° ° °
Harold Maine pulled another beer from the six pack, walked over and unlocked the door. “Yeah I hear you.” Geoff Mansani was becoming tiresome again. How many times this week? The grille swung open lazily. “What is it now?”
But it wasn't Geoff Mansani at the door; it was Helen Gwandoya. He looked at her, not quite understanding, unable to process what he was seeing. She took the initiative and pushed through; he stepped back in fear and disbelief, the can of beer dropping to the floor. Her left hand found his throat; with her right, she pushed something cold and metal and hard against his belly. Her momentum propelled her forwards and he backpedalled frantically until the back of his head struck the apartment wall behind him. The wall, solid as it was, shook.
The shock was so great that he didn't see the obvious for maybe three or four heartbeats: she had hands. She had arms. The realisation took away his bladder control. The hot peppery smell of urine cloyed the air as the crotch and then the left leg of his trousers became soaked. It didn't even register.
“Helen,” he gasped. “You’re okay, you're okay.”
She shook her head. “You made Aidan murder my little girl. You made him rape my little girl.”
“I miscalculated,” he croaked. “I made a mistake. Please. You're hurting me.”
“A mistake? Okay, he's dead.” A new voice at the door. Aidan Brown, fully human again. He strode in, no longer in need of walking sticks or rest breaks; he locked the door behind him and turned to face his tormentor.
Harold Maine watched the man with a sick fascination. No claws, no shell, no flicking antennae or cluster of legs around his stomach. Just an ordinary man again. He became aware, finally, that he had wet himself.
“This ends now,” Aidan said. Maine’s mind raced.
Helen's grip on his throat tightened. “Killing my daughter was a miscalculation?”
Maine shook his head. “I'm sorry. Knew soon as I did it. I'm sorry. I can't breath. Please.” He was starting to black out. And then, from nowhere he said, “That's why I gave your hands back.”
Helen's grip loosened. “What?”
Harold Maine took a deep breath, dragging the air gratefully into his aching lungs. “Knew I'd gone too far,” he panted. He glanced over to Aidan and the claw hammer in his hand. “Both of you. I've hurt both of you so much. Making you whole again was the least I could do.”
Aidan hesitated. He put the hammer on the table softly. ”This was you?”
Maine nodded. Helen took her hand away from his throat. The metal object was similarly removed from his belly. It was a knife, he saw. A very big, very sharp knife. He rubbed his stomach where the point had been pressed. “I know it doesn't make it alright,” he admitted, “but I'm through with being the bad guy. No more. I'm done with that.”
Aidan scoffed. “My fucking hero,” he said. He looked back at the hammer on the table. Helen followed his gaze.
“Wait,” she insisted. “I believe him.”
Harold Maine's heart leapt into his mouth. The stupid, thick bitch. He allowed himself to relax a little. He wasn't in danger; he could wrap these two round his little finger. “I can never redeem myself for what I've done,” he said, and he shook his head sadly; but inside he was jubilant.
“I just wish I could bring your daughter back,” he said, his eyes cast towards the floor. “But I can't.”
“I know,” said Helen. “She wasn't in your contacts.”
Maine looked up at her sharply. A little piece of fear reaffirmed itself inside. “What was that?”
“She wasn't on your phone,” Helen said. “That's how you change people. You add them as contacts and then you can do what you like to them.”
“No,” Harold Maine said weakly, seeing the trap too late.
“Yes,” Helen said. “And now it's your turn.”
Maine watched entranced, unable to look away, as she reached into her clutch bag and pulled out a cellphone. It was a Televono Telefex Secrecy-8, just like his. Oh dear Christ, no.
“We went looking for you in the library,” Helen explained. “You weren't there. We found this instead. Just sitting there on a reading desk. Switched it on, and it… Well you know the rest, don't you?”
Harold Maine felt faint. They'd found theirs the way he'd found his. And he would be in the list of contacts. They could do anything to him.
“You’re a piece of shit,” Helen said. “A piece of shit.” She advanced on him; he drew back against the wall. “You know how I know?”
Maine shook his head in terror. She held the cellphone up to his face. “It says so here.” He didn't want to look but couldn't help it. His eyes scanned the screen. She'd written it into his contact details: piece of shit; laughable, and infinitely horrifying.
“No,” he said, “you don't know what you've done.” For the first time, he saw the duffle bag slung across Aidan Brown's back.
“Change of clothing,” said the ex-lobster man. “For after.” And he took the claw hammer from the table and swung it in lazy half-circles. “But this is for now.”
Harold Maine felt his bowels loosen, felt his underwear fill as if he were two years old again. He staggered forwards; Helen sidestepped and Aidan pushed him back. Maine's legs gave way; he reached out to stop himself falling and grabbed onto to Aidan's jeans. Aidan swotted his hand away with contempt.
“Christ, look,” he exclaimed, pointing downwards. “It's started.”
All three looked at the brown, slimy imprint on Aidan's leg. Maine turned his hand to face him; there was excrement smeared on his fingers and on his palm.
Dazed he tried to wipe his hand clean on the carpet, but it didn't make any difference. And then he saw that one of his fingers was gone, just a mushy mess in its place, and the skin on his palm was slewing off to reveal flesh that was brown and rotten.
Aidan Brown stood above him, careful not to get too close. “Don't you understand?”
Harold Maine understood only too well. The stench of excrement surrounded him; the taste of it was in his mouth. He gagged, trying to fight the urge to throw up, but he couldn't hold it in. The contents of his stomach splattered onto the shit-browned carpet.
He was bringing up more of the same.
Helen turned and headed for the door. “I don't want to see this,” she said. “I can't, I can't.”
Aidan nodded. “You go. I'll take care of things here.”
She fumbled with the lock, turned the key and opened the door. One last glance at the scene of horror behind her: Harold Maine was reaching up to Aidan, imploring him for mercy, trying to get up. Aidan extended the claw hammer out and Maine grasped it with grateful fingers; but his cries turned to shrieks as his skin split like overripe fruit. Instead of blood and flesh, excrement seeped out from the wounds. Even so, he saw her leave. The Future Mrs Maine, gone.
She fled the apartment in tears. Suffering was suffering, no matter how well deserved. The door slammed shut behind her.
Aidan Brown had no such qualms; not here, not with this grotesquery at his feet. He reached down and grabbed Maine by the belt. The skin tore easily as he hoisted him up; everywhere it was the same. Maine was becoming a literal piece of shit. His slippers were cast off, abandoned, no longer needed now that his feet were nothing more than lumps of human dung on the carpet.
“Come on,” Aidan said. “Only one place for something like you.” And he dragged Harold Maine by his belt towards the bathroom.
“No, no,” Maine shrieked. “I don't want to I don't want to.” He tried to hook his arms and his legs around the furniture - his left leg finding purchase against the TV stand, his right hand flailing and finding the coffee table - but he was more shit than flesh by now, and his anatomy smudged and smeared and slurried wherever he made contact. Even his own body would not help him. He could only look on, a trapped and horrified passenger, as Aidan heaved him into the bathroom. “No! No!”
But Aidan was not to be argued with. He flicked the light switch on and dragged Maine close to the toilet. He lifted him up so that his head was above the pan.
Maine was in extremis, his legs completely gone, his torso rapidly following. Internal organs plopped wetly and hotly onto the tiled floor; they were mushy and brown. Something - a liver, maybe? A kidney? - burst as it landed, splattering matter three feet or more across the floor. It left brown splash marks on the toilet pedestal. Aidan grabbed the back of his head and pushed downwards. Maine struggled. “Please,” he said, his voice hoarse and broken. “Don't kill me. Please don't kill me.” His head went under briefly. His cries went up an octave. “Jesus God!” he wept.
Aidan Brown moved closer and pulled Maine's head back. “I've murdered children,” he said. “No mercy.”
He pushed down again, hard, and Harold Maine's face was submerged. By now his arms were little brown stumps, the bone and skin and muscle gone. Tributes to Helen Gwandoya, maybe. He was losing consciousness quickly, his body almost totally ruined.
Somewhere somebody was banging on a door, or maybe Aidan was battering him or the bathroom suite with the claw hammer. Bang bang bang. The sound of a metal grille being struck.
He was vaguely aware that Brown was still pushing his head further down into the pan, apparently in an attempt to lodge his head fast, and this spurred him into a final attempt at escape. He pushed back, every ounce of effort concentrated on lifting his face out of the slop, but his scalp, then his skull, then his brain gave way against Aidan's grip. Excrement oozed out from between Brown’s fingers.
The sounds of commotion, of alarm. Voices raised outside. Shouting. “You okay in there?”
“They're too late,” Aidan said. “No way back for you. Even when you're just dung, you'll still be aware,” Aidan said. “Harold Maine the turd goes on forever. Enjoy.”
Maine screamed for help, knowing that it would be for nothing; no one could save him now. Sludgy bubbles broke the surface as his breath left the ruination of his lungs. Thrashing and fighting, but unable to escape his bondage. As he struggled his face suffered one convulsion too many and gave up the ghost. An eye plopped out and looked back at him through the increasing murk of the toilet water.
He could still see through it.
And even as this horror stole itself into his last conscious thought, he was vaguely aware that he'd wet himself. Aware that his leg was damp and stinging. Half aware that he'd pissed the bed.
“Hey! You okay in there?”
Banging, hammering. Voices outside, coming closer. Aidan Brown holding his head under the water.
He'd pissed the bed.
Voices at the bedroom door. Sounds of entry and disturbance.
Aidan Brown's hands on his shoulders, shaking him. “You okay? You okay? Hold him down, he's losing it.”
A female voice. Helen? “Don't let go of his fucking head.”
He came back to consciousness in a split second, immediately aware but completely disorientated. Dim light, unrecognised location. Panic had him; rough, unfamiliar hands were pinning him down - for a moment he saw Aidan Brown, smiling and raising the claw hammer - “No, no,” he said. “I don't want to die.”
Bound. Tied up.
“Take it easy,” hissed a voice. Not Aidan. There was somebody holding his head, somebody holding his arms, somebody holding his legs.
“I'm turning to shit,” he said. “I'm turning to shit.”
“You ain't turning anywhere, you dirty fucking bum. Stay still.”
Harold Maine thrashed against his captors without success.
“Calm down, just calm down.” The woman's voice again. “You're safe. Calm down.” Soothing, nursing. “You're having a bad dream.”
Maine slowed his flailing as he came back fully to the waking world. He was in his bed, in his apartment; these people were not here to harm him. He lay still; the three people around him relaxed their hold slightly. The girl tried to wipe her hands discreetly on the bedding, then caught sight of herself in the mirror. She blanched and pulled her t-shirt away from her chest to keep it off her.
Not bound, not tied up. His thrashings had wrapped the sheets around him until he'd been totally caught up in them. And he had copiously lost control of both bladder and bowels whilst he'd been fighting off the bedding. Now that adrenaline no longer commanded the senses, the room stank.
Maine shooed his attendants off; they stepped back, glad to be away from the shit and the piss, and covered their mouths and nostrils.
“I'm okay,” he said, but his heart was racing. “Get off me.”
“You were screaming,” said the girl. “You're lucky you've got good neighbours.”
He waved them away. “I don't need good neighbours,” he said. He looked down at himself and his sheets. Relief started to flood through his system. He was okay. Shit and man remained together, symbiotic but separate; he would not die just yet.
“What time is it? Is it night?”
“Just gone four in the afternoon.”
Christ. Things were getting out of hand. He fumbled for his phone. “Open those fucking curtains and get the fuck out,” he barked. The girl flung them open; daylight, harsh and unyielding and painful flooded into the room and pushed the last remnants of his terrors away. His Samaritans left angrily in disbelief, cursing him under their breath, and he sat up and glared at them as they filed out.
He ignored the stench and the soggy sheets and listened for the sound of the door and grille closing. Once he was satisfied he was on his own, he dialled Geoff Mansani’s number. His fingers left smears on the screen; grubby, vestigial echoes of his nightmare.
“Geoff? Geoff. No. Just shut the fuck up. Get here now. I've got a job for you.” He lifted up the sheets to get out of bed, becoming fully aware for the first time of just how badly it stank. He retched and fought hard not to vomit. “Sooner rather than later,” he continued. Now that he was fully awake he could not bear to touch anything; neither sheets nor clothing nor self. He lowered his foot gingerly to the floor, grimacing at the feel of urine and excrement sliding down his leg, and then realised he could not move without spreading the porridge-like mess over every surface he came into contact with. He lifted his foot slowly again onto the mattress, trying to prevent any contamination. Suddenly a fragment of his bad dream came back to him, and he put the phone back to his mouth. “Geoff? Better bring some disinfectant. And a change of clothes. I'll be in the bedroom.”