I appear to be growing a tail.
It started a few weeks back, not long after I’d been passed over for promotion at work. I told myself then that I’d have to be tougher, more competitive. Get into the office earlier. Be brutal if necessary.
It was just an itch really at first, at the base of my spine; the coccyx, doctors call it. I looked it up. Every morning, it would itch like mad. The sort of itch you get when some part of your body is healing. You know, when you’ve cut yourself or you have a bone in plaster. It’s how you know you’re getting well.
I was - I am - a software salesman for a big international corporation. I moved in with Jan after I got the job. It seemed the thing to do. Fancy new car on the drive. Lots of money in prospect. We went skiing that Christmas, and then there was the Five-Star Club in Hawaii, for the most successful salesmen.
Now, I’ve had to move into this hotel. I’ve told Jan I’m on a training course. She’s already getting suspicious, but what can I do? I can’t let her see me with this thing.
At first, as I’ve said, there was the itch. Then, where the point was coming through, round here, it started bleeding. I noticed it one morning and I was thinking what is this? And to ease it, I had to get in the bath. The warm water seemed to help, even though the water went pink with the blood. But being in the bath made it feel better, and I made sure I cleaned up afterwards.
Once though, I dozed off, only my nose above the water, and the next thing I knew Jan was there, banging on the door, shouting, "For God’s sake let me in. I’ll be late." I was at the door in a moment or two, drained the bath, got my dressing gown on, but she looked at me in a funny way. "Why the hell did you lock the door?" she asked. I told her I thought I was getting piles. "It doesn’t look pretty," I said.
She kissed me on the cheek. "So that’s why we haven’t had a cuddle recently. I thought you might have gone off me."
It’s longer this morning. I’m sure it is, and the skin over it is getting crusty, like scabs.
The job was going really well until they turned down my promotion. Our new product was delayed, and I had a contract signed with my big, big client. We kept them excited with technical briefings, and I went out with them for golf, the odd lunch, a day at the races. They didn’t seem too worried.
Alan, our sales director, said we could help out with the school fees for their IT director’s children if push came to shove. "A sweetener," he said, winking at me, "and then we’ve got them forever."
But then they cancelled the order, just like that.
All hell broke loose at the office. It was one of our biggest contracts, after all. Americans were flown in from HQ. They took my contacts off to California for a briefing, and to Las Vegas. Still they wouldn’t budge, and that hit my commission first, and then the promotion I’d been promised. "No," Alan, said, "You’ll bloody well have to rescue this first." I didn’t tell Jan.
I’m going for a bath now. It softens it a bit. I might just be able to sit down and eat some breakfast afterwards. Even driving the car is difficult now. What the hell am I going to do?
The bath always makes it feel a bit better. But why, I wonder, do I have this endless hunger for meat? I have sausages, kidneys and beefburgers for breakfast, and I ask for the burgers to be rare. People are looking at me strangely, even though I've strapped the thing down the back of my leg with Elastoplast. Does my suit have a bulge somewhere that I can’t see?
Now, my arms seem to have contracted. I have this urge to hold them up like a squirrel, like Jan when she's drying her nails. Today, I found that there is skin growing between my fingers. What am I becoming? Not anything furry and cute, that’s for sure.
When this started, I phoned the office and told them I had a back problem, which wasn’t too far from the truth. But not being at work after getting passed over for promotion doesn’t look good. They probably think I’m out there trying for something else, when I should be working on my account, doing my best to retrieve the situation, snapping at their heels.
I made a few phone calls, but it’s impossible to put things right over the phone. You have to do it over lunch somewhere fancy and I certainly can’t do that at the moment.
Last night, I ordered steak and had it in my room watching one of those David Attenborough programmes about wildlife. I don’t normally like them, but this one held my attention all the way through. Wildlife of Africa, it was called. The river was infested with waterfowl, and when the deer came down to the water’s edge to drink, I found my jaw twitching like a cat when it sees a pigeon.
My jaw is definitely strange this morning. It seems longer and my teeth don’t seem to fit my mouth. I can’t be bothered to get dressed; it’s just too much effort. I don’t think the suits will ever fit again, and they cost a fortune.
The tail is stronger now, and no longer a dead thing. I find that swishing it from side to side is curiously rewarding. It’s scaly all over, but at least it doesn’t itch any more. It does in a strange way feel part of me, and I feel better about life.
Could I, I ask room service, get a joint of beef, quite rare? They say they will try, even though it is only eleven in the morning.
It is beginning to feel much more comfortable lying on my front than even trying to sit in a chair. I curl up my legs and scratch at the carpet with my nails. I swing my muscular tail from side to side, proudly. The carpet yields and I dig my strong hands with their sharp points into the wood beneath.
Room service leave the meat while I am in the bath again. It seems to be the only place I feel comfortable at the moment. The joint is good and tender, black on the outside and bloody within. I find I enjoy playing with it as I toss it around the floor with my mouth, crunching the bones and flesh between my excellent, vice-like jaws.
My mobile rings. It's the office, wanting to see me, to discuss urgently whatever is wrong.
Alan, the sales director, is on the phone. He is an oily little man who has distinguished his career by lying, sexually harassing, and blackmailing if he can’t find any other way to get contracts signed. He makes a fortune and drives a huge BMW.
"Where the hell are you?" he shouts, and I tell him. Perhaps a meeting will clear the air.
He says he’ll be here in thirty minutes. "We’ll meet in your room. What I have to say, I’ll say in private." He slams down the phone. For some reason, I smile and wipe my tongue around my long mouth, over my prominent teeth.
The scent of flesh is in my mind as I scuttle under the bed to await his arrival.
© Michael Spring, 2008
The Crunch was read by Max Berendt at the Liars' League Jekyll & Hyde night on Tuesday October 14th, 2008.
Michael Spring keep writing because one day, he'll write something that will stop someone in the street, and have them sit down on a bench and think. Until then, there's always the very great pleasure of being read at Liars' League, the home of dark secrets.