The Soul Destroyer
By James Flynn
The car pulled up
at the curb in the middle of the sleepy, residential street, then came to a
gentle stop. On each side of the road, amid the neat rows of trees trailing off
into the distance in either direction, brown semidetached houses sat behind
their well-tended gardens and tidy driveways. When the driver’s door opened a
stout, suited man climbed out, his neatly-combed head turning left and right as
he looked for a door number. Once he found what he was looking for, he
straightened his tie and proceeded to walk up one of the gravel driveways, his
polished shoes crunching the small stones as he went.
was the Chief Inspector at HCQ, the organisation responsible for investigating
hospitals and mental institutions across the UK. His visit to this leafy,
suburban street was regarding an ongoing investigation at Bryson Psychiatric
Hospital, a secure facility for the mentally ill situated out in the Kentish
countryside. It’d been a very bad few months for the hospital, what with an
unusually large amount of staff members either leaving or being struck off
sick. A wave of resignations and sicknesses of this size and magnitude was
virtually unheard of, and so it soon prompted an investigation.
The address he’d
just arrived at belonged to a nurse who was currently on sick leave from Bryson
Hospital due to severe stress and anxiety, and according to the latest reports
her condition wasn’t getting any better. Her situation was beginning to become
a very common one for nurses working at this particular facility. Just a few
days ago, Griffin had visited the home of another nurse who’d swallowed a
bottle of painkillers in an attempt to end her own life. She’d been in a
catatonic state when he’d arrived, her family attending to her needs and
feeding her, and so his efforts to get some useful information from her had
been futile. He’d sat there in that house for over an hour, listening to the
woman’s distraught husband describe her strange behaviour while she herself sat
in the corner staring out of the window, her glazed, unblinking eyes filled
with a haunted look that Griffin could still see now in his mind’s eye. He’d
listened as her relatives described in detail the wails and cries that came out
of her room at night, as well as informing him that they now had to keep all
sharp objects and harmful medicines hidden from her at all times. After making
some notes and thanking the family for their time, he’d left the house with a
deep-set belief that the nurse was never going to return to work again.
peculiar nature of this recent spate of absences and resignations, its actual
cause wasn’t a complete mystery. Griffin knew the basic reason why the staff
members were leaving and falling ill, but at the same time he just couldn’t
quite believe it. Several senior nurses and lower-level managers were being
very bold and forthright about their opinions and theories, but neither Griffin
nor his seniors at HCQ could take them seriously. Most of them were claiming
that employees were leaving due to a new patient who’d been admitted to the
hospital five months ago, and that a brief look into his eyes was all it took
for one to lose their mind.
Griffin found all
of this ridiculous, but at the same time had to acknowledge that this new
patient was indeed a unique case. The man was a biologist, specialising in
parasitology, with a distinguished career; he was Cambridge educated, had
several scientific articles in well-respected journals published under his
name, a list of degrees and accolades as long as his arm, and a legacy within
the scientific community that even Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton would have
been proud of. Griffin doubted that any mental institution in the land had ever
had anyone of such status under their roof, and his sectioning was indeed an enigma.
known to all as Professor Avery, was sectioned under the mental health act
following a state-funded work expedition in the tropics of South America.
Griffin had personally gone through his hospital file with a fine-toothed comb,
reading everything he could about him. Details of the expedition were
fortunately made available for him to read, and he’d scoured them obsessively,
trying to gain some kind of clue as to what had happened. According to the
files, Professor Avery had travelled to a jungle region of Panama to study a
certain type of parasitic nematode. A small team of coworkers and biology
students had flown out there with him to assist him in the process of recording
data, but Avery had been the main figurehead of the project.
It became apparent
after reading the file that the professor had seen something out there that had
made him lose his grip on reality. Officers from a tiny local constabulary out
in a Central American village were called when locals reported a foreign man behaving
erratically and attacking several residents, and additional charges were put
forward after the professor made violent advances towards officers in the
station. Photographs of bite marks on one officer’s arm were attached to the
report for Griffin to see, as was the bruising to one officer’s face who had to
open Avery’s cell door when he attempted to hang himself with his own belt. UK
officials had been called in to assist with Avery’s deportation, and several
more violent outbursts had been recorded during the process.
Since his arrival
at Bryson Hospital, however, Avery had slipped into a prolonged bout of silence
and withdrawal, with not one single word being heard from him during the five
months of his incarceration. He refused to eat, drink or communicate with
anyone; despite the adoption of this antisocial behaviour there had been no
reports of abusive or threatening behaviour of any kind, no cases of injuries
sustained to any of the nurses who tended to him. On paper the professor was a
harmless patient, a physical threat to no one, but his presence within the
hospital was still dangerous somehow. Trauma and torment seemed to ooze from
his every pore, and those who had gazed into his deep-set, wizened eyes claimed
to have felt his pain on a kind of telepathic level. And, as if this wasn’t
strange enough, these claims went even further. One nurse, in particular, the
second one to resign after the professor’s arrival, claimed to have seen a
mental image after making eye contact with him, as though some kind of grainy
picture had been transferred across to her through his stare.
Indeed, it was
this atmosphere that Avery had created within the facility that was supposedly
responsible for the numerous resignations and absences, this profound effect
that he had on those in his close vicinity. Griffin had not yet been granted
permission to see Professor Avery in person due to this risk of health, but
apparently, according to certain rumours, his face was now permanently covered
up to prevent any more incidents of this nature. Descriptions of some kind of
bag had been spoken of unofficially, a kind of thin veil secured around his
head and neck to protect nurses from his dangerous stare. In addition to this
the professor was on constant suicide watch, the small metal hatch on his cell
door left open to allow the wardens a clear view of his movements and actions.
Putting aside the
brief, violent outbursts in Central America surrounding his arrest, Professor
Avery didn’t seem to want to do anyone any harm; his suicidal tendencies were
simply contagious to those around him, whether he wanted them to be or not, and
it was for this reason that he was considered very dangerous.
the front door of the suburban house, then rang the bell. After a few moments a
blurred figure appeared behind the stained glass, then a polite, unassuming man
opened the door and welcomed him in.
said the man, who was obviously the nurse’s husband. “Do you want to go up and
said Griffin, before following him up a dim, carpeted staircase.
“I’m not sure how
much you’ll be able to get out of her. She’s been very quiet today.”
“What has she told
you?” whispered Griffin, lowering his voice as the two of them reached the
She’s hardly spoken to me at all since it all happened. In fact, she speaks
more in her sleep than she does during her waking hours.” The man paused for a
second, rubbing the bags under his eyes. “There are noises in the early hours
of the morning: screams, yells, swearing. She sleeps in the spare room now.
It’s...It’s better that way.”
“Do you know what
“Every time I try
to speak to her, she switches off.”
Griffin noticed a
faint quiver in his voice, a light trembling, and decided not to press him any
further. The distress of it all was evident on his face; the screams and
sleepless nights had etched lines around his brow and temple.
“It’s over there,”
he said, nodding his head towards the end of the hallway.
husband forced a smile, then skulked back towards the staircase. As soon as he
was out of sight Griffin put his ear to the bedroom door and listened closely
for any sounds. Hearing none, he then knocked on it a couple of times. The room
sounded echoey from the other side, his knocks ringing through the air for
longer than they should have. Out of politeness and courtesy he waited a long
time for a reply, but, hearing none, eventually turned the handle and let
The room was bare
and empty, with just a single bed and a chair in the corner. The curtains were
half-drawn, casting a faint grey light over everything, and the air was still.
A woman was lying on the bed, her head propped up with two pillows and her body
covered with a thin bedsheet. She didn’t move or stir when Griffin entered the
room, nor was there any noticeable change in her blank expression. He almost
felt alone as he walked in and stood by the end of the bed, like he was in a
room with a mannequin or a waxwork model in a museum. Eventually, after several
polite attempts to communicate with her, he quietly sat himself down on the
chair in the corner, watching her the whole time.
Her face was so
pale that it blended and merged with the pillow, her bloodshot eyes the only
thing with any real colour to them. She was floating somewhere between
consciousness and unconsciousness, awake and not awake, lost in her own lonely
realm. In fact, she was so utterly unresponsive to Griffin’s presence that he
wondered, for a brief second, whether she might have passed away without her
husband knowing. This suspicion didn’t last too long, however, because upon
close inspection he could see that a slight tremor ran through her body at
regular intervals, a kind of shudder that shook her torso and made the bedframe
creak. It was so minute and subtle that it could’ve easily been missed, but now
that he was close to her he could see it.
“What happened to
you? What made you ill?” he whispered into her ear.
There was no
response to these words, no flicker or flinch in her countenance.
Avery do this to you?”
The faint creaking
of the bed frame was still the only sound in the room, but even so, Griffin
detected some kind of shift after he’d mentioned the professor’s name, some
alteration deep within her.
you...interact with him in any way?”
Now there was
noticeable movement, so noticeable that it made Griffin jump. The nurse’s
breathing became heavier and audible, her chest rising and falling under the
sweaty sheets. He was sure that she could hear him now, sure that he wasn’t
just talking to himself. It was the mention of the professor’s name that had
initially gotten through to her, so he deliberately mentioned it again in an
effort to open her up some more.
“Did you...look at Professor Avery?”
A pinprick of
light glistened from somewhere in the pale folds of her face, and Griffin
realised, with tense surprise, that it was a tear in the corner of her eye. The
grey light seeping in through the curtains was just bright enough to reflect
against it, exposing some inner emotion the nurse was evidently experiencing.
She was about to crack, and Griffin moved in closer.
“Speak to me.
Nobody can help you unless you speak to them.”
Her thin lips
began to tremble and blubber, and with a weak cry she said, “There...There’s no
Her face was
screwed up in pain now, and she turned her head towards the window.
“What did he do to
didn’t...didn’t do anything,” she sobbed, “just...made me see.”
The tears were
rolling down her cheeks now, and she brought one of her hands up from under the
covers to wipe them. As she did so, a pungent odour wafted out across the room,
hitting home the fact that she hadn’t washed or left the bed in days. Her
torment was detectable in every aspect of her being; when she spoke, it was
like she was speaking from the depths of a deep cave within her mind, a cave
that she’d carved out for herself to escape whatever was haunting her.
“I...I won’t talk
about it! I won’t! It’s...just too horrible!”
“How did he make
you see? How did he do it?”
The tears and
chokes were coming on strong now, too strong for the woman to answer
coherently, but Griffin wasn’t going to give up.
“Did you look into
In between the
heaving sobs and shudders, the nurse managed to nod her head in confirmation.
“And then what?
What happened when you looked into his eyes?”
just so full of...misery. The...The way he looked at me...sucking me into those
two black pits!”
“And what did you
see? Tell me what you saw!”
The nurse was now
hysterical. Her sobs had turned into high-pitched wails and cries, echoing
around the bare, empty room and shaking the walls. The door burst open
unexpectedly, and the woman’s husband leaned in with a stern look about him.
“I think that’s
enough,” he said. “She’s not well enough for this.”
With the nurse
shaking and hollering next to him as she was, Griffin couldn’t protest. He rose
from the small chair and made his way out, leaving the husband to tend to her.
Outside, standing by his car next to the road, he could still hear the woman’s
Visiting the two
nurses had unsettled Griffin. He’d still been very skeptical after seeing the
first one, despite her chronic state, but after seeing both of them and
witnessing their compounded trauma and distress firsthand, he was left with no
choice but to at least consider the farfetched theory that the professor was
somehow contaminating people with his thoughts. Whether there was a
supernatural element to any of it, he couldn’t be sure, but there was certainly
no denying the fact that the two employees had seen something whilst in his
presence—something that’d destroyed their souls and made them lose the will to
He knew what had
to be done next. It was an inevitable, unavoidable task that simply had to be endured
if he was to get to the bottom of this case: he was going to have to visit the
hospital and meet Professor Avery in person. The senior staff at Bryson
Hospital had not been allowing any visits to the professor for quite some time
now, not even to HCQ inspectors, but with enough persistence on Griffin’s part,
combined with a firm letter from the Chief Executive, he knew that they would
have to eventually give in. Sitting in his home study, in front of his thick
wooden desk piled high with folders, Griffin resolved to get this process in
motion today. First though, before he could even begin to prepare himself for
the daunting, intimidating prospect of meeting Professor Avery in the flesh, he
wanted to go through his file one more time.
He had a decent
amount of information at his disposal, a large stack of papers about an inch
thick. The sequence of events that’d happened during the professor’s expedition
were already known to him, almost committed to memory, but Griffin wanted to
learn a bit more about the actual parasite that Avery was studying at the time.
Flicking through the assortment of papers, he found the typed-up notes that the
professor had made prior to, and during, his expedition.
He read slowly and
carefully, taking his time, eager to learn more about this bizarre creature.
Tropical forests of Central America/South America.
hosts: Cephalotes Atratus Ant. Bananaquit bird. Tryant flycatcher bird.
The host ant, Cephalotes Atratus, gets infected by the nematode after eating
the infected fecal matter of either the Bananaquit bird or the Tryant
flycatcher bird. Once infected the ant falls prey to the parasite, displaying a
sluggishness and change in behaviour. As well as this, the ant also undergoes a
physical change. Its abdomen (usually black in colour) will swell up in size
(due to being filled with nematode eggs) and take on a bright shade of red;
then, after this transformation of its body is complete, the ant will feel
compelled to climb up a long blade of grass in the near vicinity and stick its
red swollen abdomen up in the air. To passing birds (namely the Bananaquit and
Tyrant) the ant’s swollen abdomen will strongly resemble a ripe berry, tempting
the bird to swoop down and consume it. Once the bird has been tricked into
eating this infected section of the ant’s body, the eggs will pass through its
body and get excreted out, therefore spreading the eggs out into further ant
the papers back down on his desk, then ran a hand through his hair. He was at a
loss at what to make of this. This parasite, or nematode, or whatever it was,
sounded vile, but he still couldn’t imagine how or why someone would go insane
after seeing it. The professor had completely lost it out there in the Central
American tropics, running around attacking people like a wild man, and although
the details of this ant-infecting parasite were ghastly, they just couldn’t
account for such dramatic behaviour.
Pulling out his phone,
he scrolled down until he found the Chief Executive’s number. He knew that he
would have to get the professor to open up to him if he was to solve this
riddle, but before that could happen the Chief Executive would have to persuade
Bryson Hospital to allow a visit.
facility had a cold, austere look to it, the iron gates and brown brickwork
completely unwelcoming and featureless. There was an uncanny stillness to the
air, and, as he parked, Griffin looked up at the rows of reinforced glass
windows, wondering whether the atmosphere was any better inside. The
receptionist told him to sit down and wait for a senior nurse who’d escort him
through the building, and he did so without complaint.
The senior nurse
was a petite woman with mousy hair and a familiar-sounding voice. Griffin had
never met her before, but was sure that he’d spoken to her over the phone at
some point. She was accompanied by a heavyset man who wore a similar white
uniform to hers, and after a brief exchange the three of them swiped through a
set of security doors and made their way down towards the maximum security
been transferred to maximum security following the recent problems,” said the
nurse, as they walked down a sterile-looking white corridor with cells on
either side. “He’s not displayed any violent behaviour, but...well, he’s proven
himself to be a threat in his own way.”
“So I’ve heard,”
“We’ve also taken
the precaution of covering up his face. This may seem a little unnecessary, but
we think it’s a sensible move.”
“So it’s true
“It’s true that
you’re covering up his face?”
Griffin, we had to do something.
Several staff members have fallen ill after looking—”
“I know, I know,”
said Griffin, interjecting politely so she didn’t have to go through all of the
grizzly details, “I just wasn’t sure whether it was true. There’s no mention of
it in the report.
“It’s a spit hood,”
she said, candidly. “It’s a thin mesh spit hood. It doesn’t cause him any
discomfort of any kind, other than maybe restricting his vision a little bit.”
“Has he been
cooperative with this decision?”
“Yes, he certainly
has. He hasn’t protested about anything since he’s been here.”
thoughtfully. “And he’s still not speaking to anyone?”
“No. You don’t get
a single word out of him all day. He’s been here for five months now, and I
don’t even know what he sounds like.”
“So, have people
tried speaking to him?”
“We did when he
first arrived, but...” The woman’s voice trailed off for a second. “...but not
They walked the
rest of the way in silence, an uneasiness lingering between them as they
descended farther into the building.
It took about five
minutes to reach the professor’s cell. Griffin knew that he’d arrived before
being told, the open hatch on the metal door being the main giveaway. There
were two other beefy-looking male nurses outside the cell, one crouching down
to look through the hatch. The men had obviously been informed of Griffin’s
visit, because they prepared themselves to open the door without being told,
one fumbling for a key on his hip, the other searching for a set of restraints
in his pocket. Once everything was in place and the key was being inserted into
the lock, the senior nurse turned towards Griffin with a serious look in her
“Don’t get too
close to him. As I said, he’s not known to be violent, but you’ve seen the
damage he can do to people.”
Griffin, trying his best to cover up his shaking hands.
nervousness, she added, “We’ll be right here the whole time,” before dutifully
giving a nod to the big nurse with the key.
The lock snapped
open, the door opened wide, and Griffin, sweating under his shirt collar, took
a few deep breaths and then entered.
The cell was a stark
contrast to the corridor outside. It was dim and stale, with just a single
overhead bulb for light. A dark mound sat slumped in the corner, shrouded in
shadow, and Griffin stood there for a few long moments watching it, paralysed
with tension and fear. The professor looked thin and frail under the hospital gowns,
his delicate frame barely visible under the baggy folds. His head was no
different, of course, the mesh hood concealing everything from the neck up. It
was unclear whether the professor actually knew he was there or not, as there’d
been no movement from him at all. The mesh spit hood sat over his head like a
starched pillowcase, giving absolutely nothing away, its stiff creases concealing
The silence in the
cell was so all-encompassing, so total and complete, that it felt wrong for
Griffin to break it, but he had to start somewhere.
he said, squinting into the shadows.
The words came out
as a croaky whisper, and he had to clear his throat before he went on.
Griffin, Chief Inspector at HCQ. May I speak to you?”
nothing by way of reply. Complete silence resumed, broken only by the faint
sound of distant shouting from somewhere down the corridor outside.
“Do you mind if I
There was no
response, but at the same time there was no objection either, so he sat down
and leaned back against the opposite wall. There was still a safe distance of
about seven feet between them, but Griffin was now close enough to see the
professor more clearly, the shapes and contours of his form coming into focus.
The thin veil of the hood did its job of hiding the professor’s face, but
rather worryingly, didn’t obscure it completely. Bony, chiseled features were
discernible through its thin material, and Griffin had to make a constant
conscientious effort not to stare at them for too long. The dim outlines and
crevices enshrouded within the hood were so starved and gaunt in their
appearance that they resembled a skull rather than a living human head, the
bridge of the nose and cheek bones protruding through pale skin.
“Will you talk to
Again, there was
not so much as a flicker of response.
“What happened to
you, Professor? What did you see out in the tropics?”
It was hard to
believe that this introverted, crumpled figure opposite him was the same man
that Griffin had read about. The numerous mentions of exemplary conduct rose up
to the forefront of his mind, graduation photographs accompanied by pages of
accolades, acclaimed published scientific articles, too many degree
certificates to count, and it all came from this mute, incarcerated mess
sitting before him, this absolute wreck of a human being. His fear was rapidly
turning into sympathy the longer he sat opposite Avery, but at the same time,
the memory of the two sick nurses he’d seen forced him to keep his guard up.
“I want to
understand what happened to you. I’m not here to judge you on anything. Why
don’t you talk to me?”
Another bout of
silence tested Griffin’s patience even further, but he wasn’t done yet.
“I’ve read a lot
about your career, Professor. There are many people out there who have much
praise for you.”
For a split second
Griffin thought he saw movement in the professor’s hands, a slight tremble
running all the way down to the fingernails that’d been chewed to stumps. It
could’ve just been a trick of the light, however, because nothing else followed
it. Five minutes passed by, then ten, with Griffin trying his hardest to break
through the thick wall that the professor had built around himself, but it was
to no avail. Reaching his limit of patience and perseverance, he made a few
loose notes for the disappointing report he would have to produce at some point
later in the day, then slowly rose to his feet. Turning to the professor one
last time, he looked down at him with genuine sorrow and pity.
“Nobody can help
you unless you talk to them, Avery. Just think about that.”
With a deep,
heartfelt sigh, he finally walked away from the cloaked figure on the ground,
making his way back over towards the cell door. With all hopes of solving the
mystery dwindled away to nothing, he raised his hand up to give the steel door
a couple of knocks. The knocks never came, however, because just as he was
raising his hand, curling it into a fist, the most pained voice he’d ever heard
in his life rose up from somewhere behind him.
“He...He was still
alive when I found him.”
It was so
unexpected that for a few seconds he thought he must’ve been hearing things.
Slowly and methodically, he turned back around, staring wide-eyed at the
lonesome figure on the floor.
whispered. “What did you say?”
definitely movement down there now, a thin trembling inside the hospital gowns,
just strong enough to make out through the murky dinge.
was still alive.”
The voice went
straight through Griffin, straight through to his core. Everything about its
pitch and tone was laced with hurt, loaded and oozing with pain. Retracing his
steps, he walked back along the middle of the cell, back to where he was
“Who was still
alive? Who are you talking about?” he asked, planting himself back down on the
Two dark sockets
stared out at him from the depths of the hood, two smudges as black as coal,
but something had shifted in them now, some spark of life had been ignited.
“You...You want to
know what happened?”
“Yes! Yes, I do!
Tell me, Professor.”
“No. No, you
“I want to know
what happened, Professor, and I want to help you. So tell me.”
amount of time passed before the professor spoke again. Shakes and tremors were
still visible under the gowns, and the faint outline of his delicate jaw jutted
up and down as though he was searching for some lost reservoir of strength that
might’ve existed within him. He must’ve found some somewhere, because the words
eventually came; they were strained and agonising to listen to, but they came.
“I...I was in a
village one day during my expedition, out in Central America. It was a tiny
little place, no more than a few dozen huts...”
It felt so strange
for Griffin to sit there and hear Professor Avery speak. His voice sounded as withered
and hollow as his body looked—inhuman, almost. He remained as silent as a mouse
as he listened to it, however, not wanting to disrupt the flow.
“The heat...it was
so intense that day, and we’d been out in it for hours. We had a guide, my...my
team and I. He was an indigenous man local to the area, and he...he’d arranged
a place for us to stay. We were all sweating and...and dehydrated, so none of
us protested when we got to the village in the afternoon with a view to
settling down early for the day. We all had notes to write up anyway, so we saw
it as an opportunity to catch up with some work and recuperate.”
There was a
lengthy pause from the professor. His pale, gaunt visage hung down towards the
cell floor in deep contemplation. Griffin was still completely silent, making
only rough notes here and there.
“It was a
beautiful place, in its...own way. These huts sat along the edge of a warm
river, wild palm trees and long grass as far as the eye could see. The natives
were so hos...hospitable....so...so welcoming.”
The mention of the
natives’ hospitality caused the professor’s voice to falter even more, and
Griffin sensed a touch of shame in there as well.
food for us, prepared a big meal. It...It should’ve been a delightful evening,
but...but there was something bothering the villagers, some kind of bad
atmosphere. We all noticed it, and I...I eventually ended up asking the guide
what was wrong. We were starting to get paranoid. We...We began to wonder
whether it was something we’d done.”
It was hard for
Griffin to tell whether the professor was actually looking at him, or whether
he’d even looked at him at all since he’d entered the room. The hood sat over
his head like a baggy fly net, continually reducing his features to a vague
he’d fallen silent again, Griffin gently coaxed him on. “And what was it? What
“It turned out
that...that the problem wasn’t anything to do with us. A child h...had gone
missing from the village, and they were worrying over him. He’d disappeared the
evening before, and...”
whispered Griffin, as the professor drifted off into yet another bout of
seen him since.”
“And then what?
What happened next?”
we...all retired for the night. It was still early, probably about seven o’
clock, and it was still light, but we all went back to our little shacks that
they’d...kindly prepared for us. It felt so good to lie down. I...I didn’t have
much of a bed in there, but to me, at...that moment, it was like a luxury
hotel. My legs were aching from days of trekking through the jungle; j...just
resting there on the thin bed was bliss. I eventually began sorting out some
notes I’d made over the previous few days. I was just lying there, putting
everything in order.”
“Notes about the
parasite, you mean?”
twig-like fingers clutched at his knees at the mention of the parasite, as
though he was speaking about something that went beyond evil.
“And then what?”
“I was busy
organising my notes, and then...then this...this noise drifted in from outside.
At first I thought it was an animal, a...a bird, maybe. It was like
a…high-pitched wailing coming from somewhere out in the trees, a whining sound
in the distance that drifted in through the open window of my hut. I seemed to
be the only one who could hear it. I...I eventually got up and had a look
outside, and...there was nothing there, nobody else around. B...But still, this
horrible noise went on and on, and I...just had to find out what it was. It
seemed to be coming from...the river, so I headed in that direction, following
my ear. The evening was just beginning to close in by this point, and the sky
was shifting into a deep, deep amber. I still had plenty of light, but...I also
knew that I had to move briskly, nonetheless. After pushing through the long
grass for a while I could see the river appearing up ahead of me, the gentle
waves reflecting through the foliage. The...The screaming had also grown more
acute, and...I could tell by this point that it was coming from somewhere up in
the trees. F...Following this sickly noise, I...ended up at the base of a dead
tree by the river embankment, a flaking old thing with not a single leaf on it.
The faint squeals were...were coming from somewhere up in this tree, and now
that I was close, I could...I could tell that they were...”
“They were what?”
handwriting was becoming messy as he continued to jot down his notes, his
fingers shaky and out of his control. “What happened next?” he said, after
scrawling down the last word.
“T...There was a
shape in the tree up above me—a round silhouette set against the amber sky. I
stared at it for some time, knowing deep down what it was but...not wanting to
believe it. It was a child! No more than...six or seven years old! He was up
there in this tree...c...clinging on to one of the dead branches about thirty
feet up, wailing and...wailing. His pudgy little arms and legs were wrapped around
this branch and it was...dangling over the river! I...I have no idea how he
managed to get up there, but...but there he was, as naked as the day he was
born, screaming and yelling up into the dimming sky. I thought about calling
for help, but...but I couldn’t risk startling him and making him fall. Instead
I...silently began climbing up the tree myself, grabbing on to the flakes of
dry bark and hauling myself up. It took me five minutes or so to get up there,
but...I did, and...”
“And what did you
see?” Griffin whispered, watching the blurred, shadowy recesses of the
professor’s countenance as he relived his story.
“And...it was the
strangest thing. T...There was no movement coming from him at all. The screams
continued to come...in abundance, but...but his body was rigid. He was as still
as a statue up there! Like a screaming statue! And...And there were flies on
him! Dozens and dozens of flies! They were buzzing and crawling all over his
little body! Buzzing all over him as he...clung onto this flaking branch!”
The professor was
moving now, moving more than he had since Griffin had entered the cell. His
thin arms were wrapped around his knees, hugging them tightly, and he began to
rock backwards and forwards in erratic jolts, like a trauma victim pulled away
from the scene of a fresh accident. His gasps and sobs shook the stiff folds of
the spit hood, giving it the appearance of a deflated balloon caught in the
“I...I had to get
closer to him. I had to do something! Up until this point I...I’d only seen him
from behind. I was looking up at him from some lower branches, look...looking
up towards the back of his neck and head. The...The branches were getting
thinner the higher I climbed, but...but I had to get up there. I...I almost
fell into the river at one point, standing on a dry branch that snapped as soon
as I put my foot on it, but...but I carried on. Wh...When I finally got up to
his level I was...clinging on for dear life! The river glistened and splashed
underneath me. It was...so far down.”
“What had happened
to the boy, Professor?”
The hood bobbed
and shook in time with the professor’s tremors; he was hugging himself tighter
and tighter, rocking. With a strained voice, he continued, “It was like...an
invisible force was holding him in place up there, gluing his body in this
rigid fashion. He...He was screaming but wasn’t moving, not even his face.
And...And it was then that I saw them! H...His eyes! Oh, God, his eyes! They
were open wide, looking up towards the distant clouds overhead, but...they
“They were what?”
hideous! Big, red and bulbous! His face and eyes were...it was a scene from a
nightmare! W...Worse than anything anyone could imagine! I...I was close at
this point, high up in the tree, and...I could see it all. S...Something was
going on under the surface of his eyes. S...Something was writhing
“Eggs! Eggs and
larvae! They were crawling around in his eyes! H...Hundreds of them! Th...They
were moving around in there! Swimming and...moving around!”
felt nauseous. A sickness rose up in his gut, a sickness so intense that he had
to put down his notepad and pen so that he could lay a hand over his stomach.
honestly saying that the parasite...”
“The parasite was
in him! It’d infected him! I...I still have no idea how it could’ve happened.
M...Maybe he drank some infected water somewhere, or...or ate some bird
droppings from the ground, I don’t know, but...but the point is that somehow
that thing managed to get inside him and use him as a vehicle. It
swelled his eyes and made them bulbous, turning his once-white sclera bright
red—as red as...as red as...berries.
silent. He felt giddy, and the room seemed to tilt and turn around him.
worst part of it all was...that there was still life in those young eyes! There
was still a person looking out of them! And...And as I hung there, holding onto
the thin branches of that dead tree, he suddenly...he suddenly turned those red
eyes towards me! He was looking at me! Oh, God, he was looking at me with those
eyes! He...He could see me there next to him, but...but he couldn’t move from
his branch. His stubby arms and legs were glued in place, stiff as boards...he
was...trapped inside his little body. That moment when...that moment when I
caught his gaze...when our eyes met, it was just....His pupils were like...tiny
black islands in seas of red larvae...moving, bubbling, writhing red seas. He
was...fully conscious in there, looking out at me through this hive of eggs! I
kept telling myself that it couldn’t be real, but...but there it was! Right in
front of me! And...And then...’
Avery slipped into
another bout of silence, another pause, but Griffin couldn’t bring himself to
urge him on any further, as his own voice was now reduced to a mere croak. He
could do little more than wait and watch the professor, unconsciously bringing
his own knees up to his chest as if mirroring his pose.
“...then there was
a flash of movement, a...a flurry of wings and feathers.”
“Oh, no,” mumbled
Griffin, only to himself.
came down and plucked at him he was looking right at me! That eye was looking
at me as it was pecked open, the beak sinking straight into the soft jelly,
sending eggs dribbling down his cheek. It...It was...”
There was some
kind of eruption within the professor’s hood, some kind of gurgling explosion.
Suddenly, in less than a second, the thin mesh was sprayed from the inside with
a rush of vomit, the hot liquid collecting into a pool as the professor hung
his head over his knees. Two scrawny hands reached up and took hold of the
dripping fabric, clutching it like talons. With a quick sharp tug, a reflex
action, the professor ripped the wet hood from over his bony head, bile
dangling from its folds. His sunken features were now completely visible and
exposed, the yellow light of the overhead bulb illuminating his scalp and
By the time
Griffin realised he was looking into the professor’s uncovered eyes, it was too
late. When the hood came off, he’d been unable to look away, to divert his
gaze. Like a motorist driving past the scene of a nasty accident and turning
his head to take a look, he’d feasted his eyes on the spectacle before him,
gorging greedily on its horrors. With the veil gone the professor’s face
emanated something that could be felt but not described, an icy coldness that
put an invisible hook in you. Up until this point the horrid description of
what the professor had seen in the tropics had been confined to the medium of
words, limiting the extent to which Griffin could visualise it and understand it,
but now, with that face, that expression, right there in front of him in the
cell, he could somehow see what the professor had been describing, as
though the very image itself was carved into the contours of his skin.
He felt himself
slipping, falling, and descending down into a hole. He was sinking down under
an incredible weight, the weight of the image that’d just been transferred to
him, the image that no human should be forced to endure, and he had to fight
against it to keep himself above ground. Fists thrashing and lashing at the
air, he struck out at this evil presence consuming him, fighting back against
the horrific vision pushing him down. At first his hands and feet made no
contact with anything, his punches and kicks stabbing at empty space, but then
his blows began to land on targets, his knuckles striking the tall forms that’d
gathered around him in a circle. Lashing out with frenzied fervour, he pounded
away at these big white apparitions, attacking with all his might. With this
vivid picture glowing and shining in front of him, haunting him with its
detail, he was fighting for his life to get away from it, fighting for his very
sanity, putting all of his strength into every punch and blow.
But then a tiny
stabbing sensation put an end to his struggle, a single pinprick to his neck
that penetrated the softness of his skin. He wasn’t sinking anymore, but was
being lifted up, higher and higher, by these mysterious towering white forms,
their strong arms carrying his limp body away from the dust and grime of the
The room was dim,
silent, and grey. Griffin didn’t know where he was, but couldn’t afford to try
and work it out either. There was a dull ache stretching across his body,
throbbing away in his back, but this too could be granted no attention. Neither
could the fact that his old clothes were gone, replaced with a thin baggy gown
that covered his trembling body like a crumpled tent. There was only one thing
that he could concentrate on now, that he could afford to exert his energy
into: pushing the image out of his mind. It wanted dearly to enter his psyche,
and its determination was relentless. Every ounce of his strength, every fiber
of his being, went into the task of keeping this horrific picture away, and
diverting his attention away from it for as long as possible.
He’d been like
this for hours, pushing it back and trying his best to look away from it. He
was like a cornered mouse in his own mind, trapped, trying desperately to fend
off the menacing claws of a hungry cat. He felt as though he was fighting a
losing battle, but his survival instinct wouldn’t let him give up. But for
how long can I actually keep this up? he wondered, as he sat on the floor
of this strange new room, his head aching from the constant strain. And he had
seen it after all, hadn’t he?
He’d seen the image projected from the professor’s eyes, so wasn’t it already
lodged deep in his brain, too firmly embedded in his synapses to erase? Surely
it was, and he was now stuck with it for the rest of his days, stuck with it
shouting for his attention night and day with its sadistic intent.
Yes, Griffin concluded. How could he
possibly keep this up? The image, the
picture, wanted him too much; its desire and hunger was simply too great. With
a torturous cry, reaching his personal limit, Griffin finally cracked and
buckled under the immense mental pressure bearing down upon him, letting the
sickly, haunting image invade his senses and consume him, swallowing him whole.
And, just like that, as he gave in to it, as he gave up the fight, all of the
tension and struggling vanished. Leaning back against the hard concrete wall of
this room he found himself in, his body slumped and his face sagged at the
edges. Now that he’d succumbed to the image, letting himself get eaten and
swallowed by it, all of his energy and life force drained away into
nothingness. His past life, everything that he had ever wanted, everything that
he formerly yearned for or lusted after, suddenly seemed pointless and trivial,
nothing more than childish dreams. The image now hung like a curtain across his
vision, a permanent backdrop against all that he saw, reducing everything else
to monotony. The echoey sounds from out in the corridor sank away into tiny whispers,
the stale smell of the room lost its edge, and the pain running down his back
grew less acute. And then, once everything outside of the image was reduced to
a mere sliver in his peripheral vision, a mere speck in his awareness, his eyes
glazed over and his head bowed towards the floor in defeat.
James Flynn, email@example.com, who wrote BP #90’s “The Soul Destroyer,” is a self-published
author, relatively unknown in the literary world, age 37, originally from
England, and now living in Vietnam, where he works as an ESL teacher.