Each of the neighbours the boulevardier refers to in this story have appeared in their own published tales, as have others who live around the gully he refers to. David coincidentally lives across the street from a very similar gully, frequented by wallabies, goannas, echidnas and the occasional snake. His neighbours may be odd, but not quite as odd as the boulevardier.
by David Stevens
I sit on your floor. The silk wrapped bodies sway as though a zephyr blows, their feet tracing the darkness just above my head. The chatterer has ceased for now. He kept it up for hours though, barely audible, much less discernible. He has ceased his attempts to communicate, his attention no longer on the outside world. Something in his interior has caught his attention.
I wait patiently. I can wait forever. However, as the mock zephyr becomes a faux breeze, and the movements of the bodies grow quicker, less regular, your need, my love, grows urgent.
I am tired, I am hurt, but I am oh so excited. Expectation fills me as I wait to see what will pass.
A splash of cologne – a hint of rose, with lavender and vanilla notes (I am going through a non-citrus phase) – and I am ready to head out. My wife and daughter were already gone when I arrived home. Celia will soon celebrate her first Holy Communion, and Clothilde is escorting her to preparation classes this week. It is an exciting time for Celia, and for all of us. The class is also an excuse for me to freshen up and head out again without delay or distraction.
My wife understands me. There is no self-pity here of some state I have fallen into, of a marriage that does not suit. That is not the problem. My wife understands me very well. She understands that I have certain capacities that are beyond her ability to engage. Though she would not admit it (for she would never speak of such things), I suspect that my abilities disgust her. That is not the point. We love each other dearly, and mostly we are compatible. It is just that I have a plug for which she has no socket.
I do not speak of genitalia. I have told you we have a daughter. We have given nature and the good Lord many, many opportunities to visit other children upon us, however they have declined the invitation. I do not wish to be crude, however I do not want you to mistake my coyness here.
Do you mind that I speak so openly of my wife? I would be nothing but honest with you my love, even if it wounds you. Yes, as you have wounded me. She is very important to me and I love her dearly and would not disrespect her by hiding her from view like an embarrassment. What then of you? You are of an entirely different category. You transcend genre.
There are places even in this provincial city where a gentleman can exert his capacities. They are not difficult to find if you have a nose for them. I choose not to seek them out close to home – prying eyes, you know – and frankly one likes to make an occasion of it. Dress up a little and get away from the humdrum for a few hours.
I drive for a while, then park at random. I mark the spot on the map on my phone and set off walking. It would not do to have the car associated with where I end up.
A boulevardier, I stare into the well-lit shopfronts as though admiring the wares on display, but it is my own reflection that I seek to catch. A bow tie is out of fashion, but I think I carry it off. I adjust my jacket and the strap of my satchel and continue.
A convivial buzz of chatter and activity rises. I turn the corner onto a row of restaurants. I slow my pace as though I belong (which I do), fix my smile. This may do another evening, but I sense a louder hubbub further on.
Bodies spill from the public house across the street. I keep in the shadows, knowing the catcalls (and worse) I can attract from the plebs, roused into even lower states of intelligence by a night of drinking. I grow closer to my goal.
There, a block from the pub. Not one, but three. A voice booms: “One chicken large femly chips chicken salt Greek salad”. Kebabs. Charcoal Chicken Fish ‘n’Chips. And a darkened café.
An hour later I pass by again. It is a weeknight, and now all three establishments are closed. A lone cat that should be able to find plenty to keep it occupied miaows as I pass it, entering the alley next to the kebab dispensary. The laneway is narrow. No garbage truck would ever be able to pass down here. Which means all the rubbish is stored loose round back until collection night, when some poor soul has to cart it all around the front.
I follow the curve of the lane then stop. Unmoving, a plump rat sitting next to my tassled loafer confirms my hopes. Its colleagues run along the edges – the gutter, the intersection of wall and path, the fence line. The ripe aroma blossoms in my nostrils, fills the back of my throat. The scent mixes with my saliva and becomes ambrosia that I suck down.
There is an order to be followed. I remove a ball peen hammer from my satchel and tack a few nails into a line mortar of the back wall of the café. I pull out wire hangers (they suffice for present purposes) and a suit bag, and lay a towel on the ground. It is but a few minutes work to remove and carefully stow my clothing, taking care with the creases. All valuables go into the satchel.
After I undress, I change out of my skin.
I turn. Rustling bags of the stuff. Loose lidded bins. Days it has been waiting here. Fly blown and maggot spotted, an entire urban eco-system of decomposition. Naked, erect, overwhelmed with nostalgie de la boue, I dive in.
An amuse-gueule of rotting fish head pops in my mouth and I suck it down. I slime through fish guts, lick from a disposed fat tray, distinguishing chicken, lamb and beef, with remnants of hommos and tabouli. Coffee grounds are a nuisance when there are mounds of grease-soaked refuse to work through, long festering chicken discards and stinking raw hamburger patties to be embraced. I roll, I sluice, I embrace, I yearn, I quiver, I release. It enters me, it leaves me, I dive in it like a sporting seal, a dolphin rollicking in a sea of muck and filth. Now a shark, I burrow after and catch a fleeing rat in my teeth and crunch down, and at its squeals its fellows all disperse, leaving me to swallow down their comrade, my jaws unhinging to take it in fur and bones and tail and all. Turned milk, rancid salad, the stench of a billion farting bacteria released as I aerate the pile with my body.
It is my delight. My pleasure and my fulfilment. I have come across a treasure trove, an Aladdin’s cave. I chew, suck, squelch, swallow, snort, breathe, imbibe. The liquids, the crusts, remnants, spoils, pools, paps, bubbles, spills. The broken down, the degenerating, and all that lives on it, the pupae and eggs and worms and burrowers. The soft and the crunchy, the mush and the cracking.
That is why I do not hear them as they approach. Why I do not notice as they stand over me.
They have been roving the newspapers and tabloid news for weeks, identified only by the remains they leave behind. Incinerated homeless men.
They see only a man-sized shadow in the darkness, a disgusting derelict sleeping in a pile of shit. An alcohol crazed loony with the DTs, flopping uncontrollably in crap.
I see nothing. Not even as they fire their industrial sized water guns, the type normally reserved for armed combat in swimming pools. Perhaps I noticed something damp between my plates, but I doubt it, immersed and distracted as I was.
It was not until the first licking of flames that I reacted, and that unconsciously. Instinctively I rolled into a ball, and the armour covered my body. The spirits burned out quickly, and the rubbish pile was not exactly a great source of fuel.
They still stood there laughing as I unfurled and stood. In the dark, blinded by the fire, they could not make out what had happened. No doubt they were used to seeing bodies curl as muscles burned and contracted, ligaments pulling limbs round so that their victims bunched up in their death throes. They were busy chalking up an addition to their score.
There were aspects of myself I had not yet chosen to display. They did not notice. I, now that I was aware, roused from my feasting, I saw everything.
The mouth I revealed then is round, a sphincter hole of spined teeth. I took half the face from the first hooligan, and he dropped and screamed, grabbing at a remnant of cheek. I crushed his larynx with a downward thrust of my heel, and after a wheeze or two, the noise stopped.
The second ran, but I was on him in a flash, covering him with my soft underbelly where each individual muscle went to work, turning solid into liquid, releasing his insides as easily as I split garbage bags swollen with the gases of decomposition.
How quickly pleasure becomes a chore when it is forced upon us. That which we would have delighted in a moment earlier grows tedious beyond belief when it is a necessity rather than an indulgence.
I processed the two corpses. I do not seek to disgust, so I shall speak only in generalities. I rendered the boys, so that their remains could not be discerned from the general muck and ruin. In the morning, it would appear only that dogs had got into everything, and the greatest impact would be the cursing of the fellows who had to clean it up. The homeless of the city would not know they could sleep more safely.
It was only when I started on the third body that I realised I had only killed two of them. When I lifted his head by the hair, a neat flap displayed itself at the throat.
I had been aided by an unknown benefactor. Someone had been in the alley with me, someone of skill and talent, at one with the shadows.
Only then did I lift my gaze and see your silhouette in the window, my love.
Would I want my daughter to take up with someone like me? She of golden curl, so much like her mother. I dote on her. No one will be good enough for her. No local hoon, no sophisticate wastrel. Do you suggest there is something wrong with me? My family are cared for, they are safe, they live in love and relative comfort. They are fiercely protected.
I can avoid the question. There is no one like me. You can point to my cocooned acquaintances, but they are not me. They failed. They succumbed. They did not act with deliberation, they were led. If you falter, she is la belle dame sans mercy. She will not hesitate; she will show no regret. To pierce is her nature, and she will not betray it.
Dear Celia. Why would you think she is not at least a little like me?
I will spare you the details of my return home. It is well practiced. The satchel contains compact microfibre towels and an excellent cleaning product. It is not long before I retrace my steps in a business-like fashion. The end of the evening has wiped away any smile. There is no post petite mort reverie. Somewhere along the way I dispose of a few bags of my own rubbish, far from the scene and away from my house. My differences are kept from the gaze of the hoi polloi.
Sleep does not come easily, and it is a reluctant guest, not remaining long. From the second-floor balcony, I can see over the houses to a gully at the end of the suburb. Trees blow in the wind, puddles of darkness shifting across each other, competing depths of black. Something beckons there, as it does from time to time, something rotting in the bush, but I am long practised in resisting any siren in my neighbourhood. What could it be? A poisoned dog or a stricken wallaby, nothing to be excited about. My neighbours sleep. Brian and Janice and their kids and dogs. Charlotte and John, now he’s back from the war or wherever he was. George and … Mrs George, taking their photographs, a dose of morphine to get him through the small hours, no doubt a glass of something for her. None of them could begin to imagine the hurricane blowing through my mind, the raging spiralling thoughts. With all due respect, none of them are capable of the delicacy of feeling that leads to the emotional maelstrom within me.
I am in love.
The day passes. I head off directly from work without returning home. The clouds are low and night will come early, and while darkness is not necessary, it seems appropriate. I do not dandify myself tonight, I simply throw a herringbone coat (a knock off Burberry) over my suit, pop on a trilby, and head off.
Someone has been busy shovelling. The rubbish has been tidied away, double bagged, the ground hosed and swept. Good job. The rats have not returned. They will. They are unsettled, but creatures of habit driven by appetite, they will return. They have nothing to fear from me. Tonight, I come only as a voyeur, I am no habitué of any one locale. I like novelty.
I stare at your window. Eventually, the light is switched on.
I stand at your door. There are three locks. I understand your message. Only three. If you did not want me to come in, there would be more. If you had not wished to be seen, there would have been no silhouette the night before.
My limbs are flexible. Ductile and malleable as well. I unbutton my shirt and waistcoat, and release several of them through my flesh. What is skin but something to be pierced? I close my eyes and feel my way through the keyholes. What is resistance but something to be overcome? What is force but something to be exerted? Tumblers tumble, barrels shift, and I am inside.
An art deco lamp stands a little back from the window, a bare breasted helmeted Amazon holding the beacon that gives off the glow that shadowed you last evening.
Drinks rest on top of a walnut cabinet. The wood is gorgeous and warm in the lamplight. Invited by the crystal waiting for me, I lift the glass and swirl. Did my colleagues fall at this first hurdle? I too wish to taste you, to drink of you, but not this particular fluid. It is too soon. It would be right for such a boorish act to be punished with paralysis. Is this what led to their imprisonment, their silk swathing? (They dance now, you know, and sing too, a muffled murmuring moan escaping them.) The drink untouched I replace the glass, though I enjoyed its heft in my hand.
The Bakelite radio is entrancing. Thick brocaded curtains. I am reminded of visits with my grandmother, to one of her grander friends. A picture coalesces in my mind, a thousand coloured points merging to bring clarity from a Monet fog. I observe your possessions. You have been searching a very long time.
I bend to examine your exquisite Dresden figurines, and that is when you strike.
It is a lucky hit, finding a join between the plates, for no subsequent blow strikes home as it did. The barb tore as it left my flesh. My admiration increased, that you did this in a room filled with your treasures. You have the right values. Objets, no matter how precious, are simply that: things. You risked them all to express your nature, and what could be more important than that?
A dedication to truth such as I possess is not a devotion to wounding, though wound I often must in telling that truth. However, when to wound is your nature, as it is yours, you must not hold back. I say that as one who has had to learn not to hide what is within, but rather to give it the form which is appropriate to this world. It is my hope though that we can go beyond this, that we may transcend these expressions of our deepest being, going beyond the shallow definitions of predator and prey to find a new nature together. But if that is not to be, well then, perhaps in another lifetime.
You are fast. You are magnificent. Your dance is striking, literally so. You thrust, advance, strike, step, strike, swirl, strike. I enter into it with you. You are barely visible, a shadow in a gossamer peignoir, an armed rumour. If the others had not fallen earlier, this is where you would have had them. As I lie here now, I look up at the chatterer. Beneath his wrappings, I make out the impression of his moth like wings, bound and crushed now against his back. As he shivers, fragments flake down. What could he have done? Flapped back feebly as you tore at the cotton of him?
Now he finally has substance, granted by the silk with which you have encased him, at last a true skin.
I hit back. Would you expect anything less? Would you respect me if I did not?
You connect, but you no longer pierce. It is a very long time since anyone had your measure, I suspect. The plates hold you off. My limbs are replaceable. In my excitement I burp, and a gaseous by product of last evening’s feast escapes. Do not deny it, I see you react to my perfume. You falter, and my teeth catch, leaving a love bite that will take a long time to fade.
In case you do not recognise it, my gaping mouth hole is a smile.
In the end it is a trick, you must admit. I suppose I must admire your desperation, but I confess to a little disappointment. You trip me, and I fall onto my wounded shoulder. Instinct forms me into a ball, then you push and roll me through a secret door. I could never have known it was there. There can be no cheating in life as there are no rules, but this leaves a bad taste. After all the effort I made not to damage your possessions. I am up and on my feet, charging, but you slam the door shut.
You are afraid.
That is understandable. You have never met one like me, and your search has gone on a long time. How many when they find their heart’s desire, recoil? The long search has been everything. The fear that it is now over, that life must change, that is a great shock.
I am the culmination of it all, and you are afraid.
I am not so sanguine at first. But my emotions are understandable as well. I am hurt, angry. I do not like to be trapped; this is not a natural situation for me either. I rage and yell. I will be missed, you know. The Holy Communion meeting will not last forever. Soon my wife shall return home. And if she does not raise the alarm tonight, she will in the morning. By tomorrow evening at the latest!
But in time, I calm. I sit with my two companions, though they are not great company. Tall dark and silent (he reminds me of a grass hopper, all legs and no brain) hooked to my right, the murmuring moth to my left. This room is old and purpose built. The hooks are on a rail set into the ceiling, and of solid construction. Despite myself, I am impressed.
I did not despair. My mind turned to deeper things. I meditated upon them, and they gave me comfort. God is a spider. In the end, He consumes us all, and nothing is lost. Passing through the purgatory of venom, in His infinite abdomen we shall all be reduced to our essential selves, vanity stripped away, all meshed together. We shall be revealed to each other as we truly are, and that shall be Heaven.
There is nothing for it but to lie here. I am well feasted from last night. After our struggle, I can do with a rest. My wound will heal, or it will not. I suspect it shall, I am a tough old bird. Though I do not like to be contained, I am in no rush.
As my companions shudder and gasp despite their paralysis, things are becoming a little more urgent for you. Stains spread on silk wrappings, blood and something else. Parts of my friends begin to move independently, and then their garments start to split. It is not an unfamiliar noise. A worrying at the joint of a leg of lamb. A post-mortem parting of weakened flesh. Chewing, definitely the sound of chewing.
With a plop as she hits the floor, the first of your daughters emerges. She is blind but she smells me and raises her maws in my direction. A playful kick sends her squealing to the door, leaving a placental trail behind. She is wary of me now, but there is no time for that. The second arrives, and they are shaping up to each other, rising off the floor on as yet untested limbs. They are like baby gazelles in a room with a lion, if that is gazelles had teeth as long as their legs and a propensity to attempt to eat their siblings on being born. You are too well prepared. I do not think you are the sort of mother who would let nature take its course. You would have had a plan to separate them, no doubt, but I have interfered with that.
Number three falls onto my head and bounces off, but the tang of afterbirth is in my nostrils now.
It is in your nature to wound; it is in mine to feast. You do not know me well enough. I do not know me well enough. The great cats, the minor apes, all the males who will on taking a mate destroy the offspring of his predecessor. I can rise above that, I think. No, I am sure, that is, sure I can do so within the bounds of a committed relationship. However, lying wounded in a locked room beneath these shivering near corpses as your daughters chew their way out… I do not know myself sufficiently, to anticipate how well I can continue to control myself in this situation. We are both to learn a lesson, I suspect, but you may have a little more invested in the outcome than me. What risks will you take?
You must come.
Your children are here. I am safe from them. Are they safe from me? You cannot know.
My love, she will come.
My love, what surprises we still hold in store for each other.
About the Author
David Stevens (usually) lives in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and those of his children who have not yet figured out the locks. His story “Good Boy” was included in PseudoPod #403. His fiction has appeared amongst other places in Crossed Genres, Aurealis, Three-Lobed Burning Eye, Cafe Irreal, Not One of Us, several anthologies, and most recently in Andromeda Spaceways Magazine and Vastarien.