‘…Khlebnikov stripped it all but in the end stripped nothing, and that’s the real sadness of the endeavour, my viewing of it, at least, or perhaps not real sadness as real sadness came later with the schism of Hylea, whatever spelling you choose, and not state executions but self-executions, a retreat into other movements, Surrealism, Breton’s cocoon, Bataille’s bizarro sacrifice ring, but I don’t feel that sad about it now actually as I’m in futurism concrete, not tied to death in the human sense, which I shouldn’t say so loud when our doors are open the way they are, but in English, perhaps okay. No, don’t look like that, barkada, I’m not a monster, your blood is uninteresting to me, I swear, this place has a licence, can’t just go around eating people like the old days, gestalt days of Khlebnikov and Martinelli…sorry, Marinetti…I always get that mixed up, not sure why, but…there it is…other visions, parts, Mongolian futurism, 1928 to 34, fixated on Neptune and its alien blue hue, Ghanaian futurism, 1952 to 59, a hippy dream to colonise asteroids in the Oort Cloud, Tanzanian futurism, lion’s share of the 80’s, let’s all drift through the heliosphere in communal pods and write zaum poetry, Philippine Futurism, 1998-9, a short affair obsessed with Sun Rooms and psychological counter-language plus suffering, a retching of the Id, however you write it, obviously lasted as long as its main propagandists who…no, I didn’t know them…all starved to death in their own Sun Rooms, and other futurisms, my futurism right now, the inter-locking of other myths and so-called demons and selected humans with an open mind and…fuck, I think I’ve been drinking too much…should slow down a bit…go back to Khlebnikov the progenitor…or was it Martinelli…Marinetti…who started things…maybe Fourier…’
In sum total
both Joanna and Sila knew the terms Russian and Futurism, had vague associations with the word zaum, but the rest of it was a complete wash and
commenting or responding to the talkative, green-wigged aswang would be a waste of time, and a distraction from the fact that she’d lured them to her dimly-lit bar with almost no other customers and then proceeded to get slowly drunk in front of them
or pseudo-drunk, thought Sila
Ban joi, thought Joanna
a Napoleon method to get their mind away from defence and into something meta-physical, philosophical, whichever one was more appropriate. This sense ossified further as, the more unfamiliar words that were thrown at them, the greater the urge to butt in and say, fuck Khlebennikov, what is your plan here, why the luring? and eventually, Joanna did intervene, using the sudden buzzing of the overhead green bulb as the cut-in point.
‘That old Katmon…’ replied Celia to a blank Chinese face.
‘You have a strong interest in the girl?’
‘Søren,’ corrected Sila, looking at the blonde child with a gestured apology for her mother’s error.
Didn’t matter much, Søren was far more curious about Celia’s hands, running a nail down the side of her dress sleeve and onto the skin at the end.
‘Okay, barkada…it’s been over an hour, and you’ve been fed. I will tell you. As direct as I can. Though being completely honest with humans is always difficult…mostly for the facial reactions…when I see that, the anxiety builds and-…’
‘Direct is fine,’ said Joanna, glancing towards the counter and the two male staff who may or may not have been aswang comrades. Didn’t look like it, but they were South-East Asian, possibly another type of demon, out for revenge against Chinese colonisers.
‘No one more direct than her,’ added Sila, patting Joanna on the sleeve. ‘Most of the time.’
Celia coughed, an utterly artificial sound, and took Søren’s hand, either out of comradeship or to stop her from stroking so much. ‘As short as I can make it, the girl…this being…has a connection to us. Me, those two at the bar, others in the back rooms. And we, in turn, have a connection to her. That is why she trailed me here. And that is why, fate willing, she will choose to stay.’
‘Not a chance,’ blurted out Sila, hand still on Joanna’s sleeve and almost tearing it off.
‘It is very unlikely,’ amended Joanna, pulling her arm away. ‘From our experience, if we leave this place, she will follow us out.’
Celia let out a kind of clucking sound and refilled her glass with red. ‘That is correct…generally…but not for the next hour or two. You see, her sensory field has been overwhelmed by her proximity to all us other demons at the bar here.’ She paused, looking irritated at the liquid in her glass. ‘Wah, bad sentence. I mean, she is currently fixated on us. To the exclusion of all else.’
‘I don’t believe you,’ responded Sila, folding his arms.
‘You may test it, barkada, if you like?’
‘By walking out?’
The door to Mate De Neptuno was wide open, the street outside visible, yet there was no movement from the Slovene, apart from a dagger stare at the flickering green bulb above.
‘How long exactly will your spell last?’ asked Joanna, re-taking the reins, arms defiantly uncrossed.
‘As I said, about two hours, possibly three. After that, something primeval will click in her mind and she’ll switch back to tugging on your sleeves…as if nothing had ever happened.’
‘Good,’ muttered Sila, smiling at Søren and getting the side of her cheek back in return.
Joanna concentrated on the same target, her thoughts in a different nebula entirely. ‘Can we extend the spell?’
‘Make her stay with you permanently.’
Sila eyes went comet-like. ‘Are you-…what are you on about?’
‘We can’t leave her, she’s-…’
‘Not being surveyed 24/7.’
‘It’s not right.’
The Slovene dad unlatched his arms and shot up out of his sofa chair, moving round the side to Søren, holding out his hand.
Then having it pushed away by Celia, who was so casual in the action that she sipped from her glass at the same time.
‘You can’t make her stay, she’s our daughter.’
Celia finished her drink, waiting for Sila to power down a bit and, although he didn’t return to his seat, he didn’t make another run on the girl either. ‘As I said, barkada, friend, another two hours and she’ll be yours again. There is no way we can make her stay. Unless she chooses to do so herself.’
‘Then we just sit here for two hours until the spell wears off,’ said Sila, still not sitting down.
‘That is the less entertaining option.’
Celia smiled at the two male staff, possibly demons, and then at her own glass. ‘How about a tour behind the scenes?’
‘Come, the four of us…before I finish this whole bottle.’
Taking Søren’s hand, or letting her hand be taken, it wasn’t exactly clear which, Celia rose without any arm assistance, any counter-weighting, and guided the little girl-being over to the counter.
‘You’re sure you can’t extend the spell?’ tried Joanna again, slotting in at the side and getting the attention of Søren, as well as the brief doubt that the demon may know more than just the word stay.
‘Better not be a trap,’ said Sila, appearing on the other side of Celia, his hand dangling close but not making contact with the arm of his daughter-myth.
‘Let’s not dwell on such negative thoughts.’
‘Where exactly are we going?’
‘Utopian Socialism, barkada.’
‘The green door, this way.’
The back rooms were a lie, a signifier leading both Sila and Joanna in Slovene and Chinese to imagine actual rooms, with gamblers smoking or bored staff looking at their phone and smoking
but there was only one room, that led down to the basement, with a green door and a Prospero-style lock, which in turn took them to a system of caverns and tunnels, punctuated by other coloured doors, some with plaques stamped on in English and Spanish, at least one in each tunnel, and
with Søren’s hand still locked tight in Celia’s and Sila hovering like a sales assistant nearby
Joanna a few yards back
they reached a clearing that resembled the central chamber design for Fourier’s Phalanstére, an unintentional irony, Celia claimed, which, now that she said it out loud, may not have been so unintentional, after all.
‘Not that I approve of Fourier, but on a smaller scale, for our type of community…’
‘How did you build all this?’ asked Sila, taking a break from ticking off the minutes in his head to soak up the architecture, specifically the four-petal layout and the window nearby that had a sign claiming ARCHIVES.
‘As with most grand designs, the skeleton was constructed originally by a royal lunatic. We just chipped at the edges, remodelled it here and there.’
‘It looks like a commune…’
‘That was the aim…’ There was a fevered tugging on her hand, forcing Celia to glance down, and then grin Mormon-like as she released her grip and let the girl-being wander off. ‘It appears that she’s intrigued.’
Sila checked his phone and did the maths. An hour gone, one left. Give or take a lot of minutes.
‘Does the Spanish Government know about this?’ asked Joanna, watching Søren run a nail along the ARCHIVES window and bump into a blurry figure at the tail end. No, not blurry, smoky, made of smoke. At least partially…the shoulders, the hands…
‘Don’t be alarmed, they are a herbivore,’ replied Celia, following the same scene. ‘In fact, we are all herbivores down here, to a certain extent.’
‘You don’t need human blood?’
‘If it’s directed by Werner Herzog, maybe. But no, we don’t depend on it for survival, nor seek it out for fun. The occasional draining of a rapist or serial killer, to celebrate a special event or a birthday, that’s the extent of our crimes. If you can call it such. Last poll I read said 80% of the Spanish population thought it was okay for rapists to have their dick chopped off. That’s not wholly dissimilar to the service we provide…now and then.’
Sila let out a staccato laugh, he couldn’t help it, then quickly got the leash back on and followed Celia over to another window that said CONSIDERATION ROOM.
‘I don’t want to bore you by describing every shop, but this is one of my favourites.’
‘We loop a projection of the Helix Nebula on the far wall and dim the lights, then play audio of theorised alien static. It’s very soothing. And helps us to come to terms with our own longevity, which is obviously a lot more extensive than your human lifespan.’
‘How long do you live?’
Celia peered in through the glass at a slender, tree-like figure sitting alone in the dark, the swirls and light dots of the Helix Nebula, as promised, on the far wall. ‘Age tends to be reduced in the saying of it.’
‘More than a thousand years?’
‘Let’s just say I’ve been around a while.’
‘Not much of a clue.’
Celia pulled away from the glass and did a panoramic spin around the four-petal clearing. Then honed in on one specific tunnel to the left, watching as Søren shuffled toward its entrance, scraping at the walls, then disappeared inside.
‘Søren …’ Sila shouted, taking half a step after her and getting tugged back gently by Celia’s hand, which wasn’t hand-shaped anymore.
‘Fuck…’ he eked out, reeling back. ‘Where’s she going? What’s happened to your fingers?’
‘It is their natural state. And don’t fret about the girl-being, that tunnel loops back round the other side. She won’t get lost.’
‘Unless that’s your plan…’
Celia stretched out the tips of her claws, or talons as they were quite long and bird-like, then scanned the area for the more pragmatic of the visiting pair.
No sign of her.
The aswang herbivore left Sila by the CONSIDERATION ROOM and adjusted her position in a diagonal line until she saw Joanna sitting on a beanbag, with an ancient blueprint of the world in her hands.
‘Admiring your old middle kingdom?’ she asked, slumping down onto the beanbag next to her.
‘I’m not an imperialist.’
‘Ah, how refreshing. I’ve lost count of the number of humans who are anti-empire until it’s their own country involved. Then it’s, oh, not the same, we didn’t have slaves, there was a tribute system, they wanted to join our country.’
‘Does that include the Philippines?’
‘Joking, barkada. Of course, it includes the Philippines. On a smaller hegemonic scale. You think they did not have kings and queens? Despots?’
‘Well, I suppose it all gets swallowed up by what the west did. What the West does. Sorry, mixed tenses. But if you really wanna know what happened, pre-Magellan…’
Joanna patched out, tracing the outline of 16th Century Ming Dynasty China and, by the time she got to the chicken’s foot, she’d lost interest in history and the beanbag, but was too lazy to pull herself up
so she continued sitting there, listening to the aswang herbivore yap on about communalism and the future collectives in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud, all the while watching Sila stare at the tunnel entrance on the other side, prodding at different ways to make him forget the demon child, to somehow let this creature and her cohorts enact whatever their hidden plan was and keep her there.
Off the top of her head, she guessed it would be a prison for them all, the two of them kept in relative comfort so the girl would stay too
but that wouldn’t work cos the girl would protect them, attack any that tried to stop them leaving, which is what she was gonna do, as soon as she could conjure up enough Franju-level willpower to shed the beanbag costume.
‘You are not attached to her so much,’ said Celia, abandoning the monologue and leaning across to poke her on the forearm. ‘Not like he is.’
‘Does it matter?’
‘It will when an hour passes and she doesn’t leave.’
‘As I said, the girl has a connection to us. Now that she is in our back rooms, the spell will expand to a week.’
‘What are you guys talking about?’ asked Sila, coming over and stopping by Joanna’s beanbag.
Celia took a breath then waved a claw at the demon with smoke-made limbs. And the two male staff from the bar upstairs, who now had lilac-tinted skin and stood propped up like wax figures by the tunnel on the right-hand side.
‘What’s going on?’ semi-repeated Sila.
‘Don’t fret, barkada, it is just a precaution.’
‘She’s expanding the spell,’ said Joanna, finally pushing herself off the beanbag.
‘But…that’s impossible. You said-…’ He turned to Celia, who for some reason was nodding instead of shaking her head. ‘I knew it, this is a trap.’
Reaching with Kinski-face inside his jacket, Sila whipped out the green dagger, then dropped it immediately and clutched his hand as if it’d just been chomped on.
Celia watched, still nodding. ‘Sorry, no violence allowed in Phalanstére.’
‘Phalanstére defensive network, actually.’
‘What is your plan?’ asked Joanna, kicking the dagger away as Sila tried to reach down and grab it again.
‘Do you intend to keep us here?’
Giving eyes and coded signals to her comrades, Celia got up off the beanbag and moved closer to Sila’s dagger. Without any discernible flourish or hand wave, the blade rose up into her palm and did a promo-rotation before sailing back over to Sila.
He grasped it tight on the handle, pointing it at Celia, the smoke thing, the purple staff…muttered fucking telepath a few more times…then self-deflated and asked in a ragged voice the same thing Joanna had.
‘We really do intend you no harm. Our only interest is in our comrade, the girl-being.’
‘That is an unkind word, not in the spirit of my futurism. No, we do not kidnap anyone. I only use the word spell so you may understand on some level…but it is not a machinated thing. It is a natural bathing in comradeship. For one week. After that, it is up to the girl-being to confirm her direction. With us, her comrades, or with you, her programming.’
There was a noise from the tunnel to the right, then the wraith-like emergence of Søren between the hips of the purple staff twins, her form faint and foreboding, at first, then clear and comforting, and ecstatic as her eyes hit the beanbags and
her little body was over there, falling on the red one Joanna had just abandoned.
‘She will remain here for one week,’ continued Celia, shifting herself between the girl-being and her programmed parents. ‘You may come and visit as often as you wish, though it is unsafe for you to spend the night. Two of our comrades are nocturnal and quite out of their senses past the witching hour. But in the daytime, in the evening, that is fine.’
‘How do we know you won’t…’
The question died out on Sila’s tongue as he watched the girl rolling around in small circles on the beanbag, completely oblivious to him or Joanna.
‘You won’t hurt her…’ he said instead, more a statement of fact than a query.
Sila drifted off again, questionless, confused, the ARCHIVES window floating into his brain and telling him, hey, might be some cabinet stuff in here, and who needs a kid anyway, she doesn’t even speak English or Slovene, keeps getting in the way, sleeps in the middle of you and Joanna and
don’t you want that
you and her
something real instead of all this cabinet-
‘We’ll be back tomorrow,’ he said abruptly, taking Joanna’s hand and gripping it tight until she nodded in agreement.
‘In the morning. Very early.’
‘Any time you wish.’
‘Not that early,’ edited Joanna, switching the grip so her hand was on top.
Celia made a triangle formation with her talons and gestured towards the green door exit. Then returned to the spare beanbag, stretching her legs out until they were almost touching Søren’s
then pushed a little further, connecting
making the girl-being flinch
and search out the retreating figures of Sila and Joanna, who seemed to sense it on some psycho-somatic level as they both stopped halfway through the green door, and pivoted, just in time to hear Søren’s second word in frazzled English,