Irene Leaves the Werehouse
by Gustav Flurbert
Through the walls, the ceiling, even the floor, the sound of incessant construction comes to Irene like distant echoes of her own murky thoughts. Muffled pounding of hammers, mallets, nails into wood, threaded screws whining as powertools hit their limits and begin to smoke, throwing off shreds of metal; and a sound more like the thrumming of her heart, a tidal surge, as if her werehouse is a healthy animal, as if she can hear bright blood burbling through its veins—the blood, or perhaps it's sap, welling up from weedy roots to outthrust limbs, the far-flung wings of the house idle as Irene’s shapely pale thighs, longing for a passionate touch.
Though Irene sits somewhere near the center of the werehouse, this does not mean she’s its heart or its brain. Not anymore. She worries that she has become useless, an all-but-digested bolus in the house’s colon, a cast-off vlog star trapped in her own maze. L’Aida has predicted this.
Not so many years ago, at Irene’s command, the work commenced. Everyone was fascinated. She was, in her brief heyday, a naughty heiress. But now Irene lets the werehouse steer its own course. The house is wired, and filled with computer chips; the werehouse’s AI systems have full access to what remains of Irene’s assets. The house phones in contractors constantly. Rooms are built while others are being destroyed. Tenants move in, claiming to be family, or friends of family, or friends of friends, and Irene lets them come, even junkies and demented fans. She likes the noise, the confrontation, the thrumming of danger in the air. Though she’s not much past forty, thanks to her Mood-Up addiction, she’s grown gaunt. Her favorite tenant is Custodio, a guy who’s been living in the werehouse ever since she hired him to haul a party’s worth of bottles from the lawn.
She was napping just now. A high-end TV dinner congeals on a folding tray near her chair. The floor sports greenish carpeting that looks as if the remains of many more such meals have been strewn upon and trodden into it. The red eye of the camera on her vlog-ring glows. On stage again. As so many times before, she awakes obsessed with the notion that the room has changed. She has no memory of shifting from her rocking chair, though. Does the chair move on its own? Or has the room itself altered around her? Could the werehouse do that?
Not that Irene’s habitual disorientation is big news today. For this afternoon, not far from the werehouse, the UFOs have finally landed, bosky bulging chrome saucers brimful of ecstatically writhing purple flying stingrays. They call themselves the Hrull. Just before dropping off for her nap, Irene was watching a TV image of the Hrull’s undulating lozenge-shapes filling the evening sky, their clamorous mind-rays zapping one and all.
Irene’s heart beats faster as the recalls her dream of intimate mental probing. Alien sex. She rocks her chair, lips parting in her famous smile. But then, like a dog returning to her vomit, she comes back to her familiar obsession that the room has changed. A pale purple paisley stingray drags itself across the floor, at the border between reality and hallucination. And then he's out the door.
“Earlier in the day these walls were yellowed plaster with ornate Victorian molding, shelves of bric-a-brac, soft pine floors faded by sunlight even though the windows no longer looked outside but only into other, darker rooms,” intones Irene in her high, mocking voice. She pauses for a puff of Mood-Up. She knows that she still has few viewers. “But now there’s foil wallpaper streaked with oriental calligraphy and white cranes flying against golden suns.” Her set-piece speech grinds to a halt. Perhaps nobody at all listening—unless, thrilling thought, Custodio is peeping at her. Or unless the Hrull are watching from the mind dimension.
Stupidly enough, instead of being tuned to the live coverage of the saucerians, Irene’s TV set is showing an inane reality show. The camera is tendentiously, immovably trained on a room that might be one of the rooms in the werehouse. An empty room with a single bare bulb overhead that looks down like a lidless eye. This is a room Irene doesn’t remember having been in. But maybe she’ll end up there. Maybe it’s her delivery room.
She waits for the picture to change, perhaps to show another room, a comfortable familiar room or, better yet, to show those gloriously wriggling Hrull. But no such luck. In the dim portentous recesses of the reality show image she notices a door beginning to open, ever so slowly. Creak- creak.
As the space beyond the televised threshold comes into focus, she sees a man, standing with his back to her, wearing khaki janitor clothes. Custodio. His hand rises and falls. Creak-creak. How wonderful, he is masturbating for her. He knows she’s watching. Good boy. Irene licks her lips.
But no, dammit, that’s a ball-peen hammer he holds. As it smashes down again and again, putting a fresh nail in a balky door frame, she matches the image with one particular rhythmic strand that threads through the house, and to which she has been half-listening for hours now. And now, perhaps sensing her eyes, Irene’s handyman hesitates…lowers the hammer…turns slowly as if wondering who is watching him. He peers back through the doorway, through the room with the bare overhead bulb, through the television set, and into her face. She’s not sure if he can see her. He isn’t Custodio after all. His face is a smooth blank. He’s not actually even a man.
“I am Hrull, says the creature. “Do you want to make the alien baby?” He raises the hammer and shatters the TV screen. He is in the room with her, no longer cloaking himself in humanoid form, but showing his true shape: a great squealing mauve meat blanket that flops onto her, jolting her from the chair and onto the floor. Her hips buck in ecstasy.
Then, abruptly, it’s later. She remembers how her back arched, the wetness between her legs, and how she contorted in an irreducible mesh of pleasure and disgust, feeling an endless frisson that never quite seemed to peak—and that finally fell away, disintegrated, leaving her gasping with disappointment and relief.
She sits up, looks at her palms—and sees the familiar reddening, the blemishing of a Mood-Up overdose. She has an acrid metallic taste in her mouth. Was she hallucinating the Hrull? She has vague memories of an informational shift in the house just before she’d seen—or imagined—the newscast about the coming of the Hrull. Was the werehouse feeding her lies? It wouldn’t be the first time. Or the last.
She points her finger at the TV and calls up the werehouse map. It looks a little different every day. Ever since the house learned to call in its own contractors, it has been following its own fractal development, growing like eccentric coral, organizing itself to some overall pattern of its own; its significance personal, though there was no person behind the personal, just the emergent mind of the heavily computerized house.
The room has changed again. Irene clears her throat and intones, “When I lay with the Hrull, the carpet was of polar bear skins and the room was flocked in white velvet.” She pauses, takes a whiff of Mood-Up. “But now it looks like an alley where bums relieve themselves.” Indeed, there is a coil of fresh excrement in the corner of the room.
Custodio appears at the door, shaking his head. He coaxes the waste into his dustpan with his little broom. “You’re spun again, Irene. In a loop. You want to go into treatment?”
She shudders at the thought of leaving the house. “This is my treatment,” she says. “The werehouse has everything I need.”
“Everything?” His teeth are chipped, but his smile still attractive.
“Well, look. It sent you, didn’t it? Or anyway, kept you here.”
He gives her an angry scowl, stumps across the room, and throws his ball-peen hammer down on the coffee table. Lovely word, “ball-peen,” all-inclusive. She begins to formulate a little riff on the words, which she will deliver to her audience once Custodio has had his way with her. She’s left a pack of smokes on the table. Custodio picks them up, feeds one between his gray lips, begins chewing. “I can leave anytime I want,” he says. “The Hrull want me to fly with them in their saucer.”
“The Hrull are real?”
“You just fucked one of them on live TV, Irene. And then you took a dump on the floor. Best ratings you’ve had in months. Ad revenues are way up. The werehouse is giving us a raise.”
“We deserve much more than they’ll ever pay us,” says Irene. “Undertaking this insane life for the good of mankind. We may be the new Adam and Eve. Just us two.” She’s pauses, pensive. “What did happen to the other tenants, Custodio? Surely they’re not still here?”
“Sometimes,” says Custodio, vaguely. “They’re still linked in the credits.”
“You actually read them?”
“It’s one of my jobs. I’m not just a frikkin’ trash collector, you know. I’m your vlog editor. And I have a degree in synthetic biology.”
She’s not sure if there is such a field of study, but this is not a mystery that holds her interest for very long. She goes back to mentally organizing her notes for today’s presentations. The whole world will be watching. Perhaps it’s time to do a little in-depth research on abduction survivors. She wonders if her memories of ten minutes ago might have been implanted by a regression therapist, someone with ulterior motives, someone who wants her weak and incapacitated. Someone like, oh...Custodio?
“See that wet spot on the rug?” says Custodio, as if reading her mind. “That’s godslime from the Hrull. Some tasty rush in that, what I heard.” He hunkers down, pulling up a gelatinous strand and packing it into his ever-present crack pipe. The happy smoke wraps them like fancy ribbons on an Xmas present.
A little later, when Irene happens to look at herself, she’s pregnant. And then she isn’t. And then she is again. It’s toying with her, her half-Hrull fetus. Like a little werehouse inside her belly, it grows and shrinks, shifts and renovates. She’s incredibly hungry. Repeatedly she sends Custodio to find seaweed and peanut butter, and she eats it as fast as he brings it. “I feel like I can barely move,” she says.
“It’s only been three hours since you had sex with the Hrull,” Custodio says. “You’re probably just imagining things.” But she can’t be imagining the swelling. Now there’s a starfish under the skin of her stomach, and a moment later the shape is huge and concave, as if she swallowed a trombone. She wonders again if Custodio arranged this, to immobilize her for some reason. Just how friendly with the Hrull is he? Or did the house itself arrange to breed her with a Hrull, to make a baby that could grow up to be the perfect occupant for a shape-changing house?
It’s so hard to figure out. “I don’t know what to do,” she tells Custodio. “Maybe we should let the viewers vote on it. For our Xmas special. You can deliver the baby live.”
“Do a Schrödinger’s cat number on it,” says Custodio. “What they vote is what they get, and if they’re wrong, an advanced potential of reversed causation will award Dade county to Joe Doakes. I’d vote for him anyway. A man who will negotiate our complete and total surrender to the Hrull will always get my, mmmmmrrrrreeeeeeeppp, vote.”
“Who told you that?” demands Irene. “That terrorist L’Aida? The one who designed this whole wack level?”
An iron fist is pounding on the room’s door. The brain police? Excitable fans? Where are the gray-faced vlog-monitoring government agents when you need them?
“Quick,” said Irene. “Give me the ball peen hammer. If we head out the back, maybe we can get aboard the Hrull saucer. If it’s still here. If it’s not, Custodio, then I’m blaming you. We should have left hours ago.”
“That’s not actually a saucer, though,” said Custodio as they hurry down the crumbling hallways, Irene slowed by her hugely bulging belly. “I meant to tell you. The mothership is a giant Hrull whose made her skin shiny like chrome. The stairs lead into her mouth.”
“Don’t sweat that, honey. The mothers carry their babies in their mouth. We’ll be safe as little Hrull babies in there. You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Like living inside my vagina.”
“Please show me your tickets and ID,” says the stewardess-shaped Hrull at the base of the slimy tube leading into the hulking mothership. Her face is a pattern of three slits.
“I don’t carry ID,” says Irene, flashing her vlog ring. “I am ID. You just ask for that purple Hrull fella who had his way with me. He’ll vouch for me. I’m carrying some his spawn right here.” She pats her tummy. “And here.” Pats her head, forearms, thighs, feet. “I’m just all over inside with the cute little wrigglers. I don’t think you’d want them hatching out here in the cold like this, would you?”
“Irene, I don’t feel good about this,” says Custodio, catching her hand before she plunges into the tube. “I’m thinking maybe I should stay behind and take care of the werehouse. It’s never been alone before. And I have to make sure your show still goes out.”
“You’re scared, aren’t you?” says Irene, realizing that she might be glad to see him go, and maybe a little relieved that he’ll still be her vlog editor. Clumsily they kiss, and then he’s gone—back into the werehouse.
She settles into the ribbed interior of the Hrull, among the dark red organs, quite bereft of human companionship. At least her vlog-ring is still glowing. She wonders who might be watching her now, after she’s sunk so far? Who could still care?
She stares into the lens, her face filling your computer screen, looking right at you.
“Stay with me, dear. I need you.”
Ponderously the Hrull lifts off into the sky, Irene aboard, still broadcasting to you, only to you.
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About the Author
Gustav Flurbert is manufactured in a facility where nuts are processed. Ingredients of this shipping may include Charlie Anders, Marc Laidlaw, Rudy Rucker, and/or John Shirley.
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