Does the beef salute the butcher as it throbs to its knees?Clive Barker
by Michael Conroy
He awoke in darkness to the smell of bleach. Mattress springs creaked under his weight, and he felt a cold burning sensation deep in his sinuses. He rolled onto his stomach and planted his hands down on wooden floorboards. Pushing himself up, he stumbled forward and stepped on a mousetrap.
He yelped, hopped on the other foot, and unclipped the trap. Big toe throbbing, he felt around for the light switch. The overheads flickered on above him, only half-illuminating the white plaster walls. He tossed the mousetrap away. There were several others around the edge of the room, but no mice. No bed frame either, just a soiled mattress on the floor. Long strips of translucent plastic hung down over the door frame.
His throat felt sand-paper rough. Flashes of neon light and nightclub bass sounds came back to him. The brunette hardbody in the tight-fitting dress. Shiny purple leather. No, something like reptile skin. Not a whiff of sweat or perfume. No body-odour at all. It was hard to tell if he’d gotten laid or been robbed. Her name had been… exotic.
He looked around the dilapidated room. A basin hung down slantways from the crumbling wall, a rusty drainage pipe underneath. The tap juddered like it might explode but released only a trickle of brackish water.
Where had she come from? Russia? Vietnam? Some fella in a snakeskin jacket with beady black eyes had made the introductions, but she had herself never said a word. Salome, that was her name. Disparate images of the night before swirled around inside his head…
Salome in stiletto heels swaying on the dance floor… A couple of coke lines in the bathroom… The two of them slipping out through the fire exit to a darkened alley… Her unzipping his pants… She’d had the greenest eyes he’d ever seen. Neon in the dark.
He caressed his swollen bottom lip with his thumb. She’d bitten him when he’d kissed her. Tongues everywhere. He hadn’t kissed anyone like that since high school. No wonder his wife had left him for her Pilates instructor. Twenty years of corporate bullshit could send anyone’s libido into stagnation. Now here he was with no marriage, no hair, acute sciatica, and turkey neck balls. Not to mention kidnapped.
Shit. He patted himself down. His wallet was gone, just like his shoes. Fuck sake. He was yet to hit rock bottom, but he was headed there fast.
Parting the plastic, he passed into the next room, where the bleach stunk. A dentist’s chair reclined in the centre. Dirty white tiles spread unevenly over the floor beneath. A grime-covered fridge stood against the wall. In the farthest corner, strips of plastic hung down like an abattoir curtain.
His eyes adjusted to the dark as he shifted on his bare feet. He untucked his shirt and felt his kidneys. Phew. No stitches. Not yet. The hairs on his arms prickled. A tray of stainless-steel surgical instruments sat on a portable table by the dentist’s chair. Scalpels, forceps, syringes. A bone saw. He grabbed a scalpel and slid it into his back pocket, then spotted something on the floor. A crisp, white business card. No address, no telephone number, nor even a name. Just one word:
Footsteps outside… The clinking of keys… He dropped the card, dashed to the next room, and shut the door. The cold night air chilled him. Streetlamps lit the edges of the broken window glass. Too small to climb out. Too high up to call for help. He crouched beside a porcelain bathtub – the kind found in mental asylums – and peered through the keyhole.
He heard the tumbling clank of the lock, and then the groaning of old iron hinges. The cell door opened, and the figure of a woman appeared on the threshold. The lights clunked on and Salome stepped inside carrying an old-fashioned doctor’s bag.
He caught glimpses of her breasts and buttocks as her silhouette undressed behind the plastic curtain. Then she took off her wig, stepped out of her skin, and hung it up over the rail.
Stifling a gasp, he pressed his hands over his mouth. Unable to look away, he trembled.
Salome hissed as her legs bent inwards at the knee, and as her long arms dislocated and relocated into new positions. A long, pointed tail flicked the curtain strips, revealing a scaly green torso and pale underbelly. Her red tongue tasted the air.
The light flickered, buzzing like a fly caught behind a window, as she parted the plastic with her talons, and crept over to the room with the mattress.
He heard her shriek through the walls, floor shaking as she tore up the next room. Snapping floorboards, water gushing from shredded pipework, basin torn out of the wall and smashed. He lost his balance and hit his head on the bath. CLANG. His bladder spasmed, and warm urine trickled down his leg.
He listened as Salome sniffed the air – SNIFF… SNIFF-SNIFF – and made a hungry clicking noise deep in her throat. He pulled out his scalpel as the cell door creaked open… and then slammed shut.
He listened for many long seconds, hearing only his pulse. Peeking out into the dark, he saw only an empty room. He fumbled his way to the door, then tried the handle.
Frantic, he tore open the doctor’s bag and rummaged around inside until he found the key. He took one look at Salome’s skin-suit and spewed up yesterday’s dodgy kebab. No better coming out than it had been going in. He didn’t want to know what she had hiding in the fridge.
He held his breath, then exhaled as the door unlocked. Time to turn his life around. Sayonara, dead-beat dad. He’d remarry, quit his job, pursue his passion. He’d get his pilot’s licence and visit South America. No more drinking, no more hookers, no more seedy nightclub liaisons with scaly lizard women.
The old hinges groaned as he heaved open the door, but before he could step out into the hallway, he felt a warm, wet splash of saliva against his shoulder and Salome’s hot breath on the back of his neck.
Header image from Pixabay.
Copyright © ‘Meat’ Michael Conroy 2020