top of page

The Man, or the Animal

By Niall Walker

Many of us are fortunate enough to live with names. Names distinguish us in other's minds, and in this way names are our proof that we matter beyond ourselves, that we are here to be known. Some individuals never have names, or if they did, they have been swept up in to the chasm of lost memories.

Beyond the city, past its saturnine vibrations and howling suburbs, and the serrated steel and broken glass which announced its border, there existed such a being. It had no name; not in the language of our fathers, nor in the language of its own.

It may be referred to by nothing so metaphysical as its appearance, which was monstrous. Its head was small and stretched, set with a look of seemingly permanent alertness. It breathed quickly and violently, and its diaphragm swung in rhythm, a visible skeleton beneath a naked bandage of skin. Its legs jutted from its body like they had been stabbed in; yet they looked proud and erect, the wheels of a predator beneath the carcass of its prey.

The only feature which gave it hope was its nose. Bending through a demonic assortment of features, it ensured that the creature could detect every scent in its proximity.

And what did it smell? It smelt damp mud, layers beneath a floor of heated plastic. It smelt, somewhere close, the radiating scent of electrical wires, and a night air collapsing under the warning of a storm.

But mostly, it smelt blood.


The door closed on the sound of the city. Outside a siren crescendoed to a scream which seemed to emanate from one's brain, before fading away like our dreams once we have just awoken.

Some distance from the cell which kept the creature from its target, behind this door, a man entered his room. A single light source beat a pale luminescence, cold light which revealed plates and packets immersing the surfaces. Larry reacted with a sigh, and a self-reflective expletive.


Silence chased his words, smothering the room. Slowly, he moved from the doorway, with the resigned and sedentary gait of one permanently lost in the crowd. His untidy beard hid a withered jaw; his eyes' puffy bags cradled two twitching commas. Soon, each was arrested by another, imposing presence within the room.


The creature was now restless at the scent.. It shifted noisily in its confines, wishing only to leap out and sate its bloody thirst. With every moment, with every heartbeat, its impatience ascended. This was not a cultured organism: it displayed no willingness to discretion, but began wildly shoving in the direction of the smell. It was starving. Its mouth hadn't even the moisture to produce saliva, and its skin now sunk in to its ribs with every piercing breath.


Larry bent down in front of the towering, dark machine which stood over his bed. Its complexity and sophistication humbled every other image or object that stood captive to it. Its light dazzled with a majesty that somehow dulled the spectator, and Larry was reduced to a silhouette in orbit, a shadow, a reflection. Reaching almost his standing eyeline, a series of radiating metal limbs and dellicate wires lead to a small cloud of impossibly intricate and colourful dots and lines, which, if one dared look close enough, were jumping in and out of existence on a thin piece of glass, suspended at head height. Two sensors extended at either side, smooth and open, seeking one's hand.

Larry blinked.