Over the next two weeks, in celebration of Halloween and the new anthology The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, Tachyon and editor Ellen Datlow present excerpts from a selection of the volume’s horrifying tales.
Today’s selection comes from “The Cutter” by Edward Bryant.
My memory is still intact. I remember the scene as well as I can recall any other episode from my childhood. The year was 1951 and I was six years old.
I was right there with the men—the scientists and the soldiers—as they cautiously crept through the dark, close tunnels of the Arctic base. The steady metronome of the Geiger counter clicked ever faster, eventually crackling into a ripping-canvas sound as the probe neared the metal storage locker.
Capt. Hendry paused a moment. The scientists, Carrington and Stern, exchanged glances. The tall, storklike newspaperman, Scotty, didn’t look happy at all. The other men leveled their guns at the cabinet. There was something in there. Something from another world. It was ravenous for human blood, and it had already killed.
Capt. Hendry nodded. The man called Bob gingerly reached forward and flipped the door-catch. The locker opened as the music crashed to a climax and I jumped.
The frozen carcass of a sled dog rolled out and thudded to the floor. I stared. So did the men.
Dr. Stern looked disappointed. Dr. Carrington, I couldn’t tell. Capt. Hendry smiled grimly and shrugged. Crossing to the other side of the room, he motioned for the rest of us to follow.
We were right behind him when he twisted the knob on the door to the next passageway. The door swung open without warning to reveal the creature standing on the other side. It raised its clawed hands and swiped at Capt. Hendry.
I wet my pants.
As I said before, it was 1951 and I was six. I hadn’t read the publicity and hadn’t heard Phil Harris sing about “The Thing” on the radio. I had never heard of John W. Campbell’s story. I didn’t care whether Christian Nyby or Howard Hawks had really directed.
All I knew was I had lived through a scene up on the flickering screen that had branded itself in my brain far deeper than anything that was to come until a few years later, when I sat in the same theater and watched Janet Leigh’s dark blood swirl down the drain in Psycho.
Twenty years after I first saw it, I watched The Thing at a science fiction film festival in Los Angeles. I sat there as entranced as the first time, but now I didn’t wet my pants. There was not even the temptation. The absolutely shocking scene I’d remembered wasn’t there. Sure, there were the components—the dog falling out of the locker and the part where Kenneth Tobey’s character opened the door to the greenhouse and there was the Thing waiting for him. But the juxtaposition that had left me with nightmares for months just wasn’t there. I told a friend about it, but he laughed and reminded me that the human mind does that frequently with books and movies, not to mention the whole rest of human experience. We edit in our heads. We change things from reality. After a while, we accept the altered memories as gospel. It’s a human thing.
Yeah. Right. What I didn’t tell my friend was that I knew for a fact that I had once watched the scene I’d remembered. Frame for frame. I didn’t tell him, but I’d known the man who’d re-edited the movie. Little had Hawks—or Nyby, for that matter—known. I used to work for that man. The cutter.
I had been there the final days. And worse, that last night.
For information on The Cutting Room: Dark Reflections of the Silver Screen, visit the Tachyon page.
Cover by Josh Beatman.