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The Nascent Scream

by Scathe meic Beorh

The unpainted clapboard Science building creaked and swayed every time Quinn climbed its warped wooden stairs into the tower where the Biology rooms were located. This was a long, long time ago, however. The building may not have ever swayed or creaked or groaned or done anything at all other than sit there, solid and sure, made of brick instead of wood, its stairs made of smooth marble instead of rough pine planks. It could have been Quinn himself swaying in a delicious vertigo caused by his first sips of the Elixir of Life, a drink he would later offer to the Great God Pan as they sat chatting near the bottom of the garden.

‘Biology 101’ was devoid of a live instructor, the semblance of such hunched over yellowed journals in an adjacent office from which poured a smoke so foul that Quinn doubted any of the nine levels of Hell could compete. Instead, he sat with sweaty vinyl earphones squeezing his ears like angry little fists. And what was the object of his devotion? A boxy video screen from which disembodied voices jib-jabbed at him about evolution and dissolution and final solutions... things that he, a writer in love with Shakespeare and Bradbury, could not have cared less about.

The dark and musty room, though, whispering in an unknown language about forgotten discoveries of absolute import, seemed to Quinn like a carnival ‘Museum Show.’ Its oak-paneled walls and red and black checkerboard floor spattered at the threshold with something odd and indelible would have found a better home in a castle scullery, Quinn thought, but he was excited that he had the chance to experience it.

Pine and glass showcases set around the walls and nearly scraping the cathedral ceiling drove his thoughts to heights of weirdness. The skeleton of a bluejay, according to the attached card (Cyanocitta cristata), squawked and preened and screeched, flying to a higher dead branch when Quinn came nearer.

Another card, handwritten in days of yore by the looks of it, read Corvus brachyrhynchos. The common American crow. The bird’s skeleton turned its head and stared at Quinn in the nonchalant way of all crows. Then it cawed a couple of times before going silent as death.

The human skeleton looked real enough, but this was 1981, and Science had advanced far enough by that time to allow the replication of bones. Quinn’s mind shot ahead a hundred years and he wondered, with a cold shudder, if maybe one day somebody with bone cancer could be offered artificial bone implants? What would the bones be made of? Metal? Ceramic? Wood? How would wood work? Would wood work? Would wood be wieldy? Would wieldy wood be wired, or way too wild to wire? He chuckled at his alliterations. A girl at her video screen looked up. Her earphones must have been on ‘silent.’ She was as bored as Quinn.

Another skeletal thing slinked along the floor of the case Quinn peered into. A prowling black cat? A lapping lapdog? A sneaky weasel? A crafty fox? The smokestack instructor had given the class no clues. And then Quinn saw it: the table filled with jars. His heart leapt up. Why had he never seen this table before? It was tall and gangling, and stood over by the dingy, dusty window that reminded him of a window in an attic, or maybe a cellar. He had never had the opportunity to go inside an attic or a cellar, but he had read about attics and cellars, and he loved them along with his beloved fireplace, a thing of infinite wonder and beauty that he also had never experienced to his satisfaction.

Uncanny things had always intrigued Quinn. He hadn’t read Rudolf Otto yet, and it would be many years later before he would, but he possessed a special sense, maybe given at his baptism, maybe brought to his natural nature through his crazed wild-eyed headhunting ancestors, maybe brought to both at different times, that forbidding things, regardless of what they might be, brought him closer to God. The dark side of God.

Not murders. Not rapes. Not screaming drunks beating their children and wives. Not those kinds of scary things, which are really photographs of Hell that we all carry around in our wallets like family portraits. Why? Family is family. Blood, even if splattered all over the room in a fit of cold-blooded rage, is still thicker than water. If we would understand this truth now and go to war not against each other but against the entities single-mindedly destroying us every single day, things would be changed by tomorrow morning.

Quinn saw the table, and noticed at that very moment that the girl — the one who had looked up when he laughed to himself — also saw the table and, like him, she saw it for the very first time. Hesitant, she rose from her chair. Barefoot, she wore a long gauze skirt printed in pastel flowers and dark, swirling vines. Quinn liked watching her walk across the room. But she wasn’t looking at him. She was looking at the thin-legged table with its seven, eight, nine jars of various sizes, all bathed in early morning sunlight that snuck through the grimy window.

One large jar held, in chartreuse water, the jawbone of some big animal, most of its teeth still intact. Another glass container, smaller, held a greenish liquid in which floated what appeared to be the finger of a simian. The attached card read ‘Opposable Thumb.’ Ahh! Not simian at all! Human.

Quinn stepped back in dread. He turned to the girl. She stood gazing straight ahead, her facial expression a fusion of carousel wonder, shock, and fear-of-the-dead horror. Smelling formaldehyde, Quinn turned his eyes to where she looked. Her object of focus was the prevalent jar on the table, filled with a pinkish fluid and a fetal-positioned...

“Is that a...?” she asked Quinn, her eyes now riveting to his.

“Yes,” Quinn replied. “And he’s... crying.”

“Oh God...” she said as her hand shot to her mouth and tears rolled down her dimpled cheeks.

Their eyes, now having met, opened a private room for them. They entered, almost pushed from behind. There, the girl searched like a madwoman Quinn’s heartbeats, his soul at twilight, his desires at midnight, his will to live.

Quinn stalked like a hunter her scars of childhood, her unspoken terrors, her cries of loss, her every breath. Together they stood outside of Time, inside of Time, next to Time, on top of Time, beneath Time. They stood in that holy, horrifying moment like utterly lost children, not sure what to do next, not sure where to run, but hearing wild dogs coming for them, dogs that would rip them apart if they didn’t run now.

Quinn thought he saw something submissive and unsure in a quickly fading glimmer of the girl’s eyes. He wondered if she saw the same in his. The moment was so fleeting, though, that he would never be certain of her notion.

With no warning, she drew away from him like some languid wraith. He followed her out into the shadowy hallway, but she was gone. He made no attempt to find her. There is a look in a woman’s eyes that reveals her entire ancestry in a single twinkling. Quinn was glad she had left his world. He never again saw the girl with whom he had shared, for only a moment, Eternity.

Quinn was done with the Biological Sciences. He happily received his ‘D’ grade from their three-packs-a-day ‘instructor.’ He never again neared that archaic wooden edifice housing skeletons chattering and racing around at two o’clock in the morning, decrepit cellar windows from which he knew moon-faced ghouls peered three minutes before sunrise, jars of thumbs and teeth and eyes floating in primordial slime... and screaming still-born children drowning in rose-colored baths.

Copyright © 2012 by Scathe meic Beorh

Proceed to Challenge 505...

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