What’s bugging you?
The main protagonist of Silman’s and Froelich’s novel, There’s A Bug Going Around, is the HIV virus. In a sort of social dance macabre, a cast of very different characters rely upon its presence and use it in different ways to advance their various ambitions and causes.
This black-comedy-cum-medical-thriller is set in the 1990s at the height of the AIDS scare and written more than 20 years ago. Thanks to a recent and irresistible example of science imitating fiction, its authors decided to take it out of the drawer to which it was consigned, dust it down, and get it published: today they achieve their aim. There’s A Bug Going Around focuses upon the grotesque competition between the French and American scientific institutions as to who discovered it first, eventually escalating into top level discussions between Ronald Reagan and Jacques Chirac.
Here is an extract:
First, Felix needed a room, somewhere with privacy, not only privacy while he was doing it, but privacy from intruders when he wasn’t there. Thank goodness he was now in the sixth form with his own personal study. Studies were inviolate, no one entered without permission. Nonetheless Felix took no chances, he fitted a padlock to the cupboard.
Next was the equipment. It was a complicated business, and it took several months of trial and error before he even began to understand what he was seeking. Then there were a couple of bungled experiments as he worked out exactly what was needed. But when he did, it all made sense. Some things were easy to acquire, the ropes and chains; some were more tricky, the women’s stockings and undergarments. As for the most important item, the high heeled black leather boots, he stole them from Harrods. Bit by bit the locked cupboard was filled with treasure, like Aladdin’s cave.
It was an evening in late autumn when Felix was finally ready to give it a try. The tension had been building up in him for days. Felix retired to his study and bolted the door. There was a thick swirling mist rising up against the dying sun. The wildly shaking branches of the trees alongside the playing fields were barely visible. The wind flung the dead leaves against the study window, and it sounded like the fluttering of moths struggling to get in. Felix lighted a candle, a black candle. There had to be a candle and it had to be black. He placed it on the mantelpiece above the fireplace and drew the curtains. The room was chilly and he lit the gas fire. He sat slouched in the massive green armchair and waited for the fire to warm the room. He was at peace, the flickering of candle and gas illuminating the room and bathing it in a glow of light and shade.
He unlocked the cupboard and pulled back the door. He looked at himself in the full length mirror that he’d attached to the back of the door. He stared at himself and smiled. He was savouring the moment, acknowledging the occasion, preparing to meet his first and only love.
He stripped off his clothes, and stood naked before the mirror. He was tall, already more than six foot, and slim and not bad looking. The Roman nose gave an air of haughtiness, and the massive jaw suggested profundity, but there was also a freshness and charm in the face to temper any heaviness. His skin was white like alabaster, with a soft down of jet black hair between his legs. It was the most striking feature of his appearance, the contrast between the pallor of his skin and the blackness of his hair, like an old print of Rudolph Valentino.
The first items of dress were the black silk stockings and lace garters. Felix perched himself on a stool in front of the mirror, and watched himself slip them on. He was like Marlene in the Blue Angel. He stroked his thighs and smiled at himself as he attached stocking to garter, swinging one long lanky leg over the other in an exaggerated gesture of seduction.
Next came the panties, again silk, but in a deep vermilion red. He stood up and slipped them on over the stockings. The panties were trimmed in lace and were open at their centre. He waved a greeting to himself as it grew from his groin, like a flagpole propelling itself through the hole in the centre.
Next came the corset, a whalebone and rubber affair that he’d managed to acquire at an Oxfam jumble sale. There were ties and belts and buckles and hooks. The corset was a delight. As Felix tightened the stays, the flagpole throbbed with pleasure at every squeeze and pinch.
Next came the bras. There were several to choose from, a skimpy see through from a sex shop, a fashionable half cup from a couturier, and an old fashioned heavily padded affair which he’d acquired at the same time as the corset. Only now did it become obvious. It had to be the heavy old fashioned rubber one. As he attached the hooks and eased it over his nipples, the flagpole grew another inch in appreciation, and a drop of moisture appeared at its tip.
He was nearly ready. He sat on the stool, legs wide apart, flagpole protruding erect from the central parting in the panties, catching the light from the candle and throwing a flickering shadow on the wall.
Felix took a box from the cupboard and began to apply his makeup. He had little idea of how it worked, there’d been no one to ask, but he managed to work it out from first principles and from what he could remember of mother when he’d watched her do it all those years ago. He started with foundation cream, applying it liberally, obliterating all trace of facial hair, then eyeliner, then rouge, then powder, then false eyelashes, and finally a deep vermilion lipstick to match the colour of the panties.
He looked wonderful. The object of his desire was being created before his very eyes. The flagpole secreted two drops from its tip in appreciation of the marvel standing before it.
Now came the wig. It had taken Felix weeks to track it down. Some shops had the right colour but the wrong style, some the right length but the wrong texture, it seemed impossible to get everything right, but it had to be, it was essential. Eventually Felix placed an ad in the personal columns of the Times. “Wanted: waist length auburn wig of finest quality”. And here it was at last, the hair like silk, the colour a golden chestnut. He fitted it over his scalp, and shook his head. It cascaded down his back like a river. The reflection in the mirror was Guinevere, the demoiselle of his dreams.
Not quite. There was still one item. Felix reached into the cupboard and pulled out the boots. They were soft like puppy skin, with a smell of finest leather. The heels were long, like stilettos. He caressed the skin against his cheek, murmuring endearments, as if he were cradling a baby. Then he rubbed the black leather against the flagpole. It grew another inch, reared above his umbilicus, and shot two or three drops into space in jubilation.
Felix slipped on the boots and stood before his image in the mirror. He was now ready for the final act of consummation.
He stretched into the cupboard and brought out the rope and chains. He attached the rope to the heavy brass buckle he’d nailed to the wall, and knotted it to the chains. Next came the cellophane bag. He placed it over his head. It was transparent and he could see through it, watching himself in the mirror. He took the ties dangling from the cellophane bag and wound them round the chains. Last he slipped his wrists inside the chains. He gave a tug, he was firmly bound. Sure he could escape, but only from one position, the one he would use when he was done.
He looked at himself in the mirror. Guinevere bound and chained. He tugged at the ties and the cellophane bag tightened round his neck. He watched as Guinevere struggled for breath. He saw her begin to shake and gasp, the more she struggled the more she choked. The absence of oxygen was like a furnace for the flagpole. It rose ever higher, its tip stretching up to caress her breasts. She struggled, seeking to escape the flagpole. But it was like a snake rearing its head towards her, its ardour inflamed by her reticence. The cellophane bag was plastered against her face, there was not a breath of air, she was choking to death. As if in exultation the flagpole let loose a jet of liquid. It shot into the air like a firework, the drops glistening in the light of the candle. Guinevere moaned in ecstasy.
Felix slipped from his chains and removed the cellophane bag. The flagpole exhausted the last drops of its passion and shrivelled. Felix collapsed to the floor fighting for breath. It was alright. He’d judged it exactly, too soon and the thrill would have been lost, too late and she would have died.
Felix lay on the ground panting in satisfaction.
There’s A Bug Going Around, Robert Silman and Steven Froelich, Tambar, hardback £22.99, paperback £12.99 ebook £9.50