Authors: Jeffrey Ford
The lights were out in our bedroom. Lynn was in bed asleep. She lay on her side, her hair not so long anymore, right arm sticking out from beneath the covers. With the greatest care I eased down on the edge of the mattress next to her. I sat for a time with my eyes closed and then carefully placed the owl egg in her right hand.
“Did you ask the smartest man in the world your question?” I whispered.
Perhaps half a minute passed before she murmured, “Yes.”
“Did he answer it?” I asked.
“Yes,” she finally said.
“Did he kiss you?”
“What was it like?”
“His tongue was like four hot dogs.”
“Did you see God?”
“No, I saw you, stumbling through the dark forest, lost.”
“What was your question?” I asked.
“If you still loved me.”
“And what was his answer?”
“He said his answer had two parts. The first part was yes, and for the second part he got off his throne and kissed me.”
I almost didn't ask it, but finally I said, “Are you in love with the smartest man in the world?”
“Yes,” she said.
I took the egg out of her hand and got up. For a long time, I stood by the bedroom window, staring into the dark at the falling snow, listening to the screech of the wind. “After all these years,” I said, and then spotted, out on the street in front of the house, a figure trudging by. It was too dark for me to make out the form, but when the egg shattered in my hand, I knew it must be Mrs. Krull. As the yolk dripped through my fingers, I vowed to become the smartest man in the world.
A Note About “86 Deathdick Road”
A lot of writers disparage suburbia as a bland, numbing wasteland, but oh the drama that lurks there, the surreal antics and machinations. This story was spurred by a New Year's Eve party I reluctantly agreed to attend once. After I arrived, I found out that there would be no alcohol served and that the order of the night was card games. There was a particularly horrid giant painting of the McMansion we were actually in, hanging over a gold couch covered in protective plastic. The only thing I knew about the people who owned the place was that the husband had recently been caught cheating on his wife of twenty-four years, and to make amends for his indiscretion he bought his family an in-ground swimming pool with a gigantic, twisting slide. Add to that germ of suburban fever an unaccountable interest of mine at the time in owls. I bought this CD of North American owl calls, put it on my portable player, and broadcast it out in the Pine Barrens. A lot of people warned me that the owls would attack me if I kept doing it, as they are very territorial. They were right, so I stopped even though I felt that I was on the verge of a real breakthrough in communicating with them. This story was published by editor Nick Gevers in the PS Publishing anthology
Book of Dreams
. I am proud to say that the wonderfully weird J. K. Potter cover art pertains to my story.
, Hippopotamus Man, can say without question that Moreau was a total asshole. Wells at least got that part right, but the rest of the story he told all wrong. He makes it seem like the Doctor was all about trying to turn beasts into humans. The writer must have heard about it thirdhand from some guy who knew a guy who knew something about the guy who escaped the island by raft. In fact, we were people first, before we were kidnapped and brought to the island.
I was living in a little town, Daysue City, on the coast in California. Sleepy doesn't half describe it. I owned the local hardware store, had a wife and two kids. One night I took my dog for a walk down by the sea, and as we passed along the trail through the woods, I was jumped from behind and hit on the head. I woke in a cage in the hold of a ship.
People from all over the place wound up on the island. Dog Girl was originally from the Bronx, Monkey Man Number Two was from Miami, and they snatched Bird Boy, in broad daylight, from a public beach in North Carolina. We all went through Moreau's horrifying course of injections together. The stuff was an angry wasp in the vein, and bloated me with putrid gases, made my brain itch unbearably. Still, I can't say I suffered more than the others. Forget House of Pain, it was more like a city block. When you wake from a deep, feverish sleep and find your mouth has become a beak, your hand a talon, it's terrifying. A scream comes forth as a bleat, a roar, a chirp. You can't conceive of it because it's not make-believe.
Go ahead, pet my snout, but watch the tusks. No one wants the impossible. What human part of us remained didn't want it, either. It was a rough transition, coming to terms with the animal, but we helped each other. After we had time to settle into our hides, so to speak, there were some good times in the jungle. Moreau could only jab so many needles in your ass in a week, so the rest of the time we roamed the island. There was a lot of fucking too. I'll never forget the sight of Caribou Woman and Skunk Man going at it on the beach, beneath the bright island sun. The only way I can describe it is by using a quote I remember from my school days, from Coleridge about metaphor, “the reconciliation of opposites.” I know, it means nothing to you.
We all talked a lot and for some reason continued to understand each other. Everybody was pretty reasonable about getting along, and some of the smarter ones like Fish Guy helped to develop a general philosophy for the community of survivors. “The Seven Precepts” are simple and make perfect sense. I'll list them, but before I do I want to point something out. Keep in mind what it states in the list below and then compare that to the dark, twisted version that appears in Laughton's film version of the Wells novel
Island of Lost Souls
. Monkey Man Number One and a couple of the others took the boat to Frisco, and by dark of night robbed a Macy's. One of the things they brought back was a projector and an eight-millimeter version of the flick. I believe it's Bela Lugosi who plays Speaker of the Law. I'll refrain from saying “hambone” for the sake of Pig Lady's feelings. That performance is an insult to the truth, but, on the other hand, Laughton, himself, was so much Moreau it startled us to see the film. Here are the real Seven Precepts, the list of how we live:
1. Trust Don't Trust
2. Sleep Don't Sleep
3. Breathe Don't Breathe
4. Laugh Don't Laugh
5. Weep Don't Weep
6. Eat Don't Eat
7. Fuck Whenever You Want
You see what I mean? Animal clarity, clean and sharp, like an owl's gaze. Anyway, here we are, after Moreau. We've got the island to ourselves. There's plenty to eatâall the animals that resided naturally and the exotic beasts Moreau brought in for the transmission of somatic essenceâthe raw ingredients to make us them. A good number of the latter escaped the fire, took to the jungle, and reproduced. There are herds of suburban house cats that have wiped out the natural ostrich population and herds of water oxen that aren't indigenous.
Actually, there's also a tiger that roams the lower slopes of the island's one mountain. Ocelot Boy thought he could communicate with the tiger. He tracked the cat to its lair in a cave in the side of the mountain, and sat outside the entrance exchanging growls and snarls with the beast until the sun went down. Then the tiger killed and ate him. The tiger roared that night and the sound of its voice echoed down the mountain slope. Panther Woman, who lay with me in my wallow, trembled and whispered that the tiger was laughing.
She also told me about how back in the days of the Doctor, when her tail and whiskers were still developing, she'd be brought naked to his kitchen and made to kneel and lap from a bowl of milk while Moreau, sitting in a chair with his pants around his ankles, boots still on, petted his knobby member. I asked Panther Woman why she thought he did it. She said, “He was so smart, he was stupid. I mean, what was he going for? People turning into animals partway? What kind of life goal is that? A big jerk-off.” We laughed, lying there in the moonlight.
Where was I? I had to learn to love the water, but otherwise things weren't bad. I had friends to talk to, and we survived because we stuck together, we shared, we sacrificed for the common good. Do I have to explain? Of course I do, but I'm not going to. I can't remember where this was all headed. I had a point to make here. What I can tell you right now is that Rooster Man went down today. He came to see me in the big river. I was bobbing in the flow with my real hippo friends when I noticed Rooster calling me from the bank. He was flapping a wing and his comb was moving in the breeze. Right behind him, he obviously had no idea, was a gigantic alligator. I could have called a warning to him, but I knew it was too late. Instead I just waved good-bye. He squawked bloody murder, and I finally dove under when I heard the crunch of his beak.
Tomorrow I've got tea with the Boar family. I ran into old man Boar and he invited me and Panther Woman over to their cave. The Boars are a strange group. They all still wear human clothesâthe ones that can do anyway. Old man Boar wears Moreau's white suit and his Panama hat. It doesn't seem to faze him in the least that there's a big shit stain on the back of the pants. I've shared the Doctor's old cigars with Boar. He blows smoke like the boat's funnel and talks a crazy politics not of this world. I just nod and say yes to him, because he puts honey in his tea. Panther and I crave honey.
The other day, when he offered the invitation, Boar told me under his breath that Giraffe Man was engaged in continuing experiments with Moreau's formulas and techniques. He said the situation was dire, like a coconut with legs. I had no idea what he meant. I asked around, and a couple of the beast people told me it was true. Giraffe couldn't leave well enough alone. He was injecting himself. Then a couple days after I confirmed old Boar's claim, I heard they found Giraffe Man, a bubbling brown mass of putrescence on the floor of what remained of the old lab.
We gathered at the site and Fish Guy shoveled up Giraffe's remains and buried them in the garden out back. Monkey Man Number Two played a requiem on the unburned half of the piano and Squirrel Girl, gray with age, read a poem that was a story of a tree that would grow in the spot Giraffe was buried and bear fruit that would allow us all to achieve complete animality. Everybody knew it would never happen, but we all wished it would.
When I loll in the big river, I think about the cosmos as if it's a big river of stars. I eat fish and leaves and roots. Weasel Woman says it's a healthy diet, and I guess it is. How would she know, though, really? As long as I stay with the herd of real hippos, I'm safe from the alligators. There have been close calls, believe me. When standing on land in the hot sun, sometimes I bleed from all my pores to cool my hide. Panther Woman has admitted this aspect of my nature disgusts her. To me she is beautiful in every way. The fur .Â .Â . you can't imagine. She's a hot furry number, and she's gotten over her fear of water. I'm telling you, we do it in the river, with the stars watching, and it's a smooth animal.
If you find this message in this bottle, don't come looking for us. It would be pointless. I can't even remember what possessed me to write in the first place. You should see how pathetic it is to write with a hippo paw. My reason for writing is probably the same unknown thing that made Moreau want to turn people into beasts. Straight-up human madness. No animal would do either.
Monkey Man Numbers One and Two are trying to talk some of the others into going back to civilization to stay. They approached me and I asked them, “Why would I want to live the rest of my life as a sideshow freak?”
Number Two said, “You know, eventually Panther Woman is going to turn on you. She'll eat your heart for breakfast.”
“Tell me something I don't know,” I said. Till then, it's roots and leaves, fucking in the wallow, and bobbing in the flow, dreaming of the cosmos. Infrequently, there's an uncertain memory of the family I left behind in the old life, but the river's current mercifully whisks that vague impression of pale faces to the sea.
That should have been the end of the message, but I forgot to tell you something. This is important. We ate Moreau. That's right. He screamed like the bird of paradise when we took him down. I don't eat meat, but even I had a small toe. Sweet flesh for a bitter man. Mouse Person insisted on eating the brain, and no one cared to fight him for it. The only thing is, he got haunted inside from it. When we listened in his big ears, we heard voices. He kept telling us he was the Devil. At first we laughed, but he kept it up too long. A couple of us got together one night and pushed him off the sea cliff. The next day and for months after, we searched the shore for his body, but never found it. Monkey Man Number One sniffs the air and swears the half-rodent is still alive on the island. We've found droppings.
A Note About “After Moreau”
Of all the film versions of the H. G. Wells novel
The Island of Dr. Moreau,
I've always been partial to the 1932
Island of Lost Souls,
directed by Erle C. Kenton and starring the amazing Charles Laughton as the good doctor himself. The film has a great script, written by Philip Wylie, a well-known science fiction writer (whose 1930 novel,
would become one of the main inspirations for the character of Superman), and Waldemar Young (grandson of Brigham Young), who wrote at least two brilliant scripts that I know of,
London After Midnight,
for Tod Browning of
fame. Bela Lugosi shows up in
Island of Lost Souls
as Speaker of the Law, one of Moreau's genetic anomalies, but the real attraction in that flick is Laughton, who plays the doctor like a mix of W. C. Fields and Sydney Greenstreet at his most menacing. There's a scene where Moreau is explaining his work to the shipwrecked hero, and while speaking, lies slowly back onto a nearby hospital gurney, folds his hands, and crosses his legs. It's just so unexpected and yet so revealing of the character. I wrote my Moreau story as an homage to Laughton's portrayal. Of course, it veers sharply away from the Wells version, but that's what happens when you begin fiddling with the genetics of a fiction. Nick Mamatas, when he was fiction editor at
pulled this one out of the slush pile and, with a few key edits, sent it slouching into print.