Edition 12: Crawler by B. T. Joy
Delve into the mess that is Martin Serper’s mind. Having seen the creature pulled up from beneath Kingston, he finds himself slowly losing his sanity. How many legs? Why is it coming for him? Your skin will crawl. SY
He sees himself again.
Deep in the red shadows, and in the after-images of light, something is moving.
Shut up! Shut up!
He ignores the darker shapes. They are sidling, in the peripheries, through those coloured rags of illumination potent enough to seep through tight eyelids. They are easily ignored for now. And besides, he has promised forgetfulness to himself. Promised himself he won’t face what he encountered. Beneath the earth. Under the city. Not until he absolutely has to.
He focuses only on himself.
Where am I?
Shut up! Shut up!
Where he is sitting, physically, is of no consequence. The office. The apartment. It doesn’t matter. This is a safe place and that’s all that matters. He focuses on himself. Forty-nine years old. Double doctorate. Biology from Cambridge. Obstetrics and Gynaecology from King’s College London. A ten-year specialist study into genetic diseases and postpartum deformities. Obsessively bald.
He feels the air. Office draughts from behind the cabinets. Apartment window slightly ajar. It doesn’t matter. It drifts, the breeze, over the fine hairs on his scalp.
He winces visibly. Wrinkled skin balling around the closed spheres of his eyes.
He resists the almost irresistible urge to reach up and tweeze out the offensive follicles with his fingernails; themselves sheared down to the quick and quite unsuited for the task.
He resists. Holding his bald right wrist in his bald left hand.
You’re a medical expert with advanced degrees; not a deranged trichotillomaniac with zero self-control.
Since he was a child Martin Serper had done exactly the same things. He could never stand unnecessary extremities. And hair. Hair had always struck him as ultimately disgusting. He’d never thought differently. To such an extent that the first wisps of puberty he observed on his body as a boy met with the razor some minutes after being found.
Shut up! Shut up, Martin! Christ, can’t you concentrate?
His habits. That’s all that mattered. Not how he came by them. Not his pubescent stumbling towards self-realisation but the full clarity of self-experience as understood by the grown man. It was cleanliness. It was utility. It was evolutionary pragmatics.
The simplest being, the purest, the most independent; that creature was the fittest in the Darwinian sense. Martin had never for one moment doubted himself on that score.
There had been doubts. Of course. Things. Moving somewhere in the darkness underneath the conscious mind. Crawling down there. But Martin had always had the inherent ability to logically discount them. Until, that is, he was first brought to Millbank.
Here there were things. Things he couldn’t so easily level in his mind.
It was hard at first to conceive, he wrote, in his personal journal, on the 16th of August, 2013, eleven days after the discovery, why the thing they found under Kingston was so close in appearance to my own–
Here the reader can observe a hesitation in the written account. The blue ink of the ballpoint shudders out glyphic ghosts between the lines. As though the writer’s hand were fighting with his brain, with each intent on delivering a different truth.
I can’t decide on the words, Serper admits, I had been going to write ‘nightmare’ though, as I look, through glass at the thing dead on the operating table, I feel another word struggling up. Crawling over the mind.
The above was then neatly scored out with the pen; by all accounts moments after having been written; and the writer starts again:
Why, he wrote, was the thing they found under Kingston so close in appearance to my own [more shudders of indecisive ink] preoccupations?
Everyone has gone now and Millbank is still and silent around me. The most hardened personnel, medical and military, have gone home to be with their families and to forget the ugly, crawling thing they pulled out of the grey water under London.
I have no family.
For me there is only the thing. It’s lying on an operating table in the basements of the city. I look, through glass. A Möbius strip of flesh. An interlacing of limbs.
I feel so close to it now. And I wonder:
Is it looping into, or out of, my mind?
Since the 6th of August, 2013, Martin had been sleeping only an hour or so each night.
His dreams were feet and hands and thighs. An endless neck, slick with sweat, and smooth, winding into itself like a Gordian knot. And the genitals. That pulverised pulp of tufty skin. That crumple-zone of hermaphroditic urethral tubes, masses of pubic hair and shattered pelvic bones.
There was no point in sleeping.
In sleep the thing was too. Massive and many-limbed. Utterly inconceivable.
It wasn’t that Martin’s comforts were not high on the government’s agenda. They’d bought him a modern studio apartment in Horseferry Road in order that he could comply with the twenty-four-hour commitments required for this new scientific commission; and he had been given an office at Millbank too. A room that the powers-that-be had decided would be best placed on the opposite wing of the building to the laboratories where he spent his working days.
Keeping a professional distance from the thing had been strongly emphasised during the initial briefing. They’d shown Martin the video footage. The two engineers who’d discovered it in the Kingston sewers had lost their minds before they reached the topside. MI5’s best psychometric testing suggested that Martin was far more equipped than most to bear the heavy psychological toll of seeing the thing and, ultimately, of examining it in full. And, indeed, the doctor had not disappointed.
Ugliness can’t claim our sanity, he had written, after having first encountered for himself what those two men had seen in the subterranean dark. This is due to the fact that we can name ugliness. As a species we have known deformity. Dysplasia. Proteus syndrome. Anencephaly & etc. All the terrible things that can happen to the body. Even before birth.
The recipe for insanity is simple and it has nothing to do with ugliness.
To see is to believe. But to see is not to have knowledge of. Once seen, an object must enter into the mind’s internal ontology. However the understanding of that which is admitted may not arise simultaneously. Sanity is lost in this way. Allowing into the belief system something which rationality cannot account for. Postulating the unknowable.
In the bowels of London, in the thick, white, fatty waters of the public sewers, those engineers called to unplug a blockage could have tolerated in their minds an aberration of nature, however twisted or misshapen. But not the thing I just now saw. This thing is a chasm into which the senses are drawn like light into a black hole. The further you probe; the deeper it takes you. There isn’t an end.
When I first saw the thing my heart quickened. I turned my head and closed my eyes. The mind began to run through a thousand explanations. There, in the dark.
Victims. Two. Three, maybe. Aerial collision with the earth. The remains of a pair of young bodies. Spine twisted and cracked to the extent that buttocks and breasts were both on show from a single angle. Legs broken in a dozen places. Great yawning vulva hefted up obscenely from the metal of the table.
No. Not human. Too [hesitation] neatly [scored] precisely [scored] fused. A fleshly colour was the only human similitude. But it itself, the thing, was not human. An insect. My mind selected that image and judged it a fair enough mimesis to stand in for what I’d seen. Legs, yes. Legs with human feet. With toes. Ankles. Fat stained soles. Six legs perfectly [scored] fused onto what might have been a central column, like the central column of a nervous system. Though not made with any symmetry but a boneless meander of soft tissue, of erogenous zones and clefts and open orifices.
All these observations I had made, quite unscientifically I confess, in the first thirty seconds that my eyes had allowed themselves to stay open and face the thing. After closing my lids and turning away I had not turned again to look and the shadows in the room, the military and the medical personnel who constitute my colleagues and my staff, made no move to enforce me into a second glance.
I’m sure the objective of this first examination was not merely to ascertain my professional opinion concerning the taxonomy of the thing but also to ensure my mind was strong enough to complete the task without short-circuiting, as the minds of others had before.
In time though I proved equal to the occasion and chanced a second look.
Not insect either.
I approached the table. A shadowy figure, I can’t remember who, offered me a pair of latex gloves (an encouragement I think) and I took them, pulling the tight rubber over my flesh in instinct.
My heart was a saw in my chest. My mind raced with images. What? What was it?
It seemed now that, had I dissected each anatomical component, at the joint, from the total mass, every portion would be so anthropomorphic as to leave no doubt that these were in fact a collection of diverse human remains that had, by some catastrophe or congenital disaster, become inextricably amalgamated.
The legs. That was the most tellingly homosapien feature. I could even surmise, due to size and shape, that five of the six legs were female. The sixth and largest of the legs being male and lying inertly over the entire carcass like some bloodless, white python.
Near that leg, what I had mistaken for an immense and hideous vulva was, in fact, not even a uniquely female member. Rather it was a reddened depression in the hunched central pillar of the thing. My initial reaction that it was the thing’s centre of reproduction was, however well observed, incorrect and under closer inspection it was found [scored] it seemed to be a junction in which the sexual organs of two distinct creatures came together and adhered; the inner-workings of both being covered over with skin and the reddened cleft; merely the area of contusion, such as that which may form between the attached members of conjoined twins.
I had still not touched the thing. Though even before examination I must confess my sanity was stretched. As, even I, scientific as I am, was forced to postulate the unknowable.
On first inspection, and later as I took sufficient leisure in order to process the sheer deformity of the thing, I had observed the creature’s insectile features, and none more than its apparent hexapedality.
The drawing down of my sanity (as I’ll call it) began when I first counted the legs. With a physiology as confusing, not to mention as novel, as this one it is a convention in any taxonomical examination to begin firstly by numbering the members.
By far the most complex juncture in this process would be the categorisation of the central main-body of the thing; that seemingly disordered mismatch of parts and cavities. And so, I began with, what should have been, the relatively simple task of numbering the legs.
L1 I assigned to the masculine leg draped over the form.
There was something almost post-coital in that draping.
L2 was the next leg in a clockwise direction. L3, the next. L4, the next. L5, the next. L6.
Here I stopped and the irrational instinct in me (that which the scientist must quash) had nearly compelled me to turn my attentions back to L1. The legs L6 and the leg L1 had yet another leg hanging lifelessly between them.
It was cocked upwards, this unaccountable leg, stiffened by rigor mortis, but in every way a close similitude to the other six. Uncanny, I remember thinking, that I had so long miscounted the number.
L7 I named the final leg.
Then I brought my attention back to L1—counting—L1, L2, L3, L4, L5, L6.
I can’t adequately explain how the muscle of my heart seemed to burst and the hot blood flow into my throat. I thought I’d vomit as my frenzied eyes spun over the distorted clock-face of that horrific corpse.
Six legs. Only six. No seventh. No leg between L6 and L1. But how was this possible?
In all I counted the legs of the thing a hundred separate times to make certain of what should have been a simple finding.
I took down, each time, the count I made in my logbook. 57% of counts revealed six legs. 32% placed the number at seven. 9% of the time there were eight legs or more. 2% is accounted for in miscounts declared due to bizarre numbers being reached. Counts that seemed to spiral dizzily towards some false perspective; some infinite regress that wound inward to the centre of the thing in a curl of legs that never seemed to end.
Martin woke from a dream of limbs.
Over his brain they were still softly crawling. Feet. Faceless women’s feet. He didn’t know where he was at first until the dark pine bookshelf and the lifetime of collected books blurred into clarity before his hazy eyes.
O’Dowd and Phillip: The History of Obstetrics and Gynaecology. Eldridge and Cracraft: Phylogenetic Patterns and the Evolutionary Process. Physicians’ Desk Reference; 66th edition.
He blinked and moved his dry eyes across the room. On the table of the small sitting area, by the bed, in the compact apartment on Horseferry Road, a small white alarm clock, unset the previous night, read 12:15.
He was not disappointed. Not anymore. There had been a time, after his change of circumstances, that he’d felt nothing but disgust for his own indolence. But, since then, he’d realised that there was really nothing he could do but sleep until noon.
It would never be published anyway. What he knew about the thing.
He threw himself up and clutched the coverings. Goddamn it! He hadn’t been going to think about the thing. About its numberless legs. About what he found when he touched it.
He pressed the pads of his fingers into the balls of his eyes.
Shut up! Shut up!
He pushed harder into the sockets until the brain behind relented; until the crawling stopped.
He rose from bed. He wore a pair of creased sweats and pulled on a tattered housecoat that he’d slung over the mattress before settling down to sleep. Walking across the room he took a closer look at the clock on the breakfast table, searching for the date.
18th of September, 2013.
Christ. Had it been so long since it happened? Since they doubted him?
No. Shut up! Shut up, Martin!
There was plenty of time and Martin knew it. Plenty of time to think it all out. Plenty of time to tell everyone the story he knew. The best thing now was to go about his everyday routine. Show them he wasn’t affected by what he saw in the laboratories under Millbank. They’d let him keep the studio apartment for a year. A goodwill gesture in light of the month or so of service he’d given them before the contract ended. They probably had someone watching the block. Making sure the work hadn’t unhinged him irreparably.
Martin laughed to himself. Poor bastard. What a dull shift that is for a man in Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Watching a middle-aged university professor walk back and forth from the local Costcutter twice a week. He’d done nothing else. Not yet. He’d made sure of it.
He had to keep to his routine.
He stepped out, passed the kitchen, and around the corner to the bathroom. Everything was open-plan and very small and it would have been easy to make a real mess of the place. But Martin abhorred mess and so every space in the apartment felt like a separate, tidy room and absolutely everything had its little home, somewhere where it could be neatly stowed away.
In the bathroom he stripped off his sweats and housecoat and turned the handle for hot water. The shower raced and he stepped inside. The wet slapping of his feet on the plastic tray made him want to vomit.
He remembered its feet. Slapping.
Disgustedly he took the soap from the hanging dish and began gingerly to lather his white thighs in thick white foam. His lips curled the whole time and he kept his eyes on the ceiling. Not wanting to look down at his pasty legs. His legs. His legs and the pendulous droop of ugly flaccid flesh that hung heavily between them.
Blindly he soaped his legs. His white legs. Then, still blind, he took the razor from the dish and began slowly and precisely to shave the small stubbled hairs from his thighs. Then from his calves. Then, lower, from his ankles and feet.
His eyes moistened with humiliation, the daily humiliation, as he was obliged to lift his dead penis in one hand while the other was deftly employed in pruning away the wiry infestation of pubic hair that grew like dark weeds all over his privates and his stomach.
Only when the legs were smooth and the entire pelvic region was free of hair did Martin allow himself to relax a little. Next he soaped and shaved his chest. Then his armpits. His lower back. His upper back. His buttocks. His face and neck.
Finally he lathered and shaved the egg-like dome of his head; keeping himself entirely bald.
As soon as all the repulsive stuff was gone he rinsed off and pulled himself out of the water-flow. Killing the supply and tugging on his clothes again.
At least for another day he could forget about the body.
At the front of his apartment Martin pulled back a rung on the Venetian blinds and took in the sight of the small and shady plot of St. John’s Gardens, across from his block.
There still, standing in sentinel lines of deep green, the trees, an ugly, squat and grey hybrid, taken from the Oriental plane and the North American sycamore, obscured the grass verges beyond them in a cloak of partial light.
Goddamn it! Goddamn bastard trees!
He was in there, and Martin knew it. The man from Millbank. The one they’d assigned to his case. The one who’d been watching his every move for a fortnight at least. Shadowing him.
He scanned the line again. The bike lane and bus stop. The phone box and the dark iron fences of the gardens. He was nowhere to be seen but doubtless he saw Martin. It was this thought that finally compelled him to shut up the blinds and step away from the window.
In this game the watched can be considered paranoid even by the watcher. He’d only go back to Millbank and tell them that Martin spent inordinate amounts of time staring out of his apartment window at St. John’s.
Holy Christ! It would look like he’d lost his mind. Him! The only man alive who knew what they really had. Down there. Under the city. Underneath them all. Strapped to a cold, metal table. They’d think it had drawn down his sanity entirely. It. The thing.
Martin slapped himself as hard as he could over the extreme smoothness of his freshly shaved left cheek. Then again, harder, over the right.
Shut up! Shut up!
He corkscrewed his thumbs into his eyes and blinked down hard on his own squirming digits.
You said you wouldn’t think about it. Let it go. Forget it. Remember your routine.
He opened his eyes. His heart was a bone-saw and his breathing was becoming erratic. Spidery feelings, like wrongly apportioned flows of blood, beaded through his brain. Feet. Feet. Women’s feet.
He had to make the feeling stop and, in time, his attention fell to the small personal journal that lay, near the white alarm clock, on the table of his small sitting area. He rushed to his place and took a seat; pulling the book towards him and slipping the blue ballpoint from the tattered spine.
He flipped through the frenzied rat-spoor of his hastily made professional annotations and stopped only at the first free page. He had to write. He’d kept what he knew inside too long for one day. He had to get some of it outside of him. Out of his brain. Onto the page where–this time, this time, by Christ—he may yet find the words and phrases adequate to describe the things he had seen with his own waking eyes:
Part of me always knew what it was, Martin wrote before he knew what he was writing.
The screeds upon screeds before this point had been redacted to an unreadable degree. Everywhere, scores of ink. Some markings were light and in some way reminiscent of automatic writing, as though the hand itself had erased each line of insight without the sanction of the mind. In other places the negating lines pressed harder into the pulp of the paper. And, here and there, a wild cyclone of blue ink entirely obliterated what had been set down; as if perhaps Martin himself was disgusted by the idea of either himself or any other reader coming upon those omitted sentences again.
The overall impact of this deeply self-conscious journalism was to create a largely indecipherable account with only the odd remaining word to give some fleeting hint towards the writer’s purpose.
Malpositioned limbs turn in on each other, he’d written.
Upper thighs show narrow interstices between flesh.
Some uncanny exertion of muscle.
Memory. Muscle memory.
Great yawning vulva.
Vast and spastic secretory organ.
Dark and deeper.
L1. L2. L3. L4. L5. L6. L7. L8. L9. L10. L11.
Dark. Dark and deeper.
Snarl of rudimentary spine.
Nest of bruised anuses.
I knew what it was, Martin continued to write. Part of me always knew. When I touched the first leg through the latex. In that moment I knew. The large, dead and serpentine leg. The single, masculine leg. The leg that had crawled, one of six legs, or seven legs, or eight, or ten, or a dozen legs, through the cold and thick corruption. Through the white kitchen fat. Through the pubic hair and the chest hair and the buttock hair and the hair from legs. The leg that had crawled through tampon and sanitary towel, smeared the globular russet of menstruation. Through faeces. Through medicated saliva. Through the scum and the used condoms of Kingston.
The leg. The masculine leg. I ran the latex of me up to the swollen, red protrusion of the knee. Nectarine red. Rosy from the crawling. Up the hairless thigh of the bald thing. To the uncanny junction of the legs. The legs. The legs that compound themselves to the headless, faceless, gutless, eyeless, mindless centre. And in that junction a swelling mound. Warm through thin rubber.
Underneath my hand I felt it. I know I did. I know! As sap is felt to flow beneath the rigid bark of a living tree. The skin here was warm and something was moving underneath it all.
Fluid was moving inside the thing. An unending interplay of ejaculatory secretions.
The shadows in the room will never believe me. Or they’ll believe; but never admit so. But they were in the room when I first realised the true nature of the thing they’d found.
They were there. In the very moment when, by its own volition—I swear to Christ—the seemingly cadaverous joints of the first leg began, in steady spasms, to move.
He sees himself again.
He’s in his apartment now. Window slightly ajar. A soft breeze is winnowing in from the half-bred trees of St. John’s where a cool September evening had settled in among the clinging shade. In all this he sits inertly, his back against the door, his right arm hanging from where his fingers twist around the security chain.
Ugly, misshapen fingers. Nectarine red with blood and crawling. Every one, a thin tentillum, writhing out from the master-stalk of his sweaty, stubbled hand.
He is crying now. Softly. Like a little boy. Sobbing.
Fear, Martin. It’s fear that makes you sob. Nothing else.
It was here now. The thing.
He’d been in the bathroom when he’d heard it. Feet. Six, seven or eight, feminine feet, and legs, and the heavier one pulled like the limb of a cripple behind them all. It had followed the musty spoor of him, the bodily emissions he could never wash off, however diligently he tried. It had moved like a night shadow over the sleeping streets of Westminster, winding, deranged by acute deformity, closer and closer to its blind instinctual goal. It was a twitching moth of abominable enormity and he, Martin, was the desired, twitching flame.
It had found him now and was crawling up the hallway towards his door.
He’d broke out into the inner hall and fallen bodily, with all his weight, on the entranceway to the apartment, sliding on the chain with shaking hands and then slumping against the wood to listen. The thing lurched up onto the opposing side.
Its feet, its women’s feet, touched down. Padding on the planed pine of the surface between them. And then, irreverent to all ideas of gravity, the mangled parody of that body hefted itself up onto the vertical aspect. Scuttling. Heavy with muscle and bone and pound on pound of cocoon-like skin, with fold and wreath of excess flesh, and far too many exploratory limbs.
It moved like a tarantula hawk, prowling in fits and spasms, in search of an entry point into the arachnid’s massive body, looking for a way to circumvent the six protective legs.
The legs. Its unnumbered legs. And Martin’s white and hairless legs and arms, shivering from fear, on the ground by the protective door. What did it want, the thing? What had it come for? Up from the rancid bowels of the grime-choked sewers. Through the evening cool of London. What did it want? To wind those legs around him? To pull him down, subjugating his sanity and his flesh. Down with those prehensile digits on those prehensile feet, feet like underdeveloped hands, pulling him ever further into the infinite regressive darkness of that shambling body.
Into stippled rectal entryways that vent tunnels in the purple anatomy. Into the coital squirm of female abdomens; surrounding him at every facet like a hall of fleshly mirrors. Into necks like gordian knots where, inside the conjoined throats, a slithering surfeit of footlong tongues, like a squirming mass of mating garter snakes, bathe each other in salavatory unguents; blocking the airways with their dripping, muscular insistence.
And his genitals. What would it do with them? Drag them. Tug and fondle them into that drooling intersection of disjointed sex-parts. Plug him, like a feeder tube, into the tireless pump and cycle of infected semen and inexhaustible paraurethral fluids.
Martin battered his head hard against the wood of the door.
Shut up! Shut up!
The noise outside was receding. The feet padded along the cold hallway. Backwards. Away from the apartment.
For an hour more Martin sat in that position. Hand tangled in the chain. Listening to the silence outside. Every now and then he’d fancy he heard a creep of something on the wooden floors. But that was all in his mind. The crawling of feminine feet across the brain. The crawling movements an afterimage that rose up through red shadow every time he dared to close his eyes.
He lay now against the door. Listening.
He saw himself, eleven years old again.
He was standing. Ribs visible like those of a badly made barrel. Tiny, skinny arms folded like a bird’s on the pale torso where the shower-water fell in interminable torrents over the wet skin; down the feeble, pasty legs, between the tufty toes and onward, trickling down into the filthy sewers of Kingston.
In his weak, somewhat effeminate hand, red from the heat of the rushing water, he held the razor like a slumping saint, weakened by divine presence, might have clutched a shabby relic. The first blond wires of pubic hair he’d found that morning were gone now. Caught in the drain perhaps, but washed, at least, from his body.
He was crying. Softly. Just a little boy. Sobbing.
He heard a fist hammer on the wood of the door.
He flung back his head. Startled. Heart whirring like a bone-saw.
Where am I?
He had no idea where his head had been resting. On the door of his apartment. Forty-nine. Or just a little boy still, head resting on the steamy tiles, hanging genitals newly shaved.
Where am I?
His eyes blurred.
There was another furious slam of balled fingers on the inverse side of the door. Martin couldn’t breathe. The man. The boy. It didn’t matter. It was the same breath. The same breath that had been caught shallowly in his throat for as long as he could easily recount. Even now, Martin held that stale breath as he stared, childlike, into the darkness.
Then, the voice.
The grain of it was as mechanical as it was nasal and something in the monotonous pace of the words made the speaker seem less than human. An animal. Not fierce and wild but beastly. In the way a snorting pig is beastly in the squalor of a shit-encrusted sty.
“Don’t- keep-me- waiting-” the voice droned from somewhere.
And, even when responding, Martin Serper had no idea if it was his adult self, or the little naked child, who reached up to open the door.
It didn’t matter.
Martin had opened the blinds fully at the front of the apartment. The sheen of white moonlight picked out the London planes. The bike lane. The bus stop. The phone box and the iron fencing. His eyes were dry now and furiously angry. Not at the world or the government. Not even at the idiots in Millbank who’d dismissed him from service when he was on the verge of scientific breakthrough. No. But seething with anger for himself.
What use to anyone was slumping by the door in terrorised impotence? Afraid of footsteps from outside. Worse. Afraid of ghosts. Of rasping voices calling him, naked, through the bathroom door.
It was pathetic. It was over with. The past is an infinite regress.
Shut up! Shut up!
He slapped himself. Once. Twice.
Do you think anyone gives a shit, Martin? Do you think anyone cares about your sordid little stories?
He tried to calm himself. He tried to forget. The shower. And the shaving. An outrageously enormous hand resting on his upper-thigh.
He looked out at the silent shadows. Outside, the leaves that canopied the gardens of St. John’s seemed almost beautiful in the pliant winds of September. To someone, perhaps, it may have been beautiful. But not to him. Martin viewed the scene quite dispassionately. He knew exactly what he was looking at.
It had been a parish graveyard once, the garden. In the 18th century graverobbers would ply their midnight trade along these tree-shrouded streets. They’d dig cold corpses up from the consecrated earth and sell them to the surgeons of Westminster for dissection.
That’s what Martin should have done. The moment he laid his eyes on the thing they were keeping–Christ even now—keeping like a fucking carnival curiosity in their sealed and secretive autopsy rooms. He should have dissected it. Cut through every intersecting joint with a whirring bone-saw. Made the body clean and simple again. A foot. A calf. A thigh. A torso. All so inoffensive on their own.
Back then, decades ago, the constabulary tasked watchmen with patrolling the garden graveyards; to keep the bodies in the ground and to cheat the doctors of their dissections. Now a shadow stalked up and down the flowered paths, under ginkgo plants and the trees imported from China and Japan. An agent from Millbank, tasked with watching the apartment on Horseferry Road. The one where the doctor who’d seen the thing still lived.
Weeping against the shuttered doors. Staring out blankly from behind the half-closed blinds. Flushing as much of his body as he could down into the communal swill of London.
Slowly the tentacles of his fingers worked in the dark room, twisting the cord that shut over the blinds. Almost complete blackness now. Mitigated only by the narrow slits of white that trailed down from the polluted skyline and the quiet face of the moon.
He should have dissected it.
He stepped back into the red shadows.
He should have cut through every joint and flushed the bloody remnants back into the cesspit it crawled out of.
He stepped back again and climbed onto his knees by the cold and empty double bed that he’d slept alone in for so many years.
Calm down. Calm down, Martin. There’s always time to make good.
He slipped his hand under the bed-frame. His twitching fingers found the cool metal instantly. As though he knew, by muscle memory, the spot where he’d neatly stowed the implement. As though he’d reached for it many times before.
He drew it out and his dry eyes watched calmly for a while as the tumescent moon’s light danced along the cool, serrated edge of the hacksaw’s blade.
Martin remembered the rest of the night in sick flashes.
He was somewhere deep and grey. Though rents of white light shuddered in fleeting patterns and in such a way that his physical whereabouts became obvious even in the confusion that the thing had caused inside him. Shuddering light. Rippling light.
He was underwater. No. More than that. He was under the city itself. Deep underneath the world. Above him the lights and pretty ladies of Kingston upon Thames twinkled and smiled. A pleasant moon shone up there through the sacred trees of Asia. But not for him. He wondered how he could even breathe under so much liquid putrefaction.
Could he breathe? Had he ever been able to breathe?
Around him now, like motes of dust in air, swirls of short leg hairs were stirred into circular movement, having been shaved neurotically away on the sterilised shower-trays of the suburban homes above and flushed in their unknown masses down gaping drain-mouths into the shadowy streams of effluence below.
Martin drifted in the filth he thought he’d washed away. But the motes of leg-hair were only stirred more violently now, into tiny whirlpools, by the soft currents of something moving closer through the greasy stagnancy. The thing. He saw it now. A wading assembly of grey legs, half-swimming in the thick infusion of water and leg hair, moving towards him. Readying to wrap its sleek legs around his skinny waist. To assimilate his sexual organs, painfully, into its own writhing hungry maw. To bind with him. To drag him down yet further. Legs and sexes fused horrifically. Down into the abysmal flow of bodily disjecta membra.
It crawled closer. Disturbing the grey water as it went. It reached out a hand-like foot for Martin’s face.
His body shot up. Cold, thick water clung to his face and neck. He breathed hard and his tongue lolled out, tasting the salt.
Sweat. Only sweat. And the shuddering, rippling lights, only the street lamps of London flitting over the bonnet of his twenty-year-old Ford.
His mind redacted everything that didn’t fit. Every obsolete pattern was deleted.
He saw himself again. Afresh and from a new angle.
His car’s soft headlights were casting red shadows on the road ahead. He’d come a long way from Westminster. Thirty minutes perhaps. With the post-midnight traffic. He’d arrived at a length of deserted walkway in Kingston. Somewhere central, where the railway tracks ran between the station and Hampton Wick. Somewhere he’d been before.
He saw the red-brick walls of some abandoned warehouse and the girl, strung out on heroine, who stood there among the shambling weeds, cigarette pinched between her tatty nails, waiting for a crawler.
Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!
He saw her. Her face was strangely skeletal in the poor light of the moon.
“Alright sweetheart. Lookin’ for business?”
At once she was in the car and the car was tucked away under the anonymity of the overgrown trees. It had to be done. It was part of the routine. A vital part for the maintaining of sanity after setting eyes on the thing.
There was a fluid in him. The same repulsive ooze that channeled thickly through the public sewers. Through the heaving sexual mounds he’d pressed and examined with his latex-covered hands. The flow that had felt so very warm under the thinness of rubber.
His lips had curled distastefully, just as they always did. He kept his eyes on the roof of the car as he pulled his plain, dark trousers down over his pasty legs. His eyes moistened with humiliation. The daily humiliation. As the woman in the car, who called herself Daphne, took his sweaty penis in her sweaty hand, the cracked, half-painted magenta of her scraggy nails tugging and snagging the thin protective hood of skin that was the only barrier to his wet and naked urethral opening.
He closed his eyes as she worked. Pressing his head dejectedly against the headrest of the Ford. In the red shadows, inside his head, renegade images swam like something hideous and conjoined. Her legs. Her full, feminine legs. Her thin, tremulous and nicotine stained hand. Touching him. Stroking away his privacy and protection. Her hand. Her violent hand. And the other hand. The other hand. The outrageously enormous hand. Resting on his upper-thigh.
“Hey, don’t make me wait!”
An open hand slammed down on the desk in front of him and Martin came to.
Where am I?
No draft from behind the office cabinets. No window left ajar here. The room around him was too dark to make out the slightest detail, except that there was a desk facing him. A door a metre or so behind let a rectangular ghost of orange light spill in between itself and the jamb.
“You’re a fucking sick fuck, you know that?”
The shadowy figure had spoken with such authority that Martin was in no doubt to where he was. The laboratories under Millbank. The secret autopsy rooms.
He breathed. In the poor light he could just make out the silhouette of the agent before him. He had no idea if this was a man he’d worked with or one who had only heard of him. Christ. It could have been the very agent who’d dogged him from the street below for a month now. Stealing silently and quite unseen through the sleepy gardens.
Martin moistened his lips and attempted to speak, to give some account of himself, but his voice came out a hoarse and inaudible whisper, made weak by Christ knows how many days of silence. In the end it had taken him some moments to prime his throat for the necessary utterance.
“I have clearance,” he said painfully.
“You don’t even know where you fucking are, mate.”
Another voice, from a figure near the first, drew his attention and he decided to direct his plea towards this second party.
“You’ve had a man on me,” he accused, “tracking me.”
“No,” the figure said. “But I wish we had done you fucking mad bastard.”
“I’m not insane,” Martin clenched his teeth in protest, straining so much he noticed, and for the first time, the set of cold handcuffs that bound his bald wrists together. “You only think I’m insane…You only think it…Check the psychometric tests. You only think I’m insane because neither you, or anyone else, could look at it…The thing…the thing with the legs…”
A light snapped on and Martin’s wrinkled eyes shrank in instant response. A young, dark-haired man, thirty, thirty-five, with fierce, unblinking eyes slammed his fists down on the interrogation desk between them.
“The thing with the fucking legs is it?” He stared furiously into Martin’s face, “Hendry, give me that file!”
The thin Pakistani officer stood up from the chair he had taken behind them before the interview began.
“With pleasure, Sarge.”
He stepped in, passing over a dossier bound in brown card. The young Detective Sargent took the item and began immediately to gut the contents of the file; sliding picture after picture onto the desk between himself and Martin.
Shut up! Shut up!
“I worked here.” Martin jammed his cuffed hands into his frightened eyes, “I have clearance! Check my clearance! I worked for you. I worked for MI5.”
“MI5?” The officer couldn’t forgo a humourless laugh. “That’s a new one, eh Hendry?”
“Fucking MI5! You work in a fucking Mini-Market, you mad-arsed fuckwit!”
Martin was crying again. Sobbing softly. Just like a little boy.
He forced himself to look at the louring young man leaning over him. He’d said he would ignore it all. He’d promised forgetfulness to himself. But now here he was. Himself. Martin Serper. His moist eyes scanned the officer’s unmerciful stare. He had to explain.
“My father…” he choked out the words–
“You think I give a fuck about your stories?”
The officer pushed one of the many gory photographs towards his prisoner.
“You let that tell you a story, you sick fuck.”
Martin looked down for the first time. It was like looking through glass. In his brain he heard a noise. Women’s feet crawling. Their legs. Slapping on the inner upholstery of a twenty-year-old Ford. The thing’s body. Sinking in a dozen dissected parts. A foot. A calf. A thigh. A torso. Down into the clammy press of dark waters.
He pulled the photograph closer with his metal-bound hands. The woman they’d captured may have been beautiful to them, before. But now she was beautiful to no one. The twisted hummock of her back. The infinite regress of the red cavern where her stomach had been. Her upper body armless, like some fleshly Venus de Milo. Her breasts purple with multiple contusions.
And, in the torn junction where her legs once met with her bloody, gaping sex, the wet and ragged mess of skin, torn violently away, by the blade of a serrated saw.
B.T. Joy is a short fiction writer with a particular interest in the horror genre. Born in Glasgow in the mid-1980s, he lived in London from 2007 to 2009, where he received a first-class Honours degree in Creative Writing and Film Studies. Later, in 2012, he was part of the last cohort to undergo teacher education at Jordanhill College. He has worked in a range of fields; most recently as a high school English teacher.
His short horror stories have been included with Static Movement, Surreal Grotesque, James Ward Kirk Fiction, Human Echoes, MircoHorror and Flashes In The Dark.
B.T. Joy is also a practicing poet and has had verse in various forms published in journals, magazines and anthologies worldwide.
For further information his writing and publications please visit: http://btj0005uk.wix.com/btjoypoet