please note for the best effect, this story should be read while listening to `Spahn Dirge
please note: for the best effect, this story should be read
while listening to `Spahn Dirge', by Skinny Puppy, from their
`Rabies' compact disc. also please keep in mind that it was
written from a male perspective. reading this story after
we'd finished it, we found that it doesn't make a lot of sense
unless you are familiar with the films of clive barker... oh well.
- kelanie C
Okay, so this is hell, right? Yeah... well, it looks like i'll
be here for a while... so, if the guy in the next cell can leave
off screaming for a while, I'll tell you how I got here. Should
help pass the time.
Well. When I was walking around in the world, I suppose you
could say I never had a lot of, well, real direction. Yeah, my
life was pretty aimless... that's not to say I never accomplished
anything. Oh no! It's just that I had trouble settling down on
any one thing.
Started out, I was going to be an artist. You know, took art
classes at school, read that worthless book by Hockney, spent
what little money I had on charcoal and cartridge paper, hung out
with the other art-assholes, the whole bit. I briefly
experimented with graffiti-art (you may have seen my tag - a hand
with a nail through it), gave that up when one of the guys in our
group got beaten to death by the police. I even drew cartoons for
the local newspaper for a while... at least I never pretended to
have a french accent. Well, hell, you aren't interested in that
crap, are you? You want to know about LeMarchand's puzzle box.
I'll get to that eventually.
I found out pretty damn quick that there wasn't a lot of money
in art. Unless you had some gimmick, like Warhol or Ken Done (or
some talent like Giraud or Howarth). I always had an interest in
tinkering... I got into electronics after messing around with a
Dick Smith kit, trying to make one of those LED display things. I
was never good enough to make a lot of money out of it, but I
made enough to get by on. And then the `maintenance' boom hit,
and there was plenty of cash for anyone who could keep the gear
going. So, I was, well, `comfortably well off', as Daffy Duck
once said. But the eighteen-hour days stared to bug me, so I took
an extended holiday (sent my boss a full-colour photo of my old
graffiti-tag, giving him the finger), drove around the coast
until my ass ached and my hands were locked in the position of
holding the steering wheel. It was coming into Adelaide from
Perth that I met Kely.
She was hanging out with a variegated bunch of scruffs, punks
and down-and-out underground cartoonists in a northern suburbs
squat. One of the first things I noticed about this building was
the incredible spraypaint mural that covered two of its walls. I
mean, this was better than some of the shit you see hanging in
the Art Centre, as abstract as those things tend to be, flowing
blue waves, crystalline letters spelling out unreadable
four-letter words, the obligatory Vaughn Bode lizards and nude
girls... and there was a pattern, repeated in gold on black, in
at least a dozen places: three diamond-shapes, laid edge-to-edge,
each with an intricate, distinctive pattern in its middle. It
only occurred to me later (when I saw the inspiration) that the
pattern was a chinese puzzle box, seen from one corner.
I was looking for a place to stop for a while, and the starving
punks were quite happy to have someone with money in their midst.
I gained their confidence by asking who had put the Vaughn Bode
cartoon characters in the mural, and by naming them... any fan of
the Cheech Wizard is always relieved to meet another. Kely turned
up about half an hour after I arrived, with a bag full of food
she had lifted from the sunday market. And I know, that `love at
first sight' stuff is crap, so I suppose it was `lust at first
sight'. She was about twenty-two, black hair done in a lunatic,
sticking-out-all-over, `Robert Smith' style, rather thin, with
striking, brilliant green eyes. She reminded me of a demented
They called themselves `the AnarchArtists', and they were
dedicated to some vague idea of `art for the masses'. Kely told
me that they were responsible for that rash of `Cave Clan'
stickers that you saw stuck to lamp-posts around the centre of
Melbourne in the early 90's, they were the people who faxed
x-rated cartoons to the pope... that sort of thing. They let me
stay with them for a while, and I helped them keep their desktop
publishing gear going (yes, they lived in a squat, but they had
almost twenty thousand bucks worth of DTP gear, mostly stolen
from offices in Adelaide and Melbourne), got to know them all.
Particularly Kely. They often referred to the guy who had formed
the group, name of Stathis. He died late 1991, and they seemed a
bit reluctant to talk about how he bought it, so I didn't press
One evening, I was wandering the city streets with Kely, when I
mentioned the logo of diamond-shapes on their mural. She gave me
a calculating look, and then said, `come on, i'll show you. ' We
went back to the squat.
The place was practically empty, as most of the punks were
visiting parents for the despised weekly `home-visit
feed-and-lecture'. There was only Rafael, who had nodded out over
their macintosh (yeah, I know, but beggars can't be choosers),
his superglue-stiffened bright-green spiked hair splayed out
against the screen. Kely took me by the hand and led me upstairs.
This place was bigger than I had first thought... three storeys
at least. We were on the roof, and right in the middle was a
small concrete bunker-like thing that used to house an
air-conditioning plant. There were two padlocks on the door,
which Kely unlocked with keys she kept on a leather thong around
her neck. She reached around behind the door, and flicked a
switch. There was a crackle, a whiff of ozone, and then she
pushed to door open. There were some loose copper cables dangling
down in the open doorway.
`I get the impression that nobody gets in here unless you let
them.', I said. She smiled, and replied,
`You'd be right.' We paused, as I waited for her to lead the
way. She was looking at me in that calculating way again.
`Something wrong?' I asked. She turned her head to one side
slightly, fingering the keys.
`I don't know if I should, now... how do you feel about pain?'
`Oh, I'm all for it. Seriously.' At this stage, I was ready to
say anything to find out what was going on here. She led me
inside, deftly held my hand in the doorway, and slammed the heavy
steel-reinforced door on it. There was a crunch, and when the
door rebounded, I held up my hand, with blackening fingers
pointing in all directions, and (I was quite proud of this)
smiled. Her eyes widened, and she gave me a sort of twisted
smile... if you saw Sting in `Dune', playing the part of
Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen, you will know what sort of smile it was.
She led me over to a broken safe which had been dragged across
the floor, leaving four bright scars in concrete otherwise dark
with accumulated dirt. Sitting inside the safe was a satchel. She
picked it up, opened it, and took out the LeMarchand Lament
Configuration. The puzzle box. She handed it to me. I turned it
over in my good hand, marvelling at the detail.
Kely told me about the box, and what happened to Stathis when he
figured out how to open it. He had made a video of the
proceedings, which Kely showed me in the library at the local
TAFE college. I watched it while she sat there, knitting (a hobby
of hers). I thought it was a pretty good splatter movie, before i
realised that it was real. This actually happened.
`Stathis isn't dead, is he?' I muttered.
`No.' she replied, shoving the knitting needles through a ball
of black mohair wool. We left.
LeMarchand... that name began to obsess me. I looked up every
reference I knew of, made dozens of enquiries and found that
there was practically nothing about the guy anywhere. I found a
few fragments of information, one night, logged in to a Melbourne
library system which had Grolier's encyclopedia on CD-ROM.
He had founded a place called the Pension Veneur (which, apparently,
means `Huntsman's Lodgings') in Paris, a `hideout for artists of a
dubious nature'. He was known as a maker of puzzle-boxes, and had
apparently designed a lunatic asylum in Louisiana. And that was all I
found. Then, one day, one of my oblique enquiries bore fruit.
I received a letter from an architect I used to know called Andrey.
He sent six pages of diagrams that he had found in a
nineteenth-century collection of designs for, you guessed it, puzzle
boxes. These boxes were chinese in origin, but the pages were
annotated in French, which, surprisingly, Rafael the punk spoke quite
well. He translated for me. (you know, funny thing, I sent another
letter to Andrey, but it was returned, `Addressee deceased'. I
wonder...) I'm sure now that Andrey, and later, Rafael and even Kely
didn't know what I had acquired. The theoretical basis for
LeMarchand's box claimed that the mechanics of the puzzle box weren't
absolutely necessary; but in the early twentieth century, they were
all that the demented Frenchman had to express the twisted concepts he
had uncovered. LeMarchand had shown later that you could get the same
effect by designing a building in that fashion; find your way through
the labyrinth, and... `bye bye, Babs'. The puzzle could be
practically anything, a crossword, maybe, a torturously-written novel
(well, I thought, that almost explains Pynchon's `Gravity's Rainbow'),
a computer game... even a pictoral design. A graffiti tag, for
I was very careful with the next bit. I had no desire to end up
like Stathis. Not just yet, anyway. Over a period of three weeks,
I reduced the six pages of designs, photostats of the side of the
original LeMarchand puzzle and some of what I had seen in
Stathis' video to three pages, each with a seperate pattern. Even
drawing this complete design, much less tracing it out and
solving it, would be the same as opening the puzzle box. Once I
had done this, I showed the results to Kely. She immediately
grasped the potential of the idea.
A few days later, she showed me an article in a newspaper, about
an advertising agency building that had burned down. Rafael said,
`Practically exploded, man. I was just up the road from them
that day. The whole fuckin' fourth floor blew out.' Kely took me
`The LeMarchand designs. I sent them to the agency artists, on
three seperate disks. Last disk had instructions to merge the
three patterns in `PageMaker', so I suppose they did it...' She
It was around that time that things began to go wrong. One day
we returned to find Rafael's body sitting in front of the
Macintosh, his glue-spiked scalp sitting on top of the Eizo
monochrome monitor and his bare head pushed through the screen.
He would have been staring out at us if he had any eyes.
`He was going to put the LeMarchand design on a t-shirt.' Kely
said as we dragged Raf's body out the back and hid it in the
industrial waste bin. I had begun to wonder what we thought
we were doing with this image.
A few days later, Kely had vanished.
When she hadn't put in an appearance for three days, I went
upstairs to the air-conditioning plant, with a sledgehammer, and
bashed the door down. When the door fell inwards, it took the
copper cables with it. In the quiet that followed the crash of
the falling door, I thought I could hear circuit breakers
snapping somewhere below. The safe was still there. However, the
satchel was empty. For some reason, I felt furious. I had the
idea that Stathis was having a lot of fun at my expense, playing
some sort of elaborate practical joke on me. The idea that then
followed, came slowly, but it came. Stathis was into video,
wasn't he? Well...
The equipment I needed wasn't all that expensive. I sold the
processor of the Macintosh, and what I had left in my bank
account covered the rest. I had all the gear I needed; I dragged
it all upstairs and got to work.
Against one wall of the air-conditioning plant, I stuck up one
of the three pages of the LeMarchand designs. It was in
black-and-white, but I had a couple of filters over the
videocamera's lens to make it appear black-and-bronze. When I put
the 500-watt lamps on, it was black-and-gold. I focused the
camera on the design so that it filled the screen. I had a baby
Amiga controlling the video recorder, so that the image would be
recorded on every third frame. I shot three hours of video this
way, the first page of the LeMarchand design on every third
frame. Then I rewound the tape and did it again, with the second
page, one frame on. And again, with the third. I knew I was onto
something, because the video recorder died at the end of the
tape, taking the camera and the Amiga with it. I had to open the
VCR with the same sledgehammer that I used to get into the
`Okay, you've got a nice video,' I said to myself, walking
through the centre of the city, `who're you gonna show it to?' I
had stopped outside Myer's department store. In the window was a
display of televisions, showing the news. I knew.
It was ridiculously easy to get into the studios of channel
nine. I simply walked up to the guard's booth, and when he got
out to speak to me, I hit him with a crowbar. Killed him
instantly. He was a bit older than me, but our hair was the same
colour and about the same length, so I took his pass, his radio
and his gun, dragged his body into the booth and hid it under his
desk. Nobody bothered me after that.
The hardest part was finding the right room. There were dozens
of studios to choose from, but by hanging back and listening to
the techs, I eventually found the control-room that the news was
going to be run from. There was a machine about the size of three
refrigerators, that had videocasettes stacked in it,
carousel-fashion. Every so often, one of them would clunk into a
video-player, the techs would cue it up, and the thirty-second
advertisement would play. It would then pop out, and another
commercial would come on (I suppose they had two of these
machines, and ran them one against the other). I spent about half
an hour, evaluating the speed at which they went through the
stacked videocasettes, and when I judged the moment to be right,
I slipped my tape into the carousel. Then, I waited. Whenever one
of the control-room techs looked at me, I shifted so that he
could see the gun, and pretended to speak into the radio.
Six-thirty. The news came on, the lead stories were mentioned,
and they broke for the first commercials, first up being an ad
for the new Holden (of course). I watched my tape slot into
place... as it began to play, an alarm-beep began to sound.
`What's wrong?' said the producer, who had been chain-smoking
since he had entered the control-booth earlier.
`Transmitter failure,' someone said.
`Shit, shit, SHIT.' snarled the producer. People started
scurrying around frantically as they tend to do in emergencies.
No-one was watching my video. Then, the lights went out. The only
thing still running was one monitor in the control room, and the
commercials carousel. Everyone stopped what they were doing to
watch the flickering golden designs. I thought that nothing was
going to happen, when suddenly the room was filled with searing
blue light, there was an earthquake-like shudder, and the room
seemed to drop about fifty feet. When we hit bottom, most of the
people in the room were lying on the floor, groaning with pain
from various broken limbs. In the vague dimness, I saw black
figures enter the room, dragging the studio techs off. Someone
clamped their hand over my mouth, picked me up, turned me around.
It was Kely.
She was dressed in a full-length black leather gown, with rusty
chains thrown over her left shoulder. She had two
knitting-needles thrust through her head, from under her jaw, to
emerge from her temples. She opened her mouth and I could see
where the needles crossed over.
`Who saw the tape?' I gasped. She closed her eyes, sighed, and
spoke (barely moving her lips),
`Only those in this room.' She held the videocasette in one
hand, and grabbed me by the front of my jacket with the other
with a strength unusual in a twenty-two-year-old girl. `Come on.
There's someone I want you to meet.'
There was this square column, made of dark red wood, edged in
bronze. It reminded me of the puzzle box. It was suspended from
the ceiling by a chain. It hung slightly on an angle, because I
was pinned to one side of it by a series of spikes that
penetrated my arms from wrist to shoulder, and my legs from
mid-thigh to just below my knees. Every movement I made caused
jolts of agony to run through me. As I slowly rotated, I could
see Kely standing a few feet away, watching. The rest of the room
was hidden by darkness, although I could hear chains clinking
over the creaking of the column I was stuck to. It seemed like
hours before someone else arrived. He was dressed much as Kely
was, and when he stepped forward into the light, I recognised
him. It was Stathis. I thought he might have some difficulty in
speaking, seeing as how his lower jaw had been removed, leaving
his tongue to dangle down like a yuppie's tie, but he managed to
gurgle intelligibly from somewhere down in his throat.
`I admired your work with the Configurations. But we couldn't
have that sort of thing on television. We are eager for company,
but not that eager, Leviathan's Will be done.' Kely stepped
forward from her deferential position behind Stathis.
`And besides, we have you, now.' She unwound the chains from her
shoulder. I could see rust flakes falling as she unwound them.
It wasn't rust. It was dried blood. As I found out.
When they finished with me, they slowly yanked the spikes and
let me fall to the floor, which was gritty with flecks of dried
blood and flesh. They turned to leave, and as she passed me, Kely
stepped on my hand (the one she had crushed in the door, so long
ago), and said,
`You are free now, to explore the Labyrinth. We will be watching
you, though.' She twisted her heel, grinding my fingers into the
stone floor, added, smiling, `Don't do anything I wouldn't do!',
and followed Stathis out of the room. When I got up the strength
to pick myself up, I began to look for a way out.
I'm still looking. I've seen some interesting stuff down here,
but nothing that looks like an exit. I keep looking, though.
thanks to: lou stathis, matt Howarth, Nicholas Vince (for his
story, `Look, see...' and Stickman.
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank