While I’m off writing family history and sci-fi, I was asked about horror: something along the lines of what the fuck is wrong (with someone who can come up with whimsical surreal stories (and children’s fiction), but who can also think of sick and twisted tales)? I’m not sure that’s the right question.
It’s all in my imagination: I’m a writer. But even my dark, psychological, and old school horror, usually have a social comment or conscience. I’ve been described as a writer able to hold a black mirror to the human condition, which I apparently have a deep understanding of (life on the streets will do that to someone who’s paying attention).
A version of this story is in my anthology. This one’s edited to more manageable flash fiction length (1000 words). It’s not pretty (contains scenes of a sexual and bloody nature) but it’s horror with a heart in it somewhere.
Open your eyes. The trick is to keep blinking…
SOLUM OCULOS CLAUDE
Some images are permanent scars. Some places you wouldn’t be aware of if you hadn’t been shown the way. You know you shouldn’t be there. You shouldn’t have looked in the first place. But you’re there because you have an inquisitive mind. Somewhere under London, is a place called XI’s. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Sioux finished with a customer, in an alley she’d been dumped in many times. In the metropolis, this could be anywhere. The lurid pink taxi sign in front of her simply read “XI’s”, the apostrophe as redundant as her clit. She’d been told it was an accident.
A printed sign hung in the window:
COURIER AND CHAUFFEUR SERVICE
PRIVATE MEDICAL CARE
Sioux smiled at the irony. The accident was her fault, they told her. Customers like going bareback. Should have taken the pills.
Inside smelled of spiritual herbs. Two old ladies, like Ron Mueck sculptures, just slightly too small to be fully real, sat humming tunes in a corner, as Xi emerged from behind a tatty curtain in a cloud of cannabis smoke. A white man with dark dreadlocks and stubble, flecked with white, like salt and pepper, in a retro-military outfit, topped with a beret. He beckoned Sioux into the room behind him.
The pose was familiar from TV documentaries she’d seen: legs akimbo as she looked down at the clenched fist between them. The old ladies outside were singing, “Come into this room / Come into this gloom / See the red light rinsing / Another shutterslut wincing…”
“It’s an old tradition”, Xi said, in guttural tones, a cocktail of nomadic Irish and Jamaican. “They sing or chant to herald the passing of a life.” He looked up between her knees. “I’ve been asked to perform two procedures today. I don’t say why, I just do what’s asked, make deliveries and get paid.
“Human nature, I find that shit fascinating. I’m intrigued by fashion, culture and tradition. That’s how I got into piercing and tattoos. I’ve travelled around little sister, and I get to see a whole load of shit as it passes through here. I need you to give me a push.”
Sioux went into a brief, premature labour as she gave birth to something. Xi looked up as he placed a baby’s arm in a dish.
“The body modification was a logical progression,” Xi continued. “As I travelled, I saw some of the more extreme tribal practices. I taught me the techniques, and I can apply them here. Some ain’t legal in this country, but I don’t dig no religious debate. If someone wants something done, I do what asked man. Some can be undone, and people come to me to put shit right. But some of it’s permanent, like an injury go change your life. I don’t like that shit.”
Another contraction and two dismembered legs were born.
“The Dinka Tribe of South Sudan, man: gratuitous self-harm, harm inflicted by elders on those too young to think it anything other than normal sister. But I’m paid to not have an opinion. Most Dinka boys and girls? They don’t cry when the local sorcerer takes a red-hot knife to their dark faces. If they wince or cry or react to the pain, they will lose face in the community, so it’s best to sit through the process in peace. Facial scarification in tribesmen give identity to the tribe, and beauty to its women. Man.”
Another detached arm emerged from the womb.
“When it came to the children, that shit wrestled with my conscience sister. I won’t impose my will upon no child, but I have to respect cultures which do, see? Was my respect for the parents’ culture greater than the welfare of the child? I have to conclude that I is doing my job. The ‘No children’ thing was exclusive anyway. I don’t like that discrimination: children get raped too. I see so much shit, others just close they eyes.
“The Kayan Giraffe women in Northern Thailand? They wear brass rings around their necks, make them look all long. But that’s an illusion: more coils is added? The weight of them necklaces presses down, and that clavicle shit is lowered. With each additional ring it falls further, compressing the rib cage as well. The shoulders eventually fall away to get that long neck thing going on.
“They’ve been known to wear up to twenty five coils? And it ain’t true their necks break if them rings removed. No, I know because I removed twenty rings from this one girl? She looked extra-terrestrial man.
“They give them kids their first coils aged around five. The first set weighs around two kilos, then they add new rings. Cruelty for vanity’s sake? But that alien girl was beautiful.
“How is any of this shit any worse than cutting open a woman’s chest and putting silicone bags in her titties? Or cutting off someone’s nose and re-modelling it with plastic?”
The head was born next, squelching into Xi’s waiting hands, no first scream of breath. As he lifted the head to place it in the tray, it looked at Sioux, and a shrunken version of herself looked back. She could see nothing of the father.
The torso: It was a boy. In some parts of the world, a second or female child is unwanted.
“We all done with that first part. But there could be other damage which can’t be undone. Take these pills instead, and run.”
Xi locked up the shop. The two ladies were singing as he and Sioux left: “My night shift sisters / With your nightly visitor / A new vocation in life / My love with a knife…”
Sioux and Xi walked, towards the distinctive engine sound of a London taxi.
“Where to boss?”
“Wherever it’s happening.”
Sioux blinked from the taxi at the bright city lights speeding past.
© Steve Laker, 2015