by Michael John Grist
I cut open his brain because he needed help.
“Help me,” he’d whispered, banging at my fly screen in the middle of the night, his wet shirtsleeves slapping against the cracked glass of my back porch slide door. “I need help.”
So I’d let him in. Set him down. Listened to him talk.
“There’s a waterfall,” he’d said, lying there in the dark kitchen slumped across my table. “I see it when I dream. And the dark creatures. There are dark creatures in the waterfall. Slithering in the cold, behind the falls.”
“Oh?” I’d said, keeping my voice low and steady and calm. “Is that so?”
“And there’s fish,” he’d said. “In the water. Falling down the falls. And they think they’re happy. Hoop de hoop. They think falling in this water is so much fun fun fun. But when they pass the cave, the cave behind the falls, it’s not so fun. They start to panic, they flail and twist, because they know. And sometimes, yes, they do die. The dark creatures, they reach out, and they catch the fish.”
“And then?” I’d prompted. “What happens then?”
“Then they eat them!” he’d shouted, drunken head rattling the supper dishes on the table. I wondered if my wife would wake. “Maybe just their eyes.”
“Lots of people eat fish,” I’d said, trying to calm him down.
“Not like this,” he’d said, and shivered.
Later on he’d mentioned the rainbow. “It sounds nice, I know,” he’d said. “A rainbow. But it doesn’t stop the dark creatures. Scurry scurry scurry in the dark and cold. They scratch, back there. They rustle. In the dank. In the cold.”
I cut open his brain because he wanted me to. He said for me to take out the creatures, if I could. And if I couldn’t, then just to take out the whole waterfall.
I didn’t want to do it, but he was my best friend and I couldn’t say no, not when I saw the trace marks in his arms and the rot in his elbow and his guts barely hanging in there out his butt. I didn’t want to do it but I brought down the drill and the hacksaw and the G-clamp anyway, and I swept the kitchen table clear, fixed in the bindings, laid them all out and set it all up, then I prepped him for operation. I G-clamped his head with a pair of pillowed wood blocks in a vice, and I squeezed it tight until he couldn’t speak and he said he thought his jaw was going to crack and his eyeballs pop out.
Then we drank. I poured the whiskey down him. At the end he begged me to shoot him up. He couldn’t see, in the dark of my kitchen and the depths of his vice as he was, so I had to do it for him. Belt, needle, piercing the skin.
When he was finally high and wasted, he sang a little song about the waterfall. I hushed him to keep my wife from rousing, but allowed a quiet tune. There were tears in his eyes and I knew what he was feeling. I’d been through a similar thing myself.
When he’d gone quiet and I’d shuttered out all the starlight with blinds, and all my neighbors had long gone shut their windows and brought in their dogs, I got out the hacksaw. I was thinking about boiled eggs when I set it to the fevered white skin of his forehead. Popping the lid, dropping in some salt, spooning out the yolk with a soldiered strip of toast.
I took the whole top of his head off. All his hair, nearly, but for trailing skanks across the back and down the sides. Leaving his brain to jelly back and forth like a blancmange between his ears. His head was an eggcup for his brain.
Lots of little white threads trailed back from the top of his scalp to the blue/gray blob lurking squatly in the valley of his eggcup head. I had to cut them, mostly, or brush them aside. I felt a little bad about that, but there seemed no other way, really.
Then I started looking at his brain. Really, looking. I probed a little, with my cooking tongs. I didn’t want anything torn. I didn’t want anything broken. I just had to find the little imps behind the waterfall, or he was going to go mad.
I found it thanks to the rainbow, stretching across from his oculo-motor area, all the way over the motor and sensory strips like a high way overpass. I checked on my homunculus maps, greying papers sworled over the dinner table by his prone arms, depicting a brutish nude stretched vulgarly cross the back of the brain bulge, each bodily part labeled and attached by arrows to the corresponding strips of grey sponge. The felt rainbow strip definitely didn’t belong. So I followed it, folding, kneading his brain out of the way, tugging gently on the strip, trying to trace it back into the depths.
I drew diagrams as I went. It was difficult because it was so dark, but I managed. The huge puffy blob that looked like Elvis’ head, that goes here, I’d be thinking. The chunk of harder stuff oozing juice, that goes over there. And soon I was having to cut chunks out, drop them into the tupper-ware I had ready prepped on the table, with shredded newspaper and sawdust from the hamsters cage, along with ice to keep the pieces cool, cotton wool too to soak up some of the sloppy juice.
I found the waterfall deep in the base of his brain, next to the stem. By then, his brain parts were spread around the table like a revolving sushi restaurant, a little grey hunk here, a purple splodge there, all labeled with fig. numbers and graphs and linked into the master brain map I’d scrawled large across the centre of the white tablecloth with crayons.
I had a color code going on.
I found the waterfall and got out my magnifying glass, and I snipped away at its edges until it was excised, then I dumped it on a microscope slide, squashed it between two slim slips of perspex, and switched up the high beams.
Looking through the microscope, I could see flitting images behind the falls. I knew exactly what he’d been taking about, but I couldn’t see them clearly enough. I couldn’t make out their faces. He’d wanted me to draw one, even capture one and kill it, if I could. I’d set out a butterfly staking case, all velure felt and long thin pins, ready with a glass screen to seal any exhibition away.
But I couldn’t see them clearly enough to grab them, so I turned the microscope slide over, and there I saw them. I saw their base. I saw the knots and curlicues of their dens. The wadded mounds of fish scale, flesh, meat and bone they gathered around their rotten little bodies as they waited.
They were black round little blobs, with red teeth and eyes, and their claws came out of their blobby bodies like stick figure arms. They saw me watching them, and they started throwing themselves against what must have been the back of the cave, where his spine had been, but now was only a thin sheet of perspex glass. I watched as they all roused, hundred of them, unpeeling from the walls, rustling up from their scratchy black holes, and threw themselves against the glass.
Then the glass started to crack. Only in the centre at first, lines spreading out to the edges. I heard the tinkling crunching sound, then I threw myself back and away from the microscope. I slapped the slide into a jar of sulphuric acid I had waiting, then I drew a bead on the fizzing glass with my microscope.
They were dying. Wailing as their waterfall effervesced into bubbles of steam, as the rock walls disintegrated around them, as their black puffy little bodies were slimed down and washed to grey, until they were all, all gone.
Then I saw one creeping on the microscope lens. Right before my eye. And before I knew what to do, it had leapt right into my eye.
I stood there for a moment, frozen. Then I did the only thing I could do. I pried out my eye with a teaspoon, tipped back my head, and dropped in a pipette full of acid.
There was no pain, only a tingling fizzing feeling. I worried I would burn through to my brain, so just swished my head around for a few seconds, then dropped out the acid. Where it touched my eyelid and cheek it stung and I could feel the pain of it burning through, eating into my skin.
Then I saw the dark creature crawling on my nose, like an athlete sprawled across the face of a mountain. I’d got half his body, half his legs, but he was hanging on grimly, rocking back and forth, getting ready, swinging.
Before I could grind him to a smudge between finger and thumb, he made the leap into my other eye. I had no time to find the tea spoon anymore, after tossing it clatteringly to the floor previously, so I had to use the fork, plunging it right into the juice of my eye, and plucking out the orb like it was a big roast potato, then in with a second pipette of acid, and the old swirl, wash, rinse.
I came to and it was day time. I could feel the heat on my face, smell the fresh morning smells as flowers woke to the sun and released their vapors. I could smell mown grass and frying bacon on the air from the back yard. I could smell the ammonia plastic smell of burning, and of raw flesh.
And of course, I couldn’t see a thing.
I reached out to touch my friend, check his pulse at the neck. Still beating. Then I reached up to his face and dug my fingers into his left eye socket. I didn’t even need to think. I plucked it out like a pea from a pod, bit the optic nerve clear, then reached to the dangling cord of my right eye. I spliced the two together like I was changing the plug on a toaster, then popped his eye into my socket.
I could see again. Though it was a grimy, washed out kind of vision. And what I could see were the creatures. The dark creatures.
They were swarming over everything. They covered the table, and the bowls of his carefully separated brain parts, and the maps, and my body too. I reached out to touch them with half fugged hands, but couldn’t feel a thing. I tried to grab them, but I couldn’t even feel my hand submerge beneath them. I just saw it disappear.
Then I realized, they were in the eye.
I plucked it out and dropped it in the vat of acid. I did the same with his second.
Then of course I had nothing left to see with at all.
So I sat. And I took a hammer. And I listened.
And I listened. And any time I heard a creeping rustling, a crawling scratching, I brought the hammer down.
I nailed the table. I nailed the dishes holding my poor friend’s brains, so the contents were lofted and splatted round the kitchen. I even had to whack him. The first one I heard was in his spinal cord, so I had to shatter that to get at it. Then I had to nigh on tear off his face with the claw at the back of the hammer to get under the nose and smash the little creature giggling there to smithereens.
Then they were on me. Crawling all over my face. So I had to start whacking myself. It hurt, but it was worth it. Every blow, slaying a creature. And I no longer cared really if I got them all. In fact, I expected not to. How could I? I just wanted to deal them a blow. I wanted to make my sacrifice worth something.
So I struck my own skull. My own ribs, I caved, one after the other. My own leg I dug up and smashed and battered until I could barely feel a thing from it.
I raised and I lifted the hammer again and again.
Finally I ran a bath. I could barely resist the itch rustling scratching coming from all around, but I held until it was done. Boiling hot. And I poured in all the acid I had. It spat and hissed and sizzled and threw waves of toxic steam up at me.
And then, I threw myself in, clothes and all. Purification by acid.
I didn’t die though. The power of the acid used itself up mostly on the water and on my outer skin, so I crawled out of the bath a limp pink wreck. I knew though, all of them had been slain. Unless of course, they’d gotten into my brain too. And the terrifying thought struck me. Maybe they had. They might have done.
So I ran into the kitchen, I could feel my burnt and tender skin peeling off in my wake, probably leaving long sloughs of red against the walls and underfoot. Dash dot dash in body fluid down the white corridors of my house. I hoped my wife would not be the one to find them.
At the kitchen table I undid the corpse of my dear junkie friend and tossed his cadaver to the side. They’d eaten him up, maybe, but they wouldn’t get me. So I strapped my own head in between the blocks, and tightened til I thought my skull would bust. Then I took the hacksaw and ground out the bone, til the top of my head flipped open like a hamburger bun on a hinge, and I began reaching into my brain, my hand delving deep behind my ruined eye holes, and I pulled out all the fig A’s and fig B’s, and I dropped them all in acid.
And with each chunk torn free I felt better. I felt safer. I was down to the base, scrabbling around on empty, when I heard the rustling of a final dark creature, in my very heart itself. I could feel it, worming it’s way around in there. So I took the bread knife and plunged it into my chest. Then I savaged my heart and tried to take it with me.
Then I was lying down.
I must have fallen.
And the last thing I heard was the itch itch scratching of the pupa of the one surviving dark creature, as it itched its way out of my heart-egg, and wrinkled into the light.
You can see all MJG’s stories here:[album id=6 template=compact]