[Void Galaxia] Chapter 38: Milk On The Metro Walls

+++

Lexi opened one eye and mouthed foda at the box with MACA stamped on the side.

Warehousse?

Corridor floor?

Planet MACA??

It took a second eye to confirm that she wasn’t in any of those places, and then a quick backward scan to understand that Mark was tucked in behind, hand on her stomach, dick resting flaccid against the back of her thigh.

Ah, the store room.

Sofa bed.

She pushed off her share of the covers and sat up, looking at the door to the left. Then down at the floor, where their clothes were.

The connecting memory brought with it a sharp jab, forcing her hands up to both temples, grinding into the bone pocket.

Images of Mark on top of her screened inside.

Then her on top of him.

Swaying back and forth.

Hair clutching.

Inane dialogue.

‘Like that.’

‘I can see it going in.’

‘Where are the tissues?’

‘You should stay longer, move in with me.’

‘Is this sofa clean?’

‘What’s that mark on your knee?’

‘Foda foda foda foda foda…’

She reached down for her loyal Tenebrae t-shirt and put it on, then looked back at her new Japanese-Scouse lover. Boyfriend. Temporary sex partner. Ship in the shortest of nights.

Something in her brain told her it wasn’t right.

This isn’t really him.

This isn’t really you.

And she tried to push it away, throw it off a cliff, drown it in the sea, but it was insistent and when she pictured again the scenes from the night before, it wasn’t her playing the female role, it was someone else, someone with the same dark skin, a Brazilian model, speaking fluent Japanese, fluent Portuguese, fluent Slovene, fluent…

‘You getting up?’

The room broke back in, Mark’s fingers running a curved line down her arm.

‘Work time,’ she answered, reaching for her knickers.

‘Already?’

‘You need to get up too.’

Kuuuuuso.’

‘Yup.’

+++

As usual, the morning rush was effortlessly ironic.

Between the time Lexi opened the doors and midday, a grand total of eight customers came in to have coffee and a pastry, and all but two of them ordered to go.

‘Don’t know if it’s good or bad,’ said Mark, sipping from a Robocop mug he’d found in the back room, the visor and lips protruding outwards.

‘Good,’ replied Lexi quickly.

‘So much time doing nothing…but not really enough time to do anything.’

‘Huh?’

‘Anything productive, I mean.’

Lexi held up her phone, showcasing the Portuguese article she was reading.

‘Yeah, maybe that. But you can’t really focus on it full blast…cos a customer might call you over at any moment.’

She laughed, putting her hand on his thigh and then laughed again in a slightly embarrassed way when her finger brushed a little higher up.

‘That’s my phone,’ he said, deadpan.

‘Is it?’

‘No, not really.’

She moved her hand above the counter and hit him on the arm.

‘Ah, you’re a hitter…’

‘Head-butter, actually. But there are customers…’

He laughed, authentic, not nervous, and drank more of his Robocop coffee.

‘Don’t worry about it too much, you’re still in the early stages.’

‘Of?’

‘Working here. Being anxious about missing a customer with their hand up, or getting shouted at for not doing enough. Give it a few weeks and you’ll be a lethargic koala just like me.’

‘You’re probably right.’

Lexi shifted her phone across the counter and scrolled back to the top of the article. ‘Here, we can read it together. Practise a little.’

‘Portuguese?’

‘Try the first paragraph, see how we go.’

‘Err…I know obrigado and foda and that’s about it.’

‘It’s okay, we can do it like an exchange. I help you with this, you teach me Japanese later.’

‘That could be tough. I’m not much of a teacher.’

‘Me neither. But it’ll be fun. And it’ll kill most of the afternoon…then we can close up and go play Nightmare Castle.’

‘Tonight?’

‘Unless you have other plans…in your back room?’

He sipped more coffee from his Robocop mug then looked down at her phone and squinted at the Portuguese text.

‘It’s okay, if you want some space…’ she added, digging a nail into her palm.

‘Sorry, I was just trying to understand this. Nightmare Castle sounds fine. If it’s just the two of us?’

Sim. I was thinking we could call Lavinia this time, get her to sacrifice an NPC…’

‘Even better.’

‘…or one of those Harem Survival pervs.’

‘Long as it’s not a goat.’

Lexi laughed, putting her hand on his knee. It seemed to take him by surprise as he shuffled on his stool before taking another sip from his almost empty coffee cup.

‘Didn’t touch your phone again, did I?’

‘No, it’s-…I’m sensitive…on my knee.’

‘Ah, the hidden erogenous zone,’ she answered, removing her hand.

‘It’s okay, you can put it back. Just the first touch is weird…sometimes.’

‘How about the thigh?’

‘Better.’

She acted out a soap opera nod, taking some of her own coffee…then went back to the Portuguese waiting patiently on her phone. After muttering some words she only half understood, her hand finally re-activated and placed itself on Mark’s thigh.

‘We’ll try the first paragraph then?’

+++

Around half nine, Juana waltzed in with another two bottles of leftover wine from GRAPE FEST and asked them both if they were ready for Possession.

‘A new filmn?’

‘No, no, no, no. An experience, like Fitzcarraldo or Stalker. Or Dust Ya Mage for you younger pups. Don’t worry, you’ll survive it. I’ll go set up the projector.’

‘Actually, we can’t tonight,’ replied Lexi, her Salifa X jacket already half on.

‘Oh, going out somewhere?’

‘Across the road.’

‘Nightmare Palace?’

‘Castle. Sim.’

Juana looked down at the two bottles of wine gripped in each hand, then through the window at the hundred-strong queue outside the VR plaza.

‘We can watch the filmn tomorrow night,’ said Lexi, putting her jacket the rest of the way on.

‘Of course we can. There’s no rush with Żuławski. You lovebirds go and have fun.’

Both Lexi and Mark opened their mouths, but no denials glided out. Apparently, it was obvious, even to a woman who barely saw them.

‘Go on, stop loitering.’

‘Thanks, Juana,’ said Lexi, tugging Mark on his hoodie sleeve.

‘Yeah…thanks.’

+++

To Lexi’s obvious annoyance, the torture chamber in Nightmare Castle wasn’t as empty as it had been two nights earlier, with another couple busy sacrificing an NPC to Lavinia the Goddess of Death while they had to make do with hovering by the mace shelf at the top of the stairs.

‘They’re not even chanting properly,’ Lexi complained, pulling at the collar of her period-inaccurate dress.

‘Hopefully they’ll get bored soon.’

‘Yeah, or Lavinia will.’

Mark laughed, peeking round the corner of the staircase wall and then laughing again when he heard the guy on the rack say, ‘girl, your skin is like a fucking blueberry.’

Luckily, he was right; the spell of the azure-skinned Goddess soon wore off and the couple patched out exactly where they stood.

‘Game time…’ said Mark, eyes on the rack.

Lexi moved down first, calling Lavinia back with a Romanian sounding chant, and then asking her to read out excerpts from the Munich Manual. Clearly not programmed with that text, Lavinia improvised with random quotes from various occult horror filmns, most of them taken from the antagonist.

‘You think her blue skin is erotic?’ asked Lexi from the rack, studying Lavinia’s cleavage without any attempt at disguise.

‘A bit.’

‘Maybe I should get the paint out…’

‘For your whole body?’

Sim.’

‘I’ll help you with the dress.’

Boa idea.’ Lexi grabbed his hand and pulled him in close, looking at his lips instead of kissing them, then guided him over to the second staircase; the one that led down to the pendulum.

‘Here?’ Mark asked, checking back on Lavinia and her continued monologuing.

‘Here,’ replied Lexi, lifting up the hem of her dress.

+++

Pushing open the door, Lexi called out a drunken ‘kaerimashita,’ used the Tenant Card on the lights, then headed inside.

With a bit more apprehension, Mark followed.

‘Do I need to take off my shoes?’ he asked, getting a footstool slid over to him as a reply. ‘What about your flat mate?’

‘No worries, he’s probably studying Japanese. In fact…’ She disappeared down the narrow hallway and knocked on a door not too far along. ‘Hey, Japanese master. There’s a real Nihonjin here to talk to you.’

Mark flinched at the word real and continued with his shoes.

About a minute later, a Swedish-looking guy with bed hair appeared in the living room, saying a few nervous words in Japanese then leaping quickly to English.

Ignoring Lexi’s cartoon eyeballs in the hallway, Mark apologized for waking him up and asked if Lexi forced all her other boyfriends to do this kind of routine.

‘What the-…’ Lexi yelled, stopping herself at the last second, then changing her mind and saying fuck anyway.

‘I wouldn’t know. You’re the first one.’

‘First?’

‘Apart from that one guy she brought back from the-…’

The flat mate’s line was cut short by Lexi punching him in the back, then ordering him to speak more Japanese.

‘Too tired…’ he replied, translating it to tsukaretta after a two second delay.

‘No, it’s our fault for being so loud,’ said Mark in Japanese.

The flat mate nodded and said, ‘hai.’ Then turned and hurried back to his room.

After the door was audibly shut, Lexi came into the living room and dragged Mark over to the couch, explaining to him that there wasn’t any guy she’d brought back and, actually, he was the first boyfriend she’d had in nearly two years.

‘If we’re calling you a boyfriend,’ she amended, picking up the remote and turning on GENTE+.

‘I don’t mind.’

‘Then it’s settled. Mark-kun. Enjoy your status as the first guy to visit my flat. What do you want to watch?’

‘Don’t know. Anything. Doctor Who?’

‘Huh?’

‘Never mind. Something else.’

‘What the foda is Doctor Who?’

Robocop?’

+++

After getting through two episodes of the aborted I’m All Alone In The Kuiper Belt And That’s Okay web serial spin off, Lexi turned to Mark, clutched his shoulder bone and announced that time was ripe to do the Japanese lesson.

‘Now?’

‘In the classical learning environment of bed.’

‘Err…’

She patted his thigh and got up, telling him to follow close behind as he might get lost in the maze of the three-metre corridor.

Eleven seconds later, they were in her room, with an unsurprising poster of Nightmare Castle pinned up on the wall above the bed. Still semi-drunk, they quickly took off their clothes and got under the covers…then threw the covers off too when Mark started sweating.

‘Go back a bit,’ Lexi said, turning on her side, putting his hand on her chest.

‘From here?’

‘I like this position.’

‘You need warming up?’

‘No.’

‘Bit of stroking maybe?’

‘Go, I’m ready.’

‘Okay…boss. Going.’

Kissing her on the shoulder a few times as token foreplay, Mark reached down and maneuvered himself inside. Lexi breathed out a fuck and pulled him in closer. As he settled into a slow rhythm, his hand gradually moved down to her hips, and the rest of him leaned back…

‘Closer,’ Lexi said, grabbing hold of his wrist and pulling him back.

‘Too hot…’

‘Hold me tight…your arm.’

‘Seriously, I’m sweating.’

‘Don’t care. Tighter.’

He did as she wished, merging with her back and having little choice but to bury his face in her hair.

Tighter, tighter, tighter, tighter, she thought, digging nails into his hand.

After it was done, Lexi rolled over him and fished for the tissue box on the floor. Beyond it, there were the language books – Japanese, Portuguese, Romanian etc. – staring up at her. The children’s books, too. Kill the Mouse in Portuguese. Pluto Ya in Japanese. Glib Koala Ninja in Urdu.

Don’t need to go anywhere, Lexi.

You can stay right here, on the bed, with us.

Safe and comfortable.

Cocooned and

‘Can you reach them?’ asked Mark, stroking her lower back.

Sim,’ she replied, pulling herself back up, throwing him a clump of disorganized tissues. ‘Wah, I just had a thought…about us.’

‘A good one?’

‘Maybe. Possibly. Depends how you feel about Fresno.’

Mark shifted, scrunching up the first tissue and dropping it on the floor.

‘In the short term, I mean,’ she added, taking a tissue and wiping herself.

‘I’m okay here…with you.’

‘On this bed?’

‘Sure. It’s better than a sofa.’

She scrunched up her tissue and threw it on the floor…then climbed up his torso until her face was level with his.

‘What is it?’ he asked, looking down at her shoulder.

I’m so fucking happy you’re here.

Enduring my cowardice.

Making me feel good.

Please don’t go.

Don’t go, Mark-kun.

Don’t go or I’ll cut off your ankles.

Glue myself to your lungs.

Your going elsewhere heart.

Your abandoning-

‘Japanese time,’ she said, kissing him on the bottom lip then rolling off the bed and taking one of the language books from the shelf.

‘At 3am?’

‘3am here. 8pm in Tokyo.’

‘Err…’

‘Or is it 9pm? Can’t remember.’ She sat down on the foot-end of the bed, back against the wall, book open. ‘Come on, shift over here. I need your brain.’

+++

way out of sync

gnawing on a giant leg of chicken

yelling at the man to keep painting

keep painting until the body’s blue and then

then he could have access to his goat

but only if he

A banging noise, outside the castle.

Lexi turned and the candles turned to photos and the walls turned to other walls and the chair beneath flipped sideways and morphed into a modern template bed and-

She opened her eyes.

The familiar sight of her room, blotched in shadow, with a figure sitting at the end of her bed, its head pointed towards a glowing screen.

Mark-kun.

Her alien boyfriend.

Already pulling away and

She shrieked, yelled foda, both mute monochrome inside, then crawled over towards him before her brain could start cranking out more convincing doubt and

actual banshee cries and

reaching his shoulder, she peered round the side.

He didn’t seem to notice her movement, or her breathing, and continued communing with the screen.

Some kind of writing…poetry by the looks of it.

+

My fingers are fire and my legs are fire and my insides are waiting for

fire

to burn the boredom away

the unbearable dull light

surrounding me

enveloping me

becoming me

ME the girl of ether

+

There was still a lot more to read, but Lexi couldn’t be bothered with obvious teen, ennui shit so she leaned in closer to Mark’s back and gave him a spell-breaking kiss.

Or so she thought.

Based on his complete lack of reaction, it was like she’d done nothing at all. Just a speck of dust falling on his skin. An anemic mosquito with its tarsus padded.

‘What are you doing?’ she asked, rising up into a sitting position.

He blinked, slow like a possessed monk, and turned, eyes instantly settling on her forehead.

‘Are you okay?’

He frowned, looking back at his phone screen.

‘What is it?’

‘How long have I been here?’

‘In Fresno?’

‘Yes.’

‘About two weeks.’

‘No. That’s it. Feels strange.’

‘What does?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘Staying here, at my place?’

He looked back at her, then at the Nightmare Castle poster on the wall behind. Then nodded to it and turned off his phone.

‘We should get some sleep. Work tomorrow.’

Boa idea,’ she replied, suppressing the thousand other things in her head and sliding back under the covers.

+++

Mark’s zombie impression followed Lexi into the Sumerian dream realm, through a no-fruit breakfast and all the way up to the counter at the caffé the next day, when she finally lost patience and asked him about it, and he, with genuine Shelley Duvall face, pretended not to have a clue what she was on about.

‘I woke up and you were staring, like hypnotised, at your phone,’ she explained, pressing pause on the Japanese travel vlog they were watching.

‘Hypnotised?’

‘Then you asked me how long you’d been in Fresno…and said it was strange when I told you it’d been two weeks.’

‘I did?’

‘Yeah.’

‘I said all that?’

‘Maybe it was a kind of sleepwalking thing…or sleep-sitting…something like that.’

‘Fuck…I seriously can’t remember anything.’

Sim, it was pretty weird…but not that bad. You didn’t speak in tongues or anything.’

‘What else did I say?’

‘Nothing, that was it.’

‘Wah…sounds quite creepy.’

‘It’s fine, you were probably just half asleep, like immersion haze or something.’ She held up her phone, not realizing the screen was dark. ‘How about we get back to the Japanese vid?’

Kuso. Really can’t remember any of it. Immersion haze…’

‘The vid?’

‘What? Yeah…sorry, I’m still a bit-…sure, the vid. If you like.’

‘I do.’

+++

The rest of the day passed pretty much on cosmological standby mode.

[Very] limited number of customers.

Some art students scanning the video shelves.

Poor attempts at Japanese [from her].

Even poorer attempts at Portuguese [from him].

Beginner, up-in-flames Urdu.

When their language study hit a brick wall, they tried a few articles on Big Brain Bakunin, but there weren’t many new ones, and what they did have was mostly Deleuze-based and neither of them had the energy for that chaos. Muttering tal vez mais tarde under her breath, Lexi switched to random clips of the occult on GENTE+ while Mark ducked into the back room and returned minutes later with his increasingly worn-looking copy of Moon Prison.

As she watched him read and sip from the same type of coffee he’d ordered every day since he started there, Lexi wondered how long it’d be before he got bored.

Bored of this place, bored of teaching Japanese, bored of fucking in the torture chamber of Nightmare Castle, in her bed, bored of Fresno, bored of her.

Then flipped it round and thought, how long till I’m bored of him?

Repetitive coffee.

Juvenile-looking sci-fi novels.

Only occasional Japanese.

Sluggish cloud-stroke-aura of passivity.

Lexi looked down at her own coffee, in her usual No Feeling Bear cup, then back up at Mark.

He wasn’t reading anymore, his eyes were pointed at something in the background. A customer?

Shifting her body on the stool, she almost let out a last girl gasp when she saw another Japanese guy strolling up to the counter.

‘Ryu…’ said Mark, knocking into her elbow as he moved up parallel.

‘Sorry?’ replied the Japanese man, the expression on his face completely at odds with the tone.

‘You were over there, at the VR plaza.’

‘The what?’

‘Two nights ago. I saw you. The VR plaza across the road.’

‘Is this guy okay?’ the Japanese man asked Lexi, taking a very thin wallet out of his lilac Fila jacket.

‘He’s fine. Just a bit overworked. What would you like?’

‘Overworked…’

‘It’s busier in the afternoons,’ replied Lexi, following the man’s panoramic scan, trying to ignore the fact that he looked kind of like the medical rep from Planet Dark.

‘I doubt that.’

‘Sorry?’

‘I said, hmm, what to drink? Let’s see. Coffee, coffee, coffee, coffee. Nope. Disgusting. Ah, how about that weird tea up there, in the pic?’

Lexi repeated the order in slo-mo, nudging Mark in the hip as he was still standing there obelisk-like, possibly malfunctioning. It didn’t work the first, second or fifth time, but when she turned and told him directly to go and make the tea, the lights finally switched back on.

‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’ she asked, after the Japanese man had parked himself in the booth with the Phantasm II poster.

‘Faulty memory…I guess.’

‘About that guy?’

‘Sorry, it’s-…I’m okay now.’

A little while later, the door opened and Juana came in, warning them that she was about to say the exact same thing she’d said the night before.

‘The wild experience filmn?’

‘No escape this time.’ She looked around, spotting the Japanese customer, who was slowly rotating his cup of weird tea and staring right back at her. ‘Is he normal?’ she asked Lexi, lowering her voice.

‘Relatively.’

‘He’s staring at me.’

‘Maybe he likes you.’

Juana turned back round, tapping the edge of the counter. ‘I think we’ll close early tonight. You can tell Mr. Stasi over there the good news.’

‘Err…okay.’

‘I’ll go warm up the projector.’

Glancing left, she told Mark to stop looking so distant then spun back round rubbing her hands, getting out, ‘wait until you see the metro scene in this-,’ before jump-cutting into a desperate, ‘WAH!’ and almost falling sideways into the counter.

‘Hello boss lady,’ said the Japanese customer, propped up rigid only a few inches away.

‘How the-…’

‘You know, your eyes have the strangest yellowest tint. Contacts, I presume.’

‘What?’

‘Sorry, we’re closing up,’ interjected Lexi, reaching out a hand to keep Juana steady.

‘Yes, I heard that.’

‘Right now, in fact.’

‘Understood.’

Lexi said ‘thank you’ reflexively then waited for him to move…but he didn’t. Not even a turn to look at the exit. He just continued to stand there, observing carefully as Juana moved round the side and headed towards the video shelves, then shifting his gaze to Mark on the left.

‘You’ve already paid,’ said Lexi, tilting her head a bit to try and get his attention.

‘I remember.’

‘Okay. So…’

The man mumbled something in reply – sounded like money, strangled – and then moved over to Mark’s side of the counter, his head completely uninterested in checking for stray chair legs or not-yet-dry spillages on the floor. When the counter got close enough, he put his elbows on the surface and leaned forward until his eyes were no more than an inch from Mark’s face.

For some reason, Mark didn’t react at all.

No blinks, no what the kuso?

Just complete void shutdown.

‘Sorry, but we really are closing,’ Lexi repeated, glancing at Juana for help and flinching when she saw her boss back near the counter, both eyes electric yellow.

‘Signal received,’ the Japanese man said, putting a hand out to turn round the cover of Moon Prison.

‘Ryu…’ Mark said again, still utterly frozen.

‘Nice title.’

‘It is you…’

‘Pity it’s not real.’

‘…isn’t it?’

The Japanese man let go of the book and moved his hands onto the sides of Mark’s head. For a moment, it looked like he was reeling back to headbutt him, but instead, he launched forward and landed on Mark’s lips.

‘Hey…’ shouted Lexi, raising a limp hand as if she were in class.

The kiss lasted another seven seconds before the Japanese man released Mark and turned to face Juana, who had moved forward at some point, hands and nails up like claws.

‘There you are…’ he said, smirking.

She faltered a second, closing her eyes to block out the yellow, then opened them again. Put a slow palm on the Japanese nut’s purple sleeve and asked, in succubus tone, if he’d like to come to the back room and watch a filmn together.

Lexi tried to stop it, but her what the fuck? was out before she could flag down the first neuron. Luckily, Juana and the Japanese lunatic were already in their own separate realm.

‘As I said, I’m off now,’ said the Japanese man, stepping to the side of Juana and, with slanted smile, gently removing her palm from his sleeve.

‘We have wine,’ said Juana, switching it to the other one. ‘From the GRAPE FEST.’

‘Leftovers.’

‘A very good vintage…and the sofa back there is very comfortable. You can sit next to Mark here.’

‘Juana,’ interrupted Lexi, instinctively picking up her cup and gripping it like a petrol bomb.

‘No, no…he’s all yours, Yaqui,’ replied the Japanese man, pulling the door open and looking back over at a paralyzed Mark. ‘Prepped and ready.’

A quick wink, probably at his own line, then he was gone.

‘What the fuck was that all about?’ Lexi asked, moving quickly over to the door and locking it.

‘Out of town oddball,’ replied Juana, dusting the palm that had touched the man’s sleeve, then walking off towards the STAFF ONLY door.

‘Yeah, you too…asking him to watch a filmn with us-…hey, where you going?’

‘To warm up the projector.’

‘What, still?’

Juana kept going, pushing the door open and disappearing inside. Saying a few variations on fucking weirdo, Lexi hurried over to Mark, asking if his lips were okay.

‘Dizzy…’ he replied, touching his temples. ‘Headache.’

‘Let’s get you a Panadol and a nice, soft sofa. Or…a sofa.’

‘Sofa…okay.’

‘And something to scrub your lips.’

Mark nodded, robotic, managing the smallest possible yes.

+++

Twenty minutes later, the three survivors of the Japanese pervert encounter were sat on the back room sofa, watching the opening scene of Possession.

Lexi was on the left hand side, glass in hand, slightly annoyed that she’d a] let Juana talk her into staying and b] allowed herself to drink that GRAPE FEST wine again.

It couldn’t be good for Mark’s headache, yet…there he was…sipping on it like it was a carton of Ribena Fresh.

‘Stop stewing, Lexi, and drink up,’ Juana said, swirling her own glass then taking a long sip.

‘I’m not thirsty.’

‘It’ll help calm your nerves.’

‘So will being at home.’

‘Ah, but then you’d have to go outside.’

Lexi mumbled something in reply, the pragmatic part of her brain warning her not to push back too much. Besides, Juana was half right. The guy could still be out there, waiting for them. Maybe it was better to watch the filmn for two hours, drink some low quality wine to cool down, give Mark a head massage at some point.

Taking her own advice, she took a sip from her glass.

‘Good girl,’ said Juana, swirling her own wine again, this time without drinking.

The filmn on screen played on.

More wine flowed down her throat.

Eyelids got heavy.

Filmn got weird.

Mark’s shoulder made a nice pillow.

Sounds shot around jagged, making no real sense.

Body became balloon-like.

Drifting into a wide, welcoming-

She jerked up, knocking Mark’s glass out of his hand and onto the floor. Luckily, there was almost no wine in it.

‘What…’ she muttered, looking around.

The other side of the sofa was empty. Juana-less.

On the screen, a woman in a pretty blue dress was pinballing through a deserted metro station, cackling like an ecstatic loon.

And Mark was staring dead forward, hand seemingly glued to his temple, entranced.

‘Feel so tired…’ she said, trying to lift up an arm to rub her eyelids and managing about half a second before the weight was too much.

‘This isn’t right,’ replied Mark, monotone.

‘What?’

‘The V guy…’

‘Who?’

‘…she ate him. Downstairs. I saw it. She ate his brain. Bits of his brain. No. No. It’s right there, I can see it. I can see her eating him.’

Lexi heard the words see her and followed Mark’s line of sight back to the screen. The metro woman was still hysterical…throwing milk at the walls, screaming out animal noises…just watching her was exhausting…as if the energy was being transferred directly through the screen and into her frontal lobe, making it feel like it was Lexi herself who was having the psychotic break…draining her of all possible-

‘Have to move,’ Mark continued, swaying a little. ‘Escape. Both of us.’

‘Escape…’

‘Now.’

‘You can’t…’

She slumped downwards into the couch and reached out a hand to pull him back, to stop him leaving this very comfortable lifeboat, but there was no need, cos now he was slumped too, head tilted towards her shoulder and her head on the back of the couch, fixed on the projection screen, the images of blood and milk so soft and soothing, the blue dress so pretty in its simple-

A cough came from the doorway, just loud enough for Lexi to turn and say, ‘wah.’

It was Juana, leaning against the frame, the wine in her glass all gone.

‘The filmn,’ she said, gesturing towards the screen.

Lexi grunted and turned back, confused when she couldn’t see the blue dress spasm woman anymore.

Or the metro.

Or the milk dripping down the

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