The room, of robust acrid air, with its many suffocating bouquets and well wishes, houses one. There is a door, yet it is fastened with a shrill murmur that nests like a razor, intimately in the ear. A who-dares-now-enter hangs menacing in the dim of its sill. Would you?
Much has been said, and often, of the affair in One-eleven Fremur street. Tall tales told, twisted. Cold imaginings casting shadows far beyond the reaches of knowledge. The folk drew scarves and raised collars against the darkly, against the unknown. Some, few, knew. They knew of a beyond farther still, where a truth, untouched, unrefined and unadorned smouldered patiently, crimson, there, in the dark and fog. These sullied few, unwell in their burden, behaved oddly. A place of naive safety, reserved and intimate, now held this injurious truth; everywhere they went, they carried around the weight of its visceral heat. And they rock, forth and back, these marred few, these lost souls, forth and back, to the folk tales told in the streets and halls of town, forth and back, clinging to them for safety. For the room, there, houses one.
A doctor, seemingly unsummoned, had to the small village of Flowerswidth come. Inquiring none. Somber and stern, in his greatcoat and ways, he did not please as he prowled. The townsfolk had awaken ajar, surely, now, by cause of this conspicuous stranger who trespassed his way through their winding streets. Many furrowed brows and squinting eyes hid behind curtains and courteous greetings. The hair under his nose concealed his grave response, if indeed one had been uttered. Most took away but a nod, briefly preceded by a glance that came to rest just short of their eyes. And, so, case in hand, he crossed the width of town.
The doctor’s heels came to a sharp halt in front of Eleven-one. His forlorn sigh, noticed by none. He turned to face the desolate abode. Hives, the letter had said. Nothing more. Urticaria, he thought as though questioning. Or, rather, for comfort? No, he thought, Urticaria: a transient condition of the skin, usually caused by an allergic reaction, characterized by pale or reddened irregular, elevated patches and severe itching; hives. Scientifically, he was a courageous man. Although, and truth be told, it wasn’t science that had jostled him out of shallow slumbers, out of his home and on into the darkness of night and forth until Flowerswidth, until Eleven-one. Painstakingly scribbled on a shrivelled shred of newsprint, the word Hives had.
His head swivelled on its axis. Down the street the eyes of a few were on him. And could he see rocking? Yes, there, beyond the store, in the alley between two homes. The man-of-science’s eyes began to water and sting. Urticaria, he laughed sadly. Urticaria too strayed clear of Eleven-one, farther still than beyond, rocking back and forth. Forth or back. Forth, he mumbled to himself between clenched teeth of resolve, and, solemnly, he walked straight on into the affair of One-eleven Fremur Street.
None recalled the fate of the doctor, none but the widow Ruth. And it was she who now recounted the truth, a soft tremor in her voice, to the few who had not known better than to insist. And they listened now, leaning forth to better hear her every whispered words. Hives, the doctor had said.
Hives? The few exchanged glances amongst themselves. Hives, she whispered back with a severe nod and a swallow. Ruth had seen the doctor, dazed, wandering through the streets of town on the very same evening of his much discussed arrival. His great moustache was quivering, his eyes bulging under knitted brows. The doctor, mumbling as he went, had already quite passed Ruth when the word had wrestled though his lips.
The few leaned closer still, and what else? Speak!
Ruth had stopped in her tracks, rather frightened in her confusion. Hives, she said to herself, chilled by what secret meaning the doctor had conferred onto the word. The doctor had already begun walking towards her, his great eyes quivering, his moustache bulging under knitted brows. She noticed this with a flinch and a swallow. Stooping low to his confidant’s ear, he had said quite calmly and matter of fact, the room in Eleven-one, at the end of Fremur Street, the room… houses one. The doctor took a step back, as though in fear of the truth that now rested in Ruth’s ear. He raised a hand to his mouth, a slow gesture full of remorse. Only then did Ruth notice the many swollen lumps on the skin of his one bare hand. A shiver shook her few listeners. As had it she.
Ruth knew all too well the ravages of a confession such as she had received, such as she was about to impart, and there was a magnificent moment while she paused, in deliberation, for the length of which she felt the courage to hold the horror inside, to keep the truth hid. The feat was well within her grasp. And she felt so in her heart. She paused a while longer still. The suspense was tremendous on the faces of the agog few. And then, slowly, the moment came to pass. And look after it she did, yet she did not dare hang on. Ruth could not bear the solitude of courage. She felt stained and alone, while the truth quietly smouldered, quietly consumed her conscience into ashes. The strength whisked away from her like the heat from a fresh corpse and out poured the doctor’s story.
The hinges screeched violently as the door swung ajar. The doctor stepped inside, cautious and aware. A low groan emerged from the floor boards, under his weight and shoes. There was a chirr, almost a crepitus, flying loose in the air. A sour smell. The doctor stood still, soaking in the peculiar environment into which he was now immersed, irretrievably. Letting it whelm his sense. Before him there was a short corridor that disappeared with a right angle to the left. There was darkness ahead, and a light bulb hanging by its wires. And, louder still than the voice of reason, a dense humming hung low to the floor like a gas leak. He cupped his ear and extended his neck to better hear the discreet sound. And now a croon, distinct from the hum in its musicality. I have met my patient, thought the doctor, and this renewed in him scientific nature and courage. Momentarily, if at least.
The raw light from the naked bulb did nothing to illuminate the corner in which stood the door, ominous and foreboding. Dim as it was, it did however allow him to catch sight of a certain glittering particle, mid flight. The doctor outstretched his hand. The speck fell slowly into his palm. Careful not to set it aflight with his breath, the doctor rummaged through the great many pockets of his coat. He withdrew a small magnifying instrument. Deftly and with sure hands, he pinched the fleck between his thumb and forefinger, and set about his examination.
A wing. Tiny as it was and veined. A shimmer of purple and dark red travelled its length as he rotated his hand. What creature, or insect rather, he mumbled with his moustache, lost in a great concentration. Suddenly, the hum, which had returned gradually to his ears, through his focused attention, cast a shiver through the doctor’s body, and away flew the wing from his fingertips. The doctor followed its glimmering decent. The oil from his fingers must have weighted its feather-lightness for it fell hurriedly in a downward spiral towards the sombre door sill where, as swiftly as a fly, it vanished, sucked into the world beyond the portentous door.
My fate will shortly resemble yours, thought the doctor lugubriously.
A vibration rippled through his wrist as his fingers enclosed the doorknob, matching the tremor in the bones of his ears, caused by the incessant hum. Auditory Ossicles, he thought, aiming to quiet his apprehensions by means of anatomy. The quake made quick work of its contagion from his hand onward into his arm, shoulder, and soon his entire body was trembling. His skin tingled and squirmed as though infested subcutaneously by a great many crawling, writhing insects. Hmpf, muttered the doctor to little avail. He had become deaf to his own voice. Such was the invasiveness of the hum to which his ears fell victim that his eyes began to water and he could not keep from sneezing in great seismic bouts.
In his distress, he turned the knob and pushed with much excessive weight, for the door gave way easily, setting in motion a stumble which ceased but inches from the sickbed where a young man lay. The door crashed with great destructive momentum into the wall and swiftly rebounded and arced back shut, shedding darkness into the room anew. The doctor stepped cautiously backwards, fumbling as he went into the great many pockets of his coat. With equal measure of fear, of the dark and of the light, he deliberated a moment before striking into ignition the match that his searches had produced. The matchstick flared, dimmed, then extinguished, briefly revealing the room and leaving it imprinted against the wall of his eye. Retina. Wax covered every surface around him in great lakes and drip columns. There were a few candles left standing. His patient shuffled under his covers.
The first candle he lit cast very little more than shadows throughout the room. Only when he had located and lit all eleven candles with his one did the room become an environment conducive to reason anew. The humming had altogether ceased and before him lay nothing but a sickly young man. Ablata causa tollitur effectus, spoke the doctor into the light with a grave voice. If the cause is taken away, its effects will disappear.
The doctor dragged a small wood chair from under a desk and took a seat. Careful not to cast too many stray glances. He cleared the bedside tables from its few vases, from the brim of which, wilting flowers drooped. From his case, he withdrew a medical kit, which he unrolled onto the small table. The polished silver of his instruments sparkled brightly under the many flickering flames. Satisfied, the doctor turned his full attention to his patient. He examined facial features and bedding. The young man was sweating profusely onto his sheets, in fact, the mattress had begun to mould under him, yet his face revealed very little pain or discomfort. The doctor drew the covers away from the young man’s chin unveiling an emaciated and shrivelled body, bare of clothes. One by one, the doctor’s eyes picked out the various outbreaks of urticaria on his patient’s skin. Numerous indeed. Urticaria, he thought, not at all displeased with the diagnostic. Of course, having been bedridden for what seemed like weeks, there was no doubt that a few of the red patches were no more than bedsore. He reached out, selected a magnifying glass and, with the help of a candle, fell to his examination.
There was little that his inspection revealed which defied his diagnostic, though he did think it queer how geometrical some of the eruptions were, under closer inspection. He spent much time, hunched over his patient, examining a specific outbreak located between the fourth and fifth ribs near the sternum. Odd indeed was the straightness of some of the red swollen protuberances. Almost…hexagonal, he thought but did not dare utter.
The particular area that caught his attentive eye, was at the centre of the affected area. A minuscule dark sliver was encrusted there, deeply into the skin. Blindly, not wanting to lose sight of the foreign object, he reached back, feeling with his hand until he found a pair of flat-nosed forceps. The sliver slipped away easily from the transpiring wound and was followed by a filament of a sticky pus-like fluid. His magnifying glass failed to expose anything valuable. But what of the pus? His inquisitive mind wondered further. The tip, the sharp end, had been facing outwards. Hmm, he uttered, chewing his lip.
No further information could be retrieved from the sliver, so the doctor encapsulated the specimen, and returned to its origin. He swabbed the affected area, cleansing it for further inspection. The wound had remained open and had not ceased its secretion of the pale glutinous fluid. The doctor swabbed anew and looked closer. The eruption on the pale white skin was fiery red, and he could not remember if it had always been so. The skin seemed to be parting further, though he could not be sure in the wavering light. He leaned closer, so that his heels did not touch the ground and his face was inches away from his patient’s chest. Then, it came. Viscous like a birth, a pair of antennas wormed their way out of the wound. And then, the eyes of a million eyes. And the yellow fur and the wings.
The doctor was petrified. Anthophila. The doctor whispered the word, as though pronouncing the name of betrayal.
Once her story was done, the few who had been Ruth’s audience, the besmirched few, were kicked aback, as though released from the story, from their inquisitive lean, setting in motion the rocking that now could not be stopped.