The Iron Garden: Part.10

*

Kojo sipped whiskey out of a mason jar and then stubbed out his cigarette in a small, tin peach can as the fan whirred about his head, fanning the air and a mechanical waspish whirring out into the cloister of the old, decaying motel. The inn straddled the intersection of The Tombs and the docks, near to Vandemburgh’s principal thoroughfare and the great bridge which let out of the city altogether. Afua was crying again. Head in her hands. Such behavior came and went in sudden spasms, like the ebb and flow of the lunar-tide. She sat now, bleary-eyed and muscle-tense, a bag of bones and sorrow, in the far left corner of the sparsely decorated living room. Kojo lit up another cigarette, ignoring the woman’s plight. He’d quite enough of it. Was tired of it.

“Adam… my little Adam.”

“Adam is gone. Your tears won’t reach him.”

“How can you be so cruel?”

“He was a cursed child.”

The woman shook her head. Though she agreed, she was loathe to admit it.

*

The television flicked as the news anchor read from the teleprompter, “Good evening, I’m Ted Braston with News Tonight. First, our special report, and I must warn you this report contains graphic images which you may find disturbing. A mysterious fire has engulfed the Johnson Tenements of Lowtown, sometimes known half mockingly as The Tombs, in the eastern district of the city of Vandemburgh. Two bodies were recovered from the smoldering remnants. One has been identified as Edward Joseph Brine, a member of the Counsel of Human Rights. The second, Catherine Reilly, a student of the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts. What was most bizarre was that both individuals were confirmed to have died before the fire. Reports from the scene state that Ms. Reilly died of burns from a propane operated steel-cutting device of high industrial grade. Brine’s cause of death was also due to this same device which was found at the scene. Both were found chained and bound, we will spare you the… truly horrifying details. The Vandemburgh police department have stated that the fire was caused by leaking gas from the stove which was turned on by a person or persons unknown. Upon the wall was carved the words: Fire finds the filth. Only one bystander, Liet Harkness, a independent journalist working out of Midtown, was there immediately after the explosion and saw a man walking away from the tenement, they exchanged words and then the man walked away. It is believed that this man was the one who caused the fire. A police sketch is currently being compiled and we will keep you updated as the story develops-”

The phone rang like a gunshot, drawing the man with the chrysanthemum jacket’s attention away from the TV screen. He reached over to pick up the phone on the table adjacent the bed upon which the watcher sat. Placing device to ear. A mechanically distorted voice issued forth.

“Reckless behavior. They’ll have your face, sooner or later. You know what this means. Go subtlety in future endeavors.”

Then a hissing; the line went dead.

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket nodded in affirmation of the order and then gingerly hung up the phone. After a moment of contemplation he shifted upon the bed, sitting bolt-straight, legs firmly braced to the floor and returned his attention back to the television screen where the news still played. The anchor had moved on to the next story.

“Well, there was a bit of a dust-up today at a art gallery of all places. For the past ten years, the Partridge art gallery has held an annual gala featuring the work of a hand-selected group of talented, up-and-coming artists from all around the city. The most recent gala debuted the work of three students from the Vandemburgh Institute of the Arts but it wasn’t them or their work which caused the uproar. As many watchers will known, its election season and the two principal candidates for mayor are Angela Vikander, a democrat known for her environmentalism and pro-migration, open borders advocacy and Aiken Layne, a member of the republican party who some would call a paleoconservative, others a reactionary and others still, a out-and-out fascist. Both are controversial figures in their own right and both have personal scores to settle, as they’ve a long history of public disagreement. When both appeared at Lynder Partridge’s gallery a argument quickly erupted between the two prospective politicians. Some members of a grassroots political movement called, Citizens Against Fascism, otherwise known as CAF, then entered the building and a brawl quickly broke out. Reports from the scene stated that they had targeted the gala because they believed it housed what they called, ‘Fascist art.’ Our reporter from the event, Andrea Azikiwe, has more on the story.”

The screen split and a middle aged and dark skinned woman with dreadlocks and massive gold earrings appeared upon the screen adjacent the prim reporter. “Thanks for that Ted. I’m here at the Partridge Museum of the Arts with Brandon Chase, the son of steel magnate, Edmund Chase and one of the artists whose work was being exhibited during the brawl. So, Mr. Chase, can you explain what exactly happened here?” A tall, muscular blond man with a winning smile and bright, twinkling eyes and the clothes of a trust-funder sauntered into screen, the whole of his form forcibly amiable and open.

“Yeah. Well, I was just standing in before my exhibit, talking with some of the fine folks here at the gala, speaking about my work, my inspirations, art history, business and so on and so forth when Mr. Layne walked in, that is, Aiken Layne-”

“Your father, Edmund Chase, is friends with him as I understand.”

“Uh, sort of, honestly I’m not really sure. My father doesn’t really share a whole lot of his work with me, they’re familiar though, yeah. Did some business together and, because of that, I went over to say hello, before I could even reach him Angela Vikander came over and started arguing with Mr. Layne. Very nasty. And then, out of nowhere, a bunch of people, well I should just call them what they were, thugs, busted into the gala, all in black, red bandannas around their mouths, like half-masks. Some of them wore sunglasses too, I imagine to protect their identity. And they just started shouting and stomping around. I kinda thought they were drunk at first. Aiken called for security – they had apparently waited until the doorman went to use the restroom before entering – and so security came up and someone threw a punch. Honestly happened so fast I don’t know who struck first, the protesters or the guards, but a bit of a fight broke out and it kinda spilled over into the gallery patrons who you can see are still behind me over here and there. Absolutely crazy stuff. I mean, I understand that everyone is a little heated right now over this political race and some of the crime that has occurred and, ya know, other stuff, all that stuff, but everyone just needs to take a deep breath and calm down.”

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket looked on, unblinking, unmoved by the words and images upon the screen. He heard the words, processed them and began to wonder of the lives of the art patrons and the artists and the politicians and the protesters and the security guards who had repelled them. The grand wheel of their lives and the delicate weave that bound them all together seemed superbly laid out before him, in the endless sprawl of his mind’s eye. Floating. High above the city, far beyond his body where it sat upon the bed, so small and weak and susceptible to the vicissitudes of time. He imagined the soothing caress of the wind, the buffeting moisture of the wastrel clouds and the thunderclaps in the distance, clattering away like the war drums of some olden god, nameless and terrible. Down below the endless sky, the city prominent, glistening with muted radiance and seeping up out of the ground like some aberrant and mechanical mycelium. Rooftops vanished and the lives of nine million squirming souls were laid bare before him, as a ant-hill cleaved in twain. There they were, naked and clothed, lazing and productive, scheming and bequeathing, hurting and helping, lying and fucking. Killing. Killing. Killing. Nine million swelled to ten and from ten to twelve, twelve to twenty and on and on the city swelled until the limbs wild twisted up against glass panes and fences, forced by other bodies, eventually spilling out unto the street and ghettoizing. Money war, religious war, class war, ethnic war, race war, war for fun and for living space within what they were told what was already their own living space. More rarely, a war against lies. Even deeper than the surface strata was a hundred billion, billion different tunnels leading to a billion, billion worlds, all ever-shifting, turning, inverting, vanishing and re-emerging. Phonelines and wirelines and wireless trajectories of ascent and spread and interwebs within cybernetic systems that were as much a part of the hyper organism as the flesh and blood which had built them. The man thought that some foreign interstellar intelligence, if ever they had or would chance upon humankind, like as not, would view cities as a biologist might regard a coral reef, seeing only the surface structure and failing to grasp, upon first glance, those intricate and tiny begins which wormed within, sustaining it.

At length he broke from his reverie and stalked to the middle of the apartment floor and bent his body out in a straight-line, allowing himself to topple, face-fist, towards the floor, halting his fall with powerful arms before he struck the carpet. Two hundred push-ups later he showered in silence and contemplated the stillness of infinite space.

The Iron Garden: Part.9

Hunter

The tenement was tumble down and filthy, located in the decaying heart of the slums which its denizens had unceremoniously dubbed, The Tombs, and was covered over with discarded papers and the remnants of the rain. The man who stood before the door was thankful for the rain; it washed away the filth and smell. The filth of stale soda and beer and tampons and shriveled up used condoms and the smell of piss, defecation and dead animals now was but faint background, no distraction to the task at hand. He paused at the door as an old drunk stumbled across the trash strewn ambit some fifty paces off, groaning and coughing like a man beplagued. Some kids appeared about the corner of the alley and accosted the doddery rednose, laughing and prodding. They wore chic and spoke with affected slang. None had known hardship. When they noticed the light glinting off the chrysanthemum jacket they paused. The man held their gaze until they turned and left out of the passage, shaken by a placeless fear. Red nosed swiveled to behold what manner of beast had secured his salvation and raised a half empty bottle of vodka in thanks. Footsteps clattered in the din, one set departing the alley, another entering in from the door to the crumbling tenement. When the door opened, the man with the chrysanthemum jacket, looked up into the thin, squinting eyes of a huge man of indeterminable ethnic extraction, some forty years of age.

“Yeah?”

No response. Fist to gut and the big man went dropping to his knees as a knee met his skull. When the big man awoke he was in a damp room that he recognized as his basement. Ropes secured arms and feet to a steel chair bolted to the floor. Beside him was the dismembered torso of a young twenty something. Her blood spread out across the floor; now hard and dry and stucco’d like coral in the foam of the sea. Behind the foam, eyes of topaz glinting in dark.

“The fuck is this?”

The xanthous-eyed man did not reply but rather titled his head upwards all the better to study his subject, fixing the slightly ruffled sleeves and cuffs of his immaculate, white jacket, smoothing them out. Heavy breathing came and went from the chair, small eyes twitching back and forth, side to side, seeking escape in nervous tandem with the arms that strained their bonds. All movements in vain.

There was no escape.

At length the prisoner spoke once more. His desperation increasing with every passing moment.

“Who the fuck are you? What do you want? Did Karol send you? Fuck. Fuck. He did, didn’t he? Its fine. All cool. Tell him its cool. Ok? Tell him. I’ve got the money,” a nervous chuckle, “Eddy Brine has always got the money. Its in the safe. Ok? Ok? You just untie me and I can get it and we can bring it to him together.”

The xanthous-eyed man gazed silently to the bloody, dismembered corpse which hung in suspension from the rafters of the low, musty ceiling, flesh seared from face, breasts melted into stomach and a retching odor filing up out from that horror. The man’s movement was neither a question nor a indictment, but merely a shuffling of consciousness, the renewal of immediacy, the return of the real. Brine squirmed. When the xanthous-eyed man picked up the propane burner Brine gasped. When the flame began vaporizing his hands he screamed. None to hear. None but two.

When the man with the chrysanthemum jacket had extracted all required information and carved his message he turned to the dead woman. She was wearing a bracelet. The small silver ring dangled limply against the small mass of her upper arm out. Xanthous eyes studied it through the gloam and left off out the basement as a stream of vain blubbering echoed from the pit.

“Where are you going? Hey. Hey! Heeeeeey! You can’t fucking leave me like this, you can’t fucking leave me like this! Help! Somebody heeeelllllppp mmmmeeeeee!”

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket moved up to the kitchen. The sink was filled with blood. His eyes widened with boundless intensity and his hand moved to the stove dials. Turned them on, all of them. Gas flooded the room.

*

Liet Harkness spit up his coffee outside the laundromat as the blast rocked the street. A great ball of flame gushed up into the phantasmal horizon and beyond it, resonating a furious howl. Fire glistened above stocky tenements and birds scattered from catastrophe, squawking as if in warning.

“What the-”

He jogged down the shattered sidewalk, to the south, to the heart of The Tombs, past the old industrial factory, now defunct, past the cast-off shop, past the curio where a strange old man watched him from the window and then took a hard left to behold a great c-section housing block consumed in flames. Blackened detritus lined the streets and twisted, exoskeletal re-bar dull-shimmered in the midday light. A figure stood before the building. A man. Of indeterminable age, quite tall and well built and wearing a jacket of white, xanthous eyes half-hidden by a plain navy ball cap, low-pulled over the face.

Harkness took a sip from his paper coffee cup, took a deep breath and walked forth along the thin alley way which let out to the blasted tenement. When the man with the ball cap heard Harkness approached he paused.

“What happened?”

The stranger regarded Harkness keenly a moment before responding and when he did the voice was like mist.

“A star wandered too close to a black hole.”

“The hell does that mean?”

The man with the dark ball cap ignored him and passed by and vanished out the alleyway. When the fog had cleared from Harkness pounding brain he ditched his cup in a nearby trashcan before the alley and ran after the mysterious stranger. Upon emerging out into the street before the tenement only the old man from the curio shop could be seen, starring with vacant eyes.

“Fire hazard. I warned um.”

The Brass Rat

The old curio-shop was half buried in the tumbledown tenement, it were as if some arcane force held the cement at bay, differential by its diminutive size. The man walked in the door and was greeted by a strange old man, the pawnbroker, who stood at the counter. Pawnbroker nodded; wordless and stoic as statuary. The man looked about the shelves, books and baubles, baseballs and baseball cards and trading cards and broken radios; the detritus of dead decades. After some minutes of rummage he chanced upon a glistening statue behind a pile of junk; a brass rat of relative size. He asked the broker how much it would cost. The broker replied, “$10 for the rat. $1000 for the story behind it.”

“I’ll just take the rat. You can keep the story.”

Pawnbroker nodded and took the money as the rummager left the shop and headed out upon the sidewalk. After a pace he heard a scuttling. He looked behind him. Nothing. Continuing on he heard the sound once more. He looked behind him. A filthy, fat rat scurried up behind him from a sewer drain, squishy, amniotic eyes gazing with bottomless hunger, its movements liminal in the sprawl. The man shooed the furry beast away with a hiss, annoyed and disgusted and left off. A few moments later he heard the scuttling once more and, turning, beheld ten rats. Fear seized him like an ephemeral vice. Shortly ten become twenty and twenty became fifty and fifty become a hundred and hundred became hundreds. A chittering mass of claw and teeth and feral desire, the sight thereof pounding his heart’s pistons into manic machinery, ceaselssly sounding behind the blood and the bone.

The man began running now, the little statue tucked under his left arm. He turned sharply and vaulted a fence which let out to the shipping yard adjacent the sea. The rats follow still, their savage increase unabated by time. All their squishy black eyes fixed upon the statue. Realizing this, the man bounded to the edge of the nearest pier and, with a grunt of exertion, hefted the totem in a wide arc, sending it up to met the sun and then down into the briny depths below with a resounding splash. The rats followed without hesitation and spun out into the abyss. Drowning in the vastness of that capricious waste of salt and scale and swirling wetness. The man looked on in shock, the wind then sweeping up as if in mourning of the grotesque affair.

The man returned to the curio-shop and slammed his wallet down upon the counter, his eyes intense, fearful and filled with yearning. Pawnbroker met his gaze.

“I take it you’ll be wanting to hear that story now?”

The Iron Garden: Part.8

Museum

The Partridge Museum was a massive building, a construct more akin to some kind of techno-futurist military compound than the staid and neoclassical constructs of the other buildings surrounding. Clair Andretti stood before the plain, unadorned facade of the massive, brutalist monolith and inhaled deeply. Excited, emboldened and hopelessly nervous. She hated being nervous. Then she passed within the huge, electronically released double glass paneled sliding doors and moved down the wide, onyx tiled foyer, her reflection following like a inter-dimensional shade.

Past the foyer was a gargantuan gallery, of stark white concrete, the floor, like the lobby, all of black stone. The sound of gritty electronica rattled over the massive bio-flow, a modulated moog-wave synth leading the aural assault in undulating filtered crescendos.

Andretti was surprised, she had expected Debussy or Rachmanioff, not EDM. She paused in the middle of the wide, semi-circular gallery and surveyed the jostling crowds. There was Jonas Beach and Brandon Chase, chatting with Hiroko Akane, a second year journalism student from the nearby University. The threesome stood in the center of the vast vestibule, Brandon dashing and randy as ever, Akane, giggling stupidly at his bawdy, purposefully bad jokes and Beach looking to all the world as if someone had placed a squid upon his head despite manifold protestations. In the far right corner, observing a series of speculative architectural drawings was Cole Hathers with a young, curvy woman who Andretti had never seen before. Something about the woman’s ceaselessly dour and drained expression and lifeless, unexcited movements caught Clair’s eye. The fragile little creature drifted past the portraits lining the alabaster walls with the listless moroseness of a funeral mourner, as if every work of art were a soul departed. A lonely sort of passion in which there was some peculiar beauty. Andretti normally detested any woman with a better figure than her own but some nagging fragment of inborn, instinctual sympathy prevented the formation of any such scorn, yet it did make her self-conscious. She looked down at the dress mingling with the body below, ankle-high leather boots, black jeans, tight, black T over which was a thin gray hoodie; wonders on matters of decorum filled the ambit of the thin and frigid creature’s cerebral ambit. At length she determined that it didn’t really matter; all that mattered was that Lynder noticed her and that the crowd noticed her work. An artist was nothing without her public.

Suddenly a figure appeared at the top of the upper landing, peering down at the insignificant host collected in idle study below. Lynder Partridge was of middling height with tar-pitched hair, cut short on the sides and wide at the top, dressed in a black overcoat, tipped at the collar with white fur. His face was pale and sharp, lips, blood-red and his eyes catching the light with the pale glinting of topaz. His posture was slack, yet ferine, as if at any moment he might pounce with sudden and terrible excitation. All about the man, a retinue of wealthy social climbers stood, taking in the crowd below a moment and then raising champagne glasses to lips and moving out their line against the balcony, waiting for their boniface to speak. Suddenly, the music ceased and Lynder raised his smooth, sonorous voice, which echoed throughout the entirety of the hall with regal splendor.

“Greetings and salutations, ladies and gentlemen, I am so pleased to see you gathered here before me for this momentous occasion. Now, to some, the unveiling of a series of drawings and paintings means little enough. They’re just pictures after all. Same as any other. But we understand the truth of it, that these are no ordinary pictures, because such pictures were not crafted by ordinary hands. Nor were they conceived of by ordinary minds. They were conceived and forged by visionaries and dreamers, by those bold enough to ask the question: Of what use is the art which does not ceaselessly seek to force life to imitate it? And to respond: None. To no one! So, without further adieu, it is my great joy and pleasure to introduce you to our three newest additions to the gallery, Jonas Beach, Brandon Chase and Clair Andretti!”

He gestured one by one to the three young artists as he spoke their names and upon finishing, the crowd erupted into applause. After the applause had died away, Partridge continued, raising a glass of sparkling moscato and smiling cheerily.

“To our new friends health and the flourishing of all!”

Those below who had glass in hand raised their goblets and toasted likewise with a practiced ritualism, as if this were some lauded tradition. Clair was surprised at how reverent the response was, how sacral and mirthful the unfolding of the scene was. After Partridge had finished his toast he moved to the leftmost stair and, along with his cortege, descended to the gala floor as the museum goers moved about from alcove to alcove, gazing with wonderment at the elaborate sketches and illustrations, of charcoal and graphite and paintings of multifarious palettes and sculptures of brass and marble, alabaster and quartz. As the crowd dispersed out across the great U shaped ambit of the gallery Lynder coolly traversed the clacking marbled floor with a broad smile, crystal goblet held up beside his breast like a royal scepter.

He paused a respectable distance before the young woman, inclining his head, low, but not too low, as if greeting some lesser nobility.

“I’m so pleased you could make it, Ms. Andretti.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for all the world,” she cursed herself for such a bubbly and ill controlled response. The excitement was palpable all throughout the school-girlishness of the culled response. The legs close together, arms clasped together before nubile, lolling breasts, mouth slightly parted in a innocent and attemptedly beguiling smile, teeth white enough yet slightly yellowed by a penchant for coffee and sweets, eyes twinkling with longing and admiration. All of it ostentatiously performative. Clair cursed herself doubly at the visuality of the scene which anteceded the mental formations. I look like I’m trying to show off my bust. Like I’m trying to fuck the teacher. What disturbed her further was the uncertainty concerning whether or not that was necessarily false. Lynder was unaffected and wholly unconcerned with the impression he’d made upon the young artist as well as the impression which she attempted to make upon him. His bright eyes and sharp features impassive, unsettlingly opaque. The industrialist raised his free hand and gestured to one of his footmen who stood dutifully behind his master with a tray of silver upon which several glasses of champagne, half filled, rested.

“Would you care for a drink? Celebration without libation is such a sorry thing.”

Clair nodded thoughtlessly accepted one of the small, dainty glasses from the footman. She would have preferred some whiskey or Cognac in a fine little snifter but felt it rude to refuse. At any rate, she was thirsty.

“Walk with us, Ms. Andretti, I shall introduce you to my friends as we do so and you can tell us of your current and future projects as we admire the fruits of endeavors past.”

She wordlessly obeyed, fascinated, not just by the tumbling and spinning surroundings but also by Lynder’s catlike and slinking gait, an easy cavorting, a languidity rare amongst the tense and squeaming populace. Introductions were made; first Clair was acquainted with Jill Habermass, a nebbishy and elderly curator for the Institute of Urban Design, next Danny Price, a fiery, youthful mestizo and the owner of Price Construction, the second largest construction company in the city, then Domnal Eins, a middle-aged man of indiscernible ethnic extraction who did something with marketing analytics and crypto-currencies that eluded Andretti’s ken and, lastly, Mariana Ester, the chief officer of the Vandemburgh Consortium of History and Heritage. They all asked a plethora of questions about Clair’s life, half-disinterested but obliged, the rest genuine; they asked of her upbringing and whether or not she was seeing someone and what got her into art and what she wants out of life and what she thought of the heated political campaigns of the ongoing mayoral race. Clair answered all of the questions in vaguest and most passing and from-the-hip of fashions, trying to give as little away about what she actually believed on any given topic as possible; largely succeeding.

“Deplorably perfunctory!”

Lynder erupted suddenly, waving a hand in the air as if dispelling some arcane conjuration. All present fell silent as he spun upon them, expression showing mild disappointment and motioned to Clair’s panel alcove which occupied the leftmost portion of the great U of the gala. “It is of her work itself that you have come, for that is what is on display, not the woman herself. Tell me, Mr. Eins, what do you make of that one,” Partridge gestured to an enormous, hyperrealistic drawing of a futuristic cityscape with multiple layers, each of which was suspended above the other and each serving a distinctive function; the bottom layer for agriculture and food production and waste disposal, the second layer for transportation and distribution, the third for housing and socialization and the fourth for governmental administration and aerial defense.

“I’m not sure I understand it.”

Lynder’s face phased back into utter opaqueness.

“Then it wasn’t for your understanding. I find it most wondrous. Past patterns for future eventualities. The present is nothing without its visionaries.”

Clair was struck by the intensity of his tone, despite his ostensible lack of expression. He looked to the elaborate drawing as if it were some sacred image, a totemic idol of direst consequence. The young woman’s technical skill had been impressive from an early age and her choice of subject had long been lauded, but no one, not even her most admiring professors, had ever spoken of her work with such sacral appreciation. It caused her heart to flutter and a smile of self-satisfaction to ever so briefly flicker across her smooth, colorless face.

“Clair, Mr. Partridge, other, uh, people-to-whom-I-haven’t-yet-been-introduced, hello,” Brandon Chase sided up behind the gathering, Jonas and Hiroko Akane trailing, nervously, uncertain of whether or not they should speak.

“Ahhh, Mr. Beach, Ms. Akane and the dashing Mr. Chase,” Lynder enjoined warmly, “So good of you to finally join us. From the looks of the crowds surrounding your respective works, I’d say that your public has properly found you. Most wonderful!”

“Yes, yes, well, I’m all for an admiring public but goodness these people are chatting my ears off.”

“The graphic artist is not nearly so lauded as the film star but both, upon finding sufficient celebrity, will quickly come to be the subject of desire for all their envious admirers; it must be realized that the reason for such admiration is not to be found in the actual works, or at least solely within the works of the artists themselves, but rather in the fact that they have achieved such social laddering-up by the creation of such works. Art ever seems easy to those who’ve never had a hand in its creation and thus the public at-large erroneously tend to believe that such a life is one to be envied and so they become envious themselves, failing to realize that were such a life their own they’d despise it with every fiber of their being.”

Eins gave a little chuckle, “That may well be the case but there aren’t a whole lot of artists who make the kind of cash I do on a regular basis, good art requires willful ignorance of the market, otherwise you’ll always be beholden to your audience’s whims, which means that to be a good artist, or at least one with integrity, you’ve gotta take hits to the wallet like a kevlar vest takes bullets, that is, with grit-teeth and frequently.”

Clair felt a welling distaste for the currency trader, she knew his type, trust-fund kid, smart, but not too-smart, educated but not well read and aware of it, always attempting to insert himself into a conversation if there was the possibility of pumping the ego and convincing all the rest of the conversant his intellect leveled up to his bank account.

Lynder didn’t directly respond, instead removing a small, gilded pack of 100s from his inner jacket pocket of his overcoat, lighting up the fag with languor and returning his attention to the artwork of the long, white stand-up panel, expectant of future innervation.

Jill Habermass was the first to pick up where Eins had left off and the two quickly fell into a good natured argument about the relationship of the artist to the market and various metrics of success. It was all rather staid and boring to Clair, who sided up to Lynder where he stood still admiring her work, seemingly unconcerned with the argument spreading out behind him.

“Um, Mr. Partridge.”

“Yes, Ms. Andretti?”

“I just wanted to thank you, personally, for all that you’ve done for me. It really means a good deal to me. So thank you.”

He turned to her and smiled ever so slightly, but his eyes didn’t laugh.

“Unnecessary. Go and met your public. Mingle. Network. Have some fun.”

Without another word Lynder returned briefly to her work and then departed to greet a group of well dressed philosophers from the nearby art school.

Clair turned to behold the crowd behind her which had grown doubly in size since she had moved to stand at the leftmost corner of her selfsame project. Half of the crowd glanced on in wonderment at the intricate series of buildings, her ideal sky-cities and mechanical sprawls, whilst another half had fallen into debate concerning the content of the drawings themselves. Even in art school Clair had very rarely ever seen such boundless vigor for creation nor such interest in its manifold applications. The scene filled her with wonder and mirth even as she moved away from it, wary that her presence and the questioning thereof and of the extrapolation of her creation would someone diminish the exhibit. The feeling pulled the woman back from all crowds and all the artifice of the museum the better to observe the objects and their relations. It was only then she realized the worth of her own work. Drawing, illustration, painting, all had been a venture undergone for the pleasure it generated, for the thing-in-and-of-itself, there, a quandary, for the essence of a thing could never be gotten at. Could not be unearthed by digging. There was no shovel for it. What she sought could not be found by looking. It arrived of its own accord. As if by some alien intelligence.

Lost to time a clacking of soles ruptured her reverie. She turned to behold a familiar face. Aiken’s face. A thick bluish bruise marred his otherwise handsome, blocky face. His eyes were foggy, faraway; a hidden sadness leaking through with jellied light.

“What the hell happened to your face?”

“CAF fanatics. They blind-sided me on my way to the campaign office.”

“Did you file a report?”

“Nah. I probably should. Too busy. Seems like your work is getting the attention it deserves,” he gestured to the crowd still huddled in gentile argumentation around Clair’s exhibit, “I’m glad. Clearly you are as well.”

“What makes you say that?”

“You look happy.”

“Is that so unusual?”

“You want me to answer that honestly?”

She smiled wryly and punched him lightly in the arm. Gaze to gaze, face to face. She wanted badly to kiss him but knew better than to do so in public. Together they walked back to the seething crowds whereupon they crossed paths with Cole Hathers and a dire-eyed young woman with long, dark hair and pure, Italian features.

Cole stopped short, shocked to see his foe standing so comfortably beside someone so well known as Layne.

“You’re Aiken Layne.”

“That’s me. You a friend of Ms. Andretti’s?”

Hathers shot Clair a embarrassed look and ran his tongue quickly across his lower lip as he always did when he was nervous. Clair was pleased.

“I know her from school. From the college. I’m Cole Hathers. Graphic Designer. Uh, this is-”

The young woman cut him off and moved forward with a forced facade of amiability and conviviality.

“Anna Campana. Nice to meet you two.”

One by one in turn, Layne and Andretti took the woman’s hand and shook it warmly. The four shared stagnate conversation, walking in a tandem with the curvature of the great U shape of the gala, from left to right, surveying Clair’s exhibit, then Jonas’, then Chase’s. Upon passing Clair’s work Hathers clenched his fists, lip twitching, upon passing Jonas’ he shrugged, upon passing Chase’s he nodded approvingly as Eins turned greeted a short, garishly dressed blonde.

“Well, well, I didn’t expect to see you here, Ms. Vikander.”

*

Jonas Beach stood before his exhibit. It was a tall white assemblage of three matte panels upon each of which hung his varied works. From somewhere nearby he heard a young woman cackle, “What the heck is this stuff? I thought this place only put out the ‘finest’ up-and-coming artists. Fantasy art… I mean, really? That’s so a decade ago.” Beach could feel his blood pressure rising, his brow furrowing; a serpent of endless rage uncoiling from his reptile brain. The woman was young, pretty and exceedingly banal. She was thin and wore a fake tan. Spray on tan. Cheezy smile. Over-sized and superfluous scarf wound about the neck like a great desiccated python. Eyes blitzed out from marijuana consumption, donned in pop-fashion chic with a fake alligator bag slung about her bare, left shoulder. Cell phone blue-glowing in her free right hand. She was perfectly normal by the standards of the city.

Jonas Beach wanted to bash her face in.

*

Lynder Partridge swilled the last of his champagne with relish from the heights of the second-floor landing overlooking the gala floor. His eyes swept over the teeming multitudes below, stopping upon the unfurling forms of Angela Vikander and Aiken Layne. They were arguing. A throng gathered, some laughing, others enjoining, still others dourly observing in silence. Clair was aghast. Chase looked amused. Jonas was nowhere to be found.

“Well… that was quick,” The footman intoned with mild surprise, “I knew they didn’t like each other but I didn’t expect things escalate like this…”

Lynder handed off the empty glass to his loyal attendant without removing his eyes from the scene of chaos playing out beneath him. Almost instantly a guard walked up to Lynder as the footman departed.

“Mr. Partridge, you’ll want to see this.”

The guard handed off a small digital tablet displaying the security cameras which thronged the outer facade of the museum. Upon the camera-output screens were numerous black-clad CAF members assembling; the motley assortment carried flags and picket signs, a couple had rough-hewn sticks as makeshift weapons. There was no sound but they were clearly chanting in something approaching unison.

Lynder turned to the guard without expression.

“Call security.”

The Iron Garden: Part.7

Anna gazed out the window and watched the people below, so tiny and distance-blurred. It was passe, she recalled, when viewing people from great heights, to say they looked like ants, but they looked like nothing of the kind. They were smaller than that, less vibrant, yet more noisy. How was it they could carry on in so blasé a manner after what had gone before? In a city plagued with religious and political hysteria, crime and murder aplenty, they chugged on as if nothing whatsoever had changed. Perhaps, she pondered, it had not, perhaps she herself was the one who had changed. The thought terrified much as it motivated. She spent the entire morning in her cramped and cheap-paneled apartment loft studying stories of crime all throughout the city, looking up newspaper archives and political blogs and city statistics and federal surveys and think-tanks, combing through every niche and cornice of every relevant information vault for ritual murders and cases of dismemberment and abduction, especially those cases which involved children. She was shocked to discovered that what happened to Adam was far from irregular. It took some digging. Much digging. There had been seven such instances in the past five years. She had heard of none of them. She was further horrified to discover that, despite a profligate number of suspects, absolutely zero arrests had been made in any of the cases. Every single one involved a child, later found dismembered, in three of the seven cases the blood had been drained like as to Adam’s own. When she broadened the search to include adults and teens as well as children the number of murders increased by four to eleven dating back ten years. Ten years. She muttered the words “ten years” to herself, over and over as thoughts crystallized across the mine field of internal cognitive weave, synapses firing like the jarring pistons of a great clockwork machine.

How? How was this even possible? How could so many people just up and vanish? Children no less? Was no one looking after them? Was no one curious what happened? How few must have been aware for this to have gone on so long unchallenged…Did no one care?

Vain thoughts. The asking thereof alone would yield nothing which well she knew, yet still she was compelled. She had to know. For if this had occurred before then the ones who were responsible might well have been responsible for Adam’s death. If she could find a thread and seize upon it then the truth might be made clear.

Suddenly, a ringing. High, shrill and somewhere nearby. Phone. She answered with a harried, “What?”

“You okay, Annie? Haven’t been to work for a couple of days. I called up Mike. He said you were feeling ill. Come down with a bug or something?”

“No. I mean, yes. Yes. Just not feeling very great. I have to go. I’ve got things to do…”

“What? What’s the matter? Come on, you can talk to me.”

“I’ve really got to go.”

“I’m coming over. You’ve got me worried.”

“No. Really its fine. I’m fine.”

“Uh huh. I’m still coming over. I’ll be there in under an hour.”

The phone clicked off into silence. She cursed under her breath. Cole Hathers arrived half an hour later. Anna rose upon his rapping and cries of, “Annie? Its me, Cole. You’ll never believe the traffic. Sea of cars. Everything all backed up.” The door of the loft open under the force of the woman, before he stood a short man, skinny, freckled and red headed. 27 and well dressed for someone so obviously poor, a certain disdainful smugness perpetually playing across his rounded baby-face.

“You doing okay?”

“No. Cole. Frankly I’m not. You know how I sometimes take the cast offs from the Community Center to The Tombs, to the Ghanians there, the migrants.”

“Yeah.”

“One of them was recently murdered,” she watched as his plucky face fell and then moved to her laptop where it lay upon her work table. Turning the screen, Anna gestured to a recent news article from The Vandemburgh Daily which prominently featured a picture of Adam Delle.

“You knew this kid?”

“The boy I told you about. The one who wanted to become an artists… this was him.”

“Fuck. That’s awful. What happened?”

“No one knows. He… h-he was cut up into pieces. Drained completely of blood.”

Cole screwed up his face in visceral disgust, shaking his mane of curly rust colored hair.

“The hell would someone do something like that?”

“The police think… they think it was organ traffickers. Likely from Africa. They’re not sure. There are rumors that Ghanaian migrants from The Tombs are responsible but there’s no proof of anything yet. No one is talking.”

Cole pulled up a chair and sat down beside his friend, eyes affixed to the screen, to the thin black face of the dead boy. He looked quite happy in the photo, a wide, blissful smile breaking out and ruffling the smooth youthful skin, revealing two rows of teeth, crooked, immature and still falling out and growing back in. Anna studied Cole’s face, he wasn’t sad, not really, she could tell by the listlessness about the eyes and the nervous, impatient tapping of his left foot. This wasn’t a issue upon which interaction was desired. He wanted to flee now. Flee back to comforting her. Anger began to boil in her blood, rising up and threatening to tear out of her throat with a harsh vocality. At the last the woman stilled the clangorous ringing of her soul, inhaled and exhaled meditatively; she had to focus, it wasn’t his fault, she told herself, it wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his fault, it wasn’t his fault. The one to blame was somewhere out there, out beyond her shabby loft, out beyond the soaring apartment complex that sat near the border zone of The Tombs. In that moment, as she looked again to the picture on the screen, observing Cole’s lack of concern and morbid curiosity, she vowed she would find the killer. She would find the one’s responsible and make them pay. Dearly.

At length Cole turned in the creaking, leather-bound swivel chair, his spindly, yet well muscled hands twining together with queasy excitement. He wanted to speak. To comfort his friend. Words failed him. Finally he mustered the courage to vocalize, “You know today is the big unveiling of the new gallery at Partridge Museum. I… I’ve been thinking of going. Would you like to come with me?”

“Yeah, I’d like that. I could use something to take my mind off of,” she gestured at the screen, “All of this.”

The Iron Garden: Part.6

The city buzzed like a hornet’s bag as the young woman moved up to the tiny little concrete housing center. The outer facade, wind scarred and watermarked, diveted as the skin of acne’d youth. She knocked, stood a moment, her hands relaxing about the large cargo bag, slung about slender shoulders as wind skimmed the corners of high, glistless rooftops. Cars moved in slow, congested lines behind the house, moving like great metal snails. Somewhere off in the thermals a bird of prey cawed. Shortly, a dark face appeared through a crack in the door, suspicious eyes watching from the shadows of the den.

“Anna…” the dark face muttered. It was less a greeting and more a reminder of the young woman’s name.

“Hello, Ms Afua. Brought you and little Adam some treats from the center.”

The dark faced nodded wordlessly. Sound of a latch turning and then the door swung open to reveal a short black woman donned in cheap cast-offs who took the bags with haste, as if she believed they might, at any moment, vanish unto the aether. Afua then stepped aside and ushered the younger woman into the tatterdemalion household. The room into which the community center worker moved was small and smelled of cats and damp and something frying and something else which Anna couldn’t place. Unpleasant and gamey. Right, the kitchen alcove; nothing but one cleft-bar featuring a toaster, a fridge, a sink and a tiny, gas oven. Left, a middle aged man of African extraction sat upon a tattered, moth-eaten couch, watching a tasteless reality show upon a old television. Upon the screen a bloated woman some 200 pounds or more yelled to a skinny white man about how he wasn’t her “baby daddy,” the crowd laughed and a slick, well dressed man in a suit gestured toward the camera, his palms spread wide, “I did not see that one coming!” he smirked beneath a pall of makeup. Again, the crowd laughed. Beside the middle aged man a small child sat, drawing with great concentration upon a memo pad, ignoring the flickering screen before him. The child’s large dewy eyes widened as he spotted the newcomer.

“Anna!”

“Hey there buddy, whatcha got there?”

“Drawings. See!”

The little boy swelled with pride as he held up the notebook for the woman to see. Upon the red-lined paper were four little doodled figures dancing about a poorly sketched house with a white picket fence and gigantic windows and a high, crooked chimney puffing little clouds of white smoke. The cartoon had been drafted in crayon and, despite its amateur stylings something about the deft mix of colors and the purity of the scene caught the eye. The boy had talent. Anna smiled and pointed to the figures, one by one; first to a small, black character who held a paintbrush and a drawing easel.

“Is that you, Adam?”

He nodded.

“And those two beside you?”

“That’s Afua,” he stated with a smile, pointing to the old crone where she stood silently beside the refrigerator, chopping vegetables, “and that… is Kojo,” he stated slightly nervously, glancing to the middle aged man upon the couch who turned upon hearing his name.

“Let me see, boy. Let me see.”

The boy turned the picture towards him and he studied it intensively.

“You’ll be a great painter someday. Like Yoofi.”

“Yoofi?” Anna intoned curiously.

“In Ghana there was a old man named Yoofi. All the villagers thought he was crazy because he used to go hunting for rocks. He’d spend days and days, looking for these rocks. Said he needed special rocks. He’d paint them like the villagers and place them on their stoops so that the villagers’ spirits might become like the rocks. Steadfast. Immovable.”

Anna turned to Kojo after he had finished speaking. He was starring straight at her. She couldn’t remember him ever paying her more than a passing glance. She smiled. He didn’t. Kojo then returned to his television program as Anna returned to the picture. There was one last figure upon the notepad, a woman with tanned skin and long, brown hair and a puffy blue windbreaker with a orange collar.

“Is that me?”

The boy nodded, smiling broadly, “Do you like it?”

“Very much so. Its really very good. I think Kojo is right, you’ll definitely be a great artist someday.”

The boy’s eyes twinkled dreamily.

“Can we go out for ice cream like we did last time?”

“Boy, you quite bothering the woman,” Afua intoned sternly without turning from the kitchen sink where she had taken some of the vegetables from Anna’s bag and skinned then piled them in neat little rows upon the mangy, foul smelling counter-top.

“But Afuaaaa!”

“Quite boy,” Kojo snapped, absorbed in his program.

Anna looked to the dark woman and crossed her arms about ample breasts, smiling slightly.

“You know I really wouldn’t mind, if that is alright with you.”

“You’re a busy woman.”

“Not that busy. Besides, I could use a break from work and its now trouble. Adam is always such a good kid.”

“Yes…” she noted with sudden solemnity, looking over her shoulder at the child where he sat upon the floor, drawing, pad upon his knees, pudgy little hands moving artfully about the paper in swirling pirouettes.

 

*

The cramped local ice cream parlour was abuzz with activity, motion of bodies and heat-sweat and conversations of the times. It was a place half out-of-time, all of wicker and paneled wood and leather with a massive oaken counter situated in the leftmost corner of the room with rows upon rows of small circular tables all about the right-back of the rest of the space. The once entirely wooden interior had given way to the march of renovation, slowly being consumed by plastic, metal and concrete. Some of the lights in the back had been changed from the dull yellow old-fashioned incandescent bulbs to the blue LED bulbs now in vogue, requiring but a scant 9.5 watts to produce the same amount of light as their 60 watt predecessors. None of the other patrons paid the lighting any mind and, at length, Anna turned from gazing at the bulbs in the back of the parlor as the sound of idle chatter filtered into her brain. Talk of immigration and corruption, rising crime and terrorist attacks. Racism and “the good ole times.” Even a ice cream parlor wasn’t safe from partisan politicization; it sadden Anna who frowned as she absorbed the dour atmosphere. She wished that everyone could just for once set aside all their haughty opinions and enjoy themselves. She ordered two cones, one a chocolate-vanilla swirl, Adam’s favorite, and a strawberry with sprinkles for herself. The child licked his cone mirthfully, brown-white liquid thick-pooling about his hands as it melting off from the cusp of the frigid confection. In short order his face was covered over with tracings of his consumption at which point Anna burst into laughter. The boy looked up at her confused and she reached for a napkin and cleaned his face, chuckling. They shared smiles and ate their cones and then turned as the sound of a newscasters voice burst in upon them with startling suddeness.

“Some people have said that a lot of this artwork is ‘fascistic,’ what would you say about that, Mr. Partridge?”

Anna turned towards the wall-attatched television screen to behold a TV news anchor sitting across from one of the most beautifully strange men she’d ever beheld. The news anchor was old and baggy-skinned, garbed in a crisp, expensive, yet ill-fitting, suit and tie. The strange man wore a tightfitting long sleeved blacksweater over which he’d chosen a expertly tailored black dresscoat with a white fur collar. His face was pale and his hair was black; eyes electric-gold below which was set a smooth, sensual mouth that played up into the faintest ghosts of a smile.

“I would say, firstly, that if you repeat something loud enough, long enough, most people will invariably believe it to be unquestionably true. Moreso if those who are repeating it are individuals such as you who are both charismatic and respected and also have the bully-pulpit of corprotocratic multimedia supremacy. Secondly, I would say that this word has become a by-line for absolutely anything that one doesn’t like. As with “racist,” as with “xenophobe,” as with – well – you get the idea. When a word can be made to mean anything it means nothing.”

“Do you believe the work, say of Dominic Sheer, to be ‘fascistic?’”

“No. But even if it was, there is no law against that. Nor would I have a personal compunction to disbar him from my gala. Furthermore, I’d note that most people do not even know what the words they use mean. How often do our literary critics label the dissident writer they find unbecoming to be ‘pretentious’ without ever stopping to inspect the utterance. Are they really so pretentious or is it merely that our critics lack understanding? Don’t mistake me now, for I see your brow furrowing, I know why, you think this condescension, but it is nothing of the sort. For instance, “evolution” this is a word in common usage, wholly penetrated into the fiber-make-up of your collective lexiconography. But how many of us actually understand the process of evolution? Very few, I’d wager; and there is no shame in this, Renaissance men are few and far between, I’m certainly not one, and people are busy, ever busy, too busy. But there IS shame in pretending you know something which you manifestly do not. For instance, how many of our polity, not just know of, but have read the works of Filippo Marinetti, Charles Maurras, George Sorel and Enrico Corradini? Going even further back, can my detractors say they have familiarized themselves with The Jacobins? No, no, no, no and again, no.”

The newscaster gave a uncertain chuckle.

“I must say, I have no idea who any of those people are… but… I get the sense that you believe people are ‘pretending’ to know things about your recent gallery?”

“I would posit that it isn’t a mere belief, but rather a cold, hard fact.”

“Some might interpret that as a accusation.”

“When one is at the receiving end of spurious accusations it is only fair that one wages accusations of his own. I can tell you that I shall not be put on the backfoot, nor shall I have the integrity of my institute rocked, nor its reputation – which is considerable – slandered for political points.”

“Political points? You mean it has to do with your support of the mayoral candidate, Aiken Layne?”

“Yes. He’s controversial. I understand that. I also understand that many people who used to publicly support my galleries pulled their support. But I didn’t need them then. I don’t need them now. That is the problem for them. Due my wealth they can’t economically ruin me. So they have decided to try and ruin my reputation as well as the reputation of all the artists who I employ or showcase instead.”

“And just who is this mysterious They?”

“Layne’s political opponents. I should be very surprised if Angela Vikander didn’t have a hand in the affair. Not directly mind you, she’s far too cunning to involve herself directly, but indirectly… it bears all the hallmarks of her style. Remember, she fell sharply in the polls after Layne trounced her in the last debate, despite all her eco-babble and femen-pandering. Without a scandal, her loss is secured and what could be more of a scandal than the whole public of the city finding out that one of Aiken Layne’s largest financial and public supporters is, himself, supporting ‘neo-fascist revolutionaries.’”

“Well, I couldn’t possibly speak to that.”

“You could, but then Vikander would be slandering you as well as myself,” the strange man replied with something similar to mirth, but not quite.

“Well if you’re not a fascist, what are you?”

Lynder Partridge’s keen yellow eyes flashed suddenly wider as he leaned slightly across the news-table.

“I’m a man who intensely values human creativity.”

Anna had heard of the man, Partridge before, he owned the single largest museum in the entire city. She had considered his gallery as a outlet for his painting but ultimately was unable to muster up the courage to send in her work to such a prestigious institution. Lynder Partridge was one of the richest and most celebrated individuals in the city, a successful industrialist, architect and scholar who had become a philanthropic titan to the most controversial artists on the rise. Intellectual terrorists who penned tales of revolution and capitalistic collapse, of racial taboo and technological godhead. Who was she in comparison and what would her coworkers think? What if she were to be thought to support Layne? What if she were fired? Instead she had sent her work to a smaller, more mainstream gallery, she’d been accepted, hesitantly and suspiciously, but the owners made no promises to keep her work on display. “We’ll see how it goes,” was all the owner had said.

A young woman at a nearby table to Anna’s immediate right, with a jacket bearing the insignia of the local Ferrum college, leaned in towards the man who sat across from her, scowling.

“You know that Dominic Sheer they’d mentioned,” the man nodded vaguely, “Apparently, I’ve heard, he’s like a massive racist, like some kind of white separatist.”

“Oh yeah? He like… in the KKK or something?”

“I don’t know. Probably. I can’t believe someone like Partridge would have someone like that in his gallery. I used to go to his gallery all the time…”

Anna shifted her attention to the table some distance to her left where a old couple sat, another man and a woman. The man was shaking his head, his arms folded across his breast, “I swear these media folks, these guys… everything is some kind of epithet with these people. You step out of line – an inch – and they’ll come after you. Hard. Sonsabitches.”

The middle aged woman sitting beside him nodded solemnly, a little sadly, “I was telling you, last time we went out, I used to teach at the college, teaching History, whenever I stepped outside of academy orthodoxy, boy oh boy, the students nearly fell into a riot. Reason I’m no longer working there. Everyone thinks I’m a ‘nazi.’ Who’s not, nowadays?”

The old man shook his head once again and then pointed to the TV screen, “I like that Lynder fella though, seems alright.” The woman nodded likewise and the two returned to their frozen yogurt and coffee as if nothing at all had happened.

 

*

The man with the chrysanthemum jacket stood looking at the ants which swarmed over the corpse of the baby bird; it was still alive, if only just, spasmodic neath the steel-glint of the sunfilters high and jagged and totalizing. The drones had bored a messy hole in the creature’s side and were wholly adsorbed in uncoiling its entrails out upon the concrete of the industrial sector, carrying off the fleshy remnants above their chitinous backs like a length of spongy rope. The bird’s last moments were spent in vain spasm. Soundless, it shuddered, once, twice, thrice and then was still forever.

The man cocked his head to once side as if to afford him a new perspective on the scene and then removed his bandaged hands from sun-faded jeans as he spotted a tall, beautiful blonde coming out of a meat-packing factory across the street. She was dressed in yellow and wore a hat of red with sunglasses of designer make. All about the woman was a well-dressed gaggle of toughs, bodyguards and before them, a female secretary, scribbling upon a digital pad and a old man with a graying mustache. Mustache and yellow-woman conversed before the group and all moved towards a long, black limo which had been parked before the curb. They were not just rich, but well-connected, the man deduced. Rich due their dress, well-connected due to the fact they were brash enough to park in so blatantly illegal a manner. Clearly they were not afraid of confrontation with law enforcement. The man with the chrysanthemum jacket wondered if mustache was a politician. He thought it likely.

Suddenly there came the patter of little feet. A boy tore around the corner of the factory beside which the man stood, a brood of pigeons scattering before him with awkward wing-gait. The child saw the man too late and collided with leg, nearly falling over. The man with the chrysanthemum jacket turned right to behold the little black boy where he mouthed a silent apology and then down to the ice-cream stain upon his jeans.

“I’m so sorry about that!” A young and shapely woman intoned with grave entreaty. She emerged around the left corner of the factory and moved to stand beside the boy with furrowed brows. When she spotted the ice-cream stain she repeated her apology, more frantically, pleadingly.

The man held up a hand for silence as mustache, yellow-woman and the whole cadre piled into the limo and left off down the street, past the meat packing facility and the old factory, peeling out of the industrial district and vanishing off into the fulgent sun-haze of the glistening spires beyond as the ants swarmed the head of the bird and feasted upon its eyes.

*

Anna dropped Adam back off at Afua’s in the housing district with a hug of farewell. Afua also bade farewell. Kojo lingered about the doorway after the boy and his guardian returned into the den. Anna approached him with a questioning gaze, the wind puppeteering her hair; phantasmal brown snakes bestringed to the moon.

“That artist you mentioned earlier, Yoofi, whatever happened to him?”

Kojo looked off towards the bone-like crescent of the drifting moon with sadness about the jaw.

“He wandered into The Evil Forest. From there, no one returns. They found only his teeth.”

*

A raucous wind kicked up as Anna drove down the central thoroughfair towards the middle of the city, Kojo’s words echoing geist-like throughout the dark cloisters of her mind-palace. At length she passed by Aiken Layne’s campaign headquarters. Protesters had assembled with placards and signs, all shouting and a couple of police officers and bystanders looking on in a mixture of concern and amusement. One of the larger signs, painted all in red, stated: No fascism, No KKK, Aiken Layne is not the way! The woman shook her head. So much hostility and for what? When she returned home for the night she looked up Layne’s platform policies online. She was shocked to learn he advocated net-neutral immigration, the construction of a border wall and the immediate deportation of all illegal immigrants. She thought of lovely, little Adam and considered life without him and quickly felt a tinge of sympathy for the protesters despite her inborn neutrality. At length she shut the laptop, undressed, showered and slept.

*

Anna woke early to the chirping of birds and the buzzing of cars. She stretched in the amber glow of the morning’s incandescence, bathed, dressed and spun off to work. The soup kitchen in the slums was more packed than usual, cloistered with metropolitan cast-offs.

The failure of cosmopolitanism. The triumph of the heart. She thought to herself as she spooned a withered old Mexican woman’s bowl full of chicken noodle soup. Anna shot the crone a warm smile. The crone frowned.

“The hell are you smiling about? There’s nothing to smile about. You look like a crazy person.”

Anna didn’t smile at anyone else for the rest of her shift.

*

Anna fixed the collar of her puffy blue windbreaker, tightened the belt on her jeans and picked the bag of canned beef and chicken noodle soup up off the ground, loaded it in the back of her ungainly 2014 Nissan Versa and drove off to Afua’s house. When Anna pulled into the driveway of the tiny little c-sec housing lot confusion subsumed the whole of her form. Kojo’s car was gone. It was the trios only means of transportation as the buses didn’t go out this far. Yet a light was on. Her pulse quickened. A break-in? A burglary?

She parked and hurried to the handle, tried it, found it giving way. The living room was completely deserted. From room to room, living, kitchen, bath, basement, attic, all empty. Nothing stirred. When Anna returned to the living room she stood a long moment and then cast her gaze out over the chip speckled couch, wrinkled blankets lay about in disarray, the remote, situated upon the rightmost arm of the furniture piece like a giant, flat and dull-shimmering slug. The silent television, odd-angled, as if someone had bumped into it without realization of the act. The carpet bore scuff marks. Something wasn’t right. A thick and heavy feeling of unease slithered about the woman’s gut, vice-like and distending. Why would they just leave? Where would they go? She wondered if it was another ICE Deportation. She pulled her phone out, signal was good. Dialing up “ICE raids” yielded nothing in the area. Out of the corner of her eye, beyond the flickering of the phone screen something lingered. Something white and brown-red.

A small, white chicken feather.

It was flecked with blood.

*

The dockworker squinted down into the depths. There was something in the water. Something small and brown.

“Jim,” the dockworker barked to a small, short Italian behind him who came scurrying to the edge of the cargo pier like a disgruntled crab.

“What is it Don?”

“There’s something in the water.”

“I don’t see anything. You been drinking on the job again? I told you”

“Right over there. Looks like a barrel.”

“Well, lets drag it out.”

The short stevedore removed a long hook-pole which one of the fishmen had left upon the pier and led the item to shore. When it was within reach Don reached down and plucked out the barrel, gasped and dropped the item down upon the dock, his eyes saucer-wide and his breath coming and going in sharp, erratic gasps.

It was a human torso. Judging from the size, it was the torso of child.

*

Anna heard the news at work. It came like a dirge. Everything spun as the world stilled. Everything stilled as her heart raced. Her heart raced as the workers slothed. The monitor screen buzzed with sounds and images. A little brown torso, aghast dockworkers, police offers standing beside them, a detective with dark bags under his eyes saying, “In all my 15 years I’ve never seen anything like this. Not once. Horrible. Evil. That’s the word for it. Evil.” The authorities had not yet identified the body but Anna already knew the name which they sought.

Adam.

“There something wrong, Annie?”

Anna turned towards the bespectacled and mousy little woman stood beside her in the community center kitchen. Anna struggled to remember her name. She was new. Kathy, Kristie, Kirsten. Kirsten, that was her name.

“Have you seen the news?”

Kirsten shook her head, “I try to keep from it much as possible. Always something horrible. Like they say, good stories don’t sell. Why, did something big happen?”

“Nevermind. Its not important.”

“Well, whatever it was it certainly has got you shook. My sister is like that. Total news junkie. Obsessed with politics. Always going on about this party, or that party, or some big scandal out of Washington. I keep telling her, it doesn’t really matter, its not like little folk like us can do anything about it. Best to just not listen to it. Ignorance really is bliss, ya know.”

“Yeah. You’re probably right about that.”

Anna returned to her duties and told her superior she was feeling ill, given the fact that she’d never taken off before the ruddy nosed old man let her off with a stern intonation, “Just this once.” She drove. She didn’t know where she was, nor where she was going. All that she knew was that she had to drive. She had to move. Constantly. Quickly. Else she had to think and nothing in all the world brought her more despair than to muse upon little Adam’s fate. But a day before she and the boy had strolled throughout the city park, feed the fish at the lake and talked with a old man selling books from a trashcan-turned-backpack. But a day before, she and the boy had ate ice cream and laughed at the frigid mustaches that there materialized from confectic consumption. But a day before Adam had been filled with life and mirth and art and smiles. Now he’d vanished from all the world entire, only a blood drained torso remained.

She pulled over, feeling suddenly feverish. Opening the door and ignoring the highway surroundings she fell to her knees and vomited out upon the curb as a murder of crows watched remorselessly from thorny thrones.

 

*

In the days following the murder of Adam Delle, Aiken Layne was twice assailed by protesters who claimed his anti-immigration polices had lead to the child’s death. The police had publicly stated that the limbs had been crudely removed but that the killer or killers were very careful to completely drain it of blood and remove several vital organs including the heart and lungs, though the liver and intestines were left intact. The Ferrum police department issued a public statement that they had no leads but were confident that the killer or killers were body harvesters and that the murder was likely financially motivated. Despite this announcement, Layne’s opponents were undeterred.

Layne passed through the immaculate halls of Partridge Museum, in through the high, wide foyer and then through wide semi-circular gala, past the milling crowd of onlookers, and up the similarly semi-circular grand stair to the second floor landing and from there to the in-house cafe. Two bulky men in suits with slicked back hair stood before the doors of the cafe, they patted Layne down and then the shorter of the duo nodded.

“Is this necessary every time I come?”

The man only nodded once more, subtly and gravely this time. Layne shook his head and sighed and fixed his collar and tie and moved beyond the portal into the brightly lit confines of the wide rectangular coffee shop. Not a single person was to be seen save for a lone man, finely, if simply, dressed who sported a overcoat all of black, tipped at the collar with white fur. He smoked languidly at a table in the middle of the room and sipped steaming coffee from china, bone-white and delicate as snow. Before him was a number of magnificent drawings, grotesque and beautiful alike and a silver samovar of coffee and a stack of newspapers and a ashtray of glass. The man did not look up as Layne entered, but rather spoke as if to himself.

“The thought should not cross your mind.”

Layne paused and arched a thick sepia brow.

“What thought?”

“That I don’t trust you. I only have them pat you down because they do as much to everyone else. A exception does not disprove the consistency of a general rule but the common man is rarely so much a logician.”

“You often say things, and I know they mean something, but honest to God I’ve no idea what.”

At last, Lynder Partridge met his guest’s eye. Layne had always been wary of the gallery owner’s eyes, gold-green and luminous; they did not just catch the light, but rather, seemed to affix it; to suck it from the marrow of the sky.

“At any rate, you’ve larger concerns than disentangling the meaning of my words,” he took a long drag and held up one of the newspapers, the headline read: Citizen’s Against Fascism (CAF) blame Layne for recent string of ritual migrant murders – do they have a case?

“Fucking hell,” Layne moved to stand before the table and accepted the paper from the gallery owner’s black-gloved hands, studying it intensely, speaking in hurried tones of stress and exasperation as he did so, “CAF, that’s one of Vikander’s pawn groups. They’re nearly completely funded through her Institute for Innovation and Equality. I’m gonna get murdered in the press after this…”

“You need to talk to less journalists and do more interviews.”

“I can’t hack it. I know my base likes me because of my occasional penchant for blustery rhetoric, fire and pomp and all that – and I am angry at the state of this, by God I am – but every time I step on the podium I’m nervous, takes my all just to keep from trembling. Just thinking about the way those yellow vultures will invariably hack up the interview-”

“Do it live. If you become too hot to handle their only recourse will be to pull the plug.”

“One of these days I really need to hire you to do all my PR.”

“Isn’t that what I do anyways?”

“Fair enough. Oh, Lynder, you’ve no idea the toll this has taken on my wife. You should see her, sobbing constantly. She thinks one of these CAF loons, or someone like them but more radical is going to assassinate me!”

“You’ve been twice assaulted. It wouldn’t surprise me if they tried a third time.”

“You’re supposed to be encouraging.”

“I refuse to be anything but honest.”

“If you were completely honest you’d have never gotten to where you are today.”

“And yet the reality of the situation rebukes your claim. Not divulging every nagging thought and divulging known falsities are two very different things.”

“Maybe I had it wrong. I shouldn’t hire you for PR, I should hire you for my legal team.”

Lynder smiled slyly as his compatriot folded the newspaper and laid it upon his lap.

“Why, Aiken, you insult me.”

“Oh?”

“They’re two things which utterly disgust me,” Partridge took a sip of coffee before continuing, savoring the hot, aromatic liquid, “Dogs and lawfare.”

“Dogs?”

“Of course. How could I ever place my trust in a animal whose loyalty can be bought with food? A animal which blindly defends its master?”

“Don’t you blindly defend what you care about?”

“Certainly not. Besides… I have no masters. But it was not to talk of me you came, it was for assistance.”

“Honestly, I don’t know why I came. Yeah, guidance, probably. I don’t know. You just always know the right things to say. I’m just feeling… discon… discom… aw, hell, what’s the word?”

“Discombobulated.”

“That’s the one – you mind if I have some of that coffee?”

Lynder plucked up one of the little china cups and poured a generous helping from the steaming samovar and gently slid the cup across the thick, white plastic of the spotless tabletop towards his guest. Aiken took the cup, cradling it in his manicured and lotioned hands as if it were a injured pigeon, it smelled unlike anything he’d ever received from the local city cafes, a potent earthy mixture of berries and chocolate, leather and honey. He wondered idly where Partridge had imported it from, all the better to distract him from pangs of conscience and the terror of circumstance.

Lynder leaned his elbows upon the table, folding his hands before his cup, starring intently at the misery-besotted politician.

“How are the kids?”

“Fine, fine. Too young to understand what is going on. I mean, they’re not dumb, they have a inkling that something isn’t right. That something is bothering me and their mother, the poor woman, but they don’t really get it. I’m glad of that. Ignorance is bliss, as they say.”

Lynder grimaced, “And when prolonged, bliss invariably becomes suicide.”

Aiken frowned, took a sip and watched a spider clean its forelegs upon a web in the far left corner of the room. A moth was fluttering dumbly towards it, ignorant of the peril.

“If that were true, Lynder, then every couple would be dead.”

“You, a man married for 12 years, of all people knows the fleeting nature of bliss. There is little bliss in coupling. In sex or in love. That is why men shouldn’t chase it. No matter what they do, it remains in their hands like some oiled hagfish, slipping out of grasp and slithering into briny depths unfathomed.”

“Then what should men chase?”

Lynder took a slow, thoughtful drag upon his gilded cigarette before answering as the moth entangled itself in the web. The spider, feeling the vibrations, carefully advanced.

“Understanding. That is, in point of fact, why you’re here. For understanding. But you already understand. Now is the time to act. Yet you don’t know what to do about the attacks. You need a personal detachment. A guardian.”

“Bodyguards?”

“At least one. Near you at all times. One, indeed, would be preferable, given the jingoistic rumors surrounding your campaign. A legion of guards would only increase those criticisms.”

“I can’t afford personal security. I’m popular, not rich.”

“Fortunately for you, I happen to be both.”

The spider leapt and sunk its fangs into the moth. A fluttering of wings and the shaking of a web. Dust-scatter and soundless scrapping. Then all was silent in the corner save for the mincing of a small chitinous maw and the exhalations of smoke from the prim, well-dressed man with eyes of ambered glow.


[this portion of the story was originally intended to be its own short story, separate from The Iron Garden (though still within the same world), however, halfway through I decided to incorporate it into the rest of the novel (which is still in progress).]