This is an extremely original and ambitious science fiction story that poses many technical challenges. We are impressed with the writer's humor and ability to build an intriguing world with compelling characters.
— Marjorie Sayer, Caryn Huberman Yacowitz, Nancy Etchemendy
By Mei Knutson
Thursday woke up in a raincoat that smelled like blood.
It was midnight, like always, but this was decidedly not like always. Where they should've felt blankets, there was just cold air. Where their feet should've been bare, they had on muddied boots. They should have been lying down, but here they were, wet from the rain and standing half in the doorway.
Thursday fumbled for the light switch. When their fingers finally found it and switched it on, the living room had the same Technicolor warmth it always had. The coffee table was clean. The art print was square above the mantelpiece. Thursday, feeling grimy, shook off the raincoat to take a bath.
Once their fingers started to prune, they were out of the tub, dashing on lipstick and dressing themselves in the new pinstriped suit they had bought last Thursday. They adjusted their lapels, tugged their tie, absentmindedly scratched at their neck. The metallic smell was still there, an undercurrent against the cologne. There was a party to attend. It was not the time to think about blood.
Normally, Thursday woke up in bed. Sometimes with others, and that was awkward, but always in bed. Wednesday must've been out late doing something. Thursday pinched their face — the Body's face — and thought of the people inside that Body on all the other days. There was one person for each day of the week, switching off at midnight; Thursday called each one by the day's name, having no other information to go off of. Thursday's parents — also Thursdays — had given Thursday their own name at some point, but over time it had just become Thursday. It was easier that way.
The whole world lived by these rules. There was a society teeming with life every day, and every midnight that society was snuffed out and replaced with another one until its eventual return a week later. Thursday celebrities, Thursday friends — they would mean nothing to someone on Friday.
Another one of the days had bought the house; it might have been Saturday. But Thursday was the one that decorated it. That art print was Thursday's. Thursday had found the couch and the coffee table at a vintage sale. They had been the one to call the contractor and put in the nice green kitchen tile. As far as Thursday was concerned, the house was their own.
There was a glimpse of yellow through the curtains. The taxicab was here. Thursday straightened their tie once more and left.
It was night again when Thursday came home; almost ten hours had passed. Thursday leaned against the frame of the same doorway they'd woken up in, and the weather was the same rain that had been sluicing down their coat, and the dim tilting world was at the same dimness and at the same shifting angle. Their feet hurt from the city streets; sweat and cologne had worn away the undercurrent of blood smell.
They couldn't sleep. Instead, they poured themselves a cup of tea and stared at the clock on the wall until midnight came.
The second Thursday, they woke up in bed. Midnight had struck when they were cross-legged — now, the sheets were wrapped around them like Wednesday had wanted a straitjacket instead of a good night's sleep. Thank God no doorway today, Thursday thought as they descended the stairs.
Upended on the doormat, there were a pair of high heels so filthy they might've been pulled from the ground like radishes. The raincoat was on the coat hanger, taunting Thursday with its winking yellow. They caught a whiff of it and froze.
It was like sulfur, or meat left outside in hot weather. It was cloying and heavy, pungent and lolling. This smell didn't belong in Thursday's house. It belonged in hospitals, back alleys, slum towns. Not in their parlor.
It was fine. Thursday could ignore it. They'd open a window. They'd open the glass doors; that would let in a metric ton of fresh air. But all the fresh air that came through the doors just forced that smell deeper into every crack. That godforsaken smell. Thursday pressed their shirt up to their nose and mouth, trying to strain it out, but it was in every fiber of that shirt as well, and they ended up sitting as still as possible on the couch, trying not to breathe.
They didn't want to know where that smell was coming from. But they desperately needed to know, just like they needed to know more about the person that was in the Body on Wednesday. They had never cared before; the point of the system was to lead your own life. But how could it be their own life if someone else's bloody raincoat was in their house?
The high heels on the doormat were covered in a thin black mud. It looked like mud from the railroad; they had a hazy memory of stumbling through that mud on a late Thursday night out. Half out of curiosity, half because the smell was too much to bear, Thursday walked out the door and didn't stop until they reached the railroad tracks.
They didn't know what they were expecting to find. But tucked away in the brush next to the tracks, there were five garbage bags black as the railroad mud. Thursday couldn't bring themselves to check what was in the bags; the smell told them all they needed for their insides to rebel. One body per bag was Thursday's vague estimate.
But not only one person per body.
Five bodies times seven was thirty-five people and five Thursdays that were a day too late to live one more day. Five victims who, when murdered, had seen the face of Thursday's Body.
Thursday didn't even have thirty-five friends. That was enough for a large and raucous pottery class, a decently sized house party. But here they were, all these people, reduced to bags of meat just as alive as the trimmings in a butcher's waste-bin. Had the deeds been committed in Thursday's house? On their priceless vintage couch?
Thursday ran home and hoped the Body would be sore. They ran with such ferocity that they were weak at the knees when they got home.
The others. Didn't the others in the Body deserve to know? Thursday couldn't transcend time to speak to them. Something would have to be put in the house — a letter could work. Yes, that was a good idea.
Thursday rifled through the desk for a ballpoint pen. They had written a few sentences about the tracks and the bags and Wednesday when they stopped short. The murderer would see the note if it was still left out on Wednesday; Thursday wrote an aside telling Tuesday to throw the note away after reading it.
Thursday hesitated. If Tuesday could throw the note away, Tuesday could prevent Wednesday from doing anything else. Off the top of Thursday's head, they could think of two ways: zip ties and drugs. They had heard about the drug cocktail that could knock someone out for twenty-four hours. If Tuesday took it at midnight — no. It was risky, very risky; plus, Thursday didn't know how they felt about that sort of thing.
Restraints, they resolved. That would be the best option.
They were sort of pleased, because who else would have handled the situation in such a calm and rational way? And then, a minute before midnight, they realized that effective restraints for Wednesday would mean they'd wake up bound, too, and wouldn't be able to get out. They wouldn't —
The time hit midnight, and it was Friday.
Thursday woke up in bed again. They were not restrained, and a tide of relief washed over them, followed by a tide of hot fear. They didn't want to go downstairs, but they did anyway.
The raincoat was still there. They hated that raincoat. They hated that smell — it was an unwanted visitor that had stayed well past its welcome and now lurked in the corner, looming and impossible to ignore.
The parlor was unfamiliar. Someone had spent a lot of money on alcohol on Saturday. The receipts littered the coffee table, and so did charity receipts from Monday. The charity was called Bereaved — fifty-two dollars had been spent, as if that would take the punch off the murders somehow. There were five crosses on the mantelpiece as well. They were gathered around a painting of Jesus that had replaced Thursday's art print. Jesus and crosses and alcohol receipts didn't belong within the house's Technicolor walls. They didn't belong on Thursday. Thursday ran upstairs, and seeking solace, crawled under the bed.
From where they lay, Thursday could still smell the raincoat. They pressed themselves into the farthest corner of the space under the bed as if they were trying to shrink into the wallpaper. There was something else in the corner against their side. Something rectangular. It was a thin book, from the feel of it.
The text on the glossy cover said Help Build A Safer Community. The police department's seal was in the corner, bright and blue. The library card tucked into the spine said it had been checked out on Tuesday. The print was patronizingly large. If you suspect a criminal may be in your body, please inform local law enforcement as soon as possible, it said. You will not receive punishment. It is advised to keep your intentions to yourself; there is a chance that other members of your body may sabotage your efforts.
None of that was false, but there were things left unsaid. Even though Wednesday would be the only one physically punished, it was common knowledge that when one soul was turned in, the whole Body was. The whole Body served the prison sentence.
Thursday revolted at the thought of being locked up just because of something someone else had done. They were young. They were interesting. They needed to find a partner, learn to sew, do something meaningful. They weren't one of those people meant to spend their life in a cell. They wore suits and went dancing. They went to brunch, for God's sake.
The dead shouldn't drag down the living, right? They couldn't be the only one that didn't want to go to prison. It was natural not to be a martyr. They were sure it was natural. They wrote a letter to the others, like they were the weekly news report. Tuesday is planning to turn the Body in. We need to stop this from happening.
It was essential that Tuesday didn't see the note, so the person in the body on Monday would have to hide it somewhere. Where would Tuesday look? A drawer was a fifty-fifty chance. There were many drawers; Tuesday could choose to open any of them and leave any of them alone. The same with anything else and anywhere else. Thursday's only option was somewhere Tuesday would actively avoid. Thursday tried to think of a variety of places, but one idea crowded out all other thoughts.
The raincoat. To get the note past Tuesday, Monday would have to put it in the raincoat; Tuesday wouldn't dare touch it. Sure, maybe Wednesday would find it. Wednesday might even respond. But it didn't pose any threat to Wednesday, did it?
Thursday didn't want to think about that. Thursday didn't want to think about any of this. Thursday didn't want to just let a murderer be, but they didn't want to waste their life locked up. Letter went on the coffee table, library book went back under the bed.
They waited for midnight.
Thursday woke up.
They walked downstairs, half in a haze, and stared at the raincoat for a solid five minutes. It was so dark — they hadn't bothered to turn on any of the lights, but the raincoat glowed there, like a yellow Surrealist specter.
Trying not to breathe, they unzipped the pocket and drew out the two pieces of paper. The papers were safe, nestled in their hands.
They let out a breath and turned on the light.
There were two more crosses on the mantelpiece. Thursday didn't want to think about what that meant. They unfolded the paper. There were three responses, all of them against turning the Body in. One seemed violently against it. Talked about subduing Tuesday. Subduing. Thursday walked back upstairs. There was a red light in the corner of their eye; it was the call history button on the answering machine. There were two calls. One outgoing, one missed, both from the same number and both from Tuesday. The outgoing call had lasted for ten seconds.
Thursday called the number back. "Precinct," a tinny voice said from the other side, and Thursday hung up immediately.
The screen grinned at them. They deleted all calls, hands shaking. The Body's hands — their own hands. Clean-cuticled, soft-skinned. How could those hands murder? Thursday hadn't done anything. They hadn't done anything, so why should they suffer? Why couldn't they just sink back into normality, living out their Thursdays as carefreely as possible, not giving a damn about what happened on all the other days of the week? They could, if they wanted to. They could.
Thursday had a better idea than calling the police. It took one trip to the pharmacist to get all the ingredients for the drug cocktail. Thursday watched as the Body's hands set the pills on the bathroom counter, all in order. Their note was shorter this time. They addressed it to Tuesday. Take the pills at midnight, it said.
But Tuesday might not do it. Drugging people — even murderers — was a crime, after all, and Tuesday seemed like the opposite of a criminal. Who was to say Tuesday wouldn't just wake up, call the police, get it over with as soon as possible?
Thursday scribbled out Tuesday's name until there was a hole in the paper, and wrote Monday's name instead. Added a sentence.
Take the pills at midnight. Do you want to end up in prison? Do you?
Maybe next Thursday, there would be receipts for a drug abuse charity on the coffee table.
Thursday climbed into bed and tried to stare at the ceiling, but their eyes roved around the room. It might be their last night here, in their house with its art prints and its coffee table. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. Four days were far too many days to wait for tomorrow. Too many hinges for the human conscience to catch on. But if those hinges were all well-oiled, if they all played their part — The clock struck midnight.
This story contains 2637 words.
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