Image of the beast, p.1
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       Image of the Beast, p.1

           Philip José Farmer
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Image of the Beast


  * * *

  * * *

  * * *

  CHAPTER 1

  Green milk curdled.

  Smoke rose to the light, and smoke and light fused to become green milk. The milk fissioned to become smoke and darkness above. As below.

  Smog was outside, and smog was inside.

  Green and sour.

  The green and sour odor and taste came not only from the smog, which had forced its tendrils into the air-conditioned building, nor from the tobacco plumes in the room. It came from memory of what he had seen that morning and anticipation of what he would see within the next few minutes.

  The film room of the Los Angeles Police Department was darker than Herald Childe had ever seen it. The beam of light from the projection booth usually tended to make gray what otherwise would have been black. But the cigar and cigarette smoke, the smog, and the mood of the viewers, blackened everything. Even the silver light from the screen seemed to pull light in instead of casting it back at the viewers.

  Where the beam overhead struck the tobacco fumes, green milk formed and curdled and soured. So thought Herald Childe. The image was unforced. The worst smog in history was smothering Los Angeles and Orange counties. Not a mouse of a wind had stirred for a day and a night and a day and a night. On the third day, it seemed that this condition might go on and on.

  The smog. He could now forget the smog.

  Spread-eagled on the screen was his partner (possibly ex-partner). The wine-red draperies behind him glowed, and Matthew Colben's face, normally as red as Chianti half-diluted with water, was now the color of a transparent plastic bag bulging with wine.

  The camera swung away to show the rest of his body and some of the room. He was flat on his back and nude. His arms were strapped down beside him and his legs, also strapped down, formed a V. His penis lolled across his left thigh like a fat drunken worm.

  The table must have been made for just this purpose of tying down men with their legs separated so others could walk in between the legs.

  There was only the Y-shaped wooden table, the thick wine-red carpet, and the wine-red draperies. The camera swept around to show the circle of draperies and then turned back and swooped up to show the full form of Matthew Colben as seen by a fly on the ceiling. Colben's head was on a dark pillow. He looked straight up at the camera and smiled sillily. He did not seem to care that he was bound and helpless.

  The previous scenes had shown why he did not care and had demonstrated how Colben had progressed, through conditioning, from impotent fear to rigid anticipation.

  Childe, having seen the complete film once, felt his entrails slip about each other and knot each other and, their tails coiled around his backbone, pull until they were choking each other.

  Colben grinned, and Childe murmured, "You fool! You poor fucking fool!"

  The man in the seat on Childe's right shifted and said, "What'd you say?"

  "Nothing, Commissioner."

  But his penis felt as if it were being sucked back up into his belly and drawing his testicles after it.

  The draperies opened, and the camera moved in to show a huge black-rimmed, long-lashed, dark-blue eye. Then it moved down along a straight narrow nose and broad, full, and bright red lips. A pink-red tongue slipped out between unnaturally white and even teeth, shot back and forth a few times, dropped a bead of saliva on the chin, and then disappeared.

  The camera moved back, the draperies were thrust open, and a woman entered. Her black glossy hair was combed straight back and fell to her waist. Her face was garish with beauty patches, rouge, powder, green and red and black and azure paint around the eyes and a curl of powder-blue down her cheeks, artificial eyelashes, and a tiny golden nose-ring. A green robe, tied at her neck and waist, was so thin that she might as well have been naked. Despite which, she untied the cords about the neck and waist and slid the robe off and showed that she could be even more naked.

  The camera moved downward and closer. The hollow at the base of the neck was deep and the bones beneath hinted at exquisiteness. The breasts were full but not large, slightly conical and up-tilted, with narrow and long, almost sharp, nipples. The breasts were hung upon a large rib cage. The belly sank inward; she was skinny about the hips, the bones stuck out just a little. The camera went round, and she pivoted--Childe could not tell which because the camera was so close to her and he had no reference point. Her buttocks were like huge unshelled soft-boiled eggs.

  The camera traveled around her, showing the narrow waist and ovoid hips and then turned so that it was looking up toward the ceiling--which was covered with a drape-like material the color of a broken blood-vessel in a drunkard's eye. The camera glanced up her white thigh; light was cast into the hollow between the legs--she must have spread her legs then--and there was the little brown eye of the anus and the edge of the mouth of her vagina. The hairs were yellow, which meant that the woman had either dyed her head hairs or her pubic hairs.

  The camera, still pointing upward, passed between her legs--which looked like the colossal limbs of a statue now--and then traveled slowly upward. It straightened out as it rose and was looking directly at her pubes. These were partly covered by a triangular cloth which was taped on. Childe did not know why. Modesty certainly was not the reason.

  He had seen this shot before, but he braced himself. The first time, he--in common with the others in the room--had jumped and some had sworn and one had yelled.

  The cloth was tight against the genitals, and a shift in angle of lighting suddenly revealed that the cloth was semitransparent. The hairs formed a dark triangle, and the slit took in the cloth enough to show that the cloth was tight against the slit.

  Abruptly, and Childe jumped again even though he knew what was coming, the cloth sank in more deeply, as if something inside the vagina had spread the lips open.

  Then something bulged against the cloth, something that could only have come from within the woman. It thrust the cloth up; the cloth shook as if a tiny fist or head were beating against it, and then the bulge sank back, and the cloth was quiet again.

  The Commissioner, two seats away from Childe, said, "What the bell could that be?" He blew out cigar smoke and then began coughing. Childe coughed, too.

  "It could be something mechanical up her cunt," Childe said. "Or it could be..." He let the words, and his thoughts, hang. No hermaphrodite, as far as he knew, had a penis within the vaginal canal. Anyway, that wasn't a penis sliding out; that looked like an independent entity--gave the feeling of one, rather--and certainly the thing had beat against the cloth at more than one place.

  Now the camera swung around at a level a few inches above Colben and several feet in front of him. It showed the feet, seemingly enormous at this narrow distance, the thickly muscled and hairy calves and thighs spread out on the Y-shaped table, the big testicles, the fat worm of the penis, no longer lolling against the thigh but beginning to get fatter and to lift its swollen red head. Colben could not have seen the woman enter, but he had evidently been conditioned so that he knew she would come in within a certain time after he was strapped to the table. The penis was coming to life as if its ears--buried within the flesh like a snake's--had heard her or as if the slit in its head were a detector of body heat--like an adder's nose pits--and it knew that she was in the room.

  The camera moved to one side so that it could start with the profile of Matthew Colben's head. The thick curly gray-and-black hair, the big red ears, the smooth forehead, the big curved nose, the thin lips, massive jawbone, chin thick and heavy as the head of a sledge, big fat chest, the outcurve of a paunch grown with much stuffing of steak and beer, the down-curve to the penis, now fully up and swollen and hard. The camera moved in for a close shot; the veins were ropes
run into the lanyard of lust (Childe could not help thinking in such images; he fingered concepts with a Midas touch). The head, fully exposed, glistened with lubricating fluid.

  Now the camera moved up and away and took a position where both the man and woman could be seen. She approached slowly, swaying her hips, and came up to Colben and said something. Her lips moved, but there was no sound, and the police lip-reader could not tell what she was saying because her head was bent too far over. Colben said something too, but his words were undecipherable for the same reason.

  The woman bent over and let her left breast fall so that Colben could take it in his mouth. He sucked for a while; and then the woman removed it. The camera moved in to show the nipple, which was wet and swollen. She kissed him on the mouth; the camera moved in sidewise to show her as she raised her head a little to permit the camera to record the tongue sliding back and forth into Colben's mouth. Then she began to kiss and to lick his chin, his neck, his chest, his nipples, and she smeared his round belly with saliva. She worked slowly down to his pubic hairs, slobbered on them, gently tapped his penis with her tongue many times, kissed it lightly several times, flicked out her tongue to dab its head with the tip while she held it at the root. Then she walked around the leg of the Y and between the legs and began to suck on his penis energetically.

  At this point, a tinny piano, like those played in the old-time bars or in the silent movie theaters, began Dvorak's Humoresque. The camera shifted to a position above Colben's face; his eyes were closed and he was looking ecstatic, that is, stupidly happy.

  For the first time, the woman spoke.

  "Tell me just before you're ready to come, darling. Maybe thirty or so seconds before, yes? I have a beautiful surprise for you. Something new."

  The voice had been printed and run off by the police on an oscilloscope and studied. But distortions had been introduced into it. That was why the voice sounded so hollow and wavery.

  "Go slower, baby," Colben said. "Take it easy, put it off like you did the last time. That was the greatest orgasm I ever had in my life. You're going a little too fast now. And don't stick your finger up my ass like you did then. You cut my piles."

  The first time the scene had been shown, some of the cops had snickered. Nobody snickered now. There was an unheard but easily felt shift in the audience now. The smoke seemed to get hard and brittle; the green milk in the light beam became more sour. The Commissioner sucked in air so hard a rattle sounded in his throat and then he began coughing.

  The piano was playing The William Tell Overture now. The tinny music was so incongruous, and yet it was the incongruity that made it seem so horrible.

  The woman raised her head and said, "You about ready to come, mon petit?"

  Colben breathed, "Oh, Jesus, just about!"

  The woman looked into the camera and smiled. The flesh seemed to fade away, the bones beneath were faintly glowing and cloudy. Then the flesh was cloudy; the skull was hard and bright. And then the skull faded and flesh fell back into place.

  She leered into the camera and put her head down again, but this time she went past the corner of the Y and squatted down below the table, where the camera followed her. There was a small shelf fixed to one leg of the table. She picked up something off it; the light brightened, the camera moved in nearer.

  She held a pair of false teeth. They looked as if they were made of iron; the teeth were sharp as a razor and pointed like a tiger's.

  She smiled and put the iron teeth on the shelf and used both hands to remove her own teeth. She looked thirty years older. She placed the white teeth on the shelf and then inserted the iron teeth into her mouth. She held the edge of her forefinger between the two teeth and bit gently down. Then she removed the finger and held it so that the camera could zero in on it. Bright red blood was welling out from the bite.

  She stood up and wiped the cut on the fat glands of Colben's penis and she bent over and licked the blood off. Colben groaned and said, "Oh, God, I'm going to come!"

  Her mouth went around the head and she sucked in loudly. Colben began to jerk and to groan. The camera showed his face for a second before it moved back to a position alongside the woman's.

  She raised her head quickly. The penis was jerking and spurting the thick oily whitish fluid. She opened her mouth widely, bent down swiftly, and bit. The muscles along her jaw lumped; her neck muscles became cords. Colben screamed.

  She whipped her head back and forth and bit again and again. Blood ran down from her mouth and reddened the pubic hairs.

  The camera moved away from her to show the draperies through which she had entered. There was a flourish of trumpets. A cannon boomed in the distance. The piano played Tschaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

  Trumpets sounded again as the music faded. The draperies shot open, propelled by two stiff arms. A man stepped inside and posed for a moment, his right arm raised so that his black cloak half-hid his face. His hair was black and shiny as patent leather and was parted down the middle. His forehead and nose were white as the belly of a shark. His eyebrows were thick and black and met over his nose. The eyes were large and black.

  He was dressed as if he were going to a movie premiere. He had on a formal suit, a stiff white shirt with a black formal tie and a diagonal red band across his chest and a medal or order on his lapel.

  He wore blue sneakers.

  Another comic element which only made the situation more horrible.

  The man lowered the cloak to show a large hooked nose, a thick black moustache which curved down around the ends of his thick rouged lips, and a prominent cleft chin.

  He cackled, and this deliberately corny element was even more horrible than the sneakers. The laugh was a parody of all the gloating laughs cranked forth by all the monsters and Draculas of every horror movie.

  Up went the arm, and, his face hidden behind the cloak, the man rushed toward the table. Colben was still screaming. The woman jumped away swiftly and let the man into the Y. The penis was still jerking and emitting blood and spermatic fluid; the head was half-bitten off. The camera switched to the woman's face. Blood was running down her chin and over her breasts.

  Again, the camera panned back to the Dracula (so Childe thought of him). Dracula cackled again, showing two obviously false canines, long and sharp. Then he bent down and began to chew savagely on the penis but within a short time raised his head. The blood and spermatic fluid was running out of his mouth and making the front of his white shirt crimson. He opened his mouth and spit out the head of the penis onto Colbert's belly and laughed, spraying blood over himself and Colben.

  The first time, Childe had fainted. This time, he got up and ran toward the door but vomited before he reached it. He was not alone.

  * * *

  CHAPTER 2

  The Dracula and the woman had looked into the camera and laughed wildly as if they had been having a hilarious time. Then, fade-out, and a flash of TO BE CONTINUED? End of film.

  Herald Childe did not see the ending the second time. He was too occupied with groaning, with wiping the tears from his eyes and blowing his nose and coughing. The taste and odor of vomit were strong. He felt like apologizing, but he repressed the impulse. He had nothing to apologize for.

  The Commissioner, who had not thrown up but who might have looked better if he had, said, "Let's get out of here."

  He stepped over the mess on the wooden floor. Childe followed him. The others came out. The Commissioner said, "We're going to have a conference, Childe. You can sit in on it, contribute, if you wish."

  "I'd like to keep in touch with the police, Commissioner. But I don't have anything to contribute. Not just yet, anyway."

  He had told the police, more than once, everything he knew about Matthew Colben, which was much, and everything he knew about his disappearance, which was nothing.

  The Commissioner was a tall lean man with a half-bald head and a long thin face and melancholy black moustache. He was always tugging at the right end of his mous
tache--never the left. Yet he was left-handed. Childe had observed this habit and wondered about its origin. What would the Commissioner say if he were made aware of it?

  What could he say? Only he and a psychotherapist would ever be able to find out.

  "You realize, Childe, that this comes at a very bad time for us," the Commissioner said. "If it weren't for the...uh, extraordinary aspects of the case...I wouldn't be able to spend more than a few minutes on it. As it is..."

  Childe nodded and said, "Yes. I know. The Department will have to get on it later. I'm grateful that you've taken this time."

  "Oh, it's not that bad!" the Commissioner said. "Sergeant Bruin will be handling the case. That is, when he has time. You have to realize..."

  "I realize," Childe said. "I know Bruin. I'll keep in touch with him. But not so often he'll be bugged."

  "Fine, fine!"

  The Commissioner stuck out a skinny and cold but sweating hand, said, "See you!" and turned and walked off down the hall.

  Childe went into the nearest men's room, where several plainclothesmen and two uniformed men were washing the taste of vomit out. Sergeant Bruin was also there, but he had not been sick. He came from the stall zipping up his fly. Bruin was rightly named. He looked like a grizzly, but he was far less easily upset.

  As he washed his hands, he said, "I gotta hurry, Childe. The Commissioner wants a quick conference about your partner, and then we all gotta get back on this smog thing."

  "You have my phone number, and I got yours," Childe said. He drank another cup of water and crumpled the paper and threw it into the wastepaper basket. "Well, at least I'll be able to move around. I got a permit to use my car."

  "That's more'n several million citizens got right now," Bruin said cheerfully. "Be sure you burn the gas in a good cause."

  "So far, I haven't got much reason to burn anything," Childe said. "But I'm going to try."

  Bruin looked down at him. His big black eyes were as impenetrable as a bear's; they did not look human. He said, "You going to put in time for free on this job?"

 

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