Title: Books of Blood, Volume 3.
Author: Clive Barker.
Genre: Fiction, literature, short stories, horror.
Publication Date: 1984.
Summary: This book collects the third (of 6) volumes of Books of Blood and 5 short stories. In Son of Celluloid, a dying virus merges itself with the energy of a movie theatre, drawing on the attention and adoration people had been pouring into it for years, to birth a ravenous horror. In Rawhead Rex, an ancient, malevolent monster, magically imprisoned underground, is accidentally awakened in a village in Kent. In Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud, a tattered shroud awaits a confession whilst relating the disturbing story of having transferred his soul into the shroud covering his corpse in the morgue, and forming himself into a pseudo-human form to set out for bloody revenge on those who ruined and took his life. In Scape-Goats, a yacht carrying four friends is stranded on a strange small island, only inhabited by sickly sheep, but they soon discover that the island serves a different, darker purpose and has other, unwelcoming, inhabitants. In Human Remains, a beautiful male prostitute is hired by an archaeologist and encounters a strange but enticing effigy in his apartment, but quickly finds out the effigy is not what it seems and has great plans for him and his beauty.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ Life was too long if you were locked away and counting it in seconds. It had only taken him a couple of months to learn that lesson. Life was long, and repetitive and debilitating, and if you weren't careful you were soon thinking it would be better to die than go on existing in the shit-hole they'd put you in. Better to string yourself up by your belt in the middle of the night rather than face the tedium of another twenty-four hours, all eighty-six thousand four hundred seconds of it.
♥ The word cancer wasn't in Barberio's vocabulary. He never thought about terminal disease, especially in reference to himself. That'd be like a piece of slaughterhouse beef fretting about an ingrowing hoof as it stepped up to meet the gun. A man in his trade, surrounded by lethal tools, doesn't expect to perish from a malignancy in his belly. But that's what that ache was.
♥ He sat with his back against the wall of the Movie Palace and exhaled his fears in a long, slow breath.
♥ Funny, though he was all alone in his hidey hole, he had the weird sensation of being watched. Through the kaleidoscope of Busby Berkeley routines that was playing on the inside of his skull he felt eyes, not a few—thousands—watching him. The feeling wasn't so bad you'd want to take a drink for it, but they were always there, staring away at him like he was something worth looking at, laughing at him sometimes, crying sometimes, but mostly just gawping with hungry eyes.
Truth was, there was nothing he could do about them anyhow. His limbs had given up the ghost, he couldn't feel his hands or feet at all. He didn't know, and it was probably better that he didn't, that he'd torn open his wound getting into this place, and he was bleeding to death.
♥ The space however, the air itself, had lived a life of its own in that fifty yeas. Like a reservoir, it had received the electric stares of thousands of eyes, of tens of thousands of eyes. Half a century of movie goers had lived vicariously through the screen of the Movie Palace, pressing their sympathies and their passions on to the flickering illusion, the energy of their emotions gathering strength like a neglected cognac in that hidden passage of air. Sooner or later, it must discharge itself. All it lacked was a catalyst.
Until Barberio's cancer.
♥ Well, that was one of the reasons anyhow. She was also very bright: and that was always a drawback if you wanted men at your feet. But if the options as to why she'd never been successful in love, she plumped for the fat arms as the likeliest explanation.
Whereas this girl had arms as slender as a Balinese dancer's, her wrists looked thin as lass, and about as fragile.
Sickening, really. She was probably a lousy conversationalist to boot. God, the girl had all the advantages.
"What's your name?" she asked.
"Lindi Lee," the girl replied.
It would be.
♥ Ricky tasted something he hadn't experienced since childhood: the panic of losing the hand of a guardian. In this case the lost parent was his sanity.
.."I don't like this," he said aloud, hoping the real world wound hear him somehow, and step in to salvage his tattered mind.
♥ At the top it was pitch black, and the rabbit had gone.
Something else was sitting there in the rabbit's place, its eyes burning bright.
With Lindi Lee illusions could be simple. No need to seduce her into a complete fiction like the boy, this one was already dreaming. Easy meat.
♥ There was no way she was going to be damn fool enough to step in there and have a look, she'd seen that routine too many times. Woman in Peril: standard stuff. The darkened room, the stalking beast. Well, instead of walking bang into that cliché she was going to do what she silently exhorted heroines to do time and again: defy her curiosity and call the cops.
♥ "you're not Marilyn. Marilyn's dead."
"Nobody dies in the movies, Ricky. You know that as well as I do. You can always thread the celluloid up again—"
—that was what the flickering reminded him of, the flicker of celluloid through the gate of a projector, one image hot on the next, the illusion of life created from a perfect sequence of little deaths.
"—and we're there again, all talking, all singing." She laughed: ice-in-a-glass laughter, "We never fluff our lines, never age, never lose our timing—"
"You're not real," said Ricky.
..At this distance the illusion was as ravishing and as complete as ever. He suddenly wanted to take her, there, in the aisle. What the hell if she was just a fiction: fictions are fuckable if you don't want marriage.
"I want you," he said, surprised by his own bluntness.
♥ "I'm yours: that's who I am."
It was a perfect answer. She was defining herself through him. I am a function of you; made for you out of you. The perfect fantasy.
♥ "You make me strong," she said. "Looking at me that way. I need to be looked at, or I die. It's the natural state of illusions."
♥ It was an appalling experience, and mercifully short. Then the feature Ricky'd lived for thirty-seven years snapped in mid-reel, and he slumped in the arms of fiction.
♥ An eye, a single vast eye, was filling the doorway. The noise deafened her, the eye blinked, huge and wet and lazy, scanning the doll in front of it with the insolence of the One True God, the make of celluloid Earth and celluloid Heaven.
Birdy was terrified, no other word for it. This wasn't a look-behind-you thrill, there was no delicious anticipation, no pleasurable fright. It was real fear, bowel fear, unadorned and ugly as shit.
♥ The brightness flared again at her back, and this time the Roman Candle caught, fire became light, light became image, and glories she'd almost forgotten were spilling down the corridor towards her. Unleashed scenes from a thousand movies: each worth its unique association. She began, for the first time, to understand the origins of this remarkable species. It was a ghost in the machine of the cinema: a son of celluloid.
"Give your soul to me," a thousand stars said.
"I don't believe in souls," she replies truthfully.
"Then give me what you give to the screen, what everybody gives. Give me some love."
That's why all those scenes were playing, and replaying, and playing again, in front of her. They were all moments when an audience was magically united with the screen, bleeding through its eyes, looking and looking and looking. She'd done it herself, often. Seen a film and felt it move her so deeply it was almost a physical pain when the end credits rolled and the illusion was broken, because she felt she'd left something of herself behind, a part of her inner being lost up there amongst her heroes and her heroines. Maybe she had. Maybe the air carried the cargo of her desires and deposited them somewhere, intermingled with the cargo of their hearts, all gathering together in some niche, until—
Until this. This child of their collective passions: this technicolor seducer; trite, crass and utterly bewitching.
Very well, she thought, it's one thing to understand your executioner: another thing altogether to talk it out of its professional obligations.
♥ And so much better to be teased by these moments, to be shown only the pre-kiss melt, not the kiss itself; the slap, not the reconciliation; the shadow, not the monster; the wound, not death.
♥ It found a voice. A frightened, human voice. "You've no business with me."
"You tried to kill me."
"I want to live."
"So do I."
It was getting dark this end of the corridor, and there was an old, bad smell here, of rot. She knew rot, and this was something animal. Only last spring, when the snow had melted, she'd found something very dead in the yard behind her apartment. Small dog, large cat, it was difficult to be sure. Something domestic that had died of cold in the sudden snows the December before. Now it was besieged with maggots: yellowish, greyish, pinkish: a pastel fly machine with a thousand moving parts.
It had around it the same stink that lingered here. Maybe that was somehow the flesh behind the fantasy.
♥ She reached out her hand to right herself in the darkness, and on every side there was slime and cold. She felt as though she'd been dumped in a case of partially-gutted fish. Above her, the anxious light shone through the boards as it fell on her bed. She looked, though God knows she didn't want to, and she was lying in the remains of a man, his body spread by his devourers over quite an area. She wanted to howl. Her instinct was to tear off her skirt and blouse, both of which were gluey with matter; but she couldn't go naked, not in front of the son of celluloid.
It still looked down at her.
"Now you know," it said, lost.
"This is you—"
"This is the body I once occupied, yes. His name was Barberio. A criminal; nothing spectacular. He never aspired to greatness."
"His cancer. I'm the piece of him which did aspire, that did long to be more than a humble cell. I am a dreaming disease. No wonder I love the movies."
The son of celluloid was weeping over the edge of the broken floor, its true body exposed now it had no reason to fabricate a glory.
It was a filthy thing, a tumor grown fat on wasted passion.
♥ "Well," it said, getting up to meet its visitor.
Lindi Lee's eyes burst, her mouth burst, her cunt and ass, her ears and nose all burst, and the tumor poured out of her in shocking pink rivers. It came worming out her milkless breasts, out of a cut in her thumb, from an abrasion on her thigh. Wherever Lindi Lee was open, it came.
Birdy raised the gun and fired three times. The cancer stretched once towards her, fell back, staggered and collapsed.
~~Son of Celluloid.
♥ Of all the conquering armies that had tramped the streets of Zeal down the centuries, it was finally the mild tread of the Sunday tripper that brought the village to its knees. It had suffered Roman legions, and the Norman conquest, it had survived the agonies of Civil War, all without losing its identity to the occupying forces. But after centuries of boot and blade it was to be the tourists—the new barbarians—that bested Zeal, their weapons courtesy and hard cash.
It was ideally suited for the invasion. Forty miles southeast of London, amongst the orchards and hopfields of the Kentish Weald, it was far enough from the city to make the trip an adventure, yet close enough to beat a quick retreat if the weather turned foul. Every weekend between May and October Zeal was a watering hole for parched Londoners. They would swarm through the village on each Saturday that promised sun, bringing their dogs, their plastic balls, their litters of children, and their children's litter, disgorging them in bawling hordes onto the village green, then returning to "The Tall Man" to compare traffic stories over glasses of warm beer.
For their part the Zealots weren't unduly distressed by the Sunday trippers; at least they didn't spill blood. But their very lack of aggression made the invasion all the more insidious.
..Indeed, as time went by the invaders found a yet more permanent place in the heart of Zeal, as the perennial demons of their hectic lives, Cancer and Heart Disease, took their toll, following their victims even into this newfound land. Like the Romans before them, like the Normans, like all invaders, the commuters made their profoundest mark upon this usurped turf not by building on it, but by being buried under it.
♥ Thomas Garrow just stood and watched. There was nothing in him but awe. Fear was for those who still had a chance of life: he had none.
♥ He opened his mouth. The gums were suffused with blood as the teeth emerged from them, like claws unsheathed from a cat's paw. There were two rows on each paw, two dozen needle-sharp points. They gleamed as they closed around the meat of the pony's neck. Thick, fresh blood poured down Rawhead's throat; he gulped it greedily. The hot taste of the world. It made him feel strong and wise. This was only the first of many meals he would take, he'd gorge on anything that took his fancy and nobody would stop him, not this time. And when he was ready he'd throw those pretenders off his throne, he'd cremate them in their houses, he'd slaughter their children and wear their infants' bowels as necklaces. This place was his. Just because they'd tamed the wilderness for a while didn't mean they owned the earth. It was his, and nobody would take it from him, not even the holiness. He was wise to that too. They'd never subdue him again.
♥ He'd never been a great thinker. Too much appetite: it overwhelmed his reason. He lived in the eternal present of his hunger and his strength, feeling only the crude territorial instinct that would sooner or later blossom into carnage.
♥ The hair standing bolt upright, like a field of grey-ginger corn. And that buzzing at the temples, in his lungs, at his groin. It had actually give him a hard-on; not that he was going to be able to tell Declan that. But he'd stood there at the Altar with an erection so powerful it was like discovering the joy of lust all over again.
"I won't claim... I can't claim it was our Lord God—"
(Though he wanted to believe that; that his God was the Lord of the Hard-on.) "—I can't claim it was Christian. But something happened today. I felt it."
♥ "There's been a settlement here for centuries, stretches back well before Roman occupation. No one knows how long. There's probably always been a temple on this site."
"Nothing odd about that." Coot offered up a smile, inviting Declan to reassure him. A part of him wanted to be told everything was well with his world: even if it was a lie.
Declan's face darkened. He had no reassurance to give. "And there was a forest here. Huge. The Wild Woods." Was it still despair behind the eyes? Or was it nostalgia? "Not some tame little orchard. A forest you could lose a city in; full of beasts..."
"Wolves you mean? Bears?"
Declan shook his head.
"There were times that things owned this land. Before Christ. Before civilization. Most of them didn't survive the destruction of their natural habitat: too primitive I suppose. But strong. Not like us; not human. Something else altogether.
"One of them survived as late as the fourteen hundreds. There's a carving of it being buried. It's on the Altar."
♥ Rawhead swallowed his fear and prepared for the confrontation.
The moon grew teeth.
♥ It was all he could do not to let in, let the obscenities get a permanent hold. Its mind was working its way into his, a thick wedge of filth pressing its way through his memories, encouraging buried thoughts to the surface. Wouldn't it ask for worship, just like any God? And wouldn't its demands be plain, and real? Not ambiguous, like those of the Lord he'd served up 'til now. That was a fine thought: to give himself up to this certainty that beat on the other side of the door, and lie open in front of it, and let it ravage him.
Rawhead. Its name was a pulse in his ear—Raw. Head.
♥ Rawhead stroked himself and looked up at the gilded reproduction of "The Light of the World" that hung above Coot's mantelpiece. The image worked no tremor of fear or remorse in him: it was a picture of a sexless martyr, doe-eyed and woebegone. No challenge there. The true power, the only power that could defeat him, was apparently gone: lost beyond recall, its place usurped by a virgin shepherd. He ejaculated, silently, his thin semen hissing on the earth. The world was his to rule unchallenged. He would have warmth, and food in abundance. Babies even. Yes, babymeat, that was the best. Just dropped mites, still blind from the womb.
He stretched, sighing in anticipation of that delicacy, his brain awash with atrocities.
♥ "What's happened to you?"
Declan's face was just visible in the dark. It grinned; lunatic.
"I think he might want to baptize you too. How's you like that? Like that would you? He pissed on me: you see him? And that wasn't all. Oh no, he wants more than that. He wants everything. Hear me? Everything."
Declan grabbed hold of Coot, a bear hug that stank of the creature's urine.
"Come with me?" he leered in Coot's face.
"I put my trust in God."
Declan laughed. Now a hollow laugh; there was a genuine compassion in it for this lost soul.
"He is God," he said. "He was here before this fucking shithouse was built, you know that."
"So were dogs."
"Doesn't mean I'd let them cock their legs on me."
♥ No matter; he knew men. They were easily frightened. They would not look far for him tonight; they'd use the dark as an excuse to call off the search, telling themselves that his wounds were probably fatal anyhow. Trusting children that they were.
♥ He must get to Coot, before he died.
He'd know, whatever Reverends know; and he'd understand the pain better than these monkeys. Dead sons were the crux of the Church after all.
As he got into the car it seemed for a moment he smelt his son: the boy who would have carried his name (Ian Ronald Milton he'd been christened), the boy who was his sperm made flesh, who he'd had circumsized like himself. The quiet child who'd looked out of the car at him with such resignation in his eyes.
This time the tears didn't begin. This time there was just an anger that was almost wonderful.
♥ Mrs. Blatter avoided him as he staggered towards the door, and she ran towards the altar. She'd been married here; on the very spot he'd built the fire.
Ron stared at her body, entranced.
She was considerably overweight, her breasts sagging, her belly overshadowing her cunt so he doubted if she could even see it. But it was for this his cockhead throbbed, for this his head reeled—
Her image was in his hand. God yes, she was there in his hand, she was the living equivalent of what he held. A woman. The stone was the statue of a woman, a Venus grosser than Mrs. Blatter, her belly swelling with children, tits like mountains, cunt a valley that begun at her navel and gaped to the world. All this time, under the cloth and the cross, they'd bowed their heads to a goddess.
..[Rawhead's] dimmed eyes found the stone: the homo sapien was nursing it like a baby. It was difficult for Rawhead to see clearly, but he knew. It ached in his mind, that image. It pricked him, it teased him.
It was just a symbol of course, a sign of the power, not the power itself, but his mind made no such distinction. To him the stone was the thing he feared most: the bleeding woman, her gaping hole eating seed and spitting children. It was life, that hole, that woman, it was endless fecundity. It terrified him.
♥ That night, that last night of cleanliness, he walked into the truth, in all its full-color glory.
♥ He stood in the kitchen, where the table was laid for a breakfast the family hadn't yet eaten, and would never now eat, and he cried. Not a great deal: his supply of tears was strictly limited, but enough to feel the duty done. Then, having finished with his gesture of remorse, he sat down, like any decent man who has been deeply wronged, and planned murder.
♥ Ronnie sat through the afternoon, through the dusk, through until the early hours of the morning, and tasted his new found power over life and death. Then he went to bed in his clothes, no longer caring to be tidy, and slept the sleep of the almost god.
♥ In the days since his death there had been no hint of escape from this condition. He had sat here, in his own dead skull, unable to find a way out into the living world, and unwilling, somehow, to relinquish life entirely and leave himself to Heaven. There was still a will to revenge in him. A part of his mind, unforgiving of trespasses, was prepared to postpone Paradise in order to finish the job he had shared. The books needed balancing; and until Michael Maguire was dead Ronnie could not go to his atonement.
In his round bone prison he watched the curious come and go, and knotted up his will.
♥ Standing beside the table on which he lay, the two technicians discussed their shoes. Of all things, shoes. The banality of it, thought Ronnie, the life-decaying banality of it.
♥ But the will, the will was all. He had come so close; this was not the time to relinquish his grip and let nature take its course. He existed in mutiny against nature, that was his state; and for the first time in his life (and death) he felt an elation. To be unnatural: to be in defiance of system and sanity, was that so bad? He was shitty, bloody, dead and resurrected in a piece of stained cloth; he was a nonsense. Yet he was. No one could deny him being, as long as he had the will to be. The thought was delicious: like finding a new sense in a blind, deaf world.
♥ The church was almost empty. It was evening now, he guessed, and who had the time for the lighting of candles when there was food to be cooked, love to be bought, life to be had?
♥ After an hour or so Father Rooney unbolted the Vestry, escorted the chaste Natalie out of the church, and locked the front door. He peered into the Confessional on his way back, to check for hiding children. Empty, the entire church was empty. St. Mary Magdalene was a forgotten woman.
..He sniffed the cloth, he loved to sniff. It smelt of a thousand things. Ether, sweat, dogs, entrails, blood, disinfectant, empty rooms, broken hearts, flowers and loss. Fascinating. This was the thrill of the Parish of Soho, he thought. Something new every day. Mysteries on the doorstep, on the altarstep. Crimes so numerous they would need an ocean of Holy Water to wash them out. Vice for sale on every corner, if you knew where to look.
He tucked the shroud under his arm.
"I bet you've got a tale to tell," he said, snuffing out the votive candles with fingers too hot to feel the fire.
~~Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud.
♥ This is a forsake place: no seals in the water around it, no birds in the air above it. I can think of no use for a place like this, except that you could say of it: I saw the heart of nothing, and survived.
♥ The animal itself was dead. Its pathetic complaints had ceased completely. It keeled over, rather comically, like a cartoon character, one of its ears snagging the wire. Jonathan watched it fall: his face a grin under the blood. Oh that grin: it served so many purposes. Wasn't that the same smile he charmed women with? The same grin that spoke lechery and love? Now, at last, it was put to its true purpose: the gawping smile of the satisfied savage, standing over his prey with a stone in one hand and his manhood in the other.
Then, slowly, the smile decayed, as his senses returned.
..I didn't move. I didn't want to comfort him, calm him, console him—he was simply beyond my help.
I turned away.
♥ "They demand it, don't you see, or they rise—"
"Who rise?" I said, knowing. Seeing the stones shift.
"All of them. Put away without grief or mourning. But they've got the sea in them, in their heads—"
I knew what he was talking about: it was quite plain to me, suddenly. The dead were here: as we knew. Under the stones. But they had the rhythm of the sea in them, and they wouldn't lie down. So to placate them, these sheep were tethered in a pen, to be offered up to their wills.
Did the dead eat mutton? No; it wasn't food they wanted. It was the gesture of recognition—as simple as that.
"Drowned," he was saying, "all drowned."
♥ It could play any game it liked, any game at all. But then, maybe the dead didn't like games. Games are about gambles, and the dead had already lost. Maybe the dead act only with the arid certainty of mathematicians.
♥ And it made leaving him, when the deed was done and the money exchanged, so much simpler. To say, "Ciao," or "Be seeing you," or nothing at all to a face that scarcely cared if you lived or died: that was an easy thing.
♥ You're living in the real world, his head said (it was a revelation), and if you're not every careful you're going to die there.
♥ He closed the front door behind him, aware once more that his tooth was aching, and as he did so the noise began again, the beating of a fist against a wall.
Or worse, the sudden fury of a woken heart.
♥ Preetorius was a black, somewhere between forty-five and assassination, a glorified pimp who claimed to be descended from Napoleon.
♥ Later, he would disbelieve, he promised himself. Later he'd find a thousand reasons not to accept the reality in front of him: blame his blood-starved brain, his confusion, his panic. One way or another he'd argue himself out of this fantastic vision, and it would be as though it had never happened.
If he could just live with it a few minutes longer.
♥ Let them have it all. They were welcome. From now on he would be lawless, because laws protect possessions and he had none. They'd wiped him clean, or as good as: he had no place to live, nor anything to call his own. He didn't even have fear: that was the strangest thing.
He turned his back on the street and the house he'd lived in for four years, and he felt something akin to relief, happy that his life had been stolen from him in its squalid entirety. He was the lighter for it.
♥ In this flat Reynolds drew aside the curtain to watch a picture of evening fall on a picture of a city.
No night he would live though, no city he'd walk in again. Out of sighs, he let the curtain drop, and picked up the short stabbing sword. The point he put to his chest.
"Come on," he told himself and the sword, and pressed the hilt.
♥ Outside the rain had slowed the commuters' homeward journey to a crawl, there were accidents, some fatal; engines overheated, hearts too.
♥ "Why aren't you dead?"
"Because I'm not yet alive," it said.
Not yet: remember that, Gavin thought. It has intimations of mortality.
"Are you in pain?"
"No," it said sadly, as though it craved the experience, "I feel nothing. All the signs of life are cosmetic. But I'm learning." It smiled. "I've got the knack of the yawn, and the fart." The idea was both absurd and touching; that it would aspire to farting, that a farcical failure in the digestive system was for it a precious sign of humanity.
♥ "Why is it all so painful?" it asked, after a pause. "Why is it loss that makes me human?"