Σάββατο, 1 Ιουνίου 2019

LeftOvers

Image by Alan McDonald


Sorty originally published in Schlock! Magazine Issue 12, vol.3
Reprinted in Static Movement's Long Pig Anthology

There’s one of those restaurants in every great metropolitan area. It’s not listed in any newspaper columns, or advertised on TV. You won’t find a single billboard promoting its fine goods or read any review about it, even on the internet.
There are only two ways you can find it: one way (considered the easiest one by most), is to accidentally stumble upon it as you walk through those seedy areas between hospitals, just a few hundred meters away from the closest clinic.
The other (the hardest one by far) is to be invited by one of its regular patrons or (rarer yet) by a member of its staff. To do that, of course, you’d have to cultivate a feeling of trust with them and ensure these eccentric and downright dangerous people that you share their peculiar culinary passion.
But even if you do reach this establishment, you will hardly realize it’s there. It has no decorations; no billboards on its entrance or any of the numerous colorful signs that betray it for what it is. These restaurants tend to disguise their fronts, bearing the facades of crack houses, or brothels. I was told that a similar establishment in St. Petersburg took no such measures, guarded instead by a very private security firm, courtesy of one of its long-time Mafia patrons.
I cannot divulge its name, but for the sake of convenience I shall call it Les Restes. I believe such a name would be appropriate. Its chef was, after all, French and the restaurant was modeled after some of his country’s more opulent establishments. It is a perfect example of fine taste; a culinary haven built from marble and imported Venetian silk. But its most distinguishing feature was the large Ionian style marble column set in its middle. I was told that it was a genuine piece, donated by the former administrator of the city’s museum of History, a token of appreciation for services provided. However, that was not the most fascinating thing about it. What caught my eye was the way the column was adorned, its surface covered from top to bottom with a number of fetishes; gifts, notes, traveler’s checks and in some places, what looked like torn passport pages or pieces of ID, the laminated paper cut crudely, as if by hand.
It was in the month of August that I first crossed the threshold of Les Restes, thus damning my immortal soul. My actual initiation into this chamber of horrors however, had begun since the previous year, in the month of October.
I was a practicing plastic surgeon then. I owned a moderately successful private clinic, even had a few clients that were people of some note, most of them actors. I made good money there, money that allowed me to keep up my luxurious way of living. I was surrounded by beautiful women who craved for my attention (and access to my bank account), though I had no intention of settling down just yet.
My success and newfound popularity had, of course, gone to my head. I had taken my success for granted and soon began to spend heavily on other luxuries and indulge in excesses that were way beyond my monetary capability. I purchased fast cars, a bigger house in the suburbs, even chose to follow other illegal pleasures.
By the month of January the following year, I was heavily in debt. I could handle my legal-goods debtors, by negotiating the price and means of payment, but some of my illegal debtors were far less…considerate. I found myself under constant threat of bodily harm and my attempts to sweet-talk a deal out of them were pointless.
I was barely managing my clinic, my waning funds and my steadily declining mental state, when I was approached by a man I shall call Ugolino. He was a wiry, nervous little man of Italian ancestry with piercing blue eyes that could stare through concrete. He acted as a middle man between me and my shady debtors, negotiating free plastic surgery procedures for his bosses and their family members for purposes both cosmetic and…professional.
He was an eerie, though lovable, character. He shared my love for literature, my taste in music and had some knowledge of the medical sciences. He was also a man who knew his way around the city, who spoke to me of the terrors that hid under its grey skin, the red and purple carnival that writhed right under its surface.
He told me about Les Restes jokingly at first, judging my reaction to it. He did not immediately divulge its nature to me, only hinted at it and waited for my response. Upon hearing about it, I was skeptical, though intrigued. I was in a foul mood that day and found that this little piece of macabre lifted my spirits. I believe it was this unfortunate turn of events that sealed my fate.
Ugolino took me to Les Restes the following week. He parked his car in the lot of a cancer treatment clinic and we walked the rest of the way, that cold February night. He took me across back alleys and down roads I had no idea existed. We crossed neighborhoods that got seedier and darker with every step and reached the places the authorities of the city refused to acknowledge they exist.
Les Restes looked abandoned, crumbling, positively like one of those buildings scheduled for demolition that ringed it. I looked at Ugolino and asked if this was some sort of farce, if he had brought me here so he could mug me. He laughed then and led me in.
The interior of the restaurant made such a contrast with the outside that I was rendered speechless. I stood in the threshold for a while, my eyes darting back and forth from the luxurious interior to the squalor outside, feeling as if I had stepped into some strange dimension; as if I somehow crossed from Hell into Heaven with a single bound.
I was fool enough to think that I was stepping in Heaven, see.
There was no music inside Les Restes. No speakers sang out tunes, no live orchestra played happy little notes that would aid in the patron’s digestion. The place was quiet as a grave, dozens of sets of eyes staring at me, sizing me up as I stood like a lost child beside my companion. The clam lasted only for a moment, however. We were on our way to our table, when Les Restes began to sing, by virtue of its patrons. The constant clinking of forks and spoons and wine glasses on porcelain created a symphony of pleasure, untainted by human speech. The patrons hardly exchanged a word between them, as they leaned over their dishes, hungrily devouring their contents.
Our waiter was a plump boy of Asian heritage, a shawl obscuring his lips and chin. His skin was full of spots that I could bet they were the symptom of some venereal disease that had forced him to hide his face in this manner. I refrained from commenting on this, however, as the boy handed us our menus and walked away. I noticed Ugolino looking over me carefully, taking note of my every move, as I opened the menu’s cover and saw…
Ugolino moved faster than I expected, immediately grabbing my arm the minute I let the menu drop from my trembling fingers. He mouthed for me to keep quiet and gave it back to me. I looked at it again, this time with trembling fingers.
There was only one dish on the menu, or to be precise, one sort of food, prepared in a variety of ways. To think of it alone made me sick to my stomach then (no matter how much it makes my mouth water at the mere thought of it now). Before me there was a detailed design of human anatomy, a woman’s body, to be precise, her glistening insides exposed for my pleasure, each part of her marked by a different arrow indicating a different dish.
I spoke to Ugolino, who had just set his menu down, asking him if this was some sort of sick joke. Ugolino assured me that this was not the case. I asked where this...person was, that supplied our food. He told me he did not know. Sweat trickling down my brow, I asked him: where in God’s name did they find it? Ugolino sighed, obviously accustomed to such outbursts by others who were new to this establishment and told me that she could have come from a morgue, or be the victim of a hit and run car accident. She could have come from anywhere, really. The point was that the meat had been checked again and again and that there was no sanitary risk involved.
I felt about to retch, when Ugolino told me that already a few of the patrons were staring at me. He told me that if I did not find my composure, perhaps I would end up in tomorrow’s meal. As I slowly calmed myself, he proposed I should try the hip roast. Perfect choice for newcomers, he said.
We ordered our meals to the waiter and I noticed, as the waiter’s shawl moved for a second, that his lips were missing. For a horrible moment I saw in perfect detail, the mangled and diseased mess that ringed his gums, the scabs that formed some crude parody of lips. The boy simply pulled up his shawl again and walked away. I looked elsewhere, fixing my eyes on the column, trying to dispel this horrible vision from my mind.
As a surgeon, I had taught myself to overcome my revulsion over the human body’s inner workings and its frailties. I had sunk my hands wrist-deep in human fat and I had peeled the skin of human bodies so I could look at muscle apathetically. I had treated men with frostbite; their noses, lips and cheeks blackened and peeling from their faces and I had cut off that diseased skin, looked at the blinding-white fields of bone (“After all, aren’t we all the same, deep down inside?” my anatomy professor in the University would joke). I had poked and prodded at the crimson, puss-filled epidermis of burn victims and sliced it open, calmly looking at the horrible fluid and the blood as they ran down the operating table and removed it until I only looked at pink, glistening muscle.
But at the sight of that boy’s lips, I had lost my cool. Because these wounds, they did not appear to have been caused by some accident or even by the rapid onset of some disease. They seemed to have been caused by teeth. An animal’s perhaps? Or was it one of the patrons, who had suddenly felt himself in the mood for a young boy’s lips?
We were both silent as I contemplated these horrible things, when Ugolino spoke up, his voice barely louder than a whisper. He told me he had brought me here on purpose. I turned to look at him, thinking that any moment now he’d say he’d found a buyer who would like to taste a surgeon’s lips (or worse yet, his fingers!). He told me he knew the chef here. That he brought me so I could meet him. I thanked him, though I knew that I did not want to meet such a ghastly man as one who cooks human flesh.
The waiter came back and served our food. A soup for Ugolino, thick and chunky, little white bits of what could only be entrails and a piece of the woman’s liver floating in the liquid. For me, the hip roast. I forked the meat and realized it gave way easily. It had been cooked to perfection. Carefully, I turned the fillet and looked around it, when I suddenly noticed a design, nearly erased by the grill’s fire.
The outline of a wing, very much like a butterfly’s, the ink that had drawn it into the skin now faded. I turned the meat more and saw the rest of it: a small fairy, probably tattooed on her hip long ago. Its expression seemed to be so calm, as she seemed to lay against my fork’s teeth, eyes closed as if she were dreaming. For some reason, I found this hilarious and started laughing uproariously at the sight. Ugolino smiled back at me, as he put a spoonful of soup in his mouth, chewing contendedly at the piece of liver. Without another thought, I cut through the juicy meat and tried it.
It tasted very much like veal, but not quite.
I could write pages upon pages on this meat’s divine taste, of its flavor, the impeccable aftertaste and the way it filled me then, how it made me feel sated and whole and how right everything felt at that moment, as I hungrily ate bite after bite, not wanting to waste another moment contemplating the morality.
Both I and Ugolino washed our meals down with a glass of wine and then my companion led me into the deeper regions of Hell, into Satan’s very own kitchen.
I honestly do not know what I was expecting. Some surgery room turned charnel house, a grill and rusted pans by the operating table, the chef some monstrous creature, tossing the meat inside the pots and pans, his goblin-like sous-chefs carrying out his commands? Or perhaps a medieval dungeon, with men and women hanging off rusted hooks, their pieces carefully prepared by a team of experts, who would stare at their materials with morbid fascination?
What I found behind these doors was a kitchen like any other you would find in a respected restaurant. It was big and orderly, its staff working tirelessly under the direct supervision of the chef, who barked orders at his assistants and waved his arms around like a maestro, as the meat cooked in carefully cleaned pots and pans, rice boiled in its cookers and strings of pasta rose from the water’s foam, like strands on the hair of a drowning angel. The scents of a hundred sauces wafted up through the air, masking the scent of the wonderful meat I had tasted, but it was there nonetheless.
Ugolino introduced me to the chef, a French man of ill repute but with a distinctly royal bearing. His English was fluent, though he did allow himself the pleasure of seasoning his speech with a few French terms. He offered me a cup of coffee and we talked for a while. Ugolino helped ease my mind, as he could see me stealing looks at some of the dishes, trying to divine what part of her body they were carrying to serve their patrons. He explained to the chef (who, from now on I will call Tarrare), about my current predicament and the man nodded and smiled. It was obvious he had heard of me before and that this meeting had been arranged many days prior.
Nonetheless, I was happy to tell him all of my problems, about my disagreement with Ugolino’s superiors, about my current financial state that was swiftly declining. Tarrare waited until I was done, then told me that I was pretty much doomed. I agreed. He suggested I help him, for a significant sum. Without missing a beat, I said yes.
The specifics of our agreement were not important. What is important, is that Tarrare needed meat. That his meat came from morgues and from associated funerary homes, which donated them in exchange for free product. That this had begun to hurt his business and that he would need to find another supplier, soon.
He calmly reassured me he was not thinking of murder. That he was only looking for materials, the kind I could supply him. Fat, skin, muscle. The ‘leftover bits’ as he called them, from my procedures. He assured me that he would pay me a pretty penny for my trouble.
The next day, an appointment had been arranged by one of my richer clients for a breast reduction surgery. Shocked at my good fortune, I immediately prepared the woman. She was quickly anesthetized intravenally (the kind of sedation that is called ‘twilight’ sedation). I didn’t give the matter a second thought, not even once considering the implications.
One of the most horrible truths of human anatomy, is that skin is the absolute armor. The skin is the very garb that makes humans human. When this garb is removed, torn or tattered, one ceases to be human and ends up being neatly arranged meat. To my horror, I found this to be entirely true. As I traced the first incision along the aureola, I found myself shivering slightly, as if I was going through a fever. As I performed the second incision, vertically from the aureola to the breast crease, I realized that my stomach was gurgling. By the third incision, along the breast crease, the skin peeled off and I was staring at meat. My mouth was watering fiercely.
My assistant was looking at me with a puzzled look. He tried to make sense out of the way I stared at the patient’s breasts, all naked and exposed, the flesh underneath so fresh, so juicy despite her age. I felt myself leaning in, wanting to touch that meat, to…
Dear God, what followed was a nightmare. It was unreal, the way my body leaned in and my lips smacked under my mask. How my fingers probed under her breasts, their outlines poking against the skin, stretching it, pulling it back. How I saw the fat slew off her muscle, down her chest and onto the operating table. The scalpel was in my hand and I thought how easy, how simple it would be for me to just slice off a piece, no more, no less, just a sliver of meat and put it in my mouth and chew it, savoring the raw, raw taste…
Then my assistant rushed in and placed the drain tube, breaking my reverie. At that moment he had saved me, but I felt such strong hate for him then. I guess that is why I treated him so harshly, in the end.
The procedure was a success and I took my meat and fat, carefully wrapped in pharmaceutical waste bags to Tartare along with Ugolino. But the Frenchman was disappointed at my small bounty. He said it was too little, that there was hardly enough there for a dish. He told me he needed more. When I asked him how much, he gave me the rough weight of a full adult human body.
The next week was slow for me. Most of my clients cancelled their appointments, while some of my debtors called in certain favors that left me only with useless bits of skin and hair. All the while, Ugolino missed no chance to remind me of my debt to his superiors and press me on acquiring more. It was during our long, heated talks that I believe my assistant overheard us.
Thinking back, I think he stayed because he needed evidence. He could not just accuse me of trafficking human flesh and selling medical waste, unless he wished to be kicked out of the police station, the ridicule of every officer in town. He obviously wanted to find more about me, about Les Restes and Ugolino.
And he would have made it, had he not been the victim of a stroke of terrible luck.
It was in the beginning of March that I had grown desperate enough to actually consider murder. I would eye every potential customer carefully and make up excuses so I could weigh them, trying to find the suitable candidate. Meanwhile, my debtors moved in and choked the life out of me. Tarrare promised larger and larger amounts for a whole human adult. Ugolino had ceased his pretense of friendship and was now actively demanding to see my debt to his superiors repaid in full the soonest possible.
I was on a night out in the city with a seductive little brunette I had taken an interest to, my scalpel, bonesaw and other equipment hidden inside my briefcase when I noticed it:
My assistant’s pudgy face, his eyes big as saucers, staring at me from around a corner, thinking himself unseen. Feeling suddenly reinvigorated, my thoughts of murder complete with a victim in mind, I took my companion by the hand and we continued our walk.
She made pretty good company, but I was oblivious to her advances. I just nodded and smiled when appropriate, conducted myself in as gentlemanly a manner as possible, while my assistant fluttered around us, considering himself a wolf on the prowl, probably.
We were halfway through our meal when I saw him run inside the bathroom for a break. I made up an excuse and followed him, briefcase in hand. Thankfully, we were alone. I stalked him closely and made my way into a stall while he was busy relieving himself and took out my mallet. It was a heavy thing with a solid stainless steel head, perfect for cracking bone. I hadn’t used it since I was in medical school, but right then, it felt just right.
To explain what happened next, the ease with which I performed the deed, is pointless. I knew exactly where to strike. I walked silently out of the stall and smashed the head against the back of his skull without a second thought. I felt him sag and his body fall limply against the urinal. To my horror, the mallet went down with him. My blow had been too strong, improperly calculated. The head had crashed through his skull with such force that it had embedded itself in the bone and had been impossible for me to remove. In my panic, I set my foot against his back and tried to pry it loose, but to no avail. Suddenly realizing that I could easily be exposed, I dragged my former assistant’s lifeless body inside the restroom stall.
The force of the blow had dislodged one of his eyeballs, leaving the thing hanging limply from its socket, dangling at the end of the optic nerve like a cat’s toy. His tongue had also slid out of his mouth. Naively, I tried to put them back in their place by pushing them with my fingers, but the tongue was slippery and wouldn’t stay put inside his jaw, while his eyeball popped in my hands as I tried to jam it back in, spilling the clear liquid down my palm.
Then there was the matter of the mallet. It had been jammed inside his skull and I couldn’t possibly remove it without making a mess of myself and betraying my connection to the murder. Additionally, I realized at that moment that I had not thought my plan through: how could I possibly ever hide him long enough so I could carry him to Les Restes, one way or another?
In hindsight, perhaps I could have attempted to squeeze his limp body before vigor mortis set in through the restroom’s window, into the garbage bin right outside.
Sadly, pressed for time as I was, I could not think of a better solution than attempt to carry him round the back myself. After dressing him up in his coat, my briefcase in hand, I half-carried half-dragged him outside, pretending that he was a dear friend, passed out after a heavy bout of drinking. Thankfully, my brunette companion didn’t notice me as I walked through the crowd and reached my car, where I tossed my fleshy burden in the back seat, then returned to pay my bill, to avoid any harassment by the restaurant’s staff.
As I sat in my car, checking myself in the mirror, I noticed the places where his grey matter had stained my suit, thankfully obscured by the fabric. It seemed to have caked it in places, pieces of his brain forming blotches in interesting, random designs.
I must have been too involved with these mysterious patterns, or else I would have noticed my former assistant, whom I had thought dead for certain, rise from the back seat and let out a blood-chilling howl. I screamed like a madman, as I looked into his one eye and his bloodied visage, as I watched the blood spill out of his mouth, down his great idiot face.
I was halfway through my little bout of screaming, when we collided head-on with that truck.
I was told that I was lucky to have survived, later on. That my (and my assistant’s) mangled bodies had shot through the windshield, flew ten meters into the air and then skidded across the asphalt for another ten. I was told I suffered severe spinal injury. My body is currently paralyzed from the neck down, though I still find that I can move my right arm after some considerable effort.
Ugolino told me that in the months during which I was in my coma, his superiors moved in and took over my business, selling it for a fraction of my total debt. He also told me how I had pretty much lost everything, how my fortune had been almost entirely repossessed by my debtors. I asked about my assistant and he laughed his heart out, as he turned my head to the side and I saw him, laying on the bed next to mine: his eye was staring silently, his breathing ragged, his face a mass of scars and stitching. The doctors had managed to keep him alive, though no one had achieved removing the mallet from his skull, which had proven to be intrinsic to his survival.
I tried to laugh, but found that only blood came out from my ruined throat. Ugolino told me that his superiors still had me in debt. He told me how he had finally managed to negotiate some way out of this for me. I nodded my head and waited for his reply. Ugolino explained that Tarrare was interested in trying to add a variation to the ikizukuri dish to Les Reste’s menu. He told me that he would pay handsomely toward repaying my debt if I allowed the patrons to dine off me here, in my hospital room.
So far, the event has been a success. I have met the mayor and several other celebrities  who I am told line up for a chance to feast off me. I have managed to repay half my debt, for the measly price of my left leg from the hip down. Ugolino tells me that pretty soon I’ll be in the clear. He has, however, informed me that an esteemed politician will pay my remaining fee himself, should he be allowed to consume my functioning arm.
I know that to lose it, deprived as I am of my faculty of speech and movement, would mean that I would be trapped in my body; unable to communicate to the outside world but in the crudest manner possible, through mere blinking. This is why I have chosen, through weeks upon weeks of effort, to write down this piece, my last and final record.
Tarrare is here by my side. He’s sharpening his knives, testing them on my useless right leg. He is making the incisions down my calf, deep diagonal cuts where he strips the skin and stuffs spices and herbs inside my living muscle. Ugolino is licking his lips and clicking his chopsticks, as the chef slices my muscle into thin ribbons, carefully draining them of blood. They look like starved animals, the way they bare their teeth and drool all over me, but who can blame them?
There’s no doubt that I am delicious.



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