Inside Kim—beneath the skin of his civilisation, and despite his language and rationality, his intellect and tolerance, scepticism, self-awareness and humour—there is a lonely savage from the caves, bent on pure first-degree survival, blown by chance and the primal drives of instinct and emotion, alone and uncertain on a dart from birth to death. It grunts, howls and gibbers, under his surface, throughout the brief warm span of his existence. And beyond those noises there is silence. Kim’s Olympian compassion is apt to obscure this savage in him, but it must still be there somewhere, even in him; which is enough to make Herb want to lay it bare.
Herb lands a hook into Kim’s deep-buried savage, wrenches Kim out of Jaymi’s grasp, whisks him off and lands him in an ancient sliver of primeval woodland hidden in the depths of an English moor, marked on no maps but called Spindle Wood, where the rasp and caw of rooks in pink-fruited spindle trees is the same as it was a thousand years ago. I know this place, thinks Kim’s savage in the wood. Ages ago, with the tree-snakes. Back when the screech-owls, black upon the sky, sat hunched on the branches above me in the dusk.
He finds a girl in a clearing, with long black hair and the warmest eyes of brown. As her eyes take him in, her smile fades. “I can see myself in your eyes,” she says with growing paranoia.
Night sinks around them.
She looks at him more, then in sharp terror cries “Oh my god”—then recovers, but refuses to explain why she cried out.
She stares … then she sees it in him. “You're a closet murderer,” she whispers.
There’s no one else here in Spindle Wood except him and her. But out beyond that fearful gap of two or three metres that always surrounds him, separating him from the rest of the human race, he can almost sense a multitude of figures gathered as far as he can see, up the banks of a grand bowl of moorland beyond the wood, arrayed in muttering quiet while their eyes all chant at him, accusatory: “Murderer… Murderer… Murderer…”
He becomes paranoid and anguished, and then more paranoid because his anguish is visible, about what she is thinking and what he is supposed to have done—so that at last he begins jumping up and down in fear and impatience, sneering and snarling at her, “What is that meant to mean?”
His leaps soon attain a supernatural height and violence, as high as three metres off the ground, and he feels his Kim-savage face contorting into a grimace of ferocious terror as he shouts at her, “What is that meant to MEAN?” again and again—his shouts becoming more anguished with every repetition, growing ever more painfully shrill, twisting up inside itself into a bestial wail, then higher still, to a whine like a wounded animal’s shriek.
Staring at this unhinged performance, the girl with long black hair and the warmest brown eyes becomes ever more terrified of Kim, her perception and estimation of him forever damaged by these convulsions he’s subject to—whereas in reality he hadn’t wanted to frighten her at all, of course he hadn’t, despite this uncontrollable savage snarl erupting out of him without relent—and now those warm brown eyes are irredeemably alienated while he snarls on in anger and pain, when all he’d wanted was to draw her towards him in gentleness, in sweetness, in peace.
…And what a helpless, hopeless, sad and permanent fuck-up this is, that’ll have stained both his life and her life forever.
Jaymi has been snarling in indignation himself, to see his new Beast so infernally sabotaged, and at last he succeeds in halting Herb’s hack: he slams shut the breach in Kim’s defences, then reverses Herb’s damage with multiple batch-reverse commands, thereby consigning this animal stain on Kim’s interior life to the category of alternate histories that never happened.
Exhaling after such an effort, he sinks back into his seat, looking up into the empty sky. Yes, Herb is doing pretty well, isn’t he, hacking away through his keyboard over there in his smug little cottage on Lindbrook Drive in Westwood Village, mutilating the compassionate subtlety of Kim Somerville into some cartoon monster.
Snuffing out the light of mind, for a lark, dragging everybody down.
How boring and how ugly.
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