Unfinished Novel: Starving Light

Starving Light

a novel

Wasps in windows mocked him.

The insect hummed relentlessly, maddeningly, against the frost tinted pane, the white skin of the world and the world burning behind it and the yellow, black scream of the helpless surging vainly towards the fire. The man watched the insect with wide eyes and a face contorted by a vague and creeping sense of dread, the puppet master of his waking life, unwoken. He moved to open the window and realized that the creature would burn to death outside. Realized also that it would die just the same within; no food – he wondered if he should bring it some, decided against it, too afraid. What did wasps eat? He couldn’t move. Hesitantly and with great disgust he thought of killing it, crushing it in his fist like a jelly-baby, or chicken egg, but he couldn’t move. What made wasps despair? Did they? Paralyzed by absolute terror; the terror, not of nonexistence, but of false existence. Of fiction. Artifice. Lies. There was a blur of movement through the pane, beyond the room, outside; a figure emerged through the seething flames, a dark form, primordial and malevolent, leering at him with a face as unlike any he had ever seen and hoped never to see again.

He screamed.

Shattering glass.

When he awoke from the dream he realized with great confusion and uncertainty that the wasp was still there, whether in his fiction or fact or some variation thereupon the buzzing of it’s wings and the subdued scraping of it’s spiny legs against the clear sheet of his living room’s window would always remain. Always. A clear glass cup lay broken upon the floor; he didn’t care. Kicked it aside. The humming overtaking him, following him, through whatever realm or lack thereof in which his coil, mortal or otherwise, resided. There was no escape, for him, nor for the slowly dying hymenopter in that blue and muted space. Even at work, in the local library, sterile with philosphy, the sound of it’s peril would follow him, droning incessantly in his head like the kettle drum anthem of an agued madman. He wondered if there was a drug for that – something with an enigmatic, important sounding name; he wondered as he rose from his immaculate leather sofa. It was rare and expensive and he derived immense pleasure from stating, and often embellishing, this fact to everyone whom he there entertained, whether they asked about it or not; especially if they didn’t.

His living room itself was dimly lit (not that it couldn’t have been otherwise – he just preferred the twilit atmosphere – he hated bright lights) and spacious, the walls very pale blue and the floor and ceiling pure white. Sterile, but pastel and playful – this was his aim, he didn’t know why and he didn’t much care to find out – it was his aim and all his life he had been possessed with one, never questioning, never surrendering to curiosity. Things were, “Just the way they were,” there wasn’t anything he could do about that – he reminded himself sternly and began beating his smooth, unworked palms into his perspiring fore-plate. The wasp’s droning was intolerable. He realized, with some embarrassment, that he was crying, he wiped his eyes and looked to the insect ramming itself mercilessly against his window at the far end of the room near his bookshelves. He looked to the opposite end of the room behind him, the one which the couch faced; to the door which led to his kitchen and bedroom, and the cheap (but expensive looking) paintings that hung elaborately and artistically upon the walls, all portraits of avians. There was no other article of furniture in the room.

Then he began to laugh; his booming cackles rising to such an intensity that his sides reverberated with his mirth and flared suddenly in pain. He clutched his flanks, heaving, as his wailing hilarity slowly subsided, then he moved stiffly away from the couch and walked to his bedroom where his CD player resided; he fished out his Classic Gold Collection of Johann Sebastian Bach; Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in B flat major. He closed his eyes and lay back upon the plush satin sheets of his bed, lovely, deep sanguine; red as wine, red as blood. As the lush and resplendent sounds floated through the prone form’s cavities and entered him as a soul returning to a dead man through some unreckonable eldritch act, he opened his eyes and slung his hands up behind his head and lay back watching the pure white ceiling and everything upon it with intense interest.

Newspaper clippings – thousands of them.

Local slaying of black boy, Anton Dilies incites racial hatred in gangland subburbs. Family of three found slain. Police officer dismembered and feed to dog. Cattle mutilations. Cat gone missing. Local fire kills two infants. Body parts found in University trash bin…

He wondered what Resner thought about that, all the press on the subject. He decided to ask, they were to meet today. At the library. As he read and reread the paper clippings the opaque shadow of dread, which had, in the past seven months, been sadistically dogging his every step, seemed, quite suddenly, to dissipate. He heaved a sigh of relief, relief from what he knew not, only that there was something and it was something which bore alleviation. Stirring in the fog and in the wings of wasps, and in the black shadows in the corners of his room and every other – he could feel it. It hadn’t left, nor had it truly ever arrived, it was waiting for something. Waiting to manifest. Waiting and watching. Festering and gathering itself. Bidding it’s time. He wondered what it was – his CD cut out abruptly in the midst of the crescendo, he swore loudly and leapt up from the bed with an agility and strength that belied his thin and ashen frame. Moving with sublime fury to his state of the art surround-sound CD/DVD player he swore again, even louder, his whole body shaking with the after affects of his outpouring and then slid his hands over his face, pinching the bridge of his nose as if in the throes of a tedious migraine. They had said it was flawless, that it would work flawlessly – that it never, EVER skips, he muttered to himself unsteadily, his voice rising and falling dubiously, tense with passion. He switched off the player and ejected his CD, then replaced in it’s case gingerly, careful so as not to scratch it (he couldn’t abide scratched CD’s and threw them away as soon as they obtained one) then showered and dressed and headed to his car, his movements those of a automated program more than a man.

Outside, rain and it’s lingering afterbirth, the smell of dampness and sticky-sweet air, particles colliding strangely and the levin brands of the sun slanting off of their cloud-porch like heathens chucked from some sacrificial pyre. He placed a pair of cheap, pastel colored sunglasses upon his face and squinted even through their guardian lenses; his orbs burning with the fulminance of the bright and wide and shimmering. The towers of the city gleamed phallic and garish in the far orbit of his gaze and closer in his circle there rose little town-houses, the filled molds of the faux-gated community in which the man dwelled. There was no gate along the massive squaring of houses which comprised the Noon Beach district; four houses to a block, two side by side and two more across the street, a space of nothing but grass, air and again the formula repeated itself. One tidy little cube heaped aside another, foundations of a greater whole; what that whole entailed the man didn’t know and doubted the well-to-do denizens of that brightly pasteled place knew either. He occupied the northeastern most house in the entire area; closest to the slums; closest to the truth. The truth which everyone was so very desperate to hide. The man did not care about this; about truth, about falsity; they were the negation of his special concordance, the tranquility he had been working his whole life to achieve. Matters of poverty and class warfare, of vile indifference and desperate criminality did not enter into that algorithm, no number thereof computed in his machine; they were superflous distractions. Products of insipid minds, wastrels and insignificants, to what or whom he considered them insignificant he himself did not know. Excessive knowledge was worse than willful ignorance to his mind, it turning like the wheels of the car before him, masculine, virile. He started up the engine and checked his glove compartment, in which there were no gloves, and pulled from that darkened cavity another music disc. Mozart; Requiem. He slid the silver blade of reflected light and compressed information into his CD player and leaned back against his seat with his eyes closed, listening to the rapturous noise some time before he opened the seat divider to his lower right and drew out a pair of tight leather driving gloves. He put them on, pleased by the texture of the stretched and dismembered animal skin and drove away from his home and the collection of pastel shades that passed as houses and the aggregate of hollow hair-cuts that passed as people.

He felt nothing for them.

For any of it.

*

Lyndon Resner was waiting for him in the library, sitting on a chair in the childrens’ section reading a newspaper, playing with a doll; his well conditioned frame hidden behind it. A large quantity of kid’s toys were scattered about his leather shod feet as if he had just finished playing with them and bored with the artifacts had decided to take up a newspaper. Kicking them absently as he read.

The man walked up to him quietly and sat down on the plush armchair beside the reader; he found Lyndon Resner a hard man to decipher. His mood especially.

Did you know that suicide is the leading cause of death amongst teenagers in this country?

No. I didn’t know that… So it’s going to be a chipper conversation then?

Lyndon Resner lowered the newspaper and smiled behind a sliver of pure gold hair. He smiled like a jackal slavering over a corpse.

Come on Kade, don’t be a wet blanket.

What does that even mean?

I’ve no idea – I mean, cheer the fuck up.

Language.

Kade, the rule is, we don’t lie, not, we don’t swear.

You made the rules, Resner.

Yes, but you agreed to them.

And I’ve been regretting it mildly ever since.

Oh, please, you were a disfunction before, the quintessence of organizational disrepair; I fixed what wasn’t yet broken such that it shall never have to be replaced. Regret for such benevolence? No, that is beyond the perview of my belief.

You know when you talk like that people will begin to wonder…

Wonder what about whom?

I don’t know, but they’ll wonder.

Fuck it. Let um. Listen, we are supposed to be talking about our special little project, name of Ann. Hanna Wilkes Hammond, remember? Darling in red with the-

I remember. You seen the-

Before he could finished his sentence an old crone appeared from behind Lyndon, an ugly scowl upon her withered face. A face so withered and sunken that it seemed as if some great and ghastly entity had driven from her every last ounce of moisture in punishment for some vile transgression. Small, squinting eyes glared out at them like furnace coals from behind an enormous pair of ancient, horn-rimmed glasses that looked like tv screens on wrinked leather and they were chained to her shirt, held there by a tacky butterfly pin. Her wallpaper patterned dressed swayed with the uneven ambling of bloodless, blue veined legs.

What are you two doing here?

Lyndon was the first to speak, he turned languidly in his seat, folding his newspaper on his lap like a napkin and posing innocently; he was good at it.

Reading.

Reading?

Yes, ma’am. Just reading. The paper. See. This is a country of newspapers, what’s the point of the country if there is no one reading them? Is there some difficulty in this?

Difficulty!

Ma’am, there’s no need for hysterics.

This is the childrens’ section.

I’m aware of that ma’am, what’s that have to do with us?

I’m going to have to ask you to leave.

Kade could no longer contain his irritation and rose quite suddenly, a hard look in his eyes.

What exactly is your problem, miss?

Don’t you take that tone with me, young man.

I’ll take whatever tone I want, old bitch.

Lydon intervened surreptitiously. Sternly.

Mind your manners, both of you, as you, ma’am are so found of reminding us, there are children here after all – what kind of example would you be setting? Anyhow – we were just leaving, ma’am, we are truly sorry if we inconvenienced you in any way, we’re leaving.

She turned to him with a visage of profound befuddlement, perplexity in every contour of her unironed face. She seemed to, at length, have decided there was some veracity to this young, tan, athletic man’s peculiar verbiage; her face fell, the walls of the castle crumbling with sympathy and understanding; self chastisement glowing brightly.

Oh, it’s all right young man, I… oh I don’t know, I guess I may have overreacted the way I do – please forgive me.

Madam, there is nothing whatever to forgive, like I said we were just leaving and so I bide you a very wonderful day.

Lyndon folded the newspaper up into a compact square and shoved it into his smoking jacket’s smooth inner dark and calmly and firmly guided his companion out of the nauseatingly colorful room. The old matron watched them leave wordless and seething with indecision, looking, in her unconscious posturing, like a mindful youth that has stolen money from a trusting parent. Children scrambled behind her; a sudden scuffle, she left off with the sounding of some infants screech and was gone.

The silent duo, having left the carnivalesque facade of the children’s room stood looking at nothing much of anything in the bland gray hallway that led out singularly to the main lobby. To the extreme right the entrance and exit and to the extreme left of the lobby the help desk, white and condescendingly tidy (they didn’t like it’s tone). There was no one behind it. The air was stunted and still and strangely reinvigorating.

After a spell Kade inquired without turning to his friend.

What was that all about?

What was what all about?

You know what.

You mean with the old bat?

Yes. That fucking cow.

Language.

Sorry.

Good – it’s only fair that you get to make some rules as well, I’m not a tyrant.

You’d make a damn good one, the way you were smoothing her over. The people would follow you, support you in any war, all you would have to do is smile.

Yes well, you were obviously losing it, Kade, can’t have that, we need to keep a low profile. It’s important. Slip ups are nasty things. Speaking of, did you know that a man recently died downtown; slipped on a floor in a coffee shop, they had just waxed it and… well, fwoop, down he goes and snap goes his neck. Died right there, on the ground like a dog. Right in a pile of Pinesol.

That’s hilarious. Was he religious?

Yes, I believe he was. Why do you ask?

Because I fancy his god just pissed all over him.

They laughed a while and then, their tension fled as salmon from a birth stream, departed the lobby and walked into the fiction section. There appeared to be only one other person in the library proper which was nothing but a large, high walled rectangle filled with shelves, potted plants and a staircase that led up onto a second floor very much like the first. There was an air of posturing and pretension about the place which had always irritated the two men everytime they had entertained the notion of reviewing the new stock of their favorite books: Crime thrillers.

Lyndon began at the end closest to the lobby and wove his way back aside the shelves alphabetically, working through the covers with the meticulous resolve of a diamond cutter. Shortly, he plucked a book from the shelf with great animation and began fingering through it, lost to the world in the ecstacy of what he held in his hands. Shortly, Kade interrupted him, saying, They lied.

Who?

Karen, from Save Mart.

Really?

Yes.

I’m shocked. She seemed like such a decent young woman.

Well she isn’t. She’s a liar and a cheat and I’ve very clearly been swindled because my CD player – my $700 CD player, no longer works.

You’ve only had it a week.

Exactly.

Monstrous. Something must be done about this.

Agreed. But, we’ll have to postpone Hanna.

Small sacrifices for the greater good.

Small sacrifices.

Lyndon checked out the book at the lobby where a fat man with doughnut crumbs about his mouth sat, panting and heavily perspiring. A pale hippopotamus in stretch pants. The vague representation of a human body, a suggestion, a canvased form, but not the reality, only a grotesque pantomime thereof. They watched the bloated man a while in shock and ill-defined amusement, making no noise; the vastiform creature behind the counter noticing nothing, watching a portable TV, transfixed; hypnotized.

After they checked out the book the pair decided to get something to eat before they drove to Save Mart; they stopped a couple of miles down the road to the gray and paling city at a small diner named Mal Harriet’s, Lyndon’s favorite restaurant.

It was a tumbledown place, old and dirty and well liked, though seldom visited, a place of many names and waitress smiles, stories and shared laughter. Everything was 60’s wood-paneling, pale green and white linoleum floors. A low ceiling with odd retro lanterns and thirteen wooden booths, four metal rimmed tables and a well stooled bar where no drinks were served. Lyndon choose a seat in the far back so that no one could, “sneak up on them,” Kade followed and stared out the wide, high windows as they waited for their menus to arrive.

This place has a different feel than the rest of the city.

Lyndon cocked his head, his gesture of personal interest; he was curious.

What do you mean, exactly, different how?

I’m not sure. It feels older. I know it isn’t. But it feels that way.

That’s the key to creating a successful restaurant, isn’t it?

What?

Atmosphere. It’s the same with bordellos.

Had much experience?

Plenty. You should come sometime. This place down in oldtown, next to all those massage parlors that people still think do all the whoring – anyhow it’s this dingy little incense shop. Up front theres this old man with a beard, like you’d expect, all oriental this and mystic that, bunch of nonsense, and in the back, nothing but private rooms and private dreams.

I figured you’d have a problem with that.

Why? Do you think I’m a stiff?

A stiff – doesn’t that mean a dead man?

Well yes but it also means to be “square,” you know, dull in a, “golly-gee,” kind of way. Anyhow, it’s not like their pimping out children. Seventeen, that’s their limit. You go their next time tell them Johnson sent you.

Johnson… Lyndon. Lyndon Johnson – I get it, that’s pretty clever.

Well, I’m flattered.

Are you making this up?

Go and see for yourself.

Whatever.

Anthony, Anthony, why are you always in such a disputatious mood, hmm? I’ve been nothing but nice to you today, what with buying you lunch, offering advice, telling you how to get laid…

Shut your mouth. I don’t need you to tell me how to get laid and I certainly don’t need to pay money for it either.

Right, that’s what your right hand’s for.

Shut up.

Why, if I don’t are you going to cry?

No I’m going to bust your fucking skull!

Anthony Kade was standing now, heaving, red faced and tight fisted, the veins in his neck protruding from the skin like a grotesque gatheirng of tentacles. His whole body shook with rage.

Lyndon signed and then gestured towards his friend pointedly.

This is what I’m talking about – you’ve got a temper Kade, it’s going to get you into trouble some day and I just may not be around to pull you out of it when that day comes – especially if you keep acting like this.

I don’t need your damned condescension.

I think you do.

Kade up turned his head, looking at the goldhaired man as if he were some crawling parasite, something to be trodden underfoot.

Lyndon held up his hands in a gesture of entreaty and then nodded slowly and solemnly.

Okay, so I pushed some buttons, I know, I went a little far, I apologize, but you need to calm down. Understand? Just calm down. Look even if you don’t want to calm down at least sit down – the waitress is coming over. Come on, sit down.

Reluctantly, Anthony Kade nodded fractionally and stiffly resumed his seat, hands folded on his lap and his face tight drawn and seething with ill contained fury. Then the waitress arrived and set their menus down smiling, all pearly whites and bleach blonde hair. She looked from one man to the other, her smile faltering slightly, as if there were something maligning the air, something unplacable yet unmistakeably present.

Hello… um, my name is Sandy, I’ll be your server is there anything I can get you?

Yeah, snapped Anthony spitefully, you can get me a server with some fucking brains – I know your name is Sandy, I know this because it says so on your name pin, and I also know that you’re our server since you’re the only one in a uniform handing out napkins and menus, you dumb bitch.

Sandy pulled back instinctively and then froze with a look of profound bewilderment writ in glaring contrast against the bright colors of her uniform, cheery reds and pastel blues.

I don’t understand.

You don’t understand it because you’re a dumb bitch.

Kade, behave yourself.

And with that Lyndon rose from his seat and took the young, doe eyed waitress by a forearm and led her some distance away, talking in pointed, yet muted tones. Kade watched dully, his interest numbed by fury. After Lyndon finished Sandy nodded resolutely and swallowed and then headed for the kitchen. Lyndon resumed his seat with his jackal smile and poised with great fixation, as if waiting for something. When Kade made to open his menu he found out exactly what his friend had been waiting on, for the laminated sheet was quickly snatched away much to Anthony’s further dissatisfaction and indignant reply.

What the fuck!

What did I say… calm down.

I’m not amused. Give me back my menu.

You won’t be needing it.

Why not?

Your food is on it’s way.

I didn’t order.

I know, I took the liberty of ordering for you. Like I always do, remember, your mentally challenged, it’s like turets but worse. This guy here, well… he can get pretty out of hand sometime, one shouldn’t take it personally.

Is that what you told her?

Yep.

And she bought that line?

Hook and sinker.

That dumb bitch.

No, just dumb.

They exchanged smiles and with that simple gesture Anthony relaxed, leaning comfortably down into his seat and exhaling deeply, quietly; several times. They talked at great length and ate and then left without tipping the “dumb bitch.”

Lyndon explained as they walked.

You see people who work jobs that pay terribly expect tips to compensate for their meager earnings, whinning and moaning about how hard it’s been to make ends meet. Well they just should never have settled for that job in the first place and are fools for sticking to it. It isn’t a matter of dedication – why be dedicated to a terrible job or to the boss that treats you like a cheap whore, like some factory flunkie. Drones.

You used to work tables, Lynd, didn’t you?

Yeah, five years ago. For a week and a day.

Oh, that long, impressive… for you. What happened, you piss in the soup broth?

No. That’s foul and disgusting – why must your imagination always float off to these revolting places?

What happened?

I broke one of our customers jaws, some well to do construction owner, got lippy, snappy, you know the type, faster, faster, faster! Well, my manager he starts cussing and yelling, it hurt my ears you know, and everyone in that place was going off so I pulled him into the kitchen and grabbed a cleaver, I told him if he didn’t shut his mouth in the next ten seconds then there was a good chance he’d no longer have one. Thankfully, for everyone’s sakes, he kindly obliged.

You’re a psycho Lyndon. A real psycho. Bon-i-fide.

Trash-bin diagnoses.

Well I paint houses for a living what do I know.

Lyndon laughed wildly, throwing his golden head up into the air and backwards and it was like the sound people imagined sea serpents made when they died.

*

It wasn’t hard finding the woman’s house. Listed in the phone book same as everyone else. All it took was a quick internet search – it was one of Lyndon’s specialties. Karen Averdeen. Age 28. White with some asian linage clear writ in her smooth, rounded features. 556 Deseta Blvd. The building itself was situated in the middling neighborhoods straddling the slumland to the south and the neon high-rise to the north. It was a large brick monstrosity of student housing and elderly shut in’s. Cheap and cramped and six stories tall. The building’s only security was an ancient video camera without a lense and a portly dark skinned man with jazz glasses and a deep, raspy baritone. Before him was a bag of potato chips and the Frank Herbert novel White Death. An antiquated radio stood vigilantly behind the man upon a window playing something avantgarde and unapproachable. Minacious strings swept into the air like carrion birds carried by the thunderous bellowing of a ghastly, violent brass section, all of it held together by a ghostly, mischevious rotator organ played in strange neo-baroque; behind it all an elderly man with a smooth and slightly sinsiter voice crooned knowingly.

There’s no way out my friends… there’s no way out.

The fat jazz man didn’t even look up from his book as Lyndon and Kade walked inside the reception area. Nor did he when Lyndon walked up to the desk and asked if he knew if Ms. Averdeen was in. He replied he didn’t know any Averdeen’s and that he didn’t want to but that if they were to give him the apartment number then he could call up and ask. Lyndon replied that such action wouldn’t be neccesary, that it was a birthday surprise, that they were old friends. That they’d walk up themselves.

When Karen Averdeen returned home from work she found all her lights on and a puddle of brown-black water flowing from her bathroom. She opened the bathroom door and screamed.

A freshly butchered duck lay in the sink, it’s sightless eyes staring into her own and, in blood, scrawled across the mirror were the words: You’re Next.

*

Two days passed since the vandalization of Karen Averdeen’s apartment and still the culprits walked free. The police questioned the receptionist, the jazz man, who gave as detailed a report as he could muster – he remembered the tall one best, the one with the pale skin and the lion-gold hair; the one with the jackal smile and the deadly eyes. The other was harder, he was shorter, this he remembered distinctly, shorter and mildly tan with dark hair and darker eyes and a certain violence of movement. The police asked him what he meant by this, the jazz man replied it was something he’d once read, in what book or when he couldn’t recall, all he knew was that they were trouble. Dangerous, he had said.

Dangerous.

The police thanked him for his time and then headed back from whence they had come. All the while Karen Averdeen mulled over the situation with a mixture of rage and cold, leaden dread.

She sat in her armchair with a cup of tea, starring down into it’s murky depths, the steam roiling mystically about her face like a shaman inhaling the vapors of some jungle-bound hallucinogenic plant. Some unconsious rite of passage and all it’s midst blooming darkly in thought and them striding tall as trees about the miasmic plain of her mind.

Who? And why? What could I possibly have done? Who have I wronged? How badly? It doesn’t make any sense, who would want to kill me-

The words, hanging unspoken in her skull stopped her thoughts, mid transit, as if they’d been frozen in some glacial gale. Her eyes grew wide and then closed completely, tight shut and fearful. Her knuckles grew white against the polished china of her cup, the steam still streaming. Steadily upwards. Rafter bourne and then invisible. She wished her fear would likewise dissipate. She turned on her antediluvian, wood panled television and watched the news. The caster spoke of a recent string of vandalizations all across the city, paintings upon billborads and business buildings, highrise casinos and steel mills. Always the same thing, a single minded pattern.

Cross the line.

She wondered if the person or persons behind the enigmatic, city wide scandal was the same one or ones who had broken into her apartment. She had no idea but doubted it.

Tick.

Tock.

The sound of the oval catfish clock upon the adjacent living room wall began to chime hideously, sounding like the death knell of a throat crushed android. Outside the soot blown window pane the sky churned violently and rain thrashed like stalks of wheat against every aperture, every nook, every edifice. She rose and peered out through the window, gasping and covering her parted mouth with a tea cup hand, the artefact shattering upon the ground, disgorging it’s scalding contents upon the carpet like blood on snow.

There seemed to be a figure looking in her window from a perch upon the adjacent office building. She peered closer at the figure but could make out only the vaguest of detail through the haze of the rain, it’s savage increase rending further scrutiny impossible.

Suddenly lightening split the sky; the mysterious figure suddenly illuminated, distinctly masculine, thin and wiry, angular and purposeful. Holding something cylindrical in it’s left, black gloved hand. She backed up as the tea began to soak through the carpet, the moisture clinging to her feet. She looked down to the soiled carpet, then back.

The man had gone.

Nothing. Only an apparitional afterimage in her tumultuous mind.

She ran to her phone and dialed. Shortly a husky voice answered her cries.

Karen? What’s up?

I need you to come over.

I’d love to but I’m busy and-

Randall – I think someone is going to hurt me.

What… do you mean?

Someone is following me – I must have done something, no matter how hard I think about it I can’t think of what it could possibly be.

I think you should try and calm down.

Will you come over?

I can’t.

Please!

There was a tense moment of silence, a silence of concerned deliberation, of pained uncertainty. Of suspicion.

Are you taking those pills again?

God damn it, Randall! Someone is fucking following me around – someone… broke into my house and wrote on my mirror with duck’s blood!

What did they write?

You’re next.

Again there was only silence.

I’ll be right over.

There was a click and then the line went dead, static and white noise filtering through the space of wires and inner ears. To Averdeen’s ears it was like a funeral dirge – a death knell, the harbinger of some unholy rite and she the sacrificial lamb.

She cried as she stood and cried as she waited and cried as she heard the knock, opened the door and beheld the tall, powerfully built man standing awkwardly behind it. She rushing into his raw-tanned arms and pressed her shivering body to his in romantic repose as he looked on with a mixture of fear, confusion and pity.

What the hell is going on with you, Karen?

She backed up, wide eyed and lip-quivering.

You don’t believe me – didn’t believe me… on the phone?

Come on Karen…

Do you think I’m lying, making this up?

No.

Then why?

I’d rather not argue.

Or have civil discourse.

Don’t be that way. Try and calm down. I just… come on, sit down, let’s just both sit down and talk about this. Okay?

Okay.

Okay. Oh, damn, I’m a mess.

Kiers did not disagree.

They sat on the old hand-down couch, the animal markings and wine stains, amidst the aural bombardment of the television; slum-town slayings, five dead in ghastly beheadings, culprit still at large.

She stared at the floor, her hands knuckle white in her quivering lap.

I saw a man outside my window today.

Who?

I have no idea, I could barely make out that it was a man at all.

Why, was he wearing a skirt?

Damn it, Kiers, this is serious!

Sorry, I was just trying to lighten the mood.

She shook her head and then allowed her hand to drift to one of his own where she gripped it as if she were afraid of being swept suddenly and inexplicably away without restraint. He squeezed her hand back, more roughly than he meant to, and smiled lightly in his charming, mischievous school-boy fashion.

I’m sorry I’ve never really been there for you, I know it, I know it now as I knew it then, I was always on a fast track. Too busy. With work, with school, always too busy for you – that’s why I left.

You don’t have to explain it to me. I understood… and I understand.

Do you really though?

Well, no, maybe not – we don’t have to talk about this.

No. I guess we don’t. Look you want me to hang around tonight, in case these bastards come back around?

I thought you didn’t believe me?

I didn’t – I was too ashamed to look you in the eyes, I couldn’t tell.

What can you tell, now that you are looking me in the eyes?

You’re telling the truth.

There was no shape to those two pairs of eyes save their reflections in the liquid pools of the other. Smiles and blushing and the invisible netweb of sticky pheromones; dreams of what could have been and what still might be between two hotly beating hearts.

He stayed and they sat on the couch and talked of better times and the golden memories they shared like passionate secrets bewteen two criminals. She made coffee and he cooked pasta and they watched an old kung fu film were the dialogue doesn’t match the movements of the actors mouths. Everyone in the movie seemed to be able to jump twenty feet into the air and fight as if they had been studying the art since birth. The plot revoled around a evil landowner name Lao and his dastardly scheme to seduce the beautiful but innocent daughter of a well respected dojo owner that he may, in time, acquire all the land for himself and his blackhanded cronies. However, the dojo owner, a wily old man named Hon, turns out to be no foolheaded old man (like everyone thinks) and inevitably has to fight Lao and his henchmen to win back his daughter who no longer knows who to trust.

I wish that people had champions like Hon nowadays. Don’t you, Kiers?

I don’t know, probably not, that’s one of those things that looks much better on paper than it does in real life.

Why?

Well, you remember, about two years ago, that vigilante who was going around the southside, raising hell and beheading drug lords and all that?

I think I remember reading something about that. Or maybe I saw it on the news.

Yeah, he was getting press left and right because at the scene of every killing he would type up a statement of judgment, listing all the crimes the dead man had done and compiling a list of material and theoretical evidence, like he was god or something. What if he picked the wrong guy, what if he thought it was you that had done some horrible things and came at you in the night?

That’s not really the champion I’m talking about.

No, but you are talking about vigilantism. Right?

Yeah, I guess. Yeah.

Well, what exactly do you think that entails?

I’m not talking about psychopaths, I’m talking about heroics. About virtue.

I’m not talking about psychopaths either, that druglord killer, he wasn’t a psychopath, he wasn’t crazy. Did you read those notes, someone in the police office leeked them, nobody ever found out who, but the ones that read like a philosophical manifest. A guy who sits down and does that, he isn’t crazy. He’s calculating and exacting and, most of all, rational. I mean, you shake your head, so you didn’t read them. Not many people did, they weren’t interested in the reasons for the act, only in the act itself. You won’t see a plumber getting that kind of attetion. Anyway, you read it and you can’t argue, you know he’s right, he’s too rational not to be, too logical, too precise, too bold and persuasive – if he was writing about most anything else he would have had a legion of followers based on nothing but his prose alone. That kind of guy… whatever else he is, he isn’t insane.

Sounds that way to me.

Alright, nevermind, but see, that’s where me and him differ, I can never convince anyone of anything.

She smiled and shook her head, leaning towards him playfully, like a practiced playground tease.

That’s not true.

Oh, don’t start doing that… really though. If Michelle finds out I’ve been here…

Karen’s face fell, fell in the same fashion as if she had just been slapped. Fell like a crumbling castle wall. Fell like a stone.

How is Michelle?

Do you really care?

No.

Kiers sighed and caressed the woman’s face; it was a tender motion, mystic and heartfelt and deepbourne between them. She returned the gesture, it was an old ritual reshaped to a new day, to a new awakening. Lives lived like paper cutouts dancing above a kitchen flame. Bunraku in a bathtub boiling.

Then they heard it.

A knocking.

Tap-a-tap-a-tapitty-tap.

Karen stood fearfully, going pale and wide-eyed with Kiers rising in dutiful tandem beside her as the knuckling rap emenated in surreal undertones throughout her lovelorn loft like the ghastly strummings of some eldritch orchestra.

Kiers boomed commandingly.

Who is it?

No reply.

Hello?

No reply.

Kiers turned to Karen where she shook and gripped her shoulders, staring straight into her nimbus blue eyes.

Stay here.

Don’t-

He cut her off with a look and struck out for the door like a knight dashing off to slay some monstrous cutthroat, some blackclad highwayman of yore. He opened the door and just stared out of it, as if, beyond the confines of that humble loft existed not the corridors of the Linder apartment complex but some extradimensional realm of slivered time and half faced dreams.

Who is it, Randall?

A mousey, female voice replied from the hallway.

Housekeeping, ma’am. Yall need anything?

No thank you.

Al’ight.

The maid departed quietly, respectfully and then there was only silence and the sterile smell of chemical carpets and hand scrubed leather. Postmodern odor. Collective perfume. The raging pheromones of the cityscape. Resolutely sterile, blank white and shiny, copy paste and re-paste, a collage of cleaning spray and rubber gloves; condoms and hand sanitizer.

Kiers watched the dark skinned woman depart as a sailor might watch a lighthouse fading into the night, and then shut the door with a dismissive slapping motion. The door the bad child fascimile of his pent up frustrations, let loose by a momentary error. An embarrassment.

I really thought someone was going to rush me, I mean, I almost punched her, that cleaning lady, right in the face. I would have knocked her out.

I don’t know about that, she was pretty athletic looking, maybe she knew karate.

I thought you were the one that said this was serious!

Why are you so angry all of a sudden?

I just… I don’t know… I’m sorry. I feel like a fool for getting so worked up for no reason. Well, I mean, it wasn’t exactly for no reason but still… I don’t know… I just don’t know…

That’s alright, I don’t know either. This is turning into a very strange and confusing week for me. Strange and confusing would be fine if it hadn’t of terrified me so much…

Let’s talk about something pleasant.

Okay. Like what? Cottoncandy kittens?

Bubblegum blue bullfrogs.

You’re such a weirdo.

At least I’m not a spaz.

They shared smiles and memories, lips and warmth. Then a bed. Flailing body parts and the whisper-moan of passion. Glimmering sweat and beading brows, the soft caress and the violent half-rebuke. Ever the playground tease, that woman. Woman, man, they meant nothing then, in that moment of torrid ecstacy and melding bodies. And yet then even bodies seemed tertiary to the soundless dialogue of yearning minds that flowed like a stepping-stone brook between them. Something like unguised and unmelodramatic telepathy, something like, but not quite. Where their passion found climax they rested and gazed into the others eyes, the soft fluttering of hearts and quivering lips that spoke more than either could hope to vocalize.

In the morning they were woken, not by the alarm, but by a mousey rap-tapping upon the door.

Room service.

The voice that announced itself was vaguely familiar and Karen was fairly sure that she had spoken with the woman before, probably under the same circumstances. She relaxed her fear drenched skull and rose, donned a tank top and a pair of jean shorts and unlatched and opened the door.

Hello again, brought your breakfast, ma’am.

Oh… thanks… Jenny?

Jessica.

Sorry.

It’s fine. Enjoy.

Thanks. Oh, this tray is heavy.

She shut the door and took the covered tray and carried it over to the small circular coffee table, the only table in the loft. Kiers rose merrily, rubbing his hands together greedily, a boyish glint in his dark brown eyes.

Finally, some food! My prayers have been answered.

He whipped the lid off of the metal tray and then promptly gasped and vomitted all over the floor as Karen screamed like a woman set alight.

For lying in the middle of the tray was a pig’s bloody, severed head.

*

It was all white pasty walls and glossy over-sexed magazines. Flabby faces bearing looks of weary depression bourne of the institutes monotony.

These were Anthony Kade’s thoughts.

He sat on what was supposed to be a chair. They called it a chair. It looked like a chair. But for all it’s similarity to the named object it was something else entirely, something more akin to a torture device for prisoners of war. Why play Enter Sandman a thousand times a week when you could just strap the MIA to one those plastic monstrosity’s?

He watched a couple argue about the fact that they were arguing about whether or not they even knew what they were arguing about. He watched a fat man eating a hamburger, stretch pants and gout ridden legs. A locust wearing Adidas. He watched the television screen in the upper left corner of the building adjacent to the counter near which he sat.

Your local news at Eight. Young woman of Lynder suites was vandalized last night with the severed head of a large farm pig. The eyes had been removed and into the animals foreplate had been carved the words, See you soon. Authority’s currently have no leads as to the culprits identity.

Anthony Kade couldn’t help but smile.

Shortly, the charismatic bass of Lyndon Resner’s voice slithered in from somewhere out of sight.

Enjoying my handywork?

Kade turned to his friend, still smiling, yellow toothed and feral eyed.

It was masterful.

You’re very kind.

The eyes were a good touch.

Yes, I thought so. She wont know why it’s happened so she’s started to wonder, she’s pondering every grievence she’s ever given and very soon she’ll start to loath herself for those which she hasn’t even yet committed. It’s a beautiful thing, Kade. A beautiful thing. Justice.

She shouldn’t have sold me that piece of junk. She should have had the good sense not to lie to me.

She’s only part of the problem. You forget the manufactures. It’s a wide scheme. Purposefully faulty products. A wily game.

Yeah. Everyone at work keeps telling me I have to get the new e-phone, it’s satellite mapping and internet, wifi, camera, skpe, all kinds of apps and a touch screen, a stylis, this that and the other thing. Probably pours you drinks. I always tell them no. I have a phone. I only use this phone for talking and that’s it. I’ve had this phone for five years and dropped it off of four roofs in that space of time. It’s landed twice on concrete and it still works like the day I bought it. It makes me think that this faulty product scheming is new to the digital market.

It’s not that it’s new it’s that the march of technological progress requires new models and these models have become almost randomly more frail.

Then it’s no ones fault?

It’s always someones fault. Always. This is an immutable law. There is always fault. Fault is the god in the machine. Fault is religion. Fault defines every cornerstone of your life, if, of course, that is, your life has a cornerstone. Overcoming it. Accepting it. Becoming motivated by it. Yours or someone elses.

You say these things sometimes, I don’t know how to respond. I think to myself, is he really this smart or are you really just this dumb.

Intelligence is an inherently comparative system of measurement – and make no mistake that is exactly what it is, a system of measurement, utilitarian and sharply defined. No different than inches or feet or slugs, save that it is, obviously, more complicated – your error is in establishing these measurements on their own ground, as if a man’s intelligence had some worth on it’s own. Without darkness we would not have a word for night. There would be no such thing. The principle applies to all.

Maybe you should have been a philosophy teacher instead of a roofer.

Maybe.

Yeah. I’d take that class. I remember when I was in school… those bastards… it was like they only chose the classes that had the subjects they cared least about, just so they could whine and moan and swear superfluously as they beat their chests and bragged about their street cred.

I’m sensing pent up frustrations.

Nevermind.

No, this is good. This thing. Us talking. Like regular blokes.

Blokes?

I like the word, it’s got, you know… character. Personality.

Words don’t have personality.

No? No, you’re right, I’m anthropomorphizing again. Well nevermind, it doesn’t matter.

Whatever does?

Karen Averdeen.

Yes. There’s that one thing.

What about Mason? Or Agatha Hemwell? Or Stokes?

Stokes? You mean that limp dick junkie wannabe? That Stokes?

Yes. That Stokes.

What about him?

He owes me money.

What do you want me to do about it, help you beat him up?

Yes.

That’s a good one.

It’d be a better one if I was actually joking.

Anthony Kade looked to his friend as if he were some antediluvian lifeform, newly dregged from the craterous abyss of some star-flung ocean world.

He knew better than to ask if the golden haired man was serious.

The answer to that question was plain-writ upon Lyndon Resners ghosting, jackal smile.

*

Damien Stokes lived in the tumbledown tenements known to the local denizens as The Catacombs. This was due to the massive quantity of underground railway tunnels, now abandoned and further hollowed out by it’s current patrons, junkies, wastrels, vagabonds and the occasional bard or homeless soldier. Quite contrary to the way it was portrayed city wide the Catacombs were a lively place of graffiti and bread breaking. It was a quasi-mirth, born of a shared circumstance; hard times. Despite this ambivalent veneer and amiable atmosphere it was still a colony of runaways and criminals and thus dangerous by any standard. A place of graft and hustle. Of swindlers and cheats and ever so rarely, the transient murderer.

Damien hunched his shoulders as he walked along, as if fighting off a chill, yet the air was damp and heavy-warm. Fat warm. Claustrophobically hot.

Before him the massive transit tunnel stretched worm-like and ceaseless into the void-bowls of skittering dark. A young voice fluttered up somewhere from his left.

You look worried.

Damien knew this. He hated this. Weakness. His look. The way he stooped his shoulders like a coward, the fact that he was a coward. His financial and moral failings.

He turned.

A youngish woman, was sitting in the doorway of what had once been a ticket booth, now the playpen of aimless younglings. She held a silver lighter in her hand, flicking it on and off, the little blue tongues of flames going clack-burning into the air and then dying to silence.

Damien stopped, partly because what the woman said was true but also because she was such a singular entity; pale skin horribly scarred, from shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm and up the back of her neck like some macabre tattoo. Some infernal ensign.

He’d seen people burn-scarred before but never so extensively, there was also something about her eyes and the way she moved that held him as a serpent holds it’s prey in gaze mesmeric. A hypnotic effect that made him shiver inwardly as a child shivers into the dark when he stares up at the vast solar weave of moon and star, planetary bric-a-brac and realizes his utter insignificance, his mortal impotence and impending death.

She wore an antiquated aviators jacket, a tattered thing, 1940’s or thereabouts, leather and metal buttons and a collar lined with fur and old army boots that seemed torn from the pages of history, the shores of Normany. Altogether a woman out of time, strangely displaced.

Damien looked away then looked aback at the woman, he wanted to say something but was at a loss for words, they had never come easy for him.

Well?

Well what?

What do you look so worried about?

Stuff.

Bad stuff?

Just stuff.

You’re very eloquent.

Very what?

The woman smiled faintly, rather, she creased her mouth, only the vaguest ghost of a smile showing it’s cruel and humorless self.

What’s your name?

Damien Stokes.

Is that your name or just what people call you?

What do you mean?

Nevermind.

Finally, having mustered his courage, he stepped slightly forwards and gestured up and down the tunnel.

You live down here?

Well, I’m alive and here, if that’s what you mean – but of course it isn’t, so no. You?

Sort of. Partly. Hungry?

Always.

There was that phantom smile again, covert but unmistakable, gliding across the rough hewn plane of twisted alabaster flesh as if she knew something surprising and wonderful was about to happen but decided not to tell.

Well, I was just going to lunch so…

Sure. Let’s go, you look like you could use some company anyways.

He blushed but didn’t notice. She said nothing about it, not caring or seeming not to care, her eyes lost to the distance or some ocean of perilous thought, deep and light-voided.

She closed her lighter and then tilted her head, a reptilian gesture of vague curiosity.

You wouldn’t happen to have a fag on you would you?

Excuse me?

She laughed, if one could call it that, it was more a thin-high rasping emanating from the back of her throat, a humor cough.

A fag?

A cig.

Huh?

A cigarette. Gods below you’re not very bright are you? Nevermind, don’t answer, let’s just go get some fucking food…

His features contorted into a visage of pure horror and self reproach, as if it was he who had said those words to her. She moved on ahead, vanishing into the all-consuming light of day.

He watched her leave the tunnel, wordless, furrow-browed, limp armed and mouth half gaping.

The restaurant they choose was a local cafe with a library in back and a copious amount of colorfully scarfed individuals. All of them had a look of dead-fish poised interest. The woman, whom had still to introduce herself to Stokes, stated that she didn’t like them though she gave no reason as to why. Stokes didn’t ask. He felt too afraid and pitiful to do so. A constant, what if she calls me stupid again, ran through his head like a demonic ticker-tap parade, skull numbingly repetitious.

He looked around from where he sat, he hadn’t really looked as they had entered, he never did. Places, like time, blurred in his mind, one much the same as the other. People faceless and unsmiling, nothing but upturned shirt collars and the sound of featherly fading conversation. He didn’t like to look around, to pay attention, it reminded him of how unassimilated he was into the landscape, into the biomesh, the heaving weave of phermones and footfalls. Of how apart he was from his fellow man. Fellow to his mind; a false misnomer. No, he didn’t like to pay attention, but he paid attention now. It was the woman. She shaped things, focused them, forced them upon him, as if her very presence evoked some untapped sense of perception. It made him feel uneasy but still he looked.

Seven tables, here and there. Four windows in the spaces between the bookshelves lining the high pastel-brown walls. A single lazy cutting ceiling fan hanging from the watered damaged stucco ceiling. Hardwood floors, immaculately scrubbed and a tall, tanned waiter with a crew cut and a movie star smile. It was a backroom, the counter and two more tables where up front near the door and the condiments, like a pseudo-lobby. He wondered why.

The coffee steamed between them, untouched and aromatic.

The woman was rifling through a book she had plucked from the shelf; he read the cover over his coffee lid: Deathlords, an insiders look at the snuff industry.

Inwardly he cringed, she looked upwards, up from under her brows like a mad dog on the hunt.

How did you ever get to be so damned awkward around females anyway? You fuck one and find out she already had a man? That’ll do it some times.

He said nothing. He had nothing to say. He picked up his cup and sipped it, swore and nearly dropped it. His tongue stung from the scalding liquid and he instinctively clutched at his mouth, a vain gesture. Her brows rose fractionally then fell; nothing to her.

They do say “hot” on them for a reason, so… how long you been into heroin?

She asked the question like a soccer mom would ask how long another’s daughter had been playing.

What? I’m not-

Oh please, I saw the marks on your arms, I’m not blind. Recovering addict? Yeah, you’re not shaky, not out of it, all droopy and sloppy eyed… what was it AA? You find religion or some shit like that?

She laughed and he wondered what that was supposed to mean.

No, actually a friend of mine cut me off, made me go cold turkey, if you must know, hell, that was horrible… can we talk about something else?

Don’t feel comfortable talking about those things with a stranger?

Not really. I mean, it’s nothing against you I just… can we just talk about something else?

Why not. Have you heard about those graffiti artists?

Graffiti artists… no.

They are an as yet identified group of graffiti artists, or as they have been dubbed in print, “The urban terrorists,” going around the city and marking up the most holy and venerated places they can find, you know, police stations, churches, city hall, memorials, cemeteries, always with the same words, Cross the line. Interesting, don’t you think?

Yeah. I don’t know what that’s supposed to accomplish but it’s certainly interesting.

Oh, it’s accomplishing just what they want it to.

What is that?

Mythos.

I’m going to be honest with you ma’am, English never was really my strong suit.

Ma’am how fucking gentlemanly!

You’re an odd sort of lady, you ever hear that before.

She gazed to him, a look which he could not place and then finally took a sip of her coffee. Warm and aromatic. A heady Turkish blend, strong on the cardamom, weak on sweetness.

Mythos. Like the aura of myth. Rumor milling and so forth. Fear and theatricality. Fear of the unknown, probably the worse kind.

Damn well is.

Well, that’s just what these people, or person, I suppose, are banking on. Drawing them in, getting attention. All they want now is to get noticed.

How do you know – you one of them?

Me? No. I work at a garage. A mechanic. And actually I’ve got to be going but it was very amusing speaking with you, sir. It’s in the old industrial section, the Millworks, down past the catacombs – know it?

Yeah, yeah I know it.

Good.

And then she kicked back her chair without toppling it, snatched up her coffee and pastry and vanished out the door. Stokes watched her as she left, attracted and repulsed in equal measure and yet he could not place the root of either feeling. It was how he had felt the entirety of his life. Uncertain. In the dark. He had vowed to change all that, vowed and failed, he didn’t know the reason for that either. But one thing he did know; he was very afraid of that woman.

It was only then that he realized she had never given her name.

*

It happened fast and without warning.

9:00 am and the sound of grunting, breath, dripping blood and fist to skull.

Damien Stokes went down hard as a tall man with pure gold hair loomed over him smiling viciously.

You know I detest having to dirty my hands in such a barbaric fashion but I can think of little else in the way of recourse. What say you Stokes? Do you think that’s not fair?

The other one, the one Stokes only vaguely remembered, grabbed him from behind and slammed him into the wall of the grime sodden back alley where he had been making his passage to the Millworks. He had no idea how Resner had snuck up on him but he was aware of what the golden haired man wanted and he knew also, with great trepidation, that he did not have it.

It’s not the money you know, it’s the principle of the thing, that’s what’s wrong with this country – no principles – well that’s what the talking heads of any given television station say anyhow. Me, I don’t really care, I’m just in it for affectation.

Resner walked up beside the terrified man, arms crossed and leaning casually against the wall, smiling ear to ear.

Now what say we have this conversation in more comfortable quarters?

There doesn’t have to be a conversation.

I think there does. You owe me, you know this, you blatantly disregard it.

I don’t.

Not now, not now that my friend here could break your wrist at any given moment – my mistake, I should have said, you blatantly disregarded it. Tomato, tamato. But I can see in your eyes that you don’t have the money you owe – so what would you suggest would be fair payment in place of cash?

I have a tv, a brand new HD, some guy I know boosted it from the store where he works and gave it to me as a Christmas present last year, it’s yours all yours! Just let me go!

What do you think, Anthony?

Well, Lynd, I’ll tell you; I think he’s telling the truth, he knows we’ll find him if he isn’t.

That was my feeling to. Let him go.

And Anthony did, albeit, reluctantly. Stepping away after releasing his furious stranglehold, easing Stokes’ bloodied forehead up and off the brick wall. There was a pause. A moment of silence. Meditation. Then Resner clapped Stokes on the shoulder, still smiling, and spoke in a whisper that sounded more like smoke escaping from a burning hole in the ground than it did any kind of human citation.

Tomorrow, at the entrance to the second terminal in The Catacombs. Be there.

Take care, Anthony Kade sneered as he followed his friend into the settling haze of daybreak.

Then there was only car horn and bird cry. The buzz and hum of the city, moving and shifting like a living, breathing thing. An organism all it’s own. There was only the musty smell of old tires and gasoline, of soot and brickdust.

There was only Damien Stokes bleeding on his knees with tears in his eyes.

*

Something has to be done.

You keep saying that but I fail to see what exactly it is that you can do.

Damn it – I know, I’m just…

You’re just angry, Randall. Just angry, you need to calm down, not that I’m calm by any means, what with what has gone by recently, but I’m not fuming like you. It’s unhealthy.

Unhealthy… well at least you’ve retained your sense of humor.

Randall Kiers shook his head, tried to smile, failed, and took a sip of tea from the sun bleached table where it had been poured only seconds before by Karen Averdeen. A boisterous crowd surged around them, oblivious to the cloud that hung thick and teneberous around their minds. A cloud that seemed to whisper, You’re Next. A cloud that, no matter what they tried, did not seem pervious to dispersion.

It had been Randall’s idea; go to the park, catch some sun, breath fresh(ish) air, clear your head. It had not worked, which only upset Randall more.

Still… it would be different if it was me… you know… I’ve done some things… some pretty unpleasent things. Things I’m ashamed off. Not many but… enough – but no, you. This happens to you. You’re the kindest person I’ve ever met. It doesn’t make any sense.

My grandfather always told me that evil isn’t something that makes sense – he said, evil isn’t something that is there, it’s something that’s missing. Like a hole.

You think the person that’s doing this is evil?

I don’t know. I don’t even know if it’s a person – that’s singular. But… it’s like I can feel something… in the air. Like it’s only going to get worse.

That’s because you’ve received two death threats in the guise of bloodied animals, it doesn’t bespeak of much sunshine.

She furrowed her brow and then looked off into the distance where a mother was savagely berating one of her children with a fat, greasy hand. The child, no more than five years of age, sobbed and drew away from the great, ungainly cow and dashed unevenly off into a nearby cluster of shrubbery where it shook and wept. The mother, red faced and in the midst of extreme exertion, shouted, “Wait til I catch you, you little fucker, wait til I fuckin catch you!”

Averdeen shook her head as Kiers spoke in a harsh, whisper.

I can’t stand that shit. People like that shouldn’t be able to procreate. There should be a law.

It was at that point that Karen Averdeen burst out laughing and continued to do so for the better half of an entire minute. Shortly, Kiers joined her.

He shook his head.

I mean it. Really. That’s just awful. Look, goddamn it, look!

And indeed she did – the mother was slapping the child around, backhanding the poor little creature as if it were nothing more than a rawstitched ragdoll. Near instantly Kiers jumped up from his seat and bolted across the center of the park, over a small knoll and directly up to the woman and her child, heedless to Karen’s cries of “Stop,” and, “What are you doing?” She knew very well.

What the hell do you think you’re doing!

Huh?

The fat woman seemed taken by surprise, unable to muster a coherent sentence she just stared out dumbly from squint creased and bleary eyes. Water bloat skin and a nasty curling of the lips, a child’s silent desperation and vehement male aggression scarce concealed.

I said what the hell are you doing, I don’t care if it’s you’re child or not, you can’t treat a kid like that!

When you have a child you can treat it any goddamned way you want! I’ll treat my child any way I like, now you just get the fuck out of my face before I call the cops.

Go ahead, call em, it’ll make reporting you all the easier.

Now the fat woman was trembling, half with anger, half with fear, clearly unaccoustomed to such stanch and unflinching precepts, to such a fierce gaze and a righteous heart. She drew back, like a field mouse from some poisonous reptile, and then took her child by the hand and began leading the poor creature away; doubtless, to further beatings, further sorrow.

Come on, Justin, come on.

Justin seemed hesitant to leave but, at the third tugging upon his arm, he stumbled along behind his egregious mother; a guarded, mouse-like figure; abject and hollow-eyed. Galley slave of eight and three quarters.

Kiers watched them fixedly a moment and then made as if to follow but was restrained by a firm hand upon his shoulder; Karen’s.

Don’t, Randall, don’t. Let them go, there’s nothing you can do…

No, not legally.

Don’t speak that way… it makes me shiver.

Fine… fine. Kid was probably a little shit anyways.

He quickly turned away, his fists balled at his sides, white knuckled and pink nailed. He said nothing as they returned to their park bench, nothing as she spoke of her work and her schooling, nothing until she explained how terribly it was all going.

Terrible – but I thought you loved art.

Yes, art, not art school. I went all the way out here expecting Crow Street from a De Lint novel and ended up with Stoner Lane and the Could Care Less Alots. I mean I swear it’s as if all the white, upper-middle class families in the state dropped all their familial garbage in these kinds of private schools. I was up at the campus of EU last week, same damned thing- not of course that the teachers are any better – their not. I always used to think that the reason people go to school is to learn and that the reason people teach is because it gives them joy in doing so. Of course that was when I was in high school and clearly very, very naïve. Naïve in a way that actually causes me some shame, because that’s not true, the reason people go to school is because it’s an easy out to escape responsibility and the reason teachers teach is because they failed in their own fields.

You sound more and more like Jameson everytime I met you. Soon you’ll be wearing a skull cap and smoking bongs…

Oh shut up.

I’d take a vow of silence for the rest of my life if you only smiled like that more often, but I suppose today is not a day for smiling since I don’t seem to be doing much of it myself.

Oh let’s not talk about any of this gloom anymore, it’s tiresome – I mean literally, I’m getting exhausted…

Yeah, there’s this club I know of not far from here, good food, great atmosphere, obscure music, lost’s of sweating, broad chested men – right up your alley.

She made a face and then continued.

Well… that does sound fun, but

No buts – yes?

Oh, fine. Your so insistent.

Kiers smiled.

It’s called Decay. Right over on Westmin Blvd.

*

The club was situated just inside of the Catacombs, in a mostly abandoned industrial complex. All massive steel; a white-brick monolith, rising well above any of the surrounding buildings and cutting a dull gleaming swath up into the cloudless night. The stars were out and the lot was packed with body hum and the omnipresent ejaculations of car horn and tire churn.

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