The Stones and the Torment (final part)


Abandoned abattoir on Glasgow’s Sacred Line

 Dr OctagonThe final part of the Stones and the Torment mixing medical horror, psychogeography, myth and history.

The removal of the Sighthill Stone Circle threatens Glasgow with an old curse that allows the Quarter of Torment to break through The Sacred Line.

Read all parts of The Stones and The Torment.

Someone picked me up and kicked me on.

The stench and the noise was unbearable. Staff slipped and collided on the fluid-slick floor. Mad-eyed orderlies were measuring and assessing naked patients who in hopeful supplication shuffled with heads bowed and hands behind their back. It was only when they learned their fate that they attempted escape but they were dragged away through swing doors screaming. Other patients were strapped down to metal examining tables terrified as  doctors and medics in bloody white coats argued and jostled around them.

Someone was intensely rhythmically battering a lifeless corpse into a bloody pulp mass with an air of expectation that any minute now it would solve a noble mystery of twisted anatomy. A man hammered discordantly at a piano. Bizarre announcements were made about a horse in the hospital and that Dr Octagon would be leaving the Great Eastern Hotel and arriving shortly.

“This is nothing. Let’s go and see Dr Lister.”

Mackail led his small party through a labyrinth of corridors and stairways. They turned into a long corridor of ward to see a terrified horse galloping up and down. A man lay on the floor with a tangle of his intestines spilling out from him. His piteous sobbing was silenced by a flying horse’s hoof to his head administrating a coup de grace.

“Let’s take the next floor,” said Mackail.

Dr Octagon

Dr Octagon

They passed wards with patients struggling against their restraints. Others lay still attached to frantically bleeping machines and unanswered distress alarms. Wheezing genetically manipulated monstrosities stalked the corridors hunting each other down. Two nurses chased a naked woman oozing a radioactive, ectoplasmic sheen. A man writhed in agony inside a scanner as black cysts erupted on his body. Through the thick glass of an infection control unit I could see doctors, not wearing any protective clothing, struggling with a patient as boils appeared in his rapidly swelling face.

We walked into a room. A huge naked fat man sat watching TV footage of the Queen waving to crowds. Pipes, drips and blood bags plugged into his body and trailed away to a man and a woman conscious but barely alive and suspended upside down from two hooks. Their eyes flickered in terrible suffering. The fat man turned and happily leered at us.

“Wrong room. Even I get lost sometimes. Who is Dr Lister?”

“He pioneered antiseptic surgery at this hospital,” I replied. “Who’s Dr Octagon?”

“I see you have done your research,” said Mackail. “He introduced carbolic acid to sterilise surgical instruments and to clean wounds. He made surgery safe and clean. A great man. On your side of the line. Look at him now. It’s almost like he’s desperately trying to undiscover his knowledge. As for Dr Octagon…well from somewhere he comes and somewhere he goes but how no-body knows.”

Lister, whiskered in the old way, stood in the middle of an old operating theatre. A steep viewing terrace was packed with a seething mass of excited onlookers pushing and struggling for a better view. He rubbed his filthy bloody hands on his old frock coat, stiff with old blood and glistening with new, and examined some rusty looking scalpels.

“Strap the next one down.” He inhaled deeply.  “What a lovely old surgical stink. It’s the smell of…regression!”

The man babbled with incoherence as Lister sawed his leg with a dirty rusty saw. The old Green Lady, the ghost of the hospital, materialised and screeched in dismay but everyone ignored her fluttering ethereal presence. Beads of sweat dripped from Lister’s forehead as he laboured away. The man seemed to have passed out.

“He’s lucky,” whispered Mackail. “He had enough money to pay for opiates. It all goes to the cash in the ceiling for the research companies. I will explain that conspiracy over a pint before dinner.”

I Looked at Mackail with an incredulity that surprised him.

“Well sometimes we need to forget our troubles.”

Death gatecrashes an attempted blood transfusion (Artist unknown)

Death gatecrashes an attempted blood transfusion (Artist unknown)

Lister threw the leg over his shoulder and there was an instant round of applause from the gallery. He took a petri dish and smeared the greasy contents over the bloodied stump.

“Let’s see how long it takes for the infection to rot his brain. Gentleman – place your bets with the clerks. Normal taxes apply. Next!”

The assistants struggled with a screaming man.

“Oh for heaven’s sake” thundered Lister. “Stop screaming man. Lord, forget it.”

In a flash Lister cut his throat and shoved the twitching blood spurting dying man into an upright coffin. The assistants clamped a lid on to another round of applause. Lister was annoyed, the man’s blood had spurted onto his grey trailing whiskers.

A rat scurried amongst the sawdust and began gnawing at a twitching foot in a large pile of body parts. A basket was thrown over it.

“Gentlemen a new game. Place your best on what the rat does next when I sew it into his stomach. Normal taxes apply.”

A man defiantly swore and shouted at Lister as he was ruthlessly and efficiently tied down to the table.

“Glaswegians hurl down curses like their filthy rain” said Lister. “They do it with such musical vitality.”

“We need to move on,” said Mackail.

Glasgow Royal Infirmary

Glasgow Royal Infirmary in the Quarter of Torment

Dr Octagon glided down the corridor with his entourage hanging on every twist of his coat.

“Mackail and his new friend. Did you meet Dr Lister? He’s so tiresomely old school. All he wants to do is undiscover. A stethoscope, a laser scalpel and I’m ready to serve our future. I get a kick when the blood types mis-match and immunosuppression rejects the skin grafts.”

To my astonishment Dr Octagon started hopping about rapping to himself. He was grotesquely fascinating.

“I’m a neuro-medic cultured in a foetus jar. The future of Dr Lister’s Church of the Operating Theatre. Your line no longer holds me and the Druids are gone. But you shall come to dinner tonight. I have horny nurses with voodoo curses, ready for kinky enema fetishes. Ziggy! There you are! Come along now you naughty little thing!”

He addressed a crocodile slowly shuffling up the corridor with a human leg clamped in its mouth and looking extremely pleased with himself.

“Tinkety tonk as you Brits say. I am off to chip up some chimp genetics with masturbatory cyber-hormones and inject them in a human. It’s so futuristic I don’t even understand what I am saying. See you for sherry.”

“That man is either insane or could take us to the next level of humanity.”

“If he succeeded I guarantee we would no longer be human.”

A tense calm had descended on the city. Figures hurried through the streets, using the lull to complete their business and go home as quickly as possible. We walked over the Bridge of Sighs with its blue flowers fluttering along the parapets. Exhausted, half-drunk hollow men staggered as they pushed carts laden with boxes and body bags up the winding paths through the Necropolis. Some of the body bags were moving and trembling fingers weakly pushed through a gap in one of the boxes. Throughout the Necropolis gangs of men were digging fresh graves or opening-up the old mausoleums and flinging the body bags, not caring if they were dead or alive.

Old anatomical theatre, Padua, Italy

Old anatomical theatre, Padua, Italy

“A quick drink” said Mackail, heading towards the brewery and its chimney emitting clouds of sweet smelling hops. Inside there was a silence as rows of men drank and stared grimly into space.

“You’re quiet considering you have the honour of dining at the Great Eastern.”

“It’s dinner with a bunch of psychopaths in a bleak old doss house,” I replied.

“It’s a committee dinner of the directors of the hospital, brewery, Necropolis and doss house. They have no power of course. They all do as they’re told by Lister and Octagon, like we all do. They simply sit around the table playing top trumps with humanity’s sorrows of the day.”

“What’s the point of all this Mackail?”

“The line was the point and now it isn’t.”

“So what now? A tour around an old doss house to see what fresh horror lurks in every room? To see how the good doctors turn people into hideous, wretched creatures?”

“Hopefully. Finish your drink and let’s find out what will entertain us tonight.”

Walking into the hotel they were greeted by a butler offering sherry. Men silently filed in with small silver platters.

“Oh what a treat!” Mackail’s tongue flickered round his lips in delight.

The men’s eyes had been torn out and placed on silver spoons.

Let Glasgow decay

Let Glasgow decay: Glasgow’s crest on the Sacred Line

“They say when you eat the eye you can taste the tears of its owners. Is that right?” he said to the man impassively holding the platter.

Mackail lasciviously groaned as he ate one.

“This one’s weeping right now. Deliciously salty. Try one.”

At that point I cracked. I started running. I was vaguely surprised no-one tried to stop me. Then I heard Dr Octagon delightedly shout:

“Mackail – your boy’s a runner! Give him five minutes and let slip the hounds.”

They gave me five minutes.

As the siren wailed and black fog descended I hid in alleyway trembling with fear and exhaustion. A figure ran towards me with a dowsing rod violently twisting in his hand.

“Do something Mackail. This will destroy us all.”

“I’m not Mackail. Are you Harry Bell?”

“The sacred geometry is going haywire. Stop the stones being moved Mackail. For god sake!”

He was gone, dragged away by the evil forces divined through his rod.

The former doss house, the Great Eastern Hotel

The former doss house, the Great Eastern Hotel

Determined footsteps approached. They knew where I was and there was only way to escape.  Hooded figures loomed out of the fog and I shouted for Mackail and as their hands reached for me everything melted away.

I was back in the stone circle with Mackail. His eyes were lacklustre and his manner bookish once again. At least he looked me in the eye.

“I’m so sorry,” he muttered and walked away towards the Sighthill tower blocks. A grey and blue figure soon lost amongst the green overgrowth.

The next day I stood outside the City Chambers wearing a blue Vespa jacket and some sturdy black shoes.

“Save the stones” I croaked nervously to the first person who glared at me with contempt and quickly walked past. In that moment I saw what was to come: the stifling torment of never quite knowing and always wondering, the slow fraying of sanity by endless ridicule and indifference, the indecipherable mystery of the Sacred Line and a curse without salvation.

I took a deep breath and with steadier resolve walked inside to the reception desk.

“My name’s Mackail. I would like to see my councillor please. I have an urgent matter to discuss.”

Glasgow’s Quarter of Torment: The Sacred Line

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