TWO.“His Services Are Indispensable to Me”
Stopping only twice-for another cup of tea around three a.m. and to relieve his bladder near four-the monstrumologist worked through the night and well into the next day, though with noticeably less urgency after the abortion of the abominable creature growing inside the young woman’s corpse.
“Upon reaching full term,” he explained to me in a dry, lecturing tone, which somehow made the topic more horrific, “the infant Anthropophagus bursts from its amniotic sac and immediately begins to feed upon the host, until nothing is left except bones, and those he drills into by means of his needlelike teeth-to suck out the nutrient-rich marrow. Unlike Homo sapiens, Will Henry, the Anthropophagi develop teeth before practically anything else.”
We had separated the bodies with no small effort, for the beast had sunk its two-inch claws completely into its victim. The doctor pulled them out, one rigid digit at a time, using the chisel as a pry bar.
“Note how the claws are barbed,” he pointed out. “Like a whaling hook or the forelegs of a praying mantis. Feel the tip, Will Henry-carefully! It is as sharp as a hypodermic and as hard as diamonds. The natives of its natural habitat use them for sewing needles and spear tips.”
He pulled the massive arm off the dead girl’s chest.
“Their reach exceeds that of an average man by nearly a foot and a half. Observe how large its hand is.” He placed his own hand, palm to palm, against the monster’s. The creature’s hand engulfed the doctor’s as an adult’s would a child’s. “Like the lion, it uses its claws as its primary form of attack, but, unlike the large mammalian predators, it does not attempt to kill its prey before it begins to feed. More like the shark or an insect, the Anthropophagus prefers living flesh.”
It required both of us to drag its leg off the girl. A bit breathless from the effort, the doctor said, “They possess the largest Achilles tendons known to primates, enabling them to leap astonishing distances, up to forty feet… Note the heavy musculature of the calves and quadriceps… Careful now, Will Henry, or he’ll roll off on us.”
He directed me to clear a space on the worktable. He took the shoulders of the girl, I took the legs, and together we moved her corpse. She was so light she seemed to weigh no more than a bird. He folded her arms across her chest and gathered the gown around her violated torso. “Fetch a clean sheet, Will Henry,” he instructed me, and then he covered her. We stood for a moment before the shrouded figure, neither of us speaking.
At last he sighed. “Well, she is free of it now. If there is any mercy in this, Will Henry, she did not suffer. She did not suffer.”
He clapped his hands and turned away, his melancholy vanishing in a wink as he strode back to the examining table, eager to continue his communion with the creature. We pulled it to the center of the table and rolled it onto its back. The black, lidless eyes on its shoulders and the yawning fang-crowded maw in its chest reminded me more than anything of a shark. Its skin was as pale as a shark’s underbelly as well, and, for the first time, I noticed the thing was completely hairless, a fact that amplified its nightmarish appearance.
“Like the lion, they are nocturnal hunters,” the doctor said, as if he had somehow read my thoughts. “Thus the oversize eyes and the complete absence of melanin in the upper dermis. Also like Panthera leo-and Canis lupus- they are communal hunters.”
“They hunt in packs.”
He snapped his fingers, called for a fresh scalpel, and the necropsy began in earnest. While he carved up the beast, I was kept busy, taking dictation, handing him instruments, and scurrying from cupboard to table and back again, filling empty specimen jars with formaldehyde, into which he dropped the organs. Out came one of its eyes, the optic nerves dangling like twisted rope from the back. He pointed out the monster’s ears: five-inch-long slits located on either side of its waist, just above the hips.
Then Warthrop opened the chest, just above the leering mouth, using the rib-spreaders to make room for his hand to retrieve the liver, the spleen, the heart, and the lungs, grayish white and oblong like deflated footballs. All the while he continued his lecture, interrupting himself from time to time to dictate measurements and describe the conditions of the various organs.
“The lack of follicles is curious, not something that appears in any of the literature… The eye measures nine-point-seven centimeters by seven-point-three centimeters, perhaps owing to their natural habitat. They did not evolve in temperate climes.”
He made an incision a few inches above the monster’s groin, plunged both hands into the cavity, and pulled out the brain. It was smaller than I expected it to be, about the size of an orange. He placed it on the scale, and I recorded the weight in the little notebook.
Well, thought I. That’s good at least. With a brain this small, they can’t be very smart.
Again, as if he possessed the ability to read my thoughts, he said, “Probably the mental capacity of a two-year-old, Will Henry. Somewhere between an ape and a chimpanzee. Though they lack tongues, they can communicate through grunts and gestures, much like their primate cousins, albeit with much less benign intent.”
I stifled a yawn. I wasn’t bored; I was exhausted. The sun had long since risen, but in this windowless room reeking of death and the acidic stench of chemicals, it was endless night.
The doctor showed no signs of fatigue, however. I had seen him like this before, when the fever of his peculiar passion was upon him. He ate very little, slept even less, all his powers of concentration, which was as formidable as any man’s I have ever encountered, focused on the task at hand. Days would pass, a week, a fortnight, without a shave or a bath; he could not even spare a moment to comb his hair or don a fresh shirt, until, for want of food and rest, he began to resemble one of his macabre specimens: bloodshot eyes sunk deep in their sockets, ringed in black; skin the color of coal dust; clothes hanging loosely from his emaciated frame. Inevitably, as night follows day, the flame of his passion would at last exhaust the fuel of his mind and body, and he would collapse, taking to his bed like one suffering from a tropical fever, listless and irritable, his depression made all the more striking by the intensity of the mania that preceded it. All day long and well into the night I would be up and down the stairs, fetching food and drink and extra blankets, putting off callers (“The doctor is ill and can’t see anyone right now”), sitting at his bedside for hours while he bemoaned his fate: His work was for nothing. In a hundred years no one would know his name, recognize his accomplishments, sing his praises. I would try to console him the best I could, assuring him the day would come when his name would be spoken in the same breath as Darwin ’s. Often with disdain these childlike attempts at succor were dismissed. “Oh, you’re just a boy. What do you know about anything?” he would answer, turning his head upon the pillow. At other times he would seize my hand, pull me close, look deeply into my eyes, and whisper with frightening intensity, “It is you, Will Henry, you who must carry on my work. I have no family and shall have none. You must be my memory. You must bear the burden of my legacy. Will you promise me that all will not have been in vain?”
And of course I promised him. For it was true: I was all he had. I have always wondered if it ever occurred to him, this man of whom it might be said there had never been another of more towering, awe-inspiring self-absorption, that the opposite was also true-he was all I had.
His recovery would last a week, sometimes two, and then something would happen, a telegram would be received, a new paper or book about the latest discovery would arrive by post, an important caller would come in the middle of the night, and the cycle would begin again. The spark would ignite the fuel. “Snap to, Will Henry,” he would cry. “We have work to do!”
The spark carried to our door by Erasmus Gray that foggy April morn had, by noon, set the fire roaring to white-hot intensity. All the organs were extracted, examined, catalogued, and preserved; all the measurements were taken; there were hours of dictation and dissertation on the nature of the beast. (“Our friend must be the alpha male of his troop, Will Henry. Only the alpha male enjoys the privilege of breeding.”) And after all that, without a moment of respite, there was still the mopping up. The instruments had to be cleaned, the floor scrubbed with lye, every surface sterilized with bleach. Finally, long past the midday hour, unable to stand a moment longer, I sank to the bottom step of the stairs, caring not if he scolded me for my indolence, while I watched him return to the body of the girl, pull back the sheet, and suture the incision in her stomach. He snapped his fingers without looking in my direction.
“Bring me the pearls, Will Henry.”
I lurched wearily to my feet and brought him the tray containing the necklace. It had been soaking in alcohol for hours; most of the blood had floated away, turning the liquid a rather pleasant shade of pink. He shook off the excess solvent, undid the clasp, and gently draped the glimmering white strand around her ravaged neck.
“What can be said, Will Henry?” he murmured, dark eyes fixed upon the remains. “What once laughed and cried and dreamed becomes fodder. Fate brought him to her, but if not him, then without question the worm, a no less ravenous beast than he. There are monsters who wait for all of us upon our return to the earth, and so what can be said?”
He flung the sheet over her face and turned away.
“We haven’t much time. Where there is one, there must be more. Anthropophagi are not particularly prolific. They produce only one or two offspring per year; still, we do not know how long they have gone unnoticed here in the New World. Regardless of the exact number, somewhere in the vicinity of New Jerusalem there is a breeding population of these man-eaters, and it must be found and eradicated-or we shall be overwhelmed.”
“Yes, sir,” I muttered in reply. My head felt light, my arms and legs heavy, and his face swam in and out of focus.
“What is it?” he demanded. “What’s the matter with you? I can’t have you collapsing on me now, Will Henry.”
“No, sir,” I agreed, and then I collapsed upon the floor.
He scooped me into his arms and carried me up the stairs, through the kitchen that glowed with the tender light of the spring sun, to the second floor, and then up the little ladder to my loft, where he laid me upon the bed atop the covers, without bothering to strip me of my blood-spattered clothing. He did pull the hat from my head, however, and hung it upon the peg on the wall. The sight of my tattered little hat hanging forlornly on that peg was too much for me. It represented all that I had lost. To disappoint him in my lack of fortitude and manly stoicism was unthinkable, yet I could not bear it, the sight of that hat and the memories it represented juxtaposed against the surreal horror of the preceding hours.
I burst into tears, curling into a sobbing ball and clutching my stomach as he towered over me, making no move to comfort or console, but studying me with the same intense curiosity as he had the testicles of the male Anthropophagus.