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One of THOSE attendants

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Doctor Mortimer Demke was an honest, respectable man. Whether he was respected as opposed to simply respectable was a difficult question, for from an early age he had shut himself away from the social world and dedicated himself to the study of the mind and mental illness. In the medical community he had found teachers who judged a man by the quality not of his melanin but of his analysis, and after his experiences in grade school, he had never looked back. His life was functional – his daily agenda consisted of walking from his home to the hospital and later from the hospital to his home, apart from shopping when necessary – and he had never dared try to discover whether his medical credentials would win out over his black face. The childish taunts of genetic inferiority that his research had never quite been able to disprove still hung with him in his darker hours, but if there was one audience he could be sure he would be safe with, it was the psychologically impaired. Even those who did hurl slurs at him from behind their bars could safely be discounted as regrettably, deeply unstable.

As such a recluse, it was all the more of a shock to be woken one night not by rats or nightmares but by a tall and slender white woman with enormous hair and wandering eyes. She had forced her entrance into his bedchamber somehow – through the window? but surely he had remembered to lock it that day – and leant over him, smiling, her arms gripping the sides of his bed covers. Above all else, he found his eyes drawn to her face and its horribly wide smile. No, horrible was too strong a word. It was the same smile he had seen on some of his most extremely affected patients, the ones who saw past him into another world and cared not that they happened to be shut away from their friends and family in an asylum. It was this incredible resilience that had first attracted him to the alienist profession, and to see it leering over him was a most peculiar sensation.

The woman introduced herself as Rowena, and he silently traced the name to its Welsh origins of “bright spear,” a fitting title for a woman of such shining eyes and elongated proportions. In response to his stuttered questions, she began to explain her origins. This woman, with her mass of hair and unafraid demeanor, had followed him home – unbeknownst to him, naturally – had broken the bars on her window, followed him to his house, and only learnt his name afterward. Mortimer shuddered inwardly for a moment at what deep conviction could have led a woman to break away from her home and bounds to follow a man whose name she had not yet even discovered. The unassuming face, the inexplicable compulsions, the sudden obsession with him in particular, the fact of bars on her window – all facts pointed towards her as one of the patients at the hospital, although one he had never seen before in his inspections. And yet never had he before seen the various alien features of insanity so pronounced in a single frame, nor such an impossibly elongated body, an inexplicable assortment of angles and limbs, which her dress served to flatter rather than to conceal. Remembering himself, and the proper relationship between a professional alienist and a member of the disturbed, he rearranged his face into no more than a detached skepticism – or so he hoped – and asked if this impossible woman, this Rowena, was indeed a patient.

“I am flattered,” she answered, settling onto the foot of his bed and smiling at a width that should have broken a normal mouth, “that you think I look that human.”

Human…! By the apostles, it was not humanity that had led him to that conclusion. His patients began as humans, to be sure, but they soon entered an alternate reality defined only by factors internal to them whose nature it was his peculiar task to discover. There was no true treatment for such men and women, not really, only endless research and experimentation. By virtue of their insanity they had forfeited their rights of citizenship, and if they were not citizens, assuredly they were not human. That it was that fascinated him and drew him to them, and now something had in turn drawn this one to him. Flattered? Perhaps. But no, he had never intended to call her human. Yet such thoughts did not become a doctor like himself, and with effort, he flung insults at her – all too similar to the ones that had been given him once, in his youth – called her horrific, stress-induced, a hallucination. He had other words for her, to be sure, but those words could not and would not be spoken. A doctor is more than human, and a patient is other than human, and the relationship between them is very particular and not to be disturbed by impure or lustful thoughts.

He spoke, hatefully, viciously, and in response she only smiled. Not the incredible smile of moments earlier, that had defied the nation’s best anatomists to describe, but a softer one. “I do not think I look that horrifying,” she said, and he recoiled at himself, providing the chastisement that she, distant in her own world, could not think to. Here was a woman whose response to his unkindest epithets and cruelest barbs was not to flee, nor cry, nor lose herself in emotion-dampening study, but only to smile softly. Fumbling with his words, knowing now that he could not offend her but still trying desperately to maintain his calm demeanor in the face of such chaos, he apologized. “It’s just that I usually don’t get visitors at three in the morning,” he said at last.

“In my bedroom…

“…ever.”

He had said too much, he knew. Once, in a moment of weakness, he had entered a public establishment in search of women and consortment, and he had foolishly made a similar statement, and the lady he had been speaking to – an elegant maiden, quite out of place among the drinks and dirty jokes – had turned away, unimpressed. The pursuit of virginity and innocence was a man’s territory – to some, prerogative – and women sought rather men of age and experience. Yet this woman who had wandered, joint by luxuriously awkward joint, into his life, had caused him once more to forget himself and admit his pathetic lonesomeness.

Nevertheless, this impossible Rowena displayed neither disgust nor disinterest, but only a worried sympathy that threatened to reverse their relationship altogether. It was the doctor’s job to be concerned, not to show vulnerability, but all that was falling apart under the bulging gaze of his nocturnal intruder. He struggled to remind himself of his profession and responsibilities. An ordinary man in such a position, facing a lunatic strong enough to break the bars on windows who had entered into his room in the middle of the night, should be terrified for his life. “I don’t mean to be rude,” he said – he was unable to be rude to her again, no matter how lightly she brushed off his heartless cruelties as nothing of consequence – “but are you going to kill me?” She frowned, and then… oh Jhesu.

Her arm stretched.

Her arm stretched across the space of the room, curving like an unwinding snake and leaving the edge of her sleeve far behind it in its flight. In a moment all thoughts of dumbfounded anatomists flew from his head as he realized, beyond all reasonable doubt, that his earlier definition of her as inhuman had been more accurate than he had thought to guess. Small wonder this informal phantasm had thought his word “human” flattery, or at least anything but commonplace description. He stared at the arm as it wove through the dusty air, too tired and amazed to ponder properly the phenomenon unfolding before him or to try to determine what manner of bird or beast Rowena could be, if human she were none. A childhood bestiary went unopened in his mental expanses as that arm, that impossible arm, reached the far end of the room. Her fingers, longer than those of any ordinary being, flipped the light switch, and all at once the room was flooded with shines of unexpected artificiality. He could see all four corners of the chamber now, all the furniture and belongings pertaining to his profession, yet that mechanical light shone most brightly of all on Rowena and her enormous locks. The world had been divided into room, and Rowena – patients, and Rowena – humans, and Rowena – Dr. Mortimer Demke, and Rowena.

“Of course not,” she said, seemingly unfazed by the light now surrounding them and threatening to sear away his psychic shields. “I am your attendant. I am lucky to have found you.”

Somehow her arm had receded while he had been blinded by both the sudden light and by his newfound attendant. That one word had shunted away the cobwebs of confusion in his head in much the same way as the physical light small moments previous, and Rowena’s preposterous body with its unthinkable arm, her credulous innocence, and the bars on her window… broken bars… he stumbled through the next several lines of their conversation, trying to remember what he knew of attendants…

…and suddenly, before he even knew what he had said to trigger the reaction, her face was inches from his own, screaming. Her eyes were huge, and suddenly her terribly wide smile became less important than the innumerable teeth that had lurked behind it and now stood before him in pale relief against the mechanical blackness of her screaming mouth. These were no human teeth, nor never had been. Saw blades, perhaps, or some butcher’s graceful delight, that had once dared to prick the arm of royalty in a moment of carelessness and had been requisitioned for use in the attendant shop. In anyone else the effect would have been appalling, grotesque, but he found himself only wondering what those macabre dental devices might feel like against his own skin, should he say something to upset her.

Or, perhaps, to delight…?

“You don’t understand,” she was saying, her spindle arms wrapped around the bed beside him in a twisted parody of embrace. “They made me incorrectly! I am one of the attendants who do not work! I had no choice but to follow you!”

Oh Peter, Paul, and Mary too. No, Mary had no place here, not any longer. This was a time for apostles and their slavish devotion to a higher power in hopes that they might someday receive reward. This was a time for denying that same savior, three times denying her, until finally the whole truth set in, inexorable, unapproachable, immense. He knew now why this construct hunched before him, the ends of her hair falling almost imperceptibly onto his unassuming cheekbones. He had never frequented the public establishments, truly, he was too good an alienist for such tawdry dealings, but when he had visited there, he had heard tales of the attendants who went wrong. The attendants who were not generalized care takers, pride and wonder of a nation that had before then celebrated constantly its newfound robotic dogs, but who instead catered specifically to a very certain need. Somehow she had spied him from her window and known, without knowing so much as his name or address or even career, that he was a man who lacked in just that sole thing she knew how to provide. Nobody understood why the broken attendants behaved this way, dedicated themselves exclusively to a task that their more standard cousins would never stoop to entertain for even the most gentle of masters, but a pattern, once described, is unbreakable. Still, he could not be the one to say the words. It would have to be Rowena who broke down the uncertainty and defined herself as the perversion of the natural order that she was.

“So… you’re one of those attendants?”

His words faltered, for he could not risk his voice betraying the disgusting hope that underlay it. If he was mistaken, then Rowena could never know what indecency he had for one moment presumed about her. No one could ever discover the immoral desires that lurked within his black heart, nor their cause, lest they strip him of all he was in the world. But a moment later, she settled back, a dejected frown on her face – and oh, but how he longed to climb from beneath those bedclothes and wipe that frown away even as she had bent apart her more material prison – and gave him the affirmation he had scarcely dared hope for.

“Yes. You may have heard of us.

“We are not good like correctly-made attendants. We only make dirty, we do not clean.

“We exist to fulfill urges, and where those urges do not already exist, we create them.

“We live to serve.

“We are sex machines.”