A Cautionary Tale

As a forensic investigator and pathologist with over ten years’ service in the Metropolitan Police under my belt, I’ve seen my fair share of the grotesque and the bizarre, I can tell you. Acid murders, ritual sacrifice, ‘exorcisms’ taken to sadistic extremes, the most gruesome gangland punishments imaginable and sundry other instances of surreal and depraved violence. But a case I investigated last year stands out as qualitatively in a different league of unnameable horror.
It began with a call to a bedsit on a small residential road just off Well Street, E9, about what initially appeared to be a missing-person case; however, it soon transpired that the person in question was not entirely missing. A murder, then? But no trace could be found of involvement by another party, and the circumstances of the property made it quite impossible that the body (or rather, the rest of it) could have been smuggled out unnoticed. Suicide or accident was similarly ruled out, it seemed, by the almost complete absence of remains: how could a man possibly have done that to himself, intentionally or not?

The local police station had taken a call the previous day from a Mrs. Walczak, the Polish widow who owned the modest late-Victorian terraced house and had let out a room on the top floor to the victim (whatever it was he’d been a victim of), a Mr. Gary Turner; white, UK citizen, 32 years old, a casual freelance web programmer with no previous. The distressed landlady had said something about a series of increasingly loud and bizarre noises coming from the upstairs room; these had not initially bothered her, as Gary had always had been a man of odd habits and there were often strange sounds and smells emanating from his apartment, but on this occasion the ruckus rose to unprecedented volume and was accompanied by a piercing scream, which she’d certainly never heard him make before. Terrified, she’d run up the narrow staircase to the second-floor room and opened the door with the spare key, just as the noises were reaching a crescendo which had terminated with a loud POP. In contrast to the scene of carnage or extreme physical trauma she must have been expecting, the empty and now suddenly silent room may have presented a perhaps even greater shock than whatever bloody horror she could have imagined.
Mrs. Walczak had later explained, over a shaky cup of tea at the station, that the room hadn’t quite been empty. There had been a strange “feel” to the air – in her witness statement she described it as “sparkly”, but in way she could somehow physically sense, rather than see; there had also been a smell “like raw pork” in the room and perhaps in retrospect also a harsh chemical odour like burnt plastic. But most distressing of all (the transcript of her statement includes a note that she’d broken down at this point and had barely been able to bring herself to say the word) had been a piece of “meat” lying on the floor. The room’s single window was, as always, closed and locked from the inside. No longer able to bear the horror, she’d stumbled down the narrow stairs in a daze without examining the room any further before passing out on the first-floor landing. When she later awoke (she had no idea how long she’d been out) she’d poured herself a large plum brandy and – knowing that whatever had happened to Gary, he was surely beyond help now – had called the police station directly rather than the emergency number.

The missing man had no family that could be easily traced, but Mrs. Walczak managed after some rummaging to find a mobile number for the man’s girlfriend, which she’d persuaded him to give her “in case of, you know, something happen to him”, as she explained. Well, something had certainly happened now, so with some trepidation the sergeant called the number. He later explained to me that Karen, as the young woman was called, had not spoken to Gary for almost two weeks; they’d had a bust-up over the amount of time he was spending on the Internet and “those fucking weirdoes he was always chatting with” – though of course by this time her ire had been wholly washed away by a shocked and baffled grief. “They’ve got something to do with this, I know it”, she’d tearfully declaimed in the station, “they” referring to her boyfriend’s online acquaintances.
When it was clear that both women had told the sergeant every pertinent thing they knew about the poor man, I received a call asking me to come to the station. The sergeant filled me in on the narrative I’ve relayed as he drove the two of us over to the scene; I’ve known the man for as long as I’ve been in this trade and had never seen him like this. His innate professionalism and many years of experience at the sharp end of policing in London enabled him to maintain a stony blankness that would have fooled most people, but beneath the façade I could sense a disquiet, a simmering panic, that I’d never seen in him before, even while investigating the most terrible crimes. This induced a sympathetic funk in me that knotted my stomach even as we approached the property.

The landlady had understandably quit the house to stay with her daughter and son-in-law, so the sergeant let us in and preceded me up the two flights to the small boarder’s room at the end of a short landing. The door was unlocked, and he motioned me to open it myself and enter the room. As I turned the doorknob his hand rested on my upper arm, stalling me for a moment. He looked straight at me and said “Some weird shit went on here, Mike. I know you’re good and you’ve seen a lot of strong stuff, but even so – just try and keep a level head on this one.”
Inside was what I can only call an Aladdin’s cave of bizarre and disparate artefacts, although the room’s disturbing air of strangeness came not simply from these objects in themselves but from their juxtaposition with all the utterly mundane accoutrements of a young-ish male living alone in an East London bedsit. An overflowing ashtray sat next to a shrunken head and a small faïence figurine of a jackal-headed deity on a small table that looked like it had probably come from Ikea; a first edition of von Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten and a sinister-looking volume titled Cyclonopedia bookended a stack of back issues of GQ and Maxim. Opposite the door was a small desk with a laptop on it, still open although apparently shut down, with uneven piles of books on either side. It was these that provided the real eye-opener into a world of discourse and inquiry far beyond the quotidian: Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille Plateaux jostled with the collected works of James Joyce while The Tao Of Physics found itself sandwiched between a volume of Proust and something called Object-Oriented Magick For The Practical Programmer. A primer on superstring theory nestled between a dictionary of computational linguistics and a chunky tome on the supposed relevance of set theory to Marxism. My head began to swim just looking at the titles on the spines of this bizarre collection, but even that hadn’t prepared me for the sheer obscurity of the interests the missing man’s laptop would betray.

Having spent several minutes looking around the room – whose general contents and layout it was not, after all, my prerogative to examine – I turned to the sergeant and could only raise my eyebrows and shrug, as whatever connection may have existed between this strange library and the even stranger fate of its owner was quite beyond anything I could put into words. He broke the silence by suggesting we go back to the station so I could examine two objects that had been taken in for forensic analysis, plus the laptop, once it had been given the usual once-over and dusted for prints.
The first of these was a small glass smoking pipe encrusted with some kind of charred organic material. My first thought was crack, although from what I’d learnt of the subject, he didn’t really seem the type. But a spectroscopic analysis failed to detect the slightest trace of cocaine; after extensive testing the residue appeared to consist mainly of DMT with traces of various related tryptamines and other alkaloids found in certain tropical plants. That would explain the burnt-plastic smell, at least. The second object was more…problematic. This was the piece of “meat” poor Mrs. Walczak had spotted on the floor in Gary’s room. On closer inspection it turned out to be a disembodied human rectum, about twelve centimetres in length, from the anus to the start of the sigmoid colon. Quite how it had come to be disconnected from its erstwhile owner, it was impossible to say: there was no sign of an incision or any kind of physical trauma; rather, the tissue simply seemed to thin out into nothing. No clues were forthcoming from the scene, where no blood or any other kind of bodily fluid had been found. That the specimen had indeed once belonged to the late Mr. Turner (for it was obvious by now that whatever had happened to him, he must have stood little chance of surviving very long after such a severe injury) was confirmed by a genetic comparison with some of the mousy brown hair found on a brush in his room; this was double-checked against a similar hair found in Karen’s flat, proving beyond doubt that the specimen had come from Mr. Turner. The organ appeared in every other respect to be perfectly normal and to have belonged to a basically healthy individual with unremarkable dietary habits.

When it seemed that nothing more could be gleaned from these two objects, I turned my attention to the laptop. It was a mid-range Acer a couple of years old; no fancy accessories, no prints that didn’t match those found elsewhere in the flat and no further forensic clues beyond some residue under the keyboard that spoke of a bygone encounter with a glass of red wine. Of the documents stored on the hard disk, the search history and browser bookmarks, suffice it to say that this evidence merely compounded the incipient headache and sense of disorientation inculcated by the subject’s outré library. The last activity on his eBay account, for example, was a bid on a limited-edition copy of Einstürzende Neubauten’s Drawings Of Patient O.T. on invisible 13” vinyl; his posts on a forum he’d apparently frequented had revealed ongoing debates with another member named ‘q-goth’ on such topics as “Black Metal understood as an existential protest against the hegemonic fascism of sublimated Kapital” and “a hauntological hermeneusis of The Mysterious Cities Of Gold.”

It was at this point that the sergeant decided to call Raymond da Silva. Raymond has helped out the Met in a number of cases over the years that had frankly baffled the most experienced and analytical investigators; he was our go-to man for help with crimes that were so far out of everyday experience that even half a lifetime’s detective work was of little use in trying to unravel the matrix of bizarre evidences they presented. Old spooky Raymond – “Voodoo” Ray to those who knew him well, and these were few – was a Brazilian of indeterminate years who’d arrived in London at some distant date and taken up residence in Lambeth; he made a modest living importing bootleg rum and occasionally selling small quantities of cannabis on the side, which the Met tacitly overlooked in return for his occasional but valuable assistance.
Usually da Silva came along to the station or crime scene in his own good time when asked for help, but after hearing a brief outline of the facts surrounding this case in an oddly terse, stilted phone call from the sergeant on the morning after our visit to the scene, he appeared at the front desk just an hour later and was wordlessly ushered into the sergeant’s office.
I sat back slightly from the sergeant’s desk with the Brazilian to my left as the sergeant described the details of the case to him in a forcedly neutral tone, frequently pointing out details on the large high-quality photos from the forensics lab and the scene. Da Silva occasionally interjected to ask a question; his voice, accent diluted to a mild lilt by a couple of decades’ London residence, gradually becoming more noticeably distressed as the sergeant’s, if anything, seemed to increase in monotony. I half-listened to the sergeant’s words, already aware of the details myself, of course, and hardly relishing having them retold within my hearing, yet strangely unable to prevent myself from listening intently now and then. The facts of the case were just so bizarre it was as if I needed to hear them from someone else to help me believe the evidence of my own eyes.

Eventually the sergeant finished and sat back with an expression that said nothing more than: Well? Da Silva’s usually impassive countenance had for once lost all semblance of calm; with beads of sweat on his brow, mouth deformed into a pained grimace and nose wrinkled in disgust, he eventually swallowed with some apparent difficulty and spoke in a strained half-whisper that obliged the sergeant and me to lean in close to him. I thought I could detect the smell of his panic-induced perspiration as he began to speak.
“I’ve heard of such a thing happening, but never to anyone I know. This man was attempting some very hard magic – very difficult, very advanced. I never tried something like this my whole life. Let me explain: normally when you ask for power or knowledge you ask through a, an agent, you know? A, how you say, intermediary between you and the, the entities Outside. Always you summon the agent first, and they can be dangerous enough if you don’t know what you’re doing, right? But normally they are safe if you are careful and take all the proper precautions.
But this man – he tried something very dangerous. He tried to contact the Outside directly. I cannot tell you how risky this is. The rewards are potentially vast, greater than anything you can achieve otherwise, which of course is why some people try it – but there are stories of what can happen when it goes wrong. I could tell you some, but why tell stories when you have seen what is left of that man?”

The monologue was the strangest I’d heard even from Raymond, and I don’t say that lightly. Coming from anyone else, I’d have dismissed it straight away as palpable nonsense, but the sergeant and I both knew Raymond well enough to be sure he spoke with absolute earnestness. At this point I could only ask the question that had plagued me since that first disturbing visit to the scene: “And Mr. Turner’s interests, his books and online friends: did they have anything to do with this?”
“Oh, of course, of course! Intimately!” Raymond continued; “They have everything to with it. Those strange books, these strange people – no-one interested in this kind of magic works alone. There are always others. You learn from someone, you gain your own skills and experience, you train someone new. But I never seen such a group of people as I saw on this man’s computer, on his websites he liked to go on. People interested in such strange things, so bizarre, and so dangerous to mess with, so very dangerous…such hazards…”
Here Raymond trailed off while shaking his head and appearing to summon the courage to continue talking. Neither I nor the sergeant spoke: I think we both knew some final terrible revelation was coming. When he’d regained some semblance of composure, Raymond finally continued:
“These kinds of magic this man was attempting, they work directly on certain places. Certain parts of the body, I mean, where energies are concentrated. There are many names for them – in India they call them ‘chakras’, I think. But all cuaranderos, wherever they are, know about them. This man, he was trying to invoke energies using the lowest of these points, the most basic, the most powerful. Very powerful and accessible only to the most dedicated. It’s how you must access the Outside, if that is what you have chosen to do. But this Gary, this poor man, he went too far! That pipe you found…he was taking the yage, the special medicine of the cuarandero. You may have heard of ‘ayahuasca’, the Vine of Souls. It is the same thing.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of it.” I said, simply. The sergeant looked from da Silva to me questioningly, but I felt unqualified to say anything more. Suffice to say that my time as a forensic investigator had brought me into contact with many unusual substances.
“This medicine is the most powerful for opening yourself up to the Outside. I cannot say exactly what ritual this man was attempting – there are many variants, depending on what you want to ask for – but I can tell you this. All of them, all the most difficult and dangerous rituals, work like this: they re-arrange the energies inside you. Re-arrange them in unnatural ways. But the one you need to work on to access the furthest places, it is at the bottom. Right here:”
Da Silva indicated his lower abdomen with a prod of his finger. The sergeant and I exchanged a brief glance, each of us aware that the other could sense the growing dread in his own eyes. Da Silva continued:
“Yes, I see you are beginning to understand. Gary must have got something wrong…again, I cannot tell you exactly what…eh, it would make no sense to you anyway. But I think he caused this lower centre to – collapse? That is probably the best word. I think it collapsed like a, how you say – a dead star?”
“Black hole?” suggested the sergeant.
“A black hole, right, right!” responded the Brazilian, his accent thickening as he became excited, clearly approaching the final denouement of our subject’s fate. “A sort of black hole, very small of course and gone almost straight away. But a hole into the Outside. And that world is…hungry for our world. For the light and matter there is here. So opening such a hole is like pulling out a plug from a bath. And this hole, it was…it was inside the man…”
I sensed myself swallow heavily, and took a moment to steel myself before speaking. Da Silva himself had clearly not paused for any ersatz dramatic effect; even the experienced occultist needed to gather his resolve before concluding his abysmal narration. I broke the silence:
“So this man, Mr. Turner, he got, got…sucked in?”
Da Silva slowly nodded, his face anguished, horror and sorrow in his eyes. He spoke in little more than a whisper.
“Yes. He disappeared up his own arse.”

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5 Responses to “A Cautionary Tale”

  1. Pete Um Says:

    Very good, and an impressive synthesis of your various talents. Voodoo Ray, indeed…

  2. colz Says:

    A gripping yarn!

  3. pollywog Says:

    hahaha choice… and yup, i’ve felt that pull from beyond.

  4. viv Says:

    Wonderful piece, let that be a lesson to us all!

  5. JonR Says:

    uncanny. I loved this. *shifts uncomfortably in seat*

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