by Bruce Rich This is part of a larger work - never finished.
The carousel world ran around and around and at the end trailed an ethereal vice with his aching mind stuck inside screaming.
The vagrant paced down 999th street under a gray rain, licking his chapped lips to taste the salt collected there. Drizzle mingled with the alkaline oil packed into his callused skin, crawling and sliding over his leathery corpse like a viscous membrane. Feeling like an unwashed corpse, he barely held onto consciousness amid the fragments of pain and soreness creeping from every muscle and joint. He dodged the swarm of haunted people like a codeine-afflicted Olympiad, motor functions playing evil pranks with the vagrant’s carefully planned footfalls.
Tripping on air, he fell onto the cold, wet concrete, crying out in pain as his cheekbone landed first. He heard a faint pop in his neck. Blood flowed into the gutter. As he swung himself back onto his feet, the grotesque, fantastic scenery jolted back into place. Sidewalk there. Building… there. Shoal of wicked nuns walking across the street beneath plastic raincoats. Yes, he was on top of things once again, and the fall seemed to have adjusted his trick vertibrae. Much better, he thought, wiping blood on his crusty sleeve.
Ghostly faces roamed menacingly through the flock, bodiless phantoms sporadically merging with shopping-cart queens with dirty hair and businessmen with waterproof watchfaces on their mind. Slick, pointy demons with pale and fleshy masks carved knowing eyes and crooked smiles into hapless, fleshy victims, pilfering their innocent bodies for instant, diabolical gratification. Non-corporeal spectres must have their addictions as well, he thought to himself while rubbing his cheek some more.
People liquefied in the vaporous distance of a rained-out inner city. Beneath black umbrellas, the busy throng of lunch-goers, bums and winos stranded themselves behind veils of shifted time. He was in another world, adjascent to this one but separate. The vagrant shook with a sort of cosmic claustrophobia. He needed a special kind of eyeglass to cope, but then again, owning another pair would give the adjascent-world conspiracy something else to place their spy bugs in. He didn’t need another spy bug.
Bright neon from a church sign bled through the silhouette before him. The new stranger exposed the pits and scars which mapped its face. Its lips were moving but he couldn’t identify a sound.
The face came closer, the voice became louder. Somewhere in time, an invisible hand was turning up the volume on this reality TV. The image stabilized before him, an old man in a green, double-knit suit shimmered to life on the sidewalk. He felt himself shaking at the thought of having to communicate anything. He couldn’t remember how.
The old man reached into an inside pocket, slowly bringing out a handful of change. “Take this, you filthy wretch. Go buy yourself something to make it all feel better.” He instinctively reached out a hand and caught the change before it fell to the dark sidewalk below. One of his fingers brushed the palm of the old man on accident. It felt cold, lifeless and not really there. He heard himself speaking at the other side of a canyon. “Do.. do you have a cigarette?”
The old man turned away, a disinterested feature carved into the round, pruny face. “Sorry, boy. Quit that habit years ago.” The man adjusted his tan fedora, raising an eyebrow to indicate the benefit of not having a cigarette.
“Bless you for the change, sir.” He spoke, not knowing why. The man nodded, gradually merging back into the crowd, drowning once again in the subtle clicks of high heels, taxi calls and rumbling automobiles. The cold, gray mist of rain became an onslaught of freezing water, and several paces away, the old man lit a fresh cigarette under an expensive umbrella, disappearing forever.
Dispirited, the vagrant slowed down to avoid another fall, feeling rather sore and defeated and wanting a smoke more than anything else in the world. Slung haphazardly over his frozen body was a tattered, dark-brown overcoat that hung down to his knees. He wondered where it came from. Checking the pockets, he discovered a crinkled packet of generic cigarettes and an old sad matchbook, emblazoned with a familiar convenience-store slogan. He fumbled for a cigarette, careful not to sling them into the mud, and he hid beneath a canopy to light it, forgetting the world around him. Thunder rolled high above.
Several blocks later his head began to clear, or was he merely getting used to the surreal time fracture around him? Twilight came and went, but his memory still hadn’t returned. He found himself standing sheepishly before a large, angled cinema sign, raindrops pelting gently off its ridges high above. He looked up, interested to see what was playing. A Kung-Fu triple feature, tickets 2 dollars each. He counted his change, pulling out pennies and pocket lint, to see if he had enough silver for a ticket.
Strolling up toward the box office, he gently flicked his cigarette onto the wet pavement and offered up his change. The snaggle-toothed creature behind the greasy glass peered through silvery, disdainful eyes, scratching a filthy gray beard and offering no compassion in his twisted gaze. “You’re a nickel short, bum. Go buy yourself a cheap forty and come back some other time.” The creature grinned, pushing his change back out of the money tray beneath the glass. The vagrant reached back into his pocket for the pennies, counted to five, and slammed them disruptively into the stainless-steel intendure.
“One ticket, please,” the voice that was not his whispered softly. Chuckling to itself, the ticket seller tore him a pass, dragging the coins back in and pretending to drop them into the register.
“Just keep it clean in there, sport,” it sneered. “We don’t want any more germs crawling around in them seats, you hear.” He shrugged off the taunting and stepped inside, slinging off his filthy coat and heading for the rest room.
The face in the mirror was not his own. He was sure of it, somehow. He rubbed the unshaven nubian cheek, feeling the grime and the dust embedded into the pores. The hands that didn’t belong to him twisted the water on, bringing warm lather up to his face in a refreshing wave. The ache of existence receded with the fresh sensation. He removed the battered, hunter-green stocking cap, tossing it onto the floor next to the jacket, and rubbed the short, black hair beneath. It needed a bit of cleaning, too, so he dipped his aching head into the grimy sink and rubbed the water in.
“What do you think you’re doing, boy,” leered a husky voice behind him. “This ain’t no bath house. This here’s a respected cinema and you’ve no business dirtying it up the way you are.” It was the aged creature that was perched behind the Box Office earlier, offering up more trouble than what the ticket was worth. He responded by reaching for a bundle of paper towels, quickly wiping the water from his head and discarding the waste. He turned to face the bullying stranger, streams of water dripping from his chin.
“I outta yank you right down, boy. What say you and me have it out?”
Silence. More paper towels being pulled from the dispenser.
“Nothin to say, eh?” The vagrant reached for his tattered waistcoat, eyes stinging with soapy residue, and suddenly the middle of his back was disrupted by a rather strong-willed punch from snaggle-tooth. He lost his balance and toppled toward the green-tile wall, knocking his already-bruised cheek against the trashbin on the long way down. It bled again.
“Want some more? I’ll give you some more.” He twisted around on the floor in shock, the headache returning from the depths and extending out into the rest of his body. He felt a strange, tingling sensation moving through his spine, tensing up the muscles along the way. He turned quickly, too quickly. The cowboy punch swung through the air in a wide, low arc, destined to land against his nose in a bone-crunching fashion.
Snaggletooth’s fist froze in mid-air.
The face behind the punch tangled in surprise. Tendons twisted and bones snapped apart in an unreal frenzy, and Snaggle-tooth turned deathly pale. The vagrant studied the pain in snaggle-tooth’s twisted features. The ticket-seller’s arm was frozen in the space between them, yet nothing visible blocked the punch.
The vagrant sat on the floor, eyes gleaming with an unreal innocence that burned into the ticket-seller’s brain. The air filled with an electric hum as snaggletooth vanished, leaving nothing but a fading stream of fire behind and a faint scream that wouldn’t leave the room. The Vagrant flung himself to his feet in a frenzy of movement and gathered up his jacket and hat, striding down the dimly-lit hallway toward Wu-Tang versus Shaolin Temple.Novachild on iTunesNovachild on AmazonNovachild on Twitter
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