DANA NEACȘU – America la noi acasă…
DANA NEACȘU este doctor în filosofie, lector de drept la COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL, din New York, profesor adjunct la BARNARD COLLEGE – Columbia University, dar și dâmbovițeană de pe malurile Ialomiței…
Something Went Really Wrong
By Jordan Muncz
Instead of Forward
If you’re afraid of what you might learn, stop reading now – this isn’t for you. Furthermore, I have no proof. It was quick and mostly quiet and by 5AM all that was left was the sound of helicopters leaving the city. Anyone that might have heard anything, gunshots, screams, sirens, wouldn’t have gotten very far into it – internet searches yielded error messages, and there was nothing on TV but the usual: gang shootouts, potheads causing traffic jams on the GWB and Columbia University sprucing up their campus for graduation.
I’m here to tell you, the military dumped sick people into the Hudson River. Call the Pentagon and they’ll reassure you, they’ve heard the rumors, but isn’t it ridiculous? And they’re not in the business of spreading crazy rumors. The newspapers will do the same, exactly the same…
After you read what I’ve written, you…, well you might think I’m crazy, or jealous, trying to take down academia because I’m not Ivy League. I have my opinions, but that’s not what this is about. It’s just where it happened.
What this is about: people disappeared that night. I did what research I could. I called the NYPD but when I told them I had a blog, and it wasn’t the New York Times, they could neither confirm nor deny “the rumors”.
Like I told you, I can’t prove anything, but there are facts. Ollie Kun-He is missing. His father is owner of The Founding Father’s Burger Joint, where the explosion at the center of the mayhem took place. I tried contacting his parents but Ms. Kun-He’s answering machine says she’s travelling in Korea indefinitely.
So, a day that won’t live in history. The few media outlets that heard about what might have been happening didn’t run the story. Then there’s the floating head. „American Beauty” on Instagram and the story is that ISIS is claiming it. Right. They infiltrated NYC to put a hit on one guy, if you want to believe those opportunists…
Of course my book has a hero. He’s a security guard. I know his family, well, I used to know them. After what happened, when I asked for news about „Tony,” his job, his new girlfriend, my friend, his uncle, replied „Tony who.”
Finally, don’t try to find me because I’m in hiding. Anyway, it will be hard to find me because you don’t know my gender, age, not much of anything. At least I hope, because there are people looking for me who know how to look.
In my book you’ll meet an assassin. I’ve called him John Rambo, nice name, no? Doesn’t matter, what does matter is that he’s real and at large. General Pistone has a clear interest in him, as does Congresswoman Calder. This should be enough for you to understand what’s at stake for me or my future family, if I live long enough to have one.
So, how does that sound to you? A crazy person with no evidence telling you the world you live in is worse than you thought. Still, I’m writing so I have to imagine there are readers curious enough. But if that’s you, please consider this a coming of age book. Your own coming of age.
The music and the driving did not do Ollie any good. Everything hurt. His nonexistent beard hurt. So he came up with a plan. He would go for a walk. Where? The campus was too foggy. He would go in the heating tunnels, and from there he would enter the History Library located in the basement of Low.
There was a big leather couch in the reading room and Ollie planned to spend the rest of the night there, waiting for Jones. He wanted to confront his father’s lover, to make him understand his father would never leave his family, not if he had to choose between a lover and a son. Ollie hated any public display of emotions, but this time he was not sure whether he would make a scene. He didn’t much care what would happen next. In fact, Ollie doubted there would be much “next” once his filial gift were discovered: a wrecked restaurant.
The next few hours remained his, and Ollie was looking forward to being alone. He would try to sleep until the morning and with his head clear, plan how he would eventually face his parents. Could he pretend he was as surprised as they must have been when they heard about the explosion in the basement of the Founding Father? His father was such a stickler for following regulations. “A leak of gas? No way. The annual inspection just passed,” His father would fight the accidental hypothesis. But he would never believe it was his son, either. Ollie was losing some of his righteousness. His father would never suspect him of wrecking the family business.
Ollie went down to the basement of Earl Hall determined to seek the isolation the heating tunnels supposedly offered. He found the door to the tunnel system easily. It had a label “Heating Tunnel Entrance,” affixed to it. It could have been locked, but it was not. Once inside Ollie was surprised to find it so clean. It looked like a regular underground passage to make the janitorial staff work easier. The light was dim and the signs barely visible, but the choice was minimal: ahead.
Ollie started walking intimidated by the weight of his thoughts and ignored the scary portion where light turned to darkness. His shoes protected his feet from the water leakage around. He became alert only when he could hear his heartbeat in his ears; the dull, persistent, quick sound of a muffled mechanical watch. His apprehension increased as he went, ever more conscious that he was the cause of his parents’ downfall.
Again, the first door blocking his way did not give him trouble. The knob on it turned easily. He opened it a sliver and squeezed through. He wished he had a light, not that it would have helped much.
The stench told him he’d made his way into the janitor’s closet. In the cramped space he searched carefully for the light switch, wanting to avoid knocking something over and alerting security.
Then he was still. He scarcely knew what he was doing there or why he thought this temporary flight from reality would help him.
In that cramped closet terror came to him as sound: a hellish atonal cacophony of notes like an army of children banging on keyboards.
Philip Glass’ music played in his head. It reminded him of the sagacity his friends admired in him. It temporarily calmed him down. He smiled and the smile stopped the sudden tremor in his hand.
He closed his eyes needlessly. It was dark everywhere, but it helped him recall dear moments when his friends played pranks on him, or so they thought, because they never met a musical prodigy in law school. Each time Ollie rose to the challenge. His friends would bring sheet music by famous composers like Beethoven and popular artists like Marvin Gray, and Ollie, the music prodigy who settled for an M&A attorney future, played them all flawlessly. He always gave them the choice of instrument: piano or the cello. He enjoyed all music. He bathed in sound. Rock ‘n roll, and punk, and Jazz and R&B. All. He used to believe he lived for music. Until that night when he mustered the courage to tell his family he could not take their arrangements any longer. His father living with a man and his mother playing happily married. To hell with all this nonsense he said when he saw the flames taking over the building. He watched from across the street. No injuries. No human injuries. Only his family business had been destroyed.
Kaput! He was going to make the rules as soon as he would graduate. His job was secure. He would make more than enough to take care of them and they had to stop playing like naughty kids, Ollie thought and his steady left hand moved up the wall to turn on the switch.
That was not an astute move.
His eyes immediately noticed a tall and gaunt figure. Its visage was concealed by long and dirty hair the color of the grave by nature or design. Ollie was not able to engage in close scrutiny. The creature was so close yet nothing touched Ollie. Its breath was moist and heavy with a lack of smell. Its eyes were sunken in the back of their sockets. Still their dull blue covered by a hideous veil made them look blind and further chilled Ollie’s marrow in his bones, shaking spasmodically. That fitful shake of his body caused him sharp pains and sudden dizziness. The figure was bending toward his face getting ready to kiss him. Or else.
Ollie stopped feeling. Or more accurately, what he would experience for the next few moments was beyond what emotions encompassed. His sensations became a profuse head ache which soon extended all over his bodily space. And as soon it took over his being it morphed into a vague perception of bleeding, which changed into a profuse bleeding with the speed of turning on a switch. And he became aware of the smallest particles of his body. The bleeding happened at the level of pores, inside every single cell in his body. Then he realized he could hear the bleeding. It was the most stunning concert he had ever attended. No, his body was the orchestra. He was every single musician. It was a concert he had heard before but he could not easily remember. Then it came to him. It was the first Shostakovich concert his parents took him to attend at the Alice Tully Hall. That was ringing in his ears. Getting louder and louder and each instrument was suddenly becoming more acute taking center stage in his hearing. Louder and more distinct. A steady increase in volume, accompanied not by violent gesticulation but by a sense of liberation. His body was getting rid of its shape and whatever other constraints it previously experienced. The pain was also dissipating. It was liquefying in a barely holding gelatin. His life became liquid atonal music. Finally he was at peace.
Inside her windowless lab, Dr. Ana Vodă looked exhausted. But her motions denoted precision and a well-known routine. A noise came through a walled-in closet. She opened it and retrieved a perfectly tailored, immaculate lab coat and a small metal box. She put it on her desk. It contained a carafe of hot coffee, and her dinner. She took a small roll and started chewing on it absentmindedly, while pouring herself a cup of coffee. Her body was starting to warm up and her face relaxed. She sat down.
Her desk was in the middle of the round white painted lab, surrounded by patients’ rooms, in which she could see effortlessly: there was no door separating her lab from their individual rooms. She could see Bobby looking comatose on his hospital bed in one of the adjacent rooms which opened like petals from her lab. The lab lacked any individuality; no flag, no pictures, just tubes and microscopes and laser sources, computers and screens and 3D holograph models. A banner with the inscription “The Farm” was supposed to be a joke or maybe the unique identifier.
She turned on her desktop and noticed Aaron staring at her from behind her screen.
“Don’t think so.”
“Let me know so John can disengage the alarms.”
“Okay, Boss.” They both smiled.
Perhaps sensing something was not in order she looked at him exiting her lab through another one of her moths’ rooms, as Aaron fondly called them, because they survived only as long as their body weight at infestation allowed them. She saw Aaron bending over one of her most intriguing patients. She called her Gertrude because it resembled Egon Schiele’s Nude Girl with Folded Arms which hung in her bedroom all her life. When she had a bedroom. When she lived in Romania.
Aaron tenderly unfolded her arms and turned her head to face his. Under her tethered clothes lied a perfectly emaciated body which could have been the envy of any fashion run, had she been able to control her desire to bite humans. Most of them. She showed no indication Aaron interested her, but nevertheless she stood up and ,leaning on him, walked away.
Ana registering all this took a walkie-talkie. Absentmindedly she pressed the buttons while searching for her documents to input the data she needed for her talk to Pistone.
“John, Aaron and Gertrude are going out. Please keep an eye on them.”
When she placed the walkie-talkie on her desk she heard a paper noise. She looked down and noticed a yellow post-it on her spotless clean desk. It said,
“I am waiting, J.” She felt startled. Or maybe her imagination prompted her to imagine herself inside Schiele’s “Embrace (Lovers II).” Her mind was racing to catalog the future moments of pleasure and how they would fit her unbridled desire to be wanted, and loved, and taken apart only to be remade better.
She ran all the way through the tunnel, missing to note that the cleaning she feared minutes earlier had not taken place and even when she slipped in Clorox-laden water she failed to understand the gravity of the situation. She reached the lodging quarters where her suite was located, among some never occupied, ready to house future assassins she failed to produce. On her door it said “Knock before you enter, and leave your fears outside.”
She found the door slightly ajar. She did not see him, but she could feel his presence. She hurried to the bathroom to get changed. When she returned John was outside her door. Ana could see him standing in front of her door waiting for a while. She sat down, and poured herself some sherry. Their game was a ritual of their first encounter almost 15 years ago. And every time he managed to startle her with his light knock which stopped the music of his breathing. She believed she could hear it.
“Come in, John,” she said with warmth as soft as the softest thing she has ever touched.
John was playing coy. He was still outside the door. She wondered whether her voice had touched him in ways he had never thought possible. Or maybe he was irritated. Maybe this time he would just come in thrashing the person behind the door. That was as part of the attraction he exerted over her as anything else.
She awaited. John pushed open the door slowly as though he were unsure of his actions.
“Come in. Come in,” Ana encouraged. She stood up facing him and ushered him in. She had a girlish flourish. She was sure John had noticed it. He always did.
“I was just having my afternoon drop of sherry. I hope you will join me,” she said realizing she had forgotten the props. She hurried to get the bottle out and approaching him she closed the door behind.
John seemed in shock. Ana was happy to see he had not lost his lust for playing. She caught him looking at the ceiling camera. John looked around for the other cameras. He had them in his room, too. They had gotten used to being filmed. Nothing was retained past 24 hours. They learned how to live with that time frame of reckless behavior.
Ana was watching him carefully. She still feared he could get annoyed and act unpredictably.
“Well, I” – John began but Ana was already pouring him out a rather nice large glass.
“I just opened the bottle as you can see.”
John avoided making eye contact. Ana was correct to think he was annoyed. She had to hurry. She wanted him so badly. It was worth the risk of a broken neck. That would cure her of all her known and unknown troubles.
“Chin chin, as we say it in our new country,” she smiled. She had a sip and looked into his eye, trying to measure her words’ effect.
John put the glass on the table next to the bottle of sherry. He was very slow. Ana assessed that he was considering how to end this moment. He could easily bring her body out and discard it in a park so a jogger would find it unidentifiable the following morning. Not that she had ever existed on American soil.
When she arrived her obituary had been already published and the Romanian intelligentsia mourned her. . For everybody she died in 1995, in a car accident coming back from Dracula’s castle, Castle Poienari. She could still recite the Romanian obituary that General Pistone gave her as a welcome present:
“World renowned historian of the Ottoman Empire, Dr. Dan Vodă, whose work is translated in thirty languages, dies in a car accident. His daughter, once a Nobel Prize candidate in medicine, Dr. Ana Vodă, and his granddaughter, Lena Vodă, also died. Dr. Ana Vodă was driving the family’s Trabant. Her husband, Vlad Vodă died two years earlier in another car accident. Dr. Ana Vodă was driving then, too.”
Ana was waiting for John’s move. Would her life truly end tonight?
“To us,” she added. “To sinful joys!
John brought the glass to his lips. “Sip, sip,” Ana could almost hear herself. John stopped before sipping. He was making eye contact. She thought she was lost. He met her piercing look. She closed her eyes enjoying her last breath of filtered oxygen. Nothing. She opened her eyes. John was drinking. He stopped when he’s done.
Ana approached him. She was quite short next to his 6’2” frame. She breathed easily thinking how simple it would have been for him to put her in a bag and discard her outside.
He was standing looking at her. She was touching his fingers. No reaction. John looked at her. She took his glass away from his hand, and then put his hand under her white coat. There was no tee shirt, and no bra, just her well-formed breasts.
Ana would have liked to inquire whether he liked touching her breasts, but she restrained herself. She had a strong desire to feel them in his hands. His hand was a flask. She could not stop imagining John tearing her coat apart and stare at them, at her and every inch of her body.
Nothing. Ana had no ideas of what to do next. She let his hand go down. Resigned, she looked down like a little girl chided she had done it again.
John surprised her. He pushed her on the couch and jumped on top of her in a trice embracing her feverishly and snatching her gown at once up to her shoulders. She was quiet.
His hands closed on her pelvis. Unsure of what to expect, she stiffened slightly. She seized his hand while he desperately tried to relieve the buttoned up desire of her body.
“Oh my baby, my baby,” Ana whispered stroking his head, and opened herself to him in a magic of animal sacrifice. Their hearts panted and then everything stopped, both congealed fearful of their next move. They both worried about their self-control. Then, her intercom beeped. John got up quietly and pulled up his pants. Ana answered.
“Ana, this is Aaron, something is really wrong.”
“Wait Aaron, I’ll be there shortly.”
“The alarm is on making everybody restless.”
“Can you disable it?” John nodded and left behind he could hear what Aaron replied.
Aaron, or Aaron from the Bronx as Ana’s records described him, was standing outside the compound, getting antsy.He had to get out fast because the noise of the alarms was deafening and he hated to wear headphones. Luckily the door was cracked open.
He carried Gertrude gingerly to one of the benches placed strategically for the solitude of lovers. He did not like being alone. He felt much too insecure to have his own missions. He knew that Ana was shagging John and John was keeping an eye on Ana. It was not his game. He stumbled upon this place and he wondered when he would have to leave it. He would hate to relocate.
He had always made friends easily. His mom, a drug addict, died before he could remember her but he still believed he looked exactly like her. That was all he could remember from his earlier life, and that he could not control his desire to make the world a better place. He was eating alone at Chipotle when he noticed some youngster making fun of an obese couple.
“Yo mama’s so fat that when she asked for a water bed they put a blanket over the ocean.”
“This is better, yo papa’s so fat he rolls when he walks.”
They continued until the big couple left in tears. Their exit did not stop the three revelers. Aaron finished eating and then approached their table and walked around them a few times then took a chair from the next table and asked them their names and told them his, and added in a very even voice:
“You, young dogs, you got such fat cheeks and big lips, you’d think you’re brothers, are you?” The pale men shook their heads negatively. “Lucky me,” Aaron swallowed. “Darn me if I couldn’t eat them and if I hadn’t half a mind to’t.” The revelers tried to laugh it off, but Aaron continued while checking their faces slowly committing them to memory. “Are you going to school here or visiting, because the question is whether you’re to be let to live or not.” And with that Aaron left them and the restaurant. It turns out that their bodies were never found, but the waitress overheard the conversation and she informed the police.
Eventually the cameras around the city got him, and he found himself in St. Luke’s Hospital. After all the tests were done he learned he suffered from some plague hybrid that no one else had and he would have to be further tested.
He moved to the Asylum and he never wondered if he could leave. He liked Ana. His mother’s older sister was called Ana, he told her, though she knew Aaron was lying. She started teaching him how to read and from English she moved to Spanish, then German, and Portuguese. But when she asked him to choose a foreign language he declined shyly. Perhaps sensing an irresolute nature, Ana was very careful with the drugs she administered to him, and with her words. She would have liked him in better shape.
“You should try the endorphins every gym serves. I am addicted to them.”
Aaron appreciated her answer but stopped attending their conversation hour. Instead, he started spending time with the more numerous Asylum residents. Ana believed he found their ailing emaciated bodies, stung and torn, limping and shivering familiar. Also, their lack of words, and possibly, short life span.
It was quiet outside. With Gertrude silently moaning near him, Aaron could smell the terror. It was different than the small scale terror he had witnessed before. It was different than the time when his ailing friends attacked two army veterans getting ready to kill ducks in Central Park with their silenced army guns.
That night it was a clean thrill, he reminisced.
There were two boats. One with the shooter and another one with the decoy and the dog. The army veterans were chewing tobacco because they did not want to be seen. The Canadian geese and the mallard ducks were back. They would start shooting at them as soon as they finished putting in the wooden decoy.
The shooter sat on a shooting stool with his gun and shells ready. One of the men from the other boat was in the water putting in the wooden decoys. Besides him there was a dog which shifted and shivered uneasily at the sound of the wings of the ducks flying so low in the darkness. Luckily, dizzied by the ducks, the dog did not smell the stinky creatures approaching the edge of the Meer. The challenge for Aaron was to make it easy for his buddies to attack the boaters on the boat, while they were in the middle of the lake. He had to carry them back to safety: they did not know how to swim.
Before the first boat returned having put all the decoys in the water, Aaron pushed one slimy ghoulish friend in the boat with the shooter. As soon as the decoy boat returned, he got in swiftly. He was carrying a small ghastly figure and when he placed him down, the dog wanted to haul. Probably it remembered the beating the last time it hauled sending the ducks away and it only squealed timidly. Covered by the young leaves of the weeping willows, the boaters did not need to talk to know what they had to do next. They would separate so the shooter would not harm the decoy and the dog, but they would still be closely by so the dog could help pick up the dead ducks.
They used their long oars to row the boats away from the land. The decoy was a few yards aside and waited. The boater stopped too and turned the boat so the shooter’s full view of the Harlem Meer glazing ahead would not be obstructed by his head or oar. The boater steadied himself on the stool as he heard the incoming whisper of wings. He crouched and took hold of the gun next to his right hand and looked up from under the rim of the barrel. Then he stood to shoot at the two ducks that were dropping down, their wings set to brake, coming down dark in the gray dim sky, slanting toward the decoys. He calculated the shots. He would shoot the first duck to the right of where the decoy boat was, and on the second high out and to the left, letting the duck climb far up to the left to be sure his boater was out of any line of fire. He was contemplating a lovely double shot complete with consideration and respect for the position of the two boats. He went for the shots.
Behind him, Aaron was admiring his swinging the gun on a long slant, down, well and ahead of the duck on the right and marveled how the shooter, without looking at the result of his first shot, raised the gun smoothly, up, up ahead and to the left as the other duck was climbing. Light was creeping in through the night, and when the second duck became a dark spot on the lake and the dog jumped to bring them back, Aaron watched his friends attacking those hunters. They looked as if instinctively they copied each other’s moves. Then, Aaron’s gaze stayed on the lake watching the dog dexterously grabbing the ducks. The boater was the youngest and most tender one. His nose was hard bit and half of his face came off. The shooter, older but not much brighter, did suffer a different plight. It looked as if he believed he shot himself by mistake and for a brief moment tried to stop his blood gushing as a mad fountain out of his neck. He was losing strength and he was experiencing sudden aches, as if he would start vomiting or be unable to control his bowels, or worse his joints would just detach. He sat down and let the convulsions take over, but the loss of blood was too much. His body soon succumbed and became cold and still. By the time the dog swam back with the ducks, all was done and the feast over. Aaron was the only one around. He caught the dog pushing a thumb and the index finger through its canine eyes, and then held its head under water for a very long while.
Somehow the boats returned to the makeshift dock hidden by the weeping willows before the dark totally dismantled. They would wait there with two disfigured human bodies. Aaron carried the two still corpses of his friends so they would be properly cremated at the Asylum.
But tonight the feeling was different. He had been able to overcome his antsy insecurity. For the first time ever, Aaron felt in control.
An eternity had passed before Tony opened his eyes and dared to breathe. He finally remembered that he had chosen to be there and he had an advantage over all those previous intruders. He knew the spatial layout. True, when he watched the recording he could not discern anything. It was dark.
This part of the tunnel contained an unfinished appendix, because of the famous vestigial wall. Tunnel hackers had described it in foreboding terms. They bemoaned its existence which made it easier for water to infiltrate and destroy all electric outlets, but they also adored coming here to take a piece of it, a rock or even some dust as a memento mori of Columbiana.
Going over those facts Tony recovered his courage. He lifted his lantern. The pipes were large enough to block his view of the wall. He stared into nothingness until the darkness became less sticky. He had expected that the water would make the air more humid. It did not. The unfinished wall made it cooler, and unconsciously Tony had a fleeting idea why Sam brought Knowlton there: it was the only part of the tunnel where she could breathe especially with a mouth full of him.
“Gosh, sophistication is an acquired trait,” Tony filled the void with his sarcasm.
He bent to get behind the pipes to investigate what made it impossible to install a security camera or even finish the structure. Perhaps too cocky, he moved too briskly for his glasses, which dropped. Rushing to pick them up his foot slipped and, attempting to break the fall, he raised his arms to hold onto the pipes. They were burning hot.
“Damn it,” he managed to articulate his sudden pain, and fell into a puddle.
“Officer Gallant?” her voice reached him further minimizing the dark silence surrounding him. Tony stopped breathing for a moment unsure whether he recognized the voice,
“Yes. Is that you, Lena?”
“Tony. It’s good to have you here.”
“Where are you?”
“In the other tunnel.”
“Is there another tunnel?”
“Wow. This is big news. I doubt that anybody knows about it.”
Tony crawled out from under the pipe and squeezed between the vestigial wall and the pipes. For the first time he embraced his slender Spike Lee persona. Using his light he realized he had space to jump and glance at the other side. The wall was wet and thick, around six feet height and two in width. His 5’5” should not be an impediment to him going over. Only the edge was sharp with unevenly cut rocks.
He lifted his body on his tippy toes. He stretched and his fingers grabbed onto the unfinished crumbly wet wall. He put the lantern down at his feet and tried to find out a way to pull his body over the wall. He bruised his fingers. He could not lean on the pipes. The steam heat prevented him from using them to get momentum and throw himself over the vestigial wall.
“What are you trying to do?”
“I came to help you.”
“What made you change your mind?”
“How did you go over there?” Tony inquired ignoring her question.
“I climbed over. Not hard at all. It only took me forever. You need to find a place where the wall does not simply cut through your fingers when you attempt to pull over your body.”
“Did you jump with your high heels?”
“I do a lot of things with my high heels.”
“I really do not need to know.”
“You may like it.”
“I don’t think I can climb over to you, so, would you mind if you climb back to me so I can bring you back to your life and family?”
“I have no family, Tony, so feel free to go back. I will find my way out of here. There is nothing scary.”
“You would be surprised. This is New York City after all.”
“My dear officer, when you come from where I come from and your research is about the Crusades so you read everything I read, I think I have a vague idea of scary, and this is not scary. It’s dumpy and gross, and unpleasant and a bit smelly, actually the more I think about it the more I realize this is very smelly…Tony, do not look up.”
He kept looking down. The many shades of dark and mud and dirt abused his senses. The perfect place for rodents and other crawlers yet, he could not see any though his light was quite bright. He stopped when a syncopated breathing interrupted his thoughts only to be itself interrupted by a hiccup so powerful he dropped his lantern. As if the hiccup was not enough, sweat started crawling down his back and his mind did its usual trick on him, taking a leave to that night back in 1462, when the granite sky and a muzzling rain closed upon the mountains.
The air was clammy cold and the cold penetrates through Vlad’s princely cloak. The saddle felt damp and the gloves icy. The nascent morning brought a wind which came in gusts, shaking the prince’s body. His impalers had been all destroyed by his infidel brother, Radu Bey, lover of sultans. Vlad himself had been trapped and chained, was being sent to the Hungarian neighbor, King Mathias Corvinus, the son of his father’s enemy, Jan Hunyadi.
Crossing the Carpathians from Wallachia to Transylvania was a winding path through thick forests. When the princely cortege reached an open place, the wind blew with such force that Vlad’s body feebly rocked on the back of this Hungarian horse as if he were a drunken man. His eyes were closed, hope having died out in him for any ray of light. His hands chained up together on the saddle, disarmed, and abandoned, his legendary courage gone with no trace of having ever been his single, most remarkable feature. And his Impalers? Where had they all gone?
“Don’t look up, or if you do, stay calm,” Lena clarified her earlier command. Tony having finally heard her, took his time. Slowly turning his head upwards, he saw a ghost-like, angular figure facing him. His head looked deformed or maybe only his bumpy forehead emphasized his bony little body barely covered by an oversized brown velvet coat eaten by moths. Age was as hard to guess but not the creature’s gender whose phallic identifier was visible through the unbuttoned coat. The lantern at his feet, Tony started seeking for his can of Mace.
“Don’t mace him,” Lena’s whispered words stopped Tony’s hand. “And don’t make any sudden moves. He seems like a forgotten ornament. My voice seems to escape him. Maybe he’s not even real.”
Tony liked what he heard. Somehow the idea that he might have been the obvious pray of that ghoul escaped him. Momentarily. Until his eyes met the dead eyes of the ghoul and he recognized him, as his mind’s creation. Could it be that his vision, Vlad’s Impalers, started to populate his life? Was he going mad? Tony kept looking. He could not escape the ghoul’s sick gaze. Could he bite Tony? Would he could become one of them. Better run, Tony thought, his eyes turned slightly to check if the space had enlarged miraculously while he was busy examining the ghoul. It did not. The space remained suffocating and tight. His entire body was shaking. He was trapped between death by heat or death by the ghoul. He noticed its absence when his eyes made it back to the wall.
The wall was empty. His heartbeat increased. The ghoul was more than an Impaler. This was therianthropy, Tony was sure of it. He had no escape. Through shape changing, invisibility, the ghoul could come and go and surprise Tony. His heart was going wild. Would this be his end? Mamma, he wanted to scream when he heard a soothing voice.
“Tony, what are you doing there?”
“Waiting.” He was getting back his groove. He picked up the lantern and arranged it as a stool. He stepped and in a balancing act looked over the wall. It was dark over there, on the other side. Water dripped over his glasses from the ceiling. Instinctively he looked up. Another drip fell into his eyes. He was annoyed and hot and he lost his balance and more sweat accumulated on his back trickling down his skin. Nothing came easy to him. So he picked up his lantern, put it on the wall and started jumping to see what was going on.
“Would you stop that, please?”
He saw enough. The ghoul existed and Lena saved his life, although he abandoned his job to save her. That failure aside, Tony was really happy he was alive. He could not stop admiring Lena. So shrewd of her to quietly attack the enemy from behind. Those thoughts brought to mind the battle scene between Vlad and Radu Bey. He knew how Radu rid himself of Vlad’s Impalers. He also had the image of Vlad immobilized on his horse, betrayed and taken prisoner by the son of his on again off again protector and nemesis, John Hunyadi. Tony was itching to go back to writing.
“Do you think I can go back to my booth?” Tony asked aloud.
Instead of an answer he heard a click, clack, click, clack noise indicating she was limping with a slight injury or maybe her broken off heel.
“Of course. I am can take care of myself. Good night officer and thanks for stopping by.”
“Damn it,” Tony resigned himself with a sigh. He focused his efforts. He gripped, vaulted and plummeted on top of the wall. He could not believe his success. Strangely, he felt anointed. He took the lantern and located Lena cleaning her shoes in a puddle of water a few yards away. Her back would have reminded him of a Man Ray shot, but art was not something of interest to him, and then, he directed his light to the human bump and noticed the absence. The absence of blood.
“What goes through your mind right now?” She asked without turning. “Are you wondering whether he wanted to attack you?”
“It did cross my mind.”
“Perhaps, but he was dead by the time I pulled him down. He just lay down there. A walking dead,” she qualified her conclusion.
“Maybe he liked you. A beast who refused to defend himself when the beauty viciously attacked him from behind.”
“How did he make it up there on the wall?”
“Maybe he was a vampire, or a zompire?”
“Oh, funny. What do you know about them, if anything?”
“My friend, you are talking to Vlad the Impaler’s great great great granddaughter on my father’s side and his grandniece on my mom’s side.”
“Are you a descendant of Vlad the Just?”
Lena turned. “What did you say?”
“You heard me.”
“No one called Vlad the Impaler Vlad the Just, except my grandfather. Everybody else calls him a vampire or worse.”
“Vlad was no vampire. He used Impalers to overcome his brother’s armies, but …” As he was lecturing her, Tony put his legs over the wall, and with his lantern in his hands he jumped right next to the ghoul.
He bent and appraised the situation. And then he noticed the eye out of its socket staring at him.
“It looks like a glass eye,” Lena offered. Tony wondered how long he had been staring at that eye. “I believe I read somewhere about a granny who had one watching her grandchildren as they got ready to go to bed and then made sure they stayed in bed until the morning. A deep green iris whose large pupil stares at the kids somewhat morosely. That’s the way to babysit brats don’t you agree?” Lena bent next to him. “The best part of the story is that the kids never dared to pick it up to see if it was damp or rather sticky, to check whether several pieces of fluff had been attached to it. They never knew whether it was alive or glass-made.”
While she was talking he remembered the videos from the Parisian Catacombs at Danfert Rochereau. He wondered whether this secret parallel tunnel contained cranes and tibias adorning the walls in eye pleasing patterns.
And finally the smell got to him. The smell made him aware of the ghoul in the first place and warned him again.
The mountain of what appeared to be wasted flesh was now standing behind Lena. He had no right eye and gravity made some brains to come out through the empty socket. To make things worse, a broad smile covered his face, displaying in the lantern light teeth decayed before their time, or just never brushed.
“He is after me, not you, Lena. Duck.” And she ducked without any second thought. Tony holding his lantern as if it were life itself started hitting him over the head with all the mighty force he managed.
“What is this Impaler creature doing here under the campus?” Tony’s voice was begging for a word of reassurance that he was wrong that this was all wrong or better yet, this was all his imagination, but no such word came out of Lena.
“Tony. Can you control yourself? You are hitting the air Impalers exist only in your imagination. This is some troglodyte.” Lena stood up and inadvertently bumped into the ghost.
“For Christ sake, can’t you move out of the way? Isn’t it enough that you smell like puke? Wash or buy some perfume.” She pushed the creature aside. Annoyed at his lack of resistance she pushed him again. He seemed mesmerized by Tony, trying to grab him. Scared, Tony dropped his lantern and bending to pick it up, the creature jumped on top of him. Lena took off one of her stilettos she started pouncing on his crane until the creature fell off freeing Tony.
“Be careful, please, Impalers are contagious, usually infested with the plague or leprosy or a cocktail of viruses and bacteriae. I hope his bite did not reach my skin. Am I glad for these ugly security guard cloths? You bet I am.”
Tony made no effort to help Lena. Exhausted, he watched her hitting the Impaler with her stilettos. There was an esthetic hard to resist in her Pollack gesture of spreading gooey liquid all over around. Some reached his shoes and that created a level of discomfort he found trivial.
Lena was standing imperiously while the ghoul was lying down, this time terminated. She looked satisfied. She had crushed his skull.
“Done. He won’t bother us anymore.”
“Ms. Vodă, your skills are impressive. You killed this creature like an artist. Using a stiletto the way painters use a brush. You could call 1800-Mafia and get a job.”
“Oh, you are well connected. You have the direct phone number of important people. Okay. So, take notes my friend.
Lena Vodă, 25 years old, doctoral student and TA for Professor Thomas Knowlton. Are you taking shorthand?” Tony nodded playing along. Lena had spunk. He became aware of his heart beat again.
“In the wee hours of May 1st, Lena viciously attacked but did not kill the creature ready to assault young officer Gallant who had recklessly left his guarding spot to seek adventure and redemption in the underworld.” Lena laughed pushing her head backward and letting the drips of water fall on her beautiful, young face. She wore fake lashes, and they were coming off, Tony noticed while pushing back an impulse to fix them.
“It is hard to say whether an Impaler can be killed or just finally finished,” Tony spoke and his voice registered a tremulous. A drip of water made it on the back of his neck and down his back. “The Americans regard people like him as zombies, occupying the land between death and ghost. He was dead before you touched him, you could say. Look there is no blood around, and even his brain, if you study its substance is so removed from human.”
“Nice Wikipedia entry. But then, you might be onto something. Though I believe you’re wrong. They are no zombies or vampires. They seem to resemble “human moths.” Look how emaciated they are. Almost skeletal. They may be contagious, but certainly they die of starvation. They do not seem to consume. Just attack and bite. The real walking dead or better yet, walking while dying.”
“Interesting. Any more insight?”
“This creature made me think of metamorphosed humans consuming their last drops of life in a vengeful way. They punish everybody alive by attacking and biting them, although that vengeful range cannot save them from their plight. They are already damned to die. Like killer moths.”
“Wow, I call that poetry, Ms. Lena.”
“It just dawned upon me.”
“We can either jump back over the wall and try to escape the way we came in, or we can go the opposite way. The creature, the Impaler must have escaped from somewhere.”
“I guess going back is better.”
Lena jumped and pulled herself over the wall, which started crumbling under her hands. She fell back.
“Ouch.” She screamed.
“There is no need to fake your injury, Ms. Vodă.”
“Officer Gallant, this is not faking. I tore my other ankle. I cannot move. I will have to die next to my victim in a gesture of poetic justice.”
“Okay, I will call 911.” Tony took his phone out of his pocket. “No connection.”
Lena lay down.
“I cannot leave you here. I came to rescue you. If I have to pull you by your hair, I will do it. We will leave this place together.”
Lena smiled and Tony’s frowning face melted away. She took off her shoes and let Tony help her walk. He put an arm below her shoulders. She took the lantern and lifted it up. Departing she looked again at the cranium-smashed perfectly emaciated being.
“I hate to bring it to you officer, but our victim could be any Upper East Sider socialite. A size 00 better fit for talking nonsense while sipping champagne and planning a non-governmental organization to help the poor and give meaning to her time when the partying season is slow.”
“Do you always sound like a walking party slogan? You are too young to have lived through soviet propaganda, or are you a well preserved soviet witch?” They both laughed and wobbled along ahead, or so they thought.
Whatever made him do thingsAaron did them full-heartedly. Now,he was following Gertrude. They came across Beni who was lingering around when the music and the smell of barbecue someone was cooking in the quad guided their steps sinuously. They walked for a few minutes silently in a serpentine or maybe a circle until they bumped into a person waiting for her dog to stop digging around.
Aaron bent to caress the dog. He remembered having a puddle in his grandmother’s house, or wishing they had had a puddle. The state of confusion made him antsy and he did not enjoy losing control. The young woman also looked annoyed, but she did not have time to say anything. The two wobbly figure sticks bit her. One went for her neck, the other for her face. Being of similar height and strength, the attack was executed splendidly. Then, exhausted by their own violence the two collapsed with flesh and blood dripping out of their mouths. The dog started barking, scared, and ran away. Moments later, the woman stood up straight, exposing her exquisite jaw line. Perhaps she stood the straighter ever before succumbing to convulsions.
Aaron waited patiently for his two companions to recharge. They entered the huge building–the epicenter of sound and fury. One elevator was approaching the ground floor. There were two students waiting for it. The five of them got in and two of them found it impossible to leave it when the elevator stopped. Aaron stood back just watching, as a father making sure the kids were playing safely and no one experienced any insatiable desire to harm anybody. Behind the closed elevator door, Beni and Gertrude got acquainted with the other couple, while Aaron cleaned them hastily when done.
When the elevator stopped, Aaron enjoyed being in charge of four fast decaying beings. He ignored them for an instant surprised to notice how spacious the dormitory rooms were with their twelve-foot ceilings. The floor was a deep green marble and it led all the way to a five-foot-wide walnut staircase that swept up in a sumptuous curve to the floor below. About fifteen people in various stages of inebriation were occupying the room they entered. Aaron was going to check the other exits to take a look at what was going on, when a smiling thing, starved to perfection, looking very much like Ana’s patients but smelling better approached him. Her swollen lips were moving, but Aaron did not have time to translate her words. He burned with the urge to get around to ensure their retreat, because all his instincts told him it would not be easy.
There were seven men and eight women on display, but he knew there had to be more. There was a terrace surrounding them. He felt the breeze come in through the open door. The men occupied various levels of chunkiness. One of Aaron’s companions was already approaching a quiet guest chattering with another one about interiors and landscape gardening whose shanks were so scrawny and their bones so thin he could see lamplight through them, and again Aaron had a feeling of déjà vu. It reminded him of elementary school when the teacher let him stay in the back of the class and catch flies only to pull their wings off.
Aaron did well waiting. Soon high heels were heard on the stairs and a high-pitched scream would have followed hadn’t he jumped upstairs and grabbed her hair as she was trying to go back downstairs. He pulled her forcefully until he heard a crack and she remained quiet. For a very long time.
Then he heard a hard banging as if a human head was crushed into the marble floor so someone would eat its squishy, velvety brain. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Some being with an empty stare was banging into the glass terrace door while a couple outside were hardly at work to make a saving cellphone call. They were calling 911. That was all Aaron had to tell himself to muster enough ire to ignite his strength to take a statue of a naked creature, half boy half goat, and break the glass. He went through it graciously and grabbed the little creatures by their necks. He pushed them over the edge and shook them up and down until they lost every penny they had in their pockets. Then, all chilled, Aaron put them down and left them to their own fate.
He had little time to get out. Ana’s patients had collapsed covered in blood and brain. He hurried out readying himself to take the stairs all the way down, when the elevator stopped and its doors opened. A couple of indefinite gender and age sporting dark shades and black trenches came out. Seeing them, Aaron approached the elevator and held the open button until he saw the couple go in and close the door behind. He waited for another long minute to gauge the outcome of that move, but probably provincial, they decided that it was worth the time to snap a picture and post on Instagram. Alas, they had been too slow, Aaron concluded, and pressed Lobby.
There was no one in sight. He stepped over the smashed cellphone he noticed sprawled on the sidewalk.