Pulped and Bound Monsters
by Adam Callaway
The night smelled of yellowed pages and the sky was the color of an empty inkwell. Samson stretched out on a sofa, rustling like the leaves of a forgotten manuscript. He couldn’t get comfortable. Varvara had been on a mission in Parchment Row for a month, mingling with peddlers on Ars Lacuna’s Gray Market. Not the sort of place an eleven year old girl should be, especially one with her reputation.
Samson the paper-maché panther leapt down from his perch and padded upstairs. A thin sound permeated the second floor of the mansion. It sounded like the croon of a withdrawling addict, punctuated by rustling sobs.
In a basket of shredded first editions lay Varvara’s next project. The newborn idea was, if anything, worse off than Boris and the Street Princess had been. It resembled a child’s doll made of tree stumps. Thick black lines of scar tissue criss-crossed its body from where some ghostwriter had tortured the little creature after all of its useful attributes had been torn away. Samson didn’t know if The Sorrow of My Scarab Heart would be the kind of success Boris had been, but damned if he didn’t know Varvara would try.
Samson nudged the basket with his head, sending it into a gentle rock. The idea quieted down, and sobs were replaced by snores. He backed out of the small den and closed the door with his hardcover teeth.
Samson jumped the rail and landed on the first floor with no more sound than a dropped novel. In an eye blink he was through the open door, kicking it shut with his back legs on the way out. If Varvara was in trouble, he’d find out about it.
The nightlife of Ars Lacuna was as it always was. Publishers exchanged books for tricks. Editors lay stone-drunk or stone-dead across cafe bartops. Authors woke from week long trances only to destroy their manuscripts in fits of conceit. Samson stuck to the shadows of shadows. Amalgams like him were to be torched on sight within city limits.
Sampson the paper-maché panther sulked in and out of alleys as he hugged the edge of Old Decadence District. The River Boris was the east boundary, separating the officially inhabited parts of the city from the officially industrial parts of the city. Old Decadence District officially resided in neither.
Only creatures without hope or a map set foot in ODD. It was filled with the hulking, convoluted, rotting mansions of authors who created the Ars Lacuna canon. Samson wove his way past the Fundamentalist Tarven’s spire. Past Patafictionist Maidam Bootrevel’s gothic warehouse. Past New Inversionist Lapland Hurgo’s pyramid. This last one made Samson’s stomach glow; the particular digestive organ formed from a first edition set of Hurgo’s famous Out Through the In Door sextology.
The mansions, buildings, and dodecahedrons of ODD sloped down toward Parchment Row. Samson had to abandon the relative safety of black alleys, as the River Boris curved away from ODD and into a series of pulping plants.
Varvara was probably near the end of the Row, where the parchment peddlers camped. This made Samson’s job all the more difficult. The ill-visited, ill-conceived, and ill-liked part of Ars Lacuna was the backbone of the publishing city. Without the two mile stretch of covered river, pulper connected to presser connected to printer connected to binder, there would be no Seven Brothers, no Bibliophile District, no books period.
As Samson crept nearer the pulping plants, the sound of saws and woodchippers, steam-engines and grindstones blotted out the cries of the Perpetually Rejected who liked to live on top of the factories, screaming the work nobody wanted to the stars.
The crumpling rustle of Samson’s softcover feet was a pindrop in the haystack of sound. He stayed to the inside edge of the semicircular structure and started making his way downstream.
Every now and then, Samson glanced inward. He saw two men connected at the arm, a ten foot buck saw grafted under their respective triceps. They played a never-ending game of tug o’ war, splitting logs at nearly the speed of the autoblades. A row of five foot, saw-toothed circles were being cleaned of skull and skin from an earlier accident.
Women with sickle-shaped forearms swam a synchronized routine, practiced over a decade of twenty-two hour days. Elbows locked, they ran razorbones under the bark of sawn logs.
From there, the naked timber would be positioned by pole workers into a straight line as it fed its way to the main pulping organism. An Ars Acernotan termite queen was the final destination of most of the land of Ars’s heartwood. Samson sucked in his belly like a concertina as he slinked past the massive bug. She was easily as big as an ODD block, and much wider than even Varvara’s mansion. The termite pulsed with digestive force, throwing off enough heat to curl the edges of Samson’s dog-ears. He heard a scream as a poleworker lost her balance and couldn’t grab another pole before the queen’s jaws vivisected her.
From the backside of the queen, a continuous stream of brown-white, fibrous goo fell into the river. Samson sprinted along the hundred or so feet of open expanse that separated the pulpers from the paper makers.
The queen’s excrement divided into four streams, depositing the pulp into massive square molds. Brass plates came down onto the square molds and squeezed out the excess moisture. The molds flipped the behemoth pulp cakes onto a water-driven conveyor belt. Many-handed, many-eyed men picked bits of bark, bone, and stone out of the cakes.
From that point to the printer was nothing but a pathway of blades and stamps. Samson closed his eyes and ran past this section. As quick and lithe as he was, Samson couldn’t escape unscathed, as a blind sheet sizer sliced his tail down the middle. He held in a roar as thick gobs of liquid black trailed him.
From the end of the paper makers to the beginning of printing was a series of small stalls, where specialty boutiques picked up parchment to impregnate with silver, watermark, soak in werewolf’s blood, etc.
Samson watched eyes watch the conveyor for marked bundles. He tried to think of a way to printmaking while he let his tail bond together.
A net fell over the top of him, causing Samson to jump and stumble. His tail ripped back apart.
“What do we have here?” came a voice like the autoblades behind Samson. He struggled to turn his head. A man with a beautifully scarred face bent down to looked at Samson. He lashed out with claws, only to find them smoldering when he brought them back.
“I wouldn’t do that little bastard kitty. This net has hot wire inside of it. Give it too many nicks, and, poof, amalgam charcoal. Not nearly as marketable as what I have in store for you—” The man caught his breath and bent down with a torch to look at Samson more closely.
“God’s Canon! You’re Samson; Varvara’s amalgam pet. Oh, I’m going to get a good bonus tonight for bringing you in. Maybe even afford one o’ them working girls I hear in the black alleys.”
With deft movements, the scarred man flipped the net over his back, twisting the opening shut. Samson stared at the ceiling.
Fifty bobbing, swinging steps later, Samson stared at a different ceiling. This one was covered in smooth brass sheeting. He felt himself dropping through space, hitting a metallic floor with a thunk. An equally metallic lid was flung into place before he could leap out of the cage. Escape through the walls was just as impossible. They were made of a strong wire mesh that Samson couldn’t stuff his body through.
“Now let me go tell the Bossman, little kitty,” the scarred man said, scratching the wire mesh. Samson jumped at him, tearing the covering off of the mesh and starting his snout on fire. He ran into the other corner of his cage and patted at his nose furiously, until it was nothing more than cinders. The scarred man laughed as he walked away.
Samson looked through the smoky haze at the other cages around the room. All of them held amalgams of different shapes, sizes, and hues. There was a cross between a horse and a concrete poem, a parakeet and a novella, a gorilla and a sonnet, and some that were too pieced together to be discernable.
The scarred man came back into the room and leaned down to Samson’s level again. Samson growled a rasping growl.
“I’m going to take you to see the Bossman now. Enjoy the ride kitty.”
He started pushing the cage along the corridor of amalgams. All manner of sound escaped the creatures’ lips, warning Samson of something.
The room he had been held in opened onto a hallway of doors. He could hear more amalgamated sounds coming from this hallway as well. A door was cracked open and Samson peeked in as he was being wheeled past. He scrambled into the other end of his cage when he saw what was inside.
A small rabbit-trilogy amalgam was being torn up by a large woman with rusty shears. Each piece of the amalgam was tossed into a vat of boiling water. From there, the recycled pulp was formed, pressed, cut, and bound. Samson’s breaths came faster and faster.
The scarred man laughed some more.
At the end of the hallway, a single bronze door opened into a room draped in velvet and dark wood. A man shaped not entirely unlike the shears woman sat behind the desk, lighting a cigar off of The Transposed Lives of Innocents in Verse: 2nd Draft by Master deJour. DeJour was the most respected author in all of Ars and Dem (sans Varvara), and an early draft of his legendary work was ablaze.
When Samson came into view, the man dropped the flaming literary artifact into a gilded basket. The scent of the lily-laced ink was mouthwatering.
“It is him,” the large man said in an accent reminiscent of dark molasses.
“Told you Bossman. I found him lurking in the paper plant.”
The large man walked nearer Samson’s cage, lit cigar tip taunting the paper-mâché monster. “What a strange place for an amalgam.”
“I thought so meself, but that’s where he was.”
“You did well Ivanski. Wait outside the door. We’ll talk about your compensation in a minute.”
“Right-o bossman sir.” Ivanski skipped out of the room.
The large man placed his hand on the outside of the cage. Samson fought every urge in his body to lash out at him.
“Thank you Samson. Thank you so much.” The large man was in tears. Big crystalline droplets rolled down his jowls. “I couldn’t have done any of this without you. Well, without Varvara I should say.”
“I’m making as much off of a single bound amalgam as I would a bestseller. Off of a single amalgam! Do you know how many amalgams there are in Ars Lacuna? Thousands.”
Samson growled louder.
“Thousands and thousands. But I bet you’ll make me more than the combined lot of them.” The fat man straightened up. “Ivanski,” he yelled. “Bring Samson into the large processing room.”
Ivanski skipped back into the room, grinning and rubbing his hands. “Sure thing, boss.”
“Then bring me the bound volume. I’ll have quite a reward for you tonight.”
Ivanski squeaked with excitement. “Come on you lovely parchment mongrel. Time to make you famous.”
Samson started ramming his head against one of the walls of his cage. The mesh bent outward, but wouldn’t break.
Over and over Samson rammed his head into the wire mesh, bending it further and further. The wires thinned, but before he could place the final head-butt, the covering failed and he burned a checkerboard into his skull.
“Quit doing that kitty. You’re stinking up the place.”
Samson was wheeled into a room with a large wooden table. Deep gashes and black slicks marred its surface. Samson paced his cage.
Four men retrofitted with tread feet and pincer hands followed Ivanski and Samson into the room. One reached his hand straight through the wire mesh and grabbed Samson by the throat. Long streaks were burned into the man’s forearm and Samson’s flanks as he was yanked through the opening.
The man held Samson at arm’s length. The half-panther clawed and bit and mauled the man’s arm. Skin flaps fell like dermistic snow, exposing a brass substructure and the man’s decaying teeth in a rotten smile.
Each of the other three men all took a cardboard limb, and they slammed Samson onto the table. A portable processing plant was wheeled into the room, complete with the butcher woman. Instead of shears, she held a two foot cleaver.
Samson watched as the cauldron at the front of the machine came to a boil. The butcher woman smiled and brought the cleaver over her shoulder. Samson waited.
The cleaver whistled as it divided particles of air. Samson’s split tail, slicked with inky blood, whipped out from under him, pushing the cleaver into the wrist of the man at his left side. The claw stayed clamped to his foot. He kicked upward and tore the throat out of the man at his right side. Before the primitive minds of the other two men could process what was going on, Samson rolled himself over and plunged his talons as far as he could into their faces. He could feel brainstem.
The woman grabbed her cleaver out of the table with one hand. Veins pulsed along her arms. Samson smiled.
She raised the cleaver above her head. Samson rammed his head into her soft belly. A lungful of mucus blossomed into the air as she stumbled backward, grabbing for balance. Her feet gave way and the butcher woman fell, slamming her head into the lip of the cauldron. The red hot pot tipped over, entombing the woman in copper.
This all took place during a half-dozen heartbeats. Ivanski stood near the door, fear-struck. When the scalding water hit his feat, he bolted.
Samson dove over the processing plant and out the door before it closed. Ivanski was almost down the hallway when Samson rounded the doorjamb. Samson gauged his pounce so he impacted with with Ivanski at the exact moment he opened the—
“Bossman!” Ivanski said, just as Samson tore through his chest. The amalgam licked the blood from his lips and sneered...
“Samson, I’m home,” Varvara said, walking into the parlor of her mansion. All that could be heard were the sounds of Sorrow.
“Samson?” The little girl walked into the living room, but Samson wasn’t on his chewed couch. She walked upstairs, where Sorrow was thrilled to see her. Varvara cooed and tickled the little idea for a few minutes.
“Do you know where Samson is?” she asked. Sorrow looked at her with blank eyespots.
Varvara walked back downstairs.
“Samson!” she yelled again. And now the amalgam came walking through the door. He was stained dark pink. Varvara got on her knees and gave him a hug. Samson licked her face with a maroon tongue.
“I couldn’t find the ream, but I do have a few leads on where it could be. How was your month?”
Samson looked into Varvara’s eyes. Deep into Varvara’s eyes. A thin smile crinkled his lips and he shrugged before jumping onto his couch and falling into black dreams.
About the Author
Adam Callaway--the man, the myth, the rabble rouser--still lives in the great white North with one wife and two dogs. "Pulped and Bound Monsters" is the second story set in Lacuna, the first appearing in Beneath Ceaseless Skies #73. He may or may not be made of paper himself. We'll just have to wait and see.
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