on the back of a neck, license plate
spoon dipped in and
suplex yellow eyes
no sign of struggle or
on the floor
it’s okay, I’ve got the meds
here with me short-term
absorb Portuguese juntos
you can be my
Adjani screams collapsed in on the words.
Lights at the screen ahead. Blue dress woman bleeding milk and blood from all orifices. In a Metro with zero commuters, zero life, zero
Wait, I know this.
Isabella Adjani and the-
My eyes adjusted.
I did a full circle with my head, taking in the wine glasses on the floor, the non-moving fan on the ceiling, the projection screen putting out Possession.
Kuso, it wasn’t a dream, this was-
A sleeve appeared from my left, pulling me back down.
‘Lexi…’ I said, checking the doorway behind and almost falling off the couch when I saw the Mexican cannibal poet leaning against the frame, eyes glaring yellow.
‘Are you awake?’ she asked, in the strangest tone.
‘You’re…’ I started in reply, but a dozen firewalls activated in my brain, stopping me from saying out loud what I knew she was.
Nodding at the projection screen, she turned and walked right, heading towards the only thing down there; the BOSS ONLY basement door.
Good, I thought. You go that way, we’ll go left.
‘Lexi,’ I said again, turning back to my colleague on the sofa, trying to push down the flashes of her without the Tenebrae t-shirt, on top of me, behind a Japanese kids book, distant in a grape field.
She didn’t respond.
Not even a single blink.
‘Lexi, we have to go. Your boss is…not well…dangerous.’
A shake of her arm.
‘Drugging us with the wine.’
Hand wave in front of her eyes.
‘Eating people in the basement.’
The lightest possible slap of her cheek.
It was no good, the filmn had her.
I stood up, checking various parts of the projection screen for an off-switch. It was an old-fashioned type of technology, which meant the controls were probably somewhere I couldn’t predict, maybe that box at the back of the room.
Avoiding the wine glass on the floor, I walked over and pushed the buttons on the front and the side.
Nothing responded on screen.
Except the German-looking guy getting nicked by Adjani and her kitchen knife.
And Lexi putting her wrist to her ear.
Some form of communication?
Clearly picking something up on the airwaves, Lexi muttered, ‘coming,’ and then stood up. She looked at the space on the sofa where I’d been sitting two minutes previously, and then over at the back of the room, where I was currently planted.
Another memory hit me.
The tall guy…went off to NASCAR…he did the same thing, with the V customer who had his brain eaten downstairs.
But those two were strangers…Lexi was my…
Her hand touched my arm, wraith-like, voice whispering, ‘this way.’
‘Lexi…’ I tried again, as both legs vetoed my explicit commands not to move and marched me out into the MACA box corridor. ‘She’s controlling you somehow. The filmn, that screen…the wine…’
‘This way,’ she repeated, elbow knocking into one of the boxes.
‘No, we have to go left…’
‘…the other way, not-…Lexi, wake up. Listen to my voice. She is going to kill me down there. Eat my brain.’
‘Yes, it is relaxing in the basement.’
‘No, what? Not relaxing, dangerous, homicidal. We have to go the other way, get outside onto the street.’
She smiled and prodded me on with a single finger, the BOSS ONLY door looming up ahead, lit neon-Fulci by the flickering green bulb.
Okay, enough persuasion, I told myself. Grab her arm, her legs, drag her out of this fucking abattoir.
The words were stark and assertive, yet each time I tried to physically move my hand to grab her jacket sleeve or the bottom of her Tenebrae t-shirt, it just turned into a vague fob at nothing. As if I was drunkenly swatting a fly.
And my legs…would not obey me…at all.
Was it the filmn? The wine?
But how could it still be controlling me when I remembered everything?
It didn’t make sense, and continued to not make sense as Lexi walked me like a care in the community patient down the basement stairs. My eyes remained operational, independent, though part of me wished they weren’t as I could see Juana at her desk, back turned, the brain-eating spoon resting next to her hand as she fiddled with something.
‘You can’t do this,’ I shouted, pointing my mouth towards the upper window that I thought might spill out onto the main street outside. ‘I’m conscious, I know what you’re doing. I’ll scream.’
‘Go ahead, the walls are fully soundproofed,’ Juana said, spinning round on her swivel chair, patting the little wooden stool in front of her. ‘And only junkies use the alley outside.’
‘Fuck…’ I muttered, glancing down and shivering when I saw the dried bloodstain by my shoes.
She hadn’t even scrubbed the floor properly.
‘Come, sit,’ said Juana, patting the stool again.
Behind her, on the desk, a clock-like device whirred into action…spiraling black and green orbits inward.
Wah, that’s what she was fiddling with…
Lexi nudged me in the back, hard, echoing her puppet master’s, ‘sit.’
Despite every neuron in my head screaming ‘MURDER STOOL,’ I did as I was told.
‘Relax, young man,’ said Juana, tone doctor-like, placing a soft hand…or claw…on my right shoulder. ‘I’m not giving up on you yet.’
‘You ate his brain…the V guy…’
A flinch of the claw, a quick glance at the alley window, then calm again. ‘Yes…the V guy. There is the problem. How is it exactly that you remember that?’
‘I saw it. You, using the spoon, the blood…’
‘Okay, redundant question, clearly.’
‘…the tall guy, Jammer…lying on the floor over there.’
‘Hmm. Let’s see…’ Juana moved her hand up to my left temple, then matched it with the other hand on the right side. ‘…if we can adjust things a little. Try to concentrate on the spiral to the right. My right.’
Once again, I tried to move my arm to push her away…and when that failed, my head. I even made a biting run at her cheek, but there was absolutely no momentum behind it.
All I could do was sit there, lose myself in green and black loops and get slowly…systematically eaten. With my supposed girlfriend standing golem-faced nearby.
‘Don’t be too harsh on her,’ said Juana, apparently tuned into my head station…or reading the manic glint in my eyes as I strained my neck left towards Lexi. ‘She really does like you. And I have a soft spot for her, too. Which is why my hands are perched softly on your temples and not digging into the top of your skull.’
She smiled again, making an ‘ah’ sound.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked, more to the spirals than her.
‘To make me forget your murdering…’
‘…and help you continue your burgeoning romance with Lexi, here in my lovely, quaint VHS caffé. Is that not a good thing?’
‘Not for the V guy.’
‘Oh, don’t waste tears on him. He groped Lexi in the corridor upstairs. Tried to push her into your sofa bed room…before Jammer turned up to subdue him.’
‘What, you only eat rapists?’
‘Rapists, murderers, thugs, bullies, evangelicals…contrarians. It’s actually not as difficult as you might think. Even with arguments of relativism, there is always a steady supply. Especially in Fresno…you saw yourself the man who came in earlier, the way he-…’
She stopped abruptly, a muffled shriek erupting followed by the frantic waving of her hands as if she’d just been burnt or electrocuted by my temples.
‘What?’ I asked, trying to rotate my eyeballs to look up at my own head.
My scalp on fire? The hair?
Didn’t feel like it. No heat or built-up electricity.
Juana took several deep breaths, each one utterly beyond human in its sound, then turned to the spoon on the desk.
‘What is it?’ I asked again, watching her pick it up.
‘I’m sorry, Mark…’
‘Something in your head…is resistant. Aggressive.’ She lodged the handle of the spoon in her mouth then positioned her fingers, which had elongated and sharpened, on top of my skull. ‘I must do this.’
‘Wait…what do you mean, resistant? How?’
‘Lexi will understand.’
‘I’ll tell her you went to Portland to look for Sadia. That you tried to fuck me too. Both together should be sufficient.’
Psycho witch doctor cunt box shot into my head but was beaten to the gate by another no, this one in barked capitals. Then a stifled groan as her nails started to dig in.
‘Useless fucking stumps,’ I shouted down at my arms, ‘do something!’
But they just continued hanging there, stump-like.
No, worse…didn’t even feel like my own limbs…no sense of being attached to my shoulders, no cohesion, bond…
‘It’s okay, I can limit the pain,’ Juana said, the yellow in her eyes subsuming both irises.
‘Lexi…’ I tried, unsure if she was even still there.
‘Just look at the spirals and relax. Let the fog take you.’
I played back the words, sucking in haze conceptually, letting it set up shop and distribute leaflets and issue out tendrils of invisible nebula fumes to make the basement softer and more swirly.
Juana’s eyes became eight citrine orbs, moving like electrons around her head. Shifting, swarming, veering away…
‘Novel little murder-pad you’ve got here,’ said a voice somewhere in the shadows.
The swirls ruptured, evaporated.
The haze thinned.
The eight orbs coalesced back into a single pair and Juana’s claws appeared from the flanks, forming an unorthodox, defensive posture.
‘This is a private area,’ she said, face tilted towards the stairs.
‘Door was open.’
Wait, that voice…
‘When I just got in? Unlikely.’
Without any kind of expectation, I attempted to turn my head…and for god knows what reason, it worked…I could rotate and see the stairs…the Japanese customer stepping onto the same concrete patch where Jammer had bled out god knows how many days ago.
‘Looks like I interrupted something intimate.’
‘No, it’s-…she’s trying to-…’
‘Eat out your brain bag. Yes, I can see that.’
‘Psycho witch…’ I turned back to Juana the cannibal, reflex-squinting at the two yellow orbs then relaxing a little when I realized they’d lost some of their glare. ‘She’s digging in, trying to eat me.’
I couldn’t see, but I heard a whistle and then footsteps on the stone part of the floor.
‘Ah, you’ve got the little spiral trap too.’
‘That is not the way out,’ said Juana, switching off the device on the desk.
‘And a little feasting spoon. How quaint.’
I shifted again, trying to see how much progress the man was making, how drunk his movements were, but was stopped by a claw tightening on my scalp.
‘Really does feel quite cozy down here.’
‘Get out, call the cops…’ I shouted, mostly at the ceiling.
‘Unless you’re the pawn.’
‘Quickly, call them.’
‘Keni…please. A little less screechy. I’m trying to acclimatize.’
‘If you want to feel cosier,’ cut in Juana, dropping one hand on to her retro Slazenger jacket, bringing down the zip. ‘Why don’t you come and sit next to me?’
The Japanese customer shook his head, raising a hand in mock apology.
‘Ah, am I not your type?’
‘Seduction really is beneath you, jefa.’
Juana removed her hand from the jacket zip and locked onto Lexi, who was still stuck in her golem state. ‘Bring him here.’
The phrase seemed to dislodge the spanner in her brain, her head nodding and the rest of her body turning towards the Japanese intruder.
‘No, Lexi, don’t…’ I started, reaching out an arm and…wait, an arm…I could move that too?
Stretching out my fingers and making magic spell flicks confirmed it.
Kuso…her power was waning…or the wine drug was wearing off…or my brain…had finally decided to show some guts and fight back.
‘His sleeve,’ said a frustrated voice, possibly Juana’s.
Then let me help you with that in Japanese.
‘Lexi…’ I blurted out again, looking up just in time to see her body drop to the floor, with the Japanese man’s eyes flashing disco-light purple a few inches behind. ‘No…please…’
‘Poor girl,’ said the Japanese man, walking up to Lexi’s body and carefully stepping over. ‘Needs a long rest, I think.’
‘What creature are you?’ stammered Juana, loud and way too close to my ear. ‘A Djinn?’
‘Ha, one of those little wretches…’
The Ryu lookalike walked closer to my side of the desk, almost with a swagger, and brushed a finger against the side of my head.
‘Your gory insides,’ he said, showing me a fairly substantial stream of my own blood, running down the length of his finger.
‘Her face, Keni. Punch it. Justified revenge.’
I put my own hand up to the top of my skull and felt moistness. Then pulled it down and confirmed blood.
‘Fucking witch-face…’ I said, facing Juana, whose hands were claw-like again, raised up in an almost comical monster attack pose. Mexican Boristina Karloff. Cannibal wretch at a desk of a-
‘Quickly, she’s gonna pounce.’
‘Hit her, Keni. Act. Action.’
I balled a fist, old sparks of playground aggression filtering in, the motel knockout, Syria’s hand beneath the pool surface…a head hitting the concrete, Jammer bleeding out, Lexi pulling me closer and tighter and
‘Ahhh, useless fucking Hamlet clone…’
I blinked, then raised my hands in a feeble, way-too-late act of defence as Juana lurched forward, claws angled to slash…and landed motionless in my lap.
My brain half expected pain, a reaction to a petty bite on the thigh, but nothing exploded.
Then I moved my leg slightly and she just…rolled off onto the carpet…like a sponge toy.
Dead? That easy?
‘How do you manage to get yourself into these situations, Keni?’
I looked up, and then level at the Japanese man now slouched on Juana’s swivel chair, spiral device upside down in his hands. ‘Ryu…you’re alive.’
His hands shifted, both palms moving the spiral trap up to his face and turning it on.
He laughed, genuine for a second then…something else…something artificial…psychotic.
‘Ryu, is that-…?’
His hands parted, the spiral-trap dropped, and a different face stared out
a familiar face
with those glowing eyes
not yellow like Juana’s but purple
From Beyond purple
but it couldn’t be him, that was
‘Nidra sleep, Keni Cat.’
yet here he was, heroic psychotic, shining and
lying there, Tenebrae cloaked, unconscious, dead
had to get up and