This illustration didn’t quite make it into the pages of Dennis Mealor’s  illustrated novel, The Silting. So here it is now, a bonus. Buy the novel now in PDF, straight to your computer device or phone for a Gothicly lousy $5. Just click on The Silting link at the top of the page, and follow the prompts to purchase the novel. Dennis Mealor has a PhD in Fiction Writing/Literary Studies.


Chapter 25

Now that I am on the team, the lads show me the ropes. Some of the ropes are literal things such as untying the sisal ropes on the hessian bags. Young Frobisher squeaks the wheelbarrow along the path as Barry, Brown and I follow. Frobisher’s ribs are showing through his ripped shirt at the back. He coughs, and brings up a lump of phlegm and fires it from his mouth. It hangs like bird spittle from a head of bluebell flowers. He wheels the barrow into old George’s kipper shed. I have never seen George in the shed. Ever. But he must come here often because the fishy offal is arranged differently each time I poke my head in through the door. And the knife moves about from day to day. Last week it was clean and stuck into the wooden bench. Today it lies bloodied amongst newly fleshed pieces of plaice and flounder.

Barry Boyne tells me to undo the ropes on the bags and let out the horns. Well, he calls them horns. It’s a sort of code, saying cow horns when you mean something else. But I don’t blink an eye when I untie the reef knot and open the first sack and see the human skulls. I am careful to take it all in, because I want to learn quickly. The first thing I take in is that they are all minus their jaw bones. Most of the skulls are old and bleached, and I ask Barry about that, but Brown answers me instead.

“Aye, well it’s all about this recyclin’ lark tha’s goin’ on these days, intit?” Brown says.

“Well, tha’. An’ the material is gettin’ ’arder t’ get ’old of. Some of th’ cem’tries ’as a lock on ’em,” Barry puts in.

But I sort through some of the skulls and yes, there’s the odd fresh one, with remnants of flesh hanging off. This one looks as if it was peeled from top to bottom because of the longitudinal pink scrape marks with vertical stripes of flesh still intact.

“That one should go in t’ ground for ’while. Let worms do their work. But there’s no time. Parade’s nearly on us, an’ it’s the Twenty’two cummin’ up. No time t’ get all flesh off,” Barry says. “Which is where you can ’elp.”

And he hands me what I take to be a surgical saw.

“Can y’ slice top off ’orn an’ take out brain, then?” he says. “We don’t like t’ do i’. Ruins th’ ’orn an’ we ’ave t’ stick it back t’gether later. But sometimes we ’ave t’ do i’. T’ save time like. Not enough time t’ let brain fester under ground an’ be ’ollowed out by grubs.”

I take the saw and pick up the skull that he calls a horn. I find a carpenter’s horse in the far corner of the shed.

“Y’ll ’ave trouble balancin’ it on tha,’ “ Barry says. “Specially cuttin’ in th’ round. Top o’ ’orn is a bit ’ard t’ start th’ cut.”

A sign on the wall says Shite Happens and under that is a tall pile of rotting fish heads and guts on the floor. Barry uses his gloved hand to part the smelly offal and uncovers a large oak chopping block that stands about knee height.

“This’ll do th’ trick,” he says. “Not too tall. Y’ can get over top of i’ nice like. Y’can put y’ back int’ it an’ ’ave nice big surface t’ steady ’orn.”

I kick more of the fish guts away so I can find my footing on the old wooden floor and start the cut. I pull the saw slowly towards me first time, and then reposition it and pull it towards me again. Until I get a guiding groove. Then I go hard at it back and forth. The saw jumps the groove twice before I get the hang of it. The hardest part is using my left hand to steady the curve of the skull against the chopping block. But I manage, and turn the skull over as the cut progresses, circumcising my way around to avoid cutting the brain. The last stroke gives me a neat skull cap. It falls onto the block and wobbles and spins. I have done a good cut, Barry says. He is a good teacher. Told me what to do, he did. Is clever, our Barry. I left the brain intact without damage he says. Like he told me to do. Which makes it easier to dig out and discard in one piece.



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