He feels honoured that the Presence has granted him permission to advance to the next stage. No more half-hearted scratches to his arms and legs with the old compass needle from his geometry set.

No. Now he is allowed to go further. It will mean that he can no longer hide his injuries from his parents, but that doesn’t matter now. What he is about to do will send him to Fairlight, but he knows that this is part of the Plan. A war is coming, and the Presence is marshalling its troops, centralising them.

A call to arms, he thinks to himself with a grin. He caresses the scars on his forearms as he stares out of the window. The sun has risen over the tops of the council houses and its heat beats against the glass. Another hot day, and another day his parents will ask him why he is wearing his full sleeved shirt rather than his summer ones. It was easier before, they accepted that he wanted to hide as much of his obesity as possible, regardless of the weather. But it is different now.

They suspect, if they do not know already, that he has been self-harming. But they don’t want to press the issue with him. They don’t want their suspicions confirmed.

Tough shit, mum and dad! Perhaps you shoulda listened to Granny Ulrika. Rocking back and forth in the knackered old chair in the rest home, dribbling the pureed food and pissing her knickers while mumbling random thoughts on what’s happening with ‘the youth of today.’ You thought she was just a senile old bag, didn’t you? Shit, so did I.

But she’s no dummy. She gave me the look before I even starting hacking away at my arms. She knew.

Guess it’s true what they say about old age being a second childhood. As the brain turns to mush and layers of modern thinking and civilised concepts fall away, they see the world in a way that only kids do. And they see things more clearly.

He throws the duvet cover from his sweating body and climbs out of bed. He makes his way to the desk in the corner of his bedroom, wheezing. He sits down and stares at the printed essay he is due to hand in to Miss Tyndall today. Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure, and the scene in which the son hangs himself and kills his siblings.

“Done because we are too many,” he reads with a smile. He remembers the doctor’s speech later in the books, and the assertion that the kid’s actions were ‘the coming desire not to live.’

Well, ol’ Thomas was really on to something there! But not quite accurate - there’s a mistake there that Teach needs to be made aware of…

He smiles as he pushes the PC keyboard to one side and spreads the sheets of paper over the desk. I put blood, sweat and tears into this one, Miss!

Well, maybe not the tears. He pulls open the drawer beneath and takes out his grandfather’s old cut-throat razor. He opens the handle and the rising sun hits the well-honed blade, turning it into a shining arrow of pure silver. It is beautiful, it is dazzling. It is inviting.

The razor is of German manufacture. Grandad said that his own father had used it in the trenches of the First World War, and then he himself used it when stationed in France, battling the Allies. An heirloom of living history, passed from one generation to the next.

He knew about granddad’s arrival in Britain and the years spent in the POW camp, the eventual release and the waiting for Ulrika to be found and to come over to be reunited with her husband in their new homeland.

He turns the razor and watches the silver reflection flash over the textbooks and PC games on his bookshelf. Funny how his father hadn’t wanted to keep the razor; he’d had to fish it out of the bin when his dad wasn’t looking. Why deprive him of his birthright? Dad wouldn’t say, and so he’d had to find out himself.

In one of her more lucid moments, Granny Ulrika had been very forthcoming. Told him of granddad’s true role within the German Army, his posting in Paris with the Gestapo, and how he had deceived the Allies into identifying him as a simple country boy, recruited into the Wermacht on the strength of Nazi lies and propaganda. He was only eighteen, how could they know?

She also told him how the razor had been used in the interrogation of Resistance members at 84 Avenue Foche.

She had begged him to rid himself of it. Said that his father had done the right thing in disposing of it, but should have destroyed it completely. This was living history, a secret reminder of the evil her countrymen – and her own husband – had inflicted upon the world.

They’d called him the Tailor Man. She told him of the German book by Hoffman that she had grown up with, “Der Struwwelpeter”, and the story of the little boy who wouldn’t stop sucking his thumbs until a journeyman tailor cut them away with a giant pair of scissors.

Scissors were too crude and required too much physical effort in the torture cellars of the Reich. A razor would cut more cleanly and efficiently.

He stares at the gleaming steel and wonders how many thumbs this tool has cut away. And what other appendages have been severed by this razor?

The Presence has a sense of irony. This was the tool he has been ordered to use on himself.

He has studied the anatomy of the human body and roughly knows whereabouts to cut. He makes a hash of it anyway. The blade parts the skin and doughy flesh from the base of the thumb smoothly and easily, but he has misjudged the position of the joint and his grandfather’s razor meets the resistance of solid bone.

The agony comes in long, explosive pulses that send shockwaves up his arm. His shoulder feels as though he’s touched an electrified cattle fence, while his hand is a molten ball of lava.

He persists, sawing away at the bone. He could have moved the blade to its correct, intended position but why bother? This is more painful, prolonging the agony, just as the Presence desires. Surely he will please the Presence with this additional, bonus pain?

Something else stirs, this time in his abdomen. He frowns, the agony of his hand momentarily forgotten with this new sensation. It is not painful, but it is unpleasant. As though his belly is filled with worms, writhing, thrashing. Pressing against the walls of his stomach…

Then the agony returns and he focuses on the job in hand. Quite literally, he thinks to himself, and despite the pain a small snigger of self-amusement escapes his lips.

The pudgy thumb twitches on the soaked pages of his essay as it is freed from his hand. Like a finger, beckoning. The ragged section of bone looks grey and honeycombed beneath the coating of blood. Fragile, delicate.

Bad bone structure. He was warned by the family doctor of the onset of osteoporosis, another incentive to lose weight and get fit. He stares at the severed digit for a moment, and then wonders how he’s going to cut off his other thumb.

The Presence has a comforting answer. He listens thoughtfully and smiles. Of course, that makes perfect sense. But in order to make it happen, the other digits must come away.

It takes him a while to cut away the four fingers from his hand, despite the ease with which the fatty flesh parts. A red mist has descended over his eyes and blackness lurks at the sides of it, threatening to take him to a state of unconsciousness. He must pause, allow his body time to recover between each amputation. Not too long, though. Shock and blood loss will make him pass out before the operation is complete.

There. The final finger lies with its fellows on his essay. “Done because we are too many,” he croaks.

His hand is a mass of swollen, bleeding meat. Pieces of bone peek through the holes where his fingers and thumb have come away. Yet when he moves his hand he can still feel the presence of fingers and thumb through the curtain of pain as though they are still there.

Phantom injury, he tells himself. And then he realises that that is not the case, and the reason he can feel digits on his hand is because they have been replaced.

He watches in awe as the long and sinuous black appendages appear from the holes, writhing like tapeworms in rotting meat.

There is another stirring in his belly. Sharper now, as though the worms within have teeth. He ignores it, captivated by his new fingers.

Their glistening he first takes to be slime that coats these eel-like digits. But no. The glistening is the reflection of sunlight on hard carapaces, a chitinous, shell-like armour. Only the diamond-shaped nail at the end of these new fingers glitters more brightly than the shell.

He won’t need the razor for the fingers and thumb on his other hand. His new appendages will do the tearing, slicing and hacking. His grandfather’s razor, the interrogation tool of the Tailor Man, lies unrequired amongst the growing pile of severed fingers and thumbs.