Chicken costumed as Frankenstein
Chicken costumed as a mermaid
Chicken costumed as Alain Delon
Chicken costumed as a matador
Chicken costumed as a cyborg
Chicken costumed as another chicken in a chicken mask
All chicken, all poorly drawn, all poorly inked, all nothing to do with Pedro Almodóvar, who she was starting to suspect wasn’t actually the basis of this service station-stroke-restaurant out in the middle of nowhere.
Following the thought, she pulled up a map of the area on her phone, zoomed in and spat out Red Sonja in man town breath as she saw the word Almodóvar next to her own blue dot.
Well, now it made sense.
To a degree.
Though why was the nearest chicken dressed like the glasses guy from Re-animator?
She looked down at the surviving coffee granules in her cup, mostly sludge at the bottom, murky, deformed, then heard a voice in cautious Spanish and looked back up.
One of the staff was trying to wake the old guy sleeping on the table next to the toilets.
And getting nowhere.
Another was mopping the floor near her feet.
Then there was the woman still trying to scrub the stain off the one film poster in the place. Something in Portuguese that, based on the main pic, was an old horror film. Possibly giallo. Had the colour range for it.
Joanna sipped ghost coffee and watched the woman scrub.
If she gets it off
then I jump.
If only half off
I still jump.
If a complete failure
I sit by the edge and think of another bet.
Until I jump.
Something hit her foot, a well-stacked rat, Lego car, one of the chickens come to life, Sila’s lopped off, Menoch-possessed hand.
‘Sorry…we close now,’ said the staff guy, pulling the mop back from her shoe.
‘Two more minutes?’ she asked, holding up her cup, keeping it half covered.
The staff peered down, spotting the dregs, clearly not giving much of a shit.
‘Okay,’ he replied, mopping off towards his colleague, who had lost patience and was now tapping a fingernail on the sleeping guy’s table.
For pure spectacle, delusion, the Gods out there, watching from their black hole mega yacht, she sucked up more coffee residue and lit up her phone.
Brought up the e-mail tab.
Checked the message she’d typed.
Edited will come back to might.
Then closed it.
Put the phone in her pocket.
Looked out the window at the dark stretch beyond.
Said, ‘… … … … …’ in Cantonese.
Nearby, the scrubbing woman stepped back from the classic horror poster, possibly giallo, and slapped the scrunched-up cloth onto her other palm.
Eighty per cent clean, she thought.
Ninety if you don’t squint at it.
Ninety nine if you just want to go home.
Nothing is ever completely the same as how you left it, or when you left it
rhizomes, becoming, territory something
but the village with the copy of a copy film boards and stoic El Bar was doing a fairly decent job.
Probably cos there’s no one here, thought Joanna, flicking at the cardboard Lee Van Cleef chin, then heading off in a zig-zag motif down the same tiny street where he’d stage-shot three bandits.
The whole thing still seemed strange to her, the fact that there were houses in this place, functioning rooms and lights and utilities that could take care of the bin guy she’d seen in Lisboa a few hours earlier, but she didn’t soak in it too much
her brain was cortex-deep in the forthcoming abyss, how deep it truly went, how far she could descend using the surprisingly sturdy rope
whether or not Sila was stuck in an alcove
surviving off rat flesh
or strips of his own hair
or Soren’s hair
A male shout from the dust ahead broke the OR chain, forcing her into ape instinct. She took out the car keys, slipped them between her fingers and edged towards the side of the nearest house [with boarded-up window].
Another male shout, followed by a female one, then double laughter.
She poked her face round the corner of the wall.
Yup, two of them. The stone circle at the end of the street, they were playing there, standing at opposite sides and pretending to shoot each other. Speaking in not English. Or any language she recognised. Having a good time. Acting badly.
Joanna took a transition breath, then relaxed, repocketing the keys.
Could still be a serial killer couple, she warned herself as legs took the rest of her out into open space and past the stone circle, waving at the man first, then the woman.
Both gawped back, stuck in their own ape instinct, then quickly rebooted and walked over.
‘You live here?’ the woman blurted out, her accent similar to the staff at Almodóvar Chicken.
‘I thought you were a…’ the man started, picking at a huge beard that made him look a little Iranian. Maybe Turkish. White pretending to be Turkish.
‘Sorry, if I disturbed your play,’ she added, cutting him off.
The two of them looked back at the stone circle, taking a few seconds to process things.
Joanna looked the other way, at El Bar.
‘Actually, it is just some fun…’ continued the woman, turning back first. ‘We like the movie this is-…this town is coming from. Fake a lot, but okay.’
‘It is clearer in the day time.’
‘And we thought, no one else here, good. No, much better at night, for us.’
‘More quiet,’ added the man, following Joanna’s eyes over to El Bar. ‘You are here, only you?’
‘My husband is in the car. At the service station.’
‘You mean, he lets you-…’
‘I left my phone here earlier. That place over there.’
The man glanced again at El Bar, making foreign sounds of uneasiness.
There’s a chance, thought Joanna, that they’re both about to make an offer to accompany me inside.
Which would mean explanations.
An excuse to go down to the basement alone.
Tedious reactions to the pit.
‘I’ll be in and out fast,’ said Joanna, gesturing back to the stone circle. ‘Please, carry on with your acting.’
‘You want us to come, three together?’ asked the woman, frowning when Joanna turned her back and started walking towards El Bar, then muttering, ‘what the fuck?’ in Farsi as the Chinese late night enigma disappeared through the doorway.
‘Was that real?’ asked the man, half to his partner, half to his own hand.
‘Weird village, weird people.’
Through the Tarkovskyian darkness
the Søren-made hole
down the gradual, curving staircase
into the void-cave
the purple mineral deposits sparkling to welcome her back
same as it had been
rope fed like meat-string into its mouth, down its throat
no sign of crumbs or blood
of post-fall survival
someone crawling back up and-
Joanna knelt down by the edge, took hold of the rope, shook on it.
Not a whisper, but not loud enough to startle the foreigners above ground.
More shaking of the rope.
Letting go, she told herself not to get any closer to the edge then sat down, shifting her ass around until her legs were comfortably dangling out into the abyss.
Just a chamber.
Cavern with natural lights, mineral deposits.
Accidental mystical glow.
Grapes are purple too.
College student hair.
No such thing as the devil.
Abysses don’t have eyes.
Wormholes don’t have souls, intent.
No fear in a drop.
Sila did it.
Søren did it.
Did it before you.
Billions have died on this rock.
They’re already beyond, on the next step, and what’s left on this one?
Gum Yong. A job you can’t stand. But will stand. Forty. Fifty. No kids. Brain turned to sludge. More and more distance between you and the ones who have already gone ahead, advanced to something more
She took out her phone, looked around at the chamber, the purple mineral deposits dug into the wall.
All this renovation, structural work
couldn’t be for nothing.
A drop, but not the end of things.
The end of her body but
not the end.
A whole dug out pit, rope fed down the side.
Krsnik in the castle.
Aswang underground, an entire complex, unknown.
Sila and his cabinets.
Søren and her
Mm zun geh
Didn’t have to be the end.
Perhaps the end.
End of what?
Drop, you coward.
After three more seconds, drop.
Couple more scans of the chamber, the abyss, shout outs to Sila, then drop.
The e-mail, responsibility…
A few more minutes.
Breathing out air, willpower, dust-fatigue, Joanna swiped onto the e-mail tab and re-checked her crypto-suicide note.
‘Ming, sorry for the failed flight home. Need time by myself. Maybe a lot of time. Might come back at some point but don’t know when. Will let you know. Tell mum and dad I’m okay.’
She read through it seven, eight, twenty-four times, putting a chokehold on the urge to just throw it in the hole and then herself after it
try to catch it on the way down
catch up to it
create some kind of challenge that would distract her long enough to
‘What the fuck…’ came from somewhere behind, female, heavily accented, followed by something male in another language.
then turned again, reaching out a hand as her phone went the other way
dropping out of shot and
she was going too
off the edge and
Her other hand scrambled, flailed, got hold of part of the rope, tore off skin as it tightened, stopped herself plunging into nothingness.
Cries from above, wah, are you okay? Where are you? Give your hand, please, quickly.
But she was already halfway in
and her hand was stinging
and what else was there?
Alone on a bed, reading Gum Yong?
Meet again, here, in sixteen years?
Don’t fucking do it.
Not like this.
Not in a random pit.
‘Yes,’ she muttered back, looking down, away from the voices
leaving the rope behind
covering her head
letting the void take her
somewhere abstract, new, inventive, green