A week of liberation, thought Joanna
should’ve started with hostel sex, followed by a bus ride to Lisboa, a proper attempt to put distance between them and what Sila the night before had referred to as their miracle daughter, not a Mandarin lesson with a local who couldn’t even say I.
On the neighbouring table, Sila may as well have been pool-side in the Maldives, or castle-deep in Brasov, with his student asking in pristine English if Slovene politics were as erratic as in Spain and then swerving into a rant on the legacy of Franco,
though looking at his face it was pretty clear he was mentally back at Mate De Neptuno, tugging on his miracle daughter’s sleeve, trying to tempt her back with promises of improved Danish and terrible people to bite chunks out of.
‘We shouldn’t go back tonight,’ Joanna said after both students had left, one beaming, the other still muttering waaar. ‘Give her a chance to miss us.’
‘Or forget us.’
‘Either way, it’s a good test.’
Sila put the Japanese mythology material he’d just used back in his bag and replaced it with a LEARN DANISH IN 27 MINUTES book, opening to a random page and mispronouncing the word for abstract.
‘So we’re not going?’
He glanced up, not at Joanna, but at the coffee cup with a smiling face on the wall. ‘I wonder if she can make full sentences…’
‘We are going?’
‘Last night she said tomorrow again, but also we meet before it. Technically, that’s a sentence. Yeah, of course, we’re going. I need to test her, get to the bottom of this English thing. If she’s secretly fluent…’
‘…then this opens up everything, our whole relationship. We can tell her not to bite people, break her programming as Celia called it. Not that I trust her. She lied about the spell being unextendible, could be lying about other things too.’
‘Like being an aswang?’
‘Did you hear the thing she said about that Durruti guy? All those books in the archives and she claims she never knew him. But then I look him up and he’s a revolutionary, mysteriously shot in the 30’s before Franco got in. Probably her who did it. And the way she avoids talking about the Philippines…or anything in the past…which is weird if you’re an aswang, that should be all you ever talk about. Not Italian futurism or Russian or whatever it is she keeps lecturing us on…’
Joanna feigned a yawn, stared down at the fifty-seven different iterations of I know how to in Mandarin, then scrunched the paper into a death orb and chucked it in Sila’s bag.
‘I’m going back to the hostel,’ she said, standing up.
‘Not interested in Mate De Neptuno, so don’t bother asking about that.’
‘Our daughter? How about her?’
‘Taking a break.’
Joanna nodded at the cartoon coffee cup and then turned and made a quick run at the door
which wouldn’t slide open for almost a minute
until a local girl appeared and pressed the button that said PUSH in Spanish
no hand icon
Going back to the hostel alone posed no problem at all, Sevilla wasn’t all that dangerous, at least not the tourist parts, but sitting on the private dorm bed, halving time between the Gum Yong book and flights to Hong Kong, wondering if her family would still recognise her, fantasising about fucking Sila in front of her high school friends
or just fucking him in general, on the hostel bed, against the wall, up on the ceiling, without that blonde thing studying the gaps between their thighs, scraping at her-
No, none of it would be uplifting, and Sila would just moan about her non-appearance at the aswang cave when he got back so
there she was again
down in pseudo-Phalanstére, watching Sila ask Søren the same question over and over and over while the girl-wearing demon patted different parts of the cavern walls.
‘How is the persuasion going?’ asked Celia, putting a soft claw on Joanna’s shoulder.
‘I told you, he won’t go.’
‘Did you show him the book I gave you?’
‘The pictures of the victims?’
‘He said it was bias on the part of the artist. And that those people were probably murderers and paedophiles. And if they weren’t, it was just her programming that made her do it, not desire. And a lot of other excuses.’
Celia retracted the claw as Sila came over, looking back over his shoulder several times as Søren went deeper into one of the tunnels, then muttering, ‘she knows more, definitely.’
‘It is better not to push at her secrets,’ replied Celia, sucking at the carton of no sugar lemon juice that seemed to be her drink of choice underground.
‘So she does speak English?’
‘Pushing leads to unravelling leads to the end of the program. Which you certainly do not want.’
‘She means the part where the demon kills us,’ explained Joanna.
Sila glared back, framing the two women in one shot.
‘Your girlfriend is correct. You should hope that she continues to feel attached to this place, and I mean that sincerely, for she will destroy you eventually. It is her programming. Only her own kind can placate her.’
Celia smiled, not at Sila, but a purple creature with one arm sitting on a beanbag nearby.
‘My mum always said, never trust someone who smiles past you.’
‘That seems oddly specific.’
‘It’s true. Just like the Dark Professor, everything you say is a manipulation of some kind. It’s not even well-disguised. You’re probably gonna lock the doors or something when the week is up. Or move location.’
‘Dark Professor…’ whispered Celia, turning her head past the purple thing and over to the Archives.
‘A guy who hides in cabinets,’ elaborated Joanna, ostensibly to the aswang but with eyes on the Slovene. ‘Probably not real.’
‘Ja, like the Krsnik…’ Sila bit back.
‘How many places have you checked now? A hundred?’
‘Or that ferry demon. Or our own daughter. Or this place, these guys…’
‘Not even a loose hair left behind.’
Sila stepped forward Mabuse-style, opening his mouth to boast about the incident in Prague, then remembered the actual details of it, the grey tone of the blood, and let Celia’s claws guide him back down.
‘This Dark Professor sounds very familiar,’ she said, walking off towards the Archives. ‘If you’ll give me a few minutes, perhaps I can find something…’
‘Wait, you know the professor?’ asked Sila, dogging her trail, while Joanna found a spare beanbag and sunk down, pretending that the purple thing next to her was a hallucination brought on by residual grey krsic withdrawals.
‘… … … … … … … …’ it said, after a minute of blanking.
‘Sorry, I’m tired.’
‘… … … … … …’
It turned out the professor’s name was not only familiar, but on record, with Celia bringing out five different texts and dumping them on the imitation wood table.
According to four of the texts, he was a mythical Djinn figure who liked to toy with mortals by playing games, but it was all done via pre-industrial methods
and only in the Persian zone
which didn’t work for Sila as his Dark Professor never spoke Farsi and didn’t do a pinched shock face when he saw Sila wasn’t Iranian.
Book Five, however, was more up-to-date, with an entire section on the Dark Professor of a nebulous realm who played a cabinet game with those cursed by obsessive tendencies.
‘The modus operando…sorry, spelling error…of the professor is to appear in a vision, challenge the mortal to discover him in a specific cabinet, stab him with a green blade, and then promise a vague reward. Usually something metaphysical or abstract.’
Celia looked up, checking that she still had an audience, then pulled back a bit when she saw Sila was five inches from her face.
‘Okay, well…’ She returned to the book, finding her previous place with a talon nail. ‘Oh, here comes the crux. The Dark Professor will hide once or twice, for the spirit of the thing, then sit back in his realm and watch as the mortal, his victim, exhausts themselves in the search for the right cabinet.’
‘Bullshit. Who wrote this?’
‘A Brazilian demon. 1987. After a visit to the professor’s realm.’
‘She met him?’
Celia closed the book and patted the blurb on the back. Surprisingly, there was no dust cloud. ‘You may take this with you. Until the end of the week.’
‘This can’t be right. It’s another trick.’
‘Well, barkada, that is for you to discover. All I can say is that I knew this author, and she is not prone to lies. Quite a well-read futurist too…though a little too forgiving of the Russians. Even did a polemic on zaum once…probably still have it here somewhere, if I cared enough to hunt for it.’
Celia stopped, realising her audience was back in book five and utterly uninterested in what was to come
unless it was cabinet-shaped.
After reading through the whole section, Sila gave it back to Celia and asked her to fill in the gaps of all the Spanish he couldn’t translate, which was about 92% of it.
Laughing with a flick of her talon, she took the text back and proceeded with a slow reveal.
Based on the last few pages, the Dark Professor grew bored of not hiding at all, so with fresher victims, he would set a deadline of five years and physically hide himself away in a selected cabinet.
And that cabinet would stay in the same location, with him inside, even if the victim got close as there was no real danger, the professor couldn’t physically be killed by the green blade, and perhaps giving a reward wouldn’t be the worst thing in the universe
better than just sitting alone in an empty realm
with the occasional stray popping by
and through his powers, he could expand the cabinet interior and make it into a fun palace, just like Celia’s Phalanstére, then chill for five years, watch on covert waves as the victim inevitably targeted Romania, instead of his real hiding place, which
according to the list Celia gave him after the translation, along with a Hiring Now ad for an ESL Centre in Lisboa
could very well be a derelict house five miles outside Sevilla
where an old Francophile used to live.
‘Someone who likes French culture,’ said Joanna back on the hostel bed, reading out the definition from her phone dictionary.
‘I checked the location. There’s a bus that drops near the house, not that far from here.’
‘You’re going now?’
‘Of course. This could be it, the real one. If I leave now, I can get back in time for our Søren visit later. Hopefully, with a chastened dark professor in my pocket. Metaphorical pocket, before you say anything.’
Joanna put her phone on the bedside table and leaned across to Sila, who was sitting upright on his own pillow, lost in the void-scape.
Her first thought was, touch his leg, but that was too forgiving, so she hit him on the back of his hand instead.
‘Don’t go yet,’ she said, sliding closer and hitting him again, this time on the shoulder.
‘You can come too, if you want?’
‘Just no backseat negativity. Okay, don’t come, stay here. I’ll be back around six, I hope.’
‘… … … … … …’
‘You are a bird with no feet.’
‘Ah, haven’t heard that in a while.’
‘Yes. Cos you haven’t been searching for cabinets.’
‘Which is a good thing.’
‘What, the cabinets?’
Joanna grunted in Cantonese, adding a less kind idiom, then climbed over and up onto Sila’s lap and flicked at his cheek.
It took a minute
longer than she’d thought considering cabinets couldn’t be fucked
but there was still something there
a spark or a thirst
a comfort blanket
Wrapping the tissue in another tissue, Sila scrunched it up into one big atom prop and dropped it on the floor, telling a naked Joanna on the bed that he’d deal with it when he left.
‘You’re still going?’
He crawled back onto the mattress and put his head down on her stomach. Ran a finger down between the thighs. Laughed when she closed up shop.
‘You know, that’s the…what? Third time we’ve done it. Or is it the fourth?’
‘Third,’ she replied, checking the window again to see if a tiny face was peeking through the gap in the curtains.
‘Three times…over three months. Intense.’
‘Better than opening cabinets.’
Sila frowned, then laughed, then moved his way upwards, nudging her leg aside with his knee.
‘You want to?’ he asked, as she moved her right hand down, flicking the tip of his dick.
‘Slower this time,’ she said, closing her eyes.
Dropping another ball of rolled-up tissue on the floor, Sila turned to Joanna and said he’d better get going if he was gonna make it back in time for a Søren visit.
‘Or we could skip it entirely.’
‘Can’t do that, she’s expecting us.’
‘I doubt it.’
‘And we can’t let Celia get too much alone time with her. She’s up to something, I know she is.’
Joanna rolled up her own tissue, then put it on Sila’s pillow. Then climbed off the bed and fished around for her Blank Bear t-shirt.
‘Okay,’ continued Sila, stepping out of the way. ‘You may not care, but I’m going. To the cabinet and Mate De Neptuno.’
‘But you do care really. Or you will when she’s not here for more than a day. And you get tired of fucking. And start getting stroppy again. Which is fine, I don’t want an argument…I’m used to it, you’re used to me…but it’s gonna happen…the missing part. Guaranteed.’
T-shirt sliding down, Joanna picked up her phone and flicked through the open tabs until she got to the flights page. After a few seconds of hesitation, she held it out in front of Sila, asking if he wanted to come too.
‘What the hell’s this? Hong Kong?’
‘We can fly from Lisboa. Together. If you want to.’
Sila took the phone and double-checked, frowning when he saw the details. ‘This date is yesterday.’
‘Any time is okay.’
‘You mean…you were planning this before? When Søren was with us?’
‘It’s just a search.’
‘Wah, it’s one seat as well.’
‘Open to change.’
Sila muttered something in Slovene, then actually processed the line he’d been given and laughed. Then stopped abruptly and tossed the phone on the mattress.
‘I’m getting the bus. Back around six.’
‘For a romantic dinner?’
‘Yeah, at Mate De Neptuno. To make our daughter think that we still give a shit.’
Joanna sank back onto the bed, vaguely rubbing circles on the blank bear face as Sila picked up his bag and walked out the door without closing it properly
or picking up his cum tissues.
‘… … … … …’ Joanna whispered in Cantonese, kicking at the little pile with her bare foot.
On the bus to the outskirts of Sevilla, Sila made a token attempt to take in the scenery, but token was the word as his mind was off in the swirls of unknown space, intercutting scenes of Søren pawing at his hand with Celia under a giant Neptune painting
streaks of grey blood dripping out of a cabinet with shots of his dick pushing in and out of Joanna’s cunt
both of them watching it and saying ludicrous lines
like I love doing this to you
edited fast to I love doing this with you
chased by frenzied Cantonese
probably fuck me better, harder
in Hong Kong
with Søren trawling through the Indian Ocean
abandoned by shit parents
who couldn’t even be bothered to learn Danish for her or save her from dogged aswangs and
then he was in a road with almost no houses, a field of unnameable crops opposite, and next to that the house with a number matching the one Celia had given him.
The Francophile, dead but with a surviving cabinet.
Walking around the side into blades of ten feet grass and spider webs in the kitchen doorway, Sila shouted out a polite hola then continued in, making his way past sleeping rats and furniture that looked like it had shed skin a dozen times, the under layer stained and torn and
up in the main bedroom was a single bed, a crucifix on the wall above and a cabinet opposite.
‘Professor…’ Sila whispered, taking out his green dagger and moving forward then stopping and looking at the dagger and thinking, is this right, do I normally hold it this way?
Things seemed oblique
if that was the word
unclear, hazy, uncertain, vague, cos it had been so long since he’d done this that it felt weird
like he was phased into a rerun of himself
doing something that seemed important, but
he blinked, then blinked again, realising that he’d opened the cabinet door.
Inside were ridiculous things
love scrawls to Franco, photoshopped pics of the shithead tyrant’s head on male porn star bodies, with a woman’s unsmiling face attached to the other and
was this a joke?
An aswang’s version of that Japanese ghost in the shower prank?
‘Fucking Francophile…’ he muttered, stabbing the tyrant’s paper face with the green knife, then sliding it back inside his jacket and walking out the wrecked house, getting the bus into Sevilla, picking Joanna up without a word, settling down on the couch of Mate De Neptuno and watching without intervention as Celia sketched funny pictures with Søren, their two heads propped diagonally against each other with no biting or reticence or anything problematic.
She’ll notice us soon, he told himself, as the time ticked by and his drink got lower. She’ll look up and say a new word in English, peel off another layer,
but it didn’t happen and
by the time his second glass was done
and Joanna’s third
he thought, maybe it is a good thing. Leaving for a day or two. Making her miss us. Going to Hong Kong. Forcing a challenge out of it.
His eyes shifted up towards the matte painting of Neptune, the tiny moon base that he hadn’t noticed before, and silently asked it for confirmation.
Yes, it transmitted.
‘Let’s go,’ he said, turning to Joanna.
‘Err…okay. Me too.’
‘We’ll be back at the end of the week.’ He said it to Celia, Søren and the blue gas giant, getting a reaction from none of them. ‘Maybe.’
Then his hand was in Joanna’s and they were both walking out of the dimly lit demon bar onto the narrow streets of not having to think about raising a non-human and
Joanna was the one to look back, just to see if Søren had reacted in any way.
But the aswang had, two of her fingers grinding the necklace hanging down over the not at all Philippine robe she was costumed in, eyes glistening nebula purple.