Hugo sat watching the late night re-runs. His eyes were glazed and the stark light from the television made his flesh look anemic as he slumped in the lounge-chair. He looked at the clock on the wall and rubbed his tired eyes, 2.30 am. Hugo stifled a yawn and looked at his wife who was propped up with cushions in the centre of the couch. Her eyes rolled in the back of her head and an audible snore came from her inflamed nostrils perched above the duct-tape covering her mouth.
Hugo looked back at the 20/20 program with renewed interest as a story came on about a local surgeon who had successfully separated conjoined twins. The gory footage of the operation showed the surgeon meticulously separating the cranial flesh, bone and then the blood vessels and other viscera surrounding the two exposed brains. Mary-Beth murmured as Hugo turned the volume up. He glanced back over at her and noticed the blood had now coagulated at the end of her bloody limbs where he had crudely cauterised the wounds.
The story continued as the journalist interviewed the surgeon after the operation in his opulent downtown office. Hugo was sure he had seen the surgeon before somewhere. He realized that the medical insurance company he had worked with for the last two decades probably had the good doctor on their books. Hell, he’d probably even sold the surgeon some expensive public liability insurance. That must be it, Hugo concluded and looked back at Mary-Beth again. He had tried to dress her in her own clothes but had settled for an old bathrobe that kept her warm enough. He had cut the sleeves off to stop the blood soaking into the material where her arms had once joined her shoulders. He envied the skill of the surgeon but was happy he had effectively removed Mary-Beth’s limbs without losing her during the operation.
Hugo had been spending a lot of time recently in the large basement of their ample house. He had taken annual leave and had used the three-month vacation to set a few things straight in his otherwise mediocre existence. He had been awake four nights straight and was finally ready for sleep now that the operation had succeeded and he knew he would never lose Mary-Beth again.
He stood and stretched his tired body, making his way to the bathroom to piss and brush his teeth. He looked in the mirror and saw a stranger looking back at him. Short but messy black hair. White, pasty complexion; black rings circling his staring eyes beneath expensive glasses. He looked gaunt and far from the tanned, healthy, young executive, he had been a month ago. He took the spectacles and placed them on the edge of the sink as he brushed his teeth.
Hugo, now dressed for bed, went back to the lounge to kiss Mary-Beth good night. He didn’t notice the petrified look of fear in her eyes or the shivering of her body as it passed through the final stages of shock. He kissed her gently on her clammy brow and whispered, “Love you Mary-Beth, beautiful wife. I love you forever.” With that he turned and made his way down the hall to the bedroom, failing to notice that his once beautiful wife had toppled sideways, before landing on the plush rug in front of the couch, head first.
Hugo stayed awake for a while, waiting for sleep to take him away to a dark place. He thought about Mary-Beth and couldn’t help feeling a deep anger and resentment at the way she had deceived him. He had found out that she was planning to leave him through a mutual friend that worked at the office. A night out with the guys from work led to drunken conversations and then one of them had told him directly that Mary-Beth was ‘fucking one of the other reps from the competing Medical Insurance Group across town.’ He dismissed it as rumor at first. After all, they had only been married six months and that kind of thing only happened to other people after years of marriage. However, he had been wrong. As soon as he could, he checked her phone while she was out and found the revelatory text messages from STEVE.
He confronted Mary-Beth and she bluntly told him that she wanted to move out of their new house and that she was going to seek an annulment, failing that, a divorce. He hadn’t handled the news well, maniacally reciting their wedding vows as she hurriedly packed her bags. She ignored him as he continued to plead with her, asking her “why?” The final straw had been when she had dragged her suitcase down the steps to the front door, turned and told him that she had never loved him. That she had been banging STEVE since their engagement party and that STEVE was twice the man Hugo would ever be.
Mary-Beth was his wife, no-one else’s and he would be damned if he was going to let her get away from him so easily. Hugo decided that she would not leave him, ever.
Sleep hit Hugo hard. The blackness came but with it marched the nightmares. He dreamed of Mary-Beth. Flashes of her beautiful smile, slow motion visions of her curvaceous body twisting seductively, and then torrents of blood flooded his thoughts. He saw Mary-Beth bound to the workbench in the basement, the fluorescent light above illuminating her naked body, bound with ratchet tie-downs. He could see the rise and fall of her breast slow, with the effect of the strong sedative he had given her. Hugo started to sweat profusely in his sleep as the dream replayed what he did next to Mary-Beth. He remembered the intoxicated numbness he felt as he fired the Black ‘n’ Decker electric handsaw to life. He held the vibrating saw with one hand and took a giant swig of the expensive cognac he held in the other. He remembered putting the bottle down slowly as if trying to delay what would come next and then, it was as if he fell into a dream, a very bad dream, as he began to remove Mary-Beth’s thin limbs one by one. Dark blood gushed from the fresh wounds, covering Hugo and the workshop, in a visceral spray of warm fluid and flesh.
He briefly worried about electrocution but recalled plugging the saw into a transformer before he began. He also recalled the tension in Mary-Beth’s body as the angry saw bit into her soft flesh. He watched her smooth skin turn from mocha to chalk as her body slipped into shock. As he put the saw down, Hugo felt the first wave of nausea hit him and he threw up violently on the floor as he picked up the glowing iron resting on the shelf above the workbench. He forced himself to push it hard on the bloodied stump of her shoulder, where once her arm had been. He threw-up again as her flesh sizzled and popped as the crude but effective method cauterised Mary-Beth’s horrible wounds. One by one, he completed the process and with a final application of antiseptic cream and bandages, Hugo finished the task and woke from his nightmare.
He sat up in bed trembling as he tried to convince himself the whole thing had been an elaborate nightmare. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself, he knew it wasn’t a bad dream. He got out of bed and made his way into the lounge, finding Mary-Beth facedown in the shag-pile rug. He quickly, but gently, picked her up and took her back to the bedroom, laying her carefully on her side of the bed, before climbing in behind her and falling into a deep sleep. This time, he dreamed a different dream than before.
Days passed and Hugo knew he had to do something. Mary-Beth was no longer drinking the pureed food that he had been giving her through a tube. She felt cold and he began to panic. “I won’t lose you again my love,” he repeated to her as he lay by her side on the bed and stroked her delicate features. “I won’t ever lose you again.”
The seed of an idea began to germinate in his mind as he paced the basement that night. The basement was as clean as the day they moved in. He had spent the better part of a week cleaning it from top to bottom. A ten-litre pail of disinfectant and another of bleach were used to mop down every surface. He had carefully wrapped Mary-Beth’s limbs in newspaper before binding them with masking tape. The next day he spent the morning sweeping fall leaves into a pile in the middle of the backyard.
As soon as night fell, he poured an accelerant on the leaves and stoked the pile with various pieces of timber and flammable rubbish he had found around the house. He placed the wrapped limbs carefully in the centre of the pyre and struck a match. The flames rose high into the air and he was sure he could hear Mary-Beth’s screams as the fire crackled and burned ferociously.
Hugo headed back inside and took Mary-Beth down from her perch in front of the window overlooking the back lawn. A faint smell emanated from her and he realized she had relieved herself. He cleaned her up in the bathtub, careful not to let her slip under the murky water. He towelled her dry and slipped the wedding ring on a gold chain over her bowed head, he had made sure he salvaged it from her hand before he got rid of her useless limbs in the fire. He sprayed her with some deodorant, failing to suppress his disgust as he noticed she was still leaking from various wounds and her skin had the color and sheen of an avocado. He wrapped her in a clean towel, knowing what he had to do now.
Hugo put her back to bed and went downstairs to the garage. He backed the shiny-black BMW out of the garage and headed downtown. It had been easy enough to find out the surgeon’s work address, all Hugo had to do was have a quick look online and he had all the contact details he needed to track him down. He spent the following week driving back and forth, spending hours monitoring the surgeon’s movements outside the plush downtown office where he worked while not in surgery.
Philip Binder Snr, MD was on the homestretch of a successful career in Paediatric neurosurgery and was looking forward to a very comfortable retirement. The last successful operation he’d performed on the Chinese conjoined twins had been the crowning glory of a forty-year run as the principal Neuro-Surgeon at the Portvale Municipal Hospital. He had won various accolades and awards for his pioneering work in the field and was considered by many to be the best.
Hugo had done his research, spending days in the library reading the various publications written by and concerning the surgeon. Hundreds of different medical news archives provided the background of the man via Google and the Internet. The most important part of Hugo’s research was the 20/20 story that he’d recorded, when it replayed a few days after the initial broadcast. He’d sit there at night trying to battle his insomnia by watching the feature story repeatedly. Hugo knew exactly what he needed to do so nobody would ever take Mary-Beth away from him again and the good doctor would be the one to help him achieve his goal.
Hugo tried not to notice the slightly rancid perfume as he wrapped Mary-Beth in a blanket and placed her in the boot of the BMW. He swallowed and took a breath of the afternoon air as he opened the garage doors and let sunlight flood in. He tried not to think too much about the damp dark stain on his shirt-sleeve, where he had cradled Mary-Beth before wrapping her, as he gingerly brushed some residual flesh from his arm. He went to the rear of the garage and took down the Mossberg shotgun from the gun rack mounted above the workbench. It had been a wedding gift from Mary-Beth’s father along with big plans to go hunting in the fall. Hugo had never used it before and lamented the fact that he would never be going hunting with his father-in-law now. He packed the two boxes of shells that came with the gift into an overnight bag and wrapped another blanket around the Shotgun, before placing them both in the boot next to Mary-Beth. “I love you my darling,” Hugo said, as he gently closed the boot.
Hugo waited in the car with the window down as the end of the day approached. The heat from the afternoon sun made the interior of the car rank with the smell of purification but Hugo remained focussed on the mission ahead. He watched the surgeon’s staff leave the small but exclusive office on the town-belt, only a short walk away from the Municipal Hospital. As the last staff member left, Hugo backed the car up to the side exit of the office block and turned the engine off.
He cradled Mary-Beth in one arm and with the other, levelled the shotgun at the doorway as Binder opened the door to leave work. The look of shock on the surgeon’s face propelled Hugo forward, bundling the older man back into his office and locking the door behind him. Hugo placed Mary-Beth upright in a chair in the Surgeon’s waiting room and the blanket fell away, taking with it most of the decomposed flesh from her face. “I want you to meet Mary-Beth, doc,” said Hugo with a too-large smile.
Hugo lay naked on the floor of the office and motioned with the shotgun for the surgeon to approach with his surgical tool kit. Mary-Beth lay beside Hugo naked also. Binder Snr’s hands trembled as he removed various instruments: scalpel, sutures, forceps, and needles, laying them on a cloth next to Mary-Beth’s decomposing corpse. Hugo smiled up from the floor where he lay. “You know what to do Doctor – local anaesthetic first, right?” The surgeon shook his head, still reeling in shock at what was happening in his office. He considered running but looked in Hugo’s crazed eyes and knew the man was completely insane. He knew if he did not do exactly what the thin man said, he would be very dead.
His fingers shook with fear as the muzzle of the shotgun jabbed his mid-section, encouraging him to administer the anaesthetic with a syringe into various junctures along Hugo’s right side, from the ribs down to the hip.
“Where you goin’ doc?” slurred Hugo, as Binder Snr. rose to his feet slowly.
“I need to get some antiseptic wipes,” said the surgeon as he made his way to his desk and removed the sterile wipes from a glass wall cabinet behind his leather chair. He looked over his shoulder briefly and saw Hugo grinning at him from the office floor, holding the shotgun at arm’s length, pointing directly at the surgeon’s head. As he turned back to the bizarre prospect in front of him, the surgeon pressed the small record button on the remote sitting on the edge of his desk. He knew the office security camera would be whirring into life and would at least capture what was happening, even though he felt that he might not get to see the footage or enjoy his coming retirement.
The Senior Investigating Officer leaned over and puked into the waste-paper bin next to his desk. The other officers looked away in disgust as the security camera footage replayed the grim surgery. “I just kept doing what he told me to do,” explained the surgeon, choking back tears. The monitor buzzed with the low-res footage as the bizarre scene showed the surgeon, hunched over the bodies of Hugo and Mary-Beth.
The sound was barely audible apart from an occasional scream from Hugo, as the Surgeon cut and clamped, sutured and stitched. The officers watched as the surgeon rose quickly from the floor, scrabbling out of camera range to reveal the torso of Mary-Beth joined just above Hugo’s hip with a blackened wound laced with tight stitches. Hugo’s head rolled back and forth and a blood curdling scream emanated from the computer monitor, flashes of white exploded from the barrel of the shotgun as he fired wildly around the small office, writhing on the floor. The officers continued to watch the footage in silence, as Hugo appeared to lose consciousness. Nothing stirred onscreen and then the sweat-soaked back of the surgeon appeared and bent down over Hugo and Mary-Beth’s prone forms.
“I’m administering adrenaline and more painkillers at this point,” explained Binder Snr MD, wiping sweat from his forehead with a bloodied handkerchief.
The footage kept playing, the surgeon clearly recoiling from the now-conscious Hugo who had the shotgun levelled at the surgeon’s bald head.
“I should’ve taken that damn rifle off him when I had the chance,” sobbed the surgeon. One of the officers patted him on the shoulder and reassured him that he ‘did all he could’ve done.’ Binder Snr MD looked far from reassured, as the camera footage continued.
Hugo tried to get to his feet and fell sideways with the dead weight of Mary-Beth’s attached torso. His face opened with obvious pain a high-pitched scream exploded from the monitor speakers. He dropped the shotgun on the floor, a flash erupting from the muzzle as it discharged involuntarily. The surgeon quickly darted out of camera range once again.
“This time I ran. I ran out of there as fast as I could and called you guys straight away.”
“You did the right thing sir,” said the grim-faced Senior Investigating Officer.
The younger officers watched open-mouthed as the monitor now showed Hugo holding himself up on the edge of the surgeon’s desk, his arm wrapped around Mary-Beth’s naked torso, blood leaking profusely down his thigh from the now-gaping wound which had split open. Hugo seemed to be talking to his grim appendage, kissing the decomposed face, wiping the rancid flesh from its lips. He was also visibly paler, as he started to slip in the dark pool of blood at his feet.
He let go of Mary-Beth to steady himself and the wound visibly split, her limp body tearing away in a spray of blood as the stitches burst where they joined the bodies. As Hugo tried to regain his footing, Mary-Beth’s body seemed to twitch and then the limb-less corpse reared up. Hugo’s face twisted with terror as he tried to recoil from the swinging corpse attached to his thin frame. Mary-Beth appeared to launch herself at Hugo, the skeletal face animated visibly in rage, black rotting hole of a mouth stretched wide, teeth snapping at his neck.
Hugo collapsed on the floor in the middle of the black pool of blood, the thrashing corpse on top of him, their separate bodies barely discernable now, both covered in slick gore.
Two of the younger officers tried to choke back vomit as they continued to stare numbly at the screen. An arm flailed underneath the heaving mass of flesh and blood, then a thin shiny sliver of steel appeared from under the desk, clasped in Hugo’s clenched fist. The surgeon’s scalpel slashed into the back of his wife’s corpse, hacking and cutting at the mutilated wound that half-joined the two together. As the bodies separated with each slicing cut and Hugo pushed the dismembered corpse away from his own eviscerated body, the camera faltered and started to judder as the recording ended.
“What the fuck just happened?” asked the Senior Officer, a shocked look on his face that offered no hope of any understanding. The surgeon sat in his chair, his sweaty bald head clasped between his bloodied hands. Some of the other officers excused themselves and left the office, while the remaining few shuffled uncomfortably and looked at each other for an answer. The coroner, who had been watching proceedings impassively from the doorway, took two steps forwards and dropped the autopsy report on the Senior Officer’s cluttered desk.
“Two deaths, one by homicide, one by misadventure. The female’s time of death, at least one to two weeks before the male’s. Male neck wounds unexplained, although clearly bite marks correspond with the female dental records and the footage you have just witnessed.”
“How the hell am I gonna write this one up?” asked the Senior Officer to no-one in particular, shaking his head, hypnotised by the folder on the desk in front of him. He picked up the coroner’s report and looked at the folder blankly. He placed it back on his desk amidst the surrounding clutter of forms, case files and reference books, then placed his hand on top of it as if he was about to swear on the good book. The coroner leaned across the desk, picking up one of the rubber stamps heaped in a basket next to the ‘in-and-out’ trays overflowing with paper. He rolled the stamp in the red inkpad next to the phone and bought the stamp down hard on the cover of the report.
‘CASE CLOSED,’ declared the imprint, now emblazoned diagonally across the cardboard folder. The Officer picked up the folder, waving his remaining colleagues from the room before heading to the filing cabinet. He opened the bottom drawer and filed the report at the back of the other copious files marked ‘Case Closed.’ Slowly shaking his head, he repeated, “Case closed,” as he took the half empty bottle of scotch from another drawer, unscrewed the cap and drank half of its contents in a single mouthful, not giving a fuck if anyone saw him do it.
By William Cook