Title: Books of Blood, Volume 4.
Author: Clive Barker.
Genre: Fiction, short stories, horror.
Publication Date: 1985.
Summary: This book collects the fourth (of 6) volumes of Books of Blood and 5 short stories. In The Body Politic, unbeknownst to him, a bizarre revolution is brewing within Charlie's hands, and they have plans of expanding their ranks and conquering the world. In The Inhuman Condition, after beating up and stealing a puzzle of strange knots from a vagrant, Karney and his friends quickly realize the knots are binding demons, and releasing them will be the unwisest choice they ever make. In Revelations, while a ghostly couple returns to the motel where she murdered him thirty years ago to see if they can rewrite their tragic end, their story violently intertwines with Virginia, a psychic woman married to an overbearing preacher and their assistant stopping over at the motel to weather a bad storm. In Down, Satan!, a wealthy middle-aged businessman, Gregorius, who becomes depressed when he believes God has deserted him, comes up with a plan to build a horrific Hell on Earth to summon Satan, believing that God will then sweep him out of Satan's clutches and into his heavenly fold. In The Age of Desire, a young man becomes an experimental subject for a secret development of a new aphrodisiac, but the formula has horrible effects no one could have anticipated.
My rating: 8/10.
♥ So, night after night, the routine was the same. It goes like this:
The Georges are asleep, side by side in their marital bed. He on his back, snoring gently; she curled up on his left-hand side. Charlie's head is propped up on two thick pillows. His jaw is slightly ajar, and beneath the vein-shot veil of his lids his eyes scan some dreamed adventure. Maybe a fire-fighter tonight, perhaps a heroic dash into the heart of some burning brothel. He dreams contentedly, sometimes frowning, sometimes smirking.
There is a movement under the sheet. Slowly, cautiously> it seems, Charlie's hands creep out of the warmth of the bed and into the open air. Their index fingers weave like nailed heads as they meet on his undulating abdomen. They clasp each other in greeting, like comrades-in-arms. In his sleep Charlie moans. The brothel has collapsed on him. The hands flatten themselves instantly, pretending innocence. After a moment, since the even rhythm of his breathing has resumed, they begin their debate in earnest.
A casual observer, sitting at the bottom of the Georges' bed, might take this exchange as a sign of some mental disorder in Charlie. The way his hands twitch and pluck at each other stroking each other now, now seeming to fight. But there's clearly some code or sequence in their movements, however spasmodic. One might almost think that the slumbering man was deaf and dumb, and talking in his sleep. But the hands are speaking no recognizable sign-language; nor are they trying to communicate with anyone but each other. This is a clandestine meeting, held purely between Charlie's hands. There they will stay, through the night, perched on his stomach, plotting against the body politic.
♥ He found himself staring at the hands of other people in his paranoia, becoming obsessed with the way hands spoke a language of their own, independent of their user's intentions. The seductive hands of the virgin secretary, the maniacal hands of a killer he saw on the television, protesting his innocence. Hands that betrayed their owners with every gesture, contradicting anger with apology, and love with fury. They seemed to be everywhere, theses signs of mutiny. Eventually he knew he had to speak to somebody before he lost his sanity.
♥ It was a preposterous thing to think, but bringing it out into the open did Charlie a lot of good. In the bright light of Jeudwine's office the fantasy looked insipid and ridiculous. It shivered under the doctor's gaze, protesting that the light was too strong, and then it blew away, too frail to stand up to scrutiny.
♥ With unhurried economy his right hand reached up for the meat-cleaver that hung from the hole in its blade on the end of the rack. Even now he couldn't quite believe that his own hand – his companion and defender, the limb that signed his name, that stroked his wife – was preparing to mutilate him. It weighed up the cleaver, feeling the balance of the tool, insolently now.
Behind him, he heard the noise of smashing glass as the police broke the pane in the front door. Even now they would be reaching through the hole to the lock and opening the door. If they were quick (very quick) they could still stop the act.
"Here," he yelled, "in here!"
The cry was answered with a thin whistle: the sound of the cleaver as it fell – fast and deadly – to meet his waiting wrist. Left felt its root struck, and an unspeakable exhilaration sped through its five limbs. Charlie's blood baptized its back in hot spurts.
The head of the tyrant made no sound. It simply fell back, its system shocked into unconsciousness, which was well for Charlie. He was spared the gurgling of his blood as it ran down the plug-hole in the sink.
♥ He had been blessed with a chance of survival. He had to be the equal of it.
♥ ..perhaps attempting to be rational about the human mind was a contradiction in terms.
♥ His eyes began to swell with tears; not for Charlie, but for the generations that would come when he, Jeudwine, was silenced. Simple-minded, trusting generations, who would put their faith in the efficacy of Freud and the Holy Writ of Reason. He felt his knees beginning to tremble, and he sank to the dinning-room carpet, his eyes too full now to see clearly the rebels that were gathering around him. Sensing something alien sitting on his lap, he looked down, and there were his own two hands. Their index fingers were just touching, tip to manicured tip. Slowly, with horrible intention in their movement, the index fingers raised their nailed heads and looked up at him. Then they turned, and began to crawl up his chest, finding finger-holds in each fold of his Italian jacket, in each button-hole. The ascent ended abruptly at his neck, and so did Jeudwine.
♥ Charlie's left hand was afraid. It needed reassurance, it needed encouragement: in a word, it needed Right. After all, Right had been the Messiah of this new age, the one with a vision of a future without the body. Now the army Left had mounted needed a glimpse of that vision, or it would soon degenerate into a slaughtering rabble. If that happened defeat would swiftly follow: such was the conventional wisdom of revolutions.
♥ Boswell, in a willing coma, felt nothing, and was glad of it. His mind dimly recognized the possibility of waking, but the thought was so vague it was easy to reject. Once in a while a sliver of the real world (of pain, of power) would skitter behind his lids, alight for a moment, then flutter away. Boswell wanted none of it. He didn't want consciousness, ever again. He had a feeling about what it would be to wake: about what was waiting for him out there, kicking its heels.
♥ He pulled himself a little further, and somehow all at once he realised that his centre of balance had radically altered, that he had no legs, that he was going to fall out of bed. He flung out his arms to save his head from striking the floor and succeeded in so doing. The breath had been knocked out of his however. Dizzy, he lay where he'd fallen, trying to orientate himself. What had happened? Where were his legs, in the name of Jah, where were his legs?
His bloodshot eyes scanned the room, and came to rest on the naked feet which were now a yard from his nose. A tag round the ankle marked them for the furnace. He looked up, and they were his legs, standing there severed between groin and knee, but still alive and kicking. For a moment he thought they intended to do him harm: but no. Having made their presence known to him they left him where he lay, content to be free.
And did his eyes envy their liberty, he wondered, and was his tongue eager to be out of his mouth and away, and was every part of him, in its subtle way, preparing to forsake him? He was an alliance only held together by the most tenuous of truces. Now, with the precedent set, how long before the next uprising? Minutes? Years?
He waited, heart in mouth, for the fall of the Empire.
~~The Body Politic.
♥ The thought of a press of people comforted him; from now on he would need a place to hide, wouldn't he? Men who'd seen miracles did.
♥ "..I'm not afraid. I want to know what you are."
From its camouflage of leaves the waiting beast leaned down towards Karney and exhaled a single, chilly breath. It smelt of the river at low tide, of vegetation gone to rot. Karney was about to ask it what it was again when he realised that the exhalation was the beast's reply. All it could speak of its condition as contained in that bitter and rancid breath. A replies went, it was not lacking in eloquence. Distressed by the images it awoke, Karney backed away from the spot. Wounded, sluggish forms moved behind his eyes, engulfed in a sludge of filth.
♥ In a while, he knew, he would have to mourn. But at present he could feel nothing. After all, Catso was dead, wasn't he?, his pain and his confusion at an end. Karney sensed he would be wiser to save his tears for those whose agonies were only just beginning.
♥ The knots bound beasts. How, and why, he couldn't know; nor, curiously, did he much care at the moment. All his life he had accepted that the world was rich with mysteries a mind of his limited grasp had no hope of understanding. That was the only genuine lesson his schooldays had taught: that he was ignorant. This new imponderable was just another to tag onto a long list.
♥ In the interim he kept his fears to himself, reasoning that the less he said about the night's events the less harm they could do him. Talk lent the fantastic credibility: it gave weight to phenomena which he hoped, if left to themselves, would become too frail to survive.
♥ "Do you send flowers?" the derelict asked.
Karney's instinct was to turn and run. But the sunlit road was no more than yards away; he was in no danger here. And an exchange with the old man might prove informative.
"No flowers?" Pope said.
"No flowers," Karney returned. "What are you doing here?"
"Same as you," Pope relied, "Came to see the boy burn."
♥ "..You stole from me, and your colleague has paid the price. You can't undo the harm you've done. But you can prevent further harm, if you return to me what's mine. Now."
Karney's hand had strayed to his pocket, without his quite realizing it. He wanted to get out of this trap before it snapped on him; giving Pope what was, after all, rightfully his> was surely the easiest way to do it. His fingers hesitated, however; why? Because the Methuselah's eyes were so implacable perhaps; because returning the knots into Pope's hands gave him total control over the weapon that had, in effect, killed Catso? But more; even now, with sanity at risk, Karney was loathe to give back the only fragment of mystery that had ever come his way. Pope, sensing his disinclination, pressed his cajoling into a higher gear.
"Don't be afraid of me," he said. "I wont' do you any harm unless you push me to it. I would much prefer that we concluded this matter peacefully; more violence, another death even, would only attract attention."
Is this a killer I'm looking at?, Karney thought; so unkempt, so ridiculously feeble. And yet sound contradicted sight; the seed of command Karney had once heard in Pope's voice was no in full flower.
"Do you want money?" Pope asked, "Is that it? Would your pride be best appeased if I offered you something for your troubles?" Karney looked incredulously at Pope's shabbiness. "Oh, the old man said, "I may not look like a moneyed man, but appearances can be deceptive. In fact, that's the rule, not the exception. Take yourself, for instance. You don't look like a dead man, but take it from me, you are as goof as dead, boy. I promise you death if you continue to defy me."
The speech – so measured, so scrupulous – startled Karney, coming as it did from Pope's lips; thereby proving the man's thesis. A fortnight ago they had caught Pope in his cups – confused and vulnerable; –but now, sober, the man spoke like a potentate: a lunatic king, perhaps, going amongst the hoi-polloi as a pauper. King?; no, priest more like. Something in the nature of his authority (in his name, even) suggested a man whose power had never been rooted in mere politics.
♥ His courage bolstered by the fact that the intruder was merely an animal, he reached for the light switch and flipped it on.
The helter-skelter of events he initiated in so doing occurred in a breathless sequence that occupied no more than a dozen seconds, yet he lived each one in the minutest detail. In the first second, as the light came on, he saw something move across the kitchen floor; in the next, he was walking towards it, knife still in hand. The third brought the animal – alerted to his planned aggression – out of hiding. It ran to meet him, a blur of glistening flesh. Its sudden proximity was overpowering: its size, the heat off its steaming body, is vast mouth expelling a breath like rot. Red took the fourth and fifth seconds to avoid its first lunge, but on the sixth it found him. Its raw arms snatched at his body. He slashed out with his knife, and opened a wound in it, but it closed in and took him in a lethal embrace. More through accident than intention, the flick-knife plunged into its flesh, and liquid heat splashed up into Red's face: he scarcely noticed. His last three seconds were upon him: the weapon, slick with blood, slid from his grasp and was left embedded in the beast. Unarmed, he attempted to squirm from its clasp, but before he could slide out of harm's way the great unfinished head was pressing towards him – the maw a tunnel – and sucked one solid breath from his lungs. It was the only breath Red possessed. His brain, deprived of oxygen, threw a firework display in celebration of his imminent departure: roman candles, star shells, catherine wheels. The pyrotechnics were all too brief; too soon, the darkness.
♥ They would all die, he had concluded. Maybe the fault was his, for stealing the cord in the first place; more probably Pope would have punished them anyway for their crimes against his person. The best they might now hope – he might hope – was a smidgen of comprehension. That would almost be enough, his spirit-slurred brain decided: just to die a little less ignorant of mysteries than he'd been born. Red would understand.
♥ Despairing, he put his good hand up to his mouth. His fingers found a loop of cord. He pulled, hard, and miraculously the final hitch of the knot came free. He spat the cord from his mouth as a surging heat roasted his lips; it fell to the ground, its final seal broken, and from its core the last of its prisoners materialized. It appeared in the cinders like a sickly infant, its limbs vestigial, its bald head vastly too big for its withered body, the flesh of which was pale to the point of translucence. It flapped its palsied arms in a vain attempt to right itself as Pope stepped toward it, eager to slit its defenceless throat. Whatever Karney had hoped from the third knot it hadn't been this scrag of life; it revolted him.
And then it spoke. Its voice was no mewling infant's but that of a grown man, albeit spoken from a babe's mouth.
"To me!" it called, "Quickly."
As Pope reached down to murder the child the air of the yard filled with the stench of mud, and the shadows disgorged a spiny, low-bellied thing, which slid across the ground towards him. Pope stepped back as the creature – as unfinished in its reptilian way as its simian brother – closed on the strange infant. Karney fully expected it to devour the morsel, but the pallid child raised it arms in welcome as the beast from the first knot curled about it. As it did so the second beast showed its ghastly face, moaning its pleasure. It laid its hands on the child and drew the wasted body up into its capacious arms, completing an unholy family of reptile, ape and child.
The union was not over yet, however. Even as the three creatures assembled their bodies began to fray, unravelling into ribbons of pastel matter; and even as their anatomies began to dissolve the strands were beginning a fresh configuration, filament entwining with filament. They were tying anther knot. Random and yet inevitable; more elaborate by far than any Karney had set fingers on. A new and perhaps insoluble puzzle was appearing from the pieces of the old, but – where they had been inchoate – this one would be finished and whole. What though; what?
♥ "Now we must go. We've got business." Karney groaned as he was pressed forward.
"Close your mouth," Pope said, embracing him, "my brother has ears."
"Brother?" Karney murmured, trying to make sense of what Pope had let slip.
"Spellbound," Pope said, "until you."
"Beasts," Karney muttered, the mingled images of reptiles and apes assailing him.
"Human," Pope replied. "Evolution's the knot, boy."
"Human," Karney said and as the syllables left him his aching eyes caught sight of a gleaming form on the car at his tormentor's back. Yes; it was human. Still wet from its re-birth, its body running with inherited wounds, but triumphantly human. Pope saw the recognition in Karney's eyes. He seized hold of him and was about to use the limp body as a shield when his brother intervened. The rediscovered man reached down from the height of the roof and caught hold of Pope by his narrow neck. The old man shrieked, and tore himself loose, darting away across the ciders, but the other gave howling chase, pursuing him out of Karney's range.
♥ The book Pope had been at such pains to retrieve lay at his side. Karney stooped, head spinning, to pick it up. It was, he felt, small recompense for the night of terrors he had endured. The near future would bring questions he could never hope to answer, accusations he had pitifully little defence against. But, but the light of the gateside lamp, he found the stained pages more rewarding than he'd anticipated. Here, copied out in a meticulous hand, and accompanied by elaborate diagrams, were the theorems of Pope's forgotten science: the designs of knots for the securing of love, and the winning of status; hitches to divide souls and bind them; for the making of fortunes and children; for the world's ruin.
~~The Inhuman Condition.
♥ They walked through the drenching rain from the waste ground behind the manager's office – where, back in 1955, they had parked their red Buick – and though the rain fell in a steady torrent it left them both untouched. The woman, whose hairstyle had been in and out of fashion twice since the fifties, and whose clothes had the same period look, slowed for a moment to stare at the man who was watching the cottonwood tree with such rapt attention. He had kind eyes, despite his frown. In her time she might have loved such a man, she thought; but then her time had long gone, hadn't it? Buck, her husband, turned back to her – "Are you coming Sadie?" he wanted to know – and she followed him on to the concrete walkway (it had been wooden the last time she was here) and through the open door of Room Seven.
A chill ran down Earl's back. Too much staring at the rain, he thought; that, and too much fruitless longing. He walked to the end of the patio, steeled himself for the dash across the lot to the office, and counting to three, ran.
Sadie Durning glanced over her shoulder to watch Earl go, then looked back at Buck. The years had not tempered the resentment she felt towards her husband, any more than they'd improved his shifty features or his too-easy laugh. She had not much liked him on June 2nd, 1955, and she didn't much like him now, precisely thirty years on. Buck Durning had the soul of a philanderer, as her father had always warned her. That in itself was not so terrible: it was perhaps the masculine condition. But it had led to such grubby behaviour that eventually she had tired of his endless deceptions. He – unknowing to the last – had taken her low spirits as a cue for a second honeymoon. This phenomenal hypocrisy had finally over-ridden any lingeriung thoughts of tolerance or forgiveness she might have entertained, and when, three decades ago tonight, they had checked into the Cottonwood Motel, she had come prepared for more than a night of love. She had let Buck shower, and, when he emerged, she had levelled the Smith and Wesson .38 at him, and blown a gaping hole in his chest. Then she'd run, throwing the gun away as she went, knowing the police were bound to catch her, and not much caring when they did. They'd taken her to Carson County Jail in Panhandle, and, after a few weeks, to trial. She never once tried to deny the murder: there'd been enough deception in her thirty-eight years of life as it was. And so, when they found her defiant, they took her to Huntsville State Prison, chose a bright day the following October, and summarily passed 2,250 volts through her body, stopping her unrepentant heart almost instantaneously. An eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth. She had been brought up with such simple moral equations. She'd not been unhappy to die by the same mathematics.
But tonight she and Buck had elected to retrace the journey they'd taken thirty years before, to see if they could discover how and why their marriage had ended in murder. It was a chance offered to many dead lovers, though few, apparently, took it up; perhaps the thoughts of experiencing again the cataclysm that had ended their lives was too distasteful. Sadie, however, couldn't help but wonder if it had all been predestined: if a tender word from Buck, or a look of genuine affection in his murky eyes, could have stayed her trigger finger and so saved both their lives. This one night stand would give them an opportunity to test history. Invisible, inaudible, they would follow the same route as they had three decades ago: the next few hours would tell if that route had led inevitably to murder.
♥ Virginia tried to shut the words out. Usually, to hear her husband speak to the poems of Revelations was a joy to her, but not tonight. Tonight the words seemed ripe to the point of corruption, and she sensed – perhaps for the first time – that he didn't really understand what he was saying; that the spirit of the words passed him by while he recited them.
♥ ..Gyer took up the passage again, its absurdities escalating:
"And the shapes of the locusts were unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men
"And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions."
Sadie shook her head: comic-book terrors, fit to scare children with. Why did people have to die to grow out of that kind of nonsense?
♥ "There's no need for violence, Buck," she said.
"Ha! That's rich, coming from you," Buck said with a humourless laugh. "You want to see violence?" Sadie turned away from Virginia to look at her husband. "This is violence," he said. He had taken off his jacket; now he pulled his unbuttoned shirt open to reveal the shot-wound. At such close quarters Sadie's .38 had made a sizeable hole in Buck's chest, scorched and bloody: it was as fresh as the moment he died. He put his finger to it as if indicating the Sacred Heart. "You see that, sweetheart mine? You made that."
She peered at the hole with no little interest. It certainly was a permanent mark; about the only one she'd ever made on the man, she suspected.
♥ He grabbed hold of her. "Take that back!" he demanded.
"You used to frighten me once," she replied, coolly. "But then I bought a gun."
♥ As he looked down at her, she licked her lips. It was a completely unconscious motion, he felt sure, but it was enough to decide him. In a sense, though he couldn't know it at the time, all that lay ahead – the farce, the blood-letting, the inevitable tragedy – pivotted on Laura-May wetting her lower lip with such casual sensuality. "Ah shit," he said, "you're too much, you know that?"
He bent to her and kissed her again, while somewhere over towards Skellytown the clouds gave out a loud roll of thunder, like a circus drummer before some particularly elaborate acrobatics.
♥ In one of the rooms at the end of the block a child was crying. As she listened a sharp voice silenced it. For maybe ten seconds the voice was hushed; then it began again in a higher key. Go on, she told the child, you cry; there's plenty of reason. She trusted unhappiness in people; more and more it was all she trusted. Sadness was so much more honest than the artificial bonhomie that was all the style these days: the façade of empty-headed optimism that was plastered over the despair that everyone felt in their heart of hearts. The child was expressing that wise panic now, as it cried in the night. She silently applauded its honesty.
♥ The bedroom was a mausoleum, founded, it seemed, in the name of Trivia. Laid out on the shelves, hung on the walls and covering much of the floor were items that might have been picked off any rubbish tip: empty Coke cans, collections of ticket stubs, coverless and defaced magazines, vandalized toys, shattered mirrors, postcards never sent, letters never read – a limping parade of the forgotten and the forsaken. His eye passed back and forth over the elaborate display and found not one item of worth amongst the junk and bric-a-brac. Yet all this inconsequentia had been arranged with meticulous care, so that no one piece masked another; and – now that he looked more closely – he saw that every item was numbered, as if each had its place in some system of junk. The thought that this was all Laura-May's doing shrank Earl's stomach. The woman was clearly verging on lunacy.
"This is my collection," she told him.
"So I see," he replied.
"I've been collecting since I was six." She crossed the room to the dressing table, where most women Earl had known would have arranged their toiletries. But here were arrayed more of the same inane exhibits. "Everybody leaves something behind, you know," Laura-May said to Earl, picking up some piece of dreck with all the care others might bestow on a precious stone, and examining it before placing it back in its elected position.
"Is that so?" Earl said.
"Oh yeah. Everyone. Even if it's only a dead match or a tissue with lip-stick on. We used to have a Mexican girl, Ophelia, who cleaned the rooms when I was a child. It started as a game with her, really. She'd always bring me something belonging to the guests who'd left. When she died I took over collecting stuff for myself, always keeping something. As a memento.
Earl began to grasp the absurd poetry of the museum. In Laura-May's neat body was all the ambition of a great curator. Not for he mere art; she was collecting keepsakes of a more intimate nature, forgotten signs of people who'd passed this way, and who, most likely, she would never see again.
"You've got it all marked," he observed.
"Oh yes," she replied, "it wouldn't be much use if I didn't know who it all belonged to, would it?"
♥ "You're in no hurry, are you, Buck? I mean, you're not going anywhere?"
She caught his reflection in the mirror. He gave her a sour glance.
"You think it's funny, don't you?" he said.
"Think what's funny?"
"What happened. Me getting shot. You getting the chair. It fives you some perverse satisfaction."
She thought about this for a few moments. It was the first time Buck had shown any real desire to talk seriously; she wanted to answer with the truth.
"Yes," she said, when she was certain that was the answer. "Yes; I suppose it did please me, in an odd sort of way."
♥ He suddenly turned and pitched the handful of bottles through the open door and into the rainy darkness outside. Virginia watched them fly, and felt her heart sink. There was precious little sanity to be had on a night like this – it was a night for going crazy, wasn't it?, with the rain bruising your skull and murder in the air – and now the damn fool had thrown away her last chance of equilibrium. He turned back to her, his perfect teeth bared.
"How many times do you have to be told?"
He was not to be denied his scene after all, it seemed.
♥ Sadie kept pace with her. The Cade woman had pluck, no doubt of that, but there was an edge of hysteria in her voice which Sadie didn't like too much. This kind of business (murder) required detachment. The trick was to do it almost casually, as you might flick on the radio, or swat a mosquito. Panic would only cloud the issue; passion the same. Why, when she'd raised that .38 and pointed it at Buck there'd been no anger to spoil her aim, not a trace. In the final analysis, that was why they'd sent her to the chair. Not for doing it, but for doing it too well.
♥ Virginia shut out the idiot drivel. This was the man who had convinced her so deeply of her own deluded state that she'd given herself to Buck Durning. Well, no more. She'd been terrorized enough. She'd seen Sadie act upon the real world; she'd felt Buck do the same. The time was now ripe to reverse the procedure. She walked steadily across to where the .38 lay in the grass, and picked it up.
As she did so, she sensed the presence of Sadie Durning close by. A voice, so soft she barely heard it, said: "Is this wise?" in her ear. Virginia didn't know the answer to that question. What was wisdom anyhow? Not the stale rhetoric of dead prophets, certainly. Maybe wisdom was Maura-May and Earl, embracing in the mud, careless of the prayers Gyer was spouting, or of the stares of the guests who'd come running out to see who'd died. Or perhaps wisdom was finding the canker in your life, and rooting it out once and for all. Gun in hand, she headed back towards Room Seven, aware that the benign presence of Sadie Durning walked at her side.
"Not Buck...?" Sadie whispered, "...surely not."
"He attacked me," Virginia said.
"You poor lamb."
"I'm no lamb," Virginia replied. "Not any more."
Realizing that the woman was perfectly in charge of her destiny, Sadie hung back...
♥ The moon was up, wide and white.
"Why'd you kill him?" Dwayne's girl asked.
"The Devil made me do it," Virginia replied, gazing up at the moon and putting on the craziest smile she could muster.
♥ Rich he was; but far from happy. He had been raised a Catholic, and in his early years – before his dizzying rise to fortune – he'd found succour in his faith. But he'd neglected it, and it was only at the age of fifty-five, with the world at his feet, that he woke one night and found himself Godless.
It was a bitter blow, but he immediately took steps to make good his loss. He went to Rome, and spoke with the Supreme Pontiff; he prayed night and day; he founded seminaries and leper-colonies. God, however, declined to show so much as His toe-nail. Gregorius, it seemed, was forsaken.
Almost despairing, he took it into his head that he could only win his way back into the arms of his Maker if he put his soul into the direst jeopardy. The notion had some merit. Suppose, he thought, I could contrive a meeting with Satan, the Arch-Fiend; seeing me in extremis would God not be obliged to step in and deliver me back into the fold?
It wads a fine plot, but how was he to realise it? The Devil did not just come at a call, even for a tycoon such a s Gregorius, and his researches soon proved that all the traditional methods of summoning the Lord of Vermin – the defiling of the Blessed Sacrament, the sacrificing of babes – were no more effective than his good works had been at provoking Yahweh. It was only after a year of deliberation that he finally fell upon his master-plan. He would arrange to have built a Hell on Earth – a modern inferno so monstrous that the Tempter would be tempted, and come to roost there like a cuckoo in a usurped nest.
♥ The finished building was the size of half a dozen cathedrals, and boasted every facility the Angel of the Pit could desire. Fires burned behind its walls, so that to walk in many of its corridors was almost unendurable agony. The rooms off those corridors were fitted with every imaginable device of persecution – the needle, the rack, the dark – that the genius of Satan's torturers be given fair employ. There were ovens large enough to cremate families; pools deep enough to drown generations. The New Hell was an atrocity waiting to happen; a celebration of inhumanity that only lacked its first cause.
The builders withdrew, and thankfully. It was rumoured amongst them that Satan had long been watching over the construction of his pleasure-dome. Some even claimed to have glimpsed him on the deeper levels, where the chill was so profound it froze the piss in your bladder.
♥ There was no sign of Satan, of course. There was only Gregorius. The master-builder, finding no-one to inhabit the house he had sweated over, had occupied it himself. He had with him a few disciples whom he'd mustered over the years. They, like him, seemed unremarkable creatures. But there was not a torture-device in the building they had not made thorough and merciless use of.
Gregorius did not resist his arrest; indeed he seemed pleased to have a platform from which to boast of his butcheries. Then, and later at his trial, he spoke freely of his ambition and his appetite; and of how much more blood he would spill if they would only set him free to do so. Enough to drown all belief and is delusions, he swore. And still he would not be satisfied. For God was rotting in Paradise, and Satan in the Abyss, and who was to stop him?
He was much reviled during the trial and later in the asylum where, under some suspicious circumstances, he died barely two months later. The Vatican expunged all report of him from its records; the seminaries founded in his unholy name were dissolved.
But there were those, even amongst the Cardinals, who could not put his unrepentant malice out of their heads, and – in the privacy of their doubt – wondered if he had not succeeded in his strategy. If, in giving up all hope of angels – fallen or otherwise – he had not become one himself.
Or all that earth could bear of such phenomena.
♥ "And the wounds on the torso?"
"Ragged. Tears more than cuts."
"Don't know." Hendrix made an inverted U of his mouth. "I mean, the flesh has been mauled. If it weren't for the rape evidence I'd be tempted to suggest an animal."
"Dog, you mean?"
"I was thinking more of a tiger," Hendrix said.
Carnegie frowned. "Tiger?"
"Joke," Hendrix replied. "I was making a joke, Carnegie. My Christ, do you have any sense of irony?"
"This isn't funny," Carnegie said.
.."..We're looking for a maniac, Carnegie. Big; strong. Wild."
"And the wounding? Before or after?"
Hendrix scowled. "I don't know. Post-mortem will give us more. But for what it's worth, I think our man was in a frenzy. I'd say the wounding and the rape were probably simultaneous."
Carnegie's normally phlegmatic features registered something close to shock. "Simultaneous?"
Hendrix shrugged. "Lust's a funny thing," he said.
"Hilarious," came the appalled reply.
♥ Lurid and derivative stuff to judge by the posters, with their crude graphics and their unashamed hyperbole. "You May Never Sleep Again!" one of the hook-lines read; and beneath it a woman – very much awake – cowered in the shadow of a two-headed man. What trivial images the populists conjured to stir some fear in their audiences. The walking dead; nature grown vast, and rampant in a miniature world; blood-eaters, omens, fire-walkers, thunderstorms and all the other foolishness the public cowered before. It was all so laughably trite: amongst that catalogue of penny dreadfuls there wasn't one that equalled the banality of human appetite, which horror (or the consequences of same) he saw very week of his working life. Thinking of it, his mind thumbed through a dozen snapshots: the dead by torchlight, face down and trashed to oblivion; and the living too, meeting his mind's eye with hunger in theirs: for sex, for narcotics, for others' pain. Why didn't they put that on the posters?
♥ An indisputable melancholy had crept up on him, compounded of his pain and those unwelcome thoughts of Mrs Morrisey. To keep its intimacy at bay he turned on the radio. A sleek voice emerged, purveying the usual palliatives. Jerome had always had contempt for popular music and its apologists, but now, as he mooched around the small room, unwilling to clothe himself with chafing weaves when his scratches still pained him, the songs began to stir something other than scorn in him. It was as though he was hearing the words and music for the first time: as though all his life he had been dead to their sentiments. Enthralled, he forgot his pain, and listened. The songs told one seamless and obsessive story: of love lost and found, only to be lost again. The lyricists filled the airwaves with metaphor – much of it ludicrous, but no less potent for that. Of paradise, of hearts on fire; of birds, bells, journeys, sunsets; of passion as lunacy, as flight, as unimaginable treasure. The songs did not calm him with their garrulous sentiments; they flayed him, evoking, despite feeble rhyme and trite melody, a world bewitched by desire. He began to tremble. His eyes, strained (or so he reasoned) by the unfamiliar spectacles, began to delude him. It seemed as though he could see traces of light in his skin: sparks flying from the ends of his fingers.
He stared at his hands and arms; the illusion, far from retreating in the face of this scrutiny, increased. Beads of brightness, like the traces of fire in ash, began to climb through his veins, multiplying even as he watched. Curiously, he felt no distress. This burgeoning fire merely reflected the passion in the story the songs were telling him: love, they said, was in the air, round every corner, waiting to be found. He thought again of the widow Morrisey in the flat below him, going about her business, sighing, no doubt, as he had done; awaiting her hero. The more he thought of her the more inflamed he became. She would not reject him, of that the songs convinced him; or if she did he must press his case until (again, as the songs promised) she surrendered to him. Suddenly, at the thought of her surrender, the fire engulfed him. Laughing, he left the radio singing behind him, and made his way downstairs.
♥ Something fundamental was changing in him, of that he had no doubt; the rapture that had possessed him (and would, no doubt, possess him again) was like nothing he had hitherto experienced. And whatever they had injected into his system it showed no signs of being discharged naturally; far form it. He could feel the heat in him still, as he had leaving the Laboratories; but this time the roar of its presence wads louder than ever.
It was a new kind of life he was living, and the thought, though frightening, exulted him. Not once did it occur to his spinning, eroticized brain that this new kind of life would, in time, demand a new kind of death.
♥ Johannson could have been one of history's greatest poisoners: he had all the requisite qualifications. A tidy mind (poisoners were, in Carnegie's experience, domestic paragons), a patient nature (poison could take time), and, most importantly, an encyclopaedic knowledge of toxicology. Watching him at work, which Carnegie had done on two previous cases, was to see a subtle man at his subtle craft, and the spectacle made Carnegie's blood run cold.
♥ He went back to staring at the female monkey. "And Jerome?" he said.
"He has the agent in his system. A sizeable dose."
"So he's like this lot!"
"I would presume – his intellectual capacities being greater – that the agent may not be able to work in quite such an unfettered fashion. But, having said that, sex can make monkeys out of the best of us, can't it?" Johannson allowed himself a half-smile at the notion. "All our so-called higher concerns become secondary to the pursuit. For a short time sex makes us obsessive; we can perform, or at least think we can perform, what with hindsight may seem extraordinary feats."
"I don't think there's nothing extraordinary about rape," Carnegie commented, attempting to stem Johannson's rhapsody. But the other man would not be subdued.
"Sex without end, without compromise or apology," he said. "Imagine it. The dream of Casanova."
♥ The world has seen so many Ages. The Age of Enlightenment; of Reformation; of Reason. Now, at last, the Age of Desire. And after this, an end to Ages; an end, perhaps, to everything. For the fires that were being stoked now were fiercer than the innocent world suspected. They were terrible fires, fires without end, which would illuminate the world in one last, fierce light.
♥ Perhaps he, of all men, was most eager to welcome the Age of Desire. He saw its portents everywhere. On advertising hoardings and cinema billboards, in shop-windows, on television screens: everywhere, the body as merchandise. Where flesh was not being used to market artifacts of steel and stone, those artifacts were taking on its properties. Automobiles passed him by with every voluptuous attribute but breath: their sinuous body-work gleamed, their interiors invited, plushly; the buildings beleaguered him with sexual puns. Spires; passageways; shadowed plazas with white-water fountains. Beneath the raptures of the shallow – the thousand trivial distractions he encountered in street and square – he sensed the ripe life of the body informing every particular.
The spectacle kept the fire in him well-stoked; it was all that will power could do to keep him from pressing his attentions on every creature that he met eyes with. A few seemed to sense the heat in him, and gave him wide berth. Dogs sensed it too. Several followed him, aroused by his arousal. Flies orbited his head in squadrons. But his growing ease with his condition gave him some rudimentary control over it. He knew that to make a public display of his ardour would bring the law down upon him, and that in turn would hinder his adventures. Soon enough, the fire that he had begun would spread: then he would emerge from hiding and bathe in it freely. Until then, discretion was best.
♥ Men's supply of passion, she knew of long experience, was easily depleted. Though they might threaten to move earth and heaven too, half an hour later their boasts would be damp sheets and resentment.
♥ Jerome wanted to touch the heart in her; wanted to see it splash up into his face, to bathe in it.
♥ The dog-day met him at the doorstep, and he smiled. The street wanted him more than the woman on the landing, and he was eager to oblige. He started out on to the pavement, his erection sill pressing from his trousers. Behind him, he heard the faint pounding down the stairs. He took to his heels, laughing. The fire was still uncurbed in him, and it lent speed to his feet; he ran down the street not caring if Sugar Breath was following or not. Pedestrians, unwilling, in this dispassionate age, to register more than casual interest in the blood-spattered satyr, parted to let him pass. A few pointed, assuming him an actor perhaps. Most took no notice at all.
♥ He picked up his pace, heading for the most densely populated areas of the market, where he could lose himself in the hot press of people. Each contact was a painful ecstasy. Each climax – and they came one upon the other as he pressed through the crowd – was a dry spasm in his system. His back ached, his balls ached: but what was his body now?; just a plinth for that singular monument, his prick. Head was nothing; mind was nothing. His arms were simply made to bring love close, his legs to carry the demanding rod any place where it might find satisfaction. He pictured himself as a walking erection, the world gaping on every side: flesh, brick, steel, he didn't care: he would ravish it all.
♥ The smell in the narrow space was overpowering: a sweetness of such strength it would have sickened any interloper other than Jerome, whose senses had lost all capacity for revulsion or rejection. The world was the world was the world; he would take it, as in marriage, for better or worse.
♥ In his office Inspector Carnegie sipped at his hot chocolate, his third in the past hour, and watched the processes of dusk. He had always wanted to be a detective, right from his earliest rememberings; and, in those rememberings, this had always been a charged and magical hour. Night descending on the city; myriad evils putting on their glad rags and coming out to play. A time for vigilance, for a new moral stringency.
But as a child he had failed to imagine the fatigue that twilight invariably brought. He was tired to his bones, and if he snatched any sleep in the next few hours he knew it would be here, in his chair, with his feet up on the desk and a clutter of plastic cups.
♥ "I'm dying," said Jerome.
Welles had not expected this. Of all the people he had anticipated, Jerome was the last.
"Did you hear me?" the man wanted to know.
Welles nodded. "We're all dying, Jerome. Life is a slow disease, no more nor less. But such a light, eh?; in the going."
♥ "Why?" Jerome asked, staring at the animal's open eyes.
"Act of mercy," Welles replied, picking up another primed hypodermic. "You can see how they're suffering." He reached to unlatch the next cage.
"Don't," Jerome said.
"No time for sentiment," Welles replied. "I beg you: an end to that."
Sentiment, Jerome thought, muddily remembering the songs on the radio that had first rewoken the fire in him. Didn't Wallace understand that the processes of heart and head and groin were invisible?; that sentiment, however trite, might lead to undiscovered regions? He wanted to tell the Doctor that, to explain all that he had seen and all that he had loved in these desperate hours. But somewhere between mind and tongue the explanations absconded. All he could say, to state the empathy he felt for all the suffering world, was:
"Don't," as Welles unlocked the next cage.
♥ "Too late," Jerome said. He could feel the last fire rising in him. Even if this intruder chose to cross the chamber and arrest him now, the intervening seconds would deny him his capture. Death was here. And what was it, now he saw it clearly? Just another seduction, another sweet darkness to be filled up, and pleasured and made fertile.
~~The Age of Desire.