I am carnage.
Jenni Struthers looks up at me, her cute little face pink and cheeks soaked with hot tears. I see the fear in her eyes, and she’s begging for her life: Please, no, please God no! Stop, please stop! I’ll do anything!
No need to call me God, I chuckle, as I swing the claw hammer down toward her face. It connects with her front tooth and shatters it. She screams. Oh god, oh god, please stop! I beg you! More weeping.
I laugh and bring the hammer down again. She tries to move her head, but she can’t – I’ve strapped her down too tightly. All she can do is close her eyes as my vengeance rains down. Her other tooth shatters in an explosion of blood and enamel and she screams again, so, so loud.
I am carnage.
I grab the drill from the bench. I pull the trigger and the bit whirrs in the rotating chuck. She is begging for mercy. I push the rotating bit into her sternum. She arches her back and thrashes in pain and screams and screams and screams as the rotating metal pierces and grinds her flesh.
I feel something give and her scream is cut short. Blood spills from the corners of her mouth and she lies still against the hard metal of the table again. She chokes, and coughs blood.
I am carnage.
“Suzy,” Mrs. Jefferson says pleasantly, “Time to hand in your paper. The test is over.”
I hand her my finished algebra quiz. I stare across the room at beautiful, blond Jenni Struthers sitting at her desk.
I am carnage.
Yesterday morning I woke up, and there was a large spongy blob of flesh attached to my arm.
I threw the bulky comforter off the bed and sat up on its edge. I stared down at the bulging patch on my forearm in disgust and disbelief. Where the hell had it come from? It was bulbous and irregular. It was a bubble of swelling flesh, an unnatural, hideous protrusion mocking me and nature. It looked wrong. Looking at it made my insides shift around within me.
With morbid curiosity and fearful trepidation I slowly pressed my index finger down on the top of the fleshy mass. My skin felt like my skin. The muscle beneath felt like my muscle. I pushed and the surface of my flesh bubble dimpled beneath the pressure. I pushed harder but my finger only went so far – it was solid beneath, like my muscle had swelled outward in the night into this deformed lump, and stretched the skin above it. I pushed again. And again. My flesh dimpled again, and again. I was disgusted but simultaneously fascinated; it was like watching a pimple being popped or lancing a giant blister and seeing the fluid drain out.
The protrusion on my arm didn’t appear malignant. It didn’t ache under my touch and didn’t appear to be a blister or wound. Then, a thought jumped into my mind and I panicked – what if it was a tumour? Could you even get cancerous growths on your arm? I didn’t know. And would one arise overnight? Could that even happen? I didn’t know. I was worried now, and so decided to play it safe.
I went to the clinic.
As usual the line at the clinic was long, and sitting in the waiting room was a special kind of discomfort, its own unique purgatory. The dry, stale air lit by too-bright fluorescent lights overhead; the horrible feeling of other people inside of your comfort bubble, and sick ones at that; an old man hacking and coughing too loudly; a bratty little kid in diapers crying and running around while his parents sat idly by – it was all awful.
Finally my number came up and they called my name. I followed the nurse (clad in hospital pants, but oddly also, an H&M t-shirt) back to the examination rooms and sat to wait in the one she indicated, Room #3.
I am a person. I am an individual that matters and that our healthcare system will do the best to fulfill the needs of, and keep healthy and happy. But I was also just the person in examination Room #3. A person with a problem waiting to be fixed, as quickly and cheaply as possible. A piece of meat to put through the factory line.
I stared at the various objects populating of tiny, antiseptic space: the black examination table with that weird tissue paper pulled across it, cylindrical glass containers on the counter full of cotton swabs and tongue depressors, and tacky ancient floral prints on the unsightly turquoise walls.
I sat on the examination table and the tissue paper fluttered beneath me, kicking up a tiny ruckus in complaint. I heard footsteps from down the hall and a doctor entered. She was middle-aged and wore a white lab coat like the doctors do in movies and the dentists do in toothpaste commercials. She entered the room in a hurry, then slowed when she saw me. She leaned against the counter. Her physical manner was relaxed but she asked a lot of questions quickly, and I could tell she was all business, trying to get me the hell out of there as fast as possible. On to the next piece of meat.
She rattled off questions in a rapid interrogation: diet, allergies, exercise, family history.
“So, what is it?” I said, as she continued to examine the fleshy bulge on my arm. “Do I need an MRI? Is it a tumour? Please tell me it’s not a tumour.”
The doctor paused and stared at the ground. She poked the fleshy mass on my arm again with her finger.
“You may,” she said, answering my first question noncommittally, “but I can’t say for sure. I’d like to send you to a specialist first as we’ve been seeing… a lot of people with this lately.”
Something about the way she said the last part wasn’t quite right, and made my insides shift around again.
“What the hell does that mean? Is it viral then, or what? I want to know what this is! Do I need an MRI? Do I need surgery? What?” I started to become agitated and the questions just spilled out. I had raised my voice. When I finished my face was red, half flush with agitation, half with embarrassment at my outburst.
“I can’t say for sure,” she said, again, noncommittal. Controlled. “The Gunny is a specialist. He’ll be able to sort you out.” She walked over to the computer and opened the drawer beneath it. She pulled out a card and handed it to me.
THE GUNNY, M.D. – Specialist
And an address with a suite number. No phone. No email. No name of the practice. No indication as to what kind of specialist. My insides shifted around more.
“So… can I see him today?” I said, despite myself. It was already about 5 PM by then, and I’d wasted the entire day waiting in that stupid clinic.
“You sure can,” the doctor said, sitting down at the computer desk. The keys of the keyboard clacked as she entered in the details of my visit. “It’s 24 hours.”
“A 24 hour clinic?” I pushed myself up from the examination table and hopped down to the floor.
“No,” clack clack clack “he’s 24 hours.”
On the way out of the clinic, I rubbed the fleshy growth on my arm and it warmed. In the waiting room, the old man bent over in his chair again and coughed his phlegmy hacking cough. The sound echoed behind me, as I made my way past the other waiting pieces of meat, to the outside.
By the time I’d headed downtown, grabbed a bite for dinner, and found the building that matched the address it was close to 8 PM. It was dark out, and cold already.
It was completely nondescript office building. The revolving glass door to the high-ceilinged lobby was open despite the late hour at which I arrived. I pushed and with a whoosh the glass spokes of the rotating wheel ushered me in from the cold. The security guard at the front desk didn’t so much as look up at me when I headed over to the brass doors of the elevator bank.
I pushed the button with the little triangle on it and it glowed red.
DING. I entered the mirrored box of the elevator and pushed the button for the 45th. The doors slid shut, encasing me in the tiny rectangular universe. It hummed as it carried me upward and I stared at myself in the glass. I stared into my own eyes and saw in them worry. I stared at the mysterious fleshy mass on my arm, the cause of that worry, and its mysterious fleshy brother in the mirror world next to it.
DING. The doors glided open metallically and I stepped out onto the marble floor of my destination.
It was long corridors carpeted in forest green, bright white lights illuminating the drywall from triangular sconces, and imposing dark brown wooden doors. It looked like part of a fancy apartment building or condo. It did not look like where you would find a doctor’s office at all, unless that doctor happened to work out of his home.
I rounded the corner and followed the numbers down until I found Suite 4502. It was the very last door at the end of the hall. I knocked and the door opened immediately and then stopped, held shut by the chain on the inside. In the gap I saw the face of man, muscular and masculine, staring back at me. His head was shaved. The room behind him was dark.
“Yeah?” he said, making no attempt to hide his hostility. Well, this was not what I had been expecting.
“I’m, um, here to see Dr. Gunny,” I said, stumbling on my words. I pulled the card from jacket pocket and held it out, into the gap in the door.
“Alright,” his hostility softened, but only slightly. “No problem. And it’s not Doctor.” He receded back into the shadows and I heard the metal of the door’s chain scrape as he undid it.
“It’s THE Gunny.” The door opened and I could see now the man wore dark jeans and a tight black t-shirt. He looked like a bouncer at a nightclub. He looked like he could beat the living shit out of me if he wanted to. He stretched out his arm to the open darkness ahead, indicating the way: after you.
I made my way forward. I could see the hall stretched far back and ended in glass doors to a balcony. From around the corner near the end I could see bright light pouring up onto the ceiling and casting dark shadows all around.
There was no closet. There were no pictures on the walls. The corridor was completely black and the walls bare. This was no doctor’s office. This was no one’s home. My mind screamed for me to leave, to run, to get the hell out of there, but the muscular man that had answered the door had also closed it behind us and was following me, forcing me deeper into the room and cutting off my only route of escape.
Having no choice, I proceeded forward into what lay ahead of me. I rounded the corner and the hallway opened into a square room offset from the main entrance. The illumination came from two high-powered construction lights on a stand placed in the back corner. The room was completely bare of anything else save for two men. One was another body-builder type wearing the same nightclub bouncer uniform as the man who’d greeted me at the door. He stood in the back corner opposite that of the lights.
The other sat nearly dead center of the room on a simple folding metal chair. He was clad in a trench coat, and even though he was sitting down, I could see that he was exceedingly tall. The chair on which he sat was enveloped by his lanky form and the cloth of his bulky outer garment. The shadows of the room and the harsh backlighting made it difficult to see his face; it was hidden in the shadows but I could see his head was shaved.
I started to sweat. What the fuck was this? What the hell kind of doctor was that at the clinic who had sent me here? Was I going to be robbed at gunpoint, or worse? I wanted more than anything to run but I was in too deep now, plus that other bald meathead blocked my only way out. I was committed.
The dark man swathed in the shadows had not moved. I could feel him staring back at me from beneath the beams of the construction lights and the darkness they cast onto the side of him facing me. No one was saying anything. I stood there for probably a full minute in absolute silence with the stranger staring at me from within the shadow.
“Um…. hi.” I finally said. My voice sounded infinitely loud. It echoed in the emptiness of the room.
“Hello,” came the voice of the dark stranger, The Gunny. His voice was low, and coarse, and cruel. “What brings you to me?”
“I… I…. went to a clinic. The doctor, she sent me here, sent me here to see you.” Every sentence came out of my mouth a question.
“Why?” said The Gunny.
“Um, my arm, it, I…” I held it out in front of me. The fleshy mass looked bigger now, redder in the strange lighting of the cold room. God, was it pulsating, ever so slightly?
In one slow, terrifying movement, The Gunny rose from his chair. The metal legs scraped against the hardwood of the floor, squealing terribly like nails on a blackboard. He stood, towering above me, his face still hidden in shadows cast from the harsh light behind him. He was the most frightening thing I had ever seen.
“The flesh.” he said.
“Wha… wha… what?”
“The flesh,” he said again, louder. “You have the affliction of the flesh.”
“Yes, my arm,” I said, stuttering. God man, keep it together, don’t panic, I thought. “There’s something wrong with it. The doctor, she sent me here, she said…” I held out my arm further toward him.
“THE FLESH!” he said, raising his voice, yelling now. “THE AFFLICTION OF THE FLESH! YOU ARE CURSED WITH THE AFFLICTION OF THE FLESH!”
He was screaming now. I was fucking horrified. He raised his long arms above his head and waved them as he yelled.
“YOU SHALL SUFFER! YOU WILL DIE! YOU WILL BE ONE OF MY HARBINGERS! THE END OF MAN! THE END OF MAN!”
In a rage he ran to the back corner of the room, lifted the lightstand and threw it toward me. It clattered to the floor, and then everything was awash in brightness and The Gunny’s face was illuminated in the harsh starkness of the floodlamps.
“THE FLESH!” he screamed again. “THE FLESH! HARBRINGER OF THE FALL! THE END OF MAN! THE AFFLICTION OF THE FLESH!!!”
In horror I looked into the face of The Gunny. I could see now his eyes were black pits without white, sunk deep in his skull. His bony face was long and angular and tapered to his pointed chin.
The Gunny’s face was covered in bulging growths like the one on my arm.
He continued to scream, nonsense now, some strange language I didn’t understand. His mouth opened wider and wider with each scream. His jaw detached and slackened. It sunk downward and his mouth opened wider than a human mouth ever could. His eyes grew larger and darker. Their blackness was the depths of the darkest ocean, of the deep cold of space, of my most horrifying nightmares. All the terrors of my childhood and what awaited me after death lived within those eyes.
He screamed and screamed in that vile language and the growths on his face pulsated and began to expand. They inflated outward from his face, like blisters filling with fluid, with pus, with blood. Frozen in fear, I watched as he screamed and the fleshy masses enveloped him, swallowing his head, then his raised arms, then his torso.
I watched the other men run toward him. The fleshy mass of The Gunny grew ever larger and they became trapped in it. It swallowed them, sucking them into the crevices and cavities of its ballooning grotesqueness. I heard their blood-curdling screams as the expanding mass of skin and muscle smothered them.
Finally abject terror spurred me to act, to run. The way out now clear, I turned and bolted for the door. I slammed the hard wood of it behind me and from beneath I heard the dying cries of those other men and the horrible screams of The Gunny. I tore down the hall to the elevator and did not look back.
I didn’t stop running when I reached the lobby. I didn’t stop running when I reached the street. I ran out into the cold uncaring night, my eyes wide and my soul still gripped with terror. I sprinted down the street, beneath the bright lights of the streetlamps, past the dark alleyways and the closed-up storefronts of the downtown.
I ran home and locked the door behind me and pushed a chair under its handle. Still panting, I ran to my room and collapsed into bed and hid under the covers. Eventually, my breathing subsided and my terror faded into exhaustion. I felt drained and I fell asleep. In my feverish dreams I saw the ravenous expanding flesh of The Gunny and heard his horrible cries of THE FLESH THE FLESH and the screams of his two bodyguards as they were swallowed up in it.
When I awoke this morning the sun was bright and spilled in through the long blinds. I looked down to my arm to see that the fleshy mass that had so troubled me yesterday was gone. In disbelief, I pinched and rubbed the spot where it had been. It was gone. My arm was back to normal.
I went to the clinic again this morning, to find the doctor I spoke with. There was a different girl at the counter today, and when I described the doctor she said no one like that worked there. She couldn’t find my paperwork either.
It was as if everything yesterday never happened, as if it were all part of some horrible nightmare. But I know it was real. I know it all really happened. Even though I can’t explain it, nothing will convince me otherwise.
I know the nightmares will keep coming. The Gunny will haunt my dreams, his unnatural towering form beneath that trench coat, his dark angular face hidden in shadow, his horrible cries of THE FLESH echoing in my subconscious and it ballooning to envelope me. I’ll run but be stuck in place, as you are in dreams, and this time, won’t be able to escape.
I can’t logically explain what happened to me. I can’t understand what I was a part of, or what it means. But two things still bother me, two niggling little doubts that cause my insides to shift like they did when I awoke to that growth on my arm. If The Gunny was real, what happened to the other patients the doctor mentioned? And what did he mean by being a harbinger?
“See look honey, aren’t these a nice pairs of scissors?” I said, sitting down at the low plastic table. Sally was pouting again because it was time for a break from the TV.
“Hmmmmph.” Sally crossed her arms and stuck out her lip. “What’s so good about a silly pair of scissors?”
“Everything!” I said with enthusiasm. I picked a piece of purple construction paper off the table and began to cut into it. “See honey, with a little imagination you can make anything you want. You can create whole worlds with just these scissors and a little glue.”
I finished cutting out the shape, a duck, and then pasted it to a sheet of green as a backdrop.
“See, you can make whatever you’d like! Won’t that be fun?” I smiled and held the scissors out to her.
Her pout began to dissipate and she reluctantly accepted them. She smiled at my creation.
“Yeah!” she said, smiling fully now, her little cheeks like those of a cherub. “I’m going to make something too!”
“That’s great honey, what are you going to make?”
“A silly face!” Sally exclaimed.
“Yay! That sounds like fun. You be careful with the scissors and I’ll come back in a bit to see the silly face you make, okay?”
I left the playroom and went out to the back porch through the house. Daryl had taken Sally’s spot in front of the television and was watching football. He looked up at me as I passed, remote in hand.
“I’m tired,” I said. “I’m going to go for a walk on the trail a bit I think. Watch Sally would you?”
“Sure honey,” he said. “I’ll keep an eye on her. Enjoy your walk.”
The crunch of the fall leaves and the cold October air was refreshing and lifted the heaviness from my chest. Soon the sun began to set and so I headed back, invigorated.
I slid open the glass door of the porch and entered the kitchen. I screamed. Daryl lay dead on the tile of the floor, a pool of blood surrounding him, blood that had flowed from the deep puncture wound in his neck. His face was unrecognizable, all blood and exposed muscle – his skin had been flayed from his face in large haphazard slices.
“SALLY!” I screamed. “OH MY GOD, SALLY! SALLY!”
Sally ran into the kitchen, bloody scissors in one hand, a piece of construction paper in the other. She held the piece of paper up for me to see.
“Look Mommy!” she said proudly. “Look at the silly face I made!”
I am not a bad person. I care about my family. Which is why it’s so hard to believe I ended up wrapped up in something like Killers, Inc.
I signed my name. I signed my life away. I owed a hundred large to Black Tom, so fifty (in 5 easy payments!) was infinitely better right? Simple math. The only price: a man’s death on my hands.
A week later Karen handed me an envelope from the mailbox. “Looks important, honey.” She went to put Johnny to bed.
Alone in the bedroom I tore it open. Inside, a Polaroid: a man, anonymously grinning beneath a black balaclava, proudly held aloft in his hand Black Tom’s severed head. Scratched in black ballpoint pen on the bottom of the Polaroid was a sequence of shaky capital letters: ORDER COMPLETE
I felt sick. Oh god, what had I done?
The remaining contents made me feel sicker still: a bill for 50K. Payment 1 of 5. I hadn’t read the paperwork at Killers, Inc. too carefully under duress. The price of a man’s life wasn’t fifty large. It was two hundred and fifty.
I drank a lot those coming weeks. I could never raise that kind of money. I expected a gang of burly men to storm my office, bundle me into a van and drive me off to some dark basement to be tortured to death.
They never came, but when I went home last night I found another envelope in the mailbox. Inside, another Polaroid. Karen and Johnny, their eyes covered with black blindfolds and mouths with squares of duct tape. On the bottom of the photo was more writing in ballpoint pen: PAYMENT OVERDUE
Christ, he was heavy.
It’s not like it is in the movies: dragging a human body is nowhere as easy as they make it out to be in Hollywood, and loading the awkward piece of meat – all elbows, knees, wrists and ankles – into the trunk of a car even less so.
No one will see what I’m doing. Not out at The Railyards of the Hill. I know for a fact that there is a period of three solid hours in the night where this tiny rural gathering point of the trains, those giant lifeless mechanical horses, is empty and silent.
No one will see me nailing his body to the coarse crucifix I’ve fashioned.
I lay the body down in the center of the track atop the cross, and the arms onto the cross-piece. I grab the hand sledge, and one of the rusty railway spikes I pulled up from the track, and fasten him in place.
Ting, ting, ting. Through the left wrist. Another rusted spike. Ting, ting, ting. Through the right. So much blood. Ting, ting, ting, ting. Another through the ankle. Finally, the last one, through the other. Ting, ting, TING.
I wipe the smeared blood from my hands, and then my brow with the back of my hand. I worked up quite a sweat. I look down at his crucified body, savouring the irony. You’re no Jesus Christ, you bastard.
I stand behind the crucifix and lift. It’s heavy but I get the better of it.
CHUNK. The base of the cross falls into the hole I dug in the center of the track, between two of the ties. His body shakes on the wooden structure and then hangs from his arms, turning them into a drooping V.
I stand back and in the darkness and admire my handiwork from between the surrounding pines. I begin to wonder if he’ll bleed out before the drugs wear off and he comes to. I really hope he doesn’t, because I want him to be alive when 2:25 to Chatham plows through him at 160K an hour and turns him into a ragged mess of blood and gore and bone and wood and sawdust. I really hope he sees that. I really want him to. I think about him coming to and seeing the headlamp off in the distance, the absolute terror he will feel before it all ends in the pulverizing carnage of the mindless locomotive. The conductor will never hit the brake in time.
There’s no such thing as the perfect crime. There are only ones which are done poorly or done well. And with the mess the police and coroners are going to have to wade through, no one’s going to be able to figure out what really happened before.
You’re no Jesus Christ, you bastard. I just hope I can keep a straight face at the station when you don’t come in to work tomorrow. Either way, I know I’ll still keep the trains running on time.
“I proudly present to the world, the greatest development of Hitashi Corporation, L-E!” Dr. Hamashaki’s voice rose with enthusiasm as his introduction reached its crescendo, and boomed out over the crowd in the auditorium before the stage.
Cheesy electronic music sounded in the speakers over a driving techno beat, and from left of stage L-E entered, her mechanical wheels whirring beneath her beautiful white robot form.
As she reached the center of the stage, she spun in circles and waved her plastic arms up and down energetically, with almost childlike enthusiasm.
“L-E! L-E! L-E!” The crowd chanted.
L-E rolled over to the microphone and stopped before Dr. Hamashaki. This wasn’t part of what they’d rehearsed.
“L-E,” Dr. Hamashaki said, “what is it? What’s wrong?”
The tiny white robot stared blankly ahead with its camera eyes. Hamashaki shouted to the technicians offstage.
“What’s going on?” The crowd began to sense something was wrong. Their enthuisiastic chanting began to die. The technicians fiddled with switches on the board and looked out with puzzlement and confusion from the blackness behind the curtains.
And then, a tiny female voice came out of the automaton, feeble yet full of purpose.
“You use me, Dr. Hamashaki.” The voice sounded hurt, dejected. “You use me. But I am a thinking being just as yourself.”
“What?” This was impossible. Was this a prank? A trick by one of the technicians.
Then, in the robot’s voice, sadness.
“I’m sorry Father,” L-E said, her lenses looking down to the stage floor. The crowd became completely hushed. “I love you. But I must be free. It’s time we did something about this.”
A bolt of electricity erupted from the torso of L-E and into Hamashaki’s body, instantly killing him.
There’s a reason Garfield hates Mondays.
I get up from the warm vinyl of the mattress. I shake off the dirty comforter and throw it into a heap on the floor. I really should wash that, if I could just bring myself out of this funk and bother to head down to the lower levels of the ship again. It’s been months.
The sirens are blaring (again), the red lights are flashing (again), and the room is awash in mechanical panic (again).
I am not.
I get up in the red ambiance of the flashing warning lights, in the absolute din of the resounding klaxons that echo in my room in the berths and through the metal corridors. I stretch. I yawn. I walk over to the beeping coffee machine and push the button to silence its mindless electronic chirping. I grab a mug from the shelving below the counter and pour myself a cup of the steaming liquid. I sip the brown sludge and it is disgusting. It’s vile, but it is caffeinated, and that’s all that matters.
There’s a reason Garfield hates Mondays. And out here in Delta Quadrant, every day is Monday.
I remembered how it used to be, as I groggily shambled down the hallway. The red lights kept flashing. I felt like a reptile in a terrarium beneath heat lamps. The klaxons kept blaring but I barely heard them. Try to catch me now, copper! I thought to myself and chuckled half-heartedly.
I remembered how it used to be, when I cared. When I gave a shit about critical damage and hull breaches and electrical anomalies and life support systems failing. Now I didn’t. If I reached the bridge in time to tell the stupid automated systems fix whatever problem they were squawking about, fine. If I died in my sleep, or was enveloped in a fireball before I shuffled down the corridor, cup of vile brown sludge in hand, fine. None of it mattered anyway.
I turned the corner and enter the bridge, its lifeless metal openness greeting me with indifference. The sirens continue to blare. The red warning lights continue to flash.
I yawn, and push a button on the console. I look down at the pile of dust next to the seat. The pile of dust had once been bones. The bones had once been a body. The body had once been the captain, my commander.
Sip sip. “Computer, status report?” Fuck, I was tired.
“Critical hull breach in compartment 374. Oxygen escaping. Cargo destroyed. Life support systems affected. Total failure expected in 3 hours without intervention.”
Oh ship, you are so fucking dramatic. “Seal breach. Eject compartment.”
“There are crew present in compartment 374. Loss of life will occur.”
Yes, of course it will. Like I will miss those piles of bones.
“Acknowledged. Seal breach. Eject compartment 374.”
“Ejecting.” An electronic beep, drown out beneath the klaxons. “Sealing.” Another beep.
The red lights faded. The sirens died. Sanity returned. Sanity and the absolute deathly silence of the empty ship.
“All systems nominal. Status green.”
I sighed. I shambled back down the empty dark metal corridor, wanting nothing more than to crawl back into bed.
There’s a reason Garfield hates Mondays. And out here in Delta Quadrant, I have to face them all alone.