The info shop opened at 4 not 3 and only on Wednesdays/ Fridays.
Luckily this day was a Friday.
To kill an extra hour and a half, Tak took them down a few streets he knew, past a low key gallery with Klee-copy electric fish drawings in the window, some kebab shops, some old school garages, ignoring all of them, even the Museum of Modern Art, which Joanna and Sila actually wanted to go inside, but Tak said no, it’s all shit, made by posh people, the info shop’s better, and besides, he was feeling hungry and the woman he’d just asked said there was a Burger King two minutes down the street.
‘Ah, Spanish food,’ said Sila, blunting the sarcasm with a half-smile…then scratching it when he remembered the last time he’d gone into a Burger King.
‘Mate, it’s in Spain, it’s food. What’s the puzzle?’
‘It’s American. Manufactured.’
‘Nothing. Just…you speak Spanish and Slovene, and you still want to eat at Burger King. In Barcelona.’
‘This is where real Spanish people go, not Javier Bardem or Almodóvar.’
‘What’s my language skill got to do with it anyway? Most multilingual people I know are working class or lower middle, Indians, Chinese, Filipinos, they speak loads of languages.’
‘I was joking.’
‘Whereas westerners just lie about speaking them. Like those fucking polyglots online.’
‘Nah, fuck, retract that one. It’s too annoying’ He nudged Joanna in the shoulder, not too hard. ‘What do you think? Burger King or not?’
Based on her Sokurov-void reaction, it didn’t seem like she thought anything, except perhaps how to maintain the trance she was embedded in, the same trance that had been hanging over her since they’d disembarked, accentuated by weirdly lethargic limb movements.
Sila gave a quick wellness check, a gentle tug on the sleeve. ‘Pretty much her usual state. Or her usual state since Genoa.’
‘Cos of me?’
‘She’ll talk when you least expect it. Nah, not likely. She talked to you before in the cabin. Which was a bit of a surprise. But then she zoned out again so maybe not that much of one.’
‘Ah, maybe Burger King will do the trick.’
‘The sweet smell of processed meat…balanced out by you not being such a bleak fuck all the time.’
Tak walked on ahead, giving Sila a chance to hang back and ask Joanna if she wanted to keep going with this guy, or branch off.
Blank mesmerism in response.
He tapped her on the shoulder a few times, then jabbed the bone part at the top and, at long long last, she blinked. No, she’d been doing that already. Her face moved, slightly towards him.
‘Is that code for detach?’
‘I was back home, in Lai King.’
‘Time was running fast again, faster.’
‘Faster than now?’
‘There was a book in my hand, the bird heroes by Gum Yong, and I was reading it at super speed.’
‘Bird Heroes…is that a real book?’
‘But instead of Mongolians, it was Patrice. I don’t know why but he was representing the whole of Mongolia.’
‘He was telling me not to go back to China, that Mongolia had better public facilities. And lots of birds to hunt.’
Sila stopped her with a hand on the triceps and examined her pupils. Objectively, they were fixed on him, but the engine behind them…
‘I could literally ask anything here,’ he said, turning his arm grip into a light stroke, ‘couldn’t I?’
‘He said their swimming pools were better, too.’
‘I don’t feel good.’
‘I don’t know what’s happening.’
‘Happening where? What are you talking about?’
Joanna put her hand on Sila’s hoodie sleeve and stared forward, mumbling something in Cantonese. Sila followed her eyes and saw Tak coming back towards them.
‘Hey fuckers, stop dragging your feet.’
‘We were talking.’
‘Doesn’t work if we don’t walk next to each other.’ He lined up parallel, planted himself in the middle and then pushed them forward with his index fingers dug into their lower backs. ‘Come on, chop chop.’
‘What are you doing?’
‘Burger King’s this way.’
‘Stop digging your…knuckles in…’
Tak didn’t stop the manual steering until they were outside the entrance to Burger King [modern spliced horror drab onto Catalan Gothic canvas], and even then he made sure they walked in first.
‘You want anything from here?’ Sila asked Joanna, who was taking in the menu and the décor like it was the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
‘Don’t worry about it, I’ve got you,’ replied Tak, pointing at the stairs. ‘Go and find a table for us. Window, if free.’
‘Okay. But…would you like to know what we want first?’
Tak patted Sila on the shoulder and then looked down at the King face on his hoodie. Squinted at it. Then said, ‘Matjaz, okay,’ and stepped up to the counter.
Ten minutes later, they were at a window counter upstairs, under a black and white 60’s shot of La Rambla, eating mostly in silence; Joanna playing with the paper on her tray, Sila looking at the pink tourists on the street below and Tak whispering lines from a Spanish textbook he’d pulled out of his Tardis-like bag and dumped on top of his mythology tome.
Silence appeared fine for Tak and Joanna, zombie and language mage, but Sila felt a bit alien so he got up and went to the toilet, hoping they’d be forced into conversation by the time he got back, and, to his eyes, it seemed that it was a fail, as when he did return to his stool, Tak still had eyes on his textbook and Joanna had moved on to another picture on the wall, the Nou Camp 1987.
To other eyes, though, it was different. In the three minutes Sila had been gone, Joanna had snapped out of the Helix Nebula void realm, taken a bite of her burger, complained about the size and interrupted Tak’s study to ask how many demons he’d encountered.
‘Ah, now you come back. When I’m busy.’
‘Sila told me you get a headache when they’re nearby. And then hunt and kill them. Is that true?’
‘Sorry, study time. Ask again later.’
‘How many have you killed?’
Tak held up the dictionary and pointed at the picture of a 1980’s Spanish teenager on the cover.
‘Have you ever been to Ljubljana?’
‘Ah, you’re one of those. Dogged types.’
‘Did you kill any demons there?’
‘You did. There’s nothing else to do. Unless you like castles, art communes…that triple bridge.’
‘I said why.’
‘I want to know your experience range. Range of experience. How many demons you’ve killed. If you killed one in Ljubljana.’
‘It’s important to me.’
‘Too vague.’ Tak went back to his textbook, shoving a pile of fries into his mouth.
Joanna appeared to accept the rejection, turning instead to her burger and prodding it with her drink straw. Apparently, it was dead. Just like others out there. And unlike her. Though she may as well as have been with her slow-down patches. And the fog from the ferry. The ersatz…everything…of this construct pretending to be Burger King. Those invisible particle fields surrounding the street outside. Encasing Barcelona. The Krsnik sliding backwards into its fairy tale book, knowing it had gotten away with murder yet again. The burger thing she was prodding…
‘Did you go up to the castle?’ she asked, retracting the straw.
‘Te sientas en este banco todos los días?’
‘¿Qué haces para mantener tu cuerpo fresco?’
‘The castle, did you go up there?’
Tak stopped with another bunch of fries at the gates and looked up. ‘Still on this?’
‘Did you go up to the castle?’
‘The one on the hill? No.’
‘I stay away from castles.’
‘Ha, all of them. No castles, no crypts, no cemeteries. My Hungarian rule.’
‘Not something I’m gonna explain.’
Joanna prodded her burger again, this time penetrating all the way through. ‘There’s a demon up there. In the castle.’
‘Yeah? Which one?’
‘It’s called Krsnik.’
‘Never heard of it.’
‘It can slow down time.’
‘So can a Mongolian vampire.’
Joanna twisted the straw and tried to look Tak in the eye, but couldn’t hold it. It was too similar. Completely different face, clean neck, no accent but too similar. She dropped the straw and rolled the burger on its side, examining the hole she’d made.
‘What you doing?’
‘You have to come with me and kill this demon. The Krsnik. We can go there together, right now.’
‘What about your boyfriend?’
‘Fuck, that’s harsh.’
‘He has his cabinet mission, he doesn’t care.’
‘Wah…the cabinet shit. And your Dr. Caligari impression. You two really are a weird fucking couple.’ Tak picked up the last scrap of his burger, nibbled the scruffy bits of the side then shoved it in his mouth. ‘Why you still looking at me?’
‘Will you come?’
‘You’re strong, experienced, and can detect it with your headaches.’
‘Don’t kill things out of the way.’
‘I can teach you about it, how it hunts, how it…’
‘Okay, rephrase. I only kill things directly in front of me, in my path.’
‘It’s not far. We could be there in two days.’
‘Nope. Not gonna happen. You’ll have to get your fake boyfriend to kill it. If he’s not too busy with his cabinets.’
Joanna looked over at the toilets and saw Sila coming back. ‘We’ll talk again later,’ she whispered then, without performance, slipped back into her trance.
Tak mumbled ‘it’ll still be no’ and returned to the chapter on how to talk to the elderly.
‘Like total strangers,’ Sila said, sitting back on his stool and staring at the sides of both their faces, at the old man with a goatee and walking stick on Tak’s textbook page, before retreating to the window.
Another fifteen minutes gone, Tak stood up abruptly and said something in Spanish, which he quickly [inaccurately] translated as time to go. Then, picking up his bag, he somehow managed to knock into a guy’s tray…not hard enough to spill anything, but enough to piss the guy off and force out a line of rough Catalan.
‘Que?‘ said Tak, avoiding the word sorry.
‘… … … … … … … …’
‘Que lo dice?‘
‘… … … … … … …’ the guy spat, looking Tak up and down like he was the human representation of post-industrial rock.
‘Dice uno vez…say it one more time, mate, go on.’
‘… … … … … … … …’
Tak leaned in close to the guy’s face. ‘Dolgozol vele?’
Either he said it the wrong way or the guy was too bored to continue cos this time he laughed, added a different sounding phrase in Catalan, and walked off to a table near the toilets.
Tak sat back down and switched to the dictionary app on his phone, muttering the word the guy had just said, or what he thought he’d said, and, a few seconds later, he nodded, put the phone on top of the textbook and folded his arms.
‘We’re going then?’ asked Sila, picking up his own tray.
‘But you just said…’
‘Okay, fine.’ Sila put the tray back down, saw Joanna looking at dead air, and copied Tak’s pose. ‘I’ll stare out of the window some more.’
Curbing not fucking good in Slovene, Sila focused on an old guy in a Durruti t-shirt on the street below, awkwardly bent over and using a scrubbing brush to tidy a specific spot on the pavement. He watched the man do the same thing for twenty-five minutes, detaching every few minutes to ask if it was time to go yet. Each time Tak said no. And Joanna didn’t say anything, just continued with her trapped in eternity impression.
Finally, the old man left, forcing Sila into action.
‘What are you looking at?’ he asked, following the line of Tak’s sight to the other side of the floor.
‘The Spanish guy who shouted at you?’
‘He’s not Spanish.’
Sila checked on the guy again, his tanned skin, tanned stubble, tanned eyeballs. ‘He looks Spanish.’
‘What is he then? Portuguese?’
‘… … … … … …’
Tak picked up a stray onion from within the crumbs of his burger and dangled it over the tray.
‘You’re still eating?’
Sila drifted over to the 60’s photos on the wall, then the other side of the floor as a chair leg scraped and the possibly Spanish guy got up. He looked over at Tak, fake spat on the floor [so melodramatically that one of the women sitting nearby yelled at him] and headed to the toilets.
Taking the bait like a first-brawl ashigaru, Tak stood up and told them both to wait there, he was gonna take a piss.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Sila, somewhat pointlessly.
‘With that Spanish guy in there?’
‘He looks Spanish,’ said Joanna, making Sila’s arm spasm as she placed her hand on his sleeve. ‘Angry too.’
‘Wah, you’re awake again.’
Tak pushed Joanna’s tray an inch closer to her. ‘Eat some more. We’re leaving when I come back.’
‘You shouldn’t go in there,’ she replied, picking up one of the cold fries.
‘She’s right,’ added Sila, trying to shift Tak’s stool out to block his path.
Tak pushed the stool that Sila was still edging his way and headed a zig-zag route to the toilets.
‘Okay, fine. Go take a piss. We’ll stay here, get the bandages ready. Fucking tyrant.’
Sila picked up the burger wrapper and tried to do some improv origami. It was a penguin he was aiming for, but when he showed it to Joanna she couldn’t see the resemblance. Looks more like a square, she said, which was pretty accurate, it did, but Sila didn’t mind, he was just glad she’d clicked out of standby mode and was answering questions again.
‘You feeling better now?’
‘With blood on his face.’
Sila turned just in time to catch Tak grabbing the textbook and shoving it back in his bag, a line of blood flowing down from his nose.
‘Get up, we’re going.’
‘And the Spanish guy?’
‘I told you, he’s not Spanish.’ Tak put the bag on one shoulder and started off towards the stairs. Then stopped next to a pram and said, ‘are you moving or not?’
‘Okay, let us get our bags first.’
‘We’re coming, relax.’
Sila moved after him fast, but Joanna seemed to be stumbling a little so he came back and pulled her along by the sleeve. For some reason, she was lifting her legs up like an astronaut, every step.
‘It’s happening again,’ she said, looking down at her feet.
‘What are you doing?’
‘No, you’re not. Come on, try. I can’t pull you out by your sleeve, it’s weird.’
‘My whole body, it’s-…’
‘Stop dragging your feet.’
‘Jezus, move them, will you? Feels like I’m pulling lead.’
‘I’m going as fast…as I can.’
‘As fast as a granny.’
‘Walk properly, stop fucking around.’
She stopped and increased resistance, forcing Sila to stop too and ask for the eight-hundredth time what was going on. In sloth-like response, she stared at his left cheek, clenched a fist and punched herself in the leg.
‘Are you seeing things?’
She punched her right leg again, then her left, then looked at Sila and urged him to try pulling again.
‘Quickly, before it wears off.’
He grabbed her sleeve, using his other hand to supplement with a waist hold, and this time she moved normally, still lethargic to a degree, but no longer like a space hero out near Ceres.
Not fast enough for Tak though, who was already halfway down the stairs, his face appearing between the banister poles, ordering them to hurry the fuck up or he’d come back and drag them down by their hair.
‘We’re coming, Pol Pot,’ said Sila, trying to block out all the tourists and [possibly working class] Spanish people gawping at them.
‘Yeah, like a couple of geriatrics…’
Tak stayed put and watched them all the way to his spot on the stairs, every now and then wiping blood from his nose. ‘About time.’
‘You’re still bleeding,’ replied Joanna, holding out a wraith hand.
‘Yeah, a fucking torrent. Drag like that again and I’m leaving.’
‘Sorry won’t keep you out of Spanish prison.’
‘Come on…before someone goes in that cubicle.’
‘Jezus, you didn’t kill him, did you?’ Sila asked in Slovene, but never got an answer cos by the time they were outside, Tak was talking about the info shop again, how they’d give it a miss and head direct to the train station instead.
‘We’re not gonna discuss what just happened in the toilets?’
‘Past tense, mate, I’m talking about the train. You on board or not?’
‘What did you do to that guy?’
Tak looked down the street and said, talk and walk.
Yeah, talk about what, you fucking psycho Sila thought, but with Joanna still propped up on his arm, he couldn’t be bothered with another argument, and definitely not one this close to the old Telephone Exchange.
Felt disrespectful somehow, and symbolic, and he hated things like that.
Better to wait for some modern tat.
From their position outside the suspected assault site, the trio, led by the usurper, dodged tourists and pickpockets and friends of pickpockets until they were away from the commercial zone, and possibly beyond the particle fields too.
At that point, they took the next left turn onto a side street, and then various other turns until they were among a whole new mass of tourists, standing next to an empty bench, in a park with a giant horse statue [no rider].
Tak had avoided answering questions about the Burger King incident – even when Sila asked him four times straight, what did you do in there – and was now 97% focused on an exit strategy, specifically, the train.
‘To where?’ asked Joanna, marvelling at her own slowly rotating arm.
‘We’re staying here,’ said Sila, for some reason pointing at the horse statue.
‘Next to a horse statue?’
‘In Barcelona. For at least three days.’
Tak nodded, taking his phone out and typing something. ‘What if I told you I could get you on the train for free?’
‘I would say we’re still staying here.’
‘No need, mate. I’ve got a trick, it works. There’s a secret place you can stand on the train, the conductor doesn’t go there. You can go the whole way, no ticket.’
‘That can’t be true.’
‘I’ve done it four times already. It works.’
‘Yeah, each time.’
‘Each time in the exact same place?’
‘Don’t be pedantic, mate. I told you it works, now you coming or not?’
Sila was about to say no, but Joanna got there ahead of him with an incongruously sunny, ‘yes, Valencia.’
‘You wanna go with him?’
‘What are you talking about?’ Sila pointed at the statue again, changing aim a little when he realised he was gesturing at the horse’s dick. ‘Which other city celebrates horses?’
‘Not Hong Kong.’
‘See, it’s different. Interesting.’
‘There was the mermaid in Copenhagen.’
‘What? That was shit. It was tiny, you could barely even see it. This is a giant horse. A famous horse.’
Joanna left his arm and took a step sideways, scrutinising the statue. ‘Do you know its name?’
‘Do you know what it did?’
‘I don’t know. Something rebellious probably. We can read the plaque, find out.’ Sila walked closer and looked at the base of the statue but there was no description. ‘Must be round the back…’
‘Or we can just search online, famous horse Barcelona, easy.’
‘If they don’t care enough to even make a plaque…’
‘El Martillo Del Cielo was a talking horse,’ cut in Tak, holding up his phone, presumably with the info they were looking for though the screen was far too small for either of them to read it. ‘Born 1883, spoke Catalonian, supported independence, allegedly. Jumped off a cliff, body never found. Witnesses said it dissolved into mist the same colour as the Catalonian flag before it hit the rocks.’
‘They made a statue for that? From a fairy tale?’
Tak put his phone away. ‘I’m going to Valencia, for free. Come with or stay here with your phantom cabinets. Your call.’
Joanna nudged Sila in the side. He took a step back, closer to the magical horse.
‘What, you think I don’t wanna be alone?’ he whispered.
She didn’t answer.
‘I’ve been on my own for three and half years.’
‘Final call,’ said Tak, walking back towards the park gates, kicking little pieces of gravel as he went.
‘Decision?’ asked Joanna, straightening out her jacket.
‘I don’t like being led.’
‘Or being ganged up on.’
‘Me neither.’ Joanna walked slowly towards Sila, her movements quite stiff, then stopped before she reached him, saying something in Cantonese to herself.
‘… … …’
‘… … … … … …’
‘Come on, talk to me, Faye Wong. You need medicine or something?’
She stretched her arms out and raised them slowly until they were doing aircraft signals. Her forehead was sweating as she did it, something even Sila noticed.
‘What are you doing?’
‘It’s not stopping.’
She closed her eyes and tried moving her left foot forward, but for some reason she was moving it like a hungover mime artist. Just like in Burger King.
‘Talk to me, what’s going on?’
‘The grey vasic. It’s trapping me.’
‘You’re using again?’
‘But…you threw it all away.’
‘It’s too slow…everything too slow…’
She put her left foot down, her whole body shaking, and screamed. A lot of tourists glanced over, some walked off quickly, while the rest went back to El Martillo Del Cielo.
‘Okay, easy.’ Sila stepped forward, blocking her from the voyeurs, and slid a hand over hers. ‘Turn round, move forward.’
‘It’s too slow…frustrating…’
‘Okay, what about this?’ Sila bent down and gripped her calves, then started up a slow-burn massage. ‘Loosen them up a bit.’
‘It won’t work.’
Sila ignored her and squeezed different points. For almost a minute. Then stood back up, grabbed her shoulders and flexed them round in small circles.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Try to walk.’
Sila tried to take away his hand, but the grey krsic fiend held on tight.
‘Are you trying?’
‘Your leg isn’t moving.’
Sila grunted, then pressed his lips in tight.
Joanna closed her eyes and initiated movement. The first few steps were death of a star slo-mo, not good, but she was getting better at disguising it, keeping her leg elevations low, discreet, pinned to a shorter distance, and by the time she was on her fourth step, the process of basic mobility was back to a solid high-intermediate.
‘See, bit better now,’ said Sila, guiding her out of the way of an oblivious tourist uncle.
‘Don’t curse it.’
She took another step to make sure then looked frantically towards the park entrance.
‘He’s at the gates already.’
‘Good. An easy separation.’
‘No, we have to follow him.’
‘Huh, you were serious about that?’
‘The train, Valencia, we have to.’
‘That’s not much of an answer.’
‘Quickly, help me move.’ She squeezed his hand again, digging nails in. ‘It’s important.’
‘This is bizarre…there’s nothing in Valencia. Does it even have a beach?’
‘… … … … …’
‘He’s getting away.’
Sila checked to see if she was exaggerating, but it was true, Tak the Erratic was out of the park already and only visible as an intermittent flicker through the gaps in the railings. ‘Fucking Valencia.’
‘Does that mean yes?’
‘Okay. But only for one day. If it’s shit, we come back here. Agreed?’
‘One day is not enough.’
Sila put both arms out, lifting her arm up in the process, and gestured at the mythical horse god. ‘But it’s enough here?’
‘We need to be flexible.’
‘Fucking Christ, you’re unbelievable. Every time I think we’re making progress, you revert. It’s like talking to a creationist.’
‘I never revert. And I’m not creative.’ She pulled her arm down, keeping Sila’s hand in her grip. ‘We follow him, see what he thinks. Then make a decision as a group of three.’
‘Group of three? When did that happen?’
‘No time to argue, he’s getting away.’
‘Fuck, you never answer anything. Do you know how annoying that is?’
‘… … … … … …’