Sunday, July 31, 2011

He Ate My Foot. (a.k.a July's entry for Circle)

Inspector Jason Salt was well equipped to deal with the unusual. Having lived in London all of his thirty-five years and serving with the Met for fifteen, it had left him with a weary resignation for the eccentricities of the human mind.

The most memorable incident was a call out to flat in Stratford where a tearful and bald young lady was furiously accusing her ex-boyfriend of braking into her home and shaving her head. He later pleaded guilty, claiming he’d shaved her head so that she would remain unattractive to other men. No one thought to ask what her current boyfriend thought when he awoke to find his girlfriends ex looming over him with an electric razor in hand.

The Inspector pulled into a hospital car park where his first call out of the day had brought him. Quickly running a comb through his greying hazel hair, and downing the last of his Starbucks Cappuccino, the Inspector hopped out of his car, adjusting the left trouser leg as it had once again managed to tucked itself into his sock, and headed towards reception. Stepping over the threshold, Inspector Salt was instantly hit by overly bright lighting and a smell of disinfectant, ammonia and old people musk, also known as 'That Hospital Smell'.

His newly polished Jimmy Choo shoes clipped loudly against the motlled plastic flooring as he crossed the foyer to the desk. There appeared to be only a handful of people waiting around in the foyer today, unusual for this part of town. A few glanced up, indifferent, at the sight of the Inspector, but most remained engrossed in the repeated 999 episode flickering upon the small television in the corner of the waiting room.

As Salt approached the reception desk, the young woman behind it acknowledged him with a fleeting glance before returning to her crossword. ‘Can I help?’ she asked, vacantly, tucking some blonde hair behind an ear.

‘I’m looking for a Sidney Turner,’ said the Inspector. ‘I’m here to interview him.’

The dispassionate receptionist look up at the Inspector, set down her pen and smirked. ‘Sidney Turner?’ she repeated, the grin widening across her face. ‘One second, I’ll just grab Doctor Kawase for you. I think he wanted to take you up himself.’

The receptionist pushed herself away from the desk. The chair rolled her towards a door where she stuck her head in and spoke to a disembodied voice. She glanced out and smiled at the Inspector, who smiled and nodded politely, but frowned as her head disappeared through the door once again.

A few minutes later the receptionist’s head emerged from the door and a young Asian man walked from the room, the same smirk plastered to his face.

‘Good-evening, ah –,’

‘Inspector Salt,’ said the Inspector, extending a hand towards the Doctor.

‘Doctor Kawase,’ replied the young man, accepting the Inspectors hand. ‘You’ve come about Mr Turner?’

‘Yes, we received a call from the hospital asking us to come down. They said something about cannibalism.'

The Doctors smile grew wider. ‘Not the way he tells it, Inspector.’

‘I’m sorry; I appear to have missed the punch line on my way here. What exactly is going on?’

Doctor Kawase let himself out from behind the reception and motioned towards an elevator. ‘Let’s go up, shall we?’

Both Doctor and Inspector stepped into an empty elevator. Doctor Kawase pushed the third floor button and stepped back in line with Salt, grinned at the Inspector then turned to face the front, the smirk staying firmly on his face.

‘Doctor Kawase is it? I’m sorry, but could you elaborate on what exactly is happening.’

‘I would, Inspector, but I really think you need to hear the story from Sidney yourself.’

The lift doors slid open and Doctor Kawase stepped out, looking back to check that Inspector Salt was following, and then took off down a wide, dimly light, grey corridor. Nurses and their patients bustled passed, some greeting Doctor Kawase, others eyeing Inspector Salt curiously.

Doctor Kawase stopped beside a room and motioned for Inspector Salt to enter. As Salt pushed open the door, a frail looking man looked around and beamed at the Inspector. Salt glanced at Kawase who merely nodded for him to go in.

‘Mr Turner is it?’ asked Inspector Salt, stepping into the room, pulling out a frayed notebook and a pen from his jack pocket.

‘That’s right.’ The old man extended a frail liver spotted hand towards the Inspector, who took it and shook firmly. ‘Sidney Turner.’

‘I’m Inspector Salt, Mr Turner. I’m come regarding the claims you’ve made that you were abducted and were unwillingly parted from your foot.’

‘Unwillingly parted,’ Sidney repeated, sounding somewhat surprised. ‘No, Inspector, I let him eat it.’

The Inspector blinked. He looked down at his notebook, staring blankly at the page, then back up. He blinked again. He became vaguely aware of his mouth moving, opening and closing like a fish out of water, and promptly stopped. The Inspector glanced towards Doctor Kawase who half smiled and shrugged.

‘You let another human eat your foot?’ asked Salt, looking at Sidney and thinking that this was quite definitely the most peculiar conversation he would have throughout his entire career.

‘Zombie,’ corrected the old man calmly. ‘I let a zombie eat my foot.’

I was wrong, he thought grimly, scribbling in his notebook. Inspector Salt took a deep calming breath. ‘I’m sorry, I don’t –’

‘We’d both been locked up for a couple of days and they hadn’t fed him anything in that time. I hadn’t walked anywhere for years so it wasn’t of use to me. I couldn’t let the poor chap starve, could I?’

‘I suppose not,’ mumbled the Inspector. ‘How did you know he was a zombie?’

‘He shuffled around with his arms out like this,’ – and here, Sidney demonstrated by holding his arms out at a stiff right-angle. – ‘The old chap groaned quite a bit too, and occasionally he would burp moths.’

The Inspector glanced down at the word “zombie” he had scrawled across a page in his notebook and looked back up into the old man’s creased face. ‘Are you on any medication, Mr Turner?’

‘You don’t believe me?’

‘No, it’s not that, it’s just that this is,’ – and here the Inspector paused, not for effect, but to search his vocabulary for the least offensive word. – ‘an unusual story. I’m not accustomed to dealing with zombies.’

‘Well, I don’t want you to deal with the Zombie, Inspector. I want to prosecute the bastards who put us in the room.’

‘Very well, but cannibalism is illegal in England Mr Turner so I will need to investigate these claims as well.’

‘I don’t see why that’s necessary,’ replied Sidney, waving a dismissive wrinkled hand. ‘I was merely performing my duties as a fellow prisoner. I fought in the war, you know.’

‘Oh?’ said Inspector Salt, feigning interest. ‘The second world war, was it?’

‘Korean,’ said the old man proudly, puffing out his scrawny chest. ‘No offence, son,’ he added to Kawase.

The Doctor looked up from Sidney’s chart, grinning widely. ‘None taken, as it happens, I’m Japanese.’

‘They had their part to play too –,’

‘Mr Turner,’ snapped Inspector Salt, his patience wearing increasingly thin, ‘if you could stay focused on the matter at hand. You say you let a cannibal eat your foot.’

‘Zombie,’ corrected the old man, scratching a liver spot on his bald head.

‘To physically eat your foot he would have to be alive,’ interjected Kawase.

‘Yes, but he was a zombie so, technically, he would be dead,’ argued Sidney.

The Inspector massaged his temples with an exasperated sigh. ‘Right, so, to sum up; you allowed a technically dead cannibal to eat your foot.’

The old man nodded. ‘Correct.’

Inspector Salt flipped his notebook closed. ‘I think I have everything I need to conduct the investigation,’ he said, accompanied by a forced polite smile. ‘Thank you for your time today and we’ll be in contact as soon as we have any more information.’ He turned towards the doctor. ‘Thank you for your time, Doctor Kawase.’

‘Thank you for coming down, Inspector,’ replied the Doctor, grinning.

The Inspector turned and marched from the ward. Ten minutes later he dropped into the driver’s seat of his faithful ghost of a car, jammed the key into the ignition and headed for the station, all the while looking out for a pub. He could do with a whiskey.

12 comments:

  1. I enjoyed this very much. I particularly love the character of Mr Sidney Turner. The exchange with Dr Kawase about the Korean war made me chuckle into my chocolate milk. Your dialogue is top-notch, and the nuances of personality that are placed within that dialogue are particularly effective. Unlike some other writers (including myself) you have a definite sense of voice for each character that fits in with their physical descriptions in a pleasing and entertaining way.

    I also really like the image of a zombie burping moths - it's genius! This piece really showcases that lively wit for which you are known, and I'd really like to see more comedy from you for this reason.

    That being said, there are a few grammatical bits and pieces that need refining:

    1. The second sentence of the first paragraph is a little clumsy and needs a re-think. Perhaps try: 'Living in London all his life and serving with the Met for fifteen years had left him with a weary resignation for the eccentricities of the human mind.' Actually, that's pretty poor, don't use that.

    2. In paragraph 4, should 'old people must' read 'old people musk'?

    3. The line 'His new Jimmy Choo shoes clipped loudly against the grey plastic flooring as he across the hall to the desk.' in paragraph 5: there should be another word between he and across. Either that, or it should read 'he crossed the hall to the desk.'

    4. You also say his 'jack pocket' instead of his jacket pocket.

    Also a stylistic point. I don't tend to like using the same descriptors too close to one another in a story. For example you use the word hand twice in consecutive sentences (‘Inspector Salt,’ said the Inspector, extending a hand towards the Doctor. ‘Doctor Kawase,’ replied the young man, accepting the Inspectors hand. ‘You’ve come about Mr Turner?’) which I find makes the writing feel a bit stilted. I think this is just personal preference though, and I'd be interested to see what the others think about it.

    All in all, I really enjoyed it. I am intrigued to find out why someone put a zombie and a war veteran in a locked room in the first place, so I would definitely like to see more from this scenario in the future!

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  2. I don’t really write a lot of comedy ‘cause I’m not sure that I’m a comedy gold or witty person.

    1. I like this; I’m going to steal it from you. It’s much better than what I had.
    2. It should.
    3. It should be ‘as he crossed’.
    4. Again, it should be jacket. :)

    I really should learn to read slower so that I can see my mistakes.

    You asked why someone would put a zombie and war veteran in the same room. You’d have to ask my subconscious! I’m not sure why I dreamed this. Bill Nighy was the old man (obviously, not in this story, but in the dream), and they were just pottering about in a small, dark and damp room when old Nighy offered the Zombie his foot. Who, of course, then accepted. It was really, really weird.

    Also, on a side note; the memory Inspector Salt recalls is in fact an account of a real crime. It didn’t happen to me but I remember reading about it once in the paper.

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  3. I quite enjoyed this, eccentric and humouress. You should definately feel comfortable playing with humour in the future.

    I also found the image of a zombie burping moths to be genius.

    However; all the smirking was getting on my nerves. Too much smirking. Not everyone is going to find an old man who's foot has been eaten funny, no matter how ridiculous the story. Perhaps include some stuffy religious type who is horrified. Feel free to make their horror amusing.

    Why are the corridors dim? Usually hospitals are overly bright.

    Why didnt Salt question him about being held hostage? He just splutters about zombies and ignores the fact that this man as been held hostage and in a way tortured. He e of the appropriate q's;where? When? Who? etc.

    I appreciate this is a humerous peice, and I seem to slapping cold realism down, but you can still have a bit of the realism and make it funny. His answers to the q's could embellish the story. I just found it a little jolting.

    I also think its pretty cool that this is based on a dream. I like it when that happens.

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  4. Yay for this! Reminds me of the dark humor I used to employ before I started working on more sombre material.

    A few critisms though:
    Do you put much stock in reading your stuff aloud? You'll notice more spelling mistakes that way and iron out odd kinks in flow.
    Also, the description could be more vivid. Do you work on different elements of the piece in each draft or do you try to work on punctuation, characterisation, metaphor etc, as you go along? I say try working on a different layer every time and then you might notice how this piece and others to come will read better after an admitedly laborious but rewarding method.

    The humor is good and like Leanne, I thought the joke about the war was very well written.
    Here is my fav:
    He blinked again. He became vaguely aware of his mouth moving, opening and closing like a fish out of water, and promptly stopped.

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  5. Ha ha! I didn't notice any of the smirking until you mentioned it Ashley, and now after re-reading it, there is an awful lot of smirking. I would suggest maybe including a frightened student nurse who has found the experience of cannibalism all a bit overwhelming - this could serve as another counter point to smirky doctor and gives room for another humourous character.

    I think John's advice about adding a different layer every time you proofread is a really good idea (I might have to use that one myself!)

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  6. I agree with the others, read your work out loud and you'll be able to hear the mistakes. The others have gone into more detail so I need not.

    I do enjoy a bit of dark humour and this was most to my liking. I could not stop laughing when he explained why exactly he let the zombie eat his foot.

    I felt for Inspector Salt and you could have taken his bemusment/irritation further. And I agree with Ashley the doctor should be a tiny bit professional.

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  7. Now that you guys have mentioned it, there is definitely too much smirking. I’m going to rewrite it and sort that out over the weekend.

    @Ashley: The last two hospitals I went in were quite dim and grey, but my memory might be clouded because of the situation we found ourselves in when we were there. You’re right, they most likely were overly bright, I just didn’t notice.

    I felt, after posting, that there needed to be more realism but questioned myself when Leanne didn’t say anything. But I’m glad you brought it up. I think Inspector Salt needs to push for more information.

    @John: No, I don’t read my writing aloud. I do reread everything I write at least twenty times to spot mistakes (which is why I take so long to comment on stories!). I tend to make more mistakes when I’m tired and clearly I was just too tired to see them. I’m going to try reading aloud though, I haven’t tried it yet and it might just help. ;)

    @Rachael: I’m definitely going to expand this and Inspector Salt will have more to be irritated by. :)

    (I do apologise for all the mistakes, I do catch most of them – and there is always a lot. But a ridiculous amount seems to have slipped through the net this time).

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  8. Dim; Thats fair enough. The corridors (of course) can be dim. You just need to allude to the reason why. Whether it be perception or mundane.

    RE mistakes. We all do it, dont fret, lol. Thats what proof readers are for. And as we are not at the stage where we have a bevy of assistants, the Circle must play that role. (Pssst even the grammar nazi has been known to make mistakes! Gasp!)

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  9. I'm not keen on this grammar nazi persona I seem to have acquired! ;P

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  10. U called yourself the grammar Nazi. This is all your own fault!

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  11. Hehehe! Liked this. Obviously the grammar and some spelling needs to be tidied up, but Our good fellows have briefed you on this already.

    Zombies seems to be a theme this month. Not complaining though, and this was a fresh and very silly twist on it. Loved the banter between the Doctor, the policeman and the patient. Sharp and fast, I could imagine this being a skit or sitcom scene.

    I was hoping for a twist or punchline at the end. When I saw the word ghost I got excited, but was deflated slightly. It could be an even sillier ending, with the Zombie in the back of the car or the policeman BEING a ghost or... or... Something. I can't thing a definite, so you've probably gone the best way you could with it.

    Great, fun, light read!

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  12. Having the zombie in the back of the police car, with a toe in a sandwich would be sublimely silly!

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