Waxwing1

The Little Mermaid, by Hans Christian Andersen

“Mommy, what’s a mesogloea?”

“Pardon?”

“I don’t like how this story starts out, it’s really weird. I don’t understand it. I asked for Little Mermaid. Put my Little Mermaid tape on, now. Please.”

The young mother took the headphones from her son and bent the band over her head.

Another cut here, and we can peel this flap back to expose the gastric cavity. Nothing out of the ordinary so far. Partially digested fish. Here. You see? This will give us a more precise indication of the time of death. We’ll take a sample. Like so. Scrape some of… That’s plenty. Now watch carefully as I transect this radial canal, and then you’re going to take the scalpel and do the next one yourself. Ready?

She furrowed her brow, slowly moving to eject the cassette from the player.

No indication of the presence of any of the cellular structures associated with effects of external ideotransmission. Ideoconduction. So far, at least. And if we were going to find them, this is where we’d expect them to be. Here… or… here. And we’ve already ruled out the rhopalium. This specimen appears to be a perfectly typical example of its speci… click kerchonk

The mother inspected the label: ‘The Little Mermaid: Hans Christian Andersen‘. Her own handwriting. She’d taped it from the radio herself, only the day before. They’d listened to the broadcast live, both enjoyed it very much, but, she supposed, she hadn’t listened back to the tape afterwards to check the recording. Cursing her technological ineptitude she resolved to replace her radio with a simpler model. A digital one would be nice. Her manicured fingernail scraped at the corner of the tape label as she apologised to her son.

He studied her face for a moment and announced that it didn’t matter- that he didn’t really enjoy fairytales that much anyway. She smiled broadly. His first kindly lie. She’d text his dad about it right away, she thought. And she did. He was almost as proud as she was.

“Good morning class. Is everybody well? Great. Now that we’ve all pretty much mastered the basics, we’re going to be learning to use some of the more advanced features of your eBraillers. Also I’ve borrowed an old Perkins and a SMART; I only have one of each, but I’ve got them for a few weeks so hopefully you’ll all get a chance to try them out. Now, I’m going to walk ‘round and hand o… what’s the matter? Class?”

Save for a brief dalliance with Buddhism in his formative years, Steve had a been an atheist all his life. Now that he was dead, he wasn’t sure what to believe. His death had been the culmination of a long, slow decline; he’d had plenty of time to come to terms with the prospect of void. Of null. Of non-existence. He wasn’t expecting an afterlife of any sort. Certainly not this.

Studying his left hand he could clearly make out the form of a wedding band through the stretched latex. Strange- he’d always worn his ring on the right.

His right hand shot into view, seemingly moving of its own volition. It was gloved in latex, with no ring, and was gripping a scalpel. His words came unbidden. Not his words- another man’s words, in another man’s voice, but coming from him. From the body he was occupying.

“This will give us a more precise indication of the time of death. We’ll take a sample. Like so. Scrape some of…”

A third hand entered his field of vision. It was gloved similarly, and wielding a tiny steel scoop with which it proceeded to collect a little of the gloop from the innards of the semi-dissected sea creature.

It was then that the stench hit him. It was fetid and fishy. Steve suddenly regretted cancelling his direct debit to the donkey sanctuary. This didn’t seem like the good ending.

“That’s plenty. Now watch carefully as I transect this radial canal, and then you’re going to take the scalpel and do the next one yourself. Ready?”

The limp squiddy thing flopped on the slab, tentacles splaying as he gripped it firmly by the middle bit. Even through the glove it felt wet, slightly slimy. He wasn’t certain whether he was experiencing tactile input or merely imagining the sensation. Before he could consider the philosophical implications of this, his scalpel hand set to work- quick, precise slices accompanied by a fleshy burbling.

“No indication of the presence of any of the cellular structures associated with effects of external ideotransmission. Ideoconduction. So far, at least. If we were going to find them, this is where we’d expect them to be. Here… or… here.”

The scalpel tip gestured deftly, pointing out parts of the thing’s anatomy.

“And we’ve already ruled out the rhopalium. This specimen appears to be a perfectly typical example of its species.”

Steve wondered what the rhopalium was. It sounded like the word ‘rope’, he supposed; maybe it was the tentacle part. He could see then that, indeed, several tentacles had been severed and were laying on the table with their insides exposed. He began to find himself rather enjoying the situation, peculiar as it was. It was better than non-existence, at least. He’d liked special interest documentaries since becoming bed-ridden, and he’d always had a taste for the gruesome. Steve wondered for how much longer this state of being would persist. No, better not to think about that.

Rhopalium. Huh.

The third hand reached out and took the scalpel.

“There you go. Now, you do what I just did. To that one there. After this we’re going to laterally bisect the mesogloea.”

“You know we both love you very much. We don’t love each other any more, and that’s not your fault, but both of us still love you. You know that, don’t you?”

“I know. That’s not why I’m crying.”

“Then what’s the matter?”

“They cut up the jellyfish. They cut him into bits and put him in the bin.”

The girl ceased her sign language for a moment to wipe away tears.

“They cut him into bits and put him in the bin. I heard it.”