[Destiny] Chapter 1: Cabinet Standoff

~~~

~~~

‘The ship accelerates, no visuals…they only had £50 per series…but we know the ship accelerates cos Su Lin says so, and Dayna says, Dr Plakson, she’s dead, and Avon says, who, and then…then the video cuts off, I don’t know why. Upload limit maybe. But it’s so cold, so un star trek.’

‘See, Dr Plakson dies and Avon doesn’t care. He even makes a joke of it.’

‘Avon, the show’s hero. The sociopath.’

‘No reaction?’

Sila rapped his knuckles on the cabinet door, trying to play the ‘Blake’s 7’ theme but getting stuck after the first three bars.

‘No music, professor?’

‘No sci-fi?’

He switched to the paintings on the wall, portraits of long ago Slovene men, stern faces, either poets or dictators, definitely not builders, definitely not Ugresic or Ivana Kobilca.

Was this it?

The best Slovenia could do?

Turning back to the cabinet, he tried another jibe, calling out the whole room for its blandness, its lack of technicolour and stern female poets.

‘Professor…really…you should be embarrassed to be here.’

‘No soul, no women, no weirdness. It’s pitiful. Pitiable. Like a Darko Dreštivic movie.’

‘Still nothing?’

‘Don’t be coy, I know you’re inside.’

‘I can hear your feet shuffling.’

‘Is it your feet?’

‘It is your feet.’

‘No need to answer, I know it’s your feet.’

‘You’re not coming out?’

‘I’ll give you a five second head start.’

‘I will, I promise. I’ll move to the back of the room and let you pass.’

‘It’s a fair chance.’

‘More than fair. I don’t even have the knife out yet.’

‘No?’

‘Not interested?’

Sila took the leaflet out of his pocket and checked it one more time. Authentic cabinet made by Sigmund Zois, on display for one month only. He looked at the wooden box in front of him. This had to be it. There was no other cabinet in the building, unless, as he half suspected, there was a hidden passage behind that Vincent Price painting downstairs.

‘A Zois cabinet, one month only, promoted in a leaflet dropped in a zine store. In Budapest.’

‘One month.’

‘Just enough time for me to hear about it and get here.’

Downstairs, something creaked.

A predictable diversion. Probably a magicked-out-of-nothing cat. Or a regular cat. At a push, the wind.

Sila put the leaflet back in his pocket and pulled out a knife, its short blade a pale shade of green.

‘Still not coming out?’

‘Okay then, snob.’

Kmet zarukan cabinet face kurba.’

‘Fuck you for dragging me back here.’

Sila jimmied his green knife into the crack between the two doors and thrust forward, not thinking much about what it would be like if there were really flesh at the end of it.

There never had been before

apart from that janitor

but he was already dead

mostly.

The figures so far:

22 cities

57 cabinets

0 professors of dark light.

~~~

There was no noise outside the House of Heritage when he came back downstairs and no one nearby as he looked out through the broken window, which was quite weird as even at night it was a popular tourist spot and, even if tourists didn’t care much for the house, they liked Trivoli Park.

Where were they all?

He checked his watch and said fuck in Slovene. It was one in the morning, an hour later than he thought.

That’s where they were then, in their hotel rooms. It was winter too, minus two degrees, and they didn’t serve mulled wine around this area, only near the bridge, so it was understandable.

Sila climbed back through the gap in the window, pulling down a sharp piece of glass that looked like it could potentially impale on him as he was going through. Ha, shard of glass, just like in that Dubrovka Ugrešic adaptation, the woman building the tunnel under the river, the dreamer, and that small guy getting mad about the lack of bread he got from her and organising the window trap and, far as Sila could remember, the woman didn’t die from the falling glass injury, but she was in the temporary clinic for a few months, immobile. He couldn’t afford the same thing to happen to him, not unless the hospital he ended up in had cabinets he could poke inside or

wait

who was that?

Sila stopped, pulled out his phone and pretended to send a message, glancing up and around while fake typing.

On the other side of the lawn, about twenty metres away, there was a floating shadow. He squinted. No, not a shadow, a lurking silhouette. A genuine human-shaped figure. Not making any specific movements, just lurking.

Sila put his phone away and reached for his inside jacket pocket, running through the possibilities.

A dealer?

Junkie?

Sándor Petőfi?

He kept his hand on the surface of his jacket pocket, waiting for some flicker of movement. As he waited, a thick wedge of mist or smoke spilled onto the lawn, seemingly heading straight for the figure.

Premakniki,’ he whispered.

The figure stayed as it was, letting the mist wrap in and around and behind it. Somehow, the rest of the scenery remained clear.

Kaj…’

Sila squinted again, managing to pull out a vague outline, but it was hard to see if that outline belonged to a man, a woman, Sandor Petofi or something else, something weirder perhaps, an alien or a mist creature or

maybe

maybe it was him

the professor.

Maybe he’d been in the cabinet all along. Maybe he’d been in there, feet shuffling, had seen Sila coming with his third or fourth eye and ducked outside. And now the supernatural tease was standing in the mist duvet watching him, monitoring him, assessing him, laughing at him.

‘Si goljufal…’

This could be it then.

This could finally be it.

Sila pulled the green knife halfway out of his jacket before remembering it was specifically for cabinets, and reluctantly put it back. As a substitute, he crouched down and picked up the shard of glass he’d dropped a few seconds earlier, his heart beating the same speed Don Cheadle’s might if he’d accidentally bussed into Corbin city centre.

Half fear, three quarters anticipation

But forget the fear, this was a good thing

no cabinet involved, okay, but definitely a good thing,

and besides

if it was him, the professor, he probably had been in the cabinet at some point so Sila had picked right, initially, which meant

which meant

which meant what?

Killing him near the cabinet was the same as killing him in it?

Hard to say, there were no guidelines, just ‘look for me in cabinets, Sila, wherever you go’, that was it.

Plus the green dagger only caveat.

The mist in the distance swirled and wisped and insinuated, then turned a slightly brighter shade of grey.

Shit, something was happening.

Something dimensional, ethereal, logistical in some way or language he couldn’t comprehend.

Like an amateur leopard, Sila crawled forward not that low across the grass, holding out the shard of glass in front for about twenty seconds before concluding that glass was awkward to grip firmly and dropping it. Without a sound, he pulled out its replacement, the green dagger. It wasn’t a cabinet attack, true, but the Professor was tricky and there was a cabinet nearby, so it all balanced out.

He edged forward again until he was about five metres away from the outline, which was a figure again now, and, it was weird, the figure wasn’t moving, it wasn’t moving at all, not even its arms.

Sila stood up and swiped through the mist, which made little difference, and then said in soft Slovene, ‘that you, professor?’

There were no words back, and no movements, either to fight or flee. Sila hid the knife behind his back and moved forward slowly, and, when the figure still didn’t move, he put his arm out and touched the strangely thin darkness. It was metal, cold metal. A robot? Why would a robot be watching him? Built by who? The mist cleared a little, enough to show what was in front of him and

‘Pizda ti bosanska…

It was a statue.

A bronze, mist-covered statue of Alojz Knafelc, inventor of the Slovene trail blaze.

Wait

had this always been in the park?

Was it there earlier, when he’d gone in?

‘Kmet zarukan jeba ti bosanska…

No, he thought, sliding the green knife back inside his jacket pocket, it wasn’t. Or the statue was, but not the figure, it couldn’t have been cos

it moved, before the mist came, something had moved,

something with eyes

and it had been watching him

he was sure of it.

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