Comedy Of Terror

Entry by: Caroline Bletso

3rd February 2016
A Taste for Dust

Abbott lifted the police tape, inclining his head towards the bloated fire-door. One end of the tape tightened about the throat of a gargoyle, the other a sapling. Abbott wore a rolled up ski-mask as a hat. Always. Withers dived under Abbott’s fist, murmured Abbott’s name and Abbott let go the spike’s peak so once more the tape flatlined, only a little slacker now. Stretch marked.
‘Facemask,’ Abbott said.
Withers removed his hand from the fire-door and doubled back. A fox in lamplight paused between cars. It had but three legs, Withers saw, as limped off and vanished behind a lime-green Kia Picanto. Abbott pressed the heel of one hand against the hernia in his side and lifted the police tape with the other. Withers made away from the crime scene, kicking up clumps of asbestos-like snow.
‘That bad?’ Withers said.
Abbott swallowed, nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘Where’s yours?’
Some insects trapped in the streetlamp above threw down ghastly shadows.
Abbott shrugged. ‘Don’t need mine. Got a cold.’
Withers straightened up beyond the tape with a gasp, a coming up for air. His nickname had been Harbinger ‘The Dolphin’ (‘Dolph’) Withers ever since Command revealed he had a blowhole, a distraction of calcium to his left ankle, a gaping fontanel, and, ever since, he had tended towards the animal, mimicking its behaviours, coming up for air often and swimming against the wind, developing a taste for sushi. He wore on his lapel a bottlenose badge, something taken from the bedroom of a missing person in a wadded fist by his side at the end of a rigid arm and kept once certain the theft would not in any way hinder the enquiries, once the girl’s ornate body had been discovered by a man cataloguing fresh-water mussels. He popped the car-boot and dug out his custom facemask. The gorse was tinted aqua-grey and warped to form a dolphin’s snout.
Abbott lifted the police tape.
‘Going to miss you, Dolphin. Like a hole in the head.’
Wither’s adjusted his facemask, gave no reply and dolphin-dived.

The fire-door took some shunting to open. The mountain of junk mail beneath the letterbox, one of those letterboxes with coarse black fronds, Abbott had ploughed out the way to form a wedge behind the fire-door when he first forced entry, but since fetching Withers, the glistening wedge of cut price cereal leaflets and luxury cruise ship schematics and parish news pamphlets &c had collapsed.
Inside the walls were damp, the paper blistered. Withers could smell death even with his bottlenosed facemask. No different to the smell of dead badger we know.
‘Who found her?’ Withers said. When he spoke wearing his facemask his voice sounded dubbed-over, Abbott thought, every word studio-recorded and overlaid post-production.
‘Nobody found her,’ Abbott said. ‘I found her. Some kids smelled her.’
Withers flicked a light-switch on then off then on, but the flat remained dark.
‘She’s been cut off. Found a couple default notices before you got here.’ Abbott waved two letters headed NPOWER. ‘Not easy running giro to the bank when you’re dead. Same goes for the gas. Bit of a God send T.B.H. She died in Autumn sometime, given the dates on the oldest of these. If it wasn’t for the Winter chill and the lack of central heating, she’d be soup. I mean, don’t get me wrong. She’s not good. But she’s not soup. Strong stomachs we need. Watertight containers? No. Not this time.’
Withers clicked his tongue and whistled at the same time.
‘Any personal correspondence?’
‘None that I found. No Christmas cards, Valentines, Easter eggs. Nothing.’
Withers touched the skirting board with a naked finger, inspected the fingertip. It came back black. Abbott rested his glowering hernia against a doorknob. Withers got down on hands and knees.
‘Something wrong?’
Withers gave the beige carpet a slap.
‘See that?’
‘See what?’
Withers got to his feet.
‘Where is she?’ he said.
‘Living room. Last door on the left. But Withers – ’
Abbott pointed to a plastic tray compartmentalised like an American TV dinner on the floor below the coat rack, fish-shaped biscuits in one section, double cream in another, and next to it a litter tray, the odour-eater Catsan raked into ripples like gravel in a Japanese rock garden.
‘A cat.’
‘A cat.’
Withers touched his soft spot with a cool finger, his brain heating up.
‘A hungry cat.’
‘A hungry cat.’
‘One of those.’
‘One of those.’
‘Okay, Herny...’
Toby ‘The Hernia’ (‘Herny’) Abbott said, ‘Strong stomachs. As I said.’ Aware of the irony.
Withers turned his back on Abbott and proceeded to the last door on the left.

The living room had on the wall porcelain dolphins, half a dozen, jumping out the floor in an arch over the television set, each one larger than the last, modelled on the Beswick flying duck. Withers in the doorway stepped over the corpse to inspect these first. He unhooked one from the wall and weighed it in his hands. It had a good weight. To his right: The eyes of a Henry Hoover stared at him from out the room’s darkest corner, the corners of its smile worn away leaving only a severe, tight-lipped expression on its bright red face. Withers quickly put the dolphin back.
‘Thought you might like those.’
Withers got down on hands and knees and slapped the carpet. He crawled a circuit round the coffee table, slapping the rug intermittently. Abbott watched, deep respect at war with serious concern.
When Withers reached the corpse he got to his feet and looked down. A thing with little face gaped up at him, its floral kimono in places sunken to a thinness well-below the thinness of a human form, even a very body-conscious human’s form. Flesh remained on bones in places, but her fingers and thumbs looked sucked clean of meat. Her neck was open, post-mortem: very little blood.
Between the bones of her right hand: a bottle of pills, untouched.
‘She wasn’t old.’ Abbott said. ‘Just alone. And don’t think suicide. Those are Dinitrophenol pills. Diet ones. For weight loss. Take too many you overwind your metabolism; your body burns up and consumes itself. That’s my theory. Just a theory. Toxicology report will confirm or deny.’
Withers made a burst-pulse sound. ‘You think her face consumed itself?’
‘No, sorry. Poor choice of words. I think she had a heart attack. Her face I think the cat chewed off.’
‘Look around you, Hernia,' Withers said. 'What’s missing?’
‘Her face.’
‘Apart from her face.’
‘Where’s the fucking cat, Herny?’
‘Don’t know. It got out,’ Abbott said. ‘Is my assumption.’
‘And how?’ Withers’ head began to bob like a dolphin. ‘No cat-flap, nor open window. No ventilation shaft. No chimney. What do you imagine? The letter-box? Through those fronds? No. Impossible.’
‘It must be somewhere. The cat food – ’
‘Lies uneaten,’ a fine, pink mist rose from Withers’ blowhole. ‘Odd, don’t you think? That your Hungry Cat had the choice between good Whiskers and a human face and chose the latter?’
‘I don’t find that remotely odd.’
‘And the litter tray?’ He paused. ‘Absolutely unsullied.’
‘No shit.’
‘So either there never was a cat, or...’ Withers lowered his facemask, rested the bottlenose on his chin, elongating his face grotesquely, and leant forwards until nothing was left of his eyes but smears and his mouth disappeared behind his nose and the pulse in his soft-spot could be seen. ‘Or somebody let it out.’
The men fell silent. Outside the fox was keening. It sounded like a woman in trouble.
‘Somebody was here,’ Withers continued, in a whisper. ‘A murderer. A cannibal murderer. It was he or she who committed this crime. He or she who ate the face. He or she who let out the cat.’
Abbott burst out laughing, had to clutch his side to hold in his hernia. ‘Hahaha. No? Surely they ate the cat, too,’ he said.
The skin over Withers’ blowhole was rising and falling.
‘The door was locked from the inside, Dolphy,’ said Abbott, as he strolled to the darkest corner of the room and sat down heavily on the Henry Hoover, its eyes appearing to frown. ‘All the windows as well. I get it, okay? You want to go out with a bang. Finish your career on a high. Nobody wants their last case to be Accidental Death by Diet Pills. Everyone wants cannibals, a locked door mystery, excitement and adventure and really wild things, but that’s the stuff of Poundland novels, I'm afraid.’
Withers’ hands were shaking. ‘If the door was locked, then maybe the killer is still inside...’
Abbott shook his head. ‘You’ve lost it, D. Thought maybe you’d flipped watching you crawl about on the floor banging the rug and now I’m sure. You need therapy. Perhaps a nice, hot cup of tea.’
Wither’s eyes widened; he smiled. ‘The carpet. I totally forgot. Every surface in this flat is filthy. But not the floor. Look – when I beat the carpet: Nothing. No dust. Spotless! Somebody has been here, Herny, they killed, they did something with the cat and then, for some reason, they hoovered the floor. They hoovered the floor and – and then they ate that poor woman’s face.’
Abbott yawned. ‘Rubbish. She died months ago. If the floor is clean now, somebody must have hoovered it recently, very recently – and the power’s been out, D. Somebody must have – ’
The Henry Hoover roared, starting up, and Abbott leapt to his feet.
‘Bloody Hell. Must have sat on the button.
‘I thought the power was out...’ said Withers.
‘Guess not,’ Abbott said. ‘Jesus. Scared the living daylights out of – ’

Like a snake the Henry’s tube lashed out, its nozzle finding Abbott’s side. Its roaring pitch rose, growing louder, but not quite loud enough to drown out Abbott’s scream. Henry Hoover’s eyes were fully black now, its lips a melting sneer. Abbott fell backwards over the coffee table, writhing, trying to shake the mouth of the Hoover loose from his body, but Henry’d found a firm hold in Abbott’s hernia. Withers’ heart raced. He strained his eyes staring into the room’s darkest corner, trying to see the attacker, wishing the cannibal-psychopath to materialise out of the shadows gripping the chrome tube beyond the jet-black, concertinaed plastic pipe, except: there was nobody. Abbott and Withers were with Henry alone. Something gave and Abbott groaned as his side opened up and his guts flew out his body and down Henry’s gullet. He murmured Withers’ name as his eyes rolled back in his head, blood running from his mouth, trickling from his nose. Withers saw the plug dangling from Henry’s forehead, not in a socket in the wall. Within Henry was a spiralling black cord. Withers turned to run and tripped over the half-eaten corpse, the woman Henry had sucked to death. His facemask slipped up over his eyes blinding him and the terrible roaring stopped. He ripped the mask away and squinted against the shadows.

Henry was gone.

Only Abbott remained.



The dead woman.

The porcelain dolphins on the wall.

Withers' last thought was a realisation. He had never seen a dolphin in real life, never swam with an actual bottlenose. He thought he would quite like to do this; he would like to retire near the sea and swim with dolphins every day. Then once more he heard Henry’s motor, for a moment. He felt a quick pain in his blowhole and a rising light-headedness, like the stomach suffers as it falls.

But of the mind.

And then:


All the contents of Withers’ head joined Abbott’s bowels, the woman’s eyes and the ginger cat. Inside Henry.

Around the dead the floor was hoovered.

Then Henry turned himself off and retreated to the darkest corner of the room.

He would wait there patiently, watching sideways, to see what would happen next.