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Authors: Charles Kennedy Scott

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BOOK: Bang
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When she awoke, or tried slipping back into semi-consciousness,
she did not know where she was. She wore an outfit of terrific pain, but this
was normal, and this was the flesh and bone of her being itself. Beyond that,
in a tangle of shoddy repairs, existed the towel. She felt sure she was close
to death, and perhaps by rights she should have been, but she was not, and had
a long way to go, further than she could have imagined. Her introspection
revealed that her mind was still intact. It’s a fallacy, isn’t it, she murmured
on gritted teeth, which hurt, that the human being will under extreme pressure,
mental and physical, retreat into a shell of madness, of sunk-eyed,
finger-to-mouth-tugging craziness. More disinformation. More misplaced hope.
And she said to herself, No, I’m here for the ride. Whatever it takes, whether
I like it or not, and I don’t, I hate it, I’m going all the way. But where am I
now? I’m upside-down, I think. What’s that noise? Now what? What now? What’s
that incredible pain? She sent messages through her body, requests for precise
information on what was going on. And then her mind cleared, and she knew. And
she wished it hadn’t, and that she didn’t.

In Dormitory 100 the System’s prisoners currently on
Floor 100, or in transit – and they could be going up or down, or
sideways – slept, tried to, or just couldn’t. This was what the noise was:
the sound of people trying to sleep. And how loud they were, these sleep
seekers. How they cried and screamed and hollered for peace and quiet and rest.
How they demanded of each other silence and solitude – as they hung there
in the air thirty metres off the floor, in suspended hell, in protesting
wakefulness, staring face-down at the ground, from ‘beds’, if they were lucky
enough still to be in them. Periodically turbines in the great walls created a wind
climate that blew the beds about. A sleeping or unconscious prisoner would only
not be flung from the beds in minor gusts. A greater gust could easily blow the
prisoner out and have them hanging upside-down by a shackled ankle 100 feet
high, waiting for the next gust to come and blow hard enough to offer the
prisoner a chance of regaining the bed. These gusts came and went. And this was
where Delilah was now, 100 feet high off the ground, sick with vertigo, sick
with everything, upside-down, hanging by her shackled ankle, waiting for the
next gust.

By chance the prisoner adjacent to her dangled too, by
the wound of his ankle, a fat man, very fat, who looked too heavy to last much
longer on the hang of the creaking bed harness above.

‘What is your name?’ asked Delilah, when her slow spin
took her face to face with his slow spin also.

‘I am an anatomist,’ said the man, in what light there
was, a light whose yellow bulbs lived behind the turbine blades, a light that
was for now, with the unturning blades, motionless.

Delilah and the fat man span away from each other.
Delilah caught the eyes of other danglers, saw them through the noise and
frustration of sleepers who couldn’t sleep.

She said, when their spins again coincided, ‘Yes, I
dare say you are an anatomist, but what is your name?’

‘I am an anatomist,’ replied the fat man, ‘and I would
like to dissect you.’

Delilah was not impressed with this. Her first
peer-to-peer contact with a prisoner and she’d expected some camaraderie. ‘Go
dissect yourself,’ she retorted in a hurt voice, and hoped the winds would come
again soon, for her ankle was finding new forms of pain to send up her leg (or
down it), and her prawn-fingernail finger complete with the prop fork, and the
hole in her gum, and her head, and especially her head, pounded now with
painful blood.

‘I would like to cut you up,’ said the fat man. ‘I
love the sight of the insides. It all looks like food to me. Yum yum. Not that
I’d eat you, or anyone for that matter. Not me, no. I might be a porker but I’m
no cannibal. Have you ever seen someone as fat as me.’ He grabbed the rolls of
his belly and breasts and gave them – they already hung over his
chin – a jolly good two-handed shake. ‘I bet you haven’t. Don’t snigger!
I’m am not a comedian in a comedy club. Do you think it is easy, being this
fat? You hang there in your rubbishy towel scorning, judging, but you don’t
know the full story. I cannot get clean because I empty a bath when I get in
it. I cannot change lanes when I am on the moving floors up there because I
cannot see my feet and I crash. Once I got stuck on a escalator and it wore my
shoes away from beneath me and broke all my toes, which I had not seen for
eight years. You have no idea what its like, you scrawny thing.’

Clear through the cries for sleep came the sound of an
unoiled pulley. Something moved towards Delilah, flashing.

‘Oh good,’ said the fat man, ‘here it comes, the tool
of my trade. Pass it over, won’t you, when it gets to you. We’re going to have
some fun, you and me.’

Some seconds later a very small scalpel arrived by
pulley to within Delilah’s reach. Fatty clapped his hands. ‘Give me the
scalpel, oh please. When the wind blows and swings us together I will take you
in my arms and cut out your intestine. Would you like that, my dear? No, I have
a better idea. I will conduct a pancreatectomy on you. I bet such a procedure
has never taken place between two upside-down people before. We will make
history. Are you excited? Oh tell me you are. I have never had a friend in the
System before. We can play cards. Are you good at throwing? We can fold them
into aeroplanes so that we don’t lose them. Do you know gin rummy? Oh please
pass me the scalpel. We can play cards and you can try and win back your
pancreas. How much would you like to bet? Are you a betting man? I am, I love a
good tote. And if you win, I’ll sew your organ back in the right way up, not
upside-down, I promise. You can trust me.’

‘Obviously,’ said Delilah, ‘I am not going to give you
the scalpel to cut me up with. Forget it. It’s not going to happen. So shut up,
I’m trying to sleep.’ And here she mocked a snore. It didn’t help her any
closer towards snoozing. Nor did it deter the fat man.

‘I’ll let you into a secret,’ he said. ‘I don’t really
want to cut you up. I mean I do, I’d love to, but not as my primary desire. No,
my primary desire is quite different. Well, not that different. After all, a
scalpel has limited usages. Other than flesh-cutting, what can one use it for?
For painting, I suppose – I speak of oils. Or trimming one’s toenails.
Model-making, that’s another. But look at me. Behold my great weight. It should
be quite clear to you that even when the wind blows again I will not be able to
use its gusts to swing myself up there again.’ He pointed at the bed, cradle,
harness, whatever one wanted to call it, above him. ‘You’ll be fine, you’ll
flick yourself back up on yours without batting an eyelid, no problem. But me,
not so easy. Not fatty, here. I’m destined to hang by my ankle till my dying
day. It’s been a year already. That’s right. I’ve been counting the days by
pulling out belly hairs and storing them between my teeth. Can you imagine
doing that? The only upside is that I have no plaque build-up, but this is
lowly consolation. When I’m bored I count these hairs. Today I reached 365. I
can go on no longer. So I need the scalpel to cut myself down. The shackle is
steel so it’ll have to be my ankle. I never liked that ankle anyway. Off with it,
I say. Give me the scalpel. Oh, go on. I’d do the same for you, you know I
would.’

Delilah gasped again. She had given up the snoring
pretence and her eyes were open, but this was more because they wouldn’t close,
no matter how hard she tried. Her stomach turned queasily, which was odd when
upside-down. And as a sideways thought, and sideways thoughts, well you just
couldn’t stop them and they kept on coming, it had just occurred to her that
she had never been to the toilet while hanging upside-down before, and the
inevitable was the inevitable, and the inevitable wouldn’t be very pleasant.
She put that thought from her mind and considered the tiny scalpel in her hand,
whose length equalled less than half her palm’s width. She said, ‘You’d never
manage a pancreatectomy with this, let alone an ankle amputation, don’t be
silly,’ and threw it away. It landed later with a tinkle, and later still an
echo of that tinkle. The fat man groaned a true sadness, and spun slowly on his
festering ankle, emanating a melancholia even Delilah could feel. ‘Oh,’ he
moaned, ‘what have you done? Whatever have you done?’ He began to beat his
floppy breasts with his chubby hands. Soon he rippled all over like a vibrating
jelly. Tears styled his hair. His choked sobs filled his upside-down nostrils
until his nose overflowed and streamed into his eyes. And from all around came
the screams and demands and pleas for sleep, for its sweet escape.

There came now another flashing, moving towards the
slowly spinning pair up there. It drew attention and with it inserted breaks
into the fat man’s sobbing. ‘A saw!’ he blubbed, as the pulley squeaked and the
flashing approached. ‘A lovely saw!’ It got closer. ‘An
anatomist’s
saw
at that. The day, it has come. They promised me no more than a year in here and
they were true to their word. Bless them. Bless the System.’ He caught the saw,
gripped it. ‘I’m so excited. I can hardly hold it still. I do so hope I don’t
drop it. What a lovely saw. Even with my eyes closed I can feel its quality.
Love built this, I can tell you that. This is a saw and a half.’

‘But you’ll die,’ said Delilah, concerned that it
wasn’t madness she had to worry about but the sheer desperation apparent in
this spinning fat man adjacent to her. A desperation so desperate it would take
its own life.

‘Ooh, I just can’t reach. Damn. Maybe if I get at it
from between my legs. But I’m just too fat.
Blast
. There should be
a law against people like me.’ There was, it got him incarcerated, not that
he’d been informed of this. ‘Maybe if I can stretch and hack at it I’ll be able
to chop it off.’ He threw up his arm, stretching hard, and hacked, and made a
noise Delilah didn’t want to hear. ‘It doesn’t seem to be working. And I
wouldn’t wish to damage the teeth, not on as beautiful a saw as this. No,
there’s no option but to try at the knee. I never liked that knee. It wasn’t
built for a man like me. A man like me needs an industrial knee, not that
spindly thing.’ He whacked his knee with the saw blade. ‘I’m surprised it
didn’t give up the ghost months ago and send me crashing to the floor. I’ve
seen more substantial knees on film footage of marsh birds – storks I
believe they call them. No, it’s au revoir to the knee. This procedure is more
interesting than the ankle anyway. Fascinating, the knee. Wonderful design, the
tibiofemoral joint, let me tell you. Ah, that’s better. What a soothing
sensation, so satisfying, sawing through a popliteus tendon.’ Something popped.
Above, the harness creaked. Delilah resisted her spin, but it brought her back
to face the man, and still she couldn’t close her eyes. She put her hands over
her eyes but she looked through her fingers. ‘Next the collateral ligaments,’
said the man, with enthusiasm. ‘This is fun. It wasn’t just a job to me, you
know, cutting people up, it was my hobby too. Never thought I’d get to have a
go on me though. What a treat. Like a knife through butter, look at that.
Marvellous. I do so love a good sharp saw.’

‘Please stop,’ said Delilah.

‘My name is Jeremy,’ said the fat man. ‘Pleased to
meet you.’ And held out a hand, and then, and with a crack, he was gone.

Delilah dropped a third of a metre or so, as did every
prisoner, and was jerked to a halt. The whole rig was interconnected. For every
jumper or faller, every remaining prisoner descended. Delilah calculated that
if all the prisoners fell, the rig would reach the ground, where without her
own weight locking the hook down, she’d be able to unfasten her bed, cradle,
and rush for the
Exit
door, on whose handle hung a cardboard sign
proclaiming,
Back in five mins
. But as she contemplated this impossible
conundrum, the turbines started up. And they churned the air, and they churned
the light. And you couldn’t get to sleep. Not in a place like this. But this
was the System and in the System sleep was not advised, not recommended. Sleep
was, by and large, a mistake. And for the ninety-eight other prisoners to fall
to the ground? It just wasn’t going to happen. Not in the System. The System offered
the hope. But that was all. Then the System took the hope away. This Delilah
was coming to learn. This was the System.

 

 

3
– A
M
urder

 

 

‘You were witness to a murder,’ said Officer JJ
Jeffrey in his pith sun helmet to protect him from the dripping ceiling.
Delilah guessed they were under the juddering Shower Unit, and that it leaked,
and that she was therefore now on Floor 102. Which was bad news. She was fixed
to a post in the centre of the dripping room, Wet Room 102. A drip dripped on
her head every ten seconds. It was sending her crazy. You decided you wouldn’t
go mad, she thought, and this was what they did, they decided you would. She
glanced about and demanded, angrily, ‘A murder?’

‘That’s right, prisoner, a murder, damn you. A man is
dead. What do you have to say about that? He cannot talk, he’s a goner. He
tried to talk, of course, they always do, just before he passed away, but was
unable to speak because his teeth had grown hairs. Extraordinary. The coroner
was flabbergasted – never seen anything like it. He’s been sent away for
experiments. The prisoner, that is, not the coroner. What do you have to say
for yourself? You were his friend, the prisoner’s, not the coroner’s. Am I
making myself clear? You were “in” with the prisoner, weren’t you? So, what are
you hiding? The two of you fell out and you killed him. It’s happened before.
You did him in. Admit it. You bumped him off.’

BOOK: Bang
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