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The Call of Choloepus or The Sloth

December 10, 2012


“Like a dog for lazy people. Like a cat for really lazy people. Like a lazy person covered in fur and moss! New from SlothCo. Sloths! This Christmas’s must have gift. 2012’s Tamagotchi… like a Tamagotchi for people in a vegetative state! They walk! (to a degree). They talk! (if vocalisations start to be interpreted as speech please consult your physician). They hang! They can live on half a cucumber a month! They, erm, have a slow metabolism? SLOTHS! Available at all good pet stores and online at

The TV said.

And the people listened. Sloths were everywhere. Not just on TV adverts drinking Pina Coladas with attractive people on yachts. Not just a family of sloths being worn as a ball gown by Lady GaGa at award ceremonies. They were in people’s homes. They were hanging from peoples towel rails. Dogs and cats had been shown the flap. Goldfish, Koi Carp and Gerbils flushed in their millions. Canaries left in railway sidings like so much discarded pornography. Sloths were a pet for the Internet Age. And the people were happy with the world that they’d built. People like David.

“Ron. Ron. RON! How the hell do I reset my password for line checker?”

David worked for an ISP. In a call centre in grey and grinding Slough. Ron was the closest thing he had to a friend at work. He hated Ron so much it made his kidneys hurt.

“Dunno mate, ring IT bud, extension 325 pal. Yeah?”

“Urgh” said David. “I’m grabbing a coffee”.

The kitchen was small and smelt of microwave meals and the bleach below the sink. David flicked the kettle on and reached down his mug. Two spoons of coffee from the drum, three of sugar. Two parts water, one part milk. Drinkable. Yvonne glided into the room in her usual Masque of the Red Death fashion. Yvonne was his boss.

“Urgh” said David’s brain.

“I… kettles just boiled…. there’s only… save the planet and all that… ha….” said David’s lips and twisted tongue.

Yvonne was spooning coffee from the posh tin which said “Coffee” on it in small italicized letters and “The last person who used this got caught and let go” in large invisible ones. She turned as he’d finished speaking and smiled her sweet, understanding, pitying face.

“I’ll just…. you want me to fill…?”

“It’s fine, David”

“Yeah, I’ll…” He mumbled, fumbled a spoon into his coffee and made for the door.

“David”. She sang “Targets, David”. He turned to catch the same sickly smile that had been painted on moments ago and had not moved a muscle. Like being belted in the face with a Daim bar.

“Yeah, huh!…” said David.

“Urgh” said David’s self respect.

Back at his desk the muddy coffee spun like his head. The large open plan room twittered and undulated with voices. Most of what he caught was the “Hellos” and “Goodbyes”, elevated above the white noise by enthusiasm and frustration respectively. The phone rang it’s manic trill.

“Good morning you’ve reached the helpdesk, David speaking how can I help?”

“Turn my internet back on!”

David’s Neo Cortex changed the channel and left the crazy, cricket voice to whatever cluster of nerves and cells usually helped him blink and breathe and not defecate inappropriately. It had somewhere better to be.

“Well let me just pull up your account Sir and…”

“I’ve paid my bills you foreign shit!”

He saw him. The face being slowly lit from behind in the darkness.

“Sir, I’m from Preston. If you can just give me your landline number?”

“I’m not giving you my landline number, I’m ex directory!”

He saw the face clearly now. Waiting for him somewhere better.

“I paid you for this Internet. I want it. Bloody switch it back on!”


“Sir, your Internet is switched on. The problem lies elsewhere. If I could just run through a few diagnostic tests?”

“I’m not a brain scientist! I just like pornography and cats, make the Internet work you git!”

That beautiful soft face and feather gaze, like David Suchet on heavy sedatives. The severe bowl cut. The deep earthy eyes with their runny mascara markings. The tears of a beautiful clown. The claws…

“Sir, if you could restart the computer and then try to logon…”


David’s human brain didn’t come back for the rest of the day. It floated in that tranquil place where Clarence was. He had been bitten by the same bug that everybody had. He’d waited months. Slow, arduous months. Slowly climbing the waiting list like, well, like a sloth climbing a tree. Clarence had been the first thing on his mind in the morning and the last thing on his mind at night. And finally the day had arrived. In a cardboard box on his doorstep, wrapped in bubble wrap and with packing peanuts in his fur, oblivious and munching on an in-transit satsuma. Life had been brighter since that day. For him. For everyone. The sloths in their lives gave meaning to a people whose world moved too fast to stop and find it. A hard day at work didn’t seem so bad when you knew that they would be waiting for you at home. They were oh so good at waiting…

The alarm on his phone sent excited shivers down his spine and he was logged off and signed out within minutes, straight for the door. Yvonne took her usual 6 o’clock post, hovering by the door to make note of who was out first. It didn’t matter today. She flashed a razor glance at him that would half cut him in half any other day but tonight it washed over him like the cool rain that met him at the door out onto the street. The train heaved and groaned under the weight of twice as many passengers as it was designed to carry. Many moaned and shuffled themselves into as tight a corner as they could form from the sea of wet fabric and musty heat. But others. Others put their heads back to face the arc lighting, eyes closed in an act of obeisance. David knew it’s object. These were people who waited. Waited for the waiting. From his stop he walked the 10 minutes back to his flat and took the stair 14 floors. Even with every nerve ending set alight there was pleasure in distance and time counting down so slowly. He was at the door.

Finding Clarence was the final tease. In the wild they may live their lives in a single tree but in a single bedroom flat in Slough sloths apparently liked to roam. He checked all the usual haunts. The cup rack. The curtain rail. The strip lighting in the bathroom. Nowhere to be found. His heart took on a couple of extra beats per minute. He noticed the silence. Clarence was not a loud sloth, even by a sloth’s standards, but usually he could hear the rustling of him shifting or eating if he took a moment. There were no such sounds. Panic flirted with the edge of his thoughts.

Thud. A noise from the bedroom. His heart took it’s breath, and then raced. Everyone had a sloth nowadays. Everyone who could afford one. A sick belief coiled serpentine around his core. One good lead foot lead the least one in the direction of the door.


No reply. The bedroom door was slightly ajar. His hand came to rest on it, trembling. A scratching noise came from within the wardrobe. He stepped across the room toward it and the noise stopped as his feet rustled on the carpet.


He reached out and tentatively hooked a finger into the wardrobes handle. The silence was complete and deafening. His heart ran laps from his stomach to his gullet. A deep breath. And pull wide the door! Clarence there and nothing more. The furry head lolled over the shoulder to gaze at him with contented eyes. A shoelace hung from his mouth like cooked spaghetti. One arm hung over an old trainer in a lover’s embrace. His mouth slowly went round and round and the shoelace slowly got shorter and shorter. David came slowly down from the ledge his mind had climbed up to.

“I don’t know why I’m treating you”.

It was 9pm. Clarence was relaxing (always) on the rug in the living room. A large bowl of his favourite treat, fruit salad with whipped cream, sat beside him. He would paw at the bowl scooping handfuls of kiwi and pineapple into his face, smearing it with cream, roll over and chew, falling asleep as he did it and then wake with a lazy start and a smile would seem to come over his face as he remembered the bowl behind him. Repeat until bowl is eaten. And wake with a lazy start a couple more times to check the bowl until it sinks in that the fruit is all gone. David gazed at him with contented eyes.

In the background the TV chattered to itself on a low volume. Somthing on the screen caught his eye. It was a SlothCo advert. A new grooming brush? A hammock? Finally, this seasons pyjama patterns!? He turned up the volume. It didn’t seem like the usual adverts. Not George Clooney being groomed by sloths in a Manhattan penthouse. Not sloths on motorbikes being driven through midnight Tokyo by supermodels in tight leather. This one was weird.

A mass of grey and black and bone meal off-white, writhing and contorting on the screen, slowly at first, but with building speed and intensity. A sick heaving maelstrom of fur and moss and the ivory flash of claws. Dark eyes lazily staring from within the formless glut, lingering, unafraid, haunting the room like charnel air. And all the time the SlothCo jingle twisted and warped from it’s jangling, joyful melody to a frantic, dissonant whine.

David’s brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed, his mouth hung slightly agape. He gazed down at Clarence with concern. Clarence had rolled over and was facing the screen. One arm that had been resting at his side slid down and thumped the floor behind his back. His claws flexed convulsively. David started getting to his feet. Something wasn’t right. Clarence’s head lolled agonizingly over his shoulder. He was looking directly into David’s eyes. There was no warmth there. David was held half on his feet, gazing into those eyes. Usually so placid, now filled with a tethered violence and as cold as Arctic sea. He was entranced, his brain racing from dark corner to dark corner, trembling with apprehension.

“Clarence? Are you…”

He could hardly form the words. His mouth was filled with sand. Clarence was starting to get up. His movements had the aspect of a horrific palsy. There was a cold calculation and hot blooded intent in his eye. He was moving toward David.

“Clarence. Clarence? Don’t… I don’t understand… It’s me… please.”

The adrenaline coursed like an unleashed bolt from his head to his heels and he turned to flee. He made it as far as the thermostat. It was set to 21° was hovering between 19 and 20°. Had been all night. He’d have to get that looked at. Clarence’s claws could be heard clacking on the hardwood floor. Gaining. David turned and ran to the front door. A Dominoes leaflet. Vouchers! He picked them up, folded them along the perforation and tore free the coupons leaving the menu behind. He looked round the corner. Clarence still hadn’t made it out of the living room. Was there time? David’s heart beat a fierce tattoo within his chest. He raced to the kitchen and leaned in, dropped the menu into the bin and raced back to the door. He caught a glimpse of Clarence, the pet, no, the family he had clung to so dearly, who had helped put his life on straight rails, ambling towards him with rank malevolence in his eye. With the thick, painful lump of loss in his throat and his eyes red and brimming he fled to the door.


The lift counted the floors on it’s fingers like a thick kid. David glanced at the stairs. “By the time I’ve got to the 10th floor it’ll be here and I’ll still be able to hear the ping. It’s quicker on the way down I think. Maybe not if I ran…”. He felt the impending approach of Clarence tighten on him like a vice. By now he would be at the threshold of the living room….

He heard the click of a latch behind him and turned to see Mrs. Chaney emerge from her door. Hair in curlers and with a face like a crumpled pizza box she was muttering under her breath and chucked a TV remote out onto the landing.

“Bloody cats!” she said.

“Mrs. Chaney, are you OK? How’s Petunia?”

Mrs. Chaney had a sloth too. Everybody did.

“David! She’s gone bloody bonkers! I was watching the television and some awful music show came one, playing dub stitch or whatever such nonsense you children listen to and she went radio rental! Came at me like a German after me pension book, she did. It’s drugs is what it probably is. My poor kitty!”

The apprehension built ever further in David.

“Where is she now?”.

“Oh she’ll think twice before she comes after her Mother again, David. I dumped her in the bread bin and put the kettle on top. She’ll be OK once she’s thought about what she’s done for a while. I’ll just go make a cuppa”

“NO! Leave her, I’m gonna sort this out.”

“What are you going to do?”

It was a good question. What was he going to do? What the fuck exactly was he going to do? The lift pinged behind him.

“Just stay here Mrs. Chaney, leave it to me”

“Stay away from drugs and discos!” she called after him as he got in the lift.

The question came again. Just what was he going to do? From the landing he had heard the distant panicked screams of others in the building. It was apparent that Clarence wasn’t the only sloth who had been affected by his, whatever it was, that was happening. Clarence. The thought raised his hackles in chill waves. The thought of him in pursuit. Probably halfway to the front door by now… He tried to remember the scene. Only fragments remained where the adrenaline had spiked and slumped. One minute Clarence had been there on the floor, food-stoned on kiwi fruit and whipped cream, and the next minute he had been crawling toward David with blood and thunder in his eye. Like two ugly arcs of a Hammer House of Horror. With an ad break between them…! That was it. The advert. The discordant, manic music and the seductive, seething video. The SlothCo advert. As the lift made it to ground level and made his stomach lurch he had found his black seed. Slothco.

This close to the street the chaos was more noticeable. The plaintive wail of Police and Ambulance and Fire Engine. The sobs and desperate cries of people out in the road. Across from the lift a door pulled inwards. A limp arm fell through the crack, it’s fingers wracked and bloody, clawing at the carpet with a pitiable weakness. From the darkness within the flat, frigid eyes lustered out at David. A paw emerged, its claws caked in gore, and agonizingly closed over the desperate hand in a lovers clasp. The arm was drawn back within the room. David’s heart shot through with ice.

Outside the pillars of society seemed to have collapse with astonishing rapidity considering the source of their destruction. People ran amok in the streets, traffic careened on the roads and piled up on pavement and divides. Here and there the root of the abandon and menace could be seen hanging from lampposts, bike racks, tree branches and the hair of fleeing, petrified civilians. David took his bearings. He needed to find the source of the broadcast that had set this horror in motion, perhaps it could be stopped, perhaps that would stop the madness. He had left everything behind him in the panic. Phone. Laptop. But wait. He checked his wallet. The SlothCo delivery card! He had kept it all this time in his wallet, like a photo of a lover. He reached into his pocket and drew it out.

“Please find enclosed you delivery of (CLARENCE) the sloth and complimentary satsuma/pear/Kinder Egg/aubergine (based on seasonal availability). Please remember to only use your sloth with approved SlothCo accessories and avoid exposing it to extremes of temperature. Your sloth is protected by our 24 month limited warranty. On immediate discovery of fault with your sloth please return to the following address (your statutory rights are not affected)

And there it was, staring him right in the face, familiar but chilling at once. His work address. One floor above. SlothCo were working their malignant influence 10 feet above his desk. His head swam and dizzied him. It was too convenient. Too perfect. Almost ordained. He had a 6 month travel pass right to the door for God’s sake! On the distant horizon he saw dark shuddering forms come into view and felt the rumble of artillery beneath his feet. The Army were being moved in. He turned in the direction of work for the second time today. But this time he ran.

The night was crisp as cut glass and monochrome by the moonlight. The cold made his lungs feel like dead weight and wrought a burnt copper taste up through him and onto the back of his tongue. His legs screamed at him from exhaustion. His head pounded with blood. The dark colossus of his workplace, their workplace, finally loomed before him.

The glass doors were in pieces. The shards had fallen on the outside. Tentatively pushing them open he stepped inside. Into carnage. The lights flickered a staccato rhythm above him. The walls were daubed with blood and viscera. A leg poked out from behind the security desk. David would not have put money on whether it was still attached to a body or not. He headed toward the lifts. At the bottom of the staircase a barricade had been erected from desks and office chairs. Clumps of grey and brown fur had been torn free on loose fittings. He shuddered. This had been somebodies last stand. The lifts still seemed to be working, an emergency generator he presumed. He stepped inside.

Stopping a moment to check the delivery card he thought of Clarence. It was bittersweet. Like a kiwi fruit salad with whipped cream. Where would he be now? Halfway towards Mrs. Chaney’s probably. Still in that silent pursuit of the man who had taken him to his heart. Who had felt him grow in his affection like moss in your coat. Who loved him like the children he no longer wanted if they weren’t all grey and furry and funny and dopey looking. David clenched his eyes shut to drive away the mist that was forming there. He reached out and pushed the button for SlothCo’s floor.

The lift came to a stop a few metres ahead of his stomach. The doors peeled back with a groan. The lights were off at SlothCo. The large open plan office was the exact same layout as his own. The room was only lit by the light of adjacent buildings on the trading estate, the whole floor bathed in vague, secondhand orange light. David felt anxiety crawling all over his body like insects on carrion. He had little idea what he was looking for and less what to do when he found it. Sneaking round the corner and out into the frighteningly open office his eyes scanned the room for darkness moving within the darkness. He crept along the wall toward where Yvonne’s office would be on his own floor. At least that was somewhere to start. As he neared the door he heard strange sounds inside. A soft clanging noise and a shuffling like cloth being rubbed together.


The voice was vehement and as black as a raven’s plume. The word simultaneously rooted him to the spot whilst every nerve begged him to retreat and drew him into the room whilst his brain beseeched him to stay put. His body and brain scorned, he entered the office.

“Good child”

The room was not like Yvonne’s office. The room was not even possible. The size of a Cathedral, there was no way for it to exist within the confines of the building he knew. Set in the red and gold of the Catholic creed but all it’s whites black. Baroque sculpture and painting adorned the walls and depicted sloths of antiquity in scenes so foul and depraved his stomach churned. The vast space and all it’s furniture and fixture was swathed in vast cobwebs which, when blown by draught and breeze, were swiftly immolated on the black candles that littered and lit the room. The paint on every wall and fresco peeled and fell, almost before his eyes.The effect was of terrible atrophia and neglect.

“Come closer”

The owner of the voice could be seen at the other end of the nave stood behind an altar. That dark, sonorous voice compelled David beyond his volition to draw near. Stepping out and down the nave like a bride before an empty congregation on flagstones cracked and desiccated. As he got closer he could make out the man stood beneath the immense stained glass window depicting, well, something that his mind would not allow him to hold. Bald but for the thinnest strands of white hair sticking to his head or sticking out at odd angles and flowing down his back like torn wool. Grossly fat and heaving in his whole aspect. Patterned with sores that showed on his face and hands and anywhere his black robes showed pasty fishbelly flesh. His teeth brown and black like sodden driftwood. His cracked grey tongue rolling around cracked blue lips. His eyes. David was stopped before the altar by those eyes without need for that pink and black gummed mouth to issue another word. Bloodshot and drooping, the puckered lids dropping to meet each other then opening wide in hateful issue only to lull once more.

“What are you doing boy?”

Now only a throaty whisper the figure’s voice still held it’s commanding tone.

“You wrecked up my sloth” said David.

“Ha! Your sloth did exactly what he was born to do, David. Did he not make your life better?”

“”Until you sent out that ad that sent him insane and he tried to kill me”.

“Well, maybe that would have been the final improvement child. What did you have to live for anyway. Any of you. One more day at a job that slowly kills you? One more night where you can not sleep because your body has not expended it’s energy? One more TV boxset?”

“I was happy with Clarence” muttered David, he could hear the pitiful childish waver in his voice before the wry smile creaked into the things face.

“Everybody was. They are the paragons of inaction David, mankind took to them quite nicely as we expected. Something even lazier than yourselves. No need to train or walk or clean up after. No need to feed if your kitchen’s a mess. They are just what you people ordered. Online and over the phone, not even any need to walk down to the shops”.

“He was my friend and you turned him against me. You have to stop them. People are dying”.

“People are dying, child. People are dead. The people are dead, they just haven’t stopped moving yet” He grinned his black tooth grin.

“What are you?” said David. His blood ran as cold as black ice.

“I am Belphegor David, I am the seventh. You have had lust and wrath and pride and now you have me. No-one thought I would be the coup de grace, but I believed, it only made sense. I am the end of the feast, child. It is time to sleep. Put your head back and close your eyes.”

The man in front of him, for all his abhorrence, took the air of a kindly nurse by ones bed and seemed to guide David into repose. The somnolent tone of his voice swam in his head. He felt his neck grow weak and his head heavy. He felt like slipping into a sweet narcotic sleep where the chaos outside would bother him no longer. His head tilted back. With only the vaguest twinges of fear he saw that the ceiling was swarming with a carpet of black and grey and brown fur. He heard the shuffling of a thousand wiry bodies lazily rubbing against one another. A maelstrom of moss and fur and claw. He felt only the slightest trepidation as the carpet collapsed and rushed down to meet him like a deluge.


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