Some say we're just dirty animals. That may be. But when have we been any different?

 

Some say we’re just dirty animals.  That may be.  But when have we ever been any different?

 

The city’s Houndsmen stand with threatening posture, their constable helmets casting oblong shadows across snarling faces; they swing their nightsticks leisurely, but this cannot hide their desire for blood. 

I warm my hands in my coat pockets.  The rain is cold.  I walk a steady pace towards the monstrous ship docked ominous in the distance.  The lights are dull and monotonous against the drizzling night sky.  The ship’s horn bellows a disenchanted, droning hum; it unsettles the molecules in the air and vibrates through my soul.  I heed its beckon reluctantly. 

It is dark here and the dark is alive and for a moment I wish it would take me. 

I hear the howling of some poor forgotten thing, evanescent in the tenebrous alleyways, the halls, of the Devil’s great palace.  He seeks for the satisfaction that should never be sought, untraceable, within the night that reaches up and up. 

Off in the distance I hear sounds of laughter filled with wine.

The full moon peers through the dwindling nebula of grey clouds and shines a damning, mellow glow upon all it sees. 

And it sees all. 

It strips me of everything but a life I’ve never lived.

The wood platform leading up to the behemoth, white ship is hard and hollow.  I feel a presence of something I cannot stop, something inevitable and frightening.  For all the fearfulness this ship boasts, I admit that it is exceptionally crafted, shining and immaculate, as if hands from above traced its metallic sinews with the utmost devotion. 

I reach the top and look around the myriad of bodies floating to and fro, the rats and mongrels and scaly things of society hold their drinks close and pass from face to face and with each passing the memory of the last falls into obscurity.  They are forgotten as soon as they depart; they are replaced as soon as they are gone.  No one desires to be here.  No one wishes it.  We acquiesce to it like the death of a loved one, for that which must be done happens aboard this ship, its bellicose nature strangling the occupants with the fists of unruly God.  We fight against the ubiquitous grasp, whether we know it or not, but we all, in turn, arrive here. 

I sit upon a wooden stool at the bar on the deck and ingest the phosphorous liquid hot like magma, numbing like poison.  The rain has stopped.  A nervous turtle-of-a-man sits next to me.  His skin is virid.  He peers over, around, in front, and behind out of an implacable fear of something he cannot see or touch or taste or smell or hear.  I look at his face. 

“I remember once lying in bed with the light on because I was afraid to sleep,” he says to me.  He adjusts his lenses with trembling hand.  “I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up the next day.  I was afraid I would never wake up again.”  He swallows more liquid.  And I do the same.  “I try not to sleep now.  That way I’ll always be awake.  I’ll never have to not wake up.”  He pauses.  “Do you come to these parties often?  Those of us in the Lower Regions are quite fortunate, I think, to have such outlets.  The Big Man supplies plenty of liquor with which to drown my sorrows.”  He exhales in a laugh.

I get up and leave.  He reaches out after me as if to speak more, but he is dissuaded.

My ears perk up and swivel, and I overhear a woman with a beak for a nose and a coat of white feathers complaining to a bored hairy gentleman with a scintillating monocle. 

“Quite the conundrum, I do say, quite the conundrum,” she says.

“Indeed.”

“How do you figure that such barbaric acts could be committed by such normal people?  I do say he acted quite insane, quite irrational.”

“Yes, yes, of course.  Eh, how did you say he did it again?” he says looking around. 

“Why, he jumped from the bridge with a noose round his neck.  Died instantly, I suppose.  His little body hung there in the most grotesque state of twitching for an absurd amount of time.  I heard the Authorities didn’t arrive for an hour or so.  Quite a shame, wouldn’t you say?  And why would he pick today of all days?”

“How do you mean?”

“Well I do say he was supposed to be here tonight.”  She sips on her beverage triumphantly, as if her knowledge on the subject should elicit praise.

“He was put up to it,” chimes in a large eared female.  Her nose twitches ever so often, near imperceptible.  Whiskers like thin transparent strings dance on her face in the wind.  She has a sad expression; dark rings encompass her eyes as if she knew something few ever did and lived a life carrying it with her.  Alcohol seems to be a contributing to her speech. 

“Delilah,” the beak-nosed woman began, “you always come up with the queerest ideas, it’s a wonder you haven’t been swept away along with your fantasies.  And how did you get in here?  I don’t believe I saw your name on the registry.” 

“I heard he was making trouble for the Big Man, so the poor lad was given a few days to kill himself.”  The beaked lady’s eyes grow horrified. 

The hairy man now tiptoes away from the women.  I lean against the rail and look overboard into the dark of the abysmal sea which is almost entirely placid save a few ripples that press on unnoticed.  Light from the party in the Towers of the Upper Region extends its flaunting reach even here.  I look at the source and can almost hear the collective sighs of jubilee, the exhalations of joy.  There the higher kinds are admitted to enjoy the sweet ambrosia of life without toil; there the blessed revel in their life of privilege and absolute freedom.  They were chosen for such a life before the first soil had been tossed, before the sky had been whisked to existence.  Theirs is a life of success, a promise etched into their skin and bones, a vow written by the hand of divinity and wedded to the stars, irrevocable.  And amidst such blissful ecstasy in those Towers, God can be seen drunk and dancing. 

“Like I said, me and the Big Man have quite the history together.  We’ve been practically family ever since I did some work for him.  That’s the only way to get anywhere in this life: us filth’s got to get dirty for the Big Man.  We don’t have the luxuries of the others.”  Delilah’s expression carries a certain drooping nonchalance, as if the words spoken implied apathy.  The beak-nosed lady looks sick to her stomach. 

“Hush your mouth.  You musn’t say such brash things.”  She leans in close.  “He hears everything.”  She looks around timidly and they walk off to find a safer spot.  The beaked-nosed lady seems to drag Delilah with her.

Two, brutish apes follow them shortly after.  They mean business.  I can tell by the way they walk and cling to the shadows.  In the back of my mind I think they will come for me too.  But I banish the thought as soon as it is conceived, for I am terrified of it. 

And yet, here I am.

I look back into the sea.  The green, turtle-of-a-man is leaning against the rail also.  He looks greener still.  I try not to stare from under my hat but he is crying.  His mouth and face are calm, but crystalline drops are sliding down his rough cheeks and down his mouth and into the unending sea where they will be erased for all eternity.  He is calm, and the sight of him in such a state makes me sad.  A sublime realization seems to have dawned on his downtrodden lips and forlorn eyes.

“It’s just a shame, all of this,” he says, spreading his hands at the sea.  I am the only one standing close enough to even hear him.  “If the world is at fault,” he continues, “I am indicted as well.  I fear I will not wake tomorrow, after all.  I was a fool to think otherwise.”

The brutes are tossing two bags over the rail.  They leave and I go see what it was and just as the sea begins to swallow them up, I can distinctly make out the remains of the beaked lady and Delilah, their faces smeared carmine, their anguished eyes like black holes and their mouths sucking in everything we are and nothing we aren’t.  The sea pours in through their agape mouths.  The beaked lady, in particular, wears the anguish most poignantly.  Delilah knew all along, but the beaked lady feigned ignorance.  Now she knows.  She inhales our world with her expression; she takes it with her, a frenzied terror etched in time forevermore.  She will sink to the bottom in the darkness, and the sand will shift around her – but only for a moment – then all will be still and black, the silence deafening, and only if the sea permits some light to enter will she be seen in her soulless petrification, staring into the heart of it all. 

I’m sure it is my fate as well.  And even in this dim light, I can see their shadows pour over me. 

Whereas Delilah allowed herself to be crushed under the enemy’s unearthly grip, I turn to stare into his dark eyes; I do not falter in my spite.  The hair on my body stands on end.  My sharp teeth are clenched and my snout wrinkled from inhuman rage.  All the bitterness and resentment and hatred gathers up and overflows into one, beastly roar. 

 

They will take me now…

 

 

And I am afraid.

 


Submitted: March 30, 2014

© Copyright 2022 Maruna. All rights reserved.

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