It wasn’t really him
she knew that
on all levels
but it looked like him and was walking like him and it wasn’t on top of the hill next to the castle, it was in Sevilla, on the giant waffle
walking towards her from the other side and
she was walking towards it
saying his name
‘Yute Long, Yute Long,’
yet no matter how many steps she took, she couldn’t get any closer, and worse, the waffle itself was expanding, stretching out its wavy lattice motif to intercept, and she called out, told him to walk faster, but commands didn’t work cos he was too busy smiling, pulling the skin of his face over the top of his head and
then it wasn’t him
it was Patrice
god, how predictable
Patrice the whisp
probably coming to apologise for following her up to the castle, for not taking her seriously when she told him what was in there, that it only preyed on men and
Joanna opened her eyes.
Patrice spun esoteric into the ceiling web of the cabin, and it took her half a second beyond that to realise exactly where it was she was pinned to.
Ferry of Men
shepherded by purple threat
in the way her brain twisted it.
Had twisted it.
Wanted to twist it.
She sat up and looked down at the duvet, wondering why it wasn’t over her face.
Had someone moved it?
She was sure she’d put it over before she’d slept, or approached the idea of sleep. Maybe she’d pushed it off herself. Yute Long always said she did strange things when she slept, gritted her teeth, scraped toenails down his calf.
Could be that, unconscious movements.
‘Hello?’ she called, getting back distant engine grind and wallpaper throb.
Okay, the cabin was empty, but what about the bathroom? She put it in frame and saw the door wide open, the light off.
Swinging her legs off the bed, she waited a few seconds then transferred the weight.
Not too far, no one here, go, she advised herself, rubbing the sleep out of the corner of her eyes, but as soon as she started pushing her legs, the bathroom somehow shifted, relocating itself from three metres away to fifteen.
She tried to compensate, speed up, narrate her steps, but it didn’t make a speck of difference. If anything it got worse, slower, like she was walking in a vat of glue, and the faster she moved the more it should’ve helped, but it didn’t, cos it was fast only in thought, in intention, and the bathroom kept shifting again and again and again, and to match it, all she could do was take longer strides and that did help a little, but
it was still too slow
the bathroom door was miles away, light years away and
her head was throbbing
leg muscles were
they weren’t working at all
much too tense
like an old scrap leg
an ancient Sumerian bicycle chain
rotating rusted underwater and
was simply out of
not in the
glue, whole vat, carpet stuck
She stopped and clenched her fists and tried to suppress the thought of the aneurism that was going to tear open her skull if she didn’t make it to that fucking bathroom in the next ten seconds.
‘… … … … …’
Fingers detached from her hand and swabbed at her forehead, rubbing off ghost sweat, real sweat, while the rest of her body played dead, stuck in cosmic retrograde, held back by hundreds of invisible your-fault urges dressed in told-you-so skin that couldn’t let her reach the
feel any kind of relief at
the pace of things
messenger horse from neuron to limb to action
oil tanker physics
sloth in a lax mood
with the Krsnik on its fucking tail, hungry-eyed, Patrice’s spine hanging from its
‘… … … …’
Her legs tried to move forward again, hands screaming out for the frame of the bathroom door, but it was too far, still too far and
things buckled, some part of her, all parts
without the sensation of down
unlike the bathroom, the floor coddled her
let her retch, eke it all up muon by muon and when nothing came out, two sudden fists punched the brown carpet, four, five times, she couldn’t help it, the held-back forcefield grip, it was splitting her, garrotting her veins, disintegrating her bones, and
even that thought
the idea of her bones cracking and going dust, it was too slow, it was all too slow
body was too slow
yet the mind
her mind was hours beyond all this, strolling around Barcelona, listening in on template Spanish people gabbing Catalan while her body just loomed there like a shipwreck
a slow Song Chiu shipwreck that was
It took nearly twenty minutes for things to return to normal speed, for Joanna to be able to stand up and walk without undue strain to the bathroom.
Filtering out the residue terror, she splashed water on her face, regulated her breaths and refused outright to look in the mirror.
‘… … … … … …’
It had happened three times now.
Earlier on the upper deck, when the men were surrounding her, in the cabin, alone, and the first instance, stepping off the train in Genoa.
Why those times?
Why not all the time?
She knew it was because of the grey vasic, the lack of it, and there was nothing objective she could do. Far as her knowledge went, the only place she could get more was in Ljubljana, and the slow-downs would happen at least ten more times before she got back there to buy more.
But that was irrelevant.
She didn’t want to buy more.
Patrice wouldn’t let her.
And maybe she didn’t need to?
The worst could be over already. It’d been four or five days and cold turkey took about that long, according to old TVB dramas, so this could’ve been the last attack.
And if it wasn’t, it didn’t matter cos there couldn’t be that many more, and if there were, that didn’t matter either, she could just sleep through them all, sleep through the next six hours or so, get a hostel in Barcelona, sleep two, three days, endure a few more living nightmare trips to the bathroom, and then it’d definitely be done.
‘… … … … …’
She thought about going above deck, getting some fresh air, but then the image of a seven mile corridor or thirty minute flight of stairs popped into her head and forced her quickly back onto the bed and under the duvet.
What if it never stops happening? she thought, covering her head again.
What if slo mo becomes ging seung geh?
Patrice joined her under the covers, smiling like a property agent, a giant shadow making clicking sounds behind him.
Ging seung and permanent, he whispered
isn’t that what you deserve, on some level?
The hill was steep
and Sila kept slipping down.
Not all the way to the bottom, but far enough and if it weren’t for the Pakistani Urdu teacher grabbing his hand and pulling him back up, he would’ve stayed there.
But she did grab him and did say, stop embarrassing yourself, the castle’s this way, so stern that
he followed her and
as they walked she started to shed her clothes and by the time they’d reached the top, which was seemingly instantaneous, she was completely naked and when she turned to face him there was blood seeping from her neck to her bush, which she didn’t seem too worried about, and when he asked if they were gonna have sex now, despite the blood, she said yes, but first you have to go and stand over by the tree, that’s where you’ll fuck, and he went, stumbling on uneven dirt, and when he got to the tree, Joanna was there too, standing behind the Pakistani nudist with a camera and
she didn’t say a word
just watched as the blood-stream Pakistani cheat changed into a latex monster costume and walked over to Sila, put her head on his shoulder and did nothing, said nothing, just stood there and
‘You back on?’
dozed off, and, ‘wait, are we still having sex?’ but she didn’t answer, and her hair was seaweed, tangled and
slapped him in the face with a hand from nowhere and
‘…being crushed here, weighs a fucking ton.’
Sila blinked a few times, not too dramatic, and looked around. Everyone was gone. The woman, Joanna, even the castle and the fuck tree. ‘Kje je ona…‘
‘On the railing, clown.’
‘Kaj…‘ Sila blinked a full two seconds and saw a bench, then a funnel, then the interrogator chief from his cabin. ‘You…’
‘Yeah, me, you and this.’ Tak gestured with his eyes at the thing slipping off the railing next to Sila’s shoulder. ‘You helping or not?’
‘You passed out again.’
‘Five seconds ago.’
‘I don’t understand…’ Sila did a third scan of the ferry, ending on the purple maelstrom hanging latent above. ‘It’s still there.’
‘You’ve said that five times.’
‘Like we’re on an alien planet or-…’
‘Mate, the fucking head.’
‘The head, it’s slipping out, lift it up.’ Tak pointed at the piece of duvet on the railing, which he could see was either blood red in colour or had a lot of blood soaked into it. ‘Mate, faster.’
Sila stopped his line dead cos it had all crashed back to him in an instant. The woman was a demon, she liked to eat human organs wrapped in skin pockets.
A little blurred, nebulous, but he could see most of it. Backhanded into the cabin wall, tossed around a bit, dragged to the bathroom with half-wiped bloodstains. Big mistake, she’d stopped to boast, told them two was a nice bonus, and that’s when they’d got her – or Tak had got her, he’d almost relapsed and gone back to fuck mode…seeing her naked like that, aggressive, with the concussion backing up his romantic escapes…
All cut off hard
by the shower head beating
Which put her out clean again.
Panic set in, bit of gloom auxiliary, how could they explain a corpse-looking thing?
More panic, the body still looked human, vulnerable, hurt, Tak tried to strongarm him, but he was ready for it, pinned the interrogator down, forced him to admit he’d tried to fuck her too, Tak said sure, but to him it’d looked like a guy. Cos it was a succubus, designed to attract all.
Momentary urge to fuck Tak, eat out both versions of the Pakistani, pass out from blurred vision.
Blaring ship horn, back to panic.
Called a truce, both sides, wrapped the succubus up in a duvet, dragged her up on deck, got spotted by about four guys too drunk to give a fuck, manoeuvred her to the railings and
that’s when I must’ve passed out, he thought.
‘You daydreaming? Lift, before it wakes up again.’
‘Fucking know, I’m holding most of it.’
‘Lift, fuck’s sake.’
‘I’m lifting, Jezus fucking-…’ Sila pushed her head and torso upwards, bending his legs to get more support cos this thing wasn’t human, it was like lifting a truck. How the hell did they even get her this far?
‘Almost got it.’
‘Sideways…up and sideways.’
‘Okay, hold steady.’
‘Her head’s on the rail.’
‘Push sideways…over the side.’
Sila kept one hand on the woman’s head and used the other to help Tak push her legs far enough over the railing to tip the whole thing seawards.
‘Sila…’ came the woman’s voice, her eyes open and human brown, with a claw-like hand clinging onto his wrist.
‘Fuck…she’s back,’ he cried, so loud that a drunk on the other side of the deck told him to eat the fucking sea.
‘Drop it,’ shouted Tak, reaching over, trying to detach the demon’s claw then pulling back as her legs started kicking.
‘Twist its claw off.’
‘…the grip, it’s too tight.’
‘Please, Sila,’ the woman from Quetta whispered, eyes anchored to his.
‘Don’t listen to it.’
‘I can’t hold on much longer. Pull me up.’
‘Dig your nails in.’
What fucking nails was the instinctive reply, but that wouldn’t do much good so he took the sentiment of the line and started jabbing the demon woman’s arm with his fingertips. ‘Off my fucking arm…witch face.’
Something clicked in the woman’s brain, her eyes instantly shading nebula green, her voice becoming an echo with wind effects as she told Sila the sea could never be a tomb for her kind and when she did walk out on a beach somewhere on the Spanish coast, the first thing she would do was find him, and the moor too, and their flesh was going to taste that much
The threat ended abrupt as Tak’s knife clipped her wrist, several times, and
with a breath of irritation
her body dropped, limp, non-flailing, landing soft on the surface yet strong enough to make a mini-crater that sucked water in fierce and then spat it at Mach-8 back up again, forty feet high, right into their faces.
‘Yeah,’ replied Tak, spitting some back down.
‘Je bolj slain kot običajno…‘
‘You say some weird shit.’
Sila rubbed the seawater from his eyes. ‘You know Slovenian?’
‘Enough not to isolate me.’
Tak wiped his jacket then walked over to the nearest bench and sat down. He leaned back and looked up at one of the funnels without saying a word. Sila walked over and stood next to him, still trying to process what and who that thing was.
Processing that turned into four minutes or so of realigned breathing therapy. Meditation. Reflection with existential reach outs. Cupped by the practical. Was she really a demon? A bad one? Would the sea be cold for her? How did she travel and eat people without ever getting caught?
‘It’s moving,’ said Tak, quietly, cutting into the void.
Sila wasn’t sure if he was talking to him or not so didn’t answer. He did look up though.
‘Seems brighter now, more like lilac.’
‘Not exactly, mate.’
Tak put his hand up and trailed a line of purple in the sky, adding a little loop flourish at the end.
‘You’ve seen it before?’
‘Look at it long enough, you’ll dock and not even know it. The ship will dock, you’ll still be here. So fucking purple, mate. Should be out in deep space, Oort Cloud, Helix Nebula, not here. Ah, maybe the thing called it, summoned it? Maybe it was attracted to its core.’
‘The demon woman?’
‘Could be that.’ Tak pulled down the skin to the side of his left eye. ‘There was a travel poet in Japan, 15th Century, said purple lights were enablers. You ever hear that?’
‘There’s sensualism and there’s asceticism and the purple enables the latter. I think that’s what he said, haven’t read it in a while. Though it doesn’t make much sense for her being here, does it? Maybe she was trying to control herself, but the boat was full of men. Or it could be for us. A hypnotic mass guiding us back inside our own heads, linking us to something big. The poet, the Japanese guy, he said it could be wormholes, that we can travel there using our brains. Don’t know how he knew about wormholes in 1400s Japan, but that’s how it’s translated.’
His finger switched to the skin by his other eye, stretching it down and making little circles.
‘You ever read about that Emperor who tried to become a monk? He did it three times, went to a temple in West China and the treasury had to buy him back three times. Can you imagine that? A fucking emperor giving it all up to look inward. Giving up a harem, different woman every night…mate, that’s discipline. Or insanity. One of the two. Insanity masked as discipline to all those scholars, all the officials. That’s what it would’ve looked like. Or what I think 5th Century Chinese would’ve looked at it as. Or maybe it wasn’t. Maybe he saw purple too, same stuff as this.’ Tak tried to point at the sky, but stopped halfway and went to the skin of his temples instead. ‘Fuck.’
‘Need to stop looking at it, mate.’
‘You got a headache?’
Tak switched from rubbing to jabbing with his thumbs. It didn’t seem to make things much better.
‘Just close your eyes for a bit, it’ll pass.’
Tak stood up and walked stretched out ovals around the bench.
Sila returned to the purple mist, thinking of the wormhole line, purple planets, purple aliens with purple clothes and purple eyes.
Tak moved away from the bench and squinted at the funnel. There was a leg sticking out, with a slipper hanging off the foot. Muttering to himself, he circled round and edged over to the new bench, where the Algerian guy from earlier was still sitting, reading his book.
Sila followed him over, but there wasn’t much space, which basically forced him to perch on the arm next to Tak, the guy he barely knew, the guy who’d held a knife to his throat and somehow knew how to speak Slovenian.
Tak looked at the cover of the Algerian’s book, nodded and then turned back to Sila. ‘After all this, that’s what you ask me?’
‘I didn’t say anything.’
‘Yeah, you did.’
‘You did, I just heard it.’
‘What, I wasn’t talking. I just sat down here, didn’t say a word.’
‘Who was it then?’
‘I don’t know. The wind?’
Tak leaned forward and scanned the floor of the deck, the funnels, the railings they’d just pushed a demon over. He even checked under the bench they were on.
‘What exactly did you hear?’
‘Nah, one of those.’
‘Wind dynamics. Ditch it.’
Sila nodded out of habit then nodded a second time at the Algerian, who had plucked up enough courage to glance up from his book.
Good job he’s behind the funnel, Sila thought, wondering what would’ve happened if the guy had seen them dumping the duvet a few minutes earlier.
Shifting side-on, one leg over the other, Tak studied the Algerian for a while before finally saying something in Arabic, to which the Algerian replied, ‘what?’ in sharp English.
‘Sorry, mate, I thought you spoke Arabic.’
‘I speak French.’
‘My French is upper beginner at best. Can’t go more than two minutes.’
‘We’re speaking English, it is okay.’
‘Yeah, we are.’ Tak looked at the railings then back at the Algerian. ‘You’re not drunk are you?’
‘Sorry, I do not drink.’
‘On vasic, mushrooms, something else?’
‘I don’t understand.’
Tak leaned back, knocking the back of his head against the funnel. ‘How good is your English?’
‘It is okay, I think,’ replied the Algerian, eyes on the page he desperately wanted to return to. ‘I speak some, but not politic, science, this kind of thing.’
‘You know the word demon?’
‘Demon? Yes. I do.’
‘You believe in them?’
‘Err…I suppose it is no problem.’
‘Too vague. Do you believe in demons or not?’
‘Yes or no?’
The Algerian breathed out slow and held up his book, flicking through the pages with stuttered technique. ‘Sorry, I’m only here to read my book, not make trouble.’
‘On Magyar? Dolgozol Vele?’
‘How far does your neck rotate?’
‘You were watching us before, over there, weren’t you?’
‘Watching? I’m not-…I don’t know.’
‘What do you mean you don’t know?’
‘I just read my book, I don’t watch anything.’
The book cover rose up again, and Sila prepped an intervention, but hadn’t even got the topic past the first neuron before the inquisitor started grilling again.
‘Me and him, the duvet, throwing it in the sea. You saw all that.’
‘What is duvet?’
‘You saw what we did, didn’t you?
‘I didn’t see anything. What do you mean?’
‘Stop redacting, mate. I’m not a censor, I’m not stopping you seeing anything.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘What are you doing?’ added Sila, putting his hand as a substitute cushion between the funnel and the back of Tak’s head.
‘You saw us carry a body in a duvet up here and dump it over the side. No need to hide it.’
‘He’s joking, there wasn’t a body,’ said Sila, tugging on the sleeve of Tak’s Ellesse jacket, trying to pull him up from the bench. ‘We were just messing about by the railings. Too much alcohol.’
‘I didn’t see you.’
‘You saw us, mate,’ said Tak, flicking Sila’s fingers off him. ‘We were lifting that fucker for half an hour, don’t tell me you were looking at the sea.’
‘Really, I was reading my book. I did not see you.’
‘Come on, Tak,’ said Sila, switching from jacket grip to soft shoulder clamp. ‘Let’s go back down.’
‘Get some sleep.’
‘I’m explaining things, get off me.’
‘Excuse me, it is getting late,’ said the Algerian, standing up. ‘I’m going to my cabin now. Good night.’ He looked at the sky, the sun creeping over the horizon, the purple mist morphing into regular grey. ‘Or good morning, perhaps.’
‘Wait, we’re not done…’
‘Sorry, he’s had a lot to drink,’ said Sila, stepping in front of Tak and muttering fuck off every time he got jabbed in the back of the legs. ‘Needs some time to cool down.’
‘Yes. Good night.’
The Algerian walked off, pretending to read a bit more of his book as he went, then dropped the act completely as he got through the door and quickened his steps below deck.
‘Get off me,’ continued Tak, even though his shoulder and jacket were completely free.
‘You were digging a hole.’
‘I was explaining things.’
‘For what? He didn’t see anything.’
‘Nah, we don’t know that. He could’ve seen its hair, maybe its arm or tit hanging out, then thought it was a woman. But we know it wasn’t. That’s what I was trying to get across to him, if he did actually see it. Which he may have done.’
‘That’s why you were trying to confess to him? Cos he may have seen her arm drop out?’
‘Covering the bases, not confessing. And it wasn’t a her.’
‘No, it was a rolled-up duvet…’
‘Just had the face of one.’
‘…if he even saw that much…’
‘And the body.’
‘…which I don’t think he did.’
‘And the voice.’
Sila looked left towards the nearest ship guidelines, breathing out frustration. Then sucking it back in. A group of five men was walking their way, leaning over the railings as they got closer, pointing at something in the water.
‘Fuck, more drunks…’
‘We both saw its eyes though, the way it attacked. No way a normal woman does that. No way.’
‘We better get back to the cabin, lie low till we dock.’
Tak stared blankly at Sila’s hand on his sleeve. ‘What you doing?’
‘Trying to get you to move.’
‘I can power myself, mate.’
‘Cabin or here, I don’t give a shit. Don’t need a church either, so don’t say it. Not even Christian. All I’m saying is…that thing was not human.’