His head jerks, agonizing for sense. A hollow orb of mucus presents and retracts; saliva is smeared around a skin reddened by unremitting episodes of vacancy. Like someone in a drunken stupor he cannot remember his name nor hold a thought for long before a deep nausea sets in.
Where victims of what the sentient world knew as Parkinson’s disease suffered from an atrophy of nerve cells within the brain, strong drugs have prevented this man’s brain from developing the suppressive systems that would allow him to keep still in the first place; he twitches and contorts as unregulated impulses pass disjointed messages to his weak muscles: spasm: convulsion: paroxysm. He swears profusely, single words and utterances ejaculated by the limbic system.
“Fuck, toilet, toilet, toilet, toilet, shit, shit, shit, toilet, shit”
“Fuck shit, fuck shit, fuck shit, fuck shit, sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-sh-fuck”
Then in a scream, “UCK, UCK, UCK, UCK”
He pulls his penis from the ripped hole in his beige onesie and masturbates over a disconnected keyboard, then rubs the sperm into the unrecognisable keys. There is a momentary hiatus in his anxiety. He sits down, rocking on the grey shaggy rug and holding the keyboard tight. He rocks backwards and forwards and the rhythm envelopes him in a discernible territory. He picks up a string of thought cast by conscious shivers and – more calm now – moves over the bank of screens and controls along the longest wall in the room. He pushes his face into a rubber funnel and electrodes sink in to open wounds concealed by his hair line. His body slumps in to a waiting pad as the computer synthesises his brain matter into the mainframe.
While the majority of his brain feeds a broader series of operations for a system both alien and abstract from humanity, the screen of his conscious mind presents a narrative. Like a camara turned to a cinema screen a stream of coherent conversations and civilized scenarios pass through; he can sense the phantasmagoria but is unable to retain or repeat any of it.
His limp body releases gas, a wet fart muffled by the stained onesie. The smell of sweat and bodily fluids, rotten foods and general decay would be overwhelming to any sentient being.
“Ah, Tristan, did you get lost upstairs? Grace and I were beginning to worry.”
While contemplating a sharp rejoinder, Tristan caught a glimpse of himself in one of the Wellesley’s many mirrors. Despite being in his mid-thirties he had preserved every ounce of his youthful vigour. He was handsome – he thought – but with sufficiently bold features to allow his face to assume a stately command of life in the public realm. He cast a dashing glance across the entrance hall to Grace, then cast a depreciating look at Woodland Wellesley, a well healed – if sometimes petulant – King Charles Spaniel. Woodland had a lifestyle the lithe hunting dogs might only dream of and it was reflected in his rotund form and air of affectation.
Tristan was always uncomfortable around dogs and particularly dogs as congenially lugubrious as Woodland. As a child, his family’s dog Victoria changed following an accident involving the Brougham Carriage and was thereafter prone to launching unprovoked attacks. The young Tristan was routinely terrified and since then, dogs, particularly those of the most domesticated and sedate variety, profoundly worried him. The only person he had ever told about this embarrassing condition was Charles, who had so many embarrassing conditions himself it hardly seemed to matter.
“Well Charles, you’ve made this place into a real house of mirrors. Paxton’s Palace pales by its comparison.”
Tristan moved across the hall to kiss Grace’s hand. She reddened slightly. Charles looked away.
“Apologies I had to forgo proper introductions earlier, my journey had depleted my resolve. But I’m fortified by my siesta and so I appeal to you – please tell me the latest news! How are you both keeping? Charles, how’s that crazy brother of yours?”
Tristan fixed a powerful gaze over Charles as he took Grace’s hand affectionately. The effect was to cast Charles as the outsider, having to provide small talk while the couple silently communicated with discrete movements of their hands. Charles was reluctant to talk about his life at Writhe Hall, his failure in the role his father had given him as keeper of the estate and his increasingly cold relationship with Mrs Wellesley; the very same Mrs Grace Wellesley who now presented an unfamiliar smile to their old friend. After a somewhat protracted pause Charles grabbed the life line Tristan had offered him to talk about his brother.
“W-w-w-w-Well now, w-what can be said about John?” he shuffled uneasily, trying to match Tristan’s elegant diction and wit was leading him to stutter somewhat. He held out a hand awkwardly to usher the party in to the Back Parlour while the servants prepared food Tristan in the Grand Parlour. In his mind the fact that the back parlour required people to take individual places in rather platonic claw leather wing chairs presented a relief.
“Oh yes, John” he resumed, somewhat perturbed by how close Grace’s and Tristan’s feet suddenly seemed to be, “Well”, he let out a hearty laugh that quite startled the others, “he’s started doing weird things with animals.”
The statement, which, bless John, was veracious, had the desired effect and both Grace and Tristan turned their attention to him.
“Do you think you should?” asked Grace, fearing some embarrassment.
“Oh, but he must. You cannot leave such a statement hanging.”
“Well, John does this weird thing with animals.”
“The mind boggles”, Tristan raised his eyebrows at Grace who blushed. “I’m aware of course of John’s travels, his collection of curiosities. Does this have something to do with that? Don’t tell me he’s got another bloody Narwhal tusk, can’t move for tripping over Narwhak tusks”, he guffawed.
“No, Tristan, no. Let me finish.” Charles was flustered and was so vexed that he was close to inappropriately asserting himself, to losing his temper. Tristan was getting under his skin.
“Deep breath darling,” Grace implored. Tristan giggled, simply thinking Charles was socially inept.
Charles felt the couple were suddenly upbraiding him. “No”, he exclaimed, “something different”. His tone was suddenly gaining a sinister edge. “You’ll like this one Tristan”
“John has taken up taxidermy. As always he sought out a leading figure to teach him the trade, in this case the one and only Walter Potter.”
“I haven’t heard of the chap Charles, but this sounds fascinating. I only wish John were here with some of his specimens.”
“Well now, it’s to my delight that you say that Tristan, dearest friend. When I heard that you were coming I wanted to give you a great surprise. Something you wouldn’t forget. And when John told me about his recent work I put the two things together. All will be revealed when we head through to the Grand Parlour.”
Grace looked silently at Charles, surprised by his unusual firmness and secrecy. Tristan paused for a moment but then jumped up, “Well what are we waiting for, John’s always fascinated me. Show me his work!”
Charles called on the butler and asked in a ceremonious fashion if the Grand Parlour was ready for dinner. Indeed it was.
The three of them moved back out in the hall. Tristan was ushered through first; Grace used the opportunity to give Charles a questioning look.
On entering the room Tristan saw that all the places around the grand table were set, 20 places in total. He then saw that all but the three chairs for them were occupied. Something was strange. It took him a while to get past the diner jackets and bowties of the 17 sitters. Then it hit him.
At the head of the table was a Great Dane, raising – so it seemed – a glass of champagne in a toast to his guests. An old Schnauzer sat sleeping to the Dane’s left hand side, his monocle looking like it had dropped out when he nodded off. Tristan moved around slowly, mesmerised. On the right of the Great Dane was a gregarious looking Chow Chow who seemed to be grandstanding on the Dane’s behalf. His parade blue waist coat added to the feeling that this dog was some kind of politician or public performer. All round the table, the stuffed dogs had been given an equal level of attention. Tristan stood, rocking back and forwards. Charles had held Grace back, but they now joined Tristan. Grace looked at the table, the dogs, then at Tristan.
“What do you think of this Tristan? Good isn’t it?” Charles chuckled, overjoyed with the effect.
Grace couldn’t understand Tristan’s sudden decent in to madness at the sight of the comical dogs, but she appreciated Charles helping to ensure he got a comfortable place at one of the country’s leading insane asylums. Charles himself grew endlessly in confidence, spending much of his time with his 17 new companions and Grace’s affection for him was somewhat rekindled.
Woodland Wellesley also seemed to change, his comfortable life being upturned by the strange, silent, suited dogs who spent so much time with his master. One day, he fled the estate and went feral on the moors. Perhaps, it should be considered coincidence that Conan Doyle penned The Hound of the Baskervilles shortly afterwards.