The Heaven of Cannibals – New Short Story by Tom Dowding

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The Heaven of Cannibals


Tom Dowding

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Marit Vogels had a problem: she needed a story.  Fast.  Throughout her first six months with the magazine the fruits of her labour had yielded just the one interview: thirty minutes with a former child actor concerning his views on the afterlife.  She had also penned a vapid piece on the dangers of cooking in the nude.  That was it: two pieces in six months, not forgetting the three late submissions that missed the deadline and, of course, one offering her editor deemed so bad that she was told: “When you write, the English language becomes inert.”  Her editor was benevolent enough to keep her on as a photographer, an art for which she had considerable talent.  But it was not what she wanted.  It was not why she was there.  She needed a story.

In an effort to resuscitate her writing career, Marit pitched an idea to her boss.  She would delve into the city’s growing subculture beats.  Her editor, an overweight middle-aged man with a lascivious glint in his eye, approved it.

“I like it.  You might want to look at swingers clubs, massage parlours and such.  Make sure you take plenty of pictures.”

In her apartment, Marit toiled for ideas.  She had gone on a whim and won the unmerited confidence of her employer.  She had to deliver.  She was like an engine without a starter – her mind a morass of superfluous thoughts, unconnected and incapable of firing.  She pored over magazines and websites in search of something edgy and different.  She stumbled on a range of diverse – and perverse – coteries: Cuckolding in Clayton and Dogging in Didsbury were the results of some of her most lurid searches.  None of this would do.  She needed to uncover a new taboo; something to capture the imagination and intoxicate the minds of readers with vicarious excitement.  She felt sleepy.  She closed her reddening eyes and slumped at her desk.

Without segue, she found herself outside.  It was midnight; the cool night air thick with fog.  She meandered through the sparsely crowded streets, the strap of her camera over her shoulder, hunting a story in the mist.  The noise of distant traffic faded to that of the approaching clink of glass bottles and hideous laughter.  Marit discerned a large figure, wreathed in fog, heading toward her: a phantasmal image from a bad dream, leering and slanted, murmuring and loathing.  Filled with foreboding, Marit broke left and down a narrow alleyway.

The mist dispersed revealing a dark, fetid passage strewn with the detritus of grim humanity: broken glass, blood, vomit and the overpowering stench of urine.  Beneath the pale glow of lonely street lamps, jaundiced walls sweated as though the excesses of the brothels and drug-dens to which they belonged were being aspirated from within.  Marit’s stomach turned upon the sight of a one-armed woman – doubtless a prostitute – down on her knees before her groaning patron.  Walking past them quietly, she came across a group of five ugly souls, limping and swaying toward her.  Of their number, three were missing an arm.  One of those three, a young woman who lagged someway behind the others, wailed uncontrollably.

“I hate you!  I hate you all – you evil bastards!”

She fell to the ground in a flood of tears.  Her supposed companions walked on without the merest flinch.  They were walking from the door of what appeared something like the entrance to a nightclub, or maybe it was another brothel.  A red neon light flickered above the doorframe: The Friendly Wendigo.  At the door there stood an emaciated, sallow creature wearing a patch over his right eye.  His face was badly scarred and his right ear bandaged.  He loosed a guttural murmur as Marit approached.  A larger group limped out from the door and into the alley.  Some vomited over the walls, others were crying, some laughing hysterically.  The doorman smiled in their direction before turning a single-eyed glare in Marit’s direction.  She had raised her camera to her eye and began documenting the scene around her.

“Provender…” he said with a pronounced lisp.

“I’m sorry?”

“No pictures.”

Marit lowered the camera and approached the doorman.

“What is this place?” she asked.

“Friendly place,” the doorman said, pointing to the neon sign.

“May I go in?”

“No pictures.”

Marit sighed as she removed the data card from her camera.  The doorman held his hand out to receive the card however, Marit dropped it between the slats of a storm drain.

“Good enough?”

Without answering, he opened the door to usher her in.  As Marit walked through it she was met with a thick wall of hot, stale air and unremitting darkness.  As the front door slammed shut behind her, a bass-heavy house track began thumping in synchronicity with the turning on and off of bright lights.  She approached a railing from where she saw below a bed of scantily-clad bodies, intertwined, forming a collage that heaved under the weight of its own nihilistic debauchery.

Her hair blew gently from a light breeze behind her.  She turned to see an open arch through which was wall of dim, solid purple light.  She followed the purple light, into the breeze.  The sedate whirring of ceiling fans created an acoustic shadow that drowned out the booming noises from whence she came.  She was now in what seemed to be a bar.  Fixed to the wall behind the bar was set a phalanx of prosthetic limbs and jars containing what appeared to be sausages stood upon shelves.

The room was full of groups and couples, drinking and laughing.  She saw women in short skirts, their frames supported by manufactured legs grinding clumsily against armless partners to the rhythm of wandering jazz.  Marit struggled to belay a growing sense of nausea.  She felt light headed and uneasy on her feet.  A loud gong sounded out three times beckoning the occupants of the room toward a flight of stairs leading down onto the dance-floor.  Marit composed herself and made to follow the crowd toward the stairs before noticing a door behind the bar which was unattended.  She headed for the door.  On it was a sign that read Kitchen & Theatre.

Imbued with the spirit of an intrepid reporter, she walked through the door and into a brightly lit room that had the appearance of a hospital ward.  She heard screams and laughter.  She came upon another door with a porthole window.  Peering through it, her eyes were met with a vision virtually impossible to comprehend: walls painted with blood, a horror that consummated her realisation of what kind of place she had stumbled upon.  Beelzebub reigns here – she thought to herself – and The Friendly Wendigo is his altar.

Over a public address system, a gravelly voice reverberated in the corridor.

“With sincerest gratitude to our newest members, dinner is now served.”

It was well for Marit that she stirred at that moment.  She awoke at her desk having found her story.  She had no pictures save for those captured in her mind and nothing credible to report.  She reasoned that in a world where people will eat each other, they will very likely eat anything.  She was not proud – she had needed a story and would consume herself for it.

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