Each afternoon, on his way home from school, Wendell Alexander passed through the Lincolnshire Woods. By following a broad footpath that cut through the southern-most portion of the wood, it usually took him about ten minutes to reach a bus stop on the other side, where his journey home continued punctually at 4:42. The Lincolnshire Woods were considered to be rather safe for unattended children, especially the southern-most portion so close to the main roads. In fact, in the fifty-eight years that the Horncastle Boys School had existed, not one single case of misadventure had ever occurred with any of the students in connection with the wood. Since having turned nine-years-old, Wendell’s parents felt that their son was old enough to come home alone and this he had done for the past seven months without ever missing the 4:42 bus to Silsby.
However, one sunny afternoon in June, just before the end of the school year, Wendell was feeling a bit mischievous. With an exciting summer holiday so near, he decided to venture off the footpath and wander a bit to the north, where the growth of beech trees thickened, giving the wood a more enchanted, knights in shining armour feeling. The sultry temperatures and the dappled, sun-washed air transformed Wendell into a steed-mounted Sir Lancelot in search of Lady Guinevere and before long the child had lost complete track of the time.
Andy, who happened to be napping high among the boughs of a two-hundred-year-old oak tree, was awakened by the sound of imaginary galloping below. Peeping down with one sleepy eye cracked open, he saw Wendell shuffling along the mossy ground, his over-sized rucksack seeming far too large for such a small person. It was odd, thought Andy, to see a sole child so deep in the woods without an adult. Rousing himself from his lofty nest, Andy floated down closer to Wendell and began following the day dreaming little boy.
Before long both Andy and Wendell detected the scent of a burning wood stove. About eighty metres to their north-east a small cottage was visible, with a thin whiff of white smoke drifting out from its double-stack chimney. Wendell stopped, realising for the first time that he might miss his bus. He turned back in the direction of the footpath, hesitating as to exactly where it was. Andy then read a wave of anxiety passing over the boy’s cerebral cortex. Wendell had come too far and what’s worse, he was no longer sure of his way back.
Trying to remain calm and mature, the boy began walking towards the cottage, doing his best to hold back the tears attempting to swell up in his eyes. Wendell hoped that a friendly grown-up lived in the little house and that they would help him get out of his suddenly upsetting predicament. While Wendell nervously made his way towards the cottage, Andy flew on ahead to see who, if anyone, was there.
Upon penetrating the aged brick wall, Andy beheld a very distressing sight. A lone, fifty-two-year-old man, named Clyde Dexter, sat at a long, wooden table; sewing shut the stomach of a freshly stuffed fox. Scattered about the table in every possible direction was a grisly collection of scissors, pliers, sacks of sawdust, jars of formaldehyde and various begrimed scalpels. Pieces of jagged, bright orange kindling popped in the wood stove. Clyde Dexter coughed coarsely. The glass eyes of the fox stared emptily out at the small, dingy rear window as a 7-centimetre long needle pulled shut its gaping abdomen.
Andy let out a worried sigh. The Theta waves radiating from the man’s bald scalp gave every indication of psychopathology. Wendell was just about to knock on the front door and there was nothing Andy could do to protect the child from the unknown whims of Clyde Dexter.
“Yes, what do what?” asked the old man upon seeing Wendell at his front door. His tone of voice was neither rude nor inviting, almost as if he received such a visitor every day.
“Excuse me sir, but I’m lost and I was wondering if I might use your facilities to telephone my mother?”
“You’re from that boy’s school aren’t ya?” asked Mr. Dexter.
“Yes sir, I am,” answered Wendell, barely maintaining his fragile composure. Mr. Dexter looked off into the distance to see if there were any other boys lurking about the trees. This had all the makings of an adolescent prank and he hated being made fun of by youngsters. But after seeing the clear concern on Wendell’s face Mr. Dexter felt fairly sure that the boy truly had lost his way.
“Why don’t you come in then,” he said, clearing his throat and speaking in a slightly softer tone, “what a poor little lad so alone in the wilderness….”
Wendell stepped inside the dim cabin, looking about at dozens of stuffed animals. A gawking brown owl was mounted above a gun case, displaying several different shotguns and hunting rifles. Two sibling weasels stood perpetually erect atop a bookshelf, while numerous other furry, wide-eyed creatures gazed out at the lost little boy with shining, vacant eyes.
“Come closer, my friend, don’t be afraid of my animals, they won’t bite!” laughed Mr. Dexter, exposing his yellow dentures. Wendell saw a telephone hanging on the wall.
“May I call my mother?” he asked again. The strange old man chewed his lower lip, moving over to the kitchen rather than the telephone.
“Oh yes you may,” he said, “in due time… But first you must be thirsty…I’ll fix you a cup of tea… You just relax for a moment and make yourself at home.”
“But my mother will be worried,” insisted Wendell. “I’m terribly late as it is… I should like to telephone her right away.”
“Well,” began Mr. Dexter, once again chewing on his lower lip, “you see, my telephone is not working at the moment… I was expecting someone to come and repair it this very afternoon…. But it appears as though they’re running a bit late.”
“Is there another house nearby?” asked Wendell with rising stress in his voice.
“Another house? Oh no I’m afraid that I’m the only one who lives in this part of the wood.”
“Oh,” sighed the little boy, his eyes having fallen on what appeared to be the fur and hide of a large dog, which lay up against a far wall, like a misplaced rug. Andy remained near the ceiling watching the pensive exchange take place. His position was rather low and so close to the two figures underneath him, that he could name six different sorts of amino acids causing Mr. Dexter’s foul breath. By reading the recluse’s mind, Andy found out that the man was indeed a twisted pervert, who had often entertained fantasies of embalming a human body.
“In my work shop,” began Mr. Dexter, handing his perspiring guest a mug of Earl Grey tea, “I have some very interesting specimens I bet a boy like you would be curious to see. Why not take your tea there, in my back room, where’s it’s more stimulating...”
Wendell, on the verge of crying, followed the peculiar smelling man into a tiny room behind the kitchen area. Once inside this junked-up space, Mr. Dexter offered Wendell a wooden stool, where the boy sat and sipped his tea, feeling more and more as if he was being detained against his will.
“I think I should rather be getting on my way. My mother will probably be calling the police to search the wood for me…”
“But my little friend, it’s only 5:00. You’re not so late as all that! Relax for a few minutes; good old Clyde is going to take care of you.”
Wendell watched Mr. Dexter remove a small cardboard box from underneath his workbench. A plethora of stray feathers, animal hairs, teeth and claws littered the surface of the bench. As soon as Wendell saw a huge Bowie knife resting in a side rack, he could no longer hold back his tears.
“I want to go home,” he wept, looking at Mr. Dexter with pleading, moist eyes.
“Now now, my son,” sang out Mr. Dexter,” don’t worry yourself so. Everything’s going to be just fine.”
“But I don’t like it here,” cried Wendell, now shedding a torrent of large, glassy tears.
Without responding, Mr. Dexter opened the cardboard box, placing it on the workbench in front of Wendell. Inside were two perfectly wrapped and preserved baby bats. A thin twine of string held their mummified bodies together, like two sleeping, dried out mice, placed upon an improbable, miniature pedestal. Another cardboard box contained a collection of long, worm-like creatures Wendell could not identify. They seemed to emerge from there taxidermy frame, reaching out to Wendell’s as if all the little, inanimate things within the room were capable of breathing and stretching and touching. Everywhere he observed, the frightened schoolboy saw stuffed, mounted, preserved and exhibited pieces of miscellany, wrapped, stacked or tucked, here and there, collectively forming a bizarre museum of elaborately modified common materials.
In the meantime Andy had levitated over to the end of the workbench, where he looked down at a crusty, hardening assortment of dishes, spoons, chemicals and decomposing remnants of poisoned birdseed. Putting his attention back on Mr. Dexter, Andy saw him holding up a bottle of formaldehyde close to Wendell’s face, forcing the weeping boy to examine a meticulously preserved foetus of a shrew.
“I want to go home,” he wept. “Please let me go home, sir…”
Mr. Dexter’s heart rate increased. He wiped a trembling hand over his grubby mouth and thought which course of action he was to take. Wendell was quickly loosing his composure. In only a matter of seconds the boy might dart away or begin screaming. The air was close and laced with glue, embalming oils and other malodorous, amniotic smells. For the first time Wendell noticed that the clouds of dark brown mist covering the front of Mr. Dexter’s apron were blood.
Andy closed his eyes, not wanting to necessarily witness what happened next. He plunged himself down into Wendell’s neck and swam out into the current of his carotid artery. Now amid a salty world of hormones and enzymes, Andy let himself go, riding the gushing tide of Wendell’s fear. The quick transition from 10-centimetres only 1-micron in length caused the clammy uneasiness of Mr. Dexter’s workshop to feel very far away. Andy swerved and dove about the child’s right coronary artery, working his way through the aorta and back out again.
Coming to rest upon the biconcave disc of a single red blood cell, Andy sank into its sponge-like mass with a sigh. He rolled about the bright, haemoglobin-coloured membranes, frolicking from one platelet to another, soothed by the sheer shape and colour of the pliable spheroids around him. From his position so deep inside Wendell’s blood stream and with his scale now being microscopic, Andy could no longer hear the sounds within the workshop. The force of the current sustained his gravity; his senses subdued by the thick fluid encompassing his essence.
Tilting his head so that his hearing could penetrate the coursing cardiovascular environment, Andy listened, curious to know the events unfolding within the vast heavens of the Lincolnshire Wood cottage. Remaining very still he could just barely make out a few, muted sounds coming from the workshop. They were the sounds of tearing tape and wrapping cords, the sounds of small, haunted containers and their unexpected contents. From the removed tranquillity of his floating lipoid mattress, Andy heard the sound of random, ordinary objects, improbably brought together, playing the parts of an unlikely, cardboard and glue chamber orchestra. The music these things made was atonal. It passed, inaudibly through all the walls around Andy… Walls made of plaster, walls made of fear, walls made of pericardium, florescent binding tape and imagination.