I hate hospitals. Hate everything about them.
At the moment, I was hating the incessant, rodent-like scratching of the pens of that ridiculous contraption they had placed by Father’s bed. Of what use was charting his heartbeats, if that is what the scribblings on the paper were supposed to represent? Either his heart was beating, or it was not.
He lay in the hospital bed, wires and tubes crisscrossing on their way to their various connections. He did not look good – paler than usual, almost like one of those poorly done wax figures at Madame Tussauds – dead looking things that had never been alive. Almost as though they had chosen to use bloodless corpses for their models, although I had heard…
Father gasped and shuddered suddenly, the sound pulling me out of my reverie. The scratching became more frantic, then slowed. His eyes opened, and as unfocused as he seemed, he still managed to look right at me. He beckoned to me, waved me over. Of course it was just too fingers, but I do not mean to be critical; I am certain he could not have managed much more than that.
His ancient lips wavered soundlessly behind the rubber oxygen hose they had inserted into his nostrils; I have no idea what they hoped to achieve with that other than to make conversation impossible. I stepped closer, even leaned toward him a little, trying to make out what he was saying, but it was not very effective; the oxygen hissing through the tubing was making more sound than he was; maybe it would be easier to hear him if I just turned it off.
He glared at me – amazing that he could pull that much energy together – and then, with what should have been the last of his strength, pushed himself up onto his elbows to rise part way off the bed. Not a good idea – the gauze dressing on his chest wound was suddenly highlighted by a two-inch circle of blood. They said I should have left the thing that punctured him in his chest, but, it would have been awkward carrying him with that stake, protruding like that; I feared I would drive it into his heart just getting him back to his Studebaker.
“You should take it easy,” I said. “You are going to make yourself bleed out.”
I put my hands on his shoulders and pressed to get him to lay back. He was no match for me in his condition, so instead he pulled the tubes from his nostrils. His lips were moving again, but it was too wheezy to be heard over the free-flowing gas, so I stuffed the hoses under his pillow to muffle them. The grating scratches of the monitor had become distracting in their frenzy, so I reached over and pulled the wires out, and it quieted immediately; then, I tilted my head closer.
“Yalta spoh the body,” he whispered. Not a deliberate whisper, mind you; he was having an understandable amount of difficulty speaking.
Still, it was an odd thing to say.
The patch of blood was expanding, and I wondered if maybe I should call the nurse, but he cupped his clammy hand around the back of my neck and dragged my ear down to his mouth before I had time to decide.
“You must… dispose… of the body,” he gasped, and then released me.
“Ohhh, that makes more sense than ‘Yalta spoh’,” I said as I straightened up. Then it occurred to me to ask, “What body?”
But he paid me no mind; he was too busy spasming, and shaking, and gasping. This was unhelpful, so I called for assistance, but he went through a final shudder and was still before help arrived. The doctor complained that Father’s chest was already too damaged to withstand the types of compressions he had read about that might be beneficial.
There was no point, really; he was not likely to have answered me if they had revived him.
Funerals can be a distraction. I considered not having one, but there are some things you simply must do in a civilized society. I stopped by their house long enough to grab Father’s address book from the study, but since he had allowed the phone to be disconnected some time back, I did not remain there to make the calls.
There were not many people to notify – most of their friends had been Mother’s, and even though they had come to her funeral and were politely consoling, none of them had bothered coming to the house afterward for more than the obligatory cup of tea and “We shall miss her” declarations, they had ceased contact with Father as soon as was seemly. There was no need to invite them.
Father had never had many friends of his own, and the couple of truly long-term ones had preceded him into oblivion. There were a handful of people he had worked with at the lab before he retired. Those relationships, held together by a common workplace and paychecks were more Father’s style. Of course, he was considered a bit odd even by their standards; going on about extraterrestrial life that no sane person believes in does not put you at the top of the list of the best people to admit an acquaintance with. If they had ever known about the evidence he had found in those meteor samples, it might have made a difference in their opinion of him. Indeed, if he had confided in me, I might have been less reticent about mentioning his studies to my circle of acquaintances. I would possibly have informed the authorities, at least.
There was a steady amount of drizzle at the burial, lending a suitable appearance of a somber air to the proceedings that might not have been there otherwise, and giving three of the four people in attendance an excuse to leave the site immediately after Minister Coughlin’s generic words, leaving only a short bespectacled stranger and me standing by the hole as they shoveled the dirt in over Father. I wondered how long it would take for the grass to cover the spot; Mother’s grave alongside it still had no grass, almost as if it had only been filled and tamped down recently, not over a year ago. Not what would be expected of a reputable family. Perhaps the grass cover was something you needed to pay extra for? I could ask the funeral home about it, and if it was not too expensive…
The short, bespectacled man was still there, and had coughed. He held out his hand – not the one he coughed into – and said, “Sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you,” I said, shaking his hand briefly, “and you are…?”
“Thomas Quatermain. George and I were acquainted through common interests. Perhaps he mentioned me?”
“Father and I did not communicate regularly, so no. In fact, I do not remember calling you. Was it someone at the lab?”
“Of course not, “he scoffed, “they could not be bothered with me. I saw his name on a report I have generated of unusual deaths.”
“Unusual? I would have thought it unusual if that wound had not killed him.”
“Yes, but what did the wound come from? Did he say?”
“He did not have to; I pulled it out of his chest myself.”
“Could I see it, then?” he said, clasping his hands together.
There was an eagerness in the way he looked askance at me that was obscene; I stiffened.
“I gave it to the police.”
“Oh,” he said. His disappointment was palpable. “Perhaps he told you how it happened?”
“This is all rather impertinent. Of what concern is it to you?” I said.
“George consulted me about some fascinating materials he’d discovered, perhaps extraterrestrial in nature. I was hoping his death was related to them.”
“Why would you hope such a thing?”
“No, no, no,” he said, shaking his head, “you misunderstand me. I only meant that, since he was dead, anyway, if it was by extraterrestrial causes, it would bring attention to our cause.”
“Oh,” I said. Now it was clear to me. “You are one of those people.”
“There are more things in heaven and earth than can be explained with a closed mind,” he said with an air of offended indignation, but it was not so strong as to overpower my own self-righteous disdain.
“My father was a respectable member of the scientific community,” I lied. “Besides, he retired from the lab some time ago.”
“George retired in order to pursue research that the powers that be weren’t interested in.”
“Father thankfully stopped that nonsense when he retired, and I will not now be dragged into your sort’s delusions,” I said, and abruptly turned from the grave and headed toward Father’s Studebaker. “Good day to you.”
“Perhaps I could stop by and examine his work?” he called.
“I think not,” I said, not looking back. ”Good day to you.”
I had only intended to return the Studebaker to my parents’ home and not remain there, as it would have been too much like an invitation to their friends to stop by and offer condolences, and I really had no patience for that. But Quatermain had made me wonder if Father had indeed continued his absurd research at the house. If so, there would be evidence of such that might be exposed, on the odd chance that the authorities decided to open an investigation into his death. Actually, the oddness was more that they had chosen not to investigate it, and perhaps it was only a matter of time before they would search the house and exhume Father’s deranged nature. I had fought against association with his peculiarities for too long to have to deal with it again. So I returned to the house, to dispose of anything that might be embarrassing.
It was good that I had; there were many potentially damaging loose ends to tie up.
Mother’s body, for one.
I had not truly believed that Father had stopped his explorations. His retirement had given me a convenient and false sense of security, a reason to believe that he was now harmless, that he could not further damage my reputation. I would only need to deal with the conventional foibles of senility.
My parents had set aside sufficient funds to live rather comfortably in their old age. I should have been suspicious when his telephone service ceased, should have known something was afoot when there was no lighting save a pair of kerosene lamps when I made one of my rare visits. He swore poverty, but it was obviously induced by his passions.
I should not have left him alone to his devices.
As I sat in Father’s study, sifting through his notebooks, my disturbed focus was further shaken by a knocking; a slow, steady, dull progress of bored interaction with a door. At first I ignored it; my parents were dead, and it would be perfectly believable that no one was home. However, the knocking persisted, making it impossible to continue reading Father’s scribbles about “the rat’s surprising reanimation”, “non-terrestrial origins”, “this may bring her back to me”, and the like. I walked to the front door and flung it open, prepared to send the interloper on their way.
There was no one on the porch. My suspicion that I was dealing with prankish urchins was disproved as I realized that the knocking had not stopped; it was, still sounding as monotonously as ever. Now that I was in the hall, I could better determine that the sound was coming from the door to the basement. I retrieved a poker from the study and approached.
“Who is there?” I asked, in feigned calmness.
This was not as foolish a thing to do as it may seem. My parents had no tenants that I knew of, neither traditional renters, nor the sort of relatives that you would normally keep in your attic or basement. I had considered this approach to eliminating Father’s notoriety, but Mother would not hear of it, and then, once she was dead, there seemed no point, as I had convinced myself that he was harmless in his seclusion.
The knocking stopped.
I examined what appeared to be a smear of blood on the door, around the bolt that was keeping it closed, then pulled the handkerchief from my pocket, and used it to grip and slide the bolt, then opened the door. I was prepared to skewer whoever was on the other side, but held back my thrust when I saw that it was Mother.
Her eyes glowed with a peculiar blue vibrancy that I did not remember. She seemed to not be dead, anymore, although she did not quite smell alive. I covered my nose and mouth with the handkerchief to forestall my anticipated retching.
“Mother?” I asked, my voice muffled.
That was when I noticed the iron pipe she was wielding as it descended on my skull.
I regained consciousness in the chill of the basement, tied to Father’s old worktable. I was looking up at a grid of electrical cords connecting a series of incandescents hanging from the beams, which filled the space with bright, yellow light. I was puzzled by the presence of electricity where I thought Father had had none; the constant rattling of a nearby engine made it apparent that he had discovered a way to generate his own power.
I turned my throbbing head to the side. Father had indeed not abandoned his research, and had augmented the small workroom I remembered into a functional lab in which to continue his disreputable pursuits.
A coffin-sized glass tank in the center of the room seemed to have Mother’s focus. There was a ridged, head-sized rock – a meteor, perhaps – lying submerged at the bottom of the tank; it seemed unremarkable, save for the blue gelatinous clusters covering much of its surface, glowing with that same hue I had noted in Mother’s eyes. She stood with her arms submerged to the elbows, and was trying with some difficulty to push the needle end of a large, brass horse-syringe into one of the larger clumps.
“I thought you were dead,” I said. It seemed a reasonable conversation starter.
“We are very much alive,” she said in that same, grating monotone.
I reflected on this as she continued to struggle with the syringe. Mother had never been prone to referring to herself in the plural; that, and the knowledge that Mother had indeed been dead, lead me to an inescapable conclusion.
“Who are you, and what are you doing in my mother’s body?”
“Your father rightly theorized that we could revive her body,” she, or it, or they said, “but mere proximity is not an optimal transference mechanism, and restoring dead flesh is a painful and unnecessarily laborious process. It took us weeks to make this body useful; living matter is a more hospitable medium.”
It had at last succeeded in penetrating the gelatin with the needle, and began drawing some of the substance into the syringe.
“Would I be correct if I assumed that you drove that stake into Father’s chest?” I asked with mild curiosity.
“A more direct path to his bloodstream was necessary; we had only that crude implement to implant some of our brethren in his flesh at the time.”
The body turned from the tank and advanced toward me with the filled syringe.
“This will be a more effective method,” it said.
“Hmmm,” I answered.
As I struggled to find something more meaningful to say, we both heard the sound of footsteps on the floor above. It looked up, then put a finger to Mother’s lips in a threatening manner before it hid under the stairs.
I watched the legs of the man descending, and debated internally whether to attempt some sort of warning, until I was finally able to identify him as Thomas Quatermain, and he identified me.
“Ah, there you are,” he said, as he crossed the room toward me, “Your door was ajar, so I just came in; I hope you don’t mind; I thought perhaps we could have a word?”
Then he noticed my bonds.
“Oh,” he said.
I am not sure what witty thing he had planned to say next, for he was interrupted as Mother’s body plunged the syringe into his back.
“Ouch!” he shouted, his eyes bulging.
He turned swiftly and landed a well-placed roundhouse to its jaw, and the body fell to the floor in a heap.
“She stuck something in my back,” he said, turning like a dog chasing its tail as he attempted to reach the syringe protruding between his shoulder blades.
“I could help you with that if I were loose,” I said.
“Oh, right,” he said, and untied me.
“Now, if you’d do the honors,” he said.
He turned his back to me, and I extricated and examined the empty syringe, as Quatermain looked down at Mother’s body. Then I selected a mallet from behind the workbench.
“If I didn’t know your mother was dead, I’d swear that is her,” he said.
When he turned toward me I did not see that same blue glow in his eyes, but I was certain it would only be a matter of time. I made effective use of the mallet and subdued him.
I then tied them both up, since it would not do to have reanimating, rejuvenating creatures on the loose, and I did not know how long it would take them to revive. Then I weighed the mallet as I considered my options.
I could not simply release them. No one would directly associate Quatermain with me, but Mother’s body was a different matter; it would reflect poorly on me if it continued sticking people with syringes. That sort of behavior is generally frowned on.
“You cannot defeat us,” Mother’s body droned.
“I could simply keep you locked down here,” I said
“As your father did,” it said.
“True. That does not seem to have been particularly effective.”
“We will gain our freedom,” said Quatermain.
The two of them edged toward each other, and attempted to untie each other’s bonds, accompanied by their incessant nattering on about the hopelessness of my situation, and their inevitable dominance over our species.
It was the nattering that decided me; I put a stop to it with the mallet. I was more diligent this time than previously; they may have been able to regenerate, but I would have more time if both bodies were indeed dead.
I drained the water from the tank and placed both bodies in with the meteor. I then siphoned generator fuel from one of the drums Father had stored in the basement, filled the tank to overflowing, and set it alight. It burst into an amazingly bright and hot conflagration that not only devoured the tank’s contents, but the blue-tinged flames also began hungrily licking the ceiling.
Perhaps I had misjudged?
I stood by the stairs and considered this for a few moments, and decided that I may, indeed, have used too much fuel, but there was nothing to be done. I left the basement, and considered retrieving Father’s journal, but the hall leading to the front door and the study was already in flames. I walked out through the kitchen door and retreated a safe distance behind the house, far enough to be inconspicuous as I watched the flames light each and every window, before the structure began collapsing in on itself, the flames lapping at the vacated space, almost filling it with glowing highlights and shadows.
Marvelous thing, a fire.
“I suppose burning was the only way to be sure.”
Father appeared somewhat worse than he had at his funeral; his shirt was torn and stained, and he wafted a sort of earthy odor, no doubt from the grave. It would have been rather embarrassing if anyone else had been there to see him, but we were alone for the moment.
“I noticed in my studies,” he continued, “that they only thrive in cool places, which is why I chose to work in the basement.”
Things were often left unsaid between us, but this was one of those rare circumstances I felt compelled to question.
“Why are you not dead?” I asked.
“Oh that,” he said, nonchalantly. “There were apparently enough of them on the stake to revive me. It took quite some doing to extricate myself from the grave.”
“Sorry,” I said, since some semblance of apology did seem to be in order. “If I had known that you might recover, I would have considered a security coffin with a bell for you to ring. I simply had no idea.”
“Think nothing of it,” he said.
The flames reflected in his eyes, along with the start of that familiar blue effervescence. It had been difficult enough to endure the embarrassment of the lunatic he had been; if he followed the same course of behavior as Mother, though, then what he was about to become would be a far more irritating thorn in my reputation.
I knocked him senseless, and then braved the scorching heat long enough to toss his limp body into the inferno. I watched, half expecting him to leap up and attempt to escape, but he remained motionless; I heaved a sigh of relief that at least that fear was groundless.
I turned my back to the flames and faced a half-dozen members of the local fire brigade.
I suppose the preference of prison versus sanatorium is a matter of personal opinion.
I could have chosen to tell all this to the magistrate, insisted that I had not killed my parents, that they had already been dead. I may have been able to present a convincing case of this, as there had been witnesses to the deceased nature of both. I would have simply been found guilty of cremation without a license, and of committing arson to a house that was my own inheritance. Paying the appropriate fees and fines, and signing an agreement that I would be more considerate of the legalities next time would have been sufficient to clear my name. There would have been those who would have still been aghast at my actions, but there is no satisfying some people.
This would not explain the discovery of Mr. Quatermain’s remains, however. No one had seen him die; to be honest, I am not certain that his heart ever stopped beating. If I had attempted to explain the truth of the matter, that he had been possessed by glowing blue creatures that came to earth in a piece of rock, well, that is not the sort of declaration that helps one retain a place in society.
To avoid the stigma, it seemed best to admit to killing Quatermain, but out of anger for finding that he had dug up my parent’s bodies, broken into their house, and was doing strange and unnatural experiments on their remains. In this way, my attorney was able to secure the sympathy of the jury, as well as a lesser sentence. Two years’ incarceration for a righteous crime of passion should do minimal damage to my standing in the community.
Still, not a day since has gone by during this first month without a diligent reexamination of the choices that led me to this cell. I sometimes experience doubts, but ultimately face the mirror each morning, as now, appraise myself and say:
“I did the best I could – there was nothing else for it.”
This self-reinforcement has helped me maintain my… Is that a blue glint in my eyes?
Surely not; that would kill my reputation.Recommended2 Simily SnapsPublished in