The Tickling and Self-Mutilation Factory

by Jonah Howell

Another workday and Edgar walks steadily over even concrete rectangles. Some steps hit cracks and some miss. He allots no attention to it. Let us say this is sign one of his inhumanity. He is in the business of manufacturing peace so we must assume him inhuman.

Step. Step. Step. Stepcrack. Step. Inhale. Exhale. Look up: Street sign. Left step step stepcrack stepcrack step step step right step push enter (through a glass door).

Edgar considers himself a supremely happy man. Surely he is one. He considers himself one and all others consider him one, and emotions paint his face blindly, so he can’t be unhappy.

He greets a co-worker. Handshake how are you good how are you good nod nod step step step. He allots no attention to it. His co-worker had the night shift and is not actually good. Morose would have fit his co-worker’s demeanor far more accurately but Edgar has not yet worked his shift and is therefore happy. He arrives just a few minutes early to beat the crowd of hundreds. His job requires no skill, no education, no competence. Just happiness. Edgar has this so he’s perfect. He’s perfect so he’s happy. This goes on.

Edgar, short pudgy cherubic Edgar steps through another glass door. He is the first in a line of hundreds of variably short pudgy cherubic individuals. He smiles. A crowd around the room meets his smile with eagerness.

(The room: Metal, glass, shining things. A heptagon. Open space in the middle and a heptagon of glass walls and eager grave suited people behind them. Like a sterile serene bullfight.)

Edgar keeps smiling. He giggles a little and his little rosy cherub cheeks jiggle. Some of the eager people move closer to the glass walls.

The ceiling above Edgar opens and births a sterile angular mechanical arm falling toward the little cherub like an accordion unfolding or a mystery plot. The arm uncurls its end to reveal needle fingers, oh so long and tapered to nothing. One of the people behind the glass jizzes and faints. Others around the fainter pop ammonia capsules and slap, and the fainter awakens with no reference to his dark crotch stain. No one allots attention to it. The needles click against each other. A deep red liquid oozes down from the ceiling through a tube interwoven with the gears and steel rods of the sky-arm. Edgar nearly loses his shit trying not to laugh, little cheruby cheeks reddening. It’s adorable. People press themselves to the glass walls, snouts spreading out unattractively, leaving little oil dots. Sweat is starting to show through some of their tasteful charcoal suits.

Red ooze reaches the needles and emits from their tips in a sort of bubble. The needles looking more and more like Dali-esque amanitas mushrooms, Edgar’s laughtersoaked eyes widen. Huge. Think anime close-up but less angular. The little cherub actually pisses himself in anticipation and steel underfoot opens in tiny pores to drain it. All expect this.

Piss. Piss piss piss convulsive laughter is this a grand mal? cramping laughter pudgy hands clutching jiggly mirthful sides and sky gear arm needle mushrooms hardened like rubber and eager noses break against the glass.

Mushrooms descending to the heavy-breathing cherub. No laughing now. Eyes expanded over his whole face, inhumanly wide with anticipation and fixed by invisible hooks to the mushroom-needles.

Needles hover over Edgar’s torso for a second. One of the two sky-arms drifts from above his torso down to his knee and back, repeat, repeat. Blood streams from broken eager noses behind the glass walls and anticipatory sweat begins to fog the walls. The arms are waiting. Building. All the noses should break but Edgar’s, the little smooth round knob.

One set of needle-mushrooms stop above Edgar’s exposed right knee. His eyes inflate to more than face-size, extending almost to his clavicle. Too much. Too far. A single needle extends, pushed on in precision by a hydraulic pump. It begins to vibrate. Think mushroom-tipped tattoo gun, longer needle. The extended needle tracks across the fat pink of Edgar’s knee and drags along the back of it.

Edgar explodes, actually thrashing with laughter. Air bags extend through the steel floor’s piss pores, so Edgar’s thrashing becomes jerky bouncing. The mushroom needles follow, tickling the shit out of him, ruthless vibrating mushrooms attacking ribs and knees and footsoles with inescapable agility. Echoes of a rapturously laughing Edgar feed through microphones and amplify behind the glass walls: Broken noses begin to shake, beating against the glass. The blood running from them splatters the charcoal suits. Echoes, bombarding echoes, beating echoes.

This goes on. Edgar flails and erupts in hysterics, needle-mushrooms follow him, manipulating his body to laughter, an absurd marionette show. Echoes contort and pummel the eager noses behind the quickly fogging blood-patterned glass.

Edgar tries to fight off the mushrooms, swiping at them pudgily, bouncing over thick air bubbles and laughing his ass off. They are too fast. One needles swipes aside his flailing desperation while four more extend and induce the flesh atop sensitive ribs to convulsing hilarity. Helpless he flails and flops, thrashing careening bounding seizing contorting twisting and

it stops. It all stops. The needles rendered immobile just hang from limp gear-arms. Their mushroom caps fall off. Air bags deflate and return to their pores, and certain pores widen to gobble up the mushroom caps. A rapidly panting Edgar sits awkwardly sweating and quiet. Jets of water douse the glass wall, draining the blood and sweatfog into pores under the feet of eager noses, noses once more pressed against a cleaned glass. Eagerness abounds.

From the ceiling extends another gear-arm. It unrolls and presents a small scalpel. The rest of the room in its immaculate cleanliness shines brighter: Rust and blood stain the horridly mutilated scalpel edge and it shows no silver. Edgar takes this. No laughing now. Eyes expanded over his whole face, eyes inhuman with anticipation and fixed by invisible wires to the scalpel. Edgar rolls up a sleeve.

Smoothness parts in jagged flaps. Crimson flaps part again into quarters, to eighths. All marred, all shredded. Edgar’s arm flesh hangs in irregular strips as its blood flees the massacre, escaping into widening floor pores. With each cut he screams not in pain but so that his vocal chords will shred themselves too. Another gear arm drops from the ceiling and jams a camera down his throat, down but effectively upstream against the flow of distorted shrieks. Edgar’s flapping flailing grating glottis flashes from a projector further up the gear arm and onto the ceiling of the room. He looks up and sees the blood spurting out of his own vocal folds and down his throat, watches the choking drowning he feels looks down at his flayed swinging arm-strips the bloody scrapped minced bits fleshy jaggedness lying inert on steel under him and on him and his arm of course can’t move squelching blood and lymph against him and away across the floor the nerves died, he killed them, he had to,

and more bloody noses crack against glass walls, mouths behind them squealing in ecstasy. They are all out there, in the heptagon, cutting and slashing and grinding vocal chords but they’re in here, behind this glass. They lose too much blood, the glass fogs too quickly, and one faints. Another. Noses cracking away from the glass in quick succession. Climaxes. For everyone a tiny death so that in an hour or three someone can come through with ammonia caps and they can all be reborn. Ecstasy.

Edgar sees this happen, sloughing off bits from the ends of now-dead and numbing arm-strings. He screams into pants into sighs into coughing up the camera, camera slopping out of his mouth in a bloody glob. A steady drip of diced skin bits and fat and shredded connective tissue drops into catching pores, and blood-drowning sputtering Edgar drops the scalpel and drops to the steel floor in a crimson gagging heap. Pores open to accept a torrent of deep red vomit, his vision blurs and-


A calm crew in surgical masks and blue coats mops the floor where pores couldn’t drain little Edgar pieces. Another such crew heaves the Edgar-heap to a cramped operating room next to the heptagon. There they saw off the useless arm and replace it. It will be the same. Similarly they mend his vocal chords. It’s now 5:13.  Edgar’s shift has ended, and it’s Friday. He’ll have the weekend off.

The broken noses in charcoal suits will clean the blood from themselves and return to offices corporate and state, catharted. The next oh so eager group will then press themselves to the glass wall. The next little cherubic subject will enter the heptagon, cheeks jiggling, a person bright with happy innocence. Edgar will awaken with a fierce hangover. Luckily he won’t remember anything. This way he’ll come back Monday. This way he is inhuman: In the manufacture of peace by catharsis he is the producer, the raw material, and the product. And so by tiny deaths peace will persist.

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