We Go Sammy

We Go Sammy

By R. L. Meza

"Have you been seen yet?” The nurse plucks the tablet from my hands and checks her reflection, smoothing a glossy curl back into place before tapping the screen. A crease appears between her manicured eyebrows. She tsks. “Not enough likes yet, I’m afraid. But don’t worry, dear. You’ve only been here—what—nine hours?”

“Twelve.” My voice is a dry rustle. I lick my parched lips, too weak to reach for the glass of water on the bedside table. Liquid warmth dribbles between the fingers clamped to my abdomen.

The nurse pauses during the reapplication of her lipstick to give me a knowing look. “Ah, well. Still plenty of time before the twenty-four-hour mark. Try posting another video. Here.”

She passes me the tablet, then hesitates. After a quick glance outside the privacy curtain, she slips the tube of lipstick into my hand and winks. “This color will really pop with your pale skin. Just remember to smile, yeah?”

I nod, but the nurse is already gone, having moved on to the next patient in a long hall populated by victims of gunshots or stabbings or accidental impalements. I fall into the first category, unfortunately. Not so much because it’s painful, but because gunshot wounds are boring. A small round hole like mine doesn’t play well on camera—too neat, something the viewers have already seen a hundred times on television. Too easy to fake. Never mind the ruptured intestines leaking the contents of my bowels into my bloodstream.

The viewers only like what they can see.

Grimacing, I pull my leg up to prop the tablet against my thigh. The lipstick is a shocking shade of pink, but the nurse was right; with a liberal coating, I almost look alive.

My heart performs a stuttering dance within my rib cage. I hate being on camera—all those eyes watching, prying, and I can’t see their reaction. Are they sympathetic, or disgusted? Are they alone, or in a room full of friends, all laughing at my plight? Checking the number below my last post, I can’t imagine them feeling compassion, or even mild curiosity. My star rating is bleak.

The man in the next bed will be out of here in under an hour. I can’t see between our closed curtains, but I don’t need to. He’s blowing up on the IdolMed app. The nail sticking out of his skull is like a lightning rod for followers. His feed’s awash with videos of him grinning into the camera, cracking lame jokes like everybody’s favorite dad.

The x-rays alone earned him fifty thousand likes. Five stars.

I don’t need to be loved. But with no insurance and no living relatives—besides the kid brother who put me here—I do need to be liked. I’m less worried about sepsis or bleeding out than the timer ticking steadily on the tablet.

Twelve hours until my case expires.

The IdolMed cycle is as unforgiving as its users are hungry for new cases and novel grotesqueries, for a taste of real pain and suffering. They’re paying to peek behind the curtain, to glimpse the faces of near-death from the comfort of their homes and offices. Treatment is reserved for the desirables. If I don’t earn my bed in the next twelve hours, I’ll be riding a gurney to the morgue. I’ve heard you can still make a good chunk of change for your family when the corpse-diddlers log on to Postmortem, looking for love. The thought makes me shudder.

I could leave. I could die at home in my bed, with my brother by my side. But accidental gunshot or no, I owe it to Jonah to stay here and try. AdoptaStar is a ruthless meat grinder he wouldn’t survive. I can’t leave him alone.

I won’t.

I paste on a smile. Cheeks twitching, I tap the record button.

Choice is an illusion I can’t afford.


It worked.

As the doctor examines the star rating on my tablet, and then the wound in my abdomen, all I can think about is how lucky I am to have caught a bullet while wearing panties with lace, just enough peeking out above the waistline of my blood-soaked jeans to lend a sexy fringe to the frame of my latest post. The doctor returns her attention to the screen, the image of my red fingers parted to either side of the wet hole below my navel. The number below the video has been steadily climbing for the last hour. I’m so excited by my ingenuity, switching the pity angle for a more suggestive approach, that I barely hear the doctor’s diagnosis.

 “Your star rating isn’t optimum.” The doctor’s lips purse into a balloon knot, eyes like slits behind her SmartSpex, as she scrolls through my feed. “But the recent surge of new followers seems promising. We’ll open the voting. A nurse will be along within the hour to go over your results and prep you for surgery.”

“Oh, thank you. Thank you so—” The words escape before I can stop them. I’m just so grateful. I pin my tongue between my teeth while the doctor returns her stylus to her pocket. With a disapproving scowl, she pushes my tablet into my hands. Her clean white shoes squeak across the tile. I mouth an apology to the curtain swaying in her absence.

On the tablet’s screen, the vote is commencing. My stomach pulls a nasty backflip as I read through the options listed. When I open the camera to record another video—try to sway them toward the surgery I actually need—I don’t recognize the bloodless mask staring back at me.


I have to be very careful. Sex appeal got me this far, but revealing the wrong parts will make the viewers wonder. And wonder leads to exploration, to slicing and prodding. Most of the users on IdolMed can’t look at a pair of tits without wanting more—ribs, pericardium, pulsing heart muscle. Unless I want my chest cracked, I need to keep their eyes below the waist or on my face.

Smile, goddamnit. I can’t work with this crooked thing.

Picturing my last and only road trip with Jonah—music blaring through the car speakers, wind teasing my hair—I inhale a shaky breath, exhale through my nostrils. My fickle lips curl into the coy approximation of a smile. I bat my eyelashes at the camera, then bite my lip, arching my neck seductively as I lie back on the pillow. Fighting off a wave of nausea, I angle the tablet to catch the parting zipper of my jeans. The hand sliding past my wound to dive beneath lace appears steady on camera, no trace of the intermittent shivers wracking my body.

A feverish heat prickles my skin.

Good. I could use a little color.


The nurse arrives before the voting has concluded—this one’s a man; they keep the nurses on constant rotation so no one gets attached. Despite my protests, he wrestles the tablet from my grip. All the voting options require general anesthesia, but still.

It would be nice to know what I’m in for.

He won’t answer my questions. His gloved hands work fast.

I wake up on the operating table.


Someone must have taken a special interest in me. The glowing red eye of the camera affixed to the surgeon’s headband captures the dance of instruments winking silver in my peripheral. My face? My face—oh no-no-no-no…

Reversing anesthesia mid-procedure is a premium membership perk; someone paid through their nose to fuck with mine. A tap with a small hammer, and cartilage crunches. Flaps peel back beneath eyes wide with terror. There’s no pain, but somehow that’s worse. Not being able to feel means I can’t tell where else the surgeons might be working. What if the voting ended in a tie? The beeping from the heart monitor quickens.

“Smile with your eyes,” the surgeon mutters from behind his mask—a reminder, a small mercy. “Unless you want permanent scarring.”

Right. Shit. Premium members have the final say in the quality of stitching. Anything less than a three-star performance and my face will look like a topographic map when the surgeon’s finished. Not that it’ll matter if the gunshot wound goes untreated.

I imagine I’m sitting at the dinner table with Jonah and our parents. Jonah’s still a toddler, smacking a lump of mashed potatoes with a plastic spoon. Our parents’ faces are little more than flesh-toned blurs; it’s been years since the crash, and I don’t have any pictures.

The scar that runs through my right eyebrow is all I have left to remember them by.

A tear trickles from the corner of my eye.

As the scalpel carves into my forehead, the surgeon mutters a final warning.



The prescription cocktail clings to me like quicksand. I sift through scraps of sensory input, trying to form a picture. But the dusky haze reduces my surroundings to faint suggestions, impossibly distant: a soft wet slap, accompanied by the sterile odor of chemical cleaner; a chorus of beeping machines; the rattle of metal curtain rings. The taste of corroded pennies lies thick on my tongue. Someone shakes me, and a whiff of suppuration drifts up from beneath the bedsheets. I try to speak, but my lips won’t respond. An eternity passes before I realize I’m blind.

The beeping near my ear speeds up.

I’m dying; I must be. Somewhere there’s a camera angled at my bed, recording my final moments for…hundreds of viewers? Thousands? And yet I’ve never felt so alone.

I’m sorry, Jo. I mumble formless words inside a paralyzed mouth, a quiet hum behind numb lips. I didn’t want you to see me like this. Subjecting Jonah to my death for the comfort of companionship would have been selfish. Cruel. I couldn’t taint his future like that. Losing our parents was hard enough.

I hope he doesn’t blame himself. I hope when my brother thinks of me, he remembers me laughing as I tickled his feet. Not gaping in horror at the scarlet stain blooming beneath my shirt.

I don’t want to be a bad memory.

“Jen?” The voice comes again—a familiar whisper. I remember hiding beside that voice in the pantry during frantic rounds of hide-and-seek. Telling that voice to go back to sleep as I held it close in the darkness. It was just a bad dream.

The blindness lifts like coins plucked from the eyes of a corpse. The fluorescent light burns, but I resist the urge to blink lest the darkness return for good. A fuzzy face leans into view, and details resolve—a freckled nose between two warm brown eyes. Bow-shaped lips form my name. “Jen?”

The damp polyester bandages wrapped tight over my nostrils are stifling, like being smothered by a pillow. I can’t move my face. My whole head is mummified. Gauze rustles over cartilage as I turn toward my brother. I wiggle my fingers.

The memory of the surgery hits me like a speeding truck. My face. A spike of adrenaline dispels the sedative fog.

Jonah leans closer, searching my eyes with his, as if my pupils contain tidepools, teeming with tiny fish.

He nods.

I long to reach up, comb his hair back to kiss the scar and the metal plate beneath—what Jonah calls his “ugly parts.” Did he come here alone? I taught him basic survival the best I could, the bare minimum he needs to make it on his own, but he hasn’t been the same since the crash. Our lives got complicated, but Jonah stayed simple.

You can’t blame him for what happened—his body’s twelve, but his mind’s only half that. A six-year-old doesn’t know shit about guns.

It was an accident.

“I’m sorry, Jen,” my brother says between sniffles. The timing of his apology is uncanny, almost like he’s been listening to my thoughts. I want to wipe the snot from his nose, but I can only manage to lift my hand high enough to cover his hand with my own and give it a gentle squeeze. His lopsided grin tears my heart in two.

A tremor rocks the bed with a metallic clatter.

“Chair,” Jonah says. “Get in. We go Sammy.”

My paralyzed brow wants to wince but can’t. But the pain is now steadily returning, like a dial’s being turned up inside my skull. Sammy? The cat? That cat’s been dead for years.

Christ. I must be worse off than I thought if Jonah’s ready to bury me.

“Get in.” Jonah rattles the wheelchair and rams the bed again. Air hisses between my bandaged lips as I force myself upright on quivering arms, then swing my legs over the edge of the bed. Agony doubles me over. My hospital gown clings to a sticky red stain on my stomach, confirming my immediate suspicion: the gunshot wound was left untreated.

I came here for worse than nothing.

Okay, Jo. Okay, kiddo.

We go Sammy.


I start to understand the reason for our trip when the bus pulls up to the last stop on the route, across the street from a squat yellow building with green trim. The cracked asphalt of the empty parking lot jostles the wheelchair as Jonah pushes me toward the hand urgently waving us to the front door.

He’s a genius, my brother. My savior.

Doctor Varma has always been old, but now he’s ancient. His back is hunched, and his belly protrudes. Wisps of white hair fly away from his scalp as if clinging to static electricity. He requires Jonah’s assistance to transfer me to the examination table.

Despite his age, the gloved hands that examine my abdomen are steady, the fingers nimble. His touch is gentle, and behind thick-lensed bifocals, Doctor Varma’s eyes are focused and sympathetic—a genuine compassion that is rare in this cruel world.

As he readies his instruments, Doctor Varma hums a comforting tune under his breath. And when the dogs begin barking from the kennels in the next room, when the cats join in when their distressed yowling, Arjun P. Varma, DVM does not shout or scold.

He soothes.

I remember helping my brother scoop our cat off the road and into a box, rushing them both to the veterinary hospital. I prayed for Jonah to be spared from the pain of yet another loss that day, but Doctor Varma couldn’t save the cat. He couldn’t save Sammy.

But maybe he can save me.


“It is bad,” Doctor Varma says to me, holding my gaze like our connection is a treasure worth preserving. “But I will do my best.”

I pat my naked hips where my pockets should be, rub my fingertips together before letting them unfurl weakly to expose empty palms. I cannot pay. We have nothing.

Doctor Varma lays his hand atop my head.

“I will do my best.”


Copyright © 2023 R. L. Meza

The Author

R. L. Meza