An essay by Carmel Jimenez, as provided by Denzell Cooper
Art provided by America Jones
“And this is Carmel.” The director’s voice was muffled by the glass. “She is working on something that will literally–” he made a hand gesture like he was flattening laundry “–change the world.” Theatrically, he turned and pressed a fingertip to the speaker button. The system whined, and when he next spoke, his tinny voice echoed into the lab: “Carmel, why don’t you explain it?”
I smiled. It was forced, of course. All I really wanted to do was get on with my work, but I reminded myself that I needed funding to make that work possible. I scribbled a note in the log and measured out 3ml with the syringe as I talked. “Good afternoon, everyone, welcome to where the real work takes place.” The group of investors laughed. I saw a few nods. Putty in my hands. “The formula I’m working on here is a matter calorific-fat-cell inverter. When it’s perfected, the company–your company if you choose to invest with us–will manufacture it as a kind of high-end diet supplement.”
The test subjects were lined up in fish tanks filled with river sludge. It was the best approximation of their natural environment that we could manufacture. I checked the charts to make sure I was selecting the right one.
“Excuse me, young lady. I’m sorry, but did you say a diet supplement?”
I looked up to see a rotund gentleman with a handlebar moustache and a monocle regarding me with a puzzled expression. There was a half smile on his face.
“Yes,” I said. “But this isn’t your regular run of the mill diet pill, mister … ?”
“Oh, Pickman. Richard Upton Pickman.”
“Mister Pickman. This pill will be revolutionary. Everyone will want it. You see, the formula uses otherworld gases and molecules to completely reverse the calorific and fat content of food. Taking the pill means that not only will you not put on weight, you’ll actually lose it. Sir, with our pill, the more food you eat, the more weight you’ll lose.”
“My word, how clever.” He chuckled. “And you designed this?”
The director guffawed loudly. “Sir, she is both beauty and brains.”
I gritted my teeth and ignored them as I rolled up my sleeves and delved into Tank 5. The sludge squelched around my arms and hands as I fished for the creature. When I felt a sucker brush past my finger I grabbed, clutching at dozens of slippery, cold tentacles.
“Usually,” I said, “in a lab like this we’d be using rats or mice as test subjects. But they would be completely ineffective for the advanced research that we’re conducting here. You see, on an ethereal level, rodents and humans are about as similar as, say, trees and love. They’re not just superficially different, they are entirely separate concepts. Any experimentation done on rats or mice would have no bearing on the results we could expect with human trials. So instead, we use Old Ones.” I pulled the creature out of the tank and held it up for them to see. “Isn’t he just indescribably adorable?”
The men clapped indulgently, while a few of the women laughed and cooed.
“Since Old Ones created our race,” I continued, “their ethereal footprint is remarkably similar to our own. As a result, they make excellent test subjects. Fred here has been on a low dose of CFF6217 for two days now. He’s eating as much as he ever did, but he’s lost fourteen pounds.”
“Remarkable,” said the gentleman who interrupted before.
I smiled, held up the syringe for dramatic effect, then plunged it into the creature’s soft underbelly and delivered the shot.
“How long until this is ready to go to market?”
“We’re on final phase Old One trials now. Human trials should commence in a matter of weeks, and the pill should be ready for sale by the middle of–”
The creature let out a long shriek, a sound like a kettle coming to the boil, and started flailing in my arms. I tried to hold on to it, but it was no good. Its flesh was too slippery, too malleable. It fell out of my hands and plopped onto the floor, bounced once and emitted a brown gas as it rocked back and forth, tentacles writhing. It smelled putrid, like onions that had been left to go soft and watery.
I looked about and grabbed a specimen jar, hoping to scoop it up and put it back into its sludge tank.
I heard gasps from the women and exclamations of “Oh, my,” from the men as I leaned down and nudged the creature with my fingertip. Thick, gloopy mucus stuck it in place on the floor, so that pushing it just lifted one flabby edge of its soft body.
“Just a little hiccup, folks, it happens from time to time. I’ll just scoop it up and everything will be fine.”
The creature made a sound like crumpling paper and its skin started to shrivel and pucker. I moved the jar under one end and tried to slide it inside, but it was no good. Its tentacles wrapped around the jar, grabbed on tight and ripped it from my grip. I let out a squeal of alarm and jumped back. God, how embarrassing. Then it quivered, juddered, and finally lay still.
“Well.” The director cleared his throat. “Looks like Old One trials will be continuing a little longer.”
I heard a little ripple of nervous laughter. Then it happened. There wasn’t any sort of warning. Not a screech or a moan from the creature. Not a change in colour or size or shape. One moment it was just lying there, apparently dead, and the next it exploded. Chunks of slimy, wet cephalopod-like flesh were propelled into the air. I turned aside, raised my hands to shield myself, but not quickly enough. The left side of my face was splattered with it. It coated my goggles, dripped down my cheek, tangled into my hair. The window behind which the investors stood was sprayed with thick, red-black goo. And the smell. Good Lord. Like someone left entrails drying in the sun.
The creature was certainly no more.
“All right, well, I think we’ll leave Carmel to clean up the mess, shall we?” The director’s voice was muffled again, the speaker system no longer engaged. “I think you’ll find what we’re developing in lab sixteen particularly interesting.”
Carmel Jimenez works for Autre Monde Laboratories in an alternative reality of modern London, where aspects of Victorian society were never quite forgotten. She is most famous for her groundbreaking thesis on the origins of the Lesser Old Ones, which forms the basis for much of our current understanding of the otherworlds. You can visit the secret underground chambers where her experiments are conducted by presenting your travel pass to the gentleman in the top hat at Kensington Tube Station.
Denzell Cooper is a British writer working across multiple genres. His dark fiction has previously appeared in Mad Scientist Journal, Bete Noire, and other small press publications, as well as the anthologies Mental Ward: Echoes of the Past and Pirates & Ghosts. When he’s not writing, Denzell enjoys playing horror board games, such as those set in the world of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, which provided part of the inspiration for this story. The other part was his own twisted imagination.
AJ is an illustrator and comic artist with a passion for neon colors and queer culture. Catch them being antisocial on social media @thehauntedboy.
“The Benefits and Risks of Calorific Fat Cell Inversion” is © 2018 Denzell Cooper
Art accompanying story is © 2018 America Jones