Thousands of light years from your home, from where you were born, from other people who resembled you
YOURSELF, ALL PARTS, ALL SCHISMED ASPECTS
sitting in a hidden basement behind a broken wall in an abandoned pueblo behind a Portuguese hill in the middle of an imitation desert near a decrepit service station called Almodóvar Chicken
realising in spurts where you were, where you truly, physically were, how isolated that position was, how weird the purple mineral deposits in the walls looked
enervated, drained, relieved
all cowed by blankness, body strangely there, real skin an inch behind, gone in the Baudrillardian sense, laughing, an ironic simulated atom thatch
not only lost in place
but lost in concept
stranger in a Star Trek cave
Sitting with her back arched was sustainable only for latter-day nihilists, and her left knee had been digging in so hard so long to a jagged chunk of earth that Joanna had no real choice but to give up on the pit stakeout and pull herself over to the nearby wall.
Which is where the counter-thought hit.
What if the moment you left, his eyes had appeared, or Søren’s eyes, glowing purple, begging beacon-like for a hand up? Or another hand to drag down…
She blinked and discovered herself hunched over the rim of the pit again, staring at the rope in hope of faint vibrations.
Or a yell from below, saying hey, there’s a bouncy castle down here, on rock floor that feels like sponge.
‘Sila?’ she called, shivering at the sound of her own voice. Then shivering again when she reflected on that sound as object-real.
A echo drifted back, just about recognisable.
I know where I am, she thought. In the middle of Portuguese nowhere. Alone. Too scared to descend. Too excited. Petrified. Bored.
She growled at herself, scratched her arm, grabbed hold of the rope and yanked it.
‘… … … … … … … …?’ she shouted in ragged Cantonese.
Another echo, alien-distortion.
Her hand reached down deeper, pulling the rope upwards.
Did it go all the way down?
If there was no bottom to the pit then probably not. Unless it was endless rope? A philosophical trick mesmerised into her own sketch-reality by…something?
Joanna continued pulling the rope up, picturing the Krsnik in Vicenza, bleeding out, the aswang’s floating head, biting at them, her miraculous demon child with death wish curiosity, the photos she’d got from her sister the day before, the birds nesting behind the air-con outside the window of her brand new flat, the refusal of her parents to renovate their archaic flat, even one little tile, the type of job she’d have to accept if she really did go back…
The rope turned to air, Joanna looking down and seeing the tip of the woven jute rested on her fingers.
‘… … …’
She wasn’t great at measurements, but it seemed close to fifty metres in total length. Maybe a few more either way.
Not that much, and certainly insufficient for abseiling, but perhaps there was an alcove
forty or so metres down
leading to a tunnel or another hidden room,
an alternative exit from the pueblo maybe?
She spun the end of the rope in little circles, her eyes fixed on the abyss.
Waiting for something to appear.
To attempt something
Say stop staring.
Or come on in, it’s mystical down here
But nothing happened.
The abyss was simply an abyss.
Object-reality, 1st tier.
Or 2nd tier and just too bored to stare back.
The rope stopped spinning, her eyes closed.
Should I drop it again, shimmy down, she asked her adjacent self, getting back an instant ho mo liu geh reflex, saying Sila probably would’ve gawped at her, shocked, for knowing the word shimmy.
Probably, but why?
It was just a word.
Though she couldn’t remember where she’d heard it.
Or beyond all this, in older times?
Feeding herself a metre down the pit wall, Joanna quickly felt the metaphysical cold-grip and climbed back up, telling herself that she would go down eventually, but only after she’d gauged how deep it went.
There were only loose pebbles in the chamber she was currently in so she made her way back through the hole in the wall and upstairs into El Bar.
Bottles of Spanish spirits and wines had to be there somewhere, stockpiled, hoarded, that was her reasoning, and it only took a few minutes to find some old mini-bottles hidden in a cupboard with a door that just came off completely when she tugged on it.
Quinta de Leda 1976.
Big enough to crack and make a noise, heavy enough to fracture Sila’s skull.
Both thoughts seemed valid.
But the chances of hitting anyone’s head were tiny. And she could just shout a warning down beforehand.
Step to the side or something.
Back down by the edge of the pit, she emptied the contents of the bottle first, seeing if there were any reactive shrieks.
‘Bottle falling,’ she shouted, dropping it lip first, and adding fuck in Cantonese when it flipped back almost immediately to its natural top-up weighting.
The glass and its pale green label vanished into the darkness
and kept vanishing
until she was forced to look up again to stop her neck from cramping up.
Is this a trick? she wondered, bottle lid still in her hand.
Are the three of them down there now, Sila, Søren, bottle,
five, ten metres deep
laughing at me?
‘You fucking coward…’
Barely even an echo.
She stared at the rope and told herself to cut it
cut it clean off so they couldn’t get back up
then she could leave
walk out, get in the car and just leave, drive,
be away from this thing.
One hour and then I go.
That was her ultimatum.
Any longer than that and the pit would manifest.
Force her to jump.
Which is half what she wanted.
To land crushed next to his crushed corpse
To go in sync with someone, not alone
Somewhere insane, unimaginable
The darkness of the pit maintained its perfect form
and for the first time since the end of that folk artist Canadian thing, she cried
on a level that wasn’t controllable
that just spilled out despite her lax efforts, her random barriers, hotel on the edge of the abyss, hotel watching that hotel, Althusser painting NOT A on the sign of his hotel, hotel with Christmas tree in February, hotel in
Now I can go back, she whispered to the minerals as the third hour ticked by
back to somewhere else.
Forget about the marriage proposal, the fake child, the Krsnik, the 22 ghouls, the drugs, the last three years
none of it was real.
‘If I had run over, grabbed his hand,’
she mumbled as she walked back into the late afternoon sun, it wouldn’t have changed anything,
the demon child was too strong,
she would’ve dragged us both down
Body stretched out flat, head peeking over the edge.
Another bottle, another tug on the rope.
‘How to get to the bottom of a bottomless pit?’ she whispered in Cantonese.
It’s not faith, it’s suicide.
Drop and you’re gone.
Nothing to reflect on.
No mind to channel the whimsy.
Body is a body is decay.
At least a good few minutes of terror, falling in nothingness, when is it coming, when is it coming…
She checked for her phone, to see the time, and realised after a minute of fumbling in empty pockets that she must’ve left it back in the car. Which had probably been stolen by Portuguese teenagers by now.
I’ll go back, she thought, passing through the hole in the wall, all the way back and forget about this.
Two, three days of bleakness
Stoicism, Gum Yong, animal rescue videos
She headed back out of the village, ignoring the crass promotional signs, one of which looked like the slut from Mannequin, across the token desert and
along the way
she tried to analyse again the nature of the pit, why it was there, who made it, what lives within, and
wasn’t there a bottomless pit in one of the Gum Yong books too
a challenge the hero had to overcome
or had she imagined that?
She wiped the dirt of the screen of her phone and searched for weird real bottomless pits.
There were links to all kinds of things, TV serials she’d never heard of but nothing about Gum Yong, so she switched the search language to Chinese and still nothing came up, which was strange as she could’ve sworn he’d written something about them in one of his stories.
Maybe it just wasn’t a huge part of the plot?
Maybe it was someone else?
One of those three hundred weird sci-fi things he wrote?
Blue Blood Being?
She sat in the car, dummy-like, keys in the ignition.
The ninja panda was hanging down, not looking skilled at all, looking vulnerable, just like the Fragrant princess, just like Yute Long, just like Sila.
She stared at the road ahead, green-patched desert on both sides.
There was a desert in China too
though she’d never been there.
She looked behind, onto the back seat. There were two bags, Sila’s and her own, and nothing belonging to the demon child.
‘… … … … …’
She reached over and grabbed both bags. Opened her own and pulled out the German book. Fake-read the first page and shook her head. Put it back in the bag and stared at the road again.
‘… … …’
Then opened the car door.
The pueblo was still deserted when she got back and the entrance to El Bar was even more wide-open.
Beckoning her in.
Wearing the costume of a drinking establishment.
Putting lies in her head.
Sila at the edge of the pit, sleeves rolled up, hoodie ripped, saying, ‘fuck, that was close.’
Sila surrounded by friendly Krsnik.
Yute Long bathed in Apple Store light.
Drowning in it.
She turned left and
Sat outside in the core of the stone circle, Joanna tried to understand the movie that had been shot there, but it was a western and she’d never liked those.
The sun went down, finally, which seemed symbolic on the face of it, but wasn’t really as she’d lived more or less during the night for the past two years and even before that
she’d avoided the sun.
Was it Yute Long who’d made her do the vampire impression in Czech land
She couldn’t remember.
There was a man peering in through the side window when she returned a second time to the car, possibly a staff member from Almodóvar Chicken. Forging the husk of an old smile, she waved the keys, telling him that she’d just been for a walk.
‘Your car?’ he asked, suspicious.
‘Here a long time. I work inside, watching it.’
She blanked him and got in, shutting the door with a repeat of been for a walk.
Ideally, she would’ve stayed there for an hour, maybe two, working up enough courage to go back a final time and throw herself down the pit, follow the man who might take more than two, three days to paper over
but the Almodóvar Chicken guy continued standing there
rubbing his uniform sleeve
forcing her to start the engine and drive.
Slowly at first
her driving skills a bit rusty
then normal speed as no other cars appeared in front or behind and
after five kilometres, she told herself to stop,
turn around and go back
or swerve off the road completely, drive a long curve back to the pueblo and re-enter, re-immerse.
It was persuasive in theory, in laid out future frames of her potentially doing that, but the sun was almost gone now
and the pit
the chamber around it
would be unbearable
beyond just jumping, the essence of it, the idea of sitting there and
into nothingness that couldn’t just be nothingness
that had to push back something
and if that happened
if she let that kind of thing in