By John C. Adams
After Brett Flint became a father to twin boys, his deformed frame struggled to keep up with his exhausting workload. The farm was going to wrack and ruin. His wife Radclyffe couldn’t cope. His father-in-law eventually suggested Brett visit Austria to take the Cure. “Whatever’s wrong with you, old Honigbaum can take care of it,” he chuckled. “Nothing’s too weird or evil for that fat bird to put right.”
Brett’s feelings of foreboding grew as he travelled to the Cure. He had to be well in order to support his family. If that meant putting himself in the hands of a man like Dr Luther Honigbaum, so be it. As he went through customs at Innsbruck Airport he still felt like turning round and running home to Blackacre. Dr Honigbaum had undertaken to cure his wife’s mother twenty years earlier: with spectacularly bad results.
A six-seat coach was waiting for Brett outside the terminal. He dragged himself on board and stowed his small suitcase under the first vacant seats. The woman across the aisle was snoring away. Brett recoiled in disgust as he noticed she had a second face on the back of her head. A globule of drool was forming on its pale lips and sliding down her extra chin.
Brett tried to block out any thoughts of the twins’ terrible behaviour. Nicholas, the dark-haired one, had launched another unprovoked attack on Constantine this morning. The sight of Brett’s half-packed suitcase appeared to have triggered it. Even worse, the more good-natured of his sons had fought off the attack with ease. Nicholas was now more circumspect around Constantine but Brett felt angrier than ever at the dark power the boys harboured.
Brett closed his eyes. He heard the driver greeting other guests and helping them on board. He tried not to dwell on what he knew of Honigbaum but the images still forced themselves into his mind. His sister-in-law had also taken the Cure as a teenager. In fact, his wife’s whole family talked about it as some inevitable rite of passage. The picture of Rose writhing naked with the giant serpent she’d brought back with her from Austria was demented. It worried Brett that, whatever problem she’d asked Honigbaum to cure, a sexually aggressive giant snake could have been diagnosed as the solution to her difficulty. Even in the odd world they all inhabited Brett thought that prescription a step too far.
The driver closed the doors with a whoosh and slipped into his seat. He started the engine. Brett grimaced. They were on their way up to Ubersneller in the mountains, two hours’ drive away. It was too late for him to turn tail and run away now.
In the bright-white immaculately clean consulting room Dr Honigbaum inspected Brett’s body in minute detail. He paused to write notes on his black clipboard with a silver fountain pen. When he’d finished he slapped Brett on the back and told him to get dressed.
Brett pulled his clothes back on behind the screen in the corner. He’d resented having to stand naked in front of another man, even a medical professional. He’d loathed having to show his twisted body, his useless left arm and his deformed right leg, to anyone. The docile nature of the nursing staff had unnerved him too. They seemed almost bovine in their stupidity and capacity for hard work. In fact, the whole sanatorium had a dark aura.
Brett buckled his belt and slipped on his shoes. He found Dr Honigbaum sitting at his desk writing indecipherable notes in his spindly feminine handwriting. He gestured to Brett to sit down. Brett limped over and collapsed into a chair. He was fed up of his deformed body. He hadn’t grown up that way. Until last year, he’d been vigorous and healthy. Radclyffe had done this to him on their wedding night.
“It could be worse.”
Brett nodded. Some of the physical specimens he’d seen already at the Cure were much more badly deformed than he was. Honigbaum had explained that much of the sanitorium’s work had initially come from local communities where inbreeding over the centuries produced genetic imperfections in unlikely concentrations. These recessive oddities had forced their way to the surface in some disturbing ways. Now he treated people from all over Europe and made them whole and well again. In the last twenty years his fame had spread and with it his prices had skyrocketed. He’d given Brett the family discount based on the Ffanshawes’ past visits to the Cure.
“Do you have the weapon Mrs Flint used? In my extensive experience, wielding the power that created the deformity can be an effective means to reverse it.”
“My wife appealed directly to the gods but I’ve brought the knife she used to stab me.” Brett fetched it out of his tweed jacket’s inside pocket.
A broad smile spread across Honigbaum’s handsome face. His black eyes sparkled. “I like a challenge. You need an exorcism. Well, you did right to come to us, my boy. Placating the gods and throwing our patients on their mercy is something we do particularly well here. I’ve never had a deserving case yet that the Seven rejected.”
Brett tried not to think about what the Cure had done to his wife’s family. His mother-in-law was locked up in the Whiteacre asylum. Rose’s serpent lover was out of control. His wife’s brother Alphonse was one of the oddest people he’d ever encountered. He dreaded the outcome of agreeing to put himself in the hands of Dr Honigbaum.
Brett slowly filled in the consent form. The alternative, to return home as mangled as he’d arrived, was unthinkable. “Tell the gods I’ll do whatever they ask of me,” he said, as he signed at the bottom of the document. “I can’t face living with this twisted body one day longer.”
“You’re first on my list for the afternoon session. In the meantime, relax in the cafeteria and make a few new friends.”
Brett picked at his lunch. The food at the Cure was hearty and there seemed to be plenty of it. He just couldn’t find his appetite. On the next table along the woman he’d seen in the coach was spooning jelly into her mouth. Brett corrected himself: one of her mouths. She had that second face on the back of her head. It was partly hidden by her hair. Occasionally, it spoke to her primary face. He felt sorry for her. Perhaps she should’ve shaved her head and let everyone see. Brett frowned. Maybe her community wasn’t very understanding about physical deformity. The uplands where he lived had more than its fair share of inbreds and cretins running around. Yet he’d been on the receiving end of all sorts of prejudice since being maimed by Radclyffe. He pushed his plate away. Northern people didn’t like attention being drawn to the weaknesses in their genetic stock.
The two-faced woman was chatting to a man with fish gills. His skin was damp and he had huge bug-like eyes that stood right out of his head. He didn’t try to hide his deformity. In fact he made a point of entertaining his fellow diners by flapping the gills in time to the music piping out over the sound system. It was so calming no one had noticed it, until this guy had started up fooling around.
“Yer going to miss those, friend,” Brett said.
Everyone at the other table stopped talking and turned around to stare at him.
“My gills aren’t going anywhere. I earn a living this way. I’m having my legs done.”
Brett bent to look closely at the man’s legs. He obligingly got to his feet and walked up and down, pretending to be on a catwalk. The refectory erupted into applause and the man took a bow.
“Look fine to me.”
“My gills aren’t enough any more. I mean, they get a reaction but in this day and age when the circus comes to town people want a little more horror for their money, you know? Kids are so desensitized with TV and games.”
Brett frowned when he thought of the world his boys were growing up in. Trouble was the dark twin, Nicholas, was more evil than anything Brett had encountered in a lifetime spent living at Blackacre.
“So I’m having the whole frog legs thing done. Genetic manipulation. Double my income, my agent says. The ringmaster’s delighted.”
Brett looked around the room. People were nodding. They were all different to the norm, some of them repellently so, but they were happy with who they were. They weren’t self-conscious. They were just content with being themselves. He got up. “Sorry. Just nervous about my own procedure.”
Several of the women shot enquiring glances at Brett. “You look fine already, honey.”
“It’s for my wife.”
“Not deformed enough for her?”
It took a moment for Brett to register that the woman wasn’t joking. Here he was paying a fortune, borrowed from Radclyffe’s father against his income from next year’s crops, to be made less deformed. These freaks yearned to be more different to the norm. He couldn’t find any words to answer them that wouldn’t be offensive so he didn’t even try.
“Best of luck.”
“Yer too,” Brett mumbled as he headed for the door. He found his way blocked by a woman with five arms. She had one huge eye in the middle of her octopus-like head. “Sorry. Yer not my type. Yer remind me too much of my mother,” Brett said.
The woman wound her largest tentacle around Brett’s leg and stroked his thigh. He pushed her away but she was persistent. He was rescued by the staff but he was looking over his shoulder afterwards as he ran upstairs to get changed.
Honigbaum came into the theatre pulling on a pair of stretchy plastic surgical gloves. He was garbed in a teal gown and had a mask over his face. It made him look almost innocuous. “Ready?”
Brett nodded. Honigbaum picked up the knife Radclyffe had used. It still had Brett’s dried blood on the blade. “The monitors are just to check that you’re not getting to distressed by the procedure. The actual method I’ll use to free you consists of a direct appeal to the gods. They often listen to me. It’s amazing when a medical man has that kind of power.”
Brett closed his eyes. Honigbaum was repellent. Just the kind of man who would let power go to his head and end up believing he was a god himself. Brett hated dragging himself around all the time, weak and twisted, whilst others stared at him. He hated not being able to satisfy Radclyffe sexually. He hated all of it. He wanted to be the way he’d been before he’d married: hearty and strong and whole like a farmer should be. He couldn’t work the land like this. It wasn’t a lifestyle choice he was making. It was a question of pure necessity. Above all he had to be himself. He closed his eyes. Images of the deformed people he’d met at the Cure passed across his mind. At last he understand their point of view. He was the same as all of them inwardly, regardless of how different each was externally. All he wanted, all they wanted, was to be themselves. Just for a fleeting moment Brett connected with their common humanity, in a way he’d never known before and realised he would probably never be able to manage again.
“Ask the gods to make me into the kind of man I should be,” Brett whispered. “Whatever they think that ought to be. That’s all I ask.”
“You’re willing to place yourself entirely in the hands of the gods?” Honigbaum asked. “Good! That’ll help!”
Brett nodded. He was shaking from head to foot but he was prepared to do this. He was ready, in his own way, to be himself again.
John C Adams lives in Edinburgh, UK, with her husband and family. Her debut novel ‘Souls for the Master’ is out now from Sinister Saints Press. She is a Submissions Reader for the Aeon Award and Albedo One. You can read more of her short fiction in anthologies from Horrified Press. John has had fiction published in The Horror Zine, Devolution Z magazine, Schlock! Webzine, Honeysuckle magazine and Farther Stars Than These ezine.
For more see http://johncadams.wix.com/johnadamssf