“..that thing is lower than a Moreau”
The words had come from one of those flapping black-wool friars of the mainstream order of the Church during that unfortunate encounter on the docks the day before. He lay on his cot , resting without sleep, deep in the boiler room. He had indifference to the heat. Come springtime, Spires normally pitched a tent atop his factory rooftop and slept in relative windy dry air, living like an Eastern prince in his wonderful doman. But he didn’t feel like it anymore.
“that Thing is lower than a Moreau!”
Was it Brother Rudyard who’d said that? Fuddy duddy Ruddy. Was it true? They accused him of drug abuse, so he’d given then a false formula for the very thing those greedy zealots wanted most. Pineal gland juice! They’d belived him. Ah at least there was some humor in misery. Lapis and Rudyard woud be wasting their time looking for corpses that didn’t exist, now.
His inflated, nearly numb hands drifted over the slightly oily shell of his body. He was a horrid, misshapen thing. The oil reflected to much light and seemed to give him a distasteful black outline from most angles. How had this happened? He remembered dining with Doctor Legume. He remembered climbing from a small boat onto the docks in Clockhaven. But how had he returned?
Day dreams: Only that because apart from rests, Spires hadn’t slept in a long time. Silently, he missed it. But if he tried hard to remember, whatever constituted his brain now came up with a vision.
Maddox. Poor Maddox. Leaves sprouting from his arms, vines emerging from his throat even as he called for help. What was left of him was merely an imitation of life, a statue, standing silently in the yard, his green skin turning sunlight into life’s energy, his eyes to be picked like berries by some passing bird.
Aghast at the memory, Spires stood up. But was it real? He had to make his rounds about town. It was important to keep up a semblance of routine. He put on his oversized tophat. He’d given up on most clothes, and the monocle that still worked. His bones were very brittle. They broke easily, and though they healed astonishingly fast, the pain was still there. He grabbed the strange spring-toy called the pogo stick he’d found in a toy store and rode it. Somehow it felt better than walking, and eased his joints. He could take the jarring just fine, and his balance was superb. Everyone should have a pogo stick, he decided.
Maddox had vines from sprouting from his mouth. “That thing is lower than a Moreau!”
Was it a memory? Was it as the monks suggested? Had it all been some drugged binge, full of flights of fancy and hallucinations? No, it couldn’t be. Maddox and the rest were gone. His body was changed. Oh it was too dry. He needed misting. He grabbed the atomizer and did the best he could. Once his shell was sprayed, he bounced out of the boiler room, up the stairs, and out to observe the days business . Out the door and into daylight. The smell of sea breeze wafted in the air.
A smuggled knife held to Doctor Legume’s throat. He looked at the blade with little fear. “Don’t you feel different already? It’s already started. It’s the place itself. Seeded with spores that combine with your genes according to Mendeleev’s laws.”
Spires cut him anyway. Cut him repeatedly. What was inside didn’t bleed, but seeped. Flesh like cork, organs like pulp. It took him a long while to die. And as he did so, the Doctor said, “Could have saved millions. Soon the world’s population won’t be able to feed itself. You could have been the beginning.”
And then spores of Doctor Legume sprouted in the days that followed, as Spires searched frantically through the scientist’s notebooks, trying any concoction to retard the inevitable. Little Doctor Legumes mocked him, and would attempt to wreck equipment. He grew tired of killing them. By the time he’d managed to halt the process, the damage was done. If it had not been for the elixir he’d developed to mimic the prowess of the monks and nuns, perhaps he’d bee in the garden with the plant that used to be Maddox.
Perhaps that might have been better.
The dry season had set in by now. He’d found a small lugsail boat elonging to Legume in a part of the island he and Maddox had been too exhausted to search out when they’d arrived. It had charts, procisions, a compass, and even with his limited use of hands, Spires was willing to try. He had to try. When he left, the barrels of oil, gunpower, and various incendiary chemicals were already starting to burn. Let the island burn to a cinder, all of it. He only hoped his friend no longer had any feeling. He only hoped somehow he’d make it home.
Spires stopped at a canal bridge, looking at his reflection. It was the Oiling Festival. One of his favorite times of year.
“There he is, that’s Mr Peanut!” someone urchin yelled, and threw foul tomato at him. It him him in the back. Some of the other urchins took part with gravel. It threatened to break his shell. He bounced away as quickly as he could.
“What’s all this then?” a fishwife said as he accidentally charged into her, trying to flee.
“That monster attacked Mrs Miggins!” someone shouted. Now a crowd was after him. Spires ran nearly to the church, seeking sancturary, but someone threw a potato, and it knocked him off of his pogostick. He fell with the awful sound and much worst pain of a broken femur, and a fractured tibia. He raised his one good arm to protect himself.
“Cor, my wife was allergic to peanuts. Did ‘er in, they did!”
Spires screamed out at them, “I am not a vegetable! I am not a vegetable! I am a human being! I am a man!” He crawled away from them, in agony, hoping for help somewhere.