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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



The Winter Haven Leviathan


Kirsylinski poured water over his great white head. His skin was larval white. Like an earthworm, he hadn't seen the sun in years. In fact, there was something worm-like about Kirsylinski's entire body. He was immense, a fat man of such gargantuan proportions that he was forced to spend his life buoyed in the water filling his immense tub, bobbing there like a giant jellyfish. The tub was lined with hand-made Spanish tile and the fixtures were polished copper. The tub was large enough to hold five or six ordinary men, but there was barely enough room to contain one Kirsylinski. The tub was why he'd bought the house, using up a great part of the fortune he'd saved exhibiting himself around the world on the freak show, or "human oddities," circuit. Back when there had still been a circuit.

Kirsylinski had seen the world a dozen times, traveling with his extraordinary friends — rubber-limbed women; dog men, alligator men and bird men. There had been dark-eyed beauties with extra arms, and boys with no arms or legs who crawled like snakes and sang with the voices of angels. There had been a two-headed hermaphrodite, and a psychic mermaid named Lola who did underwater tarot readings.

They were all gone now. Some were in jail. Most were dead, of age and alcohol. Thirty years before, some had simply hung themselves when they'd seen where things were headed. "They've killed us with kindness," Lenore, the Human Pin Cushion, had said.

When the traveling carnivals had begun to disappear in the age of television and drive-in movies, it had been bad enough. But when it was decided that the world no longer wanted or needed its special children to exhibit themselves for profit, it was a death blow. Did the good and ordinary citizens really expect a man with alligator skin or a woman with flippers where her legs should be to get a job down at the Dairy Queen? Perhaps pursue a career in law enforcement? Or teach their children?

"They hate us," Kirsylinski had said to Lenore. "Not for our imperfections. They hate us because we're incomprehensible to them. We contain mysteries. The ordinary hate mysteries."

Soon after, Kirsylinski had moved into the old mansion in Winter Haven, Florida. He would have invited Lenore, or any of his fellow freaks, to come and stay with him, but they'd scattered quickly and disappeared, until they turned up in the obituaries or as special interest fillers in the tabloids. "Contortionist Hangs Herself With Own Limbs." Kirsylinski was the last one left.

Kirsylinski was no longer a young man. Even the water could barely soothe his bloated flesh. His skin was covered in boils and suppurating sores. Some days it was hard just to breathe. Kirsylinski could no longer eat, yet his bulk continued to expand. He could no longer even lean forward to reach the tap and refill the tub. The water level was falling and his enormous body was drying out and sagging.

Despite these agonies, Kirsylinski dreamed of the future. He longed to leave something behind besides yellowed photos and sideshow banners. Kirsylinski composed a string of eulogies in his head, for himself and his long-gone friends. He couldn't write any of the good ones down, of course. Even if he'd been able to reach a pen and paper, his hands were much too big to hold them.

Kirsylinski's swollen heart stopped one hot night in June. His end wasn't pretty. The water in his tub had evaporated days before and by the end, his great white body had begun to crack like a hard-boiled egg.

Something poured from Kirsylinski's wounds. The tub filled with a thick, pale discharge that slid down his torso into the drain. The fluid poured across the floor and oozed between the window frames, down the gutters, and into the sewers. Anyone passing by would hightail it out of there, thinking they'd seen a toxic spill. What they probably wouldn't notice was how the fluid moved uphill, or how the liquid fingers didn't just flow with the twists of the narrow streets, but reached out as if with a purpose.

The ooze filled the storm sewers and ebbed down the corrugated pipes, overflowing manhole covers and drainage grates. It poured into rivers from runoff shafts, spreading in a slow motion tidal wave.

The flood moves resolutely, gliding along hidden waterways, drowning rats, and bubbling up to mingle with the tea-colored waters of the Everglades. It heads for the resort towns along the coast, toward Miami, the Keys, and Disneyland. In the morning, the flow will swamp Space Mountain and flood the Haunted Mansion. The streets of the magic kingdom will run wild with terror and wonder.


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Richard Kadrey is a member of a small group of innovative writers, including William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, John Shirley, Pat Cadigan, Tom Maddox, and others, who changed the face of science fiction in the 1980s. He also creates art. He lives in San Francisco.

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