Eve was tired. She was tired and the flat was a mess. She appreciated that her brother was doing her a massive favour by giving her a place to stay for a week. She was even earning a bit of cash. All she had to do was be on call. If any of the tenants had a problem, her phone would ring and she would do her best to fix the problem. Jeff had assured her that the phone rang about once a day and that if there were any serious problems, she could call a plumber or an electrician.
But after a day spent running up and down the seven flights of stairs and dealing with tenants who were apparently set on being as difficult as possible, Eve was wondering whether this had been worth it. She could have stayed on Lucy’s sofa for another week. Lucy had even offered. But the chance for a flat to herself had been impossible to resist. And she was here now. There was no one to worry about. She cleared last week’s Sunday paper off the sofa and settled in to watch the telly.
She hadn’t meant to fall asleep. But the heavy thud from downstairs made her open her eyes, and she realised how quiet it was. No music, no one out having a fag, nothing. It was late. Then she wondered about that thud. As she desperately tried to rationalise, her heart did a little turn as she realised that the noise came from downstairs. Nobody should be downstairs. Jeff had shown her the basement; it was a storage space that no one used because of the terrible damp. She told herself to relax, that it was just an animal that had found its way in. A cat. Maybe a fox.
But there it was again. A thump. But this time it was followed by a woman’s voice, raised in alarm. She stood up and looked around for something she could take down there with her. She grabbed a torch that looked like it meant business. But what else? She looked around for something sturdy to defend herself with. She didn’t want to take a knife. She’d read that more people hurt themselves than other people when they take a knife. She had a sudden brainwave and walked over to Jeff’s drinks cabinet (the one he’d inherited from their aunt Barbara) and took a shelf out. Not exactly the most effective weapon, but she could at least brain someone with it.
She stepped out into the hallway and was relieved that no one was there to see her, still startled at being woken up and brandishing a varnished piece of wood. She found the right key on Jeff’s absurdly overcrowded key-ring and opened the door to the basement, took a deep breath, and turned on the light. She heard the sound of cheap strip lighting sparking into life through the different sections of the basement, that slightly muffled ping. Then she unmistakeably heard someone say “Shhhh!”
There was no answer. She went down the almost-even stone steps. The basement was divided into three sections, the first visible from the stairs. The other two were further in. She knew that was where whoever had made that noise was waiting.
“If you don’t leave right now, I’ll call the police.”
No answer. The first room was empty, nothing but a few ancient boxes belonging to a deceased tenant that no one had figure out what to do with yet.
“I know there’s someone there. I’ve got my phone out now, I’m dialling.”
She wondered if she should have said that. Would it be better to make them think that she’d already called the police? Then a man’s voice rang through the basement.
Eve didn’t think. She ran towards the sound. As she entered the next room a smell like sour meat made her gag. Two people had a tenant she recognised, Mr. Blamire, pushed up against the wall. He was a polite man in his late fifties with pomaded hair and a slightly-too-long moustache. As he saw Eve enter he opened his mouth. She thought he was going to scream. Then two things happened quite suddenly.
The first figure turned around to face her. It was a man, slightly heavy-set, in his forties. The second figure, which Eve could see was a woman, raised a small axe and cut Mr. Blamire’s head off. The severed head tumbled over the woman’s arm and thudded to the floor as the two figures stepped back and let go of his body. Blood sprayed from the stump. The tenant fell to the ground and Eve opened her mouth to scream.
“Please don’t,” said the woman. She held up her hands and Eve saw she was roughly the same age as the man. “It’s not what it looks like.”
Eve didn’t know whether to laugh or run.
“Not what...not what it looks like?” she asked. She realised that she had dropped the shelf from the cabinet. She wasn’t sure when that had happened.
“It’s...Look, it’s complicated,” began the man but the woman interrupted him.
“Michael, his eyes are moving,” she said. The man span around.
“Julia, get the knives out,” he said. Julia nodded and grabbed a green cloth bag from a backpack on the floor.
“I’m going to call the police,” said Eve. It was the only thing to do. That, at least, made sense. It got their attention.
“Don’t do that,” said Michael. “It’s really not what it looks like, I promise.”
But Eve wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at the head of Mr. Blamire. She thought it had landed further away from his body. Those eyes were roving, scanning the room. They saw her. She thought she saw a smile. Then the eyes rolled back. She looked over to where his body lay. The dark red stump of his neck began to pulsate. Before she could open her mouth to say anything, three crimson tendrils shot across the gap between the torso and the head. They somehow fixed, they found a hold, and they flexed. Eve watched as the head inched along the floor, pulled back towards the body.
“Julia, for fuck’s sake, separate him!” shouted Michael. Julia picked up the axe and hacked at the tendrils. They severed easily but they flailed wildly in the air, spraying thick black fluid. The smell of rotten meat somehow redoubled as the fluid spread across the dusty floor. Mr. Blamire’s mouth opened and closed. “I’ll make a start on him, check the back room, see if there’s any still breathing.” Julia nodded and moved off quickly. Eve watched as the man opened the cloth bag and took out a beautiful, ornate silver knife. Somehow she couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Michael...” Julia came back into the room, and the man looked up. Julia’s face was white. Eve didn’t know why she did, but she found herself walking over to where the woman stood and looking past her into the third section.
The harsh overhead lighting showed a red, wet pile of pieces, chunks, in the corner. There were bits that Eve could identify as belonging to a person, a hand, a jaw, but the dripping slabs of flesh and shards of startlingly white bone had been piled into a heap. They looked fresh. There was no skin on any of it. Eve gagged and felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Could you help us over here, please?” Julia asked, and ushered her over to where Mr. Blamire lay on the ground. His torso was shivering. Michael ripped open his white shirt. Something beneath the man’s skin was moving, pushing up against the surface like a hundred needle points. The chest was slick with a clear fluid. Eve hoped it was sweat.
“He knows what’s coming,” said Michael.
“Heart first,” said Julia. Michael raised the knife and plunged it down. Eve had taken a step back, expecting another explosion of gore, but instead Mr. Blamire’s chest seemed to try to swallow the knife. Michael worked hard to cut through the flesh as it moved and gripped its way around the blade, but finally he sunk his hand into the cavity and pulled out the heart. He raised it up and Julia leant in, hacking away at the veins until it was free.
They both took a step back as more tendrils emerged from the open wound, writhing, searching for Mr. Blamire’s lost heart. Two small hooks were visible on the end of each appendage. As Julia put it on the ground Eve saw that the heart was still beating, and smaller versions of the tendrils were slowly emerging from what Eve guessed was the aorta. Jack leaned down and drove the knife into its side. The effect was instantaneous. Mr. Blamire’s heart exploded like a broken water balloon, spraying black, rancid fluid out of every opening. The torso, about a foot away, stopped moving.
“You, what’s your name?” asked Michael. Before Eve could answer, Michael pointed to the head. “Pick that up and face it up. Julia, empty the torso.”
She turned the head so that its eyes faced the ceiling and tried not to listen to the wet sound of Julia pulling out ropes of intestines. She gritted her teeth as Michael pushed the knife into the stump of the neck. The mouth opened, filled with broken teeth. The eyes that had been rolling so wildly quivered for a moment before bursting, oozing viscous white and red fluid over the ears and Eve’s hands. Finally the skull caved inwards as a soggy mass fell out over Michael’s knife and onto the floor. Eve dropped the head and it landed with a splat.
“Thank you,” said Julia. Eve turned to look at her and saw her making small piles of innards. She finally lost control of her stomach and vomited onto the gory mess at her feet. As she wiped her mouth she felt compelled to apologise. “Oh that’s no problem,” smiled Julia. “We’ve got to tidy that up anyway. Michael, have you got the bin bags?”
So yes. A gory story. Actually you can blame my good friend Max Dorey for this. He posed a question on Twitter asking what the best, most disgusting movie monster we could think of was. And there's only really one right answer to that. John Carpenter's The Thing. Though I did also mention Brundelfly from David Cronenberg's The Fly. Now, Max is not a fan of horror but recently watched The Thing and came out of it very impressed. And revolted. If you've seen The Thing, you've probably realised that I stole a lot.
If you're wondering why I wrote this, it's because I wanted to see if I could. Surprisingly, given that I mostly write unpleasant stories, I don't write a lot of gore. Generally I find that my approach is less is more. I just get a bit uncomfortable if the blood and guts gets too elaborate and I worry that I'm going down the Garth Marenghi route. (If you don't get that reference, get yourself to 4od now and thank me later). So, thinking about disgusting monsters, I thought I'd try to write something disgusting. Not disturbing, just gory. No plot, no memorable characters, just internal organs and bodily fluids. And if I'm honest, I still don't think that this is that gory. I've failed in my task to create something truly disgusting. I don't think I'm good at lingering on the disgusting. I remember a distinguished visiting tutor on my MA telling me not to worry about going over the top and remembering to put details about things like the smell into The Novel That Nobody Wanted, which I just about managed to do. But this is my gore experiment, for better or worse.
It takes quite a lot for gore to get to me, but Clive Barker is one of those people that can put me off my food. I remember working in a DVD rental place and someone asked me what I thought of Hellraiser. I described it as a "wet" film, and I didn't mean that it was sappy. It's just that everything is dripping, everything is oozing, things are slippery and sharp at the same time. I've not read enough of his fiction but his Books of Blood are well worth a read, and Weaveworld is great.
So next week there'll be some more writing about writing. And the week after that will feature (if all goes according to plan) a non-experimental story with no bursting eyeballs. Sorry if this week's story wasn''t your cup of tea. It's also a little inspired by the amazing web comic Achewood, in which a lying robot tells an adorable young otter a horrifying bed time story and ends it with "No moral! The end!"
Finally, if I ever get to the stage where I have writing published, or have professional people read my writing out loud, I hope to at some stage repeat this one line: "Julia, empty the torso."