shea butter fatigue
bullet hole seven inch Mostar wretch in flak call
warlord to public face uncle if fond of shoulder pain symptom bigger than other symptom cover up with moon base tech walk in slumped side lean on L’Avenir Gallo grin point up VR stub claim associate why
zaum so zaum real grammar fox syntax opposite check data boot with own eye not old form later when need if loaded Khleb
who Russian again in transit don’t you have a cocktail to spike
not violent like the plumes yesterdirge what gas
thought it was hydrogen forgot
two-thirds citrine max, scary should’ve worn Ellesse
fuck in Bosnian slang dark forest not a deer that one sorry Bosniak
same tree cleaner kill serious not now I’m
Belgrade, Near Future
‘Killed my family.’
Not strong enough.
‘Murdered them…my family.’
Weird. Off-tone ending.
‘Murdered…my entire Bosniak family.’
Slow. Too theatrical. Too family. Entire?
Okay. Shades of Keith David. Death count too broad?
Letting out a rough ‘gah’ of dissatisfaction, Enis looked down at the shallow pool of water left in the sink, tutted at the pea-green gunk swirling around on top then went back to the mirrror and assessed. A short, librarian-looking Bosnian man sponsored by reflection-makers Gravlox. Bags holding up eye blobs, weak chin, coat-hanger shoulders.
Franju on a bike rack, was this really how he appeared?
Shoulders…he was sure they’d been broader before the blob shift. But now there they were, stark and sloped, plugged into the morgue light of this aggressively retro bathroom…
Would it be a problem? Visually?
He pictured the primates in the back room, shoving prebrenac down their throats; bricklayer frame, quarter-melon biceps, thoughts the size of diced peanut shells.
No, too glib.
It’ll show on the face.
Dimming out the scene – but not quite the despot blue neon futurising the bathroom walls – Enis concentrated on breathing performance.
‘Murdered them all,’ he muttered, struggling to create an internal portrait of anything. ‘Slaughtered like pigs.’
Slightly smarter pigs
Close to smarter than
Flicking back to void state, he pulled the old Makarov pistol out of his jacket pocket, took a step back and aimed at the mirrror.
Eyelids lifted and the blue-streaked reflection stared back, threatening him. Hand straight, steady, more like a trained assassin than-…
Smash the mirrror.
Rip off the Gravlox sticker.
The finger on the trigger started to shiver, followed by the wrist. A faint, almost undetectable layer of sweat materialised on the forehead. The enormity of what he was about to do became
realistic real actualised.
After almost two and half hours.
‘Murdered all of them. You.’
Closing the bathroom door with the tiniest of clicks, Enis headed back down the brown-lit corridor with the
civil war Civil War photographs hung on the wall and into the main restaurrant.
It was an odd place, 20th Century Yugoslav nostalgia mixed with those neon ping screens that had been popular ten years ago. Almost like the owner had two heads with two different tastes, and was therefore unable to do what most Serbian owners did in situations like these – shoot the one disagreeing.
But Enis knew that wasn’t right.
There was only one head in this place.
A diseased, clotted one.
Cocooned by the dregs of the local militias.
He walked past the tables, careful to avoid knocking any imitation-flak jackets off the back of chairs, keeping his occasional coughs low and into the sleeve.
None of the diners bothered to look up as he simply wasn’t worth looking at, just an average Bosnian guy there to patch in and self-glamourize like the rest of them. They didn’t know there was a gun in his pocket. Or what he planned to do with it.
Even the two uniformed security guards didn’t clock him as he passed through to the next room, the VR Palace as the sign called it.
Must really look like a gamer, he thought, putting a hand inside his jacket pocket and turning it quickly into a chest rub when he saw one of the goons from the second line of security glance over. That or the lights are trimmed so low it’s impossible to see who anyone is.
Injecting a shot of Ubikian paranoia, he slowed his pace and hovered near a group of four wretches plugged into the Siege of Sarajevo server. All zoned out, eyes technically open and blinking intermittently, but minds ninety-eight per cent elsewhere.
Busy murdering my Bosniak family slunk into his head as he noticed they were all kitted out in army fatigues, but there was no emotion attached to it.
How could there be?
He hadn’t been there personally, he’d never seen the bodies…these were not the men who murdered them…just cowards who wanted to simulate it. Patching in and pretending like they could’ve had the balls to do any of that. Well, maybe the massacres, but with enemy militia loons shooting back at them…no chance. Courage in its horizon state as that fucking no chin Thai hologram would say. Or was it Assta? Definite recall of flickering, female form, could’ve been either one of now that he-…
‘Which server?’ broke in from the left, a rough voice.
Enis blinked and saw the same security guard who’d glanced over a moment ago now blocking his path.
He pictured a stick figure slow-fading into the atmosphere of Neptune, shrieking acid Serb, then slipped a clear hand inside his jacket pocket and fingered the barrel of the gun.
Murdered my family.
By loose association.
Probably your uncle or your dad.
‘That one,’ he replied, hand back out, voice wavering a little. ‘Pluto 2270.’
The security guard followed his finger, unnecessarily squinting at the sign on the hardware when the picture of the ex-planet was about the size of his own head. Clearly not a gamer himself.
‘Why aren’t you on it?’ he asked, turning back.
‘Toilet break, still a bit dizzy…’
The guard looked at Enis’ forehead for a few seconds then grunted and moved to the side. It was hard to know for sure if the sweat layer was visible, but it felt like it should be.
Dial it back a bit.
Gamers don’t sweat that much.
Watching the gorilla disappear into the face part of the restaurrant, he resumed movement, ostensibly heading for the Pluto 2270 server, but choosing a route round the other tables that would also take him close to the back room.
The place where the butcher sat.
He brought his lungs under some measure of control, as much as he could within context, ignored the groans coming from pervs engrossed in Harem Survival 4 or 5, and evaluated the door ahead.
Only two guards, both half asleep.
The door itself probably unlocked.
Ja, that’s the way it was when you owned almost one third of the surrounding district. Superficial protection with no detail. And why not? Only a lunatic would try anything, a raid or a stunt-cut, and the butcher probably knew all the lunatics in the area already.
Hired a lot of them too, he thought, letting out the beginning of a laugh and quickly filtering it into a cough.
He murdered your family. Bosniaks.
In the magic hour.
Swerving away from the Pluto 2270 group, Enis walked with the words pink massacre in his head past the two security guards, and prodded open the door. The smoothness of his action seemed to convince the two gorillas that he was going where he was supposed to, their faces not even glancing up as he went through.
Gah, maybe they really were asleep.
What a stroke of luck.
Enis let them doze, continuing on into a smaller, marginally less dim dining area, where about two dozen psychopathic men [and six women] were eating a generic assortment of sushi and sashimi, some of them using a fork. As for security, there were two that were immediately discernible; one wolfing down a burger on a table by himself, his face lit up like a demon by the green bulb directly above, and the other over by the fake palm tree, giving one of the waitresses a shoulder massage.
Neither one paid him any attention.
Ah, Serbian ex-military.
Best that butcher money can buy.
Apart from Angolans.
Or those US types who always seemed to come from Alabama or Texas.
Or the Russians who didn’t-…
Pinching the back of his neck, he scanned the rest of the room.
On the table by the far wall, a Sumerian nut sack of a man with eyes buried deep in shadow sensed the intrusion and stared back, three fries impaled on his chopstick. Enis locked eyes, double-checking to make sure it was the right guy. Normally, it would’ve been tough, most elderly Serbians looked alike, but this one had a table-sized portrait of himself dressed up as Prince Marko on the wall directly behind, so there was no real doubt.
Time to act, he told himself, letting the legs carry him forward.
For all these wretches to see
Taking a sip of something red with his spare hand, the old man watched intently as Enis maneuvered around and between the other tables, making his way towards him. Aware of the surveillance, Enis stopped a few times, slapping the back of his head and swaying slightly in mock confusion.
The butcher knows.
Don’t wait, just shoot.
Ja, draw it out, let him know.
Make him feel it.
Deciding on something between the two, Enis came to a halt two feet away from the old man’s table, pulled out the gun and pointed it at his target.
No words came to mind except weak zaum poetry, so he stared at the French fries stacked on the end of his enemy’s chopstick, vaguely aware of movement around him.
Obeying in the worst possible way, his hand started to shake. The gun had little choice but to follow suit.
The old man nodded, muttered clown in Serbian, and bit the French fries stack in half.
‘You murdered my…’ Enis tried to say, but was cut off by two guards side-tackling him to the floor. The gun tumbled under the table and his face took three clumsy punches before a huge pair of hands managed to get a tight hold of his throat.
‘Čekaj, čekaj, čekaj…’ slurred the old man, half drunk.
The larger of the two guards – in a relative sense; the smaller one was at least six one and 250 pounds – stopped his hands mid-neck snap and slapped Enis on the cheek instead, forcing his head round to the boss.
‘Murdered who?’ asked the old man in surprisingly clean English, putting down the chopstick.
Enis kept his eyes steady on the target, but his breathing was another matter; it sounded like he was having an asthma attack. Sense memory? Possibly. Something before the abandonment perhaps. Whatever it was, it was suffocating. He tried to get out the words Bosniak family, but they just would not come.
Some of the diners found the interlude amusing and called for an impromptu wrestling match, while others shouted at the guards to shove a rock down his throat.
‘Rock sounds about right,’ agreed the old man, motioning to the smaller guard with his chopstick.
Enis looked up, seeing a dark-skinned man at the same table as the butcher, his voice heavily accented. If he had to guess, one of the rogue adventurists from Ghana, come to lease property in Belgrade. Or hawk those new wine-enhancing storage units.
‘Killing might be a bit much,’ elaborated the foreigner, picking up a piece of sashimi. ‘He’s clearly in an emotional state.’
‘Da, naravno. He just tried to shoot me.’
The foreigner shook his head [and chopstick]. ‘I’m not so sure. Seems more like immersion haze. Probably patched out next door and thought he was still in the game.’
‘Somehow took a wrong turn by mistake. Yes, look at him, the poor man can’t even breathe.’
The old man picked up a serrated knife next to his plate and pointed it at the door. ‘He walked over here calm enough.’
‘That may have been the haze part.’
‘And aimed a gun at me. Not a fake.’
‘Um…yes. The gun. That is…a little more difficult to explain.’
The foreigner looked at the hyperventilating lunatic with what looked like sympathy and picked at his stubble. Sensing an ally, Enis toned down the asthma attack and gave him the words he’d rehearsed: ‘This butcher murdered my family. Massacred them.’
‘Wait a second…butcher? You mean you’re not actually-…’
‘Ah, you are, aren’t you?’
‘Shit, I really thought you were a gamer. Immersion haze. That’s why-…’
The old man waved his hand through the air, almost clipping the foreigner on the side of the face. ‘Okay, okay, this isn’t a fucking trial.’
‘Sorry…my mistake. Guest confusion. Carry on.’
‘Of course, of course. The floor is all yours.’
Ha, put on the glasses, Ghanaian Keith, you wretch.
Put on those glasses.
Put on all the glasses.
Choke on them.
‘Fucking coward,’ screamed Enis, shrugging off one of the guards before quickly being pinned down by the smaller one.
‘Shut him up,’ shouted the old man in gutter Serbian, throwing over the serrated knife tip-first. He turned to address the other diners, most of whom were riveted by the show. ‘Anyone squeamish go smoke outside for a minute. No judgment.’
Not a single body moved, not even the Ghanaian.
‘Okay. Close the door, up the music.’ The old man pointed over at one of the fringe diners, who duly obliged, then turned on the two guards. ‘What are you hovering for? Cut him.’
Grunting an affirmative, the larger guard grabbed the handle and placed the imitation-steel edge against Enis’ neck.
‘Murdered my family…butchering cowa-…’
‘Torso,’ interrupted the old man, picking up his chopstick and stabbing it through two French fries. ‘Slower.’
The guard adjusted to the new instructions and, without blinking, pushed the knife hard into Enis’ stomach. Then drew it out and did the same to his left arm. Then his chest. Then his stomach again.
Finally, he ran it across the neck, just to shut the poor fool up.
‘Dump him out back,’ said the old man, spitting out pieces of the fries. ‘Before the carpet stains.’
The two guards didn’t bother with yes, sir, they just got on with it; the assistant going for Enis’ legs, and the stabber trying to get a decent grip under the armpits without dislodging too much blood from the victim’s-…
A sudden cough, followed by a stream of deep red.
Both guards reeled backwards, hands raised in baffled defence.
Half off the floor, Enis coughed again, more blood spurting out. He touched his throat and his stomach wounds and eked out fuck in a language no one understood.
‘Stab him again,’ shouted the old man, first in Serbian, then in English, his voice breaking a little.
The larger guard picked up the knife and approached tentatively, almost apologetically, before thrusting the steel back into Enis’ body, this time aiming at an imagined hollow between the ribs.
Enis waited for him to finish then examined the new wound. Clearly unimpressed, the Bosniak shifted his weight backwards and propped himself up against the nearest table leg.
‘God, I’m bored,’ he said, looking at the dull, spud-like faces staring back at him.
‘Can’t even be bothered to gloat. Too murky.’
The lights flickered, then stabilized into a brighter green. At the same time, Enis’ pupils changed from the pale brown he’d used to seek revenge to something that could only be described as witch purple.
‘Little bit better,’ he said, spitting blood on the carpet.
Reeling back in his chair, the old man reached inside his jacket pocket before spitting out ‘fuck’ when he realized he hadn’t brought the gun with him. In blind panic, he grabbed the chopstick and waved it in the air, yelling at all the frozen dummies in the room to, ‘shoot the fuck, cut its head off, kill it!’
It would have been a routine order most days, an exhilarating one back in war time, but not now.
Because all the men [and three women] in the 90’s mafia room were floating in the air with their faces peeled off.
‘Demon,’ stammered the old warlord, jabbing the chopstick towards Enis, who was still sat on the floor, wiping off some of the blood.
‘Ant,’ he replied, pupils glowing as the murderer’s windpipe burst out of his chicken neck and landed on what was left of the sashimi.
Then the orchestra came down.
Corpses dropping roughly where they’d been sitting a few seconds earlier.
Mutilated in the old civil war ways.
The foreigner stayed in his seat, trying to keep his posture steady, but the horror was too much. In his head, he rehearsed his excuses. I tried to save you. I didn’t kill your family, he did. The man was a slob. I knew you were impervious to knife wounds. How about a wine-enhancing storage unit, no charge? Wah, I thought it was a play.
Enis gave up on the blood and moved a hand up to his cheek, picking at the stubble. As he did so, his face changed, matching the lines and cracks of the foreigner’s until, finally, they were identical.
‘I’m not with him,’ the foreigner blurted out, grabbing the old man’s chopstick and holding it up as a shield.
‘Yes, yes, yes, not at all. I’m an adventurist, wine-storage, from-…no, wait, wait, I tried to save you. Just now. I spoke up, defended you.’
Glaring at the chopstick until it was long and saw-like, Enis spun it round and sailed it right through the man’s neck.
‘Barely,’ he muttered, in the foreigner’s own voice.
Almost not at all.
Not anything at all.
Barely did anything.
Barely a thing.
‘Barely did anything,’ he tried again, framing out each syllable.
The foreigner slumped down towards the tablecloth, missed the table, dropped lower.
Now a carpet corpse.
Looking at his death mask, definitely Ghanaian. Adventurist, as admitted.
Wah, the surprise factor on it.
At this hour?
But, Sir, I haven’t had a chance to seek out the immortality juice yet. Or hire futurists to warp my DNA. Or climb into the thirty-by-twelve womb simulation. Or do the deal of all deals in deal town. Or put my Serbian exchange in the pain cot. Or refinance my wife. Or buy the Vanderbilt sex diary. See where he put it and how, copy selected parts.
‘Barely barely barely did fuck all of anything…’
Enis reached up to the table rim and felt around until he found the plate of fries. Pulling a handful down, he wiped off some of the blood and shoved them in his mouth.
Burgers were probably the same.
Fucking Serbian chefs.
Pulling himself up onto his feet, he grabbed a napkin, wiped the messier parts of his shirt and did a tour of the battlefield.
Massacre site, if he were being pedantic, but that implied vulnerable people who didn’t deserve it whereas these…things…should’ve had their faces ripped off years ago.
And now they had.
He paused next to a table by the door. There was a phone with the screen still lit up. Sitting down, he translated it from Serbian to Bosnian and started to read. Franju only joined the production after sending a video of herself standing inside the prison cell of Antonio Gramsci, reading out Wretchko’s monologue from the Moon Prison helium mine escape scene.
Was that a game?
He opened up a new tab and searched the name, and laughed when he saw it was a philosophical sci-fi novel from the early 20’s.
Fucking humans and their L’Avenir.
And set in the Kuiper Belt too.
At least part of it.
The door opened nearby, one of the gamers walking in with his head bobbing, mouthing wrong zone when he saw the flayed bodies on the carpet and tabletops, then calmly turning and walking back out.
He even closed the door behind him.
Waste of a brain, thought Enis, lodged in his seat, scooping up some loose sashimi, reading the full summary of Moon Prison, whistling at the denouement, putting the phone down and admiring the view, then going back to the gamer who’d just walked in and his waste of a brain line and
what was he playing
the Harem thing?
He leaned down and picked up a rogue Serbian face, twirling it fairly poorly on his finger
tried a few more times then
kept it in hand
walked out into the middle room, the VR Palace, located the gamer he’d just seen and sat down on the empty seat next to the zoned-out little wretchko.
Picked at some of his food.
Watched his cheeks twitch.
Called him a rat in the castle sewage.
Leaned closer and slapped him.
Ran his tongue over his lips.
Touched his crotch.
Pulled out what passed for a dick and held a fork to it.
Whispered in his ear that it was hauntological.
The dream of an already dreamt dream.
Then drew blood.
The two security guards didn’t do a thing cos the purple had put them to sleep as he drifted past and no one else noticed as they were busy fucking onsen girls in Harem Survival 4 or sniping unarmed Bosniaks in the sad fuck military jaunt and
even if they did notice
he’d just kill them
cos they were pieces of shit too
worse than that fucking Ghanaian adventurist
and his half-hearted intervention
the sad excuses
his pitiful dreams of
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