She didn't notice
it at first.
She got out of bed easily that morning. It was a sunny day and the cream-coloured
room looked spacious and comforting in the clear air. It felt like a
good day, although she was aware of a strange undercurrent of nervous
energy. She was eager to be up and doing things, making use of the sunlight.
Yet her eagerness wasn't quite stable - rather it was kept up by swift,
irregular pulses. She was aware of this and knew its meaning: a quietly
positive day would be best today. Too much excitement might get out
of control and turn all her good intentions to a devouring panic.
She pulled a blanket across her shoulders and walked into the kitchen.
Hurrying now as her feet grew cold on the lino floor, she reached out
to fill the kettle with water. It was then that she noticed it. Her
movements froze for a moment whilst her body expanded and emptied in
fear. Her first thought - it was spider - merged into a second - a patch
of tight black hairs had suddenly sprung out of her hand. During the
instant such thoughts took, the glance turned into a proper look.
Part of her hand wasn't there. There was a big chunk missing out of
the side, from the top knuckle of the little finger to the wrist, extending
in a bite-sized curve to her ring finger. The edge of the 'bite' pulsed
slightly in a greyish blur. She'd never realised how dark the stainless
steel of the sink was until it stared up at her through the hole in
Her fear turned into unreality. Spiders, even hairs, were possible.
Holes weren't. It was crazy to worry about finding a hole in your hand.
She giggled spontaneously at the thought - a sound which half-calmed
and half-disturbed her more. She decided to go back to bed to think
Walking slowly, the cold floor forgotten, she held out her damaged hand
as far away as possible, watching it constantly. Making her way to the
bed, she sat down in a patch of sunlight, facing the window at her side.
She lay her hand on the sill. There, with the help of the sun and the
public eye of the street below, the enemy might be kept at bay. She
wanted to touch it to confirm that it wasn't just a trick of her eyes,
but was worried it might hurt. She decided instead to concentrate on
how it felt without touching. There was a slight burning sensation around
the edges, not unpleasant, which faded gradually as it spread out, rather
as she imagined a hot poultice would feel. It was an energetic rather
than enervating feeling.
Encouraged, she decided to touch it. She'd only moved her other hand
halfway there, however, when she stopped again in thought: what if it
spread on contact?
As a first step of lesser risk she decided to chance moving her eyes
away. Choosing again the direction of the window with its promise of
people outside, she flicked her eyes up quickly, then down again. It
hadn't moved. Or had it? How gradual was this thing? It could have.
It was hard to tell with the flickering edges. Had it or hadn't it?
An impasse always made her rash. How on earth was she going to find
out? It was intolerable! Reaching out, her good hand hovered for an
instant then grabbed her bite, harshly at first with a flinch on contact
then, as nothing dramatic happened, firmly and securely, her injured
hand snuggling into the nest she formed for it. The hard thing now would
be to let go.
It was comforting, holding it like that. The curve felt smooth underneath
her fingers and the faint throbbing calmed her. Feeling safer now, and
tired with the excitement, she leant back away from the window to lie
down fully. Then, realising that she was cold, she wriggled back under
the bedclothes, working up the pillow with her shoulders to get comfortable
- all this while holding her hand. She felt young and fragile now. Her
energy had dissipated swiftly, leaving her only with a lethargy so great
that even holding up her head seemed too much effort. She didn't want
to think about it.
Looking away from the hand she rested her head back fully against the
soft pillow and shut her eyes. The lids bounced back open of their own
accord. She let them rest that way. Staring up at the ceiling she could
see, on the cornice above her, black specks dancing busily, like the
flecks before your eyes. She kept her eyes pointed there, unfocused,
and watched without seeing the movement that distracted her from thinking,
putting off the moment of acceptance. Her eyes slowly relaxed to slits.
As she became alert again, she grew slowly aware that the dancing specks
had formed themselves into a pattern. She stared at it, the form gaining
intensity even as she tried to work it out. It was circular, dark grey
in the centre with an off-white, dirtyish rim, and seemed to be solid.
Suddenly it fell down onto the corner of the bed and she turned her
head to look. It was an egg-cup.
She studied it closely. It had been hanging upside down from the ceiling,
showing its centre, which was why it had seemed so dark, but on the
outside it was bright yellow - or would have been if it hadn't been
for a hint of black haze behind the colour. Pulsing.
She froze. Slowly, so slowly, terrified of what she might see after
all this time, she shifted her gaze back down to her hands. The back
of her left hand still looked fine, although it felt funny, throbbing
with energy. She lifted it off her wasted right hand, away from the
source. The hole there had got bigger, but she didn't stop to examine
where because of the more important fact that the throbbing hadn't stopped
in her left hand. She turned it over to expose the palm. It was pulsing
with a greyish tinge that was more an idea of incredible motion blurred
than it was a colour. The fleshy bit of her palm was gone, leaving the
bones feeling brittle and thin.
She shied away from it back to the original hand. The hole hadn't spread
as much as she'd first thought. It was just the shock of seeing it again.
It had extended widthways to her index finger but hadn't really got
much higher or lower. Clutching at some vague reassurance there she
looked back at her left hand, flooded with self-recrimination. If only
she hadn't touched it. Of all the stupid, rash, idiotic .... She screamed
- inside, of course, where all the real pain always screamed. The room
stayed womb-like in its silence.
To stop kicking herself, more because of the unbearable implications
than for any other reason, she began looking for positive factors. It
had, after all, started spontaneously. She'd probably have carried on
disintegrating anyway. If it hadn't spread to the other hand, it could
just have eaten up more of the first and, after all - she looked across
her bed - it was a very pretty egg-cup. She laughed: choking, long,
When she was exhausted she turned her attention back to the egg-cup.
It was quivering, the pulsations becoming vibrations which in turn got
stronger. Suddenly a greyish-green stalk burst out of the rim and started
growing, stretching out purplish-red petals as it did so. As she watched
the colours resolved themselves, becoming brighter and firmer. The whole
process must have taken about twenty minutes. When it was over she reached
out hesitantly to touch it. It felt good. Small and rounded, the egg-cup
fitted smoothly into her fingers. The vibrations had decreased again,
but were vibrant still with a positive, energy-giving force that reassured
and soothed her.
She decided to get dressed before her hands gave way completely. It
would be embarrassing, not to mention cold, to be stuck in her night-shirt
all day. Still holding the egg-cup she went over to the wardrobe and
surveyed her options. She'd need to wear something warm - despite the
sunlight outside the air retained a spring chill - and it'd also have
to come on and off easily so that she could use the bathroom without
too much difficulty. She suddenly had a vision of being unable to wipe
her bum once her hands had gone, but the thought was too depressing
and she dismissed it quickly.
She chose her favourite clothes in the end: colourful cotton trousers
with an elastic waist and tight ankles. Hard to change out of but easy
to get on and off for the toilet seat. Without conscious thought she
acknowledged that there was no need to bother about long-term events.
On top she wore a baggy shirt and jumper. She hesitated over the shirt,
which had long, dangling, buttonless cuffs and wasn't at all practical,
but it was her favourite and she felt a great need to surround herself
with safe, familiar objects. She solved the dilemma by fastening the
cuffs securely out of the way with safety pins. This proved harder than
she'd expected. Her fingers were becoming difficult to manipulate, refusing
to co-ordinate for the fiddly movements necessary and she had to persevere
with a stubbornness out of all proportion to the task. When she eventually
finished she was filled with a sense of victory. It was short-lived.
She'd put down the egg-cup whilst dressing for fear of damaging the
flower which drooped delicately above the porcelain rim. Now she reached
out to pick it up again only to find that the flower had detached itself
and was growing little cell-like blobs that looked rather like frogs
eggs. More of these cells were appearing spontaneously in the air around
her legs, winking on and off in the same relentless rhythm as her body
until they solidified and floated, unsupported, like glaring eyes.
This new appearance turned her thoughts once more to her basic problem:
she was disintegrating. She concentrated tensely for the feel of the
vibrations elsewhere in her body and became aware of a horribly familiar
feel in her left shin. Cursing the tight ankles, she clumsily tried
to pull up her trouser leg to confirm what she felt had to be. She got
it high enough to see the start of a greyish-black flickering then let
it fall - no need to examine further.
The temporary calmness she'd gained from her concentration in dressing
now deserted her. These 'eyes', as she thought of them, shook her badly.
The scattered, unstructured way they floated around the room, appearing
from and disappearing into the air without explanation, disconcerted
her and allowed the terror she felt inside to edge once more to the
surface. Fighting for control, she walked slowly over to the padded
armchair, checked that it was in fact as solid as it looked, then sat
down to take stock. The frailty of her hands meant that she'd looked
at, rather than felt the chair for defects and this, combined with the
eye-like nature of the cells around her, reminded her that her own eyes
might go at any moment. Indeed, being of such soft material, surely
they'd be amongst the first to go? And what about her brain? What if
that too started to decay whilst she was still conscious to notice it?
Would she be forced to be aware of herself degenerating into an incompetent
idiot, unable to control the actions even of the limbs and organs that
remained to her?
The idea was unbearable but, unfortunately, not unthinkable. It was
one thing to have difficulty pulling down her trousers but quite another
to helplessly decompose in a room full of the spiteful products of her
own body turned against her. Thinking about it as a personal war helped.
It gave her the idea that maybe there was something she could do about
it. So her body had turned against her, had it? Well she'd show it.
There was strength in the woman yet.
She stood up quickly, suddenly worried she wouldn't have time. Limping
because of her dwindling shin, she hobbled into the bathroom where she
collected all the pill bottles she owned into the front of her baggy
shirt. Then she went into the kitchen and got out the sharpest knife
she could find. Finally, she grabbed the remains of the whisky bottle,
cursing herself for having drunk so much the night before, and carried
them all, with difficulty, back to her bedroom. She arranged them on
a table by the armchair and took the lids off in preparation, using
her teeth and wrists now since the remains of her fingers were no longer
able. Then, reassured that she could get at the pills at a moment's
notice, she sat back in the chair to watch what was going on.
For a time she was content just to sit. There was no reason, after all,
why the soft parts of her body should go first. Indeed the evidence
of her knuckles and shin seemed to indicate the opposite. In any case,
now that she'd got her way out, it was all rather interesting in a morbid
way. She refused to die before it was absolutely necessary. This beating
pulse of energy within her seemed, if anything, to increase rather than
sap her hunger for life.
The corner of her bed suddenly dropped down onto the floor with a thump.
When she'd got over the shock, she saw the black and grey activity eating
up the surrounding wood and realised what this meant. She wasn't the
only one decombining. In the air by the now-vanished leg something was
forming out of floating eyes - box-like and plastic. It gained a lid
which, open, revealed a whirlwind of colours inside. These slowly resolved
until, with a final jump of action, something popped out: a jack-in-the-box.
The jack wore a clown suit. ëFittingí, she thought.
The fact that she wasn't the only one decaying, but instead appeared
to be part of a general process, made her feel both better and worse.
It helped to do away with some of the why me? aspect of it all, but
at the same time levelled her ego to the equal of a bedstead. So much
for the meaning of life. Still, at least she had a human way out denied
these other things. ëSuicide is the ego's last resortí,
she thought. It sounded like a quote.
Reminded of this option she glanced down for reassurance only to find
that it wasn't as secure as she'd imagined. The aspirin bottle was changing.
It wasn't, as had happened previously, just losing particles which later
re-formed elsewhere - rather its particles were changing and recombining
whilst part of the bottle still remained. A fish's tail was sprouting
out of its neck. As she watched, mesmerised, it wriggled fishily, as
though in cheeky greeting.
Shaken into action, she reached out to smash the bottle and get at the
aspirins still left, only to find that her arms wouldn't move. She wriggled
her shoulders and the sleeves of her shirt flopped helplessly. It had
Not to be outdone, she moved her head towards the table in order to
knock the bottles onto the floor where she could crush them with her
feet and get at them with her mouth. All her fear was back now with
a fumbling urgency and she sent the bottles flying across the carpet
in her haste. She stood up recklessly to get to them, forgetting to
test the state of her legs first and promptly lost her balance.
She fell close to the wardrobe mirror. She stayed there. Her reflection
stared back at her. The lower left side of her face, the cheek and chin,
were angular, shining hard and black like coal. Her lovely thick hair
had receded and from her scalp grew what looked like mould. Her nose,
or what had once been her nose....
She stared, eyes bulging in horror, as the centre of her face split
open, delving into a greyish void of creation - and black specks of
fertility wandered out.
Other cells were growing now - not just combining into things but actively
growing. One nearby caught her attention - a pink, shrimp-like embryo
was inside the jelly, wriggling slowly. The speed of all this creativity
was increasing constantly and the throb of energy in the room was exhilarating.
The embryo started to gain more of a structure - cartilage and feathers.
Within five minutes a fledgling flopped onto the floor and began to
chirp hungrily. In another ten it was a fat rook and five minutes after
that its skeleton was beginning to decompose into component parts -
which soon recombined with others to pop up elsewhere in the shape of
animal, mineral or vegetable . And so on.
© Finn Grant 2001
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