The Books of Blood combine the ordinary with the extraordinary while radiating the eroticism that has become Barker's signature. Weaving tales of the everyday world transformed into an ...(more)
Quaid pulled out a box from behind a pile of philosophy books. In it was a sheaf of black and white photographs, blown up to twice postcard size. He passed the first one of the series over to Steve.
"I locked her away you see, Steve." Quaid was as unemotional as a newsreader. "To see if I could needle her into showing her dread a little bit."
"What do you mean, locked her away?"
Steve felt strange. He could hear his ears singing, very quietly. Bad wine always made his head ring. "I locked her away upstairs," Quaid said again, "as an experiment. That's why I took this house. No neighbours to hear."
No neighbours to hear what?
Steve looked at the grainy image in his hand.
"Concealed camera," said Quaid, "She never knew I was photographing her."
Photograph one was of a small, featureless room. A little plain furniture.
"That's the room. Top of the house. Warm. A bit stuffy even. No noise."
Quaid proffered Photograph Two.
Same room. Now most of the furniture had been removed. A sleeping bag was laid along one wall. A table. A chair. A bare light bulb.
"That's how I laid it out for her."
"It looks like a cell."
Photograph Three. The same room. On the table a jug of water. In the corner of the room, a bucket, roughly covered with a towel.
"What's the bucket for?"
"She had to piss."
"All amenities provided," said Quaid. "I didn't intend to reduce her to an animal."
Even in his drunken state, Steve took Quaid's inference.
He didn't intend to reduce her to an animal. However.
Photograph Four. On the table, on an unpatterned plate, a slab of meat. A bone sticks out from it. "Beef," said Quaid.
"But she's a vegetarian."
"So she is. It's slightly salted, well-cooked, good beef."
Photograph Five. The same. Cheryl is in the room. The door is closed. She is kicking the door, her foot and fist and face a blur of fury.
"I put her in the room about five in the morning. She was sleeping: I carried her over the threshold myself. Very romantic. She didn't know what the hell was going on."
"You locked her in there?"
"Of course. An experiment."
"She knew nothing about it?"
"We'd talked about dread, you know me. She knew what I wanted to discover. Knew I wanted guinea-pigs. She soon caught on. Once she realized what I was up to she calmed down."
Photograph Six. Cheryl sits in the corner of the room, thinking.
"I think she believed she could out-wait me."
Photograph Seven. Cheryl looks at the leg of beef, glancing at it on the table.
"Nice photo, don't you think? Look at the expression of disgust on her face. She hated even the smell of cooked meat. She wasn't hungry then, of course."
Eight: she sleeps.
Nine: she pisses. Steve felt uncomfortable, watching the girl squatting on the bucket, knickers round her ankles. Tear stains on her face.
Ten: she drinks water from the jug.
Eleven: she sleeps again, back to the room, curled up like a fetus.
"How long has she been in the room?"
"This was only fourteen hours in. She lost orientation as to time very quickly. No light change, you see. Her body clock was fucked up pretty soon."
"How long was she in here?"
"'Till the point was proved."
Twelve: Awake, she cruises the meat on the table, caught surreptitiously glancing down at it.
"This was taken the following morning. I was asleep: the camera just took pictures every quarter hour. Look at her eyes..."
Steve peered more closely at the photograph. There was a certain desperation on Cheryl's face: a haggard, wild look. The way she stared at the beef she could have been trying to hypnotize it.
"She looks sick."
"She's tired, that's all. She slept a lot, as it happened, but it seemed just to make her more exhausted than ever. She doesn't know now if it's day or night. And she's hungry of course. It's been a day and a half. She's more than a little peckish."
Thirteen: she sleeps again, curled into an even tighter ball, as though she wanted to swallow herself. Fourteen: she drinks more water.
"I replaced the jug when she was asleep. She slept deeply: I could have done a jig in there and it wouldn't have woken her. Lost to the world."
He grinned. Mad, thought Steve, the man's mad.
"God, it stank in there. You know how women smell sometimes: it's not sweat, it's something else. Heavy odour: meaty. Bloody. She came on towards the end of her time. Hadn't planned it that way."
Fifteen: she touches the meat.
"This is where the cracks begin to show," said Quaid, with quiet triumph in his voice. "This is where the dread begins."
Steve studied the photograph closely. The grain of the print blurred the detail, but the cool mama was in pain, that was for sure. Her face was knotted up, half in desire, half in repulsion, as she touched the food. Sixteen: she was at the door again, throwing herself at it, every part of her body flailing. Her mouth a black blur of angst, screaming at the blank door.
"She always ended up haranguing me, whenever she'd had a confrontation with the meat."
"How long is this?"
"Coming up for three days. You're looking at a hungry woman."
It wasn't difficult to see that. The next photo she stood still in the middle of the room, averting her eyes from the temptation of the food, her entire body tensed with the dilemma.
"You're starving her."
"She can go ten days without eating quite easily. Fasts are common in any civilized country, Steve. Sixty per cent of the British population is clinically obese at any one time. She was too fat anyhow."
Eighteen: she sits, the fat girl, in her corner of the room, weeping.
"About now she began to hallucinate. Just little mental ticks. She thought she felt something in her hair, or on the back of her hand. I'd see her staring into mid-air sometimes watching nothing."
Nineteen: she washes herself. She is stripped to the waist, her breasts are heavy, her face is drained of expression. The meat is a darker tone than in the previous photographs.
"She washed herself regularly. Never let twelve hours go by without washing from head to toe."
"The meat looks..."
"It's quite warm in her little room; and there's a few flies in there with her. They've found the meat: laid their eggs. Yes, it's ripening up quite nicely."
"Is that part of the plan?"
"Sure. If the meat revolted when it was fresh, what about her disgust at rotted meat? That's the crux of her dilemma, isn't it? The longer she waits to eat, the more disgusted she becomes with what she's been given to feed on. She's trapped with her own horror of meat on the one hand, and her dread of dying on the other. Which is going to give first?"
Steve was no less trapped now.
On the one hand this joke had already gone too far, and Quaid's experiment had become an exercise in sadism. On the other hand he wanted to know how far this story ended. There was an undeniable fascination in watching the woman suffer.
The next seven photographs - twenty, twenty-one, two, three, four, five and six pictured the same circular routine. Sleeping, washing, pissing, meat-watching. Sleeping, washing, pissing -Then twenty-seven.
She picks up the meat. Yes, she picks it up, her face full of horror. The haunch of the beef looks well-ripened now, speckled with flies' eggs. Gross.
"She bites it."
The next photograph, and her face is buried in the meat.
Steve seemed to taste the rotten flesh in the back of his throat. His mind found a stench to imagine, and created a gravy of putrescence to run over his tongue. How could she do it?
Twenty-nine: she is vomiting in the bucket in the corner of the room.
Thirty: she is sitting looking at the table. It is empty. The water-jug has been thrown against the wall. The plate has been smashed. The beef lies on the floor in a slime of degeneration.
Thirty-one: she sleeps. Her head is lost in a tangle of arms.
Thirty-two: she is standing up. She is looking at the meat again, defying it. The hunger she feels is plain on her face. So is the disgust.
Thirty-three. She sleeps.
"How long now?" asked Steve.
"Five days. No, six."
Thirty-four. She is a blurred figure, apparently flinging herself against a wall. Perhaps beating her head against it, Steve couldn't be sure. He was past asking. Part of him didn't want to know.
Thirty-five: she is again sleeping, this time beneath the table. The sleeping bag has been torn to pieces, shredded cloth and pieces of stuffing littering the room.
Thirty-six: she speaks to the door, through the door, knowing she will get no answer.
Thirty-seven: she eats the rancid meat.
Calmly she sits under the table, like a primitive in her cave, and pulls at the meat with her incisors. Her face is again expressionless; all her energy is bent to the purpose of the moment. To eat. To eat 'til the hunger disappears, 'til the agony in her belly, and the sickness in her head disappear.
Steve stared at the photograph.
"It startled me," said Quaid, "how suddenly she gave in. One moment she seemed to have as much resistance as ever. The monologue at the door was the same mixture of threats and apologies as she'd delivered day in, day out. Then she broke. Just like that. Squatted under the table and ate the beef down to the bone, as though it were a choice cut."
Thirty-eight: she sleeps. The door is open. Light pours in.
Thirty-nine: the room is empty.
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