The Girl-Thing

Sean Williams

The Girl-Thing, detail (Click for Full Image)

(part 3)

Old Jellyhead looked up when they entered the room. His eyes tracked normally as they took seats opposite him, across the narrow desk. Hollister saw nothing but fear in them, although his smell was as vile as the bag's.
"She'll be angry," the old man said.
"Who will be?" Hollister asked.
"She will be." There was an odd emphasis to Jellyhead's reply that suggested he was answering a very different question.
"What were you doing in the toilets?" Moir asked.
The old man looked at her, and Hollister was released from his stare. He hadn't realised until then how intense it was.
"She needs me."
"Don't stuff me around. Answer the question, please. I haven't got time to sit here all day."
"She can't do it on her own. I have to do it for her."
The use of the first person pronoun made Hollister sit up a little straighter. Maybe that counted as progress.
"Do what?"
"She's trying to come through. I don't know where from. She's there, and she wants to be here. She doesn't say why. She just says what. She found the way. She needs me. She can't do it on her own. She's impatient. She cries. She does what she has to do."
Realising that he was hearing a repeat of what the old man had already told him, the first time they had met, Hollister scribbled a note saying that he was going to call Cloe Flavell and stood up.
Moir shot him a look as he left the room, as though she thought he was using the social worker as an excuse to get some fresh air but was more annoyed by not thinking of it first.

Flavell came instantly, dressed in the bright red coat Hollister had noticed in her office the day before. It made her look more alive, as though her skin had absorbed some of its colour. Hollister met her at the desk and took her through.
"He's not making a lot of sense, I'm afraid."
"He wouldn't," she said, her tone scolding. Her eyes were as restless as ever, nervous. "He's a sick old man. You've probably scared him half to death."
When he explained where the old man had been picked up, her lips tightened and she lost some of her coat's reflected vitality.
"Did you steal those clothes?" Moir was asking when Hollister let her into the interview room. Some of the bag's contents had been brought into the room and lay spread across the table. One was a woman's blouse.
"She will be cold." Jellyhead looked up at Flavell as though begging her to explain for him. If she understood herself, though, she didn't show it. "What are you doing here, Mister Emes?" Flavell asked, crossing the room to stand next to him. "They tell me you were caught in a woman's toilet. Is that true?"
He looked from one face to another. "She..." His throat worked and he hunched down in his seat like a frightened child. "People leave stuff everywhere. I can take it, can't I?"
"That's stealing," she said firmly. "You know that."
"Not rubbish. Not refuse. They throw it away."
"Are you saying someone threw out these clothes?" Moir asked.
"That it's rubbish you found?"
"Yes. All of it. She needs it. No-one else does. Why can't she have it?" The old man looked close to tears. Hollister felt a pang of pity as Jellyhead tried to make them understand the skewed reality in his head.
"The cost of living is high. She needs me to find it for her, to put it together. She doesn't want to be hard, but she will if she has to. She doesn't like the darkness. She cries."
"Who is crying, Mister Emes? Can you hear her crying now?"
Jellyhead wouldn't meet Cloe Flavell's eyes. "She says she wants you, but I tell her she shouldn't. The cost is too high. I make sure she only does what she has to do."
"So you're not a thief?" Moir's moue of distaste seemed permanent.
"No." But the old man's had face closed over again. Gone was the look of vulnerable fright; and Hollister could tell that he was lying.
"What about the rest?" Moir pressed. "The hair, the fingernails? Does she want them too?"
"She found a way."
"The shit? The tampons?"
"She is impatient." Jellyhead leaned back into the chair and folded his dirty greatcoat over his lap.
"Fuck." Moir stood and motioned for the others to join her outside. She inhaled and exhaled deeply before talking. "I'm sorry," she said to Cloe Flavell. "This is weirding me out a little."
Flavell nodded. "You're not alone."
"How much do you really know about this guy?"
"Not much."
"His full name would be something to begin with."
"It's Arnold Emes. He has a social security card somewhere; I saw it once, when he showed me where he lives. He used to be in the army, I think, and he gets a medical pension."
"Where does he live?"
She looked from Moir to Hollister. "I don't want to get him into trouble."
"I know you don't, but he's doing well enough on his own." Moir took another deep breath and put on what Hollister recognised as her sympathetic face. "Will you give us his address?"
"He doesn't have a proper address. He lives in the old line I mentioned yesterday. You'll never find it unless you know where it is."
"Will you take us there, then?"
Hollister added his voice to the request. "Please, Ms Flavell. If he has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear from us."
She was just inexperienced enough to believe it. "Okay. I'll take you there. But only if you let me talk to him again."
"When you get back," said Moir, taking her arm. "I'll arrange someone to drive you there while we keep interviewing him ourselves. The sooner we can work out what's going on here, the sooner he can go home."
Or not, Hollister added silently as he steeled himself to face the old man's stare again, and Moir guided Cloe Flavell away.

"I don't know what to make of this," said Superintendent Penglis later that day, in her office. They had just reviewed the tapes of Jellyhead's interview. In it, the old man seemed as deranged as ever—literally, Hollister thought. But he was holding up pretty well, considering; all he'd asked for was a cup of tea, which he had been allowed. "What about you two?"
"I haven't the foggiest," said Moir, rubbing at her temples. "But he's not telling us everything."
"Faking, do you think?"
"I don't doubt it. Do you, Wey?"
He hesitated for a split-second, then thought: To hell with it. "I don't think he's faking. If he's not right in the head, then that's what he is. He can't help that. But there is something going on, yes. He is lying."
"About what?" Penglis wasn't hiding her interest in the lead. If her staff could jump the gun on the Major Crime Squad, she could use the kudos to get out of Polson Street Station and into one of the cushier suburbs. No-one actually wanted to work in Amberley Park any longer than they had to.
"Your guess is as good as mine," he said, quite honestly.
"Oh, come on." Moir rounded on him instantly. "Have you forgotten what we found in the bags?"
"I haven't forgotten, Jane."
"He's hanging out in women's toilets, scavenging—that was your word for it, wasn't it?—for anything left behind. What's he doing with it, do you think?"
The vehemence in her voice surprised him, left him feeling more than a little stung. "I don't know what he's doing, but—"
"Blood, excrement, hair." She tapped them off on her fingers.
"Toenails. Christ, Wey, its something out of a satanic recipe book."
"You think it's cult-related?" asked Penglis.
"I don't know," she said. "But either way, it freaks me out."
"What else was in the bags?" Penglis asked them.
"Fluid. We think it might be water from toilet bowls, probably containing urine. We've sent some to the labs for testing, along with the rest—including a used band-aid. More blood. We'll match it all against the victims'." Moir rolled her eyes. "Then there was hair. And dust. I don't know what that is."
"Skin cells," said Hollister. "Most of the dust in houses comes from our skin. It's grey when it dies."
"See? Maybe he's making a voodoo doll. That's why he wanted his social worker's hair. He wants to control her, make her buy him more alcohol."
"He doesn't drink." Hollister repeated Flavell's revelation for Penglis' benefit; it had surprised him too, until born out by blood tests.
"Then it's pain killers," Moir said, "or arthritis cures. Whatever."
"Who is this woman he talks about?" Penglis asked. "Do you have any idea?"
"None," Hollister said. "It sounds like someone specific, but he hasn't given us anything to tie her down. She could be an abusive mother, a lost sister, a deceased daughter—"
"She could also be a split personality," said Moir. "Part of himself who does things he doesn't like. You hear what he says about her. He's more scared of her than he is of us."
"Cloe Flavell hasn't mentioned anything like that."
"Flavell is an inexperienced, idealistic kid." Moir shifted restlessly in her seat. "For God's sake, Wey, don't let her influence you. She thinks these people can be healed, but they can't. It's too late. Maybe if they'd been treated properly when they first became ill—" "I don't think we can ignore our responsibility just like that," he interrupted. "We can't write him off as crazy just because we caught him mucking around in some toilets. I mean, yes, he's ill and I don't say we should ignore him—but don't paint him as a psycho, either. We don't know what's going on in his head."
"Exactly, and I say we shouldn't give him the benefit of the doubt. You let him go, and who knows what he could do? Maybe he is a lonely old geezer with nothing better to do than walk around all day. Or maybe he breaks into porn shops for kicks when no-one else is looking. Or maybe he kills people. We don't know, Wey, and until we do know I say we keep him here, nice and safe, where we can watch him."
"Guilty until proven innocent?" he snapped. "I'm disappointed in you, Jane. I thought you had more humanity than that." She retreated back into the chair, flushing, and he regretted the words as soon as they left his lips. In the year they had worked together, she had shown him nothing but humanity. But he couldn't call them back, and she didn't respond to them. He could only shut his mouth and wait for Penglis to break the silence.
"Let me get this straight," she said, looking from one to the other.
"You, Jane, think we should keep him here?"
"At least until we've gone over his place." She glanced at Hollister, then back at Penglis. "Can we get a warrant?"
"If he's living in a public space, we might not need one. But you, Wey, want to let him go. Is that right?"
"I didn't say that. He has done something wrong, and he should be made aware of it. But I don't think we have any grounds to do more than fine him. I mean, is it a crime to steal shit and used tampons?"
"I'm sure there's a health and safety act to cover it." Penglis forced a half-smile, but it didn't last. "I'm with Jane," she said.
"He's too much of a wild card to let slip so soon. If we let him go, who says he's not going to disappear? I know it's a long-shot, but suppose he is the Slayer? How would you sleep at night, knowing that we let him kill again?"
Hollister wanted to say that he didn't sleep very well as it was and doubted old Jellyhead did either. "I don't think that's very likely."
"But it's not impossible, and we're not here to take chances. We'll charge him with something minor, put him in the cells overnight and see what that shakes loose. Who knows? Maybe he'll decide to come clean in the morning. And if he does, and if he is the Slayer, I'll personally—" There was a knock at the door. Before Penglis could respond, it opened and the head of Penglis' assistant poked into the room.
"This just came," he said, thrusting a fax forward.
Hollister took it and passed it on to Penglis, catching the title as it went past. A surge of something very much like disappointment, but mingled with relief, went through him.
Penglis scanned the page once, then went over the relevant details again before speaking.
"They've caught him," she stated dully. "They brought him in an hour ago."
"Who?" asked Moir.
"The Amberley Slayer, that's who." She passed Moir the page and leaned back into her seat. Judging by the expression on her face, she was feeling much the same way as Hollister. "Well, shit," she said.
"That simplifies things, doesn't it?"

Part 1 ] Part 2 ] Part 3 ] Part 4 ]

This story was originally published online at
Eidolon: Australian SF Online November 2002.
©2002 Sean Williams
Artwork ©2002 Jeremy Reston

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