The Penumbra of Exquisite Foulness: Tim Curran

Camilla: Oh please, please don’t unwrap it! I can’t bear it!
Cassilda: (Setting the wriggling bundle before them.) We must. He wants us to see.
Camilla: I won’t look. I refuse.
Cassilda: It squirms like an infant, but how soft it is— like a worm.
Camilla: Its lips move… but it makes no sound. Why doesn’t it make a sound?
Cassilda: (Giggling now.) It cannot. Its mouth is filled with flies.
The King in Yellow, Act I, Scene 4.

In chaos, I found purpose. In bedlam, there was purity of vision.

That is the skin of my story. And the blood and meat of my little tale is that you can only hide from insanity within the cloak of insanity. This will make precious little sense to those of you who’ve never opened the book—blessed are the meek and ignorant—but to those of you who have (and you are many, aren’t you?) it will make all the sense in this world… and out of it.

Now let me confess, let me expose the yellowed bones of my tale. Once the idea occurred to me, I had no choice but to see it through and do those things that were demanded of me. Let’s call it a cold, blind compulsion. That will sit easier with most. A mental derangement, an insanity, a stark mania. With that in mind, listen: on a perfectly ordinary Tuesday morning, I gave baby Marcus a bath. I sudsed him up and rinsed him thoroughly because a clean baby, so soft and pink and fine-smelling, was a happy baby. As he gooed and gurgled, the madness pierced me like hot needles. I tried to shake it from my head and I tried to shiver it from my body. But I couldn’t get rid of it anymore than I could shed my own skin. So, I leaned there against the tub, a sweat that was foul-smelling and cool running from my pores.

It was communion. Something—I dare not say what—had made me part of it. I had been named, chosen. And in my head, a voice, a very soft and smooth voice said to me, The King comes now. He comes for what is his and you are made ready.

In my head, a fathomless darkness sucked my mind into nether regions and I saw black stars hanging over a gutted landscape. My hands were no longer my own but instruments of something malevolent that crowded the thoughts from my brain. They—the hands, looking jaundiced and almost scaly in the weak bathroom fluorescents—seized Marcus by the throat and held him beneath the sudsy water until he stopped moving, until his cherubic face was erased and replaced with that of a bluing corpse-child, lips blackening and pink skin mottled, eyes like staring black holes looking straight into the vortex of my soul.

Once the act was complete, I sat there, tears running down my face.

Sobbing and whimpering, I studied the hands that had just murdered my darling little boy. I studied them in detail, knowing they were not my hands but those of another, one that did not belong but crept in silent, silken moonlight. Baby Marcus sank like a rock. That is crude, but perfectly descriptive. He would resurface, I knew, when the time was right. And in my horror, I could almost envision that moment: his puckered face breaking the tepid, bubbly water like lips parting, his voice cutting deep into my brain like a scalpel.

The hot needles burning deeper, fed by the kindling of unspeakable guilt, I opened my wrists with a razor, staring at the corpse of my baby drifting like a swollen dead cod at the bottom of the tub. As blood bubbled from my gashed arteries in scarlet rivulets and freshets, I dipped a skeletal white digit into the ragged, spurting inkwell of my left wrist until it was dyed a brilliant red. The vibrancy of my glistening fingertip fascinated me. Without further ado, while the ink of life was still wet and running, I sketched out the form of a simple stick man on the white tile wall of the bathroom in slashes of crimson. It wasn’t until I had drawn in the ruby blobs of its eyes and the tattered mantle blowing out from it that I began to scream. For it was then that my stick figure became something much more and I saw it move as it has moved in my nightmares ever since.

As I slowly came out of it, there was panic. Night-winged panic that filled my brain like mulling bats. It filled my mind until it seemed I had no mind. Grimly, with great burning intensity, I held onto my sanity as reality flew apart inside my head and out of it. I screamed again. I must have screamed for I heard a voice echoing amongst the black and uneasy stars that pressed in from all sides. The walls of the room were gone. And when I looked up, there was no ceiling, there was no roof above, only the inverted sickle of a scarlet moon dripping its black blood onto my face.

Later, after my neighbor called 911, I was stitched-up—much against my feeble will.

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  1. Pingback: In the Court of the Yellow King | Celaeno Press

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