“I guess this is not the right day for a sponge.”
“Is there a right day?”
“Must be. A rainy day won’t let me walk past the corner, makes me feel all fat and bloated. A sunny day will turn me into a raisin, old and used up. A windy day now-”
Their room does not catch the sun, constantly washed in sterile, fluorescent light. Creased sheets, stranger-stained, on two single beds nailed together. As cheap as it gets. Ten euros an hour and twenty a night. The clock is ticking Coca Cola time on the beige wall.
The Lord of Dead Ends blows a perfect circle of smoke towards the ceiling. He cracks his fingers and cautiously leans back against the headboard.
“We need to get going,” says Sponge the Bright, fishing the last crisps from the bottom of the bag.
“You’ll smell like crisps for days,” the Lord of Dead Ends says and grabs the bag from his hands. The TV burps a tulip of purple steam as he turns it off; its cogs grunt and stop.
“Fine. And you get dressed. It takes ages to wrap you up and our first shift starts in an hour.”
“Right.” The Lord of Dead Ends unfolds his long limbs and stretches throwing his head back, hair tickling his waist. His padded full-body suit hangs limp on the coat rack, black. When he wears it he feels like it’s swallowing him up, every inch of his dazzling white skin. It still leaves the face uncovered, though. When you are made of porcelain, there are only so many precautions you can take. “You know this job won’t last either, so don’t keep your hopes up.” He zips the suit up, testing it for spots where the padding has thinned, it seems fine. “There is a reason I am called the Lord of Dead Ends.”
Sponge the Bright snorts and jumps around as he tries to squeeze his fluffy arms into the sleeves of his coat. “I really need to get a cloak next time,” he says, fumbling to button up and failing. The Lord of Dead Ends stifles a chuckle and stubs his cigarette in the astray.
“Shit,” he says, leaning towards the window, looking up. “You were right. It’s this fucking poisonous rain again. I’ll get the umbrellas.”
Outside, the city speaks its mind through rails that creak under the weight of the eight o’clock train, through roofed tricycles’ tailpipes and sighing cabarets, through hollow windows banging at the top of deserted buildings. Not many people roam the city center tonight; the better for the Lord of Dead Ends and Sponge the Bright. They can do without the stares and the smacking of lips as they pick their way towards the Site Hole Six. Their kind shares the city with the humans for a decade now, yet still they feel the need to choose the back alley over the avenue.
The first barricades start a hundred meters from the Site Hole Six. The khaki-clad guards barely look up from their makeshift backgammon board; spawns are free to approach the Hole. Maybe they hope it will take them back.
Out of the six Holes that opened up across the city, this is the only one to remain. In the first days, they say it felt like the end of the world. In a way, it was: holes open up, human jumps in, spawns come out in their stead. Even a side glance at a Hole was enough to make humans fall into a state of fugue, sprint and throw themselves in. It took days to isolate the Holes; it is not easy to build a wall when your workers keep jumping into the abyss.
Site Hole Six looms at the end of a street taken over by weeds. Twenty meters high and a hundred meters across, it looks less like a building and more like a really high wall, made of concrete and metallic beams. The Hole should be located at the center.
The Lord of Dead Ends reaches the only door and takes his newly minted ID plaque out of his backpack to feed it to the machine. Sponge lags behind, careful not to let a single droplet of the acidic rain fall on his absorbent skin.
“Fucking poison, it hasn’t rained for days and today, all of a sudden, plaf plaf plaf, as if it’s waiting for us to sneak out. Jinxed, that’s what we are.”
“Quit bitching, Sponge, you’re fine.”
“And you quit being so damn careless. It’s not ten days yet since you got glazed, again. You still owe half the money.”
The machine coughs his plaque out and falls silent. So far, so good. With no idea as to what they are supposed to do next, the Lord stands and waits and wraps his coat around him tight.
They promised each other that working on the Site would be their last resort, and indeed they tried nearly everything else. Nothing worked for long. At least back when spawns were not considered citizens, they could still work the margins of legality–be carnival exhibits, bouncers, pets, slaves. Now that they merited a wage, why hire them at all?
God bless the CandyMen then, aka the spawn mafia; the government hired their front to run and safeguard the Hole, since no human could approach it. Now the Lord of Dead Ends and Sponge the Bright could earn enough to remain welcome in their horrid motel room.
The metallic double door creaks and sighs and opens in front of them. Behind it stands a tall spawn, human legs embedded in a grasshopper’s abdomen, its hind wings forming a smart green tailcoat matched with a black top hat.
“Evening, gentlemen.” His automaton voice comes out of a small bronze pipe, adjusted right under his mandibles. It makes a faint rumble as he speaks. “I see your clearance passes have checked out. Follow me.” He turns on his heels and starts walking fast, his leathery tegmina buzzing faintly.
“I am now taking you to your posts, but before that, allow me to inform you of the few rules of our establishment.”
Sponge’s wingtips echo “clack, clack, clack” – the corridor is empty and grey and smells damp.
“I believe you have already signed the confidentiality agreement.” Sponge glances at the Lord of Dead Ends and he nods back, but when he turns round he almost bumps on the half insect’s behind and gasps. There’s a door in front of them, narrow and uncommonly tall but plain other than that. The grasshopper spawn makes a clicking sound and swallows.
“First rule of our establishment: never leave your post before your shift is over. Second: breathing a word of whatever you have witnessed in our establishment would be considered as really bad manners. Finally, do not feed anyone or anything to the Hole, under any circumstances. You have been hired to guard it, and the management expects that you do not deviate from your task.”
“Of course,” mutters the Lord of Dead Ends, eyes nailed on the floor ahead.
“Uh-hem,” Sponge clears his throat, turning to the grasshopper spawn. “Aren’t we to be provided with some kind of equipment? Or see a map of the facilities we are to guard?”
The grasshopper’s gaze is impossible to escape, feasting on Sponge’s slightly twitching lip and skittish eyes.
“My colleague is just too eager to start, Sir,” says the Lord of Dead Ends.
“Trigger happy, I see. Not our favorite kind,” and he finally lets them in.
“Really? Can’t you see that this is all a sham?” Sponge the Bright paces in their narrow booth, a cramped room mainly made of glass and smothered with the stark smell of bleach.
“You don’t say.”
“Shouldn’t we at least undergo some training, or, or, – I mean I don’t even know how this old bugger works,” Sponge goes on, waving the pistol in his hand as if it were a flag. “It’s so light it feels like a toy. I bet it is.”
The Lord of Dead Ends sighs. “They only hired us to fulfill their spawn quota. Can’t you go back to being Sponge the Bright, just for a change?” He finishes rolling his cigarette, takes a swig from a flask he has brought along carefully tucked in his suit’s inner pocket, and pushes himself up from the swiveling, squeaking chair. He blows the smoke against the window glass. “It was your fucking idea, after all. And stop pointing at me with that.”
Their booth is on the ground level, just ten meters from the Hole. The inner wall’s seamless stone is interrupted only by a metallic double door. Around the Hole runs a paved hem, almost three meters wide. The Lord’s eyes flicker up, searching for a real guard, but there is none. No windows, no alcoves, no openings of any kind.
“Maybe it’s the birds,” says the Sponge that stands right next to him, pistol still in hand, leaning against the glass. They spotted a few over the past long hours, automaton birds the color of brass, grinding their metallic wings as they fly over the Site.
“There is one over there, perched above the main door. Do you see it?” The Lord of Dead Ends tries yet again the door knob that leads to the Hole, but it doesn’t give in. No lock, so more likely it’s stuck.
“It’s a pity,” mumbles Sponge, eyes still fixed outside.
“It’s a pity we can’t take a closer look at the Hole.” Its perfectly round lid takes up almost the entire interior, slightly curved and perfectly polished despite the spitting rain that has just stopped.
“I’ve heard it’s the biggest Hole of the six. They say thousands of Spawns crawled out of it in the first week,” whispers the Sponge.
“A quarter of the city’s losses, give or take.” He draws another breath of smoke.
Sponge opens his mouth to speak when a low rumble echoes, coming from beneath their feet. The flask rattles slightly, louder only seconds later, along with the pens and the tulip TV on the desk.
“Shit,” whispers the Lord of Dead Ends, cigarette hanging from his lips. He stares at the lid, eyes narrow.
“It’s opening,” mumbles the Sponge and climbs onto the chair to get a better view.
The lid slides into a barely visible slit into the ground and leaves the Hole exposed; a begging wound with its scab removed that gapes at the world. The rumble fades and stops. The Lord of Dead Ends feels his skin crawl as the silence tugs at his gut, cold and smooth, urging him to double up and drag himself under the desk. Still, he cannot defy the urge to look. This same swelling need to keep staring at violence, be it at a gutted nobody in a back alley, or at the earthquake smitten debris of a slum. He stares and waits, mouth watering, muscles taut.
There is a faint blip and then a muted grinding sound as the double doors open and five – no, six spawns pour in, some walking, some scrambling. They march up to their arrayed spots around the Hole, several steps behind the brim. The Lord’s eyes hop from spawn to spawn scanning for someone he has crossed paths with before – you never know. The table lamp-headed woman on the far left reminds him a bit of a Sponge’s old friend back from their early days on earth and whips round to check with him.
“It’s not her. Lucy’s light was yellow,” Sponge whispers. “What are they doing? Are these guns?”
“Shhh,” the Lord of Dead Ends shades his eyes with his palm.
The scream comes first, piercing his chest, making his heart flutter along with the automaton birds. Two spawns appear through the doors, one who could be taken for a human if it wasn’t for his discreet beak of a nose, and the other looking like he strolled out of a five-year-old’s drawing. They drag a man between them, hooded. Right behind them follows a cohort of four more spawns, all muscles and glares, surrounding a fifth, a woman; her long dark hair and caramel skin shine under the harvest moon. Her dress is made of candy wrapping that screeches as she moves. Sponge gasps beside him.
“Susie Q., that’s her. With candy hair and teeth of steel? That’s her!” Sponge’s fear rasps in his throat.
“Isn’t she the bitch who founded the CandyMen?”
“Praise our luck.” The Lord of Dead Ends takes a swig from the flask. “What a night, to meet the cream of our kind.”
“Shut up! Oh, sweet mother of their Jesus Christ, can they see us?”
“Make sure you smile.” He bares his teeth in a plastered grin and makes a toast towards them that goes unnoticed.
Stick Figure and Touc-Toucan make their prisoner kneel facing the Hole. Susie Q. halts right behind him. The man is wearing a uniform, a torn and dirty one, blue like a policeman’s.
“Last chance, Officer. Questions left unanswered have a price.” She sings rather than talks, a song of sugar and butter. “Who gave you the automaton bird?” His shoulders shake, hunched; a muffed sob is all she gets for an answer. “Where is the footage now?”
“Please,” his voice bursts out hoarse. “I’m begging you, stop. It’s madness. If what you’re doing here gets out, they’ll lynch every spawn in the country. Don’t you see?”
Susie Q. kicks him in the gut. “Oh, and that would be something new? Thank you, Officer, for your wise advice, you can stick it up your ass.” She delivers another kick, heel first. “Where is the bird?”
“Please, I don’t know. Only seen it once, I know nothing else, please.” He falls on all fours and tries to turn around, reaching blindly for her feet. She shrugs, takes a small step back and nods at Stick Figure.
“I’ve had enough of him,” she says. Stick Figure snatches the hood off and digs his boot in his side, sends him crawling near the rim. The man has a face under the hood, a bulgy red nose and sucked-in lips and gaunt cheekbones, human to its every stretch of skin.
The Lord of Dead Ends forgets to breathe in. Damn him, it’s just as they say. The man stares at the hole, his gaze fixed, black as the sea, the eyes of a beast. Yet, there lurks desire. No whimpering for his sore ribs, no begging, no turning back. The man flings his tongue over his lips and stands up.
“Hey, shithead. You are free,” Stick Figure says and chuckles, exchanging looks with Touc-Toucan.
“Hey, you can go home now,” Touc-Toucan says and rattles a set of keys in front of the man.
The officer takes a step back and then jumps. No scream. No thud.
“Yeah, didn’t think so,” says Stick Figure and they both fall back.
The Lord of Dead Ends takes a sharp breath. His lungs are about to burst. His pulse buzzes. That’s how they go then. They say there is nothing anyone can do to stop them. They say the Hole sneaks in their eyes and nests in their heart and devours it.
“Oh my, oh my,” Sponge says in a tiny voice and gets off the chair, heading for the jammed door that leads to the site. The Lord of Dead Ends springs up and grabs his arm.
“What are you doing?”
“We need to help him, get some rope.” Sponge takes a quick look around the booth.
“Yes, great idea, let’s stroll outside to help, I’m sure the CandyMen won’t mind us trying.” He catches his eye and holds it. “Pull yourself together.”
“Steady now,” they hear Susie Q. saying and turn. She makes her way behind the frontline of spawns, and at her command, some aim their guns at the Hole while the bulkier ones move forward.
The Lord of Dead Ends squeezes Sponge’s arm softly.
“Oh my, here they come-” Sponge runs out of words, his eyes bulging wide and wider. The Lord of Dead Ends swallows spit of sand and holds back a bout of coughing.
Out of the hole, first comes a limb, fingers webbed and twisted; then a shoulder, then a head with only a mouth for a face, a mouth full of hundreds of needle teeth clasped tightly together. It crawls out on fours, naked, its skin blue, its dark hair plastered on its forehead. Behind it follow two more –no, it’s three, a rug doll girl in a tufted tutu, a man with an incandescent coil instead of a neck, and a barely visible shadow struggling to assume some kind of form, again and again and failing. Needle Tooth lets out a shriek and whips round to face more spawns climbing out; a medley of claws and gills and cogs, their faces blanched with terror.
“Hold,” says Suzie Q., her eyes glinting.
Needle Tooth hisses and springs up, grabbing an automaton bird that dared to fly lower. It twists its fingers until it cracks and shoves it whole into its mouth, filling the air with crunching sounds.
The guards aim and take the shot, planting tranquilizing darts into the startled newborns. One by one, they totter and fall.
“What will they do with them?” Sponge wipes his nose on his sleeve, droplets instantly absorbed by his skin. The Lord of Dead Ends unzips his suit down to his chest; the room feels stuffy and cramped. He digs in his pocket and fishes out his silk handkerchief.
“Here.” Sponge takes it and dabs his eyes.
“Let’s wrap it up, ladies and gentlemen,” Susie Q. says and the guards start walking between the fallen, picking them up and gently dragging the heavy.
“Where are they taking them? Who knows what they’ll do with them. Oh, poor things-”
“They would have killed them already if they wanted them dead.”
Sponge opens his mouth to say something, but words don’t come. In a matter of minutes the Site is empty. The lid rumbles as it slides over the Hole like a thin blanket. The Lord of Dead Ends takes a swig from his flask. Wipes his lips on his sleeve.
“Cheers to the new arrivals. Welcome to the land of milk and honey.”
The Angry Inch
Shit. I turn the purse inside out on the dresser; some loose painkillers, a rusty beetle brooch and tobacco crumbs. My burgundy lip pencil is missing. The dressing room lights switch on with the familiar wheeze of the back room generator and I squint. The headache shoots sharp behind my eyes, embedding its roots deep into my skull. The smell of burning dust on the bulbs makes me sneeze. It wouldn’t hurt if we cleaned this dump every once in a while. Lucy the Lamp slumps on the chair next to me and kicks off her heels, diving to rub her feet.
“What size are these?” They are too gold and glittery for my liking, but it’s so difficult to find decent heels that fit I’m about to settle with cheesy for a change.
“Not your size, Honey, sorry.”
I guess I’ll go for the black pair tonight, again. I push the chair back and stroll over the door and ram it shut. I shake my shirt off and start unbuckling my belt, eyes fixed on the clothes rack where my laced white corset hangs along with the black crinoline. My silk blindfolds are draped on the hanger’s hook.
My eye catches the smoke of her cigarette on the mirror and I look up. She hasn’t smoked in months. I glance at the shut door, grab the corset, and walk over by her.
“What?” I whisper. It’s so frustrating that she hasn’t got a face to read, just a chin and a pair of lips. When I first met her I would slightly lean forward trying to catch a glimpse of what was under the lampshade, but all I could see was searing light.
“Tony didn’t show up last night.” Her voice is small, full of bumps.
“Did you check with the others?”
She nods. “No one’s seen him in a week.” The mirror lights are too bright, emitting their sizzling heat that makes my skin flush red. “I’m afraid they might have picked him up.” The headache jabs between my eyes. “If the CandyMen caught him, if they-” she takes a sharp breath and clears her throat. “Turn around, I’ll tie you up.” I wrap the corset around my belly and stomach and flat chest, its underwire already digging in my flesh. “Is it secure?”
“A little tighter,” I say, but then I realize she is not talking about the corset. I nod. The automaton bird lies in a cupboard, under the kitchen sink of my old seaside apartment. Nobody ever goes there anymore. “As agreed.” A tide swells in my guts, pushing its way up along with my masala chicken dinner.
“If he talks, we are done,” I say and unbutton my pants just to keep my fingers from trembling. I fake a cough to mask a burp, damned indigestion.
“He won’t talk. Tony is solid.” Air wheezes out of her lungs and she pulls the corset strings harder. This is a disaster. “We are not even sure they got him. Would they dare go after a cop?” Her voice is grasping for some smoothness.
“Maybe they would. And if they did, Susie’s men might be at the old apartment as we speak.” I glance at the door, hold my breath to make sure no steps are approaching. All I can hear is the faint buzz of voices blended with Serjio’s violin; the show begins.
“You are right. We have to assume the seaside apartment is compromised. We can’t go back there.” She pats me on the shoulder. “Ready.”
“Thanks.” I slide behind the folding screen, suspenders in hand along with my special tuck-it-all-in panties. All this work, all these months, with all we’ve risked, for nothing. Panic grins and gives me the finger. With my back on the wall I slide on the floor, knees folded against my chest. What now?
“We can’t give up,” Lucy whispers. “We are so close.”
“We were. We had only the automaton to prove she feeds people to the Hole and no proof at all that she is raising an army. Without Tony we have no way of knowing which cops are in her pocket. We have nothing. It’s over.” My eyes sting and my nose starts running. Fuck, don’t cry now. At least the make-up is not on. What the hell am I thinking? They got Tony. I’m dead meat, Susie will skin me.
“Their boldness might be their end. Someone will come looking for Tony. We might have a better chance to make them pay attention if one of them is missing. Unless-”
“We have nothing to show the police, Lucy. It’s over. The seaside apartment will lead them straight to me. I’m done here. We need to get out of the city, out of the country, now.”
“How are we supposed to cross the borders, huh? Do you have enough to pay the smuggler? No, listen. Listen. There’s still a way to get our hands on another bird.” I’m so tired. I hear her shuffling around and then the teapot whistling on the camp stove by the dresser. Going through our daily ritual always calms her down. She takes the thermos cups out of her bag.
“I don’t care if there’s another way. I can’t do this anymore.”
“But we need you! Humans won’t listen to what a spawn says, no matter the proof.” Of course I know, even a scumbag like me is more legit than any spawn. “Besides, if Tony snitched you wouldn’t be here now, would you? No, you would probably be staring at a Hole by now.”
I spring up and pull up my pants, damned buttons.
“I’m out,” I snarl.
“Out where? You think Susie won’t look for her boyfriend?” I wince at her last pounding word. Calling me a boyfriend, especially when I’m in my Ally outfit? Lucy, that was low. I push the screen and tramp to the dresser, grab my purse and start shoving everything in.
“Ally, don’t. Only you can do it, at least hear me out.” Lucy jabs her hands on her waist. My jacket feels cool on my naked arms and shoulders.
“It’s about Miro.”
My fingers freeze on the purse.
“Susie Q. has hired two new security guards for the Site. I’ve done some digging on them, standard stuff, you know, asked around at the Alchemist’s Den, to see if they are from her regular staff,” she snorts. “Turns out they’re not. Not yet. And, turns out I know them. One of them pretty well, Sponge the Bright, he used to be my friend. But, when I looked up the other, I recognized the face from your photos. I wanted to be sure before I told you anything, so I did some more digging, and I found out that these two are the last of Miro’s bunch. They emerged out of Hole Six five years ago, on March 17, around one in the morning. Isn’t that when Miro jumped?”
My knees give in, I fumble for the chair, yes that’s the date and that’s the time. I grope for her tobacco rolls on the dresser, a lipstick cap rolls and falls on the ground. She lights the cigarette for me, my fingers feel stiff and numb.
“Are you sure?”
“I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure, of course, but then, when I saw him, he looks just like the man in your photograph. A lot. I mean, he is a spawn, but, still. You should take a look yourself.”
I drag a breath of smoke and hold it in.
“I was thinking that maybe you could help convince them to get us another bird.” Lucy pulls a stool and sits by me. “Think, if you suddenly disappear now, Susie Q. will realize that you were up to something. She will turn the city upside down to find you. And you will miss your chance to meet them. You have been searching for Miro’s spawns for years.”
I can see the extortion, I’m not blind, at least not when I’m off stage. But still, she is right. The need to see him again, even in incoherent, fragmented tittles of the man he used to be burns my chest and squeezes the sanity right out of me.
“How do you know they will help us?”
She takes the teapot off the stove and pours us some tea, throws a couple of sugar cubes in her thermos cup. “Sponge the Bright will agree. He used to be one of us. I hope he hasn’t changed much.” She blows over her cup. “His friend is not so easy to handle. And I thought that it would only be fair if you were involved too. Besides, I imagine that they would both be very interested in meeting you too if they knew who you are. We might use it as-”
Am I doing this? Most times the spawns would bear no resemblance to the person gone, most times there was no obvious link between them. Spawns remember nothing, after all. But, in the rare cases that a lover or a parent or a friend met a spawn that emerged right after their beloved jumped, they felt a sort of connection, no matter the resemblance. A connection. A link. Something. Anything. I will settle. I am doing this.
“Ok.” I gulp down the tea as if it’s brandy, scalding my tongue. “Arrange a meeting.” I grab the crinoline and head for the screen. “I need to hurry, you are doing my make-up.”
“Uh-huh,” she stabs her cigarette and fishes my kit from the top drawer.
“What’s he called, the other guy? It’s Sponge the Bright and…?”
“Lord of Dead Ends.”
“Oh, you must be joking.”
The Sharp Edge in the Bunch
The bourbon steams in the glass, giving off a smoked aroma that makes him crave for a bite of peppery sausage. For all its reputation, cabaret Laterallus doesn’t look like much. Just a hole dug into the innards of a wretched building, its top floors abandoned to squatters and vermin. Sponge doesn’t mind.
What Sponge the Bright always enjoys is the silence that lingers in-between songs. The sudden absence of coherence. The freefall. That’s what he claims for himself alone. The hollow thump between moments when he can stare at his bowl full of fish-hooks. When he tries to examine one little truth at a time and the whole lot comes out in a black bunch full of sharp edges.
Sponge the Bright is different when he sits alone, waiting for the show to start. Theatre is not his thing, too many people (or just one) preaching their misery at the top of their lungs, plus the seats tend to be too damn uncomfortable– and you are not allowed to smoke. Cinema is contaminated by montage; by the director’s totalitarian glance; by one’s vision. Live music is all right, ruled by many imponderable factors. Cabarets he likes best as the performers are mostly amateurs or professionals who made, let’s say, unlucky choices such as being themselves–or performing songs that ring annoying to sensitive ears.
Here, it’s more likely that a note will run wild up to the ceiling. Imperfectly perfect. Or he may just be a romantic. Or too fed up with the Lord’s hopelessness. There are times, especially in the mornings, when he opens his eyes and reinvents himself and his life; when he gets to the part where he remembers who and where and when and what, and turns his head to his side with this spongy squishy sound, and sees the Lord breathing softly, with his glass eyes staring at the ceiling, then he almost can’t bear it. When the Lord is asleep, it’s the worst. All his hopelessness pours out of his eyes, singing a song for the meaninglessness of ever waking up. He can’t blame him, of course. That’s what the Lord of Dead Ends does. All the other spawns that emerged with them are now gone. Some managed to leave; most just simply withered and took their own lives. But Sponge knows that it would do no good to anyone to leave the Lord alone in the world. No good at all. So, as things are, he comes to cabarets alone. And he sits. And he lets the music wash over his soul.
The string of a violin echoes, tightly-tuned, and Sponge looks up from his glass and scans the room for the waitress.
“Peppery sausages, please,” he shouts over the rumble of talk and laughter. The place is full. When did it get so loud?
“And two more bourbons.” Lucy has sneaked up behind him, wearing an appropriate twenties fringe flapper dress to match her lamp hat. He was expecting her, sure, but still the sound of her voice instantly warms his insides and agitates the butterflies that have been sitting quietly in his stomach.
She pulls a chair and sits and offers him a neatly rolled thin cigar out of her red tobacco tin shaped as a hot-air balloon.
“You still have it,” he says and nods to the tobacco tin, his voice more dreamy than he’d like it to be.
“Sure. You know how I am with gifts.”
Sponge takes the cigar and lights it. The mint flavored smoke travels down his throat, coils in his stomach, unleashing memories of soft skin and old sheets rough from years of washing. The night he left, they fought and fought until Lucy threw half the cogs and springs of their impromptu distillery at him, hitting bull’s eye more than half the time.
“I take it we need to talk?” he asks, stifling a cough. Lucy nods and sits. She doesn’t avoid his gaze. She will not apologize for what’s past, not Lucy; he smiles.
“I thought you were out for good. That you were sick of us,” she says, under her breath, with her elbows on the table, leaning towards him, her light making him blink furiously. But he doesn’t lean back.
“I was. Back then Susie was just another spawn, only just beginning to get radical, and I saw no reason to mix myself in the whole infighting. Now, she’s gone too far. I want back in.” Sponge pauses to catch a whiff of bourbon that gets straight to his head. The first of the night, delicious.
“So, Susie doesn’t know that you used to be affiliated with our cause,” Lucy says, in a careful voice, like a cat tiptoeing around a half-dead locust.
“Yes, I highly doubt it.”
“And now you work for them, at the Site.”
“I do.” Sponge kind of enjoys this dance. It reminds him of flirting. How pathetic. “It didn’t just happen. I made it happen, I mean, on purpose. I let the Alchemist know about my new occupation and hoped you still hang out at the Den.”
Lucy taps her manicured fingers on the bloated table. Sponge can tell that she is holding her breath, her light piercing him, purging him, if possible.
“So, you did all this because you are willing to help a cause that might not even exist anymore, for all you know.”
“But it does,” he protests and finishes his first bourbon with a smack of his lips.
“Sponge, this entire conversation is based on trust and good faith. Either one of us could be working for the CandyMen.”
“I am aware of that.” The waitress comes and goes, and Sponge treats himself to a bite. Lucy drags her chair even closer to him and he realizes the music has stopped. They eat and drink in silence until music pours out of the tip of a clarinet.
“I saw what they do. At the Sites. It’s… wrong.” The naiveté of his words almost crushes him.
“Why now?” She asks and sounds genuinely curious.
Sponge sighs. “The main reason why I left was the Lord of Dead Ends. His despair caught up with me. Fighting felt pointless. That’s the catch with him. He is right. Things do go to shit very often, no matter how hard you try, no matter the intentions. Fucking dead ends. Back then, I kept my involvement with the cause a secret from him, afraid that he would ruin it. I thought of ditching him, but I couldn’t. He is family, you see. Anyway, I wanted to stick with him so I could show him he didn’t have to be the Lord of Dead Ends any more, as I was not Sponge the Bright.”
“That’s what you’re doing here? Proving him wrong?” Lucy says, leaning closer, her breath on his shoulder; he shivers.
“Nope. The Lord latches onto his name as a limpet latches onto its rock. He is what he is. There is nothing I can do about it. But I just won’t lie down and die without even trying to do something that matters. So. How can I help?”
Lucy leans back on her chair, crosses her legs and folds her arms on her chest.
“Have you seen any prisoners?”
“You mean the people they feed to the Hole?”
“Yes. Two the past couple of weeks. Seventeen spawns emerged.”
“What did they look like? The prisoners.”
Sponge swallows a piece of sausage, but he might as well be eating a frog.
“The first one was a cop, medium-height, average looking. Suzie kept asking him about a bird. You know, the automaton birds they keep at the Sites? He looked quite roughed up.” He pauses as her light flickers slightly. She grunts and straightens her back and struggles to keep her voice even and flat.
“Did he tell her? About the bird?”
Sponge bites his lower lip.
“He was one of yours? A real cop?” Quite impressive. When he left, there was no talk of humans joining the cause, it would have been considered outrageous by both sides.
“Did he tell her anything?”
Sponge squeezes his brain and takes his time to sweep through every little detail.
“No,” he finally says. “She asked him once about the bird’s whereabouts and he did not breathe a word, even though it looked like he’d been through several rounds of questioning. She asked who had it. But he didn’t give her anything. So she… proceeded.”
“Are you sure he didn’t talk?”
Sponge nods. “As far as I know, he didn’t.”
Lucy twines her fingers, presses her palms together and rests her chin on top of them. Sponge takes her half-smoked cigar from the ashtray and lights it for her. The lazy violin reaches a bitter high pitch that echoes above the rumble like a scream and then the clarinets invade the sadness chasing the moment away. People start singing along with the crooner, a young looking fellow with round glasses magnifying a pair of yellow serpent eyes and an accountant’s suit two sizes larger. His voice is mellow, like warm raisin bread in the morning.
On the far right corner, the door opens and the Lord of Dead Ends saunters in, clad in tight black jeans and his favorite waistcoat with the silver watch chain. Sponge’s heart kicks in his chest; no padded suit on? God, you’re such a dick. Out of habit, he scans the room for sharp edges and other such death traps, finding way too many. Then it dawns on him. He turns to Lucy.
“What is he doing here?”
Lucy’s hand flies up before he can slap it down. Clapping and cheering shakes the room as the song comes to its end.
“Lucy? Did you? I never… It’s a secret, you can’t!” Sponge shouts frantically, his eyes anywhere but on the Lord.
“Well, let’s let him in on the joke this time.”
“No, no, no, I just told you, everything he touches turns to shit, Lucy!” Sponge, all puffed-up and flushed, grabs her hands and shakes her, her light burning bright and brighter.
“Fuck this superstitious bullshit! Am I supposed to be just a lamp? Huh?” She breaks off his hold and grabs her steamy glass, spilling bourbon all over her dress. “Maybe back home our names meant something. But home, whatever it looked like, is gone. Can you remember where you lived? Family? Childhood’s jokes? Anything at all? No? ‘Lucy the Lamp’ means nothing here. So, yeah, he’s in. We need all the help we can get.”
Sponge straightens his blazer and dusts off some ash from his trousers, managing only to smudge his fingers as well. How foolish of him; always use a napkin.
“Sponge, what a surprise!” Thank goodness he never took up acting. “And you must be Lucy, nice to meet you. Another round?” The Lord looks down at Sponge, straight in the eye, wearing a smug stupid smile, one that shouts “aha, gotcha!”
As soon as the Lord waves for some whisky mist–because, apparently, why be sober when you are about to conspire against the CandyMen–the lights dim and go out.
Sponge grabs the edge of the table and holds his breath, blood wheezing in his ears. But no one else stands up alarmed. Spawns keep talking all around them, a puffing, laughing, buzzing darkness that crawls and sighs.
“Lucy?” he whispers.
“Right here, I just killed my light. The show begins.”
In the darkness, the stage floorboards creak; the microphone squeals and makes his ears pop. A voice rips the air, ripe with desire and sweet like a fig. It hits him hard, slaps him in the face, loosens a little screw wedged in his chest that kept it all back and properly winded. He comes alive, in remembrance of lyrics he never heard before.
The lights fade back in but he cannot bear to look at the stage. Bravery is an overrated cunt, Ally had said once, sipping her dirty martini while pointing at a roach crawling on the wall, so he could kill it with a rolled Motomag. He glances at the Lord instead, still standing next to him, and the tears running down his porcelain face hurt worse than a broken bone. There is an expression on his face he cannot interpret. Sponge looks up to the stage.
Blind Ally wears her tight corset and her underwire crinoline skirt and her suspenders and her trademark silk blindfold, all too familiar in an unfamiliar way. She sways on her black heels, and sings as if nothing has ever changed in this world of hers, deprived of colors and shapes; a world defined by whooshes and rustling and boards that creak under each calculated step a thousand times rehearsed at nights when he was not here, was not here to applaud and cheer and whistle, at nights when he was someplace else, busy not remembering.
Sponge stands up to hit the bar, but Lucy grabs his arm.
“Susie Q.!” she whispers under her breath.
“What?” he says, his throat dry, eyes still on Ally.
“What’s she doing here? Quick, you got to get out. She can’t see us together. Fuck.” She pushes him out of his chair and shakes the Lord, tugging his shirt, all too fast and under the table. Then, she crouches and dims her light even more, and talks too quickly.
“Meet us at the seaside apartment, first light.”
“Where?” Sponge says, finally taking notice of Susie.
“We know the place,” the Lord cuts in and fishes a rolled cigarette out of his pocket. Lucy nods and scuttles off, straight to the bar, blending in with men that tip their panama hats and offer her their small talk.
The Lord of Dead Ends turns away from the stage, his lips tight to hold back words or screams or vomit. Sponge downs his whiskey mist and winces as it burns his throat, his stomach convulsing. Then, he grabs the Lord’s glass, but before he has time to touch it to his lips, the Lord snatches it away and places it back on the table.
“Don’t be stupid.” The Lord leaves a couple of notes on the table and drags him along, out in the street, away.
I walk out of the cabaret, black heels in hand, and sigh. Well done, Ally, you forgot again–Thursday is bus strike day. Right. Wonderful. I look up and down the highway with its 5 am close to zero traffic and can spot absolutely no trace of a cab. Not even the whiff of a rickshaw’s tailpipe. Nothing. Even the air lacks its usual foggy sea-breeze flavor. Makes sense. Vapor factory workers joined the gold miners on indefinite wildcat strike last week and the whole city gets to breathe. Walking it is. I sling my backpack across my shoulders and cross the highway, feet protesting my quick pace.
Physical pain feels good now though, familiar. An anchor. Stress grips my guts and squeezes them; my stomach growls, but eating is out of the question. First, I have to make a stop at home to get the keys to the old seaside apartment. Why did fucking Susie have the brilliant idea to come over to the cabaret, to grant me the great pleasure of her sublime company tonight of all nights? Normally, I don’t mind listening to her in bed, unwinding after a day of wanton violence and other trivialities, I don’t even mind us fucking, same as I don’t mind fucking anyone. Tonight though, even sitting across from her took every last crumble of discipline and willpower. Surprise, Miro is mentioned and suddenly you got your limits, Ally. King of self-respect.
Or, she might be onto us, which would make for terrible timing. How classic. I roll down my shirt sleeves as the breeze picks up and push open the jingling door of the bakery under Mum’s apartment. The smell of bread and baked quince embraces me as the small talk with the owner’s daughter takes its beaten way. I wave goodbye, and squeeze my brain to recall her name, but I can only remember that it’s something fitting for a freckled baker’s offspring. I can be such an arrogant prick.
I take the stairs up, winding and wide, their marble worn and dull and cracked, and can’t help picturing what it would be like to descend these stairs back when this complex was properly treated and cared for. Back when it housed taffeta-clad merchants of the most exquisite manners, when its various rooms were not diminished to housing those of little means, whole families cramped in ball room number thirteen.
Before I pull out my key, Mum cracks the door, her hair disheveled from sleep.
“Hi, Mum.” Thin red veins fork on the whites of her eyes. She looks over my shoulder and down to the bag I am holding and finally at my face, her delicate eyebrows frowning.
“Where have you been?” She opens the door and ushers me in. Our room is dark apart from the light of the table lamp by her sofa bed. The sheets are tangled and Stephen Fry’s Making History lies face down on top of them, one of dad’s favorite and one of the last he had managed to smuggle into the country before the borders closed for good.
“Are you reading it again?” I leave the backpack by the piano and roll my shoulders.
“Where have you been? Alessandro? Are you ok?” The curtains are shut and it smells stuffy and syrupy sweet. She must have been binging on granny’s walnut spoon sweet. My glance flickers on the top shelves above the camping stove only to spot the jar half-empty.
“I brought you some breakfast.” There must be raisin bread somewhere in the bags. “I’m ok. I’m sorry you were worried, I didn’t mean to…” I trail off and walk up to the window to let some fresh air in.
“I was worried sick, baby. I went downstairs and woke up Auntie Smaro to use her telephone, but the damned thing just coughed some sparks and croaked. You should see the smoke, and the smell, ugh.” She makes a disgusted noise and carries the bags to the table, her eyes narrow as she peers into them. Mum always disapproves of me spending my wages on such silly luxuries but she never mouths it out. I always know anyway, but I appreciate her silence. A sigh escapes me and I slump on the bed; suddenly, I miss her.
“I’ll chip in to buy her a new one. Maybe we can get one for us as well.”
“No, Honey, don’t worry about it, me and auntie will figure something out. Maybe we’ll fetch Korina’s son, what’s his name?”
“Yes, yes, Leonard, maybe we’ll have Leonard take a look at it, in case he can fix it. Handsome boy, isn’t he?”
“Mum, it doesn’t sound like it can be fixed.” There is only so much I can tell her. When she found out about the cabaret, she shrugged and said she always knew that music would win me over. Nor did I hear a word of complaint when I left my job as a zeppelin steward with all its benefits. Her advice was to always save some money aside for the dentist. She gave me my first stage corset. She stopped talking to friends that arched their eyebrows at me being Ally. But I could never bring myself to tell her about Susie. To look her in the eye and admit how much I crave all kinds of bruises.
She stops rummaging through the bags and looks up at me with such sharp and piercing horror that my heart jumps.
“What’s this?” She points at the sweet pumpkin pie, her index finger a little crooked from years of piano practice. Particles of icing sugar float around as she violently rumples the top of the bag and I inhale, a breath sharp that fills my lungs, a sweet taste on the tip of my tongue masking the bitterness. I hate sweet pumpkin pie, but it was Miro’s favorite. I bought it without thinking, out of dated habit and brand-new hope. I didn’t even manage to steal a glance at his spawns last night and there was an uncanny relief and a deep disappointment when I took off my blindfold and they were gone.
“Alessandro? What’s going on, Baby?” Mum runs her fingers through my hair, her skin cold. I flinch away and glance at dad’s cuckoo’s clock.
“I must get going,” I mumble and walk over to my dresser, fumbling with its handles as if my hands have forgotten how to perform any fine moves.
“Who’s the pie for?” she says in a whisper that carries the force of a wave three meters tall. Miro is sitting on the edge of the bed, legs stretched out and feet crossed, holding a cigarette between his thumb and index. He leans back for a fleeting kiss, his lips sugar-dusted.
“Baby, don’t tell me it’s all about Miro again,” her voice sounds soft now, but only on the surface.
Finally I fish out the keys to the apartment and turn around, avoiding her gaze. What can I tell her? Where would I start?
“It’s our anniversary, that’s all.” I was thinking of taking a shower to rinse all Susieness out, but there is no time. Maybe at the apartment.
“That’s why you’re taking the keys? You’ll go over there and be all mopey?” Mum pushes her hair back, combs it with her fingers and tries to tie a ribbon around it. “All those years and you still let your life revolve around a–”
“Mum, don’t start again,” come on, not now. She snorts and folds her arms on her chest, straightens her back and swells up, a fragile peacock ready to caw and bite.
“He was not good for you. No damn good for anyone. Your eyes were always red and puffed, bruises under layers of clothing. How many times did you have to lie to the nurse, huh? Or to me? Or to your friends? He should have gone back the way he came, to his backwater homophobic country.”
“Mum, his country had nothing to do with it.” Her rants against Miro’s origin always shock me, coming from my mum, a human rights activist long before it was fashionable. One of my most vivid memories are her and me at a crowded demonstration, running away from tear gas, wearing hospital masks slathered with Vaseline.
“Where you come from always matters. History’s whole point.” She turns her back to me and wipes her eyes on the sleeve of her knitted jacket. “You didn’t deserve all this misery. Hadn’t he jumped I would have strangled him with my own bare hands.”
“All right.” No time to argue, Mum. I shiver at the cold draft coming from the open window and start shoving my stuff in a sling bag. My limbs feel heavy and uncoordinated; a chilling sense of dread crawls up my spine.
“Aren’t you going to get any sleep? You’re so pale, Honey,” she says, studying me, her eyes small and even redder than before. Lack of sleep. Right. I forgot. I turn around and throw my arms around her, holding her tight, afraid that if I let her go now, she will float up to the ceiling, up out of the window, up to the clear morning sky where I won’t be able to reach her any more, and she will keep floating away, past clouds, past seagulls, past zeppelins and the moon, until she becomes one of the little meaningless dots pinned on the sky.
“I have to meet Lucy and some new people at the old seaside apartment. It’s important.” I try my best not to sound alarmed, but panic rages in my chest, raising my voice up an octave. We’re walking down the all-or-nothing road now and it doesn’t take much for her to recognize the ring of finality in my words. Mum presses her lips together and nods, and runs her fingers through my hair.
“Are you close? Should I start packing?” she whispers and I let go and wear my loafers again, feet still aching. I grunt and quickly put on a fresh shirt and sloppily pin my hair up.
“How do I look?” I ask and force a smile that must look a bit nutty.
“Perfect, Honey. Please, be careful.”
My turn to nod and float away into the cold morning light, on a bus strike day-damn it, to make her proud, to go and do something that matters.
What’s the Point of Ugly Mermaids?
“Do you think it’s too early for a swirl cone?” The Lord of Dead Ends is always hungry. Sponge shrugs as they pass by an ice-cream canteen, its pink paint flaking.
The statue of the Fallen Mermaid at the center of the square grunts and screeches as its cogs move the tail to roughly tell the hour. The plaque on the ground says that it’s dedicated to the memory of some girl among the first who jumped. The length people go to in order to deal with grief. The Lord of Dead Ends has no idea if it helps, but he certainly hopes it does because this is a hell of an ugly mermaid. Right next to the statue stands Tin Soldier Anna, selling her bubble tea and unprocessed rice coupons. Spawns huddle in front of her, but few can afford her wares. Next to him, Sponge snorts at the sight and clutches his sun umbrella which he uses as a walking stick for now.
They spent all night arguing over the bloody fact that Sponge had kept so much from him. Lack of trust stung so gingerly that he could hardly control the volume of his voice or his hands banging on the table. He had to wear the padded suit all night in fear he would maim himself, such was the force of his rage. And as many times he flirted with the idea of throwing himself out of the window, the fear of ending up a cripple always stopped him. After a few bouts that took up the small hours, the anger dissipated leaving behind a throbbing wound trapped in a porcelain casket. Such tantrums would only lead to a dead end. That much, he remembers.
They walk past the square and take a turn on their right that leads them straight to the narrow quay next to one of the city’s beaches. The building blocks that loom up at the side of the street brim with flower beds. The exterior walls look freshly painted and the balcony railings glimmer at the morning sun. One of the few such neighborhoods left so close to spawn territory. The Lord unzips his suit down to his collar bone to let the sunrays touch his skin. His glance wanders down at the sandy beach, devoid of umbrellas and sunbeds and upbeat beach bars and melting freddo cappuccinos. This place used to look so different.
“Do you really remember this place?” asks Sponge, squinting at the sun.
“Just flashes. You don’t?” the Lord asks and leans against a metallic bench.
Sponge shakes his head and opens his umbrella to prevent the raisin effect. “Isn’t it funny that we remember different things from Miro’s life?”
“It’s funny we remember anything. I don’t like it. Feels weird.” The Lord tries hard not to sulk but he can’t help it. From the moment they saw Blind Ally on the stage, memories pop up as disjointed and random peeks into somebody else’s life, goading out emotions that feel hollow and inescapable at the same time. So annoying. Sponge climbs on the bench and sits on its back, extending the umbrella’s shadow to him. A conciliatory move after last night’s argument. The Lord is not quite ready to let it go but he doesn’t protest either. Warmth feels good but glazing costs a lot, after all.
“Ally was our girlfriend, right?” Sponge asks, his eyes nailed on the pavement.
“Boyfriend you mean?”
Sponge snaps up, looking genuinely surprised. “Ally is a…”
“Yep, his name is Alessandro, that’s what I got when I went all Total Recall.”
“That’s not an accurate comparison, at all,” Sponge says trying to bite his nails, then looking down at his fingers, momentarily shocked there are no nails to bite. The Lord chuckles. Same thing happened to him last night. Apparently, the person they used to be had at least one nasty habit. “And anyway, I do like Dick’s story better.” That’s pure Sponge though; his annoying obsession with Philip K. Dick started years ago, when he joined a reading club way too infatuated with the fucking Electric Sheep. “Do you think we loved her?” Sponge slouches and the roof of the umbrella hits the Lord’s head. He snatches it from him and holds it higher.
“We had nothing to do with Alessandro.” He springs up. “We were not there.” He starts walking away, not looking back even when Sponge does not follow.
“Should we pretend we don’t know?” Sponge asks in a voice that melts his heart. Why did he have to drag them in all this mess? Couldn’t he see it would all go to shit? Sponge did not deserve such misery, over and over and over again. The Lord sighs and turns around.
“We can’t pretend. But, in any case, we should remember that we are not who he used to know or love or trust. He will be disappointed, Sponge. So, brace yourself.”
Sponge just stands there for a few long moments, eyeing him, pouting like a scolded child. Then, slowly, he starts walking towards him.
“You are being hyperbolic, again. And, between us, you are the one more apt to take a hard fall,” Sponge says and snatches the umbrella back, “Mr. Fragile.”
Sponge is right. What a sweeping surprise. He has his cause and his social circles and his obsession with cabarets. Reading clubs and endless debates on the arts. Lucy the Lamp. Fishing swirling magnet-ducks in luna parks. The Lord swallows hard and presses his lips together. He made sure he has nothing to fall back on.
I toss the towel on the bathroom floor and, still dripping, I walk over to the closet by the bed and just stare at it, shivering. Come on now, you don’t have time for this. The closet doors, painted in chalkboard paint, are covered with lyrics of half-finished songs and riffs and random verses that sounded good but fitted nowhere at the time. Stray doodles sprout here and there: Cthulhu eating a steam-o-cart, a winged penis –my creation, of course–, a rat and a clock and something like a thorned plant. The square box up on the right corner that we used as a notice board, reads “If you didn’t get coffee, get the hell out” in Miro’s neat handwriting. Did I? I grit my teeth and take a deep breath and open the closet.
The smell of camphor floods the air and makes me cough. A selection of dark t-shirts and shirts and jeans hang orderly on the right side. My side looks plundered. I left only what I couldn’t bear wearing any longer. Most of his gifts. My cinched waist cardigan. My favorite blue sweatshirt. My silly toed socks that lie tangled on the bottom of the closet next to the sex toys’ box. The urge to grab a pair of scissors and tear them all apart flashes and faints. I pick a dark red t-shirt and jeans instead, and bang the doors shut. Miro was not much taller than me but he was a fucking anorexic, so I’m having some difficulty sliding into his jeans. The only thing he ate was pumpkin freaking pie, for God’s sake.
The doorbell rings and I jump. All right, steady now, it might be Lucy. I quickly throw the wet towel in the laundry basket and swing the door open, cursing the lack of a peephole. It’s all three of them.
“Hi,” I say and lean on the door as I nod to them to come inside, hands trembling.
“Good morning, Sweetheart,” Lucy says and I barely notice her. Next to her stands a short bald man–sorry, spawn, his skin bright yellow, casually dressed, clutching an umbrella. This must be Sponge. He flashes an awkward smile that looks kind of spooky. And next to him stands a much taller spawn, dressed in a weird full body suit much like a scuba-diver’s. The resemblance is there, sweet God, the cheekbones and the lips and the eyebrows, and the hair; my eyes sting with tears and I have to struggle not to let out a scream of relief. Thank you God, it’s not him.
I smile, wipe my eyes on my sleeve–shit, stop crying–and let them in. The small living room feels cramped even when they are seated. Don’t stare at them, for fuck’s sake, say something.
“Can I get you something? Coffee? Tea? I’ve got…” My tongue is tripping on words. “Pumpkin pie?” My face must look so stupid with such a cheap and fraying mask on. Sponge looks furtively around, sitting on the edge of his seat, while the Lord of Dead Ends leans back, his arms stretched on the back of the couch, legs crossed, eyeing me. Stomach pang. Don’t blush, please.
“Nice apartment,” Sponge says and smiles. “I’ll have some pumpkin pie, thank you.”
Unable to speak, I nod and turn around–how long can I spend hiding in the kitchen?
“And some coffee for me.” His voice hits me hard, sends me spiraling down in a world where I love serving him his morning coffee right after I’ve sucked his cock, where the pain from my tied wrists wakes me up in the middle of the night, where we’re rehearsing a song until my throat hurts and his calloused ring finger bleeds on the violin.
“Black? The coffee?” As usual? Don’t turn around.
Once everything is settled on the coffee table and we’re back to awkward mode, Lucy lets out an exasperated sigh.
“All right. We have no time to mop your faces off the floor. You can all broodingly stare at each other in silence after we see this done and our asses are safe.”
Right. Fucking perfect timing.
“So, all we know so far is that Tony didn’t tell Susie anything,” Lucy says and turns to Sponge for confirmation.
“Uhm, yes,” he says.
“Though we don’t know how much he spilled out when he was with more private company,” the Lord says and sips some coffee, trying to suppress a little crooked smile. I make a hell of a coffee. Focus now. “But, to begin with, what’s the deal with the bird? What do you want to do with it? You have it, I assume.”
“We need the automaton bird to expose what is happening at the Sites. They are throwing humans in the Holes, lowlifes mostly, and they use the newborn spawns to man their ranks,” Lucy says in haste, holding her cup midair.
“So?” the Lord asks.
“What do you mean?” Sponge says. “It’s horrible! You know the state we’re in when we emerge. To take advantage of spawns in such a vulnerable-”
“That’s not all.” Lucy turns to me and I shrug. If they’re working for Susie, we’re already fucked anyway. She nods and continues. “The CandyMen are raising an army. They are planning to march against the city authorities. Actually, we have inside information that they are preparing for a full-blown coup.”
The Lord of Dead Ends snorts, earning sharp glances from Lucy and Sponge.
“And how did you get this inside information?”
My heart thumps. “From Susie Q. herself.” His face is still smudged with a smirk of disbelief. How much I want to smash your teeth right now. “She told me. We’ve been fucking on and off for the past year.” My voice comes out cold and flat, though my palms are clammy. Instead of a fit of jealousy, I get silence. I’m such an idiot.
“Are you sure she is not feeding you false info?” the Lord says and he sounds genuinely unbothered. Despite any superficial relief, my heart sinks in a pit of anger.
“For a whole year? Why would she do that?” Lucy says.
“All right, let’s consider your information valid. What do we do with the bird?” Sponge says and takes a bite of the pumpkin pie.
“That’s where Tony came in the plan. He is, was, a well-connected cop. He figured out that the CandyMen were up to something big well before contacting us. He needed evidence to back up his theory, of course. Thus the bird.” Lucy puts her cup down. “A week ago he was supposed to take the case to his boss. But we haven’t seen him since. We have no idea whether he managed to warn his superiors before Susie picked him up.”
“What if he spoke to his superiors, and they are the ones who ratted him out to Susie?” Sponge says. “Susie wouldn’t risk going after an officer unless she got the green light from someone higher up.”
Yep, that’s what we’re trying to tell you, we’re screwed. “I think that must be the case. She has never tried anything like this before. And she seems quite comfortable with the whole situation. She knew very well who he was.” I try not to bite my lip. “It must have been his superior or someone even higher up that gave him to Susie.” I let a breath out and fumble in my pockets for my cigarettes and then I realize I’m not wearing my clothes.
“So, I presume that you dragged us into this mess to die happily all together?” the Lord asks.
“Sponge is the one who contacted us first,” Lucy says. “And, you are free to leave if you want.”
“Seriously? After we might have been spotted coming here?”
I nod at the Lord’s tobacco pouch and he hands it to me. I start rolling.
“As you said, Tony didn’t say anything. And last night Susie acted normal. It’s a bit out of the blue that she came to the cabaret, she doesn’t often do this, but, still, nothing weird or suspicious came out when I was with her.”
“She might have been checking you out. Are you sure you were not followed here?” The Lord offers his lighter.
Lucy coughs and intervenes.
“Initially, when we didn’t know what happened to Tony, we thought that we should drop everything and leave. But, where would we go? Fleeing the country is not an option. We cannot afford the smugglers. And hiding in the provinces would be pointless. Susie has people everywhere. Plus, I’m not easy to hide.” Lucy smiles. “So, we thought we should destroy the bird, lay low and if we survived this, maybe try again in the future. That’s where you would come in. But, since you are saying that we’re good, we can still use the bird we have.”
“And what are we going to do with it? Try to guess which cop is not corrupted so we can-”
“No,” Sponge says as he soundlessly taps his fingers on the table. “We’ll give it to the media.”
“That’s fucking Hollywood talking now,” the Lord says, but Lucy’s light flickers already.
“Lose the sarcasm, for once.” Sponge looks flushed. “If the footage is aired there will be public outrage. Humans hate our guts. They are scared shitless at the sight of us. They will be forced to pull back. Heads might roll. Imagine what would happen if it was even implied that Spawns are throwing humans to the Holes, planning a god damn coup!”
It’s easy to imagine. My skin crawls and I can feel my hair at the back of my neck stand up. It’s not my fault I’m human, but still, guilt engulfs me.
“There will be a slaughter,” Sponge says, eyes fixed on the coffee table. “And we will have provided the ammunition. The excuse to treat our kind a million ways shittier than before. It will thrust the whole country backwards. The human rights amendments might be recanted. It will be butter on the right wing extremists’ bread. If we do this, none of us will be able to sleep at night.”
The Lord takes a sharp breath and steals my cigarette with a silent “may I?”
“So, should we do nothing?” Lucy says, wiping her sweaty hands on her skirt.
“I didn’t say that,” says Sponge, looking up at her. “All I’m saying, is that there will be consequences.”
“We can’t just sit on it. Knowing they are killing humans? Exploiting spawns? How many people are going to die if there is a coup?” Lucy’s voice breaks but her light almost burns my eyes. “And who are we to decide that the truth is best to remain hidden? Shouldn’t we at least try and have some faith in people? They might-”
“No.” The Lord exhales. “We cannot rely on our faith in humanity to justify our actions. Just so we can sleep at night. Sponge is right. If the public knows, there will be blood. If the coup happens, there will be blood. We choose with our eyes open. No sugarcoating.”
I agree. I have to use the bathroom but I stay put and swallow hard. Bile is crawling up my throat; I want to gag.
“I think,” I swallow again, “that there is no way to know what the outcome might be whether we act or not. There is no real dilemma. It’s an impossible choice. My guess is that we are going to have trouble sleeping anyway, if we make it out alive, that is.”
“What do you suggest?” Lucy asks and I realize I am standing.
“To focus on what we know for a fact. We know what is happening at the Holes. That’s it.”
The Lord snorts. “That’s naïve.”
“Any other ideas?” I snap. “And Lucy might just be right. People might see the footage for what it is: a bunch of criminals taking advantage of the situation in order to seize power. We cannot infantilize people, manipulating them with our inertia in the name of protecting them.” Oh God, I sound like my mum–shut the fuck up. My cheeks burn and my mouth feels dry. “I need to pee.”
The distance to the bathroom never felt so long. I unbutton his jeans, I sit – I always sit, unless I’m out –, I let go and there’s this instant familiar relief; then up again, I flush, wash my hands, glance at the mirror to straighten an unruly tuft. “Are you in there?” I tap at the glass. I’m not, and it’s soothing. To take a step back. Too much is happening at once.
Once I’m back in the living room, a bizarre sight awaits me. Sponge has climbed on the Lord’s shoulders, and they are clumsily balancing under the built-in storage compartment, right above the bookcase.
“What are you doing?” I gawk at them in disbelief. That’s where Miro kept the Christmas decorations along with broken suitcases he refused to throw away. Sponge takes the handle and pulls the square door open. Dust and glitter rain down on the books.
“They were mumbling something about money,” Lucy says as she comes to stand next to me, hands propped on her waist.
“It’s supposed to be a green box,” the Lord says and puffs as Sponge tries to squeeze his torso in the small opening. “Did you take it maybe?”
A few moments pass before I realize he is talking to me.
“What? No!” His rudeness slaps me back into reality. I didn’t even know it existed. Miro was indeed very secretive with money–he feared that if he didn’t take precautions, he would die penniless under a bridge.
“Found it,” Sponge yells and steps on the Lord’s shoulders and pulls himself whole into the cramped compartment. The Lord rolls his shoulders and unzips his suit down to his chest.
“About time, you’re fucking heavy for a sponge.”
There is a thump at the front door. My blood turns to ice. We all stay still, staring at the corridor, ears stretched.
The Lord teeters as Sponge climbs back down on his shoulders and I swoop towards him, to prevent his fall. Sponge quickly jumps on the floor, clutching a small green box in his arms. Lucy turns her light off and tiptoes towards the door to put her ear against it. She signals me to check out of the window. I run as quietly as I can and draw the curtain back to peek down at the street. Three classic gear-laden bikes are parked by the pavement; Orlando the Troll is riding one. Susie’s men. Fuck. My hand flies up to my mouth as I turn to face the others.
“Quick. Service stairs,” the Lord whispers and shoves us into the kitchen.
“Lucy, get the bird,” I say and she retrieves the cage from under the kitchen sink. The bird flutters against the thin bars and caws as it lunges at her fingers.
“Shit, why is it turned on?” Lucy nearly screams.
“It was all out of steam when we brought it here,” I say, gaping at it in horror.
Sponge grabs the cage and takes a good look at the frenzied automaton.
“Its mechanism. Self-winded. See this set of pipes here? And probably it gave away its location too, see this red dot?”
“Sponge, not now,” the Lord says. “Can you make it stop?”
Thump, thump, crack. Oh, fuck, oh, fuck.
“Get out!” the Lord says and I fumble for the service door key, but my fingers are useless. Lucy grabs the keys, takes out one and unlocks the door. She nods at me. I glance at the others.
“I’ll stall them. It used to be my home, it makes sense why I would be here,” the Lord says and looks over his shoulder.
“No,” says Sponge and grabs his arm.
“They might not know of your involvement,” the Lord says, looking at me and then at Lucy.
“No.” Sponge pulls him hard and the bird jumps at the chance and bites him. Sponge winces and curses under his breath, but he doesn’t drop the cage. Yellow porous skin hangs out of the bird’s beak. Sponge readjusts his grip and looks back at the Lord, his eyes watery. “Hurry up.” He shoves the Lord in front of him and pushes him toward the back door.
I let a breath out and start climbing down the rusty stairs constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure everyone is coming. I never used the stairs before, so I have no idea where it leads to. Won’t they be waiting for us at the bottom? Tenants look out of their windows as we rush down; railings creaking, bird screeching, steps echoing hollow. Stealthiest escape ever. At the building adjacent to ours, a wide-eyed lady wearing a Minnie Mouse apron is staring at us through her kitchen window. Miss Whinybee! Oh gosh, what’s her real name?
“Can we come through?” I mouth silently. She waves us in and we dash forward, one after the other, until she shuts the door behind us and locks it.
“Alessandro?” she asks, looking at us in disbelief. She seemed half gone five years ago. I’m surprised she even recognizes me now.
“Hello, Mrs. Lenny,” says the Lord and smiles apologetically. Right, Mrs. Lenny.
“Miroslav? What is all this fuss about?”
“We apologize for distressing you, Mrs. Lenny, but you see, we need to pass through your house. We were locked outside while painting the railings.”
“Oh, boys, that’s very considerate of you. They’re all so rusty.” She raises her hand to touch his face, but she changes her mind midway. “You are so pale, sweetheart. Are you hungry?”
“Right, another time maybe, thank you for letting us through,” I say and force a smile as I draw the curtain shut. The bird lets out a piercing squawk that makes us all jump and Sponge opens the cage door to try to catch it.
“No, you’re hurt,” Lucy says leaning forward to help him but he shoos her away.
“Oh, poor thing, is it broken?” Mrs. Lenny asks and leans over the cage to take a better look at it. It’s an awful thing to say, but dementia kind of suits her. Took the edge out of her.
“Do you have its winding key?” Sponge asks over the violent fluttering.
“Upstairs,” Lucy says and tries to hold the cage upright.
“I have a spare one,” Mrs. Lenny says and starts rummaging the drawers.
Ten minutes later, and with the bird out of steam and safely secured in Sponge’s pocket, we dare to walk out of the building. Its entrance faces a different part of the street, a few stores down from where the bikes are parked. The street turns right just a few meters ahead, so if we make it there unnoticed we might have a chance.
“All right. We can do this,” Sponge whispers and I can’t help but look down to his fingers. A small part of his index finger is missing and blood smudges his palm. I frantically fumble in my pockets for a hair ribbon, but these are not my clothes, shit, and I pull the one that holds my hair up instead. I wrap it around his wound and tie it in a cute little bow. There, fixed, see?
Maybe the bow is over-kill.
Sponge gapes at me, his mouth half-open. What the fuck am I doing?
“Sorry,” I mumble. I’m losing it.
“Don’t worry,” he whispers. “Thanks.”
“Come on,” Lucy says and she dashes forward. One by one, our feet hit the pavement and we run. I don’t dare to look back. My wheezing breath covers all sounds. We turn right and then left in an alley, and keep running until my calves burn. As soon as we pour forth in the first avenue we find, I hear a bike revving up on my side. Someone grabs my arm and hauls me in a narrow street on my left.
“Run,” Sponge says, next to me. Lucy and the Lord rush ahead.
“Did they miss us?” Lucy asks over her shoulder, but no one answers.
This last turn leads to a wall. I stop and bend over, trying to catch my breath. My chest hurts and sweat stings my eyes. A dead end, of course.
“Fuck!” Sponge says and collapses against a trash can which rolls to the side.
“No, get up,” the Lord says, glaring at him. He grabs the can and pushes it against the wall. “Lucy, you first.”
The wall is not too tall. It might work. Lucy climbs on the trash can and starts pulling herself up the wall.
“You.” The Lord points at me, but I shake my head, still trying to catch my breath.
“I need a moment. You first.”
He turns around and begins to climb, but no one is there to hold the trash can steady. It slides. Out of the corner of my eye, Sponge lunges forward just in time to break the Lord’s fall.
“Helps to be a sponge, huh?” Sponge says and grunts.
“Thanks,” the Lord says and helps Sponge up. Before I know it, I’m by their side, scanning the Lord for any cracks and Sponge for any kind of injury, though damn me if I know what that’s supposed to look like.
“You’re both stupid. Start climbing. I’ll follow.”
Sponge is halfway up when I hear the engines’ growl closing in on us.
“Sponge, hurry up,” I say and look the Lord straight in the eye. “We’ll stall them.” If Sponge is protesting, I can’t hear him. The bikes are just around the corner.
Thankfully, when they appear, Sponge has vanished down the other side. It’s just three of them and not even her most trusted ones. That’s a surprise. I glance at the Lord.
“What do you think? Ready to put up a fight?”
The Lord smirks, then smiles, then laughs until tears flood his eyes.
“Was this the worst idea you ever had?” the Lord says, sprawled on the tiles, his back against the wall. His head feels as if it’s about to explode, making it hard to talk. Alessandro sits crouched opposite him, hugging his knees. His lower lip has bled down to his chin and a bruise blooms on his cheek.
“No. I’m capable of much worse,” he says and smiles and lets out a gasp of pain.
The room that Susie’s men threw them into is no bigger than the security booth, only it’s stripped down to just floor and walls. The door doesn’t look reinforced, but their larceny skills failed them when they tried to open it.
“Are you sure we are at the Site?” Alessandro asks, squinting at the fluorescent light.
“Site Six. Ground level. The Hole is nearby.” No one came for them. The silence stretches outside the door, more threatening than any kind of yell. “Do you think they are coming?” the Lord asks, mostly to keep the monster at bay.
“I’ve been thinking about it. Susie sent out very few men, maybe no more than the three we saw. And they were not her best, not by far.”
“Expendables,” the Lord says.
“Exactly. I think she will deal with us on her own to protect her status. Losing face could ruin her.”
“You mean if word gets out that her lover was behind everything,” the Lord says. “Do you think she got the others?” Even asking hurts, the words themselves burn his throat and turn his tongue to lead.
Alessandro’s shoulders slump. “Do you remember… maybe… what happens when you jump?”
It’s a sensible question but he didn’t see it coming. The Lord looks down at his hands resting on his lap. The padded suit is ripped apart in places, exposing his knuckles. Hairline cracks run along his skin, blood shining red under the light. He briefly considers lying. Screw it.
“Uhm, I don’t remember much. Uhm, the pain? Yes, this we all remember. For me, it was like someone tore my heart out of my chest.” And left it writhing in the dark until it was dead. “You…” It’s so hard to chase the words into some kind of order. “The split. It’s like, the same force that kept you together in a whole now pushes you apart. You are disoriented, completely confused. There is this foul smell, the disgusting feeling of slime under your feet. It’s cold. Then you start climbing up with all you have. It’s frantic.” The Lord sighs, his mouth dry. “When you reach the surface, you realize you remember nothing. You only recognize the spawns that came up with you. You know their names, and that’s pretty much all,” he looks up and sees that Alessandro is watching him closely, his eyes sunk.
“So, you don’t remember what you are called? The others tell you?”
Alessandro pulls himself closer. “What about your old life?”
The Lord shakes his head. “Nothing.” He pulls the suit down to try and cover the cracks, but Alessandro gently pushes him back and takes his hand into his inspecting it closely. “Has it spread?” he asks and leans towards the Lord, checking his neck and face.
The Lord gazes at him, at his long hair that looks so good disheveled, at his lithe arms, at the bruises. “You are pretty,” he blurts before thinking, but it’s okay. They are finished.
Alessandro glares at him and snorts.
“You know, Miro always did that. He chose the most inappropriate time to flirt with me.”
“Did it work?”
Alessandro pretends to ignore him and clutches the zipper. “May I?” The Lord almost jerks away in fear that it’s just the suit that’s holding him together. “I’ll be careful,” Alessandro whispers and goes on slowly, revealing red spider-web cracks that run along his chest and sides and shoulders. He looks up at the Lord, gritting his teeth.
“I guess it’s safe to assume that’s my new look overall.”
The Lord shrugs and smiles. “It doesn’t hurt that much.” He fishes his tobacco pouch out of the suit’s inner pocket and starts rolling. “So, how come he jumped? I mean, it happened years after the Holes first opened up. Was it an accident?”
Alessandro looks him straight in the eye, lips pressed together in a thin line.
“Sort of.” He hugs his knees again. “I’ll need a drag. Maybe you should roll another one.” They stay silent until the cigarette is down to half. “I wanted to jump. He wanted me to jump. I hoped that the Hole would change me.” His voice cracks and he struggles to retain some control over his face. “Miro always said how he would like me to be…”
“A girl?” Outrage hides in his voice. Alessandro wipes his tears with his palm.
“Different. He was so angry. That we were together, that he couldn’t eat like a normal human being, that he couldn’t make a living playing the violin, that he couldn’t give up his addictions. I was desperate to make him happier, if not happy.”
“And jumping into a Hole would help? That’s-”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t stupid! Now, I understand I needed to leave him. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it, I was mad about him. Mad. Something needed to change.”
The Lord takes a drag, lets the smoke flood his lungs before he speaks.
“So, suicide sounded nice.” The dead-end resonates so deep within him that he can hear the tiny cracks spreading. “I take it you both went to a Hole? The plan was that you would jump, and he was going to wait for your spawns?”
“Right to the end, I couldn’t fathom that he would let me do it,” Alessandro whispers, his voice hoarse. “When he reached out to take my blindfold away, I jerked back and started crying. The next thing I hear is him running. He took off his own blindfold instead of mine.” Alessandro makes a choking noise as he struggles to breathe, his eyes red and swollen. “And I couldn’t move. I couldn’t scream. I wanted to run after him. Only I didn’t really.” He breaks down, sobbing. The Lord pulls him in his arms, rests his chin on his head. His hair smells of sweat and bitter almond.
“He was fucked up. And you were fucked up. Pretty combo you made, huh?” the Lord says. “Do you still want to see a Hole?”
Alessandro shakes his head. “No.” The Lord holds him tight, cracking faintly.
“All right.” It’s all pretty clear now. “Well, you got to admit that the revised edition rocks.” Alessandro gives up a gargling sound. Charming.
“What shall I call you?” Alessandro asks and sits up.
“I’m the L-”
“That’s not a name. Cheesy as fuck. Choose one.”
The Lord smiles and remains silent. The idea rings absurd. He likes it.
“I would go for James.”
Alessandro pouts. “Sounds a bit generic.”
“Now, you’re pushing it.” They giggle. “I never really had the chance to ask you, what do you want me to call you? Alessandro? Ally?”
Alessandro fumbles for words for a few moments. “I go by both. Depends,” he frowns and blushes. “I think I lean toward Ally.”
“All right. You look more like an Ally, anyway.” So, Sponge was right. He leans closer and takes Ally’s face in his hands, skin soft and hot from crying against his cold fingers. The kiss stretches his lips into a smile even before it’s finished. He half-expected it to warm him from the inside, to fill the cracks, to somehow obey to fairy-tale standards. His smile widens as he watches Ally tracing the cracks on his face. Just a kiss, after all. Perfect.
Out of the door comes a crunching sound, as if someone steps on autumn leaves or candy wrapping. Susie’s trademark walk. Ally looks at him in panic.
“Fuck her. I’m James now, baby.”
Sponge didn’t expect it to be so easy. He just used his Site ID plaque to get them in the building and no one was there to stop them when they broke into the ground floor storage room to get the tranquilizer guns. No sight of birds either.
“Maybe they are not here,” Lucy whispers looking around, wary. Lack of sleep winds them up, making them jumpy.
“I have no idea why the whole facility looks empty, but they’re here. Trust me,” Sponge says and pinches the bridge of his nose, trying to focus. Is he supposed to kung-fu all Susie’s men dead now? It would be equally effective with trying to shoot them unconscious. At least, Lucy managed to pass the bird to her contact that runs errands for the National Network Channel. A far shot, but pretty much all they got. Lucy insists that her contact has access to the control rooms, so if everything goes according to plan, the footage will be released in only a few hours, untampered.
“Do you hear that?” Lucy asks. Muffled voices. She points down to the end of the corridor. It’s the same one him and the Lord traverse to go to their booth. Sponge clutches his tranquilizer gun and nods. If everything goes according to plan, they will all be in a smuggler’s boat heading south by nightfall. Lucy left the money with Ally’s mum, and she seemed composed enough to arrange their passage.
Lucy pauses, so tense that her neck disappears into her shoulders.
“I’m not leaving without Ally,” she whispers, “or her spawns.”
“Me neither,” Sponge says and exhales. “Lucy,” he chews his lip, “what happens if a spawn falls in a Hole?” No one knows for sure, of course. There are rumors.
“I’ve heard we crash at the bottom,” she turns her back at him and starts walking toward the voices.
Encouraging. Sponge pats his pocket to make sure the extra darts didn’t slip out.
Crouched, they silently open the booth’s door. They lay low for a couple of breaths. The voices become louder. Sponge lifts his head to peek through the thick glass window right above the desk.
There is Susie Q., a good few steps behind the open Hole. Ally kneels in front of her, facing the Hole, blindfolded, thank goodness. The Lord is on the ground–oh fuck, on all fours, naked, bleeding through cracks. His hair falls across his face.
“Three of them in the back. With tranquilizing rifles,” Lucy whispers and Sponge spots Susie’s men and lowers his head out of sight.
“Honestly, what were you thinking? Why the hell would a spawn want to stop me? Are you fucking blind?” Susie’s voice carries such violence that Sponge feels his guts clench.
“Why wouldn’t we want to stop you? Such a charming empress you would make, huh? You’re no better than them, Susie,” the Lord says.
“No good? You came to me starving, penniless, shunned. That’s what fucking humans do to us. And I guarantee you, it will get even worse if they get hold of the bird.”
There is a thud and a bout of coughing. Sponge springs up but Lucy grabs him.
“Fuck off, Susie. The world owes you nothing.” The Lord’s voice sounds hoarse.
“Humans do. Have you ever been someone’s pet? Did you have to work day and night in the factories? Were you locked in a cage for the benefit of family entertainment? Did they crack your skin when they threw coins and rocks at you in the streets? Don’t you live in the same world where I live?” Shuffling and footsteps.
“You will fail. And then, when it’s over and you are dead, spawns will be the perfect scapegoat. We will never bounce back.” The Lord coughs again.
Lucy tugs Sponge’s sleeve. “You get the one closer to us, I’ll take the one in the middle. Let’s hope we have time to reload before the third jumps us.” Sponge nods and draws a sharp breath.
“It’s better than nothing,” Susie shouts.
Sponge kicks the booth door hard enough to unhinge it and takes aim. Lucy’s dart flies by him and finds its target. Sponge glances toward the Hole, the Lord has tripped Susie and they are wrestling on the ground while Ally is frantically trying to untie her blindfold.
“Ally, don’t!” Sponge yells and then sees Susie’s guard lunge at him. He raises his gun and fires at the last moment. “Lucy,” he screams as the third guard is aiming straight at him. Lucy frantically tries to reload and Sponge pulls a dart out of his pocket and charges at the guard. He crashes on him hard, but the guard grabs his hand and hits it on the wall beside him. Sponge screams and tries to bite him, but the next second the guard goes limp, Lucy’s dart protruding from his neck. Sponge kicks him off and turns towards the Hole.
The Lord still wrestles with Susie, a mass of blood and broken porcelain that pants and curses.
“James!” Ally shouts and claws at her face to rip the blindfold apart. Sponge springs up and starts running.
Ally takes the blindfold off with a gasp, just as the Lord tumbles right into the Hole, taking Susie Q. with him.
There is the sound of a thousand porcelain cups shattering.
Ally takes one step towards the Hole and right then, a sudden fluttering comes out of the darkness. Dozens of porcelain butterflies pour out of the depths, surround her, cover her eyes.
“No,” Ally screams, eyes blinded again, and Sponge reaches her and grabs her and turns her away before she shoves the little critters away from her eyes, before she looks at the Hole. “What happened? Did he jump? Sponge, did he jump?”
Sponge is holding her, staring at the Hole, James’ butterflies flying around them, sitting delicately on Ally’s eyes.
“Sponge?” That’s Lucy.
Sponge leaves Ally in Lucy’s arms and approaches the Hole. He reaches the brim and looks down. At the bottom lies Susie’s body, twisted in an unnatural angle. The smell of blood invades his nostrils. The Lord’s body, bereft of its porcelain, lies next to hers. The slime in the bottom seethes, and swallows them both slowly.
Vaya Pseftaki holds a creative writing MA from Kingston University, London. Vaya’s first novel in the genre of New Weird, Enydria, was published in Greece by Ars Nocturna Publications, in 2011, with non-fiction work being published on a regular basis in mystery magazine. Vaya was a guest speaker in FantastiCon, the first Greek fantasy convention, that took place in Athens in October 2015, as well as in October 2016. Vaya has also worked as an editor and translator (English to Greek) in Archetypo Publications, Ars Nocturna Publications and Logeion Publishing.