The Nature of Man

Mike GristScience Fiction, Stories Leave a Comment


by Michael John Grist

NB- This one is very graphic, and dark, and full of swearing.

He’s standing outside the building, waiting. He has been here for days. He doesn’t move much, he just stands, and waits, and he doesn’t care about the rain, or the sun on his face, tanning his right cheek to red, leaving the left sheltered and pale. People bustle by him like buffalo, following the herd. No-one asks him what he’s doing there.

He’s wearing the same clothes he was 2 days ago. He hasn’t moved. He only stands and stares up at the building sweeping majestic above him, 64 stories high and more than he can bear. He feels that at any minute the whole thing will fall down and burst him like a grape. That at any minute the things he thinks he remembers, fogged and bleary-eyed, will rush up through his body and choke him from inside.

Sometimes he spreads his arms because he thinks it will happen soon. He is only waiting for it. Pedestrians jostle with him and newsvendors hawk and spit in his path.

The police haven’t noticed him yet. It’s really a matter of time. Then it will be over, and he will have been judged. That’s all he’s waiting for.

Image from here.

The morning of the third day, dawn light creeping through the dirty warren of empty streets, a mugger runs up behind him and swings a club into the back of his head. It is the right leg of a mannequin doll. It splinters across his skull and he lets out a feeble cry, falls to his knees. The mugger, young and feverish, lank spaghetti hair slapping against his mop wet face, circles round to the man’s front, kicks him fiercely in the chest with red-laced Doc Marten boots. There’s a crack, and he slumps backwards. The mugger leaps atop him, pulling at jacket and trouser pockets in a frenzy. He finds nothing. Stands back, aims a kick his man’s face, plants it, then sprints off down a dark side street.

He lies there saying nothing. He only has to wait. Now, on his back, he can stare straight up at the upper stories and imagine that at any minute they’ll be crashing down to meet him, those great glass eyes that see all.

A few hours pass. Soon, the street is thunderous again with people. The buffalo take him in their stride. There is no thought given to him. Everybody has somewhere else to be.

A short time later the policemen come. 3 of them. He can see their booted feet stomping between the high heeled, hush puppied, loafered hoofs of the beasts rampaging about him. He can hear the clank of metal on their hips, imagine it, and he knows that they’ve come to take him away.

The three stand above him. His eyes are closed now, and he’s barely breathing. There is still a headache, something waiting, and he daren’t speak lest it spring forth from his mouth.

“Is he dead?” asks one. His voice is young, and new.

“Shoulda been reported a long time ago,” answers another, older and harder. “Dead guys, new Compstat records says we gotta pick ’em up within 2 hours, or before it gets light.”

“Fucked up on that one then, didn’t we?” says a third, voice deep and resonant. “He’s been rotting here for days.”

“He wasn’t here yesterday,” says the second. “And we don’t know if he’s dead yet, do we?”

“Be better if he was,” says the third. “Short of that, we’re gonna need a hospital run for another fucking junkie.”

“Waste of time,” agrees the third.

“Either that or we tape up the area. You wanna tape it up?”

“This is a high street, Jack, that’s too much fucking hassle for lunch-time.”

“Well, we didn’t get a call, so we can just cart him ourselves. Dump him in a alley somewhere and soon enough he’ll be picked up by sanitation.”

“Full of compassion, aren’t ya?”

“Like you give a shit. See all this powder around him? Broken wood? Looks like he had himself quite a time out here.”

“It’s strange the building hasn’t called it in, isn’t it?” asks the quieter voice.

“Yeah, well, it’s on us now,” says the second.

“Shouldn’t we call in the hospitals?”

“No dice, rookie,” says the deeper voice. “Like Jack said, he’s been rotting here all night, and Compstat’s against that, whether he’s dead or not. You two just get under his arms and we’ll get him clear of traffic, then we can figure out what to do.”

“He’s filthy,” protests the rookie.

“Yeah, well, that’s why I ain’t carryin’ him,” says the deep voice. “Now get to it.”

He cracks his eyes. He can see the brightness, and 3 shadows resolving above his body. He sees hands reaching down to him. He realizes, they’re coming to take him away. He understands it, and what it will mean. No more glass eyes. No more waiting in the rain. They won’t just leave him here.

He feels hands on his elbows, in his armpits, then they’re lifting him, legs trailing underneath, arms dangling useless by his sides.

His fingers brush something cold. Metal. He squints through his screwed up eyes to the side, sees the flash of silver in a holster.

“Hey, he’s waking up, dump him,” says the deep voice, and the arms supporting him fall away.

As he falls he snags the gun from the nearest belt, button popping free as his weight tugs it down.

“Shit!” yells the rookie.

He falls and rolls to the side, to the edge of the pavement and road, can feel the hot blast from the subway entrance on his side, fumbling with the revolver, looking for the safety.

“Shoot him!” calls the rookie, “he’s got my gun, he’s got my fucking gun, shoot him!”

There is a volcanic report, gun fire clang off the pavement and he isn’t sure if he’s hit, but now he swings around, comes to sitting on the pavement, and holds the gun before him.



Like he expected, seven years on the ranges as a commercial tester, the bullets find their marks. The two policemen fall down. Now he has a gun. He hefts it, feels the weight, enjoys it as people are screaming and fleeing the scene, and the rookie is desperately flicking through the channels on his radio, pawing at the officers down, searching for the guns.

He stands up slow. His knees are weak, head is light, but he towers above the kneeling cop, young and blonde and terrified.

He holds the gun into his face.

“Go,” he says, soft, voice dry with days of nothing. The young man stares down the barrel of his own gun, hesitates.

“Now,” he says, cocking back the hammer.

The young man throws his body to the side and makes a grab for the gun, head swaying out of target, hand flashing out to bat the gun away. The gun sways to the side, but it doesn’t fall, and the young man is scampering on all fours, to his feet, trying to run away.

The man waits, lets him run. Then he turns, steps over a bleeding police officer, and enters the revolving doors of the building before him.

In the lobby it’s all cool lavender marble, and he feels the sting of the sunburn in the sudden chill, and the throbbing in the back of his head. On the wall, strung up behind a pine reception desk, welcome clerk speaking rapidly into the security mic, is the list of companies resident. Floor 64, and no name. The company he’s come to see.

“Drop the gun!” comes a baritone shout from behind. He turns, sees a big man in a powder blue uniform, security badge gleaming on his chest, gun held before him. People are on the ground or running to the stairwells and revolving doors.

He starts walking towards the black man, who pulls the trigger twice but somehow misses. He lofts his own gun, shoots the big man in the knee. Blood dapples through uniform and he staggers, aim wavers. The shooter steps closer, slaps the man’s face, then holds the gun to his forehead, sliding round and behind him, edging up against the wall.

“Into the lift,” he says, feeling the words like a dizziness coming out of his throat. He presses the call button, and waits for the ping. Then he shouts out, eyes swarming into color as the words ratchet out, “stop the lift and he dies!”

Then he backs into the lift, the big man stumbling with him. The doors shum softly before them, and there’s classical music and reflections on all sides.

“Whaddya want, man?” asks the man, craning to see the shooter’s reflection in the mirrors, breathing heavy with the pain in his leg. “Whaddya doing here?”

“I don’t know,” says the man, presses the gun tip harder into his forehead. “I don’t know.”

A minute later the lift pings onto the 64th, and the two walk out. The hallway before them is deserted, two empty desks either side, all the doors branching off closed.

“Where is it?” asks the man.

“What? Where is what, fucker?”

He releases the security guard, shoves him forward, gun still trained on his back.

“Tell me!”

“Fuck you, man!” says the guard, leaning against the wall. “Tell yourself!”

He nods. Walks past the guard, who draws closer to the wall, holds his breath, but nothing happens. He only walks deeper along the corridor. Behind him, the ping of the lift as the other man escapes.

Suddenly it is dark. All the lights go out and it’s dark, but for the faint wedge of yellow slipping through the window at the far end of the corridor.

He remembers. He knows this place. He has dreamt it for 3 days, standing before the building, living through the nights as he lived through the days, in an agony of indecision, waiting for them to make the first move. Now, though, it’s all going to happen. Everything is as he has seen it. It is already too late to back down.

He pushes against a door, but it is locked. Another, further down, but this too is locked. Every door, all the way down the corridor, is the same. He kicks against one, but nothing. He hears the metal echo of dead bolt locks.

They will be here soon. More men with guns. He must not be stopped, so close. He sprints to the window, even as the lift doors slide open at the far end of the corridor behind him, and voices cry out for him to halt. The first whining rush of a bullet tears past him, and he dives towards the window, triggering the pistol into the glass as he goes.

There is a shattering, mingling with screams from behind and more gunfire, then the cold grating of glass, raking his face and arms, and then he’s down, cold metal beneath him, bullets flying overhead. To his left is a staircase, leading up and around. Torches line the walls, flickering against rough brown stone. There is green moss in clumps, and water stains trickling from the torch sconces.

“Did he fall?” comes the cry from behind.

He takes the staircase, two steps at a time, feeling the heat from the torches as he passes. The cries from behind diminish, and he climbs on, remembers the dreams, everything he has seen before, and the first tremors of fear claw inside him. Now, and it’s cold, and him alone, he can think again, of all the reasons he waited for so long on the pavement a world away below.

He emerges panting into darkness. There are no torches here, and he steps back down and takes one from a sconce on the wall. Now he can see the low ceiling, inches above his head, and the spread of brown dripping stone all around, and an image of something moving, before him, then the torch is blown out in the stiff breeze cutting through the room. He raises his hands before him, faint light coming from the curve of the staircase, and steps forward.

The breeze comes from every direction. It is a dry wind, blowing through the darkness. He can hear voices. Muttered whispers. Perhaps there is someone sobbing, somewhere. He reaches before him, stepping blindly through the black.

“Who are you?” he whispers. “Where are you?”

Then there is silence. He can hear only his rough breathing, and the padding of his feet softly on the damp stone, and the roar of the wind.

Then something else. Faint. He moves in it’s direction. It is the same sound he has been hearing for 3 days, only silenced. Diffused. Then there is a wall before him, his fingers in wet moss again, and he crouches, feels the breeze around his waist, presses his ear against the gap.

Traffic. Engines. Car horns. The occasional cry of a street vendor.

He swings his head, brings his eyes to the line, and sees a slim sliver of light. At this level, he can trace it along the wall. It feeds all the way around, spelling out a room as big as the building, and as he watches, he sees shapes, and movements breaking the golden line. As his eyes slowly adjust, crouched by the wall, breeze cooling his face, he remembers what the movement is, and what the shapes are.  “What the fuck is this, captain?” comes the shout from the staircase, along with the white of flashlights dancing round the room. “I mean, what the fuck is this?”

He stands up, hurries along the wall, fingers attuned to the crack and the breeze feeding through. Somewhere here, he knows, is his daughter. The fear turns to rage inside him. He was right. He knew. The rage boils deeper with every step round the building, and soon, he isn’t thinking about her anymore, or where she is, or if she’s OK. He’s only thinking about the man. 64th floor. The man that put her here.

His hands catch on rusted metal. At that moment, a flare bursts to light behind him. As he turns to climb down the ladder, feet resting on the uppermost rung, he sees what he knew was there.

“Holy fuck!” screams the SWAT man at the opposite edge of the room. “Holy mother fucker!”

Lit by the furious red rush of the sparking flare, a place full of bodies. Women. Perhaps a hundred. Chained and caged, naked, bloodied, and bruised. His daughter amongst them.

“Holy fuck!” says the SWAT man again.

He turns his face away. He knew this anyway. It is the same as his dreams, as he always imagined. Hand over hand, he begins the climb down the ladder. There is no breeze now. The air is dead and still. He can feel the confines of the walls pressing in on him. The passage is narrow, his back brushes the wet stone. The air is bad. He wonders, what lies on the other side of this wall. Offices? A creche for children? Conference rooms? All oblivious to the filth surrounding them. He wants to kick through the wall, tell them all, but of course he can’t. The wall is stone. And he has other things to do, now.

It is completely dark. He hears screaming from above, and quiet, then screaming again. Shock is wearing away, he wonders. They are only saving them.

He hits bottom, and reaches around. There is the smell of rot. The floor is unsteady around him. He can imagine what it is he is standing on. His hands find a hole in the wall, he reaches in, pushes the button inside, and the wall slides open. He remembers. Light floods in. He doesn’t look down, merely steps up and in. There is a welcome mat, and he wipes his feet. Red trails rub off. The wall slides shut behind him.

The room is small, like a classroom, whiteboard at one end, projector screen, a desk and chair at the front. There are no windows, but the lights are on, fluorescent tubes pumping white starkly over the blue carpet, tables and chairs. He steps in, along a trail of plastic sheeting over the carpet, and sees a coffee machine in the corner, a dumb waiter set into the wall, a box of napkins and bottles for salt, sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, all neatly labeled. To the first table, and the chairs are strange. He reaches down, sees they are bolted through the carpet to the floor, facing the whiteboard. Hanging from each backrest there is a metal pole on a hinge. He swings one up, and it locks into place at the vertical, like a thick aerial jutting from the chairs back. There are straps riveted to the metal, and metal tools. He imagines someone sitting here. There is a strap for the neck, and a strap for the forehead. There are metal half moon blinkers, look like make-up tools he’s seen his daughter using before, eyelash curlers, feeding round the side.

The blinkers are red with blood. He knows what this room is for too. He remembers. Looking down, he sees the straps on the chair’s arms, and on the legs. Droplets of rust lie red on the plastic sheeting below.

He steps over to the projector, flicks it on. Through the light he can just make out pink movement on the screen, before the sound kicks in. Screaming. A woman shrieking, “daddy, daddy, no!” over and over. The rough, toothy grind of violent sex. The screen is suffused with pink like the glow of dawn. He switches it off, but the screams linger on in his head.

Across the room and to another door. He flings it open. Dark, red walls, long corridor trailing round and curving out of sight. He steps in, looks to either side, and draws in a sharp breath. There are bodies lining the walls. Hanging from hooks. Dead but preserved, skin shiny with plastic sheaths, eyes stapled open, staring down over the corridor.

Men. Not women, but adult men, naked, each with a video tape and name tag hanging round his neck. He steels himself, moves from one to the next, reading the names, looking into the eyes, checking them all. Women’s names. All dead.

The corridor curves round the building like a race track, and every inch of space is covered with bodies, shoulder to shoulder, all with their names, all with their videos, except for one gap. At the apex of the U, before the corridor swings back round for another 30 meters, there is a space, one man wide, with a videotape and a name hanging from the wicked meat hook. The name is Julie Smith.

His daughter’s name.

He breaks into a run, turns the U, bodies staring down like gargoyles. At the end there’s another door, and he kicks it down, bursts through.

Something stings his chest. And again. He looks down, sees feathers like fresh plumage jutting beneath his chin. Looks up, sees a young man sat on a desk in a simple and small room, silver tube in his hands.

“I made this room for you,” says the young man pleasantly, his voice rich and mellifluous, setting down the tube. “It used to be my studio, but that phase is over with now. Do you like it?”

He tries to speak but he can’t. He sinks to his knees, his muscles won’t work. The young man chuckles.

“I shouldn’t worry,” he says. “It’ll all be over soon. You should be very proud. You are, after all, the centerpiece.”

He tries to scream, but all that emerges is a soft moan.

“There there,” says the young man kindly. “It really isn’t so bad. Just think, what have you got to live for anyway? Standing on the street some more? Killing more police officers? Not quite a sterling record, is it?”

He stands up, starts strolling around the room.

“Of course, you are distressed. I don’t blame you. Who wouldn’t be? But I rather think your anger is misplaced. That is something I’d very much like to get into, but I’m afraid we just haven’t the time. Our fickle public awaits us.”

There is a clanking sound, and a metal squeal, then the young man comes round the desk with a trolley, brings it to rest before the fallen man, and pushes him onto it. He rolls over like a stone, face down on the base.

“Very good, thank you, and now, perhaps, a few words of reassurance. Your daughter is not dead, Mr. Smith. She is merely mad. You went straight past her in the menagerie. Oh, ho,” he laughs, brushes a delicate white hand across his eyes as if stroking away tears. “It was rather a close thing, her hands and your feet. For a moment I thought you’d never make it. But, needs must, eh?”

He begins pushing the trolley, squeaking, out of the room and back along the corridor of bodies. Lying prone on the trolley bed, Mr. Smith can only stare up at the faces, staring down on him.

“And what did you think of the screening room? Of course, you’ve been there before. Last time, though, was a little more fun, don’t you think? But naturally, you don’t remember. The drugs I use are a little strong. If there was time, I’d like to take you for a fresh screening, see if I couldn’t imprint those images a little stronger in your mind, but thanks to your actions there just really isn’t time.”

The trolley squeaks, approaching the apex of the U.

“Bit of a nuisance, really, but I’m sure we’ll be forgiven as much. This is a whole new art form, after all. Would you like to know what the name of it is? Of course you would. I call it ‘brain painting’. This is my first and grandest work. Oh, it is rather good. I’m sure that by now you remember everything. Very familiar, wouldn’t you say? It must be awfully frustrating for you, all locked up like you are now, but rest assured, you’ll be getting a nice view to finish with. Yes. Your brain painting is the most elaborate of all. You could say I’ve used all the colors in the palette, on you.”

They are by the empty space on the wall, and the young man brings the trolley to a halt. There is the sound of banging from the end of the corridor.

“Ah, the police are coming for you. It really will be wonderful, I have to say. Quite the masterstroke. Now if we can just, there, that’s better isn’t it?”

The young man unhooks the videotape and nametags from the wall, pats them down around Mr. Smith’s neck.

“We have a few moments yet, Mr. Smith,” he says, leaning in close, “you see, that door is triple bonded with magnetic locks. Of course, it was open for you. But the thing I want to tell you is this. Your daughter, Mr. Smith. Gosh. She really was the most delicious fuck. Didn’t you think so, when you watched it? Aren’t those images still rattling around inside your brain? Inside, outside, every which way. She loved to squirm, don’t you think?” He pauses, smiles, tilts his head like a questioning dog. “Am I getting through to you? Are the pictures coming back? Of course, we could have finished up a week ago, you and I, but not after what you did. No, for you it had to be different. Piece de resistance, you see. One moment.”

The young man leans over Mr. Smith, circles his arms round him, then lifts him to a kneeling position.

“Almost there,” he says. Then he reaches behind him, to the wall, and twists the great meat hook clear. It pulls down on metal wire, and the young man raises it over his head.

“This might hurt a little,” he says, as he slams the hook deep into the motionless man’s back. Mr. Smith tries to move, tries to scream, but of course there is nothing.

The young man goes back to the wall, opens a slot and pulls out the handle of a winch, which he begins to turn. The metal wire stretching to the dying man’s back grows taut.

“So the thing, really, is that I’m a genius,” he says, as the body is dragged towards the wall. “I just want people to know that. You inherit a lot of money, you take over your father’s company, and people think you’re sitting on your laurels. Some of them may call you a bastard, the bastard son of a tycoon. They may call you a buffoon. They may call your habits strange. But, and Mr. Smith, I think this is where you and I have to agree, they don’t know the half of it, do they? I ask for a mezzanine, I even draw one in myself, aligned to all kinds of astral positions, and they think nothing of it. I mis-route the lifts in my building, I create false windows, secret passages, dungeons, and the greatest work of art ever attempted in the history of man, and what do they know? Nothing, nothing of it at all. Well, that shall all change now. With you, my greatest work yet, it shall all change.”

Mr. Smith’s body is now sliding up the wall, smearing a red trail behind it. The effort is drawing beads of sweat from the young man’s face.

“This is the greatest moment of my life. My father, raping son of a bitch that he was, will never understand how brilliant his only son is. You know why? He’s dead!”

He laughs again. The hammering from the end of the corridor is louder.

“Ah, but they shan’t save you, Mr. Smith. And you can watch me, as they arrive, as they pull up with their guns and battering rams, and you’ll see them stand down for me, and let me go like the genius that I am. You will hang there, as you die, knowing the man who fucked your daughter into insanity is going to GET AWAY WITH IT COMPLETELY!”

He stops winching. Sweat stands out on his forehead. His frozen body is now level with all the others.

“No time for preservatives, I’m afraid,” says the young man. “They’ll record you like this, and it will have to do. And I must say, here at the final hurdle, that I owe it all to you. If only you’d joined in, like all the other men around you, it would have been easier. But less great, don’t you think? For a man to rape his own daughter, that’s really something, don’t you think? To give up all that you know is right, because the temptation says that you can?

“They thought that I would be deformed, or demented, did you know that? Of course, I’m not. I’m perfectly sane. I have 100 mad concubines locked up in the menagerie, ready to prove that bastard sons can be sane. It’s all part of the art, Smith, and you are the prince of them all. The only one to refuse. Naturally I buggered her a whole lot worse for that, but she is the only one carrying my baby. And she will carry it to term. And the price of your strength, your refusal, shall be the continuation of my lineage in your daughter’s loins. And then, you will know this is true by now, when her children are born, I will be there to do it all over again, and a whole second coming of my art will arise. Brain painting, Mr. Smith. Just think of what wonders they’ll find inside you, when they open you up. And now, your reward. Here, the only place it can be found, I’m going to implant the title of the piece. In your brain, Mr. Smith, so you best remember it all the way into death. It’s a testament to life. I’m calling it, ‘the nature of man’.

“Not bad, eh?”

The door at the end of the corridor bursts open. The young man drops down to his knees, hands above his head.

“Here we go,” he says, smiling. “Keep your eyes peeled.”

“Oh my God!” come the cries, and the sound of retching, as the police see the first of the bodies. There is the sound of tramping feet as they run around the U. Then the young man’s voice, piteous.

“Please, help me, I’m so afraid, they’ve done terrible things!”

“Hands in the air!” screams the first of the police, panic etched into his face, gun thrust before him like a shield, scant feet from the kneeling man. “Get your fucking hands in the air!”

“I’m so afraid,” he repeats, as a dozen more guns are cocked and pointed at his face.

Mr. Smith watches it all through a wall. He has no choice. His eyes are frozen. All he can see is the man before him. All he can feel is the torrent of rage boiling within him. All he wants is to squeeze the trigger of the gun still hanging slack in his hand.

“Please, it wasn’t me, please, help me!”

“Get some fucking cuffs on him!”

The world is turning to grey. Sound and movement dull down to shadows. He knows he is dying.

He sees his daughter again. He remembers her as a little girl. She was so small. Her fingers curled into his palm like fieldmice, she’d said. Cozy for the winter. He wants to smile, at that. He wants to hold her close. Keep her safe. So small.

Mr. Smith’s fist spasms. It is enough. The pistol discharges. The shot rings out and ricochets. For a moment, nothing happens. Then the police open fire. The young man is shredded, thrown backwards against the wall.

It is the last thing Mr. Smith sees before he dies.


At post mortem, the brains of the 100 male victims are studied. All of them display severe excitation at the time of death. High concentrations of adrenaline, dopamine, endorphins. All except one. The brain of one Mr. Smith, the most recent victim. His brain shows nothing. No elevated pressure, no chemical imbalances, no misfired neurons.

The mortician calls the head detective on the case. Asks him, what can you tell me to account for this. It’s completely abnormal. Given the situation you’ve described, this man should have been hyper-aroused. But he isn’t.

The detective tells him, we don’t know. He was the most recent victim? We didn’t know. Couldn’t the drugs have played a role in this?

Possibly, says the mortician. Though I’ve never encountered it. I’ve only ever seen these kinds of readings on older people, people who died in their sleep. This man was middle aged, and in the thick of extreme circumstances.

Well go figure, says the detective. I guess we got one happy soul on our hands then. What did you say his name was?

I didn’t, says the mortician. It’s Mr. Smith.

The detective checks through a file, a list, names and details.

Well go figure, he says again. Looks like this guy, your Mr. Smith, is the only one who didn’t go through with the rape. His DNA comes clear.

Clear conscience, says the mortician.

I guess so, says the detective. Thanks for letting us know.

Thank you, says the mortician, and hangs up.

Breathes out. Thinks about his daughter, six years old and safe at home.

What a beautiful thing, he says to himself, looking down at the MRI scans of Mr. Smith’s brain. What a beautiful thing.



You can see all MJG’s stories here:

[album id=6 template=compact]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *