Monday, October 5, 2009

The Unmentionable, Part I

Thee, bounteous goddess Cloacine,
To temples why do we confine?
Forbid in open air to breathe,
Why are thine altars fix'd beneath?
Swift, "A Panegyrick on the Dean"

Oh! si au lieu d'être un enfer, l'univers n'avait été qu'un céleste anus immense

If you will steel yourself and hold and regard these foul and redolent pages, I will deposit upon them the most forbidden of secrets, beyond the taboo of taboos. My master dealt in the most forbidden of forbidden things, of which no one has spoken or written, without the threat worse than death, without the ultimate sanction, that is, without complete and unanswerable ridicule. He dared to know more than any, beyond good, evil and simple shame. It is in his name and the name of his shameless discovery that I continue to live and bear witness to his unabashed science and so: I have done my duty.

You might have thought the old man was sleeping, reposed as he was in a chair, eyes closed, hands folded but slack, now upturned –but this was how my master waited, in deep meditation, focused and unperturbed. I, too, tried to focus myself, on the moment, on his soft breaths, but to my mind came recurrently the cause of our vigil and my anxieties as to its result, hopes worrisome in their disappointment, but dreadful in their confirmation.

Unable to focus my mind, I tried simply to doze. I was exhausted, for we had come far and long to attend a series of fruitless vigils like this one. Despite my fatigue and repeated disappointment, I found myself as preoccupied as ever, stimulated and poisoned with unleavened dread. Out there, in the cold and the wet, the unholy hunt continued, muddy feet clodding up hills and down ravines, searching for the mark, the spoor, the remains of something wholly unfamiliar and unnatural.

It was already dark again when the distant mingled dull pack of voices and barks announced the villagers’ return. Yet they grew quiet as they grew near. The heavy door swung open and they crowded in: quietly. I was sure they had found something. Their eyes all held the same shy dread, the same need and reluctance. So deep was my master’s meditation at this point that I had to make some effort to wake him. He came around slowly, gathering himself behind his spectacles. The leader of the party approached him. His cold soiled hands held something in a dark wet cloth, which he placed on the table like a pleading question.

My master looked at it and opened the cloth. In its center was a soft dark irregular mass. My master regarded it. I provided him with a knife. He cut into it, spread it upon the cloth. He brought it close and touched it.

“Herr Doktor?…” asked the leader of the party.

“Yes,” replied my master “this is it. This is the stool of the creature. You can tell from its lumpy, unrefined, barely digested quality. The digestive system of Victor’s creature is a patchwork plumbing of different tubes culled from the gullets of a dozen different dead men. Even if the wretched abomination should be so lucky as to find nourishment of any kind that agrees with him, his system rarely finds concord with itself.”

“All of the creatures humors end up here. Victor may be a genius, but he’s a very poor plumber. There is bile, and chyme and pus. Every misery his creation suffers is recorded here, probably his sniffled tears and snot as well. You see, it’s mainly a mass of nettles.”

It was indeed mainly a dead black clod corded with ill-digested nettles. Poking through the grave of its stool were also many broken thorns, chewed leaves, a mashed bird’s nest, mashed bird, ashes, tiny stones, some impacted gum, tadpoles, small coins, broken keys, a die-cast toy car, a human finger, a carrot, a chewed up strawberry scented eraser, sushi magnets, an unopened can of beans, a Rand McNally road map and the remains of a Hormel meal from the dollar store. Its smell was unimaginable: it burned they eyes and hurt one’s throat. It was the smell of dead things rotting inside a rotting dead thing made of rotting dead things. It was the breath of unimaginable compost and loneliness from the anus of a creature that had no soul.

“It’s dry. Too dry,” concluded Dr. Brown, “it cannot have had water for a day or two now. We have driven the creature away from the streams and wells. Up into the mountains, I think.” With this, my master proceeded to scrape the inhuman black tar of the creature’s stain from his fingers.

“We are forever in your debt, Herr Doktor,” bowed the leader, “your learning is immense.” “Tomorrow then, the mountains?” he asked.

“I do not think so. The poor wretch isn’t eating much. It could be weeks before it has another movement.” Brown demurred, wiping his fingers with turpentine.

The leader of the villagers waited a respectful beat. “Yes, of course, Herr Doktor Doktor,” he said respectfully “you have taught us so much. We know what to look for, how to track and identify the creature’s scat.” “Tell us now,” he added “how we can stop the creature.” To this every manly shoulder in the room nodded assent.

With a delicacy beyond his profession, Brown folded the cloth back over the sample with a forceps. He slid it gingerly into a laboratory jar and sealed it with the ritual focus of an ancient Aegyptian attending to the emollients of his Pharaoh. The jar he slipped into the ready steel sleeve I had prepared for him, which he then sealed himself.

Brown then looked up at the village’s leader as though only now considering his question, the answer for which every weary frame in the room had hunted for days in the cold and wet, the answer that they felt would let them at last be safe again. My master’s eyes were suddenly wholly innocent and apologetic, his face soft and open, with a weak pleading smile like the proprietor of a general store.

“My dear fellow, why –well, I don’t really know.”

“I don’t know. I have no idea. Perhaps Victor knows. You could write him”

“You don’t know?” exclaimed the leader incredulously. “But you help can us? Help us to find a way? To kill or capture it?”

“Well, I wish, I would love to help, but I really don’t think so, because I really don’t know anything about that,” said Brown, apologetically.

“It’s really outside my field of specialty, my interest”

“And what,” puzzled the leader “exactly is your interest?”

“Well, I’m really only interested in the creatures’ poop,” he coughed.

My master waved the jar around gaily to indicate his trophy. The villagers blinked audibly.

“And all your equipment, all these books, all these jars?” started the leader.

“It’s all poop. An incredible collection. A library, really. My humble thanks are to you, to all of you…”

“But you are a doctor, a scientist”

“I am a doctor of Scatology. A scatologist, a field which I, myself, have invented and pioneered…”

It was in our dark and hurried flight from that place that I once again felt sympathy for Victor Frankenstein’s unfortunate creature: to be hounded and chased by stupid peasants and their torches, willful in their ignorance, obstinate in their lack of wonder, limited in their tolerance and range of interests.

“They have my every sympathy,” said my master, sincerely. I prepared another compress for his head. “They have simple lives, for which simple concepts and a simple truth suffices. Farmers are not brave people. If only they had the courage to look farther and appreciate the wonder they leave behind. But they are afraid, afraid to look, afraid to dare, to know, to touch and be sullied.”

“They fear the creature,” I said.

“They fear the creature’s stool. They fear their own stool. Even though they work with soil and manure, the great mystery eludes them. They think it is mere shit. They do not relish or realize its true treasure, or the knowledge it holds.”

I shirked from a slight drizzle. Mastering myself, I leaned back into the stream where my master spoke, unperturbed by the downpour.

“The history of the world,” he intoned ”is the progress of cowardice, of repeated attempts to cleanse ourselves, to rid and deny ourselves of our own creations. To hide it in crèches or pits. Latrines and outhouses. To send it sailing away in our own engineered Styx from our cities. To flush it away and forget. When, all this time, it is a part of us, it is our creation. It lives within us and after us. It is not the new Prometheus’ unnatural Adam they fear. It is his inevitable offspring that makes him fearful. His poop.”

The onslaught abated and the boards above our heads creaked.

“If the villagers could accept his poop, their own poop, their fear would be extinguished. The creature is harmless, lost and lonely. It is the idea of his poop, out there in the wild, somewhere between life and death, the creation of our creation –the poop of our poop, if you will, that terrifies them, his lonely, broken rain-filled poops. I have taught them all they need to know. If they can look at the creatures’ poop and their own poop, there would be nothing to fear and their dark heavy nightmare would be pinched off in the end.”

“I understand, master,” I said.

“Master,” I inquired, “how much longer will we continue to hide in the bottom of this outhouse?”

“Oh, a little while longer.”

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