Monday, December 7, 2009


its only when i close my eyes that the visions start. im in an empty room, its black, its entirely black and i cant see anything but i feel someone behind me so i spin around: the figure stands, his pitch black cloak disappearing into the room and his smiling white mask, porcelain, floating disembodied. he cocks his head slightly, as if to say "oh hello," and reaches for my shoulder. and i run and run and run but the room is endless and im just tearing through endless dark. i look over my shoulder but he has not tried to chase me. he stands motionless, the porcelain smiling and staring. i run and run and run until i open my eyes and

the moon comes through the venetian blinds in broken inconsistent shafts. a glance at the clock tells me its midnight, but its not like that matters. i havent slept in three days. i cant. i wont. hes coming for me now. hes seen me. hes seen me and hes coming for me but i wont fall asleep. i wont let him catch me off guard. i wont.

This is hopeless, I think to myself, flipping my cell phone cover shut in disgust. Seventeen fucking people. Seventeen fucking voicemails. I need to get out of this apartment. I look at my watch: it's a little after ten. Not too late. Not yet, anyway. I can go find something. There's millions of people waiting just down that staircase, just out those doors, just down the block. I can't sit here and feel sorry for myself. It's not worth it, and I'm only going to make myself feel worse.

I slip on my coat: down that staircase, out those doors, down the block. It is not a cold night, but there's a chill in the air. The city shivers from the breeze of a thousand close encounters: of people near enough to feel, but too far to connect. I don't know where I'm going. I don't even know where I could go.

I've never known this city. We've never been introduced.

my stomach growls at me. i should get something to eat. how long since ive eaten? theres gotta be something in the fridge, theres gotta be. but its all the way over there, across the room. i cant risk it. i cant leave this corner, this huddle. he might see me, see me and know that im here. he might be watching from the street. my stomach growls again. sorry friend, i cant feed you just now.

As I walk, the lights of nightclubs and bars and restaurants flash on and off. Every place I pass is full with another anonymous crowd, laughing and talking and clinking their glasses together. If the light catches the crystal just right, the champagne even sparkles. I feel like I should know these people: who they are, what they do, why they're laughing. Fighting the sigh, I continue walking.

This is my neighborhood, but this is not my neighborhood. In a heartbeat I reach for my pocket, for the vibration of my phone: but it's nothing. The thumping car, bass cranked high and windows rolled down, soars past. The vibration subsides. My pulse slows.

The stairs to the subway lure me below. I'll get on a train. I don't care which one. I'll go somewhere. And when I get there I'll do something. I'll do it. Just watch me. I slide my card through the slot, the light turns green, and I push through the turnstiles.

food might help you stay awake. yes i know that. i know that but i cant move. you cant make me move. but youre falling asleep. i know that too i know i know. so what are you gonna do you cant let yourself nod off you cant let your eyes close empty room forest of black endless black i feel someone behind me i turn i see him porcelain grinning mask suspended in black nothing oh hello and i run and i run and i run but he doesnt chase me he stands and he smiles and he watches me as i go DONT FUCKING DO THAT dont fucking shut your eyes never fucking shut your eyes god dammit

It's ten thousand degrees in this tunnel. The red flickering lights and the forest of bars make me feel like I've descended to hell. So now I wait. And wait. And wait. Hell is waiting. It's is not knowing what will happen, or what you'll do to make it happen, or what you won't do that won't make anything happen at all. Hell is being. And I'm waiting in the subway.

There's dozens of people down here, milling around and waiting for their train. I'll take the next one.

But the next one arrives and I don't. I just sit on the bench and watch the people as they pour from the platform onto the train, from the train onto the platform. The bullet shoots off to make a wound in its next destination, and for a while the chamber is empty and the station is quiet again. And then more people arrive, then more people depart, and little by little the crowd thins out. The people become fewer, the trains become less frequent. The warmth still hangs in the air, but it's the warmth of an increasing emptiness. Soon the station is empty and the cars are just ghost trains, carrying invisible passengers through walls with brakes wailing like banshees in the 3 AM calm. It is 3 AM. I am still here.

the building is silent the building is always silent at this time of night but suddenly i hear footsteps. i look at the light seeping in through the crack under my door. footsteps in the hallway. shoes. click click click. theyre getting closer. Click Click Click. closer closer. CLICK CLICK CLICK. closer closer. the light under my door disappears and he stands outside. son of a bitch oh my god oh fuck hes found me hes standing outside oh fuck.

I am slumped against a pillar, half-awake, my ass growing numb on the hard concrete floor. I don't know what I'm doing here anymore. I look at my watch again. 4:41. No one has been down here for forty-one minutes. The last train left on the hour. I don't know when the next one will come. Neither do they. No one waits for a train that doesn't arrive.

I'm shaken suddenly by the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs. Something in the air changes. It's suddenly rank, tepid, uncomfortable. I know instantly that something isn't right. Instinctively, I crawl to the other side of the pillar to avoid being seen. The footsteps reach the platform and click, click, click closer to the edge. I stay quiet and listen.

Sniffling. Stifled crying. Heavy breathing. These are the only sounds I hear. Distress. 4:43. I grab my knees. Dear god, when will the next train get here?

i tremble trying to keep my breath bated trying to keep as quiet as possible i wait for him to keep walking for the light to reappear under the door but he stands there he just fucking stands there and doesnt move so i dont move either but god im so tired im so fucking tired

4:44. No train. 4:45. Nothing. 4:46. And that's when I hear it.

"Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh." And following: sniffling. Stifled crying. Heavy breathing. Distress.

Two people.

4:47. "Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh." I grab my knees even more tightly, trembling, unable to move a muscle.

4:48. I hear it. In the distance. The whining screech. The oncoming train. The far-off lights bounding off the wall. She cries again. It's a she. I can tell now. And he laughs. "Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh."

4:49. The rumbling. The sound gets louder and louder and Louder and LOUDER AND LOUDER AND IT SHOOTS INTO THE STATION and, hoping to be masked by the noise, I quickly peek around the corner

and shes tied up oh god her hands are behind ber back the gag in her mouth and the tears streaming down her face but i cant see him i cant see any of him hes dressed in a black cloak entirely black and his face is turned away from me and he pushes her just before the train arrives and she SCREEEEEEAMS and the train screams too screeches to a halt and crushes her beneath

and i bite my hand to keep from making a sound

the doors open. he doesnt get on the train. he just stands there, still. the doors close. the train rolls on. it leaves, coming in my direction. he follows the departing train with his eyes as it goes into the tunnel. I STIFFEN, SHOOTING BACK BEHIND THE PILLAR oh fuck. shallow shallow breathing and then

"Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh." click, click, Click, Click, CLICK CLICK

i peek as slightly as possible around the corner.

he is standing above me. inches away from me, looking down at my quivering body. his face is covered with a mask, cold white porcelain with an unceasing grin. he cocks his head as if to say, "oh hello, what are you doing down here?"

he points to his eye. then he points to me. he's seen me.

he points to the tracks. where her mangled body must me. he wags his finger -- no, no -- and then raises it to his porcelain lips. shhhhh.

he reaches out to touch me, reaches down, but in a heartbeat im scrambling to my feet, around the other side of the pillar, running running running like fucking hell. when i get to the stairs i look over my shoulder. he stands motionless on the platform, staring at me. he raises his hand and waves goodbye and the last thing i hear before i dash up the stairs and exit into the frosty night is

"Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh heh."

run run run back to my apartment oh jesus christ hes gonna find me hes coming to get me what the fuck just happened what the fuck did i just see oh my god oh my god oh my god

i unlock my door, throw it open, dash through and slam it shut. snap lock. dead bolt. chain. i slide down the door, panting, hand over my mouth. oh my god oh my god. it was a dream tell me it was a dream. fall asleep so you can wake up and have it be a dream

so i close my eyes

thats when the visions begin

go somewhere move fucking move keep walking dont stand there dont fucking stand in fron--knock knock

knock? knock. KNOCK KNOCK

oh god. who says its him who says it has to be him it doesnt have to be him he doesnt know where i live it could be anyone it could be

Thursday, December 3, 2009

the picture

The Picture
It's dark here. The swaying of the match flame as it reaches my cigarette makes only the dimmest shadows, and the distant glow of the streetlamp from the boulevard casts but faint patches along this brick wall. A cascade of spotlights and darkness, and I'm the comedian telling jokes while the world is laughing. I take a drag and let out the smoke in soft, aimless spirals. The city is alive tonight: distant voices are shouting and some fallen leaves tumble around my feet.

I glance at my watch and think
this is the place, or
this was the place, or
this was never the place.

Either way, he's late.

I palm the note again, hastily scribbled, hoping I got the address right. I haven't been here before. He never did want to meet me anywhere; it was always someplace else. It'll be better, he said. I'm still unsure.

Crushing the remains of the cigarette beneath my shoe, I shove both hands into my overcoat pockets. There isn't much of a moon: just the thinnest crescent, waning. The labyrinth of buildings obscures the sky, but somehow I know. I'm not sure how long I wait, but eventually he arrives at the precise moment I expect him to. He has a knack for that. Even in the darkness of this alley he looks the same as he always does. Some things don't change; others, too much. It evens out.

hello, he says.
come with me.

He was never one to waste any of his own time. I follow him to a nearby fire escape, which we climb to an open third-floor window.

this is the only way we can get in, he tells me. there are guards in the lobby.

Bending, we duck through the window. The hallway is nice: a forest of light fixtures and doors, stylish carpeting. Apartments. He leads me to the elevator at the end of the corridor and presses the up button. Almost as if it had been waiting just for him, the doors ding open and we step inside. He reaches out for the 37 and the doors slide shut. The car is just as lovely as the hall, all gold railings and polished mirrors and elegant panels. We stand in silence and watch all the numbers light up in sequence as the familiar vibration beneath our feet propels us upward.

And when we reach the thirty-seventh floor, we step out into another hallway, identical to the first, but in a different time and a different place. We come to a door and he stops, gesturing for me to go ahead of him.

its unlocked, he whispers.

I wonder how he knows this, but I don't press the issue. I gently turn the knob, and the door gives way to a dark and uninviting room. Unsure, I look over my shoulder. He motions me in.

In the sullied half-light I make out the features of an ornate living space: well furnished with classy magazines strewn across the tables so as to appear haphazard but in fact deliberately stacked. Tiny hallways stretch off into other rooms. Looking around, I search for a lightswitch and flip it on. For an instant the room is bathed in a white, angelic light.

turn the lights off, he says, closing the door.
whose apartment is this? i ask, once again enveloping the room in darkness.

He doesn't say anything as he crosses the room, cautious as though he too had never been there before. On the way, something catches his eye. Sitting on a nearby table admidst a few magazines and a modest stack of papers is an old Polaroid camera. He picks it up and brings it to me.

they dont make these anymore, you know.
i know, i say.
take my picture, he says, handing it to me.
he just smiles. they dont make them anymore; maybe its the last time ill have the chance.
but its so dark in here ...

Again, he moves across the room, framing himself by the light drifting in from the window. He stands motionless as I aim the camera, press the button down, and the room erupts in a flash. I blink, letting my eyes adjust to the darkness again, and remove the photograph, which too is adjusting itself with an image slowly coming into focus. He comes back to me and takes the picture from my hand.

youre a good shot, he says, smiling and tucking the picture into his coat pocket. you always did know how to get what you want.
why are we here?
follow me.

We go down the hall to a bedroom, every bit as empty and dark as the rest of the apartment. Walking to the window, he pulls the curtains back to reveal a highrise balcony, breathtaking, with a view extending miles in each direction.

shall we step outside?

He unlocks the door, slides it open, and we exit.

have you ever seen such a gorgeous view? he asks, leaning against the waist-high railing.

I haven't: block after block of crisscrossing streets and sturdy buildings, the lights coalescing like fireflies in an electrical hierarchy. Thirty-seven stories below, a swimming pool ripples invitingly with the soft glow of underwater dome lights. In the distance, people and sounds and city. And on the balcony, just us.

never. but ... i don't get it, i confess, looking at him.
i need something.

I had figured as much.

you know i'll do anything, i say to him.
then i can trust you?
what do you need?

He doesn't even need to answer me: I can tell just by the way his somber glance meets mine that there's someone out there in that great, expansive, breathing city that he doesn't want to be there. He's chosen his target. He's found his killer. I stare out at the lights for a moment, taking in the view. I am not surprised. After everything we have been through, I doubt there is anything that could surprise me.

what kind of trouble are you in? i ask, trying to reason. maybe if you tell me, i could help--

And I know just by something in his eyes and the way he whispers that I could never say no.

who is it?

Slowly, he removes the picture from his pocket and hands it to me. For several moments we stand in silence, staring at each other: him not saying a word because he didn't have to, and me because I wasn't able to.

so this is your apar--
uh-huh, he cuts me off.
... but why?
you can keep the picture, he says, leaning over the railing again and returning his gaze to the shimmering pool more than three dozen stories below.

We stand wordless again, together but alone, looking out across the endless sea of lights.

i think i fancy a swim, he says.