Later on that night, as the lamps burned low and the fire settled into a muted glow in the hearth I remarked upon his great change in appearance since my last visit.
He uncoiled himself,gangly weathered limbs cracking- holding my gaze for what seemed like an age, pulled a long drag from his pipe and explained it thus:
“I’m deciduous, this is the price I pay for my constant renewal in the spring. I suffer this every winter…and you are perhaps the first person this decade that his been privy to my pain- and my secret..”
a gentle hail of skin drowsed the table as he spoke…an avalanche of rotting amber dandruff.
I realised that he had for some reason allowed me to see this process, allowed or simply craved someone else to bare witness..whether it was real or not remained to be seen….I didn’t feel privileged to say the least, this was something that the man could have kept to himself. There was no reason for me to know this.
Perhaps, perhaps. I could imagine that somehow I had been colluded out here in the middle of nowhere with a deluded and possibly dangerous lunatic…fair enough a mentalist with some sort of wasting disease….he was rotting before my eyes……
His pipe huffed deftly, coils of heavy smoke arced from his lips and nose. It seemed at the time there was some evidence of smoke emerging from his ears as well but this may have been a flight of fancy on my part.
My phone buzzed on the table.
“I have to take this call” I said scooping up the plastic yap-box, recognising the number flashing on it’s concealed display panel. I picked up my semi drained glass of Glennfiddich and retreated to the kitchen.
“where exactly are you? I’ve been ringing you for the last half hour min, been round your flat as well like- are you down the toon or sommat?”
“na, last minute thing I’m out the road..something came up, will you cover for me at the meeting? It’s mostly you’re words anyhow- I dinae really feel right about presenting it anyhow”
“erm, aye okay. Look this is a bit short notice, but I reckon i’ll manage. If I was a ponce I’d call this highly irregular y’ken…”
Allan chuckled dryly into the phone. Clattering in the backround, street sounds.
“cheers min, I reckon I’ll be back in town the morrow, I’ll gei you a shout in the afternoon, maybe hit the Bells or the Prince weather permitting..”
“Tidy, it’s a date you aids ridden hoor.”
I clicked the phone off. He seemed okay about it. This was pretty standard for Allan- I knew that panic would kick in several minutes before he made his way to the podium to begin his presentation and it would probably be downhill all the way from there. My role was usually to try and keep the guy calm, he was talented and once relaxed was a convincing and engaging speaker, keen to get his ideas across and not afraid of meandering off the main track to illuminate his points in a way that laymen could relate to. And lay-women as well obviously, but that was Allan’s true calling- but that tale is too lengthy to relate here.
Anyhow, that was not what troubled me now. I refilled my glass from the best of the clutter of bottles lurking in the kitchen. I snuck a look at Mr Cribbage in the lounge. He was absent-mindedly peeling and hacking at his calloused hands.
I first met Mr Kribbage three months before, in the university library. I had been doing some research in to James V I’s infamous Demonology tome and also investigating the famed genesis of the Necromnicon written by the mad arab. I really was getting nowhere fast, I had loads of notes: countless dry and academic Journal articles and citations but nothing of real interest. I had found some links between the necromnicon and James’ blasted paranoid writings…In fact I began to suspect that HP Lovecraft had not concocted the book as a narrative device but had actually seen and read passages of some ancient manuscript that King James had also had access to. To put it bluntly my brain was boiling with half-facts and tenuous speculation, and I was running out of time. The group funded many academic exercises- and mine was a minor task but I always got more material from genuine field work. This speculative intellectual stuff was a real struggle to me. I was looking forward to the final part of the assignment, actually speaking to the small group of individuals in Aberdeen who were adamant that they had encountered the great king of Scotland and England in the recent past. Far fetched I know, but this was the kind of dubious circles I moved in.
Curious. Very Curious, Mr Kribbage as it turned out was the co-ordinator of the Universities collection of King James’ surviving written material. I began to find myself locked in conversation with the man during my breaks from searching the archives.
He was, when I first met him, a classic Academic, Tweed and corduroy and a permanent quizzical squint. He was myopic and a glad handing misogynist, whether the latter was ironic I could never fathom.
I gathered very quickly that he was a drug addict. After a few chats over coffee and cigarettes our relationship became more hedonistic and convivial as one morning after pulling an all nighter poring over scabby low grade pdf. Files and microfilm Mr. Kribbage asked me for a smoke, and I accidentally furnished him with a joint instead of a roll-up.
I saw no point in concealing the deed. The herb rolfed around us, students tore past at top speed- desperately thrashing out their gibberish youngster talk, simultaneously enticing and disgusting.
It was home grown, from a friend- I had for a while toyed with the idea of getting some clippings and growing some myself put was put off by the technicality and polava of buying and setting up the requisite lights and the whole idea of hydroponics filled me with dread. As far as I was concerned the entire concept of Hydroponics lay within the dubious realm of science fiction: and really that’s where it should stay.
He assured me that I need not worry, his stint as an experimental alchemist had produced some startling discoveries. Originally he had amused himself pursuing the age old quest of turning various base metals into gold. Purely for profit, this had been stalled somewhat when the supply of lead at his local scrap yard had become scarce- he did for a time indulge in free-lance raiding of houses and out buildings in his local area- but this proved dangerous and risky business. Twice he had been cautioned by Grampian police’s finest for scaling decrepit out-houses, luckily his quick wits deflected the Officers line of enquiry- amazing what a surreptitious dousing of alcohol to the head and mouth will do to convince some one that one’s true nature was not burglar but piss-head climbing enthusiast. And of course the rabidly fake French accent also helped.
“ I think you’ve had to much to drink sir, why don’t you allow us to escort you to an alcohol assessment centre- where you can scrutinise the nature of your need to imbibe such large quantities of alcohol.”
“ Ah, yis, a would very mich like to how you say unacompany you but this ‘ere building shall bend to my climbing skill- I mist prove my mettles”
One officer grins, not even attempting to conceal his thoughts behind a politely raised hand over mouth.
“he’s ‘een of those frenchy climbing nuts! Ken like them folk that charge about jumping of buildings an that.”
Accompanying officer snorts in agreement..
“he’s a bit old for that ‘aint he? Ach well you live and learn…”
After roughly the same scenario occurred twice in one week Mr Kribbage decided that this ad-hock raiding and procurement was far too dangerous, and his alchemy took on a new twist, he tried new substances- astounded at his experimental audacity and inventiveness; tetra packs, discarded televisions, couches, a wheely bin, a seagull ( stunned with a length of wood) before finally striking it lucky and hitting upon a combination that produced startling results.
It turned out that a quantity of discarded lager bottles ( the right mixture of brands, and levels of dregs contained within was essential) and syphoned fresh piss from the portable urination pyramids that were dotted round the central streets of Aberdeen of a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night for the relief of revellers produces a fantastic substance that he dubbed “wreckage”. Interestingly for a man in his condition this wreckage was far more valuable than his initial goal of producing gold. What he was going to do with large ingots of gold anyway was something he had not really thought through- in a moment of rare sensibility he concluded that the best way to handle any gold that he produced was to boldly produce a nugget of the valuable metal in lieu of cash at the local spar. He always found the drones of the kingdom of spar to be particularly susceptible to reasoned and forceful lunacy. But no matter. He had found something far better than gold.
His crabby journal’s recorded the experimentation with his newly forged wreckage. He handed me two of them, detailing the most pertinent facts relating to his study. Meeting a scabby Junkie on the street one night out gathering piss and bottles he had somehow cajoled the human heroin hoover into the back of a taxi and back to his sprawling period town house in old Aberdeen. How he managed this is beyond me, how he managed to regularly convince Taxi drivers to transport empty bottles and containers of piss was also equally unfathomable to me. He, did it has to be said, have a sort of disarming muddled charm that made folk think the better of him. He seemed to broadcast a befuddled stand-down order to all that came within his range. People took him as odd, but not a threat, and as a consequence he could go about his business without remark or rebuke.
And that he did.
Mr Kribbage had retired to the warm glow of the fire, pulling a chair close to the hearth. Humming lightly to himself.
“ read them, they will tell you more than my dim recollections will, and after you have read them we shall talk some more- you will no doubt have questions to put to me on what you find in those note-books”
I examined the first of the two ram shackle volumes, the scribbling of the lunatic was not unknown to me. On certain investigations in the past I had looked into what on the surface at any rate appeared to be genuine happenings, but they eventually turned out to be the spiralling intertwined threads of mania and mental illness. I was getting so good at spotting these folk that I began to think that I could identify a crank with just a cursory inspection of the subjects hand-writing.
From the neat and almost decorative script of Mr. Kribbage I caught no whiff of insanity, and for that matter I caught no hint of a sense of humour either- here was a man that had been shaped by the terse discipline of academia- his prose was stilted, lumpen, overly detailed, ponderous and jaw-droppingly dull.
The facts that he related in those hastily assembled word bundles were once examined anything but dull…….
His rabid theories on hydroponic growth of human organs veered off into the realms of far fetched fantasy. The margins of the document’s were infested with surreal cryptic doodles- genital’s twisted and distorted, mutilated and re-constructed body forms, strange constructions that could have been buildings on some new world or micro-cellular globules and nuclea.
He was fucking eccentric that was for sure.
Somewhere along the line he related his condition.
It first came to light in the summer of his 27th year. He lamented his fate in this year, having reached the age of the rock star death. Like Hendrix, Morrison and Cobain he imagined his corpse and legacy. Intertwined like a Gustav Klimt picture, except without all that fucking stupid gold paint, it was so cheap and garish looking.
Death lurked, his skull tarnished a putrid purple.
And the opiates.
He could devour them.