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  Viper Wire by Richard Kadrey



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His mornings are the part of the movie they never show you. The part they probably never consider for the simple reason that there's nothing exciting happening. No chainsaws or car chases or screaming debutantes.

But there's blood, at least. In the morning light, it drips a merry crimson onto his bagel. He knows how to cut a bagel: tilt it on its side and slice down toward the cutting board. But he'd had a rough night's sleep and was lazy and groggy enough to hold the thing in his hand and slice toward his palm, something only "a moron or a Yankee would do," as grandpa often put it. He tears half a paper towel off the roll and uses it to staunch the blood. Then he butters the bagel.

He looks into the bright morning sky through the kitchen blinds as he bites into the warm bread. Butter runs out the corner of his mouth, and he wipes it away with the back of his hand. The microwave beeps and he removes a hot cup of instant coffee, blowing across the top as he checks his watch. He's going to be late for work, and grandpa hates that.

Grandpa moved the family from Plainfield, Wisconsin in the early-60s, after the Ed Gein flap finally died down. It was a sorry business, papers from all over the country having photos of old Beatrice Worton's headless corpse hanging like a deer carcass in Ed's barn. And there were all the preserved body parts Ed kept in the house, along with the furniture made from body parts. The news made the whole town look bad. Grandpa got a job with a sheriff's department in Oklahoma and moved on to warmer climes, taking the family and their inheritance with him.

Grandpa had been the original visionary of the family. While on the force back in Wisconsin, it had been the old man's job to burn Gein's grisly human trophies out at the crematorium. Grandpa burned animal parts instead: deer, rabbits and a few of the neighbors yappier dogs. All that free range game made a satisfying pile of ash and bone fragments, enough so that no one asked any questions.

After they moved, Ed's cannibal furniture spend 30 years locked in a single windowless basement room in grandpa's house. Only grandpa, dad and he had keys to the place. Dad was killed by a drunk driver back in '86 and that left just grandpa and the boy to share the secret.  As he grew, the boy coveted Ed's trophies more and more, but never asked when he would inherit the family fortune. He understood that no one hands you something this special. You have to earn it.

He has a unique perspective on the family fortune. The man sees Ed's pieces as the beginning of a collection, not the end. He's expanded on Ed's original work, refining the flensing techniques and bringing in modern technology. At a bankruptcy auction, he purchased a freeze-drying machine from a taxidermy school that had gone belly up. When the local butcher shop ordered a new walk-in freezer, he bought the old one and installed it in the barn. This allowed him to get to specimens when he had the time.

Rushing, he reminds himself, is out of the question. Michelangelo spent seven years on his back painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. He can afford to wait and get things just right. Like grandpa, he fancies himself a bit of a visionary.

Chewing his bagel, he sits in a living room whose walls are papered entirely in human skin. The furniture has been handcrafted from flesh and bone using a mixture of human and animal parts. He retrieves his car keys from a sidetable decorated with vertebrae and padded with dried tongues. Next to his keys lie glossy magazines that came in with yesterday's mail: Architectural Digest, Home and Garden, This Old House and the new Ikea catalog. He can't look at them now, though. He's late for work.

Outside, he gets into his hybrid car (It's good for the environment) and leaves his recycling by the curb. Heading into the office, he never goes over the speed limit. This weekend is grandpa's birthday. He's anxious to show him the progress he's made on the place. And he hopes, a little guiltily, that this will be the year that he receives his inheritance. He's made a lot of improvements, done a lot of work on the place. This could be it, he thinks. This could be the year I'm a man.


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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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