There was an angel that died.
No angel had ever died before, and the hosts of heaven were in tumult. Eventually, to put an end to the disorder, the first of all the angels bore the body of his dead comrade to the world of men and buried it in a sunny glade on a desert island. He returned to heaven and all the angels forgot about the one that had died, because angels live only in the present and if they have nothing to remind them, they will not remember.
But on the island where the dead angel was buried, a mighty tree grew, and from that tree, strange fruits came, and many eons later when men found the island and ate of the fruits, they were filled with the desire to be as angels. But being men, they could not be as angels, and in time they began to vie for the honour of being the most angelic until that vying grew into competition and competition grew into dispute and dispute grew into war, so that all the men who had eaten of the fruit died.
And their bodies rotted and became part of the soil and the mighty tree could not feed from such tainted soil and it too died. The competitiveness of the dead men seeped through the ground into the heart of the dead angel, and he rose and returned to heaven where he began to vie for the honour of being the most angelic.
SHADOW OF A SUMMER
"There's that peculiar little man with the donkey again." The elderly woman pointed a plump hand towards the corner of the beach. "I've been noticing him all week. He shows up in the same place at the same time every day. It's really quite odd."
The pale young girl by her side sat up and pushed a tangle of blonde hair further up onto her brow. She stared in the direction her mother was pointing. "I can't see him," she whined at last. She looked up at her mother accusingly. "You're just pretending someone's there because you can't think of anything to talk about. You're bored of just sitting here with me all the time!"
"Look harder," her mother instructed. "I'm not pretending anything. He's in the shadows. About fifty yards away but slightly closer to the sea than we are. Maybe the sun is in your eyes?" She pursed her lips tightly and turned her face away, pretending to be looking in her handbag for something.
The girl pouted but crinkled up her eyes and gazed unblinkingly at the spot her mother had indicated. After a few moments, she found that she was able to discern the distinct shapes of a crook-backed man and a skinny donkey. They were close to the base of the chalk cliff that curved around their part of the quiet beach and gave it the misleading appearance of an isolated cove. The man was sitting on a small hillock of sand and resting against the side of his motionless companion. "I didn't think they allowed donkey rides any more," the girl said, lifting her gaze to scan the top of the gleaming cliff. "Something to do with it being cruel to the animals."
"I wouldn't have thought giving rides to little kids is cruel," the plump woman said, wiping a thin film of perspiration from her forehead. She clambered unsteadily to her feet and looked around. Apart from themselves, there were only four or five widely scattered groups of holiday-makers taking advantage of the mild mid-summer sunshine. That particular section of the busy little Devon resort was not popular any more and did not draw the crowds it once had. "The police would have got him by now if he was breaking the law. He seems to stick to the same routine. Someone would have mentioned it to the local bobbies by now if it was illegal."
"It'd be illegal if you rode the poor little thing," the pretty teenager giggled. "You'd squash him!" She glanced teasingly at her mother, and brushed another strand of blonde hair out of her eyes.
A shadow passed over the woman's face. "Yes, I'm sure I would," she muttered. "But I'm a bit too old for that sort of thing now." The salty smell of the sea always rejuvenated her and made her feel as though time were standing still. But the rush of childhood memories which her daughter's remark had brought about suddenly seemed so very long ago. And it made her worry. What would her daughter do when she grew too old to travel from her home in Kent, when they could no longer meet at the beach for their annual two weeks together?
The young girl was once again staring at the strange duo waiting patiently in the shade of the cliff. "I'm not sure I like the look of them, Mum," she said after a while. "I don't think it's fair to keep dragging the poor creature back here every day, whether it's against the law or not. It looks old and tired. It should be resting somewhere in a quiet meadow remembering happier days." There was more than concern in her tone; there was a suggestion of fear.
"I think maybe this is the only place where it is happy," her mother said softly. "Being where it is wanted. Doing what it was born to do."
Her daughter stood up, stretching her white limbs and brushing imaginary specks of sand from her rainbow coloured bathing suit. "I don't know what you're on about half the time," she snapped. "What choice has it got? Who can say what it would rather be doing? I think it shouldn't feel it needs to come here if it doesn't want to! It shouldn't have to come, just out of duty!"
"But what would the old man do if he was here on his own? And the donkey was in some field also on its own. Wouldn't they both yearn for each other?" The mother's voice was insistent, reassuring. She knew how important it was to convince the frightened little girl, to calm her fears.
The child glanced at her from beneath half-lowered lashes. "Are you sure that's how it is?" she asked. "That both of them would be unhappy if they were apart? Both of them?"
"Oh, yes," her mother replied eagerly. "I'm completely sure."
For the first time since the conversation had begun, the girl gazed directly at her mother. Their eyes met and each of the women smiled, sharing, for one tender moment, a closeness which they had with no-one else. Then the girl became uncomfortable. "Why don't we go over and take a closer look?" she asked, to break the silence. Without waiting for a reply, she began to walk towards the objects of their conversation.
Gathering up her capacious handbag and the frayed blanket on which they had been sitting, the woman hobbled after her. Suddenly she stopped and looked at her watch. "There isn't much more time," she called. "We can't ever stay after 3 o'clock."
"I know!" the girl replied, something infinitely harsher than bitterness borne on her words. She stopped and whirled around to face the old woman. "How can I forget!"
The woman paused and reached out with her free hand to stroke the young girl's unruly hair. But something made her stop and she just stared at her instead. "I'm sorry, Jennifer," she said, her mouth trembling. "I'm so sorry."
"It's OK, Mum," the girl said, fighting back tears of her own. "I didn't mean to take it out on you. It's just that it's so lonely for me except when we're here together. I don't know what I'd do without you." Then, almost as if she were embarrassed by her own sentimentality, she ran on ahead to where the old man sat crooning idly to his pet. Though the donkey glanced up at her approach, the old man did not. He seemed to be rapt in a world of his own. With a grin back at her mother, the girl suddenly broke into a wild dance around the peculiar pair, whooping and screeching like a Red Indian. The old man still ignored her. The donkey became agitated, however, and the girl stopped.
"How much for a donkey ride?" she asked. There was no reply. "I said, how much for a donkey ride?" She was screaming now, pushing her face close in front of that of the old man, but he simply raised his head and looked towards the sea. The woman had stopped a little distance away, out of the line of sight of the hunch-backed man. She just stood and watched, fighting back tears which she did not want her only child to see.
Tired of being ignored, the young girl raised her hand as if to pat the donkey. But it whinnied in sudden fright, and shook its head angrily. The girl saw the head of the beast pass through her hand as though it were made of mist. And she screamed.
Her mother was instantly by her side, comforting her, whispering soft sweet words into her ear. "There, there," she murmured, when the girl's sobs had subsided. "It's nothing to be afraid of. It didn't hurt. Nothing can hurt you any more." High above them, atop the chalk cliff, the Pavilion clock began to chime three. "Time for us to go," the mother said, blowing a kiss to her child. "We'll come back tomorrow. Maybe the donkey will be here again. Maybe he'll get used to you if you give him a chance."
Jennifer took a few steps away. For a moment, she ignored her mother, and stood watching the blue waves loll gently onto the sand. She tried to remember how it felt to have those waves lift her up and carry her with them high onto the beach, but she could not. All she could remember was dark water closing over her head and her mother's frantic screams as she rushed out of her depth towards her. How long ago had that been? She had trouble measuring time these days. Nothing could hurt her any more, certainly. Nothing could hug her either. But at least she had someone who wanted to -- even if they could only be together for the last two weeks in June every year. She looked back at the older woman and smiled. "Thanks, Mum," she said. "Thanks for everything."
Side by side, the pair walked slowly to the edge of the water. The old woman stopped there but her child kept walking until she had vanished beneath the surface. "I'll be back tomorrow, Jenny," the mother whispered. "We have two more afternoons left this year."
On the beach behind her, the old man scratched his head and stood up. He looked quizzically at his donkey. "I don't think we'll come back here again, Oatey," he sighed. "I get the shivers seeing that madwoman talking to herself all the time. Happen we'll try a bit further up the strand from now on, a bit nearer the main part of town. Well away from where her daughter got drowned all them years ago."
The blood had seeped slowly from the headless corpse to form scarlet rivulets which issued from the torso like the branches of a particularly macabre tree. They had inched across the parquet floor to stain a thick white carpet before congealing there into a darker hue. It was an horrific sight.
Sheerluck Haulms, the world's greatest detective, put down the monograph entitled "How To Grab Your Reader's Attention In The First Paragraph" which he had been cursorily inspecting, swallowed a small white tablet, and scratched his intellectual brow thoughtfully.
"Rather a gory business, eh Haulms?" burbled his plump assistant, a man so given to stating the obvious that at their very first meeting he had instantly become an indispensable aid to the unworldly Haulms. The plump assistant's name was Dr. L. E. Mentarymydearwatson, but due to some inexplicable antipathy towards spending sufficient time in his company to pronounce the entirety of his surname, most people insisted on addressing him by his middle name of Eusless.
"Indeed it is, Eusless," murmured Haulms, distractedly fingering a small silver spoon which hung from his watch chain. "Indeed it is. I feel this case may finally provide my enormous intellect with the truly satisfying challenge it has needed for some time."
"Your enormous intellect has needed a truly satisfying challenge for some time, hasn't it, eh Haulms?" said Eusless, anxious to demonstrate his ready grasp of the situation.
Haulms took several small blue pills from a silver box in his waistcoat pocket, laid them neatly across his lower lip, then gulped them down whole. His voice was slightly higher than usual when he next spoke. "Unless I am much mistaken -- although mistakes are something of which I have never had any personal experience whatsoever and therefore may not exist -- we shall soon be joined by a short, balding man in a tight tweed suit who has a passion for collecting lithographs of female contortionists and who insists on claiming to be aged in his late thirties despite considerable empirical evidence to the contrary not the least of which is that we have known him for almost twenty years and he was most certainly a great deal older than ten when we first encountered him." Having said all this in one breath, the great detective was obliged to recline languorously against a conveniently situated marble pillar until he had recovered his usual sang froid.
"Amazing, Haulms," breathed Eusless, as the mahogany doors swung open and admitted a short, balding man in a tight tweed suit to the elegant drawing room. Inspector Dumm, indeed a very old acquaintance of Haulms and Eusless, was a man of such stolid dullness that his parents had once despaired of him ever finding employment. Fortunately he had sailed effortlessly through the entrance examination of the Metropolitan Police, and risen rapidly through their ranks. He had been pounding for some time on the French window in a vain attempt to gain entry, in clear sight of Haulms.
After gazing blankly at the truncated corpse for some moments, he shrugged his shoulders in complete bewilderment and turned to the silently watching amateur detectives. "Any clues, gentlemen?" he asked slowly, forming each word with the same care a child uses when copying its first alphabet. Haulms dextrously returned a packet of fine white powder to his coat pocket and shook his head ruefully.
"I fear this mystery has even got me stumped," he admitted. "Why would anyone want to remove and then steal the head of Lord Annum?"
"He was arrogant, cruel, domineering, vicious, mean, spiteful, dishonest, perverted, lazy and unspeakably boring," droned Eusless, reading from a copy of "Who's Whom" he had spotted on a side table. "Do you think that might have had something to do with it, eh Haulms?" He and the Inspector looked at Haulms, expecting him now to announce the name of the murderer.
The great detective rolled himself a thick cigarette, mixing a green substance with the dark tobacco. He lit and drew on it deeply, holding in the smoke for some time before gently exhaling it from his arched nostrils. "Did Annum have a butler?" he asked suddenly. Eusless and Dumm jumped, having dozed off while waiting.
"Of course," said the Inspector. "Lords cannot do anything themselves."
"Well, there's your man," announced Haulms, his thin lips curling into a smile. "It's always the butler."
The policeman left the room, discreetly pocketing a lithograph of Ribless Rita, the Clapham Contortionist, which he had espied on a shelf by the door. Haulms took the opportunity to roll up his coat sleeve and inject himself with a colourless liquid from a syringe sewn into the left leg of his trousers. When Dumm returned, it was in the company of an immaculately dressed manservant.
"You rang, sir?" intoned the butler solemnly.
"We did not!" retorted Eusless, who immediately glanced towards Haulms in the hope of gaining his grudging approbation. But the detective's attention was elsewhere. The servant had been so discomfited by this dramatic departure from his normal ritual that he had collapsed into an armchair.
"It's a fair cop, guv'nor," he sobbed, lapsing into what was clearly his normal Victorian working class mode of expression. "I wuz a-shavin' of the master when me 'and went and slipped, and afore I cud say Lawks a Mussy and Mine's a Large 'Un, 'is bleedin' 'ead was rollin' abart on the carpet like a bleedin' football."
"I think the bleeding may have resulted from the sudden decapitation, old chap," interjected Eusless gently, who occasionally liked to remind people that he was a qualified medical doctor. "Eh Haulms?" he added quickly, just in case he was wrong.
"Go on," ordered Haulms, ignoring Eusless as was his wont.
The butler wiped his nose on the back of his sleeve, and took a deep breath. "Well, guv, I tried to stick 'is 'ead back on, but I ain't no surjon, and it jus' kep' fallin' off again. Stuff this for a game o' soljers, I fort. I'll 'ide the bleedin' fing and mebbe no-one ull even notice."
"A cunning plan," announced Dumm, unable to conceal the admiration in his voice. "And you would have got away with it if I had not called in Mr. Haulms!"
"What did you do with Lord Annum's cranium?" asked Eusless, who was feeling particularly superfluous and thought that his status would be raised by yet another demonstration of his familiarity with medical terminology.
"'Is 'ead, do ya mean?" whimpered the butler. "I stuck it on top of a tailor's dummy and propped it up in the 'Ouse of Lords."
"Almost the perfect crime," mused Haulms, deeply inhaling a tube of wallpaper adhesive. "No-one would have noticed the difference until the annual clear-out of peers who had died there of old age, and by that time, you would have been out of the country."
"Amazing, Haulms," swooned Eusless. "I don't know how you do it."
"Nor do I, Mr. Haulms, sir, it's a wonder, that's what it is," agreed Dumm. He turned towards the butler, who had risen from his chair and regained his former appearance of dignity. "But I confess I am at a loss to understand how you could possibly have beheaded his Lordship with nothing more lethal than an ordinary razor."
"It is an exceedingly sharp razor," the butler explained, having recovered himself sufficiently to return to his more genteel way of speaking. Anxious to placate his captors, the manservant picked up the blood-stained instrument from where he had hidden it on the otherwise empty mantel-piece. "Please allow me to demonstrate."
Before anyone could stop him, he was at the detective's side, gently drawing the deadly blade across Haulms' sallow cheek.
"I say, don't do that," protested Eusless. His cry distracted the butler, he glanced away from Haulms, the blade slipped, and with a sickening thud the great detective's head leapt from his shoulders and fell to the floor. His lifeless body joined it a moment later.
"You crafty devil!" hissed Dumm. "Without Haulms, we have no case against you. I'll have to let you go!"
With a low bow, the butler thanked him and left the room. Dumm and Eusless stared silently at each other for a moment. Then they started to giggle. The giggles became chuckles which became chortles which became roars of laughter.
"I've wanted to do that for years!" wheezed Eusless. "Ever since we met, he has treated me as a brainless, bumbling fool."
"Me, too," gasped the policemen. "He has taken the credit for every successfully solved crime in my entire career."
Recovering their normal demeanour, they stared at the fresh corpse.
"Fancy a drink?" invited the Inspector.
"I don't mind if I do," accepted the doctor.
With light steps, they made their way out into the bright sunshine.
"Even Conan-Doyle couldn't get rid of him," murmured the doctor as they walked down the long gravelled drive towards the gate.
The Inspector did not understand him. But he never understood anybody, really.
"Are you all right?" I asked, uncomfortable at my own uncharacteristic behaviour. I was conscious of people glancing curiously at us as they passed. Tramps were easy to ignore, but a middle-aged man in a good suit talking to one was an unusual sight. She did not seem aware of my presence. I cleared my throat and began to turn away.
"I thought he was my son," said the old woman, her voice weak and tired. "I have been looking for him for a long time. He went away, but he's a clever boy, and he'll have got himself a good job. He won't have anyone to look after him here, and he'll need to earn money. So I came to look for him. This is where the good jobs are, isn't it?" Her thin hand waved weakly towards the line of office blocks on the other side of the wide street, and she looked up at me questioningly. Her eyes were the deepest green I had ever seen, but they seemed unfocussed, as though she had long been in need of glasses.
"A lot of people work around here, yes," I told her. "Now, if you're alright, I'd better be on my way." Once again, I tried to resume my journey. The crowds had died down momentarily, indicating that we were experiencing the few minutes calm between the 5pm and the 5.30pm surges.
"Will you help me up, please, young man," she asked, her voice suddenly firm. "I don't appear to have the strength."
I crouched down and put my arm around her, surprised to find that, although shabby and ill-matched, her clothes were quite clean. Apart from her long brown overcoat, which was falling to pieces, they were neatly patched and perfectly respectable in appearance. I guessed that the overcoat was the one thing that was too hard to repair and too expensive to replace.
Lifting her to her feet proved an easy task, as she weighed very little. She swayed slightly when I let her go. "It might be wise if I had something to eat," she announced. "My constitution requires regular nourishment."
I tried not to smile. There was something amusingly absurd about this skeletal vagrant speaking as though she were an aristocrat who had just missed lunch. I reached into my pocket and took out a few coins. Their loss would help me to remember in future not to get involved with such people. I held them out towards her.
She stared at them, then shook her head violently, strands of grey hair escaping from the edges of her black beret. "I'm afraid I don't understand money, young man," she said. "My protector always looks after that sort of thing. Might I prevail upon you to share a small repast with me?"
She gripped my arm and began to hobble towards a nearby burger bar. Her hand was hard and red and ridged with bulging blue veins. I experienced a momentary sense of revulsion, and was about to disengage myself when I realised that it was just such a perturbing scene that had first drawn her to my attention. I had already missed my train and could afford to waste a little more time. For once, I had nothing better to do.
I accompanied her into the shiny plastic cafeteria and seated her discreetly behind a pillar so that the staff would not feel obliged to eject her. She solemnly pointed to her selection on the brightly illustrated menu and I went to the counter and bought it. I got myself a cup of preposterously weak tea.
"You are most kind," she declared, when I had laid out her meal and sat down opposite her. "I used to be a Queen, you know. I had servants and courtiers and advisers and knights. But that was a long time ago. Now I only have one attendant, my poor knight of the mournful countenance, who accompanies me on my search for my son, and takes care of me on my travels." She eat delicately as she spoke, plucking tiny pieces of meat between her fingers and chewing them reflectively.
"So why isn't he looking after you now?" I asked. In view of her extraordinary words, I had immediately formulated a theory that she was mentally disturbed and that this so-called knight was her nurse or social worker or something. It seemed sensible to try and draw her out so as to find out where she lived. Imperceptibly, I had begun to feel responsible for her. My own mother had died a few months earlier, at a time when I had been abroad on a business trip -- perhaps I was endeavouring to assuage some subconscious guilt?
"Oh, he is looking after me very well indeed," she announced decidedly. "He has gone to fight the giants who have been besieging us at our Winter Palace. I said there were too many for him on his own, but he said that they would never leave us alone and that he had to do it. He is very brave."
"Sounds rather quixotic," I smiled. "Tilting at windmills!" As I spoke, I regretted it. It seemed cruel to make fun of the poor creature. I sipped my tea while she continued to peck at her burger with scrupulous care.
"That is why I call him the knight with the mournful countenance," she said, fixing me with her compelling eyes for a moment.
"Where is your palace?" I asked, to hide my discomfiture.
"Long ago and far away," she replied. "Second star to the right and straight on till morning. Down the rabbit hole. Through the looking glass. Over the rainbow." She giggled unexpectedly. "Actually, I don't remember any more."
"Where are you supposed to be now?" I persisted.
"The giants nearly made me their prisoner this morning. My protector got me away from them, then went back to fight them. I am to wait for him ... out there." She gestured towards the place where I had met her. I saw that an old man was now standing there, looking worried.
"Is that ... your protector?" I asked, pointing at him. She stared towards him for a long time, wrinkling her eyes.
"He is alone so he must have won our fight," she said. "I am pleased."
"I'll go and get him," I told her. "You stay here and finish your meal." Before she could remonstrate, I got up and hurried out to speak to the white-bearded man. As I approached him, I could see that his thin coat and trousers were in a far worse condition than the old woman's clothes. He was tall and broad‑shouldered and must have been very strong in his younger days. Even now, he conveyed a sense of power which might have made someone less cynical than I was think there could be some truth in the mad woman's ramblings.
"Are you waiting for the old lady who is looking for her son?" I asked him. I suddenly realised that I did not even know what her name was.
"Her son died twenty year ago," the big man said, his voice gruff. "It turned her mind. Is she alright?" He stared down at me and I saw that his eyes were red with cold.
"Yes. She's having something to eat over there." I pointed.
"That's kind of you, young 'un," said the man. "I do as best I can, but she won't eat the meals on wheels and the money from the social don't stretch far for the two on us."
The pavement was once again thronged with rushing people, and we stepped back as far as we could to give them room to pass. If the old man was also in need of a meal, he took pains to conceal it. I did not want to offend him by offering charity, so changed the subject.
"Pardon me asking, but shouldn't she be in a hospital or a home of some sort?" "What good 'ud that do her?" He sounded saddened rather than angry at my question.
"Well, she is obviously suffering from delusions. She might get better in a hospital. Doctors could help her tell what is true from what is imaginary. They could bring her back to reality." My knowledge of mental illness was distinctly limited, and I was aware that what I was saying was not particularly astute. But I thought I was making my point clearly enough, and consoled myself with the thought that an aging tramp was hardly likely to engage me in an intellectual debate about psychiatric treatment.
The big man put his heavy hand on my shoulder. "Look at yon reality, young 'un," he instructed, turning me round so that I faced the grim-faced crowds and the characterless buildings and the dirt and litter and screeching traffic. "The real world for the likes of her and me is one where old folks with no money is treated like naughty children that gets in everyone's way, that 'ud do the world a favour by dying so we don't clutter it up and we don't cost it nothing. In HER world, she's a Queen and I'm a Knight, and we's looking for the Prince that will lead us back to her Summer Palace. Would it be so great a kindness to take that world away from her, eh?"
I let my gaze fall. When I looked back at him, the old man was still staring at me, as if he was prepared to wait for ever until I answered. I shook my head slowly. "No, perhaps that would not be kind," I muttered.
"I'd best go and get her," he announced. "She's liable to wander off if she gets left on her own too long, and then the giants will capture her."
"Giants?" I echoed involuntarily. I had been sure the man was perfectly sane, and now it seemed that he might be as mad as his companion.
He smiled wistfully. "Just a figure of speech, young 'un," he said. "It's what we call the social services. I spend half me life fighting to keep them from putting her away. I been in an office over the road there for the past three hours signing forms and things that say I can take care of her. She were my lodger when her lad got himself run over, but she went funny afterwards and there was no‑one else to keep an eye on her. I been doing it ever since. I'd as soon be left on me own, if truth were told, but she needs someone to protect her."
He sighed and his gaze dropped for a moment. "I reckon she'd rather stick with me than go into a loony bin, even if they did feed her regular. Freedom's important, whatever age you are."
He took a step away, then turned and nodded curtly. "Thank'ee for buying her the meal," he said.
He strode off towards the burger bar, from which I could see the old woman already emerging, blinking short-sightedly in the gathering dusk. I turned and slowly walked towards the station.
After a few paces, I paused and looked back. The big man had taken the old woman by the arm and was gently escorting her across the busy road. The cold impersonal office blocks towered above them.
Sometimes, I thought, the windmills really are giants.
"Help me," moaned the tiny voice. "I can't get out!"
I blinked, then moved my heavy head awkwardly from side to side, my pendulous jowls dripping rivulets of sweat born of the effort this cumbersome action required.
"Please. Let me out or I'll die!" persisted the faint voice.
With gasps of excruciating pain, I lugged my massive frame out of the heavily reinforced armchair and lumbered around the untidy room, exerting every ounce of my limited strength to open doors and drawers in an effort to locate the source of the voice. This taxing activity quickly became more than I could endure, and I staggered over to collapse gratefully back into my huge metal-strutted seat, stretching out a blubbery arm for a wedge of the cake which I always kept by me in case I needed an emergency snack. I thrust the mass of creamy sponge into my mouth, impatient to replace the calories I had expended on my vain search, and licked my pendulous lips to catch every iota of the smooth sweet provender.
"For pity's sake, you’re killing me. Please let me out!"
I gulped down the rest of the cake and a mouthful of air at the same time. "Who are you? Where are you?" I belched. Panting from the effort of speech, I sank deeper into my creaking chair and fearfully awaited the reply.
"Inside," came the inadequate rejoinder, so faintly that I had to cup my ear to catch it.
"Inside what?" I breathed, moving the pupils of my eyes as far as they would go in each direction, hoping that I would in this way encompass so much of the room that I would be spared the struggle of having to turn my whole pachydermatous head.
"You," responded the frail voice. "Let me out!"
"Inside me!" Aghast, I looked down, as much as my multiplicity of chins would permit, onto the enormous wastelands of fat that encased me, onto the expanse of corpulence that hung about my slowly splintering skeleton, onto the rolling mountains of grotesque flesh which was the obscenity that my body had become after years of uncontrolled consumption. "How can you be inside me?" A terror I could not explain was gnawing at my heart.
"Please let me out." The voice was barely audible.
"How can you be inside me?"
"Please." It was fainter still.
And then, before I could even finish repeating my question, the answer exploded into my mind. I knew. I knew who it was. I had heard the voice before, many times, many years ago, and I had always ignored it and it had always, eventually, gone away. A rumbling began in my stomach and worked its way up like a volcanic eruption to burst out of my gaping mouth as a scream of terror. “No!” I bellowed. “Don’t say it …”
"You stupendous fool," whispered the voice, fading further into eternal inconsequentiality with each word. "I am the thin person trying to get out!"