Hugh Paxton’s blog is proud to give you two more chapters of Homunculus, the sequel. In the first book things were fairly extreme. If you haven’t read it, read it!
BLOG ED LITERARY REVIEW: These next two chapters aren’t for the sensitive.
HUGH: They wren’t written for sensitive people! Can we please just get on with the mayhem?
BLOG ED: Yes. Why not? But if any of this is to make sense blog readers need to read the first chapters.
HUGH: Of course. Can we get going!
CHAPTER THREE: Bodywork.
Father Jack checked his Venetian cherry wood clock. Nine PM on the dot. He strolled across to the window and drew back the red felt curtain. A druid sickle moon that looked thin and sharp enough to slice paper was poised low in the sky but cast little light. Mist was rising on Dark Tarn and pooling in the wood. Poor visibility. Perfect. Tonight he knew was going to be the night.
They’d be coming. And about bloody time.
He sipped at his brandy balloon then reached for his brass hand bell and gave it a tinkle.
What had been Mr. Livingstone shambled in. Three other people who had also seen the For Sale advertisement that Father Jack had placed in Country Life Magazine and had swallowed Jack’s bullshine about going to the Atherton Tablelands, followed the late and re-designed Mr. Livingstone into Jack’s study.
As Jack had hoped and intended they’d all been casing the joint and had returned under cover of darkness, assuming that Clouds was empty, to loot the premises of all the fine antiques and paintings that Jack had so trustingly shown them on their tours of inspection. Obliging of them.
Three genuine buyers had shown up, too. But Jack had let them go home intact. What he’d not wanted were body parts supplied from people whose disappearance would cause a stir. What he had wanted were criminals, people who wouldn’t be telling anyone where they were going, and who wouldn’t be missed.
Result? Not too shabby. The underworld had been extremely co-operative and had provided more than enough material for his initial bodywork.
And all it had ended up costing him was two hundred and thirty quid for the ad. Bargain.
He took another toot of the brandy and had a look at his ambush squad.
Livingstone had shrunk somewhat but was still taller than your average homunculus. The chest was sunken,Belsensurvivor-style. But that had been inevitable. The sawn-off that had welcomed him on his second visit to Clouds had caused significant tissue trauma. The belly had bloated giving him a Tweedle Dum look that Jack found somewhat amusing. In keeping with theAliceillustration theme, Jack had made his mouth unusually wide. And had installed shark hooks for teeth. For reasons Jack had yet to identify, this particular unit had lost all its cranial hair during the processing period. The pubic hair by contrast continued to grow and at unnaturally rapid rates. This phenomenon had furnished Livingstone with a sort of north Pacific grass skirt look. Speed was not the unit’s strength.
Livingstone, for chronological reasons, was known as Unit One (U-1). For practical reasons U-1 had a garotte permanently attached to one hand. This was to stop U-1 losing it and was also designed to augment the shark hooks in close combat scenarios.
U-2 had turned up disguised as a priest feigning interest in purchasing Clouds for use as a religious retreat for school children contemplating a career in the church as their future path. Father Jack had found this ruse appealing. Then he’d hit the charlatan with a candlestick. And sent him to bed.
U-2 didn’t shamble. It lurched. And sometimes its wheels fell off. Not a hundred percent of a success, U-2. But what it lacked in physical alacrity it more than compensated for in foul temper.
U-3 to U-5 were, by and large, standard homunculi. Brainless (in every sense of the word) obedient, orc-ugly and furnished with razors for fingernails. They could handle the nine mils he’d issued them with and spit neat jets of sulphuric acid, too. They would also explode if appropriately instructed to perform the function. Jack hadn’t really bonded with U-3 to U-5. He was fond of U-1, and U-2’s occasional tantrums offered him interesting avenues for further study into homunculer psychotic behaviour but overall U-3 to U-5 were just second hand soldiers.
Time for a briefing.
“Listen up. I’m expecting visitors tonight. They are coming to steal my badgers. Their leader is a sexually-degenerate individual named Scarman who believes that he will be able to sell the badgers for profit to a dog fighting/badger baiting syndicate inCountyCork. The syndicate, which is entirely fictitious, has promised him one thousand pounds per head.”
Jack studied his audience. U-1 was nodding. As if it was attending a College lecture. Interesting.
He’d have to watch that brain of U-1. Maybe remove it.
U-2 was clearly angry and anxious to do something violent.
U-3 to U-5 were dormant. Awaiting specific instructions.
“Go into the woods. The fool Scarman saw an ad I placed in BBC Wildlife Magazine inviting guests for badger watching. He then received a purchase order for badgers. He’s coming.”
More thoughtful nodding from U-1. U-2 was hopping with impatience. Other Units just waiting for orders.
“Kill them all. I’ll sort them out.”
Jack, pushed by instinct, returned to the window. He heard a distant lorry engine die. They were here! Scarman’s goons. Scarman, too. He cackled wildly. “Kill them all! God will recognize his own!”
The Homunculi left to obey their orders.
Jack cleared his drink. A thought arrived.
“Come back here!” he hissed.
The homunculi did.
“Unleash a few badgonculi,” said Father Jack. “Set them loose! Let us see the baiters bit!”
CHAPTER FOUR: What Happened in the Woods.
“Weed! Weed! Slow down you bastard! I can’t see you!”
Scarman should have been leading. It was the roots, the mist, they made it all but bloody impossible to go straight.
His crew was scattered and his torch was misbehaving. Something moved to his left.
“Was that you? George? George?”
The shadow slipped away. Scarman was alone. And this whole thing was becoming bloody ridiculous.
He’d been offered 1,000 quid per badger off the cuff by some Mick calling himself Pitsman Doyle. Doyle was organizing an international contest to establish whether the terrier, the bulldog or the Tosa was the greatest fighting canid yet bred by man.
The enterprise would have gone no further – Scarman couldn’t tell the difference between a badger and a beaver and had no idea where to find either – but then fate intervened in the form of Bertram and his well-thumbed copy of BBC Wildlife magazine. There in the Classifieds section was an ad for no less than “BadgerWatch”. Yessir. Badgers guaranteed. In quantities unrivaled.
An enthused phone call was made to BadgerWatch booking the fictitious Dunderson family a weekend of watching. Mr. Dunderson (Scarman) was assured that he was guaranteed sightings of up to thirty badgers, and if his luck was in, more. Mr. Dunderson was then given directions to Clouds. With the addendum that Clouds was rather remote. Bertram was dispatched on a recce to map the site. Bertram had followed orders. Confirmed the presence of an abundance of badgers. Drawn and delivered the map. And that is why he, Scarman, was now blundering through a wood just before midnight.
Shit! This thing should have been a cake walk! And now, with his people God knew where, with Scarman God knew where, it wasn’t. Why had Scarman let Bertram run away? Why had Bertram run away?
City born and bred. That was Scarman. And just now he was totally out of his depth. And he knew it. This was Bertram-land. Not designed for Scarmans. Not a…
“Bugger!” A branch whip back in the face.
“Weed! Gazza!” he hissed. “Where are you?”
“Shite!” Scarman now in stinging nettles. And they were stinging him like bastards!
He stepped backwards, tripped on a root, fell on his arse. Brambles!
Scarman back on his feet. Then the slushy sound of water.
His torch-light finally revealed something informative. A bog. He was up to his ankles in stinking black mud.
To his left the shadow again! Closer. Then it ducked away and was lost in the mist. But Scarman’s torch had hit on something. Two red eyes. The glint of steel.
Scarman tucked himself behind tree roots. Scared now.
Something was hunting him.
“Scarman,” said a voice.
Weed? It could be Weed? But Weed never called Scarman by name! The runt didn’t dare.
Scarman waited. He forced himself to regulate his breathing
Nothing more. A minute passed slowly.
Weed was lost. Gazza was lost. But at least they were lost together. George and bastard Scarman were gone.
“Yeah, man, Weed.”
“There’s something in this wood.”
“Keep your fucking voice down. I don’t like this.”
The gurgle of Gazza’s hip flask.
“Can’t you smell something? Smells like eggs!”
“Shut it. I’m trying to listen.”
Both men heard it. A low hooning. Then a rapid chattering. No words. Just chattering. Almost like false teeth in a wind up toy. And the sulphur smell was building.
“It’s an owl.”
“That’s no owl you daft twat. Owls got beaks. That’s teeth. You bring your knife?”
“No man, Gazzer. I brought my hair drier. Thought it might like come in useful.”
There were more noises. Coming closer. Chattering. The wood was full of movement.
“Here’s an idea,” said Gazza. “Howsabout we fuck off?”
“I’m with you on that one.”
Weed and Gazza ran.
Jack was at his window watching progress through his night vision binoculars. No sign yet of the badger snatchers but they were out there he knew. He’d heard their truck engine. Units one to five were all in the wood on active service. So were some badgonculi. Any minute now – contact!
More body parts! And he could begin in earnest!
Shirley sat in the lorry’s cab in darkness. She was parked on the access track on the edge of the wood. It had been a horrible drive over thePennines. Narrow roads; twisted and kinked as Scarman’s mind. As befuddled by fogs as his tainted soul.
How she loathed him.
And how she wanted him taken down.
She’d opted for undercover work. Her choice they’d said. And it had been. She was a natural they’d said. And she was. School plays, she’d always been the star. Acting was part of her. For as long as she could remember.
Could make more of a difference than 100 years of plodding the street, they’d said.
What they hadn’t said was how long she’d have to put up with it; living and working with the same diseased people. She’d built up notes fatter than the OED but still the desks said ‘wait’. Always ‘wait’.
They wanted the Big One. A massive international bust guaranteed to capture the BBC and CNN’s attention for more than a sound-bite.
International busts made Shirley’s stomach turn. Co-ordinating with the Greeks, the Turks, the Albanians, the Germans – a logistical nightmare, a plague of delays. And 100 years plodding the street was increasingly looking like a more productive option.
Scarman’s crew were witless jerks (Bertram excepted, in Shirley’s opinion he needed immediate incarceration in Broadmoor and vigorous electroshock therapy). Crude, ugly human mongrels that was the rest of Scarman’s crew. Like most of the prison population. Losers. Sending them away to enjoy a period of time at Her Majesty’s Pleasure would be about as satisfying as wiping her arse. Clean things up on a temporary basis, flush it away. But expect another batch tomorrow.
Scarman was different. Very warped and very dangerous, was Shirley’s assessment. The desks wanted to pull down similar demons in mainlandEuropewith Scarman coming a poor but crucial final link in the chain.
Shirley wanted him out of the population ASAP. His private army might pale in comparison to the gunmen employed by his Central European counterparts. But Scarman had sufficient charisma and wit to go to terrible places. And there was a pit of filth in his brain.
Shirley lit a cigarette. The small red glow was a private vice and comfort. She tried the radio, keeping the volume low. A few deft twiddles and she got Book At Bedtime. The reader had a gentle voice, lulling. Pride and Prejudice. A book she liked.
Then the screams and shouting started. In the wood.
Daft George, still clutching his puppet, strode heavily kicking his way through ferns, entered a clearing and saw what he’d heard circling him. Units One and Four.
George was not unduly surprised. He took horror movies literally, accepted them as fact. He believed in monsters.
This was the first time he’d actually met any but he reckoned he could take the bastards. Trolls, dragons, giant octopi – he’d give those bastards a wide berth. But goblins? Piece of piss. He’d seen Lord of the Rings (28 times) and he knew all that growling and whacking spears and boasting was nothing. Orcs were shite at fighting. Even the dwarf had killed hundreds of them – he’d seen it – and George was no dwarf.
The homunculi started hissing. Green smoke belched from copper nose pipes. The eggy smell increased in strength.
George dropped the puppet. He pulled his hammer out of his belt, thwacked its metal head against a tree trunk, and uttered the George war cry.
“Come on yer bastards! Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!”
The homunculi did.
Unit Four arrived first and George smashed his hammer down on its head.
The skull should have popped like a stamped egg. But it didn’t. The hammer bounced off the protective titanium cranial plate. With a clang.
The unit started screaming. The blind fury in its voice failed to disturb George. It slashed at George’s leg with razor blade finger nails.
George was wearing black leather trousers and a thick donkey jacket. The blades didn’t make much more than nicks. He loomed over the little orc bastard and gave it another go with the hammer. This time in the back of the neck. There was a sharp crack as the bones broke, a flash of light, a cloud of smoke. George kneed the goblin in the face and its head fell off.
Unit One paused, turned around. Seemed to think. And then it ran away.
“Any time! Yer bastards!” shouted George.
Four badgonculi entered the arena.
They reminded George of the Wargs in The Two Towers. Only these ones were smaller, had stripes on their noses and came with more barbed wire.
The wargs had looked good when they’d first attacked the refugees inTwoTowersbut had put up a piss-poor performance when push came to shove. George wasn’t fazed.
“Let’s have you, ya bastards!”
The badgonculi loped across the clearing.
George grinned and stood his ground.
Weed and Gazzer, totally confused by night and fog blundered in circles until they met units 3 and 5.
It was over fairly quickly.
Scarman heard Weed and Gazzer’s shrieking swan songs and decided two things.
One: Something was seriously wrong
Two: To bury himself in leaf mould and forest litter and wait for sunrise.
He scrabbled to collect his cover but there wasn’t enough.
Then his groping fingers located a hole. Yes! A hole!
He scrambled in. Slithered down. And found a chamber. Now at least the torch was behaving. He inspected his premises. Finger sized roots dangled from the roof, several bigger roots formed woody pillars and twisted columns, there was – yack! – a mangled rabbit on the earthen floor but overall the chamber, cave, burrow, whatever the fuck it was, was big enough to keep him in oxygen and elbow room.
Let events play out as they would up top. Here he was safe. He hoped.
George four. Badgonculi nil. The hammer had gone into overdrive. The badgonculi had gone down. George wasn’t even panting after his exertions.
“Nice result,” said the puppet cheerily. Its friendly face was split by a smile.
“Nah. It was just small pertaters,” said George flushing with embarrassment at the praise. Life hadn’t thrown much praise his way. It made him uncomfortable but happy. “Soft as shite those goblins, me old puppet, man Longshanks,” he elaborated.
That he was in the company – no, more than that! He was the proud owner of a wooden puppet that could talk and move struck him as no more unusual as meeting goblins.
“Now let’s go and find the owner,” said the puppet giving him a kiss.
“You can hit him on the head, George.”
“You’ll enjoy it.”
“And he’s a bad magician, George,” the puppet added.
“Yes. Very bad.” The puppet gave a sorrowful shake of its head. “He’s making goblins. And he wants to make more and sell them to other bad people. Foreigners, George. He wants to sell them to bad people in foreign countries.Serbia.Chechnya.Indonesia.Iraq.Afghanistan. He plans a Crusade against everybody who annoys him. And a lot of people annoy him.”
“Can he turn me into a froggy?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Coz man, puppet Longshanks, I don’t want to be a froggy.”
“The issue won’t arise,” said the puppet. “Don’t worry about it.”
George hefted his hammer and stopped worrying about it.
Father Jack saw movement. A shape – a human form – was emerging from the wood. It was huge.
And it had a hammer and, behind it, was walking what looked like a child.
That wasn’t right. What had happened to his homunculi? His four badgonculi?
The child wasn’t right.
It’s made of wood, he realized. Wood and leather.
“Shite!” said Father Jack. Quite how he did not know. But he’d fucked up. His homunculi had fucked up.
And someone else (who?) had developed a homunculus. And it was coming for him. And it had brought Grendel’s big brother along to help.
Shirley wondered what to do. While the radio maintained its charming flow of mannered words and enquiries into the character’s health and the Beltane mist shrouded her truck Shirley knew that something appalling was occurring.
She should. She ought to. But the night was dank with menace. The screams had been Weed and Gazzer. The shouting had been George. She recognized their voices.
The brutish bellows, and howls had been from different, unknown throats.
Call the police?
Where would the nearest cop shop be? Miles away. Miles. How long for them to respond? Too long. Even if she could raise them. Explain where she was.
And she was undercover. And was under strict instructions to remain that way. And…
And something was just beside the truck.
She stilled Jane Austen. Maybe more than one something.
Shirley stubbed her ciggy out.
Silly really. Whoever or whatever it was must have heard Mr. Darcy apologizing for his ungentlemanly marriage proposal, smelled the Marlboro smoke, knew she was in the cab.
There was a sudden thumping at the door.
She snicked the lock. A hand grabbed the top of the window which was partially open. Shirley seized the handle and fought to wind the bloody thing up and close the window. The hand was joined by another. Both fought her efforts.
Shirley could see their knucklebones! There was fungus on them. The fingernails! Razors!
A face reared up. Shirley was eye to eye with hell. Hell champed its jaws. It spat. Liquid splashed backwards from the window glass and into its eyes with revolting results. The eyes burst.
But still the face was there while its skin frothed and melted, drooled and bits of the cheeks fell off. Still the hands were there. Forcing the window open.
The strength of the thing!
Shirley drenched herself in urine and worse. She screamed.
She didn’t notice she was doing either, indeed had no idea what she was doing, and seconds later was standing outside the truck. Somehow she’d scrambled out of her seat, opened the door, and – Thank Christ – had closed it again. Inside the cab the roof lights were now on, Jane Austen was suddenly playing at full volume – “And your mother is in good health?” – and something from hell (or somewhere worse) was blinded and going berserk while its head dissolved. The windscreen wipers were at full move. The horn was jammed and blaring. Indicators flicked left right and centre. A gory fist tore Scarman’s Lucky Dice from the dashboard.
A lucid Shirley thought arrived.
“I sincerely hope it doesn’t find the gears.”
It found the gears. And it found the ignition. And the truck back fired – a rattle of bangs – then surged forwards. The insane, screaming thing that was its driver suddenly pressed its face to the Shirley window and spat again. There was another chemical backlash. More acid in the face. A chunk of skull fell out. Then the truck was off and away.
“Mr. Darcy… “
The lorry was gone.
Shirley stabilized and wondered what to do with her panties. And her trousers.
She couldn’t be seen like this. She was a clean person.
There was the ripple of water. A stream! She followed the sound. Fresh water. Cleansing. Something vile ran past her firing a nine millimeter pistol. It ignored her completely.
A metallic voice brayed. “Kill them then kill them all! Praise the Lord!”
Shirley crouched in her stream with the cold clean hill waters making her ankles shudder and her buttocks shrink, felt the splash and flow scouring her stains, heard an explosion.
She had no idea what to think.
Jack opened the casement and leaned out to check progress. The immense man was at the front door. His homunculus was helping him. The man was hitting the door with a hammer. Useless. A battering ram would be in with a chance. A hammer wouldn’t make a dent. The door was castle strong. But the homunculus was ahead of the game. It was using its twiggy finger as a pick lock.
“Crafty little bastard,” muttered Jack.
Jack was now more than concerned. He wanted the big one. His real estate fraudster homunculi were proving to be crap. Feeble. Gravely disappointing. If his next batch of homunculi were to fetch the sort of prices he hoped for and achieve Jack’s plans for the New World Order he needed muscle. Something the gorilla below possessed in Spades.
And he wanted the homunculus.
And he very much wanted to know who had made it, how it had hooked up with a King Kong look-a-like, how it had found him and why it (presumably) wanted to kill him.
Skip the boiling oil. He didn’t want damaged goods. Dry ice time. Extra Dry. He ran for his Cold Room praying that that devious lock picking little shit of a Pinnochio didn’t get lucky and gain access before he laid his hands on one of his Final Solutions. Handling the hammer-man in a physical confrontation was not an option that offered any chance of happy outcomes.
The puppet got lucky with the mechanism. And then to its regret its luck ended. George in one of his over-excited and increasingly manic hammer swings unintentionally hit its artful, probing fingers. Smash. Splinters. A jammed lock.
“Bombs away!” hooted Jack. Drunkenly, as was his way. He let them have it.
George looked up.
What was left of the puppet looked up.
“Yikes!” said the puppet.
“Yer bastard!” lowed George.
Both were engulfed in a cloud of Absolute Zero.
Simultaneously a lorry tore across Jack’s lawn.
“My lawn!” howled Jack.
“No, no, NOO! My Kurdish sundial!”
Jack grabbed for his bull horn.
“Stop! Ach Christ, my roses! Stop!”
“Stop! STOP! MY ROSES!”
The lorry surged ever on in a storm of delicate petals, reduced a glass house to ruin, and, horn blaring, driver on fire, plunged into Black Tarn.
In her stream, Shirley listened to the bedlam. Decided that she had gone mad. And wanted to go home.
And Scarman in his Badgonculi sett waited for dawn.
Two Badgonculi didn’t.
They came back early.
THAT’S IT FOR TONIGHT