Illustration: Steve Larder
Our very own Canadian in New Basford, Rob Cutforth, has taken a small break from bitching about British culture and turned his creative juices to novel writing. Will Industrial Revolution be as warped as his LeftLion column? We certainly hope so. Here’s the first chapter. The second will follow a few days later.
“Good morning, Seth,” the doctor said. “Are you going to cooperate with me today?”
I laid still with my eyes closed. I had been asleep for a while, I thought, but it was hard to tell. My face was hot and my stomach ached with hunger. My tongue felt thick, sandy and foreign in my mouth and a sick, pulsating pain surged through the length of my body.
“I… I don’t know anything.”
I slowly opened my left eye. I attempted to open both eyes, but my right was still swollen shut. The immense room with its black granite floors greeted me, the same as it did every day. Candles and oil burning lamps surrounded the dirty hospital bed I was lying on, bathing the room in a flickering orange light.
The sheet that covered me, once crisp and tucked tightly, was now loose, wrinkled and blood-stained. Thick leather straps held my arms and legs fast to the bed. I’d stopped trying to wiggle free during the doctor’s absences; there wasn’t any point. The more I struggled, the tighter they cinched.
Several glass jars of multicoloured liquid were lined up on a metal table close by. Long, thin plastic tubes ran from the jars into me, pumping liquid in and drawing it out. The candlelight cast strange, disjointed shadows on the bed, table and jars. The room was thick with the smell of burning wax and kerosene.
The doctor stood over me, tall, pale and gaunt. His skin was creased and pockmarked, hanging loosely from sharp cheekbones. Round, gold spectacles were perched halfway down his nose. In the lenses the candlelight reflected, hiding his eyes. His face was framed by long, razor-straight, black hair streaked with white.
“Water.” My voice was unrecognisable to me.
“After you tell me what I want to know.” His voice calm and still. He didn’t sound like a man who’d been beating me half to death.
I’d been over this a thousand times. I wasn’t sure exactly how long I’d been lying in this bed, it could have been a weeks, months. I felt as if my world had never been anything but the doctor and his fists.
“I told you,” I started, my voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where I’m from. I don’t know who I am.” Speaking was painful, I had to choose my words carefully. I had to get this man to stop hurting me.
“The only reason I know my name is Seth is because that’s what you told me it was.”
The doctor’s finger shot out toward my face, finding purchase in the swollen mass above my right eye. He sliced into it with his fingernail and I felt it burst.
I cried out and shook my head back and forth violently, clamping my eyes shut tight until I felt his thumb retract. Warm liquid flowed down my cheek and across the bridge of my nose into my good eye.
The sheet was yanked off my body.
“Open your eyes,” the doctor said. “Take a look at yourself”.
A thick, chalky warmth moved from my eye across my face. I was going to throw up again. “I can’t!” I screamed. Again, I jerked violently in the restraints, the bed rattled and shook, but held tight as if welded to the floor. The world was dark and everything was pain.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” the doctor said.
A heavy, stinking towel landed on my face. He rubbed the liquid off and out of my eyes roughly, splaying the wound apart. I screamed again, but it was muffled by the towel. I tried to move my face away from his grip, but his long fingers tightened through the cloth like a vice.
The towel was removed and his frigid hand slapped down on my face. He pried the lid of my good eye open, forcing me to see what he wanted me to see.
Through the blur of tears I saw my battered body. Heavy bruises reached across my arms and legs and spattered my stomach. The fresher ones were black, the older ones had gone a sickening green and yellow. I was terribly thin. My appendages mere twigs and my ribs were visible through the stretched skin of my chest. The warm liquid flowed again from the wound above my bad eye. I shook my head free from the doctor’s grasp and clamped my eyes shut again, plunging my world back into darkness.
“Please,” I tried to scream out, but there was no sound.
The doctor’s hand returned, this time clamped around my jaw. He turned my face sharply to the side and I could feel his breath on my cheek. “If you don’t want to see, I’ll make it so you can’t see.”
I opened my good eye again just in time to see his fist coming down.
Read the second chapter in a couple of days...