them from my respectable dealer Charlie “Wire” Johnson like usual. It ill-befits a professional such as myself. Nevertheless, I quickly create an account linked to an image of Tails the fox, the one character I know anything about from a series of games I have seldom, if ever, played.

Gormage’s direct messages are open.

Elopostle (9:52)


Gormage (9:52)

U bot?

Immediate response, huh. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Elopostle (9:53)

Friend of a friend

Gormage (9:53)

The one who has my chip?

Elopostle (9:53)

More like had shit blew up next to my ear

Gormage (9:55)


Gormage (9:56)


Gormage (9:57)

U want nother?

Elopostle (9:57)

Whatchu got

Gormage (9:59)


Gormage (9:59)

Wait wait.

Gormage (10:00)

Pleasantries first

Elopostle (10:01)


Gormage (10:01)


Elopostle (10:01)

Psycho mantis?

Gormage (10:02)


Elopostle (10:02)

Im sorry the quality of this conversation is rapidly degrading please explain

Gormage (10:03)

Whats ur fav sonic

Gormage (10:06)


He thinks I’m not responding, but really, I’m scouting the web and putting analysis videos at 2x speed trying to figure out the best opinion to have in this situation. It can’t be anything too old. But it can’t be anything after the year 2005 either, even I know that’s way too controversial. But whatever I say has to come across as real, and I need to be able to talk about it. With only a few minutes research to guide me, I place my bet for the best Sonic opinion. The Wikipedia article for the game open on a second tab, I hastily reply.

Elopostle (10:15)

Sorry that’s hard but sonic adventure 2 forsure

Gormage (10:18)



What the fuck do you mean, “oh?”

Gormage (10:20)

Im sorry just more of an 06 guy myself

I am Molly’s inflamed sense of rejection.

Gormage (10:21)

Is cool tho is cool

Elopostle (10:26)

Fine whatever just lemme know whatcha got now willya

Gormage (10:25)

Yeah alright gimme a sec

Gormage (10:28)


Gormage (10:29)

U fed?

Elopostle (10:32)

Would a narc have a profile picture of fucking miles tails prowler

Gormage (10:32)


Elopostle (10:33)

How can I prove it tell me

Gormage (10:33)


Gormage (10:40)

I got it

Gormage (10:40)

Write me an essay on why you like tails

Gormage (10:41)

Then even if you are a cop ill get the pleasure of knowing I got a cop to do that

This fucking guy.

I first met tails in preschool. We had a toy of the guy, think it was from McDonald’s. It was old and smelled like yellow. I liked it so much because on the first day I saw it and claimed it as my toy. I wouldn’t play with any other toys, just so long as I could play with Tails, and no one else.

I met Dylan that year. The snot-nosed kid in the back of the class was always looking at my tails doll. I thought he liked me. Should have known better. He walked up to me one day and asked if he could play with it.



“It’s mine.”

“Why is it yours?”

“It’s mine.”

“Can we both have it?”


The teacher eventually made me give it to him.

As he walked the poor fox around, I stared into Dylan like a laser beam. I stared and stared until I ruined his fun. He got scared of me, even though I never did anything. Then one day, he gave it back.

“I’m sorry. Here’s your toy.” He said, handling it to me all teary-eyed.

“That’s right.” I uttered.

That day I vowed to never lose my Tails again. I tried bringing him home in my backpack, but when I arrived in my room, I opened the sack to find nothing there but my books and lunchbox. I never learned where that Tails went. But from that point on, if I ever overheard anything about the character, it stuck in my mind, just a little. And as I heard those things, each and every time, I’d recite this full story in my head, wondering over and over again just why Tails had to betray me like that.

I don’t tell him any of this, of course.

Elopostle (11:26)

I think Tails is a great personality when it comes to ensemble casts. His shy nature contrasts the other members beautifully. He’s often scared, but does whats rifht in the end. I really relate to that. If you took a character like tails and put him in a different story, he’d fare just as well as a force of good in whatever world he found himself in. Tails is the kind of person we need in this world nowadays. Someone not afraid to try things out. Experiment. The right balance of pride and self-awareness. That’s the only way we’ll fix this damn world.

Gormage (11:30)

Okay great haha

Gormage (11:31)

Now listen to me

Gormage (11:32)

You got a headset, yeah?

Elopostle (11:32)

Modded vista

Gormage (11:32)

Meet me in VR tomorrow. I’ll give you a time and coordinates later. We talk there

Elopostle (11:33)

Wait what

Gormage (11:34)


Elopostle (11:34)

I thought you would tell me here

Gormage (11:34)

Sensitive info. I got stuff a whole lot better than a fuckjn maxfeel lol

Elopostle (11:36)

You had better be right.

I close the browser. I hate days like this. “Days” in between days. Filler for life. If everyone could just be a little more punctual, maybe we could actually achieve something.

…Says the one who couldn’t be fucked to so much as show up to school today.

Using a Ging Nang Boyz album, I wait out the rest of the time until my imprisoned partners-in-crime are freed. Then, I message Dylan to pick me up soon, and tell Debby I’ll be on my way, as soon as she’s ready. If today can’t be interesting in the sense of me getting shit done, I guess it’ll just have to be interesting in terms of raw shock appeal, like a slasher movie. I'm gonna slice this girl’s leg off so good she’ll want me to go ahead and get the other one off her, too.

“You know… you really oughta get your license.”

Dylan’s car used to be his grandma’s. She’s dead now, but he didn’t inherit it or anything. She gave it to him long before passing, in fact, when he got his driver’s license immediately after coming of age. I dunno why he did that. S’not like he has anywhere to go. But it helps him drive me around, so I’m not complaining. It’s a little hot in the car, but he’s still got the same maroon hoodie on he wears everyday.

“I hope she sent the right address…” He sits and stirs.

“I'm sure it’s fine, Dill. I can text her again if not.”

“I just, uh… I don’t even see how you plan to do this.”

“I’ll look it up when I get there.”

“Isn’t it, like, illegal to cut off someone’s leg?”

“I’ve got her permission. Who else is gonna do this, a fucking doctor? Here?”

“Yeah, alright. Whatever…”

As he sighs, Dylan realizes he’s driving way below the speed limit, and starts burning rubber right before a car rams into his ass. I laugh a little.

“Hey, remember that time… preschool.” I spitball.


“Yeah, preschool. Do you remember that Tails toy we used to fight over?”

“No, no. …Wait, I think I do. The little one?”

“Yeah, yeah. Do you know what happened to that thing?”

“I thought you threw it away.”

“Oh, right. I told you that back then, didn’t I?”

“You… sure did. …Were you- lying to me?”

“Yeah, I brought it home.”

“I’ve believed that lie for like twelve years.”

“What does it matter? I was just wondering if you knew where it wound up. I lost it on my way home.”


“You know I don’t believe in stuff like that.”

“You believe in witchcraft and tulpas.”


We sit for a moment. The lone right earbud I’ve got on entertains me through the silence, distributing Panchicko into my eardrum as I gaze out at the steadily emptying Kansas road.

“That’s when, uh… you and I met, right?” He speaks up.

“That’s how I remember it.”

“I thought you were a boy back then.”

“I thought you were, too.”


We pull up to an empty farm in the middle of nowhere. Dylan looks at the wheel. Then he looks at the GPS. Then he looks at me.

“So are you sure-“

“Yes, yes, I’m sure! Let me out, I’ll go check and see if she’s there.”

“Don’t get killed.”

“I don’t see that happening.”

I jump out the shotgun door, the fall distance from the ground to the vehicle being a little much for my tiny legs as I wobble on the nostalgic, dying grass. I wave goodbye to Dylan, fully confident I’ll find my patron under the cold grey sky.

I knock on the aging wooden door.

When it opens, I see a very different Debby than the one I met at school. No crutch. No scared, shy little face. The girl isn’t there. For a second I think it must be a sister of hers.

“Hi Molly.” She is speaking out of a broken intercom in an abandoned mall. As if she’s on her deathbed realizing nothing she did ever mattered. Something about it scares me. You should know better than to act like that, or you might just wind up dead for real.

“Debby?” I can’t help but ask. “Are you… are you alone?”

“My parents are gone.” She states. “Off to the store.”

“O-okay…” I turn to the car in the distance. “WE’RE GOOD! COME GET ME IN- Debby, how long do we have?”

“Store’s miles away. Two hours at least.”


“You’re welcome!”

Soon Dylan’s gone and we haven’t so much as walked inside. We stand in the doorway like I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, but neither of us seem like we belong there in the first place. The comatose girl in front of me lacking further words, I’m forced to let myself in, pushing past her.

“So! Nice place you got here!” I shoot, putting my hands behind my head as I enter the ever-so-slightly dilapidated farmhouse. It looks normal enough, just old. Nothing in here was made after 1987 except me and I guess Debby. It’s the kind of place you’d normally expect to see further down south.

“How do you want to do this?” She asks me, cutting straight to business in a colorless tone.

“Well, uh… I’m gonna look it up. You go grab some painkillers, I imagine we’ll be needing those. Oh! And uh, something to bite onto.”

Debby zombie-walks off as I make my search. Let’s see… um, “how to safely remove a leg?” seems like a fine enough place to start… no. This stuff is all about Lego minifigures or shaving. “how to remove a limb?” Nope, that’s all trees. Well, fuck. You know this really shows a fault in medical science when it comes to the public’s knowledge. Might have to wing it at this rate, but I keep looking anyway… “removing unwanted body parts…” “how to amputate…”

After a short while Debby comes back in with a dozen bottles of pills and a thick leather wallet. She still looks like death.

“Let’s go out back. No one will mind the blood if they think it’s from one of the animals or something.”

I grab the biggest knife I can find.

Out in the tall olive grass behind the barn, Debby and I march through the foliage as we soon find ourselves far away from any point of interest. I check my notes one last time, before we sit down on the ancient dirt.

“Debby, you got a belt?”


“Good, hand it to me.”

Without question she removes the tough, thin little thing and puts it in my hands, holding up her loose hand-me-down pants as they flap about in the air. For some reason I’m not quite in the mood to admire her, sad as it is. All I can look at is her determinedly nervous face as I speak.

“In ‘03… this guy got stuck on this fuckin’ mountain somewhere. Had to cut his own arm off to free himself, like the guy from Berserk. All he had was a tourniquet and this itty bitty little knife. Now I’m hoping this belt can be our tourniquet, and stop most of the blood flow or whatever. But just in case, we’re gonna have some backup.”

I take off my shirt. Hate to waste it, but I got others.

“Now give me your pants, they’re staying off anyway for the surgery. If we need more to stop the bleeding, I’ll use my shorts.”

“Okay…” She nervously removes her bottoms, adjusting her underwear in the process.

“Debby, you know this is gonna hurt like a bitch, right?”

“I know.”

“And do you have a story ready?”


“For your parents.”

“I… don’t feel like thinking about that part just yet.”

I sigh. “Whatever. Just whatever you do, don’t blame me. Alright?”

I tighten the belt around her thigh.

“Right here?”

“Little higher.”

I move it up a notch.

“Little higher.”

I move it higher.

“That’s perfect.”

“Okie. Start taking your pills, ma’am. Don’t overdo it, but don’t dare underdo it either. I’m sure future you will regret that.”

Debby carefully selects a number of painkillers to numb herself. We wait a few minutes.

“Feel ‘em kicking in?”

“Not really.”

“Just tell me when you’re ready.”

We wait for long enough that I start to worry about time. And more importantly, I get bored. I figure I may as well start up a conversation.

“I talked to Gormage.”

“Oh yeah? What’d he say?”

“He trusts me. Wants to meet up in VR though.”

“Oh… that’s so cool. Wish I had a headset.”

“Y-you don’t have one?” I burst. “I mean.. it makes sense, but… what was the point of having the chip then?”

“Gormage said he’d get a VISTA shipped to me too, as a birthday present.”

“Oh, I see…”

“I’m so scared.”


“I’m so, so, scared, Molly.”

“If you wanna back out, we can always back out.”

“That’s not it. I don’t wanna back out. Anything but that.”

“So what’s the problem, then? You’ve got strength, Deb! You can do this, easy!”

“No- no... It’s the- reality of the situation.”

“What’s that?”

“This isn’t… this doesn’t feel very real to you right now, does it…? You cutting off my leg… it’s quite an unreasonable turn of events.”

“Maybe so. Ain’t that better than a boring day?”

“You don’t get it. This… everything… don’t you just- constantly feel as if you’re doing something wrong? Like, like you’re going off-script?”

“I don’t really follow.”

“Molly, I… I used to be normal, Molly… my parents, they… they would show me how to live… they introduced me to a boy I liked. They got me a part-time job a month ago, and not tending to the farm or anything… a real, normal job, at a McDonald’s… they set it all up for me…”

I look at the Debby I’m talking to. This third Debby is what I immediately understand to be the real one. Because she’s intense. Honest. She’s more afraid than the one at school by a mile, and deader than the one from earlier by a longshot.

“And you know what I did? I threw all of those things away! I quit my job, and broke up with that guy! Why? Because neither of them could understand that I’m a crazy fucking creep who wants to saw its own leg off! Now I’ve left everything that made life real… bowed down to this stupid, fucking desire… can’t put it into words… yet I’ve succumbed to it. It’s all I can think about. And that’s why today, life isn’t real.”

“Life is real.” I break in.

“Then I’m not alive.” She says.

“Prove it.” I prod. “Let’s get this leg the fuck off you, right now. Come on, let’s see it happen. And you can tell me if that feels real to you.”

She looks at me with the frustration of a never-resurrected Jesus Christ.

“Let’s do it.”

She bites down on the wallet, digging her hands into the dirt.

“If I try to stop you, keep going. If I scream, keep going. If my parents show up, keep going. Whatever you do- do not fucking stop until that leg is gone.”


I pin her feet with my body, raising the blade to her thigh.

“Scream all you want to. I can tell you’re pissed. Hell, it’s rubbing off on me. And we’re in the middle of bumfuck nowhere. So go ahead, girl… let that rancid shit out for me.”

Swallowing my hesitation, I force myself to plunge the knife into her soon-to-be-discarded flesh. She yelps like a dog. I can tell by the sound that it’s far worse than she’d imagined. As promised, however, I do not stop as I dig down further into the increasingly wet red meat.


It’s bleeding. It’s bleeding. I can tell we aren’t managing to stop all the blood. I throw our clothes over it, but it’s staining through so fast that my off hand already feels the warmth as her legs kick up under me, bruising my stomach. I press the blade down harder.


I cut around the diameter, trying to thin it around like a tree. She scratches at my face, forcing my head away.


Instead of the ground, Debby starts scratching at her own face. I don’t know how she expects to explain that to her parents in addition to the leg. Maybe a wolf got her or something. But that should be the last thing on my mind right now. In this moment I’m just trying not to let this girl die. It’s a given she’ll suffer, but I absolutely cannot let her bleed out. If that happens, it’s all on me. My life would basically be over, right? I mean, I’m about to kill this girl. I can’t let that happen. I can’t let it happen. I force my hands over the wound, just the texture of the clothes in between the two as I put as much pressure on the incision as I can manage.


“JUST A LITTLE MORE!” I lie louder than I’ve ever had to before. I cut faster, more messily, scrapping bits of skin off before chopping through the wide tender of the thigh. My hand is entirely red, the rest of my body quickly becoming so. I hold her chest down with my hand, shoving the knife further into her growing wound as she cries.

“Mommy- mommy-“

Like a saw, I push the knife one way before ripping it back the other. Each time I do, something new flies out. I don’t know the parts of the human leg. I’m begging to understand I know very little about anything. I’ve never seen a sight like this. I can’t believe I’m even capable of such a thing. I’m just that special, I suppose.

“Oh itS COLD— IT’S SO FUCKING COLD- so hot- AHHUHHUH…. please- ahhuh…”

I push down harder. Is that… bone?


“NOT MUCH LONGER!” I lose my surgeon’s touch entirely, hacking away at the remaining flesh as I stab up, and down, and up, and down. I can feel- I can feel it coming lose- I can feel the pieces disorganizing- I press down hard on the bone. I punch and stab and beat on it. “GET- THE FUCK- OFF!”



Debby is looking at her own leg.

We both nearly pass out.


“Debby, you’re gonna be fine.”

“You might want… to call a hospital, actually.”

“Dylan will be here any minute now.”

“I don’t know how I stopped the bleeding.”

“Do you want anything?”

“I got your crutch from inside.”

“I’m gonna call someone to get you.”

“I’m leaving, Deb.”

“I don’t know… should I say…. Sorry, or… you’re welcome? I guess… both…”

“My ride’s here. I’ll… see ya.”

“Did you do it?” Dylan asks, right next to me in the car before I know it.

“Y-yeah. Why do you think… I look like this?”


“D-Don’t look at me.”

“I’m not.”

The ride home felt so short. Dylan lends me his jacket to cover up with as I rush indoors to the shower. As the water pours over me, I feel a deep regret. But it’s not the same I felt when I just barely missed Elopas… this one, it feels so dark and filthy. Such a complex pulsing in my heart. I would’ve never felt this if I’d just gone to school… but it… I think this feels like what I was supposed to do today. Like it was fate or something.

I hope Debby can be happy now. Because the way I saw her there… she was close to beyond saving. 

I hope I did a good thing.

I hope I get to meet Gormage tomorrow.

I hope tomorrow… is a day. A real day.. not like this one.

Save me, Elopas.