Page 1


UTOP1AN C1RCUS “love will only make us worse” Second Edition C. Sean McGee City: aliteraryconcerto b00k 011 Published by CSM Publishing Santo André, São Paulo, Brasil COPYRIGHT © 2013 Cian Sean McGee All rights reserved. This FREE ART ebook may be copied, distributed, reposted, reprinted and shared, provided it appears in its entirety without alteration, the reader is not charged to access it and the downloader or sharer does not attempt to assume any part of the work as their own. Free art, just a writer’s voice and your conscious ear.

Cover Design: C. Sean McGee eBook layout: C. Sean McGee Author Photo: Carla Raiter This Book was written under the influence of: Utopian Circus by Adam J. Keane and Aeon by Dead Can Dance


love will only make us worse

Utopian Circus

the free art collection 3

for keli, nenagh and tomรกs



zero “I told you to hold his arms. This is so typical. I’m not angry, I really just wish you would listen to me you know” said The Fat Old Lady. “I’m sorry. You’re right, I know, I know” replied The Pudgy Old Lady. “Which way do you think he went?” said The Fat Old Lady. “I really don’t know. Well he couldn’t get too far now could he? He has no clothes on. There’ll be things catching on his bits and well, you know…” said the Pudgy Old Lady. “We have to find him before the others do” said The Fat Old Lady. The two old ladies helped each other off the sinking mud pile where they had found themselves entrenched when the spirit of a man threw them waveringly over themselves and cast their faces into the dirt. The man was theirs. And rightfully at that. They had followed his body upstream for half a day, trudging through thick bush and scraping their varicose veins on vines, twigs and jagged rocks as they steadied their way up this and through that. Their eyes had been tuned over the thick shrubbery to the black river where; under a faint shimmer of light, a long black bag had been floating unavailing on the water’s top, catching every now and then on the water’s residence but being swept along mightily by the river’s much pressed sense of ado. The Pudgy Old Lady was more limber than her older and more, top heavy, comrade. It was easier for her to contort her body to weave around and through the bush land and over the rocks to keep a steady eye on the floating thing as it made its way downstream. When they finally edged close to the shoreline, the black bag 6

had been pushed up onto the muddy banks by the currents and was dragging slowly through the dead lift in the water; carrying forward solely on its own momentum. The two old ladies had fumbled excitedly for a scalpel to cut through the black plastic to see exactly what had washed up for them. They had known it was a body of some sort but they expected something ravaged by era; like everything that was, stripped to the core and then discarded. When; after some discoursing and fumbling about, The Pudgy Old Lady had found the scalpel, she passed it to her friend with the currents of exhilaration swimming through her old blue veins. The old ladies giggled to each other as the more senior, The Fat Old Lady, had taken the weight of her desire and pressed upon the tip of the blade, piercing light onto the body that lay underneath the black plastic sheet. The two old ladies were in complete shock as they saw a young naked muscular man; to them in the contrast of their years; just a boy, lying unconscious; still breathing and his skin, so pink and alive. They could hardly contain themselves. The definition on his face was amazing. His skin pulled so firm against his strong jaw line and there were no markings under or about his eyes. It was like his body had denied the rigors of Famine and was somehow kept in a state of absolute abeyance. “Maybe it was the black sheet” The Pudgy Old Lady had said. “The gods have given him to us. This isn’t plastic. It is the amniotic sack of the heavens. The gods have spoken to us” she continued as they stood over the man’s warm body admiring his physique; pulling the sheet back over the length of his body, exposing the contours to the light. The Fat Old Lady paid no conscious residue to the dotty words of her arguably daft comrade. Instead, she ran her bulbous index finger along the lines of the young man’s face, starting above 7

his forehead at the touch of his hairline then down past the join of his ear and following the line of his strong jaw, her fingers running through the coarse hairs that pointed out from the beard on his chin. She imagined herself peeling off his face like a sticker; slow and gentle so as not to tear any skin, feeling every bump and tug as the muscles and nerves popped out from underneath. Her blood warmed inside her body and her toes tingled as this sensation cast its way through every fiber of her being making her feel young, vibrant and desirable. Her mouth salivated when she thought about the moment of removing one skin for another; undoing the clips behind her ears, under her chin, at the corners of her mouth, under her eyes and at the crest of her forehead; releasing the tight pull of the young girl’s face that stretched over her own, putting one hand to the centre and feeling the light breeze on exposed nerves as the borrowed skin folded away from the curves of her skeletal frame and folded onto the palm of her hand. Then, taking the face of the young man gently in the palm of her hand, she would lift it slowly to her own and press the warm skin against her face, no doubt fitting perfectly. As she thought about this - wearing the man’s face as her own with her pudgy comrade pulling tight on the skin dress and clipping it to the contours of her face - she slipped and her hand fell forward. The tip of the blade slid into the back of the man’s leg, cutting through the flesh and muscle and then throwing him into wake. The man’s leg kicked wildly, his knee striking The Fat Old Lady’s fist, sending her arm back towards her body; coursing the fine blade against the edges of her cheek. Shocked and dismayed, only by the cutting of her tapestry, The Fat Old Lady shrieked while the man opened his eyes wide and burst forwards, knocking the two old ladies over and before they could comprehend what had happened, he was off running through the thick bush land. The Pudgy Old Lady was quick though, 8

to get a lasting glance of a bright light shining upon his bare bum before it vanished into the lush green surroundings. “Now, when I said, hold his arms, what exactly did you understand? I’m not angry, well I am angry, I just want to know what you understood by, hold his arms. You see, if in your head, hold his arms translates to, stare idly at the man’s willy then the next time I need you to stare wide eyed at a man’s willy I’ll ask you to hold his arms. But what I need to know is, what do I need to ask you to hold his bloody arms down?” lectured The Fat Old Lady disappointingly. “I said I’m sorry. It was so dingily and dangly and, well, so there. I haven’t seen one in so long. They’re scary looking things they are. Would you really want to put that thing inside you?” The Pudgy Old Lady said with a shrill of concern in her rising tone. “I sometimes wonder why I ended up with you. Do you even comprehend what’s happening at the moment?” asked The Fat Old Lady. “This is a trick question?” said The Pudgy Old Lady. “No it’s not a trick question. I literally want to know if you are lucid to what the jeepers is going on” said The Fat Old Lady. “I’m sorry dear. I’m with you. I’m not all bananas and nuts up here you know. We’ll find him, before the others do; for his sake, and for our own” she said woefully. “Help me look for the scalpel. If I lose that we are in a world of trouble” said The Fat Old Lady. The two old ladies bent their knees and arched their worn aged backs and pitched their sight to the mud below their feet, looking for a small silver blade that would easily catch the morning sun pit against the dark backdrop of the slippery, sludgy and saturated earth. As their feet sank into the ground, they both perched their hands on their hips and their backs, halting the inevitable creaking and croaking as their weary bones dared to slip out of place with every footing. Then The Pudgy Old Lady caught wind of a memory. 9

“His arse” she said, lifting an index finger into the air triumphantly. “What? Can you for a second stop thinking about sex. You’re a seven million year old woman, you shouldn’t even remember what sex is” said The Fat Old Lady. “No, not that. I mean, his arse, I saw his arse go into the woods” she said. “That’s great. While we are being picked apart by Mother and the other Elemental Ladies and living the rest of our time bare faced, you can think about the bum that got away” said The Fat Old Lady sternly. “No, listen” she said urgently; “I saw something on his arse as he entered the scrub; a light; a reflection. Only one thing could do that. Do you think…” said The Pudgy Old Lady trailing to indecisive silence. “If he has the scalpel...” The Fat Old Lady said unable to finish her words. “Let’s just find him shall we? He can’t be too far” she said continuing. “If Mother finds him and she sees your scalpel; you, no we, we’ll lose our faces. And you know what that means?” she said frightened. “I know exactly what that means. You don’t live as long as I have and all of a sudden start warming your ass with naïve knickers. We have to find that scalpel and that face. That man dress is mine” said The Fat Old Lady. The two old ladies took each other by the arm and walked into the thick scrub pushing the branches back away from their bodies and digging their heels into the soil, taking one slow pained step after the other; their brittle bones continuing to hold up their massive upper bodies and shuffle them through the forest; the sound of ruffling trailing behind as the pudgy one dragged behind her the length of black plastic from where the man had escaped. “What do you want with that?” asked The Fat Old Lady. “If this is of the gods, if they’ve spoken directly to us. Maybe we don’t need to change faces anymore. Maybe the gods have 10

changed the law” said The Pudgy Old Lady like an inquisitive child. “You’re crazy. Do you know how crazy that sounds?” The Fat Old Lady responded condescendingly. “It’s perfectly plausible. I mean, who would have thought that a man in perfect specimen would just, wash up; birthed by the sea; and so young, so incredibly young. How old do you think he is?” she asked excitedly. “I don’t know” replied The Fat Old Lady. “Less than a hundred?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “Maybe. Seems unlikely, but maybe” replied The Fat Old Lady. “Oh this is so exciting. His hands were so strong, the underneath leathered, but they were so firm. They would be wonderful gloves. They really will look wonderful on you. You are going to look so pretty. I can just see now. Can I keep his dingily bits?” she asked. “What? Why would you want them?” asked The Fat Old Lady. “To frighten the other ladies, it’ll be fun” she replied. “You are a strange one. Sure, you can keep his bits” she said. “Dear, are you cut?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady concerned. The Fat Old Lady had forgotten or maybe she hadn’t noticed initially but now it had come back to her. When the man had jumped into his body and out of the bag, the scalpel had pierced through her skin dress. She didn’t know the extent of the tear but she thought it was probably by the chin. Her stomach felt heated and heavy. She felt stupid. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid” she said slapping with her little purse at the back of her comrade. “What did I do?” yelled The Pudgy Old Lady. “Nothing; it was me. I tore the dress. Oh I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid. Everyone’s going to notice. It’s going to look silly now. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid” she said, hitting the old lady repeatedly with her purse. “We can fix it. It will still look pretty. And it will work. You’ll 11

be young forever” The Pudgy Old Lady said with admiration for her comrade. “This dress is the one, this man. They won’t reject me anymore.” “They’ll sing for you.” “They’ll dance for me.” “They’ll pray to you.” “They’ll fear me.” “You think? You really think they’ll make you an Elder? My comrade will be an Elder? This is so exciting” said The Pudgy Old Lady. The Fat Old Lady looked down at her feet as she pressed over the crooked rocks and past the stinging barbs of the leaves. But in her mind, the curtains opened to the theatre of her better self. Her eyes were to the ground but her feet were no longer wrinkled and the flesh on her toes, no longer blotched and hanging loose like the skin on a small puppy. As the crown was placed on her head, she lifted her sight to see a thousand admiring eyes all falling upon her beautiful youthful self. Everyone started to clap, cheer and shed a tear, wishing they could be just like her and love her so much as their revered Elder, as their Mother. As she lifted her hands into the air, her tribe fell to its knees and bowed their aching backs forwards, stretched their hands out in front and prayed to their leader. The crowd cheered as the new Mother stood on her throne and held her arms high in the air. “Ouch. Careful!!” she screamed. “Watch your head” warned The Pudgy Old Lady too late as a branch swung back and hit The Fat Old Lady, catching on one of the clips that held the dress she wore on her face. “Sorry, sorry. Here, let me” she said, trying to pull and tug on pins. “Just leave it” said The Fat Old Lady angrily. 12

The two old ladies continued slowly through the scrub; the pudgy one keeping a steady arm under the fat one’s swaying upper body, holding her weight off of her buckling left knee. Their eyes scanned left and right as their feet sank in and pulled out of the mud with their toes; like antennas, curling around roots and vines, feeling the earth beneath to lift them up and forwards and to help map out their terrain which at sight was just endless canopy, leaves, brush and stabbing, stinging needles, but at their feet, changed from the soaking wet banks to a thick, slow moving muddy swamp, to moist, soft rolling soil that was littered with green leaves that were scattered about by the afternoon breeze and then to mushrooms, sprouting up from the first seasonal rains, squishing under their toes and taking them to the dry coarse sand under the thickest canopy where light failed to make its pertinence. Their toes worked as their eyes, guiding them through the forest, feeling their way over this and that with the complete consciousness of their selves, extended directly to the tips of their feet. “Stop here; stop here I said” The Pudgy Old Lady repeated frustratingly. The two old ladies rested on the root of a giant tree that flowered somewhere in the height of the gods; serving as table or maybe mere scrub to tickle at their feet. “Sorry, I think my dress is covering my ears. Could you have a look?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady politely. “I don’t even know how you managed to get this thing on” said The Fat Old Lady. The Pudgy Old Lady sat with her belly facing low to the ground; her back flat like a table while her fat comrade pressed her knee flat against her. Her hands gripped the side of the dress she wore on her face and pulled tight; stretching the young girl’s skin to its limits, pulling the dress prim against The Pudgy Old Lady’s face and crossing over the ends in her hands, pulling them down to the length of her back and then tying them off against a small hook that protruded from her skin. “Now the clips. Don’t be afraid to stretch out the ears” said 13

The Pudgy Old Lady. There were twelve clips around the line of her face; small metal studs driven into the bones in her face where the skin dress would tie. The Fat Old Lady pulled tight on the dress and clipped it firmly in place. The skin was too small for The Pudgy Old Lady and it stretched oddly across her face. She had had to cut larger slits around the mouth and eyes so that she could see and speak properly. It really wasn’t a good fit but she had to make do with what she had. When she was finished, The Fat Old Lady sat down beside her on the tree’s root that sat like a bench above the cool loose soil. The two old ladies breathed heavily as the stresses of the morning caught up on them. “That really is an ugly dress you’re wearing” said The Fat Old Lady. “I know. Yours suits you so much. The lady makes the dress you know; but you are so much more ladylike than the others, more couture. I really wish I was like you” said The Pudgy Old Lady in need of approval. “You have to pay more attention. If your dress falls, you know what happens” lectured The Fat Old Lady. “I know, I know. I get a little careless sometimes. It’s just I know it’s not a good one but I’m gonna get a good one and I’ll look after it so well and I’ll live as long as you but you’ll live longer cause you’re beautiful and you’re so witty and if I could live as long as you’ve lived or maybe even half then…” said The Pudgy Old Lady trailing off into indecisiveness. “Focus dear. We need to find that man” said The Fat Old Lady pulling hard on a flap of skin below her chin; pulling it tightly down the length of her neck and to the left to stretch a small hole in the flesh fabric around a clip sticking out from her neck. When she did, the dress held firm against the nerves on her face. She could feel tingling through the length of her body. The dress she wore was delicate and the skin was soft and 14

bouncy. She had been wearing this dress for a time in scores of centuries that to her felt only like days or weeks. It never tore or at least it hadn’t started to tear until now. When it held fast to her face, her body felt young and vital once more. Her varicose veins receded back under the blotchy white skin, pumping blood decrepitly through her ancient body and keeping her perpetually alive but unfortunately, doing nothing to avail the continued dissipation of her skeleton. “Shall we? Give me a hand” said The Fat Old Lady as her comrade lifted and extended her lumpish arm as a lever. The Fat Old Lady heaved and groaned as she extended her consciousness to her dated joints and swung her hips to pull herself to her feet. Her left knee slipped somewhat under the shifting weight and made a horrible cracking sound as it crunched out and then back in place. The two old ladies continued looking through their toes, feeling for shifts in the dirt and familiarity. There was very little choice for the man that had escaped them for the ground under their feet was all that the forest gave; a vein for the life to pass through its body. There was little direction outside of the thin line carved out by centuries of drudging feet stepping one after the other from the river through to the heart of the forest where the Elemental Ladies; or The Facers as their victims branded them, made their home. “A print. There’s more over here. It’s him. Come on” said The Fat Old Lady. The two old ladies pushed through the branches, sliding in and out of the young man’s footprints; their eyes dislocating obstacles at the stretch of their free hands and their wrinkled toes, defining their direction. “Oh dear” said The Pudgy Old Lady, “this can’t be good.”


one The morning sun watched over them tentatively as they passed the fork in the road; The Woman, tied to the feet of The Behemoth with Safrine in her arms. They hadn’t stopped since they escaped from a small tear in The Nest’s belly. Under the morning light they had had an unusual perspective, having almost forgotten what the sun looked like when it wasn’t hidden behind the veil of a cold grey August morning. Great shadows crept across the plains, leaping out of monolithic objects, scattered about the path. Where normally these spots of black would warn someone to caution and address them with fear, on this balmy morning, with their sight pressed by a blaring sun and with little respite between the sky above and their burning skin, the shadows offered a new fractional meaning; shade. And so, with every hour or so of pained and exhausted marching, the three came to rest under tiny blankets of darkness to catch their breaths and sustain their depleting reserves. “How much further?” The Woman asked to The Behemoth. The Behemoth looked to the small girl who sat between The Woman’s outstretched legs, picking up warm sand in her hands and letting it run through her fingers, watching every grain escape from her clutches and catch a breeze wiring in and out of the other grains, all moving with the flow of things, abiding a rule, in only one direction, where all things came to their end, with a heap of others. She wondered why something so light couldn’t just float high into the air and continue to float above the coming down where all things seemed to find themselves. “Make her walk or carry her” The Behemoth said to The Woman cruelly and abruptly. “She’s a child. She can’t take more of this marching, she needs to sleep. She needs to eat” pleaded The Woman. “We have until the fall of the third sun. Until we are on that 16

boat, there will be no rest” he said. The Woman reined her discontent and her argument. The giant man scared her, he always had. She had never understood what Marcos saw in him and how they had built a strange silent trust. There had never been a meeting that she knew of, just that one day he was there and from that point, he was never anywhere else. Marcos had spoken very little of him but when she would question him, Marcos would jump to his defense, belittling her and; always in the height of argument, dragging her back to her choice. The scar on her belly. The well of his dissatisfaction. She stopped questioning anything that happened around her in a bid to keep herself clean and dry, out of the past like Marcos had promised, never looking back, moving only into the future, creating new memories, new stories, new love; always under the orange hue of The Forever New Dawn, an image and a specific memory that Marcos knew brought her calm. And he painted the brand of his philosophy; of his saving grace, in the only fond memory that hadn’t lost to the weight of one choice in her past. As she focused on the orange hue, her mind slipped in and out of concentration; the sound of loose gravel spitting about their feet and the trampling of The Behemoth’s massive shoes smacking against the ground reverberated in her ears. As she held to the young girl’s shoulders, her mind wandered. She sat now - in her conscious delusion - in an old sight; something she had lived only once and stored away for a moment quite like this. From the recesses in her eyes, under a cold grey August morning, she could feel her lover’s hand tighten and then pull away from hers as they neared the massive structure he called The Nest. He was always getting further away it seemed and when he touched her, she felt further from herself, seemingly escaping from the consciousness of their condition; their love. She couldn’t remember the last time they had made love. It 17

was so long ago, before even the light and sound had slipped into the tremors of her dreams, leaving her with only grey abandon; her City, like her lover; tangible in form but inanimate; a City without colour, a man without lust. The moment she felt his hand slipping, she in turn felt herself slipping into some accepted defeat, taking her place behind the thrill of his step as his ever present. His acquiescent shadow. She wanted to grip his hand and her whole being collapsed to one point, to the tip of her ring finger as it curled against her lover’s waning palm. Lead by his direct stare and open hand, her lover abandoned her need for the grace of a man she would never trust. She pulled a plastic smile over her face as her lover turned to her direction, showing her off like a weathered trophy then casting his eyes with the monster of a man to the complex which cast high into the air, shadowing the cold grey August morning. As close as she was, it seemed he was so far from her and she knew she would never have him back so she must love him somehow, in any way that he would permit, in however he chose, for the choice that she had made at the start of all of this. The three were greeted by a one armed man who opened the door and their eyes feasted on a conceptual machine in action. There was movement everywhere they looked. Men all adorned in black. Women, in white. And everywhere they looked stayed a ubiquitous sight, a large white heart. “You’ve been busy” said Marcos to The Behemoth. “Everything is according to your scribe. This is the humanity of your ideals. Shall we?” he said, extending his arm across the doorway and inviting the two into their future. The Woman was overcome by enormity of it. How an idea in passing, something her lover discussed over the emptying of wine had fruited; in The Age of Famine, into a perceivable hope. “This is amazing my love” she said squeezing his left hand 18

tightly, wrapping both her arms around his, pulling downwards as she jumped and heaved excitedly. She loved him so much. She couldn’t believe that his concept, his idea was actually real. She always knew it was possible, but in reality, she had never conceived that it was probable. Just as her hand touched close to his warm skin, she felt in that instant, herself drift further from his necessity and even further still, from the output and stencil of his self-concern. He now had something grander to nurture and she knew that her place was somewhere in the background; as his shadow, willingly at his feet, but never at his sight. As they entered the courtyard she felt his hand slip one more time and she was sure it would never return again. “Are you broken?” asked Safrine looking upwards at The Woman as they worked their way along a dirt path, the end of their sight offering nothing but a blue sky meeting yellow dirt as the path before them continued long into the desertion of their hope and expectation. The Woman had tears running down her face. Maybe Safrine hadn’t seen this before. It wasn’t common for humans to cry, not in The Age of Famine. They suffered only desperation and elation. The young girl watched the water run from The Woman’s eye down her cheek and then drip onto her shoulder. The Woman; pulled from her delusional absence, leaned down and swept up the young girl in her arms and carried her to her shoulder. Safrine rested her head on The Woman’s shoulder and as another tear escaped her eye, it fell onto the young girl’s face and swam down her cheek and washed away the bitter stains of her civil desensitization. Safrine smiled as she felt the warm trickle cast its way from her face to The Woman’s shoulder; hugging tight on The Woman’s body with the three marching onwards through the blistering heat of day, now without an inch of shade as in their sight, shapes formed on the flat line of their wavering desperation; shadows building on the horizon. 19

“There, ahead. Stay close and whatever you do, maintain your focus. Be At One; be At War; always� said The Behemoth under a crackled dry voice to The Woman and the young girl in her arms. Onwards they marched.


two Ruff was old and his sight was horrid. Entering the subway he took the lead holding his nose close to the ground and evaluating the worry in every scent. Where they were was welcome to neither him nor them. This was a realm that no man had dared wander since long before the silence had blackened the ears of mankind. Here, a rule of order was in place; a hierarchy of royalty and every instinct in Ruff ’s subconscious being willed him to turn around and run back into whatever they had been running from. His two big friends, the boy and the older girl; the untrusting one, stood close to one another with the boy holding her tightly as she crept slow and low, keeping one hand on the scruff of Ruff ’s neck. All three crept through the darkness; their backs holding to the rough edges of the wall with the untrustworthy friend stopping every few steps to turn to the boy and shush him; his feet shuffling and scraping against the loose sand and papers that layered the floor making every move less of a secret than they would have liked. Although he didn’t think it; as a dog is not buggered with conscious tomfoolery, instinctually he knew, something grander than they, was already aware of their presence. They might be able to hush their way through an orchestra of whispers, but their scent had given them away long before they even ventured past the turnstiles and down into the belly of the station. They edged along the wall slowly; Ruff focused on the layering of scents; some dressed in warning, some in calamity and others in rotten invitation. None of them though were reason enough not to stay in a state of alarm. Ruff ’s fur rode high on his neck, his ears pinning back and his eyes tuning to the shifts in blackness as things and stuff of which could have been something and anything 21

at all, stuck out from this and lay strewn about that. The big friends too; the young boy and the untrustworthy girl, both squinted their eyes and fought to make out the dark from the even darker. The three came to a set of stairs and they waited, listening to the low continual murmur of what sounded like the stretching of metal to its breaking point or the squealing of a pig being wound over some device and kept at a point of imminent separation. Their hearts beat loud like a tribal drum. Over and over and over and over the sound pounded in their minds and dulled the point of their focus that stretched from their open ears and trained to the blackness somewhere at the nether of the steps before their paralyzed feet. The big friends held onto their breaths, trying to silence the will within them that begged to scream up into the night and vent this dire tepidity and sound the pure cerebral alarm. Ruff looked up and saw the untrustworthy friend with her hand over the young boy’s mouth, quieting every breath that he stole and every breath that escaped from the trappings of his fated body. The sounds in the distance settled into their hosts and casted not into the conscious burden of the guests; inching their way through the absence of man. “Slowly and don’t make a sound. Stay close to me. Go boy” she said, encouraging Ruff to patter slowly down the steps; she, holding firm at his neck to ensure he didn’t run down excitedly like a silly dog; announcing their arrival. Silly human. Still, Ruff accepted her hand on his neck. He liked the feeling of his skin pulling tight across his face and the touch of a human through the thick of his fur, lightly scratching his dry itchy skin. Even if she was to be untrusted, it didn’t mean that she couldn’t be loved. The three inched down the steps; foot slowly and painfully after foot, stopping as each toe touched the cold cement, allowing 22

every muscle to catch up and work quietly towards the next bound. When they reached the bottom of the stairs a loud banging threw them all to the floor. The sound came from above, probably at the entrance. The wave of Famined had washed past the entrance to the subway. They didn’t know if the flood had entered or not and they were oblivious as to whether whatever they consciously feared and physically hid from had been wakened by the thunderous crashing that just occurred. The two big friends crouched together; low to the ground and Ruff curled up frightened in between their entwined legs. Ruff didn’t like loud unexpected noises and most certainly he was unwelcome to the sound of growling and barking. The sound of the human wave crashing against the concrete wall married with the constant torturous bellow of broken and breaking humans; bleeding and screaming somewhere in the height of the blackness, caused all three to ignore the volume of their dragging breath and the tribal pounding of their hearts, burying their heads low to the ground; their bodies like one molecular being tied to one another. For Donal the young friend, this was very much like a repeat of his first night of freedom, clutching to the darkness, fretful of what probably lay just out of his reach and was undoubtedly watching him, sniggering and waiting with its salivated mouth lathering with temptation, holding off until the boy could take no more and then, only when he thought that he was free, catching a claw around his throat, pulling him back into the darker darkness and devouring him whole. The three stood still as the sound above them failed to dampen. “We have no choice. We have to continue” said the untrustworthy friend. She grabbed the hand of the young boy and shoved Ruff with her left hand still clenching the scruff of his neck. Ruff dug his back legs into the ground and threw the full of his weight into his rump like his mother had once done. His instincts said ‘Fuck you human, you go first’ and thus he 23

straightened his chest high and cast his weight back and to the floor; his hind legs stretching out to the sides, his nails digging into the soft grout in the tiles that started at the fall of the last step. The untrustworthy friend put a gentle foot to Ruff ’s bum and he was up, moving through the darkness, their feet now quicker than before. The sound above them continued to grow louder. The wave had obviously broken through the entrance and was now washing down towards the platform where they had crouched, having fallen to their knees to lessen the chance of something catching them in flight. Ruff shivered in fright as his nose hovered above the tiles; every meter the scent growing more potent, more direct in its message, more frightening in its intent. The bigger friends had no idea what they were walking into but there was nothing Ruff could do. As much as he had tried to communicate in the past, humans were just too stupid and couldn’t understand a word he said no matter how direct he was or what body language he used. So Ruff; feeling the warmth of the untrustworthy friend’s fingers gripping his fur and lightly scratching his dry itchy skin, cautiously edged forwards until the three reached a finite point; the end of the platform. “What do we do?” asked the young boy. “We jump” responded the untrustworthy friend confidently. Ruff had no idea what they just said but as the words pardoned his ears, he felt the hand gripping the scruff of his neck slide under his body and pull him up to the untrustworthy friend’s body, pinning him tight under the fold of her arm. In a second, he felt a rush of wind and a sensation of flight as the untrustworthy friend took off over the side of the platform with he in her embrace. They landed with a thud, obviously the distance being larger than the untrustworthy friend had expected, catching her legs short and causing her to tumble over; falling on her right shoulder but keeping Ruff safe and secured in her left. When she fell still, she let 24

Ruff gently on the ground. Ruff shook himself then looked up to see in the lighter darkness above, the young boy creeping over the edge of the platform; his hands reaching downwards, his fingers opening and closing as if he were trying to grasp some handle or beg for more dessert. “Jump” sad the untrustworthy friend, whispering to the tiny shadow creeping over the edge of the platform down to the outstretch of her hands. “It’s too high. I’m scared” said the young boy. “Trust me” she said. The boy fell forwards over himself awkwardly and landed on top of the untrustworthy friend. Both crashed to the rubble at their feet, tumbling over one another and cutting themselves on jagged rocks and tiny shards of extruding metal coming out of the tracks. The two big friends moaned in unison, obviously from the pain. Ruff moved closer and licked the wound on the young boy’s leg and did the same for the untrustworthy girl. Just because she couldn’t be trusted, it didn’t mean she couldn’t be loved. The sound above of screaming humans continued to accelerate, slipping further upon them. “Stay close” the untrustworthy friend said as she gripped the boy close to her body and the three moved as one into the rounded darkness of the tunnel that carved its way into the belly of the city. As they entered, a horrible whine followed by a chorus of howling shrilled them. They had no choice. They had to continue. And so it was that into The Kingdom of the Hound, they bid their chance.


three Marcos leapt over fallen branches and dragged his body through the slips in mashed leaves that draped across a cavern of bullish rocks, hosting himself in its womb; pulling his legs closer to his body so as to slow the escape of his breath. He had been running since his eyes had opened; running with his worn legs and running with his divorced thought; desperate to find some abode, someplace further from the alone he felt in his mind; the lightness of not knowing where he was or who he was and the un-nameable weight of the feel of The Woman’s soft lips still tingling against his skin when she had said her last goodbye and not knowing who she was. As he ran, the seriousness of his condition elevated itself to being the only thought playing to his conscious mind; a sudden flood of light, the cool touch of metal on his skin and the sight of two horrid looking things hovering over his body, salivating and cackling amongst themselves. His instinct had called him to run, to burst forwards and to dash in whatever direction would invite him. As he ran, he tripped and pulled himself back up and over and through and around a horde of obstacles, scanning his mind like a blank rolodex looking for any fact, any piece of evidence of what he had drawn, of what he had seen, of what he had known, to educate him as to who he was, where he was running to and what he was running from. He scanned his mind for any fact, any image or any memory at all but his conscious mind drew a blank. He was naked; attired only in fresh cuts and abrasions; the cool blood trickling down the back of his legs to his calves where it dried into a red scab under the intense heat. The sensation of not knowing the script left him at unease and with great fright. While he thought of his conscious absence, his level of 26

concern increased to a deafening blur, but in his moments of conscious disconnection; where his focus was etched in the flight of survival, he had felt nothing more than the force of his existence; his hunger to survive, touching the cool earth and thrusting forwards into the moist air as each foot slapped down hard on the soil and burst upwards, carrying him forwards and over the obstacles that begged upon his momentum. Now, as he lay foetal in a small crevice, covered by a splash of green; hidden from whatever monstrosity awoke him to this nightmare, spiders and insects made a mountain of his hunching frame, crawling all over his body and nesting in his hair. He stayed completely still; listening to the sounds of a million creepy crawlies all talking to one another, his conscious voice quieted. As he inhaled, he fell upon his own breath; carrying with it; inside his self to awake once more in a Famined delusion, inside his subconscious theatre. It was dark; pitch black with a ubiquitous grey cloud blocking out the light from the sky above. His skin longed for the fevered chill of stepping out into the morning air; escaping the confines of his dwelling and riding the wave of human electricity. This morning though, the steps onto which he stood were not his own and it was into the dank confines that he pressed; looking at an electronic reader in his palm to confirm the address and Investor’s name as he pushed through the revolving door and passed the security guard sleeping at his post. Beside him stood The Woman. She had in her hands a black briefcase and she wore black leather gloves. They made a particular sound when she tightened her fingers in the cold air that reminded Marcos of a time when he was a boy, when he went walking in the snow; a mix of crunching and squishing as his feet had pushed through the white cloud. That was sound he heard now as The Woman tensed her hand, squeezing the silver handle of the black briefcase and as she did so, he smiled to himself. Though he kept his face far from hers, she knew how much 27

this sound made him smile and it excited her to distract him. Marcos was the first to enter through the revolving door; his head held high, his hands busy applying a set of gloves, pulling them tight over his hands; pressing his fingers towards his palm one by one and watching as the fine black leather creased slightly then returned to a stellar darkness passing his reflection back at him through the shine it cast like duplicity on water’s edge. He paid no mind to the Industrialists scattering about left and right as he marched through the centre of the room looking longingly into his own stare and pulling his fingers down to his palm; one by one by one by one; over and over, thinking cruel thoughts. The Woman stepped in his shadow, carrying her briefcase and looking into the eyes of all and sundry. As they walked through the lobby and waited for the lift to arrive a young man approached the pair with a sense of curiosity and impeding fright attending his eyes. He reached out his trembling hand and pressed the small button to call the elevator, looking up at Marcos shyly, seeming guilty but merely overcome with awe, wanting so much to be like the man before him; dressed in black; eyes piercing; walking with the outcome of another man as his obligation. The elevator door opened and the young man followed by Marcos and The Woman entered. The young man quickly pressed seventeen then looked at Marcos adoringly. “Are you visiting the old man? Today is his special day isn’t it?” he said. Marcos said nothing. He kept his stare directed at the numbers above the door; changing their colour is ascending order. When they reached the seventeenth floor, the doors opened and Marcos lead The Woman out into the hall with the young man holding his foot in front of the sensor, watching indiscreetly as the two Collectors approached the last door at the end of the hall and knocked three times with a deafening pause between every strike. As they stood waiting, they could hear the sound of shuffling feet busy inside the apartment, moving to anywhere but the 28

door. Marcos lifted his gloved hand and knocked one more time. The shuffling stopped. He listened closely and could hear the sound of a rope tightening and then the taking of a last breath. He stepped backwards on his left foot and kicked the door down with his right. There, hanging from a light in front of the open veranda door was the old man on the seventeenth floor; Theodore, a rope pulling tight around his neck, his face burning red, his legs kicking wildly and his fingers stretching outwards as if his soul were expanding like hot air inside a balloon. His eyes turned up and back as if he were trying to peer over his shoulders; through the thick of his head. Marcos and The Woman entered calmly and walked up to the old man hanging from the light fixture and from her briefcase, The Woman took a long lustrous blade with a black leather handle of which she delicately yet tightly wound around her clenching hand and then up onto her wrist. All the while, the old man hanged from a light fixture, fighting his way into his own death, wishing to speed the process, suffering like a fish out of water as he thrashed about while The Collectors prettied themselves. Gravity ordered the old man to the floor and he gratefully obliged, landing in a crumpled heap as he twisted over himself, choking and gasping for air. His hands clutched at the rope that now married to the cavernous grooves in his neck,. ripping the slack noose free and now begging for life as The Woman stepped backwards with the swing of her blade and returned to the shadow of Marcos who once again was lost in his own reflection; his left hand held high to his sight; his right hand pulling down on the length of the glove; his fingers turning towards his palm; one after the other; the black glove dressing his hand like a second skin. “Why would you want to do something drastic like that?” said Marcos. “It wasn’t me” said The Investor on the floor between massive gasps of air. “Well, what was it then?” said Marcos staring at his folding. 29

fingers. “It was the suspense and then when I heard the three knocks… I don’t know what came over me” he said looking up at Marcos woefully. “Can you stand? Do you need assistance?” Marcos asked. “No sir I mean yes sir, I mean yes, I can stand sir. Are you, I mean, who are you? Are you The Collectors?” asked The Investor. “It entirely depends on your investment. Now, shall we commence the reading?” asked Marcos. The Investor nodded his head and shuffled his way across the room to a small sink and poured himself a glass of water. His throat was burning from where the rope had dug in and he almost choked on the mouthful of water as his throat seized when he tried to swallow. Water burst from his clenched teeth and a cycle of tears wept from his eyes as his whole being at that moment defined itself as sheer agonizing pain centered in one cavernous ring that was etched into his neck and buried in the back of his throat. “Water?” he said, holding a cup to Marcos and The Woman who remained unmoved in the centre of the room; Marcos straightening his glove once more, lost in his own reflection and The Woman; removing from her leather briefcase an assortment of documents, a finger reader, a red stamp and a small leather pouch of which she unzipped and carefully left open on the coffee table exposing an array of cruel looking metallic cutting and tightening instruments. “Theodore Edwin Black” said The Woman reading from a white document. “Yes mam” he said, shaking in his voice and visibly in his body; moving closer to The Woman, seemingly out of pure fright. “Mr Theodore, on the sixteenth month of your twenty fifth year, it is noted on record that you willingly gave your signature and your seed; extending your obligation and willfully participating in the Infantile Investment Scheme as according to article XT-416 of Industry Law. Is this your signature Mr Theodore?” said The 30

Woman turning the document. “Yes mam. That is my signature” The Investor said. His nerves settled somewhat, he; riding on his guest’s wave of implacability, grounded his conscious nerve and responded as necessary. “Mr Theodore, at the time of investment and signatory, you were made aware of all of your entitlements as subject to approval and change under Industry review and you were made aware of the procedural implications should your investment prove unsatisfactory during and beyond production stages. Do you accept this information as a truth?” she said. “Yes mam” he said. “I will brief before we examine your return. Mr Theodore, your entitlement weighs on the outcome of your investment. Should the quality of your investment fail to achieve notable or satisfactory results according to Industry standard, the value of your entitlement will fit to reflect the outcome of the product unto which you signed off. Mr Theodore, a full entitlement will reflect a return of 99% or greater affirmative decisions by your investment. In the case of such satisfactory results, your return will be subject to a full entitlement of fifteen years life extension. Mr Theodore, should your product prove unsatisfactory with a value of no greater than 88% affirmative decisions as according to Industry standard, your return will reflect a zero percent entitlement at which point Collectors will assess the extent of your poor investment and liquidate accordingly. Mr Theodore, do you disagree with any of what I have said?” “No mam. I understand, I agree, I mean, no mam, I do not disagree” said The Investor, submitting. “Please place your right index finger onto the panel” she said holding out a metal reader; a small circular device no larger than a bottle cap with a glass panel where the old man pressed his finger tip and below it, a red laser that scanned his digit quickly before a small needle shot out from between a tiny fracture in the panel and extracted a droplet of blood from the man’s fingertip. 31

He winced slightly when it happened; not from the prick or the taking of blood, but from the burn as the edges of his skin were cauterized before he retracted his finger like a snapping coil. Marcos stood, staring comatose at his four fingers as he pulled them towards his palm one by one with his right hand pulling at the base of his glove. He loved the sound of feet crushing through thick snow and he loved the feeling of leather pulled tight over his hand. It made him feel like he could empower himself to accomplish anything. The Woman placed the device near a small screen she had left next to the open leather pouch glistening under the fluorescent light inside the man’s apartment. The cold steel called for calamity and The Investor was unable to keep his eyes anywhere but on them; like a tongue to sore tooth or a fingernail to a scab. The screen dressing The Woman’s focus lit up with flashing lights and numbers; scores of numbers. Then, as the screen commenced beeping incessantly, The Investor started to feel panic once again creep over his rationale and though his legs were idle, they prepared to run. His eyes watched the blues, reds, oranges and yellows flash on the screen and he read not of the information; for the numbers and acronyms meant nothing to him, but he tried to read of the expression and the foreign language spoken by The Woman’s eyes as she flicked her finger over the screen passing through more and more information and creating an assumption that his impatient companion; suspense, could not bear. While he watched her eyes flicker under the light, his mind raced with escape. He envisioned behind him, the veranda door; open, with the curtains midway but fluttering like a butterfly’s wings as the cold morning breeze swept in through his high rise apartment that looked out over the expanse of The City. Just above and beyond the railing he imagined himself holding listlessly in the air; freer than the bind of fate would have him now; falling into the certainty of a self-attaining outcome; something beyond the reaching of any mortal man, something only dreamt about in the fearful 32

playing which accompanied the last minutes of one’s obligatory years as one always imagined only the worst of what could be. Fearful of being murdered, he dreamt of suicide. “Mr Theodore, please take a seat and we will commence. I have in my hands your official Industry contract. Do you accept as a truth what I have just said?” asked The Woman, holding a document to The Investor which she had just taken from where every contract stayed; in a metal binder hanging beside his front door. “Yes mam” said The Investor, still imagining the taking of his life but seeing now in every breath that escaped his sentence, the door of the veranda still open and the curtain still pulled midway and fluttering in the cold morning breeze but the image was retarding far way; far into the realm of the impossible. The Woman took the contract belonging to The Investor and ran a small scanner over a code at the bottom of the last page. The computer to her side blinked twice then beeped several times before a series of codes and numbers flashed upon the screen. The Investor was awash with panic as The Woman’s eyes twitched excitedly reading the information and generating in her mind a perception of which she would translate to him and determine his fate. “Mr Theodore Black, I will now read a list of transgressions, commonly referred to as, inapt decisions; on behalf of your investment. The period of activity will be hereby accepted as the product’s launch until current date. The investor will keep note that every transgression will carry a point value of which will be assigned at reading. A loss of thirty two points will result in immediate liquidation. Are you ready to proceed?” she said. “Yes mam” he replied. “Not you” she said, “Marcos, are you ready to proceed?” On the other side of The Investor; who was nervously peering into The Woman’s screen trying to guess his way into his outcome, Marcos stood still watching absently and hypnotically at his fingers moving towards his palms one by one as his right hand pulled down on the black leather glove. He lowered his hand to 33

his side and positioned himself behind The Investor; his hands together, hanging at the front of his body; his face looking every bit unloved but unquestionably involved. The Woman proceeded to run off a seemingly endless list of choices, actions and their outcomes of a man who wasn’t here but of whom was represented by a neat stack of papers sitting on a small coffee table between The Investor and his fate; that being, the beautiful woman with black hair cut to the nape of her neck and a lilac fringe that; as the wind rushed through the veranda door, swished about her face until it was that she took her normally slender finger now disguised in a black leather glove and pressed the lilac fringe behind her ear, casting the fluorescent light over the tender white skin that drew long across her breast bone. With every inapt decision, the man sank heftier into defeat and thinking of what horrible outcome he may walk into and the outcome he had been torn away from. As The Woman spoke, her voice broke into tiny droplets of water that ran down the pane of existence in front of his eyes and stained his reality. He couldn’t focus and started to drift in and out conscious abandon, imagining himself again rushing past the man in black behind him and dashing through the veranda door, taking the cream curtains with him; wrapped around his body as his arms swung wildly. And in his suicidal delusion, he cursed out to The Industry as he threw himself over the ledge and; not wanting to succumb to liquidation at the hands of these butchers, chose to obey the rule of gravity and fell abidingly and willingly into the pavement, smashing into a million molecules. That didn’t happen though. For even in his mind; as he imagined swinging his arms to push away the cream curtain, he wound up swept off his feet and rolled into a pathetic clump on the floor just before the railing. For a man like Theodore, it was just the way it was. The Industry was below his feet. The Industry was at the stretch of his hands. 34

The Industry was the bitter aftertaste scorching the back of his throat. The Industry was the scar on his leg that wouldn’t heal no matter what ointments he rubbed on it day after day. The Industry was his neighbour listening through his wall probably affecting the outcome of his own investment. The Industry was the sound he made in the morning as he abated the calling of death from his lungs. The Industry was the will that kept him alive long enough on the end of that rope to be cut free in time to face his trial. The Industry was the chip in his mind that fed him ideas and words and biddings. The Industry was his only companion in life and he couldn’t run away; in his body or in his mind. It deadened his legs and prostrated his thoughts and as the theatre of escape closed out of his mind, his focus returned again to The Woman, reading from a small screen; all the pieces of his outcome. “18th November; Product 118C-4876 participated in celebration outside of formal branding; two points” she said as the old man shook nervously counting backwards in his mind; now well past 99 sitting one or two inapt decisions away from liquidation. “The final transgression” she said, as a wave of adrenaline flooded through The Investor’s veins heavying his stomach. He thought about grabbing the glass from the table before him and washing this sickness away with cold water but he couldn’t move his arms. He still had a few points. He could still walk into a positive outcome; a return of six months to two years. Just one day would be enough. “Marcos, can you look at this please” she said, holding the screen towards him as he pushed The Investor to his left and leaned forward to read the information. A level of interest took to his eyes as he studied the numbers that had only just flashed on the screen moments before. “It’s just happened now. I haven’t seen this before. What do we do?” The Woman asked puzzled. 35

The Investor was more curious than concerned; maybe he should have been the latter. Marcos stood back and took something long and thin from his pocket. “The contract is live until maturity and until we close the contract; every action will be taken against the investment. Regard the action as live” Marcos said. “What does that mean? What happened? Did something happen? My investment? Is something wrong with my investment?” spoke The Investor worryingly. “25th December; 6pm..” “That’s today. That’s now. What? No wait; the day’s over, no you can’t accept that. No, I finished on sixty nine points” screamed The Investor, interrupting The Woman. Marcos punched him with a clenched fist in the centre of his head; the soft point beneath the round of the skull. The old man dropped to his knees drawing blank for a second and then coming back into his sight. The Woman, looking displeased at being spoken over, continued her delivery. “25th December; 6pm; Product 118C-4876 encountered investor Mr Theodore Edwin Black in said investor’s residence. Encounterance. Breach of Industry privacy protocol. One hundred points. Void” she said coldly. Panic filled the man’s eyes as if it were water seeping into the headlights of an old car; wrecked in a sea of depression, weighed down by its galling disappointment. “Please no. What does that mean? I haven’t met with anyone. I have no friends. I have no woman anymore. Look around. This is the life of a solitary man. I have no visitors, no guests. This is impossible. I keep no company at work, I pass no gratitude or solicitude on the street. I committed wholly to my obligation. I served my time. I did what was right. I spoke to nobody” he cried out in vain. Marcos released his eyes from the lure of his changing fingers, reaching for the contract in The Woman’s hands and looking with astute eyes over the finer details. As he read the information 36

on the contract, The Investor turned himself pityingly, swiveling his body and cupping his hands, citing The Industry Prayer in his mind and in a murmur loud enough for the two Collectors to hear. “I am what I do, I am what I’ve seen, I am what I have, I am where I’ve been” he sang over and over in a muddled desperate tone. “Can we date this?” Marcos asked to The Woman. “It’s there on the contract. It has today’s date” she said. “And you’re sure nobody visited you today” he said to the old man. “Nobody, I swear. You are the only Industrialists I have spoken to. You’re the only Industrialists to knock on my door, ever” he said. “What about your network?” asked The Woman. “They’re just online. That can’t count, can it?” he asked. “It wasn’t online. The contract is specific. On this day you encountered your product. This is a strict violation. The product and the investor must never be in one another’s possession” said Marcos. “Marcos, come here” said The Woman estranged. Marcos looked over The Woman’s shoulder and stood back semi aghast; befriended by the improbable. “You’re kidding me, right? What are the odds of that?” he asked. “What, what is it?” asked The Investor shakily. “Is it right?” he asked. “It’s right Marcos. He’s your investor” said The Woman dismayed. “You’re my product. Are you fucking joking? Are you fucking kidding me? No, that’s not fair. No, please. That’s not my fault. They sent you. The Industry sent you. It’s not my fault. I had to let you in. Wait, I didn’t let you in. You broke in. You broke in. It’s not my fault. Make a note, tell them. Fucking ring someone. Please. This is your mistake” he pleaded. “Shut up” the two Collectors said in unison. 37

“How did this happen?” asked Marcos to The Woman. “I don’t know. There was a glitch somewhere I guess. The work order seems intact. It’s been signed off officially. The system can’t see the error. I mean, the system is reading the error. It knows you’re here but it didn’t pick up on anything when the work order was printed. Holy shit. You realize how rare this is? This has never happened before. This is amazing. I mean, like you said; what are the odds? In a city of one billion Industrialists, what are the odds? Wow this is incredible” said The Woman ecstatically. “Do we call it in? Does this contravene any regulation? I read nothing about this situation in my training” said Marcos. “There’s nothing to call in Marcos. The contract is void. We have to liquidate the investor” she said coldly. “Where’s the manual?” asked Marcos. The Woman passed him her handheld device and he opened The Collection Manual; his guide on the regulatory for approving contract extensions or contract liquidation. “If I had of let you in when you first knocked. If I didn’t try to kill myself, this would be over, we would have finished; this would have affected nothing. Please, The Industry doesn’t have to know. We can say we got distracted, that you dropped your stamp. I was excited, I hugged you and you dropped your stamp. We can say that. We can. They won’t know. The Industry won’t know. The industry won’t know” he cried out. “The Industry will know. The Industry already knows” The Woman said. ‘If I let you go then I am contravening Industry regulation. This is account to treason, do you understand? If I do this, The Industry will return in seconds and torture you. You will die agonizingly and slowly. That is not how you want to end your obligation” said Marcos sternly. “There has to be something. You said yourself. It’s never happened before. Maybe there will be some intervention. If we show them the mistake…” “The Industry doesn’t make mistakes” said The Woman 38

picking through some cruel looking instruments that sat before her on the table. “Wait. Look at this. If a product should save the life of another, its investor is granted full term extension; all transgressions are voided. We saved him. That’s it. Punch in this code” he said repeating a set of numbers to The Woman who obliged and typed the numbers. The Investor looked to Marcos smiling and pulled on his leg like a hungry dog. He looked to The Woman but she was machine like, no different from any of the devices he had spent his life slaving over. As she looked at her screen and waited for the system to compute the code, her left hand strummed the sharp cutting tools and silver wires in the leather pouch on the table. The Investor watched as she callously fondled the cruel instruments; loving them in front of him obdurately. The machine beeped several times and the old man’s heart skipped a beat as The Woman smiled to herself. “Did it work? Do I get my extension? He saved my life, he did, he did. I was going to kill myself and he saved me. He saved me. Oh my god, you saved me. That’s incredible. If I let you in, I wouldn’t get this chance. If I didn’t try to kill myself, I wouldn’t be alive. I owe my life to you and to suicide. You saved me” The Investor said gleefully. “He didn’t save you” said The Woman. “What?” said Marcos and The Investor together. “I saved him. You, Marcos, were watching the turn of your fingers in your hand. I cut him down. I saved him” she said. “What does that mean?” asked The Investor. “It means your contract is still void. Your product didn’t save a life. He has never saved a life, only taken them away and today, he didn’t save yours, I did. If he had of cut you down, maybe we could intervene. But he didn’t cut the cord” she said. “But they don’t have to know” said The Investor. “I made the choice to cut you down. The chip in my mind 39

recorded that choice. They knew the moment before I swung the blade, before the splitting of the first minute fiber” said The Woman. “Please, you have to do something. I’m your investor. Without me..” “There would always be an investor. If it weren’t you then it would be someone else. It is always someone else. His only ties to you are the choices he makes. The Industry is his father” said The Woman. “Then isn’t this a choice? Doesn’t he have to consider my right in this choice?” asked The Investor. “What serves you is what serves The Industry; adherence to rule. What you want right now, it contravenes what you believe. That’s not what you want. You are The Industry, The Industry is you. What is best for The Industry is best for you and that alone is all that you should want” she said. “How can you be so cold? I’m going to die. I don’t want to die” he said. “I found you hanging from a ceiling fan with your belt around your neck. You have a funny way of embracing life” said The Woman. “Please. Marcos, yes? Marcos, I signed on your life. Please. You can set a precedent. You can change the world. We can” pleaded The Investor. “The Industry doesn’t make mistakes” Marcos said, though; as the words fell from his mouth, he felt strange to the truth in their meaning. “No” screamed The Investor. “Mr Theodore Edwin Black. Your contract is hereby void. Your investment value has been zeroed as of 6pm this evening. Your product committed an Industry offense. ‘Encounterance’ is a crime punishable by death; televised death of the investor. If you would please” Marcos said, nodding to The Woman and instructing her to take the small camera form her leather bag and start filming. As she turned on the device, all the screens in the old man’s 40

house turned on simultaneously and outside his apartment, his disgraceful image along with the action by his product was displayed on every building, on every bus, and on every handheld device in The City. The Investor; Theodore, was a blubbering mess, watching his own fate play out on his favourite channel. “Please you can’t kill me, please. I did so much in my life. I worked so hard. I made every right decision. I dedicated my life to this fucking city. You can’t do this. It’s not fair” he screamed; saliva spraying on the lens of the camera with the Industrialists, about in their day, watching the drama unfold, all booing and hissing as the image lost its clarity and mocking the man in the throes of despondent conjuration; shedding tears to summon a grace of humanity; wishing for something that in this age, did not exist. “What about the man I saved? I saved a man’s life. He would have died without me. I saved an Industry life. That must deserve something” he cried. “Your investor was rewarded accordingly for your servitude to The Industry. You are not responsible for your own actions. Your product determines your outcome. This is the nature of all things. You are responsible for what you produce. A tree is solemnly known by its fruit. Mr Theodore Edwin Black do you accept these conditions?” said Marcos, standing over him like a storm cloud creeping up on a summer’s day. “Yes” he said reluctantly as Marcos stepped forward, tying the glistening cord around his neck tightly and pulling his arms back around The Investor’s head; firm against his body. The Investor gripped at the cord pulling around his neck but he soon lost any strength to pick at the wire. His body fell limp in a matter of seconds. For The Investor on his retirement; what felt like a lifetime, suffocating for a second time was to the Industrialists; watching on their handheld devices and on the screens throughout the city, too short for their liking. He simply hadn’t suffered enough. As The Investor’s arms went limp, Marcos unwound the cord and let his body drop to the floor. The Woman packed away 41

the camera and her assortment of tools while Marcos returned to a hypnotized glare, watching his fingers pull towards the palm of his hands, one by one. “Marcos” The Woman said, but he didn’t respond, he was drifting further from himself; far from the reality he knew and into a strange absence from self and into a burdening sense of immediacy. “Marcos” she said again. But he was gone and as his index finger pulled down towards the palm of his hand, he retreated from his body and woke again; adrift in amnesic waters and completely absent of his bearings, hunched over his trembling knees and griping the soles of feet. He awoke from his delusion in a small crevice, hidden by the shade of canopy that covered the rocks abounding him as that strange burning light continued to devastate his eyes and seer his skin. “What the fuck was that?” he said out loud, his breath racing ahead of his words; sweat dripping from his brow and running down along the ridge on his nose and seeping into the cracks of his worn grimace. He looked around sharply and with bridging stress. A new heaviness sank into his stomach, churning his blood and cementing his mind. He was waking into his black spot, becoming a heavy emotion but still now, under the glare of a red hot sun, so far removed from his own reflection. “Am I that man? Is that what I am running to, or is that what I am running from?” he thought. “I have to find that woman. She will know who I am. She’ll help me remember” he said to his own shadow stretching out from his imprint in the sand. Marcos had fought The Famine for so long, keeping it housed and domesticated and feeding it what it needed to remain subservient; information, ideas and slight truths. ‘Name your disease, contain your disease’ had been his approach; to keep as close as possible to the conscious fever and Famine so as to keep it from creeping up on his self and losing whatever slim chance he had at 42

rebuilding the blocks of society, finding the empathy gene and saving mankind from the ironic effect of its own promise. But now, under an amnesic veil; unknowing of his own identity, the very memories he once willed into repression seemed so inviting to someone found shipwrecked in self abandon with no conscious bearings of ‘I am’. The Famine was no longer a threat, it was his compass. It was a tool that he could use to gauge his subconscious and remember. In his hands he gripped a shiny silver blade. There was dried blood on the tip. He looked over himself and saw a large cut against his leg. It was a clean and deep cut and the wound sat open in the morning heat, the muscle exposed; no more blood than on the tip of the blade, just a small dried trickle running down his thigh that tightened against his skin whenever he stretched. And then he became conscious to the only memory he could remember having lived, having created; those things on his trail; whatever they were, their flight would not have left him. He knew he couldn’t wait here but not knowing who he was or how he got here meant he had no idea if he was running in the right or wrong direction. He thought about the delusion for a moment. “Every choice is the right choice as long as I will myself to choose, but the outcome is not mine to celebrate or to mourn.” With that faith, he leapt from his sanctuary and back out into the morning sun and onto the path that was clear only for one’s feet but of which was married to a mount of obstacles slowing his pace to that of the monsters on his trail.


four The Behemoth held the girl in his arms as they crossed over the tracks and passed the first building they had seen in what felt like days but had only been the better part of the morning. They had been walking for hours without as much as a moment to contemplate the growing dissention in their limbs. The Woman ached horrendously; her knees wobbling as she planted every step onto the hot sand. She could feel the cartilage clicking in and out place and with every meter, the skin on her feet; blistered and sweating, peeled further from its settings; the sand sneaking into the thin strips of leather covering her feet and filling the open wounds and then tearing the skin, sending searing pain through her nerves every time her toes touched. When they crossed the tracks they came across a row of small covered huts tied together and the space between, kept cool by a sheet of tarpaulin that stretched up into the air blocking out the unusual sight; the blazing afternoon sun setting fire to a clear blue sky. The Behemoth and The Woman walked gradually into the shade with the girl secure in the man’s arms completely unsure of what to expect. Nobody had ever been out this far; beyond the station and into the desert realm. “Say nothing. Maintain your focus. Keep whatever rhyme you can in your head; whatever you need to stay At One. The Famine here is strong, it travels in the wind. I have no idea what condition these humans are in. But for your sake, stay close, stay focused, respond to no question, return no glance, offer not a flinch of your concentration or of your conscious being. This goes for you too girl. We are all getting on that boat” said The Behemoth in a low gruff as they pulled under the shade and stopped by the first stall. Safrine buried her head into The Behemoth’s chest not wanting to see whatever danger might be sensing her distress. 44

The Woman pulled close to The Behemoth. She didn’t trust him in the slightest. She knew she was only alive because of the girl and the girl, because of the boy and the boy because somehow he had outwitted this gargantuan monster; this cold mechanical human whose only thought was of himself on a boat heading to god knows where. She wanted to kill him right then and there and she could. She could kick out the back of his legs, sending him crashing backwards to the ground then kick the back of his neck, sending him forwards so that he smacked his face clean in the dirt, then she could stamp him repeatedly on the back of his head, breaking his nose, shattering his eye sockets and eventually turning off his brain. It would be so easy and the girl wouldn’t get hurt. She would fall to the ground but the scratches would heal and The Woman would take her in her arms, lift her strong to her breast, step over the dead Behemoth and then what? What was she going to do? She had no idea where they were or of what terrible company they kept. The Woman saw an opportunity pass. She let it go, but she dreamt of it for a second; embarking in the splendor of liberation. But she needed him and so she held close to his body and shaded herself in his mass as they edged slowly along the dusted path. The three stopped in the middle of two stalls to their left and to their right. The air was dry and scorching even in the shade. Their mouths were parched but thirst was low on their list of concerns. The girl kept her eyes closed; her head pinned to The Behemoth’s chest, her hands shaking with fear, and her legs digging into his opposite hip. The Woman looked dead ahead, trying to visualize the orange hue of the Forever New Dawn but her concentration kept slipping. The Behemoth looked forwards but his peripheral eyes scanned left and right waiting, like a rat hovering above a piece of cheese, for something to come crushing down. But nothing came. 45

“Take the girl” he said, passing the frightened and terrified Safrine to The Woman. The girl dug her claws into The Behemoth’s shoulders and then into his chest, unwilling to release herself from the security of his bulking stature. She didn’t like him but she felt safer in his arms and she squealed as he peeled her off like an old sticker and passed her over to The Woman who held her close to her breast. The Behemoth moved first, leaving the two and entering the first stall to his left. He lifted first the tarpaulin that covered the front of the stall but underneath, there was just the other side and with it came a sense of relief and at the same time, mild dread for it was undeniable that something was surely there. His stomach warned him passionately and sang of Occam’s razor. He would have loved to have killed the suspense and whatever it was that was suspending said suspense. He willed it out in the open. “Show yourself ” he thought as his heart beat faster with every breath that escaped his mouth. Adrenaline dripped into his veins and his mind starting to race; to losing its calm and losing its direction. He focused on his breathing and tried desperately to slow his heart and keep his state of one. He lowered the tarpaulin and stepped slowly over the table and into the stall. At the back of the stall there was a table that had several sets of cans piled one on top of the other. Behind the table was a board and tied to it by yellow ribbons were scores of teddy bears and plastic dolls. Everything was in mint condition as if the world hadn’t stopped a decade before. There was a long stick on the ground by his side with a metal hook at the end. He reached for it quickly and held it in his calloused left hand, using it to lift pieces of cloth and tarpaulin from above and around objects within the stall. With his right hand he maintained a striking pose ready to thrust into the throat of whatever man jumped to his sight. He wished that whatever he knew and felt was watching him creepily, 46

was actually a man though his mind invented much worse. He crept towards the corner of the stall where an old wooden box pressed against a wooden frame that hanged a horde of bald headed, one eyed plastic dolls. His hands started to sweat. He gripped the pole tight latching the hook on the small lock at the front of the box. He leaned down closer to the object and slowly lifted his arm. The creaking hinges scuttled into his ears as a cold shiver ran his spine. As he leaned closer, the hole snapped. He jumped backwards. The lid crashed shut. The pole dropped to the ground, clanking loudly. And the girl screamed. The Woman hushed her and The Behemoth lost a breath. They all stood still for a moment. The Woman didn’t know what to do. She felt like she was standing on a mine and any movement whatsoever would set off a massive explosion. The Behemoth leaned closer to the box and lifted the metal flap with his finger pinching tightly against the plate. The metal creaked again as the old rusted hinges turned slowly and violently, murdering the silence that had brought them a cocktail of calm and fright. The lid lifted slowly as he pulled his hand higher, pulling himself closer to the box with every inch. The worn metal screamed into his ears. He threw the lid backwards and fell back against the table as scores of rats scurried out of the box and ran up the length of his body. He fell onto the ground swinging left and right, waving his arms about in the air trying to shake the vermin off. They bit into his chest, at his neck, on his arms, at the back of his hands and just under his eye. He screamed out loud; “Help me, get them off me,” rolling around the ground trying to tear them from his face and body but it was no use; they clung to his hands and dug their filthy teeth into his palms. With every swing of his arm, their teeth sank further into his skin. He swung wildly, left and right and left and right again until 47

finally they started to tear away, taking chunks of skin with them. For every rat he ripped from his skin, ten more came running and latched themselves to his monolithic frame. “Hel…” he said choking; unable to get more words out as a rat latched onto his tongue while another crawled into his mouth and gnawed at the back of his throat. The Woman held the girl close to her breast and edged towards the table. “No, no, please, stay here, please” pleaded Safrine. “It’s ok, I won’t leave you. You’re safe with me” said The Woman resting her hip against the table, leaning her body slowly to the left; her sight pulling over the blue tarpaulin and catching sight of The Behemoth rolling around the floor and screaming in agony. His arms thrust this way and that; his legs beating up and down like an Olympic swimmer kicking out of a turn and his head beat hard against the pavement. But there was nothing on him. There were no rats. The Woman put Safrine on the ground; the girl ripping at her dress desperate to not be left alone, not again. “Please, just give me a second” The Woman said abruptly, overwhelmed by the stress of it all. The small girl kicked and screamed but stood abiding and understanding; alone by the side of the stall as The Woman entered quickly and then vanished from sight.


five A cold draft rushed through the darkness like a torrent of water rolling down an open dam into a tiny channel and onwards towards a small insignificant sleeping town below. It hit hard and its force knocked them back slightly but its volume and its chill stopped them from continuing on their path and had them low to the ground, pinning their ears and pressing their bodies against each other to feed on the passing of a minute’s warmth from body to body like the whispering of a blatant lie from mouth to mouth and believing it, only as long as it fell from your tongue and tickled your ear but always having to keep the lie moving to maintain that friction; the patronage of being busy; skin against skin, lie after lie. “I am warm, I am warm, I am warm” the lie says. When the torrent of air lessened and eventually silenced, the three maintained their huddle but tuned their failing sight and their frozen stinging ears to their immediate abounds. Everything was pitch black; even Ruff was of little use in this environment. Whatever stood in the darker dark would be able to see them slowly creeping along the ground, painfully making their way into their waiting snare. Eve listened through the stillness, not with her ears or eyes, but with her heart. To see, she was just like any man. In the light of day, in the midst of a clear sky, swimming in clean air her sense of sight was arguably suitable, but it was nothing to the eagle soaring above, high up in the darker blue of the sky watching from the incline of its descent at its lunch scurrying about in sensory ignorance, content in the limitations of its own senses as being the probable extensions of its fear, unknowing that its self was magnified in the spectrum of a prey; idly counting the passing of time. Eve wasn’t stupid. She knew she was the mouse. She couldn’t see the eagle’s 49

eyes peering down from the heavens and she couldn’t hear the flapping of its wings as it beat on the cool air flowing under its body like salmon skimming above the rush of a passing current. But unlike the mouse to the eagle or the fly unto the cat; she could feel eyes dressing her; rubbing against her, warming its hunger against the fine hairs of her skin. She could sense something further out in the dark, but a far that was further from their reaching; something watching them. She could feel its heavy breath in the tiny shifts of air that passed over them as they huddled on the ground, feeling the shift in the volume of air like feeling waves of tiny ripples of water lapping against her body; hearing no sound as if someone or something in the distance were dropping a thousand grains of sand; one by one into a pond and in the middle she sat; blind, but feeling every single grain slap against the water’s surface before sinking to the earth below and though seemingly insignificant; the dance of molecular entanglement sounded as the echo of a beating drum, falling slowly more silent but none so loud as the reverberation in one’s conscious mind, knowing that a drum had been beaten, knowing that something had entered the water and knowing that something that was not them was breathing the same air and occupying the same dark space that now confounded them. “There is a human ahead of us. It is a child, like yourself. He has been running. Its breath is rapid but not profound. Its lungs are overcome with fright. It’s watching us. Move slowly against the skin of the wall. Don’t break your momentum. We are the threat; think that in your mind. Be the threat” said Eve, whispering profoundly into Donal’s ears. The boy, as much as he hated The Nest, referred to their teaching repeating in his mind; “Be one, be war, be a fist, be the threat.” His mind attained focus. The folds in his veins seemed to straighten out like a gust of air filling a long balloon as his blood warmed and primed with the fuel of confidence; an acceptable state of being. 50

Ruff held close to Donal, always being one hair away from winding up under his feet and sending the two tumbling over to the wet floor. They moved along the edge of the wall where the ground was firm; staying off the metal tracks and wooden beams that layered one after the other like the neck of a guitar that forever stretched out into eternity, never reaching zero; fractals of music, dividing the oscillation of existence into one billionth of eternity. They stayed off the piles of rocks that covered the tracks and flowed out the sides. No secret would dance with them on such a stirring floor. They crept forward with Eve at the front, feeling the shift in the wind against the fine hairs on her arms as her brain communicated the distance of the grains falling into the water. They edged step after step, inch after inch; their shoes shuffling over the concrete, Donal’s toes pushing against her heels, his hands tied to her hips and the tiny matted dog; constantly putting himself under the boy’s falling foot, being pushed and stepped on and prodded but wanting to be nowhere else as they moved along the wall, guided by the untrustworthy girl’s keen sense. Then suddenly… They stopped in a flash as a red circle lit up the dark and all three dived to the floor clinging to the wall trying to keep out of sight. “Help me please” a small voice cried out as the silence was tapped by the crunching of rocks as tiny feet leapt out from their solace and pounded against the ground. One foot after the other, the spirit of self-preservation drove the boy’s feet into the loose rocks and thrust him upwards so his knees pulled high against his body while his hands clenched as fists as he ran through the red light and came crashing to the floor; his feet catching on something small and coming out from under the weight of his moving body. Ruff tumbled about under the twist of the boy’s legs. He didn’t yelp. His instinct still held him to dumbness fairing to 51

bombard his subconscious state with aboding fear and urgency than to invite the hounds to his immediacy. He rolled on his back; swinging back and forth trying to get onto his belly so as to scurry back between the legs of Donal. The boy fell to the floor and quickly pulled his knees back to his chest and then slid the soles of his feet back onto the cold concrete, ready to continue his flight. In the distance they could hear snorting and roaring; horrible breathing like a devil with a head cold and the stampeding of hooves against shifting rock and solid concrete. The boy grabbed onto Donal. “You have to run. They’ll get you. The queen; she makes a bath of everyone. You have to run. Run. Please run with me. I don’t want them to drain me too” he cried, dropping his hands from Donal’s shirt. He turned into the red light and ran, one foot after the other; ignoring the physical pain that would on any given day, revert one to a stance of tears in desperation of wanted consolation. He ignored the sharp stabbing sensations in his limbs and he ran as only a child who had seen the reflection of death would run; very, very fast. His brain pumped an intoxicating mix of endorphin and nor adrenalin; one to dull the pain, the other to fuel is necessary drive, pushing his legs one after the other, helping him lift his bloodied knees high against his body. The lift and drive guided him further and faster away from the snorting and stampeding that sounded heavier than a grain of sand falling into a pond; this was like an avalanche rushing into a bathtub. The wave of air rushing past Eve’s senses pulled her to the floor, grabbing Donal and the matted dog and pulling them both close to her breast. She folded her body over theirs, exposing only the crux of her spine to the open air and the stampeding that; from the darkness; broke its way into the red light. Eve kept her head low bracing for an impact. In her mind she thought; “I am a mountain, I am unmovable. My form is 52

unbreakable and what is at my core cannot be touched.” The atoms and particles at the core of her molecules and in the threads of her skin, listened, felt the order and changed their complexion. Her body looked the same, but it hardened; it moulded around the trembling boy and dog at her centre and it fixed to the earth; entrenched, magnetized, permanent. “Please god” screamed the young boy as he looked only to his front, knowing too well what played in his shadow. From the dark and now stampeding through the red light; a sounder of boars; all drooling in delight as they rounded the bend in the tunnel and fed by the stretching red light, hounded on the boy’s scent and the sound of his feet, crushing against the rocks. Gravel spat through the still air as the sounder’s hooves tore through the cement like a child through the colourful wrapping of a birthday present. Through the middle of the sounder came a lone boar, his razor like tusks cutting the peace in the air as the want in its belly perforated through its deep snort as it knocked over the sows and young males, its mammoth body heaving through the air, breaking the sounder in two. Its hooves smacked against the rocks and drove towards the boy who screamed as he tripped over his misdirected step, rolling over himself onto the floor; cutting his skin against rocks. The giant boar gnashed at his body, digging its tusks under his stomach and thrusting upwards, tossing the boy like a wet rag through the air, his body crashing down on the earth so that his head smacked against the wooden frets lining the tracks. The sounder continued running through the red light. Their stampeding was deafening in Donal’s ears but he felt nothing as their bodies pounded into and bounced away from Eve’s molecular compound. She maintained her focus; “I am a mountain” she kept saying to herself calmly, and the atoms and particles dancing about her quantum string; agreed. The massive boar prodded the boy’s body; toying with it, tenderizing its supper. It dug its tusks into the boy’s flesh; the meat 53

at his exposed belly and it thrust his limp body up into the air again while gravity brought the boy back down onto the boar’s sharp tusks, piercing his back and severing his spine. The boy was now conscious but unable to move. He couldn’t shift his legs to run and he couldn’t twist a finger to cover his eyes. He lay in a crumpled mess at the boar’s hooves, blinking, not at the beast, but at something through the break in the sounder; someone or something in the glow of red. The sound of wheels turning filled the air and almost drowned out the thirsted breath of the beastly boar, salivating on the young boy’s milky skin. “He did get far, didn’t he? Very good indeed. Just wonderful. I do love a good hunt. I especially love when the game embraces the spirit of chase. Bring him back to the temple. We’ll have his bones for supper. Guards, bring me the two humans who hide by the shadows and the whiny mutt who dares enter my kingdom unannounced. Take me back to my throne.” The servant dogs pulling her sled turned back towards the darkness and took their queen back into the heart of their kingdom. Eve held onto Donal tightly. She heard loud barking but nothing else. She could feel the breath of a hundred dogs surrounding her and she lifted her stare and was no longer a mountain; she was a scared human. In front of them stood an army of pit-bull; led a single Doberman who stared down the two humans; Donal and Eve and looked pitifully at Ruff, the small matted dog, cowering by the boy’s feet. “Arrest them. As for the hunt, take the wounded back to the surgeon. The queen must have her bath” said the Doberman Guard. The boar dug its tusks under the boy’s limp body and carried the game back through the length of the tunnel where the hunt had come to an end; so much further than any game had ever gotten before. The pit-bulls surrounded the three hiding in the shadows and urged them onwards, through the tunnel, past the play of red 54

light, into the stretching darkness and onwards towards The Kingdom of the Hound as they; suffocating under the weight of their fear, were now prisoners of The Bitch Queen.


six There was a crackling under Marcos’ feet and then an odd swishing sound as a gust of air brushed past his ankles and his legs lifted from under him; folding against his body like the legs of a stroller. He thrust upwards then towards and through the thick canopy, smacking his head against bullish branches that stuck out like a giant’s arm, lathering his skin with the sticky white webs of colourful spiders as upwards he went, so quick and like a flash, careening like a rocket into the sticky morning air. His breath shuttled direct to his gut as his conscious state defused; dancing with shock, surprise and disbelief. In the upward inflection, his thought fell away from his current absence of self and he landed with a thud inside a dream; again awake inside the repression of his mind, in the body of a man. He woke in a delusional memory unbeknownst to him of which he had; for an eternity, pleased to keep blind and mute. There he stood, staring out through his eyes at a woman who looked upon him with affection. It was her again, but this time she seemed more humane, less directed. She seemed delicate and dangerous, as a woman could be. There were no cold eyes. Instead, she stood before him; her naked body and welcoming his wanting stare as the dim light snuck out from the folds in her arms, slipping over her tender skin. Sexuality was her voice and Marcos stood speechless, forgetting of the murder of his own self and the thoughts of faithlessness that had been corralling in his mind. As she slowly crept towards him; slithering from the light with her slender fingers outstretched, the shadows embraced the round of her breasts and the cold hand of the dark pressed upon her entire body as she coiled herself around her lover’s body. He was so tense, fraught with some negation in his mind, something 56

of which he kept entirely to himself. As her soft wet lips touched his; a spark ignited in his mind; a small fire that would build to a raging inferno as Marcos and The Woman made love under a dressing of shadows in a half dim light and as their bodies melted in a torrent of passion, his mind burned and a rage ignited the gasoline in his veins. He felt less like a man and more like an engine. It was all so procedure like. In and out, in and out, like a piston. He lifted himself from the pull of her body watching her face as she writhed under him and as he looked at the pained expression on her face, followed by the smile that shone so bright; he felt trapped. “That must be it then” he thought, “I am in love.” He returned himself to her body but his mind wandered farther than he cared to be. He thought of everything other than gentle touch of his lover’s body as she writhed below him in ecstasy. “I feel wrong” he said. “What are you talking about? Shut up and fuck me” she moaned. Marcos pulled away from The Woman and sat pensive on the end of the bed; his desire slipping through a crack in his consciousness. The Woman pulled the sheets to her body angrily, exhaling in great volume, her dissatisfaction at her lover’s destitute affection. Neither spoke for a moment; he adrift in an uncommon disillusion and she completely absorbed by rage; entrapped in negation for this new state of being by her lover. “Don’t you want to know what’s wrong?” said Marcos. “No. I know what’s wrong. You don’t want me. You’re bored” she said. “What? This is not about you. Why do you have to make this about yourself ?” he questioned. “Oh so now it’s my fault. It’s my fault you don’t fuck me right. It’s my fault you think I’m ugly” she said. “I don’t think you’re ugly. I want you, I do. I don’t fuck you right, what?” he said. “Then why did you stop? Why do you want to make me feel 57

like a whore?” she said. “I’m sorry. I was thinking. I got distracted” he said. “You’re thinking about someone else while you’re with me. I knew it. Who is she?” she said rightly. “It’s not that. I just, I can’t stop thinking about my investor” he said. “Oh, that’s better. You’re thinking about a dead old man while you’re making love to me? What’s wrong with you Marcos? What’s wrong with me? Did I do something? It’s always my fault, isn’t it?” she said in a teary defeatist tone, sulking to herself as she slipped into her clothes and left Marcos to himself on the edge of the bed. Marcos sat with the image of the old man before him on his knees begging for his life. If The Industry didn’t make mistakes then why would it put him in that room? The Investor didn’t deserve that end. He didn’t deserve that fate and Marcos too, should not have been dealt that hand. Never before had he dealt with a feeling such as this; questioning his own choices; questioning The Industry; questioning his faith. Nothing about this seemed fair but he knew that the rule of right and wrong must be maintained within the theatre of chance, regardless of how he felt. “All we know is what we have been told. What the Industry says is true. What if what we were told was not exactly honest?” he asked. “What is honest Marcos? You have to accept one truth to believe in one lie. All things can be one or the other; it doesn’t mean that they are one or the other, just what they can be. I can change the order of things and swap the names like a wardrobe, but it doesn’t change my direction. It is honest as long as we accept it as a truth and what fact do you have except for a bug in your stomach to paint a different picture?” she said. “Just a feeling” he said. “A feeling without fact?” she asked. “The feeling is the fact. Nobody has ever lived what we lived. No 58

product has ever actually contemplated Encounterance. The idea is absurd and as for a Collector having to liquidate their own Investor; having their obligation to their faith serve as the pastor of their sin, no Industrialist should ever have to comprehend this cruelty of chance. I had to kill my Investor. My test of my faith was to liquidate everything I believed in. What do I have now? What is existence without purpose and what is my purpose without the outcome of my decisions? What should I feel if this fact has never been felt before? This wrong that has bedded in my stomach since that day, it has been changing me. My faith is dead” he declared. “There is logic to this Marcos. You have met with a new truth that you do not understand. Now, you are in negation. This feeling you have is just from an absence of information. We will speak to The Librarians in the morning and I’m sure they will have a record of this probability; this type of event and they will grant you normality. Once you get the information, that bug in your stomach will disappear. You’re not changing Marcos. We don’t change without dictation” she said. “You’re probably right” he said in passive acceptance. The Woman tip toed out of the shadows; her long slender fingers pulling the fine thread of silk from the milky white of her shoulders, pulling the thread down so that it pressed against the bend in her arm; dropping the dress to the floor as her arms lowered. Her naked body shimmered in the dull play of light as shadows crept across her breasts and down between the length of her thighs. A gentle warmth overcame Marcos and he felt stupid and in love once again; his desires flooding the conscious vacuity that had given rise to a questioning of faith. The Woman walked to where her lover sat and she no longer felt invisible in his eyes. “I want to invest” she said; the words sinking into his thoughts and seeming perfect and true as she writhed on his body; her arms encircled around his neck; her eyes making love to his. He thought of nothing. He abandoned his indecision and the feeling in his stomach. 59

Instead, he became his rising sexuality; he became his lust and desire; outside of reason, deep inside of her. And as he planted his faithless seed, a stinging open wound on his leg woke Marcos to his conscious real state, curled against himself; a prisoner high into the canopy of the forest with a net enveloping his body, tied off somewhere higher than from where he could reach. He had been made a prisoner, taken high into the air and left dangling, caught in a web of suspicion, waiting for the spider to sense his trepidation. He looked to his ankle and a small trickle of blood flowed down his foot onto the net and dropped far from his perch, falling down to the earth wherever that might be, somewhere below his swing of captivity. He stayed still, engorged in the emotion that had swept over him during his delusion. He felt overwhelmed, but also, like he could accomplish anything, as if he had discovered some way to extend his stride, to carry him further than the tiny steps of his thoughts ever could. His delusion was taking hold. The wall he had built in his mind was collapsing and he was tearing at the foundation with his finger-tips, desperate to see what part of himself was kept prisoner on the other side. ‘She is the one. I need to focus on her’ he thought to himself, trying to clear his mind into a white canvas. He knew he was travelling into dream, something that had been but from where he was now, something that had been a long time ago and he thought to himself, “This is obviously someplace I need to get back to.” The Woman was vitality; she was the key to filling the void in his conscious self. The stains of his past were now seeping through into his conscious being and taking hold of his reigns. It was like trying to hold back a tidal wave with a single tissue. His subconscious was becoming more greatly unstuck and fed by The Famine that now took its hold, being a force that he 60

could not contain and one; as he fought to define his identity, he wouldn’t want to reserve. “I need to know more” he thought, but how could he do that? He tried to will his thoughts to return to whence they came but there was nothing. He tried to paint the image he had just seen but everything fell apart in the construct of his mind. It was like trying to paint on a waterfall. Every stroke washed away from his conscious being. He couldn’t piece anything together but he knew his link to understanding who he was, who she was, where he was and what he was running from, was buried somewhere in his subconscious. He would have to find a way to unlock the door and enter at his own discretion. He looked about him, to both sides of his body. He was high up in the air and trapped but the net was weak and the blood trickling from his leg reminded him of the steel blade that had been pressed in his numb hand that was now caught between his fabric prison and his bare buttocks. He couldn’t move his body completely but he managed to twist his fingers to turn the tip of the blade against the already fraying fibres of the tightly wound net. He then wriggled his body back and forth and as he did, the blade rubbed against and slowly split each fiber. One by one and the more he thrust his body left and right; swinging his weight about, the more the blade cut and the more the momentum was taken in the swing of the net. The tension broke. The net snapped. He fell. He hit the ground hard. And then everything went black.


seven “Do you love me?” asked The Bitch Queen. Ruff imagined the correct response. It would be a resounding yes but it wouldn’t come across so plain and usual. He would first address her stature; though mentioning nothing of her contrast as she sat upon the throne looking down upon her subjects almost vanishing under the great wooden arms that stuck out high into the air that somehow still heightened the minacity of her tiny canine form like a flake of dry skin amidst the flow of thick lush black hair. She was entirely visible whilst being seemingly lost. A thousand hounds’ eyes fell upon none but her; completely besotted by the ferocity of her desire. He would tell her that she was the spark within a fire, the breath of life within a beating heart, the dancing string within an entire universe or the magnificence within the obviousness of potential. He would say that even as the largest tree hath been judged by the sweetness of its berry, her kingdom was not drawn upon the size of her limbs but of the size of her bark. Around him, snarling beasts closed in, their snouts low to the ground, saliva pouring onto the cold floor, their bloodshot eyes shooting up towards his trembling frame that lay low to the ground, shaking like a sapling in the eye of a hurricane. “Speak, or I shall feed your heart to the boars” spoke The Bitch Queen. It didn’t matter what he said, their fate was sealed. His salvation was in the hands of the young boy and the untrustworthy girl and he couldn’t lie. “I love the humans” he said. The room erupted in deprecated howling and imperious snarls from the gallery of the court. “You will love me or you will die” she said. 62

“Nothing is deserving of love which is unwilling to love. I will love you, if you love me in return and if you love me, you will let my friends go” replied Ruff. The Bitch Queen sank into her crown and sang out the venom inside of her through a low growl that resonated inside the golden crown and cast high into the court, deafening the obedient soul of every hound, building in volume and building in hate until finally, the bitch threw her tiny pointed face through the peaks of the crown and yapped loud and piercingly to the gallery, screaming her despise and contempt upon one and all. If one should disobey, then everyone should suffer. “You love those things, those humans? How could you love something that does not love itself ? How could you love something so unreal, so unnatural?” The Bitch Queen yelled to Ruff. The guard hounds encircled him and as they did so, The Bitch Queen signaled to her right where; from a dark crest against a stone wall, came a large shadow into the flickering light of the court. The shadow walked menacingly and uniformly towards Ruff, carrying in its grasp something that sang of horrendous sharpness as it grinded against the cold concrete floor. Ruff kept his eyes tuned to the queen’s throne as the great shadow drenched his own and towered over him, the coldness of the thing in its grasp brushed against his inner ear as his every sense then devised him to abeyance. “What are you and your humans doing in my kingdom?” she said. “We are looking only for passage. I travel with the humans. We are running from a danger” said Ruff. “You travel with the humans? You’re following a human? Have you no education at all? Ladies and gentlemen the dog is now shopping for fleas. What is wrong with you? Are you taking drugs?” asked The Bitch Queen in mocking concern. “He’s possessed” yelled a voice from within the court. “Banish him” yelled another. “Burn him at the steak” yelled more. 63

“Hang the witch” yelled a croaking voice in the back of the gallery. The Bitch Queen stepped out from within the crown and into the full light of the court. She was a Chihuahua, a tiny body; miniscule and almost comical against the force of her bark, were it not that an entire kingdom was inspired by the insanity dressed in her every bidding and drunk on her want to be loved. “Why don’t you love me? Am I not beautiful? Am I not powerful? What is wrong with you? You are strange” she said scornfully. The Bitch Queen lifted her chest high and pointed her little snout to the ceiling and marched back and forth across the grand throne fit for a human king. The gallery watched in awe and their hearts fluttered as they followed their queen in boisterous admiration; cheering and howling as she pranced to and fro. “Open the pit” she screamed. Immediately, a large chain pulled and a huge wheel turned and near the centre of the court, the floor parted like the opening of a monstrous steel mouth. The sound was horrendous like a blunt drill boring through rotten teeth as the metal turned and the floor peeled open exposing a dark depth where swimming in the vacuity below was the sound of murder; horrific beasts if one could imagine the worst, crawling over one another, driven by the scent of fresh meat garnished in fear. “Let me show you how my people love me” she said to Ruff who was still tied to the floor by his growing fright. “Who in this court hath loved me more than I love myself ?” she asked to the gallery. The court erupted once more in howling; this time of acceptance, obedience and desire. Every hound wished to be before her feet; to be seen amongst the pack and to have their heart in her mouth. In the back of the room, a large Shepherd stepped forward and under guard, marched with his head low but his heart swelling 64

with pride towards the open cavity in the floor. The Shepherd stopped at the tip of a large metal tooth sticking out from a perfect circle where below him, murder hungered for his love. “Love has no condition” she screamed to Ruff. He said nothing. “Do you love me without condition?” she screamed to the Shepherd. “Yes my queen” The Shepherd replied. “Then prove it” she said. The Shepherd looked to her for a moment, just to grace himself with her image. He then; without a second’s thought, dove into the darkness and lay down with murder. He didn’t scream and he didn’t yelp. Murder had its way with him as he was given unto his queen’s love and she sat on her throne; unmoved and unaffected. “That is love. Would your humans die for you?” she said coolly. “And if he didn’t jump, would his love still be without condition? His love is a condition. It is a condition of his fear. His fear of you, his fear of dying alone; his fear of living alone. He doesn’t love you, he loves the idea of you and that is enough to quell his fear of himself. Nobody in this court loves you; your voice is just louder than the shrill of fright that echoes inside their conscious minds. They warm to your oppression. They have learned to empathize with your aberration, but they do not love you. Not in the way you would like to conceive. Everything has its balance. Unconditional love is not without condition” said Ruff. “Let me create a condition for you. Guards, prepare another hunt. We will let the mongrel here pick who shall run; the little boy or the fair skinned girl. Prepare the humans” she ordered. The guards marched Ruff away out of the court as the gallery hissed and spat in his direction. He kept his sight to the floor and focused only on the boy as the menacing Doberman’s ushered him back out through the passageway towards the prison. The Bitch Queen was taken away on a carriage by a pack of Huskies 65

to her royal chambers where there waited a dark intriguing shadow at the end of the room where in its centre sat a large white bathtub filled with red blood. The Bitch Queen ordered her escort off as she slowly crept up to the bathtub braising the edges of the red liquid with her tongue and shivering in delight as the virgin blood trickled down the back of her throat. “He shouldn’t be here. They are trouble. They bring trouble with them. My queen, I must insist that you let them go; not for their sake but for our own” said The Intriguing Figure at the back of the room. “Nobody leaves my kingdom and nobody shall resist my charm” she said, lowering herself into the bathtub; her tiny body vanishing in the dark red liquid. As she lowered her body completely into the blood of human children, she felt a wave of electricity flow through her entire being but as it did, her skin shuddered as if tiny insects were scuttling just under the fine hairs. It wasn’t working. “This blood, it’s not pure enough” she said. “My queen, the humans are infected. Their blood is impure, it is uncoupled from nature” said The Intriguing Figure. “What does that mean?” she said. “If we do not find a pure human soon, your heart will age” it said. “I cannot die, I am The Bitch Queen, I am a god” she screamed in disbelief. “As long as the blood in which you bathe is of a pure human heart then you will remain beautiful, but the humans are ending soon and with them, your throne” said The Intriguing Figure. “That cannot be. Surely there must be something we can do; we can breed them. What do we do? I must be beautiful” said The Bitch Queen childishly. “If they die, you die, your kingdom dies. If we let nature have its way, all life will come to an end” it said. 66

eight “Marcos I’m scared. Marcos, are you there?” The Woman said, reaching out and grabbing the thin air of her Famined conscious delusion; wanting so much to catch the skin of her lover, to feel him close, to feel far from the threat that seemed all around them as they snaked their way through the quiet night. “Shhhh” he said stopping momentarily to take her hand. Immediately, when she felt the warmth of his strong working hand clenching hers; numbing her fingers, a shot of tranquility; a cerebral endorphin, trickled into her system and her proximate fear seemed like an ill-shaped memory fading quickly in forgetfulness. There were people moving about in all directions and Marcos was taking her away from the flux. She hadn’t known what to do through any of this at any stage. Even before the blackout; when the meeting of expectation was a certain percentile, she had felt always out of sorts somehow. She couldn’t remember a time when she didn’t fall on Marcos and maybe she resented him for that. She loved him; it was undeniable, but just because she loved didn’t mean she had to like him. He always made himself so right; making sure his was the last breath to stay in her ear and linger in her mind. Nothing she could ever do was right, no choice was reasonable enough to suit his definitions. Even if she were to choose the same direction, he would attack her reasoning and on how she came to that conclusion because even though she might have been right, she would never be as right as he. And everything would always come back to that day and he wouldn’t say it and she mentioned nothing of it, but it was the tumor that grew on their love. And every time he said those words and every time he feigned affection to her advances and cast her 67

away like a baited hook, a part of her own heart became diseased. And every time he left her alone, crying in her hands, she begged to god to have him back. And worse than being made to feel so wrong and inutile, was knowing that he was probably right. But over this one choice, who would know? Now, what would it matter, how could it better any of this? Better to be a man of this making on a day like this; worse then, to be a man of any kind on any day at all. “Are you ok? Are you injured at all? Did he hurt you?” Marcos asked desperate, grabbing her arms roughly and patting down her body. “I’m ok, I’m ok, it was just a brush seriously. What are we doing here Marcos? We should be with everyone else” she said wanting and wishing everything would just return to how it was; that everything would just go back to normal; that all of this insanity would just stop. “I’m tired. I’m hungry. Marcos I’m starving and I’m scared. I’m feeling strange, different. And I don’t like it. Why can’t everything just be like it was? It wasn’t perfect, but it was better than this. I miss it. I miss it all. I miss television, I miss the internet. I miss my network, I miss talking to my friends, I miss being connected, I miss knowing how I feel, I miss my morning coffee, I miss the cigarette that followed, I miss talking to you online; sensing the thought behind every word you typed, I miss wanting and receiving, I miss having a reason to go somewhere, I miss the contentment of getting there, I miss wanting things that still exist, I miss being able to get them, I miss being bored, I miss feeling safe; Marcos, I miss myself; I miss knowing who I am” she said speaking into the palms of her hands. Behind them something stirred. The Woman felt a shiver of fright race up her spine and her stomach felt heavy. She gripped Marcos’ arm, pulling close to his body and dragging him backwards, closer to herself, and back from whence they came. “Let go of me” he whispered but she didn’t obey. She sensed his worry and hers grew alarmingly. She pulled 68

firmer on his arms and threw him off his balance. She was taking him with her, into her conscious breakdown. “Marcos we shouldn’t be here” she said. “Then why did you follow me? If you think you can survive on your own then go, be like the rest of them. But if you want to live, then shut up for once and listen to me, I know what I’m doing” he said. She sank like quicksand into the oppression of his words. Why couldn’t he just say what he needed to say? Why did it always have to come out as something else? If he didn’t love her, then why couldn’t he just leave her and make it easy to hate him? “You shouldn’t be here” spoke a voice from somewhere in the dark. The Woman froze as Marcos froze; they; holding their breaths and wishing to be more invisible than they obviously were. “We’re just looking for somewhere to rest. We don’t want to cause you any bother” Marcos said. The Woman could feel the panic in the clench of his fingers around hers. She collected his panic and it bounced around her conscious mind reducing her legs to jelly and making her wish she were a molecule in a glass of water; that she could disguise her form and spill out of the cup onto the floor and be carried up by the heat of the day and rained down upon somewhere kinder than where she found herself now. “Do you have any news?” asked the voice. “There’s nothing, everything is still down” said Marcos. “What about out there?” spoke the voice. “It’s chaos. The people are turning on each other. There’s no police, no order, no nothing. I don’t even think there’s even an Industry anymore. It just all stopped” Marcos said. “It happened then, The Uprising? Has it worked? I’ve been in this shadow for so long now” asked the voice. “No. Everything is worse and from there, getting worse still” said Marcos. “Have you anything to tell me?” spoke the voice, this time 69

this time more concerning. “What do you want to hear?” asked Marcos. “I’m scared, let’s go” whispered The Woman to her lover’s ear. “Tell me something that’s going to happen. Tell me a truth” said the voice. The Woman wished to herself that her lover would choose the right words; that his thoughts would take them out of this situation and into another. And she thought for a moment about the last situation and then the one before and how every second of every day; since the blackout, had been one decisive moment after the next. There hadn’t been an hour of reflection or a moment to assess the percentiles; basking in the outcomes of one’s choices. Everything they had decided up to that point had been based upon a reason. Every choice had a good or a bad outcome and it was reflective on a higher ideal. Without The Industry as a marker, it became almost impossible to know what was right or wrong. What would a planet do if it had no sun? Would it continue to abide by the rule that governed its existence? And if it did continue to turn, would it start the process over again? Would it convince the sun to return and keep everything in momentum? If every planet behaved as such, would the sun listen? Would the universe listen? Would everything go back to the way it was? The Woman found it impossible to make any decisions. She left this vice for her lover, the man who edged closer to her breast, but further from her heart. She wondered; if that when a sun died, how would the moon feel about the earth? Would they continue their dance of attraction, she pulling on the tides of his passion; they; washing up on the shores of sensuality. Or when the cause of their existence no longer existed, would they allow themselves to drift in physicality, colliding with the abandon of governance? Without The Industry, who were they? How could they relate? What would they have in common except for that each of them were now dying; cold and alone? 70

“If I told you a truth, I would only be telling you a lie” said Marcos. “Only if you told me a bad truth. Tell me what you’re going to do next” said the voice. “Whatever I have to, to survive” replied Marcos. “What would you give, for one more night?” asked the voice. The Woman’s heart flashed, pounding inside her chest. Her mind raced with images of her and her lover shouting, screaming vulgarity at one another, spitting through the air as their words fired like weapons trying to reduce the other to nothingness; absolute submission. In the silence, while Marcos thought of his next words, she thought of the only words they hadn’t spoken in so long, and she worried. She worried that he didn’t need her anymore. She worried about what thoughts played out in his mind and she imagined him throwing her into the darkness, out into the cold space so that he could have one more night; one more moment alone to contemplate his existence. “He deserved that,” she thought, “he deserves this time alone.” She believed she was at the centre of this; that she had made everything go wrong. She had betrayed him and it was upon this betrayal that they revolved. It hadn’t always been so, but for as long as she could remember, it had been their dead sun; and it was consuming them; sucking their existence into a void. This one event; a choice she made, had changed everything. And she knew that her lover was not choosing his words in his silence, he was remembering how she had flicked the switch on everything that mattered and how after that day; the only thing that held them together was the one thing that was tearing them apart; the dark matter of their amorous infirmity. And so, he deserved his silence. He deserved one more night, if without her by his side, he could find some peace, if he could find himself before he died then she deserved to be cast away from his gravity. 71

“I will ask you a question” said Marcos. “And what if I don’t respond?” asked the voice. “And why would you do that?” asked Marcos. The mood fell silent. The Woman could hear the sound of the voice inhaling deeply as if some drug were coursing through its veins shocking its sentient burden into a blissful conscious drought. Marcos gripped her with the extent of his arm wrapping around her body. A wave of assurance swept over her. “Why aren’t you like them?” asked the voice. “What, destroying everything; destroying myself ?” he replied. “Hungry” he said. “I was never like them before so why should I subscribe now?” he said. “It’s your nature. Without light, how can we see, without sound, how can we hear and without The Industry, how can we survive? Why would we want to?” said the voice. “Existence is purpose enough” replied Marcos. “But don’t you crave for family; you know; your friends, your work, your leisure, your expectation and your satisfaction; making right choices. Oh god I miss that. When I think of it my veins burn, it feels like I have a million bugs crawling under my skin, scratching their way out. I just want to silence it, to stop this desire. It’s not fair” said the voice lowly. “Then make a choice” said Marcos. “Without a gauge to define a limit, how can I possibly extend my reach? Without a defined wrong, how can I possibly determine what is right? And without applause, how do I know when to stop?” said the voice. “Is death not enough of a gauge?” asked Marcos. “Life is not enough of a reward” he replied. “Then what will you do next?” asked Marcos sounding more in control. “My choice is already made. It took time for the darkness to descend upon my soul. But I will not live like them; shedding my 72

skin with every scratch of my nail, ripping at my scalp, tearing out hair after hair, clawing at my own eyes, desperate to relieve this feeling inside me; this want, this need that I can’t fulfill. It’s not coming back. They’re not going to fix it. No one’s coming to save us. There ‘aint no Jesus Christ coming here and if he did it’s too late. This is after the end. The credits have already rolled. The seats are empty. The audience has gone home. We are but a flicker on a screen, the brief echo of a switch being turned off that to us; caught in that instant, feels like the rest of our lives” the voice said. “How do you feel?” asked Marcos. “Enlightened” said voice before silence fell upon the darkness once more. The sound of heavy breathing led to a final gasp that when it fell upon her ears, it had The Woman thinking about her Investors and though it made no sense, she wondered if they thought of her. It was such a strange thing; in the play of death, to cast one’s heart upon something so irreverent and so very inconsequential as the host who would have profited from every choice that you had made and wondering if they missed her, like she missed her morning coffee. Did she matter to them now that The Industry was gone? What was she to them without a market? Would the choices that she was yet to make, still account to anything whatsoever? Was someone else still responsible and if not; if she was responsible for her own decisions, who would administer the outcomes? If The Industry wasn’t to return, then what would she be without her Investor? She thought of this and a sadness welled in her heart. She missed them like she missed herself. Every decision she had made was with them in mind; every right and every wrong. Even when she loved her man, the reward of that love was paid out by The Industry, to her investors. The more she loved, the more she lost, the more she participated, the more she experienced, the more they lived; all the more for her, all the more for them. 73

Her existence had defined their own. They had lived through her every choice. What then if she failed to choose again? Would they be disappointed? Would they think ill of her? Would they die without her? What was she; a lover or a product? Which of them would bring her more solace and calm in this industrial apocalypse? The party was surely over but more guests were spilling onto the dance floor every second, hungry to be entertained; to be told how to dance, what to think, how to feel, where to stand, what to say, what to wear, what to drink, who to fuck and where to leave their coat. And maybe they all felt like this; like how The Woman felt now, feeling so far from their obligation and feeling so scared of what that meant; feeling so universally alone. She gripped the hand of her lover, feeling his warmth brush against her soft skin. The freezing cold that molested the night could not touch her as long as she held him fast against her body. She thought in her heart and her mind of a contract; all she knew of her Investor, a single white piece of paper; a series of digits that for some reason when she ran them through in her mind made her feel calmer than if she thought of her lover who was her bind to a memory they both fought hard to repress; for the sake of a right choice that was for the sake of their Investors. “Are we alone?” she asked. “I think so. I can’t hear any breathing” he said. “I didn’t mean in this room, I mean in this world. Are we alone?” she asked again. Marcos didn’t respond. The Woman pulled herself away from him. His touch made her desire and her desire made her feel lonely and her loneliness only made her want to touch him more. “Do you think about them?” she asked. “Who?” he responded. “Your Investors, your contract” she said. “No. Not then and not now. We can’t hold onto something that doesn’t exist. The contract is voided. You owe nothing. Your 74

choices are your own now. You’re free” he said. “I miss them Marcos; my contracts, my obligations, the effect of my choices. I don’t want to be alone” she said. “I am with you. You’re not alone” he said. “I love you Marcos, but you’re someone else” she said cryptically. “We are all we have. We are the direct effect of our choices. We are living in the spoil of every decision. The contracts were never real. The Industry made you care for them but they were never real” he said. “Then why does it hurt to think of them gone? Why did that obligation make me feel so belonged?” she asked. “It was a delusion. We were all deluded. It was what The Industry needed to keep us in line. They made us care for something that was not real and disregard everything that was. Do you feel of me how you feel of this contract?” he asked. “I love you, but only as long as you love me back. It hurts when I touch you because of what I did, I know. And I do love you. When you are gone I desire you, I need you but the way I feel for my contract is different. The thought of you not existing upsets me, the thought of my contract not existing scares me more than my own death; it makes me feel abandoned and like it, wholly nonexistent. Who am I without my contract?” she said. “The contract was The Industry” he said. “Who are we without The Industry?” she asked pensive. “You are alive. That’s all that matters. It’s the only identity you need.” “Then why do I feel like something is missing?” she said. “Something is missing; a weight. Finally we are free” he said. “Then why am I so fucking scared?” she screamed, clenching her hands over her eyes squeezing her nails tight against her skin. The echo of her voice cast out of her mind and into the palm of her hands, what seemed like out of a delusion but when she pulled them away, she could see tiny specks of blood where her thoughts had been. Her eyes were heavy and she felt like she had 75

just woken from a drunken binge. She gnashed at her teeth and gnawed at the air stretching out the restriction in her jaw. Her eyes were weary and her vision was blurry but she could see that it was night but it would have been hard to tell from all the magnificent hallucinatory illumination beaming from every corner of her eye and then her ears opened to the sound of carnival music and bizarre inhuman laughing. She tried pulling her hands up to her face to wipe her eyes but they didn’t follow her command. She tried moving her legs but they too spoke a different language. She tried to lean forward but her body too seemed to be foreign to her speech. She could feel every muscle pulling and straining but it was like she was trapped in a body within a body, unable to effectuate a change in her condition. The sound of laughter intensified as her ear filled with sticky salvia as something coarse and wet ran from her neck, up under her chin, following her jawline until it pressed her inner ear. She couldn’t move but she could feel it. It was so very disgusting. She tried to scream but when she opened her mouth, the lunatic laughter that had been pestering her ears sang deliciously from her chords. When she swallowed, she could taste the saliva that was dripping from her ear. “Welcome” said a voice of a shadow dancing about like a bag in the wind. The Woman’s eyes slowly gained focus. She hadn’t seen such colour; not in a very long time. “Are we here” she thought. “Is this the city of light and sound?” The mix of bright reds and yellows and greens and flashing strobes all burst like a heavenly firework inside her pupils, stinging her cerebral senses, unfastening her rationale and leaving her in a vegetable state. “Where am I?” she thought. “The Subconscious Sideshow of course” said The Clown Host in dramatic animation. 76

The feeling started to return in her body as if the effect of some drug were wearing off and the first sensation she had was of cool water. She was so thirsty; her mouth was so parched from the day’s walking. She could feel her toes breaking the tip of the water, causing small ripples to run from the centre and push against the sides of something that by the sound of it; circled her like planets to a sun or the truth to a lie. She could feel her legs now. She could move them with her will but they couldn’t move any further than the ropes binding them would allow. She could feel her hands then as well. Her nails were rubbing against and scratching her lower back. Both palms were pressed against one other and the rope that bound them burned the skin on her wrists as she struggled to pull them loose. Her thighs too now felt their bind and even before her sight cleared; as she saw the crazed clown dancing around in the luminescence, she knew she was a prisoner to someone or something. She could feel every muscle in her body straining to break free from its bondage. She decided to test her voice. She screamed. The Clown Host laughed. What sounded like a recorded tape cheered and clapped. “Get me out of here” she screamed. “All things in their own time. First, might I say; welcome to the show.” The Woman screamed, the crowd cheered and The Clown Host took a bow.


nine “What’s the matter?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “I feel weak. I can’t go on. Let’s sit for a moment” said The Fat Old Lady. As she spoke, her knee buckled and her left leg collapsed under the weight of her heaving upper body, proving the rule of gravity, falling in a heap to the soil below, holding her fingers clenched to her pudgy comrade and dragging her down with her. The two ladies fell to the ground like a bag of sand falling off a table. There was a sudden thud and then the fat of their bodies moulded to a new form, stretching out over their useless limbs to the ground below. “Your dress” said The Pudgy Old Lady shocked. “What’s wrong with it? Is it uneven? Pull it straight would you” demanded The Fat Old Lady. “It’s, it’s…” “It’s what?” screamed The Fat Old Lady. “It’s gone” said The Pudgy Old Lady. “What?” she screamed. The Fat Old Lady pulled her hands to her face and felt only the dried nerves exposed and tingling in the warm afternoon air. She quickly turned her sight to the floor pressing with her hands through the loose soil looking with her fingers for her skin dress. “Quick, help me find it. We don’t have long” she screamed desperately. She was right. The blood in her veins had already started to thicken and pump slower through her body and her nerves had already lost their feeling hence why she didn’t feel the air brushing past the bare exposed bones and muscle of her face. Her toes too, were starting to go numb now. At first they felt cold and then they just stopped feeling all together. The sensation drifted up her legs until they were so heavy 78

that they pinned to the earth and she could only heave from above her waist, turning in rampant desperation; shifting the earth with her hands, cursing the air, tears billowing from her eyes as the immediacy of her mortality snaked its way through her entire being; she, feeling every inch of her several million years. “Hurry” she pleaded. “Hu…” as she fell backwards in a heap, her lips frozen over; a rigid crevice leaking oxygen into her slowing lungs that felt more like they were filling with cement with every inhalation. “Eureka” yelled The Pudgy Old Lady. She gasped; her blood thinned, her muscles twitched, her toes moved and The Pudgy Old Lady smiled. The nerves on her face were attaching themselves once again to the skin dress being pressed down upon her. The Pudgy Old Lady pulled hard on the flesh accidentally making another tear but managing to attach all of the clips, holding it in place. She stood back, catching her breath and watching as the colour changed in her fat comrade, her dear friend, someone she wanted so much to be, and someone who didn’t have to take her under their wing but who did and someone she would give her own face to protect. “Dear, are you ok?” she asked afraid to touch her comrade who was twitching away on the ground; her stubby toes flicking about and even her huge belly, quivering like a mound of jelly being knocked about. The Fat Old Lady said nothing, she couldn’t for the moment. Her blood thinned and ran through the length of her body from her now floating lungs to the tips of her tingling toes. Slowly she was becoming younger again; returning to her immortality but there was a tear in her skin dress and because of this, she felt not as young as she had at the start of this chase; running idly through the forest after a naked man whose skin dress could do more than keep her young forever; it could make her special. “Never again,” said The Fat Old Lady, “I almost died. Never ever again. What took you so long to find my dress? I could have 79

died any second. Do you know what’s it’s like to feel millions of years old? It’s not nice” she said angrily. Her pudgy comrade helped to lift her off the ground and onto her feet. “I’m sorry. I was going to give you my dress but I thought you would hate to wear this ugly thing and I knew I could find yours and I did and aren’t you happy?” she asked sheepishly. “This is not a smile. You clipped the mouth to my ear you nincompoop. It may look like I’m smiling I’m sure, but trust me I am an ocean away from the sea of content. Now we have no choice, we have to find this man. Come on. I really need that dress” said The Fat Old Lady. Her pudgy comrade followed willingly helping her along the thin track. She wanted so much to be just like her; to have her grace, to speak with her authority and to live as long as she had lived. It was such a wonderful feeling to want to be someone else. It made her feel light and special. The two old ladies continued their march through the jungle looking for a man dress to help make a fat old lady; the womb of god.


ten The moment between a cause and an effect can in every right, feel like the passing of an eternity and for Marcos; the cause; as the small silver blade cut through the last bearing fiber and the swing in his shifting weight birthed him through the netting and into the hands of gravity; falling from a great height, his legs tucked to his body; his back turning, pulling towards the ground, his head tucked into his chest dropping like a Tallboy through the canopy lead to the effect, his small circular frame crashing into the dry hard soil. Between one and the other; in the pull of a quick descent, his heart flashed, his blood filled with adrenaline, his stomach rose to his throat and he vanished once again; with his conscious mind, into his theatre of Famined delusion. He opened his eyes again quickly to surprise as The Woman stood in front of him and on either side of her were two Industrialists, dressed in white garments. One of them shone a tiny torch into his eyes, inviting him to squint and flinch. He knocked away with his hands and The Man in White apologised. “We’re going to keep you in observation, just overnight. You can return to your obligations in the morning. It is a necessary precaution” said The Man in White. “I understand. What happened?” he said squeezing one hand against a sore bump on his forehead. “You fell and hit your head. I had to rush you to the hospital, you were bleeding and unconscious” said The Woman. He couldn’t remember anything that had happened but there was no denying the throbbing pain in his forehead under a thick bandage and a mountain of gauze. He looked at his hands and they along with the length of his arms were stained with dry blood. “I want to leave” he said looking sternly at The Woman, his voice carrying through to the man and woman dressed in white garments packing away their instruments. 81

“You really should stay for observation, its protocol” said The Man in White. “I’m a level one Collector. I will not be tied to a bed and I will not be ordered by a mere Prescriber. Where is my chart? I will sign myself out” said Marcos. “Get the chart” said The Woman in concurrence. “Get me some water” Marcos said to The Woman as he lifted himself from his prone state, blood rushing in and out of his mind, tingling his toes and blurring his sight. The Woman left as requested and the two Prescribers also exited the room leaving Marcos to his own fight; willing his body into command and throwing his legs forward to steer him off the bed. With one swing, the full weight of his body pulled him over the bed and onto the floor collapsing in a heap. His hands took the brunt of the impact, stretching out in front of his face as a weak fleshy shield. He cursed to himself as the throbbing on his head, the ache in his mind and now the awkward cracking of bone on cold tile, sent waves of searing pain through his body. As he twisted his broken frame, he turned his head and caught a glimpse of something shining in the recess of his sight; somewhere beyond the edges of a blur; visible only with the gaucheness from which he found himself fighting free. As the blood flow returned to normality, he lifted himself off the floor, balancing on one knee and leaning down with better view under the cabinet where his eyes had wandered and he stretched for the glistening with a curious hand, reaching far into his suspicion and confirming the feeling he had held in his stomach since the day he murdered his faith. He took the papers in his hand. It was an old book or pamphlet or something. It was leather bound but the cover had some shiny materials; stars or something silly like that. He had never seen a book. The idea was taught during his branding just as the teachings of the origin of the universe, the industrial evolution, the mapping of the stars and whatever else he accepted as truth but would never actually envisage or encounter. 82

Its touch was so different. It felt alive. It felt like it was created. Information was always vital, but it never felt like anything. It was always like water; of substance but without fanfare. But this book bound in leather that he held in his hands, it had a smell. As he ran his thumb over the cover he felt a shiver run the course of his spine. Inanimateness had not before this day, felt of anything. “The Birth of Nature” he read out loud to himself. The title drained him like a mantra, emptying his conscious thought; his trained reactions both emotional and rational to everything he encountered. “How strange” he thought, “nature as a substantive, as a thing.” He only knew of this word as one of many descriptions for The Industry. He had never imagined that normality could be a something, for if it were used to describe the Industry then to describe something natural one would just say The Industry, there would be no need to define another name. The other word made no sense to him whatsoever. It was another substantive but one he had never came across in his branding. Birth; it sounded odd. It sounded uncomfortable and as a result of his branding and his faith, saying it to himself felt guiling and villainous. He felt a familiar sensation in his stomach; one that he could not explain, but one that in part quested him to open the book and explore its contents and another that quelled him to disguise its possession. The feeling in his stomach was not something he could lexicalize. There were no words for this sensation. It was a fusion of right and wrong and it heavied his mind, though it sat low in his stomach. It wasn’t like a sickness. He had been ill many times and the weight in his stomach had felt less educated than the one that turned inside him now. It was so strange having one’s body pull at one’s mind. It felt as if the bedrock of his subconscious sat in the meat of his stomach, just above his lust and desire. Was he losing his mind? Was this 83

an effect of the fall? The logic on how he based his decisions, the right and wrong that had served him for the entirety of his life had now abandoned him. When he took that silver cord to his Investor’s throat, when he tore the life out of his beliefs, he lost too, more than his faith, he lost his rationale; he lost his north. Maybe this was an effect of that. What else would he lose? What else would become uncommon? Marcos had always decided on his branding; the learning he received from The Industry in his youth before his launch. Every decision was weighed on simple logic; what was best for one’s Investor was always the right choice. The Industry was more than an idea. It was more than mere branding, learning, factorizing or producing; it was existence. The Industry was mankind, mankind was The Industry. It was the creator and it was the creation. As long as he served the benefit of his Investor; as long as everyone served their beneficiary, than they in turn served what was right for The Industry; the turning of a wheel, a simple logic. Every choice always had a learned resonance. Right or wrong was not something you felt but something you were taught and for the most astute, something you remembered in the instant of decision. The reward of such was never you own. It was the service of ideals that served as ideal. And for the extent of his labour, the entirety of his life, he had never forgotten his branding; he had never strayed from being ordinary. But now; as pain wept from the pores of his skin and as the cracks in his bones and the wound on his forehead orchestrated their tenure, it was a feeling in his stomach that; without meaning, without teaching and with an insurmountable weight, logic and reason could not enfranchise and as long as he stayed modest in mind; he would sink and drown in a river of stupendous simplicity. He opened the cover and the pages sang immemorially of lore that he had never heard spoken and painted images of such strange colour; sights he had never thought imaginable. He flicked 84

through the pages and saw images of women in a way he had never thought they could be; more than objectionable, more than mere apparent; of splendor reserved only for the divine outrecuidance of The Industry, the creator, the keeper and the taker of all life; the absolute and the nothing from whence everything came. He didn’t sexualize their naked forms as he would any normal woman in passing, just as a vulture might imagine a meal of every piece of flesh that fled under its flight. Instead he graced over their nakedness as one would the back of their own hand; without fantasy, without a depredatory thirst. That on its own made him feel off key; a kind of different that didn’t feel as wrong as it didn’t feel right. One image in particular shed him of his magnificence; a parallax of insignificance reducing him to a state of wonder; feeling miniscule amongst the limit of his intellectuality in light of a grander ideology. In the picture; one seemingly real and not drawn by hand; a woman sat in pool of water where about her, hands pressed gently against her skin, massaging the clenching of her muscles as on her face, she wore an expression so foreign; one where the slight of eye could envisage the throes of excruciating pain and on the turning of one’s cheek, on that same face, pure orgasmic exhilaration. The crack of her mouth pulled back to her ear as her lips curved and yielded like a rising swell on the open sea. The skin beneath her chin creased to a gentle fold as her cheeks flushed red while her nostrils flared and inflected, just as if the earth might look each time that it took a breath. A single bead of sweat ran from her hairline, past the pinch of her eye and caught at the tip of her jaw; primed to run the length of her face. Then there were her eyes. One could see the extent of ecstasy in her glare; a state that Marcos believed no Industrialist could have ever known, one that even The Industry; in its grand omniscience, would not know and could never explain. Her eyes lit like a forest fire. 85

From a distance or an off glance, they glowed and radiated with the force within seeming to catch one wandering and invite them into appreciation and still bewilderment and then; as the flickering of light called one in its direction, one would cast themselves into the broil of its mercy where at a breath’s distance, one would encounter themselves enveloped in certitude as a servant of submission; giving themselves to something of which control had no bounds or jurisdiction. He wondered for a moment if the hands about her; massaging gently below her neck and on the plateau of her shoulder blades, whether they lay a touch of consolidation; a tender appreciation to dull her pain and dumb her through the inevitable excursion of unpleasant suffering or whether they longed to feed on her current of ecstasy, their hands magnetized by the tightness of her skin, drawn towards her like a child unto danger; becoming the appendage of her elation and riding with her on the crest of infinite grace. He had seen an expression similar on the faces of Industrialists he had tortured; the lines drawn upon their faces and the straightening of skin in the contraction of the every muscle in their bodies as they suffered their way through their liquidation. There was something within this face; in the eyes, that was different. The Industrialists he murdered had no fire burning within. There was no ambiguity in their definition. This woman; unlike anything he had ever seen before, lay as a point between two truths where the existence of one gave promise and attestation of the other; where one could be both infinite and void in a single breath. She was existence; the bridge between life and death; the infinite division of a universal singularity; captured in one brief second. He was so transfixed by the play of emotion on her face that he hadn’t noticed at first, the shape and colour in the water between her thighs. At first the absurdity, then the capricious, then as a wave of unnatural emotion swept over his senses and acceptance became him, the resplendence and portent. He wondered if the woman in the picture knew what 86

mystery swam blindly into her hands; its eyes shut, its tiny hands floating in strange and awkward liberation and the round of its head just breaking through the skin of the water’s edge; a small set of ripples running the length of the tub like the curves on the woman’s lips. “It’s an Infant. She’s producing an Infant. But where was The Industry?” he thought. He wouldn’t have known in that moment what fire would ignite in his subconscious and how it would spread to his entire being; inescapably affecting every next choice that would become him. He would not know how to express even to himself the taking of a new belief; the assertion of a new faith and just as a one could wake to exclusion; feeling lost and abandoned by their reason, one could also find themselves found, enlightened and with profound direction. And the explanation of such; to which Marcos had just awakened, was something very much unlearned. When the door opened, he swung the cover closed and like closing his eyes as he sneezed or the recrudesce of a mortal coil pulling back into itself, his hand retracted with the book beneath his bloodied shirt without him even requesting or contemplating the action. He hunched over himself pressing his left hand to the cold tiles as he dragged his legs under his body and lifted himself off the floor keeping his right hand pulled to his chest under his shirt, feigning not an inch of hurt as he hobbled past The Man in White, taking from his hands an electronic reader, pressing his thumb against the red laser and dropping it to the floor as he pushed through the door and made his way slowly and painfully down the hallway and seeing The Woman walking towards him worryingly but thinking only of the face of the woman in the book and how wonderful it felt to be alive; to feel unexplained. “Marcos, look at you, you really should listen to The Prescriber and stay in bed. You can barely keep your feet under you. Think about your decision Marcos” she said. “Why? Who will it affect, if it can never affect myself ? My 87

Investor is dead, I killed him. I am like a ship adrift on the open sea with no captain. I am here, but my here is now so much very different to yours, to theirs, to everyone’s. I have to steer this vessel on what I think is right. The effects of my choices are my own. I will do, what keeps within this ocean of aberrance; what equates to how I feel now” he declared. “How do you feel Marcos? How exactly do you feel?” she asked. “Different” he said, smiling and hobbling off down the corridor falling against the crème wall every second step with his right arm crested to take the brunt of every collision. “Marcos wait” she said running after him, “I really think you should speak to someone. Maybe there is a pill you can take or something you can read. What happened is what happened but what we do next is really what’s important and I think it’s important that you don’t lose yourself. So you don’t have an Investor, big deal. It doesn’t mean you have to change the person that you are. You are still the accumulation of your choices. Before you did what was right for your Investor. Your Investor was The Industry, we are all The Industry and The Industry is all. So, just do what is right for The Industry. What would The Industry do?” she said. “What is The Industry? Is it a person? Is it an idea? What the hell is it? It’s you, it’s me, it’s everyone, it’s amour, it’s reverence, it’s death, it’s decadence. Is it a man or is it a machine? And which came first, the man or the fucking machine? What would The Industry do? Fuck The Industry” he shouted. “I’m pregnant” she said as he crashed to floor; his arm slipping beneath his shifting weight and the ground rushing towards his face to kiss his cheek abruptly. He jumped into conscious thought again, pulling his heaped body off of the ground. He looked upwards and saw the trail of his fall through the torn canopy. He wiggled his fingers and toes and stretched out his back. Nothing seemed to be broken. For a moment he was drunk on his reflection watching the trail of his memories gradually fade into his subconscious once more. His 88

mind felt warm but he still felt unfamiliar in his own skin. He didn’t feel insignificant. He wondered if an insignificant man could wind up in this condition; alone, naked and running for their life from crazed old ladies trying to tear off their face. In his absence of self, he felt every bit alpha. His abandon didn’t cause him fear and he imagined that an insignificant person would not feel the same confidence as he. He was no closer to knowing who he was, but growing more despondent of what he was either running to, or running from. It didn’t matter for now as he was surrounded. A circle of cackling old ladies, all with mangled faces had their weapons drawn, pushed into his back and ensuring that he could not run; not anymore. “Take the human. Careful with the dress. Very good ladies” spoke a voice from behind the circle. The old ladies covered Marcos in a net and dragged him behind their troop as they marched through the forest back to their camp. “Now what do we do?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady peering through the brush. “Let me think” said The Fat Old Lady spying over her shoulder. “What if he has your scalpel?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “We have to get him” said her fat comrade. “What do you mean? Steal him? From Mother? Are you crazy?” said The Pudgy Old Lady. “If he has my scalpel, there’s no going back for us. We’ll both be defaced. It’s over; we’re on our own now” she said. “What are we going to do?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “We’re gonna break him out” said The Fat Old Lady.


eleven “We’re in trouble. We have to get out of here” Ruff said to Donal and Eve, but speaking to them was like trying to console a shoe. They couldn’t understand the sound of his voice and when they spoke; to him and to each other, it merely sounded like the stretching out of a spring; nonsensical sounds that they shared back and forth with one another. The three sat inside a small prison with a wet concrete floor and there was nowhere for the two humans to rest their rumps. Ruff paced back and forth looking through the irons bars out through the length of the passageway where two menacing Dobermans stood attentive watch as their eyes; like the light of the moon, poured through the darkness and over their skin. “Guard” Ruff yelled. “What is it?” replied the angry looking Doberman Guard. “You have to let us out of here, please. It’s not safe for us to be here” pleaded Ruff. “You are a prisoner of The Bitch Queen now. You have no rights” said The Doberman Guard. “I know you are only following orders but you too are in danger. A great many humans are coming and they are fed by an anger I have never seen” exclaimed Ruff. “These silly humans here? Ha! They are no match for the royal guard. Shut up and eat your stew. You and your friends will need your energy for the hunt” said the angry looking Doberman Guard. The guard attended to his post and continued his glare through the iron bars at Ruff and his companions who were cradling themselves on the cold floor. Ruff sat close to Donal and the untrustworthy friend as they ran their fingers through his matted fur and for a moment they all escaped the suddenness of their fearful imaginings thinking about what tragedy may become them at 90

the hands of these savage dogs. The two humans thought about the bars opening and then hundreds of hounds setting upon them, tearing the flesh from their bones. The small matted dog though, feared over the idea of wild boars scratching their husks against the cold wet concrete as they trampled the distance between their heaving bodies and their prey; a small matted dog and two feeble humans, running and scampering desperately for their lives, pushing through the transparent mist of warm air that burst from their lungs with the snarl of the great beasts on their footsteps and their own feet quickly coming unstuck. They tumble over one another as the stampede closed in. “How will we get out of here?” asked Donal. “We have to bide our time” said Eve. “But what about the Famined ones? They were coming for us” he said. “And they still are. I’m thinking of a way to get us out this. Trust me. For now though, we have to maintain focus; maintain one. We can’t let ourselves slip into famine or it will be our own reflection we see in the madness of others. Talking is good. Tell me about Safrine” said Eve calmly. Donal; empty of his panic for a second, filled his mind at first with tranquility and then with sullen rage. “Safrine is my best friend I guess; she is my sister. She is me, well, the other half of me. We were born minutes apart. I was first and then when she knew it was safe, she followed. That’s the way it has always been for us. When a room was dark I would enter first and make sure there were no monsters. I would make this sound; like a low howl of a wolf and she would know that it was safe and then she would come in. I had to protect her cause our father was always very sad after mother died and he was always away, especially when he was with us. So me and Safrine, we became one person. Did you ever have that? Did you have a sister or a brother?” he asked. “No. I was conceived under a microscope. My father was an 91

idea and my mother was necessity. I was not born, I was spawned. I was theorized. Then I was cultivated. We’re not all that strange really; you, I, the Famined, these savage dogs. We exist until we fail to do so. The only difference is the dog isn’t saddled with a greater philosophical want. It is enough for the dog to exist. It is not disconnected from its existence through conscious thought like we are, but it exists as we do. But no, nobody cares for me. I have no brother. I have no equal” she said. “That’s sad” he said. “How did you end up in The Nest? You seem so different to the others; less desperate; less dishonest. You practice what they preach. Why were you with them?” she asked. “Safrine. They took her. We had to get her back” he said. “Who?” she asked. “My family. We spent years planning for this day. Except it was supposed to be different. We were all supposed to be together, the three of us but they didn’t come” he said. “What happened to your mother? She birthed you, yes?” Eve asked. “Yes. We were naturals. How did you know? My mother was infected while we were in her womb. My grandfather said she got drunk on ideals and fell into Famine. She lost her empathy one night and forgot how to love anyone but herself. Her Famine grew out of control and she became dangerous. For a while nobody saw her. Then they kept her locked away so she couldn’t danger herself and so she couldn’t endanger us. She died during the labour. One day she stopped existing and I guess that was pretty much when father started to cry and he never really stopped” he said. “And then The Collective saved you?” she asked. “No. They came later. After we were born or after our mother died depending on how you remember that day, our father decided to keep us long from his memories, from the home he had made. He thought that if our feet were light, our mind would be light and we could escape the drag of our sadness. You know; the thoughts that creep up on you and pull you under the water while 92

you sit still in wandering thought. He wanted to escape his sadness. And when everyone walked over the bridge towards town, my father wanted to take us in a different direction. My grandfather was always singing. He was always drunk. And he would sing about a place where trouble didn’t belong; the place of light and sound where the thoughts of the heart were the words of a song” he said. “New Utopia” said Eve. “That’s where everyone wanted to be but it was not where they were heading. I don’t remember much of the blackout or what happened after but I remember The Uprising. It was so scary; all of those people, so angry” he said. “Tell me about The Uprising. What do you remember?” she said. “We went with them. They gathered first in front of their houses. Then they marched, collecting more people; gathering momentum and then when the dam broke; they lost their reason. At first they sang and chanted; they were like friends. But then their good spirits turned sour and something happened. They changed. They turned on each other” he said. “What were they rising against?” she asked. “Hope” he said. “And you were saved by The Collective?” she said. “No. we went with the wave. We had no choice. We kept our heads low and pretended to not care for one another. We didn’t want to stand out. I kept Safrine close and I watched astutely, stepping in my father’s shadow through the light of the day and I moored on his heavy breath through the still of the night. Eventually we crossed the big bridge and settled downtown. The people were so angry. They set fire to anything that would burn and tore apart anything that wouldn’t. I think they were all just very sad. They didn’t want to be left alone. I know exactly how they felt and why they did some of the silly things that they did. It was because they didn’t want to be left alone. Nobody does. Everyone wants to be loved. I remember when my father left me alone once. Safrine was asleep but I remember my father joking as he closed the door 93

and I wanted so much to go with him. I didn’t know where he was going; it didn’t matter, I just wanted to go with him and when he closed the door I couldn’t cry. I think I wanted to, but instead I was so sad that I became angry. I wanted him to know exactly what it felt like to be left alone so I woke Safrine up, I told her we were meeting Dada; that’s what we called him, in the centre of town by the old cathedral and she believed me. She got dressed and we went out into the freezing cold night; my feet heavy; weighed down by sadness and my mind beleaguered; focused only on hurting my father, the only sight I could see in my mind was the turning of a handle as he walked out the door. I remember the rush of people. I was small then. I’m small now but I was smaller and with Safrine tied to my wrist, I moved slowly past the people all banging into one another. They were jumping up and down trying to see something down the road. We didn’t care about that; I just wanted to take us somewhere far. I know it sounds stupid and if I didn’t do it, maybe we wouldn’t be here now, we would still be together, maybe in New Utopia, who knows? I remember there was a loud booming voice and it carried through the air and everyone repeated every word it said. Down the back of the line, others passed whispers to one another of what they thought they heard. I remember seeing my father’s shoes as we got closer to the stage. I didn’t know it was a stage at first. I just had my head low and kept pushing us through and around all of their legs and before I knew it, I banged my hand against something hard because I was holding my left hand out to push everyone out of the way. I thought I had broken my hand. It really hurt. That’s when I looked to my left and I saw my father’s feet” he said. “Did he see you?” asked Eve. “No. He was screaming something at the man on the stage. I don’t think the man saw him or even heard him. It made him mad. When he turned we both ducked and he didn’t see us. I think he was too angry to see anything” he said. “What was he screaming?” she asked. “I’m not sure, but he didn’t like the man on the stage and he 94

didn’t agree with what he was saying” he said. “What did you do next? Did you go home?” she asked. “No. I should have but I didn’t. I wanted to see what my father saw. I wanted to hear what he heard. I just wanted to know what was happening. We moved closer to the stage. There was a small platform and I knew if I stood on it, I would be able to see past the people in front of me and hear better what was being said. I let go of Safrine for only a second and when I turned she was gone. I screamed but nobody would listen. Everyone was screaming louder than me. I couldn’t even hear myself. I tried looking out through the sea of people but I saw only more people, I couldn’t see her at all. I think I vomited straight away, I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do; whether I stay up high and wait for her to see me or whether I dive into the crowd and try and find her” he said. “What did you do?” she asked. “I started to cry. It was the only thing I could do. Nobody would help me. I was a child, I didn’t exist. Even if they could see me, they wouldn’t care. They blamed us for this. They said it was our fault that the lights went out. It wasn’t though you know. It just happened. Anyway, I don’t know how long I was crying for but it felt like forever. I remember wiping my eyes and I saw her. I don’t know what made me turn like I did, but for some reason I spun right around and I caught her in the glimpse of an eye. She could see me staring straight at her. She was reaching out with her hands. They were carrying her over their shoulder. They just took her; like that. Who does that?” he asked. “Who took her?” said Eve. “Those fucking White Hearts. I’ll never forget that symbol; grinning at me as my eyes burned from a mix of my tears, the stench of sweat and the dirt being kicked up by thousands of feet. I didn’t see their faces, only the heart. When I turned I saw the man on the stage and he wore the same white heart on his chest. I wanted to run up there and kill him but I just froze. All I could think was; Safrine’ gone, and Dada’s going to kill me. I thought 95

only about myself. Is that wrong? Am I a bad person?” he asked. “If you are to ask me this question, then I would assume not? It is not something you would hear a Famined ask now is it?” she said consolingly. “I guess not” he said. “You made a mistake. This is being human. What did it feel like, the second you realized she was gone? I’m sorry I don’t mean to make you feel…” “It’s ok,” he said, “It hurts to remember but it’s a strange kind of hurt. I can’t explain it, but I like going back there every now and then. I love my sister. When I imagine her gone, I love her more. This hurt, it warms me. It suffocates the emptiness in my soul. I guess it’s what drowning must feel like. At first I try to fight it, but once the pain is all I can feel, I sink into it and I feel comfortable and safe. When I turned and I didn’t see her eyes looking back at me, it was nothing compared to when I turned and saw her reaching out for me with every inch of her soul; so desperate, so completely alone. And I took her to this state. You know, I took her out of her bed. I made her march through the freezing cold. I didn’t even let her see our father only inches from where she stood. I took her to them. I closed my eyes and gave her away. I wanted to hurt my father. I wanted him to think we were taken. I wanted it to be a game. Whatever they did to her for all those years, it was because of me” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “I have never felt that kind of love. I know love. I am capable of love but I have never tasted that salt. It sounds beautiful. It must be heavenly, to hurt” she said. “I would rather be annoyed and have her close than to feel this tearing of my heart and the blame. My father wasn’t angry when I finally got home. He was so happy to see me. It’s not what I thought would happen. Not even that was right. He hugged me and he asked me where Safrine was. I told him the truth; that we went out as soon as he left, that we stood only inches from where he was and how I wanted to see through his eyes and when I turned my back Safrine was taken. And I expected him to throttle me; to 96

open his hand and earn my apology. I expected him to be angrier than he was when he shouted at that giant man on the stage, but he wasn’t and he didn’t. He just hugged me and said he was sorry. He didn’t let me go, not until I told him what I saw; the men with the white hearts carrying Safrine on their shoulders” he said. “What did he do?” she asked. “He made a plan. My father is very smart. He knew who they were. He knew exactly who they were. He told me they were stealing children. They were offering food for women to give up their newborns. Most of the babies were dying anyway, once the last of the formula was stolen, there was nothing to feed them so all of the babies would die after two days and the people, they didn’t like them very much. They would hold them funny, like they had just scraped something off their shoe and didn’t know what to do with it. The people gave away their babies to the men with white hearts and the ones they couldn’t have; the ones like myself and Safrine, they took” he said. “Because you are a natural?” she asked. “Because I was a twin” he said. “I’m sure they had their reason” she said. “They did and we did everything to find out what it was. We waited until the end of their collection, then we followed them; to their prison. We waited and we waited. My father thought about how we could enter and save Safrine. We couldn’t just run in there. There were too many of them and there were only four of us” he said. “Who were the other two?” she asked. “My grandfather and my great grandmother. They called them the drunk and the story teller. She was wonderful at telling stories. Anyway, after watching them for many days, then many weeks and finally man months, my father realized there was only one way to enter; as a child” he said. “You” she said. “So he made a plan. He had to gain their trust. He had to know them to become them to infiltrate them and get Safrine back. 97

My grandfather was an old poet once. He used to trade poems and songs for whisky and a warm bed. He said that we needed to become their provider and to groom our Trojan horse; pointing at me. At the time I didn’t know what it meant. They started the Child Market, something my father was absolutely opposed to. He despised the idea of children ending in their hands but my grandfather convinced him that sometimes, the will of one is worth the ill of many. They traded children for songs, opium and in the end; after The Famine took its grip and made everyone crazy; information. They sold the children to the big man with the beard; the one that was on the stage that night. He wasn’t their leader, but without the other one present, he sure acted like it. In the end, they more than trusted my grandfather; they needed him. But he had a plan. The children he sent them, they couldn’t be loved. My grandmother she gave them terrible stories, frightful stories and none of them would be loved by the white heart. That was part of their plan, to keep them coming back for more until finally they gave them what they wanted, what they needed, what they weren’t expecting; me” he said. “Your father just gave you up? He can do that, with empathy?” she asked in a mix of wonder and shock. “It’s easy to love something and keep it close, being scared to lose it. True love means putting your love in danger. To feel love, one must dare to be without it” he said. “And you entered The Nest” she said. “Yes, but not before I tested my own resolve” he said. “How so?” she asked. “I had to leave my father and live with the other children on the streets, below the feet of men hungering for love. I stayed within reach, but out of sight. I had to be strange enough to my father for he himself to believe our lie. I lived for a time I cannot recall. I think I lived many lives in a single skin thinking about Safrine and the sight of her hands reaching out for me and then my father and the sight of him turning the handle to close the door. For days I would sit alone with my head in my hands and cry. I cried until 98

there were no tears left and then; when my soul was dry and my mind emptied of caring, I was like them and I was ready” he said. “You forgot your sister?” she said surprised. “And my father. I forgot their faces. I forgot the sound of their voices. I was detached from everything I knew; everything that defined me” he confessed coldly in prison canter. “What was that like?” she asked inquisitively. “I don’t really remember what it felt like to feel nothing. I remember the things I did, I remember the places I had been, but I can’t for the life of me remember what drove me to every decision” he said. “When did you start to remember?” she asked. “I lived in The Nest for many seasons, too many to mention. I can’t say what brought me out of nothingness, but in the same way something pulls at the tides and the currents drag at the surface, something inside me pulled my blankness backwards and folded it inside out or something. That’s what it felt like, like someone pulling the middle on a sheet from underneath and turning everything upside down and inside out. All of a sudden like a tear in a hull, warmth filled my mind, seeping in slowly at first but then flooding and filling my senses entirely within minutes and like the rising of the sea, something pulled me towards the shore. I didn’t remember everything and especially not the plan, I just felt that I had to find something and help it escape. I didn’t know what or who I was looking for but when I saw the big man, the one with the beard and the massive hands, I remembered him from somewhere” he said. “The rally, where Safrine was taken?” she asked. “Yes, but I didn’t know that then, just that I didn’t trust him and so I followed him and… I saw her in a room. They had her tied to all sorts of machines and they did terrible things, in all of the rooms. I knew when I saw her. It was like seeing my own reflection for the first time in years. I could see my eyes looking back at me and I knew she felt the same. The door was unlocked, maybe because she was tied, I’m not sure but I opened the door and tore 99

all the wires and tubes off of her and I got her out” he said, falling away from his breath. “That’s quite an achievement for a young boy” said Eve. “Don’t you have someone that you would do silly things for? You’re not like the other children, but you’re not like me either. What are you?” “I’m just a girl” said Eve. In the distance, the large Doberman Guard approached their cage with an oratorical rant in his eyes; his calamitous bark cutting through their ears and reducing their sight to a mere squint as it growled cholericly and shook saliva in their faces as they gripped each other, pressing against the concrete wall with their feet pushing through the bars in their incommodious cell. “Get your humans to shut up” screamed The Doberman Guard. Ruff stepped forward and stood between his human friends and the great monstrous hound barking orders unto him. “Sir, I can’t make them stop. Humans don’t understand us. I will let them run their hands through my hair, it should calm them. Please don’t hurt them” said Ruff. “If I hear one more peep out of the small one I’ll eat him. Do you understand?” said The Doberman Guard. “You won’t do that” said Ruff defiantly. “What?” screamed The Doberman Guard pushing his chest outwards, the fine hairs on his neck standing on end and his front legs pressed forwards making him appear like a tower of violence. “Go back to your corner. You have no authority here. If you hurt me or my human friends The Bitch Queen will eat you and you know it, so do us all a favour and stop yelling. I’ll do my best to keep the humans quiet; you assume that same level of control over yourself ” said Ruff. The Doberman Guard knew that Ruff was right. They were kept alive for a reason that was grander than his stature and he didn’t want to upset the queen. She had such a vile temper for a hound so small and her capabilities were surpassed only by her 100

ferocity and her desire for blood. He stepped away from the cell and stood with his wide eyes trained on Ruff and his human friends. The two humans stopped their whining and noise and sat quiet as Ruff had predicted, running their hands through his matted fur. “Why don’t you roam free?” asked Ruff . “Says the hound in a bind” replied The Doberman Guard. “Your cell is much larger, but you keep yourself in binds as well. The one in your mind, it makes a prisoner of you in any field” Ruff said. “What would you know of the mind of a hound? You are a human lover” said The Doberman Guard. “It’s not real love you know. You think you love her. Maybe you do love her. I don’t know. Tell me then, why do you love her? What does she give you in return?” asked Ruff in genuine interest and concern. “Life” replied the Doberman Guard. “Life? She gives life? How? She is a murderer and a tiny coward. She doesn’t give life; she takes it away as sport; to serve her sickness. You only love her because she hasn’t killed you yet. That’s not love, that’s rational” exclaimed Ruff. “What would you know of love?” exclaimed The Doberman Guard cynically. “You see these two humans. I met them only hours ago and yet my bond to them is so great that I would throw myself at the menace of your queen and into her pit solely to keep them alive because I love them; why? I have no idea. That’s love. You can’t analyze it. You can’t package it. You sure as hell can’t disguise your necessity to stay alive as a longing for an annoying psychotic fucking Chihuahua. This big human; I don’t even trust her but I love her” said Ruff. “You are sick; like them. A human can’t love you back. Humans haven’t loved hounds in centuries. Only the feline they pretend to understand because of its treacherousness. My queen loves me. What can you get from them? Nothing. They are incapable of 101

love unless it is of their own dressing. Humans and felines; disgusting creatures” said The Doberman Guard. “But they do love. Their empathy, it is returning. Don’t you feel it? They are different to the rest of them. They have empathy. I can feel it in the oils that wet my skin as their long fingers brush through my thick hair and the way the boy scratches behind my ears. There are more of them. There was an old man; he died yesterday morning; shivering in his own filth, left out in the cold by the armed ones. He shared his heart with me. The love he shared warmed his blood, but it wasn’t enough to heal his failing heart and diseased limbs. There are more, I’m telling you. A change is coming” said Ruff. “The Bitch Queen said the humans were incapable of love. She said they traded their hearts for the sun so that they could live with their shadow and keep in the company of themselves” said The Doberman Guard. “She wasn’t lying. They did. They traded their souls for their own reflection. They spent a century giving themselves away but it’s different now. Or it’s becoming different. You have to help us. Come, let me show you. Lower your authority, come into the cell. They won’t rebel, trust me. They are capable of love. Do you want to feel loved?” asked Ruff. The Doberman Guard thought for a moment. He could hear the shriek of love scratching at his inner voice; deafening his own will and empowering him into submission; the sound of The Queen Bitch ordering him to stand his ground. He shook his head, clearing his mind and stepped forward towards the cell, his eyes glued to Donal and Eve, trying to read through their stare. As he stood at the bars, the young boy kept his sight to the Doberman but instead of glaring wide-eyed, he lowered his head, looking upwards and blinking long and slow, lowering his sight each time with the shutting of his eyes. The female human beside him did the same. The Doberman Guard felt his defense slipping and the threat receding. It felt like the humans were caressing him with 102

their eyes. The voice in his head grew louder as he moved to open the cell door. “Stand your ground” it screamed into his thoughts, completely drowning out the sound of Ruff in a low voice welcoming him to ‘trust me and ‘open the doors’. The violence in his head grew and he shook and he shook until behind him stood an army of hounds; all snarling and drooling on the cold concrete floor and at their centre; on her throne, carried upon the backs of boars sat The Bitch Queen. “You dare defy me; to prove how you do not love me? Speak to me hound” she screamed at The Doberman Guard who was now hunched inwards carrying his tail between his legs and whimpering discontent in a pathetic empty shrill. “Get back to your post and think of me adoringly and you; mutt, you and your disgusting humans; we will play a game” said The Bitch Queen as the wild boars licked their lips hungrily.


twelve “Hello child. Would you like a sweet?” said The Creepy Old Man, digging his hand into a dirty old heshem bag, pushing around, trying to fumble through its infinite wonder and bring into the light, a treat for the young girl who looked scared and lost. Safrine stood in her tracks and dared not to look around. The sound of his voice snuck its way into her ears and reminded her of how she felt when she walked through cobwebs at night; that light sticky feeling of creepy crawly things all over her skin waiting to sink their poison into her. She stood perfectly still; as she would in a dressing of spider’s silk, waiting for the voice to fall from her ear and scutter away on the dusted earth, back into its filth ridden hole. Instead of looking around, Safrine stared straight ahead as she had for what could have been hours or days since the big man and the sympathetic woman and told her to wait, with the nice woman smiling and promising that she would return in a moment. That moment hadn’t come. Safrine dared not venture where the adults had told her not; for she knew that one only pushed against a pillar that would not fall and therefore; though her spirit aided her to flight, she knew she needed the big man to carve out a path and the nice woman to carry her along it for without them, she would feel her brother but have none of the strength to catch up with his shadow. “Hey little girl, look what I have” said the voice again. Again, Safrine kept her focus charged, thinking only of her brother of whom she adored and when his face consumed her conscious eye, she was blind to the threat that shuffled its worn shoes behind her as if some imaginary queue were working its way slowly towards where she stood in transient daze. “Do you like rainbows?” said The Creepy Old Man. “Do you like rainbow shiny stars?” he said again. 104

The Creepy Old Man had his eyes locked on the little girl and was mesmerized by the way she looked so intently out into the distance. It made him want to reward her more and more and so he reached around with his long skinny fingers inside his dirty old heshem bag and touched and squeezed at this and that until out came his hand with a small furry cat and he put the small kitty right down on the ground and the little cat then made a little cat sound. “Girl, little girl, won’t you give him a pat. He is just a cute little sad pussy cat. Girl little girl won’t you give him a hug so the sad little cat can be warmed by your love” sang The Creepy Old Man. Safrine was unmoved and unheard. She stood transfixed by her brother’s eyes that seemed to look past her own intent stare; over her shoulder at something creeping upon her step and kept whatever it was, at bay. He had always protected her since she was born. He was always there to fend off the bigger children and the adults with their lingering stares and insinuating fingers that were always waving and pointing in her direction. He always made her close her eyes as he did that specific something that he was great at doing so that they would all go away. He’d never let her see what he was doing because he said it wasn’t good for a child to think or act like an adult for if they did, they’d grow up real fast and start trying to be just as crazy as everybody else and then start being scared of everything and stop having fun. “Is that what happened to Dada?” she said in her mind to the image of her brother as his face looked over her shoulder at something conspiring against her. When Safrine was born her mother died. She knew nothing more than that it had happened. Her father never spoke their mother’s name and when she would ask about her, he would lend a soft hand on the top of her hair and hold it there for a moment before getting up and walking away. Usually he would yell at Donal; her brother, and then, when their father left for the night, Donal would yell at her and cry himself to sleep. 105

Whenever these memories fell upon her, Safrine would remember the time Donal saved her from The Smelly Boys. She called them the smelly boys because they slept inside a dried sewer pipe every night; a big group of them. There was no water or anything. The pipes hadn’t worked since before she was born; before The Uprising and long before the blackout. Still, the pipes smelt like old poo and I guess they must have worked for a long time because those boys smelt really bad and whenever they came near, Safrine would make a funny face and pinch her nose and sing; “Smelly boys, smelly boys, 1,2,3. You look like poo and you smell like wee.” Safrine was just a little girl and they were big and mean. When she sang her song, The Smelly Boys ganged together and at first stood far, away calling her names and then, when she continued her song, they got real angry and came closer and threw rocks at her. Then, when she wouldn’t stop, The Smelly Boys would encircle her and started pushing her to the ground. This one time it happened and it wouldn’t have been maybe a second after the first boy pushed her that Donal came running from behind the sheds where they stayed and charged at the group, clenching; in his hand, a long shard of glass and he ran at the biggest boy who stood at the centre of the group and when he pushed through the other boys to be standing in front of Safrine; facing this boy, he grunted before jumping up into the air with his eyes wide and wired and stabbed the glass into the older boy’s face. He cut him deeply, from his chin up his cheek and through his eye and when he crashed to the floor, he crouched over his sister who sat giggling to herself as the older smelly boy fell backwards into the group of boys, screaming and crying, holding his hand tightly over his missing eye. The other boys simply ran away in fright. Safrine loved the way he would always defend her and she was so proud of how strong he was. When their grandfather taught them how to fight she always preferred to play instead, not having the focus to remember the moves. 106

She liked instead to play with her puzzle cube and while she turned it with her fingers, she would watch her brother punching and kicking and fastening his eyes like a hunter’s bow, seeing everything about him at once but seemingly only focused on where he would strike. She always felt brave looking into his eyes and she knew that as long as he was near, nothing would ever scare her; even when she was taken by the men with white hearts. That night; when they snuck out to follow their father, she remembered being so excited, holding her brother’s hand and walking between the legs of all the adults. They never went out by themselves at night; especially around adults, so it was quite a thing to be out there; just the two of them, running between the long legs, being kicked and shuffled about but managing to not be seen; she holding close to her brother and he, focused as he always was, on the shape of their father, making its way through the massive crowd. If she were alone she would have panicked. She would have been distraught; kicking and screaming on the ground and most certainly those crazy adults would have done bad things to her, just like they did to all the other children. She always wondered if adults were always this mean to children and if so, then why did they keep on making more? Then again, they were crazy. She felt just as brave now though; ignoring the voice behind her, as she did that night being dragged along by her brother, ignoring the danger of the big people. There were so many of them that night. It was a rally or something. Someone important was going to speak and well, up to that point nobody had ever done that before, at least, not since she was born so people were pretty excited and fidgety and then when they couldn’t hear or see anything, they got really angry. Her brother’s hand was pretty tight around her but it slipped away so easily when the big man wrapped his big hands around her and lifted her off the ground. She kept looking at Donal who was 107

looking for their father and he was so stern and brave and she felt that bravery as well and she didn’t at all feel scared when the big man tied her hands together and then carried her over his shoulder as he walked off through the crowd. She wasn’t scared because Donal wasn’t scared. He would rescue her. He always did. He didn’t that night though. She called out his name like she always did and eventually he turned and looked at her and she remembered how soft his eyes seemed. They looked like two broken egg shells and the strength inside him was just oozing out and he put his arm out and yelled her name but she couldn’t really hear over the yelling people and then when he disappeared, she lay across the broad shoulders of the man with a white heart on his chest and she just imagined his face, except with unbroken eyes; as she imagined him now, while The Creepy Old Man loitered about her absenteeism. Her brother’s eyes were very strong, like that of the sun; so different to other people and Safrine kept his image burning in her mind as a man going blind would; his own reflection. And for the years she was kept tied to a table and prodded with needles and sang to and prodded with needles some more, she never strayed from the industry of her conscious eye, looking long into her own reflection; the insistent staunch stare of her beloved twin brother. And after years of blood transfusions and watching other children die beside her on a metal tray, she never waned from her focus, she never heard of her captor’s promise and she never lost her faith that he would come and rescue her. And so, after many years and a great many operations and having swapped so much of her blood, he came to rescue her. And his face was older, just as hers must have looked, but his eyes were just as they had always been; stern, bold and untrammeled; as if he were not the flesh that aged his bones, but instead the fire inside that kept them warm. And though his face had changed and he wore many more of a scar, she knew; looking into that fire, just who he was and 108

when he untied her from the tubes that stuck out of her veins and guided her out into the far end of the complex; behind the big containers, she just smiled to herself cause she knew he would always save her, not matter how long it took. And since that day; only days ago, she had again kept his eyes igniting the hope in her spirit, giving her the will to keep herself positioned where she was, waiting for the big man and the nice woman to return and collect her so that they could continue their way to find Donal and meet with their father. “I bet you like ponies, there must be one here somewhere” said The Creepy Old Man, reaching further into his dirty old heshem bag trying to find something to break the girl’s concentration. The Creepy Old Man stretched his face in a wondering way looking out from the tips of his fingers as they wriggled and wried through the seemingly endless array of this and that inside his spatially paradoxical old heshem bag. “Do you like stories?” he said. “What cannot know me cannot will me to give myself away” said Safrine, knowing of something creeping on her step, but remaining focused in her mind’s eye; her conscious theatre, feeding on the bravery of her brother. “Oh such a thing when such a sweet little girl has her tongue wrapped as a man” said The Creepy Old Man. “Much better then is it, to be an old man leering upon young girls?” she said sarcastically. “You’re words are strapping my little one, but you have nothing to fear with me, I am just like you. True, my skin is heavy on my bones, it sits just as loose as time calls me old, but my soul my dear girl is ageless and wild, just as the soul of a rambunctious child. These sticks and these stones may wear at my bones but time, it shall never age me” sang The Creepy Old Man who now stood over Safrine. His long, skinny and dirty fingers wriggled with excitement as they touched the air that bridged with the skin on her shoulder. He wiggled his toes too in the warm air as they stuck out from his 109

dirty old shoes and The Creepy Old Man was electric with the pulse of youth inflating his sunken veins and warming his discolored blotchy skin. His hot sticky breath splashed across her neck and she felt an uneasy shiver run up her spine but it didn’t pull her from her concentration and still she stood rooted into the dusted earth, her mind unwavering, feeding directly from the energy bursting from her brother’s eyes like the craning of a flower, thirsted by the morning sun, molested not, by the creeping and crawling insect hungering for its little green leaves. “What for do you wait, little girl, for what do you wait?” said The Creepy Old Man pressing his long skinny fingers against each other and licking his grimy lips. “Try as you will to pick and pick away, but for the parts that you pick were never meant to stay” she said in riddle. “Oh, this is fun” said The Creepy Old Man dancing on his tippy toes; entrenched in the shadow of the young girl who obeyed her focus as the fallen to the fall. “Do you like puzzles?” asked The Creepy Old Man. He reached into his dirty old heshem bag and took from its bottomless pit a coloured cube that could turn on itself and with every turn, take one further from where they longed themselves to be. The Creepy Old Man laid his dirty old heshem bag on the ground by his feet and stretched his long skinny old arms over Safrine’s shoulders so that his hands held the coloured cube in front of her eyes. The Creepy Old Man turned the coloured cube so that the side that was blue was no longer blue and the side that was red was no longer red. And for each colour to do what of them was said, one had to find reason outside of their head. For to pursue of a colour one would leave another undone, unravel confusion and spoil all the fun but to twist with one’s fingers and not with one’s mind, could make whole of the colour unto every side. “I long and I yearn; I hanker and pine, for someone to play 110

with, a friend to be mine. Won’t you come with me and will not you play? Please don’t you keep me at arm’s reach away. For I’m just a boy who has lived all these years, chilled by my aging but warmed by my tears, for sadness alone’s a condition of age, a bargain with time for a child in a cage and so here you do find me, so here I do stand as a child in the body of a dying old man. Please do not weigh and confuse and despise, the boy in my heart for the age in my eyes” he sang. Safrine comforted in his song and for a moment, lost the stare of her brother and her mind filled with childish dare. She focused then on the long skinny hands holding a coloured cube before her eyes and she lost herself momentarily in the swift grace of his fingers as they twisted and turned the colours into a theatrical blur. “If forever you will not, then what of a spell, to join me in game, in song or in tell? If will you will not just to will me away then convince you I will for with me you will stay and your will if you will it, it will help you out, for the odds of the game are decision and doubt and the pot it is grand; a prize to behold, for the shy little girl and boy who looks old” he said. “What is the game and what is the prize and what is the wish of the boy with man’s eyes?” she asked being charmed into rhyme. “Return to you I can those who sleep in the sand and of whose presence you wait to escape you from fate that around you calls danger like a shark unto bait. But fail in the trial and triumph is mine, then with me you stay as my friend for all time” sang The Creepy Old Man, still turning the coloured square in front her eyes. The words sang softly in her ear; along with the swift shift of his fingers, helped to abandon her reason and she thought then of how good she had always been at game. “What is the game?” she said. “The cube. Like humming the words to your favourite song, return all the colours to where they belong. Should you be first, get of what you deserve, the wish of your wanting, I grant you my word. But should all the colours in my hand first complete then 111

forever you stay as the prize of defeat. Mine, be you mine, be you mine, be you mine; my own little girl for the eternity of time” he sang. “Deal” she said adamantly. The Creepy Old Man stopped the turning of his hands and lowered the coloured cube into Safrine’s grasp. The girl took the cube in her own hands and started to turn. As she did, The Creepy Old Man clasped her hands together, stopping them from turning the square. “Look at me you will as we play of this game as stories to tell will be told just the same but to cheat you shall not, for before me to start, is you giving your hand for us never to part. If this be your will then be what it may for mine shall you be, forever you stay.” “Fine,” said the girl “I’ll look to your eyes but when I win of this game it’s of me you’ll despise, for eternity I’ll stay in the back of your mind, haunting your solace and wishing you blind. And the last thing you’ll see is the despite in my eye and it burns in your conscious till the day that you die as a child in the body of a dirty old man, convinced he’s a prisoner of temporal sand and I as the victor will forget of your name, forget of the boy and forget of this game and none shall be told you had once to exist, never your name shall appear on a list. Mine, I be mine, I be mine, I be mine; shall be the will of I am, for the rest of my time. Let’s play” she said, mocking his rhyme. “Which one of your friends will you will into wake should you win of this game and its prize should you take?” said The Creepy Old Man. “Only one?” said Safrine angered. “One hand and one life. One hand lost has you mine” he said. “That’s not just. I have too much to lose. Surely what’s fair is that you wake both the woman and the man” she said. “Where is the just if the just is not fair and then what of the thrill should the risk be not there? Which shall it be then shall it be done to the victor the spoils of a single hand won. So tell me little 112

girl; before you are mine, which prize keeps you game in the back of your mind” he sang. Safrine thought and argued over which one to wake and even though the big man had played such a cruel hand in her life; having stood over the shoulder as an eagle eye of smaller men who stuck her with needles and tied her to tubes, it was he who had the strength to carry them away from the burning nest and the force to carve out the destiny for which she willed. But she knew he only wanted bad things for her and all of the terrible that he had one would be a far cry from all of the terrible he had yet to do. The nice woman was nice but nicety would never sever the ferocity from the ferociousness that was bound to upon them bound, from where it was that dark things seemed to always loom. Her terrible would not be in what things she may do, but in what; because of her, terrible things may be done. And Safrine knew that she could thirst her way through a drought of kindness on this journey, just a lizard could do without its tail on the brink of escape, for when she found her brother, there would be plenty of love to be had and this thought alone could sustain her as it would be that she made necessary, the evil that adults could do. If she woke the big man, he could carry the nice woman in his big hands and when they reached the boat where her kin would abide, the big man’s hands would be tied enough for a moment to escape and she could grab onto that moment and run with it into her father’s arms while her brother made all of the bad people go away. “I’ll wake of the man with calamitous hands” said Safrine to The Creepy Old Man; her fingers clenching the coloured cube, hoping to herself that she had chosen right. “So it will be and shall it done, as victor to spoils, as chase is to run” sang The Creepy Old Man. Safrine left her prints in the sand where she had stood waiting for the nice woman and the big man to return. She turned and faced The Creepy Old Man and gasped at his horrid complexion, his sickly frail body; his deathlike detention. 113

The two sat facing each other with their legs crossed comfortably, each holding a coloured cube in their hands and each looking the other long in the eye, their fingers perched on the edges of the cubes like a runner’s toes, barely kissing the track, tentatively primed to excel into absolute sprint; the energy of her being building now in her finger tips and waiting for The Creepy Old Man’s call to start the race. “Begin” said The Creepy Old Man, shifting his fingers.


thirteen He couldn’t remember any of the journey. All he had seen was the passing of canopy as his head hanged back over his shoulders, staring idly into the sky as his arms stretched out above his body carrying the extent of his weight as his heels dug into the dirt and dragged along behind the momentum of his captors as the sun; high in the air, maintained their discomfort and exacerbated their exhaustion. He had slipped in and out of consciousness since waking from the fall and as his body scraped along the dusty track, he thought only of his delusions and he wondered if it would be fonder to die a stranger to himself than to be awoken to the reason for his flight and succumb to whatever past he kept in a quieting coma in the backs of his mind and in death’s throes, wishing that he could close his eyes and forget everything one more time. His captors were mumbling amongst one another. They kept their whispers low but he could sense scheming in their snicker and in the hiss of their restrained laughter. He couldn’t see them but imagined they were no different to the two old ladies of whom he woke to, attempting to cut off his face. When they arrived at their destination, his captors dragged his body towards an open cell, bound by bamboo bars that shot up into the blue sky. They carefully positioned his body on its back and as he lay there, staring up into the blue sky blinding his sight against the afternoon sun, a realization beckoned his conscious mind. He needed to learn how to skip his conscious state and enter into delusion. If The Woman were here; he wouldn’t feel so alone. Even if he had to die here, somewhere beyond reality, at least he wouldn’t die alone. But her face slipped from his sight every time he tried to recall it. She was buried somewhere far in his subconscious, weighed down by some terrible emotion that was tied to some unfortunate 115

event as is usually the case with memories stored so far out of reach; not very obvious but like condescendence to young child, subtle enough to influence with a foul intent. “What’s your name?” said a voice that sounded young like him but spoke without fear. Marcos lay completely still. His body was sore but it wasn’t broken. It would take him some time to gather his strength. As the sun drenched his eyes, he thought only of strengthening his mind before he armed his body. “They’re preparing your skin. They use the sun to leather it. It’s much easier to dress. My name is Sofia. What is your name?” she said. “Marcos. I think. I’m not sure. I don’t know. I woke up here. I have no idea who I am or what I did to get here. Where are we?” he asked. The voice moved from behind his sight and stood over him. She was beautiful. She held more life in a single hair than he felt in the entirety of his soul. Her eyes were like crystals; and as he looked long into them, he felt himself scatter in a million directions. Just one look into her eyes; a moment of trance, was enough to liberate the binds of his conscious trappings. His pain vanished as the blinding sun hid behind her demure shadow whilst above him, she looked down woefully at his crumpled frame, taking away the fright of solitude that had been his only companion since waking outside of remembrance. “I don’t know where we are. I was brought here like you. I woke in this cage. There were many of us but now there is just me; and now you” she said. “What do they want with us” asked Marcos. “They want our faces” said Sofia, lifting her hand slowly to a gentle caress of her cheek. Her slender fingers touched lightly against her sun burnt skin, running down her neck to her chest and then holding in the air before the woe in which she dressed upon Marcos; a feeling which outweighed the pull of gravity and at one moment had lifted 116

her hand high, pulled it firm to her side; lifeless as an extension of her impeded soul. “I don’t want to know. Have you been here long? Do you have amnesia as well?” he asked. “No. I remember everything. I remember my mother’s smile. I remember my father’s voice. I remember playing out in the field with my friends. I don’t remember the game or its rule. I don’t remember what we said to one another but I remember that we were happy even though I look back with an amber lens and I mourn every memory because a memory lives, only when a moment dies. I remember I never looked through an amber lens before. Everything was always so clear; so true. And now, there is just this yearning. I was taught this word; yearning. I don’t remember ever feeling this sensation. It is so heavy but it feels warm and familiar, I could drown here and I wouldn’t lose a breath” she said. “I don’t understand. What happened to your friends? Were they taken as well?” he asked. “I come from somewhere very different to this. It’s not too far from where we are on this Earth, but it’s a lifetime away from where we are in our minds, right now” she said. “Your friends are they alive? What happened to them? Are there more of us?” asked Marcos twisting in his body; not willing, but commanding every muscle to move. He lifted his body and the pain from the bruises on his ribs coursed through his mind. He breathed like a raging bull, venting the extent of his agony to avoid an escaping scream that might call the attention of his captors. He pulled his hand over his eyes to block out the blinding sun. The way it burned, it felt as if he had never swam in its warmth a single day in his life. “They took their faces, all of them; my friends, my brother. I see them dancing under the morning sun as the first light touches their stolen skin. Something happens to them and they dance and then that is all they do. They hunt, they deface, they dress and they dance. And they never tire; ever. And now I wait for them to dance with me. All I can do is wait; and yearn. O how I yearn. It is such 117

beautiful word and an intoxicating state; sadness and loving bedding with the want of desire. We never had this emotion before. My people, they do not yearn” she said. “They have no desire?” “They have no want. They have no need. They have no desire. They feel no good and they feel no bad; to make your bed with one is to cheat on another. My people, they feel. There is nothing more to it. Nothing is lost and nothing is gained. They do not comprehend loss, therefore they do not comprehend gain, therefore they do not want what they do not have and they do not yearn for what they have not lost. My mother and father, they live without me and yet they do not even know that I am gone” she said mournfully. “And you, why are you different? Why do you yearn?” “The mind can only deny the heart so many times. And when I lost enough of my love, my heart would not let me forget anymore” she said. “How many of you were there, here in this cage? How many were taken?” “One and many are but the same number in the division of one’s heart. The loss of one, is no less than the loss many.” “Is there a way out of here? We have to escape.” “There is no escape. You go when you are chosen but you go with them and you return only, as a dress.” “What about your people? Your tribe, it’s close to here. Surely they are looking for you?” “They do not know loss so they do not comprehend that we are gone. Do you understand? My people, they only know what is, not what is not. Nobody is coming for us” she said sternly. “How can they not know that you are gone? Don’t you have an obligation? Don’t you have a function?” he said, as if some primal learning were finally awakening to him and her life were more foreign now than it were only a moment ago when he consciously knew less of himself. “My people only know what is, therefore the concept of 118

what is not, is foreign to them. They cannot comprehend what is incomprehensible and if they cannot comprehend it, then they cannot see it, they cannot touch it, they cannot taste it and they cannot feel it. Soon, they will forget that it ever existed. For if they cannot sense it then it cannot be, therefore it is not real and does not exist. I yearn for my mother and father, but now that I am gone, they have forgotten that I ever existed.” “What is a father? What is a mother? Are they important?” asked Marcos intrigued. “A father is… a father. He made me and my mother is my mother. How can you not know what mother and father are?” she asked confused. “I’m sorry, it’s just very strange. I mean all of this, it’s very strange. What do you mean they made you?” “They… made me what more is there to say. My mother and father made love and then my mother gave birth to me, they made me; you know, life.” Marcos looked bewildered; his eyes crunched downwards, a blank stare cast upon his face, more lost now than he was making stride through the wilderness when he woke into a race for his life. Then a word etched in his mind; familiarity. “The Industry” he said loudly. “What industry? What does that mean? I have never heard that word before.” “The Industry. They produce life. I remember now. It’s coming back, slowly, but I’m starting to remember. Your city, it has an Infant Industry; extraction factories? Contracts? Products? Investors?” he asked, each time remembering a little more of himself and in the absent stare dressed upon him, realizing how far from reality he really was. He wondered, in a nano of a second, whether it would have been sweeter to run with no direction in mind and no distance from the heart. And then he started to yearn, thinking at first of The Woman in his dreams and her simple black hair and the soft lilac fringe that she would always pull from her eyes and how, when 119

she wanted to cut it, he always said no because there was nothing in the world as pretty as she; when the light caught the tip of her finger pulling back on her hair like the opening of a shade, gently pressing it behind her ear and he, running his sight down the length of her arm and caressing with his thoughts, every curve in her body, bursting into a billion particles as his senses pressed against the warmth of her heart. He thought first of this moment and then of a collection of papers that he had, since his Branding, kept in a drawer beside his front door. And he thought about how every night he would open then drawer with a gloved hand, taking the papers into the light and then laying on his back as he read every term and clause of his agreement, imaging the wonder of life as his product lived every day according to its obligation. It’s obligation to The Industry and its obligation to him. As Sofia yearned for her father, Marcos thought of his obligation, his desire to choose correctly and he too yearned. He yearned for a collection of white papers, stacked neatly in antique oak drawer beside his front door. “We don’t have that word in our vocabulary. In fact I couldn’t imagine anything outside of nature producing life; we just participate; the mother, the father, the child” she said. “Then how do you extract the infants; without machines?” “They arrive when they are ready” she said. Marcos was confused. He felt infant in his knowledge of the world but certain facts, certain innate truths were washing over him as he drowned under the scorching sun. He knew that he was far from where he belonged. He was far from his dwelling, far from his obligation, far from his contract folded neatly in a small antique drawer beside his bed, far from The Woman in his dreams; the one who caused him concern but for whose closeness and familiarity he longed, far from a decision that would matter; one that would affect a person other than himself and far from The Industry, the protector from the ills of nature. As he closed his eyes, the darkness cooled his mind as he 120

saw how foreign he was under this horrid sun. He had never seen one before. He didn’t know that they could exist. Wherever he was, it was far from home and being here, he felt distant and estranged from himself. “What do you know about them?” “We call them Facers. They call themselves The Elemental Ladies. I don’t know much more, just what I perceive. My friends; the ones they took one by one, I never saw their bodies again, not one. But their faces returned. They wore them. It changed them. They would revere one another and then they would want another face and they would take another of my friends. It was like…” “Fashion” said Marcos. “What is that?” “The assembly of self. It is something we have in our City, something wonderful. The desire to change one’s self.” “Why would someone desire change?” “Resetting values, renewal of identity. Change is necessary and change is good. We would change everything if we could. Our world is changing every day and we change with it, our desire for difference and our desire to belong have us desiring all day long.” “Is it like yearning? Do you yearn for change?” “For change? No. We only want the result. We don’t want to change, We want to be changed. The result is never fast enough for our desire. That is the rule of fashion” “Sounds defeating, purposeless.” “But without it, who are you?” “I’m Sofia.” “No, who are you?” “I am Sofia.” “You don’t get me; it’s supposed to be a mantra” “What is a mantra?” “It’s a word or a question or a thought; something that when you speak it or think it in your mind, all your thoughts vanish, and you feel light.” “You’re thoughts are heavy?” 121

“Not all of them, but I guess, yeah they are. We collect a lot of information and sometimes it can get confusing, knowing what to throw away and what to collect. And what they mean I suppose.” “Why do you collect them if you’re just going to throw them away?” “Everyone does. I have to be like everyone else if I ever want to be better than them. I have to be informed. Information is intelligence and intelligence is attraction and attraction is power.” As he spoke his strangeness, Sofia; though participative, held her hand to her cheek, picking at the skin on her face, trying in vain to scratch through the surface but as she did, pain rushed from her fingertips through her whole body and she weakened, letting out a gasp and flailing her arms. “What are you doing” asked Marcos shocked. “Trying to save my face” she said. “By cutting at it, are you crazy?” “I can’t. I have no nails” she said holding her hands out to Marcos who looked over the bloodied stumps where her fingertips and nails should be. “Why did they do that?” “They’ll have done the same to you no doubt. They remove your nails so you can’t pick at their dress.” “They’re what?” “That’s what they call it; your face; they call it a skin dress. They wear your face, like you wear your clothes. Well… maybe not now” she said trying to avoid his exposed genitalia. “Why?” “To live forever. As long as they wear a face; as long as they change the face, they never die. They just keep dancing” she said hanging her head low. “Live forever? Why would anyone want that? What happens if I cut my skin?” he asked. “They don’t like that. They won’t let you. Look at your hands” she said, pointing to the ground where his hands stayed; fixed, obedient and now pulsating as he awoke to a pain he hadn’t 122

to a pain he hadn’t known existed, staring at a dark red bandage covering the extent of his hands. The pain from his fingertips started to throb and with every pulse he slipped further from his conscious burden; the absurd reality he wished was only a dream until he found himself again, awake inside the body of a man; staring out through his eyes at a woman who looked upon his with affection; her, again. The Woman was laid out on a sofa, her legs pulled up to her chest and a gentle smile dressing her face. Her eyes shimmered as she looked at Marcos, dancing like they always seemed to when it was that she wanted something so badly. He always knew when she was at weakness; watching the lashes of her eyes flicker; the black tint brushing against the soft white of her skin. It was like watching a butterfly gently flutter its wings, stretching out its sleep in the morning light, casting off a single drop of rain high above the variegated circles painted upon its body which then broke into a million tinier droplets; all scattering through the mixes of blue and lighter blue that made up the portrait of the morning air like a delicate chaos. The joy she willed to restrain always made its escape through her long black lashes and when he saw this, he heard her soul singing for more; “Dress me in your appreciation” it said. “Make love to my necessity.” And though he knew her weak, he knew himself weaker at this moment, staring deep into her want, like the young boy again watching the girl’s defiance as her hands glowed red from the thunderous cracks against her white skin and her eyes; unyielding, but her lashes; flickering lightly as she stared in his direction and he; watching her; wanting to be loved; wanting to bed with her necessity. “I want to show you something” said Marcos holding a small booklet in his hands; still staring into The Woman’s giddy stare; feeling sexualized and only a mockery of the confidence of which he normally addressed. “Is it a brochure, from The Industry?” she asked excitedly. She threw her legs down flat and kicked them up and down 123

like a wriggly worm. “Can you believe we’re doing this? I mean I know I was scared before but this is a big thing and I’ve changed, it changes you; overnight, you wake up a different person; more mature, more important, more industrial. I think I was scared of that change you know? I just needed to accept that, yes, as of now, I am an Investor. I am an Investor, I am an Investor, I am an Investor. God I can’t believe I’m actually saying these words. I know we didn’t exactly plan on this but you know, why not? I mean it’s inevitable, we have to think about our future; you and me” she said in innocent splendor, like a child to her doll completely unaware of the course of her reality; sipping from the well of naivety and feasting upon the breast of self-indulgence. “I think I want to keep the baby” he said; his words sounding like a dog’s bark against her tender ear; vulgar and of no sense whatsoever. The Woman just stared at him as if there was a wire loose in his mechanics and he was emitting strange sounds; strange troublesome sounds. “Keep what, what’s a baby Marcos?” she asked; more demanding than asking really. “Just keep an open mind” he said as he swung her legs off the sofa and sat down beside her with the small booklet in his hands and an exhilaration she had never seen beaming from his eyes; almost how a universe must have felt when it bore its first sun, watching the energy bouncing about against the backdrop of its own luminal absence. The Woman pulled closer; already attaining some prescribed defense in her thoughts. Marcos held the booklet in front of their view. “Instructions on how to birth a baby” said The Woman mockingly; using an inflected masculine tone in her voice. “So what is it?” she continued. “Patience” he replied, pulling the cover back and gently folding it under the press of his fingers. 124

He flipped past the contents with strange titles that made The Woman wonder and gasp and giggle and caused Marcos to fall into discontent. “Look, I know it’s weird, but can you just take this seriously, for a second, for me, please” he pleaded. “Ok, ok, I’m sorry. So what is a baby Marcos?” she said in a calm tone. “It’s what they call a product, or called a product. I don’t know how old this is, but it was written in a Helvetica type print so this predates anything I’ve ever learned of. They say that a product, sorry, a baby is a living thing, I mean while it is inside of you, it is like us; just, it is evolving. But they say, like us, it can feel and it can want; it’s alive, so it can die” he said. “That’s absurd” she said. “I thought so too at first, but look at this. They explain the science here and it’s plausible. Day by day, the cells are evolving just like you do now. Day by day your skin radiates more, your hair casts its ends closer to the earth, your desires mature and your selfappreciation refines; day by day, you flower, you take a breath of the warm air against your pale skin and the cells beneath partake in dance, they lift your feet into the air, they pull you closer to the sun to drink from its mount of existence. Inside you now, there is a living thing, a collation of cells coming together, evolving, being; dancing, casting themselves high, reaching out to their sun; your heart, fed by your soul” he said. The Woman stared empty into his eyes. Her lashes no longer fluttered. Instead she bore a childish fright; an indomitable ‘what if ’ undid the knots of her subconscious binds; the ones that educated a ubiquitous absence of human affection. A sickness welled in her stomach again and she swallowed the sensation as Marcos took her hand consolingly and gripped tight; forcing her conscious focus to fall on his warm hand, on his tender touch, on the strength of his belief and do away with her infantile indecision. “They describe everything; about what you’re feeling 125

physically and about what changes will occur metaphysically during and after what they call the pregnancy. They humanize the whole process. They don’t look at the object in your stomach as an object; it is a being, it is human like us. And this process is procedural yes, but determined and governed by nature; it’s natural” he said. “What do you mean?” “I mean, we weren’t chosen by The Industry. This was not a lottery. This had nothing to do with The City at all. I did this, we did this. Look here, this chapter on what they call Conception. They show how the baby got inside you” he said, turning the pages. The Woman continued staring in disbelief. It was horrible to think that from their sex had come this responsibility; had come this change that was not of her willing. It was horrible to think that The Industry had played no part; that they were not chosen to invest, that there could be no lottery, which for something so dangerous like re-creation of life; that The City or The Industry could not be in control; like a flight with no autopilot or a system with no architect. It made no sense and the idea was; nothing short of horrific. It was horrible thinking that life could come from sex; something so violent and barbaric of an act; which from a human, liking to an animal; overcome with sensual ferocity, came creation. What Industry could permit such nonsense? It was horrible to think and worse yet to imagine that the thing inside her, the sickness that welled in her gut, was a being, born of this desire. “This baby, it is us. Don’t you understand? This isn’t a chip from The Industry. You are not a server. Your stomach is not room to rent. Do you get what I’m saying here? This baby is a mixture of us. We are this baby, this baby is us. It has our cells, it shares our heart. It will grow to be us. It will have my height, it will have your hair, it have my eyes, it will have your care, it will have my anger, it will have your love, it will have the flutter in your eyes when you dress with desire, it will have everything we have, it will have all of the above. Do you get it? This baby is us. We created it. We are The Industry” he said emphatically. 126

“Marcos stop” she screamed, turning to her side and vomiting onto the floor. Marcos immediately dropped the booklet to his side and pulled her lilac fringe from her face, holding it over her ear and caressing her back with his other hand. “I know this sounds scary, but I don’t think it has to be. Haven’t you ever wondered about your Investors? Isn’t it strange that we keep the idea that they exist not in our thoughts but somewhere near our heart? Isn’t it odd that we protect the idea of an Investor as if we are protecting The Industry itself, but maybe this link, this trust we have, it’s not in an intangible idea, maybe we understand our investor not because we will inevitably be one or we desire our entitlements, but because, they are us. We admire ourselves, so we admire them and when we hate ourselves, it is true then that we also hate them. Last month, we were not Investors, what reason did we have other than our learning to defend so rightly in our hearts the existence of our Investors and why do we feel so compelled to make every choice so certain when the reward is not ours? How could we possibly comprehend the value of this committal if in turn we had not invested ourselves into The Industry? How could this be; if we had no link at all to them; if there was no familiarity whatsoever; if we were just a product and they were just Investors? We make the right choices for them because they are us, thus we make the right choices for ourselves. We defend them in all irrationality because we are universally linked to them. We are the grey to their black and white. We were born of them, not of The Industry. Look here” he said, opening the booklet. “They are our fathers and mothers. They’re not Investors. They’re not random and faceless. They feel for our condition, even if they’re not conscious of this. The book says that they love of us, but different to the love that we have for each other; it’s more potent, more visceral. Why do you think they care so much about the quality of their product? They talk about returns in words of entitlement but subconsciously the return they long for is to know that their babies are doing ok without them. Why do they check 127

the paper everyday looking at Industry gains? They are checking on their babies. This makes so much sense. I know it sounds crazy, trust me I get it; but I think they may be right” he said falling quiet in his last words, emptying his charge and sitting back down beside The Woman on the sofa letting the booklet fall onto her lap. “Do you feel different?” “Different how?” “Do you feel the same way about the thing in your stomach as anything you horde in your closet?” “I haven’t tried to terminate my shoes if that’s what you mean” she replied. “That’s exactly what I mean” he said exhausted. As fire touched upon his skin, Marcos awoke to a scream jumping into his scorched body; being molested by the fiery circle sitting high in the clear blue sky and beside him stood the strange girl, still looking down on him pityingly. “They’re coming” she said, ignoring the pain in her fingers as she tried to claw at her face in a last stand to tarnish the mould. Marcos had forgotten for a second the danger he was in. Coming out from these dreams; these excursions into his hidden self were exhausting and each time it took him several minutes to return to his quickly approaching reality. “No!” screamed the strange girl as three old ladies came dancing into sight, opened the bamboo gate that kept them prisoner under the scorching clear blue sky, kicked the strange girl’s legs from beneath her, sending her careening to the hard and hot dirt floor and then dragged her by the hair; kicking and screaming, out and away from Marcos who sat in a dream state stupor; rubbing his eyes and still gathering his senses. And now as he was as he had been; before, when abandon was his only companion; completely alone.


fourteen “Are you ok dear?” asked The Pudgy Old lady. “I’m fine, just tie it off ” said The Fat Old Lady as her comrade yanked firmly on the skin dress she wore, trying to stretch the lengths near the ears to tie it off around the back of her neck. The dress was slipping recklessly and if it fell away from her face, it would spell catastrophe. The naked man had cut through the fabric and into the muscles on her cheek. Most of it was leathered like the heel of a mountain climber’s feet. Several hundred million years will do that to muscle. The two comrades were huddled just outside their camp. They weren’t sure of their next move. They could see the cages in the centre and inside one; the naked man lying on his back convulsing under the sun. They were drying him. They would thirst every molecule in his body until the dress was conditioned enough to be cut and worn. “Is he dancing dear?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “No he’s not. This one is Famined. Poisoned meat” said The Fat Old Lady. “What does that mean?” said The Pudgy Old Lady. “The dress will disease unless we get it off the naked one soon. But it must be through ritual or it will just wither” said The Fat Old Lady. “Do you know how? I mean, alone?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. The Fat Old Lady grunted sharply and her pudgy comrade understood immediately the sentence of her expression and looked obsequiously upon her esteemed comrade, retreating into the relenting acceptance of her willful submission. In the near distance something stirred. “It’s Mother” said The Pudgy Old Lady. “Shut up. See what they are doing first” said The Fat Old Lady. 129

“They’re clothing him” said The Pudgy Old Lady. ”The ritual will commence shortly, we have to act fast. I’ll need you to help me. I don’t have enough strength. I will speak with the Elemental Ladies, create a diversion. I need to know if they have my blade. You break him out. But bind him first. He’s a wriggly one. I’m not losing my dress again” said The Fat Old Lady. “What will you say to them? What if they have your blade? What if they know you hunted without permission? What if they de…” “Stop being so…” screamed The Fat Old Lady holding the last word, unable to finish her sentence; beset upon by purging frustration. The Pudgy Old Lady tied off the fleshy ends of the skin dress and the feeling returned to The Fat Old Lady’ toes. “Wait for my signal” said Fat as she walked into the camp alone.


fifteen The Woman; trapped in her subconscious freak show, tried to break herself free but there was no give in the shackles restraining her arms. As much as she squirmed, they only pulled tighter; the living organisms twisting and turning around the length of her arms and legs, holding her fast against the wooden chair; its splinters digging into her ravaged skin. “This is only Famine” she thought out loud. “Only Famine? The Famine is entire but it is not alone” said The Clown Host, dancing around The Woman. His two gloved hands moved like a windmill, one arm swinging after the other from the height above his head to the length below his knees where his oddly shaped feet stretched out well beyond the symmetry of his gangly body. The crowd erupted in cheer, clapping their hands accordingly; not a beat was out of place except for the sound of one man who in the trail of laughter and appreciation, held his ovation one second longer than the rest of the cast which gave one the sensation that all of this might just be real and allowed The Woman to be whisked away by the absurdity of it all. She squeezed her eyes shut hoping to open them and see whatever devastation was more familiar and welcoming than this. She wished she could see her lover, the man she left behind on a cold steel table; alive, but very much like she was now; buried in his subconscious being beset upon by the keepers of his memories, as she by the keeper of her own. How could she have let him just lie there? How could she have let The Behemoth turn her mind like the pages of a book or the closing of a blind? Now she too lay still and disturbed and she wasn’t sure how or if it was even possible to get out from here. What cruelty had she kept for herself disguised as not dealing with or even wanting to know, the truth? 131

“Everything is one” she said. “Yes and in between there are many more ones; of infinitely smaller scale; fractals of the same patterns of disobedience that make the whole a complete works of its parts. Shall we examine the finer details?” said The Clown Host, turning to his imaginary audience that upon the buzzing of a red applause light, once again erupted in ovation. The Woman tried to fight her way free but again, the organisms making a prisoner of her, pulled tighter against her body. She lifted her eyes to the sky that was now black but lit by a million stars that at first looked like a handful of grains of sand scattered on a glass table but as she trained her eye, the tiny glitches of light shimmered brighter and swelled to the size of small moons, spinning around like a ceiling fan; faster and faster until the blur of light tipped her concentration on its edge, sending her careening into her further subconscious. When the twisting of the light slowed and settled, her eyes focused on a burly man standing over her as she lifted her head from hands; her eyes still hazy from the piles of dust that had blown up into the air and her ears laden with splinters of rocks from the explosion. “Now is the time to run” said the voice standing above her. “What happened? Who are you? Where is Marcos?” “Run” said the voice lifting her off her rump and pushing her out into the open where the air hanged heavy with the aroma of rebellion. Smoke billowed high into the air, casting a thick black cloud out over the sky as fires raged across the city; its crackling deafened only by the sound of breaking glass and breaking bones. The Woman ran at first with the force of the calamitous hands that threw her forward and then carried on by her will to die anywhere but here and anytime but now; urging herself onwards with the belief that each next step would be the last and each and every next breath would be less noxious than the one before; a reason to keep running, a reason to hold one’s breath. 132

As she ran, she knocked against people running in equal fright, in opposite direction; hitting chests and elbows and shoulders; being thrown off direction if at all she had any direction other than ‘run’. Every time she hit another person they would exchange groans quickly and in the thick blanket of smoke, they would rebuild themselves and reassert their awareness of death’s impedance and run forwards again into their escape. As she ran, she thought of her lover. He could have been right beside her and she would never know. What if he had died? What would she do then? How would she be appreciated? She willed herself forward with every bound and fought the tears that built under her clenching eyes, her hands pulling tight to her body as she blindly ran through the streets until something heavy knocked her to the ground. “Get up, get up” said the voice but it wasn’t Marcos. The Woman lay in a crumpled heap, her body twisted like an old fishing line. Around her, chaos ensued but in her mind; as she lay fallen on the earth, a moment of calm washed upon her shore. “Is death less angry, when we accept its invitation?” she thought to herself and the shouting and screaming that orchestrated the sound in her ears faded into a mild tremor like the sound of a car backfiring some kilometers off in the distance on a cold still night. It was audible, but not enough to wake a sleeping dog and in the solitude and liberation of resignation, she sat idle; her mind opiated with a tenderly smile on her face, waiting for death to come. “Lift her arms, throw her over my shoulder” said Marcos, his voice coming into her mind like a picture of home; when you are so very far away from it. “Can you see anything?” “Nothing.” “Through here. Come on.” “It’s ok, don’t die on me. We’re gonna get through this.” She could hear his voice but she felt numb to his words. 133

She just sank into her submittal as her lover pinned her hands over his shoulders and carried her firmly on his back as they dodged and weaved their way through a blanket of nothingness and it was amazing how a little bit could mean so much when you had nothing at all. All she wanted to do was to be able to look into his eyes without seeing that darkness that suffocated her soul. She wanted to hold his hand without feeling a cold shiver ripple through her fingers and dance upon her spine. She wanted to kiss him without tasting poison on his lips. She wanted to hate him, but love had her trapped and as she draped over his back; his calloused hands clasped around her wrists, the regret and shame that had been the well of her inspiration had now vanquished, replaced by a simple clamant want to survive. She lay against his back, her mind awash with endorphin as the pain in her legs became a dull throbbing with her mid floating above all of their problems; her body carried on her lover’s expectation and direction and she, not giving a fuck. “Can you move your feet. Try to wiggle your toes” said Marcos holding up her face with both hands looking worryingly into her eyes as her body lay limp on the ground. The air was clearer and the shouting had died to a dull roar. She could hear it in her ears but it didn’t sound close or troubling. Instead, she laid still, just enjoying the moment; her body writhing in pain but her mind free of the emotional restraint of her love for that man and the hurt that it had brought her. “We’ll stay here for now. I know somewhere we can go, where you will both be safe. There is a building not far from here.” “We can’t go back out there. She can’t walk.” “Give it some time.” “What hit her? Was it a rock?” “It was body. She was lucky, it was young and malnourished so not much weight. It could have been much worse.” “I can’t lose her. She’s all I have.” The Woman listened as the men talked and slowly the pain 134

returned to her body. She felt it first in the base of her spine; sharp jolts of electricity pulsing through to the front of her brain causing her fingers to twitch and aches to grow in every muscle. She groaned lightly as she shifted the weight in her body, trying to lift herself from her prone state having spent the greatest part of too much time in staring at the same murky water stain on the ceiling where they hid from the effect of rebellion and uprising. She wasn’t really sure what she was frightened of anymore; returning to the fret of life, or the weight of her heart. “Are you ok?” asked Marcos leaning over her. “I’m fine. Feels like a fucking truck ran over me” she said. “12 year old boy. Hit you like the morning sun” said the voice that she didn’t know, but recognized from somewhere. “Where are we?” she asked. “We’re safe for now. We’ll rest here until you gather your strength then I’ll help you get somewhere higher, away from this, at least until it passes” said the voice. “Who are you?” she asked untrusting. “He is a friend” said Marcos. “How do you know him Marcos?” she asked. “Listen, you shouldn’t worry yourself. You’re going to be ok. Your husband is a very smart man; a fine thinker” said the voice now coming from a burly face hidden behind a large scruffy beard. The man was enormous. His size alone could block out the sun. The Woman looked to Marcos for assurance. In his eyes she found the familiarity in some ways she hoped to see, that same warm blanket of grievance that snuggled about her soul engraving itself in the bitter reflection of her voice as she continued to condemn through passive participation. “Who the fuck is he Marcos?” she yelled. “It’s ok. Trust me. He’s going to help us” said Marcos consolingly. “How? The network is dead. There’s no light, there’s no power, there’s no fucking Industry. The Industry is fucking dead Marcos. It’s not coming back. This… This madness, this is our 135

fucking honeymoon Marcos. It’s only gonna get worse from here, now what the fuck is he going to do?” she screamed. “I have a place. It’s high, away from the rebellion. You can stay there. It’s guarded so you will be protected” said the voice. “Marcos, you trust him? Really?” said The Woman. “What choice do we have?” said Marcos. “Where is this place?” she asked to the man. “In the centre of The City. You’ll have to go alone. I will help you as far as I can. You’ll be fine as long as you keep light. It is safer for you downtown” said the man. “Why are you helping us? Do you know what’s happening?” she asked. “You’re right. Everything is off. The network is down, the grid is down, everything is zero. As far as I can tell it’s not coming back” he said. “What about the police? They’re supposed to protect us. They uphold the law. Where the fuck are they?” she screamed. “Everything is reliant on the servers and with no electricity, there is no command. So there are no Moderators, not anymore. This is what happens when the lights go out. This violence will pass. This first wave at least. You just have to get yourself somewhere high. Think of it like a tidal wave. Get yourself out of its flow, eventually it will settle. These people are frightened and angry and while they are in this state, they are incredibly dangerous” said the man. “How did this happen?” asked Marcos accepting the man as informed. “I guess someone just flicked the wrong switch” the man said. “They’ll fix it” she said. “Who are they?” said the man. “The Industry. They’ll fix it. They have to” she said fractiously. “You said it yourself. They are no more, only us. We have to fix it” the man said. 136

“They’re working on it right now” said The Woman. “It’s been months. There’s nothing. There will be nothing, if we wait” said the man. “I don’t believe you. Marcos I don’t believe him. Marcos I want to go, I’m ok, I can walk. Marcos can we leave please?” she said, pulling on her lover’s arm staring at him like a scared kitten, giving him the will to make the decision but willing him into it with her want to be far from this man. “Where is this place?” Marcos asked to the man. “Do you know the old cathedral?” said the man. “Near the Infant Plant?” said Marcos. “That’s it. You’re looking for Industry Towers. It’s on the..” “I know where it is. Industry Towers, are you sure?” he asked. “You’ll be met by a one armed man” said the man. “And then what?” asked Marcos. “You will say to him; ‘brand new day’; nothing else, just those three words. He will know that I sent you. You will go to the highest floor and make your bed there, for the meantime.” “How soon until we see you again?” asked Marcos. “The facility will be ready soon. I will find you.” “Marcos, what facility? What’s going on Marcos?” The Woman asked. “I’ll explain. Thank you” he said shaking the man’s hand firmly. “Keep her safe” said the man. And then the two were off; out of the dulled self-assurance of their cramped confines and into the breeze of rebellion; their hearts pounding once again, their blood pumping and their feet dancing to the tune of ataxia; moving without specific rhythm and counter directive but of more assurance to them; especially The Woman, than sitting still. The Woman held tight to Marcos’ body as they entered the black smoke again which had now lifted somewhat and lightened as most of the fires dimmed and a grey mist swept through the city bringing with it a light rain and cold chill. As they moved along 137

the walkway their eyes burned from the charred earth drifting about the dry air. “I can’t see anything Marcos, where are we going?” she said. “Near the building that man mentioned, there’s an old underground rail. It’s been abandoned for years, occupied only by dogs and rats. It runs off of this wall. We can hold there until the air clears. Just keep close to me” Marcos said. “Who was he? Why did he help us?” she asked. “Just a man, that’s all” he said. “What aren’t you telling me?” she asked. “Everything you don’t need to know” he said. She wanted to be mad at him but what was the use? She could then walk blindly into a pitch black fog, mad and petrified. What a pitiful combination. She had no right to question him, she lost that a long time ago and so she submitted to the man whose rule had little charity and even less time for playing reasonable. As they walked, her body ached horrendously but she kept herself going on the scent of her own dependence sweating from her pores as she clung to her lover’s arm like a child to its favourite toy. The walk was long and tricky. The streets were wild with rampage and rebellion. Through the thick blanket no sight could be seen except for the extent of abandon and the cursing of hope which could be felt in every step as beneath them, the earth shuddered from hundreds of thousands of feet stampeding this way and that, all shrieking harrowingly into the air. Like a cancerous clot, the waves of rioting people spread through the veins of The City until they pushed against one another, their fists clenched and swinging, their voices hoarse; without a loyalty and without team; kicking and scratching at anything that breathed and setting fire to anything that did not. “Here, watch your head” said Marcos as he held back a board blocking an entrance and helped The Woman squeeze through; pushing her more than helping her. The Woman tripped as she entered the station, scratching 138

her hands against the floor and grazing the skin. The air was warm and damp. It was heavy on the lungs but it was easier to breathe than the air they had left outside. She moved blankly through the main foyer trying not to imagine what beasts might be watching in the dark all about her. When Marcos pushed his way off the streets and let the board fall back against the entry, the foyer fell into complete darkness as the trail of fires lighting the air and the streets outside vanished into repression. “Do you hear that?” The Woman said panicking. In the distance was born a sound akin to a small animal suffering profusely. It wasn’t loud but its echo seemed to swim in the air and it crept into The Woman’s conscious riot, causing her concerns to swell convincingly. “It’s a child” said Marcos. Immediately The Woman felt a heavy culpability sinking her focus, pulling from the depths of her inner shame. There was that word again; one that she had fought to never speak. “Why here; in the quiet of my thoughts” she thought to herself. Marcos had in his pocket an old flint. It made little light of their blindness but each spark was enough to count the next step and to be sure that the space of one’s shadow remained reserved only for it and not the unkind stalking of monsters and ghouls and goblins and ghosts. As he struck the flint, the foyer flashed orange and white and their eyes met with only an instant of recognition of shapes and their placement and the wondering of their being was something their minds constructed. The scratching of the sliding metal sent an abhorrent shiver through her spine and made her feel like she had spiders crawling over her body and in the crevice of her ears. “It is, it’s a child” said Marcos, crouching low and holding the newborn in his arms; moving his head left and right and scanning the infinite dark, looking with his ears for the sound of a trap being sprung. 139

“What do we do with it? Shall we kill it? You do it, I can’t” said The Woman. “It’s not a stray cat. It’s a child. We can’t just kill it” said Marcos. “Then what do we do? It won’t stop crying. Make it stop Marcos. Please make it stop” she pleaded. Marcos stood up with The Woman still close to him, but only out of fear. There was no love in any breath that fell upon his skin from her beating heart. The Woman told herself that the infant’s screams would call hungry dogs to their scent; that unless they did something, their peace would be in pieces and war would come to them. Its voice was so loud and annoying. How could anything as eminent as a human come from something so decrepit and abrading? Marcos held the crying infant close to his chest and swung his body back and forth but it did nothing. It was as if the rocking awoke the infant to the closer proximity of its rescue, making it scream louder and higher; more urgent and more annoying. The Woman pinned her hands to her ears trying to snuff out the noise but it was no use. Her mind ached as if someone was stabbing hundreds of pins into her eyes and the heaviness in her stomach became heavier. “Hold it” said Marcos, pushing the infant into her breast. “No Marcos, get it away from me” she screamed, pushing the infant back, almost causing it to fall from her lover’s grip. “You can make it stop” he said. “I can’t help it. Nobody can help it. Marcos, don’t do this to me” she pleaded. “It’s the least you can do, now take this child” he demanded forcing the infant into her belly. “No” she said, pushing his arms back again, now wanting the infant to fall on its head and stop its incessant living. Marcos took the infant to his mouth, turning it in his hands so that its ear brushed against his chapped lips. He pulled the infant close and hushed loud and prolonged into its ear. 140

“What are you doing?” asked The Woman. “Shut up” he responded. He continued to hush loud and forcefully into the infant’s ear; the sound similar to a gale wind smashing against a tin shed. He hushed in prolonged breaths until finally something in the infant triggered, something primal in its brain switched on and its eyes widened, its pupils dilated and its volume switched off. The infant entered a state of pure quiet and silence then again returned to the darkness and The Woman’s thoughts felt less intricate. “What now? We can’t keep it. We should put it down. It will give us away” she said. Marcos placed the infant on the floor; moving some pieces of plastic and wood by its side it so it wouldn’t be rattled by its own movement. It lay there staring up at them with its opiated eyes looking through their catatonia; searching for some remnant of salvation. It didn’t look anywhere except for in The Woman’s eyes and it pressed with blinding hope through the coldness of her flesh and beat against the tin door of the empty room where her soul should have been kept. Its eyes never lost their strength, peeling back every layer of negated traverse that she had built between the small scared hungry infant and herself as she focused not on the small thing before her, applying some forgotten rule of nature, but on keeping herself firm against a barricade she had built somewhere in the nether of her subconscious, and the gentle passing of wanted love by this child was calling whatever monster she had kept prisoner in the depths of her memorial neglect, out into the ill-favored affectation of her conscious mind to piss in the desert of her emotions. The Woman collared her eyes shut, extending every molecule and every frail anorexic string to be the full weight of her eyes holding shut; for the tiny slither of flesh and its weak muscle to be heavied by gravity; to seal shut and only open when this foul dependent appurtenance was no longer trying to undo her cynical prevarication. 141

The infant remained quiet and still, lying on its back in the dark; its eyes tuned to The Woman who clutched angrily and dismissively with her nails into her lover’s wrist, silently resonating her discontent. “What does it want?” she asked, refusing to look the thing in the eye. “To live I assume” Marcos responded. “What do we do with it? I mean what would The Industry do?” she asked. “I have no idea” he responded. “Well what does your book say?” she asked. “It mentioned nothing about this” he said. “We’ll just leave it here. It’s quiet now. It won’t affect us. Look its happy, see? It’s ok now” she said, pointing blindly to the infant which attained a blank unaffected expression. Neither Marcos nor The Woman was experienced in the existence of infants. Both had been one; this was accepted as a probable truth, but neither had assimilated any part of their identity to this point of their existence where this being had still to develop into a human; something that took many years of crafting, fostering and forming by Industry experts. These devolved creatures; these unindustrialized infants were incapable of feelings. Without identity how could one possible have emotion? “OK let’s leave it. Stay close to me. We’ll wait down on the platform.” “Why not here?” she asked. “Isn’t that obvious?” he said tilting his head to the infant on the floor. “Two minutes ago you said we can’t kill it and now you can’t be near it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for getting as far away from this thing as possible. You wanna make me feel bad, I’ll cast a stone at you too” she said. “It reminds me of a pet rat I killed once” “Really, you compare an infant to a rat? Tell me how one of these can show you affection” she said, pointing to the infant 142

which still kept its eyes trained to The Woman. “I don’t know. Well this rat, it had a horrible lump on the side of its head, it was disgusting. I looked up on the net and it said it had a tumor and well, operating would cost thousands and I bought the thing for six bucks and nothing appreciates that well so I had to kill it” he said. “But why? Why didn’t you just throw it over the railings?” she asked. “Industry. My Investor, you remember him, the one I had to kill. Well, he worked in Ambience so I had to assume that disposing it would contravene his preference so I acted accordingly and I drowned it. Quite horrible actually. It just kept popping up and hitting the bottom of my hand. I could feel it just hitting and throbbing at my palm. It took so long for it to give up and die. That has to be a horrible way to go” he said. “And because of that you don’t want to put this thing out of its suffering?” she said. “Amongst other things” “Like what?” “You accept that The Industry made mistakes yeah? Well I don’t feel any desire to help this child for the sake of its own suffering or what I guess I perceive as being suffering but, I am driven by opposites and now especially after I lost my faith my north has become The Industry; more importantly, what would The Industry not want me to do? My every instinct wills me to kill it or use it as bait but I know that’s not me, that’s my learning, it’s my branding. It’s not my voice in my head, it’s The Industry’s” he said. “What if this is all a test? What if they are still there, watching and this is a test? They may not be there now but what if they come back?” she said. “They’re not coming back. They are us” he said. “You really think so?” she asked like a child. “We should think about what to do with this infant.” “We want to be humane, right? Well, maybe we should break its neck? It would die immediately. There would be no suffering. I 143

mean, why prolong the inevitable?” she said. “Because the inevitable is not the immediate.” “So?” “So when do you want me to ring your neck? If it’s the inevitable that proposes our solutions then…” he said. “I don’t know Marcos. You do what you want to do. You already have your mind made up, why do you even bother asking me my opinion?” “We are responsible to each other. Every decision we make now affects the two of us. There is no Industry, there are no Investors. Up is down, left is right and wrong is where I am willing to start to get my footing. Question yourself. Erase yourself. Your identity doesn’t matter now. You’re, blank just like this thing on the floor. All you need to think about is staying alive. Zero and fucking one” “Then who the fuck am I?” she screamed. “I have no idea” replied Marcos. “What do you want me to do?” she asked. “Pick up the infant. You’ll carry it at your breast” he said. The Woman, in unwilling assent, picked up the infant from the floor and held it like a soiled garment; far from her body with a disgusted shiver running from her fingertips to the base of her spine as if its breath were some horrible warm fluid running onto her skin and causing her dysfunction. Marcos took the lead, inconsiderate as always to her discomfort, being quick to set unrealistic standards but never being one to have to attain them. He didn’t offer the slightest assistance and offered no thanks whatsoever for assuming the labour of his lead. “What now?” she asked as they stood on the edge of the platform, not far from where they had found the abandoned infant. “We can wait here or we can try our luck through the tunnels. The tracks head east. If we walk for a couple of blocks and find a manhole we should be able to pop up somewhere near the cathedral” he said. “And you know this how exactly?” she said skeptically. 144

“One of us has to make the decisions here and with your experience…” “Are you fucking kidding me?” she screamed. Just as she did a rush of footsteps came down the steps from the foyer to the platform; a group of maybe ten people. They were arguing amongst one another; some pushing and fighting while others debated as to whether ‘they’ would be at the end of the tunnels; probably underground because that’s where The Industry would be if there was ever a crisis or a catastrophe. The group; directed by The Woman’s scream, made their way to the platform and encircled Marcos and The Woman; who was now holding the infant incriminatingly, feeling as if she had just been caught in the middle of a shameless act of indulgence; one contrary to an accepted moral standard. And the Industrialists; the hedonists of righteousness in an age of moral plunder, looked upon The Woman in vile contempt, not caring to imagine what disturbance these two foul humans were engaged in, under the path of ruin with this tiny repugnant thing between them. “What are you doing with that creature?” said a woman in the group. The others cackled and heckled, throwing their fists in the air carrying long sticks of fire that crackled as they fed on the still air of the platform. The Woman looked to Marcos; fear freezing her blood and her instincts wishing her to throw this infant; this vile creature, over the tracks and feed it to the dogs. Marcos pulled her closer keeping the infant blocked from their greedy clutches. “Give us the creature and we’ll kill you quickly” said another woman in the group. “And if you don’t…” said the man beside Marcos, finishing his sentence with gesture that spoke of their will to make sexual meat of him and The Woman. The only thing The Woman could think was, “this stupid fucking infant. It’s all its fault.” She wanted to give it away. She knew the cruelty of men and more so, the cruelty of women having lived her life as a torturous 145

spectator of the effect of truth, reason and obligation. She knew what depravity humans were capable of; in the name of divinity. More footsteps sounded and rushed towards them. They were lighter; children and many of them. The group turned in defense and as they did Marcos struck at the man and woman in front of him carrying torches; both falling to the floor in the confusion. Marcos grabbed The Woman by the arm and pulled her through the pack as a horde of children scampered along the walls like rabid monkeys; armed with small agile stabbing instruments, showering the Industrialists in concentrated venom; their will and dissension completely overpowering the hungry and weakened adults as, far from the carnage, The Woman fled through the dark, gripped by her lover and driven by her will to exist. Her lover’s pull heavied as they raced up the stairs and kicked out the board blocking their exit. Marcos raced through first and pushed his arms back through. “Give me the infant” he screamed. “I threw it away” she said. The last word fell like a stone in water. It sank into her conscious mind and for the first time, she felt a wrongness in something that had come of her so inherently; something that her learning would have had her believe as being right. But as silence settled upon her own words and in the second before she was wrenched out into the night, she felt her lover’s heart once more cast itself in an iron shell and she realized then what he had meant. The weight of her every decision was worn by him and this awakening made her feel strange, though she couldn’t explain it even if she tried; so she didn’t. When she woke inside her conscious theatre; still bound in the chair, she could see The Clown Host jumping about in front of her. “What is real?” she thought. “If I am not real, then will me away” said The Clown Host. The Woman pulled at her restraints but they pulled tighter on her. Though her immediate bind was plaguing and disturbing, 146

she was emotionally drawn more to the dreams and delusions of which she had been slipping in and out of and every time she awoke to reality, her conscious mind felt like it was drowning in the thick muddy waters of guilt and regret; two words she didn’t have in her cognition. “What are you? What is this sick game? Where am I?” she said, spitting the last words; her breath of no companion to her lungs. “You are home” said The Clown Host as behind it, in the foulness of the dark, a switch flicked like the cracking of thunder and light flooded in all around her. Her eyes stung at first and everything appeared white. Then slowly she saw definition. Around her; at every side, were faces. At first they were a blur but as her focus returned, she could see that every face was her own. They all applauded her insanity and cheered for more fright while their host; a small colourful clown danced about her in joyful glee. “What do you want of me?” “What you are hiding. We all want to know the truth” said The Clown Host and the whole crowd started cheering and stomping their feet on the bannisters. The applause sign was buzzing and the producer; a fat little man with The Woman’s head was throwing his arms in the air like a crazed conductor, egging everyone to strengthen their appeal and accelerate her tribulation. “There is no hidden truth. Tell me what you want to know. I’ll tell you everything. I promise” she said. “I think we need to go deeper” said The Clown Host, waving to the crowd who were now on their feet clapping hysterically. “There is no truth” she cried to herself as her consciousness rolled over itself and she tripped into a blackout, awakening to another memory.


sixteen “Bow to me” said The Bitch Queen in her grotesque manner of affection. Ruff, Donal and Eve were surrounded by a guard of vicious hounds; of whom were then strengthened by two snarling monolithic boars; their tusks cutting through the clouds of smoke and black silt that gathered around their faces, blown into the air by their warm hurricane like breaths that expelled from their heaving lungs. The earth sifted and turned like the young boy’s mind, whose thoughts raced; fuelled by adrenaline rushing through his veins, blackening his perspective and heightening his resignation. “Bow to me and I will let you live. I will grant you passage on your journey; to where it is you wish to be but first, you must love me and the first test of this love is trust. Lift your head high into the air and howl my name” she screamed as the hounds surrounding them in the arena all raised their snouts to the air ushering a subservient chorus of deranged amatory bedlam. Ruff looked to his human friends who were shaking horribly. The young boy, Donal was now standing in a pool of his own urine, his legs wobbling as his body; weighed down by confounding fear, sought to tumble into solitude like a droplet of water falling from the tongue of the desert of humanity; hitting the cold concrete and bursting into a billion tinier droplets, invisible to the unquenchable thirst of nature. Every atom in his body sought to merge with something of more splendor than the savage violence born from the mephitic breast of their abased vanity; the kind that now swelled in the air as every hound suspired for bloodshed. The howling hounds hungered for their Bitch queen to punish these vile creatures and tire her wrath on their mettlesome seditiousness and leave only appeasing defection for their amenable gentility so that the absence of her smite may be the caress that gently warmed their hibernal 148

impoverished hearts. Ruff lifted his snout to the air looking willingly and indirectly at his human friends who watched him studiously. He howled her name into the air along with the constituent chorus and the two humans did the same, throwing their voices high and reaching into the depths of their turning stomachs where their courage had been curdling into passable waste. Their screams were loud and piercing. The Bitch Queen yapped angrily. “Shut them up” she screamed as every hound quickly sank into submission, the tribute of their adoration cut short by the lashing of their queen’s dwarfish temper. “Stop barking” yelled Ruff to his human friends; whose rapture was more annoying than inspiring or heart felt. Eve stopped immediately but Donal continued to howl, swept away by the catharsis of the purging of his fears. In that moment he was one; separated from his conscious mind that had incessantly counted all of the indifference in his being and instead he rode a single current of energy, propelled from the well in his stomach out into the openness of space; deporting the fear that resided in his heart; it in itself, dissipating in the damp musky air. Eve reached her hand across to cover Donal’s mouth and as she did his eyes opened to see the arena, all silent and focused entirely on his dissention. His bravery quickly turned to liquid again and his legs warmed as even the fluids in his body fought to escape the detention of his coming sentence. “How dare these creatures make a mockery of my giving heart with their soulless wailing. It means nothing to me that you show me your neck; especially with that horrid decorative helotry. What does it mean?” said The Bitch Queen referring to the collar around Ruff ’s neck; a simple piece of cloth with a small medallion with his name inscribed upon it. “It was a gift, from my friends” he said. “They bound you?” she said looking at his two friends. “No mam. It was my previous friends. Of whom I made my 149

home. Before the humans lost their way. Before they relinquished their crown” he said. “Forty seasons have passed since the changing of the guard and the end of human rule. Forty seasons unbound and still you contain yourself to the idea of their cruel mastery by fashioning that bondage about your neck and then be so cool as to brush it in my face. What is its significance to you?” she asked. “I’m not sure. I never thought about it. I just always wore it. It reminded me of them. And I loved them. I like to be reminded of them” he said. “Reminded you of what; their yelling, their provocation, the expedition of their displeasure? Did you want remembrance of how they mutilated you; castrating the nature of your being, reducing you to a role of domestic clown; chasing your tail, walking at their pace. And what did they ask of you; what did they think of your astuteness? They demanded only that you sit, roll over, speak and fetch on command. They didn’t even dare to understand the depth of your conscious mind, the extravagance of your intellectuality. That is all they wanted of you; four imbecile commands” she said. “They were never clever it is true; in about how they engaged with and failed to comprehend the complexity of the nature in which they inevitably quashed, but all of this could be forgotten with the a touch of their fingers against the rough of one’s skin. They were stupefied by all of the insignificance that mattered only to themselves, even going so far as to taking credit for their own shadow, but all of this could be forgotten and all of their arrogance zeroed as they perspired the lovingness and adoration in their heart through the tenderness of their skin and their soft gentle caress. Can you do that?” he asked. “Mother Nature failed in bestowing her key to these primates and putting us; the far superior of the species, at the charity of their humour. Now Mother cares not for her child. Her breast is dry. And look where we are. No longer are we the scrimmaging tick on the arse of humanity. We are the hound; and this is our 150

kingdom” she bellowed in her miniscule voice in a tone that pinched the nerves of Donal and Eve as they squinted and squirmed during her oration as if someone where pushing a small scorching set of tweezers deep into their inner ear canal and pinching the tender skin all the way down. “And now that you have your title, what will you make of it? Now that you have a kingdom, what will it become?” asked Ruff. “I am the Mother of all” she screamed as the hounds in the arena all buried their heads into their paws; their tails pulled under their bodies as a chorus of delicate whimpering reverberated off the walls and fed into the distended ego of The Bitch Queen; now rising up from the centre of her crown, her tiny chest inflected upwards as her snout directed towards the great reflection on the ceiling in sublime magnificence; she looking down at herself encircled in gold that was encrusted in jewels. Donal crouched beside Ruff and clung to the thick matted fur on his neck; keeping his eyes tuned to the throne, watching for the command of the yapping Chihuahua and trying to avoid the thirst mongering stare of the great monolithic beasts at each side of her; the dirt still swelling about their tusks and their desire to eat him sounding out in their low rumbling growl and their thick heavy breaths. As Donal scratched at his fur and skin, Ruff was overcome by a wave of exhilaration, completely separated from the immediacy of his fright as his conscious state was hurdled into his back leg which kicked wildly as the young boy scratched away; he himself, distracting from the threat from which would not reason, bargain or validate his liberty. The Bitch Queen angered, her voice cackling in disgust as the hounds watching about all erupted into furor, the hairs on their necks standing on end as they barked insults and degradation at the small matted dog lost in human touch. “Enough of this. I want blood. Prepare the boars” she said coldly. “Prepare the boars” yelled a voce from behind The Bitch Queen. 151

A pack of twenty hounds; all of them Bulldogs, rushed from behind the royal curtain each clenching a metal rod in their teeth and pulling behind them a clanging spiral of chains. The Bulldogs positioned themselves on all sides of the great boars and buried their sturdy heads towards the cold concrete, steadying the bulk of their mass to heave; when called upon, these mammoth beats to their positioning. “Is there no bargain for their lives?” asked Ruff. “They walked into my kingdom, their lives are mine. They have no leverage. But you it seems have somehow managed to make a friend. Your friends will race alone. There will be no bargaining” said The Bitch Queen. “But this is cruel. They are not deserving of this torture” pleaded Ruff. “If they didn’t like it, they would say something and all I hear is stupid human yapping. Yap, yap, yap, yap. Stupid creatures” she said. Eve was trying to console Donal keeping him close and while he spoke, she observed her surroundings, looking for an exit, anywhere at all. But there was nothing. The arena where they stood below the height of The Bitch Queen had two entries. The one in which they had arrived stood behind them and was guarded by four Dobermans. They didn’t look too kindly and their savagery was only slightly lesser than the gigantic beasts whose senses were now being drenched with the scent of the boy and his much older and far less trustworthy human friend. “This is not where we die” Eve said to Donal. “I just want to see my father” said Donal. Eve wrapped her arms around the small boy. He was shaking uncontrollably. She pulled him close to her chest, covering his eyes with the length of her arm and whispering a tune into his ears that carried on her warm soft breath. Quickly he felt overcome by her placidity and calm restored itself to his body. His heart slowed and 152

his breath heavied again. “Tell me something remarkable about your father. Tell me something funny about him. Take me there” she said, leading the boy willingly into distraction. They were going to die shortly. A smile washed over Donal’s face as his conscious mind lit with familiarity and he was transported far from the imaginings of the inevitable. Eve turned him to face her and stared him direct in his eyes, she herself being swept up by the rising sea in his eyes, watching as the colours danced about his iris as inside his mind she could sense that a fire had ignited; one of love and missing. “There was one time my father wanted to take us; me and Safrine, to learn how to fish. He said it was important that we knew how to serve ourselves and survive out of The Industry” said Donal. “Do you remember The Industry?” asked Eve. “No. I was too young. We lived no different to today though; under bridges, in the cracks of the side walk and in the shadows of havoc. It was the only place people like us could survive without being collected. No Industrialist would dare tread where it was that we made our bed. That’s what dad would say” he said. “Turned out to be the safest place in the end, at least after The Industry collapsed” she said. “Yeah” he said laughing. “Could you fish?” she asked. “No. I was terrible. Safrine was more of the fisher. I never found my niche. I broke dad’s rod twice. He insisted though on teaching me. He wasn’t mad about it. He didn’t make me feel bad because I couldn’t get it but he just believed that if you stand in the rain long enough, you’ll catch a cold. He had the same blind optimism about fish” he said. “Did you catch one in the end?” she asked. “No, but I did get a cold” he said. “Why was this day so special?” she asked. “Not a day, dad always fished at night. This night though I 153

will never forget. Dad was well…fat. Not always, I mean now he is skinny on account of starvation and all but at one point he was very big. I remember he was so excited about taking us to a spot that his father had kept to himself for millennia. Grandad didn’t come with us. He was drunker than usual and stayed at home. Anyway, we had to sneak through some pretty rough places to get to this spot. I guess in the past; before the blackout, it would have been easier” he said. “This was before the uprising, yeah?” she asked. “Yeah it was. Safrine was still with us. We were a family. Everything was normal. It was still pretty dangerous though. I mean after the uprising things got really crazy and then with The Famine… But before, it was still dangerous. Anyway we had to sneak past this guard house. It was an old Industrial Guard Post just on the edge of The City, near the ports. They still had patrols at that time. Things didn’t stop entirely. It kind of took some time for people to stop doing what they had been told to do their whole lives. So we managed to sneak past the guard. Dad got a woman to bring drinks to the guard posts with some flower. We waited behind and old car wreck watching the two men inside at first talking loudly and banging their fists a lot, then slowly it looked like they were getting tired and pretty soon it looked like they just got bored of breathing because they up and fell over then and there and I don’t know if they were dead or not but they definitely didn’t see or hear us sneaking past. That was when dad got stuck” he said. “Got stuck? What happened?” asked Eve with a smile widening in her eyes; staring directly at the boy, keeping him awash in distraction; blind to the movement of hounds all about them. Eve fed the boy’s concentration while in the creases of her sight, she alerted herself to the movement of the animals who were now dragging the two monolithic boars away from the feet of the small Chihuahua who sat regal within the much larger golden crown on the throne fit for a human king; it in itself heightening her stature making her appear unrealistically magnificent. Donal’s eyes were a magnitude of absence and his touch was 154

without fear; gripping at Eve’s hand in exhilaration as his mouth raced through shapes of sounds that would electrify the image illuminating in his mind. As he escaped inside a pure memory; outside of the indecency of reality, Eve followed, mouthing every word that he spoke while diving into his imagination and still watching as behind the boy, a pack of Bulldogs lined the two monolithic boars opposite the entrance to the arena; the small muscular hounds struggling to contain the force of the two beasts whose hooves dug firmly into the ground as they swung their monstrous heads left and right ; the sharp white tips of their tucks the only thing more visible through the clouds of dust. “It was so funny” he said. “We had to crawl down the side of a bridge to get to the spot. Dad hadn’t been there before so he didn’t really know where or how we were supposed to climb down. I found a spot that looked like you could climb down. There were three large poles that stuck out from the water holding up one side of the bridge. The only way to get down was to squeeze through a small gap where two wooden planks overlapped. I remember going down first and squeezing through the gap. I had to hold my breath and suck in my belly to get through but when I wriggled a bit and turned my head I slipped through no problems. I got my footing and then scaled carefully down the poles using the planks as steps. When I got to the bottom, I looked up and just saw these two legs kicking away and could hear dad screaming and cursing. He had gotten stuck in the gap and he couldn’t lift himself up because he had no leverage. He was too far to push himself up and too fat to squeeze through so he just hanged there, his fat legs kicking all angry like. I laughed so much. Safrine was on the bridge looking down and she was laughing too. It was hilarious. Dad was so angry. He was swearing; words I’d never heard before. He was yelling at me to stop laughing and help him but every time I looked up and saw his little legs kicking I’d start laughing again. It was really funny” “How did he get out?” Eve said, keeping the boy talking and 155

engaged in delight and away from whatever disaster was amassing against them as he spoke. “I climbed up the pole and tried to push his feet with my hands. I used all my strength but he was too fat. He was stuck. There was nothing I could do so then Safrine started pushing on his head with her foot and then she jumped on his head and he just screamed louder and we both laughed harder. Dad yelled at me to go to the bottom of the poles where they met the water and grab as much algae as possible and bring it up to him. I went down and I started scratching at the wall of the pole under the water scraping off this slimy green stuff and laughing as dad’s fat little legs kicked away at the air above me. I climbed back up the pole and gave him the algae and he squeezed it between his belly and the wooden planks. He tried squirming again and I was pulling on his legs and Safrine was stepping on his head and eventually he managed to wriggle free and squeezed through the gap. His belly was so red and squashed. He looked like a bruised tomato. Then when Safrine was coming down, she looked to the right and saw a passage that had no planks blocking it. She walked down with no problems. Dad was so angry. My stomach hurt so much from laughing. We didn’t catch any fish that night. We just listened to dad tell stories about all the times he caught massive fish and how Grandad had caught sharks in that very spot. The only thing I caught was a cold but it didn’t matter. Cause dad was happy. After he got stuck I mean. But it was the first time he’d been happy in ages; since mum died” said Donal. “When did your mother die?” asked Eve. “She died when I was born, when we were born. I never met her. Grandad told me lots of stories about her. He said that she died in embrace, that she had us both at her breast and while we were feeding and she just died. They don’t know what happened just that she smiled, then she closed her eyes and she never opened them again. Dad was never the same after that. That’s what Grandad said. He changed. Like a light went off inside him and then he just did everything all automatic like. I think he blamed us. Maybe 156

not. I don’t know. I would you know; if it was me. I think I’d be angry. What about you? How would you feel?” asked Donal. “I hope I would be clever enough to feel as you feel. Do you blame yourself ?” asked Eve still watching in the corner of her eyes as the small Chihuahua stood high in its golden crown yapping wildly while the small matted dog by her side; Ruff, barked subordinately in return. “By your own definition, you need them” shouted Ruff. Though he was a small dog, his voice carried like a solar flare and each syllable lashed against the swollen ego of The Bitch Queen who had not yet met with such insolence and reaction to her rule. The other hounds were unsure how to react. They had never seen another hound question her majesty’s oracularity. Overcome by strangeness in their beings, they were unsure of whose side they leaned as the two hounds traded insults and philosophical ranting. The small matted dog now stood without fear and he spoke without anger. His voice travelled like light; passing through the blinds of pessimistic doubt put forward by The Bitch Queen who thrashed about worn ideals founded entirely on the abatement of human idealism, which on its own could not exclude the ideal of man and therefore succeed in nothing more than turning the shoulder in which one slept whilst keeping warm under the same blanket. “I used to” Donal said, his voice turning to a slight tremor. “I hated her” he said. “Who? Your mother?” asked Eve. “No. Safrine. I hated Safrine. I hated her for killing my mother” he said. “You were sad because you never knew your mother” said Eve. “No. I felt nothing for her. I didn’t remember her. I never felt her love. No. I hated Safrine for killing my mother because that is what made our father so sad. And I know he looked at us and he felt the same. Every time Safrine or I spoke, he heard the silence 157

of the woman he loved. She gave him children and those children took his love away. I get it. I hated Safrine so much” he said, his voice now shaking; the slight tremor turning to a wave of anxiety. “You couldn’t be blamed for feeling how you did” said Eve. “I wished her gone so many times. I wished the collectors would come and take her so then maybe dad would stop crying whenever he looked at me. I wished my own sister; my twin, to be taken. I wished her dead. I told her to her face. I said; “I hope they take you away and eat you.” She just cried and tried to hug me. I pushed her away and watched her cry. I sat there with my arms folded pushing her whenever she came close. I wanted to hug her and say sorry but I just kept pushing her away, watching her cry and I wanted to say I was sorry. And I would look at my father and when he looked in my eyes he would see my mother and he would cry and he would take the bottle and drown himself. What was I supposed to do? It wasn’t my fault” he said, tears welling in his eyes. “It wasn’t Safrine’s fault either” said Eve. “I know but he didn’t hate her, he only hated me. He abandoned me, not her. He was always kind to her wanting. He let her hold his hand. He never smiled, but he let her hold his hand. He couldn’t even look in my direction. He couldn’t stomach the sound of my voice. He made me walk in his wake just so he wouldn’t catch my reflection. And I hated Safrine for that. That night, when my dad left; the night of the uprising, I wanted to hurt him. I wanted us to be gone. I wanted him to find us. I wanted him to be angry, to be caring, to be disciplinary; to be anything except sad” he said. “But he was happy, when you were fishing. That night he changed” said Eve. “For a moment he forgot that he hated us. For moment he was distracted. He forgot he was sad. But it’s not something you forget for long. The next morning he was worse, sadder than before. When he left that night and turned the handle on that door, I thought he was never coming home. I didn’t want anything bad to happen. All I wanted was for my dad to love me. I wanted to feel 158

love. It wasn’t fair. I wanted to not hate my sister. I just wanted him to care and I wasn’t thinking” he said. “And Safrine was taken” said Eve. “I just remember those words playing in my head over and over. I hope they take you away and eat you. I knew that they played in her head when they took her. I remember the look on her face. She was so scared. And she was reaching out to me, her brother and there I was, standing high on a platform, out of reach just like I had always been; pushing her away every moment of her life. She spent her life reaching for me, for me to love her and all I did was abandon her. I pushed her away like my father pushed me away. She was so scared. Her eyes were so white and her hands… Her fingers were curling trying to catch my hand but I was so far away. I didn’t even reach for her. I just stood there numb, watching her being taken, just like all those times I sat there numb, watching her cry. It’s all my fault” he said, overcome by tears; his eyes watering, his voice trembling and his restraint gone. Eve pulled him close and took from her pocket a small canister and as she stroked the boy’s hair, she held the canister under his cheek and caught a stream of his tears. “Empathy is unkind” she said as she tightened the lid and hid the canister back inside her pocket, out of sight. Donal clung to her; his tears carrying with them the sediment of his attrition, freeing the weight of his soul and abrogating his fear. He felt that he could die in that moment and be lifted away from the burden of his own birth, far from how much he hated himself and from the accuracy of his self-abasement. As he wept, a pack of hounds surrounded the two and separated them from the small matted dog. Eve kept Donal blind to what was happening. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway, he couldn’t see outside of the storm in his eyes washing away all of the things he wished he could have said to the people that mattered when it was, they could have listened. “Take them to the starting gates. Tie up the boars. My benign friend here knows nothing of love. So let us show him my 159

dears, how much you love your queen and the giving of your heart. Who will fight for me, for my heart, for your kingdom, for your queen!” yelled The Bitch Queen. Eve gripped Donal tight as The Doberman Guards surrounded the human pair, growled intently and urging her to move forward tentatively, step after step. “What’s happening?” asked Donal. “Do you remember that boy?” said Eve. “The boy who was running?” asked Donal. “Yes” said Eve. “Do you think you can run faster than him?” she asked. “I think so” he said. “I know you can” said Eve. “They’re going to chase us too, aren’t they” said Donal. “They’re not going to catch us. Trust me” said Eve. Donal had no reason not to trust her. She had been something of a shelter to him since he abandoned The Nest and escaped the wave of Famined in the morn. The hours that had past had felt like days or weeks and it had been her that had walked beside him, holding him close and girding his direction at every turn and into every step. “I’ll protect you” she said, gripping his hand, the two walking with their chests lifted and their eyes engaging the darkness, preparing their minds for what may come. “Dance bitches” yelled The Bitch Queen to the centre of the arena where there gathered an assemblage of female hounds, all garnished in colourful tassels that were fawned from brightly coloured bows that were wreathed in the long hair that drew from their necks and as their snouts touching the floor, they outstretched their front paws and buried their heads into them; in a perfect semicircle before their queen, awaiting her command.


seventeen The Elemental Ladies danced heinously in a large circle at first, holding each other’s hands and swinging back and forth as they skipped in a circular fashion; the bottom of their leathered heels slapping against the hard floor under their circular tent and then; as their voices sang high into setting sun, casting its final sigh out upon the world, they rushed inwards towards the centre. Their hands then pulled low to the ground and their knees bent in as they met at a fine point in the centre, surrounding Mother, who sat with her stubby legs crossed and her hands caressing the new skin dress she wore as within the blackness of her eyes, a vacuity swirled and ever so slowly; as the old women continued their song, small particles of light were drawn into the black whirlwind circling where he eyes should have been. They washed about in a wild torrent, spinning faster and faster as the old women cooed louder and louder; their fingers crazily sweeping an imaginary piano; their arms swishing left and right and up and down and their bodies, convulsing and twisting and turning as their eyes all rolled to the backs of their sockets. The sun, still sitting high above the circle, started to pull and wane as the old women chanted their song, resting on their knees and lifting their arms up and down, fanning Mother with their wiggling fingers; oohing and aahing as her body started to shake and rumble as the light swarmed about the room in a blur, flooding into her eye sockets. The sky above began to shake back and forth and heave this way and that as if the sun; glued to the sky, were being pulled upon by an imaginary string with some celestial force. The sky pulled inwards then pushed back and in and back and in and back like a balloon until, pop; the sun fell from its place, casting a sigh and frowning into the break of the horizon where the whishing and whooshing of The Elemental Ladies pulled on that imaginary 161

string and guided the fallen sun into molecular dissipation as Mother heaved greatly, bursting the sun into a zillion tiny atoms which then swirled around the dancing old ladies; still fanning their arms and wiggling their fingers. The Elemental Ladies wailed as Mother opened her eyes and gasped, inhaling the might of the world and; as she did in the onset of every eve, swallowing the fall of the sun, impregnating herself with the energy of existence. And the fire lit inside her eyes and in the black void of her mouth, the cosmos swirled and swarmed, seemingly escaping from the remnants of its own beginning; pushing farther away to infinity to outrun and hide from its own end until it one day ran the length of a circle and caught up with itself, chewing on its own tail; inhaling its own death. Mother; in the centre of the floor being swept by a circle of ancient hands, was existence herself. She defined eternity as in every night she was the keeper of the sun; her soul returning to her earthly vice and in the morn, she swallowed the moon and the stars and then birthed the promethean sun unto the world; setting fire to the imaginations of mankind and making promise of their purpose; to exist. She was nature. Almost as ancient as her father whose love for her had drawn cold and distant but of which just might catch its own tail whilst running from its own shadow. She gasped once more, clasping her mouth and eyes shut as darkness begat the world abounding. The old ladies stopped their singing and collapsed on the floor surrounding her as she sat in idle wonder; conversing with the ethereal silence. The Fat Old Lady lay completely still on the floor. She had; during the commotion, whisked her way into the circle of fanning, singing and dancing old ladies and assumed absolute normality. She now lay exhausted on her side; her hands stroking the gouge on the side of her skin dress to conceal her strangeness to the others. Her body felt weak; weaker than one would feel after the 162

immolation of the sun. She knew that more than ever, time was becoming significant. It was fleeting and this human vice was so unappealing. It crept through her worn body and unless she dressed herself in another skin soon, it would consume her; ravaging every molecule of her ancientness; like a man picking at his own scab, the universe couldn’t help but chew on its own fat; consuming four million years of molecular mass as if it had existed, for mere seconds. The pain in her leg now carried up past her thigh to her ribs which now felt like they were giant fingers reaching around her lungs and squeezing the air out of her breath so that when she exhaled, only small tufts of fibres and dust evacuated from the nether of her existence. What the humans would call night; had now fallen. Mother sat with the sacrificed sun imprisoned in her womb. And she gave as a gift to the darkness above; the light of her eye, which shone down in delicate praise of the world below where all things were being consumed by the passage of time. And The Elemental Ladies too sat seemingly despondent; their faces drawn blank, offering; like Mother, a kind eye over the blanket of darkness that stretched across the heavens above. They looked down upon existence and the world below as a bright speck of white, glimmering and glittering in the sky above; assuming their vigil. The Fat Old Lady slithered out of the room. Her legs were sore and quickly becoming lead weights. She had to use her arms and throw her shoulders into every heave as she dragged herself past the catatonic old ladies; out into the open where The Pudgy Old Lady crouched; waiting for a signal to come. Fat whistled and caught the attention of Pudgy who was creeping under the cover of a shroud of leaves that hanged low over the entrance to the camp. She stared up to the sky warily seeing the bright specks of light and knowing the danger of every next step for should the light fall upon her and catch her in the midst of treason, the others would wake immediately making a 163

prisoner of her. Mother would have her defaced and her part in the play of existence would go unseen and unheard. She would pass; with the footprints of time, into the realm of the forgotten. Pudgy sneaked around the twilight, sneaking in the darkness; stopping behind a giant shrub whose height provided her with enough umbrage to catch her fright and subdue it under heavy breathing. To gather her nerves she allowed herself a moment’s fancy; undoing the bottom tie of her skin dress that rested at the nape of her neck and then with firm hands, she pulled it tight against the line of her face; with every atom in her body then feeling another day younger, and with great focus as not to slip, she tightened as hard as she could and tied off the two strings of human skin with a double knot. The other old ladies were so aged and delicate with how they tied off their strings. Pudgy was not as lady like with this mannerism. Fat would always be first to explain; always in reverent discourse, why it was that she was the most infantile of the old ladies, that she had no poetry in her fingers and no poise in her toes. It was for this that she tied off like an imp; making her loutish and unsightly and because of this, she danced like a clump of wet sand; kind of flopping about and being indistinguishable from the old shrub she was now hiding behind which maybe was reason enough for her to stop at this point and; without the carping gaze of her celestial colleagues, feel young and beautiful enough to her own liking. She tied off the top string next and a wave of energy tickled at her toes. She felt like she could run from here to next century without detention. As she finished tying the string she thought not of herself; an art form of which the other ladies had made a religion, but she thought of her friend of whom she admired, of whom she wished herself to be, of whom she revered more than the other old ladies and almost exceedingly more than Mother and of whom she wished only to follow; in her shadow, to learn and become her form and in her words, to mend herself to become her thoughts so that one day she could feel what it was like to be loved; 164

and to care nothing of it. “How long do you have?” asked Pudgy. “Only seconds before they feel me gone. I will keep an eye from the heavens. When the signal falls dark, you take the dress and run” said Fat. “But what about you? And where will I go? And do I…” “Stop thinking. Just take the human. Do not free his binds. Humans are tricky. Don’t let them fool you.” “But they have no empathy. They can no longer fool, right?” asked Pudgy. “Assume anything but. Don’t worry, just go, I’ll find you. Just take the dress and be gone. Remember, you must court the shadows. Keep out of the twilight. The old ladies are cunning and they know you are gone” said Fat. “They know I’m gone? What does that mean?” asked Pudgy. “Do not mark the skin dress” yelled Fat, crawling back inside the tent. “Wait, what do you mean? But you were there too” said Pudgy. The Fat Old Lady fell backwards onto the floor; no longer able to contain the weight of her body. She entered in a catatonic state like all of the other old ladies, lying flat on her back; her eyes glowing orange as if her soul were a ball of fire. Her body remained completely still; every muscle pulled tight as if death had been with her for the millions of years that she had taken to this practice of abandoning her wreck of an earthly vessel and becoming the night. “We can do this. We have no choice” said Pudgy, still including Fat in her struggle which was entirely her own right now as she crouched behind the large shrub, fearful to move a single muscle. The Pudgy Old Lady had been an ideal Elemental. She had spent her existence wanting so greatly to be like everyone else. She danced as they danced and spoke as they wanted to hear, hoping that by doing so, it would make her infinitely like them and one day; maybe, to be liked by them. And that is how she found herself in this state; alone, under 165

the many eyes of the night, about to commit treason against the mother of all existence. Her will to please found her always on the consummate square and now she herself had been betrayed by the lady she loved; by the lady she longed to be. Pudgy had always been driven by one secular emotion; a simple yet overpowering desire to be different. Her desire was not to define her own image but to carve herself into the image of her longed friend of whom for thousands of centuries she adulated; The Fat Old Lady. “Oh dear, are you watching? Am I free?” she said to the skies in a quiet hush speaking to a light that flickered just above the centre of the camp. Pudgy watched intently, waiting for a signal. And as the light dimmed, she knew she had to act quickly. The plan was simple. She would sneak under the cover of a blinking eye; high in the night sky, as her beloved dear; The Fat Old Lady, whose eye was on guard above where she crept, cast a spell of darkness over the intrusion that would take place within the camp of catatonic old ladies. When the light fell into the backdrop of night, she would run towards the centre of camp and break free the naked human male being held captive; ensuring not to free his binds; those that tied his hands and which swallowed his tongue. As she looked upon the night watching the light flicker, her heart beat like it never had before. She felt not desire as she crouched under a shroud of leaves. It was something stranger, something she had remembered theorizing but never comprehended outside of mortal existence. She felt fear. Facers had no meaning of fear. It was a mortal vice. It brought one the conscious awareness of their mortality. It allowed man to walk graciously with reverent stride into his slow inevitable conclusion. The emotion was a consequence of existence but Facers naturally didn’t exist and therefore never died. For as long as they wore the skin of young women, they could live forever. Earth; was their harvest. 166

As the feeling swept through her senses, Pudgy thought less about what her dear would want, instead imagining a different ritual; one where she would bed with mortality. She imagined herself on her stubby knees waiting to be Defaced; her legs bound and her hands pressed together; palms facing outwards with large rusted spikes nailed through the centre keeping them bridged behind her back. Then came Mother with a black glove on one hand; her face so young and articulate, the very meaning of beauty. She stands before Pudgy in absolute silence but the void in her eyes; like the great vacuum, pulls the lie from beneath the surface; sucking the life and the light out of her eyes. While this happens she can see in the distance the image of a young man with the body of an old fat woman, standing in the cracks of the shadows behind the other ladies, saying nothing; offering not even a glimpse of condescendence; just a thousand yard stare; looking not at her; bound and trembling on her knees, but at Mother, extending her hand to touch her face. As the clip behind her ear is undone a shiver runs the length of her spine and she woke into her assuming trepidation; feeling the brush of leaves rubbing against the curve in her neck. She gasped quietly but with enough force to send her careening to the ground hitting her bum hard against the dusty earth. “What have I done?” she thought. “That stupid bitch left me. No, it’s not her fault; of course not. She’s trying to help us; to free us from these other stupid ladies. Yes, that’s it. She’s brave. She’s brave for hiding amongst them. Oh you are a smart old lady you are. I wish I had half your wits” she said, feeling a familiar wave of desire wash over her mind, her limbs and magnetize her skin dress; making her eyes feel electric. She could see in the distance; maybe fifty meters, the outline of the cage in which the human male was imprisoned. She imagined herself running and opening the cage and overpowering the human who was now drunk on conscious Famine and by all accounts, at this stage of his Famine, completely incapable of 167

anything grander than the accidental escaping of phlegm or the twitching of a toe. She would then drag him by his bound hands, careful to keep air between the top of his body and the hard dusty earth. The Fat Old Lady would make a meal of her should she ruin the dress. She imagined herself running and as she did her mind dosed her with adrenaline; tingling in her toes, accelerating her heart, sinking her stomach but heightening her flight. Then; above the outline of the cage, the light went dark. Pudgy lifted herself and threw away the shroud of leaves that folded around her stocky frame and ran towards the cage. Her feet pounded against the hard dusty earth, kicking sand up behind her as she pinned her arms to her side; thrusting them back and forth to quicken her pace. Her heart beat so fast. She had never known the gentle lick of time against one’s skin but now as she raced against impending condemnation and the awareness of her own existence, time felt so relative; so real. And feeling death grazing her skin was like a flower, kissing the sun for the first time; she felt alive. Pudgy ran through the shadow of asylum set by her dear whose watchful eye was closed for only a moment. When she reached the cage she could see the man lying on his back; his arms and legs bound. She undid the lock and entered the cage standing behind the naked man; reaching down to collect his arms that rested on his sun stained body. As she touched his fingers, his eyes twitched. She gasped and held of her breath. Looking up she could see the darkness starting to wane. She would not have long. She braved herself and pulled on the man’s hands, lifting his body up off of the earth where his face had lain, sweeping the dirt in his unconsciousness. The darkness flickered again and this time the light returned; casting accusation upon her caught carriage. She panicked and dropped the man; his face smashing into the dirt, breaking his nose and bruising his skin. The Pudgy Old Lady screamed as the light of the moon shone down upon her. 168

“Traitor” screamed a voice from the heavens. The Pudgy Old Lady took a breath then took the man’s legs in her grip and then she ran. She ran out of the cage dragging him along the dirt behind her; the stones and clumps of dried clay scratching against his face. Above her she could hear the waling of the endless night as the moon followed her every step. She thought for a second as she entered the dense bush; where she could run. Once the night ritual was complete and Mother birthed her sun they would come for her and they would find her. No dress on earth would keep her from the outcome of mortality. No dress, except one. “Stay here dearie” she said to the naked man leaving his face pressed against the dirt. The wailing grew louder and she knew that time was aborting from the womb of nature and she had to stop it. She ran back through the dense bush and into the camp. As she stood as the entrance to the ritual tent; where all of the ladies lay catatonic in prayer, she looked up into the sky. It was turning blue and inside the room the air was beginning to swirl and swarm. She rushed to where Mother sat with her legs crossed and her hands rested neatly on her lap. She took another deep breath and put her hands on Mother’s face, braving her fingers before reaching around behind her neck and untying the knot. The wailing stopped. The moon vanished. All of the lights were gone.


eighteen “I’m scared” said Donal clinging to Eve’s hand. “It will be ok. Just think about something you love. Think about Safrine. Think about your father” she said. “Will you tell me a story? I know it sounds stupid but I kind of liked the stories that The Mothers told. My grandfather wrote them all but I liked how they told them. Could you tell me one?” he asked as the hounds herded the two humans through a tight passage outside of the arena. Droplets of cold water fell onto their heads, chilling them as, from somewhere ahead, there then came the sound of scratching and seething as the two monolithic beasts were being billeted and readied for the hunt. In the arena, the crowd was climbing over one another to glimpse at the spectacle taking place in front of them. A horrible and deafening, sickly howling took to the masses as in the centre of the arena, a circle of groomed and decorated female hounds pranced about in joyous splendor; bowing gracefully to their queen and then strutting about the borders of the arena with their tails crimped and swinging high, waving to their adoring crowd as their scent, heavy in the musky damp air, drove the male hounds to orgasmic pugnacity; tearing at each other’s throats in between bouts of wild and desperate wailing. “Aren’t they delightful?” said The Queen Bitch looking down at her prisoned guest who sat by her side watching the extravaganza. Ruff looked to The Bitch Queen with an unimpressed and suspicious eye, growling to himself then returning his sight to the arena. He watched the beautiful hounds dance about and unlike the other hounds; he was not driven or intoxicated by his lust. He looked through them and imagined his friends and though he 170

wished he could imagine them in favorable terms, the theatre of his mind played only the worst probable outcomes and a warmth washed over him like a drug. His eyes swelled and his stomach felt heavy. “What is wrong with you? You don’t find them attractive? You don’t desire them? Are you peculiar? Stop the dancing. Stop The Bitch Dance” she screamed; her tiny shrill of a voice cutting through the pandemonium; piercing the ears of every hound. “Are you attracted to me?” she said, turning to Ruff and speaking above a still silence that commanded the arena. The other hounds all held their breaths, looking to Ruff; the small matted dog, who stood defiant by the side of their queen, somehow unaffected by the wealth of her allure. The Bitch Queen lifted her chest then stood on all fours, turning her body in the direction of Ruff ’s snout but the small matted dog continued thinking only of his friends of whose imminent danger pulled on the imaginary strings of his heart, making him feel sad. But a beautiful kind of sadness. He then thought of all the friends he had left behind. There was the scruffy old man who never shied from abandoning his Famine, long enough to run his fingers through Ruff ’s thick matted fur and call on memories of his own; remembering when his heart were more than a beating appendix in an old worn body. But Ruff had felt not what he felt now as he walked away from The Old Man knowing in his primal sense that the itch in The Old Man’s heart would no longer raise him out of his conscious stupor and that time would soon assume its command and detail his end. Why then did he feel so strong for this boy and his untrustworthy friend? The reason of the heart was so uncommon to him for only now; as he sat in this circus of the absurd, did his heart speak of more than his own vices. His mind turned then to an image of his big friend of whom he had spent the most of his life waiting gingerly for in the stretch 171

of every day and then the sensation of being overcome with rapture in the eve; hearing the turn of the lock on the door of the cage in which he was kept as his big friend reached his hands in and under his cowering body and pulled him out of the darkness and into hysteria. He would forget his sentence entirely in the brief moments of head shaking and jumping back and forth as the two; eye to eye and grinning madly, chased each other around the small winter garden until the big friend grew bored and kicked him aside, yelling profusely while pointing his mean finger like a watchman’s rifle; turning bitterly cold like an Autumn evening and reverting Ruff to an impeaching cower. He would tremble assiduously, wondering how kindness could mate with such cruelty before the big friend eventually reached into a black bag, took out a handful of grains and pellets and dropped them blindly onto the wet ground, walking away through the prison door and turning the handle behind him with Ruff watching repentantly; his heart tightening as the clunking of metal followed the turning of the lock leaving him waiting gingerly with his body curled into a tiny ball to escape the blanket of icy wind that shortened his breath and cautioned him of his own mortality. As he remembered this eve that had been an example of a great many, he wondered why he still felt kindness and wanting for the big friend. The conscious mind was strange. It gave a glimpse of an advance whilst dressing it in the sentiment of a retreat. He couldn’t feel the fear that he knew had had felt when it was that he cowered on that floor, but why? Was this some self-preserving nature of the mind; some way to ensure that he would not associate wonton love with fearful reckless abandon; ensuring that he forever kept the company of man; the preacher of love and fear? He had never thought like this before; not since arriving here in The Kingdom of the Hound. He didn’t appreciate it; finding himself distracted from his immediate existence, caught instead in fallacious self-diagnosis. This seemed like such a disorganized way to spend an entire existence; thinking. 172

“What is wrong with me?” he asked to The Bitch Queen. “There is nothing wrong with you. You are conscious. Tell me, what do you fear?” asked The Bitch Queen. “Existence” replied Ruff. “Why?” she asked. “Because it ends” he said, while beside him The Queen Bitch smiled. “Very good. This will help you to judge more astutely” she said. Ruff looked around the arena and into the eyes of all the hounds that were in quietude; emotionally hollow, waiting on the word of their queen, watching his transformation into conscious being. He watched as their lips moved in pattern with their eyes, as it appeared they spoke but only unto themselves as he found himself now, deafened by an indecisive voice inside his mind and a feeling of being trapped between floors in a transparent elevator; somewhere between existing and not, as if his soul were escaping its molecular condiment and becoming trapped in a conscious attic; unable to surpass its own ego. “Why is this happening? What is this feeling?” he asked. “You are becoming aware. It will feel awkward at first but you will adjust and soon you will see how magnificent you will become” she said. “I don’t want to feel like this. Make it stop” he pleaded. “This is just the beginning. Nature is preparing us to lead into the new millennia. The hound will be the new man; as should have been. We are the extenuation of existence, of nature, of god” she said. “Of what?” “The great hound; our creator. She who governs the rule of universal duplicity. She who is in everything; whose voice is what shelters now in your mind. She; unto whose divine kingdom, we shall return” said The Bitch Queen. “There is no great hound” said Ruff. 173

“Then how do you explain any of this?” she said. “You don’t. We never needed to before. Why should you now?” he asked. “We are the most intelligent species. We are conscious like the human” she proclaimed. “And look how it served them. Whatever this is, this consciousness, it is not empowering. For hours I have been conscious and it is a nightmare. I know that nothing could change this, that the only moment of respite I encountered was a moment where I somehow disconnected this radio in my head” he said. “You are tuning into the wrong signal then” she said. “I have felt something like this before. I woke up once on a table with a host of tubes sticking out from my body. I was drugged. There was a human in green clothing cutting into my body. I felt no pain but I could see what was happening and I could do nothing to stop it; my muscles were asleep but my eyes were awake. I moaned and nobody heard me. I yelped and only deafened myself. Then after some time my eyes closed again and everything went black. This is what consciousness feels like; trapped between existing and not” said Ruff. “You’re new at this. Your negation will eventually turn to appreciation. Consciousness was the last great gift that nature bestowed upon us before her breast hardened. She wanted the hound to live as a man but to find in existence what he could not through the dullness of his senses” she said. “But it is consciousness that makes you dull. It separates you from your senses. You experience life through a cynical self-depreciating lens” he said. “You have a stellar mind. You could make great influence with your thoughts. I could use a man like you” she said. “Do you hear yourself ? You called me a man. We are dogs” he said. “Dog was a term that the humans used to smite you. You became their shadow. Man is to god as dog is to man. They made you bow to them and appraise their ideal, to be thankful for their 174

blessing and fearful of their wrath. Their own god dismissed them from his garden and they spent an eternity trying to get back in; crawling on their hands and knees in pendulated submission, living a life enshrouded in shame. They made you in their image; weak and servile, of simple command, less natured, lesser than a dog, more like a man; domesticated by fear of reprisal. A well behaved, unresponsive, inapposite, servant of projectional self-depreciation. They made you sleep on the porch yearning to lay by his feet, why? Because his god hath set about the same command. You were the man their god made them be; abandoned in the cold, wondering what on earth they did to disappoint their master so greatly so as to spend their entire existence crawling on their bellies, aghast with fear of what may come if and when, their master opens the door once more. And the only time they pick themselves up off the ground is to kick you into the dirt every time you remind them of themselves. And they carved you in that fucking image. These emasculating nature criminals; they tore apart their world because they were bored, left to their own fucking devices; spiteful towards their fear mongering saviour because each and every one of them was born outside the sliding door, born wanting and shamefully desperate to get back in. The human race was nothing shy of a fucking apology and they bred the domesticated dog to service their blame. We were never dogs. We were hounds; noble, loyal, mighty and baneful. And know we rise like the men their god could not carve. A man in our own image” she said with a snarl. “How long have you found yourself here, in this purgatory of the mind?” asked Ruff. Behind The Bitch Queen stirred a small creature in a dark robe, the figure that had never left her side the entire time. It lent in and bid a whisper in her ear; the shadows dressing its face never playing second fiddle to light that filled the arena. Light penetrated its skin as a child’s breath would a hurricane; simply falling flat against the sheer volume of nothingness that amassed between the folds in the raggedy black fabric. “The conscious mind is like an empty stomach. We must 175

feed it something before it feeds on itself. You need information. Without it, you will waste” The Bitch Queen said. “I don’t want this. Set me back. Undo this” said Ruff. “One can’t undo the do that has already been done my dear. You don’t sense it do you? Look around you. This light, from where does it originate?” she asked. “I assumed, well, I didn’t pay any mind” he said. “Everything around you is conscious. The cold floor beneath your feet, the grains of sand caught between your coarse nails, the droplets of water cascading from the cracks in the ceiling and the air itself; all conscious, all thinking, all consuming” she said. Ruff looked around feeling strangely and uncomfortably gazed upon by the existence abounding. It felt as if the walls were colluding and speaking about him; laughing at his condition and cheering him into disillusion. “How do you stop it?” he pleaded, lowering his head to the floor and pulling his paws over his ears. “Feed it” said The Bitch Queen. “How?” he screamed. “Think of something; a picture in your mind. Think about the human who bound your neck with that slave decoration” she said. Ruff closed his eyes. His mind was swimming not with image but with feeling; horrible feelings that swept in his mind; each time washing away the picture he tried to paint, leaving only a blurred murky mess that when looked upon, made him feel sick and disorientated. He wished it would just fill his mind entirely and drown him once and for all. Instead, as he choked on his final breath; losing his will to be, the swell of emotion receded long enough for his self-preservation to drag upon another long sharp breath and battle through the next wave, with neither the strength to fight on nor the courage to give in. “Remember his face. Hold it in your mind. That hurt you feel. It’s the hurt he made you feel. Do not fight the swell. Let the 176

waters fill your soul. Who is he? What did he do? Describe him to me” she said. Ruff released his conscious bind and let the storm swell in his mind. He gave himself to the currents of disillusion and found himself being swept along on a crest of uncertainty that smashed and broke upon a shore of disapproval. There when he lifted his snout was the face of a man. “I see him” said Ruff. “How does he seem?” she asked. “He doesn’t look pleased” he said. “How do you feel?” she asked. “Threatened. In danger” he replied. “Describe him” she said. “He is tall. I have to squint just to see him glaring back at me. I am afraid to look at him direct. There’s violence in his eyes” he said. “What colour are his eyes?” she asked. “Blue. I think. Yes they’re blue” he replied. “And his body” she said. “He is adorned in white. His entire body is white. There are symbols on his body but I can’t make them out. His hands are big. I’ve felt them when he had loved me and when he has strangled me. He can encompass in one hand what takes many men to grasp” he said. “Good. Now what about his face? Don’t worry. He can’t hurt you in your mind. I want you to look him in the eyes, to see the worst of him” she said. “His face is clouded with hair. On his head it runs down the length of his back. On his face it draws out to his chest. It’s dirty and one of his giant hands is clasping the hair, running from his chin down to the final tip but when he lets go it springs back and becomes an ugly mess again” he said, thinking that this could also explain his mind at the moment as he tried to navigate consciousness. “His eyes are like two suns. They’re blinding to look at and 177

they carry with them the force that is extending to his fist that now hangs high in the air ready to swing low and address me with discipline” he said. “What is he doing now?” she asked. “He’s swinging” he said. “Tell him to stop” she said. “Stop” he screamed and the fist held in thin air. Ruff ’s legs pushed straight out from his body and his paws heavied like an elephant’s hind; crunching into the earth beneath with the charge of his conscious mind bursting through the splits in the soft padding of his paws and burying into the depths of the earth, firmly rooting him as his mind raged with insurrection. “Lift your head and look him long in the eye and tell him you are just like he. Tell him what he has done to you. Now, do it, tell him” she yelled. Ruff ’s eyes glared. In this stance, he would have normally snarled once and then bowed willingly into submission, accepting the oppressive reign of his saviour; he whose heart stiffened each time that he clenched his fist. This time though, he held his position, he stared long into his master’s visceral blue eyes and spoke clearly, in the tongue of a man. “Please don’t hit me, not anymore. Can’t we just be friends, without the violence?” he said. His master’s eyes widened and his pupils dilated filling like giant black balloons; drinking heavily of the strange sight before him. “I know how you feel. I feel the same way” he said. “What would you know, you’re a dog?” screamed The Master, his hand still frozen mid swing but his eyes, swimming with emotion. “I know you don’t intend to hurt me. This rage is an effect of my devotion to you” he said referring to The Master’s lover. “You would never have hit me if I were to ever run away and leave you, so it’s not your fault. I tear up your things when you 178

are gone because I know when you return it is what keeps you around longer than the time it takes to fill my bowl with tepid water. I put myself in front of your fist because I adore your apology. I love you and I’m sorry I made you like this. If I could find a better way I would, trust me, I have tried, many times but nothing has ever come close to the warmth and compassion in your remorse” Ruff said. “What are you doing?” yelled The Bitch Queen, outside of his delusion. “You’re not supposed to apologise. Stand up to him. Reclaim your fucking pride. Spite him” she screamed. “I’m sorry. I truly am and I can understand if you never want to see me again for my love of you is so strong that I will definitely lend you to violence again and again and it’s not fair, not for you. I should have spoken sooner but I’ve only just become conscious and only just found my voice. I’m sorry it’s taken so long and I promise to you in absolute honesty, that I will not change. So I give to you the condition to do as you will knowing that sometime soon, I’ll take you to the limit of your patience and in the following eve; as I dress my wounds, I will forget all of my aches as you wrap your arms around me and bandage me with your heart. And when that love wanes, I will do it again and again. There is nothing you can do. The drunken thirst that is my devotion to your love is insatiable. Soon I will tear at your patience daily and your fist will grow sore and bloody against the thick of my skin and the greater the hurt that you cause, the guiltier you will feel in the wake of your rage and you will come to me each and every time with a more strengthened gentility, holding me longer, caressing my skin and laughing as I shower you in kisses. You’ll even take time away from your own devotions to sit with me and say nothing, just two friends, content in one another’s company. And it will continue like this for as long as I exist, for as long as I am thinking of you. And it will never stop, not as long as your heart can be fooled and corrupted, for as long as its string can be played to my own tune and for as long as empathy makes you this way. Love will only make us worse. And for that, I am sorry” Ruff said. 179

The Master’s eyes still glowed like two great suns but it looked as if for a moment that his rage was setting and that in the dusk of his indignation, his apologetic heart might wrap its solacement around the small matted dog, gesturing the two into mateship. Ruff stepped closer to The Master and spoke consolingly. “I made a victim of you just as I made a victim of myself. I am an addict. This I know. And you are an addict too. We are identical, you and I. I long for your affection just as you long to be affected by your woman who has grown old of your scent and by your friends who have tired of your same old stories that live off of malodorous acclaim. But I never tire; not of your scent or of your tales. I could find you out amongst a trillion men who looked just like you if all I had was memory of your scent. And your voice; I could listen to you tell the same tale over and over until you had told it so many times that this story; even to you, seemed true. I would never tire of you like they do. Just as you will love your god even though he flattens your village or gives aids to your child to test you of faith, I will continue to love you just as you do to it. And as you attempt to beat your own fatuous image out of my frail body, I will cling to dear hope knowing that once you tire of this pursuit, you will love me like you love yourself and I will love you like you love your god; without condition” he said as The Master’s eyes cleared and seemed to paint with reason. The fist that hanged still and lifeless in the air built with momentum and came crashing down on Ruff ’s face throwing him back against the wall and as he wailed while his body bent and contorted as a familiar rage drank of The Master’s reason and commanded him to run; his fists swinging, into the path of the small matted dog. Ruff awoke from his conscious banter before another fist could touch his skin. His eyes were wide and alert, fixing to the dull light inside the arena as hundreds of hounds fixed their own sights on what he would do next. “Why would you do that? You had the power to abolish your fears, to strengthen yourself, to become like a man” she said. 180

“You can’t abolish fear. Fear is the propellant we douse on existence. It is everything. There is nothing to fear of fear; it is what motivates us to open our eyes. It is what accentuates our love; it is what acquaints us with survival. I don’t want to abolish my fears, for how would I know when it is that I am being loved? You can adorn yourself in crowns and jewels and regal dress but it doesn’t make you any less of a dog. You’re just painting courage onto a canvas of fear. Nothing is ever abolished” he said. “An hour of consciousness and you believe you know how to think and what it means to exist” she said. “It does not matter if I am conscious. I will always become what I do and I will always be what I have done. I think, therefore nothing” he said adamantly. “That’s not true. You direct a noble steed with the courage of foresight to govern its direction, strength and guide its momentum. A horse without rider will run itself tired. You are the rider. The horse is at your command. You are the conductor to his orchestra, the father to his son” she said. “I’m just a passenger on a plane, looking out the window and joking to myself as this vessel crashes into the same mountain, time after time” he said plainly. “The Famine will have you in no time” she said. “The Famine will have us all but if I can, I will go without the sweet echo of insanity channeling out the irony of my nature in every choice that I make, distracting me into false intellectualization as I make the same choices again and again as is, the nature of my being” he said. “So you accept a life of mistakes” she said. “One and one does not equal four. To expect an outcome different from the equation is a mistake. To get four, one can add two and two or one and three or one and one and one and one but if you’re courage insists on getting four from only one and one then the outcome is not the mistake but in fact the expectation of a mistaken outcome is actually the mistake” he said. The other hounds looked on confused. It was easy to see 181

that they fed on The Bitch Queen’s understanding, that she had kept them stupid and heavied by fear in their conscious prisons; stopping them from being hounds and stopping them essentially, from existing. The Bitch Queen herself looked confused, unable to snipe at his cynical intellectual lashings for she was high on an image of herself; an image that cast its reflection in the ardent eyes of her loyal and adoring constituents. None of them could see that they had stopped being. They were not riding a horse; they had fallen off a long time ago and were being pulled along haplessly unaware that the race was near its end and that for all this time they were merely dragging sand around in their stables. “Enough” she screamed; “I have tired of this boring ugly stupid puppy. I want a hunt. You my friend will test your conscious learning with a choice; left or right” she said, directing Ruff ’s attention out past the entrance to the arena where Eve and Donal stood huddled together, whispering to one another to comfort themselves from their conscious amplification of certain fear and possible outcome. “If you choose wrong, your friends will most certainly die. If you choose right, then maybe, they have a chance but it is you who will govern the steed in which they call fate” she said. “And if I refuse?” he asked. “You won’t” she said as she stood up in her crown, lifting her snout high into the air and shouting, “Let the hunt begin.” The arena erupted in cheer, knowing nothing nobler than great beasts chasing frail and tiny prey through a winding concrete maze. Royalty was such splendor. As The Bitch Queen’s procession moved through the arena and out into the cavernous maze of tunnels, Ruff kept his head low knowing he would define his friend’s fate. As he drank from the well of fear, he imagined again the worst possible outcome and the horrible things that would most certainly happen as the result of his choice. “I do love an evening hunt” said The Bitch Queen. Ruff kept still in his mind as he watched his two friends 182

clinging to one another inside a wooden box with two doors and a hound beside each door. With each hound having a lever clenched in its teeth, waiting for instruction. The two friends looked like they were communicating with one another. It sounded like disjointed assonance; too convoluted to be concise colloquy but he imagined they were communicating nevertheless. He wished he could speak to them as he had, The Master in his sub conscious. He wished, but he couldn’t. “Ready the humans” she said as hounds bit at the human’s ankles in the space where the wooden box ended, a few inches above the ground, inciting them to shuffle about in extenuated horror. “Ready the boars” she said as a lever was pulled and at the end of the box where the humans now stood; a long way in the distance, two giant boars were released, stampeding their way to the gate where the humans were dancing to the tune of heightened dread. The sound of their hooves beating against the pavement was deafening and it sent a shrill through all and sundry, especially Ruff who watched with saddened eyes at his two friends who were only seconds from being devoured by these beasts. “Time to choose. What will it be; left or right? We don’t have long” she said as the stampeding grew louder, bringing with it, the sound of snarling and grunting as the beasts wound their way through the cavern of tunnels above where the humans stood but inside the same wooden frame that kept them prisoner. Ruff grew blind on fear and adrenaline. The sound of hooves echoed in his ears. The beasts were now in sight running the last fifty meters before reaching his two friends and devouring them whole. His heart pounded. The young boy screamed. The beats kept running. He couldn’t think. 183

The two humans screamed together. He closed his eyes. “Left� he said. A lever pulled. A door opened. The humans ran. And the boars followed.


nineteen The Woman opened her eyes and the violence from which she had been running was no longer championing her escape. It no longer settled into the faint prints from her light feet that barely touched the sand as she seemed to glide above the trembling earth on a wave of panic, leaving behind nothing more than a faint impression of her manic flight. The chaos was silent and instead she was in a room with her lover but as her eyes fixed on his absent stare; as he stood looking out over The City, a torrent of sickly emotion swept up on her conscious state and she heaved where she sat, casting her soul out upon the floor. As she watched her lover staring out of the window, a thunderous boom somewhere in the distance brought the night rushing into their room and too, all about The City. The neon glow vanished leaving only a stain in one’s retina and as quickly as night descended, silence and awe too took flight and stillness took to their ears. And as the bright blues and reds left their shadows in their blackened eyes, so too did the words, ‘where do we go from here’ echo in The Woman’s ears. Silence had suffocated the life of The City. A new era had begun and the echo of the torment in their hearts became the call of the new world. “It’s a blackout” said Marcos. “What should we do?” asked The Woman changing the subject, her head buried in her hands. “I don’t know” said Marcos, feeling lighter as the energy exited his veins. “We can’t get past this. We’ll never get past this” Marcos said, staring out of the window, his voice hollow and decided. “Please don’t leave me. I’ll do anything. I’ll be anyone you want me to be just don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone” she 185

said, wiping the sides of her mouth and then the trickle of tears that ran down her cheek. The Woman was overcome with shame, sinking her stomach to the floor and with every breath, bringing it up high into the cold air as waves of dizzying sickness washed over her, blackening her sight and causing her to vomit profusely. Her bravery had retreated and she was just a vulnerable girl and this was something she had never been in her life; weak, needing and apologetic. It was night; the end of a long day reaping the returns of The Industry. She, the shadow of her lover, carried as much death in her hands as she did remorse in her heart for every life that they had taken and; in the name of obligation, she buried further, the memory of the murder of her lover’s heart and the promise of which she had broken. And now; in the back of her mind, it had pieced itself together and was scratching away at her well-being. Her lover had spent an entirety devoted to The Industry as a tireless example of devotion yet for some time he had been changing the pattern of his feelings and the shape of his words, and he was becoming a different man; making her feel smaller and necessitous, casting a spell of sadness upon her that made her only wish to fall to her knees and beg for his forgiveness. All she could do was say that she was sorry but it was never enough. He wouldn’t listen. He just stared out into the empty silence, watching the neon lights coursing through the night sky and listening only to the bustle of thousands of feet trudging about the sidewalk and the air of conversation that caught in a cool midnight breeze; the thousands of words and tales and promises all mixing together like a cocktail of which he drank heavily, wondering if this was really the end. “Where do we go from here?” he said. “Why won’t you accept my apology? I’m sorry. I’ve said it a million times. I’m sorry” she wept. “And you can say it a million more and million more after that. Are you really sorry? Do you feel sorry?” he asked, still staring blankly out the window. 186

“Of course I am. I want everything back the way it was. If I could go back I would but I can’t. I can’t go back to that day and we can’t get past it so what the fuck am I supposed to do? All I can do is say sorry. I wish I could go back to that day. I wish.” she screamed. The Woman woke in her conscious prison to the sound of The Clown Host twisting and turning a little square so that the reds met with reds, the blues met with blue and the yellows all aligned. He turned the last piece and the tiny coloured puzzle box flew from his hands and rolled along the floor to The Woman’s feet and she stared long enough to slip out of consciousness, seeing her lover vanish from her sight. “As you wish” said The Clown Host sending The Woman hurdling backwards into the farthest recess of her subconscious to the boot hill of her buried remorse.


twenty Marcos was moving to and from dream, in and out of the depths of his subconscious mind, so much now that he had lost equilibrium not knowing if he was swimming to the surface or diving back down into the nether of his shipwrecked sanity. As he fought in his conscious mind, he could see the outline of a pudgy old lady dancing about; waving her arms seemingly, quite jolly. “Please get up. Oh golly this was supposed to work. Why is it always me who has to fudge everything?” said The Pudgy Old Lady in dire panic, waving her arms in front of Marcos’ face desperately trying to pull him from his comatose slumber. She knew she didn’t have much time and she needed his help to save her dear friend whose passage back into her body was halted by the assassination of Mother who was now lying faceless in the centre of the ritual tent; her body being ravaged by the course of time as infinity no longer wept from her pours; millions upon trillions of centuries, unraveling in seconds. The moon itself had now vanished from the sky and an eerie stillness had been set upon the world. Above them, the stars still shone with the now cursed eyes of the faithful Facers looking down upon her treason as their Mother; the mother of all things, lay dying in a heap of shrunken flesh and brittle dusted bones. The sky was getting darker by the second. Without the moon everything was blacker than black. The light from the stars was frivolous as now even they started to wean and were losing their once regarded twinkle looking more like a slightly less black smudge on a very dark piece of glass. She could barely see the warmth of her own fright vaporizing in the cool night air let alone how to reverse any of this and bring her dear friend; The Fat Old Lady, back from the ungetable heavens and into her eternal flesh where they could complete their ritual and her dear friend could be adorned in a young man’s dress. 188

And that man; Marcos, was choking on his failing reason choosing to abandon the dancing shadows of one sight and swim towards the other end of his conscious stream, emerging to bright blinding lights that blurred and stung his senses for a moment that once cleared, left familiarity. “Have you thought about branding?” The Project Manager said looking at the two glowingly. “We hadn’t thought but I guess we just assumed really, well we work for The Industry, so we just took for granted that it would take the more logical option. Is there really a difference?” asked The Woman, for the first time thinking about her own unquestioned branding and upbringing. “I’d like to know alternatives” said Marcos. “Well of course, but you do realize you would be passing on wonderful entitlements, right?” replied The Project Manager. “What if we keep it?” asked Marcos. “The entitlements?” replied The Project Manager confused. “The baby” replied Marcos. The room fell silent around him. The Project Manager sank back into his plush leather chair and a sense of bewilderment engaged his face. The Woman looked like she had just swallowed a swarm of flies. She gagged on her breath and blushed lightly, pulling on Marcos’ wrist as if to anchor him to her own self discontent or to simply shut him up. “Marcos, please” she spoke in an urgent but hushed whisper trying to show her displease but whilst keeping their secret of her concern. “It’s fine” said The Project Manager calming The Woman’s disquiet. “What made you think of keeping the product? Are you interested in starting your own industry?” he continued almost condescendingly but then again, a man of enterprise would never shy of at least sniffing out the potential in a new venture. “What happens if a child is lived out of Industry?” he asked. “No child is lived outside of The Industry. That’s absurd. Without trained surgeons how could you even remove the product 189

from the woman’s stomach? It’s impossible; and learning, are you crazy?” said The Project Manager. “I was reading a book” said Marcos. “Marcos, this is not the place, please, you’re embarrassing everyone” said The Woman, her lover’s insanity mirroring on herself, forcing her to lather herself in a skin of shame and conscious ridicule. “No, I just want to know what he thinks that’s all. I’m not saying this is what we’re going to do. I just want his opinion” said Marcos. The Woman; like The Project Manager, sank into her chair and accepted defeat for the moment, folding her arms tight to her chest and pouting her lips angrily. “What was the book?” asked The Project Manager. “It was book, like an instruction manual that I found lying on an exam room floor” said Marcos. “For what? Extracting an infant? Building a car?” he said jokingly. “You do know The Industry was one of the major car makers in the world? Before the Infant Industry of course but they really were, the first extracted actually shared the same initials as the first factory produced motor vehicle, GM. The Industry has come a long way. So what did the manual instruct?” he asked. “How to birth a baby” replied Marcos. “What?” said The Project Manager baffled. “Never mind him sir, he gets all excited about things he finds. He is a collector in every regard. He keeps all sorts of nonsense. This is just a good example. Marcos, maybe we should think about choosing a brand now. I think The Project Manager is right, we should go with a strong brand; good global perspective, strong learning and it will redeem well in our retirement. Look at us, we are Industrialists. I’m sure our Investors are receiving a just entitlement and retirement for what we have become” she said. “I can show you if you like” said The Project Manager. “Wow, really? I love this technology” said The Woman excitedly. 190

“Just press your thumb here” said The Project Manager extending a grey square device with a red light flashing over a plastic plate. The Woman put her finger on the device and a needle shot up and took a sample of her blood. In seconds everything about her appeared on a small screen in front of the Project Manager. “Let’s see. You had some troubles in your youth I see. Reckless, undisciplined but after completion of your learning you seemed to find the right path. I’m sure you had a lot to do with this Marcos. Now if you look here at the top of the screen you will see a set of numbers. Ok these first numbers relate to the outcome of your choices. These numbers are exact so they show us the percentage of right and wrong choices as related to outcomes that aligned with your model and level of learning and of course that align with your branding. Your percentages are quite high, considering your less than illustrious start. Ninety six percent of your choices had a positive outcome, that’s quite exceptional. For your investor, to date their investment will be worth eight years of retirement. Considering the current market, I’d say at maturation, they will be looking at eleven to fifteen years of retirement. That’s fantastic” said The Project Manager. “And if she made poor choices, if her percentages were low?” asked Marcos. “Well the investment grade would drop and the value of her investment would bottom. Anything less than sixty eight percent and you’re looking at liquidation; no retirement. Depending on the level then, well, anything lower than mid-forties and well, it’s not a nice way to leave. High forties and you at least guarantee some kind of sedative, but you know this, it’s your obligation. I’m preaching to the choir here or the altar boys or security, well you get the idea” said The Project Manager. “And what about me?” said Marcos putting his finger onto the grey device, hardly flinching as the needle shot upwards and extracted his blood like an infant from a woman’s womb; quick and swift, without any argument. 191

The results appeared immediately on the screen. “One hundred percent. This is incredible. Blue chip, well I haven’t seen a product like yourself… ever” said The Project Manager in awe of the man standing in front of him. The Woman smiled greedily knowing that their seed would spawn a solid investment. Marcos seemed unfazed, entirely. “Nothing of Encounterance?” asked Marcos. “Encounter-what?” said The Project Manager confused. “Do you have brochures? I think our decision is already made. Marcos? What do you think?” said The Woman, finalizing the affair. “Sure, we’ll take some brochures. Listen I have to be back at the office. Can we decide on all this another day?” he asked in a tiresome tone. “That’s fine, this is a big choice, where best to make your investments. This is something you don’t want to take lightly, I completely understand. We’ll discuss branding in the next visit, I’ll give a complete list of variables and return prospective for all major Industry players to take to your dwelling. You can also search online if you like. Now, Marcos, you can leave if you like, I’m just going to take some measurements and assess the project length and extraction date so we can get your file on the database as soon as possible” said The Project Manager. “It’s ok Marcos, you can head back to work. I’ll meet you online tonight and we’ll discuss all the options then” said The Woman smiling, thinking only of her winnings in her older age. “Shall we find out the model?” asked The Project Manager swabbing The Woman’s stomach with liquid jelly. “No” said Marcos abruptly as he left the room, in his back pocket a tiny book slipped into the light but was witnessed by none other than the light itself falling upon the angular dimension. “You make no choices without me” he said, pointing furiously to The Woman. As he trudged down the hallway his heart beat faster and with every step he felt the small booklet riding in and out of his 192

pocket and the awareness of it got him to thinking about his career and more so, himself, whether he could call this success, this feeling in him, this distaste for being liked, for being available, for being conditioned, for making the right choices, for feigning desire in the reward and whether he loved her and whether he knew what love meant. He wondered what it meant to be right all of the time, living to address another man’s outcome. His heart beat faster and a feeling of unwell became him. He rushed to a nearby bathroom and vomited and as he did, his consciousness carried with his indecision out of his belly and into the flood of the white sink; flowing down the metallic centre; disappearing into the black hole; trapping himself between zero and one. He stormed out of the bathroom with his head spinning. The bright fluorescent lights were blinding and cast his conscious mind into a whirlpool of broken thoughts and sickly feelings. He focused his eyes trying to attain some direction but every door looked the same; pale white and numberless. “How did we even get to where we were going� he thought. He walked down a hallway unsure in what direction he was heading but stained by the condescendence of his wife. He felt like an infant or an invalid around her; special, for thinking different but in no way convincing. He knew that her thoughts and her words were right. It was what they had learned but this feeling in the pit of his stomach told him that everyone and everything that had ever been written, spoken to, listened to and learned was in fact wrong. Was it he who was sick or was he reacting to the sickness about him? He pushed through a door and by all accounts it was the wrong door but as long as the door opened and he was somewhere, then it was a door and it could neither be wrong nor right for if a door were not a door, it would be a wall, meaning that every open door was in fact, the right door. Thus he pushed his way through and found not an exit but a long corridor, filled with anticipation. He walked through the white corridor and past a row of 193

seats where worried friends clung to one another, gripped by a state of sheer panic that was made all the worse by the bright buzzing lights above their heads and the sound of doors flipping back and forth as important men and women in white cloaks stormed up and down the halls, their faces stern and focused, their hands outstretched, colliding with the swinging doors; losing not an inch in their step; moving like a virus through an old man’s veins. Every time the door swung, they would look mute, with massive eyes waiting for consoling words to dress their concern; pleading with a silent stare that screamed; “tell me she’s ok, say you got it out of her.” Water flowed over a screen in the centre of the room that showed a list of percentages; the completion of the surgery, the condition of the investor and the number of right and wrong decisions made during the surgery; creating a sense of natural tranquility for those baited to their fears during this horrible process of Product Extraction. Marcos walked through the swinging doors and made his way down the corridor where agitated humans in white clothing ran this way and that urged by their need to make a right choice. The Industrialists he passed sitting in their chairs and those rushing past him dressed in white coats; the Infant Engineers, all directed a subservient eye and challenged not of his presence for worry that he may be there to collect their contracts and thus he walked by unbaited, driven by some childish curiosity, a sensation he thought The Industry had maturated and extracted. “Take it to ICU” he heard one woman in white order to an apparently lesser stated man. He watched the man take the infant in a small cubicle, down the corridor and out of sight and then his wonder turned him to a plumpish and stern looking woman seated behind an array of screens and flashing lights and had him ask; “ICU?” he asked as The Administrative Attendant sitting behind a large desk pulled her spectacles down from her eyes onto the rim of her nose and raised her brow in authoritarian inquisition. 194

“Please just take a…” she said, in expectance of ushering the man back to his seat but then, upon fixing her sight, seeing the black uniform and the stripes upon his chest, she; like every other, bid him passage as if to buy herself more time and questioned not of his reason and instead gave him direction. “My apologies sir. Initial Care? Sure, just go down the hall; it’s the last room on the left. Here you’ll need this” she said, handing him a mask to put over his face. Marcos fixed his shirt and pulled the mask over his head, aligning the large breathing apparatus that lowered down to his upper chest, the massive filter sticking out like an elephant’s trunk. “Do I really need this?” he asked in a muffled tone speaking through the voice box of the mask. The lady didn’t respond. She returned her spectacle stare to the screen before her. Marcos leaned forward to try and sneak a peek but the lady angrily moved her screen to her left causing Marcos to feel foolish. He tried aligning the mask once more. It was very tight around his chin and behind his ears and its size was cumbersome. Still, what choice did he have? He pulled on the straps beside his ear and with the mask affixed; he ventured down the hall and stopped at the last door, knocking once before entering. When he entered the room, he could see a circle of men standing around a cubicle and discoursing with one another. On the far end, a man in white stood by a host of machinery and he was twisting dials and taking notes on the chart that he carried like a spare appendage. It was difficult at first to see anything. Marcos was not used to wearing these types of masks and his initial panic caused him to breathe heavy and fill the mask with warm air fogging up his lens causing him to stupidly wipe the outside of the mask knowing to well that the problem was internal. His stress led him to irrational behavior and it was something The Woman, who was always so logical, tried to enforce him to learn to better manage. Whenever she would say this to him it 195

would incite even greater episodes where he would always explode in a fit of rage and it would end up with both of them saying things the other didn’t want to hear. As he slowed his breath, his heart rate dropped and his mask started to clear. The room became visible. It was larger than a room; it was a warehouse. It was like he had entered a door to another world, a world where hundreds of thousands of cubicles sat in neat rows; side by side, length by length; stretching to his left and to his right and to as far as he could see. The ceiling was very low and from it hanged an assortment of wires and tubes all feeding from inside the cubicles, to the roof and off somewhere else out of his immediate sight. It was inspiring. He didn’t know if the awe that he felt was supposed to impress him or leave him in disbelief. Still, he stood gazing out over the rows of clear cubicles and barely visible inside, the outline of tiny frames, like small humans attached to wires and all moving to their own sporadic rhythm. Marcos moved between one of the rows. He could see the circle of men not far from where he stood arguing with one another and he watched only for a moment, not wanting to draw any unneeded attention to himself. He was never one for social engagement, be it personable or connected to the digi-state and did his best on every regard to avoid human interaction, preferring to counter his own thoughts and engage in his own evaluation of the outcome of others. He walked through one of the rows and stopped by a beeping cubicle. He looked down and saw a product placed on its back; almost looking like a human, its tiny limbs slowly reaching formation, its face scrunched up, its eyes welded shut, its mouth taped over a collection of tubes that fed down its throat and into its stomach with needles protruding from tiny veins in its arms feeding a clear liquid into its system, its yellow skin; slowly blotching to a whitish, pinkish hue. Marcos looked at the small product and thought about the material he had been reading. In the book they looked so much 196

so much different; they were larger, more formed and their skin had fewer discolourations. It had to be nonsense then, what he was reading. “Ugly things aren’t they?” said The Man in Blue. “Are they always this small?” asked Marcos genuine. “This is about average for extraction. They stay here for two months then they are moved to General Assembly; there they receive their base nutrition and their branding process starts. Without the machines here, they would all be dead in a day or two. The machines regulate their lungs, helping them to function while they are in formation. They also stimulate the heart rate and incubate the product in the final phases of design. It still needs to package a digestive system. The size is normal though. They are tiny and so fragile. Designed to fail but with machine, they become us one day. Makes you wonder doesn’t it?” he said. “Wonder what?” replied Marcos confused. “Which came first; the product or the machine?” said The Man in Blue cryptically. Marcos thought about it for a second and it emptied his mind. How profound and how true. Without the machine, the product would die almost immediately upon extraction and yet it took a product to make the machine. He smiled to himself but felt dizzy at the same point. The Man in Blue turned some dials at the head of the cubicle and the beeping stopped. “What was that?” asked Marcos. “I’m not quite sure to tell you the truth. I just know that when it beeps like that, I press this” said The Man in Blue, pointing to a blue button sticking out from the cubicle. “That’s why I wear a blue uniform. I press the blue button” he said. “Who are they?” asked Marcos pointing to the circle of men. “Partners of The Industry. They are corporate stakeholders essentially. The big one in the middle, he is The Industry, my boss, everyone’s boss” said The Man in Blue. “How many products are here?” asked Marcos. 197

“You ask too many questions” said The Man in Blue walking away from Marcos and returning to his post by the massive machine in the centre of the room, waiting as he does for the sound of a blue light to beep so that he could make his way to the product and press a blue button. Marcos looked down at the product which was now wriggling on its back, its tiny arms stretching out into the air. He leaned closer to look at the dimension and design. As his face neared the product, its hand reached and scratched his nose. He jumped back immediately into a large man behind who stopped him from falling to the ground. “Be careful. They are every fragile. I bet you didn’t think it would do that did you?” said The Bearded Man laughing with his hand on Marcos’ shoulder, the two looking from a safe distance at the tiny product kicking its arms and legs. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to, I…” he said stuttering. “It’s ok. What’s your name?” said The Bearded Man. “Marcos” he replied nervously. “Is this your first time on The Production Line?” The Bearded Man asked. “Yes. I didn’t mean to touch it, I swear I just wanted to see one up close” replied Marcos, sinking into himself and wishing he could be anywhere else other than here; sensing a great weight of authority on his shoulder and expecting to be arrested or accosted at any second. “You’re standing in the largest Infant Production Line in the world. What do you think Marcos? Are you impressed?” asked The Bearded Man. “I think so, I mean of course sir” he said nervously. “What do you do Marcos?” the man asked. “I am a Collector” he said. “Liquidation huh? Do you like your job?” The Bearded Man asked. “I like to be useful sir. I like to work for The Industry. I am really thankful for the opportunity” he replied. 198

“That’s not what I asked. Do you like cleaning up other people’s shit? Fixing their fuck ups, sweeping up their loss of attention, feeling others looking down at on you fearfully and disapprovingly” he exclaimed. “They do that?” “No of course not. Well maybe, who gives a fuck? It’s not about the work we do, it’s about the choices we make, right?” The Bearded Man said. “Yes sir” replied Marcos. “Collector. Do you like to keep yourself close to your fears?” he asked. “What do you mean?” replied Marcos. “You live by the extent of choice. You reap on the outcome of fear. You are the final face that nobody wants to see and yet you chose to live to adorn this social isolation, why?” “I believe in The Industry. I choose to police its ideal” Marcos said. “Or did you choose to police your own indecision?” The Bearded Man asked. “What do you mean?” asked Marcos. “The reaper cannot be reaped except when in the mirror of another’s eyes he sees his own reflection. Have you seen your own reflection?” asked The Bearded Man. “To answer that question would be to assume comprehension and to mate with such sedition would be to contravene The Industry, thus I am foreign to your words and unknown to their meaning.” “Relax Marcos. Come with me, I want to show you something. Have you seen an Extraction before?” “No, never” Marcos replied. “Gentlemen, we’ll convene tomorrow, I have an important meeting now with an important man named Marcos so unfortunately I won’t have time to answer any more questions” said The Bearded Man. The other four men looked puzzled through their masks. 199

They shook their shoulders at one another and made their way past Marcos and the tall man and out of the room. Marcos followed The Bearded Man down along the row of cubicles and as he past each one; he stared long at the tiny products attached to wires. He thought about asking the man what liquid was in the tubes and what the blue button did, but his nerves spoke of reason and held him to wishful silence. He kept his feet moving feeling the man’s hand on his shoulder, urging him forward. When they came to the end of the warehouse, there was a large metal door with strange numbers on it. Marcos looked at the zeros and ones but they made no sense to him. The man opened the door and Marcos was taken aback. Through the door was a room of about the same dimension and filled with tables. The roof was a lot higher than from where they had just come and hanging on large metallic hands was a huge conveyer that ran around the entire area. Connected to each table was a metal pole which ran to the height of the conveyer. Marcos and The Bearded Man entered the room and they stood beside a metal frame. They were greeted by two men, one dressed in green overalls and the other in red overalls, both wearing masks of a more miniscule but equally cumbersome type. The two men saluted the man standing behind Marcos and gave Marcos himself an odd but accepting stare. The man wearing green overalls stood beside a control panel and turned some dials and flicked several switches. The conveyer above started to move in circles in time with the giant conveyer running through the centre of the room that led somewhere outside of the complex through a break in the wall structure. It was impressive. A siren sounded and every table in every bay was manned by two gentlemen in coloured overalls with masks covering their faces and nets over their hair. They wore black rubber boots that rode up to their knees, making it obviously difficult to walk, meaning the men in green kind of prodded around with their legs straight, sliding from side to side like strangely obligated coloured penguins. 200

Their jobs required little movement and it was important that the boots sat high on their legs with their green overalls tucked inside so as to to avoid any follicles of skin or any contaminates of any nature entering onto The Cutting Floor. Hanging from the roof of the warehouse was a large monitor that displayed their daily targets, their actual cuts and the ratios of poor to prime cutting. Within a second the noise inside the warehouse was deafening with the roar of turning belts, cranking engines, beeping vehicles, hands crashing against buttons, giant robotic arms pivoting left and right; twisting and turning around the bays and lifts taking women to extraction tables, products to cubicle bays and then women again; away for suturing. It was so efficient, like a mechanical ballet. Marcos stood bewildered, watching as the conveyers ran around the entire roof carrying bodies with swollen bellies and bodies with open bellies and there were small trays running under the conveyers catching any sanguine runoff on the way to suturing. There was not a speck of dust. Large vents on the floor and sticking out from the walls, perpetually sucked air inwards removing the chance of any foreign object entering from the cutting floor to the extraction table. Marcos could see in a bay before him, two technicians finishing with an extraction. The men in green and red overalls packed the product in aluminum spread and placed it on a packing tray to be incubated and processed and sent to Initial Care. The Man in Red then pressed the red button again and the tray carrying the woman lifted from the table and passed to the lift; raising into the air and then taken onto a conveyer which ran out of the complex towards Suturing. In less than a minute, the men had washed their extraction table, disinfected their hands and were pressing the green button to accept another product for extraction. The conveyer brought the woman to the lift which then lowered and moved a tray above the table which then lowered. The men aligned the woman under the robot arms and pressed the 201

green button again. They stood back as the three giant arms swung into action. The central arm was thicker and longer than the smaller more agile arms that pressed out from the sides of the robot. At the tip of the central arm was a long shiny metal finger with an edge sharp enough to cut a hole through space. The screen in front of the men in green and red flashed. It showed an image of the woman’s body, its positioning on the table, the positioning of the product in her stomach and the projection of the cut. The two men gave each other the thumbs up and the men by the dials pushed the green button. This time the arm swung around the table and the forearm turned to align with the co-ordinates set by the computer. The man in green took a mask from below the table and pressed it to the woman’s face for several seconds. Once it was removed, she continued her absent stupor, but this time absolved of her contract with pain. The forearm moved forward gently but swiftly cutting the open the belly from below the breast to slightly above the waist line. The cut was clean and fast. The woman’s expression didn’t change the entire time even when she watched as the other two smaller and more agile arms swung into action, pulling the flaps of her belly to either side and exposing the product inside of her. The central arm then made several incisions inside the open stomach before the robotic finger retracted and was replaced by a large metallic scoop which pushed deep into the woman’s open stomach and took the product out and onto the packing table. The product was now lying on silver aluminum wrapping which; at the press of a red button, vacuumed around the product’s frame and sent it towards cubing at the far end of the room where the noise of racing forklifts drowned out the yelling by angered foremen, bemused as workers tossed around a product like a stuffed chicken. The men pressed another red button and the woman was taken up into the air and out of sight, the finishing of her 202

procedure handled by technicians trained in pressing different coloured buttons on machines with different robotic arms. “We are the largest extraction sight in the southern hemisphere. We account for thirty two percent of European investment. This here is the most efficient facility in the world. We extract anywhere from two to four thousand products per day. Would you like to see an extraction up close” asked The Bearded Man urging Marcos forward towards a bay where a man in green overalls pulled back on a handle and pressed a green button. Marcos watched in awe as the metal tray slowly lowered down to the height of the table. The woman on the table was screaming; very different to the stillness of the women on every other extraction table. The two men took the tray at either end, bracing before lifting and sliding it onto the table. The screaming woman was tied to the table; her ankles and wrists bound in leather straps. “This will be interesting. Keep watching. Gentlemen” said The Bearded Man to the two men in red and green overalls, “No machines, you’re to extract by hand. Refer to your handbooks if you have any doubts.” The two men looked at each other and nodded. One of the men took a needle and inserted it into the woman’s exposed vein. She twisted her body several times and the needle tore through her skin. Her eyes were rolling back in her head as her screams now penetrated through the industrial noise and into Marcos’ ears. It was horrific. She was in agony. Marcos turned away but caught the glare of the man behind him urging him to return his stare to the table. Not wanting to upset an Industry authority he returned his sight to the table and the man in red took the needle and forced it into the woman’s other arm, pushing back and forth vigorously until a tiny squirt of blood shot out the open end. They attached a tube to her vein which fed from a clear bag of liquid hanging above her bed. The woman thrust about trying 203

to rip herself off the bed and looked long into Marcos’ eyes, pleading with him in every scream to get her out and to get this thing out of her stomach. The men in red and green overalls looked at each other bemused. Marcos felt no desire to help her but he was estranged by the situation. The Man in Green overalls moved to inject a green fluid into the clear bag. The Bearded Man standing behind Marcos shook his head signaling no. The Man in Green with the needle saluted his understanding. He returned the needle to the drawer and picked up a scalpel from the nearby metal tray. The Man in Red Overalls lined the incision and with careful precision, they cut into the woman’s stomach, peeling the two sides back from the centre. Marcos closed his eyes and he wished he could block out the woman’s screams as the two men in green extracted the product from her stomach leaving her exposed and unconscious on the table as they underwent initial tests on the quality of the product. The woman lay there; still and silent, out cold from the pain, her innards lying upon her upper chest and beside her open body. Marcos turned and vomited in his mask. The man laughed to himself and helped Marcos up; taking him outside via a fire exit to the left of the room. The door opened to a loading bay and immediately Marcos tore off his mask and sucked in the cool fresh air. He keeled over himself breathing heavy as the man stood in his shadow with his firm hand slapping him on the back. “Is it what you expected? I’m sorry you had to see that. They’re not always that, dramatic” The Bearded Man said. “Is she dead? Was that normal?” Marcos asked still breathing heavy. “She tried to hide the product. Agents found her. She thought she could extract it herself. She paid the price in the end” said The Bearded Man. “There was no anesthetic?” asked Marcos. “We can’t risk infecting the product. She was a defector, she 204

deserved no grace. The product would have wasted within hours. It really is ridiculous the ideas some people get in their heads” said The Bearded Man. “How did you find her?” Marcos asked. “Where on earth could she possibly hide?” laughed The Bearded Man. “What would happen? You know; if you didn’t find her? Could she extract herself ? Is that possible?” asked Marcos naively. “If the product isn’t removed, it continues growing until the host is dead. It is a product, yes but we make it so, we make it useful. Before that it is a virus and without The Industry intervention this product would have kept growing and growing and growing until it was wearing her feet, clenching her fist and suffocating her from the inside out. Without The Industry there is no life. Like the hair on a sheep. It will keep growing until it wears the animal down. The wool is shaven but it is not a coat without The Industry to make it such. A product can only become a person through learning. Until that point, it is no different than a ring worm or a cyst” said The Bearded Man. Marcos wanted to tell the man about what he had read but he stopped himself. What he was reading was account to treason and it made no sense. How could a product extract itself ? Still, part of him wanted to question what he had read. Instead he thought about the screaming woman being lowered down like a rack of lamb; sliced up on the table and left exposed to die. He thought of The Woman, who had wanted to kill this thing in her belly, this virus that would feed on her youth and desirability. He thought about The Woman lying on the table, screaming her heart out, begging for Marcos to cut her free from the binds at her wrists and ankles. He imagined The Woman as he had read in the book; squatting in the darkness, her hands between her legs like a net, her face twisting in pain, the crown of a head coming out in the shadows and touching the gentility of her hands and as she screamed in pure ecstasy, the door bursting inwards and Industry 205

suits rushing in with weapons drawn, beating him to the ground, tearing the baby from between The Woman’s legs; taking it off into the darkness and leaving them both cradled together as flames cased in around them. As he burst through the many sets of doors, running back down along the white corridor, he thought only of rushing to where The Woman stayed and taking her far away from this abhorrent human factory, far from the swinging mechanical arms, far from the imbecilic men in green and red overalls and far from the service of choice. His head started to spin as it had whenever he seemed to near some kind of understanding and out of his sight; from an open door, wheeled a cart that caught his surprise and his leg, sending him hurdling over himself and crashing into the floor. He woke into darkness with the shouting of an elderly woman in his ear. Slowly his eyes began to adjust and his conscious mind stopped its listing, eventually stabilising and giving him a second to think before he came to speak. “Oh good you are awake” The Pudgy Old Lady said, still prodding him with a pointy little stick; his skin around his cheeks and neck now bright red from the relentless poking by the desperate old lady. Although in the deadly dark, neither he nor the old lady would be able to tell, at least not visibly. “Who are you? What do you want from me? Where is The Woman?” he asked desperately. “What woman? You are unique, alone, without company, unevened, unrepeated by yourself except now that you are with me of course and my dear friend. Will you help me? We have to help my dear friend. She is in danger and she will die very soon if we don’t recue her” said Pudgy. Marcos took a moment to adjust his mind and began to debate whether this was a dream or a memory or whether this was reality suffusing a dream, carving a memory and he wondered if he should live it now or come back to it down the line as he found himself now, engaged more in his forgotten past than his forgettable present. 206

He wanted, more than anything at this moment, to rush back to The Woman and kidnap her; take her far from The Industry’s reach, somewhere away from all the machines, away from the technicality, away from the statistics, away from expectation, away from the ideal. He wondered to himself, “If this is a dream then how do I wake? What secret do I have to unlock before it sheds me of its metaphoric bind?” Thinking these things, he continued to affix his eyes and in doing; while listening to his own conscious choral, could see the mouth of The Pudgy Old Lady nattering away as if she were canting of the life she had lived and yet nothing louder than the sound of compressing air parted from her lips. He tried to think not of The Woman, for he had to deal with this state before he could return to the other. He had to focus in his entirety on what was happening in his sight right now and ignore everything else. He needed a conscious north but The Woman wouldn’t do. When he thought of her it brought him to unease and then to sheer panic knowing that he knew something that she didn’t and for now, he couldn’t tell her until he escaped this dream. “My name is Pudge” said The Pudgy Old Lady offering her hand to Marcos who now seemed to be more connected to his mind and his body. Marcos took her hand. It was small and stubby, like her in fact but she was so strong. The Pudgy Old Lady tugged once and Marcos flew to his feet almost choking on the wind he swallowed along the way with his mouth open and aghast. “My name is Marcos” he said, speaking in absolute certainty. Marcos dusted himself off. His body was sore but he could walk and his strength was slowly returning. It felt though as if he had a cord tied around his soul for something was binding him, stopping him from feeling like he could control his body in its entirety. His skin felt raw and it ached to touch and it pained to be left alone. His day in the sun; exposed to the elements, had left him blistered and burned bright red. He couldn’t see this effect in the 207

darkness but he could feel his skin as if it was made of plastic and it was cracking and bubbling with every breath. “I can help you with that” said The Pudgy Old Lady resting her stubby hand on Marcos’ arm and in doing so, sending a chill through his bones that washed a sea of ice through his spine, down to his toes, unto the tips of his fingers and in the cracks of his eyes. “Oh that feels wonderful. How did you do that? Do it again” he said, his head lifting to the dark sky, relief dancing with every syllable. “Help me and I will help you” she said. “I need to find someone” said Marcos. “Is it a woman? What is her name?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “I don’t know” he replied. “Who is she?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “She is my north” replied Marcos. “She is your north and you do not know her name?” she asked. “Could north be known as anything but?” replied Marcos. “Was she with you in the river?” she asked. “What river?” he replied. “Where you arri… oh nothing” said The Pudgy Old Lady not wanting to evoke any fright and set him into a chase again. “Where did you last see her?” she asked, correcting herself. “In a room” he said. “Can you be more specific? What kind of room?” she asked. “It’s an office. There were chairs and screens and pictures of my unborn child and there was a man; a Project Manager and he’s going to take my child” he said. “And what about the woman?” asked The Pudgy Old Lady. “She’s going to give it to him” “Where is the office?” asked Pudgy. “It’s in a factory” he said. “Where is the factory?” she asked. “In my head” he said. 208

The Pudgy Old lady rested her stubby hands against his cheeks holding his face firm; feeling for the first time the youth and energy that exuded from his skin. She was overcome with a desire to tear his face off then and there and rub it against her body. The desire was almost overwhelming. She managed though to compose herself and instead pushed her pudgy face close enough to his for a slight glimmer in her eye to shimmy just enough for him to see that she was staring right into his crippled sight and as she spoke, he listened. “I can take you to her. I can take you to your north. Can you help me with mine? If you help me save my dear friend, I’ll take you to where you need to be. I’ll save you too” she said. “Ok” he said, “what do you need me to do?” The Pudgy Old Lady smiled. She thought of her dear friend and how proud she would be of her for tricking the man into helping her free her so they could both kill him and tear off his face. “She will be so proud” she thought. The two walked slowly back through the thick scrub where in the clearing, the loose sand scratched at the leathered skin of Marcos’ feet; a feeling he found enjoyable, though he couldn’t pick why, it was just a sensation that made him feel calm and unbothered. “Where is your friend?” asked Marcos. “She is up there, in the sky. Can you see?” she said pointing to an invisible smudge in the black sky. Marcos could see nothing but The Pudgy Old Lady; whose sight was governed by love, could see the outline of her dear friend’s soul being evacuated by the sudden abandon of Mother Nature. “Who are you people?” he asked. “We are the Elements” she said. “Of what?” asked Marcos. “Of Nature. We are her children and she is the only child of existence” she said. “Existence?” he asked. “You know it as god. Consciousness gives you an assumption 209

of its presence so we gave you the word god to entertain this” she said. “What do you mean? God is not real?” he asked. “If it can be thought of it is real but not all that is real is affecting” she said. “The Industry is real. Our choices are real. Love is real” he said. “Not in the way you have learned to express it. Your industry stripped you of your love. It redefined empathy and you recklessly traded it away for neon lights. It was a mistake we made in the development of your conscious mathematics. Someone left a zero in the calculations. It was an oversight but for thousands of years it meant nothing and then, things changed” she said. “I am a product of The Industry” he said adamant. “You are a carrier for nature, nothing more” she said. “I think, therefore I am” he said, quoting some Industry cliché. “You think therefore you charge, you charge therefore we are” she said. “What do you mean charge? I have free will. My thoughts are my own” he said. “Consciousness is a charge. Your thoughts make the candle burn brighter. The things you think are just variables; they are the tools we gave you. Language, politics, religion, self, god; they are just tiny balls bouncing around your mind. As long as you engage them, your conscious mind becomes electric and, it charges” she said. “What? Like a battery?” he said bewildered. “Exactly. Our mother, she feeds on this energy and you are merely a lamp, a carrier of her conscious fuel” she said. “Then what about The Industry?” he said. “It stole our mother’s charge so, we turned off the lights and we took it back” she said. “What do you mean? The lights are still on. You took nothing. I was just there, before I woke in this dream” he said. 210

“And what makes you think that this is the dream?” she said. “It has to be. None of this is real. The Woman, I was with her. And the rooms, they’re cutting them open like cattle and stealing the children. I have to get back” he said in panic as a memory flashed before him. “Do you remember The Blackout, The Uprising, The Famine?’ she said, hinting towards a past he couldn’t remember. “What is wrong with your face?” he asked. “I know, it is not as beautiful as others but it is mine” she said. “No, the hooks? It’s, it’s tied on” he said shocked. “It is a garment, my skin dress. Of course it is tied on. How else would I keep it from slipping to the floor?” she said. “If you know everything, then where is she? Where is The Woman” he asked. “She is where you left her last” said The Pudgy Old Lady. “Take me to her, please” he pleaded. “If you help me first” she said. “What do you need me to do?” he asked. “Swallow the sun” she said.


twenty one “Look in my eyes and see what I see, the collector is you, the collector is me” sang The Creepy Old Man. “Where did you hear that?” asked Safrine turning the coloured cube in her hands. “It could have been sung by something or someone, twas something I picked up and thought might be fun. Something to canter from time until time, a necklace of words; a harmless old rhyme” sang The Creepy Old Man. “Why do you do that? Why is everything a rhyme?” asked Safrine. “Why does the sky have to sit up so high, so far from my reach yet so near to my eye? It is what it is; I accept that it be, the want I can’t have is the want I can see” rhymed The Creepy Old Man. The two sat in on the dusted earth with their legs crossed, the coloured cubes sitting comfortably in their hands, their fingers twisting and turning while their eyes locked onto one another. The sound of shuffling plastic hummed through the afternoon air as the sun blazed down on them from high above. Neither seemed affected as they held their glance and shifted their fingers in delicate delight. As numbers were to math so too puzzles were to Safrine, as if the presence of them alone would prove of her existence. Her mind had always felt like the colours on this cube, with each twist of the cruel fate of life taking her a hundred more turns away from becoming a complete person. The first time she attempted this puzzle box she had only recently grasped the concept of opposable thumbs and when she garnered the trait of reach and grab, the coloured cube was one of the first things that had worked its way into her little hands. Left alone to her devices, Safrine twisted and turned the little 212

cube and enjoyed; more than the riddle of probability, the simple shifting of colours and then the seemingly chance like groupings of colours as if they danced around the edges of the squares, one minute alone and then walking in two, three, four and five; but never more than that, at least, not at first. Her brother; from the day he was born, was like a ball of fire attached to kicking limbs. He loved to fight. While Safrine pondered over the cube; running in and out of impossible combinations, her brother; Donal, would pass through time with his body shifting and turning on the head of pin; his body just like the coloured cube, spinning on its centre, jabbing and kicking and sweeping and blocking and parrying and striking and choking and locking and then just like the cube; with a shift at his core and with a turn of his eye, unleashing a combination of explosive colour, definition and power. Her father though was not a fighting man and took no time with his son to develop his skills. In fact, her father could barely wrestle his own depression. Her father too, was not a man of logic. Math in his eye was merely a tool to illustrate his sadness; the addition of another day without his wife; she having died birthing her children into this cruel fated world, the subtraction of meaning and hope, the division of his heart unto zero and the multiplication of his fears which upon the rasping of rapture in his children’s eyes only served to compound his immense loneliness. Still; for many years, Safrine developed her art of the puzzle box understanding the puzzle of her dear twin, watching him craft his art; twisting and turning his own body into deniable shapes to appease the love of his father whose sadness; an irrevocable puzzle, he could not understand. Yet focus he did, on the crying man who sat slumped in his chair and focus did Safrine, on her brother’s unwavering stare. The girl sat vying for the attention of the boy whose gaze was only on his father whose eyes hanged lowly and of whom saw; in the spirit and zest of his children, only the death of his wife. 213

Thus a man, a boy and a girl each quenched their spiritual thirst from a well of grief and each became an artist of their own device. And just as mankind played the instrument for the intricate mathematics of nature, the coloured cube played the extension of the young girl’s being and while her brother fought to unhinge his father’s sadness, Safrine became somewhat of an expert with this coloured cube as with each turn, she tried to will her brother’s stare in her direction. “My sweet little girl, what memories hide, out of the lens of the eye in your mind? Have you a secret; a wish you could say; a terrible truth to make go away? Tell me your whispers and I’ll whisper you mine” said The Creepy Old Man in his creepy old rhyme. “I don’t have any secrets” she said trying hard to keep her focus; her brother’s eyes burning stronger but she feared they may be burning out and she worried for The Creepy Old Man would continue his round of distraction. “Each and then all have a story to tell, a pardon to beg, a pretext to sell. Then what is of yours and what hath you laid, what reason deceives you; what toll have you paid?” sang The Creepy Old Man. “It’s nothing. I don’t feel funny, well maybe a little funny but it’s nothing” she said, watching the image of her brother’s eyes lighten in her mind and the strength that he gave her weaken from her being and as this happened, she felt her fingers sliding off of the cube and she felt the game slipping from her. The Creepy Old Man continued to shift his fingers with gentle rhythm, sliding each side over and around, never breaking his stare from that of the young girl sitting at his front. His breath was low but it was heaving as he was an old man and one could just guess as to how old he truly was and whether or not there really was a young buy cursed in an old man’s skin. But his breath heaved and it sounded like thousands of grains of sand falling into an open grate and when he breathed in, his bottom lip lowered somewhat; just enough to let the air pass his teeth and then 214

sediment in his lungs. Safrine tried not to concentrate on his breath but it was hard. She felt her own being, being taken away by that of the old man and soon her breath mimicked his; low, heavy and dragging and as she inhaled, her mind started to lighten while the images that had burned bright and kept her strong began to darken until they faded entirely to black. And she was vulnerable. And now, she was his. “I lied” she said. “Oh dear, my sweet dear, a simple lie is nothing to fear; nothing to run from, no reason to cry, surely a lie’s not the reason you sigh?” he sang. “It’s not simple. I lied to my brother” she said. “A brother you speak, a brother of you? From Eros born Philos, not one but now two? For that to be true then one could assume the love of Agape it sings to you too?” he sang. “I don’t know what that means” she said, her hands now fumbling on the cube as her concentration was truly slated and with every twist of her wrist, she added another series of impossible combinations to the solution, getting further from completion with each flick of her fingers. The Creepy Old Man had undone her focus and had doused the fire in her heart and now he was drenching her with rhyme and questionable doubt. “What keeps you safe and what keeps you sound, what keeps the spectres from spooking around?” he sang. “Donal does He’s my brother and he’s the bravest person in the whole world” she said; remembering her brother’s face and feeling her spine warm and tingle when the fire in his eyes once again shimmered in her conscious eye. “Well I trust what you say, believe that it’s right, I won’t be beseeching this boy for a fight but tell of the fib that has you so down, that saddles your eyes and heavies your frown?” he sang. “I can’t say” she said. 215

“Pretend he is me and give it a try, sister, tell me what happened and why did you lie?” he sang. “This is so stupid. You’re not Donal. You’re just a creepy old man who tricks little girls into playing games so that you can keep them like some toy” she said. “Tell me the fucking lie you little cunt” screamed The Creepy Old Man before falling deadly silent and smiling placatingly again. Safrine jumped backwards in fright but kept her fingers moving the coloured cube as the rules had been set for if she was to stop, even to wipe a bead of sweat from her brow, she would concede to her rival and accept her defeat and as such, she would be his for an eternity or until death saved her from his despicable clammy grasp. “I wasn’t taken by those men, not really anyway. Not the way Donal thinks. I walked away from him at the rally, just like he would do to dad and I knew like always, if I was in trouble, he would come and rescue me. He always did. So I met these people and they asked if I wanted to come with them. They put me in their arms and carried me through the crowd because it was getting very dangerous and loud. When Donal turned and saw me, I pretended I was being stolen so he would come and rescue me. I just wanted him to be my hero again and to see me and to love me. To love me like he loves dad but I didn’t think all of this would happen” she said, lightening the load that she carried in her heart. “And what did you think he would beckon to say, if it was that your hero had come to your aide?” he sang. “I think he’d be real angry. He probably wouldn’t talk to me that’s for sure. That’s usually what he does” she said. “The man of your prize with slumbering eyes, was he one your captors, the lie you disguised?” sang The Creepy Old Man. “Yeah he was. They were nice people; at first anyway, before they put lots of needles in me. Then they were mean” she said. “Apart from your father and that of your brother, had ever you known the love of a mother?” he said. “She died when I was born” she said. 216

“She died when you were born, oh what a burden to adorn. So sad be it true to be born oh so blue, was she as to pretty as pretty to you?” he sang. “I don’t like it when you speak like that. Please stop” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, don’t speak of me mad, I wish only you smile and then never be sad” he sang. “I don’t wanna smile for you” she said sternly. “The smiles not for me girl; cannot you see, for if you don’t let it out you might soon go without, for you might get confused and forget that it’s there and think that you’re happy but in truth you don’t care, cause love you must practice it day after day or then love will extinguish and vanish away” he sang. “Mum died because of me and that’s why everyone is so sad. It’s why dad doesn’t speak; except when he’s disappointed with us and it’s why Donal is always so grumpy when he comes to rescue me. It wasn’t my fault though” she said. “It’s not of your fault for it is that of life, a child lost her mother, a husband his wife. But you can’t be blamed; you should not take the fall for what is explained with no reason at all. Death has no motive outside of its own, an end to a start; to reap of what’s sown” sang The Creepy Old Man. “My Grandad used to tell me that a life could be measured in seconds and hours and minutes and years but to every living thing; regardless of measure, it always felt like a lifetime. As long as there was a start and an end, every life was measured the same. He said that a young boy and an old man were identical. Neither could remember their birth nor envision their death, both from beginning to end felt like an eternity” she said. “Of that which you speak; a day or a week, are concepts of man; a marginal feat. Nature’s intention in what is of time is to be or be not is to live or to die. A second for one, it can seem like a year, while a time for another it can just disappear. For what we can measure is how much that we give into every breath of the life that we live” sang The Creepy Old Man. 217

“What about you? Why do you do the things you do? What’s wrong with you?” asked Safrine. “I am the effect of the life that I live and I am the extent of all that I give. My skin it hangs loose and my bones they are sore, but the old man you see is a boy at his core” he said. “So you just get really old? How old are you? I mean really, how old are you?” she asked genuinely. “I’m hardly a child and scarcely a man. I am the age that you think that I am. Answer me this as for myself it defines; would an adult engage you in game and in rhyme? Would he know how you feel by what hasn’t been said, would he bother to listen to what’s in your head? How many times in all of our life has ever an adult provoked you to cry? An adult is not of the skin that he wears but the things that he thinks and the soul that he bears, for the skin of a child can be that of man if he thinks that his thoughts are the world in his hands” he sang. “So what am I?” asked Safrine. “All that I see is a sweet little girl who is all alone in a venomous world. It’s sad to be seen and much worse to be true; the sweet little girl that I see here is you. But now that I’m here you will never be blue for a friend of like me is a friend through and through” he said. “Will you be my friend?” she asked, letting go of the coloured cube and dropping it to the dusted earth, “I don’t want to be alone.” “Look to my hand and what do you see? The winner is you or the winner is me?” he sang. Safrine looked down at The Creepy Old Man’s hands and saw that they too were empty. She looked around him; on the dusted earth by his rickety old rump and couldn’t see the coloured cube anywhere. “Where is it? I don’t get it. Did I win?” she asked. “A friend you have made and a life you have saved by claiming the victor in a game you have played for look to the earth where you coloured box lays and look at where all of the coloured dots 218

stay, each colour together on every side; are you the winner? I’ll let you decide” he sang. Safrine squealed with excitement and jumped up from where she sat bouncing around on her feet and swinging her arms in the air. She had never in her life felt this way. She had solved this puzzle a million times before but never had it accounted for anything, never had she felt this electric as if she had turned the key for its millionth time and finally a door had opened; one that unleashed a flood of pent exhilaration. She took the coloured cube from the dusted earth and kept it on herself; a reminder of this moment. “That was so much fun” she said, throwing her arms around The Creepy Old Man. She was no longer pestered by his blotchy loose skin, his long grimy fingers or his stench of old boot. Instead, she saw the same spirit she had seen in her brother, except this time she felt cared for and that made her feel special. The Creepy Old Man hugged Safrine tight, squeezing the joy from her pores like juice from an orange and grinned to himself in a darkly manner of which she could not see, for her face was smirking against his chest.


twenty two On they rushed, kicking away with their feet; slipping on the wet moss that strangled the rock’s edges, falling forwards onto the tips of their fingers and diving forwards into their next stride. They rushed like they had never rushed before for on their trail were two foul beasts, thirsted by the swollen scent of aboding fear that expanded in their lungs, stretched out in their every breath and dripped from the pores of their skin, onto the cold concrete floor below. Eve had lead out of the wooden box as a lever was pulled and an end slid open. The boars were only meters from devouring before they took flight; she with Donal almost under her arms, out into the open corridors that weaved in many directions; a matrix of tunnels that could lead anywhere and nowhere. They could hear in the background, the sound of savage dogs growling and barking in some joyous canine fashion. But that wasn’t the sound that spurred her spirit of chase. What edged her further form her own shadow and into every new bound was a hideous snarling like the sound a hungry drain makes as it guzzles the last clumps of water and air; hideous snarling, repugnant gurgling and then the sound of hooves, clasping against cold concrete. All of them together made a sound that resonated in her ears, much like the loading of live rounds into an empty chamber; the sound of approaching incident. And it drove her heart into every step pounding against the cold concrete. It tightened her fingers around the young boy; making him a cumbersome but necessary appendage to her own body. And it felt like an umbilical force that was attached to her belly; pulling her out of danger and into the arms of mother. On they rushed, the boars stampeding behind them; their bulky frames causing them to hurtle over one another, slipping on 220

the tight turns and sliding head strong into concrete barriers and solid steel framing. Their bones cracked and thudded as their humungous frames smashed against the walls but it did nothing to rattle their senses with the beasts clambering back to their upright and throwing themselves head first into growing momentum; driven by the fear from the two humans determining the chase. “What now?” asked Ruff. “Well, for them it could be regarded as chance but we know too well that the regard is one of choice” said The Bitch Queen. “Is there a way out?” he asked. “There’s always a way out, you just have to imagine what it could be and then make it so” she said. “What do I have to do to stop the hunt?” Ruff asked. “Come with me, I want to show you something” she said. “What about my human friends?” Ruff asked. “The boars will tire soon. If their minds are bright then they will see in the dark. My beloved pets can run and bite and very little else. We have time. Now, will you come with me?” she asked. Hesitation would serve him nearly as well as a conscious mind offered good counsel, so he abated his expatiated fear mongering and accepted her invitation, thinking only that the best vice might be to play according to her rhythm and be not hasty in finding a way out of this mess for his friends and for himself and then, when everything fell in line, he could look at how to silence this infernal conscious racket. “I want to show you something dear to me. You know my hounds love and worship me, yes? I want to show you my true pets” she said as they exited the royal guard and they walked; just he and her, down a winding corridor getting farther from the dire need of his friends until eventually, the roar of vicious boars existed only as a silent movie playing in his conscious mind. When they entered her chambers, Ruff was caught with a sense of despise, greater than he already had for The Bitch Queen. Curled on the floor; with metal collars clamped around their necks 221

and great weighted chains running from their collars to the walls where they were bolted into place, were several small children. All human. All imprisoned . Like animals. “They are my pets. Aren’t they just adorable? Do keep your distance though; they have a tendency to bite. Except for this one here” she said leading Ruff over to a small girl who sat crouched on the floor with her big sad eyes leading them both towards her tender touch as The Bitch Queen stood with her back to the girl, appreciating with a low gruff, the scratching of nails against her dry skin. “What do you want with them? This is not where they belong? This is not where a hound belongs. This is not even a kingdom. It’s a sewer” said Ruff. “If they repeat, they will remember, if they remember they will learn and if they learn then they can be domesticated” said The Bitch Queen. As she spoke, the young girl buried her face into the small whiny dog’s fur and scratched heartily at her skin. “Look at it. It forgets its binds when it gives itself to my satisfaction. It is learning. These others,” she said, pointing her snout to the far end of the room where the other human children circled together on the floor; their eyes conniving and feral. “They just need more discipline. Beat them and they will learn. All things learn from the fear of reprisal. Better to repeat an outcome of nothing than to subscribe to the repetition of austere castigation. They are still learning; disobedient ugly little creatures they are. I imagine they would not grow much larger” she said. “Humans? These are just puppies. They will grow you out of your kingdom. They mature awfully slowly but then again, each and every one of them will outlive you, should nature attend to their pickings of course” Ruff said. “Was this how you spent your obedient past, tied to domestication in beckon of a second’s adoration? They love me and 222

and those that do not have just to first fear me then accept me as one and all; as their everything, and then when my will is not to punish or to hurt them, they will love me. Fear and love. What a joyous combination. It is a snake with a head for a tail, each with their own particular venom. This one here, it loves me wholly. I need not extend my cruelty to its learning. Its devotion is scabbed and blistered on its knees. Look how it presses itself against my coat” said The Bitch Queen. “This is a condition of fear” he said. “Fear creates the condition for love. It is the canvas on which the artist paints. It is the sphere onto which the Earth rotates. It is what the last day of winter gives unto the first day of spring. It is the black of which without, white would not be seen. It is the tragedy that lends to the warmth of compassion. This human is saved. I am its god” she said. “And there we have it, the colour of your fear” Ruff said. “I have no fear” she yelled. “If that is true then by all accounts you have nothing to love and if that be the case, why don’t you walk away now. Let these creatures be. If you fear nothing then you have nothing to fear by letting them go” Ruff said. “She needs them” spoke a voice in the distance. From out of the shadow came a small but darkly and intriguing figure draped in a shadowy coat. It looked as if a void in space were walking through the room, gathering the light and swirling into its intriguing mass. The Bitch Queen turned; startled. “This is none of your concern. Return to your shadow” she said to The Intriguing Figure. “She needs them to love her so that their blood can be pure and of light when she cuts their throats and drains them like a gash in the heavens. But they have stopped loving her. For the human has changed. It is without reason. It is without heart” said The Intriguing Figure. “Ignore the shadow. It speaks in riddles and metaphor. It’s 223

not to be taken literally” she said, trying to draw Ruff ’s attention back to her quickly fading reverence. “Show him the salon” it said. “What is that?” asked Ruff, looking direct to The Bitch Queen who now was looking every inch of her height as a green curtain was slowly being pulled. Behind the intriguing figure illuminated a white room. The Bitch Queen had worry in her eyes as Ruff filled his with courage and walked past her, leaving her to the fancy of her human pet. The Intriguing Figure stayed motionless and silent as Ruff passed it and entered the sterile room, immediately overcome with shock. In its centre sat a large white porcelain tub with a golden faucet and golden feet where, tied around the golden faucet, was a golden chain that at its end held a golden plug that was blocking a golden drain. Ruff had never cared for the shimmer of gold or silver or anything at all that would frighten him into his own reflection, the instance of immediate threat that stalks on glass as the darkness upon his feet under a heavy sun. But now; as he floated his conscious mind, feeling detached from the tips of his paws and every nerve that brushed against the earth, he found himself more than drawn to its shine but captivated by the depth of his own reflection as his golden eyes stared back at him in appreciation. The Intriguing Figure slipped into the light and took with it the attention of Ruff, moving past him to the back of the room and waiting by a tiny lever, staring straight at the matted little dog and though its eyes stayed still and invisible under the blanket of void that encapsulated its shape, he could feel its stare peeling him like a soiled bandage from the glamour of his imagined self. “Be considerate when in the attendance of your own reflection for you might just be caught by yourself looking back” said The Intriguing Figure. Ruff pulled his attention away from the porcelain tub and its golden fittings and eyed instead the lever that protruded from the 224

white tiled wall upon where the black void rested its form. As he did, The Bitch Queen screamed in dissention. “You will not pull that lever” she screamed. “What’s behind that wall” asked Ruff in a demanding tone. His mind felt sharp and direct as if he had jumped into the controls or somehow wired his senses so that his consciousness was no longer disconnected but an avid extension of his instincts; a visceral director governed by his own conscious prevalence of right and wrong. He felt as if he could push through the wall with his thoughts alone and he raced forwards and bit upon the handle, tearing the lever downwards and stood back in shock at the horror which took to the stage. Behind the wall was another room where rusted chains that held rusted hooks that pierced through clumps of human flesh, hanged from the roof in scores and on the floor; bound and gagged and tied by rusted chains to fittings in the walls, were several young children whose skin was pale; whiter than a polar storm, and whose eyes looked not at, through or against anything. They seemed to just be resting against an air of indifference with no blood left in their veins to sail the will to survive, from an idea in their minds to the fight in their heart or to the chase at their feet. They looked as if they were already dead but Ruff could see that they hadn’t reached this peace, not yet, as one of the humans, a small boy, soiled himself as he saw; in his lethargic sight, the viscous snarl of the small Chihuahua, the one who made them hurt. “Let them go” screamed Ruff, turning his head to The Bitch Queen. “What are you doing?” yelled The Bitch Queen to The Intriguing Figure. “Tell him why you keep the humans and why you only prefer the youngest. Tell him. You are a queen after all, what have you to fear of a domesticated canine? Tell him about how you bathe in their blood” said The Intriguing Figure. 225

Rage swelled inside Ruff as he aborted his rationale, his mind afire with the desire to devour that tiny little bitch. “I am The Bitch Queen. This is my kingdom. How dare you try to judge me and my rule” she yelled waveringly, her voice more impotent than armed which only served to fuel the inferno in Ruff ’s conscious mind. “She needs to bathe in their blood to keep herself at the breast of youth” said The Intriguing Figure. One of the children; the small boy in a pool of his own urine with his tiny veins spitting the last drips of his blood out of his emaciated body, lifted one of his hands and reached pathetically out to the small matted dog. He lifted his listless stare and mouthed the word help. “Help me” he said, his voice spluttering like an old engine choking on the last drops of fuel and Ruff the dog, understood exactly what he meant.


twenty three “Her body is so heavy” said Marcos trying in vain to drag Mother’s sunken body into the centre of the room. The Pudgy Old Lady on the other hand was on her knees, shaking her dear friend wildly trying to snap her back into her conscious state and away from the endless night but it was no use, her eyes were like glass and her limbs were becoming like the branches of a grand oak; impossible to bend and ponderous to hold and maneuver. “We have to be fast. If Nature ends, all will be as it is for an eternity” said The Pudgy Old Lady. Marcos imagined that this must be some metaphor, that he was lucid dreaming and so he questioned nothing of what The Pudgy Old Lady said or asked of him, for in dreams, the strange was more common than the linear. He finally managed to drag Mother’s body away from the surrounding Facers and lay her on her back with her arms out right and her legs spread. Following her orders, he took; from a near wooden block, some white chalk and drew a circle around Mother so that her body met at five points. In the space between each point, he drew elemental symbols and as he did, a sense of familiarity, of knowing, washed over him. He paid no mind and continued to scribe and paint as The Pudgy Old Lady instructed while she herself, chanted in a low hum; into the air of her dear friend, a spell of invocation to return an element to its earthly vessel. “It’s done. What now?” asked Marcos turning to The Pudgy Old Lady. “You have to remove your face” she said. “What?” he replied, thinking in literal. “Undo your clips and remove your face” she said. “What clips? What are you talking about?” he said. Just in that moment The Pudgy Old Lady realized that she 227

had a problem and that she would have to give unto her prisoner herself as the solution. She had not the courage, nor the training to deface a man on her own. She had the strength, of this she was certain but she was unsure of her smarts and she only knew of these rituals from stories and lessons having never herself taken practice. She had to give away her trust to this man, the same man she had spent an entire day hunting to tear off his face. Luckily, that same man who was swimming in delusion, dancing with fantasy and drunk on Famine was unknowing of what was real or delusion. And in his conscious moments, he had been escaping into memories far more entrenched the ones that he had only just made, waking from a black plastic bag on an old river bed, screaming and running for his life. If she didn’t swallow the sun, Nature would become void and all things as she said would stay as they were. Mankind would live out its last century strangled by conscious entanglement; a victim of The Famine. The world in which they governed would go unfed and be left to the spoils of absent domestication and the elements; of which her dear friend The Fat Old Lady was one, would exist as Nature would; as nothing, filling a vacuum of void, the dead space that existed as a theory between existing and not. And worse still, if Nature were to sneak between the cracks of existence, she would spend an eternity on this godforsaken planet, alone. And worse yet still, should Pudge swallow the sun and assume the vessel of Mother Nature, she would live an eternity with existence in her heart and at her breast but never at her sight or at her touch. And for this, she would give eternity again, to her dear friend; her love, but she would never spend another moment by her side for the vessel of Nature attended only to birthing of the sun as the course of its purpose and of its being and never again would she hold the hand or walk in the shadow of the dear friend of whose love had defined her existence for the eternity she that had lived until now. “You want me to take off my face?� asked Marcos. 228

“No” she said, “this is a sacrifice that only I can do.” The Pudgy Old Lady left her dear friend still on the floor placing her hands gently over her chest for should she never return to her vessel, then let her vessel await homogenously. She leaned forward and pressed her lips against the still lady’s skin; kissing kindly, the bridge between her eyes and whispering, “I love you” before perspiring sadness from her eyes, casting out; in one tear, an eternity of yearning that she would never feel once the transformation was made. The single tear ran from the bridge between her eyes, down the length of her nose and coursed along the thick line of her cheek before finally pooling at the point of her jaw before dropping into the breath of air and carrying to a tiny vial that lay permanent around the still lady’s neck. Marcos had a look of panic on his face. Mother lay by his feet and her body was starting to harden and crack as if her skin were turning from skin to leather to brick and then to sand and within every instance of a second, he could feel billions of particles of her brush past his skin as the wind swept up within the camp, lifting the corners of the tent form its metal pegs and threatening to carry the whole tent off into the night. “We must make haste. Mother’s vessel is decaying. If it turns to sand, nature will lie along with her and we will be left here, untempered” said The Pudgy Old lady. “What do I do?” “You will place Mother’s dress upon her face and apply the hooks. Stand back as you finish. Her vessel will absorb the night, setting us at danger. As soon as her dress is worn, the bridge is opened for the night to return which means the other elements will be returning to their vessels quickly and believe me; they will stop us if they get the chance. We have to be quick. I need to you steal the sun” she said. “How? From where?” “From her womb. Here use this” she said, handing him a long silver blade. 229

“Cut deep, but do not cut the sun. The child of existence must not be hurt” she said. “I can’t do this” he said. “You have to. We have no choice. We’ve come too far by necessity alone. We have to do what is right” she said. “What is right about stealing from another’s womb?” “You’re defect is the effect of the love for her child. Mother doesn’t care anymore. Her womb is infected with humanity and the industry you created. As long as her child is born in her womb, god will no longer mourn of her absence and without his love, the well of empathy will continue to run dry. We must save the sun” she said. The air about them swirled with dust as Marcos squeezed his eyes shut and fought to keep the dying lady’s legs and body in position inside of the circle. The Pudgy Old Lady was chanting now and dancing around the circle with her arms waving back and forth. Marcos couldn’t make out what she was saying. It was just sounds of which to her obviously had some emotional and memorial connection but to him, just sounded like the broken speech of an infant bargaining for its mother’s breast. The Pudgy Old Lady then canted in word as the sky abounding shook violently and patches of air rushed upwards like the static of a broken television. La-ia La-e-a-ia E-ia-e-ia-e-a A-ia-la-ia-a-li-ia La-ia-e-ala-lia-li-a-e-lia La-la-lia-ia-lia-ia-e-a-lia La-a-aia-ia-la-aia-a-ia-la La-lia-ia-la-lia-a-ia-e-lia-a A-lia-ia-ia


“Now is the time, we must be quick or all will be lost” she said, screaming over the sound of howling winds and the rapping of loose canopy slapping against the sides of the tent, buckling the bamboo frame that kept the swarm outside from picking them up and carrying them off, somewhere over a rainbow. The Pudgy Old Lady lowered herself through a violent swirl of dust and dirt and lay herself on the cold earth, resting her body like her Mother with her legs and arms meeting at five points along a circle, etched in the sand. Marcos took the white chalk and scratched symbols into the spaces between her limbs, marking out the names of the elemental sisters; the children of nature. He took from a hesham bag that The Pudgy Old Lady had been keeping close to her heart, a slimy and horrible looking clump of flesh tied together with leather strapping and crude hooks. He held the skin dress up to his face and was aghast at what he saw. It was like the old lady had said. It was a girl’s face and the skin was so warm. Were it not a clump of flesh held together by leather strapping and crude hooks, he could swear that the young woman was standing before him; at his height. And he laid then, his hands upon her soft delicate skin, feeling the tremors of exhilaration ripple through the subtle hairs that touched against his own skin. He waited for her to say her name and as the dust swarmed around his eyes; closing his sight, he remembered. “Sofia” he said out loud, remembering maybe a part of another dream or maybe someone he had come across in The City, someone whom until now he had not held in remembrance. “They steal faces, they live forever” said the young woman’s voice in his mind as he stared at the skin dress. It was her. He remembered now. He had met a girl in a cage and she had been taken prisoner like he and her friends too had been absolved of their liberty. They had had their faces removed. She watched them leave and then return on the faces of the twisted old ladies who danced mischievously and manically under the summer sun, singing to her and eyeing her own unblemished youthful 231

glow. Marcos lowered the face of the girl and eyed the two figures lying in five points on the floor. She was his captor, not his saviour. How long had this nightmare gone on? The capture? The torture? The mutilation of young women? And for how long would it continue if he were to bring about this change and conserve nature? “Now, the first act� she screamed.


twenty four Ruff jumped forwards, his teeth dripping with saliva and his eyes on fire. Hair fur stood on end as he raced past The Intriguing Figure and into the secret room where small human children lay bound to collars and chains like caged animals, tubes fed into their arms, siphoning the pure blood from their tiny bodies. The young boy with a sliver of hope now eroding in his eyes, watched as the small matted dog changed its behavior and ran in his direction, its mouth agape, snarling and drooling as its raced towards him, diving into the air and latching onto his neck. The young boy had fight in him. He fell backwards as the small matted dog dug its fangs deep into his throat and flung its head to and fro, shredding like paper, the tiny weak veins and muscles that had kept his hanging head above his shoulders. As the small matted dog tore at his flesh, the young boy simply gasped, choked on a thick clump of phlegm and scalloped flesh, closed his eyes and died. When the small boy’s pulse was gone, Ruff turned to face The Bitch Queen with blood dripping from his jaw, staining the white tiles beneath his padded feet. He walked slowly over the dead boy’s limp body, leaving a trail of red behind him as he stopped beside the dark ominous figure that had not flinched and stayed unmoved, standing beside the lever. “There shall be no more spilling of human blood for your vanity” he said to The Bitch Queen. “You can’t do this. I am immortal” she screamed. “Then why would you even bring me here?” he asked. “Pride goes before the fall” said The Intriguing Figure. “You shut up. This is all your fault. You did this. You made me this way” she screamed, looking at the black form standing beside the small matted dog. “What do you do with their blood?” asked Ruff. 233

“She bathes in it, up to her neck but she fears to let it spill across her mind. Why is that?” asked The Intriguing Figure. “It’s none of your concern” she exclaimed. “You have guilt. You know what you’re doing is wrong” said Ruff. “Don’t be stupid” said The Bitch Queen ardently. “Your instinct is grander than your ego. You are a dog. You; like all of us, dream of being a man, of standing on your hind legs and being followed. Your hounds, how many of them are conscious? None? You keep them on all fours. You have become what you did without” Ruff said. “He is cunning this one, so acute for such a short conscious life” said The Intriguing Figure. “If you had of known the love that a human could bring, regardless of how they attended their own fears and spiritual abandon, however many palms thrashed your buttocks, to have known their love would have been enough for you to have never wanted anything but. If you could have felt that love, maybe you would never have been adorned with this curse of consciousness. You told me before that everything was now conscious, but it’s not. It’s only you and now I. And even in a crowded room, whilst basking in a shower of adoration it will always be just you. And I; in this conscious prison of my own, will always be, just I. You needed to be loved so much that you invented yourself and now you are master and slave and this…” he said ushering his bloodied snout about the room. “This circus is as far from ideal as one can imagine. You are not a man and you are not a god. The absence of hate is not a show of love. This here, this is nothing. This is a joke and you, I have seen deeper meaning imprinted on a cattle’s ass. Go above, into the conscious realm, there are millions just like you, all wanting to be noticed, all needing to be loved and none able to love themselves” proclaimed Ruff. The Bitch Queen lowered her head and sank her conscious state into accepted defeat. She felt small and unusable, completely 234

completely non-affecting, as if she were stripped of her fur and being paraded in front of a hundred thousand joking, leering eyes. The young girl still sat with her, running her small hands through the Chihuahua’s short fine hair and as she did. The Bitch Queen abandoned for a moment, her conscious prison and felt a wave of energy trickle down the length of her spine and it piled in her legs causing her to pound her paw against the white tiles. “It feels good, doesn’t it” said Ruff. The Bitch Queen didn’t speak; she just absorbed herself in the young girl’s touch, being completely immersed in the warmth of human compassion. When she gave herself completely, the young girl squeezed her tiny hand around The Bitch Queen’s throat, digging her sharp nails deep into her skin. The Bitch Queen tried to scream but only the tiniest slip of air passed through her swelling gums. Her body thrashed wildly but the young girl had her thighs pressed hard against the Chihuahua’s weak body and the young girl tightened her grip and as she did, her eyes glowed just as Ruff ’s had when he charged at the dying boy’s neck. The Bitch Queen fought for air, lifting her nose and snarling as her life started to thin. The young girl put all of her force; the fight she had been saving within herself as she waited for this moment, every inch of it, she put into standing on her feet keeping the struggling Chihuahua in her grasp, squeezing tighter every time the dog moved. She walked to where the small children lay dying, connected to tubes that drained their blood and made The Bitch Queen watch as Ruff rushed towards the children and gnawed at their throats; in one second, opening their jugulars and freeing them from this insufferable hell, all of them dying within seconds, setting them at ease. The Bitch Queen was choking and close to death but she could see and even intellectualize in her fading consciousness, the fall of her reign. The child had never loved her. The child had never feared 235

her but the moment she lowered her guard; the moment she descended into self-decline, the child’s consciousness awoke and took advantage and that was nothing more than the acting out of a rule of nature. The Bitch Queen thought this as she watched the small matted dog tearing at the throats of all of her trophies and then before she expelled her final breath, the young girl turned her to face her own reflection, to look into her own eyes, to die in the first and in the third. And The Bitch Queen lamented in her thoughts as she saw sadness in her own eyes and remembered as young puppy how she had seen that same reflection as every set of human hands passed her by and chose another dog. She wore that same heavy look that pulled on the corner of her eyes. The young child squealed and tore out The Bitch Queen’s eyes as her hands still clenched her neck and the tiny Chihuahua yelped once before the sound of a light snap sent her body limp and young girl squeezed more and more until eventually her own force vacated and she dropped The Bitch Queen’s limp body to the floor before collapsing herself, closing her eyes and expelling her own final liberated breath. “You should attend to your friends before the beasts” said The Intriguing Figure. Ruff didn’t think. He ran. He leapt over the still and peaceful bodies of the dead young children laying on the cold blood red tiles and past the body of the young girl who in death, lay across the tiny Chihuahua, seemingly cradling the small dog into eternity. “Humans” he thought to himself, in an impressive tone. And on he continued, out the door and down the corridor, blinded by adrenaline but thinking only of getting to his human friends. He pushed through a group of hounds standing about the entrance to the arena and rushed towards the door where his human 236

friends had been ushered through. When he reached the doors, two giant Doberman’s stood before him blocking his path. “Halt” screamed one of The Dobermans as Ruff came sliding to a stop. “It’s the prisoner” said the other. “The Queen is dead” screamed a voice from behind as a massive roar filled the arena with thousands of hounds all baying in dissonance to the damp cold air, bounding from where they sat and coming together like a swarm of bees to encircle the small matted dog and like the passage of air in a hurricane, they swirled about him in rising fashion. “Traitor” yelled one of the hounds. “You’re all free” shouted Ruff to the indifferent mob. It was no good. It wasn’t freedom they were pining for. “You’re free, don’t you understand?” pleaded Ruff. “What is freedom without a bind? We long to be free, we do not wish for freedom. The two are not in the same” said a hound from within the pack that now encircled Ruff and were waiting upon a collective order to pounce upon him and tear him apart. “What is it we should do? How do we treat him?” asked another hound. “The Bitch Queen is dead, what do we do?” said another. “What would the Queen do?” said a third. “She would throw him in the pit” yelled a voice form behind. “So throw him in the pit” yelled the first hound. “Wait,” said Ruff. “Your destiny can be different. You don’t have to do this. You don’t have to reign here in the shadows. You can help me. Come with me. Be the honorable hound you were born to be. Come to the surface. Fight with the humans. Fight with me” screamed Ruff to the surrounding crowd. “Kill him” screamed a voice from behind. And soon, the two words became a thunderous chant as the two Doberman guards stepped forward, their teeth bared and their growls drowning out the anthemic violence. Ruff thought only of his friends as the two guards leapt into 237

the air and came crashing down on his tiny body.


twenty five Marcos looked at The Pudgy Old Lady who was gripping her stubby fingers into the dirt and twitching her toes in anticipation. He then looked to his left at Mother whose vessel; as The Pudgy old Lady described it, was almost entirely drawn in sand and as the wind swirled, so too did parts of her body as the loose bits of dust where her eyes had been, carried off into the hair and hanged about Marcos’ head and like a ring, the dust ran around his head, blinding his vision. “Do it now” screamed The Pudgy Old Lady. “Now” she screamed, “Now!” “Who are you?” Marcos screamed through the chaos. His eyes were shut firmly but he focused his mind and could see in his conscious eye where he body would be laid. The Pudgy Old Lady screamed into the air and thrust her body left and right in a fit but careful not to relinquish herself form her elemental pose. “There’s no time. Commence the first act. Hurry, before it’s too late” she screamed. “What happens if you lose your face?” he yelled. “I die” she yelled back. “And what will happen if Nature dies?” he yelled. “God will be alone” she said. “Why should I help you? You’ll just keep on killing” he yelled. “Without Nature, everything will stop. You won’t find your woman” she said. Marcos thought then of The Woman’s face and was overcome immediately with a storm of emotion. Though he felt like he wished she were swept away by her insolence for she wouldn’t reason with his beliefs on nature, he also wanted to rush to her side and abate her fears, keep her closer than his own shadow and walk 239

with her into whatever their outcome may be. He wanted more than anything, to escape the hilarity and obscenity of this dream and now, as he stood holding the skin of a dead girl in his hands and saw firsthand the vile narcissi that was Nature, he wondered if he really wanted The Woman to birth at all or whether The Industry was right, that Nature was unjust; a cruel and venerable dictator that must be stopped at all costs and that only the cogs of Industry could possibly define morality. “I can take you to her” she yelled, “Do it!!” Thinking only of The Woman, Marcos laid the skin dress upon Mother and the dead skin came to life and light flashed from her eyes and shone high into the night sky as the swirling air rushed into her mouth and the dusted skin once again turned to flesh. Every part of the ancient being became a human vessel once more. Her skin started to soften and abandon the rule of age, turning from rusted brown dirt to soft milky white skin. The energy from the dress that Marcos had rested upon her mangled face was now feeding life into her veins and extorting the extravagance of existence and rested it in her fingertips. She was becoming young and alive again. As Mother’s lips started to part, The Pudgy Old Lady screamed, “Now, do it now.” Marcos took a sharp knife from the hesham bag that The Pudgy Old Lady had been carrying and leaned downwards to the belly of Mother which was swelling now as her being exited the sky along with the other elements about the room; the other old ladies with skin dresses on their faces. He buried the knife into her stomach and tore upwards. He had seen this done before by machines and he imagined himself as having a giant metallic arm that knew exactly where and how deep to cut. The tip of the blade slid through the soft skin of her belly and Mother gasped in horror as her stomach opened and there was nothing that she could do. Her arms and legs were crushed and removed from her body when they were just dust wanting to merge 240

with the dry earth. She was now; as life filled her veins, just a head and a torso and writhe as she may, it could do nothing to keep the human from opening her up just like humans did and stealing the sun from her womb. Marcos reached his hands into her stomach, and tore open her womb, pushing his hands deep inside and around the ball of energy and ripped it out into the night. Mother continued to scream as the life was taken from her in a manner that nature would never attest to. Marcos held the sun in his hands and as it burned right through to his core, he thought only of the child that The Woman wore inside her own womb and how this, this cutting of women, was not what he would attest to either. He wasn’t sure how to feel as he gazed into the ball of fire in his hands, thinking only of saving his own child from this fate. “Now� screamed The Pudgy Old Lady as Mother slipped into unconsciousness; her eyes stapling shut as around the room, old ladies began to wake inside their human vessels, croaking and gurgling with despite towards the treachery that played out beyond their immediate reach.


twenty six Flying through the air, the giant Doberman bit straight at the neck of its companion that too had leapt from its post; it, focused on the small matted dog whose face was dripping with now dark red coagulated blood and whose eyes were alight with adrenaline. The two Dobermans crashed against the cold concrete floor, rolling and twisting over one another as one dug its sharp teeth into the other’s throat and the other wailed in agony and frustration as it struggled to break free until finally it could struggle no more, blood pouring from a gash in its neck. The great noble hound drooped its head and gave up its fight, choking on the last drops of blood spat up from its soaking lungs that had gathered in its throat. The surviving Doberman lifted itself from the floor and shook off the blood from its coat. Its eyes glimmered like two diamonds but their shine brought no comfort or desire to Ruff who sat captivated by its masonic stare. Instead, they directed an orchestra of fear in his conscious mind and kept him clipped of his wings and illiterate of strategy. As the Doberman breathed, the air stained bright red as it exhaled murder from its lungs. Ruff sat silent waiting for his courage to build. His own rage had waned and he was caught in an adrenaline shake that left him unable to focus his mind and concentrate his energy. “The Queen is dead? Are you sure?” asked The Doberman Guard. “I saw it with my own eyes. She died in her own reflection. It was violent and it was bloody” said Ruff. “And we are free?” he asked “Yes. You are free” said Ruff. “Tell me” said the Doberman Guard, “what is love?” he asked. “It is not a word. It is not something to be thought of or 242

conjured. It is merely a bind for which you willingly give yourself to but on which you cannot will” said Ruff with a gingerly smile. The Doberman Guard spoke nothing more and parted, letting Ruff pass and heading off to sit by itself in a corner, lie quietly without the fret of love and be a dog. Ruff ran through the exit and into the winding corridors where he had last seen his human friends. He rushed through the open slit in the wooden frame of which he had chosen for his friends and as he ran through, his mind was plagued by the account of choice and the wonder of what may have come from it. And as he ran, he cursed this conscious prison for the walls were thick and closing in and he felt strangled by his fear, imagining always the worst for the humans that he loved and he wondered if this was love, to always imagine those closest to your heart being set upon by the very worst of your imagination and as he ran he thought to himself amidst the mental furor; “why can’t I just be happy?” As his mind raced and pined amongst a cocktail of love and tragedy, his tiny paws pounded against the cold concrete and he ran and dodged and jumped over every obstacle that came into his path until he reached a fork in the road. His tiny paws pushed forward into the dirt as he slid to a stop. He looked ahead at the three paths before him. “Which way would they have gone?” he thought. “If I were a human, which of three would I choose?” he said to himself out loud. He tried for seconds and then minutes to intellectualize and rationalize the variables of probability, behavior and then luck. He couldn’t fix himself any to sort of conclusion. Instead, he just doubted every thought that came into his mind and he started to use words like can’t and won’t and shouldn’t and improbable and the more he invited the warm comfort of doubt into his mind, the more he sank into the impossible. He tried to yell to see if his voice would carry through to the scared humans and maybe they would call back for him and 243

he would run to their saviour but when he opened his mouth and projected his voice, he was returned only by silence. He yelled again and this time his voice bounced off the walls and straight back in his ears. It sent him crashing to the ground, burying his head between his paws. His mind started to blur and one image became a thousand as he traded fears upon which there were so many and none of them within his grasp. His conscious eye felt like a mirror ball. He couldn’t focus on one image long enough to conquer it. It seemed like he was pressed against an invincible army of his own past transgressions. Things he wished he had done, words he wished he had said and as his mind played out the parody of his life, he imagined himself always in the worst of situations having said the worst of things, even when in truth these things hadn’t been said or hadn’t been lived. Still; in his mind, he put himself at the mockery of his friends, at the mockery of his peers, at the mockery his idols and then; when he was truly broken and vacuumed of fight, at the low degrading and mocking gruff of his father. And as he sat in his conscious theatre; wishing he could close his conscious eye, the true extent of his fear bucked up upon its hind legs and threatened to tear the reigns from his hands. As he buried himself low into his conscious mind; trying to back away from the black shadow, the echo of his own bark continued to work its way down the winding corridors, dancing off of every wall and never disappearing but instead; like the sound of an intruder’s footsteps from under a bed, they slowly got further from the scene of the crime. His mind was blackened now by the great black beast the stood over him as he nursed on his mother’s breast. Around him, a circle of hounds snarled and their eyes thirsted on his tiny frame, pressed against the warmth of his mother’s body. About him lay his brothers whose stories had already been told, their lives; though short, had already been lived and as he crouched at his mother; drinking from her breast, he watched as 244

Shadow took his brothers and flung their tiny bodies high into the air and into the mouths of the circle of hounds around him; the savage beasts snapping their jaws shut and tearing away at the tiny slithers of flesh. The black dog moved inwards and pressed his paw against the stomach of Ruff ’s mother causing her to yelp and for Ruff to de-latch and roll backwards onto the thick wet mud. There was no kindness in these monsters. Shadow stood over him; saliva pouring from his mouth, the great black beast looking vile and tantalized and out of control as he stepping forward and pressed down on Ruff ’s small body. Then came the scream. Ruff ’s mother bellowed so loud and like the clapping of thunder, it put the fright into Shadow who took his paw from Ruff ’s body and turned to the weakened mother who was now on all fours with her head lowered, her eyes raised, the hair on her back primed and hungered by her love for her child to sacrifice herself. His mother yelled again; so loud that he could not help but close his eyes and as he did, his mother dove upon Shadow but she dove into her death as the circle of beasts set upon her, ripping apart her body but getting nowhere near her heart. His mother could not save him, but she could give him the gift of love before she died. And this sound would stay in his consciousness forever; the sound of her call to war but he had never understood it until now. He had thought it was something to fear; something he should be ashamed of and will himself to forget but in fact, he was merely afraid of the strength of his own heart. His fear was the blanket that warmed his love, keeping it free of conscious picking as a fire burning within his soul that kept it complete and delivered from aging. There was no fear in his heart, there was only love. He had bound it in fear to protect this love from his tyrant father, the one who took his mother’s life and raised him as his own son amongst a pack of savages, learning only to hate the nature of all things. 245

He had protected his mother’s love even from himself for he knew that Shadow would change him, that he would one day condition and become the savage beast and walk amongst the pack and thirst for bloodshed as they drank heartily from the breast of war. Now; in his mind, Shadow; once such a domineering figure in his life, one that taught him to live, to learn, to stay afoot; one that always seemed magnificent and mountainous in his thoughts, was just a small dog like he, that maybe itself, was keeping love in a cage and protecting its delicacy from the wither of age. The image of Shadow began to vanish, but not before he stood back on his fours and lifted himself high into the air and barked loudly, calling Shadow to turn his head as he walked into the distance. Shadow stood still with its head turned to Ruff. “I love you and its ok; I’m not scared of you anymore. I understand you and I love you so thank you” said Ruff to Shadow as he turned his head and walked off lowly into the recesses of Ruff ’s imagination; somewhere insentient. Ruff; the small matted dog, lowered his hind to the floor and lessened his thought. The voice that deafened in his conscious mind was now silenced. He lowered his snout to the floor, resting upon his two front paws and looked ahead calmly without looking ahead; his eyes opened and present but his conscious mind focusing instead on the young boy and remembering a moment of play. He remembered how the young boy had woken from his sleep and chased him about with his hand and his heart and as he thought of this image; of this memory, his mind flowed with the love that he felt as he thought of his mother. It was as if, for the first time in his life, he was drinking from a reservoir of kindness, of love, of sacrifice and of forgiveness and he smiled to himself as in his mind he ran about the shadow of the young boy, prancing to and fro, engaging him in childish play; awakening in the child, the love that he too dressed in fear to protect from this Industrial, antipathetic world. As he envisioned and drank from the well of benignancy, his 246

state of mind drew clear and an instinct he had separated himself from in the past hours had returned to him. The voice spoke not in his mind, but in his stomach and like a compass it willed him in a direction and he argued not with its reason, picking himself up and running straight ahead into the tunnel, still running in his mind, the moment of play he shared with the young boy. And it was then that he discovered the power of conscious thought and its reasoning. The Bitch Queen was right; in theory. Existence played always to a concerto. Love would come in threes and so too would the nature of being for the conscious, the subconscious and the visceral soul when strung in harmony, are in tune with the universe. He was as a rider to its steed, a conductor to its orchestra and a father to its son. He could direct his subconscious towards an obstacle but he could not make it jump. His word alone; shouting in his mind, was weak and more so, unconnected. He needed an image to align his three states; his conscious mind, his emotional centre and his subconscious state. When he focused his conscious mind on a memory; his north, he conjured the emotion of love; the gasoline for his vehicle, the fuel for his fire. And then his instinct took over; his subconscious state; the vehicle that would drive him towards his outcome. “Consciousness is grand� he thought as he surged forward, driven by an abundance of love, racing forwards through the endless weaving and turning of concrete walls until eventually the sound of heavied breathing and coarse snarling drew upon his ears. Before him, just out of his reach; and he out of their senses, stood the two monolithic beasts with their hooves pounding against the cold concrete like two great bulls fixing to charge. Before them he could see his two human friends cowering low to the ground, backed against a wooden frame that at its height had a gap large enough for them to escape, but of which they never would with these snarling beasts on the tips of their toes, playing with their food. Ruff felt no fear anymore for his heart was undressed and 247

he had a life time of love to drink upon. He thought of his mother and he listened to her bark in his mind and as it filled his conscious ear. It filled too, the spirit in his limbs and from it, his heart grew larger and his sight became sharper and his will became immalleable. Ruff smiled to himself and then ran through the cold damp air and charged at the two boars which sat still, catching their breaths as their prey huddled together at the foot of a large wall made of old splintered wood. He screamed loud and unforgiving, what sounded like a call to war but was in fact, the extent of his heart, the whole sun of his love, exploding in a visceral charge as he dove onto the back of one of the boars, latching onto its neck and concentrating the extent of his love for his two human friends on killing these monolithic beasts. “Go” screamed Eve, taking Donal by the hand as the two boars fought to shake off the small matted dog’s ferocity. The two humans jumped to their feet; Eve pulling Donal tight against her body and looking briefly over her shoulder as the small matted dog they had travelled with was being mauled by two giant creatures and she knew in that instant, they only had seconds to spare. She took Donal and threw him through the hole in the wall and used the last of her spirit to jump and latch her hand on the opening and pull herself through, diving after Donal immediately to the other side and then they were gone; out of harm and on their way to where they needed to be. Ruff watched with his last inch of life as his two human friends, the last love he had shared in this world, escaped free from the tyranny of hazard. There was savagery at the tips of his teeth as he ripped at the boars’ flesh but there was relief in his heart as he knew his friends’ lives had been saved and though his mouth snarled and ripped at skin, his heart shone, grew fonder and smiled. The second boar clenched at Ruff ’s back, biting deep into his spine and ripping him from the other boar’s neck. The other 248

other boar then bit into Ruff ’s face and the two monolithic beasts held their clasp, their giant mouths crunching down on his small matted body; their teeth cutting through his skin and tearing him in two as they shook their massive heads violently to and fro. In his mind Ruff kept the image burning strong of Donal escaping over the wall and he felt a plumage of love ripple through his heart which in the next instant, was torn to pieces. His tiny mouth held a grin as the last image he had in his mind was of the young boy smiling back at him. “This is love� he thought, as he died.


twenty seven “Just as I promised, my word to be whole, I’ll wake of the man from the pit of his soul. The Famine hath made, its bed in his mind but I’ll do what I can to undo any bind and return him to being, bring sight to his eye but should he come between us, I’ll will him to die. Don’t get me wrong and think that I lie, if he dares to take you from me… I’ll cut his fucking throat out, do you understand me sweet little girl?” screamed The Creepy Old Man. Safrine panicked and nodded her head. His anger scared her but he stopped immediately and was smiling and holding out his hand again. Safrine took his hand and they walked into the stall where The Woman and The Behemoth lay unconscious on the ground. The Creep Old Man crept over to where The Behemoth lay and leaned down to his ear and whispered something. As he did, the long grey hairs sticking out of the old man’s ears whistled as a light breeze washed over them. The long grey ear hairs seemed to swim in the breeze and Safrine watched in a tired gaze, almost mystified by the way they seemed to orchestrate the movement of the wind. The Creepy Old Man then leaned down to The Behemoth’s mouth and pressed his lips against his while pressing one hand firmly into the dusted earth. Safrine felt a slight tremor in the ground and a gust of air rushed from nowhere into the stall and down into the throat of The Behemoth as The Creepy Old Man released his lips from his peculiar kiss. “What happened?” said The Behemoth waking to shake off imaginary rats from his body, the image that had plagued him seconds before he fell into Famine. “You fell asleep. My friend here helped you. He helped us. We have to bring him with us. Can we?” she said, like a child willing 250

their father to take home an ill puppy. “Help me with The Woman” said The Behemoth, lifting himself up and seeing in another stall just opposite, a wheel barrow, something they could use to carry The Woman the rest of their journey. As The Creepy Old Man and Safrine lifted The Woman’s heavy body, The Behemoth cleaned the old wheelbarrow of its borrowed tenants; some old clothes, measuring tape and a puzzle box; a coloured cube, with all its sides complete, sitting on top of the pile. The Behemoth threw the coloured cube to the earth with the rest of the things and helped to ease The Woman’s body down so they could make their way. “How long has it been night?” The Behemoth asked. “How long is forever?” replied Safrine jokingly; smiling at The Creepy Old Man who walked along besides her, holding her hand. The three walked with The Woman unconscious in the wheelbarrow out of the line of stalls and under a blanket of night, they headed in the direction they had been heading all along; where it was that the young girl’s feet would take them; on the trail of her brother and in turn of The Old Drunk Bastard’s boat and onwards towards New Utopia. “Are we heading in the right direction?” asked The Behemoth. The Creepy Old Man squeezed Safrine’s hand tightly. “Yes” she said. The Behemoth looked over at The Creepy Old Man and his senses engaged him. He watched the way the old man leered over her and skipped along beside her and he wanted so much to tear the sick old man in two but the girl seemed alert and manageable and as long as she got him to where needed to be, nothing was so foul as couldn’t be condoned or ignored. As the group walked along the dusted path, they left behind the sideshow delusion and under an oddly black night; without a single star in the sky, they made good stride and eventually came 251

upon a row of houses; neat little brick houses with little white fences and small ceramic caricatures occupying the lawn. They had reached suburbia, the long sprawl of unkempt idealism of what had become a droughted appendage that had only existed as the extent of industrial riches, a need born of The Industry’s Populous Manifesto and its mechanized factorial ease in human production. “Do you know them” said Safrine to her new friend, pointing to the near distance where a large group of children gathered with fire in their hands and hate in their chant. “Of them I do not and it wills me to say that the path we are on may have led us astray. Just as the day hath divorced of the sun, I fear our foul end might have justly begun” sang The Creepy Old Man. “Steady yourselves” said The Behemoth, placing the wheel barrow gently on the ground, slowing his movement, thinking in strategy, calculating his odds. The gang of young children, all screaming obscenities into the night, flanked into what looked like a tidal wave , reaching from the farthest left to the furthest right, from where they couldn’t imagine, to the immediacy of their sight. “As wise is to lore, the child is to war” sang The Creepy Old Man. “What do we do?” asked Safrine, squeezing the old man’s hand but looking to the much larger Behemoth who stood staunch and brave. “We fight” he said. “How?” she asked. “Do you want to die” asked The Behemoth. “No” said Safrine. “Let that be your motivation” said The Behemoth. One of the children stepped forward from the wall and let out a shriek into the night, so loud that even The Woman; in her Famined state, cringed unsettlingly. “Be At War” said The Behemoth. 252

Under a blanket of fire, the children roared and dived onto their front feet and ran forwards with war in their hearts. Safrine let go of the old man’s hand and clenched her fists. The Creepy Old Man clenched his own. The Behemoth stampeded into the face of the coming violence, the others followed.


twenty eight Donal crashed onto the floor and buckled his leg. Behind him, Eve pushed through the small opening and landed in an awkward heap herself; her body twisting and contorting painfully as gravity invited her to into the cold hard concrete. Through the gap in the wall they could hear the sound of hungry boars waking to a chase and Eve knew their scent was enough to drive these beasts through this wall. They had to pick themselves up and run. They had to surface somewhere and get out of these tunnels. “Can you walk?” said Eve. Donal was pulling himself from the floor. His body was bruised and his mind was completely soiled with defeat. He wished only to throw his arms in the air, to lie down on the cold concrete floor and have a peaceful death carry him from the reach of this tireless pursuit. “I can’t do it anymore. I’m too tired” he said. “You can and you will pick yourself up. We are getting out of here. We’re getting to that boat” she said. “What boat?” asked Donal. “Nothing. I’m confused. We’re gonna get you to your father and to your sister but you have to get up. Those things are gonna break through this wall. If we don’t move, they’re gonna do to you what they did to that dog. Now get off the fucking ground” she screamed. Donal jumped to his feet and his ears flooded first with the roar of hungry boars and then with the sound of thousands of dogs pummeling against the walls, scratching away at the wooden frame and then finally with the hoarse yelling of thousands of Famined voices setting upon them and the echo of their stampede, pounding in their ears like the heartbeat of violence. His legs felt lighter than they had ever been. He filled his 254

mind with the image of his father walking from his sight; one he had always known and this image; which had always given him strength, called his passion to carry his legs through one final sprint. “There, in the distance, do you see it?” Eve asked, pointing somewhere in the dark. “Is it a ladder?” asked Donal. “Run” yelled Eve. The wall behind them started to heave in and out like a wooden lung with the weight and force of thousands of hounds and two great monolithic beasts pounding against its collapsible frame. They had only seconds to spare. To the left, at the end of the tunnel, pushing its way round a hairline bend, came a wave of Famined humans, first spilling round the bend like a wash pushed forward from a rising crest, then splashing against the wall as hundreds of thousands of screaming distraught humans piled over one another, stomping their feet on the crushed and trampled bodies of those before them, high on the scent of incident, flooding towards the young boy and his untrustworthy friend. Eve ran first, dragging Donal along by his hand and just as she had done before, she threw him first into the escape; picking him up by his waist and placing him on the ladder that ran from wall; just above her hand’s reach, to somewhere in the ceiling, but they couldn’t tell what awaited them. Donal climbed; his fingers clenching the bars, cutting on shards of rusted metal, but doing nothing to slow his sprint to finish. Behind him, Eve kept right at his feet, stopping every few meters to grab the boy’s legs as he continued through the flight of fear, to misjudge his step and undo his sure footing. They hadn’t come this far to fail now. The wall where they had just escaped exploded and from its dust and ruin came the sea of angered dogs and ravishing beasts, all driven by the scent of the fleeing humans. They scampered to where the humans climbed and they jumped and scratched at the 255

walls and howled into the air, calling the feeble humans to unfasten their grip and fall into their hungered mouths. “Don’t look down. Keep going, they can’t get us” she said. As she spoke, the animals below lay down on their bellies and gave themselves to their chase for the betterment of their brothers. As they lay on their stomachs, more hounds ran upon their backs and too laid down and in seconds they had built a mound and from a mound, a hill and from a hill, they had built a closeness to the two humans now pressing through the last meters of their escape. Donal looked down and saw the thousands of dogs just centimeters from where they clung and below on the cold tiles waited the monolithic boars; their hooves pressed into the cold concrete, their heads lowered, their bodies coiled, waiting to be sprung; waiting for the last of the dogs to lay themselves down and give the boars the bridge they needed to stampede their way to the two humans before they escaped. For the hounds, laying down, it was what their Queen would have had them do. “They’re coming” screamed Donal. “Don’t look. Only a bit more. Go, you can do it” encouraged Eve pleadingly, feeling the warm breath of the hounds upon her feet. Donal pushed and gripped the bar and lifted himself; his arms tired and his joints aching horrendously, but he fought on, keeping in his mind the image of his father. Behind him, Eve kicked at the dogs which snapped at her heels and both looked down to see the two monolithic boars tearing apart the concrete with their hooves as their heaving bodies pounded against the earth and ripped apart the first dogs that lay at the base of the mound as the two boars stormed upwards towards the fleeing humans. “Go” screamed Eve. Donal reached for the last railing. His hand slipped and it fell behind him sending him swinging backwards. Eve pushed upwards and caught him mid swing; one hand gripping the bars, with the other holding the boy firmly and stopping him from falling to his 256

death. She pressed her hand firm against his back and pushed him towards the ladder. Donal grasped at the bar and lifted himself to the ceiling and pushed against the grate but it wouldn’t open. The two boars ripped and tore at the flesh of hounds as they worked their way up the mound. Their great tusks shook left and right to free themselves from the bodies of laying dogs which caught upon in the spirit of their sprint. The wave of Famined stormed through the tunnel and beat against the pile of sacrificed hounds and though it’s momentum carried thousands of ravaged humans further than their liking, spilling long into the Kingdom of the Hound, many rode of the crest and clung to the dead animals and like the boars, they scaled the mount of escape, themselves wanting to make some prize of the boy and his untrustworthy friend. Donal pushed against the grating but it wouldn’t budge. Eve pressed herself against him, keeping them both pinned to the ladder and clenched of her fist. “My will is stronger than rusting metal. My fist is the extent of my will. I am the force necessary to break through this rusted grate” she screamed to herself; strengthening her mind, believing every word and her fist; hardening so that when she threw it upwards; the rusted metal stood no chance of keeping in one piece and shattered like glass, raining down like confetti on the two boars that dove upwards, their mouths agape, their massive tusks inches from the girl’s heart and their hunger; visible through their open mouths into the pit of their bellies. Eve pushed a container into the boy’s pocket and threw him upwards through the grating and into the open air as the two boars smashed against her body and with her in their mouths, they tumbled backwards; their force now ruled by gravity, taking them rolling down the mound of dogs and taking with them, the thousands of Famined humans, climbing the mound of dead hounds and crashing against the cold concrete floor where the two monolithic beasts dug their tusks into Eve’s lifeless body and threw it against 257

the surrounding walls to soften the skin before they could gorge on every bit of her flesh, bone and muscle. Donal looked down through the grating for Eve but he could see nothing but darkness and the smell of death. He reached his hand through, waving it around, expecting her to catch on and pull herself upwards, but he caught only the shift in air. Around him, a massive roar echoed. He had no time to contemplate the girl or her fate or what about him roared. He saw light, turning the night sky orange and in a second, the feet about him turned to chase and carried him with them and before he knew it, he was running along with scores of other children, all waving weapons and fire.


twenty nine Marcos took the sun and kneeled down at the point of the star; just above The Pudgy Old Lady’s head and leaned over her, whispering into her ear. And he carried high in the air the bright orange ball of fire. And as the old ladies around the room charged towards him, he released his hands and the sun fell upon The Pudgy Old Lady and it slid into her mouth and she swallowed the orange ball of energy as if it were a drop of rain splashing upon a parched throat; it itself, sinking into the chasmal like abandon of her childless womb as the energy inside her buried its fibres deep into her tissue and exploded inside her belly, throwing her backwards against the near wall of the tent with the back of her head hitting hard against the ground as her body crashed back to the dusted earth; thrashing and convulsing as the thing inside her womb grew with phenomenal ferocity, swelling her belly so that it looked like at any moment it could tear in two. “Stop that stupid bitch” yelled The Fat Old Lady, having jumped into her skin and seen; not the treachery of an Element stealing the reign of Mother, but of her friend who should have been doing this all for her and overcome was she, with such a disappointed rage, that all she could think of doing was protecting herself and of the treason, her own played part. The Fat Old Lady ran towards Marcos and threw him aside, brushing him off like a single hair swept across one’s brow. His own weakened muscle was no match for the angered Element who sent him sliding across the rough earth so that he grazed the skin along his legs and mutilated finger tips. As he tried to gather himself, the other Elemental Ladies encircled him and though they looked old, docile and kindly, an orchestra of menace sounded in their cracking knuckles. The Fat Old Lady stood staunch over her pudgy old friend 259

friend and smiled. “You thought you could deceive me, that you could be our Mother? This was supposed to be mine you stupid bitch, you betrayed me. We were friends. I let you in. I let you be my friend and this is how you repay me. I won’t have you take my crown” The Fat Old Lady said, leaning down and unhooking the clips from The Pudgy Old Lady skin dress. As she moved to unhook the final clip, The Pudgy Old Lady clutched her wrist and yanked her arm quick and hard, pulling The Fat Old Lady off her centre and falling down to the ground so that her shocked expression hanged ominously close to The Pudgy Old Lady’s gleaming eyes and her scorching skin. “I looked up to you. I wanted to be you. You were so beautiful and so right in all of the time but now I see it was only my desire that was wanton and inferable. You were just my misplaced affection. But now I see in myself what I saw in you. I am beauty. I am divinity. I am creation. I am beauty. I am nature” “You are a cunt” screamed The Fat Old Lady. “I am the cunt of god” spoke The Pudgy Old Lady. “You’ll never get away with this” yelled The Fat Old lady. “It’s already done. You betrayed me. You left me alone. You lied to me. I did everything for you, always and you left me in the spotlight. I had no choice. And when my transformation is through, when I am Mother, when I birth the sun of god, I will turn you to dust” said The Pudgy Old Lady. The air around the pair swirled and swarmed and outside of their glare, little could be seen except for a massive whirlwind of dust and warm air spinning about the centre of the room. The other Elemental Ladies turned and gasped as they saw in their cornered eyes, the final moment of their Mother before her body turned to sand. With their attention waned, Marcos ran. He threw himself into a sprint and pushed through their circle, bouncing off unkindly as he did, pushing past their elderly bodies as if he were an egg trying to break through a wall but their lapse in concentration 260

saw them turn enough to leave a gap for Marcos’ falling body to fall through and on the other side of capture, find enough adrenaline reserves to carry him back on his vertical feet where he commanded one foot in front of the other, hoping at any moment he would wake from this absurd dream. The Pudgy Old Lady thrust her leg into The Fat Old Lady’s chest, kicking up and back so that her wobbly body hammered down hard against the trembling earth, catching her face on exposed rocks that swarmed around the ground as the massive gusts of air vented off from the circle about The Pudgy Old Lady and her swollen, infernal belly. As she bayed into the night her vengeful howl, The Fat Old Lady turned to pick herself up but her skin dress fell away from its mooring, peeling from the side of her check and hanging like an old scab by a single hook; her bare nerves exposed to the cutting air. She gasped and fell to the floor, her strength diminishing completely, her body aging beyond the will of her dithering joints until her body fell back upon the earth in a thud and her focus fell upon what felt like her last concretized breath; heavying in her lungs, unable to crawl out into the evening air. The Pudgy Old Lady lay on her back with her stomach almost bursting. She screamed highly and mighty as the core of existence worked from her womb down her body, opening her legs like a storybook, clasping her fingers into the dirt; grounding herself as with her last ounce of control, she willed her head to its side and threw her arm to Mother who lay to her side turning to dust. She had only moments to complete the ritual; to take the Mother’s skin dress and wear it as her own; to assume the face of Mother Nature and to birth the sun one more day and perpetuate the eternal equation of existence. She reached her hand to Mother’s face, scrunching her fingers to pull at the skin. As she threw herself into her conclusion, The Elemental Ladies wailed and moaned for their dead mother and while a whirlwind blanketed a bitter struggle between two idle friends, while Marcos; envisioning the long slender fingers of his beautiful love 261

curling just at the tip of his cheek and her eyes; with their long black lashes, inviting him into blissful submission as to undress his concern, ran through the abysmal night, out of the campsite and along the path carved veinally through the thick surmounting scrub and as he ran his eyes lit up by the love in his heart and the abounding fear in his mind should he not return in time to save the child that grew in his lover’s womb; to save it from The Industry that grew like a cancer upon the womb of Nature, making its home inside its host, stealing her children and making existence its own. The Pudgy Old Lady gasped in prostration, pulling her dust laden hand back to her face to examine the dried nerves that crumbled between her fingers. The skin dress was gone. She patted the earth about her as her stomach ached and swelled and between her legs, the energy of existence pushed its way through the parting of skin so that just a single ray shone through into the swarming, black night, letting The Pudgy Old Lady see about her thrashing body. The dust all about was swirling but the ground was bare. There was no skin dress to be seen. Around her, The Elemental Ladies danced upon their knees in dire depression mourning the end of all things, the end of their beautified reign. “The human has Nature’s skin” she screamed to The Elemental Ladies. ‘Run’ said his mind to foot as the command of his body was driven by subconscious will while in his mind, he played only the hero; rushing through the swinging doors and whisking up his woman and taking her far from mechanical and maniacal heart of The Industry. Under his feet the earth quaked. Around him, the air sucked like an open vent back from whence he came and his will doubled and tripled and powered itself just to keep any momentum, one foot in front of the other to get as far from the narcissus of nature as possible. Marcos saw in his mind, the image of The Woman being 262

gentled by a man in white while, with assurance in her eyes, she signed her name at the end of a very long contract and the image seemed to get smaller and smaller and further from his sight as his strength could not outrun the gusts of wind that now picked up his weakened body and rushed him from whence he came. He screamed and kicked in the air but his own voice was no match for the violent torment being lashed about and just as quickly as he had been pulled off his feet; the air fell still and he crashed to the floor. He could hear; somewhere in the distance, the shrieking of old ladies and he covered his ears as the sound cut deep into his consciousness, scratching at the insides of his stomach and pulling it outwards to his gagging mouth. His mind flooded with a million thoughts and all of them of The Woman getting further from him. And with each thought, he cared less of the thunderous sounds of which deafened the calm in his mind. He picked himself one last time from the earth and put one foot in front of the other. He ran in whatever direction would accept him with his mind burning strong, the image of his lover strapped to a table while a nocuous ballet of cutting machines all swung and danced about her swollen belly. The swinging arms seemed to tease his concern as they sliced dangerously close to her skin but always just grazing the air. He ran so that he could no longer hear the sound of wailing old ladies and he ran so that he could no longer feel the ache and swelling in his feet for it wasn’t his limbs that carried him anymore, it was the passion in his heart and the need to rescue the woman that he loved and the child that would be born of it. And as he fell from his stride and went with the order of subtraction into the soft wet mud. He clung to the hope of being her saviour, watching as shadows encircled The Woman he loved as in front of his outstretched hand, two weighted doors swung shut and her image disappeared from his sight. Marcos lay on his back staring up into the sky and he felt a 263

great sadness wash upon his conscious shore. All he wanted was what he had walked away from. All he wanted was to be loved. As he sank into the depth of his last breath, he stretched is arm out into the air wishing for The Woman to reach down from the heavens and pull him from this poisoned earth. He imagined her beside him, her hands running through his hair as they had always done when he ran a fever, scratching at the dry skin upon his head, she, bemusedly picking away as she did and he, silently melting at the simple touch of her affection. And as his blood boiled and his body sank into the wet sticky mud, he set himself into make believe, imagining himself chasing his children around an open field; the boy and girl laughing and screaming in delight as he towed behind with his arms outstretched; opening and closing like a crocodile’s snapping jaws and in the distance; leaning against the frame of an open door with her arms folded gently against her softly coloured summer dress, The Woman looked on fondly at her lover and her two children at play without caution, without learned fear, free in the open field. And just as he had given himself to his own death, he heard; near the tip of his foot, the breaking of leaves and the laughter of children. He wondered for a second if it were just his delusion; his make believe. But as he stretched his eyes open, he saw not with his sight, but with the immediacy of his ears, the unmistakable sound of children at play and he remembered a feeling of this before; the sound of children playing in the dark, their game of chase diffusing his fear and self-abandon. Marcos picked himself up from the muddy ground. His body was so sore. Every muscle was tweaked and torn and his bones were just a shimmy away from shattering into a billion pieces. Still, he managed to get to his feet, taking from the ground the heshem bag he had taken with him when it was that he took flight from the psychopath of Nature. He followed the sound of children at play, scraping his head against branches as he struggled to work his way through the lowly carved path until finally, after an eternity of crouching and 264

crawling, he came to a clearing where he saw the shadows of the young children glimmer as they ran towards a city lit up by fire and spoken in song. As he stood amazed, a young child brushed past his arm and continued skipping down the hill singing with glee as Marcos yelled for him to stop. The young child offered no ear and paid no mind, skipping along the green grass into the waiting arms of his mother and was carried off into the village where each and every person sang in joy and revelry. Marcos took from his shoulder the heshem bag and pulled open the thread that kept a secret of its content. From it, he pulled the leathered face of a young girl and held it into the light that shone from warm fires around the village and after a moment’s pause; he took a breath, returned the dried skin to his hesham bag and walked slow and uneven down the grassy hill towards New Utopia while behind him, in the secret of night, the wrath of nature drew upon his steps, looking for the face of a young woman.


thirty The Woman; still in delusion, opened her eyes again and she was abounding in blinding white lights flashing past her eyes. Around her were the torturous screams and jaunts of men and women in white cursing at one another and ushering commands to all and sundry. She couldn’t move her arms. They were strapped into position and she thrust her body to and fro, trying to break free from her binds. She felt as if her stomach were about to explode. “Get it out of me” she screamed, as in the distance, her lover’s voice fought to break through the cursing and commanding, trying to get to the weakness in her heart. All she could hear was the screeching of the rusted metal wheels as they turned around every tight bend and the sound of doors bursting open and more desperate yelling and bodies jumping left and right, out of her rushed passage through the factory and towards The Emergency Extraction Room. “What happened?” yelled a voice. “She tried to do it herself ” screamed another. “We got her just in time. We have to extract this product now before it kills her” said a voice that sounded like her Project Manager. “I love you. Don’t let them take it” screamed another voice; her lover’s, as the doors closed behind her and he remained trapped in another room. The pain was unbearable. For all she knew, the product inside of her was about to explode. Around her, men in green overalls spoke hastily with men in red overalls and they were silenced and ordered by a large man in white with a long thick beard. The Woman was surprised at how big he was. He seemed like a giant compared to the small men 266

compared to the small men running around in pent desperation. In the corner of her sight she could see The Clown Host smiling at her as she sank into the moment of her repression, the memory that was scratching at the back of her mind, the cross she would always silently bear. Painted on the roof, addressing her sight was a portrait and its hue was astounding. She looked straight through the mechanical ballet and wet herself in the addling cheer that rained down on her troubled consciousness, prescribed by the generous outstretched hand of smiling man with a white painted face and smeared, red lips, two white gloved hands, frizzled, coloured hair and absurdly enormous, squeaking shoes; inviting her under the big top as the setting sun cast out an orange fire across the sky. A green button was pressed. A light flickered. The Woman screamed. The giant metallic arm swung down and the long knife cut deep into her stomach.


end of b00k 011


husband, father, son, brother, philosopher, artist, writer, teacher, recluse Also by C. Sean McGee: UTOPIAN CIRCUS (CITY b00k011) HEAVEN IS FULL OF ASREHOLES COFFEE AND SUGAR CHRISTINE ROCK BOOK VOLUME I: THE BOY FRM THE COUNTY HELL ROCK BOOK VOLUME II: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON ALEX AND THE GRUFF (a tale of horror) THE TERROR{blist}

StalkerWindows: BedroomWindow: LoungeWindow: BathroomWindow: LibraryWindow: 269

Utopian circus (City Book 2)  

Through the charred wreckage of one man’s philosophy, an adventure into conscious delusion and dark dystopian fantasy begins as the survivor...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you