Note: This is part one in a multi-part story based around the events leading up to the containment of SCP-2982
Harold Maine sat at the desk and leafed through the medical dictionary.
"Did you even hear me? I've paid you what I can."
He looked up, suddenly remembering the woman and child standing before him. He regarded them intently and counted up to five in his head before responding. He'd read somewhere how that made people feel uncomfortable.
"How did you get here today, Helen?"
The woman looked confused. "The bus," she answered. "I came by bus."
"Then you can still pay more," Maine smiled. "Next time, you'll have to walk."
"But I - "
Maine raised his hand to silence her. "Do you love your daughter? Hy-per-tri-cho-sis would be bad for her right now, don't you think? Werewolf syndrome. Very hairy. Life changing, but not life endangering. Yet."
The child clung to her mother's leg. "Mommy?"
"Don't worry Angela," Helen said. "I won't let anything happen to you."
"Pardon me," Maine chuckled. "I'd laugh out loud but this being a public library and everything, I need to maintain my decorum."
"How am I supposed to pay you," Helen whispered, conscious of the silence, "if I can't work because of you?" She looked down at what used to be her arms. She had been elegant, once. Her limbs were lithe and long, her body in perfect symmetrical proportion. A ballet dancer's figure. And then Maine had come along. Admired her from a distance somewhere on the far side of plausibility. Crashed his car into hers to get her name and address and phone number. And then the texts, and the romantic slime, and - after the rejection that would surely come when a fat, greasy, balding middle aged man asked a 23 year old goddess out - after that, the cajoling and the threats.
And then one bright, blame-free sunny day she told him exactly what she thought. Told him firmly and in no uncertain terms that she was not, nor ever would be, interested in him, in any way. And that was an end to it, she'd thought. She put her child to bed at night, brushed her teeth, watched a DVD with a glass of wine, and retired for the night.
She woke up at 04:27 the next morning to find her arms and her elegant slender fingers gone. Replaced with these. She fought the desire to cry; she had to be strong for Angela.
"Yeah sorry about those," Maine said. "Didn't even know what 'thalidomide-impaired' meant at the time. Who woulda thunk it? No hard feelings. Hey maybe if you do wonderful things for me, like pay me what I fucking tell you, when I fucking tell you, I'll put you back to normal. Maybe make you rich too. Would you like that?"
Helen could not speak; the words were caught in her throat.
"I'll take that as a yes," Maine smirked. "I could just change you again anyway. Make you obedient to me." He looked down to the little girl. "Go play somewhere else," he said; the child ran off to hide behind a bookcase.
"Y'know," he continued, addressing the woman, "I could make you my willing slave. You know I could." He studied her eyes, saw the tears welling up and overflowing. His gaze drifted downwards again. "Wow," he laughed softly. "They're not even hands, are they? What would you call 'em? Claws? Pincers? Holy fuck."
Helen shuddered. She tried to hide it, but could not. Harold Maine saw it, and smiled again. "But no," he said. "This way is better. Why have someone willingly do what you want, when you can make them do it instead, even though it destroys their soul?"
"My soul is fine," she answered. "Just fine." The defiance in her voice was unconvincing, but she knew by now that he liked her to have a certain 'resistance'. Too much and it angered him and he got cruel; too little and it bored him, and he got cruel.
"Maybe it is," Maine said. "Maybe it isn't. Hey what if I overtype your star sign with damned for all eternity?"
"You said overtype - "
Maine became angered instantly. "Forget I said that," he snapped. "Just forget it or I'll fix that stupid daughter of yours so she eats through her ass and shits through her mouth. You think I wouldn't?"
"I'm sorry," Helen said. "I promise. I'm sorry."
"Because I could do that. Easily."
"Yes, Mr Maine." She used the formal term now; he would accept that. "I just - I'm sorry." But for the first time in weeks she felt hope. He had let something important slip. She had a clue now, a hint, no matter how vague, as to how he worked his horrific, twisted miracles. He changed - he overwrote - something, and the changes came true. What though? A book? A diary?
Maine leant back in the chair and closed the medical dictionary. The noise echoed around the empty library. When it faded into nothing, Helen was left with the sound of her own heartbeat hammering in her chest. After what seemed like hours, Maine finally looked up at her again. "I loved you," he confessed. "Still do. I could make you so happy. If only you let me." He took the eighty six dollars from the desk and stuffed them into his wallet. "You can keep the small change," he offered. Again his eyes settled on her deformed limbs. "Oh you can't, can you?"
Helen's daughter ran up, spaded the coins into her hands, and ran off again. "Goodbye for now, Future Mrs Maine," he said, and the woman turned and left; her head bowed in defeat. Within ten steps, her head was held high again for her daughter, and within another thirty she was gone.
Harold Maine reopened the dictionary. "Who's next - Maria Fernandez. Fregoli Syndrome? Too abstract. Cotard's Syndrome? Hmm…" There was a sudden scream of horror outside. "Ah good. Aiden Brown's arrived. Maria can wait."
"It's a funny thing," he mused, thinking of the proud, broken, humiliated, undefeatable woman who had just left his presence. "If I could rid myself of my longing for you I would. If I could make myself young, good looking and rich, I would. But," and here, he laughed out loud, and the sound reverberated around the library, cold and stark and totally without humour. "But I can't. I can change anyone in any way, except myself."
Still self-absorbed in musings, he didn't see the shambling, groaning half-man-half-lobster advance awkwardly and wetly towards him from the entrance. Ignored, invisible to everyone else except Helen (who had reacted to it the only way she could, with screams of horror and pity) the monster pulled its bulk slowly towards the reading desk where Harold Maine sat. Once there, it wheezed and gasped and shifted position, desperate for comfort in a form where none could be found, and waited to be addressed.
After counting up to five in his head, Maine looked up. "Ah," he said, looking into the ruined face, the corrupted body, the ribs fused with shell, the one remaining lung exposed, folded over, and grinding against itself as it struggled to breathe. "Mr Brown. What have you got for me today?"