Bad Medicine

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By the time Kris Halloran reached the building on Thornburg Street the bullet wound had gone from searing pain to a dull ache. He’d made it home without attracting undue attention from bystanders, done a functional if clumsy job of bandaging himself up and changed into a clean pair of pants. The only problem now was finding some way to get the bullet removed. He couldn’t go to an emergency room, even if he hadn’t been a paroled felon there was no way he could use the ‘I was cleaning my gun when it suddenly went off’ excuse- not when he’d been shot in the ass robbing a convenience store.

Beaumont would take care of it no questions asked, every shady character in Albany knew that, even if they didn’t know exactly what kind of doctor he was. All you had to do was meet his price and keep your mouth shut. Beaumont’s three-story home was on the bad side of Albany but no one gave him or his patients any trouble. Since Kris lived on the bad side of Schenectady the trip to Thornburg Street was one of the most miserable experiences of this life. Do you have any idea how hard it is to drive a car when you can’t sit down?

But it all seemed to be worth it in the end, both figuratively and literally. Despite the hour Beaumont was awake and eager to help. Kris was broke so Beaumont took his payment out in trade. His price? Swatches of skin, a little more than twelve in total. It was a creepy as Hell thing to commit to but what choice did Kris have? Besides Kris had heard stories about guys that had ended up losing a kidney or worse. The good thing was that Beaumont had promised to leave Kris’ elaborately tattooed arms alone and take the skin from his back instead. Even the doctor had paused to admire the work that had gone into the patterns of ink that stretched from each wrist to shoulder; the series of interlocking Roses and barbed wire that twisted around each other in patterns that drew the eye back again and again.

Hours later, when Kris recovered from the anesthesia he found himself alone in the cramped operating room, there was no sheet on the gurney and the IV bag hooked to his arm was empty.

A groggy moment later he realized he had no idea what time it was, or what day. The windows in the room were blacked over and there were no clocks. Kris had a meeting with his parole officer that he couldn’t afford to miss-if he’d slept through it then all this had been for nothing. He called out for Beaumont but there was no answer.

Finding his clothes was easy, putting them on was agony. His backside hurt, so did the places where the skin had been removed. Beaumont had promised he’d take no more than twelve inches but Kris felt pain from shoulder to shoulder.

Pants on, shoes on, and shirt forgotten he eased himself into his leather jacket. He wondered what he gotten himself into? Was a return trip to prison really work selling off parts of himself? Kris popped the IV out of his arm and started for the door at a slow hobble. He wanted to move faster but it hurt too much to try.

He saw a shape waiting by the doorway. Nothing about the figure made sense, it was a jumble of misshapen limbs, a ragged silhouette.

When the shape spoke Kris Halloran did run, pain be damned.

*

The police found Kris Halloran stumbling through traffic, his stitches torn open and his expression crazed. He babbled about having escaped from a house full of monsters but when the police investigated his story they found nothing. There was no record of anyone named Beaumont anywhere in the tri-city area and when they went to the supposed house of horrors all they found was an empty building. The mortgage for the property was owned by a Mrs. Mary Ingolstadt, a very elderly and confused citizen of Switzerland. By the time the police got that part of the story straightened out it was already too late. Kris Halloran, perhaps in anticipation of his probation being revoked, had vanished.

Any story that begins with a man screaming about monsters and ends with the same man disappearing without a trace will get the attention of the Fear And Truth message board. Over the next few weeks the story of Kris Halloran captured the imagination of the user base.

You see Kris’ tale was not a unique one, there are other stories about a physician offering his services to people that lacked the resources or respectability to go anywhere else. They’d been circulating around Albany, Troy and Schenectady for years. The name of the doctor changed frequently but the modus operandi never did. You either paid in cold hard cash or you gave up a pound of flesh, give or take a few ounces. There were rumors of criminals donating part of a lung in exchange for plastic surgery and desperate parents sacrificing an eye or a limb for the sake of an uninsured child.

After a while the story faded into the background, lost amid the off topic flame wars, chatter about the latest Hudson Valley UFO sighting and a flame war about whether or not Devil Monkey scat had been found at Water Slide World.

But some of us kept our eyes peeled and our ears to the ground. Inevitably our secret sawbones surfaced again, this time in Hamilton Hill. If you don’t know anything about the neighborhood of Hamilton Hill let me give you this succinct description- stay the fuck out of Hamilton Hill. The crime rate is high, the landlords are scumbags, the businesses are shuttered and the population is either desperate or demoralized.

Ironically enough the location the man now calling himself ‘Professor Wilton’ chose to operate out of this time was just a block and a half from where Kris Halloran had lived. After trading notes with the moderator for Fear And Truth I decided to do a little undercover work.

That was how I found myself sitting in the stained barber chair that Professor Wilton used for an examination table. I was a little dazed and pretty drunk, my nose bloodied and flattened, my arm was aching and there was a good possibility I, once again, had cracked my rib.

“So,” Professor Wilton leaned over me, he was thin, almost anorexic looking. There was no compassion in his voice when he spoke, just boredom, “You got into a bar fight?”

“Yeah,” I said, “but you should see the other guy.” And by that I meant that the other guy didn’t have a damn scratch on him.

“Did anyone see you come here?”

“No.”

“How did you hear about me?”

“Word gets around.”

He frowned at that, “And you’re on probation is that it? Do you have any kind of health insurance?”

I shook my head. This was my cover story, I was a broke ex-con having a hard time staying out of trouble. Now a cover story was all well and good but where did I get the injuries to go with it? For that I actually did get into a bar fight. I had just a few drinks in the hope of taking the edge off the pain and then went looking for trouble. I didn’t throw the first punch but I did throw around a lot of profanities and crass remarks until somebody got sick of my antics and took a swing.

He pulverized me and all I managed to do was get two wild punches in edgewise. The bouncers quickly threw us out. My sparring partner thought we were going to go at it again out in the street but instead I thanked him, gave him my blog address and made my way to my car. I bet he’s still there wondering what the Hell happened.

“Your nose is broken,” Professor Wilton walked away and came back rolling a metal tray brimming with medical supplies, “and you’ve dislocated your wrist.”

“Dislocated my wrist?” I lifted my arm and winced.

Professor Wilton said, “My rates are simple, I will either need seven hundred dollars in cash right now or I can take it out in trade. I think an ear would suffice.”

“An ear?” My stomach went cold at the thought, “Why would you want one of my ears?”

“That isn’t your concern,” he said. “Now how do you plan to pay me, or are you just wasting my time?”

“I’ve got the money,” I pulled a handful of hundreds from my pocket. He looked them over, trying to ascertain if they were real. They were. This investigating the unknown stuff is pretty damn expensive sometimes.

Professor Wilton pulled a huge-looking needle from his tray, “Lets get started then.”

A syringe was buried in my wreck of a nose and jerked back out again before I knew what was happening. “What the Hell was that? Give a guy some warning for Christ’s sake.” I sat up, then laid back down again, “I… I’m… what?”

“Just a little morphine,” he said in a matter of fact way, “I need you to speak to me with a little more candor.”

“Candor…” I repeated. At that moment, in that delightful haze, I loved the sound of that word more than anything else, “…candor.”

“Who are you young man?” he asked, “Who are you really?”

The jig was up. Part of me wanted to make a run for it but the rest of me just wanted to lie there on that comfy barber chair forever. I couldn’t even get all that upset when he leaned it all the way back so I was staring at the ceiling. I even chuckled a little when he strapped my arms down.

“I like morphine.” I said. A chill swept over me, it took a moment for me to realize what was going on, “Why are you taking off my pants? That’s silly.”

And then my feet were strapped down as well. Professor Wilton called out, “You can come help me if you want Tania.”

The face that peered down at me was like something out of a child’s nightmare. A distended almost rat-like nose, an apish brow, eyes that were nothing but darkness from lid to lid and a mouth brimming with silvery fangs. Suddenly I didn’t feel all that mellow anymore, I screamed and started trying to get loose from the chair.

“What are you gonna do?” she asked.

The longer I looked the more ‘what the fucks’ I found. She was wearing a tank top and it revealed there were patches of flesh on her too-long arms that didn’t quite match. There were blunt dermal spikes in a ridge along her skull. You’ve probably seen metal ones poking out of some body modification enthusiast’s head at one time or another but these spikes were bone, finely polished bone.

“What is going on?” I said as Professor Wilton set a plastic bowl down on my belly, “I just wanted my nose fixed!”

“And your wrist,” he added.

“Can I have my pants back?”

At that Tania said, “Master you’re scaring me again…”

“You’re scared?” I looked from her to him and back again, “Did you just call him Master?”

Professor. Wilton said, “No one comes to me for something as simple as a broken nose-”

“-and a dislocated wrist.” I added.

“-and they certainly don’t come to me with a wad of brand new hundred dollar bills.”

“That’s how they came out of the ATM!”

“But Master…” It might not have been easy to read Tania’s features but there was no mistaking the worry in her voice, “what are you going to do?”

There was a scalpel in his hand, he waved it as he spoke, “If he doesn’t tell me exactly who he is and who sent him I am going to open up his scrotum and put his testicles in this dish.”

“Oh no! Oh Hell no.” I wanted to clasp my hands over jimmy and the boys but the straps on my arms held fast, “Let’s all calm down here. My name is Brian Foster and I’m just a reporter looking for a story.”

Tania looked genuinely interested, “A reporter?”

I kept talking, “Everyone’s heard of you, the mysterious physician that takes his payments in flesh and bone. You change your name but they always call you the same thing.”

“Do they now?” he glowered, “What do they call me young man?”

“Uhm…” I couldn’t help wondering if this bit of information was going to amuse him or make him mad, “They call you… I mean not me of course… They call you Dr. Butcher.”

He made a huffing sound, “What paper do you work for?”

“I, uh, I have a blog.”

“It doesn’t sound like you’re much of a reporter at all. Sounds to me like you’re a nosy little nobody.”

“You’re not the first to say that.” I said, “But let’s get back to the whole cutting my balls off thing. How about we not do it?”

Professor Wilton held the scalpel over my ever-shriveling groin. “I have many rivals, how do I know you’re not trying to steal my research?”

“I didn’t even know you had research!” I looked pleadingly at Tania “You believe me don’t you?”

“Master,” she reached out and caught his arm, “we can’t do this. Only volunteers, you promised.”

Professor Wilton replied, “He knows too much.”

Morphine or not everything felt all too real; the bindings that held me, the cold air on my balls, the sight Tania’s arm keeping the scalpel away from me.

Her arm especially held my attention.

Like I said before, her arm was too long, with elbows that were too thick and hands that ended in spidery fingers. The flesh of it was a patchwork of scars and conflicting skin tones, one sizable part even had a tattoo.

“I thought you said only volunteers?” I didn’t know if I was going to scream or pass out, “I want to go on record as no volunteering.”

“I think in your case we can make an exception,” Professor Wilton pulled his wrist free.

“What about Kris Halloran?” I asked, “Did he volunteer?”

“Who?” he snorted.

“The last patient you saw before you closed up shop on Thornberg street.”

“Oh. Him.” He frowned, “The one that nearly ruined everything.”

Tania looked sorrowful, or as close to sorrowful as her face could manage, “I just wanted to talk to him.”

“I had to sacrifice months of work so we could get away,” Professor Wilton said.

“Is that why you killed him?” I asked.

“Killed him?” he said, “Are you some kind of an idiot?”

“He ran away,” she said, “He went to the police.”

“And then…” I paused for effect, and to drool a little, “…he disappeared.”

“Are you going to believe him or me?” now the scalpel was moving towards my throat.

“He had some very nice tattoos!” I said quickly, “Roses and barbed wire!”

Both Professor Wilton and I watched Tania study her forearm with growing horror. “You said you wouldn’t hurt anyone else,” her voice shook, “You said the project wouldn’t hurt anyone else!”

Project?

Professor Wilton’s mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally said, “Go to your room. I don’t need your help.”

“Why did you lie to me?” she asked.

“I do what I have to, you understand that.”

“You said,” her night colored eyes were full of tears, “you said you’d stop.”

He pointed the scalpel at her, “Go. To. Your. Room. You have to get ready. Surama is coming tonight.”

When Tania leapt over the barber chair she didn’t look like a young woman, she looked like a monster out of a horror movie. The sobbing scream she made however, that was very human.

*

And then I woke up.

Now before you start to get pissed off let me clarify that I woke up in that same makeshift operating room, in that same barber chair but I was no longer tied up and pantsless. I didn’t remember passing out, one moment I was seeing that classic tableau of a creature rising up against its creator and the next I was out cold. Just as well I suppose, I don’t know if I would have wanted to see how those streaks of blood got on the walls and floor.

I got to my feet and since I am a glutton for punishment I decided to have a look around. I woozily headed for the basement stairs.

One wall of the basement was stacked high with medical supplies. On the other wall were three freezers, in one was a supply of pharmaceuticals that could only have been obtained illegally. The other two held supplies of a much more organic nature, and those could only have been obtained illegally as well. In the middle of the room was an oil drum that reeked of acidic chemicals. A very fresh-looking arm was sticking out it the acid. Just a few hours ago that arm had been poised to use a scalpel on me.

Item: Using the name Tania as a point of reference I was able to determine that Professor Wilton aka Beaumont aka Doctor Butcher was in actuality Elliot Snow. He had been a surgeon of some renown about twenty years ago.

Item: Shortly after the birth of his daughter Dr. Elliot Snow began to suffer the effects of late onset schizophrenia. His fellow surgeons noted that his work was becoming dangerously slipshod and his wife reported that her husband spoke to her less and less and that he had taken to sleeping in his office.

Item: Dr. Elliot Snow began to submit long rambling articles to medical journals and other doctors he thought might share his views. Those articles quickly became infamous, and a cause for worry.

Item: Before Elliot Snow could be committed he fled his home state of Arizona, taking his young daughter Tania with him.

Item: The good doctor’s papers revealed that he had become obsessed with a vague apocalypse. Always the worst kind. He was convinced the world would change and that humanity had to change with it. He illustrated his vision for the future with crude drawings; humanity he felt would need long arms and legs that bent at strange angles, their heads would have to take on a more bestial aspect with jutting spines, shark-like teeth and discolored eyes.

Item: Several times in these treatises he stated his willingness, in fact his eagerness, to subject his loved ones to these alterations.

Oh God damn, his own daughter. I can only hope the sonofabitch was still alive when she sunk him into that oil drum.

But where is Elliott Snow’s daughter now? I can’t say. I do know that she stole my wallet but that’s fine.

If it helps her find someplace… someplace good I won’t cancel my credit cards. She can run those babies right up to the max. I always wanted to see what it felt like to declare bankruptcy anyway.

Not every monster is out to get you, not every healer is a saint. Lesson learned.

I guess that’s about it.

Except…

Tania if you’re somehow reading this, thank you.

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