by Graham Tugwell
"Ha ha ha," laughed the Devil, "Yes, they are babies' heads! Your babies! Your lovely babies!"
"No—" Peter gasped.
"Not so lovely now, eh?" laughed the Devil, nudging him, "Not so lovely now!"
"Noooo!" Peter screamed, and he fell on his knees, "Curse the day that I sold my soul for this golden shovel! Curse it, curse it, curse it!"
And the Devil just stood there, laughing at poor Peter Flynn— and laughed, laughed, LAUGHED!
Done. Finished— 'What Persuaded Me to sell my Soul for Satan's Golden Shovel?' complete now after weeks of intricate and exacting effort.
Save. Backup. Aaaand… email a copy, for first impressions and feedback…
Proud: the best story of terror yet written, hot redolence of terror and sweet unease, a prose-shard Tales to Perturb or Excoriating Stories are sure to swallow messily. Such stories of mangled infants and dismembered innocents are guaranteed sellers, as tales such as 'No— those are my Son's Ribs' and 'Pieces of Bad Little Johnny' amply demonstrate.
Horror= baby bits!
And now, fingers steepling, sink back into that familiar warm and seeping feeling, an enveloping cloud of contentment.
Beckoning: anticipate hours, maybe even days of quiet satiation. Sure in the knowledge another piece of mind preserves itself for posterity.
But soon… soon the hunger returns, the old need mounting, crying: create, write; shape the assailing nonsense into words, call down the madness, render the wordless into words; the feel, the texture of the thing revealed.
Inspiration: the soft fall of pieces into place, the only possible path revealed. Then the crafting, the working, the polishing of every phrase and word until it can be no other way, until it all works as one, a gleaming meaning machine. Bringing thought to the senseless darkness.
Dragging the mind incomparable across the coldness of uncaring space.
That is writing. That is writing. There can be nothing finer.
Let the significance, the quiet nobility of the task complete, carry you on into loving sleep.
The head of the shovel hums moth-soft through the air—I can feel the weight of it, moving not a centimetre above my scalp, softly disturbing hair after hair as if time itself has stopped to witness— if I hadn't ducked, leant backwards at the last moment…
In a shock of sparks and a shower of grit, with a thundering that echoes again and again in the closeness of the boiler room, the shovel glances off the brick wall, zips up and away, sending the light bulb madly bouncing on its cord.
The shock of the impact stings his fingers into numbness—he howls like an animal, dropping the shovel with a clatter. Pressed immobile against the cold brick wall, amber light splashed upon me by the drunkenly wheeling bulb, I see him clearly for the first time—his rubbery body divested of all clothing, his shins and arms and belly splashed with blood, his tiny bald head hollowed by his massive black mouth.
Maniacally priapic he screams: "My fucking babies, these are my fucking babies—and I can do what I fucking want with my fucking babies—"
And I see… I see the little round things littering the cement floor—the curly hair, the red cheeks, the weeping necks—there must be dozens, there must be scores of them being stood on, or kicked around, the poor things, the poor little bodiless things.
He stands there bellowing, the gigantic swell of his belly and hips framed by the deep red glow of the nursery boiler. And I think: How many more are being burned now, as I stand here unable to move, how many more will he shovel in and burn to ashes?
I have to act.
I have to act now, before he gets his hands upon the shovel.
And I find myself repeating it like a mantra: This town will be the death of me.
There is a half brick underneath my foot.
I pick it up.
And I go do my job.
Walk; discard the fuzzy shell of sleep, walk the half-mile to the shops: milk, paper, eggs—fresh air, face-to-face contact with others.
The former successfully obtained. The latter, not quite. Tomorrow, maybe.
Sullen queuing hugging produce. Sleep fuzzed still.
Listen to them nattering small-mindedly in the queue— Think: might be useful colloquialisms, archaic phrases, characterful language you can polish up, turn into usable truth.
But the crushing, aching mundanity of conversation, the blandness, the paucity of expression, the redundancy of rhetoric, it physically hurts.
Think: should check for bruises…
Frustration: no shred mind at work within their mulish heads?
"—Heads, they said. Heads all over the floor—"
Ear for horror draws you, listening in—
"—Attacked the teacher, took the children downstairs. Took their heads off with end of a spade."
Spade? Children's heads? Baby bits= horror, you know.
"I know, I know—They found him in the cellar shovelling the heads into the boiler as if they was coal. All over the floor." Floored: couldn't have read your story, surely? No—just coincidence— Zeitgeist, in the air, waiting to be written. Confluence. A star fall, a phone call, it joins all- simultaneously!
Tales to Perturb are going to be snapping at heels for this!
Pay, shuffle out.
Walking puts it out of mind. Other stories forcing their way in, jockeying— yearning, coquettishly, to be dealt with, nodes of meaning to be teased.
Choose the finest: A jewel. A hidden island. Revenge from before time… An inhuman assassin…
Yes. Ideas fall into place…
Chair pulled to the desk.
New document opened.
And then—out of the darkness of the Peloponnesian acquatic fauna baths—it was on him!
"Wha—? No!" he barked, dropping the jewel floorwards.
"It's eating my face!"
But there was no-one there in the Acquarium to tell Jason… why…
No-one but… the octopus…
Eating his face.
Call it: Acquarium of Approbrium…
Nicely done— shocks and narrative twists and then a quality suspenseful ending. Leave things hanging in the air. Room for a follow up, if the mood takes.
The routine: Save… Backup… Email for perusal.
Now: relaxing into the chair, celebration in ord—
Who—? Who could possibly—what would anyone—?
Frozen in your chair, mind racing.
I ring the doorbell for the second time. Though I can hear the bell echoing inside there are no other noises and no movement, nothing to indicate that anyone is home. The windows are dark and dirty, shrouded in those awful net curtains, brown and fly-speckled.
I turn to Harness, who shrugs as I sigh, and together we walk back down the cracked path. We can always come back, question the occupant later. Hardly likely that they saw anything anyway; the body, after all, lies two streets away.
We return to contemplate the corpse, arriving just as the forensic examination comes to a close. The body is that of a twenty year old male, wearing the short-sleeved khaki uniform I always associate with zoos and theme parks. A nametag identifies the deceased as 'Jason'.
Jason has been dead for about three hours.
The forensic team have made two discoveries: in his left hand, a green gem. In his mouth, a pulped mass, slowly teased out with tweezers—a little black octopus.
The octopus has been dead for little under an hour.
Miles from any body of water, with nothing to indicate how the body came to lie here: instantly my head splits with migraine.
Conspiring; everything conspiring to make my job as difficult as possible.
Tell them nothing.
Stonewall, emotionless, give nothing away. Nothing to give away.
Writing had nothing to do with, just a coincidence.
Life is full of them, chance, luck.
What; wrote it all into life?
Magic? Telepathy? Mind not that powerful!
So don't mention it. Say nothing; inside all day, every day.
Spoke to no-one. Never speak to anyone. Saw nothing. Heard nothing. Did nothing. Never do anything.
And they leave. Finally.
Saying: "We may need to ask you a few more questions."
There's something about the last interviewee that troubles me. The shifty and evasive way he answers my questions. Even the innocuous ones, like when I asked what he did for a living.
Abrupt. Guarded. Prickly…
Harness felt it too.
Do this job for as long as I have, and it becomes a sixth sense: you learn to smell lies. This one— he reeks of fear, he stinks of deception.
Tomorrow. Another visit.
Eye the screen.
Warily; black and waiting screen, square mouth.
What magic is in it?
Troubled now, loath to feed words into the thing in case… in case… Troubled now, fitfully sleep…
On the waking edge, the newest idea, like all others, falls softly into place.
Thinking safe; must go unwritten.
But the old man was not in the bin.
No, he was in the bath with Martin!
"Wha—?" shouted Martin— "How did you get in this bath?!"
"That don't matter," announced the old man, "Just give me back my fucking bingo money!!"
Morning. So… groggy.
Yesterday; a bad dream.
Have an idea, but won't write, not until sure…
Bathroom: freshen up. Wash away cobwebs, dust of—
In the bath.
Sitting in the bath.
Growling: "Where's my fucking bingo money?"
Blade in his—
But it was just a thought—just a thought—
Never wrote it down—
Spring back—out of the—
"Where's my fucking bingo money?"
Horror— the horror—mind, thinking—treacherous mind whispering—
Horror= baby bits.
It's the ideas. The ideas.
Stop the ideas.
Oh, please don't think that name—
Dodge the— down the stairs—
"Where's my fucking—"
Lights—lights are flickering—
Stop thinking— Horror= baby bits—
Stop the ideas!
Oh stop the ideas, please, please…
Shoulder, sliced your shoulder—
There's so much—there's so much— dripping on the floor—
"Wha—?!" he screams.
Pull it— pull it!
Open the door, open the fucking door—
He's behind— Duck!
We hear the shouting the moment we leave the car, and we run up the path. We see the owner, Trevor Nugent, desperately trying to open the front door; while close behind him we see his attacker approach, wielding a short knife.
And we see the old man as he swings for Nugent but at the last moment his target ducks and the knife misses, embedding itself in the plastic door of the electrical meter in the hallway.
And when the knife pulls free, the door opens too, and the… contents… spill upon a crouching Nugent.
The old man retreats into the darkness of the house and, too shocked, we forget him.
On his knees in the hallway, red with blood, covered in coils of wire and plastic, Nugent is cradling the butchered torso, the limp and limbless thing connected by cords and cables to his home.
The lights are flickering on and off around him, a humming halo.
"This is my mind," he weeps, his mouth stretching into a loose socket. "My horror… I'm holding my mind."
And he looks at me and the anguish on his face, melting him—
And he says, "Tell me what's wrong with me. Please… Tell me why I dream such terrible horror into the world."
And Harness cries "Wha—?!"
And I fall to me knees, unwilling I fall, and I cry out unwanting, forced to, compelled to call:
Graham Tugwell is a PhD student with the School of English, Trinity College Dublin, where he teaches Popular and Modernist Fiction. The recipient of the College Green Literary Prize 2010, he has work forthcoming in Kerouac’s Dog Magazine, THIS Literary Magazine, Jersey Devil Press, Anemone Sidecar, Plain Spoke, Sein und Werden, Pyrta, The Quotable, Battered Suitcase, Thoughtsmith, Anobium, Lost Souls and Rotten Leaves. His website is grahamtugwell.com.