A short story/flash fiction
High fencing, topped with barbed wire, surrounds the house. I sit in the car thinking about what I’m going to ask Tom. But this is such a peculiar story I think I’ll have to assess the situation as I go along.
The missing man’s name was Darren and he was a diver. He started behaving oddly after losing a foot in a diving accident five years ago. Recently his family reported him missing and that was when the rumours started… Tom was the only one he had allowed to see him in the last five years. The family will talk to no one. The police will talk to no one. The marine biologists have gone very quiet…
The stuff we can’t be sure of:
There’s a rumour that the policeman who went to search Darren’s house after his disappearance was so disturbed by what he found that he took to drinking and was last seen huddled in the entrance to Plymouth Marine Aquarium, dressed in old fishermen’s clothes, telling tales of a horrific half man/half sea creature with only one foot that expelled waste from his head and killed himself with his own poisonous tentacles.
It’s disturbing and I don’t want to do this but I’m the only one Tom will talk to so I guess I’m flattered really. Besides if I get nowhere no one need know and if it’s a good story then I can afford Bella’s university fees. As a freelancer I have nothing to lose. Except perhaps my sanity…
He’s waiting for me inside the fence, restraining a large, angry dog on a chain.
He’s changed. I hardly recognise the man with guarded expression and stiff posture as the effeminate boy who swapped Pokemon cards with my eldest son fifteen years ago.
He takes me to a sparse, windowless utility room at the back of the house. As he shuts the door the insistent dog barking and the hum of traffic cease. There is a soft electrical buzz but otherwise the room is quiet and intense. Tom points to a plastic chair and I sit down and reach for my laptop. As I turn it on he spots my Internet dongle and swiftly confiscates it while he begins to talk…
‘Darren was my diving instructor. I worshipped him. We spent time together on dives and trips around the world – just the two of us. He had this special interest in anemones, you see, and didn’t care for the more extensive dives organised by other people. I fell in love with him. I assumed that he was gay too because he didn’t seem to like women. But as the months went by I began to realise he didn’t feel that way about me. I stuck up for him when people said he was going mad although deep down I wondered if I was wasting my time. He collected anemone eggs and sperm samples to take home and became fixated on asexual reproduction. Bits of anemones can break off and form into new anemones, you know? He said he wanted me to help him with some research and although it sounded far-fetched I would have done anything for him. There’s something a bit obsessive about loving someone you know can never be yours… I hung on his every word, agreed with everything he said, became as passionate as I could about everything he was passionate about.’
I nod. I know all about misguided loyalty. ‘I’ve seen photos. He was quite something,’ I say.
‘ “Was”? He’s not dead.’
I fumble, not wanting to stop him talking. Then I remember the rumours. ‘He changed though? Put on weight? Grew pale?’
‘In the early days, when we first started going off on our own, the other divers said he must have suffered decompression sickness because his face swelled up and he forgot people’s names. But he told me he didn’t dive deep enough.’
‘Weren’t you with him?’
‘I was on the boat.’
‘So he might have. Didn’t he suffer from weak joints too?’
‘It wasn’t that though. He knew what he was doing.’
Now, I’ve researched the bends and it sounds to me that – as it went untreated – that was exactly what brought about his madness and demise but I feel I am on the brink of something so I wait.
Tom seems to read my mind. ‘Just because someone displays the symptoms of something doesn’t mean that is what they have. He’s a genius who knew exactly what he was doing. The foot wasn’t an accident. That was part of his research.’
I feel sick.
He unlocks another door and beckons me through. I hear bubbling and splashing and taste salty air. In the dim light I make out three head-height glass tanks taking up the walls of the room. Dark shadows and bright flashes move everywhere. Tom takes a fishing net from behind the door, scoops something out of the nearest tank, and carries it to the tank at the far end of the room. I follow.
As my eyes become accustomed I see what looks like a human foot on the bottom of the tank. It is enlarged and viscousy but as I slowly make out toenails and an ankle I see that it is definitely human. I clench my teeth together and try to swallow the disgust pushing at my throat as I see, growing up from the enlarged ankle, several giant tentacles waving as they stun and trap in a split second the fish that Tom releases into the tank. The tentacles lower the fish into an opening in their centre.
‘He started injecting himself with the anemone samples ten years ago. That’s when he swelled up. Then he cut off bits of skin and ear, thinking if he could keep growing himself on from bits of his own body that he would never die but when they didn’t grow he intensified his treatment by injecting his brain, his heart, his groin. But he couldn’t do it on his own. The injections were making him ill. So he cut off his foot and instructed me how to look after it – to make it survive on its own just like an anemone. And it worked – to a point… The rest of his body became a giant anemone and he began to drown in the air and his tentacles poisoned everything except his other foot. That foot found in his house won’t survive in the hands of the scientists… But this one will.’