The Puppies

Arthur Stevens sits in his high back chair in the cancer hospital. His tumour means he cannot lie down and he has been in this half dozing uncomfortable state for three weeks now, puréed food, urine bottles, one hard trip a day to the wash room with the tough faced nurses. His family have stopped bringing fruit and his daughter weeps in a battle of emotions in the stairway before entering the sterile ward.

He knows one day very soon he will be gone. But where? He feels a kind of wonder and deep fear at his powerlessness. He has led a very active minded life – drinking, women, gambling, constants social contact his whole adult life. He has not given it much thought. The puppies.

Ten years ago when he was sixty his lovely Golden Retriever bitch had somehow gotten pregnant and given birth to nine perfect puppies. Arthur was alone with her when she delivered and he looked down on them and did exactly what his father had done several decades ago to the puppies their family pet had birthed all those years ago. He bundled them up in the old wool jumper that they were fumbling about on and took them to the big plastic water barrel round the back of the property and quickly drowned them there. Explaining to his wife and distraught daughter that he didn’t know what had come over him in words the same as his dad had used in a near identical scene in Arthur’s childhood. A couple of years later Arthur would say he would never do such a thing nowadays.

As he sits in the terminal cancer ward, his forehead wet with sweat, he thinks himself a good man, but some knowing, deep doubt in him leaves him in the end uncommunitive. Yet does God not forgive?

God does not forgive. Arthur dies on a Thursday and the living world is gone forever never to be thought of again. He descends through grey, cold mist through the first transient layers of Hell; kissing your Mother at the disco, drowning in dog dirt, falling from high places. Then they arrive at a place where he knows his stay will be longer. He is shown a lake where men with nets fish the sterile waters. Mountains so ancient and chalk white all around. He is as if in a dream, one of those dreams in slumber where it is so very real but then covered up and forgotten. Except now it is the only reality and not forgotten, it just goes on and is not right. Arthur watches the hopeless men fish as he is brought to the shore of the lake. He sees the fish being caught in the nets. They are milky and transparent as if no nutrition or blood flows in them and they stare mindlessly as if they have been caught a trillion times. The men always throw the fish back after inspecting them and the fish swim away miserably in the horrible water. Arthur is shown to a side pond where he knows he will stay wallowing in the tepid, lifeless water. He needs food and is left by the guiding will that brought him here. He knows it is right that he is here, that the righteous even now observe him from afar. He needs food and knows he will need food again in half an hour, if he manages to find any. He must build a net with the debris around him. Useless debris. No way to make a net. Must steal one? Is there any point? He hears moans of agonising misery and sees a very thin and pale man drag himself into the small pond of Arthur’s. Arthur watches and crawls after the starving man as he crawls around a corner and there in front of them to Arthur’s horror is their meal. It is a mound of writhing five inch long segmented maggots slopping about at the edge of the water. Arthur watches the man, who has not turned his face to the newcomer even once, reach out a trembling hand and start shovelling the maggots into his mouth, with gut wrenching slowness. Arthur’s limbs weaken and he lets out a blood curdling scream of sheerest horror. None of the other men in the vicinity look up at this noise.

A million years later and Arthur is lying in a nearby pond that juts out from the main lake. There are still half alive maggots spilling from his mouth and a small mound of them in his pale hand. His jaw moves up and down slowly not chewing and his eyes are rolled back in their sockets. Then in a moment of purest de ja vu he finds himself leaving the lake and has around three moments of eclipsed joy in his heart before reaching the next level of Hell. He is not yet sure what it is but looks like a large netted off area full of buzzing midges so densely packed that there is no where to go. What does this entail? He sees a man briefly run past with mouth open like a whale eating plankton and what is that above? He can’t quite make it out, the noise is familiar… Something tells him he will have a long, long time to find out.



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