Jack never knew why he kept her. She just stared at him all day long,
coiled up in the desert-yellow liquid, inside the jar. Jack could
always feel her stare when he was in the room, like the Mona Lisa,
following him around as he strived to keep himself busy. As if she
were alive. And although she roused such bad memories, such vivid
memories, Jack found that he could never bring himself to disposing
of her. He often thought about it, just like he thought about complaining
to the Council about the constant roadwork in his street, just like
he thought about repairing the garden hut one day, about meeting up
with his old war pals again, about phoning his son after all those
years since Katie's death. And yet, this was - well, different. There
was definitely something stopping Jack from getting rid of the animal,
something compelling him to keep the wretched thing up on the mantelshelf
by Isis, the iconic statuette he'd found during the war.
He sat down in the armchair opposite her and lit a cigarette. It
didn't do anything to him - never did - and certainly no good, and
yet as he drew in the smoke he knew why he had taken it up again,
who had driven him to it.
He knew it was a she. The doctor had said it was impossible to tell,
yet Jack recognised in her mysterious elegance the distinctive characteristics
of female cruelty. Her look for a start ; she had no eyelids, which
allowed her to stare with domineering impassiveness, ensuring an almost
constant eerie silence.
It had probably been the raw pork, he had been told. During the war,
when he was in Egypt, it was often impossible to cook your food -
you had to make do with pieces of meat which had been travelling for
weeks, sometimes months, in the desert heat, in the back of a lorry.
After a week of chronic diarrhoea and anaemia, he'd been sent to the
nearest hospital -40 miles away. They'd put him on laxatives no food,
only hot tea every hour - must have driven her mad. Jack sniggered.
For a split second, his face took a worried expression, as the sun
caught the animal's left eye, giving a momentary sparkle to the metallic
tarnish of the globule.
Jack breathed out.
"Never stop, do you?" Jack snarled. "A bloody parasite,
that's what you are." Just the same, numbing stare.
"Not anymore, do you year me? You're not getting your bloody
suckers inside anyone again, that's for sure Jack calmed down.
"Once you've starved it out, you'll have to watch for its tail,
every time you empty your bowels. "The doctor had told him. "You'll
have to grab it and - well, just pull, basically. No, it won't be
fun, but you've got to be sure to get the head out. Snap it off while
its head is still in there, and it'll just grow back another tail."
Jack shuddered at the haunting memory of the delicate operation. The
damn worms could grow up to 15 metres. His had been at least that.
She had completely filled up the pot, like spaghetti.
"Nothing more than a wreathing mass of lifeless worm, now! A
flat, parasitic worm, that's what you are!" Jack was bolt upright
now, snarling at the tape worm coiled up in her jar like a long flex.
His red, sweating face was inches away from the smooth, cool glass
behind which watched the pulsating beast.
"took me two years to recover, two damn years!"
Jack took hold of the glass jar with both hands.
"Think I can't get rid of you, eh?"
He spun round to face the room. His right arm, carrying the jar, came
round in a long arc. With a resounding burst, the bottom of the jar
crashed against the edge of the mantel-piece. It shattered, sending
shards of razor-sharp glass cascading over Jack's arms and legs. The
golden ointment splashed over his stomach. The long, flat tape worm
suddenly uncoiled in mid-air, like a spring finally released from
twenty years' compression; Jack watched, open-mouthed, horrified,
as the fifteen metre-long serpent sprung, like a whip lashing out,
unleashing all of her restrained vitality as she wrapped herself around
Jack's neck. Jack's cuts oozed profusely, a dark liquid he had not
seen for a long time.
The old Serpent tightened her hold as she coiled round the flesh of
Jack's neck. She savagely slashed through his vulnerable throat, blood
splattering his chin and chest, and lunged down his gullet.
Jack's eyes bulged inordinately as he watched the end of her tail
disappear down his throat Blood flooded into his mouth. He rose helpless
hands and avidly grasped at his throat. It was already too late when
he realised that what his bloody fingers had got hold of was his severed
Jack collapsed, yet not dead ; there was going to be nothing easy
about his death.