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By the next evening, the stranger had established her page on the video site. White, unadorned, empty of anything but her account name. Plain as her early set. After careful furniture rearrangement, she’d produced enough space to prop her budget photography screen against the kitchen/not-kitchen partition. There was even space for the lights. More adjustment made room for the camera. The barstool normally at the partition became her seat before the background. They were missing just one thing: after discussion, she took her seat with a hammer in her hand.
“Hello,” she began on his mark, but he immediately stopped the camera.
“You need more energy than that.”
“Yeah. Think about those videos I showed you! These people were all super excited. You need to understand that you’re crafting a character.”
She pondered the head of the hammer. Rust lined the metal edge: the result of a leaky pipe in the last kitchen sink under which it had been stored. Time’s victim. “I’m so detached from myself. How could I come up with a character?”
“Oh, please, you’re the craziest girl I’ve ever met. You mean to say you’re not a character already?” He waved his hand at her. “Tell me what you feel about your situation. Do you like it more or dislike it more?”
“I guess I like it more. I like it a lot more than I dislike it.”
“And what do you like about it?”
“Well…” Her thumb pressed to the jagged texture of rust buildup, almost cuttingly sharp. “I guess it’s an opportunity to feel things. Things nobody else can ever feel.”
“So, you want to enjoy it—I mean, your condition. Your life.” Obviously uncomfortable with the true degree of her sadomasochism, he scratched his cheek before turning back to the camera. “Then I think that’s what you should tap into. If you want people to watch you, be excited about something. People love artists who are passionate about their art… Nobody likes a singer who’s too blasé, not for long.”
“Do people really want to see my passion for self-mutilation?”
“Just roll with it,” he said, adjusting the focus of the camera. “In three, two—”
The most-discussed viral phenomenon over the next few days was not the disease sweeping the globe but a surreal video of a lovely young woman in front of a white screen.
“Hi, everybody!” The woman giggled as if at herself and continued, “I’m the Degenetrix!” She introduced herself as a performance artist living in the city. Fairly close to true, or was about to be. It occurred to the woman only in the first few seconds of filming that this was a whole new medium for her. A massive shift: from making art to becoming art. The assumption of a new identity, “the Degenetrix,” a title suggested by the stranger and immediately embraced like the answer to some riddle.
This realization of new emergence was not apparent in the video’s final cut, where her image was superimposed with the familiar clip of her body smashing against a windshield. “You probably know me from the hit-and-run video that’s been making the rounds! A lot of people have wanted to know about me: Was she in shock? Is she on drugs? Is it a publicity stunt? No! I’m a real person. And what you’re about to see is real, too.”
Once the camera panned to reveal the hammer in her hand, the woman known as the Degenetrix stood up, crossed behind the stool, laid her left hand upon it, and attempted to bring the hammer down with her right.
The first blow made her cry out but was not hard enough to achieve anything stupendous. The second got a knuckle and a “Fuck!” but yielded no satisfying break. “Help me,” she hissed through clenched teeth. “Help me, help me, damn you—”
After the shake of the camera upon its tripod resolved to a still frame, the cameraman appeared in the scene to help her. Face obscured by the low angle so all that could be seen was his arm, the man took the hammer and repeatedly brought it to bear upon her fingers.
“Oh, God!” Her screaming pierced the apartment, and she realized at once that this would never fly—they had to get sound-dampening equipment to line her not-kitchen. This was one of a flurry of out-of-place practical thoughts—strange, spontaneous expansions of imagery the way people thought of chores during sex. In the video, she didn’t appear to be thinking about anything: only screaming, profaning, gripping her abused left hand by the wrist to keep it in place while the hammer smashed away.
The man stumbled off frame again. Viewers commented that the sound at time stamp 3:14 was likely the sound of the hammer being dropped. For about thirty seconds, the footage showed only the woman, gasping, weeping, her forehead against the edge of the barstool while she stared through tear-matted eyelashes at the pulp of her hand. Gradually, her crying calmed. The camera shook as it was removed from its tripod and the cameraman’s arc swung wide to reveal bits and pieces of an apartment, lighting equipment—no substantial wires or special effects equipment immediately visible. Only the woman, who, still collapsed against the stool, lifted her head at the camera’s approach and managed a shaky inhalation.
“This is real,” she wetly emphasized, reaching off-screen for a paper towel she used to blot blood from her bruised hand. “This is a magic trick. I’m a performance artist. But this is real.”
The camera zoomed in on her cleaned hand. Crumpled fingers snapped back into place as if the woman were a blow-up doll expanding into shape. By the time ninety seconds had passed, the woman’s hand was healed. The camera panned over the breadth of her grin, eyes bright and cheeks flushed as if by postcoital ecstasy.
“If you want to see more, be sure to like this video, leave a comment, and subscribe to the channel. See you next time!”
One last shot of her waving her broken hand: an auto-suggestion from the website’s algorithm that viewers might also enjoy this clip of a man falling from a ladder and smashing his head on his driveway.
-END OF SAMPLE-
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