The Thief – a chapter of The Cthulhiad (WIP)
A short piece of Fiction – On the lead up to Halloween…
The Cthulhiad -The Thief. (Work in Progress)
“Catching haloes on the moon
gives my hands the shapes of angels
in the heat of the night the animals scream
in the heat of the night walking into a dream…”
– The Cure
August 28th, 2005.
The arena is filled with stench and noise. The roar of the gunning engines matched by that of the rabid filthy grey-brown human sea that leers down upon it.
And how it leers; just men and children, no woman that I can see. Their faces like threat-etched masks, contorted in their lust for the bloody play unfolding below, all spittle-coated chins and wild eyes, like grotesquely animated caricatures from some fifteenth century sketchbook.
Arms, hands and fingers swaddled in torn and dirty bandages, shoulders and bodies wrapped in hooded, mould-mottled leather cloaks. They scream and gesture as one.
Profanities, venomous and bile sodden, objects, jagged and purposeful are thrown; some finding their already bloodied targets on the track, others disappearing into the dark swell of the lower crowd. A frenzied mob; I am somehow sat with them, dressed as one of them.
The floodlights throw out an eerie light of cold amber illuminating the raceway, the sight of which makes my leg and arm muscles buzz and ache, my bowels and bladder loosen like melting snow.
Monstrous. But I cannot tear my eyes from the sight.
Stripped down machines, slide low around the corners of the oval track, scattering orange-grey shards into the screaming faces of the foremost ranks of the audience. Then accelerating, coming out of the turn, returning to the vertical only to throw themselves flat within seconds at the opposite end of the arena. The forms and lines of the machines familiar but exaggerated, unfeasible, but it is their pilots that truly defy belief.
Vast and terrible, the bulk of their muscle clearly visible through the body fat and matted once-white fur; now streaked with grease, turned nicotine yellow, flecked with dark brown blood and oil. Huge ursine heads held low on their long, powerful necks. The massive paws edging sinuous thews, designed to run across ice and snow, to rend flesh, now twisted and made fast into gauntlets fore and aft, pinioned to all that spinning, smoke-bellowing heat and steel. I can smell their damp fur mixed with the smoke and oil, like rain-rotted bedding dipped in fox-shit.
I cannot fathom how I got here nor believe what I’m seeing. Yet I watch as another and another leans down to slide around the corner, so low that their bodies scrape throwing ash and dust behind them. As they pass on the opposite side of this charnel hippodrome I see the exposed muscle and grit pitted tissue and somehow, though I am seated high above, I feel it as the fur and flesh of their flanks and shoulders burn and flense away against the snaggle-toothed cinder track.
A sweet salt-liquid has issued beneath my tongue and vomit begun to crawl up my throat when I see something at the edge of the track that causes the world to slow and spin further off its crumbling axis.
Dogs. Greyhounds. Tethered, Ridiculous, idling, like huskies at rest. They are held in check by a short man in a grubby costume of red and white so out of place in this vision of hell.
Incongruous. There is no snow on the ground, the air too stifling, too filled with a cloying heat. But there they are on the edge of the track, panting within the wooden slatted barrier that holds back the crazed spectators. They are so small and fragile compared to the mind-numbing creatures that tear around the arena. Yet harnessed to a gift heaped sleigh so ornate and out of place as to make me sob as I choke on a stillborn laugh; and as if to heap further absurdity upon an already sick joke, someone has fastened cheap dime-store antlers to their long, sad countenanced heads.
I see it happening before anyone else. Pulling upright out of the turn on the nearside, one of the creatures goes wide. It has seen the dogs. Its eyes, even from this distance are burning black orbs of hate and pain, its jaw shifts and opens, dark lips pulling back and over deadly ivory-yellow teeth, the creatures maw gapes as it leans from the speeding bike.
The dogs don’t see it. They don’t even seem to smell it coming, so filled is the air with the stench of blood and oil and that infernal noise. Not until the last second when the lead dog raises its head. But by then it is to late. I notice in that instant, that fraction of time dragged out by my adrenaline-accelerated thoughts that the dog’s throat and upper body are bound like my own arms and hands.
My fist clenched and I feel the pressure of the dirt-smeared cloth as it tightens on my wrists.
Then SNAP!. The dog’s head is gone and so is the light.
I can’t feel my fingers. There’s a pain in my wrists and elbows.
I awake with hands fastened to the bars of the cell with cable ties… soaked to the skin, the roar and suck of the rain telling me the storm’s getting worse.
“Man you look like shit”.
I look up and see Tommy. He’s smiling at me; or maybe you’d call it grinning.
“You don’t look so great yourself,” I snap back, not knowing what else to say. All the while the memory of what has passed begins to flood back like the blood to my throbbing hands. I guess I must have fallen asleep while waiting for Tewar to come back.
Too quickly, where we are and how we got here, all drops back in place; sleep and its dark, twisted pseudo-fucking-symbolic imagery all pushed back by the cold, stark light of a much grimmer reality.
For some reason I can’t quite get my head around Tommy’s mood seems to have brightened since the previous night. His face turns, slowly taking in the walls of the cell, then he kicks off on yet another one of his usual monologues.
“Y’know they hanged a monkey once…”
It’s a story he’s told me before, or maybe I’ve heard it somewhere else.
“Back in the old country, early eighteen-hundreds.”
The story of the Napoleonic monkey. Just some poor dumb-assed creature washed ashore in a foreign country, strung up as a French spy by some dumber-assed English fishermen.
It was definitely Tommy that told me… he’s repeating himself. Maybe there is comfort in the familiar.
It’s a story that serves to add weight to the taunting and piss-taking between Tommy’s English friends, all of whom seem happily separated by some north/south divide, as well as over who it was that had the dubious claim on being called “monkey-hangers”, the simple folk of Hull? Harwich? Hartlepool? It seemed almost as if it had become a matter of pride. Festivals and the complex post-industrial economies of tourism precariously balanced upon ownership of a cultural heritage of ignorance and xenophobia.
It was the same, Tommy told me, with the tales that grew up around the various “brick ponds”. All with full complements of horse, carriage and occupants drowned within. Haunted, mist shrouded tales that can be found every sixty miles or so around the coast of Britain and Ireland. I guess some of those tales must have made it across the Atlantic with various migrations. Some of the tales folk tell on the east coast over here seem too awkward and out of place to be indigenous.
Yet here they are.
And here we are.
Tommy used to do some sort of copywriting, research job, he’d grub around, researching the ins and outs of various voyeuristic gory details from some historical event or other and set it all down for the displays in some museum of torture back in England somewhere. He’d often related to the guys and me some of the more macabre stuff he’d had to dig up as part of his job. I remember once at a dinner party he told a mixed sex group of guests about a particularly nasty device called “the pear” that he’d read about it in some Dutch history book. Needless to say not everyone was thrilled, and not for the first time we had to make our excuses and leave early. The funny thing was Tommy didn’t do it out of malice. He just liked to talk. Of course not ever having been to London, or read the particular books he talked about it could have been a crock of shit. Stupidest thing in of all this is, I had planned to get to England sometime next year. I promised him that I’d take in a visit to this place he’d worked on.
That was before we met Tewar of course.
The dark beyond the cell door shifts a little like an animal twitching in its sleep, then settles down again. There’s a chair in there somewhere, Tewar had sat straddled across it, his forearms crossed and resting on the back as he talked to us, as he told us what he had planned for us. All the while clutching the little black statue to himself and stroking it.
We’d met him a couple of days before in a place on St. Phillips, just down from Lafitte’s. We’d got talking to the bartender, a Kiwi working his way around the southern states, Tewar had sat down two stools away from us and much to our surprise, while ordering a drink had joined in with our general conversation. He turned out to be a much smarter conversationalist than his tattooed biker exterior let on.
Never judge a book by its cover… unless its cover is made of tattooed human skin.
He’d noticed and pointed out the ink that had shown above the neckline of my T-shirt, and talk turned quickly to the how many, what, where and by whom of all skin art aficionados.
My mind screeched to an involuntary halt when he lifted his sleeve to show me some hidden part of a strange, seemingly free-roaming design, part cuttlefish, part bird, part tribal swirl; his hand holding the sleeve high revealing the all too familiar angles of a swastika.
He must have seen my eyes widen a little. Dropping as he did into a speech we’ve all heard or had before about the more benign origins of that particular sun cross.
Just like Tommy, Tewar liked to talk. Things settled down over a few drinks and it turned out we shared a love of Micronesian art. Seems he knew a place were we could check some nice pieces out, a local collector with his own mini-museum and shop behind a gas stop. Why didn’t he draw us a map? Tommy was immediately into it. Hey, better still, why don’t we just head over there this afternoon? Fuck it, why not right now?
“Sure, that would be great!”
You ever notice that sometimes, just as you say certain words or as a sentence forms in your mouth, even as it spills over, through your teeth that you’re suddenly aware of its immediate unspoken translation echoing somewhere in your mind.
“Come up and see my etchings,” said the Spider to the fly. “Don’t talk to strangers,” screamed the small child that lived somewhere in the back of my head.
Only, we’d been the strangers hadn’t we?
But as with most of these kinds of stories, the locals were stranger still. Hindsight and “If only”, the greatest generals and advisors the world has ever known.
So the words stood. “Sure, that would be great!” Sure.
The ceiling of the space we occupied, even beyond the bars was open to the sky. Rainwater trickled in, mingling with the urine and worse on the floor of the makeshift cell. Curiously, my eyes don’t seem to be becoming accustomed to the dark like they’re supposed to. False edges and forms sit just beyond the edge of the shadows pushing my imagination into overdrive. I think I see the ugly little statue in the dark, sometimes in several different places. But I can’t be sure.
I imagine it moving under its own hideous locomotion, watching me, as I try to search it out. Maybe it was somewhere there in the dark. But it seemed doubtful. We’d been so close to taking it. I doubt Tewar would let it out of his sight again for a while.
Seemingly oblivious to these details Tommy just keeps talking. Japanese Serial Killers, Russian Poets, Nazi war criminals, Australian rock stars.
“Y’know a lot of people say hung… like y’know… they took him outside and hung him… no such thing… no such word even… the word is hanged… you’ve been hanged…” he rattles on, no hint of irony in his hoarse voice.
“Man I’m surprised Tewar didn’t take our belts off us…”
So am I.
I guess if you’d ever got to meet me you’d say I’m one of those tiresome fucks who always tries to see on the bright side of things. Like maybe if I ever came up against that bad guy from the TV, I’d be able to somehow tap into what made them tick, get beneath it and talk them ‘round.
From the get-go Tommy and I had differed on this. He told me about all the crazies he’d researched and read about, and how that deep down underneath all that neurosis and psychological damage there was still a hunger. The damage had just allowed them to act on it. Underneath all that too painful to believe, childhood memory shit that they’d pull out of the hat come trial day (his words not mine) there really was no good person struggling to get out. Just someone who actually liked killing people in the cruellest and most fucked-up way they could envisage because it made them feel good. In some way it temporarily satisfied that alien hunger they nursed. He said that the real people with “good people on the inside” tended to stay their hands. That’s why they invariably became victims. I guess that’s why Tommy hadn’t wanted to wait around to find out which way the stick would fall.
He must have done it to himself sometime during the night. Using that cheaply cast bronco-rider buckled belt he’d picked up in El Cason, the same one that Tewar had neglected to take off him, making a noose by slipping the holed end through the buckle, securing it through a gap between two of the welded bars that spanned the cage passing for a ceiling.
I guess that means he’s been dead a while now, probably a good fourteen, or fifteen hours.
The piss stains on his legs kick-start my recollections of his descriptions of historical executions, and the inevitable processes of the dying. The unmistakable smell of human shit, unlike the evaporating urine, is becoming more intense by the passing minute. Just the sort of subject Tommy likes to expound upon, and once he’s gotten finished with his story of his namesake Ketchum, no doubt he will.
Well, I could probably deal with the stench if only Tommy would just stop talking.