Composed by Kaiter Enless.
Clair Andretti awoke at the crack of dawn, dressed hurriedly and took the bus to campaign headquarters. The bus rumbled along with an uneven clomping, moving more like some great drunken beast than a properly operational transportation was filled with immigrants as usual, all dark eyes and brown eyes and self congression. They eyed Clair dubiously, as if they believed at any moment this short, pale skinned immaculately dressed creature would leap at them, fangs bared, fists clenched. The old man who sat beside her lowered his paper and looked out the window, speaking as if he were addressing some entity beyond human ken, flying beside the lumbering vehicle.
“I noticed some paint under your fingernails.”
Clair reflexively looked down to her hands, indeed he was right. Though she had showered and scrubbed her hands vigorously some caked on flecks of acrylic still remained.
“You an artist or a renovator?”
The man nodded to himself as if that was an affirmation extending far beyond the meaning of the words themselves. Then he spoke again, still without looking to Clair where she sat beside him, typing furiously away on her tiny thousand dollar laptop.
“How old are you?”
“You’re awfully curious. Haven’t you heard about the cat and it’s curiosity?”
“I’m going to guess your twenty five, perhaps slightly older.”
“Pretty sharp – I’m twenty six.”
“Last week a woman precisely your age was raped by eastern migrants on this very bus-line.”
Clair felt an icy pang of dread slither down her spine, not just from the disturbing news but also from the man’s stilted voice and emotional detachment.
“I didn’t hear about that on the news.”
“They didn’t feature it on the news. Not a single channel.”
“Whoa… that’s terrible… since you seem keen on the news maybe this will interest you,”
Clair clicked a few times on her keyboard, squinting down at the laptop screen before continuing.
“Two days ago a drug house in the Charnel was raided by SWAT after a young man named Jimmy Garner, whom had been reported missing for over a month, stumbled, half-dressed, into VPD headquarters. Mr. Garner reported that he was being held prisoner by sex traffickers and had been saved by a tall man wearing a chrysanthemum jacket. When SWAT stormed the house they found the owners as well as the purported kidnappers. The kidnappers, two men and woman, had been savagely beaten to death. Upon the woman’s torso were carved the words, Filth.”
Clair shook her head after she’d finished reading.
“It sounds like something out of an old pulp novel…”
“Have they identified the killer?”
“Not as yet. According to Garner he was, ‘a tall man with a blue ball cap and a jacket emblazoned with a chrysanthemum symbol.’ Garner also stated that the man didn’t speak a word either before or after his release. Sounds like a wacko to me.”
The stranger beside Clair nodded faintly, as if he were filing something important away within some specialized confines of his mind.
The bus rolled to a stopped and Clair rose and made to leave, then paused and turned to the mysterious man, who gazed still out the window.
“I never did get your name.”
The stranger said nothing.
Clair shook her head, muttering, “Weirdo,” under her breath and then left out through the mechanized hissing of the bus’ low slung double doors. The bus departed and traveled four blocks before stopping again at Partridge Gallery. The stranger followed two of the migrants out of the bus, a black duffle bag slung over his left shoulder and a deep, inner focus resonating from opaque yellow eyes.
The migrants were Sudanese, young and loud. Crassly shouting in their foreign tongue as they went careening along the narrow cement walkway. They laughed at a trendy youth, flipping his hat from his head. The boy leapt back with a terrified expression, no more than fifteen years of age. Then they moved on, gesticulating rudely at a scantily clad gaggle of women waiting for a cab.
The stranger knelt and plucked the ballcap up from off the ash and gum stained cement, handing it to the quivering lad without expression. The boy nodded his thanks, took the hat and ran.
The stranger surveyed the pulsing world around him, the high gleaming spires of tireless industry, the whirring invocation rubber on pavement, darkening clouds and the malefic cry of sirens, harbinger of some obscure tragedy. On the ground was a dead bird, sun bleached carcass heaving in grotesque undulations. Ants piling from it’s innards. The stranger gazed into the dead beast’s sightless sockets where one eyes likewise resided and then moved on. A singular purpose overtaking his the totality of his being.
The migrants had grown bored of jeering at the whores and trudged briskly up the steps of the Partridge Museum’s massive marble entrance way. The stranger watched them pass within the rotating glass doors and then surveyed the facade. It was more like some olden lord’s keep than anything classically resembling a museum, all cold steel, glistening chrome and jet-black onyx paneling. The man passed within the spinning doors as the sky darkened, massive clouds uncoiling themselves from that misted atmosphere like great and fabled serpents hellbent on Life’s consumption.
The lobby was a mirror image of the facade, beyond it the foyer and beyond that the gallery proper, mordant paintings lining every polished wall. The picture-room’s construction was curiously avant-garde; a great out-bent U at the end of which, on both sides, a stairway and above it an upper landing.
The stranger traced the walls with measured footfalls, keeping well out of sight of the dark skinned ruffians who ignored the masterworks surrounding and pranced up the high, chalcedony steps, vanishing quickly from sight. The stranger’s eyes swept the room, left to right, noting the lack of cameras within the semicircular vestibule.
Fists frosted white with fury as the high red lights gleamed off the golden chrysanthemum sigil which adorned the stranger’s white leather jacket.
When Clair finally reached the office meeting room she found Layne waiting for her, a stack of papers laid out before him, designer glasses perched upon the end of his long, share nose.
“Good lord, how on earth do you stay so punctual?”
“Ha. Well, take a seat, I’m just going over your mock-ups for the new flyers. I must say I’m impressed.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Oh knock of the, sir, stuff. Just call me Aiken.”
“Whatever you say, Sir Aiken.”
They laughed, sharing smiles, as Clair drew up beside him and settled into one of the rickety metal folding chairs haphazardly positioned about the creaking plywood table.
“On a serious note, I saw you on TV yesterday… how are you holding up?”
“You know the damnedest part about the whole fiasco wasn’t the fact that my life was under threat… it was the look in their eyes. The eyes of my fellow countrymen. Hatred. Pure hatred.”
“But there’s something else isn’t there, something else bothering you.”
“Why do you say that?”
“You’ve been mobbed by Unity protesters before, you know they hate you. Last time they stormed one of your rallies I asked you how you felt – remember what you said?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“You said, ‘I feel like I should have ordered my supporters to beat the ever-living daylights outta the little shits.”
“That does sound like something I’d say doesn’t it, haha.”
“So, what’s got your goat Mr. Mayor?”
“I’m not the mayor just yet.”
He fiddled with his wedding ring, averting his gaze from Clair and her lavish campaign drawings.
“Oh, I see. It’s your wife.”
“Let’s talk about something else.”
“Let’s not talk at all.”
Aiken turned to the woman with a look of both relief and surprise shinning in his narrow, gray eyes.
“I should have called you after…”
Clair placed her hand upon his leg and slide it up to his crotch, caressing his hardness as a small gasp of pleasure emanated from his mouth.
“Shut up and fuck me.”
The Cafe Noir’s small, mahogany confines smelled of tobacco smoke and leather, cigarette ash and java beans, a small gaggle of hipsters lounging about the counter at the front of the store, chatting with the staff whilst the old men, with their fat hands and wrinkled foreheads, puffed their fragrant belicoso’s and cursed the politicians of the day.
“Fuck that. Shelly Barnes is a dumb cunt. Total criminal.”
Clair Andretti, who stood before the bookshelves which lined the far left wall of the establishment, turned to the speaker. He was a fat, bald Italian with meaty jaws, piggish eyes hid behind over-sized panama shades, slacks, dress shoes and a windbreaker underneath which he wore a shirt that read: Get in the fast-Layne.
The Italian’s compatriot, a swarthy, younger man, athletic, trendy, dressed in expensive designer wear, opened his mouth to speak but was cut off by Clair.
“I take it you’re a Layne Supporter?”
The man’s question was intoned humorously but she knew well enough that in all humor there was some tracing of truth.
“Why so defensive?”
“I’d tell you but it’d be easier to show you.”
The man leaned slightly forwards, removing his huge sunglasses and turning his face to expose a ghoulish purple bruise which covered the whole of his left eye. The skin was so swollen that the Italian could barely open the lid.
“Yikes. What happened? Run into some Aiken Layne protesters?
The man nodded sadly.
“This whole city is losing it’s goddamned mind.”
Chase and Beach watched from two tables away, Beach sipping his latte nervously, Chase puffing on a cigar as he plyed eyes to a recently downloaded platformer, oblivious to the scene unfolding before him.
Clair moved elegantly to her friend’s table, plucked up one of the empty chairs, turned it around and sat down facing the elderly, swole-eyed Italian.
“I read an article today about the protests, apparently they’ve become so regular and violent that the Layne Campaign is considering pushing back his next rally.”
“Yeah I heard about that,” the sharp dressed man replied, “Was gonna take place in Derby Park. Nice place.”
The Italian shook his head.
“It was a nice place until those loud mouthed cretins took it over.”
Jonas Beach turned fully around in his chair, spilling some coffee on the table, little tar spots pooling about like blood under the moon and him cursing under his breath. He dabbed the spill and then bashfully raised his voice.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Don’t you read the news, kid?” The Italian inquired, smiling as he fiddled with his large, gold wedding band.
“Um… no, not really.”
“Well, you outta. Oh look, they’re on the news, Layne too.”
Chase and Clair snapped instantly to attention, the former turning to his wide-eyed friend with a mocking tone.
“Look, it’s your boyfriend.”
Jonas’ brows leapt up to the top of his forehead as his eyes flew from coffee cup to his friend’s features.
“Layne is your boyfriend?”
Clair sighed heavily, rolling her eyes and then closing them before responding flatly.
“No, you dolt. He’s joking. Layne’s my boss. I hadn’t told you yet but his campaign just got a big contribution from Lynder Partridge, so they’re planning on expanding and were looking for graphic designers. I figured I could fill the role so I showed them portfolio and they hired me on the spot.”
“O-oh. Well congrats… looks like we’ve got even more to celebrate.”
“Thanks. Now shut up, I’m trying to listen.”
All present heads suddenly pivoted to the huge HD plasma screen TV where it hung from the back left wall about the book shelves and the keno machine. It was a local news station.
“Good afternoon, this is Damien Bao with VNN bringing you the latest in breaking news. Only thirty minutes ago Mr. Layne announced he would be holding a press conference from his campaign headquarters at Bessner Avenue. Let’s go over to Abebi Asante who’s currently on-scene outside of his campaign headquarters were he’s staged a impromptu press conference.”
The screen split with Bao to the left and a elderly black woman with bleached blonde hair appearing to the right. Behind the black reporter a raucous crowd bustled and roared angrily, signs held high and them reading: End the Pain, End Aiken Layne! Or, Layne Stands for Hate, Not The Working Man! As well as, IMMIGRANTS ARE PEOPLE TOO! and the deplorably uninspired, Layne = Fascism.
“Thanks Damien, I’m here in Center Park Square, as you can see the protesters are thick-packed behind me and very angry. As I’m sure everyone remembers, earlier in the month, shortly after announcing his candidacy for Mayor, conservative writer and founder of Exo Armaments, Aiken Layne made some very disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants, calling them, ‘Criminal intruders.’ A statement which, as one might expect, has gotten quite a lot of people angry-”
Clair shook her head with exasperation.
“Bullshit,” the Italian barked, glaring angrily at the television screen.
“What is?” Jonas asked, utterly perplexed.
“Layne only said that about illegal immigrants. The gall of these talking heads…”
Jonas opened his mouth to question the old man but Clair shushed him briskly, the whole of her attention focused on the developing story.
“-Despite these protestations, Mr. Layne still plans to speak – here he is now!”
The camera panned quickly away from the reporter and the protesters to a podium which had been positioned in the middle of the tightly framed park and zoomed upon a tall, powerfully built man with silvery hair. The man emerged from behind the massive wooden podium to applause so raucous that it completely drowned out the protesters. The silver haired man smiled, a simultaneously dangerous and disarming gesture and then quickly waved and ascended the stairs. He spoke into a expensive microphone headset, so ergonomic and slender that one could barely see it at all.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you, truly. I’m so honored to see this kind of turn out despite the circumstances. If there’s one thing I know about my fellow citizens it’s that they won’t let these rabblerousers, these communists, stop us from spreading our message of liberty!”
The crowd went wild. Aiken Layne smiled again, nodding as much to himself as to the crowd and then pressed on, gesticulating forcefully in a manner more befitting of a sergeant prepping his men for battle than that of a suit and tie politician.
“You’ve heard all kinds of things about me – and I’ve gotta say this for those of you who haven’t met me before, as I see so many beautiful new faces – but all kinds of spurious accusations. The most vile kind of slander. I tell ya folks, they say I’m a tough guy but it’s been rough. I’ve been called damn near every name in the book: Nazi, fascist, RINO, warmonger, sexist, racist… the list just goes on and on. I don’t think these people – the media spin doctors, the socialist academics, the corporate interest groups and lobbyists, and last and least my opponent, Julie Marcel! – even know what the hell these words actually mean. They just say them, over and over again, as if that’s a refutation. 24/7. It’s suggestive, isn’t it folks? This tactic. Insults are something to be resorted to by the desperate, by those who don’t have an argument. It shouldn’t be one’s first response. It really shouldn’t folks.”
“You hear a lot of talk about being, “Presidential,” but you never hear talk about being, ‘Mayorial.’ Well, maybe that’s something we should be talking about because you’re faced with a choice, an important one, this upcoming election. A choice between me and Ms. Marcel. This is the part of the speech where my opponent’s supporters would say something like, ‘And that’s a choice between the cancer and it’s cure.’ Let me be clear folks, if Julian Marcel is the cure then I am happy to be as cancerous as necessary.”
The crowd laughed at which point Aiken shook his head, a kind of righteous fury suddenly overtaking him.
“That’s not a joke. I’m quite serious. This city is sick. Deathly so. This is a city where serial rapists and pedophiles are smacked on the wrist with milksop six month rehabilitation programs before being released back onto the streets to rape and terrorize once again. This is a city where murder runs rampant – I mean we have the highest number of violent crime in the nation, bar none. If this city was a nation we’d be the murder capitol of the world! But things weren’t always this way. Indeed, only ten years ago we were one of the safest and most prosperous cities in the nation – in the world even! So the obvious question then, what changed? I’ll tell you, my friends, it was leadership, the leadership changed. The Dems took over, both the mayoral office and the White House. In partnership with the Oval Office they have created the largest and most expensive immigration program in the history of this country. We’ve taken hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of migrants – and that’s the key word, ‘migrant,’ not, ‘refugee,’ despite what the media might tell you. They’re economic migrants, folks. They’re not running from anything other than their horrible, third world reality. Now I wanna focus on this for a while and I wanna focus on this issue because it’s the main thing my detractors zoom in on. When I say things like, ‘A nation either has borders or it does not. If it does not then in what way is it a nation?’ or, ‘It is necessary to the welfare of the country that we work towards unified cultural strictures – not forcing anything on anyone but simple demanding consistency and that those principled number among us speak up and out and do so often and hold fast to their traditions no matter which Hollywood stars this might enrage,’ And for this I’m lambasted as, a racist hatemonger. I mean, it boggles belief folks, and the reason I’m talking about all of this isn’t because it’s irritated me, which it admittedly has – no, it’s because this isn’t really about me, this is all about you. You, the layman, the working man and women, the repairman and the nursing student, the car mechanic and the freelance writer, are the one’s who are most adversely affected by this. First they take away your business opportunities by raising taxes, driving out industry, then throwing open the gates and flooding our magnificent city with more migrants than we can possibly handle. Next the migrants don’t integrate but rather self segregate, ghettoizing and demanding that we adopt their customs and their ways. And then, when you, the common working man, whose ancestors gave up their very lives and the lives of their sons for you to build the life you want, say – no, I’ve had enough, I won’t put up with this, I don’t want your Middle Eastern customs forced upon my children or my place of business or my women – well then you’re a disgusting bigot who must be silenced. They’re trying to take everything from us, these academics and kleptocrats, one because of ideology, the other due to greed. Your wealth, your safety, your culture, your freedom of speech, all are under threat. All. So if you are looking for someone who will protect your interests, your heritage, your rights, your freedoms then we need to stand up, all of us, every god damned one. We’ve stood up to tyrants before, whether it was the British Crown or the Axis Alliance, and we’ve beat them all down into sludge. And we can do it again, all we need is to harness the will, the drive, the spirit of our nation. So I say unto you, my fellow countrymen, stand, stand with me and together we will fight these foreign parasites and carnival barkers, the so-called, ‘political class’ and drive them back into the fetid abyss from whence they came!”
The crowd erupted into furious applause, cheers flying out and up and filling the ambit of the city wide. Fierce gesticulation and wild-eyed adoration likening the crowd more to some fanatical congression of war then any mere poli-lay assembly.
Suddenly, the police barricade was breached and the protesters stormed the rally grounds, swarming from behind trees and blue-garbed bodies like locusts emerging from dark and sand-bound slumber. A chant issued from that gregarious band’s lips.
Hey hey, ho ho, fascist pigs have got to go, hey hey, ho ho!
Bulky men in dark suits with earpieces quickly ascended the dais, forming a protective semi circle round the mayoral candidate who glared out wrathfully at the activists
“You see how they scurry in to silence us! These people who declare themselves guardians of our society and all that such a declaration entails! These people who keep telling us they want more, ‘discussion.’ But now is not the time for discussion, now is the time for swift, decisive and aggressive action!”
Suddenly a punch was thrown and the entire scene erupted into violence as protesters and Layne loyalists clashed in a wild tangle of flailing fists, shouts, broken teeth and blood. A small detachment of the more foolhardy members of that disruptive band broke off and attempted to overtake the dais but were quickly neutralized with militaristic decisiveness by Layne’s security detail.
The Italian shook his head sadly.
“This goddamned city is losing it’s mind.”
Clair nodded, though truthfully she felt nothing, it was just another trumped up happening, a wonderfully packaged bundle of color and noise, passing away as quickly as it happened. By next week, she mused, the riot would be completely forgotten, passing into the void-well of collective consciousness with a lapsed synaptic whimper.
Chase cut into the settling gloom with characteristic nonchalance.
“So… back to our celebration.”
“You didn’t seem particularly interested in celebrating before. You were more interested in your little puzzle game.”
“It’s not a puzzle game, it’s an action platformer. Get it right, Clair.”
“Sheesh. Why are you always so fucking grim? You know what, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know. Now is not the time for ruminating on civil unrest – now is the time for celebration! After all, we’re the Universities cream of the crop.”
“As far as Lynder Partridge is concerned,” Jonas chimed in meekly.
“Lynder Partridge’s opinion means more to me than all of the professors at Vandem U combined.”
Chase shook his head, turning to the Italian and his well dressed compatriot with an affectation of defeatism.
“You see what I have to put up with? These two are utterly incapable of having fun.”
The Italian shrugged, “Maybe that’s a good thing. Most other youngsters I see don’t do nothing else.”
“You’re not helping – now, I propose a toast!”
Chase leapt up suddenly with nervous energy, his paper latte cup held with monarchical distinction as if it were some bejeweled chalice being proffered to an olden lord of high distinction. Clair’s stoicism instantly melted away. She’d always found Chase’s affectatious, playful manner charming, his boundless vitality invigorating and his good natured cheer infectious.
Reluctantly, Clair picked up her own cup with Jonas following suit with a shy expression, as if he was ashamed of such irregular behavior. However, even his timidity was wiped away by Chase’s infectious grin and mirthful intonation.
“To the future, to success, to us!”
They clacked their plastic lids together and then chugged the remnants of their cups with Chase finishing first, Clair second and Jonas third, coughing and hacking half his java up through his nose.
Barren was the plain upon which she stood, pale-nude and swathed in the wind, raw-howling out across that rutted waste. The forms rose soundlessly from the ashen sand, porcelain masks glistening bone-white beneath the moon. Unease and silence so total that she felt the world itself had ceased it’s celestial transit. Then a cracking as the masks fell away revealing faces commonplace and banal. They screamed; oh how they screamed. Then burst into a thousand squirming things, briny-black and still shrieking. Thence came the eclipse and from that garland blackness a dripping substance, a null placenta discharging a slithering blackness, darker still; amniotic sheened and sounding like the heartbeat of some olden god of war.
The sound grew louder as the blood began to seep from the trembling, naked thing that had once thought of itself as ‘self,’ here there was no identity, no consciousness, no mind – only fear. A fear that grew larger as the mores-pitched and seething mass slunk from the gaping wound in the sky, running to fester the ground, it likewise in squalid quandary. From that mass rose the form of a man, shadow-garbed and smiling, a grin like the upturned moon, waning scythe-thin and icy-white. Extended from that fickle form was a hand, black-gloved, apple proffered, and it a gray dappled thing more akin to stone caricature than blossomed goods of gold and green.
The terror gripped her entirely now, tightly as the glistening, stony sphere in hand, a slithering sensation of absolution descending. But it was not the familiar remission, that of sin, but rather one more stark and terrifying, the utter abdication of all hope. She knew then in that moment what the stranger offered up to her; it was forbidden, sacrilege, profane to all the world beyond those two static lives. Unthinkable in the disaster inherent.
Hesitantly, the woman reached up and out, to grasp the apple; instantly it shattered in her hand, quickly turning to dust and flowing down in ashen rivulets to the similarly gray-wasted ground below. The smile widened as the shade engulfed her; then all was blood and gore and horror unimaginable. Sand now so red that no color from it would run from the moment of until the end of time.
She awoke with a start, the dream still brewing malignantly in her mind. Sweat clung to body and it shiver-wracked and warm. Throwing the blanket away, Claire Andretti rose from the mat, stretching in the pale moonlight. The thin, silver beams danced in from her window sill, dusty-gray and garland in spider’s silk. The drawings scattered about the floor reflected the dreams of days past, the contents of her lucid mind crystallized in ink and charcoal, graphite and dye. She looked to the rough-born drafts, those twisted aberrations of light and shade and smiled, a golden pride swelling in her breast as she surveyed her work.
Stepping gingerly over the drawings, Claire made for the dresser adjacent the bed and withdrew tattered jeans, underwear and a plain white short sleeved shirt. She dressed haphazardly, then snatched cigarettes and matches off the nightstand. She needed an ash tray. Having forgotten to purchase one upon moving into the cramped, stucco plastered abode she padded to the kitchen and picked up the empty tin peach can she’d eaten from the day before. Then she walked back to her bed and living room and sat cross-legged amidst those myriad creations, grotesque and inspiring. She lit a fag and closed her eyes, falling into a silent, wondering reverie. Then picked up an errant pencil and ripped out a fresh page in her sketch pad which lay at the foot of the slow deflating air mattress.
From that moment til sunrise the contents of the nights terror poured forth upon the paper, the hiss of ash on peach juice and the scratching of pens the only sound.
The roar of the crowd subsumed all other sound, even thought was lost to that schismatic bio-hum. They were at it again, the protesters, scantly assembled outside of the lecture hall, fists in the air, eyes wild, like rabid dogs. Ape-like in their dissension.
The students assembled in the stone-wrought gallery listened momentarily to the raucous din outside as one might listen to the ramblings of some senile invalid until the dean took the stage. Hands held out over the podium in entreaty like some preacher of old.
“Due to a scheduling conflict Mr. Partridge will be unable to join us today for the awards ceremony. However, we have arranged it such that he can still be with us in spirit for this momentous occasion. For today, three of you will be chosen, due your artistic excellence, for a monthly showing at the Partridge Museum of the Arts Regional Gallery. But I know you don’t really want to hear it from me – so without further adieu I give you, Mr. Lynder Partridge!”
White noise. Static fizzling of the lectern loudspeakers. Then a voice, smooth, rich, charismatic and effusive cascaded out and over that rumbling mass of flesh, hair and dreams.
“Greetings and salutations, students of VU. This is Lynder Partridge speaking. For the past four years I have been following a select few of you with intense and undivided interest, watching with unbridled joy as you honed your craft and sharpened your spirits into fearful lances, your art the arm with which you hurl it out amongst the not-quite living – to shake and stir them from their slumber with the force of your ceaselessly raging souls.”
Several brows were raised and a hushed cackling sounded through the marbled ambit of the vestibule.
“Thus it is with great pleasure that I announce those bright and distinguished few, here today in these hallowed halls, who shall present their work to the city wide: Brandon Chase, Jonas Beach and Claire Andretti. My sincerest congratulations to this most distinguished triumvirate. And to the rest of you, best of luck… for those that need it.”
Just as abruptly as it had sounded, the speakers hissed and fell silent. Then nothing but the murmur of the crowd and Claire Andretti’s soft, nearly inaudible intonation, “Holy shit…”
Brandon Chase ran up to Andretti and lifted her straight up off the ground in a mad embrace, twirling her about the air in jolly pirouettes.
“Haha! Can you believe it! Our own gallery showing!”
“Chase, put me down before I put you down.”
“Well done – Chase, Clair. You both deserved it.”
Chase turned fractionally to the speaker with Claire still in his arms, she abruptly reached up and pinched his left nipple incurring a high shriek and the young woman’s immediate freedom. The young man whom had previously spoken smiled faintly, slowly shaking his head as Chase cackled and Claire approached him with an extended hand.
“You deserve it as well, Jonas. You never have any confidence in yourself.”
Jonas opened his mouth to speak but fell silent as Chase rushed up behind Claire, pinching her love handles with a jackal-wide grin.
“You cheeky minx.”
“Would you knock it off, I’m trying to congratulate, Jonas.”
But even as she scowled at the man she couldn’t help but begin to smile, Chase was never capable of taking anything seriously. It was a charming, infectious kind of frivolity. She’d always liked that about him, how he counterbalanced her own staid personality.
“Yeah, yeah – how about we celebrate tonight? We can go to the club, what do you say?”
“I hate the club, can hardly hear myself think there.”
“Ok, ok; not the club then, we can go wherever you want, that boring old cafe you like, anywhere – this kind of news deserves a celebration!”
Again Jonas attempted to interject but was cut short by the emergence of a short, pale ginger with a disgruntled countenance.
“Who’d you have to fuck, Andretti?”
Andretti snapped to the ginger with raised brow as Chase’s smiled faded, quickly replaced by a severe, unwavering stare.
“What are you talking about?”
“Don’t bullshit me, Andretti, we both know you wouldn’t have even been accepted into Lynder’s gallery unless you sucked a good one.”
“What the hell is wrong with you, Cole?”
Cole Hathers’ venomous sneer shifted instantly to Chase. Hathers hateful smiled widened.
“White knighting for her as usual I see, Brandon.”
“What’s you’re problem, man?”
Claire held up her hand, taking a dismissively unconcerned posture, her fine red lips pursed and crimson-brown eyes narrowing ever so slightly down upon the wrathful young man.
“I know what his problem is.”
“Oh, and what’s that?”
“Pff, as if.”
“You’re a third-rater. Always have been. A third-rater with a inferiority complex.”
“Hey, fuck you, Claire, fuck you!”
A cruel smile cracked out over Clair’s pale, glassy face as she stepped again towards her furious detractor like a hyena encroaching upon some gutted wildebeest.
“You wouldn’t know how to satisfying a woman even if I showed you,” she turned to Jonas and Chase, her rictus expression widening, “Probably wouldn’t even know where to put it.”
Hather’s fury reached it’s apex, leading him to snarl something indiscernible before leaving off with shoulders slumped in defeat, fists balled, teeth clenched, knuckles white as snow. He departed through the lobby’s high, glass doors and vanished in the seething mass of midday traffic, students and teachers bustling to and fro with mechanical detachment.
At the same time the Dean’s voice rattled out of his whiskey-eaten throat.
“Let’s hear it for our up-and-comers; a round of applause everybody!”
A stuttering of half-hearted clapping then sounded, bitter, begrudging envy mixed with apathetic roboticism. After the clapping had ceased and the crowd returned it’s attention to the dean Chase moved to stand beside Clair, who still glared fixedly at the space where Hathers had stood, as if beholding some spectral form, some phantasmal afterimage.
“He’s just jealous, a lot of people are.”
Clair turned to him with a wicked smile.
“They should be.”
The city buzzed like a noise-struck hornet, skittering round a white-hot light. The sound pouring forth from beneath the shade of jagged, phallic highrises, behind which grumbled ramshackle factories discharging grim, hellish plumes of living charcoal up into the darkening, moonless sky.
A man stood backlit by moon in that blasted district, silent as a tomb, motionless as statuary. He stared up into the thunderheads building in the far-off distance as rain drew a thin and shimmering patina about his ball cap and tight-fitting leather jacket, white and emblazoned with a golden chrysanthemum sigil. His middling form shuttered suddenly as the man inhaled deeply, meditatively. Then he turned full about and made for the high brick wall of the ruined factory now before him.
Without hesitation the man drew back his powerful arms and slammed his naked fist into the mortared facade. Again and again he struck the wall, until his knuckles bleed and his forearms tired.
At length, he moved away from the wall, and stood eyeing the mortar and blood upon it, slow washing down unto the filth beneath. The man withdrew a small roll of medical cloth and ripped it in half, fastening one section around each bloodied hand, from knuckles to wrists, and then surveyed the rain speckled ruin surrounding.
The playground was strewn with condoms, needles, broken bottles and chewing gum above which, on either side, rose two massive factories, both crumbled in upon themselves, victims of some forgotten housing project which had never reached completion. Everything within that wasted yard between the ruins of dilapidated industry smelled of rain and steel, smoke and sin, scents like afterimages of all those teeming, filthy lives what had passed before. Scents so intense in their invocation that the man, for the briefest of moments, swore he could see them, those past people, elapsed persons, flittering like somber khefts who corroded the tenuous weave of reality with their nightmarish alcahest.
He surveyed the filth surrounding, first left to the porno mag neath the swing set, then right to the dead dog near the far wall, it’s collar fused with flesh like a demonic brand. Inhaling the stink, feeling the cold, omnipresent sting of cloud-rheum. All consuming, imminently palpable and utterly inescapable.
The man whirled suddenly striking once again at the walls, this time more furiously, emitting a low, inhuman growl as he did so. Blood pooling neath knuckled bandages, veins and blows rising in tandem to the rains savage increase. He kept on thrashing the wall as the lunar light shown faintly through the slow-breaking cloud-line. Striking til he was no longer essence and entity but pure causal aggression. Planetary, orbitless. Object without agency, purpose distilled.
When the mortar finally began to crack beneath his blows he relented, taking two steps back, his military boots slashing in the fetid, ashen grime of the wide, gravel yard. The crack in the wall was a revelation, it was more than a mere physical representation of reality but a mirror unto a calling beyond his ken. It felt as if he were becoming a providence unto himself and the feeling was greater than any elation he’d ever before experienced.
Reverie broken. Winds gusting. The merry-go-round creaking eerily with the tilting of sky, shifting in uneven undulations like some skeletal prison, moaning in agony neath the terror of the moon.
The man walked methodically to the merry-go-round and placed a bandaged and bloodied hand upon cold steel, feeling the turning of the world and all reverberations there from. The sound of creaking omnipotent, filling the air with mystic song, like the ringing of sword on mail, both precedent and prelude to dire contentions whose totality shaped the living mold of history and the silhouetted form that moved there within.
Then he straightened and walked up to the old house behind the playground, entering through the unlocked front door. Sounds of synthwave and scents of alcohol permeated the place with visual density. They reminded the yellowed eyed man of the nightclub he had tersely visited the night before and his pace quickened at the recollection.
The man passed through the foyer, his sound masked by the pulsing bass emanating from stolen loudspeakers booming from some room beyond, and entered the living room where a mass of blacklit bodies flailed wildly, enrapt with spirits. They were young and old, though mostly young, the women especially so and them scantclad, their carnal movements magnetic to the older men who ground upon them with orgiastic ecstasy. Sweat and swelling groins, lolling breasts and heaving thighs. None noticed the newcomer with the ballcap as he walked purposefully along the edge of the left wall, taking the stairs up to the second floor landing. He turned sharply left and took the corridor to it’s extremity. At the end of the corridor was a high, green door and a large, muscular man, standing before it, talking on a phone, his back to the intruder with the bloodied hands. As the intruder approached the large man whirled instantly, clearly surprised.
“Whoa, ya scared me there, buddy. You a friend of Kim’s?”
The man with the dark blue ball cap didn’t respond, he merely balled his hands into red-white fists, dragging his knuckles along the walls as he hastened his approach, blood-lines painting the peeling stucco walls in his wake.
“The fuck happened to your hands?”
Again the man didn’t answer. Instead he burst forwards suddenly, viciously striking the large man in the face – phone dropped, cartilage broke. The big man staggered aback, blood trickling in hot, blooming globs from his odd-angling nose.
Furiously the large man threw a pudgy, bejeweled fist at the assailant, connecting with nothing but air. The man with the bandaged hands caught the big man’s arm in a pincer move, pressing with savage intensity upon his elbow until it snapped like ripened celery. The big man gave a strangled moan just before the intruder drew back his upper body and slammed his forehead into the big man’s nose. The bone of the large man’s nose had gone straight into his brain but failed to kill him. Instead the brute thrashed upon the ground in wild, epileptic spasms, eyes rolling white and queer-twitching.
The intruder loomed over the dying man, watching with opaque eyes as blood drained from the creature’s indented nose and pooled into his gasping maw. Choking red, he attempting to scream, failing, flailing. Helpless.
Then the man with the bandaged hands stepped over the pitiful creature and walked calmly into the room beyond. It was a small chamber, filled with marijuana smoke and pornographic paraphernalia, partitioned by a thick black curtain. The intruder peered silently through the parted curtain, surveying all beyond keenly. Beyond the veil was a plush, velvet mat upon which two handsome, naked men stood, one white, the other Mexican, cocks dangling semi-hard. Between them a young, thin man whose beautiful blue eyes were wide with terror. He was chained to large steel pole that had been erected in the middle of the room via something resembling a dog collar.
“What the fuck are you looking sour about?”
The intruder’s eyes darted to the speaker, a young woman who leered at the orgy goers from behind a small digital camera. She wore wide-rimmed glasses, lipgloss, a mini-skirt and a tightfitting, low-cut T-shirt which read: Jealous?
The prisoner bowed his head, averting his eyes. The director shook her head and lowered her camera.
“I’m fucking speaking to you, cunt. Look at me.”
The young man reluctantly acquiesced at which point the woman nodded, vaguely pleased and then viciously grabbed the man by the back of his head, shaking him violently.
“You better not resist this time or I’ll have Henry discipline you again. Severely this time.”
The man nodded, terrified. The woman smiled and released her hold on his hair and then stepped back and raised her camera.
“Alright, let’s get this fucking movie done so I can give Karol his pay and get the fuck out of here – and don’t be afraid to get rough with the little fucker, he deserves it for trying to run.”
The naked men laughed and started in on the cowering young man.
“In three, two-”
Suddenly the man with the bloodied hands burst into the room from behind the black curtain. The director spun, wide eyed, mouth slightly parted in surprise. The intruder raised his fist and backhanded her to the floor, sending the camera clattering into the corner. The two studs spun from the slave, their visages those of children before the flog. The anglo spoke up first, taking a step backwards off the velvet mat, moving towards the corner in fear.
“What the fuck man?”
The intruder didn’t speak, he merely stared at them, his eyes hidden neath the shade of his dark blue ballcap. After a beat the mestizo took a step forward, pointing at the intruder.
“You don’t know who you’re messing with, walk away, and I’ll forget this ever happened.”
The intruder wordlessly kicked the man in the groin and watched as the mestizo collapsed to the ground with an inhuman moan. Then he grabbed the Mexican by the back of the head and splintered his skull upon the concrete. Once, twice, three time, four, until there was scarcely anything left of the man’s face that could be called such. Then he rose and walked methodically to the anglo in the far right corner of the room.
“Hey man, let’s talk about this – you want money? Is it Karol? Listen man, we’ve got money!”
The intruder delivered a kick to the man’s left kneecap so powerful that the join inverted instantly. The anglo folded over screaming, his wild exclamations drowned out by thunderous electronica. The ballcapped man drew back his leg and delivered a sunderous kick to the man’s skull. Again and again he struck down until the floor went red with blood and rheum and fragments of bone. Then he straightened, breathing heavily and turned to the prisoner who crouched beside the steel pole which affixed him to the middle of the room.
“W-who are you?”
Before the man with the bandaged hands could respond there came a spastic howling as the director came barreling at the interloper with a small, weighted baseball bat clutched in trembling, feminine hands. Wood met muscle as the bat connected with the trespasser, who staggered back without exclamation. Recovering nearly instantly, the interloper drove his fist into the woman’s gut and then drew his uninjured arm back and wrenched the bat from her grasp, tossing it carelessly aside. The killer moved mechanically round the fallen woman to stand before the chained prisoner, removing a large, folded hunting knife from his eggshell, leather jacket. With a flip of his bangled wrist the blade snapped free of casing, glinting malevolently in the dim, red light which emanated from a solitary lava lamp upon a small wooden table in the far left corner of the room. The chained youth attempted to look the killer in the face but there was no face, only shadows cast by his low-worn ball-cap.
“Oh god – please don’t kill me, please!”
The intruder knelt before the prisoner, knife brandished before the young man’s trembling face and then grabbed the youth by the collar.
“Please, oh god, I don’t want to die! Oh god! Help me!”
The knife wielder slit the collar cleanly without nicking the skin, then threw it from the prisoner and rose, staring down at him with a expression beyond comprehension. The blond youth was crying now, shuttering violently, as he raised his head.
Then the youngster rose slowly and grabbed his cloths from off the ground beyond the velvet rug, dressed hurriedly and left off out through the black satin veil. The interloper watched the youngster depart and then turned to the director where she moaned upon the ground.
Expressionlessly, he straddled the woman, striking her in the face, rendering her instantly unconscious and then bringing the blade up underneath her shirt. He slit the glitzy T from base to collar, removing it as he drew the tip of the knife to cheap-tanned skin and began to trace a tenuous red-lettering as a crow cawed somewhere off in that wide, outer dark.
The party ended with the rising of the sun; most of that drug addled procession piling out of the house and dispersing into the crystal shimmering ambit of the metropolis. Dropouts and deadbeats sauntering back to their dingy, stucco hovels to feast on corn chips and beer and drain their brains on superfluous pay-per-view programming; skinflicks and action romps.
Only a young black woman and her roommate, a skinny, tattooed mulatto remained. They surveyed the desecrated house, plastic bags of marijuana piled on the living room table, crowded in by beer bottles and Styrofoam cups. The television was on, it occupying the wall directly opposite the door. To the left and right of it were long leather couches, covered in debris: chips, forgotten hats, pillows and cigarette ash.
The woman collapsed upon the couch with a heavy sigh.
“That was one crazy party.”
“You tired, babe?”
He sat down next to the woman and grabbed the remote off the cluttered tabletop, flicking to the local news station. A handsome Asian sat behind a mahogany desk, a slender bundle of papers laid out on the table before him. He picked them up and tapped them together upon the desk in an orderly fashion, looking into the camera with a mechanically serious expression.
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. This is Damien Bao with VNN bringing you the latest in breaking news. The mysterious disappearance of Vandem University student, Jimmy Garner was resolved late last night when the young student stumbled into VPD headquarters, bruised, shaken but otherwise unharmed. According to Mr. Garner he was abducted by a young woman who the police have identified as Kimberly Novak, a well known child porn producer who has ties to the Karol Drug Cartel. Novak has been on the run since an attempted arrest earlier in the year which resulted in the deaths of two police officers. More astounding then this revelation, however, was the situation which lead to Mr. Garner’s release. According to Garner whilst he was confined a man stormed the room, killed his captors and released him, never speaking a word. According to Mr. Garner the man wore a dark blue baseball cap, sun faded jeans, military boots and a off-white leather jacket with a… flower insignia.”
The broadcaster briefly paused, touching the transmitter in his ear, then nodded and continued.
“I’m being told that the sigil on the man’s jacket, that is, the symbol, was a chrysanthemum. Here is an artist rendering of the alleged perpetrator. If you see this man, please report him to your local police. In other news, reality TV star Christie Rains shows off her baby bump at the-”
Suddenly, the door was kicked down, a flock of SWAT members storming in, tactical shotguns canvasing the tatterdemalion party house.
“Get down on the ground – NOW!”
The couple, who had sprang up from their couch with expressions of purest terror, dropped instantly to the shag carpeting.
“What’s going on?!”
“It’s going to be ok, Rachel. Officers, what’s going on?”
“You have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.”
One of the SWAT member’s pressed the young mulatto’s head to the carpet, cuffing him with practiced precision.
“What the fuck, man! It’s just pot.”
The agent cuffed the girl, ignoring both their protestations, rose and quickly marched up the stairs, shotgun at the ready. He emerged upon the landing with his men close behind him and traversed the long corridor, then paused, noting a faint, pale-red smear along the left and peeling stucco wall. A few feet further on he noticed another stain, this one residing upon the left corner at the end of hall and the beginning of the next room’s door frame. It was much more easily recognizable than the first.
“What do you think, Serge?”
“Think it looks like blood.”
The sergeant turned away from the blood stains, focusing his attention on the door before him. He gingerly tried the knob, didn’t budge. Locked. With soundless hand gestures the sergeant assembled a point formation and then switched out his Remington 870 for the Heckler & Koch MP5 which hung from a strap about his shoulder. He never liked shotguns for corner clearing, the MP5’s shorter length made it a much more pragmatic choice.
He looked back at the man under his command, they nodded, he nodded back and then kicked the door down and surged inside. He cleared the corners swiftly, black satin to either side – nothing. Tearing the curtain aside he shuddered with utter revulsion. Within that tiny, dim-lit room were the bodies of two men, their heads crushed beyond recognition, the air thick with the scent of blood, defecation and something else unplacable. In the middle of the room was a battered steel pole from which a naked woman slumped. Chains ran the length of both wrists and from the wrists the chain ran about the pole.
The SWAT members thoroughly swept through the room then looked back at the sergeant and nodded. The sergeant approached the woman tentatively, his breath sharp and labored with dread which slithered through his gut like some sinister and demonic aberration. A dread which permeated the very air of those fetid, pale green confines.
He reached out a black gloved hand and spun the woman around, gasping at what he beheld.
There were no eyes, nor tongue, nor ears, nor nose, only black and septic holes, cavities oozing with vile rheum.
Upon her naked stomach had been carved the words: FILTH.
The Coming of Erebus
The pulsing heave of synth-wave and bio-hum washed over the solitary man with the lineman’s gloves. He stood back-lit by neon, silent as statuary. Smoke slow-coiling about plain black ball-cap, chrysanthemum skyliner, heavy tinted aviators and trim-fit bluejeans. He stared straight ahead, as if the club goers, dancing in schismatic fits, the whirling, prismatic lights and the strippers, topless and humping silvered poles, didn’t exist; as if there was nothing in all the world save for the suited men who sat at the back of the cloistered lounge, drinking beyond the terpsichore landing.
The man with the chrysanthemum jacket stalked catlike through the sensorium of danger-red, past wine colored drapery that bespoke of blood and it’s subsequent narrative alcahest. All measured breathing and vulturine focus, the practiced strut of violence. Across and beyond the dancefloor he moved, to the lounge threshold – thick rivulets of beads – and through it. Through the satin-shine carpets and the strange paper lamps, orange-pale and vaguely Asiatic and still-tilting from the low, brooding ceilings.
A woman blocked his path, moving in a silvery arc from the bar, left-adjacent to the lounge. She a thing of light and lust, sweat soaked from dancefloor escapades, droplets moving to the ample curves of her young, pale form. She smiled at the man, perfect teeth showing between plump, red-shined lips.
He took a drag then looked to her as one might a stop-light, something mundanely-existent, to be observed without study. The dancer’s smile faltered slightly, her brows furrowing under the weight of the mysterious man’s cold, keen gaze. She could not make out any expression, his facade mask-like under the neon sheen.
Then he turned from her, moving to stand before the suited drinkers where they cajoled amidst a whirl of pheromones. He waited for the lusty dancer to fade into the heaving bio-mass of the crowd then put out his fag on table’s end. The smallest among the suited drinkers, whispering into the ear of a scantily clad nubile, looked up with confusion and irritation clouding his mirth; the mysterious man’s shade subsuming the party-goers entirely.
“You need something, pal?”
The man with the chrysanthemum jacket answered not and starred down upon the libertine with venomous intensity.
“Hey jackoff, I asked you a question.”
Again the intruder answered not.
The speaker, all slicked back hair and pampered olive skin, glanced with irritation to a large, bald man standing closest to the newcomer. Balding man nodded gravely, a subtle gesture, then stepped towards the intruder, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Without hesitation the man with the chrysanthemum jacket reached up and grabbed the bald man’s hand. A flash-blur of flawless motion, the tensing of muscles, a brutal snap and the scream of a wounded animal. Bald brute dropped like a sack of flower, writhing with broken arm strange-angled from it’s respective joints. A descending heel and the brute’s jaw shattered. Another stomp from the intruder and the downed man’s skull cracked like glass. A third blow and the floor went red with cranial cast-off and blood and rheum.
Wide eyes and the lo-fi crash of club tones, jabbering from the dancers, moving obliviously beyond the scene of death.
The intruder inhaled passively.
Then that black garbed party, three in number, rose from their carmine perch, hands going for their jacket pockets. Grasping for cold steel. Guns.
The silent intruder moved faster, grabbing a large carafe from off the marbled table and throwing it’s boiling contents in the face of the libertine. His skin went red as it boiled, a terrible moan torn from his throat by the phantom hand of pain. Then rightward went the carafe, colliding into the head of the next comrade. Then leftward, again right. Two more shattered skulls and their owner’s crumpling unto tabletop. Now only the libertine remained and him a youngish man, slicked back hair askew, faux-tan skin quivering, eyes wide, mouth agape, hands scratching feral, out into the red-blackness of the that sordid den of inequity.
The man with the chrysanthemum jacket bent a knee and effortlessly hauled the libertine out from under the table, casting him roughly to the middle of the room.
Libertine rolled to a stop, panting, then inhaled deeply, blinking against the inner dark and blood ill-clotting his eyes. He crawled along the floor, along the main aisle, heading for the exit, his face bloody and scarred from the simmering contents of the carafe. Still in her booth, the scarred man’s concubine sobbed silently, too terrified to scream.
Intruder turned slowly and cast his reptilian gaze down upon the pitiful thing moaning on the carpet. The libertine scuttled about the flooring, more liken to some long-gone crustacean than homo sapien; arms queer-angled and clawing and legs scissoring in wild jerking bows.
Silently, the invader moved to stand before the downed creature and paused, head turning to one side in queer, bird-like motion, bathed in the carmine glow of the lantern-hung walls. He observed his carnage, the dead bodies and the woman cowering in terror. Then, wordlessly, he stomped down upon the libertine’s throat, again and again until the pale hummock had been hooved plane and speckled with florid bloom.
Libertine, in his last, rattling throes, grasped at the leggings of his executioner, eyes wild and bulging, mouth spewing air and blood and garbled sound, strangely inhuman. Then nothing but the serene silence of the dead and those that kept them. A silence quickly broken by the muted wail of the girl. She ran out from under the booth, heading for the dance floor. Looking for all the world like some gut-shot deer, her huge, lazuline eyes darting from the dead man on the floor to the man with the chrysanthemum jacket, that bloodied stranger.
Stranger whirled upon her as she rushed for the door, grabbing a thick tuft of shimmering cinnamon hair and slamming her head into the booth nearest the door. A thudding-crack and the woman went down hard, blood pooling from her wounded skull. Intruder crouched, impenetrable, yellowed eyes glowing in that brooding, dark-lit space like lanterns in the night, staring into the quaking blue of his victim’s own. He brushed her hair off the face, then shifted her torso from up off the ground. He gently placed his black gloved hands about each side of the woman’s face as her lips quivered open in confused and stuttering speech.
“Please… Don’t hurt me.”
He didn’t speak but rather caressed her face, staring opaquely into the nascent fire of her wavering soul. Then he slammed her head into the sharp, wooden frame of the bloodied booth. Her eyes rolled up and back into her skull, the pure white of nerve convulsion. Death descending instantly, his great and endless wings subsuming the nymph in metronome to the club maestro’s frenetic, sinister hymn.
Then nothing but the footsteps of that singular entity, moving up and past the dead woman, the libertine and his compatriots; his chrysanthemum jacket shinning in the dull-red light. Yellow eyes flashing in the dark like a thousand dying suns.