BREED IN THE AIR
A novel written by Laila Norman 2006
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Cover illustration: Laila Norman
Counting the eyes of the dragonflies
Gets a mystery
All dressed in black
With a smile underneath
Oh Simoriah, who
Do I see when looking at you?
Had a taste and a magic touch
Now I can’t let go
Addicted to heights I am falling down
In her love of woe.
The air was humid that night in Weelsend. Hot and humid as it can be when it’s been filled with promises of thunder for days without actually releasing a single drop of rain. The night was perspiring through the thick air and if you stuck out your tongue you could taste it: a deep blue, filled with sweet emotion and a touch of melancholy. These would be the perfect conditions for being alone out in the city streets, yearning for someone to share that desperate feeling of emptiness with. It could also be the perfect night to jump head first from a very high bridge, all depending on how blue you found the taste to be.
The buildings stood pressed together, the dark windows desperately looking for some promising cloud containing refreshing cool rain. The streets were almost empty, apart from some dry leaves, fag ends and waste paper. Most people stayed at home at nights like this, cooling off under the bedroom fan. That included the street-sweeper.
In the gutter, outside the ’Grab-a-bite-all-nite’ bar, was an intoxicated customer sleeping it off.
Nothing odd in that; it was how he normally closed a pub round. He knew no other way.
There was a lot of tittle-tattle going on among the rats behind the trashcans in the alley. They were discussing whether they should move closer to the riverside or stick around for another week, hoping the leftovers would come to consist of something else than liquid food. People often had pick-nicks by the river and the things they used to leave behind usually came out of paper bags and tins and not like here: from inside someone’s digestive system.
A raven was sitting on a fence, picking up the tunes that were heard from the open bar window. He really liked a good piece of blues whenever the opportunity was provided. His left foot showed a fantastic sense of rhythm.
* * *
In a building somewhere in the dark outskirts (it was dark because a lot of kids lived there together with their poor unemployed parents, and the local government didn’t arrange any fun at all, like rave parties or free spray cans or anything, so all that these poor kids could find out to do in their dull spare time was to throw sharp objects at the street lamps), there was a light in one of the windows at the ground floor. The only way to see it though, would be if you stood on the other side of the building, which was a most unlikely thing to do as there was no way leading to the back from outside.
The backside was facing an enclosed yard that was meant to be an unruffled area for the tenants to relax in during hot summer days – sunbathing and holding funny colored drinks with little pink
umbrellas in their hands – and could be reached only from a backdoor.
Two men were sitting at a desk, facing each other. One of them was talking very convincingly with a harsh voice and the other one listened with a serious expression upon his face.
The one talking had an angular head with blue intensive eyes, a few blond strands of hair, teased across it, and a mouth that was like a hyphen, only somewhat bent downwards at the ends. It seemed very unlikely, that these thin lips ever would curl into a smile.
The body, to which this head was attached, was covered in a white coat with stains on it. The stains however, were not from blood or fluid from some scientific experiments, but simply from yesterday’s breakfast that you could see consisted of very lightly boiled eggs and probably tomato sauce with small bits of onions in it.
”All calculations are now made and the final steps can be taken within a foreseeable future, as soon as I get the last ingredients”, he said in a pompous tone of voice. “What you must do now, is to meet up with our contact, set the time and place for the delivery and then inform me. Understood?”
The other just nodded.
It was a small gray man that looked just as insignificant as he probably was. It was the kind of man who wouldn’t survive on earth without anyone telling him what to do all the time. And if he didn’t survive, it wouldn’t be a big loss to the world. Sad but true.
”Meanwhile, I will give the last instructions to our kid on the web mastering side. When the mission here is complete, all of you loyal workers will join me at the lab.” He made a snort and wiped his nose with his sleeve.
The gray man met blankly his steady gaze for five silent seconds, then suddenly rose with a wince and went “Yess, Sir!”
He made a right face that would have made any draftee envious and left the room.
The one with the harsh voice remained seated; humming to himself as he scribbled down some formula on a piece of paper, drew some lines and then turned to his typewriter.
* * *
Weelsend was a fairly large city. Surrounded by forests, plain land and a large number of suburbs, it was quite a good place to live and work in, with a hospital, commercial banks, a shopping center, factories, workshops and some industrial parks in the outskirts. Its inhabitants were ordinary people, although maybe somewhat lazy and lacking any great powers of initiative. But that’s all right, since they mostly were considered to be healthy, happy people with no major problems. At least the government considered them to be healthy and happy, and they were therefore expected to show some more gratitude.
The town governor and a few loyal dependants in Weelsend represented the district government. There were laws and regulations as in every other community on this earth and the government did
its best to lead the people into righteousness, which meant that all ill-mannered behaviors were scrupulously investigated and prevented from gaining ground by putting a complete stop to them. That usually meant confiscating whatever was causing the troublesome behavior; i.e. strong alcohol, drugs, too fast cars, weapons and bad news. Bad news, in particular, had shown to affect people in a negative way. Therefore the editor of the biggest newspaper had been told to always give priority to any good news available and only write about the bad ones if necessary and in small font size, placed after the announcements in the deaths column.
It was all in the best for the people, even if they didn’t seem to fully agree at all times. But that was the way it usually was. People didn’t know their own best and had to be guided through life by rules and regulations.
The average citizen though, didn’t really care much whether it was one way or the other. They had enough on their minds trying to make ends meet, keep their families together and find out which pub served the best and cheapest beer.
* * *
Sigh was out on one of his nightly walks. Ironically enough to get some fresh air and hopefully come to the conclusion that the feeling of losing his mind was blown up by his isolated lifestyle. The events this night would frustrate his hopes in both cases.
From the pale look on his face, you could suspect that he didn’t see much daylight ever. He was wearing jeans and sneakers and a vest, just for decency’s sake. His hair was sticky and he mopped the sweat off his forehead as he turned round the corner, directing his steps towards the Grab-a-bite-all-nite bar. The illuminated sign twinkled red in the dark, apart from the initial ‘G’ where the glass was broken. It was surrounded by a swarm of moths. He wondered if that was a good sign or not.
He had to stride over someone lying in the gutter, snoring. A raven was sitting on the fence at the end of the blind alley.
Music was streaming out from the bar. Someone was playing the saxophone and the message within the tune was ‘I’m major in love but in all minor key’. It appealed to him so he entered the place and looked around. It was simply one small room with wooden walls and a few tables and a bar. A dim light came from a naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Apart from the indefatigable saxophonist and a barman who was strenuously wiping the counter, the place was empty. The barman wore a badge on his chest saying ‘Angel’. Sigh went over to him and cleared his throat.
“Hi Angel! How’re things tonight?”
He stopped wiping for a second, looked at Sigh and replied:
“Well, we’ve got rats in the cellar, the price for beer has gone up and the health inspector will come here tomorrow to search for germs. But I myself, I’m just F.I.N.E.* Er…could I get you something?”
His left eye was sort of hanging down the cheek in a most unappetizing way and his lips moved slightly as an attempt to smiling, but didn’t quite get to it.
“What’s on the menu?”
“Seafood tonight”, he said and shoved a greasy piece of paper in Sigh’s direction. He let his eyes rest at it for a while: Marinated Mermaid, chilled with weeds, OR Barbecued Mermaid on a stick, hot from the grill, served with very small green peas. $3 each. Including the peas.
“It’s French, Sir. Food merely made from sea.“
“What about the peas?”
“They’re marinated, Sir.”
Now his eye was even further down his cheek. Fishy.
“Well, I believe I’ll just have some peanuts. Salty. And a beer. Thanks.”
While chewing the nuts Sigh turned round, beer glass in his hand, facing the one-man-band. Quite an interesting character, really.
The saxophonist had a red scarf wrapped round his head, a long brightly colored shirt and some sort of feather hanging from his right ear. He was wearing very dark glasses. Sigh wondered if he might be blind.
* Fucked up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.
* * *
If you happened to stand on Bucket Lane bending your head backwards, you would see a light in one of the windows in the attic story. That’s Sigh’s residence. It’s just a small den but at least it’s downtown, which is worth a lot more than size or standards.
He occasionally gives up a sigh from pleasure when sitting in a cozy bar with a pint of cold foaming beer in front of him and music streaming into his ears, filling his brain, (or emptying it) but that was probably not what his mother had in mind when she gave him that name. God knows what she had in mind.
Some people would accuse him of being absent-minded and clumsy. Some even say he is kind of sissy. But those who really knows him, knows him to be a sweet and kindhearted, caring young man who always pays his taxes, is kind to animals and takes a pride in avoiding fights. But he is the brooding type and that’s probably why he sometimes has a problem with getting the drift of why he is where he is and the meaning of it all in the first place. He thinks too much and his constant struggle with writing columns for the weekly magazine takes all the energy out of his brain, giving him no time to find any answers to these questions, so crucial for managing this thing called life.
His boss – The Big Editorrrr – is a rather grumpy sort of man who always wants all his articles yesterday. Sigh has a problem with that too.
He works from home and makes current deliveries, but since that gives him a lot of freedom and he is a true nighthawk, he has turned the day into night. And vice versa.
He’s had no difficulties with that until lately, when he noticed a creepy feeling every time dawn was breaking. It was a very unpleasant sensation, and he got more and more afraid of the light.
Occasionally he would look in the mirror, to see if he maybe had transformed into an owl or some other nocturnal creature, but he looked just the same as he’d always done. He’s been pondering a lot about this aversion to daylight and this pondering made him more and more introverted. So he started to wander the streets at night, just to have something to do and maybe catch up with some thoughts, since he couldn’t write anyway.
Actually, these wanderings turned out to be quite interesting. He found the street-life at night to be so much different than during the days, more soothing for the soul somehow.
This sticky night, however, he preferred the somewhat cooler inside of a bar and the feeling of a lot cooler beer pouring down his throat. He fiddled about with the bristles of the five-day-old stubble on his chin as he watched the saxophonist play. As well as the need of shaving, he could do with a haircut – but didn’t want to. Could that be the reason for his single status? Maybe girls want men with nice haircuts?
* * *
Some way east from Weelsend you would find its smaller sister-town Reefersville, but before you could start exploring the streets there, you would have to cross the river, simply named The River. That is the kind of result you get when bored administrators, lacking every kind of inspiration, are appointed to name places.
Too many ideas or unusual impulses are often regarded as suspicious, especially among civil servants. As an example; some years ago a newly employed clerk got struck by inspiration one afternoon and decided that he should surprise the others with a new interior decoration the next morning. He stayed late and painted all the doors in the corridor in happy colors, created imaginative flowers on the walls and re-wrote the names on every doorplate in serpentine letters with a special kind of brush from The East; all with a very personal touch to it. He also exchanged the switchboard operator’s telephone for one representing a dragon’s head. The office opened up at nine a.m. and it sure was a surprise to everyone. Ten minutes later the clerk was surprised to find himself out in the streets, looking for a new job.
Weelsend, on the other hand, had originally been given the name ”Willsendyoumoreinforma-tionassoonas…” after the unknown discoverer of the place; found brutally murdered under a bridge in 1786. He was holding in his hands the letter he had been writing just before he got killed. It said: ’I’ve just found the most wonderful and peaceful place on earth – a paradise, really! Will send you more information as soon as…’
As time went by, the name had, for rather obvious reasons, been gradually shortened, whereupon the final form came out to be ’Willsend’, which in everyday talking had been transformed into ’Weelsend’ and nowadays nobody really knew what it meant. In fact, they couldn’t care less.
Downtown, where Sigh lived, the buildings were built mostly five or six stories high and with no elevator. The reason for this heartless behavior is unknown. Probably it was just overlooked by the constructional engineers, who had put a lot of effort into making attractive and imaginative looking staircases with banisters like giant snakes in yellow and green, ready to bite at each landing.
The three upper floors were, as a result of this, merely occupied by young and healthy tenants.
* * *
The saxophone was crying from some deep pain in the heart and you could easily visualize the tones as they came out from the instrument, searching their way through the room, under the tables, behind the bar and around the light bulb until they finally reached the chink of the door and slipped out in the night. Sigh liked it though. But what he liked even more at this state of mind was the thought of slipping out in the night himself. The atmosphere in here didn’t make him feel less crazy.
After he had finished his beer, he followed an odd impulse and went up close to the guy and gave him the finger together with a wide smile, ready to run. There was no reaction at all. He decided that the guy was blind.
He was just heading for the door when the blind man grabbed him by the arm and handed him a note. On it was scribbled with pointy letters: ‘Why has a dog so many friends?’ Sigh looked up at his face and received a wry smile.
“The Mermaid’s scrumptious by the way,” he said and then turned his back on Sigh.
Now Sigh headed for the door with even more determination. Outside a yellowish shade told him there was going to be a sunrise soon. He felt like he was having a fever.
“Get a grip”, he mumbled to himself and left the alley in a hurry, stumbling over a small yellow dog that was sitting at the street corner.
“Sorry!” he said to the dog.
It countered with wagging its tail vigorously. Down the street he managed to stop a cab and jumped in.
“Take me to the Farm! Pleeeze!”
* * *
In the shady districts of Weelsend, a fox was sneaking round the corner of Dead End and Loom Street. It was very early in the morning. At the end of the alleyway there were some trashcans standing against the wall and behind one of them there was a crack in the foundations, big enough for a fox or a smaller dog to slip through.
Once inside, you could proceed to the right and after a while you were just under the wooden floor to a small office. If you were the size of a
fox or a smaller dog, that is. The office belonged to ‘Lather & Foam Inc.’, a small company that claimed themselves to be leading in the cleaning agent business. No one had seen any of their articles on the shelves in any store though, but that was perfectly all right, since everything they produced went on export. They had explained that very carefully to a market investigator once.
The owners of this business were Dr. Jeale and Mr. Hive. Dr. Jeale was not really a doctor, but he had a friend who had a cousin that knew one. Nobody had ever seen Mr. Hive in the office. He probably traveled a lot.
The fox curled up under the floor, just where there happened to be a loose board, and fell asleep. But its large sensitive ears would catch even the slightest sound or movement from the room above, if there were any.
* * *
The Farm was situated as far from any city possible. He didn’t even know the place existed; it was just something that slipped out of his mouth when he got inside that cab, feeling miserable. When the cab driver just drove ahead without making any questions, Sigh decided to let him take him wherever it would be. And this didn’t look at all wrong; in fact it was quite an impressive sight.
What was referred to as The Farm had certain similarities with a castle: big white and golden with towers and pinnacles. A tremendous park filled with exotic flowers and trees surrounded the
impressive building, and there were also the greenest lawn ever seen in that part of the country. In a small pond where water lilies were showing off their most intense beauty, you could see little ducklings and baby frogs taking morning swims. You really got the impression of being in Wonderland.
A big gate opened up to a walkway leading to the front door of the castle. Beside the door was a doorbell, formed as a small cow’s head. He pressed the muzzle and could hear a muffled ‘moooh’ from inside.
A short fat lady with very high purple hair and rattling golden earrings opened the door. It was the kind of hair in which five birds easily could build nests, without knowing they had neighbours.
She smiled with brightly scarlet lips and welcomed Sigh, like it was the most common thing in the world that guests showed up unannounced at 7.30 in the morning, and then simply led him through a long pink corridor, taking him to a room where he was told to wait and make himself comfortable. The room was not quite that fancy. Just a square space furnished with a bed, a locker, a chair and a small chest of drawers. No window, no hooks and no sharp objects. It was really more like a cell than a room.
He sat down on the bed and waited. And waited. And wondered what he was waiting for. Then he fell fast asleep on the narrow bed, totally exhausted from all the weird stuff he had experienced that night.
Suddenly he was wide-awake: There was a big black fly buzzing around in the room. It was the
kind of fly you could tell from the way it crossed the air space, that it definitely was totally insane. Right, left, up, down, right … at a most frantic speed, constantly banging its head against the walls. Never resting. Even a small and very discreet mental exertion would under these circumstances be totally impossible, not to mention sleeping. At least, there was no way he could say he missed the buzz that used to be in his head. He started to giggle at his own wits and was just about to develop into a roar of laughter when he was interrupted by a discreet knock on the door.
“Er… come in. I guess.”
The door went open, very slowly with a creaking sound, and a bald head with thick glasses pushed up on top of it appeared in the gap.
“Oh. Hello! There you are! My name is Dr. S. Seen. Seldom Seen, if you know what I mean. How are you?”
Sigh stared at the bald head.
“Do come in. Please.”
“Oh! He he.” The head proceeded entering the room, closely followed by a thin body in a white coat decorated with lots of pink hearts.
“Too much, is it? I never know where to draw the line”, said the doctor in an embarrassed tone.
”Er… very nice. Indeed. What can I do for you?”
Sigh noticed that the fly had gone quiet. If he was lucky, it had gone out through the open door.
“Yes, hm, I came to inform you that dinner is served at 7 o’clock and I also would very much like to have some information about your staying with us. How long and why and that sort of thing. If you please?”
“Well, I don’t plan to stay very long actually. In fact now that I think about it, I believe I should leave right after dinner. If you just could give me something to take away my bright light fright. These night-wanderings are starting to get on my nerves.”
“Of course. Naturally. Bright fright. Yes. Wandering nerves. Have a nice day!”
The head went out through the door and the pink heart coated body followed it with just a slight delay in time, as it seemed.
Sigh stared at the door being closed. Then he waited. ‘Ah! There it was! The buzz. The black monstrous flying son of a bitch! I’ll kill that devil!’
He looked around for something he could use as a swatter and finally found a towel in a drawer. After making a knot in one end, he started the wild hunt. It took him forty-seven minutes. During that time, the fly sat down only three times and the last time it rested half a second too long. Sigh was exhausted. It was 6:45 and a late dinner now would be just fine.
* * *
A young policeman watched with interest as a man left a vegetarian restaurant somewhere in Reefersville. He didn’t behave as the ordinary visitor, satisfied from a good meal, used to. They would usually have that content look upon their faces and walk in a rather relaxed manner, while digesting the food. Depending on the amount of beers they had been drinking, they also might stagger a bit. This man didn’t look relaxed at all. He walked as if in a hurry, casting suspicious glances over his shoulder to see no one was following. It also looked as if he was carrying something under his coat.
If it hadn’t been his day off, the young constable would have at least made some notes. Instead he glanced at his watch, seeing that it was well past teatime. Sue would be furious. He hurried home.
* * *
On his way to the dining-room, Sigh had to pass through another long corridor that turned to the right so many times, that he felt sure that the dining room must be in the middle of a huge maze. Only that this maze seemed to have no dead-ends, just one direction to go, so there was really no obscurity about it. Nevertheless, it somehow seemed as though the walls were pressing in closer on him and reaching the dining room within any near future didn’t seem likely. He started to feel claustrophobic. Must be some monkey business going on here. Although now he felt the monkey on his back. It was growing heavy. He needed something, but definitely not drugs. Food maybe. His grandmother always said that hot soup cured everything, especially hysteria.
The walls in the corridor were decorated with lots of paintings. Whoever made these paintings, certainly didn’t contribute to any Farm-guest’s well-being or immediate recovery, that’s for sure.
A poem – or maybe a part from a song – was scribbled at the bottom of one piece of art, showing a man’s face with his mouth wide open in a silent scream of terror: ‘They’re coming to take me away ha ha, to the Funny Farm, where life is beautiful all the time, and I’ll be happy to see those nice young men in their clean white coats, and they’re coming to take me away ha ha!’
He felt a creepy sensation along his spine.
”Hey gorgeous! Why don’t you skip dinner and come with me instead?”
He winced and turned toward the voice. It came from a very attractive and very female person with long blond hair, who smiled at him with moist pink lips, showing little white teeth suggesting a string of pearls. She wagged her tail and her boobies pointed out the way that he felt he was more than willing to walk. Better not ask any questions though; she might not be real.
“Walk this way!”
Amazingly enough, she found a screen door amongst all the repellent wall decorations, so instead of having dinner that night, he ended up kissing butterflies, so to say, in some Itchyco Park under a full moon.
* * *
Soft flesh. Cheesecake. Cherry Delight. A taste of India. A five-course dinner couldn’t have satisfied his needs more. Her name was Simoriah and later on they left the Farm together through the golden gate in the park and followed the road leading back to town. What did it matter that it was fifty miles or maybe more to walk? Nothing mattered anymore.
Simoriah wore a black chiffon dress that billowed around her ankles. She was dancing ahead of Sigh on bare feet. And up above: the full moon. It was like a picture.
“Lord, I must be dreaming”, he mumbled to himself.
They walked all night and when the sun was peeping shyly between the dark treetops on the horizon, they left the road for the dark woods. When seeking shelter, they found a cave and after some indiscreet exercises in there, they finally fell asleep, locked in an embrace.
* * *
Sigh woke up with a distinct feeling of suffocating. Something thick and furry was covering his face. He didn’t move. His heart was pounding hard while his breathing became very faint and irregular. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked into a blur of hair. Not blond hair like Simoriah’s, but red-brownish. He felt the panic like ice cubes along his spine. Very carefully he raised his hand and moved aside the hair, turning his head toward the direction where he could feel Simoriah’s body. Then he froze.
Beside him lay a fox, dressed in black! The fur that had covered his face came from its tail.
Before he was able to utter a single sound, the fox opened its eyes and looked at him.
”Oh! I’m so sorry! Hope I didn’t scare you? Please, go back to sleep again! Soon the sun goes down again and everything will return to its normal condition.”
The fox showed its teeth in what it believed was a sweet smile, but looked more like an evil grin to him. A most horrible roar finally found its way up his throat and he sprang to his feet.
“No! No, this can’t be real! And if it is, tell me what it takes to dream on!”
“Calm down! I am Simoriah, all right. You know you shouldn’t judge a book from its cover, right?. You need an attitude adjustment! Don’t let your prejudices spoil your life. Now go back to sleep and I’ll wake you up at sunset with a lick and a promise that everything’s gonna be all right!”
Even if the words were sort of nonsense, her voice was strangely enough just the same as it had been yesterday and it had a soothing effect on him. Reluctantly, he lay down by her side again, trying hard not to look at her though. He could feel her tongue playing in circles along his neck, down the chest and in a while he closed his eyes even harder and he could feel something explode inside his brain. Beautifully colored stars flashed by on the inside of his eyelids, and he could swear that he heard a choir of angels too.
The next thing he was aware of was the sound of raindrops falling on the ground. It was dark; no moon. He raised himself up on his elbows and looked around. The cave was empty, but further
down the path he could dimly perceive a crouching figure between some trees. It had fair hair and two legs and was obviously doing a wee. He felt a sudden thrill of joy in his stomach.
“Riah? Do you mind me calling you that?”
“Whatever makes you feel good, oh Lord of the Thighs!” He could hear a giggle. “What can I call you then?”
“My Lord is fine with me… no, seriously, you can call me Sigh.”
“Which is short for…?”
“Never mind. Just Sigh.”
She was slowly returning to the cave now, arranging her dress while she walked. Water was dripping from her hair. Just outside the opening she stopped with arms akimbo.
“Well, Sigh. Shall we carry on? I wouldn’t mind a bite if we could find somewhere to eat. I gather there must be a gas station somewhere along the road, don’t you think?”
Since she didn’t mention the foxy appearance earlier, he didn’t dare to ask. Maybe it was all a dream then. They did a little more than one hour of walking before they reached a combined hamburger bar and gas station along the desert road. The rain had stopped and the air smelled fresh and promising. They stepped in and ordered food that would have satisfied a whole group of farmers that had been out all day on the fields digging very deep ditches. The waitress got a peculiar look in her eyes when they replied ‘no, we’ll eat here, thank you’, after her asking them if it was takeaway.
After they’d stuffed themselves, burped and used the bathroom, they went outside at the same time as a purple bus rolled in to fill up. On both sides, the words Magical Mystery Coach, was painted in large flourishing letters.
Riah and Sigh looked significantly at each other and then nodded. So when the bus-driver looked away they entered the bus and went to the backseat and lay down. There were no other passengers. They only hoped that the bus should arrive to wherever it was heading before sunrise.
* * *
”Listen. I’ll read it to you once more and you promise me to pay attention, will you! Just concentrate and think of nothing else.”
The man on the sofa didn’t exactly show a lot of interest, but lay back obediently and tried hard to concentrate as the other read aloud from a well worn book about a beautiful girl that went to sleep for hundred years and didn’t wake up until a handsome prince came around and gave her a kiss.
“Good boy. Now get some sleep and I’ll talk to you in the morning.” The reader closed the book and left the room, disconnecting the computer on his way out. Then he slipped the cord into his pocket to be on the safe side.
* * *
Sigh sat and watched out of the bus window. Streetlights and dark shapes were rushing by. What the heck was he doing here? And why? And where, for God’s sake; where was he going? He had a home somewhere, and a job. Some editor on a magazine was waiting for his weekly column, never to come, as it seemed.
The bus was running very smoothly. You could hardly feel it move at all. Not even the sound of a running engine was disturbing the peacefulness in there. They were sitting in a cocoon of silent darkness, with flashes of light passing by outside and it seemed like forever.
All these lights passing by… Sigh felt a bit stupid, but after a while he was completely sure about it.
“Hey, Riah!” All these lights passing by…”
“It’s really not only a way of speaking! It’s the outside that is moving, not us!!”
“What do you mean ‘And?’ We’re not moving for Christ’s sake, don’t you see? We are just sitting here in a bloody bus that stands still somewhere in the middle of nowhere and the world outside does all the moving!”
She looked at him with something resembling sympathy.
“It’s all in your mind, honey, all in your mind! It all depends on how you look at things. I don’t see it that way at all.”
He stared at her. Why was he so attracted to this strange girl with foxy eyes? What was it in the magic touch of hers? He’d had a taste and now he couldn’t let go.
“Anyway, I want out! Now!”
He could hear that his voice sounded rather hysterical.
“Ok. That’s fine with me.”
Riah got up and he followed her like a man with no initiatives of his own. The bus stopped as from thinking power and the door opened with that familiar hissing sound that those kinds of doors tend to have, and closed again with a ‘swoop’, and he was sure it inhaled.
* * *
They were standing on a crossroads. Or rather a cross-bridge. No sign of the bus. It was as though had it never existed. Black water beneath them at all sides. Four ways to go. One of them was paved with yellow bricks that glittered in the pale streetlight. Really a bit too much, wasn’t it? He discerned some dark buildings on the other side of the water.
“Ok. Fine. So where are we then?”
“Oh, we haven’t gone further away than to Reefersville.”
“Really? Not that I’ve ever been here, but it can’t be that far away from Weelsend! I can swear that we sat on that bus for at least four or five hours… On the other hand, I’m sure the bus didn’t move, so I guess…”
Sigh went silent. Riah watched with slight amusement as the wrinkles on his forehead came and went.
“Er… how about getting over there and grab a bite somewhere?” said Sigh and nodded hopefully toward the buildings ahead of them.
“I’m afraid I have to leave you here. But don’t worry, I’ll catch up with you later.”
Sigh gazed at her. The thin black dress revealed the contours of her body in the blue light from the street lamp. She sure was a sight for sore eyes. He was beyond astonishment. And now she was saying the strangest things.
“You’re leaving…?” He tried not to sound as spaced-out as he felt.
“I’m gonna find a lair somewhere, the dawn will break soon. You must pay a visit to a guy named Shore Lee. He has some valuable information that should interest you. You are aware of the strange things going on, aren’t you?”
“Information? Strange things?” (‘Please get this over with quickly, ‘cause I will crack any minute now!’)
“Poor baby. You must be jaded. I would love to give you some cherry pie right here and now, but I’m afraid that wouldn’t make things any clearer.”
She wrinkled her nose and showed her pink tongue between her white little teeth in a smile. Teasing him. “Listen to me: I chose you for a reason. Well, two, to be honest.” She suddenly looked embarrassed but then continued. “Could you put your column-writing behind you for a while, and help us find out who – or what – is polluting the free mind flow, and prevent it! Please? Shore Lee will tell you more about it; I’m really not so well up in it myself. But I’m sure it’s done from a computer somewhere. I’m sorry, I thought you knew, by the way your own mind has slackened lately.”
She smiled ambiguously and gave him a piece of paper with an address on it. Then she was gone.
Sigh was stupefied. Now he had two pieces of paper in his pocket, one that said ‘Why has a dog so many friends?’ and another with ‘No 10 Blackberry Rd.’ on it. Could it be any better? Yippee!
If only the big amount of blood that was compressed into one certain part of him would lessen, he would start looking for a nice pub where he could think things over and have a good smoke and a large beer.
A big brown rat came from the other side of the bridge, made its way to his feet and sniffed at his shoes, looked up at him and then walked away. Just like that. Was he supposed to be flattered or the opposite? He took a deep breath, thought of writing chronicles, and soon he could feel his little companion shrink into oblivion.
He followed the yellow brick road.
* * *
There was a small bandstand right at the far end in Prat’s Bar. The rest of the area was filled with small rough wooden tables and stools. A counter with a couple of stools as well, was immediately to the right when you came in. You could eat here, but anyone with self-respect and some of their taste buds still intact wouldn’t. The beer was fine though.
A character named Mike Wonder was contracted to play saxophone here twice a week, when he wasn’t playing at Grab-a-bite. The remaining nights were open for local bands of all kinds, which usually attracted a younger audience. This night, five guys were rocking the stage to the utmost limit.
The air was filled with moist and the darkness felt soft and thick and was oozing with burning heat. There was a lot of breathing going on.
At the front was a thin figure with a lot of hair and a big voice. His wide-open mouth threatened to swallow the mike and he screamed hoarsely about love and pain, which appeared to be the same thing. All of it was elucidated by extreme body language – he certainly had got the hang of that part. He sent out messages through every sweaty pore of his body.
A wild-looking guy made frantic attacks on the drums while the lead guitarist made his instrument cry in agony; letting out every single feeling that had ever existed anywhere, until it found that center of bittersweet emotion existing within everyone’s guts.
Shattered brain segments from the audience were soaring along with the slide of the e-string, followed the movements of fingers moving along the microphone – falling, falling, then ascending, throbbing, looking for relief but assembled into the brains again, finding nothing but burning darkness.
It was the kind of musical experience, that when next day your friends were asking ‘how was the gig then?’ you could only answer ‘you wouldn’t believe!’
* * *
Sigh had boldly entered this place in that kind of high spirits that sometimes follows experiencing a lot of strange and supernatural things within a short space of time.
Some call it insanity.
He sat on a stool in the bar, letting the music take control of his mind as he sipped at a foaming beer.
When the band took a brake, he tried very hard to make some sort of conversation with a seedy-looking man sitting next to him, with hair down to his shoulders and a black beret on top of it. A pair of smeary round glasses hanged obliquely across his nose. Having waved the pice of paper in front of this nose for some minutes, it seemed like Sigh finally was making some progress because the eyelids were slowly lifted.
“Blackberry Road? Do you know where that is?”
“Mmmmph… Er… you wanna follow me home, dude?”
His eyes were not exactly focusing.
“No, man. That’s not what I had in mind. I just want to find this place.”
“But’s my plaishe, Blurry Road… ten…”
“You mean you live there?”
“Tha’s wha’m shaying! R’we off then?”
He slid down from the stool and Sigh barely prevented him from sliding all the way down to the floor by grabbing him by the arm. There was a lot of staggering and swaying as they made their way along the street, made a few turns and finally stopped outside a closed convenience store.
“I live in the back, we have to – burp – go through the stairwell.”
It seemed as he had sobered up a bit now.
“Hey! Wait a moment! I’m getting this right, am I? You ARE Shore Lee, aren’t you?”
“Sure! That’s me! And you are, by the way?”
“Sorry. Sigh. I mean, my name is Sigh.”
Shore Lee considered this in silence for a good ten seconds.
“OK. Not your fault, I guess. C’mon then!”
They entered his humble place by first climbing the stairs one floor, then down again on the other side, crossing the backyard, reaching another building where Shore Lee opened a flaky brown front door with squeaky hinges. Inside, there was another stair to climb and it was very dark in there.
“Sorry ‘bout the light. There just ain’t any.”
Sigh could hear him fumbling with the keys and a minute later he pressed a switch and they stood in a dusty light in a rather messy kitchen.
“Welcome to my nest!” Shore Lee made a sweeping gesture with his arm, which made him lose his balance and forced him to get a hard grip around Sigh’s upper arm to remain standing. He hiccupped. “Now, can I hear something about why you are looking for me?”
* * *
As it turned out, he knew Simoriah very well and when Sigh asked him what it really was all about, because he felt a bit left in the dark here, Shore Lee said that he thought he had at least one thing that might be of some help. But first, he wanted him to see his fungi collection!
Sigh didn’t know how to respond to that, so he didn’t. The whole world had obviously gone crazy, so why should he worry about a thing? In fact, he was beginning to feel rather amused.
He followed the guy through three layers of thick drapery that shut off the kitchen from the inner room. The room they entered looked nothing like anything that Sigh had ever seen before. Now he was sure this man was a lunatic. He only hoped that he was the peaceful sort of lunatic.
It was a square room, completely stuffed with mushrooms or fungi like thingies. The walls were covered with either photos or paintings of different kinds of mushrooms. There were small models standing everywhere, made of china, wood, clay and even cloth. On tables and shelves were various terrariums standing, in all of which he had created small realistic landscapes composed of soil, grass, small stones and leaves, with a large number of mushrooms growing amongst it.
Now Sigh even noticed that he was wearing the sort of buttons you used to wear during the sixties and seventies when wanting to show the world your political view and true beliefs in life. They usually had things like ‘Peace’ or ‘Make Love, Not War’ written on them. But Shore Lee of course, had colorful mushrooms painted on his buttons.
Sigh felt faint. When the tour was over, he couldn’t help noticing a small model of a destroying angel that stood by itself at the windowsill. He didn’t exactly know why, but it somehow slipped into his pocket when Shore Lee wasn’t looking.
As things turned out, Shore Lee offered him to stay the night (or morning, rather) and also cooked for him, the most delicious meal consisting of chopped mushrooms, some garlic, rice, canned tomatoes, bay leaves, desiccated apricots, almonds and raisins, all fried in cooking oil, stewed and garnished with parsley. Later on he was to know that Shore Lee was the chef at a famous vegetarian restaurant downtown, of which he also was the owner.
* * *