His Knives Are Few and Small
by Harry Lang
I heard his snowy voice blowing from the cold blue room.
“I told you! It was Glorn’s discovery. Glorn’s! Why the hell won’t you remember?”
The door was open and I went in. Old Mr. Glarchy, lean and grim, stood by a metal table, staring into shadows. His little knives gleamed. No one went near him except to get the nerve yank so they could turn human. His steely steady hands were the only way.
“Last chance,” he warned me, turning away from a shadowy corner. Menace and benevolence edged his thousand- year old voice. “You know you’re breaking the law?”
“Yezz zir.” Jars reflected blinks from the dimness along the crumbly wall. Mrs. Glorn gave me a soothing potion so the brain interface on my head wouldn’t blink red and burn my insides. Mr. Glarchy would take it off so it would never burn.
But I thought I might die. The Thousand Years’ Horror broke our brains so they can’t do anything; the interfaces make them work enough so we can stay alive but they hurt us. Especially when we think about certain things.
Dr. Glorn figured out that we don’t need them. Mr. Glarchy takes them off for people.
“Face down on the table.”
I stuck my face in the cushiony hole. I saw something move. Maybe a mouse. Maybe a red snake. Maybe...
“Ignore it.” Something stung the back of my neck. “Repeat after me. ’In just spring, when the world is mud luscious and puddle wonderful...’”
“Im jus sprink, whe...” The words stopped; I had no voice.
“In the old days they had something called anesthesia,” said Mr. Glarchy. “Quiet is good enough.”
“Gurntsch, get over here! Strap him down. Move those mirrors so he can watch.”
A thing like a kind of man shambled out of the shadowy corner. Did old Mr. Glarchy’s steely hands slip one bad day?
The thing was still on the floor. It squiggled and moaned, kind of like a little person. Seeing it changed my mind but it was too late!
“Subdue the frequencies along the autonomic channels. Careful! Back it off a little.”
Gurntsch fiddled with the interface and my heart stopped. I didn’t breathe. Then everything started again and I was freezing inside.
“Unclasp the shell.”
My head was wrenched back and forth till I thought my neck would break.
“It’sh shtuck, I tink.”
“Keep at it.” Gurntsch hit it with a mallet and it came off.
“Bone anchors next. You break the bolts, I’ll cut and scrape.”
I couldn’t scream, because of the injection. I couldn’t run because of the straps. I could only knot every muscle and squeeze tears onto the bloody floor as knives stabbed in silver and came out scarlet.
“Lift. Slowly this time.”
“Dat... washn’t my fault! He moved, I t-t-told you!”
“Just do it!”
Gurntsch pulled. My insides lit on fire.
When I was six I knocked over some boiling oil; I still had scars all over my leg. All my insides felt just like boiling oil.
“Three filaments, good and taut.” Cool Mr. Glarchy! Sparks filled my eyes but I couldn’t pass out.
“Ready! Get them all! You know what happens if y-y-yeeeww mish shome!”
“Yes, Gurntsch, I know.”
“You know what happens, old boy!”
A thing was pulled through me, like tree roots made of sandpaper and fish hooks. It wound through every bone, every muscle, every piece of my brain. In the mirror I saw Mr. Glarchy pulling with all his might, sweating and puffing as the thin, bloody strand came bit by bit out the back of my head and I heard tiny screams...
“Dey’re exp-p-poshed! Hurry!”
Mr. Glarchy did it again. This one had more fish hooks and louder screams.
“Don’t shtoppp! It’sh da m-m-most dangersome one!”
“I feel faint.”
Gurntsch held the interface with one hand and hit Mr. Glarchy across the face really hard.
“Kill the bashtards! Kill it!”
Mr. Glarchy attacked the last filament. This one fought back, coiling around his arm, screaming with rage instead of fear. As it came out cool relief rushed in.
“Close him up,” ordered Mr. Glarchy, chest heaving. “I’m all in.”
Gurntsch didn’t move. His eyes were fixed upon the wormy mess writhing on the floor.
“P-p-parashites!” he spat. He too breathed heavily; tears streamed from his eyes. “P-p-parashites!”
“Gurntsch, come on. We have a job to do.”
“Jops! Yes!” He grabbed a chair and pounded the squirmy things, smashing the chair to splinters, sending up showers of blood. Mr. Glarchy leaned his grim exhausted frame against a wall.
Suddenly the fit passed. Gurntsch stood up straight; his expression changed from that of a beast to one of towering intelligence. “Forgive the outburst,” he said smoothly through clenched teeth, as if in great pain. “Tell me again, brother. I was home from university on sabbatical...”
“Dr. Glorn determined that the interfaces weren’t necessary for survival.”
“Dr. Glorn determined that the interfaces weren’t necessary for survival,” repeated Gurntsch.
“The brain damage from the alien radiation barrages sixteen hundred years ago was either a myth or it had been eradicated through natural selection.”
“We had to remove an interface to t-t-test his hypothesis.”
“You volunteered,” said Mr. Glarchy quietly, suddenly looking strangely young. “We... I didn’t know that the invaders had left the parasites behind and the interfaces were necessary for their survival. Without them they die a slow death, releasing toxins into the bloodstream. I didn’t know what the filaments were; I cut them off at the interface instead of pulling them out and they slipped away inside... My own baby brother...”
Gurntsch had reverted to the wreck of a creature I had first beheld. “Bolunteered!” he shouted, banging a fist on the metal table. “Yesh, bolunteered! It’sh my turn today! Take out mine!” He was crying. “B-b-big bruder! Take out mine! Take out mine!”
Mr. Glarchy just stood tall, grim and defeated, helpless tears splashing on the blood-spattered floor. It was the millionth time he had cried.
Copyright © 2011 by Harry Lang