The First Story I Ever Wrote

Gene Vincent

Here’s something for Throwback Thursday… It’s been twenty-five years since I first published a story, and here it is, warts an’ all. I wasn’t in a very good place when I wrote this, as you can probably tell, but it does mark something of a professional turning point. I’d been writing non-fiction for a while, but the catalyst was a challenge from a friend to ‘write a story about vampires.’ This is what came out. It’s loosely based around childhood memories of my mother’s family, and her life-long phobia of frogs and toads. I read it out nervously at a university creative writing society, there was an agent and a publisher in the audience who both loved it, and suddenly I was on my way. It’s pretty rough around the edges now, but it was just good enough to change my life…

REPTILES

© Stephen Carver, 1991

It was the end of the frustrating fifties.

Mary, my mother, heavily pregnant at sixteen, like her mother before her, and just as tragically innocent of the mechanics of her own body, took to the outside toilet suffering from violent stomach cramps. A convulsive eternity later, with a double scream (one of utter terror on Mum’s part and mild surprise on mine), I was born. Polymorphously perverse, head-first, straight-in. Capricorn. Not so much born as crapped into the world. Nobody was needed to hold me upside down and belt me to get me gasping, although my Gran was required to get a few good ones in to quieten the by now hysterical Mary. There were the neighbours to consider, after all. I have often thought that I have much to thank the old dear for. If she hadn’t charged down the garden path, like Errol Flynn riding towards the sounds of the guns, I might have been flushed in the confusion that followed my unannounced arrival. The family has always agreed that Gran was ‘a practical woman.’

Being the practical woman, Charlotte, Mother’s mother, immediately set about putting the world to rights. I can only remember her as an older, exhausted shade of her former-self, eternally worrying a rosary. In her thirties though, she could, apparently, cope with any crisis. Firstly, I was rescued from my second, suffocating womb, checked for obvious damage, cord-cut, then wrapped in the coronation tea towel that Gran had been holding when called to the nativity. Next, her shaking daughter was ministered to; reassured, stroked, hugged. Christ alone knows how she must have felt at that moment.

So there we were: three generations, clinging to one another under the frosty frozen December stars, covered in shite, surrounded by dead flowers and cobwebs, wailing our hearts out.

‘Interesting,’ says the woman, ‘so tell me about your father.’ She crosses her legs, and for the twentieth time this afternoon I think about the fact that she is obviously wearing black stockings.

‘There’s not a whole hell of a lot to say about him. Alex, his name was, a rocker who looked a little like Gene Vincent.’

‘Did you like him?’ (I imagine being seduced and move my chair fractionally closer to hers under the pretence of getting comfortable. She must be nearly twice my age.)

‘I didn’t even know him,’ I sigh, trying to appear tragically affected, ‘he was totalled on his Norton, directly after being summoned by my grandmother and presented with me.’ I wonder how long I can keep this show up.

He was only nineteen. As a child I heroicized him; inventing a mythological reality of white-line warriors and metal messiahs. But Dad was just this kid, and on that particular night he was in deep shock and too pissed to look where he was going on his motorbike. Splat.

‘How did your mother react to this?’ She looks very earnest as she asks this. How on earth am I supposed to know? I was only three hours old at the time. Does she think I kept an organised diary or what? I only found out about all this last year, before that I only had the official version. Hostility, oh dear.

‘Relieved, I think, secretly. She hadn’t seen him for months before. She told me once that he used to beat her up when they were courting.’ But then, they all do, don’t? As an adult, I’ve never yet met a father that I didn’t hate. Or a boyfriend.

The room we are in is hospital yellow. I wish I could roll myself a cigarette. What am I doing here? I drift off again and look at my long legs. Not bad. I’m in the inevitable, if not downright ubiquitous long, black drainpipes (is this an influence from beyond the grave?). My feet spoil the aesthetic though, bloody great plates, shod in black leather army surplus boots; I’m only just six feet tall and they’re almost size ten. I wonder if she thinks I’m attractive? I wonder if she thinks Boris Karloff’s attractive?

Outside the door which, in my opinion, is inappropriately painted gloss beige, I can hear the living dead shuffling around aimlessly. Losers. That plant needs watering; I bet she talks to it, Mother always did. I look at her and smile, or try to smile. I picture myself grimacing while attempting to conceal my misshapen and nicotine-stained fangs. I’ve lived with this face for over thirty years now, and I still can’t stand it. It’s the kind of face that frequently frightens children, the bits just don’t seem to fit together. I try to imagine myself as a whole being, not just a collection of spare parts, but I can’t sustain the image. I dissolve into a collage of frightened blue eyes, dead straight hair, ears that look as if they’ve been hacked at with scissors, discoloured teeth and a hideous nose. (I’ve always detested mirrors as a result.) My natural expression, I feel, recalls the moment of my birth: vague, unstructured alarm. Mother thought I was beautiful, but then she would wouldn’t she? Why couldn’t I look like Gene Vincent? I suppose there may be some slight resemblance now, but then he’s been dead since the seventies. His feet don’t fly no more, oh yeah.

She’s waiting for me to say something.

Should I mention the blue-jean bopper? No, not yet, our relationship is a private one.

Maybe not twice my age, closer to the high side of forty. She has a good face; striking rather than attractive, and perhaps a little sad. I imagine her as a younger woman, once a budding beauty and now right on the edge of ripening and falling. She has large, brown eyes and lovely hair, dark and unruly, when the sun catches it as she moves it shines deep red. I want to drown in her pleasingly plump body and make her sigh and make her smile. What glorious lingerie nestles beneath the bottle green blouse and the tight, black skirt…? Oh, what’s the point? She’ll start trying to catch me out in a minute.

Then she comes over all serious and hits me with it: ‘Do you want to talk about what happened last week?’ (I knew it. Now why spoil such a potentially rewarding friendship?)

Last week. Two words, sounds, they whirl around my head like smoke. Just two words. No big deal. I close my eyes, chest tightens, room spirals down, dead things scream accusingly from a nightmare. How many times do I have to go through this? Last week, last year, last life. Jesus f**king Christ!

‘You’ll have to 1et me smoke,’ I tell her. I don’t wait for an answer. She can always open a bloody window can’t she? Keep control, you’re alright, stability’s the thing, you can do it. So I sparked one up, and then I tell her.

Everything.

If I had to render all memories of childhood down to one image it would be 25, Mount Street, the last house on a road that didn’t go anywhere. Beyond our municipal Victorian terrace there were only fields and the ghost of a decommissioned railway station. We were suspended on the borderland where the rural and the red-brick met. I’ve spent my entire life in that house, almost. When I have tried to leave, I’ve still felt myself to be in orbit around it. I love that house, and it always calls me back, welcoming its last child to the one place that really feels safe.

Being born illegitimately in an insular English village, and the austere age of Macmillan, was something of a capital offence. I think the locals would’ve still burned witches there if they’d had the chance. As it was, Mother, her mother and I lived at the heart of an insidious cloud of provincial disapproval. The community had elevated the concept of the snub and the slur to the level of an art form before I could even say ‘Ma-ma,’ let alone ‘bastard.’ Then there were the kids.

It was the habit of my mother to walk into the centre of the village every Saturday afternoon to shop, pushing me, gurgling, before her. Saturday was her only half-day off from the brush factory, where she worked in silence, completely ostracised by the other women. She wasted every day there, except Sunday and the wrong end of Saturday. When Mum was working, I stayed at home with Gran. A retired teacher, she would later evoke her qualifications to rescue me from the local slaughterhouse of a school. Lucky escape. Instead of compulsory sport and humiliation, I was reading the Romantics, and various other junkie writers.

So, this one particular Saturday, instead of the traditional wall of silent reproach we were met with a gauntlet of the local Hitler youth on the walk back home. Years later, I remember my mother telling me this, sitting at the kitchen table, her long red hair burning down her face as she drew on an American cigarette, a look of total disgust slithering across her beautiful, tired face. Anyway, living in the country before the coming of chemical farming meant there was no shortage of wildlife to be found if you knew where to look, and these children obviously knew exactly where to look. As Mum pushed me, with all the dignity she could drag out of her unease, between the little, grimy monsters flanking both sides of the road, we were pelted with a shower of squirming beasts who were probably as surprised as we were. It was a storm of all things slimy; a deluge of frogs, toads, lizards, newts, grass-snakes, earthworms, spiders and slugs. My push-chair was alive with the things, wriggling horribly in their panic to get back to the cold earth. Mother, Medusa-headed and filthy, ran home sobbing in the wake of the complementary chants of these pre-pubescent psychopaths.

‘Dirty whore!’

‘Slag!’

‘Bastard baby!’

‘Show us your tits then!’

‘Tart!’

I gather that the little sadists, and their creepy parents, were still giggling about the incident weeks afterwards; years, probably, not much happens in this place.

(And you think I’m strange.)

And so I grew up.

Insulated from the outside world as much as possible, I inhabited a dimension of dreams fed on a diet of telly, Gran’s private library, Charlton comics, Action men and Mum’s scratchy rock ’n’ roll records. The house was my castle, the outside bog was my TARDIS, Adam West was my hero and Gene Vincent my god. Who needed other people anyway? I liked my two female parents, they were enough.

‘So would you say,’ interrupts the pretty woman, ‘that your only real contact with men was through the media?’ She’s perked up. I must be sociologically interesting.

‘Well, I saw a few around, obviously,’ I confess. (Mostly through a downstairs window though.)

‘What about your mother?’ she’s probing now, ‘did she have many men friends?’

Only one. She’s way ahead of me.

Life continued much as in childhood for years. The optimism of the sixties passed us by lazily, and we had no faith in the new wave nihilism of the seventies. It all failed to alter our neo-pastoral existence. Try listening to Radio 4 on a Sunday morning, you’ll get the general idea. Gene died, and then Elvis, but there’s still a lot of rhythm in these rocking bones. Didn’t like the eighties. Gran got old. I got older, signed-on, (by post), and carried on hiding. Nothing much changed until Gran died. She left us a room full of books with a silver-plated crucifix and two pictures on the wall that we couldn’t bear to take down. One was Clement Atlee, carefully cut out of a Picture Post and framed, and the other was her long dead husband, posing in his American uniform. He had stepped on a land-mine on D-Day.

No-one showed for the funeral.

And then there were two.

And then Dave turned up.

I just came home one day, and there he was, parked in front of the TV (our TV), watching football, brazen as alabaster.

‘Alright,’ he smiled, at least having the grace to look shy, ‘Mary’s upstairs, she’ll be down in a minute.’

‘Yeah, right. Hi.’ Who the hell are you? What are you doing here? Mary’s upstairs? Mary? Mum?

We talk about nothing. He’s a care assistant, met Mother at the Day Centre where she now works with the elderly. He wants to be a social worker. He’s younger than me, about twenty-five, he’s very handsome, all wavy blond hair and white teeth. Then Mary joins us, glowing. Damn. She was forty-six this year, although in all honesty she didn’t look it. Alright, she was still gorgeous. I used to be fascinated by how someone who’d had such an awful life could survive so radiant; ivory skin, sky-eyes, slender… I’ll never know how she dropped a troll like me. Even so, what’s she doing? Who is this guy with the denims and the Jesus-wants-me-for-a-sunbeam face?

I figured it could have been worse though. I mean, it might have been some wrinkly old git who smelled funny and smoked a pipe, or something equally horrific. And she did look so happy, as if some enormous weight had been lifted. I decided it was about time she had some real love in her life; we can’t all be celibate for thirty years. I didn’t realise then how weird things were going to get. You never do, do you?

‘Look, just try and like him,’ she had said once.

‘I try and like him as much as it is possible to like anyone who talks about Jesus all the time and has a pet Indian python and a tarantula,’ I told her. (Did I mention that? He talked about them all the time as well; I’m now an expert on the doings of snakes and spiders by virtue of osmosis.) I think that was a reasonable appraisal. He had virtually moved in by that point, and he’d brought his menagerie with him. What’s wrong with a cat for God’s sake? Or a dog, or a hamster? Something cute and cuddly. Cuddle that snake and the bastard’d probably snap your spine like a twig. I kept coming home and expecting to find a shark in the bath, scorpions in the khazi, bats in my bedroom and killer bees infesting the wardrobe. The man was also pure god squad, Christian fundamentalist, you know the sort. Probably only wanted to be a social worker because God had told him to do it, or something like that. And Mother kept agreeing with him all of the time, always siding with him and against me, no matter what nonsense he came out with. I thought he wanted Mum, but now all he talked about was ‘saving’ us. From what? Him? But she loved him, I could see that, she would have gone along with anything just to keep him. I could see the insecurity in her eyes now, twenty years his senior and she was the child.

‘I really love her,’ he had told me once.

‘So do I,’ I told him back, attempting to be symbolic. Strangers used to think that he was my younger brother.

‘You wouldn’t describe yourself as particularly religious then?’ Al1 these questions. What’ll it be next? Simultaneous equations? Help with her tax returns?

‘Leave off.’ I’m genuinely offended. My beliefs come from another direction entirely.

‘I see.’ (Really?) ‘How did you feel about Dave then?’

Guess.

The affair carried on for a year or so. Dave and I pretended to like each other, the snake got longer. They were always together now, but I used to hear them fighting late at night. If the relationship had been a horse, someone would have shot it. I kidded myself that I was handling this on-going violation rather well, but there is always, after all, a limit.

I was sitting downstairs one night, not long ago, trying to obliterate the obvious argument raging above with the soundtrack of The Girl Can’t Help It when two things happened. First, I became aware that there was a huge scratch across ‘Be-bop-a-lula,’ the high spot of the album and the film. And secondly, a huge, bloated spider dropped out of the air and into my lap. The c**t. He’d trashed my irreplaceable record and let that hairy arachnoid monstrosity loose again. (It loved crawling along the curtain rail above the only comfy chair in the living room. It used to sit up there for hours sometimes, watching the telly.) I looked down at the striped, dinner-plate sized spider and it rasped back at me. Oh my God… I exploded out of the chair, brushing myself down furiously. Behind me, the Dansette was still stuck: ‘She’s the one/She’s the one/She’s the one/She’s the one…’ I kicked at it in frustration.

‘Be-bop/Be-bop/Be-bop/be-bop…’

‘Oh bollocks!’ I snatched the arm off the now useless record and the stylus engraved its autograph across the vinyl. Silence. No more voices upstairs either. I became aware of a rustling from the direction of the TV set. The monster was still in the room, obviously burrowing beneath the pile of old newspapers under the television for security. I looked around the room frantically for a suitable piece of weaponry. Nothing big enough. Right, going to have to be a rolled-up newspaper. I tooled myself up gingerly, lifting the top paper off the moving pile in front of me. I didn’t care how much exotic spiders cost. It was either him or me, and quite obviously it couldn’t be me.

I remembered then what Dave had said when I first saw the creeping horror in its tank: ‘It’s probably more scared of you than you are of it.’ F**king idiot.

Suddenly it was on the move, scuttling out across the floor as if its life depended on it (clever little bastard), straight over my foot. I shot into the air again, but this time I came down fighting, bringing my club down on it as hard as I could.

It didn’t die. Jesus, it must be armour-plated. Then it was off again (I had no idea they could move so fast), and then it just stopped, looking up at me, the open fire behind it exaggerating its shadowy size even more. This was no mere animal, more like some sort of demon, Lucifer Lycosa incarnate. I bashed it again. No discernible result; it just raised itself up defensively with its front legs stabbing at me and I swear the bastard hissed. Every nightmare I’d ever had rolled into one black blob. I looked down on its unlovely shape and, finally, knew how to deal with it. I bought my booted foot down on the beast. There was a disconcerting resistance, how I imagine it feels if, say, you stomp a small mammal, then something went pop and I ground it into the carpet with relief and relish, wishing I was wearing bicycle clips, just to be on the safe side. What a messy death. Then I scooped the bits up with my newspaper and flicked them into the fire. Just to be sure. Arachnophobia aside, one big foot will always triumph over eight little ones in the end. I allowed myself a moment of private congratulation. Almost idly, I wondered where the snake was.

‘I think there’s something wrong with Dave,’ Mother confided to me, on one of those rare moments when he was actually out of the house. This was a couple of weeks ago.

‘What, you mean apart from the fact that he keeps checking python pellets to see if they’re spider-shaped?’ I smirk back.

‘If he ever finds out he’ll kill you, you know?’ She looks really unhappy. She’s trapped in the middle, between him and me, and we’re tearing her in two. So do I tell her that I understand, that I only hang around like a fifth wheel because I’m worried about her, that I love her more than I’ve ever loved anything in the whole world..?

No. Instead I say, ‘Oh yeah?’ and bristle with impotent anger.

She decides to let this go and carry on explaining what’s happening, pleadingly. She always was a saint. ‘I mean he’s so solitary. He never goes to work, he doesn’t want to make love anymore and he keeps going on about some new American Church all of the time.’ There are tears in her eyes.

She’s right, too; he is becoming pretty strange. I keep finding obviously homemade crucifixes under my pillow. I decide not to mention this.

‘Get rid of him,’ I advise (what a prat), ‘you’re a lovely person, you’re very attractive. Why not try it out with someone a little closer to your own age.’ (What a prat, and what an appalling hypocrite.)

‘I love him!’

‘Do me a favour!’

‘What the hell would you know about it anyway?’ she cries, and she’s halfway up the stairs, sobbing, as the ashtray that she’s just thrown at me smashes harmlessly against the kitchen cupboard behind me.

That was the last time I saw her alive.

I took off. I hate being shouted at, especially when I know I deserve it. So I scarecrowed off across the fields and hid in the deserted ticket office of the station that was. It’s a pity it didn’t have a roof on it anymore really. I sat on a decaying swivel chair al1 night, in the pissing rain, and smoked like the diesels that used to crunch through there until I ran out of oily rags and started to freeze to death. When I came home again she was dead.

That was last week.

Sunday afternoon, October 26. It was still raining. It’d been raining all weekend. The clocks had gone back the night before and it was already dark. No streetlamps on Mount Street, dark as it gets. The prodigal son did not return empty-handed, oh no. I was forearmed with half a bottle of vodka and twenty Consulate menthol (her favourite treats), an act of contrition and no mistake. I would even brave the agoraphobic terror of the local off-license for her. The house was very quiet when I finally got back, all the lights were out and the living room carpet was soggy. Searching for the light switch, I was just assuming that there must be a leak somewhere when I blundered into the enamel bath. Click. She had opened both her wrists, I could see jagged black crosses under the pink varnish of blood and bath water. A cut-throat razor was on the swampy floor. Coiled in the corner of the room was Dave’s f**king snake.

I sobbed, a huge, gasping, convulsive howl. I wailed like some child as I hugged her white, wet, naked body, screaming until my throat burned.

Oh Mum. What have I done?

I freaked out, tearing the room apart as she looked on with blind eyes. I kicked-in the arm-chairs, ripped the legs off the dining table, pulled down the shelves as Gran’s books cascaded over me. Finally, I lifted the TV set above my head and bought it down on that evil looking snake. Then I was distracted by the note, addressed to me, on the mantelpiece. This is what it said:

I understand now what I have to do. Dave has explained it all to me, and we just can’t be together in this life. It’s not going to work in this world so we’ve made a pact to love each other in the next. He’s not as brave as me so I’m going first. Don’t mourn for me and don’t blame yourself. I love you very much and I will always be with you.

Mum.

Dave. She’s left me for that c**ksucker Dave! God, they must have been planning this for weeks.

It didn’t take long to find him. He was upstairs in her room, very much alive. She was dead and he was still hanging around. She was dead. He was sitting on her bed, with his legs drawn up under him and his arms wrapped around his shoulders. In his right hand he held Gran’s silver cross. He looked even younger than before, trying to disappear into the corner of the walls. My anger and pain was replaced by something cold.

‘You little shit.’

‘I didn’t do it,’ he bleated.

‘Do you really want to see God?’ I bellowed at him.

Then he giggled at me. What the bloody hell was this all about? And then he says, ‘My Dad was right. She was a dirty whore.’

Then I knew what he really was.

I became aware that I was still holding one of the broken table legs from downstairs, so I hit him across the side of the head with it. He cried out pitifully but remained conscious, holding the crucifix out at me in some pathetic attempt to defend himself. Blood ran down the side of his face. I hit him again, some teeth went, but I still didn’t knock him out. He starts whimpering like a baby, blood and phlegm gurgling out of his mouth. Christ, what am I doing? He’s just a kid really.

I look down from a distance of miles. ‘Get out of our house,’ I tell him.

He doesn’t stop to argue the details. My hands are still shaking, wrists hurt, my head throbs and I want a cigarette. Calm now, I descend to the tomb that used to be our living room. Back to Mother, who is still dead. I lit a fag up then, one of those filthy menthol things I had spent the last of my money on, and then lit the cheap, floral nylon curtains with the match. Then I went outside and watched it all burn.

‘So it was arson then?’ says the woman in the yellow room, ‘we weren’t absolutely sure about that.’

‘I’ll deny it,’ I tell her, fiddling with my matches mischievously, using up five or six to re-ignite the same dog-end. She looks as if she might take them away, so I quickly put them back in my tin and smile sweetly, which is not an easy thing to do when your eyes are full of tears. You have to be careful with these people, they take everything away.

‘We’ll forget that for the moment,’ she concedes. ‘So do you think that these events justify your behaviour afterwards?’

I answer this by asking her a question, just for a change. ‘Exactly how would you feel if you’d just found the only person you’d ever loved in a bath full of their own blood?’

I doubt that there’s an answer to this, but, all credit to the woman, she gives it a shot anyway. ‘You know that the woman who found you is still under sedation, don’t you?’ she says. ‘How do you feel about that?’ (I knew she’d avoid the issue.)

I’m not sure how best to continue this, she might think I’m some kind of a loony. I want to say, ‘I don’t care about anyone else, because the only people that I’m interested in have all gone.’ But I don’t tell her this. Instead I try to think about the woman in the hospital, but she’s just a shadow really. Not real, like me. I can’t even remember what she looks like. I’m not too sure what happened either. Well, I sort of am, I just don’t have the words.

‘Can we talk about this now?’ asks the woman. I don’t like her anymore. ‘We’re nearly finished,’ she coaxes, ‘come on, try and tell me. You’ll feel better if you do.’

What would she know about it? I may as well try and explain it, though. The sky hasn’t fallen on me yet today.

I watched the funeral pyre from the safety of the waste ground behind the house until the sirens came. It wasn’t a pretty fire, the smoke was all greasy. I watched helplessly, as everything my mother was turned into soup. I imagined photographs crisping, books burning leaf by leaf, Gene’s music melting, dripping away to nothing. I felt sick. Nobody should have to see their entire life burned away. I don’t even know why I started the poxy fire in the first place. I didn’t know what I was doing. Without Mother and the house, I didn’t feel like me anymore. Everyone in the street came out to watch as well. Vampires. They never had anything to do with us before, except maybe to whisper ‘toy-boy’ conspiratorially when they saw Mum and Dave together. Then the law arrived, so I sneaked back to my nest at the station.

I woke up in the darkness of the ticket office to nowhere. Something was crawling across my face. I dreamed little legs and little eyes into being everywhere, the silence slid down the coal black walls like ice. I shivered, remembering. Loneliness crushed me, it was time to go.

Where?

I walked back across the fields, past the smoking, black brick carcass of my home, along Mount Street and on into the village, careful not to step on the cracks in the pavement. I don’t know how late it was, but I didn’t see a soul, no lights in the houses, not even a car headlight on the London road in the distance. I was surrounded by nothing. I walked past the vapour-lit shop-fronts for a while, mannequins watched me watching myself upside-down in the slippery pavement. I didn’t know where the hell I was going or what the f**k I was doing. Tears glided down my cheeks and cold sweat stuck the clothes to my body. Then I became aware of the sound; a white noise hissing and chirping and mewling. I looked around for the source of this life, and then I realised where I was.

Reg’s Reptiles it was called. I had heard of it somewhere before, the free press I think, and I was standing right in front of it. It was one of those new extreme pet shops, incongruous between a grocery store and one of the village’s four antique shops. You didn’t have to come here for a pussy-wussy or a doggy-woggy, but if you fancied a Great Brazilian bird-eater, piranhas or iguanas, then this was the place for you. (I expect Dave’s babies came from here originally.) The window display looked like an advertisement for Hell. A python was coiled laconically around a tree branch in a glass tank, white rats and mice cowering in cages behind it (dinner, I suppose); lizards skittered across imitation rocks, and the black furry blobs huddling in the corner of a glass case (that I had taken to be hamsters), turned out, in fact, to be Mexican red-leg tarantulas. The kittens I could see inside the shop looked strangely out of place in the surrealist nightmare laid out before me. I couldn’t work out the meaning of the stuffed penguin either. I stood there, hypnotised, turned statue and staring at this scene for what felt like forever. The snake became aware of me, and tasted the air curiously. I gazed into its dead, black beads for a while, and then fell into the vortex of those terrible eyes.

It wasn’t difficult to break into the shop. You’d have thought it would have been alarmed really, but then, there hadn’t been a serious crime perpetrated here in, like, living memory. All I had to do was walk back along the street until I came to a passageway between shops, and then leg it over a few fences to get into Reg’s back yard. A couple of good shoves and the door gave way, and then I was in.

The animals reacted to my presence like frightened children menaced by a lunatic. Budgerigars flapped about in agitation, puppies howled at me, cats hissed and growled, and lizards sighed and whipped their spastic tails in slow motion while tropical fish crash dived into plastic castles. I surveyed this private zoo through the shadows for a few minutes, before my straining eyes tripped over the fire axe. A vision of the snake slithered into my brain, and then I knew what I had to do.

There was no choice. I carefully targeted all the claustrophobic haunts of the cute, furry mammals, all the hutches and straw-lined cages, and then I axed every one of them. The creatures that survived this opening assault I then systematically slaughtered, all the cats and dogs and rabbits and rodents. I caused fish tanks to explode with a casual flick of the wrist, their multi-coloured contents flapping about stupidly in expanding puddles. Only some of the birds escaped the carnage to the rafters, where they twittered in panic. Some of the snakes I let out got to them later, anyway. The axe was covered in gore, feathers and fur; the wooden handle was wet under my fingers. The reptiles, amphibians, insects and arachnids were spared my wrath. I think they looked grateful.

I felt as if I were watching a movie. I contemplated the destruction with an air of detachment, disinterested in the sounds of the maimed and the dying. I let the axe slide through my fingers and clatter to the floor. I think I hit a guinea-pig with it, although I can’t be absolutely sure.

I took off my clothes after this, folded them neatly and then laid down in the middle of this Inferno of blood and corpses and sawdust, and silently let my children engulf me in their cold caresses.

Buried under an army of cold-blooded, wriggling creatures, I writhed around in ecstasy, until my senses erupted into rippling pulses of pure pleasure. My body emptied, dissolved and I was born again, covered in slime, into the vortex. I then returned their favours, kissing and stroking them gently until we were all luxuriously at peace.

I floated in glorious darkness for a while after this, bathing in this unfamiliar afterglow, my mind completely empty. Later, still carrying my lovers, I swam through the black blood towards a large, empty cage, crawled in, and slept like a baby. The last thing I remember, before the mad woman in the morning, was the beautiful smile on the face of the snake in the window…

‘Then the Police came,’ I finish my story, ‘and then they brought me here.’ The woman looks shocked, I knew a puny human being wouldn’t be capable of comprehending the complexities of my experience.

She shivers, and then regains her composure. Professional detachment. I gaze past her face and through the barred window behind her, then she speaks, a century away.

‘We still haven’t found David Clarke,’ she informs me. I nod in vague response, not really caring about Dave anymore. I say nothing. No more talk, no more games.

‘You realise,’ she continues, ‘that the purpose of our discussions is for me to decide whether it is appropriate to commit you to trial for breaking and entering, criminal damage and, possibly, assault.’ I move my head in assent, still saying nothing. ‘My job is to carry out your psychological assessment. You do understand that, don’t you?’

‘Yes,’ I hiss at her.

She doesn’t get it, you see. I don’t care what her and her kind do to me anymore, it’s unimportant. They can’t shut me in a rubber room and then bury me under a weight of therapy and pills and daily injections. I have made my deal with the snake.

I have killed a house, sacrificed innocents and given him Mother. And in return, I have achieved apotheosis. It all makes perfect sense to me.

God of the reptiles, Lord of the dinosaur. Slithering destroyer, my scales glisten in the refracting light of a red sun. It doesn’t matter where the monkeys put me. I can just thrash my tail, and the walls will crumble. Then my creeping acolytes, their legions waiting outside, will bear me away.

Back into the cold, dark earth.

October 31, 1991

This story was first published in Not Not in 1991, and was subsequently included in the second Cascando anthology of new writing in 1993. I read it at The Brighton Festival for the Cascando launch.

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