Pediculus Humanus.

As she slept they multiplied, from hundreds to more hundreds, thousands to more thousands, spreading through her caramel-coloured follicles, less than microscopic in size, squeezing through root-holes and entering into the no-man's-land beyond. Now millions and increasing, they swarmed in all directions, chewing away tiny chunks of her brain tissue, sucking the blood, minute claws gripping and holding on to whatever they encountered in the darkness. Busily they continued, eating her very dreams, robbing her of all thought and perception, rendering her a mere vegetable. Unfeeling and unliving, and minus threequarters of a brain. When satisfied they scattered, fleeing that bloodless, brainless place.

Mrs Cricklehouse arrived once a month, armed with a frightful menace and a monopoly on largeness. She was all flabby and blubbery, huge and chinful, as if she had spent her entire lifetime demanding this obesity. She held on to a deadpan and mean-looking expression as if her death depended on it. She treated smiles with disdain, and did not appear to even attempt producing one. The children reckoned her scowl could frighten even the dead. They also fancied that the pockets of her apron were filled with nits, and that she would gleefully delve into those dark interiors and scatter the tiny beasts all over someone's head.

Peter openly trembled whenever she came. He shrank back into his seat until all that could be seen was his fear. He dared to gaze at Mrs Cricklehouse, but only in between fits of shaking. His Mum had told him not to be scared of the nit nurse, just as she had told him not to fear the dentist and the black creatures that lurked in the wardrobe at night. Creepy crawlies and crawly creepies he could stand, and all the terrors of a child's existence. Yet Mrs Cricklehouse created an anxiety in him, a feeling of dread that felt like a demon tugging at the strings of his soul.

"The nit nurse will see you now, Peter," said Mrs Fenton with a smile of pure madness spread across her awesome, glossy lips. The same lips that, according to rumours, often met those of the headmaster Mr Crabb, but only at opportune moments, such as inside the broom cupboard.

Quaking terribly, Peter reluctantly got to his feet, and then felt his legs quiver. His teeth chattered. His heart banged horribly. His anguish increased. His face turned warm and red. Because of his short trousers the knocking of his knees was evident. He felt like a puppet that had lost all its strings, all its equilibrium. He gripped the edge of the desk and steadied himself. But still his nerves were in a tangle, dancing some strange dance inside him.

"Peter, the nurse is waiting," said Mrs Fenton. And then, seemingly in order to infuriate him and the rest of the class, she scratched the chalk against the blackboard, creating some mathematical equation that disinterested the whole group of frightened souls.

Mrs Cricklehouse looked at him, her bulging eyes surrounded by oceans of flabbiness. He considered diving into the ink-well, anywhere to escape from this hideous torture. The prospect of becoming a boy of dripping blue did not dissuade him from this thought, but the practicality of it did, or rather the non-practicality. He started to walk. It was like moving in a dream, slow and death-like, as though he were stepping across the bed of the ocean. And with a blubbery shark not far away. Mrs Cricklehouse started to twitch. Peter noticed this, and forgot to breathe for a second or two.

Unfortunately for him he arrived within feeling and burrowing distance of the nit nurse. He wanted to scream. Especially when he considered what had happened to Wendy Aspinall.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," said the shark, devoid of all emotion.

Peter thought this to be one of the biggest lies ever told. Before he had the chance to prepare himself, Mrs Cricklehouse reached out with her icy hands and delved into his field of follicles. She really hurt him with her large probing fingers. They were like thick, pink sausages with elongated fingernails, scratching over his scalp, taking strips of skin away. He winced as she rooted around with a devilish abandon, plucking and tugging at his roots. She was like a madwoman, intent on discovering just one tiny louse, one excuse to force him into some kind of unpleasant treatment and humiliation. His fear increased as she searched with frantic eyes, until he hopelessly listened to the trickle of urine that was escaping down his bare legs.

Wendy Aspinall was of course the key. She had not been at school now for several weeks under the rumour that her Uncle was in prison for whatever prevented his niece's attendance... but Peter had other rumours up his sleeve, one of which was that Mrs Cricklehouse had, on a previous visit to the school, delved a little bit too far -- actually beyond Wendy's skull -- in search of the pesky pipsqueaks which swarmed in most heads of hair, the authorities implied, like all the decimal points in God's arithmetic.

He shuddered at the thought. Maths homework was worse than anything. He would suffer most tortures if the end result was avoiding the stranglehold of sums and such forth. Even the inopportune wet down his legs was bearable, when the long dry summer made it look like sweat. He had in fact escaped with very little aggro because the school bell had gone before the nit nurse had even begun to dare dig her nails into his ears. Nobody had noticed his predicament. He now relished the plump hot dogs his Mum dealt him out on his plate, rubbery hoses of meat running in grease, which he pretended were the Cricklehouse digits that either added up to grown-up grub or a delightful dream of come-uppance. Cheap at half the price. He gave himself a big hand for surviving the day.

Particulus Vulgarum.

The dream was shared. Boy and girl with minds conjoined. The tiny killer bees that were once snowstorms on the edge of Hell gnawed towards a tubular column of gristly tumour which both brains shared between them. These wild wild wens of weirdest insignificance of size needed not only the healthy blood of healthy children but also the greyer, greener nodules which these children's potentially older bones and flesh would nurture come the onset of later adulthood. Nits that travelled time in hunt for incubations of easy disease.

Peter woke with a start. He wondered if Wendy was awake too. Nobody was allowed to visit her after the so-called incident with her Uncle. Mrs Cricklehouse was not even on the same wavelength of his half-dozing dreams. She was a busted flush. He hoped her knickers sagged with the pests she sought in others. He laughed. Mrs Fenton and Mrs Cricklehouse both played fast and loose with Mr Crabb but this was neither here nor there vis a vis the all-important matters of the universe. Threesomes were not considerations given even the geometry of unholy triangles.

The night was long at this moment. At others, it was short. But at this precise moment it was long. He knew this as he tried to delve back into a dreamless sleep. Communion with Wendy again amid the shifting hexagons of full-blown slumber was more than a drift away. He sat up stock still against the bedhead. Watching the curtains -- embroidered by his Mum in better days -- blacken over with a deeper, more granular darkness.

Morning comes to everyone, and as the light of day swallowed the darkness of the previous night Peter clambered clumsily out of his dreams. Another school day beckoned, and he thought he heard a screaming inside his head. He escaped from the bed-mites -- an altogether more vicious breed -- and embarked on his unholy preparations. Teeth to be cleaned, features to be washed, fears to be quelled. Although he never really managed to achieve the latter. He imagined holding Wendy's hand again, that soft, soft grip, like clutching heaven. This was a dream he didn't wish to leave behind in his bedroom.

It was sunny but cold, as he stared out of the big windows at the trunks of the trees. He was sure that the barks formed faces, and that they were grinning his way, giving him further nightmares. Heaven seemed so far away at this tiny point in his existence of childhood and quasi-innocence. He then heard a voice, and looked up to see Mrs Fenton, spectacles sliding comically down the bridge of her nose.

"Composition time!" she declared -- but Peter didn't want to believe her.

Young heads bowed in concentration and wild thought. Peter tentatively glanced out of the window, and noticed the bark-faces displaying gruesome smiles of malevolence -- if they ever existed at all. Reality was so confusing. So he ducked his head on to the blank page, and clung to his pen, and an hour later the page wasn't blank at all.

He created a child-like tale he called Nits Are Not Nice. He poured his fears out like blood from a jug. Yes, out they tumbled, like drunken acrobats, hitting the paper to form words that Peter could hardly spell. Wendy was in it. And the abominable Mrs Cricklehouse. And the nits -- the lousy, lousey nits.

"Peter!" Mrs Fenton called out, so suddenly that Peter almost escaped from his skin. "Ink-wells!"

He looked up and discovered her face, all unnatural colour and cosmetically camouflaged, eye-lashes with lives of their own and lips all shiny with gloss. A memory came to him like a bolt of thunder, albeit a silent one. Stephen Kelly was absent with leave due to chicken pox. At least it had nothing to do with nits, Peter thought, as he ventured from his desk and passed all the half-empty, half-full ink-wells on his way out of the room. Being substitute ink monitor was the most important thing in the world, according to him.

And so he returned, armed and dangerous with a severe amount of Quink. Like someone consequential he shifted from desk to desk, unsteadily pouring from the dark blue bottles, filling each well with sustenance and life. What authority he had! But then he came to the silent seat, the dead desk that belonged to the delectable Wendy. He shivered and froze, froze and shivered. Could he see a ghost in that seat? A small girl with pig-tails and a smell of bubble gum? No! His Mum had told him that ghosts don't exist.

"Shall I fill Wendy's?" he shouted in a quavering style to Mrs Fenton.

"Fill them all, Peter," she instructed, with a tongue of unhidden menace.

Peter obeyed, but his hands were shaking, and when he heard Wendy's spectre-like voice whispering to him he dropped the bottle to the floor. Crash, and other sound effects. A dark pool of Quink crept around his toes as the class gasped in unison, uncontrolling their laughter and exasperation.

"Peter!" cried out Mrs Fenton. "Fetch a mop at once! Hurry!"

Peter pitied Mr Fenton as he departed from the classroom in a shocked haze. "It's not fair, everything happens to me," he told the corridor as his shoes squeaked on the shiny surface of the floor. He wished he could be an adult, to travel in time to those far-off years. He attempted to look into the future but only got as far as Tuesday. Then he opened the door of the cleaning cupboard and was unhealthily greeted by something akin to the Devil.


Was that my own scream, he wondered as he studied the ugly creature inside the cupboard. Despite his Mum's warnings, awful things did seem to exist in the darkness. The first thing he spotted was exposed flesh, as naked as someone in the bathtub. Goosebump-covered skin, all thick and trunk-like. Sumptuous thighs and jiggly breasts. And the monster had two heads, which resembled those of Mr Crabb and... Mrs Cricklehouse!


This was definitely his own scream. He gazed at the both of them but his eyes were outnumbered. He lowered his stare and noticed that the nit nurse was tugging at some long portion of skin that belonged to the headmaster.

"What is it, Peter?" said Mr Crabb in a voice that was strangely high-pitched and vastly unlike his familiar booming tone.


"Well, get on with it then, lad!" said the headmaster, his eyeballs resembling something Peter had seen during an episode of The Outer Limits.

Mrs Cricklehouse continued pulling at the thing as Peter reached into the grey interior in search of a mop. He saw one -- the thick grey strands of its head looked like Medusa's hissing serpents. Peter invented an image of those dashing tongues, spitting venom as an army of lice advanced, reaching out lizard-like to catch and devour the hideous, flying bugs. He didn't realise he was doing some tugging of his own. The pole end of the mop was caught between bra strap and shoulder, and as he tried to pull he noticed two lumps of the nurse's flesh were wobbling around like pink jelly. Suddenly it came out with a pop, sending other cleaning utensils crashing into the murk. Mrs Cricklehouse gave Peter a haunting stare which caused him to flee in fright. And as his feet clunked against the creaky floor he could hear Mr Crabb's loud and fantastic cry of sheer orgasmic ecstacy.

Humanus Peccatum.

The girl tried to drag herself from the vegetative process that dreaming had become. There were long black stringy hairs coiling wispishly from the turnip and she wondered if her side of this thick-skinned nodule was uniform and undistinct from his. And, if so, was it Peter who shared such stark oblivion of the spirit or was it some other boy who yearned to grow Crabb-like given the half-measures of evolution and fate?

Stephen Kelly woke from his pox-ridden fever wondering whose dream was which. There was nothing worse than yielding his ink monitor spot to such a yellow rat as Peter Pipkin. Stephen knew -- Stephen simply knew -- that submission to the ill-scrawled sick-notes that Ma Kelly had regularly scribbled just for the sake of his gratuitous excusement did not actually make him feel any better. This time, though, he was truly sick. And nobody who was anybody believed it. For years, it seemed, he and Ma Kelly had concocted several fictions for him of period pains and mad cows and alzheimers and pop-off strokes to get himself out of games -- and now a real dead-eyed disease darn well stitched him up, and nobody (including Crabb, Fenton and that old scritch-owl of a nit nurse) gave any credence to even his real doctor's mad map certificates of verifiable vileness.

On top of which, that godawful bad-apple kid called Peter Pipkin had not only usurped the gurgling fill-ups of Stephen's rightful ink-wells but also started dwelling in the same semi-detached dream, the gangrene growing on the plaster party-wall between Stephen and sweet Wendy. It was as if being officially ill was tantamount to being sent to the equivalent of Coventry in a bone-boring suburbia of pitch-black dreamland, leaving a young pretender to hold hands with the only girl Stephen had ever kissed (albeit only on the petal of her cheek).

It was when Ma Kelly came clucking home from her job in the cellar of the DSS that Stephen finally slipped into an uncommon unconsciousness, belying even the worst scenarios of the quink-blotted medical certificates that had been issued like thick-cut confetti. He was indeed approaching a non-existence whence even the most enlightened lesson of neo-revivalism would not trick him into believing he was about to be reborn -- poised on the spur of death, sadly without having first remembered his first day at school when Ma Kelly abandoned him to the smirking trainee teacher in mini-skirt and to the smell of plasticene and pissy pants.

The relative symmetry of the Fenton/Crabb/Cricklehouse boobs-and-cocks creature and the more sedate Wendy/Peter/Stephen papier-mache dream combo struck him like a bolt out of washable blue. The genderskins, upon scrutiny, were ill-defined. The art of mental arithmetic was not even half of it. Until he drifted back into permanent black.

Peter had stopped scribbling in his red glossy exercise book, the one with the weights and measures listed on the back cover -- waiting to be scolded by Mrs Fenton for not putting his rough work in the rough book first. But he didn't like the way the nib spluttered on the cheap knotty paper in the rough book. Nibs Are Not Nice. He chuckled at the alternative title. Wendy's Uncle was staring over his shoulder in cold scrutiny. But when he looked round there was nobody there. Only the blackboard.

The inevitable came expectedly.

"Peter Pipkin!" yelled the Fenton third of the lust triangle.

Peter's ears popped up like burnt toast from a toaster, minus the stench and the smoke. Mrs Fenton went on to admonish him, her voice as cold as the swirling sea in mid-December, and as venomous as the wobbling jelly-fish that lurked beneath the immediate surface. Or as hungrily, spittingly evil as the collection of nits that existed somewhere in the hell-world of Mrs Cricklehouse?

She exasperated him by yelling across the classroom, angry words flying from her pink-lipsticked mouth accompanied by dollops of feminine phlegm.

"What about the rough book, Peter?" she cried. "The rough book first! Do this again. Do it all again!"

She then shoved the red glossy book into her authoritative desk, not-nice nits and all, shutting it thunderously, awaking all the sleeping bark-ghouls outside. Peter was not pleased. He collapsed into his rough book, clutching his wooden stick of a pen like he would clutch his personal dreams. The words he produced looked like navy blue spiders spread across the blotty page. A Louse is in My House, he wrote. And then his thoughts wandered.

Meanwhile Mrs Fenton began to read out Belinda Buttershaw's offering, What My Mummy And Daddy Do In Bed At Night. Peter listened, and wondered why it was that grown-ups like to play such strange and remarkable games, forming gruesome flesh-monsters like the Crickle-Crabb he had seen in the cleaning cupboard. The children produced a gaggle of girlish giggles as the teacher's words were flung through the air. He regarded Belinda's production as vile rubbish. And she got top marks for that! How cruel is this world, he thought.

"Daddy was humping Mummy and I saw his bottom," read the talking, bespectacled sex-thrill.

Peter snorted, and settled back into his lice-inspired creation. He couldn't think normally, for he recalled the incident with the Quink like an awful flashback in an equally awful film. He wanted Stephen Kelly to die, a horrible, heinous death, so that he and he alone could become the King of the Ink. He had ambitions, you see. He looked across at Barry Inglethwaite -- the milk monitor! Yes, not only did he have this Quinky, quirky desire, but he wanted to be in charge of the clinking silver-tops. Barry Inglethwaite possessed an untidy mess of Beatle-style hair, as thick and black as dark fog. Ideal for a swarm of nits...

At playtime Peter crept back into the deserted classroom, his head swamped with desire. He cherished his gleaming red exercise book, hence this clandestine activity. He could smell the silence, his nostrils sniffing the nothingness that existed in the air. As swiftly as an advancing louse he lifted the creaking desk-lid that belonged to the Fenton femme fatale. It was there! And so he snatched it, and pressed it to his skinny bosom. Within those pages were private and intimate scribblings that referred to the darling delectable Wendy. But... there were other things inside that desk.

Scrawled notes in ink that was not Quink. Lots of them. Neatly piled atop each other, quivering like scared rabbits in damaged hutches. Peter, grasping his curiosity tightly, poked his head into the gloom and read the first message.

'Stephen won't be in today. He has the Marburg virus. Ma Kelly'.

Peter let out a gasp before studying the next note.

'Please excuse Stephen from games. PMT. Ma Kelly'.

Incredible, thought Peter, as he rustled around inside that desk, reading each and every detail of the messages from Stephen Kelly's guardian.

'Stephen has venereal disease'... 'Stephen has mumps'... 'Stephen's penis fell off this morning'... and so on. Until he discovered a discovery so almighty that Peter frowned and scowled simultaneously.

'Stephen is now a vegetable, his skull dripping with lice, infected with those pipsqueaking parasites. They are sucking him dry, absorbing his blood like nit-vamps, eating away his notions and ideas, his dreams and thoughts, his sanity and the waves inside his brain. I doubt if he will ever again function as a normal thinking person. He is merely... a husk. An inhuman non-human. A crushing example of something that is perhaps not living. Ma Kelly'.

It was at this striking moment that the door opened. In stepped two figures. Peter glanced across the room, and immediately anticipated the oncoming formation of another befuddling flesh-creature, for the two were none other than Mr Crabb and Mrs Fenton.


His silent scream non-reverberated around the creeping walls. He slumped quietly to the polished floor, hiding his small bulk behind the enormity of the teacher-desk. And he watched, and listened, his ears agog.

The Fenton vamp swept away her spectacles in an entirely melodramatic manner, before demonstrating that the rumour was true -- their lips did meet at furtive moments of opportunity. After several embarrassing (for Peter) seconds their mouths parted with an alarmingly fervent sucking sound, like a sink-plunger being tugged from a plug-hole.

"I have something to tell you," she whispered feverishly into Mr Crabb's nostrils as their features pressed together.

"Tell me you want me!" enthused the lecherous leech of a headmaster, nibbling at the eyelids of Mrs Fenton.

"No!" replied his wanton love-bomb. "We are with child..."

Peter was aghast. How did they know I was here, he wondered, as he misinterpreted the hushed words of his teacher. He closed his eyes tightly, and awaited some wrath. It didn't arrive. Instead he heard the plaintive sound of a door slamming shut, and then emotional sobbing, and then shouting along the corridor, followed by quietude of an easy nature. He opened his eyes to find that the air inside the room was his alone. He swallowed a whole lot of it as he reached into the desk and filched the whole bundle of lame and feeble excuses scrabbled in the Ma Kelly scrawl. Then he fled from the room like someone frightened of something.

Espadrillus Vulvum.

Only in dreams could imaginary words conjure up real, if imaginary, diseases. The trio of young minds welded together where infected gristle met the three overlapping slabs of grey matter. Whirr-winged bluebottles (swilling back and forth, inside their transparent brittle bodies, with discoloured unwashable blood) swarmed larger and larger; together with the numinous nittles whence they'd grown. Greenish sludge swirling in from every corner of the cavernous skull. Whirlpools of spinnage.

But Peter hated spinach... as much as lumpy custard, stale bubble-and-squeak and unseasoned parsnip. He was not disturbed by the last dream with the sludge, because he'd not had it yet. But he surely would, he feared. Having fled home, chased, in his mind, by floating, flapping mini-sheaves of sick-notes; he stole a deliberate detour, and ended up tramping quietly on familiar garden-ground, creeping like weeds to peek through the Wendy windows at a silent-movie scene, but in colour. Glued eyes gaped in awe.

He had to see her; but not such as this. Her frail form was sprawled across the decaying settee, which was an unsightly brown colour. She was wearing the blue dress with the white spots, her chicken pox dress Peter called it. Lice leapt around her head, her baldy, baldy head, devoid of all hair and opened up like a spliced coconut. Her eyes were staring and inhuman, like those belonging to a stage puppet, big and bold. Peter winced; such horrors are not for small boys such as this wanton dreamer.

Kneeling before her was the Uncle, as ugly as a two pound coin. Slowly he leant across and extended his black tongue, inserting the hideous thing into Wendy's cracked abyss of missing brain. Nits jumped and skipped like insect athletes on steroids. The Uncle captured a tongueful, and tucked the leaping lot back into his gaunt mouth, chewing as if there was a tomorrow. He continued the measly meal, ridding the girl's head of all nit-like mites, his dark tongue gleaming with saliva and plastered with insignificant hair-pests. Wendy did not move. She remained still, lifeless and liceless.

Peter hoped that he was dreaming; hoped that she was dreaming. He ran home like a lonely long distance runner, then collapsed into the front room, missing the sofa by quite a distance, staring at the carpet-bugs eyeball to eyeball...

Only one as young as Peter Pipkin could experience such adult visions of lust and lice and still be able to consign them to the simple pigeon-hole of imaginary nightmares. That way he could survive. Even if he had slightly suspected that some of the things he'd endured recently were real, he would have completely gone off his sweet-tousled head looking for another body with which to stow his soul.

His face was so close to the front room carpet and its intrinsic tufts, he could delve even beyond its surface bugs and mites of common pestilence. There, deep within the pile, were other, smaller faces. Joined to squiggly lines that masqueraded as their bodies. He saw sorrow etched like a tracery of rivers upon their expressions. Stephen was there, his features sown with oniony warts. Wendy's embedded with amethyst-hard teardrops. Ma Kelly and the Uncle creature together weaving scribbly hair between the pitiless punctuation of sums. Cricklehouse, Fenton and Crabb making even worse faces than their own, as they melted in and out of vision with the sausage-filler maggots of their unbridled foreplay. All a language that knew no end.

Anoplura Lethalis.

The dream was somewhat strange. Peter was back in his rightful Pipkin place in the class, behind the pig-tails and smell of bubble gum. Stephen was refilling the ink-wells with Quink. Mrs Fenton leaning against the blackboard, slightly squiffy as ever. Mr Crabb was coming through the sun-shafts into the naughty babbles and squeaks of the form-room, accompanied by a scowling Cricklehouse woman. All was well with the world. All in its rightful pecking order. He tugged at one of the tails and laughed. Then he tugged at the other...

...and it came off in his tiny hand. It came off! Like a mad fool he gazed at the clump of woven hair, which was attached to the wiggy thatch that had covered her scalp. The familiar baldy head, gaping wide open, showing all the dark insides that lurked within. And lice too. Hopping and bouncing as though on hot coals. A parade of parasitic pestilence. He opened his jaws to scream, but gagged, like a clown without japes.

He watched as Mrs Cricklehouse approached the Fenton witch, blood-lust overtaking sex-lust. Her chubby fingers disappeared inside the pockets of her apron, seconds later emerging like behemoths from the salty ocean. She opened her clenched fists, and out sprang an army of nits, attacking the with-child vamp ferociously, attaching themselves to her hair wildly, delving and burrowing and helping themselves to bits of skin and blood and brain.

"You will not have his child," she cried in fury. Her own tummy-bulge was barely noticeable, hidden by fatty Cricklehouse flesh, as she trundled between the desks, chins wobbling fiercely. Showers of lice were spread over pre-pubescent heads, like a farmer scattering seeds of evil. The children shrieked like off-key castrati. Stephen's face was already a glaze. Wendy was beyond lice. Peter saw young heads split open quickly as the nits nested, blood-maps forming on shiny facial skin. And then the nurse was above him, her shadow falling across his shaking bones.

"Nits are nice," she professed, before casting a lethal dosage of pests upon his dark locks.

Both triangles were shattered, the ones of dreams and lechery, geometrical creations crushed by the lice-like gatecrashers. It didn't take long for him to join the brain-dead. He discovered that dead dreams don't exist, just a black, bilious void of everlasting nothingness. Lice are not nice, he insisted, as his silent screams rang out across the mountains of Hell. And the last thing he felt was a black tongue scraping inside his skull.

(published 'Voyage' 1999)

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