The Herd - Andrea Bartz


The cold crept inside the body’s outermost parts first. It turned aqueous cells into something solid, worked its way in millimeter by millimeter. The pert nose. The eyelashes, still coated in thick mascara. The earlobes, studded with delicate silver rings. The fingertips were quick to crystallize, dusty whiteness spreading over the knuckles until the nails, painted black with tiny white stars, stood out like a sore thumb. The blood was briefly sludgy, then solid and stiff, its hard work, zipping oxygen and nutrients and white blood cells around the body, complete.

And the brain—this was a pity. It was an exceptionally good one, a coiled spring packing potential energy, all the grand ideas and glinting insights yet to come. Its tissue froze neuron by neuron, the little synapses that so recently zapped and sparked now just cold, dead space between the cells.

In a way, it was a blessing. They say anything frozen, in theory, could last forever. Beauty may be fleeting, the smooth skin and shiny hair of youth giving way to crinkles and crags, to thin, dingy locks. Taut thighs plumping out or growing weak and scrawny. But not this body. The subzero air surrounding every inch of it assured total preservation. A stopping of time.

It was almost midnight, but the body was bright, bathed in ugly artificial light. A door thudded closed; blackness descended, and the body was left to freeze in peace.





My body tensed before I knew what I was seeing: strobes of red and blue, the universal sign of an emergency. I paused and squinted at the squad car across the street, its lights flashing, eerier for the lack of a siren. I breathed deeply, commanded my chest to relax. Two weeks back in New York City, and despite everyone’s warnings, the sounds, the smells, the crush of people and hulking cliffs of steel and glass—none of it bothered me, none of it took any reassimilation. But this was the first manic police light I’d seen, and like Pavlov’s bell it’d made every muscle tighten.

I crossed the street and realized the two cops standing bored on the road weren’t just blocking my entrance—they appeared to be at the Herd, speaking to a wisp of a woman in an impressively flattering parka. I leaned forward and flashed my widest smile.

“Excuse me, I’m so sorry to interrupt.” They flicked their heads my way, annoyed. “It’s okay for me to go in?” I pointed at the door behind them.

“Are you a member?” the woman asked.

“I have an appointment with Eleanor.” She raised her eyebrows and I sighed. “I’m Hana’s sister.”

She took a half step back. “Oh, go on up. The Gleam Room’s closed but everything else is, uh, business as usual.”

I thanked her and hurried out of the cold to wait for the single elevator. The Gleam Room? What the hell is a Gleam Room?

On the tenth floor, the doors slid open and I stepped out into a sunlit entryway. I paused, momentarily stunned. I’d seen the floor shortly after Eleanor had first rented it, had even donned a hard hat and closed-toe shoes for a tour shortly before I’d left town, but that hive of dust and drywall and sweaty contractors had little in common with the space before me. It had the girly chicness of a magazine office, but without the clutter or bustle—here everything was calm. Sunlight spilled in from the windows; it was warm but not stuffy, and the air smelled vaguely of plumeria. A woman with glossy French-braid pigtails and molded spectacles smiled at me from behind a marble-fronted desk. On the wall behind her was the now-famous logo: THE HERD, the H-E-R a deep plum, the other letters gray.

She checked me in, had me scribble my finger across an iPad in the wild snarl I counted as my signature, and then she gestured toward the nearest lounge. “Eleanor will get a notification that you’re here,” she said brightly, touching off a little chirrup in my chest. “Feel free to take a seat.”

I thanked her and stepped inside the room, which was ringed with forest-green booths and benches, a few sofas and armchairs clustered at the center. I peeled off my coat and sent a text: “You here?”

I heard Hana before I saw her, her heels clacking along the parquet floor. Hana enters any room like Lily Tomlin in an ’80s office comedy. “Katie!” she cried, arms wide.

“I take back everything I said,” I said into her