Unbound Story Six: The Man Who Walked
Prompt: L'Homme Qui Marche by Alberto Giacometti
The Man Who Walked
By R.A. Martens
The Health Minister felt sick. He always got ill when they came to this godforsaken outpost. The sooner the programme was carried out and they all got home, the better. He took his seat. 'Sorry I'm late.'
'You have bigger things to be sorry about than that, Toby,' said the Justice Minister, with that oily smile that meant something bad was happening to someone else. 'There's been a leak about the test subjects in the debarking programme, and now we've got a great hot steaming mess on our hands.' He sat back, his gills fluttering contentedly.
'Sir?' The Health Minister turned to the President.
'There is a woman outside the security barrier,' said the President, 'who does not believe in love. She is encouraging people to bring their enhancement invitations and burn them. Both the crowd and the fire are reaching unignorable proportions.'
'Who is she?'
'Cyril?' The President looked to the Justice Minister.
'Shirren Inver,' the man said, producing a dossier. 'A civil servant over at the castle. They are calling her "The Lion of the Amanda Block," whatever that means. It transpires that she is a descendant of the man we refer to as The Petrophile.'
'The Petrophile?' asked the President.
'The – ahem – "lover of rocks", Sir. He was a key figure in the suppressed uprising that led to our current age of Great Harmony. She should never have got through the security checks for the castle. I don't know how it happened.' He raised his eyebrows at the Health Minister.
'That is a justice matter and you know it – you can't hang that one on me.' The Health Minister's antennae writhed, his heart boiling with spite.
The President's tail slammed down on the table. 'Enough, Toby! I want solution-offerers, not blame-flingers.' He wove his fingers together. 'It should be easy enough to restore her faith. We'll make her an offer. An enhancement. Since my dear wife unveiled her lovely gossamer wings, they have become, I hear, what every woman wants.'
The Health Minister didn't hear the conversation that ensued. He was watching the President's tail as it swayed and jabbed to emphasise the brilliance of his idea. He dreamed about it every night now; that strong, lithe, thrusting limb; thick as a leg and tapering to a delicate, tantalising tip. It would approach him, slowly, teasingly, in all its prehensile glory, as his skin prickled and flushed. It would curl about his thigh, and-
He would awake, clammy and spent, his feeble antennae twitching. He was nothing: a half-man; an imitation. His once-plump ego was a withered thing, and life just continued to kiss the President full on the mouth. He would never have a tail of his own, and yet the President was tossing enhancements to some stinking malcontent as though they were candy.
'… she says the people are "destitute",' the Justice Minister was saying.
'Hah! What is that? It isn't even a word! I can assure you it's not in the dictionary,' the Education Minister laughed.
'Excuse me,' said the Health Minister, standing up. 'I have to go to the bathroom.' He left, passing the bathroom and continuing along the corridor, his two strong legs in motion. Motion spiralling up through his body. Down the stairs now, and across the atrium – he was leaving! He strode through the outer door, his antennae brushing against the edge. Those things! Those puny, emasculating insults! He reached up and tore them free, bellowing with pain as the nerve-roots ripped free of his scalp – but he did not stop walking. He stalked towards the perimeter, swiping away the blood that poured into his eyes. There were the 'people'; those savages, those peasants. He would pass through them like a deadly vapour, their bodies falling as he went. He was a force of nature, elemental, undefeatable, supple and fleet as the wind; he would take that barrier in a single great stride.
The crowd by the bonfire watched the roaring, stumbling, blood-soaked figure scrabble at the barrier and haul itself over. It lashed blindly through the waste-ground weeds towards them, then swayed, tottered, and crashed to the ground.