Early stop, says the concrete underpass.
Killers killed by restless hounds,
holy reunion on gray walls,
a cabal of faceless faces,
dead end men and roulette knives.
Early stop, says the concrete underpass.
McCauley’s mentors are dying while he’s stuck out here scanning the dirt for footprints and strands of fabric. The text dies with the writer—he toys with the notion as he approaches the Shaman. The Shaman who thwarted standard introduction. Who was born neither as a physical nor spiritual being. Who disobeyed omniscient stage directions so he could speak with the trees and live forever. McCauley watches him whirling and dancing into a tangible form—flesh and cloth and animal furs. The Shaman mutters before a fire of alternating hues, shaking a small pouch filled with bird bones and magic / You’ve been waiting for me—We’re all waiting—You’re a real cryptic bastard, aren’t you. Where were you during the Deluge. Where were you when the ship went down. Where were you when the babies were stolen from their cradles. Where were you during the sacrifice. Where were you when they killed them all. Answer me—We’ll always be waiting / The Shaman shakes grayish powder from his palm. Crimson sparks spray from the fire. The smoke is wet and black. McCauley draws a hunting knife / What if I were to kill you right now. What if I were to take your life from you. Nobody would hear you scream—I cannot resurrect the writers—Real cryptic bastard. I have half a mind to run you through—So do it. Only you can atone / McCauley stabs the Shaman mid-sentence. His blood is even redder than the sand. It courses into the fire. Howling mouths emerge through the blaze / I don’t believe in spirits. I don’t believe in ghosts. I don’t believe in you. You’re nothing to me / McCauley speaks the words but forgets the source. He casts his eyes upward and implores a nonexistent mediator to interject / I’ll die of thirst out here /
McCauley teaches lessons with a blowtorch. He speaks the language of violence because he’s unlearned vocal exchange. The impending presence of five bounty hunters will do that to you. Five bounty hunters, transient as wraiths. Drifting haunts with blanks for faces, blanks for names, dead end identifiers. Five subjects masked, trained, and armed by the powers that be. Five hands gripping objects used to sever McCauley’s extremities / oh christ oh gawd awmighty, how the fuck could they do this ta you, those muthafuckahs, those bastids, those sunsabitches, how, tell me how, ansah me, please tawk to me. […] O gawd please, O sweet motherahgawd please don’t let this happen, she’s awl I have, what have they done ta her, these fucks, have they no souls, have they no sense of humanity […] kill me gawd, just kill me fer fuck’s sake / He’s on a blacktop voyage. Orange-tongued torture scenes form an episodic narrative, dancing devilish in a mental safe house. The speedometer is a distant concern, like the ant problem under his porch. Under his porch, which is somewhere in the past but irrelevant to the reader. His home is no longer a place of significance. It’s an abandoned abattoir where obscene codes garnish the kitchen walls, written in ghastly red / fer fuck’s sake, take me ta the place I need ta go, ta the place where this kin end, ta the place where I kin find em, why gawd why, what did I do to deserve this, just answer me one fuckin time, I’m dyin, I’m dyin / A revenge scenario awaits in a warehouse. Behind corrugated steel walls. On a concrete platform, in a space that echoes wails and pleas and curses without impact. McCauley teaches lessons with a blowtorch.
Dash blinks at the dawn light, scratching white flakes from an itch in his flesh. He crouches on the porch like a patient hydra, finishing the sun-warmed dregs of his Budweiser. Quiet insurrection is his way of life—bombs posing as car parts, guns without serial numbers, smiles that kill. His rust-savaged truck sputters noxious fumes across the driveway. He finishes his beer. / This is your last chance. Do you understand that.—How many fuckin times ya gotta tell me.—I assure you this is the last time you will be told.—Just let me do the fuckin thing, alright. I can handle it, fa krissake.—I sincerely hope you can. This is not something to be taking lightly.—Are we done yet. You’re givin me a whopper of a fuckin migraine here.—Yes, we are all finished for now. You can call me when you have done as you were told. If you do not meet all the criteria of our agreement, do not bother calling me.—We’ve been through all this shit already. How many fu—The conversation is finished. You have seventy-two hours. / Dash drives 30km/h over the speed limit. His gaze spends as much time on the rearview as it does on the road. Four cigarette butts smolder in the cup holder, filling the truck with nicotine fog. He is aware of the Sedan that has been tailing him for thirty minutes and he is aware that he cannot shake it off. He signals. Turns onto the shoulder of the road. He opens the glove compartment, grabs his gun. Tucks it into the back of his waistband and conceals it under his shirt. He opens the door and walks out. A lithe man is leaning on the Sedan, wiping crumbs from the sleeve of his tailored suit jacket. They exchange looks. Static in a moment of assessment. Momentarily neutralized. The Suit speaks: You know who I am, don’t you.—Are you fuckin with me or what. How could I not know.—Well, what do you have to say for yourself.—What can I say. You guys have given me no fuckin room to breathe. I was havin a panic attack when I walked into this fuckin thing.—That’s not my concern.—What is your fuckin concern.—Doing as I’m told to do.—What a fuckin coincidence, mister. That’s my concern too. Looks like we got more in common than we mighta thought.—I’m going to kill you, Dash. Suit reaches into his jacket but Dash has already drawn and levelled his .38. He fires. A hole erupts in the center of Suit’s white shirt, spewing blood and tattered fabric. Dash speaks: That’s why you don’t fuck around with me. Suit spills beside his car, gripping the door handle. Slipping away, clinging to the nearest material artifice. Dash turns to his truck. A firearm crack rents the air. Dash’s spine screams in tongues. Rigid with paralysis, he falls face-forward. Squirms and bleeds on the ground. Sputters gravel. Suit speaks: Nobody gets out of these things.—What a stupid fuckin business.—We’re the ones who chose it.
“They sacrificed to demons … to deities they had never known …” –Deuteronomy 32:17
Ray glides like a wraith. Silent. Unchallenged. Gun arm navigating through the crowds.
The bodies split for him, forming a strobe lit tunnel. They reassemble as he passes, hot organisms unbalanced by treble. Wet, vapid, contorting. Gyrating in the dark. Seductive. Vaginal.
“Where the fuck is he?” Ray asks. A question for deities, muted by bacchanalian mayhem. Lurid benediction.
The disc jockey sermonizes infidelity, headphones coiling his neck.Tongues moisten the blackness. MDMA fills the room like vapour.
Ray makes his way to the back door. Kicks it open and steps into the night, Colt first. Trained ears prick to catch the sound of cheap leather clopping asphalt.
Ray focuses on the Target. Sprints down the sidewalk, quickly gaining speed. Car speakers demonstrate the Doppler effect. Women exclaim from moving vehicles, imploring him like Argonautican sirens.
He ignores the sounds. The insanity. The chaos. His gun is ready. He is closing in. Catching up with the Target. This fucking deadbeat will need a headstone tomorrow.
His prey is taking form. The variables are falling into place. The outcome is clear.
Ray pursues the Target through traffic, his hands bumping headlights. Car horns assault his senses. An unwelcome choir.
He corners his game at last.
The familiar invocation: No. Please. Don’t. Stop. Listen. Etc, etc.
Ray lowers his Colt and prepares to fire, but the ritual changes direction. Fate has other plans.
The pleas stop. The Target is smiling. The body is bent, hissing and snarling. The face is darkening, features reassembling in shadow.
“What the fuck?” Ray says.
The Target rises to fix red eyes on him. Lips recede into a horrible smile, sharp teeth glinting dully.
All training is forgotten. Ray panics. Fires all his ammo. Head shots, chest shots, abdominal shots. The Target absorbs the bullets, still smiling.
Ray struggles to speak. To protest. To remove himself from the nightmare. No words will come. He stares in terrified awe, the gun slipping from his limp fingers.
The Target approaches. Ray closes his eyes. He braces himself and submits. The Target descends on him, all fangs and malice. Blood courses from Ray’s body and rains on cement. He is dead in seconds.
This ceremony is timeless, more ancient than the city itself. More ancient than every building. More ancient than every body inside those buildings. More ancient than the beliefs and morals that feign vitality inside every one of those bodies, guiding non-events in isolation.
He’s as good a conversationalist as any. He’s oblivious to mercy and in no mood to talk. Well-dressed. Wearing a fedora and pulling it off. A Bogart kind of guy. Eyes forward, reading bottle labels or remembering heartbreak. He orders two shots and a beer.
“Put it on my tab,” you say.
“I’m not going home with you tonight, friend,” he says.
“Too bad. I could use some love.”
“You could use a shower.”
You laugh, finish your drink and extend your hand. He doesn’t shake it.
“Why do I get a free round while that poor bastard spends his daughter’s college funds on swampwater?” you ask, nodding toward a guy sitting a few stools over.
The guy is sweating discounted whiskey. Stubble beaded with liquor. Lazy violence peering from a fat face.
“You got a fuckin prollem?” fatass calls over.
“Oh, you heard me?” the stranger says.
“Yeah, n I axed if you got a fuckin prollem!”
“Only ninety-nine of them.”
Fatass wobbles to his feet. The bartender wipes a glass and watches with passive interest.
“You wanna take this outside, mister?”
The stranger continues staring ahead, reading symbols in space. Downs his first shot. Hisses quietly. “Don’t go home all bruised up again. Your wife might work up the guts to divorce your flabby ass. Here,” he pulls out a 20, waves it at fatass. “Take this. Get out of my sight, you sack of shit.”
Fatass wrenches his features into a wet pink ball of fury. “No one talks to me like that.”
“Yes they do. Everyone talks to you like that. That’s why you’re here alone, drinking whatever they wipe off the bar. Now go buy some toothpaste and a new shirt. A 20 should meet your standards.”
Fatass sways, damp and defeated, for an endless minute. Finally, he takes the money and nods hard. He waddles out the door. The stranger takes his other shot and drinks half his beer. For a moment you wish you’d taken your conversation elsewhere.
Then you reconsider. You imprint bravery on this stranger’s face. He tells it like it is. A real James Cagney. Classic Hollywood. The kind of man they don’t make anymore.
“That guy’s tail is so far between his legs, it’s tickling his stomach,” you say with a laugh.
“With that much stomach hanging down, the tail wouldn’t have to go up very far.”
You laugh again. “So do I get to know your name now?”
“No, you do not get to know my name. If you buy me another shot, you get to know my secret.”
“Heavy shit, brother. You ever read The Catcher in the Rye?”
“Suck my dick, friend.”
You both chuckle, a social performance.
“Get him another shot of that,” you tell the bartender.
The shot comes. He slugs it back.
“Okay, you got the shot. Now I get the secret.”
“I think they call that a compromise. I’m not very good with those.”
“It’s called a deal. Any man who’s not good with those isn’t worth shit to me.”
His gaze peels from space and drifts to you. There’s danger in those eyes. “Here’s my secret: after you’ve been down there—down there, I mean, where all of them come from—you are free to do anything.”
“The demons, that’s who. I’m not talking Scripture here. I’m talking about the whiskey in that shitbag’s guts. I’m talking about your need for conversation. I’m talking about the rotten, diseased whore that some corporate lawyer is fucking somewhere in this city right now. I’m talking about the thing that kills us. Once you come to want something enough, it comes so you need it. And once you need something enough, well shit… Once that happens, you might as well say sayonara to everything else. And I mean everything else.”
“You’re talking about addiction.”
“It’s more than that. Monomania. Demons. The Captain Ahab condition.”
“Obsession. The danger of dreams. I’m not just saying I’ve looked death in the face. I’m saying I’ve ripped the curtain away and I can laugh at the screaming girl in the shower. Because I’ve done it. It’s not just that I’ve pressed a hot fire poker into a man’s arm until he screamed. It’s the fact that I didn’t pull it away. No matter how much he screamed and begged and pissed himself, I kept that thing scorching until it touched his bones. Until it burned his insides.”
“What do you do?”
“I talk with the demons. I learn their names.”
Your vantage point is safe but you’re sick with regret. The guys are silent. A beer bottle hisses open and you hear the glug-glug of a first drink. / “This is going to be huge.”/ You feign indifference as the skyline erupts, cutting the illusion of peace with a mournful boom. / “Shit. We did it.” / You know what’s happening. You know that somewhere across the expanse of blackness a family is caught unguarded in the street, screaming a horribly dreamlike symphony as it feeds those crimson tongues. You can almost hear the implosion of automotive steel under the grip of flaming claws. You can almost smell your kitchen of childhood solace—dried herbs torched in a tumult of instant destruction. / “Goddamn. I told you it would be quick.”/ Distant inferno crackles in your pupils as you share a drink with the boys. A drink becomes three drinks, then five drinks, then you lose count. You’re drunk off your ass and the fire keeps burning. / “Goddamn. It was so quick.” / Someone turns to see your expression but you’re not going to look away. It’s your responsibility to keep watch.
The Drifter’s eyes are focused on the bar TV but you have his attention.
“They’re gonna turn on you before they turn on me,” he says, dribbling whisky in his stubble.
The home team scores, heightening the suicidal monotone of shadowfaced patrons grumbling amongst themselves about the twilight of sexual experience while chipping tooth fillings against the rims of smeared pint glasses.
You ask the Drifter why. He hawks a bullet of phlegm into his empty shot glass, painting it yellow-green. You can’t discern his mood. He won’t look at you.
He’s too busy hypnotizing himself in a green field flickering with white shirts and red shirts, a field that begins and ends in the perfect dimensions of a square television set that’s been playing sports for lonely men cradling hard liquor in hands dusted with wood shavings since the beginning of 1984.
“I can’t stop em. They make their choices and we live with em. And you’re goin down way before I do. Try stoppin the sunuvabitches, I dare you.”
You start to respond, but he isn’t finished yet. He’s channeling the kind of intense clarity that can only come from a life spent on loading docks and warehouse floors, a life dedicated to the gravelly-voiced banter of cocks seeking pussy, steak dinner and classic rock.
“They’ll get me too—eventually. But I got one thing to be thankful for. I only hafta be sorry for my own sins, nobody else’s. You gotta apologize for every other sunuvabitch that comes into this place, and every sunuvabitch who leaves it. That’s one hell of a burden.”
You forget what you wanted to say.
“One hell of a fuckin burden.”
1. I douse H and K in lighter fluid, then reconsider my potential. Maybe I’ll churn out one more thought worth reciting (that’s the most hopeful thing I’ve ever written). I remember fucking her at some unnamed landmark at some unspecified point in time with some unclear motivations in mind. Romantic—K would hate this shit.
2. Most of the text is missing. We know little of “H” and “K”. We can’t afford to rule out schizophrenia. However, let’s not encumber ourselves with this notion. Keep reading:
3. Cars pass in the night like oblong points of light in the vast and spinning vault of heaven I remember. I remember snow falling. I remember.
4. I remember K more clearly than I remember the people I knew. An act of violence as theoretical exposition; that’s all it was. She misunderstood my principles and she suffered as a result.
5. I remember snow falling on an empty cul-de-sac. I remember my childhood and I remember snow falling on parked cars.
6. H interrupts with a pen full of stimulants: “here comes a bestseller.”
7. A movement. A threat. Still pictures in motion—my terror coming back 24 frames per second. “I’m not comfortable with this.”
8. “You’re not comfortable with the truth. You’re not comfortable with your problem. You’re used up at the age of 24, that’s your goddamn problem.” He leers like a ghoul in my chemical confusion. I have no manuscript to speak of; I overdosed on Bukowski in the tunnels of a city I abandoned. I remember K laughing her ass off.
9. I recall slim bodies smoking virgin slims with absolute abandon. I recall abandoning absolutes: my lover and I drying out from the plague like skeletons in their beds.
10. In the manhole, you’ll find human potential stinking in the silhouette of exhaust fumes that leak through the road to corrode poetry in a green stew of sewage and forgotten rough drafts.
11. A memory; a remembering. A conjuring of cathedral bells in the subterranean chambers of junkies and users. A memory remembering; a defence; an omission. The work of private devils rising as smoke in cathedral towers—the spectre hanging over the pews. K kneeling to pray, K bent at the knees in the subterranean jungle of lost continents. K wet behind the ears, turning in her grave.
12. Seventeen drinks and three pills later: I realize K’s here. She’s in the same continent, drinking the same poison. She’s here with me, slipping theory in my ear and fumbling with my fly.
13. All this talk about binary opposition has done nothing but lead me back to the corner booth. Give me three more shots of Bacardi 151 and I’ll be finding text in the bile of acidic afterthoughts.
14. Weakly holding a cigarette between his index and middle finger, H stars to write in a carcinogenic embrace:
15. “I’m like every other self-gratifying refugee storing prose in the subconscious, scrawling narratives on toilet paper while hording the opus for a deathbed moment.”
16. “I’ve always had a thing for men with secrets and large cocks. Secrets are my only weakness.”
17. You’ve made it this far, so you might as well finish. We’re very sorry.
18. I recall 8th street in the midst of howling bus departures. I recall a knife wound like a mouth warning me about the imposition of media and philosophy.
19. The snake uncoils and recoils. K shifts endlessly in her straitjacket. She’s speaking in prose now. She’s chewing her tongue. She answers to no one.