You must login to vote
Joseph: a Victorian Fairy Tale
This book is dedicated to the spirit of JOSEPH CAREY MERRICK (1863-1890), to my family, and to John Pickman, who told me to "Finish it. It will be whatever it is."
'Tis true my form is something odd,
But blaming me is blaming God;
Could I create myself anew,
I would not fail in pleasing you.
Were I so tall could reach the Pole,
Or grasp the ocean with a span;
I would be measured by the soul,
The mind's the standard of the man.
Foreward: In the Gathering Dark
by John Pickman
Rain patters on old cobblestones. Music comes from another room, muffled and ghostlike. Black water taps at the wooden hulls of heavy boats. A raven takes wing from the steeple of a church. Children hear the rustle of black wings in their sleep. Mist creeps out of the river, onto the quiet, deserted streets. It makes no sound. no sound at all.
In these streets, in these silences, something may arise.
Somewhere nearby...perhaps one street away...perhaps two...
The purposeful, regular sound of footfalls on the cobbles.
The city sleeps. It dreams.
We define ourselves through time. Our lives are based upon it. We accept it as a universal and inscrutable constant of the universe. Neither malificent nor beneicent...but merely there. Why, then, can time speed up during periods of intense joy, and slow near to a full stop during times of sadness, boredom, or discomfort? We make it seem that way, of course, comes the reply. But wait. Time, as we know it, is merely a product of our need to define change. The tree and the rock do not need time. Neither-at least, probably not-does the badger or the dog. We are the ones who need time. We created it.
Why then, does time seem so often to work against us?
This provokes unpleasent questions about human nature, free will, and what sort of deity or deities might lie in the strata of consciousness above ours. Think about it.
Aldous Huxley, one of the most free-thinking men of the late nineteenth century, was inspired to write a pamphlet concerning some of the suspicions he had about time. It was entitled:
What is the Fourth Dimension?
Huxley proposed that time was a human illusion, and that all events were inextricably linked. That these events occured in such a way, forming such lines of fate and coincidence that they were destined to meet somehow, in some way. a convergence.
Something strange happens. a century later, a similar event takes place. Then again fifty years later. Then twenty-five. Then twelve-and-a-half.
"An invisible curve, rising through the centuries," wrote Alan Moore. and he was right.
In 1738, a man, dubbed The Monster, was caught atttacking women in London. i'll leave you to guess what area it happened in. In 1888, there was the Whitechapel Murders. In 1938, there was the Halifax Slasher. In case you are curious, it was later discovered that all of the victims of the Halifax Slasher had actually slashed themselves in a fit of mania. think about that one for awhile. In 1963, Ian brady and Myra hindley carried out the Moors murders, which instigated almost the exact same kind of panic as the Whitechapel killings of so long ago. Then, twelve-and-a-half years later, Peter Sutcliffe-who became known as the Yorkshire Ripper for his hammer and knife attacks upon prostitutes-claimed to hear a supernatural voice address him by name and instruct him to kill prostitutes. This happened while he was working as a gravedigger.
And so on. believe me, dear reader, when I tell you that IF you choose to go looking into these killings-and the others described above-you will come away with a distinct feeling that something odd is going on. There are names, streets, things, and ideas that seem to wierdly match each other as they spiral down through the years...as if they were echoes of something...some primal idea...
As children, we learn the word very early on, and it almost always scares us. Then we grow up, and we pretend not to be bothered anymore. But we are. We just hide it well.
A voice, whispering in your ear between one moment and the next. a face, half-seen in the midst of a crowded room...and then...gone. a rustle of spectral wings, a breeze, and something sails out into the hot night...and you forget about it. Except...
When you awake, shivering and alone, it is there. The crowded room, the brightly-lit party...it takes on the aspect of a T.S. Eliot Poem, full of strange and troubling undercurrents.
"In the rooms, the women come and go..."
A voice in an empty parlour.
From somewhere across the city, a raven calls. The old, dark dread begins to creep back into our minds. This is nothing we can pinpoint. Nothing we can prove. It is just below the surface, like the echo of footsteps which seem to match our own. We stop...and the echo is gone. and we tell ourselves that it was never there to begin with.
Then comes a thick, syrupy chuckle, full of blood.
The city sleeps. It dreams.
Sometimes it gives birth to nightmares.
The candle is burning low, dear readers, and my time with you is almost done. The shadows have grown long, and the moon has slipped behind the clouds. The wind rustles the dead leaves, and sends them spiraling over the cobblestones. The candle goes out.
Out there...in the watches of the night...something terrible is happening.
You can hear it.
Tom awoke that morning with the typical sober melancholy.
He got out of bed, dusted the residue of last nights dreaming from his conscious mind, and wondered what he was still doing in Muncie. Perhaps he was simply such an ingrained masochist that staying here, even though it represented the least comfortable choice (certainly, as far as his eating habits were concerned, at least) that he felt that he had no other alternative. at least, here, in this little boarding room, he had the freedom and sense of space he would not have been afforded if he had simply gone home, after college, to live with his mother and draw up plans.
However, as she had quickly pointed out, he was going to need a source of income, a way to support a variety of nasty habits, and a shoulder to lean on. Well, he had one out of three at least, but the last job that he had had got away from him, in a manner of speaking. he had been layed-off, then rather unceremoniously canned more than a week later, after having been given the opportunity to fill in hours at a different location of the same store.
It had all been perplexing, and a little beyond him.
He hauled himself out of bed, and looked in the mirror.
His eyes had the same haunted, bedraggled look as always, and he always felt that first tinge of regret in the morning to be waking up as the same person he had fell asleep as the night before. He began to pull on a shirt, and scratch himself.
He was living in the upstairs of a great old house that dated from the 1880's. Interesting time period, he had thought, and it should do nicely for a place to write the new book I have in mind.
Ah yes, you see, Tom held notions of literary greatness within his still-beating heart; beating, despite the kicking it had taken over the past two years: weight gain, divorce, depression, lack of motivation, alcoholism, and gradual possesion by strange forces.
That last part might need some explaining, we take it. Unfortunately, who has the time? suffice it to say, that by this point, Tom had really started to let his consciousness hang out all over the etheric plain. His good friend and occasional co-author John Pickman often told him he didn't think it was healthy. Tom replied it was perfectly healthy as long as it remained interesting, which, he felt, should be the rule of thumb with most situations.
He made his way to the bathroom, wich was down a short hall around the corner. There were two other rooms upstairs, one of them occupied by Tom's occasional drinking buddy Chris, and the other by a jamaican grad student that rarely spoke. Neither had been there for sometime, and the only other person he could count on being in the house with him this morning was the landlady, Roma, who unfortunately lived downstairs.
We emphasize the word unfortunately.
He took his time on the toilet, still chasing fairies with half of his steadily waking brain. Early in the morning, it was hard to convince him that he was actually alive, and not just experiencing some long-range telepathic communication from some astral visitor who was bent on convincing, for unfathomable reasons, that he was actually Tom Baker, and not a fabulously wealthy international playboy. Damn those astral beings.
He went downstairs then to smoke the first ciggarette of the day. Tom, by age of twenty-six, had been smoking half of his life and never, really, intended to quit. It was simply not in the game plan. Breathing was a secondary consideration.
Outside, Riverside Avenue looked like it was yawning in the rather chilly spring dawn. The sky looked overcast, which always delighted Tom, him having the troglodytes aversion to sunshine, and a predilection for damp weather that put him in the same leauge with several species of burrowing insect. There was nothing that consternated him more than a ray of bright light and temperatures higher than the mid sixties.
He quickly slipped back into the gloom, careful to close the front door quietly, lest he rouse Roma from her lair.
Then, more time on the john, trying desperately to void his bowels of any excess merde that had not seen fit to exit with dignity the first time. After much straining and grunting, he simply gave up, willing to forego the effort for now, regroup, and hit the enemy again later when it was lulled into a false sense of security.
He didn't bother to wipe his posteriors, counting on a good hot shower to do it for him. he busily washed himself, making sure to moan inwardly at the pendulous gut and other less-than-savory features of his own body. Oh, why!
He then stood naked and wet in fronto of the bathroom mirror, ran his toothbrush over his aching teeth, and squeezed a small mountain of shaving cream into the palm of his hand. he stared at it a moment, and then said, "this means...something". He then laughed, inwardly, and proceeded to rid himself of the five 'oclock shadow that seemed to haunt his face in the best of times.
He went back out into the hall, careful not to glance at the staircase as he walked past the landing (my, he was developing a bloody phobia, or something), and went into his room to dress.
His clothing was a patchwork collection of department store and second hand, but he picked out the best things he could find and stared at himself in the mirror from a variety of different angles to make sure that he felt comfortable presenting himself to the world like this. He made sure to use deoderant, and then pulled on his boots and was ready. then he stopped to consider: just what the hell had he gotten ready for?
It was now Tuesday, and his rent was due in less than two weeks. He wasn't going to be able to find a job in that short amount of tine, and even if he did, he knew it would be over two weeks before he got his first check. He didn't want to move back to his mother's...but he didn't want to stay in Muncie, either. He got up and ventured out into the morning.
He walked downtown. It was just over the bridge, a mere hop, skip, and jump. Downtown was dusty, and felt sleazy, for some unfathomable reason. It wasn't a glamorous sleazy, either, not a Las Vegas sleazy, but the same sort of sleazy you might associate with a very dirty, very old restaurant, that still tried to pretend it was anything more than a greasy spoon. Downtown was sleazy the way topless bars and bug infested hotelrooms were sleazy.
It was rundown, and dirty, having at it's center the Mits Bus terminal and down along main, past the court house and jail, row after row of bail bonds offices and hole in the wall law firms. If you walked down another block you passed what amounted to the cultural center of downtown. The Mezza Luna restaurant was rather more upscale in price than what it's actual fare required, but as it was located in perhaps what must have been the oldest building downtown, a great gorgeous Victorian that seemed as monolithic in size as it was in age, the effect was one of a rather quaint, antique elegance.
He made his way past the Mezzo Luno, and walked down the length of the building, looking into dusty panes that had once housed businesses and and shops. He would have favored running into the Mezza Luna and stealing a sandwich from someone, but he surmised that perhaps outright robbery was not the wisest alternative considering the close proximity of the jailhouse.
One more block, and right across the street you had the Heorot, a great dim bar that qualified as Muncie's most popular. Inside, all was dank, the decor was Mideaval mead hall, and the patronage seemed to be anywhere for college professors and grad students to blue collar townies. It always smelled strongly of tobacco, spilt beer, and slightly burnt pizza cheese.
He had spent many nights there, drunk, looking for the affection of young women of, how shall we say, loose virtue. It had never been forthcoming. And who really cared?
There was one young woman, who happened to live right down town, that he was interested in. They had seen eachother, furtively, for over a year, but it was a difficult courtship.
Difficult because, whatever it was that attracted them seemed to be quite the same thing that often pulled them apart. Their personalities were almost diametrically opposite: she smiled and he sulked. She loved, and he mostly found fault with the people that seemed only too eager to find fault with him. They both rather felt
that they were doomed. He, almost certainly, knew it inside of himself as a fact.
She lived in a battered white building across the street from the Juvenile Detention Center, where she worked with disadvantaged children. It was part and parcel of her charachter that she should have graduated college with an English degree to end up in social work. she was always trying to be a blessing to society. It almost made him queasy.
But, he did love her, although they were in one of their lulls where there had been no real contact between them for over a week. He couldn't help back tracking abit, and walking past her building.
He knew she would be inside getting ready for work: coming her hair, brushing her teeth, searching through her closet for something decemt to wear. She was very particular in that department, unlike himself, who was content to make do with whatever he could find that was reasonably comfortable.
He was tempted to walk down by her place and then thought better of it; it would be too much of a temptation to stop and knock, and she would be thoroughly irrirtated by the fact that he was interrupting her before her shift began.
Instead, he walked further to the end of the block and crossed the street, over to the Village Coffee restaurant, which stood in the same corner store that had formely been Dame Leo's Blues.
What to do with the day? He knew that he should trek back home, freshen up abit, and poceed to try and find some sort of work to sustain him until he could really dig in and find a career path. His college degree had not been themeal ticket he thought that it would be, and, at any rate, he knew that he would eventually be returning to classes to try and earn a master.
He turned and looked back in the direction of the Heorot. Part of a building that used to house the local fetish shop had been torn down for rennovation. he remembered the place well. several of his homeless friends had sought shelter there, the Mistress being apt to take in strays when she could. It was a strange world, wasn't it?
Hours later, after having beat the pavements hunting up applications, he sat at one of the round picnic tables at his favorite coffee house in the Ball State University village, and smoked a dozen ciggarettes. It was an overcast day, the sun having slipped behind cloud covering and the barometer dropping with promise of a light sprinkle. Inside, he could see Professor Hector talking to the pretty sorority sister that worked behind the counter. He knew then, just as certainly as he knew that tomorow would be as exhausting as today had been, that Hector would approach the table, would ask him very politely if he could "pleez sit down here, meester Baker, " and that he and the Professor (who taught upper-level English courses) would proceed to have a long and rambling conversation, in which, at several points, Tom would get lost. It had transpired countless times.
"Well, Senor Baker, I must say you are looking very good today. Let me tell you that the moon is in Pisces, which is very good for Cancer, no? But not so good for Scorpio or Gemini. But, I tell, you must not fear, because soon, it will be in Saggitarius, which means you must be expecting a creative surge any day now."
Tom laughed. It was just like the professor to begin a conversation with an astrology forecast.
"Professor, I could certainly use one. How have you been lately?" Tom leaned back abit in his chair and exhaled a curl of ciggarette smoke.
The Professor smiled. Tom had to admit, with his white goatee and natty dress, he looked faintly like Colonel Sanders. But he was the very picture of dignity, and was quite amusing strolling around, in the sunshine, with a large straw hat and a hand rolled ciggarette popped into the corner of his mouth.
"Oh, Mr. Baker, I have been very good. I am reading a wonderful novel by a very talented writer from South Africa. Here, I show you..."
And he proceeded to open his briefcase and retrieve some dusty book that Tom had absolutely no interest in. But it didn't really matter, because to listen to the Professor's strange narratives were pleasureable enough, in and of themselves.
"You know, Mr. Baker, it reminds me when I lived in Boulder, Col-o-raaad-o, back in, was it '67, '68? And, do you know what, I had the pleasure of meeting none other than Joan Lamont, who was celebrated beat poet and good friend to the divine Allen Geensburg. Ah, she had such a hang-up on Allen. Then, you know, she married a wealthy man, a ploitico, in Denver. She became a society lady, but she still wanted to, as they say, hang out with the swinging crowd, baby!"
Tom listened intently, knowing that the punch line was just around the corner.
"Well, he said, I think it was in '68 that they had a nude poetry reading at the University of Boulder, and she attended. All night, she is trying to get Allens attention, but by this time somebody had told him she was married to so-and-so who was a Republican who supported Nixon. And she walked up to him, and do you know what he told her?"
Tom shook his head, but he had a fairly good idea.
"Kill a pig for Jesus!"
He broke out into raspy laughter, and Tom couldn't help but smile inside. The Professor pulled a half pouch of Velvet tobacco from his coat pocket and began to roll a ciggarette with one gnarled old hand.
The conversation drifted into a mesmerizing ramble. The Professor was good at beggining a story, and then breaking it off in the middle, to lead to some other topic, some other recollection from years gone back. Although his Honduran diction and acent were often hard to keep up with, Tom would never miss an opportunity to talk with the Professor, who he knew, had seen more of the world than three people his age.
"You know, I have known many up and coming young writers, before they made it...I have known them. And I think, if you keep going, you will eventually achieve success, but maybe only later in life. You are Cancer, but also very much with a kind of Pisces way about you." he stopped to light the butt of his ciggarette, which had gone out.
"So, you are very peculiar."
"Yes," Tom had said. "But it's difficult for me to stay focused for very long."
"I can see that," the Professor
agreed. "It is part of your Cancer personality."
"I don't know if that's it exactly...I mean, I feel the urge to write, it's just the actual act of completeing anything that gives me problems. I have a big problem with motivation."
"Yes, you are very much a Cancer in that you feel the whole weight of the world is upon your shoulders. Like God is out to get you, maybe. But...you are getting better. I don't hear you say the things that you use to."
Tom was suddenly curious.
"Oh, you know, 'you goddamn mutherfuckers roahr roarh roahr!' And the Professor began to growl and scowl in a way that Tom thought was dreadfully funny.
After a few moments of silence he put his hands on his hips, and proclaimed, "Well, I must be off. I have papers to grade, and it seems like almost I never am able to get them done on time. But my students, they like Professor Hector."
" I'm sure they do, Professor. I have to adnmit, out of everone I have met since I lived in Muncie, you have to be one of the most interesting."
Tom stood, and thrust out his hand.
" A pleasure, as always."
"Yes, and remember you must be careful around the twenty-second or twenty-third, but after that...should be okay. The moon, it will be in Leo"
Tom sometimes had his doubts about the Professors astrological predictions.
He returned home after nightfall, to a house that was quiet and dark. He occupied a slightly buggy room on the second floor, in a house that had been built in 1880. Well, that was just as well; perfect really, a damn good place to write the novel he was working on.
The house was situated on fraternity row, down the street from campus, and was none too quiet on the weekends. But strangely, it seemed as if when he was upstairs he was actually cut off, in some inexplicable way, from the rest of the world. It still retained that strange feeling of the past, and it was often he felt as if he was some kind of interloper, or squatter, and that the house might spit him out the door and into the streets like someone who had accidentally put a bug into their mouth with a spoonfull of soup. In the dark, the stairwell seemed cavernous; alien.
As soon as he entered he turned on the stereo. It was the melancholy music of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. He sometimes told people it was the only music that still held any relevance for him.
As Nick crooned mournfully about a weeping song, he sat down at the keyboard and started his computer. He had not touched his novel in a little over two months, when the creeping self-doubt had begun to torment him again. He pondered if he was even qualified to write it, considering the subject matter. But it had been his friend Pickman that had told him to "finish it. It'll be whatever it is." and so he had made it grow, and it had taken possesion of him again. The idea was mostly formed. Now all he needed were words.
Part the First: Beneath the Hood
For although nepenthe had calmed me, I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men. This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within the great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.
---H.P. Lovecraft ,
Joseph Merrick was dreaming.
He was walking through, and away from, Bedstead Square at night. It was raining lightly, and the London fog crept in on children's feet to wind itself around his poor misshapen legs like a snake. The clatter of a passing carriage could be heard in the distance, on the rough cobbled stones of Whitechapel. Those stones still reverberated the wail of infants that had died of cholers, and starvation. There was no telling when this particular nightmare would end.
"Why should it? Why should it ever end? One corner leading to a path where even old freaks could find something more hideous than themselves to gaze upon."
He was still thinking. Good. he knew this to be a nightmare. He knew that, beneath the gross layers of flesh and the cold stares of the normal men and women who came to look at this abomination of God there must still be in existence some place in all the great unfathomable mystery of creation where even more hideous nightmares dwelt. It was unthinkable that there were none in hell more monstrous-looking than himself.
The faces that marched past his squinted eye-hole bore the common look of revulsion that he had grown use to after so many long years of suffering. Diseased, hate-filled, abominable faces that twitched with disgust; blighted, verminous, nasty. dirty faces of people who picked out whatever meagre living they could for a doss house bed or a crust of bread.Yet still, there was two pence for liquor, and some left over to go and stare at the freak.
Walking; still walking, although he could already feel the first stirrings of fear and apprehension inside himself.. He could hear Ben chime in the chilly air, and he knew he must be in Whitechapel Road, because there was the green grocers shop where, once, he had been the sole attraction. It had been the same place where a wax works had stood, and the "Wicked Quarter Mile" was quick to capitalize on the tragedy of slaughtered whores; one of the exhibits had been a replication of the Ripper murders that had so terrorized London two short years past.
"I have seen the Ripper! I know exactly what he looks like ! If only I could but restore the memory...It had been too much, a shock to the nerves that I wasn't prepared to deal with. And who would have believed it possible?"
Somehow, he found himself down a stinking, filthy alley, where a backdoor led into a more squalid home than even he had ever laid eyes upon. Inside, a mother lay in the throes of childbirth, tortured by the agony of her labor pains. The Midwife, who knelt beside the straw matress and held the woman's hand, could give but scant comfort; the birthing mother seemed to be almost delirious.
The room was small, stifling; there seemed to be something black hanging in the very air. He could not see the corner of the room, but he could tell that a man was hiding; waiting. This presence, seeming to have the soul of a thirsty animal, gave off great notions of terror that Joseph could nearly see.
He had never seen a woman's sexual parts. The parts that really interested him, compelled him. Oh, he would like to touch them, feel them...know the soft caress and the sigh of a woman. But all he had ever caused women was severe shock...
He reached out his delicate, little girl hand; this was the hand that God had fashioned in His image.
"Oh, I want to touch her...I want to feel the soft little skull of that normal baby thrust out from between her hairy womaness...I want to feel a normal babies head. I want...I want..."
Suddenly, the man hiding in the corner seemed to creep closer to the bed. Now, his long, filthy coat could be seen, sweeping the rotted floor boards. His hands were covered in white, kid gloves. They seem to hunger to hold a baby, too.
"No, no...You must get away from here. Oh, God in heaven, murder murder murder..."
Suddenly, the filthy grey bedsheet was slick, wet. It seemed almost as if a fountain had been turned on beneath the infested matress. The Whitechapel whore gave one last great gasp and fell backwards. this was the end.
The midwife let her tiny, birdlike hand fall. Joseph had not seen her face, but now, slowly, she rose up from where she had knelt, close to the bed. Her clothing was tattered; her apron and hands were stained with blood and foulness. Merrick felt a pang of terror stab his dreaming heart.
"I can see her face. No! Don't look at me! No! I beg of you, have mercy on me in the name of Jesus Christ!"
Beneath her jolly bonnet was a white skull, picked as clean as a stone on a desert beach. He began to hear the wailing of steam, and realised it was his own piping scream.
From the brow there projected a huge bony mass like a loaf, while from the back
of the head hung a bag of spongy, fungous-looking skin, the surface of which was
comparable to brown cauliflower[...]the osseous growth on the forehead almost
occluded one eye. The circumference of the head was no less than that of a man's
The Elephant Man and Other Reminiscences
He awoke, sitting up, as always.
The ward maid would be in, in a moment, to give him his breakfast. To any normal man, the thin, watery porridge and the always mediocre coffee would have been highly dissatisfying. However, to Joseph Merrick, who had managed to escape across the continent without having his hideous features cause a sensation, it seemed to be a meal fit for royalty.
He looked, with his steadily worsening vision, about the small set of rooms he had been granted at Royal London Hospital. There, upon his mantle, was a picture of Her Royal Higness, Alexandra, Princess of Wales. He loved that photo, cherishing it almost as much as his own memento of his beloved mother, who had died when he was only twelve.
He moved with the labored pain and the intense effort of someone who did not feel it a blessing to see the begginings of a new day. Indeed, hithertoo, his life had been only the most dismal curse: unable to fend for himself, and turned out by a cruel stepmother, his only recourse had been the workhouse. And then, when he became even too sickened in the very depths of his soul for that, all that was left was to exhibit this hideous shell that God had seen fit to lend to him as a vessel for a pilgrim soul.
He ate slowly, relishing every nourishing drop of the bland stuff. Anything to stave off the hunger that he had always known, until now. He would never complain of the treatment he had received at the hands of his protectors: since Dr. Treves had rescued him from an almost certain death in the foul slums of Whitechapel, he had done nothing but flourish. Happy, praise God, for the first time in his wretched life.
He closed his bleary eyes, and concentrated. His mind was a child's mind, in some respect, but ample in ways he could never explain to anyone else. He had an ability to see things, at times, without being physically present while they were occuring. These visions haunted him upon awakening, and the only way to dispel them was to simply close his eyes, and let them play out.
Now he saw Freddy, Dr. Treves, bent over a great table with a leather covering. It was in a room with a peaked ceiling, surrounded by an audience of bland-faced young men with high collars. Joseph knew this was an anatomical lecture, delivered to a group of medical students.
"Now, the proper study of the human body, gentleman, can only be fully acciomplished by dissection and careful examination. The superstitions of our ancestors can no longer have any bearing upon our more serious calling as men of science...as healers, we are asked to become expert in our knowledge of disease, of anatomy, of the various ways in which we can aid the suffering of those who have fallen prey to any number of afflictions and accidents. Observe---"
Freddy stepped to the side of the table, pulling back a long blue sheet. On the table, stretched out in what appeared to be a comfortable repose, was the body of a man who seemed to be in his mid-forties. His face had the drawn, anguished look of one who had met death in some foul hole of suffering, probably with a cheap bottle of gin clasped beneath his trembling fingers.
"This gentleman succumbed to Bright's Disease, no doubt brought on by his bondage to strong drink. He is known to have frequented houses of prostitution. Here is the final outcome of his debased life. May God have mercy on his soul..."
And Freddy took his scalpel, and began to cut a long, clean cut in the center of the man's chest. As Freddy began to "dissect" (a word Joseph would, certainly, have stumbled over, as he did a great many words these days), his audience of young students began to turn pale; handkerchiefs were pulled from pockets and placed over mouths as grown men began to weaken from the sight.
Freddy simply stood there a moment, befuddled, listening to various hoarse coughs and the sound of a general, sweeping nausea.
Talking with Freddy
" I don't think you are using your time wisely, Joseph. Perhaps if you took up a more sensible daily routine, you would feel more mentally sound."
Freddy strode across the small rooms, looking at the model that had come to occupy most of Joseph's time. Joseph simply continued to stare out the window, looking into the relative emptiness.
These rooms had been afforded him. chiefly, because they were so remote: overlooking the back area of the hospital, a place where the iron bedsteads were painted, it was unlikely hysterical persons would get a glimpse of the steadliy growing head or the heavily distorted features that formed such a cage for him. Here was his fantasy world: he was in command of two bare, basement rooms, wherein, he was not only a typical, common man, but even a gentleman. Here were the pictures sent to him by various women. Here were his model houses, his books, and the various toys generous, well-meaning (and, to be completely truthful, wealthy) individuals had sent him. He had a good, soft bed, heaped high with comfortable pillows, and time aplenty to enjoy the relative luxury of his new position. And he had Freddy, (whom he was always careful to address as Dr. Treves) and that was enough for him.
Besides, with only a Bible and Prayer Book, he had made it twenty four agonizing years. Now, he had finally come to a kind of blissful comfort.
Yet still, it was as if there was some thorn stuck into his flesh.Despite his good fortune, his full belly, his relative cleanliness, and above all, his safety, there were days when the hints of grey in a rainy dawn could wash from him all of his Christian fortitude. He would sit, on such occasions, humming some half-forgotten hymn deep inside his gross chest. He would thump his heavy, misshapen arm against his matress, and lose his mind.
"I don't know Dr. Treves. Perhaps I should begin to study my Bible lessons again. I don't think that I remember their essential moral truths in quite the way that I should. Tell me: have you ever read the book of Job?"
Treves looked somewhat disdainful.
"Yes Jospeh, in fact, I have read the entire Bible. And, you must have guessed by now, I'm sure, exactly how I feel about it. God is a human construction, my good man, not a verifiable fact: he was created in human minds, so that they might have some way to account for those mysteries that were essentially unfathomable to primitive man. Read Greek, Roman, Egyptian mythology: tales replete with episodes of supernatural intervention. Yet, Joseph, they are still only tales."
Joseph blubbered for a minute; a perplexed sound that he seemed, during times of intense consternation, unable to prevent from issuing.
"Dr. Treves, I am not one of your students," he said slowly. "And this is no lecture. I simply wanted to understand how you felt about the suffering that afflicted Job...do you feel that some men are just born to suffer?"
"I feel that if you continue in this fashion, Joseph Merrick, you will continue to be afflicted by the same intense melancholy that troubles you now. Self-pity is a luxury you cannot afford, sir."
Merrick considered a moment, and then looked back out the dusty pain of glass, at the thin strip of grey that revealed itself as the coming of a rain-choked dawn.
"Dr. Treves, do you remember what we talked about a few days ago? About the book you didn't want me to read."
Frederick Treves strode about Jospeh's little hospital room, occasionally picking up a stray object or picture, and examining it absentmindedly.
" Oh. Oh, yes. Frankenstein, by the wife of the poet Shelley. A scandalous piece, my boy. Why sully your mind with such rubbish?"
"You didn't take it away from me though. I suppose you could have, Dr. Treves."
"I certainly shall, Joseph, if this is the effect it has on your mental state. But tell me: didn't you give me your solemn oath, that you would discard that particular loathesome piece of nonsense? As a gentleman?"
" Yes..well, of couse I will abide by whatever your superior judgement dictates, Dr. Treves. I am simply so happy to be here, with all the kindness that has been shown me." Merrick fell back into his well-seasoned cringing.
"Still," began Treves slowly. " I suppose the novel itself is quite entertaining after it's own ghastly fashion: murderous ghouls, mad doctors playing God, and such outlandishness. It should certainly be a far cry from the usual romances you peer into, old boy."
" To be perfectly honest, Doctor, I found the beggining to be rather tiresome...a letter from some explorer to a women named Mrs. Saville. But after reading abit more, I began to realize that I couldn't stop myself. It was as if the story took ahold of my mind---"
"Exactly the danger of such sordid stories. Joseph, if we are ever to evolve as individuals, it will be because we have kept our minds on the most intellectually eddifying stimulus, and kept it well away from such nonsense as Frankenstein. I can tell you, as a medical man, that the very idea of creating a monstrous individual from scraps of decaying human bodies is not only impossible---it is damned absurd."
"And the Creature...what must it have been like to be him?" Merrick wondered aloud, although Frederick Treves could tell that he was simply asking himself a rhetorical question. Of course, Joseph knew exactly what it would be like to be Frankenstein's creation. That more than anything else, had disturbed Treves upon his learning that Joseph was reading the novel.
"Who sent him the bloody thing? We are simply going to have to keep a closer inspection of the kinds of packages and gifts he receives. This was some bloody scoundrel's idea of a bad joke."
"Well, Joseph, I must be off. I have other patients to attend to. However, I do so much enjoy the little discussions we have. I am glad we here at London Hospital have been able to be of service to you."
Joseph revolved abit on his bed, and hobbled to his feet. He was still in his dressing gown, and knew that he would shortly be needing his daily bath. Nurse Hildy would be in to fill the tub, and help him scrub his great, gross bulk free of the malignant stench that seemed to cling to him. He immensely liked this ritual, for reasons that he probably could never even admit to himself. And, also, it meant that he would have more company; anything to stave off the nagging, continual loneliness that had plauged him all his days.
"Yes, well, thank you very much Dr. Treves. You are, as always, a complete blessing to those that have been afflicted in their flesh."
"Don't put it that way, Joseph. I am simply a medical man...I have taken an oathe, an oathe to aid the sick. I am only sorry, you know, in your particular case..."
"That you cannot cure me?"
Frederick Treves felt his jaws clamp tightly for a moment, then simply let Joseph's question go unanswered.
"Good day, Mr. Merrick. I'll be back around within the next few days to see how you're feeling. If you need me, for any reason, do not hesitate to leave a message with the Nursing Staff. Until then, as your doctor, I would advise you to leave such rubbish as Frankenstein alone. It is a very poor novel, and the product of a morally, and even artistically dubious school of literary endeavor. It is such dross that is steadily weakening the moral fiber of society...oh, you can see it in the streets on a daily basis. Believe me, you can certainly se it in the Receiving Ward."
" I shall certainly heed whatever advice you give me Dr. Treves."
"Well, Joseph, you don't want to tax yourself mentally...you've had a tremendous strain. Well, must be off. Good day, sir."
"Good day, Dr. Treves."
"And, one thing Joseph..."
"Please, you don't always have to refer to me as 'Dr.Treves'. We are friends, you and I. Just call me Frederick. Er, call me Freddy...all of the fellows at the club call me Freddy."
Frederick Treves hurried himself through the door, and Joseph Merrick felt the small bite of loneliness steal over him again. He went to his wardrobe, and pulled open the door with his delicate, perfect hand.
He had hidden it under a small bundle of bedclothes that needed laundering. It somehow deserved to be there, under the stench from his sweaty sheets. The forbidden book. The one Treves hadn't wanted him to have. Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley. Joseph trembled a little as he held it; it felt as if it was imbued with a strange, menacing power that was both exciting and distressing at the same time. He had never encountered anything quite like it.
He sat down, and opened to the page he had marked, having to go back abit in the story.
"I did confess; but I confessed a lie. I confessed, that I might obtain absolution; but now that falsehood lies heavier at my heart than all my other sins. The God of heaven forgive me! Ever since I was condemned, my confessor has besieged me; he threatened and menaced; until I almost began to think that I was the monster that he said I was..."
Merrick read slowly, relishing the words. Seeing the prostrate woman, Justine Moritz, bent low on her anguished knees, set his mind ablaze. She hadn't, really, been responsible for the death of little William...It had been the hideous thing that Frankenstein had crafted from his two hands, using the bodies of dead men. Merrick shuddered.
Where was Nurse Hildy? It seemed that the morning was slipping quickly by; the clock on the mantle already read half past nine. He usually had his bath much earlier. He continued onward, losing himself in the cramped print, not even realising how physically tired he still was. Soon, he was asleep again.
Now he was standing in a dim cathedral. Stained glass windows revealed the Twelve Stations of the Cross. Merrick could see the Lord and Savior being broken by the scourge of an ancient Roman, who did not know that every bloodcurdling lash brought the human race one step closer to salvation. This place, he knew, was a paradise of suffering; a heaven of which he had never before been told; an Elysium for the distorted where all creatures of monumental bodily ugliness could find eternal peace
Before him, the graphic image of a beautiful human form unfurled as a sacred scroll. The artist, he knew, was Leonardo Da Vinci. It seemed to slowly dissolve into smoke, and a vast panorama of flesh swept past his vision: deformed arms and legs, broken joints, limp fingers, cadaverous and hollow cheeks, kicking legs, burst organs of purplish hue, mad faces contorted in agony; oceans of flesh, rivers of crippled carcasses.
And, in the center of it all, one face gaping like a drowning victim in the tides of a torrential ocean. He could not see this face, but it seemed to be screaming for help.
In the Tub Room
He awoke with a start. Cursing, softly, for the nightmares were, more and more, robbing him of his once comforting sleep. He tried to remove his deformed bulk from bed. Reaching for his cane, he hobbled half-asleep to his special-chair, which had been designed to accomadate a body that did not adapt easily to many typical things. He stared off into the gloom. 10:30, and where was his nurse? He did not like this feeling of being left abandoned, even for only a few moments. It put him in mind of his horrible journey across the continent. Alone, he was always vulnerable, always frightened.
Finally he began to hear steps in the corridor outside. Excellent. Then they would go to the tub room and he could sit in a bathful of delicious warm water, and be scrubbed. It was his own piece of heaven's pie, and his chiefest pleasure.
The Tub Room had once facilitated the treatment of mentally deranged persons, or so Merrick had been told. Now, it's bizarre apparatus and strange whirlpool bath stood dormant; as much of a forgotten space of the Royal London as his own set of rooms had been before he was given them to occupy. What was more, it was ideally suited to his need to not be seen by any other patient, as it was accessible by a back hallway used mainly as an entrance for hospital staff.
It was invariably Hildy Watkins who always bathed him; he could not figure out why it was she kept volunteering to do so, but Merrick sensed that Watkins was somehow different than the other Nurses that saw to his needs. And perhaps because even one so secluded as Merrick could occasionally pick up bits and pieces of gossip, he realized she was shunned by the other staff members, and considered "abit of a loon".
Nurse Hildy bent low over him. Her face registered no disgust, no aversion; not even the slightest flicker of any emotion that was discernible at all. He was simpley being cared for like any other patient. Briskly, but not roughly, she brought the sopping sponge over his masses of pendulous skin-flaps, and knobby, bony growths. Her face was plain, nearly masculine; her neck was as stiff and high as her collar. She rarely smiled, and even more rarely spoke. Yet, to Merrick, this daily ritual had become something as shamefully invigorating as his most secret, impure thoughts.
"'So, have you been sleeping well, Mr. Merrick?"
He spluttered some reply that she obviously could not understand, but simply nodded an assent too. It seemed that of all the staff at Royal London, only Freddy had managed, through frequent exposure, to be able to understand him correctly. He sighed, inwardly, at the deep warmth of the water he was immersed in.
Nurse Hildy seemed very strange today; her expression seemed uncommonly flat, emotionless. Her huge, rough hands seemed to be reaching for areas of his body where a woman had never touched before. The sponge was sopping...
"Oh, my...I can't believe the wonder of this feeling. To be able to lie back and let her hands move over me...I will never get as close to a woman as I am now..."
Suddenly, he was no longer sitting in his bath, in the tub room., with a patient, tolerant nurse helping him cleanse the vile stink that always seemed to surround him. He was lost beneath the sweeping branches of some old chestnut tree, and he was no longer Merrick. He was somebody else.
He was a handsome young nobleman, riding a gallant steed across the green, rabbit-bitten pasture of some romantic fantasy. His brow was smooth, brown, quite normal and altogether handsome. His chest was a brawny mass of muscle instead of a hanging mass of flesh, and his hair trailed out behind him, gloriously thick and full. The sky was the deepest shade of blue, and autumn leaves blanketed the earth in spots with their yellow and brown.
He galloped over the heath, as majestic a vision of a man as had ever been conjured in the history of romantic novels. He carried a sword in a sheath at his hip, and of course, a pair of blunderbusses should he run into any scoundrels, or highwaymen.
But out here, in a vast expanse of beauty that seemed to roll on as far as the eye could see, he found only one solitary beautiful maiden, sitting beneath the sprawling brancehes of some an elm tree. She was reading poems to herself, almost certainly the love sonnetts of the immortal William Shakespeare, the greatest of all English playwrights and poets.
Ah, the supernal beuaty of that scene nearly drove him to intoxication. Oh! The absolute bliss of an all-consuming day dream was unequalled in his life. To escape, to really escape, being who he was. Why didn't God still perform miracles, he sometimes wondered, shamefully.
He approached the woman under the tree, his cloak blowing about him in the breeze, and, proclaimed her to be the most beautiful sight he had ever laid eyes upon.
She smiled, the warmest, most loving, most blissfully ignorant smile Merrick could possibly imagine within the confines of his heated skull. Oh, why must he be tortured so ever day?
As he lept from his black stallion, Merrick the romantic hero swept the lovely young woman into his arms, and planted a kiss upon her lips. Something that Merrick had never done.
"And what else? What else could I do? It's so sickeningly delicious I'm ashamed to even think it."
He was so enraptured, he began nearly to weep. He could see the falling leaves; the rosebushes in the wealth of their red bloom, and the tall gree grasses seemed to all gather around the two adoring young lovers and create a garland of petals, and stems, and natural beauty.
He fancied sweet music sweeping over the rolling field---not the dismal piping of a circus calliope (which he always hated) or the fiddling of some drunken peasents, but a true, and masterful music like one imagined only the very rich could pay to go and listen to.
Suddenly, the music was interrupted by the flat and somewhat disconcerting tones of Hildy Watkins.
"Merrick? Mr. Merrick...we're finished."
His breathing, if she had even taken notice, had become increasingly ragged. But his breathing had never been good, and she seemed, at any rate, to be ready to help him up, dry him, and escort him back to his suite. Pity.
He did so like his daily bath.
Freddy at Home
Frederick Treves sat at his dining room table, meditating upon the precise arrangement of objects that constituted the plates and cutlery.
It was always a matter of arrangement with Anne---satisfaction was not accomplished until everything was securely and neatly put into it's own respective category. Even people.
Merrick was "that poor kind Mr. Merrick---he is always so happy, in spite of things", and he himself was " my very bright and successful husband and doctor". She didn't know that Merrick often became so despondent that he could barely speak, or that he himself sometimes felt much less than successful, although for far different reasons than she might suspect. After having been married to her since '77, he had begun to see, more and more every year, just how incredibly barren of substance she was becoming. Since they had left Derbyshire, the situation had grown steadily worse. Now, he felt as if he wa living with the ghost of Anne.
Dinner had been savory---roast duck---and now he was simply sitting here, his hunger sated, but an even deeper hunger gnawing around the edges of his being.
His wife, God bless her, had had to tolerate quite abit from him: the long hours, the irritable moods, the foul lamguage. It was part and parcel to his calling. It was what the wife of any moderately successful physician should expect, and Frederick Treves was far better than "moderately' successful.
"No where in the world is there a machine that moves with the precision of my family. Now, my wife has gone to sit in the parlor, fanning herself with an old envelope and humming softly. Soon, my children shall join her, and lastly, I will be expected to emerge from the dark abyss of my study and join them. Then we will idle away a few hours until it is time for the children to be sent to bed. Conversation will center upon the most mundane, trivial aspects of a life that can hardly be called anything but stifling. "Freddy dear, we really must take a holiday in the country", and "How has that poor, suffering soul Mr. Merrick been?" Wimpole Street, and the Royal London, and rising at five in the morning, and cutting open corpses...Is this all that I ever wanted in life? This bloody cage..."
Treves looked out of the dining room window and down the long, dusty street at rattling hansomes and children playing. Suburbs. Affluence. It made little difference. Even an animal that was caged comfortably was still caged.
Merrick...Merrick would never, in his life, escape his cage. How did he manage, Treves wondered, to simply putter in a small set of rooms, kept largely to himself ? Alone, save for a few wary thrill-seekers eager to maintain their sense of chic by lavishing affection upon... Well, even Treves could not deny that Merrick was simply a freak; albeit, with a rudimentary intellect that set him above, in Treves mind, many people whose appearence was entirely normal.
Treves shivered inside. His life looked as still, as placid as a quiet country lake. Yet, he knew as surely as he knew the essential facts concerning Scrofula, that this was not correct, in the most essential way.
It had began to disturb him at night. Lying in bed, Anne curled away from him in her own tight cocoon of petty concerns and conventional guilts, he had seen it creep across a wall. Like a many-legged spider, it wrapped itself around the darkness, and it's own hideous, deathless black shade cut a streak of pure, agonized hate against the pitch shades of midnight in his bedroom.
Slowly, it inched closer, meandering toward him, and he had been as immobilized with fright as any child in the throes of utter nightmare.
"What is happening to me?"
Then, morning after morning-emptiness. Oblivion. No feeling. No love.