The landscape surrounding Almodóvar Chicken wasn’t as barren or desert-like as it had seemed from the service station car park
as over the first set of hills lay a small pueblo, white walls and dustbowl ground, abandoned
but not historically without hope
at least in the 80’s
cos when the service station was originally built – at the start of that decade, twinned with Almodóvar’s second film Laberinto De Pasiones – there had been plans to bring the place back to life, mainly through film tourism.
The idea wasn’t a hundred per cent clean, as it relied heavily on mimicry and low information tourists, but if those tourists had been unable to locate the castle from The Fearless Vampire Killers and somehow found themselves in the Portuguese countryside, then they could potentially be tricked into thinking this village really was the same place Sergio Leone had dragged Lee van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonté to duel object-erotically in For a Few Dollars More, with the pea-brained American fascist with no name lurking off at the side somewhere, ready to slap anyone with tits and a Sontag zine.
To buttress the deception
there were promotional signs copied directly from the pastiche-approximation of the real shooting location near Almeria, Spain, placed at the entrance to the village, boards with hero-size shots from the final shootout, other locations from earlier in the Agua Caliente scenes that had been recreated with a layman-eye substitute level of detail.
They’d even brought giant stones in from the nearby desert and made a circle out of them, plus two life-sized dummies modelled on El Indio and Da Colonel.
Unfortunately, neither dummy looked particularly convincing, the colonel closer to Kim Cattrall in face-aspect than Lee Van Cleef,
and the village quickly lost funding
and the workers left
and the original residents had already left cos the workers were dirty and, in the wrong heat-haze, revolutionary,
so it became the thing that most horror film-makers would kill for, a ghost village with ghost feel, perfect for some Spanish teens to stumble across and fuck around in before being slaughtered by
Arancha Sanchez Vicario
in a Worf mask
as Søren the demon magnet knew
the village was around a long time before Almodóvar Chicken turned up
a long long time
beyond ancient scrawls or atavism or
pink-skinned land prospectors.
Of course, the sign boards didn’t tell the last part, they just looked cheap and tacky, printouts of Clint and Van Cleef stuck on white plywood, waiting to be photographed or filmed or posed next to or
as Sila was doing,
treated like a lamp post, there but not there, as he scanned the famous stone circle, looking for the dust trails of his miracle daughter.
‘Looks familiar,’ said Joanna, strolling up to him, unaware of all Leone films except The Bicycle Thief, which she’d originally thought was directed by someone else until Yute Long told her no, it was Leone, using a pseudonym and a 180 oppositional style.
She put her arm around the sign and posed, her other hand next to her left thigh.
‘Oh that stuff.’
‘Wait, it is familiar. We saw this in Almeria. The exact same place. Wah, really no difference at all. Like it’s just been airlifted over.’ She looked at the roof of the nearest house. ‘Minus a few satellite dishes.’
‘I thought you were going back to the car.’
‘Goi bin ju yee.‘
Sila thought about asking more, probing a little for exculpatory declarations of I thought about it and realised she’s adorable, I love her, but that would probably lead to yet another argument so instead he just nodded and tried, ‘did you see where she went?’
‘I was behind you all the way.’
‘That’s a no?’
‘No, I did not see where she went.’
Sila walked down the slope, away from the stone circle, peeked round the corner then came back. ‘I can’t see her anywhere.’
‘Maybe she dissolved back into the ever.’
‘She walked this way, I saw her.’
‘Or the ether. Effer.’
‘She must be in one of these buildings.’ He did another three-sixty, searching for open doors or broken windows. ‘No traces though. No damage.’
‘I still think we should leave.’
‘I’m gonna leave then.’
Sila was stopped from saying fine, go then by an abrupt noise in a white shack nearby. One with a sign that said EL BAR over it.
‘Sounds like someone hitting furniture.’
‘Or a wall,’ edited Joanna, mouthing back El Bar to herself.
There was another thud, loud enough to provoke them into following the memory of it to the bar and prodding at the door, which turned out not to be locked. There was no one in the main bar area, or what could’ve been the main bar area, it was hard to tell, there was no counter or stools or bottles on wall shelves or light even, but it was the main space of the building and, for some reason, it was empty.
Another thud, lower down.
‘That way…’ said Sila, pointing at a doorway covered with a curtain last dusted a millennium ago.
‘Seems like it’s coming from underneath.’
‘Do these places have basements?’
‘Let’s find out.’
Sila pushed aside the tatty curtain and saw a door to the left that was half open. He walked over and tripped onto stairs leading blind into Tarkovskyian darkness.
‘I know, I’m in the same room.’
‘Stop dragging your feet then. And watch out, it goes down pretty steep.’
Joanna shrugged and followed him down, hearing a louder thud and hoping it wasn’t Søren hitting her head against the stone wall. Then vetoed the thought and hoped that it was. Demon child, self-destruction, for the best.
Sadly, for her Schrader side, it wasn’t.
Off the last stone step, and with the help of eight lit candles tied up with rope to the walls, she stopped and observed Sila trying and failing to take a giant sledgehammer away from the little terror’s hands.
He tried again and Søren pushed him to the ground, glaring back with witch-purple eyes.
‘Get away from her,’ shouted Joanna, not moving an inch from the bottom step.
‘I am. Vocally.’
‘Get the hammer, hold her down. Quickly…that side there, what are you doing?’
‘Stop stalling.’ Sila stood up and when Søren swung the sledgehammer back he made a grab for it. ‘Now, come on.’
Joanna stayed where she was, watching Sila go back and forth a few times before being flung back onto the floor.
‘Stop embarrassing yourself, she’s too strong.’
‘Not if we both do it,’ he said, getting back up, rolling up his hoodie sleeves.
‘She just threw you across the room.’
‘Don’t kwa jeung. It was on the floor, a metre tops. Which proves that she’s not that strong…quite strong, but not that strong. Come on, you grab her left arm, I’ll grab her right.’
‘I’m not touching it.’
‘Okay, you grab her left then.’
‘Yes. Move. Now.’
The little girl swung again and this time with so much force that a hole the size of Gene Hackman’s head materialised.
‘Wah, she did it.’
Blankly satisfied, the miracle daughter/ demon from beyond dropped the sledgehammer and pulled herself through into the darkness ahead. Sila ran over to Joanna, grabbed her by the wrist and led her the same way, getting about a metre before Joanna scratched him off, saying she’d go at her own pace.
‘Fine, crawl like a turtle…’
‘We should go back to the car first.’
‘I’m worried about our stuff.’
‘It’ll be fine.’
Sila climbed through and was instantly absorbed by the blackness. Joanna shrugged to no one except the eight candles and trailed after. Surprisingly, the black hole effect was only temporary as, after a short passage, there was another chamber, or a very wide corridor at least, and in that place was a light source, but it wasn’t candles. Joanna looked up. On the roof and the walls were some mineral deposits, a kind she’d never seen before, though it wasn’t a shock for her to see that they were pulsing bright purple.
She walked forward and came to a staircase leading down in a gradual curve.
There was no sign of Sila or the girl and no other possible route they could’ve gone so she stepped down slowly, thirty or forty steps, until she came to a large room that she was definitely confident enough to call a chamber.
It was clearly natural in its formation, rock, rock, glut of even more rock, but in the middle there was some type of pulley mechanism, with rope attached, hanging over a pit.
Sila and their albatross daughter were next to it, struggling again. Him trying to pull her away, her trying to
She wasn’t reaching for the rope and her legs were only an inch or two from the pits edge, so what else could she be doing?
‘Tried to drop in…’
‘She’s still trying…help me…’
‘Get over here, grab my hand.’
‘Quickly…she’s heavier than a fucking piano.’
‘Losing my grip.’
‘Give it up.’
‘Let her go.’
‘Just pull your hand back, let her…’
Joanna was going to say drop, but there was no time for the last word to spool out.
As fast as she’d thought it, the little blonde figure of silent demonika was gone, over the edge and into the pit
dragging Sila down with her.
There were no screams
as Joanna ran and tripped and crawled to the edge, peered into the black hole
no sound of anything hitting a solid bottom or jutted shards at the sides.
‘Sila,’ she said, half a shout.
She lowered herself a third over the edge of the pit and touched the rope, waiting for it to shake.
She stared at it for a long time.
It wasn’t slow motion
but it felt not unsimilar.
Bouncy castle, swimming pool, giant airbag, cushioned air, bed of spikes, nothing x infinite.
Where were the screams, the pleas?
She kept staring, focused as tight as she could make it without her eyes hurting.
A minute passed.
The rope didn’t even shiver.
But if there was no bottom to this thing and the rope ran all the way down then at some point he’d self-pacify, grab onto it and start to pull himself back up
even if it took a month
five years, ten years, a century
She dipped her hand past the surface of the abyss, picturing him by a tree, outside Ljubljana castle, asking if she was gonna disappear completely behind the red-lit wall. Then a jump-cut to a cabinet with a stuffed Romulan inside, a fierce fuck off, get your own hostel.
He couldn’t just drop
not like this.