“I told you.” I glared at the man over the counter, my own angry reflection scowling back in the thick lenses of his glasses. “I’m not a cop anymore.”
“Please!” He hissed. “A life is in danger!”
I looked around the kitchen, and caught the manager, his narrow eyes directly focussed on me, as they so often seemed to be. He broke of the conversation he was having with a fresh-faced teen server and started towards me.
“One medium happy fun time burger, medium fries, and a small fun time soda.” Much to the man’s dismay, I passed him the food, and began to calculate his bill. “That’ll be $8.99”
“I’ll give you $1000 to do it.” My heart sank in disbelief. I couldn’t turn down that kind of money, not while I was still working in this shit-hole at least.
“Fuck. Meet me by the staff entrance when I get off in an hour.” And then my manager was at my shoulder, and the façade had to go back up. “Thanks for eating at Fun-Time Burger, have a great meal!”
“Have you got a picture?” I asked the guy as I lit up.
“Yeah. Of this guy you want me to find.”
“Oh, sure.” He slid a manila envelope from his messenger bag, and handed it to me. “His file. There’s a photo in there.”
I took it, and squinted at the glossy square, trying to discern the details of the face. Close cropped black hair and a clean shaven upper lip melted down into a set of duplicate chins and a wide neck.
“So this surgery.” I began, handing back the file.
“Some experimental neurosurgery procedure, meant to induce increased metabolism or some such other miracle effect. The point is, I don’t believe my client is in any position to consent to it.”
“Yes. His mental state is extremely fragile; a long history of suicidal tendencies, impulsive behavior, and bipolar mood disorder with rapid episode cycling.”
“And you think he might be acting outside his own best interest.”
“Exactly. You have to keep in mind-” The conversation shuddered to a brief halt as a colleague of mine emerged from the staff door and tossed a garbage bag onto the moldering pile next to us. I dismissed him with an insincere smile and motioned for the man to continue. “-you have to keep in mind, this procedure only has a success rate of 1 in 6. There’s every possibility he’ll further damage his mind, perhaps even to the point of irreparability.”
“You want me to head over to this clinic, and give old Frank a once over. See if I can talk him out of it?”
“No, not necessarily talk him out of it. Just-” He removed his glasses and gave them an absent minded wipe as he searched for the right word. Eventually, with the mist cleared from the lenses, he settled on one. “Asses. If you think Frank’s in any immediate danger – call me. If not, well, then there’s nothing else we can do. Just get a signed document to prove he’s able to consent, and that’ll be that.”
“Fuck.” I spat into the drain. “You just want to cover your ass in case the surgery goes wrong and the family decide to see.”
He grinned up at me, and after a few moments, I began to smile as well, in spite of myself.
“$1000 is what it’s worth to you.”
“$1000 sounds good.” I repeated, without a hint of irony. It sure did.
“Can you turn that thing off?” The young nurse scowled up at me, motioning to the blaring radio that sat on the shelf. I nodded eventually, and flicked it off, flooding the cabin with silence. It hung heavy in the air between us, broken only by the constant drumming of the rain and the groans of collapsing waves. “Thank you.”
“No problem.” I growled at him turning back to my files.
“So you really think this man might be in danger?” He asked eventually, adjusting his mint green medical scrubs as he spoke.
“No. I told you, I’ve just been hired to look into it, nothing more.”
“I don’t think Julius would ever perform surgery on someone who he wasn’t absolutely sure was in a position to consent.”
“Sorry, Dr Acosta.”
“Oh.” I recognized the name, of course. Anyone in Michigan would. A local pop-sensation turned neurosurgeon wasn’t the kind of person who you forgot in a hurry. His association with the clinic, however, was slightly more obscure.
“He’s wonderful.” The nurse continued, paying no heed to my misgivings. “He’s a great mind, you know? A real artist.”
“An artist.” I repeated, like a dumbfounded parrot.
“Oh, of course Julius is an artist.” He was smiling widely now. “He paints with the mind.”
I nodded, in false understand, and turned back to the rain streaked porthole. Outside, the shuddering surface of Lake Superior threw itself at our tiny craft, freezing water smashing again and again into our thin hull. In the distance, I could see the thin black ribbon of the American shore disappearing into an abyss of frigid fog.
“Not long now.” The Captain of the tiny ferry poked his scowling face down into the cabin, and spat down at his only two passengers. With his one good eye, he gave us a wet glance, before disappearing back up the steps to the bridge. His voice called down after him in a mocking laugh. “We’re almost at Dread Island.”
The name didn’t do Dread Island justice. It was a black boil of sharp granite and shuddering pine amongst the seemingly endless waves. Thrusting through the dark forest came the white shaft of the lighthouse, sticking out like the end of an exposed bone. The beacon atop it winked forlornly against the mass of the storm, a single pinprick of light amongst the abstract dark of storm and waves.
“There she is.” The nurse smiled with a sigh. “Home.”
“Looks lovely.” I replied through gritted teeth, trying to keep up some semblance of a friendly grimace on my face despite it all. Outside, the black teeth of the island grimaced back.
The boat tied up on a mouldy set of wooden struts that might once have been a pier before it sank into a sea of multi-coloured moss. As we stepped off, the Captain called after me, a wide toothless grin spread across the wet leather of his face.
“The next boat’s on Tuesday. Same time, same place.” A single yellow tooth danced up and down as he spoke amongst the cavern of his mouth. “Not that you’ll need it.”
I tried to formulate some kind of reply, but my mind was blank. He merely laughed again, and disappeared back into the damp interior of his little craft.
“Come on.” The male nurse tugged at my shoulder with a knowing smile. “I’ll show you up to the clinic.”
By the look of it, the clinic was the height of modernity. Or, at least, it had been during the 1970s. A sweep of white post-modernist concrete and class, held aloft only by the structure of its own contradictions. Great empires of lichen grew on the glass and the door, and a thin skin of black mud marked a high water line at the base of the ground floor. Thick waterfalls of rainwater sprang from the gutters far above like loose blood. As we approached the grand double doors, the nurse smiled proudly.
“Isn’t it wonderful?” I didn’t answer, I didn’t need to. He pushed the buzzer, and after a few seconds, the door cracked open.
“It’s me!” The nurse spoke into the crack, displaying a perfect set of straight white teeth, he glanced back and frowned. “Our guest is here too.”
With a loud creak, the door gaped open further, revealing a shadowed figure in the interior, and beyond a strange world of darkness and strange glistening shapes. A soft voice called out from the man, and despite myself, I shivered beneath my raincoat.
“My dear Mr Walther, it is so good to see you.” The mystery man purred. “So very good. It is I, Dr Julius Acosta, and I bid you welcome to my humble domain; Dread Island!”
As he spoke, lightning cracked overhead, illuminating the scene in pure searing white for a fraction of a second. In that briefest of moments, I caught a glimpse of the man’s face, his features outline by the ephemeral illumination. A long thin jaw was curled into a smile, or perhaps a smile. It was lined by the slash of a pencil moustache, and a long hooked nose. Above that were the eyes, perhaps the most sinister part of all; they glinted with forbidden knowledge, the twinkling of a madman or a genius.
He ushered the pair of us into the lobby. As I gawked at the grand slanting lines and enthusiastic swoops of the architecture, Acosta and the nurse were deep into conversation. In muted whispers they discussed something clearly of great importance, as they cast the occasional glance my way. It was only when I had finished admiring the roof and walls did I look down to the floor. It was a mess. Soggy papers and yellowing pine needles were strewn across the tiles amongst long trails of dark black footprints. As I cocked a suspect eyebrow, Dr Acosta broke from the conversation and gave an apologetic smile.
“You must forgive the mess. Our cleaner is off, sick.”
“Yes.” Acosta replied carefully, his smile not faltering. “The flu.”
“You will be able to see Frank tomorrow. He is getting his rest at the moment, and can’t be disturbed.” Acosta chewed slowly on the meat, and I could see even from the great distance that he was savouring every morsel of the flesh. We were seated in the clinics grand dining room, a vast vaulted culinary palace that tonight lay silent and empty, at either end of a massive glass table that could’ve sat fifty with ease. Tonight, however, it was just the two of us eating. If the cleaner was off with the flu, the chef certainly hadn’t caught it; the meal was cooked to perfection, and seasoned expertly.
“I understand.” I replied between rich mouthfuls. “By the way, give my compliments to the chef, this is some good chow.”
“Thank you. I try.”
“You’re a cook as well?”
“Certainly, Mr Walther. A great man must wear many faces.” He hummed, and quietly took another chunk from the meat with his tiny white teeth. “Now, about your business?”
“As I said, I don’t really know the guy. His shrink approached me with an offer – I get signed proof that Frank can consent to surgery, and he pays me. Wants to cover his ass legally in case anything goes wrong, would you believe it?”
“Why would he not come himself?”
“Wouldn’t say. Perhaps he was too scared.”
“Scared? Of me?” Acosta chuckled to himself, and smiled knowingly across the table as he took a deep sip of his dark crimson wine. “The very idea makes you laugh. No, there’s nothing to be scared of here. And tomorrow, you will get your signatures, and we can all put this behind us.”
“Here’s to that.” I toasted, and after a moment’s thought, Acosta mimicked my gesture, almost mockingly. As I watched him devour the food with precise, exacting bites, I had a shrinking feeling that my stay on Dread Island wouldn’t be as easy as he made out.
“Well, Mr Walther, I must turn in. I have prepared a guest room for you. I hope you have an excellent sleep, and I shall re-join you in the morning.” He stalked away into the shadows, and as soon as he was out of sight, I placed down the cutlery next to the remains of my meals, my appetite suddenly spoiled.
The nurse was waiting for me at the door, and with a smile, he showed me upstairs to the corridor where my room was waiting for me.
“You’re second to last on the right.” I nodded in thanks, and headed to the door, making a show of going inside. However, as soon as he retreated down stairs, I tossed down my luggage, and I was back on the landing again, determined to get a good look around without Acosta or his nurse hovering over my shoulder.
The clinic was almost a maze; walls and rooms seemed to repeat over and over, blurring together into a spider’s web of glistening tiles and bizarre modern art installations. Eventually, however, I stumbled into the clinic’s rotten centre.
As I burst through the surgery doors, I was greeted by the smell – I faintly recalled a piece of unidentified road kill that had melted into the tar at the end of our block one summer. The stench of decaying flesh. As I flicked on the light, I realized in a flash where it was coming from; Frank. Or at least, the remains of him.
“What have they done to you?” The man was a mountain of meat now, more than a human. The delicate façade of the skin had been stripped bare, to reveal the grinding squirming mechanism within. Huge rolls of yellowing fat formed a strange ocean like landscape the burst forth amongst the cliffs of dried blood. “Oh God, what have they done?”
I checked for a pulse. Of course there wasn’t one. He didn’t have a face left, let alone a pulse. With a grimace, I stumbled away, my stomach turning. What had I gotten myself into? I left the thing that used to be Frank in that nightmare chamber, and raced back to the room. As soon as my heart had settled, and my brain had stopped silently screaming in instinctive animal terror, I fumbled for my cell phone. 911, and then the shrink.
I stopped when I heard the music, my hand hovering over the call button slackened, and the phone slipped from my hand. It echoed in through the window, a strange, unearthly wailing amongst the rain. What was that? I left the phone, and went to my window, straining my ears for the next snatch of that inhuman tune. The moonlight fell on the pines, and they stood solid, unanswering as I tried to discern the strange songs source. There! Movement amongst the shadows. As I saw the owner of the dark silhouette, my jaw dropped in disbelief.
“That’s impossible.” I whispered to myself, in righteous disbelief, as Frank lumbered slowly away through the forest, towards the player of that siren song. “He’s dead.”
It seemed impossible, and my brain refused to accept it as I hurried down out into the lobby in pursuit of the seemingly dead man. Possible explanations for what I had seen whirred through my head, but as I stepped out into the night, they were gone. Only terror remained.
It was easy to catch up with him. He moved slowly, but deliberately, as if with each step came the decision to take another. As I got closer, I saw the naked viscera still glinting beneath the shredded remains of the skin, and the trails of dried blood running across the contours of his exposed organs. This was the same body I had seen dead moments ago, now alive, now walking!
This new revelation had distracted me from the music –but it was still there, throbbing like a baseline in the back of my brain. If anything, it was louder now, and as I followed Frank it began to increase in tempo, rising to a fever pitch. Up ahead was light, a bright fortress of it standing excitedly against the dark. Throbbing strobes in all colours flashed against the dome of the sky. Hesitantly, I ducked behind a sturdy pine as I watched Frank lumber into the clearing and into the light. I held my breath as the music fell silent. Through the undergrowth, I could see figures in the clearing, and Frank lumbered to join them. They were arranged into a rough circle, and at the centre, a figure, cloaked in white.
“Dr Acosta.” I realized. Sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when he began to speak. Though I could not tell what he was saying, I recognized the voice instantly. He yelled inaudible words as he danced around Frank, and the circle clapped and cheered.
“-and now!” He boomed suddenly, projecting this new speech out into the night with great aplomb. “It is time for our newest friend to join us in the light! I give you Mark Walther!”
My heart stopped twice in those few moments. The first time when Dr Acosta called my name to the assembled crowd, the second when someone pressed a knife into the back of my neck.
“Move!” The assailant hissed, and I recognized the voice. The nurse I had taken the ferry ride over with. Suddenly he was no longer the jovial, if slightly obsessed lackey of Acosta. He was a deadly killer with a knife to my jugular.
“Walther! It is so good to see you!” Acosta grinned as I was marched into the centre of the circle. A hundred eyes watched me hungrily, as Acosta approached, his arms outstretched in welcome. “I thought you might not be joining us. But few can resist my music!”
“What is this?”
“Well, it’s hard to explain. I know it looks rather odd, but all shall become clear. It’s all perfectly normal trust me. Call it an exercise in immortality.” With that, he smiled, and turned back to the crowd. “Now’s time for the surgery.”
He removed a scalpel from within the confines of his cloak, and smiled over to Frank, whose rotting body was stood seemingly alive just metres away.
“This, this is the real test. Any ape can resurrect the body, that’s child’s play, but the brain, the brain is different. We must know if he can perform delicate tasks.” He handed the scalpel to Frank, who took it like a child takes a lollipop. “Higher brain function beyond the grave. That is the real achievement.”
Frank stared at me with a pair of dead fish eyes for several agonizing moments, and as he did, Acosta began to sing. A strange wailing chant that seemed to come from somewhere within his body, not from the mouth or the lungs. As he did so, something changed in Frank. Something was triggered. He took a thundering step forward, and delicately made the first incision on my temple. The nurse held me steady as the blade cut my skin, and the faceless remains of the man behind it began to smile. My screams filled the forest as he made cut after cut, until there was nothing left.
That music, it was inside my head. The pain was still there as I woke, but so was the music. How was I alive? It seemed impossible. I remembered slipping away in the forest, my own pain threshold eclipsed. As I stumbled to my feet, I caught a glimpse of myself – the organs I recognized from days in biology class. But there were my own. My own intestines, my own stomach, my own liver, my own still heart. I could fathom what was happening no further – the music was too loud. After a moment of doubt, I decided to adhere to its call. I stumbled from the operating hall, through the corridors of the clinic, and out into the forest. It was night again, but the stars looked so distant now. I tried not to look at the looming void above, instead focusing on the music. It was so close now. Just a little further.
I burst into the clearing, into the light. Dr Acosta was there, and he was smiling. As I fell to my knees in the center of the circle, he grinned at my despairing face.
“My greatest work.” I saw him murmur, a tear of pride running down his aged cheek.
A note from the Author -
This story was written as part of Urkel's Trick or Treat contest 2015, using the treats I recieved: Re-animation, Doctors, Mental Illness, Oceans/Lakes, Radio, Music, and a 450lb man. I hope you enjoy it in the spirit of Halloween. Thebabylonproject (talk)