The black voids of Warren’s eyes stare blankly at the mass below him. He loves it, great surges of undiluted affection emanate from him; his brain responds in kind, the warmth bringing its stench to Warren’s nostrils. He inhales deeply, bending to the heat. Let it prepare for another day. Warren has a score to settle, a mind to feed, he doesn’t like trouble, not on his shift.
He eases a mulberry-red balaclava, stiff with blood and matter, over his tender skull. It scratches round the serrated cranial wound before settling into place. He fingers the itch and dry brown scales flake to his shoulders. He goes to his daytime uniform and withdraws a weapon. He places a ball of garden twine on the table. He has extra duty tonight, he has made his arrangements, he doesn’t like trouble, not on his shift.
Warren unlocks his room, takes a final glance at the contents of the bucket, sees and hears noisome bubbles rising … slowly.
The door once more locked behind him, he goes up the stairs and through the darkened linking corridor towards the inmates. There’s a chill in the air, he shivers, moving by pure instinct. The atmosphere bounces off the walls to be absorbed by his brainless body. He feels secure in this haven for the unsafe, it nourishes him in every way. His steps lighten, he’s going to find the culprit, the troublemaker, his victim. His mindless victim … he grins.
TV sounds drift to him. Warren eludes the guards, they’ll be taking a smoke, playing cards, passing the time doing less than required. At the open door of the TV room his quarry is in sight savouring a joint, flicking ash to the floor. Ed Flanigan is oblivious to Warren’s presence, he’s glued to the murmering box. Flanigan’s queen is nowhere around, Warren knew he wouldn’t be, not after today.
Flanigan’s in for armed robbery, his gun went off by accident, everyone in here is innocent of course. Flanigan’s been here for only a week and already causing trouble. On Warren’s shift. Today Flanigan bragged about his ten year old daughter, laughed when he said he missed her more than ‘the wife’. Others laughed, some glared in disbelief, horror. As tempers frayed, Flanigan’s queen came to his defence, but he stood no chance against two of the hardest and straightest inmates. They worked him over; knocked him down then one held him as the other pulverised the queen’s innards. They worked their frustrations with Flanigan out on the weaker queen. Flanigan didn’t try to stop them, there were plenty more queens available. This one ended up in the prison hospital wing for his trouble.
Warren doesn’t like trouble, not on his shift.
Flanigan barely feels the blow from Warren’s cosh. Unconscious, his body slumps, Warren fields it expertly before it hits the floor, hikes it up in a fireman’s lift and takes it back through the darkened linking corridor and up the stairs. By the time Warren places the key in the lock of his room his breath is rasping, he staggers with effort, sweating profusely. He dumps the load by the side of the bucket and relocks the door.
Flanigan starts to come round. The smell hits him instantly, he squints at Warren. As his eyes clear he wonders why Warren’s got that scabby balaclava on. The stench washes over him again, hot gorge rises and he is sick on the tiled floor. It’s coming from the bucket; he peers groggily into it and promptly throws up again.
‘Clean it up’ Warren intones. His voice is different, Flanigan thinks, the normal cold monotone is gone, tonight Warren’s voice vibrates, heavy and rich with emotion. Flanigan looks for a cloth, bemused to see these living quarters are no better than his own cell. He takes a cloth from below a spotless sink and cleans up his own vomit, never dreaming to defy the guard. He tries to puke again, this time retching on an empty stomach. Flanigan’s head feels like it’s coming off his shoulders, behind his ear there’s a throbbing. He has pain in his chest and he’s scared shitless. What is the foul-smelling thing in the bucket? What does Warren want?
Fear – Warren licks his lips, he can taste it; Flanigan’s fear fizzes around him; he likes it.
Warren moves across the cell gathering the ball of twine as he comes. He pushes Flanigan into a soft green wingback chair and Flanigan sinks into it, he’s relieved to sit down, he’s so tired. The egg behind his ear throbs painfully as it brushes against the wing of the chair.
Garden twine snakes round Flanigan’s wrists binding him. Flanigan opens his mouth to shout and the cloth he’s so recently used is thrust into it and secured with more twine that catches the egg and bites. The pain is excruciating. Flanigan’s eyes water, he blinks rapidly and blindly raises his knee to Warren’s groin. Warren side steps and grins, thwarting the move almost before it’s made, quickly tying Flanigan’s ankles. Flanigan strains against the bonds, gagging on the soaking cloth, earning himself another wave of nausea. Flanigan wishes he knew what he’d done. Useless.
Warren sits opposite him, the grin still in place, absorbing Flanigan’s terror; he draws the bucket closer.
Warren picks up the seething mass gently and shows it to Flanigan. Flanigan’s eyes roll back to show the whites, it’s as if he’s sensed Warren’s intention and another malodourous stench occurs. Warren calmly, carefully attaches the cerebrum to Flanigan’s left ear; he has turned the key. Tomorrow Flanigan will be with his queen, in the hospital wing, catatonic. He’ll cause Warren no more embarrassment on his shift.
Warren, peculiar half grin in place, feels creeping butterflies of anticipation crawl around in his gut as he watches the cerebrum draw from Flanigan. The brain expands: drooling, sucking. Warren cares for it, keeps it moist with the odorous slippery fluids from the bucket as it feeds, taking Flanigan’s grey matter, white matter, hypothalamus, neurons, thalamus, converting it, adding to its own.
Tomorrow, once the brain is replaced in its daytime vessel, Warren will have Flanigan’s consciousness; a video to peruse at his leisure.
Polly Robinson © 1988