This story was first published in Antipodean SF, May 2021. It started as a writing exercise for one of my Creative Writing degree courses where we had to write a piece that was all dialogue.
The Walls Have Tongues
By S.A. McKenzie
“Welcome to the Flesh House, young madam and young sir,” Red Jack declaimed with a grand sweep of his hand. He hefted the organ transport container, green liquid sloshing, and ushered Serai and JimJim through the round doorway. They stopped just inside, waiting for their eyes to adjust to the red-tinted gloom. The doorway puckered shut behind them. From deep inside came a distant thudding, like a slow-beating heart.
“It’s so warm in here,” Serai said, undoing her coat.
“Everything has to be kept at body temperature, of course,” Red Jack said.
JimJim ran a hand over the nearest wall. “It’s hairy,” he marvelled. The wall shuddered.
“Don’t tickle the walls, young sir,” Red Jack said sharply. “You’ll set the whole house a-jiggling and a-giggling.”
He set off down the corridor, reading the numbers tattooed above each doorway.
“31, 32, 33…there it is. This way, if you please.”
Serai and her little brother followed him through a series of chambers. Eyes swivelled and rolled to follow them as they passed. Serai snatched JimJim’s hand when he slowed to poke at a particularly vivid green eye embedded in the wall. Ahead, Red Jack paused in a large chamber with multiple exits to consult a crumpled piece of paper.
JimJim sighed and slumped against the wall as they waited for Red Jack to get his bearings. He sprang up again with a yelp.
“Something just licked my neck!” he complained. “It’s all wet and slimy!”
“Hush, it’s just a tongue,” Red Jack said. “Good thing we weren’t in the ear chamber, we’d have had to throw out the whole batch with you yelling like that. They’re very sensitive when they’re young.”
“I feel sick,” JimJim moaned.
“You lack intestinal fortitude, young sir,” Red Jack said. “Perhaps we should detour and get you a new stomach.”
“We’re here to get a new hand for Mama, nothing more,” Serai said firmly. She took JimJim’s hand again. “Lead on, Mister Red Jack.”
He chose an exit and led them down a spongy tube to a closed door. Some careful stroking convinced the door to dilate. Inside was a dimly lit room filled with scuttling shapes.
Serai grabbed JimJim and put a hand over his mouth before he could scream. “They’re not spiders, they’re hands.” She cautiously released him.
“Why are they running around like that?” JimJim wondered.
“The exercise keeps them limber. People don’t want a weak curled up claw of a hand, do they?” Red Jack said. “Now, was it a left hand or a right hand you wanted?”
“Right,” Serai said.
“Move slowly, or you’ll start a stampede.” They all stepped inside the room, careful not to tread on the wandering hands. Red Jack bent over to peer at the floor.
“There, that looks like a good one.” He dived, and missed. “Stop it, it’s heading for the door!”
There was a sound like rustling leaves as the hands that had been hanging from the lumpy walls and ceilings began to stir.
“Blast, now they’re all awake.”
A hand dropped from the ceiling onto JimJim’s head and flopped about, trying to get a grip.
“Get it off me!” JimJim squealed, flailing his arms.
Red Jack deftly plucked the hand off the boy and examined it.
“No, no, young sir, this hand is not appropriate for your dear mama at all. Note the large hairy knuckles.” He gently released the hand into the milling herd on the floor.
Serai meanwhile bent suddenly and darted her hand into a quivering cluster of fingers.
“Will this do?” she said, showing her catch to Red Jack.
“Oh, much better, young madam. Look at those fine fingers, both slender and strong.”
He opened the transport container and she dropped the hand into the liquid. It floated upside down, fingers twitching.
“Now, I just have to get you two out of here and my debt to you is paid. Please count your hands and check your pockets, young sir and young madam. If you find you have more than two, kindly discard any excess hands.”
As they stepped out of the Chamber of Hands, the overhead lights flared and dimmed.
“The night shift has arrived. We took longer than I expected,” Red Jack said. “We’ll have to go out the rear exit if we don’t want to get caught.”
“Rear exit? I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means,” Serai murmured to JimJim as they followed him out.
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© Copyright S.A. McKenzie 2021