[Not read Part I yet? Why not?! Get your eyeballs round THIS]
Dressed and ready for the show by his wife, Mr Pulcinella had been tucked up in bed, to which he offered only minimal resistance due to his now pulsating head. Irritated rather than unnerved by her husband’s denouncement of his duties, Mrs Pulcinella reasoned a visit from the Doctor should restore her husband’s melancholy in time for curtain up. The show would not be missed. Rather, the show wouldn’t let itself be missed.
Within the comfort of his undemanding bed Mr Pulcinella felt his head ease and his eyes become heavy as lead. He drifted away from his madding world, soothed by the promise of sleep. Almost at once he found himself quite awake, although unable to see through the darkness, aware only of the damp cold that clawed at his skin. He held himself, shivering and completely naked. Frozen breaths caught at his stinging nose. Breaths orphaned of architect.
“What is this? What is this?”
A vapour of mist boiled from the darkness, coiling and circling like supple arms through the void, up and around, through and out of Mr Pulcinella. The voluminous mass overwhelmed him, taking his breath before it began.
Spluttering for air, he coughed and wheezed and appealed to the dead skies above. “Master?”
A laugh from behind made him turn like a twisted spring. He faced only shadowy clouds. The bodiless laugh moved around him, sometimes loud, sometimes a soft giggle, but always fixed upon him.
“Please, please, what is this? What is this?” he begged.
“I’m behind you!” The voice laughed again as Mr Pulcinella turned again to face only the dark.
“Master, is that you?”
“You pathetic mule,” it laughed. “Poor Pulcinella with his poor little cold. Aw, does he want some nice soup and a punch in the guts?” Not given time to answer, Mr Pulcinella bent double with pain as a force without form crashed into his naked belly.
“You think that will help, Mr Punch? Huh? Mr Punch? Mr Punch? Mr Punch?” Every utterance of his altered name brought a potent blow to his body.
“Forgive me, sir!” he cried in a caught breath.
The voice laughed at the trembling fool. “Your ailments would have been far more severe had I not relieved you of your perilous mortal lives, is that not so, Mr Pulcinella?”
“Yes, yes, my Lord. You indeed saved us from an awful cruelty. My wife. My child. Myself. Thank you. Thank you.”
“Yet you seem to be willing to rebel on our deal for the price of a runny nose. You shall perform for me, you will do your work, and I will provide security for you and your family, forever. Was that not our deal?”
Each word slid its way through his body like pins of ice, but Mr Pulcinella gritted his teeth and was granted a breath, “My Lord, Chief of the Devils, the security you afford is at a price I struggle to pay.” Tears welled in Mr Pulcinella’s wide eyes, awash with the horrors which he had sought to escape with this unbearable deal. “I wished security in my work, yes, so that I may provide for my family. So desperate we were. So blind of the tragical tale my request would weave, I did not know of the endlessness of our toil, sir. I am desolate of desire for life, and my family hates me for the blessings I have provided them. I did not realise the price of my desires, my lord. I am a fool, The King of Fools, to have wished for such gifts of unimaginable sorrow!”
“Nevertheless, our agreement stands. The request you made has been granted. Claiming ignorance is no defence for your vain ambitions of relinquishment, and as such you mock me.” Anger surged through these last words sending Mr Pulcinella’s quaking body to the floor.
Silence stalked about him. Then he felt an icy cold tickling at his feet, crawling up his collapsed legs, and, as he struggled to stand, he saw that he was surrounded by glistening water.
“What is this? What is this? My Lord?”
In reply the waters thickened, gushing from white foam all around him, bubbling its way upwards with no abatement. It reached his knees, his waist, his chest, and the frigid chill prevented the screech from leaving his body.
“And so you’d rather choke your immortal life away would you?” said the voice from the emptiness.
The water rose, and Mr Pulcinella panicked. “No, no! I do not wish that, my King of the Wicked.”
The water gushed around him, the white noise of it drowning out Pulcinella’s screams for mercy. Then, as suddenly as it had arrived, the water vanished, and he was left within the swirling mists once again, his numb body shaking violently.
The silence wrapped itself around the sobbing Pulcinella once more, making him jump in fright at the nothingness. Untrusting of his senses, he searched the darkness, and caught a timid movement before him. The glow flickered, and he could make out a flame of light. The small flame came closer, followed by more small flames, hopping gaily, clearing the mist as they came towards him.
“What is this? What is this? My lord?”
The flames sprang from all around, hundreds, thousands. They gathered at Pulcinella’s feet as if taking in his towering form. A single flame hopped, then jumped and landed upon his chest.
He tried to sweep it off with his trembling hand, but the flame wouldn’t move. He tried to dampen it out with his still moist arm, but it wouldn’t extinguish. Another flame hopped from its grounded post and landed atop Pulcinella’s head.
“Ow! Ow! My flesh burns! Get off! Get off!”
He beat at himself as one by one the flames took hold of him, each hopping to an unburnt spot and setting it alight with white fire.
“And so you’d rather burn your immortal life away would you?” said the voice from the depths of infinity.
“No, no! I do not wish that, my Prince of Demons. Please, spare me!”
The flames grew, arching over Pulcinella and engulfing his screaming body fully. Then, as suddenly as it had arrived, it vanished, and he was left within the swirling mists once again, his blistering body stinging with every slight movement.
The silence prickled at his crusty skin, disrupted only by Mr Pulcinella’s pitiful weeping. Every movement cracked and ripped, but he could not control his mournful shuddering. Between these horrifying sensations something beneath his skin crawled. In the palm of his hand he saw a wiggling mass below the surface of the fried crust. The small worm pushed at its covering, and forced its way out of Mr Pulcinella’s hand, writhing in the misty air. One by one the wriggling annelids beneath his skin burst forth. Then more. And more. Pulcinella squealed as a thin red worm punched its way through his eyeball. His nostrils filled with a yellow squirming mass of long stringy bodies. Worms of all shapes and sizes pushed their way out of his skin, undulating around the foggy air, not wishing to leave him but instead content half in, half out of their host’s body.
“And so you’d rather be eaten alive for time immortal?” said the voice from the blackness.
“No, no! I do not wish that, my Majesty of the Shadows.”
The worms continued to force their way out of his ears, his nose, his mouth, impeding his speech. “I can….blo…aggh…!” The worms invaded his throat, his stomach, his legs, his feet, breaking through the skin in between his toes. Then, as suddenly as they had arrived, they vanished, and he was left within the swirling mists once again, blank with terror.
The silence was broken with the steady, unsettling voice. “And so I think you have decided, Mr Pulcinella. Your souls for your lives, your services for your security, and that’s the way it will be done.”
Mrs Pulcinella shut the kitchen door to drown out Teenage Lobotomy a little before answering the knock of Doctor Beggar, whom she promptly dispatched to her husband’s first bedroom on the left. The Doctor knocked gently on the door. “Mr Pulcinella.”
The lump within the duvet squirmed, then sat bolt upright and checked himself for remnants of the dream. The warning. Although he had no physical signs, the torture had awakened an inspiration. He could feel it, somewhere. His large head lolled and he slumped back into the soft pillow, his scattered mind pulling together the pieces of his troubles and sculpting them into a course of action. Mr Pulcinella grinned.
Knock, knock, said the door. “Mr Pulcinella? It’s Doctor Beggar. May I enter?”
Storing away his wry smile, Mr Pulcinella resumed his sickbed demeanour and replied feebly, “You may enter, Dottore.”
On entering the room the Doctor took in the stench of sulphur and sweat for only a moment before bringing a handkerchief to his mouth. Placing his Gladstone bag on the bare floorboards at his patient’s bedside he undid the clasp while he made his initial assessments.
“Now then, Mr Pulcinella, what seems to be troubling you?” said the Doctor while taking the temperature of his patient’s flushed forehead.
“I think I am dead, sir.”
“You’ll be pleased to hear I disagree.” The Doctor pulled away the covers revealing a ragged red and yellow suit intricately decorated with gold thread.
“I have been killed by that evil son of mine in conspiracy with life itself. Infected by humanity. Rabid with disease!” The doctor didn’t consider the ravings of his patient important, but let him continue as a poultice of purge. “My dealings do not afford the luxury of illness. Three hundred years of the same show, night after night, come injury or disembowelment, no matter if we are dying of the lurgy!”
“I think it unlikely you will die, Mr Pulcinella.”
“La vergogna! The disappointment!”
“People don’t tend to die from a cold.”
Mr Pulcinella scowled at Doctor Beggar, silently admonishing him for his misunderstandings.
“To live in perpetuity. To endure the never ending. Oh Dottore, what may I die of, if you please?” Mr Pulcinella wheezed into a long coughing session, dramatically emphasized at every fourth cough. When he’d finished, the Doctor pressed lightly on the temples of the man before him. “Does it hurt here?”
“Some. But also lower, I think.”
“Here?” The Doctor’s hands slid down the patient’s chest.
“Some too. But also lower.”
The patient jumped a little as Doctor Beggar prodded his kidney. “Here?”
“Oh, yes, yes. But lower still, Doctor.”
“So it is your legs that hurt?”
“Lean in, lean in, sir. To the side of this leg, I think. Avvicinati, Signor.”
The Doctor leaned over the bed to examine the outer edge of his patient’s left leg but instead received a knee squarely in his eye.
“My eye! My eye!” exclaimed the Doctor, hand held over his wounded eyeball which now blended many new colours together before him.
“Ahh haha haha haha!” wheezed the perpetrator. “That’s the way to do it! Don’t you agree, Doctor? Ahah haha ha ha hahaha!”
While his patient was still contorted in hysterics the Doctor rummaged in his bag with his free hand.
“Ahahaha haha ha ha! And what are you doing now, Doctor? Gonna give me some medication? Some drugs? Something for the dolore languido?”
“Some physic, sir” and the Doctor cracked his patient across the head with a thick wooden slapstick. “Some physic for your hurt.”
“The pain! The pain!” Backwards and forwards the stick continued its thwacking of its target.
“My throbbing head does not like your physic! Ahi! Dolore!”
“Ah, that means you need more!” The Doctor continued to crack Mr Pulcinella across the head.
“Stop! Stop! Ahia!”
“The more you take the more good it will do.” Legs thrashed, arms flailed, and the Doctor held still. “You think you feel better now, Mr Pulcinella?”
“Oh, I do, I do. I do feel very much better now. Grazie, Doctor,” groaned Mr Pulcinella. “Your physic is of the highest quality, one of an experienced and self-tested man.”
“Oh no, doctors don’t partake in physic themselves.”
“Really, sir? But you are so accurate with your practice, such excellent judgement, and with a finely crafted tool such as this!” Springing atop his bed, Mr Pulcinella grabbed the stick and promptly started beating the Doctor around the head and shoulders, occasionally issuing a lower blow when defences were occupied higher up.
“See how masterful you are in comparison? Ahah ahah haha! Vedi! Vedi!”
“Sir, no! Physic is for patients only!” But the Doctor’s pleas failed to placate the pounding stick.
“Oh, but you must take it, Doctor. Take your own medicine.”
“I think I’ve had sufficient dosage now, sir.”
“Oh, in my professional opinion, I don’t think so. If you take enough physic you might die! How exciting for you!” Mr Pulcinella gave a couple more hefty blows and then relaxed into a thoughtful pose. “I wonder, can you feel the physic in your insides?”
The Doctor spluttered for breath. “In…in your insides, sir?” He coughed out a breath and struggled to replace it.
“Yes. In your insides. Let’s see shall we?!” With a satisfying thrust the stick lodged itself into Doctor Beggar’s stomach. “Now, Dottore, can your physic cure that, hmm? Hmm? I can’t hear your answer, Doctor. Speak up!” The blood spread from the Doctor’s gaping mouth and he left this world as he’d arrived in it, curled and unbreathing.
Mr Pulcinella’s manic laughter broke just in time for him to hear the knock at the front door. He raced down the stairs, eager to beat his wife, and also to get to the door first.
Mr Savant heard a familiar tune wafting from the kitchen as the door opened. He’d worn his gloves this time, to keep off the chill.
“Ah, my neighbour. Amico mio. What is it I can do for you this fine, fine day?”
“Yes, sorry to bother you again, it’s just the…well, the…”
“Spit it out good neighbour!”
“Yes. It’s the music, you see. Still a bit loud. Lots of thumping. We’ve already broken three grandchildren from the vibration, you see.”
“Ah, a fine pastime. You must be congratulated!”
“Oh, no, no, I mean…” stuttered Mr Savant.
“Perhaps a celebratory tune for compagno mio!”
“Photographs…” managed the neighbour as Mr Pulcinella grabbed an impossibly large brass bell from his inside pocket and started ringing it to a tune of his own making, accompanying it with his own squeaky voice.
“A neighbourly neighbour is our neighbour, Savant. He really is such a massive…”
“Mr Pulcinella, I really must insist that you keep the noise down,” stuttered Mr Savant, now feeling the anger needed in order to get the words he meant out. “My wife and I will be forced to call the police if you do not.” The bell was shoved as close to Mr Savant’s pinched face as the door had been previously.
“What noise?” said Mr Pulcinella with exaggerated curiosity, and rang the bell forcefully at his neighbour’s nose.
“That music. That bell. You!”
“That bell.” Mr Savant pushed at the bell with his finger, making it ding pathetically in front of him.
“That’s not a bell, Mr Savant. That’s a pipe.”
“I’m sorry?” The confusion made the anger burst forth. “That is a bell, Mr Pulcinella.”
“I say it’s a pipe. Bella musicale!” He rang the bell vigourously. “Tuneful, no?”
Brass is solid, and Mr Pulcinella was quite fond of the indent it made on his neighbour’s forehead. Mr Savant didn’t seem so fond of it, staggering back a couple of steps at the force of the blow. “What do you say it is now?”
Rubbing his forehead gently, the confusion and subsequent panic Mr Savant felt urged him to say something by way of mediation between him and the bell.
“A bell,” he managed.
“A bell? I say it’s a drum! Would you like to see it up closer?”
The sight of his neighbour charging at him with a brass bell, now a weapon, enlivened Mr Savant’s fight of flight instincts which directed him to defence and submissiveness. “I do, sir,” he wailed, “I do, it is. A bell. No, no, a pipe.” The blows rained down on his torso, his attempts to shield himself inadequate. “A drum! It is a drum!” He continued to scream this phrase as he frantically ran to his own house, slamming and locking the door behind him.
[Well, we’ve all lost it occasionally I’m sure, but will Mr Pulcinella ever regain himself? What Ramones based tune will The Baby play next? And where the hell is Mrs Pulcinella?? All will be revealed in next week’s #52Stories.]