Tabanidayby Michael Sellars / Fantasy / Horror
By Michael Sellars
Copyright 2017 Michael Sellars
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Timothy didn’t know what it was, the thing at the end of Elbow Street. It was big – bigger than a house, he didn’t doubt, if it were to unfurl to its full height – and it was made of something beginning with ‘c’.
He didn’t know what it was, the creature at the end of the street, but he suspected it was there because of him.
Nobody else could see it. The other residents of the street edged around it, as if it was a large, murky puddle they didn’t want to step into; they stared down at their feet or examined the contents of their pockets or found interesting shapes in the clouds. Their faces became set, as if they were deep in thought. Maybe they could see it but pretended otherwise. Or maybe it didn’t want to be seen. Not by them. Just by Timothy.
Timothy was beginning to think this might be the hamster incident all over again. But that had been twenty years ago, when Timothy was twelve. Doctor Sheehan had told him he was still twelve, in many ways; but twenty years was still a long time, even for someone like Timothy. Twenty years had robbed him of the majority of his hair and weakened his eyesight, irrespective of what Doctor Sheehan referred to as his ‘mental age’.
Mr Leishman from number fourteen appeared at the top of the street. His tartan shopping trolley was bulging - doubtless overloaded with cans of extra-strength lager and bottles of cheap vodka. He struggled to negotiate the perimeter of the creature, his eyes almost closed. Glass clinked against glass, as if some invisible friends were toasting the old man’s failing health. He didn’t look at the thing and he didn’t look at Timothy; he locked his gaze on some imaginary object in the middle distance and quickened his pace until he’d made his way past Timothy and the creature. Once the two were behind him, he slowed to an exaggerated casual stroll.
Timothy wanted to shake the man, demand he widen his eyes, turn his head and for God’s sake look at the huge thing that had manifested at the end of their street. And he wanted to ask about the handwritten invitation he had posted through Mr Leishman’s letterbox; the invitation he’d posted through every letterbox on Elbow Street. Instead, he went home to look up something beginning with ‘c’ in his dictionary.
Of course, it wasn’t actually his dictionary. On the frontispiece, in wild biro, were the words ‘This book belongs to Sandra O’Brien’. Timothy ran his finger over the name, felt the indentation where his girlfriend had pressed too hard. He didn’t want to cry - he wasn’t twelve - but he could hear the flies swarming over the buffet in the dining room and he still didn’t have an answer to the question that had been buzzing through his brain for more than a week now: why had nobody come?
It took him an hour to work his way through the ‘c’s and a fog of tears until he found the word he was looking for.
That was what the thing at the end of the street was made of. Chitin. It was chitinous. Like an insect.
He slid the dictionary back onto the bookshelf, next to his Bible. The Bible was Timothy’s (‘This book belongs to Timothy Cleg’). He made sure the spines of both books were flush and then took his letter-writing things from the old bureau that used to belong to his Aunty Ruth. The Bible had also belonged to Aunty Ruth, but when she’d died - a tumour as big as a grapefruit, she’d said, a couple of weeks after her funeral - she’d left it to Timothy.
Following a lengthy period of pen chewing, Timothy wrote a letter to the Department of Incidents and Occurrences. Doctor Sheehan told him there was no such government department and cited the return of his letters (close to two hundred of them now) as proof. Timothy told him the letters had been carefully steamed open, read and resealed; he was confident that everything he had written had been digested and that strategies were even now being put into place to tackle the many and various issues he had raised.
Dear Mr Clitheroe,
When I was twelve years old I wanted a hamster. I wanted a hamster more than anything. I don’t know why I wanted a hamster so badly but it was probably because of something I saw on telly and you know you don’t want to get me started on that. Anyway I asked my dad and he said no and didn’t I tell you to stay in your fucking room you fucking spastic? Didn’t I? And he took his belt to me. But he’d been drinking and he didn’t mean it. Except the hamster part. When Dad said no he always meant no even when he was so drunk he couldn’t stand and the legs of his trousers were all dark where he’d wet himself and there was sick in his beard. Anyway I still wanted a hamster even when I could hardly get my shirt off because of all the sticky blood on my back. Somehow I wanted it even more. And the next morning it was there sat on the end of my bed cleaning its whiskers and ears. Have I already told you this story? I think maybe I have. I’ll have to check my files. Anyway my dad found the hamster a few days later in the home I’d made for it under my bed out of an old biscuit tin and he stood on it and called it fucking vermin and its guts went everywhere like worms. Dad was sorry afterwards even if he never said so. The hamster was called Desperate Dan after the character from the The Dandy comic. Anyway the reason I’m bringing all this up is because it’s happened again but this time it’s a big insect thing and it’s stood at the end of my street. Could you get back to me as soon as possible to let me know what I should do? Thank you.
Timothy posted the letter early the next morning, in plenty of time to catch the first post. The thing was still there. Pigeons had sheltered beneath its black, chitinous plating. Here and there it was streaked white with droppings. It didn’t seem to mind the pigeons. It didn’t seem to mind anything.
“What do you want?” Timothy whispered.
The thing said nothing, did nothing.
“Are you like the hamster? Are you the hamster incident all over again?”
The thing said nothing. Pigeons cooed. Another streak of bird shit flashed against black chitin; slow, Impressionist lightning.
“My dad’s dead,” said Timothy, louder now. “He won’t stand on you. Everybody’s dead now. Well, not everybody. Everybody who matters, though. Mum, Dad, Aunty Ruth, Uncle Derek, Sandra. And only Sandra really matters.”
Timothy stepped closer to the thing. He placed his palm against its outer shell. It was cold to the touch and vibrated very slightly, like a fridge. There was a smell coming from somewhere under all those chitinous plates. Burning and rot, like someone had set fire to a rubbish bin.
“Why didn’t anybody come? To the funeral? To the buffet? There were sandwiches. And cake and trifle. Why did nobody come?”
The thing said nothing, just carried on vibrating and stinking.
“She just fell down. Sandra. Just fell down and that was that. Aneurism. I looked it up in the dictionary but I’m still not quite sure what it is. Maybe I should get a medical dictionary. She was thirty-two, just like me. And she was twelve, just like me, too. Sandra. The Government was supposed to be looking after us. The Government and The Community. But nobody came. Not even for sandwiches and cake and trifle. Surely everybody likes trifle. Sandra did. That was her favourite.”
The thing said nothing.
“Suit yourself,” said Timothy. “I’m going home.”
He tried reading his Bible but the radio kept switching itself on and telling him lies about the world; about it being flat and only nine hundred metres across (“in real terms”) and how the moon would peel off the sky if you picked at its edges with your thumbnail for long enough. Timothy knew if he stayed in the same room as the radio for too long, he’d start believing all its tinny nonsense, so he took himself off to bed.
Dear Mr Clitheroe,
I had a dream last night. The thing at the end of the street was pretending to be my dad. It was sat on Aunty Ruth’s bureau and it asked me what I wanted it to do. I said I wanted it to go away and it said it couldn’t do that you stupid fucking spastic what is fucking wrong with you for fuck’s sake? I told it I didn’t even know what it was so how should I know what it should do? It said it was Tabaniday and I said I didn’t know what that was. Horsefly it said and told me to look it up in Sandra’s dictionary and then I think I woke up although I’m finding it hard to tell the difference lately between sleeping and waking. I couldn’t find Tabaniday under T in the dictionary but I found horsefly under H and Tabaniday was there but spelt Tabanidae. It’s Latin for horsefly. Another word for horsefly is cleg. Fancy that. Anyway I’m none the wiser. I await your instructions. Thank you.
Timothy Horsefly Ha Ha
“You’re too big to be a horsefly,” said Timothy. Chitin vibrated against his palm. “It would have to be an enormous horse.”
Tabanidae said nothing.
“It doesn’t matter,” said Timothy. “None of this matters. Sandra died. Aneurism. And nobody came. To the funeral or the buffet. Not even Mrs Patrick from number twenty-seven or Mrs Chalinor from number thirty-four or Mr Ellis with all his medals and two walking sticks from number twelve. Nobody. There was just me. On my own in the crematorium. Crying. They should have been there. All of them. Crying, like me. For Sandra. Fucking fuckers. Sorry.”
Tabanidae stopped vibrating.
“I want you to give them something to cry about. That’s what I want you to do. Something to cry about.”
Tabanidae vanished. A second later, it reappeared. Pigeons wheeled, disorientated. Timothy rarely blinked. If he had, he would have missed the creature’s disappearance/reappearance.
From number twenty-seven, screaming.
Dear Mr Clitheroe,
Mrs Patrick’s dog died yesterday. Mr Merchant from number twenty-nine said it just bled to death for no reason. It died in the kitchen but the blood ran all the way across the back yard and into the alley behind the house. The police don’t know what happened. I saw them arrive and they walked right past Tabanidae oblivious. I had another dream and this time Tabanidae was pretending to be Sandra. She was as pretty as ever and kissed me and called me Pudding. She said she’d give them all something to cry about. The whole of Elbow Street. She said I would be safe because I was within the gates of the Holy City and that the dogs and the whoremongers were without. I had to keep telling myself it wasn’t my Sandra even though it almost smelled like her. Lavender. I didn’t even know what lavender smelled like before I met Sandra. Anyway it wasn’t Sandra it was Tabanidae. I asked it why it said it was a horsefly when quite clearly it was too big and it said it was a very big horsefly from a very big horse. I said there were no horses that big and stop being silly and it said it wasn’t a real horsefly from a real horse but an idea of a horsefly from an idea of a horse. A pale horse it said. It said it had drunk of its blood and eaten of its flesh and carried a small portion of it in its belly. I don’t understand any of this Mr Clitheroe. Do you think perhaps it’s time we got Mr Edgerton involved? Surely he’d know what to do although I appreciate he is a very busy man but he’d probably have experience of this sort of thing.
There were no pigeons on Tabanidae the following morning and the rain had washed away most of their droppings.
Timothy yawned. The flesh beneath his eyes looked bruised and smudged. A couple of days’ worth of stubble put half of his face in shadow.
“They never really liked us. These people. They never really liked me and Sandra. They’d smile at us and say hello it’s a lovely day isn’t it but they’d talk to us like we were children. But they never let their children near us. In case we hurt them or infected them or something. I don’t know. I don’t understand them. Sandra called them ‘ghosts’ and said they scared her even though she didn’t really believe in them. Not sure what she meant. I think I hate them now and I know that’s bad and Sandra wouldn’t be pleased but I hate them I really do. Care in the Community. But they didn’t. Care. They didn’t care. They just put up with us.”
Timothy pinched the bridge of his nose, sighed, scrunched his eyes shut.
“I hate them. All of them. Sorry, Sandra.”
He looked up at Tabanidae, ran a hand through his hair.
“Mrs Chalinor,” said Timothy. “Something to cry about.”
Tabanidae vanished. Returned. Rain swirled for a moment, confused. From number thirty-four, the sound of breaking glass.
Then, “Mrs Droughton.”
Then, “Mrs Howarth.”
Then, “Mr Ibstock. Mr Walkerdine. Mrs O’Hagan. Mrs Spirling. Something to cry about: all of them.”
By lunchtime, Elbow Street was all screams and moans, police sirens and breaking glass. Black smoke too heavy to take to the air crawled on its bitter belly. The ground shook, as if rocked by leviathan footfalls. Blood thick as syrup seeped up and out of the cracks in the pavement. Dogs howled, and it was almost possible to make out what they were saying. From the rooftops, snake-faced children, their bodies a tangle of tattoos, shrieked laughter and threw rocks and cat skulls.
Tabanidae was long gone.
Timothy went home.
There was a letter from Mr Clitheroe waiting for him on the doormat.
As Timothy read it, his lips moved. A couple of paragraphs in, lip-movement became whispering. Whispering became muttering. Unaware, the last paragraph he read aloud.
“Don’t do anything, Timothy. For God’s sake. Mr Egerton will take care of everything. Do not engage with the Patmos Entity. Wait for Mr Egerton. He specialises in localised apocalypses.
“We appreciate all you have done for us, Timothy, but this is beyond even your abilities to deal with. It is imperative that you do not engage with the Patmos Entity.
“The Department of Incidents and Occurrences.”
Timothy slipped the letter back into its envelope.
“Oh, dear,” he said.
Later, Sandra said, “This is ours.”
Timothy was afraid to touch her in case she crumbled back down to the too-small quantity of ash he’d carried back with him from Springwood Crematorium. He wanted to touch her more than anything, though, wanted to hug her and smell her hair. Lavender.
“What’s ours?” he asked. He was stood in the living room doorway; she was sat in her favourite armchair.
“This apocalypse,” she said. “Our apocalypse. Small but complete.”
“I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Shall we go for a walk, feed the swans in the park?”
“We can’t. We have to stay here now. In our Holy City.”
“What holy city?”
“This house. And our love. That’s the Holy City.”
“We have to stay here? Like ghosts?”
“Like angels. God is here with us. A tiny bit of Him, anyway.”
“Do we have to stay here forever?”
Timothy scratched his head. “And how long is that? How long is forever?”
“A very, very long time.”
Timothy smiled, then shook his head, frowned. “I don’t understand any of this.” He smiled again. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Yes, Pudding, that would be lovely.”
“Will it be holy tea?”
“Yes, Pudding. Everything’s holy here.”