Eric Cauldhame Quotes in The Wasp Factory
‘I hope you weren’t out killing any of God’s creatures.’
I shrugged at him again. Of course I was out killing things. How the hell am I supposed to get heads and bodies for the Poles and the Bunker if I don’t kill things? There just aren’t enough natural deaths. You can’t explain that sort of thing to people, though.
‘Sometimes I think you’re the one who should be in the hospital, not Eric.’ He was looking at me from under his dark brows, his voice low. Once, that sort of talk would have scared me, but not now. I’m nearly seventeen, and not a child. Here in Scotland I’m old enough to get married without my parent’s permission, and have been for a year. There wouldn’t be much point to me getting married perhaps — I’ll admit that — but the principle is there.
Besides, I’m not Eric; I’m me and I’m here and that’s all there is to it. I don’t bother people and they had best not bother me if they know what’s good for them. I don’t go giving people presents of burning dogs, or frighten the local toddlers with handfuls of maggots and mouthfuls of worms. The people in the town may say ‘Oh, he’s not all there, you know,’ but that’s just their little joke (and sometimes, to rub it in, they don’t point to their heads as they say it); I don’t mind. I’ve learned to live with my disability, and learned to live without other people, so it’s no skin off my nose.
Eric in particular was very upset. He cried like a girl. I wanted to kill Blyth there and then; the hiding he got from his father, my dad’s brother James, was not enough as far as I was concerned, not for what he’d done to Eric, my brother. Eric was inconsolable, desperate with grief because he had made the thing Blyth had used to destroy our beloved pets. He always was a bit sentimental, always the sensitive one, the bright one; until his nasty experience everybody was sure he would go far. Anyway, that was the start of the Skull Grounds, the area of the big, old, partially earthed-over dune behind the house where all our pets went when they died. The burned rabbits started that. Old Saul was before them, but that was just a one-off thing.
The rocks of the Bomb Circle usually get me thinking and this time was no exception, especially considering the way I’d lain down inside them like some Christ or something, opened to the sky dreaming of death. Well, Paul went about as quickly as you can go; I was certainly humane that time. Blyth had lots of time to realise what was happening, jumping about the Snake Park screaming as the frantic and enraged snake bit his stump repeatedly, and little Esmerelda must have had some inkling what was going to happen to her as she was slowly blown away.
My brother Paul was five when I killed him. I was eight. It was over two years after I had subtracted Blyth with an adder that I found an opportunity to get rid of Paul. Not that I bore him any personal ill-will; it was simply that I knew he couldn’t stay. I knew I’d never be free of the dog until he was gone (Eric, poor well-meaning bright but ignorant Eric, thought I still wasn’t, and I just couldn’t tell him why I was).
I had decided I would try to murder Esmerelda before she and her parents even arrived for their holiday. Eric was away on a school cruise, so there would only be me and her. It would be risky, so soon after Paul’s death, but I had to do something to even up the balance. I could feel it in my guts, in my bones; I had to. It was like an itch, something I had no way of resisting, like when I walk along a pavement in Porteneil and I accidentally scuff one heel on a paving stone. I have to scuff the other foot as well, with near as possible the same weight, to feel good again… In a whole range of ways like that I try to keep balanced, though I have no idea why. It is simply something that must be done; and, in the same way, I had to get rid of some woman, tip the scales back in the other direction.
I lay in bed. Soon I would have to try some long-range fixing of this problem. It was the only way. I’d have to try to influence things through the root cause of it all: Old Saul himself. Some heavy medicine was required if Eric wasn’t to wreck single-handedly the entire Scottish telephone network and decimate the country’s canine population. First, though, I would have to consult the Factory again.
It wasn’t exactly my fault, but I was totally involved, and I might just be able to do something about it, with the skull of the ancient hound, the Factory’s help and a little luck. How susceptible my brother would be to whatever vibes I could send out was a question I didn’t like too much to think about, given the state of his head, but I had to do something.
I hoped the little puppy had got well away. Dammit, I didn’t hold all dogs to blame for what happened. Old Saul was the culprit, Old Saul had gone down in our history and my personal mythology as the Castraitor, but thanks to the little creatures who flew the creek I had him in my power now.
Eric was crazy all right, even if he was my brother. He was lucky to have somebody sane who still liked him.
Before I realised the birds were my occasional allies, I used to do unkind things to them: fish for them, shoot them, tie them to stakes at low tide, put electrically detonated bombs under their nests, and so on.
My favourite game was capturing two using bait and a net, then tying them together. Usually they were gulls and I tied thick orange nylon fishing-line to a leg each, then sat on a dune and watched. Sometimes I would have a gull and a crow but, whether they were the same species or not, they quickly found out they couldn’t fly properly – though the twine was long enough in theory – and ended up (after a few hilariously clumsy aerobatics) fighting.
With one dead, though, the survivor – usually injured – wasn’t really any better off, attached to a heavy corpse instead of a live opponent. I have seen a couple of determined ones peck the leg off their defeated adversary, but most were unable, or didn’t think of it, and got caught by the rats during the night.
I had other games, but that one always struck me as one of my more mature inventions; symbolic somehow, and with a nice blend of callousness and irony.
‘I’ve told you; he’s crazy but he’s very cunning. He’s not stupid. He was always very bright, right from the start. He was reading early and getting all his relations and uncles and aunts to say “Och, they’re old so young these days” and things like that before I was even born.’
‘But he is insane, all the same.’
‘That’s what they say, but I don’t know.’
‘What about the dogs? And the maggots?’
‘OK, that looks pretty crazy, I’ll admit, but sometimes I think maybe he’s up to something, maybe he’s not really crazy after all. Perhaps he just got fed up acting normal and decided to act crazy instead, and they locked him up because he went too far.’
‘And he’s mad at them,’ Jamie grinned, drinking his pint as I annihilated various dodging, mulit-coloured spacecraft on the screen. I laughed. ‘Yeah, if you like. Oh, I don’t know. Maybe he really is crazy. Maybe I am. Maybe everybody is. Or at least all of my family.’
‘Now you’re talking.’
I looked up at him for a second, then smiled. ‘It does occur to me sometimes. My dad’s an eccentric…I suppose I am, too.’ I shrugged, concentrated on the space battle again. ‘But it doesn’t bother me. There are a lot madder people about the place.’
‘The madder people. A lot of them seem to be leaders of countries or religions or armies. The real loonies.’
‘Aye, I suppose.’ I said thoughtfully, watching the battle on the screen upside down. ‘Or maybe they’re the only sane ones. After all, they’re the ones with all the power and riches. They’re the ones who get everybody else to do what they want them to do... So, given things being the way they are, who’s to say they’re the loonies because they don’t do things the way Joe Punter thinks they ought to be done? If they thought the same way as Joe Punter, they’d be Joe Punter, and somebody else would be having all the fun.’
‘Survival of the fittest.’
… I would try to contact Eric through the skull of Old Saul. We are brothers, after all, even if only half so, and we are both men, even if I am only half so. At some deep level we understand each other, even though he is mad and I am sane. We even had that link I had not thought of until recently, but which might come in useful now: we have both killed, and used our heads to do it.
It occurred to me then, as it has before, that that is what men are really for. Both sexes can do one thing specially well; women can give birth and men can kill. We – I consider myself an honorary man – are the harder sex. We strike out, push through, thrust and take. The fact that it is only an analogue of all this sexual terminology I am capable of does not discourage me. I can feel it in my bones, in my uncastrated genes. Eric must respond to that.
…[Eric] had been too much for me. The conflagration in his head was just too strong for anybody sane to cope with. It had a lunatic strength of total commitment about it which only the profoundly mad are continually capable of, and the most ferocious soldiers and most aggressive sportsmen able to emulate for a while. Every particle of Eric’s brain was concentrated on his mission of returning and setting fire, and no normal brain – not even mine, which was far from normal and more powerful than most – could match that marshaling of forces. Eric was committed to total War, a Jihad; he was riding the Divine Wind to at least his own destruction, and there was nothing I could do about it this way.
We played some stories out: brave soldiers in the dunes and fighting, winning and fighting and fighting and sometimes dying. Those were the only times he deliberately hurt me, when his stories required his own heroic death and I would take it all too seriously as he lay expiring on the grass or the sands, having just blown up the bridge or the dam or the enemy convoy and like as not saved me from death, too; I would choke back tears and punch him lightly as I tried to change the story myself and he refused, slipping away from me and dying; too often dying.
When he had his migraines – sometimes lasting days – I lived on the edge, taking cool drinks and some food up to the darkened room on the second floor, creeping in, standing and shaking sometimes if he moaned and shifted on the bed. I was wretched while he suffered, and nothing meant anything; the games and the stories seemed stupid and pointless, and only throwing stones at bottles or seagulls made much sense. I went out fishing for gulls, determined things other than Eric should suffer: when he recovered it was like him coming back for the summer all over again, and I was irrepressible.
It always annoyed me that Eric went crazy. Although it wasn’t an on-off thing, sane one minute, mad the next, I don’t think there is much doubt that the incident with the smiling child triggered something in Eric that led, almost inevitably, to his fall. Something in him could not accept what had happened, could not fit in what he had seen with the way he thought things ought to be…
Whatever it was that disintegrated in Eric then, it was a weakness, a fundamental flaw that a real man should not have had. Women, I know from watching hundreds – maybe thousands – of films and television programmes, cannot withstand really major things happening to them; they get raped or their loved one dies, and they go to pieces, go crazy and commit suicide, or just pine away until they die. Of course, I realise that not all of them will react that way, but obviously it’s the rule, and the ones who don’t obey it are in the minority.
There must be a few strong women, women with more man in their character than most, and I suspect that Eric was the victim of a self with just a little too much of the woman in it. That sensitivity, that desire not to hurt people, that delicate, mindful brilliance – these things were his partly because he thought too much like a woman. Up until his nasty experience it never really bothered him, but just at that moment, in that extremity of circumstance, it was enough to break him.