N___ was unsure if this was a dream or a video game. There were surefire ways to tell, but he had forgotten them. It’s all about targets, navigation, safe exits. Something about grounding should tell you.
All he knew was that he was evidently in a shitty neighborhood in Chicago, and with a feeling of disgust cloaking him, as if he was soiled with something that would never come off. The houses here were old townhouses, many boarded up. There was a feeling of sharpness in the air–not just from the cold, but a certain old-country lilt. It felt like an easter mural in an Orthodox church–bright primary colors and ethereal song, lurking behind the drab exterior reality.
But things would dissolve and rework periodically, into other scenes, only the refrain of breathing remaining constant.
I know I’m in danger. She told me what he did to her. He probably knows I know, he probably beat it out of her.
That feeling of soiling was intensifying. When he thought of Sasha’s father there was a layer of oily dark residue surrounding him–sin, yes, but not the banal kind. What he had done to her was unmentionable. And it wasn’t only done to her. N___ wanted to help, but was scared. Sasha’s father was a big man, and she had implied that he had criminal friends–low level, perhaps, but still thuggish men who would take his skinny, pale body and beat it until the face was blurred and impressionistic.
Both dreams and video-games would dissolve sometimes into a haze of phosphenes. The cathode ray TV was a lot similar. Stations broadcasting from anywhere, picked up from the ether, signal and noise always blurred.
With a hum and rearrangement of dots and pixels, the station changed again. Now N___ was running through backyards, jumping fences. He didn’t remember the last 12 hours with great clarity but had a sinking feeling that Sasha’s dad had figured out how much he knew, that he had let something slip.
Garbled recollections–a small back deck at the top of weathered wooden stairs, at an unfamiliar house on Eastern Ave… Some beers, inside at a party with people that seemed normal–loud boozers, flatscreen TV in background playing sports, spilled drinks, wine coolers, sticky countertops… and someone’s face recurring… a pale, androgynous face with sharp cheekbones and sad blue eyes, flashing as if projecting interspersed with the background at a low frame rate. The face had belonged to a body, it had leaned in and whispered something important, it had the countenance of someone that knew its awful fate in advance and wearied of it.
N___ didn’t know where he was running but had the feeling of being hunted. The weather was drab, the sky overcast, everything was so monochromatic that the sky seemed to merge totally with the cracked concrete. The grey seeped into and sullied every bit of color, the grass and flowers seemed poisoned by it, faded. The only thing that stood out was a red and gold colored church that he saw through a chain-link fence. He vaulted over the fence and slowed, walking toward the church gingerly and respectfully.
The church was so ornate, it’s colors so vibrant, that it couldn’t be protestant, but it was a small, strange church, with a dome on top. It felt like it was from a forgotten village in Eastern Europe.
It had that sharp, waxy scent about it. N___ entered through the front doors, which were painted red but peeling to reveal white underneath. The interior felt warm and inviting, like it was a room prepared for a traveller. A youthful, swarthy man in gold robes with a red cross stood on an elevated platform near the rear of the building, farthest from N___. He looked up at him and smiled.
“Welcome, you must be the new friend!” N___ heard an accent he couldn’t place in the priest’s voice. “We need to talk, friend. We can talk here. It’s a holy place. Nobody will come in here after you.”
N___ was magnetized to the spot. Suddenly he felt himself possessed by something and walked toward the priest. Something that wasn’t him told the man everything. About Sasha’s father, about the sickness inside everything, about how he felt like he was dying. It spoke with a preternatural poise that reverberated in the high, narrow inside of the domed ceiling. The priest did not act surprised or flinch. He smiled sweetly but sadly.
“You’ll be needing some protection, eh? I can baptise you. Even without godparents, it will be something. God makes allowances.”
N___ found himself kneeling in the center of the floor, where a circular pool about two meters long and apparently fathomless was carved out of the bottom of the floor. The priest was intoning something in a very old language that was more incantatory and less lilting than the accent he had picked up on earlier.
The priest picked N___ up, with surprising strength, and dropped him into the black pool. It was icy cold, and felt like pale fire. Behind his eyelids, N___ saw all of the grey, and the dark black oil–all that soil and sin and unmentionable sin burn away until all that was left was a crystalline white light, enclosed by a frozen borderline.
Breath, memory, a heartbeat found, and the phosphenes again rearranging. N___ was on a different station, tuning in and gradually isolating the signal.
What happened in there? N____ thought. He felt a cold, unwieldy object against his ass and pulled it out from his waistband. It was a gun, and he remembered vaguely that after the ceremony, the priest had given him a pistol, having told him that God could only offer protection in the afterlife. That God was all very good but to have a piece of angry metal in one’s hand, that was better, when dealing with bad men. Still, N___ felt immeasurably better after the baptism. He felt bestowed with a horrible peace.
He examined the pistol more closely. He didn’t know much about guns normally but suddenly knew exactly what this was. Soviet bloc art deco design, utilitarian looking black ridged steel. It was a Zastava M70A, a Yugoslav police pistol. It had a cross carved into the grip. It felt heavy, but N___ pulled the magazine out anyway, to check if it was loaded. The magazine was full of bullets that looked like they were coated with gold–the entire thing–the cartridge was gold, and the bullets were jacketed in gold. But then he turned his head a little different and the bullets looked like normal lead bullets. It must have been a trick of the light.
N____ slid the magazine back in and slid the gun back into his waistband, in front this time. He looked around. He was on a street he had never seen before. Nobody was around, but the houses seemed lived in. It wasn’t abandoned, there was the definite feeling that everybody was someplace else, perhaps just around the corner. The sun was not quite risen, the sky was bright blue. It must have been at least 24 hours since the baptism.
The sun was really brilliant, so bright he could hear the solar rays throbbing in his ear. The sky was cloudless and so blue it seemed like it was painted on canvas. The sun was getting to N____’s head. It was saying things to him that you can’t say in any language that exists on earth. It was telling him to do things, but it wasn’t a matter of authority. The things just wanted to be done and the sun was just pointing out the direction toward them being done, that led through N____ and down the next side street.
N_____ kept walking, following the sun’s bleated orders, and started to hear people. There was a sweaty rhythm to the cries. It was a crowd, raucously chanting something as if beating the concrete with their voices en masse. He couldn’t make out what they were saying. He got closer and heard the cadence, but still couldn’t really tell what the words were.
When he turned the corner, he saw something that put hardness in his veins. The crowd had lined a street tightly, forming a human tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was what looked like a man strapped to a chair. N_____ walked closer, and saw the balding head, dark hair, the grey girth of the man and started to have an uneasy feeling. When he got to the beginning of the tunnel he could see the greasy brown eyes and knew that it was Sasha’s father, Alexi.
This man had a banal, flaccid excess about him, a scent of something that was debauched not in a glamorous but in a disgusting way. It was a prolapse of the soul, and N____ wanted to fix it permanently.
N____ started into the human tunnel. The people simply cheered him on. They were not notably surprised by his entrance. He walked toward Sasha’s father slowly, and saw that Alexi was strapped to a chair with seatbelts, which were being undone by men who stood guard near him. Now N___ could make out the crowd’s chant: “Pe-do, pedo” they jeered, in an angry sing-song. N____’s heart beat was accelerating. One of the guards handed Alexi something that glinted.
N____ grabbed the gun in his wasteband quickly and pointed it at Alexi’s torso, jerking the trigger ungracefully, while walking forward. His pale hand was trembling and he felt faint he smelled singed air and heard the bang and felt the gun jerk–the recoil seemed to come sooner than he expected. His vision was being eaten up by snow, blood rushing to his head. He kept walking and fired twice in quick succession. The crowd jeered louder with each trigger pull, as if he was manipulating its volume directly with a switch. N____’s visual field flooded back into view. Alexi was lying on his back, bleeding out of a wound in his abdomen. His gun was on the ground near him and he appeared to be making no effort to reach it.
N_____ walked toward him gingerly. Alexi’s dark, oil-well eyes stared up at him with, tracking him slightly. I just need to finish him off. But N____ was invigorated by the shots he had fired. He was now possessed of something–something burning he had got from the sun, or the silver cross flashing on the gun–something white hot. He saw the oily blackness on Alexi’s soul and he needed to wash it off.
The sun bore down, penetrating every cell, as N____ grabbed his gun and slammed it into Alexi’s face. Every punch washed away a little of the black off the aura. The sun was cleansing everything. N____ was mashing Alexi’s face patiently and sensually. Each smack of the gun felt like it was making something give way. The crowd started to hush. Bone on bone, bone through bone, blood, grey and pink flesh–N____ was turning Alexi’s face into stuff, rearranging the diagonals like a painter, working and reworking the material like a sculptor would work the lumps out of clay. He was taking the oil-sin that had constituted Alexi’s self out of him, de-animating the matter. He grunted and breathed heavily, like an athlete or a pornstar.
Finally he was done. The quiet crowd started murmuring. The murmur worked itself into a rhythm as N____ stood up and started to look at them wonderingly, the smell of blood-iron, sweat, smoke dirtying his nostrils. They chanted a different song now. “Killer, Kill-er, kill-er” they sang with glee. He felt nauseous and looked down at his hands, which didn’t belong to him anymore. These hands dropped the gun. He walked toward where he had come from, the tunnel starting to get closer–hands reaching out to touch him. He walked faster and faster, and started to run. The crowd kept chanting and followed him as he ran down the street, ran past yards with nobody in them, oak trees, bathtub madonnas, corner stores. Some of the children had almost caught up to him, chanting “killer, killer” in a higher-pitched, mocking tone. N____ gasped for breath, and crumpled. The chant was growing louder and louder, and started swirling around him as everything turned a velvet black. Something in him smiled, and the dots started dancing against the black. They were his friends. They came in every color, gold, emerald, silver, pure light, they sang lilting organ music, and they only danced in patterns that made sense.