By Joachim Heijndermans
The man peeks through the top slot again. The one with the strange, withered ghoulish face and glass eye. He reminds me of that guy from the old Dracula movies, who always played Van Helsing. Cushion or something like that, I think?
I don’t know the man’s name. If he ever told me at any point, I sure as hell don’t remember it. I only met him the one time, back in the main office when I signed up for this. He didn’t talk much. His assistant, the pangolin, looks through the bottom slot that my food comes through. I think his name is Emil, but I might have misheard that.
They inspect me without saying a word, then check my progress (if any) off their individual notepads. Doubt they’ll have much to write about. Just my naked ass on the other side of the door, sitting on the crappy metal bench beside the toilet.
There hasn’t been much change as far as I can tell. I still have my hands and crooked nose. All in all, I’m just the same guy I’ve always been. This whole thing is probably a bust. Suckers. They wasted twenty grand on my fee, plus whatever insane amount it might cost just to make the gene-cocktail they used on me, and it didn’t do a damn thing. Easiest money I’ve ever made. Like I said; suckers.
On the other hand, I’m the one who’s stuck in a seven foot by seven foot cell, with no windows.
I wish I had a magazine.
The boredom was really what killed me. I ran out of songs to sing, and I’d gone through every movie that I could remember the plot to in my head. I’d gotten to the point where I made lists of the things I missed the most in here. Yeah, it’s boring. But it’s not any worse than sitting here in silence, while I wait here naked as the day I was born for my dinner and the lights to go out at night, which is really the only way to tell night from day in here.
I miss the touch of the sun’s rays against my skin. I miss rain drenching my hair ’till it sticks to my back. I miss the feel of grass or gravel underneath my feet. I’d say I miss books, but I can’t remember for the life of me when I last read a book. I miss women. I miss porn. I miss movies in general, even the bad ones. Hell, I even miss that stupid bird that always perched by my bedroom window back in my apartment. I hope I’m not evicted by the time these trials are over. With what they’re paying me, I’ll be set for years.
When I really think about it, I think I miss the smell of fresh air the most. Because with each inhale I can feel something is off. Whatever they pump into this cell through the ventilation system, they must’ve cut with something, because it smells right funny. Every day, I can smell it more and more. That stink. That chemical smell. Smells bad. Real bad.
Food time. They’re punctual, as far as I can tell. They always drop in at the same time, which I’m guessing might be four PM-ish. But this time, it’s different. The pangolin pushes two treys through the slot instead of just the one with steak, potatoes and two cuts of broccoli, with a cup of ice cream after. Now, it’s one with uncooked vegetables, while the other is piled with raw meat. Vegetables I can handle. But the meat smells terrible. Like it’s been basting outside in the sun for a week. There’s something moving inside it. Maggots? That’s disgusting. Bastards. What are they playing at? Why did they stop with the cooked steaks and ice cream? This isn’t dinner. It’s rabbit food and rancid garbage. Stinking red meat, stained with blood. It’s waste. It’s a joke. And Goddamn, it’s delicious.
Wait? When did I start eating the meat? I’ve got a whole mouthful sliding down my throat, barely chewed. Granted, it’s good meat. Aged, with a terrible smell and a beacon to flies and maggots, but good meat. But why am I eating it? I should stop. I have to stop. Yes. Stop. Must stop.
But it tastes so good!
When do I get more meat? I’m starving. I want more, but they haven’t given me any in so long. No more lists. No more boredom. I just walk circles inside my little cell, waiting for the meat. I don’t even care how bad it will be. I want it. I hunger for it.
I can smell them. The others. In the other cells. They stink. Worse than me. Worse than rotten meat. All except one. Two down. Different blood smell. Smell of a woman. Young. Ready. Willing. I want it. Yearn for it. Want to touch and mount it.
What is going on with me?
My arms itch. Scratch them. Hurts a bit, but it’s good to scratch. More hair on arms than before, I think. More hair. But scratching is good. So good.
Hungry again. Meat is gone. When did I eat all meat? Only greens left. Garbage. Need real food. Not this. Never this. I slam hand against door. “Open!” I roar. “Open!” The slot at bottom opens. Pangolin looks through it. Makes a note. I ask for meat, but Pangolin just stares. Stupid beast. Stupid meat. Good meat. Tasty meat.
I try for it, but Pangolin too fast. Hatch closed. No meat for me. Hate it. Hate pangolin. Hear scratches on paper. Writing notes again. I call out. Call out for meat. Man comes. Peeks through the top slot. Nods. Writes down note. Hate him too. Hate them both. Kill them both. Eat their meat.
Hungry now. So hungry. Ask for meat. More meat. No answer. Hate. Hate them all.
Hands hurt. Fingers change. Different. Smaller. Nails grow. Grow sharp. Sharp to claw in door. Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.
Hear me, I try say. No words. Just growls. More scratch. Hair thick. All black. Scratch me. Scratch ear. Long black ears. Was always this? Yes. Always this. Always black and claw.
Open. Look in. Pangolin. Meat! I am snarl at. Close. Open top. Man with face. With eye. I am growl.
Door open. Men come. Sticks and wires. Around neck. I am snarl! I am bite! Claw!
Stick hits hide. I am pain! Shock through hide. Wire around neck. Pull me. Force out. No am fight. Do.
Walk with. Pangolin and man watch. I am snarl. I am claw at. Stick hits hide. More pain. Shock! I am curl down.
Look side. See me, in door. Metal. Me reflect. No man. All black. Always black? Always walk four? Always tail? Always panther? No matter. I am. And I am hunger.
I am shake. Hard. Pull. They am yell. Hand loose. Wire and stick fly. Free!
I am claw. Blood. They am scream. They am run. I am run. Chase. Fast. I am claw. Blood. Meat. More come. Come with gun. Let come. I am kill. They am point. I am jump.
I am roar!
About the Author
Joachim Heijndermans writes, draws, and paints nearly every waking hour. Originally from the Netherlands, he’s been all over the world, boring people by spouting random trivia. His work has been featured in a number of publications, such as Every Day Fiction, Asymmetry Fiction, Gathering Storm Magazine, Hinnom Magazine, and The Gallery of Curiosities, and he’s currently in the midst of completing his first children’s book. You can check out his other work at www.joachimheijndermans.com, or follow him on Twitter: @jheijndermans.