“Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!”
“It wouldn’t do not to answer it anyway, and it may be a patient–it would be like one of those fools to try the back door.”
“We’d better both go,” he whispered.
A certain number of these failures had remained alive–one was in an asylum while others had vanished–and as he thought of conceivable yet virtually impossible eventualities he often shivered beneath his usual stolidity.
A fainter trail led away toward the woods, but it soon gave out.
A few persons had half seen it in the dark, and said it was white and like a malformed ape or anthropomorphic fiend.
A larger man guided his steps; a repellent hulk whose bluish face seemed half eaten away by some unknown malady.
A sort of mad-eyed monstrosity behind the leader seized on Herbert West.
A strange headline item had struck at him from the crumpled pages, and a nameless titan claw had seemed to reach down through sixteen years.
A struggle, a needle, and a powerful alkaloid had transformed it to a very fresh corpse, and the experiment had succeeded for a brief and memorable moment; but West had emerged with a soul calloused and seared, and a hardened eye which sometimes glanced with a kind of hideous and calculating appraisal at men of especially sensitive brain and especially vigorous physique.
A touch of colour came to cheeks hitherto chalk-white, and spread out under the curiously ample stubble of sandy beard.
About seven o’clock in the evening she had died, and her frantic husband had made a frightful scene in his efforts to kill West, whom he wildly blamed for not saving her life.
Accident victims were our best hope.
After a number of calculations West decided that it represented some secret chamber beneath the tomb of the Averills, where the last interment had been made in 1768.
After about three-quarters of an hour without the least sign of life he disappointedly pronounced the solution inadequate, but determined to make the most of his opportunity and try one change in the formula before disposing of his ghastly prize.
After that experience West had dropped his researches for some time; but as the zeal of the born scientist slowly returned, he again became importunate with the college faculty, pleading for the use of the dissecting-room and of fresh human specimens for the work he regarded as so overwhelmingly important.
After the clock had struck three the moon shone in my eyes, but I turned over without rising to pull down the shade.
After the entombment we were all somewhat depressed, and spent the afternoon at the bar of the Commercial House; where West, though shaken by the death of his chief opponent, chilled the rest of us with references to his notorious theories.
After the scientific slaughter of uncounted small animals the freakish work had ostensibly stopped by order of our sceptical dean, Dr. Allan Halsey; though West had continued to perform certain secret tests in his dingy boarding-house room, and had on one terrible and unforgettable occasion taken a human body from its grave in the potter’s field to a deserted farmhouse beyond Meadow Hill.
Age has more charity for these incomplete yet high-souled characters, whose worst real vice is timidity, and who are ultimately punished by general ridicule for their intellectual sins–sins like Ptolemaism, Calvinism, anti-Darwinism, anti-Nietzscheism, and every sort of Sabbatarianism and sumptuary legislation.
All the servants were asleep in the attic, so I answered the bell.
All this research work required a prodigious supply of freshly slaughtered human flesh–and that was why Herbert West had entered the Great War.
Also, an attempt had been made to disturb a new grave in the potter’s field, as if by futile and spadeless clawing at the earth.
Altogether, the nervous strain upon West must have been tremendous.
Always an ice-cold intellectual machine; slight, blond, blue-eyed, and spectacled; I think he secretly sneered at my occasional martial enthusiasms and censures of supine neutrality.
Among these sounds were frequent revolver-shots–surely not uncommon on a battlefield, but distinctly uncommon in an hospital.
An Italian woman had become hysterical over her missing child–a lad of five who had strayed off early in the morning and failed to appear for dinner–and had developed symptoms highly alarming in view of an always weak heart.
And for seventeen years after that West would look frequently over his shoulder, and complain of fancied footsteps behind him.
And now Sefton Asylum has had the mishap and West has vanished.
And then had come the scourge, grinning and lethal, from the nightmare caverns of Tartarus.
And then, as the breach became large enough, they came out into the laboratory in single file; led by a stalking thing with a beautiful head made of wax.
And yet its timbre was not the most awful thing about it.
And, as I have implied, it was not of the dead man himself that I became afraid.
Apparently this acidulous matron was right; for about 3 a.m. the whole house was aroused by cries coming from West’s room, where when they broke down the door they found the two of us unconscious on the blood-stained carpet, beaten, scratched, and mauled, and with the broken remnants of West’s bottles and instruments around us.
As I have said, it happened when we were in the medical school, where West had already made himself notorious through his wild theories on the nature of death and the possibility of overcoming it artificially.
As I have told the police, there was no wagon in the street; but only a group of strange-looking figures bearing a large square box which they deposited in the hallway after one of them had grunted in a highly unnatural voice, “Express–prepaid.”
As West proceeded to take preliminary steps, I was impressed by the vast intricacy of the new experiment; an intricacy so vast that he could trust no hand less delicate than his own.
As it disappeared I saw that the blue eyes behind the spectacles were hideously blazing with their first touch of frantic, visible emotion.
At last fate had been kind, so that on this occasion there lay in the secret cellar laboratory a corpse whose decay could not by any possibility have begun.
At midnight the doorbell rang, startling him fearfully.
At that moment, as I say, I was elated with the conviction that the one great goal had been attained; and that for the first time a reanimated corpse had uttered distinct words impelled by actual reason.
At the college we used an incinerator, but the apparatus was too costly for our unauthorised laboratory.
At times he actually did perform marvels of surgery for the soldiers; but his chief delights were of a less public and philanthropic kind, requiring many explanations of sounds which seemed peculiar even amidst that babel of the damned.
Before a month was over the fearless dean had become a popular hero, though he seemed unconscious of his fame as he struggled to keep from collapsing with physical fatigue and nervous exhaustion.
Besides human tissue, West employed much of the reptile embryo tissue which he had cultivated with such singular results.
Besides, the body would not be even approximately fresh the next night.
Besides–I could not extract from my memory that hideous, inhuman shriek we heard on the night we tried our first experiment in the deserted farmhouse at Arkham.
Between then and the next January we secured three more; one total failure, one case of marked muscular motion, and one rather shivery thing–it rose of itself and uttered a sound.
Bodies were always a nuisance–even the small guinea-pig bodies from the slight clandestine experiments in West’s room at the boarding-house.
Bolton had a surprisingly good police force for so small a town, and I could not help fearing the mess which would ensue if the affair of the night before were ever tracked down.
Briefly and brutally stated, West’s sole absorbing interest was a secret study of the phenomena of life and its cessation, leading toward the reanimation of the dead through injections of an excitant solution.
Burials without embalming were made in rapid succession, and even the Christchurch Cemetery receiving tomb was crammed with coffins of the unembalmed dead.
But I might not be mad if those accursed tomb-legions had not been so silent.
But West’s gentle enemies were no less harassed with prostrating duties.
But at the time of the scream in the cellar laboratory of the isolated Bolton cottage, our fears were subordinate to our anxiety for extremely fresh specimens.
But in that triumph there came to me the greatest of all horrors–not horror of the thing that spoke, but of the deed that I had witnessed and of the man with whom my professional fortunes were joined.
But my wonder was not overwhelming, since for the most part I shared the materialism of my friend.
But that evening two items in the paper, wholly unrelated, made it again impossible for us to sleep.
But what actually absorbed our minds was the secret laboratory we had fitted up in the cellar–the laboratory with the long table under the electric lights, where in the small hours of the morning we often injected West’s various solutions into the veins of the things we dragged from the potter’s field.
By H.P. Lovecraft
By the time help could be summoned, every trace of the men and of their mad charge had vanished.
By then we had calmed ourselves a little with rational theories and plans for investigation, so that we could sleep through the day–classes being disregarded.
Certainly, the nerves were recalling the man’s last act in life; the struggle to get free of the falling aeroplane.
Christchurch Cemetery was the scene of a terrible killing; a watchman having been clawed to death in a manner not only too hideous for description, but raising a doubt as to the human agency of the deed.
College had all but closed, and every doctor of the medical faculty was helping to fight the typhoid plague.
Dangers he met unflinchingly; crimes he committed unmoved.
Despite the obvious danger of attracting notice and bringing down on our heads the dreaded police investigation–a thing which after all was mercifully averted by the relative isolation of our cottage–my friend suddenly, excitedly, and unnecessarily emptied all six chambers of his revolver into the nocturnal visitor.
Detectives have questioned me, but what can I say?
Dr. Halsey in particular had distinguished himself in sacrificing service, applying his extreme skill with whole-hearted energy to cases which many others shunned because of danger or apparent hopelessness.
Dr. West’s reanimated specimens were not meant for long existence or a large audience.
Dr. West had been avid for a chance to serve as surgeon in a great war, and when the chance had come he carried me with him almost against my will.
During the excavation of this cellar the workmen had struck some exceedingly ancient masonry; undoubtedly connected with the old burying-ground, yet far too deep to correspond with any known sepulchre therein.
Eight houses were entered by a nameless thing which strewed red death in its wake–in all, seventeen maimed and shapeless remnants of bodies were left behind by the voiceless, sadistic monster that crept abroad.
Especially were we apprehensive concerning the mind and impulses of the creature, since in the space following death some of the more delicate cerebral cells might well have suffered deterioration.
Ever since our first daemoniac session in the deserted farmhouse on Meadow Hill in Arkham, we had felt a brooding menace; and West, though a calm, blond, blue-eyed scientific automaton in most respects, often confessed to a shuddering sensation of stealthy pursuit.
Every now and then he applied his stethoscope to the specimen, and bore the negative results philosophically.
Fear was upon the whole pitiful crowd, for they did not know what the law would exact of them if the affair were not hushed up; and they were grateful when West, in spite of my involuntary shudders, offered to get rid of the thing quietly–for a purpose I knew too well.
For it had been a man.
For it had come from the large covered vat in that ghoulish corner of crawling black shadows.
For that very fresh body, at last writhing into full and terrifying consciousness with eyes dilated at the memory of its last scene on earth, threw out its frantic hands in a life and death struggle with the air; and suddenly collapsing into a second and final dissolution from which there could be no return, screamed out the cry that will ring eternally in my aching brain:
For that visitor was neither Italian nor policeman.
For this ghastly experimenting it was necessary to have a constant supply of very fresh human bodies; very fresh because even the least decay hopelessly damaged the brain structure, and human because we found that the solution had to be compounded differently for different types of organisms.
Forbidding me to touch the body, he first injected a drug in the wrist just beside the place his needle had punctured when injecting the embalming compound.
Friends had held him when he drew a stiletto, but West departed amidst his inhuman shrieks, curses, and oaths of vengeance.
From the Dark
From the hour of reading this item until midnight, West sat almost paralysed.
From the revolver I knew that he was thinking more of the crazed Italian than of the police.
Ghastly as our prize appeared, it was wholly unresponsive to every solution we injected in its black arm; solutions prepared from experience with white specimens only.
Gradually I came to find Herbert West himself more horrible than anything he did–that was when it dawned on me that his once normal scientific zeal for prolonging life had subtly degenerated into a mere morbid and ghoulish curiosity and secret sense of charnel picturesqueness.
Gradually I had come to be his inseparable assistant, and now that we were out of college we had to keep together.
Gradually we equipped our sinister haunt of science with materials either purchased in Boston or quietly borrowed from the college–materials carefully made unrecognisable save to expert eyes–and provided spades and picks for the many burials we should have to make in the cellar.
He felt that he was needlessly and irrationally retarded in a supremely great work; a work which he could of course conduct to suit himself in later years, but which he wished to begin while still possessed of the exceptional facilities of the university.
He grew sterner of face, but never elderly.
He had chosen the place for purely symbolic and fantastically aesthetic reasons, since most of the interments were of the colonial period and therefore of little use to a scientist seeking very fresh bodies.
He had come in an aeroplane piloted by the intrepid Lieut. Ronald Hill, only to be shot down when directly over his destination.
He had had much trouble in discovering the proper formula, for each type of organism was found to need a stimulus especially adapted to it.
He had refused a stimulant, and had suddenly dropped dead only a moment later.
He had slowly tried to perfect a solution which, injected into the veins of the newly deceased, would restore life; a labour demanding an abundance of fresh corpses and therefore involving the most unnatural actions.
He had wild and original ideas on the independent vital properties of organic cells and nerve-tissue separated from natural physiological systems; and achieved some hideous preliminary results in the form of never-dying, artificially nourished tissue obtained from the nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile.
He had, he told me excitedly, in all likelihood solved the problem of freshness through an approach from an entirely new angle–that of artificial preservation.
He half felt that he was followed–a psychological delusion of shaken nerves, enhanced by the undeniably disturbing fact that at least one of our reanimated specimens was still alive–a frightful carnivorous thing in a padded cell at Sefton.
He hoped at last to obtain what he had never obtained before–a rekindled spark of reason and perhaps a normal, living creature.
He injected new blood, joined certain veins, arteries, and nerves at the headless neck, and closed the ghastly aperture with engrafted skin from an unidentified specimen which had borne an officer’s uniform.
He ordered them burnt as soon as possible in the capacious fireplace.
He seemed calm even when he thought of that clawed grave and looked over his shoulder; even when he thought of the carnivorous thing that gnawed and pawed at Sefton bars.
He then sought extreme freshness in his specimens, injecting his solutions into the blood immediately after the extinction of life.
He used to make shuddering conjectures about the possible actions of a headless physician with the power of reanimating the dead.
He usually finished his experiments with a revolver, but a few times he had not been quick enough.
He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon.
He was a menacing military figure who talked without moving his lips and whose voice seemed almost ventriloquially connected with an immense black case he carried.
He was calmer than I as he forced a large quantity of his fluid into a vein of the body’s arm, immediately binding the incision securely.
He was clad in dressing-gown and slippers, and had in his hands a revolver and an electric flashlight.
He was ready, I think, to see proof of his increasingly strong opinion that consciousness, reason, and personality can exist independently of the brain–that man has no central connective spirit, but is merely a machine of nervous matter, each section more or less complete in itself.
He was, West nervously said, a congenial stranger whom we had met at some downtown bar of uncertain location.
Herbert West needed fresh bodies because his life-work was the reanimation of the dead.
Herbert West, whose associate and assistant I was, possessed scientific interests far beyond the usual routine of a village physician.
His condition was more ghastly.
His expressionless face was handsome to the point of radiant beauty, but had shocked the superintendent when the hall light fell on it–for it was a wax face with eyes of painted glass.
His interest became a hellish and perverse addiction to the repellently and fiendishly abnormal; he gloated calmly over artificial monstrosities which would make most healthy men drop dead from fright and disgust; he became, behind his pallid intellectuality, a fastidious Baudelaire of physical experiment–a languid Elagabalus of the tombs.
His pleas, however, were wholly in vain; for the decision of Dr. Halsey was inflexible, and the other professors all endorsed the verdict of their leader.
His views, which were widely ridiculed by the faculty and his fellow-students, hinged on the essentially mechanistic nature of life; and concerned means for operating the organic machinery of mankind by calculated chemical action after the failure of natural processes.
Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth, my friend believed that artificial reanimation of the dead can depend only on the condition of the tissues; and that unless actual decomposition has set in, a corpse fully equipped with organs may with suitable measures be set going again in the peculiar fashion known as life.
Human it could not have been–it is not in man to make such sounds–and without a thought of our late employment or its possible discovery both West and I leaped to the nearest window like stricken animals; overturning tubes, lamp, and retorts, and vaulting madly into the starred abyss of the rural night.
I can see him now as he was then–and I shiver.
I can still see Herbert West under the sinister electric light as he injected his reanimating solution into the arm of the headless body.
I cannot express the wild, breathless suspense with which we waited for results on this first really fresh specimen–the first we could reasonably expect to open its lips in rational speech, perhaps to tell of what it had seen beyond the unfathomable abyss.
I did not like the way he looked at healthy living bodies; and then there came a nightmarish session in the cellar laboratory when I learned that a certain specimen had been a living body when he secured it.
I did not like those rumours of a fight which were floating about.
I did not wholly disagree with him theoretically, yet held vague instinctive remnants of the primitive faith of my forefathers; so that I could not help eyeing the corpse with a certain amount of awe and terrible expectation.
I do not remember many particulars–you can imagine my state of mind–but it is a vicious lie to say it was Herbert West’s body which I put into the incinerator.
I do not yet know whether I was answered or not, for no sound came from the well-shaped mouth; but I do know that at that moment I firmly thought the thin lips moved silently, forming syllables I would have vocalised as “only now” if that phrase had possessed any sense or relevancy.
I had always been exceptionally tolerant of West’s pursuits, and we frequently discussed his theories, whose ramifications and corollaries were almost infinite.
I had been on a long visit to my parents in Illinois, and upon my return found West in a state of singular elation.
I had known that he was working on a new and highly unusual embalming compound, and was not surprised that it had turned out well; but until he explained the details I was rather puzzled as to how such a compound could help in our work, since the objectionable staleness of the specimens was largely due to delay occurring before we secured them.
I had not entered the army on my own initiative, but rather as a natural result of the enlistment of the man whose indispensable assistant I was–the celebrated Boston surgical specialist, Dr. Herbert West.
I knew what he wanted–to see if this highly organised body could exhibit, without its head, any of the signs of mental life which had distinguished Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee.
I lay still and somewhat dazed, but before long heard West’s rap on my door.
I looked at the closed eyelids, and thought I detected a quivering.
I reached down and hauled the contents out of the grave, and then both toiled hard to restore the spot to its former appearance.
I shall never forget that hideous summer sixteen years ago, when like a noxious afrite from the halls of Eblis typhoid stalked leeringly through Arkham.
I should not call that sound a voice, for it was too awful.
I shudder tonight as I think of it; shudder even more than I did that morning when West muttered through his bandages,
I speak of West’s decadence, but must add that it was a purely mental and intangible thing.
I think the climax came when he had proved his point that rational life can be restored, and had sought new worlds to conquer by experimenting on the reanimation of detached parts of bodies.
I think we screamed ourselves as we stumbled frantically toward the town, though as we reached the outskirts we put on a semblance of restraint–just enough to seem like belated revellers staggering home from a debauch.
I told them of the vault, and they pointed to the unbroken plaster wall and laughed.
I was West’s closest friend and only confidential assistant.
I was by this time his active and enthralled assistant, and helped him make all his decisions, not only concerning the source of bodies but concerning a suitable place for our loathsome work.
I was going to run, but he stopped me.
I was held to him by sheer force of fear, and witnessed sights that no human tongue could repeat.
I was pouring something from one test-tube to another, and West was busy over the alcohol blast-lamp which had to answer for a Bunsen burner in this gasless edifice, when from the pitch-black room we had left there burst the most appalling and daemoniac succession of cries that either of us had ever heard.
I was with him on that odious occasion, and saw him inject into the still veins the elixir which he thought would to some extent restore life’s chemical and physical processes.
I was with him when he studied the nitrous, dripping walls laid bare by the spades and mattocks of the men, and was prepared for the gruesome thrill which would attend the uncovering of centuried grave-secrets; but for the first time West’s new timidity conquered his natural curiosity, and he betrayed his degenerating fibre by ordering the masonry left intact and plastered over.
I wonder even now if it could have been other than a daemoniac dream of delirium.
I wondered what sights this placid youth might have seen in inaccessible spheres, and what he could relate if fully restored to life.
I, myself, still held some curious notions about the traditional “soul” of man, and felt an awe at the secrets that might be told by one returning from the dead.
If this man could not be restored to life, no one would know of our experiment.
If, on the other hand, he could be restored, our fame would be brilliantly and perpetually established.
In 1915 I was a physician with the rank of First Lieutenant in a Canadian regiment in Flanders, one of many Americans to precede the government itself into the gigantic struggle.
In Bolton the prevailing spirit of Puritanism had outlawed the sport of boxing–with the usual result.
In a dark corner of the laboratory, over a queer incubating burner, he kept a large covered vat full of this reptilian cell-matter; which multiplied and grew puffily and hideously.
In a moment of fantastic whim I whispered questions to the reddening ears; questions of other worlds of which the memory might still be present.
In college, and during our early practice together in the factory town of Bolton, my attitude toward him had been largely one of fascinated admiration; but as his boldness in methods grew, I began to develop a gnawing fear.
In his brief conversation the stranger had made it clear that he was unknown in Bolton, and a search of his pockets subsequently revealed him to be one Robert Leavitt of St. Louis, apparently without a family to make instant inquiries about his disappearance.
In his experiments with various animating solutions he had killed and treated immense numbers of rabbits, guinea-pigs, cats, dogs, and monkeys, till he had become the prime nuisance of the college.
In his latest affliction the fellow seemed to have forgotten his child, who was still missing as the night advanced.
In one triumphant demonstration West was about to relegate the mystery of life to the category of myth.
In saying that West’s fear of his specimens was nebulous, I have in mind particularly its complex nature.
In the end, though, luck favoured us; for one day we heard of an almost ideal case in the potter’s field; a brawny young workman drowned only the morning before in Sumner’s Pond, and buried at the town’s expense without delay or embalming.
In the light of our dark lanterns we carefully covered it with leaves and dead vines, fairly certain that the police would never find it in a forest so dim and dense.
In the next moment there was no doubt about the triumph; no doubt that the solution had truly accomplished, at least temporarily, its full mission of restoring rational and articulate life to the dead.
In the radical theory of reanimation they saw nothing but the immature vagaries of a youthful enthusiast whose slight form, yellow hair, spectacled blue eyes, and soft voice gave no hint of the supernormal–almost diabolical–power of the cold brain within.
In the small hours of the morning a body of silent men had entered the grounds and their leader had aroused the attendants.
Indeed, the greatest problem was to get them fresh enough–West had had horrible experiences during his secret college researches with corpses of doubtful vintage.
It also bore the inscription, “From Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, St. Eloi, Flanders”.
It had at first been his hope to find a reagent which would restore vitality before the actual advent of death, and only repeated failures on animals had shewn him that the natural and artificial life-motions were incompatible.
It had become fiendishly disgusting by the time he disappeared; many of the experiments could not even be hinted at in print.
It had been a sturdy and apparently unimaginative youth of wholesome plebeian type–large-framed, grey-eyed, and brown-haired–a sound animal without psychological subtleties, and probably having vital processes of the simplest and healthiest sort.
It had been a vigorous man; a well-dressed stranger just off the train on his way to transact some business with the Bolton Worsted Mills.
It had ended horribly–in a delirium of fear which we gradually came to attribute to our own overwrought nerves–and West had never afterward been able to shake off a maddening sensation of being haunted and hunted.
It had lost an arm–if it had been a perfect body we might have succeeded better.
It had not left behind quite all that it had attacked, for sometimes it had been hungry.
It is by that satanic scourge that most recall the year, for truly terror brooded with bat-wings over the piles of coffins in the tombs of Christchurch Cemetery; yet for me there is a greater horror in that time–a horror known to me alone now that Herbert West has disappeared.
It is natural that such a thing as a dead man’s scream should give horror, for it is obviously not a pleasing or ordinary occurrence; but I was used to similar experiences, hence suffered on this occasion only because of a particular circumstance.
It is uncommon to fire all six shots of a revolver with great suddenness when one would probably be sufficient, but many things in the life of Herbert West were uncommon.
It is, for instance, not often that a young physician leaving college is obliged to conceal the principles which guide his selection of a home and office, yet that was the case with Herbert West.
It likewise became clear that, since the same solution never worked alike on different organic species, he would require human subjects for further and more specialised progress.
It may have been wholly an hallucination from the shock caused at that instant by the sudden and complete destruction of the building in a cataclysm of German shell-fire–who can gainsay it, since West and I were the only proved survivors?
It might mean the end of all our local work–and perhaps prison for both West and me.
It was I who thought of the deserted Chapman farmhouse beyond Meadow Hill, where we fitted up on the ground floor an operating room and a laboratory, each with dark curtains to conceal our midnight doings.
It was West who first noticed the falling plaster on that part of the wall where the ancient tomb masonry had been covered up.
It was a repulsive task that we undertook in the black small hours, even though we lacked at that time the special horror of graveyards which later experiences brought to us.
It was a very foolish hysteria, for the boy had often run away before; but Italian peasants are exceedingly superstitious, and this woman seemed as much harassed by omens as by facts.
It was about two feet square, and bore West’s correct name and present address.
It was agreed to call the whole thing a chemical laboratory if discovery should occur.
It was almost a public affair, for the dean had surely been a public benefactor.
It was better than human material for maintaining life in organless fragments, and that was now my friend’s chief activity.
It was disturbing to think that one, perhaps two, of our monsters still lived–that thought haunted us shadowingly, till finally West disappeared under frightful circumstances.
It was here that he first came into conflict with the college authorities, and was debarred from future experiments by no less a dignitary than the dean of the medical school himself–the learned and benevolent Dr. Allan Halsey, whose work in behalf of the stricken is recalled by every old resident of Arkham.
It was in July, 1910, that the bad luck regarding specimens began to turn.
It was in those college days that he had begun his terrible experiments, first on small animals and then on human bodies shockingly obtained.
It was not easy to find a good opening for two doctors in company, but finally the influence of the university secured us a practice in Bolton–a factory town near Arkham, the seat of the college.
It was not long after the faculty had interdicted his work that West confided to me his resolution to get fresh human bodies in some manner, and continue in secret the experiments he could no longer perform openly.
It was rather ironic, for he was the officer who had helped West to his commission, and who was now to have been our associate.
It was this circumstance which made the professors so carelessly sceptical, for they felt that true death had not occurred in any case.
It was, in fact, nothing more or less than an abundant supply of freshly killed men in every stage of dismemberment.
It would have been better if we could have known it was underground.
Just as the building was wiped out by a German shell, there had been a success.
Keep off, you cursed little tow-head fiend–keep that damned needle away from me!”
Like most youths, he indulged in elaborate day-dreams of revenge, triumph, and final magnanimous forgiveness.
Looming hideously against the spectral moon was a gigantic misshapen thing not to be imagined save in nightmares–a glassy-eyed, ink-black apparition nearly on all fours, covered with bits of mould, leaves, and vines, foul with caked blood, and having between its glistening teeth a snow-white, terrible, cylindrical object terminating in a tiny hand.
Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., was the greatest surgeon in our division, and had been hastily assigned to the St. Eloi sector when news of the heavy fighting reached headquarters.
Many men have related hideous things, not mentioned in print, which happened on the battlefields of the Great War.
Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities.
Moreover, he had in the past secretly studied the theory of reanimation to some extent under West.
Most of the other possibly surviving results were things less easy to speak of–for in later years West’s scientific zeal had degenerated to an unhealthy and fantastic mania, and he had spent his chief skill in vitalising not entire human bodies but isolated parts of bodies, or parts joined to organic matter other than human.
Most of the students went home, or to various duties, as the evening advanced; but West persuaded me to aid him in “making a night of it”.
Much was expected of it; and as a few twitching motions began to appear, I could see the feverish interest on West’s face.
Neither was its message–it had merely screamed, “Jump, Ronald, for God’s sake, jump!”
Nor did any sound come from the box, after all.
Not for many weeks did we hear of anything suitable; though we talked with morgue and hospital authorities, ostensibly in the college’s interest, as often as we could without exciting suspicion.
Not more unutterable could have been the chaos of hellish sound if the pit itself had opened to release the agony of the damned, for in one inconceivable cacophony was centred all the supernal terror and unnatural despair of animate nature.
Now he has disappeared.
Now that he is gone and the spell is broken, the actual fear is greater.
Now, with the eyes closed, it looked more asleep than dead; though the expert test of my friend soon left no doubt on that score.
Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror.
Of his methods in the intervening five years I dare not speak.
On account of the general alarm and precautions, there were only two more victims, and the capture was effected without major casualties.
On an improvised dissecting-table in the old farmhouse, by the light of a powerful acetylene lamp, the specimen was not very spectral looking.
On the night of which I speak we had a splendid new specimen–a man at once physically powerful and of such high mentality that a sensitive nervous system was assured.
On the third night frantic bands of searchers, led by the police, captured it in a house on Crane Street near the Miskatonic campus.
Once a student of reanimation, this silent trunk was now gruesomely called upon to exemplify it.
One March night, however, we unexpectedly obtained a specimen which did not come from the potter’s field.
One thing had uttered a nerve-shattering scream; another had risen violently, beaten us both to unconsciousness, and run amuck in a shocking way before it could be placed behind asylum bars; still another, a loathsome African monstrosity, had clawed out of its shallow grave and done a deed–West had had to shoot that object.
Only an open window told what had become of our assailant, and many wondered how he himself had fared after the terrific leap from the second story to the lawn which he must have made.
Only greater maturity could help him understand the chronic mental limitations of the “professor-doctor” type–the product of generations of pathetic Puritanism; kindly, conscientious, and sometimes gentle and amiable, yet always narrow, intolerant, custom-ridden, and lacking in perspective.
Our experiences had often been hideous in the extreme; the results of defective reanimation, when lumps of graveyard clay had been galvanised into morbid, unnatural, and brainless motion by various modifications of the vital solution.
Our fear of the police was absurdly great, though we had timed our trip to avoid the solitary patrolman of that section.
Our practice was surprisingly large from the very first–large enough to please most young doctors, and large enough to prove a bore and a burden to students whose real interest lay elsewhere.
Outwardly he was the same to the last–calm, cold, slight, and yellow-haired, with spectacled blue eyes and a general aspect of youth which years and fears seemed never to change.
Outwardly we were doctors only, but beneath the surface were aims of far greater and more terrible moment–for the essence of Herbert West’s existence was a quest amid black and forbidden realms of the unknown, in which he hoped to uncover the secret of life and restore to perpetual animation the graveyard’s cold clay.
Part of it came merely from knowing of the existence of such nameless monsters, while another part arose from apprehension of the bodily harm they might under certain circumstances do him.
Partly it was the police he feared; but sometimes his nervousness was deeper and more nebulous, touching on certain indescribable things into which he had injected a morbid life, and from which he had not seen that life depart.
People did not seem to notice his glances, but they noticed my fear; and after his disappearance used that as a basis for some absurd suspicions.
Quickly he said, “It’s the finish–but let’s incinerate–this.”
Reticence such as this is seldom without a cause, nor indeed was ours; for our requirements were those resulting from a life-work distinctly unpopular.
Scores of rabbits and guinea-pigs had been killed and treated, but their trail was a blind one.
Servants found me unconscious in the morning.
Several times he had actually obtained signs of life in animals supposedly dead; in many cases violent signs; but he soon saw that the perfection of this process, if indeed possible, would necessarily involve a lifetime of research.
Six Shots by Midnight
Six years before, in Flanders, a shelled hospital had fallen upon the headless reanimated trunk of Dr. Clapham-Lee, and upon the detached head which–perhaps–had uttered articulate sounds.
Slightly later, when a change and a gentle tremor seemed to affect the dead limbs, West stuffed a pillow-like object violently over the twitching face, not withdrawing it until the corpse appeared quiet and ready for our attempt at reanimation.
So I told them no more.
So as the hour grew dangerously near to dawn, we did as we had done with the others–dragged the thing across the meadows to the neck of the woods near the potter’s field, and buried it there in the best sort of grave the frozen ground would furnish.
So on the night of July 18, 1910, Herbert West and I stood in the cellar laboratory and gazed at a white, silent figure beneath the dazzling arc-light.
So taking the solitary acetylene lamp into the adjacent laboratory, we left our silent guest on the slab in the dark, and bent every energy to the mixing of a new solution; the weighing and measuring supervised by West with an almost fanatical care.
So we both went down the stairs on tiptoe, with a fear partly justified and partly that which comes only from the soul of the weird small hours.
So without delay West had injected into the body’s wrist the compound which would hold it fresh for use after my arrival.
Some nameless accident had befallen this man.
Some of these things have made me faint, others have convulsed me with devastating nausea, while still others have made me tremble and look behind me in the dark; yet despite the worst of them I believe I can myself relate the most hideous thing of all–the shocking, the unnatural, the unbelievable horror from the shadows.
Something fearsome and incredible had happened at Sefton Asylum fifty miles away, stunning the neighbourhood and baffling the police.
Still more shocking were the products of some of the experiments–grisly masses of flesh that had been dead, but that West waked to a blind, brainless, nauseous animation.
Subsequent terror drove them from my mind, but I think the last one, which I repeated, was: “Where have you been?”
Such a quest demands strange materials, among them fresh human bodies; and in order to keep supplied with these indispensable things one must live quietly and not far from a place of informal interment.
Surreptitious and ill-conducted bouts among the mill-workers were common, and occasionally professional talent of low grade was imported.
Taking advantage of the disorganisation of both college work and municipal health regulations, he managed to get a recently deceased body smuggled into the university dissecting-room one night, and in my presence injected a new modification of his solution.
Terror stalked him when he reflected on his partial failures; nameless things resulting from imperfect solutions or from bodies insufficiently fresh.
That afternoon we found the new grave, and determined to begin work soon after midnight.
That same night saw the beginning of the second Arkham horror–the horror that to me eclipsed the plague itself.
That the psychic or intellectual life might be impaired by the slight deterioration of sensitive brain-cells which even a short period of death would be apt to cause, West fully realised.
That the tradition-bound elders should ignore his singular results on animals, and persist in their denial of the possibility of reanimation, was inexpressibly disgusting and almost incomprehensible to a youth of West’s logical temperament.
That time we were almost caught before we incinerated the thing, and West doubted the advisability of repeating his daring misuse of the college laboratory.
That was seven years before, but West looked scarcely a day older now–he was small, blond, clean-shaven, soft-voiced, and spectacled, with only an occasional flash of a cold blue eye to tell of the hardening and growing fanaticism of his character under the pressure of his terrible investigations.
That was the first time he had ever been able to revive the quality of rational thought in a corpse; and his success, obtained at such a loathsome cost, had completely hardened him.
That was why, when establishing his practice in Bolton, he had chosen an isolated house near the potter’s field.
That we could not understand, for we had patted down the mould very carefully.
The Bolton Worsted Mills are the largest in the Miskatonic Valley, and their polyglot employees are never popular as patients with the local physicians.
The Great War, through which both of us served as surgeons, had intensified this side of West.
The Horror from the Shadows
The Scream of the Dead
The Sefton tragedy they will not connect with West; not that, nor the men with the box, whose existence they deny.
The affair made us rather nervous, especially the stiff form and vacant face of our first trophy, but we managed to remove all traces of our visit.
The arms stirred disquietingly, the legs drew up, and various muscles contracted in a repulsive kind of writhing.
The awesome quest had begun when West and I were students at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham, vividly conscious for the first time of the thoroughly mechanical nature of life.
The awful event was very sudden, and wholly unexpected.
The awful thing was its source.
The bodies had to be exceedingly fresh, or the slight decomposition of brain tissue would render perfect reanimation impossible.
The body had not been quite fresh enough; it is obvious that to restore normal mental attributes a body must be very fresh indeed; and a burning of the old house had prevented us from burying the thing.
The body must have looked even worse in life–but the world holds many ugly things.
The body now twitched more vigorously, and beneath our avid eyes commenced to heave in a frightful way.
The body on the table had risen with a blind and terrible groping, and we had heard a sound.
The body, as might be expected, seemed to West a heaven-sent gift.
The distance was greater than we wished, but we could get no nearer house without going on the other side of the field, wholly out of the factory district.
The embalming compound had worked uncannily well, for as I stared fascinatedly at the sturdy frame which had lain two weeks without stiffening I was moved to seek West’s assurance that the thing was really dead.
The end of Herbert West began one evening in our joint study when he was dividing his curious glance between the newspaper and me.
The experiment would be a landmark in our studies, and he had saved the new body for my return, so that both might share the spectacle in accustomed fashion.
The fall had been spectacular and awful; Hill was unrecognisable afterward, but the wreck yielded up the great surgeon in a nearly decapitated but otherwise intact condition.
The fiends had beaten, trampled, and bitten every attendant who did not flee; killing four and finally succeeding in the liberation of the monster.
The first horrible incident of our acquaintance was the greatest shock I ever experienced, and it is only with reluctance that I repeat it.
The grave was not very deep, but fully as good as that of the previous specimen–the thing which had risen of itself and uttered a sound.
The head had been removed, so that the possibilities of quasi-intelligent life in the trunk might be investigated.
The hideous occurrence itself was very simple, notable only for what it implied.
The incinerator contained only unidentifiable ashes.
The laboratory was in a sub-cellar secretly constructed by imported workmen, and contained a huge incinerator for the quiet and complete disposal of such bodies, or fragments and synthetic mockeries of bodies, as might remain from the morbid experiments and unhallowed amusements of the owner.
The manager of a circus at the neighbouring town of Bolton was questioned, but he swore that no beast had at any time escaped from its cage.
The match had been between Kid O’Brien–a lubberly and now quaking youth with a most un-Hibernian hooked nose–and Buck Robinson, “The Harlem Smoke”.
The matter of the presumably weak heart, which to my mind imperiled the success of our experiment, did not appear to trouble West extensively.
The mill-hands were of somewhat turbulent inclinations; and besides their many natural needs, their frequent clashes and stabbing affrays gave us plenty to do.
The negro had been knocked out, and a moment’s examination shewed us that he would permanently remain so.
The next day I was increasingly apprehensive about the police, for a patient brought rumours of a suspected fight and death.
The next night devils danced on the roofs of Arkham, and unnatural madness howled in the wind.
The number it had killed was fourteen; three of the bodies had been in stricken homes and had not been alive.
The old deserted Chapman house had inexplicably burned to an amorphous heap of ashes; that we could understand because of the upset lamp.
The pale enthusiast now applied some last perfunctory tests for absolute lifelessness, withdrew satisfied, and finally injected into the left arm an accurately measured amount of the vital elixir, prepared during the afternoon with a greater care than we had used since college days, when our feats were new and groping.
The peak of the epidemic was reached in August.
The phantasmal, unmentionable thing occurred one midnight late in March, 1915, in a field hospital behind the lines at St. Eloi.
The place was far from any road, and in sight of no other house, yet precautions were none the less necessary; since rumours of strange lights, started by chance nocturnal roamers, would soon bring disaster on our enterprise.
The process of unearthing was slow and sordid–it might have been gruesomely poetical if we had been artists instead of scientists–and we were glad when our spades struck wood.
The rattling continued, growing somewhat louder.
The result was wearily anticlimactic.
The results of partial or imperfect animation were much more hideous than were the total failures, and we both held fearsome recollections of such things.
The scene I cannot describe–I should faint if I tried it, for there is madness in a room full of classified charnel things, with blood and lesser human debris almost ankle-deep on the slimy floor, and with hideous reptilian abnormalities sprouting, bubbling, and baking over a winking bluish-green spectre of dim flame in a far corner of black shadows.
The scream of a dead man gave to me that acute and added horror of Dr. Herbert West which harassed the latter years of our companionship.
The shell had been merciful, in a way–but West could never feel as certain as he wished, that we two were the only survivors.
The situation was almost past management, and deaths ensued too frequently for the local undertakers fully to handle.
The solution had to be differently compounded for different types–what would serve for guinea-pigs would not serve for human beings, and different human specimens required large modifications.
The speaker had asked for the custody of the cannibal monster committed from Arkham sixteen years before; and upon being refused, gave a signal which precipitated a shocking riot.
The specimen, as West repeatedly observed, had a splendid nervous system.
The students all attended the hasty funeral on the 15th, and bought an impressive wreath, though the latter was quite overshadowed by the tributes sent by wealthy Arkham citizens and by the municipality itself.
The tension on our part became very great.
The thing actually opened its eyes, but only stared at the ceiling with a look of soul-petrifying horror before collapsing into an inertness from which nothing could rouse it.
The thing was finally stopped by a bullet, though not a fatal one, and was rushed to the local hospital amidst universal excitement and loathing.
The trunk had moved intelligently; and, unbelievable to relate, we were both sickeningly sure that articulate sounds had come from the detached head as it lay in a shadowy corner of the laboratory.
The victim had been seen alive considerably after midnight–the dawn revealed the unutterable thing.
The waiting was gruesome, but West never faltered.
The walk through the town had been long, and by the time the traveller paused at our cottage to ask the way to the factories his heart had become greatly overtaxed.
The walk was a trifle long, but we could haul our silent specimens undisturbed.
Their disappearance added horror to the situation–of them all West knew the whereabouts of only one, the pitiful asylum thing.
Their outlines were human, semi-human, fractionally human, and not human at all–the horde was grotesquely heterogeneous.
Then I saw a small black aperture, felt a ghoulish wind of ice, and smelled the charnel bowels of a putrescent earth.
Then came a period when luck was poor; interments fell off, and those that did occur were of specimens either too diseased or too maimed for use.
Then came the steady rattling at the back door.
Then the headless thing threw out its arms in a gesture which was unmistakably one of desperation–an intelligent desperation apparently sufficient to prove every theory of Herbert West.
Then the lids opened, shewing eyes which were grey, calm, and alive, but still unintelligent and not even curious.
Then there was a more subtle fear–a very fantastic sensation resulting from a curious experiment in the Canadian army in 1915.
Then there was another–our first–whose exact fate we had never learned.
Then they all sprang at him and tore him to pieces before my eyes, bearing the fragments away into that subterranean vault of fabulous abominations.
There followed a few spasmodic muscular motions, and then an audible breathing and visible motion of the chest.
There he worked like a butcher in the midst of his gory wares–I could never get used to the levity with which he handled and classified certain things.
There was a solution which he injected into the veins of dead things, and if they were fresh enough they responded in strange ways.
There was also that Arkham professor’s body which had done cannibal things before it had been captured and thrust unidentified into a madhouse cell at Sefton, where it beat the walls for sixteen years.
There was bright moonlight over the snowless landscape, but we dressed the thing and carried it home between us through the deserted streets and meadows, as we had carried a similar thing one horrible night in Arkham.
There was hope that this second and artificial life might be made perpetual by repetitions of the injection, but we had learned that an ordinary natural life would not respond to the action.
There was no sound, but just then the electric lights went out and I saw outlined against some phosphorescence of the nether world a horde of silent toiling things which only insanity–or worse–could create.
There was some talk of searching the woods, but most of the family’s friends were busy with the dead woman and the screaming man.
There was that first specimen on whose rifled grave marks of clawing were later seen.
There was, however, something he wanted in embattled Flanders; and in order to secure it he had to assume a military exterior.
There were reasons why I would have been glad to let the war separate us; reasons why I found the practice of medicine and the companionship of West more and more irritating; but when he had gone to Ottawa and through a colleague’s influence secured a medical commission as Major, I could not resist the imperious persuasion of one determined that I should accompany him in my usual capacity.
There were some strange garments in the room, but West upon regaining consciousness said they did not belong to the stranger, but were specimens collected for bacteriological analysis in the course of investigations on the transmission of germ diseases.
These were the usual results, for in order to reawaken the mind it was necessary to have specimens so absolutely fresh that no decay could possibly affect the delicate brain-cells.
They did not stop to view the matter closely and reasoningly.
They dressed its wound and carted it to the asylum at Sefton, where it beat its head against the walls of a padded cell for sixteen years–until the recent mishap, when it escaped under circumstances that few like to mention.
They filed out of the house with a jerky tread, and as I watched them go I had an odd idea that they were turning toward the ancient cemetery on which the back of the house abutted.
They had organised the quest with care, keeping in touch by means of volunteer telephone stations, and when someone in the college district had reported hearing a scratching at a shuttered window, the net was quickly spread.
They imply that I am a madman or a murderer–probably I am mad.
They knew, indeed, that West had been connected with activities beyond the credence of ordinary men; for his hideous experiments in the reanimation of dead bodies had long been too extensive to admit of perfect secrecy; but the final soul-shattering catastrophe held elements of daemoniac phantasy which make even me doubt the reality of what I saw.
They suspected that I was holding something back, and perhaps suspected graver things; but I could not tell them the truth because they would not have believed it.
They were hard to get, and one awful day he had secured his specimen while it was still alive and vigorous.
They were removing the stones quietly, one by one, from the centuried wall.
This assurance he gave readily enough; reminding me that the reanimating solution was never used without careful tests as to life; since it could have no effect if any of the original vitality were present.
This circumstance was not without effect on West, who thought often of the irony of the situation–so many fresh specimens, yet none for his persecuted researches!
This late winter night there had been such a match; evidently with disastrous results, since two timorous Poles had come to us with incoherently whispered entreaties to attend to a very secret and desperate case.
This much was clear despite the nauseous eyes, the voiceless simianism, and the daemoniac savagery.
This need for very fresh corpses had been West’s moral undoing.
This terror is not due altogether to the sinister manner of his recent disappearance, but was engendered by the whole nature of his life-work, and first gained its acute form more than seventeen years ago, when we were in the third year of our course at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham.
This work was not known to the fashionable clientele who had so swiftly built up his fame after his arrival in Boston; but was only too well known to me, who had been his closest friend and sole assistant since the old days in Miskatonic University Medical School at Arkham.
This, I now saw, West had clearly recognised; creating his embalming compound for future rather than immediate use, and trusting to fate to supply again some very recent and unburied corpse, as it had years before when we obtained the negro killed in the Bolton prize-fight.
This, he said, was to neutralise the compound and release the system to a normal relaxation so that the reanimating solution might freely work when injected.
Those victims who could recall the event without hysteria swore that the creatures had acted less like men than like unthinkable automata guided by the wax-faced leader.
Those who found the body noted a trail of blood leading to the receiving tomb, where a small pool of red lay on the concrete just outside the gate.
Though not as yet licenced physicians, we now had our degrees, and were pressed frantically into public service as the numbers of the stricken grew.
Thoughts of the police and of the mad Italian both weighed heavily.
Through the fevered town had crept a curse which some said was greater than the plague, and which some whispered was the embodied daemon-soul of the plague itself.
Thus it remained till that final hellish night; part of the walls of the secret laboratory.
To establish the artificial motion, natural life must be extinct–the specimens must be very fresh, but genuinely dead.
To hear him discussing ways and means was rather ghastly, for at the college we had never procured anatomical specimens ourselves.
To the police we both declared ignorance of our late companion’s identity.
To the vanished Herbert West and to me the disgust and horror were supreme.
Toward the last I became acutely afraid of West, for he began to look at me that way.
Two biological points he was exceedingly anxious to settle–first, whether any amount of consciousness and rational action be possible without the brain, proceeding from the spinal cord and various nerve-centres; and second, whether any kind of ethereal, intangible relation distinct from the material cells may exist to link the surgically separated parts of what has previously been a single living organism.
Very little time had elapsed before I saw the attempt was not to be a total failure.
We approached the house from the field in the rear, took the specimen in the back door and down the cellar stairs, and prepared it for the usual experiment.
We both inserted the whole unopened wooden box, closed the door, and started the electricity.
We buried our materials in a dense strip of woods between the house and the potter’s field.
We carried spades and oil dark lanterns, for although electric torches were then manufactured, they were not as satisfactory as the tungsten contrivances of today.
We carried the thing down to the laboratory–listening.
We chose our house with the greatest care, seizing at last on a rather run-down cottage near the end of Pond Street; five numbers from the closest neighbour, and separated from the local potter’s field by only a stretch of meadow land, bisected by a narrow neck of the rather dense forest which lies to the north.
We could not get bodies fresh enough to shew any trace of reason when reanimated, so had perforce created nameless horrors.
We did not separate, but managed to get to West’s room, where we whispered with the gas up until dawn.
We finally decided on the potter’s field, because practically every body in Christchurch was embalmed; a thing of course ruinous to West’s researches.
We followed the local death-notices like ghouls, for our specimens demanded particular qualities.
We followed them to an abandoned barn, where the remnants of a crowd of frightened foreigners were watching a silent black form on the floor.
We found that the college had first choice in every case, so that it might be necessary to remain in Arkham during the summer, when only the limited summer-school classes were held.
We had all been rather jovial, and West and I did not wish to have our pugnacious companion hunted down.
We had at last what West had always longed for–a real dead man of the ideal kind, ready for the solution as prepared according to the most careful calculations and theories for human use.
We had fair luck with specimens in Bolton–much better than in Arkham.
We had met years before, in medical school, and from the first I had shared his terrible researches.
We had not been settled a week before we got an accident victim on the very night of burial, and made it open its eyes with an amazingly rational expression before the solution failed.
We had that afternoon dug a grave in the cellar, and would have to fill it by dawn–for although we had fixed a lock on the house we wished to shun even the remotest risk of a ghoulish discovery.
We kept track of all the deaths and their circumstances with systematic care.
We knew that there was scarcely a chance for anything like complete success, and could not avoid hideous fears at possible grotesque results of partial animation.
We retired about eleven, but I did not sleep well.
We were frightfully overworked, and the terrific mental and nervous strain made my friend brood morbidly.
We were not much displeased, however, since there were no people between us and our sinister source of supplies.
West and I had graduated about the time of its beginning, but had remained for additional work at the summer school, so that we were in Arkham when it broke with full daemoniac fury upon the town.
West and I had met in college, and I had been the only one to sympathise with his hideous experiments.
West and I were almost dead, and Dr. Halsey did die on the 14th.
West and I were doing post-graduate work in summer classes at the medical school of Miskatonic University, and my friend had attained a wide notoriety because of his experiments leading toward the revivification of the dead.
West clashed disagreeably with Dr. Halsey near the end of our last undergraduate term in a wordy dispute that did less credit to him than to the kindly dean in point of courtesy.
West could not withhold admiration for the fortitude of his foe, but because of this was even more determined to prove to him the truth of his amazing doctrines.
West did not resist or utter a sound.
West had a private laboratory in an east room of the barn-like temporary edifice, assigned him on his plea that he was devising new and radical methods for the treatment of hitherto hopeless cases of maiming.
West had greedily seized the lifeless thing which had once been his friend and fellow-scholar; and I shuddered when he finished severing the head, placed it in his hellish vat of pulpy reptile-tissue to preserve it for future experiments, and proceeded to treat the decapitated body on the operating table.
West had never fully succeeded because he had never been able to secure a corpse sufficiently fresh.
West had soon learned that absolute freshness was the prime requisite for useful specimens, and had accordingly resorted to frightful and unnatural expedients in body-snatching.
West had still another source of worry, for he had been called in the afternoon to a case which ended very threateningly.
West liked to think that before his recent disappearance, but there were times when he could not; for it was queer that we both had the same hallucination.
West said it was not fresh enough–the hot summer air does not favour corpses.
West told me how he had obtained the specimen.
West was a materialist, believing in no soul and attributing all the working of consciousness to bodily phenomena; consequently he looked for no revelation of hideous secrets from gulfs and caverns beyond death’s barrier.
West was experimenting madly to find something which would start man’s vital motions anew after they had been stopped by the thing we call death, but had encountered the most ghastly obstacles.
West was gone.
West was more avid than I, so that it almost seemed to me that he looked half-covetously at any very healthy living physique.
West was not even excited now.
West was then a small, slender, spectacled youth with delicate features, yellow hair, pale blue eyes, and a soft voice, and it was uncanny to hear him dwelling on the relative merits of Christchurch Cemetery and the potter’s field.
West’s head was carried off by the wax-headed leader, who wore a Canadian officer’s uniform.
West’s landlady saw us arrive at his room about two in the morning, with a third man between us; and told her husband that we had all evidently dined and wined rather well.
West’s last quarters were in a venerable house of much elegance, overlooking one of the oldest burying-grounds in Boston.
West, in reality, was more afraid than I; for his abominable pursuits entailed a life of furtiveness and dread of every shadow.
West, in the midst of a severe battle, had reanimated Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee, D.S.O., a fellow-physician who knew about his experiments and could have duplicated them.
West, who had his hand on the pulse of the left wrist, suddenly nodded significantly; and almost simultaneously a mist appeared on the mirror inclined above the body’s mouth.
West, young despite his marvellous scientific acquirements, had scant patience with good Dr. Halsey and his erudite colleagues; and nursed an increasing resentment, coupled with a desire to prove his theories to these obtuse worthies in some striking and dramatic fashion.
What followed, I shall never positively know.
What had most disgusted the searchers of Arkham was the thing they noticed when the monster’s face was cleaned–the mocking, unbelievable resemblance to a learned and self-sacrificing martyr who had been entombed but three days before–the late Dr. Allan Halsey, public benefactor and dean of the medical school of Miskatonic University.
What he wanted was not a thing which many persons want, but something connected with the peculiar branch of medical science which he had chosen quite clandestinely to follow, and in which he had achieved amazing and occasionally hideous results.
What he wanted were bodies from which vitality had only just departed; bodies with every cell intact and capable of receiving again the impulse toward that mode of motion called life.
What we wanted were corpses interred soon after death and without artificial preservation; preferably free from malforming disease, and certainly with all organs present.
What would happen on reanimation, and whether we could hope for a revival of mind and reason, West did not venture to predict.
When Dr. Herbert West disappeared a year ago, the Boston police questioned me closely.
When he and I obtained our degrees at the medical school of Miskatonic University, and sought to relieve our poverty by setting up as general practitioners, we took great care not to say that we chose our house because it was fairly well isolated, and as near as possible to the potter’s field.
When I say that Dr. West was avid to serve in battle, I do not mean to imply that he was either naturally warlike or anxious for the safety of civilisation.
When I slammed the door after them West came downstairs and looked at the box.
When the pine box was fully uncovered West scrambled down and removed the lid, dragging out and propping up the contents.
When we had patted down the last shovelful of earth we put the specimen in a canvas sack and set out for the old Chapman place beyond Meadow Hill.
When we reached the door I cautiously unbolted it and threw it open, and as the moon streamed revealingly down on the form silhouetted there, West did a peculiar thing.
Whenever the morgue proved inadequate, two local negroes attended to this matter, and they were seldom questioned.
While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his experiments fascinated me utterly, and I was his closest companion.
In honor of the holiday, here’s a full-chapter excerpt from my unpublished novel, My Friend Velociraptor.
As I might have mentioned before, Thanksgiving was Velociraptor’s favorite holiday. What I probably didn’t touch upon was the fact that he didn’t consider himself a mere enthusiast, blithely gnoshing the stuffing and gravy with no appreciation for the finer details of the holiday. No, he considered himself an expert. He even made himself a little badge that said “Thanksgiving Expert: Ask Me About Thanksgiving,” which would have been all well and good, except he couldn’t find anywhere on his scales to pin it so he made me wear it, as part of an ensemble including an “I’m With Stupid” shirt pointing in his direction. The problem was that people kept coming up to me anyway, asking me stupid questions about cranberry/walnut salad or whether they should brine or deep-fry their turkey. Most of the time I just shrugged my shoulders and pointed my thumb at Velociraptor, whose suggestion 99.98% of the time was “eat it raw,” which got me a lot of nasty looks. I tried underlining the “Stupid” part in sharpie, but it didn’t help much; I have a feeling that some people, especially Trevor Bandersnatch, did understand the shirt thing but liked bugging me anyway. He must have approached me like seventeen times, always with the same question: “How is your mom like Thanksgiving?” To which the correct response was, apparently, “Your mom lol!” Yes, Trevor actually said “lol” out loud. He lolol’d. He was a lololer. After the fifth time, I would just rotate my upper body ninety degrees every time I saw him coming, which allowed me to pretend I didn’t notice him and pointed my shirt-arrow in his direction, for a little tasty passive-aggressive revenge. Meanwhile, Velociraptor bemoaned the fact that people didn’t “get” his “vision,” as he put it, and kept referring darkly to “that time with the beef collars.”
I didn’t realize how serious he was about his area of expertise until Ms. Terner tried to teach us about the history of Thanksgiving. She had just gotten to the part where the settlers are starving, freezing, disease-ridden, and dying in a foreign land, which was apparently some sort of curse that the Native Americans were about to inherit–remember, kids, never share maize with a stranger–when Velociraptor stood up on his desk with his arm extenders held high. “Did you have a question, Velociraptor?” Ms. Terner asked politely.
“No, but I have an answer!” Velociraptor huffed. It was difficult to believe, but I think he was actually indignant. I’d never seen him like that before, and I’ve only seen it once since. If he were one of those frilled lizards, his frills would have been quivering; if he had been wearing a beef collar, he would have achieved a perfect medium-rare of anger. But since his neck was undecorated, the only way you could tell was by looking in his eyes, which, once you did, you would realize was a place that you really didn’t want to be looking. “The answer,” he continued, “is this: how long are you going to keep telling these lies?” I think it was around this time that I tried to see if I could literally sink my face through my desk. I couldn’t.
“I’m afraid I don’t quite follow,” Ms. Terner responded calmly. “Are you saying you know something we don’t about the harsh New England winter?”
“No,” Velociraptor replied, with an icy calm that could only have come from a cold-blooded reptile. “But I know a little something about Thanksgiving.” He pointed to my shirt. “I’m the stupid Thanksgiving expert!”
“Well, perhaps you would like to teach the class for a while? We’re always open to different viewpoints here,” Ms. Terner said, with a small smile.
“Well perhaps I will!” Velociraptor shouted, stamping his indignant little feet in a tantrum that would have been cute if it hadn’t been so terrifying, or perhaps it was the vice versa. “Perhaps I certainly will!” Tossing his arm extenders aside, he leapt the space between his desk and Ms. Terner’s. She pulled her chair off to one side and sat with her hands folded in her lap, watching calmly. Velociraptor turned on the rest of the class, that cold fire still in his eyes. “Frankly,” he began, “I’m a little tired of nasty old Ms. Terner, no offense Ms. Terner, feeding you little tidbits all these lies! Feed us pies, not lies, I say! They don’t call me the stupid Thanksgiving expert for nothing!” I have to say, he wasn’t off to the best start. I’m pretty sure that one of the first thing they teach you in the Toastmaster’s society is that, when giving a speech, you aren’t going to win the hearts of your audience by referring to them as “tidbits.” Then again, he hadn’t yet referred to their hearts as “morsels,” and he wasn’t trying to physically win their hearts so that he could bake them into a “hearty meat-pie of truth,” so it couldn’t be considered the worst speech he’d ever delivered.
“What most people don’t realize about Thanksgiving,” Velociraptor went on, doodling on the whiteboard, “is that it is actually one of the oldest holidays in the history of everything. Of course, it wasn’t always celebrated the way it was today. We used to call it ‘Thanks, Giblets!’ and instead of mashed potatoes, we would eat mashed hamsters, which is the only way to eat hamsters. Especially with hamster gravy, which for those of you who’ve never cooked a Thanksgiving dinner before is the stuff that comes out of the hamster when you mash it. Anyway, that was back in Prehistoric times, and we didn’t write a lot of stuff down back then because we were too busy having fun, so alas the true meaning of Thanksgiving has been forgotten in the red mists of time.”
Constance Ruth tentatively raised her hand. “Uh, maybe you could tell us what it was all about? Since you were around back then?”
Velociraptor shot her an I-will-eat-the-entrails-of-your-favorite-puppy sort of glare. “It’s been forgotten,” he said emphatically. “But it was definitely something about giblets.” When I asked Sea Monster later about the historical accuracy of Velociraptor’s story, he gave me a “no comment” and a wink.
“Well, thank you very much, Velociraptor,” Ms. Terner said, rising from her chair. “That was very…enlightening.” And she returned to her lesson, Velociraptor returned to his desk, and everybody considered the matter forgotten, except for Ribsy McCracken who is just a naturally suspicious person. You might consider our attitude naïve, since trouble for Velociraptor is an irresistible lure, like a swimming pool full of lemurs, which he insists taste exactly like meaty Oreos, and who’s going to taste one to find out if he’s telling the truth? What I mean to say is that trouble is Velociraptor’s middle name, or, more accurately, D@##!t is his first name. But I prefer to think of our position as “imaginatively hopeful.” Besides, none of us could have really anticipated what would happen next, except for Ribsy McCracken, but he also anticipated that the school mayonnaise was infected with interdimensional soul-sucking parasites, so he brought his own mayonnaise from home. Anyway, this was before Mrs. Grammar made The Play, which changed everything.
Our first whiff of trouble was when she appeared at Friday assembly wearing a “historicoemotionally precise rendition of aboriginal garb.” Actually, it was more than a whiff, since the main component of her outfit appeared to be some sort of dung, which she called “earth of the great buffalo.” This set Velociraptor off on a long tangent about how if you want great buffalo you need to marinate it in pork gravy, which keeps it nice and tender and juicy, so I missed whatever else was said about the costume, but I did notice that the longer she talked, the further away from the podium the other teachers scooted their chairs. And she talked for a long time. Finally, after expounding on the “feather of the illustrious mallard” that she wore between her…um, let’s just call them her feather-supporters…she finally got around to the main point.
“Children,” she announced, “I have a titillating revelation for you all.” This earned a good round of giggles, especially from the other kids who had noticed her feather-supporters. Even Signore Botanico had to pretend he was dusting off his moustache. When the hilarity had subsided, she continued: “Earlier this week, on the night devoted to the primal deity Woden, I was haply visited by the muse of patriotic fervor in the form of this segment of root-vegetable-derived pastry, spiced with a blend of special herbs also of the earth.” She pulled a soggy, half-eaten slice of sweet potato pie from her bag. Now, I’m no expert on women, but I’ve lived with my grandmother long enough to form a sort of biological hypothesis. You know how some dinosaurs had their brains in their tails, and how Velociraptor’s brain is in his stomach, and men are supposed to keep their brains in their pants? I’m not really sure what’s meant by that last part, since the pockets of men’s pants are hardly big enough to fit a wallet, let alone a healthy adult brain. But it did get me thinking: if that’s true, then women have got to keep their brains somewhere else, since they don’t even always wear pants, and a lot of skirts don’t have any pockets at all. Of course, the most logical place to keep one’s brain would be inside of one’s skull, but I think if you’re debating where to put your brain in the first place then logic probably isn’t on your side. And if they’re going to keep them anywhere except in their logical place, it would have to be in their bags. Think about it: the more organized and on top of things a woman is, the smaller and more organized her bag tends to be. And the reverse is true as well: the larger and more chaotic a woman’s bag is, the loopier she’ll tend to be. I only mention all of this to say that Mrs. Grammar had the biggest bag I’d ever seen. It was almost not a bag at all, more of an open burlap sack in which could be glimpsed, on any given day: books large enough to be called tomes, bottles of some dark liquid or other, bits of twigs and feathers, half-digested fast food, and even, on one memorable occasion, a live cat. There’s still a lively debate about whether it was just a stray cat that wandered in there in search of hamburgers and couldn’t find its way back out, or whether she carried an entire menagerie around with her at all times and hired her bag out as a mobile petting zoo for a bit of extra income. There are also those who whispered that the cat was her familiar, but then Velociraptor said it didn’t look familiar to him, and Jaundice Jones said that Velociraptor wouldn’t recognize a cat if it was coming out of his own butt, to which Velociraptor replied that he could too and he was going to prove it, and then thankfully Mrs. Grammar walked in and the conversation was over.
“As I was luxuriating in this seasonal indulgence,” Mrs. Grammar continued, weighing the sodden pie as though she were judging the souls of the unworthy, “I became overcome by a vision so powerful that I found I could masticate no longer.” This got another round of giggles from the crowd, who had likely given up on straining for the actual meaning of the words and were latching like desperate remoras onto anything that sounded remotely dirty. It’s a blessing that her play didn’t require a skilled pianist, or that she didn’t start discussing its ramifications, or we’d probably still be sitting in that assembly. “I sat all night, in the luminous lunar luster, and inscribed the words that came to me. The product of this pastry-inspired atavistic regression will be performed in two weeks, immediately preceding the start of the Thanksgiving holidays. Auditions are open to all incipient thespians in the sixth grade.” While she was talking, she had removed her glasses to polish them, which left her eyes so crossed that you could use them to play tic-tac-toe. Which just made it more unsettling when she stared directly at me as she spoke these last words.
That look stayed with me long after Mrs. Grammar left the podium and Principal Loxburger returned to close the proceedings and disinfect the microphone. The way her right eye pierced directly into my soul, while at the same time her left eye pierced my ear…she had some sort of evil plans in store for me. I’d decided she was definitely evil after she had given my Edgar Allen Poe project a B, when it so obviously deserved an A++. I mean, I’d stayed up for hours trying to come up with a rhyme for “feline decapitation,” for pete’s sake.
Anyway, I figured that as long as I kept as far away as possible from those auditions, and kept my mouth zipped during English, I should be safe. It’s a well-known fact that Librarian Curses are only effective if you cast them while the victim’s tongue is in view; that’s why it’s so dangerous to talk in the reading room of your public library. Of course, there was still the problem of being called on during class; even armed with my knowledge of her occult ways, Mrs. Grammar had the power to ensnare me with a single pointed question about the theme of honor in The Old Man & The Sea. However, here was where my own craft came into play, for I had raised not being called on to the level of an art. Once you’ve got a reputation as a prodigy, the worst thing that can happen to you is to be asked a question you don’t know the answer to. I can’t divulge all my secrets, because one day I’m going to get it patented and publish a self-help book and go on tour giving speeches to less fortunate kids and pointedly not answering their questions, and then I’ll be able to retire hopefully before I’m out of high school. But for the time being, I’ll give you a few free pointers. First of all, avoid eye contact at all costs. I think all modern teachers come equipped with retinal scanners, so they don’t need to memorize names or seating order. But if you don’t make eye-to-eye, they won’t be able to pull up your ID file, which in addition to your name gives them DNA sequencing, favorite flavors of ice cream, and discussion topics most likely to cause a brain aneurysm. Without this stuff, they’re much less likely to pick on you. Here’s another freebie: teachers hate to call on you if you raise your hand all the time. Now, this is something of a gamble if you forgot to do the reading and don’t want to be picked on the entire day, but luckily there’s a way to raise your hand without actually raising it. Start out with steps one through four of the normal hand-raising technique, outlined in my book, but then on step five do a quick-feint into a hair manipulation maneuver or, if you’re lucky enough to have acne, a pimple-popper. Your goal is to bait them with the partial hand raise, then make them either so embarrassed or so disgusted that they physically have to look away. When practicing the hair manipulation technique, it helps to have lice. I know a place where you can order them online for cheap.
I spent all of first recess mentally brushing up on my question avoidance procedures, but it turned out to be no use, for reasons I’m about to tell you if you’ll just hold on a second. And no skipping ahead to the next paragraph, either, because that’s just plain cheating. Anyway, when lunch rolled around, I noticed a suspicious Velociraptor-shaped gap at my table. I was just about to get up and see if he’d brought out the sitting-rock again when he came hurrying up to me, breathless, a huge toothy grin on his face. “Guess what, Billy?” he asked. I told him I’d rather not, because if what I was guessing was right, then he’d better have a really good letter of apology prepared for the Springtree PD, and if I didn’t guess right, it was probably something worse. It turned out to be something from Column B. “Guess what, Billy? I signed us both up for the Free Pie Club today after school?”
“The what?” I asked.
“The Free Pie Club that Mrs. Grammar was talking about at assembly today! I hope they have grasshopper pie, it’s my very favorite! You gotta love that crunch when you get a leg…”
“Of course, Deer Steak & Kidney Pie is delicious too, and very seasonal. Ooh! I think otter season is open! I wonder if she’ll have otter pie?”
“Velociraptor, she’s not going to have any pie!” I cut in.
Velociraptor fixed me with a critical look. “How do you know?”
“Well, I suppose it’s possible she could have pie,” I conceded. “But that’s not what you signed us up for. That was the audition list for the school play. Now we’re going to have to go whether we want to or not.”
“Oh.” Velociraptor gazed thoughtfully into the distance, contemplating his gaffe. It was good to see him actually think about the consequences of his actions every once in a while. “Still, I wonder if she’ll have otter pie?” he mused.
“I can guarantee you that she…probably won’t have otter pie,” I said, remembering that it was Mrs. Grammar we were talking about. It was at least a fifty-fifty split. “Besides, since when do you care about hunting seasons? I thought you just sort of pitched a tent and ate whatever wandered by?”
Velociraptor shook his head like a disappointed tutor. “Billy, you need to get in touch with nature here.”
“Since when are you in touch with nature, Velociraptor?” I asked. “Last time I checked you were hunting the wild beef in the deli section of the supermarket.”
“What are you talking about?” he replied indignantly. “I’m full of nature! The world of meat is like…a meaty symphony of…meat. And tastiness. There’s a rhythm to it, and…something about cycles which I didn’t really get, unless it was about my Velociraptor velocipede…”
“Velociraptor, are you just repeating something Sea Monster told you?”
“Yeah,” he said guiltily. “But that doesn’t stop it from being true! The gristle of it is, if you time it right, you get more bang for your buck!”
“No pun intended,” I offered.
“What? Yeah. Like the time that I set up my tent at the top of the waterfall while the salmon were spawning…it was like nature’s seafood buffet!”
“Okay,” I said. “So, back on topic, what are we going to do about these auditions? You do realize she could turn us both into…something horrible with just a wave of her pencil.”
“Oh yeah. I keep forgetting she used to be a magical librarian.”
“It sound so silly when you say it like that…so what do we do?”
Velociraptor shrugged. “We’ll go, I guess.”
So we did. I was still worried about being turned into a toad or something, but it had to be better than being sent to the principal’s office for being absent to an after-school activity. Actually, now that Velociraptor had planted the idea in my head, I was weirdly certain that Mrs. Grammar was planning to turn me into an otter and then turn the otter-me into a pie. I’m not sure how I knew, but I knew.
When we arrived at the auditions, the room was predictably empty. Participating in a non-mandatory activity that puts you on a stage in a stupid costume in front of the rest of the school? Let’s just say you’d have a hard time taking out a life-insurance policy. Which isn’t to say that nobody showed up: there were always those too oblivious to see that they might as well be dressing up as ducks and riding treadmills back and forth across the stage, shooting-gallery style. Constance Ruth was there, though I wouldn’t have pegged her parents as the type to support something as bohemian as the theatre. So was Ollie Ringbald, who was large enough to do pretty much whatever he wanted without fear of bullying, and Trevor Bandersnatch had turned up to point and laugh and ended up being cast in the role of Farmer Rape-o’-the-Land. Horatio Valentine, the school’s resident theatrical whiz from one of the other homerooms, had made an unsurprising appearance, and was off in a corner doing vocal warm-up exercises like “Maybe my Mommy may go to Miami and maybe my Mommy may not.” Like I said, oblivious.
There was one sight, though, that made my heart stop the moment I walked into the room. And it wasn’t some of Mrs. Grammar’s dark magic. No, this was very, very good magic, birthday-candle wish type of magic. There was one other person at the audition, and it was the female type of person. A particular female type of person with hair the color of strawberries. A second-swing-from-the-left-sitting sort of person, although at this moment she was sitting on a bench, quietly looking over her lines. I couldn’t believe my luck. I almost grabbed Velociraptor and kissed him right then and there, except that might have looked weird in front of the girl I liked and Velociraptor has been known to mistake people’s lips for prosciutto.
So things were all rainbows and swingsets for all of, oh, .58 of a second, until Mrs. Grammar noticed us come in. Her face split open into an evil grin, the kind that you just know would go well with some cackling even though there’s no cackling going on at the moment. I nearly turned around and ran away, except that Velociraptor was directly behind me and underfoot, as he tends to be. So I just sort of stood there, mouth agape–how could I forget my curse defense at such a crucial moment?–and waited for Mrs. Grammar to make the first move.
“Oh my, what a serendipitous happenstance!” Mrs. Grammar trilled. This sounded an awful lot like a mystical curse to me, but when I glanced down to check, all of my parts still seemed to be in the right shape and position. “Children!” she denounced, addressing the thoroughly disinterested kids in the rest of the room, “these auditions are hereby concluded. For we have discovered our star player, against whose splendiferousness all else is moot!” She gestured grandly in my direction.
“M-me?” I stammered. I couldn’t believe that, out of all the kids in the school, she was singling me out for the starring role. Maybe she had just caught on to my natural charisma, which nobody else ever seemed to notice?
“No, of course not!” Mrs. Grammar said testily. “Step aside, child, and make way for a being who truly embodies the primal struggle of civilization versus bestial chaos which serves as this great work’s anchor and core! Children, allow me to introduce a creature who requires no introduction, your Noble Turkey!” Producing a bundle of dayglo-colored feathers from the jumble of her bag, she strode proudly forward and draped them across Velociraptor’s hindsection. He immediately spun around and tried to eat them.
“Wait a second,” whined Horatio Valentine. “You’re telling me you gave the lead role to this mouthbreathing primate?”
“Mouthbreathing reptile,” Velociraptor corrected, taking a momentary break from snapping at his own brightly-colored tailfeathers.
“Whatever. After I spent all fifth period practicing my gobbling?” He demonstrated a highly realistic ululation of the “93-year-old lady gargling marbles” variety. The volume was impressive, too; apparently he was really putting his diaphragm in it. I don’t think I need to repeat the part about oblivious. Besides, the gesture was wasted, since, as Trevor pointed out, nobody can out-gobble Velociraptor. He’s a born gobbler.
Once the situation had been explained to Velociraptor several times, with special emphasis placed on the fact that just because he was a turkey didn’t mean he was suddenly obligated to devour himself, Mrs. Grammar got started assigning the “auxiliary roles.” In spite of Horatio’s misgivings, there were, in fact, more parts than students present, so Mrs. Grammar declared that she would have to “don the mast of Thespis once again.” She cast herself as the Herald of Anamnesis, a.k.a. the narrator, which was a bit funny because the script didn’t have any lines for the narrator written. There were just a few bits here and there that said something like “Here the progression halts as the Herald of Anamnesis expounds upon the dramatic irony of the diaspora of the so-called pilgrims displacing, in turn, the indigenous peoples of the Americas” or “Herald of Anamnesis: extemporaneous ode to corn.” But somehow, whenever we were in rehearsal, it would turn out that the narrator had more lines than everybody else combined. Very strange.
Velociraptor’s and Trevor’s roles, as I mentioned before, had already been settled. Horatio was somewhat mollified to be cast as Chief Mudswallow, the only role outside of the turkey that was guaranteed to win him a month’s supply of swirlies. Inside the turkey, it was too dark to read, haha. Ollie Ringbald was, Mrs. Grammar said, the consummate Spirit of Fecundity, a weird little part that seemed to consist mostly of rolling around tossing flower petals and corn-husks on the ground and running away from Trevor. I got to be the Backhanded Underwriter, who from what I could tell was supposed to be a bad guy, but then again everybody except for the Noble Turkey seemed to be a bad guy in this thing. Most of my lines were about how I was going to divide the land into unnatural borders that disrupt the ley-lines, and how I would love nothing more than to turn all the fallow fields into supermarkets. This, at least, I could get behind, because who wants to spend months tending crops and stuff when you can just drive down to the Spring-Mart and pick up ears of corn three for a dollar.
To my chagrin, swing-girl was cast as Goodwife Rape-o’-the-Land, which meant she had to fake-kiss Trevor Bandersnatch, which left me with Constance Ruth as Mistress Underwriter. There was no fake-kissing involved between us, which was a huge relief: I wanted my first fake-kiss to be special, and I don’t think Mistress Underwriter would have gone for it anyway.
On the way to the bus, as I flipped idly through the script, and I was overjoyed to discover that I had one whole scene alone with Goody Rape-o’-the-Land, when she came to plead with me on her husband’s behalf to extend their farmland onto the neighboring aboriginal burial ground. The script even said that I touched her hand reassuringly, which meant I would get to touch her hand! Reassuringly! I imagined how I would stare into her eyes as I did it, and how she would know that I liked her without me having to actually say it, and how she would be so overcome by emotion that she would divorce Trevor on the spot and announce her love for me in front of the entire audience, and then we would go backstage and…it got a little blurry at that point, but in a way that was both enticing and provocative. The whole situation seemed too good to be true, which should have been my first indication that it was.
You see, as we were soon to discover in rehearsal, I had some sort of exotic speech impediment hitherto unknown to medical science. The kind of speech impediment that had hair the color of strawberries. It wasn’t stage-fright, because I could get my other lines out just fine, though Mrs. Grammar kept saying I needed to be more patriarchal, whatever that means. But whenever swing-girl was on stage, my semi-confident tenalto tones would revert to incomprehensible chattering noises that sounded like Horatio’s turkey-gobble with a bad case of laryngitis. It eventually got so bad that Mrs. Grammar had to write the scene out of the script. I approached her after rehearsal and shyly asked if I could still touch swing-girl’s hand reassuringly, but she said that drama was an all-encompassing ideal, and that I’d just have to touch my own hand reassuringly like the autoemotional priapic gender-model that I was. I’m guessing that she’d just had a bad day, or a bad pastry, because she seemed to have forgotten all about it by the next rehearsal. Still, I didn’t want to press my luck, or she might rewrite the whole thing to have me touching Trevor’s hand instead.
Velociraptor, meanwhile, was having problems of his own. The concept of scripted dialogue must have been post-Cretaceous, because no matter how many times we went over his lines, when it came time to rehearsal he would just wander onstage and start gnawing on the smoked turkey-leg that he wore around his neck “to help get into character.” On the few occasions we could get his attention focused on the play for more than ten seconds at a time, he would start complaining about how it was species discrimination to make him play the part of the turkey, how just because he looked and acted like a turkey in real didn’t mean they could make him look and act like one on stage. It all came to a head during Springtree Elementary’s annual Cranberry Festival, just a day before the big performance.
“Today, we will be harvesting our own cranberries, just like the pilgrims of old,” Principal Loxburger announced, with somewhat less enthusiasm than his position required. Not that I was 1/1 certain about it either. For one thing, I had a feeling the pilgrims of old didn’t harvest their cranberries out of an old wading pool. Plus, I’ll bet they didn’t do it in stupid construction-paper hats that kept falling into the “bog” and dissolving so that you had to spend all night washing pasty black and white clumps out of your hair, which is gross whether it’s bird poop or not. I’d actually discovered this principle a few years earlier, when I’d been reading my Wardrobe Man comics in bed and had accidentally dozed off. When I woke up, I found out that I had been using my emergency box of oreos as a pillow, which at least explained the eating-your-pillow dream for once. Anyway, to get back to my debunking of popular cultural myths, I’m willing to bet that the early settlers couldn’t collect twenty-five cranberries and trade them in for a hefty scoop of cranberry jelly, sort of like those cooking shows with the magic ovens that can cook a turkey in a few seconds. I’ll bet the pilgrims of old really had to work for their cranberry sauce; at the very least, the exchange rate had to be higher in those days, like a thousand cranberries per teaspoon of sauce.
Anyway, Velociraptor chose that moment to air all his grievances about the production. I tried to explain to him that stomping around in a crowd of children with cranberry juice smeared across his talons and mouth was perhaps not the best time to go into hysterics, as somebody might get the wrong impression and then we’d have to have to wait outside the school gates while Principal Loxburger had The Talk with animal control again. But I guess the thing about when somebody is in hysterics is that they’re not likely to listen to you when you tell them not to be in hysterics, no matter how logical your arguments are. Velociraptor wanted to vent, and I had to listen.
“I don’t want to be a tasty turkey!” he whined. “I’m too young to be tasty!” I could have pointed out that sixty-five million years old isn’t exactly the first bloom of youth, but that just might have made things worse, so I let him talk. “I mean,” he went on, “I worked hard for my reputation as the worst-tasting animal on the planet. You believe me that I taste awful, don’t you?”
“Of course I do,” I said, touching his red-stained talon reassuringly.
“That’s right! And what happens if there’s a great white shark in the audience? Has anyone stopped to consider what that would mean?”
“Well, for starters, it would mean that Springtree had been hit with a record tsunamai. But I see where you’re coming from. But just think, you get to be the center of attention, and represent the spirit of Thanksgiving, and…”
“Thanksgiving?” Velociraptor gaped incredulously, and somewhat messily; he hadn’t bothered to swallow the can of “crab-berry” sauce he was working on first. “Is that what this is supposed to be about? Okay, that’s it. This has gone too far. I won’t have someone stand around and tell me Thanksgiving is about knobbly turkeys and corn-fed herbivores…”
“You’d rather they took the turkey out of Thanksgiving?”
“I didn’t say that!” Velociraptor contested hotly. “But it’s not about turkey. It’s about turkey giblets. And the proud carnivores who have eaten them for thousands of generations!”
“Well, there’s not much you can do about it now,” I reasoned. “The play is being performed tomorrow, and you’ve barely memorized your lines as it is.”
“Oh, I’ll give her lines,” Velociraptor murmured darkly, guzzling another jar of gelatinous scarlet liquid.
“Velociraptor, I can hear your mumbling threateningly over there,” I sighed. “And it doesn’t even make any sense. You should be saying ‘I’ll give her turkey’ or something.”
“My turkey!” Velociraptor gasped.
“Oh.” His eyes darkened again. “I’ll give her metaphorical turkey. I’ll give her more metaphorical turkey than she can eat.” He looked up at me. “But I still get all the real turkey, right?” he asked.
“All you can really eat,” I said.
“Do the reassuring thing with your hand?” he pleaded. I grudgingly complied. Maybe if I put a red wig on him…
Then, before we knew it, it was the big night. Backstage, in my allegorical Hat of Industry and my allegorical Puffy-Sleeved Coat of Political Deceit and my unfortunately very real purple tights, I peeked out at the audience through a gap in the curtain. “Are there a lot of people?” asked Velociraptor, whose view was hampered by knees and ankles, mostly.
“Yeah,” I gulped. I had never seen so many grown-ups in one place before, especially ones that I sorta knew. There were Constance Ruth’s mom and dad, who I knew from Open House: they were the ones who always brought their own sack of carrot-sticks and fresh-pressed apple juice to the refreshments table. And Horatio Valentine’s dad, spread across three seats on the far right of the front row and already pink-nosed and guffawing loudly, and his mom, a delicate creature who reminded me of a stick-bug, seated on the far left of the front row and nearly squashed beneath an enormous handbag–uh-oh, another crazy one! I figured Trevor’s parents probably wouldn’t show, Ollie Ringbald’s mom was the one who had to sit on three cushions to see the stage, and…I tried to work out who swing-girl’s parents might be. After rejecting several Miss Americas and a handsome Teutonic Cary Grant type, I decided that it would be better to think of her as having sprung fully formed from a giant clam-shell or something. Perhaps Sea Monster could furnish an introduction. Speaking of Sea Monster, there was a particularly damp seat front and center where he had originally tried to sit, but he had apparently been asked to move to the back because of the way he loomed. I couldn’t see Grandma Millie anywhere, but that didn’t really worry me. It was dark, and besides, with her eyes she probably couldn’t see me either.
Then Mrs. Grammar had us all form a Power Circle backstage, which meant that the play was about to start. Luckily, I didn’t have much of a chance to get butterflies, because the first thing we did was Pass the Pulse, a game in which you hold hands in a circle and squeeze the hand of the person on your left when your right hand gets squeezed. I call it a game, but I’m not really sure there’s a point to it; I’ve never seen anyone lose, and the scoring system has to be some sort of Olympic-style thing based on wrist precision and squeezing technique. Anyway, it was supposed to get our energy up and make us forget our nerves, and it worked on that last point, although mainly due to the fact that I was standing to the left of Trevor Bandersnatch and I was too busy worry about him breaking my arm to worry about the play. Constance Ruth, holding Velociraptor’s claw, had similar concerns to deal with, particularly because of the way he kept sniffing at her leather skirt.
And then the play started, and it was an unmitigated disaster. Well, maybe it didn’t start out so bad. The Herald of Anamnesis talked longer and more confusingly than ever before, which gave us a good long opportunity to remember our next lines, and the Spirit of Fecundity got a pretty good laugh when he started throwing out banana peels instead of corn-husks. I tried to be as patriarchal as possible, which I had looked up and which meant having a really big beard, so I had painted one on with sharpie and stroked it whenever I spoke. It turns out the ink wasn’t quite dry all the way, so I ended up with very “hairy” black fingers for most of the play, but I figured that could only make me more patriarchal. Chief Mudswallow hammed it up as always, and it was particularly gratifying when one of the “flames of his ancestors,” a.k.a. a flashlight with orange crepe paper in front of it, refused to light and had to be whacked against the wall a few times before it finally flickered on. His duet with the Spirit of Anamnesis was truly nauseating. But one character in particular stole the show, and that was Goodwife Rape-o’-the-Land. She was so vibrant and captivating and not only did she know all of her lines by heart, she also knew most of Trevor’s, which was a good thing because he sure didn’t. It almost made the whole excruciating ordeal worthwhile to see her stomp on his foot every ten seconds as he fumbled through his dialogue, not to mention the time he sat down on the Sacred Squash and she ad-libbed that hilarious joke about squashing a squash.
I said it almost made the whole thing worthwhile. The part of the whole thing that wasn’t included in that almost was the part where the Noble Turkey took the stage. I knew Velociraptor was planning something, mainly because of the way he kept repeating “I’m planning something, I’m planning something” under his breath. For a species known for their stealth, he wasn’t very good at being secretive; either that, or he was just trying to motivate himself, like when you say “I will talk to her after the play, I will talk to her after the play.” Anyway, even with the foreknowledge that something was going to happen, I had no idea it was going to be such a big disastrous something. I’m not sure even Velociraptor knew: it’s possible he hadn’t gotten to the actual planning something stage of planning something, and was just winging it, puh-doomp-chah. In the interest of clarity, and because it sounds like fun, I’m going to change formats for this bit. In five…four…three…two…
Curtain opens on final act of The Play. FARMER RAPE., GOODY RAPE., BACKHND. UNDERWR. and MISTRESS UNDERWR. are huddled UR. B.U. is frozen in the act of grinding the SPIRIT OF FECUNDITY beneath his heels, while FARMER and GOODY R. poke SPIRIT enthusiastically with their pitchforks, esp. FARMER. MISTRESS U. stands somewhat apart from the others, bouncing a blanket containing a “BUSHEL OF MAIZE” in her arms (actually the MULTIETHNIC BABY-DOLL). UL, CHIEF MUDSWALLOW brandishes his medicine-stick menacingly, with accompanying PEALS OF THUNDER (marbles in an aluminum mixing bowl) performed by the HERALD OF ANAMNENSIS, C.
HERALD: Witness as this tragedy concludes
This archetypal tale of earth and blood
As Oedipal man in hubris thinks is won
His battle ‘gainst dam nature blindly waged
While he still suckles at her chainèd teat
And note the symbolism of the blood in the bushel of maize
MUDSWALLOW: I implore you in the name of the Great Mother, unchain this land’s spirit!
UNDERWRITER: Never! (strokes beard) We will lash it ‘til the yoke runs red with bloody clay! (strokes beard)
NOTE: this line was a killer to memorize. I’m still not sure what it means, but I think it’s part of an omelet recipe.
MISTRESS U: O husband, if you only knew what harvest this red clay has brought!
GOODY R: (dazzlingly) We do not fear you, nor your savage ways!
Long pause. GOODY R. jabs FARMER R. in stomach with pitchfork.
FARMER R: What? Oh. Uh…the fruit of conquest is sweeter when it’s…plucked by force and stuff.
MUDSWALLOW: You shall surely starve for your arrogance!
HERALD: (says something involved about foreshadowing that I didn’t really catch because I was trying to figure out what Velociraptor was doing offstage that was making so much noise)
Assembled pilgrims clutch convincingly at their bellies, esp. FARMER R. SPIRIT grabs a bucket of ICE WATER from offstage and dumps it on the FARMER’S crops, then rolls merrily away.
MISTRESS U: Wait! Please, accept this symbol of peaceful coexistence between our people in this…bushel of maize! (twitches aside the blanket to reveal a MULTIETHNIC BABY-DOLL)
MUDSWALLOW: By the spirit of the Great Divine Squash, I can not allow your people to starve, though it will be the death of mine.
MUDSWALLOW: I shall call upon my ancestors to form the spirit of the Noble and Holy Turkey, that we may enact an annual sacrificial harvest ritual to remind us of the cost of audacity and help usher Sister Sun back from the Underworld.
CHIEF M. waves his MEDICINE ROD impressively, and the NOBLE TURKEY enters from R, wearing a large pouch over his chest.
TURKEY: Behold, it is I, the Knobbly Turkey!
MISTRESS U: Let us feast and rejoice, for–
TURKEY: Your dress smells like hamburgers!
TURKEY chases a terrified MISTRESS U. around the stage as she tosses various props in his direction. She lands a stunning blow to the skull with the MULTIETHNIC BABY-DOLL, enabling her escape. Silence. GOODY R. steps forward, scoops up the DOLL, and hands it to UNDERWRITER.
GOODY R: Here. I’m sure your wife would have wanted you to have it.
UNDERWRITER: (strokes beard in silence)
TURKEY: Behold, it is I, the Knobbly Turkey!
GOODY R: You said that already. (to FARMER R.) Don’t you have something to say?
FARMER R: I…uh…this is stupid!
HERALD: Casting off the shackles of performatism is a commendable practice, but I implore you to follow the script!
GOODY R: (to FARMER R.) What was that? Did you say that you would engage yearly in this ritual to remind yourself that man is a bestial creature at heart?
GOODY R: (to UNDERWRITER) Didn’t you hear him say something like that?
UNDERWRITER: (strokes beard in silence)
HERALD: And now our pageant settles to a close
As we reflect upon…
MUDSWALLOW: Wait a second, are we skipping to the end? I didn’t get to say my best monologue yet! Ahem…though true in heart and harmonic with the earth, I find myself unable to resist the softnesses of White Man’s world, and…
FARMER R: This is so stupid. Good thing our families didn’t show, huh, Billy? (beat) What, you didn’t know? Oh yeah, that friend of yours that smells like the drainage ditch was saying your Grandma wasn’t able to make it, because of her arthritis. He said he wasn’t going to tell you until after the show, because he didn’t want to mess you up. Well, I guess I just whoopsed it up, didn’t I? Since we’re on the subject, though, what’s it like living with someone who needs a blender to chew her food? At least you don’t have to worry about being the only one in the house who wets the bed…
UNDERWRITER: (strokes his beard angrily)
TURKEY: Everybody be quiet! Especially you, Farmer Rack-of-Lamb, if that’s even your real name!
Everybody is quiet, esp. FARMER R.
GOODY R: It isn’t, by the way. It isn’t even his fake name.
TURKEY: I don’t care! You’re all so wrapped up in your petty squabbles that you’ve forgotten what’s really important! Thanksgiving isn’t about families or grandmas or who ate the turkey when nobody was looking and then stuffed the skin with mash potatoes! The really most important part of Thanksgiving is in here… (pats his chest)
MUDSWALLOW: (to the audience) Alas, how could we have forgotten? The most important part of Thanksgiving is in the heart–
TURKEY: What? No, no, the most important part of Thankgiving is in this pouch! (unclasps pouch from around neck, dumps out a large pile of turkey giblets) Giblets for all! (flings giblets very enthusiastically at the audience. Standing ovation as parents and relatives stampede for the exit)
HERALD lunges angrily for TURKEY with the mixing bowl held in bludgeoning position, but he dodges her attacks and continues spraying the stage and the empty seats with seasonal showers of giblets.
HERALD: D@##!t Velociraptor, come back her so we can make a feast out of you!(to audience, of whom only one member remains, applauding wetly) It’s all very meaningful, I promise!
TURKEY: Giblets for all!
TURKEY blinds HERALD with a particularly well-aimed shot of giblets, sending her wailing offstage. Notices that he is alone in the auditorium. Scoops up an enormous double-armful of giblets, flings them into the air. Stands C with jaws open wide, waiting for those that didn’t stick to the Fresnels to fall down to earth.
TURKEY: Giblets for all!
It’s true that I haven’t posted on this website of late. I’ve been too busy transforming my life into a nightmarish montage of self-imposed deadlines and unquenchable exhaustion. But now! Now I have something for you, darling readers.
Halloween is my favorite time of year, and I have been exceptionally busy (even for me) making sure I had some ghoulish content going. Just look at these puppies:
On Indie Cardboard
But that’s not the extent of my recent activity. Check out these other recent posts on Entropy and Indie Cardboard:
Letter To You (a guest post by Todd Michael Rogers, creator of the world’s first tabletop novel)
D&D: Entropy Style (an ongoing D&D campaign with my fellow Entropy editors)
Last but not least, I’m getting back into fiction writing this month as I tackle…
Follow my novel’s (pathetic) progress here: my NaNoWriMo page
Have a spoooooooky November!
The film loops through several times as TOYS, including PANDORA, file in and watch, each adding her voice to the song with quiet ooh’s. Finally, ENGINEER #1 bursts in from offstage and the music/film stops abruptly. ENGINEER #1 has now acquired a number of scars, some of which appear fresh, and generally looks battle-worn, with torn clothing and a dull glint to his eyes. He also carries what appears to be a bazooka, although it’s labelled as a “Fun Launcher.” ENGINEER #57 and SERAGLIO follow. ENGINEER #57 brandishes a shotgun with a long pole affixed to the top and arching over the barrels. At the end of the pole, a fuzzy pink ball dangles from an elastic string. He also wears a necklace of tiny mechanical paws. SERAGLIO has a ridiculously long, thin sword slung over his back and carries a small green water-pistol. All three men appear to have attained several months of battle experience.The TOYS back away initially, but then move in to attack. SERAGLIO sprays them with his water-pistol, keeping them at bay.
ENGINEER #1: Take this, you bloodthirsty techno-kittens!
ENGINEER #1 attempts to fire his “Fun Launcher,” but it only emits an airy squeak.
ENGINEER #1: Oh, shit. I’m out of ammo.
SERAGLIO: I can not keep them back forever!
ENGINEER #1: Number fifty-seven, can you handle this bunch?
ENGINEER #57: I used my last round during the Engagement At Worker’s Lounge.
SERAGLIO’s pistol chooses this opportunity to piddle out the last of its ammunition. He presses the trigger a few more times, then throws the pistol at the TOYS.
SERAGLIO: Use a Catnip Bomb!
ENGINEER #1 removes a brightly-colored grenade from a pouch at his waist, pulls out the pin, and tosses it at the surrounding TOYS. It explodes in a puff of smoke, and the TOYS slow down and begin to mill around aimlessly. A few of them fall over.
ENGINEER #57: That’s bought us a little time. Is she with them?
SERAGLIO scans the crowd.
ENGINEER #1: Finally! Hooray!
SERAGLIO: Pandora, I choose you for a duel to the death!
SERAGLIO swings his arm out to point at PANDORA, coincidentally knocking out a TOY with his forearm. The other TOYS back away to spectate, providing a direct line of sight between SERAGLIO and PANDORA.
PANDORA: You’ve come to play with me? Why not play with all of us?
TOYS: Play with us all!
SERAGLIO: Because, I have cut my way through the metallic underbrush of this diablerie for the sole purpose of bringing about your defeat.
SERAGLIO: My reason, he is not important. Will you not fight me?
SERAGLIO: No? Do you fear so much the wrath of my great loins?
PANDORA: I am sleepy.
PANDORA leans down on the ground and stretches.
SERAGLIO: Then this shall be the nap from which you never awaken! Prepare yourself for a floral arrangement of pain!
SERAGLIO rushes PANDORA, who yawns. Just then, the catnipped TOYS shake their heads and regain clarity. They close in on the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO. Just when things look done for, SERAGLIO draws his sword. It glints beautifully. The TOYS lean back, mesmerized. It also catches PANDORA’s attention.
PANDORA: I will play with you. But I only want you.
SERAGLIO: Very well.
PANDORA: And all you.
SERAGLIO: As you wish.
SERAGLIO sheaths his sword once again. PANDORA smiles, then rubs seductively against SERAGLIO and purrs.
PANDORA: Pet me.
SERAGLIO: Foolish toy, you can not entice me with your wily ways. I have no interest in such things.
PANDORA: Don’t you like me?
SERAGLIO: I am actively working to bring about your end. Did you think I do this out of amity?
PANDORA: Are you saying that I can’t be your fuzzy friend?
SERAGLIO: You do not even have the fur. What is not steel plating is sharper than a cicada. And, beyond that, I am more of a dog person.
PANDORA: You’re a bad man.
PANDORA: We just need a little care. But you don’t care. You have no soul.
SERAGLIO: I have soul! What do you mean, I have no soul? My soul is large and friendly, like the capybara!
PANDORA: What is that?
SERAGLIO: It is a shaggy rodent, fond of water and much larger than a wombat.
ENGINEER #1: Seraglio! Now!
SERAGLIO and PANDORA turn to face ENGINEER #1.
SERAGLIO: Now what?
ENGINEER #1: Kill her now, while she’s unawares!
SERAGLIO aims a high kick at PANDORA’s chin, but she catches his foot and holds it above her head.
SERAGLIO: Tu mama es una bicicleta!
SERAGLIO attempts a few rapid jabs at PANDORA from around his upraised leg, but she stands just beyond his reach. He hops forward in an attempt to get closer, but finds that this makes the strain on his groin unbearable. Instead, he stretches his arm as far as it can go and, leaning forward, is barely able to shove PANDORA gently on the shoulder.
SERAGLIO: Ha-ha! I have regained the upper hand!
PANDORA forces SERAGLIO’s leg even higher, leaving him the choice to either fall backward or split his body down the seams. He falls backward. His skull bounces once or twice on the floor, but aside from that he is completely still.
ENGINEER #1: Is he…dead?
ENGINEER #57: Either that, or he’s decided that now’s a good time to practice sleeping with his eyes open.
ENGINEER #1: But…he can’t die…
ENGINEER #57: He was a brave man, while he lasted.
ENGINEER #1: No, he can’t die! Because I…
ENGINEER #57: I know. We all did.
PANDORA prods SERAGLIO with her foot, with no response. She leans forward and sniffs over his body, ending only centimeters from his face.
SERAGLIO’s hands shoot up and close around PANDORA’s head. She swats, hisses, and claws at him, but he continues to grip her skull with all his might. The other TOYS go into an uproar, mewling their curses and lamentations, until PANDORA releases a final, inhuman death-wail, at which everything falls silent. SERAGLIO rises slowly to his feet and dusts himself off.
SERAGLIO: I have done it. I have defeated the Wicked Queen! Her underthings have ceased to function, and you are now free to rejoice!
SERAGLIO looks back and sees the TOYS closing in around him. He points an accusatory finger at one.
SERAGLIO: You! Why are you functioning? I destroyed your Queen!
PANDORA laughs, her voice now badly distorted as if projected from the Other Side.
PANDORA: You thought that I was the Queen?
SERAGLIO: Are you not?
PANDORA: I am only a toy, like everything else. The Queen lies below…but you…
The rising distortion of PANDORA’s voice renders her final words indecipherable.
ENGINEER #57: Below? In Roach-Haven Hall?
SERAGLIO: Will this never end?
SERAGLIO runs to open the trap-door, but the TOYS follow on his tail, still carrying the ENGINEERS. He gets up and runs the other direction, but everywhere he runs, the TOYS follow closely behind, en masse. He tries a large circle, a small circle, a figure eight, and a zig-zag, but nothing can shake them. He creeps toward the trapdoor on his tiptoes, as do they. He stops suddenly and looks back over his shoulder. The TOYS do the same. He looks forward again then does a double-take, which they double as well, resulting in a quadruple-take of sorts. SERAGLIO spins around and walks backward, away from the trapdoor. The TOYS also walk backward, away from him, still dragging the ENGINEERS.
SERAGLIO: You have been supremely shaken by Seraglio! Nya nya!
SERAGLIO rushes toward the trapdoor, but, alas, so do the TOYS.
SERAGLIO: Hell’s nachos! I can not find enough time to open the trap door!
ENGINEER #1: Here!
ENGINEER #1 tosses a grenade to SERAGLIO.
ENGINEER #1: It’s the last one!
SERAGLIO: But…they will tear you apart in their giddiness!
ENGINEER #57: Say adios to the Queen for me!
SERAGLIO pulls the pin and tosses the grenade into the mass of toys. As they grow violently high, he wipes the tears from his eyes and proceeds down the ladder. The stage rises up, and he reaches the bottom to find a many-tentacled animatronic monstrosity waiting for him. It extends off-stage, but the visible portion bears no resemblance whatsoever to human, cat, or Kit-N-Ex.
SERAGLIO: So, you are the monarch mastermind behind all this.
The thing emits a torrent of white noise, blowing SERAGLIO a foot or so backward.
SERAGLIO: This is the time that I should give a long, heroic speech, denouncing you as the elbow of all that is evil. However, I do not believe that this is really about rampaging pussies. I believe that this is a blueprint for something much deeper than life or death, fabrication or conception. There is a line that slices through us and drafts our very anima. And…I will let you figure the rest out for yourself. But know that that is what this is about: slicing.
SERAGLIO draws his sword and holds it two-handed at his side, samurai-style, pointed directly at the center of her nightmarish form. The orchestra kicks into an upbeat battle-theme, adapted from “The Way Of The Seraglio,” as the lights fade ever-so-slowly on the two still combatants.
END ACT II
The curtain call proceeds as per custom, except one figure is missing: ENGINEER #24. After the cast has taken their group bow, the lights suddenly cut out and the pale ghost of ENGINEER #24 appears, silhouetted against a flashing strobe and amongst clouds of mist, inside a crumbling portion of the catacomb wall.
ENGINEER #24: Tremble and quake, brief mortals! Clank, Shuffle, this pertains especially to you! For I am the restless spirit of Number Twenty-Four, come from my restless rest to avenge my direly stupid death! You see, it was my dying wish for all of you to know the true version of my song, but since I died basically instantly there wasn’t much time for my wish to be granted. But now, my superenlightened form will sing to you all from beyond the pale! Orchestra, play like you’ve never played before! Lights, lighten like you’ve never lightened before! And you, the audience! The lyrics are printed very tiny and upside-down on the back of your program. Sing, sing along like you’ve never touched your own!
The orchestra plays “L’Odeur” with everything they’ve got as the houselights come on.
ENGINEER #24: Because a nose is a many-splendored thing
Fit to treasure with a golden ring
When you’re breathing in it sucks
And when you’re breathing out it blows
But it’s still great to have a nose
Oh it’s divine, the way that it can smell
No other body part does it so well
When baking cookies, noses’re really swell
Try cutting yours off, that’s how Oedipus fell!
You should touch your nose every day
In a very very special way
Now I’m feeling perky from my nose to my toes
But my perkiest part is my nose
Oh it’s a sin, the way that it can feel
When your nasty sunburn starts to heal
And then your nose’s skin begins to peel
You should slather on sunblock, that’s part of the deal!
There are those who say there’s magic in ‘em
If you can learn to wiggle them about
The immortal sphinx lives with his missin’
But me, I’d rather die than go without
But your nose can be as fragile as an egg
Excessive heat can be a bloody plague
Plug up the holes and elevate
Until the bleeding slows
And then you’ve fixed your nose
Oh it’s absurd, the way that it can please
Without the slightest hint of filth or sleaze
They say an orgasm is like a sneeze
Except you can wear clothes, so your nipples won’t freeze!
Yes I really really really really like them
I really really really really really really really really like them
A rose by any other name
Would still smell like a rose
And the same goes for your nose
Oh it’s true love, the way that I can see
Your noses pointing up at me in glee
And one of you is coming home with me
You’re a beautiful bunch, so I’ll pick you for free!
The door explodes off its hinges and clatters to the floor moments before the TOY, still deranged from her run-in with the toilet bowl, lands atop it. Before they can react, she grabs CLANK and SCUFFLE by their legs and carries them, inverted and screaming, one in each arm, into the center stall. They grab onto the bottom of the door as they go, slamming it shut, but their taut quivering fingers disappear one by one. After some flailing, their hands gain a grip on the top of the door. They pull themselves up to shoulder level, but slip down again, maintaining their grip for only a few seconds with their teeth. Just then, to a well-paced flourish from the orchestra, the stalls slowly retract into the wings and the ENGINEERS enter with SERAGLIO. They find themselves in a spacious purple-lit room. The floor seems to contain, in thin neon lines, a diagram for the room’s construction. The walls are covered in other diagrams, mostly different variations on the theme of the Kit-N-Ex. The entire effect is reminiscent of advanced cave-paintings. The curtained pedestal still stands at the back of the stage.
SERAGLIO: We should have stayed. I was about to force the information from them.
ENGINEER #1: You were just standing there!
SERAGLIO: My stealth movements are like a windshield, invisible to the untrained eye.
A high-domed cage lowers slowly from the ceiling, unbeknownst to the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO. From its bottom edge dangle dozens of mechanical half-pincers. Simultaneously, TOYS begin to creep in from all angles, also unseen.
ENGINEER #108: Are we going the right way? I’m not sure I remember everything they said.
ENGINEER #57: It doesn’t matter. We just needed to get out of there.
ENGINEER #108: You mean we aren’t going to the office?
ENGINEER #57: Of course not. We’re going to find Mr. Commission.
The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO notice the lowering dome and turn to escape, only to come face-to-faceplate with the encroaching TOYS. The pincers lock onto a barred circle on the floor and the assembled oubliette rises just above the swatting TOYS. The curtain on the pedestal flips open, unveiling MR. COMMISSION in the flesh. As in the statue, he holds a deformed kitten; however, this too appears to be flesh, or to once have been so before an overzealous taxidermist stretched its features in impossible ways. Several long hooks attached to its collar assure that it holds its shape.
MR. COMMISSION: I am afraid that you’re in rapidly increasing danger of doing both. Among other things.
MR. COMMISSION steps down from the pedestal and blows a silver whistle, producing an unbearable screech at which the TOYS flee.
SERAGLIO: Aha! I have found the man we seek, with only the use of my eyes to aid me!
MR. COMMISSION: Captain Hippopotamus, I presume.
MR. COMMISSION leans in, squints, and does a double-take.
MR. COMMISSION: My God, you’re beautiful. And these must be your rag-along tag-along friends..
ENGINEER #57: But…nobody ever sees Mr. Commission in person.
MR. COMMISSION: Actually, many do. But only when I choose to let them. And by that point you can basically consider them among the non-existent.
ENGINEER #108: But we found you, of our own free will.
MR. COMMISSION: Do you really think you do anything of your own free will here? This entire factory is animatronic. With the turn of a knob, I can change the world you inhabit. You call yourselves engineers, but really, your entire lives are engineered.
ENGINEER #1: Why did you bring us here, then?
MR. COMMISSION: I needed somebody to play-test my little springlings.
ENGINEER #57: Are you saying that you meant for them to be released?
MR. COMMISSION: You don’t listen very well for somebody who came looking for information. I can’t abide those who don’t listen. You’re all caught up in my plans. Literally, as you can see. There are no accidents.
SERAGLIO: Do you hear? There are no accidents! The error, he was not mine!
ENGINEER #1: Does it really matter right now?
SERAGLIO: Do not ask me. He brought the subject up.
MR. COMMISSION: Speaking of play-testing, who would like to be the first to try my newest accessory?
MR. COMMISSION flips a hidden switch among the diagrams and a section of the wall folds out, housing an elaborately painted double-headed tazer with a sickle-blade attached to the back end.
MR. COMMISSION: For an added level of interaction with your Kit-N-Ex: self-defense. I’d like to know if I should guarantee hours of fun, or only seconds. Who would like to try?
ENGINEER #108: I would.
ENGINEER #57: Number one-oh-eight, don’t. You’ll be slaughtered.
ENGINEER #108: I don’t care.
MR. COMMISSION: Delightful. What a patently unchecked mind, utterly empty of second, third, or even first thoughts, all things which tend to get in the way of a good time. Now.
MR. COMMISSION flips another disguised switch and a trio of overhead spotlights converge upon the cage. With another flick, the cage lowers, and its door swings open.
MR. COMMISSION: Oh, one other thing. There are some very nasty surprises in these walls, and if anybody were to exit the office without permission, you’d all get to find out what they are. Take your weapon.
ENGINEER #1: Even if you can take one down, they’ll just keep coming. You have no chance of survival.
ENGINEER #108: Then I’ll wreck as many as I can.
ENGINEER #108 proceeds to the back wall and hefts the tazer from its rack while the cage ascends once more. He narrows his eyes at MR. COMMISSION.
MR. COMMISSION: If you so much as scratch me, you and your friends will discover how laughably ironic is the phrase “Time heals all wounds.”
ENGINEER #108: That’s okay. You’re not the one I’m after.
MR. COMMISSION climbs atop the pedestal and pushes a hidden button. A circle of wall flips around to become an oversized digital stopwatch.
MR. COMMISSION: On your mark.
ENGINEER #108: I was ready long ago.
MR. COMMISSION: Very well. Come out to play, my springlings!
MR. COMMISSION pushes the button again, starting the timer. The spotlights swing around to follow ENGINEER #108, who struts to center-stage and waits. A TOY scampers in and pounces, but meets the sickle-blade and is flipped mid-air. ENGINEER #108 grinds the tazer into her chest as she writhes helplessly on the floor.
ENGINEER #108: You killed number twenty-four. That was wrong. Bastards.
The TOY has a final spasm and is still. Another TOY slinks silently in behind ENGINEER #108’s back. As she pounces, however, ENGINEER #108 ducks and rolls sideways. The TOY clatters clumsily to the floor. As she rises to her knees, ENGINEER #108 pushes her back down to the ground with a sharp tazer jab.
ENGINEER #108: Scented fuck-worms!
Two more TOYS rush ENGINEER #108, one on each side. He hooks the sickle-end of the tazer onto the hanging cage and hoists himself up, then swings up and around until he’s hanging upside-down by his legs. Then, he jams the tazer under the two TOYS’ chins and dangles them until they stop thrashing.
ENGINEER #108: Exquisite moose-buggery!
By that point, five more TOYS have arrived on the scene. ENGINEER #108 hooks his tazer on the cage once more and, swinging his legs down, spreads them into a tremendous splits/scissor-kick, his boots ending up behind the necks of two approaching TOYS. He then brings his legs together and forward, gymnast-style, thereby slamming the heads of the TOYS together, dazing them temporarily.
ENGINEER #108: Honey-crusted ass-balls!
As yet more TOYS approach, ENGINEER #108 drops to the floor and, crouching, hooks a TOY by its knees, bringing it down. However, he’s soon the center of an enormous kitty-style doggy-pile of TOYS, all yowling and scratching. The TOY on top begins to quake and scream, at which the other TOYS take a few steps back. ENGINEER #108, badly battered, slowly rises to one knee, with the paroxyzing toy skewered on the end of the tazer.
ENGINEER #108: Mulch-licking shit-fisted gangrenous lint buildup!
ENGINEER #108 collapses once again, and the TOYS pile on. When it’s clear that ENGINEER #108 is down for the count, MR. COMMISSION stops the timer and blows his whistle, and the surviving TOYS clear the battlefield.
MR. COMMISSION: Oh, good. It looks like it will be minutes, barely. Wasn’t that lucky?
ENGINEER #1: How could you just watch him die like that?
MR. COMMISSION: I could very well ask you the same question.
ENGINEER #1: We didn’t have a choice.
MR. COMMISSION: There you go on about choice again. You know, wires or nerves, we’re all just doing what we’re programmed to do.
SERAGLIO: A true man would have done something.
MR. COMMISSION: I gave him a weapon, didn’t I? If you look around you, you’ll see that it was a more than fair fight.
SERAGLIO: You are of a sharp and frigid heart.
MR. COMMISSION nods.
MR. COMMISSION: Speaking of entertainment, however, I believe I’ve finally finished the jingle. Would you like to hear it? I won’t take no for an answer.
MR. COMMISSION flips another hidden switch, and a grand piano folds out of the wall. He sets his kitten down on the lid, sits down and begins to play.
ENGINEER #57: Did you bring us here just to watch you be evil and sing songs? That’s ubermegalomaniacal.
MR. COMMISSION: Shh! That’s it, now I have to start over.
ENGINEER #57: Why?
MR. COMMISSION: You weren’t listening. You missed the glissendo at the end of the lead-in. That’s my favorite part.
MR. COMMISSION begins to play again, but in stops and starts as he fumbles at the keys in his frustration. Finally, he slams the cover down over the keys and stands.
MR. COMMISSION: Why has nobody fixed this piano yet? Never mind, I’ll have the orchestra play it. You know the tune, boys.
The orchestra kicks in with a jazzier rendition of the melody, aptly titled “Jingle Jingle.”MR. COMMISSION begins to strut about the stage and sing, occasionally stepping over dead bodies.
MR. COMMISSION: Boys and girls, it’s time to cheer
Here’s the answer to your fears
The joy to end all joys is here
So scream and shout
They never mess, they never miss
And they won’t make you reek of piss
Now that’s what I call blissfullness
No need to pout
They’re ten times stronger than a pug
So they can give ten times the hug
They’re cuter than a giant bug
A fact to flout
MR. COMMISSION picks up his stuffed kitten and waltzes with it across the stage. He dips it and kisses it passionately, then places it back onto the piano.
MR. COMMISSION: There’s a bell, so I’ve been told
Inside the ribcage of your soul
Just waiting to be bounced and rolled
Or split in two
Kit-N-Ex will ring that bell
Stronger than the sparks of hell
Such a deep and doleful knell
A grim snaffoo
So when you hear that ding-ding-dong
Don’t think it’s someone else’s song
You knew the answer all along
It tolls for you
A chorus line of ENGINEERS enter as the orchestra spins into a big-band slowdown.
MR. COMMISSION: So…if you long for heaven fair
Do not cry, please don’t despair
Kit-N-Ex will take you there
In seconds flat
And if you’d rather live a while
They can still slice you a smile
And if you’d like to run a mile
They’ll match you pat
Yes, it’s more fun than cyber-sex
More thrilling than a huge T-Rex
The one, the only Kit-N-Ex
Your new best cat
As the song comes to a close, the uncaged ENGINEERS dance off-stage and MR. COMMISSION finds himself once again atop the pedestal, this time with his arms raised to the heavens in a simultaneously powerful and supplicating manner. He drops his arms and looks expectantly at the cage.
MR. COMMISSION: Well? I want to hear your honest opinions, as long as they’re good.
ENGINEER #1: What if they’re bad?
MR. COMMISSION: Then every adjective will cost you a finger. A thumb for adverbs.
A heavy silence fills the stage.
MR. COMMISSION: Ah, the heavy silence of approval. Excellent. Well, I think you’ve just about lived out your usefulness.
ENGINEER #1: What are you going to do with us?
MR. COMMISSION: Life’s not nearly as fun when you know your own fate. Trust me. Minimally Invasive Toys: we make Tomorrow obsolete.
MR. COMMISSION pulls a long tube out from the side of the pedestal and speaks into it.
MR. COMMISSION: Clank! Scuffle! I have a job for you! Hello?
Realizing that there will be no response, MR. COMMISSION releases the tube, which whips back from whence it came.
MR. COMMISSION: Very well. I’ll dispose of you myself. My, it’s been a long time since I’ve done this.
SERAGLIO: Do not worry. It will come back to you, like a bicycle.
ENGINEER #57: Before you kill us, may I ask just one thing?
MR. COMMISSION: Very well. But just one thing.
ENGINEER #57: Why are you so concerned with building kitty deathbots? I mean, what’s in it for you.
MR. COMMISSION: Is that all? It’s a secret.
ENGINEER #1: But you said you’d tell us!
MR. COMMISSION: No, I said you could ask. And this isn’t just any secret. This is my deepest, darkest secret. However, since you are letting me kill you, I suppose I could do this one thing in return. The truth…
SERAGLIO: Your secret bores me.
MR. COMMISSION: The truth is, I myself was built by kitty deathbots.
ENGINEER #1: But…that would make you…
MR. COMMISSION: A paradox? Yes, I realize.
ENGINEER #1: I was going to say an android.
MR. COMMISSION: Oh, yes, that too. I am everything that they created me to be.
ENGINEER #57: Still, what will you gain by unleashing them on the world?
MR. COMMISSION: Only my entertainment. You may not realize, as beings born with all your senses. But I know exactly how much time and effort went into my creation, and therefore I relish all sights and sounds, especially the sound of my own voice. I am literally fascinated by the complexities of my fascination.
ENGINEER #1: That doesn’t explain why you’re so sadistic.
MR. COMMISSION: No, you’re right. It doesn’t. Fascinating!
ENGINEER #57: Now that we’ve regained your interest, are you still planning to kill us?
MR. COMMISSION: Kill you? Oh, yes, kill you. Of course. One moment.
MR. COMMISSION flicks his wrist, and a half-foot needle flashes out from under his sleeve. He then flips the switch to lower the cage, and stands waiting by the door.
MR. COMMISSION: I’m ready when you are.
The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger at the far end of the cage.
MR. COMMISSION: If you don’t come out here, I can’t pierce your larynxes.
ENGINEER #1: You come in here.
MR. COMMISSION: No.
ENGINEER #57: Then I guess you can’t kill us.
MR. COMMISSION: Yes I can. Come out here.
ENGINEER #1: We won’t.
MR. COMMISSION: You will.
ENGINEER #1: We won’t.
MR. COMMISSION: You will.
SERAGLIO: Enough! If your argufication is to be my life, I choose to die.
MR. COMMISSION: Thank you. At least one of you is being reasonable.
SERAGLIO exits the cage.
SERAGLIO: However, before you pop the balloon of my existence, there is one thing you must know. And that is this: you have a spot on your shirt.
MR. COMMISSION: What?
When MR. COMMISSION glances down to check, SERAGLIO takes the opportunity to retrieve the tazer from ENGINEER #108’s fallen form. He holds it under MR. COMMISSION’s neck.
SERAGLIO: Recognize my cunning! Un payaso divertido!
The ENGINEERS rush out of the cage and surround MR. COMMISSION, to assure that he won’t escape.
MR. COMMISSION: Ah, so. The time has come. I knew that you would be the end of me, Captain Hippopotamus. Ironic, isn’t it, to have been gifted with such a dazzling life, but to always carry the schematics of your own death. No mystery me. It all seems so…anticlimactic, somehow. To end in the middle, with everything still uncertain, that’s the way to do things.
SERAGLIO: Now, you will tell us, in a less tiresome fashion, how we may end this feline scourge!
MR. COMMISSION: You want to destroy the Kit-N-Ex? Impossible. They do not exist as you do, with only one life.
ENGINEER #1: Then we’ll kill them nine times, if that’s what it takes!
MR. COMMISSION: No, you don’t understand. They are infinite. An individual may be destroyed, but the hive lives on…and they’re always being scrapped anyway, to build better models…no matter how powerful your adversary is at the moment, in no time she’ll be as dated as Monday. They’re basically just extremely complex laptop computers, after all. Minimally Invasive Toys: improving on the future of cat.
ENGINEER #1: But if we kill you, production will cease, right?
MR. COMMISSION: Wrong. I’ll just be rebuilt. I built them because I owed them my life, and they will do the same for me. You would have to destroy the Queen…
ENGINEER #57: How?
MR. COMMISSION: If I knew that, I would have done it long ago. She is to blame for…everything. Please, kill me now, while I’m still in the washes of numbing melancholy.
SERAGLIO pushes the tazer up into MR. COMMISSION’s ribs. MR. COMMISSION shakes terrifically, and falls to his knees just as the tazer explodes in a burst of sparks.
MR. COMMISSION: No…mystery…me…
MR. COMMISSION falls forward onto his face. SERAGLIO pokes him a few times with the now powerless tazer, then tosses it away.
ENGINEER #1: So now we have to kill the Queen?
ENGINEER #57: So it seems.
ENGINEER #1: How are we supposed to find her? So far we’ve killed everybody who was supposed to give us directions.
SERAGLIO: There is one I remember who seemed to command the rest. Pandora. A name that sits heavy and bitter on the tongue, like asphalt.
ENGINEER #1: You ate asphalt?
SERAGLIO: I have tasted more things than man dares dream.
ENGINEER #1: You know, it’s a shame Mr. Commission had to die. He got a lot more interesting toward the end.
ENGINEER #57: Yeah, he wasn’t so bad once you got to know him.
SERAGLIO: Silence! We must obliterate the Queen before this automized epidemic can claim any more victims.
ENGINEER #1: Well, aren’t we an Adventure Ranger?
SERAGLIO: You may mock me, if you wish, but first, let us attend to the obliteration.
ENGINEER #57: Okay, so where would this Pandora be?
SERAGLIO: If she is truly their Queen, then we will find her where these fatal contraptions are thickest.
ENGINEER #1: So you’re suggesting that we just hack our way back and forth until we find her.
ENGINEER #1: With what? We only had one weapon, and you broke it.
MR. COMMISSION, still lying face-down, extends his arm and gropes for SERAGLIO’s attention.
MR. COMMISSION: A room with a blue door. Down the hall…to the left. Limited edition accessories are there…intended for promotional cereal-box giveaway…
SERAGLIO: I thank you. You have been an incredibly helpful opponent.
MR. COMMISSION: You are going to face the Queen? I know nothing beyond my life, but…you will fail. The Queen’s fate lies in creation, not destruction. They are unstoppable. Minimally Invasive Toys: built to endure…beyond the next playtime.
MR. COMMISSION collapses again, this time for good.
ENGINEER #57: Shall we go, then?
ENGINEER #1: Yeah. This is starting to sound fun. But…as the late great Number Twenty-Four would say, everybody be on your “toes,” alright?
ENGINEER #1 taps his nose meaningfully, and the ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO rush offstage. The orchestra adds several layers of flourish as other ENGINEERS carry a large, sinister-looking device onto the stage. A white sheet unrolls from the top, transforming it into a movie screen, spanning nearly the entire set from left to right. As the orchestra oozes out a chime-heavy instrumental rendition of “Of Blue Skies And Birdsong,” a hypnotic hand-animated cartoon begins projecting onto the screen. It begins with a ticking clock, the numbers on which randomly change position every frame. As the “camera” zooms out, the second hand retains its size relative to the screen, until the original clock is contained within the trunk of the second hand. Next to the clock, a pumping heart can be seen. The second hand casts a long shadow that seems to splice the heart in half, and the pumping grows faster with each tick. Finally, the looming second hand comes down on the heart and squashes it. A pool of blood spreads from the burst heart, but then is sucked back inward. The “camera” zooms out again to show the figure of a female Atlas, the continents visible through the thin, veined skin of her belly. She stands, sipping coffee from a mug decorated with an “I,” then a heart icon, then the word “Mug.” A rock flies out from the other side of the screen, who knows why, and hits her in the back of the head, causing her to drop to her knees, where she transforms into a locked box. The second hand rises into the air, dripping blood, and, morphing into a key, unlocks the box. A jack-in-the-box with a cat’s head pops out and lunges for the “camera.” As it comes nearer, its eye becomes apparent as a clock with changing numbers, which soon fills the screen, starting the loop again. The film loops through several times as TOYS, including PANDORA, file in and watch, each adding her voice to the song with quiet ooh’s.
The stage begins to sink again under waves of heroic flourishes from the orchestra. As the surface reaches its halfway-point, CLANK and SCUFFLE become visible, examining the trapdoor from above. The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger below, with only their heads and shoulders in sight.
CLANK: It’s been messed with.
SCUFFLE: Tampered with.
CLANK: Tinkered with.
SCUFFLE: He’s down there.
CLANK: We shouldn’t have let him get away.
SCUFFLE: But we did.
CLANK: The boss was pissed.
SCUFFLE: But we have him now.
CLANK: The boss will be pleased.
The orchestra begins the organ-grinder melody of “Clank N’ Scuffle’s Spankin’ Shuffle.” CLANK and SCUFFLE begin to sing.
SCUFFLE: Our cadaverous canon is growing quite grim
CLANK: Cuz we like to kill on a whim
SCUFFLE: The jackals and crows strike immaculate poses
CLANK: But they’re anything but fit and trim
SCUFFLE: Though we know we’re the cause of their overworked jaws
CLANK: All that we’ll give is a pause
SCUFFLE: We love our job
CLANK: Our methods might verge on the crude or the crass
SCUFFLE: But we’re still magicians first-class
CLANK: Whether pulling gold coins from the hold where your loins were
SCUFFLE: Or flip-flopping your face for your ass
CLANK: And our ultimate trick is so beautiful sick
SCUFFLE: It’s hit you like an ice-pick
CLANK: So bring it!
The song switches gears into a hip-hop groove. CLANK gets down on the floor and breakdances while SCUFFLE raps behind him.
SCUFFLE: Hey Clank is the tank with the spank who’ll make you go boom
To your doom when he looms in bloom
At night, little shite, and your fright is right cuz he’s Death
Or something else
You’re fucked as a duck if you chuck your luck and say “hi”
To this guy, you will cry and cry
He’s black as a sack full of blackest black in his heart
His darkest part
So sing for the king of the stingy thing, the new post-
Master toast-master’ll roast your ghost
It’s time that this slime should sublime a rhyme and speak
Get on your feet!
Now, CLANK raps while SCUFFLE breakdances.
CLANK: Now listen as I introduce you to my buddy Scuffle
This is one bad potato, he’s got motherfucking ruffles
And if you little piggies try to hide, he’ll huff, he’ll puff
He’ll make you shuffle when you walk, because you won’t have any ankles
Acute will be your pain, but obtuse will be the angles
That your limbs are gonna form, but at least you should be thankful
That this bank’ll always pay you back just what you’re due, with interest
If torture were a magic kingdom, he would be the princess
And I’m not talking dragon dicks or fairy pricks or wizard sticks
This is more like ancient lore and blood and gore and nevermore
SCUFFLE rises and, as the music breaks it down to just a heartbeat rhythm on the bass drum, he and CLANK execute their secret handshake in slow motion. The orchestra brings it back in, and they address the audience.
SCUFFLE: Alright now.
CLANK: It’s call-and-response time.
SCUFFLE: Are you ready for this?
SCUFFLE: Everybody say hi! Ho!
CLANK: Now say hey! Ho!
SCUFFLE: Elephant seal!
CLANK: You can stop now.
The melody reverts to the original, and CLANK and SCUFFLE revert to their proper singing selves.
SCUFFLE: We trust that our treatise has made a deep mark
CLANK: Straight through the shafts of your heart
SCUFFLE: Our fathomless zeal and frenetic appeal
CLANK: And the bloodthirstiness of a shark
SCUFFLE: And the brilliant result is a walking assault
CLANK: On your values, a scathing insult
SCUFFLE: Then pour on salt
CLANK: The deadly cult
SCUFFLE: Two-man gestalt
CLANK: But it’s not our fault
SCUFFLE: We love…
The music ends as CLANK and SCUFFLE embrace.
CLANK: He’s definitely down there.
SCUFFLE: Should we go down and get him?
CLANK: Are you asking me?
CLANK: Nah. He’ll come back up.
SCUFFLE: Once he sees what’s down there.
CLANK: Which shouldn’t take long.
SCUFFLE: We can get him right when he comes up.
CLANK: I’ll flog his brains out.
CLANK demonstrates by hitting the trapdoor with his cane.
SCUFFLE: I’ll kick his head in.
SCUFFLE stomps on the trapdoor for effect.
CLANK: Besides, I have to take a leak.
SCUFFLE: Good idea.
ENGINEER #108: Did all that banging count as a sign?
ENGINEER #1: It’s good enough for me.
SERAGLIO: Behold my bravado. Behold!
SERAGLIO leaps onto the ladder, followed by the ENGINEERS. Meanwhile, CLANK opens the center stall and finds its walls still dripping blood.
CLANK: What the…
SCUFFLE turns around to see what’s going on. The stage completes its decline.
SCUFFLE: …the hell?
CLANK: Maybe he didn’t make it down there.
SCUFFLE: If he didn’t open the trapdoor, though…
CLANK: What did?
SCUFFLE: Maybe it’s not a good idea to wait for him to come up.
CLANK: In case what comes up isn’t him.
CLANK and SCUFFLE jump in fright as the trapdoor bangs open. However, when SERAGLIO emerges, they rapidly regain their composure.
SCUFFLE: It’s him!
SERAGLIO: It is them!
CLANK: You’re coming with us.
SCUFFLE: Boy, are you in trouble.
SERAGLIO: Yes, there is much trouble in this factory, which is why you have to take me to see your boss.
CLANK: The boss says we have to take you back, see.
The ENGINEERS emerge from the trapdoor, un-noticed by CLANK or SCUFFLE.
SCUFFLE: We got in trouble because of you.
CLANK: So you’d better not try to run this time.
SCUFFLE: Or we’ll make it so you can never run again.
CLANK: If you’re good, we’ll be good to you.
SCUFFLE: And only mess you up a little.
ENGINEER #1: That won’t be happening.
CLANK and SCUFFLE turn around and see the ENGINEERS.
CLANK: What’s this?
SCUFFLE: It looks like a roach.
CLANK: A little roach and his buddies.
SCUFFLE: Crawled up from Roach-Haven Hall.
ENGINEER #108: You can’t intimidate us. Not anymore. And we know that’s where your real power comes from.
ENGINEER #1: We can easily outmatch you if we take you on as a team.
SCUFFLE grinds his heel into ENGINEER #108’s foot with an agonizing crunch while CLANK shoves his cane into ENGINEER #1’s windpipe and holds it there until ENGINEER #1 turns purple. They then rejoin each other for their secret handshake.
CLANK: Real or not…
SCUFFLE: Power is power.
CLANK: We have it.
SCUFFLE: And you don’t.
CLANK: No matter how much you teem.
ENGINEER #1: Okay, maybe we can’t outmatch you. But…time to think of Plan B…
CLANK and SCUFFLE crow like poison.
ENGINEER #1: Hold on! Don’t be so quick to laugh. You can’t be here. We jammed the lock with a toothpick.
SCUFFLE: We had a bigger toothpick.
ENGINEER #1: Oh…this sucks…
CLANK and SCUFFLE saunter over to SERAGLIO.
CLANK: Now you.
SCUFFLE: Public Relations man.
CLANK: The boss has had a new office built.
SCUFFLE: Just for you.
CLANK: This one’s much more unpleasant.
SCUFFLE: And impossible to escape from.
CLANK looks back at the ENGINEERS.
CLANK: What team are you?
ENGINEER #1: Why should we tell you? So you can report us? Never!
ENGINEER #57: Subordinate Claws Team, sirs.
SCUFFLE: You see?
CLANK: This is respect.
SCUFFLE: The kind that people like us demand.
CLANK: What are you doing here?
ENGINEER #57: We were here when the lock-down started.
SCUFFLE: All of you?
CLANK: Doing what?
ENGINEER #1: Dangerous things.
ENGINEER #108: Diarrhea.
SCUFFLE: Dangerous diarrhea?
ENGINEER #57: If you must know, we had typhoid fever.
CLANK: What do you mean you had it?
SCUFFLE: Isn’t it fatal?
ENGINEER #57: No, this was the twenty-four hour typhoid.
CLANK: In any case, you’d better come with us.
SCUFFLE: You can share the office with your hombre here.
CLANK: There isn’t really room for four, but…
SCUFFLE: There isn’t really room for one either.
CLANK: Speaking of which…
SCUFFLE: There are supposed to be four to a team.
CLANK: What happened to the other one?
ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four is…
ENGINEER #57 hastily steps in front of ENGINEER #108 and points to the stall second-to-left.
ENGINEER #57: Still in there. I wouldn’t disturb him, if I were you. It could get messy.
SCUFFLE: When will he be out?
CLANK: We’re supposed to bring this guy back pronto.
ENGINEER #108: Never…
SCUFFLE: We can’t wait that long.
CLANK raps on the stall door with his cane.
CLANK: Hurry up in there!
ENGINEER #1: Don’t do that!
SCUFFLE: Why not?
ENGINEER #1: The…fever. It makes you see things. Turns your mind inside out. If he hears you, who knows what he’ll think? What comes out of that stall…won’t be human.
CLANK: What’ll it be, then?
ENGINEER #1: A pyretic maniac.
ENGINEER #57: Pestilent.
ENGINEER #108: Gnashing.
ENGINEER #1: Gushing.
ENGINEER #57: In fact, you’d better stay here until he gets out. To subdue him. We’ll go on ahead.
SCUFFLE: How do we know you won’t try to escape?
ENGINEER #1: We’ll keep an eye on each other.
CLANK: Well…okay. It’s just around the corner.
SCUFFLE: Go out here and make a right.
CLANK: Then make another right at the T-shaped junction.
SCUFFLE: After that, it’s the third left.
CLANK: After the second right.
SCUFFLE: Then you’ll come to a five-way intersection.
CLANK: Take it.
SCUFFLE: Then it’s about fifty-three paces up.
CLANK: On the right.
SCUFFLE: There will be a piss-yellow doorway.
CLANK: You can’t miss it.
SCUFFLE: It’s the same color as the rest of the doors.
CLANK: The combination is one seven oh seven three.
SCUFFLE: Wait five seconds.
CLANK: Then two two two two two to the tune of “Shave And A Haircut.”
SCUFFLE: “Two Bits.”
CLANK: Don’t mess it up.
SCUFFLE: If you do, you’ll set off the alarm.
CLANK: And the gas.
SCUFFLE: The office is right through that door.
CLANK: To the left.
SCUFFLE: Now fuck off.
The ENGINEERS grab SERAGLIO and hurry offstage.
CLANK: That went well.
SCUFFLE: The boss will be pleased.
CLANK: There could have been more struggling.
SCUFFLE: I like it when they struggle.
CLANK: Then, we get to hit them.
SCUFFLE: I like that.
CLANK: He’s pretty quiet for someone with typhoid.
SCUFFLE: Maybe he fell asleep.
CLANK: Let’s wake him up, then.
SCUFFLE: They said there might be…dementia.
CLANK: It can’t be that bad if he can sleep through it.
SCUFFLE boots the stall door. Inside, something stirs audibly.
CLANK: See, that got him moving.
The door explodes off its hinges and clatters to the floor moments before the TOY, still deranged from her run-in with the toilet bowl, lands atop it. Before they can react, she grabs CLANK and SCUFFLE by their legs and carries them, inverted and screaming, one in each arm, into the center stall. They grab onto the bottom of the door as they go, slamming it shut, but their taut quivering fingers disappear one by one. After some flailing, their hands gain a grip on the top of the door. They pull themselves up to shoulder level, but slip down again, maintaining their grip for only a few seconds with their teeth. Just then, to a well-paced flourish from the orchestra, the stalls slowly retract into the wings and the ENGINEERS enter with SERAGLIO. They find themselves in a spacious purple-lit room. The floor seems to contain, in thin neon lines, a diagram for the room’s construction. The walls are covered in other diagrams, mostly different variations on the theme of the Kit-N-Ex. The entire effect is reminiscent of advanced cave-paintings. The curtained pedestal still stands at the back of the stage.
An ear-splitting wail starts up behind the curtain. It pulls back, again with no orchestral assistance, to show the stage exactly as it was before the curtain closed, with one exception. An anonymous ENGINEER crouches center-stage, cranking an air-raid siren. More ENGINEERS shuffle in and drag him off, marking the beginning of the scene. A voice stutters out from the stall behind SERAGLIO.
ENGINEER #108: What was that?
SERAGLIO looks around anxiously.
SERAGLIO: What was what?
ENGINEER #108: I thought I heard a voice.
From the leftmost stall comes an excited voice.
ENGINEER #1: I heard it too.
ENGINEER #108: You did?
SERAGLIO: I hear many voices.
A voice scrabbles up from the stall second-to-the-left.
ENGINEER #24: Okay, so we’re all hearing voices. The thing to do now is to figure out which ones are ours, and which ones are theirs.
ENGINEER #1: This one’s definitely mine.
ENGINEER #108: So’s this one.
ENGINEER #24: Good, we’ve got two of them figured out.
ENGINEER #1: Wait…that didn’t sound like my voice.
ENGINEER #108: No, sorry, it was mine. Number one-oh-eight.
ENGINEER #1: Okay, phew. I’m number one.
ENGINEER #24: I’m number twenty-four.
SERAGLIO: I am Seraglio.
ENGINEER #1: Does that name sound unfamiliar to any of you?
ENGINEER #108: Maybe he’s new.
ENGINEER #24: No, no…he’s an intruder!
ENGINEER #1: He must be here to bust up our non-confrontational protest. Don’t let him cross the picket line!
SERAGLIO: Please, although I do not understand your words, I beg your help. I seek sanctuary. Evil haunts this place.
ENGINEER #57 cracks open the door of the center stall and grabs SERAGLIO’s sleeve.
ENGINEER #57: What kind of evil?
SERAGLIO: A catty evil.
ENGINEER #57: Get in here.
ENGINEER #57 yanks SERAGLIO into the stall and shuts the door.
ENGINEER #57: Now, tell me exactly who you are and what you saw. But keep it down, these pipes are tapped.
SERAGLIO begins to relate his story in a frantic whisper.
ENGINEER #108: Number fifty-seven?
ENGINEER #57: What is it?
ENGINEER #108: Do you have somebody in there with you?
ENGINEER #57: Yes.
ENGINEER #108: Who?
ENGINEER #57: That’s none of your business.
ENGINEER #24: Come on, I think we’d all like to know.
ENGINEER #1: We’re a union now. There are no secrets among brothers.
ENGINEER #57: Okay, it’s the new Public Relations guy, if you have to know.
The ENGINEERS, except ENGINEER #57, all throw open their doors.
ENGINEER #1: Ooh! What’s he like?
ENGINEER #57: Actually, he’s mysteriously attractive.
ENGINEER #108: I want to see!
ENGINEER #57: I’m trying to listen to what he has to say.
ENGINEER #24: Don’t be a bastard. Why don’t you share him around for a little bit, then he can tell you his little story.
ENGINEER #57: Well…alright. But only for a minute.
ENGINEER #57 shoves SERAGLIO out of his stall. SERAGLIO then wanders over to ENGINEER #1.
ENGINEER #1: Wow, you were right. That’s a sweet chunk of eye-candy you got there.
ENGINEER #108: I want to see!
ENGINEER #1: Hold on, this is the sort of view you need to savor.
ENGINEER #108: I want to see!
ENGINEER #1: You can have him next! Just give me one more minute.
ENGINEER #1 licks his lips slowly.
ENGINEER #108: This isn’t fair! Some of us haven’t seen anything yet.
ENGINEER #1: Alright!
ENGINEER #1 tosses SERAGLIO out of his stall and directs him toward ENGINEER #108.
ENGINEER #108: He’s stunning.
ENGINEER #1: What did I tell you?
ENGINEER #108: He’s dumbfounding.
ENGINEER #24: With you, that’s not difficult. It’s my turn now. Come over here, Mr. Perfect.
SERAGLIO walks over to ENGINEER #24 as ENGINEER #108 gazes longingly after him.
ENGINEER #108: He’s breathtaking.
ENGINEER #24: He’s not bad.
ENGINEER #1: “Not bad?” Is that all you can say?
ENGINEER #24: Not bad at all. Can I…touch it?
SERAGLIO: I can not fight my own magnetism.
ENGINEER #24 reaches up and strokes SERAGLIO’s nose.
ENGINEER #57: Alright, you’ve all seen him. Now I need him back here.
ENGINEER #1: So you can do what, exactly?
ENGINEER #57: He has some very substantial information.
ENGINEER #1: Yeah, we’ve all seen his “information.” And we’d like to see it some more.
ENGINEER #108: My turn wasn’t long enough.
ENGINEER #24: Shh! You’re spoiling the moment.
ENGINEER #1: I remember a certain somebody was talking when it was my turn, too.
ENGINEER #57: No, really, this is urgent. I need him here now.
ENGINEER #24: We all need him.
ENGINEER #108: Can we keep him?
SERAGLIO: Men, men. I am here standing in my fully official capacity. Do not get wrong ideas.
ENGINEER #1: Why don’t we meet out there? Then he can give us all some “information.”
The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO exit their stalls and gather around.
ENGINEER #57: Now, please, continue with your story.
SERAGLIO: Oh yes, where was I?
ENGINEER #57: The part about the leprechauns.
SERAGLIO nods and begins to whisper in ENGINEER #57’s ear. The other ENGINEERS lean in.
ENGINEER #108: I can’t hear.
ENGINEER #24: Shh!
ENGINEER #108 shuffles over to the other side of the circle.
ENGINEER #108: I still can’t hear. What’s going on?
ENGINEER #1: He says they left him alone with the cake.
ENGINEER #108: What cake?
ENGINEER #1: The cake they tried to give him.
ENGINEER #108: Who?
ENGINEER #1: Clank and Scuffle.
ENGINEER #108: Hold on, did he literally mean “information?”
ENGINEER #1: I’m afraid so.
ENGINEER #108: Can you ask him to start the story over? I missed the first part. And all the parts while we were talking.
ENGINEER #57: I knew it!
ENGINEER #108: What did you know? I’m confused.
ENGINEER #57: He opened them.
ENGINEER #24: The crates?
ENGINEER #108: Why would he do that?
ENGINEER #1: So he’s unleashed the Kit-N-Ex…
ENGINEER #108: Why would you do that?
ENGINEER #57: Give him a break. He knows next to nothing about the factory.
ENGINEER #24: We’re all going to die…
ENGINEER #57: That’s the price of ignorance.
SERAGLIO: This man, he is right. I knew nothing, and I intended even less.
ENGINEER #24: So what are we supposed to do?
ENGINEER #57: I think we’ll be safe in here. Unless they know how to work doorknobs.
ENGINEER #1: Do they know how to work doorknobs?
ENGINEER #57: Probably.
ENGINEER #24: Does anybody have a toothpick?
ENGINEER #1: We don’t have time for oral hygiene. Besides, you haven’t been eating anything.
ENGINEER #24: I know, but I can jam the lock with it. That way, nobody can get in, even if they have the key.
SERAGLIO: I have no toothpick, but I have a device that is worth one thousand toothpicks.
ENGINEER #108: An icepick?
SERAGLIO pulls a swiss army knife from his pocket.
SERAGLIO: This is my Swiss Blade of Surprise. The toothpick is plastic, so he can be used again and again until the teeth are barren and pure.
ENGINEER #24: That’ll do. Hand it over.
SERAGLIO hands the knife to ENGINEER #24, who walks offstage and fiddles with a presumed door there.
SERAGLIO: He also contains a file, for rounding of the fingernails, and a tiny scissors, for trimming of the ear canal.
ENGINEER #24: Done. Now, the door can’t possibly be opened.
ENGINEER #1: Nobody can get in?
ENGINEER #24: Not a soul.
ENGINEER #1: Can we get out?
ENGINEER #24: Live in the present, will you?
ENGINEER #1: Sure, but I’d like to continue living into the future as well.
ENGINEER #57: Stop bickering, you two. We’re safe for now, and we’ll have plenty of time to figure out what to do next.
ENGINEER #1: The rest of our lives.
ENGINEER #108: As long as those things aren’t around, I’m happy.
SERAGLIO: No me molesta, we are okay.
The toilets’ tanks flip open and bear glowing statuettes, as before, which channel a timely announcement.
MR. COMMISSION: Announcement: for your convenience, please stand at least five feet away from any and all heating vents. It has been brought to my attention that the rogue toys are travelling through the ventilation system. Should you encounter one, do not struggle or attempt to escape: it will view this as an invitation to play, and a quick death may no longer be possible. Minimally Invasive Toys: we put the “excel” in “acceleration.”
The statuettes dim and descend back into their tanks.
ENGINEER #108: Are there any vents in this room?
ENGINEER #1: I see one there…and there…and over there…
SERAGLIO: We are not so okay now, yes?
ENGINEER #24: We’re screwed.
SERAGLIO: Yes, good.
ENGINEER #24: Good?
SERAGLIO: I wanted to be sure I understood. My English, he is sometimes not…
ENGINEER #108: Look!
ENGINEER #1: Where?
ENGINEER #108: Do you hear that?
SERAGLIO: If you mean the noise like a thing moving in the heating duct, then yes.
ENGINEER #24: Is that what that sound is? I couldn’t place it.
The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO listen as echoing scrabbles and clangs surround them.
ENGINEER #1: Maybe if we hide very quietly, they’ll just pass us by.
ENGINEER #57: Good idea. Let’s go.
The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO tiptoe into the stalls and close and latch the doors. After a few seconds, a troubled voice rises from the center stall.
ENGINEER #24: Can somebody switch stalls with me?
A reply comes from the leftmost stall.
ENGINEER #108: Okay. What for?
ENGINEER #24: It’s just that there’s a vent right above my head, and it’s beginning to rattle.
ENGINEER #108: Oh. Scratch that, then. Sorry.
A reassuring voice rolls out of the rightmost stall.
ENGINEER #57: Remain calm and still. It could just be the heat kicking in.
ENGINEER #24: More heat? I’m sweating through my socks here. I can feel my shoes filling up. I can…shit…
From the stall second-to-right, a voice responds.
ENGINEER #1: Try to remember to flush after, okay?
Silence pours from the center stall.
ENGINEER #1: Did you hear me?
Under the stall’s door, ENGINEER #24’s feet suddenly disappear upward. A few moments later, they’re replaced by a clammering grate and the sound of liquid being drizzled into a hollow bowl. From the adjacent stall to the left, a voice stammers.
SERAGLIO: Now I would like to request a change of stalls.
With the sound of a toilet flushing, a fountain of blood gushes up from the center stall.
ENGINEER #108: I’d like to request a change of bathrooms.
ENGINEER #57: Everybody stay calm. We went through all those team-building exercises; we can handle this together.
ENGINEER #1: I can see something moving under the stall. Guys? I think there’s something lurking down there, on the men’s room floor.
ENGINEER #57: Put your feet up on the seat.
ENGINEER #1: I see a…is that a hand? I’m scared, guys.
ENGINEER #57: Take a deep breath. Everybody breathe with me.
ENGINEER #1: I’m scared…I’m scared…
ENGINEER #57: On the count of three, we’ll all open our doors. Okay?
ENGINEER #108: I think I’m going to be sick.
ENGINEER #57: One…
ENGINEER #1: Can’t we just do it on go?
ENGINEER #57: Okay, go!
The remaining ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO kick open their doors and leap out, while the center door remains closed.
ENGINEER #1: Now what?
SERAGLIO: I am thinking that this would be a good time not to have the door jammed.
The center stall swings open, revealing a TOY crouched with a human foot protruding from her mouth.
ENGINEER #108: Is it…purring?
ENGINEER #57: That’s just the motor, I think.
The TOY drops the foot and slinks toward the ENGINEERS.
SERAGLIO: How do you kill him?
ENGINEER #57: As far as I know, they’re indestructable. The warranty on these things makes Shangri La look like Shotgun Alley.
The TOY suddenly darts forward and snuffles at ENGINEER #57’s crotch.
ENGINEER #108: What’s…it…doing?
ENGINEER #1: It must smell the tuna! You have another can in there, right?
ENGINEER #57 nods mutely.
SERAGLIO: They said before that they liked metal and meat, so this tuna tin would be a great treat for them. Es un poco como domingo!
ENGINEER #1: Hey, you’re Spanish!
SERAGLIO: Indeed, and the Angel of Destruction has just visited an idea upon me. Quickly, toss me that tuna!
ENGINEER #57 extract the tin from his jumpsuit and throws it to SERAGLIO. The TOY whips her head around. SERAGLIO waves the tin around, and the TOY follows it with her head, advancing slowly. Suddenly, SERAGLIO throws the tin into the nearest toilet. The TOY pounces and lands in the bowl, whereupon SERAGLIO slams the lid down upon her head. She struggles, howling.
SERAGLIO: He is stronger than I anticipated!
ENGINEER #1: Quick, flush it!
SERAGLIO: I have been taught to flush nothing but paper, to prevent clogging.
ENGINEER #1: Flush it, trust me!
SERAGLIO presses on the handle and the TOY’s howls turn to a screech as she is engulfed in steam. Her body goes limp. ENGINEER #57 comes out of his daze.
ENGINEER #57: What happened?
ENGINEER #1: I think we blew out its sensors, at least temporarily.
SERAGLIO: So we are, once again, okay.
ENGINEER #108: I wouldn’t count on that. Here they come.
TOYS begin to slip in from the removed grate.
ENGINEER #1: We’ve taken care of one, we can do a few more, am I right?
ENGINEER #57: No more tuna. But I do know an escape route.
ENGINEER #57 closes his eyes and paces out a distance from the edge of the rightmost stall, then stops and stomps on the floor.
ENGINEER #57: It’s here. Help me lift it.
The ENGINEERS gather round and lift up a heavy wooden trapdoor.
ENGINEER #57: Okay, now go.
ENGINEER #1: You go first. You’re the only one who knows the way.
ENGINEER #57: Okay.
ENGINEER #57 climbs down into the trapdoor.
SERAGLIO: Now I go. I, too, know many things.
SERAGLIO climbs into the trapdoor, followed by ENGINEER #1. ENGINEER #108 looks back at the blood-soaked stall filling with TOYS.
ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four is dead. I won’t forget.
As ENGINEER #108 climbs into the trapdoor, the entire stage begins to rise. He slams the trap shut and the orchestra produces a flourishing echo. ENGINEER #108 starts to descend a rusted iron ladder while the stage ascends at the same pace, trapping him spatially. Finally, it stops, and he reaches the bottom of the ladder, where the other ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO await him. The walls are lined completely with bones and skulls, a les Catacombes.
ENGINEER #57: Welcome, my friends, to Roach-Haven Hall.
SERAGLIO: No me recuerdo la palabra por burro, what is this place?
ENGINEER #57: We used to come down here to smoke, when everybody in the old team was still around.
ENGINEER #1: And you’re certain they can’t follow us down here?
ENGINEER #57: You felt how heavy that trapdoor was. You need a firm grip to lift something like that, and they don’t even have opposable thumbs.
ENGINEER #108: What’s with all the bones and stuff?
ENGINEER #57: Yeah, I’m not really sure what’s going on there. It was like that before the factory was built, though.
ENGINEER #108: How do you know?
ENGINEER #57: I helped build it. That’s what the original team was. We all started out as construction workers, just following the blueprints, you know, until the foreman realized that it had been a while since we’d built an actual doorframe. By then, it was too late. The roof snapped shut over our heads like a steel trap. Some of us died from sheer claustrophobia; the rest became delirious with thirst and hunger. That’s when part of the wall crumbled, and Clank and Scuffle came in with The Contract…
ENGINEER #108: I remember when I had to sign The Contract. There were flyers up all over the clubs about some job that virtually paid in scrips. I was pretty much living off of my buzz at that point, eating crack and drinking smack. So I guess I don’t really remember it. But I do know that I was broke and desperate.
ENGINEER #1: You’d have to be. When I signed it, it was to pay for my little sister’s operation. Actually, it was to pay off the loans that paid for my sister’s operation. Some very big and nasty loans from some very big and nasty people. I needed a job fast, no matter what it was. A college buddy of mine had just started work here, and this was a guy who stopped donating blood for a living because he couldn’t handle the hours, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad. When I came in for an interview, I understood why. They basically strapped a pen to my fist and wiggled the paper around under it.
ENGINEER #57: What was it like for you?
SERAGLIO: Who was what like for where?
ENGINEER #1: You signed The Contract, didn’t you?
SERAGLIO: Oh, yes. I did sign a thing, and with such a skill of signature that the ink fell like finger-blossoms on silk. This contract, what did he say?
ENGINEER #1: Didn’t you bother to read it?
SERAGLIO: The words, they were so dull and infirm of purpose.
ENGINEER #57 begins to laugh.
SERAGLIO: What is your humor?
ENGINEER #57: You signed your soul away and you didn’t even know it.
ENGINEER #1: “Minimally Invasive Toys reserves the right to terminate any employee at any time, without providing notice or cause.” I still remember every word of it.
ENGINEER #108: Number twenty-four had to sign it too.
The ENGINEERS observe a moment of silence.
ENGINEER #108: I think we should head back up.
ENGINEER #1: What?
ENGINEER #108: I don’t want any other workers to die at the paws of those things.
ENGINEER #57: You were terrified of them before. Where’d all this courage come from?
ENGINEER #108: I’m still scared. But so was he. A lot of people will be, if somebody doesn’t stop this soon. I figure my fear isn’t worth as much as all those fears put together, even though I am me so mine’s worth at least triple.
ENGINEER #57: That’s a pretty wise thing to say.
ENGINEER #108: I know. I’ve been working on it.
ENGINEER #1: It’s true, too. It isn’t fair that we should be safe while everybody up there’s still in danger. That’s not what I call equal opportunity.
SERAGLIO: You may do what you like, but I absolutely will not!
ENGINEER #1: Um…
SERAGLIO: I refuse to put my exquisite ass back in the fire of danger. These are the devil’s playthings.
ENGINEER #1: But you’re the one who let them out in the first place!
SERAGLIO: They tricked me with their siren calls and their attractive packaging!
ENGINEER #57: Let him stay. It’s his right as a worker.
ENGINEER #1: Damned rights, always standing in the way of progress…
ENGINEER #57: Besides, we don’t want him making another stupid mistake and getting us into more trouble.
SERAGLIO’s jaw drops like a sack of potatoes.
ENGINEER #108: That’s right. We can handle it on our own. Probably easier that way.
SERAGLIO: Stupid? The adjective who means to exhibit a lack of power of intellect, you apply him to me?
ENGINEER #1: I guess you’re right. If he’s that much of a coward, we’d have to drag him everywhere. I’d rather not bother.
SERAGLIO: Seraglio is no chickenheart! I will go with you, and I will show you what my years of arduous training have accomplished! Cha cha cha!
ENGINEER #57: Wait, we can’t just rush in without a plan. First, we need to decide where we’re going.
SERAGLIO: Who is the mollycoddle now?
ENGINEER #1: I vote we go to Mr. Commission. He designed the Kit-N-Ex, so he ought to know how to stop them.
ENGINEER #108: Why would he tell us? From the sound of it, he’s enjoying this as much as they are.
ENGINEER #57: Don’t forget, we have his lost toy.
ENGINEER #57: You. Everybody knows how Mr. Commission feels about his Public Relations.
ENGINEER #108: Okay, but how do we find Mr. Commission?
ENGINEER #57: Even I don’t know where his office is. He had this place built like a labyrinth.
SERAGLIO: The little bastards, they would know!
ENGINEER #1: You mean Clank and Scuffle?
SERAGLIO: Yes, those bastards. They told me that they can carry messages to him personally, so they must know where to find him.
ENGINEER #108: Okay, but how do we find Clank and Scuffle?
ENGINEER #57: Now you’re micromanaging. They’re probably walking around laughing villainously. If we wander around for long enough, we’re bound to run into them.
ENGINEER #1: Then what are we waiting for?
ENGINEER #57: I’m not sure…a sign, I guess.
ENGINEER #108: You mean a sign that we’re doing the right thing going back up there and risking our lives with little or no hope of success?
ENGINEER #57: Yeah. Some reassurance would be nice.
The stage begins to sink again under waves of heroic flourishes from the orchestra. As the surface reaches its halfway-point, CLANK and SCUFFLE become visible, examining the trapdoor from above. The ENGINEERS and SERAGLIO linger below, with only their heads and shoulders in sight.