The Shrieking Flesh

Chapter Five

Ken Preston

29 April 2024

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A German expressionist illustration of a dark angel with frayed wings.

Sylvester Erasmus-Barrett took the stairs down into the darkness, stepping with care to avoid setting off screams of protest from his hips and knees. Every day, another part of his body failed him. If it wasn’t his joints and bones, it was the soft, fleshy parts. His liver, his heart, his prostate, his eyes, his life had become a never ending litany of failing organs and crumbling bones.

At the bottom of the steep stairs, he paused to catch his breath and let his eyes adjust to the gloom. A faint ticking filled the silence, like the sound of a stilled car engine cooling down.

‘Hello?’

His voice bounced off the bare walls before being swallowed up by the dark.

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Although he couldn’t see it yet, Erasmus-Barrett sensed the basement was much bigger than he had anticipated. Perhaps it was a nuclear bunker. They were appearing everywhere now. Graves for the living, he called them. Erasmus-Barrett welcomed the prospect of nuclear annihilation. At least he would have some blessed relief from his hips and knees.

‘Hello?’

Erasmus-Barrett’s eyes could make out shapes in the gloom. Structures of some kind. Nothing moved. Was he on his own down here? Was someone playing a stupid joke on this old man, an old man who had nothing but pain and infirmity left to look forward to for the rest of his life?

A light clicked on, illuminating the basement with a soft, red glow. Erasmus-Barrett’s hand tightened on his walking stick.

So, a little of the mystery was now revealed, and yet it only served to deliver yet more questions.

Erasmus-Barrett twisted to gaze up the stairs, at the daylight spilling through the open doorway. Now that he thought about it, he realised he could hear the faint rumbling of London traffic. But as he watched, the door swung shut with a click, cutting off the sounds of life and people.

Erasmus-Barrett turned back to face the basement. The single sofa facing the white cinema screen tempted him with its offer of temporary relief from the agony of standing.

Besides which, it looked as though someone wanted him to watch a film. He patted his pockets, automatically searching for his pen and notebook. But it had been many years since he had last reviewed a film for the monthly Screen Bulletin.

Erasmus-Barrett shuffled across the bare concrete floor to the sofa. With a sound somewhere between a sigh and a grunt, he settled into the soft cushions. Gazed up at the blank, white screen. A tiny thrill of excitement coursed through him. How many years had passed since he had sat in a cinema, waiting for the film to start?

Far too many.

A flickering image appeared on the screen. White letters on a black background, jittery and out of focus. There was no sound.

The flickering calmed down, and the words became sharp enough to read.

The Shrieking Flesh.

Directed by Max Jakel.

‘What is this nonsense?’ Erasmus-Barrett muttered.

The title disappeared, and the screen turned black, apart from the flickering of damaged film stock.

A scream cut through the silence, piercing and exhausting until finally tapering away into a curdled whimper.

Erasmus-Barrett patted his pockets for his notebook and pen, forgetting he had already searched for them.

No one alive had seen The Shrieking Flesh, and it was believed to be long lost, destroyed on the order of Universal executives after a private screening in 1951.

Now Erasmus-Barrett thought he detected the sounds of industrial machinery, gears grinding, pistons pumping, and the hiss of pressurised steam. As the sound increased, an image slowly appeared in the velvet black screen. A pair of eyes in extreme closeup, wide with fear, flicking from side to side.

Erasmus-Barrett could barely catch his breath.

He gripped the handle of his walking stick and watched as The Shrieking Flesh gradually revealed its horrors.

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