Al Bruno III
Al Bruno III
November 12th ...By the time Kris Halloran reached the building on Thornburg Street the bullet wound had gone from searing pain to a dull ache. He'd made it home without attracting undue attention from bystanders, done a functional if clumsy job of bandaging himself up and changed into a clean pair of pants. The only problem now was finding some way to get the bullet removed. He couldn't go to an emergency room, even if he hadn't been a paroled felon there was no way he could use the 'I was cleaning my gun when it suddenly went off' excuse- not when he'd been shot in the ass robbing a convenience store.
Dr. Trenton would take care of it no questions asked, every shady character in Albany knew that. All you had to do was meet his price and keep your mouth shut. Dr. Trenton’s three-story home was on the bad side of Albany but no one gave him or his patients any trouble. Since Kris lived on the bad side of Schenectady the trip to Thornburg Street was one of the most miserable experiences of this life. Do you have any idea how hard it is to drive a car when you can’t sit down?
But it all seemed to be worth it in the end, both figuratively and literally. Despite the hour Dr. Trenton was awake and eager to help. Kris was broke so Dr. Trenton took his payment out in trade. His price? Swatches of skin, a little more than twelve in total. It was a creepy as Hell thing to commit to but what choice did Kris have? Besides Kris had heard stories about guys that had ended up losing a kidney or worse. The good thing was that Dr. Trenton had promised to leave Kris’ elaborately tattooed arms alone and take the skin from his belly and back instead. Even the doctor had paused to admire the work that had gone into the patterns of ink that stretched from each wrist to shoulder; the series of interlocking Roses and barbed wire that twisted around each other in patterns that drew the eye back again and again.
Hours later, when Kris recovered from the anesthesia he found himself alone in the cramped operating room, there was no sheet on the gurney and the IV bag hooked to his arm was empty. What was it that had woken him?
Music. There was loud music playing upstairs, some old school hip hop song called Jump Around. Was that how stuffy looking Dr. Trenton relaxed after a hard day at the office? Kris found the thought vaguely amusing.
What he didn’t find amusing was the realization he had no idea what time it was, or what day even. The windows in the room were blacked over and there were no clocks. Kris had a meeting with his parole officer that he couldn’t afford to miss-if he’d slept through it and then all this had been for nothing. He called out for Dr. Trenton but there was no answer. Upstairs one song ended and another began, this time it was Danny Boy Danny Boy by the same band. Kris couldn't remember what the band's name was but he didn't much care either. He was more worried about finding his clothes.
It turned out that locating his clothes was the easiest part, putting them on was agony. His backside hurt, so did the places where the skin had been removed. Dr. Trenton had promised he'd take no more than twelve inches but the pain made Kris feel like he'd been flayed from shoulder to shoulder. Finally he was zipped and buckled up, then he eased himself into his leather jacket, that done he jammed his feet into his shoes like they were backless slippers. As for his shirt? Old Dr. Peelgood could have it.
The music stopped, he heard cheering and laughter. A party maybe? An image flashed through his mind, an image of Dr. Trenton and some of his friends eating hors devours made from bits and pieces of his clientele. That was enough to throw Kris into a panic. What had he gotten himself into? Was a return trip to prison really work selling off parts of himself? The music started up again, more hip hop from the 90's; Kris popped the IV out of his arm and started for the door at a slow hobble. He willed himself to move faster but the pain became more and more shrill.
He saw a shape waiting by the doorway. Nothing about the figure made sense, not the dark pupils that shone against a dark sclerae and certainly not the teeth that gleamed from a face that was both misshapen and symmetrical.
As you can imagine, Kris Halloran did run for his life then, pain be damned…
...the police found Kris Halloran stumbling through traffic, his stitches torn open and his expression crazed. He babbled about having escaped from a house full of monsters but when the police investigated his story they found nothing; there was no record of a Dr. Trenton anywhere in the tri-city area and when they went to the supposed house of horrors all they found was an empty building. The mortgage for the property was owned by a Mrs. Mary Ingolstadt, a very elderly and confused citizen of Switzerland. By the time the police got that part of the story straightened out it was already too late. Kris Halloran, perhaps in anticipation of his probation being revoked, had left the hospital never to be seen again.
Any story that begins with a man screaming about monsters and ends with the same man vanishing without a trace will get the attention of the message board known as ‘Fear And Truth’. Over the next few weeks the story of Kris Halloran captured the imagination of ‘Fear And Truth’s user base, and not just because it had finally derailed the ‘Is the Mothman gay?’ debate that had been going on for months.
You see Kris’ tale was not a unique one, there are other stories about a physician offering his services to people that lacked the resources or respectability to go anywhere else. They’d been circulating around Albany, Troy and Schenectady for years. The name of the doctor changed frequently but the modus operandi never did. You either paid in cold hard cash or you gave up a pound of flesh, give or take a few ounces. There were rumors of criminals donating a kidney for plastic surgery and desperate parents sacrificing an eye or a limb. The message board was full of speculations about what he was doing with all those spare parts.
After a while the story faded into the background, lost amid the off topic flame wars, chatter about the latest Hudson Valley UFO sighting and a flame war about whether or not Devil Monkey scat had been found at Water Slide World.
But some of us kept our eyes peeled and our ears to the ground, in the Google search sense of it anyway. Inevitably our secret sawbones surfaced again, this time in Hamilton Hill. If you don’t know anything about the neighborhood of Hamilton Hill let me give you this succinct description- stay the fuck out of Hamilton Hill. The crime rate is high, the landlords are all scumbags, the businesses are shuttered and the population is either desperate or demoralized.
Ironically enough the location the man now calling himself ‘Dr. Wilton’ chose to operate out of this time was just a block and a half from where Kris Halloran had lived. After trading notes with the moderator for ‘Fear And Truth’ I decided to do a little investigating. That was how I found myself sitting in the stained barber chair that Dr. Wilton used for an examination table. I was a little dazed and pretty drunk, my nose bloodied and flattened, my arm was aching and there was a good possibility I had cracked a rib, again.
“So,” Dr. Wilton leaned over me, he was thin, almost anorexic looking. There was no compassion in his voice when he spoke, just boredom, “You got into a bar fight?”
“Yeah,” I said, “but you should see the other guy.” And by that I meant that the other guy didn’t have a damn scratch on him.
“Did anyone see you come here?”
“How did you hear about me?”
“Word gets around.”
He frowned at that, “And you’re on probation is that it? Do you have any kind of health insurance?”
I shook my head. This was my cover story, I was a broke ex-con having a hard time staying out of trouble. Now a cover story was all well and good but where did I get the injuries to go with it? Well, I actually did get into a bar fight. I had just a few drinks in the hope of taking the edge off the pain and then went looking for trouble. I didn’t throw the first punch but I did throw around a lot of profanities and crass remarks until somebody got sick of my antics and took a swing.
Did I mention that the guy that took that swing was a lot bigger than the one I’d been picking on? He pulverized me and all I managed to do was get two wild punches in edgewise. The bouncers quickly threw us out. My sparring partner thought we were going to go at it again out in the street but instead I thanked him, gave him my blog address and made my way to my car. I bet he's still there wondering what the Hell happened.
“Your nose is broken,” Dr. Wilton walked away and came back rolling a metal tray brimming with medical supplies, “and you've dislocated your wrist.”
“Dislocated my wrist?” I lifted my arm and winced.
Dr. Wilton said, “My rates are simple, I will either need seven hundred dollars in cash right now or I can take it out in trade. I think an ear would suffice.””
“An ear?” My stomach went cold at the thought, “Why would you want one of my ears?”
“That isn't your concern,” he said. “Now how do you plan to pay me, or are you just wasting my time?”
“I've got the money,” I pulled a handful of hundreds from my pocket. He looked them over, trying to ascertain if they were real. They were. This investigating the unknown stuff is pretty damn expensive.
Dr. Wilton pulled a huge-looking needle from his tray, “Lets get started then.”
The syringe was buried in my wreck of a nose and back out again before I knew what was happening. “What the Hell was that? Are you crazy or something?” I sat up, then laid back down again, “I... I'm... what?”
“Just a little morphine,” he said in a matter of fact way, “I need you to speak to me with a little more candor.”
“Candor...” I repeated. At that moment, in that delightful haze I loved the sound of that word more than anything else, “...candor.”
“Who are you young man?” he asked, “Who are you really?”
The jig was up. Part of me wanted to make a run for it but the rest of me just wanted to lie there on that comfy barber chair forever. I couldn't even get all that upset when he leaned it all the way back so I was staring at the ceiling. I didn’t even get upset when he strapped my arms down.
“I like morphine.” I said. A chill swept over me, it took a moment for me to realize what was going on, “Why are you taking off my pants? That's silly.”
And then my feet were strapped down as well. Dr. Wilton called out, “Come and help me Gotho.”
The face that peered down at me was like something out of a child's nightmare. A distended almost rat-like nose, an apish brow, eyes that were nothing but darkness from lid to lid and a mouth brimming with silvery fangs. Suddenly I didn’t feel all that mellow anymore, I screamed and started trying to get loose from the chair.
“What are you gonna do?” they asked.
The longer I looked at ‘Gotho’ the more 'what the fucks' I found. They were wearing a tank top that revealed there were patches of flesh on their too-long arms that didn't quite match. There were blunt dermal spikes in a ridge along their skull. These spikes were made of bone, finely polished bone.
“What is going on here?” I said as Dr. Wilton set a plastic saucer down on my belly, “I just wanted my nose fixed!”
“And your wrist,” he added.
I tried to sound reasonable, “Look, can I just have my pants back?”
“Dad,” Gotho said, “You’re scaring me again...”
“You’re scared? And did you just call him Dad?”
Dr. Wilton said, “No one comes to me for something as simple as a broken nose-”
“-and a dislocated wrist.” I added.
“-and they certainly don't come to me with a wad of brand new hundred dollar bills.”
“That's how they came out of the ATM!”
“Dad...” it might not be easy to read Gotho's features but there was no mistaking the worry in their voice, “what are you going to do?”
There was a scalpel in his hand, he waved it as he spoke, “I am going to open up his scrotum and then if he doesn’t tell me exactly who he is and who sent him I am going to put his testicles on this dish and let him stare at them while he waits for the morphine to wear off.”
“No!” I wanted to clasp my hands over jimmy and the boys but the straps on my arms held fast, “No no no! No need for that. My name is Brian Foster and I’m just a reporter looking for a story.”
Gotho looked genuinely interested, “A reporter?”
I kept talking, “Everyone’s heard of you, the doctor that takes his payments in skin and bone. You change your name but they always call you the same thing.”
“Do they now?” he glowered, “What do they call me young man?”
“Uhm...” I couldn’t help wondering if this bit of information was going to amuse him or make him mad, “They call you... I mean not me of course... They call you Dr. Peelgood.”
He made a huffing sound, “What paper do you work for?”
“I have a blog… with small but dedicated readership.”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re much of a reporter at all.”
“Can we get back to the subject of my testicles?” I asked, “And by that I mean don’t touch them?”
“I’m not sure if I believe you,” Dr. Wilton turned his attention to my ever-shriveling groin. “I have many rivals in the field of surgical reengineering. All of them are fools and all of them are jealous. Perhaps one of them sent you to steal my research.”
“Steal your research? I don’t know what the Hell surgical reengineering is!”
Dr. Wilton gestured with the scalpel, nearly cutting Gotho, “This is surgical reengineering! By harnessing the power of the Shadmek compound I am creating a race of beings fit to survive the terrible future that awaits us all!”
“Please. You’re getting all worked up.” Gotho placed a six fingered hand on their father’s wrist. “Only volunteers, you promised.”
“Stay or go we cannot allow this man to live! He knows too much!”
Yeah, I can’t believe people say that in real life either. Maybe I’m misremembering, maybe it was the morphine or the panic making me into an even more unreliable narrator than usual. But I do know this, the danger I was in was real, the cold air on my balls was real and the sight of Gotho’s arm keeping the scalpel from mutilating me was all too real.
Like I said before, that arm ended in six spidery fingers but it was also far too long with an elbow that was far too thick. What the Hell has he been doing to his child? I wondered.
The flesh of that arm was a patchwork of scars and conflicting skin tones, one part even had a bit of a tattoo, just a swatch of black ink.
“Wait! Just wait!” I said, “I thought you said only volunteers?”
“I think in your case we can make an exception,” Dr. Wilton pulled his wrist free but Gotho caught it again.
“What about Kris Halloran?” I asked.
“Who?” he snorted.
“The last patient you saw before you closed up shop on Thornberg street.”
“Oh. Him.” He gave an accusatory glance to his child, “The one that nearly ruined everything.”
Gotho looked sorrowful, or as close to sorrowful as their face could manage, “I just wanted to talk to him.”
“I had to sacrifice months of work so I could get away,” Dr. Wilton said.
“Is that why you killed him?” I asked.
Gotho let go of their father's wrist, “He ran away, he went to
“And then...” I paused for effect, and to drool a little, “...he disappeared.”
“Are you going to believe him or your own father?” the scalpel was heading for me again.
At moments like this, moments before something terrible is going to happen, a strange trapped feeling comes over you. That's because you have a body, a body that can be tortured and wounded and left to die while your mind and soul is locked in a front row seat. That's was where I was then, the front row seat. “He had some very nice tattoos!” I said quickly, “Roses and barbed wire!”
Both Dr. Wilton and I watched as Gotho studded their forearm. Then they glared at their father, “You said you wouldn't hurt anyone else. You said if I performed to your specifications you wouldn't hurt anyone else!”
Dr. Wilton’s mouth opened and closed a few times before he finally said, “Go to your room.”
“Why did you lie to me?” They asked.
“I do what I have to, for the future of all mankind.”
Again, who the fuck talks like that?
This guy I guess.
“You said,” Gotho’s night colored eyes were full of tears, “you said you’d stop.”
“Go. To. Your. Room.” With each word he jabbed at his child, making dark red weals on their skin that bled far too little.
When Gotho leapt over the barber chair they looked like something out of a horror movie, a low budget one but a horror movie nonetheless. The sobbing scream they made however, that was very very human...
...and then I woke up.
Now before you start to get pissed off let me clarify that I woke up in that same makeshift operating room, in that same barber chair but I was no longer tied up and pantless. I didn’t remember passing out, one minute I was seeing that classic tableau of a monster rising up against its creator, the next was only blackness. Just as well I suppose, the streaks of blood on the walls and floor told me everything I needed to know about what happened next.
However since I’m a glutton for punishment I decided it would be a great idea to explore the house I had nearly been castrated in. I woozily headed for the basement stairs.
Item: Using the name Gotho as a point of reference I was able to determine that Dr. Wilton aka Dr. Trenton aka Doctor Peelgood was in actuality Elliot Snow. He had been a surgeon of some renown about twenty years ago.
Item: Shortly after 9/11 Dr. Elliot Snow became increasingly paranoid. His fellow surgeons noted that his work was becoming dangerously slipshod and his wife reported that her husband spoke to her less and less and that he had taken to sleeping in his office.
Item: Dr. Elliot Snow began to submit long rambling articles to medical journals and other doctors he thought might share his views. In those articles he quoted from strange and forbidden old tomes that combined ancient blasphemies with post-medeval medical research. In many of these articles he also mentioned something called ‘the Shadmak Element’.
The far wall of the basement was stacked high with medical supplies. On the other wall were three freezers, in one was a supply of pharmaceuticals that could only have been obtained illegally. The other two held supplies of a much more organic nature, and those could only have been obtained illegally as well. In the middle of the room was an oil drum that reeked of acidic chemicals. A very fresh-looking arm was sticking out it the acid. Just a few hours ago that arm had been poised to use a scalpel on me.
Item: The good doctor’s papers revealed that he was convinced the world was about to change and that humanity had to change with it. He illustrated his vision for the future with crude drawings; beings with long arms and legs that bent at strange angles, with beastial heads tipped by jutting spines.
Item: Before Elliot Snow could be committed to a mental institution he fled his home state of Arizona, taking his three year old fraternal twin children with him.
When I think of how those children must have suffered as their father tried to make his lunatic visions a reality I feel sick. A lifetime of that half-baked mad scientist was alive when he went into that oil drum.
But what of the surviving Snow twin? Where are they now? I don’t know but I could know if I wanted to look around online. Turns out that they may have given me back my pants but they kept my wallet.
And honestly that’s fine. If it helps them find a place where they can live in peace then max out every one of my charge cards. I’ve been meaning to cancel them and declare bankruptcy anyway.
Godspeed Gotho. Godspeed.
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